Defying Gravity

I once stood on a stage at 19, unable to please him, frustrated by the whole thing. I finally asked him what it was he wanted me to do.

“Do better,” he saidThe Measure Of A Man, The World According to Chuck (Xlibris, 2004)

———————–

I could have called this 98 Days Later. I thought about it.

So here we are, New Year’s Eve. Fourteen weeks later.

I had all this profundity to share, but I decided against it. Really, when you start talking about obesity and diets and weight loss, it gets worse than politics. People have attitudes, opinions, issues. I’ve heard from some. I want to say, It’s not about you, but I’ll just leave it alone. I started on a journey, a little challenge to myself, an attempt to change something. I ended up here.

Here’s a story, though, that’s been on my mind. When I was in treatment in 2006 for my alcoholism, I sat through a lecture by a counselor, a woman who’d been addicted to meth. As she was describing her life at its worst, she told of how she made her children scrounge for scraps while she hid in the bedroom, smoking her meth. And how she’d force them to go to bed at 3 in the afternoon just so she could get high in peace.

“Most people wouldn’t understand,” she said, “but another addict would.”

And it took all my feeble will at that moment not to stand up and say, “I’m an addict, and I don’t understand.”

A little later, I brought this up in my group counseling session, and my counselor nodded in understanding, chalking it up to my personal minimization of all the many faults and abusive behaviors I must have demonstrated during my drinking. He tried to be gentle, though. “You think you’re better than her,” he said.

“I AM better than her,” I said.

I was, too. They were children.

—————–

I have done time with my demons. You have too, probably. It was hard. I’m still here. I’m doing OK. Other people have done the same thing, lots of them.

It doesn’t mean you get to be forgiven everything. You might have to make some amends. You might have to grovel a little. You might have to come to terms with the chaos you caused, not just yours but theirs. You might, in fact, have to do better.

——————–

So I changed what I could. I thought it’d be better if I lost some weight. Healthier. I also found the theatrical aspect intriguing; I would not only feel different, I’d look different. Believe me, that kept me going on a lot of rainy days when I didn’t feel like walking.

It was just my thing, at that moment. It was the only thing I could think of at the time, actually.

I have lots more things now.

And besides the sense of accomplishment, and the fun I had today buying a new pair of jeans (dude, check it out: 34 regular, not “relaxed fit,” not “loose,” but freaking regular), I have the satisfaction of knowing I crossed that one thing off my list for now. And more than a little energy. And cockiness. I lost 70 pounds in 14 weeks. You want to take me out of the game? You’d better bring a loaded weapon or a whole bunch of kryptonite, I’m not going easily.

Of course, tomorrow I might get hit by a bus. You pretty much only get one day at a time, a daily reprieve, but I’ll take this one, and my new jeans, and the knowledge that the world is just waiting. If only for today.

Because in 49 years, stuff happens. I’ve been pretty fortunate, but still. I still miss my dad, gone now four years. I miss my daughter, living her own life on the other side of the country. My son faces problems that overwhelm me sometimes. A dark winter looms, money is always an issue, I have career choices to make, the roof needs fixing. But for today, this last day of the year, I get to say this.

Through my life, at different times I have battled grief, loss, loneliness, depression, boredom, financial insecurity, obesity and booze, and you know what?

I won.

*God claps*

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Lean On Me

DISCLAIMER: The author of this post does not claim to be an expert on anything, much less nutrition and/or weight loss. Although he occasionally remembers to wash whites separately and not wear his glasses in the shower. The reader is strongly urged to ignore his advice, or at least do the exact opposite.

The only people in the U.S. who don’t want to lose weight are (a) Barry Bonds and (b) people who are, technically, dead.

For the rest of us, a new year means once again thinking about dropping pounds. Since I decided to be early (for a change) and lost weight before January 1, maybe I can help (see disclaimer above).

I don’t want to fight. People are different, sometimes amazingly so, and I’m stranger than most. For example, I decided to lose weight by eating less and exercising more. How 1950s of me.

Still, I learned a few things along the way, which I thought you might be interested in, particularly if you have tomorrow off and nothing good is on TV, so here we go.

Know What You’re Doing. Ha ha. No, seriously. Losing weight is actually a bizarre thing to do, metabolically speaking; you’re trying to persuade your body to give up its Strategic Fat Reserves, something it really, really doesn’t want to do. So you might want to stop dancing around the food pyramid if you’re really serious. I knew going in that I wasn’t going to be eating particularly nutritiously, but since for most of my adult life my diet consisted of the food groups you usually find at an 8-year-old’s birthday party, I figured a few more months wouldn’t kill me.

This was, of course, just an educated guess. It might very well have killed me. Particularly since for at least two of the past 14 weeks, I ate nothing but canned tuna and chocolate chips (really).

Sure, you can probably lose weight by eating more fruits and vegetables. If you want to be boring. But whatever you do, know that it’s for a limited time, with a definite (if realistically laughable) goal.

Exercise Works. Lots of well-intentioned, good-hearted, sympathetic authors of diet books say that exercise, while theoretically a good idea, won’t get the weight off, because you can’t do enough of it. They point out, sometimes with cartoons, that it’s much easier to cut 500 calories from your diet than burn 500 calories with exercise.

Well, that depends upon what “easier” means, and also on the cartoon (sometimes). What they neglect to mention, or maybe don’t even know, is that overweight people have what I like to call a “metabolic advantage.”

Let me put it in a non-cartoon way. It’s true that a 130-pound woman, walking at a brisk pace for an hour, will typically burn off about 300 calories (i.e., one can of tuna and one large handful of chocolate chips). Not a lot. But let’s say (and, actually, a cartoon would be helpful here) this woman has to carry another 130-pound woman on her back for the entire hour, and still walk briskly. Are you thinking maybe she will burn more than 300 calories? Are you thinking that maybe she will, in fact, burn twice as many? Are you wondering who the other woman is?

Good for you. Actually, after lots of research, I found out that at my starting weight, I could burn approximately 600 calories an hour. Well, you say, still; 600 calories isn’t even an entire can of Pringles. True, but what if you walked two hours? Or four? It starts to add up to serious Pringles.

I know most people don’t have time to walk four hours a day, or maybe even the right shoes, but do you get my point? You can only cut so much food out of your diet before you get really cranky and start doing weird things like fainting, but you could always walk a bit more. I’m just saying.

And finally…

Know Your Scale. Getting on the scale in the middle of the day is like playing the lottery, except that you can’t do it at 7-11 (and you probably wouldn’t want to). The average person puts nearly 14 pounds of stuff into his or her body over the course of a day, including air, water, food, and cheese. This “stuff” all has “weight.”

If you’re going to use a scale to mark your progress (you could use a toaster but you’re on your own there), you must understand the scale. You must become one with the scale, learn its strategies and secrets, in order to defeat it.

I weighed myself every day, and here’s what I did: I tried to put at least 10 hours between my confrontation with this obnoxious piece of hardware and the last bit of food or water that crossed my lips. It’s not as hard as it sounds, at least if you weigh first thing in the morning and don’t eat in your sleep (which was my big weakness). Then take off all your clothes, step on it, make a note of the number, get dressed, and eat Pringles because really what the hell is the point?

Sorry. But no, really. First thing in the morning, as dry a weight as possible, no clothes. It’s as absolute as you can get, and it beats getting on a scale in the afternoon after a big lunch, fully dressed with a lot of loose change in your pockets. Trust me.

So there you go. Let me know how you do.

NOTE: No Pringles were harmed during the writing of this post.

ONE MORE NOTE: Tomorrow I’ll stop making jokes and try to make sense of what exactly has happened, although no promises.

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The Year In Review(s)

2007 was a good year for me. In fact, I decided to pick my top ten years:

1974 (age 15-16)
1982 (23-24)
1990 (31-32)
2007 (48-49)
1986 (27-28)
1970 (11-12)
1995 (36-37)
1977 (18-19)
1994 (35-36)
1975 (16-17)

See? Right up there with the end of my sophomore year in high school, the year I met my wife, and the year I started a business.

So, for the edification of those of you who have nothing better to do…

NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS

I did a lot of landscaping, long overdue, dug flowerbeds and cleared weeds. A miracle.
I registered for classes and started an educational process, also long overdue.
I lost a lot of weight. Ditto.
I started an AA meeting, which is small but fabulous (for me, anyway).
I got two haircuts. I’m just saying.

HAPPIEST ENDINGS

I slipped and fell in the grocery store on August 24, straining my back, scraping my forearm and bruising my ego. All short-lived; it could have been worse.

A 3.96 GPA. I take ’em where I find ’em.

Wanted to lose 70 pounds. Lost 70 pounds.

I took a trip to Arizona in September and had a great time, visiting with Mom and seeing old friends (Tom, Pat, Lori).

I was asked to write a Memorial Day essay for the Seattle Times, my first long piece for them in a while, and I sweated bullets. It turned out well.

SADDEST CELEBRITY PASSING

Kurt Vonnegut (April 11), no question. So it goes.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

We’ll skip the weight thing. I fell in love with the iPod, something I never would have imagined. Now I’m pining for the Touch.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

FAVORITE BOOKS

The World Without Us
Legacy of Ashes

FAVORITE TELEVISION

The Daily Show (come back!)
Saving Grace
Mad Men
Good Eats

THE YEAR IN FILM

Approximately 190 movies were released in 2007 in the U.S. (wide release, that is). I saw 17 of them (8 by rental), which is either pathetic or good, I have no idea. I also missed some good ones. At any rate, my 17 were (and “JMM” stands for John Made Me):

Ocean’s Thirteen
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The Bourne Ultimatum
Epic Movie (JMM)
Music and Lyrics
Ghost Rider (JMM)
The Astronaut Farmer
Premonition
Reign Over Me
The Lookout
Waitress
Knocked Up
Superbad
Michael Clayton
Lars and the Real Girl
Juno
Live Free or Die Hard

My top five (actually, there were only five I really liked a lot):

Bourne: A friend thinks the last two installments were disappointing, but I love the series and thoroughly enjoyed this one, although my head is still spinning. It moves fast.

Clayton: Excellent. Really. Clooney, everybody.

Reign Over Me: Sentimental, exploitive, psychologically dumb and unbelievable — I still liked it. But then I can always watch Don Cheadle (I put my hands over my eyes when Adam Sandler was on screen; it’s just a habit).

Juno: “Hip sentimentality” I heard a reviewer call this latest genre (including “Knocked Up” and “Waitress”). Not sure about that, and this was light on plot and way too quippy, but the performances were spectacular. Go see it.

The Lookout: My number one for 2007. Practically perfect.

WEIRDEST OBSESSION

I watched the entire series, seven seasons, of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” over a six-week (I think) period. Now I get it.

And finally…

HOPES FOR 2008

About 10 more pounds off, just to be in the 170s.
Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Seattle Mariners in the World Series.
Seattle Supersonics in some other city.
President-elect Obama.

Happy happy, all. I’ll be back Sunday and Monday for more uninteresting stuff.

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Apocalypse Now

Full disclosure: I’ve never had a computer virus, or any problems with spyware, adware, malware or wear-and-tear ware. My kids at different times have destroyed computers due to unwanted visitors, but my personal PCs have always been clean (if a little dusty), and I’ve had many.

I’m a bit of a snot about this, or I was. I guess I assumed it was a matter of good computer hygiene, of paying attention, being careful and not doing anything dumb, like believing hoaxes that say, “This was on CNN!” or “My cousin (best friend, sister-in-law, neighbor, etc.) is an attorney and s/he checked this out…,” falling for pfishing, clicking on links without at least hovering, and visiting questionable Web sites.

Along with updated protection, of course. I’ve had virus software for years, and various utilities, along with downloading Windows Defender within approximately 30 minutes of its release.

Really, I thought it was just sloppiness on the part of other people, and I’m not sure I still don’t agree with that. On the other hand, a few weeks ago Julie clicked on one of her daily sites, an ordinary blog, and got bombarded with malware we’re still working on extricating (it’s much better, but this is a stubborn infection, and I’ve come close to giving up and rebuilding the damn thing from the restore disk). So I suppose it can happen to the best of us, or at least the spouses of the best of us.

I spent the day after Christmas, then, overhauling her laptop, doing things I should have been doing all along (she had over 7 gigs of temp files; I really felt bad about that). I ran multiple spyware programs, I cleaned her registry, I deleted junk, I installed like five layers of protection, and I persuaded her to switch to Firefox (with NoScript, of course; a great add-on). Now if I can only get her to use a reader (sigh) and STAY AWAY FROM AOL.

Anyway, I took the opportunity to do some housecleaning of my own, with some new utilities I got from the good folks at PC World. I loaded the COMODO firewall, I dumped McAfee for Avast! (much less RAM gobbling, and free), I vacuumed my startup and dusted my registry.

And it made a big difference.  My computer is four years old, an inexpensive Dell laptop, the best I could afford at the time, and still it runs smoothly and quickly after all these years.  Yeah, I’d like a Mac, and maybe that’ll happen next, but in the meantime I’m very happy with what I’ve got, for what I do.

But after I did all my touching up and tweaking, and got this baby humming along, I was surfing and had a frightening thought.  And maybe it’s just the holiday, but still it’s a little  scary, after all these years, and I’m not sure what to do.

I think I’m bored with the Internet.

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Postscript, Preview

What a great day.  Seriously.  And if you could have seen John in the preceding week, moping around, talking about how Christmas was the most depressing day of the year, all Asperger acting out because his sister wouldn’t be here and he wasn’t getting a Wii (and he wasn’t), you wouldn’t have recognized him yesterday.  “This is the best Christmas,” he kept saying.

And maybe it was.  Julie managed to score an alternative marketplace (i.e., Craig’s List) fully loaded version of Rock Band for the X-Box 360 (an awesome game, I should add) on Christmas Eve, so that livened him up, along with a new keyboard for his iMac and comfy clothes.  Julie also got comfy clothes courtesy of the boys, a miracle of dumb luck falling between the parting of the Red Sea and Adam Sandler’s career.  I opened up new walking shoes and underwear (this is a huge deal to a guy who has lost a lot of weight; it was starting to get scary).

But that was such a small part.  We talked to family, we had a south Texas Christmas breakfast courtesy of the Beauchamps (Cameron’s parents), we lit a fire, I stuck a turkey in the oven, and it snowed all afternoon.  Seriously.

Uncomplicated snow.  Big fluffy flakes for a good part of the time, but not much in the way of accumulation; most than a dusting, less than 2 inches.  Just a nice vista on a nice day.  We opened all the shades, sat in front of the fire, smelled the turkey and watched.  My oh my.  One for the books.

And now we wind up 2007, and that was a good one, too.   Relaxing for a good part of it, if financially a little marginal.  I dug flowerbeds and mowed that lawn twice a week all summer long, made ice cream and wrapped up a full year of sobriety by slipping in the store (no harm done).  And then I headed out to school for the first time in 25 years, and out onto the road for a little personal downsizing.

I start 2008, in fact, in good shape. And all because I somehow (more dumb luck, I figure) learned to look ahead.  I take each day as it comes, but I’ve discovered how to glimpse tomorrow.

And I have a blog idea.  More on January 1 (don’t miss it!  The blog event of the year!).

I’ll give you a hint: In exactly seven months from today, I turn 50.

For now, though, there’s some serious rocking going on in the other room, and I may have to join.  Also, the road calls me, as always, and I have new shoes, which were just made for walking in one particular direction.

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So This Is Christmas

Well, not quite, not as a write, not on this side of the world. But close.

I closed my eyes at 4am this morning and opened them at 10, just in time to run out to the mall with John and Julie to finish up shopping. I do this every year, Christmas Eve malling, but this was the first time I had company. We’re a little off.

Quite possibly it’s because Beth isn’t here. Or it could be any number of changes; it’s not a damper, just different. At any rate, we got the job done, minus one (apparently; I was off at the Apple Store) argument between mother and son.

I went off for a walk in the late afternoon, Julie headed for church, John ate pizza and crashed, and after checking in with the work situation (I was scheduled to cover some editing duties, which I’m currently still doing until early morning, but it’s light) I snuck out to catch the last half of the Christmas Eve service.

So here I am, the last minutes of the night before, scanning my inbox, up for the duration, waiting for the right time to put George Bailey on screen. Julie’s wrapping presents. John is snoring. Music plays, Strider snoozes, Beth sits at Logan awaiting an early morning flight to New Mexico, and something seems to be missing.

Something almost always is. That’s okay; as I’ve said before, I become a mystic at Christmas, waiting for miracles.

Looks like we’re getting one.

Tomorrow?

Snow.

Merry merry to you and yours.

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B-Minor Days

The difference between focus and obsession is that sometimes obsession sounds like a whole lot more fun. I’ve been determined lately, focusing like crazy on goals and journeys, and after a while it just wears me out.

And I certainly don’t want to write about it.

A letdown was inevitable, for sure. I finished my first quarter, really (in that accelerated, credential-seeking, community college sort of way) an abbreviated freshman year again, all my introductory courses. Now I get into the serious stuff, pharmacology and counseling skills and law and ethics; should be fun. But it’s done for the moment, and there’s a little hole.

And then there’s this whole exercise-lose weight thing that’s been going on for three months. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought, but it took a huge amount of concentration to forward think and stay motivated and then it just got boring. Still, I was in it for the duration, which technically ends on December 31 (nothing will “end” there, of course; I just used that because I hear you’re supposed to have goals. I read that somewhere), so I continue but I don’t really want to talk about it.

I’ve also been working irregular hours (oh, like that’s never happened), logging in off and on, staying up late at night correcting the grammar of unseen writers, and while that’s nice and all (I get checks) I only have so much focus. The kitchen is a mess, and I’m getting sloppy about shaving every day.

And I was a grump yesterday.

I got up on the wrong side of the bed, which is a literal statement for me, since a few months ago Julie and I switched positions in bed (stop it right now) for solid reasons but still, after 25 years one gets used to things. And I sort of fumed in a mild way, since it was pouring rain and I was thwarted temporarily from taking a walk until I realized that it wasn’t going to clear up any week soon.

It could be Christmas, too. It’s going to be quiet; Beth and Cameron are going to Santa Fe, and while that’s all well and good for the Beauchamps (and we certainly don’t have any resentments, although WE SENT THEM POISON FOR CHRISTMAS HA HA) it feels odd not having the girl home. And there are church issues and dog issues and John issues.

So I took a walk anyway, heading out into the wet world with electronics attached to my ears like a really smart person, and I stepped in a puddle like immediately so maybe not starting off so well. I tried to focus on thinking the good thoughts but eventually I just turned on my iPod and waited to see what would happen.

A little Bjork. Brandi Carlisle singing “The Story.” Paul Simon, Kenny Loggins, a cut from the soundtrack of “Body Heat,” two back-to-back Sondheim pieces, Bobby Darrin, some weird electronic proto-ska shit, and then a little Bach in B-minor, and I was okay after all.

It could have been that I finally had gotten the blood circulating, or that I was at my favorite spot on my walk, or that my shoe was drying out or my waist is smaller or heck, it’s Christmas, or maybe it was just Mr. Bach.

But Qui Sedes came on, beautiful music, a beautiful voice, and I degrumped. Things are going well here, really they are, and exercise is good for me. I love listening to good music when I walk, and the rain makes the grass grow. Something.

I just know I turned a corner, and suddenly my daughter was singing in my ear, and I must have been quite a sight, soaking wet and smiling, walking in the rain like a fool, not minding.

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Know Your Neurons

That was my phrase of the day yesterday, which I repeated until no one would talk to me anymore. I tend to go on about things (you think?).

My final final exam for the quarter was last night, and I managed to sleep afterwards without images of dendrites, axons and synaptic vesicles dancing through my head, although I think I managed a sugar plum. Really, the anxiety I recognized as I left for class last night seems silly; there are no consequences for someone in my position to flailing a final, and besides I knew my neurons. It’s just a relief, though, to slow down (inhibitory reaction! Probably GABA!).

Quantum change is another phrase I floated in my RAM for the big exam, although I didn’t need it and it might not mean what you think it does (think epiphany, with conflict). I’ve certainly had my share of quantum change in the past 18 months or so, but this autumn is turning out to be surprising.

School was minor, interesting but low on the change scale. One night a week, online stuff, some weekend academic marathons — I wrote several papers, learned a lot, read more than usual, picked up 14 credits and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe in three weeks I’ll have a better idea.

But my routine shifted, and still shifts, and there’s a lot of dust around that doesn’t seem intent on settling quite yet. Julie asked me the other day if I’ve ever exercised so routinely and long in my life, and I huffed and talked about sports and running and no, I don’t think so. Three months of this, pretty soon, and the changes are not only obvious to me.

Then there’s John, with issues and changes I think I’ll not elaborate on at the moment, although he’s pleasant and still fun.

And my wife has given her notice at church and prepares for her own change, heading out into the world with her particular ministry, which is exciting and scary and altogether something to look forward to.

For me, I’ve been working into the wee hours a lot, mostly proofreading and editing, making a few bucks, studying or daydreaming in the down time, catching the occasional movie, watching and wondering about Obama, losing weight like crazy, and walking. Every day, usually twice a day, the same route, all sorts of weather, with a shuffled soundtrack and a pretty brisk gait, always enjoying it and hoping one of these days I’ll figure out exactly where I’m going.

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Decks, Dogs, Bands, Blows

I have any number of things to do today, and by “any number” there is, in fact, a very specific number, and thus I post instead, of course.

I’ve had some emails, so I apologize for the lack of updates — the weather news from my neck of the woods here has been pretty devastating, obviously, but we escaped for the most part. Some wind, some rain, some minor flooding.

And with several inches of snow on the ground pre-Big Blow, I was attempting to lure Strider out onto the back deck Sunday to do his business when I demonstrated the safety of that questionable structure by putting my foot through it, sort of. One corner just gave way with me on it, showing me lots of empty air and introducing me, once again, to Sir Isaac Newton. No damage was done to my structure, though. And that deck was dying anyway. And poor Strider is so arthritic, the steps were a daily challenge. We are compensating.

——————

I had an interesting conversation with a couple of women in my Wednesday night class last week. The subject of my marital status came up, to which I responded by standing there with my mouth open and (I assume) a little cartoon balloon over my head that read, “Uh” a lot. I’ve always sort of assumed that I wore a giant cosmic tattoo over my chest that said, “MARRIED,” but these ladies pointed out that it was a little murky, since, as they said in unison:

You don’t wear a wedding ring!

Huh. Yeah, I don’t, and for a very good reason, a reason a lot of people probably don’t wear their wedding rings from 25 years ago: My fingers got too fat. I was just a little surprised, first that I wasn’t obviously a married person and secondly that people still paid attention to rings on fingers.

At any rate, my fingers are skinnier now, and I slipped that ring on this morning and it wasn’t a bad fit, although we’re planning on upgrading those bands come our silver date this summer. I’ll just have to find another way to fight off the women until then. Maybe garlic.

—————–

As far as weight, meh. I’m tired of the subject. I’ll bring it up on New Year’s Eve and that’ll be it, although I can’t swear. Let’s just say that the irony of my back deck going south was not lost on me. And that my wife keeps grabbing my butt. But that’s it.

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