Friday, May 25, 2007

Campus Visit

As far as intelligently planned excursions go, my first visit to St. John’s College in Santa Fe was a bit of a flop. I arrived the first week of break between the spring and summer sessions so nearly everything was closed. Most students were gone. The book store, cafeteria, public rooms, and several other areas were all unavailable and/or locked.

Despite the lack of planning, I consider the trip a complete success. The campus is amazing. There are three decent hills that can be hiked directly from the campus. The views are wonderful. the buildings fit in well with the Santa Fe architecture on the exterior and the interiors are quirky, colorful and imaginitive, exactly the kind of atmosphere that inspires intelligent conversation and a fun loving attitude.

Tristan (I think), the student who showed us around has just completed her junior year and was a font of information, answering nearly every question I had. She was great fun to talk to and neither Michele nor Mandy seemed bored with the tour. I really appreciate her sharing her time with us, even if the alternative was making copies.

At the end we talked to Randall. (Again, I think, at least I have his card but it is down in the car and I don’t feel like leaving the hotel room just yet.) His insight into selection criteria and the essays was both helpful and encouraging. Approximately 70% of COMPLETED applications are accepted. He said the application process, for the most part, self selects good candidates as most people who will not make a good fit will not complete the essays. In fact, he specifically warned me against one pitfall that will prevent the most interested applications, that being an inability to finish, or bring the essays to a final conclusion. He also suggested that 6 – 10 pages is what is expected and that if I were to exceed 10 pages, they had better be very good. And finally, he suggested that I should only complete the optional 4th essay if I have something very interested to talk about. Choosing to answer this question is not a pitfall in itself, but answering without something good to offer is a bad idea.

The trip was a success based on just what has happened so far and the wonderful campus visit more than made up for the 16 hours of driving over night that it took to bring us into Santa Fe when there were still people around. Now, I am off to sleep in a real bed, and not curled up in the back seat of the car like some sorry aborted fetus. Food, shower, sleep, in that order are certainly the name of the game and I’ve already completed the first 2.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Be It Ever So Humble

Here is my handwriting in its current incarnation. I mostly write in small caps these days though the occasional break into traditional printing has been known to occur. I barely remember cursive anymore. I hope you cannot tell too much about a person from their handwriting as this is not much of a statement in my favor.

Most of my notebooks are this kind of graph paper. If I write without lines, my text wanders up and down the page with little rhyme or reason. Also, I like to draw graphs and work math problems so the graph paper can be useful. It even helps when I do Japanese puzzles like sudoku or kakuro. So, consider it a useful affectation and you won’t be too far off the mark.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Or in this case, six days. The old me (see earlier thug picture) was carying a lot of baggage and that baggage was getting heavy. At the end of last week, I snapped. I couldn’t stand to see that person in the mirror anymore as he hadn’t made any of the changes I’ve been working so hard on. The changing, vibrant, active, even happy, me was screaming to get out.

Looking for a little extra psychological edge, I decided to bleach my hair. My next door neighbor’s daughter is a hair stylist and she helped me out. The result is here and it is staring me in the face every time I look in the mirror. This face is happy. This face has energy. This face doesn’t care what you think because you can’t bring it down.

Welcome to the world, may you enjoy your stay.

Change the World?

I’m on 43 Things because I want to motivate myself for the better. Part of that is setting concrete, measurable goals. Yes, I want to change the world, but having this as a goal doesn’t give me any clue what steps to take. I need to consider this and turn it into a more useful goal for myself.

No Mastery

I took a fencing class. It was a lot of fun and great exercise. Unfortunately, my physical condition was such that it frequently hurt and left me very sore. Also, I couldn’t get to the end of a class without sitting out of something. I haven’t been back since the class ended. Maybe after my 4 months of personal training I could try this again.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Assaulting the Wall (and Other Small Defeats)

I think too much. I cast my mind’s eye inward and constantly sift and weigh. I magnify my faults and insist I could always have done better. I make small of my achievements and belittle my spirit. Humility is a virtue but so is honesty especially with yourself.

I’ve been working out. Part of me believes I am working very hard. The narcissistic critic in my insists I give in too easily, that I take little things and magnify them as excuses and that I could always have given a little bit more.

Sunday, as I lay on the ground with the dry heaves, my inner voice wondered where the water I’d been drinking was and what had happened to the meal consumed only 110 minutes before. Surely, if I were really that taxed, they would be there on the ground before me.

Monday, as I contemplated another 3.5 minutes of pure torture on the stepmill at level 5, as my heart beat blood fit to burst my veins, as my legs screamed they could no longer support me, my inner critic assured me that I could do more if only I were just a little stronger of spirit. And as I collapsed at the base of the machine, without the will to continue and managed only to stand for that last 3.5 minutes of shame, my critic raged, ranted and railed.

Slowly, as I work to quiet this voice who belongs in the pantheon of inner speakers and who exists to spur me on to greater heights, but only when he is one of many speakers and not the one, holding sway in some endless filibuster of the soul, as I work to give strength to other voices inside myself, my inner champion, my herald, and all the other facets that combine to make me whole, as I work to combine all of these into a healthier whole, I find myself attempting this compromise: if I can set myself a target before I start, then it is ok to stop there, but if I set my target too high, I must kill myself to attain it. I know this is not healthy. I know it cannot be sustained. I do not know how to give in gracefully, before I go to far, before I tap reserves best left untapped and before I deplete the very resources that I am trying to increase.

Is it possible, like the bull in the ring, to run myself until my heart bursts? I’ll never know because I don’t have the mental stamina for it. I but wish I could stop for reason when instead I stop in shame. I am not Atlas to carry the world, nor Thor to drink the sea. I hope only to be myself and as strong as I can be.

If I look at my larger progress, it seem clear I should not be ashamed but when I look at my smaller failures they seem to be all I see. If you know how to look past the small barriers to see the heights that you have achieved, please, share your secret with me for while climbing the mountain, I feel blind to the vistas and see only the ridges behind and before me.

Ruined by Reading

“Reading is good for you.” It sounds like a truism, yet, like so many things, reading can also be bad for you.

As long as I can remember reading, there has been a recurring theme in what I have read. “You cannot be a hero and also know you are a hero.” (1) In my mind, this boils down to, you cannot be good and also think you are good. If you think it, it is not completely so. This is a curse to the introspective. If you have a strong desire to be good, then is it possible to be good and not just self serving?

I find myself questioning every action. I am a good and moral person by nature but my awareness of this, combined with an insidious belief from my youth (see 1), make me doubt myself. It is only recently that I have come to acknowledge the problem with this early belief. Actions in line with your heart can both be good and be known to be good. It is only those actions where we attempt to deceive – ourselves, the world, that pretty girl – where the act and the motivation can be in conflict and where the knowing can cast a shadow on the doing.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Progress on the Uncompletable

I help people all the time. I helped a friend move this weekend, even though I practically had to bend his arm behind his back to let me. I helped his dad build a fence last fall. I helped my sister buy a car by co-signing her loan. I regularly give a lot more money than I can afford to pan handlers. I hold doors open for others. The list really goes on and on.

I added the goal “to help people” to my list on 43 Things because it is a lifelong desire. It is also a goal that will never be truly complete. As such, I am marking it off my list, not because I’ve filled my quota but because I’m trying to make my goals more practical and measurable. I still want to help people and I believe I always will. But I don’t need 43 Things’ help to track my progress here. Having this goal has never motivated me to do something different.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow?

A woman stopped me on the sidewalk as Jesse and I walked to his car after lunch. She asked if we had any change. I gave her the 36 cents from my pocket. I probably should have given her more but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her before near the office.

Anyway, she said she wanted to ask me in particular because of my hair. Having recently bleached it, it appears yellow if you see the strands from the side but appears orange if you see them from the ends. This means my hair seems to change color as I move.

I’m not sure how that makes me a more likely mark for helping people but I guess it does. I help whenever I can but sometimes I just can’t follow people’s logic.

No Excuses

I’ve wanted to go to a St. Louis Juggling Club ( meeting for a really long time. They meet every Wednesday evening between 6:00 PM and 10:00 PM at the Town Hall at New Town St. Charles. With a meeting every week, I have no excuse for not going, except maybe, now that I am working out with my trainer from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM. I guess I can catch at least the last hour of a meeting.

No TV, Done

I can’t imagine turning on the television when I am alone. Even when Michele is watching something I used to enjoy, usually I’d rather read. Surprisingly, I can even read while it is on sometimes. It is like television has lost its power. I’m comfortable calling this complete.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dry Heaves

It was bound to happen eventually. Today, after the 3rd set of shuffles down and back (sprint sideways with your entire body in a very low squat) followed by tossing a 7kg medicine ball 10-12 feet in the air sideways from a kneeling position, I got the dry heaves. Sad to say, Laura had challenged me during the shuffles with “if you throw up I’ll be proud of you for pushing yourself so hard.” I didn’t have the energy to ask if dry heaves counted as I nearly lay with my face in the dirt wondering where the food I ate an hour and a half ago and where the water I’d been drinking for the last 50 minutes had gone. Nothing came up but my stomach sure thought it should be. Oh well.


Something happened. A switch flipped in my head. Suddenly simple decisions that used to go one way now go another with absolute clarity.

Case 1. Television

One week of TV Turn Off Week and I realized, I don’t have any reason I want to watch television. I don’t miss it and I can’t think of a single way it has improved me, with the possible exception of some cooking shows I suppose. But the decision to stop entirely was very easy to make when it was something I struggled with for years before.

Case 2. Gaming

One day it clicked and I can’t understand why I even spent hundreds of hours playing pointless game. WoW, EQ, XBox, N64, Wii, where did the time go? What did I get for it? How could I have paid that much cost and have so little to show for it.
Case 3. Working Out

I started working with a personal trainer. I do cardio all the time. I want to do these things that before I struggled with doing even once a week. I schedule around my training sessions and I plan cardio sessions because I look forward to them. If you had told me 2 months ago I could still be like this, I’m not sure I would have believed you.

Case 4. Eating

It has become so much easier to make healthy choices at restaurants. I don’t feel obliged to eat everything on my plate. I avoid most sauces, sweet sauces especially. I eat lots more vegetables. It has become hard to pick the bad choices and I am unhappy when that is all the choice I have. I will go out of my way to get something better for me because I know I value it and it is important to me.

Case 5. Going Dry

Yesterday, it crystallized for me that I no longer value smoking and drinking. The idiosyncrasies I cherished in smoking strange things – clove cigarettes, hookah, imports, pipe – just don’t matter enough to pay the physical cost. In fact, what I valued before was just a superficial trait that isn’t important to me now.

It is the same with alcohol. I loved the variety. I loved learning to enjoy the many varied traits of a drink. I even loved connecting with people by sharing their ethnic drinks. The only one of those I might miss is connecting with people and if I can’t find other ways to connect, I can’t be trying very hard.

The point is, suddenly, scales that were broken inside me, scales I used to judge where to put my time, my energy, my health, my love, those scales are working again and working full time. They don’t stop. Everything I do is judged. Things found wanting are thrown out. It is frightening because I barely recognize the me that I feel I am becoming. It is hard to tell if I am becoming more me or becoming someone new.

As my life simplifies under the weight of these scales, I know that something remarkable is happening. I don’t understand it but it IS getting easier to decide what to do now based on my values. Everything is much clearer and the fog that confused me is rapidly burning away. I’m overjoyed that at least some things I valued are still tremendously important to me. Going to St. John’s College. Loving my wife. Helping people. I never completely lost my way but it is suddenly like I’ve moved into the express lanes of my live and most of the distractions are dropping away.

Change is frightening, even terrifying, but I think I’m in for a wild ride.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Contract Negotiations

Yesterday, I felt miserable. Faint, poor concentration – even when I was trying really hard, dizziness, nausea, the shakes; it really sucked. Not to mention the numbness in my left pinky and ring finger that I seem to have traced to a nerve in my funny bone and that has been like this since Tuesday.

I think this was all a message from my body’s enforcers. The message was, “if you continue to expect certain things from your body, yeah, then your body expects certain things from you.” Certain things, things like 1) Don’t skip cardio 4 days in a row, no excuse is good enough, 2) Get more sleep, 4 or 5 hours and we are going to start breaking knees, 3) When you only have 35 hours to recover between one lifting session with your trainer and the next (6:00 PM – 7:00 PM Wednesday to 6:00 AM – 7:00 AM Friday), don’t even think about smoking a hookah and drinking half a bottle of mead plus a glass of port, you stupid, stupid, careless man!

Yeah, I got the message. Time can only tell if I am smart enough to listen or if the enforcers will be back for another round.

And like any frightened enforcee, I did exactly what they wanted this morning, and I didn’t let anything get in the way. When the gym wasn’t open at 6:30 AM, I did walking lunges and body weight squats for 10 minutes getting my heart rate up over 155 and then did a medium to high intensity walk for 20 minutes followed by 7 minutes of speed intervals on the step mill because by then the gym was open.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Really Bad Week

This week has been very hard. I have not done a single cardio session since Monday. My mood has gone steadily downhill. To top it off, I smoked a hookah yesterday and polished off half a bottle of mead and a bit of port. If it weren’t for scheduled sessions with my trainer, I think this would be enough of a crisis to crush my will to continue and would be the point where I usually fall off of any exercise I start.

Trying to see changes in my body is like watching a glacier melt. Global warming is happening and the rate they melt is faster almost every day but the changes are still so slow that the changes you do see seem almost illusory. My body is changing though, just as the glaciers are melting. And global warming is an apt description of the pace of change as I don’t think changes could happen any faster. I’m eating every 3 hours, keeping my metabolism high. Usually, I am doing cardio at medium to high intensity 4-6 times a week for 40-60 minutes. I’m strength training 3 times a week with a trainer. My portion sizes when I eat are way down. I am not getting any simple carbs like high fructose corn syrup, white rice and non-whole grain flours. And I appear to be losing about 3 lbs a week which seems insanely fast but the slowly appearing definition of muscle suggests it is all being lost in the right places. But still, the tire rolls on and I’m not completely happy when I look in the mirror.

Without my trainer Laura’s help and support, I don’t think I could keep this up. Still, it seems every session I push harder, ignore a little bit more pain and hard breathing and accelerate my pace. And I am getting stronger and more fit. It took 15 years to get in this miserable condition, but maybe it will only take 1/10th of that to get out.

As a mental aid to keep up my will for the drastic changes I have made, I’m going to bleach my hair blond. It is the most drastic appearance change I can think of to shake me up and I’ve really wanted to do it for years. I will try to get before and after pictures posted so those few of you who are curious can see what it looks like.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ah, Pad Thai

My first dish of Thai, some 9 years ago. Wonderful noodles and sweet nuttiness. I’ve since started eating much spicier Thai fare and at the moment, I think Thai frog leg dishes are my favorite.

Sweetness Unrestrained

Bubble tea was fun. I love trying things that are new to me. Unfortunately, there is far too much sugar in this product, at least as served here in St. Louis, and I doubt I will have it again.

I’ve heard of microlending before and have been fascinated by the subject. Now, I’ve heard of a place that funds microloans from multiple sources. I’ve not investigated it as much as I would like but it is very interesting. Whether I use or something else, I want to start microlending now.

Where to Rave?

I’m not your traditional raver and I don’t think I know anyone who is. I don’t know how to find a rave in St. Louis where I currently live. I’ve wanted to go to a rave for a long time but I really don’t know how to take the first step.

Petite Absinthe

You can find a drink that is supposed to be nearly the same taste as absinthe in the United States. It is called ‘petite absinthe’ and if you aren’t paying attention (I wasn’t), you might even think you have the real thing. Real absinthe is illegal in the US because of the compounds in the wormwood it is made with. I really want to try this the next time I am someplace I can get it.

Painting with Dinner

I don’t follow recipes well. To be honest, I can’t stand recipes. I want to be able to walk in the kitchen and throw something together with whatever we have on hand. Michele is so much better about planning meals than I am. For me, cooking is an act of creation. Cooking to a recipe is like paint by numbers.

Unfortunately, cooking to a recipe is really more like taking a good painting class. You have to learn how to combine color if you want to turn out well crafted paintings. Still, I insist on handicapping myself by cooking without guidelines. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it bombs. Most of the time, it is OK.

Tonights meal, rotisserie rabbit with fig balsamic glaze and dark chocolate fettuccine. There is this riot of taste in my head. If I ever learn to make it real, I may have to start a restaurant.

Simple Isn't Simple

I’ve almost stopped watching television. I’ve completely stopped choosing television. At home alone, no alternative is less attractive than turning on the television.

I’ve mostly stopped playing big ticket games. Every console is disconnected (Wii, XBox 360, Playstation II, etc) and hooking them up is not appealing. I’ve canceled all my MMORPGs and the thought of playing them is slightly sickening. Even more astonishing, I’m not jonesing after any upcoming games that I will play for a couple of hours and then forget forever.

Consumerism haunts me like my shadow as I struggle to quash its last vestigial clutches on my habits. It seems that every turn leads to another reason to spend but for now, will rules. I know that spending will not increase happiness but the habits of a lifetime grip strong.

Rediscovered love of the farmers markets seems to be the key to decreasing our spending on food without a loss of quality or variety. Fresher, tastier, local foods for a lower price. If only my cooking lived up to the ingredients.

Simple is a life goal. Conscious living is not easy living but it is rewarding living.

One Month Update

The recent switch from 2 days a week to 3 days a week combined with the switch to higher weights, lower reps is hitting me hard. I wish I could lift every third day for a while but the scheduling of that seems complicated.

I seem to be getting stronger. I might even be losing weight. Unfortunately, watching the fat go is even less exciting than watching ice sculpture melt. The glacial erosion of excess padding isn’t exactly obvious, even if my wife does think she notices a difference. I can say that my legs seem firmer and stronger but I’ve always had decent legs. It is the tire around my abs and the pillows atop my pecs that really upset me and of course that will show the least progress from simply bulking muscles. They require substantial fat loss before I expect they will show much.

Eating every 3 hours is harder than it should be. Keeping portion sizes down to reasonable after a lifetime of 3 meals a day is tough. Also, my schedule is too irregular to allow conveniently timed meals. I’m working on it and from what I’ve read, nothing else burns more fat than the cranking metabolism that eating every 3 hours provides. One strange side effect of this is higher core temperature. I’m more likely to feel hot because my body is a furnace cranking out BTUs. For some, this might be a plus but for me, it is not so great. I already feel too much heat all the time. shrug

Missing Posts

I've realized the posts I thought I was making via 43 Things were not making it here. Thus the gap of over a year when I thought I had content at least every couple of months. Ah, well.

Check out my 43 Things page if you are really curious to know what I've been writing about.