Friday, April 18, 2014

The one thing I forgot to say on that Paleo FX panel

I was fortunate enough to be on a panel at Paleo FX 2014 called "Beyond Food." We were addressing a myriad of topics other than simple food choices that can affect someone's ability to optimize his or her health and happiness.

My fellow panelists and I all agreed that the Big Man (or Woman) driving the bus on all such issues is stress. We all have it in our lives. The trick is to manage it properly; it'll never be eliminated. The modern world is insane, and, even when doing your best to minimize their effects, our stressors are still ever-present and nearly completely different -- and of a much more enduring, rather than punctuated, nature -- than Grok ever faced in the Paleolithic. The key is how you react to stress. Do you let it float on past, or does it run your life for you?

So we Beyond Food-ers discussed meditation and flotation, even just the simple act of taking a walk outside, as stress-management techniques. We hit on play as exercise, and the effect that stress has on sleep and digestion. And I recall that, as our 45 minutes or so onstage drew to a close, I had made almost every point that I wanted to….

Except one. We'll call it:

An N=1 Story of Digestion. ("Uh oh," you say….)

My favorite kind of vacation is the outdoor kind, specifically the hiking kind. Go somewhere beautiful and set up house in a rental. And get outside as often as possible. My very favorite place to do that is in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains of California. I've been there a lot over the last ten or so years with both family and friends. Each time we stay in the town of Mammoth Lakes.

When we are there, usually for a two-week blast of sunshine, fresh mountain air and hike after hike, a typical day looks like:

--Get up with the sun, or not soon after.
--Eat a glorious, huge breakfast.

--Throw food and water into a backpack and head out the door.

--Spend most of the day outside, hiking, on mountains that we just don't have out east.

--Return "home" wonderfully exhausted and totally jazzed to do it all over again the next day (documented by "Look happier than is actually humanly possible to be" selfies).

--Eat dinner.
--Go to sleep.
--Repeat. Every day.

And then there's... the Ben and Jerry's.

Mammoth Lakes has a Ben and Jerry's store. Invariably, at the end of almost every day in Mammoth, one of us says, "So, whadya think... Ben and Jerry's?"

The answer has never been, "No."

We eat so fucking much ice cream out there that it's ridiculous.

If as part of my everyday life at home I ate ten percent of the ice cream that I eat when we are on vacation in Mammoth Lakes, the State of New Jersey would get a court order to forcibly commit me to solitary confinement in a bathroom for life.

I really don't do very well, digestively speaking, with regular dairy. So I don't eat it regularly.

Except on a hiking vacation.

And then? I can eat it whenever I want without incident.

I have only one explanation for this demonstrable dichotomy of dairy digestion***: vacation is a stress-free existence, outside, involving tons of natural Vitamin D****.

And you may recall: the famous smart people will tell you that stress impacts digestion in a big way.

And after the famous smart people leave, I'm here to tell you that a lack of the usual stressors does exactly the opposite.

It just happened to me again, on a much smaller level, in Austin, during my absurdly happy time at Paleo FX, where I had three scoops of delicious grassfed ice cream from Lick on my last night in town and I had not a hint of a twinge of a whisper of digestive upset. After a day at work, the same three scoops would be more, er, eventful for me (and for those within, uh, range). In fact, I remember thinking, "Do I really want to do this the night before I have to sit on planes for four hours?"

I did, and it was fine.

Dismiss this lesson as N=1 nonsense if you wish, but let me repeat: I don't usually eat dairy, but when I am essentially living outside, mostly stress-free, on vacation, I can.

That may be N=1, but it's also awesome.

And delicious.

And good to know.


***I'd like to think that if life were just and fair, somewhere there would some sort of award of many many bonus points coming my way for that little piece of alliteration. But no….

****True story: Vitamin D is not actually measured in tons.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Paleo FX 2014 -- the happy wrap-up post

Paleo FX really is the Super Bowl of the paleo/primal world. Last year, 2013, I dove headfirst into the conference, then in its second year -- but its first in expansive digs at the Palmer Events Center in Austin, Texas -- with my brain set on what I dubbed "learning mode." I had been to plenty of music conferences in the past, and I knew how to talk anyone's ear off just fine, but last year's PFX was going to be all about amassing as much high-level paleo knowledge as I could. The socializing could take a back seat for once.

And, as I told you in my review of PFX 2013, I followed that plan really well, seeing countless presentations and panels that blew me away. I left with my mind crammed with information,  a lot of great meals stuffed into my gaping maw and a vow to come back for another round.

But this year's conference, from April 11-13, 2014, at the same location, held a different attraction for me. Yeah, I still wanted to see great panels, but I wanted to meet people too -- paleo idols, fellow bloggers and regular conference attendees.

Additionally, I had been asked by Kendall Kendrick from Primal Balance to be the "meditation/stress-management" guy on a PFX panel called "Beyond Food." 

I had been a guest on Kendall's podcast last July. We had a great conversation, hit it off well and staged a couple of "30-day meditation challenges" thereafter. The idea of the Beyond Food panel was going to be a group of people, each with a different skill set and experience, addressing all the "other stuff" a paleo/primal person can do to optimize life. You know… play, sleep, stress-management, etc.

My initial reaction: "Wow. That sounds vaguely terrifying…. [Pause]…. But sure. I'd love to!"

My slight reticence wasn't from a fear of public speaking. I do that in my day job all the time. It was more of a bit of: "Whoa... I'm just a reasonably smart guy with a blog, and a point of view, and a big mouth full of opinions.... but, seriously, I'm no Robb Fucking Wolf." [Actually his middle name].

And then I realized I needed to knock off the minor self doubt, sack up and get involved.

I was in.

For PFX 2014 in Austin.

As a panelist.

I passed out cold. (Not actually true, but that's not really Robb Wolf's middle name either).

I recovered (predictably not hard to do when the passing out didn't happen) and off I went, full of enthusiasm.

So, for me, PFX 2014 went like this....

The "Socializing" (or, like the fancy folks say, the "networking") Part of the Conference

I flew into town already lucky. I had lots to do in Austin on Thursday night April 10, the evening before the PFX kickoff. There was an "official" pre-party, but I never bought a ticket to that soiree because, before I ever knew anything about the official wingding, I had accepted two other invitations. One was to a publicly-advertised "meetup" at 6 p.m. at Wholly Cow Burgers (grassfed! delicious!) downtown. I was staying only a few blocks away, so that was a no-brainer. I logged the details into my social calendar (code for "iPhone").

Next was going to be a private party at a secret location. I am really unsure how I got so fortunate as to be invited to such a nice friendly gathering of Important Paleo People (IPP), because I am nowhere near IPP level, but I was really appreciative -- so appreciative, in fact, that I am not going to tell you much about it -- because it was all secret and stuff, and full of IPP.

The plan was Wholly Cow first, and then the party. When I had gotten the party invitation, I had  figured that I was likely to meet someone(s) who might want to go to the IPP party after the Wholly Cow chowdown. So I cleared that possibility (one or two guests in addition to me) with the IPP host and she graciously said it was cool.

So I went to Wholly Cow. But damn, I was late. Really late. Like 7 p.m. My flight had been delayed. I saw two people there; they were eating. For the life of me, I couldn't remember the name of the dude organizing the meetup. So I approached: "Um, are you guys part of a group from a conference meeting here in town?" [Brief pause while couple suspiciously evaluates whether I am armed and/or dangerous…. "No, honey, he's just a paleo dork."] They were the meetup organizers! Kiley and his wife Jessica couldn't have been nicer. But they were almost done their meal. We talked for a bit, and they headed off for another event.

My friend Petra and her roommate/friend Marcy showed up at Wholly Cow shortly thereafter, later than me. Petra is an FB pal who has previously participated in a meditation challenge here on the Paleo Drummer page. She's super nice, but she's Finnish. They are not a wordy people. (In Finnish the really extra-long version of the Gettysburg address would have been: "Come on, people. Let's get it together, hmmm?" followed by 15 minutes of silence.)  So honestly, when I heard she was going to the Wholly Cow thing,  I was terrified that my caffeinated Philadelphia-isms were going to scare the living bejeezus out of her. But no. She weathered my wordy onslaught well, and after we ate delicious burgers, she and Marcy said they would like to go to the IPP party. So off we went to Whole Foods, bought hard cider, and then drove to the IPP party. It was great. I ran into people I knew already, which surprised me a bit because, as you may recall from many paragraphs ago, I didn't do all that much socializing last year.

I will not identify any of those people -- because the party was all secret and stuff -- but let's just say that the shindig started off well for us when Really Important Paleo Author Whom I Am Lucky To Know Already (RIPAWIALTKA) sees us coming in the porch door at the party and says, "Hey! What are you doing here?!" Cleverly, because I am nothing if not clever, I countered with: "What are you doing here?!" (because I thought she wasn't getting in until the next day). Many conversations were had thereafter, first with RIPAWIALTKA -- whom I introduced to a pretty-excited Petra and Marcy -- and then with lots of others, some of whom I "knew" from online interactions with their IPP FB pages, and some of whom I met for the first time that night. It was all very cool, and the three of us felt super fortunate to be there. If the person who invited me is reading this, really... that was nice of you. Thanks.

But all of that general awesomeness -- and I like very little more than meeting new and interesting people -- paled in comparison to the next day's adventure. Melissa Joulwan and I are blogger buds. She's the famous author one and I am…uh... not. We hit it off a couple years back when she and her husband Dave were in Philly for a book tour for Well Fed, her first cookbook. I knew she was a big Social Distortion/Mike Ness fan, and at the time I thought the then-new Social D record was a small step down from their previous glory, so, like the serious music geek that I am, I introduced myself and said, "So, I don't want to talk paleo with you. I want to know what you think of this new Social D album."

This strategy paid off in a bonus-length conversation about music, specifically punk rock, and we have been paleo/punk-rock pals since then. So, when I knew that PFX14 was looming, I contacted Mel to make sure we'd have some time to shoot the proverbial shit. We decided to take a walk around the lake at lunchtime on Friday. We covered a boatload of topics, never shut up once, and I learned a whole lot of important info about a paleo-related topic about which she knows a lot, and which plays into future plans of mine (about which we will not talk for a considerable time, thankyouverymuch…). It was a great hour or so. I left the conversation with a few things: (1) an abiding gratitude that I hit it off with her so well way back when, because she's awesome and smart and I like awesome and smart; (2) a ridiculous selfie inspired by her declaration, "Let's make mean faces!"; (3) a lot of much-more-concrete-than-before future plans of my own for that idea of mine (about which we still will not talk for a considerable time, thankyouverymuch….); and (4) Mike Ness's leather jacket.

Really. Mike Fucking Ness's leather jacket.

Mel bought it many years ago on a fannish lark, and, now that she and Dave are downsizing and moving out of town, she asked me if I wanted the jacket -- to "keep it in the family." It doesn't really fit me well. He's short. I'm tall. It doesn't matter. It's Mike Ness's leather jacket. Totally badass. How lucky am I?

                                                            photo by Jen Cray

If the day's socializing had stopped there, I would have been just fine. But no…. That evening was the Speakers' Dinner at a local farm. I got in great offbeat conversations (who knew Darryl Edwards has a trip-hop(ish) album from a few years back? Not me, until I talked music with him that night. Who knew that Jimmy Moore gleefully walks around with sticks of Kerrygold butter ready to devour them? OK, you may have known that), and my fellow tablemates Tony Federico, Roger Dickerman (from Philly!) and Joe Johnson were a veritable laugh riot. Thanks for letting me into the festivities, guys.

Oh, and if you ever have a chance to talk about floating with Evan Brand, do it. The dude takes my enthusiasm for the subject and multiplies it by ten. It's downright infectious, I tell ya.

On Saturday, I reconnected with Petra and Marcy for a delicious and fun lunch at El Alma. And then that evening I met our "Paleo Posse" -- the product of a great idea from the PFX organizers: match a conference speaker/panelist or two with a group of six or seven other conference attendees and let the whole group organize an outing (and PP is their clever name for it, not mine). Jimmy Moore and I were the speaker/panelists in the group -- he the famous one, me the…uh… other one (you may notice a repeating theme here). Jimmy is great. I love him. He puts everyone at ease. He mentions butter a lot. He cracks jokes. He mentions butter again. He yells the word "ketone" in public places, often coupled with "butter." He and I were joyfully busting on each other soon into the gathering. And the other folks? Damn, what a nice bunch of people. I am now Facebook/Twitter pals with most of them (and the rest should get on that… hint). There were Morgan, Bryan, Aaron, Adam, Mireia, Lisa and Kristin, and every one was a pleasure to hang with. We laughed (a lot). We ate (a lot of) mediocre barbecue at a place that Morgan the local warned us about. I talked (a lot). They didn't seem to mind (much, anyway). It was a blast.

And then Sunday night, those of who remained in town did it all over again (with new members Krista and Julie), but this time with a stop at the 24 Diner for glorious food and at Lick for grassfed ice cream in weird flavors that nature may have never intended, but which work really well together. (Goat-cheese/thyme/honey ice cream. What?! Yes please, and it was delicious).

Really, fellow Paleo Posse members, you made my conference experience extra fun. Thanks.

So 800 zillion words into this, you might be thinking, "But did he like the actual conference?"

He did.

The "Conference" Part of the Conference

I saw a lot of great panels and speakers. I missed a bunch of other top-notch ones because the ones I was at were so good. The scheduling conflicts were unreal. The organizers had so many smart and amazing people on four or five different stages at once that you had to just commit yourself to the notion that you couldn't possibly see every last thing that you wanted to.

But amidst the great were a few presentations that really stuck out as even better than that. Everything I saw was wonderful, certainly never worse than an "A-" and usually a solid "A," but some were "double freaking A+." Those would be these ones:

Hacking Stress (Under Pressure) panel -- If you hang around these parts at all, you know that I think stress management is the key to everything. If handled poorly, stress disrupts sleep, hormones, digestion and… well, life. This panel (A. Jolly, Nora Gegaudes, Ben Greenfield, Evan Brand and Sara Eye) each contributed their own specialized take on the subject. I particularly noted how Evan wowed everyone with flotation talk (I know more than a few people did their first float that weekend because of his enthusiasm for the topic) and how Sara's salty take on growing up, getting your act together and ditching the excuses for failing to address stress was really refreshing (Ben Greenfield with the play-by-play on Sara's early contribution: "Wow. That's three shits and a fuck so far!"). An extraordinary hour.

A Nervous Tap: Your Nervous System is Talking. Are You Listening? -- This was a heart rate-variability (HRV) talk by Jason Moore. I loved it. I thought I already knew a whole lot about HRV, but this was the best-organized presentation I have seen yet about why knowing and managing your HRV can lead to better exercise performance, and a better life. And I got to ask geeky questions of Jason afterwards. He was super accommodating in that regard, and I appreciate it.

Living a Happy, Intentional Life panel -- Happiness is not underrated. But, as you get older, more cynical and more mired in your ways, you can forget that the intentional, driven pursuit of happiness is critically important to making your short ride on the planet the best it can be. Every member of this panel nailed that concept, from multiple angles, over and over. I thought that Hilary Bromberg and Dean Dwyer were particularly entertaining and cogent, but the rest of the panel (Michelle Norris, Nicole Avena and Darryl Edwards) were right there with them leading the charge into Awesomeness. I went to this presentation originally figuring that I would like it, but also sort of strategizing that if I saw this one, I would already be in the room for the next panel: the Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson show. It turned out that, yeah, I enjoyed those uber-famous guys, but this? Off-the-charts amazing.

(A "networking" digression: in keeping with my view (previously expressed here) that a really heartfelt compliment is a great and genuine thing to give (and, sadly, too-rare), I always try to track down folks whose work I appreciate so I can tell them so. When I saw Hilary Bromberg later, I told her that she was great on the Happiness panel. When I ran into Jason Seib and Sarah Fragoso, I told them how much I love their work and their attitudes. (And I may have kinda swooned when they both told me they read my stuff regularly. Nice….) And when I saw Stefani Ruper -- whose work I really admire and with whom I have occasionally tweeted back-and-forth recently -- and Dean Dwyer sitting at a table together signing books, I decided to talk to them quickly. I introduced myself to Stefani, and, as she came around the table to give me a hug, I turned to Dean and said, "Dude, I just want to tell you that you were fucking fantastic on that Happiness panel. I wasn't familiar with you previously, but now I have a lot of catching up to do with your podcast." Stefani (to Dean), laughing: I like Steve... because Steve likes me! That's how blogging works, right?" Dean: "I like Steve because he really knows how to compliment an author! Thanks, Steve!")

Perception is Reality: the Biggest Lie in the Fitness Industry -- I love Jim Laird. His coaching philosophy, which stresses movement and mindfulness over beating oneself senseless in the pursuit of health and longevity, is right up my alley. (I like health. I like longevity. I'm fucking old. I'd like to be here, happy, for a while.) I have heard Jim on a few podcasts, but this presentation was something special. Jim was in pure Henry Rollins mode. He didn't say anything that surprised me, mind you. It was all in the same general neighborhood of "smart training and meditation trumps overtraining every time" but he seethed a little more than any of those other times. You could tell that he was on a mission. Two microphones broken and 30 minutes later, with folks like Sara Fragoso, Jason Seib, Roger Dickerman, Eva Twardokens and Joe Johnson cheering him on with the rest of us, he finished -- the last presentation of the last day of PFX, and it was a raging mofo of perfectly-placed righteousness. Boom.

So then you might ask yourself, "Wait, wasn't this loquacious bastard blogger on a panel himself?"

He was. It went like this.

The "Panel That I Was On" Part of the Conference

Our panel was called Beyond Food. The idea -- as I said earlier, to put five folks with slightly different skills and perspectives on one panel to address a myriad of ways that one can optimize life "beyond food" -- was Kendall's. She's great that way, and, man, when I heard who was on the panel with us (Tony Federico as moderator, Darryl Edwards, Dan Stickler and Kyle Maynard, in addition to me and Kendall) I thought two things: (1) "Wow, what a group that is," and (2) "I'd better bring my 'A' Game, or my super-smart fellow panelists are going to crush me with their super-smartness."

I'll leave it to someone else to tell you how I did. I made every point I came in intending to make, save one (and that'll be the next blog post, because that is how blogging works, hmmm?), plus added some thoughts here and there on new topics that came up, so I had fun and was happy with my work up there. But my fellow panelists were really and truly fantastic. Kyle brings such optimism and grit to the table that he inspired me from the second I saw him leap out of his wheelchair, bound across the stage and get on his barstool. What he had to say thereafter focused on life optimization in a beautiful and multi-faceted way. Dan had the smart-doctor end of the conversation covered completely. Whether the topic was sex hormones, sleep or stress, he nailed it. Kendall has the whole gamut of digestion/food-availability/sourcing/etc so well organized in her mind from her many presentations on those topics that she speaks and I think, "How the hell did she just say all that so clearly and perfectly?" And her contributions to the rest of the discussion, whether on stress, sex or just getting outside, were spot-on. Darryl -- ever-present in his outside "play" groups all weekend -- brought his funny, cogent take on play and doing what you love for a living as the fundamental missing links in exercise and happiness.

And Tony? If I told you how organized Tony was about this whole panel from behind the scenes, you'd want to fire the rest of us for slacking in comparison. He is a rock star of panel moderation. And a funny guy. Funny, you may recall, is good.

I thought our panel did really well. And I am truly proud to have participated. Thanks, Kendall, for the opportunity! Thanks all of you for kicking ass.

So then you ask yourself, "Are we finally done with this ramble? I have a life to get on with."

We are. After this….

The "Big-Take-Away" Part of the Conference

Notice something? I hardly used the word "paleo" at all to describe what actually impressed me most about this conference. Yeah, the word is right there in the name, but my experience this year -- and what really resonated with me -- was everything having to do with happiness, life optimization and stress management. Whether it was more networking in the first evening alone than I did at all last year's conference, or attending some mindblowingly great panels, PFX 14 was all about being happy this year -- and all the ways you get to that lofty, and sometimes elusive, goal.

Damn, I had fun.

I'm happy about that.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It just doesn't matter what you eat (today)

This post has knocked on the door of my brain so many times recently, asking to be let out, but I hadn't figured out precisely what would happen if I just threw open the door and let it run around. Well, here goes....

I've talked before about how food and guilt just don't belong together.

But have I told you all the real secret: that it just doesn't matter what you eat today?

And by "matter," I am not talking about the predictable side effects of today's pizza/beer/cupcake bender.

What I mean is something a bit heavier. (Are you sitting down?)

Here's the thing: in 200 years, chances are that no one's ever going to know anything about you or even know that you were here. Yeah, there are going to be some notable exceptions -- politicians, world leaders and the like -- but think about it: how many people from 1814 can you even name? Now take out all the politicians, you history majors. How many "regular" people are on your list?

Without turning this into the paleo version of the Total Perspective Vortex, the point is.... Well, I think you get my point. Your trip on the planet is brief, and, more likely than not, is going to leave very few permanent marks.

More precisely, in 2214, no one's going to give a fuck whether you ate a bagel today.

So should you care?

I think you should care about anything that affects your happiness and the happiness of others. Because there are really only a couple strong motivators of human behavior: fear of the consequences, and happiness. But fear is a shitty emotion, let alone an awful motivation, and we should be striving to eliminate it, not basing our decisions on it more than necessary. Fear makes my stomach hurt.

So what about happiness?

That bagel (or, if you prefer, the pizza/beer/cupcake bender....this is Hypothetical Land, after all. It doesn't matter. Oh wait, very little matters... sigh....) is going to be delicious. So there's the positive effect on short-term happiness involved there. There's also the presumed negative effect on your slightly-longer-termed happiness. Or maybe we should switch to the pizza/beer/cupcake bender after all and cut to the chase: you are going to feel bloated and awful the next day. "Worth" it?

This is where it gets a little tricky, I guess. Answering that question is a careful balancing act between pain and pleasure. And you are just the adult to make that call.

Make it without guilt, but also make it understanding that this one decision really doesn't matter.

What matters is your long-term happiness.

I suspect that your long-term happiness is going to take a bit of a hit if you string together a bunch of dietary horror shows. But again, you're just the adult to make that call as well.

There's an old anti-anxiety mantra that goes something like: "Will it matter in a day? What about a week? What about a year? What about ten years?" You'll find that very few decisions in life register on the ten-year list. But I dare say that none of those -- not a single fucking one -- is a solitary food choice that you will make today.

Yes, your overall dietary approach affects your happiness. And your happiness affects the happiness of those around you. But let's not pretend for a moment that one dietary choice "matters." It's your mindset and your overall behavior that affects your long-term happiness.

And let's digress to make clear that if you think this is my way of saying 80/20 paleo sounds like a good plan to me, it's not.

But neither is stressing about an individual food choice. Have a plan. Deviate from the plan when you need to, or, more specifically, when you really want to. Get back on the plan.

Know what you want. Be an adult. Be happy.

Or as the single most wasted talent in rock and roll once sang back when he was still brilliant: "Make the best out of the bad; just laugh it off. You didn't have to come here anyway."

Because if anything really "matters," it's being happy and spreading a little of that around. Go do that.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A reminder: Paleo FX is coming!

As I have told you before, I'm on a panel at Paleo FX this year. April 11-13, 2014. Austin, TX. All the details are here and here.

And really, if you are there and you don't say hi to me, it's going to bum me out. So be social and unafraid. I plan on it.

Sometimes the solution is simpler than all that

Every now and then I get in a conversation -- about food, exercise, meditation, whatever -- and it makes me think that I need to remind some of you not to think too hard.

Last night, a paleo/CrossFit friend expressed concern that having "bulletproof coffee" for breakfast just wasn't holding her through the morning. She said she wakes up hungry, staves off the hunger with a mug of coffee, butter and coconut oil, and then is starving again by 10:30 a.m., whereupon she eats her lunch earlier than expected.

That generally doesn't happen to me.

But we're not all the same.

If you want a veritable treatise on why we aren't all the same, you could read Stefani Ruper's fine piece from a couple years ago about why intermittent fasting often doesn't work for women. (You could also, if you are either (a) a woman, or (b) a paleo professional who counsels folks on food, etc., read Ruper's new book Sexy By Nature for a more in-depth look at how to make paleo/primal living work in a way that is properly integrated into a woman's hormonal profile).

But I think maybe the place to start with any issue like this is a simpler question: how do you feel?

If you are waking up hungry, I'd suggest a pretty basic solution: eat something.

Bulletproof-coffee-fueled fasts are great. Unless they aren't. The basic idea behind any intermittent-fasting regimen is that if you wake up in a ketogenic, fat-burning state, it can do wonders for fat-burning, autophagy, etc., to prolong that state through the morning and then have one's first meal a little later, like around lunch.

But if you are waking up with a hunger that rates anywhere between "Yeah, I'd like to eat," or "Stop blocking my path to the fridge, or you gonna die," or if BP coffee doesn't last you for long, I think the way to handle that is by…. eating!

Hungry? Eat? A radical concept, I know….

Just like I have told you in the past not to get yourself all tied up in knots over trying to reach the vaunted and coveted seventeenth level of paleo nirvana -- where Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson appear to you in a hazy dream bearing bacon snacks and effusive praise for your ability to alter your leptin and Vitamin D levels on demand while deadlifting 500 pounds and sleeping like a contented Zen master -- don't get so caught up in the more gimmicky (albeit often legit) "tricks" of paleo that you lose sight of the goal: happiness through living a lifestyle that actually works well for you.

So, my smart friend who tries really hard to get everything perfect, listen to your body. And don't worry about perfect. Eat in a way that makes you happy.

Or, as a wise band once sang: "Don't get tangled up trying to be free."


Review: Wussy live at Milkboy Philly, 4/3/14

                                          Photo by acidjack from

I walked up to Mark Messerly, bass player for the Cincinnati indierock band Wussy, after their gig at Milkboy Philly Thursday night and said, "Hey man, I just want you to know that I have been seeing you guys since the first album, and the way this all has progressed into this amazing controlled squall of complete noisy freakout onstage is really fucking impressive. You all are totally killing it, and I just wanted to make sure to tell you how much I appreciate you coming out here to do this." This huge smile came across his face and he clenched up both fists, and said, "Yesssssssss! That's so great to hear."

That's pretty much the totality of my review this time around.

I have previously gone on (and on and on -- perhaps, yes, like a putrid Stephen Bishop song from the mid-'70s) about the wonder that is this band. So, for that matter, has Robert Christgau.

You could go here to read what I wrote about their 2013 Philly show, or here to get the bigger picture.

I will just add this: the hybrid that Wussy has created of a twang/drone/squall full of melody and harmony is, as far as I can tell, the closest thing to simultaneously unique, powerful and hook-filled that I can find in the music world in 2014. They take the standard Americana vibe, paying particular attention to add extra bits from R.E.M., Neil Young and Gram Parsons, with male/female vocal harmonies that sometimes head for X and sometimes for more standard twang, but they contrast and juxtapose that against a rumble and thunder on the bottom end that brings bits of Joy Division into the room when least expected, and -- in the guitar department -- a controlled fury and, yes, squall (there's that word again) that rivals Sonic Youth and Electr-o-pura-era Yo La Tengo for sheer skronk and waves of chord and feedback-drenched glory. The addition of steel player John Erhardt has upped that guitar-fury ante so high that, when pitted against the formidable rhythm section, I get joyful visions of the Who circa 1975 or so.

Which is kind of ironic, because they opened the show with a gorgeous, building crescendo of a new song called "Teenage Wasteland" that pays deep and geeked-out homage to the wonder of being a (deeply geeked-out) fanboy (or girl) of the Who in the 1970s.

The first time I ever took someone who was completely unfamiliar with this band's catalog to go see them live, he turned to me, approximately 45 seconds into the first song, as Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker wailed away about saving money for a funeral dress and the band raged with them, and -- with a look like he had just found Jesus, Buddha, Allah and the Quaker Oats man cohabitating in a way that only John Prine could predict -- he said, "Holy SHIIIIIT, I'm glad I did this."

If you went to see them, you would too.

Which is what you should do.

Check the tour schedule. It should soon be chock full of dates supporting their soon-to-be-released new album, Attica.

And, putting on my Captain Serious hat for just a moment, let's not pretend that, in the modern world where making a living in music is already tough enough, this train of awesome that is this band can continue to roll on the tracks forever without a little more support from the music-obsessed among us. It's fucking hard to take a band out on the road and play for only 50-100 people (or fewer) a night no matter how much onstage glory gets created. (I've been there, and you get off the road after even a five-day mini-tour, and try to mentally walk a path through the never-ending conflict between the joy of the whole process and wondering why you fucking bother. Really).

Go see this band. Buy their albums. Make them keep getting in the van to be as great as they are. You'll be glad you did.

"Do you remember the moment you finally did something about it??
When the kick of the drum lined up with the beat of your heart.
Stuck in the corn maze with only a transistor radio.
Making paths with the sound waves and echoes in old Baba O."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Memo to the past: f%#k off

There's a great Facebook page for word nerds (and I am most definitely one) called Word Porn. Today, I noticed the above photo on their site. And it got me thinking....

I am not going to write that note to myself.

Because it wouldn't be just two words long because I am a loquacious bastard? Yeah. Ha. But there's more to it than that.

Every one of us has a past -- full of things to be proud of, but also, almost undoubtedly, containing some behavior that, given the chance to relive the moment, a lot of us would choose to modify.

I'm fairly certain that the note that you would write to your former self isn't going to say, "Nice job! Keep up the good work!"

Not that it shouldn't, mind you, but most of you know it wouldn't.

You'd get fixated on that thing -- or those things -- that could've (...should've...would've...) been better if only....

Fuck "if only...."

Really. Take "if only" out back, beat it senseless and leave it there to die.

Sure, learn from your mistakes, but that learning process isn't an excuse to revisit past transgressions and torture yourself over them. Move on. Live your life. Being the best you can be today actually has nothing to do with whatever you did five, ten, twenty or more years ago. Or what was done to you.


(And if you think I am going to suggest that meditation/mindfulness might help you out with this stuff.... I think I just did).

You truly have no choice but to get over it -- whatever "it" is. We've all fucked up and been done wrong (and lived lives that would be punk-rock lyrics if only we were that clever), but the only potential difference between you and the next guy or gal in that regard is whether you are still dwelling on all of that today, or kicking "if only" in the tender parts and moving on to live your life.

We call that "progress."

The greatest thing that hits me on a frequent basis from my time with paleo living, CrossFit, etc. is that people are never too old, too fat, too shy, too slow or too broken to make a positive change. How you get there depends almost entirely on you, today. Not yesterday's you. And most definitely not the you that did (or didn't do) ______ many years ago. I see people coming into paleo, and into the gym, in all shapes and sizes, trying to move on. And up. And it's inspiring as hell.

So what are you doing today? Making things better for yourself and those around you? I hope so.

(And start with liking that Word Porn page. It'll make you smarter; I swear).

--Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, March 24, 2014

Musician 1 - Rude guy with phone 0

Last night, I witnessed the classiest, quietest smackdown I have seen in a while.

I was standing at the bar just a few feet from the side of the stage at Johnny Brenda's in Philadelphia. Malia James, bass player for the Dum Dum Girls, leaned down between songs and said, quietly but firmly -- to the guy whose beer had already been teetering so perilously close to her various pedals that she had spent some of the previous songs blocking the approach of said beer with her foot -- "Excuse me, but do you have any idea how rude you are being right now?"

He (and his sloshy beer) had been on the phone together. Texting. For a while. While he leaned over the edge of the stage. Five musicians were on that stage playing their asses off. He was completely ignoring them, head down, looking at the phone, with his screen turned up to brightness-level "Totally Obnoxious." Texting. Fucking texting. For most of a song.

So she said something.

And he put the phone away, with a look that indicated he had never previously considered what a self-involved turd he is.

It was so quick, awesome and effective that my wife, standing next to me, didn't even see it happen. I was filled with fellow-musician pride.

The cell-phone plague at shows is bad enough already. Morons are filming large chunks of entire shows, blocking the views of those behind them with bright screens held in the air. That's bad enough. But when the idiotic behavior starts affecting the musicians onstage, it's gone completely over the edge.

Just put your phone away while the band is onstage.

Cheers, Malia. Well-played.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Floating in a saltwater sensory-deprivation tank in Philly. Oh. My. God….

"Who doesn't want to disappear, at some point in a day, in a year, to just step off the map and float?"
            -- Nick Flynn (from "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City"**)

If you traverse these parts often, or even a little, you'll notice that I have a bit of a thing for the mind-body connection. My brain is my best asset, and, occasionally -- and that seems to be at 3 a.m. if at all -- my worst enemy. And that's neither hubris nor craziness. It's likely true for you too. Your brain controls your own surfboard on the waves of life, but as the Internet meme goes, "I got 99 problems, and 86 of them are complete bullshit that I made up in my own head." Let the balancing act begin….

When the mind takes a hard right turn for the dark places, the body usually follows. A little anxiety about an upcoming whatever, and I get a little stomach pain, a little lost sleep, maybe even the dreaded 3 a.m. worry-wakeup. And, conversely, when the head is soaring, well, that's when I have days like this.

I vote for more days like that.

(And I'll sidetrack for a moment to say that my anxiety is always (ALWAYS!) about the future. I have no hangups about the past. My particular superpower is to be able to Crush All Bad Shit that has ever happened to me. I learn from it, and move on -- a good thing. But, whatever bonus mental-outlook points I get for that particular sparkling attitude can get lost sometimes amidst the "what ifs" of the future. They can bog me down if I don't keep them in perspective. So I try….)

There's a float tank in this story, I swear.

Anyway…. another thing you might recall is that I get past the bad spots with meditation. The brain-emptying Zen smash of a regular meditation routine is, for me, unmatched. It keeps me calm. It makes me prioritize and compartmentalize what needs to be dealt with. It flushes anxiety away.

I've even gone on here about why I think open-eyes/in-the-moment Zen meditation has an edge on almost any other stress-relief technique. Spacing out/chilling out is awesome in its proper time and place. But it's not the same as emptying your present moment and letting that emptiness floss the bad bits out of your brain.

So what the hell am I doing in a space-out saltwater sensory-deprivation flotation tank at Halcyon Floats at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning in Philadelphia?

Chilling way out.

Remember, I didn't tell you there was no value in relaxation. In fact, I told you relaxation is amazing. It's just not the same as open-eyes meditation.

A couple months back I noticed that Skylee Robinson was tweeting frequently about the wonders of floating. I asked her if she would like to do a guest post here about it. She did, and it was great. The post received tons of hits, and, better yet, she got me interested in floating.

Just as I can ask you when the last time your mind was truly empty as a way to entice you to try a month or so of daily meditation, let me ask you this: when is the last time you just stopped? With no input but the thoughts in your head? For 90 minutes? That dead stop is what floating does. Or at least it's part of it.

The basics of a floatation-tank experience are pretty simple.

The water in the tank is about 12 inches deep, and contains 800 pounds of epsom salts. It's saltier than the Dead Sea. Anyone will float in it. The water is also close to body temperature. The tank itself is soundproofed and pitch-black (in theory anyway… more on that in a moment). The idea is that, once floating, you lose the edges, blurring the defining points between where the body ends and the water begins. The chill is, according to the hype, extreme.

So, I arrived at Halcyon Floats for my 10 a.m. appointment a few minutes early. After a quick briefing on the tank, and a quick shower, I plunged in.

Tell someone you are going to a float-tank place and you get interesting reactions like:

-- "Oh my god, I'd freak out."
-- "I don't know if I could calm down enough to enjoy it."
-- "I'm not sure I like myself enough to be alone with me for that long."

And so on….

Having a pretty strong base in meditation, I wasn't worried about any of that. In fact, I wasn't worried about anything. I was raring to go.

So, about ten minutes in, once I had fully taken in the initial warm dip into the water, laid my head back on one of those inflatable neck pillows that you see on airplanes, and gotten my eyes accustomed to the dark, and my ears to the quiet, I was having a few thoughts. None of them were the pleasant buzz i had anticipated:

--"What the hell is that noise?"
--"No, really, what the hell is that noise?"
-- "You know, it's really not pitch-black in here. There is a tiny bit of light bleeding in from the crack in the door and from down near the pipes near my feet."

I closed my eyes. Light "problems" disappeared. But the noise was still distracting. I'm still not clear what it was -- an almost imperceptible static-y buzz that came and went. But good god, once I heard it, and it went on and off for another ten minutes or so, it was killing me. It was not constant, and not rhythmic. I began to wonder if it was the newly installed sound system buzzing. But it wasn't *that* loud. Whatever it was, it was the opposite of relaxing.

I opened my eyes. The light that was ever-so-slightly coming in through the cracks began pissing me off too.

Then I remembered what I was told in the orientation: "You probably are going to want to turn the ceiling lights off before you get in the tank. There's a little night-light over here that will still be on in the room, but this way it won't be so bright when you get out."

Oh, right…. Shit, I left the (big! bright!) lights on.

I popped the hatch. All the light in the universe blinded me for a moment, and then I killed the light switch. Darkness! The weird buzzing noise stopped too (I guess it was the lights?).

I shut the hatch.

I headed for Awesome.

The difference between the next hour or so and what had preceded it was the same as the comparison between, say, London Calling and Cut the Crap. Between Rust Never Sleeps and Landing on Water. Between "Gimme Shelter" and "Emotional Rescue."

You get the idea.

The minor annoyances of the first 20 minutes disappeared into a very deep haze.

I simultaneously disappeared into a very deep trance. It was truly unlike anything I have ever experienced. That whole "loss of the edges of the body" thing? Yeah. In spades. I felt my pulse slow down to endurance-athlete levels. My breathing was a sound that joined me in the tank, but seemed oddly disconnected from anything going on in my own body. I drifted, in every sense of the word.

When gentle music finally came on to signify that my time was up, I felt more relaxed than, well, ever.

And it's still not the same (for me, anyway) as meditation. But wow, is it ever worthwhile.

I showered the salty slime away, had a cup of tea and a nice conversation with the woman who had been in the float tank in the other room during the same time, and headed out into a day that had a special glow to it, all day long.

Wow. I'll be back.

But there are a few things I will do differently next time:

-- obviously (duh) heed the suggestion to kill the big lights before heading into the tank.
-- ditch the inflatable pillow and use the earplugs that are offered (to keep out water more than sound). The only parts of my body that never really floated "away" completely were my head and neck. The pillow was a constant reminder of an "attachment" that I could do without next time.
-- opt out of the cooling fan that was offered for the tank. The water ended up ever so slightly cooler than body temp as a result. I accepted the fan because I tend to run hot, but overheating wasn't an issue at all. If anything, the water temp was just slightly cooler than optimal.

But those are all just "tweaks" to an otherwise wonderful experience.

Another positive that I didn't necessarily expect -- beyond the deep and abiding chill: when I went into Halcyon, my knees were aching from this week's CrossFit adventures. 90 minutes of Epsom-salt soaking later? 51-year-old dude is in no pain. Boom.

Really, if any of this experience sounds at all vaguely attractive to you, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. I can't promise that you will love floating as much as I did. But with the potential for such a deep, relaxing, transformative impact on you, isn't it worth one visit, at least?

Me? I'll be back very soon. And regularly.


**a.k.a. the best damn book you have never read. It rides the thin razor's edge between "harrowing" and "amazing" like nothing else I have run across in a long time. The author is working in a homeless shelter full of the mentally ill. In walks Dad, as a client. Yes, really. Read it. Now.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The value of a truly genuine compliment

I am not someone who thinks I need a lot of affirmation that I do a good job at work. I have been at it for many years, and I know what I am doing when I go to do my day job (the specifics of which we never ever discuss here, you may recall...).

So, something surprised me the other day.

First, someone from outside my office, whose work I respect a lot, said really nice things about some particular efforts of mine. And then, the next day, a very high-ranking official in my field (can you tell I am being purposely vague?) gave my efforts over the years in front of him and his peers a more global, far-reaching compliment when we happened to be riding on the same elevator. The first was cool. The second was completely unexpected, and, consequently, whatever better than "cool" is, especially considering the source.

And it got me to thinking....

A really genuine compliment -- particularly from someone who is an esteemed member of his or her field -- is a truly valuable thing.

Most of us toil away at our chosen path in life without a whole lot of positive feedback. Yeah, there are job-performance evaluations and the like. But those are often bullshit forms filled out only because some bullshit bureaucrat said they should be. A positive review like that means little to the recipient.

But it's different when the Big Kahuna, whoever that may be in a particular field -- you know, the Man or Woman in Charge of Everything -- takes time out of his or her busy day to say something genuinely complimentary to a non-peer. I think it's even more special when that person only occasionally hands out that kind of praise.

So.... Be aware of this fact, Mr. or Ms. Big Cheese: a really genuine compliment matters. No, don't go handing out praise left and right. That just cheapens the whole deal, and is as meaningless as that fake smile you get from the realtor (or teller or whomever) as they tell you, "Thanks *so* much," for something trivial. But when you see someone, particularly below you on the ladder of your profession, really kicking ass on a regular basis, tell that person that you appreciate his or her efforts. Do so in a real and genuine way. And you will make the world a little better, more-caring place. You may also truly brighten that person's day, week or month. And what's better than that?

Because, as a fairly common Internet meme tells us, almost everyone is struggling with something that's invisible to most of us. So, when it's appropriate, try and lighten people's loads by letting them know that their hard work is appreciated. It could be more important to them than a paycheck. Really.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad