Friday, March 10, 2017

Early 2017 stuff, or: How I briefly disappeared from the blogosphere and found some unexpected new happiness

It's early March. Okay, it's more like the early part of mid-March. I knew I'd been neglecting this blog a bit, but whoa.... Going over two months without a post is no way to run one of these things.

The only positive side of this neglect is the explanation. It's not some generic pablum about being "busy"; instead, it's more like: "I STARTED THIS COOL NEW THING!!"

The COOL NEW THING? Teaching. And, yes, that's kept me "busy."

I'm a lawyer during the day. You may recall that we don't talk about that much here. We still don't, but I'm reasonably accomplished at what I do, and so a while ago a colleague noted to me that a local law school was looking for an adjunct professor. "You should totally do this," she said. "It'll be something different, and you have a lot to offer the students in terms of real-world practice and courtroom experience."

I initially made "How dare you interrupt my cushy comfortable day-to-day existence with a challenge" noises that sounded a lot like, "Ummmmm. <pause> Ughhhhhhh. <pause> Really? <pause> Ahhhhh, shit. <pause> I mean maybe. <pause> I've taught seminars. And I definitely would have a handle on this course, which is basically 'how to do my day job.'" More grumbling noises followed.

She saw the crack in the armor: "Come onnnnnnn. It's all about giving back, you know."

She got me. In the grand scheme of things, life is really all about giving back. I've done lots of "giving back" work over the years. Coaching kids. Escorting patients at a women's health clinic past stupid protestors that were yelling hateful things. More recently, I've been volunteering with shelter dogs for a while now. It was time to focus again on people....

So I contacted the prof who was running the program. She liked my experience level -- not my law-school teaching experience level, mind you; that was non-existent. She liked my real-world experience level. I was in.

It started out as a lot of work. A lot of work. For me. The class has to prepare a brief and argue an appeal in front of a panel of mock "judges." The legal problem they were given is reasonably interesting, but it's complicated as hell. It's also in an area of law that I knew nothing about before I saw the problem. Nothing. That phrase is not hyperbole on my part. Nothing. Nada. Not a damn thing.

So a few weeks before the semester started, I had some time off from the day job and I dug into the assignment/problem. I mapped out all of its permutations, muttered profanities under my breath, and eventually "got" it -- "it" being the gist of the whole thing, in rather extreme detail. Dealing with, and explaining, extreme detail is part of my day-to-day practice of law. I wondered aloud how second and third-year law students would do with this sort of detail though....

And then I had a horrible memory: way back in law school I had a class like this and it was a bit of a nightmare. The prof did not give us a lot of guidance on the legal problem. Instead, he taught us the generics of how to brief and argue a case, but he left the legal intricacies of the actual assignment to us. That didn't work out so well for me. I got off on the wrong tangent and turned in a draft brief that, in hindsight, was awful, misguided and just plain wrong. The teaching assistant gave me a deservedly horrendous review and then she made suggestions to improve the final product. I followed those suggestions and did okay with the revisions, but I recall thinking to myself that I could have done so much better if only I hadn't gotten so far off track initially.

So I made a vow that no one in my class was going to get left that far behind.

One of the attractions of this course to an adjunct coming in from the real world is that the profs teaching the individual sections are given a load of freedom regarding how to convey the material. There's a pre-made syllabus that we are handed, and we get suggestions on what we might want to do each week, but the actual content is up to us. We aren't robots and we aren't treated like we are. It's cool that way. So I chose to teach the course the way I would have wanted to be taught it when I was in law school. It's not a legal-research course; it focuses on advocacy skills. Amidst trying to convey various written- and oral-advocacy skills, each week I have also tried to dig a little deeper into explaining the law related to the assignment, thereby honoring that "no one left behind" pledge. You can't advocate for something that you don't understand.

I think the plan is working. Everyone is at least in the neighborhood, legally speaking, in which he or she needs to be. Sure, some students demonstrate a little more complexity of thought and understanding than others regarding the assignment. I expect that. It's a mandatory course and everyone doesn't respond as gleefully as others to being compelled to a task.

But I'm totally digging watching the lights burn a little brighter in their young-lawyer brains. That whole "joy of giving back" thing? Yup. Yup. Yup.

But back to the "busy" part of the deal, and why I haven't been here at all.... Damnnnnnnn if all this teaching work didn't crush my free time early on in the semester. I mean... I have a day job for eff's sake. So ordinary work hours weren't going to be spent on teaching work. Weekends and nights were where I'd have to fit it all in. There were assignments each week, early on, that I had to evaluate and return with comments. It was rewarding, in that I'd get to fine-tune a lot of already good work. But the time crush was stressful at first. Those close to me might tell you I was a little wound up. They might even tell you I was a lot wound up. They might even have heard me say at one point that there was "no way in hell I can ever do this again because I have no free time at the moment."

I may have said that. I was lying. That was weeks ago. In the interim, I've gotten some great feedback that lets me know the "plan" seems to be working. All the students seem to have the basic legal understanding regarding the assignment that I wanted to make sure they had. Some are miles past "basic" in that regard, but everyone is up to speed. I'm pretty happy with that. I'm really happy with that.

The semester's not over. We are only at the halfway point. Drafts of their final assignment are due this week and, necessarily -- because life is like that -- some people are going to perform better on the actual task than others, but I like to think that no one is going to feel that horrible "lost" feeling that I did way back when. And that makes me feel really good.

So there's the story of my blog silence. Yeah, I've been busy. Not generically busy, but really specifically busy. I had no idea I was going to like this gig this much. Old dog. New tricks. Giving back. Good times.















Saturday, December 31, 2016

"It's the new year and I want to lose a lot of body fat." This is the simplest way I know.

It's the end of a year, and the beginning of a new one, and people get inspired to try to make big changes. One of those is "losing a lot of weight."

If you're really effing serious about that one, I know how to do it. It's not the only way. It's not the most exciting way. In fact, it's downright dull. But, good lord, it works -- if you actually do it. And it's not a diet with bullshit calorie restrictions. You won't be hungry or, worse, "starving."

So -- again, if you're serious about the "a lot" part of "losing a lot" and not engaging in some sort of recurring end-of-year self-loathing ritual -- you could do these things:

THE MENTAL(ISH) PREP:

1. Forget about "weight loss," and think instead in terms of "fat loss." That's what you actually care about: how you look and feel, and how your clothes fit, not what number is on a scale.

2. Throw out your scale. Or put it in a closet. The next time you get to step on it? That's when you need to weigh your luggage for a flight. That's also the only time. The scale is a self-defeating tool that gives you utterly irrelevant feedback on a number (weight, a.k.a. mass) that means almost nothing at all. As an example, the same person can weigh the same at two different points in time and look completely different, depending on his/her body composition. Losing body fat makes you look awesome, but it does not necessarily change your body weight. Presumably, you wish to look awesome, not engage in a numbers game.

3. Stop hating yourself. Easier said than done, I know. But really, you're not actually any of the pejoratives that you use to refer to yourself. Yes, you probably are, factually speaking, carrying around more body fat than you want to -- or else you wouldn't be reading this -- but you are not any of those other names. You are loved, and you are great. This is not new-agey bullshit on my part. It's science. Negative attitudes about yourself are stressful. Stress causes cortisol production. Cortisol is a fat-storage hormone. (This won't be the last time you read the word "cortisol" in this post). You want to minimize cortisol. That begins with a simple mantra that you, indeed, are awesome and can do anything you want.

WHAT TO DO:

1. Meditate for at least ten minutes every day. Every day. Why? That cortisol thing that I just told you about. Meditation reduces stress. It doesn't matter whether you think it's "working." If you are bothering to do it -- just ten minutes a day -- it will "work" even if you don't think it's doing anything. Really. Believe me when I tell you that if you don't have ten minutes a day to meditate, your stress problems are dangerously off the charts. Or, as the Zen people say, "If you don't have ten minutes a day to meditate, do 30 instead, because you need it."

2. Powerlift heavy two or three times a week, always with at least one rest day in between. "Heavy" means heavy for you, not trying to hurt yourself by competing like a jackass with your stronger friends. Power lifts mean deadlifts, squats and presses. If you don't know what they are, join a gym and have a trainer/coach show you. Really. That does not mean the Olympic lifts (snatch and clean/jerk) that so many CrossFit gyms are doing. There is nothing wrong with Olympic lifting but those are technical speed lifts. Yes, they require strength, but they really require a ton of technique and speed. The power lifts more simply demand direct/brute strength and, consequently, more directly engage metabolic systems that impact fat loss. And no, you will not get "huge" from a basic powerlifting regimen. Did you suddenly look like Ben Johnson last time you tried to run fast? No. Lifting heavy things will make you lose fat. You will not magically wake up one day looking like one of those guys that picks up cars and logs in a strongman competition. By the way, why only two or three times a week? Why the emphasis on rest days? (Are you ready?) Yup, cortisol. Overtraining is stressful. Stress causes cortisol production. It's like a broken record, I know.

3. Walk at a brisk pace (whatever that is for you) 60-90 minutes a day. Every day. Every damn day. Really. Aim for a 75-min average. So yeah, do 60 one day and 90 the next if you like. Or do 75 every day. Walking, not running. Walking. Every day. If you miss a day because of weather, don't freak out, but don't skip a day very often. Do not do any other "cardio" or "metabolic conditioning/metcon" work. Why the walking emphasis? It stokes the metabolic engine in a low-stress way. There are people in CrossFit (and other) gyms all over the country that are significantly fatter than they want to be but they are grinding themsleves into bits four or five or more times per week at the gym doing hard conditioning or "cardio" work. There are also people that want to lose a lot of fat that are running to lose it. That's nuts, and wildly counterproductive. Those exercise regimens are cortisol bombs. Put bluntly, a fat person with a huge cortisol problem is not doing him/herself any favors by creating more cortisol through those kinds of exercise. Yes, over-exercising can make you fatter. Walk every day for 60-90 minutes. Powerlift two-three times per week. That is a low-cortisol/fat-burning exercise routine that beats all others if you are trying to lose a lot of body fat. Walking is also meditative as hell. (See #1 above). You know what that reduces? Cortisol. You could begin to think this post is mostly about cortisol. Because it is.

4. Eat three meals a day consisting of well-raised animal protein (meat, fish, eggs) and vegetables that grow above the ground, plus -- depending on how fatty the cut of meat is -- some added fat like avocado or olive oil or real butter. (Fattier cut of meat? Don't add much fat. Eat horrible/grim no-fat white-meat chicken cutlets full of sadness? Add some good fat). Fat keeps you full. It does not "make you fat."** No snacks. (Yeah I know). I repeat: no snacks. If, in the beginning, you are going to have to fight the urge to snack, bring more of the food you ate for your meals as a snack. This will teach you to eat more at meals, because bringing snacks along is a pain in the ass. There is no calorie counting here. Eat at meals until you are full. Yes, full. No shitbag magazine low-fat starvation crap. Eat until you are full, like nature intended. Again, you eat: animals, vegetables from above the ground and some good fat. That's it. Note, I didn't tell you what not to eat. That's because instead I told you what to eat. If it's not an animal, a vegetable from above the ground or a good fat, you aren't eating it. "Wait!" you say. "What about fruit? It's good for you." Yes, it can be, but remember that this is a plan for big fat-loss. There will be plenty of time for fruit one day, but the sugars in the fruit are not going to help you in your quest to lose a lot of fat. Same thing with starchy below-ground veggies like potatoes. You can do freaking delicious things with meat and veggies. There are great paleo cookbooks out there. Buy them. Note the phrase: "You can do...." Yes, you are cooking at home. If you want to lose a lot of body fat, that is.... Restaurants are not going to help you lose fat. They are trying to overwhelm you with flavor, not body comp. In fact, here's a mantra for you: restaurants make people fat and they like it that way.

5. Drink water, seltzer, coffee or tea. That's it. Don't drink soda/pop, not even "diet."(Artificial sweeteners often still trigger your body to produce insulin, which operates with cortisol to... you guessed it... store fat).  Don't drink alcohol. At all. I repeat: don't drink alcohol. Alcohol destroys/inhibits significant fat loss. Don't smoke/ingest weed. Do you know a fat weed smoker that kept smoking weed and got thin? No, you don't. When you are high, you make horrendous food decisions.

6. Sleep at least eight hours per night. Why? Yup, cortisol. Sleep deprivation is stressful. Stress triggers cortisol production. If you are meditating every day (and you will be) this sleep thing will be a snap. Meditation ends stress wakeups, which cause excess cortisol.

That's it. Don't tell me it's not sustainable. I know people that have done it and made huge improvements in body comp. If you don't want to do it, that's okay. No one is forcing you. But it's plenty sustainable. I am also not telling you to never eat things ever again that aren't meat/vegetables/good-fat. I'm just telling you not to eat those things now while you are trying to lose a lot of body fat. This isn't asceticism. It's science. Science about.... cortisol. You may have heard of that by now.

Every day: meditate, sleep, walk, eat smart, drink smart.
Two or three times a week: lift heavy.

If you actually follow this plan, you will lose a lot of fat. Really. You will not be hungry or crazy. This is not a diet. You are eating to satiety (fullness) every time. There is no calorie restriction here and no weighing or measuring food. There isn't even a shit-ton of what you currently think of as exercise.

This plan may not be "easy." But it sure is simple. And it works.

Go forth and make some big changes. or not. Your call.

____________________
** If I were going to hashtag this food plan, it would be #LCHF. Translation? Low-carb, healthy fats.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Another twist on mindfulness: the no-alcohol experiment switches gears... to "almost no alcohol"

80 days.

Jules Verne had Phileas Fogg circumnavigate the globe in that amount of time.

I didn't do anything nearly that dramatic. I just didn't drink any alcohol during that time. It was a science experiment, and I learned a lot of things. A lot of things. Let's take a quick look at a few of those things:

1. Alcohol is like a fat-storage mobilizer, or maybe, more specifically, consuming it regularly inhibits fat-burning. Stop drinking alcohol for a couple months, and the fat storage slows while the love handles disappear. When fat goes away and you look better in and out of your clothes, you feel pretty damn good about what you are doing with your life. I'm seriously in favor of feeling good about life.

2. Alcohol is estrogenic. Regular alcohol is regularly estrogenic. Guys my age really don't need to do regularly estrogenic things. Not doing regularly estrogenic things helps hormonal balance (testosterone!), which helps fat loss and general feelings of awesomeness. There might be a theme here.

3. A body sleeps better when it isn't processing alcohol. Self-explanatory? Mostly, but I am also a lot less likely to wake up to pee in the middle of the night if I haven't had a drink. Sleeping through the night most nights is a beautiful thing. That helps hormonally-balanced fat-loss too. You also feel like a million effing bucks. You know....

4. There definitely seems to be a theme here.

5. Mindfulness. I have a stupid/mindless drink too easily/reflexively if I'm bored at night at home -- unless I mindfully don't do that. I'm in favor of mindfulness, in all aspects of my life. This 80-day experiment was like a secret Zen trick that I played on myself. Yay for secret Zen tricks. Always.

6. Time goes slower at night if I don't have a drink. I have no clear explanation for this one, but I noticed it early on and found it to be 100% true for the entire 80 days. The time between the end of the work day and going to bed seemed a solid hour (or more) longer without a glass of wine or whiskey involved. Maybe mindful living enhances your awareness of everything? Sounds plausible, anyway. It sounds likely, as a matter of fact. Whatever it is, I like it. I like it a lot.

7. Total alcohol abstinence is pretty easy** for me. Frankly, it was stupidly easy even though crazy things (like election season and much of the holiday-party season) happened during that time***. This 80-day experiment wasn't difficult; it was just unusual. I've never gone that long in my adult life without a drink. But what I really like is doing whatever the hell I want, not operating under a set of rules just to follow them. So, having accumulated a pretty clear set of facts, and having done this portion of this stunt for a sizable period of time, my science-driven plan going forward is to adopt the following state of mind: I'm going to keep abstaining... except when I don't. Put more precisely, I'm not planning on buying any alcohol for my house, or drinking alcohol at home at all. But if I'm out socializing? Yeah, I might have a drink. I don't want to return to regular shorter weeknights, regularly estrogenic behavior and regularly disrupted sleep, all of which would result if I started having a daily glass of wine or whiskey again. But having a social drink with friends here and there? Yeah, I'm down with that. In fact, that social drink is what I miss, not the stupid drink at home.

So the experiment goes onward, but it's in the next phase -- the one called "only drinking if I'm socializing." (I'm 54, not 24, so my socializing is pretty modest). This plan requires more thought (for me) than total abstinence. It requires mindfulness, intent and generally staying even more on my game than usual. It also leads to even more awesomeness. Or that's the plan anyway.

Let's go.

_______________________
** I make no bones about the fact that I never got into this abstinence experiment out of a sense of addiction or being out of control. I was just tweaking my body's chemistry. It's what I do -- a relentless quest for self-improvement through lifestyle choices/modifications. If you have an addiction issue with alcohol (or maybe if you just aren't anything like me), not only might quitting alcohol not be "easy" for you, but going back, even to an infrequent drink with friends, could wreck your whole fucking life. As the chief used to say to the assembled cops in Hill Street Blues: "Let's be careful out there."

*** A small point regarding big changes: there's never a "good" time. Whether you are trying to quit something, start something healthier, make a big life move, etc., if you look ahead on the calendar there is always an event in the future that you could point to and say, "OK, right, I'll do [the big life-changing thing] right after that happens." Fuck that. Do or do not do, but don't delay because of that future thing; there's always a future thing.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Impermanence





Dogs. They aren't geniuses but they know more than we might think.

This is a cover of a Camper Van Beethoven song that Mondo Topless did on our 2010 album while I was the drummer.

The psychedelic bridge of the song features Emmy Lou, our long-deceased Husky mix on "vocals."

I played this last year at one point and Holly, our recently-passed Golden Retriever, got really upset and confused. She went looking for Emmy, whom she knew well. I never played the song again out of respect for Holly.

There are big tufts of Holly's hair outside in the dog yard from the last time she got brushed. They are like small tumbleweeds, gradually disappearing in the wind. I just opened the door to let Milo inside and he was transfixed somewhere between confusion and horror. He'd sniff her fur ball and then look at me, utterly bewildered and a little frantic, as if to ask where she is.

Fuck. She was always the lowliest member of the pack and I didn't think they would even miss her. Who knew?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Oh s%#*, what have I done? Thoughts after 55 days without alcohol....





Three quick facts about me:

1. I'm one of those people that is inexorably drawn to self-experimentation.
2. I can start a habit -- good or bad -- in the time in takes most people to eat a meal.
3. I can quit that habit, purposely, with relative ease.

Here's a fourth: I'm not great at what I'll call "extreme moderation."

All of this plays into the fact that, at age 54, for the first time ever, I have just lived 55 days on this big blue orb without taking a single drink of alcohol.

And I am really and truly sorting out how I feel about the whole damn endeavor, so this post is going to be a bit more of a ramble than usual, I'm afraid. ("Is that possible?" you might justifiably ask yourself).

I've done Whole 30s previously alcohol-free. I've even gone as long as six months with incredibly infrequent alcohol (like about five or six drinks during that time), but this is the most, er, absolute I've ever been about my abstinence.

And I kind of love it.

Weirdest of all -- particularly for a guy that digs peaty scotch whisky and red wine as much as I do -- I am not consumed by a burning urge to revert to boozing anytime in the near future.

Weird stressors that happened while I was teetotaling:

1. Donald Trump got elected president.
2. Thanksgiving.
3. We had to euthanize a lovable, but very ill, elderly dog.

I still didn't drink. A number of people remarked to me that they have no idea how one or more of those events did not alter my no-drinking plan.

I didn't drink.

But this stunt of mine was never about addiction. Yeah, I had re-established a bit of a habit of what I call "reflexive" drinking. You know... come home from work and pour one, and it's down the hatch before you've even really considered what you're doing. But, like I said, I can quit most habits as quickly as I can start them. (Ask me about the dark-chocolate-covered sea-salt caramels that somehow made their way into our house over Thanksgiving. Habitually eating them since then? Oh yeah. Fear not, though; the package will be empty soon).

Rather, it began as something about something about sleep and fat loss and just feeling great. I'm not fat, but I could tell my body fat was up a bit in the early fall. I also knew -- as I told you here -- that I had pretty much firmly established a pattern of always waking up in the middle of the night if I'd had alcohol, and then having trouble getting back to sleep. When all that happens, I know that hormonal levels get effed up (a technical term) and reduced testosterone also means increased cortisol. Cortisol is a fat-storage hormone. This stuff's all interconnected beginning with how alcohol makes your T levels drop.

To quote myself at the time: "Oh fuck it, I'm not going to drink at all for a while and see how I feel."

55 days later, I am goddamn annoyingly rejuvenated. I have considerably more energy, feel ten years younger, less sluggish, have lost minor "love handles" of fat, and look pretty fucking good naked for an old guy, if I do say so myself.

I even got a "mindfulness" tattoo to celebrate.


But NOW what?

I have no idea. I'm not currently in a drinking mood at all. I am most certainly in a feeling-good mood -- and looking pretty good naked is OK with me too.

Conversely, I'd be shocked if I didn't drink again. Conversely to that, I don't really want to drink again yet.

It's all pretty confusing.

So I am arbitrarily going to check back in with myself around the 75-day mark, and, if no alcohol is in my present or my (near) future at that point, I will check in again at 100 days. And so on.

Basically I have no fucking idea, and I'm rolling with the good feeling.

I really like the good feeling.

Someone said, "The best revenge is living well." I'm not getting revenge for anything. But living super clean feels absurdly great at this exact juncture in my life. It wouldn't have five years ago. It definitely wouldn't have before that. But this "life" stuff is all a constant exercise in self-improvement, right? Or at least that's always been my take on it. And right now -- in this very mindful present moment -- I feel fucking fantastic.

Onward.

We'll see what happens.

Or as they say, "Reports to follow."

The only certainty is that the tattoo is permanent. And I'm good with that.






Saturday, November 26, 2016

Holly was a great dog




We're dog people, and, by and large, all our dogs have HUGE personalities. They are unique weirdos and each has a distinctive strong sense of self that you will never forget if you meet them.

Holly wasn't really like that.

She was just nice. Really nice. Maybe the nicest dog you ever met.

We got her as a young adult when my brother-in-law's family couldn't keep her. They had raised her from an absurdly fuzzy purebred Golden Retriever puppy, but my brother-in-law turned out to be wildly allergic to her fluffball self. My wife drove out to Pittsburgh and picked her up. "Of course we'll take her!" she had told her brother. "Holly's a sweetheart."

Never has a more accurate assessment been made.

At the time, we had two dogs: a super-dominant, but lovable husky mix named Emmy Lou, and Lydia, a chocolate brown lab/staff-terrier mix about whom I've gone on and on previously. Holly walked in, said hi to those two, checked out the cat, made a snorty noise and took a nap. She would take orders from Emmy Lou (I think we all did) and became good buddies with Lydia. She was low-maintenance to the extreme. And her calm was legendary. We called her the Holly Lama.

But most of all? Holly was just nice. She was interested in two things: being lovable and eating food. More than one visitor to our house would say, while petting her, "I like all your dogs, but I really like this one. SHE'S SO NICE!"

She was bonded tightly to all of us, but a little extra tightly to my wife and my son Sean. She loved every food item in the universe, and bananas a little more than the rest. (OK, so I guess she was a little weird: a dog obsessed with bananas; really). Over the years she welcomed three newer canine additions that never gave her an ounce of respect. Holly was the sweet lovable bottom of the pile in the pack. And perfectly happy in that role.

In fact, after a lifetime of 12 years of being just plain nice and never doing anything wrong (EVER... seriously), we knew things were suddenly going way downhill when Holly stopped eating a couple weeks ago and even turned down a slice of banana. Then Sean was home for Thanksgiving and she was happy to see him, but, having refused food for days at that point, she was not quite as overjoyed as usual, and in short order she retired to a bed to nap and just look kind of sad. Trouble had pretty clearly come to our sweet friend.

So we took her to the vet today, and the news was awful. Holly had a huge stomach mass and a distended liver, and there was nothing to do but the compassionate thing.

So that's what we did. Because if there was ever a time to return all the niceness to Holly, it was when she needed it most. We won't forget you, friend. You were nicer than anyone. Ever.

                                                       The pack is down one member.









Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The morning after

I have lots of thoughts this morning, and, then again, not all that many.

 “How could the polls be so wrong?’ seems like a popular question. It’s not one I am asking, though. These last few weeks, my singular political concern – balanced by otherwise overwhelming optimism about Dems’ chances – was that we kept seeing polls that read something like: 42/40/5/2 (Clinton/Trump/Johnson/Stein).

Add those numbers up. It equals 89. That stray 11 percent broke harder for Trump in the end. That’s your math, plain and simple. The polls weren’t “wrong.” They were right, at least up until that 11 percent actually had to choose. And they voted for change.

It’s not the sort of change I was looking for – taking away people’s health insurance, going backwards on women’s rights, marriage equality, etc. And it isn’t the kind of candidate I ever could have voted for.

Our side got some big positive changes these last few years on issues that we felt strongly about. Now those changes are in danger.

So we have to work - yes, again - and not just at the federal level. Sometimes we get lost in the notion that the federal government is all there is. But the Supreme Court only defines what your federal constitutional rights are. Individual states can’t drop below that level, but they sure can do a hell of a lot better for you. So while the feds aren’t in a position to do what you want, start looking at state and local races. Start caring about the bigger and the smaller picture.

When the federal (or state or local) government does things you hate these next four years, let ‘em know. Every time. When you see people getting the short end of the stick and a raw deal, speak up. Quiet people that aren’t politically involved don’t get anything done on the issues that matter.

Put differently, this is your wake-up call that politics isn’t something that happens every four years.

I know a lot of you are freaking out. I can’t tell you not to. I can only tell you that I’m not going to join you in that. Someone (Nate Silver?) said that the country is no different at its core than it was a day ago. It’s true. Sure, it’s now politically constituted at the federal level in a way that I’m not pleased with. But I’m not leaving. I’m not quitting. In fact, nothing about me changed on November 8, and I bet that’s true about you too. You love your family and friends just like you did yesterday. So keep loving ‘em and keep doing the right thing. There’s nothing more malleable than politics. But people, for good and bad, don’t change like that.

Hang in there. Keep being the great person you are. Fight the bad stuff. Embrace the good stuff. Get involved. Forward. Always forward.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

"Guilty" musical pleasures, and the unbearable shallowness of (my) being

A while ago, my friend Kat got me way into the L.A. band Warpaint. I dig their melding of a mostly chill trip-hop vibe with something a lot more Siouxsie and the Banshees than I'm used to hearing these days. Kat also told me I'd love the drummer.

Seriously, I love the drummer. She's got groove and feel and dynamics.

I'm used to Warpaint sounding like this:




And this:




So I was a little taken aback when their new song -- entitled "New Song" -- came out recently. It's "just" a pop song -- a really disco-y pop song.

I was slightly embarrassed to admit that I love it.





I might actually have been more than slightly embarrassed.

************
I don't really believe in the "guilty" part of musical "guilty pleasures." I like what I like. I refuse to actually feel guilty.

But I guess occasionally, when I get caught up in the hook-filled chorus of a slick pop song that's way more disco than punk rock, I still get a little sheepish. I mean, dude, really....

Or I did. And then I parked my car in Philly today while "New Song" was playing. I didn't think I had it on very loud. I never think I have anything on very loud. Especially when the windows are up.

I had it on pretty loud. Even with the windows up. I was digging it.

I got out and a very attractive not-even-remotely-my-ancient-age woman was standing in a nearby doorway, smoking a cigarette. She caught my eye and said, "Were you just listening to Warpaint?"

"Uhhhh, yeah. That new song is insanely catchy <pause> even though it's basically a disco song."

"Dude. Totally. I love it too. They're the best. Have a great day!" She smiled, stubbed out her smoke and went back inside the store where she'd been.

Well, if she likes it with not a hint of embarrassment....

Sigh. I strive to be a nice guy, but, yeah, I am such a goddamn shallow male.

Turn it up.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Angry Men on the Internet, a.k.a. "Dude, where are my words?"




It's rough to be left behind. Or, as a wise person once said, "The bus is moving, dig? Get on the bus."

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A Facebook friend recently wrote a much-shared column, about alcoholism, feminism, her experiences with "booze culture" and how those lessons intersect with her work in a west-coast tech-y job where the patriarchy is still alive and well and the beer and wine cart makes the office rounds each Friday.

It's a smart, erudite piece, which doesn't -- and shouldn't -- make it immune from criticism, but I don't think that I expected that it would generate this sort of response, sent to her by email:

"I learned a long time ago that arguing with a feminist is pointless, due to their lack of intellect and use of reason, but I still want you to know I think you're a disgustingly selfish bitch that has no needs or wants yet constantly scrambles to find new ways in which they are oppressed. Classic munchausen syndrome from an insufferable cunt. How's that for mansplaining, you nasty post-walled cunt?
Sincerely, Hater of Cunty Women."

"How about a little wine and then maybe you won't be such a bitch?" 

Those are just two. There are many more insults where they came from, and the remainder don't get any prettier or better-reasoned.

**********
The World Wide Web recently turned 25 years old. If there were an award entitled the Single Greatest Invention of My Lifetime, really, the web would win hands-down. It's not even a close call.

Facebook alone is proof incarnate of that truism. It's a platform through with I can interact with a bevy of folks whom I rarely, or sometimes never, see in real life. I know what my friends from a very long time ago are up to in a frequency that simply could not be matched by any of the pre-WWW technology. Can you imagine telephoning your old (or new) friends up every few hours for an update on their lives? (Uh, no. Believe me: neither can they.) But it seems perfectly normal -- dare I say a complete blast? -- to learn of the travails and glories of their day-to-day, often hour-to-hour existence via "The FB." Add to that the convenience and the "Here! Now!" appeal of email communication -- seriously, when's the last time you mailed a personal letter; when did you ever, actually, mail a personal letter? -- and the web is flat-out killing it in the Can't Live Without Its Effortless Communication sweepstakes.

************
It's a self-created bubble of articulate smartasses that I tend to associate with, in real life and on the internet. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are almost entirely constructed of the musings of folks who can throw down a highly-crafted well-written beatdown of racist nativism one minute, and charm and delight you the next with a wordsmithian rant extolling the artistic and cathartic virtues of, say, "Celebrated Summer."

My friends are artists and lawyers and carpenters and weightlifters and musicians and all sorts of folks with varied skill sets, but, man, are they funny and able to express themselves well. So, knowing that I am often breathing rarefied air in that regard, I try not to impose too strict of a standard on others outside that circle when it comes to evaluating their written expression.

But there are limits. When the dreaded Comments Section rears its ugly head, I find myself quoting the guys from one of those NFL analysis shows: "Come ON, maaaaan!"

The web is a wonderful, empowering place, unless.... you never really had to express yourself in writing. I'm afraid the power and glory of the internet has, unwittingly, shone a bright spotlight on the linguistic underclass. And, Jebus, they're angry.

************
Imagine the world in, say, 1985. You have graduated high school and are headed into college, or maybe straight into the career of your choice. You took all those English courses. You read all those books the teachers assigned to you, or at least you faked it through the Cliff's Notes version of them. You got your passing grades and you moved on. You learned, technically speaking, how to write a letter. But, really, outside of English class, you've never really written a letter. Outside of school, you've never constructed an essay about, or a written assertion of, well, anything. But it's 1985. You are a person that, like many of your fellow 1985-ers, is going to do just fine never needing any of those skills. Your chances of having to express in writing why you think or believe a certain thing are the same as your chance of ever using trigonometry in real life: zero. You will meet the man/woman of your dreams and that person likely will never learn what your written-language skills are, because you will never need to employ them.

Shift forward in time. Abruptly.

Hello, World Wide Web. Suddenly you have to send emails. Hello, Facebook. Now you are thrust into a world where written expression is beating the daylights out of most other forms of communication. Chances are in 2016 that you send a lot more text messages than you have real phone conversations.

In a way that your 1985 brain can't even process, it now matters that you know how to communicate via the written word. Bonus points are scored by those who do so with some charm and sophistication, perhaps even exhibiting traits like humor, empathy and kindness. People are now going to judge you -- because that's what people do -- on the way you communicate in writing. Sure, the judgment won't be at the same level of scrutiny for your text messages as when you decide to email your kid's teacher with a question, or if you decide to voice your opinion as a comment in your favorite newspaper or on your friend's Facebook page, but, no matter what, if your written words present the specter of you being significantly sub-par in the linguistics department, you now have a new flaw that might never have been evident back in 1985.

Those flaws are causing some serious consternation in men. And they are flailing, hard.

***************
Being a dude has always come with a whole host of privileges that your average woman is not handed. In a face-to-face setting, most men invariably get to use the toolbox of their testosterone to their advantage. And that's not, by any means, always a bad thing. There are lots of skills -- weightlifting for one -- where strength and power come in very handy. And you'll never find this author of a health and wellness blog, where the benefit of being a well-rounded human in all respects is part of the message, telling you not to hone those attributes. But there's a time and a place for developing and harnessing all that androgen. Most guys -- and this definitely includes me sometimes (but I'm trying to get better; life as a constant self-improvement project, y'know) -- interrupt women in mixed-gender meetings as if the last thing they'd ever have to do is wait their turn. The basic facts of bigger/stronger/louder evolution mean that, in those face-to-face encounters, the average woman has to struggle just to be heard, let alone to have her opinion seriously evaluated. And forget any notions in many face-to-face situations of an "equal playing field" when boys are being boys and stomping all over women trying to express themselves.

But there's hope. With all the subtlety of George Clinton landing the P-Funk Mothership in the middle of a board meeting for Patriarchal, Inc., the web has (begun to) change all that. 

On the web, it simply just does not matter how big, strong, loud, pushy or imposing you are. But it sure as hell makes a difference how convincingly you express yourself. On the internet, we're not in a barroom where the loudest or strongest meathead wins the argument. Instead, points are scored and lost -- good lord, are they lost -- based on linguistic skills. Drop "C" bombs in your retort to, well, anything and you have probably been defeated by the fact that the majority of ears closed to your nonsense as soon as you uttered it. When a woman expresses an opinion on a matter of, say, politics or gender equality, the too-common internet response of manscreaming, "PROVE IT!!!!" -- which is a sucker's line if there ever were one because such things aren't really matters of "proof," but of nuance and reason -- is now self-revealing code for: "I'm a dimwit with no game when it comes to self-expression." The often-seen internet retort of the cornered male -- "DEAL WITH IT!!" -- is just an alternate version of those old "I'm with stupid" T-shirts, but it's pointing back at the wearer.

But, unlike the barroom -- where, if you show up a big, loud buffoon with your intellect, you will enrage him and be lucky to be carried out still breathing -- on the web he'll still get furious, but here's the thing: he'll have nowhere to go with all that rage. It's sort of sad, you know? They just get left behind.

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There's a scene in one of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books by Douglas Adams that involves a contraption called the Total Perspective Vortex. The point of that device is to show, in cold harsh terms, the "importance" of an individual in the grand scheme of everything. The answer for everyone: none of us is very "important" at all. In the story, the shock of the person's insignificance immediately kills him or her.

The web, bless its 25-year-old self, is a TPV of sorts for us all, just in a more limited, less-fatal way. Are you fairly articulate?  You'll do just fine in this vortex. But it'll chew you up and spit you out if your shtick regarding self-expression is primarily anger-based, like so many men who are just incoherently venting online.

*************
Back to my friend....
She just got a book contract for her efforts. Good for her.

"Hater of Cunty Women?" I don't know what's up with him, but I suspect we can all guess. He's really angry. And he's not going anywhere, particularly with women.

And the rest of us? Pick your battles intelligently. In a virtual platform where brains and coherent, measured self-expression rule the day, women and men really are playing on a level field. You just have to be ready for it, with your words. Or... not. You thought the Wu Tang Clan ain't nothin' to fuck with? Try an empowered, educated, articulate citizenry. Thanks, World Wide Web. You've upped our word game.







Sunday, August 21, 2016

The big decisions, fear and regret

My wife and I live in New Jersey, in a nice location that we both like. We have friends that we love and jobs that we enjoy. We do volunteer work that makes us happy and is very fulfilling.

But we're sick of New Jersey weather -- and traffic, but mostly it's the weather. The summertime  heat and humidity is insane, and seemingly getting worse. It's becoming spring and fall heat and humidity, and it's preventing us from doing all the fun outdoor things we like to do. I feel like we live in Florida -- albeit without Florida Man, but still... Florida. Fuck. Florida is one of five states that I have never visited and it's the only one I don't want to visit.

Plus, last year we got enchanted with a whole other place: Bend, Oregon. Bend is a high-desert town on the eastern edge of the Cascade mountains. Most of what you think of as "shitty, gloomy Portland rain" falls on the western side of said mountains. The eastern side is relatively dry. Unlike Portland -- where, literally, the suicide rate is higher because of the weather -- Bend gets a lot of days of sunshine per year (they will tell you 300, which strikes me as a bit hyperbolic, but, still, it's pretty great whatever the real number is). Bend is just big enough to have a lot going on, and still small enough that it's not overrun. It's one of those magical freaking locations where you really can be at Whole Foods one minute, or drinking a delicious whiskey in a delicious-whiskey bar, or eating at a hipster restaurant that would make Philly proud, and hiking a mountain fifteen minutes later. (Not that I advise hiking after whiskey consumption). It has all the standard conveniences of Everywheretown, America -- you know Costco, etc. -- but with nature right next door, and all around. Did I mention the weather is awesome? Did I mention the humidity is low? Did I mention how completely fucking sick of humidity I am? Oh yeah, and even on the uber-practical end of things, the housing prices are similar to where we live now; it'd be close to a swap situation, monetarily.

But Oregon is a long way away from New Jersey. We don't know anyone near Bend. Moving there requires a leap of faith in our ability -- at about age 60 when I think we'd make the retirement-based jump -- to make new friends in a very new place.

Moving so far away scares the crap out of me (perhaps unreasonably) from a loneliness perspective. However, my wife and I are pretty social creatures, prone to volunteering and joining fun activities and groups. So we really ought to be good. There'll just be a weird transition when we will be leaning on each other pretty hard when we first arrive in town.

But when I really think about it, assuming that we are both in good health five or six years from now (when this plan would be taking effect), just living out our days in this flat humidity-choked rain forest of a mid-Atlantic state is the most depressing thought of all. There's also something that the Butthole Surfers taught us years ago: "It's better to regret something you have done than to regret something you haven't done." (Yeah, I know... it's not always true, but work with me here).

And believe me when I say that I am haunted by the fact that either form of regret is possible. But there's a difference: if we don't make the move, the "haven't done" one will always be there, like a nagging finger poking me in the side until I die that says, "You know you love the mountain west. What the fuck are you doing staying out east your WHOLE FREAKING LIFE?" On the other hand the "something you have done" regret? If this is a good move, it may never show up at all.

If this were anyone else facing this type of question, I know what my advice would be. Now all I have to do is follow it myself.