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."

***********
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.

***********
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.




Thursday, August 18, 2016

Clocked in

I just watched Usain Bolt win the Olympic 200m so easily that it looked effortless. That 20 seconds or so raises a simple question: if you're really good at what you do, how in the world do you know when it's time to quit?

Deeper thoughts on this may follow. Or not.

But fuck, man. Seriously....








Monday, August 15, 2016

Thinking about drinking

I have a recurring thought these days:

My 54-year-old self cannot deny that alcohol is not generally a positive in my life if I drink more than a couple drinks a week.

It makes fat loss extremely difficult.

It makes maintaining body comp, even if fat loss isn't a priority (for me it's not; I'm pretty lean), extremely difficult.

It fucks with my sleep, in subtle ways -- e.g., I never get up to pee in the middle of the night, unless I've had alcohol; if I've had even one drink, I get up to pee. Every. Fucking. Time.

I always wake up feeling great in the morning, if I haven't had a drink. I don't always wake up feeling bad if I have had one, but it's a crap shoot, and I am always more sluggish in the morning if there's been a drink the night before.

It crushes testosterone levels, which isn't just about sex. It has effects on all the above too.

It is estrogenic as hell -- which is a lot like: "It crushes testosterone levels."

I just don't look as good naked if I have a drink most days.

*************

Bottom line? Wow, is it clear to me that if I want to feel and look my best,  I should make alcohol an occasional treat rather than a frequent part of the program.

I'm not about to quit entirely. I enjoy occasional social drinking. So I'll do that. Occasionally. Emphasis on occasionally.

(And, for what it's worth, it's actually more of an exercise in willpower for me to have just like two drinks a week, which is what I have been doing lately, than it is just to quit entirely, because if alcohol is at least a possibility in my head, then it is a possibility every day -- if that makes sense -- which means I have to actively say, "No," most days. That's not a huge deal, but contrast booze to, say, bread, which is so far off the table as a regular food item for me that I never get home from work and think, "Hmmm, maybe a little bread?")

And yeah, a lot of this is age-related. I look around at my fellow 54-year-old males and I see a lot of manboobs and flabby bellies. I don't have any of those things. I don't want to have any of those things. Those things come from shrinking testosterone levels. Regular alcohol consumption kills testosterone.

This seems like a spectacularly easy -- and sensible -- call.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Kale



I'm standing here in my kitchen at 7:30 a.m. separating the good, leafy bits of kale from the not-so-delicious stalky bits.

It's kind of a pain in the ass.

Lots of things are a pain in the ass.

Most of what's worth doing is, in fact, at some point, a pain in the ass.

But later today, when I get home from a late-afternoon trip to the gym, after I spend eight-ish hours doing the day job from a laptop at my kitchen counter -- because I am lucky and have a lot of freedom about where my ass happens to be planted while doing said day job -- after a big pot of grassfed ground beef, spices and kale slow-cooked on my stove for four hours this morning, leaving us with a goddamn delicious dinner that was, get this, cooking while I did other productive shit, I'm not even going to remember that 15-20 minutes that it took to tear up all that kale. The "pain in the ass" portion of the morning will have long ceded ground to the "fuck yeah, food is totally prepared and that was easy" part of the day.

There are all sorts of life metaphors in there waiting to be learn-i-fied. I swear.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

You cannot defeat genetics



For me, the "clean eating" thing has never been about purity. It's about what works. For me. Not for you. As proof, here's a true story: at this very moment, as I type this, I am eating cheese.

"The Paleo Drummer" is eating cheese.

It's really good cheese, from grassfed cows, but it's cheese nonetheless. How paleo is that, you might ask?

It's not. And the number of fucks I give about that fact is exactly zero.

Why? Because it seems to work for me. I get no digestive distress these days from really good cheese. So I eat it.

What doesn't work for me very well is a whole lot of carbs. I found this particular fact out through bloodwork and then through some categorical dumbassery.

Having a blog doesn't exempt one from dumbassery; it just makes it more likely that the dumbassery will eventually be on public display, at least if it relates to the subject of the blog. Here we go....

*************************

A part of the blood testing that my paleo doc does the first time you come through his office is genetic. It shows tendencies that one might have for all sorts of nasty, undesirable things: catastrophic blood clots, Alzheimer's, etc.  Once you have that done, the doc doesn't need to do it again because, durrrr, your genetic makeup isn't going to change.

If you have to trust me on that one to keep reading on, so be it. (Really, your genetics are NOT GOING TO CHANGE).

What can change, however, is your penchant for foolish behavior in light of learning about said genetics.

I found out a few years ago that, genetically speaking, I am part of a 10% (or so) group of the populace that actually sees what most folks would consider to be "better" lipid numbers -- lower LDL and higher HDL -- with a little moderate alcohol consumption. I blogged all about it here and here.

But with the positive booze news (for me) came another angle. This particular mutation -- an ApoE 2/3, (if you care; go ahead and Google: "What is ApoE?" and set aside some time for the ensuing shitstorm of information) -- means that, compared to most of the populace, I don't process carbohydratess very well at all. By and large, I know that, hypothetically speaking, I should be eating high fat, moderate protein and low carb -- all from high-quality sources, of course (but you know all about that "high quality" emphasis already).

But hypotheticals are all so...  hypothetical, right?

No, actually, and that's the point of this particular exercise in letting my blahblahblah tendencies run wild: you can't flat-out defeat your genetics. You can work with what mom and pop gave you and minimize risk, or you can be a dumbass and ignore the problem, perhaps even flaunting your ignorance while shaking your moneymaker.

It seems that I chose Door #2, to a degree, anyway.

**************************

Over the last few years, with pretty damn spectacularly "clean" mostly-paleo eating most of the time, I have managed to keep inflammation really low. I also have low insulin (awesome!), high HDL (great!), low triglycerides (great again!), and high-ish LDL (not so great, but not a crisis by any means because of low inflammation and low insulin).

The LDL used to be a lot worse than high-ish. The "ish" was nowhere to be seen back then. In the last year or so I have put a more Mediterranean emphasis on my own paleo eating (details coming to a blog post near you soon, I swear) and swapped out some of the globs of butter for high-quality olive oil, a lot of vegetables and enough sardines to make the Baby Jesus cry (that is about 5-6 cans per week if you are keeping score at home). I still eat plenty of other animals, mostly grassfed cows and lambs, but the Mediterranean-ish twist has paid off nicely.

My recent bloodwork with the paleo doc showed all that. He liked it. (Hey, Mikey!)

It also showed something else. He said, "So while you've been doing smart things, have you also been maybe eating more carbs?"

No! Wait....

Maybe! Wait....

Oh shit. [drummer guy hangs head in shame]. Yes.

Yes I have.

He didn't like that.

And then I started adding it all up for him. It seems that from the last bloodwork to this one, I did all those great high-fat Mediterranean-y things, but I also glommed down a lot more carbs. Rarely were those carbs of the gluten-y variety, but they were carbs nonetheless.

Potatoes. A lot of fucking potatoes.
Rice. Mmmm, rice.
More gluten-free granola than I care to admit.
Tacos. There are only two kinds of people who say they don't like tacos: morons and liars.

Some of you can do these carb binges all you want. I can't.

Because genetics.

And here's the kicker: I KNEW THAT ALREADY.

Or at least I was supposed to.

The doc reminded me: "You are an ApoE 2/3. You don't process carbs well." 

How, you might ask, did the doc figure out that I hadn't been "with the program," so to speak?

Was my fasting glucose spectacularly high? No.

Was my insulin high? No.

But my HBa1C -- a measurement of glucose over the past few months, as opposed to just that day of the blood draw -- was up quite a bit. Not at crisis levels, but certainly at "How about you knock it the fuck off, drummer boy?" levels.
 
The Reader's Digest version is that my bloodwork caught me in a soon-to-be giant mess before it actually happened. The solution is easy. All that carb-y-ness? I can't eat it very often. High-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb is my jam, genetically speaking.

So what's the point, you ask, beyond the not-so-surprising notion that you can't beat your genetics? Am I telling you that you ought to get genetic testing done?

No, not necessarily. If you have spectacular bloodwork and don't need to change anything, then cool. But if you don't, and you make some changes, and still aren't entirely happy with the results, before you go leaping straight for a medication-based response, you might want to get a paleo doc to look under the hood a bit more. The car analogy? It's more apt than you think, because genetic testing can run a few hundred bucks and often isn't covered by insurance, but I bet you that if it were your car that needed a few hundred bucks worth of work, you'd likely spring for that right away. Well, if your bloodwork is FUBAR and you want to figure out things like... WHY? then I'd say that springing for the genetic angle is worth your while. Life: it's more important than your car, every time.

The other, completely opposite sort of point: if you get bad bloodwork results, give yourself a bit of a break, hmmm, and pass up on the self-flagellation and guilt? Address the "problem" for sure, but don't beat yourself up. I'm someone who supposedly knows what he is doing regarding this stuff. I get super-deep into nerdville with my paleo doc when we talk bloodwork. I know my paleo/primal shit, mostly anyway. And yet still, I made a mistake so death-defyingly simple as to routinely and consistently pig out on something that I KNOW isn't a good move for my genetic type that I made my bloodwork moderately explode.

Because dumbassery.
Because genetics.
Because delicious potatoes.
And because tacos. Mmmmm, tacos.








Sunday, March 6, 2016

Wussy, live in Baltimore, March 5, 2016 -- a review



To lay my cards on the table at the outset, let's be clear: I'm not even remotely objective about the shimmering, droning, jangling, harmony-filled roar of the Cincinnati indie-rock band Wussy. I love them. On album. Live. Always. They do not have a single song on their six albums that I do not like and there are, in fact, only a handful that I don't flat-out love. I've rattled on and on about all of that, through the years of this blog. If you were to click on this link, you'd run headlong into a complete collection of all the fannish gushing I've done about them in the past.

That's my bias, in all its glory, and I stand by every fucking word.

(And, really, I am a jaded SOB. I think the number of truly great bands in 2016 is a mighty short list).

But the new Wussy album? It's better than all that.

And the show I saw them do last night? It left that new record in the dust.

Forever Sounds is the Wussy album that the rock critics are going to peg as the one where the band's live sound completely broke through to the studio. (Check Robert Christgau's upcoming 2020 release of "The Best Albums of the '10s" if you don't believe me). See, at a live show, especially since John Erhardt joined the band on a third guitar -- electric or steel depending on the song -- this band's studio subtleties get all intermingled into the roar of a jet engine. Their dynamics have dynamics. Drummer Joe Klug and bass player Mark Messerly hold down the bottom end like the bastard love child of the night Danko/Helm jammed with Peter Hook and Janet Weiss, while the three-guitar army weaves circles around each other. Glorious, kerranging, twisting and turning circles. Atop all that magnificence are soaring harmonies and lead vocals from Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker that are so simultaneously distinctive and awe-inspiring that, well, I lose control of my metaphors and resort to writing things like: all that great stuff that makes this band so stunning at a live show? This new album is buried in it. 'Nuff said about that. It's just about perfect. Buy it.

But when I took a ride down to Baltimore yesterday to see the band in a house concert, even though I was already over 24 hours into full immersion with Forever Sounds, and loving every second of it, I had little idea of what I was about to witness.

Let's take a moment to dispel the notion of the house concert as some sort of boring Kumbaya singalong session with musicians armed with nothing more threatening than an acoustic guitar and maybe a harmonica. There's certainly a time and a place for acoustic guitars and harmonicas. (Side One of this would be one of those). But this show was full-on electric.

"We may be a little loud tonight," Chuck said, with a smirk. "The neighbors are gonna shut us down." "I think most of them are in here!" Lisa corrected him. There were 50 of us crammed into the Special Secret Posh Neighborhood Location, and I think a not-insignificant number of the 50 fit that neighborly description. And then Wussy were off to the races....

The ensuing 90 minutes were glorious. It was a perfect night, even though I believe the total song count from the band's first three albums was exactly one. They hit the new album hard, and it hit back, like Muhammad Ali -- no, more like Ken Norton beating Muhammad Ali. The windows of the SSPNL shook hard during the hookline of "Sidewalk Sale," and the stops on "She's Killed Hundreds" sucked all the air out of the room right before the band slammed back in each time to restore our collective ability to breathe. They were on, way fucking on. If I had to pick one standout highlight from all the perfection of the live takes of the new songs, I'd say that somehow -- and I have no idea how this can be -- Lisa's vocals on "Donny's Death Scene" were even better than the on the studio version. But picking that one out serves only to minimize how great it all was. They are a band on a mission, and they surpassed all of the absurdly high hopes I had for them last night. Everything that they played from the new album -- and they played all but two songs -- was incendiary. But they also had that slapdash, adorable between-song banter and bickering between band members that always manages to make them more freaking endearing than their music already makes them. (A quick, nerdish aside: you just haven't seen an onstage look until you see that one that Lisa gives Mark when she has determined that he's gone "just too fucking far, dude," at the microphone between songs. I think I counted four of them during this show alone).

2014's Attica album was drawn on for a number of songs as well -- yes, of course they did "Teenage Wasteland," and of course it was the same mix of gorgeous, powerful and uplifting that every Who anthem that it evokes ever was. And "Pizza King," from Strawberry -- which I would have sworn was the best album they'd ever do, that is until Forever Sounds just came out and blew away that silly notion -- was another highlight, one which somehow keeps getting better on every tour.

But the secret weapon of a house concert is that it's likely to get weird and wonderful. Apparently the secret weapon of a Wussy house concert is that it gets really fucking weird and wonderful. On the weird end of things, there was Chuck's quick take on the B-side "Folk Night at Fucky's" and the band's amped-up version of a serious obscurity: the Twinkeyz' "Aliens in Our Midst." 

And the wonderful? Well, it was all wonderful, but the highlight of highlights, the thing that made me say, "Holy shit" to a friend just as he said, "Wow,"  and we both went fucking bug-eyed with awe, was "Ceremony."

Yes. That "Ceremony."

For me, "Ceremony" has the stature of, say, "Baba O'Reilly" on a hot date with "Sister Ray" and "Sympathy for the Devil." Iconic and anthemic don't begin to cut it as a description. Somewhere a few years ago, I heard a recording of Wussy sort of screwing around with bits of the song. But last night's version was not, in the slightest, screwing around. They nailed it, completely -- with Lisa and Chuck wailing away on the vocals, Mark Peter-Hook-ing the hell out of the bass, the guitars setting each other on fire and Joe perfectly harnessing the controlled dynamics of the drum part. My metaphors are again shot to hell, but really, it was one of those "Notch this one in your brain because it's top ten of all time, motherfucker" moments.

Really. Top ten of all time.

If you read this as "Everything was perfect, but Ceremony was more perfect than perfect," I will have successfully conveyed my thesis.

And then, when it was encore time, Lisa came out on her own for what surely must be a rarity: a solo, soaring "Majestic 12." Then the band came back out and reached way back to the debut album for a fierce "Airborne." And it was all over.

Afterwards, I shot the shit with Mark about how I first saw the band back in like 2005 at Twangfest, am going to see them again at the same festival this year, and other nerdish fanboy shit (shocking, I know), and I yapped John's ear off about the majesty of Scrawl, the success of the recent Ass Ponys reunion, and the perils of rock and roll parenting. (Someday I am going to wax seriously poetic about Scrawl, but this post is long enough already....)

If it's not clear, I had a religious experience of sorts last night seeing this band. If it's also not clear, you cannot go wrong with Wussy. Buy their shit. See their shows. Make them famous. I'll be slightly sad when they headline Wembley Stadium and forget about us little people, but I wouldn't be sad for long. They deserve to be treated like the best damn band in the world.

Because they're the best damn band in the world.









Sunday, January 24, 2016

The movement prescription

Back on New Year's Day, I wrote a long post about how I was in the process of making some big changes. A knee injury led me to some decisions that included leaving my CrossFit gym where I'd been a member for over five years, adding yoga and Core Align work to my flexibility regimen, and, most importantly, switching to a gym where my entire workout would be individually programmed for me. The idea was to have a trainer, who came highly recommended, set up a series of workouts, including specific warmups geared towards loosening up all my many immobilities.

It's all working really well.

Since last August when I tore the lateral meniscus on my left knee, I'd been sluggish, for me anyway. I was walking every day, but I wasn't lifting much, wasn't as active as usual and just wasn't moving enough.

Moving is good. Really good. A typical week for me now looks like three days in the gym, two or three days of yoga, a Core Align session and maybe a band practice (drumming is moving, believe me). It sounds like a lot (ish), but I'm still getting "rest days," and, honestly, the remedial (read: arthritic) way I do yoga makes it less energetic than a full-on gym session, so those days are more "active rest" than they are hardcore movement. But still... I'm MOVING. I'm moving a lot. As a result, I'm less dependent on caffeine, more energetic and generally in an absurdly good mood. And I am also not getting injured because I am riding that line between "Wooooooo yeah!" and "Damn it, I've overdone it again." Hell, I even ventured to New England for the 29th year of that glorious meeting of musician friends that we call Band Camp, played two gigs while I was there, including one that had me drumming on songs I'd never practiced or played before, and I not only survived all the late nights and madness without getting sick or run down; I loved every second of it.

I know... it's truly fucking absurd to have started all these big changes right with the new year -- cliché anyone? -- but, really, January 2016 has kick-started my engine. Moving: I highly recommend it.


Friday, January 1, 2016

F*ck resolutions, but changes are good

If there is anything more clichéd than a New Year's post about big changes, I don't know what it is. But I swear that it wasn't supposed to happen this way. This post has nothing to do with New Year's resolutions. Timing is everything, and mine sucks. Try to keep the barfing noises to a minimum, and I promise that we'll get through this as smoothly as possible....

Let's go back to late August 2015.

There I was, doing my thing at the CrossFit gym where I have been a member for over five years. My shtick for at least the past three years, and probably longer, has been that I am one of the first people you will see modifying a CF workout so I don't get injured. I've always been one of the older people at that particular gym, and the process of sensibly scaling workouts, or even completely changing and substituting various movements for others, has served me well. I sort of pride myself on being Captain Sensible in that regard (no, not that Captain Sensible).

That day we were doing some sort of three-round conditioning workout that involved 30 wall-ball shots each round. I remember thinking that 90 wall balls seemed like a lot of really repetitive grinding, but I didn't modify anything. Not so sensible after all, as it turned out.

At about the 75th rep, I felt this "snap" on the outside of my knee. It was as if something with some "give" to it ("Maybe the IT band?" I thought) got hung up on something else, stretched out, and then went "BANG" back into place. It hurt. It hurt a lot.

So, of course, being the eminently sensible human being that I am, I immediately went to the doc to see what was up.

Well.... no. 

I thought it was just the IT band. So my brain and I opted to not "bother" the regular doc -- because of course it really "bothers" a doctor when a patient comes to see him or her complaining of an injury (gahhhh, what the fuck am I thinking sometimes?) -- and instead I consulted with Dr. Google about the possible causes/symptoms/treatments. Dr. Google almost immediately had me convinced that I had "IT band syndrome," which is often cured through a stretching routine over quite a while. Dr. Google -- helpful, all-knowing physician at large -- even showed me sites where there were many of these IT-band stretches. 

I did them, sort of. 

I also went on a vacation to Oregon with my wife in September. As we often do, we did a lot of hiking. The uphills felt great. The downhills? Even with a knee brace, not so much.

So when I got home, in late September, I immediately consulted a real doctor!

Well... no. Not quite. Not actually at all. Not yet, anyway. I decided the knee needed rest.

But sometimes I'd try to exercise.

This pattern of unrelenting genius continued until mid-November when I finally decided to see my doc about the knee issues. That knee was full of fluid and not bending very far. I was immediately sent for X-rays and an orthopedic consultation. I was told not to wait so damn long next time. I might have seen the nurse practitioner write "stupid" in my file.

I went to see the ortho doc. I learned that Dr. Google is an asshole. I learned that I am an asshole for relying on Dr. Google. It wasn't an IT-band thing at all. I had torn the lateral meniscus in my left knee. As such things go, it's not a major tear. But it also can't be fixed with surgery. Meniscus tears, particularly in people my age and older, aren't easily repaired. A lot of the meniscus doesn't get proper blood flow to allow a repair to really work. So the only surgical option would be to remove it. That's a mess, my ortho doc informed me, and a last-resort kind of option, because, without a lateral meniscus, I'd need a knee replacement in the near future. 

Awesome. 

But one decision was easy: No surgery for me.

Also, by the way, the doc informed me, my mobility sucks. He may have added "donkey balls," but I may have imagined that. He certainly made it clear that I suffered from an aggravated, extreme case of awful mobility, not just a minor issue. In fact, the injury probably happened because I was forcing myself into positions that my (lack of) mobility couldn't handle. 

He wouldn't let me leave his office until I sang this song to him start-to-finish:


 

So the prescription was, er, pretty simple:

Change everything.

The first step was going to be physical therapy, then a slow return to exercise. 

The physical therapist did a top-to-bottom movement assessment on me. She seemed, well, pretty horrified, but she was totally up for the challenge of mobilizing me. My favorite quote from the first session: "Most of the people I see with a torn meniscus are fat, weak and immobile. You certainly aren't fat, and you're strong. But, wow, do you have mobility issues! I mean really. Wow." I'm wow-worthy for all the wrong reasons. I've been working with her twice a week for the last seven weeks to get me on a less horrific track. She's also been assigning me (and I've been doing!) 30-45 minutes of mobility "homework" to do at home each night. Every night. Really. The results have been amazing. I've learned that my left ankle and left hip have been in an immobile conspiracy against my left knee for a while now. Like a long while. The physical therapist has also convinced me of the truth of something the orthopedist tried to tell me, but I didn't want to hear at the time: maybe I need to take a long break from CrossFit and get into something -- maybe a number of somethings -- that focus more on getting me mobile and also tailor my strength and conditioning work more precisely to my individual needs.

So I decided to try a little of everything.

I tried Pilates, specifically mat Pilates. Pilates is... interesting. First of all, not many guys do Pilates. I don't know if any other men ever go to the studio where I have been going. I certainly have never seen one. But it's not actually "girly" at all and one's Man Card is in no danger of being torn up and discarded at a Pilates studio. Pilates was designed by a guy -- Joseph Pilates -- and its emphasis is on core strength and alignment, which can lead to progress in mobility, but I don't feel like mobility is the primary goal. Pro athletes like Pilates. I like Pilates. I like it a lot, actually. But, trying to keep mobility as my primary goal, when my initial multi-class ticket was fully punched at the Pilates studio, I decided to switch gears and give yoga a shot, in order to compare the two.

Let's spend a moment to fully take in the enormity of what was about to go down.

Yoga.  
Me doing yoga
For reals. 
My view of yoga has always best been summed up in this manner:




I signed up for a beginner class. I liked it. I liked it a lot. (You may sense a theme here). I even dug all the hippie-dippie shit around the fringes of the class. Hell, I even liked the little "You control your own happiness/Happiness is a decision" talk that the teacher gave at the beginning of that first class. At other junctures of my life, I would have gagged a little on the unrelenting joy of that spiel and gone home and blasted the first four Black Sabbath albums to cleanse my soul. Instead, it's like I walked in there, had my Sarcasm Card immediately temporarily confiscated from me, and not only didn't complain, but actually enjoyed it. So I went to another class, and then another one. I started inquiring about which yoga classes are suitable to drag my lame inflexible ass into and which ones would leave me in traction. I learned that using the phrase "my lame inflexible ass" is not actually favored in a yoga studio.

I soldiered onward.

Yoga is a really good thing for me. Yeah in a mental sense, it perfectly augments my meditation practice, but it's the physical angle that I am really digging, particularly the way it seems to be working in conjunction with my PT regimen. As soon as I started yoga, my PT could see even more improvement in my mobility. I also have to admit that I like the fact that it's so non-competitive and non-judgmental. Hell, I've spent my whole life being competitive and judgmental. The personal-growth opportunity here is seriously too much to pass up.

Then, cleared by my PT to do so, I signed up for individualized strength and conditioning with a trainer. I went for a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) with said trainer, who came highly recommended. I don't think it's possible to "fail" such a screen, but my score was low. If it were possible to "fail," I would have been the king of failure. I would have gotten my photo placed up on the wall under a motivational sign that says: "If he can do it, you know you can too." It was going to be a low score anyway, but Trainer Dude picked up on side-to-side imbalances that even my PT wasn't as focused on. Those imbalances made the FMS score even lower. It seems like 35 years of drumming has taken its toll on me in more ways than just wrecking my right elbow. I have my right side, from top to bottom, working much more efficiently than my left. It kind of figures. In fact, he said something that really clued me in to how, er, "lucky" I was to only have torn my meniscus. He said, "I can't believe you don't have back problems." Apparently, most people who are as out-of-balance as I am start to "corkscrew" their backs and injure themselves. I'm strong enough that I haven't done that, but, the trainer said, keep on going down the current path of out-of-balance immobility and back problems are in my future. 

So the score so far is:  

Physical therapy: Yes!
Mat Pilates: Not right now!
Yoga: Yes! (Yeah, I'm still trying to absorb that one).
Individualized S&C programming with Trainer Dude: Yes!
CrossFit: Not for a long while! (But I still love it. It changed my life). 
Drumming: Well, of course, yes!

But there was one thing still to try....
When I was finishing up my initial run of mat Pilates, my instructor -- who drives me sorta batshit crazy in a good way by being just as insightful about all my imbalances and immobility issues as my PT and Trainer Dude are; seriously, somehow I am lucky enough to have met three geniuses and entrusted them all with fixing me up -- said, "I think you might want to try Core Align." I'd never heard of it.

For something that looks so calm and sedate, Core Align is completely nuts. In a good way. You stand with one foot on each of two "carts," which you could consider to be a Nordic-Track type of deal, except so frictionless that it is like being on ice. You do all sorts of movements, focusing on balance and control, using not just the larger muscle groups, but the smaller ones too. It is so much harder than it looks, and, while I have not yet landed on my sorry ass, I've come close. Core Align forces to me to work through all the side-to-side imbalances and find some normality in my movement patterns. 

So yeah, yoga a couple times a week, PT a couple times a week, plus "homework" each night, S&C training two or three times a week and a weekly Core Align session. It's a lot of change. It's kind of time-consuming. I'm totally digging it. Because really, if I don't have time for my health and feeling good, what the hell am I spending my time on?

My sorry ass is on its way to getting fixed.

See? I told you this all had nothing to do with New Year's resolutions. Forward....