Gatsby Schmatsby

While doing some solo driving to Massachusetts and back, I listened to the audiobook of “The Great Gatsby“. I have heard people flog this thing as one of the greatest American novels written. Some of my literary heroes have done things like hand copy it word for word so they could emulate Fitzgerald in their own writing. As the book concluded, I wondered, “What did I miss?”

The story is one of vapid materialism. The characters are shallow, attracted to the fantasy of high society life, and repelled by reality. The writing style, on the other hand, is beautiful. Each sentence has enough substance to have it’s own gravity. There is symbolism poignant enough that each one bashed me over the head and made me pause and ponder for a moment. I don’t think I have ever had a situation where the style did nothing to endear me to the story.

I was so disturbed by this feeling, I reached out to friends in moments where the Vermont mountains were not smothering cell signal. These are the people in my life who I knew had read Gatsby and would  help me see the light. Each person I communicated with has passion for great writers and each of them did not love Gatsby yet they appreciated Fitzgerald’s style. One pointed out this book was once 600 pages and the author pared it down to 120. There is no fluff, no wasted words – a lesson I receive repeatedly.

I dodged this bullet in High School. I’m glad I did. I wouldn’t have had the maturity to handle it. I have made several attempts reading it, each time getting a little farther hoping something interesting would happen. It took me being alone trapped in a car to get through the book. It moved me, but not in the way I have experienced it moving others.

I’m less distressed about the book, but I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Your comments will be eagerly consumed.

My bestie keeps talking about “Travels with Charlie” by John Steinbeck, so I think I will take that on next.

Spring Run Training Redux

I wrote this post yesterday. I was, in my opinion complaining about having to start over. I was grousing about how long and dank winter in Vermont was. Winter was like a dungeon and yesterday I was that creaky prisoner released with the squinty eyes of one who has not seen light for a decade.

I woke up this morning glad I made the effort and a voice called out from the depths, it was very quiet as it was so far away, “do it again”.

I had to chuckle. I dismissed it. “Oh, you little imp. I need to recover from yesterdays exertions. I am older now and don’t heal like I used to. Now run along.”

The irony is not missed. I told the voice that was telling me to run to take a hike.

I moved through my day and the voice kept repeating like a mantra, “do it again”.

I was starting to get agitated. I can’t possibly put my body through that again. I was pretty sore last night, but not really today.

“do it again”

Alright voice. I’ll show you. You know you are going to crap out after I put on the shorts, lace up the shoes, and apply the anti chafe regiment.

Out the door I went. It was 65° today. The sun warmed my skin and felt like the breath of an intimate. Trepidation evolved into this pleasant feeling. My legs felt like a newborn colt standing, a bit of unsteady and wobble. Whenever I have seen a video of the newborn foal rising for the first time, it is always a joyful celebration for the observer, not an anxiety ridden pox on the devil for making this necessary. I had a bit of that same joy.

I ran my intervals, exhilarated at those moments when I ticked off each next achieved goal.

At run’s end. I conceded and apologized to the voice of which I was so dismissive. I thought I might be crazy for going out and trying to run again (I don’t think I am crazy for arguing with inner voices). I had run the day before and was convinced it had harmed me. I alluded I didn’t love it anymore. Today I did.

I used to love this sport

Love is not the verb I would have used today as I heaved my mass down the road. Today’s training was difficult and on a grander scale, resuming spring training has been difficult. In the past I have wintered over by doing an obscene amount of pushups, pull ups, squats, or anything movie/liftie like. It is my understanding that to move is to live and to stop moving pushes us through the back 9 quicker. I continually ask myself why I do the things I do. If I catch myself responding that I want to try to look like Hunky McSteamer in Impossible Standards Magazine, I encourage myself to look again. I have a health standard to which I aspire and it’s not that. I want to tie my shoes without losing my breath, climb stairs without feeling like I’ve summited Everest, stand and sit without extreme protest from the knees, be able to lift my body from various positions.  All the handstands and other crazy things I tend to do are just fun things I like to do. They are not part of that standard. This winter was really hard for me. I didn’t move at all. I was depressed and couldn’t summon the gumption to do anything. I really understood my depression and did many good things in the face of it, but it was startling that I couldn’t get myself to move. The sun has gotten higher in the sky, it warms my skin and melts the snow and ice even on the colder days. I have started to feel the pull to move again. It’s a relief. I missed it. The tough part is it feels like I am starting from scratch; like the first time I ever tried to run. I have done it before and I am ready to do it again. The truth is, I am still in way better shape than when I did try to run for the first time. I can hit most of those points in my standard. I feel fortunate about that. I am really curious to see where this season takes me because I feel like a new person ready to relive old experiences with a new mindset. Today I went for a run. I felt like a bag of meat lurching down the road. It won’t be like this forever, just for now. If you have your own experience of not being able to live up to your personal standard, or if you have had to start something at which you excelled over, I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Looking For Tiny Miracles Through Your Camera

Last year I was on an introspective journey. Along the way I took some classes to find stronger voice through creative outlets. That’s when I signed up for some online classes with Tammy Strobel. Tammy runs the website rowdykittens.com. Just from the website title alone, one might assume that you will find cute pictures and stories of cats, but Tammy, her website, and her online courses are so much more than cutesy media displaying the antics of juvenile feline (in fact you won’t find very much of that at all). Tammy is an intrepid explorer of her own process. When she has been dissatisfied with the way she has been living, she has made changes. One of the things she does is offers e-courses on life exploration through photography, journaling, and simplifying your life. I signed up for a couple of her classes last year, and I am about to go another round with her photography class, which is starting in March. One of the classes I took is called Every Day Magic – How to Capture Creative Images Through Your Camera. This course is perfect for the person who has wished that they could get going and take more pictures and have been waiting for motivation to strike. Well, here’s your motivation kiddies. This is a self paced course that puts out a blog post Mondays and Wednesdays. It starts with getting to know your camera, moves to getting to know your editing tools, learning about light, composition, telling stories through your photos, along with gentle motivation to get out every day and take some pictures. Part of the course that was fun for me was the Facebook group that includes all the participants in the course. We would daily put up our pictures and everyone was so entirely supportive and inclusive. Tammy also has an audio piece where she addresses any questions that people in the class have. As I said, I am signing up again to take another spin. If you have caught yourself thinking, “Maybe soon I would like to take up my camera and do something creative”, I would like to invite you to join up (by the way, you don’t need a fancy camera. Tammy has published a great photography book using her Iphone camera, and I know from experience that the Iphone/Android camera can take some very sweet pics). The course is very affordable ($50) and I found it to be worth every penny. Here are some pictures I took while I was taking this course (Most of them were taken on the Iphone):

A Modern Pastoral Setting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m sitting on the porch, in addirondack chairs, holding hands with my wife. She is reading wikipedia articles aloud. The topic – Stinky Cheeses.

Mmm, stinky cheeses

Hummingbirds buzz the nearby feeder with one eye on the prize and the other on the interlopers. Potted plants line the porch railing showing off their eager blooms. Tiny gnatty bugs swarm around our heads and bodies, not necessarily because we smell… well, probably because we smell − delicious. A fat breeze from a distant creeping storm sweeps them away. The breeze doesn’t care. The bugs do; meal lost.

We could plan our day but that totally contrasts with the moment, so we don’t. Our dreams and aspirations only reach as far as the garden. We envision it’s imminent bounty.

It is these moments where heaven is so close. All one has to do is inhale

The Tabata

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It’s kind of a thing in running, if you want to run farther, start running farther. Do some Long Slow Distance (LSD) running. If you want to run faster, start running faster— sprint.

Enter the Tabata protocol. Part of the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) family, the Tabata Protocol is a four minute intense all out sprint program created by Dr. Izumi Tabata (The guy has at least one sneaker and one workout style named after him so you know he’s a fitness badass – alright, I did some further research and the sneaker thing is not true and he self named the workout so this entire paren is false). The protocol consists of 20 seconds all out sprint and 10 seconds of rest, cycled 8 times. It is said to have aerobic, anaerobic, and metabolic benefits that are ongoing hours after the workout is over.

So that’s 20 seconds on, and 10 seconds off. Sounds like a piece of cake when reading a report sitting in an Ikea POÄNG chair. Actually executing it on the street is a totally different challenge.  Not only did it challenge me physically, it also completely challenged me mentally. I carefully noted the bargaining, begging, and pleading my mind experienced as I went through this four minute torture session. If there is bargaining, begging, and pleading, then I’m pretty sure this form of exercise can be labeled as torture. It’s only four minutes though, and it will stop, and I will reap those sweet, sweet benefits hours after the workout has completed. I’m committed to it. It’s how I  keep myself in the optimum physical shape I so enjoy. 

Here for your reading pleasure is my tortured mind going through it’s gymnastics in one of my recent training sessions.

First interval:

3…2…1…Go! (20 second sprint)

Me: (running) I am so owning this! Look at me, I’m so frickin’ fast. This session will be a piece of cake. 

…And 3…2…1…stop (10 second walk/rest)

Me: I’m glad I get a chance to rest…

Second interval:

3…2…1…Go! (20 second sprint)

Me: (running) Wait! That wasn’t ten seconds. Oh well, I’m running anyway. Got gas in the tank. Twenty seconds will be up any time now…now…no,n,n…now

…And 3…2…1…stop(10 second walk/rest)

Me: (gasping) Wait…

Third interval:

3,2,1,Go! (20 second sprint)

Me: (running with less vigor) You have got to be kidding me! That was not fucking 10 seconds. I can’t make it.

SM (Subconscious Me or Sadomasochist Me, you decide): Keep running you can make it to the buzzer.

Me: Please God make the buzzer sound.

…And 3…2…1…stop (10 second walk/rest)

Me: Gasp…Gulp…Swallow

Fourth interval:

321Go! (20 second sprint)

Me: (running) Maybe this is where my heart stops. Dead runner in the road. It happened to Jim Fixx.

SM: Where’s your speed now Mr. Piece of Cake?

Me: Shut up!

SM: …or what? You’ll give me low self-esteem?

Me: Wise guy!

SM: I am.

…And 3…2…1…stop (10 second walk/rest)

Me: I can’t take anymore. Maybe I’ll just sit the next one out.

SM: You can’t. You wouldn’t sit it out if there were a berzerking zombie behind you…

Fifth Interval:

3,2,1,Go! (20 second sprint)

Me: (running) If there were a berzerking zombie behind me, I would be willing to die a glorious death

SM: You’re slowing down. Keep running.

Me: Fuck you! Okay, I will.

SM: Attaboy

Me: I swear to God this 20 seconds is getting longer and longer

SM: Keep running

Me: I am! My legs are filled with lead.

SM: At least you have legs. Use your gifts.

…And 3…2…1…stop (10 second walk/rest)

Me: Beyond half way. I can do this

Sixth Interval:

3…2…1…Go! (20 second sprint)

Me: (Running) I can’t do this.

SM: Yes you can. Run!

…And 3…2…1…stop (10 second walk/rest)

Me: That went quickly

SM: You didn’t go all that quickly, but yes the time went quickly

Seventh Interval:

3…2…1…Go! (20 second sprint)

Me: (Running) This has got to be the last one.

SM: Then give it your all. Your body hasn’t threatened to throw up yet, so go harder

Me: OMG you’re right. (Runs harder)

…And 3…2…1…stop (10 second walk/rest)

Me: Hey, they didn’t give the completion signal. There’s another round?!? Damn it.

SM: You whine a lot. Would you like some cheese to go with that?

Eighth and final Interval:

3…2…1…Go! (20 second sprint)

Me: (Running) I’ve made it to the end. Just got to get to the buzzer…I’m not going to make it.

SM: You’re going to make it.

Me: I’m not going to make it.

SM: You’re going to make it.

…And 3…2…1…stop

(10 second walk/rest)

SM: You made it.

Me: (Gasping for air) Yeah I did. (More gasping) I made it! (Walks to cool down) That was great. I should try this again tomorrow.

SM: You’re ridiculous.

Open Season For Running

Starred Photos-001 Spring has started to arrive in Vermont…finally.  It doesn’t necessarily mean the flowers are sprouting. I hear tell there’s sprouting going on in other parts of the world, but who knows, there could be something under the snow. The days are getting longer and brighter and the temperatures are starting to sustain themselves above freezing for periods longer than a few hours. I’m a guy who abhors gyms and treadmills this kind of weather is so welcome.

I have started to do my spring run training. Last year I had hung up my running feet in August. I went through some stressful life stuff and the running was not landing well for me. A strange choice, I love running. I was ready to walk away from it for good. I tried to run a few times over the winter when I was in a warmer location, but it just wasn’t sticking. Now it’s spring, and I can smell it. I started to get the itch. There comes a point where the sun starts rising to a certain point in the sky where I feel compelled to hit the streets again. It grows like an itch.

New Beginnings/Couch to 5k

Of course, I don’t have the stamina that I had last year, and last year I didn’t have the stamina that I’ve had in years past.  Knowing that I am not at full strength, I need to be gentle as I restart my running routine. One of the best tools for runners getting back into the game is the Couch to 5k program. This is the program that got me running in the first place. The program is nine weeks long and consists of breaking down sessions into periods of walking and running. The first week you alternate between 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking. Of course the following week the running gets a bit longer. It’s a gentle progression that brings the runner to 30 minutes of running by the end of week 9. It’s great for people who have never run before, an easy starting point.  I use it as a tool to start slow so I don’t go great guns and throw a rod by pushing myself too hard. I’m prone to forgetting I am not at full strength and trying to attack my runs like I was. In my case, I jog the walking portions and open it the throttles for the running portions. This page has so many couch to 5k tools that are useful in getting up and going.  When I first did the program, I ran with a podcast. Since then, several apps have been developed allowing the runner to customize music playlists and view stats along with prompts to run and walk.

This year I am using the Zombie Run 5k training app. This app allows me to customize my music, the messages are positive and encouraging as they take me through my paces. The app has an added element of living in a zombie apocalypse, and plays out story lines that put you in that environment. Every once in a while they throw in the sound of a moaning zombie to add a bit of vigor to the run. I do have to admit if I heard zombies moaning in my ear all the time, the app would turn me off, but it only happens once in a while. Something about creating a fight or flight response while I am running creates unwanted adrenal stress. Running is more of a relaxing exercise for me adding fight or flight to the mix is not exactly my cup of tea. Regardless, this app has been fun to use.

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The Road Ahead

My life lately has been so much about the road ahead of me. The metaphor has been carrying over into my runs.  I have decided I would start doing a photo project that involves me and my running. I’ve started taking pictures of…well…the road ahead of me, and will be posting it up on Instagram under the hashtag #theroadahead. I’m interested to see what it yields. My life lately has been so much about the road ahead of me. The metaphor has been carrying over into my runs.

Happy Spring Training Everyone!

 

 

 

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Running Thoughts

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When I go out for a solo run or walk, my brain comes alive. Ideas and poetry-like mantras spill into my thoughts as I travel through space, propelled by my feet. I believe they are pieces that have meaning to me. The meaning is not always clear. Days later it might make sense as that puzzle piece clicks into place. I’ve started to capture them in the voice memo app on my iPhone and repost them here.

Accelerate

As a human being
we come into this world
and all we want to do  accelerate.
Right from the get go,
once we realize we have a body
with limbs,
limbs to propel us
all we want to do is accelerate.
We go from laying on our backs
flailing at the air
to rolling over
to crawling
to cruising
to walking
to running
to flying
We get to a point where we go so fast
our toes barely remain in contact with the ground.
And then the scale tips.
Life starts slowing us down.
We accelerate
just to keep ourselves
from slowing down too fast.
We suddenly realize there is an inevitable.
We have memories of being able to soar.
We have memories of actually soaring.
Now, it’s a fight to stay aloft.
Fighting all the way
Until
we are back on our backs.
Back to the Earth.

The Squat 30/30 Challenge

Import

I’ve started to post some interesting pictures on my Facebook account showing me in a squat position. This has had people start asking me questions like: “What are you doing?”, or “Why are you doing that?”, or my favorite from my daughter “Why do you always have to be so weird?”

Chair Sitting

Let me back up a little bit and talk about what the history of the chair in western society has done for our bodies. Sitting in a chair has allowed us to painlessly rest our bodies without having to use vital core muscles that keep our bodies strong and lithe. As the work culture (especially office culture) has developed, so has the amount of time we spend in chairs. If sitting in a chair makes up the majority of one’s day, then the body slowly starts to get weaker. Certain muscles start to atrophy from lack of use. We develop pains and lose mobility. There are even studies that show long periods of sitting put us at risk of increased blood clotting, or deep vein thrombosis (If you google it, you will find tons of articles). Sitting in chairs forces us to put our bodies into a more unnatural position while we weaken and lose flexibility.

The Squat

In other cultures, chair sitting has not always been the norm. The resting squat is a position that goes way back to our ancient ancestors. It is a totally natural position for the human form. If you watch toddlers closely, you can see them squat automatically. Nobody teaches them this. It is a natural position. We learn our way out of squatting as chairs are introduced to our daily lives as we grow up.

While squatting is a resting position, it is much harder to slouch. It keeps those core stabilizing muscles strong. It also keeps our joints more open and flexible. When practiced, squatting staves off knee and back pain and strengthens the muscles that support these areas. Another thing that a squatting practice can help facilitate are healthy digestive and bowel functions. They have even come up with some products for us westerners to aid in our eliminations.  Toilets in certain asian countries are already built in for such endeavors.

The squat consists of bending at the knees, keeping your spine straight, pulling your butt toward your heels while having both feet firmly planted on the ground, heels down. Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple  has made a good primer talking about easing your way into the squat (it’s worth it to check out the ‘asian squat’ video at the end of the article). For those of us in western cultures who aren’t used to this squat, it might take some doing to stretch those muscles and loosen up those joints so that we can even comfortably get down in that position. I’ve worked with my son around this. He used to play the catcher position in baseball and when he went into his squat his heels would come off the ground and he would go up on his toes. This is how catchers are coached to crouch so they can have quick pop ups and mobility. It took some relearning to sit back on his heels and slowly bring his body down into the relaxed squat position.

Of course if you already have knee or back damage, it would be good to check with your doctor before taking up such a practice. That being said, I have learned from personal experience that doing this practice will not create knee joint or back damage, but as I stated only serves to build up those muscles and joints in those areas.

Bodyweight exercise and flexibility expert, Ido Portal created a challenge encouraging people to create the habit of squatting on a daily basis. It’s called the Squat 30/30 Challenge . My friend Wendy Kinal, personal trainer, circus aerialist, accordion player and the nicest badass you will ever meet introduced me to this challenge (She’s always good at pointing out stuff like this). The challenge is to do at least 30 minutes a day sitting in the squatting position for 30 days in a row.  The challenge’s intention is to create that daily squat practice. He specifies this is not about training, but to create that daily habit. If you are anything like me, you might be eager to be in that squat position for the full 30 minutes. Ido points out right in the opening notes, that this is not the intention. The intention is to create a healthy practice of going into this position at any time during your day. Just to add to the challenge, here is a video by Ido Portal showing some great stretches that you can do when in the squat if you should decide to take up the practice.

Happy squatting.

Walking To Get Somewhere

Barefoot In Yelapa

One of the practices Anne and I have both embraced is living a paleo or primal lifestyle. I often hear people refer to it as the paleo diet. Diet is not the complete package. It’s a lifestyle, a way of living that embraces simplistic practices of health and well being. The wikipedia article I linked to above gives a general idea of what the paleo lifestyle is all about.

One of the most enjoyable I experienced on this trip was all the time I got to spend with Anne walking. Walking is a fantastic form of exercise. I know I have spent countless miles walking and running for the sake of walking and running. On this trip, I never set out to walk for exercise. Every walk Anne and I took was to get to a place we wanted to go. What a concept! Another thing about this form of transportation is whatever we needed at our destination, we needed to carry. Every day I had to evaluate what was going in my bag. I suddenly was concerned about not wanting to lug too much weight. That bag gets awfully heavy in the heat of a long day. 

At first when we set out walking we did our typical exercise thing. We set out at a hard pace to get our lungs pumping, and our hearts going. It’s what we are used to doing. It didn’t take us long to figure out in the heat and the hilly terrain to throttle it back and save our energy. We were going to need to walk back from wherever we were going, walk to dinner later, and walk home after that.

Once we slowed down, something magical happened. We started enjoying our time together. We talked. We held hands, we noticed interesting things about the area, we stopped to look, we took pictures. We lost all thoughts of setting a rapid pace and started living in the moment. We were sucking the marrow out of this adventure.

By the end of our week, we could feel a strength in our legs. It appealed to my paleo sensibilities. Since being home, I have lost that daily walking practice. It’s understandable, it’s been cold, icy, and slippery up here in Vermont.

My house, Mountain Shadow Manor, is about two miles out of town. I have walked to town during the warmer months and have always found the walk enjoyable. After my experience in Mexico, it is a practice I intend to continue.

Peace Bread Delivery