See Sections…

Wake Up Shake Up…

There are at least 5 things that must be done immediately on my awakening. Switch on the coffee pot. Open the back door for the dogs. Warm up the shower. Pee. Acknowledge dogs. Pee again. Feed dogs. Step into shower. Acknowledge dogs from shower.

Then, a little coffee, a little Sports Center, a check of the headlines to see who’s dead, and I pack my crap for the day. It all passes in a blur before I’m out the door for my morning commute. Just short of 15 miles, and roughly 50 minutes in duration, my bicycle ride to work each day is a joy.

 The Sections…

Section 1: Temecula, CA is where my commute begins; the only Mediterranean climate in the US. The first 3 miles are a flat stretch along Pechanga Parkway – the perfect warm up. On fresh legs and fueled by an apple and black coffee, the rhythm of my morning synchs perfectly. I travel at roughly 24 mph for this stretch. The air is usually crisp with a moderate to heavy marine layer overhead. There is no wind, and on strong legs I glide effortlessly through the sea of red ceramic roof tops.

When I turn left and head south on Old Highway 395, I have an immediate climb of 250 feet over the next 1.2 miles – not a chore on fresh legs, and a good way to gather my senses for the impending day. With that single left turn, I transition from suburban to rural. This stretch is a series of 2-lane switchbacks that provide a few great glimpses of the Temecula valley as I climb my way out of town.

Temecula valley...

Temecula valley…

With just a slight change in elevation, I’m now pushing into the marine layer that was once above as the mist keeps me cool. Years of geological evolution have adorned these hills with large boulders in captivating postures. I imagine them as what condominiums might have looked like in the town of Bedrock. Sadly, this crosses my mind every morning.

Flintstone Condominiums...

Flintstone Condominiums…

The mist that cools me...

The mist that cools me…

Section 2: After I reach the top of the switchbacks most of the next few miles are fairly straight and slightly downhill. As I cross from Riverside County into San Diego County, I transcend climates as well. The scrub oaks and arid hills give way to eucalyptus trees, some palm and succulent nurseries, and the floral greenhouses along the way – because everything that can grow in San Diego’s north county will grow. The scent of eucalyptus wafting through the fog smells better than freshly brewed coffee.

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This is the easy section of the ride with only 2 brief uphill sprints, but mostly my legs move to support the downhill glide. The final mile of this section is a steep downhill on which I usually coast to prepare my legs for the brief but exhilarating climb that begins on section 3.

3 miles of a slight downhill...

3 miles of a slight downhill…

Palm nursery on Old 395...

Palm nursery on Old 395…

Section 3: I turn right and cross over I-15 before I begin a short climb up East Mission Road headed into Fallbrook. This gets my heart-rate up for a few minutes, but it’s no chore. When I reach the top I usually sit up, let go the handle bars, and pull my shirt up to wipe sweat from my burning eyes.

Crossing I-15...

Crossing I-15…

The balance of my ride into work is an aesthetic gift. The ride is flat or slightly downhill with a few fun curves. I push this section hard since the peddling is easy, but I always take time to enjoy the great scenery that channels cars and bicycles alike into Fallbrook, including the little vineyard shown below.

Strawberry fields for seconds...

Strawberry fields for seconds…

Vineyard on East Mission Road...

Vineyard on East Mission Road…

The ride into Fallbrook on East Mission is roughly 4 miles, and is medicine for my soul. These views, along with the early morning fog are a large part of why I live here.

Welcome to Fallbrook...

Welcome to Fallbrook…

My Gears And Thoughts…

My bike has a double crank set. Unless transitioning, I’m always in 1 of 3 gears. Sadly, I actually have names for these gears. Even sadder, they are pathetic names; My Gear, My Other Gear, and My Different Other Gear. If I am not in one of these gears during the course of my ride, I have somehow failed with my sleep, fuel, or attitude.

Along the way my thoughts drift to the farthest reaches of my imagination, but never are they too far from what matters most — my ears.  A good defensive cyclist rides with his ears first, knowing what’s behind matters more than what is in front. Most injured cyclists never see the vehicle that hits them. Still, my thoughts during my ride entertain me far better than any aspect of popular culture ever could.

Morning on Main Street...

Morning on Main Street.  Studio view…

Still Growing As An Athlete…

Explosive athletes are physically strong for short bursts. Endurance athletes are mentally strong over long periods of time.   This commute is somewhere in the middle. I have always been a good explosive athlete, but never mentally strong with endurance sports. Though this commute is only 15 miles, it’s more than a sprint for me. I am attempting to break through the mentally strong barrier. Since beginning this commute several months ago, I am actually making strides in that direction. I’m pushing hills harder, scarcely coasting on flats, and I speed up for red lights rather than slow down for them.

My ride home is a different story.   It comes at the end of the day, in heat, usually in wind, is mostly uphill, and always after my daily workout with the weights. There is no joy there. It is simply an obligation that I must return in order to enjoy my morning commute once again, but that is a story for another essay. Be well… rc

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Roy Cohen is also available for consulting from a distance.  Click here to learn more.

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from The Sleepy Jackson. Enjoy!

The Hand…

The Hand…

We have all seen the infant who seems bewildered by the sight of his own hand held in front of his face. He stares at it with fascination, knowing it holds amazing powers yet he has no idea what those powers might be or that he is even in control of that hand. Over time he will learn that hand is an extensions of himself and the power it does hold, good or bad, will only and always be wielded at his discretion.

I see a parallel between that infant/hand relationship and the relationship between humans and social media. It’s not a stretch to suggest we are only now learning that social media is an extension of ourselves in how we interact with others. Like the hand of the infant, in time we will learn how to use social media for good, for bad, or for purposes of indifference, but it’s still new enough that we spend more time fascinated by it and placing it in our mouths than we do honing our abilities to use it intelligently. For my part, I am trying hard to break that barrier.

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Ask The Ignorant First…

A Facebook friend posed a fitness question to her constituency recently that reminded me of how new and detached that social media hand is from the infants we all still are. The question was this:

To all my workout buddies, which is best for cardio, burning fat, and building muscle; bike riding or running? Obviously I have other workout plans but I’m really just referring to cardio and out of the two what helps more with burning fat and building muscle?

The replies to her question were many, and of course they were varied. As I followed the thread throughout the evening it was clear that the answers arose quickly enough that they were not well reasoned and certainly not well researched. They were immediate reactions of superficial knowledge belief that were offered by a sea of non-experts who likely gained that knowledge at the watercooler.

The Mecca Of Fitness Knowledge...

The Mecca Of Fitness Knowledge…

I didn’t comment on the thread nor contact her privately to offer my advice, despite that I have strong opinions on the very nature of the question, as well as the ridiculousness of the many answers.

My takeaway from the experience of watching this unfold was multifaceted. My most immediate thought was of the infant hand; that this in no way utilized the power of social media for good, despite her good intentions. In this case, the hand was advanced enough to reach out, but ended up being placed on the proverbial hot burner on the stove. If she takes the wrong advice, or attempts to blend several of the questionable replies into her fitness regimen, she might get burned.

Take the wrong advice and...

Take the wrong advice and…

My thoughts then drifted in hope that she would not heed any of the bad advice – which is usually the most attractive. One tip; that Zumba burns more calories than running, made me chuckle. Another; that protein ingested immediately after a workout is necessary to gain muscle, made me wince. I could go on and on.

What struck me most though by this question, is that it was a reminder to me that fitness expertise and information provided by legitimate experts is too often undervalued and underappreciated by the general public. The idea that useful information can be picked off a tree like an apple haunts me – ongoing. The more social media is used in instances like these, the more cheapened good information and good resources become.

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I will wish my friend good luck in her fitness endeavors, but will suggest that little will change in her realizing those goals so long as her Facebook friends are her trainers and consultants.

The Hand/I Coordination…

We’re still learning to use the hand. It is ours to manipulate and to use for good, bad, or indifferent results. If we are to use it for the pursuit of knowledge, only practice will allow us to use it with greater dexterity, accuracy, and to obtain more fruitful results.

When we use it blindly and without much thought, it is not that different than the infant staring at the hand before his eyes before placing it in his mouth as a toy to chew on. Increasingly, I attempt to use social media technology for more intelligent purpose though every so often, a pretty food picture must be shared. Be well… rc

Dinner this past Thursday...

Dinner this past Thursday…

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from HuDost. Enjoy!

Confessions Of A Cutter…

I confess, I have been in a cutting phase lately. By “cutting” I don’t mean sitting in a dark room with heavy mascara on my eyes, listening to Bauhaus, and hacking away at my wrists with the jagged edge of a broken Coke bottle. Cutting, in the fitness vernacular, is a reference to the cutting of body fat. I want to bring mine down a few percentage points, so I have changed up my eating a little bit.

Great music to cut by.  Even for cutting weight...

Great music to cut by. Even for cutting weight…

When I (and millions of others) have done this in the past it has been with a protocol of eating twigs, kale, small amounts of brown rice, egg whites, fish and very little else. Those of us who have cut on such diets always seem to spend a great deal of time preparing less than glamorous meals, that we might be living in a lesser state of enjoyment for their tasteless deprivation. I have been there many times.

This time out, as I have in the past, I am getting as much of my calories as I can from vegetables, fruits, and animal protein sources such as lean beef, chicken, and sea food. However, this time out I’m a little too busy and a little too idontgiveafuck to go about things the way I have in the past.

Fine.  Really.  Just cutting calories...

Fine. Really. Just cutting calories…

For example, one thing I have been doing through this cutting phase that is very different from my past protocol is that I eat on the run much more. Rather than spend the 30-45 minutes preparing and eating my usual breakfast of eggs and steamed vegetables each morning, I’m keeping it simple with an Egg McMuffin on the way in to work. Yes, an Egg McMuffin. Take note, most days I get the regular Egg McMufin too, not the Egg White Delight. On the days I’m fortunate enough to eat at home, I’m partial to the Jimmy Dean bagel/sausage sandwiches.

You may not agree with me on this one, but I'm right!

You may not agree with me on this one, but I’m right!

Lunch these days is even simpler – almost always a Greek chicken salad at one of the local diners, or a salad bowl from Chipotle. Good ingredients, served up quickly, and usually under $10. I have things to do. When I do prepare my lunch ahead of time and bring it with me, it’s usually just frozen vegetables – well seasoned and thrown into a plastic container with some cut up chicken or pork on top and that’s it.

Under $10 at the local diner.  Oh, and a cute girl brings it to me!

Under $10 at the local diner. Oh, and a cute girl brings it to me!

And when I'm in a real hurry...

And when I’m in a real hurry…

My daytime snacks are taken mid-morning and mid-afternoon and usually include a cut up apple or grapefruit, accompanied by a cheese stick and a few Triscuit wafers.

Dinner for me is just as simple; usually a small grilled steak or piece of chicken with asparagus or broccoli, and a small salad. Or maybe just some quick-stirred ground beef tossed into a romaine leaf – always followed by a single spoonful of ice-cream.

Ten minutes - start to finish...

Ten minutes – start to finish…

Dessert -- one spoonful at a time...

Dessert — one spoonful at a time…

My last meal of the day is roughly 4 tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt stirred up with a scoop of protein powder. I have this right before I go to sleep.

I have made the argument for a long time that our nation would be a MUCH healthier place as a collective if everyone who lives in a state of obesity simply ate an Egg McMuffin for breakfast, had a Smart Ones and a piece of fruit for lunch, and a reasonable dinner. I can make the argument just as easily and just as strong that those who wish to cut the vanity 5 or 10 pounds could eat the same way with great results. This is simply about portion control, ease of transaction, and commitment.

Whatever your feelings are about corporations, monoculture foods, and GMOs, please save them for another argument – that’s not my point. The point is that I have been successfully cutting body fat eating this way, and I haven’t had to think twice about it. Keep in mind I’m about 8 weeks in to this cutting phase and down about 10 pounds. Though I recommend losing no more than ½ pound per week for most people, my decline is more rapid due to my bicycle commute to work each day.

This eating protocol isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t have a fancy name. It’s not trendy. It’s not endorsed by Reebok, CrossFit, or Dr. Oz. It is though, simple, inexpensive, tasty (a relative term, I know), sustainable, affordable – and it will work for anyone willing to commit to it. For me this about going from 180 lbs. to 165 lbs. There are millions of people though, who might benefit from such a simplistic because their lives depend on it.

Lastly, every couple of weeks I put it aside for a day.  Pizza, fish & chips, orange chicken from Panda Express — whatever.  I choose my battles always remembering that if I win 2 days out of 3, I’m ahead of the game.  If I win 3 days out of 4, that much more.  And even if I win 1 and lose one, it’s still a break even proposition.   Just some food for thought – so to say Be well… rc

A meal like this every couple of weeks does a soul -- and a body good...

A meal like this every couple of weeks does a soul — and a body good…

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Perry and the Travelers. Enjoy!

A Fair Comparison…

I’m about to compare people’s desire to spot-reduce body fat to their need for religious salvation. To amuse you even further, I will also compare myself to Confucius.

A Day At The Beach…

About 10 years ago I took a day off to enjoy the beach with a few friends. At the time I was in my mid-40s, pretty lean, and definitely in good aesthetic and functional shape. I kind of like being at the beach – it’s a nice reward for the efforts I put into my exercise and eating regimen. It was just a casual surf day, a little chicken on the fire, some cold beer, and some sun on our backs… and hips… and bellies.

The gentlemen I was with though – my social contemporaries, had a little less back, and a little more belly and hip. As the afternoon unfolded we lay in the sun, chatted, and eventually questions began to come my way about what exercises can be used to lose body fat; hips, bellies, etc.

The Lost Diet-tribe…

I went into my normal diatribe about how fat loss is almost exclusively related to dietary concerns, and that there are no exercises – NONE which can foster or expedite fat loss in a particular region of the body. My response was based on two factors; empirical science, and my time in position working with others. Or as I like to call them, knowledge and wisdom. Confucian-like wisdom.

High on the mountain top...

High on the mountain top…

My friends appreciated my explanation, but as is always the case, they were not pleased my answers. The very idea that one has to eat less and be patient in order to lose body fat is far too similar to the story of eternal salvation; live a long time, be patient, do all the right things, and heaven awaits – but not until then!

Savior Questions For The Beach…

Later that afternoon we played some pickup football in the sand with some younger guys, two of whom happen to be defensive backs for a local junior college. One of the guys was extremely lean – shredded, and was impressive to look at. He and I began talking about the weight room when my friends joined in, asking him what he did to get his abs so developed.

First point of clarification: This was a 19 year old man who was genetically gifted, both athletically and aesthetically – that’s what skill position players in college football are.

Second Point: His only job was to spend his mornings and afternoons running sprint intervals at top seed on the practice field, tear up the weight room, and to sleep through classes and meetings. This is what college football players do – even more so at the JC level. Guys like this can and often do eat whatever they want. And by JC, I mean junior college – for now.

Now if that contradicts what I said earlier about spot-reduction, understand there is a big difference between doing a few sit-ups to lose inches, and spending a majority of one’s day running sprints and lifting weights.

No, Spot. No!

As my friends watched and listened, the JC player began to describe what he did to get his abs. I could feel the knowledge and wisdom I had shared with them earlier disappear as they created more room in their heads for something which better suited their high expectations – JC wisdom. The fact that my friends could see this man’s abs in action was all they needed in order to have false hope. And a savior was born – if not anointed.

JC, but not JC...

JC, but not JC…

Notwithstanding, the ab exercises this guy described were not only unnecessary to condition the abs, they were unsafe for anyone not already in excellent physical condition. They were abdominal exercises which offered more risk than benefit – but that’s another story.

Looks perfectly safe -- and smart...

Looks perfectly safe — and smart…

The Lightbulb…

And that’s when the light went off for me, what does it say about the human condition that when we want something so badly we often pin our hopes on things which not only seem too good to be true, but can steer us away from sound wisdom, common sense, and even science…?

We see this in all areas of life, from Keith Urban’s instant guitar success course, to investment advisers who too often throw darts on our behalf when we aren’t looking, to houses of worship claiming they alone possess the exclusive path to salvation.

There seems to be an innate desire in all of us to abandon wisdom, experience, hard work, and patience, in order that we get more of anything and get it sooner. Sadly, this includes deliverance from evil, or from adipose.

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Those same friends did not benefit from the exercises they learned from the young football player that day at the beach. They probably never attempted them. More to the point, my friends did not accept or benefit from the sound wisdom and experience I offered them, and they could have – if only they hadn’t been looking for sooner, easier, and miraculous. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from John J. Presley. Enjoy!

The Path Of The Righteous Man (Get Off My Lawn)…

Dear Graduate,

Well, you finished. You should be proud of all you have accomplished, and anxious to begin clearing your path. If you’re like many, you’ll be busy clearing that path before you ever begin defining it.

Of course your path be largely defined by the influence of others, whether you want it to or not. Ultimately, it is you who decides in what direction it will extend, and when it is to change directions, though you may not realize this until it’s too late. Remember, that path is not just to be aimed, but to be studied. This concludes my use of the term path.

On the occasion of your graduation some pretentious asshole will stand up and speak before your entire graduating class. He or she will offer words of caution, of optimism, and of inspiration. Because your parents and school faculty will be present, those words are likely to be tempered and sugar coated. I might use this platform to offer you some thoughts less sweet, which may help illuminate the road full of forks which you are about merge onto.

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Work, Bosses, And Co-workers…

The best job you will ever have is the one you just left, or the one you are going to next. Rarely will it be the one you are in right now. You may find yourself in some employment situations where you work for assholes, but love your co-workers. You may be in situations where you love your boss, and loathe your co-workers.

At some point these may intersect and you will despise everyone in your workplace. However, the winds may blow just right one day and you may find, if only for a moment, that you love everyone you work with. Enjoy those times, for they are as magical as they are rare.

Through it all, there will be times when you thoroughly enjoy the work that you do, but some of your time in the adult workplace will haunt you far beyond quitting time, and will disrupt your sleep on a regular basis. The older I get, the more I see this as being evenly balanced. Please remember though, that at the end of the day work is what we are here for, not retirement.

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Ultimately, if you can’t find a job that you love, or can’t learn to love the job you’re in, you may wish to create your own job and your own work environment. Of course even when one is self-employed, a job is still a job. Self-employment is no guarantee for happiness, but it can put you in better field position.

Relationships…

Above all things, life is about relationships. Little else in your life will matter more than the relationships you protect, except the ones you fail to protect, though you may not discover this until it’s too late. Appreciating the value of the relationships you maintain, and possessing the ability to understand why relationships so often change or deteriorate will be useful in finding your way in dark times and in light.

People, you will learn, are clearly beautiful. Just as clearly, they are complicated confusing, messy, and can be tiresome.   At some point everyone gets dirty, bruised, and ignored, and they will let you know it. That they will let this bleed into a relationship only makes them human, not disposable.

You may be married someday. If you are, that marriage may be wonderful, tolerable, or tragic. If it’s like many marriages, it will hold elements of all of these. It may also include divorce. Divorce, I have learned, is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the marriage. Conversely, a sustained marriage does not necessarily state quality in a relationship.

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Before marriage and beyond, there will be other relationships. Many of these will start off with promise, but will quickly dull. Others may end with you never really knowing why they ended, and wanting for more. You may ask yourself at some point; how many soul mates does one get…? At best, that question can create knots in one’s stomach. At its worst, it can paralyze you to a point of emotional stagnation.

Marriage or partnership, if you are fortunate to find the right one, and are able to ride it out for the very long term, it will not be without your share of sacrifice and second guessing. In relationships, it is best to wake up each day and do what you believe is correct that you win the day, even if it contradicts what you did the day before. That ideal by the way, can be superimposed over just about any situation or dynamic in life.

Loss…

You will have friends and loved ones who will get ill and recover. You will also have will have friends and loved ones who get ill and die. Nothing can prepare you for the shock you feel when a friend or loved one dies unexpectedly.  There isn’t anything you can do to prepare for how to handle this when it happens, but it will happen.

When it does happen, use these instances as perspective to better appreciate your own life, and those relationships who remain in it. Disease and loss never make sense, but they can make you appreciative anything and everything else that much more.

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Money And Freedom…

There will be times when you have money, and you will feel an overwhelming sense of security that fits you like a warm cocoon – don’t get used to it because it’s not likely to last. Other times you will be broke, question many of your spending choices, and it will seem like the end of the world. It won’t be the end of the world, though it should be the start of a new behavior.

At best, money is a useful tool that is necessary to experience any level of personal freedom. Personal freedom though, as most people know it, is an illusion destined to distort and disappoint. Ultimately freedom means not doing the goose step down Main Street, and the proper use of money can help you avoid Main Street altogether – the road less traveled.

Lessons Learned…

There are lessons to be learned in every moment, every circumstance, and every conversation you will ever have. Of course, you won’t find those lessons if you are not looking, you won’t hear them if you are not listening, and you won’t benefit from them if you are not receptive.

Perhaps the most fruitful lessons you can hope to learn are those you will learn from watching others. Being a conscious witness to the joys, tragedies, triumphs, and misfortunes of others is often the best way to assure your proximity to them.

Creativity…

If you can incorporate some level of creativity into your daily work, or find some level of creativity buried within it, your life will surely be warmer. If there seems to be no room for creativity in your workplace, finding a creative outlet beyond he workplace will help keep you whole, if not sane – especially in difficult times. Creativity is a gift we all possess, but very few take the time to explore or to enjoy.

I am reminded of the most formative movie line I know, written by John Hughes for the movie, She’s Having A Baby…

“In the end, I realized that I took more than I gave, that I was loved more than I loved, and in the end, I realized that what I was looking for was not be found, but to be created.”

That this was recited by Kevin Bacon, makes it that much sweeter.

You will be the creator of every single one of your days. I ask you rhetorically, what kind of day will you create today, that will be acceptable to you tomorrow…?

Children…

I’ll suggest only one hard rule in all of this: If you go on to have children, please don’t shelter them from the realities of life. Expose them to the beauty in life of course, but don’t screen them from the harshness and messiness of it all. Expose your children to life as it comes and teach them, as best you can, how to accept it. Be honest with them – all of the time. Dishonesty with our children is the cause for more social decay than anything else.

Expose your children to who you really are without fear – regardless of how it may make you look in their eyes. Be humble when you are wrong, don’t gloat when you are correct, and when their names show up on caller ID, don’t ever let the call go to voicemail.

I wish you luck. Now get off my lawn!

Sincerely,

Still Learning

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Please check back n a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from The Dead Daisies.  Enjoy…

From Oddity To Commodity

Cleft Values…

The more available a commodity becomes, the less value it usually holds. Muscle seems to follow that axiom. At a time when lean muscle mass is more accessible and more prevalent than ever, I’ll suggest its value, in the way it is appreciated by its possessor and by those in the periphery, is on the decline.

In this era when round triceps and striated deltoids are the desired look for the 18-24 year old bro set, I liken muscles to cubic zirconia; readily available, the cheaper the better, fake is ok as long as it looks real, and at the end of the day it’s usually ill-used and underappreciated. Muscle has become a young man’s bobble.

What most attracted me to recreational bodybuilding in the 1970s was the rareness of human muscle as a commodity. The contrary nature of cleft muscle in a sea of otherwise ordinary beings was so compelling to me that I would build my entire life around attaining and preserving it. And because it has been a calling for me, I have never allowed myself to take it for granted.

It’s Time To Meat Up…

I currently split my workouts between my own studio, and a typical commercial gym in a nearby suburb. On any given week more quality physiques pass through that gym than existed in the entire city of Denver in 1977. That’s not an exaggeration. I see outstanding physiques on bros and buddies alike that would rival the competitive physiques at the highest levels in the 1970s.

Most of the physiques I see in this gym are not competitive bodybuilders. They are simply competitive followers, who wish to have what all the other young men have – even if they don’t understand what it does or why they want it.

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We first came to appreciate superhuman physiques with our superhuman heroes; Tarzan, Conan, and later on The Hulk, Superman, and GI Joe. Each new generation seems to have added a layer of muscle.

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Later on, superhero physiques with even greater proportions could be found in the ranks of the NFL, the UFC, and even the NBA became has become a domicile for action figures.

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Today ornamental muscle transcends sports. Actors, news anchors, and even comedians commonly display physiques that 30 years ago would have been considered out of the ordinary if not world class. Our social expectations have evolved that we equate muscle to male relevance. This often makes me wonder; what might we equate a lack of muscle to…? That question haunts me, ongoing…

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Earning Is Learning…

Clearly I’m not against the achievement or even the display of muscle. Cultivating functional and aesthetically pleasing muscle has been my occupation, my vocation, and the most grounding influence in my life. What it is that gives muscle a place of such esteem for me, comes down to a single word – appreciation. I appreciate the musculature of my body. Not just for how it looks, or how well it functions, but because I appreciate and enjoy the process of using and preserving it.

When I talk with young men in the gym I often hear of the pain, the suffering, and the long hours associated with making meat. Suffering…? Suffering is finding out your kids is dead. The tactile act of repeatedly extending and contracting my triceps, even to the point of a slight burning sensation is a luxury, but is nothing I grieve over. Long hours in the gym…? I’m done in 45-50 minutes. Pain…? My workouts help keep all those pains associated living everyday life at bay.

Despite my occasional suggestions otherwise, I regularly witness methods of exercise which defy science and logic, yet they have become central to the acquisition of muscle. The potential for physical and emotional injury seems to increase with every new bad idea. From excessive muscle overloading to squatting on a phisio-ball, there is much I just can’t reconcile with science, let alone common sense.

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Accidentally Jacked…

To me the biggest disconnect that I regularly see with young men and strength training is that they rely heavily, if not exclusively on blindly following others who blindly follow others, rather than exploring their own abilities as it relates to their physicality. They fail to connect their minds with their bodies.

Many of the young men I see boasting that meat-nouveau have attained it with little consideration for how they got there or what it’s really worth. In a frustrating irony, bad ideas, youth, and good genetics can still combine to create good results early on. A willingness to lean on extreme supplementation and pharmaceuticals can accelerate this process with even less thinking involved.

While youth, good genes, and drugs may combine to build a decent physique in the short term, to have intelligently pursued and acquired a lifestyle of well used muscle is a path of exploration worth knowing. For me, this quest has provided the foundation for all the subsequent intellectual journeys I have taken.

Possessing muscle in the long-term is a commitment that I’ll admit can sometimes be a burden. The dividends though, far exceed the investment for those willing to learn as they earn. I’ll also say that possessing muscle is a responsibility. It should be carried with dignity, used with respect, and displayed as art, not as something to be worn at spring break with a pooka shell necklace. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button in my head.

Oh, and there’s this: To this day, the biggest grossing private event held at the Whitney Museum Of American Art was to raise funds for the movie Pumping Iron. Today we can see comparable physiques in any gym in the country.  Sad…

Function Follows Form…

From Strength Comes Wellness…

I have dedicated much of my adult life to championing the utility of strength training. Not just as a means of making muscles bigger and prettier, but because I understand the values of wellness associated with it. Strength training provides benefits that few people recognize, though most everyone would appreciate them. In no particular order, these are among the leading values of strength training:

  • Increased flexibility
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Improved balance
  • Enables better fat loss than cardio (please repeat that one over and over again)
  • Personal confidence
  • Enhanced strength outside of the gym
  • Slows down the inevitable loss of bone density

They key to maximizing these dividends is in being deliberate in one’s actions once inside the gym, and not just going through the motions.

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But Few People Care To Know…

A lack of optimal execution in strength training is the largest reason why people don’t obtain the benefits that come with lifting weights. Attention to proper strength training form can not only accelerate benefits, it can guarantee them. A lack of results and the related dings, pings, and injuries which can be associated with strength training done incorrectly, often lead to a state of disdain for the gym, yet people often continue to go anyway as something they feel they should be doing – because so many others are doing it.

Poor strength training form is so widespread that I often believe it will never be overcome as a cultural phenomenon. I will suggest that more than 90% of a gym population at any one time is working less than optimally toward their goals and related benefits, and in many instances they are working far below a fruitful outcome.

A generations deep copycat gym culture has assured that proper strength training form is scarcely utilized by the masses, leaving strength training’s greatest potential; to be a viable form of wellness as well as disease & injury prevention, largely unfulfilled.

A recipe for success, yes...?

A recipe for success, yes…?

What is most striking about the lack of attention people give to proper form with the weights is that it is almost exclusive to strength training as a form of exercise. In yoga and Pilates, for example, the underlying focus of any practitioner, be it in a class or done solitarily, is to master the form – regardless of how much time is involved in doing so.

Martial arts works much the same way. A good sensei will only advance a student who demonstrates exceptional form in a kata. If that form is not met, the student must return to practice and test again later.

In strength training though, the next step to advancement is usually nothing more than the ego based decisions  to add weight or increase repetitions regardless of form, because it is assumed that in strength training progress comes exclusively from more, not from improved.

A recipe for success, yes!

A recipe for success, yes!

There’s More Than One Way To Be Poor…

I see examples of poor strength training form daily, often to the point where I feel the blended emotions of sympathy, disgust, and frustration – simultaneously as I walk about my local gym. By far, the two most common violations I see are fast repetitions, and partial repetitions.

Fast repetitions: There is a widespread misconception that speed in strength training translates to explosiveness. On one level this is true, notwithstanding that of the many values of strength training, explosiveness should not be high on the list for the middle aged businessman or the new mother wishing to lose her baby weight.

When athletes train for explosiveness, momentum is an underlying element to their training. As momentum and force increase, the opportunity to become injured increases proportionately. Most athletic injuries are caused by forces upon musculoskeletal structures that exceed the structure’s tensile limits.  This means injury is caused by excessive force or excessive motion. What could be more excessive than repping out in the loose form that most people use when lifting weights…?

Partial repetitions: Though less dangerous than fast repetitions, partial repetitions offer little benefit with regard to strength and functionality. An unrecognized value in strength training is tendon strength. Tendons are where muscles taper, increase in density, and fuse muscle to bone. Having strong tendons offers joints better support. For balance, day-to-day agility, and functionality, having strong tendons is as important as having strong muscles.

Tendon strength can best be increased in the gym when exercises are taken through a complete range of motion. Partial repetitions keep load on the muscle bellies with minimum engagement of the tendons. However, when muscular extensions (negative reps) are complete, it is the tendon that bears much of the load prior to a subsequent contraction. These full extensions help strengthen tendons, offering joints more support outside of the gym.

Function Follows Form…

Despite the popular engineering edict to the contrary, in strength training function follows form. That is, the better form a group of muscles exhibits during strength training, the better they are likely to perform outside the gym where they are needed most. Ask me what I do for a living and my answer is simple; I teach proper form in strength training. Anything beyond that is secondary. A few basic concepts worth noting:

  • Range of motion = flexibility.
  • Eliminate momentum in a strength movement = reduce the chance of injury.
  • Concentrate on the primary muscles involved with a lift = create a greater awareness (intimacy) with one’s muscular skeleton.
  • Improve control of a weight in motion = improve the body’s command of itself.

Still, it’s simply enough for most to walk into a gym, do some pushing, some pulling, perhaps some bending and squatting, and do so in a haphazard fashion with the exclusive goal being to increase capacity or quantity.  To me this is similar to sitting down to a pricey meal and eating it quickly while washing down every bite with a swallow of a soft drink. What’s the point…?

Which makes more sense, this…?

Or this…?

To this day, before I add weight to any movement or attempt more repetitions, I always ask myself, “Could I have done that last set any better…?” Only if the answer is no will I attempt to increase my load or capacity.

The execution of proper form, in my opinion, should be the highest priority in determining improvement with strength training.

With Benefits Comes Enjoyment…

I hear regularly from people that they strength train because they feel they should or because their doctor suggested it, often followed by, “but I don’t really enjoy it”. If you fall into that category, please consider this: I take pride in teaching people to actually connect with strength training – often to a point where it becomes transformative and meditative – a necessary part of their weekly routine.

The perfect repetition, and all the benefits that go with it is anyone’s for the taking. It’s not always easy. Moving weights properly can burn at times, and there can be mild discomfort in the moment. I will suggest though, that on completion of a set – of a workout in this fashion, there can be an exhilaration and sense of cleansing that is just as powerful as yoga, Pilates, or going to church.

The singular repetition of a strength exercise executed in proper form, through a complete range of motion, and dialed into with absolute concentration, is as cleansing to me as a breath of fresh air. For that one moment, I am alone in a perfect state that transcends time. I am not even aware that there is a world beyond my repetition, let alone beyond my workout. That I get to repeat this state over again daily, weekly, and yearly, and to know that it comes with the benefits of improved wellness, is among the greatest gifts I have known as a physical person. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from the genius of Corey McAbee. Enjoy!

 

The Fingerprints Of Others…

I’m big on appreciating formative moments in my life; those times when a person, a circumstance, or an occurrence makes an impact so indelible that it will stay with me for years to come. I refer to these as the finger prints of others. Rarely a day passes without me reflecting on some of the fingerprints others have left on my life through the years.

From profound tragedies, to near-death experiences, to simple observations or words of wisdom that people have offered me through the years, the fingerprints of others have shaped who I am – because I allow them to.

In the past couple of months two occurrences took place that fall into this category; formative moments that I won’t let go of anytime soon.

There, But For The Grace…

Last week I was walking my dog on a well-manicured greenbelt in-between a sea of suburban dwellings clad in stucco and topped with ceramic roofs. Well out of his place, my dog and I were approached by what appeared to be a homeless man, unkempt and not walking too well – perhaps drunk.

The greenbelt of happiness...

The greenbelt of happiness…

As the man got closer, my dog, who has barked or snarled less than a dozen times in his 9 years on earth, began to growl at him. It also appeared, as he got closer, that he was well beyond drunk. Barely able to walk, but he headed our way intentionally – perhaps to ask for money.

My dog, Stroodle, sneered more as the man approached. I had never seen this behavior from him before. The homeless man, I suppose because he may have been in fear, kicked at Stroodle. Understand, he did not kick him, he only kicked at him. However, as Stroodle’s steward in this life, my protector instincts took hold and I punched the man in the chest. Not to be mean, but to keep him from hurting my dog.

Stroodle; center of his own attention...

Stroodle; center of his own attention…

The man fell to the ground and began crying. He was a sad wretch with bloodshot eyes, in filthy clothing, with no apparent direction, and then he was crying – and I had just hit him.

I attempted to help him up, but he refused. He then turned away from me, and staggered off in another direction leaving a scent of body odor and alcohol that would stay with me for a few more hours. As he was ambling away, Stroodle kept growling at him.

In the same scenario I would do this again – protect my dog using minimal force — but what was minimal…?  I can’t let go though, of the grown man on the ground crying at what I had done, though I know he was probably crying over much more.

I couldn’t help wonder where the man had been, what had lead him down this path, and where he might end up that day – or any day. There, but for the grace…

A Pee, A Picture, And A Pistol…

I had been traveling from Denver to the San Diego area last month helping a friend relocate her belongings. Rather than see her pay movers, I volunteered to load and drive a 26’ truck across the American west, with my friend and her dogs as the chase team. She was on a budget and I needed a road trip. It was a good fit.

On morning #2 of our trip we left Richfield, Utah as the sun rose. Just a quick stop for gas, and my obligatory 12-pack of Diet Coke to caffeinate the long haul ahead, and we were soon on the road. After an hour or so, I needed to make room for more Diet Coke by releasing that which I had already consumed.

We were clipping through the red clay and green scrub about an hour north of Cedar City, Utah when I spied travel complex with a large rainbow canopy above the gas pump islands. No city, no town, no other signs of civilization – just a gas stop alone in the desert. As I pulled into the complex, my friend followed me. It was soon evident that the travel plaza was no longer in business, just a truck stop ghost town. To a guy like me, that’s a playground.

If you're ever near Cedar City, Utah, ya might look elsewhere for a place to pee...

If you’re ever near Cedar City, Utah, ya might look elsewhere for a place to pee…

Since we didn’t need gas or food, and I still had to pee, I decided to give the place my business just the same. That’s when my inner child got the better of me, and I decided to explore and photograph the abandoned buildings of the complex – something I do frequently cross-country trips.

As I photographed one of the abandoned gas islands, a small SUV approached me at a decreasing speed until it came to a halt beside me. A man in a shirt and tie, but with no coat was behind the wheel. He had mirrored sunglasses that looked more like 2 compound eyes.

“I’m going to ask you to leave” the man said in a whisper. “This is private property”.

Me being me, I asked him if he was a representative of the owner, and if so could he prove it. I turned and continued to photograph some broken glass outside one of the structures.

“Hey” he shouted, “I am the owner!” That’s when I looked down to see a small handgun pointed at me.

Ok, I said. I’ll be moving on. No further words were exchanged.

I walked slowly back toward the 26’ truck where my friend was waiting outside her car, giving her dogs some water. I explained that we should get going, but said nothing of the man with the gun – since he had been out of her sight the entire time, and I didn’t wish scare her.

Up in the truck, back on the road, and still trembling from my experience, my eyes spent equal time divided between the road in front of me, and my side view mirrors for the next several hours. I would not see the man with the small SUV and the compound eyes again.

So Many Changes In Such A Short Time…

Despite my military service, and hanging out with some questionable characters in my young adult life, I had never before stood at the barrel of a gun facing back at me. Not for a moment did I think the man would pull the trigger, but afterward I could not let go how the life of my daughter might have changed if I had made one more sarcastic remark that could have put him over the edge. I continue to wrestle with that one. A fingerprint on my life, to be sure.

Unrelated to the story, just a cool picture of a snail along the greenbelt.   Taken with an iPhone set to mono...

Unrelated to the story, just a cool picture of a snail along the greenbelt.
Taken with an iPhone set to mono…

Last week I punched a homeless drunk in the chest, only to see him fall to the ground and cry. Yes, I was defending a helpless animal, but I had to hurt a person in order to help a dog. Another fingerprint from which to learn, and yet another wrestling match to take place in my head.

It is the fingerprints of others, as much or more than my own actions through the years, that have shaped who I am and who I am still to become. Like fingerprints on a doorknob accruing over time, the person I am today is much dirtier than the man I was 20 years ago. Of course unlike the doorknob, the fingerprints left on my psyche aren’t dirt so easily washed away. The dirt stays with me because I allow it to. In this case though, let’s not call it dirt – let’s refer to it character. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Ry Cooder. Enjoy!

An Amazing Age,,,

Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself. Basically, it’s made up of two separate words — mank and ind. What do these words mean? It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind.” Jack Handy

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An Amazing Age…

A father stood by a campfire sharing thoughts of life with his discouraged adolescent son. He explained that life can be hard, but reminded his son that it was much worse for their ancestors. He explained that they live an amazing age. He spoke about how quickly man can cover long distances – much faster and further than even a few generations ago. The food system had advanced in a way that fewer people were going hungry, and food was much easier to produce. Though wars still took place, there were less of them, and with fewer casualties within them. Tyrannical leaders had declined in number, and advances in medicine had enabled longer lives, and a better quality of life with each passing year.

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Of course that conversation could have taken place in any age of man going back 4,000 years or more. And I guess that’s my point; that every generation of man reaps the benefits of advancement. All who have lived, have lived in an amazing age.

Today we live with the most advanced technologies and social structures to date, and certainly the most complex. Yet I’m not such a fan. The worst unintended consequences of advancement are… a lack of advancement. I too am a discouraged youth.

And Then, Depression Set In…

I have experienced my share of depressive episodes – those times when continuing my own life seems the worst possible solution. I have survived those episodes though, without medication, for one reason above all others, the knowledge that my depression always passes – always.

I don’t wish to understate the value of medication for those who live with depression. That technology – the advancement of pharmaceuticals, has changed and saved millions who live with depression. I only suggest that for me, the best medicine is the knowledge that my depression always passes – always. It’s kind of old school.

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When I’m in the throes of depression, it’s not so easy or so convenient to conjure up thoughts of it passing. Nor are those thoughts fast-acting. They do come though, with no side effects, nor any cascading consequences which may lead to more cascading consequences.

In recent decades depression has become better addressed, both scientifically and socially. Depression can be treated, discussed, and most importantly, it can be allowed. That it is allowed, is a great social advancement – part of our amazing age.

I Need A Kind Of Therapy Which Hasn’t Been Invented Yet…

I live with another ailment though, one which is rarely discussed and may not even exist beyond my tortured mind, though I suspect it does; the inability to comprehend and cope with the increasing complexities of our amazing age. I live in a greater state of flux today than I did at age 40. Each new advancement for the betterment of mankind seems to come with choices, tenfold.

Last night I spent 75 minutes navigating the Netflix search menu, looking for a program worthy of my time. Eventually I selected a series of TED Talks on space exploration. Seventy-five minutes spent searching. In that amount of time I could have watched 5 of those TED Talks, or 4 episodes of McHale’s Navy. I yearn for the black and white Admiral TV of my youth. Only 12 channels choose from and a few dozen more on UHF, but most of those were snow.

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Driving last week my advanced navigation system was guiding me to a job interview. Knowing the area fairly well I decided to trust my hunter-gatherer instincts and took an alternate route. The voice from the speakers kept attempting to reroute me – even to the point when I was directly across the street from my intended location. “Make a U-turn and go 1 mile to the Rancho California Exit” the voice said. My destination was 50 yards away. That actually happened.

I can’t remember my daughter’s phone number – because I don’t have to. Talk about an instant panic attack when I needed to call her from someone else’s phone…

The thought that gets me through my depressive episodes, that it always passes – always, doesn’t work for my complexity issues. The increasing complexities of life are exponential. They never pass, they only get worse. To paraphrase Lewis Black, “Exponential means to get crappier and crappier and crappier.”

I’m not a neuroscientist nor a cognitive psychologist, but I do read some of their work when time permits. Once conclusion I can safely make is that in no way is the human brain keeping up with the pace of our advancements. My disease may not be your disease yet, but it will be.

No Going Back. Close Your Eyes And Ears Going Forward…

There’s no going backward though, only the hopes that humanity will figure out how to take the greatest advancements from the past, retool them, and superimpose them on the future. We won’t see horse drawn carriages again, but we already see cars without internal combustion engines and that’s a legitimate advancement. That those cars might drive themselves is also an advancement. If self-driving cars are an advancement, there will surely be unintended consequences along with them – like losing our inherent ability to find north or south quickly, or to minimize what little muscle tone most people have left – from turning that steering wheel.

I genuinely believe the humanity is headed in a positive direction, pulled by the underlying currents of a higher purpose. Read the books Nonzero and The Better Angels Of Our Nature and you too might be convinced of this. That future though, might look a lot like Idiocracy. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head…

Aja: More That A Continent…

The Era…

In the 1970s my social contemporaries we largely tied to the music of Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues, Rush, Pink Floyd, and the like. Not that I didn’t have an ear for it too, I did. Listening to the rock & roll of the day was among my primary hobbies. It was an era when vinyl was king, and the thematic or the complete album was central to FM radio. Though this was also the era of disco and the early stages of punk rock, the FM radio of the day was all about dirty hippies making well-orchestrated masterpieces.

Counter to most of my friends at that time, one band I focused on more than Frank Zappa, Uriah Heap, or Deep Purple was Steely Dan. This was a band most of my friends couldn’t connect with, yet they were my obsession. With those who did though, it did seemed like we spoke another language.   Being a Steely Dan fan at the age of 15 landed one a very good seat at the rock & roll nerd table at school – just behind the kids from the short bus.

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The Scope and The Band…

Steely Dan’s heyday was from 1972-1977, though they are still active today. Starting with their first album, Can’t Buy A Thrill, the primary players were producer Gary Katz and musicians Donald Fagan and Walter Becker. Many musicians showed up on Steely Dan albums through the years. In the early years, the same dozen or so players were granted parts on most of their first five albums.

As the band evolved, the varying players were depended on to raise their game with each successive album. If they did not, they would be used less or not at all. Notwithstanding that as their music style changed, there might be less of a need for a flugelhorn, and thus less of a need for flugelhorn player Snooky young. By the time their 5th album, The Royal Scam was released, the hierarchy of Fagan, Becker, and Katz was firmly in place, but also beginning to strain. Though it would be a year before the world would hear their 6th album, that year took forever – at least for me.

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The Album…

We all know what it’s like to anticipate an album release. In the pre-internet, non-digital music days of my teens, this was the first album I remember truly waiting for. All we had in 1977 was teasers from Rolling Stone magazine, word of mouth from friends, and hints from DJs to tell us when a new album might be out. The buildup for Steely Dan’s 6th album was overwhelming – by design. When Aja was finally released in 1977, I was at Peaches Records & Tapes before anyone that day.   I took my fresh copy directly home and listened to both sides over and over for a couple of days on the Marantz stereo of my teens.

From the first track, Black Cow, I realized this album was distinct from any of their previous albums. It was large. Though they had always been a jazz influenced project, I never considered Steely Dan anything other than rock & roll. In hindsight so many years later, I consider Aja the first jazz album I ever owned.

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This was Steely Dan’s best album – period. Aja was made when producer Katz still had some say and control over the rotating players of the project that Fagan and Becker abused in process. Aja was Fagan’s vision, but it was to be was Katz’ finest work as producer. From beginning to end, there’s not a single bad track:

Black Cow

Aja

Deacon Blues

Peg Home at Last

I Got the News

Josie

No matter where my tastes in music have drifted through the years; punk rock, country, Americana, the paisley underground, blues, and jazz, Aja has been a constant, and has never been out of my rotation. I have owned Aja on vinyl 3 times, on cassette, on CD, and now I stream it digitally on a regular basis. Though the delivery system has changed through the years, the effect has not.

Listening to the song Deacon Blues frames my mind in the same way sitting on a jetty and staring the ocean’s vague horizon does. Time slows down. I relax. I breathe more deeply, and forget all things but the moment. Listening to the song Aja after a long day is like the first glass of wine before dinner; it subdues the monkeys perpetrating lesser thoughts in my head.

The Memory…

All these years later when I think of the 70s as a collective, I don’t default the image of a powder blue Volkswagen Bug with bold flower stickers all over it, Richard Nixon, The Godfather, images of Vietnam, hot pants, women’s lib, or even the Rolling Stones. When I think of the 70s, I think first of Aja, its album cover, the arrangements and the artistry it contains. I think of driving my Ford Fairlane to the edge of town alone on a Friday night, turning my Pioneer Super Tuner to 11, and laying on the hood — transporting my soul to a place I can’t fully define.

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If the fingerprints of my past are responsible for the all marks that have made my soul so scuffed and leathered through the years, being touched by Aja gives that soul a smooth feel and a golden tone – if only for an hour. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I hit the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Steely Dan’s album Pretzel Logic.  Enjoy!

Daughter’s Day…

My daughter lives over 2,000 miles away. I’m not able to meet her for lunch today. What I try and do, at least every-so-often, is to be with her from a distance, in some way that is meaningful.

Once a month or so I order dinner in for her and her boyfriend and allow them to enjoy the evening on my dime. It’s my way of being at the table with them despite that I can’t really be there. I did this earlier in the week. The following day she called to thank me in a way so sincere, I consider that phone call my Father’s Day gift.

I’m exhausted already by the overthinking which takes place increasingly of how Father’s Day should or should not be celebrated via social media. Should single moms be included…? Should deadbeat dads be ignored…? Dads who were great, dads who picked there moments, and dads who were there only in the periphery. Doggy daddies and kitty daddies. Enough, please.

Father’s day is neither about dads, nor is about how adults should perceive the place of dads who aren’t their own. Father’s day is about the children. Father’s Day is a day to celebrate my child. I know, I know, so are the other 364, but on this one I can get away with crying as I reminisce.

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It’s been assumed far too often for far too long that we as fathers are here to teach and lead our children. Although teaching and leading is an important part of fatherhood, what is most important is that we observe, follow, and learn from our children. Though I learned this late, it was not too late.  That I learned it all is my highest destiny as a man on this earth.

Alaska -- many many years ago...

Alaska — many many years ago…

The best part of fatherhood, for me, has been all I have learned from my wonderful daughter. What has been exposed to me by way of that child has enhanced and enriched my life more than any other aspect of it. The wonder continues and grows with each passing year.

What my own father might have neglected in teaching me the ways of the world, my daughter has more than made up for. How lucky I am to have come in-between them.

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If you are a father and you believe your primary job is to teach your child, I ask you to stop, look, and listen. You  should be amazed, and grateful for all that you will learn.  *should be*  Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Dawes.  Please take a listen…