Occupational Hazard…

I make my living as a fitness trainer. I have worked a small town 17 years, Fallbrook, California.  Because of what I do, the size of the town, and my time in place, many people know me here – know who I am and what I do. Wherever I go, at least a few people always identify me as Roy, the trainer guy.

And then there’s the local market. Because I work from home, I go to the market daily. It’s a reason for me to leave the house – which is important when you work from home. Every day, whether I need something or not, I enter the market, pick up a handheld basket and stroll the isles, to justify leaving my home.

As a fitness trainer, I tend to be a conscientious eater. Still, there are times when I might breach from that, and enjoy a treat or five. I might also pick up something for my mother; Oreos, Betty Crocker frosting, Milano cookies, or Fritos. These are the daily rewards one is entitled to, should they make it into their late 80s.

If at a given time there are 40 people in the market, pushing carts, carrying baskets, and seeking out the best lambchops, strawberries, or baby wipes, at least 5 of those people will know who I am – and what I do for a living.

Without fail, when I run into somebody I know or who knows me, no matter how hard they try not to, their eyes always break contact with mine, immediately peering into my basket – to see what trainers eat. And just as quickly, as though they were a dog caught drinking from the toilet, their eyes break from my basket and rejoin mine, trying to look not guilty for their examination of my stuff.

Yesterday this happened several times. In my basket were Saltine crackers, some Progresso soups, and cough drops – my mom has been in bed sick. One client I ran into saw the cough drops, and I swear I’m not making this up, said to me…

“Oh, cough drops. A candy you can justify…”

Yes, I said. You caught me. Sugar and menthol – the two things I crave most when I’m i bodybuilding mode.

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If I’m going to cheat, I assured her, I would get the wild cherry cough drops, and have them with ice cream – lots of and lots of ice cream…  Jhciacb

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It Always Passes…

Dark times come, but they always pass – they always pass. Waiting for depressed or suicidal feelings to pass might be the hardest thing I live with from week to week, and day to day.  I hope to remind those who also live with such feelings, that they will always pass.

For many, depression or suicidal feelings are foreign and unrelatable.  For others, if we are lucky enough to connect, it’s as though we share a common language which we’re afraid to speak in public, for fear having a net thrown over us. Throw a net over everyone who lives with depression and/or suicidal thoughts, and say goodbye to most artists, many creative thinkers, and all baristas everywhere.

I have lived with depression and suicidal thoughts since I was in elementary school. These often need to be dealt with daily. When I frame it that way, I have been successfully taking on and overcoming such feelings for more than 50 years. Do something regularly for 50 years, and one is likely to be good at it.

I am quite adept at finding ways to ride out the storms of chaos in my mind, because experience has taught me that it passes – it always passes.

At the end of the day, for me, the idea is to do whatever is necessary to win the day. This might include music, food, or companionship.  More likely though, it involves exercise, solitude, and nature.

Last night I was in dark place.  The reasons why aren’t important.  Exercise didn’t make a dent.  Nature helped, but not a great deal.  So, I sat home alone.  I reached out scarcely on social media, and was met with a wave of kind thoughts and well wishes.  That helped more than I can convey.

A simple comment was all it took to reassure me, and to remind me I’m not alone.  I was taken by the number of replies I got; emails, text messages, and phone calls comforted me until bed time.  It wasn’t too long before I was centered once again – and grateful for the flow of compassion.

It passed.  It always passes.

Today is a new day.  As I sipped coffee this morning, after a good night’s sleep, I held close to my dog.  As his chest moved in and out in my hands, and as his eyes declared the peace within, I felt needed, if not inspired.  As I reflect on all who reached out last night, I am humbled.

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Today there is dew on the grasses in the meadow, and blossoms waiting to be photographed by me.  Clients need to be trained.  Dishes need to be washed.  And a little girl, who ain’t so little anymore, still owns my heart.

Last night, with the help of social media, and with the compassion of many friends, I won the day.  It passes.  It always passes.. Jhciacb

IF YOU’RE EXPERIENCING A HEAVY DEPRESSION OR SUICIDAL FEELINGS, REACH OUT.  THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE IS 800-273-8255.

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Conversations Over Crunches: The Continuation…

I get to do conversation for a living. Though primary to my business is the designing of, and the implementation of the workout, exercise sessions are laced with discussion.
 
The two topics which get discussed most in my studio are food, and cancer.
 
On Food…
 
Conversations aren’t always about healthy foods, though sometimes they are. Ideas, recipes, and concepts with food are exchanged freely between my clients and me, all day long, and with ZERO judgment from either side. Some ideas can be inspiring and useful, while others are just sinful.
 
Most often though, the healthy and the sinful are intermingled within the very same frame of moment. A discussion of how protein can be used as an efficient appetite suppressant, might seamlessly segue into which liqueurs are best to use as ice cream toppings.
 
My takeaway from this duality is that despite the best intentions behind talk of pious eating, thoughts of culinary sin are ever-present, both with the client and the trainer.
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On Cancer…
 
A half-dozen times per day the word cancer comes up in the studio. Probably 1/4th of my current clients have survived some kind of cancer, or had a spouse or child survive it. A smaller percentage have actually lost a spouse or child to cancer. This haunts me, ongoing…
 
Occasionally, a client might need a biopsy, as one client did yesterday. Details to follow, but hopefully no bad news there. Others might have coworkers, neighbors, or even the family pet receiving chemo or radiation.
 
Occasionally a client will miss a workout session to attend a memorial service for someone lost to cancer. This happened twice last month.
 
That these conversations are so matter of fact, is a reminder that cancer is not just a disease, but has become part of daily life for everyone.
 
People die of other causes, but cancer is the one we discuss the most.
 
Talking about cancer while helping someone exercise, gives more meaning to the cause, though there is little evidence to suggest exercise stifles cancer. At best, it might make one stronger for the fight.
 
And of these daily conversations over crunches – of the good, the bad, and the ugly, I simply wonder about it all — all day long… Jhciacb

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Needs First. Then The Wants…

As a part of my livelihood, teaching people and helping them execute exercise, I assess the needs of my clients. It is my responsibility to regularly revisit and reassess those needs. I make changes to workout designs as necessary.

Assessing their needs is so simple a chimp with a smartphone could do it, so I do…

A few needs that we all need:

Balance
Flexibility
Stamina
Strength
Confidence

My youngest client is 13, my oldest is 91. Between them, nearly every demographic is represented. Despite the diversity within my client base, each of them benefit by me putting these needs first in their exercise design.

I can think of no person for whom improvement with the needs listed above wouldn’t enhance their lives.

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People may come to me for weight loss, to gain muscle, to support peripheral athletic pursuits, and a couple still come to get jacked and shredded.

At the end of the day, gaining muscle, losing body fat, or running a faster 5K is secondary to my objectives with my clients, even if it is primary to them. I address their needs first, and their wants further down the road.

Funny thing though – when I address the needs first, the wants often resolve themselves.  In fitness, as in life… Jhciacb

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Part Of The Story…

I often listen to music from other countries, Africa in particular. Sometimes the lyrics of these songs are in another language, and I have no idea what the artist is singing about. The melody and the musicianship are the draw for me.

Perhaps they’re singing about war, crime, or even debauchery – I would have no idea. Maybe they sing about love. A song that moves me though, is a song that moves me, even if I only know part of the story.

The picture below reminds of that – that we live so much of life, based on the partial story.

I took this picture yesterday, and I think it’s pretty. You might look at it and see that it’s moss growing between some bricks, and you might also think it’s a pretty picture. But that’s only part of the story…

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Those aren’t bricks. The picture is of moss growing in the welded corner of an iron flatbed cart – probably 100 years old or more. I pass the cart daily on my walk. If carts could talk, this one would, no doubt, have some stories to tell.

I can step close to it. I can zoom in with my camera, and capture a pretty part of the cart as it is now, and that pretty part can be appreciated – but it isn’t the whole of the story.

So much of what I appreciate in life, is wondrous to me, even though I only know part of the story. My fears too, I must acknowledge, are often based on just part of the story.

And I ponder, in fear or in wonder, who among us really knows the whole of any story…? Jhciacb

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Pacific Standards Time…

I got hung up on a question that I asked myself yesterday…
Which is a better behavior for my business survival…?
A – Lowering my standards
B – Raising my standards
C – Being flexible with my standards
The thought came up as I began thinking about how many times per day I’m faced with the choice of raising or lowering my standards, relative to the moments I find myself in.
The answer, I believe, for most reading this, will be to raise their standards, though I think that’s a bit of an ego trip, and a pat on one’s own back.
I attempted to honestly assess how many times within the scope of my workday I do this – that I must choose between raising or lowering my standards to make a moment fit the two or more people I might be interacting with.
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I easily concluded that, for me, lowering my standards to accommodate a moment, is my default behavior, though as I do this, I continually encourage my clients to raise theirs.
It’s a kind of compromise that keeps the train of progress rolling, even if at a slower pace. The word standards in this instance, can also be interchanged with the word expectations.
At the end of the day yesterday, I tried to envision how my day would have gone had I held firm to my standards all day long. My conclusion was that I would be unemployed, or working on an assembly line somewhere.
The answers to my original question are, B and C. Ah, the art of compromise… Jhciacb

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Everybody Knows My Names…

There are at least 10 of me, probably more. Primarily though, there are 4:

The me interested in the humanities
The me interested in simplicity
The me interested in physical culture
The me interested in music

There are more; the political me, the animal lover me, the sports me, the comedy me, the food me, the justice me, etc., but those first four are my essence.  And what good is having an essence if it can’t be cultivated and shared, or shoved down someone else’s throat…?

That’s why I choose to be all-in on social media, Facebook in particular – because it’s a place where everybody knows my names. Not every person knows every name. My comedy friends know me by my comedy name. My philosophy friends know me by my philosophy name, and so-on.

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In that way, Facebook is like a Denny’s, with a Cheers inside of it. I can enter any time of day, and order whatever I wish off the menu.  However, even within that, after I step inside the larger room, and as I squeeze my way into the smaller rooms within the larger room, people know me even better – they don’t just know my name, they know who I am.

For the physical (my body), there is the material world…
For the ethereal me (my soul), there is the spiritual world…

And though I may have one foot in either of those worlds at any one time, for the thinking me (my brain), social media has become a gathering place, and a creative outlet that has been missing for most of my life.

Today, the thinking me has taken on a leadership role over the physical me and the ethereal me, so social media is where I come to feed it, as well as the dozen or so peripheral me(s).  The trick here, if there is one, is in knowing how to order off the menu – and what to avoid… Jhciacb

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A Mensch Buys Karma…

“You can’t buy karma” a friend recently told me.

Buy it…?  I replied, hell, I’m investing heavily in it!  Perhaps…

I probably come across, at least in the social media sphere, as a bit of a mensch.  Of course, I like that identity, but it’s not the whole story.

A year ago, I invited my mother to live with me.  This would be a win/win scenario.  I would be proximate to her and able to assist her with increasing needs as she ages.  In return, she would be able to clean up after me, do my dishes, cook, and split the utilities.  I win – again and again, hence, win/win.

And I do look out for her.  I make her coffee each morning, and bring the paper to her in bed.  I take her to Walmart, on the occasional casino trip, and I accompany her to all medical appointments.  When called upon, I do the heavy lifting around the house, and any carrying she requires. So, mensch!

But that’s not the whole story…

Yesterday, as I grew frustrated with a question she asked repeatedly, I threatened to shove a tennis ball in her mouth and wrap her head in duct tape if she spoke so much as another word.  I’m not sure the people behind us in the checkout line took this seriously, but when mom rolled her eyes and threated to beat my butt, I think they understood my threat was one of endearment.

That’s become my persona with her.  Whenever mom says something asinine, which might be every hour or so, I point my finger toward her nose and say something like…

…I’ve got two words for you, woman:  Nursing Home!

She always responds with, “I’ll beat your butt!”  or the more resolute, “I’m the parent here!!!as she stares me down.

I joke with my mom quite a bit like this – too much, I’m sure.  On a deeper level I know this bothers her, and in some ways, might even hurt her, but I keep doing it.  It’s how I cope with the frustrations of helping someone who is aging, forgetful, and doesn’t process as quickly as she once did.  She isn’t ready to let go the control of her life – or even loosen up the grip a bit, and I don’t blame her.

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Despite the often sharp and serrated edges that can accompany my sarcasm and humor, I appreciate that she acknowledges and puts up with my frustrations.  Viscerally, I know that she recognizes that the real love is in the bringing of the coffee, the doctor’s visits, and the trips to Walmart when I would rather be hiking.

This isn’t always easy for either one of us, but at the end of the day there’s a lot of love in the house, and that’s good enough for me.

“You can’t buy karma” a friend recently told me.

Maybe not.  Perhaps the best we can hope to do is to purchase good field position…  Jhciacb

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Dress Down For Success..

I spend all day dressed as expected – in lose fitting shirts and athletic shorts with an elastic waistband. It’s the official uniform of male fitness trainers everywhere.

Though keeping in good physical shape is a requirement for my vocation, keeping in perfect shape is not. This means my elastic waistband reminds me of my dietary sins – all day long, every day.

I spend my entire working life with me elastic waistband judging me for not being as lean as a fitness trainer should be. This brings a negativity that bubbles under my psyche, all day long, and is reflected in my job – at least from my side of the partnerships.

When I am not otherwise engaged in fitness training though, I remain in shorts, but in casual Bahama shorts, with a loose-fitting waistband. Wearing these, I’m always in a better mood – always, because my waistband isn’t reminding me I’m not perfect.

Last week, as I prepared to step into my studio for my Saturday sessions, and for no reason I can explain, I chose to wear my loose-fitting Bahama shorts, rather than my athletic shorts with the elastic waistband. A funny thing happened – I was in a better mood all day long, for actually being comfortable.

I spent that Saturday conducting fitness sessions in a uniform that more resembles that of a Jimmy Buffet fan than a fitness trainer – and it was one of the best workdays I have had in years. I was in a good mood. I was more engaged with my clients. I was having fun, and there was no constant reminder that I’m not 6-pack lean.

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And there’s where the lesson is for me – I think, that dressing for comfort vs. expectations keeps me in a better mood, me more engaged with my clients, and they all seem to notice and appreciate the difference. I have worn Bahama shorts most days since that Saturday.

So, the question I’m now chewing on is this…

In a necktie and long skirt world, what does this tell me about the comfort of clothing as it relates to jobs well done…?

On one level, I get the ideal of the value of uniforms and decorum for a properly organized social structure, business or otherwise.

On another level though, if an elastic waistband can keep me uptight and on edge executing such a simple job, then what’s happening beneath all the neckties and pantyhose in all the boardrooms, courtrooms, offices, and the in halls of Congress…?

Maybe society would function better if we all dressed as Parrot heads.  Fins to the left… Jhciacb

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The Family Next Door…

Each morning, in contemplative prayer, the first thing I remind myself is to not judge others…

I have lived in my current house for almost a year.  I’m happy here.  I enjoy it.  This is home now.   The family next door is a landscaper, his stay at home wife, and their two adult children; a son and a daughter, each in their early 20s.

My neighbor’s yard is separated from mine by a chain link fence with wooden slats woven through the links – it’s very 3rd world.  A double gate separates their driveway from the street we share. That gate more resembles a junkyard entrance than that of a home. The junkyard comparison is only reinforced by the two pit bulls with heavy chain collars who patrol behind the gate.

Unless otherwise barking at the postman, squirrels, or falling palm frawns, the dogs sleep, and occasionally amble between several old cars on blocks, the old refrigerator, and the dead tress which give my neighbor’s back yard its lived in look.

The gate to the driveway is bound shut by a heavy chain, and a giant padlock.

One sign reads…  PRIVATE PROPERTY

The other… BEWARE OF DOG

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Each time someone comes or goes from my neighbor’s property, the chain must be unlocked and removed.  That operation is noisy.  The chain clanks as it falls, the dogs bark, and the gate screeches on its axis as it drags against the dirt below.

My neighbors come and go all day long – often 10-12 times per day, between the 4 of them.  At least once per hour, I hear the chain, the gate, and the barking dogs.  Add to that, when either of the adult children come or go, the stereos in their cars thump so loud that vibrations transcend, and the walls and windows of my own home shake.

I don’t like these people.  I try to like them, I really do, but I can’t seem to.  I don’t like that I don’t like them, but I don’t like them.

I wave.  I say hello.  When I attempt to greet them, the two parents acknowledge me, but do so scarcely, and usually looking down.  At best I get a slight head bob or a weak hand gesture.  The two adult children have never even made eye contact with me – it’s as though they live in another dimension of time and can’t see me.

The son always wears a wife-beater t-shirt.  His tough guy face is puffy and not all that tough.  His tattoos are many, and probably mean something to him.  His physique sloppy and resembles a bowling pin.  I dislike him the most because of the falseness of the bad attitude he attempts to convey. I feel more laughter than intimidation when I see him.

At night, mother, father, and the two children spend much of their time in the back yard.  The barbecue fires, mariachi music emanates with a tinny sound from a small radio on the hood of one of the old cars.  Voices and laughter are frequent. It’s the sound of a happy family.

I speak no Spanish so I have no idea what they are saying, but I recognize joy in the conversation.  They seem to live, love, and enjoy each others company.  They do this every night.  They are a family in a way which is foreign to me.  I have never been a part of a family like this.  I am jealous.

Maybe that’s why I don’t like them – that they get family right, and I have failed at it multiple times. Yeah, that’s probably it.  I have failed at family, and despite their gruff appearance, they seem immersed in it, and fluidly.

Each morning in contemplative prayer, the first thing I remind myself is to not judge others.  By 9:00am most days, I have screwed it all up.  Still, I keep trying.  In writing this today, I think I like my neighbors a little more now, and myself, probably a little less.  Family…  Jhciacb

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