Writing With My Lips…

Transitions:  Hand To Mouth…

I’m typing an essay once again.  It feels good.  It’s been a while…

I’m currently looking through the window from seat 9A on Southwest Airlines flight 1045 with service to Denver and Charleston.  I’m stopping in Denver.  It’s been nearly a year since I’ve flown and almost as long since I have typed an essay, though I have written nearly 30 in the past 12-months. It was last May when I began dictating most of my essays, blogs, and social media posts into my smartphone, rather than type them on my laptop.

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The process was frustrating at first, but that frustration didn’t last long.  The learning curve was quick, and adjustments came daily.  Voice-activated technology has come a long way.  Within a matter of weeks, I was writing daily, by speaking essays into my phone and doing so seamlessly.

Speak Slowly And Clearly, Please…

In the age of the answering machines and later with voice mail, my father’s message was loud, distinct, and always the same…

“This is Al Cohen.  Please speak slowly and clearly at the tone…”

That was his voice message from 1975 until the time of his death in 2013.  In writing this, I realize that message is the memory I most associate with my father.  To hear it, one felt a responsibility to speak slowly and clearly.  Those two lessons, learned from my father’s answering machine when I was a kid, ensured a smooth transition from typing my thoughts to dictating them. Even from the grave my father is telling me what to do, but it works so I’m grateful.

  • Speak slowly
  • Speak clearly
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Diego: A purebred North Korean Shepard…

In most of my dictations, background noise and other voices notwithstanding, if I speak slowly and clearly, my smartphone lives up to its name.  That said, proofreading before posting or publishing is more important than ever.  Words like our can turn into are and been can turn into men easily.  My smartphone makes little distinction between do and dew, though better recognizing context has been a part of every software revision.  Also, shizzle can easily turn into drizzle, though that one doesn’t come up often.

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While the lion sleeps tonight…

Probably the most important lesson I have learned in this transition, is the lesson of decorum – of when to type and when to speak.  Writing from my laptop has always been restricted to the location of my laptop – my bed, my desk, my front porch, and my sofa. These are places of absolute privacy.  By talking into my phone, I can now write just about anywhere – the park, the coffee shop, waiting in my car while my mother shops, and even in a fast-moving jet headed to Denver – or maybe not.  In a crowd like this, I prefer typing, which is what brought this essay on.

When I took seat 9A this morning, with service to Denver and Charleston, I began talking into my phone — an essay on another topic.  The woman in the seat next to me began to stare. I immediately realized it would be inappropriate to dictate an essay in such close proximity and this essay, on talking rather than typing, was suddenly born.

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With Ease Comes Guilt, Always…

There has been an inescapable guilt though – the guilt of a thousand Jewish mothers, that I still use term writing when speaking is how my essays come about.

“What are doing, Son…?” my mother asked when she saw me talking to the center of my hand one day.

Me:  I’m writing an essay….

“Oh” she said, “writing.  I see…” She rolled her eyes as she turned away.  I had just lied to my mother.  I was speaking an essay, not writing one.

Let’s say this essay goes viral and ends up in the hands of a well-connected editor or publisher.  He sees the fruit in my wisdom and the art in my imagination and offers me the opportunity to write for a broader platform; would I be a writer or a speaker…?

If asked about my craft, I can’t imagine telling a person beside me in a café that I’m speaking an essay or worse yet, that I’m speaking my first novel.  So, I feel guilty in calling myself a writer since I have always viewed writing as an action of the hands.  But that extends the question further – since typing onto a keyboard has been the mechanism for most writers, going back many decades, has anyone using a keyboard truly been a writer…?  I ask myself again, is writing an action of the hands or of the head…?

I’d like to introduce you to a fine typist, Mr. Norman Mailer – that just doesn’t seem to flow as sweetly.

The Future…

My track record predicting the future isn’t that good. I can scarcely predict the past.  I can say with certainty though, that dictating my thoughts into my phone is far more efficient than typing them into my laptop – this essay notwithstanding.  Going forward, a majority of my writing will continue to be done via my lips and will be dependent on the ever-improving voice-activated technology.

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Tesla. A very good girl…

In taking it all in though, I wonder if mind-activated software isn’t around the corner.  If so, will I be thinking my essays and possibly thinking a novel before I die…?  How efficient might that technology be…?  And how about the editing process be…?  Will there be an algorithm so efficient that it will know drizzle from shizzle before I ever think it…?  I hope so.  It could be a big time saver…  Jhciacb

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More Quality Time…

It might sound strange to suggest, but I think I need more quality time – – with television.

Let me restate that…

I think I should be watching TV more, and in a better way.

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, my father used every bargaining chip he could to curb my obsessive TV watching. He took it away from me at every opportunity — when I screwed up, talked back, or failed to make grades. He tried requiring me to spend one hour out of doors for every hour of television I watched. He even tried using a demerit system to correlate good behavior around the house with increased opportunities to watch my favorite shows. My father was constantly looking for ways to keep “the idiot box” from corroding my mind.

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In some ways, I think he was successful. Despite my relentless addiction to television, I did spend a great deal of the time outdoors in order to earn my TV time. I was also more receptive to household chores, and to saying please and thank you in order to purchase TV time.

Like many baby boomers, television has been both a positive in my life, and a negative. For better or for worse, TV has been an undeniable presence and influence in my life, regardless of which direction that needle was pointing at any one time — positive or negative.

In my post-divorce life, I had fallen more inline with my father’s opinion of television in his post-divorce. That is, I began to see television a legitimate social cancer, slowly dumbing down the human species, one episode of anything at a time. Always a walking contradiction, at the time I came to the conclusion that television was cancer, I owned 4 of them.

One morning in 2005, while getting ready for work and hustling from room to room with all my TVs going at once so I wouldn’t miss a moment of SportsCenter, I saw the ridiculousness of it all. I immediately stopped what I was doing and placed all 4 televisions on the sidewalk in front of my house. They were gone within an hour.

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In the 13 years since that morning, I have not owned a television, though I have lived in places or with people where TV was present. In those situations, I have watched them minimally, including my current situation where my mother has large TV in the living room we share.

I often click the TV on when I’m in the room, just to create some background noise, but I don’t pay too much attention to it. In instances of the occasional mass shooting or natural disaster, I might pay a little more attention, and watch for longer periods to ensure I’m ‘well informed’.

There’s no television program though, nor has there been for years, that I watch with any regularity, other than the Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy. Those, I watch alongside my mother each evening, as I keep her company and make small talk. I wouldn’t trade that TV watching experience for anything. I have no recent memory though, of watching any TV show or movie from beginning to end, without being otherwise interrupted or distracted by something seemingly more important at the time.

Let’s tell the truth: in this era, if you own a phone or laptop, you own a very small and portable TV. In that sense, for last 13 years, what has really changed is the size of my television, not the absence of one. And in the internet era, I have been able to manipulate and select my viewing choices, and have had more ownership with them.

However, the Internet has also provided something else; multiple rapidfire distractions in the form of smartphones and social media. Like many, most days the internet has me bouncing off the walls like a gibbon on crack. What little TV I do watch, on that 40-inch screen in my living room, is frequently interrupted by the 7-inch screen in my hand, or the 17-inch screen on my lap.

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In the pre-Internet days, it would not be unusual for me to spend three hours watching a movie – – One Eyed Jacks, for example, staring Marlon Brando. For all the nonsense and ridiculousness of the downside of television, the upside of TV has always been that it could take me to another place and another time, during which I would sit still and forget all things. TV was the beautiful distraction that kept me from other less beautiful distractions.

Now though, with the different ways we can watch TV due to the internet, and with all the distractions and interruptions that smartphones, laptops, and social media offer, the idea of spending three hours watching Dances With Wolves, uninterrupted seems prohibitive, if not impossible. In hindsight, gazing at a three hour movie almost seems like meditation compared to the chaotic media life I live today…

I can’t remember the last time I sat down and watched a movie which took me to another place and another time for several hours, where I was not distracted by notifications from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, while also watching short video clips via YouTube.

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Yes, I think I should be watching my television more, and in ways that take me to a different place in time. I long to sit still and to be transported, without my attention span being chopped to smithereens by the temptations of technology. In the same way I now look at the George W. Bush White House as ‘the good old days’, I now look at the idiot box and its dumbing down of the America psyche, as a more simple and more wholesome time.

Excuse me now, Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes is calling me. I’m going to watch it, and I’m leaving my smartphone behind… Jhciacb

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Beneath Perceived Normal…

I’m not sure why this is, but the most normal I ever feel is when I’m dining out.  Perhaps that’s why I eat out so often – it’s just feels so good to feel so normal.  There’s something about sitting in a restaurant, where time slows down for me and I feel a kind of comfortable which doesn’t show up in my own dining room.  I look at all the tables, observe the people, I listen to the proximate conversations, and take inventory of all that normalcy.

There’s an exercise though, that I take myself through whenever I dine out.  It skews that perception of normalcy a bit, but not for very long.  It’s an exercise in judgment I suppose, or more specifically, a way to better manage my judgment.  As I gaze about a restaurant, and as I take it all in, I ask myself who am I really sharing that moment with…

There are usually couples seated around me, married or otherwise.  Maybe some business associates are discussing a strategy of change, or a plan to increase sales.  There might be a couple of old friends getting together for the first time in a while.  Two construction workers getting out of the heat for a bit.  Perhaps a blind date is taking place just behind me.  Those two, over there…?  An aging father is catching up with his adult daughter.  So many combinations and possibilities.

As I take it in though – all this normalcy, and as twisted as this may seem, I always ask myself, who among them is the spousal abuser…?  Which one cheated heavily on their or her taxes last year…?  Who spent the grocery money on cocaine earlier that day…?  Which one lives in profound depression yet covers it up with a relentless smile…?  Which one stole from the petty cash drawer at work yesterday, without thinking twice about it…?

Of course the answers to those questions never appear on the surface, and I’m grateful they don’t or I’d never dine out again.  All that normalcy just continues.  I guess that’s my point.  In a sea of perceived normalcy, the answers to those questions I ask myself are there, but they are hidden so deep beneath the surface that mining for them would be required, and that type of mining can’t be done by a curious man from a distant table. Okay, normalcy, carry on…

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Who among them…?

This may seem very judgmental of me – that I go through this exercise, and that I always do this when I dine out.  Statistically though, in a room full of 30 or so people eating lamb chops, southwest chicken salads, drinking iced tea, laughing between the small talk, and arguing over who will pay the check, at least some of those people might fall into some of those judgments.  And there is a reasonable chance, that a few of them will fall into even darker places.  It’s just never apparent though, who among the crowd smacked their child that morning, and subsequently sent him off to school with a little makeup on his cheek.

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What looks normal to everyone else…

Each morning in contemplative prayer, I remind myself is that my place is not to judge.  Behind every pair of eyes, I say to myself, is a heart, a soul, and a life’s worth of circumstances I know nothing about.  By 11:00am most days, I have judged my world up one side and down the other.  Then I’ll go to lunch, and I will remind myself once again that behind every pair of eyes is a heart, a soul, and a life’s worth of circumstances – my own included, reflecting back at me from the teaspoon to my right.  Yes, restaurants are a place of perceived normalcy for me, but I know better, my own self included.  Be well…  rc

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Some Thoughts On My Thoughts…

I built my first website in 2001, in support of my fitness business.  Though I would not come across the term blog for a couple of more years, my initial website was, unwittingly, my first blog.  Each week I would publish a brief article espousing the virtues of a chicken salad for lunch instead of burrito, or how lunges done properly would change your life.  This effort, in hopes I could establish legitimacy as a national voice of reason in my industry, while also doing my part in saving the world.  Of course it hasn’t really unfolded that way, though I have gained some respect in my local community, and have begun to cultivate a worldwide following of hundreds.

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A corner of the yard…

At the time I began this endeavor, I was working my way through a series of books on religion, philosophy, cultural anthropology, as well as the directionality of mankind.  Though it wasn’t by design, it didn’t take long until I began superimposing what I was thinking about away from the gym, over what I was attempting to teach in the gym and via my website.  I began to sew comparisons between the rituals of the humanities and the rituals of physical culture, and vice-versa.

And so it has gone for over a decade.  I write about life under the guise of fitness, and thoughts of personal fitness are always intermingled when I write about the world I seem to live in.  As the tagline for this blog asks; is the about the contemplation of fitness, or the fitness of contemplation…?  Of course there is no correct answer.

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The best celebrity a trainer can work with:  Celebrity tomatoes…

I enjoy weaving hidden messages of religious tolerance into articles I write about accepting CrossFit as fitness phenomenon, despite that I think it’s ridiculous don’t practice it myself.  In comparing the war on the waistline to the wars which require guns, I have suggested that we mind our language, and not get carried away with it.

I can say honestly that I have learned as much about life and culture itself from my observations of the fitness world and the people in it, as I have from any book I have read or any sermon I have received.  Conversely, I have regularly attempted to bring to my fitness students and readers, lessons from the humanities which might enhance or even shift one’s perspective on what fitness really is.  As I learn, I enjoy sharing, and that’s a big part of why I blog write.

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The writer’s den.  Fire pit in front.  Party in the back.  Not really…

However, as complexity expands, complexity expands. Both the fitness world and the real world are far more complex today than they were when I wrote my first essay.  My mind drifts further and further from what I know, seeking more and more to write about what I want to know – or what I think I know.  On one level this might be dangerous inasmuch as I don’t want a would-be reader to take my writing with any degree of seriousness or suggest it holds any absolute truths.  These are simple musings and observation which sometimes flow, but mostly collide in my head.  I am an amateur writer; a busker of thoughts in the expanding noosphere.

On another level though, writing about what I think I know, even if I’m not certain, is exactly what I know I need.  This blog, whether read by dozens or by thousands, has been a place for me to work out the quarrels and contradictions in my head.  If there’s one problem with this, it’s that as I let festering thoughts out, it frees up room for new thoughts to grow and garble.

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Yellow pear tomatoes…

From the beginning I have sought to be as original as possible, if not outright different.  In those times when I have noticed a redundancy in my thoughts, I have questioned whether or not to continue.  After 15 years of writing – of placing my messages into tiny silicon bottles and throwing them out there each week to seed and to grow, I don’t think I have impacted too many lives too often, as it relates to fitness or beyond, and I’ll never really know if I have.

The life I have affected most though, in writing these essays, is of course is my own, and the impact seems to be positive.  So I guess the blog is going to stick around – even if I repeat myself from time to time.  Lunges today.  Social complexity tomorrow.  Stay tuned, and be well…  rc

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From Both Sides Now…

I wake up early, 4:30am, seven days per week.   Even on days when sleeping in is an option, I’m already active at something while roosters still snore.  Though I’m up before the sun, and before most humans in my proximity, I don’t fully come to life until mid-morning.  My days must be eased into.

There is a gentleness to the marine layer which ushers in so many Fallbrook mornings between late autumn and early summer.  This grey, soupy sky sets up a transitional mood for those like me who rise early, but wake up slowly.  Though I appreciate the sun, I don’t want to see it much before noon.  In Fallbrook, I don’t have to for much of the year.

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The marine layer – this low cloud deck, is the result of warm air gathering moisture as it travels distance across the Pacific Ocean.  It eventually runs into land on the pacific coast, where it stands up and throws itself forward against the coastline, stretching out for miles over all human happenings in the form low clouds and fog.  Providing moisture to the air, and filtering out the sun’s harsh rays, the marine layer keeps the early mornings cool and makes waking early much more tolerable.

The marine layer also serves as an acoustic barrier, holding down the sounds on the ground and allowing them to resonate broadly.  Whether they are the sounds of nature, or those made by man, the sounds of the morning are crisp, even from a distance.  When a newspaper lands on the sidewalk of the house 3 doors down, it sounds as though it hits my own porch.  Roosters in my neighbor’s back yard sound like they are in my kitchen.  What few voices I hear at 5:00am are conversations between day workers exchanging greetings in the parking lot at the 7-11, 2 blocks away.

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The two distant palms on the right are in my back yard…

Despite distant noises sounding so close, or perhaps because of it, there is a peacefulness to all of this that blankets my soul.  Over a few hours of time, before and after the sun rises, I will sip coffee, write, exercise, and prep my day, all under the influence of grey skies.  I will eventually wake and walk the dog, water the garden, groom the driveway, and rake a few fallen leaves from the loquat tree, all the while feeling a peace provided by fog.

Eventually my workday begins, but it  doesn’t feel like work at all.  As I train and chat with my early morning clients, I appreciate that I get to do this with mother nature’s morning mood acting in a supporting role.

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Walking the mammal, and easing into my day…

By late morning the blanket of clouds overhead begins to separate from itself.  Small sections of blue sky appear.  By contrast, this blue appears fresh, as though the sky has just been born.  The sun lights up the sides of the clouds, and what had been grey just moments before, becomes the brightest white I’ll see all day.  Art takes place in slow motion. As this happens I sing silently to myself a single line of, here comes the sun, though the client I am with has no idea I do this.  It’s okay now, I think to myself, time to wake up in earnest.  Not only am I awake, but I am alive.  Let the day begin.

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Completely overcast just moments before this picture was taken…

No marine layer today, nor tomorrow.  As summer continues its war on spring, what had been an insurgency of an occasional hot morning in-between the cool ones, has expanded into a fully hot week, to be followed by a fully hot month, and so-on.

The marine layer will give way to summer, and the sun’s claim as god of the season will be undeniable.  The cool damp air will return in the fall, and will likely drop in a time or two as summer weather patterns change, offering a reminder of what I appreciate most about living in this region.  As the cosmic dance of the seasons waxes and wanes, it strikes a necessary balance in my life, and with my soul.  I appreciate the marine layer most of all, because it goes away, and that’s how life is…  Be well.  rc

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More casualties than survivors.  Summer’s war on spring continues…

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Swimming In Systems…

Girthing Globally…

The so-called obesity epidemic has made headlines once again.  Another study released this week suggests that obesity on a global level is still on the rise.  In the days since this study was published, I have read a half-dozen feature articles and blogs about how we can reverse this generations-old trend.  Yet, for all the intellectual studies, discussion, and attention obesity gets, and despite all the good intentions behind solving the problem, obesity levels worldwide are still increasing.

When it comes to fighting obesity, as with many other consequences of our social and technical advancements, too often our thinking is narrow, poorly aimed, and most often searching for singular fixes in small areas which feel good to pursue, but are often demanding and fruitless.

What is largely ignored in all the conversations about solving obesity, is the entirety of the problem; the constant expansion of the many systems which have led to its existence.  Food systems.  Marketing systems.  Social systems.  Political systems.  Religious systems.  Educational systems.  Pharmaceutical systems.  On and on.

Any one of these systems could alone be considered a monster.  Together, they conspire to be a leviathan.  Like any good leviathan, obesity is going to go where it wants to go, and will only die when it runs out of the fuel on which feeds it.  I am reminded of two fleas attempting to steer the dog they sit upon.

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Complexity begets complexity…

On the surface, solving obesity may seem like it’s all about calories in vs. calories out, changing portion sizes, providing better school lunches, CrossFit, Yoga, using a treadmill, going low-carb, low-fat or paleo, standup desks in the workplace, and even the use of qualified fitness trainers.  These may hold some value for some people at some times, but alone these aren’t going to change a thing.  The fact remains that scientific advancement and social awareness relating to obesity are at all-time highs, and our collective girth is still girthing.

How’s The Water, Boys…?

While in mid-thought this morning, as I was pondering obesity, it finally occurred to me that systems – all systems, whether they apply to the obesity epidemic, politics, consumer culture, or anything else, is the water that David Foster Wallace spoke of during his now famous commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005.  Whether this was his intention or not, it seems to me that systems, invisible and everywhere, are the water which surrounds us.

If you’re not familiar with the speech above, please bookmark it for when you have time.

 We live within millions of systems.  We navigate and transcend them, never really seeing their entirety, and always under the influence of delusion, believing we possess some level of control.   We live, breathe, act, choose, survive, delight, frown, frolic, and even get fat as a result of our systems.  We select our presidents, career paths, partners, and even our gods as influenced by an invisible ocean, and like the young fish who replies to the older fish, “What the hell is water”, we are oblivious to it as we swim.

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When I think about obesity in this context, or when I think about any disturbing social trend from air pollution, to engineered corn, campaign finance, political partisanship, landfills bursting at the seams, and even when I think about war, I tend to be more gracious these days in my judgement for both the victims as well as the perpetrators.  We are all born under water and begin swimming through our sea of systems immediately, most often with the best of intentions.  All the while though, we never really know we are swimming at all.  So, how’s the water today, Boys…?  Be well.  cc

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One Now, One Later, And One On Down The Road…

The Gift That Keeps On Giving…

When I was 13 years old, the book Pumping Iron was given to me by my mother.  The book’s impact was immediate, and steered me in a direction in which I had no control; a lifetime of bodybuilding.  Bodybuilding morphed into fitness, which ultimately led to a career.  The book that Charles Gaines and George Butler assembled in 1974 was the foundation for my passionate life of exercise.  In a more subtle way, and over a long period of time, Pumping Iron also gave me the foundations for a couple other passions.  More on those later.

Though I opened that book daily and was obsessed by its pictures, I would not actually read Pumping Iron for nearly 5 years after it was given to me.  Since I struggled with reading, I selected only brief passages, and only on occasion.  Who needed words, when George Butler’s black and white photos told a story I was so hungry to see…?

I would spend the next few years of my life putting all my eggs in one basket, and clutching that basket.  Lifting weights was the first discipline I would wholly commit to.  If nothing else, from Pumping Iron, which led to pumping iron, I learned that I had discipline.  In time it became clear that I was not so genetically gifted nor so determined, that competitive bodybuilding would be my dominion.

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My Future’s So Dark…

Elsewhere in my life, I was less disciplined.  By the time I was in my late teens I was a high school dropout with a bodybuilding habit, no skills, and no apparent future.  The US military would be my only hope.  To be considered for the military, I would have to take my GED.  Being dyslexic, I was fearful that my struggles with reading would inhibit this process.  To this point, I had never read a book of any kind from cover to cover.

So with a workout-like discipline, I chose to read an hour per day – no matter what, hoping my reading would improve.  I selected Pumping Iron to read first because I had an interest in its content.  If any book could help pry me from the pictures and place me into the words, this was going to be it.  A funny thing happened on the way to The End…

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Reading Pumping Iron was a chore.  I kept at it, because I believed my future depended on becoming a better reader.   Despite my struggles, there were occasional passages which kept me coming back for more – like a good golf shot on an otherwise fruitless outing.  Charles Gaines crafted phrases that suited my imagination.  Writing of the bodybuilder Pierre Van den Steen, Gaines wrote,

“The little Belgian whose chest looks carved from ice.”

Of Arnold Schwarzenegger performing incline bench presses, Gaines wrote,

“His biceps looked like two grapefruit sliding on greased tracks.”

Reading was a challenge, but images like those provided a sufficient reward.  I completed the book, and felt that my reading actually had improved along the way.  I would read more books prior to taking my GED, but none painted pictures the way that the words of Charles Gaines did.

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It was some lucky combination of intuitive guessing and my improved reading ability which got me through my GED.  I would go on to serve in the US Coast Guard.  It was during my time in the Coast Guard when I began to write creatively.  With Charles Gaines’ descriptive phrase still bubbling under my psyche, I felt like I had something to say, and was somewhat confident in my ability.  This would be a short lived discipline though, as my writing time was a lesser priority than my exercise time.  I would not write again creatively for another decade.

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Workouts And Words…

My pre-dawn workouts, originally inspired by Pumping Iron, were once the most important part of my day.  Those workouts now take place later in the day or in the evening, and though they are still important, writing is what does it for me now.  Eventually writing took priority over lifting.  For nearly 15 years now, I have been writing for one hour every morning, almost without exception, with workout-like discipline.

I like it when the words of others paint pictures in my head.  I also enjoy using words to paint pictures of my own.  Words, in that sense, are the most malleable medium we can use as form of creative expression.  As I sip coffee in bed, with my mammal at my hip, and my 17” window to the world on my lap, I attempt to craft sentences like Charles Gaines did in Pumping Iron, knowing all the while that I am to Charles Gaines’ writing as I also am to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s physique – much less than, but I still have fun.

Walks And Wonder…

Oh, and there’s been one other influence Pumping Iron has had on me, which I have only now come to realize and appreciate…

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Each morning, after I’m done with my writing session I walk through town with my dog.  As Stroodle takes in the smells of the day, I have come to appreciate how well this town sets up in black & white.  George Butler shot all the pictures for Pumping Iron with a Leicaflex SL2, and those photographs were nothing less than artistic.

I’m just a chimp with smartphone, and do nothing which I would consider artistic, but I have fun with it, as I have fun with writing and lifting, and that my friends explains all the picture above which have almost nothing to do with this story.  Be well…  rc

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Reading, Riting, and Roy…

“I write not to get money, but for pleasure.”

Isaak Walton, from The Compleat Angler 1653

The gift of words…

Of all the gifts inherent to me, the one I am most appreciative of is creativity.  Though I seek a creative path with most of my affairs, my primary creative outlet is writing essays.  I see each essay as a kind of performance.  The beauty for me is that I am under no scrutiny when I perform.  I am free to make mistakes, change directions, retool, stop and start again, or throw it away without anyone but me ever knowing about it.

If I have completed an essay, and thrown it out to be read by an audience of dozens, it’s because I feel I have done my best with it.  If read by even a few, I feel validated even when criticized.  I understand that not everyone will be interested in what I have to share, while others may have interest but not agree with my message.  If a few people find value in my thoughts, that’s great, but I would write anyway.

I am not a professional writer.  I am a hobbyist who, like most hobbyists, would rather spend time working at my craft than at my job.  At this point, I feel that I am a capable amateur.  Not world class, but a better writer than many who are professionals.  I enjoy my job as a fitness trainer, and also see that as a creative outlet, it’s just that writing is a necessary compulsion for me.  One benefit of my day job is that it affords me the time to write.

I can write a 1,000-word essay in less than an hour, and do so with relative ease.  In fact, if I begin taking too long on an essay, I’m usually overthinking it.  When this happens, I will put it aside or just throw it away.  My creative side wants my words to flow, not be forced or hurried into place.

If the truth be told, I could not write a lick if not for modern word processing software.  My mind is too disorganized to write in longhand, and in linear fashion.  That I can cut, paste, backspace, and try different paragraphs in different places serves my dyslexic brain well.  If words are the color pallet of my creativity, editing options are my brush.

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My writer’s den…

Listen up…

Here’s the irony; I read at less than an 8th grade level.  Though writing essays is easy for me, reading one takes work – because I have to see all the words at once.  Reading a book is an outright chore.  I don’t enjoy reading.  I do read on occasion.  Most of what I physically read are online articles, columns, and blogs.  A friend or client might hand me a book.  When this happens, I make every attempt to read it even if I do struggle with the process.  It’s important to me to honor a gift from another, even if it is a book.  Honestly though, I remember very little of what I read.  I listen to books.  I listen to books every day of my life.

My comprehension when listening is greater than when I read, probably because when I listen to books I’m active.  I don’t just sit and listen to books.  I listen to books while I clean, while I organize, and when I exercise.  I listen to Kurt Vonnegut when I deadlift, and Stephen Hawking when I bench press.  I believe the activity with my body frees my brain up to absorb information better than if I just sat and listened.

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My “reading” room…

There are times when I will buy a hardcopy of a book I am listening to.  If I find a life-changing value with it, I will read portions of it concurrently – not as I am actually listening to the book, but in the same time frame.  This allows me to use a highlighter on certain passages of the hard copy which I can easily find and review later.

The books which interest me most are on science and the humanities.  I don’t listen to much fiction – there is enough of that already in my head.  There’s something about a book being spoken into my mind, especially when done by a good narrator – it’s as though the voice of God is projecting it to me, or the voice of an authority figure anyway.

My library and my shame…

With my listening done digitally, my book shelf is my phone.  I know for my literary-minded friends this is near sacrilege – to not have a wall or a room full of books.  My entire library fits in my pocket.  I like that it is always with me.  I wonder if my more literate friends ever feel sad that they leave their library behind as they walk out of their home each day.

The collection of my own writings is even less soulful.  I don’t save hard copies or even digital copies of what I write.  After I complete an essay and post it to my blog, I delete the Word document from my laptop.  All the thoughts I am so compelled to forge and to share, I trust to the gods of Google and WordPress, that anyone who might be interested in them will be able to find them, stored on a server in some unknown location with trillions of other data bits until the end of time.

That I write with the aid of technology feels good.  I enjoy the process, and am proud of the way I create my essays from my laptop.  People seem to be very accepting of this.  That I depend on technology for my learning, in place of reading, doesn’t sit as well in my head.  I feel guilty, often ashamed that I can’t read that well, and that opening a book intimidates me.  However, my biology conspired against me ever becoming a good reader.  My eyes play tricks with words, and no amount of practice makes this better.  In the scope of reading and writing, this is just who I am.

Whether they are printed on parchment or sent to straight to silicon, words are the primary messengers of all of our ideas.  Words allow us to share so much.  For my part, the words I send out each week are a message in a digital bottle.  I never know where they will wash up, but I am always hopeful they will be read by someone.  Be well…  rc

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Catharsisaurus Rx…

The blender in my head…

I’ve live pretty deep inside my head.  I am continually haunted by the complexities of modern life, and how they may be impacting my reality, assuming there is a reality. That doubt, of my own reality, is the heart of the thing.

On the surface I train clients, check on my mother, text my daughter, and reassure my dog.  Underneath all of this, my mind is bombarded by tiny pellets of doubt, all day long, that are slowly deteriorating the shield which protects my rational side.  Among my greatest fears is that this shield will parish before I do, leaving the chaos in my head to play unbridled havoc with my mind as I age.

My inner Cartesian has come to appreciate those frantic moments in my life, like when my frozen vegetables fly out of the bag and land all over my floor because I pulled them too quickly from my freezer.  That things like this always happen at the worst possible time also serves me well.  Those moments snap me out of my doubt, if only for an instant, and halt the existential banter between all the Roys within.

The life within the life…

I regularly entertain the life within the life.  I imagine waking from a nap on a summer’s day, my right cheek stuck slightly to the warm concrete beside the swimming pool of my youth.  The distant chatter of Marco and Polo awakens me.  I am 12 years old, and the life that I have lived since will have been only a dream.  Reagan never won.  I never married so I never divorced, and the internet was all in my imagination.

Perhaps though, I’ll awaken in an asylum, and not by the pool.  My arms tied behind my back, and with a crayon between my toes I write my suicide note on a foam wall.  This life I write from right now will have been a peaceful dream, and what lay ahead, a nightmare.

And don’t get me started on my lifetime of chronic bad dreams.  Where do I go when I dream…?  Is what I do any less real than what I do when I’m awake…?  In an active mind, I often feel that the only thing separating my memories of life from my bad dreams  are the words memory and dream.

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Kinda hopin’ Really hopin’ I don’t wake up here…

Occasionally I consider that all other people are just extras in an orchestrated game between the gods.  I am at the center of their illustrious amusement – just a silver ball in their game of pantheonic pinball.  At the end of the game, I wonder, will the gods rise in unison and offer me the ultimate thumbs up or thumbs down, based on how well I performed bouncing off the obstacles they set before me.  Ever-present is the feeling I am being watched and judged.

The illusion of conclusion…

Even if I am real, where and how am I real…?  Between parallel universes, infinite universes, or an eternal universe where anything that can happen will happen, I find myself right here, right now, and in this glorious life.  Although in the quantum world, I’m only probably here, and probably now.

Physicist Brian Greene tells me freewill is only an illusion and suggests that mathematics supports this.  The calculations of my future have already been laid out, he says, and that I have no say in my say.  However, I don’t steel tips off tabletops in restaurants when nobody is looking, and I don’t push people down the stairs – even when they deserve it.  Sounds like free will to me.

Some scientists suggest existence as I know it is some kind of holographic image created in an alternate reality, and is smaller than the tip of a pen.  Others say I am slave to the algorithms within a cellular automaton.  Just the thought of that has me pining to be a slave building a pyramid, for at least then I would exist in a simpler state.

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Holographic Youniverse…

The idea that some being in another dimension might be administering my every thought and every motion by way of a joystick bubbles under the surface of my daydreaming as I clean my studio.  On one hand this appeals to me inasmuch as if it is true, then I am exonerated from all indiscretion and responsibility.  However, if I’m not a Sea Monkey in a jar on some extraterrestrial kitchen counter, atonement and responsibility are not only my duty, they are my only hope.

Dog is one of us…

When my eyes lock with my dog I feel love and truth – simultaneously.  That emotion is a daily confirmation that I am real.  When our eyes break though, I can’t help wondering if my dog is actually an angel sending signals back to God, or an observer sending recommendations back to the mother ship.  I wonder the same thing with many of my human contacts too, you who is reading this included.

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“Stroolde calling Orson, come in Orson…”

I flash back to a time in school when I was taunting a special needs kid.  My friend Jeff stopped me and said…

“Roy!  Don’t tease Milton!  What if he’s God and he’s just testing you…?”

Jeff was joking, but I’ve never been able to get that thought out of my head; that anyone else might be God, or a designated representative of the Junta Grande.

The scratch ticket and the interwebs…

I feel guilty for having won the lottery of existence.  All my needs are met – exceedingly.  I’m able to enjoy and appreciate so much.  That I get to make a living doing what I love, and do so in such a beautiful place seems unjust to me, on behalf of those who can’t.  I wonder why I’m not a knobby-knee’d Ethiopian child with fly on one eye suckling his mother’s dry tit.  Yet I seem to be me, and this seems to be my time and my place – probably.

Living in the internet age has only thrown gasoline on the fire of my doubts.  I wonder if this increased connectivity with people and information around the world isn’t just an expanded test by my maker.  It makes no sense that I have instant access to most of the much of the knowledge ever attained and so much information, even if it isn’t always accurate.

Are my social media friends and my analog friends truly connections, or are they an audience watching me and trying to influence the way I bounce off the bumpers in the pinball game of my life…?  They might just be 7-billion lesser gods.

When I look the grocery clerk, the beggar, or the barista in the eyes, I often wonder if they’re thinking,

“He’s on to us…”

That people so seamlessly merge in and out of my digital and analog lives makes me feel increasingly uneasy.

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My maker…?

The known universe is precisely 54 years old…

Let’s assume I am real.  I see memes on social media daily that remind me how small and insignificant I am relative to the immensity of the universe.  This is bad internet juju in my opinion.  I am the only component in the universe that I have absolute dominion over.  If ultimate inter-connectivity is inevitable, then the universe can’t fulfill its own destiny if I fail to fulfill mine.

I was dead for nearly 14-billion years before I was born.  I’ll be dead again in a decade or two more.  I better get this thing right while I’m still here.  It’s all pretty overwhelming at times, this work of performance art which I call my life.

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At the end of the day, I suppose my reality is simply my choice – my decision to carry forward without worrying too much about any of this.  Whether or not I’m a spec in the universe, the center of it, or an organic shuttlecock in game of badminton between gods, so long as standing in nature stirs my heart, and my daughter returns my phone calls, I will choose to act and feel real.  I will though, always have my doubts.  Be well, and thank you for taking the time…  rc

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Enjoying God’s creation, in his creation, and where I feel most real..

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Fat Dogs, Niebuhr, and Tomorrow…

No Time For Obese Dogs…

I sat down this morning preparing to pose a question on social media about the responsibility humans have in stewarding obese dogs.  This after an exchange last week about who is responsible for canine obesity.  My stance is that, much like obesity in humans, pet owners bear only a portion of the responsibility for canine obesity.  That is, dogs like humans, are subject to increasingly complex food, pharmaceutical, medical, and social systems.

Though humans do have some say in the obesity of their dogs, these systems are probably also influencing canine obesity, though not to the level that the same systems are influencing human obesity.  To a lesser degree, canines are also susceptible to the economic and media systems which influence humans, though the freewill thing which humans relentlessly pander to, probably doesn’t distract dogs too much.

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I’m thinking, too much bread in his diet….

I chose not to post my original question on social media though, because I realized it would have done nothing more than set anchor to a line of convoluted and irrational arguments that would chain me to my laptop for hours.  At the end of the day I thought, we’re all caught up in an endless web of systems anyway…

Three Wise Men…

In his book, The Religions of the World (formerly The Religions of Man), Huston Smith suggests,

We need to remember that in their own day, prophets are not seen as prophets.  To most, they appear to be fringe thinkers, not to be trusted, and often irrational.  It is only those few who follow them, and with the posthumous spreading of their ideas over time, that elevates them to prophet status.

As they walked and spoke in their own communities, men like Jesus, Confucius, and Muhammad did not command the attention of too many, though they did make some noise.  It was only after death, and by those few who valued their ideas who worked to spread those ideas, did they become elevated to prophet status.

I have been reading (some of) the works of Reinhold Niebuhr recently.  Niebuhr is hard to classify.  He was a Christian theologian and educator.  He was a prolific author, a public intellectual, a sounding board for other intellectuals, and an occasional advisor to heavyweight political figures during his time.  Though he considered himself a socialist Christian, and since both of those terms today have been hijacked and mutated, I will argue that Niebuhr was the ultimate conservative by the real meaning of that word.

Portrait Of Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr

A portrait of the American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971), United States, mid-20th century. (Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)

I came to Niebuhr by way of Chalmers Johnson and Andrew Bacevich, both of whom draw on Niebuhr’s moral and diplomatic sensibilities in their own works.  In his book The Limits of Power, Bacevich refers to Niebuhr as a prophet at least a dozen times.  Chalmers Johnson suggests that if every nation had a Niebuhr whispering in the ear of its leader, there would be no need for NATO, The United Nations, or military bases beyond domestic borders.

All Systems Go (Where They Want To)…

Among other things, what the works of Bacevich, Johnson, and Niebuhr reinforce to me is that principled ideals, however impactful their potential might be, are not going to immediately override systems which are already in place and aimed in a forward direction.  The best we can hope is that reasonable ideas take root, and are cultivated over time to gradually steer the trajectory of a system.  The civil rights movement, still in progress, is a good example of this.  If we take an honest big picture view, it’s clear that prophets make good helmsmen on the initial watch, but communities need to keep steering once the prophet is no longer around.

Americans are caught up in all the systems of modernity; technical systems, political systems, cultural systems, economic systems, and many others.  Whether we are talking about obese canines, the military industrial complex or international diplomacy, and whether we consider ourselves passengers, components, or victims of the systems which carry us, I am reminded as our presidential election draws near, of the two flies believing they control the horse who’s ears they stand upon.  We are driven, and we are bound by systems.

Vote The System To A Slight Turn…

Like many, I often think voting doesn’t matter and I don’t trust any of the candidates.  I do though, believe that voting is a responsibility and it’s one I take very seriously.  Perhaps my vote this year, which will go to the most Niebuhrian candidate on election day, will help steer the modern political system just enough toward a new direction that we can pass it off to a more reasonable generation, who might spread the word of Niebuhr’s prophecy and steer us better still.  Of course I’ll need the help of 100,000,000 or so like-minded friends to make this happen.

Before you vote this November – before you decide on a candidate, a platform, or donate any more money or your own sensibility to a cause, please consider reading The Irony of American History by Niebuhr, The Limits of Power by Bacevich, or Blowback by Chalmers Johnson – all 3 if you have the time.  It’s time we steer away from America’s imperial ambitions abroad, and that we take a good look in the mirror.

I gasp at what is taking place with the current presidential race, but realize the idiocy of it all is a reflection of our culture at large – of the systems we have set into motion and make no attempt to steer.  It seems clear to me that we could benefit from a new prophet to help lead us out of our Idiocracy.  As Bacevich calls for a Niebuhrian revolution, I stand alongside him in hopes that someone – anyone will listen, learn more, and help spread the word.  If not Niebuhr, perhaps David Brooks.  Be well…  rc

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We are just one or two elections away from President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Comacho…

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If you are not already a subscriber, please scroll up and do so.  Tell your friends about me — about what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Dave Alvin.  Prettiness and such like that.  Enjoy…