Monday, March 31, 2008

It’s The Fall, Not The Sudden Stop

Dear Children:

Most of you have met military people. They’re just like us with one important difference: they have a heightened sense of existential dismay. They know how random, how fragile, how inane military operations can be. They are asked to do things with purposes larger than their own selves and families and risk their skins for low pay into the bargain.

These facts form the hypothesis of war from ancient times. Soldiers do the prince’s bidding at the prince’s caprice.

No wonder one finds among our military friends a special brand of gallows humor. They speak of life’s slender thread in terms that stress the chances of survival as hit and miss at best.

I overheard a conversation between one clueless civilian and an active duty airborne officer over a question of the mortality of parachutes. The question was, “Say you jump out of an airplane at 20 thousand feet … both the primary and secondary ‘chutes don’t open. How long do you have to live?” The officer impressed me. His riposte: “You have the rest of your life.”

Truth like that does not come in flavors. Life may be a feeble commodity but it is all around us. While death is certain, it can’t contest life in terms of quantity. Compare one moment of death against a multi-googolplex of life moments. If that weren’t enough, each moment of life is pregnant with the next moment of life; something even the confidence of death cannot match.

Each of us has the rest of our lives to live out. We may not know the term of years but we do know that life fills and feeds us, irks and rips at us; life urges and claims us. It’s the best argument I can think of to do life right and well.

It’s also a reason to live healthy and strong.

These thoughts occurred to me on the treadmill Saturday as I was listening to The Blind Boys of Alabama; Higher Ground. It is such a marvelous recording that I didn’t know I was moved until the tears were landing on the belt. You may remember this group as the one that sang the lyrics of Amazing Grace to the tune of House of the Rising Sun. Amazing Grace is so familiar both as a Baptist anthem and as piped for funerals of fallen firefighters. In the Blind Boys reformulation, the lyrics are reborn as the hope John Newton clutched so fervently trying to clear his soul’s stain. He clung to the claim that only Grace could relieve his personal participation in the slave trade. Grace is a life experience.

In the instant album, they do a heart-wrenching call and response version of Precious Lord. This is Thomas A. Dorsey’s struggle late in his life. Dorsey knows it’s late. He asks for a hand to pay out his terminal moments on his feet and alive.

Much Love,


Monday, March 24, 2008

The Deadly Number Three

Dear Children:

This last week was quite remarkable and, in many ways, agreeable. Last week gave me an opportunity to try some experiments. Never mind why the time was right for these experiments. Suffice to say that the stars figured to align, you know, the way stars align and then got aligned in that star-aligning thing they do.

The first experiment sounds a little stupid. Check that. The first experiment was a lot stupid. Someone once said that the way to find out what weight is or how much weight you lost can be easily demonstrated at the Wal-Mart. So I decided to try it. Wal-Mart doesn’t package their dumbbells. One can pick up a dumbbell and walk around with it, feels its heft and get a feel for its effect. The idea is to first determine how much weight you mean to lose – say twenty pounds – go to Wal-Mart and pick up two ten pound dumbbells. That’s one in each hand. Then walk around and do your usual shopping for an hour or so with these dumbbells held tightly in your fists.

The effect is not to demonstrate what its like to lug twenty pounds. Rather, the effect is to simulate the stress that extra weight has on your body. The effect is striking and, I’ll wager, undoable by most of us obeasts. If you had forty pounds to lose, you wouldn’t get to the fishing aisle from the weight lifting aisle.

You will soon appreciate that losing twenty pounds is a significant undertaking. There’s no way it can be easy. The effort will be substantial and probably frustrating.

The flip side is that you will soon learn that losing that twenty pounds is likely to contribute substantially to your well-being. There will be that much less stress on your heart, your circulatory system, your joints, your back and your lungs.

I was the moron – excuse me: educably mentally retarded -- who walked around Wal-Mart for and hour with 15 pounds dangling from each arm. Aside from the arm pain that I discounted because we usually carry our weight on our bellies and legs, I was winded, full-body achy and barely able to return the dumbbells to their shelf. It was quite an experience – one that I recommend for anyone who wants to guess what the cost of obesity can be. To be rid of those thirty pounds became, for sixty minutes at least, an intense and profound wish.

Another experiment was made possible these last few days. On Friday I lost my moorings. There was no way I could seem to get enough food down me. The day proceeded well enough with healthful meals and the usual exercise regime. Then 6:00 pm stuck and I was ravenous. We’re talkin’ stupendous, breathtaking hunger that would not subside. Intellectual awareness was useless. The food shoveling didn’t quit ‘til the car transported me (not bad as flukes go) to the Culvers for a bacon double cheeseburger and a quart of vanilla custard.

The next morning I ordered the number three for breakfast. The number three begins with two fried eggs, hash browns, toast and your choice of breakfast meats. Obviously, I’d gone astray.

After breakfast I was all satiety and disgrace. And, upon cool reflection, realized that if I were to stay on the diet, I’d be obliged to forego food for a fortnight or two. Fortunately, I was granted another cool reflection. I would forego food for a day.

Strangely, it was not unpleasant. There were some moments of withdrawal symptoms, I admit. Out of caution, I monitored my blood pressure and resting heart rate often during the day and went to the gym as usual. The blood pressure readings and the resting heart rate actually went down. I didn’t check blood sugar until the 30-hour fast was over late Sunday afternoon. That was a mistake because I was nearing hypoglycemia. Diabetics shouldn’t do that.

The experiment was instructive, however. I hope I learned that I’m merely addicted to too much food, a condition that can be rectified with a lot less food. The problem has always been that I relapse from the small-meals ideal to the endless-meals atrocity.

Please note: There is nothing in my history to suggest that this knowledge will find its way into practice. One can hope. Is that so wrong?

I made the weigh-in by the way. I’m at 188lbs down 2lbs from last week.

On the treadmill I listened to the 25 or so Harry James Orchestra hits. Many of them featured Frank Sinatra as the boy singer. That and the two-pound loss made my day.

Much Love,


Monday, March 17, 2008

omg cto

Dr Chldrn:

2day i wade 190 tht mens i lst 2 in a wk

2 is gd aamof I wade tht mch a mo ago

wca bcoz im bck on trk i figr ok 4 an om

wmpl whn I saw th nbr becoz was xpcting

mayb 192 btw im sfete



Saturday, March 15, 2008

Erin Go Braugh or Freudian Slip? You Pick.

Dear Children:

Today we will discuss the matter of workout fashion. We see many chic women at gyms. Some of them even work up a sweat. We see many classy men many of whom sweat as a consequence of the stroll from the Escalade. We see those whose clothes are best described as ratty and those who go for punctilious. There is a significant fraction of gym-goers with snooty designer labels and those proudly displaying their preference for the latest Wal-Mart knockoff.

It makes not one whit of difference to your workout. Your outfit does not apprehend your health. Dress is for other matters altogether.

As a matter of fact, dressing can be seen to be in three general categories namely style, fashion and, my personal favorite, haphazard.

Style is that mode of dress calculated to sign on with an exclusive group. Spy someone wearing black lipstick, spiky hair and boots too heavy for stealth and you’ve got a batter for the Goth team. Enthusiasts of a certain persuasion wear tee shirts with exhortations on the relationship of conception to viable life. Gang tats, hats askew, metal-studded wristbands, ten-gallon hats and platform wedgies are sure signs of style and group ID.

Fashion, on the other hand, marks a person as an individual whose appearance is carefully arranged to fit one’s body, coloration and personal manner. A fashionable person wears duds worn by no one else. The fashionable cognoscenti shop in boutiques trafficking in one-of-a-kind items. Fashionable people get up in haute couture to vintage grunge so long as it can’t be found at Target.

The haphazard buy what they can and wear what they’ve got. Most have a general idea that stripes clash with plaid and red hats are grotesque. Trousers should have fewer than three and more than one leg. Sensible shirts button up the front and underwear has a mysterious purpose and is required in the event of a bus mishap. The haphazard trust haberdashers and refuse to understand that they work on commission.

JD Powers and Associates estimates that there are approximately one point seven stylish people and point zero zero three fashionable people per thousand adults. For anyone under the age of eighteen, multiply everything by 632.

Whether you are stylish, fashionable or haphazard is a matter of sublime indifference to me. You can be anything you want. You can look like anything you want. Please be aware, though, that what you wear and how you wear it actually makes a difference. So what if it’s wrong for people to make judgments about people based on their appearance? It’s too bad. It happens.

I know how tough it is for you. It’s hard to try on a new persona without the requisite duds. Maybe you want to see what it feels like to represent gansta rap creds. You’ll need the get up to match; the slouch pants, the baseball cap with the price tag screwed on cockeyed, the affected slouch and pimp roll in Air Jordans, the snarl, the victimhood and, just to complete the package, a syntax with that all-purpose article “yo”.

That stuff costs real money. The Airs alone will set you back two benjamins. I’m just saying: representing requires an investment. Make sure you’ve got the scratch. Walking that walk for a few hours strikes me as expensive at best.

Chasing the Paris Hilton mystique? Good luck with that.

All I want you to do is think about it, whatever it is. Make sure it’s worth the hassle.

Much Love,


Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Jigger Of Brimstone, Please. Hold The Fire.

Dear Children:

I’ve got four terrific Poppy Pounds posts in the works: Each one is more inspired than the next. These are deep writings worthy of an ancient scriptorium yet chock-a-block with sidesplitting humor and weighty insight.

They do lack a point, though. Writing really ought to have a point. Pointless prose on solemn topics is a skill I learned at the knee of my father. Dad was a Minister of The Gospel who never seemed to rally a reason for standing behind a pulpit. Unexamined, his sermons had a poetic mystery to them that most folks found uplifting just long enough to be permanently confounded.

It was an off-putting experience, as a teenager, to be charged with explicating a sermon that failed to tincture the ether upon pronouncement. It was only natural, I suppose, for “pew frogs” as I called them at the time, to think that I might have some notion of what lurked in the sluices and pleats of Papa’s breast. My adolescent head would bob or shake as the moment seemed to suggest, but I had no more idea about the theological payoff than did the earnest parishioners. By this time, as Grace would have it, his sermons were infrequent or outside my hearing. Nevertheless, the experience remains vivid and enduringly cheerless.

Before you get the idea that I have some contempt for preachers, I hasten to differ. A sermon is a burdensome thing. Church is important. Worship is important. Proclamation of The Gospel is important. As a matter of fact, in terms of the whole of the church experience, including Deaconate meetings, preaching is, at once, monumentally taxing and a single soul’s shared tenuous tether to the Almighty. It’s an awesome responsibility.

I’m just saying that my dad never seemed to find firm purchase on a reason for anyone to listen.

And, we have a reason why these posts have lost some of their urgency. I want there to be a point to it all. That’s what I’m searching for; grasping for … and, I’m willing to dangle a participle along the way to achieve it.

One more thing: I promised to tell you how I did on my trip. You’ll recall that traveling has always been an excuse to eat way too much and exercise way too little. I’m here to report a victory of sorts.

I did not gain any weight. I exercised (after a fashion) every day. I ate many rich and expensive meals. I got home weighing exactly the same.

I bet there’s a point to be found somewhere.

Much Love,


Friday, March 7, 2008

Anger Challengement

Dear Children:

Complex problems are the least likely problems resolved. We understand the issue intuitively. Problems resist solutions when they have both moral and legal dimensions or, worse yet, competing moral dimensions.

For instance, we are often faced with the opportunity to hit back when we are wronged. Hitting back is a deeply satisfying thing to do. We are wronged. We are angry. Repaying in kind is the first thing that pops into our minds. We hit back whether it is with words or fists or one of the sneakier forms of revenge. The fight usually escalates.

The fact is that we don’t intend to hurt someone else even if we start it. One of us was merely looking for some advantage in play or competition. The wronger had only the purest of motives and the wrongee had only the purest of cause for retaliation. After that, we lose the thread of the original issue and life gets complicated.

It is the unresolved simple problems that rapidly morph and metastasize into knotty, cancerous problems. Simple problems usually have simple solutions.

Oh boy. Here comes the hard part: We must think. We must think sooner. We must think creatively. We must think simply. We must think beyond the hot moment.

Don’t react until you have thought through these questions:

What is my part in this mess? Discount your action by the amount of culpability you share. Remember that you were present at the offense. Make sure you are truly aggrieved. Turnabout is usually fair play.

Is my response proportional? Nobody ever wins unless the punishment fits the crime. Don’t be the escalator. People, even people we don’t like, are often rational. Rational people recognize when responses are proportional.

What happens next? Reactions must contribute to solutions.

Can I handle the next step? It makes little sense to yank the chain of someone who will only yank back harder and more permanently. If you must take some bruises for your reaction, make sure those bruises point to a solution.

What lesson will be drawn from my reaction? Pure appeasement for the sake of delaying reckoning for another day seldom works. Another day will surely come and you’ll be obliged to start the process over. Make sure the other party is clear about your intentions.

Does my reaction hurt me more than her? If, for instance, you decide not to return to the playground because a rotten kid is there, you remain injured and angry. A small problem gets unresolved and complicated.

Have I considered forgiveness?

You ask: “Very interesting Poppy. What does this have to do with fitness?” Good question. The answer is “maybe everything”.

Many will tell you that they over eat or over vedge because of some offense in their childhood. One often hears that we eat to find love or acceptance. I know I smoked cigarettes for twenty years because it disappointed my father. Let’s see if I taught him a lesson.

My reaction was not proportional, I didn’t think it through, it sent the wrong message and it hurt me more than it hurt Dad. Nothing good was achieved. The offense went unrequited. No problems got solved. He died before we could solve the problem. Life got complicated.

Let’s acknowledge that our lifestyle may directly result of an emotional transgression on the part of someone else. If that is so let’s fix it.

Confront the perp. Break down complexity into bite-sized, simple problems. Settle on a sensible course of action that releases your anger. Move on.

There will be plenty of opportunity for you to unravel problems like this as life proceeds. Learn to do it well. If your reaction leaves you frustrated, you have chosen the wrong reaction. Go back, please. Keep going back. Experiment with what works for you. I promise there will be an abundance of slights, transgressions and outright crimes going forward. If you get enough practice finding solutions, you’ll be a stronger, happier person.

No ipod today. Last night I attended a concert where Freda Payne paid tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. The setting, the music and the company combined to make it a wonderful evening.

Much Love,


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Dear Children:

This week is a grave challenge. I’ll tell you why in a second.

But first, there’s the matter of the weekly weigh-in. Yesterday I weighed 192.0lbs. That’s 2.5lbs slimmer for the week and eight pounds lighter since the blog began four weeks ago. Quite sensibly and quite unusually that loss represents an average loss of two pounds per week. Of course, as we have discussed before, on average everyone has one ovary and one gonad, more or less. Two weeks ago, I reported a total loss of ten pounds. Just to overstate the case: I have lost 12.5lbs pounds and gained 4.5lbs over four weeks.

Last week also saw a bitter reminder about Chinese carryout food. There is nothing better than Chinese carryout. For someone watching his weight closely, though, water retention as a result of the sodium content of the food can add four pounds in the two days it took to finish the leftovers. As good as the Szechwan beef and broccoli was, the weight gain was too spooky. Besides, a man my age ought to be severely restricting salt anyway. It messes with blood pressure. Who needs that?

All that is by way of avoiding a tale about the challenge faced this week. I’m traveling.

Traveling, by itself is no threat to fitness to be sure. Away from home, I lose track of healthful small meals and exercise. What’s worse, travel is an excuse because both nasty fast food and super caloric white tablecloth meals are easy. Simple, small, nutritious meals away from home are difficult. Must we explain that statement? It is self-evident.

But, Poppy, you say, “Just order the salad. You can get the salad at McDonalds as well as CafĂ© l’Snob. Be sure to get the lo cal dressing.” Right!

What sort of person turns down the Pheasant Under Glass with Hummingbird Tongue Sauce in favor of grass, shoots and leaves? Don’t answer, “vegans”. They are .000000001 of the population and are tiresome at best. The rest of us are ordained to struggle.

Let me suggest a small change in travel food: Order anything you want. Eat a third of what comes on the plate. Eat half. Eat a lot less of it. My experience is that it is easier to train yourself to eat less than it is to train yourself to eat twigs and weeds. Maybe you’ll get a headache for the first couple of days. Take some aspirin.

Exercising out of town is sort of the same: Exercise when you can as much as you can. Today, I took a walk on the beach. It didn’t match my gym workout but it was exercise.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Much Love,