Sunday, April 27, 2008

John Phillip Snooza

Dear Children:

There is a shiny new dime right here that says you have the same idea I once had about sleep. You believe that functionality is the most important issue in your intellectual, social and athletic life. How you happen to feel at the moment can wait for another day. So long as you are on a par with the smartest in the room or can compete with the swiftest or the most admired all will be well. There’s plenty of time for sleep in your old age that hobbles in about age 29 or so.

Do not believe it. You need sleep in sufficient amounts not only for the moment’s functionality but also for next week, next year or next decade. There is ample evidence that people of any age benefit from sleep in many ways. Memory improves. Crankiness diminishes. Lung, muscle and vascular utility rises. Incidence of depression, bipolar disorder and paranoia among other horrid mental problems lessens. Skin tone brightens. Sniffles and colds are less brutal. Injuries heal faster. Scars fade. The list goes on and on.

There is a larger principle at work here. The principle holds that what you do or don’t do right now plays out forever. There are health consequences, of course. That gratuitous Mars Bar attached to your thigh can outlive a tortoise. I'm living proof. That’s just one example.

Consider this: Deciding to blow off school today can be a loss or a gain. Who knows? What is certain is that decisions are not discreet events. Decisions, like sleep, have long-term implications. One decision always informs the decisions that follow.

Just as an exercise, map out a decision tree. Start anywhere; say deciding to take a tumbling class instead of a dance class. Where does that decision lead? What branches are created? How far do the repercussions extend? Are there branches on the branches and do those branches have branches. Its not really possible is it?

Now don’t get all bewildered. Don’t let the endlessness of a decision’s results get in the way of anything. Not deciding is a decision too and has a different set of branches on branches. While you can’t know how your life will play out, you can know where the decision you made came from. Some decisions come from our hearts, others come from our intellects and still others are made for us.

The worst decisions are made of base and fleeting stuff. I was angry. I was in a hurry. It was spite. I followed a leader. The sun was out. The moon was full.

Please note: They’re not wrong decisions, they’re under-funded.

Excellent decisions issue from the knowledge that we live complicated lives with other people who make decisions that act on us just as our decisions act on them.

Excellent decision-making also makes it easier to own up to mistakes. We all do things for reasons that turn out bogus. Okay, that thing was bogus. I was wrong. What is the right thing to do now?

Maybe we’ll sleep better.

On the iPod today were Sousa marches. It made me think of a favorite pastime, that of parades. I like the kids in the Radio Fliers, of course as well as the politicians and the Cause Floats. What I like best, though, are the marching bands.

A marching band is a profoundly old-timey thing. Our age doesn’t provide for submitting to uniformity in dress and step. Each of us is celebrated as an individual gemstone worthy of praise for that fact alone. No problem.

Still, for me it’s a joy to see kids synchronizing, harmonizing, coordinating, orchestrating, matching; making a unit pleasing to both eye and ear.

Much Love,


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On Being Certifiable

Dear Children:

Consider, please, the following official document. See if you aren’t so proud you could just bust.

KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS that the Board of Regents, Trustees, Faculty and staff of the Fitness Institute of Cosmic Totem certify and affirm that _____Poppy_________, has completed the initial, interim, tentative stage one goal of his fitness program by shear application of effort and perseverance and contrary to popular belief by losing __Ten Percent______ of his body weight.

WHEREAS he/she has reached the aforementioned goal three times within the previous four years, this certificate is granted provisionally for ___Six_______ months from the date first herein written after which time should the losses be maintained the certification shall be made permanent and

WHEREAS the certificant has pledged to lose an additional ____Ten Percent_____ of his present body weight within the provisional period and

WHEREAS the certificant has pledged to continue during the provisional period to eat within the limits of her/his approved diet, continue with the recommended cardiovascular and strength training program,

IT IS THEREFORE recommended that all persons of clean health and upstanding moral suasion plant upon the certificant a kiss about his mouth, cheek and neck in recognition of his/her achievement.

Attest: __Summa Phlunkie, DMetSci.____

And they said it couldn’t be done.

Much Love,


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Here Kitty Kitty

Dear Children:

Try to picture this little problem. You’re watching the beats-per-minute (BPM) readout on the treadmill. You have five minutes for the BPM to go from 120 to 99. It’s the cool-down period after one hour of training at a deliberate 120 BPM. You want the sensor to get to 99 and stay there for at least a minute. You want that more than anything because it will mean your interim heart recovery goal shall has been met.

The sensor quickly recedes from 120 to 105. There is a chance you’ll make it this time. Then, everything slows. One agonizing second after another agonizing second teases toward the goal. You get to 100 and the wretched thing bounces back to 104. This happens several times. The five-minute period expires. You’ll need to wait for tomorrow.

The next day comes as does the next day. A week passes and the heart rate goal eludes.

I’m beginning to believe that the fraught hope of that one lousy fewer beat per minute precludes its apprehension. In other words, I have to contemplate the idea that the act of staring at the display and wanting it to move in the right direction may produce enough anxiety to prevent the achievement of the goal.

Some scientists, particularly particle physicists and sociologists have contemplated the problem of how an observer to a phenomenon can change or affect the natural occurrence or the measurement of that phenomenon simply by observing it. It’s sometimes called the Copenhagen Effect or Heisenberg’s Uncertainty. It postulates that in order to properly observe the behavior of a single particle, allowances must be made for the behavior of other particles in the atom that would, by rights and in it its turn, effect the behavior of the observed particle.

This problem has led to a thought problem called 'Schrodinger's Cat' named after the man who posed this particular set-up. Suppose there is cat shut up in a box. With the cat is a switch made of a particular particle that, as it decays, promises a 50-50 chance it will kill the cat. The same chance guarantees the cat will be unaffected by the decay of this particle 50% of the time.

After the decay of the particle, our observer is invited to open the box and check on the condition of the cat. The result is unremarkable. The cat is either dead or the cat is alive. A certain reality is established. The next time the outcome could be different and certainly will be in half the observations. The problem, as you’ve already imagined, is not about the open box but the closed one. Before the box is opened, is the cat dead or alive?

The answer, of course is, neither dead nor alive. The answer, if you are prepared to believe it, is that the cat is both dead and alive. That’s the case, at least, within the priesthood of particle physicists.

Here among the mere laity, we are required to live inside a perceptible realty and act on that realty. When we don’t, we engage in wishful thinking, a mechanism that tries to alter perceptible realty. Think about it. We do it all the time.

Wishful thinking is one of the most dangerous things we can do to ourselves. We want a realty that is not. We wish that realty were not imposed on us. It is frustrating and crazy making to wish for a realty that cannot be. It is a source of anxiety that prevents healthy management of healthy ambitions within realty.

There will come a time when you and I will talk about perception of perceptible realty. In the meantime, it is important for you to accept that there is such a thing as realty. For now, here’s a hint: Realty is honorable.

I didn’t reach 99 because 99 just isn’t real for me right now. My staring, my wanting; my wish did not affect the sensors. I could be the calmest, least self-conscious man on the globe (which I am not) and still not reach 99 until the time comes.

Much Love,


Friday, April 11, 2008

Hearts And Showers

Dear Children:

Some of you have said, “Thanks a lot Poppy for all the wonderful insights you’ve been sharing with us lately. Fascinating as those musings may be, it’s sometimes difficult to parse what you find clever from your fixation with fatness. Please Poppy, tell us how you’re doing with your health goals.”

All right. All right. But you must promise – better yet, pinky swear – that the following dull recitation won’t keep you from a readiness for questions larger than my OCD. After all, the larger questions are nothing less than the same questions that have beset us from the time fire inspired story telling. We mustn’t quit now. Assuming I get the pinky swear I’ll let you in on a secret. Sure you got your burning bush and your tablet etching on the mountaintop, but for most of us access to afflatus is in the pondering of these matters together.

Aside from belt size, the most important thing to me has been a freakish heart rate. Walking around beats per minute was about 105, way too high. Resting heart rate was in the middle nineties. For the past months I’ve trained on a cardiovascular machine tuned to maintain a heart rate of 120, which is just south of 80% of the target heart rate for a man my age. The idea is to lose enough weight so that my heart doesn’t have to beat so fast to get blood surging around a frame for which it was not designed as well as strengthen it and make it more economical. I was on blood pressure meds too. Uncontrolled, my blood pressure was around 150 0ver 100. The problem lay in how to measure progress required by obsessives.

Of course, if my resting heart rate lowered, that would be ideal. And, I wanted to improve the recovery time after exercise. That too was a problem because it took forever to get the heart rate down. If I took care of those two things, I figured I’d be some distance toward cardiovascular health.

The progress report is good. My resting heart is now in the upper sixties, down thirty beats per minute or so. I’d like to get it into the fifties. Recovery time has improved as well.

Heart rate is closely monitored on the treadmill as well as after a shower. I take my blood pressure after showering also. So, there are two measures of recovery. The first is the five-minute cool-down period after an hour on the treadmill. In that measure, my heart rate goes down from 120 beats per minute to whatever it is five minutes later. Three months ago, it would go down ten beats or so. Now it goes down twenty beats or so. It has never gotten to ninety-nine. My ambition for now is for beats to get into the lower nineties.

The after shower schedule has it’s problems. A workout will lower most people’s blood pressure. Still, that number is headed the right direction. Typically, blood pressure would be, say 135 over 85. Today, that number was 92 over 62. That’s toward the bottom of the normal scale. It’s past my bedtime at this moment: blood pressure stands at 136 over 79, higher on the normal scale for the upper number and about right on the lower number. I stopped taking the meds.

After a shower, most people’s hearts run a little faster. I don’t know why. By that time, however, my heart rate has slowed to around 85. That is down 20 points from a just a few weeks ago when 105 was not unusual. I may be able to do better.

Is that informative enough for ye?

I can’t get Mozart’s 24th Piano Concerto out of my mind. I listened to it twice today. There’s something spooky, primal and deeply appealing that is holding fast. Mozart is always the smartest one in the room. It feels like he is also the one up to the most mischief. Why is that comforting?

Much Love,


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My Statin Doll

Dear Children:

As a gimlet-eyed college student, I took employment at a funeral home. The charm of the job was that it came with an apartment. To be sure, there was also a roommate. He and I did whatever was beneath the dignity of the funeral director including sweeping up, driving the hearse and ushering at funerals.

Of course, the real reason for the upstairs apartment was answering ambulance calls in the middle of the night. Yup: This was a time before licensed EMTs, $900 trips to the hospital and lawsuits over every little thing. Two 19-year-olds would visit the scene of a car crash, cart off gunshot victims, lash down loonies destined for the psych ward, haul baleful women in their 38th week of pregnancy, wait outside domestic disturbance residences to see which spouse was the bloodiest and lots of other fun and pukey tricks of the trade.

In that town was also a thing we don’t see anymore, an elected coroner. Funeral directors took gentlemanly turns running unopposed for the office as parcel to their civic duty thereby achieving an equitable division of such labor and stiffs paid for by the county.

Coroners kept for their own purposes personal copies of the death certificates they were obliged to sign. There were resident such certificates that dated way, way back and included magisterial documents attested to by previous owners of the funeral home and, by extension, sometime coroners. It was the Cause of Death blank that interested me most. “Ran off road, hit tree” will tell you the quality of insight required at that time and place. There was no shortage of “natural causes”, “old age”, failure to thrive” and, my all-time favorite, “death by misadventure”.

Death by misadventure is a euphemism we should bring back. It simply means that the croakee was in that predicament as a consequence of his own actions. If he was found smeared along the railroad tracks and there was detected the smell of alcohol, it didn’t take much medical learning to know that the wretch had done this thing without benefit of counsel. His demise was a calamity that had befallen a fool who paid a fool’s price.

We heard a speaker just last Friday describe, in part, why statin drugs prescribed for high cholesterol is a 30 billion dollar business. The first 20% is legit. That’s $6 billion. There rest is humbug. An unholy fraction of users derive no benefit whatsoever both because cholesterol is not the bogeyman we thought and because the drug doesn’t lower cholesterol. Statins actually harm another significant fraction. But what to put on the death certificate? Try this: Notwithstanding our best efforts that included ample BS and liberal doses of expensive snake oil, the patient died anyway ... death by misadventure.

But get the not-so-subtle shift. This time the system killed him. Blame big tobacco, fast food, smog, the gun culture, soul-sucking ghetto life, availability of crack, TV trays, TV dinners, TV, broken homes, crumbling schools, pharmaceutical houses, too few jails, too many jails, sugary cereal, red meat, ersatz popcorn butter, corporate agriculture, organized religion, secularism, lenient courts, activist judges, you get the idea.

There are plenty of things that need fixing. Lets fix them, you and me. There is nothing so pathetic as a peace activist who has a peace garden in her back yard. That is a vain and hopeless enterprise. If you’re for peace, get in the way of the bullets. If you’re for release of the captives, give one a job. If you see a hungry person, you can be certain that a bagel will do better work than a platitude. Better yet, if all you have to offer is an empty gesture, own up to it now. You’ll feel better. It costs your life either way.

There is no such thing as a person who by virtue of his lack of virtue gets himself squashed by a train. There is also no such thing as a killer movie popcorn conglomerate. People get themselves into trouble. People make and buy things they oughtn’t. People make mistakes. People are also the lever by which wrongs are righted.

Come to think of it, of the precious few important things over which we have complete control, to act or not act is one.

Much Love,


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Mythtaken For Time

Dear Children:

Blurting it out may be best: I only lost two pounds in the last two weeks. In about 180 weeks, I’ll be back to my original weight of 6lbs, 10oz. That really isn’t so horrifying a fact if it weren’t for an unspecified fact behind the fact behind the fact.

There’s this friend that says I’m too focused on weight and that weight is a stand-in for something I don’t want to reveal. So, the way this guy postulates it, I keep the conversation pointed to weight instead of the more solemn issues in my life. Fair enough … maybe. Let’s see.

Its true I wouldn’t care what the scale said if the mirror said something more gratifying. It’s also true that I shouldn't care about either the scale or the mirror if I weren’t in fear for my life. That’s why I quit smoking. I didn’t want to die an early, grisly, painful, expensive, hacking death. Still, I may not care about dying so much if I felt better about circumstances in general. There is so much unfinished business. There is so much to resolve. There are too many injuries to heal both of the afflicted sort and the afflictive sort. There is so much art and love and sorrow and mourning to express. Where will the time come from?

Maybe it’s more complicated than that. Time may be a stand-in for a substitute for a surrogate for a proxy. Who knows? What is it?

That’s the fact I’m getting at: the one behind the fact behind the fact.

But I do like the idea of time a lot. For now, though, time is a commodity. All the great scriptures teach otherwise of course. God is The Potentate of Time and will one day abolish it in favor of a stress free eternity. We just flat needn’t worry about time and, without that worry, what is there to worry about.

For us, in this life, time is truly a commodity and there are no shortages of things to worry over. As such, time can be wasted, spent, juggled and ignored. The only thing we cannot do is preserve time. There is no bank that will take it into deposit and promise an increase. Neither can we barter, legate, bailment nor will it over to another generation. It is our commodity for our personal use and not valid in transfer.

Never put off for tomorrow those things you have no intention of doing at all.

I’m just spit balling here, but if time is proxy for fitness I got me all the time in the world. It’s a beautiful thought. Lets try it on for size anyway.

The ipod has been playing Jelly Roll Morton. They called him Jelly Roll for a reason other than the fact that his momma named him Ferdinand. In any case, The Jelly Roll Blues is thought to be the first jazz music ever published. He may not have been the father for there were many parents but he attended the birth of jazz. Over the last ninety years or so, the songs have not lost their freshness, their energy or their grit. We call them songs even though the lyrics were severely subordinated to the music and the scoring. I love them all although there is one particular favorite called Hyena Stomp where the lyrics consist exclusively of the most wonderful full-throated, head back belly laughter.

Much Love,


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Government Intelligence Makes Exact Estimate

Dear Children:

After having lived a while, most people learn to hold and accept opposing ideas in their heads at the same time. It’s not a skill, really. It’s more like a coping mechanism. There are way too many perfectly acceptable opposing ideas abroad in the land.

White light’s constituency is millions of colors. Make an untidy mess with more than three crayolas. Pay attention in school and you will learn valuable information. Pay that attention; you’re likely to miss valuable information in a text message about that skank of a chem partner. God is all-powerful but couldn’t be bothered to get the cutest nose on the most deserving adolescent. Bullies never get anything except all the lunch money. There are teachers who don’t like kids.

There are even terms like oxymoron, incongruity, conundrum, paradox, anomaly, SIDS, collateral damage and others that put a name to facelessness. Kids with little power and strong convictions like you know whereof I speak even though we don’t use such words in our everyday speech.

But then, as I said, we learn to embrace situations that are paradoxical and oxymoronic. There is nothing to be done about it. You may have to be of a certain age to find aptness in an idea like bittersweet. Baptisms, weddings, graduations, anniversaries and funerals conflate tearful, consequential, eloquent, humdrum, hilarious and frightening sensations into the proceedings. It’s a way to cope.

As I was working the elliptical trainer today and the local classical station was presenting a dissonant rondo for broken cello and neglected piano, my mind wandered to the presentation we heard last Thursday. It was Mozart’s 24th Piano Concerto in C Minor.

What I know about musical literature will fit in your eye. Nevertheless, in this piece Mozart was up to something -- something both impish and brilliant. The piano, the oboe and the bassoon wage a weighty squabble. To be sure the flute, the strings, timpani and horns offer up colorful insights, but this argument – the conundrum under consideration -- was one of parts and paradoxes. I don’t have the foggiest what all the fuss was about. I trust it was more important than, say, a bar bet. Yet, we’ll hasten to add, it was deeply satisfying.

We were all coping quite nicely, thank you.

Much Love,