Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Comment of the week

From my college friend Melon, about a recent post regarding health and fitness:
A) In some cases, the Obie reunion just came at a really good time - if it had been last year, I could have been your Fat Buddy (grad school sedentariness in a place where we needed a car for the 1st time, depressed job hunting, celebratory job-acquisition feasts, etc.), but it happened to be this year, when I've lost 40lbs.

B) You can do anything you actually, really want to, whether you hate change or not. It's got nothing to do with it. Change you start yourself isn't the same as change forced on you.

C) I totally wimped out of Couch to 5k - god, I hate running. But I like lifting weights! :)
As you might imagine, I particularly like point B.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


My friend Sasha has written a stunning account of helping someone battle alcoholism. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The hippo cycle

While preparing for my upcoming move, I discovered a box of 3.5-inch disks filled with writings from my high school and college years. I hope to perform some of the poetry at a future Kibbutz Coffeehouse, but for the moment I have to be content with posting the choicest bits right here. And what could be choicer than my hippo cycle? I still remember the night I started working on it: My parents told me dinner was ready, but I couldn't tear myself away from the computer. I miss that creative intensity and the sense of playfulness that, almost paradoxically, accompanied it. Finding these 15-year-old relics also reminded me of an interview Sasha Frere-Jones did several years back with Fiona Apple, in which she recalled something very similar:
FA: I used to write stories and stuff when I was in my room. I constantly think about this time. This makes me so sad in a certain way. I don’t know why I always reference this moment. I can remember sitting at my desk in my room, up at my mom’s house. And I remember my mom calling me for dinner over and over and over again, and me saying, “Wait, wait, wait,” because I was writing a story. I made up a story, and I was writing this twenty-page story. It was great, and I was finishing it up and I wasn’t going to leave until I was finished because I was really enjoying writing the story. I always remember that: I wasn’t going to go and eat dinner because I was finishing writing a story.

SFJ: Why is that sad?

FA: Because I wouldn’t do that now. Because I wouldn’t even start a story, let alone not go to dinner because I was finishing it.

SFJ: I think you’re being a little hard on yourself.

FA: That’s my job. Jesus.

Naturally, when I read that interview, it resonated deeply with me. It's not always clear how we go from creative dervishes to people who can't be bothered to start a story, but it's worth thinking about. Not so we can beat ourselves up, but so we can try to reclaim even a portion of what we had: that eagerness to make something new, to experiment, to play. And now, without further ado, the hippo cycle:
An Ode to Hippos Everywhere

The hippo's a majestic beast
In ev'ry shape and way,
Yet still there seems some ignorance
About its life and play.

The hippo's gray (we all know that),
And rather large and round.
Still, some of us (I won't name names)
Don't know where he is found.

The hippomus mammalius lives not in your backyard.
He dwells in rivers, swamps, and lakes,
And life is rather hard
For something so filled up with lard.

Indeed, proceed, hunt hippos!
(With camaras, not guns)
Don't let a hippo flatten you, however:
They weigh tons!

To conclude my lesson to
You readers mid-sized, large, and small,
I'll admit I don't know much
about the hippo-beast at all!

Hippo Limericks

There once lived a hippo from Dover,
Whose lifestyle seemed quite incomplete.
Legend says he aspired
To opera, was fired,
And ended up out on the street.

There once lived a hippo from Texas,
Who chased endlessly after her tail.
After years of hard work,
With a sigh and a smirk,
She succeeded, and then posted bail.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The weight of the world

Since my last post, a lot has happened. I went to my college reunion, where I had the shocking realization that I'm one of those people who put on a significant amount of weight since college. I noticeably surprised at least a few former classmates, including one who pinched my abdomen and said, "What's going on here?" (I wasn't upset; he's a good enough friend that he gets to do that without incurring my wrath.) I walked around Oberlin in the muggy summer heat feeling like a big mound of fat. Many of my classmates seemed quite fit, and some looked younger than they had during college. I felt unappealing, regretful, and confused -- how had I let this happen to me?

Then I went to New York, where I began reading Frank Bruni's excellent memoir, Born Round. In it, the former New York Times food critic talks about his struggles with bulimia and compulsive overeating. I felt like I was reading my own story. In New York, I was walking a lot every day, much more than I do in Seattle; the same had been true in Oberlin. In both places, I had no other affordable transportation option. I huffed and puffed at times, but I survived. At the same time, I managed to eat more moderately than I had in many, many months.

The result: I lost weight. Even so, by the time I got to Virginia for an old friend's wedding, I once again felt fat and unattractive. It probably didn't help that Richmond was even muggier than Ohio and New York, and that the temperature was around 95 degrees. Also, weddings are a merciless indicator of how I'm feeling about my romantic prospects; in this case, I felt suddenly as though I'd be single forever unless I found a way to sustain my experiment in moderate eating. Being thin isn't the key to attracting a mate, but reining in self-destructive overeating would do wonders for my self-esteem (I know from past experience). In fact, I think getting a handle on my eating habits, and finding a way to exercise, would improve all areas of my life. Nothing can substitute for hard-won confidence.

I managed about five days of moderate eating after returning to Seattle, and then Shabbat dinner at the Kibbutz knocked me for a loop. (I wrote about this phenomenon recently for Carbs and sugar may not be the devil, but to someone looking to kick binge eating, they're diabolical enough. William Leith, in his food-addiction memoir, The Hungry Years, points out that carbs are many people's binge food of choice. Avoiding them entirely may not be practical or necessary, but cutting down, especially during communal feasts, is vital.

Focusing on fruits, vegetables, and protein has helped me feel healthier during the past couple weeks, and falling off the low-carb wagon last night was, well, instructive. I'm currently reading a book called 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, and it helpfully addresses the black-and-white thinking that can doom a moderate eating regimen. People trying to change their eating habits make mistakes. There's almost always something to learn from them, provided you're able to spend a few moments not emotionally beating yourself to a bloody pulp.

As Bruni points out in his book, one screw-up can lead to the following logic: "Well, I messed up; might as well get it all out of my system with a nice, long binge! Then I can start my diet again in the morning." When this becomes a daily pattern, any hope of actually returning to moderate eating begins to fade. As I told my mother in Virginia, what I have trouble holding onto is that essential thing, hope, the intangible quantity that keeps people doing and trying, day in and day out. Wanting to give up? It happens. Actually giving up? A bad idea. In that spirit, I've enrolled in a "Couch to 5K" running class that takes the out-of-shape and gets them ready to run a 5K without stopping. The process takes six weeks. My ex-girlfriend Kelly is taking the class, and she looks and feels great.

I'm not much keener on running than on any other kind of vigorous exercise, but the gradualness of the Couch to 5K program appeals to me, as does the fact that it caters to people who, like me, aren't very fit. Also, the group runs will probably make it easier for me to handle the solo ones (the class involves homework). I thought about trying the program earlier this year, but going it completely alone, without a coach or fellow runners, was just too daunting. That's the thing about change: It's harder in isolation.

Dane likes to remind me that I hate change, and I've recently started correcting her more fervently. I don't hate change as much as I hate feeling worthless and ugly and empty. I just hate not knowing what to do to achieve the kind of change I want. I hate not knowing where to put my energy. And I hate being depressed, because it undercuts the part of me that loves change, that craves it, that desperately needs it to survive. When people learn how to change while being gentle with themselves, they love it. That's all I want, and I don't think it's an unreasonable goal.