Monthly Archives: November 2014

Kind and generous

Today, it’s customary to be thankful, and so I am in 51 incredible ways:

  1. That I exist. That two people got together and decided to create life and that it worked and that I am the outcome of that process. Think for a minute of how cool that is, of all the things that had to happen that you exist. And yet you do. Just your existence is like hitting the lottery.
  2. That I had people who sacrificed and did their best to take care of me and bring me up, starting with my parents. And then my grandparents and other friends and relatives who looked out for me, nurtured me, and were kind and generous to me.
  3. For my sister, who helped teach how to (and how not) to relate to other people. And who, under certain circumstances, gave my parents an alternate target…
  4. For all the teachers I had from the time I started school. There were some special ones along the way: Mrs. Thorne, Miss Murray, Mrs. Pelon, Ms. Muthig, Mrs. Wert, Mr. Dickinson (critter report, anyone? and the ever-important B-O-N-U-S), Sr. Jean, Sr. Barbara, Mr. Pesha, Dr. Lubin, and the rest.
  5. For my grandfather. All of my grandparents were special people who blessed my life, but my relationship with my grandfather was special. I don’t remember any more, really, beyond the pictures, but I know there was something there. I didn’t get so spend very long with him, but I was blessed for the time there was.
  6. For being six. I can remember for some reason thinking that being six was the best thing you could be. That it was awesome and it didn’t get any better than that.
  7. For Mike Ostermann, my best friend in my early years. Mike was into war stuff and because of him, I started drawing, war stuff mostly.
  8. For my bike, a blue Roll-Fast with a banana seat that could lay down a skid that extended from here to the horizon (except on Mr. Sanford’s part of the sidewalk. I got in trouble for that).
  9. For discovering sports. A few early memories were watching the last out of the 1972 World Series, Super Bowl VII, and my life-long love-hate affair with the Mets and Jets. There’s been a lot of frustration, but it’s added a lot to my life, too.
  10. For moving to Galway. It totally rocked having a back yard big enough to play football in. And driving the tractor was cool, until I had to use it to mow the lawn.
  11. For square dancing. We had to do it when I was in fifth grade. And it showed me that if I worked at something I could actually accomplish it. It felt special when our class was the one that got to do this extra thing none of the other classes could do. Thanks, Mrs. Pelon.
  12. For girls. I discovered that for some reason I really liked Gail Shufelt and Wendy something-or-other. I didn’t quite know why, but they were awesome.
  13. For playing baseball. I didn’t do it for very long and I was never very good at it, but I think it helped seed my son’s love for the game, a game he plays today.
  14. For going to Indian Lake in the summertime. It was always special. The huge porch, the lazy afternoons, the cool breeze coming in the window at night, and all the special stuff that happened up there. It’s still a place with some of my favorite memories.
  15. For going to camp in the summer. For the experience of having snapped Connie Adams’ bra strap. It’s not a cool thing now, but it was pretty neat at that age and the best I could really do in terms of flirting. She didn’t seem to mind (and if she did and she somehow reads this, I was an idiot).
  16. For televised sports. Even today, I hold special memories of A. B. C’s. Monday Night Football (back when it was like a mini-Super Bowl each week) and the Saturday game of the week. And Pat Summerall telling everyone to watch Murder……….She Wrote.
  17. For Galway Market. I didn’t know it at the time, but that job was one of the best I ever had. It was like working at Cheers, but in real life. It was a lot of fun and I wish I’d realized it then.
  18. For discovering that there is life after high school. Really cool and abundant life. It was kind of scary at the time, but it was the first time my world got bigger. It wouldn’t be the last.
  19. For radio. I have never had more fun at work then when I was on the air. WGFR, WSCG (Country 93), WKOL, WCSS, and WBZA. That was, I think, my first, best destiny, and I was glad I got to do it.
  20. For the friends I made at my three colleges. Jane Lundgren, Ray Anderson, Carrie Ruby, Larry Miller, Janine Sorrell, Kevin Rock, Dan DeYoung, Jennifer Sears, Deanna DeBrine, Katie Talmage, and others I’ve probably forgotten and lost track of along the way.
  21. For the family dinners. They were a high point of the year and it was really cool of my grandmother to seed the money required to start it. I know that over the years that money’s been added to, and the memories of them will always be special.
  22. For getting out in the world and starting on my own. It was the first step–and it was baby steps. It may have been playing the Father Justin Rosary Hour and announcing lost dogs and cats on Sunday afternoon. But it was awesome. And that time we filled up the CARLO (Bingo) tub with Gold Fish crackers…it was the best. Poor Lloyd Smith.
  23. For the 1986 New York Mets. The day I turned 23, I didn’t sleep the night before and then I didn’t make it to take the GREs because the clutch on my car went.  But I went up to Galway Market and had a birthday celebration and then Lenny Dykstra homered. Until later in life, that was the most fun I’d ever had watching baseball.
  24. For living in downtown Albany for a year. It was scary when fires started to happen in the apartment building I lived in, but it was a really cool place to live. The Ghetto Chopper, The Lark Tavern, the Ben and Jerry’s, McGeary’s, and the meatball sub place were also awesome.
  25. For discovering the writing of Robert B. Parker in Caldor at Crossgates Mall. I got my first Spenser because in it, he used the phrase “take a flying f— at a rolling donut,” which was a phrase my friend Dan used in a letter he wrote me once. It was love at first read.
  26. For Peg and Pat and the world they opened for me by allowing me to stay with them and learn how to program computers. If not for them, my life is so incredibly different as to be unrecognizable.
  27. For meeting my wife Laura at work. The QA woman. I actually caught hell, indirectly, for dating her. I think one of the guys I worked with thought I was beholden to her and slowing things down. Supposedly I gave in too easily to the QA demands because I was in love.
  28. For MusicFest in Bethlehem, PA. Always a fun way to wind down the summer.
  29. For all the people who helped make our wedding so amazing. I still hear what a great party it was, and I still have fond memories. Of most of it.
  30. For the blessing that came into my life with the birth of my daughter Jenny. She’s a truly amazing person, someone who has achieved and conquered things I can only imagine, and she’s still very young. She helped make me a better person.
  31. For my in-laws, two amazingly generous and giving people. I have never felt less than at home with them. They’ve made a huge difference in my life and the lives of everyone in my family.
  32. For the experience of living in Arizona. It’s still one of my favorite places and the home of the best pie in the entire world. I loved it out there, and though we only lived there a short time, it was a memorable time.
  33. For the experience of living in Chicago. Hated it while I lived there because the sun never, ever came out. But I met some incredible people there and became a horrible pizza snob–a trait I proudly retain to today.
  34. For the blessing that came into my life with my son Daniel. He’s an amazing young man who’s still figuring it out, as is proper for his age. But he’s gonna be amazing.
  35. For the experience of living in Florida. Holy cow, it’s hot here, but it’s the place where my children laid the foundation for their lives and became the people they are today. There are some many people here who’ve helped that happen that I can’t even imagine life without them.
  36. For my grandmother, the last of my grandparents to die. Even into my thirties, she always made me feel special.
  37. For the Internet, which has made it possible for me to connect with and get to know so many amazing people.
  38. For the experience of being laid off. It was horrible and made me pretty much lose faith in everything. I know I made it harder than it had to be, but we got through it and it started to open my eyes in so many ways.
  39. For the people who helped me and my family through the experience of being laid off. You never really understand how incredibly generous people are until you need them.
  40. For my current employer. I don’t mention that stuff by name here, but I can’t help but be thankful. I work hard and earn my keep, but there are so many things I take for granted there. Because they chose to employ me, I can do a lot of amazing things for my family and other people.
  41. For the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who helped me to believe that just because things have been a certain way for a long time, they don’t have to be that way. Also, they embarrassed the Yankees.
  42. For the Florida Writer’s Association, which have helped me along in this craft and put me in position to be successful in the future.
  43. For Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting, which have helped my son learn things he doesn’t even know he knows right now, and have helped him become the person he is.
  44. For synchronized swimming, which taught my daughter the value of working at something and getting better at it. It taught her lessons that have spurred a lot of her growth to today.
  45. For the new things I’ve tried over the years, that I never thought I would like. For instance, a Cuban sandwich, which is as amazing at the Mexican food in Phoenix and the pizza in Chicago and the chili at Hard Times Cafe around DC.
  46. For the people who’ve given me second, third, and so-on chances through the years. Thank you. And I hope that I can do the same for others.
  47. For finding my fitness. Holy cow, I can’t imagine life without the things I’ve accomplished and learned through that. I’ve brought it, dug deep, did my best, and forgotten the rest.
  48. For Tough Mudder. I love the pledge and it’s also helped me to realize how much I can still accomplish. And I’ve gotten some really cool t-shirts.
  49. For my writerly friends who helped me believe I wasn’t just pretending and still do.
  50. For the people I work with, and they know who they are, who have re-enforced the fact that hell is the place where you don’t need any help.
  51. For my current church, which is really amazing in its message and outreach. When we left the previous place, it felt like a gaping hole. Now I see it for the blessing it was. It’s been great.

To limit this to 51 is to exclude a lot of things that should be here, but this was an amazing exercise.

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The workout you’re worst at might be your best workout

I just got done doing P90X3 Yoga. It’s 30 minutes of yoga, P90X-style, so it’s not easy.

I’m horrible at it. I am to yoga what that pink slimy stuff is to filet mignon. I’m so bad at it that when I said, “I’m doing yoga,” one of the cast (Stephanie) winked at me, as if to say “Sure you are.” Even on the DVD, more than a year ago, she knew how bad I’d be.

Sure. Yoga. That’s what you’re doing. I won’t tell if you don’t.

I presently struggle with the core strength and flexibility required to do yoga well. But it’s on the calendar for today, so I do it.

No one willingly does something they’re horrible at, right?

Well, wrong.

There’s a move in P90X yoga called a vinyasa. You go down to a push up where your chest is about an inch from the floor and hold for a second. Then you push up with your arms so your legs are near the floor but your chest and head are up in the front. If you’re so inclined, you come up to plank and toss in a bonus push up, then you go to downward-facing dog.

I used to hate vinyasas because I was bad at them. Over time, as my upper body got stronger, they got easier. Now I look forward to them because I can do them. Stephanie the yoga queen doesn’t feel the need to derisively wink at me.

I got good at vinyasas because I did a bunch of other workouts I hated to build my upper body.

That workout you hate is helping you more than the one you conquer without any struggle at all.

The workouts I hate move me forward to my goal. I don’t have to be good at them. Knowing I’m not advanced allows me to accept that I’m not the master, then relax and do my best without compromising form (so I appear to keep up).

So go ahead. Be bad at something. It’s the only way to be good at it later.

Life’s a lot sweeter when you aren’t outstanding at everything you do.

 


Listening to your body

Two weeks before Tough Mudder, I got sick. It wasn’t major, just the kind of crud where you stay in bed all day and tell people to leave you alone. No problem, right? There’s a week of recovery time there. And after four days, I got out and did some running.

And then two days later, I got a cold. And felt like crap again.

To recap, heading into Tough Mudder I’d worked out exactly twice in two weeks.

I got through, but it drained me. I tried to run the next day and crashed and burned.

Going in, I knew better. Everything hurt. My legs felt like someone had injected them with hot lead, both in terms of a burning  sensation that wasn’t pleasant and in terms of weight.

In other words, I was an idiot. No harm came to me, but I knew better. My body was telling me not to work out and I did anyway.

If you’re working out, it’s important to listen to your body. There’s a difference than the typical resistance to working out (and I get it, too) and your body telling you it’s not time.

When in doubt, don’t work out. Take a couple days and let things settle. Let your body recover. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you can start again. If you don’t, it’s time to go to the doctor.

And if you don’t think you need to go to the doctor, maybe it’s time to try working out again.


Affliction

I am afflicted by depression.

There. I’ve said it. If I were famous, you could contact my publicist and I’d come on your show (I’m depressed; buy my book.).

I’m just a guy with a family and a job, trying to get to the end of the day.

No one would choose to see the world the way I sometimes do. (Well, maybe a Jets fan…)

And then depression set in…

Depression has been part of my life for a long time and it’ll probably continue. I need to own my circumstance so I can do better for myself and for the people around me.

I’m not Eeyore. I’m capable of being happy. I just have to work at it a little more.

I don’t expect the world to accommodate me. People wear glasses so they can see better; I’m doing these things so I can live better:

  • I get outside where it’s brighter and I can get direct exposure to sunlight. Bright light is bad for gremlins, but great for people like me.

Bright light! Bright light!

  • I interact with people, even when I don’t feel like it.
  • I’m taking fish oil pills to get Omega 3 fatty acids. (If you freeze fish oil pills, they don’t come back on you.)
  • I do something at least once each day to make me happy. Some things are little, like working outside. Some are big, like Tough Mudder.
  • I take stock of things and people around me that are really awesome and how cool that makes my life. Hint: it’s pretty cool.
  • I exercise, which literally rewires your brain. (It also makes me rock a sport jacket and tie. I rook mahvelous. Absolutely mahvelous.)

You do rook mahvelous, dahling. And you know who you are.

  • I could be doing better at eating clean, but I’m working at it. Sugar and other processed crap adds to your body’s inflammation, which adds to depression.

And I’m part of a small group of similarly challenged people. That’s a big help. It’s always easier when people around you understand and can pick you up.

If you read this and think Hooray. Yet another true confession, this post isn’t for you.

If you feel like you’re running in loose sand while everyone else runs on the pavement, if you feel like the color is gone and 50 shades of gray isn’t sexy, it’s just a crappy way to live…

If you feel those things, this is for you. Your challenge is real and it’s difficult. If you’re functional and successful, you aren’t a big sissy, you’re running in sand and keeping up with the people on pavement.

This blog won’t become Chris’s Depression Corner. If you want to read sad stuff, read about the Jets. But I need to deal with this part of my life to be fit and healthy. And I’m not alone.


It’s not (always) about you

After today, I’ll ease up on the Tough Mudder-specific posts; I promise. But today’s post builds on the previous post about the Tough Mudder pledge.

In December, I’ll be participating in the Color Run with a group from my church. It’s a 5K event where you run and have people throw ground up chalk at you. It’s not my think, but then again, I’m a freak who voluntarily did the ice-water dumpster plunge twice at Tough Mudder this year.

Most days, five kilometers (about three miles) is a warm-up for me. But that hasn’t always been so. If you’d have told me in 2010 that I needed to run three miles, I’d have been mortified, terrified, and hiding someplace. It would have been a huge push goal.

After Tough Mudder, there’s a general feeling of accomplishment, contentment, and camaraderie. People are quick to tell each other they they did something special and awesome. And that’s no less the case for the Color Run.

The Mudder pledge says that you should help others complete the course. In the context of Tough Mudder, that means the TM course for that day. But in the larger context, that means you help people along with their challenges.

As I said, 5K is a warmup for me. But that same person who struggles with it has strengths where my weaknesses make me look like a helpless infant. So my shirt and head band don’t mean I’m better, just that I have different strengths.

In this area, my strength means that ideally, I help them along if they’re looking to improve. It means that completing a 5K I don’t find challenging is no less a challenge overall than a full Tough Mudder, because it’s not my challenge that’s important that day.

The greatest net gain in this case is for me to put aside my concerns and concentrate on the people for whom this is a big deal.

And I’ll be as excited for them as I was for myself when I got my t-shirt and headband.


How the Tough Mudder pledge can apply to life

As you may have noticed, I get jazzed by Tough Mudder each year after completing it. Sure, the challenges are cool and crawling around in mud is fun, but if that’s all there was to it, I wouldn’t participate each year and look forward to next year.

I participate in Tough Mudder specifically because of the culture, best embodied by the pledge recited at the start of each wave.

There’s no clock in Tough Mudder. You aren’t competing against other Mudders; you’re competing against yourself. The other people on the course are not your competition; they’re in it with you.

At the risk of sounding unbearably trite, that’s kind of like life. Yeah, I know, it’s annoying. But tweak the pledge a little:

I understand that life is not a race, but a challenge. I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. I do not whine–kids whine. I help others complete the course. I overcome all fears.

Each year, I’m reminded of how close that pledge is to the rules by which I want to live my life. Then, over the year, it fades, only to be renewed again.

This year, I was sick going into Tough Mudder and though I felt good enough to participate, I wasn’t at full strength. One of the things I said was, “This is a team sport and I think this year, I’m gonna need some help on some things.”

That’s okay to say.

Life’s more fun when it’s a team sport. Over four years, I’ve helped dozens of people I didn’t know, either with a word of encouragement, or a boost up to get over a wall, or a hand placed wherever was necessary to make sure they actually got over the wall. (Decorum’s not a big deal when you’re soaking wet and coated with mud.) As the guy at the start said, we’re all on the same team.

When I was dragging and bemoaning how hard it felt this year, I actually recited the third line–a key line for success: I do not whine; kids whine.

It’s not trite to think that’s a cool way to live. I haven’t mastered it. It may be unmasterable, but it’s worth the effort.

So, in addition to the one-new-thing-each-week, I commit to doing a better job at making this a central part of my internal rule set.


One new thing each week

One of the highlights of the Tough Mudder experience is the start. You don’t just line up and go. You get motivated and pumped up by a guy who says he has the best job in the entire world (I believe him).

The guy’s name is Sean Corvelle and has has personally ragged me for getting dropped on my face five times at Tough Mudder Central Florida in 2012.

And his speeches aren’t meant to coddle you–you signed for an event that includes dumpsters filled with ice water and live electric wires designed to drop you on your face. They’re meant to challenge you. And to acknowledge you.

We’re not Navy SEALS, us lunatics who do submit to this stuff. But we aren’t shrinking violets, either. To participate responsibly, you have to do a lot of work, and to complete the course, you have to face fears. Corvelle’s speeches are a combination of telling us we’re special and telling us to challenge ourselves because we’re special. They call on us to be our best. (Not the best, but our best.)

In Tough Mudder culture, a mudder who dies is a source of inspiration. Teams often run for a fallen or ill team member (more on that another time). This year, Corvelle spoke of a fallen Mudder who died this year from cancer he’d been fighting since 2001. After mentioning him, Corvelle said not to be sad, but to listen, because this man lived an incredible life.

One of this guy’s rules for living was worth listening to: do something new every week.

Doing something new is a challenge. It’s uncomfortable. It means you’ll probably screw a lot of those things up and look like a fool sometimes. It means you’ll fall on your face. It means you’ll fail.

So what?

Life is built around failure. No one sprang from the womb able to do anything except sleep, cry, breathe, eat, and poop. Everything else is learned. And learning means failing.

In 2015, you get 52 opportunities to do something you’ve never done before (unless you want to be totally awesome and start new stuff now).

So here’s my commitment. Once a week, I will commit to doing something new (or admit that I wussed out that week).

How about you?