Archive for July, 2009
July 22nd, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log #12 Is Up!
Go to the Muscle-Bound page to read about how I sabotage myself through the language of pre-emptive failure.
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July 22nd, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log 12: Failure by a Thousand Cuts
Last Wednesday, I was left feeling ambivalent by the results of my regimen and mystified by my reaction. I’d undergone my fourth fitness assessment at the gym, which marked a little over three months of my new direction in health and conditioning.
The overall results included millimetres lost from all different angles, and a drop of 2% body fat, putting me at 25%. That’s down from my original 36%. Mentally, I was hoping for 24%, which would have put me at below (or healthier than) the average. Then, I discovered that I’d also lost 1.8 pounds of muscle.
That robbed my sails of wind. A month ago, my trainer warned me that I was entering a phase where I’d be fighting to retain my muscle mass. We’d changed the program to increase the fat burning, but that muscle loss represented two-thirds of the previous month’s hard training.
“People would kill for your results,” Matt, my trainer, said as a consolation. Yet, I still couldn’t shirk the feeling that I’d somehow failed. And then, Matt hit me with the next bombshell… a drop of forty grams of carbs from my diet (but an additional protein-exclusive meal), increased cardio and the warning that this was going to fatigue me. It was the end of the honeymoon period in my relationship with the diet, he warned, as we would ride this new program to my target weight.
“Great,” I thought. All the feelings of energy and wellness, the muscle growth, were going to vanish. Instead, I’d be more tired and I’d be trying to squeeze in a 7th meal each day into a diet that was already disrupting my schedule.
Mentally, I’d started setting myself up for unhappiness and grousing about it. Worse, I started vocalizing those complaints, and a strange thing happens when we bitch about things… we get ourselves worked into a greater frenzy over something, often, without dealing with the problem itself.
Over the last few years, I’ve realized that it is within my nature that when faced with an obstacle or obligation, I complain or manufacture excuses ahead of the problem to feel less guilty about backing down. I pre-justify failure and do so in the use of language. Someone invites me to a party, and I say “I’ll try” to avoid making a commitment. “Let me think about it,” “Maybe, we’ll see,” “I’m not sure,” are all a part of my vocabulary to offset responsibility and they are words I want eliminated when used to avoid commitment.
When I complain, I also set myself up to be the victim. “I am a casualty of circumstance,” or so I’d like to believe, because it’s a way to bow out from under the weight of accountability. And I get pity, which is a terrible attention getter and a lousy way to score in bars.
I realized my approach to the loss of muscle mass and the news of a change in my routine was enough to trigger a need to seed my language and approach with escape clauses. And while they might seem like inconsequential things, every avalanche is a culmination of billions of tiny snowflakes. A process of failure through a thousand small cuts.
When I’m faced with these situations, when the challenge is frightening and the effort to surmount it is taxing (even if just in anticipation), I remember something from The Last Lecture’s Randy Pausch:
The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people!
Some folks may consider it an unfair adage, but the fact is, I know which side of the brick wall I want to be on, and complaining about it or establishing a pattern of defeatist language to protect my ego isn’t going to get me there. That’s not to say it won’t be hard going, or that I don’t miss pizza and snacking casually on junk food… and chocolate. I miss eating tomatoes and I miss sweets and I miss cheeses and butter. But I don’t need them. What I need more is to prove I can do this. My health demands it, and so does my ego.
And frankly, I’m looking forward to the inevitable: “You lost how much?!? How did you do it?”
Because I can’t wait to tell them: “Through hard work.” I deserve to be on the other side of that brick wall and I’m willing to put in the effort to prove it.
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July 20th, 2009: Best of All Flesh
I’m happy to announce that my short story, Homelands, which appeared in the Book of Final Flesh Anthology will be reprinted in the best of the All Flesh Trilogy called: The Best of All Flesh. The publisher is Elder Signs Press and the release is slated for December.
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July 19th, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log #11
Muscle-Bound Log 11: Let Me Paint You a Thousand Words is now up on my Muscle-Bound page.
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July 19th, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log 11: Let Me Paint You a Thousand Words
This week’s instalment of Muscle-Bound is late because I wanted it to correspond with my birthday. Today, at 11:25 AM, I hit 43, and the impact wasn’t as bad as I expected. Allow me to explain. When I was younger, my aspirations were as follows:
1) Publish my own novels/fiction
2) Lose weight
3) Get in shape
Sure, there were more things than that, but they were on the forefront of my thoughts. The “write my own novels” was always there, burning a hole in my ambitions and marking the line where I distinguished success from failure. When I was in my 30s, I swore I was going to get my own novel published by 40. Now I’m 43, and surprisingly, I feel nothing remotely close to failure for not having done that yet.
I suppose I’ve skirted my mid-life crisis, but I’ve remade myself and changed my attitudes so often that I’m not who I was a year ago, five years ago, a decade ago. I’ve had mini-crises, and in those years, I made promises to myself that I’ve kept:
1) I stopped making jokes at the expense of my friends.
2) I brought my temper under control and get less frustrated at matters.
Two simple changes have made me like myself more, and while weight loss and weight training remain an ongoing process, I’ve managed to keep this promise of a healthier me so far as well. And I’m happy with it, which is one of the reasons why I’m content to be 43.
But getting back to being published by 40 (and then 41, 42 and 43), there’s a realization that came this past year. An internal cease-fire, if you will, between id, ego and super-ego. Some people could say I hit my goal by getting five novels published for Vampire, Warhammer 40K and Dragonlance, but that isn’t the reason for my sense of… peace. While I’m happy for what I wrote and what those novels taught me, I still have my own stories to tell.
See, 43 has become an arbitrary figure in terms of my career and my path. Previously, I saw my early 40s as an indication of personal failure if I didn’t get novels sold, but against what milestones was I measuring that assessment? My friend Joe Rose was murdered for being gay and he was in his 20s. My friends Eric, Emru and Dean, and my mother all died of cancer before their time. I have seen friends failing to health issues at a young age and, conversely, spoken over the Internet to my 92 year old grandmother in Cairo. So why am I assigning an arbitrary year and an arbitrary age to my success? I may die tomorrow, or I may be around to see what life in 2060 is like.
The fact is, I’m a healthier 43 year-old than I was a 35 year-old. I don’t know what the future brings just like 6 months ago I didn’t know I’d be 40-pounds lighter. My age is subject to what comes next… to what I do next.
In the 43 years that I have lived, I have been inside the Pyramids, Petra and Pompeii. I dove for my Scuba exam, 35 feet down and without a tank to rescue a diver. I have walked through locust swarms and seen albino cockroaches swarm a man. I watched a lake of oil burn. I have stood in the middle of Ste-Catherine’s Street, a snowstorm blotting out a blacked-out and near abandoned Montreal at night, the snow piling dunes of white against the ghostly buildings… and felt my breath stolen at its beauty.
Forty-three years. That’s one hell of a prelude… I can’t wait to see what the rest of the show brings. So, for my birthday, I offer you all the following piece of advice:
Live today like you have a tomorrow.
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July 8th, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log #10: The Milestone
“So what would you do if you hit 250 pounds?” Jean asked. It was a hypothetical question, but for reasons that surprised me, I smiled. Not at what I would do, but at the notion of being 250 pounds. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I really wanted to lose weight. I’d accepted being 285, but acceptance wasn’t happiness and the thought of 250 pounds cheered me up.
Now I’m not saying that sometimes in life we don’t make due with what we have, but in this instance, that wasn’t good enough. I was smiling at the hint of 250 pounds, and that hit me harder than I expected. It felt much like someone with an addiction who finally admits to the problem. A light goes on, and it burns and soothes in that same moment. It’s relief and it’s struggle alike. It is epiphany, and I hadn’t realized I was that unhappy about my health, about who I was, until the moment articulated it for me.
But let me backtrack a sec. If you don’t know who Jean Carrieres is or why I mention him often, let me fill you in. Jean gave me my first gaming contracts for roleplaying games when he worked for Dreampod 9. He gave me my first videogame contracts too, and he’s been one of my most ardent supporters. He’s also my best friend, and has tolerated me in my lows and at my heights. And he’s always been honest with his opinions, delighting often in playing Devil’s Advocate. You’ll never get away with much in his company.
Before Jean moved to Chile for work (which I keep spelling with an “i” instead of an “e” for some strange reason), we had a candid conversation over dinner. I was talking about all the things I wanted to do if I was in better shape, waxing whiny you might say, and he confided in me that he was worried about my weight. It was the first time he’d ever admitted his concerns over it. I wasn’t a happy person either; I used to be more optimistic and upbeat. Less neutral as my friend Rebecca once pointed out to me. But that part of me had gone away, forever it seemed, and I wanted it back. I wanted to feel happy, satisfied in what I was doing and in myself. That’s when Jean asked the question, and it became part of the inspiration behind this move to improve my diet.
The 250 milestone itself wasn’t as important a target as the sense that I could be thinner and healthier. And happier. Make no mistake, I will never use terms like better-looking or more attractive when it comes to my weight, because I’ve been loved through thick and thin, literally. And I find beauty in people who are heavier, so my decision was one of health and not vanity. With that tangent out of the way, last week (after being on this program for three months), I hit 249 lbs and I’ve been set to wondering… how should I celebrate this milestone? And not in a way that’s typical to me. In other words: Let’s go out and eat! Or I’ll throw a party. I always do those things. It’s time to change that up and to keep some of those promises I made to myself. I am happier and I am feeling much healthier. Now it’s time to apply that energy in a direction to celebrate… and celebrate in some fashion before the end of July. So let’s hear it:
If you hit your ideal weight to be active, what would you do to celebrate?
I want to hear what you have in mind and hopefully, I’ll have a story to share myself before month’s end.
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July 1st, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log #9 & Happy Canada Day
Happy Canada Day, all! Muscle-Bound Log #9 is up!
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July 1st, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log #9: Production vs. Productive Capacity
When I unwrapped Jean Carrieres’ Christmas gift to me, I shouldn’t have been surprised. He’d been talking about “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and when Jean believes in something, he brings his friends along for the ride. Now I’m not much of a fan of self-help books, but there were some elements of Stephen R. Covey’s work with which I agreed. There was also something that struck a chord with me, the notion that you had to balance production with productive capacity.
In other words, it wasn’t just about producing results, which is how we live our lives (always about the outcome). It was about finding a way to produce while maintaining the machines on that production line… in other words, how we care for ourselves. Focus your output on producing all the time and, eventually, the machine breaks down from neglect. There has to be a balance or the entire operation crashes to a halt.
This became a significant epiphany for me, because I felt that if I were a factory, I was indeed faltering. My foundations were cracking, my support beams were rusting, my machines were breaking down, and my production would soon dwindle and evaporate. As a writer, I was so focused on getting the words written that I was grinding my engines to dust. What then? I burn out? I wait to repair the damage and feel like I’ve fallen behind? I heal and stumble into familiar routines and bad habits?
Something had to change, and I knew that if I wanted to continue writing (producing), I had to take care of my body and my mind (productive capacity).
It was at that point that I reached a decision. I’d been going to the gym sporadically, my three times dwindling to two or even not at all for weeks in a row. Already 6 months had lapsed on my year-long membership and I was no closer to healthier or happier. That’s when I decided that exercise was no longer something I’d “try” to fit in, which usually meant when it was convenient (and which meant it was usually inconvenient). I changed my habit so that the morning belonged to the gym. That’s when I normally wrote, but now, I was splitting my time between production and my productive capacity. My sometimes-a-week-habit became four times a week… for ten weeks in a row from January to April. That was when I decided I had it in me to go full bore and hire a trainer.
It took a while to get over the guilt of sacrificing what I considered critical writing time for exercise. We writers can be a masochistic lot, delighting in our personal negligence, but the gym was every bit as important as my work. Actually, I now consider it a part of my workday. My job is to write and that means ensuring my muscles get the exercise I need and that my brain is vital and active. An assembly line doesn’t run on its product alone, but on the maintenance of its machines and employees as well. That’s part of the job.
I’ll admit, though, that it hasn’t been completely smooth. Before, I’d write in the morning and procrastinate on the gym until it was too late to go. Now, since I’ve allotted the morning for exercise, I’ve fought to retrain myself to write in the afternoons. After all, I did it with the gym, so I can do it with writing. Some days are good and some are a struggle, but then I suppose that’s the balancing act that comes with any full work day.
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