Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Emotional Middle Ground

In an interview recently on The C-Realm podcast, one of the guests took an interesting point of view on emotions, thinking particularly of negative emotions.

His began from the premise that emotions are a sort of signpost. They tell us something, but there are two problematic ways that we sometimes deal with them: ignoring or repressing them on the one hand and becoming too attached or wallowing in them on the other.

What follows from that is that we should take our emotions seriously for what we can learn from them, but then we have to move on.

That said, I think there's still a thing or two to be said about what sorts of things emotions can signal, but as I need to get to bed AND I'm typing this on my iPod (computer's in my office), I'll leave those musings for another time, though you, dear reader, are welcome to comment as you see fit.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Here I go, taking another prompt from Cafe Writing, this time option 2. I don't claim that this is particularly good stuff I'm writing, but it helped me get something out on paper. No-Prize to the first person who can identify the formal constraint I placed upon myself in this work of free verse. I could probably re-write without it and get a better poem, but if I hadn't done it in the first place I probably wouldn't have stumbled on most of the lines that I like, so there's some value there, I think.

The prompt was to write a poem about gathering together or scattering abroad, using for inspiration the following quotation by Edwin Way Teale:

"For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad."

For a moment, think of the season beneath the rustling social fabric, to the bared,
     goose-pimpled flesh of the Earth;
Man: imagine him not in his own context, but in nature’s;
Autumn not as football games and world series and leaf-blowers and costumes and candy.
Is it possible for you to imagine what lies deeper?
A moment of your
Time, a moment of your imagination. Consider:
Of all the festivals of ancient humanity, buried in our genes and memes,
Harvest is deepest.
Of course, it is only as old, really, as agriculture, but
Gathering as it does something of an even older hunter-gatherer tradition
Together with the twining roots of civilization, it is as deep and rich as the best soil,
For Harvest is where Humanity and
Nature entwine mostly closely like sometimes-lovers. Or, anyway, where they did.
It was, 100 years ago, a third of the country who farmed; 200 years ago, 90%. Today the number
Is less than 3%.
A paltry few, and harvest festivals speak to us less as we speak to Nature hardly at all, estranged lovers.
Time was, we felt the season’s celebration in our pulses, in our bones, in our loins, and in Nature's.
Of what essential of the season could we be oblivious?
Sowing with our hands and feet, legs, arms, chests, our hearts and minds, and reaping the same.
Of what, today, are we even aware of this, when we see not our farmers, when we are not our farmers,
     when we know not our farmers,
Scattering them far and wide across the landscape? Seek them
Abroad, in the far country called the past, and in that other distant land, our future.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Book Reviews: the brain and memory

I've been "reading" quite a few books (that is, listening to audio books), so it's probably time for me to knock out reviews of some of them. I've got three here that I read recently that all address similar issues.

Change Your Brain, Change Your Body by Daniel G. Amen

There's a vague patina of salesmanship clinging to this book, but overall it seems like very good information about the brain and its connection to the body's health. Amen is a neuroscientist who has, evidently, helped a lot of people to lose weight (or gain weight), feel better, be healthier, and function at a higher level. He discusses habits to develop as well as foods, supplements, and drugs. An important aspect of the book is understanding one's brain type, its needs, and the remediation for that type. There's also fascinating information about how we function. At times it can be a bit repetitive and seems to make fascinating stuff a bit dull, but overall it was quite interesting.

Brain Rules by John Medina

There was a lot of overlapping information with Amen's book, but Medina has the voice of a star lecturer (really--he was the one reading his audio-book, and he's a professor who, I'll bet, is a favorite at his university). Like Amen's book, this is heavily research-based--there are a lot of ideas in here not only for personal development but also ideas for ways to change institutions such as schools and businesses. Fascinating stuff, expertly presented with humor and grace.

The Memory Doctor by Douglas Mason

This book was a short primer on improving one's memory--not in a "preparing for a national or world memory competition" way but in a daily-life functional way. Some of the material went along with Medina's and Amen's research, though occasionally Mason's work seemed to references outdated work. Even so, the tricks and tips were practical and, presumably, effective even when some of the theory was off. It was short and to the point, good at what it did.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thursday Threesome on Friday, which is fine, cause it's food-friendly

Two posts in one week with ideas borrowed from CafeWriting.

Onesome- Coffee: Do you drink coffee? If so, do you ask for brewed or do you prefer the fancy espresso drinks? What’s your flavor?

I'm not a big coffee drinker, but I have fallen in love with our local coffee shop's Caramel Macchiato. With three shots of espresso instead of the regular two, it's my Sunday morning caffeine treat, but I had a regular two-shotter today because I had a free one coming thanks to my school's Faculty & Staff Association. 

Twosome- Tea: Do you drink tea? Hot or iced? Regular, herbal or flavored?

I drink more tea than coffee, almost exclusively green tea, plain. I like it either hot or iced with lemon juice added. I've also started drinking yerba mate and like that too. Sometimes I'll make a yerba/green hybrid, cause that's how I roll.

Threesome- Or Me? Ok, not really me! Seriously, what’s your favorite beverage? Alcoholic or non, healthy or not?

My favorite guilty pleasure drink is Cream Soda, but I pretty much never drink it now. Do smoothies count as drinks? I love either a homemade blueberry protein smoothie or anything at Jamba Juice or Orange Julius or wherever (though I'm pretty sure homemade is better for me).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

CafeWriting: Seven Things

This prompt comes from CafeWriting by way of MissMeliss: "Give me seven of your favorite things about Autumn." I think I'd like to pick up some of the other prompts before the month is over, but this seemed like an easy place to start.

1. Even though the modern food reality is one where we can eat anything we want whenever we want, the autumnal foods like pumpkin and apples have a particular appeal around this time, like there's something coded in our genes that loves these foods more when the leaves are changing color, when the air is getting crisp, and when these foods are actually in season. I love pumpkin pies, pumpkin cakes, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread, and especially pumpkin rolls. I love apple cider, apple pies, and especially apple crisp.

2. I love being reminded of John Keats this time of year, particularly his poem "To Autumn," which I had to memorize as an undergrad. Broad swatches of it have, evidently, been harvested from my mind, leaving only stubble, but that just means I have to look it up. Most of the first stanza is still there, and I love the lines "or by a cyder press, with patient look, / Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours" (yeah, I had to look it up) and "Where are the songs of spring? Aye, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too." (No, not that one)

3. Football season. It's about as arbitrary and about as rational as believing the religion you grew up with, but I love football. I love the sport, I love cheering for my teams, and fall is the time of new beginnings. I don't get too over-the-top about my fandom, but I love football season.

4. I actually like the cool-to-cold weather. Today, even as I enjoyed the warm "Indian Summer" day out at the tennis courts, part of me kind of missed the cold day that was the backdrop for our match last Saturday. Yeah, I know it's weird.

5. Speaking of tennis, the high school tennis season is another of the things I love about autumn. I may have loved the girls tennis season in Rhode Island even more, because I was the coach for my girls instead of one of many coaches for my boys, but one way or another I love it. Last Saturday our boys won their Section. Today, they capped off a two-day victory at the Regional level. On Saturday, they will compete at the Semi-State level, and we feel like our chances are good this year of getting down to the State tournament as a team. What's not to be excited about?

6. Indulging in nostalgia. You saw it there in #5--without even meaning to, I found myself full of wist for a bygone era. Autumn in its natural state has all the metaphorical trappings necessary for a look back over what has been, because it's a time of transition toward The End that winter brings, because it's an analogy for old age.

7. I'm looking forward to the abundance of fallen leaves, because I know that our 21-month-old is going to love them. She's going to have so much fun with big piles of dead leaves--I just know it!

What about you? What are your seven things?

Monday, October 3, 2011


I woke up around 5 this morning, though my alarm wasn't due to go off until 5:30. I had my clothes set out for an early morning run. Rather than get up that early, I made myself go back to sleep to wait for my alarm. It's on thing to get up at 5:30 for a run, but quite another to do it at 5:00.

Except that instead of being  set for "get up in time to exercise" it was set for "get up just in time."

My relationship with running goes back to junior high track, and it was not love at first sight. I only joined track because some of my friends were doing it and because I liked the coach, but I was terrible. I wasn't fast and I couldn't run long distances--or, really, any distance--without getting shin splints. I threw shot and discus for two years even though I was terrible at both.

Still, a year after I quit track, I found myself running when a 4-H project on fitness got me interested in fitness. Two of my closest friends--both in my heart and geographically speaking--would be legit high school runners, but I was just doing my own thing. I probably ran not more than a mile at a time, but I was doing it because I wanted to and that made all the difference. I didn't have any problem with shin splints, and running plus puberty plus a healthier diet took me from pudgy to thin, where I would spend the next seven to ten years.

When my alarm finally went off, it was getting to be too late to work out and, anyway, the air beyond our flannel sheets was not particularly inviting, cold as it was. The whole morning, from our apartment to my office, was a chilly one. I did my fair share of work and then came home to go for a run. 

For the past five weeks or so, I've been nursing a shoulder injury. Its cause was overconfidence and under-attention, and I think I've been side-lined long enough by now to learn my lesson, but my body disagrees. I've had to lay off the bulk of my training: whereas I was lifting weights three days a week plus teaching a plyometrics class and doing some other cardio workout, now I'm saving myself for the class I have to teach--and I've rediscovered running.

I first really discovered running at the end of my junior year of college. I was on campus after most had left, because I was working Reunion Weekend, and I had some time to kill, so I was looking through books at The Kenyon College Bookstore and came across a book on running. I tore through it, quickly grasping the basic premise: if you can walk for at least 40 minutes at a time, you start gradually alternating running and walking, for instance running 2 minutes then walking 8 then running 2, etc, and gradually running more and walking less until you're running the whole 40 minutes. When I went home that summer, I started doing just that.

While I was at my office, the day had gotten quite nice--there was still a crispness to the air, but the sun was out and changing that minute by minute. I went home and changed into shorts, a t-shirt, and my Vibram Five Fingers shoes. I discovered Vibrams and "barefoot" running a few years ago--but long after my regular running days--after seeing Christopher McDougall interviewed about his book Born to Run on The Daily Show. I was intrigued by the things I learned about running... just not intrigued enough to really get back into running, especially since I was around 190 pounds at the time, with the cardiovascular fitness you'd expect of such a one. I bought the shoes back in early 2010 and ran some in them but hadn't really committed to running either in Vibrams or any other shoe. Until this injury limited severely my athletic choices.

I don't know how long it was before I was running for the whole 40 minutes, but I spent the next couple summers running the flat square miles of the Ohio countryside near my childhood home. The way I remember it, I was running 4 or 5 times a week at a steady 8:00-minute pace. I've never been fast, but I got to where I could churn out the miles. I remember a magazine describing a runner "eating up the miles with Zen-like calm," and that's how I envisioned myself. I experienced a real runner's high just once, while I was working at a summer school program in Connecticut: I actually ran about a mile and felt awful, didn't want to run any more, so I started walking, but then I berated myself into running--and just didn't want to stop. I ran for over an hour and felt like I could have kept going indefinitely, running 'til sometime after the sun had gone down.

Where I grew up in rural Ohio, all the county and township roads were layed out in a grid pattern with a mile between corners (state routes cut across willy nilly). This was great for my running, as I could easily mark out how far I'd gone, at least to the nearest mile. My usual route was to run down to the nearest corner, run 2 flat miles due west, and then come back, but often I would vary my routine to run around a while block. I was kind of bored, being home for the summer, and running was my escape.

Having read in The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss that I might encourage good running form by, among other things, keeping my stride rate above 180 beats per minute, I set about some weeks ago to put together a playlist that would keep me at the right tempo. When I started running 3 weeks ago, I put together the first list, but found it unsatisfactory. I found instead a bunch of old .midi files from back in the day, gathered ones that were nearly the right tempo and made them the right tempo, then also worked to emphasize the beats. That worked well, except for the computery sound of the music. Today I brought out another attempt at a playlist, and I went ahead and upped the tempo from 180 bpm to 200+. In other words, I may have learned something about what to do and not to do in the weight room, that wisdom is non-transferable to the running course.

I loved running enough in my early 20s to keep it up, at least occasionally, through my two years of graduate school, though as I got busier, the runs grew more infrequent, preparing my body for the years of not running that would follow. Once I got my first teaching job in western Pennsylvania, I was ready to close the door on my running career (without, it should be added, running a single competitive race). I thought I would keep running, but I think it only took one run with my taller, more athletic friend Tom to cure me of that notion, not only because I was hopelessly behind him in every way imaginable, but also because running in Pennsylvania meant running up and down hills. Growing up in Ohio did not prepare me for such things. I can remember vividly the hill that ate the soul of my running: it went up and up and up, and just when it looked like I'd reached the top, it turned and continued up. Twice. Twice it fooled me into thinking I had arrived, only to dash my hopes. I wouldn't be a regular runner much longer, contending with that, especially not when the hills were allied with fattening school food and generic adult busy-ness. I put on weight steadily through my 20s, though getting into weight lifting was at least some consolation, as it allowed me to carry my weight better.

I gamely set out through my yard at the faster tempo I'd set myself, working my way down to where I could run along the lake that borders our school campus. It's the same way that I've been running for the past several weeks when I've gone out, but it looks a lot different at 11 am than it does around 6 am, in that I can actually see the lake instead of the moonlight glinting off the lake, can actually see the grass instead of just feel it putting a damp chill up my feet and legs. I started off a few weeks ago running 30 minutes once a week, then twice a week, then upping it to 35 minutes. Today? Back to my college days and 40-minute runs. I had trouble staying on the pace I set for myself, but it was still a good run.

Ultimately it took two things to get me back into running, if that's what I am: an injury and losing 30-35 pounds. I'd been thinking about it before but it wasn't until I couldn't do my first choice workouts that I was able not only to go back to where my fitness journey started, but to reinterpret it through my experiences since then--the interest in biomechanics and "barefoot" running and a very different overall body than the one I had a decade ago.