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Tired of Weighting

(Two entries in one day? You must be joking!)

So, the experiment didn't quite go off as planned. Mostly because a different experiment prevailed.

I got into the gym and settled into the first weight machine. Planted my feet, set my back, grabbed the bars and lifted. And--oof! I realized that I'd foolishly gone to lift my first set before actually setting the weights to the 85 lbs that I've been lifting.

So I went to grab the pin to set it to the correct amount, glancing at what it had been set at: 100 lbs. Geez - no wonder!

And then I stopped.

Because lifting 15 more pounds than I'm used to had been hard ... but I had done it.

And I wondered.

See, I've very very gradually been increasing my load on the weights. I'd be at 75 lbs, and doing 3 sets of 10 reps. Then when I was ready for it, I'd progress to 4 reps. After that, I might go up to 5 reps, but I'd more likely add on another 5 lbs and see how many sets I could do from there (probably back down to 2 or 3). And so on.

And that's worked fine. But it's been very, very gradual. And I thought about how last week I had pushed myself further than I thought I could - and surprised myself.

"So," I thought, "fuck it. Let's give it a shot."

And I lifted those 100 lbs ... 10 times. And HOLY GOD was that tough. But I did it!

And then I rested a minute, heart still pounding.  And then I did it again.

And I rotated around to the various weight machines, doing the same.

And it was amazing. I did sets of 10 on all my "regular" machines, jumped up to 100 lbs each. And I was tired as shit by the end ... but I'd done them!

Then, of course - because I apparently don't know when to stop - I got on the treadmill to see if I could run 5 miles even after having just given myself a fuck of a workout on the machines.

The answer? HELL NO. I think I got about four and a half minutes in, and then realized I couldn't even see to the 10 minute mark, much less 60. I shut off the machine and declared it a victory nonetheless.

...and an hour later, because I'm not a wimp (or something), I biked my ass off on the 4 miles into work. And just got home from the return trip.

So. Yeah.

This return to working out really seems to be ... working out. I feel like my body's recently levelled up or something.

(Comments on the original entry here.)

It's Always Worth Running

Last Tuesday, I ran 5 miles without stopping, for the first time in my life.

I was irritated, and needed to burn off some steam, so I went to the gym and got on the treadmill.  Normally I do intervals: I'll run for 5 minutes (5mph), then walk for 5 minutes (3mph), back and forth for an hour.  If I'm feeling really ambitious I'll run for 10 and walk for 5, again for an hour.

But I'd been wondering how far I could go without stopping.  Back when I was following the Couch to 5k plan (before a hectic life interrupted), I got up to the point of running for 20 minutes nonstop.  I did it, but just about died.  Still, I was feeling a fire this night, and determined, and decided to see how long I could go.

And I ran, 5 miles an hour, for the full hour.

I was flabbergasted.  I was exhausted.  So many times over that hour I wanted to stop, and rest, and sit.  But I just made myself keep running because goddammit I'm going to do this.

And I did.

On Saturday, I ran it again.  Just to make sure I could, and that such determination wasn't a fluke.

It wasn't.

Now my experiment grows twofold: First, I want to see about doing weight training before the run.  After the run (both times) I've felt too exhausted to do anything but go home.  Weight training will exhaust my arms and upper body, but hopefully I'll still be able to do a full run after.

Secondly, I aim to see if I can still keep up the determination while listening to an audiobook.  Both times I had driving music playing in my ears (Mighty Mighty Bosstones).  But because I've got shitty earbuds, my ears would be ringing afterward.  An audiobook would be better for keeping my mind engaged, though worse for helping to impel me along.

Both of these questions occur to me because ... knowing that I can do this?  I want to push myself to see how often I can do it.  Every other day?  At least.  But I wonder: Could I run 5 miles EVERY day?  Is that a thing runners do?  I had expected my legs to be screaming murder on the days following, but they weren't.

I'll be heading to the gym in the next hour to try it again.

I've recently had an unexpected increase in free time.  Hence the return to working out.

Relatedly, I've been wanting to get back to writing in here.  And I have some things to write about.

Let's see how that goes...

(Comments on the original entry here.)

On the Rareness of Liars

I will never understand why some people, when faced with someone who has a different perception or understanding than they do, immediately leap to the defense of "So, what - you're calling me a liar?!"

No. Of course that's not what I'm saying! What seems clear to me is that there's a misunderstanding of some kind, and I want to communicate with you to figure out where that deviation occurred. It might be you misunderstanding something, or it might very well be me. But the thought that you might be deliberately lying never even crossed my mind!

Thankfully, this sort of thing doesn't happen very often - but on the very rare occasion that it does (either from a friend, or a customer), I always find myself stunned, and a bit boggled, that this is the first place their reasoning process has led. Is it just a matter of them being so blindly self-assured that they simply can't conceive of the idea they might have got something wrong? Or does it go deeper than that, and they've never really considered the fundamental difference between the concept of an objective reality, and that of the subjective one each of us uniquely perceives?

Because I have. Honestly, it's one of my main building blocks in the way I try to interact with the world. I'm pretty confident in a number of things, and often feel I have a pretty good idea (more or less) of what's going on. But I'm also intimately aware that every bit of data I get from the world around me comes through my five senses ... and hey, maybe those are flawed. More to the point, every conscious perception we have goes through our reasoning center, and that's far more likely to have erred. (Maybe we were certain X was happening, when it was really Y.) It gets dodgier still when you add in the ambiguous nature of human communication!

So when I encounter someone who has a radically different understanding or memory than I do ... I'm not going to assume they're crazy. I'm not going to assume they're lying to me. I'm going to keep talking to them to see if we can figure out where that deviation occurred. It may be that there's a simple answer - but other times, there's not. I've occasionally had a close friend tell me, "No, that's not what I said at all." Or they'll describe to me a revelation or new understanding that I professed ... and which I have no memory of whatsoever. Guess what? When those things occur, my assumption isn't that the other person's memory is at fault. Instead, much though it may boggle my brain, I'm going to assume it's me.

I don't know. Maybe the "leap to liar" happens with people who instinctively believe there's a simple answer for everything. Me, I'm so convinced of the complexity of human life that I'm honestly kind of staggered these massive miscommunications and errors don't happen more often than they do!

Although another possibility does occur to me. I am by nature an optimist (despite what pitfalls arise), and part of that means believing people are, at their core, inherently good. The reason I always want to work out misunderstandings through conversation is because I default to the assumption that your intentions are good, and I hope you believe the same about me. I'll be straight with you, and I naturally expect you're being honest with me.  On the other hand, someone of a more cynical bent might generally assume that the world is always out to screw them - and this is clearly just one more example of the same, goddammit.

Like I said: It's an instinct that I will perhaps never understand. But I've just got to remind myself that all I can do is keep communicating, and keep trying to see things from their point of view, and hope for an eventual meeting of the minds.

(Comments on the original entry here.)

Return of the Star Wars

So last night's bit of late-night Google roaming, which kept me up far longer than I'd intended, at one point led to someone referencing the proposed "reordered viewing" of the Star Wars films - wherein the prequels are placed between ESB and ROTJ.  When I'd glancingly come across the concept a few years ago, it sounded DUMB.  Admittedly, not far dumber than the prequels themselves, but still.

But this guy's argument for the idea - and specifically, how doing so actually strengthens the narrative of Luke's story - turned out to be, to my great shock, really quite compelling.  And the further I went along, the more I realized I actually felt kind of excited by the idea!  (Bonus points: If you want, you can leave out Episode I entirely.)

And it's then that I came across reference to something even more thrilling.

See, I think we can all agree that the Special Editions of IV-VI are Crap, which is why fans have been clamoring for the release of the original editions ever since.  The only thing is - if I'm being completely honest - the versions originally released on VHS and DVD aren't exactly what I want either.  Because you know what?  They look like hell.  The first movie was made in the 1970s, and versions released to the home video market in the 1980s (or early 90s) make that apparent.  Sure, it was visually impressive for the time, but there's no denying that the original release needed some cleaning up, by today's standards:  Crisping the blurry picture, brightening the dim lighting, making the colors vivid and impressive (though not garish) instead of a muted wash.  All the things that the Special Editions DID do - minus all the gratuitously-grafted CGI, of course.

Essentially, I've always wanted the remastering that made the Special Editions look gorgeous ... without the blatant revisionism that made them completely unacceptable.

And, as it turns out, that's what the "Star Wars Despecialized Edition" is.  In what may be the most impressive fan edit ever conceived, this dude has spent an incredible amount of effort and time keeping the content of the theatrically-released Original Trilogy, but going above and beyond to make them look as crisp and appealing as any remastered Criterion Edition.  (The before-and-after photos are stunning.)  And I'll be damned if this isn't precisely the version of the Original Trilogy I've been yearning for!

Reading these two article back-to-back ... I suddenly found my Star Wars fandom rekindled again, for the first time in over a dozen years.

zarfmouse - I think we may have a marathon in our future...!

(Comments on the original entry here.)

Surprising Lucidity

In my dream, I'm in Britain, walking alongside the English coast as the lashing waves crash against the rocks.  I'm headed towards the line of houses which are still some ways off, since I want to see if my friend is home and knock on her door.  Except that my friend doesn't live upon the sea, and with a start I realize I'm dreaming.

The very next thought is exactly what it should be: Lucid dreaming!  The concept has always fascinated me, but I've never been able to try it, because I've never been able to have that prerequisite realization of "I'm dreaming!" while still in it.  So:  Let's try some things out!  And what's the obvious first thing to try?  Flying, of course.  Which, as every respectable geek should know, requires simply to throw oneself at the ground - and miss.

Which I do.  I'd already begun running and leaping along the rocks in my excitement, and then I leap a little too large and a little too far, and I lose my footing and don't come down where I mean to - and I'm in the air!  And, as did that pioneer Arthur Dent, I find myself testing out little slopes and curls, riding the air waves and gusts of wind as I try to get a hang of this flying thing.  Except that I've totally lost track of the idea that I'm dreaming and should therefore be able to control this, rather than be subjected only to the whims of the weather.  And within moments I'm dunked in the drink.

(Right before that happens, I'm recalling that quote from Neil Gaiman's Sandman: "Do you know what Freud said about dreams of flying? It means you're really dreaming about having sex." "Indeed? Tell me, then, what does it mean when you dream about having sex?")

So I climb out of the sea, a little chagrined and a lot wet.  I'm more concerned about my computer, which was inside a case but certainly got some amount of water in it.  I get up to my friend's house and knock on the door, but sure enough no one's home.  So I head back to the kind-of-crappy hotel and take my computer out of its case where I verify that yep, it's pretty damn damp throughout.  I ask the couple of people at the reception desk if I can have a towel to dry it out, but they're pretty useless.  And so the remaining moments of this otherwise remarkable dream trickle out in the most mundane manner possible, as I stand in a hotel lobby and wait on its incompetent staff.

But for about ten seconds there?  I was entirely lucid.

(Comments on the original entry here.)

On Sunday afternoon, after a couple of weeks of working nearly 60 hours due to severe understaffing, I made a small mistake with potentially major consequences for a large portion of our customers.  I realized the error immediately, contacted the owner, and we figured out how to correct it.  Still, the mistake had been obvious to many (I'd already been getting emails and inquiring phone calls in the time it took to handle), and I therefore had to email everyone to apologize for the situation, and explain that it had been corrected.  I felt terrible and more than a little embarrassed.  On a Sunday night, no less.

(I'm also eternally grateful to zarfmouse for speeding up my process of contacting everyone by HOURS, via his stellar data munging skills.)

While glad that such a situation was taken care of as quickly as possible, I still woke up this morning feeling more than a bit stressed ... and nervous.  Even with having handled things as efficiently and proactively as we did, it was still a mistake that could have upset people (and several of those who contacted me yesterday initially were).  So I sat down to check my email a few minutes ago, bracing myself - as I noticed by the subject lines that I'd already received a couple of dozen responses overnight.

And, to a one, they were all thanking me for our attention to detail, correcting of the situation, and care in following up.

I'm kind of overcome.

I suppose it just serves to remind me of the terrible level of customer service that everyone is used to receiving from most places.  Where you don't really trust the companies you do business with, don't feel confident that they have your interests at heart, and don't feel as if they're really watching out for you.  It's stunning to me the way most companies treat their customers, in a way that's so uncaring, indifferent and detached.  So that when you DO explain to someone that a mistake has happened, when you DO take responsibility for it, and speak to them like they're a real person ... they're so unused to that approach that they're entirely grateful and appreciative.  (I was equally touched by the responses that said "No problem.  I knew you'd take care of it.")

I think of things like bounced check fees, or someone having barely missed a deadline for payment, or any number of gray areas where maybe you'll end up getting some relief but only after a lot of stress and maybe some yelling.  And it doesn't have to be that way!  Treat your customers like people - with understanding, patience, and consideration - and they'll appreciate that, and do the same with you.

Last night I felt chagrined and terrible.  This morning I feel grateful and blessed.

Not bad at all.

(Crossposted from Facebook.)

(Comments on the original entry here.)

Travels Anti-Spinward

OH GOD.  Eastward transatlantic travel.  I knew it messes me up, but I forgot how much.  Well: I suppose I'll see the full extent of that later today.

Travelling against the sun.  It's a killer.  I remember the first time I visited the UK, leaving in the Chicago afternoon and arriving in the London morning.  Except: Due to the direction of travel, it's as if the speed of night is doubled.  Suddenly: There is no night. Greet the new dawn!  When we landed at something like 8am London time, it was only 2am Chicago time.  The time of night I would normally, in those days, only be starting to fall asleep.

Walking around my first day in London (something hotly and feverishly anticipated), on a night's slumber of zero, was not how I'd hoped to start that first trip.  I was still enthralled as I first encountered what would become my favorite city on Earth, but I also recall feeling as the shambling dead: brain-dead, rapidly deteriorating, and ready to fall to pieces at a moment's notice.

Ever since, I have always tried to time my eastward ocean journeys appropriately: Leave early in the morning, so I arrive into London at night.  I'll only have been up half a day, but the rigorous stupors of travel, combined with the presence of night, easily coaxes me to sleep.  When I wake up the following morning, I've already made significant progress on resetting my body's clock to its newfound clime.

But this time, no.  I looked at morning flights, truly I did, but the difference between one that arrived at night versus one that arrived in the morning totalled (if I recall) in the hundreds of dollars.  So I went against my better judgment and chose the overnight transit.  Further, I reasoned that the way to induce my body to fall asleep on the plane would be to upset my rhythms the night before, going to bed very late and rising very early, only allowing myself a scant few hours in bed.  I might sleepwalk through much of the day, but when the time came and the hour was necessary, I would easily fall asleep on the plane - ideally waking only upon our arrival into the London dawn.

Sure would have been nice if events had gone according to plan, no?

Instead, despite my shallow doze of the night before, I could *not* fall asleep as soon as I boarded the flight from Boston to the UK.  I read a bit on the Kindle, I read a couple of comics, and I was about to watch a half hour of television on my iPad - strictly to ease my mind toward cozy relaxation - when the airplane crew finally turned off the lights in the cabin, and instead showed on the monitors the time till arrival: just under four hours.  OH GOD.  I curtailled my Pad, snuggled into blanket and mini-pillow best I could, and put music into my ears with the volume turned low, with the hopeful intent of lulling myself to sleep soon as could be.

(Oh for crap's sake.  Only after the fact do I realize the name of the album I put on: Neutral Milk Hotel's magnum opus, In the Aeroplane over the Sea.  Of course.)

Once again: It was a lovely plan.  Yet though I did rest, I did not sleep.  Or if I did - for I recall some few abruptly noticed transitions of unconsciousness - then my sleep was measured not in hours, but mere minutes.

And this after a previous night of well-intentioned sleep deprivation!

We land very shortly.  Estimated arrival time: 7.45am London time.  2.45am Chicago time.  After disembarking, I'm to immediately hop a second, much shorter flight, before finding myself in Ireland: First time visiting Cork.

Once again, it's going to be a very, very interesting first day.

Also: Real-time journalling?  After so many years of not?  Huh.  Who knew?

(Comments on the original entry here.)

Reading List 2012 (Part 1)

I've always wanted to keep track of my reading stats for a given year, but never have before.  That changes now, though - including my linked reviews!

Check 'em out:




Fiction:Nonfiction:Graphic novels:

Fiction:Graphic novels:

Fiction:Nonfiction:Graphic Novels:

  • 17 novels
  • 5 graphic novels
  • 4 nonfiction

In other words, 26 books to date!  Sure, that includes some shorter works (such as graphic novels and the Wolk thing), but that still works out to exactly one book per week for the first half of the year.  I've never tracked my reading in such a manner before, and I'm honestly a little surprised and impressed at the result!  I've always been a somewhat slower reader, so I don't doubt that my 2012 reading so far is significantly up from my normal rate (whatever that is).

Let's hope the latter half of the year can keep it up!

(Comments on the original entry here.)

Eulogy for my Sister.

Delivered at Kisselburg-Wauconda Funeral Home, January 18 2011.

How can one family bear such tragedy?

On Friday night we came to the funeral home to make the arrangements, and I had a sudden and sick sense of deja vu as I realized in an instant that the last time I'd been here was 22 years earlier, when Melissa died. The next year, Julie was diagnosed with her brain tumor. That was truly a crap time for our family.

And what gets me, what I continue to struggle with, is the senselessness of it all. Melissa died because of an accident. We still have no idea why tumors develop at all. There are theories as to why the tumor turned cancerous nearly twenty years after the problem was supposedly treated, supposedly over and done with, but cancer continues to be the great medical mystery. No one knows for sure where it comes from, nor why some treatments work while others don't. George Carlin called the medical profession "guesswork in a white coat", and nowhere else is this more appropriate.

I just can't wrap my head around it. We're living in an age of unparalleled human achievement. When my mom was a kid, listening to Jethro Tull on vinyl, she could never have imagined that I'd be able to carry thousands upon thousands of songs in the space of my pocket. Information on almost any subject imaginable is available at our fingertips to any degree you desire; if you've got a question as to how something works or where it came from, just pull it up and find out! People who were born ten years before me have never really known a world without the Internet. Hatred and bigotry are still things to be fought against, but the unbounded proliferation of media means that minority groups have had a voice and representation they lacked in decades past, and the younger generations are growing up with an instinctive understanding that different does not mean bad. In so many areas, the progress of humanity seems nothing less than staggering.

But then we get to cancer, and it's still guesswork in a white coat.

And this bothers my mind because in the face of loss, we want answers. There's a part of us that can't stop asking the questions, that could know some semblance of peace if the senselessness of loss could make some sense, if the pain of separation could just be understood. For even a moment.

Julie had her answers. Ever since she was a little kid, she knew she wanted to grow up to help people. And you can see why: When the tumor was first discovered, she was in and out of hospitals and doctors' offices, working with various nurses and physical therapists, all doing what they could to help her with her problem. And she clearly saw this help, and was grateful for it, and as she grew up she sought a way to give back to the world, to help others in the way she was helped - first by her desire to study nursing, and the volunteer work she did in that regard, then in recent years when she began to study ministry.

We could debate the merits of nature vs. nurture, of course. Did Julie become this way only because of the treatment she herself was given as a child? Or was this sweetness and selflessness always part of her nature, a part of her genes? Others have gone through such experiences and come out with a more cynical bent, so I suppose it was a little of both.

Whatever the reason, the fact is that Julie touched so many lives, and was the nicest, kindest person anyone could hope to meet. You sometimes hear talk of a person who greets every trouble with a smile, but nowhere else have I actually seen that in action. And in all her years, I don't think I ever saw a single spiteful or vindictive thought from her - which is, frankly, unheard of. Because we all have bad days, and we all have times when someone has disappointed us or hurt us, and we become angry and petty for a moment. If we're lucky, it lasts only a moment, and if we have the strength it's something we can resist acting on, in either word or deed. But never once did I see such a struggle from Julie in the face of adversity, even for a moment. It's like she instinctively understood that we all have things we're working on, and things we're struggling with - and so, sympathizing with us, how could she be angry?

Clearly we still have so much to learn from her example, and by following her lead. And through all of this, I've had so many people tell me how Julie was such an inspiration to them, and how grateful they were to know her. When faced with loss, the problem I struggle with time and again is one of perspective, for what I focus on is invariably how much I miss the person who's gone, rather than focusing on the time that we've shared. Coming to terms with such loss is always just a matter of finally accepting that perspective, and appreciating the profound effect that person has had on you, no matter how long or short that time may have been.

My mom already knows this, for she's quick to point out that we could have lost Julie when the tumor first manifested itself - but instead, we got 21 more years with her. 21 more years that we wouldn't have had if she'd been born ten years earlier, before the very recent medical advances of the time. We could have lost Julie just a year after we'd lost Melissa. But we didn't, and we got to see Julie become a young woman, and an inspiration to so many. And that truly is a blessing.

When someone leaves us, we always wish we'd had more time with them. It's human nature to always want more. But we should endeavor to treasure the time we did have, and treasure the time we still have with each other. A graphic novel I once read called Exit Wounds has a character ask, "Do you think that every time we meet a person we should treat it like it was the last time we were ever going to see them?" And there's a lot of wisdom in that. After all, the other inescapable lesson here is that no matter how many years you live, life is still too short. And so it's absolutely vital that you spend your time wisely. Don't put off saying till tomorrow what you want to say today. Don't spend your life working on things you don't care about, for reasons that aren't important. Julie knew what she wanted to do, and why she wanted to do it, and she never gave up or let any of her hardships get in her way.

We're all looking for answers. Julie had hers, I'm struggling to find mine, and I expect you are as well. But Julie understood the communal aspect of humanity, and viewed everyone as part of a great big family. Embrace that sense of community by talking to each other, and supporting one another. It may turn out that someone else has that answer we're struggling to find. And only by talking with each other, through good times and bad, can we hope to find out.

Talk to each other, and always keep one another in your hearts. It's what Julie knew, and it's both the best way to honor her, and the best gift we could give.

Thank you.

(Comments on the original entry here.)

Not A Loan Anymore

So, this is funny.

Sometime in December, I received a check from the government for $76.82. As happens with checks from the government, there wasn't much of a notice or explanation included. A line said "FED DIRECT LOAN REFUND", but didn't mention any reason why. Was this some new credit I hadn't heard about - one of those economic stimulus things? No idea. Shrugging, I sent the check into my bank and forgot about it.

Until January, when I received another check from the government. Again for $76.82. And this time I stopped, and furrowed my brow, and really wondered what the hell was going on. And then, thinking harder, it seemed to me that this number was a bit ... familiar. Like in the neighborhood of how much I'm sending in every month to my student loan repayments? What's going on with that?

So I logged in to the US Direct Loan Servicing website, pulled up my account, and saw.

Apparently - back in November - I accidentally paid off my student loans without realizing it.


This was a real surprise. It had been ages since I'd checked the balance, but I could have swore I'd estimated another year or two to go. And last year I'd used my online bank to set up a recurring payment so I wouldn't have to manually send in a check every month - and as a result, I'd stopped paying attention. Which meant that when my final payment had been sent in, I'd honestly had no idea it had occurred.

My student loans are finally paid off. FANTASTIC!

Of course, the irony is that this occurred during the month that I started to seriously think about going back to school...!

(Comments on the original entry here.)

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