Category Archives: Personal

Concrete Blocks and Editing

My dad was a bricklayer, and a blocklayer. He built foundations for houses and walls for schools and fire stations. He once asked the guy who owned the local concrete block manufacturing plant why he didn’t make a better block. (The ones he made were out of square, course, had chipped edges and corners, et cetera.) I’ll tell you what the guy’s reason in just a bit. First I want to tell you about a time when I shared this story with one of my architecture professors.

We’d been talking about declining product and construction quality and I started to tell him about the conversation between my dad and the block maker, but I misquoted. I said that my dad said, “Why do you make such a crappy block?” This was the way we talked about them out on the job. “Crappy”, exactly that. Because they were. But I backed up and said to my professor, “No. What he actually said was, ‘Why don’t you make a better block?'” My prof thought I was editing my dad’s words to make him sound more thoughtful, considerate, but I had to revise the quote to its proper syntax to set up the black maker’s response, which was, “Because I can sell all of theses that I can make.”

You see? He wouldn’t have been able to make that great come-back to “Why do you make such a crappy block?” It wouldn’t have made sense.

The same thing happens sometimes in character and scene development. Sometimes I’ll have to go back and fix one character’s word choice or action to set up another character for a better outcome. When I first started learning the craft, I heard about following the characters along to see what their story becomes, and that’s effective to a degree. But I am the creator and god of their world. “I am that I am,” and without me they wouldn’t be. I’ll give them their freewill as long as it suits the story, but I have to put the most important people first.

The story is about the characters but it belongs to me. I’m doing all the work. I’m giving birth to them. And it is hard work. At least it is for me. Writing is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. It strains my brain. It wipes me out. I love it, but not because it’s easy.

Then there’s the dear, sweet and blessed reader. The reader always ranks above the writer and the characters. Without the reader there’d be no point in having a story.

Yes, interesting things come up in the course of a story coming to life, but all these things are coming from the writer’s mind with the reader’s pleasure at the forefront.

Hunger is Not a Catastrophe

The difference between hunger and other things:

Let’s say you’re out in the yard watering your prize-winning zinnias and . . .

A.    you see the neighbor kid chasing his ball into the street, or
B.    you feel a hunger pang.

In which situation do you . . .

a.    drop the frickin hose and take immediate action, or
b.     wait fifteen minutes to see is the situation escalates?

Or, let’s say you’ve just come out of a social event, maybe you’ve been tutoring at your local library, or maybe you’ve been to the gym and had a great workout that’s got you on an endorphin high, or maybe you’ve been inventorying your stock of comic books at the little shop you opened on a whim. It’s late. It’s dark. You start your car and, like the safe driver you always are, you check your review and . . .

A.    you see that someone is crouching in your back seat, or

B.    you feel a hunger pang.

Do you . . .

a.    drive as fast as you can to the nearest fastfood establishment to see if you can appease the beast  within,

b.    get out of that stupid seatbelt and car as fast as you can, or . . .

c.    give it fifteen minutes to see if it goes away on its own?

Or, let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night, as you so often do since raising kids complete destroyed your wonderful youthful ability to enter and maintain really deep sleep, and you . . .

A.    notice a funny smell. You sniff. You try to place it. Your eyes begin to burn and water. Then you recognize the odor. It’s the scent of fifteen-year-old nylon shag carpet, that’s looked like crap for the last twelve year and you’ve said over and over again that you wished you’d gone with hardwood, burning. Yes. Your house is on FIRE! Or . . .

B.    you feel a hunger pang.

Should you . . .

a.    jump out of bed, wake everybody up and see if they want to make smores,

b.    jump out of bed wake everybody up and get out of the house,

c.    jump out of bed, sneak down to the fridge and get some of your favorite dairy product because dairy may not be the solution for every problem but it can certainly be a distraction,

d.    or give it fifteen minutes to see if it goes away on its own?

I’m not going to tell you what to do. Chances are you’ve already got enough input in your life. But I will say that in my weight recovery process, which included redesigning my diet (see Don’t Verb Diet) I learned to make friends with hunger.

Hunger is a bully.

Appetite, the tongue, is a fiend, but the belly is a bully. It goes about its own business, pushing and shoving as it needs to in order to get what it wants at the time. It doesn’t care about the body it’s part of or whether all the parts are getting what they really need. It only wants. It makes demands. The more you respond to it, the more you encourage it. The more you ignore it, the less likely it is to come back around and pester you.

The feeling of hunger is the guts tightening. It’s like internal tummy crunches. It will actually reduce the size of all that stuff in there if you let it happen. In the course of weight recovery, it is a good a feeling as the endorphin rush from running or working out. Feeling it and letting it pass can be a very satisfying exercise.

Don’t Verb Diet

weight

There’s this great little Calvin and Hobbs cartoon in which Calvin explains the method of verbing a word. Verb is a noun. Verbing is turning a noun into a verb, so verbing verbs verb. (Calvin does it better. Look it up.)

Anyway, I promised a post about verbing the word diet and here it is, inspired by running into someone who hadn’t seen me in a while, the conversation going immediately to my weight loss and to dieting (verb).

The graph above shows my weight over the last year and a half or so. My doctor and I had watched my weight increase through my forties, when, as we believe, we just always get fatter. Actually, my weight had been steadily increasing all my life, excepting a few very unhealthy periods that don’t count. I had told myself that I was just a big guy; fatness was unavoidable for me. But I also told myself that if I ever actually arrived at 250 I’d have to make some major changes. I arrive there in the Spring of 2012, and told my doctor I was going to make some major changes. He looks at me very skeptically, worried that I was talking about dieting (verb).

It didn’t take me long to put his mind at ease because I had no intent of dieting. Instead, I planned to change my diet (noun). The distinction between diet (noun) and diet (verb) is lifestyle. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, diet (noun) is “food and drink regularly provided or consumed, [or] habitual nourishment”. This should be our limit of the meaning. But the definition goes on to include “the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason”. This definition is getting risky, implying some of the unhealthy imbalances people tend toward. Then, finally, the dictionary throws in “a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight,” which means: “going on a diet.” Dieting (verb). This last definition is almost always dangerous and leads to limited success. The dictionary obviously doesn’t make moral judgements, just reflects how we use words, much to the dismay of some purests.

Through my recovery from obesity I ate at the following establishment: McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bueno, Whole Hog Café, Golden Corral, CiCi’s, Oriental Express, Subway. Basically, if it’s out there, I eat it. At a fish fry I eat fried fish, and hushpuppies of course. Little bit of slaw, but who wants to fill up on cabbage when hushpuppies are around? (I do love me some hushpuppies.) And Denny’s! Denny’s does pancake hushpuppies, which I highly commend! For breakfast I almost always have eggs and bread, sometimes fried in butter with ham and cheese, a breakfast favorite of mine. But how did I manage to lose 75 pounds eating all that?

That question nudges me toward a diatribe about unholy living, but I’ll save that for another post.

My method has had four components. First, I completely gave up soft drinks and candy. What I had learned from my research for I Town about the differences between calories and carbs told me that that stuff was packing on unnecessary extra weight, not the unrelated fact that I was getting older. I started exercising, biking at first because it’s easier on the knees, then running, since my daughter and wife had proved that it could be done. Third, was another bit of dietary wisdom I learned from my wife: the value of snacking. Not letting myself get very hungry. Here is where dieting almost always brings people to failure. Failing to eat  a balanced diet always leaves us in need of nutrition. We may not necessarily feel empty, but our bodies aren’t getting everything they need. Want ensues. Want for protein, or want for carbs, or for fat, or for whatever dietary shortcut the dieting is forcing upon us. For me snacking was Cheezits and almonds. Just a few. Half a dozen or eight in the middle of the morning and afternoon. Cheezits and almonds probably have about the best balance of protein, carb and fat of any of the quick and easy snacks. And finally, and I think most importantly, I drastically changed the ratio of main course to raw veggies in my diet (noun).

dinners Here’s what it looks like. Upper right is my old diet, lower left is my new diet. Main courses are reduced from the size of my face, jowls and all, to the size of my fist. Volume in high fat is replaced with high fiber raw veggies. The picture doesn’t show the dressing, egg, and bit of cheese I usually have on my salad. Less with a fatter main course, more with leaner. And none of that fat free crap either. I’m highly suspicious of that stuff, and apparently it doesn’t matter. Maybe I’d have to do that if I wanted to get ripped, Speedo ready, all that. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about being healthy and happy. Happy with my body and how I look.

With the reduction of my waist size from 44 to 32 and my resting pulse from 98 to 49, my cholesterol and all those other health indicators had dropped or risen to almost perfectly in the middle of the healthy range.

So my advice is this: Don’t diet (verb). Get a healthy diet (noun).