Sunday, May 24, 2009

Workoutage Meets the Donut Woman

For the past several months, I’ve studied several different workout regimens. My analysis, finally rescued from my emotions and delivered to my brain, required no PHD or Masters in Physiology to understand – workout is good for Mark; not workout is bad. Six or seven weeks ago, I decided to listen to my inner caveman/personal trainer and engage in workoutage (a technical term invented quite recently by some experts from some university who studied something quite significant for a substantial number of years)…

Sorry, “simply having a wonderful christmas time” keeps running through my mind. “Sim…ply having a wonderful christmas time. Sim…ply having a wonder…” How do the synapses come up with such creative expressions of my internal workings? We’ll cover that exact topic in a future episode of On the Way – a one way technical journey into my mind.

So this morning I head to a little place that we exercise fanatics like to call “the workout room.” I’d just returned from the Juice Shack with a colossal size veggie drink in my left hand and a fruit drink in my right, feeling pretty good…pretty, pretty good (nod to Larry David). In order to not lose you lay people, let’s just say after doing a little of this and a little of that, I bounced/stumbled over to the leg press (oops, probably lost a few of you there). Suffice it to say, a leg press requires a complex combination of power, speed, precision, sophistication, beauty, and finesse…oh yeah, and legs.

Some of the machines, including the leg press, face a wall of windows allowing the regular folks to walk or drive by and marvel at the workout experts in action. About half way through my second set (I call each and every movement of any body part, including breathing, a set), I saw this red-headed woman sporting a light beige jacket stroll across the alley. Her right hand tightly gripped a white bag of donuts; her left hand surrounded a large cup of coffee. She looked happy and content.

I smiled at her; she smiled back. Knowing that she came by just to get a glimpse of a real workout specialist engaging in workoutage, I executed another perfect (my definition of any movement where I don’t end up on the ground) press for my audience of one. Without a moment’s hesitation, she shrugged, executed a perfect lift of her donut bag, followed by her cup of coffee, and then repeated the exercise…

Touché, donut woman. Touché.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Friend

When I outlined my 2009 goals, making a new friend somehow found its way onto the list. I don't know if living in a new area provided the impetus for that addition or whether I just felt that intentionally making a new friend would be good for me. In any case, it seemed important at the time so I added it to the list. And I had no interest in just another acquaintance. A friend, by my loose definition, is someone I can call in time of need and someone who would call me in time of need. Either that or anyone who would buy me a beer (or a glass of wine) from time to time, and vice-versa.

A couple of days ago I received some news that both shocked and deeply saddened me. A friend of mine from Florida, who I worked closely with for 5 years, passed away. Most of you have lost a friend or family member, making my loss of words to adequately describe my feelings probably understandable to you. I really liked this guy...this husband and father. He died before he reached 50. I enjoyed his company and his friendship. God only made one of him.

I wanted to cuss, but none of the cuss words I know (and I'm intimately acquainted with plenty of them) come even close to saying what I wanted to say...what I needed to say. I'm still angry and hurt and shocked and angry...and ANGRY! Paul, the Apostle, once asked the question: Death where is your sting? I'll tell you where the hell Death's sting is: right here with the ones who grieve and struggle and are left behind. My friend may very well be in a better place, but we're not...I'm not. I used to have a room in the house of my life where this friend lived and breathed and had the keys to, and I don't. I do have the memories…and healing will come, but no matter where the logic train begins and ends my heart will never be the same, this side of heaven. He's gone and no matter how hard I try I will never, ever make contact with him until I pass on as well.

In some ways what disturbs me most only incidentally connects with my friend's death. I despise how his departure reminds me that I too will pass loved ones as well. I hate knowing that I have very little to say about when or how I, or the ones I love, move on from this world...and I hate not actually knowing when or how. To put it bluntly, this whole death thing just creeps me out. I don't agree with it and I don't like it. I'm anti-death. Blame it on God, blame it on the Devil, blame it on man, blame it on doesn't change anything...theology doesn't fix it...explanations don't make the tears and the hurt cease.

When I look at the flip side of the I-don't-know-when/how-death coin, it motivates me to engage life more fully. Much of what I hope to accomplish in this world has yet to be started in earnest, and I don’t want to end my days in that same predicament. Each moment seems a bit more precious, more important…just more. I want to savor it and then drink it in deeply, without reservation. I want to see my fiction writing career become more reality and less of a dream. I want my writing platform to provide the foundation for connecting with others. I want that connection to result in change, and joy, and healing for all of us…forever and for good.

Others feel my friend’s loss more fully and more intimately than I - his wife and children, other long-term friends. All of us who knew him have memories, and mine are all good. He always treated me with respect and kindness. We laughed together...often. He made me feel special...important...significant. None of those times disappear, but the next times with him have vanished from the realm of life here on Earth.

I don’t think I’ll ever really understand or accept the whole now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t routine. The stages of grief according to some experts consist of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I kind of get that but part of me will always be in denial about this death thing. I mean, it’s not like I’ve experienced death and lived to tell about it like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (one of my favorite movies). How can I not be in denial at some level regarding something I haven’t experienced or couldn’t possibly relate to another life event? Loss sucks but Death sucks big time.

In any case, I raise the glass to my friend. A man who made my life better...a man who made me better. Maybe achieving my goal of adding a new friend to my world will help soothe the pain, and bring some healing. Maybe. Knowing that the possibility of a deep hurt like losing a friend could await me down the road dampers the excitement a bit. I know this much: if I could spend one more moment with my recently departed friend, even if I knew it to be our last, I would want that opportunity…and I would spend that one more moment with him…with my friend.


Sunday, May 3, 2009


This morning, I sat down on our red living room sofa. My wife showed me the sports section of the Press Democrat, our local paper. The results of the Kentucky Derby along with a half-page picture of Mine That Bird, a 3 year-old gelding, filled the front page. I don't follow horse racing, although I occasionally stumble onto one on TV. Interested in the underdog story, I decided to find a replay of the race on the Internet.

Watching the contest between these animals running at full gallop…well, poetry in motion falls terribly short of an adequate description. It seems like the physics alone would make their incredible pace impossible. And yet their four legs move in perfect timing and precision while carrying the remainder of their muscular bodies along with a jockey, altogether totaling several hundreds of pound.

This horse had no chance to win. During the race, he found himself in last place…LAST PLACE!!! Why does a horse, 50-to-1 shot, running in last place against horses with more pedigree and raw talent than he, all the sudden decide not only to compete but to win the Kentucky Derby by 6 3/4 lengths – the largest margin of victory in over 60 years? It's like he couldn't even read. The horse didn't realize that the odds of him winning and the odds of me winning the same race without a horse were fairly even.

A couple of things questions/issues into my mind: 1) how can I be that horse (a reverse of the Mr. Ed show) and 2) what drove this whole venture? My response to the first issue would be to walk right up to Mine That Bird, look him straight in the eye, and tell him that he’s my hero…that he single-handedly blew away all my excuses for not succeeding in anything…and that forever more I will remember this race (along with the first Rocky movie) whenever I need a shot of encouragement or incentive to get off my butt and engage my dreams…

Having processed the first, my mind swiftly pounced upon the second issue/question. When I think of horse racing, I think of years of lineage and work along with millions of dollars invested from sheiks and other persons with funny hats. I think of generations of horse love and expertise and training. I think of someone who would trade their soul to breed a derby winner. Expecting something along those lines, I read further into the article trying to discover the impetus for the miracle. Instead, I found this quote, hidden on page C3, from one of the owners:

“This just shows what can be done with two buddies who have fun together and like to go to the races and dream a little bit.”

I assume he spoke of himself and another male human, but he could have been talking about himself and the horse for all I know. And it seemed like if the horse could have spoken English or any other language we could understand, he might very well have responded with the same quote. From where I sat, the horse and the owners looked to be on the same page. They loved what they were doing…it was fun.

Here’s to Mine That Bird: thanks for reminding me that pursing what I love makes everything possible.