Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Moment in Transit

I wrote the below poem during spring break of 2001, my junior year in college. On my way to Colorado my car broke down, leaving me stranded. I wandered the little town of Centerville searching for an open mechanic, but unfortunately, being a Friday evening, nothing was. At some point during my search a tow truck pulled up behind me, the driver asking if I needed help. We made a deal and he towed my car back to Houston. During the ride back, I had a moment where I simply let everything about the situation go; this was the result.

A Moment in Transit

Among the odd smells and strange stories
I sit wrapped in a light blanket of stillness.

The small quarters push in;
prompting hints of smiles
when considering the endless comfortable possibilities
found beyond the walls of this tight metal frame.

Scaly seats press gently against my tired back
jean-clad flesh snuggles against my stiff leg
dodging the manipulations of the nimble gear box.

Dirt on the window organizes and shapes itself
hints of order stained onto lightly tinted glass.

The plain countryside reaches to the sky
stretching green fringed fingers and rough brown arms
unseen toes grip deep into the red soil.

The odor of their effort is often imitated
yet never achieved
hung from off-kilter mirrors
festooned with last year’s mardis gras beads.

The vestiges of a once possible vacation chase behind
trapped in a similar box
free of curious smells
and quixotic adventures.

The past and future ignore me in return
as my attention has been stolen
by the simple, thieving will of the present
its garb simple and plain
reserved only to the current moment.

No longer are my eyes searching the unknown ahead
or mourning the experiences already complete,
choosing instead to relish this moment in transit.

I cease to view the dirt-spotted window, 
nor do I see the living world beyond it;
the lids of my eyes slide shut
blocking external distraction.

I am silent and smiling.

In an instant I am touched
neither by hand nor by breath
it is not the flesh on my bone that is the source of feeling.

My burdens are gone from my consciousness,
their weighty mass no longer mattering in my universal concerns;
the fingers that freed my frail spirit now caress everything in my soul
removing imaginary blemish after imaginary blemish
smoothing once perceived wrinkles.

Comforted I am through this great Comforter
who has deigned to reveal his constant presence,
treating me to a spoonful of limitless bliss,
giving me a hug dreamt about by orphaned children
who know not the feeling of a father taking them into his loving arms.

This is the feeling of home,
a feeling of love
not as abstract reality painted on the canvas of a poet’s mind
rather the warmth known to youth
sitting near a Christmas Day fire
enjoying their new found pet.

My eyes refocus on the dirt-stenciled window
breathing in the vibrant greens and browns beyond,
seeing the life that thrums through the living creature that is God’s earth.

My attention roams again
arriving amongst worldly stories
of material things and material thoughts
told by a rough looking, yet beautiful, man.

My smile continues;
my nose twitches at the gifts it is blessed to receive.

The present is my gift,
preciously wrapped with odd moments
and troubling thoughts,
which when removed
show me my reality –

I am peace.

I can’t promise that I held on to that feeling of bliss forever, after all, it was a moment in transit - I was changing.  Eventually the feeling faded, but I wanted more. I have found it again and again over the years, and anytime I am in a place where I feel the world has turned against me, I seek it out, safe in the knowledge that despite the bad hand I feel the universe might have dealt me at that particular moment, I would always receive another hand and continue with the game.

Someone commented anonymously on my Sunday blog and I love what it says. I think we can all take a moment to appreciate it’s honesty:

In the end it will be all right, and if it isn't all right, then it isn't the end.

It turns out that this quote is attributed to Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian writer. He has some other great quotes you can find here:

What I would love to do with this week’s blog is to have everyone who reads the blog add a quote in the comment section along these lines. It can be your own or someone else’s. If you know who said it, throw the name out there, if not, leave it blank. Some of us who might be mired in a bad place right now can certainly use some words of encouragement.

Let’s offer those up.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Many of us, in our daily life, encounter small adversities regularly.  We don’t even blink as we overcome trials and difficulties, pushing through to the end result.  These small events can be as simple as spilling your coffee, stepping in gum, or encountering a resistant student.  Of course, each of us has our own breaking point at which the small and inconsequential become something more.  We either have to chose to collapse under the challenge or discover new sources of fortitude and fight on.
Right now, there are many people in my sphere who are facing the largest adversity they have ever seen.  I imagine many of them feel like they are standing on the beach, waiting and watching as the tsunami wave rushes in towards them unimpeded.  They feel they have nowhere to go; the only option is to stand and face the the impending doom as it rapidly approaches without hope.  That is not the case.
Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, I think the message surrounding Easter weekend is perfectly applicable to this particular situation.  For Jesus, standing in the garden of Gethsemane, cracking under the weight of the burden he was carrying, there were only two avenues of recourse - beg for the burden to be lifted or find strength to carry on.  Knowing there was no real satisfaction to be had in asking for reprieve, he found the strength he needed and pushed forward.
Acceptance of your circumstances is the first step towards making a difference.  No one can change something they don’t acknowledge as real.  Many times, simply seeing our circumstances for what they are is liberating.  In twelve step programs, addicts first have to admit to their addiction.  Before they do this, there is little hope of overcoming their issues.  Identifying their exact problem is the key to solving it.  Could you imagine a hospital where they treated everything with ignorance?  Before they can cure anything, the ailments must be identified.  The same is true of our own circumstances.  Identify the problem, accept it, and move forward towards a solution.
If you can imagine, the next part of Jesus’ story was easy compared to the first.  Once he accepted the reality of his situation, acknowledging what it was he must do to accomplish his mission, sacrifice was easy.  I don’t mean to say that the prospect of being abandoned, scourged, beaten, and crucified was pleasant, but the knowledge of the potential return on his investment was a tremendous boon.  He was able to move forward despite the knowledge of what was to come because he had faith in the end result.  While his sacrifice was not easy to withstand physically, it was easy to bear, ultimately knowing what it would mean.
No matter your circumstances, if there is an issue in your life preventing forward momentum, some sort of sacrifice is required.  Most of the time, the sacrifice centers around our comfort level, giving up something in order to allow change to occur.  Sometimes sacrifice is not our choice, but its necessity remains the same.  Change for the better is difficult, but the results should always  be present on your mind like the metaphorical carrot to the donkey.  Without having faith in the end result, the first step is nearly impossible.  That faith is what gives you the strength to carry through to the end, regardless of the tribulations encountered during the journey.

In the Christian faith, the triumph for which Jesus fought came through his defeat of death.  His calm approach to his circumstances guaranteed that he would succeed.  He faced his fears, faced his detractors, faced the pure physical torment placed in his path, and was rewarded for his tenacity and his faith.  Through his acceptance and sacrifice, triumph was achieved.
So too for us will triumph come.  Regardless of circumstance, keeping our head up, no matter the weight pressing down upon us, will move us forward to our goals.  Nothing can step in your way that can not be overcome, nothing placed in your path that can not be sidestepped, nothing said that can dissuade.  Finding the freedom from the past sometimes seems an impossible notion, but know that it is possible with the right mindset.  Move forward towards a better life, away from whatever it is that holds you back.
For those teachers reading this today who feel so very alone in your circumstances, know that you are not.  If the state budget continues as advertised and the worse case scenario occurs, know that you will have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of supporters.  We will all be here to help you up if you have been knocked down.  Have faith in the future, no matter how dark it might seem.  Find the small sliver of light, regardless of how faint it appears, and focus on it as your goal.  Surround yourself in its hope and promise and move towards it.  The path might be difficult, but never stray and you will find your way home.
To those of you who fight your own battles, who face uncertainty in their future, who have decision to make that might require acceptance and sacrifice, know that triumph is on the horizon.  The path may be difficult, the end result sometimes uncertain, and the bravery to continue fleeting, but rest in the knowledge that your persistence and courage will pay off eventually.  Have faith.  You deserve it.
I encourage you to celebrate triumphs this weekend, no matter how small they are or how grand they might be.  Celebrate past triumphs to remind yourself they are possible.  Celebrate others’ triumphs to confirm their reality.   Look forward to future triumphs as they offer hope of what is to come.  Know that triumphs are possible, and their approach is immanent. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Thorny Issue

One of the routes to curing cancer is to follow a course of chemotherapy.  Fundamentally, the practice of using chemo to attack cancer cells seems fairly sound - introduce a slew of chemicals into the body which will target and kill rapidly reproducing cells.  While chemo certainly kills cancer cells, it tends to produce collateral damage as well.  Along with the disease, chemo kills hair follicles, cells in the digetive tract, and cells in the bone marrow.  The result is nausea, hair loss, and a depression of the immune system.  Ultimately, despite the adverse side effects, chemo beats the average on increasing life expectancy for cancer patients, even if the quality of life is lessened.
If we were to approach every problem with the same general method of chemo, we would probably not see the results we would hope for.  Allow me to use a parable to explain.  
Two men who live next to each other share a love for rose gardens.  Each has used fertilizer, watered thoroughly, pruned, mulched, and prepared their garden for a good growing season.  After a few weeks of admiring the product of their hard work, both men notice a weed growing right in the center of their rose bushes.  This is where the men differ in their approach.
The first man, seeing that the weed is centered perfectly in the middle of the large, thorny rose bushes, decides the easiest way to kill the weed is to use herbicide.  He goes to the store, purchases the strongest herbicide he can find, returns home and unloads on the garden.  In the process of drenching the weed, he also manages to hit all the other plants.  Within days, his entire garden is dead except for a few hardy survivors.  The weed is dead, too.
The second man, also seeing that the weed is centered perfectly in the middle of the roses, considers his options.  He recognizes that he can’t reach the weed with a rake, hoe, or spade without damaging the rose bushes, they are too dense.  He knows he can’t spray herbicide without hitting the other plants.  He decides to do the only thing he can.  The man puts on thick gloves and a long sleeve shirt, heads out to the garden and reaches through the bushes.  He can see that his arm is long enough to reach the weed if he moves slowly enough.  The man slides his hands through the branches, sweating with exertion.  He is occasionally pricked, but manages to reach the weed, pluck it from the soil, and remove it.  The problem is solved.
In real life, when dealing with cancer, the second choice is not always an option.  Sometimes chemo is the only thing left to attack disease before it kills the patient.  You just have to hope everything works out.
Right now, I think the state of Texas is approaching the education budget cuts in the same manner as the first man.  I think they have seen the problem, and rather than doing the leg work to discover potential side effects, they choose the easiest path.  Where the second man struggled and endured self sacrifice, the first man chose to pursue a path of overkill without regard to the results because it appeared easier.
Some of the collateral damage Texas will be facing in the upcoming years is quite surprising.  Some campuses are being forced to cut or reduce their Gifted and Talented programs.  In order to reach the magical teacher/student ration mandated by the state while not bankrupting the district, many campuses are being forced to decrease smaller classes.  Gifted and Talented classes, which are traditionally smaller, are being absorbed into standard classes because those teachers are needed to teach general classes - they can’t be spared to teach GT.  Instead of pushing these kids to challenge themselves, we now risk losing them to boredom and behavior problems.
Additionally, many schools are losing language programs.  Middle school foreign language programs are facing the axe as schools consolidate teacher ranks and high schools are reducing the variety of language classes they offer.  Fine arts programs, which have been repeatedly shown to develop extended cognitive skills, making the students better learners, are being reduced, with some branches of the fine arts disappearing from schools all together.  Although I have not heard any specific instances of this happening, I am sure athletic programs, traditionally the backbone of Texas public school education, are feeling the reductions as well.
As a result of these changes, Texas public school graduates are going to enter the college market with less to offer.  They will be less well-rounded, less mentally developed, and prepared only to do math, english, history, and science at a basic level.  
Is this the kind of future population we want to create?  Do we expect parents to fill the gap?  Will they teach the extended curriculum lost through Gifted and Talented cuts?  Will they expand student horizons through the application of foreign languages?  Will they teach their kids to paint, play the french horn, act, sing, or dance?  Will they put together an athletics program so their student can learn the important values team sports offers?
The answer is no.  No parent has been so fully educated that they are able to provide all of these things for their kids - that is why public education exists.  To fill the gap, parents can enlist the aid of private tutors for class work and languages, enroll their students in art and dance classes, public theater classes, or private music lessons, and sign them up for little league sports teams.  But what does all this take?  
Money.  Money parents don’t have.  
While I certainly respect the magnitude of the issue the Texas legislature faces, I would hope that, behind the scenes somewhere, someone is helping guide them through this process.  Without that guidance, and the willingness to listen and do what it takes to make it work, the state of Texas will be choosing to employ the same strategy as the first man.  

Kill it all and hope something comes back up. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Standing Ovation

First off, I would like to qualify all of my blogs discussing the state of Texas education funding by saying that I am not losing my job, none of the teachers I work with are losing their jobs, and as far as I can tell, I have not been given a pay reduction (probably won’t find that out until right before the school year begins anyway).  So, that being said, the recent events in the state have not impacted my life directly.

This week school districts in the Houston area began to deliver news to teachers who would be losing their jobs.  As I said in my last blog, most of those teachers were new or younger teachers, fresh out of college or the ACP, eager to jump in and change the lives of young people.  As the stories rolled in of who lost jobs and who didn’t, people held their breath.  Facebook was rife with status updates ranging from a simple “thank god” to more explicit commentary directed at our Governor and the state legislatures.  People are hurting.
I heard stories of administrators taking a classy approach.  In one school, the principal called every teacher down to the office at some point, informing them if they had a job or not.  While it made everyone sweat a little, it provided an environment where no one was singled out, no one was made to feel a fool as they made their trek to the main office, certain of the outcome.  These principals handed out a little celebration in addition to disappointment as they were able to let teachers know they still had their jobs.

Other campuses took a little more abrasive approach, singling out teachers who were to be let go.  These teachers were called down to the main office, each slow, shuffling step bringing them closer to the inevitable.  After having the news delivered, they were sent back to their classrooms, expected to continue teaching their students for the remainder of the day.
The worse situation I heard of was an actual classroom visit.  The administrator in charge of letting this particular teacher go made the trek down to the band hall during that teacher’s rehearsal.  They pulled him into the hall, let him know his position was being eliminated, and sent him back to his rehearsal.  Knowing UIL Concert and Sight Reading contest was that week, he powered through his pain, nobly continuing to improve the music for the kids.  The kids knew, though.  How could they not?
The amazing part of this last story is what happened later.  At the UIL contest, the school community demonstrated their appreciation for this young teacher (who was not a first year teacher).  Over 100 parents came to support their students and this teacher during their performance.  At the completion of the Sight Reading portion of the contest, after the band had played their last note, the parents applauded.  They stood, giving the group a standing ovation.  Then the kids began to applaud.  Then the judges.  No longer were they just applauding the performance, but this teacher’s dedication to his students.  Needless to say, the young teacher was overwhelmed.  The applause continued for quite some time, thanking him for what he had given to their community in the few short years he had been teaching.
I am sure stories like this are popping up over the state.  Students and parents who appreciate what teachers have done for them are beginning to show it.  They are starting to feel the realization that this is for real.  In Katy ISD, on the west side of Houston, the students organized a protest during school on Thursday and Friday.  Throughout the district there was a coordinated walk out from classes, students were pulling the fire alarm in protest of teacher lay-offs, and students staged real life protests equipped with signs and cheers.
At one of the schools, the principal made a series of announcements to the student population letting them know that it was not their fault that the teachers were being laid off.  They felt the same pain the teacher did when they told them they did not have a job any longer, except they had to do it multiple times during the day.  One campus in Spring ISD let go of 33 teachers.  Could you imagine having being the person to fire 33 people in one day?  Another upper level administrator said his district held a budget meeting to try to save jobs.  He said he felt like a stock broker, but except for trading commodities and financials, he was trading people and their livelihood, working to save as many jobs as possible.
Part of me wonders if district officials across the state realize that our state government does not seem to be listening to teachers, administrators, or their representatives.  Maybe they have figured out that the only people Austin politicians will listen to is the voters.  What kind of parent is ok with their kid coming home from school and telling them that their favorite teacher was let go? Maybe it was their band director, the NHS sponsor, their favorite coach, their AP, their counselor, the secretary they bonded with the most, the Teacher of the Year, or any number of others.  The impact on the kids is tangible - parents will have to listen.  
Maybe now parents will organize to protect their kids’ education in a way teachers have not been able to .  Certainly the kids in Katy ISD managed to start something.  Wouldn’t it be crazy if every student at every campus in every district in the state staged a walk out at the same time.  Wouldn’t it mean so much more to the state if it happened during the state mandated TAKS testing the last week in April.  Could you imagine if, instead of showing up to sit in a classroom and take a ridiculous test for four hours, four days in a row, every student stood around the campus, holding hands in a silent protest against the destruction of their future?
I would applaud that.  In fact, I would give that a standing ovation.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Hurricane

Nature has an interesting way of reinventing itself.  Through the violently powerful hurricane, nature clears away all that is weak, freeing the way for the young and strong to rise.  To drive through Louisiana and Mississippi along Interstate 10 is to pay witness to both the destructive and the creative power of Hurricane Katrina.  While evidence of the storm’s damage still remains - fallen trees, broken buildings, empty lots - so too can the thrust of new growth be seen.  Young trees reach for the sky amongst the broken trunks of their older, weaker brethren.  Alongside nature, the human element rebuilds  stronger than before.  Such is the dualistic power of nature.
Our nation has gone through a hurricane of sorts during the last few years.  As the economy tanked, business closed, people lost their jobs, pensions evaporated.  Uniformly, our leaders asked us to gird ourselves for the worse, promising that a new day was coming.  We hunkered down and weathered the storm, many losing everything they had worked to build.  As promised, the economy has begun to recover, job creation has restarted, the stock market is rebounding, people are starting to spend again.

For many teachers in Texas the real storm is just beginning.  Over the past few years, our school districts have worked to stave off the worse, trimming budgets and preparing for a reduction in their funding, hoping deficit predictions were overzealous.  Unfortunately, the damage inflicted to our state economies during the recent recession has finally trickled down to the local level. 
Texas faces a budget deficit in the tens of billions of dollars, the only solution is to cut.  Education is projected to receive anywhere between five and ten billion dollars less this coming fiscal year than during the previous year.  No matter how you spin it, that is a lot of money.
100,000 people.
Let me express this in a different way.  The average teacher in Texas earns around $50,000 a year.  If we use the smaller budget gap - $5,000,000,000 - and the only people laid off in education are teachers, then 100,000 teachers will lose their jobs this year.  Amazing, huh.
This number is not incredibly accurate, though.  I imagine you are thinking something along the lines of “thank God.”  Well, don’t do that just yet.  Here is why.  Most districts, when appraising who they need to let go to help balance their reduced budgets, look first at teachers on Probationary Contracts.  These are the new teachers, the fresh faces, the young energy.  These are the teachers deemed most expendable by school districts.  These teachers do not make $50,000 per year.  My district pays pretty well and the starting salary is $46,000; there are many districts who pay less.  If they reduce just probationary contracts, the number will be higher.
Additionally, most districts are cutting the number of para-professionals on campuses.  These would be your campus workers, the people who make the schools run.  As one administrator recently told me - you can’t operate a hospital with just doctors.  The same goes for teachers and administrators; campuses will not work without them.  Most para-professionals earn around $20,000 per year for their hard work.
The political response in Austin to the lay-offs is that they are not the ones who are laying off teachers.  That, they say, is the responsibility of the districts.  While this statement is true, they are not actually laying anyone off, they are attempting to budget the funds they are given, their claim that districts are top heavy seems to fall on deaf ears.  Austin suggest that districts reduce their highest paid employees - principals and central administrators.  While many superintendents make well above $100,000 per year, only reducing the number of administrators will not make the budgets work.
If we were to travel the extremes and only cut one group - para-professionals, teachers, or administrators - and use the number $100,000 as the average administrator pay, we would still be losing between 50,000 (administrators) and 250,000 (paras) in the state.  Education in Texas will not be the same for the next few years.
Samantha and I recently shared a sad laugh as we drove through Pasadena, TX.  Along the freeway was a billboard encouraging professionals to leave their jobs and enter the teaching market.  We certainly feel for anyone who has done that over the last few years and is now facing the axe because they wanted to contribute to the lives of young people.
This hurricane racing through Texas education is upside down in a way.  The people who are in the storm’s path are the young, the strong, those who bring fresh ideas and energy to the table.  This particular tempest fails to remove the weak teachers whose only saving grace is that they have worked with their particular district for more than a few years.  While nature over the past few years has received a rebirth, Texas education will not through this method of cuts.
The lesson we can take from our current situation remains the same as that of the hurricane.  No matter the circumstances, any opportunity the universe presents to rebuild should be welcome.  If there is one things humans do well, it is survive.  Our quality of life might take a hit, our comfort level might diminish, but we will move forward.  It is how we deal with it that matters.  Perhaps the universe has deigned this time as an perfect opportunity for those who are losing their jobs to pursue something that might fit them better.  For many, that choice was not made voluntarily, but my hope is that they step into the seeming void the universe has presented to them with courage and hope, resting in the knowledge that this ultimately will be for the best.  Just as Louisiana and Mississippi have done, they will rebuild.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


In one of the most famous moments of weakness demonstrated in the Bible, King David stood on his roof looking out on his city, seeing everything he ruled spread out below him.  In the distance he could see a beautiful woman bathing, and he wanted her.  David sent his servants to find out who this beautiful woman was.  After discovering she was the wife of one of his military officers, he brought her to his palace and brought her to his bed.
All of us deal with temptations in life, big and small.  Sometimes we are strong and resist, other times we are weak and succumb.  They vary in shape and size, in the manner they appear to us.  We encounter temptations that would rock the very foundations of our life and others which can never extend beyond whimsy.  All temptations, no matter the form they take, have some sort of consequence and the power to grow larger.
Take me, for example.  My blog on Sunday was about my goal to drop my weight and regain my physique by May 14.  Monday, I ate well and exercised.  Tuesday, I succumbed to temptation.  One of our fundraising representatives brought by a tub of cookie dough for us to try.  At the urging of one of my students, I brought it home yesterday to cook up a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  The tub sat next to me on my ride home, beaconing, flirting with me, urging me to taste it.  I resisted until I got home.  As I broke out the cookie sheet and heated up the oven, I brought out a spoon and dug in.  I think I only ate five or so spoonfuls before my revulsion at what I was doing took over and I stopped.
I was weak.  I couldn’t handle the temptation of the sweet, chocolaty goodness.  My penance was riding my bike, but even with my exercise, I was still over my calorie limit for the day.  To avoid making the same mistake twice, I cooked all the dough, brought the cookies to school and handed them out to kids.
David’s actions continued.  After sleeping with Bathsheba, the woman on the roof, David discovered she was pregnant.  In order to hide the affair, he recalled her husband from the front lines, instructing him to return home and sleep with his wife.  Urriah, the husband, being a good leader, refused any comfort not afforded his men and chose to sleep on the palace steps instead of in the arms of his wife.  David, seeing he had no other choice, returned Urriah to the front lines carrying instructions that lead to his eventual death.  Freed from her husband, Bathsheba married David.
Another instance of temptation befell me recently.  Since the beginning of the year, I have made the pledge to write 500 words a day on my novel.  While there had been a few brief interruptions, all of which I made up for, I had continued successfully through Spring Break.  Since then, I have allowed another temptation to sneak it and steal my writing time.  Ironically enough, the temptation has been reading.  While the real life consequences are minute, they do exist.  I may no longer be on track to complete my first draft by the end of June, or I will really have to bust my tail to make it happen.
The results of David’s temptation were more profound then straying from my diet or relaxing a little too long with a good book.  David’s temptation brought about the murder of Urriah, the eventual death of his and Bathsheba’s son, and the rebellion of David’s son Absalom against his father.  
The results from my recent decisions definitely pale in comparison to David’s, but someone who allows themselves to follow temptation after temptation, never yielding, can set themselves up for a downfall equivalent to his.  People become addicted to drugs and alcohol because they didn’t know how or when to stop.  They allowed the temptation to become a sickness.  The same goes for any other kind of addiction, be it sex, nicotine, sweets, shoes, or reading.  Any temptation taken too far becomes unhealthy.  Succumbing too many times allows it to change from temptation to addiction.
I know that I have to tread lightly when it comes to my eating.  Too often, the temptation of a tasty treat, or the ease of not exercising, have derailed a healthy lifestyle before it even began.  I love nothing more than reading a good book, but I also know that if I allow myself to, I will ignore everything and dismiss my responsibilities just to lay around reading.

It is hard to resist temptations.  Most of us do it every day though.  The more often we fight, resisting what it is we desire but do not need, the stronger our will power becomes.  Fighting the good fight will yield positive results.  On May 14, when I am perfectly happy wearing my bathing suit, or June 30, when I push the save button on my  completed first draft, I will revel in the fact that I have put my temptations aside, at least for now.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Body Blog

Yes, this turkey is wrapped in bacon.

In 2009, I read an article on American holiday eating habits.  The article highlighted the result of a study suggesting that every year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Americans gain an average of five pounds.  During the course of January through November, they retain the weight, adding on to it during the course of the next holidays.
When I read this, I thought back to my last “best” weight, which was in 2004.  I had just returned from London, only weighing 168 pounds after four months of consistent, extreme, cardio workouts as part of my job performing on stage.  I had been a regular in the gym, working with weights and riding the bike, and was in great physical condition, albeit a little too skinny.  In the 5 years that had passed, I attended the gym much less frequently, had changed to a career that was more sedentary, and was generally less concerned with what I put in my body.  
After I read the article, I got on the scale, certain the facts were wrong.  After looking at the numbers, I knew it was correct.  In the five years between 2004-2009, I had gained exactly five pounds per year and weighed 193.  I am not ashamed to say that I freaked a little bit.
Since then, I have dieted, traded off between exercising and not, made many promises about finding a gym, and ridden the weight-loss roller coaster familiar to many Americans.  I have been as high as 198, never hitting the 200 mark, been as low as 175, but never achieving the goal weight of 170.  Recently, I was excited to discover that in the few weeks after I quit eating meat again, I lost five pounds.  I have gained them back.
As frustrating as the process has been for me, I can’t imagine how frustrating it has been for my body.  Imagine if I treated my car the same way.  For a couple of weeks I put in the best gasoline I can find, making sure it is free from impurities.  I drive it gently, only traveling at optimum speeds, and I make sure that I keep it maintained.  Then, after treating it so well, I decided to start mixing things into the fuel that I know will clog the engine, I avoid the oil changes, don’t rotate the tires, don’t change the air filter, drive excessive speeds over rough terrain, and treat it terribly.  How do you think my car will perform?  
This is how I have treated my body.  Amazingly, it hasn’t quit on me.  The human body is  quite hardy, it will tolerate an immense amount of stress and abuse.  Eventually, though, something will give out - heart, liver, kidneys, muscles, bones, joints, etc.  All will be the result of bad choices over the years.
I have had back pain lately.  For awhile I tried to blame it on the way I was sleeping, but I have now allowed myself to confront the fact that this was an easy excuse, something I wouldn’t have to blame myself for.  The truth of the matter lies in my posture.  I generally sit with my shoulders sloping forward, my back in a concave curve.  This is not laziness, or a feigned effort at comfort, it is because of two reasons: 
  1. My abs are no longer strong enough to support my upper body weight consistently during the day.
  2. My weight has changed locations, going from strong muscle to flabby fat.  For me, the bulk of that extra weight sits where my once glorious six pack used to roost, causing the front of my body to weigh proportionally more than my back.
My back pain is the result of decisions I have made over the past five years.  I now constantly remind myself to support my weight with my abs, sitting up tall - it is hard sometimes.
Standing in front of the mirror, I can see the hint of the shape I used to have.  I am by no means obese, nor do I try to blow my size out of proportion, but there is definitely much more fat, much more soft, gentle curving, than there used to be.  I know what I can look like, and it frustrates me that I have let it come to this.  
I have set a deadline for myself - May 14.  This is six weeks away, far enough ahead that I can lose an average of two healthy pounds a week through diet.  This would put me at 172 (after today’s weight of 184).  While this will reduce the fat-wrap I have so uncourteously draped over my skeleton, it will not necessarily do anything about the health of my heart and the state of my muscles.  I will also be doing some sort of consistent exercise three times a week for at least thirty minutes.  No longer will I replace authentic exercise with fake exercise.  I won’t count mowing, cleaning the house, trimming the roses, conducting a long rehearsal, playing my bassoon, or any other thing as exercise.  If I am not sweating, my heart beating between 132-160 times per minute, and my blood flowing, then it does not count.
Why May 14?  Well, the answer is quite superficial.  High school students can be extremely judgmental, whether they mean to or not, and I will be taking a group of my band students and their parents to Schlitterbahn in Galveston that day.  My efforts this will determine if I will be one of three types of people you see at waterparks - the fully clothed, non-participant types, the people that wear their t-shirt while in the water, or the unashamed, happy with what they look like.  
Which one will I be?  The next few weeks will see.  After May 14, I will keep working.  I feel like Michaelangelo when he was asked about the statue of David.  His response was that David was inside of the marble, waiting to be released.  Well, I am hiding underneath all this fat as well, it is time I let myself out.