25 January 2014

On Track to Shoot Chi or Lightning Bolts From My Hands

So I made it through my second yoga class the other day without stopping (or dying!), and I was warmed up enough that when I walked home, I barely noticed that the temperature had dropped to a balmy 7 degrees.

This time around, I was a touch less focused on just surviving the class, and could pay attention to things like exactly what my limits are right now (more than there used to be), and exactly how my body was having trouble moving (ways that never used to trouble me before).  I did do every pose though!  The quality sucked near the end, but I pushed myself as far as was reasonable I think.  That's what matters.

And yet...

See, what I'm feeling with my return to yoga is almost exactly what I've been feeling like with my writing lately.  I can't seem to bring myself to feel good about the rebuilding I'm doing.  Oh, I do it.  I take a step forward and I'm determined to show up and take the next one; lots of people would pat me on the back for that.  Yet, I know how far I've fallen.  I don't go, "Yay, me! Let's keep moving forward!"  I think, "One step down, 9,995 to go until I'm back to where I was."

It's motivation by self-loathing.  It's letting fear and anger fuel me.

It's the Dark Side of the Force.

Probably not a good thing.  But what to do about it...?

22 January 2014

I LIVED!!! (Ow.)

Sunday, I survived my first yoga class in about 2 or 3 years.  It was a small class, but well run.  I had that awkward moment where I was the oldest person in the room, but I got over it.  (That'll only get more frequent, right?)  The studio is new, so it's not quite finished yet.  The folks that run it are getting it there, though.  I've no doubt it'll become the tranquil place they envision.  But it didn't phase me.  I have a history of working out in places that were far worse (but where I got the best training).  Plus, I'm Filipino; training in garages, backyards, on concrete, etc. is in my DNA.

I didn't quite survive unscathed, though.  I was doing pretty well at first; there wasn't a single pose the whole class that I hadn't attempted before.  But about 3/4 of the way through, all those intercostal muscle spasms came back.  I dealt with it at first, but then I had to stop for a bit until the very end.

Not proper yoga mindset.
I pushed for two reasons.  1) I constantly mistake yoga classes for my old kung-fu classes where, if you feel too strained to execute a move or drill at full force, then you do it slowly using the best technique you can bring yourself to muster and 2) I'm just stubborn by nature.  One of the very few things that life hasn't beaten out of me quite yet is the idea that it's better to light an inch than curse the dark.

It's just that sometimes, that attitude has less to do with following through with goals and more to do with defying whatever's keeping me down.  Even if it's myself.  It's like that old joke about the parrot who resists its owner trying to teach it not to constantly say "Fuck you."  Finally, the owner gets frustrated and throws the parrot in the freezer.  And when he opens the freezer the next day, he finds the parrot frozen with it's middle finger raised.

Sure, maybe passive-aggression against myself isn't the healthiest way to pursue goals but hey... whatever works.

20 January 2014

Just Like the Phoenix...

The day before Lifehacker featured the discussion "How do you start exercising when you're older and out of shape?" I'd signed up for a yoga class at a new studio that opened up an 8 minute walk from my place.  Probably one of the few times in my life that I started out a little ahead of the game.

In keeping with that, I'm scheduling this post to be pushed out after the class, just in case it kills me.  This actually isn't  (unless I'm deluding myself, which I suppose is possible) an attempt to fulfill a freshly minted New Year's resolution.  Getting back into shape has been on my mind since I turned 40 last July.  I've known for awhile that it's past time I put some consistent effort into maintaining this meat-sack of mine.

I set the bar low: to just not be a mass of blubber with no muscle tone.  I'm not trying to recapture what I had in my late 20s/early 30s when I was training different martial arts and feeding an endorphin addiction by working out 3-4 times a week.  Though I admit, I looked good those years.  I'd lost two pants sizes, and wore jeans from high school.  Now I'm back to where I was before I worked out, and then some.  I was flexible back then.  I'd just like some of that back.  It's still kind of there I think; I've always had slightly above-average flexibility.  But it doesn't take much to push it too far these days.

It still feels like a lot of my moves are still in me, though.  But I'd be stupid to try them now, without a slow return via something like yoga.  I'd end up looking just like this...

So, assuming this isn't my last entry, I'll be back with tales of how this over-40 meat-sack rises from the ashes...

19 January 2014

My Everyday Horror Story

From "An Everyday Horror Story"
by Harvey Pekar.
Art by Gerry Shamray.
Whatever lung pox I had that led to two weeks of paroxysms of coughing has messed up my voice.  To clarify, it's messed it up for an additional week after the coughing is now more or less under control.  I'm starting to wonder if it's one of the two(!) inhalers I'm on.  I'm this close to having to having to use one of my Field Notes notebooks to write things out instead of speaking them.

Anyway, it reminded me of a story in Harvey Pekar's American Splendor (issue 5), "An Everyday Horror Story," in which our man has a long bout with laryngitis and it starts to do things to his head.

I'll tell you, I'm starting to relate.  It's not just the voice loss, but these weird muscle spasms I've been getting lately.

I try to avoid soliciting curbside consultations from the medical professionals I work with, but a lot of them are just generally helpful by nature.  So the other day, some of them dropped some knowledge on me.  Now, I knew the muscles that were spasming (my intercostals) are the ones I use to cough but what I didn't realize is that the reason they can take a long time to heal is because they can never truly rest, seeing as they're the same muscles I use to breathe.

That's what's messing with my head.  My voice I can rest, but I can't stop breathing.  Talk about feeling like a supernatural force is messing with you.  It's bad enough fighting my own procrastination, which I do every day.  It's even harder when you can't talk and have trouble moving, or even sitting.  But I don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill, really.  Harvey got his voice back.  I'll likely get my voice back (gonna call the doctor again, though).  My intercostal muscles will get better.  Maybe I'll get my groove back, too.


16 January 2014

Quickie Review: JAGANNATH

JagannathJagannath by Karin Tidbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review is technically incomplete. I finished this book back in September ('13) but didn't write about it until now (January of '14). I felt I couldn't write about it because I didn't (and still haven't) rated the story "Some Letters for Ove Lindström." (I'm still too close to the subject matter of that story.)

I know almost nothing about the Swedish/Scandinavian myths and didn't think I necessarily had to in order to see the heart of these stories. Nor could I tell which stories were translated and which were written in English. It's testament to Tidbeck's writing, I think.

The collection started strongly and ended with a bang. The stories that didn't move me were generally the ones where Tidbeck revisits certain themes without, at least as far as I could tell, adding anything new. Those aside, the ones that did move me are positively gut-wrenching.

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13 January 2014

The Next Time I Give a Reading or Presentation

...I'm following this advice that comedian J.B. Smoove gives to Macy Gray.

This notion isn't new.  The band Toto has known this for about thirty-five years now.

09 January 2014

Coca-Cola Comic Book Orgy, or Quickie Review: HORSE OF A DIFFERENT COLOR

Horse of a Different Color: StoriesHorse of a Different Color: Stories by Howard Waldrop
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

5 out of 5, with the caveat that I cannot be objective about this collection. Howard Waldrop is one of the few writers whose work I'll buy the day it comes out, unseen and unreviewed.

If all Waldrop does is cleverly hide all sorts of historic/pop culture Easter eggs into most of his stories with barely any telegraphing, it would be a feat. Indeed, it's a point of pride for me when I catch them. I immediately recognized bits of the Bird Man of Alcatraz in the story of the "Wolf-Man" of the same. But, here's Waldrop's trick: as always, there are moments I fail to spot the references, and it doesn't affect my enjoyment of the stories one bit!

More importantly (to me at least), Waldrop's characters almost always convey some sort of bittersweet piece of truth or wisdom that can only be gained from going around the proverbial block a time or two.

I did let a sliver of objectivity creep into my reading, but I won't mention it here (you can find it in my story-by-story comments on the actual goodreads review page). It's more of a technical quibble, anyway. Whatever.

Also, "Coca Cola comic book orgy" is now my favorite Waldrop line. If I had a band, I'd ask his permission to use it as a name.

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03 January 2014

Quickie Review: North American Lake Monsters

North American Lake Monsters: StoriesNorth American Lake Monsters: Stories by Nathan Ballingrud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Plain and simple, if this collection doesn't win the Shirley Jackson Award or the World Fantasy Award for 2013, there really is no f**ing justice in the world.

I hung on every word in this collection. I was enthralled by every story, something I haven't felt since reading M. Rickert's Map of Dreams. Ballingrud takes some rather standard horror tropes and gives the readers more palpable and disturbing reasons to fear them. In a lot of stories, the horror/speculative element serves as a possible pathway that can be chosen by a given character. What's disturbing is that often times that pathway represents a viable, sometimes even a preferred, life option.

I found myself giving each story a 5* rating. But that isn't to say the collection didn't have it its... well, I'm so reluctant to say "flaws." That's much too strong a word, in my opinion. Let's say, "Things that took me out of the story for a micro-second, of which I took note before re-submerging myself back into it." There were two.

In the cover blurb, Maureen McHugh calls the collection "Raymond Carver territory." There's definitely a "K-Mart Magical Realism" thing going on here. The opening scene in "The Good Husband" would've made me think of "So Much Water So Close to Home" even if Carver wasn't referenced in the blurb. One of the tiny, tiny problems I had, though, was being so effectively grounded in each main character's POV--very Carver-esque characters--that I couldn't help but notice when these characters, as they're written, would think in un-Carver-esque terms. A construction worker seeing something "in a rictus of pain." An ex-con encountering something "soporific." A homeless man smelling "the ripe, deliquescent odor of river water." (Maybe it's more accurate to substitute "Raymond Carver" for "Gordon Lish," but that's another debate altogether.)

The other matter depends on how cynical a reader one is. What I might, and in fact DO, interpret as this collection being an examination of a singular theme from multiple angles might be interpreted by another reader as "the same story over and over again."

I feel like I've given too much time to these issues relative to the actual impact on my reading experience. But it's important to note that even despite them, the quality of the stories is such that I unreservedly give this collection a 5* rating.

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