Category Archives: Fitness

State of the Underpope

The Underpope’s Physical State:  First off, Jennifer and I went and re-upped for Weight Watchers.  Losing weight has always been a challenge for me (as opposed to the cakewalk that it is for everyone else in the world, I’m sure), and I’ve never had much success using rewards to act as incentives for myself; I’d always end up buying the toy I wanted for myself anyway, long before I reached the goal weight I’d set.

This time I decided to go a simpler route, using something that I know would really get me going: books.  Every five pounds, I get a new book.  For my first five-pound loss, I promised myself The Complete Stephen King Universe; and for my first ten-pound loss, Soon I Will Be Invincible, because everyone needs a novel about supervillains and their difficult lives.  As of last week, I’d lost 4.8 pounds; not enough for that first five-pound reward.  This week, I lost six pounds, for a total of ten, so I ended up rewarding myself with both the first two books.  Woo hoo!  Of course, I’ve got a huge pile of shame, and I won’t be able to get to these books for awhile, but what the heck.  Next will be either The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont (I’ve been wanting this one for awhile), or Interworld, by Neil Gaiman, because, hell, it’s Neil Gaiman.  But it isn’t published yet, and may not be published by the time I lose another five pounds.

Of course, there’s the video iPod that I get when I break 200 pounds; and the motorcycle I get when I reach my goal weight (whatever that ends up being).

My jeans are getting baggy again, which they hadn’t been for a few weeks, and this is good but also annoying and a setback on my road toward a more polished, professional image.  Even my new slacks (flat-front and not pleated, thanks to all who chimed in on that point) are drooping in the seat a little now.  Honestly, I didn’t expect to lose this much weight this quickly.  I suspect that the process will slow down quite a bit in weeks to come so that it’s not so much a financial burden.

My lungs continue to give me grief.  My pulmonologist gave me samples of Prevacid, on the theory that somtimes gastric reflux can trigger asthma (I wouldn’t have thought so, but it’s common enough so that my doctor has a box full of samples of the stuff, just in case).  I think it might be helping, now that I’ve been taking it for a couple of weeks.

My headaches have returned.  I thought I was done with them years ago.  I need to go back and start reviewing what I did under the neurologist’s guidance: guided mediations, that sort of thing.  I think it’s an allergy thing.

The Underpope’s Creative State.  I am still stalled on The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, partially because I think I’m overwhelmed by the sheer size of the manuscript and how much work needs to be done on it.  My goal is to reach 91,200 words by August 31.  It was going to be 90,000 words, but I miscalculated.  To that end, I set up a public Google spreadsheet to track my progress; you’re welcome to take a look at it, and call me on my progress if I don’t make it.

I used to have four short stories on my site: "Little Fluffy Wiggletoes", "LTM", "writing down some", and "Joe’s Salvation".  I took them down because I’m no longer thrilled with their quality and I’m not sure I want them representing my writing ability.  Well, "Little Fluffy Wiggletoes" was pretty good.  Plus, the stories were getting very little traffic, according to SiteMeter; except for "Little Fluffy Wiggletoes", which was getting hits from Google searches for young girls and sex.  I’m not comfortable with visitors like that visiting my site.  I may put it back up; I’m not sure.

Two recent rejections, which means only one sale this year.  At the moment, I only have three active submissions.  Tomorrow or the day after I’ll put out a couple more, to reach my goal of five active submissions at all times, but at the moment Daikaijuzine needs to take precedence; it’s just about time for my quarterly "Oh crap, the next issue’s supposed to be up in two days!!!" panic.  Fortunately we’re still a two-bit webzine.  I have dreams for Daikaijuzine, though, involving a print version and maybe even a publishing house way in the future, but such projects would require a touch more discipline.

Hm.  And that’s it for today.

Today will not be the day

I tell you, this getting into shape thing is harsh at times. Three weeks ago I recorded a three pound weight loss, but over the past two weeks I’ve gained 3.4 pounds. Nevertheless, all of the working out I’m doing (at least six hours a week, sometimes up to nine hours) seems to be paying off; plenty of people have commented that I look like I’m losing weight, after all. And when I look in the mirror, I can see that I have been losing weight. My belly’s smaller than it used to be, my face is longer. My jeans no longer fit me as well as they used to. The belt which I bought just a few months ago and which was a bit too tight at the time now is too loose, even when I tighten it as much as it can go. Sure, it’s embarrassing to walk around constantly hitching up my trousers in public, but it’s kind of cool, too.

But it’s still hard at times, too, of course. Like tonight. Jennifer’s out at some sort of craft night thing with some friends from church, and I’m at home alone, left to my own devices. I went to Borders for a bit and had some coffee while working on the plot of a Dungeons and Dragons game that I’ll be running tomorrow night, and while I was driving home, I thought to myself, “You know… I could cheat a bit and have that special meal I used to treat myself to almost every night for awhile.”

Special meal, I hear you say? Nothing too dangerous. Just… well, okay, a bacon ultimate cheeseburger and a large order of French fries from Jack In The Box. A mere hundred grams of fat (or so) and a thousand calories. Nothing big, right?

And for years, it was comfort food for me. When I was working at the video store, I would often — just about every closing shift — pick up a cheesy horror film, then swing through the Jack In The Box drive through on my way home and then indulge myself. A horror film and cheesburgery goodness at 1:00 in the morning. Can’t be beat. Sometimes, I’d have the cheesburger and read comic books (in fact, I think there might be a grease stain on one of my old Sandman books). But I treated myself to that meal at least four times a week.

No wonder I got so fat, eh?

At any rate, I was driving home, thinking that it would still be an hour or so before Jennifer got home herself, and I could swing by the drive through and pick up one of these overfilling meals. I knew what the after effects would be: the bloated feeling in the belly, the greasy skin on my fingers from the fries, the near nausea. Not to mention the headache I’d wake up with in the morning (am I the only one who suffers from food hangovers?) and the difficulty I’d have breathing while working out tomorrow morning. But, on the other hand, it’s been months since I’ve indulged myself that way, and the lure was almost too great to resist.


Instead, I repeated to myself a mantra I’ve found to be very effective when facing this particular sort of temptation. Is today going to be the day, I ask myself, that I give up on this reshaping of myself? Again?

And I have to tell myself no. Because I know that if I let myself slip today, then I will start headed down that slippery slope, where cheating will be too easy, where I will think something like, “Well, it was just one burger. I can have another one, no problem.” And before you know it, I’m back in all of those old habits. Soon, I’d stop working out, and then this whole plan will go out the window, and I know where I’ll be when that happens.

So, no, today will not be the day.

Instead, I tried focusing on all of the other treats I could have. Ice cream. Cookies. Chocolate cookies smeared with peanut butter. I could have any of those. I’ve budgeted, so to speak. An orange. A tortilla spread with margarine, cinnamon, sugar, and Cool Whip. Somehow, though, none of those things were nearly as inspiring as the idea of the Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger and Large French Fries from Jack In The Box. Even the thought of the beer that I could have didn’t inspire me.

So I drove to Jack In The Box.

And, because today will not be the day, I drove on past.

I really wish I could say that I felt an inner sense of victory or that a monstrous swath of positive self esteem overwhelmed me, but I can’t. What I really wish is that this were not a struggle. I’d rather find other things to feel victorious about; I don’t know what, but trying to feel like a champ because I resisted the urge to swallow a couple of pounds of cheeseburger (I’m not sure if it really does weigh that much, but sometimes it felt like it). I’m sitting here, writing this, munching on dry cereal that doesn’t taste like a cheeseburger by any stretch of the imagination, and trying to feel victorious.

Today will not be the day.

I hope that day will never come.

…And They Let Me Keep the Hose

As part of the weight loss program I’m in through the hospital, I went in yesterday morning for a "Basal Metabolic Reading". This process lets you see how many calories your body burns in a day just by being still, or by lying down and sleeping all day.

It works like this. You lie down on a bed in the back room of the cardiology unit, next to a huge cylinder. The cylinder is transparent, and inside of it is a bellows which rises up and down; it looks like part of the set from one of the old Mike Hammer Frankenstein films: Frankenstein Must Die(t)!, possibly, or Death to Adipose Cells!.

Next they hook you up to this device by a long plastic hose. Your nostrils are clipped shut, and a nozzle is inserted into your mouth. Then you breathe. In and out. As you breathe, the bellows expands and contracts. This is pure oxygen you’re breathing in now, folks, 100%. I’ve done it before, when very bad asthma attacks kept my lungs from doing their job. Pure oxygen is dry stuff, and after fifteen minutes I had a really bad case of cotton mouth.

Now, somehow this Hammer device measures the oxygen that you breathe out, and calculates the percentage of oxygen that your lungs absorb. And somehow, this number will let the machine determine how many calories per day your body burns in a resting state. The trainer explained this to me and I found myself thinking that it makes a great deal of sense; in my college days, I took at least one course in human physiology, which included a section on energy production. Oxygen is part of the process by which your body converts fuel to energy. Or something. Anyway, in my own case, if I were to spend the day in bed, not moving a muscle, barely even breathing, my body would still burn about 2,000 calories per day just to keep essential functions such as digestion and neural activity going (though I suppose there are some who would claim that if all my neuronic processes stopped, no one would notice the difference; to them I say, "Very funny, Mom").

I know you’re thoroughly fascinated by this already, but now here comes the really interesting part. During the two years that I was out of the Healthy Weight program, I managed to gain about 30 pounds (I’m not ashamed to mention that, especially since more than half of that is gone again). The trainer and I decided to conduct a little mental exercise to see how many calories, total, I had consumed during that time; since a pound of fat is about 3,500 calories, we worked out that I had managed to consume something like 105,000 calories above my daily maintenance level. Or, an average of only 14 calories per day above my basal metabolic rate.

Fourteen calories. That’s something like a single potato chip. Can you imagine that a single extra potato chip consumed every single day for two years can add up to thirty pounds in weight gain? Is the human body incredible, or what?

Of course, your body doesn’t burn just that basal metabolic rate each day. After all, your days are filled with walking around, working, typing, possibly even exercise, which bring up your daily burn by a few hundred calories. And if you work out, you can burn even more. The whole point of this program I’m in is to create a deficit between the number of calories that you burn in a day and the number of calories that you take in. Now if you lead a really sedentary lifestyle, like the one I’m trying hard to shed, you can’t afford to eat a whole lot; but if you lead a very active lifestyle, it’s easier to create that deficit, and lose weight.

And, of course, as you exercise more, increasing your lungs’ efficiency and your heart’s strength, your basal metabolic rate will actually go down. Especially if you lose a lot of weight: just carrying your bulk around gives your legs a good workout every time you walk to the bathroom.

So I got my Basal Metabolic Rate read. It was an enlightening experience, and I learned quite a bit. And because God only knows what kind of germs I breathed out during the process, they even let me keep the hose that I was connected to the cylinder with. It’s sitting in a big plastic bag in my car even as I write this, awaiting a time when I will come up with a practical use for a six-foot translucent hose with a mouthpiece on one end. Suggestions are more than welcome.

Zero to Hero and Tempestuous Happenings

As usual, the hero business is up to me. It all began, really, about six weeks ago, when I realized that at the age of 32, my body was about where it was going to be for the rest of my life in many ways (yes, wrinkles will show up and gray hairs will appear and arthritis will probably set in at some point as well… but you probably know what I mean). I wasn’t going to suddenly grow six inches, lose fifty pounds, get perfect vision, and suddenly be cured of my asthma and hypertension. If anything was going to improve or change, I was going to have to take some drastic action on my own.

This is why I’ve enrolled in the exercise/diet program that I’ve written about earlier. This is going to be a year-long program, you see; and at the end of the year, I plan to be in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life. One year from now, I leave for my three-month backpacking trip through Europe, and I’ll be damned if I go weighing 240 pounds, and unable to climb a flight of stairs without getting winded.

This is why I’m starting up another series of weekly entries to this journal. I’m calling this series "Zero to Hero", after the song in Hercules. This will be a more-or-less regularly updated journal of my progress through the program I’m in. I doubt that I will get too intimate (sorry, everyone!) but I’ll certainly chart some essentials, along with whatever thoughts about the entire project that I may have along the way. Any tips on fitness or dieting or lifestyle changes that I pick up along the way will also be entered in the "Zero to Hero" column. My first entry is here.

Tempestuous Happenings

Last night I got to see one of my favorite bands, Tempest, perform. Tempest plays a style of music which the band itself describes as "Celtic rock" but which is really a fusion of Celtic, folk, and rock, with sometimes a bit of Cajun and even Arabian thrown in for good measure (one of their albums — my favorite, actually — is called Surfing to Mecca; that should give a hint of their musical style).

Generally, a concert is only a good concert if, afterwards, your voice is hoarse and your ears are numb (ideally, of course, you’re also surrounded by about two hundred of your closest friends, and pickled beyond recognition by the end of the show as well — though that’s my own opinion). Tempest provides that kind of show; my friends and I sat in the front row, about three feet away from the band, and in the venue that they played in — a converted old barn known as The Palms Playhouse — the music can’t really help but be overwhelming. Just the way I like it when hearing live music.

Tempest has a way of getting up close and personal with their audiences. The lead singer and double-necked-electric-mandolin player Lief Sorbye loves to interact with the audience while playing, and even came up and sat down in my friend Jennifer’s lap during one song of the first set. Jennifer announced that she would never wash her jeans again. I suspect, though, that she was being facetious.

Another friend of mine who had come to the concert was lucky to be sitting where she was. Michael, the fiddler of the band (Tempest is the first band I’ve ever known that has an electric fiddle as one of their instruments), whom my friend perceives as a sort of fiddling deity, stood right in front of her and even looked down at her several times. I’m sure my friend was elated by this; this was the same friend who, after seeing Tempest perform for her first time, went up to this same fiddler and asked, "Hey, Michael! What did you do with the golden fiddle that you won from the devil down in Georgia?".

Tempest was not the only live band I’ve seen perform this week. Last Monday, a friend of mine and I went to The Fox and Goose in downtown Sacramento (great bar — check it out if you’re in Sacramento) to check out Open Mike night. Generally, I love open mike events, and Davis hasn’t got a single decent regular open mike night since the Blue Mango closed down in 1995. Open Mike at the Fox and Goose started, that night, with a fellow who seemed to be tuning his harmonica through most of his set (turns out he was actually performing), and ended (at least for the two of us) with a woman who desperately wanted to be Aretha Franklin but was far too white to pull it off (no, I’m not racist — but this woman’s voice simply did not have the sort of range or depth which the great female jazz vocalists have had; and most of the female jazz vocalists I know of are African American). Instead of sounding inspiring, exciting, or thrilling, she came off as flat and… well… stoned. She was accompanied by three fellows who looked as if they really wanted to be somewhere else. At one point I leaned over to my friend and asked her how much she thought the singer had paid the band to stand there with her.

In all fairness, I suppose that this woman is probably just getting started and hasn’t had a chance to really find her voice yet. She has a good voice, and when she stops trying to imitate Aretha or Ella in order to develop her own style, she will probably be a great singer.

My last live music event of the week is going on as I write this, here on Lucien in Borders Cafe in Davis. I’m sitting here, watching a soft jazz band perform some of my favorite tunes (only one of which — "Girl From Ipanema" — I actually know the name of, but that’s okay). It’s great fun, though not as much fun as screaming "Hal An Tow" at the top of my lungs to the fiddler while the double-necked-electric-mandolin plays, but Tempest simply can’t be a nightly event, can it?

I love live music; probably for the same reasons that I love face-to-face conversations over telephone or internet conversations, or why I prefer sitting around a table playing Dungeons and Dragons instead of sitting at my computer playing in a MUSH. Far too much happens in a personal setting, in a one-on-one situation, that simply cannot be conveyed through a stereo, telephone, or computer screen. Music, just like conversation, is a form of communication; and to get the full message that the musician is trying to get across, you really need to sit up close to them, watching their movements and facial expressions, just as communicating by e-mail will never convey a full message.

Please, though, don’t think that I’m trying to make a point here or anything. This is my personal journal, and I simply ramble on. Perhaps I could tell you more, if we met face to face.

The Best of Intentions

So, it is with the best of intentions that I start up this on-line journal. And why not? Some of my best friends are doing it, after all. But I can tell already that updating this journal on a regular basis at all is going to be a difficult chore, at best.

But today is a day of good intentions. Here I sit at a bookstore/cafe in Davis (one of the obscenely large mega-chains that have pretty much rendered the "mom-n-pop" bookstore extinct — and don’t give me any crap about how the mom-n-pop’s could stay in business if they really wanted to; Borders has a much larger advertising and facilities budget than Joe’s Books and Stuff), feeding caffeine into my body and working on at least two different big projects. One of them is The Novel, which I’ve been working on since late December. Well, actually, you could say I’ve been working on it for about three years, since I wrote the actual short story that this novel is based on three years ago. But my goal since I began this novel as a serious project has been at least 500 words per day; my Good Intention today with regards to this novel is at least another 500 words.

The other major project I’m working on this evening is a proposal for work. As an hourly employee for a government institution, I’m really not supposed to be doing this on my own time. However, if this goes through, it would be such a big boost to my career that it would be well worth the time I’m spending on it; and to hell with FLSA regulations about hours worked, time away from the office, and so on. So my Good Intention with regards to this proposal is simply to finish it. Tonight. Before my meeting with the manager tomorrow afternoon.

Another of my Good Intentions, by the way, is to stop procrastinating. Any day now. I swear.

Another good source of Good Intentions is lifestyle changes. "Tomorrow," I say on a daily basis (for example), "I begin my diet and exercise program." Well, yesterday I said "Tomorrow" for the last time (I hope); and this evening, I went to the hospital, got a full exercise evaluation by a trainer (who also measured body fat in some, ah, embarrassing places; and then she wondered why my heart rate seemed to be rather high). This program is a sure target for Good Intentions, with plenty of incentive: it’s costing me $120 per month, so I’d better get my money’s worth. The only way that is going to happen is if I follow through and actually pay attention to the lessons on eating well, go to the workout sessions, and stay in touch with my doctor. Of course, with Valerie (not her real name) as a trainer, my incentive remains quite strong.

I am looking forward to this program. I participated in it once before, about two years ago, and managed to lose a decent amount of weight in a reasonable amount of time. This time around, I figure I’m an appalling 70 pounds overweight; at a healthy rate of weight loss, I could lose it all in just over a year. That is a goal — a Good Intention — well worth following through on.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Which brings me back to the topic of this journal. My Good Intention is to add to it on a more or less regular basis. I hope to keep it interesting, without being whiny or supercilious or just plain bitchy. I’m full of opinions, thoughts, and feelings on just about every subject under the sun, and I plan to go through them all at one point or another. I also plan to format this journal nice and neat, and even to write a Perl script which will let me update it with the greatest of ease (thus simultaneously ensuring that I update this regularly, and improving my programming skills).

You’re invited to send me an e-mail to let me know if I’m boring you utterly, or if there’s something about this journal which excites you to no end.

Best wishes,