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Will this time be any different?

I went to a personal training studio today. At the first visit, they don’t start the training, they just interviewed me about my goals and my circumstances. I liked the manager’s approach. He didn’t try to sell me. He just asked a lot of questions and reminded me to be realistic about what I expect.

That’s really my biggest problem with exercise: I know how hard I would have to work for the results I’d like, and I’m just not prepared to work that hard. I have two simple fitness problems. First, I really won’t make the time to work out every day, and second, I eat too many sweets. Ahmal told me that there are simple solutions to both problems.

For the first, I just have to make the most of the time I will spend. However, he said that if I’m successful building a routine, then I will likely get to the point where I want to do it more often than not. And to avoid lots of sweets, I just need to force myself to eat more protein during the day. “It creates satiety,” he said.

I really like it when my prospective trainer uses a word I don’t know.

I guess the point is that I already know these things about myself. I know why I’m not in perfect shape, and I know what to do to get back in it. Ahmal didn’t pretend he had any silver bullet. He simply said that they would try to get me in a groove where I could see what the results were going to be of adopting some new habits.

Who knew a gym owner (and he’s not really that) would favor listening and a soft sell. One of my favorite things is to be pleasantly surprised in a way I find surprising. It happpened today.

And I only ate two pieces of coffee cake after dinner. And a sugar free fudgesicle. That’s a light night for me.

Great Poet: Franz Wright

Last week I discovered an amazing poet, Franz Wright. The sad thing is that he won the Pulitzer prize in 2004, but I’d never heard of him. Christopher Lydon interviewed him on the terrific radio program “Open Source.”
Wright battled addiction and depression for many years, lost his writing gift, found love, went through rehab, found the Catholic church, converted and recovered his writing gift. 5 years later he won the Pulitzer prize, for a volume called “Walking to Martha’s Vineyard.”
Here’s one of the poems.

The Word ‘I’

Harder to breathe
near the summit, and harder

to remember
where you came from,

why you came

harder, and harder to say
the word “I”
with a straight face,
and sleep–

who can sleep? Who has time

to prepare for the big day
when he will be required
to say goodbye to everyone, including
the aforementioned pronoun, relinquish
all earthly attachment
completely, and witness
the end of the world–

harder in other words
not to love it

not to love it so much

[From Walking to Martha’s Vineyard, 2003 copyright Franz Wright, Alfred A. Knopf books]

Buy the book. It’s like going to church and discovering that God is incredibly eloquent.

Happy New Year

I’ve always loved New Year’s resolutions, even though I often make the same ones and even though I often give them up sometime between February 1 and June. What I like is the hopefulness they inspire, the sense that anything is possible and that this time will be different. By which I mean that this time I will be different.

It’s a great way to start a new year, believing the best of myself, and I always do, but I’m especially hopeful this year because of all the organizing I’ve accomplished since Christmas. First, I spent last week cleaning up my new office at work, and not a superficial clean up either. I removed every single file from the drawers, devised and executed a color-coded filing system, and replaced everything, complete with printed file labels. I’ve been heartened by recent articles (including one in the NY Times) about the connection between messiness and productivity (there’s a strong connection for some people), but I really do feel more ready to work when my space is well ordered. I also hung pictures on the walls and rearranged my computer and monitor. Now I can work at my table and host guests.

My wife Sarah, my stepdaughter, and I also spent this weekend arranging Sarah’s new office, which included assembling some complicated Ikea furniture, so there’s mutual satisfaction in both of us preparing our new work space.

The icing on the cake for me was finally putting up a new mailbox to replace the one that a friend destroyed by backing her car into it nearly two years ago.

I’m ready to start many things, but especially to start having a good year. It’s a relief to have enough experience to know what will fire me up. Here’s a great quote from Rainer Maria Rilke: “Now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been…”

Happy New Year!


My friend Flo writes about meditation practice "Beginner" by saying that she spent most of a recent retreat trying to focus just a little on her breath. I know the feeling. Some days the resolve to focus is strong; some days it’s weak.

It’s a struggle not to hate the weak days and to hate myself for being so out of the spirit. Practice for me has usually been a kind of drudgery. It was that way with the cello when I was growing up. I had wanted desperately to learn how to play it, and my parents bought me an instrument and got me lessons. I never became a good player, but I learned a seminal life lesson from Gretchen Belknap, my teacher: "Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you never get it wrong."

It’s a profound directive, and one I’ve mostly ignored. Generally my excuse is that practice is too tedious. If I were really meant to concentrate on something, it would be more fun. I don’t know if that’s just wishful thinking, but I see some evidence that there are people who love what they do. It must be said, though, that I also know many people, too many, who grit their teeth and soldier on.

What’s the point in that really? I guess you can argue that you keep at it for the sake of the family for whom you do these things. Do they want you to provide at the expense of being happy and fun with them? I suppose it depends on the circumstance.

More and more I’m longing to find some one activity that I can practice religiously. What have you found that’s worth practicing?

Dealing with grief

I attended a friend’s funeral today, and his family and friends spoke at length about his many great qualities: vitality, respect, sensitivity, strength, humor. His wife led the recollection and painted a moving portrait of an elegant, loving man.

Moments like these raise urgent questions about how we help others and ourselves fill the holes that grief hollows out. Part of my interest in the Cloud9000 blogging project is to find and promote credible answers for people who want to know how to move through pain and sorrow to happiness and joy.

I believe that God can and will help us by making us capable of hope. I want Him to put in our way the small things we count on–a dinner party with friends, a helpful store clerk, a brilliant, starry sky, a joke–to divert us for a moment so that we remember what it feels like to love the world and our lives.

I worry that searching for a happier path will seem superficial to people who are struggling with heavy burdens. We don’t mean to be glib or naive. Maybe it’s a matter of deciding what we mean by "happy." Part of that is the capacity to be grateful for where we are right now, whatever that may mean. Some days it may be just a blind faith that something could be better some time in the future.

Here’s a start

So here’s the big roll out, and what it feels like is being a roading doing a mic test with half the audience already in their seats. I could say whatever I want to hundreds of people except that no one is really listening.

That’s OK. Give it time. 91 days, and counting. Backwards.