10.21.2005

The Way (No Way!) of the Warrior

I was a skinny child. I was even a skinny teenager. Somewhere along the line, my ass decided it had had enough of this whole "skinny" thing and decided to go do its own thing. Where my ass went, the rest of my body followed. (Which may invoke a rather odd and possibly counter-intuitive visual image, but I think if you stop and ponder for a moment, you'll find the above statement to be a truism about life in general a little more frequently then we, as a society, would like to admit).

The good thing about gaining a lot of weight all over my body is that I am no longer pear-shaped. I really hated being pear-shaped. I really hate pears. They are an ugly color, and they are ripe for about 35 seconds, and even then, at best, a pear just tastes like a mealy apple. Am I alone on this? Besides, the world is not designed for pear shaped men. It's hard enough being tall. It's one thing if there isn't enough room for your legs, but to not be able to fit your ass either, well that's just rubbing salt in the wound. (I would like to take a moment to point out that it's not just fat, I do have a very wide pelvis, you know, birthing-sized pelvis, and my hips are splayed out, so that my natural stance is always in 1st position. Let's put it this way, if I had been born in ancient Sparta, or similar perfection obsessed culture, I would have been dumped on a hill somewhere and left as boar feed).

So, you know, being fat means that I'm no longer the guy with the fat ass. Now, I'm just a fat-ass. It's a subtle difference, but I think one that we should take a moment to acknowledge. The bad part of being fat? Well, Oprah has pretty much covered all the obvious things, so I won't talk about the health issues, like being short of breath, and the disturbing tightness in my chest, or you know...the chafing (friction is a bitch...'nuf said). The most disturbing part is looking in a mirror and not recognizing yourself. I look as though I've been attached to an air pump. (Where exactly the hook-up is, I'd rather not investigate). I have a friend, Short Stack, and he is in fantastic shape, toned, trim, muscular, like a greyhound, and Short Stack has an identical twin brother, Wide Stack, who is also in fantastic shape, however Mr. W. Stack is a body builder, and rather than a greyhound, he's built more like a Rottweiler, sturdy, strong, powerful. It's as though S. Stack's image was placed on silly putty and stretched. There is a basic resemblance, but other than that, nothing. (Thanks should be given to Short, Wide and the entire Stack family for allowing me to use them in my example).

I would love to say I'm now built like a Rottweiler, but that would be a lie. No, I'm shaped more like a Blowfish. I now have only a passing resemblance to the image I have of myself in my mind's eye. The shape-shifting is odd enough, but coupled with the sticker shock when I finally stepped back on the scale was enough to push me into some type of physical activity. I decided I would take a class, as I've always enjoyed being a student. I know "student", I'm all set and ready to go as "student". But a student of what? For a while now the idea of studying some kind of martial art has been rattling around. I'm not exactly sure why, but I think it has to do with my unspoken desire to a be a Super Hero in training. Which art? Well, there is an Aikido Dojo in my neighborhood and by lovely happenstance they were having a very reasonably priced introductory class.

Aikido is sometimes known as the gentle martial art, in that there is no sparring, as Aikido deals with redirecting your attacker's energy, rather than expending your own. Many of the philosophies are closely related to Zen Buddhism, which I've always found attractive, if completely antithetical to my neuroses-riddled self. I signed up, but with one nagging worry that perhaps Aikido would not be the rigorous workout I was looking for. (Human beings' capacity at self delusion is rather remarkable. I haven't worked out in over a year and I get winded carrying my grocery bags of cupcakes up the 3 flights of stairs in my building, but somehow I think a martial art is going to be too easy. Sure...)

Aikido has some rather interesting protocols, most of which consist of bowing to everyone and everything upon entering and exiting the Dojo. The Sensei, the photograph of O Sensei (the old Japanese guy who thought this stuff up), every single member of the class, and I think I caught someone bowing to the bathroom door, but I could be wrong. The other is that, though there is no sparring per se, you must practice being attacked. And who do you think does the attacking? Yep, the other members of the class. So much in fact, that easily half of the class is dedicated to learning how to be pinned, tossed, thrown and slammed without breaking anything. A lot of this training involves very long Japanese words I'm hoping to remember at some point, and a lot (a liberal, overly generous amount) of rolling on the floor. Back and forth, back and forth, over and over again to the point where those cupcakes I had for dinner don't know which end is up. (Though that would require us communally agreeing that baked goods possess an innate sense of direction. Agreed? Good). Immediately following the rolling is always some sturdy grounded Chi exercise, which I'd be able to center myself for, if only my stomach hadn't relocated to somewhere below my spleen. The nausea is almost overwhelming, and I would excuse myself, except the bowing would take about 10 minutes and I just don't think my GI track needs that much attention. So instead I stand there, short of breath, slightly green, and decidedly un-zen until it passes, at which point it is time to be flipped over someone's back.

So far, my experience of the mysteries of the eastern disciplines hasn't been so much mind over body, but rather mind over gag reflex. Somehow, I think if I decide to make this path my path, I'm going to have to pack Pepto. Is it really worth being skinny, if everything you do eat ends up tasting like cherry-bismuth?

10.06.2005

Gaol Oriented

(it’s not a typo, it’s a pun…no really)

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A simple enough question, and as a child I had a simple enough answer. I was going to be a Paleontologist / Botanist / Astronaut / Detective. At 7 it didn’t seem to bother me that there really weren’t all that many fossils of ancient plants out in the expanse of space, and even fewer that were involved in any criminal activities. (My enlightenment to this fact was a crushing blow and a defining moment of my youth.) However misguided the goal was, in the 2nd grade I possessed an unquestioning faith in my ability to be exactly who I planned to become. I’m not sure exactly when one loses this. Perhaps confidence is carried on the same gene as baby teeth? (Certainly, this is where the National Institute of Health needs to be spending their research dollars.)

Nowadays I’m not even sure who I am, let alone what I want to be. After college graduation (which is also know in as “Commencement” by some stroke of counter-intuitive pique) I fled to New York City with a few slim greenbacks and dreams of being the most preeminent avant-garde director of the early 21st century — a personal-as-political performance artist of the “angry young man” ilk. Quickly, the cold reality of the expenses of life in the city came like a pail of seawater in the face of a drunken sailor. Buried nightmares of being homeless and sharing a refrigerator box with a stray tomcat named One-Eyed Mike were resurrected in my fitful sleep. The decision was made to find an “in-the-meantime” job. It should be stated here that this entire process took about as long as the drive from Poughkeepsie to NYC.

The requisite “in-the-mean-time” job was procured quickly, and in the 7 years since, that clear vision of who I was to be has faded, shattered, re-assembled, flipped, morphed and any number of past-tense action words, more times than I care to count, until it finally scurried away from me into the night along with Old One-Eye. But the “in-the-meantime” jobs have remained a constant, and the Meantime stretches before me, never-ending, more interminable than a junior high production of “Our Town”. Every year and a half or so, I hear the distant call of the life that was to be, a soul call from those myriad dimensions that flash into existence with each “should have”, “could have”, “would have” decision we make, dimensions spiraling off to manifest every other self we once possessed as possibilities. But like any thrifty Yankee, I don’t take collect calls from people I don’t know. Instead, I usually take it as a sign to find a different “meantime”, the process of which is enough to crush even the strongest amongst us.

Here in America, employees and employers waltz to a symphony of mutually agreed upon lies, some light piccolo solos of euphemism, others tympani rumbles of denial. Unfortunately, no one ever tells you this beforehand, instead we are baptized by fire, each of us in our own private infernos. (Ok, I think I’m giving myself a migraine with all these metaphors and similes, I’ll try to ration from here on out.) I will attempt to enumerate a few as a warning for those of you traveling behind me.

1) Your Manager has absolutely no idea what they are doing. If they did, they would be much further along in the company than they are. Basic logic tells us that those people who are intelligent and talented are moved upward within the company quickly, and those left to manage are those too incompetent to actually do the job you are doing, but for some reason the company hasn’t fired. The manager isn’t quite bright enough to realize they have no clue, but they know you know they don’t know, and therefore they don’t want you to do anything other than stew in the misery of your current position. ([See Subtitle – “Harpy Boss”] interestingly, the word “Harpy” is derived from the Greek verb “harpazo” which translates roughly as “snatch”. I’ll just give you a minute to think about that one… oddly appropriate, don’tcha think?)

2) When companies say they are looking for people with innovative ideas, those that think out of the box, they don’t really mean it. They say it because they think they are supposed to say it, that somehow claiming to want intelligent, talented people working for them will in some way compensate for the fact that what they really want are unquestioning minions with blind faith in “How we’ve always done it” no matter how redundant, inefficient, and down right unintelligible that way is (unless, of course, they can figure out some way to take credit for your idea and pretend it was theirs all along.)

3) Though a new job may be a viewed as an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends, that would be a highly na├»ve position to take. The thing to remember is that with each new job, you have a chance to meet the new person who is so fucking annoying it makes you want to pluck each eyelash out individually just to distract you from the never-ending drone of yoga-speak, survivalist strategies, creative anachronism, or Broadway musical ephemera that threatens to make you snap and beat them to a bloody hump with your special ergonomic keyboard only to run through the halls  a messy terror before being taken away in a straight-jacket to a maximum security prison where you will spend your days ironing bed sheets and planning special treats for Norbert, the biker thug who chose you to be his punk, but then you’ve always been fond of repetitive tasks and you’ve been wanting a long term relationship anyway.

4) Before subjecting yourself to a five-hour, five-person interview process make sure first that the Head Hunting Agency that sent you actually sent you the right information, and you are not, by accident, interviewing for a position you would never consider accepting like crab-shucking, or long-haul trucking, or Governor of California. Also important is to make sure that if you’ve accepted an offer, the agency informs your new employer so you avoid spending 2 weeks training for a job you will only discover was given to someone else when you arrive for your first day and Security has no record of you in their system, because believe me, they might not have guns, but those Rent-a-cops really don’t get all that excited over a game of skyscraper Hide ‘n Seek.

5) While interviewing you will be asked several pointed questions regarding your employment history, your work ethic, your greatest strength, and your greatest fault. Unless you are sure you don’t want the job, avoid answering as follows: I’ve hated every job I’ve ever had and will probably hate this one; I’ve discovered working hard only makes you a target, and therefore I will be doing only the minimum required to get by; I’m fairly certain I’m smarter than most people I will be working for, and will only find joy in pointing out my boss’s inadequacies and disseminating that information to my fellow employees; and finally, I have an attitude problem and that as a result I have an almost uncontrollable urge to push stupid looking strangers into oncoming traffic. Answering in such a manner may disqualify you from getting the job.

Following this advice might not make surviving the workplace any easier, or even get you that much closer to becoming what you’ve always wanted to be, but giving it has allowed me to get a clearer sense of what I want to be — self-employed.