Rest in Peace, Chris Cornell. (And Gen-X. And okayness.)

Man, I’m in a dark and strange mood this morning. I shouldn’t be. It’s gorgeous out there.

I live in Arizona and it’s May 19 and we’ve been sleeping with the windows open. It’s been like this for almost two weeks. The bedroom air is slightly chilly in the morning, so I reach for a light robe. This bizarre behavior can only mean one thing: we’re entering a new Ice Age.

It’s not just at night, either. After I get up, I go around the house and open one or two other windows and the front door, and leave them open for a good half-day, if not longer. I open them again in the evenings. This, my friends in other places, is paradise. We desert-dwellers love the desert, but we also love an unseasonably cool breeze through our security screen doors.

For posterity, here’s me this morning:

 

May 19, 2017 – in a light sweatshirt. In Arizona.

 

At the same time, awful things have been happening in the world, including the recent and tragic departure of Chris Cornell, whose widespread fame was launched with his Seattle grunge band Soundgarden. His death was not only shocking and sad, but also somewhat alarming for we “lost ones” of Generation X.

When you spend your childhood in the 70’s, your teens in the 80’s, and your twenties in the 90’s –and when the 90’s was your favorite decade, and Ten is one of your all-time favorite albums – the untimely deaths of icons like Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell are sobering. It makes you want to watch Singles (older Gen-Xers), Reality Bites (younger Gen-Xers), and Office Space all day, kicked back on the couch eating chips and not looking for a job, all of us stereotypical, slovenly losers and slackers of Generation X.

Should I complete my own stereotype as a Gen-X writer and install a coffee pot on my desk?

Should I stare off into space and then write a letter? (“Dear Eddie Vedder: please don’t.”)

But I’m lucky. My depression is under control. I’m okay. We’re okay. Everything is okay. Everything is fine, despite global shenanigans at the highest levels of power, shenanigans of which there’s no need to speak. It’s like that one meme… that one where the dog is sitting in a house that’s burning down around him, and then he perks up and says, “This is fine.”

That’s a sign of our times, though, isn’t it? “Okay” and “fine” have long since been code for “things aren’t exactly hunky-dory.”  

“How are you?”

“I’m okay.”

“JUST okay?”

Commence questioning all of your life choices as you’re prompted to consider why you said just “okay.” You can’t be okay if you say you’re okay, because okay isn’t good enough. To tell the well-meaning inquirer that you’re okay is to send yourself an invitation to spill all of your not-okayness right there in the office hallway on your way to the water cooler.

Is this the product of a society defined by extremes? If we’re not flying high on the vaporous joy of life at all times, then something is wrong?

I’ll take “okay.”

Maybe this entire post was a sort of tangent. Maybe I just wanted to say, Rest in Peace, Chris Cornell.

 

 

“Be the best version of yourself.” (And other stories.)

I have a confession to make: I don’t like the phrase “Be the best version of yourself.”

The phrase has become one of my pet peeves. When I hear it, I immediately think of that Batman slapping Robin meme. You know the one.

Mind you, you don’t annoy me. I’m not judging or making fun of anyone who uses the phrase in any of its derivations. If it’s helpful to wake up in the morning and think, “Today I’m going to be the best version of myself,” then that’s awesome. It’s awesome because it works for you, and what’s more, what works for you is none of my business. Sometimes, catchy self-help adages are motivational. Whatever works!

If I may ask again, though – at the risk of sounding like a broken record – why do we insist on pressuring ourselves with all of this honing in on the self?

We’re constantly analyzing and judging ourselves, and often feeling not good enough. “Be the best version of yourself” seems counterproductive. It’s a command that could readily set us up for failure. We could end up feeling worse if, at the end of the day, we conclude that we didn’t live up to our own expectations.

Because that’s what “be the best version of yourself” means, I think: “Live up to your potential.”

“Potential” in terms of being good human beings: we don’t always have to be the hero risking our lives to save everyone all the time. It’s just as good to smile genuinely at someone to make their day a little brighter. Maybe that’s how you save someone.

“Potential” in terms of achieving excellence in everything we do: we don’t have to expect perfection of ourselves in everything we do all the time. 

Being the best version of yourself can mean that you smiled genuinely at someone, and you also made sure to not miss any spots when you cleaned the table.

Sometimes, it’s too much to try to be the best. Why even put a superlative on what “version” of yourself you’re going to be on any given day?

If you make it a personal policy to be a decent human being, there’s nothing wrong with deciding to be the flea market version of yourself, or the mix tape version of yourself, or whatever version of yourself you need to be that day… whatever version lifts your spirits. Whatever version makes your smile genuine, so you can pass it on to someone else.

 

Simple advice on a tank top (from my friend in France)

 

Phoenix Forgotten. (Failed non-review movie review!) (+PTSD diagnosis story)

We went to watch Phoenix Forgotten, which brought back the year of 1997.

As I sat there, it occurred to me for the first time that the beginning of my PTSD coincided with the Phoenix Lights.

[NOTE: The link function to open the linked page in a new window is down at the moment, so you’ll have to back-arrow to get back here]

 

 

Probably many of us living here in Phoenix metro in 1997 remember the lights that moved over the Valley in March. For me, 1997 was also eventful because it involved numerous doctors throughout the year. 1997 was the year I was diagnosed with PTSD. Yes – six years post-main event.

I wasn’t in school in 1997. I was taking a year off, the year after college and before grad school. There were only two things on my agenda for 1997: write poems and train for my black belt in Tae Kwan Do. I was also working.

So I was doing all of that, just minding my own business, like you do, and then, one night, I went to bed feeling sick to my stomach. As soon as I closed my eyes, my heart jumped in and crashed the party, like, Hey! I’m here too! Whheeeeeee! Cannonball!!!… and I couldn’t breathe, and I thought I was going to die of a cardiac event.

Then I was waking up. It was morning. What the hell just happened?

It happened again the next night, and the next and the next. It got to a point where I was too gun-shy to go bed. Going to bed had become a horrifying prospect, so every night, I put it off until I was passing-out tired. I don’t know why I didn’t go to the doctor sooner.

Eventually, I did go to the doctor, because I had an episode that was different than the others, and that was the proverbial last straw.

In that episode, I was trapped in another dimension and I was going to die for sure. Somewhere between awake and sleep, something happened. If I was completely asleep, it would’ve been a nightmare. Whatever this was, it was psychedelic and real, like, 3D real… and that was on top of the physical Armageddon that was my new normal. After I survived that night, I finally went to the doctor.

*****

1997 became a year of medical mystery. I went back and forth between different internists and specialists, cardiology and gastroenterology and cardiology again, everyone referring me to everyone else. I was deemed healthy – good news! – but I was still having these ridiculous episodes.

Then my baffled first internist started asking me questions about my background. When it came out that I was a combat vet, she referred me to a shrink. The shrink explained that panic attacks mimic heart conditions and other physical issues, which was why no one thought of the PTSD possibility.

He explained that the first episode was a panic attack. After it recurred nightly for a period of time, it became a panic disorder (PTSD, in my case). And the next-level attacks, he said, were “night terrors.”

Why did it take so long for the PTSD to manifest? He said it wasn’t unusual for vets to come home fine and then experience a trigger years later. The trigger could be anything, he said. So what was my trigger? We’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter.

All we know is that my PTSD was triggered by something in the spring of 1997. Coincidentally, I’m sure, the Phoenix Lights also happened in the spring of 1997.

*****

I sat in the movie theater remembering and pondering all of this, and that is how my non-review movie review became a post about my PTSD diagnosis.

I can’t be objective about this movie, but I can say that in my opinion, it wasn’t bad.

Phoenix Forgotten begins on a robust note, then bleeds out into the Found Footage horror movie sub-genre. In my experience, Found Footage movies made after the first Blair Witch Project are doomed to the basement where Bad Horror Flicks live. I often really enjoy Bad Horror Flicks, but I can’t even say whether this movie was bad enough to qualify as that bad.

If you’re intrigued by the Phoenix Lights and/or you’re a fan of Found Footage horror movies, you may dig this one.

 

 

Mind as muscle. (Working out: suggestions from a non-professional.)

This is for anyone who’s decided to start working out, has started working out, and is now wondering, “How can I continue to do it?”

I’ve been asked. There’s no single answer. I can suggest, though, that one way to stay committed to working out is to stay interested in working out, and one way to stay interested in working out is to focus – not on other people, and not on yourself, but on what you’re doing.

That’s the key: In order to follow through on your commitment, you have to stay interested.

 

Fire in stone

 

1). Here’s my first suggestion:

Don’t compare yourself to others. 

Those people working out around you? Ignore them.

2). My second suggestion is the one that’s the most important to me, personally:

Focus on the fight in front of you.

Don’t focus on all the fights, all at once. Just on the one directly in front of you right now.

If you balk at the word “fight,” remember that “fight” is a common word, and that most of the time, we don’t use it in a violently combative sense.

Fight cancer, fight fatigue, fight the urge to laugh, fight the impulse to say what you’re thinking, fight for air. Fight for equality and justice and rights, if you’re so inclined. Fight for your family. Fight to defend yourself. Fight to stay alive. Fight back.

Fighting is a mental endeavor, first and foremost.

When someone says, “You have a lot of fight in you,” that’s high praise. It suggests that you’re mentally strong. You persevere. You don’t give up. You’re brave.

Imagine taking that perseverance and bravery with you when you go to work out. Imagine setting small goals to achieve your long-term goal in increments. Each small goal is a fight. Focus on it, and you may find that your interest is held because you’re immersed in a moment that has an end goal.

Fitness goals come from somewhere. They come from your mind. They come about because you’ve thought about them. You had a thought that became a decision that led to the statement “I’m going to work out.”

That’s a testament to your strength, already! You’ve declared that you’re going to work out, and it was your mind that got you over that hurdle. Your mind already did the hardest part, so you can trust it to help you follow through.

What about confidence, though?

I remove confidence from the equation because I don’t consider it to be the means to an end. I would suggest, “Just focus on what you’re doing. Don’t worry about confidence.”

After your workout, you can exult in the confidence you’ve gained knowing that you gave your ALL to that workout.

Your confidence will increase each time, developing gradually as a result of what you’re doing. Eventually, you’ll carry it with you into your workouts without even knowing it. It becomes a force that you can access subconsciously.

Going into your fitness endeavor trying to believe “I’m confident” is setting yourself up to focus on that. Your focus should be on what you’re doing, not on how you think you should be feeling.

My two suggestions are interrelated: If you compare yourself to others while you’re working out, your focus will no longer be trained on what’s in front of you. What’s in front of you is the goal you’re aiming to achieve in that moment. It’s your fight… use it to direct your focus and to keep your focus where it can benefit you the most.

Muay Thai 2 (Garage gym post!)

Surprised to see another garage gym post again so soon? Well, the other day – that would be Friday – our houseguests took off in the morning, and Callaghan went back to work. I could’ve done any number of useful things, but I was feeling better after a couple of days of medical shenanigans, and the garage was just sitting there in the fine spring weather.

I had no plan, so what ended up happening was a Muay Thai workout, because that’s usually the direction I go when I wing it in the garage.

Whatever the case, I recorded my workout again. That’s just the best way for me to see where I can improve. It also allows me to share a few pics with those of you who enjoy these garage gym posts. Thank you for that, by the way!

During the 45-minute workout, I practiced the techniques in haphazard sets, mixing it up at random. Instead of jumping rope, I started with a little resistance-band rowing for a warm-up.

Speaking of which, it’s already getting warm in that garage! This year we must find a way to make it survivable during the hot months.

 

Let’s get this party started.

 

rowing (with resistance band)

 

rowing

 

(dummy migration)

 

lower-body warm up with a little side-shuffling (tentatively, because of my knee)

 

keeping warm

 

round chamber (warmed up and feeling okay)

 

round kick

 

(I was mindful of how I felt during this workout; I wasn’t going to continue practicing a technique if it was causing discomfort.)

 

teep

 

teep

 

(teep pullback)

 

(down elbow dummy set-up)

 

down elbow chamber and throw

 

down elbow

 

(same thing on the other side)

 

down elbow

 

down elbow – sticking it

 

back to the bag for side elbow strikes (this one’s a jump)

 

(That whole move right there should’ve been higher. I didn’t get in close enough, so I missed my target. I cringed when I saw the footage! I threw this strike something like 30 times throughout the workout, and it was all terrible.)

 

side elbow

 

(My ground side elbow was a little better. To be fair, though, it’s hard to get in close on a bag with a base such as this one, especially with my short reach.)

 

back to the dummy for knee strikes

 

(Left side only, since my right knee had just recovered.)

(Also, I would LOVE to have a B.O.B. again, especially for knee strikes.)

 

back to the bag for speed punches

 

(I also practiced power punches and combinations on the bag.)

 

to the floor for stretches (holding a modified plank – active rest)

 

plyo push-up (top)

 

plyo push-up (descending)

 

I finished with speed punches on the dummy, sitting on the floor and stabilizing the upright dummy between my lower legs. That was a good core workout as well as a speed and knuckle-conditioning workout…. the dummy provides a more solid punching surface than the upright bag.

Oh, there’s no “walking back” pic this time. I walked away around the edge, for some reason. But there’s a “walking on” pic at the beginning, so maybe that’ll be the new tradition. Haha.

A year later… (looking back)

Friday was the anniversary of my Major Life Change… it was a year from the day I quit my job and made a commitment to take on this writing project. I made the change on the cusp of spring (Happy Spring!), and the timing couldn’t have been more auspicious. Who doesn’t love fresh, shiny, new beginnings?

Of course we had to celebrate.

We kept it low-key, because that’s how we roll. We went for a lunch date on Friday at our favorite place near Callaghan’s work, and then for a movie date over the weekend. It was a good excuse to see John Wick 2, which I’d been wanting to see.

But I digress! Where am I a year later? I’ve been checking in with updates here and there over the last 12 months, but to recap:

Physically speaking, I’ve taken over the Room Formerly Known As Our Dining Room when the Room Formerly Known As My Office became Cita’s Room.

(“Physically speaking” is hugely important to me. I could take my laptop around the house and write, and I’ve done that and still do that, but I’m a person who needs to be grounded somewhere.)

This began innocuously enough, with just my electronics appearing on the dining room table. Things snowballed from there. I’ve even decorated the area according to my project’s theme. Writing is an art, a craft, a discipline, so if the environment needs to comply, one needs to pay attention, right?

 

After a year of writing, and everything that goes with it….

 

Some of my comfort zones have been left behind, too. Instead of having a fixed work schedule, I wake up to a unique day every day, and that’s a good thing, because it allows for fluid productivity, and fluidity is unforced. My creative energy has free reign.

I’ve recognized that for me, this kind of writing is a 24/7 job, and I’ve come to embrace that. It’s an ongoing exercise in recognizing my best hours for concentrated writing. The discipline lies in treating those times as sacred.

There’s continual reading and investigating and learning, a part of the process as a whole. For a year I’ve been eyeballs-deep in crash course after crash course on a hundred different subjects. My brain is swollen with information and (like all writers) I hope my search engine history goes unnoticed, but I haven’t felt more mentally stimulated since grad school over 15 years ago.

(The downside to this is that I’m in my head more, which doesn’t always translate to seamless social interaction. I’m flightier than ever, for one thing.)

The only concrete temporal structure I have in my week is my blog posting schedule and my gym class schedule, and that structure is non-negotiable, especially the gym part. If I don’t make it to the gym, it’s for medical or transportation reasons, or the occasional scheduling conflict.

This work has been challenging and tough from the standpoint of mental well-being, too, but it’s been positive, overall. I owe Callaghan a debt of gratitude for nudging me onto this path in the first place, and for being my number one support system and a faithful reader of the material. Also, thank you all so much for reading here and for accompanying me on this journey!

What’s in my bag?! (Apocalypse bag.)

If you’re one of my regular readers, you may have noticed that I’ve had survival on the brain these days, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my EDC (Everyday Carry) has evolved into a compact survival situation – I’ve been referring to my handbag as my “apocalypse bag.” I’ve only been half-joking. It’s basically a smaller version of a 72-hour bag, which is, in turn, a smaller version of a Bug-Out Bag (BOB).

There’s room left in this bag when fully packed, but it isn’t light. To solve the problem of Callaghan wanting to put stuff in my bag (thus making it heavier), I’m considering getting him a Man-Bag, Dammit (MBD), so he can carry his things around in his NutSac.

That aside, my apocalypse bag is unassuming enough. We went to Target on Monday evening, and Callaghan took this pic of me in the parking lot just to give you an idea:

 

Me with my EDC (aka apocalypse bag)

 

–See? You can’t tell that it’s holding everything AND there’s probably a kitchen sink in there somewhere, too.

–There’s an orangutan on the side because it’s a Kipling bag. I kept it there because why remove a perfectly good orangutan.

–Yes, that is my bra. No, I didn’t realize it was visible until I saw this pic. Thankfully, this top is only see-through when the camera captures me in the light of a brilliant Arizona sunset, and at this particular angle. Also because of the sunset, my black top, pants, bag, and shoes all came out in shades of orange. My hair came out red. I don’t usually filter my pics, but this was definitely a job for a filter. I went with the first one I tried (“vintage”), because in addition to kind of correcting the color, it lent a sort of noir energy to the pic, which I thought was apropos.

Here’s the apocalypse bag just sitting there:

Apocalypse bag, full

 

Here’s how I organized it:

1). Front compartment: Keys. I keep a miniature pocket knife on my key-chain, along with a bolt snap.

Apocalypse bag, front

 

2). Side compartment 1: Kleenex, gum, glasses lens wipes.

Apocalypse bag, side

 

3). Side compartment 2: Earbuds.

Apocalypse bag, other side

 

4). Back compartment: Folding fan.

Apocalypse bag, back

 

5). Middle compartment: This is my main tool compartment. It holds my folding knife, which I keep attached to the sewn-in key-clasp. My knife is a Victorinox one-handed lockblade Trekker; I covered the handle in gun grip tape for a more secure grip (pro-tips). This compartment also holds my Gerber multi-tool (mainly for its pliers, wire-cutter, and wire-stripper); portable phone charger; mini scissors; mini flashlight; spare batteries for the flashlight; lighter; nail clippers; tweezers; travel adapter for electrical outlets; pen; pencil; neon post-its. With the exception of the knife, pen, pencil, and post-its, everything is packed in protective pouches and plastic zip-loc bags.

Apocalypse bag, middle

 

6). Main compartment, which includes an inside zip pocket that holds my passport and emergency cash stored in a zip-loc bag. (Travel-ready, though I don’t know where I think I’m going with my bag that’s full of all sorts of tools and blades and scissors and whatnot. I always have my passport on me, regardless, so it’s just a habit.)

Apocalypse bag, main compartment

 

See how there’s still room left in there? There’s a ridiculous amount of stuff in this compartment:

Under the top layer (normal handbag-type things), I keep four protective pouches/zip-loc bags that hold: a). disposable rubber gloves; antiviral face masks; antibacterial hand wipes; face wipes; bandanna; gallon zip-loc bag for soiled/contaminated materials (or vomit); extra Kleenex; extra lighter; extra pen and neon post-its. b). toothpaste, folding toothbrush, dental floss. c). aspirin; upset stomach tablets; ibuprofen; Emergen-C packets; antibacterial wound spray; band-aids in three different sizes. d). protein bars, fruit & nut bars, peanut butter packets.

I can also put an empty water bottle that can be filled wherever there’s water. Sometimes I have it pre-filled. A double eyeglass case for glasses and sunglasses also fits.

Here’s the empty bag:

Apocalypse bag, empty

 

The bag is made of water-resistant nylon. It’s very light, which is good; the only weight I’m carrying is of the stuff inside. The canvas strap is thick and adjustable for length.

That covers it, for now. This is a work in progress! I’m going to add gauze, sterile tape, and some sort of thin, strong rope. I thought of adding pepper spray in case of dog attack, but I don’t like the idea of pepper spray in my bag. I also thought of a whistle, in case of drowning emergency. (I did learn something from Titanic.)

I just like feeling ready for basic emergencies. And if the apocalypse is a zombie apocalypse, I might be able to survive that with this bag, too. (But do I need a hammer? Must research.)