Archive for weight loss

145

Posted in real life with tags on October 1, 2017 by sethdellinger

Weighed in at 145 pounds this morning, with a goal of 140.  Feeling pretty good!  I’m a little unhappy about the fact that I can’t do much strength training, due to my recent Carpal Tunnel surgery, so it is affecting how the fat is burning away from me–I have a little more belly than I have at 145 before.  But all in all–I am in a really good place (we ate out twice today though–I will not be 145 tomorrow!)

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Let’s Talk About My Weight Fluctuation

Posted in real life with tags , , , , on July 8, 2017 by sethdellinger

I know the world isn’t a clamoring for a blog post about my struggle with weight fluctuation, but I’m clamoring to write one, so.  Let me give you a little of my weight/fitness history first.

When I was a very young man, in my teens and early twenties, I certainly did not struggle with my weight. I am a short man, but I don’t think it would be fair to say I was ever scrawny. Lithe, is how I liked to think of it. At any rate, I was a pretty small man. In high school I was on the wrestling team and I wrestled (poorly) in the 103 pound weight class, if you can believe that. Anyway, it wasn’t until the back side of my twenties that I started to plump up a little bit, nothing too serious, I just became a somewhat chunky guy. And when you are 5 foot 2, it doesn’t take many extra pounds to make you look chunky. I at that point started to go through phases where I would try to lose weight.  I would become obsessed with the idea of taking the weight off and doing it quickly. During this period I was still a smoker, so any hardcore exercising was fully out of the question, so I would try and do it through “calorie deprivation”, AKA starvation. Now, at this point I wasn’t getting very scientific about it, I wasn’t necessarily counting calories, I just did things like bought Slim-Fast, skipped meals, then would do a bunch of jumping jacks in my bedroom at night, assuming that any kind of exercise, when you are consuming extremely low calories, you are going to lose weight. It would work somewhat, I would watch the scale every day, I’d lose a couple pounds, but at that point in time I wasn’t interested or motivated enough to really keep going with it, and also my inability to really exercise in any extended capacity really limited me. So I would do it on again and off again, but never really commit.
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Then around the age of 30 I quit smoking, and I immediately bought a pair of running shoes and started running around my neighborhood, thinking I was going to make a huge change, and of course again I started severely limiting my calorie intake, and watching the scale. But, being the novice I was, I immediately overdid the running, inflicting stress fractures in my shins (although not diagnosed by a medical professional). My over zealousness and a lack of knowledge sidelined me shortly after I quit smoking, and then shortly after that is when I began my long solo journey.
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I moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, where I was 5 hours from all my friends and family, completely alone. It was a very exciting time for me actually, but one thing I decided to do, I made a conscious choice to go ahead and get overweight. I wasn’t going to run into anybody I knew anywhere. I wasn’t at that period interested in attracting a romantic partner, so I decided to just say to hell with it and eat whatever I wanted, however often I wanted. I also had a good amount of disposable income so it really was a tremendous smorgasbord for me.   After a year-and-a-half of living in Erie, I weighed 190 pounds, at 5 foot 2. This was pretty extreme. In many respects, it was fascinating and I kind of enjoyed it. I’d never been anywhere near that big before, and at first it became truly fascinating to see parts of myself changing, expanding, learning what it was like to be that big. But of course, that novelty wore off eventually. Things were very inconvenient, I couldn’t tie my shoes properly, going to the bathroom was a chore, and although I still tried to live a pretty active lifestyle, it started to be difficult for me to ride a bike, or take a leisurely stroll through the woods. So, it having been a few years since I quit smoking at that point, I decided to really go all in, and for the first time in my life, get a gym membership. And thus began the real weight ballooning. Now I was able to watch the scale, count my calories, and work out obsessively. It turns out that calorie deprivation coupled with frequent working out is actually an incredibly effective way to lose weight! Of course I’m not the first person to figure this out. But as any health professional will tell you, starvation diets are no way to lose weight and keep it off. Almost everyone who loses weight in this fashion puts it back on eventually. Because it is not a lifestyle, it’s a quick fix and psychologically, it wires us to bounce back. But at the time, that didn’t matter, I was losing weight super fast, sometimes as much as a pound a day. I became familiar with how many calories equal one pound of fat.  I did the math everyday, all the calories I ate, all the calories I burned.  And you might be surprised how, when one is living by themselves and can completely control what food is in their house, and how obsessive they are able to be, just how easy it is to approach that number in one day. In total, I lost 50 pounds in just a few months, going from 190 to 140. I also did a lot of weight training in that time, and was looking pretty astonishing. And even though I had gotten there through a starvation diet, I truly did enjoy working out and being fit, and had every intention–or so I thought–of continuing to live a fit and healthy lifestyle going forward. I had bought a lot of stuff, fitness swag. I loved going to the gym, looked forward to it and spent hours there as often as I could. Being fit had become a part of me, a part of my new identity and I loved it. However, just a few short months after arriving at this place in my life, I ended up making an enormous life change. After about 10 years of living completely by myself, and 15 years of working for the same company, I made a decision to move 7 hours away, to live with my mother and get a job with a new company. Now, granted, the living with my mother part was to be very temporary, until I could find my own place. However, mom lived in New Jersey, right outside of Philadelphia, and it was my goal to find my own place in Philadelphia, which was not the simplest thing to do, especially when I was also getting used to my new job. So I ended up living with Mom for about 10 months, and all these changes at once served to derail my newfound love for fitness. Now granted, I can’t really blame gaining my weight back on those changes. I could have continued to focus on the fitness, I do realize that. I tried very much at first. I transferred my gym membership to one in South Jersey, and tried to get there as often as I could, but I  ended up getting there just a handful of times. I was learning the geography of my South Jersey home, as well as trying to learn the layout of Philadelphia, and learning my new job. And although my mother is tremendously hospitable and living with her again at that stage of my life was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything, it was also incredibly shocking to my system, as a man in his mid-thirties, who had lived in a couple rather large apartments by himself for a long time, to now share his house with his mother. It was a lot to take in.  At any rate, after holding my fitness together for a month or two, I started to slide, eventually caving and gaining almost all my weight back. By the time I came to and realized that I was a pretty big man again, I had been living by myself in Philadelphia for over a year. I suddenly realized that I had gone all the way back to my biggest. I remembered fondly how much I loved fitness in Erie, how much I love how I looked, how much I loved clothes shopping and how much I enjoyed the feeling of being physically fit. Being that size felt like the authentic me, like I had finally tunneled to part of the real me, in the physical sense. Here I am not suggesting that our “authentic selves” are purely physical–surely I was an authentic version of me when I was my biggest.  But in that body I didn’t feel like me.  In my 140 pound body, I did.
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 And so I started the process again. It was easier in Philadelphia, because I did not have a car and rode my bike everywhere. Even with that being the case I had managed to get to 180 or 185 pounds. I once again got a gym membership in Philadelphia.  The gym was two miles from my house so I had to ride my bike 4 miles round-trip just to go to the gym. I started starving myself again, or what I thought of as calorie deprivation. The weight came off like gangbusters once again, I stepped down through the pounds in just a matter of months, arriving at that beautiful sweet spot of 140, although my ideal goal has always been 130, my reasonable goal is always 140. I got there and loved it again, but just like the first time, no sooner had I gotten there then I made some enormous life changes. As most of you probably know, it was shortly after this that I met my love Karla, and once again stopped living by myself, moving back to my homeland in central Pennsylvania, and this time not just moving in with one person, but with Boy and Dog as well. And then shortly after that move, I changed jobs yet again, and then even more notably, quickly transitioned to vegetarian, and then to vegan. And while the general perception of being vegetarian or vegan is that it is automatically healthier–and that is almost always true–if one tries really hard, one can gain quite a bit of weight eating these ways. And so it came to pass that even though I was the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, the sheer magnitude of changes ushered in yet another slow crawl to a heavy spot.
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Now, I’m not a trying to blame my weight bouncing on these changes entirely. It truly is a mystery to me whether or not and to what degree these life changes cause my weight gain, or whether I would bounce back even without such changes to start it. All I know is that it has happened that way. Karla has been incredibly kind and understanding, always making me feel handsome and beautiful no matter what, but supporting me and what I want to do.  And so it came to pass that a few months ago, I decided it was time to get back onto the fitness train, this time, fingers crossed, to stay on the train forever. You see, the thing is, both times I have lost all that weight before, I certainly recognized that I was not doing it in a healthy way. I knew that the calorie deprivation and that incredibly rapid weight loss was not healthy for me, and would not be easy for me to maintain. However, I simply found myself incapable of not obsessing over it once I began. Now, I don’t know if this is what would classify as an eating disorder or not. Perhaps it’s just a manifestation of something else within me, and I don’t know if something that only happens every couple years is an eating disorder. But I do know that it does feel mildly beyond my control. When I first began getting healthy and losing weight this time around, a few months ago, I was determined not to let it grip me this time. I began at first simply by deciding to eat better. I never stepped on the scale. I went to the gym occasionally, but on no set schedule. My idea at first was just to make the next right decision with food.  Every time I ate, I would eat a reasonable portion, or forgo condiments that might add calories or fat.  I would skip the snack at night.  I wouldn’t drink calories unless it was part of some healthy beverage.  And so on.  And so this is what I did for about a month.  I stepped on the scale finally: 178.  A better starting point than my previous times; I’ll never know what I really started at, the month before I started eating better.
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After I stepped on that scale the first time, I was able to keep things pretty healthy for a month or two. I would only check my weight every couple days. I started working out more, because I wanted to be healthier, I wanted my circulatory system and my respiratory system to really be awesome. I continued  just making the next right decision with food, and while the scale didn’t always show a loss when I stepped on it, the trend was generally downward and I was pleased. But somewhere along the line, about a month ago, it gripped me again. I started cutting back on calories in an extreme sense, I wasn’t able to go the the gym as I have been before, but I started to deprive the calories, I started to step on the scale multiple times a day, keeping track of when the last time I had a drink was, in case that was showing on the scale. Had I peed recently? What all was traveling through me? Almost at any point in the day, I could tell you how much I weighed. Of course the thing is, it’s working like gangbusters again. I expect to wake up tomorrow morning at 161 pounds, about to enter the 150s! The changes are finally starting to be noticeable, although I still hate my belly. Even at 140, I typically hate my belly.
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I’m writing this now, I think, because I’ve realized it’s gripped me again and I’m not going to let it happen this time.  I’m going to keep dieting, in a prudent way, and I’m going to keep working out and getting healthy.  And with my lovely partner’s help (there really is nobody better than Karla for, basically, anything) I will work through my scale-watching, calorie-obsessed issue. I will lose weight and keep it off and get fit and stay that way–because I have to and because I want to.  But once I start seeing the scale move and the numbers go down I want to be at the end NOW.  And I know how to do it.  But how many times do I have in me?  Frequent weight swings of this magnitude will wreck a human body.
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I suppose I am putting this out in the world as an additional counter-measure; if everyone knows about it, it adds an extra layer of accountability for me.  And also to add a voice to dispelling the myth that men don’t have body issues.  While our culture certainly creates a toxic environment for women and what they have to put up with as far as beauty standards is horrific and as a man I do not have nearly so much against me, I do struggle greatly with anxiety of how I look to others.  I hate my flabby paunch, my jiggly underchin, my wrinkly eyes.  I obsess over how I look–especially when I’m at my worst.  I’m not suggesting that male body issues need to be a major area of social discourse, but unfortunately there remain many women and men out in social media land–most of whom I consider quite enlightened otherwise–who frequently post memes and such of shirtless firefighters (or etc etc) with captions like “I’m gonna set my house on fire”.  Of course these shirtless men always have physiques that would be literally impossible for me to attain at this stage in my life, no matter what I did.  But there they are–intelligent, socially aware adults perpetuating an unattainable vision of masculine beauty.  Please don’t get me wrong–I’m certainly not blaming my weight fluctuations on memes.  I’m just putting it out there for thought: we’ve fought hard against idealizing ludicrous feminine beauty standards for years.  Please consider the men in your life before you do the same to them.  We are not immune to feelings of body shame.
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Please don’t think you need to worry about me, either.  I know I used the term “eating disorder” in here but I am in no danger.  I ate pretty well today and plan on it tomorrow, too. And I have a pretty good team in my corner.  I hope to update you soon on how I attained my goal weight, the healthy way.

Scenes From My Sojourn

Posted in Memoir, My Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2015 by sethdellinger

After a straight shot drive down a highway whose number I now forget, I crested a hill around six in the morning, it still being completely dark outside, and saw for the first time the city skyline of Cleveland. I had the day off of work, and I was still exploring my immediate surroundings, since moving to what I call the chimney of Pennsylvania, so close to Buffalo and Cleveland and Pittsburgh. More than anything the prospect of Cleveland intrigued me, because I had never really considered that I might go there, or that it might be close enough, or what might even be there. So I set the early alarm, and drove straight in there with no plan. All I really wanted to do was park somewhere right in the city, find a newspaper from a newspaper

A self-timer self-portrait I did on a bench in Cleveland.

A self-timer self-portrait I did on a bench in Cleveland.

machine, and a local coffee shop, and read the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a newspaper whose name I already knew from years of attempting to be media savvy. Somehow I managed to find just the right exit off the highway, and, with my breath still showing in my car from the early-morning chill, found a parking lot that cost just a few dollars, right in the heart of the city. I hopped out of my car feeling extremely accomplished, walking across the early-morning parking lot, and I noticed many other people on foot, traveling the same way I was, heading into the city for that morning’s whatever. This was the first time I truly felt the call of the city, the desire to move in that hive, to be one of those lemmings. Wherever they were all going, it seemed like it must be interesting, different from what I knew and was accustomed to, and terribly important. Everyone made their way into their assigned nooks and crannies, disappearing down side streets and alleys and into revolving doors. In an almost astonishing short amount of time I found the newspaper machine I was looking for, and I even had the quarters ready, as I had anticipated this even before I left my apartment back Erie. I got myself a fresh-off-the presses copy of that mornings Cleveland Plain Dealer, and in an even shorter amount of time, I found myself in a local chain coffee shop called Phoenix Coffee, drinking a large caramel latte, reading about the Cleveland Browns that year, and the big high hopes everyone had for Colt McCoy.

 

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Shortly after moving in with my mother in South Jersey, a hurricane was on the way. I can’t remember what its name was anymore, because you know, they name these things, all of them. So it was on its way, and after the big news stories that the last few had been, this was supposed to be a big news story too. All the roads were going to be shut down, everything was going to flood, and we were all going to freak out. We all watched on the radar as the thing approached, and everyone from my work kept calling and texting around, wondering if we were going to have to go in the next day, and just how bad

Putzing around in the rain during our hurricane in South Jersey

Putzing around in the rain during our hurricane in South Jersey

everything was going to be. My mother and I were concerned about sleeping in our upstairs bedrooms, there being trees near the house, and that they might crash through the windows, like some goddamn nightmare. Eventually, it was decided no one had to go into work, and I was home with my mother as the danger approached. It started raining, and more than anything I was just intrigued. I’ve been through plenty of different storms in my life, and of course I’ve got the obligatory Pennsylvania drenchings from hurricanes that are almost out of steam by the time they get to us. But this looked like it might be an actual hurricane. Every hour or so I would put on all my rain gear and walk out to the development’s drainage ditch, to check the flooding progress. It’s one of those perfectly manicured little drainage ditches, it doesn’t look natural at all, obviously something that a few men with small bulldozer patted down on a Sunday afternoon twenty years ago. As the afternoon progressed the drainage ditch kept not filling up and not filling up, and the rain, although incessant and quite wet, kept being just that: rain. As Mom got bored from being cooped up inside and watching TV, and I got disappointed by the weather nonevent, the afternoon meandered into just another afternoon, one of those days wiled away looking at images on screens, or reading words in a book, the type of afternoon that you think of as a fine relaxing afternoon, but ultimately one with nothing very memorable. After it had been raining for about four hours I took my final walk out to the drainage ditch, saw that it was in fact actually less full than the previous time, and I took a short walk out to the small woods behind the development, and stood listening to the rain hit the leaves, and the small creek at the bottom of a low-grade hill behind my mother’s house. It was nice to be there, I thought. It was a nice place, and a nice time to be alive, and a very unique, circuitous path to be on. But it was also one of those moments when you think yourself, how in the world did I get here?

 

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I had been working out and dieting for about two months at this point, and had lost about three-quarters of the weight I wanted to lose. I had been living on my own in the city of Philadelphia for about six or seven months, and summer was in full swing. My new healthy lifestyle coupled with the season had invigorated me like I had never felt before. My typically high energy level was now bordering on manic, with me needing only a few hours of sleep a night, and typically reading thousands and thousands of words a day, in magazines, newspapers, books, and that was just the start of what I was able to accomplish. I would often be caught telling people that the world was actually bending to my very will. On this particular night, I had been out riding my bike all over the city, all day long. Starting out in the sweltering heat of noon, riding all the way from my Pennsport

Taken around the time I thought I could control the universe.

Taken around the time I thought I could control the universe.

apartment to the Art Museum, then back again, then out again and down to the Schuylkill River Trail, making the entire loop, miles and miles and miles of riding. Every time I would come home I would just play Pandora radio, no television on this day, the universe and all its sounds and music coursing through me. At night I threw open the windows in my apartment and let the natural air flow through, stripping down naked and playing air guitar to serious and depressing Post-Rock music and laughing and crying, the music louder than my neighbors probably liked. I put my clothes back on and hopped on my bike, and went to a late night showing of a movie at the nearby multiplex. Afterwards I still couldn’t stop, hopped on my bike and rode down the side streets as fast as I could, the good paved streets, the ones you can really get going on. At that time of night, in that part of the city, you can really blow through the stop signs, when you’re really tuned into the world and the universe like that, you can pick out the headlights if a car is coming the opposite direction, at the intersection, and you can really get up a good head of steam blowing through all the streets, not stopping anywhere, feeling the ions and electrons buzzing, I felt like I couldn’t be stopped, like I could fly if I wanted to, like my tires could just lift off the ground and I could soar, maybe just a few inches off the ground but I could soar, like I could just tell the universe anything what I wanted to do. I still remember the exact smell of that night, of that bike ride down the side streets, the exact feel of that exact quality of air, the way that I knew I could not be that happy forever, the way that I knew in my heart that life is that good, but you just don’t always feel it. I rode faster and faster,  my bike going thirty miles an hour through the streets of South Philadelphia, the warmth, the music back at my apartment, the echo of the movie from the movie theater, the lights all everywhere around, everything still swirling around in me, like some great puppetmaster. Just like every stop on the sojourn, the question must’ve popped into my mind, how did I get here? But it wasn’t very important at that moment, I was almost flying.

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Here’s a poem I wrote while living in Erie:

 

A Slowing of Pace

 

 

For at least ten years you have been preparing

to feel comfortable here in your life,

not a shutdown but a slowing of pace,

a grace of peace, of stopping on your way

through rooms of your dailiness to touch

the woven basket, the plastic vase, walking

through the evening park without voices

intoning from the trees, you must, you must—

these same dreams of solitude since you were very young,

 

and you feel, have felt for years,

that this is how you most would live,

deliberate, considered, easeful, slow,

if your life will only let you,

which it won’t, and this last decade

you have been yearning toward it, plotting,

longing for the book resting on your lap,

pages spread wide, this cup, the open door,

letting in late September air.

 

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It was a rainy, cold day in early March in Erie, and I found my wandering car pointed in the direction of the Erie Zoo.  Although I hadn’t set out to go to the zoo, this new turn of events didn’t surprise me.  I found himself there five or six times a year.  Most people contented themselves with a few zoo visits in a lifetime, but the Erie Zoo was extremely affordable, and the even cheaper off-season price (seven dollars for a grown-up) seemed more than reasonable to spend some time communing with creatures that had no business being on this part of the globe.  It was cheaper than a bad movie, and these animals were real.

 

As I pulled within sight of the zoo, I became a little worried that, for whatever reason, it might not be open.  There wasn’t a single car in the lot.  It was around 11am on a dreary, cold Thursday;  I hadn’t expected it to be hopping, but I wasn’t expecting emptiness.

 

Optimistically cautious, I parked and got out into the barking wind, driving pellets of frigid rain onto my shaved scalp, and nearly trotted the 20 yards to the zoo entrance.  Sure enough, there was a woman at the ticket window, grinning from ear to ear, presumably thrilled to see a customer.  As I neared, I summoned my best “public smile”—my I’ll-

Having a moment with a giraffe at the Erie Zoo

Having a moment with a giraffe at the Erie Zoo

pretend-I’m-one-of-you smile—and returned the woman’s “Hi!” with unrivaled enthusiasm.  Then I said simply, “One, please.”  She paused, then asked “Are you a member?”  I kept his public smile on.  “Nope,” I said.  And then she got the look on her face.  It was a look I had grown accustomed to in this version of my life.  It was a look a clerk or ticket-taker or usher got on their face when they were fighting the desire to say “What, exactly, are you doing here?”

 

I was sure I wasn’t imagining this look.  Aside from being by myself at functions and attractions that normally attracted folks in twos or more, the willy-nilly nature of my work and sleep schedule allowed me to quite often be at attractions and functions on days that were marooned in the desolate middle of the week, when the sad rest of the world were eating sandwiches from vending machines on their half-hour breaks in cubicles and smoking cigarettes under concrete gazebos on the edges of company property.  I had found myself alone or nearly alone in places ranging from early-season minor league baseball games to the Flight 93 National Memorial to the Cleveland Museum of Art.  And almost always, the middle aged woman working the door was quite visibly wondering what me, in my yellow flannel shirt and black

The house I lived in in Erie--the very first day I saw it.  The For Rent sign is still in the door.  I had the top floor.

The house I lived in in Erie–the very first day I saw it. The For Rent sign is still in the door. I had the top floor.

knit cap and imitation Converse , was doing there at 8am or 10pm or whatever the case may be.  But they never quite did ask.  They liked to leave a big pregnant pause where they thought I might offer some form of explanation for my daring to visit their job.  “Just one?” they’d say, wanting me to reply Well, my father used to work here before he got struck by lightning or some other perfectly ridiculous but totally feasible explanation.  But I stubbornly never gave any of them any kind of explanation.  “Are you a member?” the woman at the zoo window asked.  “Nope,” I replied, and still smiling I stared at her.  She waiting a second or two, then said, somewhat stubbornly herself now, “Seven dollars.”  I handed the woman a ten dollar bill, and while she made change, she said “Looks like you’ll have the place pretty much to yourself today”, confirming my suspicion that, in fact, I was the only customer here.  Smiling as large as I could muster, I said “Yeah, I kinda figured that.”  I took my three dollars in change and walked into the zoo.

 

No matter how many times I found himself alone in public spaces, it never ceased exhilarating me.  It seemed to me like I’d won some kind of covert contest that nobody else knew they were playing, as though all of life were a silent jockeying for position in which, on this day, I’d triumphed.  Everyone else was being funneled through the cattle chutes of their typical lives to the choke points of the weekend afternoons and I was outside the chutes, watching from the meadow.  I knew this wasn’t true, I was being funneled by other forces, but my superiority seemed unquestionable in moments such as walking into a zoo I had to myself.

 

Of course, during the off-season, admittance was cheaper for a reason.  Almost half of the animals weren’t on display.  Too cold for them.  Lord knows where the zoo keeps animals hiding during this time.  Some sort of safe house or bunker, on imagines.  A smelly bunker.

 

But I knew where I was going.  I had been here enough times that I had “regular” stops.  Ten minutes communing with the Red Panda (so cute!), five minutes making cooing sounds at the baby (teenager, really) giraffe, and on and on, until eventually I ended up in the orangutan building.  The orangutans at the Erie Zoo were unique in that they were a bona fide family.  A mother, a father, a daughter, and a son.  In fact, the daughter was the older child, making the orangutans a mirror image of my own nuclear family.  The son, Ollie, was still a baby.  A toddler, let’s say.  He had been an infant when I first arrived in Erie, and I’d been able to watch Ollie grow up in little spurts, every few months when I’d visit.  It was when I visited the orangutans that I always got the weird and ecstatic feeling of really, this is right here in Erie.

 

Today was a little different, however.  As soon as I walked into the orangutan building (which was completely empty of humans), Ollie and his mother were right against the glass, in the corner nearest the entryway, Ollie sitting atop his mother’s shoulders.  They looked at me from inside deeply human eyes, and both smiled, as if to welcome me.  “Oh my,” I heard myself say.  I walked slowly to the glass, so as not to scare them away.  But they showed no signed of going.  As I reached the glass, Ollie (who, on his mother’s shoulders, was eye level with me) placed his hand flat on the glass.  I, sensing a moment was occurring, put my hand where Ollie’s was—like we were visiting in a state prison in some sappy movie.  But it wasn’t sappy.  Ollie and I made eye contact and kept our hands overtop one another’s for what must have been a full minute, an odd communion between a man and a baby orangutan in northwestern Pennsylvania on a rainy March morning.  When Ollie finally pulled his hand away, I turned to look behind me to see if any people had come in and maybe witnessed the sweet, unexpected moment.  But there was only an empty walkway and the silly tape recorded sounds of an African forest.  I thought the lack of a witness was both incredibly sad and completely amazing, to equal degrees.

And it was not sappy.

 

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A poem I wrote shortly after moving out of  South Jersey and into Philadelphia:

 

Cage

headphones in, I walk Old City

as if in the presence of an intelligence,

concentrating.  I imagine myself

scrutinized and measured closely

by the passers-by, the foreign tourists,

the horses with their carriages,

the sky and the earth.

my multiple reflections from shop fronts,

high windows, and bus glass stare back at me,

show my belly, my too-long hair, my crooked nose.

wind sweeps off the Delaware, bringing with it

Camden, Governor Christie, and further south,

my mother’s cooking.  home swirls around

this new city, this birthplace city,

where I am so far from everything.

but I keep walking and walking

and it gets darker and darker

and there is a flicker of light or two

far above and beyond my cage.

 

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My mother and I did so many things together when I was staying with her in New Jersey, it would be difficult to boil those myriad lovely experiences down to a moment indicative of them all.  We would typically do one thing together a week—from something as small as going to a movie together to an all-out road trip.  We unabashedly (ok, maybe a little abashedly) called these Momma Days.  I think we both knew these were numbered days of a grown form of childhood for both

Mom and I at a Camden (NJ) Riversharks game (minor league baseball)

Mom and I at a Camden (NJ) Riversharks game (minor league baseball)

of us, but they were golden days unlike the first childhood (when nobody knows how great things really are).  I remember every moment of the Momma Days, but the best memory is my ritual: every time we were going to spend a day together, I’d wake up, roll out of bed, and promptly run down the stairs, clapping my hands like a happy toddler, chanting rhythmically Momma-Day-Momma-Day-Momma-Day in a little kid voice.  It seemed, at the time, like something just between the two of us, that we could never tell anybody, because I was 36 and she was older than that even, but here it is, in my blog, because you just don’t get a whole lot of golden days.

 

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Just a few short months after moving into Philadelphia, I was riding my bike home from work on the night of New Year’s Day. About halfway between where I work and my home, one encounters Washington Avenue, one of the last large arterial streets that cuts through Philadelphia, before you get into what I called the Deep South. When I got there, about 10 o’clock at night, there was a police barricade, preventing me from going further down 2nd St., past Washington, which would’ve taken me directly home in about a mile. But it wasn’t an accident or a crime scene, and I quickly remembered what was going on. There wasn’t a whole lot that was notable about the neighborhood I lived in in Philadelphia, except the fact that it is the Mummer capital of the world. And the Mummers are basically men who dress up in very opulent costumes and dance around and ride interesting floats on a New Year’s Parade, as well as play in old world-style string and brass bands.  It is a tradition that only occurs in Philadelphia, and at that, only South Philadelphia, and at that, almost only my neighborhood. But it also turns out, that the whole city loves this tradition one day a year, that being New Year’s Day. And then on the night of New Year’s Day – not New Year’s Eve, mind you but New Year’s Day night – my neighborhood and just my neighborhood

Mummers in the 2014 Philadelphia 4th of July parade

Mummers in the 2014 Philadelphia 4th of July parade

becomes the largest party in the city all year. I hopped off my  bicycle, very interested in what this would look like. I was a bit unprepared. I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, but I am told it is much like this, and people who have been to both say that the Mummers party in Pennsport almost outdoes Mardi Gras in some ways. The crowd down Second Street was so thick, I had to quickly chain my bike to a mailbox, as there was no getting through the crowd. Huge, almost one-story high speakers dotted every-other block, where sometimes electronic, dance or house music played, and other times old world Mummer bands played corny but danceable string music. Enormous floats, gaudy and opulent, set in the middle some blocks, some of them decorated in modern ways, with heads of what looked like aliens or monsters, while other floats simply looked like a gilded golden things, big Faberge eggs on wheels, and all about everywhere strode Mummers, men and the occasional women wearing  long flowing robes of  shiny satin fabrics, embroidered gold and silver tassels, enormous red buttons, masks that looked sometimes scary, like out of a dream masquerade, or sometimes comical, or sometimes indecipherable. It was loud everywhere, chants got taken up out of nowhere that I couldn’t understand, songs were being sung like pirates about to board a weaker vessel. Everyone was drinking, the whole world was there, not just Mummers but teenagers and people in their twenties, kids with funnels of beer going to their stomachs, people on drugs screaming about things, people wearing beads as though it were Mardi Gras but it wasn’t, and nobody was taking their shirts off, weed smoke was an ever-present cloud.  There were food stands on corners, big sliced-open mangoes on sticks that you could buy, heads of pigs roasting over spits. I kept taking pictures and videos with my smartphone and sending them to people who weren’t there, people I wished were with me, people I hadn’t seen in years.  Somewhere around Dickinson Street I hung a left, popped out onto the relative calm of Front Street, walked six more blocks down to my street, stuffed the key in the lock, went inside in time for Anderson Cooper.

 

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In the winter, Erie is a cold, desolate, sometimes dangerous place. It’s not the ideal place to live alone with no friends or relatives within a five-mile drive of you. It snows almost all the damn time, and it’s so cold, and the wind just races across the lake, whether it’s the summer or the winter. Wether the lake is frozen or open, it is 7 miles wide, and there is nothing to stop the wind. On one particular winter morning, I rose to an early alarm clock, to work the morning shift at the restaurant I was a manager at. Our day start pretty early, and it’s always hard to get up, but especially when it’s dark outside, and the wind howls like a coyote, and you know there’s snow out there, and maybe more on the way, and maybe more falling even right then. I crawled out of bed, put on my work outfit, poked my head through the

Snow tubing at a work function in Erie--essentially the ONLY perk of the brutal winters.

Snow tubing at a work function in Erie–essentially the ONLY perk of the brutal winters.

blinds, and started my car with my remote start, one of the best features that car had. Five minutes later I was down there to hop in, excited about the warm inside of my car. It had snowed the night before, but not a whole lot, maybe four or five inches, which isn’t very much when you’re living in Erie. But it was just one of those things, one of those moments where your car and the tires are sitting just right, or just wrong, and despite the fact that you see no perfect reason why, your car is stuck. I had not left myself a whole lot of time with extra to get to work, and I was in quite a bind here. Being late is sometimes easier than others in that line of work, and I can’t remember the circumstances now, but I do know that I absolutely had to be there on time that day, and my car being stuck put me in a moment of desperation. With nobody to call – not even any small friends or acquaintances, really nobody that I knew – I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I was out of my car, looking all around it, shoveling the snow out from the tires as best I could, trying to rock it a little bit. All the small things one can do by yourself to get your car unstuck, but there’s only so much of that. Then, in the predawn darkness I saw approaching a young man walking down the center of the street that I lived on. I recognized the speed with which he walked and the

Lake Erie and the Presque Isle beaches are actually an incredible hidden gem (during the summers!) in Pennsylvania.

Lake Erie and the Presque Isle beaches are actually an incredible hidden gem (during the summers!) in Pennsylvania.

direction he was going as a man heading to catch a bus. Yes, there were buses, but I had never even looked into that. As he came to pass me I walked onto the street, and sent to him, “Hey man! Hi!  Hey man, excuse me!  I’m in a real bind here, my car is stuck and I really need to get to work.  I’m really screwed here.  Can you help me push it out?”

He stood still and wooden, looking at me through my pleading screed.  After a pause, he said, “But, see, I’m on the way to catch my bus to go to work myself.  What if this makes me late?”

This was one of those very touchy moments in life for me.  I absolutely, 100% needed this guy to help me.  But he had a point and I knew it.  Why should he be late to work simply so I could be on time?  I was sure if he helped me, the car could come out quickly and we’d both be on time, but time was crunched so badly, there wasn’t even the moment needed to explain this.  I analyzed my chances, as well as the look of the kid, and rolled the dice.  I said this:

“That’s a chance you’ll just have to take.”

 

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A poem I wrote in Philly:

 

Just Past St. Augustine’s

 

where the elevated train slows

just past St. Augustine’s church

off the Delaware river

a row of busted windows

only a single one still whole

open and darkly curtained

 

that’s where I once saw this arm

slip out between the frames,

the hand open to feel for drops of rain,

another time there were two arms

raising a small naked baby

for a breath of evening air

 

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I took a trip to Niagara Falls by myself once, while I was living in Erie. It was only a little over an hour away from there, and I figured I might as well take a look at it. It was a beautiful day, and I was much more moved by the wonder there than I expected to be. I did the whole shebang, the whole big tourist thing, the boats, the ponchos, everything. But the thing that I remember most, the thing that resonated most with me, was Goat Island. It’s a small island in the middle of the Niagara River. You can take a little pedestrian bridge over to it, and walk around. When I was there, I was mostly alone, and the bulk of the island is very unassuming. It’s got a big green lawn, some pasture. You can walk around and not really know that you are

Selfie from my solo trip to Niagara Falls

Selfie from my solo trip to Niagara Falls

so close to those enormous rushing waters, and the touristy sites, and the boats and helicopters. I walked over to the shore of the river, all alone in the little clearing, looking out at the rushing Niagara just a hundred yards or so from where drops into oblivion. I couldn’t believe it. There I was, so close to the river, so close to those falls, and nobody around me. I was happy as a clam but I thought to myself, I can jump right in there. I could just end it. Death has always felt like a very close spectre to me, I’ve always sensed the razors edge that I am on, that we are all on. In that moment, I don’t think I’ve ever sensed that more, I saw it like an actual looming knife: just a few feet away, just one slip or one jump, and there it is.  I went to Goat Island by myself and for a split second I saw through the door.

 

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A few months ago I met the most wonderful woman I’ve ever known.  Her name is Karla and I’ve been gifted with the good fortune of her loving me as much as I love her.  She’s from “back home”, so now, that is where I will go. Not only to spend time with my love and her marvelous son, but to now spend more time with my father and other relatives and long lost friends.  My sojourn ends—and an incredible new one will begin.  I don’t believe “everything happens for a reason”—in fact, I believe quite the opposite.  But I do believe that my lengthy field trip away from home has fulfilled its purpose in the finding of the love of my life.  I think my mom will be happy that, in fact, I am going to get even more golden days now.

 

The love of my life, Karla, our golden days stretching out ahead of us.

The love of my life, Karla, our golden days stretching out ahead of us.

 

 

 

 

Something About Airplanes

Posted in Snippet, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on March 12, 2015 by sethdellinger

1.  Weather!  During the last month or so, as the average temperature was dipping into the teens and single digits, I found my weight harder to manage (this phenomenon is far from unheard-of).  I found it harder to motivate myself to work out, was often craving more food and worse food, and often couldn’t even ride my bike to work like I normally do.  My goal weight is 150–which I have achieved and am currently staying at, but for a few weeks I lingered in the 155 area as the temperatures made life almost impossible.  Now this week we get a warm-up into the 50s and 60s and within days I’m back to waking up at 149.  Isn’t that wild???  The weather and temperature affects everything.  Oftentimes, even as these things are occurring to us and affecting us, we don’t truly realize the size of the impact they have.  I’m excited to be escaping the winter with my weight loss intact; I feel as though I almost lost my grip on it there for a minute (and for the record, I’m at my goal weight but not my goal body; the plan being to keep adding muscle mass while losing more fat–almost all belly, now–while staying at about 150.  Yeah, it’s kind of a bold plan, but it’s the only plan I have).

2.  I just heard that some “Breaking Bad” fans are frequently throwing pizzas on the roof of the house the show was filmed at.  And apparently an elderly couple lives in the house, and they have lived there for 30 years.  I know none of them are going to read this, but still: you gotta stop that.

3.  Today my mother and I planned on going up into the observation tower that is atop City Hall here in Philadelphia.  However, when we arrived at the office to purchase tickets, we were told the observation tower was closed that day, due to flooding!  Now, I grant you, it had rained quite a bit the night before, but how in the world does an observation tower, which is one of the highest points in the city, get flooded?!  Now sure, I can think of some plausible explanations, but still.  Annoying.  But here is a nice picture we managed to take during a perfect leisurely stroll on a gorgeous afternoon near Rittenhouse Square:

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I am Afraid of Food

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , on November 8, 2014 by sethdellinger

Making a statement like I’ve struggled with weight all my life would be an exaggeration for me–but only a little bit.  Throughout my childhood and teens, I was a small guy; very much the opposite of heavy.  I’m short–I was then and, surprise, I still am–but I was also just small.  The perfect word for it is diminutive.  I wasn’t so tiny that I got mercilessly picked on, but I suspect this is more because I’m a badass dude with an enormous personality.  I grew up hearing the occasional snide remark about my size (one of my favorites is when my first girlfriend related a story to me about how she was talking to some alpha male redneck prick on the bus one morning, and when he found out she was dating me and asked if she loved me–to which she replied yes–he said to her How can you love him? He’s so short. Shit like that sticks with you for the rest of your life) but generally I skated through adolescence being able to forget I was a small guy.  I wrestled for two years in high school–I did it very poorly, but I did it–at the 103 weight class.

One-hundred and three pounds, ladies and germs.  In ninth and tenth grade, my most formative years, physically, I weighed as much as two big bags of flour.  I was little, although I was, I will say, swathed in a fine layer of muscle.

My early-to-mid  twenties saw me (like most folks nowadays, once we leave high school) plumping up.  I got bigger but not to any point of really being unhealthy.  I never watched what I ate or thought about exercising.  I gained a belly and a nice round face but generally didn’t really think about it.  There would be moments when someone I hadn’t seen in ages would make a comment about my weight gain (do I just know a lot of assholes or something?) but I didn’t really care.  I felt fine and women still seemed to really like me, so my weight, for the most part, wasn’t on my radar.

Sometime around age 25 or 26, however, I started getting plenty bigger, and this is where the “weight struggle” starts.  I’ll spare you the long version.  Let’s just say that from 25 until about 32, I would sometimes gain more weight than seemed practical, and then I would feel pretty bad about myself, and I would take great pains to lose that weight. Part of the problem there, however, was that I was still a heavy cigarette smoker, and smoking seemed to affect my respiratory and circulatory systems even more than most smokers.  For me, exercise was basically not even an option.  Losing weight meant starving myself, living off of Slim Fasts and developing coping mechanisms for the sensation of extreme hunger.  My only path to weight loss in those days was through simple calorie deprivation.  It would work to get my weight down to somewhat acceptable levels, but you don’t have to be Dr. Sanjay-fucking-Gupta to know how those kinds of diets work out.  Time and again, I’d be right back where I’d been just a short while before.  Plus, by this point in my life, I liked to eat REALLY bad food.  And lots of it.  So, when I wasn’t dieting, I was really going for it.

Then, around age 32 or 33, the company I worked for moved me to Erie, PA, about a five hour drive from everyone I knew.  I loved it!  But for reasons not fully within my grasp–I like to think I’m a fairly good self-evaluator but who can really make sense of all the nebulous bullshit stirring in our own depths?–I almost immediately started really going for it with food.  Now, there are surface reasons for this which I can testify to: I had recently quit smoking (some really smart people aren’t sure what this has to do with how much we eat, but most agree it affects it somehow), I was all alone and had more time to kill, I wasn’t afraid of what anyone thought of me because I didn’t know anyone there.  As I got more and more visibly fat, I was less and less concerned.  I wasn’t in the market for a woman, so I wasn’t trying to attract anyone, and like I said, I wasn’t going to run into anyone I knew.  I loved eating.  I loved eating whatever I wanted.  And at first, getting fat was kind of fun.  It was neat to see what it was like to get bigger in this area, that area, etc.  It was like I was growing more me, which seemed, at first, like a pretty cool thing to do.

After about a year this trend changed dramatically in my mind.  Suddenly I was physically unable to do some things properly, from tying my shoes to wiping myself.  Even though I was always alone it was humiliating.  Anytime a picture was taken of me, I would struggle with ways to make my wobbling underchin less disgusting, until eventually I had to admit that no matter what I did, I looked fat.  I was a fat dude who was terribly unhealthy.

So, another long story short: I lost the weight.  I had been cigarette-free for about two years, so I started going to a gym.  I devised a diet that worked for me; it was very, very low-calorie, but I wasn’t starving myself.  And quite miraculously, I lost just shy of 50 pounds in just a few months.  It was one of the most amazing things that ever happened to me.  I felt truly glorious.  I was ready to not just revel in my weight-loss, but totally do the “lifestyle change”: eat right, be active, live like a generally healthy person.  And I meant it.  I did.

Just a few months after my weight loss, I made a bunch of massive life changes all at once.  I quit my job at the company I’d worked for for 15 years (basically, my entire adult life); I moved from being all alone in a remote corner of Pennsylvania to living with my mother and four doors down from my sister, nephews, and bro-in-law, in rural South Jersey.  I also was working (for a new company, of course) in Philadelphia (meaning I had to learn how to navigate where I lived–the vast expanse of South Jersey–as well as where I worked, the fifth largest city in the United States, at the same time).  The changes don’t stop there; suffice it to say there were many.  And this is not to say this was not a fantastic move, and a golden era in my life: it surely was.  But my psyche buckled under the amount of change.  Again, I don’t understand my inner workings enough to know what really happened, but I know this: within two weeks, I was (this is a real thing I am about to tell you, I’m not making this up) waiting until my mother went to sleep, quietly sneaking out of the house, driving to the very close-by Taco Bell, purchasing the ten taco meal (ten!), bringing it home, eating all ten tacos, then either taking the trash directly to the outdoor trash can, or some days, hiding it in my work bag and throwing it out in the city the next day.  I was hiding Taco Bell from my mom.  And why?  I have no fucking idea.  I thought she’d be disappointed?  I thought she’d tell me to stop?  That’s not how she is.  It had nothing to do with her, of course (readers of my blog should already know I have a history of addiction, which is certainly tied up in all this, but this is a blog, not a book, so we’re skipping that conversation. But I will say this: it felt an awful lot like a relapse).

Another long story very short: I gained the weight back.  Not all of it, but most (I ended up gaining back 40 of the 50 pounds I lost).  This was, to me, one of the most depressing things I have ever experienced.  I had been so thrilled with my Erie weight loss; not just how I felt and looked but that I had accomplished it, I had set out a very ambitious goal and not just achieved it, but achieved it quickly, efficiently, in view of the whole world.  And now here I was, in what seemed like a matter of days, just a fat bastard again.  Again I had trouble performing some rudimentary household and hygienic tasks.  Again I struggled with what angle to hold my head at in photographs.  Again and again and again.  After all those countless hours in an Erie gym, after dozens and dozens of cans of low-calorie vegetables and oatmeal and writing down calorie counts on little notepads.  Somehow, someway, here I was again just a short time later, wheezing at the top of the stairs like an invalid.  I was so sad.

Here’s yet one more long story short:  I lost the weight again.  A year and a half after moving from Erie (and about 6 months after moving out of Mom’s to my own place in the city) I decided that if I’d done it once, I could do it again.  And so I did.  Almost the exact same way I did it the first time.  And once again, I feel really, really glorious.

Which brings me, finally, to the point of this entry: I am afraid of food.  Following my “New Jersey Food Relapse”, I am now painfully aware of how easy it is for me to slip into old habits, and how quickly I can gain my weight back, and how I can be overtaken by the physical as well as psychological lure of food almost as if it were gin (which is to say, in an almost hypnotic way, where I act without full self-awareness).  I have been very close to my goal weight for months now; I am no longer actively losing weight but instead simply improving my fitness and adding muscle mass.  I still think about my calorie count every day: I try to get about 1800 a day, with an emphasis on a very high amount of protein for muscle formation.  But I still weigh myself nearly obsessively: at least twice a day but sometime much, much more than that.  I usually hover around 145 (I wake up around 142); on days when I’ve eaten more than normal, or have a lot of liquid in my belly, or have gone a few days without “passing” my food (that means poop!) sometimes in the evenings I’ll still cross 150…and that makes me freak out.  My inner psyche will simply not allow a Food Relapse to happen again.  And it prevents me from really, truly enjoying food.

Food is an interesting thing to struggle with because it’s not a drug.  In fact, it is something you literally can’t quit.  You have to relapse every day.  Everyone around you is doing it all the time.  Sure, you can eat better, sure, you can create a delicious and nutritious meal, but the fact is, when food or weight become a problem, for you, you can’t simply find a way to quit and get “sober”; quitting gin and cigarettes was easy compared to quitting food…

So.  I don’t have an eating disorder, although I might almost have one.  I eat mostly good food, every day, and just about the right amount of it.  I don’t throw it back up, either.  No, my eating disorder is in my mind, where every bite I take terrifies me, as I think to myself What if it happens again?

 

 

The Lock Just Keeps Spinning

Posted in Memoir, Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2014 by sethdellinger

I sure do like blue skies, clear wide-open blue skies and the wind on my face.  Getting tan.  Getting tan is like taking the outside world into yourself and then shooting it back out.  And all those vitamins and good vibes.  Also I like movies.  I like watching movies in air conditioned rooms while sweat dries on my skin.  I like rice with salt on it, and dogs who smile.

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I’ve been watching a lot of cable news lately, but I don’t necessarily think it’s good for me.  I’ve just become addicted to it, as I’ve been known to become addicted to just about anything from time to time.  I suppose it must just be cable news’ turn.  I mean, there is plenty that I like about it.  It really does inform you, and depending on what you’re watching, you usually learn about stuff you might not otherwise be following, like that shit in Iraq.  CNN is the way to go.  Typically they’re gonna tell you about the stuff that’s important, not just the tabloid stuff.  But regardless, most of it is rot.  You’re better off reading newspapers.  Please read newspapers.  They need you, and it’s still the best thing going.

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I’ve recently come across two different poems about turtles that really floored me.  It makes sense that turtles would make such rich poetic subjects: ugly, slow, and capable of withdrawing entirely into themselves.  They’re just begging for the poetic treatment.  The first is “Turtle” by Kay Ryan.  Watch her read it here, and the text of the poem is here.  The other is “To a Box Turtle” by John Updike.  Watch me read it to you!  Right here:

To a Box Turtle
by John Updike

Size of a small skull, and like a skull segmented,
of pentagons healed and varnished to form a dome,
you almost went unnoticed in the meadow,
among its tall grasses and serrated strawberry leaves
your mottle of amber and umber effective camouflage.

You were making your way through grave distances,
your forefeet just barely extended and as dainty as dried
coelacanth fins, as miniature sea-fans, your black nails
decadent like a Chinese empress’s, and your head
a triangular snake-head, eyes ringed with dull gold.

I pick you up. Your imperious head withdraws.
Your bottom plate, hinged once, presents a No
with its courteous waxed surface, a marquetry
of inlaid squares, fine-grained and tinted
tobacco-brown and the yellow of a pipe smoker’s teeth.

What are you thinking, thus sealed inside yourself?
My hand must have a Smell, a killer’s warmth.
It holds you upside down, aloft, undignified,
your leathery person amazed in the floating dark.
How much pure fear can your wrinkled brain contain?

I put you down. Your tentative, stalk-bending walk
resumes. The manifold jewel of you melts into grass.
Power mowers have been cruel to your race, and creatures
less ornate and unlikely have long gone extinct;
but nature’s tumults pool to form a giant peace.

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You may have noticed, on various and sundry platforms of social media, that I am losing weight (again!).  There will, of course, be a larger blog entry devoted to the subject once I hit a certain milestone, but I wanted to stop officially ignoring it on the blog.  So yes, I am once again losing weight.  If you’re a long-time reader, you may recall we’ve been down this road once before.    I’ll stop short of saying I’m a chronic “weight bouncer”—I’ve only done the up and down once, now going on twice—and I do think I’m going to be able to maintain it this time, seeing as how I actually do enjoy the “lifestyle” one must switch to in order to stop gaining the weight back.  I don’t want to go into too much detail, as the first of the “milestone” blogs on the topic should be coming soon.  But if you’ve noticed that I’m a little more energetic, happy as an idiot, and generally manic lately—this is the main cause.

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I don’t like, any more than you do, the way that things in our culture seem to have gotten so divisive.  Everything appears to be very “black and white” or “us vs. them”…either you agree with me, or I hate you.  All issues divided into two sides—usually liberal and conservative—so that most critical thought is now not required; you just have to know what team you’re on.  I don’t like it any more than you do.

But there seems to be, to most people, a thought that this is a terrible deviation from some Golden Era of American discourse.  That, not long ago now, everyone just kind of got along and accepted divergent opinions and engaged in a spirited and lively debate of the issues, before saying, ah, forget it! and heading out back for a barbeque.  This fever dream is made possible by the fact that nobody actually knows anything about our own history, and is cursed with the widely-held human belief that all things have just recently been much better than they are now.

Things have, of course, never been like that.  We’ve always been a country at one-another’s throats.  That’s because the issues that we disagree about are pretty fucking important and are not trifles.  If the biggest debate in America was chocolate vs. vanilla, I’d say some of us might be overreacting, but we debate about matters of deepest morality, life and death, and core philosophy.  If you’re not passionate about these things, get out of the ring.

The division seems more pronounced now that we’re on the internet all the time.  The biggest factor that plays into that is that we routinely interact with many people who we would previously not have been interacting with.  Before the internet, we just naturally and gradually gravitated to people of like-mind.  Now, we, in small ways, interact with dozens of people “on the other side” daily, which can cause little internet skirmishes which then, in turn, feel larger and more intense than real-world interactions, because we can’t gauge how the other is talking, as well as these skirmishes taking place in front of our 300 or so “friends” and remaining to view long after the words have been said.

The ease with which these divisive interactions can occur has given rise to something even worse than the “cultural division” itself: the everything is hunky-dorey crowd.  This “crowd” includes just about everybody.  We’re all so tired of having these online skirmishes with people with opposing views, almost nobody engages the argument anymore.  Nobody wants to appear “divisive”.  Everyone wants to make sure they are “accepting of other people’s views”.

The bottom line I’m trying to get to is this: I keep an open mind about things like calamari, the official naming of snow storms, and the future of the designated hitter in professional baseball.  But I’m an adult now, and I’ve thought a lot about my core beliefs, and I don’t have an open mind about abortion, gay rights, gun control, or even—yes, even the existence of a higher power.  I know what I think about these things.  Not only that, but having an open mind about these things would make me a man of feeble constitution.

Get rid of your open mind.

 

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WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS JOHN SLOAN PAINTING????

sunset-west-twenty-third-street-1906

 

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If you know me (and I think you do) you know that, obviously, I am a man with a ton of opinions.  Well, one of those opinions is that these things that pop up on social media as “photo challenges” are some of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen.  If you’re not familiar with them: they propose to be “30 day photo challenges” that list a thing you’re supposed to take a picture of once a day for thirty days.  First off, if you need a “challenge” to take interesting pictures of the world around you, you’re not interesting.  Period.  Secondly, the items in these challenges are never even remotely challenging or creative.  It’s like, “Day 1:  Selfie.  Day 2:  Food.  Day 3: Car”.  Really?  You spent time creating this, anonymous internet user?  How dreadful.

So, I thought I’d make an interesting one! Some things here are interpretable, whch, again, makes it interesting.  For instance, “Birth” wouldn’t necessarily be looking for a picture of something being born.  You decide what it means. If anyone actually wants to give this a spin, let me know, I’ll put it into a dedicated blog entry so it’s easier to reference.

Actually Interesting Photo Challenge

Day 1: An animal that you want to take home
Day 2: 
Gum
Day 3:  Something Upside-Down
Day 4:  Paint
Day 5:  How you’d like to be perceived
Day 6:  How you feel inside
Day 7:  Something you hate
Day 8:  Birth
Day 9: A chair
Day 10:  The passage of time
Day 11:  Something you love but can’t have
Day 12:  Space, area, void
Day 13:  Underneath
Day 14:  Scar
Day 15:  Home
Day 16:  Your bathtub.
Day 17:  Work
Day 18:  The ground
Day 19: The sky
Day 20: Between the ground and the sky
Day 21:  What you believe
Day 22:  Utensils
Day 23:  Lights
Day 24:  Transportation
Day 25:  Idealized
Day 26:  Action!
Day 27:  Water
Day 28:  Unattainable
Day 29:  Before you were born
Day 30:  Celebrate

*******************************************************************************

Life, and all that stuff, is sometimes too interesting to bear.  What I mean is, it can be very cyclical, or circular, or appear to be laden with damned meaning.  See, I’m a man who doesn’t believe in much.  I mean, I believe in science, and form and order amidst the chaos, but not in any Fate or creator or grand design.  Just rules and laws that govern the movements and the heat of things, basically.  So when life seems to have plans, folks like me sit up and take notice.  Not because it’s changing the way I think—I have thrown away my open mind—but because coincidence or happenstance on any large sort of scale is just so unlikely.

Take, for instance, a story from my life.  When I first got sober, I was 25 years old.  This was a little over eleven years ago.  I went to live with my mother and her husband in a small town in New Jersey.  This was the first time I’d lived anywhere outside of Central Pennsylvania.  This small town in New Jersey was relatively close to Philadelphia…maybe an hour, I think?  At any rate, it was certainly the closest I’d ever lived to a big city.

Eleven years may not seem like that long ago, but I was inhabiting a very different world back then, and I was also a very different version of me.  I drove a 1983 Ford Escort, named Earl Grey.  This car was a bona fide piece of shit, and it broke down with an alarming regularity (chronic fuel pump issues).  I had no cell phone.  No GPS.  When I wanted to go somewhere I’d never been, I printed out MapQuest directions and read them as I drove.  If I needed to call someone, I found a payphone and retrieved my list of phone numbers, hand-written on a sheet of paper inside my wallet.  It was interesting.  It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.  I drank a lot of Red Bull and wrote poetry almost every waking moment and listened to Pearl Jam like it was my job.

I had a very close friend who I’d been through the addiction wringer with.  She had a similar problem as I did, and we’d gone to the same rehab, and really just been to Hell and back together.  She had landed in a Recovery House in Harrisburg, PA.  After the tumult of the end of our addictions, we now felt very far apart.  Recovery Houses don’t allow you much leeway with visitors and phone calls.  Remember, this is also before everyone was texting and Facebooking (it’s even before MySpace).  I missed her very much.

She did manage to e-mail on occasion, and, ill-advisedly, we planned for her to sneak out one night.  We would meet in Philadelphia.  We were going to walk South Street.

I drove old rickety Earl Grey the hour to South Street, paging through my MapQuest directions.  I drove right past South Street at one point and just decided to park as soon as I could.  I found a spot and hopped out of my car.  As I walked away, I realized I might later have no idea where I had parked.  I got back into the car and grabbed my journal, the sacred notebook where I wrote all my poetry.  I looked around for a landmark and wrote it down, and put the journal in my backpack.

I met up with her and it was glorious.  I treasured being in her company, if only for a night.  I don’t remember what we did on South Street.  I don’t remember what we did at all.  But it stands as one of the more significant nights of my life, on my long road to becoming the current version of me.

A week or so ago, I decided to go back through some of my old journals and see if I had missed anything of value, any pieces of writing I could turn into something good.  I never did get around to it, but I threw the two oldest ones into my backpack, planning to look at them the next time I came to rest in some park.  I promptly forgot about it.

This evening, I was riding my bike through what is now one of my favorite sections of Old City (technically, the neighborhood known as Society Hill).  I love this section for it’s old houses, churches with expansive, historic graveyards, and shade-dappled side alleys.  I came to one of the more significant landmarks to me, the house that Thaddeus Kosciuszko lived in when he lived in Philadelphia.  Kosciuszko is my favorite revolutionary.  I feel deeply connected to him across the vast gulf of time.  The version of me from eleven years ago wasn’t yet even interested in history.  He would have had zero interest in this Polish freedom fighter’s house.  But I certainly do now.

I recalled, tonight, how the last time I was in the house, the park ranger had told me the woman who owned it and rented it to Kosciuszko was buried in the cemetery across the street.  I have spent some time in that cemetery before (American painter Charles Wilson Peale is buried there, and so is George Dallas, who was Vice President under James K. Polk), but I thought I’d wander through again and look for her grave.

It didn’t take me long in there before I had to face the fact that I couldn’t remember her name, and my iPhone’s power was getting too low to make Googling a wise choice, so I decided to leave and ride my bike elsewhere.  But as I stepped onto the sidewalk, the shade of sense memory hit me.  I’d been here many times these past six months, but perhaps never at this time of evening, in this kind of mid-summer air.  Suddenly I wondered it I’d been here before, long before.

I sat my backpack on the ground an hurriedly opened it, finding the oldest journal.  I looked at many pages before I found it, scrawled in my own unmistakable hand:

4th St., across from St. Peters Church

I craned my neck at the cemetery gate above me, and sure enough:  St. Peters.

Sure, maybe no big deal.  So what, this is where I parked that night?  If I moved to the city, it stands to reason I would pass by the place I parked that night, eleven years ago.

But the way that it came to me out of the blue, the way I had that journal on me, which was extraordinarily unlikely, the way I’d never noticed before that this was the place.  It has been long ago enough now that it’s starting to feel like deep past; I felt my younger self there.  I felt her younger self there.  I saw me getting out of my Escort, completely oblivious to Thad Kosciuszko’s house a half block away, not caring, not caring, not caring.  And life is crammed full of these bizarre cycles, these glances-back, these cosmic happenstances.  Like combination locks clicking into place.  But then the lock, it just keeps on spinning.

I sure do like blue skies, clear wide-open blue skies and the wind on my face.  Getting tan.  Getting tan is like taking the outside world into yourself and then shooting it back out.  And all those vitamins and good vibes.  Also I like movies.  I like watching movies in air conditioned rooms while sweat dries on my skin.  I like rice with salt on it, and dogs who smile.

 

 

 

 

All This Extraness

Posted in Prose with tags , on July 4, 2013 by sethdellinger

Whose body is this, anyway?  I glance (glancingly) in Mirror Mirror at these fleshly fleshy parts tout-a-coup-morphosed into those of my aunts and forefathers, god me me with these jiggly arms, the bulbous belly that was gone but is back, thighs like juicy strawberry logs, my butt full-throttle zaftig.  What has happened here?  I understand: metabolism slows by some inhuman fraction every year, the testosterone is riding into the sunset and being replaced by extra chins, fondue cheeks, and dreams about ice cream buffets.  When I’m happy I eat, and when I’m sad I don’t exercise, and I’m usually one or the other.  Good heavens, why can’t I just grow extra hands or something?

All this extraness seems like a meaningless punishment, a silly gesture of a result.

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