Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

Let’s. Play. Ball!

When I say that adding carpet to the basement was a game-changer, I mean that. Literally.

The little buddy and I suddenly have a significant indoor space in which to play our game.

Our game being snout-soccer. Or wind-free fetch. Or chase. Depending upon the minute, the day, the mood. Anyway, you get the idea.

And just in time for winter.

Few decisions I have made have made me instantly happier.

I had known from before we moved in that I wanted to put some sort of flooring down on this half (actually a little more than half) of our otherwise unfinished basement. Not just for B. but also for me. I imagined creating a space in which I could also get a home workout in, especially on days when I cannot get to the gym before work. I didn’t think carpet; I thought more of a rubber floor, a cheap alternative to the sort of tiles you see in gyms. Whatever the surface, I didn’t expect the budget would allow any such option anytime soon. The idea was added to the home-improvement dream list.

That is, until, feeling the Minnesota air shift from summer to fall to (it’s nearly here) winter, I kicked around make-shift options. I became open to something less than ideal, but functional. You can always get remnants from carpet stores, or even big-box stores. I am also becoming a fan of our neighborhood RE Store. Almost always they have slabs of used carpet of various sizes you can buy on the cheap. I went there a couple of times: nothing quite worked; too wide, not long enough. Even for patch-work, it didn’t suit. And, let’s face it, I care enough about aesthetics that one of my hang-ups was that if I was going to do anything at all I wanted it too look good.

When I more or less stuck out at carpet stores I went to Menard’s and talked to a floor guy who has the same last name of a famous comedian (but who clearly had heard enough jokes about his name so I held back and told him only of the time I saw his namesake live). He, as did a handyman I trust, steered me away from the rubber. Dog toenails too easy to slip through the cracks, they said. Good point. He also showed me something better than a remnant: a cheap new carpet that, shockingly, was the right color for the room (Tuscany gray; not sure who thinks gray when they think Tuscany but OK!) . The price was affordable, there was a long enough roll at a Mendard’s on the other side of town, and on the morning I called to prepay, I learned they were having a sale starting that very day. Yay. Also, and this is key, the carpet came padded.

Suddenly, our functional floor space increased by a shade under 300 square feet. And, in our humble abode, that’s no small expansion.

Now the little buddy has a place to run and roam sans the cold and wind and rain and snow. It’s been less than 24 hours since the carpet went down and already we have played down there twice.

I now have a mobility room. I have started scoping options on cheap equipment (when pressed, you can resistance train effectively with surprisingly very little equipment). So it should not take much to have alternative way to train on days when I am too short on time to get to the gym or not wanting to take the car out in the midst of Minnesota weather.

Like with resistance training itself, there is a sweet spot between effort and ease. So happy-making when you find yourself there.

Shoulder to Shoulder

Like most people, I made a birthday wish. Unlike most people, my birthday wish involved the voluntary exhaustion of my deltoids.

I cross paths nearly daily with Calvin, Ed, and Nayo, three bodybuilders who train together at our gym during the early morning hours. The three of them are like synchronized swimmers, constantly moving between sets and supersets with minimal rest and even less conversation. Rather than move to a shared beat, they each have their own headsets on. In place of splashes, they toss dumbbells, barbells, and plates around, always seeming to know where the other two guys will be. Sometimes they will give a quick hand signal. Light dancing is not uncommonly involved — most usually on leg day.

Earlier this week, I asked Nayo and Calvin what was on their docket for today.

Shoulders.

Perfect. Easily my weakest of the major body parts areas.

I asked if I could try to keep up. My birthday challenge to myself. They were totally down with that.

“It would be my pleasure,” is how I think Calvin responded, “to inflict pain on you.”

We did presses, a lot of raises (front, side, over), and some pulls. I was, not surprisingly, always the one using the the lightest weight — or doing the fewest reps. But I almost always stayed within their hypertrophy-building range of eight to 12 reps. I followed my personal rule to not go to absolute failure and, in the end, I, more or less, kept up.

Most importantly, I learned new ways to grow my delts — if you look closely in the picture while using powerful instruments you can see that I have them!) — and I had a lot of fun. My kind of fun — purposeful activity shared with good people.

I should say it made for a great start to my birthday.

Beginner’s Mind

Yesterday I was thinking about resistance training and the beginner’s mind.

Later, in bed, I read my horoscope and that phrase, beginner’s mind, was in the first line.

I like to look at things as if for the first time.

There is simplicity in stripping away conceptions about how things are, where we are, and how good we should be at them. (I tend to carry a lot of these notions around in my proverbial nap-sack.)

I wrote a book — then went to graduate school for writing.

I have been back-squatting for years. I am considering starting over with my squat as if for the first time. I was talking to a personal trainer yesterday about the way, like a hitter who is pitched inside, I have a tendency to open up my stance a little on my squat. I turn my right foot out a bit, in other words. Even when I am conscious of this fact. You could watch me move weight and not notice; it is subtle this turn but it is often there.

Recently, I vacuumed over the closet door floor guide in my second bedroom, inadvertently sliding over this little piece of plastic that keeps the double door in proper alignment. Even broken, the door still works; look at it, slide it left and right, and you might not even notice the broken guide. But the doors do now go, if slightly, back and forth as well as left and right. They are not in exact alignment.

Being off track even a little has consequences. Sometimes when I go heavy on my squats I can feel a tenderness in my right knee, on the same leg that opens up as if to turn on a curveball. (I was a left-handed hitter. To extend the metaphor, I guess I still am.)

I went to the hardware store to buy a new guide. The door will be fixed this week.

I went looking for a trainer because I want to fix the misalignment in my squat. I want to make sure I am properly moving through other lifts as well. I am thinking this will mean, at least for a time, reducing the weight and doing a lot of repetition. It will be less about working out and more about practicing. The fix will take, in other words, application of the beginner’s mind.

Finding It

You know.

You know what you must do.

You know what you must give up.

What (or who) holds you back.

You don’t always know the how. Or the when. And why bother with the why.

Be gentle. But listen.

Listen to the voice that tells you. To pick up the pen and write that thank you. To put the phone down and love. To fix that door. To fold those clothes. To not start the week without groceries or else you’ll eat too much junk and spend too much money on junk. To take a day off. To pick that weight up. To write that story while the fire still burns.

Certainly, you can get better at execution, at craft, at technique. There are brilliant people in this world who are ready and available to teach you, often free of charge. Apply their teaching. New learning is not anathema to the voice. No.

There is this, though: if you can’t listen to the voice, if you do not act on the voice, no teacher can save you.

It is not either/or, external or internal. It is both. Strive for both.

Yet if in a given moment you have to choose between the two … there is no choice at all.

To go against world wisdom is to possibly look foolish or fail. This can be overcome. To live is to occasionally lose.

To go against the voice is to wage a fight with yourself. And then how can you possibly win?

Anxiety Incarnate

Like a window shutting in front of your face. That is what it is like.

A window you didn’t know was there.

That you did not shut.

Not wittingly anyway.

You just could tell the view was being … skid, skid, skid … reframed.

Thump.

After this window closes you see as you did before but now everything is colored anew — colored with a new feeling.

The lens of perception senses more urgency to every word, every thought. This urgency is not necessarily tied to anything real.

It happened to me yesterday. I had not experienced this palpable, abrupt shift in sensation in a long time. A year? Maybe more than a year. I think maybe two or three years.

The feeling is unmistakable.

You don’t forget this feeling.

As it is happening it is, occurs to me now, the memory of a feeling.

This time I could tell what was happening right off. I felt the change before the shift in perspective had fully arrived. I felt it as it was coming to me.

The window slid down before my eyes. My heart pumped faster.

To the extent I recognized that it was happening at all, in the past, I used to fight it. This time I did not fight it.

I remember the conscious thought yesterday: allow.

My belly. The nerve endings in the belly vibrated.

I let it be. All of it.

I let myself feel the sliding down. The shift.

I let my mind go into hyperdrive while I told my body to remain still.

I backed off from my day for a moment.

No one in my sphere could have sensed what was happening. Even if they did, I did fear that they were.

I do not like the feeling. Make no mistake. But this time I did not fear the feeling.

This time, I regarded it curiously.

Like an interesting stranger with an abrasive personality. He interrupts your day but it’s really not about you.

I know now that the feeling, like all feelings, passes.

I see now that I tried to be a witness to my own experience.

I want to say it passed in the usual 90 seconds or so. No, not that fast. The intensity ratcheted up, then plateaued for some hours.

It was manageable. I breathed. In order for the feeling to have arrived I must have shortened my breath. Before or at the beginning. So just then I corralled it, slowed it. The breath is the ultimate mitigator.

I was revved, more or less, for hours later. A functional nervousness.

Like a pitcher in baseball, sometimes you have to try to win without your best stuff.

A day later, I see now that it took a longer time than I realized after the intensity of the thing passed for me to return to baseline.

Probably why I stayed up so late last night. I was still settling down.

I am writing again so I think we are there.

Reverberation

Being a personal writer means being comfortable with vulnerability.

Well, That Is Nice to Hear

You don’t generally like email, and you tell yourself not to check it too often. But then you wake up one Wednesday morning and see a message. This one came though overnight from your website.

It’s from a history professor. He is temporarily teaching at your alma mater. He just wanted to let you know something: your book is part of his curriculum this fall. His students will be reading it next week.

There are worse ways to start a day.

Habit Forming

One way to form a habit is to make the matter your day’s first priority. If something is important to you, after all, you put your attention to it first thing.

This is where the writer-lifter runs into trouble.

For here’s another parallel: the later the day gets, the harder it is to lift — the harder it is to write.

I exaggerate but only by a little. (And, of course, this does not apply to all writers or all lifters. Some are night owls. Some have schedules that allow them to work mid-day. Others can do their work at any any hour equally well. Note: We don’t like this last group very much.)

For those of us who work full-time daytime hours (at the paying jobs, I mean), whatever amount of free time we have for these other forms of “work” is found on the edges of the day: you go to the gym before work, or after. You write before work, or after.

I don’t know about you, but after work I want a pizza. I want a steak. I want to get outside — if it’s nice out. I want to lodge my butt on the couch — if it’s not.

Lift? Write? But I just worked all day!

Given such realities of life and life energy, I have made it my habit to lift as soon as I can in the morning. And this works. I have been a stable 5 a.m.-er for years now. I get my sweat in and then I take on everything else in the day. It works, yes, but it doesn’t leave much morning time for writing.

As I have found it easier to navigate the stress of the day with a workout sans a writing session than I have with a writing session sans a workout I have … if I must choose one or the other … well, then, now you know why daily writing is a less fully formed habit for me. (The need to do something to put me physically into my body is real and strong and what I must do.)

Which leads me back to the matter of finding the sweet spot between intensity and frequency. When it comes to lifting, I am trying hard not to try as hard. I am, in other words, embarking to stay on the low-end of the making muscle continuum: schedule rest days (rather than wait until my body tells me I must take one), shave extra sets during workouts that only serve to make me more tired, focus more of my attention on compound lifts — these sorts of tweaks.

The good news is that cutting back might be better for both my writing and my lifting.

There is a prevailing view across the American fitness space circa 2019 that in order to make progress in the gym you have to hurt yourself. Every day. No puke, no gain. (I know this view well. I did CrossFit for five years.) This is not only not accurate, it is misguided; exhaustion for its own sake is, simply put, counterproductive. Sure, you have to put in the work. But that is different than saying you must be writhing in pain on the floor in order to have done that work.

Yet I fight against that sort of ingrained ethos every day. I tell myself more is better, that heavier is greater.

No. Not always.

I don’t have it all figured out. Not in the least. But that much I know is not true. In writing and in lifting there is truth in the adage that steady wins the race.

Enough is enough. In lifting. In writing. In most anything. You just have to find it.

Twelve

He’s got more nicknames than a boatload of sailors.

Barry.

Bonzo.

Barry Bonzo.

Buddy.

Little Buddy.

L.B.

B.

Dude.

Duder.

Doody.

Lately, for reasons passing understanding, I have begun calling him Brother.

Two days ago, Brother Barry turned 12.

Tonight, he and I went on 48-minute loop through the leaves. Even made it down the steps to the path along the river. He always wants to go down the steps to the path along the river.

After our walk, he had enough pep left for a quick game of snout soccer. Not all of the days are like this. But, still, after 12 years, few things give me more pleasure than watching him run. Especially when he’s having fun.

I wonder what I will start calling him next.

I mean, besides best friend.

Intensity vs. Frequency

There are two means by which one grows muscle: by lifting weights with intensity or by lifting weights with frequency.

Intensity: you lift hard.

Frequency: you lift often.

While you can, of course, find outliers, generally speaking, that is the choice. You must take one approach or the other.

That is, you cannot do both simultaneously: you cannot at the same time lift heavy and lift often. You can’t do many heavy sets every day, or even most days. The body will break down. That is, in fact, the point. The harder you go the more time your body needs to recover.

At same time, it is also the case that the positive effects of a single weight lifting session, no matter how intensely that session, wear off — some 36 to 72 hours after the fact, depending on the person, environmental factors, diet, stress, sleep, and so forth.

This would point to the favorability of frequency. And there is much to be said for lifting with regularity. Except here, too, there is a caveat. You can’t go too light, can’t lift with too little intensity, and still make muscles grow. They need to be pushed. Just not too much too fast.

Lifting weights, then, is about seeking the sweet spots.

It’s about trying hard, but not too hard. It’s about putting forth regular effort, if not every day, then most days.

The parallel with the work of writing is self-evident.

If you don’t push, you don’t grow muscles.

If you don’t put enough sentences together, you don’t accumulate pages.

You can’t get strong all in one day.

You can’t write a book all in one day.

Where, then, is the sweet spot — how many sets? How many words?

For the weight lifter and the writer both that is a question they have to answer themselves.

Anew.

Every day.