Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Truly Orwellian Blog

GEORGE ORWELL BLOGS. Being dead, he has some help. Domestic-life entries from 1938 right now, much concerned with local weather and wildlife, and — being the journal of a Brit — the garden. Come September, his political thoughts. Entries, each posted on the actual date + 70 years, are transcribed into WordPress; I hope they include more photos of the diaries themselves. I find the look of a person's diary as potentially interesting as its content, if not more so should the lettering be of striking character.

Bonus: Arch-diarist Samuel Pepys got the drop on Orwell more than 5 years ago.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

30x40: Weeks of 8/18–8/25/08 Progress

A WEEK AFTER MY TRIP to Central City, I still find myself recovering from the divergence from my home weekday eating plan and the time away from the gym. Some of the problem was self-inflicted; getting dessert with dinner out there was a mistake. Some of it was inadvertent, notably the poor gym facilities at the hotel and the pizza lunch we were given on the big-meeting day (with no alternatives like salad; in fact, I think dessert pizza was the salad) in the CC office. And some of the problem arose from having a weekend right after this comparative fitness/nutrition desert. Although I allow myself some divergences from the usual diet on the weekend, Mom was kind enough to offer her macaroni and cheese Sunday night, which made for leftovers Monday and Tuesday nights. . . . So the weekend represented a bit of retracement.

My weight didn't visibly shift too much, and my Monday gut measurement didn't show any gain, but I did feel fatter for a couple of days after my return. The bags felt heavier when I carried them upstairs here, and not because I stuffed them with souvenirs. (More likely were binges at the comic book and boardgame stores across from my hotel.) Not exactly the streak I wanted to rack up just before my second-month anniversary on the 30x40 plan. I'd much rather have continued the run I had between 8/14 — when I touched 220 for the first time in years — and 8/16 — the second of two days at 219.5. I'll have to analyze what exercise and eating combination resulted in this dip. But from the standpoint of the broader goal (losing .57 lb./week or 2.5 lb./month), I met my milestone: 222.5 lb. on August 27, down from 225.0 on July 27, for a loss of exactly 2.5 lb.

I didn't sweat the fat gain too badly upon my return. No mistake is totally irrevocable on this plan, and some — like a cold, or a business trip — are unavoidable and best rolled with and corrected ASAP. The iron was waiting for me when I returned to the gym Saturday afternoon, and I racked up a shockingly energetic weight routine. Doing so well got me through the last few days; nightmares have been kicking me out of bed at hours early even for me. This has left me a walking corpse by the end of the workday, which in turn fucks up my attempts to eat a healthful dinner. But I kept going back to the gym each day, to keep my muscles going on a regular schedule. When one aspect of my life gets out of balance, the smartest thing I can do is stay consistent with as many other aspects of it as I can, until I can fix the problem. Sleep last night was far more consistent and horror free than has been the recent case, so my plan may be working.

With Labor Day Weekend coming, I have a chance to address the dinner difficulty. And lunch; after I got sick of my usual turkey sandwiches, I had an important void to fill. I can grill a shitload of animal protein on Monday to get me through a few days of next week. Veggies I can handle day to day. (It would help if the current crop of broccoli were better; the heads I'm finding are being harvested far too late, with loose, overdeveloped florets. I am a broccoli snob.)

I wrote everything preceding this paragraph before I left for work this morning. As I closed the door after me upon my return home, I noticed the running list of daily weigh-ins, and the top- and bottom-left entries in that block of early-morning scribbles jumped out at me:

7/22: 225.5
. . .
8/22: 222.5

Three pounds in a month. As much as I still need to lose, as attentive as I need to be in my eating, as hard as I'll have to lift to keep what fitness I have and maybe develop just a little more, I can't help but be proud of that three-pound drop.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Inspiring Trip, and Fighting Pessimism

SOMETIMES I THINK PESSIMISM IS as reflexive a response in my system as blinking or breathing. These two functions and others like them don't veer off as unreasonably as does my willingness to assume the worst, however. May they never catch up. Better, may my flights to pessimism be delayed or cancelled.

It is in this spirit that I report being proved wrong in my initial feelings toward the Central City meeting in which I participated this week. I hope my apprehension grew from my anticipated sour experience with midweek air travel, my very real trouble in even getting a company travel account set up, and basic fear of the unknown — I'd never attended an editorial review of this type. I'd scoffed at the need to visit in person, wondering whether the cost of bringing me out there would justify the difficulty of hurdling the TSA and airline obstacles doubtless in my route.

As usual, these spectres fled under the light of actual events.

Tuesday morning found me packed and ready to fly. I used my Las Vegas packing list to assemble my gear; a fun-starved smattering of work-pertinent items and clothing bereft of the usual sunblock, desert hat, copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and poker dough. Naked, I felt.

After 2 hours in the office, I headed home to await the car service. When I wandered downstairs 15 minutes early to dump some garbage, I found him already there, catching some Z's. I awakened him and we got underway. I suspect he was sleep starved, as he spiced his 75-mph race to the airport with frequent drifts into the left lane, or the shoulder. He may have been drowsy, but it sure woke me up.

The first challenge was to get a boarding pass, which I couldn't print through the company 's chosen travel site. The credit card reader didn't recognize my purchase and instead referred me to human assistance. Said human realized my card had not yet been charged for the trips. She did so, then ground out my pass. I was glad I'd gotten there 2 hours early and during the midweek dead of August, rather than close to a major travel holiday. From there I went to the dreaded TSA chokepoint, where the line was delightfully short — shorter even than some of the 6 a.m. lines I find prior to a Vegas run. With such a small hoard of junk, I presented them with a boring X-ray profile, so I was through and clear in moments.

I boarded the Central City flight with ease, and lucked out by getting an empty seat between me (in the window seat) and the other row-occupant. Of course, the flight was preceded by about 25 minutes of delays on the ground. I realize now that the airlines are baking the delays into the ticket times, as they anticipate the impact of departing traffic and arrival snags. Flight itself was brief (compared to the EWR–LAS run) and smooth through clear weather, and with no checked luggage, I was into a cab and hotel bound swiftly upon arrival.

My hotel was one of several clustered near the Central City airport, in the midst of what appeared to be the chain-restaurant district, and across the street from both a mall and the local branch of my company. No need to rent a car. After checking in, I wandered over to the mall, which had the virtue of a local casual-dining choice; I'd scouted the area from home and decided, as with Vegas, why eat on the road what I can get at home? The burger there proved to be a solid choice, though the dessert (you can tell I was using a company card) nearly put me in a coma. Five bucks apparently buys a lot more out there, and I only made it halfway through the platter of death-carbs under whipped cream I received.

As I ate, I noticed a person who was leaving the mall with a plastic bag that advertised Free Comic Book Day. I wondered if there might be a comic shop in the bowels of the mall. A few minutes later, another person emerged with a bag that advertised a business with a fairly geeky name. That settled it. After I paid, I wandered into the mall proper to hunt this source down. No greater love there is for a geek than to patronize one's friendly local game/comic/music shop. Sure enough, not only was there a comic book shop, but two doors down there was a boardgame store. Both sported RPG and CCG sections, as well as tables on which to play them, and the comic shop also was a Warhammer miniatures dealer. Central City was beginning to look more salvageable by the minute.

Fitness and sleep were troublesome, though. The hotel featured a "fitness center," which included an exercycle, a treadmill, and a Universal-style weight center that posed more health danger in its use than its neglect. I elected 30 minutes on the treadmill the first morning I was there, and skipped it entirely the second day, resuming regular gym visits Friday. The first weight-training visit on Saturday actually showed some improvement; this makes me wonder whether I ought to add a little more rest time between lifting visits. As for sleeping, my room was close to the ice machine on the first floor. When the staff began laying out the complimentary breakfast, they needed to scoop up some ice, which they did at 5:30 a.m. both mornings. This is actually later than my usual wakeup time on weekdays, but I'd run into trouble both nights trying to fall asleep (both bed and pillow were far spongier than my home setup), so each morning I was staggering around on subpar sleep.

The next two days were spent primarily at the local office, about which I must be elliptical for security. I must say it's nicer than the one in Jersey, plus they allow employees to bring in houseplants. The first day comprised discussion of our editorial calendar for next year, as well as a look ahead at what conferences we might want to attend to foster development of these articles. It was tough to wing off for a few days for a convention when the headcount on the title was a whopping two, so with a full bullpen we can do this again now.

The second day was the money day. A pair of edit-gurus led a positive, open-ended discussion of what we'd accomplished over the past year, examining our mission, our graphic design (which we'd redone a year ago, so now was the time to see if it was working), the replies to a reader survey, and what our online outreach would accomplish . . . an area that involves me. I didn't get the chance to discuss a blog strategy, because apparently the site will be redesigned soon. We were told a couple of things we could do with the current site, the design of which was rejiggered at the same time as the print pub's, and I made it clear to the two hosts that my ability to address any of this sort of thing had been hampered by the staff shortage; I had been offloading my own web duties to a freelancer during that stretch. Those who mattered at the meeting seemed to understand this, so my ass is not on the line or anything . . . which, over the course of these meetings, I found myself once again caring about.

I took a ton of notes for what we can do in all of these areas, because we had unprecedented access to two keen thinkers on what makes magazines work. I also got the message that the new web design, as well as anything we would want to do in a blog, are up to us. I told them I would need some heavy training in these areas if I am to do anything besides just check to see that monthly content uploads were executed right; it's one of my review goals, in fact. But I presented myself as being part of a future set of solutions, not as any sort of whiner or cripple. I felt very much more part of a team effort, above and beyond enjoying the uncommon privilege of having the rest of the gang there in the flesh.

I think it's time to lay to rest any reference to our being short on staff. I never used it as a hollow excuse, but it was the legitimate reason why we weren't able to do anything besides put a monthly publication out there. With a full staff, I can ease some of my edit duties over to the other folks if the web action becomes more of a daily task — an offer my boss made unbidden after the meeting. I had been nervous about the rest of the staff getting web training that would render my own obsolete. Now there is a chance I may revisit the Central City office (where the head of all things web is based) for further, more specialized training and assistance in enacting the redesign once the staff and managers decide what we need to feature. All of this is possible now that we are well past the crisis stretch.

I thought about the ways I could make this sort of training serve me as I flew home. No trouble getting to the airport or traversing the tiny TSA line helped foster a reflective mood for the flight back. I do feel more enthusiastic about the position, which now seems at my power to craft. A former supervisor of mine used to say, "Once you stop learning, you're dead." I have the chance to stay alive in this sense now, even to flourish. Still wondering if this will truly be my calling, something I strain at the leash to do each morning. But my previous pessimism may be clouding my attempts to see what that might be.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Winging Out of Here (Sadly Not to Vegas)

TEMPORARY RADIO SILENCE FOR THE next couple of days, as I have to fly to the other office for a 2-day meeting. I didn't get the chance to update you on my old goals for last week, but I nailed the hell out of the weight one and did better on the rest. My current goal, based on the possibly subpar food choices I may be faced with on the road, is not to undo too much of my progress. If I can keep down to 223.5 by Saturday (I come back Thursday night), without losing a lot of my workout achievements (and they do have a "fitness center" at the motel), I should be OK. We shall see. If I have to spend more than 5 hours in an airport on either side, I may begin freebasing a Cinnabon.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

No Future?

I'VE ALLUDED TO SOME GREATER-THAN-AVERAGE discontent with my job in the recent past. Doing so without explaining why is, at best, whiny . . . and frankly this post may emphasize this suspicion. I had started a couple of times during the past week to write up the current conditions there, but I just got sick of what sounded like someone bitching about starving with two loaves of bread under his arms. (Those big, crusty French loaves that take a week to finish. Imaginary simple carbs are OK on my diet.) We're flirting with recession, after all, and I've survived two layoffs there. Nice to be needed. But do I need them as much as they need me? Ah, there's the question.

Let's try this again by describing the office as it now is. We moved internally over last weekend. I'm no longer in an area of the office that was surrounded by empty cubes, abandoned by the former staffers of my magazine; loud assholes involved in marketing and sales (and to show you how this company thinks, after the last move, when my former coworkers complained about the adjacent noise, they were given cheap noise-control earmuffs rather than any disciplinary assistance); and one dingbat, who used to sit to my direct right, and who muttered to herself all day when she wasn't seized with racking, lung-hemorrhaging choking fits.

I am now ensconced among the editors of another magazine — all corpse-quiet, all capable of intelligent banter — and two of the company web team, one of whom I need to bug occasionally, so her placement is convenient. So the atmosphere last week was radically better.

So why did I feel like my composure was going to unravel through most of the week?

I now quote from a long letter to myself I wrote over the bulk of July 25, in lieu of work, to keep me from losing it one day:
I'm wondering how long I'll be able to last in the current work arrangement. The office, which was not even completely full when I started last year, is a ghost town. Entire rows of cubes and several offices stand empty. [ . . . ] The phone list, far shorter in total than when I started, was bumped up in type size, to project the illusion of full staffing. [ . . . ]

There's no "coworkers" here, not in the sense of people with whom you collaborate daily, and, if you're lucky, look forward to seeing on Mondays. [ . . . ] there's nobody to talk to. [ . . . ] I don't have a boss present here to distribute work, nor do I have the autonomy to make these moves myself. (I'd like to think that, as a freelancer, I'd be able to set my day's activities and find interesting work w/o getting into a wandering mindset, but at least I'd be self-sufficient for staff.) [ . . . ]

As regards the remote staff, the top brass on that side, who was picked to replace [my previous managing editor, P.] b/c she drove off the previous staff & became overmatched by the tide of work to be done, hasn't represented a very new direction. He's been out of the office 2½ weeks of the past 5. He had proposed weekly meetings to keep things moving & possibly get the magazine back on schedule, but he hasn't hosted a single one. The 2nd-in-command, my immediate boss, doesn't seem interested in hosting them himself. He does the necessary writing speedily enough, but hasn't stepped up to run the joint as much as I believe he's gonna need to in light of the group editor's current split of responsibilities. I don't think that we're even 25% of his time across 4 publications [ . . . ]

The clinical editor declared herself overwhelmed the last time we actually did have a staff meeting. The review process requires articles to spend a stretch of time in another company's hands, and the need to be liaison for all of the back-and-forth is challenging for her. P. managed to do it all, but she never slept & let stress & overwork destroy her health. I credit the clin. ed. for sending up a signal flare, which led to a bit of scrambling to cover her column duties. At least I was able to do a little more writing for the issue.

The art department is another story. After the in-house artist left [i.e., was effectively laid off], production duties fell to the new person in [Central City]. This person already had layout duties for (at least) all the other pubs of our group editor, plus maybe 1 more. So ours makes 5. Our guy had his hands full w/ 2! And keep in mind that the artist was responsible for hunting down stock photos, commissioning photo shoots for the lead/cover story, working with interior artists [for spot illustrations], etc. At our first art conference w/ the new person, she said she'd prefer to use stock photos for a lot of the inside art, including the spot illos we'd been securing from a graphic artist. So another freelancer gets it in the tail. Worse, she took her sweet time in getting in touch with our old artist (I eventually had to advocate for him @ a staff meeting w/ the publisher present) and has been unresponsive to our remaining artist's requests for information & offers to help. The impression she got is that this new person doesn't want to admit how overwhelmed she is. To which I say, tough shit to the company. They make the genius-level decision to can the vast majority of the NJ art staff, w/o thinking through the consequences of having all of this work fall to cheaper remote labor. Too bad.

I question how long I can endure here w/o the daily exchanges w/ colleagues that advance projects, that foster new ideas, that help to build trust. With the folks out of house, all they'll ever be is clients I meet on rare occasions. Without either absolute control over my work, or day-to-day running contact w/ folks who will see me develop and who can vouch w/ full authority for my worth when it comes to raises, plum assignments, and promotions, all I've got here is the job that comes up next in the rotation, some editing, some writing, and some Web work.

I've got 11 months until I turn 40. Usually guys @ that age are more established in a career or a company than I am here. Valued as an employee, perhaps; trusted and sought after to do good work, maybe; irreplaceable, no. I don't see as permanent the situation of the co. retaining a NYC-area-salaried employee while the rest of the magazine earns [Central City]–level money. Now is my time to make them understand what an asset I am at this price, especially in the face of a recession.

The problem is, I don't feel inspired to do so. Like a lot of my friends, I feel under-challenged, unmotivated, at this job. I'm not sure what else I might be able to do, but I'm sure it's more than I can achieve here, especially if they need to cut more employees as the economy continues to flounder. [ . . . ] I feel very easily distracted when facing tasks here, barely able to keep my attention on one task w/o hitting the Web for some diversion. Clearly a sign of disinterest.

What does rivet my attention? Doing a rigorous edit. Copyediting. Proofreading. Writing things. Can these things be done freelance and have any chance of earning enough $ to pay for insurance, to say nothing of 401(k)/retirement money? Or rent, even? At 40, will have to start a new business in my parents' basement?
I followed this letter with a long walk around the building and parking lot, a daily escape that has helped keep me on an even emotional keel.

Since, then, I've gotten a bit of perspective. Let's face it, jobs are usually self-inflicted, and if one's not in so much debt that any stable job has to be kept no matter what, and one can walk away, better to invest one's energy in finding that next job than in rhapsodizing about the pain it's supposedly causing. I don't think I was that whiny, but it wouldn't be the first time if I was. So allowing for the fact that this piece was written while I was in a bit of a trough, some points:
  • There's certainly nothing wrong with starting a solo business, or with doing so in the most economical site you can find for it. Basements, garages, and attics have hosted many efflorescences of American genius, especially when the creator's getting a little help with the rent. So I got hyperbolic at the end here.
  • The situation with the artist has, no hyperbole intended, gotten worse. My boss in Central City has confirmed that she is unresponsive to input from editors. She doesn't pay attention to deadlines until you remind her of them. And I had to get some graphics from her for the monthly website upload, all of which came back wrong despite my extensive directions. What do you do when you send someone Photoshop masters of some web graphics, ask for them to be saved as flattened JPEGs, and then keep getting .PSD files back after repeating this request thrice? (In my case, I stopped asking for the fix, briefed my boss on her failure, made the fixes myself, and put my head between my knees until hyperventilation ceased.)
  • It took me one full day to find the name of a contact who could answer my questions about setting up a trip for this week, because the employee orientation manual is better than 2 years out of date, and another half a day to get an account opened with our online travel system, because the instructions fail to inform the user that you need various bits of obscure employee data to complete it. This was the same stretch when the artist was fucking up. I spent the next day wondering when the chest pains would begin.
  • I finally took back the job of updating the magazine's website after handing it off for 6 months due to the staff crunch. I confess it felt good to do this myself again, and I remembered nearly all of the procedure. (If I'd truly not given a shit about it, I'd have forgotten it in total.) Future of the web work is unclear; writing ab0ut what's in store here is tough without ID'ing the whole shebang, but let's say instructions on how to do things are simultaneously in flux but being codified in a written guide. Lots of fun.
  • More alarming, I learned that the magazine's editors all got a formal lesson in updating the website. Partly this will allow them to place content on the fly, between the monthly print publications. But it also makes my knowledge less unique, and me more replaceable.
Now ahead of a big editorial review meeting this coming week, which I have to attend in person out at the other office, I have the ace in the hole of proposing some ideas for setting up a proper blog for the magazine. The one we launched a year ago died after two entries when the previous clinical editor left. Good thing, too; going with the company ethic of "pay for shit, get shit," they did it as a series of HTML pages on our site — rather than on a blogging platform — which took four clicks to reach from the "Blog" button on the front page. My ideas more or less boil down to, "Find out what [successful blog another magazine runs] did to launch theirs, and copy it," and "Give me the company policies on setting up new domains, buying a blog-platform license, commenting, linking, graphics, etc., etc.," for which I'm fully expecting to get blank stares.

More on that meeting: We're supposed to set up the 2009 slate of articles, and then hear from two higher-ups their opinions of how the past 12 months have been for the magazine. The period coincides exactly with my tenure there and the lifespan of our most recent redesign. So all of these things will be examined for how successful they've been, and they'll be looking for on-the-scene testimony from that period. Unless someone else is going to be there from that era, that leaves me as the sole survivor. We do have some market research to help figure how we've been doing too, which came in the form of an inch-thick sheaf of paper I will probably end up reading during the delays at Newark and the actual flight to Central City.

This whole process could reignite my enthusiasm for the title and the job. If I'm pulled more into writing again, which I had to set aside at the beginning of the year as our staff evaporated. Should I somehow become a key to the blog project, or sucked deeper into the management of the website, I could request formal training for these things, which would fulfill one of the goals on my first performance review, or become a negotiating point if they fail to assist me in staying current with tech and software. At minimum, I'd get a couple more qualifications on the résumé.

I'm just hoping the feeling of hopelessness that the above letter expresses doesn't return amid this trip. When I shut down on an idea, I find it damn near impossible to fake enthusiasm for it. I may just have to smile through some of this shit and then try to make sense of it when I'm away from these folks. By the time I return on Thursday, I'll either have a greater sense of my direction at this place, or just go to work on Friday and write myself another rambling rumination on trying to amend years of indolence with a plan to find fulfilling work for the rest of my functional days.

Enough of Goddamn Michael Phelps Already

AS ONE OF THE 100 Americans who, by act of Congress, are maintained in a special reserve for those who don't give a red shit for the Olympics, I speak for the other 99 by saying, enough of this fuckin' guy already. He's got the eight medals. Good. Go retire and become a pitchman for Speedo or HTH Chlorine or whatevathefuck. He reminds me of smirking shill Jean-Claude Killy, as expertly skewered by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. I urge you to plop down in one of those comfy chairs at Barnes & Noble — or just fuckin' buy the thing, it's an authoritative slice of Thompson's best work — with a copy of The Great Shark Hunt and read "The Temptations of Jean-Claude Killy." Then get back to me. Though I doubt Phelps will be paired at car shows, as Killy was, with then-ascending football star O.J. Simpson.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

30x40: Week of 8/4/08 Progress

ANOTHER SUNDAY, ANOTHER SUMMATION OF my progress toward not having my heart explode like the Death Star before I hit 50 by losing 30 pounds by the time I hit 40. I've been on this plan for a full month. From a 7/7/08 peak of 232.5 lb., I lost 9.5 lbs. by the 30-day mark. Despite a little backtracking in the last and previous weeks, I continued to visit the gym 6 or 7 days out of 7, and fought off a cold before it got any worse. Saturday's weigh-in showed 221, 3.5 lb. less than my goal of 224.5, for a total loss of 11.5 lb.

I've learned a fair amount about what food, weight training, aerobic exercise, and sleep will do for me in the right combination. I'm still figuring that exact mix out, but I'm very proud of sustaining more good habits than bad through this period. It was important to launch this program positively and successfully, and to develop the way of living that will keep me alive and viable into my old age.

Not to sound too serious about this, but I've lived in a state of ill physical fitness and health (for obesity is a disease) for all of my adult life. I don't want to rely on pills, joint replacement, and home health aides to be able to survive into my retirement years, to say nothing of enjoying them. I've already wound the odometer forward on my joints and cardiovascular system by retaining so much weight for so long. The plan is not merely to arrest that degeneration, but to reverse it as much as possible.

Staying flexible in the very short term, but on programs that carry one from week to week, seems to be working. Some of the short-term choices I've made have illustrated how much I've moved away from my older ways of eating and living: Chik-Fil-A and Johnny Rockets can safely be considered emergency dining choices in the future, especially on weekdays. But if I am invited out to a cookout over the weekend, or to my parents' for dinner one weeknight, I can exercise control over the preceding day and eat wisely when I do arrive there. Given, of course, that I've met my daily committment to the gym schedule. Flexibility and accountability.

Regarding what I eat, I have hit a wall or two. I'm sick of one of my lunch choices, and I'm trying to get more veggies into my evening mix for fiber, nutrition, and fullness. I'll need to find ways to change things up, both there and at the gym, to keep things from becoming stale. Because no matter how close to my year's goal of a 30-lb. deficit, I'm going to have to live like this for the rest of my days. I've noticed that if I do slip back into some of the older ways, like the fast food I've mentioned, I regain the weight quickly. These aren't merely aspects of my life that are being put on hold. They must be gone forever. What indulgences I accept, at least for the short term, will be on weekends, amid otherwise healthful eating patterns and exercise, must be the rare exception. So I need to find variety among the good meals I eat during the mass of the week.

As I said, this is week to week, and here's what I did with last week's goals:
  • 8 hours sleep/night
  • 8/5: Waist measure
  • More veggies in afternoon and with dinner
  • Portion control: 1900 calories, 40/40/30 nutrients [protein/carbs/fat]
  • Solid gym attendance
8 hours sleep/night: I was about 50/50 here. Note that this applies to weekends as well, as I've been trying to vist the gym earlier on weekend days, preferably at the open. The Sunday time may shift as the regular football season begins, because I like to watch the 1:00 game from the back of some aerobic device. But I can still do better on this goal.

Waist measurement: Dropped ¾" since the previous Monday. Unlike my weight, I'm not setting goals here; it's a complementary datum that will help me understand whether the number on the scale represents actual fat loss.

Veggies and portion control: Made some errors last week: frozen pizza and nachos for two dinners, mall food for a third. Easy to eliminate if I cue up good food earlier; I didn't have any plans by the end of those two particular days, so older habits crept in and I reached for something easier. There are easy choices that are a lot more healthful if I take some time, either over the weekends or over a little extra time each night, to prepare something that will do me some good. I'm out of chili now, so I need to make a new batch of that, which will also help make some of my lunches far better.

Solid gym attendance: Six out of seven days over the past week, including all four weight-training days. Monday was the loser again. This time, if a late dinner at the parents' leads to an even later bedtime, I'll wake up an hour later, make a cardio visit to the gym, maybe reward myself with a steam, and then do the two-day lifting split on Tuesday and Wednesday instead of Monday and Tuesday. Had I done this last and the previous Monday, I think I'd be juuuuust a little thinner. We'll see.

I'm going to retain this same set of goals, and make my weight-loss target an even 224, down one half-pound. For the past few weeks, I've overshot the goal, but I believe this has been due to poor protein and sleep follow-up reversing some of my weightlifting progress. I've got big expectations for this week, as it'll be the last complete week in New Jersey before I spend two-plus days in Central City for work. Between the indigenous cuisine, and the fun of spending a few hours in airports, I need to charge into that trip in top form.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

India, Ink.: Howl of the Hiring Manager

IF YOU'VE EVER HIRED STAFF, and you've waded through résumés toxic with errors, India Amos's hilarious and insightful job application tips post should either inspire PTSD-laced flashbacks, or assure you that you weren't overreacting when you wanted to sweep every résumé on your desk into the shredder. Her advice will comfort those who hire and counsel those who aspire to be hired. She cites particularly painful examples from the scores of applications she's received, then runs through the typical sections of a résumé to detail how each part should best serve the applicant and avoid disenchanting the reader.

In this quasi-recession, competition for jobs is fiercer than ever. Don't make it any harder for an employer to contact you, because he or she won't waste time translating your errors into English; it's far easier to pick up the next résumé. India's advice can help yours land in the "follow-up" file instead of the circular one.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sick Day Reflections

TAKING A SICK DAY TODAY. I woke up this morning feeling a cold coming on. I've been trying to get more sleep, but Sunday was munged by nightmares and my awakening at 4 a.m. with no chance of returning to sleep, and Tuesday night was a justifiable late night due to a mass expedition to The Dark Knight. Though the movie ended at 10 p.m. and I was able to get home at a somewhat reasonable 10:30, I returned a call to my parents, during which I discussed the wonders of the film and various work issues. I was then drawn to the Internet and its many spoiler-laden discussions, and suddenly . . . it was midnight.

I'd awakened the past couple of days with a sore throat, and when this morning made it a third, I decided to pull the plug on an early gym trip as well as work. Because I have to blast the AC here to get it from its wall mount in the living room to my bedroom (around a bend), by 2 or 3 in the morning, it gets distinctly chilly. (O, for a modern unit with a built-in timer!) Despite recent disillusionment at work, I do have a couple of pressing tasks I don't want to leave too long. But with the possibility of this either developing fully into a cold, or of sucking down worse pathogens from the shit-for-brains who insist on coming into work sick, I figured why risk catching something that would kill the rest of the week and possibly fuck up the weekend?

I did begin to work off some of the fat I picked up over the weekend, but still felt somewhat weak and flabby compared to a couple of weeks ago. I would love to go over to the gym this afternoon and at least get 20 minutes on an elliptical trainer or treadmill, maybe an abbreviated version of the leg/shoulder workout I'd planned to do this morning. I feel well now, somewhat tired from lack of doing anything besides balance my checkbook, pay some bills, vacuum the floors, and clean the bathroom . . . which makes this a sick day of epic productivity if you ask me. If I feel well at 2:30, I may scoot over to the gym for a token stretch and some putt-putt on the cardio floor.

I had another piece of evidence that I've lost some adaptation to the junk I'd been eating. I figured it was more convenient to grab dinner at the mall that houses the movie theater, and — given the choice of having an off-program dinner, or getting hungry halfway through the film and eating the junk from the concession stand — I was better off eating on the time schedule, if not the exact food one. So I grabbed a burger and fries from Johnny Rockets.

This proved touch-and-go. The burger took some time to get comfortable, if you get my meaning, and for a short stretch, I wondered if I would keep it. My eating choices had been spotless earlier that day, so this was the first pure crap I'd eaten all day. Perhaps I have lost my appetite for greasy food. I had two charcoal-grilled burgers at Bill's over the weekend, but with thinner buns, less fat, no toppings save cheese and some ketchup, and no fries. I don't think it was the influx of simple carbs that made me queasy. I'd had spaghetti on Sunday and Monday nights at my parents' house, in addition to the bread-based filling in the bracciole, with no similar feelings.

With a business trip coming later in the month, I've got some planning to do during the two days I'll be away from my usual feedbag. I can tote some things out there (nuts, jerky, protein bars), but the hotel food and whatever sludge they get for lunch may not be all that helpful. So I'll just have to run up to this travel with exceptional work on both the exercise and food counts, and trust myself to stay on track when I return. Though I do have to smile at seeing that my body really wants me to eat better food. Nice to have a built-in fan.

Monday, August 04, 2008

30x40: Week of 7/28/08 Progress

IT'S BEEN A MONTH SINCE I began tracking my food intake and exercise, and I can see some course corrections are necessary. I can't emphasize more strongly how useful it's been to examine, for four solid weeks, just what I've been eating. I have a better sense of what works now. This will help me overcome what some stock traders refer to euphimistically as retracement.

Last week's average caloric intake was a bit closer to the 2200 calories I'd originally pegged as my daily weekday intake. I'd had trouble eating enough to meet this goal while still splitting protein, carbs, and far into the percentages I'd chosen. Carbs usually were the macronutrient in which I ran over my limit. In most cases they were from complex carbs like whole-grain bread, brown rice, or cereal. Still, I wanted to keep my protein up (at 40% of total calories) to keep feeding my muscles.

I'd been recording what I ate on weekends, but not in fine caloric detail. Many of my earlier meals would be much like the ones I ate during the week, but I assumed that at least one meal on Saturday would be eaten at a restaurant. Sunday dinner would have no restriction whatsoever.

This weekend was a hefty one. I was lucky enough to be invited to my friend Bill's for a cookout, in celebration of our mutual friend Rich, and his family, being present in New Jersey. Rich did a stretch in Iraq two years ago, and still returns for missions that require his expertise. While there, his first and second children were born. I'd never actually met them, as they live in Virginia. So the chance to see all of them, plus Rich's siblings and mother, was something I couldn't miss. And with them came a tide of picnic-style food. In addition to this, on Sunday my mother busted out an old classic: bracciole. Though I started each day with whole-grain cereal and visited the gym, I still gained back a little more fat than I would've liked.

With data like I've generated the past four weeks, comes the ability to calibrate. It looks like I was losing more weight eating 1800–1900 calories per day than I was when I reached 2000–2200, and it's clear that I need to restrict myself more on weekends. Amid yesterday's foodfest, I also bought a bag of Whole Foods jellybeans, which I found, not unlike fast food, I can no longer eat in bulk without regretting it.

So I've cut back on all servings. The five to six meals across the day are working well, but I need to reduce the caloric count and add vegetables to increase satisfaction on the late-day meals. I bought frozen fruit for my smoothies, but distributed the contents of the two bags across six servings, instead of five. I cut bananas in half and froze them to chop the morning sugar intake I'd ordinarily get from a whole one. I bought Ezekiel sprouted bread, which is still high in fiber but has fewer simple carbs, and which gets high marks for energy efficiency from a far more fit friend of mine. And when I make my next dinner of broccoli, tuna fish, and whole wheat penne, out go the penne. As for the brown rice with the chili, even at a single serving, it's turning out to be way more than I want to eat just before going to sleep.

I left my goals the same over the past week, with the exception of the weight goal, which I took down a half-pound to 225.5. This I exceeded on Saturday by measuring up at 223.5, but I think a bit of that was from muscle loss. This I blame on poor sleep. Last week was spotty. Work was a factor. For as long as I've been a desk jockey, if I don't like what I'm doing at work, if I don't want to go in, I stay up late. I read, fuck around on the Net, play a computer game, nothing all that productive. It's a terrible habit, and last week it cost me. If it keeps up, I'll just get rid of the goddamn nightstand where, historically, books and a desk light have provided a temptation.

This week's current weight goal is 224.5, which will probably take a couple of days to reach given the fat I put on over this weekend. I've got clear evidence that 1900 calories works a little better. If I need to measure as much of Saturday's intake as I can, so be it, I can start doing that too. Might be good to eat a bit more just to trick the body into getting off of what it perceives to be starvation (though the bigger Sunday dinners can have that effect too).

I've got a revised set of goals up for this week:
  • 8 hours sleep/night
  • 8/5: Waist measure [forgot to do it this a.m.]
  • More veggies in afternoon and with dinner
  • Portion control: 1900 calories, 40/40/30 nutrients [protein/carbs/fat]
  • Solid gym attendance
The larger meals on Sunday nights have fouled up this and last Monday's gym days, so I may rescramble the gym schedule to replace weight training on Mondays with cardio, for which I can get to the gym later. I'll see how this gym-week goes. Progress was made last week, so maybe I retain more muscle than I suspect.

What makes me paranoid is that it's usually after a month that something intervenes and derails my forward motion. I'm relying on the documented success at the gym, and my records of what foods will give me the right results — 4.5 pounds last month, or 15% of my goal of 30 by age 40 — to push past this speedbump. I really have no choice but to succeed. The alternatives end poorly.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


THOUGH I'M STILL STRIVING TO make my dinners perfect under the current regime, I got evidence last night that my body wants me to succeed in finishing the day with the most healthful food I can find. Follow along for more painfully solipsistic scrutiny of my eating habits. I'd call it navel-gazing, but I still need to lose a little more fat before I can see it.

One of the recurrent goals I've had during this 30x40 eating and exercise plan has been to eat nutritious dinners. It's been a major weakness during my previous fat-loss attempts, and it continues to be difficult. I get home, feeling tired after waking up at 5:00 a.m. or — recently — drained of motivation, and I lack the energy to construct a meal from scratch. Simple-carb- and saturated-fat-laden prepackaged alternatives then beckon.

Cueing up pre-made meals like frozen chili is a winning option. But I'm getting frustrated with some of the foods in my rotation. This Tuesday, I barely made it through the sandwich I had for lunch. I've eaten a turkey sandwich with green- or red-leaf lettuce and low-fat Munster on whole wheat for just about 13 months straight, and now, finally, I've soured on the combo. I thawed chili for two of the remaining days to compensate, deviating from the program on Thursday to grab pizza/Italian fare with my buddy Ratatosk, who works nearby. But I'll need to figure a plan for next week and beyond with the usual lunch no longer as satisfying.

Dinner's another matter entirely. By that time on weekdays, I've usually eaten five small meals over the day: a postworkout smoothie, cereal or oatmeal, lunch, and either a handful of nuts or dried fruit, a small can of tuna fish, or half a peanut butter sandwich on whole-grain bread. Very hobbit-like, except my plan is to eliminate the Bilbo-like potbelly. (The underground lair I could get behind, along with the homebrew beer.) My ancient standbys, like a huge bowl of pasta with my own meat sauce, or a stir-fry with sugary or oily sauce, would undo all the good I'd done over the day. Something small, nutritious, and satisfying.

Bodybuilding literature advises the emphasis be on protein and good fat for the final meal of the day. The former feeds the muscles you've battered earlier that day during slumber, and the latter helps pace the absorption of the protein because it takes longer to digest, and of course is taaaaasty. There is room for veggies in this mix, they being a "cheap" way to get vitamins, minerals, and fiber without an overwhelming sugar rush.

Still, by the end of this Friday, when I slammed the door on another suboptimal week, I didn't feel like cooking. I'd gotten paid, and the State of New Jersey had kicked back $80 of my taxes under the Homestead Rebate Act. Unlike serious and whimsical uses for past government kickbacks, I was of a spending mind. I figured, why not grab something at the mall, then drift down to Barnes & Noble and do some grazing? This would require a hard culling decision to be made back home if I bought anything, but still, using a bit of the current windfall for some fun and stashing the rest for the lean times in my current save-crazed context wouldn't be so bad.

And this, O patient reader, is where my body informed me that it can't tolerate fast food anymore.

I hit up Chik-Fil-A, my usual food stop at this particular Paramus mall, for dinner. A dozen chicken nuggets, which (compared to the algae chunks at McDonald's) are identifiable as actual white chicken meat; waffle fries; ketchup and the BBQ dipping sauce you get for the nuggets; and a Diet Coke. Nothing I haven't done ten thousand times.

About 10 minutes after I finished, I felt rolling stomach cramps coming on. Not usually something that happens after I go there. Nausea was creeping in by the time I returned to the car. I held everything down, but I kept one eye on the right-hand lane in case I needed to merge hard and make a quick deposit in a gas station . . . or wherever.

I suspect I've changed my body's food preferences. It's been a month of very clean eating, with exceptions for dining at friends' homes or with my parents on Sundays, but in both cases, I didn't eat the sort of high-fructose corn syrup–infused spreads, dressings, or desserts that now contribute to the national waistline. I've especially avoided ice cream, mass consumption of sweets, breakfast pastries, and cakes. I'd gotten a hint of that last one this previous weekend, when, while celebrating my friend Jen's graduation, I engulfed a large and yummy piece of cake that left me feeling queasy.

(Side note: My blood sugar tests have been normal even when my diet was at its worst, so I don't suspect a pancreatic/diabetic origin for this. Were this true, the sugars in the fruit-filled smoothie I down each morning probably would've put me in the hospital by this point.)

I've read vegetarians' and vegans' testimony that they'd lost interest in meat after excluding it for a spell, and of those attempting to clean up their diets getting profoundly ill when relapsing into or experimenting with the sugary or greasy food they once downed in bulk. Perhaps this is another corner I've backed myself into. Considering my awful past with mindless eating of comfort food and junk, not the worst fate in the world. It will make this coming holiday season, and the party I will throw, which is always a sugar-fest, very interesting indeed.