Sunday, April 26, 2009

Take that off!

My pastor was preaching today about putting aside things that belong to the Christian's former nature - who you were before you knew Christ. Some of what he said hit me right in the heart. Like don't be the one who complains about your employer promoting other people because God is big enough to take care of you.


His text was from Colossians 3:6-14. Put aside all anger and malice, wrath, railing, etc. The word the Apostle Paul uses for anger is orge which can be both a predisposition to anger or emotional agitation and wrath.

I have to admit, my previous post about my job sounded pretty much like orge. But I am still sorting this out. Because of an abusive childhood, I do have a lot of anger. I get pissed when I am mistreated. I used to just take it, you know, be a good boy, be a nice guy, take the garbage - and seethe internally.

I don't do that any more. I am coming to learn that anger in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It's like the horn on your car. It's a warning signal that something is wrong - that boundary has been violated, that there's danger in the situation, that worse things can happen if you ignore it.

But I still haven't learned how to be assertive without being angry. "No" was not a word that was allowed in our home - at least not if you were a kid. It didn't matter how you were treated, you couldn't say "that hurt, stop it." And the same went with my older brother's sexual abuse. I couldn't say "no" in the middle of the night when he came into my room to sexually abuse me. If I did, mom might find out, and that would be worse. (She found out later; I told her. And true to form she shamed me about it, so she wasn't safe).

But I'm not a child any more. I'm the grown up now and I can say no and mean it. But I am still learning the difference between setting and maintaining a boundary - how to stand up for myself - and being angry about everything. And I realize that some of the feelings I have are leftovers. Left over from childhood. Left over from the garbage dump. And the anger - like powder in a muzzle loader - might be left over from a previous shot that should have been fired but wasn't. But I'm not crazy - where I work is still a toxic place that mistreats its employees. Don't believe me? as the OPM.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

See, I'm not nuts!

Carlos Santana Santa Clara University I have been attending a series of lectures on Music and the Brain at the Library of Congress in Washington. The subject matter has varied from Ellen Dissanayake's talk on the origins of music to Daniel Levtin's lecture and discussion on The World in Six Songs to the last of the talks on the mind of the artist by Michael Kubovy and Judith Shatin of UVA.

I emerge from these lectures (sponsored by the Dana Foundation) feeling much like I feel when I go snorkeling - I am on the surface, but the real treasure is deeper in the water. I would like to get down into the depths and explore the subject. The more I read about it, the more I am persuaded that there is a power in music beyond just our enjoyment of it, that there is something in our wiring that is affected by music in a way that nothing else touches.

I first got interested in the subject because of my own amateur musicianship. I play guitar, bass, and sometimes keyboard (though not very well) and I have always loved it. My mother told me stories of my bouncing to the Beatles "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" in my crib.

So I knew I had an emotional attachment to music. I wanted to play it, I saw the popularity of musicians, especially good ones, and I wanted that, too. And I loved the feeling of "getting it right" of actually performing in front of people in a way that they appreciated.

I remember the electric feeling when my classmates leaped to their feet and began to cheer when my high school rock group started playing "Sweet Home Alabama." I felt like I had been plugged into a wall.

My classical guitar teacher told me that I had something that many professional musicians did not - I loved it. I did, I do, and I always will.

So learning more about this obsession intrigued me. I started reading Daniel Levitin's This is Your Brain on Music . If you have not read this book, it is excellent. It explores the way that music is processed in our brains and gives a good overview of the research into the subject. Then I started reading Music the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain. It was a little bit harder read than Dan Levitin's book, primarily because it was a little more technical. I am currently reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. It is fascinating, primarily because the stories are real-world testimonies of how Dr. Sacks has experienced the way music effects people.

I would also like to read more about music in religion and about trance music. I started exploring the phenomenon of brain entrainment using binaural beats and light flashes to alter brain wave frequency. But again, I have just flown over the iceberg, I haven't even come close to the tip of it.

As a Christian musician, I want to explore the implications of this research on church music, specifically on worship services. I have noticed many people go into a trance-like state when deeply involved in worship, and I have been involved in such a state myself at times. I have believed that we were all worshiping God, but that can be done without singing or music. So I want to delve into the role that music plays in worship. Does it evoke a response, or is it a tool that helps people respond to God? What about different instruments, their timbre, range, and forcefulness? And what of singing without music? Some traditions follow the church Fathers and don't allow musical instruments in church, so what about them?

I ask these questions because I think they need to be answered. Often times, I don't hear this kind of thinking. Dan Levitin said that singing together causes the release of Oxytocin, the so-called "trust" hormone that causes women to go into labor, and helps mothers bond with their babies. This is released in our bodies when we sing together! So how does that affect what Christians would call "unity" or "fellowship"?

Sadly, when I mention these issues to some on my current worship team, they look at me like "huh?" or like that's interesting now let's get back to playing music.

But I'm not crazy.

I have likened music to Dorothy's ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz. Remember when Dorothy first gets the slippers and the wicked witch wants them? What does Glenda the good witch say? "Stay very tightly inside of them. Their magic must be very powerful, or she wouldn't want them so badly."

I think the same is true of music. People who dismiss Carlos Santana (pictured above in a photo from Santa Clara University) as "Cosmic Carlos" and laugh when I mention him should take note - Carlos has started a CHURCH. So maybe he's onto something. Maybe Christians ignore that something to their peril.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A true hero

Like Many people, I was horrified to hear of the shooting rampage in a Carthage, NC retirement home this past week. The man who did it, Robert Stewart, was ultimately stopped when a 25-year-old local policeman shot him the hallway. The officer, Justin Garner, grew up in Carthage and had been a NC highway patrolman at one time before deciding to go back to his home town.

I know many who thank God that he made that decision.

This young man was apparently the only one on duty when the calls started coming in Sunday. He took his pistol and went to the Pinelake Health and Rehab Center. Despite being shot in the leg and foot with shotgun pellets, Garner was able to bring Stewart down with a single shot from his .40 cal Glock pistol.

This young man, an avid hunter and fisherman, is to be commended with the highest award we can give. He truly was willing to lay down his life to save others (as did one of the health care workers). That he did it without being told, because it was just part of his job to do so, shows that the Greatest Generation or 9-11 Firefighters aren't the last heroes.

I don't know if North Carolina plans to honor him; I know the folks in Carthage will probably make sure he doesn't need to think about cooking Sunday dinner for rest of his life. And having gone to high school at Union Pines, just down the road from where this happened, I can tell you the community is tight-knit. Everyone knows nearly everyone else. So Justin will be a hero in the hearts of people there for generations. Good goin' son. Way to get er done!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Back in the saddle

Victor Wooten At Chuck Levin'sHello Blogozoids.

I realize it's been more than a month since my last posting, and that sucks. But I have a job to do and it keeps me busy, and frankly posting takes time that I struggle to catch a hold on. But there are some things that are interesting enough to air in public, one of which was a bass seminar I attended at Chuck Levin's Washington Music Center in Wheaton, Maryland. Victor Wooten - the master funkateer of the Flecktones - was giving a clinic. Since I aspire to be a master of the low end, I went with about 200 other people.

Victor was there with JD Blair, the drummer from his first CD, and Shania Twain's drummer for several years. Turns out, the brother was voted the best country drummer just for keeping a good grove. Here's the notes I took on the seminar, which was co-sponsored by Hartke, the folks who make bass amps and gear. Victor used the amp throughout the seminar, though most of the time was Q & A, not playing. But when he did play, Vic was laying down some amazing stuff.

Check out the notes, use them as needed.


Victor Wooten clinic notes
Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center
Wheaton, MD March 23, 2009
J.D. Blair, drummer touring with Victor. VW and JD appearing at Birchmere and Rams’ Head.

Victor opened with the question: “Why are you here?”
Answers were varied – to learn, to get some inspiration, etc. Victor then added “Most people come to a clinic to see a performance; the other ½ say they are there to learn.

Why would people want to learn something from ‘one of the best’ and not bring a notebook? Victor noted that music is an elective course - we want to write it down when we are trying to learn something.
Michael Jordan on a basketball court: even stuff I disagree with I would write it down. Ideas write them down. Get all you can from anyone.
Then Vic opened it to questions and answers.

1st question was by a man who said he debated whether to stop practicing and go see Vic or continue working on his stuff. Valid question. Music is a language; to get good at this language do I stay at home or go where the best are speaking it? English is hard – the thought process behind it. Music is a language, so we can learn it. You learn a lot about a language by speaking it. Play with people more to learn how to speak. Alone in a practice room you will speak with an accent.

2nd question was about Vic’s creative process and writing. Does he set a barrier when he writes because some of what he writes might go over people’s heads?

I know if I do it, some might not understand it, but if it’s grooving right, then you get it. I do things that I know nobody’s getting. But if it’s over your head, you as a performer have an obligation to make it so your audience can understand. Make it groove, and all is right.

What about when you get stuck?

I record what I have because I might forget it. I go back later and listen to them and see how they work. If I get stuck on something, I see if it works with another piece. Maybe it will work with something else I have. Focus on what you have to say. Don’t think so much about how you want to say it - focus on what you are saying. Sometimes people are afraid to ask the music what it wants you to play. Ask and it will tell you.

Is there such a thing as having perfect time?
Digitally, things can be corrected. Listen to what other musicians are doing. JD Toured with Shania Twain for three years and won best country drummer of the year award. Her (ex-) husband Mutt Lange is notoriously hard to work for – he will take pieces of things and paste them together for the record. Victor and JD Blair JamminThe guitar player at the audition said they were turning away so many drummers, that they told limo drivers not to stop the motor – that they would not be staying. When JD came in they were running a click track. Midway through the audition, Mutt said “stop! Who turned off the click?” The engineer said no one so they started again. The same thing happened, and again the engineer said the click was working. What was happening was that JD was so tight with the click that it sounded like it wasn’t there. Vic also said he met a drummer who said he had perfect time, but he felt like the guy was holding him back.

How do you keep your mind focused?
Most of it is off the bandstand. Life is music, so I am always practicing. Speak musically. Make whatever’s happening groove. I make it groove; you’re not listening to music note for note, you are listening to the overall package. Don’t try to get every note right. If someone comes into the room, they are a part of the band – they affect things. The audience has a right to ask, they paid to be there. We need to be aware of the audience; a good audience will push you higher or a bad audience can pull you down.

What non-musical things inspire you?
You hear people play that know theory and they play that way. Emotion comes from you. Life is a story. Go out and have a life; that’s where music comes from. Everything is an inspiration. You got to figure it out. Everything that happens in life is an inspiration.

What about learning the staff and reading music?
Learn it – do it! Learning to read before you can talk doesn’t make sense. In music we learn things in reverse. One of the best things that I have found to help me learn about reading music is to write a line of music. That will help you know how to read it.

JD how much do you practice?

I don’t as much as I used to. I analyze what I hear, and put formulas to the test. When Vic is playing in 4 or 2/4 then things click by listening. Practicing goes on in your head.

Do you still eat Frosted Flakes on tour?
I am trying to improve my diet.

Vic, do you have any advice for beginning bassists?

Listen to everything then get a bass and play. Play, Play, Play. Find people or situations to play in. Practicing is OK, but playing is better. My brother Regi started me with one note – maybe a G. But then he surrounds his students with the rest of the music. You might have only that one note to play, but do that for a while and you are making music. He will teach you a note, then say “now, let’s jam.” Think about mom listening on the other side of the door; when she comes up she hears her kid making music. Making music will help you enjoy it which will help you learn it. Play more. Find a way to hear the band in your head.

What about when you are improvising?

I keep the tools - theory, scales, modes, etc – in the back seat of the car, but the groove is what I am after. You don’t need the spare tire in the front seat with you; you keep it in the trunk until you need it.

What about Rhythm theory? Tones and Space?
Any note works if it is in time, if its tone is good, if its dynamics are good. Resolve things to find a way back. I like the challenge, how to find a way back to the 1. I also like to be surprised by what I play. I don’t want to know everything that is going to happen. Most of the situations I am in I have the freedom to explore. With the Flecktones I can explore things on stage; that’s different than when you are accompanying someone and are expected to just get it solid, get it down and keep a groove.

What about scales?
The one scale that I like to practice a lot and people don’t work on is the chromatic scale. If you use every note, that’s it. Explore the weird sounding notes. Take a mistake and by what I do after it, it sounds right. Every “out” note has an “in” note right next to it. Play anything crazy and make it groove. Groove and a simple singable melody are essential. They are the things that will last.

Who inspires you?
Charlie Hunter and especially Steve Vai. I grew up listening to Steve Vai play and some of the things he does really inspire me.

How about when you switch time signatures? How do you tie them together?
I don’t really think about that, I just groove. In India they do it mathematically. Let’s say you have eight measures – 32 quarter notes. So if I play a triplet pattern -123 123 123- then I have 10 measures of three plus two in order to fill the same space as 32 quarter notes. If its four bars of 4/4 time I can play five or 6 bars and then add two and it adds up. They don’t have to be even bars. I can play in 7 and still feel the real tempo. Lots of people subdivide time; triplets (1-2-3) take the triplet pulse and count to any number you want. You don’t have to play every note.

What about space in music?
(Vic) JD and I met in Nashville and knew of one another – he went to NSU and I had heard about him. We would jam, have freedom to interplay, etc. JD was back there grooving. I think his solo was just a couple of hits. He said more by saying little. When you hear silence, you look in the direction of the silence. But then you have to give the audience something.

(JD) On space, Miles Davis was an influence. When he was doing the Be Bop stuff there was just so much sonic info. His drummer Al Foster could sit back and hold a pocket. When Miles has his band on a groove, then he can play two notes and it sounds great.

Vic, you said music is a language; when it talks to you, is it something you have heard before, is it the same?
No. I try to be open enough to hear how it’s going to speak back. You know it comes through inspiration – you feel something and then find a group of notes to say what you want to say. What I am feeling is what I play. Listening to music will sometimes inspire you. Realize you already have a voice.

You mention listening, what are you listening to and how did you find your voice?
I was the youngest of five brothers and that’s what I listened to most. My mom and dad were both musical, and my brothers all played. I listened to CCR, the Beatles, Motown, James Brown, etc. I’m a child of the 60s and so there was always something on the radio. Then I listened to jazz and the tapping – the Eddie Van Halen stuff. But it’s good to be open to all of music.

What about getting bands together?
Play with as many people as you can. Try to play with people who are better – find people at school. The opportunities are there.

How do you keep yourself level headed?
I listen to the good and the bad. If you take the compliments you have to take the criticism as well. Who I am inside is what directs me. What’s in my head? I have to ask “why did what you said hurt me?” You want to look at things honestly. When people put you on a pedestal, then to them you are that good. And keeping that role - staying on that pedestal – will help the little brother go higher rather than lowering your sights.

What about gear, do you play 5-string or only 4-string basses?
I have often said that when I lay them down, they all sound the same. The music is coming from me. When I play it comes from me. I don’t want to know the bass is there. I just want to play music. Be comfortable enough with the bass’s role. It is not just an instrument, it’s a role. Be comfortable. Learn the other things well enough.

What if you spoke another language? Would your music sound different?
Yes, but how we speak is a product of how we live. Everything outside is a product of what’s inside. People from other lands want to play like the USA. But the mix of cultures is what’s cool. When they come here, we don’t want to hear them play like us, we want what they bring to the table.

What about your Ying-Yang bass? What are the tone woods?
Fodera chose the woods. The maker chose the tone woods. I still have the original bass I played on my first album Show of Hands because I didn’t want to lose that sound. I like the sound on “Sinister Minister” and other Flecktones tracks, so I still have that, which was a mix of ebony and holly I think. This bass is different. My first bass has a maple finger board and this one has an ebony one. I still use the PJ (Precision-jazz) pickup setup. When I first got the bass that’s what it had on it. The techniques that I have developed have been developed using that setup. I use EMG pickups and I have a Mike Pope Preamp. But nothing I have is exclusive. Everything on my bass I stuff you can buy
JD, I notice throughout this time, you have had your eyes closed and seem to be somewhere else. Where is that place and what are you hearing?
I have found that I listen better when my eyes are closed. That way I can respond to what’s going on. (VIC) Most of us think we are on the earth, but we are often the ones from another planet. We think we are down to earth, but we are not. When you listen, you learn. Be open minded. Pay attention to sounds, feelings, and what’s going on behind you and around you. Sometimes I might hear something that I want to incorporate, like a coin dropping on the pavement might give me an idea for a new groove.

What about tension and release in a solo?
We have a sax player here in the room? The key to solos and soloing is something that people don’t practice. (Saxophonist B.J. Simmons joins Vic and JD on stage).

What about music and the animals? In your book (The Music Lesson) did you write it as fiction or was it more autobiographical?
I wrote the whole thing as fiction, but I wanted people to take something away from it. If you write your ideas as fiction, then you don’t have to defend it.

The most important thing is to listen to soloists. Silence helps us get inspired. As a soloist he can bring something if we give him space. If we create a hole for the soloist, he can fill it. A good rhythm section that listens can push the soloist to the front. Pay attention to the musical skills. As a listener, if you are only allowed to listen to the rhythm section, you get bored. But as soon as you get involved, we have more fun. Just like when you talk, you can create space, dynamics, so you can respond to what happened.

Can I call your name musically? Anyone who comes in the room affects the conversation, just like someone who walks up when you’re talking.

I used to know that most of the black folks at a Flecktones concert were bass players. That’s just the way it was. I saw Anthony (Wellington) in the crowd one time and so I threw something into a solo that I knew only he would understand (Cosby Slop). You can tap into things and communicate with the audience. Paying attention to the nuances and how the audiences respond is important.

What about the future of the music business?
JD’s wife works at Sony and she can tell you that new artists that don’t pull numbers immediately are gone quickly. (JD) There is a learning curve. And I am on a learning curve, using video, YouTube, all that. You go to my website and you won’t see much. You go to Vic’s and the mouse turns into drops of water, and you can buy stuff, and see concert dates and such.

(Vic) The business is slowly turning back towards people who have real talent. People like music because they like music. It seems like people are getting fed up. But now people are not buying records, they are buying songs (on iTunes or others). We get people – like one young guy came up to me and said he wanted to be his own producer. He thought that meant just putting together drum tracks or samples, and didn’t really know what a producer does. I see a show called “Making the Band” and there’s no band in it; does that mean that P-Diddy doesn’t deserve a place at the table? No, but it’s not the same thing as being a producer.

How about people who can’t recognize the difference?
Make sure there’s something to offer. Don’t get stuffy. What about real music? There has to be something to eat at the table. It’s not all image; I mean Aretha Franklin’s fat, but I’ll be the first one in line when the tickets go on sale. James Brown would perform like every gig was his last.

How about the elimination of arts and music in schools?
There been a lot of studies that prove that people involved in the arts and music do better in school than people who are not involved. But remember, things like cutting arts and music in school cannot be done unless we allow it. Whatever I hear winds up in the music somehow.

If you had to choose one bass player to listen to, who would it be?
There are a lot of good guys out there, but I think right now my favorite is Oteil Burbridge. He’s a great bass player, but it’s not his technique – which is great by the way – that gets the attention. He doesn’t come across as flashy. His sound comes across.

Did you ever have any formal training?

I had better than formal training. I grew up playing music with my brothers. I did play the cello in 6th grade and into high school, so I learned note reading and theory, and stuff like that.

What’s in your CD player?

Right now I’m hanging around with my kids a lot so what I hear is what they listen to.

What does it mean to be a great performer?
Be the person who gives the audience what they are asking for. Listen to the audience. Nothing is as important as what I am doing right now.
How did you deal with the hatred and animosity growing up?
I have to believe that the good and the bad are both true, but I had a posse – a family that encouraged me.

I have some students who are playing the 1970s music in band and they really get bored with the repetition. Do you have any recommendations?
Learn all the stuff and play it the way the stuff goes. Go home and play what you want, but when you are a good player you need to be able to play with anyone. In my groove workshop we practice for mistakes. Sometimes when we play, we play until we make a mistake and then we start over. But practice for mistakes and make them groove. Now let me ask you a question, if you could take music and condense it into one word what would it mean to you?

(The answers ranged from peace, joy, love, passion, release, contentment, communication etc).

Now I have found that people all over the world have answered the same way, but one thing they never mentioned was theory, notes, technique, methods, bass, guitar or even strings. These things are the tools, but the tool is not the music. Remember what your word is and then use the tools to get to that one-word definition. Thanks!

So that's the clinic. And you didn't even have to go!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Close enough

This is my dog Snickers. He's a Schnoodle - a mixture of Schnauzer and Poodle. Technically, he's a mutt. But he's also a great dog. He loves to - as his picture illustrates - play ball in the yard. Or the house. Or up and down the stairs. He's a bundle of energy that we have to tire every day if we want to avoid playing ball all night long. Or we have to put him in his crate to get a little peace.

Lately, Snickers has taken to being more of a lap dog - he weighs almost 30 lbs, so he's a little out of the lap dog range. But he likes to sit on the loveseat with me or with my wife and watch TV.

I remember being surprised the first time he did it. He jumped up into my lap and curled up. He put his head on my shoulder, puffed out a big breath and relaxed. I was amazed. He had hever done that before. But lately he's making a habit of it.

Interestingly enough, when he's that close and I am stroking his hair (he has hair, not fur, which is great because he doesn't cover my lap with apricot fur!) I can see and feel if there is anything wrong with him. As I said, he likes to play ball, and in the back yard, the dog is absolutely fearless. He has been known to run into the rose bushes or the wood pile or even under the shed to get his ball. But his tenacity can leave him covered with dirt. Or mulch. Or thorns. Or at least leaves.

But when he's in my lap, I can see all the crud he's been into. If he's too coated with stuff, I have to brush him or clean him off before he gets in my lap. But most times, he's clean enough for couch time. But when he's there I can see all the little things that I can't see when he's playing. A scrape on one of his pads. Mud under his nails. Crud around his eyes or in his nose. All stuff that shouldn't be there, but isn't really visible until you're up close.

And I clean him up. And we snuggle. He doesn't like me getting the crud from around his eyes, but I clean him up anyway. And the unpleasant part doesn't last very long. I can also stroke his sides and feel for ticks or thorns or burrs that he might have picked up. I love my doggie, and this stuff doesn't belong on him. And we can snuggle for as long as he wants to stay there.

Isn't that like us with God? We get all messed up and covered with the crud of the world, but He loves us, and cleans us up, and wants to sit with us. We often mistake His cleaning off our crud for something vindictive, or bad, but He just wants to relieve the stuff that ultimately doesn't belong. And we can be with Him for as long as we want. And it's only in those close times that the small stuff can be plucked out of our lives. Working, playing, running around, doing life don't allow those little irritants to be removed. We're often too distracted, or don't want to be bothered.

But when we get close, He can take the thorns out of our lives and remove the dirt from our eyes and make sure we haven't been entangled with litter.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On and off

I have been on Weight Watchers since December. Since then I have lost a total of 10 pounds. Doesn't sound like much, especially since I want to lose a total of about 60 lbs. It's a painfully slow process.

Weight watchers has been in business for decades. They have altered their formula and their methodology in recent years and now the latest program is called the momentum program. They even have a cute doll puppet to represent hunger in their commercials.

But the secret is no secret - eat better and exercise more. Blah.

I admit I feel better when I am thinner. I have battled weight my entire life, from the time I was five. I ate my way through my parents' failed marriage, sexual abuse, divorce, and lost jobs. I used food to help me through tough times and to celebrate good times. I don't know if I would call myself and addict, but dependent, yeah. Absolutely.

The tricky thing about food is that you have to eat. You don't eat, you die. It's managing what you eat that's the secret. Weight watchers uses what they call "points" programs, based on the calories, fat, and fiber in each meal. They also require you to journal, and the weekly meetings are sources of encouragement.

I joked at my first meeting in December that I felt like I should say "Hi, my name is David and I overeat." The program makes the point that it is not a cure-all. You can go off Weight Watchers any time, and unless you have some miracle pill to take, you will gain weight.

Some people complain about measuring foods, saying that it's not convenient. But let's get real - we all measure what we eat, even if it's to say "that's enough," as we spoon our fifth helping of Mac n cheese on our plate.

WW also helps deal with what's called "emotional eating," using food to deal with pain. That's mostly my problem. Food was something I could control, and something that made me feel good. From my brief limited studies of the brain, there is something to that. Food - especially certain kinds of food like chocolate - does make you feel better. It releases some chemicals in your brain that make you feel better.

But emotional eating always brings a load of guilt with it. Which of course starts the addictive spiral - you feel bad, so you eat, then you feel relief, but then you feel guilty for overeating, so you feel bad, so you eat. Round and round until you die of a heart attack.

My best man's death last year was a shot across the bow for me. He wasn't overweight, per se. To look at him you would say he was average. But he died at 61 of a blood clot that broke loose and went to his heart. One of the contributing factors could have been his diet. He liked to eat, and used to joke "you have to die from something." But not from this; and not now.

So in order to live, I will write down what I eat, stick to the program, go to meetings and continue the battle of the bulge. It's harder the older you get, but it is a battle I must win. My mom died at 60. My grandmother at 70. Both had high blood pressure (something I don't have, thank God). My grandmother was diabetic and my mom was overweight all of my life. So I have to do something. Again.

A helpful site for others who struggle with weight is Scientific American's webpage. Check it.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Promise

The cold broke here in Washington today. The Mall is full of people walking in the warm sunshine. Some are taking photos, some are looking at maps, there's even a pretty competitive Frisbee football game going on by the Smithsonian Castle.

The day holds the promise that the crushing cold we have been experiencing will end. We often have these thaws about this time of year. Then the most horrendous weather of the year comes - like the President's Day snowstorm that hit a few years ago and buried the region in nearly two feet of snow.

But the days are getting longer and the sun is warmer. My dog still is a hardhead. My yard still needs work. And the car needs an oil change and a good washing.

But the Promise of a new day is still there. The Spring WILL come; I just have to survive the next month or so.

Monday, February 02, 2009


So what is it with these rich guys that Obama is appointing at Treasury and Health and Human Services? Do they not know that Americans pay taxes?

Tom Daschle
had a car and driver and didn't pay $120,000 in taxes; Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner - the guy who would be in charge of the money - didn't pay $40,000 in taxes over a couple of years. And what does the White House say? "Nobody's perfect."

Whaaaaa? Nobody's HHS Secretary or Treasury Secretary either unless they can pass muster. And these guys have been playing fast and loose with the rules.

It was the Obama transition team that said "Hey, you might wanna pay these things." But who do these guys think they are? Saying "we won, so we can do what we want" is the height of arrogance.

I have to pay taxes; my wife pays taxes. She is self-employed and has to file a quarterly tax return. And she has an accountant double check her work, just in case.

But the TREASURY secretary didn't pay his taxes. But now he's Treasury Secretary. And Daschle will probably run HHS. But hey, let's look a little closer before we anoint these guys king, huh?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Moving Forward

Self Magazine Cover with Jessica SimpsonIt's that time of year again - time for resolutions and decisions and things we want to do. Nothing wrong with that as long as we take it one step at a time, and be realistic.

This time of year many of us take stock of what we have done - or not done - in the previous 365 days. Some of us say we want to quit smoking, others - like me - want to lose weight, and others want to make changes in the job or family life. Nothing really wrong with that.

But I need to remember that I got where I am one step at a time, one day at a time, and that is how I will get out of the situation. And another important thing to remember is that the magazines at the check-out counter in the grocery store might as well have Fantasy Island written across them.

No one, no one you see on the magazine covers looks like that. Especially celebrities like Jessica Simpson, or Oprah, or Faith Hill or even the guys on the cover of Men's Health or Muscle and Fitness looks like that.

They have ALL been touched and retouched and sometimes even morphed into someone we would not recognize, by Adobe Photoshop artists.Adobe Photoshop CS 4 image Nothing wrong with Photoshop. It's a wonderful tool; I use it myself. But it allows photographers to idealize people's images.

Even Jenny McCarthy, the former Playboy Playmate of the year, acknowledged that there is no way that she looked that way. (Ironically, Jenny became a spokesperson for WeightWatchers after she had a baby).

That is not to say that these people don't look good - they do. They just don't look like they look on the magazine covers. Weight has been my battle. Since I was five! Every year I have to wrestle the python of appetite and every year I win some and lose some. But I keep fighting because I need to control my weight to avoid more serious problems.

So the battle has been joined - again. And I will lose some weight, and I will lose some battles. I realize that calories are like gasoline - you put them in and they have to be burned or stored. No way around that. No magic bullet, no easy way out.

Even people who have had surgery have to have counseling to deal with the emotional issues that contributed to their weight gain. I am still trying to get a right attitude towards food. It's necessary to live, but it is not my comforter. And so it goes ....