Routine: Water

There are plenty of reasons to drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. It’s been to shown to help regulate appetite, moderate the metabolism, keep you hydrated, and, generally flush and replinish the system. That’s great if you can remember to actually fill the glass and drink it.

Once I decided I was going to have a glass of water every morning, I started thinking of ways to make it a routine or habit. This may sound simple, but it wasn’t for me. Mornings can get busy and I found that I was often out of the house having forgotten to drink any water.

So, I took what might not be considered drastic action. I set a reminder of the voice-enabled device in my home. At 7 AM a soft, soothing voice alerts me to the fact that it was time to drink a glass. My device pings before it speaks, so I’m surprised it hasn’t had a kind of Pavlovian effect. When I hear a ping of a chime, I go for the faucet.

After I started taking a glass out of the cabinet and filling it with water on my own, I turned the reminder off. At that point, I was a little nervous it would eventually slip my mind so I started setting a glass out on the kitchen table at night in preparation for the next morning (I do this while preparing my coffee).

I no longer forget to have a glass of water in the morning. And although I haven’t seen an direct impact, I know it’s there. Because, in general, I believe in science even when the effects aren’t immediately apparant. Then again, I’m fairly convinced my system is being flushed given the increased restroom visits.

photo: Joseph Greve

Writing: Rejection

Between novels, short stories, and, now, a mini-documentary, I find myself submitting to agents, journals, and festivals almost continuously. This means that rejection is a constant companion. And it can be difficult to deal with.

When I’m faced with a barrage of “Not for us,” or “No thanks,” it’s important that I keep a level head. Especially because rejection has several meanings, which tend to fall into one of the following categories:

  • Insufficient Quality
  • Excessive Quantity
  • Lack of Compatibility
  • Extreme Exclusivity

Admittedly, quality is a depressing reason to be rejected but it’s not the most frustrating. If the work isn’t of a high enough quality it can be improved, so there’s hope. All that’s necessary is more work. Sometimes years of work.

When it comes to issues of quantity, we may find that our work has been edged out by similar writing or a piece that has been written by someone of greater stature. In other words, the market is flooded.

If work is sent into an agent or journal (or any other entity calling for entries) and it’s rejected, it could be because of contradicting visions. There’s no compatibility in this situation. Sometimes it can be fixed, but oftentimes first impressions take precedence.

Exclusivity can be the worse reason for a rejection, especially if our work is of sufficient quality. This kind of pass could be the result of who we don’t know. Another kind of exclusivity occurs when an agency simply isn’t taken on new writers.

Anytime rejection is encountered, we have to keep pushing ourselves and our work forward. Rejection is not an invitation to give up. However, it is an invitation to be honest with ourselves. Remember the first category. Is it a lack of quality? If it is, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and try again.

If it’s not, we should seek acceptance elsewhere or… try again. However, we should also exercise caution. It’s possible to start believing that the quality of our work is poor when it isn’t. Evaluate the work objectively. If it holds up, look to some of the other reasons for a no.

If you can’t place the piece elsewhere, then move on. This might sound radical but try not to get too attached to your work. Especially if it’s going to hinder what comes along next. There are other projects and opportunities that may offer a greater possibilities for success.

photo: Steve Johnson

Parenting: Joy

I experienced wide-eyed wonder in my late teens and early twenties while traveling to other contries, but I think the first time I experienced actual joy was when my child was born.

This may seem cliché, but I hope the same for you if you’ve not yet had children. And if you’ve been lucky enough to experience joy before the birth of your child, then I would posit that you are indeed a lucky individual. And probably not nearly as jaded as me.

Having a daughter has been the most significant event in my life. I was warned I was going “to fall madly in love” and, subsequently, accused of being “over the moon.” I can’t stress enough the amount of happiness that becoming a parent has brought me.

Granted, it’s early and it’s already been difficult, at times. I haven’t always gotten the sleep I needed and being unable to console a weeping infant has not necessarily been fun but the joy remains.

This is fairly significant considering I may or may not have been someone who believed in joy previously. In fact, the idea that someone could experience this level of happiness seemed almost delusional.

I’ve experienced pleasure and I have had fun engaging in certain activities but this is very different. I now find contentment in simply knowing that my offspring is near. And what I feel that I need to achieve and what I want has been permanently altered. I still have desires and ambition but the idea that they can give me what I already have is laughable.

I don’t know if it will always be this way but the notion that it could be is comforting. Simply put, joy has opened a new world for me. And my life as a parent has only just begun.

Photo: Mohamed Nohassi

The Lesson of the Stolen Flip Flops

My family goes to the same beach every summer, and we stay in a house that is located one block from the ocean. We walk across the street to the sand, often leaving our flip flops at the end of the boardwalk rather than carry them as we go on a walk.

It’s been commonly accepted that no one is going to steal them. The beach access is public but generally we’re in a safe area. But this last visit, I took my flip flops off at the foot of the stairs only to have them stolen.

My feet are pretty big, so it’s unlikely someone took them to wear. As a matter of fact, I checked the dunes beside the boardwalk just to see if they’d been cast off as a prank. However, I didn’t look long. I’d purchased these flip flops four years earlier and they were pretty cheap.

In fact, they couldn’t have cost me more than $10, which may be why I shrugged when they were gone. Another member of my family has a much more expensive pair of flip flops. (Admittedly, that pair’s sole wore much better than mine did.) She doesn’t leave them at the foot of the boardwalk. She carries them.

These stolen flip flops made me think about some of my other attachments. Obviously, I didn’t place a great deal of value on a pair of $10 flip flops. They were easily replaced and that made me think it could be nice if my attitude toward losing them could be transfered to some other losses I’ve had recently.

We all have dreams and goals. We have things we want or expect to achieve and then we fail or fall short. As a result, we experience pain. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could treat these losses like a pair of cheap flip flops that we can just shrug off?

There is a fairly obvious problem with doing this. Specifically, the value of the work we put into writing a book or launching a business or reaching a fitness goal is more than $10. If you paid yourself just $10/ hour while pursuing these goals, the total would be considerably more than just ten bucks.

In fact, our effort can entail hundreds if not thousands of hours. And we can agree, most people would carry $100 pair flip flops down the beach for miles (no matter the inconvenience).

I’m not suggesting that we should treat our dreams like a pair of cheap flip flops. But I am saying that life will treat your dream like a cheap pair of flip flops. Life will steal them. And how you react may be in proportion to the extent of your passion.

* * *

This should tell us that passion can be dangerous. Passion offers both joy and sorrow in equal measure. So, the question is if we limit passion, can we limit pain? Will we also limit joy?

If the stolen flip flops have no value, then we have no sorrow. We have lost nothing. If we carry our flip flops, it’s because they are, presumably, valuable. Now, we bear a load.

Sometimes what we carry gets so heavy we want it taken from us. When we reach this point, we have to start questioning whether our passion deserved any value in the first place. This is especially important if our dreams can be stolen.

photo: Peter Hershey 

Essentials: Gin

I can recall having a really good time with a few gin and tonics at a reception after a beach wedding. That event may be the reason I associate gin with the summer. But it could also be just because it’s a clear liquor, and I tend to think of bourbon as my go-to winter beverage.

More recently, I had a few gin and tonics over the 4th of July weekend. I mixed the drinks, cut some lime wedges, and added a slice as a garnish. I had a number of mixed drinks that night, but I never became inebriated and enjoyed little more than what I’d refer to as a smooth flush.

I’d been looking forward to having that drink for a few weeks before the holiday. So much so that I may have snuck a gin and tonic into a Sunday a few weeks before, which wound up being fine because July 4th wasn’t much different than any day for us. It was rainy and the fireworks were cancelled.

There are other times to drink gin, and I tend to think of Haruki Murakmi when I think about them. It could be because I read about him enjoying the drink in one of his books (probably What I Think About When I Think About Running) or because he ran a jazz bar before he became a writer.

This makes me think I should try a cocktail while listening to Miles Davis or John Coltrane. Even better, an evening in a Tokyo jazz club. Of course, that’s not as accessible as a summer night at home–rain or shine–with a cocktail in hand. But either one would be made better with a little gin.

photo: Hoach Le Dinh

Improvement: Road Rage

In the past week, I’ve been caught in a traffic jam, cut off, and made to wait behind someone just a little too long after the light turned green.

In all likelihood, the traffic jam caused my blood pressure to go up the most. I honked at the stoplight because I figured the driver was texting. I didn’t lay on the horn or anything, just tried to get the traffic flow moving again. I shook my head when I was cut off but none of these things alleviated my aggravation.

Therefore, it might be better if I learned to accept the travails of the road with a little more grace–if that’s possible. But, seriously, I’d like to reach a point when these minor inconviences don’t agitate me so easily.

The best way to do this, I think, is first to recognize when I’m becoming aggravated. Then, redirect my behavior and turn my attention to something else. Finally, I want to recover by obtaining balance in my overall emotional state.

If this were an actual system, it would be known as the Three Rs:

  1. Recognize
  2. Redirect
  3. Recover

It may seem like I’m turning this into a bit of a joke but so far it’s been pretty useful. I recently recognized the potential for road rage after honking at a driver ahead of me. Redirecting came fairly naturally after this. And I was able to reach balance quickly because I hadn’t let myself become enraged.

It’s possible that the three Rs, which I’m now treating very seriously, could be turned into the one R (except for the fact that it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). If we can just recognize our road rage and then recognize that we want to change it, then we can help ourselves and our fellow commuters.

On the other hand, we could just wait until there are self-driving cars when we’ll be too preoccupied with our screens to care what’s happening outside the vehicle and/ or drone taxi.

photo: Jason Blackeye

Essentials: Español

I feel like learning Spanish is my responsibility. Where I live there is a significant Hispanic population, and I’ve encountered at least a few occasions in which being able to converse would have been beneficial–not so much for communication as hospitality.

I took a few semesters of the foreign language in college and high school. I’ve been to Guatemala and Peru but my grasp of Spanish is still pretty minimal. Of course, some people say the only real way to learn a language is immersion. But I’ve seen someone living in-country using flash cards.

We share a hemisphere with South America, and Mexico is one of our closest neighbors. Español should be taught in every elementary school.

After five years old, language acquisition can be difficult. I’ve tried apps and websites as well as a CD that I sometimes play on the way to work. I probably need to start using flashcards (digital or physical).

However, I believe in limiting how much I take on at once, so my lessons in Español are currently on a bit of a hiatus. They’ll return and when they do, I hope they’ll benefit me in a foreign country and/ or in my own backyard.

Author’s Note: After writing my senators to condemn a policy that allows families to be detained in cages, I received a form response and was put on a mailing list. In the most recent mailing, I was informed that illegal immigrants are slaughtering women and children in my state.

It’s hard to avoid seeing this as anything more than a perverse retort. I think my senator should learn Spanish. Then, he might view the president’s actions differently.

photo: Filip Gielda

Dreams: Galaxie 500

I have a dream where I’m driving around in an early 1960s Galaxie 500 (or Dodge Dart of a similar year). And I’m just cruising. Now, when I say dream, I don’t necessarily mean that it’s happening at night. It’s very much a daydream.

I hate to sound like someone who says, “They don’t make ’em like they used to,” but that is kind of what I’m saying. I imagine myself wearing a straw fedora with a black band and a pair of Ray Bans. All the windows are down and I’m listening to Dick Dale play surf guitar… It’s a daydream.

The reality of this dream is constant break downs and frustration. Sure, if I loved cars enough to spend every weekend working on one, it might be worth it. Perhaps one day I’ll be willing to do that. But then there’s the gas mileage.

That’s the troubling part about dreams. When you wake up, you start to see that the impossibilities. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself to be a dreamer. But some dreams require, at least, a little practicality, which is why I have another dream when it comes to cars.

I’d like to have a Tesla. It may seem odd that someone would want something so cutting edge while simultaneously wanting something so vintage but it makes sense to me. They have one thing in common: a rejection of the present. Although, Teslas just appear futuristic. They are very much of the here and now.

So, what do I do with these dreams? I need an increase in cash flow or much more free time to make either one feasible. So, I’m not entirely sure. What does anyone do with an unfulfilled wish? What I do know is that you should be careful what you wish for. You could wind up spending every weekend working on a carburetor.

Photo: Jp Valery

Routine: Hydrotherapy

Taking cold showers is something I’ve been trying to incorporate into my routine for a while. Because it’s summer, I thought it would be a good time to give it another try.

If you do a quick Google search you’ll find that there are many benefits to taking cold showers, including:

  • Increased vitality
  • Decreased muscle soreness
  • Stress management
  • Enhanced weight loss

I think I read a James Bond novel that described the famed spy getting up in the morning and starting out the day with an ice cold shower. It purportedly increased his alertness, which would be important for someone who is trying to achieve situational awareness.

I may not be worried about Goldfinger or Dr. No, but I definitely want to reap the benefits of taking cold showers. But, to be honest, it’s been something that continues to be more or less out of reach.

Maybe because it’s summer, I found out my water temperature won’t go below 70 degrees. And true hydrotherapy starts there, but this could be okay. I’ve found that 80 degrees is nice and cool and preferable to a hot shower, at times. 75 degrees, surprisingly, starts to get a little uncomfortable. More so than I’d like to admit, considering I’ve been in rivers whose temps are in the 50’s. (Granted, I was wearing a wet suit.)

So, how did I do it? I started progressively decreasing the temperature of the water in my shower after a workout (when my body tends to be overheated). This turned out to be a pretty effective strategy because starting out with freezing water was something I was really shying away from.

What I learned was that when it comes down to it, I’m not sure I need to torture myself with a truly cold shower from start to finish. After all, there are benefits to a hot shower, as well. They can also help decrease muscle soreness.

I’m still going to work at it but I think I’ve found a happy medium. When I’m really hot (e.g. after a run on a hot day) a cold shower could be beneficial. But when it’s cold out and I’m sore after hitting the gym a hot shower might also do me some good.

Of course, once I become an international spy this could all change.

photo: Andrew Neel

Health: Diet

My diet goal is to find something sustainable. I’m looking for a balance between keeping fit and indulging in the occasional drink or dessert. For the most part, I steer clear of any extreme diet programs because they offer only short term fixes. I’m concerned with the long-term.

I’m most likely not the target market for fad diets, anyway. I don’t need to lose excessive amounts of weight and I’m more or less okay with the last ten pounds. In other words, it’s not my goal to “get shredded.”

Most people realize maintaining an extremely low body fat percentage is pretty unsustainable. And I believe there’s a medium that will allow me to perform activities like jogging or bouldering at optimum performance levels.

The way I’ve approached my goal is by counting calories. The Mayo Clinic states that gaining or losing weight is a matter of simple mathematics. Addition and subtraction, to be specific. If you decrease the amount of food you eat, then you’ll lose weight.

The most important thing I’ve done may be limiting how often I weigh myself. Weightlifting probably skews what I’m seeing, so there’s really no point. The fact that my pants fit well is a much better indicator of how I’m doing. I’m also confident that the regimen I’ve designed guarantees I’ll lose weight slowly over time and/ or stay at a consistent weight.

With a little discipline and intentionality, I’ve seen my appetite begin to regulate itself, and I found that I’ve started to think about food less often. For the most part, the temptation to snack has been muted.

My diet isn’t extreme. It’s a practice in minimizing calories. A pursuit that has been greatly aided by keeping a food journal and using an app to count the calories I consume.

photo: AbsolutVision