Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Reflections

Rather than making pointless resolutions about the direction I would like my life to take, I want to take stock of how far I've come in just one year (the first numbers are this time in '10 and the second are the present ones)

Weight: 220lb s, 161lbs
Pant size: 36/30, 30/30
Maximum distance ran at once: less than 1mi, 7mi
Average ran in a week: less than 1mi,24mi

These numbers don't give the true reflection of my life, however. They are merely achievements that I am proud of. Looking back, it took a lot of effort to achieve these goals even though at the time I didn't realize I had made the decision to put forward so much effort.

It began because my car sucks. I hate driving my parent's '94 Lincoln Towncar around, even though I am very lucky and grateful to have it. It still kind of sucks to show up to an event in a boat you would expect a '70 year old woman in bottle glasses to be captaining. But it was all I had. Until I got my Trek bike.

I had been planning to get, or rather thinking it was a really good idea to have, a bike for about six months but in May I decided that the time had come and so I went down to Guthrie Bike in Sugarhouse on a morning when it was pouring rain to get my new mode of transportation. I had a hell of a time getting the bike into the back seat of the Lincoln. I hadn't realized at the time that it was possible to just pop the wheels off the bike using the quick release levers on the side, but there was a lot still that I had to learn by trial and error.

At first biking to and from work sucked. Really sucked. I didn't have the right gear. My legs burned whenever I reached a hill, I would suck wind faster than I used to suck down Cheetos. I could hardly make it halfway home before having to stop and take in some air. I thought, damn it if I am able to make it home without stopping by the end of the summer that will be an achievement I can be proud of. I did just that a week later. I then set another goal: If I can get home without having to drop from 3 and 8 gears by the end of the summer I will be proud of myself. A month later I was cruising home in 3 and 8 in record time and wearing heavier and heavier packs.

Something was changing in me. I began to see the bike rides not as exercise but as my way of conveyance and then finally as something I looked forward to because it felt good to propel myself forward using my own power. I began walking on my days off. I walked everywhere. I made sure to walk to the grocery store, that way I could only buy what I could carry and this cut down significantly on the junk food I would normally buy.

By mid-June I was in constant motion. I began to have radical thoughts: what if I started running? Running has always been my kill-joy. That's not true, not always. When I was really little, like four or five, I would run everywhere. I was a skinny little bastard too. I would race my brothers and their teams at their baseball practices, and keep up just nicely. Back then I was in constant motion. And then one day I stopped and got fat. By the the time I was in jr. high it was too late because my feet were terrible. The doctors said it was because the growth plates in my feet hadn't yet fused and were rubbing up against each other, and also because my arches were collapsing. I think that it was just because I was 50 lbs overweight.

The more I entertained the notion of running, the more I liked the idea. And so I bought an iPod Nano, perhaps the greatest workout device ever invented. I also bought the Nike+ workout kit and began monitoring my progress. The first run was a disaster. I didn't plan out the route and I thought I would just navigate around my neighborhood and see how far I could get. What I didn't realize was how many damn hills and dead end streets there are around my house. I ended up running less than a mile that day. I didn't run again for two weeks. But the next time I was prepared with a route from Google Maps and a playlist that would keep my feet hitting the pavement to the beats of Tool, The Deftones, and other rock and metal bands. I ran two miles and patted myself on the back. I thought if I could run a 5k by the end of the summer I would be doing pretty well. The same story evolved as what happened on the bike. I began running in the morning, eating breakfast, showering, and riding my bike to work and then home. By the end of July I was running five miles a day and biking ten. I had a learning curve, the biggest lesson being to stretch before and after my workouts, and also learning to breathe properly during my runs. Now every time I go to the gym I make sure to run at least 5mi.

My weight loss wouldn't have been possible without a change in diet of course. I decided to try something radical. Now this is something you will find very few health gurus promoting but just might work: I cut out junk food and ate mostly meals that I prepared myself. I say mostly because I still have a weakness for the occasional taco from a local Mexican joint or a plate from Mo Bettah Steaks (which if you get their mini chicken and steak mix with brown rice is actually a really awesome option.) But that's it. I didn't cut out carbs. I didn't go vegan or vegetarian. I didn't do anything other than eat only stuff I could prepare and exercised everyday. Radical, I know.

I was inspired by Michael Pollan's advice, "Don't eat anything advertised on TV." I had also just watched his documentaries, The Botany of Desire, Food Inc., and The Omnivore's Dilemma. I was primed for a change. I began eating natural foods. I shopped at the Farmer's Market. I ate whole grains when I ate grains. The funny thing is, the more I did this and the more I exercised the less I felt the need to eat. I have incredible amounts of energy now but I have stopped mindlessly grazing on crap or gorging on food that has no nutritional value but plenty of sugar and bad fats. I don't feel any cravings at all for fast food. The appeal has faded.

A funny thing began to happen. One day when I was shaving I noticed that my face was a little gaunter than it had been. My cheeks were more defined. I looked at my arms and my chest. New veins were showing on my arms and no man boobs. Cha-cha-changes. I started weighing myself. I was kind of shocked when I realized I weighed 190 pounds. I had lost 30 pounds in a months time. Now if you talk to a doctor and say, I plan to lose 30 pounds in a month he might refer you to a psychiatrist. And he would be justified to do that too. It's insane to plan on doing something like that. I absolutely didn't plan on doing that either. I began to worry that I might have cancer. But, of course it was just the shock of losing so much so fast. It was supposed to be a lot harder than this after all. I began to monitor my weight religiously, or obsessively might be a better word. There are records of Hemingway listing his weight every day for most of his adult life. Sometimes in my more delusional moments I like to compare myself to Hemingway. Every morning I weighed myself and sometimes after I got home from a bike ride I weighed myself just to see how much I lost in water weight. It turns out that I can lose between two and five pounds in water after a bike ride. On average that summer I lost one to two pounds a week (non-water weight.) I began noticing little ab muscles appearing. Not chiseled rock hard but still there. My legs, stripped of their fat, are super-defined and rock hard. My muscles are finally coming out after a long dormancy. It's good to see them again. And of course, all of my pants are now clown pants.

I also noticed that when I smiled at girls there wouldn't just be the polite smile back. It's good to ask out a member of the opposite sex and not have to fret over whether or not she says yes. If she says no, there's someone else who'll say yes. Confidence brings so many good things.

But these are all really side-effects of why I chose to do this in the first place and why I stuck with it. I did it because I had to and I stuck with it because running, biking, and all of it is fun and a better way of life for me. I am genuinely happy right now. Much of that comes from the realization that I really can achieve my goals if I simply stick with them. My life is the best it's been in a very long time.



Monday, April 6, 2009


I'm using a rental car until the 8th because I crashed my car avoiding someone veering into my lane. I should have let them hit me I think. Then I could have had a new car by now :(

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Mmmmm, beer. Also I got a digital camera today. Let the insanity begin!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Day

For the past eight years election days have sucked for me. I remember going to bed on election day 2000 with Al Gore having been declared the winner in Florida. I slept like a baby, safe in the knowledge that the Clinton legacy would be secure. Secure in the knowledge that the American people had made the right choice. I woke up around 6 a.m. and turned it to Fox News only to be greeted with the breaking news: Florida Too Close To Call. The nightmare had only begun.

I was old enough to vote in 2002 and did so, casting my first vote for Rep. Jim Matheson in the Sally Mauro gymnasium, my old elementary school. It felt good to do something meaningful for my country and my party, the party of my fathers. The Madrigals have been Democrats for at least as far back as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They were union Democrats, the kind of people that had three pictures on their living room walls: a picture of Jesus, a picture of the current Pope, and a picture of either FDR or John F. Kennedy. For them the only ideology that mattered was the one that would help their family. The Republicans, they knew, were out for the rich, the entrenched power. The Democrats were for the workers and the poor, the helpless, the voice crying out to be heard. In other words, they were for us.

But my vote did very little in the grand scheme of things. The Republicans went on to increase their majorities in the Senate and to cow the Democrats with ominous warnings about the threat from Al Qaeda. The following year these same Democrats stood in lockstep behind an unthoughtful president's belligerent foreign policy. A cocky, surefire, shoot from the hip philosophy that has wasted so many lives and so much treasure. It seemed as if the Democrats had forgotten themselves, destined to be ignored by the country because of their cowardice.

The next year I went to college in the heart of Salt Lake City, one of the few truly liberal places in Utah. It was good to meet other young people who could talk intelligently (and sometimes not so intelligently) about politics. It was good to talk to these people about facts and philosophy and not just the perception of a candidate or party. In other words it was good to finally grow my political convictions from just a feeling of indignant outrage to an intellectual outrage at the state of the times.

I was determined to do something, to make it so that this time would not be like last time. My brother, Joshua, was determined too. We paid attention, we watched, we read, we prepared ourselves. In January of that year I was given an opportunity to go to New Hampshire to support the candidate of my choice. I chose Howard Dean as the man who I wanted to lead my party into the general election. I believed in Dean and believe to this day that had he been put up against George W. Bush that that election may have turned out very different. But it was not to be because a week before I left Dean screamed and it no longer mattered what his policies were. He had become a caricature for the right and in the minds of the masses who paid only a passing bit of attention to the politics that shaped their lives. He was trounced in New Hampshire and I had to settle for second choice.

John Kerry was, and is, a man of honor. But he wasn't a political fighter, the kind you need to be to survive in modern American politics. He didn't seem to believe in the grand speech or the soundbite that would make the evening news. His campaign was honorable but not vivid enough. The problem was that for most of his supporters it was a campaign against Bush not for John Kerry.

I remember going to Utah Valley State College to see Michael Moore rally the troops on his Slackers Uprising Tour. It was a fairly conventional political rally, of the kind I saw while in New Hampshire. This type of thing is uncommon in Utah, to be sure, and it seemed to energize a lot of young liberals in the state. The problem was that these types of stunts equally energized the right.

On election day these energized groups came out in droves and...reelected George W. Bush and strengthened the control of the Republican Party in both houses of Congress. I was devastated. Couldn't the American people see that these men were fools? Couldn't they see that this man had turned record surpluses into massive deficits? That this man had wasted American blood and treasure in an elective war whose only purpose seemed to be to strengthen his own war powers and cow the American political process for his own purposes?

It felt like my country no longer cared about the same things I cared about. How infuriating and sad it was to believe only the worst things about my countrymen. And then there was the gloating.

Bush came on the TV the next day and proclaimed that his narrow victory in the electoral college was a mandate for him to assert his agenda even more forcefully upon the American people. With a cocksure smile he proclaimed his mandate and a new plan of conservatism for America. The American press was proclaiming the death of the Democratic Party, much as they are proclaiming the death of the Republican Party now. A common question was, "Can the Democratic Party win elections anymore?"

Yes we can.

I remember seeing Barack Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. It was a stirring speech, to be sure. It almost seemed a throwback to the kind of Democratic optimism that characterized Kennedy and Roosevelt. Here was a candidate, a man, willing to stand up and speak the truth: We are not a country of disparate, divided interests. "There is the United States of America." It brought home to me that the kind of thoughtful politician we were told about in grade school could be alive and well in America.

When the primary season began some two years ago it seemed almost inevitable that Hillary Clinton would sweep away Democratic opposition and barrel into the Fall of 2008 with the kind of inevitable momentum that would make her the first woman President of the United States. And then a funny thing happened: Barack Obama began to speak. I've heard a lot about Obama's rhetoric, mainly with a skeptical eye towards a sly politician. And yet these people seem not to recognize that sophism and philosophy are not necessarily in conflict. A beautiful word can be the reflection of a beautiful idea. And a clunky, broken phrase does not necessarily speak to wisdom or anything at all. Words in themselves are lifeless, it takes a man or woman to bring them to vivid reality. Every right action should begin with an idea, who's expression through action can be shared through the medium of speech. Speech, then, is only a phase of thought on the way to purposeful action.

Perhaps this an explanation of Obama's success. Perhaps America was so moved by the idea of Obama and his speech that action became inevitable. And yet behind this was a keen set of minds that set their sights on the opposition, their strengths and weakness, and set about thoroughly destroying them.

I feel almost sorry for a country or terrorist organization going up against Obama or Axelrod or Plouffe. These men orchestrated one of the most brilliant campaigns in American history. They not only dismantled one of the most well funded, organized, and popular candidates in the history of the Democratic Party in Hillary Clinton, they also destroyed the Rove-Republican establishment. Four years ago it was asked if Democrats could win elections anymore, not it's being asked how many decades it will take for the Republicans to recover. To be sure, George W. Bush had much say in the downfall of the Republican Party, but it also took a new kind of politician to hasten the downfall.

My election night this year was very different than in years past. For the first half of it I was at an Obama calling party trying to get voters in swing states out to the polls. Good news came early: despite McCain's last ditch efforts, Pennsylvania would go to Obama. When the polls closed in New Mexico I came home to await the news. The states were counted off first in a trickle and then the momentum began to build: Ohio, Florida, Indiana, Virginia! We were going to win, but why weren't they announcing it? And then at 9 P.M. Utah time, California came in like a Deus Ex Machina and made Barack Obama the president-elect.

I never thought an election would make me so emotional. It wasn't just a validation of the past eight years of struggling and griping, it seemed to be a validation of a faith in my country that always lingered in the back of my mind behind a veil of hardened skepticism. America can make the right choice afterall. I believe in no gods and yet I take this core belief in spirit of human progress as my religion. We can, if we are willing, overcome bigotry and ignorance to stand in the light of reason. To those forces that would divide us and deny to us the truth that we are a people of shared interests and that through dialogue and patient study we can unite together in peace towards the goal of a more perfect world we can stand up and shout "Enough!" and our voices will be heard.

A new day is coming in America. I am filled with nothing but optimism, even as the dark clouds of world events close in. We can overcome.

Yes we can.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The spirit is willing, the body not so much.

I woke up this morning at around 5 a.m. My mouth was full of cotton so I left to get a bottle of water from the living room. I drank that down and then something strange happened: I didn't go back to sleep. Not the most startling thing to ever happen but surely something to note given my capacity for large, uninterrupted amounts of sleep. And now here I sit in my bed clothes, with my bedhead, listening to "The Bedlam in Goliath" by The Mars Volta. It's a good morning. I don't think I want to go back to sleep just yet.