The Exercise Lifestyle

Spring is the hardest season for me, health wise, because I stop sleeping about when February hits. I never sleep well, but just as soon as I’ve settled into a January of hope, maybe even a few nights in a row of five or six hours sleep, my body says, nope, you only get two. Zero if you’re lucky. Sometimes, May kicks me to the curb with only a few minutes of sleep here and there. I’ll be honest; there were a couple Mays in my life when I was drinking a bottle of wine a day just to relax. Alcohol, obviously, crosses the blood-brain barrier, and red wine has the ability to decrease brain inflammation, making relaxation and a few minutes of sleep possible. No other alcohol has the same effect, in my experience. Drunk in a month other than May (again, my experience), red wine can make an entire night of sleep possible, if brain inflammation is the cause of the insomnia. Doctors like to claim alcohol disrupts sleep, but most doctors are full of…shaving cream. They just repeat the same ludicrous advice, and then prescribe sleep medications that are like throwing gasoline on top of a brain already on fire. Granted, their drugs actually might work for people who don’t suffer from brain fire. The problem with many doctors is they lack ambition and curiosity; they don’t actually want to find out what’s wrong with a patient. Patient in. Prescribe appropriate prescription. Patient out.

That was a huge digression. This post was meant to be about exercise. However, it’s about exercise in the wake of intense lack of sleep. Over the years, I’ve found that I’ll give up writing, which has included blogging for some years now, I’ll give up friends — I’ll give up literally everything I can in my life (family and paid work I can’t give up) while in the throes of exhaustion. And yet, I’ve never mentally managed to give up exercise.

Being unwell is a good way to find out what’s really important in life. Family and work should always be at the top. Btw, I’m leaving out spiritual considerations because faith should walk with a person everywhere. If faith isn’t integral to a person’s soul, what’s the point of religion? It’s not something that can be left behind like a smart phone or a keyring. And so family and work are at the top of my list. What I do with the rest of my energy reserves demonstrates what I care about. For me, that’s exercise. Why? How did it come to this?

It’s like a drug, I think. It boosts energy, attitude, and well-being. There are so many varieties that getting bored is unlikely. The only cardinal rule is to never listen to the exercise jackasses who think they know everything. They will even claim if I exercise their way, I won’t have any insomnia at all. Jackasses. Exercise is to be enjoyed, and I generally enjoy dance fused with strength-training, the kind that reminds me of being in dance class. Usually, these workouts involve push-ups, which is good because I don’t waste money or time at the gym.

Thinking back on my life in which I’ve obsessively been exercising for the last thirty years, I have to say it’s my main schtick. More than writing. More than taking classes. I don’t know what else to say.

***It takes me forever to write a blog post. In the meantime, I ran into an old math professor in the beer aisle at the grocery store, and he’s full of inspirational talk, like, come take a class, we’re going to have a good group this fall. Groan. I have to. I really do. Exercise just makes me think I’m accomplishing and doing, doing, doing. But it’s all a lie.

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The Hillbilly Instinct

It’s inside me somewhere. My dad is usually the one to remind me. Today, however, it was Randy Travis plaintively singing his Worship & Faith songs. We had that album for years, and it had disappeared as albums will as recording styles change; I rediscovered it on Spotify. Of course, it’s not all “old-timey” songs, but a mix of 20th C favorites and older hymns. Still, Travis’s plaintive singing style is enough catalyst for me. I usually start singing, to be honest. If my dad is around, he’s quick to remind me my voice is uniquely suited to the hillbilly style, to which, I give him my hardest glare. It’s his fault I’m not part of the culture, I’m equally quick to remind him. But that’s not exactly honest.

This is not a biopic on Randy Travis, but a touchstone on origins. He grew up singing in church in North Carolina; that’s the origin point for my dad’s family. From there, they went to Missouri. Now, there are some still in Missouri*, and others in Texas and Oregon. His family didn’t like sticking to one spot. That’s why I ended up graduating from high school in Portland. In case you didn’t know, Portland didn’t used to be the land of snowflakes who are libertarians as long as it means they get to do what they want, but progressives when they want you to pay for it. Rather, it used to be full of…hillbillies who’d left the hills for literally greener pastures where they could make a living logging and fishing.

During my childhood, that logging-fishing culture was under stress. A combination of welfare and California mores threatened their way of life, and so the redneck** youth were combative. Mean to put it in plainer language. Because my dad has always been an iconoclast, an artist and intellectual and general family know-it-all (a crown I’ve usurped), I was raised…a little different, to say the least. I was treated with suspicion, bullied even, by the local yahoos and consequently grew up loathing my own cultural roots.

Now that I’m older, I recognize what was happening, but it’s difficult to parse when in the throws of awkward, emotionally fraught adolescence. On the other hand, my contrarian response to my own culture and, well, everything is a cultural trait. I’m so ornery I don’t even know why I’m ornery. I can’t explain it, and although there was a moment in my life when I thought reasonableness was the way to go, the orneriness has only gotten worse with age.

The music is mellow, though. Pleasant. It always is, especially when there’s a singalong. What an odd mix of characteristics exist in the souls of my people.

*This is officially known as the Ozarks…and the people there are just another type of hillbilly, many of whom came from Appalachia.

**Redneck is the term used in Oregon. Hillbilly and redneck are like geek and nerd. There really isn’t much difference, even if you will find some, ahem, nerd on the internet who’s delineated the difference down to the nth degree. Btw, I would call my mom’s family rednecks, but mostly because they never settled in the hill regions of Appalachia. Instead, they took a tour through New Mexico and California. Albeit, my favorite cousin on her side is a bonified California mountainman with a beard down to his knees.

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News From the Christian Front

1. This is perhaps the most far-reaching and devastating news, which is why I’m leading with it. Those who pay attention already know that Christians are globally persecuted more than any other religion. A year ago, however, UK’s Jeremy Hunt asked the Bishop of Truro to assess the extent of the problem. A year later, he’s not done because the problem is too big. And western church leaders rarely address it, nor do we hear much about it from our western media sources. Christianity is wrongly considered a “white colonialist” religion; it’s not PC to admit that the vast majority of Christians persecuted around the world are not only poor (i.e. not colonizers), but those we call “people of color” — that is, not European. You can read more about it here or elsewhere. There are, thankfully, a number of media outlets that reported on the UK’s investigation.

2. Meanwhile, in the US, our elected officials have gotten into the game of harassing Christians who protest outside Planned Parenthood. Or, I should say, one elected official: Brian Sims, a representative from Pennsylvania. I’ve now watched two of his videos, in which he harasses and berates protestors who are praying the rosary. His anger and hatred towards Catholics is over-the-top; I rightly concluded that he had grown up Catholic (verified by the Wiki on him). He’s also gay, which might explain his anger toward the church. He might have also been damaged by somebody in the church, but that’s too big a leap to make without evidence. All I know is that he’s an incredibly broken man, and he’s trying to fix himself by venting his emotions on those he considers to be “fake Christians”. The most disturbing part is his asking his viewing audience to dox the protestors and to protest outside their houses. I first heard of this on Catholic radio, but you can read more about his harassment here. For an even more disturbing video, go to his Twitter account. He links out to a Periscope, where he harasses an elderly woman who’s doing nothing but pacing and holding onto a rosary. She tries to ignore him, but you can see her getting increasingly nervous as his emotionally-volatile shouting continues.

3. This is a difficult one to respond to. Over the weekend, Rachel Held Evans died. At one time, I read her blog and her books with interest because she came on the Christian nonfiction/memoir scene strong a number of years ago as an anti-evangelical Christian. Being neither a millennial nor a progressive, I found both the furor and love over her writing fascinating. Furor, as in, many people considered her a heretic. Others found her to be the voice they needed to hear as they grappled with how to be a Christian and a progressive at the same time, which does present a few intriguing dilemmas. I’m not going to make any comments on that, except to say I agreed with almost nothing she stood for. Despite my disagreements with her, she honestly seemed to be a warm friendly woman, who leaves a husband and children behind her. For that, I grieve, and my heart goes out to her family. For more, here’s a link.

4. There was a fourth one I had collected in my head, but it’s gone the way of the wind. I’ve forgotten about it. Perhaps it was the Pope’s anti-nationalist sentiments. He is often misquoted/misinterpreted but this is probably not one of those times; in any case, it was another piece of news I heard on Catholic radio. He makes the odd claim that nations “betray their mission” when they stir up nationalist sentiments. This is the classic double-speak of globalism, to claim that a nation must undermine its status as a nation in order for it to be a … nation at all. Because I heard it on the radio, I don’t have a direct link. But I’m sure you can find one if you’re interested.

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Keep On Keeping On

I always do.

1. Listening to Harry Connick Jr.’s She yesterday reminded me we also used to have his album Star Turtle, which has a plot running through it of Harry taking an alien turtle to visit clubs in New Orleans. Snort. He’s such a goofy musician. That’s probably why his music has always appealed to me. He also seems to have a “normal” soul (whatever that means — more what it doesn’t mean: he doesn’t sound like a crazy, dark, tortured artist). So I’m adding this album to my list of alien, robot, and knight rock for general inspiration. Some favorites already on the list: Daft Punk’s album Random Access Memories, Europe’s song “The Final Countdown”, and Peter Cetera’s goofy “Glory of Love” from the Karate Kid.

2. I quit social media. Again. I just can’t stand it. There are a handful of people I love to banter with on Twitter, and those people I’ll definitely miss. You know, goofy people. I love goofy people who get my sense of humor. Or pretend to. Another big snort. Look, I suck at marketing. I can’t market to save my life, which means social media is a big fat waste of time. I have no rapport with most human beings, but understanding that doesn’t make me feel any better when I’m rejected or when people with large(r than me) followings decide to drop, block, or mute me … for no apparent reason. I value loyalty and giving the benefit of the doubt until all the facts are in. Also, I admit I seethe over others’ egoism that demands attention — where there’s no reciprocity, even among their peers. I’m a stoic. Stoics don’t like to feel deep, dark hatred eating their souls. So no more social media.

3. After a harrowing few weeks, in which I stared into the abyss and came up short, I’m just starting to get back into finishing the end of my book Order of the PenTriagaon. It helps to have a critique partner with the right sensibility. We’re currently discussing a dragons vs aliens thing in the plot because, as he put it, it’s “low-key absurd enough to be in character for your writing style.” You’ll have to read it as a beta or etc. to find out how that turns out.

4. I have a few books in my to-read pile, after I finish this literary novel I found in one of those little free libraries. The literary novel is called Olive Kitteridge. It’s depressing, which seems to be a hallmark for literary novels. But the characters are fascinating, so I’ll probably finish anyway. I also have two history books that I’m reading in snippets (The Battle For Spain and Restoration London); one SF I just purchased, Rawle Nyanzi’s Shining Tomorrow; and a new series by Alexander McCall Smith called The Department of Sensitive Crimes. I’ve always liked his warm-hearted humor, but in this case, the cover cracked me up because he put an umlaut over the “Ä” in his name. Hilarious. I mean, I’m sure he has someone else do his artwork and formatting, but I went there with the Minäverse, and it has caused me no end of annoyance. What I sacrifice for my dumb sense of humor.

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Raison d’être

It has become fashionable to loathe the Age of Enlightenment, and that’s a normal and right reaction as humans strive to explain a world they don’t understand in a way they will. Philosophies come and go; the ones too ridiculous to maintain reason fade with age. But ultimately, history builds on itself, and the Age of Enlightenment, far from being a temporary glitch in humanity’s normal course of reasoning and rationalizing who they are, was an important building block in their development. And to be a bit circular, everything happens for a reason. This was a main tenet of classical mechanics, but it also dates to Aristotle and teleological thought and the intrinsic purpose of things.

Despite what others might say, the Age of Enlightenment was all about teleology. In fact, the modern day sciences have not managed to dispose of teleological language from their descriptions of the world. They obtusely call this language “metaphor”, which is disingenuous. If purpose and reasons for being aren’t necessary to the understanding of science, scientists ought to develop a language without it. To be fair, Kant’s influence gave the impetus for some to try, albeit not successfully.

Rather than an age that departed from teleology, the Enlightenment was rather an age of experimentation that attempted to prove causes and essential functions. That is, they attempted to prove or disprove teleological functions. Did this create an environment where men could look outside traditions, even accepted truths, for the answers? Yes, it absolutely did, but it also created an environment for peering into an unseen world, both micro and macro. Humans have always desired to do this — they’ve been, for example, gazing into the heavens forever — but it wasn’t until this epoch of human history that seeing the unseeable became possible.

Experimentation being the zeitgeist of the age, it’s no surprise that this was done at the government level, e.g. the French and American Revolutions. The modern antipathy towards the Enlightenment is largely based on our propensity to look back and claim that these Revolutions were failures because we don’t like the results of them in our day-to-day lives. On the other hand, we’re all too happy to accept that the germ theory was a huge human success that helped to save countless lives. We also appreciate, whether we admit it or not, the prosperity we have. Who cares that there a few men who’ve hoarded billions of dollars? The otherwise equalization of wealth in western societies is a boon not to be taken lightly. However, instead of joyous we’re extremely cynical people with far too much wealth and knowledge at our fingertips … thanks to the Enlightenment.

My question is, were these “democratic” revolutions that have made us so cynical actually failures? Let me get more specific: was the American Revolution a mistake? I’m going to be my typical iconoclastic self and say absolutely not. For the sake of time, I’m going to make this as simplistic as I possibly can. (I started out this blog post meaning to make one simple point, not delve into the history of human thought development.)

(And here I go again.) Aristotelean philosophy created one of the biggest shifts in human thought. It’s difficult to imagine a world prior to this; we often paint ancient history with our post-Aristotelean thought processes. Even the New Testament demonstrates the shift in thinking with its emphasis on eye-witness testimonies and debates (see Acts) on how Christians are to live their lives. Therefore, it’s not surprising that, after the churches had more or less formed a cohesive structure under the Bishop of Rome, the Reformation occurred. Debates on how Christians ought to live their lives, down to what they’re to believe, were still occurring, only the cohesive authority structure didn’t accept these debates any longer.

Okay, so Luther gave more of an ultimatum than a debate. That was his personality. But he and others like him didn’t depart from the Aristotelean worldview that had long influenced the western church; rather, their ultimate teleology referred to Jesus and the books of Scripture instead of the Bishop of Rome. It’s really this questioning of teleology that eventually led to what we know of as the Age of Enlightenment.

Humans have a simultaneous desire to be under the thumb of a king and to rebel against the oppressive authority of a king. In a sense, the Bishop of Rome is a king — indeed, he wears a type of crown and robe; Catholics beg to kiss the ring on his hand. And at times in history, the man calling himself Pope has been heretical. Catholics don’t deny this. What they don’t acknowledge is the similarity in the way God scattered the Israelite people due to their king’s heresy and the way the Christian people were scattered due to the Pope’s heresy.

Protestants and Catholics have been intermittently in exile, depending on where they lived, what regime they lived under. This is where I believe the American Revolution wasn’t a mistake. For a long time now, America has given refuge to Christians of all stripes. Including Catholics. This has created an environment where Christians could thrive and spread the gospel around the globe. And as far as I’m concerned, this is a direct result of Enlightenment philosophy, of the willingness to examine what the actual root teleology ought to be.

However, Enlightenment philosophy must have a teleology, an intrinsic purpose. The flip side of the Enlightenment coin, the Counter-Enlightenment, was to ditch objective truth and rationalism for a more organic thought process. To modern man, an “organic” thought process turns to chaos because he’s no longer under a cohesive authority structure. He’s sitting by the river in Babylon weeping, as it were, for what he’s lost. He knows so much, and yet he’s discovered he knows nothing. And the enemies of Christianity are at the gates — no, they’ve entered the gates and are threatening the very refuge he’s managed to create.

***As a short aside, I’m listening to Harry Connick Jr’s She, the album that played constantly in the background when I wrote my first detective novel — the one in which the main protag is a young stoic tapdancing pickpocket named Jael (of course, yes, she does inflict a head wound to the murderer), who teams up with an older male hardboiled detective (he unironically carries around flasks of whisky and seduces every woman but Jael. This album fit the dreary, yet goofy mood of the book. Most beta-readers found the story depressing, and I ditched it and its sequels years ago. When one’s tongue is planted so far in one’s cheek it would take surgery to extract the sense of humor, it becomes obvious one is writing only to amuse oneself.***

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