Fifty to 30

February2014

Fear the beard.

As far as I’m concerned, turning 30 simply means entering another year in which I can challenge myself, and grow to be someone better than I was at 29.

– Coach Jethro

I learned [that] before the hot flame came the spark.

– Rakaa Iriscience (Dilated Peoples)

Some months ago, I went to Pan Am Boxing for the lunch hour class. At one point, the trainer had us all do a front plank. A bald, heavily tattooed, muscular, middle aged man whom I had never spoken with before – and who I have never spoken with since – was to my left, also in a plank position.

I’m not sure how long the trainer was having us hold the plank for, but just as I was about to drop to my knees in the middle of it, Bald Tattooed Muscular Dude looked over at me and said, “Philippians 4:13.”

This is a Bible verse I had written out in my journal at some point before that day, but for some reason, at that moment, I couldn’t recall the passage.

“I’m blanking on what that verse is,” I told him.

“‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me,’” he replied.

I’m not sure why Bald Tattooed Muscular Dude spoke to me at that moment, but it was some encouragement right when I needed it. I held the plank until the trainer told us to stop.

*   *   *

Fifty days from today I turn 30. I want to use the next 50 days to challenge myself when it comes to all aspects of my health–physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. This is inspired in part by Jethro, one of the coaches at the place where I train, who recently undertook what he called his “30 in 30 Challenge.” (You can read about it here.)

Jethro put a concerted effort into challenging himself in the 30 days leading up to his 30th birthday. His goal was to present himself with a new challenge every day and build some new habits to positively propel himself into the coming year.

I’m not going to take on 50 challenges in the next 50 days, but I do want to discipline myself and try some new things. I’ll describe what that looks like in the coming days and weeks.

Today, my goals were to meditate for 10 minutes, do my daily Bible reading, eat clean, get in my workout and challenge any negative thinking that made its way into my head during the day. I got all of that done.

As I walked through my building to my apartment after my workout earlier this evening, I thought about how difficult the next 50 days might be, depending on what I choose to take on. I haven’t been super disciplined over the last few months, so the idea of dialling things in seems daunting.

As I got to my apartment door, I could hear my neighbours playing the song “This Way” by L.A. hip hop group Dilated Peoples on their stereo.

Released in 2004 and produced by Kanye West (who also raps on the track), “This Way” is one of my favourite songs. I listened to it often during my first year of going to the gym. It has a catchy hook and a positive message about making changes in your life.

The video depicts different people being freed from some of the things that have burdened them. Although the imagery is heavy-handed at times–by the time you see the “Burden Blvd.” sign, the video has definitely made its point and you kinda feel like you’re being hit over the head with the message–it’s pretty great.

The next 50 days may be challenging, but I’m up for it. “This time, I made up my mind / This time, I’m back on my grind,” as the song says.

Just like the time Bald Tattooed Muscular Dude spoke to me, it seems I got some encouragement today right when I needed it.

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Groundhog Day

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It’s never explained how long the time loop in “Groundhog Day” lasts, but in one interview, director Harold Ramis estimated that the film’s main character, Phil Connors, relives February 2 every day for 40 years.

Failure on repeat / Drive for miles just to turn around and play it back again / Failure on repeat, failure on repeat / Failure … We make love to the same mistakes.

Norma Jean, “Wrongdoers”

If you could change one little thing, then everything might change.

– Harold Ramis, filmmaker

In two days, it’s Super Bowl Sunday–or, as I prefer to call it (because I don’t follow sports), New U2 Song Day.

But Sunday is also Groundhog Day, a popular tradition made even more famous by the 1993 film of the same name.

In the film, an arrogant and self-centred Pittsburgh TV weatherman named Phil Connors (Bill Murray) travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania with his producer (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman (Chris Elliott) to cover the town’s Groundhog Day festivities. When a blizzard forces the trio to spend an additional night in Punxsutawney, Phil wakes up to find he is reliving February 2. He is caught in a time loop and repeats the same day over and over again.

At first, Phil is bewildered. Eventually, he uses the day to indulge his every desire (seduce women, eat whatever he wants, rob an armored van) and then makes numerous suicide attempts before beginning to re-examine his life and priorities.

Groundhog Day movie image Bill Murray

Bill Murray eats like there’s no tomorrow–because there isn’t–in “Groundhog Day.”

If you have never seen Groundhog Day, it’s worth watching. (I also recommend reading TransparencyNow.com’s thoughtful analysis of the film.) It’s a funny movie, and Bill Murray gives a masterful performance: As the film progresses, you see Phil change from an antagonistic, irksome character into someone you sympathize with and eventually root for.

But I also enjoy Groundhog Day because ultimately, it’s a film about making the the best of the circumstances you’re in, helping other people and breaking unhealthy patterns.

Harold Ramis, who directed and co-wrote Groundhog Day, says as much in an interview that is included on the film’s 15th anniversary DVD.

“My Groundhog Day is probably pretty much the life I lead, which is pry why people relate to the film–because everyone feels, to a certain extent, that they’re living the same day over and over again,” Ramis says.

“I feel like I’m stuck with myself. I keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Every time there’s a potential for a disagreement with my wife, I say ‘Oh, don’t say that, I know I shouldn’t say that–this is really gonna piss her off. Don’t say it.’ And then I say it.”

“How many times do you have to relive the same argument with someone, or make the same mistake in your life?” Ramis continues. “The key to Groundhog Day for any of us, and for me in particular, is having the insight, the courage and the energy to make those changes. When you come to those moments where you could make the same mistake again–we face those choices every single day…

“If you could change one little thing, then everything might change.

“And to that extent, I feel somewhat stuck … [but] I’ve come to appreciate in my own life what risk-taking can mean in a positive sense, and how positively you can change your life if you’re just willing to act on it.”

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Not again: Bill Murray despairs in “Groundhog Day.”

Like Ramis, I’ve had my fair share of Groundhog Days in the past, and I still get caught up in unhealthy patterns–we all do. I know what it’s like to be intimately familiar with my mistakes, and to fail and fail and fail again.

I know what it’s like to realize I could make a change, only to back down from making that change because it made me uncomfortable–I wasn’t sure of what the outcome would be, and that scared me.

But I also know what it’s like to find it in myself to make a small change. I know what it’s like to build on that small change until it becomes easier to make even more changes.

I know what it’s like to change the outcome of my Groundhog Day. It can be done.

In what ways are you living your own Groundhog Day? If there was one thing you could change about it today, what would that be?

Whatever your answer is, I wish for you the courage and energy to take the risk and make the change.

GD03

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Aaron on the airwaves

This past November, I wrote about a radio interview I did. That interview aired yesterday morning and you can stream or download it by clicking here.

The interview portion with me happens specifically from 1:46 to 11:06. It’s worth listening to if only to hear me bring up the Golden Rule and then, a split-second later, completely forget what the Golden Rule is.

Very smooth.

So yeah, Aaron on the radio. I’m like Jian Ghomeshi, except Mennonite and more handsome. (Girl, you know it’s true.)

Anyone interested in reading about the one-month prayer experiment I mention during the interview can do so by clicking here. There’s a super-serious picture of me sans beard with the article.

2014 Aaron to 2013 Aaron: Why so serious, bro?!?

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Two years later

TwoYears

Nov. 15, 2011 / Nov. 20, 2013.

On this day two years ago, I stepped into the gym for the first time and began my first phase of training.

It feels daunting to try and encapsulate the last two years in a blog post, especially since I’ve sort of already done that. But, I will share this:

I was recently interviewed for a radio show. (The episode will air at the end of January.) The host asked me to describe one or two moments that have shaped me in terms of my faith, and I included my health and fitness journey as part of my answer.

“I thought [my weight loss] journey would initially just be like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna lose some weight–it probably won’t be that big of a deal,’ but it kind of ended up being a very big deal,” I said.

“It pretty much led to me rethinking every aspect of my life–not just the food I’m putting into my mouth and how much I’m moving on a daily basis, but what are the things I believe about myself, and why do I believe those things? What do I believe about God and why do I believe those things? Are those things true, or have I been believing lies for the last couple years? What do I want for my life? What do I think God wants for my life?”

I’m in a much better place than I was two years ago, and while the physical transformation is startling, it pales in comparison to the mental and spiritual transformation that’s also taken place over the last 731 days.

As I wrote in August, I feel powerful and confident, and for the first time in a long, long time, I’m proud of myself and actually feel good about being me.

*   *   *

Summer2011

June 2011.

I’ve neglected this blog over the last few months, and that’s because in some ways, I’ve been neglecting my health. Since mid-September, I haven’t been as diligent with my nutrition and exercise routine as I maybe would like. A lot of old habits, thoughts and feelings have resurfaced, and I’ve been struggling.

As far as I’ve come in the last two years, in my weaker moments, I still want things to be easy. I still want results without having to make sacrifices and do the work. I still want someone to do it for me (as if that’s even possible). I still put things off until tomorrow. I still feel sorry for myself. I still worry too much about the number on the scale. I still hustle for my worth and care too much about what other people think.

But what’s nice about the past two years is that I’ve found out what I’m capable of, which is a lot more than I ever could have imagined. I know that if I make a plan and commit to it, I can achieve great things.

I’ve also reached a level of self-acceptance that makes changing so much easier than it was in the beginning.

“You can’t make that sort of change by hating yourself or hating your body,” I said during the radio interview, referring to my weight loss.

“You can’t look in the mirror and be like, ‘I’m disgusting’ and be angry. I think at first you have to have some acceptance that, OK, I’m not necessarily where I want to be, but ultimately, I care about myself … so I want to take better care of myself because I think, ultimately, it will lead to a better life. So you kind of have to start from there. You can’t start with anger, hate and shame directed toward yourself, because I think that will just … feed the problem, if anything.”

October122013

October 2013.

I’m in the process of dialling in my nutrition and exercise routine for the final weeks of 2013. The year is almost over and the holidays often make for tricky (read: unhealthy) eating situations, but I want to push myself to make healthy choices so that I can be at my best.

I’ve achieved a lot over the last two years and I’m curious to see what more I can accomplish in the years to come.

If you had told me two years ago that you never really arrive at complete fitness–you have to train for life, and there’s always something more to achieve if you want to go for it–I would have been discouraged.

Today, the thought excites me.

*   *   *

A few weeks ago I was reminded of “Inside Job,” one of my all-time favourite Pearl Jam songs. Mike McCready, one of the band’s guitarists, wrote it.

“I’d been thinking about some stuff for a year or two and searching for kind of a spiritual answer to whatever maladies were in my life,” McCready told SeattlePI.com when the album came out. “I realized that I had to go inside myself first before I could be open to outside ideas. And that’s kind of what the premise was.”

The song has really been speaking to me lately, so here it is:

Underneath this smile lies everything / All my hopes and anger, pride and shame / Make myself a pact not to shut doors on the past / Just for today I am free / I will not lose my faith / It’s an inside job today / I know this one thing well / I used to try to kill love, it was the highest sin / Breathing insecurity out and in / Searching hope, I’m shown the way to run straight / Pursuing the greater way for all human light / How I choose to feel is how I am / How I choose to feel is how I am / I will not lose my faith / It’s an inside job today / Holding on, the light of the night / On my knees to rise and fix my broken soul / Again / Let me run into the rain / To be a human light again / Let me run into the rain / To shine a human light today / Oh, life comes from within your heart and desire / Oh, life comes from within my heart and desire / Oh, life comes from within your heart and desire.

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The weird and wonderful ministry of Pete Holmes

PeteHolmes01

A promotional photo for The Pete Holmes Show (via TBSNewsroom.com).

This is the third in a series of posts where I discuss the things that inspire me. The first post talked about an article by Esquire contributor Chris Jones, and the second looked at a scene in the TV show Breaking Bad.

Today’s post is about Pete Holmes, a comedian from Lexington, Massachusetts.

First, two quotes:

I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell. They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition – that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are – even if we tell it only to ourselves – because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about. Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell.

– Frederick Buechner, American writer and theologian, in his book Telling Secrets

This is who I am: I overthink and I ruminate. I’m obsessive. But what I really want is relief. Most people are the same. We’re all carrying around some shit. When you hear the things that people have gone through and realize you’ve gone through the same, it provides an amazing amount of relief. It gives us hope. And I think that’s what we’re supposed to get from each other. The hope that, maybe, just maybe, we’re going to be okay.

– Marc Maron, comedian and host of the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, in his book, Attempting Normal

PeteHolmes02

Holmes shares a lot about his life on You Made It Weird – his Christian upbringing, his father’s alcoholism, his relationship with his mother, his divorce, his physical health, his counselling sessions, and more.

If you aren’t already familiar with Pete Holmes, there’s a good chance you’ll be hearing a lot about him soon. The 34-year-old stand-up comedian has a new late night talk show premiering this coming Monday, Oct. 28. The Pete Holmes Show will air on TBS after Conan O’Brien’s show.

I first got to know Holmes’ work via You Made It Weird, the podcast he hosts. (Incidentally, today is the second anniversary of the show’s Oct. 25, 2011 debut.)

My friend, Chad, told me about You Made It Weird this past June, and I’ve been listening to it constantly over the last five months. It has been a big inspiration to me as I work toward improving my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

It’s not hyperbolic to say that the podcast is changing my life. I’m always left with something to think about after I listen to it.

Each episode, Holmes interviews someone – usually a comedian. The conversations last roughly two hours and are wide-ranging, though the topics explored typically fall into three categories: comedy, sexuality and religion. The guests share their thoughts on each topic, and so does Holmes. So, while you’re invited in to the guest’s story, you also get to hear Holmes’ story, too.

Do you believe in God? Is there an afterlife? What were you raised to believe? How have those beliefs changed over the years?

Are you currently in a relationship? What do you like about the person you’re with? What makes the relationship work?

Have you, or has someone you know, ever had a near-death experience or dealt with a potentially life-threatening illness or accident?

What do you eat? What kind of physical activity do you do? What books do you read and what movies do you watch?

What do you do, or what have you done in the past, that you feel guilty or ashamed about? When are you at your best? What’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed?

Those are just a few of the questions the podcast explores.

PeteHolmes03

Holmes has released two albums of stand up material: “Impregnated with Wonder” (2011) and “Nice Try, the Devil” (2013).

There are three main reasons why I enjoy You Made It Weird.

The first is that it’s incredibly funny. Holmes is a gifted comedian, and so are his guests. (Although, he does interview the occasional non-comedian, such as pastor/author Rob Bell and musician Sara Watkins.) The humour isn’t always for everyone – depending on the episode, you may find some of it quite crude – but overall, it’s entertaining to listen to, and when I listen to it, I always get the stress relief that laughter supplies.

I also enjoy the podcast because I identify with Holmes. And that’s the last time I’m going to refer to him as “Holmes” here, because as corny as it sounds, I feel like I know the guy and can just call him Pete.

I identify with him on many levels: He’s lost a fair amount of weight over the years and he’s interested in what it looks like to live a healthy life.

But also, I feel like we have similar backgrounds. Like me, Pete grew up in a Christian household and received his post-secondary education at a Christian liberal arts institution.

His beliefs have changed significantly over the years, as he described during the Nov. 9, 2012 episode when guest Chelsea Peretti asked him if he believes in God.

“I believe that there is something,” he said. “I think God is a word for something we can’t describe … I don’t believe in the God I used to believe in. [Growing up] I really believed in the lifeguard God that was watching and monitoring my thoughts. Like, if I [thought], ‘I want to fuck that girl,’ I believed in a God that was slapping me on the wrist with a yardstick. I don’t believe in that anymore, but I do believe that there is something. I absolutely do.”

The way Pete talks about the Christian worldview he grew up with, and is continually working through, is compelling to me. (It’s also entertaining to hear him start singing hymns occasionally, or to all of a sudden hear him reference a passage in the Bible. He knows his stuff.)

Pete planned on becoming a pastor before deciding to pursue stand-up comedy, and he calls the podcast his “filthy ministry.”

“This is my filthy ministry – it’s true,” he said during his conversation with Peretti. “All the butt-fucking jokes and all the jerk-off topics and all that sort of stuff [aside], at the end of the day, this [show] feels more like what I want church to be than what church [has been for] me.”

“Here we are, just a couple of people – and it’s different every episode – trying to figure it out from the ground up,” he continued. “That feels like some good, godly work. Even though my mom would be upset by the things I say on the show [and the people at] my [former] church would be upset by the things I say on the show, this does feel like a … ministry.”

PeteHolmes04

In addition to being a comedian and podcast host, Holmes is the voice of the e*trade baby and portrays Batman in “Badman,” a series of short videos created by College Humor that lampoon Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films. (Photo by kevintporter, via Wikipedia.)

I can relate

The third reason I enjoy You Made It Weird is that the conversations are real. It’s refreshing to hear Pete and his guests talk about, in an honest way, topics that I’ve often thought about or struggled with. Knowing there are people out there who are going through the same things that I’m going through has made me feel less alone. It’s also inspired me to be more honest in the conversations I have with the people I trust.

In short: Every week on You Made It Weird, you’re getting exactly what Marc Maron and Frederick Buechner write about in the passages I quoted at the beginning of this post. Pete may call the topics he discusses “weird,” but they’re weird not because they’re deviant or freakish. They’re weird because they are the things we don’t always talk about as a result of the guilt or shame we feel, or the feeling we have that people won’t like us if they see who we really are.

And by discussing them, Pete feels less alone, and listeners feel less alone, too.

He talked about this with his friend and fellow comedian, Chris Thayer, during the May 18, 2012 episode.

“I’ll say something [during my stand-up act] that I’ve done, or more importantly that I thought, and I felt bad about, and they laugh, and that’s what [You Made It Weird] is [about],” Pete said. “We talk about all these weird things on the show, and I hope the listeners go, ‘I do that too, I feel that way too,’ and I hope we’re validating them, and then them liking the show or listening to the show, is a way of being like, ‘We like you too [Pete]. You’re not a freak.’”

Then he shares this penetrating insight:

“‘Cause I think there’s a weird part of all humans: Somewhere inside of you is this idiot, this idiot child that thinks love is going to be taken away from you swiftly, and you don’t deserve anything – you don’t deserve friends, heat, comfort, food, sex, and it’s going to be taken from you when it’s revealed what a fuckin’ weirdo you are, what a fucking freak you are.”

“If people knew [the real] you, they could not love you,” Thayer responded.

“Yeah,” Pete said. “But instead, what I think we’re learning through stand-up hopefully, and through things like this show, is we’re opening all the windows and being like, ‘Here – take a look around.’”

Thayer: “We’re all just freaks trying to get by.”

Pete: “I know you’re joking, but–”

Thayer: “No, I am serious though, too.”

Pete responded to that by telling Thayer what he sees as the show’s mission statement.

“If there’s a mission statement lately on the show, [it’s], ‘I’m a nice, good person.’ That’s Part A,” Pete said. “Part B is: I’ve done some fucked up stuff. It’s usually victimless, you know what I mean? I’m not hurting people, but I’m doing some weird shit that I want to talk about, and … for better or worse, I’d like my fellow man to go, ‘I’ve done that too,’ or, ‘That’s not that weird,’ or, ‘I love you anyway.’”

During the aforementioned conversation with Peretti, which happened on the podcast’s 100th episode, Pete reflected on the impact the show has had on listeners and himself.

People have told him that they lost significant amounts of weight because of things they heard on the show, or it inspired them to go back to school, or it gave them the courage to get out of a dysfunctional relationship.

“People come up to me and they’re like, ‘This show has changed my life, and it’s made me better,’ and all that sort of stuff, and I’m like, me fuckin’ too,” Pete said. “I need help more than anybody I know. So anybody that’s like, ‘It’s helped me,’ it’s probably helped me even more.”

“That stuff I think is the most important work that I’ve done,” he continued, “and I’m grateful to have the show.”

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A photo from Holmes’ stand-up special, “Nice Try, the Devil.”

Suggested listening

A new episode of You Made It Weird is available for free download each week via Nerdist.com and iTunes.

If you’re wondering where to start, here are two of my favourite moments/stories from the show:

“Sun’s coming up. Looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day.” From the Aug. 7, 2013 interview with comedian and daytime TV show host Kirk Fox: If you can’t listen to the entire episode, listen to the 10-minute section that starts at 1:08:44 and ends at 1:18:15. Fox tells Pete the incredible story of how his parents met, how his father became a spiritual leader to hundreds of people in California, and the poignant moment his parents shared right before his father died. I had tears in my eyes listening to this on my way to work one morning two months ago.

“Hey guys, what’s going on?” From the Sept. 4, 2013 interview with comedian and actor Nick Swardson: Again, if you can’t listen to the entire episode, fast-forward to 1:46:00, when Pete asks Swardson if he believes in an afterlife. Then keep listening for the two minutes from 1:47:30 to 1:49:30, when Swardson talks about the supernatural experience his one-year-old nephew and 69-year-old father shared in the hospital before his father died. It will give you chills.

The Oct. 27, 2011 episode with TJ Miller, the Jan. 18, 2012 episode with Marc Maron, the Nov. 9, 2012 episode with Chelsea Peretti, the May 17, 2013 episode with Rob Bell, the Aug. 21, 2013 episode with Whitney Cummings and the Aug. 28, 2013 episode with Chris Gethard are a few more of my favourite episodes.

Definitely check it out.


Pete talks about Google and not knowing on Conan (March 21, 2011).


Pete talks about magic on Conan (November 2011).

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That’s what I get

FoodI’ve been thinking a lot about food lately.

Actually, I’ve been thinking a lot about food for most of the last 29 years, but it’s on my mind today because I’m participating in a roundtable conversation about eating at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) next Wednesday, Oct. 16 to coincide with World Food Day.

Titled “Germinating Conversations: Eating Together at the Table,” the event will also feature Ron Krahn, a third-generation grain farmer from Rivers, MB; Terry Mierau, an opera singer-turned-chicken farmer from Neubergthal, MB; Tina Hildebrand, a cattle farmer from the Pembina Valley; Deborah Martin Koop, Program Director for Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba; Melanie Unger, Spiritual Life Facilitator from CMU; and Matthew Dueck, a CMU student, urban farmer, and avid hunter.

The seven us will have a conversation arising from the following questions: What do we eat when we are together? Who grows it? How did it get to our table? What was the impact on the land? Does it nourish? Is there enough? Does it taste good? Does any of this matter? How might these questions be informed by our faith?

The event starts at 7 p.m. Admission is free, and there will be an opportunity for people who come to the event to share their own comments and ask their own questions. You can find out more information on CMU’s website, or by visiting the event’s Facebook page.

I was asked to be a part of this conversation last week, and I immediately thought of an article I wrote for Geez Magazine‘s food issue six years ago, titled “That’s what I get.” You can read it below.

I imagine what I have to say next Wednesday will revolve around how my thoughts have changed over the last two years from the thoughts reflected in the Geez article.

That’s what I get

MeAndKD

I have eaten it since I was a little boy. My mother cooked healthier meals during the week, but for lunch on Saturdays it was always Mac and Cheese, or, as many people call it, Kraft Dinner.

I came to enjoy the variety of ways I could eat it: with ketchup, without ketchup, with wieners, without wieners, with ketchup and wieners, with wieners but without ketchup, with ketchup but without wieners. The combinations seemed endless.

When I got to my third year of university, I was living on my own and I could no longer depend on my mother’s regular cooking or the university’s meal plan. Cooking became the sort of thing I always intended to do but never got around to. Between a full course load, extracurricular activities and part-time work, preparing anything more complicated than Kraft Dinner seemed like a waste of time. More than once, I made two boxes at lunch so I could eat the leftovers for supper.

Geez

I once heard of some students who ate nothing but Mac and Cheese for an entire year. I think they may have gotten scurvy. But secretly, I’ve always admired them, and wanted to try it myself. I don’t think I could make it, though. After a few days I’m pretty sure my stomach would complain and ask: “Where’s the frozen pizza? Where are the hamburgers?” So I’m content to eat it the usual three times a week.

I have graduated from university now and have a lot more time on my hands, but my diet hasn’t really changed. The will to cook is weak, and the call of Kraft Dinner is strong. Boil the water, cook the noodles, drain the water, add the cheese, some margarine and milk, and stir. I take solace in the routine, and at this point, it’s all muscle memory. Ten minutes and it’s done. Who could argue with that?

I’ve never really thought about where the macaroni and the cheese – or any of my food, for that matter – come from. It just hasn’t happened. The food’s there when I want it, and that’s good enough for me. The only questions in my mind revolve around ketchup and wiener options.

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Photo by Angie Torres (via Flickr).

Some may call Mac and Cheese “shit food,” but that’s what I get for being a shitty cook. So God bless this bright orange cheese powder and these processed white noodles to the nourishment of my body.

Forever and ever.

Amen.

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I’m not afraid of the dark after all

RobertCalifornia

Robert California is a wise man.

To start, three quotes I’ve thought about a lot in recent months:

“Fear plays an interesting role in our lives. How dare we let it motivate us? How dare we let it into our decision-making, into our livelihoods, into our relationships?”

– Robert California (played by James Spader) on “The Office”

“…Sometimes a little pressure is just what’s needed. And that’s where the nerves come in. When you feel nervous, you have two choices: you can become afraid and let worry take over, or you can accept the butterflies and understand that they’re there to signal the possibility of something great to come.”

Mike Warkentin, founder/trainer, CrossFit 204

“The older I get, the more I realize that life is about a battle with fear, and either we win or lose. And some nights you stay in, and that’s a little bit of losing. Don’t get me wrong, I love staying in. You want to put on some PJs and watch fucking Sherlock? I’m game. It’s great. But like, when I don’t go to things because of fear, that’s a loss. … I can’t get away from this new fear theory: the idea that fear is keeping us from our best lives all the time.”

Pete Holmes, comedian, on his podcast “You Made It Weird”

DxC[1]

My brother introduced me to a friend of his at DarkCross, an elite, bearded racer named Dave who was vaguely familiar with me. “Oh yeah–you’re the guy who shows up on a shitty mountain bike and schools everyone,” he said to me. My response? “Half of that statement is true, Dave.”

This past Saturday, I competed in the open race at DarkCross 2013, a cyclocross bicycle competition at the Red River Co-Op Speedway.

But I almost didn’t.

The fears crept in as I thought about participating in the race in the days leading up to it. What if I completely suck? What if I come in dead last? What if I have mechanical problems? What if I eat shit on one of the turns? What if some 10-year-old girl on a pink bike with a white basket and streamers hanging from her handlebars laps me?

In short: What if I look stupid?

In retrospect, I’m not sure how I didn’t realize that Saturday’s race would be anything other than an improvement over last year. At DarkCross 2012, I was roughly 80 pounds heavier than I am now, my chain came off and got so jammed up in the workings of my bike that I couldn’t get it back on so I ran half the race carrying my bike, and at one point, I ran up the wrong part of the course in full view of all the spectators.

??????????????????????

DarkCross 2012. This is not how you ride a bike.

And I had an absolute blast doing it.

But there I was, this past Saturday afternoon, wrestling with my aforementioned fears–irrational as they might seem.

And I had a decision to make: I could give in to them, or I could show up, participate in the race and have fun.

My fears aren’t strictly limited to competing in cyclocross races, of course. I was recently telling a writer friend of mine how scared I often am when I sit down to write.

I’ve made a living off of writing for almost five years now, and while it doesn’t happen all the time, often the questions still pop into my head when I sit down at the computer, whether it’s to write a press release, a hard news article, an opinion piece or a blog entry:

What if the words don’t come? What if they suck? What if I misrepresent my sources? What if I reveal too much of myself?

I want to sound smart, thoughtful and funny. What if I don’t? What if I’m just not?

What if it’s not perfect?

It’s easy enough to dispute these fears. The words always come, I’ve never had a source complain that I’ve misrepresented or misquoted them, and while not all of my work is Pulitzer Prize-worthy, knock-your-socks-off, next level, Chris Jones-type work, none of my editors have ever told me, “Wow Aaron, you really blew it on that assignment.”

But the fears are there, so I need to keep disputing them.

And I dispute them in other areas of my life as well.

Every time I don’t go out because I’m afraid of who’s going to be at the party and I’m worried I won’t have anything interesting to say, every time I don’t ask out the cute girl I’m interested in because I’m worried she’ll turn me down, every time I don’t compete in a race because I’m worried I’ll come in dead last, every time I don’t try something new because I’m worried I’ll look stupid, every time I don’t say what’s on my mind because I’m worried about what others will think, every time I don’t write something because I’m worried it’s not going to come out perfect, it’s a little bit of losing.

And I figure over time, those losses build up, until you’re just a shell of a person, not fully engaged in life, sitting on the sidelines and wondering what might have been.

So ultimately, that’s why I competed in DarkCross 2013. I didn’t want to give in to fear.

A 10-year-old girl on a pink bike lapped me (full disclosure: not really), and I came in at the back of the pack, but that’s not the point.

I showed up and I participated. On Saturday night, that was victory enough.


This scene from the 2006 film “Little Miss Sunshine” gets it right. In it, Olive (Abigail Breslin) is consoled by her grandfather (Alan Arkin) the night before competing in a beauty contest.

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