Sunrise?

My friend Chuck​ likes to point out that we’ve already reached the worst of the winter darkness: Tomorrow the sun will set at 4:27 PM, and that’s as bad as it will get. As early as December 12th the sun won’t set until 4:28, and it just gets better from there.

For people working a regular job, a later sunset is a big deal (although it’s not really a big deal until January 24th, when sunset time is finally after 5:00 PM).

For me, though, it’s sunrise that really matters, and that keeps getting worse for a long while yet. We don’t hit our latest sunrise until December 30th when it’s not until 7:15 AM—and then it just stays there for almost two weeks. Things don’t really start getting better until January 12th, when the sun rises at 7:14.

So really, I should be luxuriating in the relatively early sunrise this morning. The sun will be up at 6:59 AM—before 7:00! Why, it won’t be this good again until February 5th! That’s after Groundhog’s Day!!!

(All these dates and times local to Savoy, Illinois in 2015–2016. Ephemeris data for your location will vary. But if you live in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, they won’t vary by enough.)

This tree, with some sort of little red fruits all covered in ice by a freezing fog, kinda looks sunrise pink. Maybe I could pretend it is the dawn. Of course, before dawn it’s too dark to see it.

Frosty pink

Despite my anticipatory angst, I’m actually holding up pretty well so far. I’m sure the extra time spent walking outdoors is helping. Yesterday, I walked to my taiji class, then walked around during the time between the two classes (with Jackie for the first half of her walk home, and then around playing Ingress), and then walked home again after my second class. It was just a little over 6 miles, but my longest walk in a good while. I’m sure the two hours of taiji helped as well.

The odd motivating power of an unbroken streak

I have mixed feelings about using the motivating power of maintaining a streak.

Lots of people do it. Lots of writers write every day. Lots of runners run every day. There’s probably no virtuous activity out there that doesn’t have someone who has done it every day (or every week, or every year) for decades.

I understand the power. I feel it too, as I’ll describe in just a moment. But I have mixed feelings about it, primarily for two reasons.

First, it tempts people into doing things they shouldn’t just to maintain the streak.

Any runner who has run every day for years has almost certainly gone for a run even though he or she was sick. If it’s just a cold, that’s merely pointless. But going for a run with the flu is life-threatening.

Second, the demotivating power of a broken streak is huge.

For example, I had a streak going in the game Ingress, where there’s a badge for maintaining an unbroken streak of playing every day. I’d gotten my badges for 15-, 30-, and 60-day streaks. When my 180-day badge was due, I found that had apparently missed a day—my streak had ended at 172 days. I immediately abandoned any thought of getting that badge, and quit making any effort to play Ingress on a daily basis. I still play, but my current streak is 4 days.

Because of those issues, I try to be careful about motivating myself by trying to maintain a streak. I still do it though.

I went for a walk yesterday, only because I’m trying to get out for a walk every day this month.

After I hurt my knees in late October, my ability to walk was constrained for several weeks. It was very sad. I missed the last nice days for outdoor exercise, stuck inside resting my knees.

I find it easy to exercise in the summer, and hard in the winter. Every year I imagine that, if I can just keep going through the fall, I’ll preserve the habit and be able to keep going through the winter. It hasn’t worked very well in general, and certainly is out for this year, so I figured I’d do something different: Establish a new habit. I am perfectly capable of just deciding that I’ll get out and exercise in the winter in particular.

So I did decide that. Specifically, I decided that I’d try to meet the goal I’ve established in Google Fit, to get at least 90 minutes of movement every day.

Google Fit’s evaluation is just a bit odd. It’s central metric is minutes, but what it actually counts is steps, and I have no idea exactly how it translates occasional steps into minutes. It works very well when I go for a walk, but when I do taiji, for example, I get essentially no credit for having moved during that hour.

(As an aside, I should mention that I could just manually enter the hour or two I spend doing taiji. I did that for a while, but it isn’t really satisfactory. Among the great thing about Google Fit are that it’s simple and objective—there’s no need to do anything other than just carry my phone all the time, which I do anyway. Manually entering activity misses the whole point.)

Anyway, yesterday was a cold, wet, snowy day. Just the sort of day on which any sensible person would decide to simply stay inside. But I had this unbroken streak going, and a plan to hit 90 minutes of movement each day in December. So, I went out in the cold, wet snow and walked the remaining forty minutes or so to hit the mark.

Cold, wet, snowy day
Cold, wet, snowy day

During the summer, one can just stay in when the weather is bad, and still get plenty of exercise. Do that in the winter, and it’s all too easy to end up spending three months indoors. So, I am using the power of an unbroken streak to prevent that.

Another couple of weeks, and it will be a habit. A couple of weeks after that, and I’ll have met my movement goal for the month of December—and having gotten that far, I expect I’ll be able to move enough in January and February as well.

For now, though, I’ve just checked—and I see that I need another 24 minutes of walking today.

At least it’s not snowing.

Katy Bowman: The Michael Pollan of movement

I have always found “deconstructionist” models appealing. For example, I liked the idea that you could “figure out” all the nutrients that you need and then build up a diet that provides the right mix of carbs, proteins, fats (with proper mix between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids), the right amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and so on.

Then Michael Pollan came along and (in his book In Defense of Food) completely destroyed that idea. First of all, it’s an impossible problem to solve—the different nutrients interact in the body (and biome) in ways that are intractably complex, plus there are so many micro-nutrients as to make it computationally infeasible (even if we knew what all of them were, which we don’t). More to the point, though, it’s a completely unnecessary problem to solve: our bodies solve it for us, as long as we eat a diet of diverse foods and minimize our consumption of manufactured food-like substances.

I’m not saying this is new news. In fact, this is common knowledge—everybody said this, right from the start. What I’m saying is that, for reasons no doubt having to do with my personality and psychological makeup, I liked the deconstructionist model for analyzing and then constructing a plan for what to eat, despite what everybody said. For some reason, again having to do with my personality and psychological makeup, Michael Pollan’s explanation of how the whole deconstructionist model of designing a plan for eating was fundamentally flawed suddenly made it clear to me (in a way that any number of people—including my third grade health teacher and both my parents—had not managed to do).

All that seems relevant because—I recently realized—for years now I’ve been making the exact same mistake with movement. I’ve been trying to “figure out” an exercise regime that would keep me fit. If you click on the Fitness category over in the sidebar, or the “exercise” tag on this post, you’ll be linked to a long list of my posts on the topic, many of which describe my latest attempt to find the right mix of walking, running, bicycling, lifting, stretching, and taiji to build and maintain optimal levels of aerobic capacity, strength, and flexibility.

Then I ran into the work of Katy Bowman, whose explanations of why exercise is no substitute for movement clicked for me in just the same way, and for roughly the same reason: The problem is intractably complex, and anyway our bodies solve the problem for us—as long as we engage in an ample amount of diverse movement and minimize things like sitting in chairs and wearing bad shoes. (See her book Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement.)

Again, this is not really new news; I’m just late to the party because I like the idea of designing an exercise regime that covers all the necessary categories.

However, I think I have come around. Appealing as it is to me to design the perfect exercise regime and then tick off each box as I reach my target for the week, I pretty much have to admit that the whole thing is a fool’s errand. I’d be much better off spending that time walking, stretching, hanging, squatting, climbing, balancing, jumping, throwing, catching, and so on.

I’ll still run (because I enjoy it, probably due to the endocannabinoids, and because being able to run is useful), but I’ll spend a lot less time on things like figuring out how much I can safely add to my weekly mileage. I’ll just run as much as I feel like—while being careful to do so mindfully, and to pay attention to my body, so that enjoying running doesn’t entice me to run more than should.

Still not new news.

Our last few tune-up hikes

We’ve decided not to do another even longer walk before we do the big hike of the Kal-Haven trail. (Coming up later this month!)

I’d had it in my head that we’d do a 30-mile walk, but the more I thought about it, the less it appealed. Mainly, it seemed like it would make the main event less special. (“Oh. We walked 3.5 miles longer than our longest training walk. Big deal.”)

We will do one more walk of close to marathon distance, somewhere in the 20–25 mile range, but besides that, we’ve been doing some shorter walks of a more rugged nature, hoping to address some deficiencies that cropped up on the marathon-length walk.

In particular, I noticed that toward the end of really long walks, my hips get tired and seem kind of wobbly when I walk over uneven ground. I thought one way to address that, besides doing more longer walks, would be to find some especially uneven ground to hike on. That’s why we went to Fox Ridge and later to Forest Glen—the trails would let us get in some longish walks with some slightly different sources of stress than just more longer.

Today we hiked at Allerton Park, doing a bit over 6 miles of some not-too-rugged trails. We’d had it in our heads to do 6 more miles on the other side of the Sangamon River, but decided to skip it due to schedule constraints—we would have had to rush to get home in time to got to my Esperanto meeting and the farmers market this evening.

Besides the hike, we also took half an hour or so to do some taiji in the Fu Dog garden. That was very nice.

Once again, I got to put my parkour practice to use.

There’s a path that leads—used to lead—to the back of the mansion, and there used to be an iron spiral staircase that got you up to the top of a retaining wall the separates the grounds (at one level) from the steep slope down into the forest and the Sangamon.

We hiked up that trail—what’s left of it—only to find that the iron staircase has been removed.

The wall there would be beyond our capability to climb, but just around the corner (separating the mansion grounds from the pond), the wall is shorter—about chest high.

It’s been a long time, but I just did what I would have done as a boy facing a wall of that height—I put my palms on it, then jumped up high enough that I had enough leverage to go ahead and push myself up onto the wall.

Jackie found that she couldn’t jump high enough to get to where she could push herself on up, so she reached over the top of the wall to where she could hook her fingers over the far side. Then she just scrabbled up as best she could, her boots sliding on the bricks, but catching enough that she managed to get herself up onto the wall.

We were both pretty pleased with ourselves. I doubt if we could have climbed that wall five years ago.

I neglected to get a picture of the wall from today, but here’s a picture from a few years ago, looking across from the far side of the pond (click to embiggen):

allerton mansion retaining wallWe were way over on the right, and our climb was from just above the pond. (There are two walls there. We just climbed the lower wall. There’s a path at that level, and then a second retaining wall up to the level of the mansion grounds proper.)

On an unrelated note, today seemed to be Path Crossing Day for the snails. I scarcely took a step down the path without seeing a snail.

Here’s the first snail I spotted:

trail snail at allerton parkIsn’t he a handsome fellow?

Human movement capabilities

I’ve started thinking of my fitness practice more as movement practice. This post is about that shift in my thinking, and if that’s not going to be interesting to you, you’ll probably want to just skip this one.

I have always wanted to be fit, for what I think are mostly ordinary reasons: to be healthy, to look good, to be capable of doing the things that need to be done. For most of my life, my fitness practice fell short of what I thought it ought to be, again for mostly ordinary reasons: I was busy, the weather was bad, I found exercise boring or unpleasant.

I would get my aerobic exercise running and cycling in the summer, and walking year round. When the weather cooperated with a mild spring, I could get in pretty good shape by mid-summer. A couple of years, I even preserved some level of running capability over the winter; one of those years, I ran the Lake Mingo Trail Race, which at 7.1 miles was usually beyond my capability in mid-June when it takes place. But, given the realities of working a regular job (with hours when I needed to be sitting at a computer, rather than out for a run), winter (when I just about don’t cycle or run) and injuries (as my brother likes to say “Running is great exercise, between injuries”), my fitness practice never made me fit for the long term, just fit for a while.

This changed a few years ago, for a couple of reasons.

The less important reason was that my employer closed the site down, and I decided I could get by without a regular job. It means our financial circumstances are a bit straitened, but my hours are my own.

More important, I started practicing taiji.

Taiji gave me balance and control, but much more important, it taught me mindfulness—to be present in my body during my exercise. (I was prompted to write this post at this time because I’ve been reading a blog by Johnathan Mead called Move Heroically, that nicely hits the sweet spot in my evolving interest in fitness. The latest post in particular is on exactly this topic: Embodiment is a Performance Enhancing Drug.)

I like to think of my exercise as building capabilities. I go for long walks because I want to be able to go for long walks. I run because I want to be able to run.

That’s an oversimplification in at least two ways.

For one thing, honesty requires me to admit that I engage in endurance exercise because I like it (perhaps because of the endocannabinoids it generates). A long run at a brisk pace makes me feel good.

More important it’s an oversimplification because specificity of training means that my exercise practice was only building a very narrow slice of the capabilities I imagined. Yes, if I go for a long run every week or two, I do create and maintain the capability to run a long way, but that capability is only barely transferable to other activities. When Jackie and I wanted to go on a century ride, we spent many weeks building up our stamina for long rides. Given how long it’s been since my last long ride, I would not want to stake my life on my capability to bicycle 100 miles without a good bit of training. Maybe fewer weeks because we’re fitter now, but I’d still want weeks of training before attempting another century ride.

It was this realization, in conjunction with my taiji practice teaching me to move more mindfully, that brought me initially to parkour, and more recently to natural movement generally.

Running wasn’t just for fun (although it was fun), and it wasn’t just to be more healthy (although I expect I am). I was explicitly building the capability to run if I needed too. I used that capability sometimes—to catch a bus, to get to an appointment on time—and I imagined that I could use it under other circumstances as well: running away from some danger, running toward someone who needed my help.

But I came to realize that, because of exercise specificity, my capability was a very narrow one indeed. I could run, but I could only barely jump or climb. If I came to a place where I needed to step down I was fine, as long as the drop was only a step or two. But if I needed to jump down by, let’s say, three steps, things got much more problematic. I could climb up a steep path, but am quite daunted if I need to climb up a tree, or cliff, or a wall, or a rope.

That was what brought me to parkour.

Even before I made much progress in the skills of parkour, however, I happened upon natural movement. It shares the roots of parkour, but is less about the specific skills of parkour (vaults and such), and more about basic human movement. Yes, walking and running. Also climbing and jumping and crawling. Balancing. Throwing and catching. Lifting and carrying. Swimming and diving.

So, this is where I’ve come to. I’m very pleased with my walking, and adequately pleased with my running. My climbing skills need considerable broadening. Thanks to taiji, my static balance is okay, but I’m still a beginner when it comes to more dynamic balance. My throwing and catching were never great, and have declined enormously due to a lack of practice since I was a boy. My lifting and carrying skills are deficient, due to too many years lifting weights primarily with machines. If you dropped me in water over my head I could avoid drowning for a while, but unless shallow water or rescue were reasonably close, I would be hard pressed to reach it.

There is a great deal I want to learn (and re-learn) this summer, and I have started in small ways.

weir-behind-winfield-villageThis weir crosses a ditch that runs behind Winfield Village. It’s concrete, a good 12 inches wide, but curved on top, making it a pretty good imitation of a log put across a river to serve as a bridge. I’ve been including it as part of my running route, initially with some difficulty (needing to use the concrete blocks as additional stepping stones), but now crossing on just the weir, and beginning to pick up the pace.

I’m being very careful—Jackie would be quite peeved with me if I injured myself right before our Kal-Haven Trail walk—so I’m not doing much with jumps or vaults yet. But my concept of fitness has broadened greatly, and I’m no longer satisfied with merely a strong heart and strong muscles. I want the full range of human movement capabilities.

Sore foot

I’ve had a slightly sore foot for a while now.

It hasn’t been a big deal. It doesn’t hurt when I run. It doesn’t hurt when I walk (except sometimes when I walk really fast). It doesn’t hurt when I stand, or when I’m just sitting.

Mostly it hurts when I use my foot as a brace to turn or twist, such as when I brace the side of my foot against the mattress to turn over in bed. Sometimes it hurts when I’m standing on my other foot, and touch just the toe of the sore one down to catch my balance.

It sometimes hurts for the first few minutes right after I get up in the morning, kind of like plantar fasciitis, but a different part of my foot: the medial edge, just posterior to the ball of the foot.

Even then, it doesn’t hurt much.

However, it has been persistently hurting occasionally, just a little, for a long time now. Months.

I had been doing basic, conservative care. I was wearing supportive shoes, avoiding things that hurt it as best I could, and figuring it would eventually get better. But it hasn’t.

So, a couple days ago, I decided to step it up a notch: I decided to treat it with a placebo. (The effectiveness of placebos is well-established. They’re effective even when people know that the treatment is a placebo.)

My initial plan had been to add in some sort of cream or ointment. I thought of something like Aspercreme, but it doesn’t hurt enough to justify the use of even a mild analgesic, so I thought I’d get something like Bengay or IcyHot: just some sort of counter-irritant that would make it clear that I was “doing something” to treat my foot. Then I saw Walter Jon Williams’s recent post on Tiger Balm, and knew that I’d found the right stuff.

Jackie discovered Tiger Balm several decades ago, during her travels in Asia, and it has long been a staple item in our medicine cabinet, but we’d let ourselves run out in the run-up to our several moves, so we didn’t have any. Fortunately, the closest store to our townhouse is a CVS, and they had two varieties of Tiger Balm in stock. They seemed almost identical (a one-percentage point difference in menthol), but the one they were marketing as their “ultra strength” “sports rub” was $1 cheaper, so we got that one.

I’ve been using it for two days now, and I’m imaging that my foot is feeling better.

Perhaps because I’m finally doing something about my foot, I also remembered something else. For years now I’ve been wearing a pair of slip-on Birkinstocks as slippers. I started wearing them when I first got plantar fasciitis, and found that it was crucial to never go barefoot on our hardwood floors. Along with other supportive footwear, they solved the problem.

Usually I only wore them indoors, but very occasionally I’d wear them outdoors for very short trips—if I was only going as far as the mailbox, for instance. One or two summers ago, I tried to wear them for a walk around the block, and found that they really hurt the joint at the base of my big toe. I couldn’t make it even as far as around the block—I had to turn back and hobble home.

They never hurt my foot when I just wore them around the house, which I continued to do.

But now that I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that maybe they were hurting my foot, just not enough to notice unless I did something out of the ordinary.

Since the plantar fasciitis hasn’t bothered me since I started doing taiji, I decided to retire the slip-on Birkinstocks.

I’m also adding some calf-stretching, as well as some calf and shin strengthening activities.

I suspect some combination of those activities will do the trick. But just in case, I’m also rubbing some Tiger Balm two or three times a day into the side of that foot, from ball back almost to the heel.

I’ll keep you posted.

Oh, and by the way—the main reason I haven’t been posting much here is that I’ve been posting most of my exercise-related stuff on my Esperanto language blog, mostly as a way to improve my grasp of the exercise-related vocabulary (which is surprisingly poorly developed in Esperanto). I have a sense that most of my friends and relations have heard about all they want to about my exercise and fitness. And what better way to make sure almost nobody is bothered by my yammering on about it than to do so in a language almost nobody speaks?

Making a note here: Huge Success

What a wonderful party! (“I’m making a note here: Huge success. It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.”)

elephants
That’s Wellington on the right and Alexander the Grape on the left.

Thanks to all the folks who braved the elephants to attend! (Here’s a picture of a couple of the elephants that people had to brave.)

Jackie and I had never thrown a party together (if you don’t count our wedding reception, which was really thrown by Jackie’s mom on our behalf). Our apartment at Country Fair was too small and too cluttered for us to want to show it off. I did have a similar sort of open house party at my house in Philo when I bought it, before I met Jackie, and it was a pretty good party, but not as good as this one (because I didn’t really know anyone to invite except coworkers).

We had a great turn out. There were a bunch of taiji folks, both from the class that I attend and the class I teach, and there were a bunch of former coworkers, and a bunch of Jackie’s spinning and weaving guild members, as well representatives of the local speculative fiction writing and Esperantist communities. We had a lot of spouses and kids as well, so it was a very interesting group.

Everybody commented on how open and light our new place is, and how well it suits us. (It seems that anybody who’s lived in Champaign-Urbana for more than a few years knows somebody who lived in Winfield Village. I was initially surprised by this, but it’s so universally true, I’ve almost come to expect it.)

There was a great deal of interest in Jackie’s loom (something that you don’t see in just every house) and her spinning wheel and the yarn and woven items displayed all over the house. We don’t have much of our art hung yet, but the few pieces we have up all drew favorable comments.

I didn’t get to talk to anybody as much as I’d have liked, and barely managed to talk at all with a few people. I think future parties will be a bit smaller, so there’s more time to spend with each guest. (Sorry if I neglected you! Send me some email! Let’s do lunch!)

Pre-party preparations were a big deal of course, involving as they did unpacking all our worldly possessions and finding places for everything. Happily, post-party cleanup was almost trivial. (Because we just served snacks and deserts and not a real meal, and because we didn’t invite any undergrads.) We were mostly done cleaning up before the first Superbowl ad.

Now we have way too many deserts left over. Too much wine as well, but the wine will keep until we’re ready.

Bad meditator

I’m a bad meditator. While writing this piece, I was briefly tempted to claim to be the world’s worst meditator, but I’m sure that’s not actually true. At least, it’s not true if you include the people who don’t meditate at all—they’re worse than me. Even among the people who have a regular meditation practice there are certainly people who are worse at it than I am. Well, almost certainly. But probably not very many. I’m really a very bad meditator.

For one thing, I haven’t taken my meditation practice seriously. For a long time, I just went through the motions, not even really trying to meditate. In my taiji class, the teacher included a period for meditation, so I “meditated.”

Even just going through the motions of meditating, I quickly found some physical benefits to standing meditation, but the more subtle benefits—the insights into my mind that meditation is supposed to provide—eluded me. This was not a surprise; I did not expect much benefit from a practice that was as slipshod as my own.

(As an aside, I should mention that there are also physical benefits to sitting meditation. They were not as obvious to me, mostly because of my own foolishness in viewing standing meditation as a successor to sitting meditation, rather than a complementary practice. This kept me from giving my sitting even the rather feeble effort I gave my standing. Even so, I eventually perceived the physical benefits of sitting meditation as well.)

Only after three or four years did I begin to find the other benefits of a meditation practice. In particular, I felt like I began to acquire insights into the mechanisms of attention. (At around that same time, I read an article about Steve Jobs that talked about his meditation practice, saying that, “Sitting zazen offered Jobs a practical technique for upgrading the motherboard in his head.”)

One thing that made a difference for me was attending a free meditation workshop by Mary Wolters, a local yoga instructor. Her guided meditation sessions were excellent—sitting rather than standing, 30 minutes rather than the usually 10 minutes or less that we did in taiji class, and (probably most important) separated from the effort of (both learning and doing) taiji—I found that I actually was meditating.

Having begun to perceive the benefits of meditation, I find myself wanting to do it more, but have not yet found a way to add it to my daily routine, except as part of my taiji practice, which is good, but not enough. (And I hesitate to spend more class time on meditation, on the theory that the class should take advantage of there being a taiji instructor present to focus on the movements, whereas we could all meditate successfully on our own.)

Still, even if I haven’t added time to my meditation practice beyond what I do in taiji, I have at least added meditation to my meditation practice. It’s a start.

The luxury of inattention

I read a lot about fitness.

Non-fiction about fitness can be motivating. I find it especially useful to read when I shouldn’t workout due to injury. It lets me maintain momentum through a period when I’d otherwise be idle. I also find fiction about getting in shape to be motivating. (Either one is generally a lot more motivating than most of what passes for fitness motivation. I’d meant to link that to the motivation stream in the “Fitness” community I follow in Google Plus, but decided against it. Too much of the so-called motivation is either demotivating or outright offensive.)

There’s an issue with this source of motivation: both fiction and non-fiction come with a worldview—a model of what fitness is, what it’s for, what behaviors lead to it.

This is noticeable in non-fiction, particularly when the model is weird as to its goals or methods. But it’s especially noticeable in fiction, because then it gets bound up with the goals of the fictional characters. For example, the hero in Greg Rucka’s Critical Space (I’ve mentioned the fitness montage in the middle of that book before, as a good example of the sort of thing I find motivating) is getting in shape to be ready to defend against an assassin.

As long as I’m choosing reasonable behaviors that lead to fitness in a model of my choice, I figure the fact that there’s an action hero doing some of the same stuff is harmless.

Sometimes the fictional character’s worldview resonates with me. For example, one thing Rucka’s hero describes is that learning how to carry himself—learning how to be balanced, centered—teaches him how to see that in other people. My taiji practice has begun to produce the same result in me. I notice when people do or don’t have a good vertical structure, something that I never would have thought to notice before.

Other times the fictional character’s worldview holds nuggets that are genuinely worth picking up. It’s common, for example, for a hero to get better at paying attention to what’s going on—to be more vigilant and watchful. Clearly a useful perspective if you’re living in a thriller or an action-adventure, but probably even if you’re not. Paying attention to what’s going on around you is just good advice. Even if you’re not being targeted by an assassin, being inattentive makes you more vulnerable to everything from muggings to being hit by a car.

Which brings me to the title of this post. As someone who does not live in a thriller or action-adventure, I have the luxury of not paying attention.

As one specific example, when I play Ingress, I pay very close attention indeed—but the focus of my attention is on the fictional augmented reality of the game. Despite its grounding in the actual built environment of public sculpture, the game really distracts me from paying attention to the people who are nearby. I do make a point of being very careful about cars—I don’t cross roads or driveways with my head down at my phone—but I’m much less attentive to people nearby.

While I’m playing Ingress, an assassin would have no trouble getting to within arm’s reach completely unnoticed.

The other augmented reality game I play, Zombies Run!, isn’t as bad, because it doesn’t occupy my eyes. Even so, its fictional world colors my perspective of the real world.

I’m not alone in this. Mur Lafferty describes the immersive power of the game this way:

I was running to avoid a zombie chase . . . and I passed another runner going the opposite way. I nearly yelled that she was running right toward the zombies and she should turn and race away like me. But since I don’t want to be labeled the neighborhood crazy lady, I didn’t do this. I also feel a need, when I pass someone walking, to tell them that they should pick up the pace because of what is behind me . . .

An immersive game is fun. It is a great luxury to feel safe wandering about in public with my attention on a fictional world rather than the real one. I probably indulge myself a bit too much.

In this case, it would probably be wiser to take the advice of my action heroes, and pay attention.

Squats, dumbbells, and the Winfield Village fitness room

Winfield Village has a little fitness room. From our townhouse it’s very handy—right across the parking lot.

It has an odd selection of equipment. There are perhaps 8 pieces of aerobic equipment—more than half treadmills, but also an elliptical machine and a couple of cycle-type machines. There are a pair of leg machines—leg extension and leg curl. There’s a fancy configurable machine with a pair of weight stacks hooked up to a pair of pulleys with interchangeable handles that can be set at any desired height, so you can adjust it for various kinds of rows, presses, swings, etc. And there’s a huge selection of dumbbells.

After two decades of doing my lifting with machines, I’d already been gradually switching away, so this new facility is nicely in line with what I was already headed towards.

My inclination to change away from machines started when I wanted to start doing squats (instead of doing the leg press machine). Maybe it would be more accurate to say it started when I wanted to be able to squat.

Being able to squat had always seemed like one of those basic capabilities a person ought to have (like being able to stand or walk), but like most westerners—like most people who own chairs—I lacked both the strength and the flexibility to squat properly. When I had to squat down—to look at something on a bottom shelf, let’s say—I could do it, but my heels would come up off the floor and I’d end up squatting with my knees way forward and my weight up on the balls of my feet. (Don’t do this—it’s dangerous for your knees.)

Primarily because of my taiji practice, I’d gained both a lot of control over my body and a lot of insight into how it ought to move, and some months back it occurred to me that I was probably at a point where I could do a proper squat.

I did some preliminary practice squatting, and found that doing it correctly wasn’t hard. (Keeping your heels down on the ground is only possible if you bend at the hips, stick your butt back, and lean your upper body forward. If you keep your head up, the result is a squat that looks just like the pictures of proper squat form.)

I experimented with squatting in the Smith machine at the Fitness Center, and did some squatting with a bar over my shoulders, but ended up deciding that bodyweight squats did the job just fine.

So I’m not really missing the bar or the squat frame. I can imagine wanting to add weight to my squats, but so far I’m happy just adding reps. When that’s not enough, I can add weight with dumbbells.

Since I have all those dumbbells at my disposal, I thought I’d look for some workouts that made use of them, and found an excellent dumbbell workout page over at Art of Manliness.

I’ve started doing something closely modeled on that page’s upper-body workout, with the addition of some qigong exercises from my taiji practice, and some exercises intended to help me work up to being able to do pullups.

I’d not had much success with the assisted pullup machine at the Fitness Center, so I was ready to do something different even if we hadn’t let our membership expire when we decided to move here. The replacement that I’m experimenting with at the moment is negative pullups: I use a bench to climb up to the top of pullup position, then lower myself down to hanging.

As I was writing this post I read a bit about working up to pullups. It looks like before I go all-out with the negatives, I should practice my dead hangs.

I’ll come up with a lower-body workout shortly. It’ll include squats.

With the fitness room right across the parking lot, I’m hoping to get a lot more regular with my lifting. If I succeed, I expect I’ll be posting about it here. If not, I suppose I’ll quietly start posting about something else.