Pounding It Out and Burrowing Through

Today was potent. I burrowed through.

I was tired most of the day. Because I got up earlier than usual. Much earlier.

In school, the mad push toward the end of the semester has begun.

Assignments are coming due. I need to focus and pound out project work. I did so today.

The projects are fun and educational. But they still consume considerable mental bandwidth.

I ate a vegan breakfast of porridge, with the usual fruity and nutty add-ons.

Shortly after Deborah left for work, I went to the gym. I spent an hour on the stationary bike, at a light-moderate intensity. I read about the neurobiology of trauma. I eat that stuff up. So interesting.

I spent the afternoon at a coffee shoppe, drinking coffee to stay awake and reading about models of group therapy: cognitive and rational emotive behavioral therapy, solution focused brief therapy, narrative therapy, and even feminist group therapy. It all made sense. I took good notes.

I went to class in the evening. I ate dinner during the break. It was vegan chili with lime over brown rice. I made it yesterday.

When I got home from class, I chillaxed with my beautiful wife for a short while. Then I went to my study area and finished the chapter on the neurobiology of trauma. I didn't finish it at the gym.

I wrote this post. Now I'll head off to sleep.

KEYWORDS: vegan diet, best weight loss diet, punk rock, lifestyle coaching, group therapy, trauma informed care


Bliss Hard

I live in Madison WI. One year ago today, it was 80 Fahrenheit degrees, sunny, and a little bit windy. I know this because I got married to my beautiful soulmate Deborah on April 15 of last year (Happy One Year Anniversary to us!).

Here is a picture from a window of our house today...

It's currently 30 Fahrenheit degrees and we are under a so-called Winter Weather Advisory. In short, it's a snow storm! This is the nature of weather variability in Wisconsin from year to year. 50 degrees different!

Deborah and I had signed up for a day long meditation retreat downtown today, but it was canceled yesterday due to a forecast of predicted travel treachery today. So we have a "snow day." I guess we'll probably laze about and watch some TV.

But we shall see what the day holds in store. In honor of the kiboshed meditation retreat, I am going to focus on being mindfully present and in the moment today. So right now I am going to wrap up this post and go eat a hearty vegan bowl of oatmeal porridge with pecans, blueberries, grapes, apple, maple syrup, flaxseed meal, and unsweetened almond milk.


A Thorough Caloric Burn

Last night, Deborah and I went to see one of my favorite local rock-n-roll bands, SUNSPOT. This is one of the rare live bands I am compelled to get out on the dance floor for (the others being, in rough order of compulsion from highest to lowest, COWBOY MOUTH* and ELECTRIC SIX), and last night was no exception. Even though we were not at the show for the whole performance, the band fortuitously managed to put several of their most flailable** songs in the first set, resulting in a substantial cardiovascular and lower body workout for me. On top of that, I had gone to the gym for 45 minutes of stationary bike cycling just prior to attending this show, so my body was primed for a thorough caloric burn, and it got one.

I am 50 years old, a fairly recent development. It has been a long time - probably several months - since I flailed at a SUNSPOT show, much less as vigorously as I flailed last night. In that time window, I adopted a vegan diet and increased my gym attendance (both activities were part of graduate school class projects, but the health benefits were obvious and immediate, so I stuck with them). When I got out onto the flo' (as they say in the vernacular) last night, it was immediately apparent that I have indeed substantially reversed the aging process of my body through good health and wellness practices. In my admittedly subjective assessment, I have never EVER flailed more energetically at a SUNSPOT show than I did last night, even way back when I first started to go see this band something like 15 years ago (damn...that long?), when I was mid-30s-ish. My body responded to my brain's flail commands fluidly and instantaneously last night, as if I were not 50, but more like a 25-year old. And not like a sluggish American 25-year old either, mind you, but more like the generally fitter and healthier European or Australian 25-year olds. I was as incredulous about this as were the 30-somethings*** bopping around me with age-appropriate zeal at the show.

I can't lie to you. I'm sore this morning, especially in my legs, from all the high energy jumping around to the music I did last night. But it's not age-related soreness. It's "Damn, I haven't used those muscles in a while" soreness. It's like the soreness you get after your first 3-mile jog outside in the spring after not running for a few months over the winter. You know the feeling...or maybe you don't. It's caused by lactic acid produced anaerobically by muscles pushed to the upper limits of their tolerance specifications. The main thing I noticed while I was out on the dance floor last night was the ease with which I was able to repeatedly propel myself into the air (also known as "repetitive levitation," a phrase coined by the time-traveling fun rock band, HIATVS). I attribute this to two things:

1. My regular lower body (cycling, primarily) workouts at the gym have substantially strengthened my leg muscles and cardiovascular system (with the side effect of giving me ridiculously well-defined calf muscles...my sexiest physical feature, in my opinion), allowing for sustained flail stamina.

2. I have had significant weight loss, due in large part to the aforementioned exercise, as well as the adoption of veganism (one of the best weight loss diets**** I have ever tried). As such, I have considerably less total body mass (on the order of 40 pounds less) to hurl into the air under the power of the magnificently sexy pistons that are my calf muscles.

I've lost so much weight so fast in the past year that I seriously considered the possibility I had a tapeworm or some type of rare cancer. I kid, but only "on the square." Before adopting a vegan diet, I had been exercising regularly, but I was never able to get my body weight down to under 210 pounds, a goal I had set for myself. After becoming vegan though, my weight quickly plunged below that ever elusive bathroom scale metric, and now I actually have to really try to get my weight above 210 pounds. I am not kidding...yesterday I had two big slabs of vegan lasagna for dinner, along with a rich salad containing caloric nuts and avocado, and I drank some overpriced beer at the rock show too. I fully expected that kind of gluttonous hedonism would push me over 210 pounds, but when I got up this morning, I weighed in at 208 pounds - the same weight I have been hovering at for most of the past few weeks. I attribute the sustained weight control to both regular exercise and the well-documented health and wellness benefits of a 100% plant-based diet. The vegan diet has three attributes that I...well, attribute...to its health and wellness benefits, including healthy weight management:

1. It's been scientifically documented to be a thermogenic diet [SOURCE]. Your body "runs hotter" on a plant-based diet, which means your basal metabolic rate is set higher, so you burn more calories just by being alive, never mind exercising.

2. It's a nutrient dense but lower calorie diet than an animal-based diet. Your body can get ample nutrition from a vegan diet with a lower net intake of calories. In addition, the high fiber content of the diet slows the absorption of food in the gut, which effectively lowers the average glycemic index of the diet. High glycemic index diets stimulate the pancreas's production of insulin, the hormone that tells the body to store energy as fat. The vegan diet does less of this. Also, the body has to do more work just to digest the whole food matrix of many plant-based foods (recall that your body burns more calories digesting a piece of celery than the calories contained in that piece of celery).

3. It's a high fiber diet. My wife insists that I not blog about the colon-blowing attributes of a plant-based diet. So, dear reader, I will have to let you contemplate that one for yourself. Suffice to say, Metamucil is not needed on this diet.

According the modern medicine and mainstream media, American 50-year olds
*****  simply do not lose 40 pounds and improve their ability to dance (flail) the night away by a power of magnitude. Indeed, it is a conventional stereotype of pop culture that Americans in middle age get inevitably and irreversibly fatter and slower over time. Alternative outcomes simply are not allowed according to the scientific wisdom of the American medical model. This is in part by design, a consequence of capitalism and reductionist empiricism. To wit, the industrial food industry in the United States survives economically only by the grace of government subsidies and dietary policy-making that encourages consumption of caloric, processed (aka, "value-added"), and animal-based foods [SOURCE]. The production of animal-based foods requires about ten times the investment of natural resources compared with plant-based food production, due simply to the biology of food chain ecosystems. When people get sick from eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), as they inevitably do, they are rarely encouraged to change their lifestyle habits. Instead, they are sent to doctors and hospitals that are largely guided by a reductionist, medical model that treats all diseases with drugs or surgery. Rare is the physician who treats a chronically diseased patient with a health-improving, age-reversing lifestyle intervention like a plant-based diet. But there are some health practitioners who use lifestyle interventions as an adjunct to standard medical treatment.

By American food industry policy standards, I should be pre-diabetic, hypertensive, and erectile dysfunctional at my age. That's the sad health profile of my demographic. But damned if I haven't non-conformed with the conventions of the medical model of health and corporate mainstream media stereotypes in full punk rock fashion!

*Note: Cowboy Mouth, in fact, has a mandatory requirement that show attendees vigorously engage with the dance floor, and their frontman/drummer will verbally taunt and ridicule anyone who is non-compliant. I have to respect their strong enforcement of this stance, even if I pity first-time Cowboy Mouth show attendees who are unprepared for the onslaught of over-stimulation.

**Note: I use the term "dance" very loosely. What I do on the dance floor is more akin to flailing, but the phrase "flail floor" is not a part of the popular lexicon due to the difficulty with which it falls off the tongue.

***Note: SUNSPOT has been rocking and rolling for over 15 years, I think. So, the people who were in their early 20s when they became fans of the embryonic band way back when are now approaching their mid- to late-30s. Just an observation of fact, not a judgment.

****Note: I dislike the word diet here, because it implies a transient behavior with a before and after time boundary, as in: "I'm on a two week juice diet." Veganism is a more permanent lifestyle behavior than a "lose weight fast" fad diet. It does not require any portion control or caloric restriction, only that no animal-based foods be eaten, including eggs and dairy (and even, technically, honey).

*****Note: I grant you that I am 1/2 Australian by birth, but I am still demographically Anglo-European by heredity.


Addiction Remission and Substitution

When people with alcohol addiction stop drinking, they often start consuming larger quantities of other things, like sugar, caffeine, or nicotine to fill the void left by the absence of booze [SOURCE].

I recently quit using Facebook, my primary "addictive drug" of social media. I quit cold turkey and, notwithstanding some mild withdrawal symptoms of irrational anxiety about "missing something/someone important," it's been more positive than negative. Principally, I've noticed a massive increase in the productive time available to me and also a release of significant mental bandwidth to devote to more useful pursuits than simply being a "product" bought, sold, and manipulated by online advertisers (the actual "customers" of the giant social media platforms). I've been playing more music and writing prolifically to fill the void, and it's been awesome.

I had considered quitting Twitter as well as Facebook, but upon reflection, I decided that since I almost never use Twitter, except passively to auto-share blog post links, I could leave that alone. I did decrease my Twitter presence from three separate accounts (two for music and one for health and wellness coaching) to one aggregate account for all three (SEE IT HERE). I assumed that my Twitter use and engagement would remain essentially nil. But an interesting thing happened. Without Facebook to provide the pleasure centers in my brain with microdoses of norepinephrine and dopamine, I found myself turning to Twitter more frequently than in the past. Much like the person who quits drinking alcohol and increases coffee consumption, I had subliminally begun to substitute Twitter for Facebook.

Obviously, I had good insight on this phenomenon when it occurred, thanks to my ongoing clinical training in marriage and family therapy, and took remedial steps to prevent one vice substituting for another. I still have not deleted my one remaining Twitter account and probably won't, unless I find it starting to negatively impact my social and occupational functioning. One could argue that the fact that I have devoted an entire blog post to the topic of my social media addiction is solid evidence that I am still in the withdrawal phase, and that argument would have solid circumstantial evidence to back it up. However, a decent case could be made that I am simply exercising my creative writing abilities here, since I am not currently engaging in the active social media use that would normally suck this time period into its gaping black whole maw from which no creativity can ever escape.* Instead, I am rather furiously writing on the first topic that came to mind when I sat down for my usual hour or so of creative journaling today. Analogously, the person abstaining from alcohol may, for quite a long time, still think about booze and getting drunk. This is a symptom of withdrawal, but as far as the DSM-5 diagnosis of Alcohol Use Disorder is concerned, it is not necessary nor sufficient to diagnose the disorder (two or more diagnostic symptoms are required, one of them involving actual use or symptoms of dependency), and the subject is considered to be "in remission" as long as they are not actively using alcohol, nor suffering the negative effects of withdrawal (dependency) [SOURCE]. I am not arguing against the fair case that I am in remission from Facebook use. I am. And indeed, I am well aware of the risk of relapse.**

Interestingly, journaling is a therapeutic intervention used in the professional treatment of people with a variety of mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress and alcohol or drug abuse. As such, writing this post is a form of catharsis and treatment during my recovery from social media addiction.*** It acts as a medium to "externalize" thoughts and feelings relating to the problem so that they can be made explicit and tackled cooperatively by the client and the therapist (both of whom are personified in a single individual, in this case...ME!). Another intervention for addiction disorders is mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or exercise. And, in fact, meditation is what I am going to go do right now, before starting an afternoon of DEEP WORK on school stuff. Ciao!

*Note: Indeed, you are probably accessing this post by way of a social media platform, so in that sense I am passively engaging social media.

**Note: There are degrees of abstinence from social media, just as there are for chemical substances. Some people recovering from alcohol addiction and dependence can enter a tavern and resist the urge to drink with varying degrees of discomfort. Others must avoid bars and social situations with a pro-drinking demographic. Likewise, a social media addict can will themselves not to use social media while still maintaining an "active" social media account. I tried that for a while, but relapsed often. So, I finally had to "delete" my account. This is not as simple as it sounds. To do so, one must first "deactivate" the social media account. Once deactivated, the account remains in existence, albeit "offline," for 30 days before being "permanently" deleted. And any login to the account, purposeful or accidental, within that 30 days reactivates the account back to fully functional and online. That 30 day window is the "danger zone" for the recovering social mediaholic, during which the subject approaches all electronic devices with the "white knuckled" fear and anxiety of an addict (an exaggeration...but not a large one).

***Note: The DSM-5 does not currently recognize social media addiction as an official mental health disorder, but it soon may...and should! If a use addiction is globally diagnosed by its negative impact on social or occupational functioning, social media addiction would definitely qualify. Naysayers would argue that the fact that it is "social" media automatically implies an improvement in social interaction, but any survivor of social media bullying would probably discourage such a claim. Indeed, addictive gambling is a recognized DSM-5 disorder, but you would not argue (I hope) that gambling improves social functioning simply because it happens in a public space in the presence of other like-minded gamblers. A visit to any casino would quickly illustrate the social isolation experienced by gamblers, and in fact, the monofanatical scrolling through social media news by users has been equated to the repetitive pulling of slot machine levers by gamblers...surely, your next cat meme or baby picture is going to garner a ton of dopamine spiking likes and comments [SOURCE 1, SOURCE 2].


One Month Warning Bell

One month from tonight, I am performing a rare solo acoustic music show as CACTUS JOE, my punk rock singer/songwriter alter ego. It should be an interesting performance for a peculiar reason...

I am about halfway through my clinical marriage and family therapy graduate program, and I'll start my internship in late May. As part of our training in this program, my cohort of fellow grad students has run a number of different role play scenarios, where we practice our therapeutic skills on each other in various pretend situations as both therapist and client. It's a great way to practice the theories, models, and techniques we are textbook learning in our MFT classes. This has had the indirect side effect of training me to transition more smoothly between perceived roles in my personal life, like my musical personas. As such, I feel like I am more readily able to completely dissociate from my everyday persona as a slightly above average Joe and become, whilst on stage, the lovable punk rock singer/songwriter that is CACTUS JOE.* That's not to say I am not a lovable average Joe too, but the identities are situationally specific. On stage, I am a narrowly defined performer persona who gets on stage and entertains. The hours of rehearsal, travel, and the business of music are not a part of CACTUS JOE's persona. As far as the audience is concerned, CACTUS JOE simply stepped out of a transdimensional wormhole fully prepped and ready to rock, thanks to all the behind-the-scenes hard work of his personal assistant (me).

I suppose when musicians become famous enough to have the business side of music handled by someone else, that's when the trouble starts...because then they have to be the rock star both on stage and off, and the off stage side of the persona is underdeveloped and susceptible to societally imposed templates. I don't expect to ever get that famous as a musician and I am not sure I want to. But if I do, I want to make sure my off stage rock star persona is well developed enough to stand alone, immune to social influence (the very nature of "punk rock" is unconventional non-conformity, as I see it). I think my clinical MFT training has given me the skills to "fake it till you make it," if that makes any kind of sense at all.

Anyway, that was a wordy way of getting to the main point of this post, and if you are still reading this, bless your heart! To wit, on Saturday May 12, I will literally and figuratively don my punk rocker hat and head over to the Common Ground coffee shoppe in Middleton WI to pound out 30 minutes or so of fun, catchy tunes, starting about 8:30 PM. This will be followed at 9 PM by a set of tunes performed by the acoustic duo incarnation of my band, GUPPY EFFECT, with me on bass and guitarist Stefan on guitar.

*Note: There is a fine line between alter egos and multiple personalities, and the similarities are many. The main difference is pathology...that is, if the switching between personalities happens in an unhealthy way that disrupts individual, social, or occupational functioning, it may be a mental disorder. However, if you are a professional actor or musician, totally healthy. This is a gross simplification of course...

KEYWORDS: lifestyle coaching, punk rock, rock-n-roll, alter egos, mental health disorders


I'm Off the Face

My indefinite hiatus from Facebook, which is essentially a hiatus from social media (since that's the only SM platform I really use), started today, just after midnight when I got home from the Sunday open jam at Funks Pub.

When I got home from four hours of Agrace Hospice volunteer training this morning, I spent two hours practicing solo acoustic songs for my Cactus Joe solo set, which I'll be performing at a show on Saturday May 12 at the Common Ground coffee shoppe here in Middleton WI.

Would I have missed this valuable rehearsal time window today if I had been dicking around on Facebook? I don't know, but I suspect it would have at least been significantly truncated. Social media is, by design, addictive. Don't take my word for it...just watch the 60 Minutes segment on it from a few months ago. I am not going to post a link to it for you here...that would be too easy. Go do a Google search! I have a duty to encourage critical thinking in you lot, which means getting you to use the Giant Internet Brain you have right at your fingertips from time to time.

A part of me feels anxiety, also by design, that perhaps I'll miss something important on Facebook whilst I am off it. This is an irrational fear akin to the fear of getting fat that smokers have when they want to quit. In all the years I have used Facebook, NOTHING important has ever happened there. Ever. And that includes my own posts, promoting, say, my band GUPPY EFFECT's shows. I don't think social media has contributed in any way to additional headcount at the music venues and house concerts we play at. Direct communication works way better and is much more engaging.

Anyway, I'm still doing stuff. I am just not utilizing Facebook as a tool anymore when I do it. Other than the time lost to dicking around on social media, nothing much has really changed. Still, I will document any subjective positive or negative feelings or thoughts directly related to this indefinite hiatus over the next few days. Right now, I am going to meditate...and quite probably power nap...for a spell before I have to go to my evening class. I definitely have extra time on my hands today, which is nice, whether it is due to less social media use or not.


Just "B" Yourself

I would love it if everyone could just "B" themselves.

Do you see what I did there?

It's a pun.

KEYWORDS: lifestyle coaching, punk rock, best weight loss diet, vegan diet, vitamin b12


Milestone Crushed

Another milestone has been crushed in my ongoing mission to become a marriage and family therapist. I landed an internship at a great site for my clinical practicum during my second year of grad school. I can't disclose too many details right now, but I am super pumped and I hope you are too, vicariously through me.

Deborah and I spent an hour at the gym this morning. I burned about 800+ calories on the stationary exercise bike whilst learning Spanish with the Duolingo app on my tablet. The gym was overrun with undesirable people (aka, people). I'm not sure why it was so crowded. It's April, so the resoluteness of the New Year's Resolutionaries (NYRs - described in a prior post) should have long since decreased back to baseline - meaning they should have been at home sprawled on couches eating Doritos. Conversely, we discovered that the gym had just installed a battery of new spinning bikes, in no small part thanks to the monetary influx from said NYRs at the beginning of the year. But that cannot have explained all of the commotion at the club. Odd.

This afternoon, Deborah and I are going to see the movie, "A Quiet Place," which was written by a couple buddies of a filmmaker friend of mine. We had the option to go to the Wisconsin Film Fest, but that tends to be a bit of a cluster and often involves waiting on lines, which does not jibe well with our general intolerance of lines.


Send Zombies, Eggs, and Bunnies (Short Fiction)

The hippie guy looked confused. Or maybe bemused is a better word. He had just come into the coffee shop where I work. He stood inside the door and looked slowly around. He took a deep breath through his nose and smiled ever so slightly. Since he was obstructing the entrance a little bit, after a couple minutes, I decided to approach him.

"Hi. Can I help you with something?" I asked.

"What is this place?" he replied with a question. "It smells...fantastic."

I wasn't sure what he meant at first. "It's Cuppa Joe's," I said. "A coffee shoppe."

"Coffee..." the hippie guy said, neither question nor command. More like acceptance.

"Would you like one?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "The smell is enough."

"I'm Chet," I said, extending my hand.

He stared at it for a moment before seeming to understand. He reached out and took my hand in his. As he did so, a kind of inexplicable warm happiness enveloped me and I had a brief moment of infinite understanding. But it passed quickly.

"Jesus," he said. At first I thought he was simply commisserating, but then I realized he was telling me his name.

"The Jesus?" I inquired. But I felt like I already knew the answer before he nodded the affirmative.

"Well...welcome back?" I said. "Why don't you take a seat and just let one of us know if you need anything." I extended my arm toward an empty table by the window. Jesus nodded and shuffled over to sit down.

I returned to my barista station behind the counter and shuffled through the notes the owner had left for us were we to encounter a situation such as this. I finally found the crumpled sheet of paper on which she had written a phone number and a short note: "In case of Second Coming, call this number...tell them to send zombies, eggs, and bunnies."