I’m Buying a Banjo

Is this post related to running?

No. But it does fit with last year’s Super Awesome Year of Me theme of general betterment.

I know, that’s not why you’re here. Actually, I’m not sure why anyone’s here…

And why am I posting this instead of just doing it?

So I’ll actually do it. I’ve talked about wanting to get a banjo almost as long as I’ve had my guitar (17 years now). I had aspirations of learning bass and banjo, and then I just never put in enough time on my guitar to justify moving on to new instruments.

But, I think I’m ready to make the jump, so I’m telling the world I’m going to annoy my neighbors in the coming year. This helps ensure I actually do it.

How did I get here?

Mostly it’s been a general dissatisfaction with where I’m at playing guitar and wanting to improve. I don’t progress quickly as a guitar player, mostly because I won’t put in the requisite time to achieve a new level of awesomeness but also partly because I’m self-taught and don’t know some fundamentals (music theory and reading sheet music, for starters).

I’ve been looking to stretch more. Last year, I upgraded to a new acoustic guitar. This year I got some long-overdue work done on my electric guitar. Both of these were done so I would enjoy playing. I’m not better than my first guitar, but my first guitar just has some issues that can’t really be fixed (at least not to justify the cost) that just made playing less fun. And I had neglected my electric in the process of living in dorms and apartments for more than a decade so it got its own set of issues.

So repairs and replacements in hand, I’ve been playing, and it’s a lot more fun to play when the sour notes that happen are your fault and not the inanimate objects.

But that’ s not quite all. I’ve got some of the green-eyed monster in me. I’ve been watching the subculture of YouTube guitar videos. I pay attention to the guitar subreddit, which funnels back to the YouTube culture. I don’t necessarily want to play the same music as these folks (and they are disproportionately metal heads, even though they also know more styles of playing), but even if I’m just going to be entertaining the pictures on the wall, it’s nice to get better.

A brief smattering of these folks for your entertainment:

Steve Terreberry (who might be insane or a genius):

The Music is Win channel:

And Jared Dines to end it:

Ok, you keep mentioning guitars… So why the banjo?

That’s a fantastic question. Really, why wouldn’t I just keep practicing with the equipment I have? I will, but I’m looking for something similar but new. A bass feels too similar to guitar (and really, I play guitar to impress the ladies [winks suggestively] and no one asks you to play bass at a party. No one asks you to play banjo either, but if you start, everyone will hear you whether they like to or not).

The banjo is close enough to use similar skills but different enough that it will force me into some new habits (hopefully).

The real area I’m looking to grow is in finger picking. It’s an area I’ve been wanting to improve on as a guitar player, and I’m hoping that being forced to play that style on one instrument will make me slightly more adept with the other.

There’s no guarantee this will work, but I know I can pick one up for a couple hundred bucks, which isn’t nothing, but I think the potential benefit outweighs the cost (and I spent WAY more in running-related costs in the Super Awesome Year of the 5K). And it’s not like it’s food that’ll spoil in a week or two. I’ll always have the banjo (which will make moving that much more interesting as I lug another stringed instrument around between homes; toting around two guitars last time convinced some people outside Little Rock I was a musician, and I did nothing to discourage that. I may have signed a couple of autographs under an assumed name).

But that’s all for now. The real point of the post was to tell people I was making a decision. You’ve been told. Look/listen out for some twang in the new year.

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Impermanence

Note: This isn’t about running at first glance, but we’ll get there. Eventually.

On the other blog I keep (and the one I’m better about posting on regularly), I recently finished a book that, in part, talked about meditation. One of the concepts covered was impermanence: the idea that nothing lasts and everything changes.

I might be muddling it a bit. I’m not Buddhist. But you get the point.

This was one of those ideas that latched onto the back of my brain and just sat there. Why? Because it was something I implicitly agreed with.

I’ve had this happen before. I loved reading Good to Great and The No Asshole Rule in large part because they were explaining ideas I already believed (who knew people liked to hear things they already agreed with?).

And so it was with the concept of impermanence.

The idea is to live in the now and appreciate it because you know it’s leaving just as soon as it showed up. Where this really comes in for me is trying not to idolize the past.

When I did the Super Awesome Year of Me, there was the Draw Something month. I had a nice little collection of drawings. They weren’t nice drawings, but it was a nice collection. I really appreciated having them, so I gathered up my favorites and mailed them to some friends.

Impermanence.

I did this because I didn’t want to bask in the finished work. The point of doing the work was doing the work. The final drawing was just a byproduct of the process. I was drawing for my own benefit. The final picture was never the point.

Pretty sure I called it disposability of ideas. In part I stole it from this comic by The Oatmeal. By recognizing the impermanence of the art (that sounds so freakin’ pretentious) and the way it made me feel, I would be better able to produce something I liked in the future.

The other area this philosophy shows up is that I don’t have heroes. I’d say it’s like never meet your heroes, but kill your heroes (not literally) might be the better explanation.

I don’t like to idolize people. People are just people. There are aspects about people that wow me, but there’s never been a person I just thought of as the ideal human being that I wanted to emulate. I try to recognize that one piece of awesomeness is usually accompanied by something less than awesome.

This can seem a bit pessimistic at first glance, but it was an important part of being an adult for me. I needed to be able to look around the room and be able to assert who I am without giving ground. In my job, I’m the youngest by more than 5 years as best I can tell. I have to be willing and able to get in arguments with people who get AARP mailings. I can’t afford to idolize the people around the table. They might have good ideas, but I also might have good ideas.

This comes back to impermanence.

I don’t idolize anyone, but I try to listen to everyone, even people I actively dislike. It isn’t easy, but I want to make sure I consider every idea as I hear it. If it’s something that pisses me off in the moment, I try to avoid reacting and let myself digest it for a while.

Nothing exists in a constant state. No one is perfect all of the time. And no one is wrong all of the time. I mostly try to deal with people in the moment without carrying baggage with me. In one moment you might be helping me out. The next you might be hurting me. One isn’t necessarily connected to the other.

So where does this all lead? It leads to living in the moment, enjoying it, and understanding the moment’s going to pass.

This is a fitness blog, so I could post about having to avoid past baggage, including the good (the days I could touch a basketball rim despite being under 6 feet tall) and the bad (the various injuries that have derailed progress over the year). But that’s not 100% what this is about for me. It’s about enjoying the moment. To a certain extent, the baggage doesn’t even exist in this conversation. The moment does.

So what is the moment? It’s running.

I got a new phone earlier this year, and I was deliberate about getting one that was the same size as my last one so I could keep using my arm band. Except the shape was just different enough to make it impossible to continue using the armband. And I’ve dropped the phone a bunch since buying it during my non-running time, so I don’t know how long it’s going to last. I don’t want to buy an armband only to need a new phone a few months later.

So I’m running without my phone. I’m running without music. I’m running without Sam guiding me through a field plagued with zombies.

Instead, I’m shuffling around campus taking in the sights and the sounds. I’m feeling my breath. I’m hearing my steps. I’m more present.

The moment was always going to pass, but at least when I disconnected from technology a bit, I could at least appreciate the moment while it was there.

Impermanence.

Q’s Documentary

I got inspired today to do a documentary. Fantastic.

Then I realized I didn’t know what story I wanted to tell. Not fantastic.

But then I thought about this blog and how the basic idea is to get my lazy ass off the couch. Ok, could be fantastic.

At this point, I had to start operationalizing things. What would this actually consist of?

The Cast:

This is the first thing to tell. If you want to tell a story, you need to know whose story you’re telling. My goal would be to tell the story of real-ass adults trying to not fall into the obesity cliff. I’ve got friends running marathons, doing Spartan races, and lifting ’til they’re swole, all while maintaining actual jobs with actual lives.

I want to tell the story of real people. You can see the effects staying vaguely in shape has on people, and you can feel their emotions when they achieve their goals. Some people are chasing a 2-hour marathon. Some people are just trying to cross the finish line.

So what do the regular people have in common each other and what makes each of their story’s unique?

The Questions:

There will be more to it than this, but it comes down to what do you do and why. Everything after that is just showing off.

Part of the story is always documenting, so you ask the question, but you also have to show it. You show the people trudging through a weekend 20-miler. You show people getting up before the sun to put as many plates on their deadlift as they can get away with. You show people bending their way into a pretzel for no apparent reason.

As for why, you have to find the emotions. Find the little moments in the workout. Find the little moments in the interview. Wait for composure to break. Wait for a natural moment.

The Sell:

I feel like PBS wants to air this.

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Or maybe not. I mean, YouTube’s still an option.

But that’s all there is for today. If you hear from me, it’s because you’re a real-ass adult getting your fitness on. Or I punched the wrong number, in which case, we’ll both just pretend you’re a real-ass adult getting your fitness on.

I’m out.

Running Reboot: Revenge of the Knee

In the next 12 months, I will either be almost done with the Super Awesome Year of the 5K 2.0 or I’ll have a gnarly scar on my knee.

villain-spotlight-series-scar-from-the-lion-king-accent

Not that kind of scar.

This decision came about for a few reasons. 1) My weight is creeping up. Me not being able to run isn’t helping. That’s my best cardio option. 2) I’m back to doing almost everything I was before the knee blew up on me. 3) The ortho person I saw here was hesitant to cut off part of my knee cap given what the issue is. He actually listed big scar as one of the down sides like I gave two craps about that.

But if he’s hesitant to cut me open, then I might as well be too (even though I’ve basically been delaying surgery since March).

So we’re rebooting the Super Awesome Year of the 5K.

Some ground rules before we get rolling:

  1. Same as before, one a month. It’s not about doing 12 5Ks. It’s about staying consistent with running.
  2. Keep up the physical therapy-oriented activities of lifting and yoga. Part of the reason for the weight creep was the lifting and the ensuing spike in appetite, but I need to keep my legs strong.
  3. Cap my runs at 4 miles. 10Ks seem to be beyond the limit of my knee, and that’s ok, but if I can cover 3-4 miles on a regular basis, I can live with that.

That last one is a bit of a bummer considering this was supposed to be the Super Awesome Year of the 10K, but maybe my knee isn’t built for 10Ks. I was looking forward to seeing what I could do; my knee was not.

But this is all ok if I can regain my level of activity. So the journey started this week. I got my running shoes on for the first time in Oklahoma and got ready for a run/walk rotation to easy myself back into things.

Some notes:

  • They use Woodway treadmills where I’m at, and I’ve missed these bad boys. Treadmills are evil. Woodway treadmills are slightly less evil. I can’t remember which university I was at (I think UF) that had them, but I knew they were magical then. Just not as jarring to use.
  • Less jarring means less pain, but there was still some pain. It was within my regaining form threshold, so it’s nothing to note. Certainly better than I was when I was doing PT, so either things are better or the treadmill really is making a difference.
  • My cardio is crap. I knew this, but it’s a different thing to feel it.

But that was day 1. And now I live in Oklahoma where winters are winter. I’m going to miss Mississippi when I’m freezing my ass off in January. At least I’ll be running (or my knee will have fallen off and I’ll get that stupid surgery)

-Q

The Highlight of My Weekend

At some point yoga became the highlight of my weekends. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It was just supposed to be something that I happened to do.

But it wasn’t just something that I did. In Starkville at Firefly Yoga, it was taking away my mornings. In Stillwater at Red Earth Yoga, it steals the middle of the day. I was having to dedicate real time to these things.

I didn’t realize what would happen as a result. Ashtanga is a special kind of evil yoga that goes after pretty much every muscle, even ones I didn’t know I had.

Because I couldn’t lift after a shoulder issue kept me out of the weight room for a while, I quit the gym in Mississippi and was left with yoga as my only real source of upper body strength training. For the most part, that’s not going to cut it. Ashtanga disagreed. More specifically, 58 vinyasas disagreed.

I almost threw up the first time I went to an ashtanga class. This was something I had to take seriously.

I started making sure I was prepped for class. I generally wouldn’t run the day before class. I was getting a good night’s rest. It was still kicking my ass, but I was getting used to it.

Flash forward to the move, and I had a new studio to acclimate to. I had the luxury of a weekend ashtanga class again, but I had to deal with it a new time, a time I didn’t want to spend sweating on a synthetic mat.

After a few weeks of procrastinating, I finally made it in. I then proceeded to attempt dying after 90 minutes of 90-degree yoga. It was brutal. I was wiped. But I made it. And that’s what matters.

I’ve been back a few more times, and as I’ve acclimated to the heat, I’ve started being able to make it through class somewhat successfully. A few weeks ago, I was able to do all but a couple of the vinyasas available to us. Last week I did them all.

Crap. You know what that means. Time to make it harder on myself.

Once I started doing ashtanga here, I went from 3 weight room sessions to 2 so I could have the rest before masochism took place. It was working. I was about as fresh as I could hope for going into ashtanga, but now that I’m no longer dying, I decided that lifting the day before might not hurt so bad. I took it relatively easy, but I was still lifting. I woke with sore shoulders that were bound to appreciate all the vinyasas I could throw at them.

And I threw the vinyasas at them. I lucked out. The studio was in the 60s when we arrived because someone turned the heater off (the windchill hit low 20s this morning), so it took a while for the studio to heat up. My shoulders still hate me, but I survived again.

So in the middle of the pie-eating contest that is academia (and the prize is more pie), I keep adjusting my week around 90 minutes in a musty studio.

And I’m cool with that.

Adios, dorks.

-Q

I’m making progress? I’m making progress

The first time at the real yoga studio killed me.

The second time also killed me.

The third time killed me, but it took longer to pull off.

That’s progress, right?

While I’m used to getting in the swing of things, I didn’t expect to get into the swing of things this quickly, especially in a heated class where we’re going all the vinyasas for the sequences that we do (I’m guessing about 6-10 vinyasas missed today, but that’s the most I’ve done).

I’m still soaking through my shirts. The first session was bad enough that I’ve started taking a spare shirt to switch into afterward, and I’m putting a towel underneath me to avoid getting my carseat sweaty (not working well enough).

I say that to say this: It’s still hard. I’m still sweating profusely, but I’m hanging in there.

And why? Lifting.

That’s the only logical answer.

I’ve overlapped with lifting and yoga before, but usually it’s one or the other. For the first time, I’m able to do both (in part because I have to from the knee issue). And for the first time doing ashtanga, I’m able to lift at all. I started doing ashtanga after my shoulder kept me out of the weight room. Now I’m lifting during the week, which makes all those effing vinyasas a little more bearable.

In an ideal world, running would be added to the trifecta. Weights are getting me through the movement, but I need better cardio to sustain 90 minutes of 90-degree heat and about 50 vinyasas.

But progress is progress. I’ll take it.

Taking Little Steps to be Healthy

Yesterday was about policies and systems, but today we’ll talk about individual steps. At the end of the day, policy can make life a lot easier for individuals, but no matter what, individuals still have to make their own choices.

Inspired by this video (that I watched while eating my lunch), I thought I would share my own bits and pieces of advice for being a bit healthier:

No junk in the house. Willpower is mostly non-existent. The best way to avoid giving into cravings is to make giving in impossible (or at least extremely inconvenient). If I want a Coke right now, I have to travel half a mile or start breaking into neighbors’ homes. If I want a cookie, well, there are some in the freezer. In the last 48 hours, I’ve had 19 cookies. That’s 2,470 calories in cookies.

Parking farther away. I’m not as good about this as I used to be. At Mississippi State, I would intentionally park far away. I’ve fallen out of the habit in my new job, but I’m still ok about doing this when going to the store. But parking at the end of the lot by yourself can make you look like a weirdo. Here’s what you can do as a rule of thumb: Try to find a spot where you can park with both spots around you empty. You would only be spaced out two farther than the last car, so it wouldn’t look like you were being a goober, but you would also likely be parking farther out than you have to. It’s the little things.

Go for mid-morning/afternoon walks. Another one I haven’t been as good about of late. 5-10 minutes is a good way to clear your head. I wished that I did that. I don’t feel as lethargic when I do. And it also just gets you outside for a little while.

Don’t lean on things or grab handrails. Yeah, bet you weren’t expecting that. I have crappy core strength. One of the things I’ve tried to be more cognizant of the past couple of years is not leaning on things. Whether it’s leaning against the counter as I brush my teeth or bracing myself as I grab laundry out of the machine, I’m shifting the work away from my core. I first read about it related to treadmills, but then I started watching out for it in my own life, and I realized I do it a lot. It’s just one more way to make sure you’re using the muscles you need to more often.

Use posture cues. Like leaning on things, I use other posture cues to watch how I’m sitting and standing. Do a tadasana pose. If you do it well, you’ll feel your core engaged. There are a couple of things I see as triggers for watching my posture. One is the back support I have on my chair. It’s less about the support itself than it is about using it as a reminder to sit up straight. Again, I don’t want to get used to leaning on things. The other is keeping my hands out of my pockets. I randomly read somewhere that keeping your hands in your pockets could mess with your posture. While I don’t know if that’s true, I do catch myself slouching when my hands are in my pockets. I use the pockets as a cue that I need to stand up straighter.

And keep smaller cups at your desk for water. I used to only drink from the water fountain, so I was getting up a lot. And then I switched to big travel mugs. Whoops. That killed a lot of walking. I switched to coffee cups eventually, and I’m getting up more often. I would probably be better of just using the fountain, but sometimes it’s just not practical to do that.

That’s all I’ve got. Hopefully you can use some of this or at least it can get you thinking about small steps you can take to help yourself out.

-Q