One Year of Body Hacking in Ten Minutes

One Year of Body Hacking in Ten Minutes

Most of my adult life, I’ve had this nagging feeling that I needed to do more to maintain my health. I had a lot of excuses – work stress, travel, email. I even told myself that I just loved pizza, french fries, craft beer, and brie too much.

Well, that all changed. It is possible, and I am going to show you how. I lost 30 lbs over the last 12 months, lost four inches on my waist, got stronger, got faster, and increased my V02 max to 55 – a number many cyclists and runners would kill for, but more importantly, it’s the number one indicator of how healthy you are – and perhaps more importantly, it likely indicates how healthy you will be the last ten years of your life. When most people are in old folks homes and hospitals, I hope to be out snowboarding like my friend Thom, who is in his mid seventies.

First and foremost, you CAN do this. It’s just going to suck because it requires change, and change is painful. The good part is “the suck” goes away after about a month. Oh, and I am 42, you are probably younger, so this should be easier for you 🙂

Here are the steps, in order…

Lie to Yourself

Do whatever it takes to get yourself to do this program for one month. That’s what I did. I told myself, let’s just “try” this for a month. Here I am a year later, and the journey has been life altering.

Priorities

Most tech people and business travelers have a set of priorities similar to:

  1. Family
  2. Work
  3. Life

This needs to change. It needs to be:

  1. Health
  2. Family
  3. Work

This is going to be painful. Remember the old financial saying, “pay yourself first?” This is just like that, but your health is way more important than money. Without it, you cannot raise your children, work, or live life. Diet and exercise are the key to health. So, prioritize them above everything else. You might feel “selfish” at times when you dedicate time to work out, but it’s not. It’s what you have to do. You can pay someone to help with your lawn or your house, but nobody can put the time in at the gym for you – nobody can eat healthier food for you, except for you.

Diet

Diet is actually quite straightforward. Follow these three steps and prioritize them in this order. Missing the macros or micros some days isn’t going to kill you, but consistently eating too many calories will hinder your weight loss.

Calories

Track your calories with an app like MyFitnessPal. Actually, just use MyFitnessPal, it’s the best. MyFitnessPal has great listings for packaged or restaurant food, but when cooking at home, weigh everything. Weighing food is the most accurate and it will teach you how many calories are in many types of food.

As for diet, target 10 calories for every pound of desired body weight. If you are 200lbs like I was, and want to be 170 lbs, then target 1700 calories. This is your baseline. This is what you will burn for just being alive and sedentary. Just know this as a general piece of information – use it as a subconscious tool when thinking about calorie consumption.

The good part is, MyFitnessPal will track everything – your calorie intake, steps and exercise. Starting with your baseline, it will add calories for exercise and subtract calories to help you lose weight. But, you absolutely have to track every drop, dab, chunk, piece, nibble and drink of food that goes in your mouth. Also, tracking your food as you eat it trains your subconscious mind – it turns out that the act of recording a log of bad habits trains your subconscious mind and helps you make better choices (I only recently learned this).

You will find that as you get closer to your target weight, you might have to reset the numbers and go a bit lower. MyFitnessPal can do this automatically. Target 1/2, to 1 pound per week, never more. Never more – if you try to go too fast, it will not be a lifestyle change and you will probably loose muscle.

Before starting this program, I found that my calories could be as high as 6000 or 7000 on a a day with three meals, and drinking with friends that night. This is WAY, WAY, WAY too many. Once I tracked my food intake, I corrected this very quickly.

Macronutrients

People talk about food quality, nutrient rich and non-GMO. These are buzzwords and I didn’t pay ANY attention to any of this. I consider ALL of these buzzwords noise which does nothing to help me get to my goal. Instead, eat a balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein. Period. Make the pie chart in MyFitnessPal look balanced. That’s it.

If you want to get fancy, you can go with a formula. I used:

  • 1 gram of protein per pound of desired body weight. In my case 170
  • 1/2 the grams of protein in fat. In my case 85. Yes, 85. That’s crazy high by what you have probably heard. Go 1/3 if you are really scared.
  • The rest in carbs. When loosing weight, my carb number was pretty similar to my protein number.

Just eat a balance. When I started, I found that my carbs and fat were way too high, and my protein was way too low. Once I corrected that, things fell into place. There have been days that I ate a piece of cheesecake that was 780 calories – I balanced it by chugging 400 calories worth of protein shakes and eggs (roughly 80 grams of protein). The bottom line is you “can” eat whatever you want, it just makes it really, really hard to balance out your macronutrients while staying under your calorie goal. Just remember, if you eat cheesecake and chug protein shakes, you will be starving later in the day – STARVING. It’s best to balance out healthy foods throughout the day and slide right into your calorie and macronutrient goals by the end of the day.

Micronutrients

These are things like vitamins and minerals. They are the easiest of the three steps and generally fall into place. Try to target the recommended daily intake in MyFitnessPal.

I only had trouble with three:

  • Sodium – to this day, my sodium is often double the recommended intake. It didn’t stop my weight loss at all. And, my blood pressure is phenomenal, but check with your doctor.
  • Potassium – mine is still a bit low most days, but WAY better than when I started.
  • Vitamin D – most of the people in the US have a vitamin D deficiency and don’t know it. When I had my blood panel done, I was low.

Work with a doctor and supplement where recommend.

Diet Hacks

I work and travel a lot, so eating at home is not an option. Also, I am tired and lazy at home, so I eat a lot of packaged and easy to make food. Here are some hacks that I used. You will also find your own based on your taste preferences:

  • Protein Shakes – these are the number one hack. I was constantly high on carbs and fat because even if I can only eat a small portion, I still like eating what I like. There are days I ate cheesecake -annoyingly 780 calories 🙁 – and I balanced things back out with protein shakes. Also, thesr shakes make you full and help you eat less. So, slam them all the time. Vegan, Whey, Casein, I drink them all at for different reasons at different times. I always bring protein powder when I travel which is a LIFE SAVER! Slam one before dinner to eat less. Slam a casein shake before bed to make it through the night.
  • Cottage Cheese – I always thought this was bad. I was so wrong – it’s high in protein, low in carbs and is great in 2% or low fat form. Replace ricotta cheese, mayo, or even regular cheese with cottage cheese. Use a blender and put it in almost anything. It makes any food creamier, and tastes great. Put flavored granola in it and it tastes totally different, almost like a bowl of cereal (cinnamon, raisin, chocolate granola, etc).
  • Healthy Choice Steamers – There are like 10 different options for steamed Chicken – Parmesan, Marsala, with potatoes, etc. They are mostly between 200-300 calories and they take 5 minutes to make. They are very filling and almost always balance the piechart.
  • Atkins Bars – low carb diets like Atkins, IMHO are ridiculous, but they make awesome protein bars. They are between 150 and 300 calories – I target the peanut butter ones that are 150-170. They are super high fiber, have decent protein, use sugar alcohol which is actually good for your teeth like Dentine, and taste like candy bars. These are a work of art and science.
  • Low Sodium V8 – these small cans helped me with my Potassium deficiency and they are only 30 calories which makes them easy to drink.
  • Supplements – work with your doctor, but Vitamin D, Creatine, Beta-Alanine, EGCG, Fish Oil, Glucosamine, and a Centrum are all in my repertoire.

Exercise

Exercise cannot overcome a bad diet. Stated another way, your mouth can eat more than your body can burn off. Stated one more way, you will literally wear your joints out trying to burn off the calories your mouth ate too much of – so, stop eating too much!!!!

About 10 years ago, I did Couch to 5K. The app made it so easy and I made “some” progress. But, I stalled. I just never changed my body composition in a meaningful way. It sucked because running takes SO FUCKING LONG too.

This year, I found strength training and conditioning (which is different than “cardio”). Strength training takes WAY less time, and the progress is WAY more precise, which made it addictive, more like a game with your body.

I still run today, and ironically, I can run a faster 5K now then when my exercise was focused around running. I will explain….

Strength

Everything I do is built around a strength training program – this is the core. One year ago I started with StrongLifts 5×5. The app is awesome, and the progress of a linear strength training system like this is addictive.

After about six months, I started to stall out. It got hard, really hard. That’s when I moved to a Wendler 5/3/1 program – there’s also an awesome app. You could probably start with either, but 5×5 is dead simple – life changing.

Just remember to pick a program focused around big, complex, multi joint exercises – these work the most muscles and give you the most progress. Focus on a program that is centered around squats, deadlifts, bench press and overhead press (sometimes just called “press”).

StrongLifts 5×5 and Wendler 5/3/1 are both “Powerlifting” programs. I had no idea when I started. I never thought of myself as a Powerlifter. But, what I have found is that Powerlifting is very technical and most of the people that develop the programs are essentially hackers/nerds. You will see these HUGE dudes that are very precise in their diet and programming. Since I am a nerd, this helped.

Pick one program, stick with it for 6 months. Do NOT program hop. As you progress, you will learn a ton and add accessory work, but take your time. Even get a personal trainer for a couple months to learn the lifts and movements if that helps.

Conditioning

As I lifted weights more and more, something very unexpected happened – my cardio got better, way better. I was a decent mountain biker and a decent snowboarder, but I never thought my cardio was all that great – and it probably wasn’t – until I discovered conditioning. Little did I know, I was already doing a bit of conditioning with the weights. Conditioning is like cardio, in that it improves your cardiovascular system, but it takes WAY less time. Seriously, like 10 or 20 minutes versus hours and hours. Think of it as intense cardio with a bit of strength mixed in.

I started with jumping rope between my warm up lifts and then a bit more with my accessory work (the other strength training you do, like pull-ups, or dips). Little did I know, this was the beginning of my conditioning program.

Now, I jump rope, swing kettlebells, sprint, do bear crawls, and a multitude of heart pounding exercises between my warm up sets and accessory work. Basically, do anything that gets your heart rate up high. This is conditioning. Tabata is a very specific, optimized version developed by the Japanese and the science is showing that intense heart training increases your vO2 Max, and VO2 Max is the number one indicator of health. Don’t get bogged in the details, just slowly add a cardiovascular component to your accessory work.

Exercise Hacks

  • Lie to yourself. I used to tell myself that I was just going for the sauna or steam room. Then, once I was there…
  • Powerlifters will tell you not to do conditioning mixed with your lifting days because it will slow down your progress of lifting heavier and heavier weights. Who cares, I don’t want to compete in a powerlifting competition. I want to live as long and healthy as possible and mixing them takes way less time. The lifts already get your heart rate going, I just drive them even higher after the lifts.
  • Get a weight vest. Trail run in it for one mile. It will suck worse than anything you have ever done. When complete, the entire world will be back in perspective and going to the gym will be easy.
  • Change accessory work often, but stick with a program for your core work.
  • Have fun. I know this sounds crazy, but try new stuff. Don’t be embarrassed. Most other people at the gym have no clue what they are doing either, or they only know the few things that they do. I have found that my flexibility is WAY better one year later and it makes life more fun.

Quantitative Methodologies

Formulas

  • 10 calories for every pound of desired weight
  • 1 gram of protein for every pound of desired weight
  • 1/2 gram of fat for every pound of desired weight

Tests

  • V02 Max – This can be done at a local facility, but usually the more “sciency” ones. I went to Amp Fitness in Cleveland, but there are facilities in any large city. Basically, they make you run on a treadmill with something akin to a gas mask on. It sucks bad, but it tells you what your VO2 Max is.
  • RMR – Resting Metabolic Rate – This can be done at a local facility to determine how many calories you burn per day doing nothing. Check the same places that do V02 Max as the machines are the same.
  • Blood Panel – this is done by your doctor and will tell you about your cholesterol, vitamin deficiencies, etc

Conclusion

That’s it. Go out and do it. I believe in you. I will leave you with a couple more hacks:

  • Don’t be intimidated by all of the crazy vocabulary in the fitness world. You will learn about Hypertrophy, Hyperplasia, Accessory Work, Energetic Systems like ATP, Glycolysis and Oxidative, but they don’t matter to get started.
  • Forget the “everybody is different” line. Forget it right now. It is never an excuse for something not working. Generalized diet and strength programs work for almost 99.9% of people except where they have actual health conditions. Everyone is different when squeezing out the last 5% or 10% – this is optimization, but you can absolutely get started with a general program.
  • Much of what you read, and even personal trainers will ask what your goals are – I struggled with this the first year because I didn’t even know what goals were possible. I just wanted to be “healthier” – but, that is a bad goal because it is way too general. Come up with a simple goal – something like “lose 20 pounds” or “lose 4 inches on your waist” – these will seem crazy, but you can do it.

I will leave you with some final prose. Much like today, it was a November day in Ohio – the Fall leaves were Burnt Orange and Brown, Red and Yellow. I knew I hadn’t exercised much the preceding summer and I had also been eating pizza, chicken wings, and drinking without care. I told myself it was part of my job – meeting with customers, conferences, airports, etc. I told myself that I had to be social which makes it difficult to eat right.

That November day, I was scared to step on the scale because I knew “scale don’t lie!” Well, scale told me it was 202 lbs. I was heartbroken. I had never broken 200 lbs before. It was some magical level which thou shalt not cross. I am only 5’9″ on a good day, so this was too much. It hurt when I sat at my desk too long because my stomach pushed on my organs. My back hurt if I stood too long. I would get chafed when I walked too long in the city. Minor things in the big scheme of things, but I couldn’t deny it any longer.

If you are anything like me, you are having the same struggle – work, life, kids, eating out, packaged food, alcohol, whatever. It all makes it difficult. I love pizza, chicken wings, and beer – LOVE it. But, you can change, you can follow this program. You can learn all of the things I learned. It might sound cheesy, but I know anybody can do this and I hope this article helps.

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The Basic Model – How I Tackle Everything

The Basic Model – How I Tackle Everything

This is my definition for becoming a hacker and achieving desired outcomes in the modern economy….

The Universe

  • Things perceived to be completely under your control: OK
  • Things perceived to be somewhat under your control: OK
  • Things perceived to be out of your control: ERR

 

Things Perceived to be Somewhat or Completely Under Your Control

Forget things that are out of our control. If the company is getting sued for $5T, it’s in the lawyer’s hands, not the engineers or salespeople. But, there are things we can control, this is what we get paid for. Sales, Marketing, Engineering. Achieving results with things perceived to be, at least somewhat, under our control. Same applies to kids, house, relationships, etc.

 

How We Achieve

We leverage and obtain knowledge in three main ways. We do this to achieve desired outcomes – building things, selling things, suing people, defending people, healing people, making war, etc:

  • Things that are commonly known: Google it or use other specific knowledge bases
  • Things that are known by peers: Ask a peer
  • Things that are unknown: We figure this out ourselves, then make it common knowledge (write blogs, books, teach) or share it with peers (possibly too nuanced, complex or specific for knowledge bases aka tribal knowledge, wisdom, or mentoring).

 

Junior vs. Senior

Junior

  • Junior people use Google a lot
  • Junior people ask people around them a lot
  • Junior people figure out things that are unknown, but these are typically things that could be figured out by most other junior people
  • Junior people are productive, but do not tend to contribute a lot of “knowledge”  in quantity or quality compared to a senior person

Senior

  • Senior people use Google a lot
  • Senior people ask other senior people around them a lot, especially experts in other fields
  • Senior people figure out things that are unknown as well as things that are TOUGH to figure out quantitatively (specific skill) or qualitatively (wisdom). Junior people cannot typically figure these tough things out in an efficient amount of time, nor in a way that would provide proper risk/reward. These things can be so hard that perhaps, even other senior people cannot figure them out. Imagine sending a newb to lead 1000 tanks in Iraq – not going to happen efficiently.
  • Senior people are productive, and they are expected to contribute to mentoring (peers), as well as creating knowledge bases which can be used commonly (building their brand)

Unicorns

  • Unicorns are senior people that can also force themselves to do things for which they have no passion
  • They understand the psychological principle that you like what you do, not you do what you like
  • These people will become passionate about almost anything and hence, can do almost anything well

 

Contribution Velocity

Being able to achieve desired outcomes by figuring things out at an efficient velocity and sufficient quality is important to becoming senior. Essentially, this is my definition of hacking. Whether it’s breaking an encrypted hard drive, figuring out how to program something in a new language, program something you have never programmed before, selling a specific dollar amount of goods and services, losing weight and gaining muscle, or leading 1000 tanks in Iraq, these are all hacking.

When you are good at hacking, you are good at figuring things out that are both unknown and quite difficult, then quickly leveraging these new things to acheive your desired results. When you gain this skill in any specific discipline, you are a hacker. When you have been hacking for 20 years, and have achieved mastery in 5, 10, 20 or 30 “technical” disciplines, you may be considered senior. The more disciplines you master, the quicker you master new ones, essentially increasing your rate of mastery in new disciplines. When your skill of mastering new disciplines achieves a certain velocity, say one a year, it will be difficult for the job market reward you with appropriate financial compensation. Most technical disciplines lead to a financial ceiling on compensation in the job market. Hence, when people become very senior, they look for other rewards. Great and productive people, lax lifestyle, free time, free food, notoriety (Google, Amazon, Microsoft) whatever. This can lead to laziness.

That is, of course, unless you choose the disciplines of entrepreneur, salesperson, or bandit. These disciplines are basically unlimited in financial compensation or reward. Your ability to contribute is not limited, so your ability to garner a cut is also unlimited. A salesperson can sell $100M, then sell $200M, then $1B year after year. A bandit can steal as much as he likes. An entrepreneur can grow the company as big as his skills allow. Your ability to achieve is only limited by your hard work, creativity, quality of product, and ability.

That is, at least, until you bump into things that are out of your control (cancer, global war, macroeconomic problems, etc)……

 

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Cookie: Glaciers -Vallée Blanche, France – Snowboarding Taught Me That I Am Not a Nihilist

He screamed at me, “Il n’y a pas d’hélicoptère pour te sauver” which in French means, there’s no helicopter to come save you. I didn’t respond. I was somewhere above 10,000 feet, in waist deep snow, and I could barely move or breath. I was on a mountain in France snowboarding and I had just crashed for like the fifth time. There were giant holes in the earth everywhere. I was beginning to realize that for all my training, I just wasn’t prepared for this. It sucked bad. This was type “3 fun” – but I didn’t know it at the time.

That never existed where I grew up – we just tried to kill each other in the playground, or on the way home from school. If you are like me and you have never heard of type 3 fun, let me explain. Basically, rich white people invented this system of “types” of fun. They range from type 1 to type 3 and almost always include some sort of outdoor activity. Essentially, almost none of the people who are into type 3 fun grew up in the inner city, so at some point in their late teens, early twenties or maybe even thirties, they realize that they need to risk their lives to feel alive. Go to any ski resort, mountain bike trail, or chat with a mountain guide and you will hear this nomenclature.

Since then, I have added my own new level, type 4 – with type 3 fun, mother nature is completely neutral and cold. She doesn’t actively try to kill you with all of her intellect and wisdom. But, humans do, and they are annoyingly crafty – that’s what I call type 4 fun, and I reserve it for war and combat. But, I digress….

 

Getting up the mountain didn’t scare me too bad, it was actually pretty fun. You take this cable car up to what they call the Aiguille du Midi, which in English means roughly middle shard, I guess because of how steep the rock point is at the top. It’s not until you enter the ice cave and then creep out onto the ledge, that things get real. There is an obligatory warning sign, saying you are responsible for yourself – but what you see past it is what gets to you. What is that ridge? What are those small black dots moving around at the bottom? Are those ants? God no, those are people. I have to go down that ridge? Down there? WTF, this isn’t Disneyland, this is a real glacier and it will kill you if you are not careful – hell, maybe even if you are.

 

When we started to rope up, I became starkly aware of my biological processes. My breathing, my smell, my vision, my heartbeat, my bowls. I was alive. I had to dig in my cookie jar to find the courage. I paid to be here right? I had to do it? What are you made of Scott? Not fighting a 6 year old over your Legos anymore. This is real. Worse, I had been in Europe for about two weeks at this point, and I had found out a week before that I had a baby on the way. This was a bad idea, and I knew it.

 

Actually, hiking down the ridge ended up being easier than I expected. It wasn’t until we got down to the “top” of the glacier, and the wind started to blow at 40 or 50 miles per hour, that I started to get nervous again. Once we started, it became almost perfect. The wind died away, the sky was blue, and the snow was great. It was absolutely beautiful.

 

This is when things got bad. As the snow got deeper, I crashed a few times, and the altitude was difficult to deal with – I couldn’t breath well. I couldn’t stand back up fast enough when I crashed, and the guide started yelling at me. It was just him and me, but he was in a rush, I have no idea why. I was at the point where I was saying to myself, “I will never do this again.” What the hell was I doing here? Then, it got worse….

The guide yelled for me to stop – we looked down, and I saw why. There were giant holes in the glacier, called crevasses. They would definitely kill you or hurt you very badly if you fell in. Worse, he had already told me that helicopters didn’t come up here (I now know that they do). We started to navigate down and around the giant, gaping holes in the earth, but at some point took a path that to me looked like there was no way through.

 

The guide seemed mad and uneasy, as if this was my fault. We came to a point where there were two giant holes and we had to go between them. It looked like there were really only a couple of safe feet to navigate through – like some kind of sick version of Angels Landing. It wasn’t until I returned home that friends, would tell me that this was most likely a snow bridge over a crevasse, not between. We should have been roped up.

The guide paused for a short amount of time, then gracefully slide his way between the the holes. He didn’t stop immediately after he made it through – I actually thought he might leave me. I started to get even more nervous. I looked down at my right hand, and I could see it trembling through my heavy coat and mittens. Fuck…

I paused, and this felt like the longest pause of my life. It’s hard to explain what happened during that pause. It was similar to crazy stuff I had done when I was younger with my best friend Chris Oblisk – that point just before doing my first back flip off of the railing of the 35 foot Doodlebug train bridge into the Cuyahoga river by our house – or that moment when I see the eggs in the air, about to impact a car load of gangsters in a 64 impala with a beautiful, glimmering, metallic paintjob. But, this was different. I couldn’t discern if it was because I was older and it had been a long time, or if it was because I had more responsibility now. I remember all of this going through my head standing there, looking down – in a split second…

I knew I had to control every part of my mind and body to make myself go through. I had never done anything like this – it seamed so remote, I’m not sure whybthat mattered to me. I was scared and I was mad – I was pissed actually. I think that helped. It felt like I waited 30 seconds, but from the video I took with the GoPro on my head, it’s easy to tell it was only about 3-5 seconds. I began to slide sideways, and my body did everything I commanded it to – I remember correcting my speed so that I wouldn’t fly over the edge. I made it. Actually, with very little physical trouble. It was all mental.


 

So, I did it – I really didn’t have any other choice. I put myself there, and I had to get out. I remember digging deep into my cookie jar right before I slid down. It was a strange sense of having “no control” and “complete control” at the exact same time. Well, that’s a new one.

So, that’s another cookie in my cookie jar. I have fought other men, been beaten and kicked in the head, but nothing has ever scared me as much as those crevasses. I guess that’s just a taste of type 3 fun – it’s not like it was 10 days in the dessert or anything. They say I’m cursed to want more, but I don’t think so. We shall see….

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Cookies in My Cookie Jar

Cookies in My Cookie Jar

Have you ever been scared, like really scared – like so scared that you question who you are? So scared that you reflect on what you want to be? I grew up that scared – it took me a long time to admit that to myself. I was a scared little kid and I was never sure who I was. In fact, until I watched this video by David Goggins, I didn’t even have the mental framework to see it this way. You might just dismiss Goggins as a psychopath, a genetic freak, or just so different from you and me that his advice is useless – but I don’t think so.

He made me realize that, we are all scared, we are all unsure of ourselves, especially when we are suffering. And, from this suffering, comes growth, but only if you reflect. Reflection with discipline is even better – like a martial art. Goggins mentions that sometimes, when he is suffering bad, he thinks to himself, “Am I this guy? Am I tough enough? Am I just a scared kid?” He’s says that when this happens, he digs in his cookie jar – three hell weeks (Navy SEALS), Army Ranger school, air tactical training, 67 thousand pull-ups (yes, 67 thousand) to train for the 4030 in 24 hours record he set back in 2013 – an then he remembers who he is, yes, he is that tough, yes he can do it. A lot of cookies in the jar say yes…

Now, I don’t have a cookie jar anywhere close to his, you probably don’t either – but, we do have cookie jars, and we can dig deep – probably deeper than we are digging right now. The cookie jar doesn’t contain things that you wanted to do, it contains things that you did. They caused you to suffer and grow. That’s why I am undertaking a project to document my cookie jar. I’ve discussed and told stories of these cookies many times, especially with some of my best friends. But now, I want to organize and clarify my mind, so that when I have these conversations, they are crisp and useful for the people I discuss them with. I want to be a better friend, more motivational, and I want to become a better person myself.

The Cookie Jar

  1. Cookie: First Grade – Mason Elementary School – Leslie, You Stole My Lego Space Shuttle From the Science Fair
  2. Cookie: Fourth Grade – Mickie Bright – Chris Calise and Mark Chase Me Home Every Day
  3. Cookie: Glaciers -Vallée Blanche, France – Snowboarding Taught Me That I Am Not a Nihilist

 

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Cookie: First Grade – Mason Elementary School – Leslie, You Stole My Lego Space Shuttle From the Science Fair

Cookie: First Grade – Mason Elementary School – Leslie, You Stole My Lego Space Shuttle From the Science Fair

It was the science fair at Mason Elementary School, 1982 and I knew exactly what I wanted to submit – a Lego Space Shuttle – It wouldn’t be until years later that the Challenger exploded. I would build it from scratch. Back then, there were no instructions for this shit, you had to build it yourself from white and black bricks. Hours and hours spent designing the shape of the space craft, the robotic arm that extended from the bay. I used almost all of my important Lego blocks to build it. This was high tech stuff and it had to be modeled perfectly. This was critical to a six year old’s brain and it was my chance to shine. Everyone would revel in it’s perfection.

Not quite – I had built my work of art, and submitted it to the science fair. It was accepted and on display at Mason Elementary School. It was on a typical four foot, folding table with the obligatory card board walls. I had a vague insecurity about it’s construction being actual “science” because it didn’t include math or chemistry but I was still proud nonetheless. I remember gazing at it that morning, reveling in all it’s beauty, before heading to class. The science fair table was sacred, and it denoted a thin red line, a social contract, which would keep my work of art safe from prying hands that might want to touch it. Not quite – somebody stole it.

I was heart broken when the teachers told me the Lego Space Shuttle was missing. They had no idea who took it – but I knew who it was. There was this kid named Leslie, and even to this day, I remember that we always had a little bit of tension. I don’t know how I knew it was him, but I knew! I immediately confronted him about it. In front of the teachers, he denied it. Once they were gone, he made some comment that didn’t admit that he did it, but challenged me to do something about it. The teachers weren’t going to help – the principal wasn’t going to help – there was nothing that my mom could do. We really didn’t have the money to replace my Legos, we were poor. I just wanted my Legos back – that’s really all I wanted.

At this point, it’s important to point out that I went to an inner city elementary school in the early 1980s, in Akron, Ohio – Rubber City – well, a failing rubber city where people had been losing jobs since before I was born. In fact, the economy shrunk pretty much every year I grew up. I don’t remember the exact demographics of the school, it was probably about 50% white and about 50% black, but on the playground, or walking home from school, I would often be a minority. On the playground, girls jumped rope and sang songs, boys beat boxed in big circles and did back flips off the outside school wall. I was friends with mostly black kids, but there were still racial tensions and everybody knew it – even at six years old, I had heard stories of white kids getting beat up, by groups of all black kids, etc. It was like mythos or legend. Every white kid knew, you didn’t try to fight a black kid, especially when he had three brothers, and you have no backup. It was madness, I couldn’t win.

I didn’t care – he took my fucking Legos, and I knew it! Besides, most of my friends were black too. It was a wash – I didn’t care. I was a scared kid, but there had to be justice.

I challenged him to a fight after school.

He gladly accepted. I was scared, really scared. What did I do? This was going to suck. His brothers and him were going to beat me up in front of the entire school – and I knew it. It didn’t matter, I had to do it now.

I remember watching that clock, waiting for the school bell to ring – like a fight bell in a boxing match. I watched the second hand tick slowly by on that old, school clock against that drab, tan, school wall paint.

The moment of reckoning had come. It was time to face my beating. I headed outside behind the school, to the grass field which would be my point of demise.This was like the first grade version of the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight, people were talking about it. There was already a huge group of kids waiting and this was back in the 80s when elementary school included 6th grade, so some of these kids were big, really big.. I remember apprehensively pushing my way to the center of a huge crowd of almost all black kids. It was intimidating and Leslie was already waiting for me – it’s funny now, but I remember it like yesterday, he had a 1″ afro in the style of Gary Coleman. Existentially, we probably even looked cute, but this was serious business to us. It began pretty quickly and I have to admit, I was pissed. I just kept thinking about my Legos. If I couldn’t have them back, I was going to try to punish him. We fought and fought and fought. I remember flashes – the ground, the school building, the smell, our grunts and yelling from the kids around us. It felt like forever. It felt like 40 minutes. In reality it was probably only seven.

To my surprise, his brothers did not jump in. To my surprise nobody else jumped in. To my surprise, I didn’t get beat up – I didn’t win either. It was a draw. We fought and fought, but neither of us could score the defining blow, or make the other kid give up. The crowd was not pleased, but everybody dispersed, and I walked home. All in all, not too bad. It wasn’t until years and years later, studying Anthropology, that I realized that there are social sanctions – it was probably quite unlikely that the crowd would have allowed his brothers to jump in to beat up a six year old. But, those complex social interactions were way too much for me to understand at the time.

The story doesn’t end happily ever after though. For weeks, his brothers did chase me around after school, in the hall ways, and on the playground. The teachers and principals in inner city schools can never do anything about violence, it was a way of life. One time, they caught me in the bathroom, pinned me down and held my head down by the toilet. I remember feeling so trapped. I hated not being able to move and I remember the white porcelain of the toilet bowl like the Eminem song. But worse than any of that, I never got my Legos back, that’s all I really ever wanted. There was a hole in my heart that lasted for years. That was the first cookie in my cookie jar.

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What Makes Good Music? Technical Or Appealing?

What Makes Good Music? Technical Or Appealing?

After talking to a friend recently, I realized that many people do not understand how competitive writing music is. When you walk into Guitar Center, pick up a guitar, sit down and start playing, only then do you realize that the guy next to you is playing rock opera that he has practiced like a million times, he is doing it to show off to other musicians. Then, you realize it is competitive. When you walk into a small, local instrument shop and the owner says to you, “this is a really nice guitar, you should check it out”, then instead of handing you the instrument, proceeds to rock out some ungodly complex riff, you realize it’s competitive. Finally, when you are in a band, it never fails, that if you play out enough, you will eventually have “friend bands” and “enemy bands.” Trust me, it’s as competitive as an sports or martial arts meet.

This is the evolution of music in general, but metal music makes takes it an impressive level. It’s competition taken to the finest. Basically, technical complexity is held above most other aspects. Melody, story, tone, are all held constant, but technical complexity is celebrated. Classical music is even more competitive, it’s music that is really only appreciable by other musicians and those who are very educated in music. Music by musicians, for musicians. It’s more of a technical endeavor like breeding plants or programming.

Pop music on the other hand, is written for the average person, sometimes to the exclusion of any technical merit. To consistently write music that is appealing is it’s own special challenge, this is why Nashville exists.

So, this brings me to the philosophy I am taking with my nnext band. I am not trying to write music for other musicians, nor am I trying to write music exclusively for the masses. I think there is a happy medium where the music is technically challenging enough to be fun, the lyrics contain subject matter broad enough to appeal to the masses, but deep enough to appeal to philosophers. The goal is to write consistently good music and I believe that is as big of a challenge as writing technically complicated music. Oh, and if we can do this consistently over and over and over, we will be better than any other band in the world!

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