Coming Soon: jedilife.com

The “new direction” I wrote about earlier has become clear. I’m pleased to announce that within the next few weeks, I’ll be launching a new blog, jedilife.com. Its theme will be on physical, mental, and spiritual renewal. Besides being a blog of my own thoughts, it will be a self-help resource geared to everyone who wants to redesign their lives apart from the assumptions of consumerist society. I’m thinking an August 1 launch, but it may be sooner. Stay tuned and please share the news. Thanks!

jon

How a bookstore coupon changed my life

Just over four years ago, a friend of mine at work gave me a little magenta coupon for a bookstore that a friend of his was starting up. Although I had a backlog of books to read and wasn’t very interested, he practically pleaded with me to visit the bookstore, and help his friend out, if possible. Since I strongly believe in supporting independent booksellers, and I’ve never met a bookstore I didn’t like, I gladly accepted it and decided to check it out after work.

Ned FlandersBut getting there wasn’t easy; its only sign wasn’t readily visible from the road and it was in a run-down neighborhood. The building might have been a laundromat in its previous life, but whatever it had been, it still wasn’t attractive. I walked in, and was greeted by a very friendly blond-haired guy with an ear-to-ear Baptist smile and the most desperately helpful attitude outside of Ned Flanders’ yard.

I explained I was just looking, and he let me browse, begging me to let him know the instant I needed anything. I don’t know how long he had been in business, but I had the impression I was one of only a very few customers to walk in that day, and maybe the first. Browsing was disappointing. There weren’t very many books, maybe just a few hundred titles in the entire store. And at least half were in Spanish! (Anything you don’t see we can order for you, the owner had assured me.)

None of the English titles appealed to me; they were all overstocks of unpopular titles. I browsed the Spanish titles (I couldn’t read any Spanish, but I recognized the name of a familiar author. There were several titles by Paulo Coelho, the author of one of my favorite books, The Alchemist as well as others such as The Fifth Mountain, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. I found myself looking for a copy of The Alchemist in Spanish. I couldn’t read Spanish, but hey, how hard could it be? I had grown up on the Mexican border, taken some compulsory Spanish in school, and could recognize lots of cognate words. (I had never had any trouble understanding “Se Prohibido Fumar” on signs!)

I thought if I bought it, I might be able to learn Spanish from it, and who knows? Barcelona had intrigued me ever since the ’92 Olympics—maybe someday I’d visit it. Maybe I’d even learn Catalan. Who knows, maybe I’d even pick up my long-forgotten, never-spoken Esperanto? Probably not, though. Mainly I just wanted to buy something, because I couldn’t stand the prospect of walking out empty-handed of this guy’s store even though his business was obviously hopeless. I announced I was looking for The Alchemist in Spanish, and there was a little problem; that was the only Coelho title that he didn’t have in stock. (Apparently even El alquimista was too popular to make the overstock collection he had purchased.)

Finally, after several weeks, my special order of El alquimista came in. I found out that night that there’s a big difference between being able to read a No Smoking sign and a single prosy paragraph of a novel in a foreign language! But I was stimulated now. In my high school and college years, I had studied German and Russian, and on my own I had studied some Esperanto and Biblical Greek and Hebrew. Of course, I hadn’t learned much of any of those, and what little I had learned was unused and long-forgotten. But maybe I could actually accomplish what I and the majority of my countrymen fail to accomplish: learn another language to the degree of actually being able to use it.

I commenced teaching myself Spanish with simple grammars, audiobooks, and podcasts. After about eight months, I was very frustrated, and felt I needed to learn a simpler language first, and return to Spanish after I had successfully trained myself to learn a language. I decided to concentrate on Esperanto for a while. I found I really enjoyed Esperanto, and launched a very small Esperanto club with the help of a friend. Esperanto was designed to be exceptionally easy, and within six months, I found I was fairly conversational, and made plans to go to an international Esperanto congress in Montréal, Québec.

But I knew Esperanto would be enough only as long as I hung with just the Esperantists; the main language of Montréal was French; so surely I should study some French, too! That I did, visiting Alliance Française meetups, while I continuing to focus on Esperanto. I had four wonderful days in Montréal where I used Esperanto and French almost exclusively.

Back from the conference I continued to study Esperanto and also Spanish as well. I was determined to visit Barcelona sometime. Esperanto fell into place as my second language without much further active study as such. Practicing with friends at the Esperanto club, listening to Esperanto podcasts, writing my journal in Esperanto, and reading in it occasionally made it almost effortless. And over the next two years, I went to national Esperanto congresses in St. Louis, Missouri, and Washington, D.C., where I made friends from all over the country.

Spanish was much more difficult for me—the irregular verbs seemed almost impossible—but I persisted and made it beyond the beginning barrier into an intermediate zone through study, reading books and websites, watching Spanish-language movies, and practicing the language at meetups. (I also studied what little Catalan I could.)

Castellers in Esplugues de Llobregat, CatalunyaThis summer, I realized my dream of visiting Spain and spent a wonderful two weeks in Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca. Naturally, I did a lot of sightseeing, but my greatest experiences were simply talking with people. I struck up conversations in plazas and parks, on the street, and in the subway. Language enabled me to have a far richer experience of the country than I could ever have had without it.

I’m planning on going to California and Brazil for more Esperanto-fueled travel, and I want to return to Spain, for a much longer stay in the future. Linguistically, I’m continuing work on my Spanish, and will probably learn a little Portuguese as well for the Brazil trip. (And I still intend to pick up French where I left off, and to “reactivate” my high-school German sometime.)

My last four years have been full of language meetings, books and film in foreign languages, travel across the country and far beyond; friends, acquaintances, drinks, meals, and memories. And I’m looking forward to a future filled with travel and language ahead of me.

Which all started because of someone giving me a coupon for a doomed bookstore.

How will what you do today change someone’s life? How will someone change yours? The most insignificant thing you do today might change the course of events beyond anyone’s expectations. This is life, and it’s amazing!

In Training, One Year On

A year ago, I posted about beginning training for a marathon. But it wasn’t really about training for the challenge of marathon, it was more. It was a declaration that this sedentary, unfit, and obese Web developer was going to change his life. And change my life, I have!

In May, I ran the St. John the Apostle Stingray 5K for the second time, finishing it 11 minutes faster than when I ran it in 2009. In June, I ran the CHKD Run/Walk for Kids 8K, and in September, I ran a half-marathon distance in an unofficial time of 3:07:35. Two weeks ago, I ran the Warrior Dash, a wonderful, fun obstacle course complete with scrambling over trailers, wading through a pond, crawling under barbed wire, and jumping over burning barricades.

And after about 24 years of struggling with my weight, and about 12 years in the obesity zone, I’m coming back. I’ve lost 47 lbs. so far, and while I’ve got a good amount more to lose (I’m still overweight), losing a fifth of my shell has been fantastic.

I’ve mentioned previously the book which has been helping me take it off, but here it is again for those who are interested: The Alternate-Day Diet (my review on Amazon). I credit it completely with my weight loss since the periods in which I didn’t follow it I gained weight, no matter how much I ran. If you need a program to kick-start your weight loss, I highly recommend it.

One of the most significant things about this year of physical activity and conditioning, is that I’ve actually stuck with it–never before have I been able to keep with a fitness plan for an entire year. (My previous flirtations with fitness fell apart during frigid Ohio winters!)

Now, a year later, I’ve discovered the joy of trailrunning, and my only regret is that I didn’t discover it sooner.

So, is this one of the Wild Things of God? Well, it is in my book. Like so many people, I’ve had a bit of a mental dichotomy between the “spiritual” and the “physical.” (And I could even write about how such a dichotomy is false while remaining blind to how it still affected me.)

But now, practical spirituality is the only kind that interests me. Meister Eckhart’s famous prayer, “God, rid me of ‘God’,” rings true. Yes, I’ve had a bit of insight into the world being a holodeck, and myself as a part of the interplay of light and shadow, but the point of having a holodeck in the first place is to participate fully in the marvelous presentations.

And tomorrow morning, I’m going to immerse myself in the phenomenon of trailrunning.

La vie, c’est bon! That’s Jedi life in the real world.

Simplify, simplify

Simplify! Simplify!

I used to live rather light—at least light for a book hound. But those were the days in which I was a poor student and post-student, moving on the average every year and sometimes even more often. But the move I made this year was my first in ten years, and I found that I had found ways to accumulate stuff. Lots of stuff, often difficult-to-move stuff and heavy stuff. (Hundreds of books, for instance, the vast majority of which are still in boxes.)

The task of unpacking got me interested in alternative approaches to stuff. And that led to discovering a fascinating little blogosphere that has practical simplicity as the center of its solar system. Zen Habits by Leo Babauta (and guests) was the first I discovered. I think of it as “The anti-lifehacker. That doesn’t mean I don’t like LH… I do, and ZH and LH not only share an interest in productivity, but often refer each other’s posts. However, I noticed that after I read a day’s worth of postings on the incredibly busy lifehacker, I usually felt a bit dispirited and even tired. “How am I going to afford all this cool/neat/wonderful stuff?” would be a question in the back of my mind. Zen Habits, on the other hand, had me asking a different question to myself: “how much of this stuff do I really need or even want?” And unlike lifehacker, its mental effect was calming and encouraging.

Soon, I discovered Leo’s other blog, mnmlist, a more personal exploration of his life as a “minimalist.” Zen Habits also often refers to Unclutterer, and Ridiculously Extraordinary, Karol Gajda’s blog about using simplicity, writing, and travel. (Yeah, after my stint in Spain, I can say indeed that I likes travel! I likes it a whole lot and I wants to do it more!) On release day of his new book, I also encountered Chris Guillebeau, whose blog (and book) The Art of Non-Conformity are both well worth reading. Mac users will enjoy Minimal Mac as well.

This “simplicity” blogosphere is challenging as well as insightful. The key motivation of the more financially-oriented Art of Non-Conformity and Ridiculously Extraordinary is not so much “save money, go places,” as to become a responsible citizen of the world who learns from, and contributes to, all the places life may take their freed spirit. Unclutterer is eminently practical. And in addition to productivity and simplicity, Babauta’s spirituality shines through his blogs without a single “religious” word written.

Now, I actually don’t have any desire (at least not yet) to become a true minimalist. But I’m astonished at the ideas and potential in less that these writers present, and I’m determined to simplify more, and cut at least some of the cruft out of my life. As always, with me the application is the hardest part. Now if I can just sit down, unclutter, and practice my own zen habits…

The things you own end up owning you.

My life this summer

OK, time again for another one of those “update” posts … but I’m going to return to regular blogging after this.

Today I finished my first half-marathon—my unofficial time was 3:07:35. I may train for a full after this. And I’m definitely registering for the Warrior Dash!

My two weeks in Spain were amazing. Not only did I have a truly wonderful time there, but I really feel I learned a lot and grew there as well. I think I’ll be referring to Spain often in future posts.

For the last two months, my dad has been fighting cancer. I believe he’s winning, and will hopefully have good news to report soon.

I’ve lost 45 lbs now on the Alternate-Day Diet. Not finished yet, but the progress I’ve made since January has been amazing.

I have a new home.

I have a new kitten.

I’m rethinking the focus and purpose of this blog: Personal blogging seems to be a dying art, although a few of my online friends, Carl, Bob, Ryan, and Meredith are keeping it alive. I use Twitter often, and post statuses frequently on Facebook (usually short tweets direct from Twitter), although I’m very haphazard in actually reading Facebook statuses. I’ll admit, the fact that Facebook has replaced blogging for so many bloggers bothers me a little; FB is great, but it seems poorly structured for the kind of in-depth sharing that is typical of the best personal blogs.

I’m also wondering how apropos the title “The Wild Things of God” still is, since I have had so little to say about “God” as such. As my faith has become more open-ended and less-defined over the years, such a loaded word as “God” which brings an unpredictable host of deeply-embedded concepts and memes every time it’s used, and it might be less-suited to describe what I write about here, than something a bit more abstract … maybe “Wild Things of the Spirit,” or something else, or keep it the same—I’d like to hear your thoughts.

I’d also like to hear your thoughts about what you’d like to see here: a mix of varied personal musings and spiritually-focused posts? More of one and less of the other? How-to posts, like dream interpretation or dealing with changes and challenges in the spiritual journey? More reviews of movies and books? I’ve been putting my more technical posts about the Internet and technology on Wild Web Weaving. Should they stay on a separate blog or should everything be together? What do YOU want?

Talk to me, my friends!

More updates

Okay, I’m really sorry I haven’t been blogging consistently. It’s easy to say there’s been a lot going on, but man, has there been a lot going on!

  • I’m buying a condo! It’s in a beautiful converted house that looks like a castle. It’s still in Ghent, and will be about a mile closer to downtown from where I live now. The location is perfect; I’ll be equidistant from my workplace and the Naro, and in walking distance of both.
  • Just came back from a short trip visiting my family in Texas, and helped welcome my great-nephew Bridger Callahan into this wonderful, crazy world.
  • Finished the St. John the Apostle 5k Stingray Run on May 1st, eleven minutes faster than I did last year.
  • Will be running in the Run/Walk for the Kids 8K benefit for Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.
  • Still in training for the Rock and Roll Half-Marathon in September.
  • Will be attending Esperanto USA’s national congress in Washington later this month.
  • Will be moving next month.
  • And going to Spain in July!

Losing Weight, Gaining Life!

The Alternate Day DietLast night I ran into a friend whom I hadn’t seen since December. She was shocked at how different I looked. Since January 18, I’ve been following a program called The Alternate-Day Diet. I started at 225 lbs. (102 kg) and had a BMI of 33. A few days ago, I weighed in 202.5 lbs. (92 kg, BMI 29.9), a loss of 22.5 pounds or 10% of my starting weight in less than 13 weeks. And 20 lbs of my loss has been fat. I’m looking and feeling younger and I’m really looking forward to continuing the progress.

Why was she shocked? I’ve been obese now for a long time. I crossed into 200-pound-plus territory in 1998, never to return, except for a brief, ill-fated flirtation with the Atkins diet.

Until now, nothing else has helped me take it off. Several years ago, I tried Weight Watchers and found it decent for the strongly-disciplined, but I found counting points tedious and unendurable after a few months. Last year, I attempted the “mindfulness” approach described in I Can Make You Thin by Phil McKenna and The Gabriel Method by Jon Gabriel. It seemed dead-on in principle, but required a tremendous amount of time spent in mental conditioning, and the effort the constant mindfulness required was too difficult for me to keep with it.

The gist of The Alternate-Day Diet is to eat very lightly (really a modified fast) every other day. And on “up” days, eat just your usual amount. I’m keeping myself to around 500 calories on the short days … a few pieces of fruit and a protein bar, and another snack, like microwave popcorn or low-fat cottage cheese. I’ve found that as long as I spread my little snacks well throughout the day, I’m very seldom hungry unless I stay up very late.

The diet isn’t restrictive about what to eat at all… only that for weight-loss, you should limit your “down” days to about 25% of your typical intake. However, to use the diet simply for the benefits of the calorie restriction lifestyle, down days can be as much as 50% of regular intake. “Good” food is encouraged, of course, and the author says that most followers soon find themselves preferring healthier choices. That certainly has been my experience. On my up days, I tend to eat wraps and salads, heavy on vegetables, but often including eggs, cheese or fish. Sometimes I also enjoy a nice dessert. I’m losing my taste for many fried foods—I haven’t had or even wanted French fries since starting, and the thought of a heavy Chinese dish with fried rice actually repels me now. (On the other hand, I still have a weakness for tortilla chips!)

I’ve been blogging my progress on my review of the book at Amazon.

Since I’m training for a half-marathon in September, and I’m currently running about 10 miles per week, there’s a question of whether the weight loss is from the eating program or the running program. I believe it’s almost entirely from the eating program, because last fall I was training even more vigorously than I am now, and I didn’t lose a pound during three months of training. Seriously, my weight was as unchanging as a rock — 225, 225, 225 during the whole period, give or take a pound. More evidence is that in February, I was sidelined with an Achilles’ injury, and not running at all. I lost as much weight during that period as I did in March, when I resumed my running.

However, a mixture of cardio and strength training actually is part of the ADD, although it’s not emphasized and gets easily overlooked.

My goals? At first, I was thinking of shooting for a weight goal, 162 lbs (BMI 24), and possibly down to 145 lbs (BMI 21.5) which is where I stabilized when I got into great shape the first time. However, I’ve been reading about the advantages of Waist-to-Height Ratio over BMI as a fitness measure, and that, combined with the fact that I’m not being drawn to a low-fat diet like I was 20 years ago, makes me think a waist goal, rather than a weight goal, is more in order. My primary goal will be 34 in. (WHtR 49%), and then, I may decide to go further. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to many more celebrations along the journey: crossing the 200-pound mark, breaking 190, buying new pants, and so forth. But the main thing is just the newness, freshness, strength and vitality I feel. It frims!

Watching Life

LOST poster

Once I watched an exciting past episode of Lost with a friend who also enjoys it, but who couldn’t stop thinking about it as he watched it. An action scene begins, and he shouts, “No way! The water wouldn’t have risen that high!” or “I really doubt Kate would’ve said that; that was off.” Fine. But that’s looking at the show, interpreting it, critiquing it—not experiencing it. He’s enjoying it in a certain way, but I wonder if he wouldn’t enjoy it more to simply enter the world that’s presented on screen for 45 minutes, and leave the analysis aside until the end credits. (I know I do!)

I find myself in an episode that’s going on 24 hours a day, every day. It’s there for me to enjoy every minute, whether that means laughing, crying, complaining, or sleeping.

For me at least, it’s turning out that there’s nothing very mystical about “mysticism” after all. It’s just the desire to experience reality, nothing more.

Marathon (and other) updates

I won’t be running in the Shamrock Marathon this month. I had some substantial problems with my left Achilles’ tendon, and after some rest, a lot of physical therapy, a couple of shoe changes, and wearing an ankle brace, I think that’s behind me, as long as I go slow in building up to the distance. These problems started in late December. At that time, I changed my plans to run in the half-marathon event instead of the full marathon, but my Achilles’ problem kept flaring up, and I was never able to run more than seven miles without tremendous difficulty.

So now, I’m training for the Rock-and-Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach in September. That should give me ample time to train without hurting myself. I’m looking forward to it!

Other news:
La Sagrada FamiliaI’ll be going on vacation to Barcelona and Majorca this summer. I’ve dreamed about this for years. My dad will be coming along with me, and I think this is going to be an amazing experience for both of us.

I’ve been trying to studying both Spanish and Catalan this year, but I’m finding that studying two languages at once, especially if they’re closely related, is really difficult. The result is that I haven’t really studied much of either so far this year. I have a pretty good base in Spanish now, which I’ve been studying off and on for about three years, but my Catalan is very basic, and it’s tough to find good learning materials and anyone to practice with.

I love Catalan and really want to learn it (it’s like a cross between Spanish and French, spoken with a Russian accent); but I’ve come to realize that I need to give Spanish priority. That way I when I get there I’ll have a very decent grasp of one of the area’s languages. If I try to concentrate on Catalan alone for a few months, I probably won’t be very good in either one when I get there. (Sigh.)

I’m planning not just on going to Esperanto USA’s national congress this year as usual, but I may actually be giving a workshop in Esperanto there. (Public speaking in a foreign language! Just a couple of years ago that would have been unimaginable to me.)

Marathon(s) update

Well, the writing marathon, NaNoWriMo, is finally over. I and my friends Zach and Margreet all won, which is to say, we completed the challenge of writing a 50,000-word rough draft of a novel.

Now, some friends have enquired about when they can read my work, is it public yet, is it “finished” yet, and so on. Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent to a good friend about that:

… I’m discovering that the words “rough draft” seem to mean wildly different things depending on the author, the book, and to non-writers.

I’ve got friends asking me to post it online, as though this is something slightly less polished than the book I envision. NOTHING could be farther from the truth.

I tweeted that my rough draft is so rough, it makes the surface of Mars look like glass by comparison!

The main story arc is pretty much finished… needs to be fleshed out, and needs an epilogue… everything is about as sketchy as can be… Most of the minor characters still are named with XXX as a placeholder!

So, yeah, I pretty much finished a “rough draft” in the roughest, draftiest, most skeletal sense of the word, but yeah, there’s a heck of a lot more for me to discover!

2009 NaNoWriMo winner badgeOr to put it more concisely… you don’t even want to think about reading it in this state… I’m probably going to take many months to revise it. I do think it’s a good science-fiction story, and will be seeking to publish it eventually.

As for running, my eight weeks of preliminary conditioning are over, and I’m officially on the training program of The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. Last night I jogged four miles. Sunday, I’ll do five. And on March 21st, I’ll do more than 26. It’s exciting, and I’ve got to say, endorphins are the best drug in the world! They make it worth it, even in spite of sores, rain, and slogging through mud.

These continuing projects, both turning the draft into a book, and turning myself into a marathoner are great challenges, but I’m already off to a great start, and I’m enjoying the heck out of them.