Monday, November 30, 2009

I am not a slug anymore!

After several weeks of crazy hours at work and not doing anything physical, I am back on track! I've been lifting again, and tonight I went back to hapkido for the first time in weeks. Hooray!

Inertia is such a killer. I was dreading going to back to class, not because I thought it was going to be hard or anything, but because it required I make an effort. It was just easier to sit around the house and watch TV and veg. But as soon as I was back in class and doing kicks and throws, I was all happy again.

It's amazing to me how easy it is to slip out of something that's positive in my life and get stuck in a rut that would never make me happy. I literally had to force myself to leave work on time so that I would be able to get home and eat something before heading out for class. And it's not like I thrive on long work days! I was slipping into a comfortable habit of working a long time and coming home and vegging. I used the long hours to justify me not doing things. I can see how people allow the work-life balance to get out of whack; I really had to make a determined effort not to stay late and instead get back to the dojo.

Very glad I did. And now my goal is to work no more than 40 hours this week...and every week for the rest of this year. The 50-60 hour work week is a waste of life. I learned that long ago, but I wasn't acting like it these past few weeks. I'm done with that, and I'm reclaiming my life!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Navy Seal Ab Workout

I don't know if this is really a workout used by the Navy Seals or not, but it is intense ab punishment. I've adjusted it some and added to my routine. It's quick but brutal. As I get better, I just increase the reps. So it's always going to be pretty punishing. Only caution is I've found I really have to pay attention to form, because these exercises can easily lead to lower back strain - in particular the ones with your feet off the ground. I stretch my back in between every two or three exercises just to make sure I'm not pushing my lower back too hard.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Stopgap Melville Entry

I am still reading Melville!

As all three people who actually follow my blog know by now, I've been working my way through Herman Melville's books in the order in which he wrote them. It's my latest self-assigned reading challenge. I'm on number six: Moby Dick.

I've actually already read this book twice, but I was hoping it would take on even deeper meaning in the context of this other works. I think it has. I've gotten a better 'feel' for Melville as a writer going through all his stuff. Moby Dick is just as challenging and frustrating as I remember it. There are some passages that are just brilliant and (as writer) make my skin crawl with envious pleasure, and others that are so grueling that I just want to put a fork in my eye.

Each time I read the book, I find more depth to it. There is just so much going on thematically. At the same time, I'm not fully convinced Melville was completely in control of his subject matter. I'm about two-thirds done, so hopefully I can post a proper set of thoughts once I finish.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Vegetarian Thanksgiving?

My parents are retired in another, and warmer, state, so I'm pretty much on my own for the holidays. I go to Jim's family for some stuff, but Thanksgiving is when I go to my friend Delane's house. She has a dinner every year, and it's a good time to see some great people and have a nice evening.

This year is the first Thanksgiving after Delane has embraced being vegetarian full-time, and she was not going to do turkey. I have to admit I was a thinking: "Oh jeez! I'm going to be starving my way through this one!" However, that's not actually what happened.

There was no turkey and the gravy was made without animal stuff (not sure how gravy is actually made!). While I love turkey, I really didn't miss it that much. There was a good stuffing (I guess you call it dressing if it wasn't stuffed in the bird), and the flavor and texture of that has always seemed like meat to me. Of course, there were the usual dishes: cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, beans, sweet potatoes, etc. Just no turkey.

Well, I was not hungry at the end of the meal, and we had a wonderful time. I also didn't get that bloated, sleepy feeling I usually get after gorging myself on turkey. Can't say I missed that. Of course, there's no way I'm going vegetarian - I'm a carnivore, and I love my dead animals! - but I'm glad I experienced how vegetarians do this.

On another note, seeing Delane struggle to order food at restaurants is eye-opening. I mean, are we really that divorced from non-meat and/or unhealthy food that a vegetarian person - or someone who maybe doesn't want meat that day - can't eat at a restaurant without being exiled to the salad menu? That's kind of weird, isn't it?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wardruna and the Power of the Subgenre

This past Halloween, I was scouring amazon and iTunes listening to what was going on in black metal. I've always been fascinated by really dark metal music. When I was a kid, I loved Black Sabbath. As a teenager, I was introduced to Celtic Frost's classic album To Megatherion. Maybe the fascination was that I grew up in a very religious, upper middle class town, and I loved anything that spit in the face of that? Who knows. Since then, I've strayed into all sorts of different genres and have accumulated a lot of disparate musical tastes.

More recently, when Celtic Frost reunited for their dark comeback album Monotheist, I found myself oddly interested in checking out this genre again. I like the extreme nature of the music, but I dislike the stereotypical output most bands represent: faux Satanism, growly singing that sounds like Cookie Monster, etc. I like atmospherics, expression, and real darkness bleeding from a down tuned guitar. I also like when bands in this genre do things that break the mold without watering down the power of the music.

Along these lines, I quickly found another great unique piece of black metal: Ahab's The Call of the Wretched Sea. It's an album of doom or funeral metal (I don't pretend to understand the difference between all these subgenres; they all get stored under 'black metal' on my ipod). The cool thing about this album is that it is inspired by Moby Dick, and the lyrics are culled from Melville's prose in that novel. Pretty cool, especially since I'm (still) working my way through this Melville opus. There's definitely a doom and gloom atmosphere to some of Moby Dick that really fits with doom/black metal music.

I came across bands like Mayhem and Gorgoroth, whose members seem to be pretty overt Satanists (or something). Church burners, murderers, and all sorts of crazy stuff. I have no idea why this all fascinates me, by the way, but it does. LOL! As I was listening to samples in itunes and fending off Jim's 'what they hell are you listening to this crap for?' comments, I came across an absolutely phenomenal band: Wardruna.

The band is led by Kvitrafn, a former drummer for Gorgoroth. He quit the band a bunch of years ago to focus on Wardruna. A Norwegian, Kvitrafn is interested in ancient runes that formed the basis of Norwegian religions from the past. He decided to make musical interpretations of each of the key runes, and he used primitive instrumentation to do this: self-made frame drums, goat horns, the tagelharpe (or Viking fiddle), etc. There are also naturals sounds, like water, fire, rain, and wind, as well as vocal chants.

The first Wardruna album (of a proposed trilogy) is Runaljod - Gap Var Ginnunga. The music on the album is like nothing I have ever heard. It has a bit of the darkness you'd find in black metal, but it is merged with folk music and even a bit of new age in order to form something completely unique! It's a very personal vision, and that makes the album one of a kind. I love it!

I think this is why I have enjoyed fishing around in various subgenres at different times: gangsta rap, techno, black metal, trip hop, etc. You can always find artists there who are really in love with their music and who are totally committed to it in such a deep way that their passion makes their music transcend the genre they inhabit (or even leave the genre in the case of Wardruna). I love having my ear twisted in this way!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Photo Collage Fun

Indian summer came and went this past weekend. It was 70, and we had the windows open all weekend. Very nice! It was also the first weekend in several weeks where I did not bring any (well, not very much) work home.

At one point, I came across this frame (I guess about 20" x 30" or so) Jim had given me for Christmas years ago. I started going through old photos with some music on, and just started creating a collage from the photos. Places we've been, pics of me and friends, Jim, the kitty, etc. I was able to make a large collage of photos from all different times. It was a lot of fun! And very relaxing.

Got several compliments on it already at work. It encapsulates so many neat people and experiences in my life, and Jim was glad to see me finally use the frame. Though I also think he would have liked to see the collage stay at home!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Myth Continues...

the 10th and final poem from The Ancient Elm


The final poem is a bit of a 'gimmick', I suppose, but one thing I wanted to communicate in The Ancient Elm is the idea that there isn't a endpoint as is usually the case in 'journey' type works. There is a saying by a Chinese Zen Master that goes something like: "Everything gained in battle is ruined by celebrating." This saying was used in the introduction to Thomas Cleary's translation of Denkoroku to illustrate that achieving satori is not the end goal of Zen, but the beginning.

Too many people, I think, seek satori rather than let it come from within and they end up embracing illusion rather than truth. It's like they are addicted to a drug. Satori is so exciting, that they mistake achieving it for actual enlightenment. I know that I briefly fell into this trap but, thankfully, continued meditation snapped me out of it. So this poem in projecting to the future (how the myth continues), mentions samadhi/meditation. The story never really ends.

Personally, I think the ultimate goal of Zen (if it's even correct to say something like that!) is to live normal life with the same mindset that you have during zazen/meditation: to always be calm and centered and disassociated from illusions, to be in control of yourself and open to life at all times without being swept up in it. I'm a long way from achieving that! But what I've gained from Zen already has made the study of it worth the time. I hope to continue with it.