Pie Hole

Here's a story I never get tired of sharing: 

A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) defies convention by being a single, dude's dude who loves to bake. 

One Sunday, after a night of spirited imbibing and more than a few hairs of the dog that bit him, he decided to alleviate his condition by baking himself a pie. All Sunday this guy slaves away in his kitchen while watching the Vikings lie down on the field. He gets the crust, whips up the filling from scratch, does the whole nine yards for himself. 

One dude, one pie. I love it. 

This guy's gung ho about making this pie for himself, thinking everything's going to be all right if he can just get some sugary, home-baked goodness into him. I can't blame him, it sounds great. 

So he gets his blueberry pie all made up, it's in the oven and baking. He's still a little under the influence when he takes it out and sets the still-hot-to-the-touch pie on the counter to cool. Knowing it's only for himself (which I love, he had no intention of sharing it with anyone, even his best friend who lived just across the hall), he gets out the sugar and coats the top of the pie with a gorgeous, heady amount of confectioner's sugar. 

He waits. 

The pie cools. 

The game ends. 

The Vikings have lost once again. He goes over to the counter to cut himself a giant slice of this delicious homemade pie. Plates it, gets a drink and plops back down on the couch to indulge. Takes one massive forkful and immediately spits it back out. In his still-hazy baking, he mistakenly grabbed the salt instead of sugar. Crestfallen, he shakes his head and dumps the entire pie into the garbage. 

A Sunday wasted. 

When he told us this tale of baking gone wrong, my better half asked him "Couldn't you just scrape the salt off the top and still eat it?" 

His response was a frustrated "Nah, I salted the shit outta that pie." 


On Growing Up

Hey gang.

It's gotten way too serious around here, as of late. So in the interest of lightening the mood while still getting personal, how about I share with you some of the insights I've had in the transition from being a confused adolescent to a functioning adult? Sound good? Let's go! Brace yourself, it's about to get all self-aggrandizing in here. Without further ado, I present to you some of the things that I enjoy about growing older:

-Being in the best damn shape of my life. Just getting this one out of the way. I already covered this one in depth.

-Dressing better. I've learned enough about fashion versus style in the slow development of my taste that I feel pretty confident that I dress well for a young man. You don't want to be showy, you want to be timeless.

-Realizing all religions are equally arbitrary and based on the same basic principles. Hey, I'm not raining on anyone's parade but it took a lot of anxiety out of the equation once I realized they're all as valid as the others, and whatever you choose is your choice. I don't care.

-Understanding why I save and invest so much. Not going broke? Sounds great. Having savings? Even better. Understanding why that's important is the crucial difference, though.

-Being happy with my significant other. I'm still fascinated and saddened that people stay in unhealthy relationships and I am so thankful to have found someone who loves me for who I am and vice versa.

-Having a clean, organized and well lit home. Seriously, there's a difference between kitsch and clutter. I like knowing where my things are and knowing there are no bugs crawling around on an inch of dust. That makes me an old man? I'll take it.

-Not having to put up with people I don't care for. For real. You're a dick? Leave. Or apologize. I've learned you don't have to take guff from someone in this life. Ever. Treat people with respect and they more often than not give it back. If not, they're not worth the hassle.

-Sleeping well and understanding why it helps. Oh man. I wish I understood this in college. Waking up and not hating the world for being exhausted was a game changer. I love that sense of recharge I get from a solid 7+ hours. Screw bars if they get in the way of it.

-Eating healthy food and knowing I'm not poisoning myself. Again, been there and done that. Lots of veggies, less meat. Little to no chemicals. Basically, go with as few ingredients as possible. Feels great and tastes even better.

-Not feeling like a damn child. I don't walk into a room and feel as outgunned, socially, anymore. I get tons of anxiety about normal any situation, for sure. But I don't feel like I'm fresh out of college and wearing a rumpled suit that smells like smoke. All these little things have a cumulative effect.

-Enjoying rational reasonable debate. Particularly over a meal or drinks. I know, don't discuss money, politics or religion. But that still leaves stuff to really gnaw on. I love a good, passionate debate, one where you really sell your idea and maybe learn a thing or two in the process. Maybe you even find yourself giving ground.

-Enjoying silent contemplation. Now I really sound old, huh? I love silence, a brief reprieve from the mad world we live in. Just a small quiet space wherein I hear nothing of car horns, shouting, Kardashians and breaking news. Bliss.

-Stronger BS detector. Through experience or whatever else, you just get a better sense of lies as you get older. Including your own, which leads to lots and lots of honesty. Which is always the best policy.

Sounds pretty pretentious, huh? Yeah, I know. What it all boils down to is the simple fact that I like my own little piece of the world to inhabit, a small place with my better half in which to contemplate the day and reflect on our lives. I like getting older with her. I look forward to being an old man. Years downs the line, of course.


Good Quitting

Humblebrag time, kids. 

I was a smoker for a long time. I'm not proud of that. At all. What I am proud of is the fact that, with surprisingly little fuss, I was able to walk away from such a damaging and draining habit. If you happen to have fallen victim to the same bad habit, I strongly encourage you to do the same. 

Funny thing is, when I look back at why I started, it was absolutely for the stereotypical reasons. When you get down to the honest truth...it felt good and I thought it made me look cool. Sad, huh? I was a misguided, self-assured teenager with self-esteem issues. Also, it gave me something to do with my hands and afforded me an out in a lot of social situations. It was really stupid but I simply did not care about the repercussions at the time. Again, I'm not proud of it but it does help me understand the folly of youth. 

This was at a time when you could still smoke indoors. I recall the fondness for a specific restaurant in college that not only was open late but had a smoking section. There was some concern among fellow smokers when the smoking ban was first passed, but even at the time I knew it made sense. I had worked in  bars and restaurants prior to the ban. After my shift would be over, I would very badly want a cigarette but my lungs burned badly enough from second hand smoke that it would actually be unpleasant to light up. That may have been the first sign that maybe this wasn't the best thing for me to be doing. 

I was, for the entire duration as a smoker, a young person in reasonably decent health. That is, until I hit a tipping point. I mentioned in my last piece about dealing with a prescription that caused some excessive weight gain. When you add the smoking and weight gain on to a typical amount of collegiate imbibing, what was once a healthy young athlete's body was quickly transformed into the worst version of myself. I was a fat mess. Straight up. I ate terribly and felt terrible. All of these bad habits were suddenly catching up with me very fast. I vividly recall the stinging humiliation I felt when a friend of mine audibly noticed (in the middle of a party, to my horror) that I looked pregnant. I had, seemingly out of nowhere, acquired a huge gut. Rather than face my lifestyle choices, I instead chose to disarm any observance of poor health with self-disparaging jokes. I was the first one to point out my poor physique, as if my joking about it would grant acceptance or somehow overcome the fact that I looked and felt like a big sack of gross. 

The slow, steady turn around all started with my better half and my instinct to make a promise before I determine whether or not I can keep it. 

She hated my smoking, and I can not fault her at all for doing so. The simple fact that she dated me while I did so speaks volumes for her patience and ability to see the best in everyone. As New Year's Eve approached one year, I was once again asked about when I would quit. I dismissively remarked "...after New Year's, I guess." I just assumed I'd try and see how it went. It was less than a week away and I hadn't really planned for it. I got the patch and the gum and just kind of....stopped. I remember having my last one and thinking "Ok, no more." That was it. No big moment, just deciding I wasn't going to do it anymore. The patch and gum made me feel sick, so I stopped leaning on them. In a matter of days, I was essentially cold turkey.

Sure, the first couple days sucked. I was crabby and felt terrible. Worse than before. I remember peeling the label off of every bottle of beer around me. But then I rounded the corner. Suddenly food tasted amazing. Turns out your sense of smell and taste are so dulled by smoking that you forget what they are really capable of. Strangely enough, I didn't have any temptation to start back up. It was a bad habit I was just walking away from, for which I felt incredibly lucky. Not everyone experiences the same quitting process, but to anyone wired similar to me - it is completely possible to stop, if you really want to. I've never really wanted another one, to be honest. I miss having something to do with my hands in social situations, but hey - smart phones are a fantastic replacement. 

Once I was done smoking, everything else tumbled into place. I slowly realized I could change myself. Looking in the mirror after stepping on a scale, I vowed to change myself. I decided I didn't want to be fat for the rest of my life. I wanted to be the thin, healthy person I used to be. I wanted to be able to go outside without sweating and buy clothes without sacrificing my dignity to pants that wouldn't button. As a dude, I didn't want to have boobs. Yeah. I had some moobs. 

So, like quitting smoking, one day I decided I was going to get fit again. 

I stopped eating fast food and started bringing salads to the office. I stopped drinking soda altogether (sidebar - you want caffeine? Stop with soda, coffee has way more in it). Much like when Homer Simpson started working out, I began running in the early morning, when no one would point and laugh and see me jiggle. The weight peeled right off. It might be infuriating for some people to read this, but please - know that it's not bragging. It's me sharing how I got my life back in order after years of unhealthy living. I just wanted it bad enough to stick with it. I absolutely would indulge every now and then. Having a better half who is a phenomenal cook necessitates the occasional treat. Apple crisp in the fall. The Greek yogurt with honey. I have a serious sweet tooth. I had to learn moderation and self control.

From highest high to lowest low (which I had to back off from, after getting too skeletal towards the bottom) I dropped somewhere around 90lbs. It's been years and it's all stayed off. A former coworker once snidely told me she expected me to slowly let the weight creep back on after I got married, just like her husband. I remember how mad and hurt I was. Other peoples failures had no impact on me. Like I said, it's been years and I still look better than I did when I graduated from college.

It takes constant maintenance, but it has absolutely been worth the effort. I enjoy my life so much more, now, as a healthy person. It hasn't been a life ruining change - food is awesome, and what I eat now is so much more delicious than anything I ate when I was out of shape. It's just exercising and eating right. 

And not smoking. That stuff will kill you.


On Malaise

I should start this off by saying things are never as bad as they may have seemed. 

The thing is, I've had the mixed blessing of suffering from depression for most of my life. It's only a mix in that you at least get the peaks with the valleys, a fuller range of the emotional spectrum. For as long as I can recall, there has been this lingering presence, lurking just beyond the boundaries of my perception. It waits for the right moment, then steals back into my mind like a squatter waiting for the opportunity. I know it's always out there, waiting for just the right moment of weakness that affords it a foothold in my life. 
It wasn't always as intense as it has been in the last few years. As a child it manifested more as a sense of isolation and detachment. This may sound like it borders on solipsism, but there was always a feeling as a child that I was the only one suffering from these feelings, as though all the other kids were running around, oblivious to a whole subset of feelings that dragged down a youthful exuberance into quiet solitude. I didn't fit in. I was weird. The older I grew, the more pronounced it became. By the time I hit middle school there were month long fugues that, when coupled with teenage hormones and a burgeoning sense of identity, left me wanting to live my life curled up in a ball. Going to school was an exercise in coping with anxiety and pressure that didn't seem to alleviate until I transferred to a much smaller school. The smaller school, though, had more constricted and closed social circles which further isolated me. 

Entering high school saw the emotional sine wave elongate, but not ameliorate. I would have long stretches of unbridled idiotic giddiness followed by unrelenting turmoil. There was a lot of up and down, with the few level times feeling like boredom rather than normal life. I suppose, though, that such wild all-or-nothing mood swings are a part of teenage life. At this point I became more aware of having pronounced depression, and began seeing a counselor. It helped articulate what I was experiencing. It put a spotlight on the darkness covering my mind. Although I was generally unhappy with my geographical location, I was becoming happier with who I was. 
College made it worse. I was on my own and free to deal with the world at large as I saw fit. This brought about massive amounts of self doubt and social anxiety. I really struggled to cope with who I was, what I was doing, where I was going with my life. I lost a sense of purpose. Seeking further help, I started taking anti-depressants. They seemed to alleviate the problem, but it felt like the solution was a chemical lobotomy of sorts. I felt like a zombie. I had no highs or lows. Any sort of creativity I previously possessed dried up almost as soon as the pills started to take effect. Along with this new found fog was the rapid change in health. I ballooned up to well over 220lbs, having previously never passed north of 160. I hated it worse than the depression. 
In a move of inspired idiocy, I simply up and stopped taking my medication. When I graduated, I stopped seeing the counselors I had seen previously. Slowly but surely, I found myself taking solitary steps to improve myself. They were hardly intentional steps, and certainly not coordinated in any way. They came almost as instinctive acts of self preservation. I moved to a new place in a part of the city that brought me out of my shell. I found work that had regular, steady hours instead of erratic retail schedules. I had a better half who always tried to see the best in people, which slowly (unbeknownst to me) began to rub off on me. I quit smoking. I started to eat better. I even started exercising. Bit by bit, I took steps to improve the person I was stuck being. I was realizing that, even if I had to be me for the rest of whatever life I chose, I could at least make the best version of me that I could. 

Years later, I find myself in the best health of my life, with a stronger outlook than I can recall ever possessing. This doesn't mean I'm free from depression, however. It still returns, often when I'm least expecting, and stronger and more pronounced than it ever did in my youth. It's a sense of pointlessness and futility that begins to strip away zeal and confidence. I feel the bottom drop out and I become heavy with arbitrary despair. The difference now, though, is that I can recognize it. Whereas in my youth I would isolate myself and rail against the world, now I have an understanding of what's happening. Where it used to sink its claws deep into my psyche, now I can push the demon back and keep it at bay when it strikes. Longer, more pronounced bouts are more rare. 
It still comes back to visit, and I don't think I'll ever be free from such pronounced depression. My understanding of the situation has me thinking that it really isn't a chemical imbalance but a mindset, an awareness of my place in the universe that sometimes becomes overwhelming. The further I've delved into the magnitude and nature of the cosmos, the more I feel humbled and insignificant. Whether that is the root cause is subject for another post. I think, though, that I am in a good place that allows me a greater perspective on a life-long struggle. I appreciate my life so much more now than I ever have. No matter how depressed I become, I am always thankful for my life, unhappiness and joy and all.