What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I’ve delighted in Murakami’s novels (in English translation) for several years now, with the Wind-up Bird Chronicles and After Dark. This memoir jumped out at me since it combined a writer’s tale along with my latest obsession- fitness. A quick and worthwhile read… I might just be convinced to take up running now.
Murakami was at a baseball game one afternoon and decided to write a novel. In the midst of running his own jazz bar at the time, he scraped aside time to write and produced a work that was submitted to a contest. He forgot about it, only later finding that he won the contest. Around the same time he suddenly decided to take up running. Since his 30s, writing and running have been constants in his life.
After completing his solo marathon, as a single runner through the traffic of Athens to the village of Marathon, he sits in a cafe and drinks a beer. “It tastes fantastic, but not nearly as great as the beer I’d been imagining as I ran. Nothing in the real world is as beautiful as the illusions of a person about to lose consciousness.”
The mantra he read in a Parisian article about marathons: Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
He runs to create the void, not to think about anything.
His cosmic ultra marathon experience where he pushed his body to complete 62 miles in under 12 hours; there was a “breaking through” that happened @ mile 47 where he felt no pain and would have kept on running forever if the finish line hadn’t been there. A state of flow.
“For me, the main goal of exercising is to maintain, and improve, my physical condition in order to keep on writing novels…”
The title a nod to Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

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Predictably Irrational

We’re a ship of fools, sailing on the sea. Ariely shows us how our brains are susceptible to suggestions, how we don’t even know our own preferences. Very readable book, and you find yourself shaking your head (agreeing, but shameful that you too would fall for those tricks) as you read.
Decoy trick– show 3 choices, one of which is a decoy that makes choice C look the best. Without the decoy, everyone chooses choice A. (Example: Economist pricing– online only: $60, print only: $130, print & online: $130, the majority choose print & online because it’s viewed as the best deal. Without the print only choice, the majority choose online only as the best deal) We view things in context– relative to other things.
* A realtor shows you 3 houses: 2 colonials and 1 modern, one of the colonials has a broken roof. You are more likely to choose the unbroken colonial, since you can compare the 2 colonials and know which one is best.
* Breadmaker on sale at Williams Sonoma, it was the only breadmaker, selling for $250. No one was buying it. Marketing consultants came in, offered a bigger breadmaker for more money, the smaller breadmaker started flying off the shelves. We had something to compare it to, and knew what the value was outside of a vacuum.
* Anchor points. Once you have a price in mind, you adjust your rationale to it.
* The power of FREE!
* We’re happy to do things, but not when we’re paid to do them (you wouldn’t whip out your wallet to pay your mom for Thanksgiving dinner, even though she probably shelled out $400 for the meal)
* The problem of procrastination– we need deadlines. We know this. We need hard & fast rules to follow, otherwise we revert to laziness.
* We don’t like to limit our options, ever. Even if we know it’s hurting our wealth, we’d sacrifice that to keep options open.
* You get what you expect. If you think you’re going to hate something, you set yourself up to hate it.

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Art & Fear

This is a book you sit down with on a rainy day, tucked into a window seat, to read a sentence then look out into the rain, consider the authors’ point, nod and look back at the book to read more. Excellent, phenomenal, inspiring. Sprinkled with the kinds of quotes you want to emblazon on banners for the world to see, like Oscar Wilde’s “When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss Art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money.”
This is the kind of book where I dogeared nearly every corner, as each page contains some shining gem that will guide me in my own creative pursuit. It is a book about making art, ordinary people making ordinary art.
Sample excerpts:
“But while you may feel you’re just pretending that you’re an artist, there’s no way to pretend you’re making art. Go ahead, try writing a story while pretending you’re writing a story. Not possible…. You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good, the parts that aren’t yours. It’s called feedback, and it’s the most direct route to learning about your own vision. It’s also called doing your work. After all, someone has to do your work, and you’re the closest person around.” (p 26)
“There is probably no clearer waste of psychic energy than worrying about how much talent you have – and probably no worry more common. By definition, whatever you have is exactly what you need to produce your best work.” (p 26)
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.” (p 29)
“What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece… Put simply, your work is your guide: a complete, comprehensive, limitless reference book on your work… Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen, the way a good parent listens to a child.” (p 35-36)
“Cowboy wisdom: when your horse dies, get off.” (p 45)
“… courting approval, even that of peers, puts a dangerous amount of power in the hands of the audience. Worse yet, the audience is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the one issue that really counts – namely, whether or not you’re making progress in your work… Audience comes later. The only pure communication is between you and your work.” (p 47)
“The details of artmaking we do recognize tend to be hard-won practical working habits, and recurrent bits of form that we can repeatedly hang work on… The discovery of useful forms is precious. Once found, they should never be abandoned for trivial reasons. It’s easy to imagine today’s art instructor cautioning Chopin that the Mazurka thing is getting a little repetitive… For most artists, making good art depends on making lots of art, and any device that carries the first brushstroke to the next blank canvas has tangible, practical value.” (p 60-61)
“The hardest part of artmaking is living your life in such a way that your work gets done, over and over – and that means, among other things, finding a host of practices that are just plain useful.” (p 61)
“The writer Henry James once proposed three questions you could productively put to an artist’s work: What was the artist trying to achieve? Did s/he succeed? Was it worth doing?” (p 93)
“For the artist, a notebook is a license to explore – it becomes entirely acceptable to stand there, for minutes on end, staring at a tree stump… To see things is to enhance your sense of wonder both for the singular pattern of your own experience, and for the meta-patterns that shape all experience. All this suggests a useful working approach to making art: notice the objects you notice…” (p 101)
************
Recommended via Kottke via Kevin Kelly

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The Lost Art of Walking

An average British writer with a fancy spelling of his name (Geoff? you mean Jeff right?) goes to Google and types in “walking”. Out spits a book. Ca-ching, ca-ching. Geoff’s words to describe his walking around while on the job at a museum or at a desk job: “since I hated the job so much, every moment that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing became a victory…”
Walking is a brainless activity– fetuses proven to be able to walk post death.
Removing the Walk/Don’t Walk signs from NYC crossings between 1996-2003; who in NYC is so illiterate or so foreign as not to be able to recognize “Walk” or “Don’t”?
Overall, I loved the idea of a book about walking until I actually started reading this. The author lives in LA and walks (major props), but he’s somewhat anti-Virginia Woolf and gives us nothing special with this work of his own.

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Rethinking Thin

Kolata follows a group of University of Pennsylvania research subjects in a two year quest to lose weight on either the Atkins diet or a regular low-calorie diet. She takes us through a tour of all the popular diets in known history, from Fletcherizing (or chewing your food until it has no taste) to Banting (original low-carb dieter, and “dieting” became synonymous with “banting”). And she ends with a chapter on Fat Wars, a look at how we create unrealistic beauty ideals of super-thin while our bodies are evolving to be heavier. Fat is not necessarily unhealthy, is the takeaway I gleaned from the last chapter. The fat industry turns its back on any studies that refute the idea that fat is unhealthy; in fact, fat may be healthier.
Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste (self published in 1825) warned against diet fads and in particular about drinking vinegar to lose weight (popularized by Lord Byron in his epic struggle to shed pounds). It also planted the seeds for the low-carb/no-carb craze popular in the Atkins diet most recently, and other incarnations through the ages.
After the flapper craze, everyone wanted to be rail thin, so American went on a diet in the 1920s in the height of the Great Depression. Calorie counts were printing on menus. Interesting to note the parallels as we return to calorie counts on national chains, during our own Great Recession.
Contests arose, a la Biggest Loser – 1921 contest in NYC among 50 fat women to see who could lose the most weight in a month on an Atkins-like high protein diet.
Binge eating disorder – binge at least 2x week for 6 months and feel guilty, eat rapidly, eat until uncomfortably full, eat when you’re not hungry, eat alone so no one can see what you eat. Listed in psychiatry manual as a “provisional diagnosis” that needs more study.
Recommended daily allowance of protein for women: 38 grams

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Where I find reading inspiration

Some of you walk around out there in the real world, always with pen and paper somewhere on your person. Not me, I’ve got my trusty Motorola Q, which functions as my memory and taskmaster and connection to your voices and text messages. When I enter a bookstore, I head straight for the Staff Picks section, and pull out my Q to start taking notes.
I’ve newly discovered that my lazy self can now walk into City Lights or Green Apple from the comfort of my couch. If only I can get Christopher’s Books to beef up their website, I’d be all set, and never have to climb Potrero Hill again.
* City Lights recommended list
* Green Apple’s list of current staff picks

Hurry Down Sunshine

You get a quick dip into madness by reading this memoir of a father’s journey after his 15-year old daughter cracks up one hot summer July day in 1996. She’s classified as bipolar, heavily medicated, and eventually weened off the meds. During her stay in the loony bin, she has flashes of brilliance, tangos mentally with the ultra-religious Hasidic Jew also locked up with her, ignores her lump of a roommate who remains unmoving on the bed for weeks. The author also has a mentally unstable older brother who he cares for with weekly trips to the supermarket where the brother gets very upset if the grocery is out of Lipton tea, this being the beverage of choice as he relaxes on his Barcalounger and sips 5 tea bags in a huge pickle jar.
Quick read, but entirely skippable.

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Ultimate Fitness

A New York Times science reporter turns her journalistic magnifying glass on the fitness industry, with its exercise mythology, false claims, and poorly structured scientific studies. Her first chapter focuses on the Less is More theory, where studies claim moderate exercise fewer times a week has more benefit to your health than more intense training. She goes on to eviscerate the myth of the Fat Burning Zone, which doesn’t exist. The optimal way to “burn fat” is to exercise at your highest intensity for the longest possible time frame, not to try and keep your heart rate at a specific range of 60% of maximum, or in the “Fat Burning Zone.”
Weight loss is a matter of simple physics. If you take in more calories than you use, you will gain weight. If you take in fewer calories than you use, you will lose weight.
If you want to improve your health, studies have shown that most of the health benefit occurs just from mild exercise, not necessarily the most arduous workouts. Walk briskly 20-30 minutes a day.
Benefits of strength training: more efficient muscles, has more mitochondria, better at using fat for fuel and allowing cells to use insulin to process blood sugar (reducing diabetes chance). How do you start? National Strength and Conditioning Association has tips.
Random odds & ends:
* There is a small percentage of the population that doesn’t see improvement after consistently doing cardio or strength training.
* 1553 was the year the first doctor-authored book about exercise came on the market: Book of Bodily Exercise by Christobal Mendez, who recommended exercises for both men and women. (Walking is best, he said). Walking was also praised in the best selling book in 1745, An Essay of Health and a Long Life by George Cheyne; walking was “most natural” and “most useful.”
* Good fitness research gets lost among the myriad of marketing claims, supplements, dubious diets and programs. But there is valid research involving studies with control groups that look for statistically significant results. The problem is the inability to do a blind random test, where half the group is assigned to exercise over a period of years and the other half must remain sedentary.

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The RealAge Makeover

Good book on my favorite topic of the moment, nutrition and exercise. Roizen’s premise is that we can do certain things (floss our teeth, wear a bike helmet, eat well) that reverse our aging process and make us younger than our calendar age. You can take the RealAge quiz online (be prepared to have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels to fill in)… my own RealAge is 5 years less than what the driver’s license says. He’s big on lists, and I crib from them in the notes below.
Odds & Ends-
* Marriage makes men younger, but doesn’t have as much of a positive effect on women. 😀
* I finally understand what METs are (I’m always seeing that my workout on the bike was 10 METs). Metabolic equivalent units– measuring the intensity of your training. 10 METs means I’m boosting my metabolic rate to 10x its resting rate.
* Don’t exercise so much that you expend more than 6400 kCal per week. 3500 kCal is the goal.
Tips to Help you Make Choices
* Make every calorie you eat delicious and nutrient rich
* Eat breakfast- with whole grains and a little healthy fat
* At every meal, eat healthy fat first
* Read labels for serving size and whole grain content
* Keep a steady weight
* Eat healthier foods
* Take a 30 minute walk every day with a friend
* Diversify your diet and add variety to the way you cook veggies
* Smaller portions
* Stop eating AS SOON AS YOU START TO FEEL FULL
* Don’t eat absentmindedly
* Drink lots o’ water
* Make eating, and the place you eat, special. (Eat only when sitting down! At a table!)
* Eat healthy at restaurants by asking questions and getting the youngest food
* Eat unprocessed foods
* Make meals fun and nonstressful events
15 Food Choices that Reduce Your Rate of Aging
* Choose appropriate caloric intake for your height/build
* Limit consumption of saturated/transfats
* Make 25% of your calories healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, flaxseed, nuts, fish, real chocolate)
* Eat 1 oz. of nuts 5 times a week
* Avoid simple carbohydrates and simple sugars
* Add fiber
* Snack on fruit
* Flavonoids, people! Cranberries, tea, tomatoes, apples, strawberries, broccoli, onlines, red wine
* 10 Tbs of tomato sauce per week
* 5 fistfuls of veggies per day
* 1/2 a glass to 1 glass of wine per day, ladies!
* Take vitamins, the right ones.
* Non-fried fish
I enjoyed the section on kicking the habit (originally written for smokers, but I’m applying it to my sugar addiction). Only 2% of people can quit cold turkey. Here’s his program for success:
* Start walking 30 minutes a day, every day. (He then recommends taking Wellbutrin on day 30, but I’m anti-drug)
* Call someone after your walk, every day.
* Day 33 is your quit day. Throw away all sugar related products.
* Find something to do with your hands when they get fidgety wanting a cookie
* Have lots of chopped veggies on hand for snacks
* When you feel tempted, close your eyes and take a deep breath.
Some of my favorites from the list of 78 things you can do to make your RealAge younger:
* take vitamins/calcium every day
* floss and brush teeth daily
* wear a seatbelt when riding in a car/wear a helmet when biking
* develop an Age Reduction plan
* eat tomato or spaghetti sauce & drink tea
* drink a glass of wine a day
* have sex
* eat breakfast
* laugh, a lot
* eat a balanced diet low in calories and high in nutrients
* eat only healthy fat
* use smaller plates (9 inch) to control portion sizes
* wash your hands and food frequently and well
* eat 5 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables per day
* eat whole grains
* eat fiber early in the day
* take control when you eat out, ask for younger foods (grilled, baked, not fried)
* get a good night’s sleep every night
* become a lifelong learner
* exercise regularly, expending 3500 kCal per week (strength and stamina building)
* call friends daily
* manage your finances and live within your means
* maintain a constant, desirable weight
* reduce stress
* complete nagging, unfinished tasks (NUTs)
* keep a positive attitude
Workouts
* Boost physical activity by incorporating more movement in regular life activities
* Build strength and flexibility (weight lifting, yoga)
* Build stamina (cardioooooo)
Checklist of Tests for Women (Yearly)
* Blood pressure
* Dental exam (every 6 months)
* PAP smear
* Diabetes test
* (Every five years): LDL level, HDL level, fasting triglyceride, C-reative protein
* Screen for thyroid disease
After 40 years old:
* mammogram
* Hemoccult test
* eye exam (every 3 years)
After 50 years old:
* Colonoscopy (then every 5)
* Bone density

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Rubies in the Orchard

I really wanted to give this book a chance. Especially since the POM blogger outreached to me and sent me a copy for review with a nice letter asking for feedback. Alas, I made it 92 pages and am pulling the rip cord to escape.
There’s this tone of self-righteousness that gets me. That, and the fact that it’s co-written by someone else who actually gets billing on the back flap (Francis Wilkinson). It’s basically a bio-fluff piece by a wildly successful marketeer who wants to share her decades of wisdom with us. Unique selling propositions and such. Resnick does have an impressive list of marketing successes: running her own marketing agency at age 19, taking over Teleflora and creating the USP that the vase is a beautiful gift the flower recipient is left with, creating a unique bottle for POM that shows the shape of the fruit, buying Jackie O’s fake pearls and then making copies of them for the Franklin Mint ($26M in profit).
But when someone who owns fields of pomegranates starts funding “independent” research on the health benefits of pomegranates, my antennae shoot straight up. It might be a detoxing wonderfruit, but I’m going to believe you a little bit less due to your profit motive.
And did she really need to name drop Rita Wilson on us? Plus, from that introductory scene, her famous gal pals ask her what her dream is, and she says she wants to write a book, but then she has to go and co-write it?

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Blank Spots on the Map

Casually flipping through the map archive at Berkeley, Paglen discovers missing panels from this microfiche, kicking off a long and arduous search for those missing spots, the blank spots on the map where the US government has placed their black sites, their shadow army.
Paglen rents a hotel room in Vegas and sets up surveillance on the airport, noting which of the shadow army’s planes are headed where. He ends the book back in the hotel room, noting the “hopeless banality” of the workers returning from their secret jobs. “Sit outside a Wal-Mart during a shift change, and the scene would be more or less the same: Ordinary people slogging home after a day on the job.”
I really wanted to enjoy this one more than I did. Great subject matter but needed a better editor. (Example, in the epilogue, he uses “no doubt” twice within 4 sentences of each other.) I understand the importance of the creation of the CIA, but did he have to devote 2 chapters to Nicaragua/Honduras? My attention wandered at that point.
Further reading: Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War

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Skinny Bitch

This was the “must read” book of the season a few years ago, when models and actors everywhere were spotted clutching it under their anorexic arms. I finally jumped on the bandwagon after a vegan podcast I listen to referred to it.
So yeah. Irreverent, kick-you-in-the-groin humor, and common sense wisdom. They bash you over the head with the fact that you need to eat a vegan diet to be healthy, but bring up a lot of convincing backstory to support it. The US uses 1 billion pounds of pesticide a year on our food. Of all the toxic chemicals found in food, 95-99% come from meat, fish, dairy and eggs. (source: Diet for a Poisoned Planet)
Fairly quick read, but entirely skippable.

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In Defense of Food

I knew immediately that this book was the best medicine to stop the insanity of my quest for nutritional knowledge. “We are becoming a nation of orthorexics: people with an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.” The gist of Pollan’s thesis, summed up, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This flies in the face of all the confusion surrounding the evil “nutritionism” fanatics who obsess about a particular macronutrient (fat, protein or carbs) or insist on a miracle micronutrient (omega-3 being the likely candidate for this century).
Eat food: real food, stuff your great-grandmother would recognize.
* avoid food products with ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, have more than 5 ingredients, or have high fructose corn syrup.
* avoid food that has a health claim
* shop the peripheries of a grocery store and stay out of the middle where processed food lurks
* get out of the supermarket as much as possible and shop farmers markets, gardens, CSAs
Mostly plants:
* eat plants, especially leaves (not seeds)
* if you eat animal products, care about what they eat because you’re eating it too
* eat like an omnivore- lots of new species to keep us away from harmful homogenization of crops
* eat well grown food from healthy soils
* eat wild foods
* savor your food, linger and enjoy, eat until 80% full, smaller portions plus a glass of wine
Not too much:
* pay more, eat less. Pay attention to quality. Organic really is tastier, slow down and enjoy each bite instead of shoveling food down your gullet
* eat meals. Don’t eat in front of a TV or alone. Make meals a bonding event and linger and enjoy the food communally.
* Eat whatever you eat at a table. Desks don’t count
* Don’t eat anything from a gas station
* don’t eat alone
* let your belly tell you when it’s full. Give it the full 20 minutes to be satiated.
* Eat slowly. Slow food movement all about caring where your food came from, enjoying each bite
* Cook and plant a garden
“As cook in your kitchen you enjoy an omniscience about your food that no amount of supermarket study or label reading could hope to match. Having retaken control of the meal from the food scientists and processors, you know exactly what is and is not in it: There are no questions about high-fructose corn syrup, or ethoxylated diglycerides, or partially hydrogenated soy oil, for the simple reason that you didn’t partially hydrogenate anything…”

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