Monday, October 15, 2007

THE INSPIRATION OF A FRIEND

Everybody, at one time or another, needs a little inspiration.


I just watched the last inning of the Colorado Rockies’ sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks to win the National League championship, continuing an incredible, unprecedented run of 21 victories out of the last 22 games. As a Dodgers fan I take inspiration from that, from seeing a perpetual underdog rising up like Thor and bringing the hammer down on all comers, and I hope my team does too, right now and in 2008. And I hope the Rockies can string together four more in a row and make this a season where even those with that pronounced East Coast Bias will have to tip their caps and admit that there is baseball—good baseball-- west of the Mississippi.

I get inspired by great movies too, of course, from the opportunity to revisit old favorites that are sure to move me (Nashville, Nights of Cabiria, Only Angels Have Wings, Ikiru) to the new discoveries of aged masterpieces (The Earrings of Madame de…, The Exterminating Angel, Pilgrimage, Pierrot le fou) that still have the shock of the new and the electricity of art. Movies no one would mistake for art, crude comedies like Beerfest and jackass number two, clunky thrillers like The Boys from Brazil, or big-budget adventures like the original Poseidon Adventure, carry with them the ability to inspire me to rise out of self-created, self-absorbed doldrums and focus on the little things, like laughter and cheap thrills, that can sometimes make the difference between a disastrous day and a delightful one. And I am always inspired when I see, as I did this weekend, how much unadulterated joy and free-squiggling happiness is brought to my daughters whenever they can sing along with Hairspray, or gasp for the eighth time over the absurd, good-natured, human-scaled comic-book spectacle of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.


But I’m lucky enough to have friends to inspire me too. Those of you who write and leave comments and take part in the things that go on here, you know who you are. But I’m talking about other friends as well. Friends like Brian Conboy, someone I’ve worked with for going on 15 years now, someone who has, without ostentation or emotional theatrics, stepped up to the responsibilities of friendship in many ways for my wife and I over the course of those 15 years. And in just the same quiet manner Brian has, over the past eight years, gone about refashioning his own life, transforming himself from an overweight fast-food addict to a trim, muscular marathon runner who has never enjoyed the level of good health and positive outlook that he does in his life today.


(Photo: Stephen Carr, Long Beach Press-Telegram)

As we all probably know, good health and a positive outlook are not always easy paths on which to travel with any consistency. While Brian was busy undergoing his own new outlook on life seven years ago, I went on a serious (for me) weight-loss campaign based around a better, more vigilant diet and fairly regular exercise. My rationale: I wanted to be around when my newborn baby daughter turned 40, the age I was when she was born, so I could talk to her about her life and her own kids, should she elect to have them. It was a good, solid reason then, and it’s even more of one now. I kept the weight (about 40 pounds) off for nearly three years. So why did I backslide and regain it all over again? There are probably lots of reasons, but whatever it/they may be, the fact is, I’m overweight, it’s a serious concern, and I know it. And though I’ll never aspire to run marathons the way my friend Brian has trained himself to do, I do dream one day of long-distance bike rides and other ways to enjoy myself that don’t necessarily involve images flickering by at 24 frames per second.

This is why I’m grateful to have him in my daily life, and my best friend Bruce as well, two people who know how to take care of themselves and enjoy living healthy lives without constantly trumpeting their achievements or bemoaning their sorry lot when mealtime rolls around. Brian is going back to school with me too, the both of us taking the long, slow stairway toward self-improvement by becoming teachers. It’s good to have a partner off whom to bounce ideas and study strategies, as well as someone who understands when you just need to complain about an obstinate, illogical instructor. And as I’ve spent more time observing the way Brian takes care of himself, I feel foolish in that I haven’t taken advantage of the golden opportunity to draw inspiration from the self-discipline he’s managed to orchestrate for himself. He is, as well as a fine friend, one who manages to keep a positive attitude amidst sometimes suffocating circumstances, one with the ability to lead by example.

And others have taken notice too. Brian was recently profiled by the Long Beach Press-Telegram in a, yes, very inspirational account of how he managed to grab himself by his tennis shoes and lift himself out of a pit of despair through a near-total revision of his attitudes on diet and exercise. It’s a moving article, and knowing just how many people he has touched by just living his life makes reading the piece even more astounding. What overweight slob would be dumb enough not to count him/herself lucky to be in the presence of someone like that every day? Really, what I’m getting at here is that I’ve had enough of life as it is, grabbing burgers on the run and letting the frenetic pace of the life I’ve courted rule my every moment. There’s absolutely no reason why just a little of the inspiration that Brian found in himself can’t rub off on me as we both continue along on our educational journey. And I’m talking about the attitude toward the physical too. It’s time to acknowledge that example of diet and exercise in some way other than intellectually. It’s time to retrain myself to have the desire to be physically fit again. It’s a road I’ve needed to head down for a long time, and I thank Brian, and Bruce, and most consistently my wife, for providing the push, in that especially nonaggressive, nonjudgmental way that we who most need it know is the only way to make a convincing case for a radical change of lifestyle. Who knows? After five or so years of seeing me treat myself with some respect for once, maybe that’ll inspire my own family in much the same way Brian has inspired me. Maybe, because of the decision to start taking care of myself now, I’ll still be writing film criticism 40 years from now too, in between phone calls with both of my daughters and grading the latest stack of papers from my class.

18 comments:

Jonathan Lapper said...

Dennis,
This is one terrific post. Sincerely. Let me just say a few things (I'll see if I can beat Bill to the punch - he and I being what I consider to be the SLIFR Dueling Commenters - we'll be playing Vegas all next week). First the weight thing can be difficult I am sure. I have been overweight but never enough that I can give advise without people rolling their eyes and saying things like, "Yeah whatever slim". But it's true I really have. I have been as much as twenty pounds overweight at times (which I know is not a lot to some people but it affected my mobility - my knees started hurting - and my sleep - I developed apnea). I stayed overweight for years despite being a beanpole through my teens and twenties. I figured my metabolism had slowed down, or certain people gained weight faster, etc. There are nuggets of truth in that but the larger truth is with eating, plain and simple. Frontline did an excellent report on it last year went through all the diets and science and no matter what anyone tells you, it's eating and exercise. For instance, go to Live Science and read up on things like "The Fat Gene" to discover the wealth of misinformation out there on that. So anyway it all hit home when I got re-married (my personal life has been a long strange trip). My wife is thin, not Shelley Duvall thin, but slender to a fault. I worked with her for years before we became romantically entwined and would always hear people complain that she could eat whatever she wants and not gain weight. Meanwhile I noticed the people saying this were always snacking and she wasn't. Then she and I moved in together and it hit me like a ton of bricks: She moves ALL THE TIME. She does not like lethargy she likes walking. Last week we had to go to the art supply store (she's a painter) in downtown Silver Spring about three miles away. I grabbed the car keys and she said, "Let's just walk." I put the keys back and we walked. She can certainly relax and watch a movie but I've never seen her sit still for anything other than that. And she can eat anything she wants. You know why? Because she never snacks and she NEVER finishes anything. She'll order a cheeseburger at a pub and eat a third of it. Then five hours later she'll have half a plate of spaghetti with some salad. For dessert all she wants is a taste. So anyway, I calculated her calories one day from one of her "eat whatever she wants" days and it came to around 1100 calories. With the amount of activity she maintains I frankly don't know how she stays alive on what must be 2 or 3 hundred calories remaining after the burning off of activity. Then there's her dad. Seventy-Nine, slender, trim and well-toned. Ask him to go to the store for you to pick up an entire load of groceries six miles away - AND HE WALKS IT. Then comes back with bags in his hands and others stuffed into a backpack.

So that was my awakening. I eat whatever I want now too - in small quantities. I eat until I'm satisfied, never until I'm full. I walk two or three times every day and maintain a nice regimen of simple weights to aid with the cardio-vascular. But I know from my own experiences and the experiences of friends, if you try to change the way you eat drastically you will fail. If you eat healthy foods most of the time, eat unhealthy some of the time, eat in satisfying but not overwhelming quantities and exercise, exercise, exercise you will eventually reach your goal. Hey I just had two doughnuts for breakfast so you can eat unhealthy sometimes. But I also know it's not a regular thing and I'll be walking for an hour on my lunch break. And have the patience to wait two or three years for the desired effect. If you rush it you increase the chance of re-gain.

You're a terrific guy Dennis and all of us want you here for another forty years. And you're honesty on display in your blog is admirable. I hope this long comment wasn't too rambling. And I can't wait to hear what Bill has to say. Talk to you later.

The Shamus (formerly TLRHB) said...

Keep at it, Dennis. If anybody can do it, I know you can.

lucas mcnelly said...

wow, Dennis, this is a great post. it's always nice to see people open up and let people see a bit of their lives as something other than cinephiles.

best of luck with the weight loss stuff

Christian said...

Great post. Exercise is great, but I'm convinced by Gary Taubes that it's NOT essential for weight loss (sorry, folks). He wrote about it recently in New York Magazine:

The Scientist and the Stairmaster: Why most of us believe that exercise makes us thinner—and why we're wrong.

http://nymag.com/news/sports/38001/

I'm first in the queue to get hold of a library copy of Taubes' new book, "Good Calories, Bad Calories," which just cracked the NY Times "Advice" Best-Seller list. And just to prove that I'm aware that not everyone shares Taubes' views, here's a negative review of the title from the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/07/books/review/Kolata-t.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Dennis: I wish you well on your journey. I've recently cracked 200 pounds -- a level I said I'd NEVER crest, and which motivated me to change my way of eating twice, when I hit 196 lbs. five years ago, and then crept back up to 190 a couple of years ago.

Sadly, although my body likes low-carb eating, I have an extreme weakness for simple carbs. I like sweets. It's not enough to know I'm not hungry, or that the sweets will do me no good. So I've gained what I lost. But rather than throw in the towel, I read the Discussion Board at Atkins.com religiously, and I've seen my bloodwork numbers improve greatly, despite the weight issues (I'm six-feet tall, BTW).

I hope you find an approach that works for you.

Hey, Jonathan: You live in Maryland? Are you planning to attend the Virginia Film Festival? They just made thier final lineup additions, and it's looking great. I think I'll try to get down there for Friday's screenings, maybe Saturday's too:

http://www.vafilm.com/2007/news/virginia-film-festival-announces-more-guests/

We missed Albert Maysles earlier this month. Drat!

Peter Nellhaus said...

I am feeling ambivalent about the Rockies' win. I was a fan of theirs when Denver finally got a major league team after so many failed attempts. There was also a feeling of pride that a high school friend on mine, Karle Seydel, was responsible for bringing major league baseball to downtown Denver, helping rejuvinate that part of town. I was a Rockies fan until a few years ago.

The USA Today article about the team being Chistian turned me off. Even though they stated that the article was inaccurate, artlicles in the past couple of days have emphasised the Christian identity of the Rockies. It makes me wonder if the Rockies would have a place for someone like Sandy Koufax or Hank Greenberg, or a Buddhist like Willie Davis.

Sal said...

Hey buddy,

Once again you unashamedly share pieces of yourself with us that most people try to deny, even to themselves.

I feel you my friend. I too am overweight and like you, I was once a very athletic person, relatively speaking. I did the gym/health spa thing every other day for at least 4 years. I was a streamlined 170 pounds with nearly 12" GUNS.

I also went south with my weight in a big way ballooning up to a tasty 265 pounds. After a nasty and terrifying anxiety attack I changed my habits from uncontrollably bad to a more livable lifestyle in how I dealt with food. For the last 9 years I've been what I affectionately call a "comfortable" 220lbs. It's still considered overweight but it's light years from where I was.

Bravo to you and your friends. You are a man of conviction. Your daughters are lucky to have a dad like you.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Christian, whatever works for you do it, I say. But just so you have all the info let me say that I prefer medical journals, studies and articles from science sites such as
this
or
this
or
this
to Gary Taubes. The last link deals with Taubes whose facts, figures and conclusions have been taken to task by not just the scientific and medical community but by Reason Online as well as Skeptic Magazine, both of whom represent the critical thinking, empirical evidence crowd.

And thanks for the heads up on the Virginia Film Festival, I'll have to look into that.

Tucker said...

Great and inspirational post. Earlier this year I had several friends run a marathon. I decided to run the 5K (3.1 miles) run that went along with it - for those of us who getting up off the couch is a challenge. I had a great time and vowed I would run the marathon next year. A couple of months ago I ran my first 10K. I've been trying to work out and lose weight, but I've hit various small roadblocks (knees & back problems) and have had to take more rest than I expected. So maybe I'll do the 1/2 marathon instead. Either way I vow to be a person who is healthy and not overweight. I say this because I am in a similar boat as you. I have two daughers (7 yrs and 8 months) and I want to be able to be around when they get older. I also want to be active with them as they grow up, like going hiking or biking with them. They key for me is to remind myself constantly of what I wnat to do and why. I also need a goal more specific than just "get in shape." So I try to tie my working out to something tangible, like a race, etc. It's total doable. Make it a part of your life rather than something added on. Invest in those things that will set you up for success. For me it actually started with buying a gym bag and workout clothes so I had fewer excuses to not work out. Funny how those things go.

Christian said...

Jonathan: Thanks for those links, although I couldn't access the first site (password protected). The second was about "the myth of the fat gene," with no mention of Taubes, while the last was a pretty brutal takedown of Taubes' journalistic practices. However, it IS from 2003, and his new book has 60 pages (I hear) of endnotes documenting his thesis, which has been supported now in numerous studies around the world in the intervening years. He might STILL engage in sleazy journalistic tactics -- I find that disappointing, as he is, or was, a writer for "Science" magazine -- but I'll take the evidence from the studies over qualifying quotes from nervous doctors any day. (Sorry, but I'm biased, having learned just how wrong the medical establishment has been for so many, many years now.)

Dennis: Sorry for the slight thread derailment. We're not completely off topic here, but I don't want to get into a tit for tat. Folks who want to study further can read the Taubes book, or Jonathan's links.

Best to you in your quest to drop pounds, but remember: What's going on in the inside (cholesterol, triglycerides, blood insulin levels) is just as important, if not more so, than what changes outwardly.

bill said...

Dennis, to you I say, "Proceed, my friend! Prove to naysayers such as Jonathan Lapper that no one man can ever lose a single pound! People such as Jonathan have no place in our civilized society!"

(If I have mispresented the opinions or statements of anyone here, I apologize. I'm in a rush!)

Ha ha, no, but seriously, as they say. Dennis, I, too, have struggled with my weight, and have paid certain prices (I'm okay now! Don't worry!), and it can be, as I believe Dickens once said, a real bitch. Nowadays, I do watch my fat and sugar pretty damn closely, and I also exercise a lot more, and it's definitely paying off. I'm still overweight, (I'm at about 235, and I'm 6'2", just so you know) but my health issues are under control, and I don't really feel like I'm missing out. Oh, every so often I do, but not much. I was fairly shocked to learn that there is food that is good for you that actually tastes damn good. Oh, and here's a tip: I use Frito-Lay or Tostito's cheese dips as a condiment a lot. The fat and sugar content is nil, and it makes everything I use it on taste like the delicious crap I used to eat all the time. Or close enough, anyway.

Portions are still an issue. Jonathan, you and your wife infuriate me! Also, are you a Redskins fan? Are you two the reason they lost on Sunday? Because if you are, so help me...

Anyway, that's all I have right now. Good luck to you, Dennis. Once you get into the groove again, it's easier than you probably think. And you'll probably do better than me.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Bill,
Thank god you showed up! I was feeling lonely. No one misinterprets better than you buddy - You're the King! Justs so's you know: I'm a New Englander at heart (and my father lived in Massachusetts for a few years) so it's Red Sox and Pats! Yes, yes you can hate me even more now.

And Christian, I agree to retire this here and now. I've taken too many past comments off track here at SLIFR (although Bill always seemed to help). I have simply found through empirically resolved studies that exercise helps lose weight (that's what the medical journal article concerned) and I thought it was inappropriate to tell someone who had just written a heartfelt post about his good friend changing his life through exercise (by becoming a marathon runner) that exercise doesn't help. But if Dennis wasn't offended then I shall not be either.

Cheers.

Bob said...

I think almost everyone can relate to this post.

Like Jonathan said, I think it's important to keep things realistic. A lot of people (most?) have a kind of all-or-nothing mindset that can be really unproductive. Do what you can, when you can. Don't think you've failed if haven't become Jack Lalane...just don't be Chris Farley.

In fact, I think one way of looking at it is not so much concentrating on big weight losses but more on just being healthy by eating healthy food and exercising, and sort of letting the weight take care of itself.

I've been fighting this battle myself pretty much my entire life. While I'm definitely overweight in terms of BMI (maybe as much as thirty pounds, though some of it is muscle...or at least I'd like to think so), I've managed to stay at the "stocky" level and far enough from "fat" to stave off most of the health issues that that I'm genetically predisposed to (so far).

Regardless, I'm convinced that "dieting" can never really work because it implies a temporary situation. The only way to go is to see how far you can change your eating HABITs, maybe eliminating one or two things to start with and working your way up from there. Also, I think some people who are perpetual bargain hounds who use that as an excuse -- these are not poor people, btw -- as fattening foods are invariably cheaper than most healthy ones. Don't be afraid to treat yourself to healthy and/or non-caloric treats that might be a little extra pricey. (Good coffee, for example, has no more calories than crappy coffee.)

As I used to try and tell my significantly overweight mother, just think of the doctor bills.

Also, at least for my set of tastebuds, Splenda has turned out to be a gift from God.

Murray said...

AMEN, Cuz

Piper said...

Nice piece Dennis.

Inspiration is a powerful thing and there's nothing better than a rags to riches story - not that anyone was near rags but you get the idea. I myself could use a little inspiration in that department.

As for being a Kansas City guy, I hope the inspiration of The Rockies wears off on my KC Royals one day. And let's hope that day is soon.

jim emerson said...

You know, Dennis, this doesn't often happen, but the first time I ever read your blog I not only liked your writing, but I felt I immediately liked you. This post once again confirms that feeling.

blaaagh said...

I've been missing reading your posts, not making time for it and just skimming over them (let's just say I'm dealing with a lot of my own life stuff, all to the betterment of my future), and then I stopped and read this one, not even about movies. Well, my friend, I must say that I don't even think of you as being overweight, as you're just such a good person, you always look healthy and have such a great, positive approach to life and to other people, and I've always found you such a source of inspiration--not to mention humor, camaraderie, insight, fun, and a zillion other good things. That said, it occasionally occurs to me that you could be a bit more selfish about your own well-being; I think you've always been someone who didn't abuse his body, but just put everyone else first, so probably you run out of energy to work out or whatever. So just a bit more selfishness might do it, as I remember you loving your racquetball sessions (something I seem to be too uncoordinated for!) and your workouts, when you used to go to that big stucco club in Hollywood (whatever it was called).

As for me, you're awfully kind, and though some of the reason I stay fit and eat healthy is that I'm a vain actor, it's at least as much because a nice run in the rain, for example, makes me feel happier and more hopeful, and I'm much more able to face whatever bullshit I have to deal with that day.

So my point is, please don't change too much, but please do make this important, as you'll feel better, enjoy life more, and be around for many more decades. I can't imagine what it'd be like without you, so I'm glad to hear you're getting back on the horse. Just take it a little at a time. I'll see you in a couple of weeks!! (How about that? I can't believe it). If you want, we can go work out, or at least go for some hellaciously long hikes.

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Phillip Kelly said...

You let your kids watch "Rise of the Surfer"??? I can only imagine that it will leave scars on their creative persons. They may never be the same. Be careful, my friend. Of course I loved "Krull" when I was a kid. I've learned better.