Monday, November 28, 2016

Why I follow you…or not

There’s a lot made of the follows and likes on social media. Articles offer tips on ways to get more followers. Businesses of every stripe plead to be liked. Some social awareness marketing sites offer shortcuts to those who want to, in essence, buy followers, likes, and shares for their business, their brand, or themselves.

I started my blog in 2008 and joined Twitter in 2010 to see what social media was all about. I began to follow people I knew personally or professionally. I followed thought leaders and people who made me laugh. I looked for favorite news outlets and interesting sites.

There’s no great rhyme or reason to my following, or unfollowing, strategies. A follow or like doesn’t mean I’m a true-blue, faithful fan. And an unfollow doesn’t mean you’ve lost my confidence. There’s no analytic or deeper meaning here. I’m just a fickle consumer of social media.

I recently began following a number of local and national politicians on Twitter. No, wait. Don’t stop reading now. It’s not what you think. There’s an old saying, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” So I am testing a theory about listening to people I otherwise might avoid. I am trying to get more insight into differences, discover plans that may be in the works, and see if there is any common ground in uncommon areas.

So far, my experiment is proving only partly successful. I’ve had to unfollow a few who seem untethered to reality as I know it – and to those who post mainly platitudes and party lines, with little original thought to contribute. On the other hand, I am beginning to feel a little more informed about who is saying what or doing something for, or against, things that matter to me.

As social media has evolved, it has gained far more impact and influence than most could ever have imagined. Where it goes from here is just as unknowable. The only thing that seems certain is continual tinkering with technology so that today’s hot networking sites will one day be leapfrogged by something even hotter.

Me? I can’t wait to follow what’s next.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Driven to distraction by direction seekers

#ThrowbackThursday: Originally published April 25, 2007, in the Sports section of the weekly paper "News of Delaware County."

It often happens that when I’m running along the streets of Delaware County, people will stop their cars to ask for directions.

What they really need to do is pull into a gas station, but I guess that’s like admitting defeat. By asking someone on the run, they must think our more casual encounter doesn’t count against their navigation skills. What they don’t know is this: They’re asking the wrong person.

My running buddies and I meet in Media, in Upper Providence, in Springfield, in Swarthmore. Occasionally, we run in Collingdale, Aldan, or Secane. We know the courses because we’ve been doing them for years. What we don’t know are all the street names. Or where a certain business is. Or the nearest ATM.

Even if I did know, it would take a few minutes for that knowledge to break through the mental fog as I get my bearings. I first have to catch my breath, figure out where I am, see if I know where the target location is and then try to simplify the directions between Point A (where I’m standing) and Point B (where they really want to be).

I might be able to do all that given enough time. But when traffic piles up and horns blare, my mind jams. Even if I do know the way, I have a hard time translating my backstreet routes and shortcuts into the roads most traveled.

What drivers don’t seem to realize is that if I’m running, I’m not going to be too happy about unplanned stops. Yes, it’s nice to help strangers find their way, and I’m most eager to be of service when I’m walking around town. When I’m in mid-run, it can be hard to stop and equally hard to start again. 

That’s not just a personal problem, that’s the law. According to Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion, the natural tendency is for a body in motion to remain in motion—and a body at rest to remain at rest—unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. I don’t know how balanced these drivers are, but they certainly are clueless.

Never before in history have there been so many tools available to help people find their way. Haven’t they heard about the online mapping sites of Google, Yahoo or Microsoft Live? Didn’t they stock up on printed maps at AAA? Can’t they navigate by satellite with GPS? There are now global positioning systems available for any car, motorcycle, boat, laptop computer, mobile phone or wrist.

When you consider the near ubiquity of mobile phones, there’s really no reason to ever be lost. I’ve seen people use their phones to find loved ones on crowded streets in Singapore and busy arcades at the Jersey Shore. You would think drivers could pull over and call their destination for directions as easily as stopping a crazy runner on the street.

Some coast-along drivers won’t even take “No” for an answer. They follow you at low speeds, even as you shake your head and shrug your shoulders—the universal sign for “You got me.” There are times when I don’t even slow down for drivers’ questions. I’m not being rude, I just know that I won’t be of much help. There’s also the strong possibility that I would end up sending them in the wrong direction—unintentionally, of course.

There are no take-backs once the driver pulls away and you’ve suddenly remembered that he should be on Route 252, not 352 or 452. A simple misspeak in numbers can put someone miles off course. The only bright side is that by the time he realizes that he’s way far from his destination, he won’t be able to find me either.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Yes, wardrobes have expiration dates

It has been more than 16 years since I left the corporate environment. And it has taken me about as long to purge my closet of corporate attire.

The first few passes culled items that showed wear, poor buying choices, and extremely out-of-date clothing. (Think shoulder pads.) The next few passes were harder.

It was much easier to make choices when, as a kid, I simply outgrew things. No such luck anymore. Growth spurts stopped in my teens. And, luckily, I’ve been relatively consistent in weight, so my wardrobe still fits. It just may not fit the latest style.

It’s not that I’m a fashion maven or trendy. I buy for the long term, preferring pieces that mix and match with what I already own. What I rarely think about is expiration dates on wardrobe items. And I should.

Case in point: I recently attended a wedding wearing clothing of different vintages and a pair of pumps that had seen many a corporate hallway. It wasn’t until I sat down at the ceremony that I noticed a chunk of outsole missing from my shoe. I quickly shifted my position to hide the flaw and all was well. Or so I thought.

At the first dance, the harsh reality of shoe failure hit. Just a few step-touch, step-touch moves and both soles cracked and crumbled. Chunks of sole resembling cake icing were left in my wake. I beat a hasty retreat to the table and, soon after, to the car.

At least it wasn’t as bad as the great pantyhose failure a few years ago. I had tapped my stash of stockings, a holdover from when they were a corporate necessity, for a night in the city. Things were fine through the movie and dinner, but quickly unraveled on the walk back to the car. (For those of you old enough to remember Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In, think of the Ruth Buzzi old-lady character with stockings pooling around her ankles.)

They say things come in threes, so I can only imagine what my third wardrobe failure will be. I can only be more vigilant in inspection whenever I pull something out of the closet to wear.

I have long respected expiration dates on medicines, food, and beverages. Now I’m adding shoes, stockings, and other clothing items to the list. Apparently wardrobes have expiration dates, too.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

It's my race, and I'll cry if I want to

#ThrowbackThursday: With the annual Delco RRC Cross Country Championships this weekend, it seems appropriate to republish this column, which originally ran December 1993 in the Road Runners Club newsletter. 

Some people get more out of running than others. Devotees go on at length about the many advantages, both physical and mental. A few even talk about a spiritual side of running. But you don't often hear about the crying.

I don't know whether crying makes you run faster or if it just takes your mind off the mindless repetition of left-right-left-right-left-right. I've never tried the crying technique because I've had such success with my "bitching and moaning" training program (where you run while complaining about everything and anything.)

I was first introduced to crying runs a few years back at the annual Delco RRC Cross Country Championships at Rose Tree Park. Each year, I've seen the number of disciples grow until this year it reached a new high.

I'd like to avoid saying that crying is gender based, but so far only the high school girls have been spotted sobbing their way through the 5K course. (The boys have their own idiosyncrasies: I've heard cursing in cadence and seen far too many "recycled" lunches.)

Not all the girls cry on the course, just a few. But those few are so good at it, it's like watching a new art form emerge. When they go by, you don't know whether to offer a tissue or applaud the effort.

I hope you don't get the impression that I'm hard-hearted or cruel. I do my duty as course marshal and make sure the runners are all right. But you have to stand in awe of a physically fit, well-built junior at the back of the pack who can crank up the decibels every time her male team members cheer her onward. That's what got me thinking this was more a theatrical performance than a physical phenomenon. 

It also reminded me of my 18-month-old nephew who only likes to cry when he knows people are watching. He'll screw up his face, let out a few howls, take a few deep breaths, and then peek to see if he's got your attention.

One of the reasons I'm attracted to running is that anything goes. You can wear what you want, run when and where you want, and there's no single form that's right for everyone. So, if crying helps some people to run better, who am I to question? And if it becomes a trend, just remember where you heard it first.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Exercise is taking off, but will commitment follow?

 #ThrowbackThursday: Originally published January 4, 2006, in the Sports section of the weekly paper "News of Delaware County."

Pick up any magazine or newspaper and you’re bound to find a story touting exercise. It used to be that 30 minutes three or four times a week would do the trick. Now the experts are saying daily exercise is best. Well, maybe you can take a day off every now and then, but you better have a really good reason.

Thirty minutes doesn’t seem too onerous, considering it takes me two hours to complete my gym workouts. Okay, 90 minutes, if I cut out the chit-chat, although that’s the charm of going to the gym. With Power Yoga, we’re still getting warmed up after 30 minutes. We’ve barely touched on the balance poses and abdominal work. It’s a 75-minute workout on a short night.

It’s hard to justify jogging, or even aqua-jogging, for only 30 minutes. It doesn’t seem worth the effort of changing clothes, showering and the load of laundry that follows. It’s a good thing I have a flexible schedule, or I’d have to give up my day job to fit everything in. For those who actually have to be somewhere 40 hours a week, it may be tough to find time to exercise. But it’s not impossible.

One of the hottest franchises around is the express workout, typically a single-gender facility with a circuit of machines. It’s the exercise equivalent of musical chairs, only no one gets kicked out when it’s time to switch. In 30 minutes or less, you’ve got yourself a complete workout.

If you can’t make even that much of a time commitment, there’s something else you can try. It’s called a Range of Motion machine, or ROM. It promises a complete workout in only four minutes. Honest. All it takes is a willingness to both suspend disbelief and pay the incredible sum of $14,615.

A ROM looks more like a time-machine chassis than any Nautilus, Cybex, NordicTrack or StairMaster equipment you might stumble over at your local health club. It has pedals and handles and who knows what else, because you really can’t figure out how it works by the picture. It appears to be a purely mechanical device, but it magically adapts its resistance every single second to match your ability. I guess when you’ve only got four minutes, every second counts.

Does it work? I won’t even guess. The company makes the amazing claim that 97% of all rentals become sales. But just as amazing to me is where it chooses to advertise. In Scientific American. How is it that scientists have gotten to be a target audience for this sales pitch? Are they too busy thinking great thoughts to spend anything but the minimal amount of time exercising? Do brainiacs have such deep pockets that they’d spend for a workout machine about what it costs to buy a new PT Cruiser, Ford Focus or Mazda 3 sedan? I guess scientists are used to thinking outside the box; who knew they also think outside the budget.

When it comes to exercise, it doesn’t matter whether you go to a gym, buy a machine or strap on a pair of sneaks. If you can squeeze in 30 minutes of walking, biking, kick-boxing, whatever, that’s great. If you have the time and inclination to extend your workouts, you can extend the benefits, too.  

If you only have four minutes and beaucoup bucks to spare, there’s a solution out there waiting for you. I only hope you don’t spend $15k for a high-tech clothing rack, which is the fate of too many home exercise machines.

It doesn’t take money or equipment to become fit. It takes commitment. Find an activity you can stick with and make it a regular part of your day. Every day.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ta-da! moments work against ruts

#ThrowbackThursday: Originally published May 3, 2006, in the Sports section of the weekly paper "News of Delaware County."

Exercise is all about repetition. Doing something over and over again to get faster, better, stronger. To build stamina. To stay in shape.

Think about runners putting in their miles. Swimmers doing laps. Weight lifters pumping iron. Yoga students practicing poses. Why else do batting cages and driving ranges exist? Repetition is the way to perfect your form and improve your game.

All this repetition takes time, and to make sure it gets done, you have to establish a routine. I know someone who sets his alarm clock for 4:20 every morning so he can get a full workout in before his paying workday starts.

I know many others who devote certain days to specific exercises—or to exercising specific parts of the body. If it’s Monday, it must be upper body weights; Tuesday, speed work on the track, and so on.

Some people carve their routines in stone, they’re that inflexible with their schedules. They’re like Billy Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, doing the same things in an endless loop.

That’s one of the dangers of routines; it doesn’t take much for them to turn into ruts. Then you find yourself becoming bored, losing momentum, hitting a plateau.

Routines, by their very nature, are hard to change. That’s why they’re called routines. For those who can’t, or won’t, change their routines, it helps to find new ways to inject fun into workouts. I do it by imagining Ta-da! moments.

These are the small breakthroughs that let you know you’re making progress. They can come when you truly get lost in what you’re doing or when you visualize a positive outcome and it happens. Batters who are hitting well often say the ball looks bigger. So do tennis players. Basketball players say the hoop seems so big, they can’t miss. It’s a mental phenomenon with an impact on reality.

Ta-da! moments are intrinsically motivating. I don’t even have to say the word aloud to smile and feel the energy. Think of the finale of every magic trick ever done. The woman who had been sawed in half moments earlier climbs out of the box in one piece, and Ta-da! The only thing left to do is bow.

I started thinking about “Ta-da” moments after visiting the chiropractor. Like a magician, most of his work is staging. You’re brought into a room, you answer questions about how you’re feeling, you climb onto the table, maybe get a heating pad while you relax and wait. Then, at the right moment, the doc sweeps into the room for the main event. He performs a few quick, expert moves and— Ta-da!—you’re back in alignment.

Once I applied the Ta-da! concept to exercise, I began noticing moments everywhere. Keeping up with the boys on a weekday run. Finally being able to balance my entire weight on two hands in a squatting yoga pose. Finding that my aqua jogging has improved my road running. Moving up in weights at the gym. All Ta-da! moments.

Repetition gives you the discipline you need to make progress. It can also dig a rut so deep you begin to feel stale. To keep things fresh and interesting, it helps to find a new perspective.

For most of us, no matter how hard or long we exercise, there will never be any first-place finishes or gold medals. But there are always Ta-da! moments to be found. You just have to start looking for them.
                                                                * * *

Friday, August 26, 2016

You gotta laugh

I have reached full saturation with negative, combative, downright nasty news. I can no longer stand to listen to political commentary. I am beyond disappointed with all the politicians, actors, and athletes who are being investigated, charged, and convicted of wrongdoing. I am disheartened with all the violence and disrespect against anyone considered different.

Life is too short, and too amazing, for all that. And so I am taking a holiday from the nastiness and looking for laughter.

Some of the comedy bits that have made me laugh lately include these:

From the late John Pinette
On working with a trainer at the gym to lose weight:

“Then he says to me, ‘Give me a situp.’ I said, ‘Oh, Nay Nay!’ I don't do ‘Ups.’ I told him that when I signed up. I don't do ‘Ups’. I do ‘Downs.’ Sit down, lay down, Black-Jack I'll double-down...Give me a cheeseburger I'll wolf it down. Put on a little music, I'll boogie down. But I don't do ‘Ups.’ Ups defy gravity...Gravity is a law...I obey the law.”

From the late Mitch Hedberg:
“One time I had a Jack and Coke and it had a lime in it. And I saw that the lime was floating. That’s good news, man. Next time I’m on a boat and it capsizes, I will reach for a lime. I’ll be water skiing without a life preserver on and people will say, ‘What the hell?’ And I will pull out a lime. And a lemon, too. I’m saved by the buoyancy of citrus.”

“I bought a house. I bought a two-bedroom house. But it’s up to me how many bedrooms there are though, isn’t it. This bedroom has an oven in it. This bedroom has a lot of people sitting around watching TV. This bedroom is AKA a hallway. This bedroom is over in that guy’s house. ‘Sir, you have one of my bedrooms. Stay out.’ I’ve got a king-size bed. I don’t know any kings, but if one came over, I guess he’d be comfortable. ‘Oh, you’re a king you say, well you won’t believe what I have in store for you. It’s for your exact specifications.’ When I was a boy, I laid in my twin-size bed and wondered where my brother was.”

From still-alive-and-well Kevin Meaney:

“We couldn't wear tight pants growing up in my family. ‘You're not wearing those tight pants out, Mister. Put your big pants on. Going outside with tight pants on. We’re big pants people. Get upstairs to your room and put your big pants on. The Loferman’s are coming over and you're wearing tight pants. Why? Your father doesn't wear tight pants.”

From sometime-local-resident and always a celebrity Wanda Sykes

“We all really should be organ donors. I mean, c’mon why are you holding on to it? You’re dead. Give it up. Let somebody else use it. Although, I hope whoever gets my liver, God bless ‘em. There aint gonna be much left on it. But I don’t understand why people don’t want to give. Some people say, ‘Well, it’s my religion.’ …You scared when you get to heaven your God gonna be like, ‘Where the hell are your eyes? Ain’t this a bitch. You up here with empty eye sockets. Where are your eyes? You can’t even see all this pretty shit I got up here for you.’”

So forgo the news and look for laughs. At least until the elections are over. If there's something we all could use more of, it's laughter in our lives.