Friday, September 30, 2011


From discussions with Shane and Mike, it seems possible to cleave the masses into two general categories, those who seek out pain and those who retreat from it.  Of course this is a completely unfair and arbitrary distinction, with no meaning or value associated with it, but one which seems to ring true at least to those of us who, in our own head, seem to seek some sort of suffering.

Ensconse is such a bold word, it wreaks of strength and fortification, and yet in my mind it seems to be the ultimate trap to avoid.  Of course there's a Phish song that brings all of this up, "Nothing" off Undermind.  All alliteration aside, when I examine the lyrics, they speak to me in the language that I crave.  Shane calls it "seeking out a deep sensation".  Mike calls it "racing heroically".  The Goddess prefers the adjective, "baller".  Hillary calls it "sufferfest" and even had special shirts made.

When we attempt Ironman or ultra, a sub 65 minute half marathon (good luck on Sunday, Paul!) or our first experience at 26.2, we open ourselves up in ways we haven't imagined.  Paddling out at Waimea or Sunset beach, the first time lips meet with someone new, or calling an old friend to ask for help, these moments of vulnerability display our marrow, and all of its associated insecurities and inadequacies.  When we ensconse ourselves for our own protection and longevity, in a foolish attempt to protect those vulnerabilities, we miss the point of living.

I'm not advocating ignoring sunscreen or nutritional needs like I have a tendency to do sometimes, although I do find extreme hunger and sunburn to be very vivid reminders of just how delicate we are and how precious each moment should be.  And I'm not passing judgement on anyone who takes a safe path through life.  I've certainly played it safe in so many ways and I continue to do so.  But I am glorifying, with all of the enthusiasm of misguided youth which has long since passed me by, the joy of seeking out that which brings us pain.  It feels so incredible to shock the senses, when we reach well beyond what we know we are capable of and fail in brilliant and explosive glory.  Pain leads to humility, humility spurs effort and effort seeds growth and accomplishment.

Embrace the pain.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Today I attempted to "teach" my first yoga "class".  I use that verb and noun combo very loosely to describe the confusion and epic #FAIL I put poor Charisa through.  However, as hoped, there are some brilliant takeaways from the experience and I am very grateful to have it behind me.

1. I can't possibly suck any worse than I did tonight.  Partly because it just doesn't seem possible to be any suckier, and partly because everyone expects to naturally suck a little less each time they do something, after that first initial suckiness.  But then again, maybe I have a few more major #FAIL's left to experience.  So, whatever, I accept that.  At least I know what it feels like now.  I expect it.  It'll be comfortable failure soon enough.

Contrary to my typical form, the rest of this is all going to be positives.  I apologize in advance for being glass-half-full on this one, so not like me...

2. I'm happy enough with my sanskrit.  It's not awesome, but it's not horrific.  I think it helps that I've started dreaming in sanskrit every other night or so.  I still struggle to pronounce Prasarita Padottanasana, love the word prasarita, but that second little sucker is a tongue twister.  I'm not ready to attempt Rjakapotasana, but I guess that's why everyone tends to use half pidgeon.  I need to dial in a few that I never hear but seem very learnable, like Anjaneyasana and Jathara Parivatanasana.  It just seems so ugly-american-esque to use crescent lunge and supine spinal twist all the time.  And then there is the whole emphasis on that one letter difference between utanasana and utkatasana, which is especially important since they both tend to follow tadasana.  I'm sure there are some good verbal cues to help differentiate.

3. I was completely surprised, even after having to stop a few times and flip through the cheat sheets, that I wound up at 53 ish minutes from start to finish.  After watching Rex Grossman give away this week's Monday Night Football game, I just assumed that I'd be horrific on timing myself.  But somehow my internal clock seemed to work ok.  I stumbled, I screwed up, but I kept plodding along, and I wound up done at just about the right time.  So I take that as a small win.  Even if I can't say the right words, even if I expect the person on the mat to read my mind, at least I know when it's time to give up and move along.  I only missed one side of extended side angle and I think I threw in a couple of unnecessary chaturangas, all of which seems reasonably excusable.  Of course I did have my nose inches from paper for 90% of it.  Let's just forget for a moment that there was only one student in this "class" and let me pretend to think I actually kept pace.

4. Touching people is just strange.  I'm a big fan of receiving a strong adjustment, but it takes a lot of confidence in yourself to give an adjustment, even to a good friend, or maybe especially to a good friend.  And yet, the hallmark of a great yoga teacher is knowing exactly how to touch to get the best out of their students.  This is one area where Shane completely rules.  And I suppose our 1-1's have helped me understand a lot about how to encourage by touch.  Some of his adjustments aren't even adjustments.  For example, when he sticks his head above mine, while I'm in dead man's pose, and busts out a cheshire cat grin to counter the agony of my grimmace, that's not really an adjustment, it's just Shane being a goofball.  But, when he holds his palm just out of reach and tells me to touch it while in twisted crescent lunge, well, that's an example of goal setting at its finest.  And then there's the hell he puts me through in twisted trikonasana and that horrific twisted utthita parsvakonasana, where it feels like he has 8 arms and legs and then he actually expects me to be able to vigorously push my hips one way and my knee the other way.  I pretty much fail at those every time, even in my dreams.  I'm hopping the awkwardness and butterflies of invading someone's personal space can at least recede a bit when it's yoga time.  Because adjustments, even light, fingertip adjustments, make a huge difference for me in knowing where to focus.  And they cost nothing in terms of word choice.  They are intuitive ways to communicate attention and the best teachers know how to use them to extract maximum intensity.

5. Teaching guardasana (eagle) and natarajasana (dancer) is fairly challenging.  There is a lot going on with them, and then there's the whole challenge of balancing, and you only have so much time to spout off about whatever you're spouting about.  Those are two I should pay special attention to when I observe.  Vrksasana seems more straightforward, but I noticed the need to really put the brakes on in the transition between left and right sides and smooth that out.

I think the best takeaway, though, is how much more I respect and admire the teachers who inspire me after walking a mile in their shoes. Being a great teacher is so much more than being a great student.  Seing things through their eyes, or through a foggy version of their eyes, has helped me to understand just how unique their gifts are.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


It is interesting how much thought I have given to the concept of improvement throughout my life.  It started early for me, as a 10 year old playing competitive tennis.  Winning was so much better than losing, and rising on the rankings list became an obsession.  Inevitable burnout at age 12 lead to a divided focus between water sports and running.  High school was all about getting better, both inside the classroom and out on the track or in the pool.  Everything was measured, scored and graded and the drive to achieve reverberated throughout my head.  The academic fury peaked in college and pushed aside any athletic efforts.  I finally re-emerged in the workplace, as if returning to the surface from a ride over a waterfall, and I re-discovered the joy of sport and competition as an alternative to the politically affected perceptions prevalent in the modern workplace.

In so many ways, my desire to compete in sports as an adult has been fueled by the highly subjective systems in control of the corporate world.  Success at work does not always come to those who deserve it.  I longed for a level playing field, an objective measure of my ability, and a way to concretely identify progress and cleave it from failure.  This may sound so horribly black and white, but to the engineering mind, "maybe" might be the worst answer anyone can give.

I have found there is absolutely no substitute for hard work when it comes to making improvement, at least with running, yoga, and tennis.  And while I have had rough spells, even rough years, hard work always brought me out of any stagnation.  The real joy in hard work is feeling the glitter in those tiny moments of progress along the way, where the distance from the starting point becomes visibly substantial.

Today I did parsva bakasana (side crow) for the first time.  It wasn't pretty.  It was completely unexpected.  I have been working with Shane, an incredible student and teacher himself, and something about how he phrased his instructions today got past my natural filters of what I can and can't do.  As my toe left the ground, a smile found its way onto my face and the morning turned into a blur of happiness from there.  I think even Shane was a little surprised.

Looking back at my addiction to yoga, I've made it through a solid year of what has become a consistent practice.  I have taken a few minor breaks to focus on specific races but I've never given up and I find myself easily re-invigorated when I reach milestones along the way.  I remember the feeling of my toes first touching the floor in halasana and so many other gifts along the way.  I distinctly remember November 14th 2010 as the day I descended an entire floor deeper into my relationship with my mat.  As that day approaches, I feel something special even though the day itself is as arbitrary as any.  It's as if I am looking forward to my first birthday as an adult.

The funny thing about hard work is that sometimes it is really hard.  There are mornings when I lie awake in bed, 30 minutes prior to Shane's arrival, when I anticipate the pain I will feel from the twists he will ask me to do.  I envision the disappointment that will wash over me when my strength gives out, or the shame that will engulf me when he has to use all 4 of his limbs to pry me into shape.  I hear his words reminding me to glue my feet to the mat, scissor my hips, squeeze my shoulders together across my back, etc before he even arrives at my house to start.  Every time I hear him say "vigorously" I know I should have been giving more on my own, I could have tried harder to start with, and I hate myself for needing him to voice it for me instead of being able to voice it for myself.  Those are the low moments.  It is so easy to think I am unique, that I am the only one who experiences doubt or fear or shame.  And yet, the modest amount of life experience I've had allows me the perspective to assure myself that this is natural.  In order to improve, everyone must experience these moments where we question our effort, our intentions, and our dedication.

When it comes to running, 2011 will undoubtedly be the lightest year of racing in a decade.  And while I have no legitimate PR's to show for this year, I still feel as if I have improved somehow in my approach to running.  Even while getting dropped by my fitter friends I feel a renewed peace to accept that speed may not always be the deciding factor in my love of the sport.  Exploring this new dimension of coaching offers me a joy unlike any other I have felt previously, I can now feel another's improvement as if it were somehow part of my own.  The beauty of watching someone else run faster, train with more enthusiasm, or simply supporting another human on a life changing decision becomes so very engrossing and addicting.  I reach further understanding of how my father must have felt, at roughly the age I am now, while he coached me through those early years of tennis.  In addition to the coaching, I've had a few pacing moments this year which were unique and special and I have a few more planned before the year is done.  Pacing is like coaching except you skip the entree and go straight for the dessert.  It's all glory and reward for only a modicum of effort.

Sometimes in a hot yoga class, when I feel like I'm going to fall over and die, I think of how much easier it would be if I were out for a run.  There is a known pain scale with running, one I have become intimate with, and one which I can predict, measure, and ration.  Yoga is still new for me, there are still moments where I completely shred myself and have to limp out of class and lie on the ground outside in order to breathe.  It is for that very reason, for the potential to improve, that I drive myself forward on my quest.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Racing Heroics

Mike approved the use of this chat for instructional purposes only...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Say Anything

I find sometimes it's easy to be myself
Sometimes I find it's better to be somebody else

-- Dave Matthews -- So Much To Say -- 1996
Below is a picture of my phone, displaying a text message I received a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I know I need an iPhone. Yes, I know my palm pixi sucks.

It has brought up all sorts of thoughts and therefore it seems only appropriate that I share some of them on my blog, in an effort to preserve the context of memories which will inevitably fade.

I need to say that I am completely impressed with the brass balls of the person who sent this. Not only do I admire the approach, and even the delivery, I am in awe of the general attitude surrounding this message. It doesn't seem like a big deal to her at all. Putting myself in her shoes, I would have all sorts of ridiculous, insecure thoughts if I had attempted something like this. Yet, in her straightforward world, this text message was a simple matter of using a hammer to drive a nail. Metaphorically speaking of course.

Next, this actually points out some obvious deficiencies with me, and I doubt there is anything I love blogging about more than my own shortcomings. Most guys wouldn't need to be hit over the head with a hammer to figure out that a girl is interested. In this particular situation, although I am not interested in her in a romantic direction (and I tend to doubt that this text message would have swayed me if I were on the fence), I have to admit a bit of surprise at the obvious admission of availability. I may have been able to see some of it brewing, but as with most other situations, I wound up taking the clueless path to surprise rather than actually paying attention and picking up on subtleties along the way.

The fact that I missed out on what others might consider fairly obvious signs of interest is a recurring theme in my life. While I don't want to dive into my recent past for fear of embarrassing myself or anyone else, I do think it might be amusing to share a story from my days in college, a story which has aged sufficiently so as to pose no potential emotional harm to anyone involved.

As a sophomore, I lived with 3 other classmates while a different friend of mine, Blake, drew the room I lived in as a freshman. Blake was a mechanical engineer, I was EE, so we had some overlap in our classes, I think we both had to take differential equations that year and we wound up in the same class and therefore did some of our work together, usually while listening to Phish. The hall he lived on had a mix of freshmen and sophomores whereas the tower I lived in (for a visual, watch A Beautiful Mind) had only sophomores, and while there was one room of girls, they weren't anything resembling fun. Enter Rachel. She was cool, one of the few at school who actually wanted to have fun every now and then. I forget how I met Rachel, but I remember her living near Blake's room, on that same hallway I had lived as a freshman.


I probably don't even have to color in the background any more than that for the reader to know what happened. Rachel hooked up with Blake and they started dating but apparently she also had some interest in me. My roommates then took it upon themselves to send her an email from my account expressing my undying love and devotion, which opened up an amusing can of worms that caused a bit of drama with my friendship with Blake. Eventually that all settled down, things resumed as normal, life happened, Rachel and Blake broke up, she dated someone else, my class graduated, and we went off to join corporate America.

Sophmore year room with 2 of my roommates, Rachel on the right, back when I had hair

The next year, at reunions, Rachel had just graduated. Reunions is the last huge party for seniors before they pack up for the year, all of the underclassmen have already moved out, making way for returning alumni. Reunions are basically the opposite of AA, a good place to go if you need to get off your sobriety bandwagon. So, after a few drunken encounters with Rachel, the inevitable hookup finally played itself out. I actually remember it as me being drunk, she being just as drunk, her dorm room being very close, and then some guy knocking on her door and interrupting things before they really got started, at which point I fell asleep. I forget the rest of the details, I seem to remember that there was an actual legitimate hookup at some point, but I'm not sure when it happened, it clearly wasn't memorable.

Anyway, the point of all this is that I am probably guilty of both over-thinking and under-thinking my choices for relationships. As I age, it certainly seems to exacerbate the problem. And as I take a few moments to step outside myself and observe my thoughts and actions, I find all of this fascinating and utterly hilarious. Perhaps that is how it is meant to be?

Thursday, September 8, 2011


She started a blaze from one tiny spark
I didn't even detect
She loved the light, was dismayed by the dark
The stars, though, she seemed to respect

Anastasio / Marshall -- Pebbles and Marbles -- 2002

The power went out in SD a little while ago, apparently county-wide. With a bit of foresight I could have a functional database on my laptop and still be working on my current project, even in the dark, at least until my laptop battery runs down. But, being the gambler that I am, I didn't ever anticipate an extended power outage, so I find myself somewhat lacking in terms of complete occupational self sufficiency. Instead, as the UPS's beep away around me, now seems like the perfect opportunity for a late afternoon blog.

Power, watts, energy. What a great topic, what inspiring words. I feel the immense power of nature when I am in the ocean and when I am in the mountains. This world is so much bigger than I am, the differences of scale are staggering and difficult to comprehend. But power comes in all sorts of flavors. And while I find most of them fascinating, I'm not heading for a shotgun approach to this blog. Instead, allow me to take out the sniper rifle and aim squarely at one specific definition of power.

Girl power.

What exactly is it about women that brings us men (if we are allowed to call ourselves men) to our knees? What makes some women captivating to some of us while others are not? How are some women so strong when they don't swear or shout? Why is it that the strongest of men are so frequently conquered by the softest of women? And why does it seem that we men make so many questionable decisions when we are engaged by the opposite sex in some form of heartbreak warfare? We are supposed to be the rational ones, right? And yet there is a constant desire for the irrational moments in all of us, one which we either choose to act on and periodically ridicule ourselves, or which we squelch and hide in our darkest corners such that we don't become distracted or confused from our goals of conquering.

I'm not sure I can really explain it. But I'll start with a few likes and dislikes and see where I end up.

I am attracted to powerful women. That much is clear. And yet, I'm also turned off by a number of things that powerful women tend to like and do, which makes for an interesting dilemma and much disillusionment. While I'm obviously not representative of the collective male consciousness in any way, and while I actually consider myself a total outlier when it comes to preferences about women, I feel like I'm allowed to self indulge a bit given that this is, after all, my own blog.

I hate fake boobs. Hate them. With a passion. That doesn't mean I hate anyone who has fake boobs, as it's most definitely a correctable offense. And I do see the merit in reconstructive surgery for victims of breast cancer, bot those aren't the fake boobs I'm speaking of. The recent trend of every 15 year old getting fakies for her birthday makes me nauseous. I do realize that bigger boobs == more guy attention == more confidence. And I am definitely attracted to confidence when it is genuine and not a mask for insecurity. But it just annoys me to take shortcuts by adding to your curves. I tend to have the opposite reaction to fake boobs, they act as a beacon of insecurity and lack of self respect. Why can't we admire our bodies the way they are, they way they have evolved, the way they were meant to be? Why do we think we know better? It's audacious to supplant silicone or saline purely to enhance our form. So, I applaude women who have managed to sit this trend out. I applaud anyone who finds happiness in the positives of their body without dwelling on the negatives. I know there are things I dislike about my own shell, but every time I hit a new yoga pose just a bit more than I ever have before, I gain additional appreciation for the strength and flexibility I do have, no matter how insignificant they might seem in comparison to anyone else's.

I hate makeup. Granted I realize it has a place. Photographs, particularly wedding photographs, tend to look better with some makeup. It brightens and it accentuates. So, I only kind-of hate makeup, I don't hate it with a passion. I wish it were controlled a bit more. I wish it were less prevalent. I think there is a decent trend away from overuse of makeup and that I do like. We boys, we don't get to cover up our blemishes, or if we do, you better believe our bros will roast us for it. So, yes, some powerful women tend to cling to makeup, but for me, it's a turn-off. Be strong without the mask and I'll admire you, but lean on that crutch too much and one day it'll snap.

Initiative is a gigantic turn on for me. I love women who take the bull by the horns and go for it, even if they don't fully understand exactly what they are doing. We are all so sheltered these days, so restricted, so controlled, that I find myself constantly thinking "is this going to upset anyone" before taking action. A little bit more of the wild wild west might be a good thing for many of us. How does this manifest? Well, when it comes to dating, or even just interacting, I have tremendous respect for a woman who can do her part to keep the ball rolling. Contribute to the conversation instead of sitting back and waiting to be spoon-fed questions. Take part in the scheduling. I I understand nervousness, heck, we men deal with it all the time. But you don't gain points by keeping your thoughts to yourself, you just wind up wasting time by your omissions and reservations. Powerful women are willing, able, and confident to express their opinions. That doesn't mean you have to shove those thoughts or beliefs down anyone's throat. But powerful women have beliefs, they have thoughts, and any man worth his salt wants to hear them. Contribute. Be present. And we men will fall at your feet and worship you.

Cleanliness is a very interesting topic for me, having shared time with many extremely neat people and also with a few who have less interest in obsessive organization. I do believe that powerful women are not disorganized. I'm a rare bird who notices not only who does the dishes every time I'm at a dinner party, but also how they wash said dishes. There are so many subtle clues to pick up on the first time you enter someone else's living space. I remember how my sister used to clean up her room by shoving all the clothes and books that were on the floor into her closet and closing the door. That type of behavior is visible in many ways, covering up the obvious mess doesn't hide anything to the intrepid observer. I'm happy to report that my sister no longer takes these shortcuts, with 3 toddlers she doesn't have that option anymore :) Regardless, this seems one of the easiest things for all of us to work on, something we can make incremental progress with every time we try. I'm a firm believer that the more organized, and put-away that we are, the easier and smoother our lives become. However, I also see the slippery slope of obsessive compulsion and I realize there are times when everything is "good enough". I've even been able to leave a suitcase unpacked or the laundry un-folded for 24 hours or more a few times this summer, a rare accomplishment that I'm quite proud of.

Toughness might be the hallmark for me. If there's one recurring theme among the women I am most amazed by, both friends and more-than-friends, it's a degree of toughness that rises above the average. Some men really like a dependent woman who will throw up her hands and ask for help, but I can't help but gaze in wonder at women who don't need help. Sure, we are all weak, we will all die, and we'd all (well, most of us at least) like to be comforted when our time comes to depart this existence. But in the meantime, how about a little bit of toughness to inspire those around you? I know there are times when I'm tired and sore and don't want to bust out another workout, but usually I suck it up. There are races where I stand at the start line and wonder where I'm going to muster up the the will to perform at a respectable level. Toughness is all about conquering that doubt and rising from your own ashes every chance you get and enjoying that inner turmoil. Toughness is a lot like double-or-nothing betting, each time you win you feel only marginally satisfied, but one loss can easily take you back to zero.

The corollary to toughness is humility, and to have both is rare indeed. Humility because life isn't all about us, and sometimes the others in our lives need a hand held or a shoulder to lean on. Humility is one of the easiest qualities to find in women, but in powerful women it can be a little bit more elusive. Knowing when to wear the leader hat and when to wear the follower hat is the most delicate seesaw dance we do. To be an effective leader is to demonstrate your power, to be an effective follower is to manifest and internalize your power. From an alternative perspective, nothing is a bigger turn off for an otherwise powerful woman than a lack of humility. Think of Demi Moore's character in Indecent Proposal for an example of power without humility turns sour.

It's interesting to note that I didn't mention sensitivity, empathy, kindness, manners, or cheerfulness. I do like all of those attributes, but I think they relate more to the scale of awesomeness than the scale of powerful.

Hmm, this turned into a rant/rave about women more than a discussion of power, didn't it? Perhaps I should yin my yang a bit and talk about what I like and dislike about my guy friends next...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Love Story -- Mike and Sarah's wedding

Below is a video Mike's sister, Sarah Buchanan #1, made about Mike and Sarah's courtship. I crack up every time I watch it, partly because of all the subtle (and gentle) digs at Mike and partly because the acting is so adorable, these kids are true gems.

Here's my favorite photo from the wedding.

Here are the rest of my photos from the wedding.