Archive for 2013

500 Words

I'm tired of inconsistency from myself in writing. I'm sick of having a great few weeks and then having the well go dry on me for several weeks at a time. I've decided to set a very small goal for myself, and see if this helps me detour those periods of writers' block.

My goal is simply: write 500 words a day.

I can write 15,000 words for all I care. If I feel like it; if a story catches me. But it's not necessary. 500 is all I need. 500 is all I really want.

Already in the last week I've had days where I barely got to 500, and days where I got into a groove and tripled and quadrupled my goal. That's to be expected. I'm not bothered with days that I barely get there. Really great days are fine, too.

This basically removes all the pressure. I know that I can get 500 words in about fifteen minutes if I actually sit down to write, and knowing that I only have to get a few words makes it a lot easier to sit down, even on weekends when I normally cannot concentrate on writing—especially when it's football season.

I wrote both Saturday and Sunday, in the mornings, and got more than 2,000 words this weekend.

Good stuff, right?

Right now I prize consistency over anything else. My second novel of The Czar Chronicles is stalled right now because my girlfriend, who is my reader (and did a damn good job with me on the first book) is swamped with teaching and cannot get caught up on my chapters. I need to keep pushing forward, but I have to work on something else, anything else. This means some other series, or other books in the Chronicles, which is fine.

My overall goal is to compile a dozen or more books for publication. I feel bad for those who have read “Rising” and will have to wait for “Betrayal” and “Sacrifice” but I'm not going to pout about not having them out, and let that come between finishing the rough drafts of other books in the series or to keep working on other stories.

In ten years, if I'm consistent, I will have a dozen, maybe two dozen novels published, or ready to publish, and it is from this volume of work that success will come. I emphasize to myself over and over that writers with one or two books aren't usually successful, and if you look at most successful writers, they have published many books. I have not heard of any authors who have published a dozen or more books that aren't making something on these books. I'm sure they're out there, but I haven't met them.

The key is to get work out there. A lot of work. Readers want a staple. They enjoy going back to the same authors over and over. That's what I need to give them. One well-written story isn't enough.

And writing just 500 words a day will equal out to 182,500 words over a year. That's the equivalent of two or three books. Every year. I could finish 10-30 books in a ten year period depending on how I use those 182,500 words.

10 is great, 30 is even better, but I'd settle for anything in between.


And it's only 500 words. No sweat. I've got this!

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Roadblocks to Success

I was watching football last night, pondering the success of the men on the field, the coaches on the sidelines, the owners watching the game (Jerry Jones, in particular). I shared some preliminary thoughts with a close circle of friends on Google+.

I was wondering what the difference was between successful people and the average person, like myself. I have dreams, and am very goal-oriented, but I'm 26 years old and have achieved nothing particularly special in my life. I am very proud of overcoming as much of my anxiety as I have (I'm capable of driving a car by myself now!), and I have, I feel, a very successful relationship with my girlfriend, who is now teaching—following her own dreams. I am also, I think, successful in my spiritual endeavors.

But my success with anxiety, my lover, and my spirituality are intangible successes. I feel not a wince of self-consciousness about them, or doubt, but let's face it, anyone could say I have achieved nothing because they cannot see that success. I can't hang these things on the wall, they haven't earned me money. You know?

My girlfriend on the other hand has a full-time job, has a Masters degree, and can, when asked, show tangible success.

And so could all of the people I saw at the game last night between the Giants and Cowboys. From the owners to the coaches to the players to the guys in the booth and the people running the cameras. They were all part of something incredible.

I won't bullshit you, I think I'm part of something incredible. From my point of view I am an extension of the Cosmos, and you can't be part of anything bigger than that. But if I divorce myself from my philosophy for a moment, I'm just a guy who sits home most days trying to make it as a writer, who still has panic attacks, hasn't learned to speak Spanish in five years of trying, and is still too hung up on his own fears to even try to get back into the workforce.

From a humanity's perspective, I'm not really helping push my society along, I'm a spectator. Success in any field depends heavily upon what one does for other people as well as what a person can achieve personally in terms of honors and money, and the two are often tied together. That's why some of the richest people in the world have also changed the world more than anyone else. Think of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, or Sam Walton (though I won't add his kids to the list).

So why?

Last night I summed it up simply as “I have spent most of my time and energy just trying to keep myself sane, and have had little time or energy for professional pursuits.”

In other words it's very difficult to get a degree, or hold down a job, when your brain is a chaotic mess. Most of my goals in the last ten years have centered around figuring out how to just be me. It's impossible sometimes to be anything for anyone else when we can't be anything for ourselves.

I think a lot of people share this experience. I think that is why a lot of people never “amount to anything” in life. We end up on drugs, we end up raising kids we never really intended to have (at such a young age), we end up stuck in jobs we never wanted to work because we got backhanded by life, down and out right out of the gate.

I knew a lot of kids from high school that hit a dead end in life early on simply because they didn't have structure in their lives. They had no one to guide them. They had to focus more on their next meal and to find a place to sleep than whether or not they were going to get an A+ in a college class, let alone how best to invest their paycheck.

Sure, I've had easy stretches in life when my most difficult decisions were First-World problems. And in those times I felt like I was doing something important. I had a job, my bills were covered, and I could move up in the world. I had worked myself into an assistant manager's position at one time in my early twenties.

But that never lasted because I hadn't built a solid enough base to build my emotional mind on. I broke down under the stress and it wasn't long before I was battling up hill just to drag myself out of bed.

Success is a luxury. It's a luxury afforded to those who have their “shit together.” My hat is off to anyone who can balance emotional upheaval and outward success, those who can get through college with an anxiety disorder, or who can keep a family together while under the rock of depression, or who can work their way up in their profession while dealing with things like ADD or PTSD, or any other form of severe mental anguish.

Most people can't.

Most of us have to take care of ourselves before we can even begin to deal with what society needs from us.

And society does need things from us. In order for society to function smoothly, for it to have its shit together, it needs good people in professional fields. It needs doctors, teachers, firemen. It also needs people to serve coffee and stock shelves and pick up garbage.

In the game last night the camera crew were just as important as the quarterbacks, because everyone made the game work out. If part of the game wasn't there, none of the rest of the game would be possible. The owners, the players, the coaches, the equipment crew, the guys from NBC, they all made last night happen.

They were all successful.

Success doesn't mean being the richest or the smartest. It means being part of something—anything—that helps society function.

And I'm not saying many of those people weren't going through problems in their personal lives, because who doesn't?

But many of us are stuck. We're stuck in places we don't want to be. We're stuck in mindsets that aren't helping us get anywhere. We're embroiled in doubt and negativity, or mental anguish like anxiety and depression.

Hopefully soon I will go from taking care of myself to helping everyone else. But the question in my mind now is “How?” In what way can I serve? And how can I do so if I can't take care of myself?

And should I wait until I'm taken care of to help take care of others?

Of course these questions don't help me, really. The only answer is to simply get out there and do something. Start.


Start looking for a job. Start going to college. Start looking for little opportunities to lend a helping hand. Maybe I am closer to being able to do this than many other people are. Maybe I'm not. But in the end it doesn't really matter, because I won't know until I get out there and try.

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Satori

I haven't been writing. I've been putting myself into Satori, peering into my true nature. Life is rich when boredom is ecstasy, anxiety is joy, depression is bliss...suffering is an acknowledgment of my realness.

When I can feel fucked up and copacetic at the same time, I know nothing. When I can feel happy and not seek to capture that sensation with words...

I have found over the last week that when I feel myself coming back into my mind, I can get back out again with one of three simple phrases.

1. I can't want what I already have.
2. The world is complete as it is.
3. I will die someday, but I'm alive now.

Each one acts like a blow, like laughing at a funeral, utterly ridiculous. Each is just enough to remind me of the ludicrous nature of being human. Each is enough to draw me back into an awareness of the present so completely that thought falls away.

For me the most fascinating part of all of this are the inherent contradictions. The fact that it's natural to intellectualize all of this, for instance, despite the absurdity in thoughts and words. Or that the bliss I feel is tied absolutely to my own suffering. Or that even though I'm in a state of mind in which I realize no-mind, no-self, a completeness with the Cosmos (all things are a relationship, dependent, one), I continue to have an ego, self-awareness, consciousness, and am human.

It's trippy to be both poles.

I cannot describe the experience, only my feelings about It. The Tao cannot be put into words. That which can be put into words is not the Tao.

I have also been reading Alan Watts and studying Zen. There is an intellectual road after all, but as Chuang Tzu said, when the fish is caught, leave the trap.

It is in leaving the trap that one can preoccupy one's self with the fish.

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Wu Wei In Action

Or is that inaction?

Wu Wei can be a complicated principle in Taoist philosophy, because it can be translated in different ways, presenting various meanings to English speakers.

Wu Wei can be translated as “non-action.”

Or as “actionless action.”

Or as “not doing.”

The overall sense is that something is not being done, even when something is being done. That's close to the truth, for Wu Wei signifies the opposite of how many Westerners attempt to accomplish their goals...we tend to grit our teeth and roll up our sleeves and grunt our way through an activity, attempting to physically force our way through mental activities, and to mentally force our way through physical ones.

The logic behind Wu Wei is very simple: Life is natural, and what arises from the universe arises naturally. Insofar as everything is natural, there is little reason to rely on much force (except when that force is also natural) to push things, or to make events happen in unnatural ways. If something is meant to be, it will occur on its own.

The human body is the best example of this, for the lungs act as a bellows and without our effort they provide the body's cells with oxygen and remove impurities from the blood. The brain operates without our forcing it to, and in fact works best when relaxed—as if it was a muscle—and exerting too much force in thought is often counterproductive to thinking. The muscles, and bones, and ligaments, too, operate efficiently and do what they evolved to do without our forcing them to do anything. Simply letting the body work in its own way is usually the best way for it to work.

If we let go of controlling our bodies and let them react to the world around us, we will find that our bodies are better prepared for survival and growth than “we” are—the we that is poorly designed for survival and growth is the Ego that insists only It can do things right, and that it needs to be there pushing everything else to do better.

This is likely what the ancient Chinese observed: that stopping the Ego did not stop the body, or even the mind, but that both mind and body operated more efficiently without the Ego barking orders at it.

On another level:

On another level Wu Wei is a trust in the process of the Universe. It is trusting that through practice, mastery will naturally be achieved, and once mastery is achieved, there is no need to do anything else, anything outside of the task at hand.

If one has mastered something, it's not the conscious mind that has mastered it, but the subconscious. That knowledge is not necessarily visible to us, but comes to the conscious as an intuition to rely on when needed. We can react in the best way in every situation, so long as we let intuition guide us and not second-guess the process.

Wu Wei is trusting that everything will work out if left alone, that the grass will grow, that the sun will shine, that society will function, that children will grow up.

If I study, I will learn. I do not have to over-think my actions, but simply read and learn.

If I am human, I will have relationships. There's nothing special that I need to do, no special effort I must put forward to attract people to me, or to keep them by my side, other than being myself. I don't have to “put on airs” to impress anyone.

Efficiency:

Not only is Wu Wei about trusting that the world will work itself out, it's also about finding the most efficient course of action. Wu Wei is sort of a law of conservation. Like water seeks the lowest place, flowing with gravity, but never fighting itself or attempting to go over (or through) mountains it can go around, human beings can also find the easiest route through a task.

If I wash the dishes, they will become clean. There's no trick or special effort that I must put into washing them. Gentle, consistent strokes with a rag will clean dishes better than intense effort, pressing the rag as hard as I can against the glass. The difference is in the energy I've saved.

This is true of much of what we try to do in life. There's an efficient way to do anything and everything, and this is “not doing.” It's simplicity in action. It is practical.

When we run, it's best to move as little as possible (a simple motion instead of flailing) and in a straight line. It's best to relax the body so that it flows fluidly, to smile instead of frown in intense effort.

This benefits us by giving us more energy to sustain activities for longer periods of time. In athletics, in intellectual pursuits, in the daily grind of work, in relationships, in parenting, in politics, and in every other aspect of life we devote ourselves to. Finding the path of least resistance to a goal—not the path of least resistance away from adversity—is what Wu Wei is. This is embodied by the story of the butcher who never sharpened his blade because he always cut between the spaces where the meat connected to the bone.

The Universe goes its own way, and Wu Wei suggests going with it instead of trying to carve our own canyon out of it. Wu Wei is about accepting what exists before us now and working with what the Universe has given us, rather than to try to take what isn't there, or to manipulate reality into something unnatural—something that will not last despite our efforts.

Wu Wei goes hand in hand with our knowledge; not our conscious knowledge of facts and figures, but the unconscious knowledge of ways, of roads, of Tao.

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Book Publishing Debate


To be honest, I wish this were true:

“Self-published authors and their insistent need to spam social media and pump out a copious amount of horrible ebooks is ruining the modern online bookstore.”

In such a situation someone with a well-written book—a rare sight these days, no doubt—with a lighter marketing touch could steal the show. I know people who would be millionaires already just by supplying the market with something it wants but doesn't have enough of: great fiction.

Is that happening?

Of course not.

__ Subjectivity __

How much spam you see related to book selling depends on where you're at online. Some people go for the hard sell, and lavish their followers with their latest book link. When I was using Twitter I saw a lot of this, and to a certain extent it was common on Facebook (within certain groups), but elsewhere even when there's a large group of authors, marketing is rare or even taboo (yet discussion of writing in general trends upward).

There are authors who use social media only to market their products, but the degree to which this detracts from the rest of the industry is limited, because a social network is a voluntary interaction. It's very easy to tune someone out. It's my choice who I pay attention to online, and some people (spammers are among them) aren't worth my time, but I have still bought self-published books from friends who will drop a link from time to time or who regularly discuss their story rather than try to sell a product. And I will do so again.

__ Reality __

Reality: there are many talented writers working on their own (or under an independent label). Competition to be noticed is stiff, sometimes impossible to deal with.

If it were really the case that “95%” of self-published books are “insufferable” then any talented author would have easy access to a readership crawling up walls for a decent book to read. Any self-published author who could put together a well-edited book and a consistently entertaining story would have thousands of readers eating out of the palm of his or her hand.

But most don't.

__ Professionals __

There are professionally published authors on social media who only talk about their books. But just as a few semi-amateur writers aren't jeopardizing self-publishing as a whole by being obnoxious, the “professional” authors aren't convincing readers everywhere to stop buying from the big publishing houses.

On top of that, self-published authors aren't the only ones putting out poorly written books. Professionally published authors may have better edited books, because they have the resources of the publishing house behind them, but as far as story goes you're really kidding yourself if you think all the good tales are found in the bookstore.

From the article:

At a recent publishing conference in London, Andrew Franklin, founder and managing director of Profile Books, blasted authors who self-publish. “The overwhelming majority of self-published books are terrible—unutterable rubbish, they don’t enhance anything in the world.”

Here's a secret, if Mr. Franklin is listening. Most books are terrible rubbish, and don't enhance anything in the world. They even have a genre for books that are so worthless: pulp fiction. Even among the literary genre many books fall flat on their face by sacrificing story for the prettiness of the prose.

Most books are never written for the intention to change the world or to be intellectual. They're written for teenagers, (YA), or for women (romance), or for men (action and adventure). They're not written to change anyone's mind about anything, or necessarily to educate, but to entertain, and as far as that goes they're going to be two-dimensional, stereo-typed, full to the brim with cliches and lazy writing because to most readers of genre fiction (and especially to most writers), delectable writing isn't necessary.

And as with all forms of entertainment, most people end up liking specific genres or formats and believe “the rest” is shit they shouldn't concern themselves with.

I personally do not like 95% of books on the market, no matter who published them (or wrote them). Why should I be when I'm not interested in reading them?

Likewise, why should I go out of my way to trash one medium of entertainment because it doesn't suit my needs and interests?

__ Quality Control __

Quality control starts and ends with the reader. The publisher can't tell the reader if he or she will like the product on the shelf; the reader must read the book to know for him- or herself. I doubt I have truly enjoyed half of all the books I've read, and I've gone out of my way to read books I thought I would be interested in. I've read fiction on blogs that read better and had a better story than much of the fiction I've read in the library or bookstore.

As a reader, I have my work cut out for me going forward to find those books I really love—those books I'd want to own and read again.

Self-published books offer variety. I will gladly dig through some trash to find something I can use, and even if self-publishing must live or die by the axiom “one man's trash is another man's treasure,” I don't see why that's so bad.

__ Value __

“One thing indie authors have done is devalue the work of legitimate published authors. You know the type that write for a living, who have an editor and are considered accomplished, or at least well-read. The average indie title is $0.99 to $2.99, and the average publisher price is $7.99 – $12.99. Book buyers have been so conditioned to paying as little as possible that often they will not even consider a more expensive book. ”

Self-published books are cheap because self-published authors have little to no overhead. Professionally published books can cost tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to move from publisher to bookstore—depending on how much time and marketing a book publisher puts into a certain book—and yet self-published authors and professional authors make about the same $2.00 on each book they sell.

And yet professionally published books have not been devalued. The book market has actually stabilized, and the independent market share has stopped growing like it has grown in the last few years.

Not only have book buyers not been conditioned to pay less for books, they're actually paying more for them. Even self-published books will eventually go up in price, and the new price-point will shift from $2.99 to $3.99 and $4.99.

But the most important thing is that books are quite unique, as are the authors who write them, so that readers will go to where their favorite authors are. Readers aren't going to suddenly abandon well-known and well-liked authors in order to buy up cheap self-published novels, because that's not how most readers operate. Most readers become fans of certain authors and stick with them. That's why it is so important to build a fan base and to continue pumping out good books. 

Ironically, when the pressure to put out more product mounts, quality can slip. It has happened before with talented authors, while under pressure from their publishers to write more stories, wrote inferior stories to meet crucial deadlines.

__ Fear __

I think there's a certain level of fear involved with the emotionalized debate between the two types of publishing. But the fear, nor the debate, should detract from the authors out there writing well-written, entertaining stories.

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Trust the Body

A “detox diet” is a bit of a misnomer.

The body is geared for detoxification. Organs—the lungs, kidneys, liver, skin, spleen, lymph nodes—rid the body of unwanted waste, viruses, and carcinogens.

When we eat to detoxify the body, it's not the diet doing the detoxification, but the body detoxifying itself.

Eating the Standard America Diet (SAD), eating out, eating processed foods, we consume more carcinogens and create more waste than the body can deal with on its own. We get backed up, and after years of buildup, we get sick. This is a very simple way of looking at the process of disease. Disease occurs when the body breaks down, and the body breaks down because it's too dirty and clogged to run—much like a car or a toilet.

Enter the “detox diet.” It's almost ridiculous to call it that, but by eating whole foods, by no longer consuming the chemicals in processed foods—food from boxes and from cans—we take the pressure off our organs, allowing them to gain back the ground they've lost, to catch up on the continuous task of cleaning us out.

This “diet” is really the way we humans have always eaten, at least before we began to heavily process our food, especially before added chemicals. Calling it a detox diet sounds as if when we're done we'll go back to the way we've always eaten—burgers and french fries, pizza, milk, and candy.

As if the real, whole foods that grow in nature are only a medicine.

I don't want a medicine—I don't want to be sick! I don't want to look at real food as a stopgap, something to eat for a time when I feel off or ill, only to fall back into the SAD.

If eating healthy, naturally, is going to give my body the ability to heal itself because it's not being overrun by the chemicals I consume when I eat unhealthy, then as far as I am concerned, eating healthy is my only option—my only option because I no longer wish to think of what I buy at McDonald's as food.

But I don't have to single out McDonald's. Even most “healthy” foods aren't so. The health claims on cereal boxes, and many other grocery store products, are grossly misleading, or are flat-out lies. It's often a case of “the blueberries aren't real.” Piggy-backed health claims: it's easy to slap on a sticker that says a food cuts the risk of disease, and put a minimal amount of that food into the product, selling a sexy version of the same old shit.

As cliché as it sounds, what we must do is think outside the box—or more accurately, eat outside the box.


At least most of the time. As much as we can.

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Inflammation


The Diet, Part III

Inflammation

I began this new diet largely because I've been experiencing some inflammation around the top of my neck, under my jaw. I've had lymph issues in the past, when I am eating poorly and stressing out. I have been eating poorly and stressing out, so it was a time for a change.

I made a list of foods that were anti-inflammatory, in an effort to replace the inflammatory foods I have been consuming, like whole milk, ice cream, and pizza (ugh).

I found a website called Self Nutrition Data at http://nutritiondata.self.com/. It lists the macro- and micro-nutrients for most foods along with their estimated glycemic load and inflammation factor.

Glycemic load and glycemic index are two terms I'm familiar with, and an important part of my diet. Simple carbohydrates (not sugar), once broken down by the stomach, turn into sugar: glucose. I'm choosing to eat vegetables and fruits (fructose in its natural state), high-protein foods like fish and chicken, as well as adding healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil to carb-rich foods like oatmeal and sweet potatoes to help reduce their glycemic load.

Inflammation factor is a term I'm not familiar with, and I'm still doing research on inflammation and food. But in the meantime I've used Self Nutrition Data to create a list of anti-inflammatory foods, along with a list of low glycemic foods.

This is useful because it gives me a better idea of what I can eat, and what I want to avoid. Not that I can't have some pizza or ice cream once in a while, but that I want to limit such foods. A list is a more concrete way of deciding what to eat than relying on the statement “I want to eat healthier.”

Just saying “I want to eat healthier” doesn't allow me to picture a healthy diet in the same way writing such foods down does.

~*~

Inflammation is the body's way of protecting itself. It's an immune response to illness, injury, and stress. Our bodies become inflamed when we are injured, or we have a disease like diabetes or cancer, or experience high-stress states and lifestyles. Inflammation is linked to disease in this way, and many say that inflammation may predict serious illnesses like cancer and heart disease—or that cancer and heart disease are inflammatory diseases.

Even some fruits and whole grains are pro-inflammatory. Coconut oil is very pro-inflammatory, because it contains a high concentration of saturated fat. Knowing this doesn't mean I'm going to avoid fruits, whole grains, or coconut oil, because each food offers unique health benefits, but that when I have these foods I balance them with anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables, olive oil, and spices.

The best way to balance any meal is to rely on the spice turmeric.

Turmeric is the most anti-inflammatory food on my list. It packs an anti-inflammatory factor of 1,500 in a single tablespoon (about what I may put into a bowl of coconut oil-flavored oatmeal).

The typical bowl of oatmeal I make, with coconut oil, raisins, and cinnamon has a pro-inflammatory factor of nearly -750—it's recommended that we have a daily anti-inflammatory factor of 50 (an average of all the foods we eat). Adding a single tablespoon of turmeric (and some black pepper to increase turmeric's bioavailability) turns the inflammatory factor upside down—giving that same bowl of oatmeal an anti-inflammatory factor of 750.

Adding foods like turmeric, olive oil, fish, and vegetables to my diet I find it very easy to exceed that factor each day.

Already in the first week since starting this new lifestyle I've noticed the inflammation in my neck has been reduced. I also feel better in other ways, as well, which is an added bonus.

~*~

The inflammation rating system is not an absolute. I like it as a guideline to go by, to compare with what I know about certain foods. It's also a little extra motivation to stop eating foods I don't want to eat. Milk, for instance, isn't something I want to depend on in my diet; it's one of the few foods that upsets my stomach, and let's face it, drinking modern processed milk is kind of gross, and only tastes good to me if it's whole milk, which is loaded with saturated fat—fat which contains all of the nasty chemicals and wastes left over from the cattle industry. Milk is also pro-inflammatory, so it's easier to say no to if I'm looking to include anti-inflammatory foods.

Pro-inflammatory foods can be misleading. Coconut oil contains high amounts of saturated fat, but unlike processed milk it is more nutrient dense, containing fats that are actually healthy for me. Quinoa is pro-inflammatory but it's also healthy in moderation, containing a high amount of protein for a plant food, rich in fiber, healthy fat, and a host of micro-nutrients.

So far I have discovered that anti-inflammatory foods are healthy (are plant-based, or contain large amount of healthy fat: fish), or is a healthier alternative to an unhealthy food choice (olive oil over vegetable oil). Most pro-inflammatory foods should be avoided, but there are several that are so nutrient-dense or contain rare and necessary micro-nutrients or fats that they should be included in a healthy diet (coconut oil and many fruits are pro-inflammatory).

Because the long-term average of all foods matters more than each food's inflammation factor, it's more important to focus on the general diet rather than excluding every single pro-inflammatory food. It's convenient that the inflammation factor mimics closely other factors like the glycemic load, or whether a food is processed (trends toward pro-inflammatory) or plant based (trends toward anti-inflamatory).

The inflammation factor doesn't itself determine whether a food is good for me or not, but it may be a good indicator. And it's one more tool to help me define a healthy diet.

I plan on researching inflammation more over the next few weeks and months.


~*~

My list:

Inflammatory index: all servings 100 grams.

Negative values are pro-inflammatory.

Almond Milk: N/A+
Almonds: 200
Mixed Nuts: 175
Cashews: 78
Celery: 14
Peanuts: 69
Avocado: 78
Bananas: -51
Carrots: 163
Chicken: -21
Cinnamon: -55 (-1 for 1 teaspoon)
Coconut Oil: -825 (-111 for 1 tablespoon)
Eggs: -92 (-41 for medium egg)
Flaxseed: 490 (34 for 1 tablespoon)
Garlic: 3,576 (107 for 1 clove)
Ginger: 6,452 (129 for 1 teaspoon)
Lentils: -4
Muskmelon: 43
Oatmeal: -41
Olive Oil: 526 (71 for 1 tablespoon)
Onions: 234
Peanut Butter: 31
Pepper: 31 (13 sauteed)
Protein Powder: N/A?
Prunes: -210
Quinoa: -222
Raisins: -338
Salmon: 466
Spinach: 259
Sweet Potatoes: 189
Tilapia: 74
Tomato: 9
Tuna: 162
Turmeric: 22,564 (451 for 1 teaspoon)
Yogurt: -78
Water: 0

Obviously this list is far from complete, but it's a good idea of what's out there.

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The 24-Hour Fast


My diet revolves around eating cycles. For 24 hours I eat...and for 24 hours I fast.

This is by no means meant to be absolute, do or die, but an ideal to strive for—not to get upset about if I fall short of the mark, and I am free to make adjustments. I can easily turn this into a 20-hour fast, or a 36-hour fast.

I am aiming for three 24-hour fasts a week. Ideally the end of each fast will fall on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, but I'm open to adjustments if/when necessary. Sundays will be an off day, in which I can eat at my leisure throughout.

Today, for instance, I'm eating through the day until 3 P.M., at which point I'll fast until 3 P.M. tomorrow.

After 3 P.M. tomorrow, I'll eat until about 9 P.M. Only sleep will divide my last meal at night and my first meal in the morning.

At 3 P.M. of the third day, my fast begins anew.

~*~

Why would I want to fast at all?

For me personally, the reason I fast is simply because fasting feels great. I have a ton of physical energy, and mentally I feel very peaceful and serene. This means that while my body feels invigorated, I also feel spiritually invigorated. There's much more of a mind-body connection during a fast.

Fasting is a great opportunity to work on my practice of awareness, practicing making conscious decisions. This can be viewed on a spiritual level, but also on a practical, everyday level because the practice I get while fasting lends itself to the times when I'm not fasting, when I may be more susceptible to stress—in which case I can better choose not to give into my reactions, whether they're emotional (depression or anger) or physical (having a craving for ice cream).

Mentally I have never felt depressed in a fasting state. I have felt little to no anxiety, and what anxiety I've had has been very manageable. I experience less anger, and feel less concern for the usual emotional triggers that usually, when I'm full of food, would drive me to be overly angry or sad or worried. Eating becomes my biggest worry, and that's no worry at all.

~*~

There are negative side-effects to fasting.

It may sound strange to hear, but my biggest difficulty with fasting isn't going without food, but eating. I'm trying to gain weight, but by fasting I'm giving myself less time to feed. I must overeat 2,500-3,000 calories in a short amount of time, which can make me feel sluggish and edgy (even hostile, which defeats the purpose). The remedy to this is to deviate from the 24-hour routine. I can ether shorten each fast to 20 hours (eat for 28 hours and fast for 20) so that I have a larger eating window, or lengthen the fast to 36 hours (alternate-day fasting) in order to have a full day to eat at my leisure.

The 20- and 36-hour fasts are variations of a theme, and provide the same benefits as a 24-hour fast but to different degrees.

I have to be very careful about how much water I drink. Obviously during fasting water is a necessity and my body functions better and I can think more clearly if I am drinking water continuously, but water is at least as important while I'm eating. I can get just as dehydrated during my eating cycle as I can my fasting cycle if I neglect water.

While my physical and spiritual energy rise (along with my creativity), my mental concentration and raw ability to focus on anything but my body are diminished. Any writing I want to do must be done early in the morning, as soon as possible, because by the last several hours of my fast I don't have much of an attention span left.

~*~

There are numerous health benefits to fasting, and if you've related to what I've written above, or have found what I've had to say interesting, please read on. But keep in mind that I put less emphasis on the experimental data—the claims of detoxification, longevity, and reduced risk of disease—as I do on how fasting makes me feel, because whereas data is abstract, how I feel is concrete in the sense that I can feel it, and do not merely have to hope it's true.

Perhaps there is a link between the way fasting feels and its health benefits, but let's put that aside for now and look at the claims.

From the research I've read in the last few years I've found that intermittent fasting has been studied and shown to lower the risk of all major forms of disease—the big killers—heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, but also helps with some auto-immune disorders by reducing inflammation.


My favorite theory as to why fasting is so beneficial is that fasting allows a major function of the body—the digestive system—to rest.

We sleep, resting our conscious mind and bodies (letting the subconscious mind perform maintenance). We take it easy exercise. When our eyes grow strained we close them.

But we seldom think about our digestive system's need to rest and recover. The way many people eat causes an almost continuous barrage of activity. Some people really do eat around the clock, even getting midnight snacks, and keep their digestive system working nonstop for decades.

After we eat, it takes 6-8 hours before the stomach and small intestine are finished digesting the meal, but if we do not go longer than 8 hours without a meal, we'll never experience a fasted state, and our digestive system will not rest.

The colon takes even longer to process food—around 24 hours for someone eating a whole foods diet, and more for someone eating the standard American diet.

This means that within the first 24 hours since your last meal, your stomach and small intestine have been off-duty for 16-18 hours.

Fasting for 36 hours (every other day) gives the digestive system an even deeper rest, benefiting not just the stomach and small intestine, but also the colon.

Theoretically, this rest allows the body to turn its energy elsewhere. The digestive process is a tremendous load, burning around 10% of the calories you take in each day to function from start to finish. When the body is no longer using energy to digest food, it has more energy for other processes. It's like stopping to sit after a long run. We soon feel more energized and able to keep running.

It has been said that during a fasted state the body will break down cancer tumors and the plaque on artery walls, and re-regulate functions like insulin secretion, as if the body is running a defragmentation program.

Fasting also helps regulate the digestive system, resting it so that when it's time to digest food again it does so more efficiently. This is vital for good health because we're then able to get more out of the food we eat, absorbing more vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, protein, etc.


I could go on, and even write a book on fasting—as many others have—especially on the weight-loss benefits, which I have not touched on. There's a lot of material to digest, but I think it's enough here to cover some of the key benefits of fasting.

Further reading:

An Overview of Intermittent Fasting An objective talk on intermittent fasting.

Mark's Daily Apple A comprehensive look at fasting, including many links to other resources.

And if you want a reason not to fast, I've got that, too: The Dangers of Intermittent Fasting. The stance of organizations like the American Cancer Society seem not to be too enthusiastic about accepting fasting as a treatment, providing ample warning against it, while admitting that in animal trials fasting has shown benefits.

To be honest, and I'm being subjective here, I've never seen a valid argument against fasting. Most arguments fall apart in light of research and peoples' personal experiences.

Like anything, it's necessary to research it and try it in moderation before committing to it as a lifestyle. Fasting may not feel good, it may cause unsavory side-effects. It's not a panacea for everyone.

Think for yourself, and listen to your body.

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The Diet: Part 1


I haven't posted in a while but today I decided to begin blogging my new dietary changes, my experiments with food, and some of the research I'll be doing on living a healthy lifestyle.

Going forward I must note that I have several biases that will make this scientifically inaccurate. I expect this to be positive. Based on past experience with intermittent fasting and eating whole foods, I expect to feel good.

I'm not testing this objectively-rigorously. I'm searching for things, have an already formed opinion, and cannot be counted on to be biased to the point of perfection.

But I am generally a non-biased person. I do not lie, to myself or to anyone else.

I say this because I believe that human health is tricky business, and shouldn't be simplified to the point of idiocy. It's hard to know if something is “healthy” when health evolves over a lifespan of decades. There are many factors involved, making it impossible to isolate one ingredient in a complex system (consisting of diet, exercise, stress-reduction, genetics, environmental carcinogens, etc), and saying without a doubt that it is what makes or breaks one's health.

There are no absolutes in medicine but only generalities. This has become my mantra when discussing health in any capacity, be it physical or emotional. I can use smoking as an example of this. 

It is true that smoking cigarettes is generally unhealthy, but saying that “cigarettes kill people” is a ridiculous statement in any scientific context. Saying cigarettes are a cause of cancer is logical and rational, and can be backed up by years of research. Saying cigarettes caused someone's cancer makes less sense when viewed from a whole-health perspective—in which case cigarettes alone do not cause cancer, but are a factor among many factors (even if it is the largest factor), because cancer is dependent on many factors, be they genetic, environmental, and behavioral.

Someone's lung cancer has a lot to do with who they are on a molecular level as well as what they eat. You can expect a higher rate of lung cancer among cigarette smokers who eat processed foods than you can among smokers who eat whole foods—but that doesn't mean that diet alone causes lung cancer either. You have to also consider exercise and stress, two factors that may play as big of roles as genetics, diet, and carcinogen exposure.

Health is infinitely complicated when we look at it in a broad spectrum, and it must be looked at in a broad spectrum to be even remotely accurate. So I'm not going to try to prove anything with this blog, because I lack the tools and the objectivity to factor everything in, and I'm studying myself, over a short amount of time at that. 

I'm doing this mainly for me, and for anyone else interesting in health who would like to read along, get some ideas, or be pointed in a particular direction.

~*~

My most basic guideline for health is simply: “How does it make me feel?”

I've found through experimenting that eating a lot of unhealthy carbs, specifically simple sugars in the form of candy and cakes makes me feel like crap. It tastes great, there's no doubt about that, but I experience more depression, more anxiety, more tiredness, and more strange bodily symptoms when I'm on the Standard American Diet (SAD).

In my experience fasting for about 17 hours each day, or fasting 24 hours every other day, fills me with physical energy, and helps me to feel an astounding peace of mind. I'm less agitated, feel far less depression—none—and experience less anxiety; what anxiety I do feel tends to be less volatile and easy to deal with.

Something I have never tried before is to eat a diet lower in carbs. I'll still eat fruits like bananas, whole grains like oatmeal, and vegetables like sweet potoatoes, but balance these with healthy fats like olive and coconut oil to further lower these foods' glycemic load. How will this make me feel eating a diet containing a higher percentage of fats and proteins (lots of chicken and fish)?

I will find out.

~*~

For the record this diet started on Sunday, May 5, 2013.

It's a dietary blend of whole foods and intermittent fasting. I am not striving for perfection, but a general direction, so I'll likely have cheat meals and perhaps some cheat days once in a while, and If I need it, I'll have some protein powder with water or almond milk (I am bodybuilding).

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The Sad America

I've seen keyboard jockeys in the last several days disregard the rights given by the sixth, seventh, and eighth amendments to our constitution, as they rail in anger against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

If anger is all the reason people need to throw out the constitution....

Explain to me how the average American is any different from the average political extremist or even mentally ill person. The anger and hatred that drives murderers to murder is alive and well in the hearts of millions of citizens. We're reactionaries, and the only thing that keeps "us" from doing violence to each other is a piece of paper that states we can't.

There are ways around this, of course. Wars are made legal, for instance. But get rid of the document called the Bill of Rights and America would turn into a violent extremist state faster than you or I could get sand in our eyes in an Iranian desert.

We are a violent people. We can control ourselves physically, most of the time (and when things are going smoothly), but if all of the self-righteous hate spewed on the internet every day is any indicator as to what lies in our hearts, we're on tremendously shaky ground. And the irony of that is our wondering what drives people like the Tsarnaev brothers to kill innocent people.

Next time you see someone call a liberal or a conservative an asshole, or hear someone say they'd like to see a criminal tortured, or blame an immigrant or a foreigner for America's problems, you'll have the answer.

Then you'll understand what goes on in the heads of people like Timothy McVeigh and Osama Bin Laden, and hopefully you'll realize that the only difference between people like them and people like "us" is that we can still control our anger.

But the thing about anger is that it's easier to forgive than it is to bottle it up and hope it never gets out.

And unless Americans figure out what the high road actually is, we're going to be pestered by mass murderers until the day this country finally collapses like a cancer from the inside out.

We had a great opportunity to take the high road after 9/11, when the entire world was with us, and we chose to drag the entire world down into war and bloodshed to appease our own vengeful nature. Remember that!

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Full on Writer Mode


I have not blogged for a while—not for a month, obviously—but that is not an indication of a fallow field. I have been hard at work, spending March working on three short stories, getting rough drafts completed (coals for the fire).

Two of these were stories I had written as a teenager, and the third is from a couple of years ago. I rewrote them, and I hope to revise and publish them in the next month or two, except that, as it seems things are going now, plans are meant to be abandoned. At any rate, I find it enjoyable to rewrite old ideas, because I'm such a better writer now than I was, I can see these ideas made into something worth reading.

As for my novel, when I began working on “Sacrifice” in November of last year I had intended to do a draft every two months. Well, six months later I'm just now beginning to take notes on the rough draft. But I am doing so, so there's hope for me yet.

There are several reasons why it's taken longer than I expected, nor am I upset that it has. I believe that any effort I expend kicking myself for not having something finished is effort being wasted. I must put that energy into writing. Sometimes it turns out that taking a little longer at something just means it's a better project. I wrote things in February and March that I would not have thought to write in December or January, and the story is better for not having been finished until later.

The first reason it took so long was because the novel was much longer than I envisioned. 70,000 words turned into 100,000 words.

Another reason is that I took a few weeks off from writing to spend time with my father, and I can easily file that under “Tao of Anxiety.”

I can't say that I hit a writer's block in the last six months, because I didn't, but I did not write as much as I could have. I stayed around 1,000 to 2,000 words a day (an hour or so of work), a respectable figure, but far from the 5,000 words a day I was getting in the last couple of weeks of March on my short stories.

I've also been working more on other things, like overcoming anxiety, exercising, and struggling to learn Spanish, rather than putting all my eggs in my writing basket.

Those days are over. Now I'm putting my writing cap on, and it turns out it's a space helmet. I'm going to the edge of my universe with this.

I've upped the amount of time each day I spend writing. Instead of an hour or two, I'm pushing for three and four hours a day. This means I'm writing 5,000+ words and am able, as I did today, to read through 10% of my novel and take notes (and brainstorm).

My mantra can be “I can sleep when I'm dead.” I'm on a mission, and that's to publish the three short stories and the novel I'm working on right now. No matter what!

I'm motivated, and I am not going to hide behind the perfectionism or fear of success that I've hid behind before.

Expect more blog posts from me, too.

There's a new sheriff in town, and he doesn't appreciate loitering, ha!

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Mindful of Health


There are many ways of looking at health. We can live a healthy lifestyle to prolong life, or to avoid future disease, or because it's interesting or fun or a challenge. 

I focus on my health to feel good right now. I am less interested in longevity, or avoiding disease. I do not feel I can control the future.

What I can control, to an extent, is my current body. This is far easier and less worrisome than attempting to live to be one hundred, or getting through life without getting sick.

I am going to die. This is an undeniable fact. It's not something I wish to expend energy to avoid. If living a healthy lifestyle in order to feel good right now leads me to live longer, cool. If it doesn't, what am I going to do?

I am going to get sick. This is a fact. It's very likely that I will get cancer one day, or heart disease, or diabetes, or a thousand other nasty things. The older I get, the more likely illness becomes.

One of the reasons why cancer, heart disease, and diabetes rates are so high is because we have an aging population. Over 25% of the population is older than the average life expectancy in 1900! The “fifty and older” crowd has doubled in the last century, and half of that population group are over age sixty-five. 

The rate of disease skyrockets as people get into their sixties, seventies, and eighties, as it should. Disease, often caused by old age (the body's growing inability to heal itself), kills almost everyone eventually. 

All we've managed to do in the twentieth century is push the natural course of disease back a couple of decades, partly through medical technology, and partly through a higher awareness of fitness and diet, but it catches up to us eventually no matter what precautions we take—we cannot put death off forever, nor can we put off disease indefinitely, so long as it is a process of dying.

There's no way to predict my future, but I have a great power over my current health, over how I feel upon waking and how I feel upon going to bed, and the time between. How I feel today is the only thing that I can control, and it is the only thing that matters.

By eating natural plant foods, lean meats, and healthy fats, I can feel better both physically and emotionally because these foods have a complete range of necessary vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. By eating less, and implementing daily periods of fasting, I can limit the ill effects that sugar and other carbs have on the body. By avoiding added chemicals, I can keep my brain and body healthy and working at its best. I can feel alert, energetic, and happy.

But diet is not the only aspect of health. Physical fitness is a as important. Exercising early in the morning grounds me for the rest of the day. I feel more confident and energized on days that I lift weights, ride my bike, and stretch. I stick to a healthy diet more easily, and I have a sense of well-being that lasts late into the evening.

There's also an emotional component to health. Emotional well-being isn't something that is given much attention in our society, but it is at least as important. Taking care of one's emotional health is simply finding a way to stay in-tune with the world around us. Emotional health is a sense that one is “all right.” 

Stress, which if compared to cigarettes and fast food, may be an even deadlier factor for disease. Prolonged stress can rapidly annihilate the body's organs and immune system. Emotional health counteracts stress far better than diet and exercise.

When I do not fulfill these three key factors I feel “off.” I've learned to take care of this feeling quickly, because the longer it's there the harder it seems to be gotten rid of. This is why I focus on the immediate present rather than on the far away future. I can live for tomorrow and very easily miss out on today. I would never want to be old and healthy and not have enjoyed my life, or to only remember things as memories and to not have actually experienced them!

Staying healthy is about making daily, conscious adjustments. It's not just eating the same “health” food over and over again and running on the same treadmill for forty-five years, it's managing myself, figuring out what makes me feel good, and applying it to my daily life. 

My health has become a great experiment in which I try many different things in order to figure out what works for me. I've come to realize that we're all different, which is why the experimentation is necessary for each of us. We don't know what will work until we test it, and anything can work for one person and not for another.

An overall consistency is more important than a rigid constant state of perfection, for to enjoy good health it's necessary to experience some ill health once in a while, or good health itself becomes too normal to be appreciated. 

Falling off the wagon, then, isn't the end of the world. If I trash my body for a weekend on the sofa eating ice cream and pizza, I'll have enjoyed the food and the time off, and when I get back to eating healthy and exercising I will feel like a million bucks. This, to me, is also exercising my emotional health—not punishing myself for my imperfections or cravings.

The contrast is what good health really, truly is. It's a cycle, like everything else in this world. The end of the cycle isn't a tragedy, but spending an entire lifetime trying to escape it is.

Be nice to yourself. What else do we really have to live for?

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Do It, And Get It Over With


Progress is slowly but surely being made in my recovery from Social Anxiety Disorder. Last time I wrote about my anxiety I was talking about overcoming speaking on the phone and driving a car. I hit a plateau in that time, as I ran out of things to work on, but now I've set my sights on getting a job.

As far as I'm concerned, working or going to school are the worst of my problems. These are long-term commitments that I feel I will get trapped in and panic, and cannot get out of without having the guilt of letting someone down. These are my biggest fears. Going to school is not necessary, but working is. Fortunately I have experience in the grocery industry, and have an opportunity here for a job at a local store.

This is a very interesting process for me. In my mind I feel that if the job is just given to me, I can show up and do the work, yet the people involved aren't going to make this easy on me (said with a wink). I'm under the impression that the job is mine, but I still have to do everything I would have to do if I was anyone else off the street. Certainly this is no slam dunk (I may not get the job), but regardless of that I am getting some much needed experience and confidence. I am at once lazy and don't want to do this, and appreciative of the opportunity to do it.

The back story is that I live near someone who is pretty high up in the grocery chains corporate office. He's a cool guy and told me he could get me a job.* I have avoided it for months, but I have finally made up my mind  to get the ball rolling and see where it takes me. I have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain from this.

Two Sundays ago I filled out an application, which required me to go to the store and be told I had to go back home to fill it out online. The application wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, and I was quickly done. I was a bit let down that I couldn't bring it back in to the manager, mostly because I felt it was such a big leap to actually have gone to the store, I wasn't sure if I could repeat it.

But I still had to go back to let the manager know I had filled out the application, and that I was serious. This is where things got interesting for me—and I learned something about myself.

If faced with a tough decision to do something right now, or put it off until a “better” day, I will choose to do the thing NOW.

Last night my anxiety got the best of me and I spent the evening crawling up walls. I was very anxious and depressed. Anxious because of the uncertainty I faced having to go back to the store, and depressed because of the hopelessness tied to fighting the inevitable.

I went to sleep with a heavy heart, but when I woke up the fear was gone and I knew what I would do, and why I would do it this morning.

I had thought to do it Monday, to postpone as long as I could. The logic behind this was simple. Going back was the last thing in the world I wished to do. I thought dying would be more convenient for me, or even applying somewhere else. Anywhere but there!

Then going Monday required me to sit on my hands Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and Monday could come to find me postponing this again. In those four days I had plenty of time to fret and worry—hell, I could think myself so far under the table that I could lose all my confidence.

The alternative, as I saw it, was to go to the store immediately to keep moving forward.

Between these two choices, I chose the one that required less mental anguish—less anxiety, less depression. I knew, and I was proven correct, that if I just did it, I could put it behind me.

I know this because I'm beginning to understand the nature of the fear in my mind. The mental anguish I experience inside myself is not consistent with the world around me, which is often peaceful and serene. The anguish exists because I exist, which makes it both difficult and easy to remedy. Getting rid of it is as simple as getting rid of, not necessarily the self, but the things that prop the self up.

Namely the fear of change; wanting the world to be just so, and not accepting it as it is.

The self is an illusion of the “unchanging.” Of course the self is just a concept that we project onto reality. We are constantly changing, never the same as we were before. The self only exists when we're aware of the self, and yet we can lose ourselves in many things like sleep, or a drug, or a game, etc.

You can never step in the same river twice, they say. So the human mind creates the self as a way to give clarity and meaning to the ever-changing world, by having something that can be counted on not to change. The self is something to hold onto in chaos. If the self were only ever used to serve this purpose, it would be a great thing, but I for one have clung too tightly to myself, mistaking the anchor for the ocean.

A side effect of this is self-consciousness. I focus too much on myself in order to maintain it and ignore the rest of the world which is in constant motion. The truth of the matter is that the ocean of reality is usually tranquil. Sometimes a storm can batter the seas, and certainly anything caught in that storm is in danger, but this is rare. What hurts me the most is maintaining the self, and the mental anguish I experience when I try to fight against the ocean around me. I drown not because I am sailing upon a sea, but because I hold onto the anchor as it sinks in an attempt to stay in place. If I simply let myself go where the tides take me, the suffering will be minimal.

So this morning I woke and I did the thing I most feared in an attempt to not have to fear doing it.

The fear of doing anything is more toxic than the doing.

I wonder what else I can apply this to? Can you apply this to your own life?



* In my defense I have 7+ years of grocery experience, managed dairy, frozen foods, and grocery, and can find my way around produce, meat, and bakery/deli. I can even run a register! It's not like I don't know what I'm doing. A lack of confidence isn't my problem. It's the fear of letting people down, the fear of the unknown, the fear of change. These things I will get over. *





Further Reading:

Tao of Anxiety: Series



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