Friday, January 17, 2014

Just visualize

New Year's just wouldn't be New Year's without resolutions. Despite study upon study that pretty much proves they don't work, and never last beyond the first two weeks of the January, people still make them ... and people still break them.

We're going to quit smoking. Quit drinking. Quit eating. Quit gambling ... and, most of all, quit eating.

Actually, you can't quit eating. But you can resolve to lose weight, and you do that obviously by eating less ... because despite what anyone tries to tell you, there is no other way. There is no magic formula of food that you can eat that "automatically" messes with your body chemistry so that you can shovel glutinous amounts of crap into your system and still lose weight. Don't listen to anyone who tells you anything else.

When it comes to weight loss, the math is simple: less calories and more exercise, which burns off even more calories. The two go hand in hand, with the overwhelming accent on the "eat less calories" part.

This isn't to say exercise (or, if you'd prefer, physical activity) doesn't help you lose, or maintain,  your weight. Of course it does. It just doesn't guarantee weight loss without a corresponding food discipline ... whereas keeping your food to a prescribed amount of calories without exercise gives you a decent shot. It's harder ... but doable.

But none of that matters if you don't want to do it.

We all know how to eat. We all know what to eat. And we all know what and how not to eat if we want to lose, or maintain, weight. It comes down to how badly we want to go through all that. And believe me, you have to want it pretty badly to go through it.

There are a thousand reasons to eat, and I could probably recite every one of them (and bore you half to death while I do it). But here are some of the biggies: hunger, anger, boredom, sadness, happiness, celebration, depression, apprehension, defiance (one of the biggest, actually), and -- perhaps most of all -- habit.

We're just an eating culture. Actually, that's pretty much universal. Most family activity is centered around food in one way or another. When I was a kid, Sunday afternoon drives always ended up with an ice cream cone. In fact, my grandfather used to press a quarter into our hands (long after a quarter actually did the trick) and say "go have yourself a cone."

Also when I was a kid, if we were lucky enough to hit one out of the park during our Little League games (which I did five times my last year playing), the organization would give us a coupon for a free half-gallon of ice cream at Fontaine's Market.

It's considered impolite to invite people to your house ... and then not serve them anything. And if you're going to go through all that trouble, you're not going to serve your company celery sticks. You're going to buy a pie (or make one), or a cake, or cookies, or some other highly caloric treat that just screams out "special occasion."

If you walk out of the house in the morning and you have a flat tire? After you swear a few times and -- in my case -- call AAA so they can put the donut on, you're just as likely to go eat one when it's all over.

But as many reasons are there are to eat, there's only one reason not to. And it's not the same for everybody. Therein lies the rub. It's up to us to find the motivation to resist that avalanche of food that just seems to come at us all day long.

On this issue, I cannot speak for anyone else ... just myself. And after years of trying to answer this question, and being dishonest with myself about what my reasons for wanting to lose weight are, here is what I've found.

My motivation is vanity. And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

It took me a long time to admit this, because I always thought the reasons should be more noble ... or more serious. I said -- and thought -- all the right things. I wanted to grow old with my family around me ... I wanted to be healthy for them ... didn't want to spend the rest of my life injecting insulin into myself (I am diabetic) ... didn't want to limp through life on bad knees (I've had both of them partially replaced) ... didn't want to be limited by a bad back ... wanted to be able to go on a walk on a beautiful day (or even a stormy one) without physical limitations setting me back ... wanted to be able to ride a bicycle without looking like I belonged in a circus ... or feeling as if I did.

And you know? All of this is certainly in play. It's all very true. I want all of those things. But none of them are visceral reasons ... meaning none of them punch me in the stomach (or, if you'd prefer, kick me in the ass) and give me that impetus to break a lifelong habit of eating whenever I couldn't think of anything else to do.

Because that's the big issue. It's not whether you eat three meals a day of nothing but broccoli (good God, if that's what was involved, we'd all revolt and end up looking like Chris Christie's "before" pictures!) or whether you splurge a little and have gravy on your mashed potatoes. If you find that visceral reason for changing these lifelong habits, you'll have a much better chance of actually doing that.

Five years ago, I had gastric bypass surgery and for three and a half years afterward, things seemed to be steady as they went. Then, disciplines got relaxed. In 2012, I fell three times within a month, hurt ribs on both sides of my body, messed up one of my knees and wrenched my back. I was in and out of commission where exercise was concerned for long periods of time.

As anyone who has ever experienced this can tell you, when you relax one discipline you tend to get a domino effect. One by one the rest of them fall too.

Just recently, I put on a shirt that I love to wear ... and have worn often since I bought it ... and it was starting to strain at the buttons. Now you can delude yourself for a long time into to thinking that all's well when it isn't. But when you're physically uncomfortable in your clothes to the point where you can't wait to take them off in favor of those elastic waste band gym pants and the two-sizes-too-big "fat" shirts ... or you start wearing that bulky sweater even when it's not warm enough to need one ... then delusion no longer works.

And that's when it hit me. If there's anything I cannot stand it's being uncomfortable in my clothes. Perhaps it comes from a lifetime of being overweight, but I live for loose clothes. When I first bought this particular shirt (which is white and blue, and pinstriped ... very classy looking, I thought) I could swim in it. And that's just how I liked it. I don't like suffocating in my clothes.

For a long time, I would put this shirt on, and while I couldn't exactly swim in it the way I could when I bought it in 2011, I was comfortable. I didn't need to wear a sweater over it to hide the fact that the buttons were about to pop.

But the last few times I've worn it, the sweater has come on ... and, this being New England and the capital of crazy, fluctuating weather, we've hit a warm stretch in the middle of January where sweaters indoors aren't exactly necessary.

I wear them anyway ... and then open the windows at work because I'm hot ... driving my co-workers crazy.

What generally happens is that your clothing choices dwindle. Truly comfortable clothes become less and less available, and then you're resigned to wearing the same stuff all the time. It tends to be drab and, functional, and in a world where so much emphasis is put on being sartorially and tonsorially correct, you're nowhere.

You either chafe at that situation -- and eat out of frustration; or you break down, buy bigger clothes, and then stew because of your failure to be able to do something that seems to be second nature to so many other people around you ... and end up eating even more out of anger, humiliation and frustration.

And with all of this, I think I'm hitting on something. If I don't put the brakes on here, and reverse this trend, not only am I not going to be able wear the pinstriped blue shirt without a sweater ... I won't be able to wear it at all.

I like clothes. I like looking good in clothes ... looking neat. I could have the world's worst haircut (and some would say I do ... especially now, since my hair is thinning and no matter how much I comb it, it looks like I just got out of bed), but as long as I'm neat and I look good and feel good in my clothes, I'm a happy guy.

This is probably the one area in this Virgo's life where I'm very fussy (we're known to be this way, but I'm generally the antithesis). I prefer my shirts tucked in (right after I had the bypass, I even tucked my T-shirt into my gym shorts when I'd work out), and I really don't like dealing with any article of clothing that's out of place. Not even a bathing suit!

But you can't tuck your shirt in if the buttons are practically popping off, because that just accentuates the situation. Hence, the sweaters when it's 50 ... and the open windows at work because the heat gets cranked up to Australian Open proportions and I refuse to take them off.

So that's it. That's my visceral motivation. Sweaters when it's 50 ... open windows ... the wrath of everyone around me ... and shirts that feel as if the buttons are going to pop off.

In the end, perhaps the best way to lose weight is to visualize myself wearing that blue pinstriped shirt comfortably ... wearing the black-on-white pinstriped shirt I bought two years ago ... and can't even wear anymore because of how tight the buttons feel. I bought a black necktie to go with it, and I thought it looked great. Can't wear either because of how the shirt feels on me.

Now, naturally, if you take care of one problem in this regard, you take care of them all. If your objective is to wear clothes comfortably when they no longer fit you now, you have to lose weight ... and lose a lot of it. The more weight you lose, the better your blood sugar. The more weight you lose, the less of a strain it is on your knees and your back. The more weight you lose, you increase your odds that you will grow old with your family and friends around you ... and that you'll be healthy enough to enjoy them.

It's just that you have to find that one motivating factor that convinces you that the "doing without" will be worth it.

There's a lot of talk in the weight loss community about "diet" being a dirty word. And it is. You don't look at this as a diet as much as you do a change in lifestyle that -- over time -- enables you to achieve your goals. But to change, you have to, you know, change. There's that transition period where you have to substitute new behaviors for the ones that made your shirt buttons practically pop off. That takes work ... and it takes sacrifice ... and a hell of a lot of discipline.

It goes without saying that we're all worth the effort. But the key to being successful at anything -- regardless of what it is -- is to find that extra impetus to nudge you into doing the things you need to do at the exact moment you least want to do them.

And if that impetus comes from sheer vanity and nothing any more noble than that, so be it. If it gets you where you need to be, and it doesn't hurt or kill anyone in the process, who is anyone to say you're wrong?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Phil Everly

"Siser Suzie ... Brother John ... Martin Luther ... Phil and Don ..."

I suppose Paul McCartney could have done better if he'd wanted to give a shoutout to the Everly Brothers than to include their names in a bit of a doggerel song whose only serious lasting historical significance is the rather comic sight of ex-Moody Blues vocalist Denny Laine marching around the stage, banging away on a snare drum. But at least he felt strongly enough about Phil and Don to include them in his bicentennial musical pastiche of people and images.

Phil Everly died Friday, and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that he, along with his older brother, Don, were two of the most significant and enduring pioneers in popular music.

No, they weren't Elvis, with his aggressive sexuality; or Jerry Lee Lewis, with his over-the-top, menacing countenance.They weren't even Buddy Holly, whom they most closely resembled musically, but who had a bit of swagger all of his own.

They were, as Tom Hanks might have said in "That Thing You Do," "nice boys ... with nice suits." They made rock 'n' roll a lot less threatening than it had been when, say, Chuck Berry, or Little Richard,, or the aforementioned Elvis and Jerry Lee were performing it. There was none of that pent up, unspoken (but very obvious, just the same) sexual hostility that fueled some of the early rockers.

They were middle America ... they fell asleep at the drive-in and then wondered what the 'rents would think (or, if you wish, that was the story they were dishing up for the 'rents). Either way, they were every awkward teenager in America. You want to talk about those "awkward teenage blues," as Bob Seger sang about in "Night Moves?" There was nothing, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, more awkward than explaining to your folks why you blew curfew.

There wasn't a song Phil and Don couldn't sing ... and sing well. "Wake Up Little Susie" was just one of a bunch of songs that just bore their way into our heart of hearts. In less than 24 hours from the time Phil Everly died, I've read more tributes from fans, and none of them mention the same song. "Let it Be Me," "Cathy's Clown," "Bye Bye Love," "All I Have To Do Is Dream ..." Doesn't matter.

Their biggest legacy, however, comes from the type of music that came after them. To wit: The Beatles may have loved Elvis, but they sang like Phil and Don. Which is why, so many years later, Paul McCartney acknowledged that ... even if it was in a throwaway little ditty like "let 'em in." It hurts my ears to hear that song even now. I even tried to play it before I wrote this ... and had to shut it off.

Brian Wilson, who is perhaps the musical genius of my generation, paid tribute to Phil Everly and said that he and his brothers listened to their music all the time. It's not hard to imagine the Wilsons saying to each other, "hey! we can do that!"

I will always credit the Everly Brothers for influencing the Beatles into adding the one component in their music that put them over the top and made them accessible to moms and dads as well as their teenage offspring: innocence. By the time the Beatles came to America, and had been cleaned up and re-made into the embodiment of Swinging London as opposed a leather-clad hooligan bar band, what ultimately happened with them in the sixties may never have come about.

By then, Elvis was in and out of the Army and making harmless movies; Chuck Berry had a hornet's nest of legal problems; Lewis had married his 13-year-old cousin and was a virtual opprobrium; Richard Penniman was a mess; and Charles Hardin Holly was -- sadly -- dead. If the genre was going to survive, it needed a real serious shot in the arm.

Along came the Beatles, who came to America less than three months after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The country needed something to smile about ... and it was them. But it wouldn't have been them had they come to the U.S. clad in leather from head to toe and doing Little Richard covers. It was them because they borrowed from everyone ... but borrowed from the Everly Brothers more than most.

Phil and Don sang about falling asleep at the drive-in (well, use your own interpretation on that), and the innocence of dreaming about unrequited love. The Beatles sang of holding their girls' hands while telling them "something ... I think you'll understand." I guess you could call it boyish, perhaps even impish, innocence. All it would take to get the real meaning would be a wink or an arch of the eyebrow. But even then, all you could really do was smile, because there was something so wholesome ... so non-threatening in it that you had to love it.

If you need anymore proof, listen to a vintage Everly Brother song ... and then listen to the close harmonies of John Lennon and Paul McCartney ... the Beach Boys ... Simon and Garfunkel ... and you'll detect a common denominator ... Phil and Don Everly.

There's no getting around the fact that the Everly Brothers belong in the pantheon of rock 'n' roll. If there's a "Top Five" of early, pioneering rock 'n' roll acts, they are in it. Maybe it's because they made rock 'n' roll more accessible to mainstream kids who might have been put off in the beginning by all that unspoken sexual aggression. Nobody ever accused anything Phil and Don ever sang of being "the devil's music." They were fun. You could dance to them. Or swoon. Or gaze into your girl (or boy) friend's eyes and dream. They were probably more representative of average kids than some of the other acts from the era were.

That might also be a reason they're continually given the short shrift when people talk about the early days. There was Elvis, Richard, Jerry Lee, Buddy ... and, oh yeah, the Everly Brothers.

But before anyone dismisses them out of hand, remember two things. First, when Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel first got together, and still had crewcuts and sang as "Tom and Jerry" they were emulating not Bob Dylan, not Elvis, and not Buddy Holly. They were going for the Phil and Don sound.

Second, when George Harrison figured it was time that he put his feelings about the messy menage a trois with his wife Patti and Eric Clapton to music, he chose the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love" as the vehicle. Those were the songs and the musicians who had meaning to these guys!

I remember in 1969 my mother being almost inconsolable when Judy Garland died. I couldn't figure out why. All I ever remembered about her -- when she was alive -- was that she was Dorothy. I never saw the old Micky Rooney films, never saw "Meet me in St. Louis," never really followed her as she battled all her various demons, and never realized how much she meant to an entire generation of people who loved music. I was still only 15. What did I know?

Obviously, I understand it now. My generation is getting old enough now so that all these fifties and sixties rockers who die are taking pieces of our childhoods with them. But every now and then, one of the greats go, and all it does is remind us of how old we're all getting too. Phil and Don were two of the greats. Now there's just Don.

You wonder, in this non-stop nostalgia loop that permeates music in the 21st century, how much different it would have been for the Everly Brothers if they hadn't spent a decade feuding with each other (they didn't talk for 10 years). They ultimately reunited, and found some success, but the sin of it all is that there were 10 golden years where we heard nothing from them as a duo.

What a shame.

But what are we gonna tell your mama ... what are we gonna tell your pa ... and what are we gonna tell our friends when they say "Oooh, la la."