Life As I Know It

crash photo

My Harrowing 4th of July

I had just finished playing a great private party with my band. There’s were tons of people, food and a fireworks show as big as any you would ever see, all at someone’s house. It was now time for my 2 hour drive back home to Austin. Before I had even got out of town, I was stopped at a stop light with no one in front of me. A pickup truck was driving through the intersection in front of when suddenly it was t-boned by another car. The truck went up on its side and came hurtling directly at my car. Now, I tend to be very calm and in control in crisis situations, so I wanted to throw it in reverse but I didn’t have time to assess what was behind me and didn’t want to end up plowing into someone, so I watch as this hurtling pickup skidded to a stop on its side…inches from my front bumper. I then reversed a little (I’m not sure why at this point, other than to get a little distance from the carnage). Everyone poured out of their cars behind me, as did I to call 911, and assess if anyone needed immediate help. When I could see there was nothing more I could do, I figured it was best to just get out of the way and got back in my car. While I was waiting for the police to clear everyone and for the people behind me to get back in their cars and re-route so that we could all leave the scene, I took this photo from my car.

crash photo

My view of the crash that nearly included me.

Eventually we were cleared and I drove on, stopping briefly to get a drink. A guy in the store wondered what was going on with all the police, fire and EMS folks, so I told him my first hand account. He was not expecting such a vividly detailed answer. I then hit the road back to Austin, delayed by about 20 minutes or so by the accident. About an hour later, I was on Highway 21 in the middle of nowhere. There was hardly any traffic as it was 1:30 A.M. I noticed a car coming toward me from the distance. Then I noticed that it was swerving. Back and forth. A lot. I went into high alert and could not tell is this was someone out of control or just being an idiot goofing around. Faster than I expected, the car was upon me and swerved directly toward me, smashing into the left rear of my car. The side airbags deployed, and my back end swung wildly around pointing me across the oncoming lanes (which were, thankfully, empty). It was one of those moments they talk about when everything went into slow motion. I remember as I got hit, thinking (and possibly saying out loud) “FUCK! GODDAMMIT! SERIOUSLY?” I remained calm and tried to get control of the vehicle as best as I could. I had stopped spinning and was now headed directly across the oncoming lane toward a ditch. I though ” Oh, shit, I hope this ditch isn’t too bad and that this doesn’t hurt too much.” Next thing I knew I was over the ditch and through a barbed-wire fence, pleasantly surprised at the lack of impact or pain. It was then that I realized that my car was still in drive and actively propelling forward in this, thankfully, large and empty field. I came to a stop and gathered myself. I seemed to be fine. I got out and immediately called 911. Where was I, they asked? I told them to hold on, put them on speakerphone and pulled up Google maps (thankful for both the phone signal and internet connection). I couldn’t read the tiny county road number, but luckily I had long ago enabled the accessibility feature where I could tap with 3 fingers to zoom in. I did so and told them I was on Highway 21, just north of county road 402. They said they would send someone right away. When asked about the other car, I told them I had briefly seen them stopped way down the road, but that they seemed to be gone now.

I called Elly who was fast asleep at home. I told her the details and that I was fine. Since I was about an hour from home still, she got in car that she had very luckily borrowed from a friend who let’s her use it whenever we need a second car for some reason. Not knowing exactly what would play out, she just started driving toward me, knowing she’d have to pick me up somewhere. I assessed the damage. It looked like they had hit me right around my left rear tire. It was at a slightly funny angle but nothing too terribly alarming. I had no rear bumper and the left rear tail light was broken.The left rear door wouldn’t open. I checked my music equipment in the back and it was fine which made me breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Then I waited. In a dark field in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, which, needless to say, was surreal. There was a bright moon which was nice and I could leave the car running to keep my phone charging and keep the headlights on for better visibility. I meditated. Got bitten by a lot of mosquitoes or something. About 30 minutes later or so, the highway patrol showed up. He asked how I managed this on a completely deserted highway. I laughed and said “right?” and gave him the details. He asked what I planned to do with the car and I said I had no idea what my options were. He told me to call my insurance which I did and reported everything. They said they could transfer me to someone to arrange a tow or I could just have the officer call a local tow, which is what I did. I told the officer about my other close call and he said something like “You better watch it. You’re luck is gonna run out!” (in a totally good-natured way).

By the time I was done with insurance, the officer, etc. and the tow truck showed up it must have been at least another 30 minutes. The tow truck driver was a very amiable guy who pondered how the hell to get my car out of this field when there was a ditch and a (busted) fence in the way. I told him had no idea if it was driveable but that I could certainly try to back it up to the road.

“I mean, what am I gonna do? Mess it up worse?” I said, which made him laugh heartily. I backed it up. Got stuck a few times where I had to work it forward and back but eventually got it back to road and parked on the shoulder where getting in on the truck was nice and simple. Elly arrived right at this time and we got all the stuff we could from the car and packed into the teeny tiny BMW Z3 as best we could. Now this thing is tiny. We barely fit my yoga mats and a few small things in the trunk. We stashed a small fan back by the rear window. My roller case went at my feet and my guitar was basically on top of me in the passenger seat. It was uncomfortable, but the only way to get all my stuff home.

We were both a bit on edge watching for any other late night 4th of July jackasses but we made it home and to bed by about 5 A.M. We had planned not to go anywhere on Sunday but a last minute offer from Craigslist to trade a really cool guitar for one I was trying to sell ended up with us driving halfway to San Antonio to make the exchange, and once again, I found myself on a 45 minute, very uncomfortable car ride wedged under a guitar.

Monday and Tuesday I did all the dealing with insurance, getting a rental lined up, faxing them paper work to show that I had just had $4000 worth of work done earlier this year including a brand new $3000 hybrid batter with a 4 year warranty, which is basically the biggest repair you can make on a hybrid vehicle short of replacing the engine. I am hoping this factors in to whatever decisions they make about repairing the car or totaling it.

Not surprisingly, this whole experience has had an affect on me. Especially when paired with the wreck I was in at the beginning of this year when my car was in the shop and I was driving our same friend’s (previous) Z3 to College Station and back to pick up my newly custom painted guitar as well as carrying an acoustic that was over 100 years old back to a shop in Austin as a favor to a friend. While stopped at a light I noticed someone skid to a halt and veer to the right to avoid hitting a car a few behind me. Then as I was stopped at the next light, this same person (I’m not 100% positive, but I think it was the same person) plowed into the back of my stopped (and borrowed) car, spinning me 180 degrees and giving me a mild concussion for the next month. It took a few minutes for me to get my senses back and I didn’t really remember the actual accident, or the texts that I had sent after getting hit, or calling Elly and talking somewhat incoherently to her. Both guitars, despite being in soft cases and on the front passenger against the dash and laying up the seat, were completely unharmed. As was I, in the end (though I had some soreness and killer headaches for about a month, but several doctor visits confirmed that I was fine).

So after almost 30 years of driving mostly uneventfully (a few minor fender benders like getting rear-ended twice), I’ve now had 2 (and almost 3) pretty scary crashes. None of them my fault, which is actually the scariest thing. You can be the best, most defensive driver in the world with great control, reactions and cool in a crisis but there is so much not in your control. So many idiots that can still make you a target. I’ve definitely felt the insidious anxiety deep within me. I haven’t slept well since that night, which I’m actually not sure is at all related, but I’m also not sure that it’s not. I’m a little more jumpy in the car for the moment. A little apprehensive about the gigs I have coming up and all the driving I have to routinely do for my careers as an actor and musician. My mind sometimes goes to horrific scenarios. I’m trying my best though not to let the fear win. Living in fear is never good, nor necessary. While it’s easy to think things like “Oh man, what if there had been oncoming traffic? What if they had hit me head on? What if that ditch had been deeper or worse? Or the fence was sturdier? Or there was a tree? Or instead of a field it was a lake? Or an overpass? Or I’d been killed? Or maimed and couldn’t play guitar? Or…or…or…”

But then I realize that you can also take everything I just said and turn it into something positive. Like “Wow! I really am so very, very fortunate. So lucky. Someone is watching out for me and no matter what everything will be fine and I’m going to live my life under that assumption and not in fear.” And I will. But I’m also human, and sometimes it will be a fight.

I once had my tarot cards read, which I kind of went on as a lark just for fun, but by the end of it, I was it had really had a profound effect on me. It was a really cool experience and just many of the things she said were eerie, in the best possible way. During this session, among many other things, she mentioned (paraphrasing) “You have two…well they don’t really want me to say because they know you won’t really like this word, but for lack of a better term, guardian angels. And they know you aren’t really religious and all that thus why you probably would balk a little at the term ‘angel’ but they just want you to know they’re there, and you can talk to them if you want.”

Well, great job, you two. Keep up the great work. Seems you’ve been working overtime.

Revisiting Barton Creek Square Mall

This is really more of an epilogue for Requiem For A Mall. An addendum of sorts. After that little walk down memory lane I decided to revisit Barton Creek Square Mall yesterday. This was the place that took over for Highland Mall as our destination of choice in my later years visiting my late Aunt Trish and my cousin, Casey. the memories contained there are equally as impactful, and in some ways, maybe even more so because they are a little fresher, more recent and represent a later period in my visits that seems a little more clear in its recollection.

Many memories may in fact be blurred by time. When I was texting my cousin during my Highland Mall visit, I could have sworn I remembered right where there was an Aladdin’s Castle arcade, but my cousin thought that was at Barton Creek and on the opposite side. But then he couldn’t remember if maybe he was mixing it up with Goldmine or Barker’s Circus, which he also thought were in Barton on the opposite side. I had totally forgotten those two arcade names and only had memories of an arcade on one side of the entrance. It was all so long ago, who’s to say I’m not jumbling all kinds of details and mixing up malls.

Barton Creek Square definitely transported me once again back in time. I was a older this time but still the place was indelibly linked to Trish and Casey. I once again was amazed at how this place that was once one of my favorite destination now held almost nothing for me. The Apple store is fun. There was still a Spencer’s Gifts but it’s vastly different from the one in my memory. Past me was definitely envious of the huge and awesome Lego store that now exists, and for a moment, present me shouted “I want all those huge, awesome Star Wars Legos! A Death Star! Slave I! Star Destroyer!” I very quickly then realized that I had no use for them. I’ve tried over the years to stop collecting “stuff.” Things I just want that then really have no use and do nothing but collect dust. I knew that these huge Lego creations that I once would have wanted more than anything just had no place in my life any more.

Even the smell was familiar. Just a very clean mall smell that helped transport me right back there. Then I found the movie theater. When I had been at Highland I had a detailed memory of a movie theater but not the 2 screen theater that was apparently in a separate building across the parking lot from the actual mall at Highland. As soon as I saw it, I knew that this was the theater I had been remembering. This was a very important moment for me. Movies have always been a big part of my life and movies with my cousin were a formative part of my youth. For some reason, I specifically remember Disney’s The Black Hole (I still love that theme song), TRON and the original Clash of the Titans. Standing in front of this theater, I could so vividly remember Trish buying tickets and Casey and I eager to get inside and go to some fantastical place. I think we used to love sitting in the front row, though I have no idea why now, or if that’s something else I’m mismembering (my own word that I use often). I wondered if we used to go to a lot of earlier showtimes because I seemed to have this familar feeling of coming out of the movie into the daylight and getting in the car so Trish could drive us home and Casey and I could proceed to play whatever new video game she’d bought us or that we were already playing on this visit.

I specifically have a lot of memories of this Barton Creek Square during the holidays. Shopping around Christmas. All the decorations and the music and just crowds of people. an energy of excitement and being alive. Surprisingly, the Food Court didn’t feel all that familiar, unlike my Highland visit. I smiled at the “signs of the times” such as the charging stations now set up next to chairs and such to rest and charge your device on the multi-ended dongle (which sounds like a lost Dr. Seuss book). There was plenty of familiarity and yet plenty that also rips you back from your time journey to remind you that you are indeed in the present, but I’ll never walk those places without Trish and Casey right there with me.

Today I decided to try going for my run in the mall. Air conditioning and the top floor is carpeted so that’s probably good for the joints. It took about 3.5 laps to run 2.5 miles plus a 5 minute warmup and cool down walk. You know, in case you were wondering. Maybe if I run fast enough, I can go back in time to catch a glimpse of Trish buying two eager boys tickets to a film. Probably not though. I run really slowly.

Highland Mall

Requiem For a Mall

Highland Mall

Highland Mall on closing day.


Like most people, I hadn’t been to Highland Mall in ages. In fact I was surprised to read that it was still operating at all. It always looked closed, but then yesterday I read that it was actually closing for good after 44 years. I knew I had to pay a final visit to what had been Austin’s first indoor shopping mall and a surprisingly poignant catalyst of memories. Judging from comments from friends and all the people there yesterday taking pictures and looking nostalgic, I was far from alone in this feeling.

Highland Mall

Highland Mall

For many, there seemed to be a lot of memories of working there at various points or going there as long time Austin residents. For me, its place in my heart was very specific: It was a place I used to love to go with my late aunt, Trish and my cousin, Casey. I’ve written a lot about them before but let me summarize for the uninitiated: they are two of the single most important people in my past and in the very DNA of who I am today. From when I was a kid on into adulthood, there were very few things I looked forward to as much as my time with them. They would come to College Station for holidays, I would spend school vacations here in Austin, which I found to be a magical wonderland because of it. Trish was like a second mother and Casey was like a little brother. My time with them remains a formative and defining time in my life. Last year, Trish went on to wherever our energy goes when our bodies are done here and Casey has long since pretty much ceased being a part of my life (even before he was married with two kids, which I’m sure is more than a full time job) but I still think about them both many times daily. In addition to Peter Pan Golf, Westgate Lanes bowling, going to movies and staying up all night playing video games, going to the mall was one of our favorite things to do and it started at Highland Mall.

Highland Mall

I think there used to be an arcade here once, long ago.

For whatever reason, we loved going to the mall (something that would definitely change in my adult years), and before Barton Creek came along, Highland Mall was practically Disneyworld for us. Spencer’s Gifts, video game and movie stores, arcades, the food court, toy stores, candy stores, ice cream vendors, movie theaters and many boring things we didn’t care about like clothing stores (until later when I thought parachute pants were the coolest thing ever), it was just this microcosm, this entire world and ecosystem all self-contained like some underground science fiction colony.

As soon as I walked in those doors yesterday, it all came back with startling familiarity like I had been transported in time. Even the music echoing through the mostly empty space through tinny, dated speakers seemed trapped in time, and strangely loud without a bustling mass of bodies soaking up the sound. All music I would have heard back then. I noticed a strange preponderance of ELO during my hours there. And yes, I spent hours there. I walked both levels of the entire mall three, four, maybe five times.
Highland03 I touched the work railings knowing very well they may have been the exact same railings we had all touched so many years ago. Used every single staircase and escalator, retracing the steps of so much past. When we would go there, Trish would often go off to do her thing and leave me and Casey to do ours. I remember we would methodically walk the whole mall to make sure we didn’t miss anything. I remembered and retraced some of the exact routes. I took in this ghost mall that once been so filled with such a din of life almost as if it were a living organism. Now there were only a handful of shops, and 3 vendors still sold food in the food court until the last hours of this last day. Many people snapped photos. I had a brief conversation with a stranger who was there for the same reason as I was, saying good be to an old friend from many years ago. You could just see the look i people’s eyes that they were just there, remembering one last time.

Highland Mall

Highland Mall

I think I tried to leave at least twice and then turned around and went back in for another pass. I actually texted with Casey a little bit, which made me smile to have him there a little bit and read other’s comments on my Facebook page about their memories of the mall. I remembered specific tables where I had sat with Trish and Casey enjoying fast food. I considered getting one last meal there but then decided against partaking of whatever happened to be left at this eleventh hour. At one point I saw an abandoned establishment that piqued my curiosity. I can’t remember the name on it but it was non-descriptive. There were signs to “Pits 9-20” and a note about not crossing the orange line without proper safety equipment but that spectators were welcome and encouraged to ask questions. It seemed like it had been some kind of action/sport type venue, but the real mystery that baffled me was this sign:
sign I still have no idea what this means. It’s like some kind of crazy, paranoid, conspiracy theorist rambling. “That’s how they’re gonna get us, man! The robots can diguise themselves as skateboards, man! They’re all around us and we’re just letting it happen, man!”

I’m not sure exactly why we stopped going there and started going to Barton Creek. I don’t know if it was closer to where Trish and Casey lived, or just perceived as a better, newer mall or what, but it seems that was the trend for most of Austin. Highland Mall fell into decline and for whatever reason, time passed it by. I was glad I’d read about it closing so I got the chance to spend this final day there, with Trish and Casey in my mind and heart. I was glad I got to say my goodbyes. As I laid in bed last night trying to sleep, I thought of the mall, empty and dark, finally “asleep” for good. The building or land may will back as part of Austin Community College, but Highland Mall is no more. No more than the memories so many of us will always carry and the little bits of who we are today that were shaped, formed and altered, even if almost imperceptibly, by our time there and the people who shared it.

Highland Mall

Epilogue: Revisiting Barton Creek Square Mall

Luke Olajuwan

The Startling Realization That I Don’t Have Many “Friends”

How do you define “friend”? It can mean a lot of different things in different contexts. A conversation with Elly yesterday made me realize that I don’t think I have many friends at all. I have a lot of acquaintances, people I love and care about and who love and care about me. This isn’t any kind of sad sob story or call for validation or anything. It was just an observation that kind of caught me by surprise. I don’t really have many “friends.”

Again, my life is beyond bountiful and filled with amazing people but aside from Elly, there is no one that I talk to or hang out with regularly or frequently. There are very few people that I feel I could easily and comfortably have any kind of deep, open, vulnerable conversation with. I racked my brain thinking of the people in my life that really fit what seemed to be “friend” beyond “acquaintance.” I came up with 5 people and I don’t see or talk to any of them often. They generally have their spouses, families or what not and spend most of their time and energy within the walls of that individual castle.

This is all a strange thing to talk about because I don’t want to discount or lessen the meaning of all the wonderful people in my life or make anyone feel left out or like they mean less to me. That’s not the case. In fact there is an overarching theme in my life of always feeling like I like and value people certain more than is returned and that’s definitely the source of a lot of whatever pain and insecurities I may have. I had an epiphany about a family member who has always meant so much to me and is a part of my DNA and my best memories and it always seemed mutual when we spent time together but I always had to be the one making it happen and over the years I just saw them less and less until I’ve pretty much just accepted that they are not in my life any more and never will be. Almost like a mini death or a living death.

Now another angle of this is that I have never been the best friend in some ways either. I can isolate myself and retreat into my cave and not keep in touch very well. My certain kind of shyness and desire to be unobtrusive and not bother people may come off as aloof, or stand offish. My approach is often too passive which is not always fair to put the onus on everyone else to take the initiative. I find the closest and longest lasting friends are the one who have a similar mindset and are very low maintenance. We can go months without speaking and then pick right back up as if no time has passed. I have no tolerance for guilt trips, or high maintenance people. So I’m sure I have a part in this scenario of “not having friends.” I do not deny any responsibility.

I’m not really looking for answers or anything, it was just something I felt like observing and chronicling. It really took me by surprise because I do feel like my life is full and full of absolutely stunning people but when we really started talking about the details, I was hard pressed to really find anyone who fit the profile we were discussing. I think this is why I enjoy social media so much. It has allowed me to grow and foster many relationships that probably would have faded away without it. The whole social media subject is an entirely different subject though. I am completely pro and for it and don’t believe the whole “it’s bad because people use it as a substitute for real interaction.” I think it’s a handy tool and addition, not a substitution and allows us to actually have discussions and interactions we wouldn’t normally be able to have due to time restraints and life responsibilities. It’s like we are always in touch. A virtual party where we can interact whenever we want or have time.

I don’t really want to get into a social media debate though. I don’t really know how to end this post so here’s a picture I made of Hakeem Olajuwan piloting an X-wing and getting his torpedoes right into the Death Star exhaust port. Nothing but vent!

Luke Olajuwan

Luke Olajuwan

C25K

I have been appalled with the state of my health lately. I can’t seem to kick my food demons or get on any kind of regular exercise regimen. My willpower and discipline seem non-existent but that won’t stop me from continuing to mount the battle. This is the worst shape I have been in since getting my diet under control around 2004 and dropping 60 lbs. About 30 of it is back. I need to get to yoga far more often as well as stopping regulating my fuel (i.e. STOP SHOVELING SO MUCH QUESO AND OTHER CRAP IN MY FOOD HOLE).

So today I started week 1 day 1 of “Couch to 5K.” What’s baffling to me is that I have always hated running. It was always my absolute least favorite form of exercise ever and something I didn’t want to do unless I was being chased by an axe or chainsaw wielding murderer or a zombie, but then again I probably could mosey away from a zombie without anything really resembling “running.”

For some reason I’m feeling myself drawn to this C25K program. Something about it just feels right at this time. Maybe it’s because there’s some weird sadistic part of me that likes to find weaknesses in myself or things that are difficult for me and instead of avoiding them and playing to my strengths, I like to try and overcome them to become a better, more rounded individual or something.

Day 1 felt like just the right amount of challenge for my out of shape blubbery mass. Challenging but not debilitating or discouraging. I imagine that to anyone in better shape than me (which is probably most people), it would have been a piece of cake. Mmm, cake.

My Tribute to the Life of Patricia Cooper

On Sunday August 3, 2014, we lost my aunt Patricia, or “Trish” as she was known to me, to the illness she had battled for many years which I believe was Hepatitis based. This writing, however, is not about death or sadness or mourning. It’s about life. The life of one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known and a life that affected so many others in such a positive way. She is a huge part of who I am today and like a second mother to me, behind my own awesome matronly unit.

I have no memories of a life without Trish in it. She and my Uncle Mike have been married for almost my entire life (definitely at least around 40 years).

More >

My September 11, 2001

Wow, I can’t believe that this isn’t documented anywhere on my blog. Weird.

In September of 2001, I was dating a wonderful woman who lived in England who would later become my wife (and then later, my ex-wife, though I hate that term as it seems to carry a negative connotation which is not at all apropos in our case). We had met on a Buffy The Vampire Slayer message board (which is a whole other story unto itself) and pretty immediately felt a connection like we’d never felt before. Several other people on this message board had ended up dating (and eventually getting married), and I think we were both sort of in the camp of “Hey, more power to you, although I don’t really see how you can know someone well enough on the internet to fall for them.” Then it happened to us and we were like “Ohhhh, that’s how that happens.” Jess came over for her first in person visit on September 9, 2001.

Two days later, we were getting ready to go to my job where she was going to spend the day with me and meet my co-workers. We had been in the shower and she had got out to get dressed and such while I stayed in to shave. I heard a disturbing “thud” noise and I pulled back the shower curtain to see Jess on the bathroom floor. Beside her were two of her teeth, knocked clean out roots and all and little bit of blood. I leapt out of the shower, in a slight panic. After a moment she was conscious and lucid but unaware of what exactly had just happened. I thought that maybe I should keep her from looking in the mirror in case that sent her into a panic, but she got up and looked at herself missing two teeth and with two more barely hanging in there and I think she just laughed. I had already called an ambulance, so I grabbed some of my sweats and got her dressed.

The medics arrived and got her onto the ambulance, and I climbed into the front of the ambulance for the ride to the hospital. That’s when I heard something on the radio about planes and the World Trade Center. I asked the ambulance driver what that was about, and he said “Oh you haven’t heard?” He explained the situation and we went to the hospital where they tended to Jess’s split bottom lip (stitches, I think) and told us we would then have to go to an oral surgeon to see about the teeth (I had kept the two other teeth in a container of milk, as I was instructed in case they could save them). I asked her if she wanted me to call her parents but she said she wanted to wait until she could actually speak to them herself so as not to cause more worry than necessary. Someone from the hospital took me home to get my truck and while I was there I finished shaving, since thus far, I’d been wandering around with a 1/3 shaved face. I returned and watched the news updates with everyone else in the waiting room.

They released Jess and I took her to the oral surgeon who removed the other two teeth which were barely hanging on anyway. They gave her some lovely drugs as well. When we finally got home that night, she called her parents. Of course, they immediately jumped straight to “We’ve been watching what’s been happening over there!” to which Jess replied “Yes, but there’s something else I have to tell you about…”

She spent the next two weeks meeting my friends and family with no top four teeth and making jokes about how she lost them. That day will always be very memorable for very personal reasons as well as the reasons that the rest of the world will remember it. They never figured out why she fainted. The best guess was a combinations of jetlag, not having eaten since the night before and the hot shower. We later figured out that she passed out right about the same time that first plane hit. I think she “felt a disturbance in the force.”

Do Good For Good’s Sake

I feel like I’ve written about this before, but in my cursory search I didn’t find any posts here about this, so forgive me if I’m redundant.

I try to be a good person. Every day I try to be a better person than I was the day before. I remember this strange day in 7th or 8th grade when I just a complete epiphany. It was like I woke up and saw the world completely differently and want to work on my flaws and become a better person than I had been up until that point in my life. I’ve spent every since then working on just that, and I’m sure I will spend every day of the rest of my life doing just that.

I always try to take the “high road.” I’m not always successful. I try to meet anger and confrontation with peace and understanding. I try to be helpful and generous. My friends are very important to me and I am always trying to sing their praises, get them opportunities whenever I can and say the things that they are too modest to say about themselves. I want the world to know how awesome these people are. This all being said, it’s very important to note once again that I often fail in my endeavors. I am definitely an imperfect being with many flaws. I can be selfish, I have certain behaviors that I don’t know how I feel about and sometimes feel maybe I need a little too much validation and love from others as my fuel. I am hopefully modest enough but not as modest as I’d like to be. So I’m not writing all this to say “Aren’t I a great guy?”

My real point here is that often times the “high road” and trying to be a good person is a very lonely journey. It can often like it a very lop-sided, sometimes one-way street. Sometimes it can feel like you try to put so much into the world, for so many other people but rarely get anything back the other way. And this is the key thing that you need to change if you feel this way. You shouldn’t do good things in hopes of some return or karmic payback. We are all human, and of course it can be frustrating if it feel unreciprocated, which it most certainly will on occasion. You should do go for its own sake. And yet, even then, it’s never truly for its own sake because doing good should make you feel good. Knowing that you’re making the world a better place and helping people you love.

And just as importantly, appreciate and never lose sight of when the good does come back your way. It’s human nature to focus on the negative. You can get ten compliments but it will be that one negative comment that sticks in your head and draws all your focus. Be thankful when someone does sing your praises, or send you a sincere thanks for what you did, or just offers you an opportunity without you even asking. Recognize these things and remember them. And take all the greedy personal joy you like out of the good things you do for others and the world at large, but keep the ego in check and don’t do it for accolades, praise or the hopes of some reward or payback. Those are always dangerous motives.

Well, this suddenly feels over serious. Let’s remedy that.

Potential Results

I think I just put my finger on the hardest part about diet and exercise and trying get in shape and be generally healthy: it’s that you have to work hard now for some potential results that are supposedly down the road. It’s kind of like if someone said “If you let me punch you in the face now, I’ll give you $5000 in 6 months.”

If I knew that could skip that burger and fries right now and see an inch come off my ass-ular region, that would be something! We all want immediate results. It’s hard to set down a difficult path in the hopes that it will all pay off at some indeterminate point in the future. Meanwhile, you’re “sacrificing” now and still unhappy with your body/health/etc.

Eye of the tiger, my friends. Eye of the tiger!

My Ongoing Battle With Food Addiction, Body Image and My Upcoming Soylent Adventure

I was a pretty skinny kid until I was about 18. 30 inch waist and mostly skin and bones. When I hit 18 my metabolism screeched to halt plus I was driving and not walking nearly as much and I had formed horrible eating habits. I loved sweets, fast food, junk all around. I think that full sugar sodas were the only liquid I put into my body and did so in great quantities. Strangely, I didn’t really notice myself getting bigger. I’m not sure how it slipped by me but one day I went to get some new pants and realized I was wearing 40″ pants now. I occasionally tried to jump on whatever train I had overheard was the way to being fit, but never with any success. I topped out at about 230 pounds on my 5’10” frame. Apparently, I wore it well. When I went for a costume fitting once, the costumer didn’t believe me when I gave her my measurements.

Fast forward to 2004. I was married and living in Austin and somehow stumbled upon the South Beach Diet. I read the book. It was the first “diet” that really clicked with me. Mainly because it wasn’t just some fad diet that was a quick shortcut to losing weight. It was a scientific explanation of how the body processes the fuel you put into it and it just made sense to me. It was a change of lifestyle, not just a “magic formula.” With the help of my (now ex) wife, I managed to drop 60 pounds and get into the best shape of my life. I still wasn’t where I would optimally like to be, but I was definitely in the healthy weight range for my body. I could feel it. My body finally moved right and didn’t feel like I was wearing a fat suit. Since then, I’ve mostly kept it off with some small swings and backslides on the dietary front.

A few years ago I got into hot yoga and did that 5 times a week for about a year or more and definitely got in the best shape of my life. Eventually my diet slid a little farther than I would have liked and eventually the exercise did too, a bit. I was now a single guy who doesn’t like to cook, prepare or really spend any time on eating at all. Once I got back into a full time day job (as opposed to all my years freelancing) then yoga disappeared. Carving out an extra 2 hour window to go, do the class and shower felt like a Herculean task. I also hate deciding what to eat (which is usually my downfall). Now, 9 years after I finally got my diet in line, I am in the worst shape I’ve been in since dropping all the weight. I’m hovering at 190 which is at least 20 pounds more than I’m comfortable with (though I have added some muscle as well so the weight can’t truly be trusted to judge by). I toyed with “4-hour body” but quickly abandoned it. Food and the state of my body have become a major point of frustration and depression at times for me.

Let me divert for a moment to say that I know I have severely warped body image issues. I really have no idea what I really look like. Or maybe I do, I guess I don’t know but I know I’m not happy. As an actor, sadly, physical image is something I have to be concerned about. When I see myself on film it’s even worse than the mirror. I personally do not believe the “camera adds 10 pounds” crap. It’s a device that captures an image and I believe that it probably shows us truer than we see ourselves. I will also be the first to admit that while health is a factor on my mind, that vanity is the larger factor. I don’t like the way I look.

Lately I’ve found trying to eat healthy to be overwhelming and frustrating. I know low carb seems to work for me but I’ve now realized that I was probably not taking in nearly as many calories as I should have been either. Trying to eat low carb and get enough calories seems like a lot of work. I tried simply calorie counting a la Weight Watchers or MyFitnessPal but, puzzlingly, did not seem to get results. I’ve accrued a lot of nutritional knowledge over the years to the point where I now end up going down a rabbit hole and getting overwhelmed. For example, I think I’ll try to go low carb. Oh but I need to get enough calories as well. I don’t really like to cook or spend time eating so I go pre-packaged. But with pre-packaged, it’s hard to find low-carb options. I end up with some microwavable chicken breasts and a microwavable bag of seasoned broccoli, and then don’t like what I’m eating because it’s bland. Oh, and you should stay away from processed foods anyway which rules out almost everything I would normally eat that’s easy, pre-packaged or microwavable. Forget it, I’m tired of it and will just grab something somewhere. Just the other day, I went to the store with intentions of starting a new healthier lifestyle and within minutes, felt on the verge of tears, defeated and just grabbed some bacon, egg and cheese Lean Pockets.

Let’s address another big point. I truly believe I am a food addict. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs of any kind. I’ve cut out diet sodas and am trying to cut out sugar (which I’ve done before back when I lost all the weight). Food is my vice. My drug. My addiction. It’s where I turn for comfort. It’s what I look forward to. It’s a source of happiness. I heard someone (I believe it was Riki Lindhome) make a great point which is that if you kick heroin or alcohol or many other addictions, you can go the rest of your life without those substances, but we all have to eat. We can’t give up food so there’s an extra layer of temptation there (and please know that I am not at all trying to compare or devalue the amazing accomplishment of kicking any substance addiction). I often feel out of control and like I “can’t stop myself” from getting and eating that thing as guilt sets in before I’ve even taken a bite because I’m unhappy with my own body and have no one to blame but myself. I suck at moderation. I can’t seem to eat a cookie or two, I eat the whole package. With foods I like, I can devour them in bulk, while sometimes I have trouble choking down a “healthy” meal if it’s something I’m not enjoying. I have a lifetime of really crappy eating habits to fight against and my tastes naturally run to the not healthy side. While I have had vegetables prepared that I have enjoyed, they still don’t exist in my mind’s database of “things I like.”

More frustrating is that I have done it before! I changed my diet and dropped 60 pounds so why can’t I find that place is again? Is it because I no longer have a wife who knows how to shop and cook? I remember how after a couple of weeks of changing my diet, that “I must have the french fries! I can not resist!” turned into “I would like some fries, but I can live without them.” I have not been able to find that place again yet.

I have often said that I wanted to find some kind of “People Chow.” Something I could make a huge batch of for the week that just had all the nutrients I needed. I don’t mind lack of variety if I don’t have to think about it and can just get rid of the hunger and give my body fuel. Enter my next adventure, Soylent. I’d read about Soylent quite a while back when it was basically one guy experimenting with formulating a drink he could drink 3 times a day to fulfill all his nutritional needs. Now they’ve raised millions of dollars and are going into mass production. They’ve been getting feedback, consulting scientists and dieticians and refining the formula and will start shipping by the end of this year. I will be trying a one month supply. The more interesting implications are as a solution to world hunger. I’m sure it will be controversial, and many will cry that no magical formula can replace nutrients from whole foods and such. I guess we will see. I’m certainly willing to give it a shot. The makers even make the point themselves that even if it’s not as good as eating a healthy whole food diet, it could still be a huge step up in health for many people who eat like crap.

Tonight as I once again battled the grocery store, determined to kick start my body again, I once again came close to giving up out of frustration. I grabbed some fully cooked microwavable chicken breasts and then my mind went down that rabbit hole again, “these are probably processed and not nearly as healthy as cooking and seasoning a chicken breast yourself and that microwavable bag of Tuscan Seasoned broccoli has who knows what else in it and the regular unseasoned broccoli is probably way healthier, but then I won’t want to eat it because it will be bland and, and, and…”

Eventually, I just stopped my mind and instead of giving up completely, I got the microwavable chicken breasts and broccoli. Because it’s still a lot better than grabbing burgers, fries, shakes, pizza and ice cream. I always want to do these severe and complete overhauls when it’s been proven time and time again, that small changes are far more likely to stick.

So that’s where I am. At least until my Soylent arrives, I will keep fighting this battle. I’ve failed before, and probably will again, but I guess what’s important is to keep fighting.