Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Another food odyssey

When I was packing my stuff from the house and moving into my apartment last year, I lost about eight pounds in seven days.  I was so busy packing or running to the Bed, the Bath and the Beyond, stressed out emotionally, and didn't have a working kitchen, which meant that I was either not eating, or eating very lightly.  It probably wasn't healthy for me to lose so much weight in such a short time.  But I was the leanest I had been in years.  To paraphrase from one of my favorite movies - I was one divorce away from my goal weight. 

I've since managed to put back on that weight, although I am trying to be less concerned about it.  I'm running more frequently than I had been before (twice, often three times per week, about 12-15 miles total), and - after my annual physical - I learned that I've managed to bring my cholesterol levels under control in six months, primarily through exercise and diet (although I did try fish oil capsules for a few weeks, and then just gave up because I kept forgetting to take them daily).  So even with an extra 10-15 pounds primarily around the waistline, I'm comfortable and healthy. 

Should I be better about what I eat?  Sure, I could.  But the truth is - I love food.  And I believe that everything can - and should - be eaten in moderation.

So I thought I would provide another look into my daily food intake when I'm at work.  I have a "rep" at work for my plethora of tupperware, and while it can be a bit time-consuming work (at least 20 minutes the night before to get all of this food prepared for the next morning, plus regular trips to the grocery store),  I know that I'm saving money by not having to buy all of this stuff prepared by someone else.  

So here's a(nother) look at a typical day for me:

Breakfast - I like to start the morning with a mug of Earl Grey tea (with soy creamer), a half-cup of regular, one-minute oatmeal with two teaspoons of brown sugar and a handful of dried cranberries/raisins, and half of a wholewheat bagel (or English muffin - whatever is on sale for the week).  The bagel usually has soy "cream cheese," but today I decided on a small pat of butter.

Second breakfast - I love berries of all types, but I am particularly fond of strawberries and blueberries.  And while I also like raspberries and blackberries, I find that the seeds are annoying and get stuck in my teeth, and the berries themselves don't last long in the fridge.  On this particular day, I had 8 oz of strawberries, and a quarter-pint of blueberries that were surprisingly sweet for this time of the season.  I'm probably making some locavores mad by admitting to buying fruit that probably got trucked in from god-knows-where, but damn! it tasted good.

Lunch - A bowl of mixed greens, some shredded rotisserie chicken, and my favorite dressing (Ken's raspberry-walnut), and the other half bagel.

Post-lunch snack - I am a whore for Trader Joe's.  Yes, I said it - I'm a whore for Trader Joe's because I frakkin' love that store.  And I love that there is one so close to my apartment, and that I can make a quick stop there on my way home.  I had never tried these before - lentil and potato curls - but they are awesome and yummy.  Give 'em a try.  They're not as light as a potato chip, and they have a "grainier" texture.  But they really hit the munch-y spot.

Second lunch - since finding out that I am lactose intolerant, I have had to endure years of sad substitutes for yogurt that are either too watery or just taste funny.  Thankfully, I've recently discovered that Yoplait is now making a lactose-free yogurt (woo-hoo!) and so my soy yogurt days are coming to a close.  Still, I had some to finish, so I cut up a banana and mixed it with a peach soy yogurt (one of the better soy varieties).

Second lunch dessert - I love winter for many things, but particularly for the citrus fruits that come into season.  On this particular day, I downed two navel oranges and three clementines.

Post-lunch snack - Chex mix!  I always eat my Chex mix in order of preference, from least to most - I start with the pretzels (which I'll eat, but have never been a big fan), the white crunchies (I don't even know what you call them), the toasties, and lastly the shredded mini-wheats.  There's a whole lotta sodium in these, so I can't eat too many of them.  In one sitting.

Afternoon snack - a tubful of cantaloupe.  Cantaloupe is one of my favorite fruits, but has been hit-or-miss lately. #firstworldproblems

The oh-my-god-it's-four-o-clock-and-I-can't-wait-to-go-home snack - At Christmas time, our office becomes a breeding ground for sweet treats.  Since I don't have such a strong sweet tooth, I usually pack whatever I get into tubs and freeze them for later consumption in smaller quantities.  In this case, it's brownies, supplemented with a few dark-chocolate-covered cranberries.

And so ends another day at the office.  And thank god, because I'm hungry by 7, in time for dinner. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A quick laugh

Like much of America - or so it seems - D and I have been watching Masterpiece Downton Abbey and have been enthralled by the show.  Downton's now in its second season, with the last episode airing this Sunday.  Then we have to wait a whole year before season three begins.

While we love the show, I also love the humorous recaps on AfterElton, which provide a snarky, ascerbic narrative that often make me snort my morning tea out my nose.  (Downton recaps are being written by Heather Hogan.)  For example:

SPOILER ALERT (if you haven't seen the episode yet).....

So Lady Sybil and Chauffeur Branson are madly in love and plan to elope. 
Also hatching secret wedding plans this week are Sybil and Branson. She's all, "Blah blah blah wait" and he's all, "Blah blah blah IRA" and then she listens to her family have an inane conversation about whatever aristocratic thing and decides that Branson is her ticket to go backpacking across Europe like the bohemian she is. That's literally what she says to him: "You're my ticket to travel" and he kisses her and finally puts that one skill of his...to use and drives them away from Downton. But the joke's on him because guess who else can drive a car? LADY EDITH, BITCHES.
If you're a Downton fan - and you have a sense of humor - read the full recap here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The horn

I got my horn when I was in 11th grade, and was one of just a handful of kids in my school who had my own brass instrument.  By that time, I had been playing for about two years and my horn teacher had recommended that I get my own, as most brass instruments in my school pretty much had one foot in the scrap metal coffin.

Several hundred rehearsals, lessons and concerts later, I think my parents were surprised when I told them that I wanted to study music in college, probably because the notion of making a living as a professional musician was something that they knew very little about.  (I had initially thought I was going to Harvard to be a doctor.  But then I realized that I wasn't much for the sight of blood.)  But my parents were supportive nonetheless, and carted me and my horn to my teeny-tiny dorm room 300 miles away.  And after five undergrad years - because I needed an extra year to finish a concurrent equally useless degree in English Literature - I knew that I needed a change of scenery.  I was fortunate to have options: stay in the same city and change career paths altogether, or head to a small town on the East Coast or Chicago for grad school.  I hedged my bets that I would have better luck with freelance work in Chicago (and in finding a gay community), so with my worldly possessions in the back of a 12-foot truck - and the horn secured between the driver and passenger seats - I headed west.

While my gamble paid off and I was able to pick up a good amount of freelance work around town (including one freakishly bizarre incident where I mixed up the address for West Lake Street in Chicago versus West Lake Street in Oak Park, and arrived just two minutes at the right place before rehearsal was to start), I have to honestly admit that I did not enjoy my grad school experience.  Maybe I was burned out after my undergrad years and didn't realize it at the time, or I was frustrated by the horrific lack of practice space at my school, or my confidence was beaten down until I couldn't stand it, or my heart was just not in it anymore.  But something in me had gradually changed, and when I was done the degree, it was with more a sense of relief than accomplishment.  Music was no longer "fun" as it had once been.  Rather, it had become "work," and I had the realization that if this was how I was going to make a living, I wasn't sure if I was cut out for it. 

After I graduated, I started working in arts administration, because I needed a job, and I figured that I would still have one foot in the musical door.  But, over the years, I found it became more and more difficult to actually be in the arts.  I loved my colleagues, and the audience members and donors with whom I interacted, but I found myself listening to music less and less.  It was as if I had tapped into a raw nerve - my own shortcomings as a performer, and almost knowing too much about what went into putting on a concert that when the final product came to be, I couldn't bear to watch or listen to it.  So I didn't.  And it all became perhaps too easy a justification for me to just...let it go. 

And so I did.  I went from playing 4-5 hours a day in school to 1 hour a day while I was still teaching, to 1 hour a few times a week, to almost none at all.  And for several years after I finished school, I hadn't seriously picked up the horn, except for the occasional attempt to poorly honk my way down memory lane.  Or that time I got suckered into playing a few tunes for a friend's theater production, where I also had three costume changes in 15 minutes, and played the role of a waiter in Paris (even though I told her no speaking lines).

But it was hard.  For so many years, I had identified myself as a musician.  I was going to school as a musician.  I was planning to be a professional musician.  So giving up that label  and finding a new one for myself was challenging.  Hell, even now, I'm not sure what that label should be.  (Recovering musician?) 

Do I miss it?  Sometimes.  I miss having a ready group of friends and colleagues with whom to play chamber music on a regular basis, and being able to play all the repertoire that I loved.  Some of my favorite memories were playing Carl Nielsen's woodwind quintet for my senior recital, the Brahms horn trio, and the Alex Wilder horn, tuba and piano trio with Mike R., who now plays in the Boston Symphony.  I don't know if I'll ever have the opportunity to play this stuff again, or the things I never got to play, but have always wanted to, like Mozart's Quintet for piano and winds.  And I miss sounding halfway decent.

But on the upside, I certainly don't miss having to put up with bullshit conductors.  Or practising.  Or having to play in band.  Seriously, I had to endure so many years of excrutiatingly-bad band throughout college and grad school that I've made a pact with myself never to play in a band - sitting, standing, kneeling, marching, or otherwise - again. And if I ever see or hear that horrendous band arrangement of Finlandia again, I will so have a hissy fit.  (Like Sarah Palin when confronted with geography.  Or facts.)

Do I regret it?  Nope.  Life is full of coulda-woulda-shouldas.  I don't regret where life has taken me, because otherwise I wouldn't live where I do, I wouldn't have stumbled into a profession that I consider myself pretty decent at doing, and I wouldn't have become the man I am today.  Sure, I could have practiced more and maybe been more competitive.  But I could have practiced until the cows came home, and I still wouldn't have been able to stay in Chicago without a full-time job.  At least legally.

And so that M.Mus. - the one that I wanted so much to be over and done with - actually came in handy, and helped get me a green card.

But the beauty of being a somewhat proficient amateur - with a full-time job on the side - is that I can now do things that I couldn't when I was in school.  Like afford to get my horn thoroughly cleaned for the first time in more than a decade (with a chemical bath to boot), or get a screw bell conversion so I can get one of those nifty Marcus Bonna flight cases.  And not have to put up with bullshit conductors.  And practise when it fits in my schedule as something that is part of my life, but that doesn't drive it, and that doesn't bring home the bacon.

And for it to be fun again.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Update on the Tyler Clementi story

I've written about the suicide of Tyler Clementi here and here, and have been following the story over the past few months.  It still really saddens me that this young man took his life after being cyber-bullied by someone who ridiculed him because he was gay. 

The New Yorker has an impressive, lengthy article, essentially offering a play-by-play on the whole ordeal, the lengths to which Dharun Ravi went to torment his former roommate, and how he tried to cover it up.  It's a worthwhile read, and gives much insight as to what Tyler endured in the months before he jumped off a bridge and killed himself.  While I'm sure he never thought he could cause someone so much pain, Ravi comes across as an arrogant dickhead who deserves prison time and who will - and should - bear this burden for the rest of his life.

There's no doubt that people do stupid things.  Just this morning, I heard a news report about a car - likely with a drunk driver behind the wheel - that entered a highway going the wrong way and crashed, killing three of four passengers in the car, and the driver of a car going the right way.  A man tried to stab someone in a bar who made fun of him for drinking beer in a wine glass, and ended up killing someone else.  Yes, people do stupid things.  Young people do particularly stupid things.  But that doesn't excuse it.  Ravi was a stupid kid who's undoubtedly had to grow up faster than usual, now that he's faced with the prospect of five to ten years in the big house.  I continue to hope that justice will be served in this case, and while it won't bring him back, I hope that Tyler's family gets the peace and closure they deserve.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Back in the saddle

When I started my blog about 15 months ago, I was excited to try something new in an attempt to reignite whatever creativity I felt I had left in me.  I was obsessed with checking the number of page hits.  I celebrated 250 hits, 500 hits, 1000 hits and more.  My heart skipped a beat every time I saw there was a comment waiting for me to approve.  I smiled when I saw that someone, somewhere, far away, had taken the time to find my blog, even if it made little sense to me how someone in the Ukraine or Malaysia could have found me.  (Probably in an attempt to steal my identity, but I’m trying not to be cynical.)

When I started my blog about 15 months ago, I was a different man than I am today.  I was looking – no, starved – for attention, and I had this convoluted dream that someone would discover my blog, offer me a job as a writer, and make me famous.  I was desperate to find myself, my voice, and I thought that writing would help bring me back to life.  And every blog I wrote felt like a real accomplishment, even though I wasn’t necessarily writing what I really was feeling at the time.  It was about celebrating getting something done. 

And then my life changed. 

So my silence over the past few months hasn’t been so much because I’m busy (which I am), or that I haven’t had things to say (because I do).  It’s not because I’m sad (which I’m not), or don’t make the time (which I could).  It’s because I’m happy. 

I’ve stopped obsessing over page view statistics and haven’t checked those for months.  I’ve stopped feeling obligated to writing because I want to keep my readers’ attention.  I’m not craving the attention or notoriety.  I harbor no misplaced dreams of becoming a writer.  (Okay, maybe I haven’t completely given up on that potential, but I’m not giving up my day job in the process.)   And so I took a break from writing because I didn’t feel that I had to write. 

And now I want to.

So is it just like getting on a bike?  I don’t know.  Does it come back as easily?  No promises, but I’m certainly going to try.  I’m not going to pledge a schedule, because I’m a terrible procrastinator, so I’ll never stick to it.  Instead, I’m going to pledge to make time for me and make time to write.  And if that time is spent writing, or watching a crappy season of Desperate Housewives or the sublime Downton Abbey, or cooking up a storm in the kitchen…it doesn’t matter, because it’s about me again, and what makes me happy.  And I hope you’ll stay with me for the ride.

Stay tuned.