More of a writer

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I feel like more of a writer now than before. I’ve sat in a cross border area not really knowing which side to straddle, and at the same time wanting to embrace both. Now I realise that’s not possible. Really, I either sit up late writing until I can’t punch out another word, or write in some kind of trance, or get out the guitar and dedicate myself to music like nothing else matters. But I can’t be both. I can’t foster the route of dual expertise like it is normal, like it’s actually real.

I wrote my first poem at the age of 12. It rhymed a lot. In fact I went out of my way to make sure it rhymed. It was a combination between bed knobs and broomsticks and material from a poetry book about fairies my dad used to read to me as a kid. The only words I recall from this poem were The Flying Ride, then something like To end the flying ride repeated again throughout the poem. I was asked to read it out a few times by the teacher. She obviously got off on rhymes, or maybe she was going through a pop music phase (nursery rhymes and pop music aren’t so dissimilar you know). She seemed to like it. Others either didn’t know what drugs I was taking, or probably didn’t care to have an opinion.

Holding on to this moment doesn’t really mean much now. But it does stop me not giving up. It’s a foolish little moment to hang on to, but it’s what I’ve got. It’s also a reminder of what it feels like when I write. It feels like something full of potential could suddenly happen at the drop of a word or a sentence. There’s a rhythm that builds, so the act of writing itself feels right. It feels like sanity, calm and retribution coming together all at once. It stabilises me from losing faith when I see so many things around me that are beckoning me to lose concern for those who are rather unconcerned about me. What a strange collection of reasons to write.

On the 100 push ups challenge

As a skinny man with less fat to burn than some of my beefy friends, I have taken to completing regular push ups. This exercise regimen is not new for me. I have used push ups as a method of fitness-building for over a decade, and most of the time I haven’t had too much trouble with weight ratio exercises. With all of this in mind, I decided to take up the ‘one hundred push ups’ six week training challenge.

Despite the fact I’ve been doing it for a little over eight weeks, I have not yet completed the challenge. The truth is, my strength has been yo-yoing. There have been some positive results in the core body strength department, but generally I have not started to look like Dolph Lundgren. Maybe I should be tipping banana flavoured muscle dust – otherwise known as whey protein powder – into a plastic container full of water and downing it like magic beans? I accept I’ll never bench press an oak tree, carry an elk on my shoulder or reinvent the very nature of masculinity, but damn it all, I’m going to get to 100 good form push ups; eventually.

Now what exactly is a ‘good form’ push up? It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve, but for the purposes of this blog I’m going to stick with focusing on the chest muscles. As you may already be aware, push ups are a good way to improve overall strength, with particular benefits for your shoulders, triceps and to a certain extent your abdominal muscles (or ‘abs’ in text message speak). There are certain rules of thumb when it comes to getting maximum results from a push up. They are:

1. Keep your back as straight as an ironing board. In fact your body should be straight from your shoulders to your heels. If you need to further guarantee the correct position here, clench your ass cheeks and tense your abdominal muscles. These measures will go some way to preserving your form.

2. Make your arms do the work. I remember Physical Education at school. I’ll never forget having to exercise at the behest of some overweight, underpaid beef head thrice my age. PE was the first time I saw a push up demonstration, but there was one quite serious problem. I now realise that most of my PE teachers were doing it wrong. In fact, it often looked like the demonstrators’ in question were deliberately attempting to inseminate the floor by thrusting their groins downwards. My old science teacher – who deserves the credit for coining the term – called it ‘The Saturday Night Move’. It’s not necessary, plus it looks foolish. Any movement that happens should come from the arms.

3. Pick a spot and look at it while keeping your head raised. This will help you to preserve your form, and will look less like floor sniffing.

4. Try to get your chest to reach the ground. If you find it painful or uncomfortable to go low, don’t do it. You’ll discover your threshold as you progress with your workout. Bare in mind, there is nothing to stop you testing the pain barrier as you improve, so there’s no harm in challenging yourself along the way.

5. Don’t flare your elbows. This won’t improve your chest, but is more likely to increase shoulder strength. You can see a flared-elbow push up below being carried out by a person who is not me. It also appears that the guy has his fingers pointing in, thus piling more wrongness on an already curious technique.

flared push up 2

6. You can keep your hands shoulder width apart. I have seen people bring them in closer to the chest, which through repetition I have found also works.

7. Breathe in when you go down and back out as you push up. Try and time your breathing with the push up motion.

8. The world as we know it will not be a permanent fixture, but for the sake of the workout imagine it is. In short, don’t panic when doing push ups. There should be no racing involved. Keep a steady pace as you lower, then either spring up, or go slowly depending on preference. Going slower is also more challenging than pounding out push ups.

9. Try to keep a cool head. One thing I’ve discovered about the ‘100 push ups challenge’ is to start small. For example, at the start of the challenge I had to do a progress test to see which table column I should start with. I fitted comfortably in column two (6-10) push ups. The third column is 11-20, and I caved at 11, so I decided to play it sensible. I found that just because I started in column two, I didn’t manage to keep the numbers going through weeks two and three. This is because the push up count increases a lot in a short space of time, so suddenly I was daunted. I had to repeat week two. Then I had to shift back to column one when I got to week three. Then I discovered my form was only so slightly off. Not as off as the above picture, but incorrect nonetheless. Now I’m currently at week two column one, keeping the good form.

If you do decide to take up the challenge, make sure you check out the correct form first. Give it some practise, then when you feel you’ve nailed it, try the challenge. If you’ve not had much experience doing push ups, start small on the table. Otherwise the whole thing is going to seem like a core body strength avalanche. One more thing, don’t use the images in the 100 push up challenge guide as a reference. In terms of good technique they’re incorrect, as the skinny guy in the orange shorts is promoting the flared elbow approach.

Here is a link to the challenge – happy exercising: http://hundredpushups.com/#sthash.vtqXUbLm.dpbs

Your Internet Dating please?

Internet Dating

I’m currently in a period of reflection about the internet dating scene. Granted, I am going for the least financial commitment (Plenty of Fish), I’ve had three dates, and I haven’t wound up in a wood somewhere, or on an operating table, so the world and its people have not gone bonkers. Yet my recent experiences on POF have led me to re-evaluate the need for digital romance. I speak of the hammering in the gut that many of us crave and Walt Disney, magazines and some films have told us we’re all eventually going to get. I’m talking about love, the mysterious, difficult, wonderful and challenging chemical reaction when you’re wrenched at speed from reality into slow time. Suddenly life resembles a montage.

The closest I ever got to this waking dream was five years ago. It was the last relationship I had that was on the verge of working out, but I’m glad on reflection that it didn’t. Since then I have dipped in and out of free dating websites, met a few girls along the way, and had many conversations that may or may not be considered flirting, depending how one chooses to interpret it. I even managed to get a one year relationship from a gamble on the POF website. For the most part it was fine, but as I’ve grown up on a diet of Disney and glossy dreams and I wasn’t feeling the butterflies, I ended it.

Now that I have been floating the single life with my head just above water for almost two years, I am starting to question the power of the web concerning matters of the heart. The old notion of catching someone’s eye at a bar might in fact be a better alternative. As long as I vow to keep the alcohol level pretty low I think this could work. I yearn for coherence, and it doesn’t come from five or six bottles of Sierra Nevada.

After yet another year on POF I have noticed that many people are reluctant about internet dating. From what they’ve written, most of them seem like they were pushed into it by a friend. They’re just trying it out. I feel that these are the people who are least likely to take it seriously, and it seems like they’d rather have a date with a Facebook page, or wake up next to a laptop every morning. Maybe it’ll get pushed way too far and they’ll start stirring their tea with a Smartphone charger cable? Personally, I want to be able to talk properly.

I wonder how long it will be until the British mentality shifts? Internet dating in the States has taken off. Then again, dating in general still seems like an American concept. Maybe dating therapy is next? I have to admit, I still hold onto the idea of saying ‘hi’ to a complete stranger in a coffee shop while trying not to break from social exhaustion.

Sometimes the internet dating thing can also be scary in a way I’d never imagined. I’ve read profiles where the girl lists a whole load of stuff she doesn’t want from a man. Then she lists a whole load of stuff she does want. The prospective suitor feels like he’s on a job interview even before he’s met the girl. It’s not a good thing to do, and I mean this message to go out to all those who do it. The fact is, I’m skinny, I burn under moderate lighting, and I’m not going to be the body of Vin Diesel combined with the intellectual capacity of Albert Einstein so we can fly off together as two perfectly perfect perfectionists whose only failure is the fact we deign to hang around normal people who walk on the earth in affordable clothing. I seriously think not. I’m a standard man-child. I eat bagels. On Sundays I swan around in a navy blue bath robe thinking up ways to make my instant coffee taste better. Incidentally, honey’ll work. Seriously though, I won’t be a candidate for someone’s romantic firing range.

Pictures. I’ve seen some pretty awful pictures on Plenty of Fish. A lesson in basic photography should come with the registration process. I’ve seen too many gleaming bodies – forthcoming skin cancer cases – and people who will only be photographed with their friends squeezed in the frame. It gets confusing. Who are you again? I’d be happy to show you how to wield a basic point and shoot. It’s not as hard as you’re making it look.

My late grandmother used to tell me how the old-schoolers would get romantic. It had a lot to do with dancing, big bands, local communities, that kind of stuff. There wasn’t much booze involved the way she told it. I didn’t like that bit of the story. But if there’s one thing I took from it, it was her sense of contentment as the words came out. The modern world was making her mind a desolate place. I can’t but agree with her sometimes as I plod through internet dating.