Freaky Friday Everyday!

Every few years some creatively bereft Hollywood studio remakes the same movie. You know the one, some spoiled child and an idiot adult switch bodies and the hilarity ensues. Well, after some deep thought, and maybe a little too much whiskey, I think I’ve diagnosed the root of our current social/governmental clusterfuck. Somehow this whole damn country is stuck in a particularly poorly written version of Freaky Friday. And no, I’m not kidding. Hear me out…

News flash: Adults and children are NOT the same thing. They have different needs. Let’s review. Adult human beings are independent creatures inhabiting the top of the food chain. They’re responsible for themselves and are capable of caring for others. They have built the most advanced culture and technologies yet seen in this solar system. Children, on the other hand, need care and nurturing. They cannot provide for themselves. They need guidance, instruction, and fairly constant supervision in order to become healthy, living adults. Put a group of 40 year olds in the middle of a city, or the jungle for that matter, and they probably survive. A group of toddlers won’t. This really isn’t that damn complicated. So how the FUCK did we manage to get it literally backwards?

I know that nobody wants to hear it, and I know that you can get into some fairly controversial water real quickly but the fact remains that we, as a culture, take shitty care of our children. Many are dumped at child care centers soon after birth. They go to crappy, underfunded schools and come home to an empty house. They spend hundreds of unsupervised hours in front of a video screen of some kind. Current ‘child-rearing theory’ preaches an overly relaxed view of discipline that can turn any family restaurant into the Lord of the Flies. Dad’s no longer seem to have the authority to lay down the law. Hell, one out of three kids have no relationship with a father at all. I mean come on, one out of four kids in this country goes to bed hungry. We treat our kids as small adults, and they aren’t.

So how do we treat adults? Have you seen the news lately? Adults are constantly supervised. We have 10,000 rules. There are police and security cameras everywhere. The government is monitoring our every move for our own protection. It tells me how much soda I should drink and how much fast food is okay. It tells me when and where I can take my car and my gun. Also what I can smoke, how much I can drink, and what I can do in my bedroom. It lets me know how much of the results of my labor I can keep. It regulates every transaction in my life. For my own good, of course. Because at the the tender age of 50 I can’t be trusted to care for myself, protect myself, or set my own limits.

Seriously, think about it. The average eight year old has a phone and parents who have no idea who he calls but the NSA tracks every one of my calls. They also keep an eye of my Facebook posts while some twelve year girl flirts with child molesters under her parent’s roof. Any suburban or urban street is full of wandering packs of kids every afternoon but I have to be searched and watched in order to go to a ballgame or concert. Who exactly is being treated as an adult here?

Will this stupid movie ever end? When do American adults regain the right to protect and supervise themselves? And when will they start to raise their own children? Because I can actually take care of myself and live with the consequences of my decisions but your ten year old needs some fucking attention and the word ‘NO’ in his life. How do we get the lame special effects talisman to switch us back? Because I think that nothing else is going to get better until we figure out age appropriate responsibility. Perhaps we’ve found the necessary prerequisite to Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.

Of Ninjas and Flying Monks

The Martial Arts. Why, short of insanity, would one devote one’s life to the study of something that, on it’s surface, appears to be useless in modern society? Existential absurdity? Nihilist angst? Personal delusion? Those are all REALLY GOOD reasons, and, if we’re being honest, they all probably play a big role. But maybe there are other more practical reasons. At least I hope so…

I think it can be argued that the relative success of your life is heavily influenced by how you accept and react to the issues you face. Everyone has hurdles and setbacks. Everyone fails sometimes. Everyone has a run of bad luck and makes an enemy or two. And everyone battles their own inner demons and ego. But not everyone deals with these challenges very well.

For me studying the martial arts has supplied two very valuable things: It’s given me ‘a particular set of skills’ and provided an interesting forum to directly address internal conflicts. First let’s look at the skills. They aren’t necessarily the obvious ones, although knowing how to dominate some drunk asshole in a bar is both useful and fun. I’m talking about the subtler ones. Let’s make a list!

* I can handle this. What a great lesson to learn. It’s hard to deal with life’s stresses if you’re busy being intimidated by something. By training you eventually come to understand that most things aren’t really that scary.

* It’s okay to lose. In fact losing is where a lot of the deepest learning takes place. And losing, even losing a lot, doesn’t make you lesser, it makes you wiser and more skilled.

* It’s okay to look stupid. This can feel worse than losing but it’s even more important. If you aren’t willing to look like a fool you can’t learn something totally new. Interestingly in my experience this means some black belts stop learning because they begin to take themselves too seriously. So do old people. They forget this simple, profound lesson.

* Ultimately I’m responsible for myself and for those around me. And not just when I feel like it. All the time. You can’t affect change if you don’t accept that it’s your job to change things.

* Injuries and pain are a part of life but they pass. And they’re not a good excuse to quit. Instead you must learn how to accommodate them and keep training.

* Human life is very fragile. Cherish it.

* There are experiences that you can’t explain. There is a void out there and touching it is amazing. But you have very little control over when these experiences will show up so just keep training.

* One person is far more powerful than they imagine. That means you. And me too.

* Life is full of attacks. Not usually physical ones, but attacks none the less. Emotional, intellectual, temporal, and the inevitable idiot in the car in front of you. The ability to stay relaxed and functional while under attack is a skill that will get used every fucking day. Center and calm is ALWAYS useful.

* Play is far, far more important than work.

* The intimacy of touching other humans is crucial to having a fulfilling life.

* Life is messy. It sweats and bleeds. Get over it.

* Be kind. Everyone is struggling.

* There is always joy to be found in the struggle. When that’s no longer true it’s time to go.

The second benefit of training is that I always have a place to do battle with my own internal bullshit. I came complete with my own personal set of demons and ego issues. I’d like to vanquish as many of them as possible, or at least fight them to a draw. The mat gives me ample opportunity, especially when I don’t feel like it. Each time I’m successful I get to live a slightly freer, more joyous life. And each time I fail I get to learn a new skill. It’s a true win-win situation, even though it usually sucks in the moment.

The martial arts aren’t magic. If you’re an asshole and you pick an asshole teacher, you’re going to become a bigger asshole. My great teacher George Leonard taught me some cool things about life. Practice makes perfect and you’re always practicing something. So be careful or you could become a perfect couch potato or complainer or dumbass. He also taught me to stay on the mat. Because the worst day on the mat was still better than the hundreds of people you meet who will tell you how much they always wanted to train but, well, you know…

So yeah, I watched too many kung-fu movies as a kid. I still have fantasies of ninjas and flying monks. I know that my skills don’t translate well to a culture full of wannabe tough guys with guns. And, as my mother is fond of pointing out, I could have been a rich lawyer or surgeon by now. But I still can’t think of a much cooler way to spend my time. And I know that life on the mat are the surest way to Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.

Lord of the Speedo

What do tight little Speedos, obesity and the Lord of the Flies have to do with each other? Flesh. Beautiful, sexy, difficult, challenging, stinky and sweaty human skin. Or, put another way, why do we hate ourselves so much?

Have you noticed that, as a society, we don’t treat fat people very well? (Full disclosure: I tip the scales at a big healthy 225, a rather largish number for my 5’9” height. Lots of muscle, but plenty of padding too.) We mock and belittle the obese. We make all kinds of unfair assumptions about their discipline and moral character. And it’s bullshit. Unfair, inaccurate, judgmental bullshit.

As a trainer I learned that there is absolutely no correlation between skinny and healthy. Nor does being thin mean that you have a single shred more moral fiber or discipline. But still it’s a tremendous insult to ask if someone has recently gained weight. Presidential contenders have to have surgery in order to run because we would never elect a fat guy to lead us. The sight of a larger sized woman in a sexy or tight outfit seems to disgust both men and women. Let the eye rolling and mocking begin.

There’s all kinds of questionable ‘scholarship’ out there to explain this clear prejudice. It’s our male dominated society, or female cattiness, or Hollywood or some other scape-goating crap. I’ve spent a lot of years helping people with body issues and I’ll tell you exactly what it is: We’ve been taught to dislike human flesh. We’ve been led to believe that human bodies are inherently evil or at least icky. Since fat people have more flesh, they’re lesser and yuckier. Oh, and by the way, this belief just happens to be TOTALLY FUCKING WRONG.

And that brings me to Speedos. Remember way back in the dark ages of the 70’s when men used to wear bathing suits? You know, skimpy little tight numbers that showed their legs and, oh my, gasp gasp, had a bulge in the front? Those days are long gone. Just try to find a men’s bathing suit that doesn’t brush the knees. They’re also roomy enough to carry a number of magic tricks inside, flowers and flags and shit. Hell, maybe even a bunny or two. Many guys even put underwear under the suit, just to make sure there’s absolutely no hint of sexuality or human flesh when they get in the water. It’s not just men. Women’s bikinis are getting larger and thicker. Coming soon to a Macy’s near you- full body baggy clown swimsuits for the stylishly repressed swimmer.

When the subject of Speedos comes up the new response is universal: “Ewwww, who wants to see that?” Yeah, really. Who would want to see a good looking guy’s body? Who’d want to know that he might have a penis? Imagine the scorn and mocking a slightly obese guy in a Speedo would face showing up at the local pool or beach. Girls would giggle and point. Men would mutter ‘faggot’ under their breath. Mother’s would shield their children’s eyes. And why? Just because he dared to show a little human flesh to other humans. A child molester or terrorist would have an easier time. We sometimes forgive or at least try to understand them. But a fat person in a skimpy bathing suit? Bring out the stones.

Our fear of human flesh is both sick and ridiculous. We ban it from movies and television, unless of course it’s being hacked up by a chainsaw wielding maniac. We shun any stars who dare to show a little too much flesh or acknowledge that they might like having sex. We even legislate exactly how much flesh can be shown in specific situations. That’s right, actual laws with penalties for having human skin. What sad, repressed little creatures we can be.

Now here’s where the essay takes a unexpected turn. You’re probably expecting a rant about how sex is good and shouldn’t we just get over it by now. After all, every one of us has genitals. Of course that’s all true, but that’s not where I’m going. I’m going back to the pool and the Lord of the Flies.

I live in a place that has a neighborhood pool. There are a bunch of kids who use that pool. Most of the time there are moms accompanying them. You notice I said accompanying, not watching or supervising. These moms sit in the shade and literally never look up from their phones. EVER. The kids are screaming for attention. The kids are throwing all the chairs in the pool. They’re fighting and spitting on each other. The other day one little kid was literally tying the rescue line around his neck and jumping into the deep end. It’s Lord of the Flies, except the moms are literally 20 feet away. My wife and I could barely stop giggling in horror when one mom chastised her 10 year old daughter by saying “I don’t want to listen to you, I wanna play my game”.

It would be all too easy to condemn this particular group as bad parents but I think that’s too easy. The other night my wife and I watched a young couple on a date at a very nice restaurant. Neither one of them ever got off the phone. They ate with one hand. They barely talked. And they were the rule, not the exception. If you’ve read my earlier essays you know how much I hate people watching live concerts through their phone. The phone obsessed moms aren’t any worse, they’re just a more obvious example of our disconnected society.

Kids are messy. They’re fleshy little things that want constant close attention. Dating is messy. It’s full of insecurity, awkward fumbling and garlic breath at the worst possible time. Phones are safe. They’re sterile and rarely sweat. They’re so un-fleshy. So at exactly what point did we become too squeamish to deal with reality? When did being human get to be bad? When did we decide that we, ourselves, are gross? Because at that moment a lot of shit went wrong.

Life is not sterile. Life is sweaty and stinky. It bleeds and burps. It has rolls of flesh, unwanted hair and genitals. It eliminates waste in awkward ways. But it’s ABSOLUTLEY FUCKING GLORIOUS.

Be not afraid of your humanity. Put down the camera and play with your kid, even if it’s hard. Talk to your date and forgive their flatulence. Go hug a hefty person and lose yourself in the fabulous abundance of their humanity. Let’s get rid of all the laws that restrict or outlaw our wonderful, complicated, icky horrible bodies. Unpack the Speedos and spandex. Embrace those who carry a few extra pounds or are willing to put their flesh out there for all to see. Shame those who would scorn or judge our human skin. Because if we can’t even accept our own human skin we have no hope of finding Joy or God or anything else beyond a little sanitized box of electronics. Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion my fleshy friends.