Monday, February 14, 2005


Dear Reader,

I used to believe friendly, sincere communication could bring people together, could overcome prejudice and misunderstanding to resolve our problems.

I was naive. Not everyone can truly communicate.

I have known people who want to understand each other, want to learn from each other, are willing to change their beliefs in response to new information. I love people like that. They teach me, learn from me, explore ideas with me, and give me hope. Such people have characters with strong doses of humility, curiosity, playfulness, and wonder. They remain interested in other people and new ideas, and want to learn more, believe they should grow beyond their present limits. They seek the truth.

Unfortunately, I have known too many people who do not seek the truth, who believe they already know the truth. To the self-righteous, other opinions can only be wrong or irrelevant, sometimes threats. These people think of themselves as pragmatic, as not wasting time in pointless self-questioning. They get things done. They make things happen. And in their satisfaction with their own beliefs, they repel the truth. As a result, the things they make happen are often the wrong things.

When I can reach out to people and communicate, it is because humanity feels to me like the first kind of person, the open-minded, the engaged, and I feel hope. When I cannot, humanity is feeling to me like the second kind, the closed-minded, the arrogant, and I despair.

As my friends and relatives know, there are many periods in my life when I do not return calls or emails, when I am silent. It is as though my presence in their lives ebbs and flows, as if I appear and disappear like a haunting. So, too, does my hope for humanity ebb and flow, my sense of hopeful purpose. Too often, as was the case in July and August of last year, disappointing attempts to communicate with people or prolonged exposure to closed-minded people trigger an ebb, erode my hope for us all, and I retreat back into silence.

I am a flawed person, but I do have some gifts that I want to put at the disposal of humanity. I want to engage with my species, to leave the world better than I found it, and I am willing to sacrifice my own interests to do so. The only thing I ask is that humanity inspire me to give myself to its cause, that my species be worthy of such sacrifice.

When I feel hopeful about us, when our future seems golden, my hope draws me out into laughter and song, into dialog with friends and family, into working for the common good.

At other times, only silence seems golden.

Sincerely yours,

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Strength Training

Dear Reader,

Twenty years of sitting on my butt programming in an office have taken their toll, so I have embarked on a first for me: strength training. I train for an hour Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 7:15 a.m. at Urban Kinetics on Capital Hill. James Park, who I met through our mutual hair stylist, is my patient and supportive instructor. This is my fifth week, and I have initially committed to ten weeks. James is moving south to attend UCLA, and I will probably extend my ten weeks to include as much time as he has left in Seattle. The only variable is whether my current work contract produces funds in time, as I am stone broke at the moment. Fortunately, I paid in advance for the ten weeks.

In my life, my longest lasting sports passions have been karate, running, and hiking. I have done a little yoga off and on in the last few years (and I want to do more), likewise a little jazzercise five years ago. I bicycled everywhere as a kid, and for ninth-grade physical education I joined the swim team. I played basketball in middle school. For the last two decades I would go through brief periods of dedication to getting back into shape, but they never lasted. Walking Green Lake has been my exercise staple starting a year after we moved into our new house, but I did not keep it up consistently. Monthly backpacking trips with Jerry have been more reliable, and for about six months I was going on weekly hikes in the Cascades with my brother Rob. (I very much want to resume those hikes.)

Strength training offers me something new, a balanced, muscle-centered approach to fitness. Balance is important to me because with a lifetime of walking, off and on, my lower body has always been in better shape than my upper body. Muscle-centering is important because years of comparative inactivity led to muscle atrophy. My body image was set during the years I practiced karate, and my loss of strength over the last two decades has led me to feel at times as though I am inhabiting a stranger's body. Strength training is for me a way to jump-start my return to form, to take a short-cut back home. And that is exactly what my recovering strength feels like to me--returning home. Although I have not yet recovered to where I was at my peak, I have recovered a lot, and I am starting to look and feel myself again. What a relief!

My body image has always been the martial-arts build, not the weight-lifting build, so I was never interested in strength training per se before. My new interest came from struggling against depression. I have been reading about naturopathic approaches to treating depression and came across references to weight training as especially effective against it. I knew my life was out of balance, and I recognized that here in something I had never tried was likely to be an untapped vein of health, the restoration of some balance. When what we are doing is not working for us, the sane thing to do is to try something different, so I have.

So far the results have been encouraging. My mood has improved and proven more resilient in the face of bad days than it has been for years. My creativity is returning; playing Dungeons and Dragons is becoming easier by the week, as is writing. My interest in communicating with people has resurfaced. My endurance is returning, and my strength, and we are working on my flexibility. If we can stretch out my hamstrings and other tight leg muscles enough for me to do the splits, we will have surpassed my old fitness level and achieved something brand new for me. That may still be a long way off, but for the first time in years I feel real hope about it.

I feel hope.

Yours truly,