Plateaued

Over the past week and a half, I seemed to have hit a plateau with my weight loss efforts and have been bouncing around in the 196-200 lb range. I can’t even feign surprise, as I’m pretty certain I know exactly what the problem is. During the week, I do a pretty good job of keeping on top of myself to get in a workout and eat responsibly. However, when the weekend rolls around, I give myself “time off”, and I have a tendency to over-indulge on my non-working cheat days. One of Matthew Inman’s comics on the topic of running sums it up rather nicely:

The Oatmeal: Running Comic - The Feeding
This pretty much explains it – this is what happens to me on the weekends.

Eat smarter, and workout more & better. Feels like a tall order when you have a 5 mile route that you’re already hitting 3 to 4 time a week, but doesn’t change the fact that the occasion must still be risen to.

Sorrow & Hope

I will live with my sorrow, I will live my own life! I will defeat sorrow. I will stand my ground and be strong. I don’t know when it will be, but someday… I will conquer it. And I will do it without… false hope.

  • Yuna, Final Fantasy X

Growing Up Nowhere

The Street I Grew Up On

In addition to supporting the story/idea sharing goal inherent to a blog, I’ve been pressuring myself more and more to write about my past in order to give more context to my output as a writer. Admittedly, I’ve been resistant to the idea because it entails revisiting old memories that I’ve only recently finished putting to bed for good. As a result, going around and digging them back up hasn’t been the most attractive prospect, and admittedly, also feels like I’d be taking steps backwards. This leaves me with the option to either use that rationale as an excuse not to do it, or get it done and out of the way without dwelling on the matter. In the spirit of productivity, I’m opting for the latter. This is the story of how I grew up nowhere.

Growing up with my mother being full-time custody holder, there are five instances of “home” throughout my formative years:

  1. Toddler Years: The house my family lived in right down the way from my dad’s place.
  2. Early Childhood: A duplex unit home in a nearby neighborhood.
  3. Childhood: A rental house in the city
  4. My Dad’s Place: The family home located above the family business, a liquor store in a low-income neighborhood.

The fifth and final one was the one that became my mother’s fixed residence, a house she bought in residential development compound located off the road between Tijuana and Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico in the mid ’90s. It was a small community of repeated base model homes made of brick, wood, and cement: 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, and a living room/kitchen area that owners would then add-on to and customize as they built. As they were in Mexico, they were probably in violation of countless standards and regulations that America has in place for housing. The basic units weren’t properly finished, and air would blow in through the tiny holes in the cement. These homes were on hills only a few miles away from the ocean, those winds would come fast and frigid, making showers a painful test of fortitude in the winters. For the first few years, there was no access to utilities. Nightfall signaled it was time to light an array of candles, and water had to be bought from the truck tanks of water vendors and stored in giant plastic barrels. Cooking required purchasing propane cylinder refills in a similar fashion. Bathing required turning on the propane line, fetching water from the barrel and boiling it in a pot, emptying the boiled water into a giant bucket, getting another pot’s worth of cold water from the barrel, cutting the boiled water with the cold water to ideal temperature, then grabbing a cup/bowl and taking a bath out of the bucket as quick as possible.

Since my dad paid the rent on the house we lived in stateside, time was split between both homes for the first couple years before the rental was given up sometime around 1997, which I believe coincided with when the electric utility commission finally got around to installing power lines. That ended up relocating me with my full-time custody holder to the other side of the US-Mexico border. In turn, I grew up in a very princess-in-the-tower-like manner. My mom strictly forbade me spending the night at other people’s homes, and the only place I could stay at in the states was either at my dad’s place when she felt up to leaving me there, or at one of my sisters’ homes provided I had explicit permission from her to go.

For the most part, I was peerless. My daily company was my little brother and a few of my nephews and nieces (one of my sisters bought a house in Mexico of her own a few blocks down the street), on which I had a good 5–6 year lead. Everyone else around me was significantly older. The neighborhood kids that were my age I didn’t connect with – small language barrier aside, they all cared about American movies and soccer whereas I was interested in role playing video games with engaging narratives, hard rock, and books. So my days were largely spent left alone to do my own thing, in my bedroom in a house off in the hills of Mexico with no phone, cable TV, or internet. I occupied my time with reading whatever books were available (once I exhausted my stock and went without new books for so long I started reading the Bible in Spanish and an English dictionary), replaying video games I’d beaten many times over, and playing around on my old Compaq Presario running Windows ME and sifting over all the stuff I’d managed to download onto when I still had my dial-up internet access at the old rental house in the states. I was frequently left to my own devices, unsupervised and unmonitored, and I found myself growing very comfortable with that. All I needed to occupy myself I had in the form of literature, entertainment, and my own imagination. When being indoors ceased to be appealing, I would head off on bike or foot and explore the trails in the chaparral that surrounded us.

Mom's House - Google Maps Satellite View
Satellite shot from Google Maps of the area my mom’s house is located in.

 

While I can frame that experience in the positive as affirming my autonomous and introspective nature, it also had some pretty severe drawbacks. Though I couldn’t control where we lived, I did vehemently refuse to give up on my school. I’d transferred from the elementary school in the “ghetto” to a middle school (and subsequently, the neighboring high school) as part of a program to diversify student bodies in schools, and I’d been a shoo-in for my ethnic background and my academic achievement — I’d been enrolled in the county’s Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program since the 2nd grade (the same year they tried to convince me to allow myself to be skipped to the 4th grade and I staunchly refused). However, after the move, my academic performance started suffering to disastrous results.

Home to School Commute Map
The commute from home at my mom’s to my middle school & high school (yellow pins). The green place marker is my dad’s place of residence.

Having a 1 hour morning commute without accounting for the variable time-padding needed to account for crossing the US-Mexico border inspection station and a designated school starting time of 7:30–7-:45 AM meant I was frequently late. I recall my 7th grade self realizing and feeling so disappointed with how numb and unconcerned I’d become to the embarrassment of regularly walking in late halfway through the second period of the school day. My afternoons at the end of a school day were not spent hanging out with friends or studying, they were spent waiting for my mom or my one of my sisters to get around to picking me up. Laptops were still a high-end luxury at the time, so the commute home was spent sitting patiently in the car. After being dragged around to run personal errands by the driver, getting home allowed for a 2–3 hour period in which to get homework done and get in leisure time before going to bed early to rise at 4:30–5AM to start the day over again.

As a result of this one detail in my past, I’ve struggled with two recurring concepts. The first being the shame of bearing the mantle of an unrealized child prodigy, someone who had a vast well of potential and failed to make anything come of it. The resentment of having the promise that parents hope to see in their children, and having it neglected in favor of ownership of a brick hut in a developing neighborhood in a developing nation. The other being how I’ve been so unintentionally trained to be so self-sufficient. On an intellectual level, I know that I do a good job of navigating life socially despite the social retardation circumstances like those would normally result in because I believe in and adhere to being the “best” version of myself and a “good” person. And because I’m not an idiot and have a solid grasp on tact and social graces that I’ve developed through keen observation and personal experience. However, I am also equally aware acknowledge that the ease with which I can become unapologetically aloof with anyone is alarming. Being able to completely detach from things/people, I’ve learned, becomes a huge liability if it starts to become reflexive and second-nature.

Finding the “Self”


Embracing Otherness, Embracing Myself
Thandie Newton

In her TED talk, speaker Thandie Newton speaks of a sense of oneness that newborns feel, and how she believes it becomes lost in the formation of the individual’s sense of identity. We go from an innate state of belief in oneness with everything to evaluating reality through distinctions and separations. In our early years, we are provided countless “facts” about ourselves, both from personal experiences and external input, and weave them together to form a projection of our individuality, a “vehicle for navigate our social world”. However, she also points out that it’s a projection based on other people’s own projections (and so on and so on), and questions whether the sense of self we have is the person we really are, want to, or even should be. Having recently concluded a years-long battle with my own identity crisis, I was immediately engaged by how effectively she was able to verbalize thoughts and feelings I’d long since grappled with but never seemed able to sufficiently capture in my own words.

So this whole interaction with self and identity was a very difficult one for me growing up. The self that I attempted to take out into the world was rejected over and over again. And my panic at not having a self that fit, and the confusion that came from my self being rejected, created anxiety, shame and hopelessness, which kind of defined me for a long time.

This was the root cause for a lot of the mental & emotional turmoil I’ve carried over the years. I formed my sense of self in the warmth of a loving family environment. I grew up believing that good things happen to good people and aware of the fact that the things that generally comprised a “good person” were also things that made me feel good about myself. So when the years passed and I found myself at end of a continuous series of betrayals and abandonments, I started to see myself as an embodiment of rejection, never to fit in and never to be good enough for anyone in any capacity.

I grew up on the coast of England in the ’70s. My dad is white from Cornwall, and my mom is black from Zimbabwe. Even the idea of us as a family was challenging to most people. But nature had its wicked way, and brown babies were born. But from about the age of five, I was aware that I didn’t fit. I was the black atheist kid in the all-white Catholic school run by nuns. I was an anomaly, and my self was rooting around for definition and trying to plug in. Because the self likes to fit, to see itself replicated, to belong. That confirms its existence and its importance.

I grew up in San Diego, CA in the late ’80s and the ’90s. My dad is first-generation Chinese American from Oakland, and my mom an illegal alien from Zacatacas, Mexico. To go into the circumstances of my upbringing in sufficient detail would be a lengthy endeavor that goes beyond the scope of this entry. Suffice to say, the result my history with childhood & development served to reinforce the archetype of “the perpetual outsider”. On top of juggling the duality of being my “Mexican” self when at home with my mom and my “Chinese” self when left with my dad and his family, there were also the constant changes in my primary home environment to deal with. When my mom relocated us to a house on the other side of the US-Mexico border, that virtually eliminated my ability to “belong” anywhere.

But in retrospect, the destruction of my self was so repetitive that I started to see a pattern. The self changed, got affected, broken, destroyed, but another one would evolve – sometimes stronger, sometimes hateful, sometimes not wanting to be there at all. The self was not constant. And how many times would my self have to die before I realized that it was never alive in the first place?

Throughout my 20’s, I tried time and time again to get past these issues. And I did, many times over. Yet, each success was soon followed by a relapse into that personal darkness. With every return, climbing out became subsequently harder, wrestling not only once again with matters previously thought put to rest but also new ones that had cropped up — one’s early 20’s are when life is supposed to be filled with constant growth and change. But each repurposed version of myself I took out into the world to try to find a place to fit in ultimately ended up a lonely failure. In 2011, the weight of all that came crashing down on me. My “self” lost its cohesion, and all those different personalities I’d adopted over the years seemingly became their own individual identities, fighting to assert claim to my true identity. Or in a less dramatic manner of phrasing, my mind started working overtime and became crippled by fear. Everything that got processed in my mind got worked over multiple times, through the outlooks and attitudes I’ve held throughout various stages in my life, many of which directly contradict with others. As a result, even the most basic decision making became extremely onerous. Asking myself “what would I do” would yield multiple options, and I couldn’t identify the choices that aligned with my “real” self. So I went into seclusion to sort things out, to work through everything without any external influence. I expected that time would finally finish the job and complete the healing process…but time doesn’t just heal; it also changes.

And when I realized and really understood that my self is a projection and that it has a function, a funny thing happened. I stopped giving it so much authority. I give it its due. I take it to therapy. I’ve become very familiar with its dysfunctional behavior. But I’m not ashamed of my self. In fact, I respect my self and its function. And over time and with practice, I’ve tried to live more and more from my essence. And if you can do that, incredible things happen.

For me, that realization came in the form of some very abstract rumination in my period of asceticism and self-exile. When I stopped asking myself the question who I was and instead asked what I was, all the mental noise was instantly cleaved by utter clarity. What I was was a walking sack of meat housing a very powerful biological self-aware computer. All the memories, experiences, beliefs, and ideas that comprise my sense of identity are ultimately reduced to a series of projections placed on me from external sources, stored as electrical and chemical impulses in a wrinkly grey cellular mass. One ill-placed blow to the head and my “self” could be wiped from existence, even if I were to live and recover. Reducing all the trauma and the sorrows from the past to such logical and scientific terms removed they power they held, and made them very easy to process and reconcile. Stepping outside my “self” to that degree also let freed me from the crushing abstractions we live with in modern society — familial obligations, wealth expectations, adherence to social mores — and has enabled me to manage conflict and discordance far better. Life becomes a lot easier to navigate when you can trust yourself not to succumb to your own personal biases, and when you begin to gain mental mastery over your emotions the universe loses its ability to make you its bitch.

Let’s live with each other and take it a breath at a time. If we can get under that heavy self, light a torch of awareness, and find our essence, our connection to the infinite and every other living thing. We knew it from the day we were born. Let’s not be freaked out by our bountiful nothingness. It’s more a reality than the ones our selves have created. Imagine what kind of existence we can have if we honor inevitable death of self, appreciate the privilege of life and marvel at what comes next. Simple awareness is where it begins.

Thank you for listening.

Zen Habits

Zen Habits is a great blog filled with the kind of content I wish I could generate on matters related to mindfulness & mental health, but I think I still have a way to go before I see myself actually being on that level. Still, I definitely recommend everyone check out Leo Babauta’s blog, or better yet, subscribe to it.

Blerching

Physically, I’ve veered off-course and fallen off the wagon pretty hard. Just a few weeks ago, I was running my 20 mile per week quota even though I was sick. This past week, I have been minimally exercising and eating excessively, or what I derived from The Oatmeal’s comic on running to be adequately described as blerching.

On top of not being active on the physical front, I’ve been pulling double duty on the stress smoking that I vowed to cut down on. A lot of it has to do with the mental strain I have coming at me from both my long-term plans and from my current income & workplace situation. Though I clearly still have some work to do when it comes to keeping myself steady on the path to realization, I just need to keep myself from getting lost in my own head. Reflect, read, write, and act, don’t react.

Joining the Pink Party: Ditching AT&T for T-Mobile

Friday morning, I had a customer service interaction with AT&T that left me so incensed with anger that I took to Twitter, and dropped a good share of f-bombs on the matter. My cell phone carrier managed to break my zen and reduce me to a raging ass spouting expletives on the internet. Rather than leave it at it that, I find it would be more productive to tell the story behind the interaction.

AT&T BIll Jan - Feb 2014
AT&T Bill for the period in question

I started my day by processing my email inbox to zero, which i’ve been neglecting to do all week. As I went through my messages, I noticed one from AT&T notifying me that my account was past due for the amount of $136.94 for the period of January 8th through February 8th. When I looked at the bill in detail, I saw that I was being invoiced for my monthly service fee of $89.99 — $39.99 for 450 Nation Rollover Minutes, $20 for Messaging Unlimited w/ Mobile to Any Mobile Calling, and $30 for my grandfathered data unlimited plan — in addition to a $40 service reactivation fee. My issue with this lay in the fact that my mobile services weren’t in effect during that time period.

 

 

It’s here that I’ll admit that sharing a story that’s resulting from the current financial hurdles I’m finally in the last stages of squaring away is a little awkward. However, considering that that seems to be the narrative shared by the majority of the American public in this present economy , I feel no shame in writing about it; it makes the story all the more relevant. In recovering from the last round of car repairs, I had to forego having cellphone service to get a smog check and pay the registration fees to the DMV. My service was deactivated on January 10th, and wasn’t reinstated until February 7th when I paid the outstanding $183. In turn, AT&T was trying to collect payment on service it was withholding. More concisely, they were demanding I pay for nothing.

On my break at work, I called their customer support line and got in touch with a billing service representative, whose name I didn’t catch because he mumbled it so incoherently. I explained the situation, and argued that there was no sense in those charges being made. I told him I would understand if I were still on contract and that payment was going towards the subsidy on the equipment, but I’m using an unlocked iPhone 4S that I bought on launch date and have been off-contract for a good while now. I offered that I didn’t mind paying the $40 reactivation fee (which is a complete joke in itself, but that’s a different matter for another time) since it’s part of the process, but that I had to draw the line at paying for a month of something I couldn’t access. The phone rep coldly replied that those were charges that couldn’t be waived. I responded that I didn’t agree with that practice, and that they could either take the $40 reactivation fee and waive the service charges or I could ditch them for T-Mobile and refuse to pay their bill. In a bored unaffected tone he told me that it was certainly my decision to do so. We ended the call without successfully resolving the issue, and I decided I was going to make the switch. I’d been interested in jumping over to T-Mobile when they started giving out 200MB of monthly data for tablets for free regardless of whether or not you contract cellular phone service with them. They’re positioning themselves as the company you want to do business with, and their “uncarrier” initiative has certainly done it’s job with me. I’ve stayed on AT&T partly out of the convenience of having existing service and not dealing with the migration process, and partly because of memories of my best friend having terrible service through T-Mobile back in the Sidekick days.

Since the call was so brief, I decided to use the remaining time on my break to cast a line out into the Twittersphere. My inner marketing student enjoys comparing the difference between interactions conducted through traditional customer service channels and those once social media enters the picture.

Sure enough, within minutes someone on their Twitter team reached out, the complete opposite of uncaring Mr. Blow-It-Out-Your-Ass I had just spoken to on the phone. Also, note T-Mobile is so excited they can hardly spell straight.

AT&T/T-Mobile Tweets
AT&T/T-Mobile Tweet in Response

Later on in the day once I found another block of free time, I decided to see what AT&T was willing to do. I’d spent my workday so committed to the switch that I knew the relationship wasn’t salvageable, but if I could get those charges wiped and not have to deal with continuing to dispute them or have them reported against my credit, I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity. I identified myself via DM as instructed, briefly recapped the situation at hand, then put a mental deadline of “end of business day” on their resolution effort. When I checked my phone again before the end of the work day, I had the following exchange:

AT&T DM
AT&T DM

So, their response was to ask me for details extraneous to the underlying principle that they should be more than capable of extrapolating from their own records. I tried to measure myself so as to not come off aggressively hostile off the bat, but I find unnecessary redundancies like that to be a pet peeve of mine. It’s like when I call my bank and enter my identifying information using their voice recognition and keypad entry prompts, and then have that same information immediately asked for again by the phone banker that takes my call.

I waited until the end of the day at work, and never got another response from the AT&T Twitter team. After making my way home through evening traffic and doing some preparatory research on the web, I made a trip to my local T-Mobile store. I walked in and told the sales rep that I’d gotten fed up with AT&T, and requested that he make the switch as appealing and painless as possible. I got a service fee breakdown: for the lower cost of $70 per month, $20 less than I was paying AT&T, I get unlimited everything, tethering at no extra cost, and international text & data roaming. I signed the paperwork, and we got started on trying to port my existing number with AT&T over to my new service line. Minutes later, I was given a T-Mobile SIM card, and instructed to pop it in once service with my AT&T SIM card went offline.

A couple hours after I got home, the moment arrived, and I swapped SIM cards, officially giving up my grandfathered unlimited data plan and moving off from AT&T’s service.

Homescreen: New Carrier
The Before & After

 

As I mentioned earlier, I was committed to change carriers in spite of whatever retention incentive AT&T would have came up with, and was firmly intent on doing so as a matter of principle (well, that and because they broke my zen & caused me to drop some hard expletives on the web). I was being billed for services that weren’t rendered, and AT&T had the gall to tell me that’s just the way it goes, entitled to take money for nothing. Out of all the various adjectives that I’ve thought of to describe that, the one I’ve found most fitting is Un-American. There was no sense of pride in service or relationship appreciation in my interactions with AT&T, just the usual corporate indifferent scripts. I can’t say I wouldn’t encounter the same thing with T-Mobile in those same circumstances, but I like to believe that part of the “Uncarrier” initiative includes allowing their billing service representatives to utilize logic and moral judgement rather than defaulting to rigid policies and guidelines. Even if that should still prove not to be the case, I’d rather be giving my money to the carrier giving out more value for the dollar and no-strings free data service for tablets than the one trying to charge me for not giving me service.

Six years I’ve been with AT&T, since the launch of the iPhone 3G. I upgraded every year, and wasted so much extra money juggling additional lines to get equipment subsidies that otherwise went unused. And now, all that business (though I’ve admittedly long-since broken my yearly upgrade habit) will be going to the other guy now. T-Mobile’s marketing message would say that I’ve joined “Team Magenta”. On top of sounding a bit too Twilight for my tastes, I find the disruption “uncarrier” is causing in the wireless industry to have more of a political charge. So I’m going to say that I’ve registered and joined up with the Pink Party, and I’m likely to start encouraging more people to follow suit.

TMobile Logo with Stars
Join the Pink Party

Less Than 5 Months Later: A Visual Comparison

Last October, I was still in that place where I was constantly stress-eating and feeling too overwhelmed and demotivated to work out. It was when I really started applying myself to running what’s become my normal route, and so I took a few photographs to have on hand as “before” pictures at a later time. Despite that fact that I didn’t do ANY exercise throughout the entire month of January and the first week of February, I’ve made a lot of progress. I cast of that extra weight that I put on during my unscheduled “time off” at the beginning of this year in only four days, and I’ve been keeping up the pace steadily with another 20 miles completed this week. When I got home from my run today, I decided to snap a few shots since I’m now pushing into new territory after running all that necessary damage control.

The snapshot in the top frame is the before photo that I took in October. My scale clocked me in at 203 lbs with an extremely high body fat percentage; I couldn’t even get a read because I was unable to get my body fat calipers around the fat on my abdomen.

Oct 2013 vs March 2014
Oct 2013 vs March 2014

The picture in the bottom frame is the one I took today when I got home from my run. That hideous paunch has been reduced to a far more manageable pooch. My scale is still reading out in the 196-198 lb range, but I suspect that’s due to some muscle growth somewhere under all that. I’ve been doing some flexibility-focused stretching before my runs, and doing some light barbell and bodyweight lifting exercises as running warmups. Nothing so intense that it would result in soreness and require recovery, simply enough to put the muscles to use and tone them. Seeing that form starting to carve itself out of that old mess I used to be is quite the morale booster. The pants I’m wearing in the bottom photo, when first purchased, fit me extremely tight — I used to muffin top out of them in all directions in a manner similar to the photo at top. Now, they hang off me loosely, and will to my ankles if I’m walking in them without the assistance of a belt.

So, I’m giving myself this coming week as the final cardio-focused week before I start really cracking down on my dumbbell and bodyweight training. I’ve been noticing that the workout summary for my usual route has gradually started to decline in the amount of calories burned. I’ve been purposely putting off the muscle building training in order to keep myself able to complete my running and not miss out due to muscle soreness & recovery. Now comes the part where I have to start going through that process so that there’s something to show as I keep burning off the fat. That, and I’m not really looking to end up as one of those people that sheds a bunch of weight and then has an excess of loose skin. Barbells, pushups, pullups, planks, and squats are going to start to become just as constant a part of my life as running has become. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to absolutely hate it at the start in the same fashion.

So the battle continues…

No man has the …

No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.

  • Socrates

The Other Body

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, getting myself back in the groove and undoing the damage I did during the early winter months packing the pounds back on. In spite of coming down with a cough last week, I’ve been persistently hitting the streets and hitting my 20 mile per week quota. I’m already back down to the range I was in back towards the end of December. In fact, I’m actually doing better than I was then – even though the scale reads out the same numbers it did back then, I can feel that a few of those pounds this time around are constituted by muscle instead of fat. While it feels good to be back “on track”, I have to admit that I don’t look forward to once again having to put together those weigh-in posts now that there’s going to be actual progress to track again — taking measurements and photos is a drag and one of my least-favorite things to have to do. Furthermore, still being in the initial leg of the journey I see all the work still left to do more than the progress I’ve already made can be frustrating at times.

As I keep pushing forward on this project, now with more effort than ever before, I’m starting to notice a peculiar shift in my physiological self-perception. For the most part, I still feel heavy and, well, fat. It’s a state of constant awareness of the extra fat mass that still needs to be done away with that results in a physical feeling of sluggishness and insufficient musculature. In times past, the only escape from that sensation was when I found myself out on the street and completing my running route. When I’m out running, I feel completely “normal”. When I catch a glimpse of my reflection when I run past buildings and storefronts with highly reflective windows, I see a vastly different person than I see reflected in my bathroom mirrors at home when I’m getting ready for the work day. Yet, lately, I’ve been starting to randomly see and feel myself in that “other body” I inhabit throughout my days even when I’m not exercising. The prospect of reaching the point where that becomes the norm throughout the entirety of my days only fuels my motivation to keep pushing and ramp up the pace even higher.