Tear down your wall

The wall. Photo: Lauren Manning via Flickr.

The wall. Photo: Lauren Manning via Flickr.

Walls keep us safe. They protect us from the cold, from danger, from the prying eyes of other people. They put a safe barrier between us and those who would rob, steal and harm us. Whether made of stone, brick, or wood (or virtual walls of electrons like a computer firewall), walls are intended to give us peace of mind from the worries of everyday life.

The building of our own personal walls begins when we are very young. Roger Waters depicted the building of this type of wall in Pink Floyd’s 1979 double album and its subsequent film and stage adaptations. The “hero” of The Wall is indoctrinated at an early age to conform, to stop asking “stupid” questions, to stop questioning authority. He builds the wall around himself, assisted by parents, teachers, his wife, and others whose intentions are both benign and self-serving.

What does a three year old ask endlessly? “Why?”

What does a three year old ask endlessly? “Why?” Everything is unknown and needs to be explained. “Why?” If you were never told to stop asking “why,” consider yourself fortunate. Most of us were, although those who told you stop asking  ”why” probably weren’t malicious, just tired of being asked the same question over and over. Or perhaps the questions became uncomfortable or unacceptable. “Don’t ask why, it just is.”

As an actor, the most important question I can ask about my character and his actions is “why?” In building my wall, though, several of the blocks represented the barrier between what I wanted to know and what I was allowed to ask about. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to ask “why?” about anything again – just as I had as a child – that I started to become a decent actor.

And as an unintended circumstance, I became a much more confident and peaceful person the rest of the time. I allow myself to ask “why” about everything, and while I don’t have answers to all of the questions (yet), I am free to inquire and think about whatever interests me, without fear of being told to stop asking the questions.

There are risks. My wall isn’t as rigid (though it does still exist), so I’m not as protected as I used to be. But the benefits, both professionally and personally, have been worth it.

Tear down your wall.

No rules. Just create.

I came across this post by independent playwright David Rush today. He describes how the “rules” he’d been taught about playwriting turned out to be more of an obstacle than a help, so he finally starting “drifting” as he wrote, trusting his instincts and inspiration as he writes.

I followed the rules carefully, outlining and filling in and making charts and graphs. And so forth. It would take me, on the average, several months to actually chart all this stuff out. [...] My imagination ran riot and I invented all sorts of wonderful stuff. Interesting characters, bold adventures, climactic scenes. [...] And then I sat down to write. And it all dried up.

no_rulesI think the “rules” of acting can have a similar effect of stifling the freedom to create a full, vibrant character. I’ve worked with many actors who are trying to “follow the rules” they were taught in acting school or college. But art isn’t about rules, but about creation. I’ve pointed out before that there are as many “styles” of acting as there are actors. We need to be free to create in our own ways. Ultimately, the deadlines of a production do dictate that certain “rules” be followed: learn your lines being the most important, of course. But within the rehearsal process, we need to create an environment where the freedom to try anything, to break rules, and to create in our own way, is respected.

I have never gone back to the old method of charting and graphing and filling in the spaces. I have continued to write without a road map. I continue to drift. And playwriting continues to be fun, as each new writing day is always a surprise and an adventure. To be honest, sometimes it doesn’t work and I drift until I sink. But when it does work, it’s great.


Read David’s complete post at independentplaywrights.com.

Dispatch from the Fortress of Solitude

24th May -

Family left yesterday. Said they were going to “Seattle” but that could have been a ruse to keep me from finding them later. I still have the dog and two cats, so I won’t lack for companionship during the difficult days ahead.

Very cold this morning. Wind from the north. Considered wearing a jacket but didn’t want to give in to desperation. Walked around without one. Wished I’d made a different decision later.

Ventured out about noon. Dropped in at my place of employ and accomplished a few desultory tasks, nothing major. Place was deserted. Wondered if they’d also gone to “Seattle.” Guess I’ll never know.

Bought a desk chair so these entries won’t continue to cause the wracking pain in my back. Writing is painful, they say. They are correct.

Also purchased provisions at the local grocery. Saw several other survivors there, and spoke to a casual acquaintance of mine. He agreed that there seemed to be an exodus from the area today, but thought it might have to do with “Memorial Day Weekend.” I scoffed and walked away.

Upon arrival at home, I was greeted by Raven, my trustworthy Labrador Retriever. She waited patiently as I put away the victuals in the larder, but later was absolutely no help when it came time to assemble the chair. Dogs!

Watched the local baseball squad defeat a team from Minnesota (which is near “Seattle,” I believe) tonight. Our pitcher, Mr. Sanchez, gave up only one hit. It made my evening complete.

Who knows what excitement tomorrow will bring?

A calorie is a calorie is a calorie

Gina Kolata‘s informative article in Monday’s New York Times about the recent study published in JAMA suggesting that a diet high in fat and protein burns more calories than one high in carbs includes this quote from Dr. Jules Hirsch, emeritus professor and emeritus physician in chief at Rockefeller University:

Perhaps the most important illusion is the belief that a calorie is not a calorie but depends on how much carbohydrates a person eats. There is an inflexible law of physics — energy taken in must exactly equal the number of calories leaving the system when fat storage is unchanged. Calories leave the system when food is used to fuel the body. To lower fat content — reduce obesity — one must reduce calories taken in, or increase the output by increasing activity, or both. This is true whether calories come from pumpkins or peanuts or pâté de foie gras.

To believe otherwise is to believe we can find a really good perpetual motion machine to solve our energy problems. It won’t work, and neither will changing the source of calories permit us to disobey the laws of science.

A calorie is a calorie is a calorie. You can eat better foods, like avoiding simple sugars (because they don’t keep you full as long) and making sure all of your nutritional needs are covered (vitamins and minerals), but in the end, your body takes in calories — simply a unit of energy — and burns them off. Take in less than you burn and you’ll lose weight. Burn more by exercising or being more active and you’ll lose weight. Simple math (though not nearly as simple to actually start counting, and keep counting, right?)

Shadowing myself: Getting fit as I approach my 50th birthday

On January 7th I turned 49 years old. I weighed 325 pounds, was still recovering from knee surgery almost two years earlier, back problems a year earlier, and generally felt closer to 70 than 50.

My wife, Doreen, had been walking at lunch with some of her colleagues at work for some time, and she had decided to make some other changes to see if she could lose some weight as well. Her early success helped motivate me to make a similar decision, and that evening, I decided that I didn’t want to weigh 325 pounds when I turned 50. I decided I wanted to lose 100 pounds and weigh 225 on my 50th birthday.

I’ve lost weight before. A few times I’ve lost 30 or 40 pounds using one dieting technique or another, but eventually I grew tired or frustrated with the big changes or deprivations and went back to my old habits. I also rarely did much in the way of serious exercise in tandem with the eating changes.

Today is July 7th. Six months to go to my 50th birthday. So I got on the scale (which I do about once a week) this morning after my bike ride: 276.9! I’m down 48 pounds from January 7th! Not quite exactly halfway to 100, but damn close.

Here’s a photo from last year’s Rotary Parade in downtown Port Huron in July 2011, and a photo taken today with me wearing the same t-shirt:

I started counting calories, every meal, every day, on the day after my birthday. Doreen was using a web site called MyFitnessPal, which also has iOS and Android apps so it’s easy to track when you’re out. They have a huge database of foods, most added by MyFitnessPal users, and you can add your own as well. When I started using it, I decided to enter the foods I’d eaten on my birthday. When I was done, I discovered I’d consumed over 6,600 calories that day! (That’s not good.) And that wasn’t an aberration; it was a lot closer to a normal day for me.

The program suggested around 2100 calories a day initially. Now that I’m down almost 50 pounds, that number has dropped to 1780 per day in order to lose 1 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. At first, I went over the goal two or three times a week. Now that I’m quite used to the reduced calorie intake, I occasionally go over, but not more than once every couple weeks.*

Probably even more importantly, I joined the YMCA in Port Huron in February and worked out three times a week through early June. I’ve backed off the Y visits for the summer, but have started riding my bike instead. I did a lot of stationary biking at the gym so when I hit the road with my bike about three weeks ago, my legs were already in pretty decent shape. I’m riding 16 to 20 miles three times a week and enjoying it more than I ever have. I track my rides using MapMyRide, another web-based service that also has iOS and Android apps available. It uses my phone’s GPS to track my route, distance, pace and speed.

I feel great! I can run again without worrying about my knee going out or my back seizing up. I have a chin again. I’ve dropped from 44 inch waist jeans to 38s; I just bought some shirts in XL instead of the XXL I’ve been wearing for years. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been this fit. And I’ve got a long way still to go to next January.

I’ve had friends who haven’t seen me for awhile do double-takes. That’s a lot of fun!

Can I get to 225? I’m pretty sure I didn’t think so six months ago. I think so now. But I’m not competing against anyone except the guy I was on January 7, 2012. I’m still not the strongest, fastest, fittest man I can be, but I am beating the crap out of the guy on the couch I was on my birthday.

* Keep in mind, please, that I’m not a doctor. This isn’t medical advice. If you need to lose some serious weight, I recommend you see a doctor first (I did) so you can get solid medical advice. Also, while the calorie goals suggested by programs like MyFitnessPal are based on legitimate medical concepts, you also have to make sure you do eat at least a minimum number of calories each day, which varies by gender and current weight, but is usually somewhere around 1200 to 1500 calories per day. Don’t trade one eating problem for another!

Audentes fortuna juvat.