How I Meditate

Life has been a chaotic mess of work, family obligations, failed fitness routines, and unfinished books. Time to refocus the mind and body on the things that matter the most to me, time to begin again a meditation practice. The practice is simple. Routinizing it, prioritizing it, those are the hard things.

This is how I do it.

I set a timer, or a meditation app, for the desired amount of time. Right now, its ten minutes, soon fifteen, then twenty, then perhaps longer. If I don’t have time for ten minutes, I’ll do five. Something is always better than nothing at all.

I sit comfortably, in a chair, on a cushion, or on the floor. With my eyes open I take three or four deep breaths, in through the mouth, out through the nose. I set my attention to be present, to be here now.

I close my eyes and begin breathing normally again, in and out, in and out.

I attempt to notice the sounds around me without judgement or concern. There, a siren, there, a car. They’re just there. Neither helping or impeding my practice. Just there.

I perform a “body scan” wherein I start from my head and move down my body noticing its state. Does my shoulder hurt (it usually does) Is my back tight? My feet tired? I notice this aspects of my body. They’re just there. Neither helping or impeding my practice. Just there.

Then I try to focus on my breath. In and out, in and out. I count my breaths one on the in, two on the out, three on the in, four on the out, five on the in, six on the out, seven on the in, eight on the out, nine on the in, ten on the out.

Then again.

My mind wanders, it always does. I get hung up on the car, or the ache in my shoulder. I don’t make it to ten breaths. I don’t make it to four.

As soon as I notice my mind wandering, I start again.

I do this, over and over until the timer goes off.

Almost always, I feel better afterward. I try to remember that feeling the next time I am making an excuse for not meditating. The process isn’t hard, remembering how important it can be is. Be Here Now

Back In The Saddle (And Top Posts for 2017)

I took a pretty extended break from posting here, and wondered, really, if it was something I was even going to do anymore. But I miss writing for no other reason than the joy of it, I miss chronicling my ups and downs in fitness and life, and I miss sharing the many many stories you send me about qualifying for Boston.

So, I’m back.

To celebrate, here are the top posts and pages for 2017

1. The Boston Qualifier Questionnaire – no surprise here, the page collecting the hundreds of stories runners have shared of their journeys to the Boston Qualifying Time remains the number one page.

2. Data Analysis of the Boston Qualifier Questionnaire – my analysis of the data on how you get a BQ.

3. About – the perennial favorite i.e. the what the fuck is going on here page.

4. David Goggins Inspired Body weight Work Outs – a collection of body weight work outs inspired by navy seal and all around bad ass David Goggins.

5. S-Town’s John B. Mclemore: A Reading List – a collection of all the books cited by John B in the incredible podcast S-Town.

6. 2016: My Year in Books – an overview of everything I read in 2016 (2017 coming soon!)

7. Fitness Habits of Disgraced Generals – a light hearted post on the fitness regimes of Generals Paterues and McCrystal

8. Milo of Croton – A resource page on the ancient greek wrestler for whom this silly project is named.

9. How I read 52 Books a Year – A guide to reading more.

10. The BQ(Q) Sage Canaday – Pro runner and all around nice guy Sage Canaday shares his story of the first time he qualified for Boston

Reset: diet

Here is what my blood tests, DNA tests, and time on the toilet all tell me:

  • If not entirely allergic to, I am at least highly sensitive to dairy and gluten
  • I gain weight easily, especially when eating a diet high in saturated fats.
  • I need significantly more fiber than i get on the diet I have become used to.

With all this in mind, I will very likely do well on a diet high in fruits and vegetables, with some meat and fish, and little to no gluten or dairy.

In theory, these guidelines are easy to follow and not particularly restrictive. But in practice, I have found modifying my diet to be an enormous challenge. Like many, I eat not only for survival, but socially, and (dare I say it?) for comfort. Coming to the point where I eat the salad at the dinner party, but skip the cured meats, or turn to a cup of tea (and not a bag of chips) to calm me after a stressful day is, and probably always will be, hard. That isn’t an excuse to not try to be more present in my food making decisions. There’s no need to be doctrinaire (and in fact, doctrinate may be unhelpful) but it is important to be thoughtful, avoiding the bad and favoring the good.

Attention to my diet is likely to be the health struggle of my life. Given the time, I’d work out all day. Exercise has always been a joy to me. But food, food is something else, something harder,

 

Reset: fitness

I’ve been rethinking my fitness and diet regime (again). As a dude in his mid-forties, I’ve begun to feel some of the aches and pains of middle age, and I’ve begun to think much more about how to train to be fit for a lifetime rather than fit for a specific high performance endeavor.

With that in mind, I’ve added back into my routine more strength training, more flexibility and mobility work, more balance drills. If I plan to be active and healthy well into old age, I need to focus on these essential skills now.

To make room for this work, I’ve taken the running back a step. Still doing it, but focusing on very slow MAF style runs*, and not at all concerned about weekly mileage or time. The goal is to be active every day in a production, injury free way.

Here’s the plan for the week:

Monday: The recommended routine from reddit’s bodyweight fitness group coupled with addition flexibility and mobility work and a short, extremely slow, run

Tuesday: An hour long, MAF style run

Wednesday: The recommended routine from reddit’s bodyweight fitness group coupled with addition flexibility and mobility work and a short, extremely slow, run

Thursday: An hour long, MAF style run

Friday: Off.

Saturday: a long run or bike ride

Sunday: an hour long run and an extended flexibility / self massage session.

Nothing fancy, nothing hard right now. In three months of so, if this goes well, I’ll reassess and determine if I its time to switch it up again.

*The MAF method, for those that don’t know, is the method of running developed by the controversial endurance coach Phil Maffatone. Maffatone has a whole philosophy for fitness, not all of which I buy it, but I do like the simplicity of his heart rate based training approach. It is’t simplest form, its 180 minus your age give you the highest number your heart rate should hit during training. For an old man like me, this means I never train above 138.  Clearly, this is an over simplification, but it’s one I find helpful.

Top 20 Posts and Pages

Milo just went over the 200,000 hit mark, which is pretty cool. By far the most popular section of this sprawling mess is the Boston Qualifier Questionnaire, which, if you’re a runner, is worth checking out. But in this post, I thought I’d highlight the 20 most popular posts on that aren’t related to the Boston Marathon.

Its an odd mix. Here they are in reverse order:

20 —  Book Nerds: Richard Prince — A look at the astounding book collection of one of the most important contemporary arts alive.

19 — Our Pre-term Baby — The story of my daughter Anna’s rather dramatic entrance into the world.

18 — How I Read 52 Books A Year — With illustrations from the Wire!

17 — Classical Sources of the Milo Stories — Just what it says it is, a resource page for some of the myths about our man Milo

16 —  Phil Coppess: Hero to Working Stiff Runners — Some thoughts on running legend Phil Coppess, who ran some incredibly fast times while also raising two kids on his own and working in a factory.

15 — Alex Honnold and the Viewers Guilt — My thoughts on watching the incredibly talented climber risk his life

14 — Weight and the Marathon– A look at the role weight plays in marathon success

13 — Some Thoughts On the Early Days of Strength Training — Just what the title says.

12 — The Hero Brought Low: Representations of Milo of Croton in Art – Some thoughts on the way our favorite Greek wrestler has been depicted in art through the ages.

11 — Running Heroes: The Women of the 1972 New York City Marathon — A brief peice about the women who staged a protest at the New York City Marathon and changed running forever.

10 — 2014 – My Year In Books — A round up of all the books I read in 2014.

9 — Divine Madness – A resource page collecting information on a now largely forgotten running “cult”

8 — 2015 My Year In Books – A round-up of all the books I read in 2015, the first year I start really paying attention to the diversity of voices in the books I read.

7 — Milo of Croton — A resource page for information about the Greek wrestler for who this website is named.

6 — The Egoist and the Fixed Gear A Polemic against a certain type of New York City Bike Rider

5 — S Town’s John B. Mclemore: A Reading List — A collection of the books reference by John B. Mclemore in the excellent podcast S-Town

4 — David Goggins Inspired Bodyweight Workouts — A collection of body weight workouts inspired by David Goggins training of Jesse Itzler in the hilarious Living With A Seal

3 — The Runnable Bridges of New York City — Just what the title says this is an interactive map of all the bridges you can run over in New York City.

2 — 2016 My Year in Books — My recap of my reading int he eyar 2016 when I tried to have my reading reflect the diversity of America.

1 — Fitness Habits of Disgraced Generals — And finally, number 1. A light hearted post about the fitness habits of Generals McChrystal and Petraeus that has now inexplicably become my most popular piece of writing. Go figure.

1000 Little Memories: The Gamelan Player

New series of very short posts recounting specific moments in my life.

I was living at Post St. in San Francisco, a punk house of some renown. We had tons of people staying their all the time. Bands, friends, and friends of friends from around the world. There was one kid, a traveler type, beard, dreadlocks, back pack, who told me he was part of a train hopping gamelan group which would convene in random cities, create their instruments out of discarded materials, and give free concerts.

Today such a thing would have a facebook group and an instagram hashtag. But this was the 90s, and if it existed at all, its now lost to history.

Chance encounters like these are one of the few things I miss about living in over crowded punk houses.

See all the little memories here.

Lessons From Re-write

When my dad was a young reporter, he used to be a stringer for the New York tabloids. He’d work a story, get it down in his notebook and call it in, reading it (including all punctuation and paragraph breaks) to “rewrite” over the phone.

The first time he did this, he started reading his finely crafted magnum opus. Reaching the end of the first paragraph, he said “Period, graf”.

To which rewrite responded, “Period graf? Kid, that’s your whole story.”

I still live by this advice.

Mailer’s Executioners Song


Executioners Song
Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer’s best work.

Actually, the only work of his I’ve ever thought was worth the time. A painstakingly reported, and near perfectly executed, telling of the life of Gary Gilmore, the troubled drifter who was the first person to be executed in the United States after the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.

Also the book that brought my wife and I together.

But first, the book, then our story.

Executioners Song is broken into two parts, the story of Gilmore’s life leading up to and including the murders of two men in Utah. Mailer and his team interviewed scores of family members and friends of both Gilmore and the victims. The book gives as complete a picture of the man as I think it’s possible to give. Mailer tells of his childhood, his probable mental illness, and his repeated incarceration in a way that is both dispassionate and (I think because of its cold reporting style) deeply haunting. While Gilmore remains unknowable, you feel that Mailer did all he could to flesh out the man’s story.

The second half focuses on Gilmore’s trial. His decision to accept the death penalty (and request death by firing squad) and the lawyers and activists who tried to overturn his sentence anyway, despite Gilmore’s own wishes. I’m a staunch opponent of the death penalty, and I don’t believe Gilmore had a right to have the state kill him, but this section is fraught with ethical and moral concerns and just as well reported as the first half. When I read this in my mid-twenties, I remember staying up late to finish this section, knowing, of course, how it all turns out, but still unable to put the book down.

I’ve remained a bit obsessed with the book since then (as have many other, Matthew Barney relies on it in his Cremaster cycle). Years later, in 2006, when I went to law school and set up a Facebook account, I listed it as one of my favorite books… and so did a gorgeous redhead from New York City who sat near me in contracts class.  We had friends in common, and occasionally sat together for lunch, but one of the first real substantive conversation I remember having with E (over g-chat of course), was about this book. She’d written about it in undergrad, and we traded thoughts. She, being smarter than I, had grasped not just the socio-political aspects of the book (death penalty, ethics, mental illness, the nature of reporting) but also the way it functioned as literature, how it hung together technically, and why it worked so well.

I was impressed, and I remain so today, both of this excellent book, and the woman who I would go on to marry and raise two kids with. Norman Mailer was a son of a bitch who did a lot of damage in this world. And Gary Gilmore was a disturbed man, and a murder, who the state killed. The story here is a tragic one. But I’m grateful it gave E and me our first opportunity to connect. That’s something.

Recommended.

 

1000 Little Memories: Here’s My Jimmy Breslin Story

Here’s my Jimmy Breslin story:

I was working at the Center for Constitutional Rights on a campaign to stop the price gouging of collect calls from prisoners and I was pitching every single columnist in New York City to cover our story.

The only person to call me back was Breslin.

I was at dinner at an Indian Restaurant when I got a call from an unknown number. I picked it up and the man on the other line said “Yeah is this Sean? This is Jimmy Breslin”
Having been raised by an old school Irish newspaper man, I about had a heart attack. I kept calm and pitched him. He was interested, so I gave him the background explaining the insane rates prisoner’s families pay for collect calls and what we were trying to do to stop it. I offered to put him in touch with a family member and he said something along the lines of “I’ll fight for these people, but Jesus, don’t make me talk to them.” He was a far from perfect man. He ended up quoting me, unfortunately. But he wrote about our campaign in his standard Breslin style — direct, passionate, pissed off — in his weekly Newsday column.

It was the first media hit the campaign got, and it made other journalists take us seriously. .

I left PR soon after that, my work complete.

Rest in peace, Jimmy. They really do not make them like you any more.

Here are all the rest of the little memories. 

Ahmed, My Old Bodega Guy

I was inspired by last night’s demonstration by Brooklyn’s Yemeni bodega owners and thought I’d share a little about my local guy, Ahmed from New Dubai Mart.

Ahmed and his brother left Yemen more than a decade ago, first working as laborers in Dubai to save up enough money to make the trip to the U.S. Sometime after getting here, they opened New Dubai Mart on my block (and eventually another store, in Crown Heights). They worked twelve hour shifts, Ahmed during the day, his brother at night. They sold what all bodegas sell. Sandwiches and toilet paper, beer and coffee.

They never closed.


One year, during a blizzard, when the governor had declared a state of emergency, I asked Ahmed what they were going to do. He looked at my confused. “We’ll be open,” he said, “My brother lives upstairs. If you need anything, just call. We’ll bring it over.”

That’s how it was.

Later, when my daughter was in the hospital, I told Ahmed what was going on, and he assured me it would all be alright. “We’re praying for her and your wife at the mosque”, he said, and I almost cried.

My parents were down a lot in those days and my dad struck up a friendship of sorts with Ahmed. Shooting the shit about basketball, kids, and life in Dubai.

That’s how he was, he’d talk to anyone.

To my son, he was “Mr. Ahmed”, always ready with a banana and a high five. Ahmed kept an eye out for him, reporting back to me when he’d seen him with our nanny. It calmed me to know that there was always someone on the block making sure things were ok.

But things are changing fast in Brooklyn, and gentrification caught up with Ahmed. His landlord (ironically also Yemeni) doubled his rent and they just couldn’t make a go of it. They still have the crown heights store, but they had to let go of the one on my block.

I was devastated.

When he was closing up his store, in the days before the inauguration, I gave Ahmed my business card, and told him if he needed anything, he could call. He hasn’t and I hope he won’t have to. But he was there for my family, and I’ll be there for his.

Now we go to another Bodega, a little farther away, run by another Yemini family. They don’t know my kids yet, and they haven’t met my parents, but they will.

I’ve given them my card already.