Archive for January, 2010


Quickie Report Card

on January 31, 2010 in Misc Comments Off

ReportCard

My job is really interfering with my Layla plan. Oh well. Waddya gonna do? Reality will always win out over fantasy.

Work kept me so busy and tired this week I didn’t work out for three days in a row. A couple night ago I merely warmed up for about ten minutes, but because my body had had a brief vacation it really felt good: my muscles and joints were loose, my limbs moved freely. One thing I have kept up has been — of all the useless things — handstands against a wall. I now get into them easily and can hold them wall-free for a few seconds. My former Parkour instructors might just pat me on the back.

As for stretching: my front splits still haven’t improved much so I bought some leg weights and sometimes just let my legs hang open. This seems to be helping.

Of course I’ve also been too tired in the evenings simply to look at my Arabic and French books. Still, I must be making progress because when I hear snatches of French on TV or in a movie I understand what’s being said much more than I used to.

As for the call girl Drama Queen neighbor I mentioned in my post on gut instinct…

I can’t tell you how happy I am she’s gone. In the mere two and half months she lived in this building, she woke me up several times in the middle of the night by: a) having screaming fights with a boyfriend; or b) her boyfriends knocking on the windows to be let in; or c) the stench of their cigarette smoke seeping up into my bedroom; or d) the police banging on the front security door to be let in.

The manager told me her studio was filthy and trashed. The toilet was backed up and the refrigerator needed fumigating. And God only knows how or why but she had taken the heavy bathroom door off its hinges.

So much for the glamorous image of call girls you see in the media. If my former neighbor is any example, then they’re just just neurotic crazies with cell phones and lives that sooner or later stumble out of control.

GutFeelings

Funny how a stranger you never meet face to face can teach you a big lesson. Even one you nicknamed Drama Queen.

I live in a 1929 art deco building in a nice old leafy neighborhood in Denver. It’s full of professional people. My condo is on the first floor and straddles two garden level studios that, instead of being owned, are rented out. In one of those studios lived — up until two weeks ago — the Drama Queen. D.Q. for short.

D.Q. moved in during November and in no time started creating her dramas. She had boyfriends coming and going at all hours and knocking on her windows and pleading with her to let them in. The boyfriends smoked (against building rules) which stunk up my place. She didn’t seem to have a regular job and by December didn’t pay the rent. Then yet another boyfriend showed up to pay it in cash. The police also showed up a few times, apparently whenever she felt threatened by a boyfriend and needed a sympathetic ear.

And then came D.Q’s first claim of rape.

A few weeks after she’d moved in her elderly friend called the building’s manager and shouted about how someone had broken into D.Q’s studio and raped her. When the shocked manager asked D.Q. about this, she claimed it was true, but then kept changing her story. Yet this time she didn’t call the police and there no sign of damage from any break-in.

One frigid night in December I caught a glimpse of D.Q. leaving the building. She was bundled up in a long coat and getting into a muscle car driven by a guy with a tacky fashion sense from the 1980’s. I tried to ignore my gut when it suddenly screamed at me: THIS GUY IS A PIMP AND MY NEIGHBOR IS A PROSTITUTE!

Now bear in mind, on the few occasions when I’d seen D.Q. (always from a distance), she didn’t come close to fitting my image of a glammed-up call girl. Still, my gut kept saying PIMP AND PRO. But did I listen to it? Nope. Instead my inner Nice Girl (and what a wrong-headed drag she can be) decided not to think ill of my neighbor. I didn’t even change my mind when she came back less than two hours later nor when this became her routine on other late nights.

Fast forward. Two weeks ago at about 3:00 a.m. three police cars and an ambulance arrived outside my building. One of D.Q.’s boyfriends was brought out in handcuffs looking very confused and frightened. D.Q. herself was crying and needed to be helped into an ambulance. It seems she was claiming that her boyfriend had raped her and injured her back.

The manager filled me in on what happened the next day when I was at work. By noon D.Q.’s elderly friend had shown up to help her move out. Far from being traumatized like real rape victims I’ve known, D.Q. was a smiling, bouncing picture of health. Her injured back had healed, she was hugging her friend and his housekeeper and running across the street to cheerfully greet an old boyfriend.

And what was my reaction when the manager told me this?

“She wasn’t raped,” I blurted.

That’s what my gut instinct told me and for once I was letting it do the talking. She hadn’t been raped weeks earlier and I knew with sudden and absolute certainty that this latest rape claim was one big ugly lie that conveniently solved all of D.Q.’s problems. Now the building management couldn’t evict her as it had been planning to do. She didn’t have to pay her late rent. Her old friend was giving her a temporary place to live for free. The friend’s housekeeper was ordered to clean her studio for her and move her stuff out. D.Q. wouldn’t even have to worry about enduring the trial of her boyfriend because either she or the authorities dropped the charges against him.

Oh, and as for the prostitute angle…

I finally googled D.Q. and guess what document popped up: an old search warrant allowing the authorities to go into a home owned by a madam who was running a money laundering and fraud scheme. The warrant also listed the women who worked for her as call girls.

Guess whose name was on that list.

And the moral of my story is…

My logical mind had been wrong about my neighbor. My inner Nice Girl was sure as hell wrong. Only my gut instinct was right as rain.

From now on, I have to be more like Layla and respect that instinct. I must pay attention when my solar plexus starts doing a jitterbug. This time around, when I let my rational mind rule over my instinct, I personally suffered no consequences. Next time I might not be so lucky.

And now for an all-important postscript.

The flabby big gut in the photo above is not mine. I am happy to say that my own waist is on the small side and my abs and stomach are flat – as they should be thanks to my painfully frequent workouts. However, the hand in the photo is wearing an Irish Claddagh ring, and since I’m Irish-American I thought the illustration appropriate.

That is all.

Survival Instinct

on January 26, 2010 in Misc Comments Off

Survival_Instinct

We all have gut instinct. You know what I mean – that sudden feeling that grabs you by the solar plexus while whispering in your ear a truth your logical brain can’t or won’t heed.

Take Layla. She locates one antiquity after another not only because of her brains and skills, but because she pays attention to what her gut instincts tells her.

Personally, I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt as if I’ve been poked, slugged or subtly tickled right there in that spot below my heart. According to mystics the solar plexus is the seat of the subconscious, which in turn is connected to our spiritual high selves (bear with me; I promise not to get too flakey), which in turn is joined to everything and everyone and can transcend time and space and…

Whatever.

The point is, listening to my solar plexus has sometimes saved my bacon, and when I didn’t pay it respect I suffered the consequences.

Once, for instance, I practically went into a panic attack on the eve of a new job. Something within me was rebelling like a wild mustang and trying to make me run in the opposite direction. But rather than acknowledging the sick feeling in my gut I allowed my rational brain to tell me to calm down and consider myself damn lucky to land a decent position with a big corporation. A few miserable months later, after restraining myself from kicking my sadistict new boss in his teeth, I quit that job. Literally just walked away from it. (I’m happy to report that I was immediately offered a much better position elsewhere. Sometimes the universe can be kind.)

So you’d think I learned my lesson.

But no, I’ve yet again ignored a warning my gut shouted at me. It was trying to tell me the truth about a neighbor.

And I’ll tell you all about that nightmare person in my next entry.

Loving Leverage

on January 25, 2010 in Misc Comments Off

At last I can publicly admit to a guilty pleasure.

I really enjoy watching the TNT’s Leverage.

leverage

Given the theme of both my blog and my novel The Compass Master, this shouldn’t be a surprise. The show has action, humor, powerful corporate bad guys and shady good guys who are usually on the wrong side of the law and getting into places they don’t belong. The heroes employ advanced high tech computer stuff (okay, I’m low tech), plenty of lock picking, nifty SWAT-style climbing equipment (all in fashionable coordinated black, comme moi), and martial arts fighting power.

What I didn’t know about Leverage is that it’s a fave rave show among many women literati.

So says Sean Kennedy in his article in The Daily Beast.com, Timothy Hutton: Literary Sex God. It seems that Hutton, the star of Leverage, is a genuine sophisticated reader and all-around book addict, God bless him — the kind of guy who reads short story collections and serious novels along with literary blogs, and he even promotes authors and bloggers and their book events on Twitter.

How cool is that?

Of course the literary female hordes are in turn making him a sex god in their Twitter world. Fair is fair, after all. They’re also confessing to their addiction to the show.

What a relief. This means that I can also come out about how I’m hooked on Chuck and starting to get serious about Burn Notice. Personally, I enjoy all the characters in Leverage, especially that Asperger nutcase Parker, and I don’t especially have a thing for Hutton. But now that I know his literary side, he’s definitely becoming more attractive to me.

Aerial Action

on January 19, 2010 in Misc Comments Off

aerial_action_layla

Who knew that aerial dance could be a great way to learn action hero stuff?

It’s true. The irony is, I was only checking it out ‘cause like I’ve said, I want to be like Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft Tomb Raider when she does that somersaulting, ballet-like dance one night in her pajamas while strapped into a bungee-supported harness. That’s a great way to relax before popping off to bed, I always thought – just gracefully bounce about in the massive entrance hall of your castle.

Well, it turns out that bungee-whirling is in the repertoire for aerial dance. Even if you don’t know the term, you’ve seen such dance performed in venues like Cirque du Soleil when sylph-like creatures twirl and climb and spiral down to earth and up again while wrapping themselves in hanging strips of fabric or in rings or other do-dads. Of course, if you ever see these sylphs up close you realize they have muscles like bowling balls.

Now personally, I’m not a performer. I’m not interested in tangling myself up in mid-air while striking artsy fartsy poses. I only want to do the much easier bungee bouncing.

And to that end I signed up for a Fitness Conditioning class with the local troupe Aerial Fabric Acrobatics. For a mere $16 I could get a one-on-one workout preparation with gymnast guy Eric.

Damn, did Eric work me over.

Yes, soft spoken, very nice Eric gave me what the website promised, “… a chance to work specifically on core strength utilizing aerial equipment, gymnastic equipment, and methods from Feldenkrais, Pilates, dance, and Yoga… If you want to start learning aerial, this class is an excellent prep to help boost your core strength.”

Oh, I’ve been strength boosted, alright. It’s been over 48 hours and my shoulders and arms and upper chest still hurt. On the bright side, my abs now merely feel bruised.

Unlike Parkour, Eric didn’t maintain a boot camp atmosphere. That would have been difficult to do anyway in the bright, colorful gym of Dardano’s School of Gymnastics. Most of the time the place appears to be populated with little girls in pretty tights. Quite a contrast to the funky, tough, uber masculine Parkour gym I suffered in last summer. Anyway, Eric had me do one exercise after another as we moved from a long trampoline strip to mats, the floor, a balance beam, and bars on the wall. I did the works, and I did them pretty well.

gymnasts
In between the routines, I stole glimpses at the teenage girls and women who were working out on the fabric strips and aerial hoop and trapeze bar that hung from the ceiling. As they climbed up, hung upside down, and generally pulled off some cool stuff, I had an epiphany…

This aerial stuff is just what Layla might do!

I mean, on occasion Layla simply has to hang like a bat while going in upside down through a window from a roof’s overhang. And old castles and mansions often have massive drapes and tapestries she’d need to negotiate to get up and down some walls. Being a second story antiquities hunter, she’s got to have all-around climbing chops.

So you know what? I’ll just plain have to do more aerial dance training than I’d originally planned. For one thing, it turns out that I can’t do the bungee stuff until spring when the weather is warm because the rig is outside. So I might as well get into better shape in the meantime.

Besides, there’s the continuing problem of my (lack of) upper body strength.

At the end of class, Eric wanted me to climb a rope that hung from the high ceiling. “Go all the way up and ring the bell at the top,” he said. “I want you to do it twice.” He even held the rope taut for me and there were knots in it every couple of feet. But by then my arms and shoulders were shot, and try as I might (and I tried three times), I only got up a few of those knots before collapsing back down to the mat.

Layla would have scampered to the top like a monkey.

So you know what this means: I’ve got to take more conditioning classes with Eric and learn the basics of climbing fabrics. And one day very soon I’m going to climb all the way up that rope and ring that damn bell.

And I’ll climb it twice.

Ninja Auditions

on January 15, 2010 in Misc Comments Off

blog_ninja

It has been suggested by a reader of this blog – someone who’s pretending to care about me but is in fact a sadistic voyeur – that I should try out for the Women of Ninja Warrior.

Oh sure.

The trouble is, this means I should get in there and run a freaky tough obstacle course in which I could bash my face or tumble into one of the multiple water tanks or in some other way publicly crash and burn.  I should compete with Olympian and professional athletes and ambitious everyday women to win the grand prize which is…  The title of Woman Ninja Warrior Champion.  That’s it.  I don’t think there’s any prize money or even a trophy.  I mean, I’d at least want a trophy.

And competing also means going up against the blond Playboy Playmate who hired a female Ninja veteran to train her and went on to compete and did very well before wiping out in the second round, but who promised to be back for the 2010 contest.  And while she talked the camera of course lingered on her sexy poses and perfect body and hooters which were firmly encased in what must have been a super-strength sports bra.

I’d have to go up against that?

I can just hear the Japanese announcer’s take on me as I step up to the plate.  “And now we have the oldest competitor ever!  She’s years older than all our former oldest competitors!  Is that cellulite on her thighs?  Oh gross.  Can we get the camera back on the Playmate?”

Oh, yeah.  That would really make me feel good.

Luckily for me, there’s no notice of upcoming women’s auditions, which I could only attend if like the men’s they’re held in August somewhere in southern California.  If instead they’re held in Japan, there’s absolutely no way could I afford to go.

Thus I’m saved by my near poverty.  And by the fact that Layla most likely wouldn’t participate in anything so public, not when she has to stay out of the limelight due to her many demi-monde contacts and her shady reputation with the authorities.

On the other hand, I myself don’t have any kind of reputation ‘cause I’m pretty much invisible.  So maybe I should indeed just say “What the hell!” and go for it.

But like I said, only if the auditions are in the U.S.

stephen_king_and_ninjas
Stephen King Photo Credit: Tabitha King

 

I really identify with a few sentences in Stephen King’s Duma Key, which I’m plowing through with pleasure (it’s a doorstopper at 600 + pages).  They’re spoken by the narrator, who’s living in an isolated house on a beach while trying to heal his mind and body from a bloody, mutilating, very Stephen King-type accident.  (And King should know, the poor man, since he himself was the victim in a grim pedestrian/car accident.)

“I never doubted something was happening to me…Because of the quiet, mostly…  I saw no one and spoke to no one but myself.  The extraneous dropped away almost entirely, and when that happens, you begin to hear yourself clearly.  And clear communication between selves — the surface self and the deep self is what I mean — is the enemy of self-doubt.  It slays confusion.”

King’s description reminds me of the time I spent alone on the island beach in Panama and that I described in my Robinson Crusoe entry.   Living in peaceful solitude for a handful of days really did slay some confusions and self-doubts in me.   But pretty soon I’m gonna need another such escape.  The world gets too noisy and intrusive and tiring to take on all the time non-stop.

As for the Ninjas in my title…

While searching for a TV show to exercise by the other day I spotted my parkour instructors Matt and Jake.  That gave me a small thrill.  “Matt and Jake are on TV!” I cried out, but only my cat was around to hear me and he didn’t give a rat’s ass.  I knew last August that both of them had gone to L.A. to try out for some kind of ninja competition show and that they didn’t win because they came back disappointed.  I also knew what they must have gone through since I’d caught glimpses of the original Japanese version while channel surfing (give me a TV remote and I turn into an ADD-crazed thumb-pumping fiend).

Anyway, it turns out that there’s a cable channel called G4 that carries the series American Ninja Warrior, and for the last couple weeks it’s been showing the series in re-runs.  Seems that hundreds of muscle-bound contestants had turned up along with Matt and Jake to run some freaky tough obstacle courses.  This meant swinging from ropes and bars and running up  a steep concave slope and hopping along walls and other gravity-defying stunts, and all the while trying not to take humiliating tumbles into tanks of water.   The vast majority of the contestants didn’t even come close to finishing dry and unscathed, let alone making it to the top rounds.

But Matt and Jake made it.

There they were, sitting with the top twenty because that’s how damn good they are.  Sure, I can see how they really wanted to make the top ten so that they could get free tickets to Japan where they would compete in lots more grueling, punishing courses designed to slaughter even the best parkour athletes.  But why be disappointed?  Hell, if I had made the top twenty I would’ve been crowing with triumph.

By the way, there’s also a show called Women of Ninja Warrior. Their obstacle courses require only a little upper body strength and a whole lot of balance and speed.  I found myself wondering if I myself should try out.

I’d have to be crazy.

Half Year Review

on January 6, 2010 in Misc Comments Off

Becoming_Layla_Review

With the New Year now underway and my one-year plan almost at the halfway point, it’s time for a review of my progress.  I’ve already talked about the mental and emotional changes the plan has made in me.  Now here are reviews for my progress in the areas of physical prowess and knowledge.

First up:  Parkour

My nine classes last July/August/September got me into shape more quickly and painfully than any other activity I’ve ever attempted in my life, and the boot camp atmosphere taught me that I could push my endurance much farther than I thought possible.  The stunts – from jumps to cat hangs to swinging by my hands along high bars – revealed niggling fears lurking within me which I was unaware of and had to overcome.  I also discovered I’ve got almost zilch upper body strength.  Since the classes ended I’ve kept up the sit-ups, push-ups and squats we did in class.  On the downside…

I have not maintained the same high standard for strength and endurance.  Yes, I’m generally in better shape, but out of a combination of laziness and crappy weather (this is Denver’s coldest winter in years) I haven’t been running in the park two blocks away nor have I been practicing chin-ups on its kids’ Jungle Jim.  Over the Christmas holiday my brother helped me by showing what muscles I have to develop if I ever want to do chin-ups.  He also laughed when I referred to my shoulder muscles.  “You don’t have any shoulder muscles!” he crowed.

One interesting side-effect of the parkour training:  I’ve developed the odd habit of sizing up the exteriors and interiors of buildings around me to figure out how I could climb them should the need arise.  It’s almost a compulsion.  How would I climb up over those elevators?  Could I get up to that balcony?  Anyway, once my upper body is stronger, I’ll start climbing the wall at REI before making a fool of myself around buildings.

Billiards

My pool/billiards skills have languished because I haven’t practiced them outside the two classes I took.  Being gone over the holidays and again the bitter weather haven’t helped.  But I’ll be taking another class in a few weeks from The Viper, and I resolve to head to the Wynkoop for practice sessions.  I mean, how hard can that be?  Buy myself a beer and practice for an hour or two.  Maybe I’ve kind of blown off billiards because it’s entertaining and not arduous, and there’s a puritanical part of me that tends to put off pleasure when I could instead be working at something.  Yet one of the most important aspects of my Layla plan is to have FUN.  Which brings me to….

Paragliding and Skydiving

The weather is still too damned cold.  I’m hoping that maybe in March or at least April there’ll be a warm enough day to make paragliding possible.  As for skydiving – a bunch of friends have decided they want to try it with me, and since they’ll be gathering from a couple of different states, we’re all aiming for one week in June.  But I think I’ll go ahead and learn to jump on my own first, and in April or May if the weather permits.  Then I’ll really have fun when I go with them.  I am afraid, however, that I might fall in love with skydiving, and the trouble is the sport ain’t cheap.

Languages

Damn.  I mean it.  Like, double damn.  I’ve really been lazy.  I’ve been studying French or Arabic only on an irregular basis.  When I’m in any kind of class I tend to be much more disciplined, so what I’m going to have to do is create some kind of similar structure.  Hence I’ve decided to write short entries in this blog much more frequently in order to document my almost daily progress with my plan.   Sometimes I might just list what I’ve done in the last couple days much as if I’m writing in a diary, but that should do the trick.  For me, making my private behavior public can be a powerful motivator ’cause I embarrass easily.

Lock picking

See description of my language studying.  Resolve here and now to be super diligent at learning how to pick locks.

And now for some good news.

I can FINALLY get back into fencing and get to REI and take an upcoming four-part session of aerial dance (à  la Lara Croft’s bungee dancing scene in Tomb Raider) and other Layla stuff because I’m about to become the proud owner of a hot little used red Chevy Aveo.  No, it ain’t no fancy sports car, but it beats my old Nerdmobile, especially because it’s hot red and can run and doesn’t smoke like the engine is on fire when I drive it.

In summation…

Will I meet my one-year goal to become like Layla after the coming six months are up?  I believe so, although the last few weeks of my plan might be a real crunch time.  Will I be happy if I reach my goals?  You know, I’m not sure.

The truth is, I’m beginning to feel that my original goals weren’t as ambitious as they could have been, that I could have set the bar even higher.  Hell, now that I’ve started on this path I want to achieve and do much, much more than I’d first planned.  In the last couple days I’ve also seen how my becoming Layla is forcing a kind of liberation on me.  I hadn’t thought that I was in a rut, but that’s how deceptive ruts can be:   sometimes they get wide and deep when we’re not looking, until one day we wake up and realize we’ve settled into a place we just don’t want to be anymore.

Does that mean there’ll be a Becoming Layla Level II and maybe Level III?  And if so, what will such plans entail?

Stay tuned for further developments.  I’ve got some pondering to do.

More Brain Stuff

on January 4, 2010 in Misc Comments Off

Laylas_brain

In an earlier blog I talked about how I could feel my brain changing.  This is how I know.

Within just the last few weeks I’ve come to realize that I no longer look at the world in quite the same way.  I don’t mean the big world out there with its movers and shakers and history-making events, but the smaller, local world through which I move in my daily life.  My focus upon it and upon my life seems more firm, my gaze steady and head-on.  Where for so long I had a tendency to waffle on this personal issue or that – a tendency I really wasn’t aware of until it began to diminish – I now think more clearly, decide more quickly, fuss much less.  I really can tell that my brain is working more efficiently more often.

God knows the old gray matter in my head usually seemed to be a mess.

Only recently have I begun to understand how cluttered it could be with apprehensions and small fears and bad habits and hesitations.  And you know all those desires and treasured plans that so many of us give up on as the years go by?  They never really go away.  Mine have been crowding my subconscious and popping up into my awareness frequently enough to mess up my mind and distract me.

But then I became like Layla.

And the key word is became.

You see, there have been days in that past few months when I’ve felt overwhelmed for all the usual reasons.  You know what I mean – a crappy experience, an unpleasant encounter, or I’m just worn out and tired down to my bones.  On those days I could feel myself slipping into my customary, well-practiced reaction:  depression or discouragement or flustered confusion or frozen indecision.  Or all of the above.

Until I made one small change.

Starting sometime after I launched my Layla plan – maybe around last September – I found myself pausing just before I would slip down into the dregs and telling myself, “This is not what Layla would do.”

Okay, that sounds a hell of a lot like, “What would Jesus do?”  But he was divine and I am SO very human that I figure I’ll just stick with a really good human role model, even if it’s one I invented.  And these days I really do ask myself, “What would Layla do?”

I’ve already talked about how I’m not always sure where Layla ends and I begin.  But this much I know:  Layla is no wuss.  She doesn’t waffle, she doesn’t whine, and she sure as hell doesn’t put off what she really wants to do in her life.  She knows who she is and makes no apologies.  She knows what she wants and goes after it.  She’s had a bad day?  She gets over it.  She feels defeated?  Not for long, not when she can be plotting a fabulous comeback.

And as silly and trivial and oh so corny as all this sounds, this little trick really has done the trick for me.

That emotional and mental clutter I described?  By forcing myself to think and feel more like Layla I swept away some of it.  More and more these days my brain feels clearer, my perspective less blinkered, my heart lighter, my confidence stronger.  This might explain why my ability to concentrate has definitely improved, and my greater concentration is in turn sharpening the fuzzy edges around my thoughts and making them more coherent.  My mind also doesn’t go scampering off into la-la land or into a swamp of depression or doubt half as much as it used to.  And for this to be possible means a few of my brain’s neuronal connections or some chemicals in it or something have literally, physically changed.

Brain_dust

Better yet, it’s as if layers of dust that were clogging up my brain and heart are finally sifting away.  And in that dust’s place shines a clarity.  I feel as if I’ll soon be able to say, “Ah – there I am.  I thought I’d lost myself.  But now I’m found.”