Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Behave as Your Dream

You start a journey to lose weight and you end up in the business of knowing yourself.  So many analogies in life are concentrated in the simple task of physical training that you can’t help but waking up.

Our language is infected with common places like “just be yourself” and you immediately agree with your counterpart in the other side of the table.  But the reality takes the “just” part off of that sentence. 

Been yourself, confronting what you have, and most importantly what you don’t, is a titanic task.  It’s an endeavor we can postpone forever with clothes, entertaining and postures of self-confidence, but one that is going to catch us the minute we rest our head in bed.

Physical exercise exposes you to objective, measurable and indisputable limits.  Then it probes than breaking those limits are not enough since you need to be able to come tomorrow and do the same.  It makes you quit, it makes you try again, it makes you try different things.  Then you go to the corner of pain, frustration and good arguments for giving up.  But the call is in your head and sooner or later you are back in the ring.

What we may be missing is the value of frustration.  If we are not getting results, or we are getting a bad deal between effort and results, is because we are forcing our body to get ahead of our character.  You can’t have the body of a winner with the attitude of a looser.  You can’t look like a passionate person while nothing really ignites your ambition, makes you dream or moves you to tears.  You can’t look like a god while behaving like a worm.   

You don’t pursuit a healthy body to artificially and sporadically show it off in the beach, and answer to the question “have you been working out?” with a hypocrite “some”.   You get that body because it’s an unavoidable reflection of what you perceive as worthy.  You got there because your perception of beauty and your constant enjoyment of open spaces made it impossible to accumulate more fat than necessary, because you are not eating to distract yourself from a job you hate, because you increased the intensity of your workout very gradually, always feeling it as an experience not as a routine.

After 10 years of writing down every little thing I ate I started to find patterns.  I get in shape when I’m working in something I love or just creating.  I lost shape when I fulfill social compromises; people which company I no longer enjoy but keep gravitating around.  I get in shape when I run little but regularly.  I lost shape when I work out fiercely but irregularly.  “Starvation mode” is a myth: when your body needs something, it asks for it.  Diet should never include hunger and exercise should never be painful.  You are not doing this because you “hate” how you look, but because you start behaving with dignity.

I covered the wall in front of my bed with portraits of people I admire: physicist, conquerors, artist, entrepreneurs, writes, actors, philosophers… My mantra is this: If I walk into a bar and see all these guys sitting at a table, I want to behave as one who can pull off a chair and have a beer with them.    

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Bless of Stupidity

For a long time I thought that stupidity was the enemy.  All the crisis in the world, the credit card household finances, the marketing victims, the cult sheep… all that looked like the result of not enough thinking, not enough data, and the lack of scientific method.

But then again, who is going to buy municipal bonds? Who is going to have children for their own, even with all the liabilities associated and the cost of education? Who is going to vote? Who is going to drive that brand new car out of the dealership so I can buy it for 20% less some months down the road?

I’ve been served for stupidity as much as from the smartest products of humankind. If not for stupidity nobody would take care of my childhood without collateral.  Without stupidity I wouldn’t have free collage education in my country to get pay better in another one that doesn’t tax its business so heavily (to pay for free college education). Without stupidity I wouldn’t enjoy the products of so many endeavors that operate with pitiful margins or loss, nor would I have the advantage of technologies subsidized for overinflated stock prices.   And let’s face it, without stupidity more than 80% of IT professionals wouldn’t have absolutely anything to do.

We complain about reality TV, ethnic wars, budget deficits and congressional lockdowns; but after getting over the first rush of indignation, we realize what really is in front of us: a vast ocean of opportunities. Stupidity is better than crude oil: we never run out of it.  You don’t need to cheat or lie, not even mislead. People will defend their own fallacies with their lives and force bills into your pockets.

But beyond the parody and the sarcasm, who is to deny that love can’t be smart? The unselfish service to another human is the key for survival and one of our strongest evolutionary advantages.  So if we get too smart we face extinction.

This paradox seems to be a matter of semantics. When we talk about smarts what we really mean is “individual” smarts. The concept of a group that is collectively smart is not that obvious. By been individually stupid and collectively smart, we guarantee the survival of the species above any particular individual, just as our cells die anonymously for the wellbeing of the whole body.

Conscience is the misleading factor in this equation.  Because we are individually (not collectively) conscience, everything we perceive is absurd.  Of course, it's individually absurd, but superb in the aggregate. Since we don’t have the capacity to enjoy as a group, we suffer as singularities, just as a clumsy spermatozoid bouncing against a sterile wall who finds no consolation in the idea that “one of us will make it”. But he keeps trying because he has no ideas; we do. So we stop, we think and by thinking we quit trying, and by quit trying we kill the whole system.

Stupidity seems to be necessary for the survival of our species. A system composed of selfish smart individuals will cancel itself by logic. Stop complaining about the irrational population and bless them as the key element of our long term resilience.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Match Yourself

I haven’t been inactive since my return to Florida. The stimulating trip I took helped me to sense the non-sense of the life I was living. The world is full of people that give up and disguise its inertia as prudence. It’s nothing but cowardice.

Some visits to my family got me extra pounds, so the next step was to lose weight. 

Every time I need to wrestle with my own body I find a hall of reality that I can’t fool. My body will react to effective measures, nothing else. Good intentions and dreams have not the slightest effect on my waist line. But long term results are the product of self-knowledge more than bare effort. 

From many years now I have been trying to find my formula to control weight. Since I was in my twenties I ran into the error of explosive training and demoralizing crashing. Then I tried long tern discipline, just to crash in several episodes instead of one. 

My error was seeing my body like a separate project of my existence. A lazy mind can’t wear a strong body. You can’t have a body that doesn't match your mentality for too long, the same way you can’t wear that Halloween custom every day to the office. 

First thing, my goal can’t be being attractive (external reward) but being worthy (internal stimulus).  I love the image of that old man that wears a tie even when retired. He’s not trying to follow anybody’s dressing code but his own. If you shower and shave just when there is somebody watching, then you are really a beggar in disguise. The ONLY person who cares is watching all the time, yourself. 

Once you understand that simple fact is when discipline starts to boil in your hart. 

Romans had a word for this: “Dignitas”. It’s the root of the modern “dignity” but for Romans it was deeply personal. Having “dignitas” was to behave, look and match the way that person conceived a worthy life. When you find your “dignitas”, the rest of your physical manifestations follow, including your body. 

That clears the path between the mind and the body, but still you need to go through the technicalities of known yourself. Your body is unique and there is a distinctive way in which it reacts to different combinations of nutrients, tasks and circumstances. At some point you need to stop listening to diet experts and taking note of those things that have a real and measurable effect on your system. You will be surprise who far you may be from the statistic average. 

The good news (great news in deed) is that controlling your body is not a challenge of will but one of self-knowledge. I got rid of sixteen pounds with a mild cardio workout of 40 minutes every other day and I feel better than when I was a teenager. 

 I’m not doing this to impress anybody but the guy in the mirror.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Road Trip Benefits

I want to wrap up the experience of the last road trip in a practical way.  What is in for you?

First, your job may have you trap in a vicious cycle.  The cycle takes your time and gives you money.  With that money you buy things that consume the rest of your time and, sometimes, demand even more money.   A road trip not only cuts the cycle, but also shows you that:
  • The world is big.
  • There is thousands of ways to make money, some of them more profitable and less stressful than the path you have chosen.
  • People are really happy with very little IF their social capital is big enough.
  • None of the adversities you have encounter compares with the adversities of the people that made the places you will see.
  • You will feel the obligation to match the beauty and the majesty of the landscape.
  • You will fall in love again… several times.
  • You’ll feel the urge of handwriting.
  • You lost weight, especially in cold weather.
  • For some reason you never get sick.
  • You’ll not want to be anybody else on Earth.
  • You feel (not just understand) that life can be lived in many ways other than the half dozen you ever considered. 
  • You realize how useless pictures are to grasp experience.   
  • You feel the distance.
  • You feel the silence.
  • You feel time.
Feeling is the missed piece of this Google generation.  It’s not enough to see the numbers and say wow!

I circled the whole country and the distance I covered was less than the one I used to drive from home to the office in one year.  So I was already covering the distance, but with a boring path.

Ok, yes, I’m single.  But having a family makes the trip even more enduring.   Remember this:  a relationship is a collection of common experiences.  So don’t use your family as a supporting pretext for inaction, make it a point in behalf of the action.

If you are happy, ignore me.  You are there.  But most of the people I have met know deep inside that there is something else in life.  They are just afraid to lose the little piece of bread they have if they go for the oven.  If you are in that state I have good news for your heart and bad news for your guts: you are wrong.  Yes, life is a miracle, one that is worth to be repeated and propagated.

You know that you are really happy when you don't want to have sex, you want to impregnate directly.  It’s an urge for giving.  Is this assurance that the source of your happiness can never be exhausted because it falls all over like rain.

Cities are not another choice of living.  They are the bad choice.  They generate humans alienated of their own nature, cynic as Scrooge, sarcastic as teenagers, indifferent as portraits, and bitter as bus drivers. 

We can confidently demolish all the existing cities and start from scratch.  There is so much arid space that it’s unnecessary to knock down a single tree.  A healthy city must expose the inhabitants to light, water, plants and animals.   Public transportation should not be crowded by losers.  Affordable facilities should be the reward for good character, not lame performance.

So, if you suffer from chronic depression, you may be mirroring the mood of the city.   You can’t pretend health with an unhealthy baseline.

But you don’t need to wait for the creation of the perfect town.  You can give yourself a good dose of city at some point of your life and then move to a more natural environment.  That requires a disposition for change that is rare in city rats.  Road trips are just a mild exercise to build that disposition; to remind you over and over again that your world is not THE world.

You don’t have to wait until 65 to retire.  You can retire from your past life and start a new one every 7 years or so.  Don’t commit the sin of getting stuck in the same routine.  That would be like living in Paris and having lunch every day in McDonalds.  Don’t pass on the stimulating resources of life.


Friday, December 7, 2012

What Can A Mountain Do For You?

I’m back to the starting point; back in South Florida, where everything started.

12871 miles and 583.49 gallons of gas later, I’m here to evaluate the products of my journey.

The first think that happens to you after a long trip like this is that you can’t see home the same way.  This place looks different.  It hasn’t change much, it was me who changed.

After traveling through the best and the worst of US, I have to admit that Pompano Beach is ghetto.  I walk with ease here just because I come from Central America, but for USA standards, South Florida is not one of the best places.

I saw that they are making pathetic robberies like grabbing your cell phone and running away.  That’s revolting.  It’s even better to have a gang of Colombians storming a bank with high caliber weapons.  For that you need to have two things: be organized and have ambition.  These criminals are just picking the wrong venue.  With two more ounces of brain they may get into politics and rob in an order of magnitude of thousands of times more, all while attending social events and been applauded in the red carpet.  But that you get with courage and organization.  The kid that runs frenetically with that purse will never get there because he is already thinking too small.

And you may tell me: well, the damage is small too.  No, it’s not.  A raving dog can be spot, vaccinated, trained, caged or ultimately killed.  Small bugs instead are everywhere and infest the whole place beyond repair.  If the mayor of Evergreen City makes headlines because he was caught cutting red tape for his fellow contractors, does that keep you from buying a house in there?  But if the windshields of the cars are constantly crashed by bandits looking to steal CDs in your neighborhood, can you sleep well?

The face value of the damage is not the only variable in the equation.   Big conglomerates of anything can be identified, controlled or eliminated; while small amounts spread as viruses and demand many times more resources in order to be controlled and eradicated.  The big fish can be articulated within the system and even contribute for a while.  The virus has nothing but the small goal of survive.

If you change the goals of a brave criminal, you get a brave entrepreneur.  That’s easier and more rewarding than trying to infuse ambition in a coward.  Even when the coward changes his ways, he lacks the drive to accomplish anything, no matter how noble the goal.

And that’s what mountains will do for you.  They will call the giant within.  They will filter the petty calculation that ties you to a salary.   This city is full of sickness: an endemic testosterone deficit.  Too many men giving too much and trembling for too little: “Yes sir, no sir…” what kind of man is that?  You give that level of submission on battle, no at the office.  If you are right, you are right and bleed all the way through.  If the corporation can’t share your principles you make the move; you convince others of your principles.  If still they don’t get it, go where others bright like you, or bright for your own. 

Oh, morality; you will find those questions in the road.  Just be sure to make it big. Don’t be like the petty teen that runs with the lady’s purse.  It’s never wrong when you win, just after you die and your enemies tell the story. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Saint Augustine - The Joy of Created History

I’m finally back in Florida, but instead of driving all the way south I decided to stay a couple of days in Saint Augustine.  I visited this town a couple of years ago, so I was not expecting to be impress, but I was.  The place is even better, or maybe I’m carrying with me a new standard that makes me appreciate it that way.  The weather was the one you would expect in paradise.  Those narrow streets with colorful shops makes you feel like in a doll house.  And the dolls were walking around too.

Now, I don’t fall for the historic claims of the city.  Yes, it’s the oldest continuously populated settlement in the US from the time it was founded, but that doesn’t implies that you are going to find anything that old.  I mean, the place was burn to the ground by pirates… twice.  So when they point out things like “the oldest school in the country” what they really mean is the place where the oldest school has been rebuilt over and over again. 

But that’s ok.  This town had no the intention to be a touristic attraction when it was created and none of the buildings would survive anyway.  The last time I came, they were holding one single store house with the original material and the place was clearly collapsing.  This time I saw construction workers putting it together again and replacing 80% of the material.  After all, history is our present fantasy of the past.

In “Castillo de San Marcos”, a really impressive fortress, they have actors in Spaniard uniforms making tours and demos on how the artillery was used.  They try to mimic Spanish, but you can’t understand a single world even if that is your first language.  It’s a nice caricature, but Spain tourists roll their eyes in indignation.

The scripts are written for kids and they try to portrait pirates as something very Disney and funny, no as the scum they really was.   Every time I visit a city surrounded by walls I just try to imagine the nightmare of having to go to bed without knowing if in the middle of the night a group of bandits will come alongside, stole your goods, kill your children, rape your wife and burn your house.  Certainly, lawyers are a drag, but I prefer that over the steel law that even now rules other countries.  I just think that by ignoring misery in the past we lost the opportunity to stimulate gratitude for the present.

If you have a chance to visit this fortress you will never regret it.  The second level has walls at the level of the hip, so it’s a matter of time for an idiot to fall and make the city ruin the architecture with plastic panels or any measure like that. So go now that it’s pristine.

Ok, but the fact that history is used to put up the show doesn’t diminish my experience, the same way that knowing the real name of the actors doesn’t ruin a movie.  The place glows at night, especially now with all the Christmas lights and the horses making rides in shiny carriages.  The alleys are so lovely that people in trolleys practically high-five those sitting in the bars along the street.  The beauty in architecture of the surrounding neighborhoods makes it worthy to walk every block from corner to corner.   

There is no place for “clubbing” and that’s a good thing because the atmosphere is more for dinning, walking and having drinks with live music.  I found a couple of lovely red-neck places where I spent the nights.  People always look at me strange when I get in, first when they notice my accent and second when I order vodka instead of beer.  But I always end up shaking hands and sharing interesting conversations.  I prefer to target old people, first because I always learn something and second because I don’t have to compete with annoying smart phones.  The last night I had a conversation with a 70 years old woman that lived a block away from the bar.  She seemed to be in the ideal retirement: a couple of hours from the house of her daughter, living in a nice safe neighborhood and making new friends every day.  The muscles in her face seemed to default smiling, even when relaxed.

The hostel I used was ok, but I got a rash for bedbugs.  This thing of hostels has its charm, but after a while you can grow tired of the drawbacks.  It’s lovely to wake up surrounded by twenty years old European girls in pink t-shirts, but you may also get a group of snoring bikers.

The good thing is that our minds work like history:  over time I’ll start to forget the struggle and I’ll gradually romanticize the beautiful details.  At the end we end up with memories of very little factual value but huge entertainment weight.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Last Tuesday I arrived to Savannah, Georgia.  You never hear about this place but I was curious to step down since one of the road trip books I checked was recommending it as the most beautiful city in the US.  The editor was quoting a European source and once I drove in I understood immediately why.  Savannah is old, but not artificially old as other tourist destinations.  The neighborhoods are authentically in disarray since the 18th century.  But the level of disarray is just enough to make the view romantic.  There are people having real lives into those two store Victorian homes with balconies cover by vines. 

The hotel I picked looked as an abandoned house.  I got closer, looking for the “no trespassing” sign and opened a thin wood door leaf.  In the other side there was an office in place of the original living room.   A shy guy with shifting personality told me to come back at office hours (twenty minutes later).  I wanted to see that house from inside, so I came back and he showed me upstairs.  Inside it looks like another place, perfectly well maintained and with this characteristic smell of old wood that transports you on time.  All the secretive doors and cabinets were there.  There was a cover fireplace, high closets embedded into the walls and a door to a creepy dark attic.  I loved it.  I was the only one asking for a room that night, so the whole place was mine.

The rooms are separated by glass windows and just darkness can be seen in the other side.  The rooms are secured with big metallic keys, so heavy that they can be used as weapons.  You need to close two windows before going to the restroom, one of them facing an old white bathtub.  To complement all this, a dark fluffy cat was walking through the cornices and glazing inside now and then.

I stood there two nights but unfortunately I didn’t see any old lady holding a candle or something like that.  All the creepiness belonged to this world.

The downtown itself is full of small impractical parks, some of them with the remains of political figures underground.  It was very usual to fertilize public parks with the flesh of municipal celebrities.  Again, the disarray is just enough to make the place interesting.  The trees where people were hanged are still there to tell the story; but those killed by law and no for the law were left to rot for several days and then tossed away.  That was the fate of an Irish immigrant woman.  Her sentence was postponed eight months to allow her to deliver a baby.  She was with child when she assassinated her master by drowning.

I also visited the Bonaventure cemetery, and it’s lovely.  Crypts dated at the mid 18th century completely abandoned, eroded and gray, with terrifying virgins rolling their eyes to the heavens covered by a thick layer of smog.  A paradise for photographers.

But Savannah is more than an American Transylvania.  The River Side offers a mile of bars, restaurants and candy shops in front of a rocky street that nevertheless is open for regular traffic, but you have to be carefully in this speed reducer road.   The brick buildings follow the standard of old looking alleys, and intentionally unattended painting.

I loved the place.  Definitely I plan to come back, maybe after passing away.  Ghosts must have such fun scaring people at night and spying showers in the morning.