When I glimpsed her through the window, I first thought she was a dumpster diver. She looked into the dumpster with a quizzical look on her face. Her right arm poked into the container, unable to reach whatever she saw there. She moved to the opposite side and used the disposal lift weld-on to boost herself shakily up. Her upper body leaned into the container. For a second, I was confident she’d tumble inside. I’ve seen it happen before.
She emerged upright, her right hand holding a strange lamp. It had no lampshade, and I could see that the black cord was cut and frayed. She looked down and wondered how she would hop down from her perch. She grabbed the frayed cord and let the lamp gently go inside the dumpster. She held the edge of the cold dumpster and stepped down, her grip firmly on the cord. She then pulled the lamp out of the container and held it, looking at it.
She turned it in her hands, scrutinizing the metal birds that adorned the column of the lamp. I think she was considering tossing it back inside.
I walked out on the landing, for some inexplicable reason hoping she’d keep the lamp.
She walked back toward the apartment building.
“Hey,” I hollered.
She looked up at me as I gestured to her.
She turned to walk toward me and walked over to the bottom of the stairs.
“That’s a nice lamp!”
“I thought so too. The birds are interesting,” she said, turning it and holding it up for me to see.
“If you’d like, I will re-wire it and paint it any color you’d like. It won’t cost much. Just a little bit of time.”
She smiled, surprised.
“That’s kind of you to offer. Hmmm. Blue. I’d like it to be blue.”
“Blue it is in, then,” I told her. “I can get a wiring set for a few dollars and fix it to look brand new. But, if you’re interested, I can do one better. I can show you how easy it is if you want me to. That way, you can make all the lamps you want to.”
“Oh! Really? That would be awesome!” I could see her imagining that she could do it.
“I’ll get the paint and the wiring assembly. Let me know when you want to give new life to your lamp.”
She smiled. “Deal. Thank you.”
Sometime soon, I will give someone the gift of making her found lamp come to life.
Over the last few days, I painted another 6″ X 24″ tile. I drilled holes in six places to make it easier to secure safely in my surprise location. I glued dozens of multi-colored glow-in-the-dark rocks to the front. On the back, I wrote a truth of mine in marker. The truth is very personal. Anyone who wants to know it will have to climb a considerable height to do so.
This makes me happy.
After work today, I climbed a tall tree before I lost my nerve. It’s the first tall one I’ve climbed since my surgery. It was tricky getting up there with a two-foot-long tile strung around my neck as I ascended. As far as I could tell, no one noticed me as I rose the vertical surface of the tree, carefully finding my foothold. After twenty feet, my reluctance vanished, and I forgot all about the possibility of falling. I’m just as likely to get killed by a rogue intestine or a plane falling out of the sky as I am climbing a tree. Besides, I laughed at the idea of my precarious fall being covered on the local news or the What’s Up, Fayetteville group. “Arts & Crafts Take Local Man’s Life” would work nicely. “Idiot Falls While Doing Performance Art” also serves its purpose.
As the limbs thinned out, I stood, watching the area below me. It was beautiful. I took the tile, ran steel wire through the open holes, and secured it from one primarily perpendicular limb. Not wanting to leave the view behind, I sat near the trunk and just felt the wind around me.
It was a stolen moment!
After a few minutes, I climbed down in one quick descent and stood back on the ground. I looked up at the pretty colored rocks and the brightly painted long tile. Yes, that would do nicely.
Where did I place the beautifully decorated tile? That’s the question, isn’t it? Take a moment and stare up into the slowly appearing upper branches of the trees around you. “Look up, not down” is not only a symbolic reminder to find yourself and answers looking directly into the world, but now also a practical guide to ever finding my hidden-in-plain-sight tilework.
Beauty is anywhere you find it, y’all. Even if you never find my tilework, look around and find the people and things that light you up. Give them attention and appreciation. From time to time, look up to behold the wonders that we forget to see. If you can do so, look at yourself in the mirror and remember that no matter who you are, someone loves you. Merry Xmas!
“You’re only given a little spark of madness, you mustn’t lose it.” — Robin WIlliams
As for my smaller lighter brooch I made and wore today, it was wildly successful. Sure, I had a couple of eyerolls and a bit of derision. 98% was effusively humorous. One person asked me to make one for her husband, who struggles to avoid losing lighters. I imagined him on the construction site with a lighter-brooch on his shirt, while his coworkers chortled at him. The woman at the gas station thought it was both practical and creative. The booth clerk at the flea market said, “Art is in the eye of the beholder. That’s fairly creative, X.”
Though I make these things to be creative and for self-amusement, I also accidentally discover human behavior lessons by doing so.
You’ll hear me say with regularity, “Anything can be made into a brooch if you’re audacious enough.” The fact that I have one made out of a pregnancy test should be proof enough of that.
“Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.” -Oscar Wilde
Rare is the person who directly expresses displeasure. Not so much about the specific idea or implementation; rather, the IDEA of such a thing. Those people are to be avoided. It belies a lack of enthusiasm for creativity and the autonomy of others to be ridiculous. People who can’t engage in random acts of ridiculousness aren’t part of my tribe, to put it mildly.
People who directly say, “It’s not that clever or not appealing” either do so because they are honest, which is truly a great thing, or they can’t help but to express negativity, which is its opposite. I’m carefree about people’s reactions but I do notice when someone isn’t engaging in a spirit of enthusiasm or encouragement. Life is bland enough without encouraging more of the same.
To everyone who thought it was clever, thank you. To those who didn’t, I can’t hit all home runs. But out of the hundreds of people I ran across today, my cigarette lighter brooch was the most singular thing I saw anyone wearing today. And that’s a home run each and every time – in part because it gives people the opportunity to be amused, annoyed, or to interact. I can’t be certain that NO ONE has ever made a working cigarette lighter brooch. But I am certain that the idea came to me from the mist of my own mind – and that no one I know has ever seen one. Until today. That makes me happy.
The best line I came up with today was a play on words: “Can I send you a Bic pic?”
“Creativity is contagious, pass it on.” – Albert Einstein
Over the last months, I made an ornate wooden box and painted it, adding some touches to it. I had plans to do something special with it for myself. Originally, I thought to add a light mounted on a spinning motor to cast shadows in the dark. Instead, today I walked over to one of the apartments and handed it to a husband and wife with a small child. I told them I’d made it and wanted their son to have it. The husband said, “Man, thank you! His birthday is coming up.” I told them I’d add his name to it but I wasn’t sure how to spell it, as not everyone has an elegant and simple name like X.
We were all happy and smiling. Me, for surprising someone with something I’d put a lot of love into. They, for being so surprised and touched that I wanted to give their son a gift out of the blue.
I’ve surprised them anonymously and otherwise since I’ve lived here. I admit that I failed and prejudged them based on one of the family members. They are good people. I hate that I did that.
It was a lemon moment. For once, I didn’t take a picture of the surprise box before I let it go. I will remember it for a long time, because it was one of the things I worked on a little bit at a time for quite a while, imagining all sorts of uses for it.
I think it found the perfect home, in the perfect moment.
I needed a win this afternoon.
P.S. I took the picture in front of an art display. I had a hell of an anxiety issue not long after, yesterday. Life overwhelmed me for a bit.
It’s such a beautiful October morning. It’s 73 now, which is hard to complain about. It’s overcast and the wind is blowing, eddying the leaves across the unkempt parking lot. It’s difficult to not be introspective standing on the landing observing it.
I’m working hard to remember all the things I have to be grateful for. I’ll return to work soon, which is both a blessing and a concern. My current tally for medical bills is 65-70K. It’s better to have the bills than to not have woken up after emergency surgery – there’s no doubt about that! It will wipe me out, of course. This not only reminds me that I wish we all had universal health care, but that any of us, at any time, can be subject to the caprice and whims of our bodies and the universe. I’m foolish because I’ve preached this lesson for years, to people who privately didn’t believe it. Everything is eventual.
My cat Güino is taking his job as a litter-scatterer very seriously, using his large paws to trap a surprising amount of litter. Previously, he stalked around on carpet. Wood vinyl floors start to look like a sandy beach with a nervous cat prowling around exploring. He’s getting old, but I’m considering teaching him to walk on a leash. I know, good luck, right? I have a neighbor who walks his cat on a leash like a dog. Either that or I’m high from all the cannabis wafting around here.
The other picture is a screenshot of some of the wi-fi networks. I have a “Stepbrothers” fan, as well as a fan of… hazy oblivion. “Porn Freak” comes up regularly, too. Noticeably absent is the drug dealer who always finds a place in most apartments. “Find Jesus” popped up twice, perhaps in response to, and as a reminder of, the others. I’m going to have to change mine again. I’ll pick something boring. 🙂
The third picture is of one of the two windowsills I completely redid to not only fix the horrid condition of the previous sills but also to expand and support a wider sill for plants. And now, fortuitously, a prowling cat. The backside of the apartment complex is indeed a wilderness. I’m glad I live on the second floor. You’d have to be crazy to live on the bottom level. I’ll have to be creative in the big front window. Previously, I built a privacy blocker for the bottom of the large front window, which is just a foot off the floor. I flipped it so that Güino can perch there if he wishes. I’ll have to get creative to recruit more birds to the feeder. My neighbor has a monopoly on all of them with the draw of a vast variety of plants and feeders. Güino is accustomed to up-close and personal views of plants, squirrels, and birds. I’m sure my ex-wife is going to get up and miss seeing him at the various vantage points of the old house. The squirrels, however, will probably enjoy the privacy.
The last picture is of Güino perching behind the desk and on the flipped window guard. It’s a contrast having a black and white tuxedo cat in comparison to all the colors here.
Because I gave away all my solar lanterns to an admirer earlier in the week, I tried to find creative ways to replace the solar lantern I’d made out of a converted and inverted blue glass hummingbird feeder.
Somehow, in my move, I still had two salsa jars given to me by the famous salsa maker Mike. I’d hoped that when he gifted me the unexpected salsa it would come with a lifetime refill option. Alas, that was not to be. Given that he allegedly is retiring in a couple of years, I see no reason for him NOT to have a side business making salsa (at cost, of course) for his legions of fans.
Using solar fairy lights kits I bought on Amazon (for about $5 each), I put both woefully empty salsa mason jars to use today. Though they are not finished, they provide beautiful light and color already. It seemed wasteful not to light them up tonight. I’ll take all of the colors I can get, especially in this place where beauty is a third-tier concern.
These kits, though inexpensive, are usually designed for larger containers. If anyone wants to make them for themselves, I can easily explain how to do it. (These also have several settings, which is surprising given how inexpensive they are.) Although I don’t remember using that many sets, it seems I’ve bought 34 kits from Amazon alone in the last couple of years. Somewhere out there, there’s a lot of light and color I’ve generated for the world.
I love that I made these out of something that held a delicious surprise.
Of course, now I’m craving salsa. A gallon a week ought to do it.
A gaggle of young runners made their way up Poplar toward the traffic light. I was outside near the crosswalk measuring for an address plaque I’m making for the apartment simplex. The last runner was struggling to catch up. “You won’t always be last,” I told him as he crossed Gregg. “I hate running!” He said. I laughed. “You won’t hate it the day you leave all of them behind you, though.” I gave him the thumbs up.
Around 8 last night, I heard weird popping noises. I didn’t think much of it. I was standing outside on the deck. Waking up this morning, I discovered that an unidentified idiot shot into the apartments by the trail on Poplar Street. Automatic gunfire, too. I can see the apartments and trail from the crosswalk outside the apartment. Y’all can scoff, but I wish I’d taken a walk last night. There’s no better adventure story than gunfire after sunset. Have you noticed that almost no nincompoops get up at 5 a.m., drink a cup of coffee, and start shooting? We need a better class of hooligans in Fayetteville! Also, bullets are expensive.
I bought four pieces of bacon in the work cafeteria this morning. (No, I’m not authorized to return to work yet. At least not PAID work.) It’s been a year since I had bacon. Bacon salt has been my salvation in the interim. When I got back to the apartment, I made lettuce and bacon wraps. I may have blacked out with pleasure for a moment.
I also left a surprise brooch for someone today. Nothing says, “Good morning!” as inexplicably as a surprise brooch. Today, I’m wearing a spectacular fleur-de-lis brooch that I found at Peace At Home. I’d not thought much about the symbol until recently. Like so many symbols, it’s an ancient one. When I chose the name “X,” I thought I was simplifying things. Lord, the number of things “X” can signify is astonishing, even though it is just a single letter. It’s nice having a name that looks the same regardless of direction.
Seeing someone’s ASL post this morning made me realize that people around me didn’t know I was saying “Please” a lot of the time. It may look like I’m rubbing my heart. I learned it from a deaf man who attempted to work at Cargill years ago. “Please” and “Thank you” are both great visuals, even in normal conversation – not that I’m sure what that is. People running away from me with their palms clamped firmly over their ears give me the wrong impression.
I finished the address plaque for the apartments. I used reflective numbers. And I couldn’t quite bring myself to NOT put a little bling and beauty on there in the form of a dragonfly. I also installed a nice solar light above it, either to illuminate the reflective numbers I chose – or so that the idiots shooting automatic weapons will have something other than my ass to aim at if they find themselves with an oversupply of bullets.
Other: * While chatting with my case manager, I did offer to re-write my surgical report. It needs a plot twist and a little bit of pizzazz. And/or humor and brevity: “Patient failed to notice my approach as I used a #11 blade to gut him. We found a herniation near the appendix but this box of Cracker Jacks did not have a surprise.” * A random internet person read my post about Tammy’s weight loss: “You have no idea how seeing you and your friend have motivated me. I think I have your incremental idea in my head now. I’ve already lost ten lbs, just by deciding to do a few small things each day. Such as choosing differently, doing exercises every hour while at work, and keeping my mouth shut as much as I can. You’re right. Food can’t get in there if it isn’t open!” * Another person wrote me and asked me if this quote is mine: “Saying you aren’t photogenic is kinda like saying you’re better looking than all available evidence.” No, but I wish I had. It’s pithy and logical. * A Bit Of Daily Motivation: “Have you stopped to think that somewhere there’s a tree growing that might one day become your coffin?” *
This post is personal. Please forgive me if my tone is harsh; it’s not my intention. Like I always do, I write vaguely at times, use a word or adopt a tone carelessly. Read this with the idea that you’re getting to know me better. If you read it looking for errors or a fight, you’ll of course find motive.
I woke up this morning to find myself weighing 146.9 lbs. I was shocked. I knew my day yesterday had been intense. I walked over 40,000 steps and managed to do 2,500 pushups. Not to mention an insane amount of physical work during the day, too. I’ve always imagined 165-168 as the control setpoint, with 170ish as the upper limit.
I am a little amused that anyone would lecture me by saying, “You’ve lost too much weight.” From my perspective, it is a great compliment. Losing 35% of who you were makes for interesting stories.
I’m sorry you don’t see my weight as normal. That’s a problem.
Not for me. You. 🙂
My cousin is concerned, and rightly so, because she recognizes how easy it is to let a goal turn to obsessive madness. I’m not anorexic or suffering from an eating disorder. There are days when I burn as many calories as an athlete. Work alone is so intensely physical that I look back over the last 16 years and wonder how I managed to be obese so many times. My cousin has earned the right to be the chiding voice in my ear. Her voice is in my head, reminding me to eat a wider variety and more calorie-rich foods in the process.
It was in part due to my cousin that I started doing pushups on June 1st. If you’d told me that I’d do 2,500 in a day 13 weeks later, I would have said, “You’re crazy!” But I did learn an invaluable lesson: there is no upper limit to how many I can do. At the outset, I had to be careful of my right shoulder. Work is intense and taxing. The pushups have largely eliminated the pain. I’m going to do my best to limit myself to 500 a day for a while. Yesterday will be in my head for years, though, because I surprised myself. That can’t be taken away from me when my body finally gets old and surrenders.
In October of last year, I had an epiphany. I saw myself as thin. Explaining the certainty of it doesn’t translate well when I talk about it. While my goal shifted increasingly downward as my vision became a reality, I didn’t plan on going past 170 in my wildest fantasy. While other parts of my life exploded, whatever happened to my head in October didn’t fade. As the months passed, I was amused that people attributed my success to willpower. It wasn’t that. It was clarity and stubbornness. Looking down at the scale and seeing “155” is a fantastic feeling. 146.9 is a bit disconcerting. I’m working on that without succumbing to many bad eating choices: Doritos, thick pizza, cheese, 54 pieces of chocolate, that sort of thing. I eat “unhealthy” food at times. (I hate labeling food as healthy or unhealthy; it’s volume and frequency that are the culprits.)
There are a couple of precursors to my “moment.” In February of last year, I started the process of losing weight, in part due to Covid. Stress took its toll, and I regained most of the weight I lost. Not all of it, thank god. At some point, I replaced the relatively new stove in the house with a bigger, better one to be able to more easily cook batches of healthy food. That drive to finally kick the fat bucket was brewing inside me. I know that reeks of an excuse. In October, my brother Mike died. Thereafter, I thought I had Covid and felt like I was dying. That morning is when the light bulb went off with an explosion in my head.
I often think about what would have happened to me had I not lost the weight. Would I have experienced a health issue? Or died? I know that losing weight during the long stretch of the Covid run saved my bacon on countless days. It let me stop feeling my knees hurt and my back. The converse of that is whether or not the rest of my life would have blown up had I stayed obese. It’s a real question for me. How much did my massive weight loss and attitude change have to do with my marriage imploding? There’s no question that staying so fat was going to cost me a part of my mobility – and perhaps forever. Being so overweight takes away a bit of so many corners of a person’s life. It’s because we gain incrementally and in ways we don’t notice. From there, we realize, “I’m fat. Oh my god.” We choose the hard that we’ve learned rather than embracing the hard of making positive choices.
For anyone who hasn’t experienced it, the feeling of eating healthy and making endless good choices is sublime. It’s a self-reinforcing mandate. This is true for any personal goal.
Today was the lowest weight I’ve hit. I got close Monday night after foolishly running five miles. Upon returning, I had to drink a gallon of water and then attempt to sleep. I think I dreamed about a running river, and that made me nervous for reasons that should be obvious.
For weeks, I’ve been in the low 150s. This week has been a barrage of work, running, walking, and pushups.
I get a lot of compliments. Questions. And some criticism. Some people are waiting for me to balloon back up. When I started, I repeatedly objected with, “Let’s see in a year.” The year is coming fast upon me in October.
One morning, the wife of a friend passed me in the hallway. “You look amazing, X!” We both laughed. Yesterday, someone said, “If you lose any more, you’ll dry up and blow away. You look great.” She lost a lot of weight herself for health reasons not too long ago. There’s rarely a day that passes where someone doesn’t notice that I’m thin. Today, a security guard who resembles me was standing by the elevator and saw that it was ME standing there. He thought I was someone he didn’t know. “You need to tell me your secret and how to do it.” He patted his stomach. “I’ll call you,” he said. He’s going to be disappointed when I tell him the big secret is to choose healthier food and to listen to what his body actually needs. “Keep your mouth closed” is a terrible name for a diet book.
On a recent morning, someone asked me in all seriousness, “How did you do it? You’re not sick, are you? Or did you have the surgery for weight?” I told her that it was simply eating well and that I didn’t have a secret. I told her about my friend Tammy, who managed to do what I did and that she was also about my age- and that if she could, I had nothing except excuses. I indeed started doing pushups on June 1st. But I had already hit 150 by the time I started.
“Just don’t lose any more weight, X.” My coworker meant it in kindness.
I have a couple of people in my life who resent that I lost the weight. It’s a bit bizarre to me, even now. I made it clear when I started that I was a bystander to my transformation. While I did adopt a diet that I experimented with, a big part of what happened was as if it happened to someone else while I observed it. All I can is that obsessively following a system yields results.
I’ve tried to avoid being too evangelical about weight loss. Some people do have medical issues that make it impossible or difficult. For those who’ve been less than enthusiastic about what I’ve done, I attribute it to that odd human proclivity toward pettiness. Watching someone do it renders many objections that it is difficult or impossible to be completely moot. With enough motivation to move from ‘wanting to’ toward ‘making it a reality,’ most people can do it. Anyone who decides that it is a ‘must’ will find a way. Or try. I remember a cartoon from years ago. A man was sitting on the pavement, having stopped halfway through the race. He said, “It’s too much. I can’t run 26 miles.” The next panel showed a man with prosthetic legs racing past. The people with the “sitting on the pavement” mentality often don’t appreciate it when people go racing by, ignoring objections. I used to find myself being that type of person, too.
It’s tough to be around someone who steps into a new motivation. Though I never intended my weight loss to be an insult to anyone else, it did happen. This sort of journey inevitably changes a person. A success in one arena drives them into others. Of course, the person is going to change. Sometimes fundamentally, especially as behaviors become habits and a new way of life. A common complaint in relationships is “You’ve changed.” A trite but true rebuttal to that is, “And you haven’t.” We’re not meant to be static. If you’re in a relationship and one of you will transform themselves, my word of advice is to have frank conversations about it – and go to a counselor if you see that it’s becoming a wedge.
One critic insisted that people were constantly saying how ill I looked. That I am too skinny. Relentlessly adamant. They quoted the anonymous “they” to me. When I’m ready to hire a consultant about my choices, I’ll let them know immediately. IF such people care for me, they will find a way to communicate it to me. Since they didn’t, I have to attribute what ‘they’ allegedly said to a polite conversation with my critics. There’s no crime in honestly talking to someone about their weight if you care about them. The bigger sin is not to do so.
So, of course, despite having the tools to show otherwise, I visited a nutritionist. She said, “Oh baloney!” She agreed that some of it is attributable to the fact that I was obese for so many years and that the change was abrupt and substantial. She looked at my pictures at 252 and 232 and then as I am now. “You’re great, X. If you do add muscle, your BMI will seem off. But it won’t mean you’ve become unhealthy. You have to balance your body against more than a simple BMI. If someone still incorrectly tells you that you are underweight, send them to me. I’d be shocked if they don’t realize how overweight most people tend to be now.”
If I continue to be as active as I am now, muscle mass will increase, resulting in a higher weight without the associated fat content. I chose 168 as my set point. My job is very physical, and I’ve kept my leisure time activity rate higher than average, too, without going to a gym. I’ve channeled my anxiety into exercise. As the counselor I saw told me, short-term measures are warranted; if they become long-term measures, you’ll have to figure out that, too.
Most of us don’t have a realistic idea of how much we should weigh, nor how many calories we should eat on an average day. I look back at my pictures and shake my head. I missed out on a lot by being so overweight. I can’t get that time back, so it’s on to the next goal of ensuring my habits remain permanent – without risking developing a food issue. They are rare in men who are 54 years old. Food is too damn good and calls me by name like everyone else.
The majority of people around me don’t think, “Ugh, he’s TOO thin and looks terrible.” They think, “X looks normal.” So, if you’re in the minority who feel like I’m too thin, get online or talk to your doctor.
Or get a hobby.
The consensus is overwhelming: I’m at a normal weight, with a buffer of loss and gain comfortably on both sides.
This is how I’m supposed to look, so get over it and be enthusiastic for anyone who can do it. If you love me, of course, you should step in and tell me I’ve got my head up my ass if I continue to lose weight.
To be clear, I’m not talking about my face; whether that’s normal is up for the monkeys to decide.
My weight, though? I’m good. It’s not just my body saying so. It’s science.
In time, people will see this as the new normal. It looks normal, but it feels fantastic to be able to move with agility, walk for miles, do pushups, and run even if I stupidly decide to do so.
There’s always the danger of forgetting the lessons I learned.
One of those lessons is to stop letting critical people get inside my head. They can make fun of my brooches all they want. Just not my weight.
And if I get off track or fail, I proved to myself that my objections and excuses about why I couldn’t do it were all dumb. And that I could do it again. We all fail until we don’t.
No matter who you are, you can do something today. That’s enough, no matter how small. Tomorrow, a little more. The law of increments seldom disappoints.
If you see someone finally get past their excuses? Take the time to applaud. We need it. We’ll return the favor when you succeed.
PS For my cousin: I don’t plan to stay quite this thin. I love you. Please keep an eye on me, though.
I made my first bottle of Eau de toilette. Goodness gracious, the missteps I could recount about that! I smell like the red district in New York City. It was a failure. But one I’ll do again. And again. I learned many lessons: if you’re diligent, there’s no reason you can’t make a scent precisely to your heart’s desire. Also, most people might not realize how many unique scents there are, both exotic and mundane. I’m not sure what I made. I’ll let you know tomorrow, depending on whether the building is evacuated.
P.S. Today was the perfect day to do 2,000 pushups. 🙂 Tomorrow, I’ll settle for less than a thousand and hope that no one calls me out for “being lazy.”