Category Archives: Social Rules

Michael K. Williams aka Omar

Michael K. Williams was more than just his character Omar Little. That’s how legacy works, though. We become filtered by perception. People are often reduced to singular acts or traits. Michael didn’t suffer the fate of being reduced, though; Omar was larger than life.

If we’re lucky enough, we find a role like Omar Little, something which defines us and gives us a platform to flourish.

“The Wire” was a slow-burning show, one which I loved when it aired. Omar fascinated me, in part because he didn’t adapt to please, and his code put his feet in motion. I loved the show more when I discovered that his killer, a young boy, and sociopath, had previously been in an episode mimicking Omar and saying he wanted to be “the next Omar.” Knowing that many of the characters on the show were based on real people gave the plot a little more kick.

Michael Williams was initially a dancer, of all things.

His scar, one earned in a horrific birthday fight when he was 25, gave him an unintended sinister look that allowed him to blossom as an actor, a career he’d never imagined. An unexpected horror surprised him with his shot in life. Michael Williams had other significant roles; it’s Omar that I picture in my head.

The above picture is one I made a couple of years ago. It’s a 16X20 custom canvas that I have in my weird sink window. I attempted to pack in meaningful references to movies, books, and icons that inspired me. I chose a few “musts,” and the rest I picked at random from a list of about 50.

Omar is in the bottom right-hand corner.

Michael died when he was 54, the same age as me. He’d struggled with drug use for years.

There are a lot of Omars walking the streets. This fact made “The Wire” such an incredible show.

There was only one Michael Williams, and his fly feet will no longer grace the Earth.

“A man gotta have a code,” Omar taught us.

I hope yours serves you well.

Love, X

Life Is One Big Notecard

I had another writer’s block moment. NOT because I ever have writer’s block. It’s just one of those themes people ask about: “Can you write about any moment?” Yes. “Do you ever run out of ideas?” No. “Could you maybe slow down?” No. 🙂 All the ways I share can be muted, scrolled past, or avoided. And if I’m standing there talking to you, arrange to have another friend sneak up behind me and put a black bag over my head – and then run and duck into a closet.

Also, I’ve discovered that I could DIE at any random moment. While I watched for C19, my own bowels plotted an invisible revolt. I take that personally! How are y’all going to react to the absence of these millions of words that I spew?

I’m surprised everyone isn’t infected with the urge to cement small moments into history.

Life is one big notecard.

You are not a perfectionist; it’s most likely you’re afraid of how your truth will be received. That is out of your control. Let go.

There’s not enough time to experience all the things that happen to us. In part, because we live them much more in our heads than we do out in the physical world. It’s the bureaucracy of living, the hum and buzz of devices, the impossibility of doing something we love because we have only a certain number of awake minutes in a day. No matter what conversations you have, the activities you do, or the people you interact with, choosing or not choosing by definition robs you of other conversations, people, and fulfilling yourself with the things you love. I hesitate to call it a zero-sum scenario; it’s close.

We run behind on everything – including our ability to ruminate on what we’ve done, said, and felt in a given day.

That lack of rumination lets us slip into not focusing on what lights us up: the people who reciprocate with kindness, love, and their time. The places that renew us. We’ve got to get back to the “lights us up” people and circumstances.

My notecard is always full.

I’m just too stupid to fully get to the next gear, where life really happens.

That bastard with the scythe gave me a reminder last week. I’m scribbling faster than ever. And pondering more.

Love, X
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Another Life

I woke up this morning grateful to hear the birds chirping. Even at 2 a.m., when some miscreant biker needlessly revved his motorcycle with a cacophony to awaken the dead, I was happy. To be alive – and to not be confined to the hospital another night. Twice I awoke, worried that I had imagined my discharge or that I was trapped in a Groundhog Day cycle of never-ending hospitalization.

Washington Regional is about to loosen its visitor restrictions again. It was good practice before – and it’s a better practice now: do as much as you can to have someone with your friend or family member as much as possible to be an advocate for their care. With staffing issues and the seemingly impossible task of coordinating complex care and so many moving parts, one of the single best things you can do for your family member is to simply be an eye and advocate. It is possible to be kind to staff while aggressively pursuing good care for your friend or family member. Never apologize for being an advocate for your loved ones; good healthcare workers are humans too and will not resent your participation. And if they do? Trust your instincts.

I learned a lot of lessons while I was in the hospital. Some of them I’ll probably never write about. Though my eyes were open before being a patient, I’ll never be able to relapse back to ignorance about the challenges our healthcare system faces. For those great people who work hard to be both compassionate and medically competent, I can’t say enough to thank them. For the others, my words won’t have a positive impact on the problems. I’ll have to think about how best to translate much of my experience into a helpful narrative; criticism, even well-earned criticism, seldom lands how we want it to. This is true one-on-one, and more so with complex organizations.

I imagine that many of my experiences will find themselves buried inside jokes, mirthful anecdotes, and disguised narratives. Comedy is one of the best means to hide the truth in plain sight. Most great jokes are wrapped around a nugget of truth, no matter how brazen or outlandish. Here’s an inside joke, based on one of my experiences: “She didn’t fall out of bed. She climbed over and sat on the floor from a surprising height.”

For now, it’s Saturday. The breeze is cool and the birds are dive-bombing their food. I’m waiting on laundry to finish because, well, let’s face it: the laundry doesn’t care where you’ve been. It places its demands like every other mundane chore required of us. In a minute, I’ll carefully go down the flight of stairs into the dungeon to retrieve clothes. And I’ll be happy to do it.

Even the Zen masters have a saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Each of us has to find a way to not only put one foot in front of the other without fail but also discover a way to find meaning and joy in the distractions.

I’m good.

I hope y’all are good too. I was reminded how much all of us need other people. Even those with tough exteriors need kind words and soft voices sometimes. Life wouldn’t be worth living without other people. I’ve had enough of Blake, though.

Love, X

P.S. I put a picture of my incision in the comments, so you can skip it if you wish. I’m currently working on a series of false and/or creative explanations for the scar I’ll have. I love scars; they remind us that we survived.
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Here’s a post from my social media from Friday morning….

It’s a good thing I’ve always had a wild imagination. Though I was allegedly a fall risk, I was left to get up and take care of myself these last few days. It is odd that the room they put me in overlooks my favorite place at the hospital. Below me is the gazebo, facing out toward the rustic farmhouse. It’s always been an escape and meditative spot. I have stood at the window three dozen times in the last two days, remembering how many times I stood at the gazebo. Sometimes watching the sunrise, sometimes waiting. Off to the right, I can observe the building I normally work in and the relentless comings and goings of daily commerce. The hospital is undeniably a business. But it’s powered by people and people need it to be made whole and healed. I am running toward the idea that I will be able to leave today. It’s possible that the ongoing and inefficient bureaucracy of the place might needlessly prevent that. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, I’ll be back here to work. The first thing I’m going to do, though, is to walk to the gazebo and look up, to perhaps find the window of the room I laid in. We all need people more than we like to admit. I’m already futurizing because that is optimism in action.

P.S. the surgeon’s nurse ripped off the bandage. The wound is really cool, bordered by an insane number of small staples. It avoided my belly button, something that was on my mind for some reason. I contacted my agent. He was so happy, because an unblemished belly button means that I’ll soon be gracing the underwear pages again.

Love, X.

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Here’s a post from my social media from Thursday…

I don’t have a catheter or an ngt tube anymore. (Old friends I never hope to see again…) The IV will be pulled sometime soon too, since I’ve been drinking a river of ice regardless. I haven’t eaten in 68 hours. The irony is that last Friday I started deliberately incorporating other foods into my diet to get my weight up to at least 155 or 160. Did I mention how good the Impossible Whopper was on Saturday? For the last few days I guess it has literally been impossible.

It is such a crazy coincidence that after 11 months of die-hard level commitment to health and healthy eating that something like this unexpectedly slaps me so hard.

I’m starting a clear liquid diet this morning, something that should have happened yesterday. I’ll be polite and skip all of that story for now. PS just because vodka is clear doesn’t mean it’s included in the diet.

I feel terrible for my coworkers, who are already strained from covid and absences. Some of us openly joke about how these kind of surprises and tragedies happen simultaneously. We rarely have enough help to do the job the way it needs to be done. I suspect this may be a universal symptom of our modern times- and the medical field in particular.

I have 2,342 stories already to tell about my incarceration, I mean my hospitalization. I’m glad to be alive to ponder them. But I am leaving here with a first-hand and profound education regarding healthcare. As much as I thought I knew before, this has been a true education.

I hope everything continues to go well and I get out of here. Because this is a bureaucracy, there’s no clear answer or straight path to getting that done.

Meanwhile I’ll continue to engage in a battle of amusement and wit with anybody who comes by. If they get snarky or out of control I usually have a mostly full urinal by the bedside. I’m guessing that it is very aerodynamic.

Thanks to everyone who reached out.

Life can still surprise me.

I hope I can still surprise myself.

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Seeing the Grand canyon and running a marathon might be great, but having my catheter yanked out will certainly be more memorable.

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Here’s a post from my social media from Tuesday…

An obstructed bowel jumped up at 3:30 yesterday and put me in the ER. I had emergency surgery early this morning around 1a.m. Worst pain of my life! I didn’t have time to be anxious or scared. PS no, this is not a Photoshop.

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An Affirmation

I love affirmations and pithy insights. And quotes. And also the entire range of humor, even the kind that makes decent people cringe.

The picture is of my sister Carolyn, the one my Dad and the world hid from me for about 46 years. She loves affirmations. I don’t hit ‘like’ on all the ones that resonate with me, but I read them. I do the same for other social media friends who post them to remind themselves that so much of what is essential to us is invisible.

I chose three affirmations that I read on her social media. 3 out of 1,000. 🙂

You never know when a clever affirmation might ring a gong in your head. You’re a new person each day and insights often stay in plain sight until we’re ready to accept them.

Love, X

PS I didn’t tag my sister Carolyn in the post. The universe will ensure she sees it. That’s optimism in action.

Optimism Disguised As A Pizza

Watching the sun inch down, I found myself asking Alexa, “What’s the score for the Razorback football game?” I NEVER do that. Being around hard-core fans somehow has made me hopeful for them. This stupid epidemic has stripped a lot away from people. Is it too much to ask for the team to shock Texas and win? Probably. But I’m hoping. I told a fan today that I predict that Arkansas will win.

Because one of my neighbors is a huge fan – and because I was feeling especially grateful to just be alive and optimistic about anything, I decided to surprise the family with a couple of anonymous pizzas as a gift.

When the driver knocked and explained that a neighbor bought them pizza, the woman’s face shifted from absolute confusion to delight.

I took that glimpse of delight and pocketed it inside my heart. It’s not about me giving something, it’s about the surprise.

PS Dominos was supposed to take all the information off the box. They accidentally left my phone number on it. The person getting the pizzas called. The anonymous part was ruined but the feeling of giving a surprise remains.

I’ll gladly accept. Things often go awry. It’s no reason to keep trying.

Love, X

What Is Too Thin?

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.

I lost a lot of weight that year, as part of an intense 3-way weight loss bet.

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.

Love, x

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Extras…

In Cancun…

With Love (The M.T. Rule)

I have a couple of quotes/rules of mine I made quite a bit back. They are the result of a lot of agony. No disrespect is intended for anyone who has struggled with these issues – or struggled because they love someone with them. Over the weekend, one of the coolest actors to grace the screen, Michael K. Williams, aka Omar from The Wire, died as a result of his struggle with addiction. Don’t make the mistake of confusing addiction with intelligence, willpower, or environment. Once it gets its claws in, there are often no lengths those suffering won’t go to in order to feel something – or to feel nothing. That escalation scrapes everyone around them. If you’re in the periphery trying to get closer, you get entrapped in the ever-tightening spiral.

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Here they are:

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The M.T. Rule:The surest way to cause yourself heartache and anxiety is to interfere with someone who is racing to rock bottom.

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The M.T. Rule Addendum: NOT doing so results in identical heartache and anxiety.

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Covid has worsened people’s ability to cope. It’s largely hidden until the spiral does enough damage to draw attention.

Love, X

He, Among Many

I walked down the hill toward the parking lot. Because I arrive so early, I don’t habitually park there. Maybe it was luck or providence. I observed a man I see quite often, one who used to ride a bike but now walks and takes the bus. He was emptying his backpack into the little pantry by the road. I took out my wallet and pulled a $10 bill out. As I approached him, I told him that what he was doing was a fantastic thing, handing him the $10 bill, and letting him know it was for lunch or anything he wanted to use it for. He was a little bit speechless. I tapped him on the shoulder and said thank you. I know he was smiling under the mask. Both of us were rewarded. I walked away, feeling like for the second time today, I had made a connection that otherwise would not have happened.

PS I didn’t write this post to look good. I wrote it because that anonymous man deserves recognition. There is no way he has a lot. But he has somehow found a way to help others.

Shawn’s Rule

If you would practice any habit, it would be the kind necessity of being brave enough to lovingly share your opinion of people, places, and things. The only way we can change the world is to create the world we’d like to live in, one act and one word at a time.