Sunday, December 15, 2013

Adoration versus Accomplishment

The music snob characters in the film "High Fidelity" agreed that "what you like" is more important than "what you are like." That is, be as much of a jerk or non-achiever yourself as you like, so long as you have exquisite taste and adore the right things.

Examples: the unemployed beer snob and the obese bodybuilding fan.

You see why this is a tempting philosophy. It is MUCH easier to spend an hour on the internet adoring photos of your bodybuilding heroes (and clicking Like under their pics) than it is to go to the gym. And, as for the unemployed beer snob, well, exquisite taste is free.

Having been a fan of the female physique sports since 1984, I have noticed a curious phenomenon exhibited by the more ardent fans: they completely believe that their adoration is a gift to the athlete that (1) sets them apart from the other fans; and (2) makes them instantly attractive (as a person) to the athlete.

But I find that this type of adoration of the works and beauty of others is a trap. It frees you (or so you fancy) from having to accomplish or BE anything yourself. But that "freedom" is actually a slavery to mediocrity. I believe that adoration in moderation is okay, but beyond that, cut it out and go make something worthy of yourself.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Patina in Heaven?

In the 21st Chapter of the book of Revelation, at the 5th Verse, we read:
And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
I was sitting in a Coney Island restaurant a little while ago, and I happened to look over at the blue neon sign which marked out the Men's Room, and these words of St. John came into my mind.  "Why?" you might ask.  Well, because the neon of that sign, and indeed all the neon in the joint was brand spanking new.  And when I thought of these words from the mouth of the enthroned Christ, they struck terror into my heart.

"All things new!  What if I like antique things?  Weathered things?  Things with a definite patina on them?  What if I don't want all things to be new?

I briefly imagined Jesus borrowing a page from President Obama's playbook and telling me:

"If you like your patina, you can keep your patina!"

But I immediately dismissed that possibility.  The words of the Revelation of Jesus Christ seemed all to clear, all too immutable.

Let me be clear:  I hated that neon sign!  When I go to a restaurant to eat an omelet and hash browns and rye toast, I want the neon to be faded and chipped, and to buzz loudly.  If possible, I would like it to sputter and blink intermittently.  Why?  I don't know; it's just more beautiful to me that way.  It's the same reason I prefer the look of a real, flesh-and-blood woman sitting across from me in the restaurant than some airbrushed model in a slick magazine that smells of haute couture perfume.  It's just more real.  Flaws make a thing beautiful to me, as does age, antiquity.  There was a move afoot to clean the soot-stained exterior stone work of St. John's Episcopal Church, Detroit, a few years back. I and a few others staunchly resisted it.  My friend Jim made an eloquent speech at the Annual Parish Meeting, as to why we dare not squander the hard-gained patina of our building.  I think his speech swayed some.  In any case, the soot is still there, and the building is 100 times more beautiful for its presence.

So, I got to thinking:  Is it a sin for me to love soot, buzzing neon, and imperfections of many other varieties?  Shall I grumble against God when He comes to make all things new?

I was speaking of this matter to a friend at lunch the other day, and he said that I was taking the word "new" too literally.  But I really only know one meaning for that word.  I take some comfort from the fact that the same book of Revelation describes the Christ (the Lamb) in words that indicate the eternal presence of His wounds:
And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain. (Revelation 5:6)
Furthermore, the resurrected Christ displays his wounds to St. Thomas (as chronicled in the 20th Chapter of St. John's Gospel).

So, I think that a strong case can be made that the promise to "make all things new" does not include a reversal of damage which is freighted with meaning, does not necessarily indicate a return to a pristine original state.

On my way out of the Coney Island restaurant, I took a good close look at the blue neon sign.  It was perfect.  Horribly perfect.  It mad no sound, had no flaw, and made nary a flicker.  It was like something out of one of the paintings of the worst sort of "hot rod culture" painter.  And I shuddered.

"I look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the Patina of the world to come.  Amen."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Flamin' Groovies at the Beachland Ballroom

As I may have mentioned previously, my son is 19 years old, and has been a fan of the Flamin' Groovies band since the age of 7.  We didn't really intend to see them two nights in a row, but it providentially worked out that way.  A facebook friend who had heard me and my band perform the FG's hit Shake Some Action, posted on my facebook "timeline" an article about their upcoming concert in Cleveland, Ohio.  I immediately called the Beachland Ballroom to order tickets for my son and myself.  It was a few weeks later that we found out the Flamin' Groovies would also be playing a gig in Detroit, the evening before the Cleveland show.

It seemed like a shame not to come out and support them in our own hometown, so we bought tickets to the Detroit show also.

So, on the afternoon of Saturday, November 9, we got in the car and headed for Cleveland.  Before the concert, we met a friend at Bearden's Restaurant, where I had my first ever "Peanutburger."  It was yummy!

After locating the Beachland, we were enthused to hear (for our first time) the sounds of a band called the New Salem Witch Hunters.  We really, really liked them, especially the guitar playing of Tom Fallon, on his hollow-bodied Gretsch.  Their songs were catchy, accessible, rich, and varied.

Then, it was time for the Flamin' Groovies to play.  The were absolutely terrific, and the Beachland was a very fine venue at which to see and hear them.  We got so close to the stage -- it was really a dream come true!

At first, the set list closely resembled that from the Detroit show, but then it veered off and took on a life of its own.  Every song was wonderful, and especially because of the intimacy of the club, I will say that it was worth every minute of the 37 years I had waited to see the Flamin' Groovies play!

The band was very generous with their time, and did 3 or 4 encore songs; I was having so much fun that I lost track.  But their last one was a very popular one, Teenage Head, which I think I'd first heard and loved back in 1977.  That's the song in this video.  Just before the song, you can hear Cyril Jordan say, "You guys are great.  I wish I could stay and ... kiss every one of you."

The tour is not over!  If the Flamin' Groovies are coming to your city, you owe it to yourself to go and hear them!

Tuesday, November 12 - Washington, D.C.

Thursday, November 14 - Boston, MA

Friday, November 15 - Brooklyn, NY

Wednesday, November 20 - Oakland, CA

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Flamin' Groovies - Shake Some Action!

My son and I went to see the Flamin' Groovies, a favorite band of ours, two nights in a row! We saw them in Detroit on November 8, 2013 and in Cleveland on November 9, 2013.

This video (sorry for the sound quality) shows you how close we were able to get to the stage.  When Cyril Jordan put his foot up on the monitor and started playing the guitar lead standing about 6 feet away from us ... I nearly lost it.  FANTASTIC!!! I'm so very glad to see this band back and touring, and to see the extremely warm reception they are getting from their fans!

And, to give you an idea of what this song means (and has meant) to me, here is a humble little attempt by me and my old band, Chrome Folk Bar-B-Q, at covering this legendary Flamin' Groovies song: 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

And I Won't Come Back This Way Again

"If you don't dig what I say,
Then I will go away.
And I won't come back this way again. No.
'Cause I don't need a friend."
So ends the third and final verse of the Flamin' Groovies flagship song, Shake Some Action.  And, after the rough reception they were given by a few hooligans at their concert here in Detroit tonight, I would not blame them a bit for not coming back this way again.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.  I attended this concert with my son who, at the age of 19, has already been a Flamin' Groovies fan for 12 years.  The Magic Stick, on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, seemed to be the perfect venue in which to first hear a band I'd been waiting 37 years to see:  warm, welcoming, and intimate.  And, so it was, at the start.

The Groovies did not disappoint.  As the band blazed through treasured classic covers such as Freddy Cannoon's Tallahassee Lassie, the Byrds' Feel a Whole Lot Better, and the Rolling Stones' Jumpin' Jack Flash, the large crowd responded in lively fashion, clearly appreciating the rare and beautiful event.  The reaction was perhaps still more positive, however, when Cyril Jordan and the boys rolled out a string of the Flamin' Groovies' own hits, including You Tore Me Down and I Can't Hide.

According to my hand-scrawled notes, it was just after a fine cover of the Stones' Paint it Black that the trouble started.  A large and seemingly very drunk audience member decided to grab Cyril's mic and pull it down toward himself to make a request of the group.  Instead, he bonked himself on his bald head with the mic before he finally replaced it clumsily on the stage.

This did not sit well (understandably!) with Groovies' lead singer / guitarist Chris Wilson, who warned the man not to do that kind of thing again.  It seemed a fair warning, and I expected the music to get right back on track, but it didn't quite happen that way.  Apparently this patron and several of his friends were under the mistaken impression that the rest of the audience had come to see them -- that, indeed, they were the show.  Some of them made obscene gestures at Wilson and at least one suggested that Wilson come down and fight him.  

Chris opined that this audience member had rather better wait until after the conclusion of the concert to have his butt kicked (or words to that effect).  At some point, beer bottles were thrown.  One shattered somewhere near me, and I felt a rain of glass shards come down around my head and shoulders.

What Security people were there seemed slow to respond.  Even once they got there, it was difficult for them to wrestle the fat balding man out of the hall.  And then, even after that, it was not over.  Others who remained jeered or shot the bird at Chris and, to his credit, he played the man and would not countenance this type of behavior.  He asked for the troublemakers to be ejected from the music hall.  Security eventually removed one or two other patrons, and the crowd where we were near the stage had thinned out quite a bit.  I thought at that point:  "That's it, that's our concert." 

And I would not have blamed the band one iota if they had called it quits then.  They'd already given us quite a decent show, and hadn't been treated at all well by the several hooligans in the audience.  But, to their great credit, the Flamin' Groovies came back out energized even more, it seemed, by the confrontational behavior of the few, and finished off the concert in a blaze of glory.

The high point for my son was their brilliant performance of their song, Slow Death, during which Chris Wilson could be seen with a distinct glint in his eye, probably thinking of the young punk who had tried to call him out and had ended up disgraced.  The song ended up having the perfect menacing tone.  But then, they outdid themselves with what was nominally their final song, the epic Shake Some Action.  Some action had indeed been shaken up in the Magic Stick that night, and one was only saddened if, indeed, the opening lines of this blog (from the 3rd verse of the song) are to become prophetic.

Chris, though he hadn't done anything untoward, repeatedly apologized to the crowd for the way things had gone down.  But, for the actual perpetrators themselves ... only the chilling warning of the lyrics of the Groovies' encore song, Teenage Head:
" When you see me,
Better turn your tail and run.
'Cause I'm angry,

And I'll mess you up for fun."
I think if the drunks and punks knew what was good for them, they were probably safe at home in their pajamas by the time this encore was actually sung.  So, did my son and I get enough of the Flamin' Groovies tonight?  No way!  We're headed to Cleveland to see them again tomorrow night!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Another Poem: My Muse Has Left Me Desolate

My Muse Has Left Me Desolate

“… and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” – Galatians 3:19

My Muse has left me desolate this year.
October, not a single word from her.
My brush will hold no paint, my pen won’t stir,
And I sit trapped in uninspired fear.

Some friend will murmur to me (as a curse):
“No guide but Christ, and no Muse but the Church!”
But God through intermediaries works,
And all who say such things write rotten verse.

When God passed down His holy Law it came
Ordained by angels and through Moses’ hands.
Return, my Muse!  Release me from these bands,
And mediate God’s poems to me the same.

Come home, my holy angel, heed my call.
Return to me, thou “Moses” of my verse.
All other Muses make my writing worse.
I need your kindly succor, lest I fall.

Perhaps some other poet has you now,
And some more agile painter hears your voice.
Abandon them!  Come, make my heart rejoice:
Renew with me our old, truehearted vow.

And then shall heart, hand, pen feel no restraint.
Once more I’ll gladly follow; you shall lead.
The finger-graven tablets you shall read,
And I shall sing and write and dance and paint.

© 2013. Paul Erlandson

A New Blog Recommendation

I've just stumbled upon this blog which is written by Women's Physique and Bodybuilding competitor Lynette Wade.  I find it awesome!  In her most recent entry, Lynette explains what bodybuilding contest prep feels like from the inside.  Very, very accurate.

Beautiful Pain.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Poem: Let Everything that Hath Breath

I wrote this poem for Mr. Kenneth Sweetman, choirmaster and organist at Mariners' Church of Detroit, back in 1999.  (Mariners' Church also has another excellent organist and choirmaster in Mr. Kevin Bylsma!)

A word or two about the form of this poem.  I did not invent it; my (Anglican) friend Russ Smith did.  It requires that you create a poem which tracks well when displayed in two different ways:  as ten lines of eight syllables and also as eight lines of ten syllables.  And, each way, every pair of successive lines must rhyme.

So, it is a cramped, rigorous, and demanding form.  You might think it would sound very stilted when read aloud, but that is usually not the case.  Because the rhymes pass each other like a faster train passing a slower train, you get a sort of "beat frequency" phenomenon, which ends up sometimes lending it a jazzy feel.  Anyhow, without further ado, here is the poem, with a photo of the Mariners' Church organ, for a little traditional Anglican "eye candy."

Let Everything that Hath Breath
(for Kenneth Sweetman, Advent, 1999)

Let everything that owns a lung
give praise to God.  Let pipe and tongue
rejoice in phase.  The mighty King
of Instruments breaths out to sing
with pulmonary zeal, to shout.
The organist from his redoubt
commands the pipes like ranks of chess-
men by his hands.  And they confess
what each tongue here would say … but, nay,
the King takes all our breath away.

Let everything that owns a lung give praise
to God.  Let pipe and tongue rejoice in phase.
The mighty King of Instruments breathes out
to sing with pulmonary zeal, to shout.
The organist from his redoubt commands
the pipes like ranks of chessmen by his hands.
And they confess what each tongue here would say …
but, nay, the King takes all our breath away.

© 1999, Paul W. Erlandson

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The New Civility in Bodybuilding Radio

I've listened to a good many bodybuilding-themed "radio" shows in my time.  I use the scare quotes on "radio" because these are internet-based audio programs, not available on broadcast radio.

I think I have identified a new trend in how these shows go, and how the personalities on them interact.  I have seen a movement away from loud, arrogant, in-your-face meatheads (I do not consider meathead a term of derision, by the way), proudly putting forth their own bodybuilding theories as being superior to those of all others.  What has replaced all this is quiet, soft-spoken gentlemen, who happen to be experts in the field of bodybuilding (usually, high-caliber bodybuilders themselves), dispensing good advice and sharing knowledge in an understated and collegial manner.

Who'd have thunk it?

For some examples of The New Civility in Bodybuilding Radio, I invite you to click on the links below:

Blue Collar Radio (with Shelby Starnes and John Meadows)
Ben Pakulski and John Meadows talk with Brad Schoenfeld

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Recidivism and the Bodybuilding Diet

In four days, I can eat anything I want, because my bodybuilding contest prep diet will be over.  The contest is on Saturday, and for months I have been daydreaming about what to eat on Sunday.

Pizza?  Cheesecake Factory?  Blonde Brownies?

The possibilities are endless.  Infinite freedom!  No constraints!  No laws!  No dietary lords nor masters!

But, if past experience is a reliable guide, I will find that I cannot handle this amount of freedom.  I have come to lean heavily on the predictable structure of the bodybuilding diet.  It's 2:30 pm?  Chicken breast and green salad.  No questions, no debate, no hand-wringing, no doubt, no guilt.  It's easy, exactly because it leaves me no freedom, no wiggle room.

And do you know what?  The bodybuilding diet makes me feel safe.  Secure.  Big, bad obesity cannot come and devour me if I stick to the bodybuilding diet.  I feel very safe.

As I considered this language I was using to describe my relationship to the bodybuilding diet, I realized that I had heard it all before.  It took me only a few seconds to remember where:  in the mouths of ex-convicts who had lived a life of recidivism, in and out of prison, but mostly in.  Like me, they all dreamed about the day they'd get paroled.  All the girls they'd meet, all the cars they'd drive, all the food they'd eat.  But, like me, life on the outside was too wild, too free, to unstructured.  They didn't know how to survive in that world.  But they had spent years figuring out how to survive inside a prison.  So, they went back.  Back to where they could feel safe.

And, I reckon, so will I.

Monday, October 14, 2013

In Defense of the "Selfie."

I would like to say a word or two in defense of the much-maligned photographic self-portrait, or "selfie." A facebook friend recently made this comment about selfies:  
"You can pretty much tell how self obsessed, narcissistic and in love with one's self, by the amount of selfies they post in a day. Any more than 3 is just too many. It is no wonder these people are single."
Well, now first of all, it must be noted that some of us who are guilty of posting too many selfies actually ARE married, not single.  So, there's that.

But what of the charge of narcissism?  Of self love?  Are these charges valid?  I submit to you that they are not necessarily valid.  Without further delay, then, here are some reasons I think that posting selfies is okay.

1.  We are made in God's image.  How cool is this?  I think that we can be pardoned for occasionally letting this amazing fact overwhelm us, with the glorious fruition of that overwhelming being ... a selfie.

2.  Posting an image of oneself is not necessarily a comment on other people.  Folks take and post selfies for all sorts of reasons, I imagine.  One reason I do is for documention of how I look.  This is necessary for the hobby of bodybuilding.  Without it, one becomes lost.  Granted, not all of these documentary photos need to be posted.  But it is convenient to do so in an online journal, and so I consider it valid.

3.  Others actually may be interested.  I like (and on facebook, Like) the selfies my friends take.  The more the merrier.  Bring them on!  I also like pictures of what you are eating, clever words you spelled in Scrabble, etc.  I love it all.  Please continue to post it.

4.  Although some selfies are artless, this need not be the case.  We are all familiar with the one-arm-extended MySpace-style selfie.  But this does not define or limit the genre.  You would be amazed at the selfies you can take if you simply get hold of a tripod and a camera with a delay timer.
5.  There is a rich artistic heritage of selfies.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Exhibit C

Exhibit D:

Exhibit E:

Q. E. D.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dads and their Daughters' Dates - How NOT to do it!

We've all seen this kind of ├╝ber-macho "Alpha Dad" displaying his "Rules for Dating My Daughter" ... whether on facebook, other social media, or in real life.  It masquerades as the loving concern of a father, but in actuality it is pathetic and cruel.

Here are a few examples, so that you know just what I'm talking about:


Let me outline for you some of the reasons I find this disturbing:

1.  Its opening volley is steeped in hostility and violence.  In the first image, the father is pointing a revolver at his daughter's prospective date.  In the second, the father states his dislike for the young man, and later promises to repay him for whatever the date does to his daughter.  I can imagine all kinds of hilarity stemming from a strict constructionist interpretation of Rule 10: "You shared a soda with her using two straws, so now I'm gonna ... uh oh."  But the main point is the hatred.   Is this the kind of society we really want to live in?  One ruled by fear of being shot?

2.  Whenever you, as a father, post something like this, IT IS AN ADMISSION OF THE CRAPPY JOB YOU HAVE DONE RAISING YOUR DAUGHTER!  Obviously, you've raised the kind of daughter who is attracted to crackheads and other criminals.  All your posturing proves this.  I'm sorry you've been an incompetent father.  MY daughter can actually be trusted to weed out the losers.  That's the way we raised her.  I'm sorry you were not able to do that.

3.  This method is counterproductive:  it only scares the good guys, the ones who respect adult authority.  Thugs are thugs.  They'd love the excuse to try and lay you out, and there is, of course, some chance that they are more of a badass than you are.  Slight, perhaps, but not zero.  In any case, the intimidation produced will be the strongest in exactly the type of young man you should be encouraging your daughter to spend time with.

4.  Once a few good young men have had a close-up look at your shotgun and the trunk of your car (you moron) the word will get around that your daughter is not worth dating ... because her dad is a psycho.  This is not going to help her in the long run.

5.  I want to tread lightly here, but there is some sense in many of these cases of the father seeing the boyfriends as rivals.  Maybe it doesn't have a sexual overtone, maybe it does, but it is at the very least a sick sort of possessiveness.  NEWS FLASH:  Your daughter never belonged to you.  She is not your property. She is God's, and you have simply been granted the privilege of caring for her and providing for her for a short time.

So, in summary, men:  KNOCK IT OFF!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

My First Bodybuilding Contest of 2013

Well, I guess it depends on what you consider a "contest."  Nobody else showed up to compete in the Masters (over 40) or Grand Masters (over 50) bodybuilding classes, so I won both of them by default.

Here are some pics of how I looked on stage.  My weight that day was 175 pounds.  That means that I have put on about 23 pounds of lean muscle mass in just a little over 4 years. I am really happy with that!  

I will be competing again this weekend, October 5, and expect a much larger turnout, so I am quite confident I will have several other bodybuilders to compete against.



Thursday, September 26, 2013

Top Six "Breaking Bad" Plot Twists

Fans of the AMC series Breaking Bad have applauded it for its brilliant use of foreshadowing ... and they are correct.

It got me thinking:  What events in the show so far may turn out to have been foreshadowing for quirky plot twists in the final episode?  Without further delay, here are my Top 6 guesses.

6.  Lydia sprains her ankle.

Foreshadowing:  Many lengthy scenes of Lydia walking in high heels over questionable surfaces such as dirt and gravel.

5.  Huell opens a Fat Camp.

Foreshadowing:  Huell has been locked away under police protection for several weeks.  If he has good "Before" photos of himself, he has a lucrative new business opportunity on his hands.

4.  Jesse Pinkman becomes a Franciscan.

Foreshadowing:  Throwing millions of dollars out of his car window for the poor to glean.

3.  Marie murders Skyler.

Foreshadowing:  Marie can't get to Walt, so she'll take revenge on Skyler.  Let's be honest; Marie has been weaving in and out of sanity for the entire series.

2.  Saul Goodman forms a psychedelic band.

Foreshadowing:  The drive to wear garish clothing is coded deep in Saul's DNA.  Identity change program notwithstanding, white shirts are not going to cut it for Saul.

1.  Gretchen and Elliott get their comeuppance.

Foreshadowing:  Let's face it - We've been carefully groomed to hate this slimy couple from the very beginning.  It's time for them to face the music.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Oksana Grishina - Winning Strength

Here is a documentary that I will enjoy at least as much as Generation Iron:  Oksana Grishina in "Winning Strength."


I don't know when or where this will be released, but I'm excited about it!  This video clip has behind-the-scenes footage:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Film Review - Generation Iron

Last night I saw the much awaited pro bodybuilding documentary, Generation Iron.

This is the second "special interest" film I've seen in a theater this year.  The first was Snake & Mongoose, and the films shared some interesting similarities.  Both were guaranteed from the start to appeal deeply to the fanatics of their respective sports. Both were announced LONG before they actually made it to theaters.  It seemed to take forever for the opening days to arrive.  And both struggle, I believe, to appeal to a general audience beyond the hardcore drag race fans or bodybuilding afficionados.

Before arriving in the theater to see Generation Iron, I had read several online reviews.  The consensus view was that the movie deserved 3 stars out of a possible 4.  But after seeing the film, I would have to give it 4 stars out of 4.  It surpassed my expectations.

Some complained about the pacing of the film (too slow), but I didn't get that sense.  To me, the cycling around from one competitor to the next in semi-random fashion kept things interesting.

I have to say that I have never been a fan of Kai Greene.  I think his physique looks blocky.  I never have liked how ridiculously low his lats insert (just above the beltline!).  And sometimes, in previous interviews, Kai has seemed to lose the thread of what he wanted to say, the original sense of it having vanished in some artistic fog.  But in this film, he was coherent, never got lost, and was even eloquent at points.  By the time the film ended, I still liked Phil Heath's physique better than Kai's, but I liked Kai much better as a person.  The scenes of him painting were not only very dramatic, but beautiful to watch.

Some competitors I knew only from stage photos, and Generation Iron gave me the opportunity to know them as fully-orbed human beings. A case in point was bodybuilder Roelly Winklaar from Curacao.  His unique relationship with his trainer, Sibil Peters, who Roelly refers to as "Grandma," was a high point of the film for me.   The scene in which she chides him for staying up late at night on the internet and showing up for workouts tired is priceless.

Also priceless is the timing of the scene after which Branch Warren discusses the matter of injuries, and how most of his injuries have happened outside the gym.

One fantastic sub-plot which I truly enjoyed was the subtle Bro Science vs Official Science drama, the latter being embodied in the training of Ben Pakulski.  During the film, Official Science Dudes in immaculate white lab coats have Ben hooked up to high-tech computers which show exactly how he should do each repetition to stimulate the scientifically optimized muscle growth.  During one interview, Ben opines that only two of his competitors really stand a chance of beating him at the Olympia.  But it is a beautiful set-up for the defeat of Science and Technology at the hands of Old Fashioned Blood and Guts (as personified by most of the other Olympia competitors, but perhaps none as much as Branch Warren, who specifically mentions character, brutal hard work, and courage as being more necessary than optimality as defined by official science).  When Ben was not announced as one of the Top 10 for the Olympia, it seemed like a crushing defeat of Official Science by Bro Science.  Ten bodybuilders who trained without computers hooked to them went back on stage that evening, but not Ben Pakulski, who finished 11th.  But even here, the filmmakers are not heavy handed with the message, allowing the viewer to form his or her own conclusions.

I ended up the film really liking Pakulski.  His speech on steroids was pithy and epic.  "No you couldnt.  You couldn't do what I do," it concludes.   And he is right.

I liked getting to know Hidetada Yamagishi better.  I'd seen him compete before at the Arnold.  He seems to embody a kind of humility rarely found in bodybuilding, and I appreciated his struggle for something so difficult, when even his family does not seem to understand the importance of what he has achieved.

I have always liked Victor Martinez, both physique-wise, and as a person, and Generation Iron solidified those opinions in my mind.

I need to say a few words about Phil Heath.  Now, I am not unaware that filmmakers manipulate characters (yes, even in documentaries) for their own ends, to make the story "better" than it actually is, and that may have happened here.  But Phil's personality left me cold throughout this entire film.  Every other competitor seemed to be on the Olympia quest for some sort of higher reason:  God, family, vindication, art ... SOMETHING!  But Phil Heath seems to have made it all about Phil Heath.  The coolest thing, so he says, about a successful defense of his Olympia crown would be ... that it would make him, Phil Heath, feel like a god, like an Adonis.  It seems a less than noble goal.

If you are a hardcore bodybuilding fan, you have probably already seen the film or are plotting how to get to a city where it is actually showing.  If not, I would still recommend this film to you, as a very fine introduction to the state of professional bodybuilding today, the kinds of people it draws to its ranks, the things they must endure to succeed, and the look, feel, and grit of what it means to be a bodybuilder at the very highest level.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

You ARE Your Trophy

I hear a lot of folks laughing at adults who spend inordinate amounts of time on hobbies or amateur sports "just to win a plastic trophy."  I hear it in the old car hobby and in bodybuilding circles, but I'm sure that bowlers, quilters, runners, and others get this critique as well.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I have three bodybuilding contests coming up.  I spent a lot of time in the gym preparing for these events, and a lot of time performing necessary ancillary tasks ... all in hopes of winning some plastic trophies.

Or, did I?  When I think about it, the greatest rewards from my bodybuilding contest prep periods have been inward and outward changes to my own being.  Outwardly, I am starting to look at least a little like the guy on the trophy.  Inwardly, I have found new, formerly untapped strength and resolve.

I don't think that bodybuilding is unique in this regard, either.  If you have spent long, grueling hours preparing for an event at which you have a chance of winning a cheap, plastic trophy ... remember:  the trophy is not the trophy.  YOU are the trophy.  It is the changes which you have brought about in your own being which are the real and lasting artifacts of your Herculean efforts.

You ARE the trophy.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Finding a Community in a "Lone Wolf" Sport

First of all, and above all else, I have to emphasize that I have always been pitiful at sports.  And it wasn't merely my pitiful upper body strength, my miserable power-to-weight ratio as a chubby youngster, my glacial running speed, nor anything else merely physical.  It was mental, too.

Beyond all my physical weaknesses and incompetency, there was a mental factor:   I never really knew what to do next in a sport.  I remember a defining moment in the McKinley YMCA "Gra-Y" (Grade School YMCA) basketball program.  A teammate made the dubious decision to attempt to pass me the basketball.  Rather than try to receive it, I dodged it, and it bounced out of bounds.

I might well have said (as my wife's great uncle reported my maternal grandfather to have said during their days together at Wheaton College):  "Boys, I'll never make an athlete!"

But I didn't have to say it, because others said it for me.  Others like Pat Costello.  My family  had just moved to North Babylon, New York, and I was an eighth grader at the local Jr. High School.  After about one semester had gone by, and I had just bungled yet another play on the basketball court, Pat turned to me, a bit angrily, and asked,

"You can't play soccer.  You can't play football.  You can't play basketball.  Is there anything you can do?"

My answer was simple:   "No, I guess there isn't."

So, as often as possible, I pursued lone activities in Physical Education class, to avoid disappointing those unfortunate enough to be teammates of mine for a team sport.  This led me eventually to spend some amount of time both in the weight room and jogging around the school's quarter-mile track.

During my college days, I didn't really engage in much physical activity at all.  But when I began to actively and intentionally exercise, around age 26, I was still very wary of team sports.  I ended up taking up the two lone activities from my school days:  running and weight lifting.

At some point, after enough training for either running or bodybuilding, there are amateur competitions for you to enter.  The 5K and 10K runs I entered (and perhaps especially the Los Angeles Marathon) usually had a "festival" feel to them.  There were brightly colored running shorts and singlets and shoes.  There was energy in the air.  Each runner took energy from the other runners and from the general ambiance of the race in a fashion that seemed to be a de facto breach of the principle of the Conservation of Energy.

Bodybuilding competitions, though I came to them later (at least as a participant), had similar energy in the air.  And the scents of spray tanning concoctions and posing oil.  Coconut, wintergreen, and several other pleasant but unidentifiable smells swirled about one in succession.

But, for me, the competitor's point-of-view was always much the same:  train in solitude, encounter the multitude of your rivals for the first time on the day of the event, compete, and then never see them again.  There was not much sense of community, at least not for a shy person such as myself.  I did run with a group of people at work in California, and that was very pleasant.  If it was competitive at all, it was only so in a playful sort of way, and we all rooted for each other to do well.

But in bodybuilding I had never, until recently, experienced any sense of community.  Sure, the other Grand Masters competitors in the NPC contests I entered (starting in 2008) were cordial to me and to each other.  But it was very transient, lasting one day, and didn't have the sense of an ongoing community.

But now, I have found a community, and it has happened almost without my taking notice of it.  Some of it happened through the agency of facebook.  Partially, it happened on the various bodybuilding-related internet "forums".  Some of it happened from attending local bodybuilding shows as a spectator.  But mostly, it happened at my local gym, in the old fashioned way:  face-to-face speech!   Someone would notice that I was getting lean, and ask if I had a competition coming up.  Or, vice versa.  I got to know more and more folks at my gym, both competitors and non-competitors.  Sometimes I went to see them compete.  We began to feel like a team.  A team centered around our local gym.  A subtle shift happened in my mind so that it was no longer "me versus all the other bodybuilders", but "us, our team, versus the others".  It was as if I had, after all these years, found a happy way to become a participant in a team sport.

Here is one story that is emblematic of the change which has come over me.  I have three bodybuilding competitions coming up within the next five weeks.  Up until two days ago, I wasn't sure that I would know anyone else competing at any of them.  But there has been this fellow in my gym.  I don't see him all the time, since he is not there during the same weekday morning hours at which I train.  But I saw him almost every Saturday.  He was getting leaner.  And darker.  And he seemed to be, like me, over fifty years of age, so that he would be a Grand Masters competitor.  But I had never spoken to him.  Like most serious bodybuilders, he gave off a rather definite "don't talk to me; I'm training" vibe.  But that changed when a mutual friend, who happens to be a veteran competitor, talked to each of us in quick succession about our upcoming shows.  He left us to finish the conversation ourselves, at which time I found out that he would be one of my competitors at the NPC Central States bodybuilding competition on October 19.  For about two seconds, I was dismayed, because I am fairly certain that he will finish ahead of me at that contest.  But then, suddenly, the team spirit thing overcame this dismay, and I was elated that I would have a "teammate" on stage with me at my final contest of the year.  And perhaps someone's hand to shake just before he receives the 1st Place trophy.  We shall see.

Here is the bodybuilder in question.  I can honestly say that, although we will be competing against each other, I will be just as happy if he wins as if I myself win.  And I have to say, this is a pretty nice feeling.