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.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Anabolics Anonymous

  1. 1.
    relating to or promoting muscular growth.

So, it has been 100 days since that last horrible night.  No, not the last night I came home from the bar drunk.  I'm talking about the last night I forced myself to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  I've only been to three AA meetings, but I found each of them to be almost unendurable.

Don't get me wrong; AA has helped millions of people, and I completely support those who find their recovery through AA.  But I don't think that it works equally well for all types of people.  I think it works well for those who by nature have a strong sense of belonging to a group, and for those whose outlook on life emphasizes their common humanity with other women and men.  I believe that Alcoholics Anonymous doesn't work as well for those who have an unusually strong drive to be different, in whom the Passion for Distinction is over-developed.  And, such a one am I.

When I was in counseling to try to end my habit of staying out late at bars and drinking to excess, my counselor told me:
"Paul, you have an addictive personality.  Probably the only way that you are going to succeed at this is to find a healthy addiction to replace your unhealthy addiction."
And, I believe his advice was spot on.  In his book Addiction and Virtue, Kent Dunnington describes addictions as being "totalizing".  That is, these addictive behaviors cease to be merely things that we do.  They become, in fact, the entire organizing principles for our lives.  Whether it is alcohol addiction, tobacco addiction, narcotics addiction, or sugar addiction, the effect is the same.  The behavior becomes one that comforts us when sorrowful or in distress.  It becomes our way of celebrating in times of joy.  It begins to push out other behaviors that compete with it for our time and energy.

If my therapist was correct, I had to find another addiction, another totalizing behavior, an activity capable of taking over and becoming the organizing principle for my entire life.  And I found it:  bodybuilding.

Bodybuilding is really difficult.  Everyone who tries it, with the exception of a few genetic freaks, seems to be a "hard gainer".  It is not easy to build lean muscle tissue on the human body, especially beyond the age of fifty.  But then, ease and convenience were never requirements, and rarely even considerations, in choosing an addictive behavior to pursue.  Better, in fact, that it should be hard ... that will keep me at it for a good long time.

Bodybuilding is the perfect addictive behavior in my battle against alcohol, for several reasons.  I always feel weaker in the gym if I have been drinking, and weakness must be banished from the body if one is to have success at bodybuilding.  Then, too, there is the time factor.  Doing bodybuilding correctly requires not only a great deal of time in the gym, but a great deal of time doing other things:  making sure that there is the right kind of food available at all times, ordering supplements, and researching the latest theories of muscular hypertrophy.  It all takes time.  But one is glad to spend the time, once one has acquired the addiction.

And, so, I don't plan to go back to any more Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.  Instead, I go to one or two daily meetings of a small and completely informal group at the gym, which I like to call "Anabolics Anonymous".  Granted, we don't sit in a circle.  And I don't preface my remarks to my friends with the words:
"Hi, I'm Paul, and I'm a meathead."

But you get the idea.  It is a brotherhood of addicts.  We each know what we are after.  It is pretty much the same thing everyone else in the "meeting" is after:  muscular size, definition, strength, perfection of proportion, health, longevity, and simple fitness for the daunting tasks fo life.

And, for me, the one additional goal:  continuing not to drink alcohol.  And, it is working.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Damping And Inertia In The System: Sometimes They Are For You, Sometimes Against You.

Engineers tend to lump under the term "damping" any kind of energy dissipating effect in a system.  Thing of your car's "shock absorbers".  Those are actually dampers, and most engineers would refer to them as such.

What your dampers (shock absorbers) do is to calm down the oscillatory motions of the vehicle after it passes over a bump, for instance.  Without the suspension dampers, the vibrations caused by traversing a set of railroad tracks would still continue on even miles further down the road.  But the dampers resist relative velocity of the suspension and the frame or body of the car.

When I speak of damping in non-mechanical systems, such as the stock market industrial averages, or housing or gasoline prices, what I mean is anything that works to keep these things relatively constant and stable.

In some cases, the term "inertia" might be a better choice.  Inertia means resistance to acceleration of a variable.

When I first begin a bodybuilding contest prep diet, it is hard to get rolling at the beginning.  The first several weeks of progress photos look nearly identical.  The fat weight comes off slowly at first, if at all.  This can be viewed as inertia in the system ... a resistance to getting rolling.  

But gradually the process does get rolling and weekly progress begins to be visible.  Week after week, the pounds of fat come off and the muscles become more prominent in appearance.  At the beginning of the process, I felt that nothing I did was working.  The inertia in the system (i.e., the body's resistance to change) seemed so great that no useful progress could be made.  Inertia was against me!

But near the end of the process, when I am almost in contest shape, and things are succeeding, my fear completely reverses.  Even though I am very close to being in stage condition, I suddenly fear that the inertia of my body will drop to nothing, and that one morning I will wake up 20 or 25 pounds fatter, as if the last 20 weeks of progress had been obliterated overnight.  But in reality, the body still wants to change gradually.  One cheat meal or one diet misstep, or one missed cardio session will not suddenly undo 16 or 18 weeks of hard, steady, consistent work in the gym and with the diet.  Inertia is my friend!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Why Does Life Have To Be So Hard?

Perhaps this blog answers one of the great philosophical questions of the ages.  More likely, it just "kicks the can down the road", raising an equally imponderable one.

Why does life have to be so hard?  Because without hardship, we would not grow, and growth is what God is after in our lives, not ease.

Imagine a gym in which all the weight plates had zero mass.  They provide neither inertial resistance to acceleration nor gravitational loading.  You can get some awesome workouts there, right?  Load the Olympic bar up with 7 or 8 big wheels per side and knock out an effortless hundred reps.  It would be great, right?

Well, it might be good for your ego, for a minute or two.  But then two things would occur to you.   One thing is that everyone else in the gym can also effortlessly push the same "weights" you are pushing.  The other thing is that you find it impossible to grow your muscles.  Week after week, you start to atrophy and lose strength.  Why?  Because it is no longer hard.  Your muscles are no longer challenged, so they cease to grow.

It is like that with the rest of life.  Life throws challenges at us.  If we strain against them, we eventually get strong.  It is hard.  Sometimes, we would like to give up, or trade the massive "weight plates" of our lives for the magical massless ones.  But we are not given that option.  So we get in there and lift what we can, as hard as we can, for as long as we can.  And we grow.

Now this begs the question:  Why did God decide to make it this way?  Certainly, He could have chosen to make things easy for all people at all times.  This is the next question down the road, and I don't have the answer.  If I figure it out, I will let you know!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Another Poem - The New Athena

This poem is hot off the press.  I wrote it for my bodybuilding friend, Athena Siganakis.

The New Athena

That famed Athena known by all of old
(Who from the head of Zeus was birthed and hurled)
With Aphrodite, for an apple gold
Competed, and was sung by all the world.

The ancient world declared divine her sense.
In three dominions they affirmed her rule:
In wisdom, warfare, and intelligence,
And beauty was her fair monarchial jewel.

But now the Third Millennium has dawned.
An iron goddess springs from iron birth,
For whom the modern devotee has longed:
A new Athena strides upon the earth.

In beauty, she is worthy of her name,
With muscles far beyond the ancient norm.
Nor could that old world’s pantheon lay claim
To figures of such arch-majestic  form.

But I desire to know her as a whole,
Not only for the glory of her frame:
The wisdom and the warfare of her soul
And all intelligences of the same.

I pray you, New Athena, take this verse
As  token quite inadequate, but true,
(Until such time as fate lets us converse)
Of my esteem and high regard for you.

-           © 2013, Paul Erlandson

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

YouTube Video Features Eliot's 1963 Meteor!

It's one thing to take video of my son racing his car, and to post it on YouTube.

But it is a different sort of thrill to realize that someone else thought the car worthy of capturing in an extended-length video.

Here is some cool footage of Eliot racing his 1963 Mercury Meteor at the recent High School and College Nationals at Milan Dragway.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

All Bodybuilding, All the Time

I'm afraid that this blog is going to get very boring for most of you for the next seven weeks or so.  I have three bodybuilding contests coming up that I will be competing in:  September 28, October 5, and October 19.

The intensity of my preparation for these contests is a bit overwhelming.  Most days, my carbohydrate intake is low enough that I don't always think clearly.  I also begin to have paranoid worries that I will wake up fat the next day, dreams about bread, etc.

It is hard to describe what an all-encompassing, totalizing thing bodybuilding contests prep is.  It goes WAY beyond the lifestyle of a normal "gym rat" or fitness enthusiast.  There are so many little details to be taken care of.  Where did I put my NPC card?  Where did I store the Liquid Sun Rayz tanning color?  Where is my elastic band for pumping up the day of the contest?  How do I get to the venue?  Who will watch my stuff while I'm on stage?

But mostly, my thoughts revolve around doubts of the quality of physique I will bring to the stage.  I think I'm getting fat.  I've plateaued ... should I have a cheat meal or should I do an extra cardio session?  Opt for extra sleep?  Do I have time to join a tanning salon for a month?  I think I'm getting fat.  I look really small in the mirror today.  I'm behind where I was three years ago at this point in the prep.  And, that all-time favorite:  FEED ME!  I'm STARVING!

So, I hope you will bear with my temporary monomania for the next 6.5 or 7 weeks.  At least, you can be thankful it is not you going through all this.  And now, without further delay, a short video of one of my exercises at the gym this morning.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bodybuilding Methods for Fat Loss -vs- the Armchair Dieticians

I've had several discussions on weight loss with folks who know everything about it, but for some reason cannot lose their own excess fat.  Maybe it's just me, but I don't think you should cop a know-it-all attitude when conversing with people who are very successful in doing what you yourself cannot do.

This is my rant about it.