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Delusions

Pontificating in Public

I tried something new today. Which, of course, means I had moments of intense self reflection and crippling anxiety. 'Cause that's what I do.

For the first time in pretty much my whole life I decided to take the bus in from my home in Missouri City to my office in Midtown Houston.

Big deal, right? In fact, I knew it wasn't a big deal. I'm not entirely new to public transportation. I've taken subways and cross-country trains in foreign countries and METRORail in Houston and various types of buses here and there. But for the most part, those are quick transits -- examples of me flitting from one localized area of a city to another. Fifteen minutes tops. What was new about today's experience was the fact that I was dependent on the bus and the train to get me to work on time. The control, my destiny, my workday fate, all entirely out of my hands.

Call me a control freak. Or just consider me a simple country boy, and unfamiliar with your big city public transportation ways. Or maybe it was all the flashbacks I was having to riding the bus to grade school in West Columbia. Kind of like PTSD.

Or, if we're looking at this analytically, it probably has more to do with the fact that I've grown up in a car culture, where automobiles mean status and freedom. I'm already sweating balls over the thought that I'm stranded, at the mercy of the public transportation system.

I'm looking into therapy.

The thing is, riding the bus and the train this morning gave me kind of a "good" feeling. Not in the "I'm saving the environment" kind of way. I don't really subscribe to that argument. I'm pretty sure that running hundreds of diesel-fueled buses day and night through repetitive routes all over one of the largest cities in the world is a great deal more than the equivalent of me driving to and from work once each day.

What I felt good about was a little more selfish than that.

I'm an avid audiobook reader, and one of the things I love about my commute to and from the office is the simple fact that I have a couple of hours each day to plow through an interesting audiobook. But there are times when I'd just like to have more good, ol' fashioned eye-to-page time, ya know? It's nice to have some time when I'm not having to multi-task. I'm not forced to focus my attention in slender strands while I negotiate whatever chaos has been caused by the irate drivers surrounding me. I'm not forced to worry about the fate of my precious mobile status symbol as I'm forced to stop short to avoid the fifteen other cars that have stopped short in front of me.

It's me time.

It's not perfect, I admit. There are occasional aromas. There are occasional panhandlers. There are occasional "I've had too much coffee and am filling quickly with regret" moments. But I've dealt with worse, and when I did I wasn't able to settle back and close my eyes for a few minutes to let the moment pass.

Me time.

Anyway, I don't know how regular this thing will become, but I'll probably fold it into my routine a bit. The occasional "environmentally friendly" ride into town, during which I can read from my Kindle or watch something on my iPad or type something up on my Macbook. You know ... roughing it.



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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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Sticks, Rocks & Fried Chicken

Exercise and me, we've never been toasting good friends. Sure, when I was in my early 20s I ran two to three miles per day. I would jog along the back roads near where I grew up, or bounce around the track that rings the Sweeny High School football field. Sometimes I might give the winding, tree-lined walking trail a try. I had a good rhythm for it, and it paid dividends in the form a buttocks that could crush walnuts, and brought unsolicited compliments from female friends and acquaintances. Yes, yes.

Somewhere along the way my heart started working against me. The bradycardia I developed as a result of some undiagnosed birth defect started dragging me down. My heart was literally skipping a beat, and the intervals were getting bigger, so oxygen was starting to become a scarce commodity in Kevinopolis. My energy levels were starting to suffer. So was my waist line. In the span of just five years I went from a trim physique to a bulbous mass. Of course, I can't blame all of that on the bradycardia. There was fried chicken involved. Oh so much fried chicken.

Then, in 2010, when my condition was diagnosed and a nifty new pacemaker was installed, I started my long road to recovery. Long, mostly because I took my time getting on it. Once the stitches had been removed and I had gotten an OK from my cardiologist, I was free to change my deep-fried ways and get my behind on a treadmill. I declined.

I continued to decline for the next year, gleefully stuffing my gullet with every fattening fried food I could find. I had newfound energy, you see. My heart was working better, and now I could approach food with all new vigor.

I did this until I was told I had shockingly high blood pressure, and my doctor put me on meds.

That would not do.

Blood pressure medication has always been a symbol for me. Sure, I had pacemaker now. And sure, I was overweight, and my joints ached, and I was slowing down in nearly every conceivable way. There was a vague notion in the back of my mind that I was "getting old." At 38, I think this was a bit premature. But one accepts such things. One suffers on.

But blood pressure meds? Suddenly the message did a tsunami rush from the back of my mind to my frontal lobe. "Holy crap I'm getting old," I thought. "I have to do something about that."

There is nothing wrong with taking blood pressure medication. Some people absolutely must take it. It helps keep them alive. But c'mon. We all know ... I knew ... what was causing my BP to skyrocket. It wasn't a genetic pre-disposition or a side effect of something I had no control over. It was buckets of fried chicken for every meal. It was limiting my exercise to shifting my fat ass around in my chair while I watched TV. It was any number of really bad decisions on my part. And that, my brain finally accepted, simply would not do.

I determined I would get off of the meds. And I figured the best way to do that would be to lose a whole bunch of weight. So I went on a severely low-calorie diet, limiting my calories to about 1,500 calories per day. I increased my intake of vegetables by a factor of a billion (easy to do from zero). I started walking each day, hitting the treadmill when it was raining, and even using some resistance bands and free weights. I started taking vitamins and drinking lots and lots and lots of water (and some apple cider vinegar).

It worked. Beautifully. After about three months I was already seeing significant weight loss. I was also feeling better. Loads better. Much more energetic, much happier, much more fit. I was doing great. And people were starting to notice. But best of all, I was able to ween myself off of the blood pressure meds. I win.

When we bought our house and I started renovating I changed my diet a bit. I started eating fast food again, but I tried to keep it to light stuff. I made good choices -- as good as possible, anyway. But despite that, I did start gaining again. Not much. A few pounds. But it was enough to scare me, so I stepped up my exercise.

In the past couple of months, I've started going off the beaten path. Every morning I get up and go for a walk in the park near my neighborhood. I eschew the gravel-laden walking path, which takes me in a wide but predictable circuit around a couple of soccer fields. That's fine for someone who needs a bit of guidance, but it simply won't do for a warrior on his path to greatness. Instead, I cut across fields, follow bayous and drainage ditches the run behind fenced in back yards, and push my way through brush and bramble and thick growth. I am an explorer. I am a lone survivor in a post apocalyptic world.

I am afraid of snakes and rabid possums.

Luckily I haven't encountered either of those on my journeys so far (I've seen possums, but they seem blissfully rabies free). But it wouldn't matter. I push on regardless, knowing that such dangers exist but determined to stay my course. I am an explorer, after all. A roaming warrior.

These walks are great cathartic experiences for me. I work through a lot of "stuff" while I'm pushing through high grass and stepping over soggy patches of ground in the deep darkness of pre-dawn. Deadlines, petty comments from petty people, stressful encounters with upset clients ... all of this fades away when you're trying to figure out the best way to cross a marshy gully in the dark.

Earlier in the week I came across a playground that has a couple of "climbing boulders." I've taken to scaling these on their toughest faces, and I have to say I do it very well. I study the ascent, I choose my route, I mull over every Jon Krakauer book I've ever read. It's all big-boy pretending, I know, but it has awoken a passion in me. I've decided to look deeper into this rock climbing idea ... you'll be the first to know when I take it on, believe me.

To add some variety to the whole thing, this morning I carried with me my Jo staff (or jyo staff). It's been a while since I've practiced any sort of martial arts, but the staff was something I always enjoyed. And I always thought it would be the most practical weapon to learn, honestly. In a post apocalyptic world, there is sure to be no shortage of sticks.

I carried the staff walking-stick style as I made my away through rugged terrain, and practiced a few forms in the middle-of-friggin-nowhere. Then I made my way back to the park, where the climbing boulders beckoned.

When I came to the boulders, Jo staff in hand, I thought, 'I bet I could climb these boulders with the Jo staff tucked into my belt." An idea worth exploring, thought I! And so I ran the staff down the back of my T-shirt and through my belt, just to the side of one of my belt loops. Then I sized up the first bolder, picked the toughest route I could find (it's only about seven feet tall, so it's not like I'm scaling Everest here), and then started my "ascent."

Success! I reached the top of the boulder and stood proud, "unsheathing" my staff and waving it in victory. The double entendre symbolism is not lost on me.

Now, having mastered the ascent, I resheathed my staff and scaled my way down, again doing brilliantly. I am a master of rocks and sticks, what can I say?

For those of you disappointed with the positive and successful spin on this tale, and for those who were expecting a story ending with my bloody and broken body at the bottom of a boulder, I can give you only this: In daylight, it becomes blaring obvious that these boulders are considered a public toilet by every bird that flies over. This fact can be unsettling to a man who, as a celebration of his pre-dawn, low-light scaling of the mighty boulder, has decided that he will drink copious amounts of water from a nearby, dirty water fountain by cupping the water into his hands and drinking as if he were pulling it from a fresh mountain stream.

You're welcome.

I will probably keep up this kind of workout (adding gloves). The world is my gym now, and I refuse to wipe down the equipment after I've used it. And I may go ahead and join some kind of rock climbing program (if anyone has suggestions, send them to me). I have a monkey-like frame, well-suited to climbing, and I think I would be good at that sort of thing.

Fitness ... who knew I could actually enjoy it? I'm actually looking forward to incorporating more of it into my life.

Because the more calories I burn each morning, the more fried chicken I can eat at lunch.

Learning life lessons is fun.


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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Have you seen my Karate magazines?

Growing up in Wild Peach, Texas, was a little like growing up in a third-world country. I have only my wife's descriptions of childhood in Indonesia to go by, but I have noticed a resemblance. Despite an abundance of fresh dairy products and the absence of stilt houses, the experiences were pretty similar.

You know how people will say, "We were poor, but we never knew it?" I've always liked comedian John Pinette's line: "We were poor, and I was sure of it. And I didn't like it." But the truth was, we were "sort of" poor in my house. We got by on a fairly meager income earned by my stepfather, as an insulator with Dow Chemical. But we never went hungry, never went without clothes or school supplies, and had plenty of trips to the dentist. So I guess we weren't "poor." Just "modest."

And by this, of course, I mean to say we did not have cable.

I remember getting up on Saturday mornings around 5 a.m. and rushing to my station in front of the TV. The Saturday-morning cartoon block began with NBC, and only transitioned to other networks as the morning wore on and the fare became scarce. These channel changes necessitated a shifting of the rabbit ears on top of the TV, resulting in a slightly less fuzzy and static-filled picture. I pressed on. No cartoon shall go unwatched.

By noon, most anything of interest was over, and I would stumble out into the "beginning" of the day, bleary-eyed and frightened of the giant fiery orb in the sky.

I don't remember eating as a child. I have vague memories of frozen Flava-ice and generic-brand soda, but not really much in the food department. I'm sure I must have eaten both breakfast and lunch. I remember cereal ... lots of cereal. Or were those just cereal commercials? Bless me Lucky Charms, I just can't remember.

Anyway, at noon-ish I would stumble out into the world and go wander into the woods behind my house, where there was a clearing filled with the Wonders of the Universe.

Here is an inventory of the Wonders of the Universe:

  • One rusty but usable boat winch, which would someday result in a catapult that would fling a young friend to his near death
  • Several large pieces of plywood and some long, nail-filled two-by-fours in the shape of what might be called a tree house (if one were feeling generous)
  • Miles of rope, much of which formed the basis of a swing system built precisely for the purpose of Spider-man practice
  • Various electronic doodads and thingamabobs, all of unexplained origin and purpose, which served as instrument panels for various spaceships and time travel devices
  • One or two porn magazines, pilfered from the older kids down the street and hidden discreetly in a garbage bag buried under a fallen tree
  • Several karate magazines, hidden (for some reason) in the same garbage bag
  • Four unsharpened throwing stars
  • A pair of nunchuckus (sensing a theme here?)
  • Pipes, wires, tubes, and other outlets of imagination

I know there was more. There felt like more. But you know how these kid havens work. I may not have had much more than a Slinky and some action figures, but it seemed like a vast booty to me.

One thing I did have plenty of was imagination. And I'm now convinced, as I sit in front of the titanium casing of a MacBook Pro and tap word-candy into the brains of readers, that I had more opportunity for creativity and "big ideas" while rooting around in those woods and tinkering with all that junk than I have ever had in even the most productive brainstorming session or all-night, coffee-fueled writing binge. I think a lot of the stories I've written over the years have come from those days bouncing around in the woods behind my house. It's really too bad TV has killed my capacity to ... something.

Now that I'm all growed up and have a house of my own, a yard of my own, and a neighborhood of my own, I find myself looking back wistfully on those moments in my Cave of Wonders, and contemplating how to get back there. Is it possible, as a grown man with responsibilities and bills and a slight weight problem, to slip back into the stream of carefree fun and creativity that I once swam in? Is there a way to be more child-like without being childish?

Dammit, I intend to find out. And I plan on finding those lost porno and karate magazines in the process.

To be continued ...





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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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A blatant plug to get free coffee from the Weslayan Dunn Bros.

I like coffee.

Well, no Earth-shaking revelation, that one. I’m one of billions on that score. Coffee is a huge enterprise, spanning the planet. It’s ubiquitous and universal. Coffee is a legally addictive substance that is praised by anyone who ever needed to perk up for a test, a late-night drive, or Monday morning at the office. So yeah, I’m not alone in liking the stuff.

But I really like coffee.

It’s not just the deliciousness of a dark roast, or the slight buzz of caffeine. There’s more to it than that. When I say I like coffee, I mean that I like the culture of coffee. I like the world that coffee opens up for me. I like being in what Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz refers to in his book “Pour Your Heart Into It” as “the third place.” I like the idea of “affordable luxury,” where a guy who makes ten bucks an hour can stand in line with a multi-millionaire, and both order the same drink.

I have always loved Starbucks, in much the same way I love Google. Yes, they’re big corporations. Yes, they have their enemies, who believe them to be “evil.” But both of these companies share a certain aesthetic, or a certain vibe. They both present me with something meant to make me the center of my own life. You get that? At Starbucks, I’m the customer who gets the drink he wants, and exactly the way he wants it. With Google I’m the user who gets the benefit of free software and resources, all developed with my needs in mind.

Still … coffee. I just like it.

Locally, there’s a franchise coffee shop called “Dunn Bros.” This is the kind of place where you can go in for a breakfast taco and a non-fat latte in the morning, then drop in for a glass of wine or a beer after work. You can read, play games, do some writing, and buy some irreverent greeting cards. You can read acerbic “warnings” about sulfites in your wine that make you want to cheer for the pure sanity of it.

I don’t know if every Dunn Bros. franchise is like the one here in Houston (Weslayan near Richmond). But the one I frequent seems tailored just to my tastes. As “third places” go, it’s the thirdiest. And the placiest. My kinda coffee bar.

So the point of all this is, I’d really like a latte right now. And I’m thinking of swinging by Dunn Bros. And you should to. Because this is a free plug, in a blatant attempt to get free coffee from the management.


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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I don't know why you say hello I say goodbye

I’m very well connected.

Which is to say, I don’t have Obama’s Blackberry number or anything, but there are approximately 300 different ways to contact me at any time of the day or night, regardless of where I may be in the Universe. My Nexus One alone grants me vast connectivity super powers undreamt of by mortal man.

Here’s the thing …

I hate talking on the phone. HATE. IT. This isn’t a new thing for me. Practically since birth I have absolutely dreaded making “official” phone calls, and I have avoided lengthy conversations with all but my closest friends and family members.

This started off as a practical aversion. When phones were tethered to the wall by short, spiraled, constantly-tangled cords, I hated being chained to one spot all the time. So in our house, we had one of those un-Godly long (spiraled, tangled) cords that let you get from the kitchen to the sofa, tripping up anyone who dared walked behind you.

When we graduated to a cordless phone, I marveled at the ability to move around the house, with only a sudden burst of static to let me know when I had reached my boundaries. And as cordless phones improved, I was happy to go for longer and longer jaunts. I dreamt of the day when I could have a phone that let me be anywhere, just so I wouldn’t have to stay locked in place.

And now that dream has become an uber reality! I can be anywhere in the world and be on the phone! My roaming range has extended to nearly every corner of the Earth! I have achieved phone synergy! And I hate it.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a WRITER. I like to spew words onto a page and sit back as they do all the work of communicating for me. I can tappity-tappity on my keyboardy and then send my thoughts out into the universe, for all to absorb. If what I’m saying makes no sense, or if I read it and think, “I can say that better, and with fewer swear words directed at the Pope,” then I can change what I wrote before it does irreparable damage.

Not so with the phone! Every word out of my mouth is unfiltered and unedited. I’m constantly spewing bells I can’t unring.

Now that I can get voicemails instantly translated into e-mails and send 911 calls as text messages I really can’t see a need to use icky analog vocal comms anymore. I think I’ll boycott them, phase them out. From now on, it’s texting and e-mail and maybe that Facetime thing every now and then. It’s tweets and FB status updates (how come there’s no cutesy term for that?). LinkedIn, Google Buzz, blogging, YouTube, Vimeo, Skype … jeez, I hadn’t even realized how many ways I have to NOT talk to someone.

I’m leaving for Europe in six days. This is as good a time as any to experiment with ditching traditional phone service and sticking with all-digital, mostly text-based stuff. If I survive, I will write the entire harrowing tale. If not, I’ll tweet about it. #sendhelp


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____________________________________________________________
Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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