A BWG perspective on Zumba

20 Nov

This weekend I attended a sports federation conference that involved a number of more-or-less obligatory activities. One such activity was a Zumba class. For those three of you who have been living in a cave, bereft of the soul-sucking influence of infomercials, Zumba is a form of group dance exercise that involves a nice-looking instructor with seemingly boundless enthusiasm and hip control borrowed from Shakira, encouraging a group of somewhat pasty-complected, hopelessly non-color-coordinated and overweight white folks (who look nothing like the participants in the infomercials) to move their bodies in ways that would cause their teenage offspring to spontaneously combust from sheer embarrassment.

I couldn’t bear to participate in this frenzy of estrogen ecstasy unprepared, but I noticed that the gymnasium that we would be using had a climbing wall. I have a bag of climber’s chalk in my gym bag that I use to help me grip the bar when weightlifting, so I chalked up and took a few unroped trips up the wall in the hopes that the feeling of cheating death would provide me with a combined adrenaline/testosterone speedball to ease the imminent pain of having my guy card revoked.

While I was defying death 20 feet above the floor somebody opened up the equipment room and brought out a few basketballs, so I took one of the adjustable-height backboards down to 9 feet and had me a little slam-fest. One-handed, two handed, straight on, from underneath and so on. Just enough to put some frosting on my cake of masculinity in an attempt to prepare for the upcoming assault.

Right on time, this hairless-bodied latin looking guy with fingerless gloves bounces into the room and puts on his headset mike I know that it is time to sweat. With a voice straight out of central casting, Rico does not disappoint the dozens of apparent Desi Arnaz/Julio Iglesias/Enrique Iglesias fans in the audience.

“Remember ladies, Zumba is all about having fun! Are we having fun yet?” (YES!)

“In order to make this a little more fun for all of us, when I do this cute little move with my hands, I want to hear you squeal with delight! Squeal like your teenage daughter would if she got a date with Rob Pattinson! If you don’t have a teenage daughter, squeal like you would if you found the perfect pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps in your size, on sale for 20% of the normal price! If that doesn’t do it for you, pretend that Oprah just gave everybody in the studio audience a Pontiac and you really, really want the cameraman to focus on you!”

“OK, are you all ready? On the count of three I want to hear you squeal! One, two, three (squeal). Is that all you got? Maybe you didn’t see my cute little hand motion. I’ll add a cute little tushie motion to help us all get in the mood and let’s try it again! One, two, three (SQUEAL!!) That’s much better! I just knew you had it in you!”

“Are we ready? Here we go! One two three four…” (ad nauseum)

The next 35+ minutes were a bit of blur, but I’m pretty certain that I remember gems such as the following:

“Lift and bend and stretch and shake it loose!”

“Shake your booties like there is no tomorrow!”

“Now shake your chests like you are a sports bra tester!”

“Now it is time for the naughty pelvic thrusts – no, harder – NO, HARDER! Do it like you are trying to get excommunicated!! Squeal with delight!” (SQUEAL!)

I’m still not sure which team the instructor was batting for, but I was amazed at the facility with which he played the ladies. As far as I know there is no way (short of being a ROCK GOD) for a BWG to get that many ladies to squeal that loudly on cue. We don’t have the accent, we don’t have the hip control and we don’t have the devil-may-care confidence to pull it off.

That having been said, I’m pretty sure that I could tie the little fucker up in a pretzel if I had to.

Time to grab a cold beer (Nothing lite. Never lite.) and see if American Choppers is on TV. If not, there’s always Rambo or Die Hard…

The uphill struggle

11 Aug

I’ve noticed over the years that building good will is easier with some people than with others. For some, a small courtesy is sufficient to create a positive impression that can weather powerful storms later on. With others, prolonged success can be wiped away in a moment.

It may come down to the basic attitude of the person in question with regard to the question of the glass being half-full or half-empty. Some seem to have a reflexive initial response that predisposes them to assume that new things or situations are to be viewed with skepticism or even disdain. An unhappy combination of “guilty until proven innocent” and the “not invented here” syndrome.

When dealing with such folks some adopt a manipulative strategy, doing everything possible to make it seem like they came up with the idea in question. Others resort to an apathetic strategy, simply not worrying about whether the person approves or not. A more sustainable middle ground might be to build in extra time so that ideas have time to be presented, rejected, reconsidered and eventually evaluated on their merits.

The “wait it out” strategy will still not result in as many positive outcomes as you might get dealing with a more consistently positive person, but your own expectations are something that you do have a degree of control over, so it can be better for your own mental health to quit beating yourself senseless against the rock of another person’s resistive disposition.

Wrong tool for the job

13 Jul

After 20+ years of marriage what is it that makes a woman think that her man is suddenly capable of something that he has NEVER shown any talent for?

I’m talking about the art of just listening and approving, without adding anything.

My life is built around gathering evidence, fitting bits together into a logical whole and passing the information on to others. Adding value to the discussion, not just repeating what has already been stated. Learning that skill is one of the main points of school. Applying that skill is how many of us make a living. Without that basic skill none of my employers would have had any interest in hiring me in the first place. I have always been good at it and I enjoy applying it and seeing it applied masterfully by others.

Others apparently agree with me. Ever see a cop show on TV? How about a medical show? Law? Star Trek? MacGyver? All of them are about figuring things out and using the information to make a situation better. The problem is that I don’t know when to quit. Solving things is an app that never gets turned off. A background process. My screen-saver.

Even when I completely approve of something my instinct is to discuss why I think it is good and to brainstorm about what some good next steps might be. To my way of thinking this is in no way criticism. If I didn’t think it was great or showed promise it would be much easier for me to remain quiet, damning the situation in question with faint praise.

It is like showing a picture of a chessboard in mid-game to an experienced chess player and being hurt and upset with them for talking about what the best next moves might be rather than talking about what a good job the photographer did.

You don’t call a plumber to fix your wiring. You don’t call an electrician when you have a leaky pipe. If you are going to tell me something and you don’t want me to have or express an opinion about it, TELL ME SO UP FRONT. I’m a straightforward person, with a limited capacity to understand the underlying emotion and subtext to a situation, especially when the key information is communicated via e-mail or text message.  I am likely to take what you tell me and think out the next few moves in advance. This should not be a surprise by now.

Don’t get mad at the dog for not purring. Don’t get mad at the cat for not catching the frisbee. Don’t get mad at the bald white guy for acting in character. If you don’t want him to have an opinion and express it, don’t give him the information in the first place.

 

 

 

The Art of Debate – Being a bad winner

27 Jun

When debating it is considered good form to be aware of what the other party has said and to in some way tailor your remarks to let them know that you have been paying attention. If you are going to ignore the other party you might as well call it a monologue or pull up a soapbox, because it shows that you do not value the input of your discussion partner/opponent.

 

The same thing can be said for discussions among roommates, couples and significant others. If you live with a person, or love them, they might just be worth listening to. If you suspect that they have slighted you in some way, try being curious to figure out their reasoning behind what they said. Odds are that they meant something different than what you thought. There might be room for improvement in how they express themselves, but if once you get to the bottom of what they really meant you realize that they weren’t being mean, let them know!

 

Find where the breakdown in communication was and focus on making it better, rather than perseverating on how your feelings were hurt. If they go so far as to admit that they were wrong and that they should have expressed themselves better, acknowledge that and thank them for it. Try to see it from their point of view and try to remember that the person you are talking with loves you. They are not your opponent, they are your ally. They want to be on the same team, working in the same direction. When it doesn’t work it is not by design, it is by accident. Help figure out how to make it work better rather than spending time figuring out how to place blame.

 

When they admit that they were wrong, be a good winner. Pay attention. Be gracious. Make points with them instead of against them.

Long-term relationship: The struggle

25 Jun

I’m of the opinion that my quest to be a better partner boils down to finding a riding the sweet spot between being a patsy and being a jerk. Straying from that range is a recipe for trouble. Being a doormat sucks for the walkee, and the walker loses all respect pretty quickly. On the other hand being completely self-centered and ignoring the needs of your partner makes both parties hard to live with.

 

What I’m struggling with is how to adjust my own behavioral GPS to keep me on the right track. I want to be sensitive to her needs, but not afraid to let mine be known as well. Sometimes the path is wide, offering a number of positive alternatives. At other times it seems like I’ve wandered into a behavioral cul-de-sac, where there is no way forward without backtracking.

 

It isn’t easy and the benefits aren’t always obvious. It doesn’t always seem worth it. I’m often tempted to just give up (like my parents and all of my aunts and uncles and a great many of my cousins and friends have). I haven’t yet for a variety of reasons, and I keep telling myself that they are all meaningful. Not yet willing to think about alternatives. Probably never will. I may be a bit like the frog in the bucket with the water getting progressively hotter. If he ever wakes up to what is going on he will hop out without first torturing himself with insecurity about what is on the outside of the bucket. So far I am focusing on keeping the water cool enough to be livable. Seems to be working for now. Hasn’t killed me in 20+ years so far.

Wish me luck.

Why Glenn Beck is dangerous

17 Jun

Thought processes are like mental pathways that become better established the more often we are exposed to and follow along with the same reasoning, and our actions are ultimately the result of our thought processes.

Spending time in an environment that emphasizes and rewards diplomatic relations, active acknowledgement of shortcomings when it comes to evidence and open and honest intellectual exchange with the goal of arriving together at a more complete understanding of the physical universe is likely to cause a person to seek and apply that type of discourse in other parts of their lives as well.

Spending time in an environment where the most common reflexive reaction to disagreements is ad hominem attacks, where the rules and evidence are long established, unchanging and indisputable and the power to wield influence is more strongly proportional to the passion of the presentation than the dispassionate, objective evaluation of evidence is likely to cause a person to seek and apply that type of discourse in other parts of their lives as well.

That is why it is important to be aware of what we pay attention to and the effects that exposure to different intellectual environments can have. It affects whether we see the world as black and white, as shades of gray, as the visible spectrum of color or as the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

Understanding this is a prerequisite to being able to understand why people like Glenn Beck are dangerous. Beck appeals to the sensibility of those who want the world to be a simpler place, those who prefer true/false questions and those who think statements such as “If you aren’t with us you are against us” are an admirable form of statesmanship. Public figures such as Beck, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are the poster children for a form of lowest-common-denominator populism. A way of thinking that obviates any need for nuanced and objective examination of facts or comparison of alternatives. A mental landscape where belief, passion and populism trump understanding, dispassionate reasoning and compassion.

The intellectual path welcomes honest challenge as a way to improve understanding and processes. It is not afraid to re-examine beliefs in the light of new evidence. It seeks to create a better mousetrap and to find a better way to skin the cat. The idea is that a more complete understanding of the physical universe and the human condition can provide a stronger foundation upon which to base decisions of collective and individual importance. It can be aware of the demonstrated failures of socialism while freely acknowledging the demonstrated need for certain controls on capitalism. It recognizes the overwhelming drive of rational self-interest and searches for the best balance of governing principles that will allow all to create the best lives for themselves without doing so at the cost of the freedoms or potential for self-actualization of others.

That vision of the future recognizes that the collected wisdom of our past is a foundation upon which to build, not a final design specification that can never be improved upon. It recognizes the historically evolution of the roles of mysticism, organized religion and scientific inquiry and seeks to create a construct for cultural co-existence that can be respectful of what we believe while at the same time being realistic about what we know.

The mindset of the Modern Fundamentalist Constitutionalist seeks to simplify all political, social and economic questions in the extreme, actively rejecting the possibility of new solutions to new challenges. It would replace nuanced rational examination of the facts with ideologically reflexive action, no matter how ill-suited said action might be to the situation at hand or how much it might actually conflict with any higher purpose. The mindset can in some ways be likened with a reach back to authoritarian tribalism, where many derived comfort from the steady presence of a guiding hand, never being called upon to think on their own or to be responsible for their own actions in a wider context.

The safety of not needing to think on one’s own because all of the difficult decisions have already been made is the cradle of intolerance, not democracy. The same primitive fundamentalist urge that rejects the right for homosexuals to marry in California puts women in burqas and destroys historical treasures in Afghanistan.  It divides the human race into us and them rather than combining our intellects and resources to address our common challenges. It defines the decisions of the present exclusively in terms of the principals of the past rather than including a deep awareness of the past into discussions of the future.

The fundamentalist urge seeks to make the future more like the past, while the intellectual seeks to learn from the past to make the future better. The fundamentalist seeks to remove the intellectual from the scene altogether, while the intellectual recognizes the right of the fundamentalist to exist and seeks to achieve a more common understanding.

Enough ranting for now. I need to watch some Jon Stewart to restore my hope.

Poetry corner – Nostalgia

15 Jun

Nostalgia

I’m flying back to yesterday

at thirty thousand feet

Shedding years from my mind’s eye

and wondering who I’ll meet

Been over half a life ago

A teenaged year away

It shaped my life, my appetites

For better or worse, it made me what I am today

So I’ll indulge nostalgia

and kiss her tender face

Surrender to her tempting wiles

and let her take me to her magic place

Her love may be illusion

But it’s a powerful embrace

So I’ll indulge nostalgia

and kiss her tender face

Next week I’m back to real time

My home and kids and wife

Trade reality for memories

and end another chapter of my life

The stories just keep piling up

A lifetime’s worth of friends

Some days it seems I’m starting out

while others feel like it could be the end…

So I’ll indulge nostalgia

and kiss her tender face

Surrender to her tempting wiles

and let her take me to her magic place

Her love may be illusion

But it’s a powerful embrace

So I’ll indulge nostalgia

and kiss her tender face