May 3, 2010
Some time in the summer of 1996 I pinched a nerve. It’s not important how it happened – and in truth I have never been able to pinpoint its exact moment of origin anyway. What is important is that this excruciating pain in my lower back became one of my many excuses for not exercising. It was not my first excuse, mind you. In high school, I had developed the impression that I was incapable of gaining weight and therefore didn’t really need to exercise. In my defense, I was thirty pounds underweight at the time, despite having had what could be described as a seemingly bottomless stomach.
Time, as well as all the food I’d taken in, finally caught up with me during the summer of 1995. At the time, I was working two jobs, and since my cooking skills were next to nil, I had taken up the habit of eating three or four bagels in the morning, ordering a bit too much from Arby’s in the afternoon, and using my dinner break at my second job to grab either a quick slice of pizza or some chicken fried rice. I should also mention my daily intake of about seven sixteen-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola. A month into this ridiculously unhealthy diet and I had gained all of the weight I had said I could never gain, and all of it went into the most undesirable of places – the gut. I was shocked and – I must admit – a bit depressed, so I took action, and by the end of the summer, I had taken some of the weight off.
Then came graduate school, the ostensibly never-ending cycle of classes and fast food, and the multitude of excuses. The pinched nerve was almost a blessing in disguise, for it gave me an excuse that no one could counter. What could people say? that my back didn’t hurt when I tried to bend over? However, the back would not be my only justification for my unwholesome lifestyle. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the others:
1) I’m too busy. This was essentially my battle cry for two years, and in my defense, there was some justification for it, for during my two and half years in graduate school and in the three years that followed, there was rarely a day when I wasn’t either in school, studying, or working. However, I’ve come to believe that “I’m too busy” is synonymous with “I just don’t want to.”
2) I’ll do it when I have time. Looking back, I probably meant this a bit when I said it; however, I can also now honestly say that when I said this, I truly had no idea when such a time would come. It was something I said to get whomever I was talking to to change the subject.
3) But what about all the things I’d have to give up? This was a real concern for me, for getting healthy would undoubtedly mean doing without many of the things I loved to eat, and at that time, I was not willing to make the sacrifice. Health may be important, but could I really be asked to give up my weekly steak burrito for it? Never.
4) I don’t try to change you. Admitting this one is hard for me, and in truth it was not until after I arrived in Taiwan and began reading John Gray’s work that I began to understand it. In my relationships, I had wanted to be accepted and admired, to be seen as capable of making decisions and solving problems. I strove to be accepting of people, faults and all. And if I could be that way, I expected the ones who loved me to be that way, too. Some were, some weren’t. In hindsight, it would have been better to listen to the ones who weren’t. However, I wasn’t ready to, and therefore, I ignored the heartfelt concerns of people whom I professed to love, arguing for acceptance of the man I was and against longing for the man I wasn’t. It all sounded so romantic in nature that I completely missed the message.
I cannot say what changed in me, but thankfully something did. I remember watching CNN one morning when Dr. Sanjay Gupta came on to discuss a recently-published report on sodas. I remember him saying that just one soda a day was enough to increase the risk of developing diabetes, and he advised staying clear of all foods with high fructose corn syrup in them. A year earlier, I would probably have done nothing, but on that particular day, the message stuck, and I set out to discover just how much of my diet contained that particular ingredient. The results alarmed me, and just like that, my diet changed. Gone were those sweet cereals I was having for breakfast, the sodas I had relied on to get me through the day, the easy-to-make dinners I would often have. I even gave up red meat, although that had nothing to do with corn syrup.
Later, I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Kirk Rockwell. The day we met, he was at a small table at 24-Hr. Fitness talking to anyone who came to him about back pain. I was not a member, but one of the trainers encouraged me to talk to him. I’ll never forget what he told me after I told him how dependent I was on a certain pain medication – “Get off of that right now.” And I did. I had received that message many times before and ignored it. For some reason, I was ready to hear it that day. I would eventually become one of Dr. Rockwell’s regular patients, and because of his excellent work, I was no longer able to use one of my most dependable excuses.
And then there were the good people at the San Francisco Free Clinic, who suggested I get a complete check-up rather than just the TB test I had gone in for. The results were not surprising. My cholesterol was high, my triglycerides were off the charts, and my weight was putting me at risk of developing diabetes. They advised me to lose ten pounds before my next appointment, which was scheduled for two week later. Again, the message stuck.
I also owe a debt of gratitude to my brothers, Matthew and Nathaniel, for finally enabling me to abandon my once-reliable notion of not having enough time to exercise. For months, they had been hounding me to join them in their twice-a-week weight lifting program, and I had always declined. I had always been – or claimed to be - too tired or busy. However, one day during Chinese New Year, I accepted. Why? I’m not sure. Again, it just seemed like the right time for a change.
At my heaviest (at least that I know about), I was 218 lbs. When I came to Taiwan, I was 195. Presently, I’m about 180, and I’ve been working out now for almost five years straight. (I took a short break after I got here.) I still can’t completely get rid of my stomach, and that’s frustrating. What’s more frustrating is the fact that as the weight came off, my back began feeling even better, and I began mentally kicking myself. My own bad habits had added to my physical discomfort.
So what does this long story have to do with movies? Well, many years ago – I was probably about ten - I went jogging with my father, Paul. I became winded quickly, and if I’d had my way, I would have stopped right then and there. However, my father encouraged me to keep going, telling me that it was just a matter of time before my second wind kicked in. He was right, and together we continued down a rather scenic trail somewhere in Nevada County. I don’t remember jogging with him again after that, but years later, as I was working out on the treadmill in my local gym, I had a sudden flashback of my father’s words of encouragement, and despite the pain that was developing in my sides, completed the goal I had set out for myself. Without that day with my father so many years earlier, I would likely have stopped jogging for the day.
My father gave me something else as a child. He gave me a love for the films of Charlie Chaplin. Back then, the Disney Channel ran a different Chaplin film every month, and I remember sitting in front of the television watching them with him. I doubt I would have done so on my own, for how many children choose to watch a silent movie when they could be watching The Gong Show or Happy Days? I can’t think of many.
I’m not going to say that I developed an instant love for classic films, for I didn’t. Like most kids my age, I gravitated towards Hollywood and shunned anything black and white. However, later in life, I found I was much more willing to give films such as Casablanca, Broken Blossoms, and Citizen Kane a chance. The seed had been planted. Perhaps returning to it was simply a matter of time.