Fatty Gets Less Fat

Email: richretyi@gmail.com

Fatty Gets Less Fat

Man exercising in his officeShame is a great motivator. But it hurts.

For nearly a year, I have been semi-maintaining a Facebook page called Fatty Gets Less Fat, with the purpose of allowing my trainer a regular glimpse into my eating habits and poisonous internal dialogue. It started with some trainer-set goals, regular weigh-ins and body measurements. There are pictures. I wore a SUPER tight t-shirt I used to fit in.

There was a seven months or so lull, because it’s tough to update a Facebook page daily when it mostly makes you feel like shit. I restarted posting in December, with the goal of updating once a week (or so) with a slightly new philosophy based on the 1% improvement principle (marginal gains). And here we are.

Less than 10 people are following the page, and I really only get feedback from one person with any regularity, but since I’m starting to experience positive progress, and it sucks a little less to update, I’ll spread the word a little more publicly in the hopes that extra eyeballs will make me keep pushing forward and not slide back to the old, gross, lumpy depths.

Feel free to jump on the Fatty Gets Less Fat bandwagon. There will be shirts. (There won’t be shirts)

Slipping Gears and Starting Emails

When goals and initiatives have started, stopped and failed, I picture a set of gears slipping. Chunka, chunka, chunka. Failing to find purchase and depressingly battering together all greasy and rusty and ineffectively. I can hear the sound of failure in my head. CHUNKA, CHUNKA, CHUNKA. And I keep hoping (expecting?) that one day with enough willpower and force, the gears will click into place and the machine will start working properly again.

Optimistically, friends, the gears have recently clunked into place and we have productivity. The metaphor is working for its master.

I’ve subscribed to a number of personal email newsletters because I don’t have enough time to visit blogs or effectively keep up with Twitter, and I’ve found personal email newsletters to be a really great way of receiving things I want to check out, but having the option of archiving them for later (which works better for me than keeping a ton of tabs open on my browser). I’m toying with the idea of setting up my own personal newsletter, not because I’m amazingly impressive or a great curator of things to check out, but because it’s a more functional way to write than a lot of small blog posts (plus I’d like to learn about email newsletter design a little more). Would any of you be interested in such a venture? Email me at richretyi@gmail.com.

Always Get Better Turns Into Never Good Enough

featured_babadookBefore I launch into this doubt-filled, self-loathing personal essay, let me tell you up front: I’m a pretty confident fellow. I’m smart, talented, pretty well-rounded, mostly capable and able to work with almost anyone. Come what may, I know I’ll be fine. But that doesn’t prevent the following.

I’ve always had the feeling that I needed to get better. Something drilled into me at an early age by my parents, who ingrained this in me with school and grades. A’s were the floor—the expectation. I’m sure there was some bleed into sports and activities (I was never allowed to quit anything, even if I hated it—guitar, judo, soccer) but I internalized the sentiment and applied it to other areas of my life as I got older. I always needed to get better at sports. At being smarter. At being creative. At being thinner. At being more well-rounded. In a lot of cases, it served me well. I did get better in the things I put time and energy into. The only tangible drawback was never having a finish line and finding no joy in success like awards or promotions. I had to force myself to celebrate and enjoy good news. It joined the list—get better at celebrating.

At some point in the last year or so, something sinister happened. Always needing to get better turned into never good enough. Instead of wanting to improve my own output and initiatives, I started focusing on what other people were doing and feeling like I wasn’t good enough. That’s an arbitrary designation—not good enough—but the sentiment is, “Look at what those people are doing in that space. I’m not doing those things. I’m not sure I can do those things. I suck.”

It’s a terrible and unproductive way to think and until maybe 20 minutes ago, I didn’t realize that’s what I’d been doing. For a while I’d been feeling like life was flying past me and that I’d lost the ability to keep up. Everything around me seemed smarter and sharper and more interesting than I felt. I felt kind of useless and incapable—creatively, professionally, you name it. I felt like the stereotypical old guy who can’t keep up with all the whippersnappers. It’s not an age thing. I don’t feel old or somehow behind the times when it comes to technology and trends, but I felt a step behind a lot of what I was seeing and reading. As if I missed some sort of cultural or creative shift.

It recently started to weigh down on me in a bad way. The difference between “always get better” and “never good enough” is grounded in effort. For the former, effort is the key. Effort is the mission. The focus is internal with occasional glances outside. for the latter, effort is pointless. No matter what I do, I can’t be good enough. The outside is all that matters. Great stories, creative ideas, professional victories—I can’t keep up, so why bother.

Told you. Shit is sinister. I think this happens on some level to anyone who is semi-intelligent and has some awareness of reality. The older you get, the more you realize how little you actually know. You combat it with self-assurance, ego and stubborn confidence, but you’re a fool if you don’t have doubts about how capable you are in a given area of life. Most people manage those doubts rationally and irrationally and are okay with not being the best at every single thing. That’s what I’m struggling with now. I’m pretty sure having a kid and changing jobs (and career fields) is a big reason for some of this. I think I’m a good dad and I’m probably doing the right things with my kid, but am I maximizing her opportunities to be smart and independent and a capable little human? Do I have the TV on too much and not take her out of the house enough and not read to her as much as I should?

Same thing with work. I’m jumping into a field that I love and that I’ve danced around the edges of (journalism) but I’m swimming with people who’ve been here for a lot longer. I’m 100% confident in my ability to write well, but that’s not my job here—I operate in the process of digital publishing. Which I’m new-ish at.

Writing all this has helped me identify the issue and put it in a box. By understanding why I’ve been feeling like this, maybe it will help me examine this thing through the air holes, then tape the box shut and stomp it in a parking lot by the mall. Then we can get back to plain old always get better and forced celebrations.

Why I’ll Try Not to Write About Fatherhood

super-dadFifteen nights ago, surgeons pulled five pounds and 15 ounces of steaming baby out of my wife’s flayed uterus. They efficiently severed the umbilical cord and handed her to some nurses who rushed her to a way station where she was cleaned off and pissed off so she’d take those first 200 or so annoying first breaths of Earth air. They ink-printed her feet, let me take 200 pictures of her and then handed me this new, pink and grey baby.

Since those amazing first few moments, I’ve been tempted to write about what it’s like to be a new dad. What it’s like to see a tiny human get pulled out of the innards of the woman you love. What it’s like to hold that thing for the first time. What it’s like to watch them stitch that woman back together, layer by layer (there are many layers to a lady, apparently) and finish it off with 14 staples, like they’re putting up rock show flyers on a telephone pole. What it’s like to spend those first few nights in a hospital room with something you’re sort of certain will just stop breathing at any moment.

But I’m going to resist. I’m going to fight the urge to write regularly about something that millions and billions of new fathers have experienced for however many year Neil deGrasse Tyson says the Earth has existed. As much as I think these experiences are unique—they aren’t. To me, yes. To every other dad, hell no. I’ve watched dads listen to my stories and my wife’s stories of deliveries and birth scares and week one of changing diapers. They nod and smile, but they aren’t interested (okay, one is, but I think it’s just because he’s been super excited to welcome me to this new, weird club). Most dads know that shit hasn’t even begun. And when I get to where they are, they’ll know that shit hasn’t even begun BEGUN. Sure, these experiences might be interesting for gents who haven’t yet become dads, but, let’s be honest, even never-breeders don’t really care. Back to their Gentleman’s Quarterly magazines and alcoholic whipped creams.

Caring for newborns is all the same. Interrupted sleep, stress about crying, cleaning crap off your little daughter’s baby vagina and trying to pay enough positive attention to your spouse so you don’t kill each other. All highly instructive and for the most part enjoyable experiences, but not original and not really for you.

I accept how illogical this is, since I’m happy to write about yoga or food or music or arcane Canadian customs or whatever else that millions and billions of other people have also experienced—but the thing is, parents don’t shut up about their kids, while chubby guys that do yoga rarely talk or write about it. Know your market. Or something.

Explanation over. My daughter is the best. Back to your regularly scheduled infrequent posting.

Good Time Charleys

Impressing Myself With Myself

Once in a glorious while I come across something I previously wrote and find myself actually impressed by a sentence, paragraph or idea. It doesn’t happen too often—I’m generally mortified by how crappy (in hindsight) I think most of my stuff is—but those few occasions I impress myself with myself are thrilling.

A colleague just posted a story on their blog about eating four big burgers, and it reminded me of the time I participated in a burger eating contest at Good Time Charley’s. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so inclined, but my favorite part was right at the end, even though the flow of the second-to-last sentence is a little clunky. For reference, the “Holowicki” I reference is the guy who won the burger eating contest and is a highly decorated local competitive eater:

My advice to aspiring volume eaters — don’t. Get into something less physically destructive but equally annoying like cycling or disc golf. Except Holowicki — you were born to eat huge plates of stuff. I want to see you on TV someday, point to my bodyguard and say, “I lost a mini-burger eating contest to that guy one day,” and have him briefly forget about his involvement in an upcoming plot to assassinate me. Only briefly.

I’m also tickled by the byline I included at the end when that was an option for my columns.

Richard “The Burger Destroyer” Retyi writes the bi-weekly-ish column “Lie to Your Cats About Santa” where he subjects himself to things like burger eating contests and Kerrytown. He recently won a bunch of writing awards which he’ll brag about this week and then promise never to mention again. You can read more of his AnnArbor.com work here or other musings on his co-blog “In Bed By Eleven” or email him at richretyi@gmail.com and suggest future story ideas. Thanks for reading!

Self-congratulations done! I’ll just do this every once in a while so you don’t need to read everything I write—just my Greatest Hits. See you again in May!


The Yoga Chronicles: Chapter One

For a past his prime former linebacker, lacrosse enforcer and ball tag enthusiast—vocations not necessarily associated with limberness—I’m still pretty flexible. Back, hamstrings, quads, pretty much anything but my shoulders, which are shot from those aforementioned activities. It’s 2013 and not surprising or even really that interesting when guys do yoga, but lucky you I’m going to write about it anyway.

There are 900 yoga studios in Ann Arbor (I’m only slightly exaggerating). Everything from schools, rooms, spaces and centers offering Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Pranga, Pre-Natal and Bikram. I live within three blocks of four yoga places. There are a lot of options.

Prior to my most recent foray (bear with me), I was a regular at Bikram Yoga on Washtenaw Ave. It was the first yoga I ever tried and I loved the routine, repetition and the extra hot room. I stopped going partly because I got lazy and partly because it was expensive and other than a few classes at the Ypsi Studio (two of them with just me and the instructor – not awkward at all) I took a few years off.

But I’m tightening up. I need limbering again. So I signed up for a two-month at a local yoga studio, figuring it was cheaper than the YMCA and a lot more bendy. I picked this particular place because every time I drive by it, the people coming out look normal. Young professionals. Dressed in regular yoga gear. Yoga mats, not what look like rolled up mats made of old t-shirts. Non-threatening. Not that the people coming out of the places near my home look threatening. But a lot of them seem off. They have bags under their eyes. They smell kind of funny. Most of them are old and look like they don’t wash their hair. I’m painting with a wide brush, but the Ann Arbor Center for Yoga gives off a good vibe. Plus friend Jordan also recommended it. I was sold.

It’s been three weeks or so and I’ve been to about six classes and there are some things I need to get off my chest. Hence the Yoga Chronicles series where I’ll write about what it’s like to be a guy who doesn’t take his shirt off in a yoga class doing yoga. What it’s like to hold in farts. Try not to pass out or sweat on people. Try not to laugh when the yoga instructor plays a five minute speech by Deepak Chopra.

Namaste, won’t you?


Soccer For Old People

I’m not as young as I smell. I have broken feet, bad ankles, busted knees, tender hamstrings, a petulant lower back, popping hips, creaky shoulders and poor eyesight. There’s no reason, other than some sort of Space Jam interplanetary showdown to decide Earth’s fate, that I should be playing soccer. On a full field. With 45 minute periods. With people who know advanced soccer terminology.

How did I find myself in this predicament? I blame television.

You always see episodes of TV shows where coworkers form teams and play sports outside of work and learn lessons and have fun. Like the Cheers gang playing basketball or Jim and Darryl on The Office playing basketball or the doctors on ER playing basketball. Why aren’t we playing basketball? Because basketball would allow me to guard the stocky guy and not to look like a complete idiot. Or have to plan three days in advance for how I’m going to heal my body after the second game of the season.

Following the first game (July 2 for you bettors out there) my body was so sore and tight from mid-spine to my feet that I barely made it into work. The next day it was even worse. I called every massage place in Ann Arbor on the Fourth of July and every single one of those lazy patriots was closed. Today is July 8 – six days after I butchered my body in the name of really shoddy soccer playing – and I’m still not back to normal.

Back to normal, for my aged body, means low levels of constant aches and pains. If I run a few miles, something gives a little. If I do it a few days in a row, some part of my body noticeably breaks down. It could be a foot bone. It could be a tendon. It could be my will to live.

With soccer, it’s more explosive. There’s not deterioration. Just destruction. I move 225lbs-plus of fat, muscle and half-digested chicken wings forward, backward, sideways, other sideways – stopping and starting on uneven grass in brand new cleats with the idea that I’m still eight years-old playing for the Welland Realty Warriors like some auburn haired kid who knows that if he shows enough effort his mom will take him to McDonald’s after the game and let him order a Big Mac and fries and she’ll pay extra for the toy. I was never any good back then, and let me tell you, age does not improve your fitness or ability to plant a foot and change direction quickly.

I wasn’t kidding about the body prep. I’ve Googled “How to Treat Soccer Injuries” and taken myself down a lot of rabbit holes so I can walk the day after our next game – which just so happens to be tomorrow.

I’ve stretched. I’ve paid for one massage and came REALLY close to booking a second a few hours after the first. I’m icing for the first time in years. I took a cold bath today after a warm-up jog, and decided that it wasn’t cold enough.

Tomorrow, I’m going to warm-up for 20 minutes before the game, even though it will burn 80% of my total stamina. Then I’m going to play conservatively, taking extra care when doing anything but brushing hair out of my eyes and farting near the opposing goaltender. After the game, I’ll immediately drive to the store to purchase two large bottles of sport drink and a bag of ice. I will fill my tub with cold water and ice, put on my Stephen King audiobook, pop some Ibuprofen, climb into cold hell and sit there refueling with electrolytes until the paramedics bust down the door two days later and find a half-eaten corpse and some very sleepy cats.

Just kidding. That’s why I got married – so it’s not the paramedics that find my extra-cold dead body, but my wife. Who will proceed to eat me because I haven’t gone grocery shopping in a little while and I taste exactly like chicken wings.

My only consolation in this whole thing (other than great times sweating profusely, tearing knee ligaments and swearing in front of coworkers, amirite!?) is that once I die and my mostly new cleats and mostly new shin guards are donated to Play it Again Sports, I will have some lucky sap to haunt for the rest of his rec league soccer days. Or her rec league soccer days, if she has very big feet. I’m an equal opportunity poltergeist.

I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow. But I’m guessing not well. But thanks for asking.

I completely forgot about this two-part article I wrote for MGoBlue.com where I challenged Michigan soccer players to their own sport. This was in 2008, so I was five years more flexible. Enjoy (if you’ve read this far). Part One is here, but Part Two appears lost to the Internet gremlins for all time. Oh MGoBlue, why you gotta kill my legacy?


Do You Need to Get Paid for Writing?

If you’re a writer or an aspiring writer, it’s likely you heard a little bit about the scuttlebutt between The Atlantic and freelancer Nate Thayer. Thayer wrote a piece about Dennis Rodman going to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Un. Someone from The Atlantic emailed him to ask if he’d be willing to adapt the piece, turning in 1,200 words by the end of the week. In return, The Atlantic offered no compensation, rather, they touted their audience of 13 million readers to which Mr. Thayer’s work would be exposed.

Thayer didn’t quite explode, but as a professional freelance writer, he didn’t find the deal very equitable. Earning a living as a writer, Thayer relies on writing gigs to “pay my bills and feed my children.” You can read Thayer’s take here and a few other opinions here and here. He didn’t quite find the exchange insulting, but more indicative of the state of publications and freelance writing in general.

I know you’ve been dying for my take on this. Lucky you.

I’m a very specific example of a freelance writer. I have a good-paying full-time job and I freelance more for fun than for the money. Yes, I’m compensated for the majority of the work I produce these days, but that wasn’t always the case. In a perfect world, I could survive on writing. Freelance, books, leaflets, whatever. But such is not the case right now, so I rut with a lot of editorial freedom and those publications pay me a fair wage (based on what The Atlantic is reporting) to deliver entertaining, readable copy on time and with as few or many poop references as the piece warrants.

My first piece of my writing to appear in print was a movie review for my college newspaper, The McGill Tribune. I reviewed Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead. I paid for the ticket myself and I wasn’t compensated for my 200-word review which opened, “This movie is like a bad handjob…” My opening sentence was cut, but the editors, probably pressed for content, ran it anyway. This is how I started out.

I was unpaid through many more Tribune articles, then two years running a college humor magazine called The Red Herring. I graduated and stopped writing, until I switched careers, moved to Ann Arbor and met a girl named Jordan Miller. Jordan was the new lead blogger for AnnArbor.com and was recruiting community contributors who could offer free content on their new online platform. I hadn’t been published outside of work since college, so I jumped at the chance. My editors were lenient on the subjects I pitched, so I got to write about pretty much whatever I wanted whenever I wanted to. It was incredible experience and writing for an actual publication is great because you get immediate feedback. All for free.

I never asked to be paid, but my columns proved popular enough to lead my editors to request that I write more regularly in exchange for money. I took it. I wrote bi-weekly and a check arrived every month or so. It wasn’t much, but it was proof that I was an honest to goodness writer. I imagine stand-up comedians get a similar feeling when they actually get paid for telling jokes, or musicians actually getting paid to play music.

The AnnArbor.com exposure led to freelancing work with Concentrate Media and a few other smaller publications. They all started paying. Some wrote me personal checks for $8 features, some offered a lot more. I have trouble saying no in general, so when a new avenue offered to publish me and allowed me editorial freedom, I took it.

Until it all became too much. I started extending myself too much. Deadline after deadline loomed and I was working on multiple projects at once and this wasn’t even my real job. Plus, I was completely neglecting my own writing—fiction and non. So I stopped writing everywhere but Concentrate and AnnArbor.com and I stopped pursuing new publications.

Back to the point of this debate. Money vs. free. I’d gladly write for free in a publication I feel would elevate me to a new level. That means pretty much any magazine I respect, a Detroit newspaper and maybe even a popular blog or two (I wrote for Awesome Mitten this year for free, just because I felt like it). Platforms and publications are at an advantage with me because I need to write. I can’t help it. It might not seem that way with the infrequent additions I make to my blog, but it’s a compulsion. If I go a few days without writing, I feel out of sorts. It’s an odd feeling.

It offends my sensibilities when people who’ve never been published feel that they deserve to be paid for their work. That seems backasswards. Someone needs to prove themselves before they get compensated. Usually if you haven’t been published somewhere, it’s because you aren’t that good or you’re not trying hard enough. I don’t mean to overplay this, but it’s not that hard to get published somewhere if you’re a half-decent, reliable writer and you know how to use the Internet.

Those who’ve been paid for work, even once or twice, it’s more of a judgment call. It’s up to them if they feel the exposure or audience is worth the free labor. I took a 92% pay cut to write for iSPY Magazine because they’re a nice group of people and I’d never written for them before. I wrote for Sidetrack’s email newsletter a few times in exchange for gift cards (I only used one) because they asked nicely. Despite the pay gulf, I spent as much time on those pieces as I did my highest paying gigs. For me, it’s about product and process, and I find it fun to challenge myself for new audiences and try out new voices.

Mr. Thayer is beyond writing for gift cards. I get that. If I had to eat on the money I make writing, I would look so, so hot and skinny. Instead, the money I make from writing shows me that my editors appreciate my work and keeps me churning out (hopefully good) content despite working many hours at my real job.

And I hope it’s paying off. I hope all the writing I’ve done the last four years of freelancing has helped me work out some kinks and improve, both as a writer and a story generator. I’ve heard feedback from people close to me, a few of whom have independently mentioned that they noticed my writing getting significantly better sometime in the last year. I’ll take it. I don’t see the change, but I have textual dysmorphia.

What’s the point of this long winded post? Write for free until you get good, then start asking for money. Prove you’re worth something before you start holding out your hand. And if you’re good enough, someone will recognize it. I’m an optimist. And I’m happy to talk writing whenever you want to buy me a drink. Because talking is one thing I don’t do for free.


Jobs I’m Terrible at: Bartender

I had a dream last night that I was bartending for charity. I had a one-hour shift to try and raise as much money as possible for some unknown cause. I stepped up to the bar and took my first order: a rum punch bowl and a “Killers” beer. I grabbed one of three rum punch bowls, then started looking for straws. I couldn’t find any. I couldn’t find any rum. I searched blindly for Malibu. Then I went into the beer cooler. Did he say “Killers” or “Strohs”? I was too embarrassed to ask. Other bartenders were buzzing around me, serving drinks and I had no clue where anything was or what to do. Finally, everyone stopped moving. The crowd thinned out. The hour was up and my patron was kind of pissed. I apologized, then said, “I don’t think we have any Killers.” I’m a terrible bartender.

I’ve been a bartender twice in my life. Sort of. The first time was in college when, my junior and senior years, I was a barback every Thursday for the busiest night of the week at the campus bar (Gert’s). I served around 10 beers in two years, so “bartender” would be a stretch.

The second time I tended bar was for two nights in the spring of 2007 at Sidetrack in Ypsilanti. I was new to Ypsi, wanted to earn some extra money and meet some new people so what better occupation than part-time bartender? I think Mrs. French just really liked me in the interview. I admitted I wasn’t great at making drinks and had extremely limited experience but she started me on Cinco de Mayo. I showed up in a clean t-shirt and jeans, worked with a really nice experienced female bartender and mostly washed dishes and fetched things from the basement. I realized quickly that I didn’t know jack shit about making drinks.

I went to the library and took out a giant bag of books, then wrote up cheat sheets of popular drinks and shooters and studied on the bus for the next three or four days until my next shift, where I was paired with another experienced bartender, this guy a huge dick. Maybe it’s because it was clear I sucked at what I was doing or maybe it’s because the blender somehow stopped working when I was near it one time. In any event, this guy didn’t like me and I lasted five of the eight hours in my shift before he sent me home early. I was supposed to call to find out when my next shift was and I was politely told they wouldn’t be needing me. I could pick up my pay later in the week. It sucked but it was also merciful. I stunk and I was sick of studying drinks all day. Bartending just wasn’t my calling.

Since then, due to being slightly more of an alcoholic, I know a lot more about drinks and drinking. I’d probably make a much better bartender now. I might have made it to the Fourth of July.

boston bruins

I was the third-most famous person born in Welland, Ontario until tonight – thanks a lot Boston Bruins!

Welland, Ontario. The Rose City. Population: 50,331 in 2006. It’s most certainly shrunk since then since the steel factory and the pipe factory closed (yes, my hometown had a pipe factory). You may have heard of us because of the Welland canal, though chances are you haven’t. That’s okay.

The fact that Welland was such a sleepy, little town used to work to my advantage. Hard-scrabble back story, small-town hijinx and a halfway reasonable goal that I could reach before I hit 40 – to be the most famous person in the whole world from Welland, Ontario.

Think about it. What chance do any of you have of being the most famous person from your respective hometowns? Ann Arbor? Good luck! William Hewett of Hewlett-Packard, the founder of Domino’s. Members of The Stooges AND Taproot. Even Ypsilanti will give you a run for your money. You have a four-star general and some rock guy who dated Sandra Bullock.

Read more…