Everybody, at one time or another, needs a little inspiration.
I just watched the last inning of the Colorado Rockies’ sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks to win the National League championship, continuing an incredible, unprecedented run of 21 victories out of the last 22 games. As a Dodgers fan I take inspiration from that, from seeing a perpetual underdog rising up like Thor and bringing the hammer down on all comers, and I hope my team does too, right now and in 2008. And I hope the Rockies can string together four more in a row and make this a season where even those with that pronounced East Coast Bias will have to tip their caps and admit that there is baseball—good baseball-- west of the Mississippi.
I get inspired by great movies too, of course, from the opportunity to revisit old favorites that are sure to move me (Nashville, Nights of Cabiria, Only Angels Have Wings, Ikiru) to the new discoveries of aged masterpieces (The Earrings of Madame de…, The Exterminating Angel, Pilgrimage, Pierrot le fou) that still have the shock of the new and the electricity of art. Movies no one would mistake for art, crude comedies like Beerfest and jackass number two, clunky thrillers like The Boys from Brazil, or big-budget adventures like the original Poseidon Adventure, carry with them the ability to inspire me to rise out of self-created, self-absorbed doldrums and focus on the little things, like laughter and cheap thrills, that can sometimes make the difference between a disastrous day and a delightful one. And I am always inspired when I see, as I did this weekend, how much unadulterated joy and free-squiggling happiness is brought to my daughters whenever they can sing along with Hairspray, or gasp for the eighth time over the absurd, good-natured, human-scaled comic-book spectacle of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
But I’m lucky enough to have friends to inspire me too. Those of you who write and leave comments and take part in the things that go on here, you know who you are. But I’m talking about other friends as well. Friends like Brian Conboy, someone I’ve worked with for going on 15 years now, someone who has, without ostentation or emotional theatrics, stepped up to the responsibilities of friendship in many ways for my wife and I over the course of those 15 years. And in just the same quiet manner Brian has, over the past eight years, gone about refashioning his own life, transforming himself from an overweight fast-food addict to a trim, muscular marathon runner who has never enjoyed the level of good health and positive outlook that he does in his life today.
(Photo: Stephen Carr, Long Beach Press-Telegram)
As we all probably know, good health and a positive outlook are not always easy paths on which to travel with any consistency. While Brian was busy undergoing his own new outlook on life seven years ago, I went on a serious (for me) weight-loss campaign based around a better, more vigilant diet and fairly regular exercise. My rationale: I wanted to be around when my newborn baby daughter turned 40, the age I was when she was born, so I could talk to her about her life and her own kids, should she elect to have them. It was a good, solid reason then, and it’s even more of one now. I kept the weight (about 40 pounds) off for nearly three years. So why did I backslide and regain it all over again? There are probably lots of reasons, but whatever it/they may be, the fact is, I’m overweight, it’s a serious concern, and I know it. And though I’ll never aspire to run marathons the way my friend Brian has trained himself to do, I do dream one day of long-distance bike rides and other ways to enjoy myself that don’t necessarily involve images flickering by at 24 frames per second.
This is why I’m grateful to have him in my daily life, and my best friend Bruce as well, two people who know how to take care of themselves and enjoy living healthy lives without constantly trumpeting their achievements or bemoaning their sorry lot when mealtime rolls around. Brian is going back to school with me too, the both of us taking the long, slow stairway toward self-improvement by becoming teachers. It’s good to have a partner off whom to bounce ideas and study strategies, as well as someone who understands when you just need to complain about an obstinate, illogical instructor. And as I’ve spent more time observing the way Brian takes care of himself, I feel foolish in that I haven’t taken advantage of the golden opportunity to draw inspiration from the self-discipline he’s managed to orchestrate for himself. He is, as well as a fine friend, one who manages to keep a positive attitude amidst sometimes suffocating circumstances, one with the ability to lead by example.
And others have taken notice too. Brian was recently profiled by the Long Beach Press-Telegram in a, yes, very inspirational account of how he managed to grab himself by his tennis shoes and lift himself out of a pit of despair through a near-total revision of his attitudes on diet and exercise. It’s a moving article, and knowing just how many people he has touched by just living his life makes reading the piece even more astounding. What overweight slob would be dumb enough not to count him/herself lucky to be in the presence of someone like that every day? Really, what I’m getting at here is that I’ve had enough of life as it is, grabbing burgers on the run and letting the frenetic pace of the life I’ve courted rule my every moment. There’s absolutely no reason why just a little of the inspiration that Brian found in himself can’t rub off on me as we both continue along on our educational journey. And I’m talking about the attitude toward the physical too. It’s time to acknowledge that example of diet and exercise in some way other than intellectually. It’s time to retrain myself to have the desire to be physically fit again. It’s a road I’ve needed to head down for a long time, and I thank Brian, and Bruce, and most consistently my wife, for providing the push, in that especially nonaggressive, nonjudgmental way that we who most need it know is the only way to make a convincing case for a radical change of lifestyle. Who knows? After five or so years of seeing me treat myself with some respect for once, maybe that’ll inspire my own family in much the same way Brian has inspired me. Maybe, because of the decision to start taking care of myself now, I’ll still be writing film criticism 40 years from now too, in between phone calls with both of my daughters and grading the latest stack of papers from my class.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Everybody, at one time or another, needs a little inspiration.