Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Writing in the First Person

Writing has always been a self-indulgent activity for me and by that, very much therapeutic. Whenever I am down or could use a lift in my spirits, I write something and anxiously anticipate positive reinforcement about what I just wrote. Miraculously, I almost always get what I intended…a compliment.

Writing for the most part is all about instant gratification. How else could you justify the facebook statuses and tweets? Those are both examples of writing (albeit short) that crave followership. People post updates to their facebooks and twitter accounts because they want people to respond back. Whether it’s a “like” or an actual comment, the more responses someone receives the greater the self-esteem.

Show me a writer who only writes for himself or herself and I’ll show you a person who doesn’t have any friends. Does that sound harsh? Maybe, but let’s be honest, if your going to put yourself out there by producing a blog, what’s the point if by doing so you don’t have any membership? All of us “bloggers” write for some kind of audience. If we didn’t, we’d just keep a private diary or a journal.

At an early age I understood that I was blessed with a gift. I haven’t necessarily honed it by any means but the fact that I’m still writing at age 29 is a good indication that I haven’t been “booed off stage.” Friends and family members have always encouraged me to continue to write; even when I have struggled as to what it is I should be writing.  I’ve been told that I am talented and that is enough for me to find something newsworthy to ramble about.

Looking back at my works, I can appreciate the types of writing I’ve done; research papers, work outlines, blog posts etc…The mere fact that I’ve published these sort of things by no means qualifies me as a writer, nor do I consider myself as such. That hesitation is along the same lines as why I never consider myself a “runner.” To me that term leads to committing myself to a group that I generally would not want to be associated with for varying reasons. When I talked to a “runner” about my refusal to categorize myself as such, he simply replied, “If you do the races, you’re a runner.” Touché.

This blogging experience has been as much about my own ego trip as it has been about the content by which I write about. All of the feedback that I’ve received has typically gone straight to my head and has only perpetuated me to write more. Sad isn’t it?

Regardless of whether one writes for applause and acclaim. Writing has always been and will continue to be very personal. It is not until I begin to punch the keys on this computer that I even know what I’m going to think next. Often, I’m not sure where I stand on a position until I start allowing my brain to run free as my nimble fingers try their best to keep up on the keyboard.

I don’t know if I would have continued to write if I knew that nobody else was reading. It has always been incomprehensible to me that writers would do it for the pure joy of writing. I could never understand a recluse like J.D. Salinger. It’s like a professional athlete who would compete regardless of whether there was a crowd of 30,000 screaming fans. Without fans, what’s the point of showmanship?

This blog is a prime example of how insecure I can be. Early on when I first started I was eager to gain followers. I remember sending out mass emails for people “READ MY BLOG!” When it was all said in done, within a year it was probably just my dad and my ex-girlfriend. Both read it not because there was brilliant content, but because they wanted to see what I was up to.

There are many things in my life that I do unselfishly for others. Writing is not one of them. This is perhaps one of the few areas in my life where I have allowed my ego to get the best of me. For a long time I've tried to deny that this blog is only about "me," but in all actuality it truly is. My best friend once gave me some of the best constructive criticism about this blog when I first started. He told me focus on posts about "me," that after all was what people were visiting this blog for.

Over four years on posting on this blog (more off than on), I have discovered that I still don't know what the theme is about. I want it to be about sharing my experiences of helping others, but sometimes just the mere fact that I'm writing seems to help myself. As ironic as that may sound, this post may be one of my most sincere and honest approaches at determining what it is that drives me to write in the first place. Until I sat down to write this post, I had not really given it much thought. But now, I'm getting a better idea.

I know how lonely it can be in the blogosphere. There are probably thousands like me who want to find an outlet to express themselves and would do just about anything for someone to hear what they have to say. Up until today I never followed a single one of my friend’s blogs. Sure, I’d read their posts from time to time, but the selfish writer in me was convinced that I only had room and time to follow one blog…that was my own. Today I added 5 other blogs and I did so if for no other reason that I could sympathize with how much of a struggle it is to work hard on something and feel as if nobody is listening.  Of course, I also added them with the hope that they’d follow me too.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Catholic Candidate

Over 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy famously proclaimed "I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic." Those words set a tone for his political beliefs which followed the model of our Constitution which is based on a "separation from church and state."

Today we have another Catholic candidate and this time his political ideology is much in lined with his religious beliefs, so much so that it's hard to make the distinction between a man who wishes he was a Priest and the man who wants to be leader of the free world. Unbeknownst to him, not all Americans are Catholic. A lesson I didn't learn until I went away to College (which also happened to be Catholic).

I grew up Catholic and have a fondness for the church. Yet, despite my religious values, I fundamentally understand that as an officer in the military I swore an oath to defend a document which was not the bible. It was in fact the Constitution. It just so happens it is a similar oath that the President of the United States takes.

Unlike Kennedy, he doesn't view the separation of church and state as absolute, but rather intertwined. Throughout his campaign he has made it clear that he intends to move the church into his cabinet thus reversing years of precedence where we as a country have embraced nationwide values, not those of one group. He went as far as to say that when he heard President Kennedy's position on being a Catholic which was separate from his candidacy, it made him want to "throw up."

As a Catholic I detest the notion that Rick Santorum would ever speak for me. Just like America, there are many kinds of Catholics and each of us whose political beliefs contradict our religious ones, understand that our faith ought not to trump the rights of others. Catholics have not voted as a bloc in decades. We are as distinct and independent in our views as any other voting demographic. There is a reason why we are resistant to accept him as "our candidate." It's because he doesn't even remotely represent our values.

Rick Santorum is an arrogant proselytizer who believes he speaks for the church. He does not. If he did, he would surely make it known to all that his mission would be to "feed the poor." Unfortunately his political beliefs says that this is welfare. His plan for the poor? He doesn't have one. The book of Matthew makes if abundantly clear that it would be nearly impossible to reach heaven without doing so. Does he still proclaim to be the Catholic candidate? He rests on so many issues, but on a primary one of helping those less fortunate he is coincidentally silent. Why? Well, because the poor don't vote. They don't contribute money to PACs or campaigns and they certainly don't have a voice in his government.

Jesus said “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me” (Matthew 25:40). Catholicsm is a religion of action. What separates us from Protestants is our belief that "works of charity" brings us closer to the kingdom of heaven. There is little disputing this. It's ironic that Rick Santorum continues to campaign on the idea that he is the Catholic candidate with "Catholic values." The only values that I see, is that he puts himself and his agenda first. He has forgotten about the least of God's people. These are the people who will matter most, not the ones that go to the ballot box on November 6th.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Shaved Legs

I shaved my legs today. As I have watched my body evolve over the past several months (more muscle mass in my quads, narrower shoulders), the obvious last step to a total triathlete transformation was the ritual known to many as “shaving of the legs.” Like many newcomers to the sport, I am very skeptical that the lack of body hair on my extremities will provide any tangible race day results, but in an effort to assimilate into the culture fully, I thought it was worthwhile to at least give it a shot.

Shaving my legs was in part an exercise in humility. As reluctant as I have been to do this, it reminded me that this “Ironman” thing is no small feat and that doing everything humanly possible to conquer it might be necessary. Therefore, I sucked up my foolish pride and allowed myself to go where few heterosexuals have dared gone before…with the razor to the legs.

In a month I will put my body through one of the most excruciating physical tests of an endurance athlete. I’ll rest easy knowing that at the starting line, my fellow athletes to the left and right of me have similar doubts about finishing. Whether it is their 1st or 10th race, I doubt I’ll find anyone who will tell me that their nerves aren’t getting the best of them as we anticipate the start. If shaving my legs is nothing more than the ultimate form of solidarity with my fellow triathletes, then why buck the tradition? For if anyone has anything to say about what an athelete should be or look like, I’ll ask them to toe the line with us or shut up.

My mentor and fellow triathlete once told me that truest test in being successful in the sport was learning how to suffer. This test is one that I’ve attempted to put my mind and body through during my training but will not be fully realized until race day. Shaving my legs is an exercise of that mental toughness for me. Am I willing to sacrifice who I was for this sport? Should I do everything I can do in order to gain even the slightest of advantages? Am I willing to cope with the loss of my body hair for the sake of calling myself an Ironman? The answer is yes, yes and yes. I am a triathlete and I want to call myself an Ironman.

If all it gives me is a peace of mind that I did everything that I could (to include humiliating my manhood) in order to finish this race, then it was all worth it. On race day I’ll have million thoughts racing through my mind. Whether or not I should have shaved my legs will not be one of them.