The Truffle Shuffle

If you’re around my age – late 20s and early 30s – then The Goonies is another one of those movies that really defined the generation.

Part of a movie like that is identifying with a character – that’s the point of a giant rag-tag group of misfits, right? – and naturally I saw myself as Chunk. Chunk was clumsy, fat, uncoordinated, kinda dumb, sweet-hearted comic-relief. Chunk is near the center of the story because he’s the first one to witness the gunfight and is usually the one holding the keys to the group’s salvation. But no one remembers Chunk for his narrative power, do they? Of course not. Probably the most memorable part of the character was near the beginning when he finds his friends at the house and they refuse to speak to him unless he does the Truffle Shuffle.

tumblr_lirmtubHq41qbbjk2o1_250Chunk pulls up his shirt and dances around like he’s electrocuted. Kinda sad and kinda hilarious at the same time. It’s one of the most prominent moments in the movie for me (apart from Sloth saying “Hey you guys” or “Sloth love Chunk” haha).

Why this scene sticks with me isn’t really clear to me, but when I was younger I remember being terrified that someone would make me do the Truffle Shuffle. If I wanted to get into the treehouse, in my back of my mind I’d think, “I wonder if they want me to do the Truffle Shuffle?” Or if there was a club I wanted to be in, or even just a gathering of friends I’d subconsciously steel my nerves and get ready to lift my shirt and jiggle. Totally a rational belief, I know: it was in a movie! Of course that’s exactly representative of real life!

But the only time I ever actually did the Truffle Shuffle was in college at my fraternity… and not even as part of an initiation or gatekeeping type thing either. I was just drunk and dug up the memory at a party one day.

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Poisonous Positive Reinforcement 2

Part 2 in a series (See: Part 1)

I always try to remember that the people who love me only want the best for me. It’s good to keep this in mind when I hear someone’s advice, because sometimes it is so wrong-headed, or so discouraging, or so flabbergasting, or even so offensive, that if it were not for the foundation of “this person cares about me” I would be completely thrown for a loop.

When last I discussed Poisonous Positive Reinforcement, I pointed out the three things that discouraged me – that discourage many fat boys – when I heard them as a kid. Those three fairly common sayings from loved ones were all designed to make me, the fat boy, feel better about myself inasmuch as they absolved me of any responsibility for trying to do something serious about my weight. That was the intent, anyway. But there are many other ways in which positivity can sabotage our efforts, and ways in which loving concern can be a stumbling block.

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Family Dinner

When I was a kid, my parents made every effort to have Family Dinner. Momma and Daddy*, whenever they could, would go through the ritual of having the Family Dinner because they truly believe that the family that eats together stays together. On the occasions this came together I would be in the kitchen watching Momma cook and Daddy would be putting Isaac or Leah through the motions of setting the table in the kitchen nook (we had a dining room… in every place we lived, I believe. But for some reason the actual dining room only ever was used if we had company over). I’d sit on a stool and thumb through Momma’s recipe box as she fiddled with whatever was on the stove, flipping through card after old, weathered card of recipes, some of them Momma’s new editions, but a lot of them heirloom recipes from Momma Joyce, Momma Lilly, Aunt Francis, or Daddy’s momma Grandma Marylin. Out of the corner of my eye I could see little four year old Isaac clumsily placing knifes and forks and plates, then awkwardly folding paper napkins and setting out mismatched drinking glasses. When it was all prepared, we would sit down around the small kitchen-nook table, one of us would pray (my parents thought it was adorable to have me say grace… probably because I was, for a long time, incapable of pronouncing the letters “L” or “R” differently than “W”), then we would eat Family Dinner just the way that we all imagined normal families at Family Dinner.

the-family-dinnerThis ritual actually happened pretty rarely though, for all my parents beliefs and good intentions. If you’re of my generation your parents may have grown up with this belief from the 50s and 60s that Family Dinner was what all true, God-fearing Americans had every night like in a Norman Rockwell painting**. My Momma actually went way out of her way to try to reproduce this kind of idea, not just with Family Dinner but also with Thanksgiving and Christmas and those kinds of memory-making moments. My parents generation was taught that this is what you did and this is what a happy family looked like. It’s interesting that my generation, as far as I can tell, never actually got what my parent’s generation was trying to give us. And by that I mean that Family Dinner wasn’t just a rare ritual for my family, but seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

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Poisonous Positive Reinforcement

As a kid – a fat kid – there are all kinds of things our loved ones tell us and do for us to try and tackle our weight problem. I remember from an early age that my mom and dad were very involved in my weight.There was a time, one of my earliest memories having to do with my size, that I remember my parents had taken me to a specialist to be tested and measured to see if there was something amiss with me. I was a physically large child – 3 feet tall at 4 years old – and for all my parents knew I had giantism or something. In this memory I’m looking at a chart showing the curve of normal children’s height and weight at various ages… and the doctor pointing to where I was on the chart. Let’s just say “above normal”. In certain parts of the world I’d pass for a teenager and I was barely in kindergarten.

This is also around the time that I was starting to get pudgy. I don’t remember gaining weight, per se, but I’ve seen pictures of myself around this time and I was thicker than a normal kid, but not what you might call fat. Just “festively plump” as they say. After that, though, I seem to have started gaining weight and started having memories of myself as fat. It’s also, coincidentally, when I remember my parents beginning to say things about my weight: talking to me about it, asking me about it, discussing it between them, encouraging me about it. It became a thing to talk about.

Some former (and current) fat boys have deep, painful memories about the hurtful things people said to them about being fat – even hurtful things their parents or siblings or friends said to them. But what about the positive things? Part of my recollection is the ways in which the positive things my parents said to and about me actually sabotaged me. So what about the situation where, in an effort to be supportive, the people that care most about us poison the well and keep us from doing what we need to do?

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Designing Success

I discussed briefly what it looks like to be prepared for failure. That will get some more exposition as this story continues because failure is, let’s face it, a huge part of life. Dealing with it and moving on from it are how we thrive.

But what about success? As you already know I had a hard time finding models for what success looked like. At the very beginning I was highly discouraged by the fitness industry which seemed to be aimed almost entirely at either 1) women or 2) men who weren’t really that bad off to begin with. When I first got started after my epiphany I had a slightly easier time of imagining success if only because I had been following health and fitness for some time (not having much success myself, let’s remember, but still, I had a pretty solid knowledge of the theories of human physiology even though it wasn’t doing me much good). As a younger man and as a child, though, success was a tricky thing to imagine. For a kid whose body has never looked or felt “normal” in the way I imagined normal, envisioning a completely different me was hard to do.

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What’s The Matter With Fitness?

When I was in elementary school I remember watching TV on every long Saturday morning. It would usually start out at the crack of dawn with a huge bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. (You know the one… not the soup bowl, not a salad bowl, and God knows not a “serving size”. A full-on mixing bowl. Like I was baking a cake and Cinnamon Toast Crunch was the main ingredient.) With that in my left hand and a giant spoon (just short of a soup ladle) in my right, my little brother and I would shuffle over to the the couch, cross our legs on the cushions (the better to form a bowl to hold our Olympian cereal bowls), and turn on Saturday morning cartoons.

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Fatties Don’t Get Phone Calls

It seems odd to me to jump around in time like this, but it’s probably best to just jot down a story as it comes to mind. That’s how memory works anyway, right? A collage of recollections that branch out in the mind in a network of associations. So I’ll forget trying to be linear for a bit.

A friend of me asked about dating. It actually came up because of some post on Facebook (the specific post and context escapes me now) that caused me to comment tongue-in-cheek that “I should try trolling through your friends list for hotties… Because I’m single as f*ck.” So he suggested I write something about it. And it’s an interesting sort of topic because my reasons for being single right now are vastly different from my reasons for being single in my early to mid 20s. (There is a relationship between them, of course… but that’s a story for another time).

I remember the first time I ever asked a girl out. Even now the memory makes me just slightly nervous! Hard to believe but it’s true. This was over ten years ago, I think I was 17, but I still remember there being a knot in my stomach, the excitement and terror of stepping out into the world that I, as a young man, should at some point be master of. I had no idea what I was doing… and really it’s no wonder things turned out the way they did. But the way this story ends isn’t really about if I got a date: it’s about the hows and whys of my asking.

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