Try steeper

“The obstacle is the way” is not a phrase from Art du Déplacement. It’s a two-thousand-year-old comment from a Stoic (writing in a personal journal to himself.) In a similar vein, he also wrote that, “nature turns all things to its own purpose.” Likewise the more modern “Rust never sleeps,” is equally pithy.

The real lesson is of course that there’s a season for everything. Sometimes more challenge is the key to progress, and sometimes simply being is the key. (Which is also something thoroughly covered in the Stoic philosophy. And please: Stoicism is not at all about suppressing one’s feelings.) I think I learned that seasons lesson early on from bicycling. I’m from Pennsylvania, from an area of rolling, often wooded, hills. Every bike ride ever was an endless repetition of “down a hill, ’round a corner, up a hill, round a corner, down a hill, …” In a very real sense, all parts of that were equally fun.

In a comfortable, prosperous country like ours, some of the built in tendencies of Human nature tend to work against us, saying, “Hey – I’ve noticed we have plenty of food and reasonable shelter and that’s good enough. So let’s just double down on the Netflix, comfort foods, and occasional luxury purchases and that will keep us safe.” Instead, I want you to set your life treadmill to just a bit of a steeper, healthier incline setting.

~ Peter Adeney from,

I’d like to mention that “Culdesac” in that linked URL is a town’s name; You can go read that article either for the life advice, or to learn about one of several towns in the U.S. now which are being built as people-first. (As opposed to basically every other town and city which is built as cars-first.)


Active resistence

The first time I rode one was nearly a decade ago, in Kyoto. The electric bike I rented was huge and unwieldy, but that tug of its motor never left my mind. I went to climb a hill and it felt as if a giant had gently placed his hand on my back and pushed me forward. That stupid smile has been on my face ever since.

~ Craig Mod from,

With that name, this guy is clearly awesome, right? If you want to go down a fun rabbit hole, do some searching for “how popular is” and “usage of” with your first name. Yikes, statistics. But I also like this piece because it’s about bicycles. In particular, it’s about electric bicycles which I have been very intentionally ignoring the existence of, for fear of developing a yearning for another bicycle. *ahem* I digress.

What I really love about Mod is that a few years ago he took down everything he was doing, which was all free to read with a “hey please support me” …and he said, “hey guys, please support me, I’ll go write and photograph and I share it with you.” And it worked.


Sometimes I weep

What focus means is saying no to something that you, with every bone in your body, you think is a phenomenal idea and you wake up thinking about it, but you say no to it because you’re focusing on something else.

~ Jonny Ive from,

I have a lot of ideas. (Perhaps your experience is similar?) For most of my life I thought all of my ideas where good ones. Sure, there were some insane bicycle accidents and spectacular snow-tubing disasters, but in the minutes following an incident, I still thought it was a good idea. Poorly planned, poorly executed, or both, sure. But life seemed to be an endless parade of good ideas each affording an opportunity to grab life by the choose-your-own-metaphor. In hindsight, I think it was all simply poor—or, if I’m honest, a complete absence of—impulse control.

In recent years it has become apparent my time on Earth is limited. (Perhaps your experience is similar?) These days that stream of ideas continues. What if I installed a motion-activated auto-targeting water sprinkler filled with Capsaicin-laced water to keep the squirrels away? (Yes, really.) …and okay, well, the ideas don’t all seem like good ideas anymore. Fine. I’m cool with having limited time, limited resources, and possibly some added social awareness.

But every once in a while, I have an idea which is blindingly awesome. Even if I have one such idea only once in a while, that still means I have more than I can try, and then I have to choose. I have to choose some, and say no to others.



So begins her obsession with dominating the mind by dominating the body, which would follow her throughout her life in various guises — running, karate, yoga, cycling, skiing — always ambivalent and self-conscious, until it finally resolves into a glimpse of the larger truth beneath the mechanics of illusory perfectibility: that we exert ourselves so violently on keeping the package of the body intact in order to keep it from spilling its immaterial contents — the soul, the self — into oblivion.

~ Maria Popova from,

Ah yes, “oblivion.” Good stuff. Popova is referring to a graphic artist, and midway through the article is an exquisite cartoon example; the author drawing, figuratively and literally, a metaphor for life involving a hill and a bicycle. Reading that cartoon brought to mind my beloved practice of meditating on death. (Try this explanation.) Closely related I often call to mind the impermanence of things. Sometimes I mix the two, thinking…

This is my last sip from this [my favorite, morning coffee] mug. (Knowing it will one day be broken.)

This [regularly scheduled weekly] conversation with this person is our last one. (Imagining when priorities change and we’re no longer working together.)

This conversation I’m recording for a podcast is my last one. (Because I will die.)

This dinner with this person [my mom, my spouse, etc] is my last one. (Because one of us will die first.)

The goal is not to be morbid and depressed; The goal is to maintain a realistic perspective to enable wringing the absolute maximum enjoyment and appreciation from every single waking moment.


Two things

This sudden loss has gotten me to face my own death this week. I know it is coming, just not when. I rarely think about it, because life is so in-my-face, but it’s there, waiting. Tyler’s death is such a stark reminder that we never know how much time we have left.

~ Leo Babauta from,

There are exactly two things about my life of which I am certain. I was born, and I will die. I spend a lot of time contemplating my end; Not in a fatalistic, “come at me bro’!” way, but rather with the intention of reminding myself to make the most out of every moment.

There are many moments where I’m unconscious—quite a few of those moments are while I’m sleeping, but also there are mindless moments aplenty throughout my days. But there are increasingly more mindful moments every day.

An extremely fast way to get to mindfulness—this is the fastest way I’ve found so far—is to think: This may well be the last time I do this. The last walk. The last boulder I scramble upon. The last conversation with this person. The last conversation ever. The last word I type. The last sentence I jauntily scribble with a pen. The last time I drive a car. The last time I ride a bicycle. The last time I wrench my back shoveling snow. The last time something scares the crap out of me. The last time I laugh until I lose control of my bladder. The last time I’m stuck as part of the traffic. The last time I’m part of the solution. The last time I’m the source of the problem. The last time I smash the hell out of my toe on something.

In every one of those cases, I can now enjoy it… if I can manage to remember: This could be the last time I get to experience this.

I’ve even decided that if I can manage it, my last words will be: “Well, if that wasn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” (And just maybe with a literal hat tip to Vonnegut.)


Yes, relax

This is the training. Relax the narrative, loosen your view, and drop into the openness of the present moment. Breathe deeply, and relax your body. Relax the jaw, relax the muscles in your torso. Feel the openness in this moment.

~ Leo Babauta from,

It took me a long time to understand that the only source of stress in my life is myself.

I’ve been in two car crashes where I’ve instantly gone from automobile operator to roller-coaster rider. I’ve been absolutely wiped out, in countless variations, in martial arts context. I’ve discovered mid-air that I’ve been launched off my mountain bike. I’ve been obliterated while skiing. I’ve had too many—I’m refusing to count—nearly serious automobile accidents where my driving skills, applied consciously with to-the-inch and to-the-split-second accuracy saved the day. I’ve had bones broken. I’ve been fallen upon, by a poor fellow who was saved from an 8-foot, head first, fall onto concrete… by the flex of my rib cage. I’ve been hit in the face with a max-power, line-drive, point-blank soccer ball penalty kick. I’ve been flattened by a skull-to-skull running-speed impact. Sucker-punched in the gut. T-boned into the sticker-bushes at high speed on a bicycle. Beaned by a 2×6 board. I once fell 12 feet from a tree with my head being the first thing to land… on a tree root. I’ve been clipped by a truck, and blown a bicycle tire at high speed, ending up happy to reach the ditch rather than the asphalt. I rear-ended a car at speed (on my bicycle.) I’ve been banged up, flipped over, slammed into, … but also yelled at, and put upon. I had someone angrily invoke the name of my dead father in an attempt to shame my actions. I’ve been laughed at, and picked last in gym class. I’ve run out of money and bummed rides to work. I’ve been chewed out by a boss. I’ve had my credit card declined while in public. I’ve been scammed by street hustlers, lied to by various people, and pre-judged in various dimensions.

…and I can now truthfuly say: The only source of stress in my life is myself.


Needs and wants

You can’t be generous to others if you’re not in a good place. Adams argues that once your needs are met, you can focus on the needs of others.

~ Shane Parrish from,

This is patently obvious, right? Food, shelter, stability, … good old Maslow.


For me at least, there was a transition period— I might even call it a period of listlessness. Certainly there was frenetic outward activity; this was after all my period of biking, (the second love affair with a bicycle,) and the rise of my interest in Art du Déplacement. But it was definitely a period of inward listlessness.

It took years of reading and rumination before I realized what was missing. At which point I set off on a quest. Only to succeed, and set off on a new quest, and again. And again. Not existential-meaning-of-life quests, but simply, “that seems interesting and maybe I’ll try it,” quests.

In the end it was clear that I have—and maybe you do too—an inherent curiosity that, if I’m lucky, will never be satisfied.


I would dazzle you with brilliance

I like this life just the way it is,
And the castles all around me have been melting now for years 
And it kills my brain to think of all the time I wasted here: 
All the efforts, sweat and broken hearts, the screaming and the tears.

~ Danny Elfman from, Change on the album ‘Boingo’

Coherent words fail me, but I’ll try to convey this…

I came of age—cut my teeth so to speak—as Elfman… The Mystic Knights of the Oingo BoingoOingo Boingo… and eventually just Boingo… blew the doors off what I thought music could be. Some of their later stuff is on par with Pink Floyd. Your mileage may vary; haters gonna’ hate and all that.

Visions— not memories, but visceral visions— Visions strike me when I listen to this music, (not just Change but a lot of it.) Riding in cars and trucks as a teenager… Going to bicycle races (both to race and to watch)… Lots of hard work with a boom-box or headphones… I once drove fence posts, by hand, around a small field powered by Oingo Boingo… I once saw them perform in a tiny hall, god-only-knows-where, in Manhattan, maybe in ’91 or ’92… I still have an Oingo Boingo shirt from, it might be, 1990?, that was given to me as a gift… I even have the double VHS of their final concert—and I know of noone with a VHS player any more…

Oh, God, here’s that question now! The one that makes me go insane!
I’d gladly tear my heart out if you never change!
Never change!
Never change!
Never change!
Never! Never! Never! Never!

~ Danny Elfman

Great music. Great memories.

Who do you want to be today? Who do you want to be?


In real life

Yet many modern-day Westerners — who will live their whole lives with freedom of speech and the means to talk to almost anyone about anything — remain convinced they are essentially powerless to improve human life around the world, and use their internet access primarily to share pictures of cats.

~ David Cain, from

I recently deleted my Facebook account; Not, “deleted the app from my phone,” but deleted my account so I am no longer on Facebook. That was the last of the social networks I was on.

My life is measurably better now without social networks. I still have this inconceivably amazing tool in my pocket which I use regularly to leverage the hard-won advantages of the human race in 2019. I still use that tool, (and other tools, including my feet and a bicycle,) to collapse the distance between me and those I want to communicate with.

I look forward to seeing you in the big room with the ceiling that’s sometimes blue and sometimes black!


This too shall pass

This is a news flash to some: It’s okay to experience unpleasant feelings. It’s okay for things to happen that you don’t want to happen. It is possible to notice these things happening and consciously allow them to be there. And it makes a huge difference to how traumatic or not-so-bad the experience ends up being.

~ David Cain, from

I believe that in some people circumspection develops with age.

I love to remind myself: If things are not going as I’d wish, relax because they won’t last. Also, if things are going as I’d wish, relax because they won’t last either.

There will be a last time that I awake from sleep. There will be a last time I have dinner with my mom. There will be a last line of software I write. There will be a last parkour jump I do. There will also be a last wasp sting, a last broken bone, a last heart-break, and the hottest and stickiest time I’ve ever experienced.

Why exactly should I be affected by the flat tire on my bicycle, the traffic jam, the cancelled flight or the irate customer?

In the end, it is all the same.


§7 – Exercise

(Part 7 of 13 in series, Changes and Results)

Exercise is not about weight loss.

Exercise builds physical ability and mental health.

For me, it began when I fell in love– with a bicycle.

The story of a boy and his bicycle

Long after college, way down in my downward death spiral, I bought a cheap mountain bicycle. Today, I don’t recall what possessed me to even want to buy a bike. I guess it just reminded me of the freedom I’d discovered when as a kid I first set out on a bicycle.

At the time, we were living in an apartment a short ride from a long park that followed a meandering creek. The park has long trails—some asphalt, some packed gravel—that follow the creek, and it has a few, short, side trails that almost resemble mountain biking.

I fell in love.

I fell in lust is probably more accurate.

I pedaled and pedaled. …and then I pedaled some more. …and then a lot more. I literally wore out that cheap, beautiful bike in the first summer.

During that summer we bought a mountain bike for my dad. He bought an hybrid bike for my mom. Then for a Christmas present, my parents and Tracy bought me a nicer bike. Whereas I was previously crazy about riding, with a new, better, lighter bike, I took things up several notches to addiction, and began riding the daylights out of everything.

I bought a “Mountain Biking Pennsylvania” book and started just heading out to ride trails from the book. Tracy bought a Cannondale when she changed jobs, and then things got out of hand—like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas out of hand. In the end, I was directly responsible for 27 people going to a particular bike shop and buying bikes because I kept trying to find someone who had the bicycling bug as bad as me.

I pedaled on into the seasons. I commuted the short 2 miles to and from my office in rain and snow. I had studded snow tires for the winter. I replaced bike parts as they wore out, and modified the bike more and more until the bike shop owner, (at this point, a good friend,) finally said, “You know, there are other bikes.” It had never occurred to me that I could own more than one bike. he looked at me like the simpleton I was, “Craig, some people have so many bikes, they hide the newest ones from their wives.”

Re-learning to move

The story continues of course. (The new bike is named Beelzebub, and is the first bike I’ve ever named.) But this article is about “exercise”, not about my affairs with bikes.

In the midst of it all, I understood that it was all partly the runner’s high aspect. But also knew that I simply felt better the more I rode those bikes. Sure my wrists got sore, and I became a menace in the local park zooming around and around like it somehow mattered in the grand scheme. But in the process, my body was changing.

Much later I learned that what I had done was change my identity; changed the way I saw myself. I became the sort of person who would get up early on weekends to drive an hour to ride a bike all over some trail because it was “Trail number #87” in a book. I became the sort of person who learns about bikes, then learns about exercise, and then learns about glycogen storage in muscles.

At the very beginning of the bicycling epoch, I was building a lot of muscle. Well, a “lot” compared to the gelatinous blob of fat I had converted myself into after college. Muscle requires energy to build it and then some energy to maintain it. So in the beginning I got a small win on weight loss, just by adding muscle. As my daily caloric needs went way up, it halted the creeping weight gain.

Years later I learned that exercise is simply, generally healthy.

That sounds like a platitude, but it’s not: Even small amounts of exercise have out-sized benefits in your health and your daily mood. If I exercise just a little, (for example, 20 minutes of moderate walking,) then I sleep better that night, and every time I exercise I get a small psychological benefit.

The key point was the change in my mental health: Exercise made me feel better, and the better I felt, the more I wanted to exercise. Exercise didn’t make me lose weight: It improved my health, and I became the sort of person who weighs less. That sounds subtle, but it’s tremendously easier than trying to lose weight directly.

Compensatory adaptation

I changed my behavior (I added biking) and my body responded by adapting. (Compensatory adaptation from Ned Kock is a great, deep-dive.)

I added some muscle, changed some hormone levels and interactions, cleaned up some mitochondrial function, and other things improved. But soon (it was probably about a year) my body had adapted to where its new state worked well enough for the activities I was doing regularly. This is the famous plateau effect.

As I’ve mentioned, I didn’t realize this is what was happening (the plateau). I just bike bike bike bike biked all over everything. Meanwhile I was tracking things in my health journal, tweaking things here and there (sleep, moving dinner-time earlier, food choices, etc..)

How would you implement this intentionally? If you are even farther out of shape than I was at the start, I don’t suggest starting with biking. Walking is probably better, or maybe even swimming. Exactly what you do isn’t the point. It’s that you begin to exercise. Don’t to do in the sense that, “I have to go exercise now.” (This is why gym memberships generally don’t work as a New Year’s resolution.) Rather, you want to exercise just as something you do, and that will transform yourself into the type of person who exercises.

I am the type of person who…


Working hard

Not that I’m blaming society for my troubles as a young adult, but nobody ever seemed to have a very good explanation for why I actually might want to work hard and challenge myself. Not “have to”, or “need to,” but “want.” The reason was always, “It’s just something you should do,” or “You’ll be glad you did when you’re my age.”

~ David Cain from,

True story: I once got a job working at a golf course as a grounds keeper. I’d bicycle ~10 miles at first-light and my dad picked me up after work. I’d string trim (the entire golf course — wrap your brain around that), edge sand traps (by hand using a machete to cut the edge of the lawn) and then rake the sand. I chain-sawed trees that fell on the course, and I painted wrought-iron in the blazing sun. Every weekday for an entire summer.

I learned two things:

A deep respect for physical labor.

…and that I wanted to go to college and be a scientist working in a lab, or maybe with computers.


A deep sense of malaise

(Part 6 of 72 in series, My Journey)

You can harness and channel these needs, but a man completely ignores them at his peril. Modern men are told there’s nothing real about manhood — that it’s all a silly, outdated cultural construct — and they sure work hard to believe it. And yet they cannot shake a deep sense of malaise, and they don’t know why.

~ Brett McKay from,

I consider myself very lucky. I’m expressing my mid-life crisis in some pretty healthy and productive ways. Instead of going on a more traditional bender, I’m shaking off shackles and bindings that I in fact put on.

One day I realized that there is no longer anyone left to tell me what to do. Certainly one has responsibilities, but there are precious few of those which are immutable bedrock. You look at your life and think, “Look at all these ideas I’ve accepted.” When you pick idly at some of the threads, the whole thing comes apart, and you find yourself in a row boat on the sea — or on a bicycle on the open road (choose your own metaphor). On the open sea in a good way; You realize you are free, that in fact you have NOT always been free, and that there’s an awful lot of life left to live now that you’re ready to start.


In Memoriam

Bruce W. Constantine
April 28, 1946 – January 12, 2011

I can say many things about my father…

He was not a big fan of funerals.

He did not like to wear a suit or tie.

He could not fix plumbing.

He did not ask for directions.

He was not a good cook.

…and he definitely did not like to be called at 3am to fix an elevator.

He was always prepared.

He preferred to work smarter, not harder.

He taught many people to swim, and he swam like a fish.
– After nearly 50 years, Morrow, Fischel, Long & Constantine still hold their pool record in the 200m medley relay.

He could be headstrong, but always did the right thing.

He was gentle, knowing that violence is the last resort of the incompetent.

He was loving, even if not outwardly emotional.
– He liked to make a show of shaking his Father’s Day cards looking for money.

He was reliable.
– When his mom called, he showed up promptly. If something needed to be done, he did it. And if it needed to be fixed, he fixed it.

He was adventurous.
– I can tell you without exaggeration that he travelled from Hawaii to Europe, and from Canada to the Caribbean. He literally dove to the depths of the ocean and walked to the tops of mountains. He flew an airplane, built and flew model planes, sailed small boats, won races on his catamaran, deftly handled large yachts, and navigated Southern Comfort into every by-way from Deleware to Florida.
– In his younger days he careened around the Lehigh valley with his motorcycle and Austin Healy, and he rode thousands of miles on his bicycle.
– And yet, he was never boastful.

He was wise and invariably honest.

He always provided for his family.

He was loyal, and he was dedicated.
– He was happily married for over 42 years, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.

He was a loving son, husband and father.

…and of course, he made us laugh.

His ability to relate stories and anecdotes did not define who he was. In reality, he was all of the things I’ve mentioned and more. But his ability to make others laugh was exceptional, and for that he will be sorely missed by all who knew him.