at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

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iPad Photography vs Painting in Venice

Dabble 100%

The worst kind of advice you can get when you feel an interest in something: You can never be the best at it, never make a living from it, so just forget about it.

Chances are, if you really are interested, you will still not let it go completely. You will try it, but not gain much from it, always thinking that the warning voices were probably right and you are wasting your time.

But if you completely let it be, you will most certainly regret it. We typically regret the things we wanted to do, but then didn’t do, not the ones that turned out less well than we thought, but at least gave a shot.

The deepest problem, however, is not even that.

It is not trying and failing, nor not trying and regretting.

It is that nothing much will come out of a half-assed attempt at maybe doing something – and that has become a very common approach to things.

In school already, many students try getting parents or teachers to do the work for them, claiming they don’t understand before ever really having tried.
Men, it often seems, love to use the same approach with their girlfriend or wife, acting so bad at cooking or cleaning that the women will rather do it themselves… and women may limit themselves in pretty much the same way if they act as if it were utterly impossible for them to learn to fix an appliance or a car.

Sure, if you just want to do something so you can check it off your “been there, done that” bucket list, then fine. Do that. Try it, do it, just so you can say you tried and it didn’t work, or you did it and it wasn’t so great and now that’s that.

But if you really want to have the life-changing experience, the knowledge that turns from a few factoids and the sense of knowing into true expertise, the chance at developing a skill that is new to you and an interesting contribution for your life, then you need to try things out, to dabble – but with a 100% commitment.

iPad Photography vs Painting in Venice

Who do you think will have the deeper memory, the iPad snapshot-taker or the painter…? – Question from an earlier post already…

With fun and commitment, and with focus and attention, the – sorry, but I liked the movie in spite of serious defectsNZT of real life.

If you don’t dabble, you will never learn anything new.
Nobody can start at anything with perfection, after all; and you can’t know what (or if anything) will come of something new before you have gone far with it.
So you must do, and try.

If all you do is dabble, here and there and everywhere, without commitment, however, you won’t be going far with it.
You will need to give what you are doing, when you are doing it, your full attention.
No half-assery.

If you can only invest an hour a week, then at least focus on the skill you are working on during that hour.

More likely than not, though, even if you want and need to balance the demands of work and personal life as well, there is time spent “relaxing” with social media or TV or both that you could, if only you got serious about the thing(s) you wanted to learn and approached the dabbling with focus and commitment, invest in that learning and practice instead.

Parkour. At Home in the Anonymous City.

Better future lives – but also futures of mere survival – seem to take place in rural areas, while the cities are left to rot and ruin.

At best, in utopias, cities are creative and efficient conurbations, but keep people in their cocoons of technology and in a state closer to convenient slavery than self-chosen lives; at worst, they are foreseen to become dangerous ghettos.

Either way, the city remains antipodal to nature, wilderness, the outdoors, and any sports that can help us rediscover our being bodies and living in places.

People who think like that obviously haven’t seen enough of parkour.

DSC_0975Parkour, yes, that “sport” where young people jump from rooftop to rooftop, the elegant and artistic attempt at getting from point A to point B in the city in as exciting – or efficient, or direct – a way as possible… and the discipline / sport / practice that has often appeared in just those kinds of movies that show the dangerous and decaying city.

From 2005 to 2008, I did field work studying the “tribe” of parkour practitioners via participant observation, in Vienna (Austria) and Riga (Latvia), like the cultural anthropologist I was academically educated to be.

Now that parkour and the related freerunning have become a more established, if still stranger, part of the (“sports”) landscape, and as I am writing for the public (rather than trying to join the ranks of the academically constipated), it is time to look back at parkour, and forward.

It is all the better a time for that, perhaps, as Christopher McDougall’s “Natural Born Heroes” (see my review of it here) has put a spotlight on parkour.

The Challenge(s)

Of course, parkour did and does attract some young people through insane stunts presented on YouTube, but they typically seem to be disabused of such notions very quickly when and if they go to traceur’s (parkour practitioner’s) meetings where they encounter people with more experience.

Additionally, even basic moves turn out to be challenging enough for the beginner (and still being practiced a lot by the advanced), anyways.


They are often easy (as in, not highly technical), but take quite enough of a different approach from everyday walking to be challenging. After all, how often do you use your hands or get down on all fours, jump and balance on various surfaces, let alone get your ass higher up than your head in a jump or vault, when you are just out walking?

One issue has been notorious, though: Parkour, if done strictly, does not do the somersaults and similar flashy moves that attract many – and make them go right on to freerunning which does whatever strikes the fancy, the flashier the better (or so it sometimes seems).


As many of these things go, online discussions about (or in strict parkour circles, against) flashy moves and competitive approaches – Hello, Red Bull Freerunning Championship – tended to get rather heated.
And in actual practice? In “real life,” people of both camps mingled and had few (if any) problems with each other.

What is particularly interesting now, years later and with the focus on at-home-making, are two factors in parkour, of fitness and of views.

Parkour and Fitness

P1010062One, as pointed out in discussing McDougall’s Natural Born Heroes, is that parkour is one of the best examples of a practice that isn’t a sport, isn’t for fitness in the common sense, but makes all the more fit.

It is not bad for endurance and only too good as strength training, and it works on both in order to be able to move between places, be they at the same level or higher or lower.
It all seems so useless and like child play in today’s world, but it is among the most fun and, should anything untoward happen, useful things. The skills it gives are just those we tend to be missing, and the ones most needed.

Imagine you are on vacation on the coast and a tsunami rolls in, and you will want to be able to get to higher ground.
Imagine your house catches on fire, and you’ll want to be able to get out quickly – let alone, help others.
Just think of aging and of how many seniors break their hips because they are neither nimble nor good at balancing, and you may appreciate what parkour focuses on…

“Etre fort pour être utile”

It’s all about function a normal body should be able to perform (and as argued before, we need to focus on function rather than, to give the particularly problematic example, on weight). If it basically looks like child’s play, an adult should be able to do it even better, no?

Parkour Paths…


Secondly, starting the practice of getting from point A to point B, not in the way of the automotive GPS-enabled driver or the subway-using pedestrian but as an agile body moving through an environment on his/her own power – and it certainly doesn’t have to be an urban jungle, parkour came out of more natural environments – develops a different view.

Especially in urban environments which are “normally” just moved through on designated paths, each for particular types of movement, it is a fascinating experience when you start picking out new possibilities all the ledges and handholds and bars and steps and sundry other surfaces would offer for alternative paths, up, down, across, and over.
It makes you see the city anew and in different ways that arise very quickly and grow as your abilities do.

Not a bad experience to make and have…

Living the Social Media Life – for Personal Growth

So much of life nowadays, assuming you are not just struggling to get by, seems like it would be all set up for greatness. The cost of basic necessities doesn’t amount to nearly as much of an income as it used to make up; money and time for leisure are aplenty… but the main ways in which this is noticeable is just by consumption.

Everybody would claim to be too busy, have no time for anything – but

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Little Clear Pill...

The NZT of Real Life

You know that feeling of having just too little time in a day, too much that has to be done, too much that it would be nice to get done? Don’t we all just wish there were something to help with that?

Aren’t we really trying to get more out of ourselves, just like that, with all the substances we take – not least coffee?

I myself am as if being torn apart by

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Finding Ultra – Thoughts on Rich Roll’s Memoir

Sure, we are all humans, we share a common biology and psychology – but personalities are also pretty different and conditions rather unique. So, just as I’d rather not watch TV anymore but live my own life (as much as  TV series may be the myths of the modern world), I’d rather live my own life than learn about other’s. Hence, no biographies. Then again, one can learn from other’s stories.

Finding Ultra banner imageAs for Rich Roll‘s story, as described in Finding Ultra…it truly had me hooked.

His being an Ultraman triathlete with a family and a career sounded good enough, accomplishing what he does on a vegan diet made it all the more interesting – but then, there’s his (earlier) life story of an all-American career.

At college, he may have looked either like one of those athletic types  who are admired and get good-enough grades to boot, or like one of those binge drinking students of many a Spring break horror story. Alcohol was the solution to shyness and social ostracism that had plagued the high school years.

Sports fell aside as the career got started – and the career was one that, again, may have looked good from the outside, but was really just coasting along on as little work as possible, in the legal profession stumbled into because of family background and the desire to not be adrift completely. As good as it may have looked, it was fueled by booze.

Maybe even more telling is the story that’s really the nadir of Roll’s tale: Getting into rehab took long enough, things luckily fell into place both professionally and personally afterwards… and that seems exactly the point, where most people get hung up on how life is as it goes, and goes well: wife, kids, house, job paying enough and even fun, relaxation in front of the TV with junk food, and the bulging belly that just comes naturally with success and normal life.

What fascinates me so much is that this story truly could have gone on just as Rich imagined it, winded just getting up a few stairs: on to a heart attack, maybe or maybe not living to see his daughter’s wedding (Hey, modern medicine is a miracle, right? Right?!?) – and it would just be a prototypical story of a life that was well-enough lived.

Most go for the easy solution: If you get afraid you haven’t done quite enough, let alone meaningful enough, with your life, just get over that midlife crisis the usual way. Get a fancy sports car, or start going to the gym and complaining that there’s neither enough time to get trim, nor enough success to really make it worth the time spent there. There’s still a bigger house to get, greater vacations to go on – or maybe a personal trainer. Or a younger wife or lover.

Even Rich’s transformation to triathlete seems not all that unusual. Many a person manages an active lifestyle from the get-go, or a change to more activity.

In the case of Rich Roll, though, the shift was one to an active lifestyle as well as  to a different food lifestyle, not just more sports making it possible to go on as before when it comes to eating, and life.

He does not escape getting political (but the issue of what we eat is a highly political one), nor somewhat preachy, but he also gets into his own misgivings about the preachy and political character of many a vegan lifestyle . In the process, even as chapter 7 (which is explicitly on his “PlantPowered” diet) reads more like a manifesto and is a rock in the stream of the story’s flow, Rich’s story is not just a captivating read about a life that was meandering between success and drunken stupor, but also a life – and not to forget, a physique – changed by knowing something of his own psychology (going all out or doing nothing, but having become willing to listen to a coach’s advice and to seek it out; needing a goal to stay on track…) and experimenting with diet to find ways of eating that are better for the future that he seeks.

In that change, and with the shift to Ultraman greatness that came with it, his example is a good one to tumble the common perception that you can, once you are invested in a certain life path, never really change things.

As much as one could argue that he had a good foundation in sports from his youth, or even that the fixation on diet and sports is still very self-indulgent, the way he jumped into change and experimented with his lifestyle holds lessons each and every one of us, huffing and puffing along a certain life path, ingesting “food” just as we have been taught to, could very much profit from using ourselves.

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