Charlie's Blog: SOC 33


SOC 33

What was Bruce Lee like? How did you meet? What was it like to choreograph the fight scene in Rome with him? Did you spend much time together off-screen? Those are a small sampling of the inquiries I'm asked often, wherever I go around the world. 

I have gout. This fact of life has become the genesis of a great deal of thought and reflection on the nature of pain and pleasure, asceticism and comfort, and deprivation and luxury. When life gives you pain, you should see it for what it is. Pain is a lesson. You learn from pain. It may be as simple as learning to not put your hand on a hot stove. Or, it may be something more deeply philosophical as you contemplate the nature of existence. Regardless, when pain hits you, you should endeavor to learn its lessons. Here are the lessons my pain has taught me.

Gout is a form of arthritis. It occurs when the body converts purines into uric acid. When this uric acid becomes excessive, it crystallizes and collects in the joints. Its favorite joint is the big toe joint. The pain from these uric acid crystals is exquisite and agonizing. It feels as if someone has driven a nail through the joint. People suffering from these gout attacks describe them as "crippling." I would describe it as having the nail in the joint and walking on it because this is what I do. It takes fortitude to keep functioning in this state of agony.

How did I get here? The answer to that is simple. Gout is described as a disease of the luxurious. Royal aristocrats from back in the day would indulge themselves in their diets rich in meat and alcoholic beverages and sat around in sedentary inertness. They had the comfortable life which leads to excess which leads to pain. Like it or not, I had the same lifestyle for 41 years as I ate the standard American diet of burgers and fries and indulged in couch surfing and television. Looking back, I can see where I had gout flare ups then but did not recognize them. They weren't severe enough to make me go and seek a cause or a cure.

When I was 41, I became a vegan. As I tell people now, I feel awesome from the ankle up. Going vegan is a decision that I do not regret. But from the ankle down, my life is pure hell. As my vegan diet burns away the toxic fat of my old lifestyle, it releases the purines and uric acid stored in that fat built up from that poor diet and lifestyle. Basically, I am in purgatory where I have to burn off my dietary sins.

I have a threefold remedy for my gout issue. I keep it on a piece of paper on the fridge. It's really simple. CARB UP + HYDRATE + EXERCISE. Carbing up is when I make sure to eat calories. You are going to lose weight as a vegan, so you don't even have to think about it. The problem is when you lose that weight too fast. All I have to do is skip a meal or eat one that is more vegetable than carb, and I am in the danger zone.

Losing weight is a good thing, but doctors will tell you not to lose it too fast. They aren't kidding. You should focus on losing a pound per week. I suspect I will lose a pound in a day which begins the descent into oblivion. I don't weigh myself because those home scales are so inaccurate. But I know I've lost weight when I catch the next hole on my belt.

The hydration is where you drink a lot of water. The body eliminates excess uric acid through the kidneys, and you need to drink enough water that your urine is clear. This is very laborious and requires frequent trips to the bathroom. But I have to do it or suffer the consequences. Patriots QB Tom Brady made headlines over the fact that he drinks 20 glasses of water each day on average. This is probably 5 liters. I don't know. What I do know is that I drink that much and more. I achieve clear urine daily. When I don't, I suffer.

People think Tom Brady is nuts for this severity on the hydration, but I see wisdom in it especially since following the advice myself. The people who claim Brady is off his rocker think going vegan is nuts, too. Basically, these people are idiots. Anytime you do something out of the ordinary, then people become instant psychologists worthy of judging your mental competence. I don't listen to these people.

The last part of the formula is the exercise. I find my gout is less severe when I move more. A weekend of undercarbing, dehydration, and spending hours in front of the computer will produce a gout attack. The antidote is to do the opposite of this.

Comfort is the enemy. Luxury is the betrayer. Pleasure is pain. These statements seem ironic, but they are reality. When you have a nail through the joint of your big toe, that is very real. In those moments, I wish I could take back that decadent life that I had. But, saddled with the pain, you have a choice to make. You can fight it and try to return to comfort. Or, you can embrace your cross and your penance and let it purify you.

My wife hates when I talk like this, but that is the difference between men and women. Women were made for comfort. Men were made for suffering. When women embrace suffering, they take on a masculine character like Saint Joan of Arc. When men embrace comfort, they take on an effeminate character like some English fop. This is damnable and disgraceful.

Soft living is a bad thing. I have felt the path of austerity calling me for a long time. Now, the torture of gout has turned that call into a deafening roar. I have resisted this call to austerity, and I place the blame for this on one man. This man is G.K. Chesterton.

Chesterton was a fat man. He enjoyed food, adult beverages, and a good smoke. He was also a writer which is not a physically vigorous activity. The result of these habits was to produce a corpulence that I consider a disgrace. I say this as an overweight man with his own trophy of disgrace. Chesterton's obesity is considered a prime stumbling stone in his cause for canonization. I think it is deserved. In order to be a saint, one must be venerable. There is nothing venerable about living the lifestyle Chesterton lived.

Chesterton railed against Puritanism, and his disciples today have a similar antipathy. The problem is in defining this Puritanism. If we are talking about the iconoclastic Calvinists who wanted to drain all that was Catholic from the Church of England, I am against Puritanism. Unfortunately, Chesterton and his ilk seemed to have inflated Puritanism beyond that strict definition to include vegetarians, teetotallers, and non-smokers. Somehow, living a healthy lifestyle is anti-Catholic. But this is garbage.

There has been a backlash growing in me against Chesterton for sometime now. It probably began with my rejection of distributism as economic folly. I am of the opinion that much of this claptrap is ex post facto justification for being on the dole. This realization hit me after reading a Catholic writer fond of Chesterton discuss the joy of being on food stamps. The fact is that Chesterton was right on many things and wrong on others.

Chesterton wrote about the virtues of an agricultural homesteading lifestyle from the comfort of his desk which he rarely left except to venture down to the pub. He had that peculiar English habit of telling others how to do exactly that which he does not do. I had an English friend who had this annoying habit. He spent more time caring about the rights of workers than actually working. And this is why Americans are superior to the English. We work more and talk less.

Because of Chesterton, I have tried to remove the residue of my Calvinism by expunging all things Puritan from my thinking and lifestyle. But this has been a colossal error on my part. My lifestyle is more Chestertonian than I care to admit, and I am reaping the bitter reward of it with the gout. But bitter lessons are not quickly forgotten, and these are some of the things I have learned from the School of Pain.

Should be retitled "The Pleasures of Reason"

The first thing I have learned is that mental and spiritual pleasures are the highest. My wife asks me, "Aren't we supposed to take joy in life?" The Catholic answer to that is yes. Life is not meant to be a joyless existence. The problem is that this is never adequately explained. When people think of joy, an image of food and wine springs readily to mind. But those are bodily pleasures. In moderation, these things are not so bad. But moderation is more severe than people realize. When drawing the line, they aim for the middle but almost always err on the side of excess. This is concupiscence.

With mental and spiritual pleasures, there is no excess. You can never see too much beauty. You can never listen to too many beautiful symphonies. You can never worship God too much. Thanks to the Catholic Church and the wonders of the internet, I am rich in the spiritual and mental realms to a high degree like never before in history. You never have to temper your appetite for these things, yet sloth is what makes us forgo these things in favor of the material and the physical.

CATO THE ELDER: Not a man accustomed to soft living.
You have to be severe with the body. No one likes to hear this, but we know it to be true. This is why we admire athletes, soldiers, and saints. They are severe on their bodies. A guy that I find admirable is an old pagan from Roman times--Cato the Elder. Here's a bit from Wikipedia on him:
When Cato was very young, after his father's death, he inherited a small property in the Sabine territory, at a distance from his native town. There, he spent most of his childhood hardening his body by exercise, overseeing and sharing the operations of the farm, learning business and the rural economy... 
In the pauses between campaigns Cato returned to his Sabine farm, where he dressed simply, working and behaving like his laborers.
Cato was a bad ass. There's no other way to put it. The man became legendary for his severity and his opposition to luxury, decadence, and opulence. It was guys like Cato that made Rome so great. Cato opposed the corrupting Greek influences and was austere and rustic in his manner, habits, and lifestyle. He probably overdid it, yet people admired him anyway. He was a blue collar type of guy fighting against a world that wanted to go soft.

Now, Cato was no Christian, so I take what I admire from the guy while discarding the rest. The man was not humble or kind. Basically, he was just an austere type of guy who eschewed luxury when he had every opportunity and means to indulge it. Unfortunately, he seems to have pushed this same austerity into the realm of mind being a bit of a rube when it came to matters of the intellect or culture.

When it comes to Christianity, the guy most noted for austerity is St. John the Baptist. The man was remarkable even for his time. We all know about him wearing camel hair clothing and eating locusts and honey. Icons of the saint depict him as pretty rough looking. The guy was definitely severe on his body. Even Jesus makes this joke about him:
As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?" 
People compared John the Baptist and Jesus. John was considered insane for his severity while Jesus was considered decadent for his mildness. Jesus mocked these criticisms:
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, "He has a demon!" 
The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, "Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!" 
LUKE 7:33-34 NASB
Jesus was no glutton or drunk. This was a man who fasted in the desert for forty days. But while He was with his disciples, he enjoyed His time with them before He was to suffer. And the ascetical practices of St. John the Baptist would become the norm. St. Paul writes about beating his body. Other saints would undergo severe mortifications and penances. Then, there is the torture and martyrdom. Compared to the cross, camel hair and locusts seem like an easy ride.