Friday, November 23, 2012

What I Read: Matt Hart

Someone who doesn't read gets about the same education as someone who can't. Where you get your information seems of vital importance to how you see the world. We are bombarded with information, and misinformation all day long. I'm fascinated by how people wade through the deluge, when and where they consume, and how they structure their work life around it. TheAtlanticWire has this wonderful series called Media Diet, that I read religiously. They focus on the reading habits of "prominent figures in media, entertainment, politics, the arts, and the literary world". I'm going to steal this idea from them, however my focus will be on prominent figures in athletics, nutrition, and health.

I thought it would only be fair to post my own "What I Read" essay before I ask others to open up. I realize I'm decidedly not prominent, but it's my blog so I figured I had to go first.

I appreciate routine. I don't mind breaking it however, because that can often lead to the very best of days. Generally though, I wake up and do the same things, often in the same order; wash up, open the curtains, start the water for tea, turn on NPR's Hourly News. I then sit at my MacBook Air, facing my back yard, usually in time to see the neighbor's dog have his first bowel movement of the day. It's good to know he's regular, since he is never walked, shown affection, or taken care of.

While my liberal updates play, I sip on yerba mate — the devil bean f's me up — and settle into the computer. Before even looking at email I cast a wide net for my news consumption because I want as many perspectives as I can get. This way I can arm myself with both sides of the arguments, and make my own thoughtful decisions. This means I visit FoxNews's video site, and I've recently added Al Jazeera; not comprehensive, but it's a start.
I'll use Hootsuite to scroll my twitter feed. This is where I get an idea of treading news stories based on my hand selected community. I end up reading some of the links, and saving others for when I have more time (Batching: Tim Ferris would be proud).

Which brings me to my own twitter. What the hell am I doing? I don't always know. When I see news of an Afghani girl having acid thrown in her face for the offense of trying to get an education, I'm awash with anger. Which leads to me typing out a tweet like, "Faith is not a virtue, it's a liability" then deleting it, then typing it out slightly different, and deleting it. I repeat that process a few more times until the feeling passes. Although politics and religion are often on my mind, I try to keep them off my twitter — this is hard for an opinionated asshole. I attempt to stick to nutrition, training, and sport in general. With writing taking up more of my time and thoughts recently, the topic has snuck into my tweets lately; I'll tweet my favorite long form pieces, and comments on books I've read. If it looks like I'm on twitter 24-7, it's an illusion created by the fact that I'll schedule tweets to post while I'm asleep or not at the computer.

Twitter acts as a tension release for me, if I'm fired up or researching something I'll tweet about it. I'm certain that some of my sponsors would rather I keep my mouth shut. However, this is exactly why most athletes suck at twitter, they are so generic and politically correct it's nauseating (and not worth following); check out Ryan Hall's twitter to see what I mean. Then check out Hall's antithesis, Jenn Shelton — she's hilarious.

I am on Facebook but don't have a personal page any more. I used a request by a sponsor to create an "athlete page", as a chance to deactivate my personal page. My attention is just too easily diverted by pictures of your baby, or your CrossFit hands — I apparently have the attention span of a squirrel.

I have a subscription to The New York Times so I'm not limited to the 10 articles a month. I love words, but I have limits to how much reading I can do in one day. To get some visual stim, I often use YouTube to research topics. Mostly I watch Christopher Hitchens HitchSlap Theocrats, or John and Hank Green drop knowledge bombs. Since I coach athletes online YouTube is invaluable to be able to link to videos of exercise movements, either my own or others.

When I'm driving or doing errands I'll listen to podcasts. I never do it at my desk, instead I use the iPhone's ability to listen to them at 1.5-2x speed. This is a great way to consume more in shorter period of time. Long hours in the mountains training lends itself to listening to books on tape or podcasts at hyperspeed. My favorites: WNYC's Radiolab, This American Life, Robb Wolf's Paleo Solution Podcast.

Since writing is a stationary pursuit, and we know sitting for extended periods of time isn't good for us,  I get up a lot and run through some simple exercises; Ben Greenfield calls this "greasing the grove". I do simple movements — jumping jacks, burpees, etc — at low reps multiple times.

Reading is not an indulgence, it's a requirement. I love being exposed to new ideas, or even just good writing. If I stop to think about what I just read, or stop to laugh out loud, or stop to consider how lovely that turn of phrase was, the author has done their job well.

Weather permitting I like to walk and read. I literally just roam a five square mile radius around my house in Salt Lake City, book in hand. The only problem with this, aside from tripping, is the odd phenomenon of testosterone filled high schoolers who scream obscenities from their cars as they speed by. In my experience Utah's youth are far more likely to do this than anywhere else I've lived.

I think it's important to place the proper weight on the source of your information. Yes, you can find anything on the internet, but is it really worth all those hours reading meaningless blogs, when there is so much great content being born every day to publications? I've recently backed off to recalibrate my reading matter, and the internet is certainly getting less of my attention these days. I now give published material far more time than the internet's deluge of mediocre — yes, I realize I am complicit here.

I've read Genesis, it's contradictory and confusing story seems like a childish, dated, best-guess. I therefore prescribe to the fact that we've evolved[1]. If you can believe that, there is a lot of good science that shows we evolved eating vegetables, meat, fruit and nuts, and we're well adapted to pre-agricultural foods. I therefore follow some of the top guns in ancestral health; most notably Robb Wolf (with Amy Kubal writing a lot of great content for him) and Mark Sisson (an ex-marathon trials runner). Dallas and Melissa at Whole9Life are fantastic as well. All three of these folks have written great books that I highly recommend. With all that said, I always try to read the counterarguments, and enjoyed Brendan Brazier's book Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide for Athletes.

If you need to dive into verbose, in-depth, discussion on a health topic I think Chris Kresser is doing the best job of this. If you are avoiding eggs because of the cholesterol, you are under a misapprehension — grab some tea and dive in.

As for fitness experts, I like Ben Greenfield despite how cheesy and shirtless he tends to be. I will read anything Mark Twight writes. He owns Gym Jones, and is an awesome, abrasive, mad genius, as well as a talented writer. His content has recently retreated behind a pay-wall, which is understandable. I've also been a long time fan of Endurance Corner's Gordo Byrn. My favorite sport scientist is Dr. Tim Noakes (author of Lore of Running), but Alex Hutchinson (who now writes for Runner's World) is a close second. Ross and Jonathan at The Science of Sport are fantastic as well.

For my own writing I use the library, the above authors, Pubmed, Dr. Google, and I have a subscription to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

I love The Atlantic and will try to read as many long-form pieces as I can. The will aggregate things for me with columns likes "Five Best Friday Columns" and their daily must called "Trimming the Times", which is basically that days New York Times filtered through someone smart at the TheAtlanticWire. Being an old tech geek I have an affinity for CNET as a daily look at the latest tech news, and Scientific American for the latest in science news.

As for other magazines, I write for Trail Runner Magazine so I usually sit down when that comes and read the whole thing. The only other subscription I get is Free Inquiry, but I managed to get my hands on Wired Magazine every month; I've been reading it for the last 15 years. As a sometime-metrosexual (do people still use that term for guys who shave?) I have convinced myself that there is good writing in GQ and Esquire magazines, which I'll read both online and via a hard copy. On that note at least once a month I'll sit down in front of the magazine rack at B&N and just pick things that interest me. I feel like it's homework for a freelance writer.

At some point mid-morning I'll head out into the Wasatch mountains, or to the gym to train — sometimes both. After cleaning up I'll then head to the library for a few hours. I need the change of scenery. I always leave with something I don't have time to read — I'm working on it.

I was made to feel extremely stupid as a kid for my lack of historical knowledge, this is my excuse for almost exclusively reading non-fiction books. My favorite author is Christopher Hitchens (although he was an even better orator), my favorite book is Animal Farm by George Orwell. I love and appreciate anything and everything written by Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins. They have changed my perspective and nourished my mind in so many ways.

I don't have a TV, well not one that gets any signals from outside sources. I have an actual TV, but it only works with DVDs, which I get from the Library. I do watch some TV shows online when I have time and or feel like lounging, or need to horizontally recover from training. I try to stay up-to-date with the "Daily Show" and the "Colbert Report"their writing staffs are brilliant.

My seemingly impossible daily goal is to be closing the computer by 8pm, and in bed reading until 10 or 11pm, so I can rise at an early hour on the morrow. One of these days I'll finish with enough time to make it over to my neighbors house and walk that poor fucking dog.

[1] "Nothing in science makes sense except in the light of evolution." - Theodosius Dobzhansky


Oscarjet said...

Thanks for sharing Matt.
Take care man !

Erik said...

Good stuff!

Grae Van Hooser said...

Wow! Great insight in to a totally self-absorbed lifestyle. Question. Why don't you do a little something about the human and animal abuses you observe instead of sitting around on your groovy laptop, being "outraged" by the acts of others? Perhaps it could help the world to be a little better off ?

Matt Hart said...

Thanks for asking Grae! As a matter of fact two weeks ago I was lucky enough to coach a running camp for wounded combat veterans. I realize this isn't as much as you are probably doing on a daily (hourly?) basis.

You sound like an awesome person!

Rob said...

Matt - it was great to meet you at the trail running camp a few weeks back. I have been enjoyed reading your blog and find the articles very informative.

Thanks for taking the time to act as a mentor to all us vets, and for the encouragement while we dragged ourselves all over the hills in south Texas.

Best Regards

LEWIS said...

Thanks for sharing your sources Matt!