Sitting is the new smoking, people. So my fellow writers, listen up.


It’s getting to the point where admitting you’re a writer is like admitting to fleas. Some writers (especially the famous ones, believe it or not) even brag about their bad habits. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the majority of the world prefers to read about how to become healthier and better-looking.

I’m a writer. I only ever got one solitary date on the strength of my writing. And I married her quick. But I haven’t been coasting on that win. If things went downhill too fast, I’m not sure I’d be able to write myself out of the hole.

How do I do it? What are my personal health and beauty secrets? Well, I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for somebody to ask...

Green Tea, for example.

Green tea, according to the internet, remains the single most healthiest drink in the whole entire world. It fights cancer with antioxidants, helps you lose weight by regulating your metabolism, and even promotes brain health.

My online research also indicates that the cheap varieties might contain lead. So drink the slightly pricier stuff, because it might not.

I ‘cold-brew’ it. 1) Put the bag in cold water. 2) Leave it overnight or until the tea-bag unravels. It’s that easy.

Brewing the tea this way stains your water bottles the color of an old army jacket, and the bits of tea swimming around tell the world that you are either bacterially contaminated or very, very health-conscious.

So how do I really know it’s good? Some of you may still be asking.

This question boils my britches. All of a sudden, you have scruples about where you get your health advice?

I know because everybody knows. I know the same way a bored waitress in St. Petersburg knows. Years ago, I was in a tiny Chinese restaurant in the heart of the oldest part of the Russian city. The she ladled what they called ‘vodka’ from a fish tank with a layer of white fungus swimming on the surface.

Sure, I was reluctant before the first glass. Probably more reluctant than you are to try the green stuff in my water bottle.

“It’s good,” the lady assured me in Russian. Her voice was flat. It had less affect than the voice menu on the IRS helpline.

If I could trust that gal, surely you can trust me, a fellow writer and all.

By the way, the only book in English I had with me was Moby Dick.

For two months, Moby Dick. No wonder I would drink anything!

These days, I drink my luke-warm tea on and off during the day, and I read whatever I want.

Every morning, I supplement the green tea with coffee. I take it black and sweet with lots of honey. Add powdered chipotle chili for a kick. If I’m drinking hot pepper, I may as well write for a while.

Moving on to Aloe Vera.

A succulent plant that grows in thick stalks with serrated ridges, this natural miracle is native to tropical regions.

Although scientific studies are inconclusive about the benefits of aloe, let me remind you that I just used the words ‘natural’ and ‘miracle’ in my previous sentence.

If you see a green stalk of Aloe at the grocery store, don’t even try eating it. It’s incredible bitter. However, I’ll drink the aloe drinks I can get at the Shell Gas station till I’m sick. And by sick, I mean diabetes and cavities. Because those drinks have a massive amount of sugar in them. Otherwise, in regards to actually promoting health with this world-renowned plant, I recommend using the pure gel, the one without alcohol in it. I swear by that stuff… as a writer, of course.

I slaver it on my face and bald head pretty liberally. I put a glob on each eye. That’s because I've got “book-bags” there.

I’m not telling anyone to put the aloe jelly into your actual eye. That’s stupid. But it’s basically what I do.

I put on enough so that some invariably seeps in and I tear up. It’s good for the eyelashes. It makes them curly and luxuriant. (I am bald after-all.) The tears remind me of a formative time in youth. The girl I loved at camp was nuzzling some boy by the campfire. And the smoke kept getting in my eyes. Back then, I cried because of the smoke. That’s all. Now-a-days, I’m just crying because of the aloe.

Additional associations: at twenty-years-old, I spent a month travelling in Pakistan. There were toddlers in the kingdoms of the Karakoram Mountains with beautiful black eyes. They had lashes like the inky middles of poppy blossoms. I was told it was the result of ‘kohl’, a black powder applied to the eyes for health and beauty. And maybe for some degree of clairvoyance. That wasn’t clear in translation.

Turns out kohl is used in a lot of places, from Egypt to the sub-continent. Maybe you used it as a child. You can try kohl in place of aloe. Be warned though, my online research that the cheaper varieties might contain lead.

Willa Cather

Willa Cather

Lead. It’s freaking everywhere.

It’s always good to take time to ponder the accident of our life in the opening decades of 21st century America and consider the alternatives. Some morning, after I cry all the aloe out, I find it helpful to sit on the lid of a closed toilet reading Willa Cather or Cervantes until the last possible moment to leave for work. True, this practice can make you late. But, you know, not late-late.

And now, more Eye Health (for the frugal writer)

I wear glasses. In my experience, the frames you can get online are perfectly OK.

Barnaby Rudge, fit as a fiddle

Barnaby Rudge, fit as a fiddle

Mine are getting beat up. I recorded my prescription, including the “pupillary distance”, inside the cover of a paperback edition of Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens. As soon as I find it, I am getting a new pair.

Please check the used bookstores in your area.

Until then, it’s Paleo time.

No one knows better than a writer how important it is to rage against modernity. Paleo, my friends, is the ultimate nostalgia diet.

As a bonus, it promotes irony. Eschewing hot water? Including showers? Jogging without shoes? In the winter? Good for you!

I avoided admitting it until now, but I’m a vegetarian. Thus my Paleo tendencies are mainly expressed by eating this stuff that my co-workers call ‘bird-seed’ or ‘kelsey kibble’ which is a mix of the raw seeds and dried fruit on sale by the pound at the health food store. Most of it is probably meant to be cooked. But I don’t like to cook anything, not even tea.

That- and I occasionally reread The Inheritors by William Golding.

It’s an odd stream-of-consciousness novel from the perspective of a pre-lingual proto-human. Which means I’ve hit my hyphen-quota.

If I’ve learned anything from the internet, it’s that we Paleo people love to argue about what is more authentically Paleo. So let me say this, and not just because Golding got a Nobel Prize: I feel that The Descendants is hardier and more robust than say, Clan of the Cave Bear. More Paleo.

I just about forgot where I started with this…

Oh yes. Health and Beauty for Writers.

Most importantly, I believe in Regular Exercise.

Doctors agree about moderate exercise. At least a half hour each a day is what’s essential. That’s enough to stay happy, healthy, and handy.

My requisite half-hour comes right before bedtime.

For aerobics, I sometimes do something breathless. It could be Nicolas Sparks or John Green. But I admit it. As a dude, I like heavy lifting better. I just finished reading the novel Nausea by Sartre. I was into it. There was no pretension there. Even so, I occasionally felt like the guy who powerlifts while staring at himself in the mirror.

I feverishly wanted to be a writer as a kid because I loved to read. Loved reading. I have to remind myself that unless I commit a few extra hours a week. Without that, I am probably fooling myself as a literary athlete.

Geza Csath,    good-looking autho r,   medical doctor       and  psychopath

Geza Csath, 

good-looking author, 

medical doctor  

and psychopath

Writing is secondary. It follows reading. As beauty follows health in all cases. Except in the sickroom atmosphere of a Geza Csath short story. Or in that of his multitudinous progeny. In that kind of book, the all sickly people are magnetically attractive. Maybe you are like me, and you read a few books in that vein way too closely during your formative teen-age years. Well, time marches on. Sickly and haunted may not be working as well as it used to.

But I guess my real question is whether, for the future of books, don’t we need reading more than writing? It’s important to think about, but not too hard.

For now:

Lead is bad.

Green tea is good.

Put on the aloe.

Remember that life hurts sometimes. The little things from long ago hurt more than the crack-ups of today.

And read. Because if writers don’t, who will?