On my flight to Austin Texas for my third Paleo f(x) conference, I felt a mix of emotions. I had attended two previous events, but this third event, the largest thus far, also comes at a time when my Paleo life has started to meld and merge with my personal and professional life to much greater extent.
I have been in the fitness industry for nearly a decade, so I am no newcomer to exercise and nutrition, but with this website, my involvement in Paleo Magazine (and the Paleo Magazine Podcast), and my recently completed Paleo Grilling cookbook, this whole "Paleo thing" has suddenly become a pretty big part of my life. What I think I'm trying to say is that the stakes are higher and there is more on the line.
These opportunities have been a blessing, and I'm doing my best to do right by them. To that end, I prepared relentlessly for the panels I was moderating and presenting on, I also tweaked and honed my solo presentation till I could tweak and hone no more (I think someone has said that if you sharpen a knife too much, the edge will break, which seems to be a relevant analogy).
Rather than stressing out, I decided to spend my time in the aisle seat of Delta flight 1186 getting some perspective by getting out of my head. I had received a copy of Michael Pollan's "Cooked" for Christmas so I cracked it open and dove in.
Moving at hundreds of miles per hour, I read about slow food, the ancient history of cooking, and how it is interwoven with so much of our lives. I couldn't help but reflect upon the Paleo movement and how, at least to me, it reflects this deep urge to recapture what we imagine to be a simpler time. Technology is making all of "this" possible, it is omnipresent and unavoidable but, as Michael Pollan says in cooked, "Humans cooked food, and then food cooked us." Perhaps smart phones, rapid transit, and all the other trappings of modern life are doing the same thing that the technology of cooking did to our ancestors. We are externalizing more and more of ourselves, outsourcing capabilities and capacities that we once possessed for the sake of convenience.
Yet the relationship between modern technology and the Paleo movement is not so straightforward. For every barefoot romp through the woods comes with an Instagram post, every from-scratch paleo meal appears on Facebook, and, without the internet, it is likely that no one would be using the word "Paleo" in the first place. Smart phones, digital cameras, and social media are the tools of the Paleo blogosphere (of which I am an active participant so don't think I'm casting stones, It's merely an observation) and it is by high tech means that the information, recipes, and resources that power Paleo are generated.
By necessity this relationship must carry with it a tension. Our technological society has driven the rise in sedentary jobs, disrupted circadian rhythms, and an overfed and undernourished populace. The "evolutionary mismatch" between our genotype and our environment is, according to ancestral health principles, at the root of our problem. The chronic disease brought on by technology is the very same thing Paleo seeks to combat...with technology. Are we "fighting fire with fire"? Or are we doing something else?
It is my belief that the power of Paleo comes not from the technology bloggers, authors, and the rest wield, it is from the story they tell.
To paraphrase a line from Nicholas Nassim Taleb's book "The Black Swan", sometimes you need a story to fight a story and the "story" of Paleo is one that, while told primarily through screens and phones, brings us back to ourselves.
Cooking at home. Walking. Lifting heavy things. Basking in the sun. However you slice it, these are simple pleasures that are elemental as well as revolutionary.
Corporate interests would have us believe that consumption is the only way to be happy, to be satisfied, to live a good life, but Paleo says otherwise.
Taking back the tools of production we spend time, invest energy, and in so many ways prove that health, happiness, and connection are birthrights, not things to be bought.
Austin. A progressive oasis in the heart of big Texas. Home to expats from all corners of the USA, Austin is cool without being douchey, weird, but in a good way. To put it simply, I love this city.
I love how there are signs on the road advertising "Grass Fed Beef", I love how being "weird" is a point of pride. I love how even the graffiti hits all the right notes. It's a perfect venue for Paleo f(x).
My first stop was Picnik. An indescribably adorable coffee shop perched atop a hill off of Lamar Street. My friend Charissa introduced me to this place, a burgeoning Paleo Mecca that sells "Bulletproof" coffee fortified with gelatin, gelatin!
Naomi, the effervescent proprietor of Picnik gave us the grand tour, and, after ensuring that we were properly set up with cups of coffee and food, sat down with us to chat. A warm dry wind whipped across the hilltop and sent utensils and napkins flying, but we were unperturbed. Between bites of barbacoa beef and veggies, we talked about the things Paleo people talk about when they get a chance to commiserate.
Deciding to "go Paleo", at least for us early innovators, often means spending a substantial amount of time each day explaining yourself to those who believe that life without bread is a pleasureless hell. At an event like Paleo f(x), however, surrounded by fellow Paleos (people who adhere to the Paleo lifestyle to some degree or another), the daily pressure of explaining oneself is relieved.
Without this pressure however, unabashed paleoness (the behavior of one that is Paleo) is free to exert itself and giddy Paleos profess their undying love of grassfed butter (or coconut oil), eschew shoes for perpetual barefootedness, and unapologetically Instagram everything they eat. #paleo
In the embrace of strangers who share many of your own peculiar preferences its hard not to feel like part of a tribe. Together, we relish our meals of fat and fermented things, converse about paleo blog posts, and share our plans for world domination.
Space to Explore
Past trips to Paleo f(x) have always left me feeling a bit remorseful. Between the sessions and social events, I would catch glimmers of the city and it's populace; lined up outside food trucks, rocking out to live music, and generally living it up. Determined to enjoy some of what this city has to offer, I made sure to fly in two full days prior to the start of Paleo f(x), enough time to really soak it all in. As luck would have it, one of my best friends lives right down the street from the Palmer Event Center, the venue that has hosted Paleo f(x) for the past two years, and he was happy to host me for a few days prior to Paleo f(x)'s start.
A vicious hailstorm had rolled through the night before my arrival, but in it's wake, a wave of cool clear air had descended upon the city. With beautiful weather came the urge for some al fresco dining, so me and my friend decided to visit a local sausage house. I can see the jokes already, "Two dudes walk into a sausage house..." but I let me tell you, this sausage house was nothing to laugh at.
House-made bratwurst, bockwurst, and currywurst cozied up against sausages fashioned from wild boar, duck, bbq bacon and shrimp. I opted for a local antelope (an oxymoron, perhaps) and venison sausage and, while waiting for my food, began nursing frosty mugs of dry apple cider. As the drink set in, we began to talk about the nature of things, the digestive barrels of gorillas, and how humanity came to be. Heady stuff for sure, but the opportunity to have such conversations out in the open is rare and must be taken advantage of.
I became aware that I was not just savoring the food, I was savoring the moment, my friend's company, the beautiful weather, and the crowd of strangers that shared appetites and inclinations similar to my own. The act of appreciating something, however, seems to cause the moment to quicken, slipping away faster and faster the more you try to hold onto it. The meal and the reverie had ended, and it was time to go home.
Paleo f(x) officially kicked off with a "Pecha Kucha" opening night party. I wasn't planning on attending, but my good friend "Relentless" Roger Dickerman, living up to his name, would have none of this.
Roger had been wheedling me all day and his efforts came to fruition with a little help from a friend. While eating lunch outside of Whole Foods (of course) we found ourselves in the company of Darryl "The Fitness Explorer" Edwards. Darryl, athletically built, tall, and dressed in a black t-shirt and black athletic pants, is constantly in motion. There is a music and a beat to his movements, and his energy is seemingly inexhaustible. His age, too, is indeterminate. He could be thirty or fifty, at the same time anciently wise and as playful as a child. He has a magic about him, equal parts showman and shaman, as I was about to find out.
The usual "hellos" and "good to see you agains" eventually gave way to talk about our evening plans. Roger immediately threw me under the bus and told Darryl that I was trying to bail on the opening night party.
I think I mumbled, "I'm gonna take it easy" or "I want to just keep things open" but halfway through whatever it was, Darryl hit me with a emphatic, "Really?!" that immediately shook my defenses. I was determined to flake out, intent on going the route of being comfortably noncommittal, but before I knew it, Darryl hit me with another "Really?!" This time I was stumbling, out on my feet, my last feeble attempt attempted to roll off my tongue, but, seemingly out of nowhere, I was out cold. I didn't hear the last "Really?!" as much as I felt it. I knew in my heart that my excuses were bullshit. I had been roundly defeated, I was now definitely going.
The night's event was held at the Ben Hur Shrine, which I just assumed was a Buddhist monument. This was not the case, however, as the anteroom was adorned with the visages of elderly men in strange hats. I quickly deduced (que "no shit Sherlock") that this was a Shriner shrine, the very same Shriners known for driving small cars in parades and it was under their watchful gaze that the assembled Paleos guzzled kombucha, gluten free beer, and various meat-based appetizers.
Although my day job involves very intense one-on-one face-to-face human interaction, it is routine interaction with familiar faces. Paleo f(x) is a highly unpredictable social enterprise, one that simultaneously elevates me to new heights of inspiration and possibility while dropping me right back into the high school lunch room. Fortunately, I spotted several friends among the crowd which offered a welcome respite from the sense of being adrift in a sea of social hierarchy.
Four of these friends, Dean Dwyer, Hamilton Stappell, Darryl Edwards, and Amy Kubal were presenting that night, so I grabbed a plateful of braised lamb and sat down to listen.
At it's core, Pecha Kucha is an irreverent, boisterous take on your typical powerpoint and the bulk of these presentations certainly lived up to this billing. Hamilton incited a paleo "battle of the sexes", Dean lampooned and praised the Paleo illuminati with his signature self-deprecating humour, and Darryl presented the curious case of...himself. Amy, however, decided to use the platform to reveal her personal struggles with exercise bulimia. Sharing her intimate battles with weight, body image, and self destructive demons was absolutely courageous and served to remind us that Paleo is not a panacea, that there is no diet healthy enough to heal certain wounds, and that even"healthy eating" or "exercise" can be wielded like a knife.
Painful and lovely, intimidating and intimate, all the facets of human interaction were rolled into one on that single night. Roger, you were right, going to the opening night party was totally worth it.
The Expo Hall
For the event proper, Russ Crandall (aka The Domestic Man) and I shared a room at the Embassy Suites located less than a mile East of the Palmer Center. The hotel was comfortable and, perhaps most importantly, featured a daily, complimentary breakfast bar.
Early Friday morning, we gathered our stuff (mandatory camera, identifying lanyard, and Paleo f(x) tote bag filled with various Paleo bars and snacks) and headed down to scope out the sitch. We both ignored the commodity crop cereals, hydrogenated oil infused waffles, and leaden bran muffins, and went straight for the scrambled eggs. Stuffed with protein and fat, we set out for the Palmer Center, a short walk through a less than scenic section of Austin.
Arriving at the expo hall, I was struck by how much has changed since the first Paleo f(x). From a few fold-out tables two years ago to a sprawling array of professional booths, stages, and products. The Paleo consumer base has grown exponentially, and with it, there has been an explosion of foods, drinks, supplements, and exercise equipment.
Notable among these enterprises, if only for their impressive booths, were Tessemaes, Epic Bar, and Barefoot Provisions. Each reflected a particular brand identity and ethos, respectively, a backyard cookout reminiscent of post World War 2 Americana (complete with a grill and lawn chairs), a hunting lodge adorned with taxidermy, and a reimagining of a country store.
While the booths were bigger this time around, they were far from "Big Business." More often than not, the person manning the booth was the same person who created the product. Not only were they sharing primal dark chocolate, paleo diet food bars, live soda, honest chips and raw tea, they were sharing their blood, sweat, and tears. The honest result of long hours spent cultivating something that they could proudly call Paleo, as well as their own.
An argument could certainly be made against the proliferation of packaged Paleo goods, but this brings us back to Paleo's unique synthesis of the ancient and modern. Using high-tech food production techniques in combination with high quality whole food products is in some ways a perfect expression of the modern Paleo movement.
We probably want to eat meat and veggies, whole and fresh, and sourced as closely to home as often as possible, but most of us don't live "off the grid" and are far from self sufficient. We buy our groceries at the store and right now the options are pretty dismal. If given the choice between a cricket protein bar and one made from chemically flavored cereal crops, I'll take the crickets.
These companies are filling the need for a real alternative and their innovation and willingness to put it all on the line for a burgeoning, but still fringe, marketplace is courageous to say the least. While their products still need to stand on their own in terms of ingredient quality and consistency (being "paleo" is not enough IMHO), they have certainly earned my support.
The 2014 presenter line up was stacked with multiple Ph.D.'s, New York Times bestsellers, Olympic Athletes, elite trainers, uber popular bloggers, and...me. The topics ranged from sex to sleep and everything in between, reflecting both the "theory" and the "practice" Paleo f(x) is known for.
However, finding the time to sit still and listen to any given panel or presentation however seemed impossible. My days seemed to follow a peculiar rhythm known only to a Paleo f(x) attendee; wander the expo hall for samples of cricket bars, fermented tea, and chocolate, have about thirteen spontaneous conversations, watch a presentation or panel for five minutes, repeat. Like a whirling dervish I bounced around in a trance.
Added to this, was the fact that I was tasked with moderating, sitting on a panel, or presenting on all three days of the conference. Perhaps I feared that watching a presentation would force me to confront my own impending presentation, one that was positioned almost precisely at the tail end of Paleo f(x). Perhaps I feared the inevitable, reflexive self-comparison that arose while watching other presenters ("Holy shit that guy/gal is good, wtf can I say after that?!") Perhaps constantly walking around, talking, taking pictures, and sampling foods, shoved such thoughts aside and allowed me to maintain a patina of serenity and civility.
Han Shot First
The Friday night speakers dinner was hosted at Springdale farm, a bucolic wonderland of baby ducks, sprouting green things, and picnic tables arranged under a great oak tree whose canopy was dripping with hundreds of twinkling lights. The energy was at once vital and serene, I felt as if I was able to breathe much deeper than usual and strode into the social milieu with a preternatural confidence.
This confidence, along with a few kombucha cocktails led to some strange happenings however, as I soon found myself explaining to Robb Wolf and Chris Kresser why it was totally lame that Greedo shot first in the 1997 remake of Star Wars. "Han shot first!" I proclaimed, "You can't just change something like that."
Without getting bogged down by the details (you either get the reference or not) It's worth noting that this conversation wasn't as completely random and insane as it seems. Chris "Squatchy" Williams, a member of Robb Wolf's team, was wearing a "Han Shot First" t-shirt and Russ Crandall, a self-proclaimed Star Wars fan, was also present. Nevertheless, Robb responded that it was probably "the nerdiest thing he has ever heard in his entire life," a proud first that I was happy to claim.
The rest of the night was spent cracking wise with Joe Johnson, Steve Kirsch and Roger. Amongst other things, we explored the awkwardness that ensues when one person goes in for a fist bump and the other attempts a handshake. I'm pretty sure it scared the rest of our tablemates away as they gradually disappeared, possibly in search of more civilized company.
During a midday break in Friday's Paleo f(x) activities, Roger and I cut out of the conference to grab a bite to eat. I suggested that we hoof it to Torchy's, a killer taco truck located up the street from the Palmer Center. During our walk, and prior to stuffing our faces with chips, guacamole, and bbq pork and brisket tacos, a plan began to gestate along with our twin food babies.
The previous day Roger had moderated a panel on "Hacking Stress" and during the panel Evan Brand, had brought up the stress-relieving, performance enhancing, and, potentially, vision inducing effects of float tanks. A float tank (aka "sensory deprivation tank") supposedly induces altered brain states by allowing you to float in a large pool of epsom salt laden water. The salts make the water super buoyant so you lay there effortlessly, no paddling required. The floating, combined with ear plugs and a dark, soundproof room, steer your consciousness back towards itself. A high tech way to combat the constant sensory bombardment brought on by our technological society.
"I'd love to try that at some point," Roger said. "I'm game," I replied. Conveniently, there was a "Float Spa" a few miles south of the Palmer Center, so Roger and I made plans to visit the following day.
Saturday rolled around and I knocked out my responsibilities early on by moderating a panel on Paleo treats. Dallas Hartwig was one of the panelists and I came away with a new appreciation for the guy. He's best known for the super strict Whole 30 Paleo challenge, but he is actually is way more balanced in his perspective than I ever imagined. Bill Staley of The Primal Palate was a last minute addition to the panel and was responsible for my other big takeaway, I presented the question of "What responsibility do bloggers have when it comes to paleo treat recipes?" and directed it towards Bill. His blog features a fair share of "Paleo treats" and I'm sure he's had this question directed towards him before. He paused at first, on his face an expression of exasperation and frustration, but then noticeably relaxed and shifted into a passionate speech, the culmination of which was his belief that, "Bloggers don't have a responsibility for how people use their information, but they can present their information responsibly."
With my schedule clear, I met up with Roger and we proceeded to walk then run to the float spa. We had severely underestimated how long it would take to get there and found ourselves nearly sprinting down South Lamar. By the time we arrived, we were both completely out of breath and drenched in sweat.
The zen-like calm of the float spa was interrupted by two large, sweating, and heavily breathing guys. I immediately felt sorry for the demure woman manning the front desk. Embarrassed, I excused myself from the lobby to try and fan myself down while my tank was being prepared.
Pacing back and forth, hoping to "cool down", I had a chance to read the informational brochure provided by the receptionist. I learned that, since you are, in fact, floating naked in a pool of salt water, that innumerable other people have floated naked in, questions of sanitation and cleanliness necessarily arise. The informational brochure attempted to answer those questions with assurances that the float water was filtered several times between guests and was then disinfected with UV rays. This takes some time however, so there is a multi-stage process after you check in.
First, you are led to a small locker room where you remove your clothes and put on a complimentary robe and pair of sandals. Second, you are led to another small room which houses a pair of zero-gravity massage chairs, the same sort of chairs you might expect to find at a Brookstone store. As your float tank disinfects, you receive a shiatsu massage from an electronic masseuse. I cranked the intensity up and, at several points, worried that the chair might crush me in its hydraulic (or pneumatic?) hands. It was a bit like getting a rubdown from a transformer, if you can imagine such a thing.
Atmospheric techno music is pumped into the massage chair room and, broadcast on the large blank wall immediately in front of the chairs, was a laser light show. Reminiscent of flying through space and galaxies and stardust, the light show, I assume, prepares you to enter the cosmic womb of the float tank. What I experienced, however, was the early effects of the two Onnit Alpha Brain capsules I had taken back at Paleo f(x).
Evan Brand, the float tank evangelist, suggested that the Alpha Brain would be a nice adjunct to the floating experience. Perhaps this is true, but I found that the "nootropic" supplements stimulation, amplified my already racing thoughts and made sitting still while getting a robotic rub down difficult.
Soon enough, my float tank was ready and, unlike what I pictured in my imagination, these tanks aren't "pods". More like a large shower stall than a spaceship and easily 10 feet by 10 fee you enter the tank through a side door that provides ample clearance and comfort.
Prior to stepping in, there is an obligatory shower and some instruction from the float spa attendee.
There is so much salt in the water that there are warnings and waivers regarding skin irritation. Silicon ear plugs are provided and it is strongly recommended that you don't let any of the water get into your eyes or mouth. This made me a big nervous, but nevertheless, I slid into the lukewarm water, about 10 inches deep at the very most, and attempted to relax.
The only sound was the sloshing of the salt water and the ventilation of my lungs. Any movement sent me on a languid trip around the pool, bouncing off the walls like a 1990's screensaver every few minutes or so. Despite these distractions, I found occasional moments of peace and present-momentness. Unfortunately, present-momentness inevitably led to self-congratulatory thoughts and quick removal from the present moment. This went on for quite some time, 60 minutes to be exact, but at various points, this felt like 60 seconds and 60 years.
Time constriction or dilation seems dependant on whether or not you are enjoying yourself. During the moments where I drifted into a semi-conscious state akin to dreaming I can only assume time flew by. The near absolute darkness of the room, interrupted only by a slowly winking LED light that indicated where the door was, made any attempt at measuring time pure conjecture. Conversely, the moments where I felt a bit claustrophobic, overly self-aware, or anxious stretched out interminably. At a few points I considered exiting the tank early, but, given the effort and expense involved in this whole matter, I determined to tough it out.
When my time was up, the lights in the tank slowly came back on, along with music that sounded like birds chirping. After recovering my still sweaty clothes (putting on cold sweaty clothes after being in the warm float tank was pretty terrible) I returned to the lobby to check out.
I was surprised to see Roger still there as he was scheduled to moderate a panel back at Paleo f(x) within the hour. Prior to our float session we had discussed this with the float spa receptionist and she had assured us that she would call a cab to pick us up when we got out. She had fulfilled her obligation, calling a cab several minutes prior to the cessation of our float, but the cab was nowhere to be seen.
I've been in situations like this before and the temptation is to wait for the cab. Perhaps out of misplaced politeness or deference to the needs of others, I think to myself, "Oh, they are probably on their way" as my panic rapidly increases. Although it wasn't my ass on the line in this particular occasion, I felt a certain responsibility to make sure Roger got back to Paleo f(x) on time. Missing his panel would be, in simple terms, a fucking disaster and I wasn't about to let my friend get taken down by a delinquent taxi driver.
At this point, Roger had already made his way out of the float spa and into the parking lot, in an attempt to identify the cab that had been called and/or to find an alternative taxi service. While he did this, I pursued a different angle, approaching random people in the strip mall as they walked to their cars.
"Excuse me," I said to the family leaving a comic shop adjacent to the float spa, "My friend has to speak at a conference down the street and we could really use a ride." The fellow looked at his purple-haired wife and then looked back to me, "We're going the other way." he replied. Unperturbed I quickly began scanning the parking lot for another mark. A woman had just sat down in a white convertible and a s I approached the car, I swear the license plate said "JESUS".
Thinking that anyone who loves Jesus as well as the feeling of wind blowing through their hair is probably pretty cool, I approached the car and again deployed my plea. "Why of course!" she said, and, as the choir of angels sang, I called to Roger, who quickly hopped into the passenger seat. Moments later, he was on his way to his panel, on time, and with the wind whipping through his hair.
I on the other hand decided to walk back. With nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it, I began my trek back towards the Palmer Center, this time at a much more leisurely pace. Along the ways I stopped at Picnik for a chai flavored iced coffee. Sipping my drink I walked back slowly, taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the city.
Food trucks and kitschy restaurants rolled by. A small child played on an outdoor statue while her parents, sat and talked. The warm mid-afternoon sun beat down on my face and I soaked it all up. This, to me, was floating.
On Saturday night I wore Ceviche Cologne.
I was dining at Uchi, a highbrow Austin sushi house along with Stacy Toth, her husband Matt, Russ, Alex Boake, Sarah Ballantyne, Josh Weissman, a trio of Balanced Bites team members, and Stefani Ruper.
The restaurant was mobbed, clearly this was THE spot to be on a Saturday night. Our large party didn't help the matter and getting seated involved a substantial wait.
Eventually, we were packed into on a back table and told that dining was handled "family style", so dishes were meant to be shared. Given that everyone at the table was Paleo, this made the process of deciding which dishes to bring out somewhat easier. However, Sarah, following the autoimmune protocol, had stricter dietary restrictions than the rest. Fortunately, a surprisingly accommodating waitress pointed out options that were not only Paleo, but nightshade free, and soon the food began to flow.
With the arrival of the plates it became immediately clear that the kitchen was operating at another level. Pork belly and pork jowl, sea urchin roe prepared two ways, sushi and sashimi of impeccable quality, rice cooked in a hot pot with broth and bonito flakes, and ceviche.
Chopsticks darted to and fro, morsels of fish, and shellfish, and pig face were consumed. Eyes closed and minds were blown. Seriously, this food was good. There was a moment of awkwardness moment when I grabbed a bite of sea urchin roe that Stacy had her eyes on, but it was allayed with a quick ordering of "more of this please!" The plates quickly began to stack up and, in an attempt to make room for additional dishes, one of the assisting waitresses reached over my head to remove the platter that had moments before held the ceviche.
Ceviche, is a unique dish. Rather than being cooked in the traditional sense, raw fish is marinated in an acidic solution, most often the juice of a citrus fruit. The acidity of the fruit denatures the proteins in the fish, cooking it chemically rather than thermically. This also means that when served, a significant portion of this marinating solution is usually still present.
As the harried assisting waitress attempted to lift the plate, her wrist strength momentarily faltered. In the uppermost corner of my vision I became aware that the plate was tipped in my direction. I felt a wetness across my arm and face and immediately knew what had happened.
#cevichecologne was born.
The Three P's - Panic, Preparation, and Pressure
The final day of Paleo f(x) had arrived. I had a panel scheduled for the afternoon and, a few hours later, my solo talk. Before I go on, however, a bit of a preface is required.
My nightmare scenario, one that has plagued me since I began speaking and presenting at events such as Paleo f(x), is somehow getting distracted, losing track of time, and dropping the ball on my responsibilities. As a result, I tend to over prepare. Carefully plugging required events into my Google calendar, complete with phone and email reminders.
The time change from Jacksonville to Austin however had thrown off my carefully contrived Google calendar and everything was off kilter by one hour. My fitbit too, which doubles as my watch, was also stuck one hour behind Austin time. For the vast majority of the conference I was able to effectively manage this temporal glitch. I would look at my watch, run the quick mental calculation, and go on with business as usual. Apparently, fatigue, sleep deprivation, excessive quantities of paleo treats and gluten-free beer consumption does not enhance one's cognitive abilities and an insidious crack began to form.
I checked out of my hotel after one last "dry run" of my talk, dropped my things off at my friend Evan's house, and caught a ride back to Palmer for first big event of the day.
The panel was titled "Beyond food" and the whole thing went off without a hitch. The panelists were top notch and I was joined on stage by my new friend Steve Kirsch, the fucking awesome Kyle Maynard, the "lady in red" Kendall Kendrick, Dr. Dan Stickler, and Darryl Edwards. We dished on stress, sleep, and, yes, sex.
Sex was a late addition to the docket, a suggestion that came by way of Michelle Tam, and it was the hot topic of the day. Maybe I was still a bit flustered when we wrapped. as I decided that I needed a bit of fresh air. My talk wasn't for another few hours, or so I thought, and on the way out the door I happened to run into Roger.
We decided to take a walk together, capitalizing on the opportunity to hash out some plans for a project we have been jointly, but remotely, working on. We exited the Palmer Center and began to make our way down a looping path that circumscribed the building. A few minutes passed before we were interupted by my buddy Evan. I had invited Evan, the friend that I stayed with the days prior to Paleo f(x) as well as his fiance Reagan to come see my talk. I figured it would be good to have at least two people in the audience as I didn't expect attendance so late in the day and late in the conference to be high.
"Hey T, did I miss your talk?" Evan said. "No, I don't go on for another hour." I replied. He accepted my explanation and headed back to the Palmer Center, leaving Roger and I to continue on our way. I turned to Roger and noticed that he was intently looking at his phone. A sense of unease crept over me as Roger's head shot up and he looked intently into my eyes. "Tony, don't worry about the time, just run." he said. Immediately I knew what this meant. My talk wasn't schedule for a few hours hence, it was scheduled for now.
We both broke out into a sprint, something we seemed to be doing a lot of lately, and made our way back to Palmer. The doors surrounding the event center were all locked but I noticed someone walking inside. I banged on the doors and the person slowly came over, jokingly pretend like he didn't know what I wanted.
Whoever this was was clearly having a little bit of innocent fun, joking around with a fellow Paleo person who undoubtedly would appreciate a good laugh. I was in no mood for hijinks, however and I think the expression on my face convinced the unwitting obstacle in my path to avoid perdition to let me in.
Once inside, I tore through the expo hall and burst through the curtains that cordoned off my stage. I saw a group of people, my audience, already seated. My first thought was, "Holy crap, people came!" and my second though was, "Holy crap, people came!" Amy Kubal was my MC and she immediately called me out. "T. Fed, where the heck were you?!" she said. "I was walking with Roger!" I exclaimed. To this, she responded, "You were dicking around with Dickerman, great!"
Amy introduced me as I got miked and my presentation was loaded. The AV guy, upon noticing that I had my presentation saved in both PowerPoint and Keynote gave an impressed, "Nice man." obviously in recognition of my thoroughness. I assumed that my audience, who had at this point been waiting several minutes longer than they should have, did not notice my "thoroughness", more aware of the fact that I was late rather than my dually formatted files.
On stage and looking across the assembled crowd of 30 or so people I began with a sincere apology. I knew that I owed them a great talk, that I had to make it up to them and so my task was clear. "Hey everyone, thank you so much for being here today. I'm so sorry for being late, but I'm going to make this fun. I know you're tired, so we're gonna get this going." Perhaps it was the panic, the preparation, or the pressure, but as soon as I got my apology out of the way, I was ON.
For the next 20 minutes my carefully prepared notes went ignored as I spoke extemporaneously and directly to the audience. I picked out several familiar faces, Hamilton Stapell, Roger Dickerman, my buddy Evan and his fiance, as well as a few strangers whose eye contact and nodding heads conveyed the message that they were "feeling" what I was saying.
My talk was on the nature of progress, or rather, regress. I wanted to express how taking a step back is not a signifier of failure, but rather it is an intrinsic part of growth. Intentionally moving backwards paves the way for future steps forward. I painted broad strokes as well as giving specific examples. Some of my personal training clients back home had volunteered to be photographed, so I was able to use them as examples of "3D" exercise regression. I also gave a little break down on muscle ups, a skill I only achieved after deliberately regressing the movement, and made the proclamation of "bringing muscle ups to the masses."
I was on fire, I felt alive, the audience was engaged and this was exactly where I was supposed to be.
As soon as it was over, however, I was done, spent, and ready for a drink.
I exited the stage and said a few good byes before leaving with Evan and his fiancee.
It was "Sunday funday" after all and I still had another night in Austin.
Writing this, some weeks after Paleo f(x), was a great way to process the events and experiences of that week in Austin.
The word "process" seems to be thrown around quite a bit, but I think that this is an appropriate way to describe what happens when you reach back into memory, pull out the raw chunks, grind them up, and then reassemble the ingredients into a meal that can be eaten at leisure.
My skills as a storyteller are fledgling to be sure, so I really don't know how well I accomplished this goal. What was the story? What was the lesson? Did I experience a "hero's journey" of transformation or was it, in truth, an example of hubris and folly?
I went to Paleo f(x) intent on moving my career forward. Getting up on stage, giving talks, promoting this or that, making the case for my legitimacy as a Paleo authority, but I also found myself looking back. Reminiscing with an old friend about bygone days. Reflecting upon my life and where I have come from. Thinking about the errors of my youth and how unlikely it is that I am where I am today.
Writing this, I was surprised at how the theme of "the present" spontaneously emerged. We can discuss healthy eating, exercise, or any other health intervention, but all these actions ring hollow without that special ingredient of being fully present and engaged in the painfully few and precious moments of our lives.
However we get there, whether it is by flying thousands of miles, yukking it up with old friends, meeting new ones, floating in a tank of salt water, wearing #cevichecologne, or speaking a truth in front of a crowd, it really doesn't matter.
The present is always right there, underneath all the plans and regrets. Waiting patiently for us to pump the brakes and take a deep breath.