by Stephen Jay Schwartz


I’ve passed another birthday and there are lyrics in my head:

“…another day older and deeper in debt…” Tennessee Ernie Ford

“What a drag it is getting old” – Rolling Stones

“Old man, look at my life, I’m a lot like you were…” – Neil Young

“Hope I die before I get old” – The Who

“Too old to rock n’ roll, too young to die” – Jethro Tull

And don’t those artists just scream AARP?

I’ve decided it’s my last chance to put a choke-hold on youth. I’ve got a bit of a paunch and some high blood pressure and a cholesterol issue and why the fuck does it take so long to pee and I’m certainly not the guy I thought I’d be when I was looking forward at age sixteen. In high school I lifted weights. I did a few body-building competitions, but was never serious enough to shave my chest and arms. Or work my legs, for that matter. Too much effort. I looked great down to the hips and then you saw a pair of Big Bird legs. That hasn’t changed. Fortunately, sweats cost about $14.99.

Our author brother Brett Battles proved it could be done. He lost all his weight in just a few months and now he’s the Marlboro Man. Thank you, Brett, for the inspiration.

It helps that I just got a gym membership for the entire family. Now I don’t have to choose between spending time with the wife and kids and spending time alone with the dumbbells. I’ve worked out twice now, with my older son, Ben. It’s a bonding experience, like what I had with my dad when we went to the racquetball courts when I was twelve. He was a pediatrician and a kind and gentle soul until he lifted that racquet and I witnessed the kind of competitive nature that gets a guy through medical school.

I didn’t realize how my body has been starved for pumping iron. Last night I found that familiar rack of pulleys and push-yous that form the lat and triceps arena. Lats and triceps – two of my favorite muscle groups. You work the lats and you get that nice “V” shape and since the triceps are a large muscle they grow fast and make the arms look twice their size in a very short time. I need visual incentive – I don’t really get hooked until about eight work-outs in, when my body begins to show me the money.

It was great walking my son through the exercises, teaching him how to isolate the muscle using lighter weights, focusing on form and technique, seeing him “get it.” So many lifters go for the heavy weights because they look good, then end up hurting themselves from trying to heft all the weight using the wrong sets of muscles.

Mind you, I haven’t worked out seriously for over twenty years. I’ve been going to pot daily, one Kit-Kat at a time.

But God, it feels good. That ripping sensation in the back of the arms, that tearing of the pecs. I look from one machine to the next – “Oh, I remember that! I gotta get over to that machine NOW!” I have to be careful to pace myself or I’ll find my next set of machines in the ER.

It ain’t easy, this path I’m taking. The belly’s a real challenge. I’ve grown accustomed to my diet of daily pasta. And desserts are a magnificent invention. I’m their greatest admirer.

I’ve been blessed with youthful hair and the ability to stand erect. It seems a shame not to give it a go, to try to capture my youth in a bottle, if only for a moment, before the thyroid and ulcers and enlarging prostate have their way with me. When I go I want to go like Jack Lalanne, pulling twenty boats across the English Channel with my teeth. Or maybe it’s the River Styx I’ll be crossing.

I was actually rather relieved when I stopped the body-building some many years ago. In case you haven’t heard, I’ve got a bit of an addictive personality, and weightlifting can get addictive. It ruled my life for a time and it felt nice to finally break free. Now that I’ve had a chance to let other addictions rule my life I don’t mind turning things over to a little obsessive exercise again.

You know, we writers sit on our cans a lot. We give ourselves the big guilt trip about what it takes to be a professional. Our communal motto is “Put Butt in Chair.” In other words, no excuses, sit down and write. I’ve taken that to heart, and my heart just won’t take it anymore.

The truth is I’m starting to resent the writing. Just a bit. You see, I gave up so much to get those books written. Every day after the day job, I’d arrive at the cafe at 6:00 pm, stay until it closed at 10:00. Or I’d go to the all-night cafes and push on. Every weekend, another ten, twelve hours a day. Every sick day. Every holiday. All my vacation time. I did this for years. Disconnected from the family. Drifted away from my friends. Writing was all-consuming, there wasn’t room for anything else.

I pushed hard and produced two novels, all while I had the day job. So I took a year off just to write. I wrote a screenplay on assignment and most of novel number three. More time sitting on my butt. Watching that waist-line expand. And the money didn’t come and I’m back to having a day job while I write.

I don’t want to be a slave to my writing. I want to spend my vacation time doing vacation things. I want to go dancing with the wife. I want to help educate my kids. I don’t want to be remembered as the dad with his nose in the laptop, seen only in the moments before he goes to work and when he returns late at night. Unfortunately, my writing often takes me away from the OTHER things I love.

It’s odd when people ask me about my hobbies and all I can say is “writing.” I write, I read. I write more. I’m compulsive about writing. Most authors are. We are fanatic in our discipline. We write eight thousand words a day and raise our fists to the Gods.

I’m tired of sprinting. I’ll do the long-distance marathon for a while. So, I won’t be a one book-a-year kind-of guy. The books will come when I finish them.

I’m seeking balance.

I’ll start the normal lifestyle by getting back in shape.

I remember this kid in high school. A power-lifter and body-builder. He had an incredible body. He died suddenly our junior year. I heard he had some kind of condition, a ticking bomb in his head and he knew it. I remember the rest of us saying he’d left a beautiful corpse behind.

We admired what he’d accomplished.

I hope this doesn’t come off as a vapid, superficial post about physical beauty trumping the virtuous human mind. Then again, I am the guy who turned an alter-ego sex-addict into a franchise hero. Can’t do that without objectifying the mortal coil.

And that ends the thought of the day.

19 thoughts on “BEAUTIFUL CORPSE

  1. Kathleen George

    Oh, this is such a clear picture of a writing addict (I mean that in a good way) who examines everything, including the self and aging. Happy Birthday. (I'm facing one. Can you tell?)

  2. Sarah W

    Happy Birthday and best wishes for sustained hypertrophy!

    My next one is this Sunday. My family promised me pumpkin cake and a nap.

    (you know, you make it very difficult for people to whine about how they're too busy to get fit–I'll probably thank you for the inspiration later, but I think I'm gonna stay focused on planned narcolepsy and cream cheese frosting, at least until Monday)

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Good for you, Steve!!

    I've said it ten million times – I need the heavy exercise to elevate my mood, but there's also something really centering about aligning your body in some way every day, and I often get great writing ideas when I'm spacing out in class (yesterday I was hit with a massive breakthrough…).

    Machines bore me to tears (though good at conferences) but I love free weights. I used to teach a dance/aerobics class and that was always my favorite part. I'm especially liking classes now in that RIPPED franchise which focuses a LOT on free weight work. It's amazing to me how fast the body responds to weight work.

    I'm with you on the addiction, went through the addictive phase for years, can't even believe how obsessed I was. I haven't felt that kind of compulsion in a long time, though.

  4. Richard Maguire

    Happy Birthday, Stephen! Have a good one. And well done on getting back to a fitness routine. I'm addicted to running. At least 1 hour every other day.

    My dad was an amateur boxer, so we always had free weights and a heavy bag at home. He was also a bit crazy. First time I came home from school with a black eye he decided to teach me boxing. His idea, not mine. Soon the other kids stayed clear–but on a few occasions over the years I came close to being arrested.

    Hope the writing is going very well. I'm really looking forward to reading your third novel when it's published. Any idea when?

  5. Alaina

    When I was nine years old, skinny, and couldn't lift 20 pounds without a struggle, my dad decided it would be brilliant to have me spot him while he tried to bench-press 300. I'm still not sure what he was thinking, but we both survived.

    I've never been into weight-lifting, but I'm trying to keep that balance. I have a belly, but I exercise regularly and make it a point that I have to accept 4 of every 5 family card-game challenges. Unfortunately, I have given up my other hobbies to an extent– sewing, playing video games– but I'm working on trying for a bit more balance.

    I hope you get what you want out of it!

  6. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Kathleen – I'm thinking if I can get out to the gym I can get out of my head! I hope you tackle your own birthday with grace and aplomb.

    Sarah – Happy Early Birthday! Definitely wait until after the pumpkin cake to start that work-out routine. And I'll take that nap right now, if you don't mind.

    Alex – I don't know any writer who's in better shape than you. You're like a muscle licorice stick. And I mean that in the very best way. As far as machines vs free weights – I actually split my workouts between them. I prefer the free weights, always have.

    Richard – You've got a pretty cool backstory there. I got into kick-boxing a bit this past year. There's an international kick-boxing champ who comes into the cafe where I write and he needed people to fill out his studio for the infomercial he was shooting. So, I got eight weeks of free kick-boxing lessons, three times a week. It was very cool.

    Alaina – I can visualize that scene with your father perfectly. What was he thinking? I think I managed to bench press 275 once when I was seventeen. It took everything I had. I wasn't much of a power lifter. At my best I never curled more than 35 pound dumbbells. I'm starting again at 20 lbs. I'm glad you survived!

  7. Allison Davis

    Stephen dear, I loved this post. It's your mind turned inside out, letting us see the process of trying to right the ship, achieve the balance, spread the love to each thing that has a hold of your heart (including the cholesterol you are trying to banish). Birthday wake up calls. The exercise is like a binge after a diet — all the writing but not the exercise. But many of us have a hard time doing a little bit of each thing each day, we're all in or not at all and that's the conflict. The writing time is selfish and hard to do just the odd hour here and there, fitting in the other work, family time, personal time…I think we all struggle in one way or another with it. And as we get older, the priorities change as our waistlines shift, it helps us focus, but also I, at least, want to spend more time with people I love and who love me back, and so the conflict…

    Perfect way is what you've done, bring your son into the parts of your life that you can share, and dancing with your wife is exercise! This is as important as Zoe's surviving rejection. Part of the writing life.

  8. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Allison – that's exactly it – I'm an "all in or not at all" kind of guy. I have a hard time compartmentalizing and balancing my daily life. I could easily drop everything I'm doing and work-out seven days a week, or I could flip it all and write seven days a week and do nothing else. I'm absolutely obsessive and almost incapable of planning out a coherent schedule to balance these needs. I think I need to retire to a mountain-top and meditate for five years to chill out. Re-boot the psychic system. Until then, however, I'll do the best juggling I know how.

  9. lil Gluckstern

    One could get addicted to balance, but I think human nature would step in because it would become boring. I think wrestling with life and being happy with that is the "normal" state of us ordinary folks. enjoy your work, your play and your family, and happy birthday.

  10. David Corbett

    I share the addictive personality problem. But sometimes it feels like the only antidote in an era of perpetual distraction.

    I found working out to be the best solution to my bouts of depression. I broke my foot recently and haven't been able to do much of anything, and I can feel the anxiety level rippling upward. I finally got the go-ahead to get back on my bike, but the habit of laziness has set in. I always have so much work to do I can tell myself I'm being productive. Your post has been a great kick in the tail. Thanks, Stephen. I'm glad you were born. And I'd miss you if you vanished to a mountaintop.

  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    lil – wrestling with life is what we get for being sentient beings. Comes with the territory.

    Allison – touche!

    Reine – thank you, dear. You are too kind.

    David – There's a tree stump with your name on it beside mine on that mountaintop.

  12. KDJames

    Happy Birthday, Stephen! May there be many more.

    I already admire what you've accomplished but if you feel the compelling need to make me hate you for your perfectionism and youthful hair, you go right ahead. She said affectionately. And supportively.

    Hang in there, babe. Growing old isn't for sissies, but it sure beats the alternative.

  13. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    KD – I desperately feel that need. Objective achieved.
    I remember the words of the late, great Chuck Connors – "Don't let anyone kid you, Schwartz. Growing old sucks."

  14. Tom

    Two sessions a week with personal trainer isn't doing a thing for my writing – except that I may live long enough to finish one or the other of these damn books!

  15. PD Martin

    Just catching up on this post, Stephen. Happy birthday and GO you! I love my exercise too. The only time I can fit it in is early morning and with winter striking here it is getting harder. In fact, I had two weeks off and put on 6 pounds! It doesn't take much for me. Anyway, coincidentally I've hit it again this week and have got both my Monday and Tuesday workouts in. So far, so good.

    And I do think it's true that it makes you more centred. A good thing for most of us writer-personality types.


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