Wincing at the Beautiful

by Paul Hostovsky

So my friend Phil is telling me how
he can’t get a date
how he loves women and how
they’re always giving him looks
so I ask him what kind of looks
so he winces at the beautiful
braless young woman passing by
at that particular propitious moment
giving her a look of such
longing and longevity
that she returns his look with a look
that kills his entire family tree
from the roots to the unimagined
blossoms of the great grandchildren shriveling
on his shriveling bough
and I think I’ve diagnosed his problem now
and I think of quoting some lines from Rilke
but on second thought I think
a sports metaphor might serve him better
so I steer the conversation round to basketball
and the three second rule
which says you can only stand inside
the key for three seconds
before they blow the whistle
they’re just blowing the whistle on you Phil
for breaking the three second rule
for standing there with your eyes
popping out like basketballs
it’s a game like any other I tell him
then I ask him if he wants to score
and now that I have his attention
I throw in those lines from Rilke
I tell him that beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror
we’re still just able to bear
and the reason we adore it so
is that it serenely disdains to destroy us
and he winces again and this time
it’s at the beauty of those lines
or maybe their truth which hits him
like a three-pointer now
that Rilke hits all the way from Germany
at a distance of a hundred years

Note to Self: Get Moving

The founder and VC Marc Andreesen once observed that “entrepreneurs are congenitally wired to be too early, and being too early is a bigger problem for entrepreneurs than not being correct.”

Indeed, if you look at a slew of new industries, the current 800-pound gorilla in the space wasn’t the first-mover. Facebook was predated by Friendster and Myspace, Google by Yahoo, Lycos, and Alta Vista.

At the same time, an ‘overnight success’ usually takes about ten years of hard work. So when a startup appears at just the right time, it’s often no longer really a startup, already several years into it’s path of consistent, quiet growth. In other words, though you don’t need to be the first to win an emerging industry, you do probably need to be relatively early, substantively innovative, and excellent at execution. You need to get started on a new idea before it’s widely recognized as the inevitable future, and then you need to fight to entrench your company in the order of things.

So I didn’t panic eighteen months back, when another company raised tens of millions of dollars behind an idea similar to Composite; they’re delivered as a B2B HR service, rather than a direct consumer business, and we’re intending to entirely bootstrap rather than raise external dollars anyway. And I kept my cool twelve months ago, when a major fitness magazine penned an article on emerging fitness trends, which nailed (admittedly individually, rather than as cohesive whole) at least 2/3 of the ideas that underlie Composite.

But in the last few months, I’ve continued to see more and more indications that we’re not the only ones starting to toe our way around some new, big ideas in the fitness, health, and behavioral medicine space. The time, clearly, is now. Composite team, let’s get to work.

Basically, Darwinism

Let me let you in on a little secret: if you are hearing about something old, it is almost certainly good. Why? Because nobody wants to talk about shitty old stuff, but lots of people still talk about shitty new stuff, because they are still trying to figure out if it is shitty or not. The past wasn’t better, we just forgot about all the shitty shit.

– Frank Chimero

Get (Jump-)Started!

For the past six months, I’ve been working quietly on Composite, my next startup. It takes what I learned over a decade of building CrossFit NYC into the largest CrossFit gym into the world, and pairs it with the power of technology and a bunch of new research in sports science and behavioral medicine.

Eventually, Composite will be a ‘clicks & mortar’ hybrid: a chain of real-world gyms paired with a dedicated app that helps members continue to improve their health outside of the gym with the same kind of accountability, expert guidance, community, and competition they get in class.

Thus far, I’ve been testing out Composite’s ideas one-on-one, with private training clients. (And, though I’m pretty booked on that front, if you sign up here and mention you came from my blog, I’ll do my best to wedge you in.)

Now, however, we’re trying to kick things up another level, and I could really use your help:

1. If you live in NYC, we’ll be beta-testing group classes this fall, a couple of times a week, in spaces around the city. If you might be interested in attending a class, come sign up for updates about classes and I’ll keep you in the loop.

2. Additionally, we’re launching a free, online 14-day Jump Start course, with short daily assignments (around topics like exercise, movement, mobility, nutrition, sleep, lifestyle, and more) designed to help you build some new, science-backed health and fitness habits. I’d really love your feedback on the course, so please sign up, try it out, and let me know what you think.

Huge thanks!


Despite having lived in NYC for more than 15 years, I’d never made it to one of the Public Theater’s annual Shakespeare in the Park plays. I had, on occasion, tried for tickets through their online lottery, though without luck. But it wasn’t until this week that I decided enough was enough, and blocked out an entire morning to sit in the ticket line of Central Park’s Delacorte Theater.

Though the hardest-core fans will sometimes camp out overnight to stake a place early in the line, I had read that showing up at 8:00am – for a box office that opens at 12:00 noon – would at least make getting tickets highly likely. So, early Tuesday morning, I trekked up through Central Park with the dogs, heading past the 70th Street top of our normal off-leash loop, the full mile-and-a-half jaunt to the Delacorte. By 8:15am, the line already snaked a quarter mile along one of the park paths, with people seated on beach blankets and lawn chairs, reading and catching Pokemon.

An hour or so later, Jessie came up to meet us. The dogs having sufficiently sniffed everyone waiting nearby, I left her behind to hold our place, and looped back down to drop them at home, then headed up to meet her once again. She, in turn, departed an hour later, and I tapped away the remaining wait on my iPad, until finally – and just barely – making the cut for a pair of tickets around 12:30pm.

That evening, we headed back to the Delacorte, with plastic cups and a bottle of wine poured into a plastic water-bottle. (Outside food is permitted, though not glass botttles.) Though the tickets had been given out randomly, we’d still managed to end up in the cheap seats – the very back row, only five or six chairs away from the rightmost edge of the amphitheater.

No matter. Because the play itself was truly excellent. I’d never seen Troilus and Cressida before, hadn’t even read it, though I knew it’s reputation as one of Shakespeare’s least often staged, and most problematic, plays. The plot draws from The Iliad, focusing in on a short portion of the Trojan war, with a distinctly anti-Homeric, almost existential disdain for heroes and greatness. And though the play is often critiqued for it’s wide swings from slapstick drama to dark tragedy, Daniel Sullivan’s extremely modern direction still drew it together into a wonderful, cohesive whole.

For the first act, much of the credit for that went to the cast. House of Cards’ Cory Stoll, playing Ulysses as a civilian military advisor, a Greecian Karl Rove in a business suit. Izmenia Mendes’s Cressida, delivering one of the plays most famous lines, “Things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing,” as a Brooklyn hipster’s take on a The Rules approach to wooing men by playing hard to get. Or Alex Breau channeling a Keanu Reeves surfer-dude into the dim-witted yet self-impressed Ajax.

For the second, it was thanks to the staging itself, battle scenes played out with explosions and blank-firing machine-guns, Shakespeare by way of Zero Dark Thirty. When the play ended, almost literally with a bang, after three and a half hours, I had been riveted the entire time.

Sadly, the Public’s run of Troilus and Cressida ends this Sunday. But if you live in NYC, and you’re reading this before then, I highly, highly recommend playing hooky for the morning, and braving the line yourself. It’s certainly worth the wait.

Golden Brown, Part IV: Make Like a Fern and Stay

Thus far, we’ve looked at why getting some sun is actually good for you, how to wisely choose and apply sunblock, and how to time your sun exposure to allow the maximum number of hours outside.

Today, however, we’ll be working from the inside out, starting with Polypodium leucotomos, a green leafy fern found in the wilds of Central and South America. Polypodium initially evolved as an aquatic plant, before a changing environment forced it to adapt to life on land. Unable to leverage the sun-blocking effects of water-cover as it had when it lived underwater, the fern instead evolved to produce powerful antioxidants that offset the free-radical damage of all-day above-water sun.

As recent research has shown, those fern antioxidants work nearly as well inside of you, too. By taking pills that contain Polypodium leucotomos extracts, like Heliocare or Solaricare, you can triple or quadruple your natural resistance to burns. In other words, if it might normally take you 15-20 minutes to scorch at a given UV intensity, you could instead hold out for a full hour.

And while, in most cases, that’s not enough to supplant sunscreen, given how quickly sunscreen sweats and washes off (as previously discussed, ‘waterproof’ sunscreens are designed to weather just 40 minutes of swimming and sweating), a belt-and-suspenders approach seems like reasonable insurance.

Pick up some Heliocare or Solaricare, pop one in the morning, and another before and every few hours during your time in the sun. If nothing else, you can offset the $20 cost of a bottle by the money you’ll save on aloe vera. (Which, as we’ll see in the next installment, doesn’t really do much of anything anyway.)

The Full Measure

Simple, brilliant ideas are often obvious in hindsight. Like the great new app, VisualRuler, which allows you to precisely measure the size of an object (like a piece of art you want to frame) using your iPhone.

The app is simple: take a picture of an object next to a credit card or driver’s license – something you’re likely already carrying around at all times – and the app will extrapolate the object’s size by relative comparison, then allow you to export the measurements.

It’s $2.99 on the App Store, and it works like a charm. Measure away.

The Dog

by Ogden Nash:

The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I’ve also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

The dog trots freely in the street
and sees reality
and the things he sees
are bigger than himself
and the things he sees
are his reality
Drunks in doorways
Moons on trees
The dog trots freely thru the street
and the things he sees
are smaller than himself
Fish on newsprint
Ants in holes
Chickens in Chinatown windows
their heads a block away
The dog trots freely in the street
and the things he smells
smell something like himself
The dog trots freely in the street
past puddles and babies
cats and cigars
poolrooms and policemen
He doesn’t hate cops
He merely has no use for them
and he goes past them
and past the dead cows hung up whole
in front of the San Francisco Meat Market
He would rather eat a tender cow
than a tough policeman
though either might do
And he goes past the Romeo Ravioli Factory
and past Coit’s Tower
and past Congressman Doyle
He’s afraid of Coit’s Tower
but he’s not afraid of Congressman Doyle
although what he hears is very discouraging
very depressing
very absurd
to a sad young dog like himself
to a serious dog like himself
But he has his own free world to live in
His own fleas to eat
He will not be muzzled
Congressman Doyle is just another
fire hydrant
to him
The dog trots freely in the street
and has his own dog’s life to live
and to think about
and to reflect upon
touching and tasting and testing everything
investigating everything
without benefit of perjury
a real realist
with a real tale to tell
and a real tail to tell it with
a real live
democratic dog
engaged in real
free enterprise
with something to say
about ontology
something to say
about reality
and how to see it
and how to hear it
with his head cocked sideways
at streetcorners
as if he is just about to have
his picture taken
for Victor Records
listening for
His Master’s Voice
and looking
like a living questionmark
into the
great gramaphone
of puzzling existence
with its wondrous hollow horn
which always seems
just about to spout forth
some Victorious answer
to everything

Golden Brown, Part III: Make Like a Tree and Leave

Researchers who follow hunter-gatherer tribes in tropical and dessert areas have found a nearly universal pattern: during the very hottest hour or two of the day, the members of the tribe get out of the sun completely, to relax and eat in the shade.

Over the course of a summer day, the UV index – the amount of UV radiation reaching ground level – varies hugely. At 12:30pm today in New York, for example, the UV index was at 10, enough to cause burns in just 10 minutes, blazing through even strong sunscreen. Whereas by 1:15, the index had dropped to a 6, allowing for a half hour before burning without protection, and for several hours of happy sun time with a layer of (full-spectrum) sunscreen applied.

A team of outdoorsy engineers in New Zealand recently released a free app, UV Lens, which provides daily hyper-local UV forecasts. With the app in hand, you can easily plan your schedule to mimic the wisdom of our hunter-gatherer ancestors: enjoy the sun in the morning, take a brief, strategically timed mid-day lunch break in the shade, and then head back out once the very highest UV stretch of the day has passed. That way, you can spend far longer outside overall, while still greatly reducing the risk of sun-damage and burn over the course of the day.

Golden Brown, Part II: Screened

As I shared in Part I, getting some sun is good for you, at least if you’re smart and careful about it.

Your first step to that end: get some good sunscreen.

Sunlight is made up of two kinds of ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB. It’s the latter, UVB, that causes sunburns, so for decades sunscreen was designed to block UVB. But more recently, research has shown that UVA rays, which penetrate deeper, also substantially increase skin cancer risk, and cause wrinkles. (The EPA estimates that up to 90% of aging-related skin changes are actually caused by a lifetime’s exposure to UVA.)

Good sunscreen is therefore ‘full spectrum’ or ‘broad spectrum’, and blocks both UVA and UVB. While those were previously specialty products, in the last year or two, almost all the major sunscreen brands have released reasonably-priced, widely-available versions that block both spectrums. Make sure you only buy sunscreens that do.

Three more sunscreen tips: slather it on, do it often, and stop going nuts with the SPF.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, most people apply only 25-50% of the amount of sunscreen that they need per application, which reduces an SPF 30 sunscreen to an SPF 3. SPF ratings are based on applying two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin. Which is a lot. Basically, you should briefly look like Casper each time you apply a layer if you want your sunscreen to actually do anything.

Next, a sunscreen is FDA-certified as ‘water resistant’ if it can hold up to 40 minutes of swimming or sweating. After that, all bets are off. So, while you’re on the beach, you also probably need to reapply every hour or so.

And, finally, just buy some SPF 30; after that, the numbers get kind of meaningless. A few years back, Procter & Gamble even sent a letter to the FDA, asking that the numbers be capped at 30, because real-world and laboratory light conditions are different enough to make higher SPFs of “dubious value” that are “at best, misleading to consumers.”

So, to recap, buy some SPF30 full-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen. Put on a bunch, and keep reapplying. And then enjoy the sun!