“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”  Cormac McCarthy


Wow.  Just… wow.

That opening quote is the last paragraph of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road; a true work of literary art.  Like Faulkner and Dostoevsky before him, there’s something biblical in the narrative and style.

McCarthy undoubtedly knows the rules of grammar just as well as any technician.  But akin to how Miles Davis bitch-slapped musical “correctness”, McCarthy will trample the rules of the game in an instant in order to produce an original work of art.  Not a teenage-like disregard to gather attention, mind you, but a slash-and-burn of all and everything that stands in the way of Truth.  And of Purity. That, my friends, is true mastery of a subject.  Not an attempt to please the critics, but to advance the art. To seek truth of the matter.  You have to master the rules before you can toy with them and/or break them, otherwise (and rightfully so), you’ll be castigated in the court of public opinion.  There’s an ultra-thin line here between a swing-and-a-miss… and sending a rocket out of the park.  The true masters ease into the batter’s box, dig in, and never flinch.  Even their foul-offs are beyond the comprehension of even the most learned of critics.

True works or art, or quantum leaps in any endeavor, rarely result from following established rules.  Those who produce such works are so far beyond the public’s opinion as to be, not just immune to its slings and arrows, but seemingly completely unconscious of them.  As if the blather and nay-saying simply never existed.

So where the hell is this going?  What at all does Physical Culture writ large, have to do with literary matters?  Well, this will probably be considered an elitist position, from both a literary and training point-of-view, but just follow me for a moment.

I have, to say the least, an eclectic circle of friends.  In one group are some of the most forward thinking physical culturalists on the planet.

In another, movers, shakers; type-A, “red” entrepreneurs of all stripes.

And finally, my passionate literary geek friends.  English majors (and masters.  And PhDs) who mostly, well… bartend or barista.

The 3-way Venn overlap between these groups?  Well, as you might imagine… next to nil.  It’s said that “no man is an island” (actually, John Donne said that), but in this instance I must vehemently disagree.

“I’ll take word association, Alex! Masters of Literature and Strength & Conditioning”, said no one.  Ever.

Save for me.  The crazy, Johnny Bravo lookin’ contestant…


Which leads to the conversation I had with a lit geek friend of mine.  Our discussion turned to the upcoming Paleo f(x) symposium, and why I hadn’t tried to bring in — and I quote — “an awesome fuckin’ trainer”.

“An awesome fuckin’ trainer”, I asked.  “Like….?”

“I dunno,” she said, waving her hand dismissively.  “Like… Jillian.”

“Jillian?”  I had to table my red-eye.  “Friggin’  Jillian Michaels?”

Huh.  Well, now you can begin to see where this is going.

I briefly explained how there was a breed of coaches who epitomize forward thinking and intelligent experimentation.  In my mind I was conjuring  people like Louie Simmons and Cal Dietz.  Guys who stood on the shoulders of the great Eastern Bloc coaches.  Those dedicated to furthering the art of strength & Conditioning.  Same as McCarthy has done, with respect to Faulkner and Dostoevsky.

And then there’s the “celebrity trainers”.  Those with mainstream, appeal; Biggest Loser, “cred”.  Smokin’ hot bodies, and well… good hair?

“Jillian Michaels”, I said, “is the Nicholas Sparks of the training world.”

“Oh?” she said, off-handedly.  Then, it registered; her eyes widening. “Ohhhhh….”

Now, you may not get this analogy, gentle TTP reader (as I’m sure there are exactly ZERO literary geeks reading TTP), but Nicholas Sparks is seen in the literary world as, well… a blatant hack.  Purely formulaic; zilch talent.  And I’m being quite generous here. You can’t imagine how viscous (vicious! See comments below 😉 ) these literary types can get when they see their beloved art being sullied by the mainstream (i.e., “mouth breathers”), and those whom they champion.

Sounds rather familiar, huh?  Can you say, “HIT jedi vs bodybuilder flame wars of the mid 90’s”?  Ahhhh, the good ol’ days of message board forums.  Youngsters today just don’t know what they missed.  Or maybe they do, as (I guess; haven’t looked in a very long while) they’re still battling it out on bodybuilding.com?

“No, what I’m bringing in”, I told her, “are the Cormac McCarthys of the training world.  I’m looking for innovation. Art.  I’m not interested in the dumbed-down, or in mimicry.”

Bam!  Instant recognition.  A smile and a head nod.  To her, this all now made perfect sense.

And look, I get it.  To the extent that Jillian (and those of her ilk) have enticed throngs of people off of the couch and motivated them to do something, I applaud her.  Motivating the masses to do anything is no easy task.  And add smokin’ hot body, and good hair to that mix.

I realize, too, that this is probably a pipe dream: but damn I wish the masses would come to know the truth about training. That it doesn’t have to be an endless slog of Navy SEAL hell weeks.  That it can be done intelligently, and without total disruption of an otherwise busy life.  That what you see in mainstream media is, by necessity, done for flair, and dramatic effect, and that the truth of the matter has absolutely no bearing whatsoever of what is being disseminated.

But then again I’ve long hoped that McCarthy would finally get his due in the court of public opinion.  And that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon, either.  Ah well, my lit geek friends and I will never run short of fireplace kindling, I suppose.   Not as long as Nicholas Sparks is still crankin’ ’em out.

So many copies of The Notebook in circulation.  So few fireplaces.


In health, fitness, and Ancestral Wellness –





  1. You don’t have to publish this comment, but I was wondering whether you meant to write “vicious” instead of “viscous”. I was not an English major so I’m not trying to correct you, but I was honestly confused how the viscous definition would apply here.

    I enjoyed the article and love the McCarthy comparison. If it makes you literary types feel better, I doubt anyone out there thinks Nicholas Sparks is a talented writer – I think people in general just like entertaining junk media for some reason.

    • Ugh, got me! There are certain “gotcha” words one should triple check before hitting “publish”. Especially (given the context) you’d think I would have done so.

      I’ll make a post workout meal of the egg on my face 😉


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