1) Anniversary. It literally just occurred to me that Clan bingo moved to Cleveland 25 years ago this month.
2) Birthday. The Man Cub turned 1 yesterday. Massive party complete with the latest trend, the “smash cake.”
Still pulling icing out of his nose, and his ears, and…
3) Pro health. Outside mag has an interesting article on the pursuit of ultimate physical performance. Aside from the obligatory dig at CrossFit (“injury factory”), the author’s visit to the Exos group at the StubHub Center (of all places) was illuminating. My reading of the article is that upwards of 90% of what is happening at places like this is precisely what has been going on in the CF competition world for some 3+ years now. Dynamic W/U, an emphasis on mobility, programmed recovery, tightly managed nutrition. There is much more use of supplements as a primary element than traditional CF; I’m not sure if that is necessary for the masses, those of us who don’t compete. The author saw a real, measureable improvement in not only fitness but also applied fitness.
The mic drop, however obvious, came at the end of the article when the author described his slow, inevitable slide back to average. Why? Easy. While he was “in residence” at Ethos the entirety of each day was filled with nothing other than being a better athlete. Back home it was easy to revert to old habits. A missed workout here; too rushed to work on flexibility there. And beer. Beer is a problem.
Being at your peak physical capacity is a full time endeavor for the pro athlete. That, as much as anything, is what separates you and me from them.
4) Purge. In a couple of days we will be one step closer to completing “The Purge”. No, no…not THAT purge. I’m talking about completing the purge of all of the stuff that filled up our larger home with all of its modern storage spaces. Our new home, a tiny 1947 two-bedroom cottage, is 50% to the inch the size of our old home, but it has only 1/3 as much storage. Our purge has partially furnished at least 3 other homes, and the upcoming delivery to “Lovely Daughter” adds another home to the list.
Clothes, art, tchokes…you name it. We’ve been liberated from our stuff.
Have you ever seen George Carlin’s classic riff on “Stuff”? Truly funny stuff (Huh? Huh?), and easily available on YouTube. An entire cottage industry has grown up around the purging of stuff. That’s kinda funny, actually. The concept that you need someone to come in and tell you how to get rid of your stuff. In addition to a few minutes of belly laughs, Carlin gives you the place to look for low-hanging fruit: other people’s stuff! Set a timer, and if them others don’t pick up their stuff, off it goes.
The harder part, if it’s really all that hard at all, is when you are down to the stuff you think you might need someday. You know, like that really interesting, sure to be useful gadget you just had to buy at Sur La Table 10 years ago that’s still in its original packaging. Or those holiday dishes you’ve forgotten to use every Christmas since you got married 25 years ago. Stuff like that. When you literally don’t have a place to put ‘em, this category becomes not at all different from other people’s stuff: if you never used it, it was never really yours, right?
Before I get too self-congratulatory and get injured by patting myself on the back, I should point out that we DO have an attic, and also a tiny little vestigial cellar. Both are filled with unpacked, lovingly examined, and re-packed memories. Sure, I could digitize the photos and upload them to the Cloud. The 55 year old “Teddy Monkey” that hasn’t been cuddled for 2 decades would certainly fit better in an album than a box. It’s here where the line is drawn in our home, that place where “stuff” intersects with memories. Maybe I’m too old school, or perhaps just plain old, but the memories and the things that trigger the memories are safe from the Purge.
The whole exercise has been a helpful and useful one in my never-ending journey on the “want vs. need” highway. Stuff? Firmly on the “want” side of that equation. Every day in our cottage, more joy from less. Letting go of the stuff has also brought me closer to cherished memories, which in turn is bringing me closer to cherished people. Funny, eh? The less room I have for stuff, the more room I come to have for the people who helped me make the memories I’ve been saving. I’m off at the moment to round up a couple of those people, hopefully to create a few more of those memories.
After all, the size of your heart and soul need not be bounded by the kinds of walls that surround your stuff. There can always be room for your memories and the people who made them with you.
I’ll see you next week…
It was a Tuesday. For sure. Tuesday is an OR day for me, and I was with my work people on what looked to be a pretty vanilla Tuesday morning. That’s how you like it in the OR: vanilla. A good day is no memory of the operations whatsoever. A great day is one where you remember some interaction with your teammates, something good or funny or nice.
9/11 was definitely a Tuesday. What I remember is being with one group of my people.
Everything about the day was going just like every other Tuesday. Fast cases with great results. Stories flying back and forth between doc, nurses and patients. Just a joy to be doing my job. Until, that is, one of the nurses came into my room and said a plane had hit a tower. To a person our collective response was something like “huh…that’s weird. How tragic,” and then back to work. Back to normal until that very same nurse came back and said a second plane had hit the second tower. We all stopped after that case and headed to the family lounge, a TV and CNN.
I remember being in a similar place when the Challenger blew up, surrounded by colleagues, patients and families. That’s where I was when the first tower collapsed. After that nothing was normal about the day at all. There is literally nothin in my memory banks about the rest of the morning. I know we finished the cases, but then everything came to a full and complete stop. Clinic hours were cancelled, schools let out, and the wheels of American life ground to a halt. The rest of the day was spent in tracking down my brother (traveling now by car from Chicago to Connecticut), and best friend (stranded in Brazil). The skies were empty for days.
Our new normal had just kicked in.
My parents worried about an attack on our soil from Germany to the east (U-Boats off the coast of New England) or Japan from the west (a friend posted the story of a Japanese pilot who actually fire-bomb Oregon!). As a child our politics and our lives were spent worrying about the specter of a communist attack. As an adult, a father and a grandfather, it is now the fear of Jihad unleashed. The post-Reagan/post-Berlin Wall years of relative peace and security seem so very long ago now, don’t they?
The reality, of course, is that we are far safer than we think we are. Yet our own personal realities are driven by the same psychology that led our parents to fear a coastal invasion, for us to fear Russian bombers. We march on each day, as we must. We march on so that each day’s completion becomes one more tiny victory in yet another long war fought for us mostly between the ears, so much like the Cold War before it. We seek victory once again in the daily act of living our normal lives.
We remember, though. Like I remember that it was a Tuesday. We never forget, nor should we try to forget. It is in the remembering and carrying on despite the remembering that we do our tiny part to honor those who were lost. Today is a day to take a moment away from normal to remember.
I’ll see you next week…
Pets, dogs in particular, teach us some valuable lessons. We learn responsibility because they depend on us for the essentials of life. Every day we see what unconditional love looks like when we are smothered in puppy love upon awakening. Heck, we get it when we return from a 90 second errand. Some famous someone once noted that a dog is the only creature ever created that loves you more than in loves itself.
And we learn how to say goodbye. Our pets teach us that life is finite. Our love cannot change that, nor can theirs. Before we say goodbye to our people we typically have to say goodbye to one of our dogs. It’s a lousy, ouchy lesson; it’s a measure of their love for us that they typically handle it so much better than us. We are left with memories, and even here our dog teaches us about remembering our loved and lost.
Who, after all, really remembers anything truly bad about their dog?
Some time ago I wrote about creating a way to measure health. Real health. Health that encompasses every aspect of what it means to be alive and well. As a CrossFitter I definitely included Coach Glassman’s Disease -> Health -> Wellness continuum, and I also acknowledged the critical importance of his concept of “Fitness over Time”. As a classically trained physician/scientist there is clearly a place for more traditional metrics like blood pressure, serum lipids and the like, although they may, indeed, be a variable that is ultimately tied to fitness.
Where my thoughts on defining and measuring health seem to depart from most current trends is in the recognition that mental health–emotional wellbeing—is as much a part of being healthy as anything else we might examine.
Think about it for just a moment. Most of what we would classify as mental illness has as many outward signs that we can see as diabetes and hypertension. Which is to say, none. Yet we see nothing but the good in treating diseases like diabetes openly and aggressively. There is no stigma attached to seeking care for your hypertension or your elevated LDL. To the contrary, if someone who loves you discovers that you stopped measuring your glucose before you bolus your insulin, they are for sure gonna get in your grill.
For whatever reason, mental illnesses are looked at quite differently. No one is asking the person with chronic depression whether she is taking her life-saving medication, for example. We might notice an insulin pump on a friend or family member, but then it’s quickly forgotten. Everyone seems to be very uncomfortable around the young man who has very obvious hand tremors from the life-saving medication he takes for his Bipolar disease. We all seem to be so much more understanding when we have to wait for a response from someone suffering from Parkinson’s Disease than from the young women who has those same symptoms as a side-effect from the medicine that quiets the dangerous thoughts in her head from Schizophrenia.
It’s not necessary to look only at these kinds of severe mental illnesses when we are examining the importance of mental or emotional wellbeing as an integral part of being healthy. What good does it do to have a 5:00 mile, a 500 lb. deadlift, and a 1:59 “Fran” if it was self-loathing that drove you in the gym to get there? You may be quite accomplished, the envy of your peers, at the peak of whatever life mountain you wished to climb, and yet you cannot feel joy. How is it possible to be healthy without joy? I look at Usain Bolt and what I see is quite possibly the healthiest man alive. My friend Tim, the writer, tells me that Justin Gatlin has nearly everything that Bolt has—youth, fitness, wealth—but the combination of failure to knock off Bolt, and the public disapproval reigned on him as boos from the Rio stands has left him emotionally broken. It’s subtle, but if you look at his face in the blocks of the 100M Olympic Final it’s there.
Our complex and conflicted attitudes and feelings about mental illness are especially evident when the topic of suicide comes up. Just typing the word makes me uncomfortable. Even how we describe suicide is fraught with hidden meaning that reflects our discomfort: someone has “committed suicide”. Right? Someone committed an act that we simply cannot fathom, one that leaves the survivors completely without any understanding whatsoever. How could someone DO that? It’s as if every suicide is the same as the suicide of the crooked prison warden in The Shawshank Redemption. He looks out the window and sees his fate arrive in the front seat of a State Trooper’s car, and swallows his revolver.
In reality most of the time it’s simply not like that at all. Nothing about it is simple at all.
The outer walls at the periphery of my world have been breeched by suicide twice in the last couple of weeks. One of them, close to my age, actually does feel a bit like that prison warden. Frankly, I am too conflicted, too aware of the external circumstances involved and not enough aware of the internal life of the deceased to offer much right now. The other one, however, stopped me in my tracks when I heard. The loss was profound. It has also introduced to me a new vocabulary that I truly believe provides a starting line from which we can change how we think about not only suicide, but all of mental illness. A friendly acquaintance lost his wife when she was “killed by suicide”.
We don’t need to know all of the details of the story. Suffice it to say that in the face of a child’s illness she suffered quietly. Too quietly to be noticed. Perhaps she didn’t realize how badly she was suffering, or maybe she was like so many of us and couldn’t bring herself to see her illness for the life-threatening entity that it was. No one will ever know. What is clear, though, is that this was not anything about commitment. Kidney failure may be the cause of death in a diabetic, but it is diabetes that kills him. There is no difference here. The cause of her death was suicide. Her disease, her depression is what killed this young woman.
Each of us has a very few moments in our lifetimes that forever change us. On the second Tuesday of July in 2006, unbeknownst to me, one of those moments was transpiring in a lonely, dark corner. Joyfully, the moment was a hopeful beginning, not a tragic ending. Regardless, once learning of the moment I was changed forever. Now I knew. You cannot see any marks from mental illness, no swollen appendage or insulin pump to clue you in. But it is there all the same, and it must be acknowledged and accorded the same degree of care as any other disease that may take our loved ones from us. Mental illnesses are real, and they can be deadly. There ought not be any conflict or discomfort in treating them. There ought not be any conflict or discomfort in seeking treatment.
We may stop losing so many of our loved ones when start to see emotional wellbeing as part of being healthy. When treating mental illness is as much of a non-event as injecting insulin for diabetes.
In my day job I work with folks of various backgrounds, both in terms of education and upbringing. In all walks of my public life I come in contact with an even broader swath of humanity in all regards. I routinely travel up and down the social, economic and educational ladders at work and at play. For the most part, with everyone I meet the language we all speak is English. I live in Cleveland, Ohio, USA after all. Our English, however, is hardly the same.
While we cannot truly escape our origins, as we cannot truly escape our genome, we can choose how we interact in the daily mechanics of society regardless of origin. For better or for worse this begins with how we speak. That old saw, you only get one chance to make a first impression, is especially true when you speak, and especially important because for the most part you can choose not only what you say but also how you say it.
There’s nothing new or striking about this concept, either. You can think of it as verbal situational awareness. You would (hopefully) speak differently to a priest than you would the surfer sitting next to you beyond the break. On the phone with the cable company should sound very different I think than on the phone with your BFF. All speech is by definition qualitatively different that a text or an email because speaking implies hearing; speaking and hearing involve the inclusion of inflection, tone, and tempo. Really basic stuff.
Why, then, is it so brutally common to hear such poor English? Poor grammar, improper word usage, a situational tone-deafness. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the concept of working vocabulary (BTW, the person with the largest working vocabulary I’ve ever met is responsible for our little CrossFit thing). Once upon a time one heard much about “Proper English” or “The Queen’s English.” What happened?
In English we do not have the French equivalent of “Tu” vs. “Vous”. No lazy man’s way to “polite-up” our speech. A certain unearned familiarity is too often presumed. We take way too many liberties with grammar, and frankly we too infrequently make the effort at “polished” English when it’s time to do so. That first impression thing is incredibly affected when you open your mouth to speak, on the up and the down sides. It is equally jarring to hear the word “ineluctable” from a guy in faded jeans and a baseball cap turned backwards (up) as it is to hear “me and Joey are gonna go…” from a guy in a suit and starched collar (down).
The stark reality is that there are no barriers to the “up” version of English. There is no genetic, social, or economic barrier blocking the acquisition of the ability to speak well, and by extension to acquire the situational awareness to know when it is vital to do so. All that is required is the effort to learn that version of English that we know as “proper”, and the effort to learn when. It’s not necessary to speak like this all the time. You can choose to “let your hair down” so to speak–my love for the versatility of the “F-bomb” is well known in certain circles–but a lack of virtuosity in the English domain is a choice.
There are many aspects of a “first impression” over which we may have little control. Don’t choose to let your version of English be one of them.
The book “Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch continues to provoke. A brilliant physicist and his girlfriend, a supremely talented painter, discover that she is pregnant. They have just begun dating. The pregnancy is a classic crossroad. Which way to go? End the pregnancy, go their separate ways, and pursue the limits of their individual gifts, or follow their emotions and make a go of being a family? In the novel they choose to have the child and marry, settling into a life dedicated to home, in which their respective brilliances are mundanely applied toward supporting the family. They seem to be quite in love, and their little family of three appears to be well to the happy side of the Bell Curve.
Did they make the right decision? A reviewer for the WSJ opines that they “settled for, well, mediocrity.” Had they, though? It turns out that the young physicist is an expert in Quantum Physics, his specialty the study of “quantum superposition” (Google: Schroedinger’s Cat). His area of research is that of creating a portal to the “multiverse” of infinite possibilities, one of which, of course, is the one in which the couple did decide to choose their individual paths. He solves the riddle of Schroedinger’s Cat, gains access to the multiverse, and both versions of the physicist are able to examine the path not taken.
What do you think the physicist who chose his career over marriage and family discovered? The one who chose family over career and eventual fame? I won’t ruin the story for you by answering those questions, but I will hazard a tiny ‘spoiler’ by taking issue with the WSJ reviewer: the young couple who chose family over devotion to career settled only for mediocrity in their professions. They had simply applied other parts of who they were to their fullest expression in the pursuit of excellence at home, as a more careful reading of the early part of the book makes clear.
The point? Lots of them, actually. Each of us faces more than a few truly epic, life-altering decisions where we stand at the crossroad. Which way should we turn? The tragedy is not in choosing the wrong path; it is in not choosing at all. Simply drifting through that crossroad without committing to the decision is likely what sows the seeds of regret if things don’t turn out just quite so. In reality, we don’t get to observe what it looks like at the end of the road not taken. Certainly not like the physicist who managed to turn himself into the cat that lived.
“He had his life—it was not worth much—not like a life that, though ended, had truly been something. If I had had courage, he thought, if I had had faith.” –James Salter, “Light Years”.
The antidote to regret lies in the knowledge that one must have the courage to acknowledge the crossroad before you, and the courage to make a choice. What inoculates us as we continue down that path is an unwavering faith that we made the best choice we could at that time, at that crossroad.
Faith that leads us to commit to the best possible destination in our one, singular universe.
We are constantly told of all the wondrous things computerization and automation can do that we humans cannot do, or cannot do as well. What we DO do better, though, is patten recognition. Everything from identifying things visually (a computer can barely recognize a Chihuahua as a dog, let alone differentiate a Chihuahua from a Great Dane) to seeing trends in a data stream, the human mind is particularly wired for pattern recognition.
For this reason some people hold the view that there is no such thing as genius, that each new discovery is simply the next logical extension of what has come before. You know, the intellectual version of “you didn’t build that”, or “there’s nothing new about CrossFit.” I think there’s more to genius than that, though.
Pattern recognition is dependent on the point of view, literally, from which you gaze upon the pattern. An “E” looks entirely different if you look after rotating it 90 degrees away from you or 180 degrees clockwise, for example. Genius might be the ability to see something from a wholly different angle so that the pattern becomes evident; seeing the first “E” from the back side only and knowing it’s an “E”. How many times have you come across the output of someone’s genius and just “gotten” it while simultaneously saying “I coulda/shoulda thought of that”? It really doesn’t matter how prosaic or common (flush toilets–big fan of the inventor), or how poetic and earthshaking (predicting the Higgs Boson).
Genius really does exist, and the product of genius should be acknowledged as such.
The beach was chilly, the water a boiling mass of foam, yet the sand was smooth and calm. Unaffected. Doubtless, it had seen this before. My eyes began to leak. It must have been the wind. Yes, that’s it. The wind. I stood there in silence, struggling to fix the image in my mind. I knelt down to kiss the sand of my beloved beach. With a shirtsleeve to stem the flow from my eyes I walked away from 25 years of family history and toward the beginning of a new story.
What does it take to bring together an entire family for 7 days under one roof, every year, for 25 consecutive years? Why even start in the first place? Once upon a time families were born, grew, and died in a single town or small group of neighboring towns. Getting together was a given. Holidays presented a challenge born of access: who would host whom for what occasion at what time and for how long? Your Mom or your spouse’s Mom for Thanksgiving or Christmas or whenever. A cousin’s graduation might be a life-or-death obligation, attendance mandatory. Proximity rendered this moot, but we moved away.
First borns both, Mrs. bingo and I married first and had the first grandchildren. We hit every adulting stage before any of our siblings. This meant encountering in-law issues first as well. Where would we go and when? Sticky wicket, that. The solution, at least for the White family was the creation of a separate holiday totally removed from any established American tradition. We would all go to the beach together, just like we did as kids. Thus began “Cape Week”.
How do you get 4 young couples, all of which had multiple children to return time and again to the same place at the same time to do pretty much the same stuff each year for 25 years? It could be having a parent everyone was afraid of, or another no one wanted to disappoint. For sure having BOTH was a key component. Through every milestone each little family plowed through and found a way to make it to Cape Cod each year to spend every waking moment together in our little compound. Only serious illness kept anyone away.
Over the years change did eventually come in the way of summer jobs for the grandchildren, which led as such things do to real, live adult jobs with little vacation time. That and of course, another generation of in-laws for our children to now contend with. Whispers of change were on the winds these last couple of years, but still, almost everyone was there for almost the whole week each summer.
I know what you’re thinking. Somehow it must have been easy for us. There must have been some sort of massive bribe, or something. Nope. What it took was a ton of commitment and hard work by four (now not so) young couples to make Cape Week happen. One family came from California for several years, another from the Midwest. There were summer camps that were never attended, All-Star teams made but All-Star Games missed. The classic teen rebellions against family were quashed, all 10 cousins showing up many more years than not. Invitations to vacation alternatives were graciously turned down, and every “how come always your family” discussion always ended with some version of “we can do that, too, just some other week.”
Cape week itself took hard work and commitment. Four families, 10 kids, and two grandparents together for meals, beach games, TV at night, and forays en masse to the ice cream shop. It could be a little bit cramped, even with the addition of a second cottage in year 4. Those 10 cousins from homes scattered all over America have grown up to be friends who know an amazing amount about each other despite their age differences and lack of proximity. For instance, 10+ summers of having the “college talk” with their aunts and uncles is uniformly one of their WORST memories. Yet there they were as well, every summer in which there was no unavoidable conflict.
Until this year.
Why now? Why this, our 25th year, are we now closing the book on the last chapter of Cape Week? The easy answer is the loss of one of those grandparents, my Dad. It really doesn’t matter whether he was the one we were afraid of or the one we didn’t want to disappoint, I think it’s more a matter of needing both to make something like Cape Week a forgone conclusion. That one singular loss seems to have opened the door for each family to consider the value of Cape Week to their individual families. To think the heretofore unthinkable: something is more important to our family unit than the annual assembly of the extended family.
Is that it then? Is it over, 25 years and out? It’s been an extraordinary run. Not a one of us knows a soul who’s even heard of a family that pulled off something like this. What is clearly over is Cape Week written in stone, and while that has always been inevitable if any of us ever really gave it any thought, it is quite sad nonetheless. We will continue to rent the main house, installing Gram for a week in the same chair at dinner, on the same spot on the beach. A calendar will say that it’s number 26, but it will be different. A new Cape Week, year number 1, invitations soon. Who will come?
If I close my eyes I can still see my beach. See it, as it has been these 25 years. With my eyes closed I see my Mom and Dad, young and vibrant, surrounded by babies and toddlers covered in sand and seaweed. There’s my brother and his wife, my sisters and their husbands, my darling Beth. We’re all together. My eyes have begun to leak again and it’s all a blur. There’s a breeze in my house; there must be a window open. Yes, that must be it, an open window has let in the wind.
The winds of change have finally come for Cape Week.
1) Clock. Whew! Look at the time. Day kinda go away from me there.
2) Old friends. We are on day 2 of year 25 of our annual pilgrimage to Cape Cod (more in just a bit). One of my oldest friends and his wife came to visit the “compound” today, the first I’ve laid eyes on him in 3 years. It’s amazing how much we once had in common, and even more amazing how much we’ve grown to be alike despite our 3+ decades apart.
Some friendships remain strong, vibrant entities despite the miles or the years. The years can’t be helped of course. The miles, though, can be traveled.
3) Emergency 9. Though I no longer play golf, the game is still a very deep part of my foundation as an adult. What continues to amaze is that such an ancient game can continue to provide new stories, even among old friends. Such is the case with the “Emergency 9″. I first heard the phrase on a trip with my brother when he asked for consideration in the pro shop of a course we’d play the next day. Never heard the phrase before. It’s essentially to golf what “parlay” is to pirates. The request is for 9 holes that are needed after something stressful, in our case a long trip, and is almost always granted. My visiting friend had never heard the term, so the story was that gem of a moment where old friends unearth new treasures from an ancient mine.
We’ll be having experiences like this around our annual extravaganza, the CrossFit Games, in 3-2-1…
4) 25. We begin our 25th family visit to Cape Cod this weekend. I’m sure it will provide fodder for musings next week, as it so often has these last 10 or so years. Today, though, it’s all about noting the change within that which is so much the same. The elephant not in the room, of course, is the absence of my Dad. It’s hard to exaggerate how awkward it was when all present insisted that I, as the oldest male, move into “Dad’s seat” at the dinner table.
No one is ever ready for that change. No one is ever comfortable in that seat.
The White family continues to grow larger, but the participants are actually fewer this year in response to that growth. “The Heir” and his bride stayed behind, the soon to come “Little Princess” too near her arrival date to travel. “Lil’bingo” and his bride encountered their first in-law schedule conflict, so our “Little Prince” will have to wait a year before he digs his toes into our sand for the very first time. Cousins come and go, hoping to overlap with “Lovely Daughter” and her husband for at least a quick hug and hello. Life intervenes in our very special family event in the form of jobs, school, and the like. Families find it easier or harder to make it for all or some of the week as stage of life priorities ebb and flow.
What we hope doesn’t change is the ties that bind, however they may be stretched by those ebbs and flows. What we hope for is that always and forever as we go through time that some part of each of us will grow in parallel with each of the rest of us. That we as individuals will be able to look not only to what we have had, like my visiting friend and I, but also to what we may yet grow together, even though separated by distance and time. That we will ever seek to remain bound.
Families are hard work. There’s no getting around that. Sometimes it’s easy, or at least gets easier. Those times are precious gems, indeed. Most times it’s work, and with growth more work, still. In the end it pretty much always turns out to have been worth it. 25 times we’ve headed to the mine together, most of those times en masse. We are here once again, in person or in spirit, for as much time as each of us can spare. Mining the memories that bind a family takes commitment and effort.
Anything as valuable as a family always does.
I’ll see you next week…
Beth and I have been on an adventure cruise, a quest of sorts. We’ve been exploring the wonders of the classic cocktail. Today as we watch the final events of the CrossFit Games will be no different. Equal parts alchemy and indulgence, our trip has been more exciting (as all adventures are) because of the little bit of risk involved. What if we find one (or two, or…) we really like? Like many pleasures to drink is to willingly hold the proverbial double-edged sword in your hand; in this case the sword just happens to look like a martini glass.
Alcohol as both a substance and a subject is complex and rife with controversy. It’s legal, but only to a point. It’s beneficial, but with a caveat–people who drink just enough live longer than those who drink more, or not at all. As a chemical it’s a depressant, and yet in many circumstances it imbues joy in those who imbibe. It all comes down to a fine and delicate balance, not unlike a perfectly aged wine or single malt scotch.
The matter of regulation intrudes on the pleasure. Knowing the existence of the second edge and maintaining an awareness of its cut is both necessary and nettlesome. If you find this lurking behind every glass it may rob you of the joy; if you careen from joy to joy you will inevitably suffer its cut and bleed. Temperance, then, is the essential ingredient, the co-pilot who must be ever present on this particular trip. Ah, but temperance, willful self-control, can feel like a 50 MPH governor on a Ferrari, especially if you make the Indiana Jones-like cocktail discoveries we’ve made. It might be so difficult and so distasteful that you decide to roll your dice on the “not at all” line. “Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult.” Samuel Johnson.
Indeed, temperance is so often fueled by the wraith “guilt.” There’s joy and pleasure to be had, but what if there’s too much? Ah, guilt. In the classic children’s book “The Little Prince”, one of the characters is known simply as The Drunkard. He explains to the Little Prince that he drinks to forget that he’s ashamed of drinking. How very sad, that.
It’s all so complicated, not unlike the math involved in the archaic elixirs we’ve been experiencing. So very hard sometimes to ease off the throttle without the aid of the governor. If the “Gizmo”, the “Sideswiped”, and the “El Dorado” be guilty pleasures we might ask the socialite turned fashion entrepreneur Charlotte Stockdale what she thinks of such things (quote from a Sunday interview a couple of years ago). “I don’t have a guilty pleasure. I don’t really feel guilty about anything. What’s the point?” As you listen there it is. Out of the corner of your eye you can just see it, the shadow of the double-edged sword. One edge Samuel, the other Charlotte.