Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

The Magazine That Used To Be Sports Illustrated

Perhaps it was the cigarette ad that clinched it. After a couple of years pretending that it was the same Sports Illustrated I’d grown up with, even in its diminished state, seeing an advertisement for cigarettes was like a bucket of ice water dumped on my head. A sports magazine that accepts cigarette ads! After separating from most of its long-time writers, dropping to every other week for a time before becoming a monthly, SI was hanging on to its reputation by the thinnest of threads. Still, writers had come and writers had gone over the years. Maybe there could be life as a kind of Esquire of sports.

Nope. A full page cigarette ad stamped the “time of death” seal on the editorial side of what was once the best sports periodical in history.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Sports Illustrated in the world of sports. All sports. SI was the window into a sporting world that extended beyond the boundaries of American soil. Serious sports. It was rare for Sports Illi to stumble. So rare that most long-term readers can recall individual stories (usually the last, long essay in the issue) that failed to measure up. Or worse, that attempted to elevate a trivial, fringe, hobby-like activity that few would consider sport. Even there, though, the writing was strikingly , arrestingly good. You read about chess or bridge or billiards, even if you would gladly die on the “not a sport” hill for each of them, just to enjoy the pure joy of reading the writing.

At the moment I’m reading a nice little book by the retired NYT columnist Harvey Araton in which he tells a bit about how he came to be a sportswriter. He, like I and so many others in our generation, rushed to the mailbox each Thursday to get first shot at that week’s Sports Illustrated. Araton received his first subscription as a gift from his sister. Our family shared a subscription at home, but each of use was gifted our own when we headed off to college. In the student union in college, multiple homes as a resident, and finally my inbox at work as a grownup, Thursday meant Sports Illi.

You already knew the results. The scores. Who won and who lost. You looked to SI and its stable of thoroughbred writers to help you understand how and why, and sometimes what it meant in some larger picture. Layden and Deford. Reilly and Rushin. Zimmerman, Mack, even Plimpton. Dr. Z and his protege and successor Peter King. The writing in SI made you care about the sports more than you cared about the standings. You learned about the men and women, the girls and boys who played the games. You learned why they played, for whom they played, and what it meant to them to play.

If you grew up with words, like I did as the son and grandson of teachers, you also marveled at how these writers worked at those words. Each one was a different flavor of excellence, but each was excellent in their own way. When the magazine arrived you had a plan. Everybody seemed to read a new issue in a slightly different way. While Rick Reilly was writing “The Point After” I started at the back of the magazine. Then it was the cover story, and then on to page 1. When I discovered that one of my favorites and I had attended the same tiny liberal arts college in the northeast, I looked to the Contents to see if he had a piece in that week’s edition.

Tim Layden never disappointed.

It seemed as if nothing could derail Sports Illi. Even the ill-fated, however wonderful it would have been if it succeeded sports daily “The National”, barely dented the Sports Illustrated experience. Started by Frank Deford, arguably the most famous sports writer in America in the ’80’s, “The National” came and went faster than the hopes of that year’s sure-fire Triple Crown winner. Deford and Jenkins left, but their legacy of a literate treatment of sport remained at SI.

And now? I’m completing this little essay toward the end of February. 2021 brought us an epic Super Bowl. One that was chockablock filled with interesting story lines in addition to the obvious: Tom Brady, aka Methuselah, vanquished his upstart rival Patrick Mahomes to win his 7th Super Bowl and a 4th Super Bowl MVP. Without Bill Belichek. By this time in prior years we all would have read and digested a very long article that replayed the important parts of the game, along with various commentaries on the significance of the outcome, and now we would just be waiting on the arrival of the Swim Suit Issue (capitalized, of course). My monthly SI hasn’t even been delivered yet.

When it does arrive will it contain a replaying of the important events of the game, pointing out a big play we might have missed? And now who will comment on the game and the stories it launched? There is no longer an NFL “voice” to whom we would turn at SI. No Jenkins. Zimmerman is deceased. Peter King left and launched an “e” property, a man ahead of his time. Even Tim Layden, who wrote about football in prose that reminded one more of Hemingway than anything typically seen in the Sports pages, even Tim has left the world of print for new televised adventures.

The Sports Illustrated I knew and loved, the weekly magazine that everyone in my family read cover to cover and then discussed for days afterward, has been gutted by its new owners. It is a shell of its once formidable self, its editorial soul hollowed out by the publishing side of the business. Every week my SI gave me both the news and nuanced commentary. I once heard the ghosts of favorite writers who’ve departed our world in the words written by next generations of men and women who gave us sports as literature. Every week. Now I get a monthly magazine with nothing that could remotely be considered news, and “insights” so late in arriving that they may as well be historical commentary, run by a publisher so craven that they print cigarette ads.

The magazine that used to be Sports Illustrated.

Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch

“When you decline to create or to curate a culture in your spaces, you’re responsible for what spawns in the vacuum.” –Leigh Alexander

Nature abhors a vacuum. In all ways and in all places. While I have never seen this immutable law applied to group culture, that only speaks to my own lack of imagination and insight, and by extension Alexander’s surfeit of both. I use “spaces” a bit differently, preferring the term as a reference to internal or personal geography (timespace, brainspace, emotionalspace). Alexander’s choice of “space” rather than “place” adds to the brilliance, the “aha”-ness of the insight in that it specifically includes the virtual as well as the physical.

Some people exert, or could exert, enormous influence over very large spaces by either actively tending to the culture or by standing aside and simply observing what fills the vacuum. The CEO of our local medical behemoth has imposed his will at a very granular level on an organization that employs 10’s of thousands. Rules and regulations abound there. In the world of CrossFit, a space I spent much of my free time for years, the culture arose primarily from the founder’s philosophy and worldview. Pretty freewheeling, rough and tumble, with few, if any guardrails.

At this moment in historical time one is left to wonder if spaces such as Twitter or Facebook have arrived at their present place because their algorithms curated or declined to curate the culture in their space.

Think for a moment about your own spaces, maybe looking initially at the ones over which you might have a bit of control or influence. Work. Home. CrossFit Box, whether owner or member. What has your role been in the creation and ongoing curation of the culture of those spaces? It’s a rather Taoist proposition, I think: to act is precisely equal to not acting, because one or the other course must be chosen. At my day job we actually did go about the task of creating a culture (A Tribe of Adults), and we knowingly curate that space by culling the tribe of those who don’t, won’t, or can’t acculturate.

In the end this is probably just another entreaty to consciously examine your own spaces, your world, and seek to exert whatever control you can wherever you can in order to live well. Whatever “well” means to you. Again, the Tao te Ching gives us some useful vocabulary, imagery we might reference. In the end we are all more like the pebble in the stream than the reed in the field. We may aspire to live as the reed, flexible and ever able to flow with whatever breeze may blow through. The reality is that an untended culture surrounding us flows so powerfully that it, like the water in a stream, eventually reshapes us as it inevitably sculpts the stone in the stream.

The difference, as both Lao-tse and Leigh Alexander teach us, is that you have the ability to control the flow.

First, You Need a Boat: Equality is Not the Proper Goal

“Life’s not fair.” –Scar

What does equality mean? What does it mean to be equal? I caught the tail end of a discussion on equality on NPR this morning. Unlike most of these discussions in that particular space this one was calm, measured, and came to a reasonable conclusion: only after a basic level of things like food, shelter, and safety has been met is it reasonable to consider disparities above that level.

This has come up in my day job. A study was done that proports to show that male and female eye doctors are paid unequally. The conclusions are false at the outset in this particular case because by law, services in this particular arena are paid exactly the same no matter who performs them, when or where. Unfortunately, the sensational lede taps into all kinds of notions of fairness, and all kinds of perceptions about what people assume must be true, that women always make less than men for equal work. There is no question that this is the case is some walks of life, but interestingly the data (some of which the authors ignore in their quest to prove their preconception) proves otherwise in medicine.

An opportunity to examine real differences in how men and women practice medicine is thus lost in the pursuit of an examination of the spiritual quest to combat inequality, even where none exists. Is this the unicorn of equality? Is payment under government programs the only place where equality actually exists? Heck if I know. What interests me is the fact that the first assumption is that inequality is present. Inequality is the default setting. That there is an inherent degree of unfairness in pretty much any and every setting.

Know what I think? Equality doesn’t exist. It cannot exist if we are to have an ever-improving world. There is nothing unfair about that in the least. Just like the conclusion reached this morning by the NPR panel, a just civilization establishes a floor below which allowing people to live is ethically wrong. For example, in healthcare it is my contention that we have a moral obligation to see that every citizen has access to care when they are sick. Inherent in this contention is that there is a basic level of care that meets this moral obligation by ensuring the same outcome as any other level of care. One could apply this same concept to food, clothing, and housing without missing a beat. We can think of the rights enshrined in the U.S. Declaration of Independence as a proxy for this baseline if you’d like. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness make a very fine baseline.

One’s right to “life” necessarily includes a right to be fed, would you agree? Equality would mean that if one among us dines on Beef Wellington, than each among us must do so as well. This is where unthinking and unquestioning fidelity to “equality” brings you. In so doing it forces everyone to expend energy protesting “inequality” better put toward fulfilling the moral obligation to see that no one goes without protein. In healthcare we see all kinds of protests againts the inequality of care demonstrated by the horror of a VIP of some sort or another recuperating from a procedure in a luxury suite, while the proletariat must recover in the equivalent of a Hotel 6. The reality is that the outcomes will be equal; the moral obligation has been fulfilled.

Above a basic level in pretty much any domain you wish to examine, equality does not exist. Sorry. Scar is right. Life’s not fair.

Is he really though? Saying that it’s not fair is the same as saying that inequality above that level at which everyone has a right to live is wrong. Here is where I part company with those who hew to this viewpoint. What does it matter that someone drives a Cadillac while another drives a Kia? Do both not get you to work on time? Or that Beef Wellington again: do you not get the same amount of protein from a hamburger? The example I am presently using in another conversation about equality in healthcare is similar: if a medicine is effective taken 4 times a day, is the fact that someone can pay more for a version that must only be taken once a day a measurement of unfair inequality? I vote “no”.

My strong feeling is that energy spent in some way protesting “equality” is energy that is not expended on the much more important task of fulfilling the moral obligation of raising everyone to that acceptable basic level. In may, in fact, work against that effort. That constitutes unfairness in my opinion. Advocacy and protest should be directed there, toward making sure that everyone has that most basic obligation covered. One of this morning’s NPR panelists politely disagreed with Former President Obama’s dictum that a rising tide lifts all boats: it doesn’t work if you haven’t got a boat.

Once universal entry is accomplished across all applicable domains, the next task is to continually raise that basic level for everyone, no matter how far the gulf may be between that level and whatever the “sky’s the limit” level might be. Everyone needs a boat; no one “needs” a yacht. One need only look at “poverty” or “hunger” and how the bar has moved ever upward there to see how this might work. We have a moral obligation to see that true rights are available to all. It is unfair to those who have not yet achieved that most basic level when efforts to help them are diverted to the pursuit of an unachievable conceptual goal that neither feeds nor clothes nor cures those in need: equality.

Cape Week Lives! Sunday musings…1/24/2021

Sunday musings…1/245/21

1 Grey. Color of the Cleveland sky from October 1st through May Day. 

2 Vaccine. Got shot #2 on Thursday. Felt pretty punk for a day or so. Now? 

Hopeful. I feel hopeful. 

3 Electric. As in electric car. Why are the ones that are affordable so darn fugly and the ones that are even a little bit pretty so darned expensive? Or uncomfortable. The front seats of a Tesla have the same specs as the benches in the stands at any high school stadium anywhere.

‘Splain me that Elon. 

4 Mirror. I made the mistake of taking a look in the mirror this morning. There’s nothing really special about this particular morning since I have to peer at present day self while shaving pretty much every day. Today, though, I happened to also look at pictures of myself from 5 or 6 years ago. Pictures taken when I was very happy to be sure, but still, the “picture” gazing back at me in the mirror this morning was striking. 

That guy really got old over the last 5 or so years. 

I did a tiny thing this morning.

Beth: “That was nice.”

Me: “I’m a nice guy!”

Beth: “That’s why I married you!”

Me: “I thought you married me for my cute butt, and now that’s pretty much gone.” 

Beth: “Hmmm…right. Good thing you’re nice.”

Me: “Funny girl. That’s why I married you ;-)”

Old, apparently aging rapidly, but still happy. 

5 Cape. Cape Week lives! 28 consecutive years of our annual family gathering on the beach fell to the Pandemic last year. Last night my siblings and I all gave the thumbs up to resume our annual gathering. To our great relief my brother took over the admin duties from my Mom. Understand, she was never meant to have them in the first place. My sister Tracey handled stuff for a few years in the early days before Mom muscled in. 

Who is going to be there? I don’t think it really matters to be honest. Everyone is invited from every generation. Well, every human that is. As always, dogs are not on the guest list. We are clearly all going under the assumption that everyone will have had their second shots (or a single blast from J&J) by then (my brother has the world’s tightest bubble going on at the moment). Once there we never really go anywhere other than the grocery store and perhaps Sundae School for ice cream. The beach is private so it comes with built-in crowd control. 

To be quite honest I was very pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm on our little family text thread last night when my brother confirmed our reservation. After a year off it would have been pretty easy to just let Cape Week drift off into the netherworld of family lore, living on in our hearts but no longer in our calendars. It was really more than a little exciting to be having that little side conversation. Now we are all in that rather blissful stage where our anticipation and joy pretty much overshadows anything else. 

Like, you know, will we still have a matriarch to fuss over? If so, how do we get her across the street and onto the beach? Can any of the cousins make it? Where will they all stay? Will anyone have to work while they are there? Oy…bandwidth…

But those are questions for another time. Not for today. Nope, today is for letting the glow of hope flow over our family. Today is for giving Gram her calendar goal. A little flag on the horizon to march toward. Today is for all three generations to look back over our 28 years of memories and be warmed by them like we are by the noontime sun on the beach. To scour our closets for folding chairs and bocce balls. A day of reminiscing as we sit with photo albums filled with pictures of babies on the beach, my Mom and Dad young and healthy, beaming, happy. Pictures of me with a butt!

For today, at least, Cape Week lives.

I’ll see you next week…

Medicine, Celebrity, and Responsibility: Sunday musings…1/17/2021

I made it! I’m on the B List! After years of describing myself as a C List celebrity with B List aspirations in my day job I have finally reached that milestone. Say it with me: “B List celebrity!” In all of my years behind the scenes in the original CrossFit community I never scaled such heights. C Lister all the way. But not my day job. B List big time baby!

Just kidding. There’s no “B” or “C” list in eye care. There’s only a very small group of “A” listers to whom we all turn for advice on all things professional. Some are young, others not so much. Men and women, with the next wave looking to be more women than men, actually. Still, though they may be celebrities in my work world, the rest of us look to them only for advice and guidance as eye doctors. At least as far as their public pronouncements go.

There’s a temptation here to veer of on a rant about celebrities elsewhere offering opinions of varying degrees of ignorance about subjects on which true experts struggle to find consensus, but I think I’ll leave that for another time. Or perhaps another, more talented or better informed writer. The “A” List celebrities in my work world are who they are almost uniformly because of an outsized degree of excellence in our tiny little sliver of medicine. They’ve by and large earned their stature and their slot on the list.

The temptation to take a shot at celebrities who are “A” List in the social sense, who are famous simply for their ability to be famous, is nearly irresistible. While I confess to a striking and complete ignorance of what it is that makes literally anything Kardashian worthy of being influential in any sphere whatsoever, this temptation I will also let pass. Well, maybe someone could help me understand Paris Hilton. Could she really do the DJ thing well enough to get that famous and make that much money from her fame, or was she just a slightly earlier evolutionary step in the Kardashian genus?

Nope. Where I’m going here is celebrity that grows from true excellence in some sphere where, having demonstrated excellent performance in some venue or another, one then goes on to become famous. I mean big time, “A” List, “Bo Knows” kind of famous. Face it, as much as my colleagues and I would love to have our outstanding performances in the OR recognized with the occasional listing on People Magazine’s Best Looking list or with a cover treatment in Vogue, “real” celebrity comes from excellence in much different venues. Excelling in the arts–movies, theater, literature–is surely a route to “A” List fame as is the rendering of awe-inspiring feats of athletic legerdemain in professional sports.

And if you somehow pull off being noteworthy in both? Well, there isn’t enough red carpet in the world to accommodate your footprints.

What’s got me thinking about this is some of my recent reading in the “auxiliary office”. I got caught up with the NYT Sunday Magazine “The Lives They Lived” Issue while also staying abreast of the comings and goings of my college buddies on our email list serv. As I’ve noted in the past we are a group of middle-aged men who attended a small liberal arts college in the Northeast who were there at some point along with the Class of ’79. As such we are encountering all of the typical illnesses and infirmities of every group of 60-somethings in America. Notably, we lost one of our most beloved members a little over a year ago to prostate cancer.

It was him about whom I was thinking as I read the very poignant essay written about Chadwick Boseman by Ismail Muhammad. Boseman, you may recall, is quite rightfully and properly famous as an actor of considerable talent, most recently in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Or, I sadly should say, was famous. Mr. Boseman passed away from colon cancer this past year, a diagnosis that he and his family managed to keep a closely guarded secret until his death. I found this fascinating. That an individual so very famous chose to keep such a dire illness a secret, and then managed to do just that.

Why would this surprise me? Why would I even care? Well, with the exception of a very tiny group of his closest friends, my college buddy did the same thing. Hardly famous in the “Hollywood A List” kind of way, he was very much a “Hollywood A List” kind of famous in our group. His passing has kind of “permissioned” the rest of us to talk more or less openly among ourselves about screening, testing, monitoring and treating cancer. One can’t help but remember Katie Couric after she lost her husband to colon cancer, famously submitting to a live-streamed colonoscopy in an effort to raise awareness of a cancer that can be better treated if caught earlier rather than later.

There are celebrities, both capital and lower case “c” celebrities, who choose to be very public about their diseases. I guess that either happens so frequently or is so widely publicized that it feels like almost every celebrity deals with their illnesses as if they were simply another opening night or playoff game. It’s rare that an “A List” celebrity takes the opposite route, the route taken by my college mate, dealing with illness as the private ordeal it is for the rest of humanity. Not gonna lie, on first blush one is left to wonder if doing so, at least for the very famous, is an opportunity to help that is lost.

That’s kind of where I thought I was heading when I sat down to start this a couple of hours ago. But as I’ve been ruminating on this, all the while chatting with close family members and as luck would have it several members of that college email group, I have come to a rather different conclusion. In the throes of the ordeal of illness one really owes nothing to anyone outside of those closest to you. And to them most of what they really want is for you to do nothing other than try to overcome. To survive so that they may continue to have you among them, living. If you do survive it’s still up to you whether your ordeal becomes part of your mission or not. Celebrity at large or only within your tiny sliver of the world, there exists no quid pro quo attached to your celebrity in this. No Owesies or obligations.

For the rest of us these passings actually are an opportunity, whether or not the departed wished for their celebrity to play such a role. Among my friendship groups in addition to my college email string we have all spoken more openly about what it means medically to be a middle-aged American male. Our friend’s passing has made some of us much more open with each other if it turns out we share not only the good but also a bit of the not so good. Mr. Boseman’s passing reminds me of my own family history; I’m sure it’s not completely accurate but it sure seems as if everyone in my Dad’s family either died with or from colon cancer. Sadly, relative youth (Boseman died at 43) does not inoculate you against genetics.

Very few ever become “A List” celebrities of any type, either world-wide owing to achievements in the arts or athletics, or in a smaller, more contained world like ophthalmology. Still, in our own tiny circles almost all of us are blessed to be on the “A List” for our families and our very close friends. Whether during the ordeal of illness or after its conclusion, each of us enjoys a tiny bit of, I dunno, let’s call it “micro-celebrity”, that will hopefully influence those we love to take just a tiny bit better care of themselves. I’m sure this is happening around the Boseman family, and it is certainly happening in a tiny corner of my buddy’s world.

Don’t let the passing of Mr. Boseman or my friend be in vain. Let their celebrity, whether writ large or small, be useful. Learn a bit about yourself and use that knowledge to do some very basic investigation of any risks you may face as you get older. Breast self-examination (look up the “Feel Your Boobies” foundation), PSA testing (Michael Miliken’s foundation), and the various tests for early colon cancer detection (I think Katie Couric has a foundation). Even with all of the strum und drang of our American health system it’s remarkably easy to get some pretty basic screening done.

Remember, even if you never show up on Entertainment Tonight or ESPN, in someone’s life, you are the biggest “A List” celebrity in their world.

I’ll see you next week…

Sunday musings…1/10/2021

1 Larper. Live action role player. One who enjoys acting out fantasy adventures. New word for me. I came across it on 6 January.

So much meat on that bone.

2 Pescatarian. Welp, it’s been almost 4 months. How’s it going? To be honest, I feel great. Haven’t lost an ounce (because: bagels), but my energy levels are high (see also: bagels). Of greatest importance my sleep has been nothing short of fantastic (as long as I avoid mixed drinks).

Do I miss anything? Beth and I were chatting about this last night. She misses stews during the cold winter months, and maybe chicken. Beth really likes chicken. Me? Mostly I just miss red wine. There’s not a whole lot of stuff in the vegetarian/pescatarian world that cries out for a massive Cab or Zin, and Pinot just doesn’t move me like they do.

Still, on balance, it’s been a good call.

3 Bills. The Buffalo bills won a playoff game! How about that?! Oh sure, the octogenarian helming the Bucs won too, but just for a moment let’s let all of those long-suffering Bills fans have their day in the sun. Have they won a playoff game since Jim Kelley retired? If memory serves (Beth can fact check me, something she finds incredibly fun to do), didn’t both the Bills and the Vikings lose 4 Super Bowls with a single quarterback under center (Tarkington, Kelley)?

Who cares? Congrats to Steve Bu and all of my Williams cronies from Buffalo on “their” victory.

4 Measure. While thinking about health and fitness (and really, who doesn’t in January) I dug into the drawer where I keep all manner of fitness trackers accumulated over the years. I’d stumbled on PAI (Physical Activity Index) again and thought it would be fun, or maybe helpful, to track my HR and how it reacts to exercise as a measure of health predictably. You may recall that I have been “working on” a comprehensive health metric based in part on how CrossFit measures fitness (WCABTMD).

As it turns out all of my older trackers are either kaput or, if still working, need to be connected to an app that comes from a company that is kaput. On first blush that was pretty disappointing. However, thinking a bit deeper about the tracking thing, it occurred to me that the factors that will determine my training going forward are wholly independent of what a tracker might tell me about variations in my HR, or for that matter pretty much any other measurement other than sleep.

All I’m gonna get from measuring them is additional stress if it turns out my activity isn’t producing life-extending numbers.

So, will I (finally) abandon all tracking? Nah. Just the serious stuff. There’s really very little to learn now about sleep, too. I’m better rested with 8 than 7 hours of sleep, and I sleep better if I don’t drink any liquids at all after 7:00 or so. Sleep quality is driven by sugar consumption in the evening, whether in the form of mixers in a cocktail or dessert. Bummer, for sure, but highly reproducible results confirm the findings. I’ll stay on the lookout for a way to measure how well I’m actually moving when I do work out (perhaps the latest from PUSH), but that’s just for fun.

The gym is supposed to be fun.

5 Care. As in care facility. What an interesting label we’ve adopted to denote what almost everyone called a nursing home until they became kill zones in early 2020. Care facility. Greg Glassman once said that the goal was not longevity in and of itself, but longevity that outpaced decrepitude. Indeed, over the years, and especially in my most active CrossFit years, I was continually asked why, for Heaven’s sake, did I push my body so hard in the gym. The answer lies just around the corner of that weak sauce term above, “care facility”.

The battle is waged so that I can get my own ass up off the toilet, without anybody’s help, for as long as possible.

In the prevailing vernacular “care facility” denotes a dwelling in which the elderly or otherwise infirm live in a congregate setting. Nursing homes, senior living facilities in which the residents spend time in a communal area, or even group homes in which dwell people who for whatever reason cannot completely care for themselves. What turned these places, at least for the elderly, into kill zones was a virus that was more deadly to older individuals and those with certain types of compromise to their immune systems. 75 seems to be the “over/under” for the virus, give or take. It doesn’t much matter where you get it as much as it matters how old you are when/if you do.

How does this follow from thoughts on fitness trackers? Oh come on…you know where this is headed. I’m not remotely mysterious enough, or good enough at this writing gig to create an elegant or unexpected segue. I spend my working days in the company of older people who by and large get themselves in to my office on their own. They are not under the care of anyone, in a facility or otherwise. For whatever reason and through whatever route they took they arrived at a place where they can cart their 70 or 75 or 80+ year old asses not only up off the toilet seat but out the door. For sure some of that is nothing more noble than genetic kismet. But still, a continual desire to move on one’s own seems to be a common thread for those who are blessed to not have an uncontrollable condition that cannot be overcome.

I confess that I peeked at CrossFit.com this morning, curious to see how, or even if, the new owners were addressing the annual onslaught of New Year’s Resolutionaries who have begun a CrossFit program on New Year’s Day. No, this is not my announcement that I am either jumping back into formal CF training or in some way re-joining some part of the greater CrossFit community. “bingo” lives abroad now. Still, it was heartening to see one OG offering up his 13 year summary of WOD’s for those who wanted a copy. To see a couple of the “Usual Suspects” offering encouragement to a Newbie. No longer fitness “infidels”, CrossFitters are now firmly a part of the mainstream.

No, what I was doing there was reminding myself that if I want to avoid a “care facility” longer into life, some things remain unchanged even if what we call them changes. The enemy remains the couch. The goal is still to retain the ability to get up, from the toilet or a fall, at a very advanced age. The competition remains “you vs. you”, with the ultimate victory to be slightly better tomorrow than you are today.

And, in time, to hold onto the “you” of today for as many tomorrows as possible.

I’ll see you next week…

Hope for the New Year

I came across my New Year’s musings from 2017. Let’s take a look, shall we, and see if there might be a little evergreen peaking through the soil of 2020 into 2021…

Chief Justice John Roberts gave a commencement speech to a group of 9th graders this year in which he wished them “bad luck”. Now, lest you think ill of the Chief Justice, that he was being churlish and mean-spirited, what he meant was that he wished that these young people would experience some degree of hardship in their youth so that they would develop tactics to persevere as adults when those same hardships inevitably arose.

“I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal, because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. I hope that you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life, and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.

And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so that you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you have just enough pain to learn compassion.”

My hope for each of you is encapsulated in Justice Roberts’ conclusion: I hope that you will have the ability to see the message in any of your misfortunes, and that you will express appreciation for the people who help you overcome them.

Let me leave 2017 with a final thought, inspired by Ben Reiter’s review of the movie “I, Tonya”. “Each of us, “I, Tonya” suggests, is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done–or, in Tonya’s case, the worst thing she might have done.” In our present days of instantly available and infinitely scalable opinion, we should add what someone says we did.

Let us, each of us, resolve that in 2018 we will look first to that which is good about each other, and endeavor to see that each of us is more like the best thing we’ve ever done than not.

2021 me is back. What do you think? For me it seems as though our poor children have gotten a lifetime’s worth of Chief Justice Roberts’ wishes this year, wouldn’t you say? Still, my wish in 2017 is, indeed, evergreen: see and appreciate those who helped, especially those who did so without being asked.

The year 2020 seemed so very hard while we were in the midst of living it. For those who became ill, who lost loved ones, it can only be the worst year ever. But for the rest of us, those who survived, when we look back we will likely see things gained as much as we see things lost. At least I hope that’s the case. All of those trips “lost”? They are still there for the taking. You may have learned, as I did, that the trips weren’t really the important part though; it was the company you would have kept on those trips that matter. If you are fortunate you spent 2020 with those same people (I was more with my closest people than not), or if not, are just itching to do pretty much anything, anywhere, just to be with them.

We are, as a people, more like the best thing we’ve ever done than not. Yes, let us go forth into 2021 and eventually out of the shadow of 2020 holding this evergreen thought close to our hearts. May 2021 be the year that you and I meet if we’ve not yet done so, the year that we reunite if we have.

Happy New Year to you all.

I’ll see you Sunday…

A Tale of Two Christmas Babies: Sunday musings…12/27/2020

1 Snorlax. Appears to be an emerging nickname. For me, from Beth. Snorlax is one of my Man Cub’s Pokemon favs.

Apparently not a term of endearment.

2 “Sham”. Name of the horse who came in second to Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Imagine spending your entire “career” in the presence of greatness. Forced to compete against perhaps the greatest practitioner of all time in whatever it is you do. This was the fate of poor Sham. I read that his times in both the Derby and the Preakness would have won a majority of those races, ever, and yet they left him simply the best runner-up in history. If thus challenged, no matter what you do, how would you react?

In “Grey’s Anatomy” the drama-driven medical weekly filled with characters with more “extra” than not, the second fiddle neurosurgeon is tagged with a nickname that forever confers and confirms his status: “Shadow Shepherd”. His response? He simply soldiers on. Does his job. Does the best he can. Makes no effort to compete. Others do. The cardiac surgeons, for example, and pretty much all of the pretty young surgical residents (not a hair out of place on a one of them), they compete. Thus far in season 6 no one has won. Kinda like a regular Triple Crown season. They all race on.

And what of Sham? He of greatness with a lower case “g”? He broke just behind Secretariat in the Belmont and was quickly left behind. They say it broke his heart. Uninjured, it looked as if he’d lost the ability to run. The jockeys on the mounts who passed him said he literally was crying out in pain during the race. Crying out in anguish when most horses simply try to cram as much oxygen in and let as little out as they can. That’s what they called it.

He finished dead last, 48 lengths behind, never to race again.

3 Babies. As in Christmas babies. We anxiously await the arrival of our own Christmas baby. The Man Cub and his sister Buggie Bear are blissfully unaware of the upheaval on its way. Yesterday’s due date slogged on by and now we count the hours until our littlest girl makes her grand entrance. She’ll be a Christmas baby, her birthday hard up against the biggest gift giving holiday on earth.

How will she handle that when she is old enough to know?

I’ve told this story at least a couple of times over the years, but “Little L’s” birthday reminds me of a tale of two other Christmas babies. Two boys, as it were, but no matter; it’s the Christmas part that matters. Will she look upon her birthday as the greatest bonus in the history of Christmas? An extra day when only SHE gets a gift? Or will she feel that in some way her special day is lessened in the gifting to others occurring all around it? Somehow lost in other’s joy. And as I’ve grown older I will now also wonder if her reaction to being a Christmas baby will change as she, too, gets older.

This is a tale of two boys, now long-grown men, who were once Christmas babies. On born on Christmas Day itself, the other on Christmas Eve. I don’t think that tiny part made any difference in their stories. Both were as well-loved as their families were capable of loving. One was born into substantial wealth, family intact, the other into biting poverty and a family that would be riven by mental illness. I have no real insight, no eye-witness accounts of how their families dealt with the gifting aspects of the birthday/Christmas continuum, only the stories the boys/men told me. Their parents and siblings may have made a big deal over their birthdays, but then again, they may not.

The boy born into wealth felt somehow cheated. In his mind no one really cared about his birthday. No one acknowledged it. He lived long into adulthood feeling this way; the little boy who felt like no one remembered his birthday lived within the adult man whose success had made him much, much more wealthy than his family had ever been. He is a very hard worker, by all accounts the best boss most of his people ever had. All of his adult success was earned and deserved. And yet each Christmas, for as long as I knew him, he remained at least a little bit sad. He remembered the feeling of not feeling remembered.

My other friend, the boy born into a troubled family that descended into poverty, well, there was hardly ever anything remotely resembling a gift coming his way on either Christmas OR his birthday. Whether arriving on Christmas Eve as a birthday present or under the tree on Christmas morning, any gift that came was a source of pure delight. A surprise of the grandest type, since each year passed with no promise that it would be any easier than the last. He, too, is wildly successful. Also one of the hardest workers I’ve known and widely known as a wonderful man to work for. He has earned generational wealth. His reaction, then and now? He was, and is, truly and genuinely grateful for every gift, large or small, on any occasion.

He remains, to this day, an inspiration; the most grateful human being I’ve ever known.

Is there a lesson for us in this tale of two Christmas babies? Of course there is. A couple, actually. The first, of course, is to try our best to be as grateful as possible for any gifts, large or small, that come our way at any time. Even this year, this Annus Horibli that befell us. We have been gifted many times in many ways from many people. Truly. Almost none of us will ever know the kind of wealth that these two Christmas babies created, but we can know that we can be grateful no matter how much or how little we may have on any given birthday.

And we can think of our Christmas babies just a bit more around their birthdays than our other babies upon theirs, aware that this is a birthday that comes with baggage. We can lift them, be not only co-celebrants but also porters, carrying their bags for them a bit on their day. As I said, I do not know exactly how it went down for either of my Christmas baby friends on their birthdays when they were young. In the end it doesn’t really matter, eh? They are who they are; they feel what they feel. Still, we hold within our hands the ability to give the tiniest, grandest gift of all. In one tiny sentence we can tell them: “I see you. You matter. To me.” Just by saying “Happy Birthday” and nothing else.

Happy Birthday to my friends, the Christmas babies. I can’t wait to meet our “Little L” and wish her a Happy Birthday, too.

I’ll see you next week…

Christmas musings…

Boy, where did the day get to? What with 10 inches of snow to shovel, presents to open, and grandchildren to entertain (and be entertained by), I guess it’s no surprise that it’s just now, 5:00 somewhere, that I’m finally getting to my keyboard to wish both of you who read my stuff a very Merry Christmas!

It’s been a year, hasn’t it? And yet today (and last night) was just wonderful. There’s nothing like the wonder of a child, a believer, when they see the miracle of a tree surrounded by gift wrapped dreams, eh? Beth and I got that twice. How lucky is that? Our soon-to-be fifth grandchild, a little girl, declined to join us for either Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. The wife of one of my very best friends in the world approves; she flatly states that December 26th is a lousy day for birthing and so she’s calling the 27th and putting all of her markers on that square.

Did I ever tell you how my folks ended up with a quadrennial Christmas rotation among their children for the Christmas Holiday? No matter; Dr. Fauci says I’m elderly now so I’m entitled to telling repeats. Mom’s nose was out of joint because she didn’t receive a “proper” invitation to one of our homes for Christmas. When my younger sister asked whose house she’d visit she said “no one”. Instead she and my Dad would go see the Rockets (which he supposedly had on his bucket list). They would travel by bus, accompanied by all the other parents left behind that Christmas by their kids. My poor sister found herself deep in a hole but continued digging, asking what they would eat for Christmas dinner. “Why, we’ll have a brown bag turkey sandwich. We’ll toast our fellow Christmas refugees on the bus with stale chips washed down with flat Coke.”

And that, my friends, is how my folks ended up in the grand Christmas rotation.

Why tell this story (again) now? Mostly just to be a wise guy. Beth and I are alone at Casa Blanco for dinner tonight. Man, did I over-shop. It’s no one’s fault but mine that I have enough salmon to feed a high school basketball team and no one to share it with. Ok, maybe just the starting 5. But still, all I had to do was ask what the plans were and I would have realized that the blessings of having Christmas Eve dinner with one son and his family, and then spending the entire day with my other son and his were going to be my cup overflowith for the year. Still, if for no other reason than the pure entertainment of sending my Mom a pic, Beth and I will spend a bit of time on Netflix or wherever trying to find a vintage Rockettes video to watch. And send pictures to my kids and my siblings. And a big ol’ love note to my Mom telling her how much I miss her and wish it was my year to have my Mom and Dad here with us to open gifts. Go to Mass. Be wined and dined by our other best friends for the 28th consecutive Christmas night.

Yes, it’s been a year, for sure. And yet, here I am, happy. Blessed. Sharing this sacred day and night with the love of my life. My little Aussie plastered to my leg. I’ve mixed the first cocktail of the night, one of my Love’s favorites (a French 75). With a nod to my friend Bill’s annual Beef Wellington we will dine on Salmon Wellington. Beth and I will reflect on our blessings. The joys we have each and every day. It’s different today, Christmas Day. It just is. Still, it needn’t be. What we cherish about Christmas could be an every day thing and Christmas would still be special. Really. It would. But each and every other day would be so much more–don’t you think?–if it was a bit more like Christmas.

I’d love to take credit for that idea, but it’s not mine. Each year I remind myself, and anyone who joins me here, that making “that Christmas thing last” is within our grasp. We have Paul O’Neil, the genius behind the Tans-Siberian Orchestra, to thank for that. And so I will leave you with his words from my very, very favorite Christmas song, “An Olde City Bar” from the epic Christmas rock opera “Christmas Eve, and Other Stories” in the hope that you, too, will see the Christmas in each and every day.

And seize the chance…

“If you want to arrange it
This world, you can change it
If we could somehow
Make this Christmas thing last
By helping a neighbor
Or even a stranger
To know who needs help,
You need only just ask.”

Merry Christmas my friends.

I’ll see you Sunday…

Forks Over Knives: Sunday musings…12/13/2020

1 Gallimaufry. A confused jumble or medley of things.

Sounds like “Sunday musings…”

2 Soul. The latest from Pixar. Top of my “to watch” list.

3 Fischer. We watched “Finding Bobby Fischer” last night. If you have children and are in the active phase of the parenting gig this one is highly recommended. Especially if they show any inclination to excel in any particular activity.

Put it on top of your “to watch” list.

4 Half. As in half bottles of wine. My friend and wine merchant Sue sourced some half bottles of Vintage Port. All of them are now mature enough to drink, in part because they are all 20+ years old and also because the smaller bottles lead to earlier maturity in the wines they contain.

This is a great way to enjoy special wines you might otherwise not be able to access. Put half bottles on top of your “to try” list.

5 Nutrition. Roughly 3 months ago “Lovely Daughter” and her “Prince Charming” suggested that Beth and I watch a documentary “Forks Over Knives.” In short the documentary reviews the work of a Cleveland Clinic doctor and a Cornel University professor. I’ll save you the time if you wish. Their essential finding is that eating a strict Vegan diet leads to less heart disease and more importantly a reduction in deaths from all kinds of cancer.

Megan and Ryan have been eating a pescatarian diet for a bit over a year by now. Think of it as the Mediterranean Diet on steroids. If you’ve followed any of my gallimaufry over the years you have watched me carom from one type of nutrition strategy to another. The Zone led to a macro diet followed by a near-keto strategy, all meant to reduce my genetic predisposition to classic heart disease associated with elevated serum lipids. In one of the medical upset losses for the ages I am in the 10% or so of folks who have an INCREASE in LDL, etc. eating a high protein/high fat/low carb diet. On top of all of that there was no cancer-avoidance inherent in any of those strategies.

Now that it is clear that I can no longer maintain a lipid profile that reduces my cardiac risk without medication (which thus far has been wildly successful, by the way) my dietary options open up a bit. Why not emphasize, or at least put a bit of prioritization on following research that supports the anti-cancer properties of avoiding meat. We’re not on board enough to abandon all forms of once-living protein sources; like Megan and Ryan we are eating fish of all kinds. This has made it surprisingly easy for us. Hunting down plant-based protein sources on the daily would quickly drive us both back to McDonald’s.

Any effects after 3 months? Well, it’s not any easier to maintain my fitness or percentage body weight fat with this plan without returning to high intensity exercise than it’s been on any other nutrition plan. Duh. But I have noticed the first real breakthrough in my sleep quality since making the change. What was once a 2 or 3 time trip to the loo each night is now one, at most. And my HRV is running in the 90’s vs. the 40’s before (high is good). The only change on which to hang my hat is diet.

I’m due for some lab work this week so we’ll see if it’s doing anything on that front. I’m kinda hoping that it’s a wash to tell you the truth. There’s no percentage in messing with my modern medical interventions (my cardiologist would kill me). As long as I’m not an outlier with the Mediterranean Diet, too. That would be super frustrating.

Now I just have to find stuff to pair with a big ol’ bottle of Cab.

I’ll see you next week…