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Archive for March, 2015

The Enduring Legacy of Upattinas

Some 40+ years ago a little girl came home from elementary school and asked her Mom why all of their family friends of color were bad people. Turns out the little girls teacher had made disparaging remarks about a picture of a mixed-race couple. Outraged, the Mom promptly started the process of withdrawing her 3 girls from the public schools and placing them…


There really was no “where” around about 1971 or so. No place to send kids if the schools did not line up with a family’s values, or if a kid for whatever reason just didn’t, or couldn’t, fit in. Homeschooling was virtually non-existent, Montessori was in its infancy, and not unlike today most private schools were just beyond the financial capabilities of most families, even if there was a perfect philosophical fit. Outside of the public school system there was essentially a vacuum.

Most folks would have just gritted their teeth, put their collective heads down, and just made the best of the situation, especially given the dearth of options. Uh uh. Not my Mother-in-Law. Nope. With the full support of my Father-in-Law, Sandy took her 3 young daughters (Beth is the oldest) and joined maybe 2 dozen families in starting their own school. One that would match their collective values while at the same time providing an environment of collective caring and kindness.

Upattinas was created to fill the vacuum.

It was a pretty free-wheeling place, Upattinas. The “Open Classroom” to the max. Free to choose from the ever-expanding menu of educational theories the founding families chose pretty much everything. Kids who would succeed anywhere were mixed with kids who had no shot to succeed any place else, and the space between those extremes was filled with all the rest of the kids whose parents sought for them an eduction that was directed by the needs of the individual child under the guidance of the founding families. Pretty cool, very unique place.

This weekend the Upattinas school buildings and property are to be auctioned off, tying up the financial loose ends of history. After 40+ years of providing an alternative to those families who had none, Upattinas will close its doors one last time, to live only in the hearts and minds of the families who passed through those doors over the years. How come? Well, the simplest answer is that there is no longer a vacuum, that there are now countless options for parents and children who would be better served by schooling outside the public school system. Homeschooling, internet-based learning, and public/home hybrids are now ubiquitous. Brick and mortar alternative schools like Upattinas could have a place if they became more like, well, something they’re not. More and more effort was required simply to keep the doors open, effort that once was expended almost entirely on teaching the children. Upattinas could survive in today’s world of bountiful educational choice if it, and its families, chose to compete in what is now an educational marketplace.

That’s not the Upattinas way.

40+ years ago my Mother-in-Law Sandy saw a vacuum in the world of education and she filled it with an alternative. Upattinas became one of the first of the genre known as such, Alternative Schools, dedicated to teaching those who needed something different. Upattinas opened not only the hearts and minds of its children but also the doors to a vastly bigger educational landscape. Sandy’s school has demonstrated that you need not teach every child the same way, need not discard or disregard any child who did not fit in a traditional slot.

An auction will be held this weekend. The buildings and the land where once you would find Upattinas will be sold. Or not. It doesn’t really matter in the end. Upattinas is no longer there. Rather, it lives on in the hearts and minds of the families whose lives took a turn for the better when they passed through one woman’s answer to a vacuum.

So mourn not the passing of Upattinas. Let the passing of the buildings and the land be just the last of many things Upattinas taught its children to let go of, lest they find things more important than people. The world is filled with the children, and children of children who were blessed by that group of parents who saw a vacuum and refused to let it remain so. Teachers and doctors and artists and athletes and electricians and carpenters and…well, you get the picture. Each of them, all of them, better versions of themselves than perhaps otherwise, for a stroll through the front door at Upattinas.

The lesson for the rest of us, of course, is to have the vision to see the vacuums in our lives, and the courage to fill them with something better. Having done so, we should be at peace. Congratulations to my Mother-in Law on filling the vacuum. You won, Sandy.

Be at peace.


Social Media and Manufactured Importance

Got any of this–manufactured importance– in your life? Not sure? Of course you’re not sure. It’s likely that YOU are the one who manufactured whatever it is in the first place.

We have a massive social media initiative at my day job. Lots and lots of positive feedback from others in my industry (who are too far away to compete with us), and yet that’s all it’s been…compliments. ROI, meh, not so much. And yet there it is, an enormous sink hole of time, and more importantly MY time. But is it really important?

Where are your stress points? Who put them there? Who is rating their importance? How real is that importance? Tough questions, whether you have ultimate control over the majority of your choices and your time or not. I kinda do. Have control, that is. Yet it was pointed out to me what an inordinate amount of time and angst, how much importance, has grown up around this SM thing. The program is an outgrowth of our continual need to grow, sure, but is this the program that will allow us to achieve our goals More importantly, is it really important enough for us and to me for me to personally carry the load?

Not sure, but the the “ah HA” moment when the concept of “manufactured” rather than essential, integral, irreducible and ineluctable, was applied. I’m gonna think a (short) bit on this i the office today; if it’s real I should be able to make the call between lunch and quitting time. It’s a great exercise, a great filter to apply to the “important” (non-family) aspects of a life.

Whadday think? Looking at the time sinks in your life, how important are they and is that importance real?


March Madness: Real Sportsmen and Women

I, like some 6 or 7 million like souls, spent a ridiculous amount of time yesterday in front of a screen watching college athletes play their games. Unlike, oh, 6.9995 million or so, I spent a couple of hours NOT watching semi-professional basketball players because I tuned in to the DIII hockey quarter-finals between Amherst College and Norwich University. A thriller, Amherst won after pulling their goalie with 45 seconds remaining and scoring the tying goal not once, not twice, but THREE times before pulling it out in OT. Every senior on both senior-laden teams played his last meaningful hockey game; no pro sports for the DIII stars.

It would have been fitting if the mid-ice circle had been filled with the empty skates of the just-retired.

What does this have to do with CrossFit? Heck, what does this have to do with anything? By and large NCAA Division III athletes play for nothing other than a love for their game. It’s no different in any sport than it is in basketball or hockey. There are no athletic scholarships in DIII (although being an athlete may help get you in to school), and with a couple of unique situations (squash?), the DIII athlete is competing right where he or she belongs. The biggest fish in the DIII pond is no more than a minnow in the Division I sea.

Yet they play. It matters. Each athlete in each sport cares just as much as any of the semi-pros in Div. I. You don’t read or hear heartwarming stories about extraordinary academic outliers (Aaron Craft, OSU ’14) at the DIII level because that’s the norm. It’s play, though it matters while one is playing. There’s a team to be on and teammates to depend on, who depend on you. Shared suffering toward a common goal is no different at Amherst or Norwich as it would be at Washington or Wisconsin. The lessons are the same and ring as true whether played out in front of 30,000 strangers or 300 people on a first-name basis.

I used to miss being on a team. Used to miss the locker room. Even missed teammates I didn’t particularly care for on a personal level because, well, we were teammates and we had common foes and a common goal. Ask my wife, Beth: nothing really filled that hole, nothing really replaced what it was and who I was when I last walked off the field, my spikes figuratively laying empty on the 50 yard line. I accomplished all that I reasonably could–there is no market for a short, light, slow cornerback who is a slave to gravity.

Time and distance have pushed the memories and the longing to the margins. Since discovering CrossFit once again I have a sense of shared suffering in the pursuit of a goal. Do I have a team? Sort of. It’s kinda big and the locker room is different, for sure. I do have a sense of team, though, especially during our own CrossFit version of March Madness. For all the Sturm und Drang surrounding the Open it really is the one time we all come together on our particular fields of play. Like any group of men or women on any NCAA team, drawn far and wide from circumstances vastly different or eerily similar, for 5 weeks that which we share is more powerful than any of our differences.

33 years removed from my last game, that has been enough.


Domino Theory (Adopted from Sunday musings)

There’s a video making its viral rounds on various social media places of a rather earnest-looking professor-like guy talking about the power of a tiny domino falling and hitting a bigger domino on its way to the ground. He starts the dominoes tumbling. The cascade of 15 ends with the fall of a domino weighing 100 lbs. and measuring >1 meter in height.

All from a domino so small he needs tweezers to place it.

The Professor ends the video with the observation that a 29 domino cascade would finish with the fall of a domino larger than the Empire State Building. Pretty vivid. As is so often the case on Sunday mornings I let the video rumble around between my ears for a bit. What I saw first was a vast space filled with thousands, nay millions of those tiny dominoes, falling down over and over again, never striking anything but the ground. Every now and again a tiny domino would fall against a massive domino, either bouncing or slowly sliding off, eventually finding its way to the ground either way.

It was discouraging to think about. It made me a little sad, to tell you the truth.

But as I thought about it a little more, spent a bit more time in my imaginary vastness filled with tiny dominoes perpetually falling, it occurred to me that in order to fall over and over again it was necessary for each of those tiny dominoes to somehow rise up to stand. More than that, each time one fell it moved a little bit. Sometimes further into the vacuum of the vastness, but sometimes closer to another tiny domino. Another domino falling.

Another domino that kept getting back up.

It’s probably trite–some would say I specialize in trite–but what stayed with me in the end was not the image of the massive domino falling at the end, but that of the tiny, delicate, fragile domino in the front of the line. The one that started the whole thing. What most of us ever see is the last couple of dominoes falling, the last tumblers settling into place. Who knows how many times that first, tiny domino fell and struck nothing but earth?

And got back up.


CPOE, An Epic Misadventure: Update

It was the missed workouts that finally got me. That, and the fact that I was not getting to the gym after surgery because I had to RE-DO orders I’d already entered. That caused me to crack. Why I was missing workouts.

Computer Physician Order Entry went live in December at one of the surgery centers where I operate. As is my lifelong pattern, once I decided that I would remain “in the game” at that particular center I simply viewed CPOE as a new set of rules to learn, a new challenge to conquer (however involuntarily), a new game to win. Maybe it’s my first-born status, or perhaps just the result of an upbringing where everything was a contest to be won, but I learned the ins and outs of the system in less than a month. My office staff, the surgery center staff, and I then went about the task of generating a process that would minimize the depth of the “time sink” into which CPOE had tossed me. On days when I was only operating out of one OR I was only down about 2:00 for every laser done and pretty much dormie on the rest of the cases because I could enter orders during pre-existing “dead air” time.

A funny thing happened on the way to happily ever after: patients we knew were scheduled were failing to show up on the OR schedule in time for me to enter their orders, and orders I’d entered started to turn up missing. That’s right…I had sucked it up, learned the system and taken my paddling like a good plebe, and the system insisted on inflicting this random form of unearned pain. The first time it happened I just re-did the orders. The second time I went off. My “Doc Whisperer” watched me put in every order for this coming week, documenting my status as a quick and accurate little Dr. Lemming. Patient lists and screen shots document my every order. All of this is to no avail. Once again, orders I placed for cases to be done tomorrow do not exist in any part of the Epic wasteland that is the EMR at World Class Hospital.

Is anybody paying attention to this? Does anybody care?!

Not only have I been forced to take time out of my day to do something I did not need to do previously, to perform acts of documentation that once took me a fraction of the time it now takes electronically, but these impositions are now compounded by the fact that work I’ve done is nowhere to be found. Lost in the ether, in a world that no longer even uses ether. This is maddening. Is there even a “Happy enough, ever after” with EMR?

Sadly, I’m afraid this is to be continued…

Sunday musings 3/15/15 (By the Numbers)…

Sunday musings (by the numbers)…

1) 3.1415. Oh, why not? Pi on March 14, 2015? That’s really kinda cool.

2) 15.3. I will never get a MU (torn supraspinatus), and will be forever shut out of any event that requires one. So be it.

One should be ever mindful of the difference between CrossFit the fitness program, and CrossFit the Sport of Fitness(™). My “inter-mural” competitive juices have long run dry (more in a moment), so competing at the Sport of Fitness is of little interest to me. The Open is a measure of my fitness relative to my peers, a chance to experience the unknown and the unknowable, and the experience surrounding the Open is just fun.

CrossFit for me remains my fitness and health prescription; 15.3 is just Friday’s dose.

3) 90. Humans sleep in cycles of ~90 minutes. Each cycle is centered by an interval of REM sleep, the deepest type of sleep. There is some teleological thought that the natural tendency to be wakeful at intervals is a vestige of our hunter/gatherer origins, a brief time to assess threat before continuing to rest.

Our best sleep over a night is one that is an even multiple of our particular cycle (it’s not precisely 90 min. for everyone). Mrs. bingo and I have known this for some time, and I have tried to time my sleep/wake schedule to coincide with either 4 cycles (6 hrs.) or 5 (7.5 hrs). Multiple factors intrude on this strategy of course (alcohol intake, age, gender), and multiple outside agents conspire to make it more difficult (sunrise, canine appetites, spousal sleep).

In our over-scheduled/over-pressured world I am not advocating an intense evaluation of sleep, or any particular method of doing so (we are playing with the UP24, for example). I am simply noting that there is both a quantity and a quality metric if one does evaluate sleep, and for that matter rest in general. Recovery is worthy of your attention whether you do CrossFit as sport or fitness.

4) 1. A moment ago I made mention of my competitive juices having run dry. That’s only partially true. It’s probably more accurate to say that I have chosen to de-emphasize the competitive aspects of most of my activities.

For certain this does not include the existential threats that surround my business, my vocation, those competitors who would gladly contribute to its and my demise. In that arena I am certainly as competitive and driven to win as I have ever been about anything. In this arena my battle simply is one of waning energy and the ennui of competition that ever waxes. No unknown and unknowable at 3, 30, 300 or even 3,000 feet here.

What has changed over the years is the incessant, all-consuming need to win at everything else. Not desire mind you, but need. I grew up in one of those hyper-competitive families where everything was a game to be played and every competition a zero-sum game in which you only won if someone else lost. I had to win. We all had to win. We competed for EVERYTHING. Board games, backyard basketball, philosophical discussions. Everything. Seriously, there would be blood drawn as we wielded our knives and attacked a new tub of butter in the race to make the first mark.

Now? Not so much. I find myself drawn away from all sorts of quasi-competitive activities, fearful that I will either feel torn about letting loose my competitive devil, or having done so feel badly about an all-out assault toward victory. Some competitions are so silly that they simply cannot be taken seriously; these I enjoy deeply. I “beat” my buddy Scot in a deadlift WOD by 0.5 seconds by my account, and he “beat” me because his bar was 40# heavier by his. I “won” a game of “Cards Against Humanity” by expertly playing the “Tasteful Side-Boob” card. That kind of stuff.

A middle ground exists, of course, but it seems to be one I personally am not very good at identifying. There are times when I burn to compete. Times when all I want to do is win. As I have evolved and become aware of the risks of collateral damage my impulse is then to turn away. I miss the joy that is to be found in the game for fear of the consequences of the unbridled quest for victory. How does one find that space in which the competition itself is enough?

For you see, I haven’t forgotten how to win.

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at March 15, 2015 8:19 AM

The Dress, The CrossFit Open, and Jerry Tarkanian (Adopted from Sunday musings 3/8/15)

The Dress. You know what I’m talking about. Admit it. That picture showed up all over your internet stuff and you actually looked at it and thought about it. Admit it. So did I.

In my day job I spend my time thinking about vision. The Dress is all about wavelengths of light and direction of gaze and just-prior view. Not only do I understand the intersection of physics and physiology behind the color shifting, but as a semi-professional teacher I can actually explain what’s going on. Just not here. Sunday musings is a place for metaphor, more meta-physics than Mendellian. I see The Dress and I think Point of View, Frame of Reference, and of course since this started off as “Sunday musings” on CrossFit.com I go directly to The CrossFit Games.

Shocking, I know.

Last week brought us our annual kerfluffle about something CrossFit HQ did or didn’t do that will certainly be the ultimate destruction of the CrossFit Games. Happens every year. Usually not quite so quickly but, hey, The Dave Castro is getting better at everything CrossFit Games related so why not better and faster at Games controversy, too? For those who missed it (both of you), a few gyms and a few athletes figured out a “security flaw” in the rules for Open 15.1 and gamed the WOD. Once discovered Messieurs Castro and Berg “patched” the software as it were, and The Games 2015 were saved. Probably a penguin or two was also saved along the way.

If you read even .001% of the comments on internet posts that followed this “controversy” you had to be impressed by how broad and varied the viewpoints were. Who was to blame? Why did it happen? What should/shouldn’t be done? All of this with a heaping helping of ad hominem aimed at both HQ and the athletes/Affiliates. Like The Dress, what one thought or wrote about L’affaire 15.1 was driven by where you were looking from and what you had looked at before. Your POV, your Frame of Reference, the pre-conceived notions you apply color the issue and give it meaning that isn’t really there.

There really is no deeper meaning. What color dress you see when you look at your screen is a simple fact and has no extended significance whatsoever. The Dress does not provide any examination of your psyche or your soul, and the potential to game 15.1 provides no deeper insight into anyone involved.

HQ simply didn’t think 15.1 out the way a few competitors did. The Dress is just a dress.

Which brings me to Jerry Tarkanian the famous college basketball coach who died on February 11. You might find it odd that I choose to remember that today, right after talking about rules and rules enforcement in the CrossFit Open. For those of you who don’t know who Jerry Tarkanian was (no doubt the same two of you who didn’t hear about the Open rules Kerfluffle), the Tark spent much of his career battling the NCAA over what he felt was unequal application of the rules.

Did Tarkanian break any rules along the way? Was he singled out for more vigilant policing and enforcement of those rules? Kinda depends on where you are and where you’ve been when you are looking. I think there really is a difference between The Tark and the athletes/Affiliates who found a loophole in the rules. I’ll let the Sports Illustrated writer Tim Layden explain:

“Tarkanian was a basketball junkie with a disdain for rules that impeded him.”

Like golfers who not only seek to know and follow the letter of the Rules of Golf (always capitalized, BTW), CrossFit in general is populated by folks who also follow the spirit or intention of the rules. That does leave room for the Bill Belichek approach of knowing the rules so well that you can sometimes use them to your advantage (see Woods, Tiger: The Masters). Again, Layden:

“[Tarkanian] was about the scoreboard, the money, the wins.”

We all cheer for winners. We can’t take our eyes off them. The ones who seem consumed with the winning appear almost larger than life. Their quest for victory fascinates us. Love him or loathe him, Belichek commands your attention, much like Jerry Tarkanian when he was battling the NCAA while winning basketball games by the bucketful. The difference, I think, is in that disdain for the rules that Layden ascribes to Tarkanian. Does Belichek feel the same way? Woods? You may agree or disagree about whether walking through the loophole in 15.1 is in keeping with the spirit of the rules, but you cannot find that there is disdain for the rules, or the Games, or CrossFit in general on the part of any CrossFit Games Open athlete.

Layden: “[Tarkanian] wasn’t larger than life at all. He was just life…”

Life, and the Open, go on.



The Coda (Adopted from Sunday musings 3/1/15)

A friend from my post-grad program recently reminded me of the coda I shared with him some 25+ years ago. It turns out that, for the most part, I’ve continued to make most decisions using the same three simple concepts.

Knowledge is Power. Pretty obvious, that one. The guy in the know always starts every encounter with a huge advantage. The more you know the less likely you are to be ambushed, knocked on your heels. Foreknowledge begets forethought, which while not foolproof, at least should inoculate you against being fooled or looking foolish. One should not only try to have the most knowledge but also to be aware when one does not.

Perception is more important than reality. You could say this one also takes into account bias, both yours and that of others. What is the reality of human influence on the global climate, for example? Your perception of this along with any biases you may have is your version of reality. Being open to this phenomenon in yourself allows you to maintain a more critical view of your own reality. Knowing this about others around you should help to keep you from being surprised by their reactions to you and what you do and say.

Evolution is better than revolution. Slow, steady, incremental movement toward better is generally better tolerated by both participants and spectators. Face it, there’s an awful lot of carnage in any kind of revolution, and it seems as if the more disruptive the revolution the more collateral damage there is among spectators and bystanders. The violence inherent in revolution is not necessarily physical; economic disruption can feel an awful lot like a punch to the throat, eh?

This last one is kinda tricky, in part because it rides both alongside and astride the first two. Every evolution begins at some point with the equivalent of a revolution. A single genius idea launched into an entrenched system upends intellectual, economic, or some other established orthodoxy. Whether it’s a revolution or evolution depends on when you became aware of its existence and how it is changing you or your life. I’m sure the good folks at Radio Shack look at what happened to them as being trounced in a revolution, but Amazon probably barely rose to yawn.

Sometimes life is not much more than “read and react”. Like a linebacker. Maybe most times for most people. Three simple rules, a coda if you will, have helped guide me and a few folks I might have mentored once upon a time to make what feel like better decisions for us and those around us.

What’s your coda?


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