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Archive for April, 2016

The Friendship Journey in the Age of Easy (Adopted from Sunday musings)

Beth and I were out to dinner with another couple. Mutual friends came up in conversation. They’d moved away a couple of years ago. Moved a couple of times, actually. “Have you heard from so-and-so?” “No. You?” “Uh uh.” “Huh. That’s funny. We thought maybe it was just us.” “Yah, I call every now and again. Text every so often. Crickets.” In an odd way it felt a bit better, for all four of us, that we weren’t the only ones who’d been left behind as it were. Better, but still a bit sad and still hurt a bit.

Friendship is a bit of a journey. That’s not really news, though the journey evolves not only as one gets older but also in relation to societal evolution. T’was a time when the maintenance of a friendship forged on the battlefields of youth was almost expected to fade away, with only the faintest embers of memories still burning. It was natural. Common to the point of being expected, especially if friends moved far afield.

In order to keep the fires of friendship burning you need to stoke them. We marvel at the long-distance friendships of our forebears, brought to light in the letters they sent to one another. Can you imagine? Friendship maintained at the whim of the postal service? And yet maintain they did, at least those friendships that were meaningful enough to make the effort. The dawn of the telephone age made it somewhat easier to do this, but expense was a barrier often too high to surmount, trumping the immediacy and intimacy of hearing a friend’s voice.

Friendships at the mercy of distance and time were friendships most often destined to become memories.

Ah, but the world is so very different now. We have, each of us, a device that allows us to talk to anyone we have ever known, right now, for pennies. A text can be sent with an effort so trivial that we have laws to regulate when we should know better than to fire one off. As if that’s not quite enough, Facebook and Twitter are there for the asking, and the original “reach out and touch someone” revolution that is email will alert you when someone has messaged you on either of them. It is now easy, the effort necessary to remain in contact is now so minimal, that what it means to stoke the flames of friendship has been turned on its head. Along the way it seems that our expectations of what will become of our friendships has changed as well. If it’s so easy to stay in touch, our friendships should withstand any number of moves, right?

We will have to re-order that, I think.

Beth and I have a number of friends with whom we shared many, many things, who have moved away from the little burg we call home. In truth, most were little more than friendly acquaintances really, people we were thrown together with because of stage of life stuff like schools or sports or jobs. “Moving away” for these friendships is simply another way of saying the calendar has flipped, and these fade just like friendships in the days of the Pony Express. That’s OK, too; they are meant to fade because they weren’t really friends, people in whom you confided, people who confided in you, counted on you.

Our new world of easy access to one another changes how we feel about people we really did consider friends when they move away. It takes only time, well, time and desire, to stay in touch. To stay friends. Ah…there’s the rub, eh? It’s so easy now–no hoping that they will pick up the phone, return the voicemail, reply to the email/text/PM–that our expectations have changed. That resignation inherent in the historical timeline of all but the deepest, most meaningful friendships has been replaced with some kind of new expectation that we don’t have to let go, let the friendship go, simply because someone has gone somewhere else.

And it hurts, doesn’t it, when friends who were friends in person make it clear that moving away is actually just the same today as it was in the days of the letter and the rotary dial telephone. All but the truest of friends move on, and what we have now is not a gentle resignation and wistful sadness about our mutual loss, but rather a more acute and personal type, especially if we’d decided that the friendship had been worth the effort necessary to keep the fire burning.

There’s a story here, of course, but I won’t trouble you with it. You’ve got one too I’ll bet; only the details are different. There’s also a lesson I think, one that is grounded in the wisdom of yesteryear. Our world has changed in ways that were unimaginable to our parents and grandparents. Heck, even my Mom is now on Facebook (yikes!). Friendship, however, has not. It doesn’t matter even a little bit that it takes so little effort to connect in today’s world. What matters now is the same as what mattered when connecting meant eagle feathers and inkwells: having a friendship that was meaningful enough to make the effort. Friends reach out, and they reach back when you reach out, whatever reaching means on any given day in any given era. The arc of a friendship still ends most often as nothing more than warm memories, like the tiny embers of even the most magnificent bonfire in a dawn soon to come.

We are all happier when we accept that most of our friendships will still be like this. Lucky are we if we have even a single friend who feels just the same about our friendship, whether we stoke our fire side by side or cross-country. Friendship was, is, and will always be about the desire to remain friends, not how easy it might be to express that desire. Remember this, and we steel ourselves a bit more against the sadness of a friendship lost to time and distance.

Remember this, and we allow ourselves to be warmed by the memories that remain of the friendship that once was.

Sunday musings 4/17/16: Thoughts on CrossFit.com Rest Day

Sunday musings…

1) Falernum. An exotic ingredient in mixed drinks. Often appended with “velvet”.

Your coolness factor jumps by 10 with each sip.

2) Aviary. 60 and sunny in CLE. The aviary at Casa Blanco is open once again. All manner of birds have returned as our annual migration rhythms heat up with the sun.

Welcome back.

3)Art. While discussing art and whether food and cooking could be considered an art form, QuestLove expressed his skepticism: “[Food] leaves no evidence.”

I simply leave that here for you to digest.

4) Digital. While I am surrounded by things digital, both at home and at work, it is clear to me that I am not in any way truly conversant with any of them. Not, that is, in a way that bespeaks any kind of understanding about how they work on a “cellular” or “nuclear” way. It’s as if I learned a very basic skill once upon a time, and then just evolved along with all of the instruments I use as they “grew”. My wiring has really never changed it seems, whether or not the basic underlying wiring of the my digital world has changed despite what appears to be a smoothly evolved user experience built on a smoothly changed architecture.

It makes me wonder if I’m missing something in my knowledge base, even though my skill set has continued to grow. Is it necessary to understand the inside of the digital black box in order to excel at its use? If so, how does one go about doing that?

5) Offensitive. It’s Rest Day here on CrossFit.com. In our online 3 on/1 off workout regimen, our day of rest is no different than it has been since Coach evaluated his athletes at the mythical original CrossFit Santa Cruz and determined that the greatest fitness gains were occurring in those who followed this schedule. Mind you, these were regular folks, just like you and me, even those who would one day go on to mythical status themselves. As such today is just another day of recovery for the 99%ers among us, doing CrossFit for the sole purpose of increasing our fitness, our health, our general ability to surmount the unknowns coming at us tomorrow.

Rest Day on CrossFit.com is not the same, though. Not even a little bit. T’was a time when Rest Day was an opportunity to exercise your brain muscle around a bit of mental mischief in the form of a quote, link, or other prompt. The comments section was a veritable sea of ideas and ideology then, roiled by Coach’s choices of topic, and stoked by his taste for intellectual conflict. “Coach likes it a bit rough” was how it was explained to me by my friend “Mitymous”, one of the moderators.

Almost everything about Rest Day back then was fun. Even the “Groundhog [Rest]Day” exercise of explaining to newcomers that yes, this was done on purpose, and no, it’s not going to change because it makes you (pick one): uncomfortable, anxious, marginalized or angry and offended. We all either engaged in the rough and tumble debate of the day, or just skipped the Main Page every fourth day and waited for the next WOD. Those who stayed for the intellectual intercourse had the opportunity to sharpen their debate skills against foes left, right, and center, while, at least in my case, fine-tuning how they really did feel about any number of complex and timely issues (global climate change, wealth redistribution, the politics of nutrition, etc.).

What makes me think about this today? We have a perfectly lovely story about a 90+ year old fellow living well because he has looked decrepitude in the eye and said “not me”. Not very controversial. Not too very likely to generate much give and take. As is my wont I was reading this morning before sitting down to muse and I came across this gem from Leon Wieseltier, a critic: “A democratic society is designed for the giving and taking of offense, and if you have the privilege of living in one, you should thicken your skin.” How wonderful is that? Make just a couple of tiny little changes–substitute “Rest Day” for “democratic society” for example–and I would have been thrilled to have written that in response to any one of the many who were offended by the mere posting of Coach’s articles.

Make no mistake, I understand where Rest Day has gone and why. We were once insiders here, the early adopters, enjoying a bit of the privilege of being among the first on a newly discovered planet if you will. We shared that rebel’s spirit, a bit of the “us against the [fitness] world crusade. Pushing back against other orthodoxies on Rest Day was just another way to join Coach in thumbing our noses against any number of issues that were seemingly “solved” by a consensus built upon opinions rather than data. We honed our games on Rest Day topics so that we were on our games discussing CVFMPRHI and WCABTMD.

Think about it. Our American form of governance was once like that, like CrossFit the program in the early days. America itself was like CrossFit the company. A tiny little rebellion forging its own way in the face of a worldwide consensus just waiting for them to fail. Neither is so small any longer. Neither is new or tiny. Both have proven that each is at least some sort of correct or right, perhaps even better. “Living” in both is a bit of a privilege, whether we pay taxes (pay membership dues) or not (use CrossFit.com programming in a garage). Both are still boiling pots filled with controversy, ripe with offense for the taking if you are so inclined. Me? I’m an old Rest Day guy; I’m inclined to agree with Wieseltier. It’s a privilege to be able to be offended by issues that in all probability have no relevance to your day-to-day, minute-to-minute life. Debate issues not personalities or people. Strive for better. In so doing we should collectively thicken our skin.

Perhaps Coach will resurrect the Rest Day of yore to help us train.

I’ll see you next week…


Equal Pay for Equal Work: Medicine is the Perfect Laboratory

The endless debates about the “Pay Gap” between men and women in the United States drones on. Today is “Equal Pay Day”, kinda like “Tax Day”, the day when you stop paying the government and instead start paying yourself, only it’s the day when the “average” woman supposedly has to wait for before she starts to make what a man makes. It all makes for great spectacle and epic barstool arguments for the same reason that people argue about who’s greater, Michael or Elgin, Kareem or Russell, The Babe or Barry: there is no proper, standard way to measure the issue at hand. On a barstool arguing “greatest ever” you never agree on either the definition of “greatest”, nor can you account for the vast differences in historical eras.

So it is with the pay gap. No one agrees on what constitutes work, let alone equal work.

This creates the maddening situation in which we find ourselves now whenever this comes up for discussion. Absent a meaningful definition of either “work” or “equal” we are left with folks on all possible sides of the issue simply choosing whatever statistic will support their deeply held beliefs about the issue. It’s crazy, actually. I read a dozen citations today and each one was so deeply flawed that it couldn’t stand the scrutiny of the middle if you velcroed it to the  50 yard line. Work is invariably conflated with “hours worked” with no discernible effort made to investigate something like intensity, or the measurable work performed per unit of time. “Equal” work is just a quagmire of competing opinions with, again, no effort whatsoever at objective measurement. How can you have a discussion that is meant to conclude with some sort of actionable agreement when all you do is pull numbers out of the ether and throw them at each other?

While engaging in a sorta, kinda conversation about this on Twitter it struck me that I actually live and work in the perfect laboratory to investigate the issue of the Pay Gap between men and women. You see, we have reams of objective data that can be evaluated. We all, men and women, do exactly the same things if we have the same jobs. Not only that but we have a unit of measurement for that work, the RVU. If Dr. Darrell does a cataract surgery and Dr. Dora does a cataract surgery, we have both done the same job. We can even determine the “intensity” of our work, our output if you will. A simple survey of hours worked per day can generate the metric: RVU/hour. Better yet, don’t take my word for it in a survey, just look at that heretofore meaningless and useless EMR and look at the measured time Darrell and Dora took to do their work. The OR record is a precise measurement of how much work we did per unit of time.

This is powerful stuff. Work is defined. An appendectomy is an appendectomy. A Level 4 New Patient Office Encounter is a Level 4…you get the idea. You get to compare apples to apples, heck, you get to compare Honeycrisp apples to Honeycrisp apples. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or woman or transgender. White, Black, Brown, Yellow, Red (did I miss anyone?), Millennial, Boomer and everything in between, work is work and an RVU is an RVU. Heck, you could gather all of the information about the work without anyone knowing who did it until after it’s all together. We could have a big unveiling when we lift the blinders and see who did what and how much they did. Seriously, how cool is this? It would almost be like science.

Let’s do be a bit serious for a moment. Imagine what kind of information we could acquire and what kinds of questions we could ask and answer. For sure there will be very reasonable concerns about how much we will be able to extrapolate from medicine to other areas of employment (advertising, investment banking, etc.), but it’s a great place to start. The question of the Gender Gap is primary, but how about looking at work across the generations. There is a “feeling” in medicine, certainly among crusty old folks in my generation, that younger physicians of both genders work fewer hours and do less work per hour when they do work. Is that true? It sure looks like it would be easy to answer that one, too.

There are actually a number of other issues in medicine that would be clarified if we had this kind of data, at least insofar as the work done is concerned. For example, how do private practitioners stack up against salaried physicians in large groups? Is there a correlation between how those salaries are determined and the intensity of work done? We can also look at value, work done per dollar paid (again, assuming equal outcomes). Where are we getting the best bang for our buck? For that matter, with the EMR’s that never sleep we can actually look at the responsiveness of doctors to their patients in urgent or emergent circumstances. Is there one group (men vs. women, private practice vs. employed) who are more responsive?

Having a discussion that is based on hard definitions of terms and data-driven rather than belief-driven opens up a whole world of meaningful inquiry.

Once upon a time I was among the highest paid physicians in the U.S. I worked insane hours, and the intensity of my hourly output was off the charts. In a word, I earned every penny I made, and the fact that I made more than another ophthalmologist had nothing to do with the fact that I was a man. Funny thing though–I now make a fraction of what I once made because I don’t work as much as I once did. The intensity of my work is similar; I still do as much work per unit of time, and my ability to perform at this high level of intensity is still greater than 95% of my peers, I just work fewer hours. What are we to say about women who do what I do, work more hours than I do, and yet do less work? Is there a gender gap in pay if I make more money than they do? What are we to say about my ambitious female colleagues who work more hours than I and work at the same intensity? I’m firmly stating that they should make more than I do. Is that the reality on the ground?

In medicine we have the ability to answer this question in a very objective, non-ideological way. I don’t know if what we find will be something we can extrapolate to other jobs, especially if we find that pay is directly related to actual work done in a domain where work can be both defined and measured. But hey, it’s a start. And it’s way better than just playing emotional whack-a-mole with how we value what we all do.


Sunday musings 4/10/16

Sunday musings…

1) Fervidity. Heated or vehement in spirit. How you might describe the way CrossFitters all talk about CrossFit.

2) Eagle. There is a nesting pair of bald eagles a couple of miles from my house. The nest is in a tree that stands in the back of the playground of an elementary school. Truth. How cool is that? There are two chicks and one egg left to hatch. How do I know this? Again, too cool for school: there is a webcam above the nest in the tree and a live feed of the nest! ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZnb3jQ2YZo ).

It was nothing short of awe-inspiring yesterday watching a snow and ice-covered mother eagle sit on her chicks while the father searched the frozen (22 degrees in CLE) landscape for food. Symbolic, indeed.

3) Nutrition. Once upon a time my son Randy, John Brown and I had breakfast with two other CrossFitters on the morning of a cert. Randy, John and I were all Zoners at the time, our companions Paleo. What we three thought was a conversation about the science of nutrition soon turned out to actually be something more akin to a religious discussion, so fervent were our companions about their belief in the rightness of their chosen strategy. Like so many things these days, beliefs so tightly held and so wrapped up in a kind of emotional embrace makes it very difficult to have any kind of meaningful, rational conversation in which actionable ideas might be exchanged.

If it’s so hard to do this among very well-read, inquisitive CrossFit adherents, imagine the carnage that comes when people without this degree of self-determination blindly follow guidelines that are either outdated or just flat-out wrong. While doing some research on cardiac risk factors I stumbled upon dietary questions in several formulas, some from stalwarts such as the Mayo Clinic and the American Heart Association. A blanket condemnation of saturated fats continues to be propagated by these general consumption publications. The masses are still led by sheep.

The lesson for us, of course, is to continue on our quest not only for the macro-information (non-trans fat is good, processed is bad), but also the individualized micro-information that applies in a very specific way to each of us individually. There is science aplenty out there, ripe for the picking. So much of it, that there is most likely more than one way for each of us to skin our particular cat. 5+4=9, but so do 6+3, 7+2, and 8+1. For that matter, go ahead…be crazy…3+3+3=9 too! Your solution can be as simple or as complex as you can or wish to make it.

Just make sure you are making your nutrition decisions based on the individual application of science.

4) Reaper. Death is stalking the White family. This makes us no different from your family; death comes for us all. Rare among us is the one who knows when the knock will come. Yet come it will. Today it came for a little girl who rode horses with my wife Beth, taken at 12, alone in the gloaming, an unseen calamity leaving behind, well, everything and everyone. In this there is nothing special about White family. It is simply our time, our turn for Death to stalk our circle. Death takes us all, and we have very little choice about when it does.

Life, though, is a very different thing entirely. Life, you see, can be taken by the reins and ridden for all its worth. We need not sit back and let life come to us like a horse at the far end of the field. It may, come for us that is, but it just as well may not. Like that horse, though, we can go right over and get it, hop on, and ride like hell.

That’s the beauty of life. Of living. Being alive is a full-contact participatory sport. Every day you get to wake up is just chockablock filled with literally herds of horses just there for the riding. Some days you’re ready for literally anything and it’s off after that fire-breathing stallion and a gallop for the ages. Others, it’s all you can do to pull yourself into the creaky old saddle of a ancient herdy-gerdy pony barely able to put one foot ahead of the other.

No matter. You’re alive. You woke up again and you looked into that pasture at all of those horses, chose one, and started to ride.

Death may indeed be stalking us, stalking you and me, but today is not our day. Uh uh, not today. Today we are alive. We are surrounded by our people, here and everywhere. Our circle is full. Today you have your people, and your people have you. This is not a day to be “not dying”, this is a day to be living. Choose a horse. Take the reins.

For today, we ride.

I’ll see you next week…


In Memoriam CrossFit Bingo, nee Comet CrossFit

The dreams are weird, man. If I dream at all I rarely remember them, but it’s been one dream after another these last couple of nights, and I awaken with a memory of each one as clear as if I’d just walked out of a theater. They all follow the same pattern, though the details of the story differ a bit. I’m invited to join a group that’s far outside my usual fare. We combat others outside our group who wish us harm, but as the group grows internal turmoil brings danger within, and some I once knew as colleagues become something else. It’s always dark, sometimes with a faint brown or yellow tinge, but always too dark to see more than a city block ahead. In that block’s worth of view are people, both in the group and out, who look to me for…something. To stay or to go? The dream always ends the same way, my back to a door closing behind me, a nearly unlit street filled with these people ahead.

Friday marked the last day for our family’s Affiliate CrossFit Bingo/nee Comet CrossFit.

We finished up a week of CrossFit benchmarks with “Fran”. It was eerie: everybody PR’d. 15 hearty souls remained of the more than 200 who became CrossFitters at Comet/Bingo, joining the 50 or so who’d started elsewhere. It was hard to see the clock; I kept getting something in my eye.

Parts of this story have been told before. 4 1/2 years ago my sons opened a Box far from where they’d grown up, opting to strike out on their own while at the same time respecting the zones around the 2 Affiliates then open in the area. It was a much more innocent time in all ways CrossFit. The CrossFit Games had just moved to LA from the Ranch. The 5,000 or so Affiliates were still spread out, buffer zones between most, at least outside of SoCal. Coach Glassman  told The Boys “It’s fun, and it’s easy!”, and by and large it was both. “What’s CrossFit” was the first question you answered for 95% of the people who walked through the door. It wasn’t so much a business as it was a bit of a calling, really.

As parents it was a thrill to see our boys working together, although we knew that part of it was surely temporary. My oldest Dan was the leader; he found his effective voice while launching Comet CrossFit. “The Heir”, despite his vehement discussion-ending declarations that “this is my career”, soon enough found his true calling in the law and headed off to Law School and Business School. Comet/Bingo gave him the time and space to learn a bit more about who he was and what he was meant to do. Beth and I are forever grateful that Comet/Bingo and his brother were there for that, for him.

For Lil’bingo, though, we were quite convinced that this was it. That this CrossFit thing was what he was supposed to do. In many ways we were right, and in many ways he would agree. Randy, you see, was more than a bit shy around people he didn’t know, and not quite sure of himself in new settings. But boy, could he coach. From the very start he had an exceptional eye for movement, and an uncanny ability to present just the right cue to his athlete to effect the change necessary to improve. In time this repeated success brought a greater, broader confidence to him, one that made him defer less and be more willing to share his mind in all aspects of his life.

And like so many other instances of transference in CrossFit, where lessons and actions in movement translate into similar behaviors in life, we saw that strong desire to help manifest itself literally every waking moment in his life. His repeated success as a coach has given him the confidence he lacked when he graduated from high school, and now he will take this newfound confidence with him to college. We, his Mom and Dad, are forever grateful for these 4 1/2 years of personal growth for him as a gym owner and coach.

So was Coach Glassman right? Was it fun and easy? Well, like most things, the answer is yes and no, and that’s probably where my dreams come from. Beth and I had a chance to be coaches at our sons’ gym, and there’s no question that the coaching is fun. It’s just a thrill to see people get better, to go beyond what they ever imagined for themselves. Physical changes and newfound abilities translate to a confidence in self that is nothing short of amazing, and we got to share that sense of accomplishment with other trainers who can trace their lineage to that gymnast in Santa Cruz. No doubt man, that was fun.

Our sons have both grown into the next version of who they are destined to be, helped along in the process by the priceless experience of running a business whose sole purpose was to make their clients better. Each of our boys in turn is now a better version of their potential selves for having done this. As parents we are grateful for this, for CrossFit.

And what of us? Well, for me and my dreams, I’m going to go with that door being Comet/Bingo and leave it at that. Those folks in the dreams who seemed to wish me harm because of my association, whatever my mysterious group may have been? Well, they may or may not be real, and since I can’t really see them clearly in the dark and the mist, I’m not going to look too very hard for them or at them. No, I think the dream is really about those folks in front of me who seem to be looking for help, or maybe looking with a bit of sadness as they, too, watch the door close behind me. I feel what they feel. I’m pretty sure I’ll always feel what they feel.

If you’re wondering, I’ll aim for that little bit of faint yellow in the sky beyond the mist, beyond my view. Maybe some of those friendly souls in my dream will follow. I really have no idea what’s there, just a sense that there’s a next for me too, something that I’ve grown to be from having Comet/Bingo. Like my sons.

I’m pretty sure my darling Beth is already there, waiting for me.

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