Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for November, 2019

Thanksgiving musings…

Thanksgiving musings…

For pretty much my entire adult life I have tried very hard to live by one of the core tenets of Taoism: the man who knows when enough is enough will always have enough. Through times both thicker and thinner, the more closely I’ve been able to hue to the intent here the happier I’ve been. For Thanksgiving Day I’ve come upon a companion piece that may very well bookend a philosophy for life.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” (HT Mrs. Bill Livingston)

Enough is a truly powerful thing. Enough is the portal to satisfaction, if not happiness. Enough is the antidote to yearning, to wanting. Once you have enough there is no reason to covet. After enough anything else is a bonus, life’s equivalent of that overflowing Holiday cornucopia. Gratitude is a straight shot to enough. On this Thanksgiving Day I am grateful for all that I have, for as long as I have had it.

For a life where for so very long enough has been enough.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Holiday Rituals: Sunday musings…11/24/19

“The sign of a healthy ritual is one that can be changed.”

This is my favorite time of year. Thanksgiving, that is. I’m not so much a fan of the whole “Holiday Season” thing, given that it’s all about the commerce of Christmas. What I really love is Thanksgiving. It’s pure, or at least as pure as a holiday can be in our hyper market-driven American lives. For those of you who are now being launched out of your chairs with a knee-jerk response about the heinous effect of the Pilgrims on the indigenous natives here long before the westward move from Europe, save your breath. What I’m talking about is not in any way related to anything historical other than the traditional myth of generosity and comity I first learned about in kindergarten. Thanksgiving for me is simple and pure. We gather and break bread, the only reason to do so being that we are thankful for the opportunity.

We joke in the White family that our traditions, especially those around holidays, are set in stone. Do it twice and it’s as permanent as Stonehenge. While this is certainly true on average, looking back there have been some mileposts where a turn was made. Actually, more than a few. In the earliest of days my maternal grandparents hosted Thanksgiving in New Jersey. This went on until my Dad had enough of traveling with 3 and then 4 little ones. Turkey Day moved to our home for the next 20 years or so. I have to admit that I don’t remember whether or not Gamma and Gramp were there in the tiny house in Southbridge; I cannot remember a Thanksgiving without Gamma once we moved to RI, at least after Gramp died.

Why can’t I remember where she sat?

Take a moment and think about your family meal. What time did you eat as a kid? Do you remember why that was the time? And the meal itself; what did your family eat and how was it prepared? It was always the same, each year, right? We were a football house. In RI every high school has a Thanksgiving Day game. Same for Massachusetts. The annual rivalry with Bartlett (Webster) has been a thing in Southbridge for decades. I got to play in one as a freshman, but I can remember going to the game to see our childhood heroes, the gods who strapped on the pads for the Pioneers, from my grade school years. My first cup of coffee was at at Bartlett/Southbridge Thanksgiving Day game when they ran out of hot chocolate. We ate around 3 if memory serves. The games began at 11 and were done by 1:00. Long after I hung up my cleats in RI we all piled on our warmest outerwear and watched Lincoln High play its annual version of the game.

Stuff starts to change when you get married and the whole in-law thing enters into the Holiday equation. Beth and I are both first-born, first-married, first to have kids (and grandkids) in both of our families. Since our families lived 6 or 7 hours apart there was no way to pull off the double-dinner dance so delicately done by countless friends who married local. It’s funny how you notice the differences in family traditions so much more than that which is the same. The Whites and the Hursts all ended up with magnificent meals, both nutritionally and spiritually satisfying in every way, albeit by vastly different routes. Beth’s family sourced everything locally, each item plucked from the farm within days of Thanksgiving, every course and dessert made from scratch. In our house the turkey was frozen long before dinner, and the only things made from scratch were the mashed potatoes (Dad was very particular about them) and the stuffing.

And yet both meals were the best meals I ate every single year because they were baked in love and enjoyed in the company of those I loved and who loved me.

Change has continued to come to our Thanksgiving rituals as the next generation went to college and began to (yikes!) marry themselves. Two generations of in-laws to manage now. Whoa. Children living out of town with job schedules and travel logistics to contend with. Siblings who live close enough to give at least a passing thought to joining around a single table, and other sets of siblings just far enough apart that to do so would require a quantum computer and a Papal decree. Our little family alternates years as we did for so long when our kids were young. This is an “off” year for us. Beth and I will see one child and his family for a short time at brunch. That will be it for our family gathering, at least on Thanksgiving Day. Another family will fold us into the embrace of their ritual, a change for both of us.

The details change, but do the rituals of Thanksgiving change as well? I don’t think so. At least not enough to change how I feel about Thanksgiving or how I remember our Thanksgivings of yore. We will enjoy the rituals that have surrounded the signature ritual, the Thanksgiving Day meal, and for this year they will be enough. Pizza on Wednesday to usher in the Holiday, and the best steaks we can find on Friday. On Saturday I’ll try to find some way to serve lasagna; we always had Mrs. Cunniff’s ready to defrost after 3 days of leftovers. I’ll bring Cakebread Chardonnay (and think of my sister Tracey) to our friends’ house for dinner, almost 30 years of ritual in that little gesture alone. With those steaks we will drink Chateauneuf de Pape, the only wine my Dad could identify; he had the world’s worst palate and was subsequently the easiest wine drinker to please except on the Friday after Thanksgiving when only Chateauneuf de Pape would do.

The sweet sadness of change will be lightened for me by the strength of the rituals that persist. Each one has grown to fill the space created by inevitable change. By both loss and gain. The rituals that we have now have come from the same place as those they have replaced, a place of love, a place filled with thanks for that love. Yes, this is my favorite time of year. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Mary Poppins and Politics: Sunday musings…11/11/19

Sunday musings…

1) Wit. “Mustard’s Last Stand”. Name of a hot dog stand at Northwestern.

2) Streaming. Lots of churn about streaming fatigue, overload, etc. So many/too many new options layered on top of shows and movies you still need to catch up on. What’s a body to do?

I’m gonna read a book.

3) Burberry. I stumbled upon several articles talking about the new creative director of venerable clothing brand Burberry. All of them talked about their plans to change stuff there. While I am not a regular customer by any means I have had a couple of pieces from Burberry that fit my style and stood the test of time. Which begs the question: why must Burberry, or for that matter any iconic brand known for a particular whatever, change? Evolution seems proper, maybe even inevitable, but the incessant demand for the traditional to change is confusing to me.

Why must change be considered as a mandate rather than an option, especially in a successful endeavor?

I admit that I poke fun at fashion with some regularity, typically timed by the semi-annual release of fashion issues of the big national newspaper magazines. My fascination with the absurdity of what is promoted as good, or even possible knows no bounds. Nobody wears that nonsense, yet lots of somebodies continue to wear garments that are instantly recognizable as Burberry. Does this not denote success? Is this not what a successful venture of any kind in any space would seek to perpetuate? I think of the pillars of healthcare delivery, known for excellence in certain spheres because of their ability to successfully treat the most complex cases imaginable. One of them here in town has a new “creative director” who has decided that change means the equivalent of mass market growth in fashion. Like Givenchy designing and selling volume in Kmart.

How long can a successful brand sustain change before what made it successful has been diluted to the point of nonexistence? How many places can the iconic Burberry plaid be placed before it’s just another color? How far from the classic pieces for which it is known can the new creative director take the Burberry style before it’s no longer Burberry?

These are questions that apply everywhere a traditional product, brand, or name means something.

4) Candidate. Much noise has been generated by Michael Bloomberg’s flirtation with a run for the Democratic nomination for president. He is a political chameleon, running now as a Democrat after a run for mayor of NYC as both a Republican and an Independent. Mostly a down-the-line progressive when it comes to social issues he nonetheless has a couple of positions that would appeal to conservatives; his record for law and order in New York appeals to conservatives while at the same time revolting progressives due to the tactics utilized to achieve the goal. A billionaire many times over he seemed to find a balance in NY between promoting business and the creation of wealth while simultaneously protecting those at the bottom of the economic pile. As much as anyone in New York can, anyway. He likely gets bludgeoned in the primaries even though it is equally likely that he would win the presidential election in a landslide.

As interesting and intriguing as Mr. Bloomberg may be his potential entry into the race makes me think of the most impressive national figure I can think of in my lifetime who should have run for President, Condoleezza Rice. Ms. Rice was Secretary of State under Bush and is now a professor at Stanford among other pursuits. Possessed of a nearly unmatchable intelligence among recent government officials both elected and selected, she checks every conceivable box both as a candidate and as someone prepared to govern. I think I can trace my dissatisfaction with both politics and government in part to her decision to withdraw from public life. Not since Paul Tsongas withdrew from the ’92 race due to illness have I felt like the right person was there to be chosen. Her absence from the national conversation borders on tragic.

I fear that we are thus doomed to at least 5 years of braying from the far Right and Left, or just plain old braying if we have 4 more years of 45. In the absence of someone like Ms. Rice, someone of substance who transcends the pettiness of our politics, I will spend another 4 years waiting. Waiting for someone of substance who will speak to me and the 10’s of millions of us who inhabit the center of American politics. Some a little left and others a bit right of center, but all of us clustered far from what it apparently takes to be nominated to run for either party. I will wait for someone who makes me think of Mr. Tsongas or Ms. Rice. Individuals of arching intelligence and substance who have lived lives that citizens of all political leaning can agree have been honorable. Ethical. Candidates who will take and hold principled positions without denigrating or dismissing those who disagree. Someone who can both campaign and govern.

Watching her leave her post as U.N. Ambassador after a successful run as Governor of South Carolina I felt like Bert, looking skyward as Mary Poppins flies away after saving the Banks children. So long Nikki Haley. Don’t stay away too long.

I’ll see you next week…



“Traditional CrossFit” Sunday Musings…11/3/19

1) Fall. As in fall back. Daylight Savings time is over. I will miss our sunsets.

That extra hour of sleep, though…

2) Toddler. We have been hosting our little Man Cub (and his Dad) while the Pipsqueak is away with her Mom. Nothing, and I mean nothing up to and including fusion, produces more energy over the course of a day than a male toddler.

Even that extra hour of sleep isn’t enough to catch up.

3) Goals. Mens Journal has a fluff piece about Michael Strahan in last month’s issue. Seems like a nice enough guy (though you’d like to see one of these whirling dervish success types manage to stay married). Got lots on his plates. It’s a fun peek into his work week. As is often the case there is a little gem tucked into the text, this one about how he sets goals: SMART.

Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Realistic. Time-Bound.

“Attainable” and “Realistic” are redundant, but the idea behind this little ditty is pretty good. After reading this I fired off an email to one of my teams at work about a service that we have not successfully integrated into our business. While we may still fail, putting my proposal in this format at least makes our process a better one.

As is so often the case it was worth reading about one more golf-obsessed retired athlete to get this one little pearl.

4) Traditional. Those of you (both of you?) who have been reading these Sunday missives for a bit will remember that “Sunday musings…” was  my way of giving back to the (much younger, earlier version) of the CrossFit community. I discovered CrossFit in 2005 and began to interact online in 2006. The website also had a Message Board back then; folks got to know one another in what I called the “cyber gym” both on CrossFit.com and the Board. Those free-wheeling, wild west spaces are long gone, replaced by a subscription/sign-in and monitored corporate locale befitting the grown-up business that CrossFit has become.

On Instagram, a place I do not visit, a pundit in the fitness arena opined that “Traditional CrossFit” is no longer, and that his version of “smarter” CrossFit was now what one should practice. What he is actually saying is that the practice of “CrossFit, the Sport of Fitness” is no longer what the masses should be doing, because so-called traditional CrossFit has really never gone away. The very best affiliate gyms have always used the kind of CrossFit that you found on CrossFit.com (with rational scaling options provided each night from BrandX)  from 2005 through around 2011 or 12.

While I no longer have any type of relationship with CrossFit, Inc. or a local affiliate gym (though I continue to be very friendly with the owners of the original Box here in Cleveland), I still work out much as I did when I discovered CrossFit in 2005 (interestingly in a Mens Journal article). There is still wisdom in the original version of “What is Fitness” published in the CFJ volume 2 ( the re-edited version is not of the same quality; I wish I’d saved a copy of the original). Constantly varied (do lots of different things) functional movements (do exercises that involve the whole body, not isolated parts) performed at RELATIVELY high intensity. That last part has always been key, and it is one of the parts that, if forgotten, leads to suboptimal outcomes and injury: intensity is relative to the individual on any given day. At 59 (and coming off a hip replacement) I am hardly going to have the same intensity I had when I started CF at 45.

Form, or technique (do the exercises properly), consistency (do the exercises properly all the time; adhere to a schedule of exercise and recovery), and only then intensity. This was once dogma that was unassailable. The “gamesification” of CF after 2012 prompted many a gym to lose this as they chased the competitor and as members chased competitions they had no business chasing. “What is Fitness” also introduced the masses to the 10 Characteristics of Fitness and the concept that a truly fit individual was equally competent in all 10. That IG opinionater  makes the classic mistake of stating that strength is more important than the other 9 characteristics. This  is as misguided as one of my other favorite reads, Outside Magazine, which consistently posits that cardiovascular endurance is the sine qua non of athleticism. Jeff Martin of The Brand X Method (who has no affiliation with CrossFit) should be credited with the real insight regarding strength: the vast majority of individuals are under-strong relative to the other 9 characteristics, and therefore supplemental strength training is necessary.

It’s not necessary to learn that IG opinionator’s name because he is just the most recent example of someone who almost gets it. Man, the conversations we had about this stuff in those halcyon days of CrossFit.com–scaling, strength, additional work, recovery–my kids called in “CrackFit” because we were all so into the intellectual side of this new way to approach fitness. Without a doubt “CrossFit the business” bears little resemblance to those early days, but the very particular way “CrossFit the program” applied classic HIIT principles was, and still is, revolutionary. Layering on traditional training techniques (periodization, supplemental exercises to address weaknesses) while remaining firmly committed to the original core principles (technique -> consistency -> intensity, etc.) is simply proper evolution.

With or without CrossFit, Inc. that particular era is far from over.

I’ll see you next week…


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