Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for September, 2020

Time, Empty and Otherwise: Sunday musings…9/27/2020

1 Mountaineer. “Conquistadors of the useless.” Famed French mountaineer describing those of his ilk. Plenty of other groups and activities come to mind that could suffer the same label.

2 Sap. It is the American Dream to not be taken for a sap. Think about it. You take your place in line for the highway exit and some SOB flies by on the left, cuts in, and escapes the queue. You’re not sure if you hate him for being a jerk or for making you feel like a sap.

My car is broken. In the most 2020 of 2020 things the warranty ran out a year before I thought it was due to do so in January of 2020. I am now in the position where no matter what I do I will feel like a sap. Fix it and drive it? Fix and and sell it? A part of me feels “taken” by the dealership that sold me a car that barely made it to 5 years old. That the same dealership offered me $0.33 on the dollar of its open market value if I trade it in to them means they look at me coming and see “sap”.

Pretty sure that guy on the highway was a car salesman.

3 Time. The WSJ runs a column in its magazine in which “luminaries” weigh in on a single topic. This month it was “Time”. Two of them, Ayad Akhtar and Lily Cole hit on the top end of themes that I’ve returned to many times over the years and prompted me to consider time in the context of my life today. Akhtar, a writer, spoke about creating an “ever present now” while Cole, an actress I believe, was more interested in “empty time”, a gift that could be used to advance culture through open ended thought without the boundary of a deadline. Both were tiny little nuggets of wisdom, seeds planted that have germinated over the last couple of weeks and sprouted today.

Time is so often consumed in a rather mindless, programmed manner. The work week. Schools nights filled with homework. Flight schedules. There is very little mindfulness in following a schedule; it’s all laid out in front of you as long as you perform the simple act of awakening and leaving your bed. If you are good at what you do it is often possible to simply coast through, minutes and hours passing as do so many ounces of fuel powering a car on autopilot. It’s certainly not “empty time” in the manner that Lily Cole describes, nor can it really be described as an “ever-present now” per Akahtar since so little of your presence (beyond, you know, your presence) is actually required.

These strange times when we are obligated to live lives that are substantially smaller than our pre-pandemic lives have given all kinds of new meanings to “time”. For me time has sped up. Weird, eh? You would think that with so much sameness, so little latitude to move outside of my work/home orbits that time would slow down. Nope. Not for me. With few events (trips, for example) on the horizon to look forward to time just rushes on from hour to hour, day to day. I never really noticed how slowly time once moved when I was looking forward to something until there was no real difference between the hours and the days, no hour or day that had a “flag on the horizon” attached to it.

It appears that a life seemingly spent in near constant pursuit of discrete goals, which is suddenly devoid of flags to capture, requires a bit of rethinking.

It is important at this point in my thoughts to emphasize that my own concept of “empty time” may be somewhat different from Cole’s concept. Mine is very specific: time when I am both unaccountable to anyone for anything, and all alone (or accompanied by only little Sasha). Cole may include unstructured time in the company of others that is specifically set aside for “big thoughts”. Not I. “Empty time” is alone time. Time spent with little to no agenda or goals in mind but spent in the company of others, especially that spent with Beth, doesn’t fit my personal sense of “empty”, ever. Regardless of our agenda (or lack of agenda) time with Beth is the fullest and most fulfilling time I experience. For me, “empty” includes “alone”.

The unusual “pandemic gift” of “empty time”, time alone in which I am not responsible to anyone, have no requests or demands, is starting to seem to be a gift that must be repaid by eventually being fully present there in the “now” that Akhtar describes. Perhaps that means a new pursuit or challenge, or maybe a return to something prior that still has some meaning in the now. For the moment it is probably best to simply try to make every one of my “times” an “ever present now”. Best if I seek all of the richness that is there in even those times that are the same as they were yesterday, and the same as they will be tomorrow, in a long line of tomorrows that seem to stretch across what today appears to be a horizon without end.

These strange times will end. Flags will appear on the horizon once again; time will once more slow down each time we take aim and move toward them. Empty time alone will still be there, to be sure, just much less of it. Now is not so much the time to despair for flags unseen; it is time to prepare for one last stretch in which time of all kinds is once again the most valuable thing each of us needs more of.

Empty or otherwise, time always runs out.

Sunday musings…9/20/2020

1 Split. Driving home yesterday I watched a couple of young men splitting logs the old-fashioned way, with sledge hammer and wedge. Brought back crazy memories of my childhood home in RI. My Dad decided that my brother and I would split the logs created when the land was cleared for our house. My Dad was a master. Never missed a strike. My brother and I? Not so much.

To this day I can still see the look of utter disgust on his face as we handed him broken handles from our mishits.

2 Open. Today I will watch the final round of the 2020 U.S. Open Golf Championship. Note that this is the first Open held in the fall since 1913 when Francis Ouimet one his first. Beth and Sasha will keep me company, but like the memory of my Dad and our poorly done chore, my living room will be filled with memories of Dad and golf. Even in the years long after I’d left home we would find ourselves on the phone for a bit as we watched the carnage that was the back nine of a U.S. Open.

I’m hoping to hear from my brother later on. It won’t be quite the same of course, and we will each feel that difference. Still, Dad’s spirit will be with us.

3 Expert. “Be and expert in a small subject so that you can make a difference.” –Barbara Judge.

In may ways Ms. Judge states the obvious: it is easier to be a factor if you attempt to move the needle in a very small venue or subject. Still, it is interesting to see how many people spread themselves far afield from whatever area in which they make their first mark. It’s one thing to move sequentially from one small subject on to a next; what is striking is how often it seems “experts” begin to seek to apply their expertise on ever larger subjects upon ever larger stages.

It’s as if eminence is as addictive as power.

In my professional life I find myself doing more and more of less and less. Interestingly, at least outside of the office, the narrowing of my expertise as far as subject goes actually allows me to apply that knowledge more widely across that professional world. An interesting phenomenon that comes from the fact that my “subject” is more process driven than idea specific.

While I didn’t choose my particular professional subject with external impact in mind, as I enter the last few innings of the most active part of my career I am hopeful that Ms. Judge is correct. It would be nice to look back some day and be able to say I did make a difference, however small it might have been.

4 Balance. Last evening I discovered that my life is woefully out of balance. Not the classic work/life balance thing; Lovely Daughter and I are convinced that there is no such thing. Life includes work so that there is no way to balance an element that cannot be meaningfully separated from the whole. One seeks harmony among all of the elements that make up a life, including work.

But I digress. There is, indeed, a significant imbalance in my life. I noticed it last night as Beth and I began to prepare dinner. Per usual one of my tasks was to choose an aperitif. As I got my ingredients together and we mulled over our options I stumbled upon a heretofore undetected imbalance in my life:

My lemon/lime ratio is totally skewed; I do not make enough cocktails in which lemons are the primary fruit.

I know, I know, it’s not much of a big deal. Or shouldn’t be, anyway. But I’m the guy who survived the Great Pandemic Lockdown by “Drinking with John Starr”, going 17 consecutive “5:00 somewheres” without repeating a cocktail. Heck, I have a book outlined about that adventure (wonder if John will let me use that as my title?). My refrigerator is chockablock filled with lemons, and if I have a yen for a lime-based elixir it will have to be one in which just a whiff is all I need.

How could such a thing happen? We don’t drink exactly the same drinks so I have a chance to expand my repertoire even if I’m not the one to enjoy the effort. And yet, there they are. 20 lemons surrounding 6 lonely limes. They’ve been there for a bit, too. No one I know has maintained their inner Hemingway or Faulkner-like pace since we were released from our bar seats-in-place.

My friends, I am at a loss. I am turning to you to help me regain balance in this most important part of life. Help me to realign my citrus priorities by sending me your favorite lemon-based cocktails. Send me a comment on the blog or reply on FB. Do look above your response and check to see if someone beat you to a favorite. Who knows? Maybe we will come up with enough stuff for another book Idea.

“A Life in Balance: when the world gives you lemons AND limes.”

I’ll see you next week…

Three Simple Steps and a Lot of Hard Work: Our 35th Anniversary

35 years! My Heavens, who could have imagined it way back when. My darling Beth and I started dating roughly 3 weeks into my first year of med school. Her toothbrush showed up in January when I got an apartment with a classmate, and pretty much everything else arrived a month or so later. Though the wonder of Facebook, where pictures of our pictures now live, I could look back at us when we were barely our of our teens.

There’s not a single wrinkle between us!

We are winding down from 10 or so days of celebrating our marriage. How does one do it? Stay together for 38 years, 35 of them married? I’ve certainly shed many electrons into the internet talking about this over the years but the simple things we’ve done bear repeating for their very simplicity and what is likely near universal application. There are just three, though of course those three branch out into about 3 million versions if you are the super analytical type. But for me, for us and for the family that came from that first date so long ago, it’s really just three.

Put your marriage, your relationship with your spouse, first. Center your life going forward there. Run every significant decision over which you have some control through the filter of how it will affect this one central facet of your life going forward. Will something enhance the marriage? Pretty much a no-brainer in most cases. Gonna hit the marriage hard? Man, the consequences of not making that choice have to be awfully dire to even need to have a conversation. Neutral, neither good nor bad? These are by far the most common forks in your roads traveled. There’s nothing better in these cases than sitting down together and hashing through what each or you desire. Our strategy was an unspoken agreement to take turns putting our “wants” first.

How do you make sure that things are turning out fairly equally in all of those “toss-up” decisions? That’s where the second of our three essentials kicks in: marriage is not a 50/50 proposition, it’s 100/100! Each person needs to commit 100% to the marriage. You can’t really keep score if you are both committed to the relationship and committed to each other. You’re not meeting halfway in or toward some goal, you are both moving together, 100% in each other’s corner. Believing and living like this makes it pretty hard to be too very selfish on a consistent basis.

And there are some pretty big decisions to make over time, some that will necessitate one or the other of you taking a bit of a back seat for awhile. Where to live? Kids, yay or nay? If yay, does someone stay home? Who will that be? Running and gunning for the big house/fancy car or laying back and chilling with only what you need? Some things will feel way bigger than they really are: Country club or horse stall? Still others will be comic relief: red wine or white? Or beer?! Over time if you are 100/100 you simply can’t help but be happier when you are 100% about being happier together.

Which leads me to the last of our three gems, one that we’ve been teaching since we stumbled upon it as comically broke new parents: never stop courting each other. Never stop falling in love. Tactically this is actually pretty simple: never stop dating. We’re a tiny bit famous in our little universe for our rabid devotion to “Date Night”. It started out so small. We were so short of money that we couldn’t really afford a babysitter AND dinner or a movie. Or really anything. Our first post kids date was a single cup of coffee we shared while we held hands in a booth at Burger King. $1.10 for the coffee, priceless for our marriage.

All through our years of raising our kids, building businesses and all the rest, Date Night has stood firm. Makes sense, right? No matter what, we have essentially told the world, and reaffirmed to one another, that our marriage sits at the center of our lives. Committing 100% to Date Night was a proxy for our 100/100 to the marriage. Date Night was often when we banged around our decisions, big and small. When we talked about what we might want, big and small. Whose turn it was going to be. Where we celebrated our successes and, yes, licked our wounds when things didn’t turn out quite the way we’d hoped.

I fall a little bit more in love with Beth every day; it just seems like it’s always been a little bit more on Date Night.

That’s it? Just three things and here we are, 35 years? It’s simple, but it’s not easy. Things that are worth it, things that are important rarely are. Put the two of you at the center of all you do and then commit 100% to you together. Court each other like you’re just starting out; keep on falling in love with each other. Just three simple things you promise to do better than anything else you do in your lives.

That’s it.

Happy Anniversary, Dollie.

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