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The Heart of Thanksgiving: Sunday musings…11/29/2020

Sunday musings…11/29/2020

“This is my family. It’s little and broken, but still good. Yah, still good.” –Stitch

My professional buddy Mark sent a WhatsApp chat to our little group this morning, a picture of his family reunited after many, many weeks apart. It began with “After social distancing on steroids”, very much a universal sentiment in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, don’t you think? It certainly was for us. 

We had it going both ways in our little family. One child distanced out of town, imposing guidelines on everyone so that they could make it home. They were rewarded with a plane containing only two other passengers and a nearly empty airport on both ends of the trip. Sadly, our gathering with another child was delayed because of the contact of a contact. Despite everyone in the household playing by the rules a chance encounter at work by a contact’s contact forced everyone to wait on a test result (which blessedly came back negative). My Mom self-quarantined for 10 days so that she could enter my brother’s bubble. 

There’s nothing special about any of these stories, just that they are mine. Both of you reading my stuff did the same, and your people did, too. The “why” is really quite simple: Thanksgiving is about family. Not the turkey and the fixin’s. Not the annual Thanksgiving Day high school football grudge match played every year since 1920. Just family, and if you’re lucky, being with your family or what stands in for family (like Stitch). There are no gifts involved, no commerce or commercialism. The gift you give is in the effort you make to be present with and for family.

Thanksgiving is when you choose to be together. Hardships are understood and forgiven. Warmth is the abiding feeling, at least after you come home from that football game. The only thing burning is the fire in the hearth, and perhaps the garage where your uncle was frying a turkey. Burning issues are set aside for another time. Heat in the room comes from the blanket that’s been on your grandmother’s couch since you were a toddler. 

At least once on Thanksgiving you find yourself in a quiet place and you just sit and watch. And listen. You close your eyes for a moment and you feel 10, 20, maybe 50 years younger. Everyone is there. Everyone from forever. There’s your Gramp finishing the crossword puzzle. Mom is finishing the dishes while your Gram puts away the stuffing. Grampa is putting an old album on the record player. Grammy is passing out pieces of pie. A crowd is gathered around the pot where your brother is making turkey soup, the annual battle over how much to put into the soup vs. leave out for sandwiches is in its full glory. Cards are snapping off the deck, each new log explodes as it hits the fire, Dad is snoring. It’s every year, right there in this year. You open your eyes and just for a moment you can still see them all. 

Thanksgiving is that one time each year where you gather family together, in person or in spirit, and celebrate that you have each other. All families are little in more ways than not, even if they have many members. Likewise, all families are a little bit broken in some way at some times. But for the most part Stitch is right, all families are still good. Thanksgiving is when we remember that. When we give thanks for that.  Being together is wonderful if it’s possible, but this year teaches us that Thanksgiving is not at a football game or on a table. 

This year and every year Thanksgiving lives in our hearts. 

I’ll see you next week…

Time, Timing, and The Times: Sunday musings…11/22/2020

Time, Timing, and the Times: Sunday musings…11/22/2020

1. Flights. I misread a sentence that began with “flights of fancy” as “flights of decency”. Kinda like that old bumper sticker about “random acts of kindness”. 

Should be a thing, flights of decency.

2. Letters. Beth has an “uncle” who is an artist (as an aside, it’s still hilarious to remember when our kids discovered that Jay wasn’t really related to them). Over the years he has gifted me many times with stationary bearing his work. In truth these cards are so beautiful that I really haven’t had the heart to send them to anyone. It’s sorta like having a case of wine you really love and you just can’t bear the thought of running out.

Still, in these fraught times, despite having bad handwriting even for a doctor who once actually wrote in medical charts, I believe it is time to use Jay’s gifts for what they are intended. Perhaps I will take the opportunity to re-learn cursive, a skill that I might then be allowed to pass on to my Littles as a kind of social gift. 

And maybe, just maybe, Jay will pass on to me the rights to at least one of his drawings so that I can continue to enjoy his gift once the gift of having him here is no longer. 

3. Teleoanticipation. The science of finish lines. Another in the long line of Twitter finds for me. As creatures we seem to be wired to aim for the finish line. Not only is this goal-directed stance productive, but we also gain a sense of structure that leads to a reduction in stress and anxiety no matter how weighty a particular finish line may be. Just the fact that we know something will end, something other than a life that is, brings us a kind of peace. 

If we endure, if we can just carry on, we will make it to the finish line. 

This, as it turns out, is one of the great challenges we all face now as we soldier on through the Pandemic (seems like that should be capitalized). We have no finish line in sight. Not only that, but in something which nearly every public leader has compared to what societies have only faced before in cases of warfare or other devastating plagues, we’ve not received the kind of leadership that prompts one to forge ahead without any finish line in sight. Please note that this statement is not directed at any particular leader or leadership group in any particular city, state, or country. Churchill’s figurative progeny has yet to show their face anywhere on the planet. 

Without inspirational leadership we are left with a challenge without an end in sight. The challenge of living with the Pandemic, both for ourselves and others, is made all the more difficult because we don’t know how to pace ourselves. On Monday I was quite sure that I could see the end after a second company announced the success of their vaccine trial. Today’s newspapers are awash in analyses that explain why the vaccines will have little impact on the race just ahead. The finish line still lies somewhere ahead, out of view, with no guidance as to how far away it might be. 

I have played the game of delayed gratification before. Several times, in fact. Every doctor does so; we give over years of our younger lives to our training in favor of many more years of practicing medicine. Every parent does so as well; the joys (and travails) of raising our children come before most of our personal desires in most cases. But in both of these examples you can see the finish line, at least the finite finish lines of graduations and the new races that begin with them. 

It’s clear to me that a significant part of the anxiety we all feel now is the uncertainty we feel about not being able to see a finish line.

By any account I am in the last 3 innings of my own game of life. There’s just less time left, you know? I’m not saying that I have any strong fear of being sick, getting lifted in the 6th inning, and sent to the last locker room; like everyone I know and love I’m doing my best to stay healthy in all ways. No, what I’m feeling is this sense of running out of time. And not just time in general but the very specific time of being with the people I love. Family and friends here and afar. I see this in tiny decisions I barely know I’m making. I have always loved to read. My brother used to get so mad at my folks when I would get a book for Christmas or my birthday. “Now I won’t get to play with him until he finishes that stupid book.” Just this morning as I cut out the book reviews of my next reads I realized that I’m not really having next reads but rather choosing to do stuff I’d always read through because that other stuff means I am fully “playing with” those around me. 

Listen, I know that it is more than somewhat disingenuous to think of “stay at home” orders as in some way analogous to gathering in shelters during the Battle of Britain. I know that. Still, like those courageous souls who dutifully descended into the darkness to escape the hell raining down from the skies, randomly taking from them their futures, stories abound of the additional challenge those people faced in not knowing when their nightmare would end. Pheidippides did not know how far away he was from Athens when he began his fateful run, but he knew where his finish line was. 

“The last thing we run out of is the future.” Michael J. Fox. 

It is time that this Pandemic is stealing from each of us. The obvious theft of a life lost but also the theft of time that we have always chosen to spend among those we love. Time that we cannot spend in that way. Not knowing how long we will go without those connections, not being able to see the finish line, makes it all the more difficult. There is little comfort here save this: not knowing how long we will be about this is something that is real, something that is hard. It’s OK to feel that.

But as hard as it is, for most of us there is still some future out there. Still some time. Still more miles to be traveled, however near or far our own Athens may be. The most important step is not the next one, it’s the one we are taking right now. We run our race today, with or without seeing the finish line. We own only today. We stand on the mound, the ball still in our hand, ready to make our next pitch. Today.

Our future is the next step. The next pitch. We’ve never really known when we ran out of future, never really seen the finish line. All we’ve ever really had is today. All of our finish lines depend on us staying in the race today. Run today’s race. We can endure. We can carry on. We can reach all of our finish lines.

We can keep on running. 

I’ll see you next week…

“It Tastes Like a Memory”: Sunday musings…11/8/2020

Sunday musings…11/8/2020

1 Consilience. Knitting together of sciences and humanities.

Actually a word. 

2 Polymath. No, not many maths. A person who is knowledgeable or accomplished in many fields or across many disciplines. 

Good at consilience.

3 Single. As in single-payer healthcare. Prepare to hear a whole lot about this. Yesterday on Twitter I was taken to task by someone who works in the NHS system in the UK (not sure if they are a doctor as they did not say, nor does their handle give any indication). As we begin 4 years of the Biden presidency with at least 2 years of a Democratic-led House I predict that financing healthcare will be among the first 5 issues tackled. 

For the record I’m OK with addressing healthcare financing. 

What I won’t be OK with is the condescension leveled at me yesterday by the NHS employee. Their position is basically that as a private practice specialist who has worked under a pure fee for service system, I have no standing in the discussion. I am not a voice to be heard, pre-cancelled, nullified. For two reasons this individual could not be more wrong. As a taker of the Hippocratic Oath I am honor bound to advocate for that which is best for my patients. Every doctor has a seat at this table. 

The second reason my voice should be heard is because of the length of my tenure working in our present system. No, simply being an old guy doesn’t get me a seat. Being old enough to have worked in the system during HMO v1.0 in the 90’s does. You see, HMO’s as constituted in the 1990’s were a very good experiment in how a single-payer system a la the NHS or the Canadian system might work in the U.S. Top-down administration. Financial decisions rather than clinical decisions with regard to covering entire segments of disease, entire classes of medications. Patients and physicians quickly came to loathe how these HMO’s functioned; we actually have data to examine that should allow us to see how NOT to do it if it is to be done. On the positive side we could look to the highly successful Kaiser systems in place in Colorado and California, American models in which there appears to be much more satisfaction on both sides of the care relationship. 

This is a conversation that is worth having based on data that is available. It can be had without resorting to ad hominem and broad-stroke nullification. I intend to participate. 

4 Gizmo. “It tastes like a memory.” Beth, after her first sip of our family version of the Gimlet. 

Memory is a funny thing. We don’t really remember details all that well, we humans. Oh sure, some of us are blessed to be able to remember certain things better than others (I remember most of what I have read; Beth remembers most of what she does with her hands), but the details fade for even those so blessed if we look back over a long enough period of time. What we do remember, and what actually is likely to help us remember more details, is how we felt during a memory. Our emotions are like a kind of glue that secures at least some of the objective details of an event. 

As I walk my little dog Sasha I find that we are joined on our tiny journeys by memories of all sorts. As an aside I don’t really know why it is that memories come while we are walking rather than times of quiet repose. In any event, how I felt at the time of any particular event is what comes to me first. Be it happy or sad, triumphant or despondent, each memory is carried to me on a wave of emotion. I have lived–indeed I am living–a lovely little life; most of my memories are quite nice. Sasha and I are most often borne ahead under a rainbow festooned sky. 

The Gizmo is just such a memory. One evening Beth had a yen, but just couldn’t place the name of our drink. “Gimlet” insisted on hovering just outside her conscious memory. “Could you make we one of those Gizmo’s we like so much?” Equal parts hilarious and precious, our house Gimlet had a new name. It became a standing part of Friday night family meals, the first course in countless evenings that I now remember only by how I felt. Warm. Happy. Home. For a long time, I would order a Gimlet in any restaurant I visited, trying to start a meal out with those same feelings of a meal in. No one made a drink quite like a Gizmo; each meal out was fodder for new memories only. 

Last night we lingered over our Gizmo’s, awash not so much in the details of those long-ago dinners but in the emotions. Each sip bringing back to us the laughter and the love as we savored our memories. 

I’ll see you next week…

You Are More Than Your Vote: Sunday musings…11/1/2020

Sunday musings…11/1/2020

1 Fall. Back. An extra hour to your day in 2020. I slept in.

Why take a chance?

2 Election. Two. More. Days. Then we all learn a new word from the lawyers.

Admit it, last time you thought chad was a fish or the name of a guy in a silly commercial. 

3 Sports. At the moment I am pretending to watch the Browns game. This morning I pretended to care about yesterday’s OSU football game, and I was honestly curious to see if Padraig Harrington had held on in the PGA tournament being held in the Bahamas (he did not). There’s a rumor that high school football and soccer games are happening. One of the local parochial schools came in second in the state golf tourney. 

Sports are happening. Sports are a thing. 

Midway through the initial nationwide lockdowns the New York Times declared that there were no sports being played and therefore there was no need for a separate sports section in the national edition on Sundays. You kinda got the feeling that the editors and writers for the paper were happy to drop sports, or if not fully dropping, to demote them to a level several steps below the wedding announcements. You got a strong sense that the NYT, former home of giants such as Anderson and Berkow, writers whose prose was worthy of any subject whatsoever, was somehow embarrassed that they had a sports section. How else to explain the continued absence of a Sunday Times sports section.

When I was a relatively naïve college athlete who thought everyone liked sports I came into contact with this point of view. During one of my years in school there was a movement among a significant percentage of the college’s faculty to pull back from athletics. It’s been many, many years so what I remember is not so much the details as how it made me feel as a member of the college community. Unwanted, frankly. Mind you, this was many years before we became nationally renowned for our teams’ successes. We were competitive; games were fun. Then we all went to class. Still, a part of our faculty felt that athletic pursuits were somehow lesser pursuits. 

I’ve led a largely intellectual life since leaving college. Funny how I still seem to have the soul of an athlete. 

4 Wednesday. The day after election day is highly unlikely to bring closure to the election. Good, bad, or indifferent, we are unlikely to get the landslide victory that will head off the stampede to the courts for which both campaigns have been girding for many months. Eventually, though, a result will be certified. A president will have been elected. No one knows precisely when that point will have been reached, but it will come. When it does, I’d like to ask that each one of us pledges that we will do two things that Americans have done time and again during ages in which there was both deep alignment and profound disagreement about where our country should head.

I’ll start: Regardless of the results I will accept the outcome of the election. Regardless of the results I will acknowledge that there will be people I know and care about who are deeply saddened by the outcome; whether we agreed or disagreed on the issues I will affirm our friendship and do what I can to comfort them. 

In the end we do not live our lives within the confines of a ballot box. While there are definite effects of elections in our lives, how we live amongst each other, with each other, is so much more impactful. Your vote certainly counts, and I hope that you will have voted. But how you treat your people counts more. Indeed, how you treat people with whom you simply come into random contact counts more. 

Come Wednesday or whenever, I pledge to see you as who you are and who you’ve always been. Still.

We’ll all still be here, so I’ll see you next week…

Sunday musings…10/25/2020: Dad’s Memorial

Sunday musings…

1 Anecdata. Anecdotes (stories) strung together as if they were objective data from a scientific study. Presently driving an inordinate amount of dialog on social media as well as more traditional information sources. 

Should be a word.

2 Disgust. Once again, the only word to describe my emotional response as I sit over my absentee ballot (we have voted this way for almost 10 years; I can’t predict my availability on any day whatsoever, let alone voting day). I felt exactly the same way 4 years ago. This is the best our two major parties can do? These two? Really? This is what I get to choose from? 

Again?

3 Simple. My daily life is rather public. By that I mean that I am directly interacting with multiple people who are not in my friendship circles, and through multiple venues I am placing who I am (professionally) in the public sphere. Part of my interaction each day is answering my patients when they ask me, quite sincerely, how I’m doing. My answer, at least up until a couple of weeks ago, was “OK enough”. 

No longer. 

Why? Well, it’s all about perspective, right? Even my original answer “OK enough” was about perspective. I had no real worries. I was employed and had work, my family and I were all healthy, and in many ways I was driving at least my own local bus routes. Still, I was obviously trying to convey a sense that it wasn’t really OK. Not really. My reality was a kind of different that was somehow less than OK. Objectively I could point to all of the really fun stuff Beth and I had planned to do to mark my 60th birthday and our 35th wedding Anniversary. I could reference how my speaking and consulting work had disappeared. 

But my seemingly diminished daily life led itself to the analysis that free time affords. In that respect it became very obvious that my life was not really diminished at all. It was not a small life in any respect. What it had become was simple. I had once again been living a simple life, one not unlike that which we enjoyed—truly enjoyed—when our children were school age. When our kids were K-12 I did pretty much what I do now: go to work, then go home. For some 15 or so years I did the barest minimum of professional travel necessary to maintain my medical license and not one minute or mile more. 

My industry buddies called it “D. White’s sabbatical”. 

There was nothing about my life that was small. Just like now. My life is simple. Straight forward. But it’s hardly small. I am surrounded by people who care about the minutes of my day in the same way they did 15 or 20 years ago. At work I do what I’m supposed to do, take care of each individual patient who sits in front of me. And then I go home. I go to the best place in the world. The place where who I am as cherished for no other reason than that: I am who I am. Simple, but hardly small. 

You could make a case that no life could possibly be larger.

4 Memorial. Today my family marked 5 years without my Dad. Today was the 5th annual mass held in memory of my Dad, Richard E. White. Dad passed away on October 10, 2015 at 8:30 in the evening. He died peacefully in the company of my Mom, one of my sisters, and a couple who had been among my parents’ closest, most loyal friends. My Dad was terrifically afraid to die. In a beautiful moment of grace, he was the only one in the room who didn’t know it was happening. 

My parents have been very observant Catholics forever. To mark my Dad’s passing Mom offered a mass each October and designated it a “must attend” performance for my siblings and me. “Your father would have wanted this.” Nonsense. My Mom wants this. My Dad would have been delighted if his offspring (and perhaps their offspring, his grandchildren) got together for a meal, maybe after playing a round of golf, perhaps one that included his favorite wine Chateauneuf du Pape. The mass thing is all about Mom. 

Still, I am sad that I am not there. 

Not guilty, mind you. No, the fact that each of us realizes that it’s all about Mom frees me from whatever guilt I may once have felt. We’re all a bit put out about the whole grand performance part of this. We all miss my Dad every single day. There’s no difference today. My brother was very eloquent as he expressed this. Yesterday was terrible because Dad wasn’t here. Last week, last month, last year. We miss Dad every day. Today is no different for us when it comes to missing Dad. We miss him every single day. 

So, no guilt, just sadness, because it would be nice to see my siblings and my Mom. Absent this whole pandemic thing I would have gotten on a plane, been all kinds of put out because of the rigidity of the experience, but on the plane nonetheless. I’m sad that I’m not. I’m sad because my Mom would have been happier if I’d been there. Sad because I really like being with my brother and my sisters. But in the end just as sad today as I was yesterday, and as I will be tomorrow, that my Dad is gone. Today is just the latest today that I will not hear his voice, feel his embrace, know that he would be there to do whatever a Dad needs to do for a son whenever he might need to do so.

No guilt because I’ve said again and again “I love you” to my, people including my Mom. I’ve done what my friend Bill has long counseled, saying what needs to be said long before there’s no one there to say it to. When my Dad’s day came, I had no peace to make; my Dad knew I loved him. But still, though I’ll have no peace to make or saying left unsaid, sad because today forces me to think about a day when I will miss both a Dad AND a Mom. 

It’s simple, really. Life is smaller when your Mom and Dad aren’t there to live it with you.

I’ll see you next week…

Sunday musings…10/18/2020

Sunday musings…

1 Schnorrer. Yiddish for “alligator arms”. 

2 Season. Lake season is officially over. 

3 Tub. Hot tub season has officially begun.

4 Virtual. It has now been 7 months since I’ve attended a meeting of any type in person. In the spring I just couldn’t make myself log in to our second biggest professional meeting of the year. In a typical year I can get all of the educational credits necessary to renew my license by attending only our 2 biggest meetings. Now I am reduced to just another WFH wonk wearing my screen goggles.

How do you full-time WFH warriors do it?

5 Nutrition. Again. Anyone who has spent any time reading my drivel knows that I have been on a 20-year quest searching for the optimal nutrition plan. One that would simultaneously fuel all of my pursuits and lead to some sort of health risk mitigation. Does such a thing exist? I’m not really ball that sure to tell you the truth. Still, since I have the freedom to explore the topic and a willing partner in Beth, why not?

At the enthusiastic suggestion of Lovely Daughter Megan, Beth and I watched a documentary called “Forks Over Knives”. Its thesis can be summed up as this: eating basically any food that emanates from an animal in any way is ultimately unhealthy. One of the issues I’ve confronted as I’ve been on my little nutrition quest is the challenge of separating science from belief. Indeed, each time I think about the whole “no animal” thing I harken back to a breakfast that John Brown shared with Randy and me in Ramona while visiting our friends the Martins. A couple also visiting were literally preaching at us once they saw our order arrive. They’d been vegan for years; their nutrition choices had long ago become a quasi-religion. 

Still, there is much to ponder about nutrition at a macro level. Especially if you, like me, have a number of probable inherited health risks. “Forks Over Knives” makes much of research that implies a marked increase in cancer risk from eating animal products (including dairy). As a (now casual) CrossFitter I’ve read an equal amount of studies that conclude pretty much exactly the opposite: eating diets high in animal protein and fat leads to a longer, healthier life. 

So, which is it?

In the end I certainly don’t know. Still, the most impactful article I’ve ever read about the effects of markedly different dietary patterns on an individual was in Outside Magazine so many years ago that it predates my CrossFit journey. The author ate using various diets (IIRC Keto, Vegan, Paleo, and Mediterranean). Since he was relatively young (40ish) he then tested stuff that was easily accessible: serum lipids and inflammatory markers. It’s been a really long time so I don’t recall which one was the winner, but I do remember that his numbers were pretty crappy on 3 of the diets, and superlative on the one. Is it possible to measure something without experimentation to come to the same conclusion? There are certainly lots of companies that would like to sell you a test of your genome, but at the moment the answer is no. The only way you can know is to experiment. 

What are we doing then? With Megan’s encouragement Beth and I are now about 2 months into what can be fairly called a pescatarian diet. We are eating primarily plant-based, but we are eating fish several times a week as well. Kinda Mediterranean I suppose. We are eating small amounts of cheese for flavor purposes, and I am also eating eggs on occasion. I am finding that I can combine this largely plant-based strategy with the knowledge that I’ve gained about insulin sensitivity over the course of the day. By over-weighting protein in the AM and carbs in the PM I have been sleeping better both objectively (tracker-based metrics) and subjectively (I wake up rested). 

Will it last? Meh, who knows? Life is short, and if we start to feel like we are missing something by not eating meat I’m sure we will return to our carnivorous ways. For the moment at least it’s been relatively easy. After all, we changed to a predominantly white wine lifestyle 5 years ago. If we can do that, well, this should be a snap! 

I’ll see you next week (send me your recipes)…

Love Language: Sunday musings…10/11/2020

Sunday musings…10/11/2020

1 Date. Anybody else notice that yesterday was 10/10/20? That’s gotta be a thing, right?

Should be a thing.

2 Verlaine. Name of a French poet. Now often used as an adjective to describe not just poetry but fine poetry. Cool name for a horse, don’t you think?

Here’s hoping the one we just added to the stable performs like fine poetry.

3 Map. “How did we ever find ourselves wherever in the ‘80’s?” Bill P, surgeon and muse.

At the moment I am riding shotgun as Beth drives us home from what stood in for dinner in Paris (our 35th Anniversary trip to France with Bill and Nancy got 2020’d). On the way to Cincinnati we took a grand total of 2 roads until we got to our exit. Two more roads and there we were, in our friends’ driveway. Pretty straightforward trip during any era, but one that required only a tiny bit of info to pull off. So, we just winged it, right? Went all 1985 on the navigation. 

Nah. We had Waze on the whole way. You know, just in case there was an accident, or construction, or whatever. 

At breakfast this morning we all marveled at how in the day we always ended up where we were headed, and usually did so without incident. Bill noted that modern GPS is much more effective with a little bit of knowledge about your trip beforehand. For example, even if the GPS tells you it’s faster to take the ferry across the lake to get to Burlington, in the winter just a little bit of local knowledge reminds you that the time of arrival doesn’t take into account the amount of time you have to wait for the spring thaw. 

There was something different, better in some ways, certainly more satisfying, when you had to pull out the map or the atlas and look at pictures of your options. And then make a call. Beth was brilliant back in the day at seeing the routes in her mind after turning a few pages in one of the maps we had piled under the front seats in our minivans. For sure you can “see” where you are on the dashboard screen or your phone, but there’s a bit more info, and certainly more of what one might call romance, in answering the “Mommy, where are we?” coming from the back seat with a map. 

“Right here, Honey!”

No great insight here. We’ll keep on using Waze and Maps apps of one sort or another, mostly because we can. Still, something is missing in the experience, even if it’s only the pleasure of watching Beth re-fold another map into its picture-perfect, just out of the wrapper, original self. 

4 Language. Specifically, “love language”: how someone expresses their love. It’s really not as simple as just saying “I love you”, although for sure there are plenty of people who can say that, and do say that, and get across the reality that they do, in fact, love you. When they say “I love you” it’s much, much more than a simple salutation; they are just flat out stating the fact out loud directly to you. More often is the case that the expression of love is couched in terms that you may not initially understand or hear as “I love you”.

The best example from my adult life was brought to my attention, like so many other really important things, when I expressed a frustration to Beth. Having moved hundreds of miles away from family we raised our kids without the benefit of having either set of parents there to offer “on the ground” insights when it was our turn as parents to hit a speed bump. Kids come preassembled without any instructions. I’ve never done anything more difficult than my part of raising our kids. 

Anyway, I was fried one time after a hard patch with our oldest. Nothing bad, really, just the hard work of raising a bright, strong-willed first born. “It never ends! How do we even know if we’re getting it right? How do we know if he knows how hard we are trying, how much we love him?” Into my hands plops the answer. “Strong Boys”, a book about how boys communicate, especially when they are young. It was always there. He always knew, and more than that he was always telling us, telling me. 

I just didn’t know the language. 

According to the “Strong Boys” author boys, and especially young boys, express their love by helping. “Let me get that” or “need me to hold something” is code for something that is pretty much the same as “I love you” from someone else. Our other two had their own way of saying it. My point isn’t so much about how to read your kids as it is to remind that “love language” can be very different in the different people who are in your life. Heck, sometimes letting YOU do the helping is precisely equal to your third-grade son holding the yard waste bag while you rake. 

In these fraught times it can seem as if we get altogether too much criticism and not enough love. That may actually be the case, of course. There has been a coarsening of social intercourse of all kinds. It is hard to detect whether there is that much more criticism coming our way by volume, or if that negativity is simply so much more blunt that it just feels like more. On top of that, if we somehow miss it when someone is telling how much they love us, well, that just makes the negative stuff sting all the much more. 

We’re all hurting a bit now. Sometimes, when we hurt, we might not hear someone else’s “love language”. It’s as if our pain, whatever its cause, makes it more difficult to translate “let me get that for you” into the “I love you” it’s meant to convey. But it’s there. It’s still there. Your people, family and friends, close colleagues who’ve always covered your 6, they’re all still there. They all still love you for all the reasons they’ve always loved you. Now, when we all need it the most, we are surrounded by people telling us how much they love and cherish us. 

To receive it we just have to keep our ears, and our hearts, open to their “love language”. 

I’ll see you next week…

Sunday musings…10/4/2020

Sunday musings…10/4/2020

1 2020’d. New term for something that was, or would have been wonderful, that was either destroyed or cancelled by the events of 2020. At the moment I am writing this Beth and I would have been dressing for an Anniversary dinner. 

In Paris. 

2 Tracker. Yup, I’m doing it again. Using a fitness tracker. Pretty much basic stuff at the moment. Pretty much because my fitness routine consists mainly of being dragged around at the other end of a leash by Sasha. In a “what the heck, why not?” kinda way I’m also sorta tracking my daily steps. When Sasha and I get together I am comfortably between 10 and 12,000.

To keep things in perspective: a 60 yo “Old Amish” male gets in between 14 and 18,000 without resorting to “walking”. 

3 Mixology. I love a good cocktail. Thankfully so does my wife, as do our children and their spouses. Beth’s sisters and their husbands have tastes that align pretty closely to ours; my siblings and their spouses favor wine, a spirit that has graced many (most?) of our dinner tables, at least our weekend dinner tables, since the early 1980’s. 

What I really love about cocktails, though, is the sense of adventure, of discovery, that can be a part of the experience. Finding a new cocktail, whether as the result of a purposeful search or happenstance, is much like stumbling upon buried treasure. For us it is also quite often an opportunity to experiment around the flavors contained in that discovery. Our most successful examples at Casa Blanco are the “Very Bad Decision”, a take on a Margarita, and the “Sideswiped”, our version of the classic Sidecar. 

At the moment I am playing around with a companion to “The Last Word”, a classic 1920’s creation that features gin. There’s a book in me about cocktails during the Pandemic with a working title “Drinking with John Starr” if I ever get off the schneid and start writing. I can see that effort bookended by “The Last Word” at the finish and something I’ll call “The First Shot” up front. 

I’ll let you know what I come up with. 

4 Genius. The brilliant, awkward, prickly version. Seems that particular sub-species is much more interesting, in fiction or real life, however maddening they might be. Whether a detective, doctor, lawyer, engineer/inventor or other sort in which a singular genius type of intellect might come in handy, it more often than not seems to be the case that a soaring intellectual gift comes wrapped in socially challenging packaging. Think Sherlock Holmes in comparison with, say, Harry Bosch (fictional characters chosen to spare the real life guilty). So much so that when you encounter a true genius who is normal, or at least relatively normal when interacting with their non-genius circle, it kinda stands out. 

Hardly prickly, the genius with whom I am closest is an around-the-bend rabid NFL fan. Just doesn’t fit the whole genius motif, and yet, there he is. 

Historically the non-genius world has most often given a wide berth to the prickly genius walking among us. And why not? My Dad’s cardiac surgeon (long deceased now) was a jerk. A complete a-hole. Yet his singular genius gave our family 30 bonus years with our patriarch. With the obvious exception of moral reprobates who apply their genius toward nefarious outcomes, or just as bad, the genius who mistakes that wide berth for a pass to abuse fellow travelers in any way, the world is eventually a better place for having even the most cranky and difficult geniuses come along. Indeed, in order to extend the lifespan of that benefit, we all come out for the better if something along the line of a “genius tender” in some way becomes attached to one of these “social disasters” waiting to happen. Stories abound of brilliant men and women who create new technology, find medical breakthroughs, or conjure heretofore unthinkable artistic beauty out of the same air that the rest of us just breath as we move along the glidepaths of life. And then they crash. 

But why? That fine line between genius and some sort of madness need not necessarily be crossed. What possesses them?

Why bring this up now? I’ve written before that I personally do not have the “genius gene”. No part of Mozart’s genetic magic lives within my chromosomes. Nor that of Watson or Crick, or even the remarkable French monk who came up with the recipes for green and yellow Chartreuse some 200+ years ago. No, rather than the “Mozart Gene” I was blessed with a kindlier, less envious version of the “Salieri Gene”. It is my singular gift to be able to identify true genius in another human, genius large or small, while almost instantaneously knowing that their genius was just beyond my reach. Similar to Salieri, who in many ways made Mozart financially secure, I find it quite easy to imagine how to capitalize on any number of genius-level discoveries and help them do so. Unlike Salieri, though, I would find no joy, no solace or respite, in the jealous destruction of a genius as Salieri was said to have ultimately done to Mozart. 

In our world today, indeed in circles very close to my closest circles, there have been geniuses, visionaries, who have shattered in spectacular fashion. Each incident seemed to me as altogether preventable. Even for the most difficult, the prickliest of geniuses. Why is this so? Or is it really so? Why does it seem as if so many of the most gifted among us have crashed and burned upon hills that are either too trivial to “die on” or so easily circumnavigated that it makes one wonder if the figurative self-immolation was somehow their desired outcome? Why do we not have more like Steve Jobs, who somehow find their way back, who return from whatever prompted them to self-destruct and once again grace us with the fruits of their genius?

Lots of questions. There’s no answer coming from these quarters I’m afraid. Like I said, the genius gene is in a deeper end of the gene pool than that into which I was born. I understand that which makes them prickly no better than what it is that allows them to discover stuff just before I start to even think about it. A couple of these folks are friendly acquaintances or friends of friends. Always just beyond any chance that I might have been either a Salieri or a tender, yet close enough to see both the detritus of the destruction and the collateral damage that ensued. What benefits, what joy might have come from their genius had they not crossed that line so completely that there was no coming back? 

Prickly or not, “saving” them can’t be as simple as having an NFL Red Zone subscription, can it? 

I’ll see you next week…

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…

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