I do hope this note finds you happy, healthy and ahead of your own gameplan. May your 2019 be amazing. (I know, this is too long of a note. Worst comes to worst, enjoy the photos, quotes and book recommendations. )
Pop quiz to start things off… I am curious, what was one good surprise for you in “your” 2018? What did you learn that will be useful going forward? What’s something you tried that didn’t get the outcome you had in mind – – we never share these though most good experiments have unexpected outcomes, right?
At the risking of sounding like I am boasting, 2018 has in many respects been an uneventful year for the boys, my siblings, my mom and myself. That is, nothing notably bad happened. We just carried on. It’s akin to a boring flight, and that is the best kind in many respects. But each day does move just a bit faster. I work to be more aware of every waking moment, yet I fail more often than I care to admit. But I don’t mind – – being weighed down with “good problems” – – well that’s a good thing. How about we pause to say thanks for these?
Paul is 16 and about 5 inches taller than 14 months ago. More important, he is taller than me. Back in July, we both looked into the mirror, and he said, “Hey I am taller!”” I looked closer and said, “No Paul, you are comparing the altitude of a bald guy to that of a dude with a very, very full head of hair. Use the eyes as reference.” Sigh. 4 long months later he crossed that milestone. What a relief for him… and I don’t think he is done either. Want to make him smile? Next time you see him, say “wow, you’re taller than your dad!”. A small grin will emerge in his mouth, and in his eyes.
I am wistful at the speed of his transformation into a charming young man. Thoughtful. Soft spoken with a big hearty laugh. Steadily clarifying his path forward. Junior year of high school is tough. The anxiety among students is palpable. I worry that we parents put too much weight in what seems to me to be an overly academic environment. I wish humans explored more. As example, he loves coding but doesn’t steal away enough time for it, IMO.
Sidd, 15, has transitioned to high school very smoothly. As said in prior notes, he has always had the headlights of his older brother to demystify some of his future. That was very clear for his Freshman year.
He is testing the waters of juggling far more than he did in middle school. 3 clubs, rec soccer, high school cross country. He slipped on some assignment deadlines, teaching the hard lesson that outcomes matter. For better or worse, good grades = on-time delivery of a high-quality product. Not just doing lots of things.
He’s still gregarious, very competitive, and likes the mix of students in high school – a relief to me. Yet, I see and hear dismay and cynicism creeping into his world view from observing the gaps between the logic & philosophies he finds in books versus the realities of life, politics and human nature. He wears his emotions on his sleeve – – which is very different from Paul – – and a surprise to me. In truth, we are all passionate about some issues.
Mom continues to be the gold standard of how to juggle family and personal pursuits. She is vivid, engaged and curious about new things. Examples: she has locked a gallery show for 2019; she sold her first painting online to a buyer in Australia (via her collection on Saatchi Gallery); and Mom still embraces the personal credo, “when in doubt about what to do next on your laptop, click on things.”
On Jan 1, she will have traversed two years living as a widow. It’s a journey into a new land, traveled with serenity and courage.
My sisters, Cindy and Susan, carry on with pursuits that put fire in their belly. Their passions are both part of and help to juggle and balance careers as the larger world shimmies to the left and the right.
Myself, I had my 6th cancer check-in 2 weeks ago. (I think it may be akin to seeing your probation officer, but I don’t have direct experience). The tests – – CT Scan, bloodwork – – came up clean. So, I am cancer free for 2 years. Halleluiah! Each incremental day lowers the probability of a relapse a bit more. In fact, I have been in such good health, sometimes a close friend will lean forward, stare into my eyes and ask in a quieter, more serious tone, “So… how are you?” I get wound up and whisper to myself, “Oh no! What the hell is this about? Did I forget to do something? Did I do something?” Then I realize, ah, they are asking about the cancer. And I think to myself, goodness, I am in a good place if I no longer think about that scourge on a daily basis.
2018 was a year of experimenting with different ways to work. I had some interesting assignments with a couple of blockchain startups, and I had a chance to work with a couple of super sharp people. Undertaking projects on a contract basis carry some real merits. The biggest downside is healthcare coverage and its sketchy future (at least at this moment). People say a single-payor healthcare system = socialism. On the contrary, I think it would free us up to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors.
Travel was about as good as it may ever be for me. I am always looking for ideas and would love to know of places you love visiting.
Galapagos: The boys and I had the rare opportunity to spend a week in the Galapagos Islands. Please visit if at all possible. You will see the Earth “as it was” – – a place where the animals look at humans with curiosity or irrelevance. Call me if you need tips. I could not recommend it enough.
Park City: My best-case travel scenario is visiting good friends. It never hurts if it is an iconic location. I suspect Park City is stunning any time of year, but what really stood out was a meeting of college buddies met to yammer for hours.
Munich: I made a trip out to a “99 Year” event, coined by adding the birthdays of longtime friend Sebastian (turning 54), and his wife Ulli (45). The upshot was a few days of vibrant fall colors, and a gathering filled with music, conversation and food.
Illinois: The boys and I also made our annual summertime trip to Southern Illinois. On top of goofing around with the family making things like tie-dye T-shirts, I met up with high school friends (none of whom have lost their glow, I am happy to say). Few things are as nice as an evening tooling around Lake Kinkaid on my friend Tom Aken’s pontoon boat. The sunset is stunning, as is jumping off the cliffs if you drum up the courage. But better yet is Tom weaving stories that delight and confound me and the boys. A truly rare elixir.
Two more travel gems were 2 visits to Chicago, hosted with gusto by my sister Susan & husband Chris. On the 1st visit, the boys took my suggestion to run along Lake Michigan as they prepped for Cross Country season. I don’t know why seeing the two of them cruising along tickled me as it did. Perhaps it’s that they are always growing so fast and this felt like a one-of-kind moment.
Definition – – Travel Related Gem: Do you ever pause in the middle of a moment with someone – – to just take in what’s going on, and ask yourself, ” Gosh this is so nice, isn’t it? When did I do this last? When will I do this again? Could this be the last one?” You are holding a gem.
Photography: During track and cross-country seasons, I revert to an industrial style, taking about 20,000 photos and sharing about 4,000 with the athletes – thank goodness for smugmug.com. But capturing the boys and my extended family is the real prize – you see how fast time moves when looking at these images across the years. While the stock market thunders up and plummets downward, photos and the related memories only increase in value – – in my opinion. 🙂
Bird Feeders Need to be Next to the Window. I moved 3 feeders from out in the backyard. Now they hang in front of couple of windows. Why this can be called entertainment, I don’t know. But it is. I see the bossy hummingbird, hoarding food away from others, though in truth will never run out. And a wide array of gossiping local residents – most of whom I don’t recognize but maybe they are warblers, vireos, flycatchers, swallows, wrens, waxwings and a few unwieldy Steller’s Jays.
Why Don’t We Question Illogical Goodness? We humans love to stamp our feet and demand to know why a bad event was dropped into our lap. But when something good happens, hey, we usually take it, no questions asked! 🙂 We don’t shake our fists at the skies and ask in a similar way, “Why me? This is clearly a mistake! There was no logic to your decision!” Funny no?
Friends Need to be Met Regularly. Do you get fired up after spending time with old friends? I sure do and after each time, I ask, “why did this take so long?” Also I am amazed how technology can eradicate distance. Three examples: in person, with Barb Mousigian (we had not met in 14 years); phone call via WhatsApp with Luis Miranda in Mumbai (closing a 29 year gap); and video via Skype with Sebastian in Munich. The only hurdle (sometimes a big one) is time zones.
Do what is easy to do, now; it may hard to do later. I scolded the boys back in October. I saw them walking home from school, one 15 feet in front of the other. Both looking at their phones. “Do you realize how foolish you are being? In 2 years, Paul will take off for some other place, and the chances are high that for the REST OF YOUR lives, making time to chat will be a lot harder. As example, for me to catch up with Susan and Cindy means navigating time zones, schedules and colliding commitments. It’s easy to say “be here, now” but more important, these are windows that close, sometimes forever. Each of you has a treasure called a brother who is a great person. So use every one of these small moments to shoot the breeze.” (Parents go on tirades. What to do?)
What will life be like in 18 months? I ponder this often. June 2020, Paul will graduate. But more useful than wasting time stressing about the future, or the past, how about I figure out the best gameplan for today with him, and with Sidd, no? The urgency of an 18 month window is my catalyst, (sometimes).
I miss my Dad. I just listened to a podcast describing “ambiguous loss” and for me it made sense. We don’t get over some setbacks. Divorces. Calamities. Loved ones who pass away. Being at peace with setbacks is a different path, with less dissonance than expecting them to simply vanish.
Big trips are just that, mountains in my memory. Our brains quickly forget what we buy – gadgets, clothing, cars, houses. Until we get another one. But experiences, I think that is different. A year after planning and prep, the boys and I went to the Galapagos. Each moment was akin to being in a dream. And I can go back to the various moments in an instant. (Here’s some photos and an unfinished set of posts.) Swimming with Zen-like turtles. Playing with inquisitive sea lions. Conversations with others who have an addiction to traveling. I wish every day was like that. In truth, 97% of our existence is the pedestrian tasks that nudge life forward. And set up the sublime 3%. But I do want to step up my diet of adventure. I am inspired by friends who get out on a regular basis.
Being a Good Samaritan is Hard. “A happy-go-lucky guy.” – – that will be your first impression of my longtime friend Mike “the Mushhead” Carroll. But what influences his temperament is his kindness, often occurring at moments every inconvenient to him. Here’s a great example.
Losing My Religion. The boys are more detached and that has been a worry. What will happen when they are on their own? From our chats, I do think the church scandals leave a deep impression. It is easier to see life as generally less mystical. For a great discussion about this, read Yuval Harari’s book Homo Deus.
Thinking Fast Overcomes Thinking Slow, for the most part. Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman talks about “Thinking Fast and Slow.” When we think fast we let our beliefs decide what data we consume. Thinking slow means we mull thru facts and opinions and permit our world views to be challenged, and even changed in fundamental ways. I have largely surrendered to the dismaying notion that thinking fast is winning. Engaging with opposing perspectives has been interesting for me, but I sense frustration from the other parties. Are we losing this ability, as a species?
Will I be happy or dismayed when I get older? As I watch people I know, I see two tendencies: some focus on the goodness in their lives; and some notice the gaps. Inputs that I assumed drive the outlook, such as wealth or health, appear to be irrelevant. It’s either a focus on how my cup is 99% full cup, or, who, what and why are there empty parts? Life is viewed as abundant and good, or one of vexing imperfections. Why does it go one way, or the other? For me, it is a mystery. The Prayer of Serenity is useful only if it is embraced. The prospect of an angst-ridden outlook truly scares me. More than bad physical health.
What happens after you try to fool all the people all the time? I watch the strife in the Catholic Church and US politics – – and wonder about both. I am a Catholic and dismayed to my bones. Every priest I personally know has been a man of deep, inspiring character. Programs like Catholic Relief Services act out the tenets of Christ, at scale. Yet each month more secrets come to light – – perhaps due to the church’s roots as a secret society – – and we see a minority of predatory priests and confederate bishops who were (and are) “company men.” Together they are inflicting deep damage on the institution. I am also a proud US citizen. Yet the bad behavior in our politics, oh my how I watch in disbelief. In both cases, it seems that truth is catching up to them. In both cases, my optimism says it will be corrected. But my cynical side says if we don’t hurry, a new, very different and potentially unsavory chapter is about to be hatched that will be with us for a very long time.
Dev & Careers
Are Great Coaches More Important than the “Right Sport”? It’s important to follow a passion. But I now wonder, is it more important to gain the lessons and fortitude of world class mentors and coaches? At the high school the boys attend, the cross-country coach is not only an alum, nor holds the 1 mile record at 4:07 (unbelievable), but he competed in the 10k at the 1996 Olympics. His guidance is nuanced, to-the-point, and akin to having Yoda to shape your development. He resets the young athlete’s personal expectations to the size of the opportunity offered by the world in front of them. And his lessons about grit, competing smart, rest and recovery – – all are transferrable to many walks of life. Including ones where one may have more passion.
Success vs Humility. I have heard that success is the greatest test of one’s character. Earlier this year I had the chance to collaborate on a promising idea – working with blockchain startups. But at the very first meeting, my gut said that the actual collaboration may be less than optimal. Success had engulfed & hijacked one of the team members. To the point that when we parted ways months later, he demanded that I remove any reference in LinkedIn. “Working with me is like a licensing deal. When it stops, so does anyone’s privilege to mention it and reap the benefits of my reputation.” Nutty. Your gut feel is important to follow. Just walk away up front.
Commitments = Daily Investments. A new idea is enticing, but making it happen is a slog. I am inspired by people who translate a goal into a set of daily habits. After my cancer treatment, I was intrigued by the notion of reworking my reflections into something other patients may find of use. Now I am in the middle of it. And pushing it thru – well, some days are easier, some days are harder. I reread the War of Art to help me.
The Mind is Willing, But the Body? Ah, denial of aging only takes one so far. Every time I get out and run for a few weeks, my knees start to sing an aria to me. But damn – I do love running. Another era passes, perhaps? And gone are days I can ignore all of this. To wander the world and take photos, I need my knees. The PT told me the issue is a weak gluteus maximus. My butt muscles need to get off the couch, so to speak, and do more. So, I ping pong between walks and less interesting, preventative exercises for my back and legs. Sigh.
Don’t wait for winter to come. My oncologist had a meet up with his patient community to share latest trends in lymphoma research. Very inspiring. Cancer treatment is undergoing metamorphosis, going from regimes of chemo and radiation that are, in and of themselves, carcinogenic (nutty) to attacking the malignancy at the sub-cellular level. Then he said, “standard chemo means 70% of patients will relapse within 5 years.” Come again? I had chemo. Perhaps my path will be different as I had combined one of those futuristic drugs with my chemo. But my reaction also means some complacency has returned. Don’t bank on the future, Abe. It’s unknown. Just focus on the gameplan and relish it.
Creating Your Own Iron Man. I am blessed with healthy boys. The one small nit: Paul’s race times were barely better than last year, despite putting in more miles. After getting a ferritin test, we discovered his iron levels had plummeted despite eating like a horse. So we made dietary changes: add red meat and clams (they have 10x the iron of beef!); supplement with iron tablets; also, to avoid inhibitors, limit calcium to breakfast & lunch (milk, spinach, cheese, etc.); to accelerate absorption, take vitamin C with dinner (mango juice has 100% RDA). The upshot: in just 3 weeks, Paul improved his 5k race time by 90 seconds purely via dietary changes. Wow!
End the Day With Something Foolish and Fun on YouTube. Every day the news is crazy and bleak. So, how do you end on a high note? LeBron James and other super athletes often speak of the importance of peaceful sleep. To settle the mind, one thing I find helpful is the endless lighthearted videos on YouTube. For example, did you know parrots like dancing to Elvis? Or Gangnam Style? Or RiverDance?
Muscle Memory Never Forgets. I went for runs with the boys in July while visiting Mom in Southern Illinois. I was amazed how the high humidity impacted their performance. But my body had not forgotten how to run in the putrid heat. FINALLY, I could keep up with them. Nice.
What books, podcasts and movies did you love from 2018? Please let me know – I am always on the hunt. Here’s what I liked a lot.
Parenting: Shefali Tsabury – The Conscious Parent
“All of our miseries are nothing but attachment.” — Osho
“Since the initial publication of the chart of the electromagnetic spectrum, humans have learned that what they can touch, smell, see, and hear is less than one-millionth of reality.” – R. Buckminster Fuller
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” Jack Kornfield
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.
Beyond the rightness or wrongness of things there is a field, I’ll meet you there.
If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?
When someone beats a rug, the blows are not against the rug, but against the dust in it.
You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop
“ ‘To give’ is the privilege of the few. ‘To receive’ is the misfortune of the many” – My Mom’s Mom, source unknown.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Lastly, Always Remember, Life Could Be Crazier
My Dad loved Napoleon’s quote, ” ‘Tis but a moment from the sublime to the ridiculous.” So true. Years ago I took the bus from Detroit to Chicago. I had just visited dear friends Sooney and Mike. The vehicle was largely empty. A few of us were sitting in the 1st couple of rows. The chatty bus driver asked about where we are heading. “Wyoming” one of them said. [ ‘What!?! That’s another 1,000 miles’ I thought. ] This fella, in his mid-20s, then explained why.
“A week ago, I was sitting in my girlfriend’s trailer watching TV. She’s 48, likes younger guys and was at work. Someone was banging on the front door, and I yelled for them to buzz off, I ain’t buying whatever you’re selling. And I was near broke anyway. Next thing I know, there’s a huge bang and a guy is pointing his rifle at my head. I knew what was up right away.
“I told him, ‘Dude you want my brother, not me!’ See my older brother Timmy robbed a convenience store in Detroit but first used my driver’s license to buy a 12 pack of Coors. Why I gave him my ID, shit I forget. It was stupid, I know. So, the cops had pinned the robbery to me but couldn’t find me as I don’t get in trouble with the law and have been staying with this new girlfriend in Cheyenne for a while now.
He says, ‘I’m taking you back to Detroit because you jumped bail.’ I tried to tell him he had it all wrong, but he didn’t listen. He put cuffs on me and put me in the trunk of his Chevy Caprice. “
[ In my head, I am thinking this is one fantastic story. Then he shows his wrists. They are covered in dark bruises. Holy smokes, could this be for real? ]
“That asshole drove me from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Detroit and only let me out to eat, pee, and shit on the side of the road. Do you know how much it sucks to be in the trunk of a car for that long?” I had never thought about that question, but suddenly, any seat, in any car, sounded divine.
“Well that bail bondsman dropped me at some police station Thursday night, and I said, take my finger prints, you’ll see they don’t match. They took them but said it was too late to check the records or something. On Friday some officer tells me they got too much to do and so they won’t get to looking at my fingerprints until Monday. Can you f****** believe that? So on Monday, they come up and say, ‘You’re right, the prints don’t match. You can go.’
“Just go? How crazy is that? So I ask him, ‘How is that supposed to happen? I live in Cheyenne.’ The dude looks at me and says, ‘Look I just take care of things here. How about you call someone?’ I have to give credit where credit is due. That was a pretty good idea. So I called my girlfriend, explained why I was gone since Thursday. She was happy I was ok and hadn’t ditched her, and she wires me money $200 for the Greyhound. You gotta love older girlfriends – they are way nicer.”
I told him she is a blessing.
I have thought of this adventure off and on. My worst day was never as nutty as that. Not even the cancer had the whacko elements of “fear from a crazy man pointing a gun at my nose.”
Life is relative, no? Good to say thanks to your God or to Life for obvious blessings like family, friends, dry warm soft spaces, and only traveling on seats! Good to be self-aware & grateful of that which is self-evident.
I hope your 2019 is a wonderful one… strictly traveled in the passenger compartment.
Paul, Sidd, and Abe…
(P.S. For old annual musings, go to here.)