Thoughts for a Birthday

Birthday Mousse

Birthday Mousse

Birthdays are funny things.  You know intellectually that you are only one day older than you were the day before. But the flipping of the year – in my case from 62 to 63 – has effects that have nothing to do with intellect and everything to do with your emotions.

In approaching this year’s birthday, I’ve been focused on the fact that life is short.  I’ve written in the past about the need to savor every moment.  However, when you truly recognize that life is short, you think about how that knowledge will change the way you live.

You begin to think about the things that matter, and the things that get in the way of the things that matter. I can only speak from the perspective of someone still in the workplace, but it is easy to find all-too-many instances from the working world that get in the way of your focus on what matters: useless meetings without agenda or purpose, process designed without thought, colleagues looking to you to do their work. I try and push back against these calls on my time whenever I see them. Technology can also be a time suck, both in and out of work.  David Sax, writing in the Revenge of Analog, quotes a time management expert who says, “You can waste time with all kinds of stuff, but the digital world provides a lot of opportunity to waste a lot of time.”  Getting sucked into the distractions of the never-ending clown show currently taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue strikes me as a waste of time.  Thank God that Robert Mueller seems able to focus on the things that matter.

Paul Graham, in an essay on the topic, calls the stuff that life is too short for bullshit, which he describes as the “junk food of experience.”  Amen.

I have found that the things that matter are often focused on — and around — people.  I’m something of an introvert, so I sometimes have to push myself to reach out to others. Fortunately, I have (almost) never regretted the time I find to focus on others:  family, friends, colleagues, people much younger than me, those in need, the exceptionally talented, the wise elders, the total stranger.  It may not seem substantial, but breakfast with a friend can very much matter.

A breakfast birthday

A birthday breakfast from an earlier year

Being intentional in seeking out the things that matter is a good way to avoid the junk food of experience. That also helps in pushing you to do more of what matters right now.  As the new year began, I started a list of “50 things to do in 2018.”  Some were major, others were simple, but they all mattered to me and I wanted to do them before too much time passed.  Reaching right now for the things that matter is another key to living with the knowledge that life is short.

Graham ends his essay with the following:

“Relentlessly prune bullshit, don’t wait to do things that matter, and savor the time you have. That’s what you do when life is short.”

That sounds about right.  I hope your birthday, whenever it happens this year, gives you a renewed chance to do the things that matter.

More to come…

DJB

Super Bowl Rant IV

NFL Brain Diagram via SportsPickle.com

If it is the first Sunday in February, it must be time for my annual Super Bowl rant.  Let’s call it Rant IV, given that Rants I, II, and III have already played out here on the virtual pages of More to Come….

In past posts, I’ve given you 13 reasons why I won’t be watching the Super Bowl. (And yes, reason #10 is these stupid and pretentious Roman numerals.) Of course, #11 from last year holds true-to-form again this year (and most years):

“11.  It’s the damn Patriots.  Again.  Is there anyone more insufferable in sports than Bill Belichick/Tom Brady? (Wait, I’ll answer that.  Maybe Coach K. But that’s another post. And I know that Belichick and Brady are actually two people, but I’ve grouped them as one because they synch their grating to perfection.)  They push rules up to the line and over, and then act like their sainthood has been challenged when they are caught.  I hate Roger Goodell – he of the $40 million+ salary as a nonprofit executive (seriously) – but even I don’t wish for a Patriots victory so he has to eat crow and give them the trophy the year two years in a row after Deflategate.”

I will say that at least the game isn’t on FOX this year, as I’m not sure the world would survive the Adulation of Donald Trump that would be sure to overwhelm the pregame festivities.  I notice that the president is turning down the opportunity for the traditional interview in the pregame show.  Just as well.  We can use 8 hours away from alternative facts and fake news.

So let’s add another reason I won’t be watching the Super Bowl this year:

“14. Brett Favre:  “When I see little children playing football I cringe.”  In a Washington Post story two days ago, football legend Brett Favre said:

“I cringe…when I see video, or I’m driving and I see little kids out playing, and they’re all decked out in their football gear and the helmet looks like it’s three times bigger than they are. It’s kind of funny, but it’s not as funny now as it was years ago, because of what we know now. I just cringe seeing a fragile little boy get tackled and the people ooh and ahh and they just don’t know. Or they don’t care. It’s just so scary.”

Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?

The only good thing about the Super Bowl?  It means that pitchers and catchers report in ten days.

Winter bad. Baseball good.

More to come…

DJB

Farewell 2017, Hello 2018

Age of Folly

An Age of Folly Indeed! The cover photo of Lewis Lapham’s newest book on how America Abandoned Its Democracy

I was so discouraged with our country’s direction at the end of 2016, that I missed what had become an annual More to Come… year-end update.  Many commentators described 2017 as a “dumpster fire of a year.” Even Dave Barry had a hard time coming up with outrageous examples that exceeded our twisted reality.  The title of this year’s review by Barry says it all:  “2017: Did that really happen?”

My optimism for our country’s future hasn’t fully recovered in part because I find myself agreeing with Lewis Lapham when he writes:

“If the American system of government at present seems so patently at odds with its constitutional hopes and purposes, it is not because the practice of democracy no longer serves the interests of the presiding oligarchy (which it never did), but because the promise of democracy no longer inspires or exalts the citizenry lucky enough to have been born under its star. It isn’t so much that liberty stands at bay but, rather, that it has fallen into disuse, regarded as insufficient by both its enemies and its nominal friends. What is the use of free expression to people so frightened of the future that they prefer the comforts of the authoritative lie?”

Frightened by the future…that could be a theme of so much of 2017 in America.

It didn’t always seem this way.  In my 2013 year-end post, I outlined seven rules for the next third of my life, with an optimism that I could live a long and fruitful life. For four years I’ve looked at them on my computer wallpaper as I’ve logged on in the morning. Colleagues have seen them and made comments. The family has been supportive. But in thinking recently about my difficulties in keeping up with my life goals in 2017, I realized that I had lost some faith in the future.  My primary goal is to regain that faith in 2018.

25th birthday celebration

Celebrating 25 years of Claire and Andrew – one of the great achievements of 2017!

At work and in our family life, 2017 was a year of progress and celebration, of which I am proud and which gives me hope for the future.  But careful readers know that I can demonstrate some of the lighter symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which a quick trip to sunnier climates (think the Pomona College Family Weekend in February) usually fixes.  2017 felt like a year when SAD-like symptoms (or perhaps TAD-like symptoms, and you can fill in the “T”) came and went throughout the year.

Reading a recent article by David DeSento helped me focus on what may have been missing from my 2017:  that sense of gratitude for what I have been given.  A psychologist, DeSento argues that social emotions — not willpower — helps us achieve our life goals.

“What these findings show is that pride (not arrogance, but pride in the skills one has), gratitude and compassion, whether we consciously realize it or not, reduce the human mind’s tendency to discount the value of the future. In so doing, they push us not only to cooperate with other people but also to help our own future selves. Feeling pride or compassion has been shown to increase perseverance on difficult tasks by over 30 percent. Likewise, gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use.

If using willpower causes stress, using these emotions actually heals: They slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. By making us value the future more, they ease the way to patience and perseverance.”

I had recently been thinking about gratefulness and thankfulness.  Putting all this together, I realized that I needed to add an eighth life rule for 2018 and beyond.  So…here’s a quick look at that new rule plus some thoughts on how I did in 2017 with the original seven.

1. Be Grateful. Be Thankful. Be Compassionate.  Every Day.  Several years ago I made it a habit to say thank you to one person each day.  Even in 2017, I managed to maintain that habit.  Moving forward with this new rule, I want to expand that habit to being intentional about gratefulness, thankfulness, and compassion.

2.  Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life. I had a good pattern of daily exercise through 2016, resulting in weight stabilization.  Unfortunately, that didn’t continue in 2017, and my weight returned.  For 2018, I want to look with gratitude at the health I’ve had through six decades of life, and find ways to build on that outlook to maintain it.  I’m also going to keep the cartoon in mind where the doctor asks his middle-aged male patient, “Which is more inconvenient for you?  1 hour a day of exercise or 24 hours a day of dead?”

3.  Listen more than you talk.  It is always a challenge when I find myself in a place of some authority (either at work or home) not to grab the bully pulpit.  While David Isay, the founder of Story Corps, says listening is hard, he also notes that listening is an act of love…and act that one never regrets.  Both thoughts are worth remembering.

4.  Spend less than you make.  2017 was another year when I didn’t buy any new guitars!  (Although I can say that I gave it some serious thought.)  I’m continuing to adjust some of my expectations in order to live with much less regular income in the not-too-distant future.  I’m also thinking more about what to give away and how to do that to support those who have less.

5.  Quit eating crap!  Eat less of everything else.  Candice, Andrew, and Claire all support me in this effort, but I know I turned to comfort food more than I should have in 2017.  Like the rule about spending, I want to think about how eating less is an act of gratitude that what I have is enough.

6.  Play music.  The world is a better place when I play music.  My music is better when I play with others.  That’s the goal for 2018.

7.  Connect and commit.  Over the years since I set these rules, we made real progress in gathering people together on a regular basis.  That slipped some in 2017.  In the list Candice and I are assembling of 50 things we want to do in 2018, we already have a number of connections identified.

8.  Don’t be a Grumpy Old Man.  Enjoy life! I tried very hard not to let my SAD or TAD symptoms show through to others…in part, because this is probably the life rule I remember every day.  But there is still progress to be made…and in addition to Ursula Le Guin’s recent book of essays on growing old, I enjoyed reading yesterday’s New York Times article entitled, Want to Be Happy? Think Like an Old PersonI laughed.  I smiled.  I saw some traits I recognized.  I saw some things to work on.

Okay 2018:  bring it on!

More to come…

DJB

This Explains Everything

I suspect most of us have struggled to understand all that is happening in our country at this time.  Pundits, politicians, and plain folk have all put forward explanations for the craziness afoot in our land.  Nothing that I read connected all the dots.

Then I saw that the Washington Post published Trump Goes Back to His Professional Wrestling DaysAnd suddenly, it all made sense.

Writer David Von Drehle says that too little attention has been paid to Trump’s wrestling background from when he was active in the golden age of “rassling” back in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“Trump was among the first self-promoters to hitch a ride on impresario Vince McMahon’s WWE juggernaut. He sponsored two of McMahon’s early WrestleMania extravaganzas back in the Golden Age, steering them to the Historic Atlantic City Convention Hall and promoting them through his Trump casinos…But the peak of Trump’s career came in 2007, when he was written into the script of WrestleMania 23 as one-half of the Battle of the Billionaires, facing off against McMahon. Before a crowd of 80,000 at Detroit’s Ford Field, with a million more watching on pay-per-view, Trump played his role to the hilt, clotheslining McMahon and pretending to pummel him on the floor before shaving the promoter’s head as the fruit of victory. The drama culminated with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin administering a Stunner punch to the future commander in chief.”

 So how does this explain everything?  Von Drehle continues:

“This might be a mere footnote to Trump’s story — a celebrity-age version of young Abraham Lincoln’s match against an Illinois roughneck — except for this: The Trump presidency is right out of a WWE script. His brawling news conferences, his beefs with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mika Brzezinski, the who’s-up-who’s-down chaos inside his White House, all bear the imprint of a man schooled on the melodramatic storylines of pro wrestling.”

Tojo Yamamoto

Tojo Yamamoto (credit: Wikipedia)

As someone who grew up watching Tojo Yamamoto, Jackie Fargo, and other professional ‘rassling heels and stars on local television with my grandfather and cousins long before there was a WWE, this strikes me as the perfect frame for what we’re seeing.

“You might say all politicians tell stories of conflict. But with Trump, it’s relentless. He takes us from bout to bout — Trump against China, Trump against Comey, Trump against Kim, Trump against Fake News — with a head-spinning undercard of Jared against Bannon and Spicy Spicer against The Mooch. Every policy choice, every personnel decision, every setback can be fodder for the next day’s script. ”

“At this point, many Americans would like to change the channel. And indeed, pro-wrestling ratings have been dropping for years. But as long as Trump’s core audience laps it up, there will be more — culminating, perhaps, as Bob “the G-Man” Mueller delivers a Tilt-a-Whirl Headscissors Takedown followed by a Rude Awakening.”

This. Explains. Everything.

As a sidenote, Wikipedia has a great story about Tojo Yamamoto, who took his name from two World War II enemies and played up the evil foreigner to the hilt, especially throughout the South.  I have to repeat the story here, simply because it is so perfect:

“Wrestling in Boaz, Alabama, Yamamoto gave one of the great performances in pro wrestling. Before the start of the matches, he asked to give a statement to the crowd, which booed and hissed and threw things. In broken English he said, “I wish make aporogy. Very sorry my country bomb Pear-uh Harbor.” And the crowd quiets, as he wipes away tears, and they awwww in sympathy. “It wrong thing to do, I wish not happen.” They begin to applaud. “Yes, I wish not happen, because instead I wish they BOMB BOAZ!!!” Needless to say, the arena erupted.”

More to come…

DJB

 

A Family Celebration

Erin Brown Belcher

Erin Brown Belcher on her wedding day

After three family funerals in the past eighteen months—two of which came much too early in the lives of those we lost—the Brown family was able to come together this weekend for a family celebration.

We gathered at my brother Joe’s beautiful Cripple Creek farm on a sunny and cloudless spring day to celebrate the wedding of our niece, Erin, and Jonathan Belcher.

The bride looked beautiful in the wedding gown she had made by hand (over 53 1/2 hours!). The bluegrass music for the reception covered the countryside. The children of our other nieces played games and ran through the fields and around the pond.

A good time was had by all.

It is nice to remember the cycle of life continues in a year when we’ve said goodbye too many times.  So on this Mother’s Day, which falls on the one-year anniversary of my father’s passing, here’s to Erin and Jonathan and to the resiliency of family and love.

 

Remembering those who came before

Remembering those who came before

 

The farm

The farm

 

The family gathers to celebrate life and love

The family gathers to celebrate life and love

More to come…

DJB

 

35 Reasons I’d Do It All Over Again

At Prospect Hill in 1982

The newlyweds – poor graduate students – on our honeymoon at Prospect Hill

Thirty-five years ago tomorrow – March 20th – Candice and I started our adventure together.  I remember the first time I saw Candice.  She was coming around the corner of an office cubicle at the Georgia State Historic Preservation Office – where we’d both just been hired – and I thought, “Wow!”  (That’s a technical term meaning, “This could be interesting!”) As I got to know her over the months and years, my initial assessment was more than confirmed.

In her book Two-Part Invention:  The Story of a Marriage, Madeleine L’Engle describes the evening that her husband Hugh proposed to her.

“We went to one of our favorite restaurants in the Village, and after dinner he came home with me.  We talked.  About this, about that. He suggested that we play records, and chose Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

He picked up a book of poetry off the shelf and began leafing through it, and then read me Conrad Aiken’s beautiful words:

Music I heard with you was more than music, and bread I broke with you was more than bread.

And then he said, ‘Madeleine, will you marry me?'”

I love that sentiment of how two make something more than what we feel alone.  That is so true with Candice.  In honor of our anniversary, here are thirty-five reasons I’d do it all over again.

1. Thinks deeply about what type of wife, mother, sister, in-law, and friend she wants to be.  Then she acts out of that conviction.

2. Will go to a restaurant, taste something we both love, and come home and duplicate it for us.  How does she do that?

3.  Treats children as people. They respond to her respect with love and respect of their own.

4.  Is both romantic and pragmatic, and knows when each is the proper approach.

5.  When we were first married, I brought a habit of buying things on credit to the marriage.  Candice grew up waiting until she had cash before making a purchase.  We talked through our attitudes toward money, and then we adopted her overall approach whenever possible.  (House mortgages excepted.)  When I look at our family’s financial situation thirty-five years later, I am so glad she had the patience to work with me on financial management.  She’s also taught Andrew and Claire about the thoughtful use of money.

6.  Even in light of the previous reason, when I took a shine to several very nice guitars, and had the wherewithal to buy them, she fully supported the scratching of my Guitar Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S.) itch.

Playing my Running Dog

Playing one of my Running Dog guitars

7.  Has consistently seen more in me than I see in myself.  Over thirty-five years, that’s a great confidence builder.

8.  Remembers everyone’s birthday, and sends cards, calls, and otherwise makes you feel very special…even if you don’t want to remember that you’re now 62!

9.  There have been times of misunderstandings.  All marriages have them.  Yet when one of us outruns the other, Candice will wait for me to catch up (if she’s ahead) or ask me to wait for her to get comfortable with wherever I am.

10.  We renovated two old homes early in our married life.  On the first house, we found ourselves arguing over how well I did the detail work and how slow she was in moving through items that didn’t require a lot of thought.  She had the good sense to point out that her focus made her the best person to take the paint off the baseboards, while my zeal for the big-picture meant that I should strip wallpaper to my heart’s content.  We never again strayed into each other’s territory, and it probably saved our marriage.

11. Wears “jewelry” created by Andrew and Claire in kindergarten and pulls it off as if she’s wearing the latest designer creation.  She always gets compliments when she brings them out.

12.  Is incredibly patient.  Will wait (and wait, and wait) for what she wants.  I guess that was a good trait, in that she waited for me!

20th Anniversary Dinner

20th Anniversary Dinner at Prospect Hill

13.  Is non-judgemental.  She has said that when she sees a situation where she might get frustrated by someone’s action, she stops and thinks, “What don’t I understand about this situation?”

14.  Loved both my parents and always treated them with respect and affection.  Candice and my father had a special bond, driven, in part, by their shared love for theology.  When my father died, Candice asked me to get as many of his theological books as I could from his library.  Two or three boxes of books later, we had significantly added to our collection.

15.  Knows how to snuggle.

16.  Takes good care of me when I am sick – especially those times when I’m a terrible patient.  I certainly would not put up with what I put her through when I don’t feel well.  (Note:  The times I am really sick, I’m actually a pretty good patient.  But that’s not often.)

17.  Is a wonderful mother to our children. I give her (and the twins) all the credit for how well they turned out as people.  Plus, I think the twins have been helped by having a mother who is a teacher.  She knows things from her training where I am clueless.

San Gmignano

Claire and Candice in San Gimignano

 

Andrew and Claire in Stockholm March 2014

Andrew and Candice in Stockholm

18.  Loves to travel, and is a great traveling companion for all of us.

19.  Does everything in her power to get me to eat a healthy diet.  If you see me with an order of french fries, you can be assured that I made the choice (instead of being served them as part of one of her dinners.)

20.  As the years of our marriage have passed, Candice has become much more comfortable with each of us separately focusing on things we enjoy.  I might go to a ballgame with a friend, and she’s fine with that (and in fact, is supportive.)  We can now spend the day together at home, and go for hours between checking in.  Yet she’s also aware of when we might need to connect.

21.  Loves good food and encouraged us to sit down and eat a civilized dinner with well-cooked food, thoughtful conversation, and no television.  We’ve been doing that for thirty-five years, and I think all of us have benefited.  As the children became older, we added candles (and later wine) to the mix.  Andrew and Claire have always been able to carry on meaningful conversations with adults, and I credit their experience at the dining room table.  We’ve also had some amazing conversations with them in recent years around topics that I never thought I’d consider – much less discuss.  All because of the good food and drink, and the space and time to share.

22.  Laughs at (most of) my jokes, even when she’s heard them dozens of times before.

23.  Has never been afraid to try new things.  In the course of our marriage, Candice’s jobs out of the house have included preservationist, teacher, tutor, shop keeper, caterer, teacher (again), innkeeper, and teacher (yet again).  I may have missed one or two.  Her curiosity, openness to new experiences, and desire to make a difference in the lives of others has taken her down many rewarding paths – for her and for our family.

Candice and Margaret

Candice and Margaret – two thirds of the catering team at Table Grace – seen here preparing one of our Thanksgiving dinners with the Pearsons

24.  Makes getting up early on Saturday to get to the Farmers’ Market fun, by tying it in with coffee and pastries at Tout de Sweet.  Saturday mornings are our time to connect with each other, catch up, and look ahead.  We both see it as our sacred time.

25.  Her idea of a perfect evening is to have an intimate dinner and conversation for several hours with a small group of friends.  As someone who doesn’t like large parties, I am forever grateful that this is her preference.

26.  Can get me out on the dance floor.

 

Candice and David celebrate their 32nd anniversary in Copenhagen, March 20, 2014

Our 32nd anniversary – celebrated in Copenhagen in March 2014

27.  Makes an effort to stay connected to family and friends.  She calls her family faithfully, and visits often.  When she hasn’t heard from someone in a while, she’ll often reach out with an email, Facebook post, text, or call to see how they are doing.  Once she “retired” she took to scheduling regular tea time or lunches with friends new and old.  My social life would be pretty limited without Candice’s instincts to connect with others.

28.  Loves traditions, and makes great ones for our family.  The twins – at age twenty-four – still look forward to getting their shoes filled with goodies on St. Nicholas Day.

29.  When cancer, a concussion, and hip replacement entered her life (at different times), Candice tackled each recovery with a dedication that I’ve seldom seen. She is a great example of how patient, doctor, spiritual director, family, and friends work together to bring healing to one’s body.

30.  Jazz is the only intersection between our musical tastes, but she has been to many more folk, bluegrass, and acoustic music concerts than I’ve been to concerts with acapella singing groups. She will put up with my music for a long time until she asks for a change (and Del McCoury is often involved in pushing her over the edge.)

31.  Candice grew up Catholic.  I was raised Southern Baptist, but by the time we met I had joined the Episcopal Church.  We agreed that we both wanted to worship in the same church, so we each took classes in the other church as we were preparing to get married.  (Note:  You can tell the difference in the two when you hear the names.  In the Episcopal Church, one attends the “Inquirers Class.”  For the Catholics, one goes to the “Converts Class.”)  I will always appreciate Candice’s willingness to move from her family’s church and towards the Episcopal church, where we’ve now been members for 35 years.

34th anniversary

Celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary at Ditirambo in Rome

32.  Neither one of us is perfect (surprise) and we often disagree.  But as Alain de Botton said in Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person, “The person we are best suited to is not the person who shares our every tastes (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in tastes intelligently – the person who is good at disagreement.”  Candice is good at disagreement, in that she never makes that disagreement personal, hurtful, or permanent.  To use de Botton’s phrase, “She can tolerate differences with generosity.”

33.  Loves to cook and is very good at it!  The first meal she made for the two of us had me hooked, and she hasn’t let up yet.  Yes, I know how lucky I am.

34.  For our 35th anniversary, was “all in” when I suggested a long weekend away at Mohonk Mountain House, for time to eat, read, meditate (yes, I went to a guided meditation class!), eat, get a massage, do yoga, eat, drink, and celebrate.  We had a delightful time re-connecting with each other and with this wonderful place.

35th anniversary dinner

Celebrating our 35th Anniversary at a snowy Mohonk Mountain House in March 2017

35.  Loves me unconditionally.  Who could ask for more?

Thank you, my love.  Let’s do thirty-five more!

Love, and with hopefully much more to come…

DJB

The Two Year Anniversary of My (In)Famous Encounter with an Ambulance

60th Birthday celebration

Celebrating my 60th birthday, along with my fractured shoulder and new sling

I was at work today when someone in a meeting reminded me that today was the second anniversary of my (in)famous encounter with a sliding ambulance.

What, you haven’t heard that story?  Well, go here to be reminded. You don’t want me to tell you about it now, because the story becomes “better” with every retelling.  I was reminded again that I was once “famous in cabs!”

After it came up today, I mentioned this anniversary to a guest in the meeting and he said, “You can’t say you were hit by an ambulance without telling the story,” so I’ve already had a chance to recount it once today.

When I ended he said, “That’s means you’ll be 62 tomorrow on your birthday?”  I replied, “If I make it!”  After my ambulance encounter at 59 years, 364 days, and 21 hours on March 3, 2015, I don’t take anything for granted.

Fingers crossed that this evening is uneventful. At least there is no ice in the forecast.

More to come…

DJB