Thrill Versus Routine

I think of myself as an interesting fellow. And since I am a little on the introverted side and not a champion of exploring the feelings of others, I am capable of living out this personally-held perception with a degree of confidence. I once considered myself adventurous, seeking thrill in doing the unusual or attempting the unlikely. Yet inwardly I long for the comfort of routine and the well-traveled paths.

Brian Wilson & Al Jardine. Austin, May 2017.

Of course, I have moments of revelation when I realize I’m more prone to the routine. I simply want others to see me with their thrill-spectacles on.

For example, I occasionally throw into a conversation that I am a drummer and once played with a touring group — even recorded with them. That, my friends, is pretty thrilling stuff. When pressed, though, I have to admit that the last time I performed was over three decades ago. The more truthful statement is that I was a drummer.

Last weekend, our son, Justin, hosted us at a Brian Wilson concert. The Beach Boys were the foundation of my popular music experience in grade school and junior high. Although only Brian and Al Jardine were on stage from the original group, the evening was a nostalgic and emotion-driven experience. All the words to the songs were on my lips. I could still anticipate each drum and percussion beat. And I remembered the time, prior to puberty, that I could sing the high parts, sans falsetto.

I felt the thrill and the desire to go back to music. But by the end of the concert, I knew that wasn’t a possibility. You see, I had abandoned my routine thirty years ago. The routine of listening to old music and new music, the routine of deconstructing rhythm patterns in my head, the routine of taking sticks in hand and building the new patterns and muscle memory that enable simply striking to be molded into music.

Routines can, of course, be reinstituted. But other routines must be pushed aside. At some point in life, we have to measure the thrill against the cost of routine. To experience the thrill on a regular basis — and to survive — demands routine to be a necessary element.

Too often, we look upon our routine as a burden. When in truth, the regularly pursued actions cannot only lead to a thrilling experience but can, in and of themselves, become a source of exhilaration. Simple things, even mundane things, can bring great pleasure and fulfillment.

And routines sometimes seem like luxuries. Several years ago, I was facing the challenge of rewriting a reference book. Out of the twelve chapters, nine were my responsibility. It was not a matter of updating, but one of reimagining and creating. I made a deal with my editor and publisher, to rewrite three chapters a year for three years. In earlier days, I would have taken a week or two of vacation annually and accomplished the task through binge-writing. Instead, I established a routine of researching and writing an hour a day, five to six days a week. My routine was a blessing as I sat at my computer from 7:30 to 8:30 each morning and the book took form. Not only did I complete that writing assignment, I found time to write other things regularly. The routine of writing was not only a discipline, it was a thrill. By honing my writing and thinking skills, I was able to accomplish my goal.

Writing, like drumming, has fallen out of my routine. It happens sporadically. Like drumming, my skills have diminished. Yet, the thrill remains and inspires because I now recognize that it is born from and lives inside the routine.

Perhaps I’ll write more. And, in private moments, perhaps I’ll drum to old tunes.

The Fountain of Youth

“There is a fountain of youth: It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”

That wisdom was shared by the one and only Sophia Loren. I didn’t see many movies starring Ms. Loren growing up — except for “Houseboat.” It was shown more than once on the Sunday afternoon movies on the local NBC affiliate. That last bit of trivia has nothing to do with this post, but reminded me of why I once thought having a nanny was a great idea. In truth, I thought living on a houseboat was even a grander idea, but the nanny concept was right up there pretty close.

I have never really pursued a fountain of youth. I don’t recall having a mid-life crisis, either. That could be because I didn’t have one or because I simply can no longer remember.

Throughout my 6+ decades I haven’t really thought about aging because the mental picture I carry of myself is one from my 20s — or perhaps my 30s or 40s — but certainly not my 60s. I spend a majority of my time thinking I can still do things I did a long time ago. And then there are those moments that I can’t. Without a doubt, I am getting old.

Those hesitant moments are different from other moments. After my recent shoulder surgery I was surprised when I could not, no matter how hard I tried, raise my arm. That is an injured moment — acute, but not chronic. These more senior moments are the ones that hit you in the gut with the realization that “this” (whatever “this” is) will never, ever get any better.

I had one of those moments at the gym yesterday. I’d like to tell you about how I can no longer benchpress several hundred pounds and how disappointing that was. However, I’ve been disappointed by that inability all of my life. No, the difficult moment I experienced was in a quiet corner of the locker room.

Often times I go to the gym very early in the morning. And, in an effort to conserve time, it is my practice to shower and dress for work while there. Before yesterday, I had always worn my glasses into the shower area, laid them aside with my towel and then donned them again on my way back to the locker room.

Ever seeking efficiency, I had the grand idea yesterday that I would leave my glasses in my locker. It greatly lessens the chance that I might lose them or drop them. So off I went to the showers sans eyeglasses. Shower completed I retraced my steps to my locker. It was then it hit me.

Without my glasses, I couldn’t see the numbers on the combination lock. I made an effort. I squinted. I rotated my head in bird fashion to elevate my good eye to a superior position. I squeezed my eyes tight and then opened them rapidly. I even tried to read the numbers on the lock in Braille-like fashion with my fingertips.

Nothing worked. The truth became much more clear than the numbers on that lock. I cannot see without my glasses. Nor will it ever get any better. I’m simply to that age.

We all have these moments when we see something we’ve taken for granted slipping away. Or in my case, not just slipping. That train had completely left the station. With that in mind, I was forced to begin thinking differently about the reality of our limited existence on this earth.

You would think at this point in the story that I might introduce a dramatic plot twist revealing my McGyver-like thinking and problem-solving. Instead, I turn to a bit of philosophy.

There comes a time when you have to turn the business of the day over to someone younger and better prepared.

And so I did. I was a little embarrassed to ask for help. Young guy. Maybe late fifties. More than happy to come to my assistance. With it, he offered this sound advice: “Don’t leave your glasses in the locker next time. No telling what might happen to you.”

Words to live by. Keep your glasses close by. Never go too far without extra hearing aid batteries. If you really believe you can outrun that car, you’re simply wrong. But that’s a story for another day.

 

Sometimes “I’m Better Off” Isn’t the Best Measure of Good Government

Privilege and Position Shouldn't Determine What's Right

I’ve stepped back from public comment about our current leadership in order to inwardly address the anger and frustration I feel towards our U.S. political environment. We are realizing the obvious. The current direction will not make America great again. This is not good government. And, honestly, it might not have been any better had the election results been different. We have some deep and difficult work to undertake before we get to good government.

photo credit: Madi Robson | unsplash.com

I freely admit that the Trump Administration and some of their actions have shown a momentary improvement to the economy. My net worth has gone up along with everyone else’s. At least those of us fortunate enough to have a net worth that can be impacted by policy.

But good government is not determined solely by the benefits for those who already enjoy privilege and position. Good government is about helping all so that we can move forward together. The policies of this administration, despite claims made during the election, will not accomplish that.

I understand that we have a problem with government largesse and bureaucracy. I am hopeful that some of the shrapnel from the budget policy bombs being dropped will positively change that. But efficiency won’t make America great. It will be too little and an investment in things and not people.

Politicians always claim that they will be able to unify people. That’s the only way that any organized group can move forward — whether it’s a nation, a sports team, or a business.

The proposed funding recommended by the current administration is not a unity budget. Ironically, the results it brings will further divide the American people. Despite an effort to paint the “enemy them” as immigrants and terrorists, we are pitting ourselves against each other.

It’s easy to be complacent. I’m white and middle-classed. There’s a good chance I’ll be better off economically in four years. But I won’t see the unity that makes us great. I’d rather have less and walk shamelessly with every single person.

The Pendulum Effect

Over a month ago, I announced my decision to leave Facebook. My decision was based on what I viewed as the debilitating impact it was having on my attitude toward other people. On February 15, 2017, I deactivated my Facebook account. My absence from that space has had a number of positive results for me — more time for other things, less judgmental thoughts about people posting inane political rants or cluelessly posting unsubstantiated information. I have missed the news about families, personal needs, children, and pets. In this few weeks of freedom from the daily Facebook routine, I have experienced a pendulum effect.

The pendulum was a remarkable breakthrough in technology in its day. A pendulum is a weight suspended on a rod or a line. When the weight is moved off center, the force of gravity causes it to move toward center. Because the force of gravity, the force that causes the weight to seek the center, is not strong enough to hold it there, the weight moves past center into the opposite direction. And the process is then repeated in reverse. If you have time on your hands, feel free to watch Mr. Science explain the pendulum effect.

In theory, if the pivot spot, the place where the rod or line is connected, is frictionless and the weight and the rod experience no resistance as they travel, this moving back and forth continues . . . forever. But there are outside forces that diminish the effect. Thus, with no additional assistance or boost, a pendulum set in motion will eventually swing back and forth until the resistance brings the weight to rest in the center.

The pendulum effect I have experienced was not theoretical. In my absence from Facebook, I left my judgmental ways and I experienced an extreme aversion to saying anything about, well, anything. But, then, my previous experience and other influences pulled me back toward center — and then back toward the desire to be excessively judgmental and vocal. I’ve been back and forth on this a number of times.

I’m beginning to feel that constant shifting in my intent fade as the forces of friction and the natural force of gravity — common sense and clarity — pull me to a place of equilibrium. I no longer fixate on a desire to judge others and to express my thoughts in a derisive tone. Yet, I find myself able, in this neutral place, to view what is happening around me and ask those questions that seek truth and understanding.

In other words, without being driven to be right, I am freed to calmly, rationally, and, to a great extent, joyfully explore the world around me. If you are feeling anxiety over events spinning around you, I’d urge you to set your pendulum in motion.