I’m not talking about charcoal shakes or Deepak’s latest book about how the real isn’t real. I’m talking about opinions. It’s not that yours are wrong. It’s that you have them. You don’t have to, you know. There’s no rule anywhere that requires you to think about the things you do. And, really, how do you know the things you know? You read them? You heard it on The View? Or on Meet The Press? In church?
There’s nothing wrong with opinions. I have lots. But I’ve also cultivated a healthy respect for not knowing. Learning to say “I don’t know” is one of the most freeing things you can learn to do.
And truth be told, you often don’t.
So embrace not knowing. Wrap your arms around curiosity. Listen hard to the other side. Keep an open mind. Quit judging what you cannot know the facts of.
I spent the weekend like most weekends. I ran each morning, worked on some reports for work, and worked around the house. I spent Saturday migrating this blog from WordPress to Go Daddy. My plan on Sunday was to mow the lawn. I come from a long line of men who measure each other by how perfectly groomed the lawn is. I know this is stupid but I do it anyway.
But yesterday was Father’s Day. You would think that this is a day when a dad can mow the lawn unencumbered with questions about building an American Girl desk, or making an exploding volcano, or catching someone’s legs when they work on their handstand. Or swimming. Not for me.
Choosing What Is Best
The girls were dying for me to jump in the pool with them. Aching. “Let me mow the lawn first,” I kept saying. Then I started to think about what I write about and about relationships and about just what the good life is. What the girls were really wanting was just thirty minutes of attention. They just wanted their Dad. My focus, my laugh, my silly jokes. There’s nothing hard about this. It’s easy. You just have to do stuff with them.
I guarantee that they will remember how much I like to mow the lawn. But that’s another kind of memory. It’s a kind of external memory. Something that Dad did out there. What they wanted was something on the inside. Something where our laugh mingles and gets down inside you and lives there. I’m not as good at these things but glad that I’m at least aware of them. In time, and with enough prodding by young girls who only want my time, I will naturally gravitate to the better thing. There’s nothing wrong with chores and washing the car and mowing the lawn. But they aren’t always the best things. I want to choose the best thing when it is standing in front of me begging.
If my wife ever leaves me any Starbucks reward stars, I trade them in for my regular and boring tall drip. If I’m feeling especially plucky I’ll make it a grandé blonde. But I was in the Big City a week ago and strolled into Teavana at the Mall. I was sniffing here and there and one of the salesfolks asked if I had a Starbucks reward card? Of course I do. Sheesh. I’m from Seattle. She explained that I could use 125 stars to get an ounce of tea. This is about a seven dollar purchase. I had no idea. So I traded in 250 stars – which would get me two cups of coffee – for an ounce of Black Dragon Pearls and an ounce of Creme Earl Grey. That would be a fourteen dollar purchase on its own. This has got to be one of the best buys from all the reward cards I’ve ever used.
Olga began competing in track and field at 77. By the time of her death at 95, she had won hundreds of gold medals and held almost every master’s record for her events and age groups. How? What was unique about Olga? Nothing that any doctor or researcher could determine. Her medical metrics were normal or close to it. She ate a healthy but not exotic or rigorous diet. She exercised daily. She maintained a positive outlook. But certainly, she was unique. Somehow all those normal parts added up to an extraordinary whole. The book offers no magic. No crazy diets. Only good advice that is easy to follow for longevity and happy living. An interesting and provoking read.
Copyright Dennis Mitton
So far, longevity has eluded the Mitton men. My Grandfather, and then my Father, died at a young 67. No four-score-and-seven for them. And 67 is a hop and a skip from where I sit. Both died from cancer. The best guess about my Grandfather’s death is granite dust. He was a stone cutter as a young man and turned stone pillars for government buildings all over Washington State. He didn’t smoke and had no history of cancer so granite dust was the cause that made the most sense to his doctors. The cause of my Dad’s disease was more confusing. He smoked but had no problems with his lungs. His mom died at 92 and lived the life of Annie Oakley until the Saturday morning she died. Twice a week she drove her golden boat – a 1967 Ford Galaxie four-door – from Milton to Tacoma for organ lessons. Wise drivers pulled over as she went by. Only the top of her head peeked from above the steering wheel and she took up two of the four lanes along the road. Trouble was no one could be sure which two she would take. And she didn’t much care. There were organs to be played!
Olga’s Mystery – Why Is She so Healthy?
We are far from figuring out how to stop aging though we are learning much. Exercise is essential. A good diet necessary. Good friends and healthy relationships help. The right genetics are contributors but not as much as we once thought. But longevity is only half the calculation. We want to live well. We want to be engaged in life. To keep learning. I want to race my Grand Daughter in her first 5k. And beat her. I want to watch my girl’s guitar recital. I want to wipe the tear from my wife’s eye when the twins move to Paris to live out their dreams – one to be a great artist and the other to design clothes for pets.
One person who lived long and well was Olga Kotelko. She began competing in track and field at 77, about thirty years after most people have died inside. By the time of her death at 95, she won hundreds of gold medals and held almost every master’s record for her events and age groups. How? What was unique about Olga? Nothing says the author of What Makes Olga Run? Her medical metrics were normal or close to it. She ate a healthy but not exotic or rigorous diet. She exercised daily. She maintained a positive outlook. But certainly, she was unique. Somehow all those normal parts added up to an extraordinary whole.
Olga’s Secret? There is no secret.
In What Makes Olga Run?, Bruce Grierson jumps head first into the whats, whys, and hows, of Olga. He attempts to understand what makes her tick. What he finds is that this extraordinary woman is, by most metrics, not very extraordinary. There is no magic here. Readers looking for super foods, esoteric yoga mantras, or exotic training regimens won’t find them here. Olga’s story is remarkable in how unremarkable it is. Grierson follows Olga through just about every test one can think of: stress tests, DNA analyses, diets, psychological examinations – and in every case she comes out normal or close to it. But somehow, in Olga, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Olga is extraordinary. At 77, when most people are dead or dying, she hires a Hungarian track coach and begins a daily training regimen. She eats a nutritious but not remarkable diet. She loves competition. She loves to win. She was upbeat and refused to dwell on the dark side of things. Somehow all of that added up to an uncommon life of steady and satisfying accomplishment.
The author ends with Nine Rules for Living that summarize simplicity and health. But for him, ‘Olga’s biggest gift’ is a change in perspective. He records her advice:
Look around. These are your kids. This is your wife. This is your life. Its awesomeness is eluding you. Pay attention. Yes, there will come a time when you have genuine, life-threatening ailments. But, for now, stop your kvetching. And stop dreading birthdays that end in zeros. Those zeros can pull you under, like stones in your pocket. At your age, your story is not ending: you know that.
Grierson’s Nine Rules that anyone can follow:
Be honorable and trustworthy
Believe in something
Build on small wins
Do what is fun
My Three Take-Aways for Longevity
Forget charcoal milkshakes and cryotherapy. Quit spending hundreds a month on supplements. So far, I’ve yet to find any real, science-based evidence that the following three guidelines are wrong:
What you already know about good health is true. Eat well. Exercise. Sweat a little every day. Enjoy friends a family.
Maintain a good attitude. Embrace optimism. Eschew pessimism. Keep a good perspective.
Your bad habits can be reversed. You can improve your heart health. You can enjoy time with your family again. Every decision, every step, every bite represents a fork in the road that leads to an end that you chose.
The book is not meant to be a textbook. There are passages, especially concerning biology, that could have been written more accurately. But precision in a book like this usually translates into boring. And the book is not boring. It is well written, reads easily, and is adequately documented.
If you’re as old as I am you’ll know all 213 of these songs. Some are true transcendent gems and some are B-sides that should have been D or F sides. I’m not a Beatles uber-fan by any stretch. If it’s the sixties you want, I’m much more prone to listen to some Stone’s dirty guitar or The Kinks or even Argent. But every soul alive on earth at the time was touched by the Fab Four so this is a fun list to go through. Where does your favorite land?
The Beatles from Worst to Best – One Opinion – What’s Yours?
Go here to see the article. Written by Bill Wyman for Vulture.
I was a high school junior and in love with writing and with science and, along with every other testosterone-sick guy in school, with Ms. Haft. She was newly graduated from college and wore her hair long and her skirts short. There was a hippie aura about her but inside was a rebellious fire. I haven’t a clue how she kept her job.
All together now – the F word
It’s still odd to me, but rather than standing or sitting, she would teach while kneeling on her desk. She eschewed rows and columns and circled our desks around the perimeter of the room. One day – it’s one of the few clear memories I have of high-school – Ms. Haft walked into the room, climbed onto her desk, knelt down, and in the most droning, flat, and unemotional voice, said it. The F word. “Fuck”. Pencils, papers, jaws – everything dropped. Every set of eyes shot up from whatever they were looking at and turned to Ms. Haft. The air left the room. After a very long and very pregnant pause, she said it again. Fuck. And then again. Fuck you. Fuck me. Well, fuck it all.
All of a sudden, school got interesting.
Today’s lesson, she explained, had two parts. Part One was that we would circle the room and everyone would say Fuck out loud, in turn. Just utter the word. Just form the sounds pushing air from your lungs and out your mouth. Touch your upper teeth to your lower lip and say it. Fuck. Good gawd. What harm can come from expelling air and forming a sound?
We went ’round our circle one-by-one. A couple of students, pale and panting at the idea of letting such an abomination squeeze through their lips, shook their head No. I think one person gathered up and left. Some, given permission to swear for probably the first time, said the word over and over until told to stop. In the end, I think everyone in the room except for two or three, completed the odd lesson.
Words do have meaning
Lesson Two was much less interesting: Ms. Haft explained that words are meaningless in and of themselves. Do you imagine that ‘Fuck’ has any real meaning? Do you imagine that lovers would say such a word to each other? If we never bat an eye when the word is spoken would people continue to use it? Words only have meaning when we agree to their meaning. We confer importance by our actions and reactions.
But isn’t that exactly what culture is? An agreement that words and gestures and swimming pools and a dozen wives mean something?
Words are symbols that tie our experiences to the world. The very purpose of a word is to convey meaning and no word is meaningless. Even a ‘meaningless’ word is representative of ”meaninglessness.’ Words move us to great joy or to great pain. Words can elevate a nation. Words can change your life in an instant. “I’m leaving.” “I Have a Dream!” “Math is hard.” How many girls have never forgotten when their dad told them that he loves them even though they are chubby? How many adults have never imagined what wonderful things they can do only because someone told them, three or four decades ago, that “you’re not good at that.” My own father remembered me at four-years-old reaching for his hand once to walk across the street. He said that he slapped my hand away and said “Big boys don’t hold hands”. It was meaningful enough for him to remember it fifty years later.
I disagree with Ms. Haft about the meaning of words but she alluded to something that I do agree with: dark things lose their power when exposed to light. Exposure reveals the right or wrong of a thing.
I don’t know what happened to Ms. Haft. I don’t remember if she was there for my senior year. The last thing I remember of her was when she caught on that my buddy and I were the sole members of our high-school Maoist club. We dropped pamphlets and commie art in teacher’s mail each morning and beamed for days after Ms. Haft told us that the school board had called a special meeting to discuss ‘communist infestation’ at the school.
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