How did I get here?

And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?                         -Talking Heads

 

A middle aged father, critical care physician, triathlete, water polo goalie and Bob Mould stalker wakes up one day and asks, “How did I get here?”

The answer to that is probably longer than what is appropriate for this blog, the human attention span being what it is. But that question along with its logical follow up, “where am I going?” has been on my mind quite a bit.

How did I get here? Where am I going? My past. My future. With change coming just around the corner, it’s hard not to have my headspace taken up by these questions. But with some more introspection, I find that this is my brain’s default; to be looking forwards or backwards. I can be in the middle of a long run or bike ride, but instead of seeing the countryside around me, my eyes focus on last week’s battles with the kids, wishing for a “do over”.  Or I fail to see the sunrise in front of me, on my morning drive to work, as I have already mentally dived into the ICU to deal with the overnight admissions.

My past. My future.

But what about my present?

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Clarity of the Unknown

Maybe it’s the Jeep with its top down, whipping thru the wind on the highway.

Maybe it’s the music playing…a combination of new and old. Of fast and imploring. Of slow and restrained.

Maybe it’s the caffeine from my first cup of coffee in a week starting to work its way thru my veins to my heart and brain.

Maybe it’s the race, that has been front and center in my brain for a month now, finally coming to fruition.

Maybe it’s the actual connection between Chicago and Madison. More than I-90, but where my past and present continue to intersect. The innocence (and obliviousness) of my seventeen year old freshman self on Madison’s campus, to a departing graduate four years later. Or the somewhat irregular path of preparing for this race that leads me to the hills around town and the comfort of nights at the Union Terrace, mingling with friends old and new.

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Bittersweet

There you are amongst the crowd. One of thirty freshman.  And my breath is taken from me. For a moment, the briefest moment, everything else on my mind fades away. The whirlwind of stress that has been the background beat for the last several months is now muted, and my focus is on you.  My daughter. Maya.

There you are amongst the crowd. One of thirty freshman flittering about for pictures prior to homecoming. But you are not flittering. You are my little girl, but you are not little anymore. My whirling dervish, my often naked chaos creator, the little one who was too scared to stand up and  “graduate” with her pre-school class, my  troublemaker who smeared tuna salad in the baseboard heater while we slept, my little girl who it seems has now grown up almost overnight.

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Focus

Madison FlyIMG_5925

I pull into the driveway, trying to leave that last of my work day behind.  As I enter the house, I am greeted by the all too familiar semi-chaotic scene in front of me.  Lola comes jumping to the hallway happy to greet, while my kids stay somewhat immobile in their current positions. Madison often on the couch, computer on as well as the TV.  A token book maybe by his side.  A phone  there as well with the screen still lit up from recent use. Maya will be in the kitchen, simultaneously eating while sprawled out on the floor, music from spotify playing overhead, trying to do math homework in between answering the multitude of texts that keep streaming in.  My frustration at the lack of focus in these two irritates me to no end as they have not remembered to put their morning’s breakfast away and the dishwasher from last night is still not emptied.   I can’t look anymore, and just head upstairs to change…

Madison.  I watch you pace along the pool deck with your new smooth shaved head.  You settle in behind the starting block waiting your turn.  The goggles move from forehead down to your eyes.  Your gaze,  straight ahead in front of you.  Up the starting block you go. Waiting. For the whistle.  “Swimmer’s take your mark”.  Hands curl on the platform, legs spaced apart, while newly formed muscles from a season’s worth of practice tense…waiting… The Starter’s “gun” goes off, and you spring to life.  How things have changed from the soft little racing starts you used to do.  There is purpose behind this one. You slice through the water to remerge.  Middle lane. Fast lane. Maybe a third of a body length behind those next to you.  Butterfly. Arms synchronized out in front, pulling forward.  You hit the wall, turn and power off.  Purposeful. Focused. Intense. Now  headed back. I can see you moving, driving forward.  Shoulders…When did you get such broad shoulders?  You pull slightly ahead with each stroke now. Into the second turn and back out again.  You look smooth. Coordinated.  It’s the third length of the four that it really hits me. Focused. Driven. You own this. This race, your season. You put the work, the time, effort. Morning practices, dry-land sessions. Not for me, your dad. For you.  Time slows…just a little bit. This moment is so beautiful to me. Watching you…

Final length.  Middle lane. You’re ahead and holding.  I remember my arms, heavy, burning, wanting to stop.  Finding what would push me, to push past the ache and burn.  My team? My pride?  You’re finishing strong, still smooth, closing in on the timing pad.  Final strokes… you don’t stop. No coasting or easing up.  You hammer your arms into the timing pad and the clock stops.   The mixed joy and frustration of a personal best, yet short of your personal goal. I know how you feel. I know how I would feel.  But I wish you knew how proud I am. The race is over but it still lingers. It’s still there in the pool and in my mind. I fight back the tears.

Maya.  You’re in front of me. On the stage. Poised and still, awaiting the music to start.  The song begins and so do you.  Movements and poses I have seen hundreds of times around the house, are now being put together rhythmically to your music. Your eyes and face, staring ahead,  with such intensity and focus.  Every movement with a purpose. Some slow and rolling, others sharp and punctuated.  The music builds and so does your pace.  You’re flying across the stage, jumping, hanging there with air beneath your feet.  Your breathing, controlled, by visible muscles  under your outfit. My eyes are drawn to yours, but all I see is a burning intensity that is all your own.  And as you do your ariel, time seems to slow a bit and everything else fades away except for you on the stage. This moment is so beautiful to me. Watching you do what you love to do.

The song is not over. Your timing is spot on. Arms and legs and body moving in perfect time to the rhythm and words. Your routine ends and it’s over.  But your performance still lingers. On the stage and in my mind.  I wish you knew how proud I am. I fight back the tears.

The weekend is over.  Sunday night and homework  is still not done. Scattered actions and the unfocused thoughts of two teenagers dominate the house as the reality of a school day tomorrow makes its way to their brain.  And as I try and deal with my own frustrations over this, I do find some solace in replaying their recent success in my head.  Their intensity, their focus. They both have it. They have it in spades. It is just at times extremely selective when and where they choose to use it.  But as my kids find their way in this world, I look forward to watching them use their focus and intensity in what they love to do.  I can’t wait to see how beautiful that will be….

Dissonance

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It is September 2012, a bit chilly out, a mist of rain that night, and I find myself a few feet from the stage, packed amongst several hundred others at the Metro. Bob Mould comes out with his new band and promptly starts playing the first song from Copper Blue, “The Act We Act”. Even if the 15 foot speakers were not 10 feet from my ears, the music is felt more so than heard. I am there at the Metro, but I’m also 21, just graduating college. I’m at my desk plodding thru organic chemistry and physics questions with Copper Blue playing on repeat in the background. It’s a warm summer night, but cool in my car with the top down and the stars dancing above, on the road to Michigan City or Fond Du Lac or Madison, with “Changes” on the CD setting the tone. The album is played that night start to finish at a frenetic but absolutely familiar pace. My heart pounding a half-tick ahead of the tempo as I am here, 42 years old, at the Metro, but also 22 years of age with my life ahead of me.

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Disequilibrium

yoga

About a week ago I wrote my first blog about BALANCE.  How I hope the journey to another Ironman triathlon will allow me to find more balance in life and continue to gain valuable insight.  So it was with enthusiasm I looked forward to my week. To throw myself into my family with visions of healthy home cooked meals shared while telling  stories of our busy days.  Mornings filled with pre dawn runs, before zipping to work  for another challenging day in the ICU.  A weekend started off with a crisp autumn morning bike ride, a family working together to clean a garage, a Badger and Bears football game to watch and get excited about. SO much opportunity to actively pursue QUALITY time with my family and friends.

So in the movies, a song would play in the background and slowly build to a crescendo as these events occur one after another, as everyone smiles and the energy is flowing. The dinner meal is eaten, the run is done with the sun rising in the background.  A life saved in the ICU followed by some dramatic cinematography of  trees whizzing by as I shift gears and fly on my bicycle. The garage now immaculate as we work together to sweep the last bits of dust off the garage floor, culminating in a Badger and Bears wins with my son and I high-fiving each other over another touchdown.  That is the movies. Reality is quite different.

No meal was cooked. Franky I don’t think I made it to the grocery store.  I passed out most evenings before 9pm. Didn’t make it to water polo at night and was too tired to drag myself out of bed to run in the am.  I barely made it to work on time and was running behind all day trying to keep my head above water.  I don’t think any life was dramatically saved, but there was plenty of drama at my office between partners as we struggle with an uncertain future in healthcare.  My knee was in so much pain after 15 minutes on the bike, I was forced to turn back by my riding partner. The garage is the same as it ever was. My teen-age son and I are barely talking after a rough weekend and I think I saw my daughter for about an hour sandwiched between  birthday party sleep overs and midnight bat-mitzvahs.  The Badgers and Bears were the only things that followed the script!

So, as this week started, I hoped to find some saving grace.  Something to help me find my center. To be an anchor to the DISEQUILIBRIUM I am currently feeling.  And there it was…..YOGA!  For years I have contemplated this.  First I am the LEAST flexible person I know. Seriously, I can barely touch my knees much less my toes.  My hamstrings I think stopped growing when I was 12, but my legs continued  until college leaving me with some serious flexibility issues. It has been one of my biggest limiters  to training  over the last several years and has led to many of my injuries.  But even more hopeful, was this mind/body/balance thing I’ve heard of with yoga. The breathing, focusing, inner reflection part that seems just perfect for what I’m trying to achieve.  So it is with some trepidation along with some hopeful enthusiasm, I signed up for my first session with Dahn Yoga uptown. I was  scheduled for an orientation 20-30 minutes early, to help me “assimilate” into the class.  So after a crazy day at work, with major tension working its way into my upper back and my right hamstring and hip flexor already in a knot, I race home, change clothes, and jump back into the car and head to the studio.   Let’s just say the drive over was the highlight of the experience. I’m not sure my writing can do justice to the next hour and half.  But I will try.

After walking in at 6:30 (for a 7pm class), I briefly meet the Yoga Master (nice man, mid 30’s, obligatory goatee and loose fitting clothes). I receive my orientation pamphlet to read as he disappears into a room. Five minutes later I’m done with orientation and have 25 minutes I guess to kill.  I’m now in a “lobby” with numerous books (energy particles, Chakras, mind/body connection).  Then my eyes sieze on a small “globe” of the earth floating above a mirrored base. Literally floating. I realize it must be a magnet (smart guy that I am).  I watch it spin and think what a perfect metaphor in front of me for BALANCE as this globe slowly rotates, perfectly centered defying gravity floating above the base. After a few minutes I can’t help myself. I must touch it. Feel it. Appreciate its balance!  So as I touch this perfectly BALANCED globe; THUNK!  The magnet has now pulled the globe onto the base, making a noise that echoes through the studio.  I’ve have literally just unbalanced the Earth.  I look around. No one is there. Quickly I try and separate the Earth globe from the base. I try to float it above just like I found it.. THUNK!! Again that magnetic thing. Now I look around for the hidden camera that must be somewhere aimed on me. I start to sweat. It’s 6:50. The “master” is bound to check on me (or the loud noise coming from the lobby) and people will soon be arriving for class. A few more tries and a few more THUNKs and I realize this is hopeless.  I can’t balance my own life at the moment, no way I can balance the Earth. I leave it pinned at an awkward but hopefully not too noticeable angle and quickly sit back down and await further instruction.

But further instruction never comes. As 7 pm rolls around, about 15 people stroll in, take off their shoes and head to the studio room in the back. The master still seems to be indisposed to either orient me or check out strange noises from the lobby, so I finally head to the studio myself.  What follows over the next hour could not have been further from what I have pictured as a yoga class in my head.  Now, I’m sure not all yoga involves warrior poses, downward dog stretches, and chanting with the legs crossed. However, hitting myself in the stomach for a 10 minute warm up, followed by jumping jacks and running in place for another 10 is not what I had envisioned. But I was  still hopeful we were going to work on some awesome pose that will loosen up my hamstrings or work on my knotted back.  But I’m teased by another 10 minute block of balancing on one foot with my eyes open and closed.  Then, there  are about 10 minutes  of some mild stretching where I start to think, this is it…Warrior pose here I come!  But then some Enya like new age music starts up and we are told to close our eyes and “feel” the music and “listen” to our own “rhythm” and move to the “voice” inside our bodies. Over and over the master tells us to just listen to ourselves.  I can’t help but open my eyes and peek. There is probably some bad yogi karma that I have just cursed myself with but I don’t care. 15 people are all moving to their own unique “beat” as there really is not much of one in new age music.  All the time MY voice is telling me to “move” next door to Subway and Starbucks for a 6 inch  veggie sub and a Venti Americano.  Class wraps up with 5 minutes of breathing while lying flat on my back, and I’m still left with tight hamstrings, a sore back, an unbalanced Earth in the lobby and a craving for a Subway sub!

So, what have I learned over the last several days? What insight have I gained. First, life at the moment is not quite balanced. I would call it a state of DISEQUILIBRIUM.  The balance though I am looking for is not going to come by forcing it all into a weekend, or captured by taking  a yoga class.  It’s going to be through a process. Two weeks of minimal conversation with my son is not made up over a three hour Bear’s game. And one family dinner does not counteract evenings glued to our smart phones.  But a good weekend can be a building block  for more meaningful conversations and interactions  during the week.  Better BALANCE is going to come through persistence and consistency not by “crash forced family weekends” and definitely not by listening to Enya and finding my inner rhythm.  So, DISEQUILIBRIUM 1, BALANCE 0  is this weeks score, but I’m playing the long game on this one.