Recently my sister Fran commented that the only people she sees walking are those with dogs. Since she told me this, I’ve been paying closer attention and I can report that, dogs aside, I encounter more runners than walkers. This is curious as it is far harder to run than walk and walking offers the same benefits as running (so “studies” say).
As it happens, I know why this is so. The difficulty of running masks the crucial inhibitor to walking: our boredom with ourselves. If we walk without a specific purpose, like walking a dog or to lose weight, we encounter, step by step, our own minds. Now, that is fine when walking from our car to the stores but is more daunting for an hour or two or three. Funny how we often say, ‘I barely have time to think’ that when we do have time, we don’t use it.
There is a second factor that leads to ever-shorter walks and that is our boredom with nature. Why look at a tree when you can examine your phone for the latest advertisement? I am not pointing fingers as I write from experience. In the woods where I often walk, there are all kinds of trees. I think this but I don’t know, for sure, the names of any trees or flowers or birds. Yes, I could identify a tulip and a cardinal but not much more. Our walking forbears would cluck at this.
Walking through a woods with so blank an understanding, so limited a vocabulary, would be like walking through a record store (when they existed) and not knowing that there were more than one kind of musician, not having heard of the Beatles or the Stones, the Dead or the Kinks. Now that would be boring!
Tags: Thoreau, Walking
To everything in nature there is a corrective, something, someone to ‘pull our coats’ and say “hold on now, you have a long way to go before you think you’re any good.” One such curmudgeon is our old friend, Henry David Thoreau.
It is my long-held way to want literary companionship as I take up a new venture. Now that I am walking an hour to two-and-a-half a day, I thought I was ready to read what Thoreau had to say, as I remembered that he was a great walker. It is amusing to read him dismiss ‘old gentlemen’ who go for their salutary one hour jaunt before dinner – as if that was walking. Walking on roads, on paths? My dear Sir, please.
After just a few pages of Walking, I was feeling less heroic and then came:
We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.”
Undying adventure! Now that is something to walk out the door for.
Most of us go for walks though less often than we think is good for us. On Thanksgiving, between the meal and desert, walks are elevated to an Olympian status. Who hasn’t thought, on those vein-clearing strolls, that “we need to do this more often”? We think of the benefits of walking but not of walking itself.
For people like me, people with a new hip, walking seems a miracle at first. We are told that we will take a few steps even the day of the operation but we don’t quite believe it. So we take those first steps, left foot and let the right foot catches up, then again and then a few more and it is back to bed. We accept whatever kudos fly our way and we say how encouraged we are but deep within, we are far less sanguine. We wonder if Humpty-Dumpty will ever be able to hop up on the wall again.
Yesterday, on a walk with my daughter and granddog, she (my daughter) mentioned that this was the best she had seen me walk. She was right; I was walking well which I could tell because I had forgotten that I was walking. It’s been 12 weeks post-op and I get an unasked for compliment. My previous strategy was to tell people how well I am walking and coax them through an expectant silence to agree with me.
Now that I go on walks most days and some long ones, I’ve had time to think about walking – and why we struggle so to do it consistently. But enough of this for now, the outdoors awaits.
Tags: Bach, Goldberg Variations, Jeremy Denk, NPR
Jeremy Denk, the pianist, is not short of kudos these days as he recently won a MacArthur “Genius Grant” and then, too, there are those standing ovations. Still, with the retirement of Alfred Brendel, he is my favorite pianist, my favorite musician and I want to say why.
Denk gives you more than the notes. He has a blog, ThinkDenk. His liner notes are classic, both super-knowledgeable and witty. He recently did a series of pieces for NPR on the Goldberg Variations by Bach and his spoof, Why I hate the Goldberg Variations is a must. My wife and I recently saw (experienced!) Jeremy Denk play the Goldbergs in Chicago and the experience was so much greater than normal because of what I refer to as his denkishness.
He recently recorded the Goldberg Variations and instead of liner notes, the recording came with 9 video segments in which Jeremy talks about the music. Frankly, priceless as he dishes knowledge with wonder.
This is why Denk and why I appreciate him so: he gives you so much of himself and as he plays and writes and talks about the music, he becomes super-alive – and some of that rubs off on us. A genius, yes – but oh so beautifully human.
In a follow-up post I will write about those very famous and yet to most unknown, Goldberg Variations.
Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Fran Lang, Joanne Lipman, NY Times, Woody Allen
From a deep recess in my memory comes one of my younger brothers running down the stairs with my clarinet book opened to the page in which my teacher had marked a succession of incomplete assignments. My brother ran right to my parents to show them my ineptitude. That was the end of the clarinet. I was in 4th grade.
In this past Sunday’s NY Times, Joanne Lipman makes the case in Is Music the Key to Success?, for the deep study of playing music as a key to future success in life. She calls upon the famous, like Woody Allen and Condoleezza Rice, to back up her argument. According to Lipman, “multiple studies link music study to academic achievement.”
While I’m sure nay-sayers can list all the bank robbers who mastered the bassoon, her point feels right to me. I’d give anything to start over as a young boy — perhaps I’d be playing clarinet next to Woody. Seriously: learning an instrument requires stick-to-itiveness and I lacked this early on. It was only when I learned that we could do just about anything if we tried really hard for really long that the world broke well for me.
Read the article and tell me what you think.
(Shout out to my sister Fran for alerting me to this article!)
For many of us, when we have committed to a big goal, whether it is making a big quota, selling a big account, losing a lot of weight – anything big – while we are thinking we are committed, we hold something back. It is human to do so.
In these pages I’ve written about my commitment to being fully Awake. Integral to this is sleeping better. I’ve tried everything – well, not quite everything. Let’s see: I’ve stopped reading in bed, I try to keep to a schedule, I limit my caffeine and about 8 other things. It wasn’t working, though each individual routine change worked temporarily.
I have loved coffee for a long time and became fanatical about it. I often found coffee and the process of making it – profound. I knew, of course, that coffee had something to do with my sleep issues and I began to decrease my consumption. First I eliminated half & half, thus decreasing the allure. Then I cut down the amount to a thimble-full and still I did not sleep well. In other words, I was doing everything except the one thing I needed to do: give it up entirely.
As it has turned out, the amount of caffeine in my system was not waking me up but the attachment I have for that one cup of coffee was. The idea of having that one, beautiful cup propelled me out of bed. I was like a young boy and every morning was Christmas.
Well, it’s been almost two weeks outside the hegemony of coffee and I am sleeping well and am as fresh as a daisy. I am delighted and not climbing the walls. My only concession so far is to admit that if I do go to Vienna again I know I will be looking up what time those famous coffeehouses open. A man must have something to look forward to.
Tags: Clay Christensen, Dave Ramseur, Innovator's Dilemma, James Allworth, Karen Dillon
Over lunch not long ago, my friend Dave Ramseur mentioned a book as particularly worthwhile: How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen (and James Allworth and Karen Dillon). Dave is a thoughtful sort of fellow and my thinking was ruminating in this direction and so I went to one library and then another but came up empty. This was a break as I have now read it twice and the last chapter more times than that and owning it, I know I will turn to it again.
Christensen is a Professor at the Biz School at Harvard and he is most famous for, I think, his Innovator’s Dilemma. I read this book long ago and I thought his concept (that large organizations create their own barriers to innovation) was true then and think so still today. I also knew that he was a key thinker behind Romney’s campaign for President, which I took as a plus for Romney.
How Will You Measure Your Life? is a book that I wish was available when I was just starting out in business. HIs point that he delivers quite convincingly, is that you cannot leave your purpose in life to chance. I don’t think that Clay would be impressed that my purpose has been to support my family. He would say that that was not sufficient and that I was selling myself, my family and the people I work with short.
It is never too late – or too early – to think deep thoughts.
Tags: Apple, Ingrid Mackey, iPhone, User Interface
My wife, Ingrid, woke up to find a new User Interface (UI) on her iPhone. Within seconds she reported that she didn’t like the look of it and had lost key functionality in the Calendar. Ah, well, she is a user and new interfaces are not designed for them.
In the software arena where I have hung my hat, I have been haunted by the dilemma of the UI. Even customers who moaned about the UI when they are buying, become comfortable with the old tried-and-true before long and would vote against a penny being spent on improving it. So why did Apple bring out a new UI? To win new business against the Jones and the Samsungs of the world and they are right to do so.
You see, users will get used to the new UI after some kvetching. But if you are perceived as old in the marketplace – well, that isn’t good for anyone.
Tags: Leonard Cohen, Living Beautifully, Pema Chödrön
As Leonard Cohen once said about the benefits of many years of meditation, “The less there was of me, the happier I got.” (Quoted from Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully.
First of all, when Leonard talks I listen and when Pema quotes him – well!
I have been thinking about opinions lately. I have been often called “opinionated” and not in a complimentary way. It is true and what is this blog after all but a compendium of my opinions. I’m pouring blogs on my fire. But can life be lived without opinions? It is one thing to start out as a tabula rasa but shouldn’t we be able to say something juicier than “I’m cool with whatever you were saying”?
The problem with opinions, as I think about it, is that they weigh us down. If we hold onto them, they are like anything else we own – we have to take care of them and that is emotionally draining. Instead, I am going to have my opinions – some great, some ridiculous – and then I am going to let them go, even the good ones, into thin air.
I feel lighter already.
Tags: Hip replacement, Physical Therapy
“I told my wife you were coming to this class.”
“What made you say that,” I asked, as we walked into a classroom for our hip replacement orientation.
“When I saw you limp from your car I figured that you were getting a new hip like me.”
Of course, I knew I was limping and that my limp was getting progressively worse. Still, I was struck that others noticed. ‘Getting rid of my limp’ became ever more in the forefront of my mind as I approached the operation. But, now 30 days later, I’ve adjusted my thinking.
In the almost two years that I did Physical Therapy prior to the new hip, my therapist and I spent a good deal of time working on walking properly but, while I may have improved, I never could achieve a proper walk. Our theory was that the faulty hip was precluding a correct stride. That made sense and yet until I began to walk after the operation, I did not know if this was true. It is and it isn’t.
My new hip does permit a proper stride or has the potential for good walking. But left on its own, without training, I’d likely still be limping. It seems that you can’t press a button and eject the limp. Our body grows comfortable walking a certain way and if that way is a limp, our body seems delighted to keep it around.
I’ve decided to not get rid of my limp but instead, focus on walking really well. Although I don’t have film to back me up, I likely walked swayed one way or another in my prelapsarian days. Most people do. In my health club there is a particularly large elderly clientele. Virtually every one of them is locked up in one way or another: hunched, stooped, one shoulder up – one down, one leg moving at a different speed than the other, upper body not moving. Unless challenged, time takes a pitiless toll.
So instead of just getting rid of my limp, I’ve committed to learning to walk in a balanced, carefree way. In my last PT session, we worked on coordinating my somewhat shy left shoulder with my right foot moving forward. Interesting!