Life is Life

Life is Life

The concept of “life expectancy” would appear logical at the outset. “Hey, let’s let’s just use math to try and estimate the average lifespan of a human being.” Or a dog. Or turtle. Whatever it is. I think there’s subconscious comfort for people, perhaps, in knowing such things. And maybe it’s even good. Perhaps some people see that life expectancy number at age 50 and it just cold-cocks them. Wham! They realize they’re not where they want to be in life and then the consciousness does kick in and they make a bunch of huge positive changes for the good of themselves and others and everything is ducky and all is well. And I mean that. I’m not being sarcastic.

But the truth is there is no north star for us. I absolutely cannot live my life in such ways, looking out to some arbitrary number that some medical company or research publication published. All this life expectancy stuff might be factually accurate, but this is one of those rare times when I can’t let data drive the story (my co-workers, if they see this, are going to laugh at that statement).

I came across an article on TheHill.com last week about life expectancy. Here’s one of the key takeaways:

CDC data shows that the difference between life expectancy among men and women has also widened. Now, men in the United States have an average life expectancy of 73.5 while women can expect to live until age 79.3.  

TheHill.com, By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech | Jan. 05, 2023

This is a decline in life expectancy, by the way, from previous data. And I am sure you know why, but in case you don’t, there’s that little COVID-19 thing that happened. So, should I plan my life now towards having 22 years left? No. I should not. And I do not. It’s not that I am confident I have more time than that left, it’s that I don’t know how much time I have left. That is how I approach it. Now, I take pretty good care of myself. I exercise a lot, I eat relatively well, and I am fairly risk averse. This gives me some confidence (my god, knock on wood) that I have a good shot at exceeding that. But I could also get hit by the proverbial bus tomorrow. Nothing is ever guaranteed.

But hark! The article is really about life expectancy by state. So in this there is good news for me:

1. Hawaii-80.7 

2. Washington-79.2 

3. Minnesota-79.1 

4. California (tie)-79 

5. Massachusetts (tie)-79 

6. New Hampshire (tie)-79 

7. Oregon (tie)-78.8 

8. Vermont (tie)-78.8 

TheHill.com, By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech | Jan. 05, 2023

I go from 73 to 79! Thank goodness I have another six years due to the state I live in. BAH. Here’s the thing – you’re healthy or you’re not. You’re lucky or you’re not. Your genetics are good or they are not. Average life expectancy is just a collection of 1’s and 0’s, a calculator-driven algorithim that means nothing. It’s what you do with every day, every moment. Everytime I play a hockey game, I am grateful for having participated, experienced, and finished another game. I’m grateful I have a job that pays the bills. I’m grateful.

I know it’s kind of passe to use this quote, but Andy Dufrene was right in Shawshank Redemption – get busy living, or get busy dying.

Strong Enough

Strong Enough

I made a passing reference to this in my last post and perhaps I’ll spill out a bit more here and there in the coming months, but high level, I’m doing some work on myself. Trying to create a vision for my post-50 years. It’s a very interesting exercise. I like to think of it as a productive mid-life crisis, right? I’m not out there dropping cash bombs on sports cars, I’m investing in myself.

I know that if I want to have a lot of post-50 years, I have to take care of myself physically. This has to be part of my vision. Some of my more recent posts talked about my weight, which has been a consistent 175-180 for the past 3 years. I’m not trying to increase or decrease that. Cardio wise I feel good about myself, as I walk 1-2 times per week and play ice hockey three mornings per week. The one area that I need to lean into is strength. I have definitely felt a slight degrading there as I age and I want to address that, as it’s important in these years in order to maintain and set myself up for best possible outcomes.

The problem is that I find it to be incredibly boring. In fact, I find anything with the exception of hockey boring and monotonous. And my brain – which I truly believe has some small level of undiagnosed ADHD – is not good at maintaining and sticking with things that are boring and monotonous for me. With hockey, it’s still something I really enjoy and have done all my life, so there’s a confidence and still genuine interest there. The gamifying of exercise is a real carrot for me.

Weightlifting, which I need to start doing again, is not gamified. It is basically lifting heavy stuff, counting to 10 or 12, then waiting a minute and doing it again. And again. I have a weight bench right in my basement because I know I am not a “go to the gym” guy. Tried that. The weight bench I have provides myriad options for strengthening all muscles. And through the years I’ve been on and off with it. For the past 2 years, I’ve been in off mode.

So I look to you, my reader(s) – how can I make strength/weightlifting more exciting or competitive for myself where I will stick with it and hopefully bank some good solid (upright) years on my life? This New York Times piece from yesterday talks about the importance of mixing cardio and strength training, so I gotta get on it. Help!

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Last Year’s Man

Last Year’s Man

Well here we are, another new year. Each year it seems like I say to myself “wow, another year, how did that happen” or “damn, this year went by so fast.” I was on a walk with Stephanie yesterday and we talked about 2022, but tried to keep it focused on the good things that happened. There was a lot of good, sprinkled in with some struggles. That is called life. And now I’m saying to myself “Electric word, ‘life’, it means forever and that’s a mighty long time….”

Anyway, I’m listing some (not all) of my 2022 highlights below, in no particular order. Yesterday’s walk will come into play here.

Grateful for Reading:
At the beginning of 2022, I made a vow (dare I say resolution) to read more books than I did in 2021, and I did that. The bar was low, as I only read 3 books in 2021 and I suspect that may be a low point in my reading life. This year I read 11 books. I will list 10 of them here:

  • “Going There” by Katie Couric – excellent, honest memoir, she isn’t afraid to expose her weaknesses (or strengths)
  • “The Moth in the Iron Lung – A Biography of Polio” – very interesting look at Polio, though the end was unnecessarily preachy about vax avoidance
  • “Fighting My Way to the Top” by Shawn Thornton – I met him on several occasions for work stuff, super nice guy. Good story.
  • “Lights Out” by Ted Koppel – really made me think and assess a few things. See here.
  • “When Crisis Hits Suburbia” by Ted Riely – read this after reading Koppel book. A little over the top about “prepping” but also some sound advice
  • “The Nineties” by Chuck Klosterman – foremost pop culture writer on watershed moments in the decade. A gas to read.
  • “Devil in a Coma” by Mark Lanegan – a shorter Lanegan book about his time with Covid. I’m still so sad about his death
  • Hello Molly – A Memoir” by Molly Shannon – summer vaca book and terrific, harrowing journey. I love her.
  • “Brain on Fire – My Month of Madness” by Susannah Cahalen – frightening, compelling book about your body/brain abandoning you
  • “When to Rob a Bank” by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner – collection of blog posts from the “Freakonomics” guys. So great

Grateful for Listening:
Of course music still plays a gigantic, meaningful role in my life. Here’s a few things I enjoyed this year:

  • Wet Leg (self-titled) – released early in the year, maybe the most pure fun I’ve had listening to an album in years.
  • Built to Spill, “When the Wind Forgets Your Name” – so rock solid and dependable, every time. What a band.
  • Spoon, “Lucifer on the Sofa” – I had not loved their last couple of releases, this one brought me back to them. Rhythmic and excellent.
  • Deer Tick live at The Sinclair, December 12 – i can’t get enough of this band’s music, especially live. There’s a comfort and happiness with them.
  • Black Keys “Dropout Boogie” – another remarkably consistent band, gritty, fun, bluesy.
  • Julia Jacklin “Pre-pleasure” – how she still flys under the radar is stunning to me. One of my favroite emerging talents in years
  • Pavement live, at the Boch Center, September 28 – I hadn’t seem them in maybe 20+ years, so it was emotional, they’re a top 5 band for me

Grateful for Working
I am in my sixth year at Avid as VP of Web & Ecommerce and I continue to be thoroughly stimulated and challenged by work. What more could I ask for? My scattered brain loves bouncing between different things and my current job is perfect for that. I love all the challenges it brings, from forecasting/budgeting to managing a team of 15 excellent people to helping drive and optimize a digital experience for a global buisness. It’s rewarding, befuddling, funny and challenging.

Grateful for a Lot
This part is probably the most important. As 2022 progressed, a very interesting thing happened to me. I’ve become more grateful in general for all kinds of things. I’ve really leaned into this. I’ve learned to let frustrations go far quicker than I historically have. If something crazy happens at work, for example, I don’t let negatively linger about it – I remind myself that I am grateful to have a job and if there’s other people involved in some kind of frustration, I just pivot and wish them well in my mind. They may be having a bad day or struggling with something I don’t know about or can’t comprehend. If someone cuts me off driving, same thing. I am here to tell you this works.

Not that I wasn’t grateful before, but I’m discovering that when you really focus on changing your mindset to be more grateful and having a positive vision, it reverberates around your whole life. I realize this is all very “woo-woo” to say, but it’s absolutely true. Be grateful for your family, friends, health and well-being. It truly pays off. Some of this realization has occurred through some work I’m doing on myself in a somewhat formal way but even before that I could feel myself leaning this way. Adjust the mindset. And it’s really worked.

Let’s talk about positive vision for a second. My neighbor sends out an email at the end of every year with a list of his favorite music and I received the 2022 email yesterday (Dec 31). I noticed that Midlake was on his 2022 list. Midlake is a band that is not very well-known that I also happen to love. Back in 2012 one of leaders of the band quit – the band soldiered on – but I’ve been keeping tabs on that musician who left, hoping and waiting ever since that he would make some music on his own. But he hasn’t. And I wrote back to my neighbor and we were both thrilled that we knew someone else who loved Midlake and how we both really wanted this guy (Tim Smith) who we haven’t heard from in 10 years to release some music. And just last night after this exchange, I said to myself that I’m grateful for Midlake still being around and I hope that TIm Smith was ok. This morning at 8:53am, on January 1st, about 14 hours after having that thought, this email showed up in my inbox.

Is this a coincidence that it’s been 10 years since Tim Smith has released any music at all and that yesterday I had this very specific thought and then this email arrived hours after? The practical skeptic in me says yes, absolutely a coincidence. Perhaps the evolving me doesn’t.

Now, I can’t tell you one way or another if anyone has noticed in observing me that I’ve become more grateful, positive, appreciative or perhaps spiritual (and I don’t mean GOD spiritual, I have my issues with formal religion. But I’m not focused on this self-work to enhance how people feel about me. Any perceived improvement in how people view me is (or will be) gravy. I’m doing it for me, because I think I need it. But I can tell you that in 2023 you’ll see some other stuff coming from me that maybe you (or I) didn’t expect. I’m looking forward to it, and grateful that I have the health, mindset, ability and wherewithal to pursue it.

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Big, Big Up That Energy

My typical approach to most things medical is “oh, that’ll go away” or “I don’t have to worry about that yet.” I’m not irresponsible by any means – I know when to go see a doctor, and I do. But if I have a sore hip or elbow or if my lower back aches, I’m pretty confident that’ll it go away eventually. If it gets to the point where it’s months, then I know I should probably go in for a look.

Things like metabolism, on the other hand, seems like stuff that floats around in the vast distance. In my 20s and 30s, I recall an older friend often saying “just wait until you hit your 40s and your metalbolism slows down.” Well, I didn’t really know what that meant and I didn’t pursue the knowledge. Why? Well, go back and read the first sentence of this post. I think I’ve always just thought of metabolism as tied to the energy my body produces as a result of my food intake or something. And that when my metabolism slowed down, I’d have to change my eating habits or exercise even more so that I didn’t gain unhealthy weight.

This week as I was reading my various news feeds I came across this article from the Scientific American about metabolism and I thought to myself that it was time to dig in and learn more about this thing that was supposedly going to show up one day, slap me upon the face and render me a useless sloth.

I know, I know, I had decades to just pop it into Google, so why now? I don’t know. I don’t have to explain myself! The urge just hit me. Lo and behold, the article is more interesting and fun than you might think when you hear the words “metabolism” and “Scientific American.” Witness here, the author talking about his daughter’s seventh birthday party:

Aside from the fresh veggies left wilting in the sun, none of the food was recognizable as a product of nature. The cake was a heat-treated amalgam of pulverized grass seed, chicken eggs, cow milk and extracted beet sugar. The raw materials for the snacks and drinks would take a forensic chemist years to reconstruct. It was a calorie bonanza that animals foraging in the wild could only dream about, and we were giving it away to people who didn’t even share our genes. All this to celebrate some obscure astronomical alignment, the moment our planet swept through the same position relative to its star as on the day my daughter was born. 

Scientific American, January 2023

Not exactly what went through my mind during my kids birthday parties, but I digress. The author is an “evolutionary anthropologist” and the article goes on to report out on a study done by he and his colleagues, where they made “important strides in understanding how our bodies use energy” and how their findings “have overturned much of the received wisdom about the ways human energy requirements change over the course of a lifetime.”

So my very amatuer understanding of metabolism seems to be in the ballpark. The author further defines it for me in the article:

Our metabolism is the energy we expend (or the calories we burn) each day. That energy comes from the food we eat, and so our metabolism also sets our energy requirements. Calories in, calories out.

Herman Pontzer, Scientific american, january 2023

And there you have it. Bascially every phase of our life, every minute of it in fact, requires some kind of energy. Our growth, reproduction, day-to-day needs – all driven by food and energy. I won’t ruin the rest of the article for you – you really should read it – but it goes to talk about the results of the study and as it turns out, my older friend was both wrong and right about metabolism “coming for me” in my 40s and 50s. Wrong because I’ve managed to stay active and eat relatively healthy, therefore my energy has generally been good and consistent. But he was right because it really depends on your food intake, exercise regimen and yes, those pesky genetics. Turns out that metabolism stays remarkably consistent until about age 60, but of course depending on how you treat yourself in the run-up to that age.

Check out that blue area on the graph on the right – very consistent from age 20-60.