Tuesday, December 24, 2013


I once wrote about how i like marathons because success or failure is unambiguous-- you either run the time you wanted to or you don't.  Life is not like that, but on the other hand it is foolish to evaluate it aspect by aspect as if life were some sort of checklist to be completed.  I'm not even sure if there is such a thing as success or failure in life, other than the basic requirement of continuing to exist.  About all you can do is reflect on the choices you've made and contemplate if where you've arrived is very far from where you might have been.

I turned 50 about a week ago, and nice round numbers cause one to reflect.  It's futile to compare your life at 50 to childhood aspirations, or at least it is depressing unless maybe you are Elon Musk.  When i was in high school, i thought i would be a billionaire and also win the Nobel prize, so i was kind of set up for disappointment.  At that time i didn't even think of the things that have made my life good, like my sons, or the peculiar satisfaction i got from running long distances.  You also don't imagine the ways that life will damage you if you live long enough: the lost friends, the opportunities that can't return, the injuries both physical and psychic.

I struck upon a test of happiness several years ago that works for me.  It's not a metric per se-- you can't use it to compare your happiness to someone else's, provided that you both pass the test.  The test (which i've probably stated before) is this: would you trade your life, in full, with another person?  Not just facets of that person's life, so you can't trade for his or her career success, or his or her appearance, etc. but everything.  Would you give up your friends for that person's friends, your family for theirs, etc.    If not, then it means that you have something in your life that you would not trade, and that is a sufficient criterion for happiness to my mind.

I feel fortunate that i have people and activities in my life that i would not trade for anything.  But this is also an age where one is young enough to enjoy what life offers but old enough to have a fairly clear idea what those things are.  Music can still make me downright joyful, and good food and wine can ameliorate a lot of stress or disappointment.  Even with my replacement parts and diminishing abilities, i enjoy the ineffable feeling of the good days running on trails or biking up the Coast highway.  The older i get the more i appreciate those things that are just there, the things that don't need my effort or responsibility or care.

There's a line attributed to John Barrymore something like "a man is not old until his regrets replace his dreams".  That's the approach i'm trying to convince myself to take.  My failures and regrets at 50 are fairly numerous, but not burdensome.  Even another five years, or ten, could see some dreams fulfilled or maybe some new dreams formed.  My mantra is essentially: improve and explore.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


I guess this is just my birthday blog now.

Anyway, another year has passed.  The interesting things that happened:  my older son is now in college (UC Berkeley); i ran my first half-marathon since my hip surgery.  And... that's about it.

My hip felt better this year.  Still stiff, but i'm able to run a bit and do martial arts.  Obviously, i don't approach my former level of activity, but that's probably also related to being nearly 50.  My annual birthday bike ride this year was just a token ride around my neighborhood, since the weather was bad and i was recovering from the flu.  The only travel i did this year was a trip to Denver for work, and a trip to Ithaca/Cornell when my son was touring the colleges to which he was accepted.  I guess i could also include the drive back/forth to Berkeley.

Music and books that i can remember:
  • Lots of Guided By Voices
  • Tame Impala (Lonerism)
  • Pinback
  • The Black Keys
  • Bob Mould's Silver Age
  • A few Neal Stephenson books
  • Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian
  • Gleick's The Information
  • Dark Pools by Scott Patterson
  • Strange Beauty (a biography of Murray Gell-Mann)
  • Re-read Crime and Punishment again
  • Also re-read The Snow Leopard
  • Also re-read To Kill a Mockingbird
Blood Meridian is one of the best, most memorable books i've read in years.

Sadly, the day before my 49th birthday, a man shot and killed 20 children in an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.  One of those children was the 6 year-old daughter of a couple of friends who had moved from San Diego a couple of years earlier.  It's impossible to really process this.  I can't really comprehend how, as a parent, your life can go on.

Friday, December 23, 2011


It took me more than a week to get around to my annual birthday post, which probably says all that needs to be said. This year i did my annual bike ride solo, riding around San Diego's south bay to Coronado Island and then back to home. About 90 miles total, but slow.

In most ways this was a better year than last. My hip is better, though not perfect, and i've even done a little running, wise or not. I did my first double century bike ride, and i got my "black fringe" in tai chi. My work has gone fairly well. I guess the theme would be normalcy.

I do however have this feeling of having crossed some threshold that i can't quite define yet. I find that my days are bracketed by certain pleasant moments-- the minutes i get to read in the evening before i fall asleep, the first cup of coffee in the morning. I don't have any grand plan for my life, as young people must, and it's a strange transition. The only remaining life-change for me is when both kids are out of the house. The older son will be in college by this time next year, and the younger will be there (i presume) in four years. That will make me 52 and faced with a decision about what to do next.

I don't know what the decision will be. I'm certain that i don't want a standard path. I don't want to play golf, or build my dream house, or (god forbid) relax. My inspiration at the moment is Dick Proenneke, who at about that age moved to Alaska to live alone in the wilderness for the next 30 years. That seems like a decent retirement. I just have to hope that my kids don't want to move back home.

Part of the problem is that at this age i find it ridiculously difficult to plan anything. I still need to. There's college to be paid for and a house to make salable, and various loose ends to tie. The conundrum is to figure out how to walk the fine line between utter randomness and enough structure to provide for those who depend on me.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Not Much To Say

This is my second post of 2011, and it's September. I suppose that's mainly because i've not had anything to say that i couldn't fit into a tweet or a Facebook update. Some things that i've considered writing about, but can't find enthusiasm for:
  • The disappearance of the middle class. In the 1970s/1980s my aunt and uncle worked on the assembly line at the International Harvester plant. It was probably not a fun or fulfilling job, but they managed to make enough money to pay a mortgage, buy cars, take vacations, etc. Now, the jobs are gone, the plant is gone, etc.
  • I've had a titanium/ceramic hip for over 18 months now. Still not perfect. I have done a little running recently, and i did a 23 minute 5K with my sons, which isn't bad for an old guy with a replacement hip-- even if it's the slowest i've run.
  • I've been trying to develop into an ultra-endurance cyclist. I did my first double century back in June.
  • How when you get old, you start to realize that the things you wanted out of life were either silly or pointless; and how i wonder whether this is some sort of biological defense mechanism to keep you from killing yourself.
  • How blogging is probably going to disappear.

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Hip at One Year

This past Wednesday was the first anniversary of my hip replacement surgery. I can't really say it's back to normal, nor am i sure what normal is now. I don't have any pain bearing weight on it, but it's definitely weaker and i still have some difficulty lifting that leg. I'm not sure if my hip flexor needs more rehab, or if i'm dealing with an ongoing process of healing for muscles that were significantly traumatized.

I'm back to doing my martial arts training at a near full levels of effort, although i don't spar or grapple. I've done a lot of cycling, including another century ride; and i can even jog for short distances. On the other hand, i'm the heaviest i've been for years, and i've lost most of the substantial aerobic base i took years to build up.

I get asked fairly often if the surgery was worth it. I think so, but i don't think a year is long enough to say for sure. The deciding factors in the long run will be how close i can get to my previous physical condition (adjusted for age), and whether any radically better alternatives show up. I don't yet consider the lifetime of the prosthetic itself to be a factor, because i'm not convinced that in even a decade the methods of dealing with worn-out joints will be the same as they are now. There are so many younger people getting joint replacements now, that i think the demand for better, different solutions will increase dramatically.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


It's hard to find good things to say about a year in which the chief memory is having major surgery. But all in all it was a relatively smooth year and if you subtract the hip replacement and the end of my running days, it wasn't bad. Though for some reason 47 seems much older than 46, much more on the verge of 50.

I did a decent birthday ride this year, about 80 miles up through Camp Pendleton and back with my friend Cathy. We got rained on riding through the community of Vista, which was actually kind of fun (especially since it eventually stopped). It's nice to ride through Pendleton, but they limit the roads you can ride on to just what you need to get through the base to parts north. When i drove on the base prior to the Hard Corps marathon in 2009, i saw much more of the base and i wish i could ride through it.

It was a pretty leisurely ride and we did a lot of chatting. Although i'm not in very good shape by the standards of some previous years, i'm in decent bike shape, since i've done more mileage this year than any in recent memory. So I had expected to ride 100+ miles, but we realized we were going to run out of daylight so we stopped in Rancho Santa Fe at the golf shop run by Cathy's significant other Tom.

Running was the unifying force in my life. I planned my days around it, and to some extent my year. It helped me sleep and eat better and helped me de-stress. I'm still trying to figure out what to replace that with. Biking, swimming, tai chi are options, but none of those have quite the same qualities of convenience and simplicity. I hope that by 48 i will have at least figured out this one aspect of my life.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

My Hip At Six Months

Tomorrow is 6 months since my hip replacement surgery. I'd love to say that i am completely normal and good as new, but for the last month or so i've had some pain in the front or side of my hip that i hope is tendinitis. I can bear weight on my hip, i can ride my bike without pain, and i can swim without pain; but lifting my leg straight up as one would do in kicking outward or lifting your leg into a high seat (e.g., my truck) is painful. It seems to be getting slowly better, so i'm hopeful that all of my spare parts are still in place. Still, i wished to be essentially back to normal by this point, so i have to admit to some disappointment.

When i last visited my orthopedic surgeon, he said that i could "bike my brains out". He probably did not understand the license that gave me to overdo it. I now regularly ride 50+ miles at a time on the weekends, and i favor hills and other challenges. I also do regular tai chi and i've been testing my leg on kung fu forms. I suspect this is inappropriate behavior for a hip-replacement patient, but i'm not inclined to take it easy until forced to do so. At this point in my life this is what i have to live for, so i'm clinging to it with all the strength i can muster.

There are things of which I may not speak;    
There are dreams that cannot die;
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,
And bring a pallor into the cheek,
And a mist before the eye.
And the words of that fatal song
Come over me like a chill:
A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Elephant Maintenance, Part I

Some images from my adventures in home improvement.

These are three nests that i removed from a bush near my garage that had grown out of control. Don't worry, they were long-since abandoned. I've been putting the debris from this bush in the greenery recycling for the last 3 weeks, but i still have about half of it left.

A couple of weeks ago, i put in a temporary section of PVC to patch an irrigation problem. Unfortunately, it didn't hold; but it did make this interesting looking inverse-crater thingy. Sadly, laying PVC for irrigation is one of the things that i'm good at. Imagine how badly the things that i'm bad at turn out.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The White Elephant Project

The origin of the term white elephant comes from southeast Asia, where receiving a white elephant as a gift often turned out to be a curse. They are expensive to keep but, because they are sacred, could not be used for labor or given away. So the expression means any thing that you can't get rid of, but you are obligated to take care of even at great expense.

That's a pretty good description of my house. It's a decent house in a good neighborhood, but in retrospect buying it seemed like a better idea at the time. We searched for a long time for a house that had a number of specific features. First, we wanted a fourth bedroom because we thought that our families would visit more often if we had a spare room. As it turned out, that extra room has been occupied maybe 20 nights during the 8+ years we've been here. Second, we (mostly i) wanted more lot space. I grew up on a farm, so our 1 acre lot is a compromise between rural and suburban. Third, we wanted an older neighborhood, or at least one that was not a completely uniform development where the choices were between beige stucco and gray stucco.

We found a place with those features at a fairly sane price by southern California standards. We knew it was a bit of a fixer-upper, but we had reasonable expectations of increasing equity and disposable income. In fact, those expectations were met until the economic meltdown of 2008. We made some minor home improvements, replaced the heating/air conditioning and the roof, renovated the pool, did a little landscaping and painting, etc. I put in grass on the back part of our lot (over 7000 sq. ft.), which was a blindly stupid thing to do in a place with no rain.

Any house requires more maintenance than you expect. A house that's almost 40 years old requires more. A 40 year-old house where the previous owner was an ambitious but unskilled DIY-er, where there are parts of the property you don't set foot on for months, where the trees grow faster than you can cut them down is a bloody, freakin' nightmare. It is a white elephant.

Technically, there is nothing sacred about this particular white elephant. My reluctance to sell it stems partially from the fact that my kids like this community, and partially from the reality that it's definitely not a seller's market. However, since i simply can't let it fall apart for the next five years while my sons finish up school, i've started to make some incremental fixes. In the cluttered bazaar that is my psyche, i call this the White Elephant Project.

The project is complicated by the fact that i have no money, so it is primarily a sweat equity sort of thing. The only real difference between me and the previous owner is that i am fully aware that i have no skill. I will probably limit my activity to cleaning, cutting, and the minor repairs that i've mastered over 25 years of home ownership. I am somewhat fortunate that my property can be improved significantly simply by removing things.

My first steps have involved trimming some of the runaway flora, and fixing some of the irrigation (there must be a mile of unused PVC under my ground). I got a pro to remove the more troublesome trees. This summer i hope to take down a rotting shed, fix some of the outdoor plumbing and electrical, and get some of the windows fixed. Probably the biggest challenge is figuring out what to do with all of the extra space. I'd really like to open it up to a sort of community garden thing, but i'm fairly sure my litigious neighbors would go apeshit.

I feel guilty at times that i have a sort of reverse American dream, by which i mean that traditionally the dream is to own one's home while mine is to unload the thing at the first opportunity. In a sense this place should seem sacred, since it is where my kids grew up; and fixing it should be a labor of love. Instead, it feels like a huge, festering symbol of every bad choice i've ever made.

Anyway, i will probably do periodic updates on the project as it proceeds.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Paleolithic Fitness

In my quest to find something to replace running as my primary fitness activity, i've come across material on the idea of paleolithic (and its cousin primal) fitness. The idea here is roughly that our early ancestors were (we assume) pretty fit even though they did not exercise in any methodical way. Rather, fitness was the consequence of needing to hunt for sustenance, being limited to only natural (often raw) food, and having little in the way of sedentary pastimes. It seems the case for this approach is often made on evolutionary grounds-- that the best exercise and food mimic the patterns of the earliest humans because those are the patterns that allowed us to survive when conditions were the most harsh for our species. I get the impression though that there's a bit of the Noble Savage mixed in too.

Most of the gurus eschew long-duration cardio exercise in favor of interval-like training, presumably to simulate chasing after prey (or being chased after by predators). That's a little strange to me, since it's fairly well established now that humans have evolved lungs and hearts that are remarkably good systems for endurance, but we didn't end up with a structure that's all that good for speed. On the other hand, i do believe in the benefits of interval training. When i was running, i found intervals to be the best way to get faster. There seems to be a lot of similarity between the paleo/primal approach and the functional fitness movement. Not much equipment, simplicity of exercises, more focus on full motion and less isolation. Strength training is mixed with endurance training and flexibility, and they avoid strict schedules and prescribed exercises. I think that's probably a great approach for general, base fitness; but i also suspect that it's insufficient for any specific sport.

Another aspect of the paleo approach is a tendency toward more protein and less carbs (that is to say, meat). At least one program i found completely eliminates grains, and discourages legumes (beans and stuff). That might explain why they don't care for endurance sports. I honestly don't know if cavemen really had meat-rich diets; or if that's a bias formed from things like the Lascaux cave paintings and the Flintstones. I suspect cavemen ate whatever did not kill them and they could digest. Again, i think this dietary approach works backwards from an idea of fitness that prefers to build muscle, get lean, and not do too much endurance exercise. I think it would probably be disastrous for Michael Phelps or the average Kenyan marathoner. Plus, to be honest, i'd rather have spaghetti than six-pack abs.