Lua turns 3

Yesterday Lua turned 3 years old. 

She helped me get through my dark days. She still does. And her ability to navigate people (already!) amazes me. She has such a giant personality. Definitely a proud daddy. 

I’ve had this habit for a long time where I write down my thought process for decisions and big events. I’ll periodically review them to either understand flaws/gaps in my thinking with the benefit of hindsight, or pat myself on the back for my prescience (not frequent, but it sometimes happens). It kind of feels like checking up on a kid to see how he’s doing. Except the kid is me and turns out that time offers an interesting vantage point of seeing oneself without so much judgment, as an objective observer. This tends to be a deeply satisfying activity as I get to see either how I’ve grown, or if I haven’t, it often will point to areas of stagnation. It also reminds me why I made certain decisions and what I was thinking/where I was at that point. It’s so easy to forget. 

In reflecting on Lua’s 3 year mark I pulled out a letter I wrote to the un-named baby. I remember ducking into the bathroom, 5 minutes on evernote. Here it is.

Here’s a letter to you, my as yet unnamed daughter.

I’m sitting here with your mother and doula (Shannon) at st Luke’s hospital. This is where your brother Saul was born not 5 years ago. Labor this morning has been tough – we’ve been up since 2am with painful contractions. The anesthesiologist put in the epidural about an hour ago – a first in 3 births. Your mom is tough! Despite being fully dilated (meaning you’re ready to come out) mom is sleeping soundly. 

I’m deciding on names here in the precious few moments of downtime. It’s not easy. We’ve been thinking about this for a long time and still no good name we agree on. Mom always liked ‘Lua’ as over the years we would catch ourselves looking at the still moon – offering light to humans in the dark of night – wondering about life if we had a daughter. Maybe this will be your name. But when I meet you it might not ring true. I want to match the name to the person. I’m waiting to meet you. To see what’s in your eyes. Then we’ll decide. They are about to break your water bag to get things moving. 

Why is naming so hard? 

The name is not merely the vocal sounds we’ll be uttering for the rest of our lives. The most important part is what it’ll mean to you as you journey through this interesting planet of ours. How will it shape your identity?

It’s good to be without a name for a bit. There is such urgency to name things – as though labeling them removes some fundamentally troubling aspect about the mystery of existence. To name a thing is to corner and trap it. I’m quite alright sitting in that mystery for a few days with you and your infinite possibility.  

How is it that life occurs with such regularity? It’s easier to grow a baby than to draw a snapshot of one with a pencil and paper (try it sometime). We manipulate the body with drugs at certain concentrations and time intervals – our anesthesiologist was truly excellent – all knowable and regular occurrences with good batting averages. But all this leads to a false sense of knowing. Truth is if you pull on the thread hard enough we really don’t understand as well as the labels indicate we do. We label our food with nutritional information but still don’t understand metabolism well (no consensus on what ideal nutrition looks like)… We understand how anesthetics work but we don’t know why life is tuned to receive anesthesia. So there’s a neat paradox at play. We know how to do certain things really well, but we don’t quite know why they work. We’re like kids that have been handed instruments: we make them sound good without quite knowing what sound is. We don’t get to decide much in terms of your nature. Picking a name is hard because it’s the first real decision we’ll make as your parents. And I don’t want to start things off with a mistake. You are still perfect.

I listen to the background hum of a fan, ticking clock, muted outside traffic. Perfection…ah, no such thing in our world. Why? Let’s talk quickly about what it means to share a world with other people, with so many different characters. I had different anxieties with your brothers – mostly focused on my own worthiness, ability and readiness to jump into fatherhood. With you it’s different. I feel capable enough in managing the basics – discipline, bedtime routines, changing diapers, or changing the subject (people call it redirection to try and sound smart). 

But I really don’t know how to raise a daughter.  And I don’t have a good model to follow or intuition about how to do this. The women in my – our – family have struggled with lots of challenges not worth going into here.

So in considering what it is I hope for you my initial gut reaction is something akin to damage control. I’d like your own light to shine with as little diminishment from either my own mistakes, or the insults a woman in this world can expect to encounter: from those that intentionally wish you harm, to well-intentioned but poorly implemented parenting, to personal issues related to confidence or self-esteem, and so many more!). It’s not worth listing them here either because you’ll come to know them through media, stories and life experience. I won’t and cannot sugar coat that.

But damage control isn’t good enough. That’s to concede defeat. As your guardian I will try not to shield you outright (I will if I must, of course) which is probably the default parental intuition. Instead I want to teach you skills to navigate the turbulence of the world. No, the protection I as a father will offer you will not be that of a vigilante with a club, but rather that of a ship captain teaching his young apprentice. This world is for skillful interaction not sheltered cowardice, for addressing problems head-on, not shying from them. It’s for Tikkun Olam (making it better) as a member of society.

My name, Ari, in Hebrew means Lion. I’ll need to tap that power to guide you. Names mostly do remain incantations of the vocal plane, and in that they don’t matter so much. But in times of hardship and uncertainty they can take on special powers. Whatever your name ends up being my hope in this name is that it serves you in time of challenge. I love you already.

Ok time to get you into our lives. More later.

the space between sets

If you asked me as a teenager I would have told you the payoff of workouts was in the primal aspects of the activity, the immediate feelings. It was about seeing how hard I could push the body. All that adolescent aggression had to get channelled somehow. This was easy and satisfying. It was about adrenaline, the ‘pump’.

Later it was about the effects of the workout, over a longer time period, seeing the progress of lifting x yesterday, x+1 today. Or running a 400 lap at some pace, then shaving seconds off of it next time. Or running a race faster year over year. That is, the results were the focus.

It’s still about all those things. But during treatment, and ever since, I’ve noticed something interesting; the main benefit, and frankly the key motivator, is in the space between sets, in the process itself.

Generally how it works is some maximal exertion, like heavy deadlifts, is followed by a quick 1-2 minute sit on the floor – usually with a notebook to capture random ideas or plan the day. I try my best to fill the whitespace with something useful – which includes just feeling good. The key though is bringing my awareness to these moments (they were, of course always there!). I’ve shifted my focus and it makes a difference.

So if I workout lasts 45 minutes and did 15 sets of strength training (allowing for transitions etc.) that’s still a solid 15+ minutes of clear-headed thought. There’s an after-effect as well that seems to last a good part of the day. That’s more than I would get in a typical ‘sit’ and actually feels much more energizing. It’s probably the clearest thinking I do.

I’ve been trying to ask this of myself lately: what might I notice and appreciate in the whitespace of everyday experience?

a surfing lesson

I went surfing yesterday with a friend (thanks for joining Pascal!). It’s been a while. I caught a few waves, not much by the standards of some of my friends, but exactly what I wanted. We ended up spending most of the time floating past where the sets were coming in, surveying the horizon, just talking.

After riding the nth wave and as I approached the beach I had a choice: do I paddle back out for another wave, or do I head back in? I stood up in the shallow, frigid Pacific water. It was awesome just surveying the overcast scenery for a minute: the Pacifica cliff faces, birds overhead, the sound of water all around.

I wondered, just how much do I want to catch another wave?

If you’ve ever gone surfing then you know it takes a lot of work to catch a wave. You don’t just show up. I ran some quick mental math weighing effort vs desire. I knew the effort part but the desire was less clear and worth considering. How much pleasure would I get from another wave (literally that’s what I was thinking while standing in 50-something degree water, my hands turning purple)?

The more I thought about it the more I felt like it wasn’t desire that was driving me to go back out – I wasn’t pulled to do it but felt like I had to push to convince myself. If I really wanted it, I’d be compelled to just do it. I’d already be visualizing what it would feel like to ride that wave; my ideas would branch into new areas of inquiry, say about the physics of my body balancing on the board, and the board on the wave; I’d be thinking about where to position my board most optimally to catch the waves; I’d deeply consider my paddling form; angle of entry to the wave. If I wanted it I’d be obsessing about the details. And if I really wanted it there would be emotion driving the decision to just get out there. In short this wouldn’t be a question – I’d be doing it instead of standing around, literally freezing my toes off!

It’s worth asking the question about what’s pulling you to do just one more: whether it’s one more set in the gym, another mile repeat, one more climb up the wall, another practice problem, sales call. I think that’s a really interesting heuristic to gauge deep interest. To what are you compelled to do just one more without really thinking about it deeply? That’s a good indicator about whether you’re doing the right things or not. In effect the effort part of the equation becomes small, perhaps even irrelevant.

For example when I go running it’s seldom a question – I’ll always tend to throw in one more fartlek. Or if I don’t it’s because I know what I’m trying to achieve for that workout and know to reign myself in. I think this distills down to something along the lines of “I do it just because I like doing x activity”. That seems like a reasonable enough definition of a compulsion, or obsession.

In the end , while the thought of going out again seemed fun it wasn’t going to be enough to offset the effort required to do it.

I did however feel compelled to write this post.