Author: Mike Matthews

You can count on it coming in early June. My Dad will reach out to all of his kids and say, “The most important day of the year is coming this Sunday. You do remember that Father’s Day is this Sunday, right?”

Yes, Dad. We remember.

I heard those words this week from my 85-year-old Dad in our weekly Tuesday conversation. I love those talks. We’ve been having them for a long time now. They don’t last too long, maybe 15-20 minutes. We talk about our workouts that week, new ailments, family members (only good things – I have to say that because they read these posts), books we are reading, and things that make us smile and laugh. And believe it or not, I learn something new about my Dad in a majority of those conversations. I wish I could have them all transcribed, and that I would store them in Evernote, but I just try to take them all in and enjoy them for what they are. 

Like me, my Dad is a storyteller. I enjoy all of the stories, though I have often doubted their veracity. Abe Lincoln, one of my father’s heroes, often explained situations through anecdotes and parables. While the northern masses loved it, those closest to him would roll their eyes whenever he would start a new story with “It reminds me of the farmer, who . . . “ Over the years, I have learned that Dad’s stories have more than a grain of truth in them. The movie that hits closest to home is one my favorites, Big Fish. The father, Ed Bloom, is one of the all time great storytellers, and his son asks him to “Joe Friday” it – to just to state the facts. Ed Bloom responds, “Most men, they’ll tell you a story straight through. It won’t be complicated, but it won’t be interesting either.” I think that is Dad’s philosophy as well. Why just state the facts when you can tell a fascinating story? It’s a lesson from my father that I’ve tried to teach both of my sons. High points, low points, risks, victories, failures, embarrassing moments – after a while, they just become another story. And life is far better when we have interesting stories. 

All of us kids have stories about Dad as a feared disciplinarian. If our mom wanted us to put an immediate halt to whatever shenanigans we were up to, all she had to say was, “Do you want me to tell this to your father!?!” Our answer would be an immediate, “No, Ma’am,” and it was over. There was yelling, there were punishments, and there were threats. I don’t think he could have really turned me into a grease spot (one of his frequent threats when I had done/not done something), but I did not want to find out. We laugh about those stories now, and my siblings and I all believe that those moments shaped us into the people we are now.

Dad kept us busy every weekend. For the majority of the year, weekends meant lawn mowing. Dad bought the heaviest and most reliable Sears Craftsman mowers. He would never waste money on any kind of self-propelled mower, because that would have made the job a little easier. During the winter, the lawn went dormant, but our chores did not. We had a vacant lot next to us. Nothing but dirt and rocks. Dad must have truly hated the rocks that would pop up whenever it rained on that dirt lot. We would be out there on a winter weekend, digging holes in that lot, then the next weekend, we would rake the rocks up on the lot, and throw them in those holes that we had dug. Then it would rain, and more rocks would rise to the surface. Endless, useless work. Maybe it was good for us? And now, it’s just a story. Whenever I do something that takes a lot of work for not much result, all I’m doing is “raking rocks.” For the record, I have never asked my children to mow the lawn or rake rocks. So far, they have turned out pretty darn good.

I would describe Dad as crazy, but mostly crazy in a very good way. As a family, we did unheard of things. I’ve written about our three-week bicycling excursion to Ireland. We trained as a together, then, with only maps as our guide, packed up our bikes, put them together in the Limerick, Ireland airport, and took off riding. It was an epic trip, a fountain of many stories, and only a true madman would plan it. We would have very splashy and noisy swimming battles in any pools that would have us. We would swim up to Dad, and he would toss us away, high in the air, sending us screaming as we landed in contorted positions. That’s a great way to clear a crowded pool by the way. I’m pretty sure other parents were telling their kids to stay clear of the insanity in the pool. I don’t know how rare this is, but he demanded that all of his kids go to college out of state. He thought we would learn more about life by expanding our horizons. It was just one more crazy expectation growing up in our house.

And there’s a little bit of Atticus Finch in my Dad. And I’m talking less about the lawyer side of Atticus than the “treat all people with respect” side of him. I remember eating lunch at a super fancy club, and saying thank you to a waiter who brought me some water. The next thing I felt was a hard slap on my face from my grandmother, who told me never to thank a person of color. She did not say it with those words. I remember looking at my Dad, who assured me we would talk later. I don’t remember exactly what he said when we went home, but he confirmed that the members of our family treated all people with fairness and respect. And he didn’t say this, but I felt the Atticus Finch line, “There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ‘em all away from you. That’s never possible.” He was raised in a racist environment and somehow he emerged as a progressive Southerner. He took on clients of all races who could not afford to pay him, and it was just part of what he did. But I know it was appreciated, and we all loved that he was given one of our many much-loved short-haired dachshunds as one form of payment. I think that’s the side of my father that shaped me and eventually contributed to my decision to want to make a difference via public education.

As we have progressed through life, it’s Dad’s listening and caring that have meant the most to me. He knows as much about my life and my career as anybody. He will tell me when I’ve written a great post, and when I’ve written a bunch of words that don’t really matter. He has cheered me on when life has gone well, and been there for me in my most challenging times. These once-a-week conversations add up, because he is fully invested in them. I feel pretty darn lucky, at age 62, to have a father who still adds so much to my life. On my last birthday, he told me that he was embarrassed to have a son who was so old. Pretty funny, actually. Sometimes, being a great dad, friend, or partner is just listening. And believe it or not, for storytellers to be at the top of their game, they must be outstanding listeners.

So whether or not Father’s Day is the most important day of the year, I do wish a Happy Father’s Day to my listening, progressive, crazy, idleness-hating, holder of high expectations, and story-telling father. This post just scratches the surface of who you are. But I love all of it. I look forward to our conversation on Father’s Day, and then we’ll get back to the highlight of my week – our Tuesday morning conversations.

I love you, Dad. 

“A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories.
They live on after him, and in that way he becomes immortal.” 
Ed Bloom, Big Fish

If you’re not on the mailing list, you’re missing out. Not only will I let you know when my blog posts come out, but you will get my once-a-month-subscribers-only message.  I share what I’m cooking, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, and other news that had a profound impact on me. Thanks to all who let me know you appreciated it. If you’re interested, please click here.

And something new, I am publishing this post in podcast form the day after I post it here. The podcasts are very basic at this point. I read the post, embellishing it for better or for worse with a few thoughts that come to my weird mind as I’m reading. We’ll see how it works out. If you would like to subscribe to that podcast, please click here.

Post #110 on www.drmdmatthews.com

NOTES

First and foremost, Happy Father’s Day to all of you note-reading dads out there, and the same to all of you note-readers’ fathers, whether or not they are still with us. We all get into this father thing not knowing a damn thing, and we do our best to be a positive influence in our children’s lives. 

For the record, I think Mother’s Day is by far the best of the Hallmark Holidays. Father’s Day is the second. And Valentine’s Day is a distant third. It’s hard enough to be a good partner to the person you love, but when you add a day that comes with such high expectations, to me, it’s just another chance to fall short.

Three quotes about dads that I loved but did not use in the post:

  • “A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.” – Billy Graham
  • “I only hope when I have my own family that everyday I see a little more of my father in me.” – Keith Urban
  • “A father carries pictures where his money used to be.” – Steve Martin. Come on. That’s really funny.

And I don’t have a quote for this, but I remember what Father George Tribou, my high school principal and one of my heroes, said when he was talking to parents about what he wanted out of a Catholic High School graduate. He said, “All I want is for them to be good men and good fathers.” 

The cover picture was taken two years ago. My Dad and my step mom took a trip west from Hot Springs to Mount Ida, Arkansas. From a lofty 700 feet in elevation, we are overlooking Lake Ouachita, where we spent countless weekends growing up. The next photo was taken three years ago, eating a healthy breakfast in Pangburn, Arkansas. And the last picture was taken last year in my Dad and Step Mom’s front yard.

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Do you ever feel like the world is bombarding you with a message, and that wherever you turn, you keep hearing that same thought? Kind of like Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams hearing, “If you build it, they will come.” Or like when people saw images or heard musical notes inspired by aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In those examples, only a few people saw or heard the messages, so everyone else thought they were crazy. In my case, while people may think I’m crazy for the usual reasons, these messages have come from mainstream media, and not from supernatural or extra-terrestrial messengers.

The first source of the messaging came after PGA golfer Grayson Murray died by suicide. Up until last week, he was a story of hope. Murray was an outstanding golfer who won early in his career, then struggled. Three years ago, he announced he was an alcoholic and withdrew from golf to focus on his health. He returned to golf, sober and more prepared, made his way back to the PGA tour, and actually won a tournament in January of this year. It was one of the feel-good stories of the year. However, he struggled in recent competitions, and actually withdrew from last week’s contest after playing less well than he wanted. The next day, he was found dead. 

It was shocking, unexpected, and incredibly sad. His parents made a statement that hit home with me. They said, “Life wasn’t always easy for Grayson, and although he took his own life, we know he rests peacefully now.” Then they asked for people to honor Murray “by being kind to one another.”

When I read that, it took me back to my times of grief. One of my takeaways from that whole process was how powerful acts of kindness were in helping me to heal. And not just kindness towards my family and me, but any acts of kindness. Grayson’s parents’ words brought back a flood of memories of how I felt at that time. For some of you, it may sound trite. But let me tell you, it was a real feeling. After almost a quarter of a century, I am still grateful and beyond appreciative of people going out of their way to be kind to someone else.

The next message came with another death, this one brought about by cancer. Basketball legend Bill Walton succumbed to colon cancer earlier this week at the age of 71. Way too young. LA Times sports reporter Bill Plaschke wrote about Walton’s legacy, and his two top characteristics about Walton had nothing to do with basketball – he was wonderfully wacky and incredibly kind. That set off the Close Encounters song again. Plaschke witnessed Walton’s weekly kindness to Coach John Wooden as he aged. Walton was quick to bestow platitudes upon everyone he met. I think that because of (1) being perhaps the best college basketball player ever, and (2) being one of most kind and positive souls ever, Walton was allowed to keep a long career in sports broadcasting. He said some crazy stuff during basketball games, and some of it was even about basketball. He would discuss the winter solstice, Sir Isaac Newton, Beethoven, Chewbacca, the late Pac 12 Conference – always referred to as “The Conference of Champions” – and make oblique references to the Grateful Dead and marijuana. He loved life, he loved heaping praise on others, and he used both public and private life to spread joy and laughter wherever he could. And to those who knew him best, his big-hearted kindness was his greatest legacy.

Piled on top of Grayson Murray’s death, Bill Walton’s life and death reminded me that joy, laughter, and kindness are desperately needed in this world. 

I wonder if we are living in the meanest time in human history. There were certainly more brutal times, but I don’t know if there’s ever been a time when nasty people have had such a loud voice. Twitter has to be one of the most malicious places ever. If an athlete, a performer, or even a regular person fails, flops, or just makes a mistake, the voices of criticism and spite can seem deafening. Too many news shows fill the airwaves with those same shaming messages. Politicians at all levels can be name-calling bullies. And yet, somehow, too many people love these sources of spiteful, hateful, and mean language, and relish in the carnage they create. Worse, these strategies are obviously successful at winning over voters and viewers. I can’t stand it.

As a public official, I was criticized many times in my career. My reactions, each and every time, were to accurately respond with the truth, and never resort to negativity or name-calling. I won’t say that it didn’t hurt. I was certainly impacted and bolstered by the attitude of one of my mentors, Dr. Neil Schmidt. Neil was a gentle soul who would never lash back at critics. I remember someone telling him that the criticism never seemed to impact him at all. He responded kindly, “That’s not true. I feel those voices and the nasty words they use, but I do a good job of hiding the scars.”

I don’t think we can stop the meanness. But I do believe the acts of kindness matter. And one of the best things we can do to foster acts of kindness to is to slow down. There was a 1973 Stanford study of seminary students, in which there were two groups. One group was told they were late for their next event, and one group was not. They all encountered a situation where someone was in need of assistance. Those in the unhurried group were six times more likely to stop and offer assistance. 

As often as possible, and it’s easier with my new work schedule, I’m trying not to feel like I’m in a hurry. I have to consciously tell myself I have time, even when I think that I don’t. I am often not convinced by my own words. But I’m working on it.

Going back to Grayson Murray’s parents’ request: I loved the reaction of Harry Higgs, a fun-loving easy going golfer, who is fighting to get back on the PGA Tour. His response: “I would challenge everybody here, and I’m going to do this myself as well: Each day, say something nice to someone you love, and also make a point to say something nice to someone you don’t even know.” I like it, Harry. Thanks for focusing on what is important, especially when your encouragement comes in the middle of your personal struggle to keep a job that you so clearly love.

The Dalai Lama has not yet responded to Harry Higgs’ words. The Dalai Lama may or may not be a golfer. I’m pretty sure he is, because Bill Murray’s Carl Spackler character in Caddyshack professed that he once caddied for the Dalai Lama and that even with his flowing robes, he was a big hitter. That aside, I know the Dalai Lama is an expert on kindness. As he states in The Book of Joy, “As soon as I wake up, I remember Buddha’s teaching: the importance of kindness and compassion, wishing something good for others, or at least to reduce their suffering.”

Thank you to Bill Walton, to Grayson Murray and his parents, to Harry Higgs, and to the Dalai Lama. Your songs have been ringing in my head all week. 

Let’s do our best to laugh, love, slow down, and be kind. The joy we inspire, and the suffering we reduce, may very well be our own.

——-

If you’re not on the mailing list, you’re missing out. Not only will I let you know when my blog posts come out, but you will get my once-a-month-subscribers-only message.  I share what I’m cooking, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, and other news that had a profound impact on me. Thanks to all who let me know you appreciated it. If you’re interested, please click here.

And something new, I am publishing this post in podcast form the day after I post it here. The podcasts are very basic at this point. I read the post, embellishing it for better or for worse with a few thoughts that come to my weird mind as I’m reading. We’ll see how it works out. If you would like to subscribe to that podcast, please click here.

Post #109 on www.drmdmatthews.com

NOTES

As I write this, the PAC-12 Conference is nearing its end. There are a few baseball and softball games left, and then . . . no more. Bill Walton’s “Conference of Champions” will be no more. I read once that Bill Walton would use the “Conference of Champions” phrase so much that some people thought he was being paid each time he said it. I love how my son Ryan put it: “We knew there could never be a PAC-12 without Bill Walton. We just didn’t know we couldn’t have Bill Walton without the PAC-12.” Here is Bill Plaschke’s column on Bill Walton. If you live in LA, and I know the LA Times is not what it used to be, but it’s still our paper, there are still many outstanding journalists, and I encourage you to subscribe.

It may seem like a little thing, but those talking about suicide now use the phrase “died by suicide,” instead of “committed suicide.” The word commit is often used in reference to a sin. So for the families grieving the loss of a loved one, adding that judgment to something so terrible made it even more difficult. I now use that term. Though I don’t think it eases the pain, it certainly doesn’t make it worse. For those of you who have been personally impacted by the loss of someone who died by suicide, and I know there are several readers for whom that is true, I am so sorry.

Here’s the link if you want to read more about the Stanford Study on Good Samaritans.

Caddyshack may be the most quoted movie of all time. So many different lines continue to be repeated on the golf course. And for me, I can’t hear it too much. Here’s Bill Murray’s not-one-bit-in-the-script-totally-improvised scene of Carl Spackler’s story of looping (caddying) for the Dalai Lama. And if you can’t get enough of Caddyshack, you’ll enjoy a book that my friend Laura shared with me, which describes the totally out of control and leads you to wonder how the heck did they ever get the movie made. Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story

And for those of you keeping score, KINDNESS on that location of the Scrabble Board would have been a 54 point word. I took that photo. Other photo credits: Bill Walton by Alan Berezovsky from the LA Times; Dalai Lama from His Holiness’s Facebook page; Close Encounters from Indiana University; and Ray Kinsella from FenwayPark100.

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Last week, I enjoyed a five-day visit to my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. The temperature was nice, though it rained every day. These days, I am able to go home three or four times a year. I love seeing my mom, my dad and step-mom, my brother and my sister-in-law, my sister and my nephew, and other friends and family. I feel fortunate to have so much love and friendship in my life, and to have the luxury of time that allows me to take these trips. This blog post is devoted to a few thoughts I had while on the trip. They are not meant to be linked or related in any way – just a few thoughts from the trip.

  • My flight to Little Rock went through Las Vegas. When you walk through the Las Vegas airport, it feels like you entered the Twilight Zone and landed in the 1970s. It is old, worn-down, and wonderful. They’re going to ruin it by making it beautiful and modern one day, but until then, I’ll keep expecting to see Sammy Davis, Jr. stroll by, shades on and a cigarette hanging in his fingers. I love seeing people’s excitement as they arrive, and their exhaustion as they get ready to go back home. I always have $40 cash with me for my Vegas layovers, and I am looking to hit it big on the airport slot machines. I don’t go for the $10,000 jackpots. Who wants a measly $10,000? I want the $1 million WHEEL OF FORTUNE jackpot! It’s like the lottery. Nobody plays the lottery when the prize money is only $80 million. But they rush in as the prize nears $1 billion. Clearly, none of us have any economic sense at all. My money usually lasts about 15 minutes. And I don’t want to press the button on the slot machine. Those weren’t there in the 70s. I want to pull that slot machine arm. And yes, I know that all that arm does is press the button. This time, I was up $100 for a while, then I wasn’t. It’s always $40 well spent.
  • I had three outstanding visits with my mother. By the way, my mom always loved the Reno, Laughlin, and Vegas slot machines. She could sit at one of those with a cigarette (before she quit 30 years ago) and a glass of wine for hours. She would get giddy when she won $5, and it was always fun to watch. Back to my trip last week – Mom remembered me in one of the visits, and she knew I was a person who loved her in the other two. My favorite moment was when the two of us were sitting on the living room couch, holding hands and watching a beautiful video that had drone shots of stunning buildings and landmarks in Europe – The Coliseum, the Parthenon, the Louvre, the Amalfi Coast and much more, backed up by soothing classical piano music. Several of the pieces were ones that she used to play. The beauty and music were mesmerizing, and the sensory experience seemed to make her extremely happy. Since I wrote a previous piece about my mom’s dementia (and thank you to the thousands who have read it), she has continued to decline. That being said, I think she is at peace most of the time. I don’t know what is next, but I know I enjoyed these moments. And I think she did too.
  • Top things I ate while I was there:
    • Burnt ends at Count Porkula BBQ. This is a relatively new place that I think is one of the most poorly named restaurants in the world. The food was pretty darn good. I still rank Whole Hog Cafe in Little Rock and McClard’s BBQ in Hot Springs higher, but it was a great meal.
    • Chocolate Fudge Brownie Pie from Blue Cake Company in Little Rock. I was making a birthday dinner for Candyce, my wonderful step-mom, and she wanted something chocolaty and gooey. The take-and-bake chocolate fudge brownie pie was perfect. I highly recommend it! I have committed to eating every single pie variety on their menu, and I will keep readers updated. I’ll bet you can’t wait.
  • My pickleball game held up just fine. I played with three friends from high school and did not totally embarrass myself. We managed to play for a full 80 minutes before a torrential downpour stopped us. Until next time, my old friends/new rivals!
  • My dad and I enjoyed some great visits together. We went and worked out together at the Hot Springs YMCA. They have an awesome 25-meter indoor pool where we swam side by side for about  40 minutes. My Dad is the one who got me into swimming. He was a rock star swimmer until he hurt his shoulder in college. When I was a kid, he drove me to workouts in the mornings, and he was always interested in my swimming career. Now, for both of us, it’s just about occasionally trying to swim fast, but mostly trying to do the work it takes to be younger next year.
  • Dad shared that he told his guys’ breakfast group that at the age of 85, he was pretty sure he had “lived past his shelf-life.” That made me pause, smile a little, and pause a little more. That’s certainly true in some sense. The average lifespan for males in the US is just over 76, and the average lifespan for men in Arkansas is a 45th-best 73. So, maybe he’s past the average shelf-life in years, but I think the more important indicator is quality of life. By that measure, I think his shelf-life has miles to go. He’s sharp as a tack, still funny, though not as funny as he thinks he is (that’s not new, and I think I share that quality), he and his wife are wonderful together and truly enjoy each other, and he remains a wonderful father to all of his children. We talked about his shelf-life comment, and I told him that I am choosing to ignore the shelf-life date (there’s a lot of discussion about that these days – expiration dates are usually just a suggestion at best), and just enjoy every conversation we have and every moment we have together. I believe there are many more of those moments and conversations left for both of us.
  • I won a little money betting on the Kentucky Derby! On a whim, several of us placed a little money on the Arkansas horse running in the Kentucky Derby, and wouldn’t you know it, Mystik Dan won the whole thing! Go Arkansas – and that more than made up for my losses in Vegas. I’m not a big gambler, but it’s amazing how a $20 bet on a golf game or a horse race makes the whole event a little more intense. But gambling is way better when you pay your money first, then hope to get it back. I never want to gamble like golfer Lee Trevino did. As Trevino famously once said, “Real pressure is playing for $5, when you only have $2 in your pocket.” No thank you, Lee. 
  • The trip home went through Denver and it was delayed for two hours due to hard winds gusting across the Denver plains. If you’ve never been to the Denver airport, you probably imagine flying in amongst beautiful and majestic snow-capped mountains. But the only mountains you actually see are the white peaks of the crazy airport roof. Everything else is flat, flat, flat. The mountains start rising about 30 miles to the west. Anyway, the winds were still blowing HARD as we landed. I felt like one of the people from the Progressive “Becoming your parents” commercials, because I just had to stop and thank the pilots for bringing us in safely. I never take those landings for granted, but I was especially grateful for this one. Also – if you want to fly into an airport with truly majestic mountains, fly into the box canyon surrounding the Jackson Hole, Wyoming airport. That is majestic . . . and also a little scary. But mostly majestic. And a little scary.

It was another wonderful trip. I’ll be seeing my family next at my nephew’s wedding in southern Washington, and then I hope to head back to the Rock in September. I can’t wait. Dorothy was right: There’s no place like home.

If you’re not on the mailing list, you’re missing out. Not only will I let you know when my blog posts come out, but you will get my once-a-month-subscribers-only message. The next Mid-Month message will go to mailing list friends next week. I share what I’m cooking, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, and other news that had a profound impact on me. Thanks to all who let me know you appreciated it. If you’re interested, please click here.

And something new, I am publishing this post in podcast form the day after I post it here. The podcasts are very basic at this point. I read the post, embellishing it for better or for worse with a few thoughts that come to my weird mind as I’m reading. We’ll see how it works out. If you would like to subscribe to that podcast, please click here.

Post #108 on www.drmdmatthews.com

NOTES

The picture above is on one of the visits with my brother Pat and my sister Martha. Here’s the post I wrote six months ago on my mom’s fight with Dementia.

An example of my Dad’s wit and humor. After I wrote the post on golf, which I knew he wouldn’t like, he emailed me with this line: “Well…as you know, I’m a non-golfer, but still, at your urging, I did read every word of what you had to say about the joys of membership in the First United Golfers’ Church of Awakening and Goodness …repetitious and boring as it was…I did read it.” —- Dang it, that’s funny.

I made a “Younger Next Year” reference. It’s a great book that my Dad and I keep coming back to. See my review here.

If you haven’t seen the Progressive Becoming Your Parents commercials. You’re missing out. Here’s the grocery store one. Not only did I thank my pilots, but like the guy in the commercial, I’m always giving shoutouts to my two local grocery produce guys – Lee and Frank. And I’m not going to stop, even though Progressive thinks it makes me look old.

If you don’t know about burnt ends, here’s a quick tutorial. Take the fatty part of a brisket that’s already been smoked for 12-14 hours, cut the pieces into cubes, season them, then smoke them two or three hours more until a very dark “bark” develops. Burnt is just how they look – they are actually cooked perfectly. They are fatty, no good for you at all, and absolutely outstanding. Some people call them “meat candy.” 

Links to the restaurants I mentioned:

Finally, as my friend Dawnalyn has pointed out, I lived in Arkansas for 18 years, and I’ve lived in Malibu for the last 31 years, and I still call Arkansas home. Can you have two homes? They both certainly qualify, and I love them both, but my only plans are to stay in our Malibu home. Dawnalyn is a true wordsmith, and I have often advised her not to pay attention to my words. Instead, try to figure out the sentiments behind them. She just shakes head. Home is a complicated concept, and I’m just fine with that. 

Who’s in that Lane for May of 2024?! Krishanne (Krish) Nishi, that’s who!

First of all, just a reminder that these Who’s In That Lane!  pieces celebrate our club and our teammates, and help us to get to better know our lanemates and the people in those lanes over there! I know we all enjoy being a part of CVMM, and it’s even better when more of us really know each other! And thanks, Coach Nancy, for sharing the most recent Southern Pacific Masters Swimming (SPMS) magazine, which reprinted the March article about how we all contributed to our awesome Matt Biondi swim meet. In case you didn’t know, our SPMS area is huge, combining most of southern California with southern Nevada – we have over 5,000 members. 

So let’s get back to business and get to know Krish. Krish has been with CVMM for less than a year, but she already knows it’s a new home for her. She has quickly established many friendships on the team. Depending on her travel schedule, you’ll find her at the Monday and Wednesday noon workouts, the Friday evening workout, and the Saturday morning workout. 

Krish was a serious swimmer all through college. She grew up in Nebraska and remains a big Cornhuskers fan (Go Big Red!) She eventually swam for the University of Wyoming (Go Cowboys!), and is thrilled to be back in the pool with teammates after almost 40 years. In talking with Krish, she recalled a big sign that greeted their opponents when they entered the Laramie, Wyoming swimming complex: “7,250 Feet: HOW’S YOUR OXYGEN DEBT?” Pretty intimidating! In case you’re wondering, our CLU and Simi Valley pools are a little lower, at an oxygen-rich 800 feet. 

One question we ask all of our featured swimmers is, if they are pushed, what is the interval they can make for 5 x 100-yard freestyle. Krish is crushing it, and is able to make a 1:25 pace for those 5 100s. Maybe, just maybe, she could make them at 1:20. Nice work, Krish!

One of my favorite lines from Krish was about our awesome CVMM coaches. She said, “The coaching crew (Nancy and John) is so supportive and knowledgeable – I have learned more in a few months here then years of swimming when I was younger.” I am in complete agreement, and I have heard it from so many of our teammates. Our coaches are always pushing us to be more efficient in our swimming. In my case, I’m sure they get tired of telling me the same thing over and over, but I promise I’m working on it!

In terms of her swimming preferences, Krish said, “I like the long, pounding freestyle interval sets.” Ouch. I can’t even comprehend that sentence, but it’s my obligation to report what I hear, folks. No matter how wacky it is. Her dislikes include breaststroke and kicking – that makes more sense to me. But no matter what, she loves being a part of this crazy group. She adds, “The ‘team feel’ gives you a sense of accountability to show up – and I find I sleep much better on the days I swim.” Krish has already swam in a few of our meets, and looks forward to doing more of that in the future.

After retiring two years ago from long careers with UCSB then Amgen, (I wonder how many of our CVMM teammates have Amgen ties – a lot I think!) Krish now divides her time between California and Colorado. Outside of swimming, she loves hiking, backpacking, and snowshoeing. She is a docent at the very awesome Ronald Reagan Museum. (I will be going to see the new exhibit soon – it’s called Defending America and the Galaxy – Star Wars and SDI.) She also spends time supporting the Jewel Levine Foundation, a local foundation supporting those fighting serious medical challenges. Our club is no stranger to that, so thanks to Krish and all of those working to make a difference. Krish’s two children are grown, and she and her husband are empty nesters except for their rescue Rottweiler. “Except for their Rottweiler” is kind of a funny phrase. A 100-pound Rottweiler is no small presence in a home. 

We are happy to have Krish as part of CVMM. She said that even Steve, her not-yet-a-CVMM-teammate-even-though-he’s-done-his-share-of-triathlons husband, recognizes that her new swim crew seems to be more like a family. I know there are many of us who think that is exactly right. And Steve, there’s always room for one more!  We are happy to have you on our team and in our family, Krish! Keep it up, and thanks for letting us feature you in our latest Who’s In That Lane!

To see previous Who’s In That Lane pieces, please click here.

One of the unexpected opportunities of being my age is that finally, somebody might tell me that I am an “old soul.” It’s not something I heard growing up, or really, ever. Being viewed as an old soul means that people think you have wisdom far beyond what you should have at your age. Maybe I’m finally an old soul, not because I’m so advanced or precociously wise, but just because I’m so old! Maybe being old, even if I’m not wiser than my years, gives me an Old Soul Free Pass. I’ll take it either way! Some people believe that wisdom emanates from experiences in your life, others believe some humans are born with it or acquire it way more quickly than others, and some believe that wisdom is somehow passed down from humans from previous generations who learned key lessons. Call it evolution, call it spirituality, or call it what you want, I believe it is real.

My youngest son Dawson has that old soul vibe to him. Some of the ways I see it are how peer pressure, and worrying about what others think, is not really a thing for him. I see it in how he is so often sure of what he wants and the path he wants to take. And I see it in the way he listens to others and is constantly looking to learn from them.

I was thinking about all of this because my youngest son/old soul Dawson came home on Friday from his four-month adventure in Japan. Therefore, Friday was a spectacular day. I got to pick up Dawson at LAX. Twenty minutes after walking out of the airport, he was enjoying a Double-Double and a chocolate shake from In-n-Out. Welcome back to America!

We did visit him in Tokyo back in February, and we had frequent FaceTime conversations with him while he was there, but it is so good to see him in person and at home. He returns to college for a summer field session (a project-based graduation requirement at the very awesome Colorado School of Mines – Go Orediggers!), then he comes back home for a few weeks, then he heads back for his senior year. So, we are making the most of our time together, chatting and laughing between his visits from friends and his crazy jet-lag-influenced sleeping patterns. We were eating dinner together this week (Dawson’s requested menu – filet mignon on the Big Green Egg, Dawson’s Roasted Potatoes, and Sauteed Broccoli – recipes at the end of the post). I love great food and even better dinner conversations, and this dinner met both of those criteria. 

During dinner, I asked Dawson whether he thought that his extended time in Japan and all of his experiences there fundamentally changed him. We all talked about what it means to be fundamentally changed – some kind of personality change, a change in your belief system, or maybe a change in your life’s direction. After thinking and discussing, he said that his experiences in Japan did not do that for him, at least not yet. I probably should ask this question again in a year or so. He did say that he felt that it helped him to learn a great deal more about himself and to gain confidence in himself. He traveled to and through Japan, alone in many cases, dealt with all of the decisions and uncertainties that come with travel, concocted plans, adapted those plans when they went awry, and found his way in a country where English speakers are hard to come by. He also said he gained an appreciation for a remarkable culture very different from how he grew up, and those broadened horizons will stay a part of him throughout his life. All of that, and he made new friends from Temple University (Go Owls!), the school that runs the Tokyo campus.

Pretty good stuff right there. And isn’t that what travel is supposed to do? Sometimes, it’s hard to think about the vast world and worlds beyond ourselves. We all have so much going on in our lives. We have to deliberately do something to get us outside of our lives and learn about others. It was the great philosopher Ferris Bueller who said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” And looking around means more than just making a snap judgment based on what things look like compared to what you are used to. We cannot help but see others through our lenses, and those lenses are often clouded with a true lack of understanding. And sometimes, even when there is strong evidence countering what we have believed for years, we fear a tectonic shift in our thinking. Truly looking around requires us to make a sincere effort to take off those lenses and face those fears. 

It was just five centuries ago when another great philosopher (also a pretty darn good astronomer and mathematician) figured out that earth was not the center of the solar system. Nicholaus Copernicus actually figured it all out 36 years before he published, but he waited until the end of his life to share his discovery and his truth, as he was pretty sure he would be imprisoned or killed for findings that pretty much destroyed everything about what humans thought they knew about earth, the sun, the planets, and the stars. Good call, Nick. It’s just one more instance of book banning as a futile effort to prevent change. In the last five years or so, it seems like I’m seeing too many places in America that are using those same 16th century philosophies, seeking to keep ideas they don’t like off of book shelves and out of people’s heads. As Ray Bradbury said in Fahrenheit 451, “There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”

But if we want a world where people, nations, and cultures better understand each other, we need to keep those matches away from ideas that matter. We need ideas and experiences in our lives that encourage us to look beyond ourselves and our own belief systems. For all of the hopes and dreams of technology, social media has pretty much squashed our ability to see ideas and philosophies that differ from our own. We have to take initiative to expose ourselves to those different ideas and philosophies. We can do that through books, through conversations, and yes, through travel.

That’s why I’m so thrilled that Dawson took the time to travel. Although going overseas is a great opportunity, it is not an easy decision to make. It’s usually way easier to stay where you are, get the things done that need to be done, and be with the people you love to be with. And there’s nothing wrong with the easy route. But my wish for all of us is that we find ways and transcend the demands of everyday life, and find ways to travel, whether through books, conversations, or actual excursions, to get to know people and places unknown. We don’t have to boldly go where no man has gone before, but as often as we can, we should try to do some interacting and thinking that is outside of our circle of comfort.

I love Mark Twain’s thoughts on most things, except when he offends me. (I laughed while writing that last sentence.) On the topic of travel leading to greater understanding, he said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Exactly, Samuel.

So here’s to changing the world by learning about others. Here’s to making a difference in our world by doing our best to understand other cultures. Here’s to ideas, good and bad, seeing the light of day. And here’s to all of us, by seeking out learning and getting outside of our circle of comfort, becoming old souls and wise beyond our years. It’s never too late.

If you’re not on the mailing list, you’re missing out. Not only will I let you know when my blog posts come out, but you will get my once-a-month-subscribers-only message. I’ve put out three Mike’s Mid-Month Messages so far. I share what I’m cooking, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, and other news that had a profound impact on me. Thanks to all who let me know you appreciated it. If you’re interested, please click here

Post #107 on www.drmdmatthews.com

Notes

I cut this out of the post, as it was getting a little long, so for those of you who read the notes (and you’re awesome for sticking with me!), here’s some bonus content. I remember in my 1982-83 year abroad, when the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain were still very much intact, I spent quite a bit of time in East Germany, speaking with professors and other college students. I walked away with a strong disdain and healthy fear of totalitarian governments (Animal Farm is spot on), but also with a sense of respect and appreciation for ordinary citizens, who had no source of reliable worldwide information, who appreciated having their basic needs taken care of, who feared their government but would never say so, and who were all surprised to hear my version of life in the United States, which was not nearly as horrible as they had been taught.

A few others thoughts . . .

The Church did ban Copernicus’s book, and they later punished Galileo for saying Copernicus was right. (Though after much consideration, the Catholic Church did officially clear Galileo of all wrongdoing in 1992.)

This is my Tokyo Blog Post, posted after Jill and I returned from visiting Dawson in Japan.

And here are the recipes for the dinner: Steak, Dawson’s Potatoes, and Sauteed Veggies

Finally, today, May 4, 2024, would have been my son Sean’s 31st birthday. I think about him every day, but I sure would have enjoyed celebrating with him today. Here’s my post on him from 2022.

Click here to listen to podcast version.

It was a perfect storm last weekend. First, it rained all weekend long. (Why can’t it rain during the week and leave the weekends for sun and fun?) Second, I got a dang cold again (my second one this year – don’t worry – I won’t talk about it any more). And third, the Masters golf tournament was on TV for 437 hours. I was stuck inside, and actually, I had no choice but to try to consume every one of those 437 hours. Best weekend ever.

My mother-in-law, an avid reader of my posts, is rolling her eyes right now. If playing golf is “a good walk spoiled,” as she (and allegedly, Mark Twain) would say, what in the world is watching golf on TV? For me, especially with a tournament like this one, it’s the chance to watch the greatest golfers in the world trying to do their best on one of the most challenging, and certainly one of the most beautiful, courses in the world. And I love seeing that even when they try to do their best, they fall far short of perfection. In fact, while a few professionals occasionally succeed under great pressure, it is far more common to watch even the best of the best blatantly fail in their efforts. And like all of us when we fail, they have to gather themselves and recover from each and every failure. One of my favorite books about golf is Bob Rotella’s Golf is Not a Game of Perfect. One of Rotella’s most impactful lines is about far more than golf: “Golf is about how well you accept, respond to, and score with your misses much more so than it is a game of your perfect shots.” I know it’s just golf, but I love how it makes all of us pursue excellence, reminds us of our imperfections when we fail, then makes us engage in new pursuits again and again. These are such good lessons for a life well lived.

And if the professionals fall short of perfection, you can bet that the rest of us only have glimpses. But that’s enough to keep most of us going. Every day we go to the course, it’s a fresh start and a chance to play up to our full potential. Boy did I fall short of that this past Wednesday – in fact, I did not even glimpse momentary greatness. But I’m already looking forward to next week.

I love golf. I love playing, and I love being a fan. It’s not for everyone. Though just like Barry Manilow wanted to teach the world to sing, Tiger Woods almost succeeded in making the whole world want to play golf. That’s why I started playing. In 1998, my then 8-year-old son Ryan, fully inspired by Tiger Woods’ greatness and coolness, and further motivated by his grandfather and uncle, both of whom were also very good at golf and very cool, said to me, “Dad, let’s start playing golf.” I was in. A quarter of a century later, we’re both still hooked. 

Golf made me a better father. Probably the best thing you can do as a parent is to give your child the gift of time, multiple hour segments during which they have your undivided attention. Golf takes a lot of time. Both Ryan and I fondly remember playing golf on Saturday mornings at a local public course, then splurging on a hot dog and a Slurpee (Diet Coke for me!) from 7-11 after. There’s no technology to distract you, there’s some friendly competition, there’s the beauty of being outdoors, there’s the constant desire for improvement, and every once in a while, we hit that perfect shot. Throughout it all, you are together and filling your walking time with conversation, bad jokes, and appreciation for what you are doing. I’m trying to think of similar activities that provide that long, uninterrupted time between a parent and a child – fishing, hunting, hiking, sailing – I’m sure there are more. Golf was our choice. Over 25 years later, we are still at it. I’m looking forward to playing with him up in Sacramento in June. It will be awesome.

Golf is a game that reveals character and attitude – another reason why it is a great way to spend time with a child as a parent. I’ve played with plenty of people who get far more upset than they should with bad shots, bad bounces, or any of the gazillion frustrating parts about golf. As the famous Arnold Palmer (of golf and tea/lemonade fame) said to an upset amateur golfer, “Enjoy the day. You’re not good enough to get mad.” I firmly believe that if someone is getting upset at silly stuff on a golf course, they’re probably also reacting irrationally at work or at home. If someone is cheating on the golf course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I once gave Ryan three-hole on course suspension (I was a high school principal, so it’s a suspension, not a time-out) after an over the top outburst. There’s just no need. We all get upset. We just have to let it pass, not take it out on others, reset, and move on. Bob Rotella again – “Not many people think that their state of mind is a matter of choice. But I believe it is.” Living with the glass half full makes golf and life so much more enjoyable. Again, these are great lessons for golf and life.

I know that golf is considered a game for the rich. Country club golf can certainly be that. Augusta National Golf Club, the home of the Masters, may be one of the most exclusive clubs in the world – I certainly haven’t played it . . . yet. Still, I’ve had the pleasure of playing some beautiful country club courses – Riviera, Cypress Point, Virginia, Del Paso, and Monterey Peninsula in California, Little Rock CC and The Alotian in Arkansas, and Kohanaiki in Hawaii. They are all amazing and I feel fortunate to have experienced golf at that level. What’s more amazing is that a person of my meager golfing talent is allowed to play on courses like that! But the courses I play regularly are public courses in Southern California. And my favorite of all of those is the Soule Park Golf Course in Ojai, CA. For the $35 senior rate (It pays to be old!), I can get a small bucket of balls and spend four and a half hours walking beautiful Soule Park. And every Wednesday morning, I join a group of misfits like myself who think that our public course is an incredible gem, competing for meager amounts of money and greater amounts of pride, laughing throughout the day, and each of us feeling quite lucky to be part of it. 

My friend Keith Brown is the general manager of Soule Park. Keith did not grow up with money. He started playing golf at a public course in Venice, CA, played golf at Santa Monica HS, and earned a golf scholarship to Cal State University, Northridge. Go Matadors! He has parlayed his golf experience and business acumen (he later earned an MBA at Northwestern) into an incredible career, and has been running the Soule Park golf course since 2017. I’ve watched him transform the course into one of the finest public golf courses in the nation.

Soule Park’s newfound success is a study in effective and passionate leadership. Since Keith took over the club, there have been dramatic improvements in every aspect of the course. First and foremost, Keith is a hands-on leader who appreciates those who work with him. He knows all his employees by name and truly values them as team members. Second, he knows his customers. If you’re a regular golfer at Soule Park, I’m guessing that Keith greets you by name and he somehow finds the time to banter, even though there are a million things going on that need his attention. But what is most noticeable is the transformation of the golf course. He has invested so much thought, expertise, money, and even love into it. For a public course, it is in remarkable condition. Thanks to Keith’s efforts, you feel like you are in a special place as you walk the photo-worthy fairways. Even the sand traps are perfect (until I get through with them). One of my favorite sights is witnessing the many golfers who love Soule Park, especially the ones who give back every time they play. They will carry several bottles of sand/seed mixture, and just fill in divots made by others as they walk or cart through their round. Their volunteer beautification acts enhance the efforts of all the employees, so that together, they keep the golf course in the best condition possible. It shows me that Soule Park is a community, and I am beyond impressed that so many golfers take pride in being a part of that community, going above and beyond to maintain and even enhance the beauty of their golf course.

Country Club golf can be exclusive. Even those who live next door to the property cannot get past the gates. Public courses, when done right, are the opposite of that. Keith has done his best to make Soule Park not only a community for golfers, but also a destination for all of Ojai, even those who don’t play golf. He has remodeled the restaurant, and it is often full of people coming in for breakfast, lunch, or even dinner, who just want to enjoy good food with incredible views. 

One of my leadership mantras is that great leadership does not happen in a year or two. Leaders must sustain that leadership – I believe that eight years is the right target – in order for changes to be made, and so that those changes can be sustained, even if there is a leadership change in the future. Thanks, Keith, for showing all of us that passionate, caring, and knowledgeable leadership truly makes a difference.

Soule Park is just one example of golf being the catalyst for all these things coming together: A community of people taking time out of what can be crazy, hectic lives to enjoy not just time outside playing a game, but time with each other; golfers committing not just to improving their game, but to improving the place they play the game in; a talented and committed leader willing to do what it takes, both professionally and personally, to create not only an accessible space for this to happen, but an amazing one; and, ultimately, a chance for a whole community – families, friends, and often perfect strangers – to be happier, healthier, and closer together, even if it’s just for a few hours on a beautiful afternoon. 

So yes. I love golf. I love all of the layers. I love how golf has helped me to develop and strengthen father and son bonds. I love enjoying the outdoors in beautiful places. I love the pursuit of getting better, the constant failure, the occasional success, and the eternal hope. I love watching the professionals succeed and fail. I love seeing leaders who can transform a community with their golf course. I look forward to getting stuck inside so I have to watch more golf. And of course, maybe, just maybe, I’ll play the round I know I can play when I get out there next. There’s always hope.

Have a good day, y’all,

Mike

If you’re not on the mailing list, you’re missing out. Not only will I let you know when my blog posts come out, but you will get my once-a-month-subscribers-only message. I’ve put out two Mike’s Mid-Month Messages so far. I share what I’m cooking, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, and other news that had a profound impact on me. Thanks to all who let me know you appreciated it. If you’re interested, please click here

Post #106 on www.drmdmatthews.com

NOTES

While Ryan is my main golf partner, I have enjoyed many rounds with Dawson as well. When Dawson broke 100 for the first time, a milestone for any golfer, he said, “Dad – golf is more fun when you don’t suck.” I’ve written that before, but it’s so worth saying it again. Dawson does not have the golf bug right now, but the minute he changes his mind, next month, next year, five years from now, I will do anything to play with him. Until then, we’ll find places that serve great hamburgers and steaks, watch movies together, enjoy hiking, and just enjoy ourselves in other ways.

7-11 serves a great hot dog. Those were days when money was a little tight, and the 7-11 budget was just perfect. They had chili, nacho cheese, onions, relish, and jalapeños, along with mustard and ketchup. I’m a mustard, ketchup, and onion guy. Thanks 7-11. And no thanks to Costco and Dodger Stadium. The Costco hot dog is one of the world’s great deals at $1.50 with a soft drink, and Dodger Dogs at the stadium are a ritual that must be adhered to. But both places, post COVID-19, have taken away the onion grinder. What a loss! Communist alert! My plan is to dice and freeze small bags of onions, and bring them with me whenever I go to one of these formerly fine dining establishments. Hopefully I can start a trend.

My story about watching golf on TV reminded me (I love when I remind myself of funny things) of my high school principal and English teacher, and one of the greatest humans ever, Father Tribou. He would occasionally go on a rant where he talked about how he loved going to a baseball game, but there was no greater waste of time than watching baseball on TV. As a high school student, I loved teacher rants. They were fun to watch, and they were a nice little break. Sam Kinison would have been my favorite teacher ever. Anyway, one day, while I was in college, my brother Bill called me up and told me he needed a good idea for a paper he had to write for that same Father Tribou. His grades were a little down, and he needed something that would show Father Tribou he was an excellent thinker. I immediately suggested, “Write about the beauty and excitement of watching baseball on TV, and how it’s way better than actually going to the ballpark!” I added, “Father Tribou loves that and he’ll give you an automatic A.” Exhibit ZZ among all of the more (worthwhile) reasons that I’m going to have some questions to answer at the pearly gates. Of course, my brother was crushed and mocked in front of his peers for writing that essay. Sorry, Bill. I do feel a little bad, but come on, that’s funny! 

I can already hear the criticism. Shouldn’t the title be Steve Martin and I? Um . . .  No. The full title is actually Ruminations about Steve Martin and Me, so as you can see, the “me” pronoun is perfectly acceptable. I read somewhere that grammar debates are the absolute best way to grab the reader’s attention. Nailed it!

I have loved Steve Martin’s humor and brilliance since I was 15 years old. That’s when I purchased his Let’s Get Small album and played it non-stop, sometimes with a few friends in my room, but mostly just for me. I loved the inane humor, the concept of looking like a goofball while supposedly trying to be cool, and everything about his delivery. When he started appearing on Saturday Night Live, I couldn’t get enough of the wild and crazy guys skit and everything else he appeared in. When The Jerk came out when I was a junior in high school, I had every line memorized. I know that my already quirky sense of humor was altered, perhaps for the better, by the hours of quality personal time that Steve and I spent together. He made comedy seem so effortless. And as I imagined the real Steve Martin, I figured he was just being himself, and that he was exactly that wild and crazy, yet brilliant lunatic that he so effortlessly portrayed.

My teachers weren’t too happy about Steve and me. In 9th grade, I found a pair of eyeglasses that had no lens on the right side. My schtick was to ask the teacher a thoughtful question while dramatically slipping my finger through the glassless frame to scratch an imaginary eye itch. I was sent to the office for that one. Being clumsy on purpose was another Steve Martin influenced “comedic” thing that I did. Those shenanigans attracted a lot of attention from my peers, which I thought was good. Later I learned that while some thought I was funny, others thought that I was an idiot. I think most of my friends still think that way about me.

I started thinking about this because I just watched the brand new documentary: STEVE! (martin) on Apple TV. Actually, I watched it twice. I expected to be whisked away on a laughter-filled journey through his careers in comedy, movies, music, and writing. What I experienced was so different. Turns out, nothing is effortless for Steve Martin, and he’s certainly not one of the wild and crazy Festrunk brothers that I imagined him to be.

In Part I, which contains video clips and pictures from his life through 1980, neither Steve nor his sister remembers love, laughter, or hugs in their home. Whoa. That was a surprise. His dad saw no purpose in children getting anything nice without earning it, so Steve started working at Disneyland when he was ten years old. Ten years old. It was there that he saw crowds being amazed by the magic, and being entertained by the humor of the magicians during the show. He had found his special purpose. He figured out that comedy had a brighter future than magic, so he focused on that. Being a stand up comedian was something he learned based on repeated observations and, in his never-ending pursuit of excellence, by studying and thinking deeply, even philosophically, on how to present comedy differently. In his words, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

In short, Steve Martin was a remarkably successful comedian because he worked so damn hard at it. In everything he did – comedy, movies, writing, and music – he went about becoming great by dedicating himself completely to his passion. In that pursuit, he left no time for any kind of personal relationships. And though he was somewhat proud of his many accomplishments, it appears that none of it ever made him truly happy. I would not describe his mood as dark, but melancholic seems to work. And this is from the guy who had the world’s best line about having light in our lives: “A day without sunshine is like . . . night.” (It still makes me laugh.)

I’ve never seen a study of those who worked to achieve true greatness – those who were not satisfied until they knew they had reached the pinnacle of their fields – and how that quest for greatness impacted their overall happiness. If you look at Steve Martin, the quest for greatness had no positive impact on his happiness. He did say an interesting thing though: “I decided to think of my work as an end, rather than happiness as an end.” Sounds Puritanically spiritual, doesn’t it? We are not here to find happiness – we are here to work. Sisyphus had a similar life – push that rock up the hill in order to reach the top, then go back and start all over again. But as my friend Dawnalyn said, “Sisyphus was not a happy person.”

I’m not trying to be critical. As Steve said, “Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.” Words to live by.

Other than my family and my career, I’m not sure if I have ever completely devoted myself to anything. But in my efforts to be an improving musician, athlete, writer, or anything else really, I put just enough effort into it to be pretty darn good – probably better than average – but never great. I’m still learning to be a writer, and I think I may have something good to share. As Steve said, “Some people have a way with words, and other people . . . not have way, I guess.” (I’m laughing again, even though I’ve heard it 200+ times.) But through all of it, I would say, with a few big exceptions, I’ve been remarkably happy. Sometimes I wonder, if I had truly devoted myself, whether I could have ever been great at any of those pursuits. It would have taken so much time, and I would have had to give up other passions in my life, and maybe, I would have had to give up on happiness.

And I do realize that “other than my family and career” is an unquestionably absurd thing to say. Those are biggies. And they have both provided me with incredible meaning and joy throughout my life. I have devoted incredible amounts of time to both, though maybe more to my career than I should have. But again, as I look back at my life, it’s been full of contentment, joy, and laughter.

But the quest for achievement and excellence matters. Steve Martin’s quest for excellence has brought so much pleasure into my life. Thomas Edison’s quest for the light bulb led to the computer I’m writing on today. And somewhere out there, researchers are devoting their lives to a cure for dementia. These quests have changed, or will change, millions of lives. I don’t think you have to give up happiness to quest for impactful achievements, but I know it happens. All I’m saying is, I’m grateful that so many give up so much to pursue their own quests. Thanks to all for something that may just make all of our lives better.

I remember learning about the marginal utility curve in an economics class in college. That’s the curve that shows that the more money or effort you put into something, the greater your results. But, there is a point in that curve (X1 below) where the results from increased inputs are not as great as they were before. For example, I was once presenting at a conference with two colleagues, we’ll call them “Carolyn” and “Karina.” We were working on the presentation all afternoon and into the evening, and it looked great. I thought we could put in more hours and make it a little better, or stop working, get some rest and some dinner, and be more ready for tomorrow. They chose to keep on working. I had a nice dinner and a walk, and went to bed at a reasonable time. Their efforts made it better, but just a little bit. (Still, “Carolyn” and “Karina” – thank you for making it better, and sorry you were on your own doing it. You’re both probably thinking you did much better work without me.) I would wish for all those pursuing excellence, that they could know when their efforts have reached that inflection point, so they could also include a pursuit of their own happiness. Steve Martin didn’t even know there was an inflection point.

Instead of constantly smiling and laughing as I watched Part I of STEVE! (martin), I found myself more impressed by him than ever (and remember, I’m a huge fan of all that he has done), but I left the episode heavy and saddened. I was mourning the loss of the imagined happiness and joy in the life of a person I have admired for most of my life.

Part II takes place three years ago, when Steve was 75 years old. He’s a different person. Everything seems slower in his life. He bicycles slowly. He cooks and eats slowly. And it’s not the slowness of age. He’s fit, still brilliant, hilarious, and truly killing it at 75 years old. His actions and mannerisms are more relaxed, and it was kind of wonderful to see. He seems to be enjoying meaningful relationships and learning what it means to be in those relationships. He is still working, but his work is not at all about pursuit of excellence. He’s doing it for the sheer joy of doing it. He worked alone for most of his early life, and now he works with Martin Short and others he admires. He says that whereas his earlier life was anxiety-ridden, he is happy at age 75. He reflects on how he has become a better person with age – he’s kinder, more open, and less driven to find purpose in what others think. I sense that contentment and happiness in him, though I am not totally convinced. I sure hope that he is. I will say this, Part II seems way happier for Steve than Part I. If a documentary on Sisyphus’s life had a similar Part II, the rock would no longer play a starring role.

Steve Martin will always be one of my heroes. I admire him even more now that I know how much he had to overcome, the failures he experienced, and his dedication to excellence. If I could have one wish that I think would change the world, it would be for every person to know they are loved. Watching the documentary made me so appreciative of my own childhood, of having parents who loved me unconditionally, and of growing up in a home filled with wackiness and laughter. I have tried to provide that same level of love, wackiness, and laughter for my own family. In terms of my career, I worked to provide meaning and opportunity, as well as love, wackiness, and laughter for students and my colleagues. And maybe I won’t ever achieve greatness in my other pursuits (and when I say “maybe,” I mean that there’s way less than Lloyd Christmas’s one in a million chance), but the pursuit of them, and the joy I derive from that pursuit, can be an end in itself.

Have a good day y’all,

– Mike Matthews

If you’re not on the mailing list, you’re missing out. Not only will I let you know when my blog posts come out, but you will get my once-a-month-subscribers-only message. I’ve put out two Mike’s Mid-Month Messages so far. I share what I’m cooking, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, and other news that had a profound impact on me. Thanks to all who let me know you appreciated it. If you’re interested, please click here

Post #105 on www.drmdmatthews.com

Notes: 

If you haven’t seen Dumb and Dumber, it probably says good things about you. That being said, my sides still hurt from laughing at some of the scenes. Here’s the Lloyd Christmas quote I was referring to. Jim Carrey, who played Lloyd, was also heavily influenced by Steve Martin, and, fun fact, only got the role after Steve Martin turned it down. Actually, I think that worked out great for both of them!

There’s a story in every lane. That’s what showcase as we introduce our Conejo Valley Multisport Masters (CVMM) swimmers each month. In this third edition of Who’s In That Lane?, I am proud to highlight all of us who participated in CVMM’s CVMM 9th Annual Matt Biondi Short Course Yards Masters Meet on Saint Patrick’s Day – March 17th.

So who’s in that lane for March, 2024? A lot of awesome swimmers and volunteers! 

CVMM 9th Annual Matt Biondi SCY Masters Meet on Saint Patrick’s Day – March 17th was a huge success. In the six weeks leading up to the event, Coach Nancy challenged all CVMM swimmers to either swim in the event or volunteer for it. While I don’t know the exact numbers, I would say that at least 80% of our club members met that challenge.

Many of our club swimmers and our family members volunteered to be timers for the event. We had swimmers in charge of the snack bar. And every item in the snack bar was donated by our swimmers. The snack bar gave swimmers and spectators needed nutrition, provided some revenue for our club, and was the source of happiness as our snack cart provided very popular and very free snacks for our volunteer timers and our officials. Perhaps our most popular volunteer was Patti Lownes –, our meet leprechaun decked out in green St. Patrick’s day garb! Several people commented that the leprechaun made the event much more festive, that kids loved the little trinkets she passed out, she made the pictures of pentathlon medal winners way better, and her luck of the Irish brought out a lot of smiles. My wife was a former college team mascot (Go Josie Bruin!), and she says that one of the keys to a mascot role is to fully embrace it, to make big moves, and to smile the entire time. I would say that Patti did all of that and more.

We had 158 swimmers in the meet. It seemed like more as the sun rose, the fog lifted, and the lanes opened for warmups. There were 8-10 swimmers in each lane, all of us trying to get loose and warm in the perfect water temperature, and the sunny but still cool March weather. All of our team swimmers were festively decked in a St. Patrick’s Day green swim cap. A far cry from the full day meets or even three day meets, this meet only had five individual events. It was a pentathlon format, with 50 yard events in Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Freestyle, then a 100 yard IM. All of the times were added up, and for those who competed in all of them, there was a Pentathlon contest. 

The meet started right on time – at 8:30 AM, moved very quickly, and was over by 12:30. Many swimmers loved how quickly the meet moved, though CVMM’s Calley Prezzano said, “I wish there were more swimmers – so I’d get a little more rest between events!” No rest for anyone at this meet, Calley! As Dori said in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming!”

There were lots of shoutouts for Craig Eisenberg, AKA, “The Swim Guy.” One of our guest swimmers, David Johannsen, found the perfect goggles for the Special Olympics swimmers he coaches, and he bought 20 pairs. Craig is at almost every meet in Southern California. He feeds off the energy of the meets, his presence makes every meet more festive, and he lends credibility to each meet. I try to buy something from Craig at least once a year, and I did walk away with a new suit this time.  In talking with him afterwards, he told me he loved the short meet, and that he would do anything for coach Nancy. I love seeing these two legends supporting each other and building up our swimming community. Please check him out at https://theswimguy.com

There were also shoutouts for longtime race official Virgil Chancy. One of our guest swimmers said, “I keep telling him to look the other way and that there’s nothing to see when I swim but he never listens!” Virgil is a highly respected leader, volunteer, and race official in the US Masters swimming community, recently winning the 2023 US Masters Dorothy Donnelly Service Award. And unlike the commenter, I made sure to have two-handed touches in butterfly and breaststroke. It’s not that hard! Thanks for making our meet better, Virgil!

Seeing old friends is one of the things that’s very cool about masters swimming. Matt Biondi said it when he welcomed all of the swimmers to the meet. I would say that every single person on the pool deck stopped what they were doing and listened to the 8-Olympic-gold-medal-winner as he expressed his appreciation for all attending the meet, then shared his love of reconnecting with old friends at this and all masters swim meets. Matt made everyone feel special and welcomed with his sincerity, humility, and humor. Everyone laughed when he ended by saying he was looking forward to the 50-yard freestyle event, but he wanted nothing to do with the next event, the 50 yard breaststroke, which was in his words, “something I know nothing about.”

One of the cool comments was from Jill King, who had not seen coach Nancy Reno since the 1970s. She said, “Nancy and I competed as 13-14 year olds in Northern CA in the late 60s early 70s. This was our first time meeting once again on the pool deck! Quite surreal! The competition is great and stimulating for all, yet some of the most memorable and touching moments happen between the races!” That’s beautiful, Jill. Thank you.

The highlight of this annual meet is always the 50-yard freestyle. Lex Higlitt, in the 40-44 age group, from Oregon, was the fastest female swimmer with a time of 26.14. And Ralph Porazzo, in the 30-34 age group, from the Rose Bowl Masters, was the fastest male swimmer at 21.42. Everyone loved swimming in the same race as Matt Biondi. Beata Konopka, a CVMM swimmer, said, “I am grateful that I can compete with Matt Biondi and hear his stories.” Me too, Beata! And while a few younger swimmers can brag that they beat Matt in our meet, his 23.96 time won his age group, and every single person in the pool had their eyes glued on his race. If I had just swam my 50-yard freestyle a mere five seconds faster, I could have been one of the few to beat him. If I had been in his heat, I would have finished five body lengths behind him – but the good news is that he would not have lapped me in that two-lap race! As Lloyd Christmas said in Dumb and Dumber, ‘So you’re telling me there’s a chance! Yeah!”

So many swimmers expressed appreciation for the little things that made this meet so special and enjoyable:

  • One of our guest swimmers said, ‘I know it’s silly, but I do love the medals! I’m over 70 and I feel “glee,” like a kid, when awarded one!’
  • Walt Jiminez from UC33 said, “Well run, highly professional coaches, meet officials, starters, refs…everything was top-notch!”
  • Lots of swimmers loved that they set PRs!
  • Bill Marshall commented that because of all of his CVMM teammates’ help, we had an “amazingly quick setup and take down that was very efficient and organized.”
  • CVMM’s Tom Pani added, “It was fun: the gift baskets, green swim caps, high point awards, Matt Biondi trophy, relays, the team spirit, seeing all our team mates there, both as volunteers or competitors.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time.”
  • My sometimes lanemate Maria Calhoun added, “My first meet in 45 years!! Loved being back competing!”
  • And for me, it was the first time I swam butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke in a meet in over fifty years! If you saw my times, that fact would not surprise you.

So thanks to all who swam in the lanes, to all of those who supported the swimmers, and of course to Coach Nancy Reno, for all she did, and for all of us smiling the whole time. CVMM’s 9th Annual Matt Biondi swim meet was a great success because of all of you!

Photo Credits;

  • Foggy Sunrise Picture by Debbie Siemer (Beautiful!)
  • Thanks to Beata Konopka, for her constant smiling, her reminders of how lucky we are to swim together, for the “drink up bitches” picture and the happy timers picture, and for all of her teammate selfies.
  • All other photos taken by Brad Stanley. Brad’s professional and beautiful pictures make everyone happy, and I’m grateful for his dedication and artistry.
  • All of these photos were posted on CVMM’s Facebook Page – Thanks to all who contribute!

Who’s In That Lane? – Post #3

To see all Who’s In That Lane? posts, please click here!

Even in my little neighborhood, these months of college acceptances and non-acceptances feel like times of great uncertainty. When I worked in schools, you could feel the anxiety building from the beginning of the senior year. For those students who are applying to colleges, there is stress that is involved. And for the parents, that stress is often even more intense. For years, as an educator and now as a neighbor and friend, I have tried to convince parents and students that this stress and intensity is not necessary. It’s going to be OK. The system is not perfect, and our students have many avenues to success.

I started thinking about this topic because, this week, several colleges announced that they were reinstating the SAT or ACT as a requirement of admission. MIT, Dartmouth, UT-Austin, Yale, and Georgetown are all bringing the test back. Their reasoning is primarily that nothing predicts success in college better than the SAT/ACT: grades are not given on the same scale across the nation; essays – who knows who (or what) is writing those? So it’s the SAT/ACT exam that gives a consistent barometer.

Yale is actually allowing AP tests in lieu of the SAT. I like that strategy a lot. The SATs, which are an accumulation of a lot of information, may seem like an objective test on the surface. But students whose parents have the means often take expensive courses to prepare themselves, giving them an advantage over students who do not have those means. AP tests cover material taught in class, and tutoring is much more rare, so it seems more fair, though, in this arena, too, students with means likely have more access to AP courses and greater chances of success on AP tests as well.

I have readers across the political spectrum, and I know some will not want to hear this. There is no denying that college admissions, which seem to be based on objective criteria like test scores and GPA, are inherently unfair. Affluent families are better at knowing how to play the college application game, because they played it themselves. Students from affluent families are often surrounded by other high performing students, and pushed to excel in a greater variety of AP classes. These students have greater access to tutoring and college counselors. That’s why I’m not against programs that try to level the playing field for those who do not have all the advantages that wealth can bring. And it’s why I’ve always looked for a better way for students to truly demonstrate who they are and what they know, in order for prospective colleges to know who they are admitting.

Back in 1994, I thought I was on the cutting edge of solving this problem. That’s the year that Malibu High School started requiring a schoolwide portfolio as a graduation requirement. Not only would completing the portfolio demonstrate college readiness, but it would also be something admissions offices could review to get a more complete picture of the work each student was capable of doing. Many of us thought it was a wonderful and transformative idea, and nearly the entire faculty of Malibu High School was in the boardroom cheering when the new MHS graduation policy was  adopted. It was a great moment.

Some of the portfolio requirements included:

  • Proof that students had passed a very comprehensive test on civics and the US Constitution
  • Their very best written work, including research papers, over the course of a four-year high school career
  • Proof of 144 hours of verified community service completed over a four-year high school career, and reflections on that work
  • Projects in the visual and performing arts
  • Any awards or certificates earned throughout high school
  • College essays, including a reflective essay on the value of their high school experience

To help students along their way, we developed an advisory system. One of the unwritten rules for high school is that students do best when they have at least one trusted adult on campus. So every Friday, we had a 25-minute advisory period, and every teacher, counselor, administrator, as well as a few other key employees, met with their advisory students. That class could be spent talking about school issues, tips for academic success, study strategies, or anything really. Advisors stayed with their advisees for their entire 4-year high school experience. And at graduation, advisors were on the stage handing flowers to their advisee graduates. 

I very clearly remember our team inventing all of this from scratch, and working like hell to implement it. We tweaked it regularly. It was hard, it was messy, it was fun, and it was mentally taxing. I don’t think my friend Luke, a great counselor and a rather traditional educator, ever truly understood what we were doing or why, and I think the Friday advisory schedule still makes him shudder. But he too, along with so many on our staff, jumped in and tried to make it better every week, month, and year. I know students and teachers grew from the experience.

But here’s the thing: colleges did not want to get more information on their applicants. The portfolios never made it to the admissions offices that were already overwhelmed. And our grand idea never materialized into shifting the landscape of college admissions.

Still, even without the admissions changes, the portfolio and advisory system was a big part of our school for five or six years. But as new employees started working with us, and as the burden of something extra began to be felt, it was harder and harder to maintain, and eventually, we ended it. Some things remained – the Constitution test and the community service – but the rest of it was discontinued.

For me, it was a grand failure. I loved my advisory students, and I know that many students and faculty felt the same way about their advisees. The graduation moments were special. I was inspired seeing the entire school working together, trying to solve new problems that all of these new ideas brought up. 

Colleges admissions are still imperfect. Testing is helpful, but flawed. College essays, between AI and very expensive college admission counselors, may or may not be written by the students. And the most competitive schools receive applications from far more overqualified students than they can admit. An admissions director from a prestigious university once told me, “We admit 2000 students a year. But most of us believe that if we did not accept them, and took the next 2000 on the list, we would have an outstanding freshman class.” In other words, it’s pretty random. 

Students should remember that colleges make these decisions without knowing students as well as they should. It’s not really their fault – they would need to significantly increase staff to do truly in-depth analysis of applicants, and even then, it might be a best guess scenario. I don’t know if that makes students and parents feel better or not, but for those who are not accepted, it’s one more great reason not to take it personally.

And it matters far less than many people think. There are not just 12 to 15 colleges that matter. There are hundreds of great colleges where students can get a fantastic education, and some of those may be better fits for them than the so-called elites. Don’t believe me? Read Frank Bruni’s 2015 masterpiece, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. The so-called “safety schools” that people apply to may actually be the best fit for many students. Be open minded!

My advice to this year’s seniors and future seniors, and the parents of those students is still the same: it’s going to be OK. It’s an imperfect system, and it is not always fair. Don’t fall in love with schools where acceptance can be truly random. Who you are, your work ethic, your ability to collaborate, your creativity, your problem solving abilities, your kindness, and your sense of gratitude matter far more than the university name on the top of your diploma.

So here’s to grand failures, putting forth our best efforts, accepting results often determined by others (and sometimes by chance), and then moving on toward the next sensible or nonsensical goal in our lives.

Have a good day y’all,

– Mike Matthews

If you’re not on the mailing list, you’re missing out. Not only will I let you know when my blog posts come out, but you will get my once-a-month-subscribers-only message. I’ve put out two Mike’s Mid-Month Messages so far. I share what I’m cooking, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, and other news that had a profound impact on me. Thanks to all who let me know you appreciated it. Sign up now and I’ll send you the February and March messages. If you’re interested, please click here

Post #104 on www.drmdmatthews.com

Notes:

I was turned down by two universities when I applied to school back in 1980. Harvard was a long shot, and they wanted nothing to do with me. But I also applied to Duke University. Back then, there was no downloadable application. You had to request the application by mail, receive it by mail, then use your typewriter to fill in the application boxes. 

I had finished my Duke application, laid it on the kitchen counter, and went downstairs to find the envelope and some stamps so I could put it in the mailbox. I got distracted by a few things, and it was probably 30 minutes before I came back to the kitchen, ready to send it off. But the application was gone. I started looking around the house . . . nothing. The mail delivery person was coming soon, and it had to be postmarked that day. I asked my Mom, who knew where everything was, and she didn’t know. Starting to panic, I yelled out to my siblings if they had seen it. They ignored me as usual, then my brother Pat said, “Wait. What did it look like?”

I told him it was three pages, and the top page had a lot of dark blue on it. He grimaced. Uh oh.

He said that he was changing the battery in our car, and he didn’t want to mess up Dad’s garage counter, so he saw some papers in the kitchen, and just used that to protect the counter. I said, “So there’s a dirty, acidic battery on top of my application?”

“Sorry, dude. Was that important?”

So, I took the application, with a soiled front page and the battery acid already working on working its way through everything, put it in the envelope, and sent it off.

I was supposed to hear back on April 15.

In early March, I received notice that I had not been accepted. At least they were able to read the application. I often wonder if the whole envelope was in shreds by the time they received it. They should have sent a Polaroid picture of the entire Duke admissions team laughing at my poor excuse for an application. It would have been deserved.

All it is now, is a good story – a grand failure, followed by a whole lot of moving on.

Lurking in my lower back, there is a pain monster waiting to get out of its cage. For much of my adult life, it’s just waiting for the right moment – it may start roaring when I’m swimming into a flip turn, executing a golf swing, sitting at my computer for too long, or just bending over to tie my shoes. And when it roars, I know it’s got me for a few days while my back spasms persist. During that lovely time, I wake up in the morning, crawl to the shower, eventually stand up, then get on with my day. In a perfect world, I’d have a hot tub in the backyard and a masseuse ready to knead out those knots. But instead, I rely on exercises that several physical therapists have taught me. If I can just do at least fifteen minutes of stretching a day, and better yet, 45 additional minutes of core and leg strengthening, then I can keep that monster locked up in its cage. 

It’s so simple!

But here’s the thing, life gets in the way of those additional fifteen to 45 minutes. Even in my mostly retired state, there are way better and far more enjoyable ways to spend my time. I don’t mind the stretching, but it’s a little boring, and there are always other activities I’d rather be doing. And I really don’t like strength building at all. I love waking up early and diving into the pool with my masters team at 5:55 AM. I truly enjoy running around the pickleball court or walking a golf course. But I really dislike the pushups, squats, wall sits, planks, curls, sit ups, and the rest of the strength building sets.

When we went to Japan, I did no stretching and no strength building, as is usual when I travel. It was a vacation! Why ruin the trip by doing things I don’t want to do? I was too busy doing fun stuff! Sure, the hotel had a gym. And I could have done a lot of my lower back exercises in the room. But . . .  I didn’t. When I got home, I was tired from the jet lag and I told myself that the extra hour of sleep was more important than those exercises. Pretty soon, it had been almost three weeks since I had stretched or tried to make myself stronger. 

Sure enough, the monster woke up. I felt that twitch, and I knew I had unlocked the cage. At any moment, that monster could throw a Tasmanian Devil fit and put me on my back. (That’s the image above by the way – that AI-generated tasmanian devil and the injured back sign. I like the real thing, but the Tasmanian Devil on the Bugs Bunny cartoons was, next to Marvin the Martian, my favorite extra character.)

So I yelled at myself, and did a lot of gentle stretching. I sent apologetic thoughts to my physical therapists for not heeding their advice, and I recommitted to my stretching and strength-building routines. I don’t like it, but I need to do it. So far, the monster has twitched a few more times, but it has not unleashed its full fury on my back. I hope that’s the way it stays. That’s a better outcome than I deserve.

After a few days of stretching and pain avoidance, I was walking with Maggie Mae and McDuffy, our two Scottish terriers, when I ran into Mark, one of my neighbors down the street. He was throwing his surfboard into his truck, and we talked about how cold the water was these days. He said he was going to suffer through the pain, and he would eventually enjoy it. He asked if I had heard of David Goggins, and I told him I had not. David Goggins, Mark told me, is a former Navy Seal (are all of those guys awesome advice givers?) who is now an ultra-marathoner, and one of his mantras is, “Do something every day that sucks.” 

My first reaction to his statement was to respectfully disagree. If you see Mr. Goggins, he’s kind of a ripped dude, so I think it’s important that he knows I was being respectful when I initially disagreed. But, as I continued to think about it, I wondered if, for those of us who live in a very comfortable world, his message may be exactly what we need to hear. Stretching and strength building are super sucky when compared to the rest of my day. It can be boring and very uncomfortable, and I don’t like either one. As I’ve gotten older, my flexibility has only worsened. Stretching can slow the inevitable decline in flexibility that comes with getting older, so even though I dislike it, I need to embrace it.

But Goggins goes further. He adds that we need to figure out what we’re not good at, and “triple down on your weaknesses.” He would say that my goal of just slowing my inevitable decline is a pitiful excuse for an aspiration. And instead of 15 minutes a day to stay a little flexible and ward off back pain, I should be doing far more so I can actually become highly flexible, leading to an even better quality of life. I have two friends, Brett and Bob, who religiously spend way more than an hour just stretching every day. So much stretching! So much time!

Many of the posts that I write are meant to kick me in the ass and motivate me to be a better version of myself. I need ass-kickers in my life. I don’t want them, but I am better off because of them. 

My swim coach, Nancy, is one of those ass-kickers. Even though I love going to her workouts, she always manages to give us one swim set that truly sucks. David Goggins would be proud. I pay good money for that pain, and it’s worth it. So I’m tripling down in my flexibility work right now, but that is mostly because my fear of that back pain monster is dominating my thoughts. 

The Dread Pirate Roberts had it at least partially right in The Princess Bride when he sternly said, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” I’m at a fairly good point in my life. It’s not perfect, but I have a roof over my head, food on the table, and love in my life. I have far more comfort and joy than pain at this point. I know tougher times will come, so I want to enjoy what I have while I have it. 

At the same time, if I don’t embrace the pain and all of the suckiness that comes with it, my quality of life will decline. So I guess if I’m going to do my best to heed John Wooden’s advice to make each day a masterpiece, I need to realize that life is pain . . . at least part of it.

I’m wondering what sucky things are out there that readers feel they need to embrace more. It could be about fitness. It could be job-related – public speaking, confronting difficult employees, or doing something new that comes with a risk of failure. It could have something to do with a relationship. Or, it could be saying something courageous in the increasingly divisive world of politics. Goggins’ point is that if we don’t embrace those undesirable challenges, the things we don’t do because we think we’re not good at them. we do not grow, and we allow unwanted and uninvited monsters into our lives.

Wishing us all luck as we work to embrace the suck.

If you’re not on the mailing list, you’re missing out. Not only will I let you know when my blog posts come out, but you will get my once-a-month-subscribers-only message. In February’s message, I shared two outstanding recipes, my favorite shows on Apple TV, my top Grammy moments, and other news that had a profound impact on me. Thanks to all who let me know you appreciated it. Sign up now and I’ll send you the February message. If you’re interested, please click here

Post #103 on www.drmdmatthews.com

————-

Notes:

I just gave the tip of the iceberg on the advice Goggins gives to others. And like an iceberg, the rest of the advice, the iceberg below the water surface, is downright terrifying. Marathoners are one thing, Ultra-marathoners are another, and former Navy Seal ultra-marathoners are people who should be feared. So just to be clear, I think this above the iceberg advice is about as far as I will go with Mr. Goggins. Could I be better by embracing more suffering? Am I getting soft because I don’t go for it as hard as he does? Absolutely! I’m looking for my perfect suffering ratio, a number too low to be on his radar.

David Goggins video on FaceBook

—-

I’m not a fan of the word suck. You wouldn’t know it from this post. But it’s part of the lexicon now. It helped me when my friend Dale Eicks, the finest 6th grade science teacher I ever saw, wore a t-shirt to school that said “Science Never Sucks.” Then, in smaller letters below, it said something like, 

“It can push, it can pull, 
but it will never, ever suck. 
There is high pressure and low pressure, 
but it will never, ever suck. 
Nope. 
Suckus Impossibleus.” 

As his principal, he asked for my approval, which I gave in an eye-rolling fashion. His students, of course, loved it! And he got to teach a scientific concept all day to his current students, as well as dozens of former students who also loved the shirt. Dale, you were the best. RIP, my friend. You are missed.

—-

Tasmanian Devil AI Image by Chris and Ralph on Pixabay. 

Back Pain Sign Image by 8thBox on Pixabay

Melanie Perry and Daniel Hommes

There’s a story in every lane. That’s what we will be learning as we introduce our swimmers each month. In this second edition of Who’s In That Lane, I am proud to introduce Mel Perry and Daniel Hommes. The picture above is how most of us see them when they swim the early workouts at the CLU pool. They look great, don’t they? These pictures were taken at 5:55 AM in a 38-degree day, and all you see are smiles and optimism as they head into their workout. I love it!

Daniel and Mel have a few things in common. They are both proud parents, they both have full time jobs, they both much prefer distance sets to sprints (it’s good for me to see that non-sprinters really exist!), neither gets excited when Nancy announces a kicking set (which tells us they are both highly intelligent), they are both world travelers, and they’ve both been with CVMM about three years.

Let’s take a deeper look at Mel Perry first.

As a swimmer, Mel swam for her high school team (she was in the first ever graduating class of the Calabasas High School Coyotes!), and she’s been swimming with different masters’ groups since she was in her 20s. Although she’s done a few masters meets, she hasn’t done any recently. We will work on that! Swimming 100s on the 1:40 feels like a great workout to Mel. Her husband Bob is her consistent lane partner. You don’t see too many husband/wife tandems here, so I regard that as something super cool. I keep asking my wife to join us, but she is not excited about the 4:45 alarm.

Mel derives great meaning and pleasure from her job as an account director for Belmond, a luxury travel brand. She’s been in travel her entire career, and she’s loved being with Belmond for the last twenty years. One of the best parts of her job is knowing that every client conversation is different and unique, and her creativity can come through with every trip she plans. I love that. And of course, her job allows her to do what she truly loves, travel around the world. She shared pictures of her travels to Italy’s Amalfi Coast and Peru’s Machu Pichu. That’s good living. #jealous

I often swim in the lane next to Mel. She’s rock solid, and someday, I’ll have a flip turn as smooth, graceful, and powerful as hers. I hope. And what gets her out of bed and on time to our early workouts is that she knows she doing right by her health, and the camaraderie with her fellow swimmers has her leaving every workout smiling.

And now, Daniel Hommes

Daniel has been a lifelong athlete, but he’s fairly new to swimming. Born and raised in Holland, he just missed qualifying for the Dutch 1988 Olympic rowing team. After that he started cycling and running marathons. But to compete in triathlons, he had to hit the pool. He had a major health scare about ten years ago, and has thankfully recovered. And he’s now getting serious about these triathlons. He’s competed in several 70.3 events (I always call those half-ironmans, but I think 70.3 is the more accepted term), and he’s aiming for a full ironman event in Barcelona this fall. You can see his other means of moving below, with his bike and after completing and ironman with his son. Pretty cool dad stuff right there.

By day, Daniel worked for eight years as gastroenterologist at UCLA, helping patients with complex chronic diseases. These days, he has transitioned to developing a company that will bring in AI-powered decision making that will help health givers in daily clinical practice. I love it. Helping to bring cutting edge research to doctors’ offices and clinics around the world, even in the smallest of towns, is truly making a difference.

As far as swimming, Daniel feels plenty challenged by repeating 100s on a 2:00 interval. He has not yet done a swim meet with CVMM, but I think he would be a fantastic in the 800- and 1500-yard events. I want him to do those, because I never want Nancy to ask me to enter those events. And as far as CVMM goes, he is truly appreciative of the professional level of coaching that Nancy Reno provides, and is constantly in awe of the amazing swimmers swimming up and down our pool.

So there you go! Thanks to Mel and Daniel for sharing their love of swimming, and how it supports their already super interesting lives. We have quite the group here in CVMM. I can’t wait to share more of our stories.

To see all Who’s In That Lane? posts, please click here!

Post #2

So many experiences of parenting are the ones we hope or expect will happen. Learning to walk, going to school, getting a driver’s license, and going off to college are just some of the milestones that went through my head as I looked forward to life with both Ryan and Dawson. Some of them, like learning to walk and learning to read, were exhilarating to watch. Some of them, like taking off by themselves in a car, were downright terrifying. And some of them, like going off to college, as I wrote about a few years ago, were both exciting and truly sad. No matter what, seeing these visions become realities has been everything I hoped it would be and more.

And what a treat it is to experience moments we never expected. 

That’s what happened this week. As Jill and I enjoyed a beer halfway around the world, at a bar in the Shinagawa Train Station in Tokyo, we both lit up when Dawson, that tall, long-haired Malibu/Colorado kid, walked up to us and gave us a giant hug. We had a beer waiting for him, and we could not stop smiling as we savored the moment. That was a moment I had never imagined happening. And I loved it.

Dawson left for a semester abroad in Tokyo in early January, so it had been about six weeks since we’d seen him. He did not know a soul in Japan when he arrived, nor did he speak any Japanese. But, like he always does, he quickly developed a solid new friend group. Like it or not, that is something that we as parents have no control over. We do our best to raise our children so they are kind, interesting, curious, respectful, and fun. And whatever they become, that determines their ability to make friends, and more importantly, their propensity to form relationships  with those who have similar qualities. My sons, Ryan and Dawson, are so different yet both of them are quick to make friends, and they are both better people because of the quality of the friends they keep. I have stopped being surprised by it, but I will never stop valuing it.

Dawson has a perfect schedule in Tokyo. He’s in class all day on Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting at noon and getting out at 7:30 PM. That leaves the other five days of the week for a little bit of studying, and a lot of time to enjoy, experience, and even absorb Tokyo culture. It’s why going abroad while you are young is such a good idea.  It’s while we are young that we plan for extended time to just enjoy a culture so different from our own. If we are lucky, we will take some vacations that give us a glimpse of this, but it will never be as prolonged or as unhurried as a semester abroad, taking a gap year, or maybe even working overseas. And Dawson seems to be doing his semester abroad exactly right.

This was our first time in Tokyo. First time in Japan, actually. We loved it all. We spent the entirety of our visit in Tokyo, and I know there is so much more to see beyond the world’s largest city (it’s ten times bigger than LA, and three times bigger than NY). If we come back (I hope we do!), we will see other parts of the country, but this trip’s primary objective was to spend as much time with Dawson as possible, so we stayed in Tokyo. 

Here are some observations and experiences that we have loved:

  • The trains and subways are just about perfect. It took us a little bit to get to know them, but once you know the signs to look for, it’s something that a non-speaker can easily use. What a tragic mistake Los Angeles made when it chose to emphasize freeways instead of trains and subways. In LA, I dread driving to Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Bowl, or any of the gazillion other awesome places that exist in that town. Not in Tokyo – here, we were able to go anywhere with ease. I think it’s too late for LA, but, nice job, Tokyo.
  • Rush hour is a real thing here in Tokyo. Jill and I rode a few trains where we were totally smashed up against each other. While I’m not complaining about that part (in fact it was pretty nice) the other sardines in the can made it less fun. Less fun, but it worked, as people remained as courteous as possible, and riders did their best to make room for others.
  • It’s so safe. A sight that I never got used to was young children, as young as six or seven years old, by themselves, wearing their school uniforms, independently taking buses and trains on their way to and from school. I have never seen this in the US, and I wasn’t aware that it happened anywhere in the world. 
  • It’s so clean! Part of that is the culture of sitting down to eat. Even with all of the vending machines, you don’t see people walking and eating. In fact, it’s hard to find a trash can on the street. Why would you need it? For a culture that always seems to be on the move, I love that eating is still a time to pause and be with others.
  • The food is as advertised. Just wonderful. All of it. Japan ticks so many boxes for Dawson – in addition to the fascination with technology and anime, he loves Japanese food. Just as I had heard, it’s hard to go wrong with restaurant choices, as the emphasis on quality is ubiquitous here. Dawson took us to some of his favorite places, and we all explored new ones together. In just two months, he has learned enough Japanese to get along just fine in restaurants where no English at all is spoken. Some of the food highlights:
    • Japanese Curry with Udon Noodles. Big fat, soft, chewy udon noodles in a thick curry broth, with fried fish and shrimp on top. I think it was the best thing I tasted. I need those udon noodles in my life.
    • We had several different ramen dishes, and again, I loved them all. The three of us took a ramen making class. The first words in our 3-hour class, “Good ramen takes at least two days to make.” Whoa. I thought what we made in three hours was off the charts wonderful. I will share more about ramen making as I practice what I learned at home.
    • Learning more about lean vs. fatty tuna (I have only had lean in the US) was a treat. Who knew sushi and brisket were so similar – I’ll choose the fatty variety every time on both!
    • Eating at the huge fish market in Tokyo was an experience. So many booths with great food to try!
    • A hole-in-the-wall second story hidden gyoza restaurant that Dawson took us to felt like being in a secret club. And those gyoza! Remember the Jack-in-the Box commercial where Jack tells a dazed and confused young man that he should order thirty tacos? That’s how many gyoza Dawson and I ate.
  • We had an onsen experience – a two-hour plus experience with indoor and outdoor pools heated by thermal springs. It was like meditating in a silent retreat. If I come back, we will go to a place in the mountains that specializes in these. We need more non-super-expensive-luxury-spa places like this in the US!
  • We were early for the cherry blossoms, but we did see a few. We wanted to be here in late March, but prices were much higher, turning an expensive trip into a really expensive trip. But if the few blossoming trees we have seen in late February are any indication, it is truly spectacular when the trees are in full bloom.
  • And over and over, we were surrounded by laughter and animated conversations, while immersed in vibrant, music-filled, brightly lit business and shopping areas that felt incredibly alive. People smiled as they watched Jill dancing in the street to the loud Taylor Swift music playing in an area still decorated with posters from her pre-Super Bowl Tokyo concerts. Trying not to offend, but picture Times Square or Hollywood with no litter and no one passing out flyers.

When we said sayonara to Dawson and headed back home, we watched him walking away. Unlike that same view when he headed off to college, this was not a sad moment. We were both so happy for him and proud of him. We just saw our confident son, our independent son, and our adventurous and curious son, and we weren’t worried at all. 

All that being said, I’ll love it when he comes back home.

——-

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Post #102 on www.drmdmatthews.com

Notes:

  • Here is that classic Jack In the Box Ad
  • My friend Dawnalyn told me about the Netflix show, “Old Enough!”? It shows very young children in Japan being tasked with errands where they walk alone (accompanied by hidden cameras) and do stuff for their parents. It’s pretty darn funny, and amazing. Check it out here
  • Here’s my post about Dawson going off to college.
  • I didn’t see any street musicians here. But the one job I think I could have done as a student studying abroad would be a subway station xylophonist. As every train is boarding, the intercom plays a little jingle, usually four bars long, often played with a xylophone. I could be that guy, just cheerily playing different tunes to help subway riders know those doors would be closing soon.
  • And for those of you who know about Sean, writing that line, “ . . . seeing these visions become realities has been everything I hoped it would be and more,” was something I debated. As too many of us know, sometimes our visions and dreams fall far short of becoming realities. I am blessed to have so much love in my life, and yet . . .

I never put much stock in Groundhog Day. Having spent the last 31 years in Southern California, we never really worried about our winters being too long. So, the idea of whether or not the sun is shining when a fairly obscure rodent emerges from his burrow has been pretty much a big “Whatever” in my book. I do like the fact that some of those who live in climates where the winter actually hurts make a big deal out of it all. I get it. They’re shoveling snow and they can’t play golf or pickleball. They are wearing a boatload of layers. Their weather vocabulary includes witches’ body parts. I was back in Arkansas recently, and it was 15 degrees. Miserable.

For some in those climates, the closest they come to winter sensations of warmth is when they watch the Rose Bowl on TV and almost feel the 75 and sunny Pasadena weather. And any excuse to dream of it all ending soon, no matter how silly, particularly when it’s associated with some kind of community celebration, is something I admire. To paraphrase Hansel from Zoolander, “The Groundhog Day celebrations they have every year, I don’t really pay attention to it, but the fact that they do it, I respect that.”

Regardless of my feelings about the day itself, I do put a whole lot of stock in the Groundhog Day movie. Since the film was released in 1993, it has changed the meaning of the day. I think there are far more people who say “Groundhog Day” referring only to the idea of something unwanted happening over and over again, like it’s some kind of freaky endless loop, than there are people who talk about the day as a predictor of winter’s merciful end. Groundhog Day is solidly on my favorite rom-com list. And as I was thinking about that list, I realized that there’s not much recent on it – nothing from the last 25 years in fact. My other favorites, not necessarily in any kind of order, include, You’ve Got Mail, Bull Durham, Sleepless in Seattle, Office Space, Moonstruck, Princess Bride, and High Fidelity. So many others are fantastic, but these are the ones I enjoy cycling through again and again.

I started thinking about all of this as I was dealing with a cold that I caught last week, just before Groundhog Day. As you may remember, I keep track of my colds. I thought it had been about a year since I was last slammed by the low energy, sniffles, and congestion – and, looking it up on Evernote, I saw that it had been exactly a year. Damn you, Groundhog Day! Now I will be aware of an impending attack this time next year. How will I ward off the chucks of this woodchuck/groundhog/marmot?

To build my defense, I need to figure out how I got this cold. My first response is always that I was mentally weak and had my defenses down. But what am I defending myself from these days? Certainly not stress. I’ve even made a few strides in getting good sleep. It’s not where it should be, but it’s better! I’ve been traveling a little bit, and I am meeting in person with a variety of people, so maybe that’s what it was. But I don’t think that’s it. I need a better culprit.

As I have pondered, I have decided that the blame lies with Thor, the God of Thunder

Stick with me – it will make sense.

At the recommendation of two different friends, Jill and I started watching Limitless with Chris Hemsworth, the fantastic and educational 6-part National Geographic series on how to increase our longevity. If you’re a regular reader, you know that is right up my alley. The series features a whole lot of Peter Attia, whom I just wrote about in depth a few posts ago. But it mostly features Chris Hemsworth.

If you haven’t seen Chris Hemsworth as Thor in the Avenger series, you’re missing out. He’s a god, he’s funny, he deals with a pain-in-the-neck brother, and he looks good. Really good. He has muscles on his muscles. And his deep voice is so godlike that actor Chris Pratt was busted for trying to sound like Thor when he talked. In Limitless, we hear that voice telling us how to be almost as awesome as him, and, as an additional bonus, he takes his shirt off at least once per episode. 

Of course he does.

So, back to the real point of the National Geographic series: how do we live longer? Each of the episodes focuses on a well-researched longevity technique, and in each episode, Chris is assigned a task that most mere mortals could not accomplish but which he, being Thor, successfully completes.

So back to blaming Thor – In episode #2, we learn about the benefits of immersing your body in very cold water. Chris’s challenge was to swim 250 yards (10 lengths of a normal pool) in the frigid 36-degree Norwegian North Atlantic Ocean (36 degrees Fahrenheit, of course – 36 degrees Celsius would be a balmy and pretty wonderful 97 degrees Fahrenheit). It looked brutal. Chris explains why he is subjecting himself to this torture: “Enduring extreme conditions could help me fight inflammation, manage pain, and boost my immune system,” he says. “It can trigger repairs inside my cells, and even improve my mental wellbeing. This isn’t a battle against cold, it’s a battle against what time could do to me.”

Someone suggested that if I watched this episode, it would help me embrace cold-water ocean swimming. Not yet. I do love swimming. But I swim in a pool where the temperature ranges somewhere between 78 and 80 degrees. I have many friends who swim in the beautiful Pacific Ocean, located just over a half a mile from my house. Not me. I love the ocean, but the bodies of open water in which I swim – only in the summer mind you – are the very warm Gulf of Mexico and even warmer Arkansas lakes. Here in California, I will typically brave the Pacific ocean when it hits 68 degrees or higher, which sometimes happens in August or September.

I have heard about the magical healing powers of ice baths from Kobe, LeBron, and my friend Merlin. Merlin (whose calves are actually more impressive than Thor’s) does at least one cold plunge (49 degrees) every day. Now Thor was piling it on. So what did I do? I decided to try it. I took a 58-degree ice bath (cold water and way less ice than Kobe, LeBron, and Merlin use), and the next day, in late January, during a sunny 70-degree afternoon, I swam in the 58-degree Pacific Ocean for about 20 minutes. I have to admit, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. And my stupid, always-swollen, and constantly painful arthritic knee loved it. (I sound pretty old there, don’t I?)

So, I started thinking, maybe Chris is right and I should make this a ritual. I’m no God of Thunder, but maybe in this small way, we can have something in common to discuss if I ever see him in the Starbucks line one day. And maybe I can join my friends who so, so, so, so love swimming in the ocean. It seemed like I was opening a whole new chapter in my comfortable 78-degree life.

Two days later, I was down with my Groundhog Day cold. Coincidence? Maybe. My body tends to fight back when I push it in new ways. It’s pretty smart that way. 

But why blame myself, when I can blame the God of Thunder?

I’m not giving up, but I’m kind of dreading trying it again. Even though my cold water is so much warmer than the Norwegian Arctic, and I’m not swimming in a blizzard, there’s so much that my head needs to overcome if this is really going to become a life habit. 

I’ll work on it. 

Really. 

Probably.

But you can believe that as Groundhog Day 2025 approaches, I’m going to keep sleeping and avoiding stress – and I’m not trying anything new. I’ll be ready for you, my evil repeat-cycle friend.

———

Starting this month, those on my mailing list will not only receive updates when my each post is published, but I’ll also provide one monthly update on what I’m cooking, reading, watching, experiencing, and randomly thinking. If you’re interested, please click here.

Post #101 on www.drmdmatthews.com

Notes:

  • Picture of Bill Murray from The Wrap
  • Cover Image of Lake Louise by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay
  • Chris Hemsworth Photo from Limitless with Chris Hemsworth, by National Geographic

One of the best parts of being in the Conejo Valley Multi-sport Masters, beyond the obvious health and conditioning that it provides, is being part of a group that loves swimming as much as you do. The conversations we have before, during, and after sets, or as we are getting into our out of the pool, and the conversations we have with coaches as they tell us the next set they have planned for us, or as they remind us for the 373rd time not to breathe when we come off the wall, all make for a very social experience. Non-swimmers don’t understand, but we all know that by swimming together, we develop bonds.

Each month, we will feature a swimmer or several swimmers and share information about them. Some of them may be the CVMM Swimmer of the Month, some may be randomly selected, and some may be selected for a distinction that needs to be shared. 

I have volunteered to write these articles. Coach Nancy Reno will let me know which swimmer(s) she has selected for that month. I’ll do my best to keep them from being too long, but I know there will be a lot to say! It is our hope that this will bring us closer together as a team, and that by celebrating a few of us each month, we celebrate all of us.

For the first edition of this feature, we will focus on our world-record setting mixed 4 x 100 meter free relay team of Shelly Marshall, Don Smith, Becky Cleavenger, and Matt Biondi. I have to say that I felt elated and honored as I watched them pursuing and achieving their world record performance at the Long Beach swim meet in December. I joined the entire pool crowd in a huge cheer when the world record performance was announced. Here they are, from left to right, Becky Cleavenger, Don Smith, Shelly Marshall, and Matt Biondi, beaming after their amazing performance.

They range in age from 58 to 67 (I’m not going to reveal ages, though if you’re a masters swimmer, it’s kind of out there!). All four were accomplished college swimmers: Don and Becky swam at CSUN, Shelly swam at UCLA, and Matt swam at Cal. We all know that Matt also swam for Team USA in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Olympics, winning a total of eleven medals, eight of them gold. Becky swims in the morning workouts, Don and Matt swim at the noon workouts, and Shelly swims in the evenings. Though with all of them, they will sprinkle in other workouts if their schedule allows or requires it.

Becky has the most tenure with CVMM, starting when Nancy Reno came here in 2009. Matt joined up in 2012, Don in 2020, and Shelly in 2021. All four are grateful for the friends they have made at CVMM. Shelly loves that she has regained her long-lost identity as a swimmer. (I love that – I’m sure it’s something many of us feel.) Don was swimming solo before joining, and loves how much he is pushed by working out with the team. Like Don, Becky appreciates being challenged in a way that would never happen if she didn’t have a coach pushing her. And Matt loves the banter and fun that just happens, such as when a lane mate arrives late for the workout. I bet that all of us can identify with one or more of those reasons for loving CVMM, and I know that’s just scratching the surface.

I got to be with all of these CVMM’ers at the Long Beach Meet. It was my first meet in a while, and I have to admit I was very nervous. All of them were welcoming and clearly loved being part of a team at a swim meet. When asked why they still do swim meets, the first thing all four focused on was the social aspect of the meets. They love being with teammates, cheering them on, and seeing former teammates who may have moved and now swim for other teams. And they made it clear that all swimmers, world records setters and those who swim the most slowly, are cheered on and encouraged. All of them know that their fastest times are behind them, but they just don’t focus on that at all. Still, the meets give you something to work towards, and help you monitor your progress. And I certainly identified with Matt when he said that doing occasional meets helps keep the beer belly under control. Ha!

It should not surprise any of us that while Becky enjoys a mixture of distance and sprint sets, all four truly love sprint sets with lots of rest. And for Becky, Don, and Shelly, if they’re really going to sprint, they want to keep the distance at 75 yards or less! Do you hear that, Nancy?! I’m all for that!

And on the relay itself, Matt’s biggest concern was that the two women on the team were not there as he was getting on the blocks. He thought that Don and he might be swimming in a two-man-DQ effort. Becky was happy that she was oblivious to the fact that they might swim at world record time. Don kept his attention on not false-starting (that happened A LOT with other teams) and making sure he did not miss his flip turns at the bulkhead. ​​(I have missed my share of bulkhead turns – give me a real pool wall any day – way less confusing!) And Shelly was extremely nervous, knowing her time would be slower than the other three, and just wanted to support the effort with her best possible swim. All four loved seeing Nancy celebrating (along with the entire crowd at the pool, though Nancy may have been the most exuberant) when the world record was announced.

So these are just four of the amazing group of CVMM swimmers, and that includes all of us, who swim in our lanes and in the same pool with the rest of us. I know we are all proud of their world record effort, but we are way more happy that they joined this team for the same reasons as all of us – for the camaraderie, for the push from our coaches, and in the pursuit of health and fitness. It’s great stuff.

Until next month!

Mike

Note: If you would like to see the actual transcript of what each swimmer said in preparation for this article (it’s worth the extra time of reading!), click here.

Also, thanks to FAST (Fullerton Masters) swimmer Bill McGarvey whose title and idea I have outright stolen for this and future articles. I did have his permission to steal, and I am grateful for my wise Fullerton Masters friend.

I did not always consider myself a skillful writer. In fact, back in my high school days, I can recall having the impression that I wasn’t very good at all, and that no one looked forward to reading my thoughts on paper. That impression was certainly reinforced by a singular experience in my senior English class.

When class began that fateful day, Father Tribou stood up slowly and stated, “Sorry, boys. I’m not feeling too good today. I was sick to my stomach all night.” I think I speak for everyone when I say that we all felt genuinely sorry for him, because, well, we respected him and we really liked him. A few of us offered our encouragement, then he said, “I’d like to tell you about why I was sick to my stomach all night.” 

“I was reading and grading your themes last night.” Every Monday, we had to turn in a five paragraph essay on any topic. It was based on the classic belief that repetition makes you stronger and better. It’s not wrong, but without quality feedback, it really doesn’t work that well. He had pushed us the previous week to use descriptive words that make a scene come alive for the reader. I had written mine describing a scene when some friends and I snuck into a country club swimming pool late at night. He continued, “I was doing fine, until I started reading Matthews’ essay.” Every eye turned to me.

Oh boy.

You have to understand, in a Catholic boys school, there is nothing more entertaining than someone being embarrassed in public by a teacher. I know it sounds odd, but it’s kind of a badge of honor. We all get our turn. No one is too good for it. Clearly, it was my turn that day.

He continued, “Let me read you some of the lines that really turned my stomach. ‘As I stood on the high diving board, the quiet was deafening, and the full moon pierced through the darkness, clearly casting my body’s shadow onto the barely rippling water below.’” I’m making the exact words up – I don’t have the actual essay – but that was pretty close. He stopped. “Can you imagine anything more sickening than Matthews on a diving board? I don’t get paid enough to read this kind of stomach-wrenching writing.” By then, my “friends” in the class were roaring. This was high level entertainment, and Father Tribou was clearly enjoying himself. He read a few more excerpts, then said, “Here’s what I think about Matthews’ essay . . ,” then he wadded it up and threw it in the trash can. The class erupted in laughter.

Blessedly, he moved on to my friend Craig’s essay next. I, of course, joined my classmates in laughing about something that seemed way more humorous than what had happened to me just moments before. At the end of Craig’s humiliation, Father Tribou wadded up Craig’s essay and threw it out the window. The class burst out laughing again. He then told Craig to go out and pick up the trash he’d thrown away. When he saw Craig out there, he threw a chalkboard eraser at him. We loved it. Then Craig came back, and as he brought the “trash” back to our teacher, we could all see a perfectly placed eraser mark across the zipper on the front of Craig’s pants. A perfect shot! We all knew Craig did that himself, but it didn’t matter. Even Father Tribou broke up laughing.

Some of you will not like that story. I know. And no, you cannot do that in today’s schools. But hear me out. First of all, who writes a descriptive essay about his own body? That alone merited the criticism I received. But more importantly, that same teacher, who was also my principal, remains one of the most positive and influential figures in my life. He made sure that every student in his school felt safe and known. He taught, principaled, and inspired thousands of young men, and I believe that 99.99% of them would report nothing but admiration and appreciation for having Father Tribou in their lives. If someone could not handle teasing, he would not have done it. And it sounds odd to say, but that criticism made for a great day, and is still making me smile 45 years later.

While my writing might not have been literal garbage, as Father Tribou suggested, I was not a very good writer leaving high school. Over the years, with mentors from college and from life, I have improved. In my jobs as a principal and a superintendent, I learned that parents appreciated a more personal style of writing. If I could blend important information with touches of storytelling, empathy, and even humor, they actually enjoyed reading messages from their children’s schools. That encouraged me to start writing occasional blog posts that had nothing to do with the business of school. And, fast forward to today, I absolutely love writing these posts, and I would call it one of the true joys of my life.

I’ve been writing these posts for about eight years now. My first was back in 2015. In 2020, I started putting them out with some regularity, and now I publish every other week. And this is my 100th post. My friend Ben told me, “I don’t know what’s more amazing – you writing your 100th post or the fact that you’ve kept my attention and interest for that long.” Thanks?

It’s not the only reason I write, but it helps tremendously that people actually read what I write. I have some ways to keep track of posts and how many people read them. My top ten posts range between 450 and 1300 readers, and I average about 350 readers. As my wise friend and fellow writer Nicole advised, the posts that show more vulnerability (Sean, my mom’s dementia, and others) will resonate most with readers. Those posts bring out comments of support, and, even more powerfully, elicit stories of common experiences from readers. So . . . thanks for reading, for seeing me at my most real, and for sharing parts of yourself with me. It affirms what I do, and it makes a difference. I appreciate any feedback that I get – in fact – I love it. So, thank you.

I was listening to an outstanding Ezra Klein podcast, where UCLA Professor Maryanne Wolf spoke about Aristotle’s three lives: a life of knowledge, a life of leisure, and a life of contemplation. Most of us have plenty of access to knowledge, and in the history of the world, more are experiencing leisure time than ever. But what about contemplation – slowing down to reflect deeply, think intently, examine thoughtfully, or meditate upon subjects that matter? That is in short supply. The world moves too fast, making it extremely challenging for us to slow down and contemplate. In fact, as I wrote in my post about paying attention, there are strong forces working against all of our efforts at reflective contemplation. Writing these posts makes me slow down and contemplate what topics are resonating in my mind. It helps me to clarify my own thinking. And it forces me to slow down to find ways to express my thinking in a semi-interesting and (hopefully!) highly coherent way.

I love that in the search for a future writing topic, I’m always writing down ideas in a writing journal. It might be a story from the day, a line from a book or article, a quote that hits home, a memory that came up and made me smile or cry, something I find myself very grateful for, or anything else. Again, it makes me slow down, reflect, and, just by writing it down, imbues the idea with more meaning. It may never again see the light of day, but for that moment, and when I review my writing journal, it’s there.

And I have grown to enjoy the rhythm of publishing a blog every two weeks. At first, I had no schedule, and therefore, my posts were very infrequent. During my first retirement, I posted something every week. I pulled back to one post every two weeks, and I’m very comfortable with that rhythm. During that two-week span, I begin by rereading my writing journals and selecting a topic. Then I ruminate on it, take a few notes, and maybe even read or reread some books that may help me with the post. When I’m ready, I start writing. I try to have a draft ready on Tuesday of the second week. And for the next three days, I’m reviewing it and trying to improve it. I am very appreciative of my son Ryan and my good friends Jen, Dawnalyn, and Heather, who take the time to review and edit. I know that with their support and collaboration, I appear to be a much better writer than I am. My best quality has always been the people I keep close. And in this entire process, I am contemplating and pursuing excellence. My writing could always be better, and I love the process of that pursuit. Finally, on Saturday morning at 7 AM California time, I press that publish button. 

I don’t know where this writing journey will take me, but I don’t need a destination. The rhythm, the process, the contemplation, the interactions with friends and strangers, and the search for improvement always make for an interesting ride. Thank you for being part of this journey that started with a wadded up piece of paper. I look forward to writing #101.

– Mike

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Post #100 on www.drmdmatthews.com

Notes:

It helps me to know that even the greatest writers have doubts about their own writing and grow into their own style. My initial title for this piece was “Why I Write.” My son Ryan reminded me of Joan Didion’s essay with the same name, and I found this line. 

During those years I was traveling on what I knew to be a very shaky passport, forged papers: I knew that I was no legitimate resident in any world of ideas. I knew I couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was. Which was a writer. 

Before you say it, paraphrasing Lloyd Bentsen, I know that I’m no Joan Didion. And therefore, I immediately changed the title! That decision was reinforced by Ms. Didion’s mention of George Orwell’s essay with the same title, where he also shares his growth from a poor excuse of a writer into the highly influential writer he became by the end of his life. 

Other Links:

It’s my own fault that I’m feeling so unsettled this week.

I am a big fan of adventures. And I love embarking on adventures where you are not quite sure what to expect. With all of the Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews we have access to now, that sense of the unknown and unexpected is harder to attain than ever. But I still seek them out. I believe that venturing into the unknown gets us out of our comfort zone, makes us more aware of our surroundings, and forces us to interact with people and environments unfamiliar to us. I have encouraged both of my sons to take such adventures. But this week I am remembering that my “expert” advice may make things difficult for parents!

Dawson is now on Day Five of his semester abroad. He has left his home in Malibu and his college home in Golden, Colorado, for a semester in Tokyo, Japan. How about that! It’s something I have encouraged not only for my own two sons (hence the ‘it’s my own fault’ intro), but for thousands of high school students heading off to college. 

There’s no better deal for college students seeking an adventure. On top of the regular college costs (OK – that alone may make that “deal” comment invalid), an airline ticket allows a student to live overseas and learn about life and our world in a way that no classroom or professor could ever teach. It’s a no-brainer. Still, as Dawson was heading out on his own adventure, my excitement for what his semester will bring was weighed down by a very healthy dose of nervousness for him. 

His mom and I tried to make sure all of the T’s and I’s were crossed and dotted, but once I dropped him off at LAX, he was on his own. I have full confidence in him, but I sleep a little better at night when I know I can help him if he needs it. I’m already a poor sleeper, so if I kept a sleep score, this week’s average would have been even more miserable than ever.

As I look back at my own experience, I can’t believe how laissez-faire my parents were when I headed off to Europe. I was talking with my Dad about it this week. It was a different time, and parents were not able to keep tabs on their children the way we can now. But it truly hit home when my Dad said he had confidence in me. He believed that I would figure it out. His attitude reminds me of Crush, the super chill turtle in Finding Nemo. When his son Squirt gets tossed out of the fast-moving East Australian Current (EAC), Marlin (Nemo’s Dad) panics and starts to chase him. Crush grabs Marlin and says, “Kill the motor, Dude. Let’s see how Squirt does flying solo.”

I was indeed flying solo in 1982, as I headed off to West Berlin, a western democratic city totally surrounded, in fact walled off, by communist East Germany:

  • I had no cell phone
  • I had no credit card
  • I did have a rail pass and a youth hostel pass
  • I had planned and had a blast on a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-bike-shorts-four-week-let’s-bike-Europe-before-our-junior-year adventure with four friends from college.
  • My parents let me drop out of school and stay another 5 months. After I dropped out, I made ends meet by working from 7 PM to 2 AM every night as a street musician. I made enough money to survive, but I lost about 30 pounds. If I had been any good, maybe I would have gained 30 pounds instead.
  • I communicated with my parents to let them know I was OK, but it was infrequent and nowhere near as often as I will try to communicate with Dawson. I don’t think he will communicate with me any better than I did with my Dad, but like my Dad, I will take the high road.
  • To his credit, my Dad did come over and visit in the winter, took me out to some nice restaurants, brought me some peanut butter I had been missing, and made sure I was OK. I didn’t need him to come over, but it was really, really, really nice. I hope Jill and I can do the same for Dawson.

Through all of it, I thrived. It was a transformative period in my life. I learned that my dreams of being a rock star were shooting well above my ability. And, using the new time I had for contemplation about the future, I decided to give teaching a try before I jumped into law school. I met so many people, had remarkably interesting travel experiences, and learned so much by living on a bare minimum budget. It was a total adventure. If my parents had known what I was going to go through, I doubt they ever would have let me go. But actually, knowing my Dad, it may have made him even more encouraging.

My oldest son, Ryan, also took my advice and had his academic adventure in Argentina. Ryan and I are alike in many ways, and one way is an exaggerated sense of confidence that everything is going to turn out great. I recently asked him how he felt as he was starting his adventure, and he replied, “I was nowhere near as nervous as I should have been.” It had been three years since he had spoken any Spanish, and he had to get back up to speed quickly. There was no one there to solve problems for him, but he persevered through it, coming out with some wonderful stories.  In the end, as he had predicted, it turned out great.

As Dawson starts his Tokyo adventure, he is the beneficiary of collaborative planning with his parents (at least we think so!). He has a credit card and a cell phone. We have communicated with the school and watched videos introducing the school and dorm life. All that being said, our snowplow/helicopter efforts can only go so far. Once he stepped into the airport, he was on his own. 

Unlike Ryan and me, Dawson was a little nervous as he headed out this week. To me, that is a sign of considerable intelligence. You should be excited about a new adventure, but you should also have a healthy dose of realism about the magnitude of what you are facing.

After all of this contemplation, I still think my advice is good. Whatever the emotional toll on me as a parent, I still highly recommend a semester abroad for students. John Shedd wrote, “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” That speaks to my love of adventure for myself and our children. I have complete confidence in our children to find their own way far away from home. That being said, even with all of the advantages of modern communication that has made our world much smaller, I was anxious about Dawson’s upcoming semester. Anxious, but super excited. And, five days in, though I am not as chill as Crush the turtle, I can’t wait for the stories as Dawson flies solo on his Tokyo adventure.

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Post #99 on www.drmdmatthews.com

Notes:

  • To See the Crush and Marlin scenes from the EAC, click here.
  • Photos by Dawson Matthews – the top photo from walking around Tokyo, and the other with a new group of friends already made within the first few days. Why do I even worry? Marlin and I have a few things in common.
  • Also, as I prepare to publish this, Dawson is so far doing a far better than expected job of communicating. I have to give credit where it is due. Keep it up, Dawson! I love it.

Every year about this time, I write a post about my goals for the year. I do it for myself, and I think that by posting it publicly, I have an even better chance of making progress toward those goals. Last year, for my 2023 “one-word goal”, I actually chose two words to focus on: creativity and self-discipline. Some of you liked it when I wrote, “I’m not creative enough to find a new term that combines them, and I’m not self-disciplined enough to choose just one.” I believe that those two words are still outstanding goals for 2024, but I want a new one. It’s challenging to renew or improve your efforts when you don’t update your mindset. 

So my word for 2024 intertwines creativity, self-discipline, and more, and is inspired by the greatest coach of all time, John Wooden. Coach Wooden wrote, “Make each day your masterpiece.” When I shared that quote with my wife Jill, she responded, “That is way too much pressure.” Take that, Coach Wooden! But I want this kind of pressure in my life. So . . . Masterpiece is my word for 2024.

Things have changed for me since I wrote my goals for 2023. At that time, I was very immersed in a full-time leadership position which was challenging in a wide variety of ways. In last year’s post I wrote, “The busier I am, the more self-discipline I need to get my priorities accomplished.”

Well, I am rethinking that statement.

Because here’s the thing – when you are extremely busy, you have multiple deadlines, and somehow, maybe because you have to, you find a way to finish what needs to be done. But being retired, I have fewer deadlines imposed by outside forces. And it may sound odd, but in this new era of my life, I need to be more self-disciplined than ever. My days do not get planned for me by the gazillions of meetings that used to dominate my calendar. (I used to say that I ran or attended meetings for a living. Funny, but really true.) In this new phase of my life, I have to be even more focused to make each day my masterpiece. 

For the last four decades, I have been on a quest to become organized enough to be great at my job and to make the most out of life. It’s a quest that continues to this day.

I would say that I lived in organizational oblivion until I was in my late twenties. That all changed when I started using a FranklinCovey planner. I loved my Planner. I was recently at a meeting with my friend Christine when she laid out her beautiful leather-bound FranklinCovey Planner on the table. I had not seen one in years, and I wasn’t sure they made them any more. I was so jealous of her at that moment. It was like seeing somebody wielding a beautiful Mont Blanc fountain pen. That FranklinCovey planner made me better. It made me focus on each day. I listened to cassette tapes of Steven Covey as he guided me on how to be a better leader, spouse, and person through the FranklinCovey Planner. I attended conferences with other devotees. It was the center of my organizational existence. But, over the last 15 years, for better or for worse, my phone and laptop eclipsed that wonderful planner. And while I was so envious and a little wistful when I saw Christine unsheathe that FranklinCovey Planner, I don’t want to go back. So, without my beloved planner, how do I make each day my masterpiece?

For me, it all starts with having a clear idea of what I need to get done. David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) has been a major influence on me here. I keep several task lists on Google Tasks: a big picture list, project lists, a list of what can get done when I have time, and a list of tasks to be done as soon as possible. I have also begun working as an educational consultant. I have several different projects that I work on, and I keep a task list for each of them. I spend dedicated time reviewing all of these lists every week, and it helps me in my weekly planning.

As far as my calendar goes, I keep just one Google Calendar. Having the same calendar on my computer and phone makes everything easier. Each week, and then each day, I block off time to get essential tasks done.

But the Franklin Planner mentality lives on. If I’m going to make each day a masterpiece, I have found that I need actual sheets of paper to write on, something on which to center my day, and something that allows me to physically check off the boxes when I finish each task. I try to be as joyful as my friend Ellen, who checks boxes off her list with delight and flair. Over the last six months, I have been developing a personalized one-page document that lists tasks I can center upon each day to make it my masterpiece. It also leaves an area for things that need to get done from my priority list. It is this piece of paper, customized for each day, that will help me to maximize my chances of living out Coach Wooden’s advice.

So what’s on my task list for every day, and who or what inspired that item? If you’re still reading, I’m sorry that you’re as geeky as I am about organization and productivity. That being said, I love you for still being here because of that geekiness, so let’s go!

My friend Ted reached out to me after my last post, and reminded me of a poem we read back in high school. It was Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. It was a perfect response to my post. If we are going to fight getting slower as we age, and if we are going to make the effort to make each day a masterpiece, we cannot let life just happen to us. We only have so many days here, and I hope we can do all we can to make each one of them as special as possible. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “You are made for perfection, but you are not yet perfect. You are a masterpiece in the making.”

As I said, it’s been a long journey of trying so many different ways of making each day a masterpiece. I am excited about my current efforts, and I know my journey is not done.

Like last year, I’d love to hear the words you’re thinking about to guide and inspire your 2024.

I wish you all a happy, productive, exciting, meaningful, and healthy new year, and may your 2024 be a true masterpiece!

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Post #98 on www.drmdmatthews.com

Notes:

Photo by Meghan Scheding – Jill and I in the last week of 2023, checking off a few boxes as we looked out towards 2024 from the top of the South Lykken Trail in Palm Springs, CA

My daily task list is a Google Doc, and if you would like to see it, you can find it here

Archbishop Tutu’s quote can be found in The Book of Joy, a beautiful book that encapsulates a series of conversations between him and his very close friend, The Dalai Lama.

And here is my list of words, updated from reader input last year, that might guide your thinking for the year.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about masters swimming. But it was really about the concept of improvement. I ended the post with the line, “Life is better lived when we are living to get better.” I still strongly believe in that statement. I love it when I can see that I am indeed improving in certain areas, and I really don’t like it when I’m actually regressing.

My golf game was the best it has ever been back in 2022, about a year after I retired the first time. Then I went back to very full time work, and when I retired again, it was like I was starting over. Turns out, working 60 or 70 hours a week does not leave a whole lot of room for refining my golf game. But now, in retirement #2, I’m on the road to improvement again. Slowly.

I enjoy the journey – I have friends I play with weekly, and I have plans to play with my talented son Ryan several times in the next few months. No matter who wins (and he wins 99% of the time), I love every chance I get to play with Ryan. But I’ll say it – when lightning strikes 1% of the time, it’s pretty nice! (When Ryan read that “pretty nice” statement, he got a little upset. He reminded me that every time it happens, I make a big deal of it, write it down in Evernote, and talk about it nonstop for the rest of my visit. He may be right about that. Like I said, it’s pretty nice!)

As much as I love golf, I’m even more invested in swimming. It’s an activity that gives me so much of what I’ve been writing about – strength building, increasing cardiovascular capacity, and a surprising amount of social interaction. And, several months into my return to regular workouts, I feel like I’m getting stronger and a little faster. So when Coach Nancy Reno asked me . . . repeatedly . . .  if I would be swimming in a swim meet with our masters team, I reluctantly said yes. Even though it was a three-day investment of my time — that’s a lot of missed pickleball opportunities– I knew it would be a good test of how fast this old guy can still swim.

For non-participants, swim meets aren’t the most exciting of events. But for those of us actually in it, there is a lot going on, and so much to appreciate and celebrate:

  • It takes work to put on a swim meet. Kudos to all of the coaches and volunteers who organize everything and make it happen. I don’t have an exact number, but I’ll bet there were close to 100 volunteers, without whom the meet could not have happened. It’s a lot of work, but from what I could see, they were truly enjoying themselves.
  • There were over 400 swimmers, ages 25 to 95.
  • Quite a few world records were broken. Records are kept for every event in every age bracket. The highlight for me was watching an 80-year-old male swim the 100 meter butterfly in a minute and twenty-five seconds. He looked powerful and smooth the whole way. I think I could have stayed with him for maybe one lap, then he would have left me in his wake. Incredibly impressive.
  • I swam on two relay teams – the first time I’ve done that since I was 18 years old. It was a blast, and I enjoyed those races most of all.
  • Our Conejo Valley Masters team finished in 5th place in the meet. For our team, and I’m guessing for every team competing, there was an overwhelming sense of camaraderie. We had a team dinner together, we laughed during down times, we cheered each other on during our events, and we all left feeling like we had accomplished something together. I guarantee that other teams felt this same sense of togetherness and accomplishment, though we probably did it a little better. I give Coach Nancy so much credit for building a positive swim culture that enriches all of our lives far beyond swimming.

I love swimming for all of the health benefits it gives me. But, there’s also a competitive side of me that wants to swim fast. In terms of my own performances in the 50m, 100m, and 200m freestyle events, I was . . . disappointed. I expected more out of myself. My times were slower than I had hoped for, and I felt a little lost in my swims. So in the spirit of continuous improvement, I started looking at what could have gone better:

  • First and foremost, I need to work harder. I have been swimming three days a week. That’s not enough. Starting last week, I upped my time in the pool to four days a week. My friend Wayne told me a long time ago that three days a week keeps him in shape, while four days makes him stronger. Fine, Wayne. I’ll listen to you. I haven’t seen you in over a year, and I still hear you harassing me.
  • I realized that I’m the same caveman swimmer in meets that I was back in high school. I have never been an intellectual swimmer – my plan has always been to dive in the water and swim as fast as I can, with each lap getting slower because I’m getting more tired. I’m just now starting to believe that there may be more to swimming than that.
    • Note: Coach Nancy reads these blogs, and I know she is shaking her head right now. She’s been telling me, repeatedly, that I need to make a plan for my races. I never even told her about my caveman plan. OK, Nancy. I’m in. Sometimes I’m pretty dense. Right now, a good number of readers who know me well are nodding vigorously in agreement with that dense comment. You all know I don’t like any of you, no matter how right you might be.
  • Finally, I was nervous before my events. That’s something new for me. Cavemen don’t get nervous. My usual thinking is no thinking. Dive in. Swim fast. Hit the wall. But it was different this time.

Here are some thoughts that I will focus on to address the issues above:

  • Most of us get butterflies before a competition, but nervousness is too much. I read a Chinese proverb that goes, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” I need to be who I am.
  • Jim Afremow writes, “Stop stressing yourself out about winning or losing. If you focus on the process, the score (or the time) will take care of itself. Execute your game, or race plan, step-by-step, thinking only of the next step to take.”
  • And this may seem like a little much, but I was inspired by former Navy Seal Jason Kuhn, who now spends time helping athletes and corporations to be their best. In his Navy special operations days, when he was being fired upon and had to return fire, his first inclination was to trust his instincts, and that resulted in wildly ineffectual firing. But as he learned to trust his training, he was able to slow his mind down and focus on the sight of the gun barrel. Swim meets are not a life or death situation, but I can learn from this strategy. To me, that means I dive in the water and see/feel/trust what I have trained for: glide, kick, rise, left arm pull, left arm out of the water – focusing on each stroke, made as perfectly as possible, moving through the water.

I have no dreams of being a top-ranked masters swimmer. All I want to do is get better. I still believe that my life is better lived by striving to not only be a better swimmer, but also a better golfer, pickleballer, writer, cook, friend, father, and husband. I’m 61 years old, with a little more gray and a lot more aches and pains, but I’m still convinced I can do all of that. And I look forward to every day in my journey of life-long learning. 

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Post #97 on www.drmdmatthews.com

Notes:

I’m still reminiscing about our outstanding Thanksgiving holiday. I hope yours was wonderful too.

Most of you know that Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday of the year. So, with a title inspired by the words of the immortal Bluto Blutarsky, I’m starting a personal campaign to keep Thanksgiving going – to take the best of Thanksgiving and infuse it into my life (and maybe a few others’ lives) throughout the entire year.

Let’s review some of the reasons I love Thanksgiving so much:

  • No Thanksgiving music is played in stores three months before the holiday. 
  • Of all of our holiday trees, the Thanksgiving Tree is my favorite.
  • More attention is paid to cooking on this day than any other day of the year.
  • All of our dishes – smoked turkey, roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, cheese grits, jalapeño cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing, pumpkin pie, and chocolate pecan pie – turned out great! (Though I did have issues with the cheese grits.)
  • Thanksgiving brings family and friends together better than any other holiday.
  • Napping is encouraged, though shockingly, I did not get a nap on Thanksgiving Day this year!
  • Gifts are not part of the day, taking pressure off of all of us.
  • The meal would not be complete without my favorite dessert – which is pie of any kind. 
  • We are encouraged to be grateful and to share our gratitude – something we all should be doing every day of our lives.

So back to the idea of infusing all that is good about Thanksgiving into as many of our days as possible. There are some Thanksgiving traditions that I want to save for Thanksgiving only. The main tradition that fits into that category is being so full that it hurts, then still finding a way to eat pie for dessert, and then eating a second piece of pie because there are two kinds being served. I can do that once a year, but I need to stop there. 

Who am I kidding? 

But no more than twice, really! 

Three times max. 

I definitely have self-control issues.

But there are other traditions that I need more of in my life. I do a pretty good job of enjoying cooking on a regular basis. And I don’t mean to brag, but I’m already an excellent napper. I’d like more pie in my life, but if I make a whole pie, based on the pre-described self-control issues, I eat a whole pie. So . . . I need solutions for that. 

But some things I really want to change. Having both of my sons home for the weekend was off the charts spectacular. I still get to see Dawson during his breaks from college, and I get to enjoy that for a year or two more. I love that Ryan and Yesi (my son and my daughter-in-law) still manage to come down from Sacramento and spend the Thanksgiving weekend with us. But I need more of that in my life. And as they are working a lot harder than I am these days, I need to go up to Sacramento to see them more. 

We had about twenty guests this year – and I truly wanted to be with each one of them. We don’t have any of the weird uncles or talk-your-ear-off aunts that everyone seeks to avoid. Of course, I could be that person to everybody else. Nah! Who wouldn’t want to hang out with me?! We love these people, and I’m committed to doing a better job of getting the people we love over to our house throughout the year.

And a final Thanksgiving tradition I’d like to incorporate more into my daily life is simply giving thanks. On Thanksgiving, we place a sky-high priority on sharing our gratitude for who and what we have in our lives. It’s such a powerful part of the day, and, as I somewhat regularly express in my posts, feeling and expressing gratitude have an enormously positive impact on our own well-being. 

  • It’s #10 on my 61 Life Lessons post, “Strive to be kind and grateful as many times each day as you can. The positive impacts of both are underrated.”
  • It was all over my Pursuit of Well-Being post, especially the idea of setting aside time each day to reflect on what positive experiences in your day.
  • I have written about Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now being a major influence in my life, and a book I turn to in troubled times. He writes, “The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.” Focusing on gratitude is an outstanding means of creating a good present.

I am going to work to somehow share these gratitudes out loud every day, just like we do on Thanksgiving Day. Jill and I have tried this in the past, but it did not stick. I want to renew this effort. And while this does not have to happen before a meal, it certainly works very well to do just that. Saying grace before a meal is a perfect time to express gratitude not just for the food, but even more, for the challenges, pressures, wonders, beauty, love, and everything else that reminds us how lucky we are to have experienced one more day alive on our planet.

I love Lauren Winner’s words on this: “Saying grace suggests not only the grazie of thanksgiving but also the calm, gracious elegance of living fully and well. You don’t find grace said when people are rushing around, scarfing food, eating over the sink or in the car, polishing off a meal in ten minutes flat. You find grace offered at tables where people sit still, where they’re trying to pay attention. Indeed, doctors will tell you that there are physiological benefits to saying grace before meals.”

So while I am already looking forward to our next Thanksgiving on November 28, 2024, I am going to work on carrying most of what I love about Thanksgiving (maybe not the pies) into my daily life, with particular focus on the expression of gratitude.

I would love to hear the ways that you and your family do this, and as always, I appreciate your comments.

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Post #96 on www.drmdmatthews.com

Notes and Cuts:

The picture at the bottom features Jill and me, flanked by Ryan and Yesi on the left, and Dawson and Kylie on the right. (Kylie and Dawson have been dating since high school!) That picture, along with the picture at the top of with my two tall sons, were both taken on Broad Beach in Malibu near sunset. Late November, and we walk on the beach in short sleeves. It’s not hard to be thankful for weather and beauty like that.

And of course the Thanksgiving Tree. I get spousal permission for three months of holiday trees – Halloween in October, Thanksgiving in November, and Christmas in December. The Thanksgiving Tree is the simplest and imitates nature the most, and perhaps that’s why I love it the most.

I cut the paragraph below out – as I thought it took away from the main point. Those of you who love to cook will understand – messing up on a dish you’ve made too many times to count is almost unthinkable – and yet it almost happened.

I read a Facebook thread where people were asked how to ruin Thanksgiving in four words. Pretty funny. Some of my favorites were “Who’d you vote for?”, “My test is positive!”, and one that hit a little too close to home this year, “I’m trying something new!” I didn’t mean to try something new this year. I’ve been cooking the same recipes for many years – it’s all on my cooking website – and I love them all. If I add something new, it’s tested beforehand. But this year, in making the cheese grits, which are way better than most of you think they are, I used a brand of grits I had never used before. That was a mistake! Only after I cooked the grits about four times longer than usual did my cheese grits soup (as bad as it sounds!) turn into a passable cheese grits casserole. Phew! In the end, they were fine, but I’ll never use that brand again. It’s Bob’s Red Mill brand or nothing for me in the future!

From the time I was 6 until I was 14, we lived in a two-story house on a busy street in North Little Rock, Arkansas. I scored my own (very small) bedroom upstairs. It was directly above the baby grand piano, where my mom would spend hours in the evenings practicing and playing. She started college well after we were born, and her music major required that she perform a senior recital. One of the pieces she played repeatedly as she prepared for her recital was a Schubert piece with a distinctive and melodic bass line. That bass melody often rose up from below and seeped straight into my eardrums as I went to sleep. It never bothered me. In fact, it was soothing and comforting. Whenever I hear that Schubert piece, or sometimes when I just hum it on my own, I am flooded with memories of my mom and my family, and all of the carefree and love-filled days from that time in my life.

Eric Church sings one of my favorite songs, Springsteen, where the chorus has a line that rings very true for me:

Funny how a melody
Sounds like a memory

My life’s soundtrack has so many melodies that sound like memories in my life: Schubert, John Denver, the Eagles, Earth Wind and Fire, Willy Nelson, and the people who wrote the Thomas the Tank Engine theme song are just a few of the melody creators whose work elicits clear memories of specific moments in my life. I don’t understand why our senses trigger memories like this. In fact, I don’t really understand how memory works at all. 

And that’s why I’m writing today’s post. Because my wonderful Mom, the talented pianist, the multi-tasking super-mom who managed four children born within five years, the valedictorian of her high school class at age 18, and the summa cum laude graduate from college at age 37, is now suffering from a case of dementia that is crippling her ability to remember, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Until about five years ago, everything was pretty much fine. We worried a little about Mom. She lived on her own and did not socialize much other than going to church. She would garden but had no exercise routines. Whenever I came home, I would take walks with her and urge her to make that part of her daily routine. She never did. And she worried too much – about projects like arranging her gazillion photos and other projects, none of which really needed to be done. But she was energetic, she looked great (she still looks great!), and she remained the same loving, caring, silly, fun, and talented person she had been for her first 77 years. 

Just four years ago, she was out at our home in Malibu for Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful visit, and I did not know it would be her last. While she had a few memory lapses, she was a doting grandmother to her grandsons, she made the gravy for the turkey, and she took walks on the beach with us. Mom got to meet Ryan’s future wife, which, it turns out, was an incredibly special moment because she was unable to make it to last year’s wedding. And Ryan brought sheet music for Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera. In an impromptu, emotional, and powerful performance, Mom sight read the music and played piano while Ryan sang with his beautiful voice. We were all smiling and crying. I just rewatched the video of that performance, and I could not believe it was just four years ago, Once again, it made me smile and cry. That melody will always sound like a priceless memory.

From there, it’s been a rough decline to watch. I remember one night while I was visiting her about three years ago, she was driving us from my sister’s house to her house. It was a drive she had done hundreds of times. After she took two wrong turns, I asked her if she needed help. She responded that she did not remember where she was going or how to get there. 

She began repeating herself more and more. We learned that the worst thing you could say to her was that she had already told us something. It increased her anxiety and sent her into a tailspin. She quit going to her Bible study group, one of the few social groups she participated in, because they kept telling her she was repeating herself. She would forget to eat, and spend days getting nothing done at all. Doctors were slow to diagnose it as dementia or Altzheimer’s, but we knew.

Martha and Pat, my siblings who live in Little Rock, intensely felt the burden of caring for an ailing parent. They fielded dozens of worried phone calls from Mom, taking each one in stride, patiently calming her down and helping her remember whatever she had forgotten. We were all concerned that something terrible would happen to her with no one constantly looking after her. We moved her into a senior living facility with a moderate level of care. She hated leaving her house, but it was the right thing to do. We loved that she was in a place where she could enjoy social interactions. That was a good place for a couple of years, but then the dementia started eating away at her physical abilities, including her ability to walk. 

By 2022, she had lost an incredible amount of strength and balance, could not walk without a walker, and often had to use a wheelchair. She could no longer live independently at all. So, we moved her again, this time into a wonderful facility that has 24-hour care and a very low employee-to-resident ratio. I don’t see her moving again.

When I visited her last week, we decided to take her on a drive through Little Rock. We thought it best to use the wheelchair to get her to the car. When we wheeled it up to her, she asked us if she had ever used a wheelchair or a walker before. Every day is a new day for her.

Mom still has long term memories, though during this last trip, I saw those beginning to fade. Even so, she absolutely loved being with all four of her children. She smiled and laughed. She enjoyed our meals together. She was delighted by the drive and all of Little Rock’s fall-colored trees. She was amazed by my sister-in-law’s art gallery and wanted to buy everything. She felt true joy with every moment of our time together. We did too.

But I know that by the next day, if not the next hour, it was all gone. During each visit, we shared pictures with her of our adventures the previous day, and she had no recollection of those experiences. I know she loved that moment, as she loves her phone calls from her caring and very funny older brother, and as she loves other visits and FaceTime calls from her children. There’s no denying that these fleeting moments of joy exist for her, and there is power and solace in that.

I know I am not alone in this experience. I hear similar stories from so many of my friends with aging parents. One of my friends in our neighborhood just had to leave for several weeks to take care of her dementia-suffering father while her mother recoups from a fall. I recently attended a memorial service for my friend Seth’s mother, whose last years were dementia years. While in Little Rock, I visited my aunt, who is also suffering from extremely advanced dementia. I’m sorry for all of these people, and I’m sorry for all of us who at best, suffer as we watch it destroy our loved ones, and at worst, also feel the overwhelming burden of being full time caretakers. 

Some kind of dementia hits almost 35% of those over age 85. That is a massive number. Peter Attia describes the “four horsemen” that kill so many of us as we age: Cancer, Metabolic (Blood Sugar) Illnesses, Heart Disease, and Neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. Of those four, we know the least about dementia. We can’t cure it, and we don’t know enough about how to slow or prevent it. Some people have a gene that makes them more susceptible to it. I have not found out if I have that gene, but I am going to act as if I do. While not enough is known about prevention, there is data to show that we can act in a way that, with or without that gene, may make us less susceptible to these neurodegenerative diseases. 

The preventative routines that I took to heart from Attia’s work are:

  • Physical Activity. Attia calls exercise “the most powerful longevity drug.” Critical exercise includes strength-building, moderate aerobic activity, and strenuous aerobic activity. 
  • Limiting Sugar Intake. We need to make sure our blood sugar levels are as healthy as they can be. I guess that’s why every year, when I get my physical, the first thing my doctor writes is, “Your blood sugar is great!” 
  • Mediterranean Diet – You all know it – whole grains, vegetables, fish and lean protein. 
  • High Quality Sleep. Researchers are piling on the stack of evidence that quality sleep is essential. The bad news: I am a lousy sleeper. I sleep soundly for four to six hours, then it is fitful, if at all, after that. Part of my bad sleep history is so many years in stressful jobs with long hours. Part of it has been believing that I do not need eight hours. I’m working on it.

Though Attia does not show them in his research, I have read of two additional elements of healthy living that I believe are critical:

  • Healthy social interactions. This is present in the Blue Zones research and in many other sources on longevity.
  • Challenging yourself intellectually. This means continuing to learn, create, and solve problems. These can be fixing something around the house, volunteering, hobbies like photography or mahjong, reading to become more of an expert on a topic, and even challenging yourself with the mental challenges presented on the pickleball court or the golf course.

These habits won’t keep us from getting dementia, but they will improve our chances. I’m in for that. 

While we can’t be certain of the future, here’s what I know. We all have today. As Seth said at his mom’s service, “The time is now to do what you want. Don’t wait.” There may have been a highly appropriate expletive between “Don’t” and “wait.” He’s right. Five years ago, my mom was living a great life. Now, I can’t say what she thinks. I wish I knew. I know that I hate the life she is living. Seth’s expletive would fit nicely between “I” and “hate.”

I know that I am not in control. I embrace the fact that I can make lifestyle choices that give me a better chance, and that I can do a much better job of taking care of myself. I am going to try to be a better sleeper. Whatever comes, I am committed to doing my best to cherish and make the most of every day that I have here. And we will see what cards turn up as I head into my last decades.

Our lives contain so many beautiful melodies we have heard throughout our lives: melodies created by our families, our friends, our passions, our loves, and the beauty that we have experienced each and every day. For all of us, may those melodies sound like memories for as many years as possible.

To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here.

Post #95 on www.drmdmatthews.com

Notes:

I highly recommend that each of us read the Peter Attia book, Outlive. I wish I had read it 30 years ago. To that end, I will be giving it to both of my sons for Christmas this year. In this post, I have barely scratched the surface of all that he has to say. You can read my review here.

And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
But I probably will
Just sitting back, trying to recapture a little of glory, yeah
Well time slips away and leaves you with nothing, mister,
but boring stories of Glory Days

Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days has always been one of my favorite songs. It’s upbeat, it has a great keyboard riff, it’s fun to sing, and it sure seems happy. But it’s actually a sad song about people who are looking backwards more than forwards; it’s a song about people who Springsteen feels sorry for. I imagine it’s hard to write such a sad song and put the lyrics to a happy up-beat melody. He did the same thing with Born in the USA. And as I was watching the Taylor Swift movie (yes – I saw it and loved it – in my mind, she’s right with The Beatles and Elvis in terms of being a musical force and cultural icon), I saw her do the same thing with positive melodies and sick beats that inspire dancing in movie theaters, contrasted against lyrics about heartache, unfairness, and the strength needed to shake off real world problems.

But I digress, like I always do. I thought of Glory Days while I was listening to an amazing podcast my friend Alex recommended to me. It’s Peter Attia’s 155-minute interview with Lance Armstrong. Mr. Attia does nothing if he can’t use a lot of words. My next post will feature some of his 500-page outstanding new book, Outlive. I’m not a Lance Armstrong hater. I know that one of our national pastimes is to tear down our heroes when they falter. We certainly did that with Lance; however, I remain in awe of what he accomplished and I think we all can learn from his mistakes. One of the many things I learned about Lance during the podcast was that he once posted, “There’s a reason the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror” on social media. With all he’s gone through, it’s a mantra he has to take to heart.

It’s a great line. Lance’s rear view mirror is crowded with extraordinary highs and crushing lows.  All of us have our version of those ups and downs, though fortunately, most of ours are not as extreme or as public. And even though that mirror is so much smaller than the windshield, it’s still easy to focus too much on the glory days – or on our mistakes or other pain from the past. 

If you know me a little bit, you know that I am a relentless optimist. My focus is on the windshield, and I’m doing all I can to create a present and future full of love, friendship, good health, intellectual growth, and enjoyment of the hobbies I love. But I certainly spend my fair share of time looking in the rear view mirror. While I would never describe my past as my “glory days,” I do have so many happy memories from my childhood and my adult years. And, yes, I’m a storyteller. Like my awesome mother-in-law, I love retelling some of my favorite episodes in my life…..over and over again. And I thank those closest to me for sticking around, even when they are hearing a fun story for the 134th time.

But as I have written, there’s no getting away from the pains of the past. I am often reminded of missed opportunities, missteps, and outright failures in my life. And I miss my son Sean every day.  

But to stare at that small mirror too much is a lost opportunity. My friend Chris is my favorite blogger. For decades, he has shared the highs and tragic lows (he recently lost his wife and oldest son in the same crappy year) in his life through his blog while bringing laughter and witty insights about suburban Los Angeles living. He recently co-authored a great book, What the Bears Know, with Steve Searles, a fairly famous outdoorsman known as the “bear-whisperer.” I learned so much about the beauty of the black bears of Mammoth in the book, but my favorite line is not about the bears at all. It’s a reflection on loss. Chris writes, “The only way I can cope is not to let the totality of the twin tragedies reach me all at once, to accept the situation in increments, to get on with my work, and to dote on my three surviving kids, who need me more than ever with their mother gone.” That right there is a healthy mixture of mirrors and windshields.

I’m spending most of this week back in Little Rock, Arkansas, seeing family, checking in on and connecting with my parents, and enjoying Arkansas in the autumn. Anytime I’m with my family, there’s a lot of collective storytelling – the rearview mirror gets a little bigger. And often with my family, objects in the rear view mirror appear a little larger than they were in real life. Stretching the truth for a good story will be a forgivable sin this week. I’ll enjoy all of it. But I l also look forward to looking through our windshields and talking about what the future holds. Two of my sisters-in-law are embarking on bold new business ventures. My 84-year-old dad and I will be planning our trip to Mission Viejo next August, where we will swim in the largest masters swim meet of the year. I expect my Dad to finish near the top of his age group, and I expect that I will be one of the finishers in my age group! It won’t matter where we finish. And I will love looking through the windshield toward whatever the future holds.

As I finish my fourth month of retirement, I am thankful that I have tried to never define myself by my career. The roles that I want to hold close for all my days are my roles as a friend, a mentor, a son, a father, and a husband. I loved all of my public education jobs, and I’m incredibly proud of what I accomplished. But when I look in the rear view mirror, I try not to define myself by anything I may have done that resembles The Boss’s Glory Days. Yes – those reminiscences make me reflect on all that I have enjoyed and learned along the way. They make me smile, laugh, and sometimes cringe. Those days have shaped me, but they don’t define me. 

How I make the most of today matters more than anything.

That’s why my focus is best placed on the windshield. I will be doing my best to spend my days intentionally focusing on the road I am on and the hopefully long and winding road ahead, enjoying the moments I am living, appreciating the power of now, and looking forward to whatever the future brings.

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Post #94 on www.drmdmatthews.com

I probably watch too many movies. That being said, a lot of movies have predicted terrible or near-terrible things happening to humanity because of Artificial Intelligence: HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the WOPR in WarGames, Skynet in the Terminator movies, and The Matrix in The Matrix. In all of these films, humans invent the very machines that end up trying to destroy them.

And now . . . it’s here. 

I think the official date when the world uttered a Keanu Reeves-esque, “Whoa!” was when ChatGPT was announced back on November 30, 2022. But in reality, AI has been making its way into our lives for decades. Unlike Google and other search engines, which find websites related to your search, ChatGPT is a chatbot that answers your questions or responds to your requests in well-crafted prose, using all of the information that was on the Internet. It’s incredible, really. 

I’ve used ChatGPT for work a few times. I’ve asked it to give me ten arguments I can use for a question I have about an issue, such as favoring or opposing charter schools. Fifteen seconds later, I am reading a well-researched and probably accurate response that would have taken me well over an hour to research and write myself. It’s not a finished product, but it’s a great starting point.

It usually takes me about 10-12 hours to write one of these posts. I asked ChatGPT to write a 1,000-word post on artificial intelligence, using my writing style on www.drmdmatthews.com. Fifteen seconds later, I had a post. I’m not sure it used my style, and unlike me, it kept the post to well under 800 words, but it wasn’t bad at all. I have a link to it at the end of this post, should you want to compare. I fully expect some of my “friends” to tell me to keep using ChatGPT – adding that reading the AI-generated post was way more enjoyable than my 12-hour effort. I have wonderful friends.

Bill Gates, who over the years has morphed into someone even wiser and more intelligent than he was when he dropped out of Harvard to change the world, sees a whole lot of good coming out of OpenAI (Microsoft’s version of ChatGPT) and artificial intelligence in general. In a recent article, he looks forward to AI being a “co-pilot” or a “digital personal assistant” to those who take advantage of its power. He is confident that AI will personalize education to a higher degree than ever before. He does believe that we need to be careful and that regulation is needed, but he is far more excited about the potential benefits than he is about the danger to humanity.

Going back to the big screen, movies also present artificial intelligence models that showcase this benevolent side of AI. The most famous is C3PO in the Star Wars sagas, invented by (spoiler alert) Darth Vader as a child. But my favorite is Jarvis, Tony Stark’s AI unit that plays a major role in the Avenger series. In one of the films, Tony Stark (Ironman) predicted Bill Gates’ terminology with his “Jarvis is my Co-Pilot” bumper sticker. It makes sense. Superheroes’ vision should be way ahead of mere mortals like Bill Gates. C3PO and Jarvis represent the AI we all want – the brilliant and lightning fast co-pilot that can improve our lives.

If I were a new teacher, I would love to use ChatGPT. I would ask my teaching co-pilot to give me five different lesson plans for how to teach the causes of the Civil War, and make sure to give me options for any readings for students who might benefit from a higher or lower reading level. Boom! It’s there. What a great starting point for lesson planning!

The US Department of Education has published its first report on the potential and risks of artificial intelligence. It agrees with Gates that there is potential for amazing good for students and teachers. Personalized tutoring possibilities hold great promise. But the report warns of potential risks to privacy and the danger of unexpected and unintended consequences.

This is no longer a question of whether or not we should use AI. The cat is out of the bag. Some superintendents are estimating that at least 75% of high school students are already using it.  Motivated students (and even adults) can have a personal tutor helping them to learn anything they want. Teachers are worried (with good reason) that students will use AI to do all of their homework. As homework is a highly overrated tool for learning, I’m not too worried about that. But as a teacher, I believe that one of the most important skills that I taught was analytical writing, using research and evaluation of data. Show me a student who can write a well-crafted argument on a historical issue, and I’ll show you a person who has the skills to thrive in this world. Going forward, it will be very difficult for teachers to determine whether students or AI wrote an essay. One solution to that is to have all essays be written in-class, so teachers know that students actually wrote them. I look forward to seeing how teachers and educational leaders address this issue in the coming years.

But beware of letting AI solve our all-too-human work challenges. Back when I was working long days as an educator, one of my least favorite things was receiving an email that was wayyyyyyy too long. I didn’t have time for a long email, and often the tone of the email was harsh, unkind, and hard to get through. If I wanted, I could now copy the email into ChatGPT, ask it to give me a 100-word summary, and tell it to draft a 100-word response. Super time saver, right? But it’s a bad idea. Those privacy statements we all AGREE to without reading the gazillion words allow ChatGPT and other AI to take everything you enter – every bit of information you provide – and make it part of the AI database to be used in future work. There is no privacy. We all need to be extraordinarily careful.

My son Dawson is a computer science major. AI can now write code far faster than he ever could. He’s really smart, actually, so maybe he could keep up, but I actually doubt that any human can. Here’s the thing – it is essential for humans to know what that computer code says, because when something goes wrong, smart human beings have to fix it. There are many who believe that not only will AI be able to program, but that it will eventually adapt and improve the code – and when that happens, humans will have no idea what’s going on. While Dawson thinks that is a far-fetched idea, I still say that it is a potential problem.

AI is too powerful not to use. But . . .  danger lurks. Last week’s 60 Minutes episode began with a segment on Geoffrey Hinton, who is considered by most to be the one of the inventors of artificial intelligence. He is incredibly excited about the breakthroughs that AI will achieve in the areas of medicine, clean energy, and so much more. Yet, he is worried. He believes that AI is already capable of more intelligence, at least in terms of how fast it can learn and the unique strategies it can develop, than human beings, and that the day will come when it becomes self-aware – think HAL and Skynet. 60 Minutes made the comparison to J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the inventors of the atomic bomb, in that Hinton is now warning against the improper and unregulated use of his invention, saying that the risks may far outweigh the benefits.

He’s not alone. I listened to an outstanding podcast from Ezra Klein from the New York Times where he interviewed Demis Hassabis, the 46-year-old chief executive of Google DeepMInd, and the lead on a project called AlphaFold, which is mapping every protein known to humans. The medical possibilities are incredible. It’s a spectacular interview, where both explain the research in terms that even I can understand. I was also fascinated by Hassabis’s path, from gamer, to game inventor, to AI world leader, and the commonality of games in all of it. 

For all of its potential, some of it already realized, Hassabis is also issuing warnings about AI. He warned, “I would advocate not moving fast and breaking things,” which is a direct refute of Mark Zuckerberg’s “Move fast and break things” motto at FaceBook. More ominously, in a recent one-sentence statement with other tech leaders, he warned, “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.” 

Yeah, we should definitely try to avoid human extinction. 

All of this makes teaching more important than ever before. We need to develop highly educated citizens who can double check what AI produces. We need human beings who we can rely on for truth and know-how. We need fact-checkers who can counter the false or fake information that AI can and will create in written, photo, and video form. And we need human beings who still pursue learning how to think, learning how to create, and learning how to collaboratively problem-solve. The human side of teaching matters more than ever.

There’s so much that needs to happen. Students need to use AI to learn, not just to complete assignments. Privacy needs to be regulated more than ever before. Our youth who are studying computer science, like my son Dawson, need to stay ahead of AI and be able to truly understand what it is doing. Companies need regulation on how they are using AI. And most of all, we humans need to stay in charge. A co-pilot or digital personal assistant could be helpful to all of us, and the science breakthroughs could make life better for everyone on earth. 

But let’s be careful. None of us want to be in a movie with a tragic ending.

To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here.

Post #93 on www.drmdmatthews.com

———-

Here is the post that ChatGPT wrote if you want to see it. 

Image by Geralt on Pixabay 

I’ll say it. I love my iPhone. I have the iPhone 12 Pro Max. It’s big, yet still fits in my back pocket. It would fit perfectly on a belt-attached phone holder, but my son Ryan told me to stop doing that back when I carried a Palm Pilot. “Dad. A phone is not a fashion accessory.” Fine, Ryan, it’s in my back pocket.

Why do I love my phone? You all know the reasons, but here are my main ones:

  • I love having everything in one place. It’s incredible.
  • I have all the tools I need to record new memories.
  • Anytime I witness inspiration for a future blog post, I can snap a picture or write it down in Evernote. 
  • I can find the answer to almost any question that I am wondering about.
  • I have almost all of the pictures I love, and I can share them anytime.
  • It wakes me up in the morning, keeps and reminds me of my calendar, informs me about world events, and facilitates my communications with my family and friends.
  • And that’s just scratching the surface.

I still marvel at all that my phone can do. And combined with my Apple watch, it’s even better. I can keep track of calories burned, steps walked, laps that I swam, even the stroke that I’m swimming and the time of each lap. And whenever I get a text or something else I have deemed important enough to allow my watch to notify me of, I get an inaudible, unobtrusive, gentle pulse on my wrist. All spectacular technology has the illusion of being almost magical, and that’s how I still feel about the awesome technology in my hand (or back pocket) and on my wrist.

And my friend Jenn is trying to ruin everything.

Let me explain.

After publishing my blog post on Paying Attention, Jenn told me I needed to read a book she had found profoundly impactful, Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again, by Johann Hari. And then she gave me the actual book – with pages that I have to manually flip. Who in the world reads real books anymore? I love reading on the Kindle app. As long as I have my phone in my back pocket, I can pick up the book anytime or anywhere, and I always have my highlights and notes for review. I was nice to her, but inside I was disappointed in her lack of adaptation to the times. 

But actually, it’s a great book, and it hurts me to say this, but it would have felt wrong to read it on my Kindle app. Hari argues that 2007 was a landmark year, primarily because of the invention of the iPhone. My wife Jill had long been asking why they did not add a phone to the Palm Pilot, and Steve Jobs brought her vision to life with an emphasis on function and aesthetic beauty. Sixteen years later, so many of us find the phone a central aspect of our lives.

In the 2017 remake of Jumanji (an underrated movie with a great cast), one of the characters transferred into a video game is despondent about no longer having her phone, and can’t stop talking about it. They meet up with a young man who has been trapped in the game since 1996, who, after watching her repeatedly bemoan the loss of her phone, says, “Does ‘phone’ mean something different in the future?” Yes, it does, Jumanji-1996-guy. Yes, it does.

Hari argues that the centrality of cell phones in our lives has:

  • Dramatically decreased our ability/desire to read books and other in-depth analysis. Most of the world now consumes information in short tweets or slightly longer online news articles. The amount of time we spend reading books for pleasure has plunged since 2007 (after already suffering a decades-long decline after the advent of television), and newspapers are barely surviving. Ryan and I were discussing this recently, and he added, “The changes in the way we consume media that you’re talking about have dried up the demand for long form written analysis. As a result, there are fewer and fewer spaces that actually provide it. Which is a shame, because that type of thoughtful writing—which, not for nothing, is what is happening on this blog—provides more context and nuance than a couple of guys on a hot mic ever could. And that type of context and nuance is beyond important today.”
  • Overly simplified a highly complex world. That would be great if the world were simple, but it is not. Brief and emotionally charged communications, the ones we find on our phones, imply that we don’t need to read in-depth analysis to understand a highly complex world. That implication is incorrect.
  • Increased our exposure to outrage. Without question, what garners the most clicks and likes is any message of outrage. Indignation sells. And when we read enough of it, anger comes more easily to all of us.
  • Decreased our ability to give our sustained attention to matters that deserve it. There are multiple studies that show we are less able to give our attention to something than we were just two decades ago.
  • Filled the slow times in our lives with mindless browsing. When there is a pause in our lives (a line at the grocery store or the DMV, waiting for a meeting to start, etc.), so many of us fill that moment by going to our phones. And when we don’t take time for stillness, for daydreaming, for mind-wandering, or for slowness in our lives, we are missing opportunities to truly enjoy precious moments here on earth. 

I am a big fan of the concept of flow. Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, the godfather of flow, describes it as “… the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.”  When I am in those states, I am usually swimming, bicycling, playing pickleball, or engaged in other activities uninterrupted by phones or anything else. If we let them, phones will disrupt, even fragment our efforts at achieving states of flow. As Hari writes, “Fragmentation makes you smaller, shallower, and angrier. Flow makes you bigger, deeper, and calmer.” He adds, “Slowness nurtures attention. Speed shatters it.”

As I sat in my chair, engrossed in reading my paperback book, I realized that maybe being off my phone, even for reading, creates a greater sense of calm and peace. Maybe my initial criticism of my friend Jenn was a little unjustified. Maybe she was actually trying to help. I’m at a point in my life now where I am not on call 24/7, and I believe it would be good for me to slow down and not to act like I still need to be tethered to my phone. 

One of my favorite pictures is from 2022. It’s a photo of Tiger Woods hitting another perfect golf shot in front of adoring fans, almost all of whom are enjoying the moment through their phones. But look closely, and you can’t help but notice Mark Radetick, the tall guy who is a picture of stillness as he quietly takes it all in, holding a 24-ounce Michelob Ultra instead of a phone. I want more Mark Radetick moments in my life. 

Similarly, Jill and I were watching a spectacular Independence Day fireworks show, and we were surrounded by people videoing it and watching it through their phones. Jill whispered to me, “Hashtag – It’s happening now.” Hilarious, and sadly true.

So, what to do? I’m not giving up my phone. I still think it’s amazing and I still love all that it can do. But maybe I don’t need to love my phone quite so much. In Stanley Kubrik’s Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, the fascination with the atomic bomb ends up destroying most of the world. I don’t know if our fascination with the phone is destroying us or not. For all of its amazingness and potential, I do know that it’s not making us smarter as a species. It tempts us out of our moments of slowness, pondering, and daydreaming – the moments that so often precede moments of inspiration, innovation, and creativity. And it’s certainly hindering our abilities to truly absorb special moments in our lives.

As I’ve written in many of my posts, I am going to continue my efforts to slow down, be on my phone less, and maybe even read a few more books made out of paper.

To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here.

Post #92 on www.drmdmatthews.com

Notes: 

  • If you haven’t read Steve Jobs’ biography, and his drive for perfection when inventing the iPhone, it’s a worthy read.
  • I’ve only touched the surface with Hari’s work. He spends a lot of time expressing concern for the digital surveillance that is happening to all of us, and has some radical ideas for how to address that. To read my full review, click here.
  • I often write as a way to remind myself of the way I want to live. Publishing a piece gives me extra incentive to live out what I write. I must really want to slow down in my life, because I’ve written about this several times, including:
  • I rewatched Dr. Stangelove as I was researching this blog post. It holds up. It’s still hilarious. Peter Sellers and so many other stars and future stars are perfect in their satirical roles. The movie highlights how our fascination with anything can lead to a lack of logical thought and horrible consequences, especially when we have amazing technology and individuals who are highly trained in knowing how to use it.
  • Dr. Strangelove photo from Reelgood.
  • Mark Radetick photo from Inc. Magazine
  • iPhone photo from caselove.com.

I always appreciate my friend Mikke for his humor, fantasy football banter, and his sense of adventure. But way more than that, I appreciate him because he is a very wise man who has listened and helped me to be my best on numerous occasions. He now serves as an executive coach, and he has been kind enough to share the daily affirmations and truths that he sends to each of his clients with me. One of them from last week truly struck a chord.

The affirmation was inspired by the recently completed US Open Tennis Championships, home to a large plaque featuring a famous quote from Billie Jean King: “Pressure is a Privilege.” What a statement. I should have heard it before. Billie Jean King wrote a book with that title back in 2008, and the plaque has been at the US Open since 2020. But I had not heard it. Until now.

I love it.

The pressure of fighting for every point, alone on the court in front of 24,000 fans, must be immense. I will never know that kind of athletic pressure, unless my pickleball game takes 32 giant leaps and bounds forward. But what Ms. King is urging these competitors to have is perspective – to recognize that by doing all of the work that it takes to get to this point, and by overcoming all of the obstacles it takes to get to the highest level, these athletes have a privilege that very few in the world get to experience – the chance to compete against the very best. I believe she wants all of us to embrace that same mindset. If we feel a sense of privilege and fortune when we face our own challenges, it frees us to let go of the pressure and just do our absolute best to succeed.

King’s quote applies so well to leaders and to all of us who face pressure during the course of our careers and lives. Let’s be clear – the amount of pressure in my life has diminished by approximately 96.8% since I retired. It feels healthy and good. But for nearly 40 years, I experienced a wide range of pressure and stress. Early in my teaching career, Sunday nights were rough. I acutely felt the pressure of making the week’s lesson plans, believing that if my lessons were not good enough, I might not make it as a teacher. If I hadn’t made it, my life would have been so very different, but the pressure I put on myself made me a better teacher and made a difference for my students. That pressure gave me the opportunity to develop into the teacher I needed to be. Many, many times, I lived through the pressures of making big decisions as a principal and as a superintendent. Sometimes the pressure stemmed from a school crisis, and sometimes it came from people who publicly stated they wanted me to lose my job. I wish I had known Billie Jean King’s quote during those times. I did feel the sentiment, but I did not have her words to express it. 

My mentality during those difficult times was to work with the really smart and talented people around me, and simply make the best decisions we could. If those decisions were not good enough, and I was fired as a result, I believed in myself enough that I knew I would be able to get another job. I felt honored and privileged to be in a position of leadership. After overcoming the initial blows of the crisis, I was always able to work with my team, make a plan, and execute it. We all think we have plans, but a new crisis can challenge everything. Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” It sounds odd, but I believe it was a privilege to recover from those punches, then develop and execute new plans and strategies.

But let me be completely honest. In many high pressure situations, my brain quickly realized that the pressure is a privilege mentality was the right way to go. I knew that thinking that way means your brain can fully focus on the actual problem, instead of focusing on how the pressure makes you feel. But all too often, my stomach, at least at first, refused to listen to my brain. And boy did I feel that pressure. Tommy Lasorda said, “When you start thinking of pressure, it’s because you’ve started thinking of failure.” My stomach would ignore my head, think of failure, feel that pressure, and push the misery of that pressure throughout my body.

I could overcome it, but it took my brain lecturing to my stomach during sleepless nights and sometimes over the course of several days. It took friends and colleagues talking me through issues, reinforcing what my brain already knew. As I gained the wisdom that comes with age and experience, I got better at that. But even in my sixties, I still have to fight it and actively remind myself. Sometimes, I write these posts to remind myself of what I already know. Because even though I know it, writing it down gives me that Mennen Skin Bracer slap in the face that I sometimes need.

Pressure makes us better. It was Kobe Bryant who said, “Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.” When pressure was highest, Kobe wanted the ball. He wanted the opportunity to rise.

My golf buddies who read this post (yes, a few of them can read) are going to watch me standing over a three-foot putt that I should be able to make. But that short little putt will have pressure on it. If I make it, I may win a whopping $5, $10, or even $20. I can hear them now, “What a privilege this is for you, Mike.” It’s funny how stupid stuff like that can actually feel like pressure. We’ll see if I can channel my inner Billie Jean King and Kobe Bryant on not just that three-foot putt, but on the real challenges that I will face as life goes on.

For all of you who are working to do your best, and for those of you in leadership positions doing the same, I thank you. Thanks for your extraordinary efforts to do your job well. I hope you feel that it is a privilege to do the work you do, especially when the going gets tough.

– Mike

To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here.

Post #91 on www.drmdmatthews.com

(Note: I had to trim quite a bit from my original draft to get to this still-too-long published version. If you want to see the trimmings from the cutting floor, and some of my thoughts behind it, click here.)