This morning, birds chirping and coffee aromas wafting, sun shining and spine gradually un-kinking, I’m reflecting a bit on the notion of being in control. We aren’t you know, not really, though I’m often able to fool myself. In the grand scheme, as Matt Kearney once said, “We’re all just a phone call from our knees,” and while most of us, most certainly including me, grow adept in time at putting to the back of our minds the immediacy of our own mortality as well as that of those around us, there is no real control to be had for we mere mortals, death remaining an inevitability, only the timing ever really being in question. All that said, it is the illusion of control in our daily lives that urges my fingers to caress the keys this morning.
For most of my daily life, as I’ve lamented previously, I urinate on a bell-schedule, this Pavlovian requirement at times feeling like an insult to my pedigree and credentials, yet necessary to accomplish my day-to-day goings on in a safe and orderly manner. The rigidity of my career is such that when those breaks in winter, spring and, famously, summer do finally roll around, without some semblance of structure it can turn into a Rumspringa gone wrong without much prompting, the slippery slopes of sloth and solitude being always butted up against my path. What I’ve been discovering, however, as I take time to reflect this summer, is that most of my wounds thereby appear to be to a large extent of a self inflicted nature. When my schedule has been dictated to me — as signally by that damned and incessant bell, I long for liberty, yet when that liberty is granted I fill my calendar with more meetings, more dinners, more project and practices and obligations than my employers would ever dare place upon me.
This point was exemplified for me somewhat yesterday morning, enough to turn a wheel or two, when a close friend made a simple book suggestion. He’s right — I’ll enjoy this book, I have no doubt, and in fact I ordered it immediately, though it occurs to me that the last time I reached out to him it regarded his career as a lawyer, and now in his recent reachings out to me, it is about my career as a coach. We are defined by our work — if we allow ourselves to be, and I clearly have become a teacher and coach in such a way as to overshadow many other elements in my life.
So yesterday, as I perused my diary, flinching at the number of meetings and obligations that I had placed upon myself for the coming week — meet so-and-so to prepare for teaching your summer class, meet so-and-so to prepare for the running clinic, meet so-and-so to talk to the state board of ed, meet so-and-so to discuss my research project, and so-and-so-and-so-and-so-on, I had a moment of rebellion, wresting from my crippled id some fleeting semblance of control. Around noon I closed my laptop and went to a spin class with Sonja (even though I had already worked out earlier in the morning), and then we went to try out El Rancho, Espanol for “The Rancho”, a Mexican restaurant we often see on our way to and from daycare. My diablo shrimp was excellent, and after a two-Tecate lunch I allowed myself a nap before rising to jump my Jeep, wash it, and take the top off for the summer.
After all that, Sonja and I got the kids from daycare and I pulled the cork on a bottle of Washington Cabernet Sauvignon and sipped at it while I prepared a caprese salad, fettuccine alfredo, and the best diver scallops I’ve ever made. Obligatory? Perhaps, as without sustenance we indeed speed up the inevitability of our own dismissal from this great careening rock as I reflected upon earlier, though in cooking I can settle into a flow state and find a sort of catharsis that doesn’t come easy. I was relaxed, and I was happy, if not fully in control.
The Tendril Cab Sauv, a single-vineyard from Walla Walla Valley, ended up being pretty killer. The wine and I got off on the wrong foot when I read “Single Varietal” on the front label and then “76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc” on the back label (for those keeping count, that would be two varietals). Straight out of the bottle it was so tight and chewy I nearly stopped drinking it, but knowing it is from a high-end producer, I stopped my cooking for a moment to dump it violently into a decanter. Half an hour later, as it began to mellow out, I was taken by the wine’s ability to walk the line between elegant and robust, the deep purple and black fruit notes playing nicely with oak, earthy flavors, and hints of cocoa that together seem to intone the terroir that has made this wine region noteworthy in recent years. I ultimately enjoyed the wine, and after dinner and putting the kids to bed we took the rest of the decanter out onto the front porch, hailed a few neighbors who were riding past on their motorcycle, and spent the evening sipping wine and talking about one of their recent trips to Africa.
Perhaps it is out on my front porch that I feel most in control, as that time could surely be devoted to any number of other endeavors, yet I am good about setting it aside for Sonja when she is able to join me. A former student of mine came by, in his youth far more willing to scale the heights of my absurdly peaked house, to clean out my gutters. By now, the Silver Maples have begun to grow in the organic flowerbeds that line my rooftop, and as he worked I could hear my drains unclogging, the water rushing down them as if in delayed reaction to the repetitive deluges of the previous month. This weekend we will relax, with plans to see friends, share food, and watch movies looming on our horizon, though as I wind down this morning I am most looking forward to loading my kids in the jogger with a cup of cheerios each and going for a run.
In closing, I’ll say simply that I think it is a combination of nature, culture, and expectation that makes me — and many of you like me — so willing to work ourselves to death. I cannot blame those Pavlovian bells nor my employer nor anyone else for what I am; it is I and I alone who am to blame for my seeming inability to stop, even to slow at times, though I am working on that and age at times seems to be helping. A few years ago when Titus was born, I almost pulled it off. Within a few months of his birth I had resigned as the Executive Director of the non-profit I co-founded and also resigned from coaching basketball, and for a brief period I had time on my hands, I had a feeling of control. That feeling, however, was akin in moments to boredom, and today I find myself coaching two sports, adjuncting at two colleges, conducting research, writing blogs, and sitting on more boards and committees than ever before. I suppose I find purpose in it, as I would suspect you do with your own obligations, though I suggest that the next time we see one another, perhaps we urge the other to slow down a bit, pull a cork, sear a scallop, or take a jog in the park with our children. After all, well done is always better than well said, and in the end how we spend our time is the greatest statement of our priorities.
Cheers to time well spent,