Notes from the Desert Day Seven

Day Seven (Links to Days One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six)

This is my last full day in the desert. I look forward to returning home tomorrow. But I also look forward to returning to the desert someday, if it seems like the right thing to do at the time.

I took a long walk in the desert today, surrounded by saguaro cacti. It seemed like a fitting way to end my time here. Walking alone, especially in nature, away from the concrete and city sounds, is a good way to eliminate the distractions of an overactive mind. It’s hard not to think of the earth as our habitat when walking the land.

Sometimes I joke that if I am ever diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or some other similarly hideous disease, I may take a long walk in the Colorado Rockies and never return. To be honest, though, I’m not kidding. It strikes me as the most natural way of returning home.

I suppose the idea also has some appeal because it puts me in control. I like to have control. But it’s an illusion, of course. The fact of the matter is, I don’t control any of the really big stuff: whether I’ll come down with cancer tomorrow, or have a fatal heart attack or get mauled by a mountain lion on this hike, or get killed in an auto accident on my drive back, or etc., etc.

Yet it’s control I’m after. In fact, it’s a large part of the reason for this trip, namely, greater control over my mind and thoughts. I feel like I’ve made progress, but time will tell. I’m not even sure what “progress” might be. It might mean giving up all control. And relinquishing everything.

For now, I’m relishing being here, in this place, at this moment in time.

In the desert.

Takeaways from the 2018 Election

Just a few reactions to yesterday’s election (including a few that are personal):

  • The country is a safer place now that Trump and his R minions won’t be controlling both houses of Congress. There is something to be said for legislative gridlock.
  • Adjusted for strong economic and stock market conditions, this election represents the worst House retention of any president in 100 years according to JPMorgan Asset & Wealth Management. But, of course, not everyone is benefiting from these conditions; asset appreciation and increased wealth continue to accrue mainly to the top 1 percent. This dynamic will play a major role in future elections. To this point, neither party is addressing the problem.
  • Ds are badly out of step on immigration and taxes. If they don’t get their act together, it will cost them dearly in 2020.
  • Rs are badly out of step on health care. If they don’t get their act together, it will cost them the White House and Senate in 2020.
  • The electorate is in two camps: urban and rural. And within those camps, the electorate is divided by education.
  • The disenfranchisement of voters in large states (people, not land), and the over-representation given to voters in sparse states, will continue to put pressure on our constitutional system. The Senate is becoming a highly unrepresentative body. This doesn’t bode well for our future.
  • The Ds have to run good candidates if they are to win. Donnelly in Indiana, where I now live, was a pathetic candidate. Consequently, the Ds squandered a seat they should have retained.
  • The Ds retaking seven governorships is huge even though it’s not getting the attention it deserves.
  • The grand Republican experiment in Kansas failed miserably. The state is worse off because of it. On a positive note, the Ds took the governor’s mansion. However, much damage has already been done and not all of it will be reversible.
  • Scott Walker’s loss in Wisconsin is sweet. Very sweet. And very well deserved.
  • Texas is undergoing a major shift. For the first in a long time, its electoral votes will be up for grab in 2020.
  • My favorite state, Colorado (a place I called home until recently), completed its transition from purple to blue. Colorado is the least partisan place I’ve ever lived. The Rs’ divisive tactics don’t work so well there.
  • Steve King’s reelection speaks volumes about the people in his district in Iowa. They should be ashamed. The fact they’re not is a stark reminder of some of the forces at work in American politics today. And of the darkness that lives within the souls of all humans (yours truly included). At its best, politics should be a source of enlightenment and understanding and call people to their better selves. Sadly, politics often does just the opposite.
  • Old white men are the strength of the Republican party. As these guys die off, the Rs are in big trouble unless the party can pivot and start appealing to educated women and younger voters.
  • Voters still aren’t concerned about fiscal risks. This will come back to haunt them in a very big way someday.
  • Yesterday’s election tells us little about either party’s prospects for 2020. Two years is an eternity in the world of politics.
  • Yesterday’s election will have absolutely no effect on Trump. He is who he is, and he isn’t about to change. For some, that’s good; for others, it’s a never-ending nightmare. Either way, our president and his presidency are a reflection of who we are. What do you see when you look in the national mirror? Voters’ reaction to that image will decide the 2020 election.

Even a Bozo President Can’t Ruin Everything

After today’s performance in Helsinki, it’s hard not to think that Putin has something on Trump. Something that, if released to the public, not only would embarrass Trump but also would destroy him politically, and perhaps result in his impeachment and imprisonment.

Might there be some other possible explanation for Mr. Trump’s bizarre and arguably treasonous behavior? I suppose so, but it wouldn’t make Donald look any better — although perhaps less treasonous.

Meanwhile, Vera, your grandmother and I just completed a nine mile hike in the Rockies outside of Crested Butte, Colorado, up to 11,200 feet. The wildflowers are in bloom at that elevation, painting the sides of the hills with vibrant colors. When you’re alone on a trail surrounded by magnificent peaks and glorious skies, all seems right with the world.

But all is not right, of course. Today’s shameful performance by our president was a stark reminder of that fact.

I have no idea how bad it will get before this clown leaves the stage. I have no idea how much damage he’ll do. But the Rockies will always be here. And sometimes the best thing to do is to leave the problems behind and walk the earth. Among the aspens. One step at a time.

77% Aren’t Getting Enough of This

Location matters. Culture matters. Especially when it comes to exercise. And fitness.

According to the CDC, 77 percent of us are slugs. We fail to get enough exercise.

Mississippians are the worst. The best state when it comes to exercise and fitness is the one I’m not allowed to mention around the house. My wife thinks I believe this state is perfect. She’s tired of hearing about it. So I won’t mention it. At home. Continue reading

What Do I Understand Now That I Wish I’d Understood Then?

What do I understand (or at least think I understand) now that I wish I had understood when I had began my journey through adulthood? It’s of no consequence to me, of course: it’s impossible to turn back the clock. But it might be of some help to you, Vera.

In looking back I’m struck by how naïve I was when I came out of high school and, four years later, college. I had little appreciation for what the world was really like. Growing up in a working-class family in homogenous rural south-central Pennsylvania hadn’t exposed me to much. My world was very small.

More than four decades of career experiences in law, business (CEO), government (special agent for DOD and, later, cabinet secretary), and higher ed (college president) changed that. To a degree. There is still much about life I don’t understand or, perhaps more accurately, refuse to accept. I’m still learning and always will be. Nonetheless, life has imparted a few lessons along the way.

Some of the lessons were easy to learn; some were hard. Some were moments of euphoria and left fond memories; some were painful and left scars. Others were learned merely by reading or observing. (It’s always preferable to learn from other people’s wisdom or mistakes.) I decided to compose a list of what I consider to have been some of the most important lessons.

What the list isn’t, however, is a list of rules to live by. I’m not fond of rules and would never suggest life is so easily mastered. Moreover, as I’ve mentioned before, I have absolutely no desire to tell you how to live your life, Vera. Rather, I’m simply sharing some of the things I wish I had better understood when I was young, starting out.

Some of the lessons are practical; some are of the existential variety. The list is neither complete nor final. After all, I’m still learning.

Please don’t infer an order of priority, for none is intended. “You” and “your,” below, refer to me; it is as if life is speaking to me. Occasional personal comments follow parenthetically. Continue reading

Keys to Happiness

“Happy places are highly correlated with healthy food, walkability and lower rates of obesity.” (What Can We Learn from the World’s Happiest People?)

This helps explain why Boulder, Colorado is such a great place to live. Of all the places we’ve lived, Boulder was far and away the leader in healthy eating, fitness (including the nearly complete lack of obesity), and walkability (we walked just about everywhere and could access hiking trails at the edge of town).

Dan Buettner, in his new book, The Blue Zones of Happiness, identified six areas of influence within your control to positively affect happiness and contentment. Interestingly, Buettner found that where you live is a significant factor. In other words, if you’re not happy, move!

Happy locations include Denmark, Singapore, and Costa Rica. Some of the top places in the U.S. are San Luis Obispo, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Portland, Oregon.

Of course, as we know, social networks are key, too. If you want to be happier, bring happy, caring people into your lives.

The Better Question Is, What Do I Have That I Didn’t?

I’m tired of having to explain my decision to move to Indiana to all the people around Carmel with whom I come into contact. Given my situation, many of those people are in the health care field, but there have been others.

Hoosiers are open and inquisitive people. I’m always amazed by how much you learn about them in a brief conversation. They’re eager to share. And they want you to share, too.

So invariably they learn we’ve lived here for only a short time. I don’t volunteer it, but they ask: “Where did you move from?” Colorado, I say (a mistake). “Why would you leave Colorado to move here?!,” they ask, with a tone that suggests they think I made a terrible mistake.

That’s when I tell them about you, Vera. And your parents. And how happy I am to be here, even though I love Colorado.

I then promise myself to tell people, the next time I’m asked, that we moved from Camden or Detroit. But I can’t do it, even though it would be only a little white fib.

Two events occurred this week that brought all of this to the fore once again. My physical therapist was working on my arm, doing what Hoosiers do best: sharing and probing. And sure enough, she asked, Where did you move from?” I stupidly confessed: “Colorado.”

She then caught me off guard, asking a question I hadn’t gotten from other inquisitors. “What do you miss most about Colorado?”

Perhaps it’s because I’m ill and had my guard down. Perhaps it was the pain meds. Whatever the reason, I didn’t take time to think about my response. Instead, I simply uttered the first thought that came to mind, which also seemed to be the most truthful: “Everything.”

My response was entirely consistent with my prior views, of course. Simply put, taking all other considerations out of the equation (which can’t nor should it be done), there is no place like Colorado.

I went on to tell my therapist that, even though I liked Colorado, I was glad we lived here, near you and your parents. And in Carmel, which is probably the best place we ever lived from the perspective of many of the things that matter to us (amenities, walkability, conveniences, no HOA, progressive, etc.).

Roll the clock forward to last evening. Your grandmother thought she was going to pick you up a day care without me. She said I should stay home. After all, I had pneumonia and perhaps other undiagnosed ailments. I needed to stay put.

Right, I thought. The pain wouldn’t be that much different in the car than sitting at home. I went.

It was at your day care that it occurred to me that the better question would have been, “What do you have here that you didn’t have in Colorado?”

Here is just a glimpse of what I have.

We walked into your room. You were playing with your classmates. You were holding a container and they were filling it. You hadn’t seen us arrive (I have stealth-like qualities).

I then spoke your name. You turned and, consistent with past practice, you immediately did your best imitation of Usain Bolt. I’m always surprised by your acceleration and speed — and recklessness.

You never pull up. Instead, you run full throttle into my arms.

And then we went home and played.