On Obsessiveness

Tyler Cowen’s “My days as a teenage chess teacher” is interesting on a lot of levels. For instance, take lesson learned #6 of 7.

“6. The younger chess prodigy I taught was quite bright and also likable.  But he had no real interest in improving his chess game.  Instead, hanging out with me was more fun for him than either doing homework or watching TV, and I suspect his parents understood that.  In any case, early on I was thinking keenly about talent and the determinants of ultimate success, and obsessiveness seemed quite important.  All of the really good chess players had it, and without it you couldn’t get far above expert level.”

I often envy people who are obsessive about anything even remotely socially redeemable—whether being a grand master in chess, or cycling 12,000 miles/year, or knowing more about Mormon history than anyone except a few dozen Mormon scholars. Why do I envy obsessive people? Because I don’t know if I’ve ever been truly obsessive about anything. It seems like it would be fun to be so immersed in an activity that time stops.

And yet, when I take stock of my life, I can’t help but wonder if my lack of obsessiveness about any one thing may be one of my most positive attributes. If it’s not a positive attribute, splitting the difference between similarly compelling forces, is my essence. It’s who I am.

To the best of my ability, I seek balance. Between work and family life. Between intellectual pursuits and physical ones. Between running, swimming, and cycling more specifically. Between listening and talking. Between teaching and learning. Between friends. Between being silly and serious.   

I wonder, should I stop idealizing obsessiveness?

 

Challenging Myself In 2021

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? What physical challenges might be motivating to train for and fun to attempt in 2021?

I’m early in the decision-making process, but so far, I’ve narrowed it down to two. The first is a Claire Law inspired 300 mile bike ride with 16,000′ of elevation gain. In under 40 hours, as per her and the Rapha 500k Brevet guidelines. Probs not in the dead of winter though since I’m afraid of the dark. And rain. And cold.

Thanks to my brother for finding the second one, which he instinctively knew, is much more in my wheelhouse.

This is good to know:

“One popular method of doughnut-eating is flattening three or four doughnuts on top of each other to form one pastry. ‘You can trick your mind into thinking that you’re only having three doughnuts when you’re really having more.'”

Monday Required Reading

Administrivia. Every time I write critically about the President, a humble blog regular and close friend whose opinion I care about, rips me for spreading “hate” and sowing “division”. Given that predicament, I guess I shouldn’t link to any of the numerous articles about our President’s Saturday phone call to Georgia’s Secretary of State which Carl Bernstein called “way worse than Watergate”.  

1. The Plague Year: The mistakes and the struggles behind America’s coronavirus tragedy. Lawrence Wright’s damning deconstruction of “America’s coronavirus tragedy” details the President’s complicity which my friend might think of as hateful and divisive. Not to worry though, it’s WAY too long for him. Everyone writing books about this simultaneously let out an “Ah shit!” upon finishing Wright’s piece. I could excerpt endlessly from it, but there’s other reading to get to.

2. The challenge of chess – learning how to hold complexity in mind and still make good decisions – is also the challenge of life.

3. Walk, run or wheelbarrow: We moved our bodies forward during the pandemic. Our second born walked 153 miles in December!

“. . . my eldest walks. She carries a backpack loaded with her journal, a beanie, whatever book she’s reading. She dons her mask and canvasses our Atlanta neighborhood at New York speed, striding purposefully as if she has somewhere to be. When the sun starts to set, she sits on a patch of grass or a park bench to catch her breath and stares into the sky, tracking the light until it bleeds into darkness.

She does this every evening because, as she explains, it gives her ‘something to look forward to.’

When she comes home, cheeks flush, hair windswept, my daughter does seem happier, lifted. The simple act of walking underscoring her autonomy, reminding her that she is still a human capable of breathing fresh air, of shuttling from point A to B, that she is still a human at all.”

4. Shearing Sheep, and Hewing to Tradition, on an Island in Maine. Love, love, love the pictures. They have the same effect as an engrossing foreign film, they totally transport me across the country to the island. Long live the Wakemans and their way of life. 

Tuesday Required Reading and Viewing

1. Bet you can’t guess the top global health story of 2020.

2. Bet you can’t guess the ‘secret’ to longevity.

3. Bluetits and Bluebells: Essex’s open water swimmers – a photo essay. Remember, I don’t write the headlines, I just share them.

4. It’s not that hard to buy nothing. After reading the top comments, a suggestion. Dear wealthy people, advertise your minimalism at your own risk. The non-wealthy are (still) not having it.

5. The future of electric cars. This really good ‘free’ advice proves you don’t always get what you pay for.

‘Rona Silver Lining

Americans exercised more in 2020, according to data tracking service, Strava.

“In addition to jumps in running and cycling activity in the U.S., Strava also saw booms in walking, hiking, indoor cross-training activities such as yoga and weight lifting, and water sports like kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.

‘There was just so much uncertainty surrounding COVID […] it was great to see people deal with that by finding some sort of certainty and an everyday routine,’ Megan Roche, an ultra-runner and epidemiologist, told ESPN.

Women drove the increase in fitness — both in the U.S. and all over the world. Between April and September, women aged 18-29 saw a 45.2% increase in the median number of activities uploaded compared to a 27.3% increase by their male counterparts, the Strava data shows. Women were also biking more, logging a 72% increase in bike trips compared to 2019.”

Case in point, none other than one of my twenty-something daughters. Summer spent lake swimming. Migrated to the pool in the fall. Cycled with friends in the summer. All the while, she turned into a certifiable WALKING machine. 120 miles in November.

Live Wireless Or Die

It’s easy to forget what life was like before global position satellites revolutionized sports technology. I remember rolling my front bike wheel next to a wooden yardstick in my parent’s garage in a desperate attempt to calibrate my sensor that was attached to a couple of spokes. And then using electrical tape to align the wire that ran to the head unit along the fork and head tube. Cumbersome is putting it mildly. And what did I get for all my efforts, a precarious, only mildly accurate set up that constantly needed attention.

Fast forward several decades. Bluetooth, wireless GPS, and (almost always) automatic syncing which results in extremely accurate data recording with a tenth of the effort. Check out what my wrist computer generated during this morning’s run.

IMG_1194

When I first returned to rehab running from my hamstring injury, my average stride length was only 1.16m as opposed to the normal 1.2m. How cool is it that satellites in Outer Space confirm that not only do I feel better, but I am better.

A question for the nerds (used affectionately of course). Why is there a net gain of 35 feet when I started and stopped in my driveway?

The more important question is why do we fret about whether life is improving when we don’t have to wrestle with rulers, electrical tape and wires anymore?