Something anyone can do

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Even before I turned seventy I was thinking about how to live my best life, whether I might live a long, fruitful life, and whether I had any control over the matter. It was with these concerns that I picked up the book The Art of Aging by Dr. Sherwin Nulland, author of an earlier book published ten years earlier called How We Die, an exploration of disease states we might succumb to at any point in one’s life. (Think heart disease, cancer, AIDS, etc.). While both are written by a doctor, neither is a clinical book nor were they depressing to me. Instead both are moving accounts of how our bodies and organs function, how they may break down as we age, and how to deal with it.

In the Art of Aging, one chapter in particular stood out: “Approaching a Century: Michael DeBakey”. At the time of the book’s publication in 2007, Dr. DeBakey was recognized as the leading cardiovascular surgeon in the world. He invented his first cardiology-related device as a twenty-two year old medical student in 1931: a pump for the propulsion of blood through flexible tubing, it became “the crucial component that enabled the development of the heart-lung machine for cardiac surgery.”

Onward his scientific mind and innovative spirit took off: he developed the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH units) and founded the National Library of Medicine. He became chairman of surgery at Baylor University in Houston and became the pioneer in surgery for aneurysms in the chest and abdomen, as well as treatment of occlusions in the carotid artery to the brain that commonly causes stroke.

Over the years Dr. DeBakey developed a huge surgical practice, eventually numbering over 60,000 patients, 95% of whom he maintained long-term follow-up studies.

He operated until the age of 90 (though could have continued) because there were so many other things that he felt “needed to be done”. He traveled the world as a speaker, author, and consultant continuing to develop new devices to aid his patients, conduct laboratory research, and mentor others. But he was more than a cardiac surgeon. Even at the age of 96 he could hold his own to discuss at length subjects like the origins and theology of the world religions, the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and democracy.

What drives a man like DeBakey to be so full of life even in at age 96?

His wife said the chief driver for him was “love” …the love of his patients fed his work and it was love and his work that gave life its meaning”. Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, who was also Lebanese American like DeBakey said “work is love made visible.” DeBakey’s wife maintained that he approached his work with love and it fed him. It was his commitment to his patients and their outcomes that kept him going strong into his nineties.

There was nothing he didn’t enjoy more than “giving hope to others, and to maintain it, to save it.” As a surgeon he was in the perfect position to do just that.

Whatever one’s constitution, intellectual or physical state, this man’s approach to living and working is inspirational. It is in the giving to others that meaning is attained, and it is apparent to me, in my quasi-retirement, in this particular time in history that we live that alleviating concerns of others, giving hope to our fellow man is the most important things to do. It pays off for both giver and receiver.

I’m particularly aware of how fortunate I am as a white guy living in America. While not in perfect health, I do my best to maintain a good weight, walk daily and eat healthfully, stay informed and self-advocate as necessary. Apparently Michael DeBakey ate like a bird; that’s not my way, but I do my best to stay clear of sugar and processed foods. I’m far from perfect; I really enjoy muffins, hermits and M&M’s, but try to substitute healthy choices whenever possible.

We’re living in the midst of an existential threat to our planet (and quality of life). We’re watching an unspeakable cruel and destructive war in Ukraine. We have on our hands an energy crisis, a humanitarian crisis, a financial crisis, a democracy crisis and a mental health crisis for the children and adolescents fearing the future of living on a planet on track to warm up to over 3 degrees Celsius in the not-so-distant future.

We’re living in a world that continues to finance dirty coal-related projects at a pace that is more than two times last year’s pace, and a world where greedy fat cats in the largest financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase (which is the worst of the dirty dozen) continue to pour money into dirty fuels investments which spew even more carbon dioxide into the air … to what end? These are not times for the faint of heart. No pun intended.

What better time than now to be kind and to extend a helping hand to others? Dr. Nuland maintains: “One hardly need be a doctor in order to do the giving. The gratification comes from the feeling that you’ve done something for people.”

Apparently, DeBakey’s genes have something to do with his longevity.

His father lived to be ninety, and his mother into her late eighties. He, like his parents shared similar values, exercised, ate healthfully and sought out intellectual stimulation from one day to the next. While we may not be blessed with the same genes as DeBakey, we have control over our own attitudes and many of our choices and communications. Humans have the ability to reflect on one’s own behavior and can make adjustments over time.

He also made clear in his late nineties, that aside from the philosophical and social interaction and love shared between himself and his patients, “curiosity and the seeking of knowledge is a transcendent life force … it drives you intellectually and to an extent, physiologically.” When he goes to bed at night “he is looking forward to the morning so that he can do those things he was unable to accomplish on that day.”

I would add that I have gotten into the habit when I go to sleep to remember at least three things that I am grateful for at the end of the day. And, like Dr. DeBakey, I sometimes look forward to the simple things like having cereal the next morning, or doing Wordle or Spelling Bee. But I no longer do Spelling Bee while walking at the same time. I don’t think Michael DeBakey would encourage that, plus I’ve learned my lesson (See “Solo Trip” blog post in “off the hook” if you haven’t read it already).

The Top 10 List

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The war in Ukraine with all its pain and suffering and unnecessary death and destruction has been my concern over the past month. Interest and concentration necessary to write about my little life has not been of interest. So instead of doing that I’m providing a filler for off the hook this time:

April 2022 will mark the fifth anniversary for “off the hook”. I started writing it a little while before I retired from my marketing career while vacationing with my pre-pandemic. It has become a regular feature of my life since then. It keeps me keen and aware and attuned to things that matter. I’ve written 97 posts to date, about one every three weeks to record my life. For me it’s an achievement to write so often and think I have something to say that others might enjoy to boot! To be honest, I didn’t have a master plan in mind. I just wanted to use the platform to write about my life and how I was living and now have 100 posts in sight. I wanted to catalogue what I was observing, doing and thinking about in respect to my life, my regrets, my aspirations, my achievements and anxieties. I’m gratified that there are readers who have found the writing to be (their words): “entertaining, thoughtful and sensitive”.

For those who are with me now and haven’t followed “off the hook” since it’s inception, I’ve decided to compile a list of the top ten blog posts that have resonated well with my audience. These are the posts which have the most “likes”, the most “comments” and/or the most “views”. In a few cases there are posts which I liked the best regardless of the response received. The audience is largely unknown aside from some friends and family who have regularly read my posts, commented and have shared their names. Some others have introduced me to their writing and blogs and that’s been illuminating as well. Thank you.

Apparently my writing and composition has improved over the years as many of the “best” were written in 2021 and 2022. But there are exceptions. There was one from September 14, 2018 of particular appeal: “Kvetches like the real deal”. The one with the most views, likes and comments was just published on March 1, 2022 and titled: “Just Sittin’ “. Those in my LinkedIn network liked “A marked man” most – with several hundreds of views; I figure it’s because information researchers are part of my network; they will most appreciate the subject.

For those who have not signed up and become a regular “follower”, I invite you to do so and to share your comments if anything I say moves you.

The Off the Hook Top Ten (not in order):

To find each of them simply type in the name of the post in the search bar at the top of offthehook to go directly to the post of interest. Categories are noted on the bottom of each post. Comments are always appreciated.

  • Blue Toilet Paper Man, March 7, 2021
  • She ate dirt, June 23, 2019
  • A marked man, September 20, 2021
  • The original social distancing, August 18, 2021
  • Just sittin’ , March 1, 2022
  • Happiness, where are you? June 13, 2022
  • At long last, July 4, 2020
  • Kvetches like the real deal, September 14, 2018
  • A Solo Trip, December 9, 2021
  • Seventy? Seventy! February 13, 2021

Enjoy!

Just sittin’

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I’ve been doing a lot of nothing during the month of February and it’s been liberating. Doing nothing, just hanging around, watching Netflix or just wasting time is not wasting time. There’s a first time for everything and for the last few weeks I’ve really enjoyed doing nothing; for me it’s been surprisingly worthwhile. It’s something that I have not allowed myself to do do very often. I’m used to having a number of “must do” activities to accomplish during the day in order to feel good and productive, and if not accomplished during the day, sometimes continuing in to the night. So much to learn, so much to take care of, so much to prepare for, so many perspectives and subjects to understand as a way to understand my perspective.

Doing nothing means not to push myself, to not prod, to not try to control my time (and outcome), or to squeeze as much as possible out of one’s day. I have not squandered my time. While I don’t have a bucket list, there are some things that I’d like to do before the end, and since the end could be tomorrow, I tend to use my time to do them. In meditation or through breathing exercises, it says to use this exercise “to not accomplish anything”, to just be in the here and now. By slowing down and not pushing myself, it allows me to look within and take apart assumptions and expectations – of myself and others.

Retirement has not been a time when I do nothing. I’ve got an activity list, obligations, bills to pay and challenges to face. I find myself constantly looking at my watch and spending too much time reading emails, texts and solicitation on my phone or MacBook.

When I embarked on “off the hook” nearly five years ago, I had pent up demand to participate in activities I had often dreamed about but did not have the time to pursue: drawing and lettering (artwork), biking with friends, reading fiction. Volunteering to address climate change at the local level and defeating Trump’s re-election bid. I’ve been cooking Mediterranean cuisine, vacationing in Florida, and before Covid, traveling overseas.

Charles Darwin said, “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life”. Much of my off the hook time has been about living (alone with myself and with family and friends), and exploring and writing and being creative. That takes time, motivation, effort and sacrifice.

I’ve grown to binge on series like Succession, The Imposters, Dirty John. While I doubt very much that I will be speaking about any of these shows while on my deathbed, I now find just relaxing with them worthwhile. I started watching Mad Men again since it first aired in 2007, and Seinfeld episodes I missed or never saw in the first place.

It feels really good to just waste time {“watching the ships roll in, then I watch ’em roll away again”) …. as the incomparable Otis Reading muses in his “Dock of the Bay”:

….”So I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay, Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh, I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay, wasting’ time …. Sittin’ here restin’ my bones …. Now I’m just gon’ sit, at the dock of the bay, Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh yeah ….I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay, Wastin’ time.

Seventy? Seventy!

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When younger and later in life as a married man with two young children, deep into my career and family, I thought that when a person turned seventy years of age they had matured to a point and would share their lessons of life with their loved ones. This didn’t happen. I assumed wrong. No one in my family did that.

My father lived until age 91, but started to decline in his late 80s, and during all those years of decline I waited and waited for him to sit me and my brother down to tell us all that he had learned in his nearly nine decades of living through good times and bad. I wanted to hear about the meaning of life, what was most important, how to be a good man …. but that was wishful thinking. On reflection this probably has more to do with my sense of lacking than of his.

Sitting around and hearing about his life in the way I imagined didn’t happen but that doesn’t mean to say I didn’t learn his view of the world and what mattered to him. He had imparted it to me by virtue of living with him. That’s the only way one really gets to know someone anyway; by living with them day after day, month after month, year after year. I learned that he looked forward and not back. He made his voice and point of view heard – often when it was not asked for. He believed strongly in perseverance, in not giving up. He strongly believed in living within one’s means. He said problems are good; if you didn’t have problems, you wouldn’t be alive. Save more, spend less. Don’t give in to immediate gratification; critically analyze the situation before acting. These were his truths; most of them are mine too.

Now I just turned seventy years of age and it made me think of what I might do if I turn eighty. And then I looked back and reflected on what I did when I turned sixty.

A decade ago, my wife and I flew out to Arizona to visit with friends Steve & Andrea whom I’ve known since I was twenty four years of age. Steve and I first met while living in a group home in Brookline, and while there discovered he was born barely a week before I was and we shared a lot in common. One thing in particular stands out about the two of us: we’ve both been told we’re immature. So we’ve kidded ourselves about it incessantly and point out incidents to each other that proves the point time and time again despite our advanced age. One time we decided that we were going to produce a new magazine called “Immature Man”. To further illustrate the point, I created for Steve a 60th birthday card mock up with a similar likeness to the TIME magazine’s “Man of the Year” cover; but in place of TIME at the top it said “Immature Man” and included a banner running on a diagonal with “Debut Issue” on it. It featured a full blown head shot of him 8 x 11. On the bottom right corner was his actual birthday date.

We know we’re not the only ones; so we are going to recruit other people who also qualify as immature, describe the attractions of being immature, and then invest in our publication, join our staff and make “Immature Man” a success. We’ve done our media research. There is no other magazine like it covering the joys and attractions of being immature.

So now I’m seventy. Though some might think most of the best years have passed, I don’t think so. I finally know now who I am and that I don’t need anyone to tell me how to live my life or what to do about it. I’m not a know-it- all; far from it. I can still listen and learn. But it’s my life to live as best as I can with an eye towards the rest of the world too. (I am fully vaccinated, wear a mask, keep my distance from others. I follow the science and live within the law).

I have an agenda that I would like to follow, but I don’t know how long I have on earth to pursue it. The length of my time on earth is hardly in my own hands of course, but some things are. I acknowledge that truth, accept it and try to live in the present while planning for a future. I know I am going to die and so hope to continue a path of self-improvement with respect to how I live and how I treat other people until I do.

The things I’m doing now I hope to continue going forward: continuing to do some good in the world. Taking care of myself while also doing something about the threats to our democracy and planet. I want to be mobile as much as possible, as long as possible. It’s when I’m physically active I feel best.

What will the future hold? The coming years of this decade will have a lot to do with that.

The planet is burning up, and the world hasn’t really accepted it or at least not enough to act with urgency. Fossil fuel companies are lining up to fight the truth that burning fossil fuels kills. Public health disasters loom as the climate changes.

We seniors (even immature seniors) and most seventy year olds alike will be gone before the apocalypse occurs in earnest. The Climate Clock is ticking and no one will escape it. I see value in using one’s time well, to live as best as possible – but within one’s means – for one’s own good and for those younger too. I believe we can do something about the climate crisis at the grassroots and local level, educate ourselves and others through our own behavior, voice and our vote. All is not lost; in fact, now’s the time to act.

In Awe of Authors

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Medical doctors, PhDs, and authors alike are people whom I’m in awe. Anyone who can consciously slave away for thousands of hours over multiple years to create a book of any type: memoir, history, fiction, dissertation or serious treatise is remarkable. Novelist Philip Roth considered it a very good day of writing if he produced one page that satisfied him. Writing books is not for sissies. 

Stephen King said: “Writing is a lonely job. It isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well”.

The five books briefly described here are written by friends and family whom I’m privileged to know. Two of them are “Halperns”, my brother Skip and my wife Arlyn. The others are good smart people I have gotten to know along the way. I was an early reader of three of the books, and I wanted to share them all with you.

The blog post is much longer than the usual length, but worth it. Each of the authors submitted their abbreviated descriptions of their books. They are listed in alphabetical order by author. They are all available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller (or will be soon starting with the first one below):

GOOD BOYS – GROWING UP AWAY FROM HOME! By Tom Brodnicki

We were lucky. Actually, in retrospect, without knowing it, we were blessed.

Born amidst the “Baby Boomer” generation, we grew up as 13 or 14 year old boys on a quest to follow our parents’ dream for us to become Roman Catholic priests. We attended St. Augustine Seminary located in Michigan away from home as high school seminarians during the turbulent 1960s. Although away from home, family and friends – together we learned, we grew, we experienced the events and turbulence of our nation and the world. We lived in a bubble of sorts as we shaped our values and discovered how we would choose to live our lives and our faith over the decades to follow. “GOOD BOYS” captures our story and answers the question often asked “Given the time, energy and money invested in seminaries like this, was it worth it?”

——–

DANCING INTO THE LIGHT: A Spiritual Journey of Healing By Arlyn Halpern

A heartwarming memoir that captures one woman’s transformative journey of self-discovery by making peace with a family at once extremely dysfunctional, yet oddly endearing: a troubled interaction with her depressed mother co-existed with the affection she held for her happy-go-lucky father.

A series of fateful events, from exotic dancing in a carnival to travel to Israel in the aftermath of the Six Day War, led her to falling in love with a Swedish man and moving to his native land. A meeting with a college professor, and their subsequent marriage, set Arlyn down the path of Buddhist practice. A pilgrimage to India where she received teachings from Tibetan Buddhist masters and where Arlyn undertook the rigorous study of Indian classical dance sustained her through heart-rendering challenges along the way.

Throughout this engaging and courageous tale, she never wavers from looking inward, facing her demons and developing greater wisdom and compassion. It is a redemptive tale of love and loss that will leave no reader unmoved.

——

WELLSPRINGS OF WORK: Surprising Sources of Meaning and Motivation in Work

by Samuel Halpern

Whether you’re just starting out, in mid-career or retired, WELLSPRINGS OF WORK: reveals often- unappreciated sources of meaning and motivation in work. Unlike the many books bemoaning how work brings you down, “WELLSPRINGS” explores a dozen sources of fulfillment to lift you up.

This book is for anyone considering the value of their own work as well as its limits and trap doors. These concerns are especially urgent today because of a range of societal forces – from Covid to the digital revolution to the gig economy.

For anyone involved in business, investing, consulting or law – occupations that strike many as soulless – “WELLSPRINGS” points the way to values and meaning beyond the buck. Samuel “Skip” Halpern found his own nearly 50-year career across those fields spiritually rewarding. His far-ranging experiences – with investor Warren Buffett, legendary fraud Bernie Madoff, the 2008 Financial Crisis and investment funds covering professional athletes, Inupiat Eskimos and hundreds of millions of Chinese workers – are springboards for exploring purpose and value across a wide range of work.

“WELLSPRINGS” provides insight into what clicks for a variety of workers …and maybe what clicks for you.

——-

EAVESDROPPING IN OBERAMMERGAU by Hilary Salk

A Jewish American child living in Germany three years after the Holocaust is the first-person story told by Alison Gold, an inveterate eavesdropper and daughter of a U.S. Army officer stationed in Oberammergau, Germany. She narrates her discoveries of Nazi hatred for the Jewish people in this village known for its holy Passion Play, perfumed every ten years since 1634.

Alison overhears the stories told to her mother and her visiting grandfather by the German piano teacher, who we learn is a Jew, through a convert to Catholicism. Based on a true story, this fictionalized character, renamed Stefan Hirsch, came to Oberammergau in 1934, where he lived until attacked on Kristallnacht by a group of Nazi youths, one of whom performed the part of Jesus in the 1950 pageant.

Hirsch was imprisoned in Dachau and eventually released. He lived out the war in England, after which he returned to Oberammergau.

The novel creates the reason for this return, which drives the plot of her novel.

——-

WORLD WAR BRANDS by Barry Silverstein

…. shows how the war itself was “branded”, how brand advertisers leveraged the war, and how the post-war economy helped birth the modern brand. Included are 38 vintage wartime ads and scores of stories about some of the best-known brands of the ’40s and ’50s. Many brands from this time have survived and thrived into the 21st Century.

This unique book takes a fresh look at the impact of World War II on America from a marketing perspective. Kirkus Reviews calls it “a convincing history about the role of World War II in developing brand consciousness among consumers in the United States.”
——

There you have it. Do you have a book “in you” too? If so, what’s it going to be about? I’d love to hear more. Thank you.

Reasons to be Cheerful

David Byrne of Talking Heads and Elon Musk of Tesla are known to be “on the Spectrum” as they each have Asperger’s syndrome.

The dictionary definition of Asperger’s syndrome is one who has a developmental disability that is related to autism. Asperger’s people are characterized by higher than average intellectual ability coupled with impaired social skills and restrictions, repetitive patterns of interests and activities.

I have followed Byrne’s activities for many years because he was born the same year as I and attended college in Providence, Rhode Island at the same time I did too. His music and video performance in “Stop Making Sense” on Netflix (shot over three nights at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre in 1983) is a celebration of his genius, and nobody can watch it without feeling good, happy and privileged. Stop Making Sense is considered by many critics to be one of the greatest concert films of all time. Rogers and Ebert say “the film’s peak moments come through Byrne’s simply physical presence. He jogs in place with his sidemen, he runs around the stage; he seems so happy to be alive and making music”.

One of his latest gambits is Arbutus Foundation a nonprofit that was created in 2018 and one of its initial projects is “a solutions journalism online magazine” (his words) entitled “Reasons to be Cheerful“. Arbutus is a meeting place for putting people together from various disciplines and perspectives so as to create new wonders. Just this week in The New York Times there was an article about his drawings which are meant to “connect” people with each other.

I found his compilation of reasons to be cheerful definitely reasons to be cheerful considering the bad news that’s all around us: the tens of thousands of people dying from Covid, the Republicans’ efforts to restrict voting rights and perpetuate The Big Lie, the imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, continued slaughter of innocent children at the hands of gun toting Americans, likely ban of abortions by the Supreme Court, to the continued climate emergency, etc. on and on it goes and where it stops, nobody knows).

So here is the good news to be shared by Reasons to be Cheerful:

  • To prevent the Sahara Desert from spreading southward, a 5,000 mile line of trees is being planted across the African continent.
  • A California law gives non-car commuters a cash payout that helped increase transit ridership by 50%.
  • The El Paso Community College (Texas) used its pandemic relief aid to forgive $3 million in student debt.
  • A solar-powered fridge that can last up to two weeks without electricity is being used to transport vaccines to over fifty countries.
  • The United States’ phasing out of HFCs in refrigerators could eliminate emissions equivalent to 4.7 billion metric tons of CO2 by 2050, about as much as a billion cars’ emissions in a year.
  • A stretch of beach worth $75 million and taken from Black people 97 years ago, is being return to the Black family descendants, in order to correct a historical incident of racial injustice.

And for good measure here is a podcast of some importance that counts as my good news of the day worth cheering about:

  • The Climate Minute podcast hosted by Ted McIntyre PhD (Massachusetts Climate Action Network) examines current news on global warming, climate change, renewable energy and the prospects for progress on international negotiations, carbon taxes and clean energy policy.

There’s all kinds of good things going on all across the country and the world if one is open to them. Looking for things to be grateful for and volunteering time with those unfortunate is another way to contribute to good news. There is progress being made and there are some reasons to be cheerful. Activism is alive in a number of causes and you too can be a part of it. Try it sometime and see if doing good yourself inspires you to do even greater things for others as well as one’s own self.

Music to our ears

“Fun” doesn’t follow me around all that often so when in Asheville, North Carolina the day after Christmas, the jazzy, up tempo beat of the Uptown Hillbillies was quite literally music to my ears. My wife and I paid the cover charge, showed proof of vaccinations and booster, and then waltzed into the pub where the air sizzled with the Western swing beat, a dance music that’s part country, part cowboy, part polka and part folk. It’s got a kick to it that lifts one’s spirits, leaving any tension or troubles behind.

Live music has been a casualty of Covid, but fortunately, we lucked out at the Cork & Keg. I was able to sit at a side table near the open front door, mask on, with two other gentlemen around my age, also masked up, nursing amber-colored glasses of beer. Nobody bothered me for anything just the way I like it. I was able to instantly settle into the rhythmic dance beats of Hank Williams, Bob Wills and Ray Price, while my wife danced up a storm, as she’s known to do whenever and wherever there’s any music within earshot. You can’t keep a good woman off the dance floor during the classic country music of the 50s and 60s with songs like ”Love me Honey Now as I’m Too Young to Die”.

On December 26th while some patrons drank beer, a few couples got up, took off their masks and waltzed with their partners. Some of the men wore cowboy boots as did their partners. Children too, were at the pub and were handed dollar bills to stuff into the tip jar out front near the fiddler Kevin Kehrberg. Western swing music is family friendly though it was a surprise to see little girls about five or six years of age there with their moms.

I, on the other hand was just happy to nod my head and tap my feet to the band’s ensemble of rhythm and pedal steel guitars, snappy fiddle, quiet brush drums and bass. The music mesmerized me and transported me back in time to a memorable scene from the Peter Bogdanovich 1971 critically-acclaimed coming of age movie ”The Last Picture Show”. Hank Williams music, tumbleweeds and dust blew across the sparse, empty Texan town square while Billy, a mute, mentally disabled, young adolescent boy sweeps a broom back and forth for no apparent reason. In my early twenties I watched ”The Last Picture Show” numerous times as it spoke to me with its loneliness and clumsiness about two high schoolers coming of age. (Cloris Leachman, who died a year ago, won an Academy Award for best supporting actress, while Cybil Shepherd broke into the big screen with her debut performance as Jacy, the blond attraction of every boy in town).

What is it about music that gets one feeling good? It’s certainly a universal language that resonates with anybody, whether one dances, plays the music, or simply watches the musicians play and/or sing. It’s good medicine for the soul, a welcome respite from the stress of the pandemic and the stress of being on a roadtrip.

Music is a social phenomenon that connects people to one another whether listened to live, on Sirius, played on vinyl or heard on the radio. Scientifically speaking, music releases endorphins providing feelings of comfort, relaxation, fun and pleasure.

I don’t know if the musicians were enjoying their time as much as the patrons but it appeared so. Russ Wilson playing drums and vocals took the lead most of the time until a special performer, Rebecca O’Quinn, a female singer, around 30 joined in. She carried a tune that worked perfectly into the masculine-driven sounds of the original band in what appeared to be an impromptu occurrence. (Rebecca has her own band Rebecca and the Renderings, also known as Fancy and the Gentlemen).

If I ever find myself back in Asheville, and the Uptown Hillbillies are performing with Rebecca, or even without her, I’d certainly go out of my way to catch their show. It was a fun time in a fun town at a festive time of the year.

Sit back and binge

I could be a member of Binging Anonymous, a new 12 step program, and while going public removes the anonymity from this fellowship, its just a handful of us in the blog community who will know.

Binging Anonymous or BA for short could also be known as lip-smacking snacking anonymous (L-SSA), though L-SSA admittedly falls flat. BA has a better ring to it. It fits well with its cousins AA and NA. The Steps ring true:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over salty snacks – that our life had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of …..

By being a program, BA is an acknowledgement that I can not easily manage snacking in a short period of time, most often when watching video or TV. It often becomes a self-indulgence in munching as in “he went on a binge”, or ”he binged the last six episodes of that Netflix series and went to sleep really late”. Guilt and shame can play a part in it.

Many people especially during the pandemic have binged. Some profess to it as an achievement. Of course no therapist would suggest binging or snacking to excess as a means to good mental health especially right now with so many patients feeling anxious, lonely, stressed out and/or depressed during the pandemic.

For me, watching TV or video is the trigger that sets me off to binging. I do it even though I regret it afterwards. I often get a migraine headache from all the salt, or feel terrible the next day for the self-indulgence experienced. I look at my bod in the mirror the next day and think ”this is not the me I want to be”. I have to learn a more healthy way of being. Or watch less TV.

HBO, Netflix, Hulu and the New England Patriots is the problem I say to myself. I break down and stop my conscientious attention to healthy eating while watching. It’s not easy to stay ”snackingly sober”. And food marketers and food chemists don’t make it easy for the viewing public or sports spectator either to stay true to one’s lifestyle goals.

Marketers know how to combine sweet and salty into a mouth-watering snack that’s hard to put down. Sometimes marketers and food chemists dream up snacks that are the best of two worlds: sweet and delicious but low in calories, sugar or fat.

Consider the FAT SNAX cookie package: it boasts 2 chocolate chip cookies with ”no sugar”, part of a Keto diet. And it’s “gluten free”. A picture of the chocolate chip cookie is packaged in an attractive blue metallic foil package that’s small enough to fit in your pocket or purse. It promises a chocolate high without the guilt. It’s the perfect cookie for today’s consumer. It may not be a big brand name snack anytime soon, but you found it in a health food store or Whole Foods and you’re going to enjoy it. You’re in the know. You could even be a brand influencer and convey a new status attained just by eating and sharing it on social media.

On the back of the package it gives me permission to indulge it on my own time:

SNACK AWAY!
You can eat fat and be fit. We left the sugar behind and cut down the carbs, without sacrificing taste. We create unapologetically fat-filled snacks, so you can have your cookie and eat it too!

Since they’re so satisfying with no fat and no sugar, I could easily eat four, or six, or even 20 of them. Why not – they’re fat- free!

We hear it all the time: Live a little. Take it easy. You worked hard, take a break, sit back and relax. Be good to yourself, for a change. You only live once.

But I don’t really believe munching is what these messages were getting at.

So you sit back and binge to make the show even more special. You add another sensation into the mix. Whether its football with three announcers, replays and vivid color on a 54” wide screen or a new ”must watch” Netflix series, simply watching the show is just not enough.

Munching is also a way to try to control or manipulate an experience, making it more than what it is. It’s a way to make a show a media event, and munching forces the show to be even more special, more memorable, a better story for sharing on social media tomorrow (or while watching the show). But life doesn’t have to be spectacular all the time, does it? It is satisfactory just as is. Isn’t it?

Why do people drink? To help lose their inhibitions. To gain confidence, to laugh and make friends, to get on the dance floor, to make mistakes.

On further reflection, snacking is a little different. I eat snacks to enjoy two things that naturally go together: watching and munching. But I’m not inflicting pain on others or poisoning my liver.

Snacking or binging is not really enough to qualify as a new 12 step program. I don’t think BA has a future.

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