Monday, July 28, 2014

Concussion-Like Symptons

by Bert Carson
Concussion-like symptoms is a rather silly sounding sport's term that means - "the player took a lick in the head and now he or she is acting like they took a lick in the head."

Before "like" can be removed from the term a few things must happen.

1. Someone must call time out.
2. Someone must ask the player how many fingers they are holding up in his/her face.
3. The player must be taken to the hospital where he can be examined by a doctor who has been trained to hold up more than two fingers when asking "how many fingers am I holding up.
4. The doctor must make the official call - concussion or no concussion.

Here's a preliminary report on an incident that resulted in a verdict of concussion-like symptoms:

ST. PETERSBURG -- Pirates left fielder Starling Marte left the Bucs' 6-5 win over the Rays on Tuesday with concussion-like symptoms after he slid headfirst into Tampa Bay second baseman Sean Rodriguez's knee.
"He had concussion-like symptoms, so we sent him to the hospital to get a CT scan. We haven't had any report back," manager Clint Hurdle said after the game.
Now, here's something to ponder.  Can a player have concussion-like symptoms if no one calls time out, waves two fingers in his face, confronts him with a medical degree, or officially rules on his condition?
I say, "Nope."  Unless those four things happen, there is no concussion.  I should know.  That's my black eye in the picture.  I got that at 10 PM last Thursday while closing in on the five mile mark of a scheduled 7.3 mile run.  I wasn't sliding into first base.  I wasn't paying close enough attention when I came to end of a stretch of road that was under construction and I didn't notice the five inch drop from the surface of the street I intended to turn on.  
For a almost frozen moment in time, I realized I was about to do a header and there was nothing I could do about it except watch.  I took the force of the fall first on both knees, then on the palms of both hand, and finally on my forehead, which ricocheted off the pavement at least twice before it stopped moving.
There was no one around to call time out, or to penalize me for the tacky thing I screamed at myself.  Though I was only a block from Huntsville Hospital, there was no one to pick me up and put me on a John Deere powered stretcher, no crowd to applaud my survival, and no one for the coach to send in to take my place.  So, even though it wasn't a lot of fun, I had to get up, turn north, and start running again.  So I did.
A half block later, with thoughts of paying more attention running through my sore head, another thought ran through my slightly battered and a little bit bloodied head - I can't be hurt, no one called time out.  I looked at my official Garmin heart monitor-GPS-runners watch and realized that though I'd lost some time, if I pushed, I could get back on my 14:47 pace and not suffer in the indignity of a run at 15+ minutes per mile.  So I did.
Remember, if no one calls time out and you can get up and run, you are alright.  Go for it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Perfection

by Bert Carson
Wabi-Sabi, a Zen term, is derived from the combining of two Japanese words.  Wabi, which means living alone in nature, and  Sabi, which means lean and simple.  When the two are combined, there is no universally accepted definition, though the term is often used.  In fact, most who know simply say it is unexplainable.

The problem in defining Wabi-Sabi is the term is used to describe perfection without offering a definition of perfection. Here's an example from Daniel Levin's book, The Zen Book:

"In Zen, the saying Wabi-Sabi means 'the perfectly imperfect.'  Since nothing in this world is perfect, the practice of Wabi-Sabi is seeing that which is perfect in all of life's imperfections."

Levin's definition is as good as any or as bad as all the other definitions I've read, simply because it is based on the notion that perfection is a universal standard, and IT ISN'T.

Perfection is, in fact, a meaningless, individual way of expressing "this or that is as good as it gets."  As good as it gets for me simply isn't as good as it gets for you.  In fact, chances are, my "as good as it gets" is your "awful."

Perfection is an ideal that when applied to any individual thing is anything but perfect.

In my all-time favorite movie, The Last Samurai, Ken Wantanabe, portraying the Samurai Katsumoto Moritsugu, told Captain Algren:

"The perfect blossom is a rare thing.  You could spend your life looking for one and it would not be a life wasted."

At the end of the last battle, a dying Katsumoto, gazed across the battlefield toward a cherry tree which was in full bloom, its blossoms blowing across the destruction of the battle, and said to Captain Algren, "They are all perfect."

That is Wabi-Sabi - Knowing the perfection in all things.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Running Commitment Update

by Bert Carson
On May 12th I made a commitment, renewal might be a better word, to my running.  Basically the commitment was, from that day until the end of the year I wouldn't miss a single running day.

That means, I committed to myself to run every scheduled running day for the rest of the year - NO EXCEPTIONS.  You should know two things about that commitment.  First, I run three days, take one day off, then repeat.  That's the ideal.  However, from Jan 1st thru May 11th, I had only run 34 times.  In nineteen weeks, I should have run 114 times.  I was 80 miles short of the ideal.  Running had become an endangered activity for me.  That's why I made what seemed to me a radical commitment.

I made every run for the next week.  The numbers were: Total miles run 22.8 at an average pace of 15 minutes and 50 seconds per mile.  None of the miles were easy, nor was there much fun involved.

Today, I will make my 87th run of the year.  I haven't missed a single day and unless I die between now and December 31st, I won't.  This week I ran 32 miles (which includes a thunderstorm shortened run) at an average pace of 14:45 per mile.  I've increased my weekly mileage by roughly 30% while lowering the pace over a minute per mile.  But I've done something much more important than that.  I've shifted my running attitude - missing a scheduled run is no longer an option.

When I made the commitment, I was prepared to gut it out on shear will power just because I said I would.  I didn't expect it to be fun.  I didn't expect to run further and faster than I have in more than ten years.  I didn't expect to lose weight and get in better shape than I have been in more than fifteen years.  However, simply by keeping my commitment to myself, all of those things have happened.

Now that's a deal without a downside, and it is one I've just applied to writing.  Watch for an update on that one.

Happy commitment to you.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What's The Hurry?

by Bert Carson
No one asked to be born, at least no one I've ever met remembers asking. After being rudely snatched from the warm, cozy spot that had sheltered us for nine months, we begin learning our way around this place; a process that never seems to end or even plateau.

Depending on our arrival point and the group who invited us to play there, for the dozen or so years after our birth, we are indoctrinated in the language, customs, beliefs, politics and religions of that family group.  For me that initial training was genteel southern with a touch of polite racism, all wrapped up with a democratic political banner, while a deep male voice read from The Bible:  "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...."

Somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5, the polite racism thing stuck in my throat and quickly caused a rift between me and the group who called me to this place.  They were fighters though, and they did their dead level best to convert me to "the right way of thinking."  After a couple of years, they realized it wasn't going to happen; and they dropped the segregation module of instruction from my training.  From that point, they went out of their way to see that racism, known as segregation, was never discussed in my presence.

With that hideous topic off the training menu, I became more trainable, accepting large doses of stupidity without question.  And then I went to Vietnam to "do my part like all the men in my family group had done."  There I met a large group of Vietnamese men and women, who were "doing their part like their ancestors had done."

That experience opened me to see, and then seek out, other ways beyond the way I'd been taught.  That moved me beyond creeds, cultures, politics, right and wrong, to a place of knowing "there is only one of us here."

From that perspective it was easy to see that we've become slaves to two things.  First, unless we consciously break out, we are locked to the beliefs we were indoctrinated with from the beginning of this time we call "our life."  Second, and far more subtle, the vast majority of us are caught in a belief that was never directly taught to us by anyone.  However, we believe it as profoundly as we believe anything else.  That is, we believe our life is a timed contest.

Few of us truly believe we'll die.  We believe at some point a voice from on high will boom down, "That's it.  Put down your pencil and pass your test pages to the right."

After "In the beginning," there are roughly 2,000 pages in The Bible.  On none of them are the words, "this is a timed event.  Begin now."  And those words aren't in the Koran, the Talmud, the Teachings of Buddha, or the Tao Te Ching.

In fact, the opening words of the Tao Te Ching, give a much clearer idea of what this is about -

"The Tao (the way the universe works) that can be told is not the eternal Tao..."

That means all of our inherited instruction has nothing to do with the way things really are.  It means that life isn't a timed contest. It means life is something much, much bigger.  It means we've been fooling ourselves looking at the clock and waiting for it to run out.  It means that our job is to raise our vision to the the source of all that is and do what we came here knowing was ours to do, and doing it in the way we know how to do it.

I believe we get beyond stop-watch and ingrained beliefs, one step at a time.  Our only task is to keep walking...


Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Thirteenth Step

by Bert Carson
I'm Bert.
I'm an addict."

If this were an AA meeting and I was addressing the group, that's the first thing I would say.

This isn't an AA meeting, or any other conventional twelve-step meeting, but the introduction still applies because this is me talking to you about my addiction.  I'm doing that because I'm an addict, and I suspect you're reading this because you want to know what I have to say about it.

The first thing you should know is, I'm not addicted to alcohol.  I don't like the taste of alcohol in any form, so I'm a teetotaler.  I'm not addicted to drugs or any other controlled substance for the same reason I'm not an alcoholic.  After a couple of days on morphine, following a serious auto accident, I determined pain was better than loss of mental focus.

However, my addiction is just as self-destructive.  I'm addicted to rage and have been for going on fifty years.  I've attended many open 12 step meetings, and I've heard the horror stories that go with substance abuse. I can tell equally horrific stories of my addiction.

Many years ago, I had the good fortune to attend a number of open AA meetings sponsored and conducted by Vietnam Veterans.  As I listened to the stories and met the men and women who were regulars at the meetings, I realized that the 12 Steps might help me with my addiction.  So I began working them.  And they did help.  (If you aren't familiar with the 12 Steps - here's a link to them).

In spite of my work with the 12 steps, there have been numerous times when I've fallen off the wagon.  When that happens, I'm as out of control as any drunk, or drug addict, you've ever seen or heard of.

To be more specific, I've never directed my rage at a loved one and the episodes are fairly short-lived.  The reason they are short lived is because I've always, and I mean ALWAYS, so intimidated the person, or persons that the rage was directed toward that they immediately fled the scene.

That was the case until last Saturday night.  That's when I met an angel who shared the 13th Step with me.  Check your calendar and you'll remember that last Saturday was July 5th, the day after a major holiday and the middle day of a long weekend.  The clubs in downtown Huntsville were packed and noisy.  Traffic was thick as people were drawn to the area like moths to candles.  And there I was, a rage addict, running through the middle of the raucous celebration.

Someone behind me blew their horn, and I fell off the rage wagon, just like an alcoholic, only quicker.  Before the sound faded a car pulled up beside me.  The window was halfway down so I shouted, "What the **** do you mean blowing your horn at me."

The angel driving the vehicle turned toward me and smiled the sweetest smile this side of heaven and in a voice that was both courageous and kind, softly said, "That wasn't me.  It was someone behind me, and I don't think they were blowing at you."

He was wasting his breath, because I was caught in the rage storm I'd allowed to sweep over me.  I moved closer to his car, leaned down and put my face almost in the window and screamed some things I'm glad I don't remember.  Then, wonder of wonders, he smiled again.  That stopped the rage.  For the first time in all the years I've been an addict, I did not intimidate the person I directed my rage toward.  And for the first time, the episode ended without running its course.

Then he gave me the way to conquer my addiction once and forever.  He gave me the insight I needed to write a thirteenth step, when with so much love I could feel it, he said, "You need to calm yourself."

The traffic began to move, and he drove slowly away as I stood in the street, speechless.  A few seconds later I jumped back into my run while watching him turn left at the next intersection and slide into a parking space that seemed to have appeared from nowhere.  As I ran through the intersection he got out of his car and saluted me.  With a smile on my face, I returned the salute and headed out of town, running easier than I've run in years.  As the miles slipped away, I mentally drafted the 13th Step - it goes like this:

13.  I know that I have the power to chose my state of mind, and I always choose calmness and serenity no matter what events or actions are taking place.  I understand that to work the thirteenth step requires constant vigilance, and I willingly accept that responsibility.

Hi, I'm Bert, a recovering addict.



Saturday, July 5, 2014

Elementary - A Review

by Bert Carson
Between 1939 and 1946, 13 Sherlock Holmes films were created starring Basil Rathbone as Arthur Conan Doyle's one-of-a-kind, consulting detective.

From 1984 through 1994 Jeremy Brett portrayed Sherlock in 41 television episodes.

After 1994 a number of actors took a run at being Sherlock.  None managed to capture the hearts of Sherlock fans.  Then, in 2010, along came Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, Holmes and Watson respectively, with Sherlock, an updated version of the timeless duo.  They were an instant hit with British audiences, the world's most expert judges of Sherlock Holmes presentations.  Through 2014 they have appeared in nine episodes.

Personally, I loved the first six and hated the next two so much much I couldn't watch the 9th.  Nothing went wrong with Cumberbatch and Freeman.  In my opinion, their writers failed them.

A few weeks ago, quite by accident, while looking through Amazon Prime Movies and TV, searching for something new to watch, Elementary, a Sherlock series staring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu caught my eye.  In spite of our disappointment with Sherlock (the series), we remain Sherlock fans, so we decided to give the pilot a look.

That was the beginning of a love affair.  Here's a clip from that first episode.  It will better explain our addiction in one minute and forty-seven seconds than I could in ten thousand words:

Elementary is a CBS series that is shooting its third season at this moment.  We own the first two, forty-eight episodes, and we are currently watching them for the second time.  I suspect we'll watch them all again, at least one more time before the new season begins.

What do we think of the show?  Well, that's elementary, isn't it?

Here's what Jonny Lee Miller said about the series:  "For me, there are two different things that make Sherlock, Sherlock.  One is, you know, within the books: obviously he's a genius with an attention to detail, his ravenous hunger for all aspects of knowledge that might feed his work... But the major thing that makes him Sherlock is his relationship with Watson - their friendship.  For me, that, I guess is the biggest side, the more interesting side than the genius."

Jonny Lee Miller is one of the best, if not the best actor its been my pleasure to watch.  The writing hasn't missed a beat since episode one.  If Sherlock (the series) is an indicator, the third season could break the spell, but frankly, I don't believe that will happen.

Friday, July 4, 2014

To Francis Scott Key

by Bert Carson
Dear Francis,
In our universe of infinite possibilities, I know you are still out there somewhere.  That being the case, I want you to understand that from my current vantage point in time, which is July 4, 2014, I'm thinking of you as I do every July 4th.
I don't think of you on this day because I admire you.  I don't.  Even if you were "nice" to your slaves, you were pro-slavery in the lifetime about which I'm writing.  However, your opinion regarding that subject, as repugnant as it is, isn't the point of this correspondence.

From the safety of a British ship, you watched and heard the British bombardment of American forces at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore.  Sometime later you wrote a poem about the experience.  Later still, the poem was set to music, and 102 years after you wrote it, it became the national anthem of The United States of America.

Today, the legal department of any newspaper or book publisher would reject your poem for two reasons.  First, you stated that you watched the perilous fight "o'er the ramparts."  That just isn't true.  You were being detained on board a British ship, hardly in the thick of things as you implied, and second, you described the action as a "perilous fight," when, in fact it was the one-sided attack of a superior force against a defenseless position, and a tribute to the poor marksmanship of British.

Still, that isn't the point of this letter.  It's the bit about the rocket's red glare and the bombs bursting in air that bothers me.  If you had ever participated in an armed conflict, you'd understand why.  You would know about flashbacks and PTSD.  And if you followed the history of the fireworks industry you would also know that single line, which we both know was a gross exaggeration, is the primary reason millions of pounds of explosives will be detonated this day, to the delight of hordes of people and the dismay of millions more who have participated in armed conflicts in the name of freedom.

In the future, should you ever find yourself in a similar situation and elect to write a poem about it, for the sake of veterans and war survivors everywhere, please omit all references to bombs and rockets.

Most sincerely,

Bert Carson

the man formerly known as Staff Sergeant Carson of the 214th Combat Aviation Battalion - Republic of South Vietnam - in the years 1967 and 1968.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Yogi Berra On Thinking

by Bert Carson
Yogi Berra is one of the best known baseball players of all time.  For most of his nineteen year career, he was the super star catcher for the New York Yankees.

Casey Stengel, his long-time manager, said of Yogi, "I never play a game without my man."

His records and awards are both astounding and far too numerous to mention or attempt to recap here.  However, if you are curious, check Wikipedia for his records along with his history.

Besides playing, Yogi was also a coach and a manager.  However, as time passes, it's his career as a writer and commentator that most people remember.

Quotes like these have assured Yogi a place in history that I'm convinced will surpass his membership in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"It ain't over until its over," which he said while managing the Mets and leading them to a division title on the last day of the season after trailing by 9 and a half games halfway through the season. And then there's this:

"It's deja vu all over again," which he said after watching team mates Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris repeatedly hit back-to-back home runs.

And there are the classics, "You can learn a lot by watching" and "When you come to a fork in the road take it."

A lesser known Yogi quote that recently caught my attention is:  "You can't think and hit at the same time."

Like most Yogi quotes, when you get past the humor of them you find a simple and profound truth.

I've come to know, not always the easy way, that human beings cannot "multi-task."  We do have the ability of quickly, though not effectively, shifting our attention from one thing to another, which some people have mistakenly identified as "multi-tasking."  However, unless you're just into doing sloppy work or have a death wish regarding texting and driving, attention shifting is not the answer to getting the most out of every moment.

Doing one thing at a time and doing it the very best you know how to do it is the only sure way to success an longevity.

Thanks Yogi.