Looking Back Before Looking Forward

The turn of a new year is inevitably a time for looking forward:  for resolutions about how we’re going to change our bad habits, our diets, our savings patterns, and our exercise regimens, how we’re going to move the needle in a positive direction in our personal and professional relationships, and how we’re going to otherwise become the better people we hope we can be.

mus-fapc1114_850But before we start looking forward, I think it makes sense to look backward at the bearded, white-haired, old man year that is limping out the side door with that scythe and hourglass.  How did the past year go?  What did we accomplish?  Sure, a year is a somewhat arbitrary time period to use for assessment purposes, but thanks to the fact that it’s what marks another lap of the Earth around the Sun it’s what we’ve got to work with.

How do you evaluate an entire year?  I think there are certain baseline criteria, like health.  If you and your loved ones have made it through the year unscathed and without any significant health concerns, current or impending, you’ve got to chalk it up as a pretty darned good year.  By that means of measurement, 2019 was a good year for us and our immediate and extended families, and we’d take another one just like it.

You can also look at what you’ve done.  For 2019, I made some modest resolutions that I thought were reasonably achievable with a little effort, and I’m happy to say that I’ve accomplished every one.  In fact, I’m reading a pretty interesting and challenging book right now.  Perhaps my approach simply shows the value of going small, but it’s nice to know that I’ve met my resolutions for once.  Positive things also have happened on the work and home fronts.  We bought a new car that we like, and we enjoyed spending some time this past summer at our cottage in Stonington, where we’ve made some new friends and made progress at getting it to where we want it.  We’ve enjoyed some travel, and are ending up the year in a pretty place where it’s warm.  These may seem like little things, but in my experience the little things are the things that you can really control, and the little things add up.

Finally, you can compare the year to past and future years.  The past years tend to blend together, unless they are years marked by a life-changing event, like marriage or the birth of children, so it’s hard for me to do that.  As for 2020, it’s a presidential election year in a country where many of the people seem bitterly divided.  Who knows?  At the end of next year, we may well look back fondly on 2019 as a year of comparative peace and harmony.

Sure, I still weigh more than I would like, and my knees creak when I stand up after sitting for a while — there may be a connection there — and when I look at what’s going on in the big world outside our little world I wonder where we’re heading.   But that’s life for you.  All things considered, I think 2019 has been a pretty good year.

Creepy Clowny

You’re trying to decide what to put at the foot of your Florida driveway to greet visitors pulling in. Do you go with a manatee sculpture, or perhaps a colorful stingray or school of fish or a shell mosaic?

Nah! You go instead with a creepy clown head attached to the concrete body of a religious figure. That way, you’ll create an unforgettably disturbing image that will forever burn itself into the immortal soul of every visitor.

It’s not what you would call welcoming. Of course, that may be the point.

Cleaning Out The Kitchens

The Cleveland Browns fired head coach Freddie Kitchens yesterday, after the Browns dropped a game to the woeful Cincinnati Bengals and finished the year with a 6-10 record.  It was another dismal showing for the Browns and capped off a farcical year — a year which began, amazingly, with at least one pundit picking the Browns to go to the Super Bowl.  Instead, they chalked up another losing season.

freddie-kitchens-browns-head-coachKitchens had to go, really.  He was picked to be head coach because he was supposed to be some kind of offensive mastermind who would be able to fit together all of the offensive talent on the roster into a point-scoring powerhouse — but the Browns ended up decidedly mediocre on the offensive side of the ball, finishing 22nd in the NFL in points and yards per game.  The red zone offense was terrible, the team’s performance was wracked with crucial penalties and turnovers, and Kitchens’ game management decisions were consistently wrong-headed, causing the Browns to give away games they could easily have won.  Add in a total lack of discipline on the team — highlighted by an embarrassing brawl against the Pittsburgh Steelers that cost the team its best defensive lineman — and you’ve got a simple story of a rumpled guy who was overwhelmed by a job that clearly was far beyond his capabilities.

The best argument for keeping Kitchens is that the Browns coaching carousel has to stop if the team is ever going to succeed, so . . . why not keep Kitchens and see if he can learn on the job?  It’s not much of an argument for a coach, but it has a kernel of reality to it.  Since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999 — only 20 years ago — they’ve had 11 head coaches, including Kitchens.  There is no hope for long-term success if a team needs to constantly deal with new coaches and coaching staffs, learn new offensive and defensive schemes, and adjust to new playbooks and play-calling.  From a continuity standpoint, the Browns are like a pee-wee football team compared to perennial contenders like the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So, now the Browns look for another new savior to come in and turn a disastrous franchise around.  Already people are speculating about the recently fired NFL head coaches, hot NFL assistant coaches, and college head coaches who might be candidates — including former Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer.  Since 1999, the Browns have tried hiring head coaches from each of those categories, and they’ve all been canned after short periods.  Maybe this time the Browns will make the right decision and find a coach who can meld the team into a disciplined unit that plays smart, tough football and can figure out how to win big games.  I’m confident Urban Meyer, who has a clear coaching philosophy and proven track record in many different programs, could do that — but would he want to coach for a franchise that has been so dysfunctional?

Given the Browns’ track record, good things probably aren’t going to happen — but if you’re a Browns fan, hope springs eternal.  In fact, hope is just about all the Browns Backers have.

Warning Labels

Do warning labels really work?

Consider this pack of Gauloises that I saw on a bench at a nearby dock. It notes that smoking not only kills — quit now! — but also increases the risk of blindness. And to make the point visually, the pack features a large blind eye.

But did the warnings stop the smoker from buying the pack of Gauloises, or cause him to quit the habit that could blind and kill him? Nope! So what did the warnings accomplish, really?

The Shell Seekers

I like shells. I have a bowl of shells on a table in my office, and whenever I take a beach vacation, I try to bring home a shell or three from my trip to add to the collection. Looking at the bowl reminds me of happy hours walking on beaches.

The beach on Sanibel Island facing the Gulf of Mexico is a haven for shell seekers. You see dozens as you walk past. They’re always moving slowly, staring intently at the sand, bending and stooping to get a closer look at the shells deposited by the surf, always searching for that one, perfect shell that other shell seekers may not have noticed.

For the shell seekers, the pickings are good on this beach. As the photo below reflects, the volume of shells is extraordinary; in some places it’s like somebody dumped a truckload of shells, and you’d need a shovel to sift through them all. But the shell seekers don’t mind volume. In fact, they welcome it. They’re on a kind of mission, and they’ve got nothing but time.

The Context Of A Season

Tonight the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Clemson Tigers in the first round of the College Football Playoffs. As a lifelong Buckeyes fan, I’ll of course watch the game, and I’ll be doing my part to move the karma dial in favor of the Men of the Scarlet and Gray by wearing the lucky hat I wore when I witnessed Ohio State beat Oregon for the National Championship and carrying two lucky buckeyes I picked up at our place in Maine.

Of course, a game like this is about players and coaches, not fans. Ohio State has released an epic hype video for the game that is so good even people who hate Ohio State are raving about it. The video is an adrenaline-pumper that does a great job of capturing the game in the context of a season — a season that, for the players and coaches, covers off-season conditioning, spring practice, fall camp, and three months of games leading up to this one. It’s been a fabulous season, and you know in your heart that the players and coaches will make every effort to see that season extended to include one more game.

No doubt Clemson players and coaches feel the same way. They’ve won a ridiculous 28 games in a row and are the defending national champions. That’s why the game tonight promises to be a classic.

In the context of a season, it’s a game, but it’s also another step in a long journey marked by hard work, effort, practice, and teammates helping teammates. May the Ohio State journey continue!