Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

Status Update

It has been nearly a month since I stopped taking levothyroxine. There’s no question now that, among other symptoms, my energy is lower. I take longer to get going in the morning and I lose my breath more quickly during the day when, say, climbing stairs or running with my dog. I have not posted to this blog in some days at least partly for this reason. I get tired.

This lessened energy stands to reason. While on the medication my thyroid would not have fully engaged. It would not have needed to. My body would have instead depended on — would have become dependent upon — the artificial hormone.

The thyroid, a butterfly shaped gland found at the front of the neck under the voice box, plays a significant role in the body’s metabolism. It helps to regulate many bodily functions by releasing thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. When the body needs more energy to, say, grow or move or warm itself or, in the case of a pregnant woman, feed a fetus, the thyroid gland responds to produce the hormones needed for that function. While the average person thinks not at all about their thyroid, it is an important little organ. You certainly notice it when it’s not doing its job.

I think now of how reflexively I was put on the medication, all those years ago. And how long I took that medication without seriously questioning the diagnosis. I think of how many times I was told by one medical professional or another that I would need to take levothyroxine for the rest of my life. (Those medical professionals may ultimately be correct; after fifteen years I may be so dependent upon the artificial hormone that I need to go back on it.) It strikes now what they didn’t say then — that, hey, maybe you should have a consult with an endocrinologist. It is important for people who are not experts in something to admit that this is so. Especially when the matter at hand is a person’s health.

That in my case they did not do more than would today be reasonable to expect makes me angry — but, I must admit, only a little. More so, I am grateful for this challenge. I am grateful even for the energy drop. I feel strongly in the body’s ability to heal itself and I am more prepared than I ever could have been before to surf a low tide.

The body is so wise. We all know that to slow down can sometimes be a gift. So I shall rest my thyroid and continue to feed my body with the fuel it needs to rev this little engine. It might take awhile just to know what is possible, longer still to know if i can, in this way, heal. It will, in other words, take more than a month — like anything else that is deeply satisfying.

Wishful Thinking

May all four legged creatures everywhere experience at least a moment of peace.

Sigh

Is there a more comfortable creature to be found on the planet than a dog in a bed of blankets?

Innies

Why do people say they “tweeted out” whatever it is they posted to their Twitter feed?

Tweeted out: can you tweet in?

Up?

Down?

Sideways?

Diagonal?

I mailed the letter.

I emailed the document.

I shipped the package.

The word “out” is unnecessary. It is redundant. To tweet is to do the “out.” There is, in fact, no tweet without the “out.” #justtweetnoout

Now if you will excuse me I mist go and annoy people elsewhere.

Essential Zzzzs

The body can withstand the high heat of the Sahara and the bone chill of Alaska; can recover from ultra marathons, a boxing match, too much exercise, too little exercise, and physical abuse; can manage the effects of high stress, of no stress, and a long lack of light from the sun. Yet don’t underestimate the universal need for a good night of sleep.

Beard Season

I love the NHL playoffs. This year’s tournament, however, has not, thus far, mid-way through the second round, been schedule-altering, must-see fun.

Why?

My theories:

1. It’s no longer an upset when everyone is doing it. People like the unexpected — I get that. Yet all four division winners were knocked out in the first round, including Tampa Bay, which had one of, if not the, best regular seasons in NHL history. Not only were the Lightning beaten, they were swept.

By contrast, the NBA playoffs, which I do not often watch, are, at present, a prelude to a Finals that features the Golden State Warriors and whichever team they are going to beat for the title this year. In the NBA, there exist dead zones where teams never win and may never win. Note: As I am from Minnesota, I may be jaded in this view.

It is good for a sport when there are great teams, when we see heavy weights go toe-to-toe. This isn’t happening in hockey. If anyone can win at any time — and does — you have to wonder whether the regular season much matters. Certainly, it is devalued. Too much parity is parody.

2. The style of play is drastically different. The NHL regular season of recent vintage is a show of skill unlike any in the sport’s recent history. Fights and flagrant penalties are down significantly in recent years versus historical levels and the sport features many young, jaw-dropping stars. The playoffs are something else, in which tight-checking and a bounce here or there decide games and series. The scores more resemble that of soccer. Which brings us to …

3. Officiating. Fans in every sport it seems have their pitchforks out. They cannot tolerate missed calls and human error. Replay and computerized officiating, in my view, suck the life out of sports. In hockey the problem is less missed one-offs and more a change in referees’s job description. Slashing, cross-checking, elbowing, and other illegal impediments to skillful play are seldom called in the playoffs. And it gets worse the longer a game goes on. By overtime — and there are a lot of overtime games, given the above; the playoffs just had a streak of a full week of at least one OT game each day — refs all but swallow their whistles.

This shift in how the game is arbitrated is wholly accepted. Game announcers don’t even analyze obvious non-call penalties in overtime. It is just taken that a game “should not be decided by the referee” and, well, it is “the same for both teams.” This logic is flawed. First, because so-called non-calls are calls. The refs are influencing outcomes; they are integral parts of the game remaining a game and not a sandlot scrum. Second, because it’s not the same for both teams. If your team is trying to mount a furious comeback you are at a disadvantage if the team protecting the lead can slash you, cross-check you, in some cases outright tackle you with no fear of fallout.

I have been for some years now trying to formulate a theory of sports pertaining to the notion of authenticity — of what makes a league or game less or more pure, of what makes watching it more or less palpably pleasurable. It is language of a feeling I am seeking — a clear sense that we are witnessing the best. (Or, in the case of an upset, witnessing one that is meaningful.) The word integrity is in there somewhere. Like me, this theory, too, is a work-in-progress.

Whatever comes of that, what is certain is that the NHL needs to decide one way or the other: skill game or free-for-all? I know which I would choose. For there is a ceiling on the authenticity that can be felt watching a game in which the role of the referee is something of a prop — akin to that of the ref’s job in professional wrestling.

Back to the Back

Sorry to keep you hanging. An update on my back: After a couple of crabby days off, I was able to loosen it up enough to return to my lifting program yesterday. (Strangely, my shoulder lifts caused more concern and required a greater drop-down in weight than those of the back.) This is good for me and anyone who happens to be near me. The next day I am stiff and sore and whiny but entirely less so. I do believe I am going to beat this thing, damn it. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

Eleven Things I Have Learned About Lifting

1. Lifting weights is a skill. Like any skill, it must be practiced.

2. Lifting weights is one of the best things you can do for your body. Even if you are old. And certainly if you are a woman. In the next ten or 20 years I think we will see a shift in the prevailing view. Lifting weights will come to be known as having greater health benefits than running. And (if performed properly) with fewer injuries. Certainly over a lifetime.

3. If you are trying to lose weight lifting is going to help you more than will cardio. Certainly more than high-intensity cardio.

4. For overall health and fitness most people — here I am not talking about serious bodybuilders or powerlifters — will benefit more from full-body lifting sessions 2-3 days per week rather than lifting 1-2 body part “splits,” as they are often referred to, 4-6 days per week.

5. This is less something I learned and more something I realized: I am grateful I live in a world where more women than ever accept and embrace the fact that they can can be — that it is cool for them to be — physically strong.

6. When it comes to physical fitness, variance is crucial. The body adapts to anything. You have to regularly change your reps, your volume, and your routine. Even your diet. The human desire to seek one way, one answer — just do this and you are all set, nothing further needed — is understandable but not especially constructive.

7. Squats are the single best exercise you can do for yourself. Note: already knew this one.

8. The body reacts to whatever triggers you regularly give it — whether that is through lifting, long-distance running, or sitting at a desk all day.

9. Toning is a made-up word to sell women gym memberships. You are getting stronger or you are getting weaker.

10. Like the rest of life, how you do something is as important as what you are doing. Your muscles don’t know how much weight you are lifting; they do know how much tension you are putting them under. Might as well cut back the weight and do it right.

11. Fitness classes can be cool for several reasons — friends, fun, motivation. Yet fitness is an individual endeavor. If you want and can afford a coach, get one for yourself, not one who is trying to watch and push you and 10 or 12 or 20 other people at the same time. The capacities of coaches are no greater than for the rest of humanity: you can only focus on one thing at a time.

Say Ball!

Sports is my first language.

I don’t remember reading many books as a kid, but I do remember racing to beat my older brother to the sports page in the morning. Scrums sometimes ensued on the occasions I had first dibs, as I insisted on reading every word of the section — even all the agate (the page that lists every score of every game played the day before — from high school to the pros, from ice hockey to badminton — in six-point type, if necessary). I didn’t do this to be annoying. (At least that wasn’t the primary reason.) I simply loved consuming the words and numbers. I loved reading about sports.

I don’t, frankly, remember reading many books in college, either. I did read books in college, of course, I just don’t much recall the experience of doing so. I do fondly remember nights I avoided reading the assigned books (or going to parties) and instead huddled in my dorm room and devoured stacks of Sports Illustrated and other sports periodicals and sports books I had dug up at the library. (I even took a self-study course in sports literature with one of my English lit professors.)

Sports talk radio was not as common then as now but I recall in young adulthood when I would get absorbed listening to the local all-sports station on afternoons and evenings and the national sports feed during overnights.

In other words, I grew up in a pretty intense sports culture, more or less of my own choosing, as I didn’t just read or listen to sports. I played them — including hockey, baseball and football. When my friends and I were not playing games we talked about them (or traded baseball cards or played sports-themed video games — sports really was the thing for me in the first two-plus decades of my life. My first job was as a sports writer). I don’t follow or play sports these days as I did then. But you never lose the comfort and the confidence — the feeling of being at home — as you do when you are immersed in your native tongue.

Sports is a rare crucible that shows us what is not possible to see in most of the rest of life: clear winners, as demonstrated through the application of mind, body, and spirit. Pull up a barstool. Who is the best cardiologist of all time? The best chief executive officer? Head scratches. Who is the best defenseman? The best basketball team? Teeth gnashes.

Sports is so ubiquitous in our culture. Writing and talking about sports is facile. Doing it well, however, is as rare as running across a heavy weight champion. Or so it seems sometimes. So much of the sportswriting that does exist today is a product of our time — analytical and numbers-intensive. It is short and clickable. It is more about the writer than the subject. Not even my beloved Sports Illustrated writes what I read while huddled in my dorm those years ago. It, too, has taken to shorter topical pieces written by good but not all-star writers. It used to be SI was the pinnacle of sportswriting — no longer; writers leave there for .coms all the time. It used to be newspaper columnists were quasi stars. We read and cared what they said each morning. Now they are talk show hosts and podcasters. They are wonks. They are employed by leagues and teams.

I get that the media landscape has shifted in the last decade. Yet I still don’t understand why there is not more and better long-form sports journalism outlets (those focused on something other than advanced metrics, I mean). You have tens of thousands of people who watch four days of NFL draft coverage — clearly not every sports fan has the attention span of a middle schooler, not everyone needs even action to be interested the story.

If you are still publishing a printed periodical isn’t it incumbent on you to put a premium on the writing? After all, people will have learned the score —and pored over every stat they care to consume — hours, days, sometimes weeks before you showed up. In-depth reporting and great writing is about all you have to sell. (I plan to let my subscription to The Hockey News lapse for this reason. I plopped down money three years ago hoping I was getting the SI of hockey and instead I get monthly features on mascots, equipment, and left-wingers in Kamloops. I get list issue after list issue. Next up (I only half-kidding expect): the top 100 right-shot defensemen ever! When THN does tackle a star or a best-kept secret story the writing is filled with cliche and received wisdom. Sports writers should be writers first, sports fans second. This seems seldom the case anymore. If you eat-sleep-watch hockey then you probably don’t have any sort of unique perspective on same. If it’s all you know, it’s all you have to give.)

Alas, what is left is a landscape in which so much sports writing is hackneyed and hyped up. It’s broadcasting on paper. So much of what remains is sentimental writing, which is for me a criticism less about emotion — I am a sucker, after all, for the sports movie in which the underdog wins in the end —- and more about writers who tell us rather than show us why we should care.

Which brings me, finally, to why I was prompted to write the above. I recently got a review copy of a book due out early this fall about an accomplished high school running team. It’s classic fare in which the writer is more promoter than chronicler; the athletes are “amazing” because the writer says they are. (And, no doubt, their running times and racing trophies suggest he’s not wrong about their abilities. He just doesn’t show us the why or how very well and his tell tries to be clever but isn’t.) In the end, I could not review or even blurb the book for I have no interest to spend hours of my life in an effort tear down a title that almost certainly few outside of elite high school running circles will read anyway.

I did open it, though, as I do when I open magazines and books these days, hoping I will witness a sportswriting upset.

Muscle Down

I pulled a muscle in my back. I don’t recommend it.

It’s a good thing a person doesn’t really use their back for much, other than, of course, walking, sitting, bathing, reaching, bending, looking up, looking down, turning right, turning left, or, in other words, during pretty much every human act.

How did I pull a muscle in my back? By sleeping. That is, I went to sleep, no pulled muscle. I woke up, ouch. This is either a sign of age, a punishment for staying up too late to watch hockey two nights in a row, or an indictment of the warmup I did (i.e, didn’t do) before pull-up practice yesterday morning.

In any event, did I mention that a pulled back muscle hurts? As in is uncomfortable almost every waking minute? As in, pass-the-tree bark pain?

If I sound like a wuss it’s only because I am.