The Three Vinegar Tasters

Tasting Vinegar: Thoughts on 2023

‘The Three Vinegar Tasters’ by Kanō Isen’in, Edo period, c. 1802-1816, ink and color on paper, Honolulu Museum of Art, accession 6156.1. Public Domain.

It’s a given that the older one gets, the less cut-and-dry things become. A younger me would consider getting rained on while going to work to be enough for a bad day, but now I’d consider that an inconvenience, one that could be mitigated by a thoughtful conversation with a friend or trying a new tea brew.

Bad days do still happen. The day after Halloween, when my mother called to say that my birth father had passed, was one. But it’s a higher bar.

Was 2023 a bad year? It’s no longer so binary. It’s like acting out the vinegar tasters all at once.

On a professional level, I had a decent year: kept my job, presented at a regional conference, survived some harrowing months with a reduced staff.

On a personal level? My birth father passed. I received a health diagnosis that complicates my future plans. (I’m in no danger of dying soon, at least!) But I’m also a future uncle to a niece (due June 2024) by my sister, and I welcomed a new furbaby to the household when my brother returned from Asheville with a young, fluffy tomcat.

On a global level? Complete trash fire.


Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a congenital disease where the walls of the left ventricle thicken over time. I’ve likely lived with this condition for years, but until recently I barely knew it existed, much less had to reckon with it.

In August, I had what euphemistically called a “cardiac event” during a routine physical. While I have no physical blockages, my ECG was so abnormal I was sent to a local hospital for tests and observation. I had suspected it was another “vascular spasm,” similar to one I had in 2016. I was given a preliminary diagnosis of HCM that afternoon, but would need more tests to determine the extent of the thickening and my overall prognosis.

I won’t have my full prognosis for a couple more weeks. What I do know about the disease, and what my cardiologist and physician have said, is that extremely vigorous exercise, like competitive sports or weight lifting, is out of the question. I’ve been prescribed what could be called “middle age drugs” (statins, etc.), but might also need beta blockers.

What’s still on the table? Hiking, which I enjoy, is excellent, and I’m looking into rucking, or light cycling if I can get my bike tuned up. Beyond that? I won’t know for a while.


More educated people have written about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, so I’ll direct you there. It’s well past time for a ceasefire.

I try not to think about the 2024 elections here in the US.

It has felt like the world is on fire, a striking contrast during what many consider one of the holiest times of the year.

I try to remember this sage advice, paraphrased from the Talmud:

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.1


During the hardest days this year, I tried to remember my cats.

Olly and Yoda have lived with me for some time, and recently my brother brought home a new cat from Asheville: a young tomcat named Ranch. He’s stolen Yoda’s job as the resident troublemaker, climbing on countertops and opening doors that he shouldn’t. He’s the most vocal of the three cats living with us, trilling and meowing every thought that passes through his head.

I remember my cats, and my brother, and the rest of my family who depend on my kindness. My niece and nephew, and my newest niece arriving next year. My friends, my work colleagues. People who I’ve never met who depend on me in some way.

Much like actually drinking vinegar, I’ve found it hard to taste the sweet through the sour and bitter. But here’s to a sweeter 2024, for all of us.

  1. Actually an amalgamation of sources. Here’s a Reddit thread about the whole thing. ↩︎