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What If We Don't

I hesitate to publish something that interrupts the flow of our ongoing serialized novel, but this has been a pervasive thought for some time now and I don’t think Facebook or any other social media is the best place for it. Please allow me this one indulgence as I momentarily direct our attention to more urgent matters.

Anxiety has risen around when we’re going to break free of the COVID-19-related shutdowns and “get back to normal.” While the US president is pushing for an unrealistic May 1 date for business to reopen, other experts are projecting much longer time periods. One bioethicist predicts it could be autumn of 2021 before large crowd gatherings such as concerts and sporting events can be resumed. The underlying question on everyone’s mind is, “When are we going to get back to normal?”

But what if we don’t?

What happens if “normal” as we knew it on January 1 of this year never returns? What could that look like? Could we create a better society for everyone if we don’t allow normal to come back? I don’t think anyone would say that our world we perfect before the pandemic struck. There’s absolutely nothing in the world that says we have to go back to the way things were. This is our opportunity to build something new, something better.

What if we don’t return to a society where people are segregated socially, financially, opportunistically, educationally, perceptively by race, religion, gender, sexuality, or any other arbitrary denominator base on traditions of hate, jealousy, and outright stupidity? 

What if we don’t return to an education system that is demonstratively better for those in some neighborhoods, cities, and towns than it is others, leaving many undereducated and lacking the skills they need to survive and/or hopelessly in debt for the majority of their adult lives?

What if we don’t return to a financial system that preys on the poorest of the poor, denying credit to those who need it most, charging fees to those who can least afford them, and rewarding those who hoard the most wealth with opportunities and resources the majority can never achieve?

What if we don’t return to a workforce that undervalues people we now see as critical to everyone’s survival: grocery store workers, food service employees, delivery drivers, postal service workers, first responders, pharmacy technicians and assistants, warehouse workers, and others?

What if we don’t return to a healthcare system that can deny care to anyone because they don’t meet a list of arbitrary and unnecessary qualifications such as insurance, or pre-existing conditions, or ability to pay, or where they live, or their chances of surviving, or their age, or the gender by which they identify?

What if we don’t return to a political system that denies anyone over 18 the right to vote because they don’t live in the right place, don’t have the right ID in their wallet, can’t physically get to the poll, were once in jail, didn’t meet a deadline for registering, or haven’t jumped through all the restrictive hoops?

What if we don’t return to churches, synagogues, and mosques that teach divisiveness, elitism, racial separation, retaliation, warmongering, theocracy, bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, disregard for science and medicine, authoritarianism, and complete disregard for the entire LGBTQ+ spectrum of people?

What if we don’t return to a disregard for climate and other evidence-based sciences, underfunded medical research, the obliteration of our natural resources, complete destruction of entire ecosystems, willful ignorance of climate change, underfunded science education, and pay-for-play publication systems?

What if we don’t return to an entertainment industry that makes its fortunes by exploiting the worst qualities of humanity, finding humor in our ignorance, celebrating irrational stereotypes, greed, corruption, nepotism, class warfare, racial disparity, injustice, and blatant misrepresentation of history and people groups?

What if we don’t return to a music industry that steals songs from songwriters, exploits performers, promotes live-or-die competitions, makes live music inaccessible for the masses, creates profit for labels over musicians, minimizes the role of women, and replaces talent with gimmicks?

What if we don’t return to an art industry that relies too heavily upon a system of corrupt curators and collectors hoarding art and controlling access to galleries and museums, diminishes the role of indigenous arts and gives unwarranted preference to eurocentric elitists, denigrates illustration and graphic design to lesser class status, and blocks access to financial stability for artists?

What if we don’t return to a world where more than 700 million people are food insecure, where 78% of workers live paycheck-to-paycheck—struggling to provide basic necessities, where as much as half of the world’s population does not make a living wage despite endless hours of work, and where workers’ rights are continually diminished?

What if we don’t return to a world where taxes are imposed on those with the least to give while billionaires escape with no taxes at all, where the efficacy of representation depends on the size of one’s political donation, and the voice of corporations dominates over the voice of individuals?

What if we don’t return to a world where any form of sex is illicit, where nudity is prohibited, where personal forms of pleasure are shamed, where professional sex workers have no legal protection, where protection against sexually-transmitted infections is arbitrary and optional, and where individual choice is superseded by antiquated laws based on unjust morality?

What if we simply refuse to return to the dysfunction that previously defined normal? What if we refuse to participate in something that is broken, inept, and unsustainable? What if we say no? What if we consider the possibilities of our own actions, collectively and individually, to change the world and create a new normal?

What if we take this opportunity to disrupt the political systems of the world, to demand more open and honest elections for everyone, to destroy the very concept of party restrictions and the misrepresentation inherent to their existence, to recognize the interdependence and cooperative necessity of every individual on this planet?

This is our opportunity to take control. We don’t have to accept the ineptness of our politicians. We can say no. We can demand resignations where resignations need to happen. We can refuse to support an economy built on corporate greed. We can demand more. 

We can create a new normal—something better, something lasting, something sustainable. All the cards are on the table. What do you choose to do?

The Old Man in the rain

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Old Man Talking

Awards season is here. While the Golden Globes are already passed, we still have to suffer through the Critic’s Choice Awards tonight (the 13th), the Screen Actors Guild Awards January 27, the Directors Guild Awards February 2, the GRAMMY Awards February 10, the British Academy Film Awards February 20, the Writers Guild Awards February 17, the Independent Spirit Awards February 23, and then the Academy Awards February 24. The entertainment world in general and Americans especially not only has a thing for handing out trophies but making sure everyone’s project has a chance to be recognized.

Yes, even in entertainment, we want everyone to have a chance to get a trophy.

Trophies are nice when we’re in junior high or maybe even high school. They provide a sense of accomplishment and encouragement to keep moving forward. Parents like it when their children receive trophies because it gives them the hope that perhaps, someday, their child might make something of themselves and move out of the basement.

For most people, we stop chasing trophies as adults. Sure, there are professional awards and some of those can significantly boost one’s career. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t hope each year that a project I was on might win an ADDY or CLIO award. My reasons, however, were not so much for the accolades as for the pay bump that inevitably came along with such success. Having a little trophy to take up room and collect dust didn’t then and doesn’t now have much appeal.

In the entertainment industry, though, the number of trophies one has makes a huge difference in how much one earns for subsequent projects. Women, especially, who have traditionally been severely underpaid in Hollywood, need the recognition that any one of the long list of awards can deliver. An Oscar is worth millions for many actors and actresses. One of the reasons there are so many entertainment awards is because they can have such a dramatic impact on a winner’s career.

Awards are so heavily valued in the entertainment industry because producers and studio heads are of the opinion that the buying public are more likely to spend money on well-known award winners than they are unknowns. Winning awards creates a level of fame th at results in greater box office returns and higher record sales. So, winning any one of those awards we’ve listed really matters, right?

Well, not always. Sure, there’s the short-term bump that comes from winning an award, but over time the fame that comes from winning an award fades if one doesn’t follow with yet another award of some kind. Having that bright light shining on one can also reveal some aspects of one’s life that are less than appropriate. Ultimately, in as little as one generation, chances are not high that one’s name is fondly remembered.

Time Is The Enemy Of Fame

Old Man Talking

The temporary nature of fame becomes evident every time I try talking to my 20-year-old about anything that predates his period of entertainment consciousness, which apparently didn’t kick in until somewhere around 2007. Any time I make a reference before that, with the exception of Veggie Tales or Dora the Explorer, I get back this clueless look that questions whether I’m just making up names out of thin air.

If we’re honest, though, those of us who are not true cinephiles or trivida geeks don’t relate to anyone whose career existed prior to our own period of “awakening,” whether that came with the onset of puberty or some traumatic event that found us seeking solace in a song. All those “old” movies and television shows are for the benefit of our parents, who remember when those shows and movies were new. While a handful are strong enough to survive into the contemporary lexicon, such as I Love Lucy, most programming prior to the 1990s is now locked away in a vault somewhere, waiting for a wave of nostalgia to bring them back. Even the TV Land cable network, which placate those just older than myself with multiple reruns of Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Andy Griffith back-to-back during the morning, fill their primetime schedule with shows that, for my generation, still feel recent: King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Two And A Half Men.

Perhaps no better example exists than going through the list of people who won Oscars for Best Actor/Actress in a Supporting Role. Without going back into “ancient history” (the 60s), consider whether you recognize any of these names:

  • Lee Grant
  • Beatrice Straight
  • Melvyn Douglas
  • Lina Hart
  • Harry S. Niger
  • Peggy Ashcroft
  • Dianne Wiest
  • Mercedes Ruehl
  • Geoffrey Rush
  • Roberto Benigni
  • Benicio Del Toro
  • Marcia Gay Harden
  • Jim Broadbent

Chances are very high that if one is under the age of 40 that none of those names mean anything. There are even two names in that list who won for leading roles but are not actively remembered outside the narrow community of those committed to such trivia.

For those who do genuinely remember some of those names, the list is somewhat tragic. There are actors and actresses that were really big deals back in their heyday but didn’t receive their Oscar until shortly before their deaths. Others represent once-bright flames that never managed to reach their perceived potential for whatever reason.

Our point is that fame is a very momentary experience that simply doesn’t last for the majority of those who achieve it. One can spend a lifetime chasing after a trophy but within a decade after their passing their name, and achievements, are all but forgotten.

This brings us to a critical life question: if what we’re doing isn’t going to last, then why are we doing it?

Let’s take a look at three times when entertainment awards didn’t do much to help anyone’s long-term popularity at all, then we will examine what is a better personal goal than trying to become famous.   

A Vanishing Legacy

Old Man Talking

When one looks at the list of primetime Emmy winners in the comedy category, one sees some pretty impressive names: Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Jean Stapleton, Valerie Harper and Bea Arthur. Sandwiched in between Lucy’s and Jean’s wins, though, is the name Hope Lange. If that name doesn’t immediately  ring a bell, you’re not alone. One would have to be of “the greatest generation,” or somewhere close to that, to remember the actress who won the award for Best Actress in a Comedy both in 1969 and 1970. The show ran for two seasons on NBC and one on ABC before being completely cancelled.

Ms. Lange’s career spanned from 1942 to 1998. It was movies that first made her famous. When she was cast in Bus Stop with Marilyn Monroe, the famous blonde was so jealous of Lange that she pressured the film’s producer to have Lange’s blonde hair dyed a light brown. That still didn’t keep Lange from walking away with and marrying the film’s leading man, Don Murray.

In fact, Ms. Lange was considered a bit of a bombshell on her own during her youth. Many thought it downright scandalous when she was cast in the 1957 movie Peyton Place, which was considered so risqué at the time that many theatres refused to show it. She dropped Murray for an affair with actor Glenn Ford, her co-star in Pocketful Of Miracles, then married producer Alan Pakula who she later divorced so she could date Frank Sinatra, who was later replaced by novelist John Cheever. She so often played the sultry sexpot in films that she became typecast to that kind of role, which might explain why her television career in more tame roles tended to struggle.

Even though she won the Emmy in her category two years in a row, her performance was not enough to save a show that came of mild up against My Three Sons and The Lawrence Welk Show while on NBC. When the series moved to ABC, it had the bad luck of being on against Family Affair, [No, if you’re under the age of 40 you’ve likely never heard of any of those shows. Trust me, they were big at the time.] What’s worth noting there is a sad reality of television preferences in the 70s. Each of those shows beating Ms. Lange in the ratings was male-dominated programs that fed into the long-standing patriarchal view that was at times rather heavy-handed. It would take Mary Tyler Moore, whose show started in 1970 on a different network, to prove that women could handle a primetime series on their own (Lucille Ball was considered an anomaly that couldn’t be duplicated).

By the time Ms. Lange was cast in her final roles in Message from Nam and Clear and Present Danger, she was already seen as “that old actress whose face you sort-of recognize but can’t remember from where.” Her final appearance was at the 40th anniversary celebration of Peyton Place in 1998. When she died in 2003, hardly anyone outside the industry bothered to notice.

Lange’s fading fame is a perfect example of how quickly and easily history ignores those whose legacy is thin. Contemporaries who tended to put Ms. Lange and Ms. Monroe in the same basket have wondered if the latter’s continued legend might have suffered a fate similar to Lange’s had she not died when she did. Would we still remember Marilyn Monroe if she had filled the late 60s and 70s with projects that never captured the public’s enthusiasm as the star grew older? Hollywood has never been kind to aging actresses and it has only been through the persistent insistence of people such as Glenn Close and Dame Maggie Smith that women have secured notable roles and awards past the age of 40.

With more new programming being produced now than ever in the history of visual entertainment, the opportunity for momentary fame is within the reach of more people than ever and millions of people are grasping for that brass ring. Sadly, that most likely means there will be millions more people winning awards whose names are quickly forgotten.

A Bright Light Slowly Dimmed.

Old Man Talking

Anyone who was alive in the United States in 1977 likely remembers the song You Light Up My Life. Winning both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for best original song, it broke records at the time, staying at number one on the Billboard charts for an unprecedented ten weeks, more than the Beatles’ Hey Jude. Even after slipping from the number one position, the song remained on the charts seemingly forever. By the time it disappeared, radio DJs were so tired of playing the song that many broke their copy and vowed to never play it again.

And they didn’t.

If ever there was a song that represents famed denied, this is it. On one hand, Debby Boone, the daughter of squeaky-clean singer Pat Boone (you know, the guy with the white loafers) shot from complete obscurity to instant stardom only to fall back into obscurity. For the better part of a year, Ms. Boone was everywhere, on all the important talk shows, on variety shows and television specials, and in all the music-related magazines.

The song was trouble from the start, though, and that trouble continues to haunt the legacy not only of Ms. Boone but two other people closely connected to the song.

You see, Debby Boone was not supposed to be the person who recorded the hit. In fact, if one watches the movie of the same name, for which the song was written, it is not Ms. Boone’s voice they hear, but that of Ukrainian coloratura Kasey Cisyk. When writer Joseph Brookes hired Ms. Cisyk to record the song, he told her that her version would be released as the single. By all rights, it should have been Ms. Cisyk, not Ms. Boone, that shot to fame with the song.

Brookes changed his mind, however, and decided to re-record the song with Ms. Boone, who was carefully coached to specifically imitate every detail of Ms. Cisyk’s version, right down to where and how she breathed. Only in the movie’s credits is Ms. Cisyk given any recognition. Even on the Original Soundtrack recording, the song is credited to “Original Cast,” not Ms. Cisyk. Ms. Cisyk continued recording jingles such as “You deserve a break today,” and “Have you driven a Ford lately,” before dying of breast cancer the day before her 45th birthday in 1998.

Joe Brookes, who wrote the song and the movie script as well as directed the movie may have thought he’d win by double-crossing Ms. Cisyk, but life didn’t turn out so well for him, either. The movie itself, starring Didi Conn in the lead role, bombed. By the time the song fell off the charts, not only were people tired of hearing about it but the industry was tired of Brooke’s overbearing and blatant self-promotion. He fell into the same obscurity as his song.

That didn’t stop Brookes from trying to play himself off as a top Hollywood director, though, and in 2009 he was indicted for multiple “casting couch” rapes. He was, in contemporary terms, the precursor to the #MeToo movement. Brookes never came to trial, however, choosing to hang himself while still in jail in 2011. Only the jailer and Brookes’ victims noticed.

Life hasn’t necessarily been all bad for Debby Boone. If one pays attention to certain sub-genres of Christian music they’ve likely seen some of her occasional projects popping up there from time to time. She also married one of the sons of Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt), who was herself a major musical powerhouse of the post-war era. After Ms. Clooney passed in 2003, Ms. Boone recorded a tribute album in 2005, covering some of her late mother-in-law’s hits. The album met with marginal success among Ms. Clooney’s fans in the soft jazz community. She has, at the very least, managed to stay busy even if she’s nowhere near the limelight she was in 1977.

You Light Up My Life proves that fame can be manufactured for a moment but the level of manipulation and deception required to make that happen is unsustainable and ultimately leaves everyone associated with it in relative obscurity, hiding from the very thing that put the light on them in the first place.

When The Laughter Stopped

Old Man Talking

More recently, the star of Monique Angela Imes, known professionally as Mo’Nique, is one that seemed poised to shine among the brightest of the bright. After winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2009 for her role in the movie Precious, she was given her own late night talk show on the BET network. In 2015, she received an Emmy Award nomination for her role as Ma Rainey in the HBO film Bessie. Everything seemed to be going well.

Then, it all stopped.

When something like this happens the rumors start flying and it would be inappropriate for me to repeat those here. For her part, Mo’Nique has publicly stated that she blames Lee Daniels, Tyler Perry, and Oprah Winfrey, all important figures in black entertainment, for blackballing her. While such a move does not seem characteristic of any of those people without sufficient reason, they have not responded publicly to the claim so we’ll just have to let that go.

One criticism that has been documented is that Mo’Nique refused to participate in some of the publicity effort around the movie Precious. We all know how that works: weeks before a movie hits theaters, stars are assigned to do interviews on various talk shows and other media outlets as part of the publicity for the film. For the vast majority of actors, even major names, participating in such efforts is in their contract with the studio. Refusing to participate in publicity is certainly something that would give a studio pause before hiring a person again.

Another significant possibility, though, is that Mo’Nique’s brand of comedy did not change as the attitude of the country did. We’ve seen this happen with other comedians whose careers on the backside of the #MeToo movement are taking a rapid nosedive.

Earlier in her career Mo’Nique was known for saying”White and black people, we’re just mad at each other, we don’t know why we’re mad at each other. We’re not each other’s enemy. We’re not the enemy. It’s the Chinese people we need to watch out for.” Where jokes like that drew applause back in 2000, by the middle of President Obama’s second term it was becoming increasingly obvious that a disturbing number of people do look at people of color as the enemy. The old jokes stopped being funny.

Mo’Nique has not been off the main stage all that long so I was surprised that when I asked ten people over the age of 25 if they remembered her, it was only the white comedian who did. Her fame among mass audiences has disappeared. That’s not to say she still couldn’t make a comeback. Mo’Nique is a strong and courageous woman for whom anything is possible, but her path back is going to be more difficult than it was the first time.

The Futility of Chasing A Prize

Old Man Talking

There are a lot of awards and prizes that are given to people outside the entertainment industry, but few others have the ability to bestow any significant level of fame outside one’s own industry. Getting one of those shiny trophies, at least in certain categories, pretty much guarantees one a spot on the talk show circuit for the next fifteen minutes or so and a host of new project offers with enticing salaries attached. When entertainment contracts can be worth several million dollars, going after that trophy can seem like a worthwhile effort.

For most people, however, chasing after a trophy or some other prize often ends up rather futile. Perhaps the greatest prize in the United States is that of President. Surely, if there is anything capable of cementing a person’s legacy, winning the presidency would do it. Rutherford B. Hayes might argue with that supposition, however.

As nasty and partisan as contemporary elections have become, we’ve yet to come close to the nastiness of the 1876 campaign that elected Hayes as the 19th president. With the South still in turmoil and the political process largely handled by corrupt state-level poll bosses, the election was so contentious it was not finalized until an act of Congress recognized Hayes as the winner a mere two days prior to the March 4 inauguration.

As part of the deal made in Congress, however, Reconstruction policies in the South ended immediately and with it any chance former slaves had of achieving any of the civil rights they had been promised by President Grant’s administration. Policies toward native peoples suffered as well. In the end, most historians consider Hayes one of the most ineffective and unimportant presidents to ever hold the office. Hence, the reason many people don’t even know his name. Winning the prize is futile when one doesn’t do anything worthwhile in the aftermath.

Fame is a right now, in the moment type of recognition. Once the moment is gone, so is the attention that comes with it. While an elite few are expert enough it chaining together one moment after another, the vast majority fall short even though they may possess superior talent and skill.

When we allow winning the prize to become our primary focus and goal, we place ourselves on a merry-go-round that gives one no opportunity but perpetuates a cycle of chasing the next, bigger, louder, brighter, better-paying moment in hopes of winning the next statue or trophy. When life ultimately tosses one off that merry-go-round, often aggressively, one often finds themselves wandering in random circles on a downward spiral into oblivion.

Defining Success On More Intelligent Terms

Old Man Talking

When we win awards in junior high and high school, they’re meant to be motivational; they encourage us to achieve and do well and for a lot of people that motivation has worked as long as they were in high school. Beyond that, however, the method tends to break down. Life and work are not the structured environment we have in school. School makes it safe for us to focus on something without the worry of paying bills or feeding a family (in most cases). Unfortunately, as much as that might help one learn necessary skills or information, it does little to prepare us for the harsh realities of life.

Outside of the educational system, awards and their associated fame are not so much motivational as they are distracting rabbit holes. Sure, everyone likes winning an award, but in the real life those trophies and any resulting fame have to be secondary goals to prevent one’s career from flaming out unnoticed.

Perhaps we would do better to define success not by what awards and trophies we’ve won but by the happiness we generate in our own lives and the differences we make in the lives of others. I am convinced that people who are not happy with themselves first are unable to be a positive influence for change on anything outside themselves.

While we can sit and argue all day over what constitutes happiness in anyone’s life, there are some characteristics that are commonplace no matter what it ultimately is that makes one happy.

  • The ability to do something well.
  • Enjoying doing that thing we do well.
  • We are not overwhelmed by what we do
  • We can momentarily set aside that thing we do to enjoy other things
  • We are not jealous of nor threatened by others who do the same thing well.

For some people, finding that thing we do well comes naturally, a talent or skill with which we seem born. Others struggle to figure out what that thing is, trying first one item and then another. There are a couple of important considerations when looking for that thing one does well. 1. What we do may be something quite simple, such as mowing the lawn or folding laundry. The level of complication in what we do in no way diminishes the importance of what we do. 2. What we do well may change. We are not stuck being the same people our entire lives. If we are 68 years old and discover something new that we do well, there’s no reason to not change up and do that thing.

One also needs to realize that some things we do well we may not enjoy doing. Inversely, things we do enjoy are not necessarily things we do well. Let’s take music as an example. I have a bachelors degree in piano. Playing piano is something I do well, but I do not enjoy practicing enough for it to be the center of my happiness. While I enjoy playing occasionally, it is one of the other things I do, not the main thing. At the same time, I love singing. Unfortunately, I’m not especially good at it. If I were good at it I would consider letting that be my main thing but even the dogs leave the room when I sing. I do better to put my focus on photography, which, for me, meets both goals.

When those five elements come together in harmony, then we have found our secret to being happy. Not someone else’s secret, mind you, because, as we’ve said often before, what works for someone else does not necessarily work for us. Our happiness lies first within ourselves and what we do.

I Want To Dance With Somebody

Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson is often quoted as defining success as follows:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

While we might, in contemporary terms, question whether one needs respect from anyone outside themselves or whether honest critics actually exist, Emerson’s last line is where the gold is found: “to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.”

There you go, that’s the ultimate award, knowing that at least one life has had some moment of relief, had an opportunity to breathe, because you were there. Winning this award doesn’t necessarily require one to climb mountains or weigh a certain amount or look a certain way or love specific people. Winning at life is not about accumulating a wall full of trophies or the largest bank account or taking the most exotic vacation. Winning at life is about holding a child’s hand as they walk into a new school for the first time. Winning at life is when we look at the server who spilled the soup and smile, then add an extra ten percent to our tip. Winning at life is when we hire the felon who no one wants to give a chance because, once upon a time, he sold pot.

We misunderstand success if we, for even a moment, think that it is about us and our happiness. Success is when we take that thing we do well and love and use that thing to better the lives of other people.

Across his many books, the late philosopher Alan Watts warned that we err when we look at life as a journey with a starting point, an ending point, and a prize at the end. Instead, he insisted, we must realize that life is the dance that is happening right now, that both future and past are illusions. In his opinion, we waste time and effort when we overthink and overanalyze. “Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes,” he said. “Zen … is just to peel the potatoes.”

When we look at life as a dance, a moment to experience and share rather than a line of goals to be met, we put ourselves in a position to help that one life breathe easier. The best dances are not those we dance alone but those we share with others. Dancing together, we have no need for awards or trophies or fame, we only have need of what we can share with each other right now.

As you go through the coming week, I challenge you to consider how we are approaching our lives. Do we live for the awards shows, the red carpets, and the shiny trophies, or do we live for the dance, sharing our happiness with a goal of making a difference in the lives of others?

You must choose for you. As for me, I want to dance with somebody.

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

With 2018 almost committed to the history books (or digital archives), we look toward the new year in the hopes that something will be different in a positive way. Personally, I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. We all know they don’t work so there’s really no point in wasting the effort of making them.

However, what we can do, and most likely should do, is look at the things we can eliminate from our lives. A fair amount of the negativity in our lives is connected in one form or another to our own actions. We can significantly reduce, if not completely remove much of the negativity in our lives if we stop doing the things that open the door to that bad energy in the first place.

Of course, the laws of physics, which most certainly apply, require that if we remove something from our lives we have to replace it with something else. Remember that whole, “nature abhors a vacuum” thing (which is why nature always had a dirty carpet — insert rim shot here). Exactly what one uses as a replacement is subjective. I’ll include some suggestions, but as long as the replacement adequately fills the space removed one should be in good shape.

Let’s get started before you become overly bored with the idea.

We Don’t Have To Give Space To Toxic People

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

One of the biggest issues I’ve noticed this past year is the degree to which we (collectively) allow other people’s negativity to influence us, making us negative in response. In the new year, we don’t have to allow that to continue. We don’t have to give those toxic people space in our lives even if they’re family.

How do we handle that? First, by realizing those people are not likely to change. We should stop expecting anyone else to change for us; it’s not going to happen. The people who drain us the most are going to drain someone but it doesn’t have to be you.

Second, have some boundaries, people. Establish lines that work for you and don’t let people cross those lines. No one has a right to mistreat you, marginalize you, or disrespect your humanity.

Third, when someone starts with, “I need you … “ respond with a challenge for them to handle their own shit instead. Don’t be drawn into their crisis but offer a positive solution that doesn’t involve you.

One of the most difficult lessons I’ve ever learned is to walk away when someone goes toxic. I’ve had to end relationships with extremely creative people because they walked through the door with a negativity I could not abide. Don’t give them space. Find better people. They are in your sphere and the best part is, they don’t need you.

We Don’t Have To Tolerate Racism

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

Over the past two years, we have come to the sad realization that there are a lot more racist people in the world than we realized. Racists have been emboldened by nationalistic rhetoric around the world and have repeatedly shown their ugly faces on the global stage. We don’t have to tolerate those attitudes.

Racism is rooted in ignorance and combating ignorance is never easy because there are too many people who refuse to learn. We also have to realize that even the most deplorable forms of hate speech cannot be censored without imposing censorship on ourselves. Free speech doesn’t work if it only applies to certain people. The solution to racism isn’t to tell someone to shut up and be quiet.

Instead, what we first have to do is check ourselves. To what degree do our own actions promote and/or engage racism? Rip off those blinders and be brutally honest with yourself. If you have difficulty doing that, ask someone of a different race to help you. Other people see our racism better than we do ourselves. Make corrections to your own life first.

Then, be vocal in educating those who promote harmful stereotypes. Come at the conversation from a point of compassion rather than confrontation because everyone in the world is defensive at the moment. Dominate the conversation with Truth, not legend.

Don’t buy into politically correct rhetoric, either. No one is “color blind.” One doesn’t fill a plate with food and expect it all to taste the same. We have differences but the underlying equator is that most of us are roughly 97% human. That other three percent is Neanderthal unless one can trace a pure bloodline from Northern Africa, in which case one might truly be 100% human.

We Don’t Have To Accept Marginalization

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

Oppression and inequality come from people being marginalized, unfairly judged and placed in categories that define them as “different” in a way that’s socially unacceptable. We’re not only talking about gender issues, which is a primary area of marginalization, but age, weight, economic status, (lack of) religion, employment, level of education, language, and even the part of town in which one lives. We’ve seen all of these used to marginalize people in the past year.

What bothers me is how easy it is to marginalize someone else. “Act your age,” is marginalization. “You need new/different/better clothes,” is marginalization. “You go to church, don’t you?” is marginalization. “I can’t believe you eat meat,” is marginalization. “You need a better job,” is marginalization. “Speak American,” is marginalization. “You need to eat a cheeseburger,” is marginalization. Get the picture?

Enough. There’s no good reason to let anyone keep anyone else on the fringes. More than ever, 2019 is the year to embrace all of who we are, from the entire gender spectrum to dietary choices to belief systems and ancestral background. You are who you are and no one outside of you has any right or reason to challenge that.

Perhaps the most common quote from the movie The Big Lebowski is, “That’s just, like, your opinion, man.” Such an attitude and response is perfect for deflecting the ways in which people try to marginalize us. Who and what we are are rarely matters of choice and if someone wants us to be different, well, that’s just their opinion. We don’t have to accept it. In fact, there’s no good reason to let it affect our lives in any way. Remember, opinions are like assholes.

Be you, in whatever form that happens to be. Embrace you. Celebrate you. Let shaming die.

We Don’t Have To Follow Trends

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

One of the most disturbing changes in the retail economy has been the rise of “influencers,” people who have hundreds of thousands if not millions of followers on social media who make buying decisions based upon what other people wear and/or endorse. People are actually making a very comfortable living telling other people what they should do, where they should go, to what music they should listen, and what clothes they should wear.

Stop being a pawn. There is absolutely no good reason to listen to any of those people or follow them in the first place. Being like everyone else isn’t going to make you popular; instead, it makes you invisible. When everyone looks and acts the same, one person ceases being distinguishable from the next, making it easier for the whole mass to be manipulated.

Do your own thing. Wear what you want to wear, even if what you want to wear is nothing at all. No shaming. We devoted a whole photo series to this theme this past year and will be publishing those photos on the photography website during January and February. If you want to wear a t-shirt with a pencil skirt, do it. If you want to listen to a playlist that includes Cardi B and Wayne Newton, go for it. If you want to vacation in your grandmother’s backyard, enjoy the visit.

Fuck influencers. My personal new rule for this year is that I refuse to follow anyone on social media, especially Instagram, who has more than 20K followers (excepting those brands I need for professional reasons). We need to be more responsible in making our own decisions rather than letting anyone else tell us what to do. Let 2019 be the year when you are the biggest influence on you.

We Don’t Have To Fight Alone

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

2018 has seen some tragic deaths from the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade to the drug/alcohol related deaths of Verne Troyer, Delores O’Riordan, and even Art Bell. We see tragedies like this every year, of course, but this year their number is higher. Opioid-related deaths are at epidemic proportions. Suicides are unbelievably high. All around us, people are struggling and I would be naive to think that some of the people closest to me are not struggling as well.

2019 needs to be the year we decide as a society that no one fights alone. Mental illness does not have to be diagnosed to be real. If we are going to save the lives of the people we care about then we have to do more than just re-post the number to the suicide hotline on our Facebook accounts. We also have to be honest in evaluating our own mental state and communicating that to others.

Let’s set aside the stigma of asking for help. You’re not “crazy” for not being able to escape the sadness and desperation you feel. You’re not “crazy” for being too overwhelmed to get out of bed in the morning. You’re not “crazy” if you’ve reached a point you don’t know where to turn or don’t see any way out of your situation. You don’t have to tackle life alone.

Sure, there’s professional help available, but most of us look at the price tag and know our insurance won’t pay for that. There’s still help and it’s probably closer than one might think.

I know reaching out for help isn’t easy, that’s part of the challenge of mental illness, so it’s up to the rest of us, even if we’re struggling ourselves, to reach out and include in our circles those who also struggle. We need to recapture what it means to be a genuine friend, to dissect life’s problems over a beer or string cheese or a bong. There are thousands of ways to reach out and thousands of ways to become involved. Find what works for you. You don’t have to fight alone.

We Don’t Have To Be Involved In Everything

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

How many times this past year have we reached the end of the day feeling totally exhausted from everything we’ve done but still feeling as though we’ve not accomplished anything? If your life is anything like the people I know, it happens far too often. We all have a lot going on, a number of activities in which we think we need to be involved, but too often we come away feeling as though we’re doing nothing but running in circles.

2019 is the year to apply the brakes. Mind you, the answer here is not to jettison everything in your life. Rather, take stock of the places where you can do the most good and limit yourself to those activities.

One of the biggest changes I’ve made this year is not posting here nor on the photography website as often. Sure, my numbers have taken a nosedive as a result, but I needed to back off for the sake of my own mental health. Creating new content every day was making me angry and difficult to tolerate. The decision was difficult, but it was absolutely what was needed.

Chances are high that you need to unplug from something(s) as well. Not being directly involved doesn’t mean that you don’t care. In fact, we can be quite passionate about certain issues without jumping into those issues with both feet. We only have a finite amount of time and space in our lives, though, and it is better to back off and let others take the reigns rather than doing things poorly because we’re stretched too thin.

We Don’t Have To Hide What Pleases Us

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

We find ourselves in dozens of closets of our own making. Decades, if not centuries of shaming have caused us to hide certain activities that bring us pleasure. We have allowed religious and government institutions to dictate our actions in too many areas of our lives and acquiesced to social pressures in others. Too often, we feel the need to engage in secret activities that, if we’re totally honest, have no good reason for being secret.

Having secret lives is not mentally or emotionally healthy. Therefore, it makes sense that we stop hiding those things that are not illegal but merely unconventional. When we do, we’re likely to find that those pleasures are not nearly as far out of the mainstream as we thought.

For example, I am constantly surprised by the number of people who are either secretly involved in or curious about the kink community. Every time I post rope pictures such as these, I get messages from people expressing interest in doing something similar. Should I, cautiously, mention in the course of conversation something involving an alternatively-minded social event, people almost always ask how they can be involved. The stigma we think is there is not as strong as imagined.

We have reached a position in our society where activities that were once considered “alternative” or even taboo are more popular than ever. Movies and books, such as the 50 Shades of Grey series, while perhaps poorly written, still reflect how popular and mainstream the topic of BDSM actually is. 2019 gives us the opportunity to step out of some of those closets and embrace what brings us pleasure.

Note: this not only includes items of a sexual nature, but others such as one’s food choices, entertainment choices, reading material, and/or travel choices. There’s no reason to hide any of these things any longer.

We Don’t Have To Accept The Status Quo

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

Bruce Hornsby’s 1986 hit “The Way It Is” bemoans how even laws such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act don’t change the status quo as long as people still respond with “That’s just the way it is.” We have, for a long time, taken an apathetic attitude toward society. We see changes in who’s in control of government but don’t see the forward progression that makes our lives better and walk away with the opinion that nothing matters. That’s just the way it is.

If 2018 taught us anything it is that the status quo can be challenged and changed. “They” said midterm elections don’t matter, but we had the highest turnout in over 100 years. “They” said millennials wouldn’t vote, but they did by the hundreds of thousands. 2018 proved how wrong “they” are. Now, we have the opportunity to build on that.

Governments from the local to the national level are more perceptive and responsive to their electorates at this moment than they have been at any point in my lifetime. Corporations are feeling greater pressure to respond quickly to public sentiment and are adjusting their habits and policies accordingly. Social organizations, having felt the loss of members and their donations, are shifting course, often replacing misguided tenets that were in place when they were founded.

There is nothing about “The Way It Is” that we have to accept. Anything can be changed right now. We can challenge everything from healthcare costs to marginalization of indigenous peoples and not only change laws but change attitudes in the process.

2018 showed us that we have the power to stand against the status quo. We don’t have to wait for another election. If we bombard our civic and corporate leaders the same way now as we did during the election, things will change. We have the power and there’s no good reason to not use it.

We Don’t Have To Assume Anything About Anyone

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

Profiling is passè. As we go into 2019 there is no good reason to assume that a person fits someone’s stereotype in any way, shape, or form. We’re over this thing of trying to lump whole groups of people into one definition. Everyone is an individual and needs to be treated as such, despite what everyone around them might be doing.

That means we don’t have to assume every Latinx we see is illegal or doesn’t speak English. We don’t have to assume that every person we see wearing a turban is Muslim (one of the worst stereotypes out there). We don’t have to assume that women with enhanced body parts are professional sex workers. We don’t have to assume that a person with more than one sex partner is a slut (stop using that word altogether, please). We don’t have to assume that all vegans are intolerable. We don’t have to assume that all liberals are socialist or that all conservatives are fascists. I could go on at length.

We, as a society, like fitting people into segments or groups so that we can more easily decide who to accept and who to deride. This is the year to stop being so fundamentally shallow, insensitive, and quite honestly, stupid. We know better so let’s start doing better.

We Don’t Have To Accept Anyone Else’s Bullshit

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

Trolling is terminated. The days of just letting other people’s rudeness and incivility pass without comment are over. We don’t have to accept such behavior online any more than we would if they were standing directly in front of us, which trolls are too cowardly to ever do. Trolls delight in causing trouble and the time has come to shut every last one of them down.

I’m thinking of people like Sabrina Rojas (Sab N on Yelp), an individual who presents themselves as a single mom living in Fresno, California. We’re not going to assume that is her real name or anything about them because the person(s) behind this account has a bad habit of going on salon Facebook and Yelp pages to leave bad reviews. How did this come to my attention? Kat was her latest target this past week. The salon did a client check and confirmed that no one using that name has ever been a client of Kat’s nor anyone else at the salon. This person has done the exact same thing to other salons, none of which they have actually visited.

I’m calling out the account (which we encourage you to report to both Facebook and Yelp) because we don’t have to put up with that kind of bullshit anymore. There’s no reason to tolerate this kind of behavior from anyone at any time.

This is only a sample of the horrible behavior we see. Things such as not showing up for appointments without so much as an apology? Yeah, time to stop accepting that nonsense. People who promise to do things and then conveniently “forget” are on that list as well. I’m sure everyone can add to that list at some length. We, as allegedly civilized human beings, need to straighten up our act and stop accepting rudeness as normal behavior, either online or in person. And if one sees that bad behavior in themselves, it’s time to stop.

We Don’t Have To Share Everything

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

Some information should remain private out of courtesy. For all the talk in 2018 about how companies such as Facebook are guilty of selling our personal information, we, collectively, have been just as bad about giving away far too much information, more than anyone needs or wants to know.

For example, it is lovely that you share cute pictures of your child. 30 variations using every available IG/Snapchat filter is overkill. Another example might be when one is having a bad day and is searching for some emotional support. Fifteen status updates in an hour complaining how horrible one’s life is will not produce the support for which one searches. Neither does anyone else need long, whining diatribes about things that are generally obvious, ie, winter is cold, summer is hot, mosquitoes are horrible, exes all suck, children are exhausting, and work is killing each and every one of us.

I am perplexed how people can, on one hand, complain about the responsibility of Facebook and other social media companies protecting our privacy while, at the exact same time, we share more information online than we would ever dream about sharing in person! On one occasion this past year, an adult child complained about something their mother did, tagged their mother in the post, and then dared to get upset when her mom called her out. None of that needed to be online in any way shape or form.

2019 needs to be the year we reconsider what we are sharing, where we are sharing, and how much we are sharing. We already know we’re spending too much time on social media. This would be a good year to cut back.

We Don’t Have To Apologize For Taking Care Of Ourselves

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

We cannot sufficiently care for others if we are not first caring for ourselves. This realization has always been true but I have observed it hitting home for a lot more people over the past year and if the increase in media related to self care is any indication, we’re not alone in that discovery. Many of us have spent much of the past two years focusing on political, environmental, and social issues that we feel are urgently in need of our attention, and no one is saying that those efforts are misplaced. However, after two nonstop years, most of us are feeling more than a bit exhausted.

Unfortunately, we also feel guilty when we take the time necessary to care for ourselves. When we see needs and responsibilities that appear so dire, to not drop everything and try to fix them goes against our nature. We want to be there for other people. When a friend calls crying at three in the morning, we’re afraid to turn down the two-hour chat that’s forthcoming even when we know we have a major work event the next day. If someone is drunk and needs a ride home, who among us is going to turn them down for any reason? We think of the potential consequences to saying no and jump into action.

2019 is the year we stop apologizing for taking care of ourselves. We set boundaries for when people can call asking for help. We pay for a cab rather than waking the kids to go rescue an irresponsible friend. We turn down after-work drinks so we can hit the gym. We leave parties early so we can be in bed before midnight.

We cannot do good things when we are dead on our feet, our bodies and souls thoroughly depleted. Let taking care of yourself become your top priority and don’t apologize to anyone for the changes that requires.

We Don’t Have To Do Anything That Does Not Make A Difference

Things We Don't Have To Do In 2019

There will always be people asking for bits and pieces of our time. There are always places to go, activities wanting our involvement, experiences waiting to be experienced. If nothing else, there’s always something on Netflix one hasn’t binged … yet. However, the question to ask as we go sailing into this year is whether any of it actually makes a difference.

Granted, not everything needs to make a difference. Having downtime is part of that whole taking care of yourself scenario. We need moments when what we do has no impact or relevance on anything else.

At the same time, though, there are too many times when we devote energy and effort to things that we thought would make a difference or perhaps should make a difference only to find out that they don’t. Those are the things we can drop from our lives this year.

Ultimately, 2019 is a good year to stop doing pointless things that get us nowhere, don’t improve ourselves or society, and fail to deliver any positive benefit. There will always be plenty of things keeping us busy even if we remove all the time tumors that obstruct our lives. However, we can stop doing all the things that create chaos, increase the amount of drama, hurt innocent people, and prevent us from being that really cool person we know is inside our body … somewhere.

2019 is the year we take charge of us.

Monday Motivation
Monday Motivation is important when starting out a new week but the perspective one has on a single cup of coffee isn’t always the most objective.

Writing a new article first thing on a Monday morning sounded like a good idea when it first popped into my head. #MondayMotivation is always a trending hashtag, after all. Who isn’t looking for a little extra push to get them on their way at the first of the week?

Where I hit a snag is in the fact that my brain is not fully operational on only one cup of coffee. I need more, a second cup at the very least. Coffee is to brain activity what an alternator is to a car: it replenishes the battery so that the battery doesn’t run out of juice. Trying to start the brain with only a single cup of coffee is like trying to start a car with a dead alternator.

I’m also realizing that as I’m typing this the voice in my head is speaking with a bit of a Scottish brogue. Why, I don’t know. There’s no obvious Scottish heritage in my diverse genealogical background. I have a feeling it may come from reading something or the other this morning that had to do with Scotland, but at the moment I can’t even recall what that might have been.

There is too much to read on Mondays, all that catching up from the weekend.

How ever is one supposed to find any #MondayMotivation in the midst of this mess?

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Searching For Monday Motivation

There’s nothing to motivate one to do laundry like taking a selfie and discovering that the shirt you chose to wear this morning is already covered in cat hair and beard dandruff. The day hasn’t even started and I’m already a walking mess. Laundry has to happen and somehow everything has to be places where the kittens can’t get to it. I’m not wholly convinced there is any place in this house that cannot be visited by one cat or the other. They’re cunning little creatures.

Cats are like politicians in that they both seem like a good idea and one might argue that we need them both, but neither can ever be trusted. They look out for themselves first and foremost.

Kitten claws can also be very motivational, especially when they’re making their way up your back. I’m not sure what kind of super-energy pill Solaris devoured this morning, but he’s been all over the place and seems to delight in scaling my full height while I’m walking across the floor. He’ll then perch himself on my shoulder until I get somewhere else he wants to explore. He’s very much into testing his capabilities this morning.

Perhaps we should all be a bit more like Solaris, unafraid to claw our way to the top, exploring new possibilities. That would make a decent Monday Motivation, wouldn’t it?

Never Mind The Politics

Politics features prominently in my social media news feeds. I’m not sure whether it’s that way with anyone else or not but the whole mess seems unavoidable if one chooses to be online for more than 14.5 seconds. One thing the US president has done has been to make sure we’re always talking about him. I’m not convinced he even cares what we’re saying as long as we’re saying something.

Narcicissm is not a good Monday Motivation, in my opinion. Individuals shouldn’t need to be top of mind on a mass basis. Brands strive for that top of mind placement, like Coca-Cola, One doesn’t even need to hear the name, just see a red soda can, or that familiar bottle shape, and like one of Pavlov’s dogs, we begin to salivate and feel thirsty. That’s good branding and explains why the soft drink giant is at the top of the branding game.

People, however, don’t need that level of mass appeal, not even presidents. Being president isn’t a rating game and I’m sometimes bothered by the frequency of polls claiming to show the president’s popularity, as though it were the Nielsen overnight ratings. Presidents and all government employees are sworn to uphold the Constitution and protect the country from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. Politicians and civil servants are supposed to put the betterment of the country ahead of any personal interests. That we no longer see any sense of that requirement, in reality, is disturbing.


Monday Motivation Needs More Dogs

I would include a picture of one of my dogs here but they’re both currently hiding in a back room, sound asleep. They were both really anxious to get out the door this morning to pee, though, and perhaps that should be a parallel for any discussion of Monday Motivation: attack the week with the same motivation we have when rushing to the bathroom first thing in the morning.

There is a story, most likely apocryphal, that legendary news anchor Edward R. Murrow was able to put a sense of urgency in his voice during morning newscasts by forcing himself to wait until after that newscast before going to the restroom. I can see where that might possibly be effective, but Murrow was known for heavy drinking and chain smoking. Neither of those habits inclines one to avoid going to the restroom for any length of time.

Dogs are motivated by their needs in the moment. If they need to pee, they demand to be let outside. If they perceive something as a threat, they bark. Endlessly. At all hours of the night. If they want affection, they find your lap even if you’re standing at the moment. Dogs don’t look outside themselves for motivation and perhaps we shouldn’t, either.

Monday Motivation, or motivation for any day, comes from within ourselves, what we need, what we desire, the things we want to do that make our lives better, or the lives of those we care about. Being motivated by someone or something else is rather shallow and, quite honestly, a bit of a risk. If we are motivated by the actions or words of someone else, how do we know that their motivation in those actions or words was honorable?

Things are too easily taken out of context. The Internet proves such a point every day. Someone posts a meme that claims to be quoting someone else and the first thing one has to do is run to Google and make sure that quote is genuine. Too frequently, we’re fed lies in the form of motivation. No one needs to be motivated by lies.

Monday Motivation does not come from this article, nor anywhere else on the Internet. Monday Motivation comes from within yourself.

The challenge is not to be motivated, but to be motivating.

Right after another cup of coffee.

Why Black Friday Needs To End

The days of waiting in line all night for a chance at a bargain need to be over.


charles i. letbetter - goodbye black friday

[Note: The following article was originally published at Charles I. Letbetter Creative about this time last year, which is why some of the image content is NSFW. They kindly gave us permission to re-publish the entire thing so that the Old Man wouldn’t have to write something all-too-similar this year. We’ll stop complaining when the situation changes, which means we’ll have to do something else again this time next year.]

I am doing well to move this morning. No longer being accustomed to standing on my feet for hours on end, yesterday’s marathon of ten hours in the kitchen did me in. My ankles were throbbing as I fell into bed early last night. This morning, walking the dog was painful. None of my joints wanted to cooperate. This is all beside the fact that I still feel totally overstuffed from dinner. After yesterday, I don’t see how anyone can even think about getting up too damn early and standing in line for an alleged deal.

Black Friday used to be a tradition for a lot of families, but that tradition seems to be waning rather heavily.  I took note as we walked through the neighborhood this morning. Several cars were missing yesterday as many had gone to visit relatives for the holiday. However, everyone was back home this morning. No one was out shopping at 4:00 AM. The only vehicle out was the local newspaper carrier.

While it’s still much too early to get many reliable reports, lower numbers seem to be the case elsewhere. Britain tried adopting the U.S. tradition a few years ago, but reports this morning are that UK shoppers and retailers have largely turned their backs on Black Friday. We’re accustomed to hearing tales of chaos and fighting, but Business Insider sent someone out early to Wal-Mart and they reported everything was quiet, calm, and not the least bit overcrowded. Black Friday as we once knew it is dead. Sure, there’s still shopping, and greed, and one-day sales, but the whole event has changed and isn’t likely to return to the madhouse it once was.

This is a good thing.

The Myth Of Black Friday

charles i. letbetter - goodbye black friday

Black Friday has never been the big savings bonanza people tend to think. Prices are marked down on a few highly visible loss leaders in an attempt to get people into stores. For decades, that plan has worked. Here’s a hilarious video that explains the whole concept:

For years we’ve fallen for this piece of retail fraud. We like the idea of sales. In fact, we’ve conditioned ourselves to not pay what we think is full price for anything. Retailers know this. So, that “full price” is falsified so that the actual “full price” looks like a bargain. We fall for the trick every time.

We also like the holidays and for many Black Friday shopping is a part of their holiday routine. Whole families have been known to go out together, setting up tents in frigid temperatures, and pretending to love every minute of it because, hey, it’s the holidays and it’s families. Retailers know that as well and they’ve pushed store openings earlier to the point that many now open on Thanksgiving day itself. Why? Because they know you just can’t wait to start the holidays.

So, while retailers may be guilty of starting the whole Black Friday ruse, we’re the ones guilty of perpetuating it and making it worse. The ridiculousness only works because we buy into the whole myth. If we actually applied intelligent thought to the matter, the whole event would quickly go away.


But Wait, Something Is Changing

charles i. letbetter - goodbye black friday

This year Black Friday is noticeably different. Multiple news sources are finding that Black Friday is losing its focus and online sales surged yesterday as more people decided to stay home and shop online. Major big-box retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy as well as online powerhouse Amazon all started their Black Friday sales two weeks in advance for those savvy enough to be paying attention.

In some ways, Black Friday isn’t just a one-day event, but an entire shopping season unto itself. With online sales having grown by over 16%, brick-and-mortar retailers are having to scramble harder and getting much less in return. Last year’s Black Friday numbers were some of the most disappointing ever, leaving a large number of stores still looking at red on their accounting books rather than black. The hope this year has been that by expanding the sales as well as embracing online shopping that disaster might be averted.

Take note, though: US retailers weren’t hurting nearly as bad as they let on. Sales numbers at discount merchants, which is where most of you are shopping in the first place, have been booming. Deep discounters, such as Dollar Store and Dollar Tree are actually expanding, building more stores, and hiring more staff. Who’s left hurting are high-dollar luxury goods stores and high-end department stores such as Macy’s and Nordstrom.  Mall stores such as Abercrombie & Fitch and American Apparel are at risk of having to close more stores if this holiday season does not improve dramatically, and there’s no indication it will.

Sure, we still love a good sale, but fewer of us are willing to get out of bed at some ungodly hour on a cold morning in November to actually take advantage of those sales. We’d rather sit home, surf on our phones, and buy that cute sweater online. Black Friday as a day of chaos and high sales appears to be all but dead.

Controlling Our Greed

charles i. letbetter - goodbye black friday

I’ve complained about Black Friday before. In fact, these photos were first part of a Black Friday rant four years ago. Unfortunately, we lost that particular article when the server crashed a couple of years ago. Still, my point is that this exercise in sheer greed is not new. Just because the shape of Black Friday is expanding beyond a single 24-hour period doesn’t mean that we’re buying any less. We’re not. If anything, our constant consumption has taken our shopping to new heights. While the bash-em-in-the-head version of Black Friday might be over, what we’ve done is expand the scope and methodology of our greed. We’re buying more.

Sure, where we’re shopping has changed. We’re buying more from local stores, which improves our local economy. We’re buying more online, which helps the environment a little bit, allegedly. We’re still buying, though, and not necessarily so we can give to others. While the numbers vary wildly from one report to another, a fair portion of us useBlack Friday sales to buy things for ourselves. That new big screen TV? Yeah, that’s going in our own living room. We can call if a family gift if you want, but we still know the actual reasoning was pure selfishness. We deserve it, right? That sweater? Hey, it’s getting colder out and that one you bought last year is looking a bit ratty. And you can never have too many pants.

We don’t need to have a Black Friday to be greedy. We just are. We always have been. Each year, we say we’re going to give more to charity. Each year, there are more opportunities to real good. Each year, we just let those opportunities slip right on by. Why? Because those boots are40% off the price previously marked up 50$. We’re not buying them for the kids, or for Aunt Ella. Those are going in our own closets. We’re greedy.

Herein lies the perpetual hypocrisy of Thanksgiving, a reflection of much of the hypocrisy other countries see in all of America. We claim to be so concerned about others. We claim to want what is best for the world. But in the end, it’s our own fat asses we take care of. We give thanks for what we have and then demand more.

I made sausage balls yesterday and set them out for everyone to snack on throughout the day. My hope was that they would be enough to keep the little ones out of my hair. It didn’t work. They looked at the overflowing container and asked, “It this all we’re getting?”

We learn greed young. We need to get over our fat selves. Let’s kill Black Friday for good. Stay home. Don’t shop for what you don’t legitimately need. Stop the greed.

god isn't real but santa's bringing presents

“On a busy day twenty-two thousand people come to visit Santa, and I was told that it is an elf’s lot to remain merry in the face of torment and adversity. I promised to keep that in mind.”

― David Sedaris

Living with a seven-year-old around this time of year gets interesting. On one hand, she’s in second grade now and is learning all sorts of things. We are so very thankful that she’s learning. Heaven forbids the child to grow up ignorant and marry a Republican. On the other hand, however, she doesn’t always get her facts straight. The child is easily confused, such as the difference between God and god. She doesn’t get it. Therefore, when she’s told that “gods aren’t real,” in reference to Greek and Roman mythologies, our child comes home sounding like an atheist.

“God isn’t real, you know” she announced recently. “He’s just something somebody made up.”

Uhmmmmmm … Now how the hell am I supposed to respond to that?

“Okay, baby girl, if that’s what you want to believe.” That’s what I said. I didn’t feel comfortable saying it, but I felt the need to support her.

I waited for her brother to respond. After all, he’s eight years old, almost nine. He knew everything we did last year and now he’s pretty sure he knows more than us. He typically takes the exact opposite view of anything his sister says, so I was interested in his opinion. I didn’t have long to wait.

“Some people believe in God even if he isn’t real,” he said. “It’s okay for people to believe in things that are not real. You know, like San …” He caught himself and saw the stern look I shot his direction. He had pretty much stopped believing in Santa last year, all on his own. His conversion to full-scale nonbeliever happened this past Spring when he looked up the North Pole on Google Maps. Somehow. I tried it and came up with nothing. OF course, there’s North Pole, Alaska, but what he saw was a barren field of snow. No houses. No way to build a house. Therefore, nowhere for Santa to build a house. No house, no elves. No elves, no Santa. So goes the eight-year-old’s logic.  He’s been warned, with the threat of getting no presents, to not spoil Santa for his sister. He stopped himself just in time.

His sister, in true sibling fashion, doubled-down on her argument. “God doesn’t exist and believing in something that doesn’t exist is just stupid.”

I winced. 

Her brother shot back, “You don’t get to tell people what they can believe, you know. They have to make up their minds for their self.”

Okay, maybe the kid is smarter than we are. He’s definitely more on top of the game than many adults I know.

That deal with kids and God

The Young Woman (TYW) and I are very careful in how we approach any manner of religious conversation with the kids. We each grew up Southern Baptist. She even had the displeasure of attending a parochial school through eighth grade. We each made our own journey away from those teachings for different reasons. She had taken the kids to church a couple of times before I showed up, but wasn’t consistent in going and didn’t make a big deal of the whole religion thing, to begin with. Moreover, she had a copy of the Q’ran sitting on the shelf next to the Bible and can speak with relative fluency to either belief system.

We had the discussion about religion when I joined the family. I was well into my general agnosticism and specific disdain for evangelicals by that point but was occasionally known to slip into a back pew for special services just because I like the music. I didn’t want my lack of belief to interfere with whatever she had going with the kids. She filled me in on their bit of history and we agreed that should the kids have any questions that we would answer them as fairly and reasonably as we could, but leave things open so they could make their own decision. If they want to go to church, or synagogue, or worship center, we are willing to accommodate that so long as we can verify it’s not a doomsday cult (which is getting increasingly difficult). 

Of course, those who are religious are adamant about teaching children about their belief system from the earliest moments possible. TYW and I went through that indoctrination ourselves. Yes, let’s be totally honest, Sunday School is indoctrination. What adults do is Bible study. The difference is that ability to judge for oneself what is or isn’t real, whether what one is being told is true or not. Adults have the ability (allegedly) to make that differentiation on their own. Children, for the most part, do not. When we push a given belief system onto children in an authoritative manner, we are indoctrinating them. The only choice they’re making is whether to obey their parent(s), not whether they want to follow a belief system.

Our daughter is proof that they don’t always understand the religious concepts being taught. She still doesn’t understand the difference between God and god but her opinion as to whether a deity exists wavers back and forth, depending on the day and what is being studied at school. Earlier this week, she told me that the seasons change, “because God’s wife keeps coming and going to hell and back.”

I had to think about that one for a moment. God’s wife? She took my pause as the need to explain.

“Hades was in love with her but God didn’t want to give her up and so she goes back and forth so they’ll both be happy and that’s why we have our seasons,” she explained, complete with hand gestures.

Ah, I got it. “You mean, Persephone?”

Her little eyes grew wide with amazement. “How did you know about her?”

Daddy’s not quite as dumb as he looks, or feels for that matter. I just love that the school is inadvertently teaching polyamory along with the mythology, too. I wonder how many of the kids can identify with splitting their time between two different sets of parents? Love who you choose to love, even if you have to divide your time between seasons.

This is not getting any easier.

The whole Santa Claus thing

While our little one may be confused about the deities, she is quite certain in her belief of Santa Claus and no, we’re not doing anything to stop it. Our take has been that it’s one of the few innocent elements of childhood that hasn’t yet been corrupted for her. We’ll let her keep that belief as long as she wants, even if, somehow, that goes into adulthood (not that we actually think that might happen). Her belief in Santa doesn’t affect her generosity toward others nor does it undermine her social progress significantly. Most of her classmates still believe, her teacher supports that belief system, so we’re all good.

Yes, I’m aware that certain psychologists say that children are better off knowing the unvarnished truth about Santa right from the beginning [source]. These so-called “professionals” use the reasoning that, “when we use a coercive, manipulative strategy to get our kids to behave, we are relying on extrinsic contingencies by telling them to be good in order to get what they want. And once that motivation is gone, how do we know they’ll still feel compelled to behave?”

Uhm, who the fuck uses Santa to get kids to behave all year long? Hell, it has never worked on any of my kids more than a week out from Christmas, and even then it’s shaky at best. No, it is quite possible to support a child’s belief in Santa and still teach them to behave appropriately. Children don’t believe in Santa out of fear but because he represents love—and presents. Children are greedy little bastards.  

Then, the psychologists say that Research shows that kids who are lied to by their parents are more likely to lie themselves. They are correct on that one. Lying to your children repeatedly, especially when they catch you, sets them up for some real problems in dealing with the truth as teens and sometimes even as adults. 

When it comes to Santa, though, we’re not lying so much as we are supporting a belief system. If believing in Santa is lying, then the same argument could be made that telling them about God, or Allah, or Vishnu, or Buddha could also be lying. Any religion one might want to choose is on as equally tenuous ground as is Santa.

I asked the little one when she wanted to write her annual letter to Santa. Her response was filled with the skepticism she has picked up from adults.

“Not now. Next Friday is Black Friday and we need to see if we survive that first,” she said, while thoroughly occupied by a learning game on her Kindle. 

I just sat there and blinked at her. We don’t shop on Black Friday.  Never have. I didn’t realize we are in danger. 

Balancing our personal mythologies

Let’s get real for a moment. We all have our mythologies. Not all of them are necessarily religious in nature, but we have them. For example, how many of us were taught that if we would just “work hard” we would be successful? All my life I have been force fed countless examples of people who worked hard and made a lot of money. The truth, however, is that maxim applies to fewer than one percent of the world’s population. Most people who work hard end up with exhausted bodies, dependent on government and family support to survive their waning years, and typically die without enough money to pay for their funerals. My parents and grandparents are all good examples of how wrong the myth is. Yet, we still pass the myth along to our children as though it were gospel.

Mythologies have their purpose. They teach us to be better people, to be compassionate, loving, and merciful. They also warn us what happens when we do the opposite. One thing about mythologies is that they don’t tend to let bad folks get away with much. Being bad typically results in some rather extreme consequences, such as losing one’s head, being turned to stone, or swallowed by a snake. All of these are great moral tales that reinforce the lessons we should carry with us through life. Tell the truth. Be kind to other people, even if you don’t know them. Don’t lie or deceive. Don’t take what isn’t yours. 

As adults, we theoretically have the reasoning capability to decide for ourselves which mythologies, if any, we wish to believe. Some choose to follow the teachings of a particular deity, a decision that can be quite popular when everyone else in one’s community supports that same belief system. Some choose to not follow any mythologies at all, arguing that lies are lies even when their intentions may be honorable and that we are better off seeking the truth for ourselves.

Children, however, don’t have that reasoning capability yet. While we can tell them stories and hope that they pick up on the moral lessons they contain, their “belief” is typically limited to following along with members of their own communities, such as their classmates or playtime friends. Forcing a belief on them that cannot be fully supported by science and established rules of research is potentially damaging as they inevitably discover the fallacies of the myth.

There’s no long-term harm in allowing a child to believe in Santa, nor is there any real danger in a disbelief of Zeus, or Hercules, or Jesus. At this point in our children’s lives, there are much more important struggles to face. Picking up one’s own laundry is a constant struggle. Dealing with the natural consequences of our actions is a challenge we face every day. Not bullying one’s sibling seems to come up about every five minutes or so. Those are the lessons that are important.

Most critical of all, though, is that children learn to love. While myths can do a great job of reinforcing that value, the primary source of a child’s belief in love and their ability to practice it depends almost wholly on how it is taught through their parents’ example. What you and I do, what we say not only to them but to other people, how we respond to the challenges life throws at us, teaches them how to treat others. If we demonstrate love in all we do it is almost impossible for them to do otherwise.

I asked our little one what she thinks is the real meaning of Christmas. “Snow day,” she said. No mention of Santa. No mention of gods. No mention of Persephone. I can’t argue with that reasoning, though. We live in Indiana. There is almost always snow by Christmas. Why would she expect anything different?

Kids. Look at them constantly reminding us that we’re over-thinking things. Maybe they really do know more than the rest of us.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

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Death of the American Mall

“I think now, we think of malls as these things that double as minimum security prisons or something because they’re so boring to visit and so walled in, and now they’re not the cool, new place to be.” -Jan Rogers Kniffen

I remember the first mall I ever visited. Woodland Hills Mall was located in what was then a remote field on the Southeast side of Tulsa, Oklahoma. As we were driving out to the mall, with absolutely nothing around it for miles, it seemed preposterous that anyone would drive so far just to go shopping. Yet, as history shows, people did drive that far. South Tulsa development boomed and billions of dollars were made in the process. Similar situations occurred in every major city across the country. Indoor malls, the very concept that one could shop at more than one store without being out in the elements, were exactly the solution shoppers were wanting.

Malls were wonderful. We hung out there. We met friends there. We dined there. We saw movies there. One could go to the mall when it opened at 10:00 AM and reasonably find enough things to do until it closed at 9:00 PM, provided one had sufficient financial backing. As my generation got older, malls were the safe place we would go to walk, get in that little bit of exercise our doctors keep hounding us to do. We saw school choir performances, fashion shows, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Malls were an integral part of our world.

Today, though, not only has that world changed, we have actively turned our backs on malls for the past ten or so years. When we look at the state of malls today no one can be surprised because we’ve not been going to malls except when there was no other choice. Our disdain with malls has become so severe, that the development companies that run the malls, such as Indianapolis based Simon Properties, are doing everything they can to even avoid using the word mall [source]. You’ll find “The Shoppes At Such-And-Such Crossing,” or, “BlahBlah Town Centre,” or even, “Whatchamacallit Village.” Anything is better than the word mall. The word is poison.

If we want to be honest, and many of us would rather not, malls themselves are poison. Malls have completely destroyed the retail economy and created an expectation among shoppers that there is always a sale, no one has to pay full price, and that you’re not a savvy shopper if your receipt doesn’t tell you how much money you saved. As a result, retailers operate on such a thin profit margin that they cut corners anywhere they can, especially in product production. Want to know why very little of what you buy is made in America or Europe? Blame the mall economy. In order for stores to survive, they’ve long had to resort to buying from whoever could produce goods the cheapest, even if that means they’re using slave labor. Just tell us we’re getting a good deal on that cashmere sweater and we’ll look the other way.

Mall developers, of course, are trying desperately to salvage their investments where they can. The battle is being lost, of course. We know that. We’ve known it long enough that when Business Insider ran a story on Thursday with the headline, “These haunting photos of the retail apocalypse reveal a new normal in America,” our first response is, “Yeah, and …?” The information in the article isn’t new. Neither are the pictures.

The day of the mall as a dominant shopping experience is not only over, it’s completely dead. There is very little reason for any city of any size to have more than one mall and very few reasons for stores, especially fashion retail, to participate in them. In their place, property developers would do well to look at alternatives that better fit the needs of generations younger than myself. Baby Boomers are no longer the demographic anyone needs to be courting unless they’re selling adult diapers and emergency bracelets. We need new ideas and I just happen to have a few suggestions.

Convert existing malls into self-sustaining communities

This is a concept that is already being tried in some of the more progressive, or perhaps desperate parts of the country [source]. Taking away the duplicate department stores selling slightly different versions of the same merchandise and replacing them with housing and workspace is a concept that has existed since at least 2007 but has found only a handful of developers willing to take a chance on the idea. By converting former mall properties in this way, developers have a chance to address multiple community issues such as affordable housing, food deserts, and urban blight. Such communities could go a long way in transforming challenging urban neighborhoods that have seen many retailers pack up and leave in recent years.

For this concept to work, though, requires not only the cooperation of retailers but business owners who might employ the people who would choose to live in such communities. Big tech firms such as Google and Apple have experimented with their own live/work campuses to varying degrees of success, but we’ve not seen non-tech companies grab hold of the concept at all. Success for this kind of development requires a variety of employers, including those who hire unskilled workers, or else the concept is ultimately unsustainable.

Better integration with online services

Online shopping is given a lot of the blame for the demise of mall shopping. Never mind that too many malls were built to be sustainable or that the mall economy ate its largest retailers for lunch. Online shopping is an economic force that is coming into its own and dominates not only retail but things like construction, shipping, and logistics. There are too many advantages to online shopping to everything that it is going to decrease in the near future.

What we’re still missing, though, is full integration between online ordering and brick-and-mortar stores. Some larger retailers, such as Home Depot and Walmart, have figured out the advantage of providing same-day pickup on items ordered online. Grocery giant Kroger launched a curbside pickup service earlier this year as well, though it has yet to fully capture grocery shoppers who are notorious for browsing the aisles. While these are a beginning, there is a lot more that could be done; things like ordering a garment online then having it fitted in-store or using stores as a basis for same-day delivery of items. No one really likes having to wait three to seven days for free ground delivery. Having retailers more tightly integrating brick-and-mortar stores with online services creates a winning scenario for everyone.

Build experiences, not shopping centers

Just a few miles away in Columbus, Ohio, developers and retailers are experimenting with a variety of different concepts that put an emphasis on having an experience rather than going shopping [source]. We already know that younger generations prioritize experiences over materialistic purchases [source]. Yet, retailers and developers are being extremely slow and cautious about latching onto that concept and creating spaces where shopping isn’t the main attraction. This is a situation that desperately needs to move beyond the experimentation in Columbus and into the mainstream as quickly as possible.

While Millennials get a lot of the blame/credit for this shift in thinking, the fact is that those of us who are older are rather tired of the old way of shopping as well. As we get older, we need a stronger reason for getting out of our climate-controlled houses than picking up a new pair of orthopedic shoes. We already know what size we wear, we can get those online and the nice delivery person brings them right to our front door. If someone wants us to leave home they need to start giving us all more reasons to do so. Give us new generation parks where we can watch our grandchildren play. Give us live theater that doesn’t cost as much as a week’s grocery budget. Build places that are never going to necessarily smell of commercial-grade disinfectant.

Solutions are there

I think what bothers me about the continued spate of articles such as those in Business Insider and Fashionista this week is that they’re not bringing to light any problems we haven’t known about for at least ten years. We’ve also known about the solutions equally as long. Yet, here we sit in 2017 still bemoaning the loss of the neighborhood mall.

Get over it. Malls are dead. We should celebrate their demise and move on to something more vibrant, more exciting, and does a better job of addressing the needs of the communities in which they reside. Americans like almost anything that is new and shiny and gives them a chance to feel good about themselves. There is a lot of space for creative developers and retailers to turn lackluster sales into booming business if they can just get away from the 50-year-old concepts that have dominated the industry since I was a child.

The time to make a choice is now. 2018 is going to be pivotal for many companies. The American mall is dead. Give us a new experience, though, and we’re there. Go ahead. Try us.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

Time is up for America's Malls

photo credit: charles i. letbetter

Surviving mornings when you're not a morning person

I am not a morning person. Not even close. If it were up to me, my day would start somewhere around 10:00 and ease into work mode somewhere around noon. I start slow. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually been able to follow that schedule, though. Real life doesn’t care what my body’s natural rhythm is. There are deadlines to meet. People want answers now. Contacts over in Europe would really like me to respond before they close up shop for the day, which, coincidentally, is about 10:00 AM Eastern Standard Time.

Add to that schedule the fact that we have school-age children who dominate the early morning. Currently, they get on the bus right at 7:00. That means they need to be on their feet no later than 6:15 if we want them to catch that bus. They’re not old enough to responsibly get themselves ready every morning, so we have to be up and awake and in charge. We control how their day starts, which subsequently relates to whether they have a good day at school.

In an ideal world, we would all be able to follow our body’s natural circadian rhythm. For those in the back who haven’t been paying attention over the past 40 years, circadian rhythms are “physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle [source].” If we were as smart as we pretend to be we would adjust our schedules and routines so that we’re working during the times when our bodies are most inclined to be productive, exercise when our muscles are best toned for stretching, and sleep when our bodies tell us. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Without question, we would all be healthier, get more done, and live happier lives if we were to follow our body’s natural timing.

However, one of the downsides of the industrial revolution is that corporations need everyone in the same place at the same time in order to get things done. Despite all the advances we’ve made in distance and remote working, there are still too many instances where we need people in an office, or a boardroom, looking at each other face-to-face. That means we have to put aside out circadian rhythms and follow a unified schedule. More often than not, unified schedules mean being in an office by 9:00 every morning, a time when many people’s bodies would much rather be sleeping.

Forcing ourselves into schedules outside our circadian rhythms has its downside. Not only are we likely to be less healthy, we are also more prone to making mistakes [source]. Errors may not be a big deal if one is in a dead-end job where their efforts are duplicated a couple of dozen times, but it can have devastating effects if one is, oh, a brain surgeon or something really important like that. So, when we find ourselves in a schedule that is oppositional to our natural circadian rhythms, we have to make some adjustments to keep everything around us from exploding (hopefully using that word in a metaphorical context).  I’m about to give you some life hacks. Pay attention.

Prep your morning before going to bed

There are certain things in everyone’s life that we just know we’re going to have to do before we walk out the door in the morning. Things like getting dressed, personal hygiene, and probably coffee. We know we’re still going to be half asleep when we do those things, though, so the best way to combat potential areas in this department is to prepare for them the night before. Go ahead and decide what you’re going to wear and set everything in a safe place where you can find them literally with your eyes shut. This avoids time lost and mistakes made when we go searching for clean clothes when our brains have yet to start functioning. Set out a towel and washcloth. Prep the coffee so that all you have to do is turn things on (better yet, get a coffee maker with a timer).

When we do this, we make morning life a lot easier for ourselves by reducing the amount of actual brain activity required before our brains are ready to be active. Give yourself some space where you’re able to reasonably function on auto-pilot until you’re fully awake and aware of what’s going on around you. Don’t force yourself into a position of having to jump out of bed and start making decisions before your eyes are even open.

Nix the bright lights

Our brains respond to light in a very interesting fashion. Bright, cool light tells our brains that it is time to be awake and productive. Warm, soft light tells us that it is time to chill, relax, and prepare for sleep [source]. Having super-bright lights in your bedroom makes zero sense because that is the one place where you need your brain to take it easy, not try and keep you up all night. This means you’re probably going to have to make some adjustments like leaving your cell phone on a nightstand turned face down and changing the wattage of the bulbs in your bedroom from 100 watts to something more in the neighborhood of a soft 40 watts. Most importantly, make sure the room is as dark as possible when you go to sleep. Even nightlights disrupt your sleep pattern and keep you from resting as well [source].

Non-compensated plug here: GE makes a special bulb called C-Sleep that is designed to fit our natural sleep patterns. These are LED bulbs controlled by an app on your smartphone. You set the times at which you need sleep light versus wakeup light and the bulb adjusts to give you the right kind of light for the time of day. The bulbs are a little pricey on the front end ($75 on the front end when ordered directly from GE) but only use 11 watts of electricity so they’re likely to save money on your electric bill. Most importantly, they give you the right light to help you rest and get your morning started off well.

Eliminate distractions while you sleep

This is a big one for me and one that, quite honestly, I don’t do well enough. I’m a light sleeper. I grew up in a family where the phone was likely to ring in the middle of the night and when it did it was never good news. Depending on the severity of the situation (whether one or both parents were needed), we could find ourselves getting dressed and having to jump in the car at 3:00 AM without any warning. That uncertainty set up a life-long habit of constantly listening for sounds that might indicate an emergency. Sure, I no longer have to worry about my phone ringing at 3:00 AM, but my brain won’t turn off that switch. any noise and I’m up and assessing the danger level. It doesn’t help that I have a dog who is even more sensitive to sound than I am.

The general recommendation to help us get a good night’s sleep is to listen to white noise, such as the sound of waves crashing, while we’re snoozing [source].  Generally speaking, I rather like that idea with one exception: we have children. Those of us who have children know that we have to keep one ear open all night in case one of the kids wakes up and needs attention. The younger your children are the more critical this factor.

While we may not all be able to enjoy falling under the spell of white noise all night, we can do other things to minimize distractions. Things like taking down wind chimes, keeping pets sequestered outside the bedroom, and using sound-reducing shades to block out external traffic noises can all help. We may not be able to eliminate all the distractions but we can minimize them enough to help our sleep be more effective.

Establish a morning routine

Just because our eyes are open and our body is out of bed and mobile doesn’t mean we’re actually conscious just yet. This whole waking up thing takes a minute, you know? If we have a routine, though, we can allow our bodies to operate on auto-pilot as long as we have a routine that is safe and efficient to get us through the first five-ten minutes of our day. Mine is pretty simple. When my feet first hit the floor, the first thing I do is let the dogs out the back door. I can almost do this with my eyes shut because the dogs flank me every step of the way. They won’t let me deviate from the appointed path. While the dogs are out, I put food in their bowls and check the cats’ food supply as well and then fill the community water bowl. By this point, the dogs want back inside. Making coffee and pouring my morning cereal (necessary for taking morning meds) are next in line. The first 20 minutes of my day are a set routine that never deviates even on weekends (the animals don’t care if it’s Sunday or Tuesday, they still want out and to be fed).

There’s no right or wrong to what one puts in their morning routine, simply that it be consistent. Personally, I like things peaceful and quiet so my brain and slowly ease into gear before the children get up and start demanding that I think. Those whose existence is more solitary might find benefit in turning on music and there are even some crazy people who find an early morning run to be helpful. The nature of your routine depends largely on your circumstances and the rhythms in which your body wakes up. Find what works for you and stick to it. After a couple of weeks, muscle memory takes over and the routine becomes automatic.

Give yourself plenty of time

I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to leave the house to go to work. My commute consists of turning my chair around and looking at the computer. For most people, though, going to work means getting in a car, fighting their way through traffic, and struggling to make it into work on time every morning. I’ve been there and know that it’s not easy. One is tempted to wait until the last possible minute to get out of bed and then rush to work like a bat out of hell. The problem with that approach is that it increases our stress levels and makes it much more likely that we will make mistakes and even leave things at home, such as the notes for that all important meeting you had right at 9:00.

Give yourself some time before you have to put on your super suit and be an action hero. I set my alarm at 5:00 every morning not because I’m a morning person but because I’m not and I need that hour and fifteen minutes to mentally prepare myself for children. On the very rare morning something happens and I don’t get up well before the demons, their morning doesn’t go well. I’m crankier than normal (and that’s never a good thing), I’m more easily frustrated, and my blood pressure meds haven’t had time to kick in yet so I’m more likely to yell and scream over insignificant things like why no one can find one of the 50 million combs and brushes I know we have in this house. Your time may vary, of course, but waiting until the last minute isn’t helping you. Get out of bed a little earlier and give yourself a chance to start the day better.

Avoid the negative

I cut my adult teeth on the news. Working first for a local newspaper and then a major news syndicate, the news is in my blood and something that will never leave. The news is rarely a positive starting point, though, and having the Internet at my fingertips only makes the obsession worse. I have aggregators that assemble all the important stories that have accumulated overnight and place them in my inbox for my convenience. What I have learned, though, is to not start my day by opening those email. As tempting as it is, I leave those alone until I have found something, somewhere, to make me laugh. Not a big, loud guffaw mind you. I want everyone else to stay asleep for a while. Just something that makes me giggle on the inside and maybe turn up the corners of my mouth for a few seconds.

Our lives are filled with enough negative things. The instant that those emails are opened I’m going to go from smiling to concerned or worried or angry. If I can put off all that negative emotion for a bit I’m less likely to let that negativity spill onto the people around me. Sure, there are days when the news is so bad and so unavoidable that the people around me are affected; there typically isn’t anything I can do to stop that from happening, especially given the current state of chaos. There is a lot I can do to reign that in, though, and much of that starts with making my own morning as positive and upbeat as possible. When I wake the little ones, the first voice they hear should be cheerful, not angry.

There is no perfect solution

Lives are different and everyone’s circadian rhythm is different so don’t think that what works for me has to work for you. If you are one of those people who work third shift and has to sleep during the day, there are different precautions you have to take to make sure you are not disturbed. Those of us who work remotely from home can be much more flexible in our morning schedules than can those who are slaves to a corporate taskmaster who doesn’t care what’s going on in your personal life.

What’s important is that you find what works for you and don’t let anyone interrupt your flow. If you need to be in bed by 9:00 at night, don’t let someone shame you into staying up later. If you need your first cup of coffee to be stronger than what you drink the rest of the day, know that you’re not alone. You can make this work.

We have been born into a society that doesn’t really work for the vast majority of people. If it did, offices probably wouldn’t open before 11:00 in the morning and we’d all take a nap around 4L00 in the afternoon. Since corporations dominate a third or more of our lives, those schedules are not likely to change. We have to find solutions that help us fit into that routine in the best way possible. Hopefully, these tips work for you.

Abide in Peace
The Old Man

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surviving mornings when you're not a morning person

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Many can’t see the benefit of speaking up.

Source: Most people think there is a stigma attached to mental health at work – Business Insider

I’m going to keep this one fairly short because a) this is an area where advice is best left to experts, and b) there’s plenty of external reading to be done. Please, pay attention to the links we are including here.

So, why write anything at all? Because I am being constantly reminded that a lot of people have a negative attitude toward mental health. For me, personally, I grew up with my mother’s mental health issues. Then, my former wife had severe mental health issues. Over the years, large numbers of people I’ve known have wrestled with some form of mental health issue, ranging in severity from mild anxiety to severe depression and suicide attempts.

What is bothersome, though, is the degree to which people still look negatively upon those with mental health challenges. A close friend recently found herself facing one of those challenges and though she could admit there is a problem, convincing her to get help for that problem was difficult. Adding to that situation was fear of losing a job and making sure there was sufficient childcare while she is getting treatment. It’s not easy. The stigma we have, not only in the US but largely around the world, is stifling.

On one hand, there is some indication that the stigma is falling away. At least, there are some who are trying to help reduce it to the degree they can. Back in July, Madalyn Parker, a web developer, sent a message to her team, letting them know she was taking a couple of days off to attend to her mental health. The resulting exchange with her CEO, which she published on Twitter, went viral.

I agree with Ben Congleton that every corporation should make attending to one’s mental health as normal as attending to one’s physical health. This really should be a no-brainer. Mental health issues are the number one cause of lost productivity and the number two cause of employee absenteeism. If we don’t treat those issues, we lose people, we lose ideas, we lose productivity, we lose creativity, and yes, we lose revenue. One would think, given the level of greed amongst corporations, they’d want to attend to mental health issues for the cost factor alone.

Unfortunately, for every story such as Madalyn’s, there are stories like that of Miwa Sado, a Japanese reporter who died of congestive heart failure four years ago. Her death is just now, within the past week, becoming an issue after her former employer, NKM, revealed that the young woman’s death was caused by severe overwork. How severe? Try 159 hours of overtime in one month. This poor child died while working with her cell phone still clutched in her hand. She was only 31 years old.

But wait, isn’t that a physical health issue? In part, yes, but it was a mental health issue before it became a physical health issue. Anxiety over meeting job requirements is possibly one of the most frequent sources of anxiety in the world. Leaving that anxiety untreated results in situations like Ms. Sado’s.

Then, Business Insider publishes the article linked at the top of this article. 85% of people still feel a stigma attached to mental health issues. That stigma keeps us from even looking for help.

Dudes, life is stressful. No matter what your job is, no matter how you spend your day, there’s always someone storming into your domicile, beating you up (hopefully just metaphorically) and pissing on your rug (again, metaphorically). While being zen and meditating and smoking a fat one may help one chill, we gotta make sure we take the time to actually do those things. And when the problem is severe, and I know it is for a lot of folks, ya’ gotta find help from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. A professional. A good one.

Admitting that we have mental health issues doesn’t mean we’re crazy. It’s not all in our heads. It’s not something we can just “get over.” If someone says any of those things to you, you have my permission to take the following action:

themental health stigma

photo credit: charles i. letbetter

Dudes, take some time off. If you’re the boss, make sure your employees get the time they need as well. There are companies such as Sanctus who can help corporations and their employees. You’re not being lazy. You’re not being a slacker.

Taking care of our mental health isn’t a bad thing. This is how we abide.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

Cooking With Porn

The website is becoming quite educational.

Source: Pornhub Users Are Exchanging Food Recipes And Cooking Tips On The Adult Website –

I can hear the excuse flying now. Spouse discovers Pornhub listed in the browser history and confronts their significant other, “You’ve been watching porn, haven’t you?”

Defensively, the other replies, “Yes, but I only do it for the recipes!”

I have to admit, I am not able to confirm this article myself because there are small children running in and out of the room. The folks over at Design Taxi appear to have taken screenshots, though, and that’s good enough for the time being. I can just imagine being the writer who received that assignment. “Hey, Izza, we need you to do an article on recipes in the comments section over at PornHub. We need copy in a week.”

I don’t know Izza, obviously, but for most writers I know the response would have been, “I’m going to need more time to research this thoroughly.”

Just the general idea that there is cooking advice on a porn site opens the door to a plethora of bad jokes and puns. I mean, just think of all the bad porn sets that allegedly take place in a kitchen. The “cooking” metaphors alone could go on forever.

What makes me curious is whether things like this help legitimize porn to any degree. Consider what happened with Playboy. Over time, it really did become better known for its articles, especially its interviews, than its legendary pictorials. Not so much that it could actually drop the nude gatefold, mind you. They tried and it was a disaster that ended in the firing of a publisher. Still, few people are as offended by Playboy today as they were when Hef started the magazine in 1952. Could PornHub develop a similar reputation?

The challenge for PornHub is that not only is there a stigma about porn in general, there’s an equally negative stigma about people who watch porn. The conventional wisdom is that both are bad and shouldn’t be allowed in public. There are even studies showing the negative effects of porn and the criminal activities that take place, including rape and human trafficking that accompany the business. I won’t dispute any of that.

However, the exact same problems exist in the mainstream movie industry. Have you checked the news lately? Look at the list of people who are claiming Harvey Weinstein has committed sexual assault. Don’t think that mainstream Hollywood is any better than the porn industry. It isn’t. Yet, you’ll spend $15 a pop plus overpriced popcorn to see the latest drivel they produce.

Hypocritical, much?

Any way one chooses to look at it, the whole recipe thing is amusing. Click the link up top to read the original article on Let me know how the lasagna is.


Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

cooking with porn

photo: charles i. letbetter

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