Browsing Tag
mental health
We All Need A Vacation

Look at this! No story this week! We’ll start a new fantasy novel on July 5, but today, we get to do something different and since there are actually links in this article, we should remind you that bold italic words and phrases are links to whatever we’re referencing. Don’t be afraid to click on them. Thank you for reading!


I need a break. So do you. We’re half-way through this year and I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t feeling, at the very least, significant amounts of mental and emotional fatigue. Since the first of the year, we’ve had to deal with the following:

  1. Impeachment of the US President
  2. Political upheaval in Russia
  3. Locust invasion in Eastern Africa
  4. Coronavirus (renamed COVID-19) spreads around the world
  5. Philippine volcano eruptions
  6. Australia wildfires
  7. 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey (41 dead)
  8. Avalanche in Kashmir (100+ dead)
  9. Flooding in Indonesia (100+ dead)
  10. Kobe Bryant
  11. UK Brexit finalized
  12. Quarantine, unemployment, business failures
  13. Puerto Rico Earthquakes (2,455 since Dec. 22)
  14. Midland, Michigan, Dam Breach
  15. Nashville and other spring tornadoes (74 deaths so far)
  16. Continuing Humanitarian and Refugee Crisis in Venezuela
  17. Continuing Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen
  18. Continuing Humanitarian Crisis at US Southern Border
  19. Cyclone Amphan
  20. Continuing Rohingya Refugee Crisis
  21. New Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo
  22. Black Lives Matter protests
  23. Voter Suppression in US primary elections
  24. Threat of 23 million Americans losing health insurance
  25. US Army soldier conspiring against his own unit

All that has happened and there are plenty of signs that there is still more to come. While we’ve all been consumed with watching COVID-19 numbers going up, down, and back up again, Syrian civil war grows stronger and more violent. The US-China trade war has taken another nasty turn and looks to get worse. All of Latin America looks set for massive political upheaval that could result in a higher number of refugees fleeing those countries.

If you missed several of those news stories, you’re forgiven. The tidal wave of information on a daily basis has been more severe than I can remember and in the middle of that, Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, has been furloughing and outright firing huge portions of their newsrooms, all but eliminating any form of investigative journalism. We have no idea what’s being swept under the rug because journalists who would normally catch such things have been sidelined.

We have every right to be outraged. We need to be outraged. But outrage requires massive amounts of energy and collectively we’ve expended so much energy over the past three-and-a-half years that it feels as though we haven’t any left. One would be foolish to believe that nothing new is going to happen for the rest of the year. Hurricane season is just starting and we’ve already seen a higher-than-usual number of tropical depressions develop. The Saharan Winds, which happens annually, typically affecting a few places along the Gulf of Mexico, has fully engulfed the Caribbean and seems positioned to spread over much of the Eastern US by this weekend, making it the worst dust storm in decades. So, what happens when something unthinkable happens in August or September? Where will we find the energy to voice our anger, sadness, and despair in October and November?

I can’t, and won’t speak for you, but I need a break and I’m guessing most people are in the same boat. Not just a weekend away or a quiet night in a hotel, which I’ve been taking on occasion, but a full-on, turn-the-phone-off, no-WiFi-service-here, there-is-no-media vacation. Think of it as a long, hot shower for the soul, a chance to cleanse the mind of all the diseased information we’ve been consuming the past six months. I have reached a point where I can’t even scroll through Facebook any longer than a couple of minutes. Instead, I retreat in the evenings to highly-filtered mindless feeds that contain inspiring photography, cute babies and other animals, and short but smile-inducing videos. That’s all my brain can handle after the perpetual alerts coming in about someone who died, a major corporation closing, latest COVID-19 numbers, and another racist symbol coming down.

The problem I’m facing, however, is that there’s nowhere safe to go. I woke up Thursday morning to the news that the US set a new national record for the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a day. Over 36,000 new cases were recorded, breaking a record set on April 25. And while a lower percentage of those are likely to die than was possible back in April, the fact remains that there are still no peer-reviewed studies determining the long-term consequences of just having the virus. Among the biggest suspects observed so far are brain damage, long-term cardiac damage,  and mental health issues such as PTSD. While it will take scientists years to accurately track and sort out the data, the one thing of which we can be sure is that one doesn’t have to die from the virus to have their entire life irreparably altered by it, and to date, no one is tracking those numbers at all. 

I checked one of the online services to see what it would cost me to sneak away to a beach I’ve always enjoyed. While it’s not completely isolated by any means, the beach would be a change of scenery that would allow me to, hopefully, clear my head a bit, listen to the sound of the waves as they break, and maybe enjoy a rum-flavored drink or two. Immediately, right at the top of the search results, was a warning: “Your destination has enacted travel advisories and other regulations around COVID-19.” Lovely. I checked and, sure enough, the beach is closed, as are most of the restaurants and all of the clubs in the region. Then, to make matters worse, the day after checking that information, a news headline pops up showing a severe increase in COVID-19 cases in that area.

Check someplace else, right? We’re a country literally surrounded by beaches. But no matter where you check, Pacific, Gulf, Atlantic, they’re all experiencing surges in virus cases, and even if businesses are currently open, there’s no guarantee the whole thing might not shut down tomorrow. None of the places that stand to serve me well are safe. 

That’s not to say there aren’t pockets here and there that are relatively germ- and incident-free. Amarillo, TX looks fairly safe, if one likes high crime rates, high temperatures, and cars half-buried in the desert. Even though they currently show one of the lowest rates of virus infection in the country, though, much of what passes as entertainment in the outlaw city is either closed or severely limited in operation.

Most of the state of Montana has gone disease-free to this point as well. That might be due to the fact that prairie grass doesn’t spread the virus. If one wants that stranded-in-the-middle-of-nowhere experience, Montana might be a reasonable place to escape. Don’t everyone go at once, though, and stay away from camping at state parks—the CDC has issued a warning about that, too.

There are still a few beaches that show little sign of being affected by the virus. Coos Bay, Oregon reports zero new cases in the past two weeks, making it a rarity. While I’m not big into salmon fishing or rocky beaches (I really prefer sand), the local waterfalls and other sites could be sufficient compensation to provide the break I need. Getting there, however, still requires going through a major city’s airport, which could be enough to negate the whole deal. Oh, and there’s the fact that wildfire season started in that region this past week. I’m not feeling comfortable taking the risk this year.

Look around hard enough, and there are, perhaps, a handful of places in the country one might consider reasonably safe, but every last one of them has drawbacks that make me hesitant. I won’t go someplace too conservative because I don’t need that kind of hate in my life. There’s no point in going someplace that’s still largely in lockdown mode and, let’s be honest, most of the country should be in at least partial lockdown. There’s also little benefit, for me, of going to a town that’s so small the only other out-of-town guest is an air pump salesman from Hoboken. If I’m turning off all media, which I want to do, I need something to intersperse with the stack of books I’m reading. 

The sad truth is that there is no good and safe place for a vacation this year. COVID-19 has ruined that. Were I younger and at less risk, like Kat, then I might go ahead and venture out somewhere with appropriate levels of caution. I’m not. I have to watch where I go, what risks I take, and wear a mask anywhere I’m likely to come into contact with people. Millions of other people are in the exact same situation.

So, I’ll sit here, and you’ll sit there, quietly going crazy, hoping that we don’t cause our families any lasting trauma as we descend into the depths of mental fatigue and decay. At least I know I’m not alone. 

Oh, there aren’t enough mental facilities to hold us all when we collectively slip right on over the edge. That’s a cheery thought, isn’t it? Maybe, if enough of us go insane at the same time, no one will notice.

You know you don't read enough. You know you want to be reading a lot more. We've broken the article into chuncks to make reading easier.

“Reading Is Fundamental,” is what we were taught in elementary school. That was back in the days when schools had libraries full of these things called books and children were taught to not only recognize words in a sentence but to understand the context of those words and to appreciate the meaning of a story.

Those days are not entirely gone. I’m not a doomsayer who is certain that the digital revolution spells the end to civilization as we know it. If anything, technology offers us the opportunity to read more than we ever have before. We can know more than we ever have before.

But we don’t, do we? Despite all the resources and opportunity lying around us, our reading time is limited to the four seconds it takes to read a headline and deduce the contents of the associated article or story or book. We live in a world of assumptions thinking we know things we’ve never actually read or studied. Our level of knowledge is false but the extent of our Kreuger-Dunning disease is so severe we don’t care and refuse to acknowledge that we’re living in a fantasy world.

Actually reading is important. Yes, that means sitting down and taking time to not only consume words and sentences and paragraphs but to take some serious time to think about what we’re reading, the inferences of the words chosen and the implications that any given article or story might have to our own situation. The challenge is not that we don’t have the time but that we’d rather spend it doing mindless things such as looking at cat videos. We have devalued the art of reading to the point that we treat it much as we do a chore such as washing the dishes, making the bed, or scooping the cat’s litter box. If we could somehow delegate reading to another person, we would.

My challenge for everyone today is that we begin reclaiming the art of reading, that we take the time, put down the cat videos, and actually consume an entire story. Study the words, consider their meaning, appreciate the effort some writer took to put those words together in the particular order printed. Whether the source is digital or paper is, at this particular point, irrelevant. The words I’m about to give to you are not available in print so to insist that one only consume from that form of media would be a bit disingenuous. What matters is that you read.

I’ll start with a story from this past week, my experience in taking my driving test. I’ve not had a valid driver’s license for over ten years, which meant I had to go through the whole process again that I went through when I turned 16. This was a much different experience. Following that story, I’ll give you a few more from the archives, providing enough material to get one through at least 30-45 minutes of reading.

Of course, I already know that of the few people who start this article only two or three will actually finish. While that makes me sad, I’m not the one who can change that statistic. You are. Reading for yourself is not enough. We must encourage others to read as well.

Here’s the first story.

The Adventure of Taking My Driving Test

Art of Reading - Old Man Talking

It’s not fair, you know, an adult being told they can’t drive. Not in today’s world. One has to drive everywhere to get anything. I know because I’ve tried walking and I’m here to tell you that people in cars have absolutely no respect for people who are walking. If you want respect you have to be in another car, riding their bumper, then whip around them and cut them off right in front of a cop. That’s how you get respect. And a $750 ticket for careless driving.

Seriously, the last time I was stopped by a police officer it was because I was guilty of walking. Mind you, THERE WERE SIDEWALKS! What else is a person supposed to do with a sidewalk if they can’t walk on it? But no, someone called the police because they had a report of, and I kid you not, “a suspicious person, matching your description, walking.”

Walking. Not messing with anyone. Not snooping where I wasn’t supposed to be snooping. Just walking, on my way to the grocery to get milk, actually, and I get stopped because someone thought it was suspicious that a grown adult would be walking on a sidewalk in the middle of the afternoon. Who the hell calls the cops on someone who is walking? Oh, wait, Maybe they thought I was black or Hispanic. Or perhaps, since I was wearing a blue shirt, they deduced through their massive front window that I’m a registered Democrat There are people who would call the cops for either of those reasons. We’ve seen it happen too many times.

Bottom line is if you want to avoid harassment in these fan-fucking-tastic United States, one has to be able to drive. Not Uber. Not Lyft. Damn sure not the bus. Drive. If a person can’t drive, then there is a significant portion of society that doesn’t consider you a person. I know this because they’ve tried to run me down when I’ve been walking and the only reason they weren’t successful was that I looked at them and the stomped on the brakes out of fear. Had I been better looking, I’d likely be dead. Being scary saved my life when I was walking.

No kidding. About 11 years ago now, I was walking down the street through a part of Indianapolis that tends to have a reputation for being a bit rough. There’s a lot of gang activity in that neighborhood and the police are called to investigate shootings and homicides on a regular basis. I had to walk through this neighborhood at 11:00 at night. It was the only way to get home. I couldn’t afford a cab and the busses had stopped running. That’s right, this neighborhood was so scary even the buses wouldn’t go there at night.

So there I am, walking down the sidewalk, and I see this for young men coming toward me from the opposite direction. I start feeling nervous. There’s four of them, one of me, and my feet are already tired so running is out of the question. We’re getting closer to each other and I feel my heart start to beat faster, my palms begin to get sweating. I didn’t even have a cell phone to call 911. I was concerned about how to handle this situation.

Then, about 20 feet away from me, they stop. One of them points in my direction and whispers to the other three. I’m thinking, “Great, this is it, they’re planning how to kill me.” But I was wrong. The one pointing at me looks scared. His eyes get big because I didn’t stop, I just kept walking and I’m getting closer, and the other guys’ eyes get big too, and now I’m only about ten feet away from them.

That’s when they wave, quietly say, “Hey, how you doing?” then RUN to the other side of the street. Why? Because I scared them more than they scared me. I didn’t say a thing, either. Didn’t brandish a weapon, didn’t even pretend to have one. Just walked right at them. And they ran.

There comes a point, though, where walking just doesn’t cut it. It’s more than not getting the respect one deserves. From where I live now, it’s over four miles to the nearest coffee shop! That’s a matter of life and death, man! On those mornings when a person wakes up and discovers that someone else in the family decided to fix and drink the last of the coffee, it helps to have a coffee shop close by, but we don’t have one. 4.3 miles one would have to walk, crossing a major highway in the process. That’s a bit too dangerous. It was time for me to get my drivers license.

Now, I’ve had a drivers license before and I was a good driver. Had it not been for the fact that I had some health issues and almost cause a wreck, emphasis on the almost part, there would not have been an interruption in my driving. That happened, though, I gave up driving, and in Indiana when one hasn’t had a valid drivers license more than three years one has to take the whole set of tests all over again. All of them. Written test, eye test, organ donor test, and the driving test. Should be easy, right? Of course.

The problem is that included in all that is the trial driving period. After passing the eye test and the written test, one has to drive with another licensed driver for a total of 40 hours across a span of 180 days, minimum. That’s six months for those of you who went to public school. Six freakin’ months that Kat has to be sitting in the front seat with me every time I drive.

Understand, one of the reasons Kat was so excited and supportive of me getting my license back is so that she wouldn’t have to be the one to cart my fat ass all over town. She especially hated trips to the grocery store because I never can remember everything. We’d go to the store on Sunday, then Tuesday morning I’d tell her I need to go again.

“You were just at the store,” she’d say.

And I’d reply, “Yeah, but I forgot the cheese and I really need cheese for tonight’s dinner.” So, we’d go get cheese and I’d come out with 15 other things that I remembered that I’d forgotten. This would happen two and three times a week every week. She was getting a bit tired of it all. She really wanted me to have my license so I can take my own damn self to the grocery store.

We get through the trial period, I go to make an appointment for my driving test and I can’t find a time available at the nice Northside BMV office where I’d taken my other test. All the times were full when Kat was available to take me. I had to look at other BMV branches and the only one that had an opening within the timeframe I needed was on the South side of town right smack in the middle of one of those neighborhoods where people are likely to cross to the other side of the street when they see me coming. Rough neighborhood but that’s our only choice.

We get there a little before they open. Mine is the very first appointment of the day, always a good one because the person giving the test, the examining officer, is fresh and should be in a relatively decent mood unless they ran out of cream for their coffee or some similarly horrible personal event. They’ve not really had time for their day to be ruined by drivers who are not as good at driving as I am.

We walk in and all the BMV staff is standing behind the counter calling out numbers. “I can take the person holding number 1 here!” calls one. Another takes two, three, and so on. I have number six and a young woman calls for number six. I start heading in her direction when the person standing next to her shouts, “I need to see whoever has the first driving appointment! Whoever is scheduled for the 8:30 driving examination needs to come right here.”

Now I’m confused. Do I go to the person who is looking for number six or do I go to the person looking for the first driver? I’m both. To whom do I give my attention?

I walk to the young woman looking for the first driver and we get the number thing worked out and she gives me this exasperated look like I should have known better than to take a number but the sign at the front door said everyone needs to take a number and that’s exactly what I did. Nothing said anything about people taking driving tests not needing a number.

She instructs me to take a seat across the counter from her and I immediately start to feel nervous. This young woman is no older than my own sons, probably between the oldest and the middle sons. I have coffee mugs older than she is.

Part of my nervousness comes from how hard she’s trying to be authoritative. I guess when you’re young and short, she’s around 5’4” or so, getting people to respect the authority bestowed upon you by the state of Indiana isn’t exactly an easy thing to do. I get that. She’s doing her best to not appear as though she has a personal feeling in the world. She’s all business. No smiles. A permanent grimace all the way through the opening procedure.

“I need to ask you a few questions,” she says, pulling out a piece of paper with ink on both sides. This is not “a few” questions. I’ve had college finals that weren’t this long.

She starts the questions. “Have you ever had a license suspended or revoked by a judge in any state?”

No.

“Have you ever lost your license as part of a plea agreement or other court action?”

No.

“Have you ever been convicted of committing a crime while in the process of driving a motor vehicle?”

I swallowed my smart-mouthed answer and said, “No.”

She goes on and asks approximately 40 more questions covering every possible illegal act one might commit while driving a car. “Have you ever abandoned a moving vehicle? Have you ever killed anyone while driving a motor vehicle? Have you ever attempted to eat a gyro while driving and had the cucumber sauce drip onto the pants that you just paid $30 to have dry cleaned?”

No, no, and why are you paying $30 to have a pair of pants dry cleaned? Say they’re your dads and they’ll do it for $5.

We finish the questions, I prove to her that I’m not as blind as I look, she puts on a bright yellow safety vest and bright red ear warmers in case we are in a horrible accident and she has to walk back, and then we go out to the car. The first thing we have to do is show that both the brake lights and the turn signals all work. That means I’m inside the car with the seat warmer on, toasting my buns, while she’s out in the cold. They do, of course, and she comes around to the passenger side of the car to get in. And can’t.

The door’s locked. The locks on the car operate off a key fob. Kat and I both carry one and all we have to do is step up to the car and it unlocks the door for us. The driving examiner doesn’t have a key fob and I can’t find the freaking button to unlock the damn door. The thirty seconds of fumbling around felt like half a day. I was sure I could see her delicate skin beginning to chafe in the cold. I’m hoping I don’t get demerits for this.

She sits in the car and puts a clipboard on her lap. Attached to that clipboard is a piece of paper and on that piece of paper are all the things I can possibly do wrong to fuck up this driving test. The clipboard is on her lap, her pen is at the ready,she instructs me to back out.

Immediately, another person steps behind the car on their way into the BMV office. I see them in my mirror, she doesn’t.

“Anytime you’re ready,” she says.

“Just waiting for this pedestrian,” I respond, as the man passes by her window. She jumps in surprise and double-checks her seat belt.

From that point forward her pen never hit the paper. Maybe it was Indy roads and all that pot hole dodging (Indy’s next contribution to the Olympics). Maybe she was too scared to move. Maybe it was the lulling sounds of NPR on the radio. Maybe it was the seat warmer.

We drove around the block, I parallel parked without any curbs being assaulted and returned to the BMV office. The test really was that straight forward. We didn’t even talk, really. She gave instructions to go this way and that way and yes I instantly thought about that children’s song and wondered what it really means.

I did ask one question. I asked what the rule was regarding dodging potholes. Her response was to inform me that she was not allowed to answer any questions regarding the test, but yes, please, avoid the potholes.

We get back the the BMV office and she jumps out of the car. This is when I realize that her face is paler than it was when we started, and that’s saying something for a little red-headed person who likely has to wear SPF 40 just to open the microwave door. We get inside the BMV door and she says, “You passed, you did fine. Take a seat and someone will call for you.”

And then she disappeared.  Maybe she needed a drink. Maybe she needed to vomit. Maybe she needed to call a family member and tell them she loved them. Maybe she was double-checking her insurance. Another ten minutes would pass before she would return to her station. She was right next to where I was finishing up my license. Not once did she even glance my direction. She was visibly trembling.

But hey, I passed. I have a real driver’s license again, which means you have to respect me now or I’ll run your ass over.

Okay, maybe not your ass, but at least your toes. Seriously. Be nice.

Naked And Unashamed

Art of Reading - Old Man Talking

From the earliest moments of my childhood, the biblical myth was pounded into my head with a resounding moral: being naked is wrong. The predominant scripture used was this, from Genesis 3:

7And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

8And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

9And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

10And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

The theological arguments to be made here are irrelevant to my point: I was taught that being naked was wrong. For the past 52 years, I have not been comfortable being naked.

Now, given what I do, and the sometimes graphic nature of the pictures I take, the dichotomy here is severe. I’m comfortable with anyone else on the planet being comfortable, standing in front of my camera in said state, and distributing pictures of people in various states of undress. Go ahead, YOU can be naked; doesn’t bother me one bit.

But ME be naked? Okay, I have a problem with that.

I never have been comfortable being naked. Is that the fault of the religious prohibition? Perhaps. I’m sure that constant indoctrination has a great deal to do with my psychosis on the subject. Yet, I don’t think that alone is to blame.

I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, a time when exploration and personal expression was common place. Streakers were everywhere, it seemed. So, at the young age of 12 I tried streaking … in the back yard when no one else was home and neighbors couldn’t see. I made it about 15 feet from the door then hurriedly ran back inside. I didn’t like it. Being naked wasn’t just wrong, it felt uncomfortable.

A few years later, I tried again. I had seen something on television where one of the major characters slept nude. So, that night I quietly shucked my underwear and gave it a try. I didn’t last ten minutes before I was reaching for those tidy whities, thankful to have something keeping my most private parts ensconced and well protected.

Even after being married, when sex became a semi-regular event, I still wouldn’t sleep nude. We’d fuck, then snuggle, and as soon as she was asleep I was reaching for my underwear. I never walked around the house naked. I didn’t get into nude tanning. Never have been a huge fan of skinny dipping. Sorry, I’d just as soon keep my pants on, thank you.

So why is it, at the less-than-sexy age of 52, I am suddenly finding that, more often than not, I wake up naked? How is it that I am suddenly comfortable walking down the hall with my junk jiggling? What makes sitting around in a loose robe more palatable now than when my body was in a more flattering condition?

I can think of a few reasons.

One is that I have more reason to be nude now than I have before. My current situation, minus health issues, is one where clothes get in the way of spontaneous sexual activity. Sex is not just one of those things that happen one or two nights a week. Any time we are both conscious and interruptions are not likely, lively physical frolicking is likely to ensue. One needs to be ready to drop those drawers at a moment’s notice.

Another reason may be that there is no shame to nudity in my current situation. Sure, I’ve had other roommates *say* they didn’t mind being nude, but I never saw them in that condition unless it was specifically for the purpose of taking pictures. And had *I* walked through the house naked, they all would have turned red with embarrassment. That stigma doesn’t exist here. As long as little ones are not present, clothes are truly optional, if not outright discouraged. Being naked is celebrated, not merely given lip service (pun acknowledged).

More than anything, though, I think this new burst of being comfortable in my own skin boils down to one significant factor: Love. For the first time in my life, I feel genuinely loved for being exactly who I am, wrinkles and all. Receiving that kind of love makes it easier for me to in turn love myself for the same reasons. The result is a level of comfort with myself that does not generate any shame in being naked.

Look back at the Adam and Eve myth. They realized they were naked and became scared. Their shame, however, was not caused by their nudity. Rather, the realization of being nude induced guilt from being disobedient to their deity. They had been told not to do something and did it anyway. As a result, they lost everything that had allowed them to be comfortable in their garden condition. Not only did they now need clothes, but they also had to actually work for food, and felt pain for the first time. Nudity did not cause those things, dishonesty did.

I’m still not 100% comfortable with being naked all the time. I’m sitting here in my underwear as I type this, and even that is a big step for me. Yet, the same I always felt with being anything less than modest in my attire is gone. No, I’m not likely to go publicly parading around in my birthday suit any time soon, but I’m no longer afraid of doing so should sufficient reason for doing so arise. Being loved and accepted takes away the guilt and the shame with which I grew up.

Which leads me to this conclusion: Perhaps if we did a better job of raising our children with the same level of love and acceptance they might find it easier to accept themselves for who they are without all the years of therapy.

Just a thought.

Jumping Off Bridges

Art of Reading - Old Man Talking

“Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now or later?”

My thoughts had already catapulted me off into distant lands so I did not immediately grasp the question, prompting its repeat.

“Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now?”

White grocery bags held together in her left hand give her the appearance of possibly being homeless, the glossy sheen to her eyes and her otherwise kept attire indicated a greater probability that at least her body had a home, even if her mind and soul had been dismissed by whatever pharmaceutical cocktail forced her to wander the near lifeless streets of Elgin.

At least she was smiling.

When she repeated the question I mumbled a hasty, “Not today, thank you,” as though I might give her offer more lengthy consideration on some later date. I looked over the crumbling concrete railing at the sludge-brown water of whatever river smirked slowly below. What would she have done had I responded with an enthusiastic, “Sure, you toss me then I’ll toss you!”  Internally, some small wrinkle in my brain chuckled at the potential hilarity while the remaining neurons fired away at all the instructions necessary to keep one’s body propelled forward.

Having time to think opens precarious doors. One’s initial thoughts focus on the inherently obvious and can entertain a logical analysis of known factors. Given sufficient time for processing, though, the mind eventually begins substituting the illogical in place of the logical. Unknown elements replace known factors and before long one inevitably tumbles headlong into conjecture and the impossible world of “what if.” Within such ambiguous territory, fears enjoy free reign, popping up in every concept until they leak past the world of the unknown to pollute the world of the known. Suddenly, nothing seems quite so certain anymore.

Except, there’s still that bridge and it’s potentially life-changing offer.

Ever stop to think about bridges? They are fundamental to transportation, or any manner of transition. Bridges represent a desire to leave one place, one existence, one ideal, in favor of another, the two being separated by some form of chasm which cannot otherwise be traversed.

Look carefully at the construction of a bridge and one finds the very structure itself is the definition of change. Such was true even of ancient bridges; on either side of a ravine may be roads or paths of sod, yet the bridge itself must be made of a different material, usually wood or stone. Modern spans of asphalt spread on beds of gravel are bridged by delicately poured concrete under-girded with steel. Engineers would never consider building an entire road from the same material, using the same methods as bridges; the expense alone makes such an idea impractical. As a result, it is almost impossible to cross a bridge that does not invoke change.

Often, one sets focus solely on whatever lies on the other side of the bridge. After all, whatever exists over there is the reason we cross the bridge in the first place. Yet, what too often catches us by surprise is the change invoked by the bridge itself; a change wholly unlike what waits on the other side.

And in that consideration, that change requires pre-change, the question of a seemingly mentally challenged pedestrian takes on a whole new meaning. “Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now or later?”

Here find both cause and solution to failure; it is not that one does not want or fears the change on the other side; but that we are unprepared for the intermediate change of the bridge and, caught up in the panic of the unexpected, we either jump or allow some random crazy person to toss us over. As a result, we end up soaked by the muddy waters of despair, never achieving the change we so ardently desire.

What we fail to realize is that what we experience on the bridge is necessary preparation for what we find on the other side. Bridges are designed to get us there, not stop us in the process. We need what bridges offer.

Granted, some bridges have the innate ability to invoke fear.

In the Disney movie “Shrek,” the ogre and Donkey arrive at the dragon’s castle to find they must cross a less-than-secure looking bridge below which flows a stream of fiery molten lava. Donkey is immediately concerned and, half-way across, is ready to turn around and go back, willing to leave the princess for someone else to rescue. Shrek proceeds to employ distraction tactics and before Donkey realizes what is happening, they both are safe across the bridge.

And what distraction did the giant green ogre use to get donkey across the bridge? The threat of being flung over the side!

Two matters are worth noting in that story. First, it was Donkey’s over-thinking the safety of the bridge that allowed room for the fear to engulf him. Had he simply walked cautiously across the structure he would not have encountered any problem. Second, when paralyzed by fear, we sometimes need the help of a friend threatening to send us over the side before we can get across.

“Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now or later?”

Outside the Adams Street entrance to Chicago’s Union Station, an older man, his back hunched from the reality of a life lived, sits on a bench and removes from his shirt pocket a pack of Marlboro Lights. His old hands trembling, he removes a cigarette from the pack and lights it. Not a scenario that sounds too terribly unusual, especially given that almost every other bench in the area is occupied by someone else doing exactly the same thing.

What makes this gentleman unique is that, prior to fishing the pack of cigarettes from his pocket, he had to first remove and shut off the oxygen tube from his nose. Every drag on the cigarette was obviously painful and labored. More than once the man winced as he struggled to draw the nicotine down into what little remains of his lungs. When finished, he replaced the tube in his nostrils, turned on the portable oxygen tank strapped to his back, and resumed a more relaxed and comfortable breathing rhythm.

Talk about addictions all you want, ultimately the man couldn’t, wouldn’t, cross the bridge. Crossing the bridge, for him, means putting down the cigarettes and he has made the decision that suffering is preferable to crossing the uncertain path leading to quitting.

We may find it easy to criticize the old man for making such a self-destructing choice, but how often are we guilty of making choices of equal fatality to our careers, our families, our well-being, our happiness, all because there is some bridge, some challenge, some fear that we must first conquer before we can reach our goal?

No significant change happens without some manner of transition. If there were no canyons between the status quo and progress, we might well slide between one state of being and the next without realizing any chance had occurred at all. Yet, it is those muddy rivers, those gullies, the ravines, and ditches, that create boundaries, territory markers, and we simply cannot move from one existence to the next without crossing some manner of a bridge.

Many of life’s bridges we zip across without care or worry, scarcely even noticing that the ground beneath us has changed. However, as we cross some of the most meaningful bridges of our lives we will often be faced with that now lingering question: “Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now or later?” 

Perhaps the old woman wasn’t so crazy after all. Something tells me she knows the answer to that question better than any of us.

In From The Rain

Art of Reading - Old Man Talking

Thunder echoed off the cavernous walls of skyscrapers, shaking the city like an old rag in the wind. Julianna worked the keys in the locks of her apartment as quickly as she could. The exit from the subway was less than half a block, but that had still been enough, in this downpour, to soak through her clothes, leaving her shivering, cold, and dripping water in the hallway. She gave a fleeting thought to mopping up the small puddle that had formed in front of her door, but decided against it, hoping that bothersome old Mr. Dreyfus might slip and fall to his death, or at least damage enough to keep him from stalking her.

Clothes started hitting the floor the instant the door was shut behind her and she was naked by the time she reached the towels in the bathroom. She turned the water in the shower on as hot as she could stand and stood under the stream until it started to cool. She then wrapped in a towel and made her way back to the living room, still wet, but feeling some better about the matter.

Passing by the phone, she saw the message light blinking, reminding her that even after five her work was not done. Pressing the play button, she stretched out across the bed waiting for the first message.

“Julianna, this is Kristi. I guess you know by now you left your umbrella in the cab. I have it here at the office. Not that it does you any good here, does it? Anyway, it will be here. I think it’s supposed to rain all week. You may want to bring hip waders, too, though not for the water. Bill’s back from his vacation. See you tomorrow!”

Julianna smiled. Kristi was a good enough admin, but not always quite as on the ball as she would have liked. She made a mental note to grab a copy of the Post in the morning, in case she needed a cover between the building and the subway.

“Julie, it’s Mom. Tory’s birthday is Saturday. You are coming, aren’t you? You’ve missed the past three years. I know you’re busy, but you’re hurting your brother’s feelings. I know you think Tory’s a skank, and, just between us, you’re probably right, but as long as Dave loves her …”

Mercifully, the machine didn’t allow long messages. Julianna winced at the thought of having to be in the same room with her brother’s wife. She and Tory had gotten off on the wrong foot from the beginning. Julianna was positive she had seen the young woman just the day before, standing on the subway platform locked lip to lip with someone who was definitely not her brother. She made a mental note to take her digital camera with her from now on, just in case she came across the bitch again.

“Hi, this is Karen Richardson at the Gotham Cancer Center. Our records indicate you’re due for another check-up. This is the fifth year since your surgery, so we’re going to want to run some tests while you’re here, make sure there’s nothing hiding from us. Please give me a call to set up your appointment. My number is … “

Groan. Was it that time again, already? The colon cancer that had given her a scare five years ago had been caught in its early stages, thanks to an extra-diligent young female doctor with whom Julianna had fallen hopelessly in love. Unfortunately, though the cancer was in full remission, so was their relationship. The check-up was necessary, but there was no way the visit could be comfortable.

“Ms. Gartner, this is Lucas at the Freshman’s Deli. We have that special Virginia-cured ham that you requested. Just give me a call and I’ll have it sliced and waiting for you when you get here.”

Mmmmm. The sweet flavor of the Virginia-cured ham brought back wonderful memories of dinner at her grandmother’s in Norfolk. The particular brand her grandmother bought wasn’t widely available outside the region. She would look forward to dining on the special meat all weekend.

“This is Roger. Julianna, listen, about last night, I just want to apologize, you know? I mean, I didn’t even know that bra was in my coat pocket! Really, I’m not some lothario. Can I have another chance, please?”

Sigh. What was it about boys that forced them all to be so very disappointing? Especially the pretty ones. Julianna suspected than the more muscles a boy had the fewer active brain cells remained. Again, another reason for preferring girls.

“Hey, pretty. Thanks for the flowers. You always know exactly what to pick to fit my mood. God, I miss you. Seriously, is there any good reason you can’t come to Connecticut this weekend? I need some time between those lovely legs of yours. Call me when you’re wet, dearest.”

“Should have seen me thirty minutes ago,” Julianna laughed. There was her excuse for not going to Tory’s party: she was needed in Connecticut. Her family didn’t need to know who she was seeing there, nor why. Although, she wondered how jealous Tory would feel knowing she was with another woman instead of her.

“Julianna, this is Roger again. Uhm, you don’t happen to remember me setting my credit card down anywhere, do you? I can’t seem to find it and I need to make plane reservations for a trip to … uh, well … nah, you probably never saw it. Anyway, call me, okay? Bye.”

She laughed. Stupid boy. She wondered how he would explain to his wife the charge for flowers sent to Connecticut. Of course, she had used the card only once before passing it to a homeless person who looked like they could use a good meal. She hoped he had a high credit limit

“Julianna, Gordon here. I just got off the phone with the Milliken Agency. Good work there! Now, the downside is they’re going to be here in the office tomorrow afternoon and they want to see your sketches for their new campaign. I went out on a limb and told them you’d be ready. Please, we’re counting on you for this one.”

Shit. She had bullshitted her way through that whole presentation. Not only did she not have any drawings, but she also didn’t have any hard research to support her plan. So much for a relaxing evening. She’d order pizza and spend the rest of the night getting the campaign together.

“Julianna, Gordon again. I’m sorry, that meeting’s been moved to ten in the morning. Hope that’s not a problem.”

What the fuck? She sat up and looked around for something to throw. A 10:00 meeting meant she’d have to be at the office by six to get everything printed on time. She hoped no one would mind the bags under her eyes from lack of sleep.

“Hey, this is Tory. I know your mom and brother have probably already been on you about being at my birthday party this weekend, but … uhm … yeah, I know you saw me in the subway and, well … it really wasn’t what you think, but … I won’t be offended if you decide to not come, I mean, given the circumstances and all …”

This time Julianna did throw a pillow at the phone. “What a fucking bitch,” she thought. Not only would she definitely be at the party, but she would also be taking Miss Connecticut along with her. Cheat on her brother and then try to blow her off? Oh HELL no that wasn’t happening!

“Julianna Gartner, this Daniel’s Cleaners. This white blouse you brought in, we can’t get clean! What is this, blood on the collar? Please, come pick up. We can’t do anything.”

Julianna groaned and fell back on the bed. She had been shaving and, of course, cut herself. Thinking she had grabbed a towel, she ended up blotting her leg with her favorite white blouse. Obviously, she was going to need a new one.

“Ms. Gartner? This is Gary at the front desk. We just had some flowers delivered for you. Let me know when you’re in and I’ll send them right up.”

She wouldn’t even need to read the card. Julianna knew who had sent those flowers, and why. She smiled. Perhaps the night wasn’t going to be so bad after all. Let it rain. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be a little wet.

Beneath The Skin

Art of Reading - Old Man Talking

Light poured in the window warming the room just slightly beyond the point where it was comfortable. Spring was doing its best to make itself known, even if it did have to struggle to maintain that position more than a few days at a time. Lindsey loved the ability it gave her to enjoy the freedom of being something slightly less than clothed. This afternoon, she was very much less than clothed, having decided after her shower that allowing her delicate skin to air dry would be the best thing for it.

Granted, there was plenty of studying, plenty of homework, plenty of housework, that could have been the focus of those several minutes, but those chores had already managed to consume the morning and she refused to go a whole day without a few moments to herself. She knew full well her peace would be shattered soon enough, and she was quite correct.

Tina was the exact opposite of Lindsey. So much so, that their few mutual friends, both of them, could not figure out how they managed to live together without one killing or at least mutilating the other. Tina was headstrong, defiant, rebellious, and loud. Lindsey was studious, determined, disciplined and, for the most part, quiet. Ultimately, what allowed them to live together was that they were rarely home for very long at the same time. Lindsey was frequently gone during the day while Tina was typically out most of the evening and night. What little time they did overlap was usually spent sleeping. The system worked.

Lindsey being home this afternoon was quite an anomaly. Normally, she would have been at the library, studying, but a short in the library sprinkler system had temporarily closed the section to which she needed access. So, she had decided to try finishing her Philosophy paper from home, being careful to be quiet and not wake Tina.

Lindsey was stretched out across the arm of the love seat when Tina staggered sleepily from her room. “Good morning, sunshine,” Lindsey said softly, but cheerfully.

“What has you home and naked so early,” Tina asked groggily. “Have you seen my coffee cup?”

“Oh, I washed it this morning. Sprinkler problem at the library. Check the cupboard to the left of the sink. Second shelf,” Lindsey replied

Tina took a moment to parse what Lindsey had just told her, then found her mug exactly where she was told it would be. She looked around the normally trashed kitchen. It was spotless. “Uhm, so, you’ve been home all day, I take it?”

“Pretty much,” Lindsey said, shifting her position on the couch so as to not get fabric lines on her skin. “Had class at 9, but then the sprinkler thing happened and it just seemed to make sense to come back here. I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“No, no,” Tina assured her while fumbling with the coffee pot. “Had you woke me I would have had to kill you. I never had a clue you were here. But, how much studying did you get done?”

“Finished my philosophy paper,” Lindsey answered, shifting again. “Got most my calculus homework done, and the reading for my anatomy class.”

“And still had time to clean the kitchen? You disgust me,” Tina growled, only half teasing.

“Oh, I didn’t really clean,” Lindsey said. “I just tidied up a bit. Washed some dishes. Folded some clothes. Paid some bills. Nothing big.”

“You realize you’ve already done more in one day than I do all week,” Tina mused.

Lindsey laughed. “I doubt that. Just because I’m not here to see you do something doesn’t mean you’re not busy.”

“I may do a few things here and there, but I’m not Miss Perpetual Motion like you are,” Tine said. “Which reminds me, I need to change Deacon’s litter box.”

“Already done,” Lindsey said. “I was afraid he was going to wake you with his howling if it didn’t get changed. Wasn’t really any trouble. Took less than five minutes.”

“Okay,” Tina said, haltingly. “Thank you.” She poured herself a cup of coffee. “You want any coffee?”

“No, thank you,” Lindsey said. “Wouldn’t want it keeping me up all night. Besides, it gives me funny freckles.”

Tina held the mug firmly in both hands, still feeling quite groggy from the previous evening’s high alcohol consumption. She took a seat on the adjacent couch and kicked off her slippers. She wasn’t quite awake enough to be as naked as Lindsey, though she had to admit it looked quite comfortable. “Speaking of freckles, I thought you were supposed to stay out of sunlight as much as possible.”

“That’s direct sunlight,” Lindsey corrected. “This is very indirect and feels very, very good. You should try it.” She sat up. “Here, you can stretch across this couch. It’s really comfy.”

Tina sipped at her coffee. “Yeah, maybe later. I need to wake up a bit more first.” She paused, then added, “Thank you, though.”

Tina tried to remember the last time she and Lindsey had a conversation that was more than two sentences long. Her fogged-over memory couldn’t retrieve back that far, if ever. She decided it might be worth actually trying to have a conversation. “How are the new meds the Dr. gave you last week? Are they working?”

Lindsey turned and leaned backward off the arm of the couch. “Not really. One makes me really sleepy, so I can’t take it on nights before I have an early class. The other makes my ears ring, which seems like a really strange side effect.”

“But are they doing what they’re supposed to do?” Tina asked. She never had pried into all of her roommate’s medical issues. She simply knew there were many.

“Some,” came the answer. “I don’t shake as much when I drive, which is a good thing.”

“Very.”

“But it dries my mouth out so that I have to keep a bottle of water or two handy all the time. Not exactly convenient for that three-hour long lecture seminar on Thursdays.” Lindsey set back up so that the blood could leave her nearly purple face.

Tina gasped. “Oh my god, you’re practically purple! Are you okay?”

“Yes,” Lindsey laughed. “It goes away quickly. Just have to do that every once in a while to keep the circulation going well.”

Tina shook her head. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever asked, just how many different diseases have they pinned on you?”

Lindsey stopped and thought a moment. “Well, they dropped rickets a couple of months ago, so that puts me down to fourteen, I think.”

“And how many different doctors are you seeing?”

Lindsey shook out her long, blonde hair and laughed. “Oh, I stopped trying to keep up with that count a long time ago. Primary this, a specialist in that, sub-specialist in something else. I do my part in making sure everyone who wants to gets a chance to poke and prod me.”

“I know some guys in your Calc class that would like a chance at that, too,” Tina teased. “Especially if they could see you in your current condition.”

“Ew, no,” Lindsey said, making a contorted face. “How do you think I got this sick in the first place? It was all those boy cooties from elementary school!”

Both girls laughed at the joke. They were keenly aware of how rare this moment was and neither wanted it to end.

“OH!” Tina started, excitedly, “Did you hear that Dr. Koskerov got fired for nailing that Susan … what’s her name …Patro-horse-face-something?”

Lindsey laughed. “Patrohorstkovich, I think. I hadn’t heard that, though! Who will be teaching his class?”

“Some boring TA at least the rest of this semester,” Tina dished.

“Good, I wasn’t looking forward to having him again next semester,” Lindsey confessed. “He didn’t get her pregnant, did he?”

“Nah,” Tina said, “but when he wouldn’t raise her grade from a C she filed a sexual harassment suit. The university settled out of court, fired Koskerov, and I hear Susan’s transferring to Ohio next semester.”

“Wow,” Lindsey said, astonished. “Where do you get so much information?”

“Eavesdropping in the ladies room at the bar,” Tina laughed. “That’s the best news source on the fucking planet!”

Both girls laughed again. The sun was beginning to set and the room was beginning to cool. Tina could see goose bumps beginning to form on Lindsey’s sensitive skin.

“Why don’t I kick the heat back on a bit,” Tina suggested. “I think the temps are supposed to take another dip in the frost bucket again tonight.”

“Speaking of tonight, what do you have going on,” Lindsey asked.

Tina knew she could easily think of at least a dozen things to do, but decided, for once, to see what Lindsey might suggest. “I’ve got some stuff, but I’m flexible. What’s on your mind?”

“Want to help me make dinner? I was thinking fettuccine alfredo, with homemade noodles,” Lindsey offered.

“Oh my god, are you kidding me? I’d love to help! I love your alfredo! I always sneak out and eat your leftovers!”

“I know, that’s why I always leave them in a box well marked,” Lindsey laughed.

Tina was literally jumping with excitement. “Okay, so what do I need to do first?”

Lindsey looked at her carefully, and instructed, “Well, pull your hair back and you probably want to lose the clothes. Making noodles can get a bit messy.”

Three, four, five hours passed, along with two bottles of wine and abundant helpings of fettuccine and breadsticks and salad. The girls laughed, danced, sang, and ate as they never had before.

Once again, the girls were lying naked, sprawled across the couches, this time quite happily exhausted. Tina looked across at her roommate of three years and felt sad to have never bothered spending this time with her before. Lindsey pulled the afghan off the couch she was on and wrapped it around her.

“You feeling okay, Linds?” Tina asked. “You’re looking a bit gray.”

“Forgot my medicine,” Lindsey murmured.

“Which ones?” Tina asked as she rushed toward the bathroom.

“They’re numbered, seven, eight, nine.”

Tina pulled the bottles from the shelf and ran back to the couch and removed the lids. “Hold on, I’ll get you water.”

Lindsey shook her head. “No, has to be orange juice, in the fridge.”

Tina hurried and poured the juice, racing back to the couch without spilling a drop. Lindsey took the medicine and then lied back on the pillows, shivering.

Tina put her arms under Lindsey and tried to lift her up. “C’mon, let’s get you to bed. You don’t need to sleep out here.”

Lindsey did the best she could to focus, but the prescriptions were less than fast acting and it took all the energy she had to not fall on top of her roommate. Tina guided her to bed, moved the textbooks scattered across the top, and tucked her roommate in.

Lindsey was already half asleep, but managed to grab Tina’s arm and whisper, “Thank you for a wonderful evening, and for being my friend.”

Tina felt water floating in her eyes. “Thank you for being so beautiful.”

Lindsey’s face grew puzzled. “What do you mean?”

Tina leaned in close to Lindsey’s face. “I’ve always known you were the prettiest girl on campus, and at times I’ve hated you for that, but tonight you’ve shown me what you’re like beneath the skin, and I hate myself for not having looked sooner.” She kissed her roommate on the cheek. “I love you. Sleep well.”

Tina stood at the doorway, like a mother checking on a sleeping infant, making sure Lindsey was still breathing. She knew life in this apartment would never be the same again.

Saving Humanity, Old Man Talking

One can learn a lot about a society by the content of our advertising and nowhere is that content more revealing than during the ads played during the Superbowl. By examining the ads on which companies spend the most money, we see that Americans value the concept of family, even if we don’t all agree on what a family is. One might also observe that we like to eat and drink things that are not especially healthy and we’re okay with that. We also might be a little obsessed with making sure we protect our money as much as possible.

Standing out above all other themes this year (2019) was the presence of robots in various forms. The number of advertisers utilizing robots in their spots was larger than it has ever been and people noticed. Brands such as Sprint, Michelob Ultra, Kellogg’s, TurboTax, Skechers, and SimpliSafe involved some form of human-like robots in their ads. Others referenced artificial intelligence without directing showing robots.

Why all these ads about robots and why is the connotation regarding robots always negative? Because robots scare us. Our collective fear is so substantial that there is an actual not-for-profit organization that lists their primary cause as, “preventing threats to humankind brought about by humans. The greatest threats to humanity lie in technologies humans have invented.” No, I”m not giving you the link because whoever is behind that organization is as scary as any robot.

I’ve written about artificial intelligence before so I’m not going to repeat myself. The greater issue is that our fear of robots substantially stems from a global fear that humanity itself is in danger. For some, it is a fear that we’ve destroyed the environment beyond a point of reclamation. Some are convinced that we need to serve the correct deity, though no one agrees on which deity that is. There are still others, though increasingly in the minority, who fear that racial intermingling is going to doom the species.

Medically, the three biggest threats to humanity are obesity, malnutrition, and global warming. From a more direct science perspective, nuclear war, biologically engineered pandemic, superintelligence, and nanotechnology threaten to undermine human existence. Other media sources, who perhaps have a little less expertise in the matter, list the failure of Democracy, Cyberwarfare, and rising financial inequality as our biggest concerns. None of those analyses is incorrect. In fact, one could likely create a reasonably list of anywhere from 30-50 credible and reasonably immediate threats to the existence of humanity without once invoking any form of conspiracy theory.

However, when we dig down into every one of these potential crises we find a common thread among all of them: human failure. We are the biggest threat to our own existence. Either our inability to recognize problems in time to stop them or our refusal to acknowledge problems that are inconvenient are, hands down, the most likely cause of any extinction event the human species faces. We are, in the most real way, our own worst enemy.

The most sensical way, and perhaps the most difficult, to guarantee the perpetuation of our species is easily stated: be better humans. We need to think better, we need to act better, and we need to respond to others better than we currently do. Selfishness, hate, greed, racism, nationalism, and aggression are all traits we need to address and minimize among ourselves first and then our children.

Such an approach makes so much sense that one would think we would have already started down that path. However, one has to consider that the world’s major religions, every last one of them, have tried for millennia to convince humans to live better, to do better, and all it’s done is create a backlash that led to too many wars. If our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques can’t convince us to be better people, then what can?

The answer is that no external force is going to successfully change anyone’s behavior. We aren’t going to do it for the priests, we’re not going to do it for a deity with whom we feel no connections. If there is going to be any significant change in our behavior, the kind that might actually stand a chance of saving the human race, we have to do it for ourselves.

Our motivation cannot be anything less than the absolute survival of humanity, not within 100 years or so, but guaranteeing that our own children won’t meet an untimely death due to the mistakes are making right now, at this very moment.

My ten-year-old and I were recently watching the 2004 movie, The Day After Tomorrow, where dire warnings of eventual global disaster suddenly take place with surprising and deadly speed, wiping out nearly all the Northern Hemisphere. At ten, my scientifically-minded child is already too well aware of the dangers of global warming and doesn’t understand why we’re not making more of an effort to stop it. He looks at me and asks, “Why are we not using more wind and solar power? Why is no one stopping global warming?”

I don’t have good answers for him. I can pass along excuses such as government inattention and mass denial, but there’s no reason in those excuses other than we, as humans are choosing to actively participate in the demise of our own species. We refuse to see that we are not invincible, that there is no Superman coming to save us, and that we are the villains in the narrative of our story.

So, what and how do we change? Certainly, it is not an easy task before us if we think we can change the mindset of all humanity. In fact, we know before we start that such a task is impossible. What we have to focus on is changing ourselves, one person at a time. You change who you are in hopes that your example inspires others to do the same. One teaches their children a different way and hopes they’ll influence their peers.

There are no guarantees in this world and the skeptic in me thinks that there’s no way enough people change in time to avoid certain disaster. Yet, so long as there is even a fraction of a chance, we must make that effort, deliberately, forcefully, and with the certainty of knowing that if the species does perish, the blame falls on those who didn’t listen.

Making A Shift In How We Think

Saving Humanity

We tend to not give any consideration to how we think. For many of us, the concept has never come up in conversation or study before. We tend to be of the opinion that thinking and brain activity are the same things and that we have no real control over either—they just happen. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Noted psychologist Dr. David Dunning, as in the Dunning-Kruger effect, is a strong proponent of “Intellectual Humility.” The concept is designed to avoid becoming a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect by acknowledging that we might be wrong on any given subject, including those, perhaps especially those that we feel certain about championing. Because one doesn’t know when they fall victim to Dunning-Kruger, the only real way to avoid falling into that trap is being continually open to the possibility that we don’t know what we think we know. Here’s the graph Dunning uses to illustrate the problem:

Saving Humanity

If that sounds confusing, it works a little like this: Let’s say that one recognizes a repeating pattern in their work. No matter what else they might do differently, that repeating pattern always occurs in exactly the same way every time. Therefore, they easily become convinced that the pattern must take place every time.

Then, someone else comes along and refutes the idea saying that they’ve achieved the same results without the repeating pattern, doing everything else exactly the same. Our first response, almost always, is to defend what we think we know. We don’t want to see evidence to the contrary. Rather, we tend to insist al he more dramatically what the pattern must exist and that if someone isn’t getting the pattern then they’re doing something wrong and not getting exactly the same results. We dig in, hard. Welcome to the world of Dunning-Kruger.

This method of thinking tends to dominate every other area of thought and action in our lives. We respond to our emotions based on what we think we know. We respond to others based on what we assume to be correct. Our choices of how to set priorities, our perspective, and what actions we might take are all dependent upon the basic belief that what we think we know is true. Therefore, when what we think we know isn’t factual or isn’t honest, our resulting actions are the wrong ones and are most likely to be detrimental to our survival.

How, then, does one adjust their thinking so that we avoid finding ourselves in the Dunning-Kruger zone? Here are some suggestions based on Dunning’s research.

  1. A lot of what we see and conclude about the world is authored by our brains. You’re reading that correctly. Our brains can’t be trusted. Because they are doing so many things at once, our brains look for shortcuts and leap to assumptions while telling us that assumptive decision is factual or true. This creative thinking takes place from the moment we’re born. Our brains assume the first faces we see and the voices we hear are our loving parents. While that might be true a majority of the time, it’s certainly not true all the time. When we realize that our brains tend to make up shit, then it becomes a bit easier to admit that what we believe could be wrong.
  2. Be willing to question everything you think you believe. This goes beyond religious matters, which is where a significant number of people tend to start with their questioning. Our beliefs about science and the natural world, our beliefs about human origins, race, and gender, our beliefs about how the human body functions, how we interact not only with each other but with other species, our beliefs about how we consume and digest food—almost every foundational principle is up for questioning and that questioning is absolutely necessary. Consider that much of what was considered conventional wisdom a mere 50 years ago has now been proven false. If we don’t question what we believe, we continue being wrong.
  3. Accept that we don’t know everything about everything. Dr. Dunning stated in a recent interview, “To get something really right, you’ve got to be overly obsessive and compulsive about it.” He emphasizes that the most consequential decisions we make, such as whether to buy a house, who to marry, whether to have children, are all decisions we don’t make very often and therefore are likely to know the least about. Therefore, what we think we know about those subjects is more likely to be wrong. Those are the situations where we should be looking for help from someone who is obsessively compulsive about that area and consider basing our decisions on their advice.
  4. Get comfortable saying “I don’t know.” Turns out, admitting that we might not know something is extremely difficult for many of us, especially in areas where we’re convinced we’re correct. We like being the smart one in the room and we’re afraid that admitting we’re not certain about the answer to a question might make us look less intelligent. However, there are a vast number of times when “I don’t know,” is not only the most intelligent answer, it’s also the safest. When we admit that we’re not certain about an answer we open everyone up to a deeper consideration of what is the correct answer. When we give an incorrect answer, however, we leave ourselves open to devastating consequences.

Dr. Dunning concludes, “a lot of the issues or problems we get into, we get into because we’re doing it all by ourselves. We’re relying on ourselves. We’re making decisions as our own island, if you will. And if we consult, chat, schmooze with other people, often we learn things or get different perspectives that can be quite helpful.

“An active social life, active social bonds, in many different ways tends to be something that’s healthy for people. Social bonds can also be informationally healthy as well. So that’s more on a top, more abstract level if you will. That is, don’t try to do it yourself. Doing it yourself is when you get into trouble.

Dunning makes it sound easy, but changing our base method of operating, how we make common, everyday decisions, is quite challenging. Still, this is the kind of challenge we must face if we want to save humanity.

Adjusting How We View Ourselves

Saving Humanity

The first and most critical narrative we have to challenge is our own. Our brains are at their most creative when determining what to emphasize about our personal history. Generally speaking, the bad stuff tends to be overemphasized and blown way out of proportion while positive moments are minimized and perhaps even forgotten. As a result, we walk around not only with a generally negative view of ourselves, but a negative view of everyone else. We base our responses to critical challenges on histories that are inaccurate.

Identifying the fallacies in our personal histories is the first challenge. We’ve been telling ourselves the same story for so very long we’re not aware that there is an alternative. Dr. John Sharp, MD, a psychiatrist with over 20 years experience, explains in his book,  The Insight Cure: Change Your Story, Transform Your Life, some ways in which we might uncover some of the inaccuracies we’ve been telling ourselves by asking some rather introspective questions.

Fill in the blanks. “If I break a promise to myself, I feel ______________.” “When someone ignores me, I feel _____________.” “When I have a big fight with someone I care about, I feel ___________.” These questions are important because our greatest inaccuracies tend to become our defaults when faced with situations that are difficult and/or disappointing. Identify the emotion and then examine its source. Why do you have that emotional response? What do you think happened that created that reaction for you?

We can also examine what we consider to be absolutes. Again, fill in the blank. “I always _________.” “I’m always _______.” “I’m never _________.” There is a general rule among psychotherapists that absolutes are never absolute. We create habits and repeat them and those habits are most often a historical response to a negative event we desperately want to avoid repeating. Yet, if our memory of that negative event is inaccurate, then our response is inaccurate as well.

This can be difficult work because when we begin confronting these periods in our personal history our emotional lives can become chaotic. While professional help is certainly not required to address these issues, if one sees that re-examining one’s past becomes too interruptive of one’s present, then by all means, please let a professional help you with this process. There’s no shame in doing the hard work it takes to correct these errors.

When we begin considering these moments in our past, it is important that we discard our previous beliefs and attempt to approach them with fresh eyes. Many of our negative beliefs about ourselves, such as why one’s accomplishments don’t really matter, or that it is impossible to meet anyone’s expectations of you, are the result of relationships we had as children. Therefore, our perspective of those situations is that of a child, not an adult. When we look at them through fresh and more experienced eyes, chances are we’ll see those relationships and those events in a different light.

Where we can, and where it is appropriate to do so, getting cooperation on past events, relationships and circumstances is also helpful. Too often, we never bother to ask our parents or other people in our lives the important questions such as why that big vacation to Disney World was suddenly canceled, making it difficult for you to trust other’s promises, or why your best friend from grade school suddenly stopped coming over, leading you to believe that you are a lousy friend.

Unfortunately, by the time we discover we need the answers to those questions, those resources may no longer be available to us. I can only guess why my parents pushed me to attend a university I really didn’t want to attend, leaving me thinking that my choices don’t matter. As we get older, finding corrections to our versions of history becomes difficult, making it all the more important to examine those events now.

Dr. Sharp also emphasizes that as we go through the process of correcting our personal narratives that we avoid the temptation to emotionally beat ourselves up over decisions we made in the past. Forgiving ourselves for mistakes we made in the past is one of the most difficult challenges one faces at any point in life, but also one of the most necessary. Carrying around that guilt in no way serves us now. This not only applies to things we did as children but just as much to mistakes we made last week.

As we begin correcting these events from our past it becomes equally important to replace negatives with positives. This is one area where our brains tend to work against us. Negative events tend to carry stronger emotions. FInding things we can feel happy about may seem trivial and unimportant but they are the key to changing our personal narratives. Looking for the unsung moments of your life, such as the perfect attendance in second grade or that one time you beat an older sibling in a foot race, even if they did let you win. Those are the moments that prove you can do good things, that you are not a walking disaster, that you have value. Whether they be big moments or small moments, latch onto every one of them and make sure they become hot spots within your personal backstory.

Finally, we have to take all those old beliefs, all the stuff that wasn’t true and drop kick them into oblivion. We cannot afford to let the trash sit in a closet where it rots and smells up everything. Take it out, symbolically, dump it where it can’t be found, and never give it another thought. Let that negative opinion of yourself waste away on its own.

How does all this “me work” help humanity? By giving us a more solid, positive foundation from which we can examine the needs of the world. Negative people rarely find positive solutions. When we believe in ourselves and what we are capable of doing, then we can look at the human condition compassionately and find better answers to the challenges that face us.

Challenging Our Own Emotions

Saving Humanity

Emotions. Ugh. They seem to constantly be getting in the way and the more we try to control them the more, it often seems, they end up controlling us. Our emotions play such as strong role in our lives that much of the emoji alphabet we use to communicate online revolves around the wide range of emotions we all feel.

Right off the bat here, let me be clear that when I talk about challenging our own emotions I’m not talking about those related to serious mental illness such as depression and anxiety. Those challenges are fueled by more than emotions and cannot be addressed sufficiently by simply adjusting how we approach them. Mental illness requires professional help and one shouldn’t be afraid to pursue that course of treatment.

What about fear, though? Or the dread we feel when we have to speak in public? Or the worry we feel in the pit of our stomach when the school bus is ten minutes late? Or the anger we feel at the allegation someone “stole” a job we didn’t have and for which we weren’t qualified? Those are the emotions that challenge our existence as a species because of the impactful way they influence how we respond to situations and circumstances, both those happening to us and those separate from us.

Lisa Feldman Barrett is a neuroscientist who has studied emotions, their causes, their sources, and their influence for several years. She and her team have compiled all the data from multiple studies done all around the world and come to this conclusion: emotions are not hard-wired functions of our brain and can absolutely be controlled by understanding what causes them.

This area of neuroscience is relatively new but it is quickly upending previous thoughts on the subject. For many years, scientists were of the opinion that emotions were like switches in our brain that were turned off or on based on certain biological stimuli. After studying the preponderance of evidence, though, Dr. Barrett and her team realized that the conventional wisdom simply wasn’t true. She writes:

Emotions are your brain’s best guess of how you should feel in the moment. Emotions aren’t wired into your brain like little circuits; they’re made on demand. As a result, you have more control over your emotions than you might think. That’s because your brain’s guesses are forged from three “ingredients” that are with you all the time: your body, your surroundings and your past experience. The good news is that you can exert some control over these three ingredients and, to a certain extent, change your emotions. Getting a handle on your emotions can be tough at first, but like any skill, it becomes easier with practice.

By changing what our body is feeling, our surroundings, and our understanding of past experiences, as we’ve already discussed, we can change the emotions that our brain feeds to us. For example, getting sufficient rest, drinking the necessary amount of water so that we’re sufficiently hydrated, being more intelligent about when, where, and what we eat, and getting a reasonable amount of exercise for our age and circumstances are going to result in a more balanced set of emotions than if we’re tired, dehydrated, or experiencing intestinal issues from consuming too much salt or grease.

Look at your surroundings. Does clutter leave you feeling irritated? Perhaps there are noises one considers disruptive and unnecessary, such as a car outside revving its engine, or bad weather that causes increased anxiety or worry. Do the constant distractions of a cell phone leave you feeling angry? Consider what you can safely turn off for a while, perhaps changing locations and working from a different space, or possibly using noise-canceling headphones to shut out external noises. We likely have more control over our surroundings than we realize.

We’ve already discussed changing how we view the past, but it is also important to recognize when an event from our history is influencing our emotions right now. For example, a friend lost her father and in feeling sympathy for her, I also felt the sadness of losing my own father several years ago. How do I keep that sadness from affecting my activities? For me, it’s a matter of taking a moment, thinking of a pleasant memory with my father, then moving forward with the rest of my day. Emotions connected to our past are admittedly more difficult, but again, the more we focus on positive rather than negative events in our lives the less we are likely to be disturbed by those emotions.

There are moments when it seems as though our brains are working against us. After all, it is making guesses as to what is appropriate and sometimes those guesses miss in dramatic fashion. Have you ever laughed at the most frightening scene in a movie? I once saw a person completely break down sobbing because someone pointed out a piece of lint on their blazer. Our brains don’t always guess correctly and in all those moments where our emotions are challenging, we have to challenge right back. Stop, consider why our brains took us in a specific emotional direction, and then take the steps to change what we’re feeling at that moment.

We have more control here than we’ve been taught. Emotions are not hard-wired and they don’t get to run the show. If we are to save humanity, we have to understand our emotions and stop letting negative feelings lead us toward regrettable actions.

Managing Our Priorities

Saving Humanity

By now, one should be getting the impression that it is the little things in how we live our lives that ultimately affect whether our species survives. There is no magic pill we all can take, there is no genetic engineering that solves our future problems. At the very root of all of humanity’s problems are basic life issues of how we think, how we view our past, and how we feel when we’re making decisions. If we are to avoid making the decisions that lead to our extinction then this is where we have to start, not out crying against the takeover of AI-controlled refrigerators.

As we begin to adjust our internal thought processes one of the first external challenges becomes what we consider to be most important in our lives, where we are going to spend the most time and energy. Historically, the tendency has been to look to time management experts and leadership experts to provide us with tricks or tools so that we’re getting the most out of our day and managing our lives effectively. Inc. magazine even published a list of the top 50 time and leadership experts.

However, for all the tools we have, especially on our phones and digital devices, for all the books that have been written and the countless lectures that have been given, is any of it making an impact beyond putting cash in the pockets of the “experts?” I’ve read Stephen R. Covey and Tom Peters and Dale Carnegie and Guy Kawasaki among many others and while there were some decent concepts among them, none of them add any more time to the day. We still have 24 hours and at least eight of that needs to be spent sleeping, so we effectively only have sixteen hours.

I am increasingly convinced that attempting to “manage” time is entirely the wrong approach. Instead, when we think in terms of saving humanity, perhaps Rory Vaden, author of Take The Stairs has a better concept: consider what is significant and manage priorities accordingly. Vaden’s concept is that by examining how important and impactful our actions are, even if that involves procrastination, we do more, see greater achievement than we would by making lists. To achieve this perhaps higher level of priority management, Vaden asks four questions that I have taken the liberty to modify slightly for our conversation here,

  1. Does this activity need to be done at all?
    How much of what we do doesn’t need to be done at all? I know, we like to think that everything we do is important, but when we really consider the impact and importance of our activities, turns out there are probably some things we can eliminate. Take, for example, trolling on Twitter, sifting through 3,000 cat memes, or trying to cut someone down to size in an online forum. Anything that does not have a positive benefit is up for elimination.
    The trick here is to stop making excuses for the stupid things we tend to do. Trolling people one doesn’t know isn’t necessary, it’s rude and ultimately contributes to the decline of the species. Mindlessly wandering through other people’s pictures is likely best replaced with taking our own. Instead of tearing people down, if there is a good reason for engaging them at all, we do better to find ways to be encouraging and supportive. When we find someone ignorant, they do not benefit from being told they are ignorant. Rather, one does better to find a way to teach.Eliminating nonsense gives us more space to do things that make a difference.
  2. Can repetitive activities be automated?
    Doing the same thing over and over, whether it’s part of a routine or a weekly or monthly obligation, we tend to give too high a priority to tasks that require us to do exactly the same thing each time we do them. When we recognize such routines, one does well to consider whether there is a way of streamlining that process so that it doesn’t require as much of our attention, if any at all.
    For example, when I am working on a set of photographs that need to have a consistent tone across each image, I often create what is labeled an “action,” essentially a script of steps for Photoshop to take to achieve a specific tone or effect. While it takes a moment to set up the action the first time, once it is in place it can save as much as twenty minutes of processing time per image. Things such as automatic bill payment and scheduling regular grocery delivery for those things one needs on a regular basis (think milk, bread, coffee) are not only convenient, they allow us to focus on higher priority activities.
  3. Should someone else be doing what I’m doing?
    I’ll admit that this is a tough issue for me because I tend to be a control freak about certain activities, such as food preparation, laundry, and washing dishes. Without question, those are all important activities, but do I have to be the one to do them? Chances are, at least most the time, the answer is no. There are other people in this household not otherwise engaged who are perfectly capable of completing most of those tasks over which I tend to obsess. If I am making the best decisions, I let them do those things on their own.
    What is perhaps most challenging about letting someone else do something we are currently doing is knowing that they are likely to make mistakes. We have to take some time to teach people to do what we’re doing, then give them space to experiment and modify the process to fit them. For example, my boys started doing their own laundry when they were five years old. They had to stand on a footstool to reach the top of the washing machine. Yes, they each had their moments of having to wear pink underwear, but not only did it free considerable time for me, but it was also an important part of teaching them self-sufficiency. The time we spend teaching others is never wasted. Let go and let someone else help where they can.
  4. Is this the best thing for me to be doing right now?
    Wow, do I struggle with this issue. One of the frustrating aspects of list making is that we rarely create a list based upon the importance of any specific task. Rather, we tend to make them based on routine or simply because we know those things need to be done. Then, more often than not, we pick the easiest things from those lists to do first. As a result, more challenging and perhaps more important things get shoved to the end of the day where they may not be addressed at all. Oops!
    What one does well to consider is that it is perfectly acceptable to procrastinate with less important tasks. For example, I know that at some point today I need to check pricing on various print sizes. The information is necessary for a decision I have to make later but it is not as important as the fashion shows I need to review or completing this article. To go off down the inevitable rabbit hole that comes with pricing prints at this point in my day would mean pushing my writing down until I’m too tired to form cohesive sentences. Price checking doesn’t require as much mental agility so it can wait.

Once we’ve asked those four questions, we’re more likely to be left with the things that are most important for us to be doing, the activities with the highest priority. Even here, not everything we do carries the same weight. One has to consider the potential level of impact for each activity. We continue to ask questions such as whether doing something seemingly trivial now frees time to do something more involved later and considering who benefits from any specific activity.

As we set priorities, what we do with our time becomes more effective and beneficial not only to us but to all of humanity. When I teach my children to pick up after themselves, that activity begins to establish a priority for caring about one’s environment. As one cares more about their environment we are less likely to make decisions that harm it.

See how this all starts to come together? When we really reduce our efforts down so that we have time fo focus on what is genuinely important, the entire planet benefits.

Changing Our Perspective

Saving Humanity

When someone young asks me for photography advice, my instructions to them are two simple words: shoot dirt. While those instructions may not make much sense on the surface, the practice itself is invaluable to a young photographer. One of the most significant obstacles to taking good photographs is that we limit our perspective to what we see with our eyes, standing up. When we break out of that box, get all the way down on the ground and focus on what we previously considered mundane, we discover that there is an entirely different world running literally beneath our feet, a world that is subject to dramatic changes as we walk over it, run on it, mow it down, water it, and dig it up. Learning to “shoot dirt” is a way of opening our eyes and our awareness more fully to the world around us.

One of the things that makes us dangerous as a society is that we have this overwhelming tendency to be self-consumed. Everything we do, say, and buy, everywhere we go, the mode of travel we choose, the political causes we support, are based on what we want, what we think we need and what makes us feel the most comfortable. This creates for us a very narrow tunnel of vision and for many people that tunnel is all we’ve ever known. We are so committed to this one perspective that we begin to believe that everyone and everything must see the world exactly the same way. Then, when we make decisions based on that vision, we inevitably run the risk of hurting other people, even our entire species, because it turns out that our perspective was too limited to be aware of the dangers and the risks we were creating for other people.

Here’s the thing: adjusting and changing our perspective takes time, which is why we have to realign our priorities before we get to this step. It’s too easy to make excuses when our schedule is cluttered with things that could be automated, given to someone else, or put off until later. Create some time to change your viewing habits.

One of the best ways to change one’s perspective, of course, is to travel internationally, get out of our comfortable home environment and experience how people live in other areas of the world. Unfortunately, not only does traveling take up large amounts of time, it also tends to take up even larger amounts of money.

I have to laugh when I see a travel blog touting what a bargain some place is for “only $1,500” when I’m having difficulty scraping together enough change for a fast food cheeseburger. Even if $1,500 is a third or less of the trip’s normal price, it’s still out of my reach, making the discount irellevant. Similarly, I have to question the wisdom of those who suggest young people should spend more time “creating memories” instead of going to college and plugging into society in a helpful way. Memories are nice but don’t pay utility bills or provide a financial buffer should one become injured. As much as traveling internationally can dramatically open our eyes to experiences different from ours, for the greater majority of us it is not much of an option.

Instead, there are things one can do to expand one’s vision that not only don’t cost anything but can tremendously help others in the process. Let’s look at just a few of those ideas:

  1. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
    This is something we did often when I was younger and I have found it interesting, and perhaps a bit sad, that when I suggest it to other people the tell me that they’re afraid to go into “those” neighborhoods and work with “those” people. Criminal investigation shows on television have concinvced us that people in need are somehow dangerous. Check your personal history, deal with your fears, and then help in a soup kitchen for just one meal a week. Do this for six months and feel the breadth of your vision expand as we come to realize that not everyone who needs help is a bum or a drug addict, and that even bums and drug addicts didn’t plan on ending up on the streets. The awakening one recieves by helping others in this way is unmatched.
  2. Help out in a classroom at an inner city school.
    One sees a lot on the news about how inncer city schools are struggling but news stories don’t even start in on the reality that goes on and the challenges teachers and administrators face at many inner city schools. I think what slapped me in the face the first time I visited one was not only the severity of need among the students, but the level of need among the teachers themselves. I met one teacher, a 20-year-veteran, whose own shoes had holes in the soles. She ate peanut butter from a jar for lunch because the district charged teachers to eat in the school cafeteria, a cost she couldn’t afford.Yet, she loved her students and watching her care for a group of kids who would never love her back was eye opening on a fundamental level. We all need one of these experiences to rattle us out of our comfort zones and begin to have some real empathy.
  3. Work on a farm or ranch during a busy season.
    One of the disadvantages to becoming less of an agrarian society is that we have dramatically lost touch with what it takes to provide the food that ends up on our table. Agriculture, for the most part, is nothing like it was when I was growing up, with family-run farms that were passed down generation to generation. Yet, there is still considerable value in seeing exactly what goes on during those busy times of the year when farms and ranches can likely use an extra hand or two, especially if they’re offering to do it for free, which I strongly encourage. While the work is hard and will likely test muscles you didn’t know you have, it will leave one with a new appreciation for the effort required to feed the world and why it is difficult for third world countries to establish successful farming and ranching programs. Work one harvest season on a farm, or a ranch during calving season, and you’ll never see the dinner table the same way again.
  4. Visit a place of worship culturally different from your own experience.
    This is one activity that might require some advance planning. Be aware that not every religion worships on the same day of the week and because many places of worship have been victims of vandalism or other inappropriate activity just showing up unannounced might result in one being asked to leave. Contact the person in charge of religious services, explain your desire to learn more as a cultural experience, and move forward from there.
    A vast majority of countries around the world hold to some basic religious belief system. Unfortunately, news media too often generalizes religions to the point that none of them make any sense. To understand people of a different culture it helps to understand what they believe. Get to know three or four different people if possible. Understand that in some faiths, worship is separated by gender. Listen, watch, and observe and one’s world grows significantly broader.
  5. Learn to speak a different language from someone for whom that is their primary language.
    Automated languages courses can be huge time savers when one needs to learn a language in a hurry. Unfortunately, what those automated systems cannot do is give one a feel of the customs and cultures that go along with that language. To do that, one needs to learn from a real person, one for whom that language is the one with which they grew up. How difficult this is, of course, depends upon the language one chooses and where one lives. One should also be prepared to pay a person for their time.
    Learning a language gives us greater insight into other cultures and the way people live in other places. Languages everywhere evolve as the society evolves. Words that might technically mean one thing can carry social inferences quite different in meaning. As one learns to speak the language one is likely to develop an understanding and, hopefully, an appreciation for the people to whom that language is native. One’s perspective can experience massive change through this experience.

There are still many other things one can do, depending on what resources are available to them. Spending time in the water with a marine biologist changes one’s relationship with the oceans. Taking an advanced class in paleontology gives one a greater appreciation for the influence of societies that existed before us. Each experience outside of our native culture tears down the tunnel vision to which we’ve become accustomed. We see the world and it’s problems in a different manner, which opens us to discovering the real solutions that can put us on a path toward saving our species.

Commit To Making A Difference

Saving humanity

Here is where saving humanity becomes challenging. Already, if one has taken all the steps we’ve discussed prior to this point, chances are pretty high that you are already making more of an impact that one might realize. When we help ourselves to better understand who we are and what our role is in the world, then we can better understand others. When we understand our history and how it effects our emotions and our actions, we can better understand how the history of other cultures has led them to the ideas and habits they now embrace. When we eliminate the less important things from our schedule we have more time and energy for the activities that matter and can create the experiences that allow us to grow.

Doing all this work on ourselves and then not using our experience and perspective to help others and save the species is a bit shallow, however. We’ve made it this far but it is still not enough to save the entire species from extinction. To do that, we have to do the things that make a difference outside ourselves. This is where saving humanity becomes work.

Of course, not everyone can do the same thing, but everyone can do something. I’m going to provide some options, suggestions really, but it is up to you to decide which one(s) work(s) for you and how to implement them into your life. None is necessarily better than the others. All are critical to helping humanity survive.

  • Get involved politically. This past election saw more moms and more scientists elected to Congress than ever before. This is fantastic because it adds much-needed perspective to our country’s governing body. However, not everyone can run for Congress nor should they. Most of the decisions that directly affect peoples lives are made at local and state levels of government. Even there, one doesn’t necessarily need to run for office, though. One can watch, monitor, and then advocate for policies and procedures that are pro-human.
    For example, a few years ago, while Mike Pence was governor of the state of Indiana, that legislature passed a law prohibiting the development of high-speed rail service within the state. Not many people were watching and the bill passed with hardly anyone in opposition. That bill is decidedly anti-human in that it not only prevents the efficient and rapid migration of people from one place to another, it backhandedly supports other modes of transportation that release greater amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. Had their been pro-human voices opposing the bill, it might not have passed.
    Every level of government, from the school board to the city council to oversight committees governing public safety benefits from having people like you and me watching, advocating for those who are not rich, who are not trying to make a profit off a deal, but are simply trying to make sure we continue to live. Lobbying is only a bad word when corporations do it. People lobbying for people is a wonderful thing.
  • Become an advocate for marginalized people. Human civilization has a horrible track record for how the people in charge treat those who are not in charge. One would like to think that democracy would change that equation but it hasn’t. Partisan bickering and political retribution run as rampant in the United States now as it did across the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. This means that a lot of people are being marginalized and those people need a voice, someone who will stand up for them.
    This does not mean one necessarily needs to be political, though that’s certainly an option. Marginalized people are affected by corporate environments and policies at a much higher rate than they are by political influence. From hiring decisions to differences in how people are paid, to how work assignments are made, anyone who is part of a minority has experienced on-the-job discrimination. You can be the voice that changes those policies. Whether from inside the company or outside.
    We are fortunate to be alive at a time when corporations are especially sensitive to charges of discrimination of any kind. The threat of having marginalizing policies exposed to social media where it risks being seen by broadcast and print media is a powerful tool that can help implement change. At the same time, for many companies change might be as simple leaving a store manager a note letting them know that their floor display is too narrow for people in wheel chairs to navigate, or that the placement of certain equipment or chemicals poses a danger to service animals. Often, all it takes is someone taking a moment to say something. You can be that someone.
  • Encourage communication that is inclusive and supportive. Start with your own methods of communication, especially online. Use language that is not combative or antagonistic. Adjust to use non-gender-specific pronouns such as they, their, and them. Politely ask for clarification when someone says something that you or someone else might be challenged to understand.
    While online is likely to be the place where we practice our communication skills the most, person-to-person is often where it matters the most. The concept of meeting someone “half-way” is not acceptable. Instead, we need to meet people where they are, be empathetic to their situation, allow them to make mistakes without you correcting them all the time. Show compassion especially where it is not returned.
    How we speak to people and how we respond when people speak to us is one of the primary reasons for violence in the United States. Statements that we might not have given a second thought end up being the explosion point that sends someone else looking for a weapon. Words do hurt and we have to be extremely careful in how we use them.
  • Develop and improve your community. Let me be very clear at the start here: I hate neighborhood associations that control what people can or cannot do with their own property. Neighborhood associations are the most predominate form of Communism present in the United States and are an indirect threat to humanity because of the way they force people to take actions that might not be in their best interest. When I talk about developing a community, a neighborhood association is the last reference I wouild want anyone to make.
    That being said, we need to know our neighbors, we need to help our neighbors, we need to encourage our neighbors. Neighborhoods have the opportunity to be powerhouses of influence within a city but that cannot happen when neighbors never speak to each other, constantly call the zoning board on each other, and do things that make other people’s lives more difficult. We can fix that. All it takes is one person going next door and introducing themselves. That’s how it all starts.
    Critical to this effort is that one not be afraid of small talk. Big conversations begin with small talk. Consider asking someone what was the first movie they ever saw and how old were they when they saw it. Another approach is ask someone who their favorite musician is and if it’s someone with whom you’re not familiar, perhaps ask them to play a sample. Listen to what they say, embrace the things that make them happy. This is how friendships are planted. Little by little, one neighbor at a time, create friendships and then introduce friends to one another. Quite quickly one is likely to discover that they’ve helped develop a community that is diverse, safe, and supportive of each other. This is how change happens at the grassroots level. These are actions that matter.
  • Teach. Teach anything, anyone, wherever and whenever you can. One doesn’t need to be formal about the education, either. Where one sees an opportunity to help someone learn, take it. Show a preschooler how to tie their own shoes. Help an eight-year-old learn how to wash dishes. Teach a young teenager how to apply makeup or style their hair. Help an older person figure out their smart devices or how to avoid scams online.
    I am convinced that everyone has the ability to teach someone something and that they should do so. Little lessons can mean a lot. I remember the person who taught me how to cast with an open-face reel. I remember the person who taught me how to pop a wheelie on my bicycle without busting my head open. I remember the person who taught me how to kiss. We come into this world with zero knowledge and few instincts. Everything else we have to learn and in a lot of cases we have to unlearn something wrong first. Someone went to the trouble to teach us and it is up to us to pass along that knowledge, those skills, and and that fantastic feeling of accomplishment to others.
    Added bonus: when we teach from an attitude of compassion and empathy, we teach others how to interact with people the same way. We, as a species, tend to mimic the actions and attitudes of those around us. When we are around negative-minded people our attitude and actions are more likely to be negative as well. When we present people with a learning environment that is positive, encouraging, and supportive of who they are, they are more likely to respond to other people in a positive manner as well.

Notice there is nothing in here about fighting robots, combating people who make robots, or everyone having to obtain advanced medical degrees. Saving humanity doesn’t have to be all that complicated. Certainly, it could be if we allow matters to spiral too far out of control, but if we do the things outlined here many of the issues that threaten us, issues such as war, famine and poverty, along with the diseases cause by those conditions are most likely to solve themselves. A grat amount of the suffering experienced globally, and many of the dangers we face as a species, are directly tied to our long-standing insistence upon being assholes toward ourselves and each other. Once we turn that around, a significant number of our problems go away.

Again, there’s no forcing anyone to do any of these things, oranything else. If we, collectively, are to save humanity through humane methods we each have to decide that humanity is worth our effort.

In every movie where robots develop an advanced intelligence and begin eliminating humans it is because what they see in humans is a race of beings hell-bent on being cruel, aggressive, jackasses. Therefore, it stands to reason, we stop acting like jackasses and the threat of AI domination goes away. It might help us out against alien invasion as well, though I’ve no basis for certainty on that matter.

No matter who we are, where we were born, what color our skin, what we believe, how we identify ourselves, or who we choose to love, we are all humans and it is up to us to save ourselves by being better humans.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing.


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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.

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