Browsing Tag
vacation
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.

Not sleeping is killing you

[Annoying copy reminding people I need to eat at least once a week. Either buy something or drop us some cash.]

An editorial reminder that links in this article appear bold and italicized. We don’t color or underline them. Please, click the links.

Our personal health depends on learning how to rest

We need more sleep

I am up early almost every morning. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that we have two dogs who can’t hold their bladders much past four in the morning. If I don’t want to clean dog pee off the carpet, I have to let them out. The second reason, though, is that the quiet of the morning is the best time of day for me to get writing done. My mind is reasonably fresh, creativity and thought both seem to flow well, and there aren’t too many distractions.

The downside of getting up so early is that it throws off my body’s relationship to the traditional workday. If I’m up at four, then I’m ready for lunch by eight, nine at the latest. That lull in energy you get right after lunch? Mine hits about 10 and if I’m not doing something that requires physical effort I’m going to have difficulty keeping my eyes open. While everyone else seems to be running around until 11 at night or so, my bedtime is 9:30 PM and anything past that stretches the limits of my already fragile sanity. I would have a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out) if I wasn’t too tired to care.

As a society, we have a lot of problems with sleep. That’s not necessarily our fault, though. Approximately 22 million people suffer from sleep apnea, a condition that makes contiguous sleep difficult-to-impossible and can be deadly in extreme situations (source). A whole host of other health-related issues such as heart issues, weight, diabetes, emotional issues, attention-deficit, and autistic-spectrum disorders can all factor in our difficulty with sleeping (source). This time of year can be especially difficult when the adjustment away from Daylight Savings Time messes with the body’s natural circadian rhythms. Most people adjust within a day or so but some people take a lot longer (source).

There are also those people who claim they don’t need much sleep. The current US president is one of those people, claiming he only sleeps three to four hours a night (no comment on how frequently he naps during the day). Others who say they get by on little sleep include Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, fashion designer Tom Ford, Martha Stewart, Barak Obama, and former Disney CEO Bob Iger (source). Some, like Ford, claim they have too much energy to sleep. Others say there’s simply too much work to leave any time for sleep. 

But are we doing ourselves a disservice if we try to follow their example? Can we really get by on 3-4 hours of sleep? I’ve tried. That happens every February and September while covering international fashion weeks. It doesn’t go well. By the end of the month, I’m grouchier than usual (and that’s saying something), dependent on frequent caffeine jolts, and generally not in the best of health. So, what is the best approach to sleep? For that matter, how should we think of rest in general, not just the moments we are unconscious but awake moments that provide us with some level of physical regeneration. 

Not Sleeping Takes A Toll On Your Body

taking a toll

We all have those moments when we have to put in an extra-long day. The car breaks down and shifts everything late. A child gets sick forcing a late-night visit to the clinic. Deadlines looking mean staying late at work. We encounter these interruptions to our sleep on a somewhat random basis and while we feel tired we don’t think too much about them doing any harm to our body. For the most part, that perspective is correct.

What scientists are learning, though, is that when we maintain that habit, such as working multiple eight-hour jobs, the lack of sleep really begins taking a toll on our body; not just in the obvious ways of always feeling tired and losing focus, either. A lack of sleep affects the mind, heart, endocrine system, and immune system in ways we don’t always perceive until it’s too late. The older we get, the more critical the need for sleep becomes and that part seems to make sense but even when we’re still young and allegedly unstoppable we’re still doing damage to our bodies.

For example, let’s say you’ve put in a long day at work. There was an important deadline and you stayed late, putting in an 18-hour day. You got the work done. You’re proud of yourself. Now you have to drive home. There’s just one problem, at roughly the 18-hour mark, your reaction time is about the same as a drunk person. The last place you need to be is behind the wheel of a car. (source) No matter how much coffee or protein you’ve ingested in an effort to keep yourself going, it’s not enough. Even worse, when we work those long hours we tend to not eat or drink much at all, so we’re likely to further handicap ourselves by being dehydrated and under-nourished. 

The longer you stay awake, the worse it gets. Say you’re on an intercontinental flight, for example, one of those 20+ hour flights from one end of the world to the other. While most people sleep a bit, some don’t. Then, when they get to their destination, there’s still the ride to the hotel, checking in, and maybe even a meeting or two before having a chance to get some rest. Once we cross that 24-hour mark, our brains quite literally go into panic mode. They essentially start shutting down services randomly. Memory and mathematical processing go first. Your brain starts taking mini-breaks, around 20 seconds at a time where it appears that you’re conscious but you’re not. Your brain shuts down and isn’t paying attention. People say things to you, and maybe you even respond, but later you’ll have no memory of the event at all. (source

Eventually, especially past the 35-hour mark, your brain is keeping you alive and that’s about it. The brain responds more to negative stimuli than positive and irrational behavior is the result. Beyond 48 hours, hallucinations can take place and one’s actions are no longer reliable (source).

Oh, but that’s not all. Your heart hates losing sleep. Not only does one’s blood pressure soar from lack of sleep, but just the loss of a single hour can also be lethal. The Monday after the Spring return to Daylight Savings Time, when we lose an hour, heart attacks jump 25% (source). Heart attacks actually drop by 21% when we return to standard time in the fall. We need our sleep and there’s no denying it.

All those guys running around on less than six hours of sleep a day? You’re really hurting yourself. Studies show that prolonged lack of sleep kills your testosterone production by 10-15% and that’s a huge amount. Add alcohol intake on top of that and you’re really doing yourself harm. Just one week of bad sleep is essentially aging you by one year. Do the math, lunkhead. You’re slowly killing yourself (source).

We’re not done. When you pull those 18-hour days, your body starts to build up pro-inflammatory proteins like IL-6, a blood marker associated with chronic health conditions and heart disease. Your immune system goes right into the toilet. In fact, research shows that just one night of bad sleep reduces the number of cells that fight off cancer and chronic disease by a whopping 70% and when prolonged becomes a certified carcinogen (source)(source). People who work overnight or third shift jobs are at especially high risk. Cancer rates among those working two full-time jobs are significantly higher even when they don’t smoke and eat well simply because they’re not getting enough sleep

In short, everything we do is reduced in effectiveness and efficiency when we don’t get enough sleep. We might think we’re being productive, but the quality of the work we’re doing is inferior. Our bodies need the rest and the toll it takes on us isn’t always recoverable. The longer we go without sufficient sleep, but more difficult it becomes to “recuperate” and restore our body. The dangers are real.

Light Complicates Our Sleeping Patterns

A little less light

While doing my research for this essay (some of you thought I pull this stuff out of my ass, didn’t you?), I came across an article Linda Geddes wrote about a month ago on Why Office Workers Can’t Sleep.  Geddes is one of those science journalists who doesn’t mind putting herself right smack in the middle of a testing environment in order to get a better perspective on the story. She did exactly that with the study on how light affects sleep and the results are interesting. 

Her initial premise is something we already knew, at least in part. Blue light is bad for your sleep patterns, especially in the evening. Who is exposed to more blue light late in the day than anyone? Office workers. The bigger the office, the more blue light one is likely to encounter and, by extension, the more difficult it may be to get to sleep at a reasonable time. It makes complete sense. We see the effects and have little trouble accepting the studies we didn’t want to read in the first place.

We also have no argument with the fact that small screens, such as our phones and tablets, damage our ability to sleep at night. We still don’t put them down any sooner, but more devices now how an amber filter option that turns on automatically as it begins to get dark around us. The question is how many people actually use the amber filters? There doesn’t seem to be a decent study that’s been made public at this point. My guess is, given a large number of articles reminding people that filters are an option, that the number isn’t as high as it needs to be.

Where Geddes’ article gets interesting, though, is in the “back to natural light” experiment she cites. She looks at a 2013 University of Boulder in Colorado study that sent eight people camping in the Rocky Mountains to study how being removed from artificial light changed their sleeping habits. The results for the initial study were that participants fell asleep 1.2 hours earlier by the end of the trip, but also woke up earlier. Okay, that’s interesting but no one’s actually getting more sleep.

What might be more important from that particular study was that participants’ bodies stopped producing melatonin before they woke up. Melatonin is the natural chemical in our bodies that helps us get to sleep. When melatonin production stops before we wake up, we’re more likely to be sharp and ready to go. However, when we’re constantly exposed to artificial light, melatonin production continues even after we wake up, giving us that groggy feeling enticing us to hit the snooze button 15 more times. 

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. The study was “recently” repeated in the winter. I know, who is crazy enough to volunteer to spend a week camping in the Rockies in the winter? My personal response is to question the sanity of the participants. The researcher involved went with them so perhaps someone wants to look into the sadomasochistic tendencies there. [Sort of kidding, sort of not.]

Participants in the winter study slept 2.3 hours longer than they normally would. However, the method of the study raises the question as to whether they went to be early because of the lack of light or in an effort to get warm? There’s also no answer to the question of whether they were allowed to “buddy-up” which would utilize the benefits of combined body heat, making sleep more comfortable, but depending on the “buddy” might also encourage other activities that would delay sleep. 

Not satisfied with the less-than imperial results she was seeing, Geddes tossed her entire family (husband and primary-school-aged children) into the experiment by having them all go without exposure to artificial light. There was understandably a period of adjustment and the necessity of working under some amount of ambient artificial light was inescapable. However, what she found was that by pushing herself outside during the day to be exposed to natural light (she did this experiment during the winter holidays) caused her melatonin production to kick in earlier when it naturally started getting dark. As with the Colorado study, she and her family found themselves going to bed and sleeping earlier. The effect was especially noticeable with the children.

Also worth noting, though, is the importance of bright light early in the morning. In all these studies as well as several others, exposure to bright light first thing in the morning helps reduce the “melatonin hangover” effect that keeps us reaching for the coffee pot all morning. There’s a balance to be achieved. Popping on a bright light as soon as we wake up in the morning might help us activate our day a bit more effectively and kicking all the lights off and using candlelight in the evening might make our sleep longer and more efficient at night.

There’s a ton of science behind these findings and there’s more coming. The effects of light on our sleep pattern as well as specific brain functions is a “hot topic” among scientists at the moment. As we’re heading into the natural darkness of the winter months, reaching over and flipping on a light (or a dozen) around 4:30 in the afternoon seems normal enough. But what if we lit candles instead? Could that reduction in electric consumption not only lower a bill or two but also make us healthier?

I have mixed feelings. We have cats and cats and candles don’t always work well with each other. I’m also not convinced that turning off the lights and the television so far before bedtime won’t cause our children to revolt. Yours might do better. Ours might threaten our lives.

What Deep Sleep Does For Us

What Sleep Does For Us

No one in their right mind is likely to argue against sleep. Well, okay, there are always those, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead folks,” but they’ll likely be dead soon anyway so we’re going to discount their insanity for the moment. Instead, I think it is perhaps a better use of our reading time to consider exactly what it is that deep sleep does for us and it can be summed up in one word: Clean.

No, it won’t clean the dishes (if only). What it does is scrub your brain. No, it won’t get rid of your porn or pony obsessions. The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) essentially flushes toxins from your brain during REM sleep. Things like oxygenated blood, which can be fatal, are either eliminated or broken down so that they’re removed from our brain system before we wake up.

This has huge implications for anyone concerned about degenerative brain disease, Alzheimer’s, or dementia. There’s a nasty little toxin called amyloid-Beta. Amyloid-Beta contributes significantly to Alzheimer’s. However, good deep sleep for prolonged periods clears amyloid-Beta from the brain. While it does not necessarily prevent dementia-related diseases, it does significantly reduce the occurrence of those illnesses, which is a good thing. [source]

We also know that deep sleep coordinates memory consolidation. This is extremely important if you, say, want to pass that test you were cramming for last night, or are trying to learn a new language, or are trying to remember the names of all the menu items at your third job because wages haven’t increased significantly in twenty years. This is one of the many reasons babies sleep as much as they do: they intake so much new information in such a short period of time that their brains need sleep in order to consolidate and package everything.

Granted, there is limited research that suggests genetics may be the reason some people seem to need less sleep than others (source) but that research has yet to take on the task of quantifying whether those with that DNA anomaly are processing everything in less time than the rest of us, or if their brains are only doing part of the work and leaving the rest, such as the CSF cleaning, undone. 

Oh, and here’s another thing: that sleeping late on the weekend thing? That’s not helping any at all. In fact, it’s knocking your sugar levels and a few other things completely out of whack (source). People with Diabetes, pre-Diabetes, or even a history of Diabetes in their family need to stick to a consistent sleep pattern as much as possible seven days a week.

Sleep is when our brains take over and do all the maintenance work that our bodies need to function. The release of hormones while we’re asleep promotes cell growth that allows muscles to grown and gives our body a chance to heal itself (source). Sleep also helps give our immune system a boost (source) so that we’re a little better protected against those idiots who fail to vaccinate their children.

What this all comes down to is that the harder one is on their body, and especially on the brain, the more serious a matter it becomes for us to get a sufficient amount of continuous sleep. This is a bit of a blow for people like me who keep telling themselves that while I may not be getting the full 8-10 hours at night, I’m making up for it with little naps during the day. Nope. While the naps certainly don’t hurt, they don’t make up for the time it takes for slow-wave sleep to do its thing. We might feel rested and have an energy boost after a nap, but we’re not giving our body time to heal, time to process memories, or flush toxins from our bodies. If we’re consistently not getting sufficient amounts of sleep then perhaps it’s time we consider consulting a professional. There may be physical issues interrupting your sleep that a threatening your health without you knowing it.

Wasting Time and Doing Nothing Doesn’t Hurt, Either

A little "me" time

Within all this talk about sleep, it doesn’t hurt to mention that our brains can use non-sleep breaks during the day as well. I could easily fill a couple of pages with sources that advocate taking walks during the day, going for a bike ride, or even looking out the window and daydreaming. There’s a precedent for all those activities and more. Not working yourself to death every waking hour of the day.

For example, as hyper-focused as he was, Charles Darwin only worked three 90-minute sessions each day. He engaged in other activities that stimulated his brain in creative ways but didn’t tax them to the degree that his work did (source). Additional research suggests that for people engaged in the most mentally intense professions, such as mathematics, four hours of work, broken up by periods of less intense, relaxing activities, is optimal. Anything more results in diminished results. 

There are also long-term benefits to things like taking extended vacations and meditation. It’s probably important to note here that the type of meditation practiced by those involved in the “Mindfulness” field is not the same as that employed by Buddhist and does not yield the same result. However, it still has proven to be helping in doing things like lowering blood pressure, lowered stress response, and improved immunity from disease. The longer and more practiced one is in meditating, the greater the benefits, but even a one week vacation has health benefits on a genetic level if one does not spend the entire time running from one activity to the other. For a vacation to work the way it should, one needs time to relax, rest, and not be under any severe time constraints (source).

Not many people have the luxury of a schedule that lets them take time for a nap after three hours of work. Perhaps they should. The number of studies supporting rest breaks and even the use of sleep pods or other accommodations at work is significant. A study by the National Research Council strongly supports midday or mid-shift napping as a way to address increasing demands for productivity. Where napping is not appropriate to the environment, however, significant breaks, much longer than the 15 minutes required by federal law, not only enhances productivity at work but keeps employees healthier, dramatically reducing the number of days lost to illness. Sidenote: paying a living wage and taking an invested interest in an employee’s living conditions also provides a huge jump in work productivity, but that’s another topic for another day.

The bottom line to all this research is that working oneself to death ultimately hurts whatever it is you’re trying to do. There is, as far as I can tell, no profession that is immune. Even fast-food workers, whose intelligence and effort are much maligned, need more satisfactory breaks than what they are given. We all do better when we’re well-rested and our brains are less distracted. Exactly how we get there is less important than getting there, but we all definitely need to find that sleep/work balance that is optimal for our bodies.

A Bedtime Story

A Bedtime Story

Before I close this off, I want to relate an early lesson that my father taught my brother and me when we were young.

My father was a Southern Baptist pastor for over 40 years before losing his eyesight. This was back in the days when being Southern Baptist did not necessarily mean being combative and narrow-minded on every topic. Poppa was quite the opposite; rather quiet, frequently contemplative, gentle and comforting in his tone, all things that made for a tremendous pastor though perhaps not always the most forceful when it came to delivering a homily on Sunday mornings. He pastored small, rural churches in Kansas in Oklahoma and over the years garnered a reputation for growing their Sunday morning attendance from less than 50 to well over 100. Perhaps not the most dramatic real numbers, but for a rural community whose entire county-wide population was less than 700, he did well.

In one congregation in Northeastern Oklahoma, there was a deacon in the church who I’ll refer to as Dean. I was a young child of only 11 when we moved to the community so I don’t remember all the details save the fact that Dean would fall asleep exactly three minutes into Poppa’s sermon. This happened every Sunday. If the morning’s service had run according to schedule, Poppa would start around 11:30 and do his best to finish promptly at 11:50 so that the service would be completed by noon. So, Dean’s wife, May, would poke him gently in the ribs around 11:48 so Dean would have time to recover before having to stand. 

Dean’s habit worked well except during either the Christmas or Easter season when he would be compelled to sing in the small choir for the Sundays leading up to the holiday. The choir generally consisted of four men who couldn’t read music at all, six altos who said they could read but rarely hit the same notes, and five sopranoes, one of whom was so boisterous as drown out the other three. They would sing just before Poppa’s sermon, which, I guess for biological reasons, delayed Dean’s usual nap. Again, most Sunday’s this wasn’t a big deal. The entire church knew that Dean napped during the sermon so the deacon sitting next to him would dutifully give him a poke at the designated time and Dean would wake in time, except when he didn’t. More than once, the choir would stand to sing the final hymn and Dean would still be sitting there, resting peacefully. It was difficult at times to not laugh aloud.

Then, one cold Sunday in December, two weeks before Christmas, the choir sang through their Christmas program (a week early because the children took over the following week) and there were still about 15 minutes of open time. The sanctuary was packed as it tended to be that time of year, so Poppa stood to deliver a few short words to the captive audience. Three minutes in, Dean fell asleep, but this time, instead of is head dipping forward, his chin on his chest as was normal, his head fell back. The soft thunk as his head hit the paneling was enough to cause Poppa to pause for a second but he quickly continued not wanting to draw any more attention than it already had. Then, two minutes later, the inevitable happened: Dean began to snore. Loudly.

I looked down the pew at my younger brother who was watching me as we both attempted to suppress our giggles. May was sitting next to our mother on the front row of the choir and their heads turned in unison as they realized what was happening. The deacon sitting next to him tried poking Dean but it didn’t work. He tried yet again to no avail.

The timing of what happened next is responsible for searing this memory in my mind. Poppa was still doing his best to continue, attempting to narrate the details around Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. He said something to the effect of, “And as they made that journey, I’m sure at some point Joseph turned to Mary and said …”

“Damnit, May, I’ll get to the chickens in a bit. This calf isn’t going to birth itself!” Dean interrupted at full volume. Apparently, the deacon had just delivered another sharp jab and coming out of a farm-related dream, Dean had responded to what his subconscious thought was his wife.

I don’t recall Poppa’s recovery line. I’m sure he said something but it’s questionable whether anyone heard him. There was no way to not laugh at Dean’s outburst. His face turned a deep crimson. May’s went ghost-white. The service was effectively over. A final song was sung, a prayer said, and everyone went their way completely forgetting the choir’s performance but for years remembering Dean.

When we got home, my brother and I were still laughing at Dean, as insensitive children sometimes do. My father waited until dinner was on the table, the blessing had been said, before he delivered an important lesson. He said, “Boys, I don’t want to hear you laughing at Dean anymore. I know what happened this morning was funny in your eyes, but I want you to think about Dean. He has a lot going on. He has five kids to take care of, he farms 500 acres, has 30 head of cattle, plus sheep, a couple of goats, and all those silly chickens running around the yard. He has to take care of all his tractors and combines and harvesters, plus his old pickup and May’s car, and he does all that when he’s not teaching science at school. Did you know he has to get up at 4:00 every morning so he can get all the animals fed before he goes to school? Did you know that after school he’s usually out in the barn or in the field until nine or ten at night? He and May haven’t had a vacation since their honeymoon, and that was only three days because their bull got sick. So, when Dean sits down at church on Sunday morning and falls asleep, it’s okay. Those few minutes in church is the only time all week when he can relax. God understands. I understand. I hope one day you’ll understand as well. We all need rest and if we can’t rest in the presence of God there’s no safe place left to rest at all. Remember that, and remember to call him Mr. Smith, not Dean. Be respectful.”

Getting enough rest is a struggle for almost everyone. One of the reasons we publish stories and articles on Sunday rather than during the week is the hope that one has the ability to approach them feeling relaxed, not stressed, so as to be open to the ideas and concepts we introduce or enjoy the stories we create. I’ve given up on even trying to write something short, so if you happen to fall asleep during an article, I’m not going to fault you for that, either. You need the rest.

We all need the rest. And now, it’s about time for my nap. Enjoy your day.

Redefining Holidays

We were shopping in our friendly neighborhood warehouse store yesterday and the Young Woman commented on the Christmas decorations that were already prevalent even before Halloween. Not that either of us was actually surprised. Holiday creep in store marketing has been a thing for decades as retailers try to extend what has traditionally been their most profitable season in hopes that profits will go up. While that tactic worked some 20 or so years ago when it first started, putting Christmas trees on sale before Thanksgiving, the gimmick has long ago lost its luster. Now, shoppers roll their eyes and proceed toward what they came to buy in the first place. There’s little sign that the extended season is helping sales at all.

On Monday of this week (October 9), the Harvard Business Review published an interesting article: “Why Retailers Should Retire Holiday Shopping Season.” The reason they give, when boiled down, is quite simple: it’s not making money. First, there’s the expense of all the additional marketing stores do for the holidays. Second, there’s the added stress as seasonal employees are added and more work is asked of everyone. Third, shopping patterns have changed and holiday sales don’t hold the luster they once did. None of those situations are going to get any better in the future, either. While it’s too late to make any change for this year, retailers would do well to begin scaling back next year and all but eliminate the holiday shopping season within the next five years. Given how many retail stores are suffering, the move makes absolute sense.

Of course, if/when retailers do start backing off the holiday sales, there are some who are going to be upset; mostly older folks of my generation and older and mostly those of a distinctly right-wing religious affiliation. By those mindsets, there are no “holidays,” only Christmas. Interfering with their holiday on any level results in accusations of waging a “war on Christmas.” Even attempts to be inclusive of other religious holidays during the month stir the wrath of those who feel that December belong only to them and their religious celebration.

All of which has me wondering if we, as a generalized society, should redefine American holidays. We have a unique definition of the word that doesn’t necessarily line up with the rest of the world, let alone the changing attitudes of people who live here. To some degree, that’s not surprising. We are the only industrialized nation that doesn’t use the metric system, for example. Americans have an ego larger than our land mass and we think we have the right to define things any way we wish.

When the rest of the world talks about “taking a holiday,” they’re referring to any general time off from work. As a result, you’ll hear them talk about their summer holiday in Iceland or their winter holiday in the South of France, and other little trips and jaunts throughout the year. Special days are only really holidays if everyone has the day off work, which doesn’t happen all that often.

Meanwhile, here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., we have a plethora of holidays running around. Here’s the list of federally recognized holidays (source):

Date Official Name Percentage of Americans observing Remarks
January 1 (Fixed) New Year’s Day[1] 72%[6] Celebrates the beginning of the Gregorian calendar year. Festivities include counting down to 12:00 midnight on the preceding night, New Year’s Eve, often with fireworks display and party. The ball drop at Times Square in New York City has become a national New Year’s festivity. The traditional end of Christmas and holiday season.[7] This occurs around the end of Kwanzaa.
January 15–21 (Floating Monday) Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. 26%[8] Honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights leader, who was actually born on January 15, 1929; combined with other holidays in several states. Some cities and municipalities hold parades; and more recently, the 1994 King Holiday and Service Act, which was passed to encourage Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen action volunteer service, has gained in popularity (sometimes referred to as a National Day of Service).
February 15–21 (Floating Monday) Washington’s Birthday 52%[9] Washington’s Birthday was first declared a federal holiday by an 1879 act of Congress. The Uniform Holidays Act, 1968, shifted the date of the commemoration of Washington’s Birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February (between February 15 and 21, meaning the observed holiday never falls on Washington’s actual birthday). Because of this, combined with the fact that President Lincoln’s birthday falls on February 12, many people now refer to this holiday as “Presidents’ Day” and consider it a day honoring all American presidents. However, neither the Uniform Holidays Act nor any subsequent law changed the name of the holiday from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day. [1]
May 25–31 (Floating Monday) Memorial Day 21%[10] Honors the nation’s war dead from the Civil War onwards; marks the unofficial beginning of the summer season. (traditionally May 30, shifted by the Uniform Holidays Act 1968). The holiday is observed on the last Monday in May.
July 4 (Fixed) Independence Day Celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence from British rule, also called the Fourth of July. Fireworks celebrations are held in many cities throughout the nation.
September 1–7 (Floating Monday) Labor Day One 2012 survey of American adults found that 52% celebrate Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer.[11] A separate nationwide survey of human resource professionals, conducted in 2015, found that 97% of U.S. employees provided a full paid holiday on labor day, but 41% of employers require at least some employees to work on the holiday.[12] The holiday is observed on the first Monday in September.
October 8–14 (Floating Monday) Columbus Day 8%[13] Honors Christopher Columbus, an explorer of the Americas. In some areas, it is also a celebration of Indigenous Peoples, or Italian culture and heritage. (traditionally October 12)
November 11 (Fixed) Veterans Day 43%[14] Honors all veterans of the United States armed forces. It is observed on November 11 to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918 (major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the Armistice with Germany went into effect).
November 22–28 (Floating Thursday) Thanksgiving Day 87%[15] Traditionally celebrates the giving of thanks for the autumn harvest. Traditionally includes the sharing of a turkey dinner. The holiday is observed on the fourth Thursday in November.
December 25 (Fixed) Christmas Day 90%–95%[16][17] The most widely celebrated holiday of the Christian year, Christmas is observed as a commemoration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Commonly celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike with various traditions.

Of course, only federal and state employees get all those days off work and the vast majority of Americans look at Washington’s Birthday (aka President’s Day) and Columbus Day as silly annoyances. An increasing number of people have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, but unless we start actually recognizing and protecting our indigenous people naming a day for them is rather empty.

Oh, but that’s not all the holidays, mind you. If one is religiously minded, then there are other holidays to throw into the mix.  I would list them all but doing so would take up pages of space and we both know that you’d just scroll past them all. As a reference point, though, consider some of the additional secular “holidays” we throw in. Things like Valentine’s Day on February 14, St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, Ground Hog Day on February 2, Mardi Gras on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (one of those floating holidays), Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Juneteenth, Halloween, Black Friday, and Kwanzaa. Put them all together and one can almost claim to be celebrating one holiday or another every day of the year. The problem is so bad that many states have had to adopt a legal list of holidays for which school students can be given an excused absence.

A bit much, don’t you think? If we’re theoretically celebrating something all the time, then every day is a holiday and holidays mean absolutely nothing. Everything becomes watered down and meaningless because, for the vast majority of Americans, holidays are just the days that banks are closed and the mail doesn’t run—an annoyance increasingly made moot thanks to modern technology.

No one wants to take their holiday off the calendar, of course. Organizations use declared holidays to bring attention to causes such as childhood diseases, women’s rights, marriage rights, and the martyrdom of people who died defending our rights and freedoms. All of those special days have a reasonably good cause behind them, but are they really holidays if less than one percent of the population even knows they exist? Show of hands: how many of us even care what today’s official observance is? Walter probably would. For 2017, October 12 is Shmini Atzeret, a Jewish holiday celebrating the love of God. Would I have known that if I didn’t have a religious calendar open in front of me? Nope. Do I care either way? Not a big, and I’m guessing that anyone who’s not Jewish probably doesn’t give a shit, either.

And that is my whole point: with all these holidays on the calendar, the vast and anxious masses across the United States don’t give a shit about these little holidays that take up space on the calendar. Most of us look upon them as a lame attempt to bolster a rapidly failing greeting card market (unlike the president, when I call something failing I cite my sources). Given that, why have holidays at all? Why not wipe the calendar clean and leave everyone to their own personal observances without trying to make everyone else follow along?

Why Do We Celebrate Holidays?

Tradition. For all of written history, which encompasses roughly the past 6,000+ years or so, humanity has celebrated holidays for one of the following reasons:

  1. Religious mandate or commemoration
  2. Nationalistic observance of nationalism
  3. Cultural festivals related to agriculture and/or nature

One thing all three categories have in common is that they give to those celebrating a sense of identity. We know who we are, and we better understand why we are who we are, because of the holidays we celebrate and/or observe. This sense of identity is important to the establishment and preservation of a culture. What is the first thing a new country does when it breaks away from another? It establishes its date of independence as a national holiday, helping to define that national culture around which they all might identify.

Such commemorations made perfect sense for the entire portion of our history wherein our cultural identity was connected either a belief system and a geographic sense of place. Those conditions have been a foundation of human reality right up until the Internet was released upon the world in 1991. Once we had the ability to be connected beyond our physical borders, however, everything began to change. Over time, we have become enlightened to what life and culture are like in geographies and religions other than our own. Histories that were once fed to us as the one-sided opinion of the victors are now challenged as we see the same history from the perspective of those who lost. We are more aware of struggles outside our own and judge our situation by comparing our lives to those of people we don’t know. We understand more than ever exactly how government works and many want to find ways to take a more active role. Our world, our belief system, and our cultures are all morphing into something different, something new.

While this “something new” amounts to change for old farts like me, though, for Millennials, those born in 1990 or later, this isn’t change. This constantly evolving, always discovering, mythology-busting reality is their culture. They don’t see life in the same, straight-forward way that their parents do/did. Facts must be challenged and their sources questioned. Traditions must be reconsidered and their origins analyzed. History must be re-written in context of who was hurt, what was fair, and whether the end result was positive or negative for all of society, not just those directly involved. Values are different because their perspective of the world is dramatically different. What’s more important is realizing that there’s no way society ever returns to the tunnel-visioned view of the past. This new culture of exploration, inquisitiveness, and demand for fairness is here to stay.

Another argument for all these holidays is that they provide times for families to get together, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We, as a society, have a soft spot for families, Even sitcoms can make us tear up a bit when a tender family scene is invoked. Surely, we wouldn’t want to do anything that would keep families from getting together, would we?

Have you looked around the table at Christmas lately? Family isn’t quite so important to everyone and the younger adults in our families aren’t as worried about whether they’re present on a particular holiday or not. There’s a good reason for that. Those who are close to their extended families, particularly mom and/or dad, never move that far away and see their families on a regular basis through the year. So, if they miss a Thanksgiving dinner because they have a chance to visit friends in Norway that week, it’s not a big deal. They’ll see everyone when they get back. For those who aren’t close to their extended families, especially in situations where abuse was a part of their childhood, these “forced” times together are just painful. Adult children look for any excuse possible to avoid having to do holidays with the family.

This holiday-driven family time is a relatively short-lived tradition in the first place. Prior to the mid-20th century, people didn’t travel to be with family for holidays because they couldn’t. Few owned cars and there was no commercial air travel. When the holidays came around, people invited their neighbors, not family, to come over and share their food with them. There was a sense of warmth and community because they were with friends by choice, not a sense of familial obligation. Only after World War II, when children from the Midwest began fleeing for the coasts by the millions, did parents start asking children to come home for Christmas. The travel industry saw this as a way to make money and began marketing the “Home for Christmas” concept and it quickly caught hold.

Now, however, those who travel prefer to do so on their own timetable. When we visit relatives, we do so at times of the year when it fits our schedule and we can afford to do so easily. That means we’re more likely to visit Grandma in the summer when discount airlines offer large savings on tickets,  or early fall when gas prices historically dip (hence, the advent of a fall break in the school schedule). Millennials are more likely to take trips to see family almost any time other than holidays because visiting family is what they do when there’s not a better, more fun experience to be had. Family is who you visit between festivals and on your way home from that trip to Italy. Those with small children are more likely to stay home for gift-giving holidays especially because the cost of shipping presents back and forth is often more than the cost of the presents themselves. Parents can give their children a better holiday experience if Grandma and Grandpa come to them.

All the reasons we once had for indulging in holidays are rapidly making less and less sense as our culture morphs into an experience-based and away from religious and historical observances. Too many holidays now either don’t make a like of sense, such as Columbus Day or create social expectations we don’t want, such as Valentine’s Day. With the reasons for celebrating going away, now would be a good time for us to completely redefine the American holiday.

Time For A Sensible Approach

Doing away with holidays completely doesn’t make as much sense as doing away with holiday marketing. Yet, there are some similarities between leveling out sales in retail to reduce the emphasis on end-of-year selling and redefining holidays so that we’re not stuck in a litany of forced activities that don’t make sense. We can, and should, improve on the entire concept of holidays so that everyone is a lot happier. Of course, we know exactly how to make that happen.

1.Clear the calendar and start over. Make a clean break and make sure everyone knows about it. No more nonsense, partisan, political, or special-interest holidays. We can’t get a new start if we’re still hanging on to old ideas and concepts. This is going to be troubling for all us baby boomers because we’re emotionally attached to all those holidays.  We have memories, both good and bad, around each one and we are fearful of letting those go. We also don’t like giving up our traditions. Like every aging generation before us, we like what we know and abhor being asked to change.

What my peers need to realize is that this society is less ours and more that of our children. We’re dying off and in the next few years, the number of deaths is going to skyrocket at close to the same rate as our births did. I’ve seriously given some thought to getting back into the funeral home business because it’s about to get very lucrative.  The future belongs to our children and grandchildren and we need to help them make the societal and cultural transitions that work better for them. Standing in the way of change just because we’re comfortable with the status quo is selfish.

2.Establish two distinct holiday periods. Make the first full week of July and the third week of December national holidays. Close all government services and offices for that week and let everyone who can have the entire week off. Let’s get real: productivity during those two weeks are already at their lowest, so declaring those two weeks as holidays isn’t going to change anything. People take full weeks around July 4 and December 25, so let’s go ahead and give everyone those two weeks as a national minimum.

Yes, some individualized adjustments are necessary. Everyone taking off work at the same time isn’t practical, at least not yet. For the time being, we still need people running retail stores, convenience stores, and dining establishments. We are likely to see that change dramatically over the next 30 years as those industries completely morph with technology, but for now, the economy still needs those employees, so some will need to take their holidays either the week before or the week after, alternating the schedules so that everyone gets equal time off. What’s important, though, is that we all get that same holiday with no connection to religion, geography, relationship status, national heritage, or any other criteria that celebrates one person over another. Equal time to celebrate whatever you feel like celebrating.

3.Put an emphasis on personal holidays. Everyone gets their birthday as a holiday and their immediate family (spouse and children) get the day as well. That’s not going to be as big a financial hit for employers as one might think. First, Millennials are already taking their birthday as a vacation day or personal day already. The attitude toward birthdays is less centered on receiving gifts from other people and more around creating memorable experiences for oneself. We give ourselves the things that we want so that we’re not disappointed by the agenda someone else set for us. Second, Millennials are having smaller and smaller families often with only one or two children, or none at all. So, the overall number of people affected by one person’s birthday is rather limited.

From a retail perspective, this could be a water-raising concept. Instead of seasonal sales, which have proven to be increasingly less effective, give everyone a steep “Black Friday” type discount on their birthday. This spreads both the cost and the advantage of deep discounting evenly across the entire year rather than lumping it all toward the end of the year where things can, and have, skew horribly wrong. Millennials have already shown that they’re more likely to buy for themselves than other people, so play to that on the day when they’re thinking the most about themselves.   Remember, someone has a birthday every day of the year. This approach is more likely to create a steady stream of customers and avoids the costly end-of-year nightmares.

4.Leave religious observances to the religious and give everyone else equal time off. One area where the American calendar is horribly biased is in the emphasis on Christian observances over those from any other religion. Christians traditionally have little trouble arguing for days off around Christmas and Easter, but Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists have much fmor difficulty arguing for time off on their holiest of days. And if one isn’t religious at all, then you’re screwed altogether; either one accepts time off around a religious holiday or just keeps on working. As our society grows more diverse and less religious, this biased approach to holidays makes absolutely no sense at all.

However, that’s not to say that people of faith shouldn’t be allowed to observe their religious holidays. I tend to like the stance taken by the New Jersey Board of Education which created “The List of Religious Holidays Permitting Student Absence from School. (PDF) ” The concept is a simple one: no one is prohibited from taking a day off to observe a recognized religious holiday. The list not only includes all major Christian, Jewish, and Muslim holidays, but also includes holidays for less popular religions such as Baha’i, Scientology, and Wicca. Fairness is the goal, with no one religion superceding another. What’s missing, though, is an equal allowance for those who don’t hold any religious belief at all, or at least are not part of an organized religion. For those people, who currently number about 35 % of the population, an equal amount of time off must be alotted to use at their discrestion according to their personal belief system. Give everyone the same opportunity but force no one to observe someone else’s religious holiday.

5.Create more emphasis on personal days with a push toward mental health and volunteerism. I have always been a bit jealous of the European concept of “taking a Holiday” for anything from a vacation in the Alps to a day off to attend to car repairs. Limiting holidays to observances outside our control wreeks too much of communism, where individual choice is severely limited and sameness is applauded. Sorry, that doesn’t work for me and it certainly doesn’t work for upcoming generations that are more bent than ever on doing things their own way when they want to do them. A calendar full of holidays in which they have no say nor interest doesn’t make sense.

What does make sense is encouraging people to take time for themselves and for others. Mental health remains the top drain on corporate productivity from top to bottom. We wear out, burn out, drop out, and ruin ourselves from an environment that pushes endless work. Redefining holidays to include personal time off allows us the freedom to take a break without having to do anything beyond taking care of ourselves. Breathing. Seeing to our own needs. Addressing the external issues that create stress. At the same time, we are in danger of becoming so inwardly focused that we forget there are even greater needs outside us. One of the most attractive perks companies can offer is paid time off to volunteer. Companies as diverse as Timberland and Salesforce are already doing this, offering up to 40 pain hours a year to volunteer. This means you can actually take time for the special cause beyond just copy/pasting something on Facebook. You can be that big brother/big sister or help with a non-profit’s fundraiser without taking a chunk out of your personal revenue.

Holidays Reimagined

There are a lot of options for holidays that improves upon the current over-filled calendar of days with little national meaning and that few observe. We can keep familiy and religious traditions without forcing everyone else to play along. There are eoptions that make more sense and allow holidays to be more personal, more meaningful, and more enjoyable. We don’t have to keep doing things the same way.

Abiding comes easier for everyone when we remove the obstacles of mandatory social inclusion. If holidays do not hold meaning for us, what’s the point? If I don’t believe that a ghost impregnated a virgin then why should I be expected to buy presents and wear ugly sweaters? If I like buying presents and wearing ugly sweaters then why should I have to wait until the 25th of December to do so? Abiding is finding the flow where one best fits with the universe and going with it. Religious or not, nationalistic or not, let’s redefine holidays to be those breaks we need, not what someone else thinks we should have.

This is how we create a better world for everyone.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

And now …

Where we pass the hat

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redfining Holidays

Photo credit: Frost Queen by charles i. letbetter. Model: Rebekkah McGrath. Makeup: Jennifer Baxter

Old Man Talking

There’s little question that terrorism is a bad thing and if we’re all quite honest with ourselves we’d really rather not get all caught up in any part of that mess. The problem is that no one ever knows when or where a terrorist might strike. They seem to look for those places where people are happy, having fun, doing their normal, everyday dude things, and then do something stupid to turn those good times into unhappy memories, or worse.

There have been a lot of articles all over the Internet about how to fight terrorism, but to date, none of them have really worked, have they? Every week, sometimes every day, there are new attacks on the happy and peaceful lives of chill people just hanging out, doing their thing, trying to abide. If any of those articles had any real solutions, wouldn’t we be seeing a reduction in the number of terror attacks?

I don’t know. Maybe my expectations are too high.

What I know is that terrorists are not likely to stop their plotting and planning simply because I ask them to, even if I said please. Terrorists are a lot like Nihilists in that they just don’t make a damn bit of sense. They say they have a belief system, but their belief system isn’t really anything related to what they claim. They’re not really Muslim. They’re not really Christian. They’re not really anything other than terrorists, which is just stupid.

The problem with terrorists is that, like the Nihilists in The Big Lebowski, they have no conscience, especially when it comes to causing trouble. Cut off a pinky toe to make a million dollars? Sure, no problem! Run over a bunch of tourists for the attention? Absolutely! When dealing with people whose basic philosophy lacks reason, there is no amount of reasoning that justifies their actions. They’re not even good people doing bad things. They lack a conscience. They do only what satisfies them.

Where we run into problems is that terrorists, like the Nihilists, inevitably fuck things up for everyone else. They actually like fucking things up. They like peeing on other people’s rugs. These terrorist beings run around blowing shit up, running vehicles into crowds of people, cutting off the heads of captives, and harshing the buzz of everyone else on the planet.

Cue Walter:  “ WHO’S THE FUCKING NIHILIST HERE! WHAT ARE YOU, A BUNCH OF FUCKING CRYBABIES?”

Yes, they are. Terrorists are ultimately nothing more than a bunch of fucking crybabies. Dangerous crybabies, to be sure, but nonetheless, crybabies they are. Every. Last. One of them. Don’t treat them like they’re anything more than that. They are crybabies.

Now that we’ve established what they are, the primary topic before us is how to avoid becoming the victim of terrorists. This isn’t an especially easy topic because they have this really annoying habit of popping up in places where they’re not expected. Most of the people in the world enjoy going about their daily lives, shopping, working, playing, loving, and not giving a second thought to the presence of crybabies who might interrupt and ruin their lives. So when the crybabies do show up and piss on the rug, so to speak, we’re caught as much by surprise as the Dude was at the beginning of the movie.

Avoiding terrorists doesn’t come with any guarantees, of course. They’re sneaky little bastards. Typically, they don’t move in next door and introduce themselves at a neighborhood potluck. I mean, think of how awkward it would be if everyone’s standing around in Donny’s backyard drinking cold ones and munching on burgers and the new guy introduces himself:

“Yeah, my name’s Muhammad Ramalama DingDong and I’m with ISIS.”

Wow, talk about bringing down a party quickly.

Granted, there are some terrorists who do telegraph their presence. If you see your neighbor hanging out a Nazi flag, that’s a pretty good signal that either someone needs to move or a Nazi is going to get punched. We fought wars to stop Nazis in Europe. We’re damn sure not letting them invade our neighborhoods. Punching Nazis is preventing trouble before it starts.

Nazis aren’t the ones causing the biggest trouble at the moment, though. They know we’re watching them and even though those sons of bitches are mouthy little fucks, when it comes right down to it they know the rest of the world is happy to crack their cranium. Those Daesh and Taliban crybabies are the ones causing most of the trouble. Therefore, we’re going to focus on not being victims of those fuckers.

What’s tempting is to make a list of places to avoid. After all, terrorist crybabies, like other psychopaths, tend to be well organized and follow established patterns. When they perceive that a certain kind of target works well for them, they are likely to continue hitting similar targets. That makes creating a list of places to avoid rather simple. We look at the places terrorists hit most and come away with places to avoid, like these:

  • Hotels
  • Shopping Areas
  • Airplanes
  • Churches and Synagogues
  • Schools
  • Nazi Rallies
  • London
  • Weddings

Old Man Tallking

photo credit: charles i. letbetter

The problem with a list like that is that, dammit, we need shopping areas because even if one brews their own beer you still have to buy ingredients. And food, man, you gotta buy food. You can’t just stay away from shopping areas.

Okay, staying away from Nazi Rallies is pretty damn easy. Not that you can tell from recent activity, but come on, do we actually believe that any of those people in Charlottesville didn’t know what they were getting themselves into when they lit their tiki torches?

And churches. I’ve not had any trouble staying away from churches for several years now. At least, not traditional churches. I have some difficulty staying away from this place, but since there’s no physical structure to this church I think we’re all safe for the moment.

The rest of the things on that list, though, tend to be rather necessary. So, trying to avoid them doesn’t make a helluva lot of sense, does it? Therefore, the question becomes, if you need a hotel, which hotel do you choose? If you’re out of alcohol, where do you stock up? When you have an urgent need to get from Jersey City to Albuquerque, how ya’ going to get there?

I’ve gone through some pain, put myself on multiple watch lists, and gone through multiple bottles of Kahlua to create a list of activities and places that are relatively safe from terrorists. While I can’t offer anyone an ironclad guarantee, my non-scientific and largely unsubstantiated opinion is that terrorists crybabies don’t seem to give a damn about these places and activities, judging by previous behavior. Therefore, they’re probably reasonably safe compared to, oh, having a wedding in the middle of a shopping area in London–that’s just asking for trouble.

 

  1. Go Bowling. For true believers, this is an obvious solution invoked by the Dude himself. When was the last time you heard of terrorist crybabies bombing a bowling alley? Okay, every once in awhile someone like Walter shows up waving a gun around because someone won’t follow the rules. Jesus. That’s not really terrorism, though. Walter was being more of an asshole than a terrorist.

    The way I figure it, bowling is too noisy for terrorists. Every time someone like Donny throws a strike, the sound of all those pins falling is too close to that of a small bomb going off. People who work with bombs tend to be rather jumpy about sounds like that. A terrorist wouldn’t blend in at a bowling alley because they’d have a nervous breakdown before they finished the first game!

    So yeah, go bowling, find your moment of zen as you lay that ball down on the polished wood. Know that you and your buddies are safe from terrorists as long as you stay inside.
    Go outside, though, and you could die. Just ask Donny. Oh, wait … can’t do that.
  2. Patronize the Arts. Note: this is a good idea even if your landlord isn’t directly involved in the interpretive dance scene. There are plenty of other Arts programs that are relaxing and enjoyable and largely unattended by terrorists. Take Opera, for example. Make it one that’s four hours long and in a language few people in the audience actually understand. Find a seat in the dark, sit back, and relax knowing that anyone who was even thinking about committing a terrorist act is going to be sound asleep before intermission. By the time the opera is over they will have missed their opportunity and have no choice but to blow themselves up in a shopping area.

    Symphonies and art galleries are wonderful places to enjoy not being a terrorist victim as well. Terrorists, especially those Daesh crybabies, don’t appreciate art like you and I do. They have no sense of rhythm and form. Most of them can’t sing, either, but that’s totally beside the point.

    Terrorists have difficulty blending in when they don’t understand what’s going on in the first place and nothing has the ability to be more confusing than an arts performance or activity. The only caveat is that I wouldn’t advise trying out your ballet moves at a dance club. Terrorists have bombed dance clubs because they’re jealous. Terrorists have no moves.
  3. Vacation in unexpected places. One of the reasons that crybaby terrorists are able to prey on tourists is because everyone keeps going to the same predictable places, like London and Barcelona. Sure, those are fantastic places to visit, but when millions of people a year all try crowding into the same space it makes a very tempting target for crybabies wanting attention. Solution: spread it out a bit and visit those places that don’t get quite as much attention.

    Fortunately, there are hundreds of thousands of places one can go, have a good time, and not run into any terrorists. Take Santa Rosa, California for example. Santa Rosa’s a reasonably-sized city nestled in a valley about 100 or so miles North of San Francisco. There are plenty of restaurants with locally-sourced food, barrels of regional wines, and, best of all, the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center is there. Dudeists whose patron saint is Snoopy will especially value this award-winning experience.

    Finding places like Santa Rosa really isn’t difficult. Chances are there are similar towns of interest right within your own state or region–unless you happen to live on a very small island, in which case staying home might be your best bet. Terrorists tend to stay away from small islands because crybabies can’t swim.
  4. Attend barbecues and potluck dinners. I have a friend who works for the Department of Homeland Security and she confirms for me that barbecues and potluck dinners have never had a terrorist threat unless there was a high-ranking politician in attendance. Omitting politicians is a rather easy thing to do since they’re all too busy trying to invent new ways to screw the rest of us. That means that your average neighborhood barbecue is probably one of the safest places one can be.

    Now, there are some challenges to attending a barbecue. First, one has to consider exactly what is being barbecued. Personally, I don’t mind beef, pork, or lamb and can even go in for venison in season as long as the person in charge of the barbecue knows what the fuck they’re doing. There’s a right way to cook wild meat; get it wrong and you’ve just ruined the whole evening. Then, one needs to consider whether there will also be cole slaw and potato salad. Do not attend a barbecue that does not have cole slaw or potato salad. That’s a dead giveaway that someone’s going to be asking for money.

    Managing drinks is also an important part of attending barbecues. You want to stay chill and relaxed so that the average annoyance doesn’t annoy you. At the same time, though, you don’t want to get wasted and risk passing out on someone’s front lawn. While there probably aren’t terrorists on the front lawn, there are lawn sprinklers and those fuckers can hurt if you’re lying on top of one.
  5. Shop online. Dudes, we live in the golden age of delivery service! The whole retail competitive chain revolves around who can get stuff to you the fastest. There’s practically nothing you can’t get delivered right to your door unless you live in a backward state like Indiana that doesn’t allow for home alcohol deliveries, which is a total crock of shit. I get my favorite cigars delivered on a regular basis. Great books, like The Tao of the Dude, show up right there in your mail. Even groceries, dude! They’ll deliver your fucking canned cheese and crackers if you want!

    Shopping online totally takes the wind out of any terrorist crybabies planning on bombing a shopping area. What good does it do to bomb a shopping area if no one’s there? Shopping online is like giving your local terrorists a giant middle finger right in their face, except that you don’t have to get in their face because you’re safely at home on your computer.

    Dudes, I even bought my favorite sweater online. I wish we could offer sweaters like that in our store, but we’ve not found anyone who can supply them yet. We’re looking. In the meantime, though, check out all the cool Abide stuff we’ve gathered for you. It’s our personal anti-terrorism campaign.
  6. Fly cheap airlines. Sure, you’re going to be crammed into that metal tube like a herd of cattle and they’re going to nickel and dime you for stupid shit like packing your own luggage, but when was the last time you heard of terrorists targeting a discount airline? You haven’t. Why? Because the service is so lousy even crybaby terrorists don’t want to fly with them. That means they’re perfectly safe for those of us who need to get from Petaluma to Chattanooga and don’t feel like driving all that much.

    Which airlines are the cheap ones? I’m talking Spirit, Frontier, JetBlue, and others of that ilk. They get you from point A to point B on the cheap and chances are pretty high that the person sitting next to you does not have a bomb in his shoe, assuming he’s wearing shoes. All anyone wants when they fly a cheap airline is to get to Grandma’s house in Mobile without passing out from the overwhelming smell of tabouli in the next row.

    Granted, flying cheap comes with challenges like having any leg room and a slight risk of permanent back damage from sitting in those fucking seats. You’ll pay five bucks for half a can of soda and don’t even think about asking for a White Russian unless you detect a very specific accent from one of the flight attendants. Still, no terrorist would be caught dead on Virgin airlines. Fly knowing you’re probably going to make the trip in one piece.
  7. Stay at someone’s house. One thing we know about terrorists is that they don’t like company. While terrorist leaders are charismatic and draw people toward them, the average terrorist is rather anti-social outside the hero worship of their leader. So, it’s fairly safe to assume that you’re not going to find a homicidal terrorist renting out their house on AirBnB. It would kill their standing, so to speak.

    Staying at someone’s house rather than in a hotel room has been a major industry disruptor worldwide and it’s not just the Hilton family who’s upset. Bombing an AirBnB host doesn’t deliver the PR results crybabies get from bombing a hotel. Yet, the value of bombing hotels decreases when no one’s actually staying there. Terrorists can’t win, which is a bit of a good thing. Keep in mind, especially if you’re on a budget, that there are other options besides the at-times-beleaguered AirBnB. Those most seriously strapped for cash might want to give couchsurfing.com a try.  For some, it’s not much different from your current living arrangements, just in another city. You do need to reciprocate your host in some way, but they are pretty flexible as to the form that might take. If more travelers did this, terrorists would be pulling their beards out by the handful.

 

Old Man Talking

photo credit: charles i. letbetter

Terrorists, like Nihilists, are a fucking pain in the ass. You go out dancing with your friends or to a rock concert or your best dude’s wedding and all of a sudden some jackass blows themselves up along with 15-20 other people. Fuck them. The terrorists, that is.

The Tao of the Dude says:

“It is not the things we accumulate nor the things which happen to us that determine the quality of our lives, but rather the attitude we employ in dealing with the world.”

Our ability to directly do anything about the problem of terrorism is largely out of our control. Terrorists are going to be terrorists like Nihilists are going to be Nihilists and while we might make a stand when necessary, most the time our best move is to not be in the places where they plan on wreaking havoc. Let the military and political dudes deal with the terrorists; that’s all kind of their thing, anyway and they don’t need you and me getting in their way.

Meanwhile, we go on living our lives, letting life flow how it is going to flow. We have drinks with our friends, bowl a few frames, then go home and lie on our rugs and smoke a fat one. We’re not going to let terrorist upset us because that would be letting them win. We’re not going to let them keep us from having fun, living life, and doing things. We might change how we do things, but we’re damn sure not going to stay inside with our nose buried in social media.  

Our sympathies are with the victims of terrorism and their families every time something new happens. Terrorism is one of the things we don’t let wash over us because it’s an aggression we cannot let stand. Neither do we want to become victims ourselves, though. There is a balance we must find for ourselves and in that balance, we can abide.

 

Peace unto you, dudes.

 

Abide.