The Biggest Frickking Scientific Discovery for a Long Time, French Artists, and Your Momma

“Could they be talking to us from the future?  Maybe.  Okay, if they can?  They are beings of 5 dimensions!  To them, time might be yet another physical dimension.  To them, the past might be a canyon they can climb into.” – Interstellar

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Pictured, cool lens flares from the Saturn IV rocket first stage.  Not pictured?  Transdimensional aliens. 

The Family Wilder was having breakfast this morning lunch this afternoon (we don’t get up easy) and were discussing the news of the past week, and somehow Pugsley drifted the conversation into “how would you make a fully functioning holodeck, such as was seen on Star Trek© but for use with multiple people.”  The easy answer is to wave your hands about and say “science.”  But, we came up with an explanation that would fit the facts shown on Trek™.

We then ended up talking about inserting a jack into your skull (as in The Matrix®).  The Boy was in favor of this, and was looking up surgical tools on his iPhone®.  I noted that, no, we’re probably pretty close to just being able to put a hat with electrodes on – no surgery required.  At this point, I’m pretty sure the other folks eating in the small-town diner who overheard our conversation figure we work for the CIA or . . . we’re nuts.

We’re nuts.

But then I remembered the biggest story of the week:

“Hey, did you guys here that they’ve discovered proof that there is at least one other dimension? (LINK)”

That stopped the conversation at the table, let me tell you what.  Pugsley was first out of the box:

“How does that work?”

I tried to explain a hypercube using a salt shaker, bits of hash brown, three cream containers and the spare plate from someone else’s table (they were nearly finished with it).

Turns out that’s a difficult thing, explaining something that’s so beyond how you normally think.  But that brings me to one way, dear Internet, to give an explanation:

In 1912 a French dude named Marcel Duchamp (pronounced “John Smith”) tossed together a painting that irritated his friends, namely, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2.

Duchamp_-_Nude_Descending_a_Staircase

This was the initial centerfold in “Multi-Dimensional Playboy”.  The main problem was the centerfold was in 11 dimensions and no one could figure out how to fold it back up.  (public domain via Wikimedia)

What Duchamp was attempting to show was the human body with time as a static dimension – you got to see the body’s outside perimeter.  Imagine rolling a tennis ball – but you get to see it at each point of its path at the same time – it would look like a fuzzy green tube since the parts that got covered up through subsequent motion wouldn’t be visible.  Fuzzy green tubes are cool looking.  Now imagine the perimeter of the human body heading down a staircase . . . you’d have a fuzzy-topped blob of flesh with frozen waves where the body had moved through.  Kinda like a fleshy, hairy, meat tube.  Kinda like . . . Marcel’s picture, but Marcel skipped on the gross parts.  And it’s not a surprise that Duchamp tried this – he was a great mathematician and chess player as well, so his mind thought in these sorts of abstract ways.

His friends thought it sucked, and the art show asked his brothers to ask Marcel to either take the painting down or to change the title.  After this initial reaction, Duchamp thought, “Merci!  I must take my genius to New York!  Certainly zey will understand it!”

Marcel apparently didn’t know any New Yorkers, because they certainly didn’t appreciate it:

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Hey, any publicity is good publicity.  Just ask Harvey Weinstein. (public domain via Wikimedia)

The New York Evening Sun parodied Duchamp in print after his picture made everyone in New York mad as well.  Apparently New York was a better place to be hated in, because eventually Duchamp moved to the United States and shot John F. Kennedy.

Anyway, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 is the only Cubist art I really care for – precisely because it attempts to show reality through the lens of another dimension.

Here’s another good one:  it shows a hypercube.

public domain hypercube

Yes, keep watching it . . . beautiful, isn’t it?  Imagine 4 spatial dimensions.  Some weed might help.  (Source, Jason Hise via Wikimedia, Public Domain)

I can draw a hypercube, but it’s not really very good unless it’s in motion, like this one.  Only as it moves can you see the way that it shows another dimension.  Ironic that Duchamp stopped time to show another dimension while this requires motion to show that dimension.

But what are the implications of this?

Nothing short of stunning.  Last month we have a stunning disclosure about UFOs (LINK).  This month?  WE HAVE FOUND PROOF OF ADDITIONAL DIMENSIONS.

This has the possibility of being the most profound discovery in the last 12,000 years (second only to agriculture and the mysterious mechanism of the PEZ® dispenser)!

Keep in mind that we went from not understanding the radio to being able to use it “see” the images of galaxies 11 billion years in the past within 70 years.  We went from not understanding the atom to atom bombs in 15 years (plus a war’s worth of investment).  We went from stuck to the ground to the Moon in 65 years.  Transistor to personal computer?  30 years.

We are remarkable as a species at understanding and exploiting new ideas.  I imagine this one has implications similar to radio, the atom, flight, and information technology.  So, let me re-write the above:

HOLY FRICKING CRAP!  WE HAVE FRICKING FOUND FRICKING PROOF OF OTHER FRICKING DIMENSIONS!

Additional dimensions might (and I stress might) be able to provide:

  1. Space Travel – Imagine that distance isn’t the same in one (or more) of these dimensions. Step into the dimensional transformer and step outside 2000 miles away.    Why Miami?
  2. Time Travel – Imagine that time works the other way or at other speeds in one or more of these dimensions. Step into the dimensional transformer and step outside 2000 years in the future.
  3. Surgery Without An Incision – Reach inside your patient in the fourth dimension. Pull out his gall bladder without breaking the skin.  Caesarian sections?  How about Einstein sections for having babies?  (Since I’m the first to think if it, you should call them “Wilder Sections.”)
  4. Explanations for Gravity – Why is it weak? It’s like gravity doesn’t even lift!  Maybe it bleeds off into other dimensions and surrounds your mother.  Which is why she’s so fat.
  5. Explanations for Dark Matter – Okay, dark matter is just a theory – we can’t see it, we can only see its effects. Let me explain:  The planets all rotate around the Sun like particles.  At different speeds.  The spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy (where you live) all rotate around the Milky Way like the Milky Way is a record album.  Sorry – out of date.  CD?  Sorry – out of date.    Yeah.  Except no spinners.  Why the difference?  Some say that there’s a halo of dark matter around the galaxy that causes it spin as if it is a solid plate.  JOHN WILDER OFFICIAL PREDICTION:  dark matter is bogus.  It’s either gravity leaking from another dimension or gravity has a non-linear distance component.  I actually calculated it, and it works, but it doesn’t explain some effects, so my Physics Nobel© medal still hasn’t been engraved.
  6. Explanations for Dark Energy – What is it? Why is the Universe expanding?  What will stop it?  When will it stop?  Maybe . . . another question that might be answered by other dimensions.
  7. Explanations for Why Your Mother is So Fat – Oh, sorry. That’s chardonnay, canned frosting, Twinkies®, and regret.
  8. Explanations for Things We Haven’t Even Thought Of – So many things this might explain, including the Grand Unified Field Theory – the theory that explains all of physics, chemistry, and why your Mom is so fat. Except we know why your Mom is so fat.

So, it’s a big deal.  A big thought.  Maybe, just maybe, the biggest scientific discovery of your lifetime.  And you heard about it here first.

So, who is the journalist now?  Yeah.  This guy.

Old Italians, Ukrainian Lawyers, Mice, and You!

“Who are you, who are so wise in the ways of science?” – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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Pictured:  Science.  Not pictured:  Stubborn Old Italians.

In December I put together notes about a story that I’d read online that rubbed me the wrong way.  It was about stubborn people.  Specifically, the headline said, “Stubborn People Live Longer:  Here’s Why.”  I read the story.  Some science-y folks studied a small (relatively) remote village in Italy.  They picked 29 participants between the ages of 90-101.  Then they picked family members that were between the ages of 51-75.

They picked people that lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and the ravaged Italy after World War II and found out . . . shockingly, that they were stubborn?

They then picked people who grew up in a post-war renaissance, rebuilding, and rebirth and found out they were not as mentally healthy as people who had been toughened in some of the most horrific conditions of the 20th century?  Where literally every day of their lives was better than any day of 1944?

I’m shocked.  (okay, I’m not)

And to further confound this “study” when you pick a small town in Italy, you simply have to deal with the fact that . . . these people are more closely related than you’d see in New York City.  When I drive around Smalltown, in northeast Midwesteria, I see can see family resemblances everywhere.  When you see the names on the plaques in the high school lobby for the team that won it all in 1954, you see . . . the grandparents of kids The Boy and Pugsley go to school with today.

The Italians may all share characteristics and genetics of some stubborn old dude who kept making Italian women pregnant up until he was 99 while Leonardo DaVinci was still fingerpainting.

And any statistician will tell you that 29 participants isn’t enough to tell you . . . anything.

So, we have a questionable study that gets rolled out by a “journalist” who needs to pop something into the paper so they can feed their kids.  They and 20 other 24 year old kids get assigned the “write a science filler piece about old Italians.”  Since the only science they know was taught to them on the Disney® Channel (there is no science requirement to be a journalist, folks) they poke at the scientific study like Ukrainian Mall Lawyers attempting to fix a broken printer, hoping their clumsy fumbling fingers mash into something so the pretty words come out again so they can go back home to Nadia, who is boiling potatoes and smells faintly of vodka and used to repair tanks at Ukraine Tank Manufacturing Plant Number 342.

So, they pick what words they understand, and attempt to educate us all . . .

Don’t get me wrong – there are some really, really smart journalists.  And some have dedicated themselves to covering science and do a great job.

But not many, because science is really hard.

How hard is it?  To plumb the depths of the structure of the sub-atomic world we build machines miles long, some stretching the diameter of the Earth.

And biology and behavioral science is also hard.  I read once (way back a long time ago, in a book, on paper) about a scientist who was studying mice in mazes.  Mizes?  Anyway, this scientist looked not at the mice, but at the experiment itself.  How could the mice cheat?  Well, they could look up and see the light position for guidance, so he made the light diffuse and uniform over the maze.  They could sense the table wasn’t level, so he leveled the table.  They could hear noise from nearby offices and laboratories, so he soundproofed the room.  They could even feel vibration from the building’s heating system, so he had to dampen the table.  All to get one maze to be “fair” so the mice couldn’t cheat.  As I recall, he did this in the 1920’s or 1930’s.  After he published?  People promptly ignored him and this wonderful research.

Bad science has shown up in lots of places, and journalists with bad stories have helped it along:

  • Then: Eggs will kill you!  Now:  Eggs are the perfect food.
  • Then: Fat will kill you!  Now:  Plenty of place in a healthy diet for fat.
  • Then: Eat high carbs!  Like PopTarts®!  Now:  Carbs are death.
  • Then: High fructose corn syrup is the same as sugar!  Now:  No, it’s not even close.

I heard about this company in Great Britain that was going to, wait for it, transplant poop from one person to another for a fee.  Because it happened to this one lady and she lost a lot of weight.  Hey, a journalist wrote about it – it must be awesome!

Yeah.  Great science.  It may turn out to be founded in reality, but I’m expecting more Ukrainian Mall Lawyers . . . poking at the copier this time.

But I’m skeptical.  Which is . . . another word for stubborn?

10 Things To Improve Your Life In 2018 . . . The Clip Show

“When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you in the eye and he asks you if you’ve paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol’ Jack Burton always says at a time like that:

‘Have you paid your dues, Jack?’

‘Yes sir, the check is in the mail.’” – Big Trouble in Little China

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The Boy, testing the Manned Maneuvering Unit simulator at NASA. He did not get hired, but that’s okay, NASA doesn’t have rockets anymore. 

It’s the end of 2017, so here are some ideas to get you out of a rut in the health and well-being portion of the open-book test we call life.  Remember, it’s okay to cheat off of your neighbor to get the right answer but you don’t want to hurry . . . the test is life . . . so, calculators and pencils ready!

  1. Play Your Game

One thing that we often forget is . . . it’s your game.  Your rules.

What do I mean by that?

Define it your game by having cooler stuff than your friends?  Sure.  And take the consequences – consequences that can include lots of debt, long hours, a spouse that has to work so you can have an awesome pickup and boat rather than be home when the kids come home from work.  And, if you’re unlucky, all that work to pay all that debt will allow you to see your kids every other weekend while a new guy lives in your old house.

Or live in New York.  That’s a cool place, right?  I see this in stories all the time – how it’s too expensive to live in New York, or San Francisco . . . but . . . why do you have to live there?  There are dozens of places across the world where you can live like a king (or queen!) for the rent on a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco.

So, having stuff cooler than the stuff your friends have might not be the best solution.

What are the alternatives?  Well, you could live to have money (which is not at all the same as having stuff) but it can have the same sort of consequences.

My choice?  A balance:  meaningful work, finding ways to help other people grow, and having sufficient financial reserves that I’m not at risk for most life events.

Choosing your own balance is key to removing stress.

  1. Remember, Life Isn’t A Race To Get To The End First

I had a great boss one time who, facing a 45 day period of intense work said, “I hate to wish my life away, but I’m looking forward to finishing this.”

Wow.  Such wise words.  Even a bad day is one that is your day.  And, most times (not always) I’ve found that there are good parts of even the worst day.  Don’t wish your life away, no matter how easy that might seem.  Savor the bad days for the good things that happened during them, and for the good things that will eventually come from those bad days (LINK).

  1. Get Some Sleep

I made a pretty intense effort to increase the amount of sleep I was getting this summer (LINK).  And the effort paid off – I ended up increasing my sleep by over an hour a day, which was very significant.  My mood improved, my energy improved, and life was better.  It seems that sufficient sleep plays a huge part in my overall health.

If you’re not getting six or seven hours of sleep a night AND you’re tired and feeling low on energy, I’d suggest tracking your sleep at night.  Most people can go one night with lesser amounts of sleep, but by the third day where you only get four hours of sleep a night?  I start to drag.  After a week?  It starts to impact even more – mood, outlook, everything.  Crazy thing?  I can cure it all by going to sleep.

  1. Make Something/Fix Something Frequently

This is a health post, not a home improvement show!  What gives?

There is a feeling of competence, of satisfaction that comes from making something with your hands, of extending the life of an object through working it. The sheer time and thought processes involved pull you away from your day to day concerns, and give you multiple opportunities to solve problem after problem.

The problems are important in that you solve them.  The completed object is less important than the process of completing it.  When I was a kid I used to make models – and there was no feeling better than having built a model that looked great.

Oddly, some people get scared even to try to fix something that’s broken – what’s the worst that can happen?  It’s broken.  One time I tried to fix a car stereo.  It started received television audio from the local television.  I was listening to Gilligan’s Island® on my stereo.

Until it broke the next day.  But it was cool for the day it worked like that . . . .

  1. Write Something

This blog serves several purposes.  One is for you.  One is for my kids.  The biggest beneficiary of the blog?  Me.

When I work to write and construct something that I like, well, I get a similar (but different) satisfaction to fixing the light in the hall, or building an elevated bed for Pugsley (his desk fits underneath).  It’s mental.  So do I blog for you?  Sure.  But mainly for me.

  1. Understand What You’re Playing For

To play the game, there has to be a reason.  Why do you keep getting up in the morning?  Would you do your job if you weren’t paid to do it?  My post on this is here (LINK), and remains one of my most popular.

  1. Keep Moving

I’ve watched folks as they get older.  I once saw a 90 year old man run (and skip as he ran) to his garden.  He lived another five years.  His life was full as long as he kept moving.  Other observations were that once older folks became bedridden, it generally wasn’t long.  I’m not sure if it’s motivation or if it’s cardiovascular.  Keep moving if you want to live.  Say that in a Schwarzenegger voice for extra motivation . . . “Keep moving if you want to live!  We’ve got to get to the choppa!”

  1. Prayer/Gratitude/Meditation

Studies show that people are happier (and healthier) if they engage in prayer each day.  Similar effects are shown with those expressing gratitude and those meditating.  Keep in mind meditation may have side effects . . . (LINK)

I think these might work through different methods, with gratitude especially focusing thoughts on how fortunate a person is, rather than on how rough life is.

Something tells me prayer works on an entirely different basis . . .

  1. Have a Routine, Not A Rut

This ties back to wishing your life away.  How often do we see that a week has turned into a month or longer without any change to our lives, to ourselves?

This is a routine taking charge of our lives.  Up at 6am.  Off to work.  Work until 5.  Home at 6pm.  Bed by 11pm.  Up at 6am.  Repeat.  Recharge on Saturday and Sunday.  When you’re feeling better on Sunday night?  Prepare to start again.

Without a routine, I don’t exercise.  I don’t go to bed before 3am.  I end up pushing back writing this blog until it’s way late while watching Russian documentaries dubbed by the British about the Soviets fighting the Germans during WWII.  (Spoiler:  The Soviets win.)

So I need a routine.  But I also have to keep that routine from turning into an excuse to have lived twenty meaningless weeks of life.  I don’t have enough weeks of life to live twenty of them without meaning, without positive change (LINK).

And neither do you.

  1. Experiment To Find Out What Works

Find Things That Make You Excited . . . Do Them

A life without excitement sucks.  A life without fun sucks.  Find the things that give you energy, and do them – just enough to keep you energized.  A pleasure repeated too often becomes a punishment . . . .

 

We will all eventually finish the test, but the good news is you get to grade your own performance.  How did you do?  Did you help other people on the way?  Did you make a difference?  Have you paid your dues?

Yes sir, the check is in the mail . . .

2018 Predictions – Wealth

“The Mexicans predicted that the world was going to end in 2012.” – It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

DSC04429 So, of these things?  Deflationary Depression, $1,000,000 bills?  Nope.  It’s more likely that Hillary will hug Trump.

I know it’s not the New Year quite yet, but I thought I’d beat all of the big magazines to my predictions for 2018.  Then we can make fun of them and laugh marvel at my stunning accuracy next December . . .

Bitcoin

Well, Bitcoin is all the rage, again.

I suppose I should make a prediction about Bitcoin, and I will, but I’ll hedge my prediction with the thought that it is so very different than what anyone has seen that it doesn’t follow any previous models of currency or other financial instruments.  You can read my post about it here (LINK)

After even more research, my most likely conclusion is that the National Security Agency/Central Intelligence Agency is behind the creation of Bitcoin, but I’m not sure they knew how big it could become.  Risks to Bitcoin are significant:

Vulnerability to Hacking

The algorithm that’s used to verify that a Bitcoin exists is SHA-256, the (SHA) Secure Hashing Algorithm created by the National Security Agency.  Should the NSA have a way to subvert that algorithm, they would control all of Bitcoin, at will.  But, they also had the ability to read these words in real-time as I was typing this post, so they could just go and collect everyone’s passwords and private keys off of their hard drives if they wanted to.

I say the NSA could control Bitcoin, because I’m fairly sure that no other group on the planet could pull it off.  The Boy says that the algorithm used by Bitcoin is published and lots of people have reviewed it and think it’s sound.  But the NSA is very, very, very smart.

A risk that could drive Bitcoin to zero – in a day?  Sure.  But very low probability.

Nobody Takes Bitcoin    

You can’t go to Wal-Mart and buy RCs and Moon Pies with it.  The number of places that accept Bitcoin are very small.  The number of people using Bitcoin as money are likewise small.  If truth be known, you couldn’t take gold or silver into Wal-Mart to buy a Moon Pie, either.  But to be accepted as money rather than as a pure investment vehicle, it would need greater acceptance.

Volatility

Bitcoin price has been up and down more than a teenage girl’s mood.  And that would just be today.  In the last week it has dropped from $19,000 down to $13,900.  That’s a 27% drop.  In one week.

2018 Prediction on Bitcoin:

I predicted it would pull back, and it has.  I think it might have more to fall before it becomes stabilized, maybe to $10,000.  But I predict it would be higher than $20,000 next December.

The Stock Market

Hillary Clinton might not like Trump, but the stock market loves him, since the market is up over 24% since he was elected.  24% is huge. But it did 34% in 1995.  30% in 1997.  26% in 1998.  So, just like Monica, the stock market loved Bill Clinton once upon a time, too.  And none of those years had significant pullbacks immediately following.  Risky?  Sure.  But the trajectory is still up.  I think (if you look at the charts) this is the restart from a business pullback in 2015 and 2016.  As I travel around the country, there is massive business activity.  Things really are going well.

The biggest risks are North Korea, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, with anything that created higher oil prices being the biggest risk.  Chances of impeachment this year?  Nearly zero.

2018 Prediction on the S&P 500:

Up.  Not 24%.  But up, say, 10%.  2019?  We’ll see.

Interest Rates:

We’re recovering from the longest period of low interest rates in history.  All of history.  It really won’t make a difference, but the Federal Reserve simply must increase rates so that we can pretend that the money isn’t all made up.  Eventually if there’s a credible alternative (Bitcoin?) the Federal Reserve will have to raise interest rates . . . a lot.

2018 Prediction on the Federal Reserve Rate:

Up slightly.  Eventually (2019, 2020?) up a lot.

Gold/Silver:

Meh.  Wanders back and forth.  Probably ends the year +/-10% of where it started.  2019 or 2020 might be different stories, and longer term it will still experience huge upward swings during times of uncertainty.  It appears we’re currently at the “no crisis” pricing, which would probably be a good time to stock up.  The Boy accumulated several ounces of silver at $10-$20 and sold at $40.

So, there they are.  I’ll revisit these each quarter so you can laugh at me . . .

Disclaimer:  I haven’t started any positions in anything above the last three days (it was Christmas, you dolt) and don’t expect to start any in the next three.  So there.  Also, I’m not a financial advisor, and this set of “predictions” is probably as good as a Ouija® Board and probably worse than flipping a coin.

On Vacation I

From August 30, 2006:

I was two sentences into Sunday’s edition of Life in Alaska. The Mrs., ever attentive, asked what I was going to write about.

“Well,” I said, “This is a pivotal weekend. We now have enough wood that I’m pretty sure that we can get through the winter on our supply.”

The Mrs.: “You’re going to write about wood, again? John, that’s a bit nuts. I know you’re obsessed, but perhaps that’s the reason that your website dropped 0.02% behind google.com last week as the most popular website ever. Perhaps people are just sick and tired of reading about wood.”

I pondered this. I thought, perhaps, just perhaps, that The Mrs. was right, and I was turning into Bubba from Forrest Gump. She generally is. You remember Bubba, right? Here’s my version:

“You’ve got birch saplings, fresh cut birch, cured birch, split birch…“

Instead of writing about wood again, perhaps I could give a bit of insight into the psyche of the average Alaskan, edify and delineate the juxtaposing paradoxes that are Alaska.

“You’ve got birch stump, birch branches, aspen wood, blocked aspen, green aspen…”

It almost spawned a fistfight, and now my neighbors have taken up positions around the cabin making sure that I never leave again, at least until the riots in downtown Fairbanks finish up. They think that they’ve got me surrounded and cut off from outside contact. I fooled them. I’ve got wireless Internet.

“You’ve got spruce boughs, knotty spruce, dry spruce, black spruce…”

So, I sit here, and realize that yes, as usual The Mrs. is right. Perhaps I should write about something other than wood. It does make me a bit one-dimensional.

“You’ve got spruce branches, spruce needles, pine cones…”

Yes, letting the Fairbanks riots of ’06 calm down is probably the best course. Perhaps I could write next week about wood something else. Maybe I’ll even have a fun adventure to write up. That would (wood?) be nice.

“You’ve got gas chainsaws, electric chainsaws, log milling machines…”

As The Mrs. says, “Quit being so darn obsessed with the wood.”

“And that’s… that’s all I know about wood.”

Gratitude and Stoics . . . Again

“We paid him in gratitude and life lessons.” – Psych

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There are a few Christmas mornings where you will exceed anything your children could have expected.  Sadly, Pugsley wanted an orbital space laser platform to terrorize continents and set him up as God Emperor, but only got Mario Kart®.

“All you need are these: certainty of judgment in the present moment; action for the common good in the present moment; and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.6, via the Daily Stoic (LINK)

Where is our attitude as we walk through a day?

While I was living in Alaska, I was stopped at the local Safeway®.  The Mrs. had asked me to pick up some child wax and I had to make a left turn in order to go back home.

I was behind a minivan.  The mother turned back several times, yelling at the children.  It took her (I checked my watch) 35 seconds to finally pay attention to the road and make the left turn.  I know, because I timed her.  I was getting ready to honk my horn when I realized – why be upset?  Why honk your horn over something so small?

Imagine how grateful I was when, after following this woman for 8 miles, like a stalker on parole, that I found out she was my next-door neighbor.  Yikes!

I’m adopted.  I’m grateful that I ended up with a family that didn’t want to strangle me.  At least didn’t want to strangle me too often.  I remember learning at the wise age of five that oil was valuable.  So I took all the motor oil in the garage and put it in jars.  Perhaps to sell it.

Or when I was in fourth grade, that I drew a picture of a spaceship so well that my classmate John accused me of tracing it.  I was grateful for that final bit of artistic excellence, since it went downhill from there.

I was grateful that my 7th grade English teacher hadn’t read “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman, since that was where that story I wrote (re-imagined, in current Hollywood terms, or plagiarized in normal speak) came from.

I’m grateful for finding The Mrs., since otherwise she would have broken some poor stick-boy.

Of course, I’m grateful for all of the kids, each in their own way.

I’m grateful for little scissors that I can use to trim my nose hair and ear hair.  I’m not especially grateful for the nose or ear hair.

I’m grateful for Maria Conchito Alonso’s role in The Running Man.  And I’m grateful she isn’t in anything else.

I’m grateful for the antibiotics that ended the pneumonia that otherwise would have ended me.

I’m grateful for my friends, who I call and burden with my lame, first world complaints.

Oh, and I’m grateful for Predator 2, even though Danny Glover is a nutcase in real life.  Oh, wait, that had Maria Conchito Alonso in it, too?  Okay, she can be in two movies.  But only two.

I’ve done an assessment of my life from time to time, and found that, of all the billions of people on the planet, I’m among the most fortunate.  And I’m grateful.

But sometimes I forget to be grateful.  And every time I do, what fills me instead?  Anger.  Envy.  Pride.  Despair.

And, let’s be real since it’s just you and me.  Sometimes you want to be good and angry at the idiot clerk at McDonalds that has none of the advantages you have.  Sometimes you want to be filled with pride because you won an internet slap-fight with an unarmed man.  And . . . sometimes you want to just give up.

The solution has been gratitude for me.  Go outside on a December night.  Take and hold a deep breath.  Enjoy the feeling of cold as it gives you goosebumps as you look up at the stars on a December morning, and realize you’re the only one seeing what you’re seeing in the frozen air.  Let your eyes adjust, and stare deeply into the stars, and understand:

You can be grateful because it’s good for you, because it makes you feel better.  Or you can be grateful because you should be.  Each of us is improbable – each moment we live on this planet a gift.  So, act like it.

And don’t forget to wax and polish your children daily!!

Surviving Stress, Still Proudly Caffeinated

“I’ll only work with the barely competent.  Takes the stress out of slacking off.” – That’ 70’s Show

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Sure, it looks placid – but two minutes after I took this picture the building inspector and OSHA showed up and shut the job down.  No hard hats, no safety glasses, and the building wasn’t even to code.  The foundation didn’t have properly spaced rebar – heck, the foundation was just FROSTING!  The Boy and Pugsley will be out on bail soon.

I can recall only a few holiday (Thanksgiving and Christmas) seasons where I felt a lot of stress.  Anticipation?  Sure.  I wanted the G.I. Joe® Mobile-Adventure® Action© Playset™, but I also sensed that the holidays, especially Christmas, was really about more than just toys and presents.  It was also about food.  And time off from school.  And . . .   Okay, okay, and it was also about family.

With one or two exceptions during my life, I have been pretty stress-free at the holidays.  Now even most of that anticipation is gone:  if I get to see everyone, great!  If not?  No problem.  If I get a great present?  Great!  If I don’t get a single present?  No problem.  If they really like the present I got them?  Awesome.  If not?  Meh.  I’m not going to lose a bit of sleep over it.

But a lot of people aren’t like me:  Thanksgiving and Christmas cause them immense, negative stress.  Stress is horrible, and it is (unfortunately) a gift we often give ourselves.  Don’t get me wrong – there are good stresses:  anticipation, competition, challenges.  These, overall make us healthier, so we’re talking about bad stress.

Certainly there are aspects of life (and stress) that we cannot control ourselves.  I agree – there are things that are visited upon us through life events that are pretty difficult.  Family death?  Job loss? Family (or personal) chronic illness or chronic pain?  Yeah, it’s hard for me to jump out and say, suck it up, buttercup – all is well, because sometimes that stressor is deep and may profoundly impact you – forever.

And stress can kill you – literally.  Bad stress leads to (and this is a short list, there are many more items that could fit):

  • Depression – not the economic one, the personal one. This can be devastating.
  • Heart Disease – which is the number one cause of life insurance payouts.
  • Weight Gain – which everyone wants, right?
  • Chronic Inflammation – which goes through and impacts multiple body systems, including your immune system.
  • Subscribing to Magazines About Knitting – Don’t ask me why.

But stress can be controlled.  When?

When you don’t care.

Or, rather, don’t have a set of expectations of the way that you think the world should be.  For a large number of situations, our stress is self-imposed.  Your football team isn’t winning?  The waitress messed up your order?  The person in line at the store was rude?  These are really small matters, and why would you be upset about them?  Chances are slim you’ll even remember them tomorrow, never mind next month or next year.  If it isn’t a big deal, I give you the permission to just not care.

But . . . what if work not going well because the boss hates you – and hates you for no good reason?  You’ll remember that.

This really happened to The Mrs.:  She was hired for a job while her manager was on maternity leave.  The first time she met her manager was three months after The Mrs. started.  Her manager immediately hated her.  Why?  Her manager didn’t like the person that hired The Mrs.  The Mrs. lasted only about three more months at that job – she quit – and had stress every day.  Another stressor for The Mrs. was that there just wasn’t much to do at the job – it’s one thing to be busy and have to deal with office politics – it’s quite another when most of the day is filled with . . . nothing.  Her job, for her, had no meaning.

Yes, it’s hard not to care (or have low expectations) if your boss hates you and your job has no meaning.  It’s even harder to deal with this if you’re not fortunate, like The Mrs., and have the ability to quit your job.  But you can decide not to care if you must have the job, because you choose to find your meaning elsewhere, though given the circumstances above, you should probably be floating your résumé.

Let me give an example:  Victor Frankl was an inmate in a WWII German concentration camp.  Pretty awful place.  And he saw that everything, absolutely everything could be taken from him.  Even his life.  Except . . . Frankl saw that the one thing that couldn’t be taken from him was the way that he felt.  His attitude belonged only to him.

From his book, Man’s Search for Meaning:

“The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day.  On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back.  He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest.  What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old?  Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth?  What reasons has he to envy a young person?  For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him?

“No, thank you,’ he will think.  ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.  These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, although these are things which cannot inspire envy.”

If you ever want to feel small, just remember those are the words of a man who lived for years in one of the most difficult environments we know of, and came out filled with hope.

So, from Frankl, meaning is key.  You have to have your own reason for doing what you’re doing.  If you have a reason, you can endure anything.  Amateurs try to treat the wrong thing when they try to give you advice on how to beat stress.  Here are examples of really bad advice:

  • Too Much Caffeine – Caffeine doesn’t cause stress. And coffee is awesome.
  • Not Enough Exercise – I like to exercise, but lack of exercise doesn’t cause stress.
  • Not Enough Sleep – I like to sleep, but lack of sleep doesn’t cause stress.
  • Not Keeping a Stress Diary – Now they’re not even trying.

As you can see, these are bad ideas – they look only at attacking symptoms, and not the underlying problem.  Rule 1:  Ignore stuff that’s not important.  Rule 2:  Have meaning and or a purpose.

Everything else is details.