Washington: Musk, Patton, and Jack Daniels all Rolled into . . . the ONE

“I, George Washington, born in 1492, freer of the slaves, and the first president of this, our country, though savagely impeached for the shooting of Abe Lincoln, I will lead us into the demise of all humans!” – Home Movies

Washington

General George Washington, 1776, when he was about 44 years old.  44 years old, a billionaire, a war hero from the French and Indian War, and now commanding a rebel group fighting the largest superpower in the world.  Hmmm.  Maybe that’s why all that stuff is named for him?

There is a time for fighting valiantly and dieting.  Then there exists the Thanksgiving/Christmas nexus.  I’ve been generally trying to minimize the carb content of what I eat, but Thanksgiving?  Yeah, I’m having pumpkin pie.  And stuffing.  And mashed potatoes.  And might drink a bit of gravy.  Just a quart or two.  Not from the gravy boat – I have standards.  I have standards . . . and a mug.  A great gravy mug.

Yes, I have willpower, but Thanksgiving and Christmas are more difficult times to stick to diets.  So, I don’t.  And I don’t spend a lot of time feeling guilty about it, but it’s also a good time to reflect that eating different things changes my mood.

If I’ve had enough potatoes to feed the Soviet Army, I know that I’ll feel differently both physically and mentally.  Sugar is similar. Ditto with bread.

So, how do I feel different physically?  For me, when I eat carbs I tend to retain a LOT more water.  It’s my theory that it’s used to think out my blood so it flows better than maple syrup.  When I jump back into the low carb regimen, I know that for the first few days I will dump water faster than the democrats dumped Al Franken.

I’m pretty sure that the extra water does NOT do anything really good for me.

How do I feel different mentally?  Again, for me the low carb (very low, like none) zaps me into a state of clarity and stability.  Stuff just doesn’t bother me as much.  And I seem to get better sleep.

But one thing that’s wonderful about the Holidays is . . . George Washington.

George was really tall for his time and place, and strong enough that he could crush walnuts in his bare hand.  British walnuts.  And he was known to party (from teachingamericanhistory.org):

First Troop Philadelphia City
Cavalry Archives, 1774
City Tavern
George Washington
Entertainment of
15 Sept., 1787

Light Troop of Horse, September the 14th 1787

To Edwd Moyston .. Dr.
To 55 Gentlemans Dinners & Fruit
Rellishes, Olives etc………………………………………..  20  12   6
54 Bottles of Madera……………………………………….  20   5
60 of Claret ditto……………………………………………  21
8 ditto of Old Stock…………………………………………   3   6   8
22 Bottles of Porter ditto………………………………….   2  15
8 of Cyder ditto……………………………………………..  16
12 ditto Beer…………………………………………………  12
7 Large Bowels of Punch………………………………….   4   4
Segars Spermacity candles etc………………………….   2   5
To Decantors Wine Glass [e]s & Tumblers Broken etc..   1   2   6
To 16 Servants and Musicians Dinners……………………   2
16 Bottles of Claret…………………………………………   5  12
5 ditto Madera……………………………………………….   1  17   6
7 Bouls of Punch…………………………………………….   2  16   
£89   4   2

 

If you study the above, you’ll see that George Washington and 54 of his best buddies had 114 bottles of wine, plus cider, beer, and 8 bottles of hard alcohol.  I’m thinking our Founding Fathers were knee-walking drunk at this point – you can see that they got well into the “smashing the bottles and glasses” part of the party.  And it was the equivalent of something between $15,000 and $20,000 that he spent on the party.

George liked to party.

And he liked to party at Christmas, which brings us to eggnog.

Now, I must tell you that I really, really hate eggnog.  Hate it with a passion.

Or I did, until I had George’s eggnog.  And it just so happens I’ll share his recipe with you (this will be the 306,001st place on the Internet that you can get it):

“One quart ye cream, one quart of ye milk, one dozen tablespoons of ye sugar, one pint of ye brandy, ½ pint of ye rye whiskey, ½ pint of ye Jamaica rum, ¼ pint of ye sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.”

And it’s amazing.  It tastes just like Christmas.  And George was right – making this stuff and drinking it on day one is NOT advised.  It tastes . . . strong.  But after three days in the fridge?  Amazingly smooth.

So, not only was George a billionaire president general that defeated the world’s largest and best trained armed forces?  He knew how to party.

Here’s to you, George!

Seneca, Stoics, Money and You

“My heart attack didn’t kill me, so why act like it did?  See, Tim, it was the Roman philosopher Seneca who said “if we let things terrify us, then life is not worth living.” –  Home Improvement

seneca

Seneca could definitely use a makeover, but would probably be the last person who cares about a makeover, since he’s willing to be dead and made of marble.

Source- I, Calidius CC-BY-SA-3.0  via Wikimedia Commons

What is stoicism, and why does it matter for your money?

From Wikipedia’s definition of Stoicism . . . “the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting this moment as it presents itself, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others in a fair and just manner.”

What on Earth does that have to do with money?

Everything.

Let me explain . . . with a story I’ve used before:

When I was young, we had a subscription to Reader’s Digest (which, really, might have been influenced by the CIA for a time – google it).  For those that haven’t heard about it, it’s where they take articles (and even books!) and edit out the boring bits and republish them.  It’s like someone printed a tiny bit of the Internet.

Pop Wilder always said, “I can read my own articles and decide what’s important.”

And yet?  I always found an issue of Reader’s Digest in the bathroom that only he and I used, and I know that I wasn’t carting them in there.

But in Reader’s Digest they had features as well as the articles, one of which was “Laughter is the Best Medicine.”  In it were nice, clean stories that were, well, funny.  Some of them were even taken from real life.  My favorite was about a five year old girl and her eight year old brother.

They were playing in the backyard (which kids used to do prior to the Internet).  The boy was holding a tin can on top of the little girl’s head and smacking it with a rock.

Mother:  “Tommy, what ARE you doing????”

Little Girl:  “Mommy, it’s okay.  He’s almost done.”

I keep coming back to that image.  It’s like life.

Sometimes the problems we go through are pointless.  Sometimes they are downright silly.  Life keeps smacking a rock into the top of your head.  And when it stops, you feel so good.

Another example:

A friend of mine went through Army Ranger School (a long time ago).  There were two out of their class that passed.  Two.  The other guy was a chaplain.  The last ordeal had been an extended duration hike with little food.  They had survived.  They had made it back to base.  But . . . it was five hours until they would be released from training, and couldn’t go to mess hall (cafeteria) to eat.

They climbed into a dumpster.  They found Doritos® covered with ants.  They brushed the ants off and ate the Doritos™.

His thoughts?  “Best Doritos© I’ve ever eaten in my life.”

And this relates back to money, too.

Seneca was a Roman.  I use the word “was” because he’s dead.  Nero ordered Seneca to kill himself (spoiler, Seneca totally did kill himself) back in moldy old 65 A.D. (Not “Common Era” but good old Anno Domini).

Seneca was rich.  How rich?  Rich enough that he could have purchased six hundred million loaves of bread.  And that didn’t count his real estate, which included at least six Sonic® drive-ins and three strip malls in Omaha.

I’m not even sure where I would put six hundred million loaves of bread.  Certainly my pantry would fill up after 2 million or so.  But outside of bread (food), the man had a lot of bread (money).  And thought a LOT about it.

Seneca:  “He is a great man who uses clay dishes as if they were silver; but he is equally great who uses silver as if it were clay.”

In the end, a dish is a dish, and as long as it comes out of the dishwasher without last night’s Kraft® Garfield® Macaroni and Cheese, well, deal with it.

And a car is a car.  I went to a stand-up comedian one night with a friend, his wife, and a blind date. (Yes, this is you, Chris – the friend, not the blind date).  The comedian was making a joke about cars.  The reason, he thought, that we had so many traffic fatalities was that we didn’t make cars out of Nerf® stuff.

He looked, from the stage, down at me.

“You sir, you look like you drive a big-ass truck.”

Me:  “No, it’s a Toyota® Tercel™.”

Him, loudly into a microphone with everyone in the room listening:  “Well, you must be the world’s BIGGEST pussy.”

Needless to say, the blind date ended right there since I didn’t go and beat him up.  And, yes, I probably should have answered “yes” when he asked if I drove a truck.  But . . . like Seneca, a car to me is  . . . just a car.  The first virtue of a thing is in its utility.  Does it do the job?  Sometimes duct tape is the proper solution.

From the standpoint of a Stoic, even a wickedly rich one like Seneca, taking pride in personal possessions was to be looked down upon.  And, yes, his wife had earrings that cost more than a house.  And he had solid silver nose hair trimmers.  And we know this because he wrote about them.  But, did he care?  I don’t think so.  He bought the stuff because he could, not because the stuff had power over him.  I’m certain that he understood that he didn’t own the “stuff” but just had it until he died, so it had no power over him.

But we let stuff have power over us.  Does the neighbor have a nicer car?  Do they have a better stereo?  It’s normal, natural to envy that.  It’s totes Stoic if you go, “good for you!” and not want to go and buy an even better car because you’re good with the one you have.

When I was in Houston I would be stopped at a traffic light, surrounded by cars much nicer than my 2006 Ford® Taurusdadcar™.  And I would wonder how many of them owned their car.  And I wonder how much heartache was caused by that REALLY BADASS Mercedes® next to me when monthly payment time came around.  And, truthfully?  If it was being driven during work hours by a girl, I wondered how long she’d be with her husband after the money ran out.

So, for me?  Being Stoic about the stuff I own is a sanity preserver.  If I had to worry that The Mrs. would leave me if I didn’t have an awesome car, or, honestly, cared at all about what my neighbors thought, life would have a stress it doesn’t need at all.

But Seneca went further.  He said, get rich all you want, but don’t do it in a way that’s “stained by blood.”  My interpretation?  You got you money honestly, without forcing it out of other people.

How does this play out?  Well, let’s look at . . . Obama phones.  Regardless of how you feel about them, the money that comes to purchase them, and to provide monthly service is forcefully taken from others.  Don’t think that it’s forceful?  Try not paying your taxes and then you’ll learn that the IRS is not your benevolent aunt who bakes cookies.  Unless your aunt works for the IRS.  In which case, please tell me the rule on deductibility of capital losses from a prior year against current year capital gains.  Just kidding, I use TurboTax®, which is probably nicer to me than your aunt.

I digress.  But I think Seneca would think it was wrong to take money from one person (me) without their consent to give to another (Obama phone users) and taking a cut in the middle.  It’s wrong.  Unfortunately, it’s our government’s current business model (LINK) and Elon Musk’s (LINK).

Last?  Seneca thought you should be generous.  Bill Gates is certainly living up to that, shooting money out like a lawn sprinkler at causes he likes.  And I tip well at the restaurant.

But the biggest danger of generosity?  It has to be moral.  Give a man money and he will take it.  But he will resent you, because you didn’t give him more.

Let a man (or, I guess we let women earn money nowadays, and even own property and vote) earn money?  That will provide both support for him (or her or it, whatever the cool kids say nowadays) and self-worth.  So, generosity is good.  Charity is corrosive.

The really cool thing about being a stoic is realizing the beauty you can find in the weird, small bits of life that you often ignore.  The smoothness of a straw.  The stark sharpness of the edges of the clouds on a crisp winter night.  The wear marks on a keyboard you’ve typed a million words on.  The ability to take satisfaction out of nearly every experience you have is there.

If you let it.  And if Tommy will stop pounding the tin can on the top of your head with a rock for a moment.

So, about that post

I got about 500 words into it, and . . . it wasn’t converging to a point. 20171026_204848

Consolation?  Post from November, 2006.

I’ve decided I’m ready for my Nobel. I don’t think that there’s one yet for blogging, but, hey, I’d take literature or physics if they offered me one of those. I’ve got a fairly regular reader from, I kid you not, Aspudden, Stockholm Lans, Sweden. I think he or she is on the committee. Given that, I’m a shoe-in. So, I’m writing up the acceptance speech.

Don’t tell me that you’ve never thought about winning the Nobel. I mean, when we were kids on the playground, we’d sit around and think of ways that we could start wars and then end them gracefully to win the Nobel Peace Prize. I was always fixated on the Nobel Physics Prize, because I was really jealous of Einstein’s hair. I figured he spent most of his Nobel loot on hair care products. And Night Train.

I’m ready for winning, though. And, I’ve decided that I really should have the speech ready, too. Here it is:

Ladies and Gentleman of the Academy, thank you.

I have been championing the rights of Angelina Jolie and Bradd Pitt to be free of the rules that the rest of us have to live by, since they are so damn pretty. I must report some success in my efforts. They now have the ability to live without shame. This is a victory for shallow people everywhere. Thank heaven that they no longer have to live by the rules of society, despite having the morals of Amazing Sea Monkeys. This is something worth fighting for.

I have been reporting from the front lines about the battle to increase beer consumption in Alaska, and must also report some success. I look forward to a time when all men can have a cold beer on Saturday night, without fear of brutal repression from the The Mrs., or cutting fingers off with a table saw.

I have been the only person on the planet working for peace, justice, and the American way, and must also report some success. I slept in peace last night. Still working on justice and the American way.

Despite my nearly heroic efforts, I must admit that much is left to be done. There are shallow people who are still scorned in this world, men without beer, and other bad things that somebody should do something about.

I’m planning on sending a huge portion of this check to Brad and Angelina. They need money to avoid common decencyfolk. I’m planning on blowing the rest on beer and tools. And duct tape.

Thank you.

Yeah, that’s the speech. If this doesn’t work out, I can just fall back on the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant. You know, the one (hint, hint) that I’m still waiting on.

(The hint part is that I would so take the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant money. And I’d help puppies or buy The Mrs. something nice with the part of the money that didn’t go to beer.)

How I Met Your Internet

“I told him that I had a daughter and he told me he had one, too. And he said, “Never give up on family.” And I didn’t. I took his advice. My God, the universe is random, it’s not inevitable, it’s simple chaos. It’s subatomic particles in endless, aimless collision. That’s what science teaches us, but what does this say? What is it telling us that the very night that this man’s daughter dies, it’s me who is having a drink with him? I mean, how could that be random?” – Breaking Bad

DSC00395

The Mrs. took this picture during a particularly pernicious rainstorm.  They tell the kids to stay inside during a thunderstorm.  Meh.  If I get hit by lightning I’m buying a lottery ticket.

So, this is the 100th post.  I think the best way to deal with this is to skip the structure of wealth, wisdom, and health for this post.  The discipline of structure is nice, and I’ve learned a lot of things by doing it, but it’s nice to vary from that structure from time to time to be spicy, like taco-flavored kisses.  So, here are some random bits of fog from my brain.  Some of these may end up as posts at some point . . .

  • If someone is cloaking a concept in really, really confusing language, they’re lying or trying to cover something up.  The desire to create an impression contrary to truth requires that they twist the language to the point of ripping.  Using bigger words and confusing, academic phrasing are just camouflage for the lie.  For example:  At a dinner party, a gentleman was talking about overpopulation.  His solution?  Reduce the population by a billion or so through “caloric restriction.”  He was confronted by another guest . . . “You want to starve a billion people to death?”  Yup.  Really happened, according to the article.
  • If you depend on someone to give you money or things so you can live, they control you.  This is why welfare is control.  This is why parents get to make the rules.  This is why bosses can be arbitrary, and the Hollywood predator gang could stay so safe, for so long.
  • There is no objective morality without a belief in a higher power.  Without that, we’re all just meat and cells.
  • Children need enough privacy to grow, enough structure to grow well.
  • Youth is rarely wise, but it might be smart.  My brother, John Wilder (yes, we have the same name – just different parents – my family tree looks like an inkblot) talked about how his company had hired a 30 year old CFO.

Me:  “He won’t last a year.”

Bro:  “He’s smart.”

Me:  “Yeah, but he’s got a LOT of growing up to do.”

The guy flamed out in a year.

  • I don’t know why wisdom costs us so much pain and difficulty in life.  Is it because, like divorce, it’s worth it?

Rorschach, Copyright DC Comics

How my family tree would look as a superhero. © Certainly DC Comics, Fair Use Claim, Will Remove on Request

  • Liars lie.  The only thing that stops them is when they get caught and something tragic happens, and mostly not even that.  I’m not sure why they do it.
  • Cowards are the most dangerous of men.  They will quickly befriend you even when you don’t deserve it.  They will desert you at the first sign of an angry mob.  And they’ll join the mob.
  • Being close to a coward is bad.  But you can always count on a coward being a coward and acting like a coward.  Having a liar close to you is worse.  They might tell you pleasing lies for a time, and you might forget their nature.
  • You are the average of your five closest friends.  Choose wisely.
  • People say, “Kids tell the truth!  It’s natural.”  Oops, I meant people who never seen an actual child say that.  Kids lie as soon as they can figure it out, as any parent can tell you.  No, I didn’t eat that cookie.
  • Between the ages of 10 and 14 are the only times you really have to parent.  Before that, it’s teaching.  After that, it’s supporting.  Something happens between the ages of 10 and 14 that determines whether or not the kid goes bad.  They’ve learned how to inflict pain and but haven’t learned empathy or kindness or responsibility – they’re a group of snotty acne-covered psychopaths.  This is why middle school age children are such miserable creatures, and once you win the battle as a parent you can hit the autopilot once they hit high school.
  • Underarm hair grows back.  A reputation doesn’t.  In other words?  One drop of snot ruins all the eggnog.
  • Always take an offered breath mint.
  • We waste a lot of time.  (I include me in that.)  Ben Franklin said, “If thou loveth lifeth, wasteth noteh time, for that is what life is made of.”  And a big part of that waste is in pursuits that produce . . . nothing.  I’ve been accused of being a “hillbilly” for fixing a faucet rather than buying a new one.  In my defense, my name isn’t Billy.  And I could fix the faucet for $5 and an hour of time, and some cussing and bruised knuckles.  And I know how to fix a faucet now!  A faucet that was last manufactured in 1980.
  • Buy new faucets instead of fixing them.
  • You can’t reason with someone who’s acting out of emotion.  And you ESPECIALLY can’t reason with a crowd of people who are rioting.  Fight reason with reason.  Emotion with emotion.  And rioters with force and/or Optimus Prime®.  Thus the following is the best thing to wear to a riot (LINK) (and no, not getting paid for this link):

optimus-prime-costume-hoodie.main

  • Reason is something we use to convince ourselves that what we want is wise and, well, reasonable.
  • Cultures aren’t all equal in the output they produce.  Some cultures produce much more violence, less wealth, and much less freedom, and some even create all three negatives at once (Venezuela).
  • I invented a gravity cannon.  It consists of two huge counter-rotating cylinders of the matter from a neutron star (this stuff is denser than a Kardashian at 900 pyramids of weight for a single teaspoonful).  Thick cylinders, but hollow.  I think it would only require a dozen or so neutron stars to build.  To shoot it, you have to jam the inner cylinder into the hollow outer cylinder.  The result is a vortex of gravity that might stay stable enough (if the cylinders are rotating fast enough) to slam into your enemy – an invisible ring of gravity death travelling at them at whatever speed you slammed the cylinders together at.  It would also create a massive black hole and a huge gamma ray outburst that would roast a turkey from 100 light years away.  Is it impractical using a dozen solar masses and the approximate energy put out by our galaxy in any given year for one shot at an enemy?  Possibly.  But maybe I need a government grant to study it?  We wouldn’t want Russia to have one and us not.
  • There is bacteria growing on the space station.  On the outside of the space station.  While it’s in space.  I sense a 1950’s B-Movie:  The Fungus from Mars.
  • Tip well.  Show gratitude when it makes sense and when you can afford it.  Give a hard working waitress a $10 tip on an $8 dollar bill?  They’ll mention it for days.  Where else can you make someone so happy for so little?

Hope you’ve enjoyed the first 100 as much as I have.  See you Monday!

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

DSC00806

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.