Untethered Dog

Replacement Children and the Search for Meaning

In Praise of Lethargy

This week has included a whole lotta blah. Tired. Slow. Not much mojo. Very little giddy-up and go.

This is not my preferred status, of course. One wishes one were running on all cylinders. But in lethargy lies a gift. Lethargy forces you to …

… slow down. You can’t go past your personal speed limit. I mean, you’re already pulled over!

… rest. You are on the couch, to begin with. Might as well get a nap in.

… eat less. Because the fridge is way. Over. There.

… ask why. Because you don’t want to be tired, you evaluate how well you have been doing with the holy trinity all things healthy — diet, exercise, and sleep. You adjust accordingly.

… let go. The notion that you can do just about anything — always an illusion anyway — falls completely away.

… prioritize. Lethargy has a way of forcing you to focus. You prioritize your time and energy more when you have have less of both. You focus on the things that matter the most.

Simple Fairness

If you try to cheat the casino do you still get the pot?

If you try to cheat on a test at school do you still get an “A”?

If you try to cheat on your taxes do you still get the same refund?

If you try to cheat in an American election, it seems to me, you should not be allowed to stand in that same election.

Binge Watch This Now

The president of the United States was impeached. He currently stands trial to determine if he will be convicted and removed from office. The accusations against the president are more serious than any brought against a sitting president in the history of our republic (Richard Nixon not excepted). As a country, we are at a bottleneck: we are deciding whether our Constitution still matters, whether we will continue to have a separation of powers between the three equal branches of government (versus a system in which the executive branch will have greater authority over the other two), and whether our president is accountable for his actions. Things will not be the same again — regardless of the outcome. It seems to me that anyone who cares about our country, anyone who cares about the laws that govern it, cannot not follow this trial in some form or fashion. We do not have the luxury to sit this one out. I personally did not have time to watch house manager Adam Schiff deliver the trial’s opening argument on Wednesday — but I watched it anyway. I watched it from start to finish. In this moment like no other, Schiff stood up for America. You do not have to share his views but you do have to respect his aims. Factually, his case has not been refuted, even by the president’s attorneys. This is about what those facts mean — right now and from this point forward. Forceful yet steady in his mien, speaking like the teacher you wish you had, not preaching yet with a point of view backed up by show-your-hand facts, admitting where his argument could be strengthened by additional knowledge not currently accessible to him, Schiff’s presentation was comprehensive, salient, reverential, critically important, and nothing short of inspiring. Please watch it as soon as you can. Thank you.

Ah Ahh Moments

On Saturday, I tidied my medicine cabinet. Here I don’t mean just that I tidied a shelf of my medicine cabinet. Or just that I plucked out and tossed from my medicine cabinet tubes of ointments last used before President Obama left office. Or that I discarded from my medicine cabinet bottles of medications that expired not a year ago but rather two years ago. (Even if did do such things.) No. In fact, I tidied the. Entire. Medicine. Cabinet. I know: big things going on over here.

On a serious note, I have experienced a minute moment of joy each time I have opened my medicine cabinet since I tidied my medicine cabinet.

Subconsciously, the moment I open my medicine cabinet I expect to see the old tubes and expired bottles, to reach for the hair product on the bottom shelf when it’s proper place is clearly on a middle shelf. Instead, ahhhh.

Look how nice and orderly. The after-shave stands in attention. The cologne looks happy.

I think this is a highly underrated experience in life.

I mean, no one I know wants “He kept a tidy house” written on his tombstone. Yet life is good when you experience many little joys through the day. Anyone can be happy in Tuscany. When even small, confined areas of your home please you, you are going to manufacture a lot of happy.

The goal here is clear: to get your physical things in order so that your emotional energy is free to flow in the directions you want it to go.

I don’t clean my fridge as often as they say you should. But whenever I do, it’s so nice to open it and see all the yogurt and greens and coffee concentrate and Pyrex containers of leftovers sitting in their right place. I mean how many times do you open the fridge each day? Probably not as many times as I do. But still!

I write better when the bed is made.

I like the idea that everything you own has its place.

I hate when I don’t know where to find something.

It seems like a waste when I am regularly deciding anew where to put something.

Of course, this can go go far. Sometimes the bed is not made and I still can — still need to be able to — write.

The goal is not perfection. Or a constant undertaking of order. I am just talking about awareness with the hope of finding ways to spend less time on things that get in my way so that I have more freedom to work on those things I do want to be written on the tombstone. (Hopefully none too soon.)

I mean, if you have a whole ton of shit in storage … why?

I am not a minimalist. But I would sooner go in that direction than be a maximalist. Spending money on things I don’t use seems like the ultimate lose-lose.

While I have fewer material possessions than a lot of people I know, I still feel like I carry and store more than I need, which can only weigh me down, physically and psychically.

I am writing about this because when I write about something the experience crystalizes for me. I have composed a list of all of the other areas of my home in which I want to tidy. My current goal is to take up one area each week. I will do this until the list is done. The only rule is I can’t go back to an area already tidied until I complete the entire list. So I can’t keep tidying the medicine cabinet, say, or the drawers in the kitchen. (The hope is that I tidy in a way so that I am more of or less done — that I find a home for each thing and be done with it. So that medicine cabinet doesn’t need regular tidying.)

I have long known about myself that I am a sprinter, not a marathoner. In other words, I like projects I can complete in a single dash, less so those that take days, weeks, months. I am working on my endurance. Personal challenges like this one help. We’ll see if I can complete this mid-distance run.

Starve the Beast

I’m not an expert on intermittent fasting (IF) but that won’t stop me from dishing out some opinions on this tasty topic.

I have read a fair amount and watched several videos — a Japanese scientist, Yoshinori Ohsumi, won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the topic so if you want to get wonky, you can — and I have played around with IF, to varying degrees and in varying frequencies, over the past eighteen months. The one thing I will say is that I will never again fight a garden variety cold or flu without that arrow in my quiver.

This morning I feel better than I have in more than a week, I am finally excited to exercise again, and I haven’t yet blown my nose or sneezed or coughed. I missed zero days of work — even if, admittedly, my functioning was not A-game good all day every day last week — and it seems certain the worst is behind me. (That sound you hear is me knocking on wood.)

I may have just been lucky. But I feel quite certain than intermittent fasting helped lessen the time and the severity of my symptoms.

Autophagy (which your autocorrect won’t know what to do with) is the specific process for which Ohsumi won his prize. A Greek term meaning “self-eating,” autophagy is an essential process the body already uses but that speeds up during a fasted state. Specifically, according to the description in a October 23, 2016 New York Times article on Ohsumi’s groundbreaking work, during starvation “cells break down proteins and nonessential components and reuse them for energy.” During autophagy cells also “destroy invading viruses and bacteria, sending them off for recycling.” I liken the way cells use autophagy to get rid of icky cells this way: it’s the body‘s version of a self-cleaning option on our bodily oven.

Just like with a self-cleaning oven, you aren’t necessarily going to rid the body of all gunk in one flip of that switch. Or even by running the self-clean option every day. It depends on how much stuff is in there. But it seems there is no doubt you are going to burn off at least some amount of icky. And if the malady at hand is mild, as mine was, well, to me, it’s a no-brainer.

It could be placebo but I don’t think so: this past week nearly every time I ate, my congestion increased and my energy level dropped.

Two years ago, before I had skipped a single meal, I got sicker over a two-week stretch than I had at any point at least since childhood. It was in February when I got the winter crud going around work that year. It started with a scratchy throat, then turned to flu, then turned to bronchitis. I recall how I kept making sure to eat, even if eating meant merely Progresso chicken noodle and crackers, because I thought my body needed food for fuel. Can I say that had I known about Ohsumi’s work then I would have avoided the worst of those two weeks? I cannot. Illness is part of life. Autophagy is not a panacea. But I do wonder. And I won’t wonder again.

Especially if you have a chronic or acute condition please check with your doctor to see if IF is right for you. (Don’t be surprised, however, if he or she asks you the same thing the late Gary Coleman character used to: “watchu talking about, Willis?” Autophagy is not a household term yet, not even in hospitals.)

How often and how much use intermittent fasting, like most everything else, it’s going to be different for different people. (Even Ohsumi would say there is such a thing as too much autophagy.) IF is not The Answer — there is no single answer — but it’s a weapon. A potentially very useful weapon.

#RetireTheNickame

As someone seldom subjected to the spectacle of a professional football game played in Kansas City, and as someone with no natural rooting interest in the AFC championship game played in that city this afternoon, just completed, I found myself rooting for Kansas City’s opponent, and ever more so every time the Kansas City fans engaged in that anachronistic, mock warwhoop hearkened by the team’s anachronistic and offensive nickname. In 2020, we should be better than this. As of this writing, it’s not known who newly crowned conference champion Kansas City will face in the Super Bowl. But I know who I will pull for: the other guys.

(Yep, even if those other guys are from Green Bay, says this lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan.)

Shoveling More than Snow

You brace when you hear a snowstorm is coming because a snowstorm means two things: inconvenience and extra work. In this case the inconvenience is that you may have a tough time getting home from work and always a blast of snow means shoveling. All day you glance out the window in anticipation. Your colleagues talk about it as the A-topic of the day — for two days, really, this dump has been been anticipated by the weather experts since at least the morning before — and the late-shifters are asked if they need to leave early. Then the storm begins and four hours later the day ends and you get in your car and drive into it and then something happens: you become grateful for it. Yeah, sure, it takes longer to get home and, no doubt, there are a few places on the commute where the road is treacherous. But you put your favorite talk show on the radio and they are talking about the storm and you adjust your thinking. You drive slowly and deliberately and more attentively. You must. You do not try to make lights or take shortcuts or try to get past people because your extra minutes of freedom are more valuable than everyone else’s. You. Just. Take. The. Time. It. Takes. And as you pull down the alley a half block from home you think about how pleasant that was and you consider reasons to run errands that you don’t have to do right now. And you get in the door and instead of racing to put food in your face you grab the shovel. And your neighbor is out and he just got a new snowblower today and he offers to help with the driveway. And you make a pass through your walkway and clear the pathway to the front door, knowing you will be doing this all again later tonight, and then again tomorrow morning, because the heaviest has yet to come. And after you freeze your fingers but do enough shoveling for now you close the door and look back at the white world against the low light of evening and memories and present contentments come at you in a collage of sensations and you renew your appreciation of thermostat-controlled heat and you think about the gift of communal experience that’s increasingly rare but that a thick blanket of snow uniquely provides.

100 Years, 365 Days

I was asked the other day whether I would rather live 100 years in the future or 100 years in the past.

The question was posed in a group setting, a fun hypothetical. Nearly everyone in the room chose 100 years in the future, with many citing the progress that has been made on human rights since 1920 as a primary reason.

I was the jerk, I guess, the white male who said he would rather go back than forward.

Why?

I guess I like simple and the 1920s seem, to me, like a simpler time. I grew up in an era in which it seemed there was a greater acceptance of common, basic facts. I like that in 1920 nearly everyone cared about baseball, the men wore suits and derby hats and women wore dresses. America had just won World I, that essential invention, refrigeration, had just been made, no one had made, much less dropped, a nuclear bomb, and reading books wasn’t an elitist activity.

I think there is no doubt, too, that my answer was colored by the dim view I increasingly have about our country coming out of the events — and especially our reaction to the events — of 2019.

I mean, will we make it to 2021? I think it is fair, and in no way hyperbolic, to suggest that that is an open question.

The president of the United States withheld Congressionally appropriated money to a fledgling foreign ally in the midst of a war with an adversary (an adversary that attacked us in the 2016 election and continues to threaten the integrity of our elections) until that ally agreed to help him conspire to defeat a political rival, a private U.S. citizen, in the 2020 election. Our president, in other words, bribed a foreign leader for personal gain and to rig an election using public money he was not authorized to withhold.

In response to these acts the president has blocked all relevant documents and the testimony of all key personnel from the branch of our government expressly charged with oversight.

These are the facts. They are undisputed.

And yet we don’t know if at least four members of both parties in our highest deliberative body will so much as agree to call witnesses in the trial that Congress initiated in response to these acts, which, to underscore, are expressly forbidden by the Constitution that is the basis for our rule of law.

I get it: there were lynchings in this country 100 years ago. Women only just got the right to vote in 1920. The list of heinous acts and injustices one could catalog from that time is, to be sure, long. I completely empathize with anyone who can’t fathom voluntarily going back to such a world less than a decade before the Great Depression and generations before the civil rights movement.

Yet! Let’s play this out. One of two things is going to happen as a result of the impeachment trial:

1. The president is not going to be removed from office. In other words, he will receive tacit approval for his actions. Not only will he, but all future presidents (presidents who could be “elected” with the direct assistance of foreign entities comprising the integrity of the single bedrock act that makes America America, a free election), will have the authority to rule without meaningful oversight. They will essentially be able to do what they want (keep in mind some of things the current president has already done — ban Muslims from entering our country, state support for white supremacists, the list here is also long, to say nothing of what he may want to do and may be emboldened to do). Our current system of government will essentially be null and void.

2. The president is going to be removed from office. Does anyone think he will go quietly? Does anyone think his most ardent supporters will act civility? Does anyone think his political allies will not seek retribution?

And that’s just in the next year. The world is burning, A.I. is coming, so is resistance to antibiotics, we have kids in living cages at the border, intellect is seen as suspicious, and is it conceivable we will ever be less dependent on, or controlled by, technology?

I’m glad I was born when I was. As much as it would be fun to see Babe Ruth hit one out, I am not volunteering for life in the roaring ’20s. But 2120 … Americans might have to wear Kevlar everywhere they go, commonly walk past statues of Vladimir Putin, and be subject to whatever the president (i.e., dictator) says.

We have made so much moral and scientific progress in the last 100 years. It would be hard to overstate how much. Yet there is no guarantee we will continue on the same path. There is more than one way to go back. Forward is not always an improvement. I hope I am wrong, completely wrong, about the current trajectory but it’s far from certain that life will be fairer and freer and more comfortable a hundred years from now.

The Psych of the Sick

I am not a good sick person. I don’t deal well with not feeling well. Simply put, I am bad at illness.

This week I have tried a trick that people with health issues of a more acute or chronic nature no doubt figure out: don’t identify too closely with your health.

Call it the Zen of the Crud.

In the past I have tended to consume myself with a given illness. Of course, to ignore a health issue would be to potentially exacerbate it. You have to take care of yourself — eat and drink the right things, not eat and not drink the wrong things, get sufficient rest, and so forth. Yet to focus solely or too closely on the malady, I am learning anew, can be it’s own countervailing force.

Instead, as I take self-care steps like those I wrote about yesterday, this week I am also not talking or thinking much about the matter during the course of the day. In a way, I am acting as though there is nothing amiss. When someone asks how I am, I answer with, well, a lie. It’s a subtle strategy but it seems to make a difference to me, psychologically. In the past I might say, “I am fighting that bug going around” or something like that. And I would notice that as soon as I uttered those words I would feel a wee bit worse. This week I have just said “I am great,” and moved on.

And, really, am I lying? As one of the wise philosophers of our time, George Costanza, once said, “It’s not a lie, Jerry, if you believe it.”

When I say I am great, well, I feel a little better because, hey, this really isn’t a huge health issue and I got this. On some levels I am great. Again, this isn’t tuberculosis.

Now, of course, colleagues at work have heard me sneeze or blow my nose. And I have shared more details with a friend or two. The goal isn’t to feign ignorance to the obvious. Also, clearly, I am talking about it for I am writing about it in this blog. (That, too, seems to provide a psychological lift, as I have a means to channel my neuroticism. I set it down here and walk away.)

So it seems I am circling back to another subject I have been writing about of late: the power of expression. We are always talking, to others or to ourselves. We always have a choice about what we say and what we choose changes us.

Sending Away the Sniffles

I am not a doctor and I don’t play one on the Internet. I do not know what works for anyone else but here are my keys to dealing with the icks:

– Drink lots of water. Duh. You have to flush out the bad stuff.

– Put a splash of apple cider vinegar (with “the mother”) in your water 2-3 times per day. Helps you flush out the bad stuff.

– Drink warm, sugar-free beverages. The throat and chest especially appreciate hot tea. Green and ginger are my favorites. Chamomile would fit the bill here for its calming effects but, turns out, I don’t much like chamomile. Or anything else that tastes like a liquid flower.

– Consume Vitamin C in food form. Even some lemon or lime in your water helps. Cooked broccoli is another favorite way.

– Fast. Go at least 16 hours without eating — without consuming calories at all (black coffee or straight herbal tea are fine). Confine your calories into shorter windows than usual. In other words, I am definitely in the “starve the cold” rather than the “feed the cold” camp. When the body is in a fasted state it can more efficiently rid you of the icky. There is a school of thought that you should go further — 24-hour-plus fasts. That may be wise but it’s not my way. I feel like I do need some fuel. But eating all day? That is a good recipe only if your goal is to increase mucous production.

– Exercise. A little. In short bursts. This is not the time to start that marathon training that you added to your list of goals for 2020 but haven’t acted on yet, of course, but even moderate movement — I like resistance bands and the little buddy still needs his walks — helps create the kind of blood cells that make you feel better. Rest is essential, no doubt about it, but you gotta move, too. You don’t want to lie in bed all day even when you want to lie in bed all day.

– Stay warm. Wear a hat — to bed, if necessary.

– Take an extra warm shower before bed. Feel the Ahh.

– Avoid all refined sugar as though it were pure evil in granulated form.

– Use medication as a last resort. If I take anything, it’s some ibuprofen, to keep inflammation down. But if I can avoid it, really, I want to. The body has an amazing capacity to heal itself. That is, I stay out of its way.