Nothing fancy

That’s what you and I need right now.

We need the Kiwi virtues.

Nothing fancy. Nothing heroic. Just do our part and be there for our mates in trouble.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2020/03/kiwi-virtues-in-a-time-of-trouble/

I still cannot imagine what the English experienced during the second world war. I’ve long known what, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” was about. But even now that there is a real danger, I still feel zero urge to panic.

Things to do, or not do. Places to go, or not go. Sure. Decisions to be made. People to be helped. Lessons to be learned. Work to be done. Priorities to be reality-checked. Sure.

But, panic? Hoarding? Stigmatizing people? …no thanks.

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Mr. Burgdorferi

In 2016 I achieved my best physical condition in recorded history. Perhaps that sounds funny—”recorded history”—but I mean simply to disqualify everything before I was 25. Before 25 the degree of difficulty for staying in good condition was somewhere between “easy” and “trivial.” That’s not to say I was always in good physical condition before age 25, far from it. I only mean to imply that affecting change was easy before age 25.

My current downward spiral began in the summer of 2019 when I had the misfortune of meeting Mr. Borrelia Burgdorferi. Turns out he’s a total asshole. A full week apart, I had two fevers over 104°F with associated delusions and trips to the emergency room, before enough time had finally elapsed for a Western blot test to confirm that my immune system was intimately familiar with Mr. Burgdorferi. He is in fact a member of the Spirochaete crime syndicate phylum of bacteria, and he has several nefarious cousins who cause, for example, syphilis and yaws. He, and his cousins, have been kicking we humans’ asses forever. You may have heard of Mr. Burgdorferi’s preferred method of torture: Lyme disease.

(Alas, Lyme disease is named after Lyme Connecticut where it was first described, and actually has no relation whatsoever to yummy lime fruits. My hope had always been that it was actually Lime disease, and the preferred course of treatment was with stiff gin-and-tonics with copious fresh lime.)

The treatment—well, actually, there is no definitive treatment for Lyme disease… shit, we’d be happy to have a definitive test for diagnosing Lyme disease. The best intervention is to carpet bomb the entire host organism… that’s me. My physician soon introduced me to my new frenmy Doxycycline, which is a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Basically it kills every bacteria via chemical attack. You see, Mr. Burgdorferi and his cousins have a clever trick whereby they can completely change the protein markers on their outer layer—they can simply swap out their skeevy track suits on Thursday and completely evade the human immune system. Which is exactly why they are still around: They’ve evolved this trick of biologic track-suit-swapping; new suit, no more immune system response and the battle restarts. And now you know why syphilis goes through distinct stages, wins the war and kills your ass in horrible fashion. So the hope with Lyme disease and Doxycycline is that you caught Mr. Burgdorferi early enough and can obliterate all the bacteria via carpet bombing, since your immune system is unlikely to do the job on its own.

Geez, Craig! Where is this going?

Mr. Burgdorferi and a bunch of [mostly] self-induced stress (which I’m completely omitting the explanation thereof herein forthwith etc) were a wicked, one-two punch to my weight. Cue sound of plane going into a dive, and my downward spiral. “…and cut! That’s a wrap!”

Doxycycline wipes out your gut flora too. Each of us is simply a big meat-spaceship created to protect and transport the tiny things living in our digestive track. (I’ll wait here while you think about that.) Doxycycline kills almost all of the passengers in the meat-ship, leaving the ship, (that’d be me you recall,) mostly unscathed, but kicking off a recolonization race among the ship’s passengers. And of course the passengers you’d like to have aboard are the slow ones to regrow. In fact, if enough the of sleazy passengers move back in first, the good one can’t even get on board.

Doxycycline pro-tip: Your doctor will say “take this on an empty stomach, and drink plenty of water.” I call bullshit. Doxycycline comes in these standard pill capsules. And it floats. So it’s difficult to swallow. And the capsules are extremely sticky when you first get them wet. You absolutely will get at least one stuck way back in your throat. If it dissolves there, you literally get a chemical burn, in your throat. Here, I’ll save your life: Contrary to ALL pill swallowing advice, keep the damn thing in your mouth until it just starts to get gooey, and more importantly, slippery. That’s the capsule starting to dissolve after it has soaked up a bit of water. THEN, swallow it with water and it’ll go right down. Next, drink a big glass of water. And then drink another big glass of water.

Doxycycline pro-tip #2: And then it will make you vomit about 20 to sometimes as much as 40 minutes later. I’m talking about those sudden-onset waves of nausea giving you, perhaps, 2 seconds from I’m-fine-and-happy to barfing. I learned to plan ahead. Taking my daily Doxy was an hour-long planned affair.

Doxycycline pro-tip #3: When your doctor, who is normally pretty quick with discussion and decisions, pauses and seriously considers whether to prescribe you 14 days or 21 days of Doxy, ask why. It turns out that recent research has shown that 14 days is just as effective as 21 days. My doctor was weighing the fun of taking Doxy against the efficacy. On day 15, when my script ran out, I wanted to buy him dinner.

Meanwhile, I gained 10 pounds in 15 days. Afterwards, my physician—why do we say “my” physician? I’m certainly not responsible for him… Afterwards, my physician goes, “Yeah, sorry, that’s a known side effect, but I don’t tell people that up front because it just stresses them out further.” Thanks Doc. (Tangent for the reader: Go research why they give antibiotics to, for example, cows. Yes, it prevents infection, but—you guessed it—it has the unexplained side effect of fattening them up.)

Anyway, it’s now been several moths of working on what I’m eating as a way to re-reinvent my gut flora as I did 10 years ago when I last started changing my life to pull out of a downward spiral.

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Finding the balance

Too warm: Solve all the problems. Do all the things. Turn every idea into an action or object in the real world. And do it perfectly.

Too cold: Relax. Talk to people, occasionally. Read great books. Savor the moments between. How you do this one thing is how you do everything.

Just right:

…nope sorry I got nothing no way in the world I can possibly figure out what’s between these two extremes there’s nothing in the middle warm is perfect until it’s not cold is perfect until it’s not gee if only there was some way that one could find something that was hunh I don’t know maybe a little bit of both meh no warm is perfect oh wait no cold is perfect.

Right. It’s so patently obvious where the balance would lie. And yet, when I’m polarized one way or the other… now, where is that damn forest?! All these trees are blocking my view!

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What is the air speed velocity…

So, I’ve been wondering—to those of you who do interviews—does anyone else find they tend to ask overly complicated questions, or do you somehow manage to make them concise?

All through my podcasting and interviewing journey it’s been illuminating to listen to my finished work after a significant amount of time has elapsed. Often I end up with many weeks or even months between when we record something and when it comes out. There’s nothing quite as motivating—at least for me—as hearing my own work… and cringing and wincing and being horrified… anyway. Along the way I’ve been sniping my most egregious problems as best I can.

…and the current issue I’m trying to work through is my use of questions structure as “A, or B?” You see I did it at the top…

So I’ve been wondering—to those of you who do interviews—does anyone else find they tend to ask overly complicated questions, or do you somehow manage to make them concise?

I do this all the time.

So no more of…

I’ve been wondering, what do you think air speed velocity of an unladen swallow, or do you think that in order to ask that we need to know if it’s the African or European variety?

No no no Craig stop asking complicated questions…

What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow? …and then shut. up.

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Focus

I’ve touched on the importance of focus frequently. Today I just wanted to remind myself of two ways that I often lose focus.

First, shiny-distraction syndrome gives me the urge to try all the things, do all the things, build all the things, fix all the things, improve all the things… This does not end well for me. I’ve been getting much better at sitting with, (as Leo Babauta would say,) the urge to chase the shiny thing. Like a dog being trained to resist an urge; OH A SQUIRREL! …no, sit! …wait …wait (the squirrel moves out of sight) …good boy!

Unfortunately the second way I lose focus is pernicious; I’ll call it shifting-sands syndrome. This happens when I decide to take something on—maybe it’s something small, maybe it’s big, whatever, it’s something I feel moves me towards some goal. “Ok, yes, this is a good thing to work on. This is definitely not shiny-distraction syndrome. I’m in. Let’s do it.”

And then someone else moves the goal posts.

I fall for this all the time. It’s like the sunk-cost fallacy. “I was going to do 42 units of life-energy-work, what’s 2 more?” Hey Craig! I’ll tell you what 2 more is: 2 more is 44 units. Stop and think! Don’t make the decision based on, “it’s only 2 more.” Rather, I need to start over: What’s the task/thing/etc., how much work is it (now 44 units, not just 42), do I want to do it, is it worth it, and so on.

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Scratch the itch

While it’s true (and wise) that…

Not to be driven this way and that, but always to behave with justice and see things as they are.

~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.22

…counsels a steady hand on the rudder of one’s life, it is equally important to know when to tack.

There’s a terrific bit of “life wisdom” you learn from sailing which goes as follows. But first you need the four rules for sailing:

  1. Keep the water out of the boat, lest you transition from sailing to swimming.
  2. The wind will try to set you in the direction it blows, just as the wind will push a tumbleweed.
  3. The water, (if there’s any current,) will try to make you drift in the direction it flows, just as the current will float you downstream when rafting on a river.
  4. One cannot sail directly towards the wind. There’s an arc of directions to either side of the direction from which the wind blows that are impossible.

The “trivial” exercise of operating the sailboat in various conditions is left for the reader.

Your challenge then is to get to your destination while following the rules. Interesting journeys will involve being near land, (beware Rule 1 because it’s the wet land that always gets you!) or cover long distances, (beware Rule 2 and 3 because their affects are cumulative and vary with time.) Interesting journeys will involve a specific destination which, thanks to unwritten Rule 5 are always to windward, so you cannot go directly there as per Rule 4.

…but you can go sort of towards it if you aim to the left of the wind’s source. And then you can tack, by turning quickly through the wind and going sort of towards your destination aiming to the right of the wind’s source. Doing so is called “tacking to windward.” Modern sailboats are pretty good at doing this. Ancient sailboats had to switch to rowing, or wait for different wind.

Finally, I can get to this part:

You’re going to be paying a lot of attention, sitting relatively still and watching the sailboat sail. You will also be paying attention to your destination which is almost certainly not directly in front of you. Untrained observers, (if they know your destination,) will be thinking, “why are you going in that direction?” Tacking isn’t very hard, but it slows you down and takes time and effort—you’d rather be sailing along, than tacking many times. (Perhaps at this point you’re thinking about geometry and those related-speeds word-problems you saw as a kid?)

While it’s true (and wise) that…

Not to be driven this way and that, but always to behave with justice and see things as they are.

…counsels a steady hand on the rudder of one’s life, it is equally important to know when to tack.

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Just write on the walls

Sometimes you just need to scribble on the walls. In recent weeks, I’ve fallen off of a morning exercise habit—long story. Just takes a few seconds for me to scribble out a calendar grid so I can begin a “don’t break the chain” reboot.

We have three of these chalk boards in our house now. It’s simply paint, (it actually has a lot of blue in it, as real slate does,) and you can probably find labeled-as “chalk board” paint anywhere you buy paint. The trick that no one mentions is that you have to sand the wall with fine sandpaper—chalk boards are smooth, and walls are actually not very. Then a few feet of what’s called “brick mould” cross drilled and screwed to the wall, and finally a few sticks of sidewalk chalk.

Oh, one more trick: If you look closely at the image, midway down on the left, there’s a tiny, smooth, rounded nail head barely visible. I drove that fully into the wall, before I painted the chalk board. It enables me to stick magnets to the wall in a few places, so it’s easy to tack up pieces of paper with little magnets too.

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Old dog

I don’t think that anymore. Those fantasies are silly really. As the character Judge Smails played by Ted Knight in Caddyshack so aptly put it, “The world needs ditch diggers too.” … Accepting the fact that you are a contributor to a larger community as opposed to being a Demi-God uberman is not just humbling…it’s a huge relief.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2014/10/old-dog-new-tricks-2/

But my biggest challenge is the closely-related problem of continuously thinking about all the things I “should” do. Where, “should,” is a self-evaluated judgement that arises from my thinking about all the things I could do. …and HFS I could do all sorts of things.

Having happily set down all the Big Picture “shoulds,” I’m currently trying to pick off all the true “shoulds.” I’ve learned to stop looking to the stars, and to instead set my sights on the next hilltop. I should put the finishing touches on the garden we built last year. I should get that tree trimmed professionally so it’s good for another 10 years. …those aren’t so bad. But some: I should finish going through all this photography. I should find a home for this pool table. …I’ve been trying to get done for like 10 years.

Overall, there’s a pretty big list, but importantly, the list has not been growing in recent years. On the other hand, it weighs on my mind none the less.

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