Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Algorithm Life

Not many people are cut from the IT cloth, but I believe that the hurdles most people face when dealing with computer problems are largely psychological. There is something about computers that seems like it should require some insight more mystical than Google to solve. Now I’m not saying that the average person will feel confident in setting up an LDAP server, but there are a lot of small maintenance tasks that everyone has to go through just to bring these silicon beasts to heel. Nearly every day I’m faced with questions that leave the users looking sheepish over the simple tasks that just took me a minute to do.

On the other side of that coin, IT people sometimes take what is an easy problem and try to solve it through more arcane processes when a “normal” person would easily solve it. While solving a simple problem earlier I was handed one of the wireless handset phones our users carry with them. After a bit of confusion we decided it was one that didn’t belong to anyone present at the moment, so I took it and said I’d find the proper owner. I looked at the number on the phone’s display and compared it to the dead tree directory list on my desk, but failed to find the owner. My next thought was to log into the cisco administration server for the phones, and I proceeded to try to find the number there. Strike two. finally I looked up the phone’s IP address on the handset and started to look up IP’s on the server. It was only then I realized all I needed to do was call my desk phone from the handset and look at the caller ID for the owners name.

So, next time you see your IT guy struggling with some simple task please remember, he’s probably looking for the most difficult way to accomplish his goal.

ELO as a transition point

Music means a lot to me. In high school I learned that it could be used to mitigate aspects of the worst of my mood swings. I’d listen to Judas Priest to burn through my rage, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” as some sort of lyrical commiseration for alienation,  and  Oingo Boingo gave me somewhere to redirect surplus energy. Music got me through a lot of tough times, and still holds a near-mystical power over me as it does with most people, I imagine.

We had a small record player when I was very young and some kids records that I think came from the childhood of my mother. Disney singles of Cinderella’s “Bibbidi bobbidi boo” song and the like. My sister and I listened to them often and eventually we were allowed access to the bigger stereo in the living room and my dad’s LP collection.  Oddly enough, other than the occasional Christmas album, I really only listened to a Roger Miller LP and the soundtrack from “Paint Your Wagon”. Still, it was enough to get me hooked and I began to feel the need to build my own collection.

By the time I was old enough to have an allowance I would usually spend some of it at the record store in Fashion Place Mall when my mom would cart us off shopping. Eventually I had a growing collection of 45’s. I vividly remember approaching the checkout counter at The Music Stop at the mall with the single for ELO’s “Turn to Stone” when I was about 10 or 11. A tall guy* waiting in line noticed what I was doing and  asked why I was just buying a single when for the price of a few singles I could have the whole album. I remember feeling like I got caught doing something wrong. After about a minute I put the 45 back and started looking at the whole “Out of the Blue” album. I think it cost $8 and it was a real hit to my child’s velcro wallet, but I did have that much. I remember kind of sucking it up and making the decision to go with the cassette of the whole album.

You might have guessed that I’ve just finished listening to “Out of the Blue” for the first time in decades. I seem to have a couple of ELO compilation albums, but somehow “Out of the Blue” never made the crossover from cassette to CD. It seems to be beyond my abilities to get over the power of music to transport me across the ages. I haven’t heard (or thought of) “Night in the City” since my teen years, yet I find my mind leading the music by a half a second anticipating the lyrics.

My morning class in my freshman year in high school had a pair of talkative girls, probably seniors, who liked to tease the shy little freshman that sat across the table from them**. One day they asked me what my favourite band was and I told them ELO and they laughed at me. Ever since then when I admit to liking ELO I feel a bit ashamed, and sometimes even apologize.

That one little interaction from those girls as well as the one from the guy ahead of me in line at the record store both had huge repercussions in my life. I’m forever altered by something so seemingly insignificant that happened in passing. I have no doubt that anyone but me involved in those exchanges has any inkling of the conversation’s existence, much less their impact. Listening to the album today brought both instances back to mind and has made me wonder how often I’ve off-handedly reacted to something that’s had similar repercussions for someone else. My thoughts tend to roll off the tip of my tongue without much consideration, and I imagine I’ve done my share of damage, though over the last half of my life I’ve tried to excise any mean spiritedness from my personality.  Hopefully, as clichéd as it sounds, I’ve had a net positive result. Although it’s possible I wouldn’t feel too bad if in 40 years someone feels a little ashamed of admitting to liking One Direction because of something I said.

* He could have been 16 or 36 for all I could really tell at the time
**When they noticed him at all, which, mercifully, wasn’t often.

Habits

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About a year ago my friend Ken pointed me at the book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. I finally got around to finishing it, and I’m finally getting around to writing about it, although I don’t think I’ll ever get around to finishing thinking about it. I’d made a post on Facebook about some  habits I’d been making and Ken recommended the book and I picked it up, and so did my wife.

I started paying close attention to the behaviors I had fairly early in life, around 10 years old or so, when I ‘figured out’ I wasn’t human and needed to learn how to fit in so the townsfolk wouldn’t discover and burn me on a pyre. It all started with a close call when one of the young humans noticed I had to touch things equally with both hands to balance out the sensation. But that’s another story.

Last spring I’d decided that I really needed to get serious and lose some weight and I decided there ought to be a good app for my phone to track calories. I downloaded and began to use “myfitnesspal” to track how much I was eating and the progress of my weight. I knew I consumed way more than I should but didn’t know, really, how to change it. The strange thing was that in keeping track of what I ate with the app I was able to put the brakes on the amounts and types of food I was eating very easily. I’d know that if I got seconds for dinner I’d be way over my goal and was easily able to pass on the extras I’d normally have between meals. Within 6 months I was down 30 pounds without even really noticing that I’d missed much. I still drank the occasional soda, but stuck to mediums instead of larges when I ate out. And I ate out less frequently than I had been.

In the book it talks about habit cycles, the que->routine->reward cycle that people slip into. In my case, dealing with being bipolar and not being able to be medicated, led to the creation of a lot of habits, and the eating ones are fairly problematic. Early on in my diagnosis and treatment it was impressed upon me that i needed to eat regular meals and stop skipping them because I didn’t feel like eating. This habit had a couple effects on me. I ended up eating all the time whether I was hungry or not, which led to weight gain, but it also kept me eating through the cancer treatments no matter how sick I got, so kind of a mixed blessing.

To modify an already present habit the book says to recognize the que that triggers the habit and then to alter the routine that will lead you to a reward. Looking back at what I did with my app was inserting a step where I recorded what I was planning on eating and modified the amount or type of food I was consuming to stay within constraints I had set. I didn’t improve the quality of my meals as much as just recognized where I stood in relation to my goals, but in the end it had the desired effect.

Around the middle of last November I got smacked by the usual winter depression that seems to come with the shorter days. This year it seemed to be worse than it had been in a long time and I ended up abandoning all caloric tracking. It’s kind of a survival method I’ve got where I jettison all the excess baggage and just concentrate on making it through the next day. I’m not sure it’s a healthy habit, but it’s one that has kept me around this long. The surprising thing was that the habits I’d built over the previous seven or eight months didn’t suffer too much. I gained back seven pounds I’d lost as I overindulged in the holiday snacks, but despite the occasional overindulgence new routines held up despite my lack of supervision.

Now that it’s spring and the depression has mostly passed I really need to fix some of the habits that died over the winter. Somehow I’ve just been wasting my evenings in front of the computer or the TV (with a tablet in hand). I’ve needed to get back into the studio and get back to creating, or doing yard work, or exercising. It’s things I plan to do all day, but somehow lack the gumption to go after once  I get off work. I suppose I need to look at the que in the evening that gets me on the couch and replace it with actually accomplishing something.

Reading Matter

A few weeks ago I briefly took part in a discussion on Facebook that got me thinking about how I started down the road of prose I’ve been following for a really long time now.  I don’t remember exactly what the post was about, or even who originated it, but I do remember that it sparked a memory of an early love of parody and farce that I think I can trace back to Mad Magazine.  I remember my introduction to Mad came from my father, unlikely as that sounds. My dad used to travel a lot for business, and he’d often pick up some light reading for the flight that usually ended up in the hands of his kids. Often it was a Johnny Hart pocket paperback of comics like “The Wizard of Id” or “B.C.”, but on this occasion it happened to be the  Mad Magazine “Jaws II” issue from January 1979. I was just 11 years old, and I remember my mom’s concern and asking my dad if it was really ok for me to read it. He said he thought it was, which upon reflection makes me wonder if it was really my dad, or possibly some time-traveling hero hoping to bend my path away from evil. It just doesn’t feel like something of which he would approve, but that one incidence has had a profound effect on the way I perceive and deal with my world.

Reading was always important in my family. My dad often read stories to us. “The 500 Hats of Bartholemew Cubbins” by Dr. Suess, is one I remember hearing frequently. We had the usual children’s books, a whole bookcase full of them in our room, and I remember my mom frequently carting us off to the library to get an arm full of loaners. I went through the usual kid path of reading. It seems like someone in my elementary school would discover race cars, then all the boys would check out all the race car books in the tiny elementary school library. Then it would be skyscrapers or some other little-boy fad subject.

elevator

I remember running out of dinosaur books and turning around and hitting the small science fiction section. That was the first big turning point to me. I’d seen Flash Gordon serials and other sci-fi shows, but I hadn’t really ever given much thought to fiction. I think “Elevator to the Moon” was the first one I read, and in short order I’d plowed through the two shelves of science fiction in the library, including  Wells’ “War of the Worlds” (possibly dumbed down for kids).

Then came that Mad Magazine. Not only was it dealing in a large part with popular fiction, but also parodying works I often hadn’t even experienced first hand. Mad Magazine was way over my head, but somehow I filed away those parts I didn’t understand to come back in a flash of understanding years later when the context presented itself. I think that it introduced me to thinking above the threshold of my understanding and caused me to stretch out and really consider the meanings of what I was reading. Maybe it’s presumptuous to attribute so much to a juvenile rag like Mad, but I don’t think I’d be the person I am today without it. In fact, I know I wouldn’t. Remind me to tell you about The Rainbow of Texts someday if I haven’t already.

Summer Fruit, Winter Time

Debbie loves fresh fruit, and I know that watermelon is one of her favorites. The only problem is she often buys the fruit she thinks she’ll want and then lets it sit until she’s really in the mood for it. Usually this is two weeks longer than the lifespan of the food.  A few minutes ago she started calling me from the kitchen asking if I was dressed because she needed me to come to her with my shoes on.  I found her laughing and saying the melon that has been on the counter for quite awhile was hissing. It was sitting in a small puddle of clear liquid like someone had spilled a cup of water near the sink. She warned me it was really soft and grabbed a plastic grocery bag. She was about to lift it but I pulled a reverse-abracadabra and pulled the bag under it and headed for the back door. I never heard it hissing. as I got near the yard waste container in the driveway where I intended to abandon it, the handle on the bag broke as I was lifting it to the top of the can. It seemed to fall in slow motion while my hands, now holding tiny scraps of cheap plastic shot heavenwards. The misshapen orb rotated as it plunged towards a skiff of crusty ice and snow. Upon impact I discovered that the entire fruit had turned to liquid inside a tissue-like green and yellow husk. Astonished at this revelation I watched, probably with the most startled look I’ve worn in weeks, as a massive fountain of red shot up chest high and cascaded back towards my shoes as I leaped backwards flailing and nearly avoiding the spray of juice. It was one of those times when I wished I could DVR with my eyes. I ran back in and rousted Kayla and got Debbie to go view the carnage. It was still quite the sight to behold, but I’ll never forget the fermented fountain that I witnessed this night.

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A little walk in the canyon

Halloween_climber

 

I used to climb. I wasn’t very good, but I had a lot of fun being out in the Big Blue Room and doing something unusual with my friends. Back in 1991, due to some remarkable turmoil in my life, I was fortunate to fall in with a good group of people that tended to do a lot of rock climbing. Joe Hallman asked if I’d ever been climbing and I told him I’d done some climbing and found it cathartic*, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. He said there were plenty of people in our group who could teach me, but I might want to take a class.

Luckily it was the start of fall semester and I really didn’t have anything going for me in the way of classes, so I found that there was a Rec and Leisure class being taught by Harold Goodro, who is a bit of a legend. I had no idea when I signed up that I was going to get instruction from someone who had been doing first ascents back in the 1940’s. I really liked the class, and I liked going with my new friends even more.

For the next several years I climbed as often as I could. The Saturday morning meet-up at the mouth of either Big or Little Cottonwood Canyons was almost a religion. And almost every year seemed to start with a misguided attempt to climb Bongeater Buttress before the snow was off the low elevations. There were epic moments and tales that went near legendary among us, getting retold and morphing into running inside jokes, but the era seemed to end too quickly. I took a big leader fall on the second pitch of The Thumb, hitting the deck and breaking both ankles.

broken_ankles

One day after the fall, both legs went black pretty much from the knees to the tips of the toes.

Within a few weeks I tried hobbling along (on crutches, no less) to be a belay-slave and try to stay connected with the group.  On one of these ill-conceived ideas Dave and I went up to Hatchet Crack so he could get a climb in and I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out on the rest of the summer. I say ill-conceived because Dave suffered a serious fall of his own and I was in no position to do anything to help. It was one of those “Now we know never to do that again” rule making moments. But Dave got down ok (sort of)

wounded_dave

Those were only two of the three semi-serious injuries sustained in my time of climbing . Usually it was a really great time.

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Bryce on Mr. Sandman, Big Cottonwood Canyon 1994

dave_dreamscape

Dave on Dreamscape, Big Cottonwood Canyon 1994

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Jack on Lisa Falls, Little Cottonwood Canyon 1995

I climbed a handful of times after my fall, but not enough to really get my confidence fully back. I led an easy pitch on Lisa Falls in the fall of 1995 and was excited for the next year. But by the next year I was working mostly full time and marriages and real life kind of split up our climbing group. I was discovering a talent for making pottery and that seemed to take my time in a big way. But every time I drove past a crag on a road trip or took a drive up the canyon and memory lane I always assumed I’d get back to it. As the years turned into decades I figured it was just one of those “I usedta do” things. I met a young married couple that was lamenting the expense of gear and how they could only do bolted routes. I gave them my rack, because it wasn’t doing any good in my closet. I did hang on to my shoes and harnesses out of some sort of nostalgia.

lisa_falls_lead

Last (recorded) lead climb on Lisa Falls

Then recently I began to have such an itch. I wrote it off as midlife crisis time, but I’d awake thinking of climbs in the past and have to dig out my trusty climbing manual to find out what the name of my favorite climb was, because I’d forgotten it in my dotage.

climbing_route

Then a few weeks ago I ended up calling Bryce to see if he could help me solve a social conundrum. We chatted awhile and he mentioned that he still climbs some, but he thought we’d probably all grown a little more tame in the intervening years (and he actually had a helmet yesterday, something that we’d never taken any sort of liking to). He said he’d like to go out because he hadn’t been much this year if I was willing to go along and see what I could do. I was under no illusions that I was in shape enough to do very much, and I was right to assume so, but I thought I’d give it a whirl.

I drove us to Creekside Wall and Bryce led an easier route on it, and I followed. Or at least I tried. I slowly got to within 8 feet or so of the chains before my arms and legs gave out fully and I had to be lowered off. I glimpsed the edges of the excitement I used to feel, but my mind rebelled at the knowledge that I used to stand on these 3/8″ lips jutting out from the wall as impossible. I called down to Bryce with the old standby, “It’s like stairs!”, which did elicit a laugh from below.

Bryce thought we should go upstream a bit and hit the Salt Lake Slips and try an easy one there, so my pack back on, a big monster with an ugly rope that probably out to be retired, due to its age. I took a few steps and fell into the creek bashing my elbow, but somehow sparing my camera. My legs still hadn’t recovered from the climb. Eventually we made it up to the Slips and there was quite a crowd there. Bryce picked out a climb, but I knew I wasn’t even going to be able to get my shoes back on. I was willing to continue to play the dedicated belayer, but Bryce said if I wasn’t into it we could just bail. I looked around at what seemed like unusually clean-cut kids, for the climbing crowd and realized the harness I was wearing was possibly older than most of those that were there. I rested a bit more and realized that the ratio of boys to girls in the groups was closer to even than it was in my day, which I think says something positive about the growth of the community.

Halloween_climb

 

Creekside Wall from yesterday, somebody has gone through all bolt-happy.

I’m not sure that I’ll be able to put in the time to get strong enough to really climb again. My blown-out ankle wasn’t a problem yesterday as it had been in the past, and I’d always considered that the weak spot for my future. But maybe it’s something I need to do, and seeing that picture of Harold Goodro climbing in his 70’s might shame me into it.

* I wrote about the first time awhile ago, but I wouldn’t recommend going back to it if you missed.

#IStandwithAhmed

As I was procrastinating getting ready for work this morning I ran across the story of Ahmed, a young high school student who made a clock and was subsequently detained as a potential terrorist. I was so angry for the idiocy of the whole situation and ashamed at the way this young man was treated by people who should know better, people entrusted with the nurturing of today’s youth, that I could hardly deal with it. I know times are different now then when I was about his age, but I can’t picture a situation where an intelligent person would make the leap to have Ahmed detained for posession of something that could even be considered a hoax bomb without any sort of actual threat or malicious action.

It made me think of a certain incident from when I was in high school. Several of my friends and I had an inquisitive nature as Ahmed seems to have. We enjoyed building things and finding unique ways to use interesting objects that came into our posession. On one particular day as we neared our graduation one of these guys called me up and asked if it would be hard to hook two air horns up to a car battery with some sort of a switch so it could be activated. I told him it would be really easy and I had some spare switches around and he should bring the stuff over to see what we could do. He came over lugging a big battery in a wooden box and we quickly wired it up to an old light switch and some salvaged wire. It really did the trick and made quite a racket.

I don’t remember my friend including me in his plans for the device, I had a strict policy of willful ignorance back then, but it’s possible I just chose not to ‘remember’ being part of the planning of the op. I suspect there wasn’t really a plan, but more the knowledge that an opportunity surely would present itself once the device was created. They always seemed to pop up once we were equipped, often to our detriment. There’s probably a story in that, somewhere.

Anyway, I learned after the fact that my friend had taken the device to school and decided to stash it in another friends locker, taping an improvised tripwire string from the switch to the locker door. While he was rigging the system a girl asked, “What’s that?” To which my friend gave a brief, simple reply, “A bomb.”

Now, this is most likely not the use I would have found for the device, nor the response I would have given to such an inquiry. But it was consistent with expected behavior from my friend. Subsequently my friend found himself called to one of the V.P.’s offices and as he entered, the school police officer, standing out of sight next to the door closed it. Mr. Hicks, the V.P., a very serious individual, asked him what he put in the locker. My friend briefly described the device. This is the part where time, and possibly the fact that my friend’s name doesn’t hail from the Middle East causes a diversion in the possible results of his actions. The school officer laughed (presumably at the V.P.) and left the office. My friend was let go without threats of detention or withholding of his diploma.

My friend came and found us to tell the funny story of getting called in to the office. When we asked what happened to the device we were told it had already worked perfectly, and that the prankee was so startled he slammed the locker door in hopes it would stop the noise. It didn’t. Also, he was so flustered he had a hard time getting the combination right to open it back up and shut it off. In a way getting hauled in to the office just made the whole thing a little sweeter, I think.

It’s really not an epic story, but I can’t imagine even white bread students getting away with such a thing today. And maybe they shouldn’t, although I don’t think any real harm was done back then. But on the obverse, what was done to Ahmed had the potential for real harm, and it’s only the fact that the story went viral to such a degree so rapidly and found support among those who were in a position to recognize his potential and nurture it, that the whole situation seems like it will turn out for the best.

Remind me sometime to tell y’all how I came up with an idea that almost got half the senior class arrested and filled the school parking lot with police late one night the week before graduation.

 

This is bit of a downer

This is a post I’ve been putting off writing for years, mostly because I don’t see that is much more than sounding off about a subject that won’t bring a laugh to anyone. That’s the reason I write these, mostly. I’d like to think that it brings something positive to the few people that read these thoughts. But this has been heavy on my mind for a long time now, and I’m not sure that there really is a point. I’ve been thinking seriously about writing this since Robin Williams took his life last year. Maybe before that, when Tony Scott parked his car on the bridge in San Pedro and jumped in 2012. Or maybe when Richard Jeni shot himself. Or maybe when Michael Hutchence …

Every time I hear about someone that feels forced into that corner where they make a final choice, or fail to chose another option in lieu of that choice, is like taking a blow to my own heart. And it sticks with me for quite some time. Probably because I made that choice before, and have personally known others that have too. In my case it probably worked out in the best possible way in that it didn’t leave any signs that the choice had ever been made. I guess I finally decided to tell this story because I heard it’s suicide prevention month. Not much of an excuse, but I’ve been hoping I could do something to help for quite awhile.

When I was 17, before I’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and before I had ever really begun to look introspectively at all, I just thought everyone felt like I do. I wasn’t sure how anyone could stand it, and I felt weak because I wasn’t handling it well. I felt strange and alien and utterly alone, despite having just opened a chapter of my life that was filled with some of the most wonderful friends anyone could ever have. One Sunday morning I woke up and knew it was my last day on Earth. The effort of just breathing was too much and the idea of going on another day was unbearable.

I drove myself up to the Storm Mountain recreation area up Big Cottonwood Canyon, at the time one of my favorite places. I parked and crossed the reservoir and started climbing the sheer rock face, figuring I’d fall, and hoping I would get far enough to make it fatal. In a short time I’d gotten pretty far (for a novice with no gear or experience) and my arms were getting tired from clinging to the wall. I figured I was high enough that it was just time to be finished and as I got to a little ledge I decided to just turn around on it and dive. To this day thinking about that moment I can’t believe I was ever so committed to anything. I can still taste the decision and everything is so clear in my mind. I turned and leaned forward and I saw a young couple across the reservoir pointing up at me showing their toddler where the guy was climbing. I reversed my motion and leaned back on the wall. I just knew I didn’t want to be seen doing something so terrible, especially by someone so young. I also wanted there to be a large measure of doubt that it was intentional for my own family to spare them more anguish. I figured I’d wait for the ones watching me to move on before jumping.

As I stood on that ledge that was narrower than my shoes, the endorphins began to work on me, and I didn’t feel as bad as I had when I started the reckless climb up the face. More people began to show up, and I noticed how nice the day was going to be, and I decided not to jump. I felt like a coward and ashamed, not that I’d tried, but that I’d failed. Then I got really worried that I wasn’t going to be able to get down. It seemed silly that I was worrying that I might fall, now that I’d decided not to go through with my plan. But I surely wasn’t going to yell for a rescue. I traversed to a less hazardous area and made it down ok. I got back in my car, went back home, and buried this story. But I wasn’t able to bury it so deep that I haven’t dredged it up on a regular basis.

Now that I know what is going on, and I see the patterns of how the depression works it’s been somewhat easier to deal with, and as they say, things got better. Not so much better that it doesn’t cross my mind anymore, but enough that I know they’re just really black moods and the option isn’t on the table. It’s not that the release isn’t attractive, but I can look back at all the things I’ve been able to do, when I’ve been able to do them. But sometimes I can’t, and I have to find some way to keep putting one foot in front of the other until I get through to a point where I can again.

It was only a few years after that time when I found some hope in religion and, to my great surprise, found myself on a mission for the LDS church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Just after I got there, I met a young lady there that was very musically talented. A couple weeks after I met her she tried to take her life in an overdose, and it almost stopped me cold. She was in the hospital, saved I was told because her antidepressants said to not take with milk, and thinking that would make it worse, she drank a lot of milk. I barely knew her, but I wanted to go visit her in the hospital. I wanted to tell her I understood, and I wanted to try to help. I don’t think I ever voiced this to my companion. I was new and I thought it would look inappropriate. It was also out of our area, and we would need to get permission. I found so many reasons to not do anything, and at the time they all seemed valid. Within the year I heard in passing that she’d succeeded in another attempt. I can’t explain the loss I felt. It doesn’t seem to make any sense. This was a beautiful young girl with a great talent and ability in music, she seemed to have much more than me by way of potential, but I could only see what she was showing. From what I understand she had her demons, but all of us do. For some of us, though, it feels like we’re having to face them all alone in a world where nobody else can really help.

In reality it doesn’t make any sense, except to the person going through it. I don’t think it is understandable, from the outside. You can look at it logically and you can see some of the whys, but from inside all you can see are whys. And I suppose, like everything else, it’s not just black and white. From inside the blackness there seems to be very few choices that can be made.

I’ve been very fortunate.  For the most of my life I’ve had people around who weren’t afraid to let me know they cared. People who made an effort, even though they couldn’t do much more for me than to say, “I hear you and I care”. My parents have always been there, and if I didn’t know they cared and if I hadn’t known that it would hurt them to lose me, I might have taken that step. And I almost took it anyway. There’s so much I can’t find the words to say. The fear, and the self-loathing; the anger and loneliness; the aching love that has no direction and a feeling not only that you’re never going to be happy again, but that you’ve never been happy at all. It’s so overwhelming.

And it’s getting to be autumn. My bad time. The last few years the impending doom of the shorter days has been less than it was when I was younger. Maybe because things are getting better, maybe just because I know from experience that it can be survived. Things have been bad this year, but I have people and I’ve learned that I can make it through with their support. I don’t feel as bad as I used to when I say to someone, “I’m not doing to well right now.” Sometimes I make the shorter statement, “I’m broken”. It’s easier to say.

But the whole reason for this exposure is I want people to know that I can be there for them, too. I understand these feelings very well, and while maybe I can’t make it better, I can listen, and maybe say “I understand” and maybe share the load. For me, it’s made all the difference possible. It’s made being possible. I wish I’d made the effort to see that girl in Minneapolis, to let her know that I kind of understood how it feels. Maybe I could have made a difference, but I’ll never know. Maybe I’m making a mistake by being this open, but I hope not. I hope in some way I can help.

No diet for me, sorta

Since March I’ve been kind of keeping track of what I eat with the MyFitnessPal app on my phone. I’ve gone from 233 pounds down to 212 pounds since then (mostly in the first couple months). I still eat crappy, drink Cokes and eat cookies, but it has shaped things where now I only have two cookies, and not the whole bag. And frequently I think, I don’t need a soda today. Every day I’d put in my breakfast (too many egg McMuffin and a large Coke days), but I’d stop eating sooner and not go off the rails as often, and it’s paying off little by little. I don’t give much mind to the sodium goals, and I laugh at the saturated fat ones, so obviously I’m not trying hard at all. But I did have to punch a new hole on my belt, and there’s very few pants I have to unbutton to take off anymore.

Just knowing that I’ve only got 400 calories left in my daily goal after a crazy lunch where I ate a whole personal pizza at the Pizza Studio helps me make better choices with dinner, and sometimes I go over, but don’t have to really worry about it. I can scan bar codes to easily put something like almonds from Costco, or string cheese into my digital cake hole monitor. It kind of makes it real when you decide to record everything as best as you can. I know I don’t get weights right, and I just had the app search for “Funeral Potatoes” and put in what looked like a mid-range caloric choice (and then added a half-cup just to make up any deficiencies (Debbie does make some sassy Funeral Potatoes). But eating at a chain restaurant is easy, as most of them have been entered by other users, only take the entries with a grain of salt if they’re not verified. The hard part comes when I’ve got to say, “Well there was about 4 asparagus, some cream of something soup… would you say that was 6 ounces of chicken?” when entering individual items from my meals, and I’ve become a little lazy about recording dinners. But I don’t sit at my desk at work and graze out of my drawer of inappropriate starches as I used to do. I consider what a snack retrieved from there will do to the rest of my day and make better choices.

And that’s a big part of what it’s all about. Debbie is a great cook, and where I’d frequently have popcorn, or a can of tuna for dinner, I now (usually) get a healthy meal. The problem was the meals were so good I’d usually end up with seconds, or thirds. I’d eat until I was cross-eyed and then go looking for dessert as soon as it settled down some. But having the numbers right in front of me, and not wanting to be the fattest Winter Soldier on Halloween has been enough to make a difference. I’m sure it’s not a change that many people see, and 20 pounds isn’t all that much when I know I’m not even halfway to where I’d like to be, but I do feel better, and I’ve not had to make any real sacrifices in my diet. I only have made an adjustment of scale.

Years ago I heard that Jerry Seinfeld has a productivity habit of marking a big yearly calendar that sits in a prominent location in his office. On the days that he writes he marks a big X over the date and as he gets a streak going he keeps doing what he’s supposed to do to not break the streak. Having the MyFitnessApp has been that sort of motivation where every 5 days it would tell me that “Erik has logged in for 135 days in a row!” and so I always made sure to do it daily, even if a couple times I found I could search for a “cheat day” and put it in with 0 calories and forget it for that day.

But today I came in from glazing in the studio for lunch and figured I needed to enter my ham and egg breakfast and whatever I was having for lunch and I noticed that it was telling me that I had logged in for 5 days in a row 2 days ago! Somehow I missed a day last week and broke the streak I was trying so hard to keep. It was a weird little mix of emotions (weird enough so that I’m actually writing something). On one hand I was kind of relieved that I’d finally made a mistake that I’d been trying to avoid, so now I could stop obsessing over it, but on the other I had to start a new streak. At least I didn’t notice for a week and already have a new streak started.