Category Archives: Social Rules

Wrong About Much

I can be simple: “While the biological cause of covid is a virus, it only spreads because our social nature is embedded in us. There’s no cure for that, and if there were, it would be our end.” – X

I’ve taken each covid shot and booster as soon as it’s available. The science is clear: getting them reduces the likelihood of a more pronounced case if you get infected. We fought the same reluctance with the flu shot prior to covid’s arrival. Our contrary nature bedevils us, but it also keeps things interesting. I look at some people’s aversion to science or vaccinations differently than I once did. It’s not a question of intelligence; of that, I am completely sure.

It’s still true that a large number of people who are infected are asymptomatic. During the colder months, many people will think they have a cold or allergies. It’s often covid. Many people with symptoms ignore them – and that’s okay. Really. Whether they have misconceptions about the efficacy of covid shots, engage in conspiratorial theories about covid’s effects and origins, or simply see that it’s going to be around for a long time, it’s not irrational to feel that way. A lot of people just go on about life, and they either get better or don’t. We all rely on one another to keep each other safe, but our actions are always realized as individuals.

Studies that randomly test people reaffirm that at any given time, a lot of people test positive for covid whether they have symptoms or not. Each of these people comes into contact with hundreds of people daily, their spider web or potential exposures growing exponentially.

For most employers, masks have disappeared. In public? The same.

And that’s okay.

We are only as strong or as safe as our weakest link. That link? It’s all of us, unable to live our lives with love and seeing that we are so interconnected that any improvements or cures require all of us to actively work for it. We can’t even stop wars, so it’s no surprise that a medical emergency could have derailed us. Hell, we can’t even get a lot of people to use turn signals. On the other hand, the surprise of seeing where they decide to go at the last second is often a beautiful Pandora’s box.

Statistically speaking, you will be around many people who expose you to covid. There’s not much you can do. Knowing many people who undertook considerable change to limit their exposure – and got it anyway – I don’t want to sound like a pessimist. With covid, it’s obvious you can do everything right and still fail and get it. Watching people go about their day substantially proves we’re not doing everything right. Yes, that includes me, but I recognize my own grasp of known science compared to the practicality of attempting to limit a disease that lies at the crux of being social.

I had covid not too long ago, and then I got my fifth covid shot. Yesterday, I woke up to sniffles. I felt like a million dollars, which I characterize as feeling like I’m a human battery. I checked my temperature and found I had a fever. The sniffles worsened, so I tested after work.

Yes, covid positive again.

Maybe I shouldn’t have tested. Many don’t. It’s no worse than not testing regularly or having a nationalized system to randomly monitor unknown infections. I know how that sounds, written that way. But it’s a lesson I have learned pragmatically and in observance of a couple of years of real human behavior. I would not want to knowingly infect someone else. That recognition should be contrasted with people’s decisions not to get shots, or to test, or to attribute their symptoms (or lack of, for that matter) to allergies, a cold, or just feeling tired. Not everyone is lucky enough to work somewhere where they don’t lose a piece of their paycheck if they test positive. As for me, I’d much rather be at work, around people, and contributing. It’s certain that as covid continues, our policies will change as the cold compresses into smaller spaces sharing the same air. Practicality will bend policy, just as it did when covid jumped up and caught us unprepared. Lord, the things we did!

The psychology of people is what fascinates me. They worry about covid yet actively work and walk in public without masks, social distancing, etc. They grocery shop and attend events wherein large groups of people participate. Even if you are actively engaging in behavior that limits your exposure, it is a certainty that you are being exposed repeatedly. At work. At the convenience store. At the theater, sporting events, and concerts. If you’re not testing regularly, you may have had it and been an exposure yourself. Any behavior that puts you into contact with people is a potential exposure, not just the ones you know of due to a covid test. If you’re not testing regularly (which isn’t really practical on a national level), you’re only able to feel like you haven’t infected anyone simply because you are unaware.

In my case, I tested much more frequently than anyone else I know. Not because I was afraid of covid, but because I wanted to feel confident that I was not the source – and that it seemed like the right thing to do absent a system that encouraged all of us to do so. I did the best I could to cure my ignorance as to whether I might be spreading it. Because I sure as hell wasn’t limiting my social behavior as covid allegedly winded down. I hate sounding haughty or self-satisfied, but I do keep it in mind when I hear people express concern about getting it who didn’t take the time or money to test as regularly as I did during the bulk of the pandemic. Fear of getting it, a sincere fear, to me, means you’ll reciprocally do what is necessary to avoid being the one giving it. I wasn’t kidding when I say I don’t know anyone personally who tested more often than I did.

And that’s okay, too.

We’re social creatures. We hug, we eat, we touch. And we breathe the same air.

As for me, everyone who knows me well knows I am a world-class hugger. I can’t imagine a world wherein that wasn’t the case.

You can’t avoid covid. You are welcome to try.

I won’t complain as long as those who do remember that every single point of human contact is an exposure. There’s no practical way around it. If you are breathing their air, you are sharing all their invisible bacteria and viruses. It’s always been this way and obviously always will be.

We were lucky covid wasn’t the catastrophe it could have been.

As for me, I’m optimistic.

People’s behavior in the face of covid fascinates me endlessly.

I had the advantage of being in the medical hotseat when it blossomed. I watched as people verbally warred over its causes, its reality, and its treatment. Covid ended many lives prematurely.

At the center of it all is the fact that we are social creatures.

There is no cure for that. At least, I hope not.

Please don’t “at” me with anything other than an agreement that you understand that being around people is an agreement that anyone can have covid – or that you can, too, and not even know it. Short of locking yourself in a self-contained safe room in a contamination suit, you’re being exposed routinely. Even from those who’ve been fully boosted, from those who haven’t, and from those who look and sound perfectly healthy. You can worry about it all you’d like. But if you’re not in the aforementioned safe room by yourself, you are agreeing that being social is the risk you’re willing to take every day.

I don’t like the sexual analogies some use to compare covid. Sexuality is voluntary and expressed with one individual (Well, in most cases. Let’s not get crazy here!). You’re accepting the risk for yourself and responsible for your behavior. Covid is a disease that transmits omnidirectionally without other participants realizing it. That’s the social truth of these diseases. We rely on each other, just like we do when we drive the crazy streets with the assumption that the other driver is paying attention, not under the influence, and not ready to meet their maker.

All of us owe a huge debt to medical research and medical care itself. It’s easy to forget the pyramid of discoveries that have prolonged our lives. I don’t have to wonder ‘what if’ about the vaccines. I’ll never know. And I’m happy to be able to say that.

PS Remember that I’m not dead yet. I still have it penciled in for 2034. You’ll know it’s my time because I’ll probably be on the news: “local man dressed as a superhero can’t fly after all.”

Love, X
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A Beginner’s Mind A Beginner’s Heart

“That joke is dumb, X.”

“It’s 100 times better than yours, though,” I reply.

“I didn’t tell any jokes.”

“Exactly!” I usually reply.
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I modified the social media meme by exchanging one word; it changed everything.

You don’t have to write, draw, paint, make music, dance, or any of the other million ways to express yourself. But in failing to do so, your life exudes monochrome dullness. Whatever you love doing or creating, do it. You don’t have to do it well. I’ve never seen a newborn baby play Chopin or Merle Haggard. Even if you’re sixty and find enjoyment in whatever form of expression, feeling like you must be an expert is pure insanity.

A beginner’s mind – a beginner’s heart.

Remember when you did something with enthusiasm? Regardless of the result?

Well, the clock is ticking.

There will always be critics.

Even if you do it PERFECTLY, it will not be to everyone’s liking or taste.

As Van Halen quipped, “You might as well jump.”

Love, X
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Behavior Prevails

Online therapy isn’t as satisfying as in-person therapy.

But cognitive therapy from a practical focus is amazingly effective for me.

One of the things I loved about in-person therapy was having the things I’d said or written repeated back to me.

It’s a stunning thing to SEE my own rationalizations exposed and repeated. It’s part of the reason I softened toward my dad. To recognize a small part of him inside of me was not a welcome realization. This kind of insight takes a while to accept, much less deal with.

There’s a huge difference when you’re talking or writing to someone who has dealt with hundreds of people and has heard every rationalization under the sun. Unlike friends and family, they experience your version of truth for what it is.

Mostly bullsh!t.

I can recap and summarize the difference quickly: I know an awful lot about human psychology and have learned a book of insights and lessons, yet, my biggest failing is not applying them to my life.

If you focus on behavior and set aside your thoughts and words, everything gets distilled to its essence.

It reminds me of one of my favorite examples. If a person never tells anyone that he or she is Christian yet lives a love-and-compassion-filled life, observers can see that your worldview is in action through your behavior. Because lovingkindness is the essence of what Jesus taught. One of my biggest problems with evangelicals is their certainty and rigidity – and focus on dogma and judgment. Live the example. That applies to me, too, in case you think my hypocrisy is something I don’t see in myself.

Likewise, if you are a loving and insightful human being, people over time should easily find that behavior consistently and clearly evidenced in your life. The things you do will be reflected in your daily life and mirror what’s in your head and heart.

When these things are not reflected? That disparity signals a problem with either your self-perception or a significant failure of behavior. If you know your motivations and what you value, the best practical approach is to examine your behavior critically.

If you are what you do, then when you don’t, you aren’t.

If you want to be satisfied or happy, you must work to remove behaviors that interfere. Happiness isn’t a realization; it’s a constant process of doing the hard work of choosing to spend your time and life finding a way to live the way that you know you want to be.

When you are closer to the sunset than the sunrise as you age, everything just looks different.

Otherwise, it is all talk, smoke without fire, and pretense.

Ugh.

But also, yeah!

Love, X
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Random Saturday

Random Saturday

I stood on the landing outcrop. Light rain started about 6:15. It felt like a gift to just let it softly pelt me. Rain has been a distant stranger lately. It’s odd because some Septembers have been torrential.

Earlier, I mistook a visitor to be one of my neighbors. We exchanged pleasantries from opposite corners. I gave him the rest of a bottle of vodka. I already knew he had stayed up at night playing the role of reveler. He is very young, so burning the middle night oil is a requirement for him. It takes a long time to discover that almost everything that happens after 9 p.m. is probably not as meaningful as it seems. Perhaps I sound old saying that. I am old. But I have luckily not forgotten how stupid most of us were when we were younger. When misadventure was mistaken as a sign that we were living life to the fullest.

The picture of the teacup is from my recent jaunt and stay in Compton. Arkansas, not California. Sometimes I sign the inside of one of the teacups from my dear departed friend Jackie – and then hang it in plain sight. Erika signed this one with me. I dared the tall grass, chiggers, and hidden snakes to put it in a tree on the perimeter of the wilderness. I love imagining people finding them accidentally. Surely there are others like me who get lost in wondering about what led to it being placed there. I’ve left so many artifacts in Northwest Arkansas, some in the most unlikely places. A lot of them have been right under the noses of the people I know. Such secrets make me happy.

Did you know that smart televisions use about 18W of power? That’s about two LED light bulbs left on 24/7. It’s not a significant amount, but most people don’t even think about energy consumption for items plugged in yet turned off. Remember when grandma would unplug EVERYTHING because of “the electricity!”

For newer houses or remodels, I can’t believe electricians aren’t installing whole-house surge protectors. They reduce almost all chances of a surge damaging your electronics. I’ve yet to see a homeowner have it explained to him or her and have them say, “No, I don’t want that.” If I were using a rural power grid, it’s the best little bit of money you’ll ever spend. And might save your life, too. I’m surprised that many people don’t know that all power strips don’t offer surge protection. There’s a huge difference in the distinction. Another misconception: most people’s houses do nothing to stop lightning strikes from frying everything (Even really expensive surge protectors you bought at Best Buy). Whole house surge protection going through your main line is about the only way to avoid that sort of catastrophe. Really. It’s true.

Although people think it’s a boring subject, I’d like to mention water heaters, which use a huge chunk of your energy budget. First, most people have their water heaters set too high. Second, when you get a new unit, you should always buy a hybrid heat pump water heater. They pay for themselves in two to three years. They are incredibly efficient and will save you a LOT of money compared to a traditional one. Third, for the love of god, please install moisture-sensitive alarms near your water heater. (And fridge, too, if it has a water line.) Since I’m throwing out random facts, the average shower uses 2 gallons a minute. If you have a luxury bathroom, it might be twice that. Your dishwasher uses between 4 and 6 gallons of water. Larger tank water heaters are more “convenient,” of course, but most of the cost of your water heater is lost efficiency, as it must maintain a set temperature in the tank even when you’re not using it. Tankless and on-demand water heating systems are the best if you don’t have a large family or all six of your siblings living with you “temporarily” for five years while they “figure things out.”

By the way, it’s good to brag that your fridge or washer/dryer is twenty years old. Really, it is. What you don’t realize is that old appliance is drastically more expensive to use than their modern counterparts. Replacing the old one would have paid for itself in a few short years. The energy consumption of a new fridge versus one twenty years old is staggering. You might be saving something from going into the landfill, that’s true, but your carbon footprint is amazingly bigger due to the old appliance’s inefficiency.

I still get a lot of flack for being mostly oblivious to gas prices. I just don’t notice. I have to have gas, so the price is irrelevant. It’s made me much happier than most of the people I know. If money is tight, I would drive less – rather than obsess over getting the cheapest gas. I know someone who drove 11 miles in each direction to save twenty-five cents a gallon. (Excluding the fact that you wait in line and spend thirty minutes of your life going there and back. Time is not replaceable.) I calculated that it cost them $4.05 to drive. They retorted, “Aha! That’s less than I saved!” To which I replied (expecting that answer), “Aha! It costs an average of thirty-five cents a mile for the wear-and-tear and maintenance of your vehicle, doofus. Even if you don’t maintain your car properly, let’s say it’s fifteen cents a mile. You spent MORE driving to SAVE than you saved. It’s math, not your feelings.”

Confession: I am not a money genius. I waste it like nobody’s business. I acknowledge my stupidity, though – and try not to defend it.

Clever joke: hand someone a pair of work boots. They will undoubtedly say, “What are these for?” Just laugh and don’t explain the obvious comeback line to them. Just shake your head disapprovingly.
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i jumped from the bed as i always do

not caring, not looking, not even for a shoe

i remember when my body was a weight

as if i’m not it and it’s not me

i don’t worry about how i look

i’ve done what i can

every other man in the world can worry

not me, not ever, never again

i will take what i have

my battery was once low, my spirit unproud

now it’s me, ridiculous perhaps

it seems like arrogance though it’s not

its acceptance for the cards i’ve drawn

and the hand i’ve played with them

i hear the sand trickling down the glass

so it’s me, it’s you

we both better get off our ass

acceptance is cheaper than fixing what ain’t broken

choose your path, now that i’ve spoken

so many of you are beautiful

some inside, some out

yet you let temporary worry

fill you with doubt

Love, X
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Black & White Intentions

“We are very good lawyers for our own mistakes, but even better judges for the mistakes of others.”

One of the hardest things as a human is to swallow the urge to correct people who have misconceptions about you. We all come to our own conclusions, draw inferences, and make assumptions about other people, ones which are based on our own observations and intuition. No matter how carefully you talk, behave, or think, people will fiercely defend the conclusions they’ve come to. At times, they are simple misconceptions. Others? They are villainous views, ones that hit you at the core. No matter what led you to act or talk in a certain way, it’s a certainty that you’re going to be misunderstood. No matter your defense, your arguments, or your intentions, you’re going to have to develop the ability just to let it go.

All of this is why so many memes, reels, and TikToks exist to remind us that we must do our best to swallow the drive to correct people’s erroneous assumptions. Those assumptions belong to them rather than us. That doesn’t mean they are always wrong. Each of us gets blind to our stupidity or can’t find a way to accept how we’ve behaved. If you jump out of a tree, you’re going to have to land whether you’re prepared for it or not. You might not remember climbing the tree or why you did it, but you’re going to have to prepare to hit the ground.

It’s hard enough for me to live my life and with myself and thoughts without fighting intrusions from people who have written a different narrative. It’s doubly troubling when I’ve made mistakes that weren’t ill-intentioned or nefarious yet get filtered that way. Complicated situations and emotions become reduced to black-and-white decisions. I wish life were that simple or that I had the constancy of purpose and drive to avoid them.

Looking around, I see that most people are rowing in the same boat. If we’re rowing in the same direction, it’s folly to use our oars to pummel one another.

Love, X
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The Fuse Conundrum

My sister posted an affirmational meme, and it reminded me of something I wrote a few years ago in response to people’s addictive or destructive behavior. Including my own.

“Fill your life with people who reflect who you are and who you want to be, not with those who are a reflection of who you once were and no longer wish to be.

If you’re a fuse, don’t stand near dynamite, as the results are inevitable. You start to believe it’s your purpose and inalterable. Abnormality begins to normalize patterns that aren’t ones you’d otherwise choose.

And if you are a fuse, choose to stand elsewhere. Proximity to undesirable people and behaviors infects you incrementally.

You end up with a life you didn’t choose and don’t want, and you wrongly assume, “Well, I am a fuse, after all.” That’s garbage thinking.

Every change commences with a choice.

Stay away from the fire and those who need or want you to be a fuse.

Choose.”

X
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Caprice

Preface: I wrote what follows this morning…almost as a coda, on the way to the apartment after work, a black Camaro zoomed impatiently into its left lane approaching me from the opposite direction. The driver was going too fast and over-corrected, sending him into my lane and luckily swerving wildly into the far lane next to me. I had no time to react, not even to stomp my brakes, which would have certainly resulted in a multiple-car pileup. As I passed without time to feel my heart accelerate, squeals, honks, and braking behind me filled the air. The driver of the Camaro managed to gain control without being hit. He stopped in the right lane facing oncoming traffic. The capricious and erratic symmetry of just living reared its head and whispered to me.
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All of these are true
none inscribed to change your hue

An undiagnosed cough ended on the kitchen floor
her love and life abruptly no more

Expert pilot fell to the ground
his loving sister to conjure the sound

A cluster of cells aligned with malignant intent
those around her yearning more time had been spent

The unbearable yet unbeatable beckon of alcohol
those who loved him clutching and watching his fall

A 92-year-old beloved woman took her last breath
a life well lived, met with welcomed death

An aneurysm unseen and unfelt and then all rendered past tense
no warning no reason no sense

Careless driver through the sign leaving one with an unfaithful spine
her arc of life flattened to a baseline

You worry about how you sound or look
how you sing, how you dance, how you might be mistook
any given moment, the universe can close your book

You have this moment to scribble your notes
to construct and imagine needless moats

Kind heart, clear eyes, and curious mind
make sure that you leave something meaningful behind

We are all preterit

This can both energize and immobilize, this insight into truth
beauty and love are in the eye of the beholder

May you live your life just a little bit bolder
no guarantee of life or that you’ll become older

Seize the day, come what may
otherwise, it will seize you
even if you do everything to perfection
these words are no mere early morning reflection
affection, expression, introspection
of these words, there is no question

X
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3 a.m. Adventure

I woke up slightly after midnight this morning and stayed up.

It wasn’t that the man standing there with his small bicycle outside the convenience store looked dangerous. His clothes were nice and he had a small backpack behind him. I watched to see as he approached someone who parked in front of the store. The woman exited her vehicle. Although I could not hear what was said her body language communicated that she was very uncomfortable. The man continued saying something to her and his body language wasn’t nice. As the woman walked hastily into the store, I exited my vehicle and darted in behind her. When I came out, his body language was off to me. He spoke quickly and the way he talked in combination with his body language made me uncomfortable.

That’s rare for me. I love convenience store interactions! Since I’m both weird and often unpredictable, it’s a great way to meet people. Even if they are weirder than I am.

I took two steps back and asked him to please stop as he of course he walked toward me.

I think he’s unaccustomed to people being direct. He took a step forward and I held my left hand up.

“Why you got to be like that?” he asked me.

“It’s barely 3:00 a.m. If you need money for something urgent, I would more than likely help you. But I saw you make the woman going in uncomfortable. Don’t do that.”

“Eff you,” he said and took another very small step towards me.

I laughed, even though I didn’t want to.

“Three things,” I began. “There are cameras literally everywhere. Second, you have no idea who has a concealed carry permit on them or a gun without one. Finally do I look like I’m in shape. Or do I seem nervous? I think it’s time for you to stop hanging out in front of convenience stores. And I hope whatever is going on in your life gets better. I really do. But this is going to end badly for someone because you’re making people uncomfortable and people are not quite sure what you’re up to. Fear causes a lot of needless reactions, the least of which is people calling the police.”

“It’s not a crime to talk to people,” he replied.

“Loitering is. Unless you have demonstrable evidence that you’re conducting business inside the store, someone is going to call the police and you’ll have to explain it to them.”

He stood there a second and I did wonder if he was going to threaten me or lunge at me.

So I ignored him and turned to walk to my car. I half-expected a hand on my shoulder. When I opened the door and sat down inside my car, he was already peddling away furiously on his small bicycle.

The convenience store I went to is one of the nicest, safest, most brightly lit ones in the area. It is immeasurably better than Wild Bills over on Garland. That place is a magnet for crazy. That’s probably why I like it.

I’m certainly no badass and I have yet to implement the new self-defense moves I learned last year. I rely on the fact that all but a very small percentage of people are either good-natured or have enough sense not to threaten other people. The biggest danger to me is still pepperoni or potato chips.

A very small sliver of me would like to know what I would have done had the man reacted differently. That little piece of Bobby Dean in me makes me nervous!

X
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