The epiphany

I had an interesting insight during the dog walk earlier this week, and I want to set it down before I forget it.

Tuesday was a good morning. I felt confident (which is unusual for me in recent years) and I was productive. I got stuff done.

During the dog walk, my mind started to wander. I have a mind forever voyaging to different places. My thoughts are rarely solely in the here and now. I usually have two or three or four different thought processes going on in my head at once.

I don’t know if this is normal. Maybe it is. Do other people have heads filled with a million billion jumbled thoughts? Or is this indicative of my ADHD? Is my brain wired differently than other people? I have no way to tell. (And I really wonder if all of this is related to my chronic depression!)

But some days are different.

Overanalytical Man

On the days I take my ADHD meds, a calm settles over me. I often describe it like this: It’s as if normally there’s a (metaphorical) swarm of bees in my head. They’re buzzing and flying and everything is chaos. But when I take my Vyvanse (which I don’t do often), those bees settle. They calm down. They stop buzzing about for a few hours and instead settle in a clumpy mass on a tree branch. It’s still a bit chaotic, but it’s calm chaos. Does that make sense?

Then, as the Vyvanse fades, the bees begin buzzing about again.

That’s life inside my head.

It’s important to note that one of the bees (perhaps the queen?) is this judgemental little motherfucker that’s always picking things apart. Sometimes it’s picking apart whatever it is I’m watching or reading or doing. Sometimes it’s picking apart the people I’m with. But usually? Usually this little bastard is picking me apart. My head is filled with constant negative self-talk.

I’m constantly asking myself, “Do I look okay? Did I do that right? Did I say the right thing? Was that a mistake? Do I dare publish this? I’m too fat. Remember that time you fucked up at the FI chautauqua?” And so on.

Inside my mind, there’s this constant monologue that runs parallel to my regular thought processes. Sometimes I’m able to suppress this. Normally, however, I can’t. (And with certain strains of marijuana? Yikes! It’s bad news because for whatever reason, they magnify this dark voice from a whisper to a scream.)

When we were married, Kris used to call me Overanalytical Man. We’d laugh about how I overanalyzed everything. I never thought much about it outside of being a joke, though. Now, though, I’m starting to realize that Overanalytical Man is like my nemesis. He’s the recurring super-villain of my life. Overanalytical Man is the guy who prevents me from enjoying anything, from relaxing, from just being myself.

So, let’s get back to Tuesday’s dog walk.

Walking the Dog

Left to her own devices, Tally wouldn’t really go for a walk. Instead, we’d pick a place or two and just sniff and dig for an hour. Or a day. That’s what she wants. But I want the exercise. I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone. I want forward motion. Our dog walks are mostly a compromise between me wanting to be in motion and the dog wanting to plant in place.

Tuesday, for whatever reason, I decided to let the mountain beagle have her way. When she wanted to stop to sniff and dig, I let her stop to sniff and dig. She loved it. And instead of resenting our lack of forward motion, for once I tried to pay attention to what Tally was doing. I tried to be in tune with her.

This is something I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks now.

During the nearly five years Tally has lived with us, Kim has always had this sort of natural intuitive communication with her. (She has this ability with all animals, actually.) I, on the other hand, only pick up on the dog’s broadest cues. And when I try to communicate with her, I’m usually very forceful: loud commands, leash tugs, very obvious hand signals.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that for whatever reason I was picking up on some subtle cues from the dog. It was as if I could read her mind. (I wasn’t reading her mind, obviously. I was just taking time to pay attention to her face and her body language.)

Since then, I’ve been actively striving to better communicate with the hound. The results have been remarkable. She’s more compliant. She comes to me more often during the day to ask for things. And we’re having better walks together.

Tuesday, I actively tried to put myself in her paws. I was trying to imagine what it was like to be a dog as she sniffed about and rooted with her nose and dug in the holes she found. And you know what? It was like I actually felt like what it was to be a dog. For five or ten minutes, I was completely in the moment. I wasn’t analyzing anything about the situation.

It was amazing.

For just a few minutes, I forgot everything else in the world.

That constant narrative in my head? It disappeared. The swarm of bees vanished. Overanalytical Man was nowhere to be found. There was no judgemental, negative self-talk. (There wasn’t any self-talk at all!) There was just me and the dog on a foggy morning in Portland digging in the muddy earth. It was magical.

Then the reverie was over.

The Power of Now

“I wonder what it would be like to always be in the moment?” Overanalytical Man thought as his normal state of constant reflection returned. “Are there other times that I’m more present than others?” Yes, there are times I’m more present than others. There absolutely are.

Kim and I just returned from vacation, for instance. Most of the time we were gone, I was in a good head space. I didn’t spend time judging myself or others. The swarm of bees in my head took a vacation too. For a week, I just existed in the moment. On the beach. With Kim’s family. It was fun!

I realized that this is usually the case when I travel. When I travel for work I’m my normal self, but when I travel for pleasure I let go and am completely in the moment. Not 100% but most of the time. And maybe this is one of the reasons I especially love travel — because it frees me from my inner demons. Overanalytical Man isn’t present on these trips. (He’s only there when I travel for work.)

I thought back to the 15-month RV trip that Kim and I took across the United States. I frequently say that this was the best experience of my life. And it was. But why was it the best? I think I enjoyed it so much because we were literally living in the moment all of the time. We deliberately tried not to plan ahead. We made things up as we went along. Literally. Often we’d be driving down the highway at four in the afternoon with zero idea where we’d park the RV for the night.

This is similar to the best vacations I’ve experienced. When my cousin Nick and I went to Turkey in 2012, we had some waypoints planned, but we made things up in the middle. Kim and I did the same when we visited France and England in 2013. We rented a car in London and just drove. Nick and I did the same during our last two trips to Europe: We just made things up as we went along.

Life Without Judgment

Now, there’s another important aspect to these moments I’ve enjoyed most in life. They’re moments without judgment. I’m doing the things I want when I want to do them, and I’m not judging myself. Nobody else is judging me either. (Or if they are, I don’t know about it and it doesn’t matter one whit.)

As I thought about this fact on Tuesday, I realized that perhaps part of my current struggles are precisely because I put myself in situations that allow others to judge me.

  • I write for the internet.
  • I write books.
  • I make YouTube videos.
  • I post on Facebook.

All of these actions invite judgment from others (in the form of likes and comments and shares and so on). And as much as I say that I don’t care what other people think of me, I obviously very much do care.

And that is the root of the problem.

I have inadvertently created a life built around external validation. Maybe my life has always been built around external validation. I don’t know. Did I get good grades in school because I was smart and applied effort? Or did I do well in order to obtain the approval of my parents and teachers?

Improving My Mental Health

I let the dog continue to dig as I thought more about this notion. I’ve been blogging for over twenty years now. I’ve been on social media for roughly fifteen years. During this time, my self-esteem — never great — has sunk to new lows.

My mental health did make a resurgence from 2012 to 2015, however. I’ve always attributed that to shifting my focus to taking care of my mental, physical, and emotional health. I’m sure that’s part of it. But that’s also the period in my life during which I was least present on the web. I had sold Get Rich Slowly and resigned as editor. I was posting less on social media. I was more present in the here and now.

In 2015, I started Money Boss. This brought back a bit of the pressure, but the real stress didn’t reappear until 2017 when I repurchased GRS. This pressure (which is one of the reasons I sold the blog in the first place) is largely self-induced, and I know it, but a lot of it comes from constantly putting myself out there, leaving myself open for others to judge. (And let’s not forget that with each thing I produce online, I’m adding bees to the swarm buzzing around my head!)

Have you heard about the young actors from Game of Thrones? Nearly every one of them has struggled with mental health issues and/or addiction as a result of achieving fame at a young age.

Now, I’m not trying to compare myself to a movie star. (See, even writing that sentence is my internal voice attempting to counter possible external judgment before it occurs!) I’m trying to point out the pressures of living a life that’s open for others to judge, the stress of being in a spotlight — even a small blogger-sized spotlight.

Everything you do, you ask yourself, “What will others think of this?” That’s what Overanalytical Man does, anyhow.

Thinking Different

At times like this, I wish I weren’t Overanalytical Man. I wish I were more like my friend Pete (a.k.a. Mr. Money Mustache). Pete doesn’t give a fuck what other people think. (Or that’s my impression, anyhow.) He believes what he believes and he does what he wants to do. To hell with the judgment of others!

Apparently, I’m not wired that way.

But could I be wired that way? Could I change how I think?

For years, counselors and friends and romantic partners and business associates have encouraged me to pursue meditation. I’ve never done it. I talk about doing it. I buy fancy meditation cushions. I download meditation apps. But I never meditate. How do I force myself to start? And would it help?

I’ve also had many people recommend that I read The Power of Now, which is all about living in the present (instead of the past or the future). I’ve started the book dozens of times. What I’ve read of it, I like. Sure, it’s mystical and fuzzy at times, but that’s okay. Again, maybe I should force myself to follow through with this, to finish the entire book.

And you know what? Maybe I should take a deliberate forced vacation from the internet. Maybe I should take a month (or three) off from all of the things that invite the judgment of others. No Facebook. No Twitter. No YouTube. No blogging. If I did this, what would happen? What would I feel like?

Again, during the dogwalk on Tuesday I realized that this sort of internet sabbatical is exactly what I enjoy when I’m traveling. When I travel, I’m living in the moment, yes, but I’m also completely (or mostly, anyhow) divorced from my life online.

All or Nothing

I have a bi-weekly call with my friend Diania. Ostensibly, these chats are to plan the next EconoMe Conference. In reality, we spend the bulk of our time building each other up, talking about our current struggles (my mental health, her job), then offering insights and solutions. I love these calls.

This week, I told Diania about my Tuesday epiphany. “I’m thinking about giving it all up,” I told her. “I’m thinking about just walking away from the internet.”

Diania laughed.

“You’re like me,” she said. “You’re an all or nothing person. And you’re trying to be all or nothing with this, but I don’t think you need to be. You don’t have to give it all up. You don’t have to go on a three-month sabbatical. There are other solutions.”

“Like what?” I said.

“Well, you could take a short sabbatical every single day. Fifteen minutes. An hour. That’s what meditation is for,” she said. “Or you could look for a balance point.”

I nodded. Her advice made sense.

“What you’re describing is the human condition. We all experience this,” Diania said. “We’re never going to escape the depression and anxiety. You and I are wired for it. We can’t avoid it. What we can do is mitigate it. When it comes, we can do things to cope with it.”

Diania has some very valid points. I am an all or nothing guy. I know this. And yes, there probably is a way to achieve balance without completely giving up the internet.

But what would that balance look like?

The Epiphany

I’ve spent most of this week thinking about my present and my future. For once, I’ve actually sought out the advice of my friends and family too. (And I intend to seek the counsel of other friends in the coming weeks.)

On Thursday night, I tried a thought exercise. “What if,” I thought, “I didn’t have any online obligations whatsoever? What if I used the internet only as a tool, not a platform for writing and sharing myself?”

I put myself in that mindset. And, no joke, it was instantly as if a weight lifted from my shoulders. I felt that “unbearable lightness of being”. I looked around at this old house, at Kim, at our animals. I smiled. I was content. I was happy. Everything felt amazing.

And I realized that the last time I truly felt this way was 1997 or 1998, back when Kris and I still lived in our first house with two cats and zero responsibilities. I had a static website but I didn’t yet have an active blog. There was no social media. Email was novel. YouTube didn’t exist. I chatted with my friends on the phone and I saw them in real life. Life was grand.

I also thought about the first few years that Kim and I were dating. I had sold Get Rich Slowly — and I eventually gave up any writing or editing duties at the site. I was working on World Domination Summit, but eventually shed that responsibility too. I was focused solely on self improvement: exercise, language learning, reading, writing, my mental health. We bought the RV and went on our roat trip. Life was grand.

This thought exercise led to an epiphany, to a personal “thought singularity”. All of the stuff I’ve been reading about and thinking about and writing about for the past six months came to a head. I had clarity. In this moment, during this epiphany, I had a vision of the correct path before me. But choosing that path seems scary.

Very scary.

People Who Know Me

After sitting alone with this epiphany for twenty or thirty minutes, I went to find Kim. “Do you have time to talk?” I asked her.

“Sure,” she said. “What’s up?”

“What would you think if I just gave up my on-line life? How would you feel if I were to give up Get Rich Slowly completely? And Facebook. And Twitter. And everything else? What if I just walked away and spent my time on you and me and the house and the animals?”

Kim smiled. “I think that’s a great idea,” she said. “In fact, this is what I’ve been trying to tell you to do for years. You could write a novel. You could volunteer. You could spend more time with friends. You could do lots of things.”

Last night, I chatted with my cousin Nick. (He goes by Duane at Get Rich Slowly, for those of you who also read that site.) I told him that I was considering giving up my online life. I told him that I’d come to the conclusion that my internet world was responsible for many of my mental health problems, for my unhappiness.

“J.D.,” he said, echoing Kim, “I’ve been trying to tell you this for years. You are a lucky man. You’ve put yourself in a position where you can do almost anything you want. I don’t know why you choose to do anything you don’t want to do. I don’t know why you choose to do things that bring you stress and anxiety. It doesn’t make any sense.”

An Uncertain Future

So, that’s where I am at the moment. I haven’t made any decisions about what I intend to do moving forward. I’ve sketched out several possible futures, each with a different degree of involvement on the internet.

Broadly speaking, options include:

  • Zero online creative production. No blogging. No social media. No YouTube videos. No email newsletters. None of it. Just quit cold turkey and walk away. I am 95% confident that this would relieve me of my anxiety. But I have a small bit of worry that I’d miss having an outlet for my writing. I love to write. I’ll always do it. It’s nice to have a forum like this to share some of that writing.
  • Minimal online creative production. Because I do like having an outlet, maybe it would be best to instead alter my expectations. Maybe I should keep this blog, for instance, but remove analytics, kill the mailing list, and avoid a schedule. Just write when I want.
  • Moderate online creative production. And what if I simply chose to cut back on my current expectations, made them super easy to meet? Maybe commit to only one GRS post per month. And one GRS email per month. Meanwhile, post here and at YouTube whenever I feel like it. Could I commit to that and adhere to it without feeling pressure to produce more?
  • Maximum online creative production. At the most extreme level, I thought that maybe I could keep doing what I’m doing, but simply cut back a little. Remove the things that cause the greatest stress but keep everything else. This is a slippery slope, though. It doesn’t feel like any kind of real change.

Right now, this morning, I have no idea what I’m going to choose to do. My heart says to give up everything completely. My brain says, “No no, dude. Keep some of it.”

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll talk to my business partner and additional friends. I’ll explore possibilities. I’ll try to spend some time acting as if I had really given everything up already to see what it feels like.

Actually, I’ve been practicing this mindset for the past two days. I already know it feels amazing. The other night, after my epiphany, I had this warm glow for several hours. I felt happy and confident and secure. I was 100% present in the moment, in the now. The bees in my head? They were gone. For a short time, my mind was completely at ease. It felt brilliant. I felt in control of my life. And I liked it.

Then again yesterday afternoon, I had the same experience: present in the moment, confident, in control of my life. No bees. Again, I liked it.

I want more of it. Yes indeed, I certainly do.

Further reading related to this meditation:

And for those who like video, here’s a YouTube version of that “Lazy” essay…

Trees are my enemy

I know it’s commonplace for middle-aged men to complain that growing old isn’t for sissies, but I’m about to grouse about my health. Fair warning.

Now, nothing drastic is wrong with me at the moment. Thank goodness. But in recent years, I’ve experienced a variety of physical woes, large and small. I’ve had pneumonia, which I guess can hit anyone at any age. Because I was overweight for so long, my back experienced low level chronic pain. I struggle to get good sleep. I was flexible when I was young; that is no longer true. Last year, for no apparent reason, I tore a bicep tendon. That sucked in a big way.

But I think my biggest frustration stems from my allergies.

When I was a boy, my parents had me tested for food allergies. The testing revealed that I have problems with wheat and potatoes (but nothing else, fortunately). For a while — one year? two? three? — my mother drove me to get allergy shots every week. As far as I can tell, I no longer have issues with wheat or potatoes.

I do have problems with dairy products, but I’m not hear to day to complain about lactose intolerance. Most folks struggle with that to some degree, right?

No, I’m here to complain about trees.

About fifteen years ago, I began to notice I had severe allergy issues every spring. Right around spring break, I grew miserable. Sore throat. Itchy eyes. Sneezing. Stuffy nose. I was a mess. On sunny days, I was such a mess that I didn’t want to leave the house. I would literally retreat to the bathtub, place a wet washcloth over my face, then lay there for hours (I’m serious!) listening to audiobooks. It was the only way for me to get comfortable.

We Roths aren’t so good at solving problems sometimes. We’ll take care of the immediate issue (by hiding in the bathtub with a washcloth draped across our faces!), but we won’t address the core issue. I have this problem, but it’s not just me. It’s my family.

Well, eventually Kris (my wife at the time) managed to convince me to see an allergist. Just like when I was a kid, they gave me a battery of tests. Grass was fine. Dust was fine. Lots of things were fine. Trees were not fine.

In fact, when the doc came in to look at my scratch test, he was startled the welts on my arm. “Wow,” he said. “Trees are your enemy!” I laughed at the time, but that’s stuck with me all of these years. Trees are my enemy.

Alder, in particular, sets me off. The allergist told me that the long, long welt on my arm from the Alder test was one of the biggest responses he had ever seen.

Anyhow, this all comes up because we’re approaching allergy season, and I can sense it. I just spent ten minutes with a minor sneezing/nose-blowing fit. My allergies don’t usually set in until late February, but temps have been warm this year, and we already have some trees blooming here in the Portland area. Not many, but enough. My enemies have launched their first attack of 2021!

Over the years, I’ve developed a regimen to combat these vile plants.

Usually, I start taking a battery of drugs on or around Valentine’s Day. It’s taken me a long time to figure out what works. I take a 12-hour pseudoephedrine in the morning along with loratadine. At night before bed, I take diphenhydramine. (I take two if I’m especially miserable.)

These drugs don’t eliminate my symptoms, but they make them manageable.

It used to be that I only needed these crutches from March 1st to April 15th. I’ve learned though that if I start on February 14th, my body builds up defenses. If I wait until March 1st, there’s a transition week where things suck. I’m also learning that I oughtn’t stop on April 15th. If I do, then the last week of April also sucks. So, I’m currently on a ten-week schedule with these anti-tree meds: February 14th to April 30th.

But this year? This year, things may be starting even earlier. I’m going to message my doctor this morning to see if she can put in a prescription for Claritin-D. I’ll try to hold out until Valentine’s Day before I begin taking them, but at this point it looks like the trees have launched a sneak attack. It’s time for me to take up arms.

The clarity of purpose and perspective that comes from taking time off

I’m currently on vacation with Kim’s brother and his family. We’re enjoying a much-needed beach retreat.

Before we left for this trip, I felt overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed by U.S. politics. I was overwhelmed by my work at Get Rich Slowly. I was overwhelmed by the things that needed to be done around the house.

Now that we’ve been away for a few days, though, none of the things that had been weighing on my mind before I left take even a bit of mental energy. I made it through all of yesterday without an inkling of concern over all of the chores that I was worried about last week.

This is nothing new.

I’ve noticed that same thing happens whenever I take an extended vacation. Up until the last minute, I’ll be frantic trying to get things done. As we leave the house and head to the airport or drive to our destination, I’ll still be upset at myself for not finishing more of the tasks I had set for myself. During the first night, I’ll still be thinking about my unfinished work.

Then, gradually, my problems fade from my mind. I forget about them. I shift my attention to living in the moment. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I value vacation so much: It’s the only time that I allow myself to be fully present in the moment. Most of the time in daily life, I’m too caught up in fretting over the past and worrying about the future.

From past experience, I know that this shift in attitude sticks with me for a few days (or a few weeks sometimes) after we return home. The vacation grants me perspective. I’m able to view my to-do list with greater clarity. I make better decisions after a trip than I do before a trip. Then, slowly but surely, I revert to my default mindset. I become overwhelmed again.

I wish there were a way to somehow capture this mindset in a bottle. I would love to be able to take a pill or to sip something that grants me this insight, if only for an hour each day. I think it would help me be a happier, more capable human being.

Finding leaks and rot in our crawlspace

Kim and I moved out of our lovely penthouse condo in June 2017 and moved into our quaint country cottage. In many ways, we love the place. But in some ways, this has been the worst financial decision I’ve ever made.

This house has been a money pit. And I have very real fears that things are about to get worse.

Despite reassurances from a structural engineer and a foundation contractor that our house, while a little wonky, isn’t about to fall down, I’ve been worried since we moved in that the foundation is faulty.

Those worries intensified this summer and autumn as I discovered a variety of cracks in the walls and ceiling.

Last Sunday, feel stress not just from the house but also from the U.S. political environment, I decided that the only sensible thing to do was to crawl under the house and poke around for a while. Stress relief, you know? So, that’s what I did.

There was good news and bad news. The good news was that I didn’t see anything different about the foundation than on previous inspections. (Well, I don’t think I did, anyhow.) The bad news is that I found out that we have some rot directly beneath our bathtub.

Really, though, the best thing about this whole process was alleviating some uncertainty. I’d been stressing about all of this, floundering about what to do. Now, I feel like I have some direction. I have a next step. And I know one problem, at the very least.

Because we’ve already poured so much money into repairing this place (nearly $100,000!), I’m hoping that any potential repairs here don’t get costly. But who knows? In any event, I’m certain to have more stuff to write about in the near future!

George Washington’s farewell address (abridged and in modern English)

Yesterday, I shared George Washington’s farewell address from 19 September 1796. In it, he warned Americans against devolving into political parties and he encouraged them to remain neutral when it comes to international politics.

I really, really like his speech, and I wish more people would read it. But it’s long (6000 words) and while the language isn’t too convoluted, it does get boggy in spots. So, I spent some time attempting to “translate” Washington’s farewell address into modern English. At the same time, I trimmed it from 6000 words to 1000 words.

I’ll grant that I could very well have made some errors here, both in interpretation and in translation. If you spot a mistake, please tell me so that I can fix it.

With that out of the way, here’s my attempt to convert George Washington’s farewell address from 1796 to 2021… Continue reading

Switching servers

I’ve had a couple of folks write to tell me that they’re trying to comment here at Folded Space but can’t. When they try, they get an internal server error. And you know what? When I try to post new pieces, I sometimes get that same internal server error. I don’t know precisely what is causing it, but I do know this. For too long now, I’ve stuck with my same host despite mounting frustrations. (The host is actually one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to re-launch this site.)

So, over the next few days — today or tomorrow, I hope — I’m going to try to move to a new host. That means things may down for a while. But when it’s over, everyone should be able to use the site properly once more. I know this probably only affects like five people right now, but I still thought I’d let you know.

George Washington’s farewell address (from 1796)

Last July, my friend Miranda and I had a long conversation about politics in the U.S. I expressed (once again) my frustration with this country’s political parties. I think our current two-party system creates many of our woes and I hate it. It’s the reason that — until 2020 — I’ve always voted for the strongest third-party candidate for President.

Miranda told me something I’d never known: Our first President, George Washington, was also wary of political parties. “He made a point of warning against parties in his farewell adress,” Miranda told me. “Have you read it?”

I had not. But I have now! And today, I’m going to reprint George Washington’s farewell address in full for you folks to read. If this seems like all too much (it’s 6000 words, so I get that it’s overwhelming), I’ll publish an abridged version tomorrow with translations into “modern English”. The language in Washington’s farewell isn’t too intimidating, but it does indeed get boggy here and there.

Anyhow, here’s George Washington writing in 1796, warning the new country about the dangers of partisanship and advocating neutrality with other nations. Continue reading

Life without alcohol is life on easy mode

While walking the dog this morning, I had a realization. A re-realization, really. I was struck by the difference in my mindset today vs. when I’m consuming too much alcohol.

The past couple of days have contained a lot of stressors for me.

  • Although Tuesday’s riots at the U.S. Capitol weren’t unexpected, they still way heavily on my mind. I know I shouldn’t let national news affect me, but I do. When COVID hit last March, it depressed me. The events around November’s election depressed me. Tuesday’s riots were a similar Big Ugly Event.
  • Yesterday, I did a dumb thing. In the comments at Get Rich Slowly, I called out my colleague Financial Samurai based on some unsubstantiated info. This was a mistake. I own it and I regret it. We’ve resolved things amicably but I feel terrible about what I did. This sort of stuff usually sends me into a tailspin too.
  • Meanwhile, I have ongoing trepidation about the structural stability of our house and my ability to live on my savings for the next eight years. Kim tells me that I’m “catastrophizing”, and I know that this is at least partially true. (Possibly 100% true.) But still, I cannot stop myself.

A year ago, this combination of factors would have me in a pit of despair. My depression and anxiety would be at extreme levels. I would be avoiding work. I would be soaking in the hot tub all day while playing video games. I would feel miserable and worthless.

Today, there are still elements of this going on — there’s a corner of my brain where these thoughts exist — but mostly I find I’m able to tell myself, “Get over it, J.D. You cannot control national events. You made a mistake with Sam and apologized; what’s done is done. And Kim is right that you are catastrophizing. If you don’t like this house, you need to fix it or move.”

I feel as if my current response to things is much healthier than my response might have been a year ago. Or three years ago.

Why is that? I keep coming back to alcohol.

My Relationship with Alcohol

For most of my life, I did not drink. I grew up Mormon. Mormons don’t drink. Although I was no longer LDS when I left for college, I still didn’t drink a lot while there. Yes, I drank some. But not much. And when I drank, it was weird. (I would down two or three shots of vodka in rapid succession while plugging my nose and chasing everything with a salty snack. I hated it.)

When Kris and I got together, she didn’t like me drinking, so I didn’t. We were pretty much alcohol-free until 1998.

In 1998, I started having panic attacks. (I thought they were heart attacks.) For real, my doctor suggested that I start drinking red wine to combat this. So, I did. For fifteen years, I drank wine and whisky now and then, but it wasn’t a regular habit. (And I rarely got more than mildly buzzed.)

In 2012, I learned to like beer. And when Kim and I started dating around this time, many of the things we did were centered on alcohol: wine tasting, wine bars, speak-easies, late-night dive bars, etc.

Then, starting on our RV trip in 2015, my alcohol consumption began to creep higher. With nothing to do in the motorhome in the evening, we’d often enjoy two or three beers (each) or share a bottle of wine.

Eventually I reached the point where I was drinking nearly every day. Even after we returned to Portland, I maintained the habit.

When I started seeing a therapist in 2019, she had me keep a log of my alcohol consumption. I was consuming between 21 and 28 portions of alcohol every week — and that’s just what I was recording. (I tried to be honest, but I know I wasn’t 100% faithful.) Plus, I would count a 22-ounce bottle of 7.0% beer as one portion. Haha.

In the U.S., fourteen grams of pure alcohol is considered a “standard” drink. (Why grams instead of milliliters? Because it’s the U.S., I guess. It’s bizarre.) This is roughly twelve ounces of 5% beer. Or five ounces of 12% wine. But a 22-ounce bottle of 7% beer? Well, that contains 45 ml (~36 g) of alcohol. That’s nearly three standard drinks. (It’d be considered more than four “units” of alcohol in the U.K.)

Translation: I was drinking a lot, and it was fucking with my head. I have no doubt now that much of my depression and anxiety stemmed from alcohol consumption.

Test-Driving Sobriety

In 2020, I managed to go from July 5th to October 28th without consuming alcohol. By the end of that stretch, I was operating at peak performance for the first time in years. I felt great! I felt like myself again.

Yes, I did replace alcohol with pot for some of that time (marijuana is legal here in Oregon), but there were long stretches where I was completely sober. I used non-alcoholic beer to cope with some of the cravings.

From Halloween to Thanksgiving, though, I returned to my old ways. I wasn’t consuming 28 drinks per week, but I was drinking at least three days a week and probably enjoying 12+ servings of alcohol each week. In early December, I felt the depression creeping back, so I put the brakes on.

For the past month or so, I’ve given up alcohol again — but not completely. I may indeed go dry for another extended period of time, but right now I’m simply choosing not to drink whenever possible, and when I do drink, I limit myself to one or two.

During the first seven days of 2021, I consumed four drinks. I drank on three days. Yesterday at Costco, I bought a 22-ounce beer that’s sitting in the fridge for this weekend. I may or may not drink it. We’ll see.

So, let’s go back to my current state of mind.

Life Without Alcohol Is Life on Easy Mode

As I said, if I were currently drinking a lot, the events of the past couple of days would have shoved me into a dark place. I would be miserable and unproductive.

But because I’m not drinking (or not drinking much, anyhow), I’m better able to deal with things. I let myself get riled up by the Capitol riots, but I’m ready to let those feelings go now. I screwed up with Sam, but I dealt with the problem immediately in an adult way instead of allowing it to fester. And while yes, I continue to fret about the house and my financial situation, I recognize that if these things bug me, I need to take steps to fix them.

When I’m drinking, everything is harder. That’s because alcohol exacerbates my natural tendency toward depression. And when you’re depressed, it’s like you’re constantly trying to live normal life while submerged neck-deep in water. It’s a slog.

Life without alcohol is life on “easy” mode. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but it’s certainly life on “easier” mode. (Maybe a better way to look at it is life with alcohol is life on “hard” mode and life without is life on “normal” mode. Maybe I’d find “easy” mode if I gave up alcohol and took my ADHD meds. I don’t know.)

American Dharma

Last weekend, I watched American Dharma, the 2019 Errol Morris documentary that profiles political strategist Steve Bannon. Here’s the trailer.

This preview does an admirable job of encapsulating the film in just 2-1/2 minutes. Like all Morris documentaries, American Dharma is fascinating.

Because I deliberately try to steer clear of the news, I didn’t know much about Bannon. Hardly anything. I knew he was somehow related to the Trump presidency, but that’s it.

And because my political views are decidedly non-traditional — I’m a non-partisan small-i independent and/or small-l libertarian — I’m usually willing to give almost anyone the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t like Trump. I think he’s easily one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. But that’s not because he’s Republican. Some Republican presidents are good. Some are bad. Some Democrat presidents are good, some are bad. To my eyes, Trump is an awful president who just happens to be Republican.

All the same, I’m not one of those who believes “all Trump voters are racist”. I know that sometimes you have to make compromises. Sometimes you have to vote for somebody you don’t like simply because you like them a little better than the other option.

So, I went into American Dharma not knowing what to expect. I found it interesting.

Morris profiles Bannon’s rise to power, tracking his move from aspiring film-maker to chairman of Breitbart News to mastermind behind Trump’s 2016 campaign. Morris doesn’t badger Bannon. In fact, they have a reasonably open exchange, even though they clearly disagree with one another.

I actually found Bannon a somewhat sympathetic character. I don’t agree with his views, but I now understand more about the reasoning behind them. And I think he makes a compelling case when he argues that there’s a vast swath of people in the United States who feel abandoned, who feel as if the government does not represent them — and hasn’t for a long time.

To Bannon, Trump’s election was inevitable. To these disenfranchised voters — the farmers and mechanics and cafeteria servers of Middle America — Trump represents a voice who will speak for them. They don’t care that he often doesn’t make sense. And they don’t care that his aims are often what would once have been called un-American. They have somebody on their side.

By the end of the film, Bannon has made the case that there will literally be a violent revolution in this country if the political elite continues to ignore the vast middle. And I can’t remember whether this is explicit in Bannon’s statements or merely implied, but when you have a violent revolution, the previous rule of law no longer applies. The revolution is meant to overturn the established order, after all.

Bannon seems to believe that the U.S. Constitution is not sacred in any way. If it needs to be discarded in order for a “better” nation to emerge, then so be it. (Better as defined by Bannon and those who believe like him, obviously.)

It’s become very clear over the past few months that Donald Trump believes something similar. Trump doesn’t give a flying fuck about the Constitution. He’s doing what he was elected to do: serve his those who voted him into office. The Constitution is a nuisance to him rather than a guiding document.

And today, as his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, it was very clear that they don’t give a flying fuck about the U.S. Constitution or the rule of law either.

I have no idea what happens next. I suspect that calm will be restored, Biden will assume the presidency, and Trump will fade to oblivion, forever remembered as one of the country’s worst presidents. But I could very well be wrong.

Whatever happens, I wish people on all sides would take the time to listen to each other. The Right speaks and the Left doesn’t listen. The Left talks and the Right has deaf ears. They talk past each other. They use inflammatory jargon that serves to foster disagreement rather find consensus. It’s baffling.

Find somebody who disagrees with you. Sit down with them. Have a rational conversation. You’ll learn they’re not an idiot. They’re not evil. They’re simply another human being trying to find their way through life. And they happen to disagree with you a bit on how that might best be accomplished.

How much time do people spend in a hot tub?

Nearly three years ago now, Kim and I had a hot tub installed at our “country cottage”. I know some people consider hot tubs (and pools) to be foolish expenses, but that’s largely (I think) because most people don’t use them often enough to justify their cost. They get installed, then they become money pits.

I was worried about this too.

For a time after we had the hot tub installed, I tracked how much we were using it. I kept a spreadsheet log and found that we were averaging about three “people hours” per day in the thing before I stopped tracking numbers.

But I knew we’d get use out of the spa based on our existing habits.

Kim is a bath person. She likes to soak in the tub and watch her favorite shows. I’m a bath person too — and I always have been. When I was in grade school, I’d sit in the tub and read Hardy Boys books. When I had my own apartment in college, I’d spend hours in the tub reading comic books. And as an adult, this pattern has continued.

When Kris and I moved to our old house in 2004 (the same house where she currently lives), we remodeled the bathroom. As part of that, we put in a big, deep claw-foot tub. The tub saw a lot of use from both of us.

In the condo Kim and I had before we moved here, there was a big soaking tub in the master bathroom. We used it a lot. But the tub in this house? It’s just average. We used it (and still do) but it wasn’t any fun. At the same time, we have a gorgeous park-like back yard. (The back yard was the main selling feature for this place!) We knew when we purchased the place that we wanted to install a hot tub.

But do we still use the spa now, three years later? Yes. Yes, we do. We use it a lot.

Now that I’m logging how I spend my time, I can see just how much we actually use the spa. So far this year — and I know it’s just four days, but still — I’ve used the hot tub more than two hours per day. (And the bath tub nearly an hour per day.) That’s a lot of soaking!

What do I do while soaking? I read books and comics. I watch TV and movies. I write blog posts very slowly on the iPad. I play games. Or, sometimes, I put everything away and sit still, listening to the birds and the rain and the sounds of the neighborhood.

So, the hot tub has been a worthwhile expense for us. The initial outlay was large (several thousand dollars) and it costs maybe $20 or $30 per month to maintain the thing, but we probably get 1000 hours of use per year out of it. It’ll be a few years before our overall cost of ownership drops below one dollar per hour total, but I think that’ll happen.

The cats have learned to like the hot tub too. On especially cold days, they’ll sit on the closed spa cover, which tells me that the thing isn’t as well insulated as we might like. When the cover is open (and we’re sitting in the hot tub), the little beasts will hang out with us, sitting on the edge. It’s cute.

In fact, Savannah is very proud of herself because she has learned how to monkey up the decorative lattice-work at the edge of the tub. It’s pretty hilarious. Here’s a short video of her acrobatics.