Proclamations 

I walked into the Starbucks and ordered an Americano and a breakfast sandwich. 

I sat down at the small table and arranged my food, my small black Moleskine, a pen, and my iPhone. I was ready to write the day’s blog post before work. 

He was setting up at the table next to me, in the corner. An obese middle-aged man wearing glasses, baggy shorts, a striped polo, and white socks pulled up to his knees, he reminded me of a cross between Steve Urkle and a panda bear. Or maybe think Charlie Brown at age fifty-five after a fifty year love affair with Krispy Kreme. 

On his small table, same size as mine, but spilling off into the chair, he had a large black backpack, a fifteen inch black PC, a couple of brick chargers and long cords, a pair of wired headphones, a few more cords, and a purple mouse. (I’ll give him style points for the color of the mouse, and it was cordless) 

He was bustling and attaching and unwinding and de-tangling and powering up this rat’s nest of 1990s technology. He would drop the end of one cord, then grunt and huff and puff as he laboriously dropped to his knees to retrieve the plug and then reached under the table to plug in the device attached on the other end. He would get back to his feet, bustle some more, sigh heavily and loudly, then move to the next device.

(150 words of the blog post done)

After ten minutes, he went to pick up his coffee at the bar, came back to the station and took another five minutes to fix it just right, slurping loudly. 

As he passed, he said hello, followed by, “So many moving parts to a nice, quiet cup of coffee.” I smiled. He smiled. 

Having for most of his rig at least connected to power, he began to talk into his cell phone, making a recording telling someone that he was at Starbucks and was having trouble getting connected to….something…..somewhere. He then played the recording back, loudly, sans headphones, to check it. The quality, also very 1990s, was scratchy and hard to understand. He did this three times. I’m not sure if he ever sent it to anyone. 

(350 words of the blog post written)

He looked over at me, exasperated, and exclaimed, “I’m very envious of you. You’re already making proclamations, and I’m still forming committees!”

Ten minutes later, he got up again, packed up everything into his backpack except for the PC, the cell phone, the cable between them and the purple mouse. He continued to try to record messages, but other than that, I could not see that one thing had been accomplished so far while drinking his quiet cup of coffee. Not for lack of trying, of course. 

Sometimes, less really is more!

(750 words and done for the morning’s post)

The world is a crazy place right now.

Think, prepare and plan as much as you feel you need to, but then stop preparing.

Start doing.

Have a great week, all. 

Whack a Mole

Kids with autism spectrum illnesses do not like change. They like their environment, their routine, and their daily interactions to remain steady and constant. 

When things change, when schedules vary, when people come in and out of their lives, they don’t do well. 

They get anxious. They yell or scream.  They throw things. They break things. They lash out at family or caregivers. 

The are not more diseased-they just feel more dis-ease. 

We are all feeling this way right now. The latest blow? Nice. Eighty-four dead so far. Over one hundred injured. All at a celebration. Little children watching fireworks with adults celebrating the liberation memorialized by Bastille Day. 

My fiancé summarized it for me the other day. Succinctly. With  grit. In the vernacular. 

“The world is out of whack.”

Indeed. 

We are all becoming more paranoid, more self absorbed, more careful, more afraid of our own shadows. Don’t tell me you haven’t felt it. I have. I know you have. 

My fiancé is in Europe right now. I will, God willing, be in Europe in ten days. Am I afraid for her, for myself? No. Am I concerned, cautious, hesitant about leaving the once-safe cocoon of my homeland? Absolutely. 

They are winning. 

What can we do? I’m almost fifty-nine years old. I’m not going to be toting a rifle and using infrared goggles on a battlefield anytime soon. 

Like those autistic children, we all need certain things right now. 

Consistency. From our daily news to our political candidates to our economy, we haven’t had it lately. 

Predictability. The same. 

Clear expectations. What can we rely on? What do we know to be true and right and repeatable? What is expected of us and what can we expect of others in the world? 

Stable support systems. Church, family, work/jobs, close friends, spouses, children. These are not luxuries in today’s chaotic, stressful world. They are necessities. 

Hope

Pray for France.

Pray for the United States. 

Pray for the world. 

Then get out in it and live your life. 

Don’t let them win. 

All (Patient) Lives Matter

She is tall, thin, and wears torn jeans like a mannequin. The silky top flows around her, masking the thin torso, the exposed ribs. Her hair is long, fine, and the ends are perfect. Her face is smooth, drawn, a bit careworn, but that is why she is here. She carries herself with an aristocratic bearing that is not learned, but genetically endowed over generations. She is rich, entitled, and she expects to be treated well. She is not sleeping. She does not eat. She is struggling. All the money in the world does not offset true twenty-first century angst. She asks for sleeping pills, as her nightly regimen of cannabis and cocktails is no longer working. Batting her natural lashes, and giving a gentle but directed toss of her corn silk smooth hair, she expects to get them. When asked to settle up at the end of the visit, she pays with cash. 

She is lying on the hard floor of the seclusion room, stark naked, legs akimbo, her belly flopped over onto the floor like a sack of flour. She has been given intramuscular injections of an anxiolytic and an antipsychotic, so she is drooling, sedated and uncoordinated. She cannot stand. Her speech, such as the vitriolic outpouring of expletives and sexual references is, is slurred and marked with staccato streams of spittle. She is actively hallucinating, screaming back at the demons who mock her and tell her to kill herself. She has a college education. She is a beautiful woman, engaging, smart and witty when she is not being torn apart by the illness that has run rampant in her family. When she comes to see me in a few weeks, after she has weathered yet another psychotic storm, she will be mortified that I saw her this way. We will talk it through, and we will do our best to make sure it never happens again. 

She sits quietly in the chair in my office, listening to her mother. Detail after detail of how bad she is, how she constantly acts out at home and at school. How she is not like her mother’s four other kids, how she is a disgrace to her family. How her mother is almost ready to give her up because she can no longer tolerate or handle her. A single tear rolls down her smooth brown face. She asks if she can play with the the toys. She looks at mother. She looks at me. I nod. She gently holds a small doll, stroking her hair. She has been abused since the age of two. She is now six. She never smiles. 

She is short, wiry, with skin tanned like leather. Her clothes are dirty, torn, and mismatched. Her hair is matted, a black-brown tangle of exposure to the sun and nights spent huddled in a cardboard box. Her face shows the telltale pockmarks and acne that help confirm the diagnosis that was already surfacing in my mind five minutes after our visit started. She bravely tries to connect with me via humor, a bad street joke, and when she smiles her teeth are rotting in her head. She tics and jerks and can’t sit still. She looks at the door, then back at me. She has places to go, dealers to meet. How much longer will this take? Would Valium help, maybe? Xanax, then? She knows that she will not get what she came for, and it makes her angry. I am a safe target. She explodes. 

He is older than me by eleven years. He is handsome man, robust and tanned with a perfectly coiffed head of thick, smooth, snow white hair. His face is clean shaven. He wears a lime green Polo, khakis by the same designer, and Italian leather loafers with no socks. He has a simple gold wedding band on his left hand, a college ring on his right. He fidgets, clasping and unclasping his fingers. He sits slumped in the plastic emergency room chair, and I know that this is not his usual posture without even asking. He struggles to lift his head. Eye contact seems painful to him. His voice is a raspy, tired whisper. They were married for forty-nine years. She was sick for the last five. Yes, he has several guns at home. Yes, he has thought about it. Yes, he drinks, every night, four bourbons instead of two. Could he just go home, please? Could he just go home? He is so, so tired. Could he just go home? 
All lives matter. 

Big Hero 324,000,000

Hero:

1 a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability 

b : an illustrious warrior 

c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities 

d : one who shows great courage

Merriam Webster
Five police officers were killed and seven others wounded in the recent ambush in Dallas. It was the deadliest single incident for U.S. law enforcement since September 11, 2001. Two civilians were also hurt, the Dallas mayor’s office said. CNN

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children aged between 6 and 7 years old, as well as six adult staff members. Wikipedia

On January 8, 2011, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others were shot during a constituent meeting held in a supermarket parking lot in Casas Adobes, Arizona, in the Tucson metropolitan area. Wikipedia

On July 20, 2012, a mass shooting occurred inside of a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises. A gunman, dressed in tactical clothing, set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms. Twelve people were killed and seventy others were injured, which was the largest number of casualties in a shooting in the United States[3] until the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. Wikipedia

A gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing at least 49 people and injuring dozens before being shot dead by police. BBC News

Philando Castile, 32, was shot by a police officer in suburban St. Paul, Minn., in the second fatal encounter between police and an African-American man to gain national attention…    NPR

On July 5, officers responded to a convenience store about 12:35 a.m. after an anonymous caller indicated a man selling music CDs and wearing a red shirt threatened him with a gun, Baton Rouge police have said. Two officers responded and had some type of altercation with the man (Alton Sterling) in the parking lot, and one officer fatally shot the suspect. CBS News 

Enough, or should I go on?

Should I go back to Columbine?

Should I bring up the Watts riots

Should I reference the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy

These incidents, and others I haven’t listed, strung out over more than half a century, shock us, mortify us, make us angry, call us to arms, and divide us as a nation. 

One of the common threads in all of these horrific acts of violence and death?

The people who died were not heroes. 

No, that was not a typo. Read it again, and before you spout vitriol and click to another page or another blog, think with me for a minute. 

Those who died in these terrible events were NOT heroes. 

Re-read Mr. Webster’s definition of a hero above once again.

Were those little children at Sandy Hook Elementary School legendary figures with great strength? No, they were innocent little school children, six and seven years old. 

Was Alton Sterling acting as an illustrious warrior? No, he was selling CDs outside a convenience store.  

Was Philando Castille showing great courage when he was stopped and questioned by police officers supposedly for a broken taillight? No, he was simply complying with a request and reaching for his wallet. 

Listen to me closely now. None of these people, gay or straight, tiny or big, children or adults, were heroes. 

They were simply normal kids, normal adults, normal people, normal Americans going about their normal days or nights, going to school, trying to make a living, driving down the highway, watching movies, listening to their congresswoman give a speech, or dancing with friends. 

The problem? They were all caught up in an abnormal situation, a firestorm, a maelstrom not of their own making. You may call them victims if you like (I don’t like that term, but that’s another conversation for another day), collateral damage, body counts or tallies. You may call them martyrs. You may call them symbols or hold them up on pedestals and placards and posters even in death, making them the face of your own agenda. 

You may even, as our president has done, order that the flag of the United States of America be lowered and flown at half staff for them, each and every time one of these events occurs and more lives are lost. Doesn’t it seem that the flag is riding lower in the sky on so many days lately? Doesn’t it seem that the country is mourning something, burying someone, or shouting at someone almost every day now? Doesn’t it seem that we are diminished, taken down a notch, made more impotent every time someone with a gun and a grudge goes on a rampage? (To be clear, I am not anti-gun, but please, read on)

An aside, from the site USFlag.org:

“The pertinent section of the Flag Code says, “by order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possesion, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law.

In the event of the death a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, the Governor of that state, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff.” The code also includes other related details including the specific length of time during which the flag should be displayed at half-staff, in the event of the death of a “principal figure”(e.g., 30 days for the death of a sitting or former President, 10 days for the death of a sitting Vice-President,etc.).”
Also, 

“Although the code is actually pretty clear, confusion continues to occur. For example, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno recently ordered the American Flag flown at half-staff on all U.S. Department of Justice buildings, in honor of several DEA agents who had died. While NFF understands this gesture, the Flag Code does not give Attorney General Reno the authority to issue that order. Closer to NFF’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home, Mayor Tom Murphy ordered all flags flown at half-staff to honor the victims of a plane crash. Here again, a well-intentioned gesture, but one for which no authority exists. NFF points out these “good-faith misunderstandings” not to criticize or embarrass anyone, but rather to head off a growing trivialization of this memorial salute, and to preserve the dignity and significance of flying the U.S. flag at half-staff. To any readers who may think that NFF is insensitive for raising these breaches of etiquette, please be assured that our motives are pure. We grieve these human loses deeply; however, we believe proper respect for our flag must be maintained – no matter the circumstances.”

My point here?

We are, almost by default, almost to a fault, making every one of these heinous and awful incidents an opportunity to light a bonfire of sacrifice and offer up these Americans as mythological heroes, worthy of federal protocols and procedures. It not only diminishes the true trauma and grief of a loss of life a too soon and too brutally, but it demeans and cheapens our national protocols, our national ability to mourn and our national ability to bounce back from attack and move forward. 

To me, the very fact that normal, everyday citizens of this great land are increasingly impacted by, influenced by, and even killed as a result of this domestic and foreign upheaval we’re caught up in is MORE important because they have NOT set out to be heroes in the fight. 

Nothing stirs the patriotism in my breast more than watching the folding of an American flag at the funeral of a fallen hero or our armed services. Nothing makes me more proud than knowing that this person did not even know me, but CHOSE to put him or herself in harm’s way for ME. That his or her death was in service to MY country. 

Nothing makes me more angry and sad than hearing of the death of a six year old child who did nothing more to deserve being brutally shot and killed than coloring quietly in a coloring book. 

I am not a hero. 

You are most likely not a hero. 

These tragedies could happen to ANY of us at any time. 

The ones who died in the incidents listed above, along with the ones in Charleston and other places across this great land, are Everyman.

They are Americans.

They are the US.

They are us

I am not a hero. 

But make no mistake, dear readers, we are war in this country. We are at war with foreign powers and factions that would do us harm. We are at war with poverty and ignorance right here at home. We are at war with those who do not look or act or talk like us. We are at war with those whose skin is not the same color as ours. 

We are at war, inside and outside of our borders. If we do not meet it head on, if we ignore it and explain it away and cry and gnash our teeth and tear our clothes and scream in the streets after another innocent is murdered, it will surely rip us asunder. 

We are 324,000,000 citizens strong. We are resilient. We’ve been through this before and we survived. We can survive again. 

I started out trying to convince you that ordinary Americans caught up in extraordinary circumstances are not heroes. 

Well, you know my style by now, don’t you?

“And then a hero comes along

With the strength to carry on

And you cast your fears aside

And you know you can survive

So when you feel like hope is gone

Look inside you and be strong

And you’ll finally see the truth

That a hero lies in you.”
Hero, Mariah Carey

Fill ‘Er Up

I like the idea of having no white space

My life is full of people, places and things, as I’m sure yours is. 

Patients to see, staff meetings to attend, and doctor appointments to get to. Workouts at the gym. Hiking trips. Time to visit my grandchildren. Time with my fiancé. Books to read or listen to. Blogposts to write. Music to listen to and movies or television shows to watch. Time to relax and reflect. Time to plan. Time to grieve. Time to celebrate. 

With all that and more to do, with all that life throws at us and demands of us, you would think that our calendars would always be full, physically depicting the constant state of productivity that we live in. Humming along, we are. Downtime, we need not. There is no try, only do. 

Now, I’ll speak for myself here, but I wager that you’ll have experienced this too. Even with a lot these things that place demands on my time and attention, I still have big gaps of time that are not spoken for. They are big gaps of white space on my calendar. One could argue that these white spaces, that end up there by default the vast majority of the time, are our built in downtime. Time to rejuvenate. Time to think. Time to rest. They should be left alone and enjoyed whenever they happen to pop up. Almost like a little Christmas present of time we give ourselves in June. An unanticipated little breather. 

I disagree.

We need to be more intentional with out time management. 

There are a lot of cliches in this area, but as with all cliches, some of them are true. 

If we fail to plan, we plan to fail. 

If everything is important, nothing is important. 

It all starts with assessment and regular review, of course. If you have not yet read David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, read it. It’s classic, it’s good, and it’s easy to understand. You don’t have to follow his GTD system to the letter (I don’t and I never have), but there is a wealth of information in his book about how to manage your time, get real work done, and be more productive in all areas of your life. 

I’m leaping ahead many chapters in his book, but you will find that after the organizational dust settles, regularly looking at your calendar and taking the time to plan will force you to prioritize, think about how you really want to spend your time, and ensure that you will have a productive day. 

After all (here comes another true saying) if you don’t know where you’re going, any old road will take you there. 

I like to do this review in two ways. I look at my calendar every morning, getting a general idea about the landscape of that day. I tweak and move and add and think until the day is as completely scheduled as I can make it, within reason. You don’t have to be crazy compulsive about this, but you want to be realistic too. I will have about seventeen hours of awake time today. How exactly will I use those hours? 

I also am a big fan of the weekly review. For me, this usually happens sometime on Sunday. I look at the upcoming week, taking in the scheduling bones of the next seven days, and putting the meat of details on them so that the whole week looks like a cohesive whole. 

I am a huge calendar and to do list guy. There are some guiding principles that I’ve gleaned and adopted after years of trial and error, reading, and coaching by mentors and bosses. One is that a calendar is a hard landscape. By that I mean that I only want things on my calendar that must happen on a particular day, preferably at a certain time. Appointments do not go on my to do list; to do items do not live on my calendar. This is a hard and fast rule. If I catch myself breaking it, I chastise myself and send myself to my room. 

There are always dead spots, white space, on my calendar. I make every effort to see how I can best use them. If I’m getting my car serviced, I read a book, write a blog post, or eat breakfast while I wait. If there is a two hour period of free time before bed in the evening, I might watch an episode of House of Cards or read a chapter about the use of psychotropic drugs in pregnancy. 

You might think this compulsive time-filling, but I ask you, what happens if you are not intentional about the use of your time? It gets filled with time wasters. That time you spend walking around the house thinking about what you should be doing the two hours before bed, that time spent in front of the refrigerator deciding on whether you really want a beer or not, or that time flipping through magazines without seeing anything on the page. Before you know it, the problem is solved for you. The time is gone, you head off to bed and the day is done. Where did that two hours go?

Those blocks of time can also get filled with busy work. My calendar is very pretty when it is chock full of little red, yellow, green and blue blocks of scheduled time. However, it’s very easy to be lulled into a sense of security by spending hours of each day doing mindless busy work, with nothing to show for it. 

“But I was so busy today. I didn’t take lunch, and I barely had time to go to the bathroom!”

Uh huh.

I’ve written before about eating your frog first, not putting off that most hideous, time consuming, or daunting task until last, meaning that you will never get it done. This still applies. If you need to schedule a meeting to address a difficult issue with an employee, put it on your calendar (hard landscape, it must get done that day at that time) and get it behind you. Deal with it. If getting to the gym to exercise is the hardest part of your day but you really want to establish an exercise routine, a habit, put it on your calendar and do it. Let your calendar drive you. Makes it much easier in the long run when you’ve already thought about each week, each day, and you’ve scheduled it the way you want it to look. When each day arrives, you don’t have to think about it any more. Like Nike says, you just do it! 

I must say again, don’t just make your calendar pretty with a patchwork quilt of bright colors. Fill it up with meaningful tasks. It’s a hollow victory when you get to the end of a very “busy” day, only to realize you have accomplished nothing. 

What else does this approach do for you? 

It makes you prioritize. 

What is really important today? What must happen today, to the exclusion of all else? 

If you prioritize, you will accomplish your most meaningful tasks and meet your most important goals for the day and the week. 

Lastly, and sometimes for me the most important of all, if you schedule tasks and prioritize and fill up your calendar and to do list with meaningful, substantial activities, you won’t have to worry about what you’ve forgotten or what you’re missing. 

You can feel very happy and content at all times about what you are not doing right now. You know that when the time comes to address that task, you have captured it and it will present itself to you with just the right amount of time allotted to complete it. 

Sometimes that is the most reassuring feeling of all. 

Now, go fill up that white space!

I Can’t Feel My Feet

There is a lot of talk, and some considerable action, around the ideas of artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR). 

AI has to do with a machine learning how to think like a human, getting smarter,learning to problem solve, and learning how to respond to situations. Think about the supercomputers that can beat chess champions, or the masters of the game Go. We used to think that anything that was cutting edge and had anything peripherally to do with computers was mysterious, wonderful, artificial, and at least a step or two above our pay grade. Not so anymore, as even things like optical character recognition (OCR) can be performed with simple software that I keep in my pocket on my iPhone. 

The central tenet of AI is of course that human thought, reasoning and decision making can be so precisely known and mapped that a computer can simulate us perfectly, even to the degree that we can’t tell if we are interacting with a very intelligent machine or another of our own kind. (See Ex Machina, an entertaining but disturbing film, and Turing Test

I have just started using an Amazon Echo, interacting with me in real time as Alexa. (Thanks, Greer) Embodied as a small, black cylinder sitting on a side table in my living room, Alexa is always on, always listening for her name. I can wake her and ask her for the current weather, how long my commute will be this morning given any traffic delays, or what is on my schedule in two weeks on this date. I can ask her to play some smooth jazz from Spotify, as she is doing now as I write this. I can ask her to read my audiobook to me. I have over three hundred audiobooks in my collection, but she knows which one I’ve most recently been listening to and exactly where in the book I was last, whether I was listening on iPhone or iPad. She knows where I live, which restaurants I’d probably like to have dinner at tonight, and where the best local coffee shops are. She can order things for me, research topics that I have a question about, or discuss quantum physics. 

Did I mention that she does this without my ever being physically near her at all? I can do all the things I mentioned above, or have Alexa do them, without ever touching her. I can call her name anywhere in my home, and because of a directional microphone system, she can hear me even if the music is playing loudly. She has a pretty good USB enabled speaker system that can even play things from my iPhone or iPad if I like. 

Is Alexa smart? Is she intelligent? Yes, and no. She is already a whiz-bang assistant, but I had to tell her what I wanted, what I was interested in,where I live, etc for her to carry out her functions. Do I care that she is always listening, prepared to respond at the mention of her name? Do I think that Jeff Bezos has a direct line to my living room and my life. Of course not. Is she my  favorite tech tool? No, that spot has been occupied by my iPhone for the last decade and is not likely to change any time soon. If Echo and Alexa keep getting better, might she be in the top two? Very likely. 

Listen to this episode of the Maccast for more in formation about AI, Alexa and where things are headed with our eventual robot overlords. It will either leave you tremendously excited or scared to death. I’ll leave you to guess which way I roll. 

How about augmented reality or AR?

The premise here is that we each live in and move through a real world. (That could be another blogpost in itself couldn’t it?) We see what is in our direct vision or hear what is aurally available to us, and the like. AR takes that world and layers other stuff on top of it, like information about what you are seeing, your exact GPS coordinates, or what is coming your way next, so that you can better process what is going on around you. AR supposedly makes your reality better, but you can see how it might detract as well. 

Do you remember seeing some of those movies that have the characters walking down a busy city street, and how information, sales, ads and other things popped up in their field of vision, as if floating out in front of them? This is AR. Its purpose is not to change your reality in a strict sense, but to make it more useful to you. 

Now, some people are extremely hesitant about this technology, even feeling quite paranoid that giving up information about themselves that is then filtered and sorted and processed by a machine and fed back to them in an albeit useful way is too intrusive. They feel that their lives are private, that no one needs to know their comings and goings and buying patterns and tastes. I disagree. As long as I decide how to integrate this system into my own life, as long as I have some modicum of control over how it actually plays out in my day to day life, I say bring it on! 

When I am traveling, I can now take the time to get out my iPhone, open the Starbucks app, search for stores in the area, and even order ahead so that I can stop, run in and pick up my completed order, and be on my way. That is way cool. How much cooler will it be one day when a combination of AI/AR can tell me and show me via a heads up display in my car that the next Starbucks is the last one for fifty miles and that I should probably stop to augment my caffeine levels? Not only that, but it will offer to order ahead for me, my usual of course, leaving a little room for cream in the venti Americano. (Not because I like cream in my coffee, but because the baristas always fill the cup so full that it tends to slosh around in the car) I have no problem at all with technology working with me to make my life easier, more fluid and more fun. 

Still paranoid about all this? You’ve been watching too many Terminator movies. 

Lastly, what about virtual reality or VR

VR is different from both AI and AR in that its mission is to take you and plop you smack dab in the middle of another world. In the past, this might have involved your sitting in front of a large box and a literally sticking your head into it to physically and mentally immerse yourself in this new world. Nowadays, with the advent of Occulus Rift and HTC Vive, one may simply put on a giant honking bulky headset (yes, boys and girls, this is progress) and be on Mars on in the cockpit of a jet or in an otherworldly landscape. VR is like Calgon. It takes you away. (I don’t recommend wearing a headset in the bathtub.)

I have listened this week to a few podcasters describe their recent trip to Facebook headquarters and their experiences with expensive, high-end VR rigs. It’s like listening to teenagers describe their first acid trip. Really. How cool it was, and how, like, man, “I couldn’t feel my legs!” The reason for this? VR reprograms and remaps your brain, if just for a little while. Its visual feast and upside down gravities and haptic feedback and other interface components trick your brain into thinking that the world you are experiencing with the headset, whatever it might be, is now the new, real world for you. This is sometimes so unsettling that users get upset  and nauseated and throw up. It takes them several minutes to regain the use of arms and hands when they leave the simulation. Are we having fun yet? 

Now, I’m all over the AI and AR stuff. The VR side of this?  Not so much. Granted, I’ve never been a hardcore gamer (I still  haven’t finished the first installment of Monument Valley on my iPhone, and a its a fabulous game). As I mentioned, it can make you queasy and physically sick. It’s disorienting and frightening at times. Sounds too much like work to me. It’s also tremendously expensive.  I got my Echo for much less than a hundred bucks, but a top notch VR rig including a powerful enough computer to drive it, the headset, and everything else could easily run you between $5000-$10,000. Uh, no thank you. 

The bottom line? Bob Dylan was right. 

This stuff is already here and working pretty darn well even in beta form. It can be fun, challenging, helpful, frustrating, expensive, exasperating, and exhilarating. 

It’s only going to get better, more available to the masses, and more affordable. One day,  having computers assist us through our days will be as easy and as acceptable as programming a machine to make our morning coffee is now. 

Read about it. Try it out with something like an Echo. It’s fun. It won’t hurt you or ruin your life. Really. 

Thanks for reading. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my iPad just informed me that  I missed a call from John Connor. 

Something about his mother Sarah. 

This blog post is terminated. 

But, I’ll be back. 

Born to Worry

“So you’re doing better then, all together?”

He paused, sitting there, round-bellied, balding, a half-grin on his ruddy face. 

“Yeah, Doc, I guess so. But,  you know, I don’t sleep, I’m not eating as much as I used to. I have this pain in my little finger here, and my shoulder is always hurting me. I feel dizzy a lot. I get tired. My stomach stays upset.”

“So, you have a lot of little physical things that worry you every day.”

“Doc, to be honest with you, I think I was born to worry.”

Anxiety. 

A mostly normal, adaptive response to variation in our daily routine. It is a a feeling that is always at minimum a little bit uncomfortable, at maximum debilitating and relentless. 

Think about one of those times that you were facing something new. A date with a person you didn’t know. A difficult academic exam. A visit with the doctor when you were sick. You most likely felt a a little mild fear and trepidation, a heightened sense of awareness of your surroundings, and a weird “I think I may have to get up and run away” kind of vibe. You knew it was strange and not all together pleasant, but it was not going to keep you from going on the date (which you enjoyed), taking the test (which you passed because you had studied) , or having the checkup with the doctor (which was entirely normal). 

Mild anxiety, adaptive and normal, helps us to focus on the task at hand. It helps us prepare for a challenge. it sharpens our senses, increases our cognitive processing power, makes us more alert, and gets us ready to make decisions. You’ve no doubt heard of the fight or flight response. Anxiety helps get us ready for making the decision necessary to take a stand, or it gets us ready to run like hell in the other direction. 

Now, in medicine in general, and in psychiatry in particular, I see a lot of people who are anxious. I would argue that on many days, anxiety complaints outnumber depression symptoms by a wide margin. I know that medical problems can mimic anxiety disorders, and that I need to be vigilant for them. Thyroid problems (over or underactivity) may have a prominent anxiety component. Someone in the hospital who is extremely anxious and short of breath with chest pain may be having a pulmonary embolism or heart attack. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may lead to decreased oxygenation and physical difficulty with breathing, leading to anxiety. Substance abuse, especially abuse of things like cocaine, PCP, meth, and stimulants, will lead to extremes anxiety in some people. The hallmark of mental illnesses such as generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and general or specific phobias is subjective anxiety. 

Debilitating, extreme, paralyzingly anxiety that might come from those problems listed above or many others is not normal. It is very uncomfortable, it makes you afraid, it keeps you from getting out of bed or leaving your house or talking to people. It causes you to abandon a full shopping cart of groceries in Wal Mart and to run, not walk, back to the safety of your car in the parking lot. Of the handful of folks I’ve seen in the past who were successful at killing themselves, two thirds of them did it primarily because they were so extremely anxious that they could not stand it any more. They saw suicide as their only viable option for peace and as a way out of insurmountable suffering. 

Mild anxiety is normal, and even helpful. 

Unfortunately, we have been conditioned in our modern world to think that any little ache or pain, any twinge, any mild, fleeting anxious moment, any night or two of disturbed sleep means that we are sick, that we are ill, that we have a mental illness or cancer or worse. 

Not true. 

I spend a lot of time nowadays trying to convince people that what they need is not another prescription for Xanax, but the courage to stand up for themselves, vote their convictions as it were, and make good decisions without fear or guilt. I try to convince them that a night or two of tossing and turning and not sleeping well is not a sickness or sign of impending doom. An episode or two of decreased concentration or outright forgetfulness does not mean you automatically have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 

It would be very nice if we all started to view mild anxiety as a tool in our toolkit of life. It is a marker, a signpost that lets us know how we’re doing, how far along a road we have come and what obstacles might be in our way up ahead. It primes us to act, to accomplish and to succeed. 

We were not born to worry.

We were born to live.

Anxiety is one of those normal things that we must sometimes deal with along the way.