Welcome. I am the author of Universal Time, a sci-fi urban comedy;
Beaufort 1849, an historical novel set in antebellum South Carolina;
and Pearl City Control Theory, a comedy of manners set in present-day San Francisco.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Gasoline--Such a Big Bang for the Buck

Are you a fan of beheadings? Are you fond of autocratic regimes? Do you want to help those kooky, lovable Koch brothers purchase another member of Congress? Do you yearn to support Saudi Arabia, Iran, Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin, but it seems so difficult to give them direct, individual donations? Lucky for you, there’s an easy answer! Just buy gasoline!

Yes, it’s that simple. Oil is a worldwide commodity. Any gallon you purchase props up the price as a whole, enriching international oil companies and oil-exporting nations, with a handsome portion trickling to the politicians they’ve bought. (Oops, “support.”) Your money is guaranteed to enable stonings of adulterous women and beheadings of political prisoners, not to mention facilitate juicy environmental damage from oil spills and toxic fracking waste. In fact, you can rest easy knowing that every dollar you spend on gasoline works hard to attack human rights, cripple the environment and enable political corruption. A three-fer!

But there’s more! On a local level, the gasoline you burn has the happy side benefit of inflicting asthma and cancer on the poorest in your region since it’s the poorest who live along freeways and traffic sewers where tailpipe emissions are highest and the rent is cheapest.

Make them richer and more powerful! It's easy!
As a bonus, it’s easy to double the impact of your gasoline purchase by doing your best to make miserable the lives of anyone traveling without a car. With a little persistence, you can force them to get their own car and buy gasoline just like you. So honk at bicyclists as you pass them. Rev your motor loudly to show them who’s boss. Don’t stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Yell rude things at them instead. From time to time even come close to hitting them. (If you actually do hit them, no problem. As long as you aren’t inebriated and you cooperate with the police, there will likely be no consequences to you.) Complain loudly and frequently at public meetings about how bike lanes and pedestrian safety projects take away parking. Refuse to fund public transit because you don’t take it. Turn purple with rage at any bicyclist who delays you by half a second. Lament the unfairness of pedestrians jaywalking and bicyclists rolling through stop signs while ignoring that car drivers routinely disregard stop signs, run stoplights, speed, kill people, and occupy ninety percent of the street space. And be sure to belittle and jeer at anyone who attempts to make their life less oily. After all, taking trains and drinking from personal water bottles won't buy anyone's seventeenth or eighteenth house.

Fun guys! They'll do great things with your money!
If democracies annoy you, rest assured your gasoline money will go to some of the least democratic countries in the world. Let’s look at the top oil exporters and where they fall on the Democracy Index. For comparison’s sake, the United States (which is the #2 oil importer in the world, not exporter) is 21st out of 167 countries on the Democracy Index. (Don’t worry, we’re doing our best to become more autocratic and drop!) As you can see below, most of the top exporters are in the bottom third of the Index, if not the bottom tenth, Yes, Canada, at number 6, is an anomaly, but don’t let that distract you. Most of the rest are either totalitarian autocracies or nearly so. They totally deserve your money.

Oil Exporter
2016 Oil Income (Billion US $)
Democracy Index Ranking (out of 167 nations)
1. Saudi Arabia
2. Russia
3. Iraq
4. Canada
5. United Arab Emirates
6. Kuwait
7 Iran

And one last benefit you get from your gasoline purchase. No, not an Esso tiger tail or an Arco Noah’s Ark animal, like the gas station giveaways of yesteryear. This is the big kahuna. Climate change! Every gallon of gasoline you burn is another nail in the coffin of humanity! Though you’ll likely not be around to witness it, you can go to your grave knowing that you personally helped billions of people die from famine, drought and disease. Another billion refugees bobbing up and down in their little boats across great seas will have you to thank. There will likely be wars and social chaos. If we get really lucky, there’ll be total extinction of the human race. So fill up those tanks! Every dollar you spend on gasoline packs a punch. As bargains go, it doesn’t get much better.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Get Rid of Your Belly! (There's No Resilience Without Good Health)

How do you envision yourself at age eighty? Do you want to be active, mobile, and of sound mind and body? Or do you think you'll be lucky just to be alive?

Good health is not luck. Yes, luck plays a role, as do genetics and the presence or absence of toxic pollution. But the vast majority of Americans have the health that we ourselves create. What kills us, immobilizes us, and makes us dependent on medication is largely within our control. Indeed, the Center for Disease Control estimates that 80% of heart disease, 80% of strokes, 80% of type II diabetes, and 40% of all cancers are preventable through lifestyle changes. Researchers at UCSF estimate over half of Alzheimer's cases are likely preventable. This is good news! It means we have a good chance of steering clear of them. Even better, it is completely possible to reverse a host of the most common debilitating and/or fatal diseases with just a change of personal habits. Without drugs, medical procedures or much money, you can lessen/eliminate chronic pain, reverse diabetes and heart disease, avoid dementia, steer clear of most cancers, improve your digestion, beat depression, and generally increase your happiness and life satisfaction.

Awaiting rescue
I don’t know if you noticed during the plethora of natural disasters this last summer, but people with poor health and/or poor mobility tend not to fare well when fires/floods/hurricanes strike. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have compassion and evacuate people with poor health/mobility before Mother Nature slaps us around. But it cannot escape the attentive that being dependent on electrically-powered medical equipment or drugs that come via a lengthy, fragile supply chain make one extremely vulnerable should the power go out or the drugs not be delivered. Plus, not being mobile may mean you simply can’t escape quickly enough from fires or floods. (The majority of the victims of northern California's recent fires were senior citizens.) If you anticipate there may be food or energy insecurity in our future, you can bet that medical services will hiccup long before that. Solar panels, orchards, and canned food are all well and good, but good health is absolutely the best investment you can make to prepare for whatever lies ahead. Plus it will make you feel great in the meantime. I mean really great. And if disaster strikes, it will put you in the position of being able to help friends, family and community members instead of being the one who needs help.

My health is good, you may be thinking. Or at least good enough. Well, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. We could examine whether you’re able to walk a couple miles without exhaustion. We could inventory how many medications you’re taking and whether you’d die in short order if you ran out. But let’s look instead at an even better prognosticator of your immediate and long-term health. Let’s look at your waist.

Squeezing the fat doesn't actually eliminate it.
The ratio of waistline to height has been found to be an accurate predictor of current and future health, much better than BMI (Body Mass Index). Go find a tape measure and measure it right now. If you're unsure where it is, measure one inch above your navel. If your waist is more than half of your height, you’ve got visceral abdominal fat wrapped around your organs that is slowly (or not so slowly) working to kill you. This is true even if in terms of pounds you are not considered overweight or obese. Unless you're pregnant, a big belly is bad.

Visceral abdominal fat is much worse than any other fat in your body because this kind of fat functions almost like a gland, secreting hormones, cancer-contributing proteins, and inflammatory biochemicals that will cause you lots of problems. As a result, visceral fat is directly linked to heart disease and type-2 diabetes, and, for women, breast cancer. Because visceral fat influences the production of blood lipids, it's also directly linked to higher levels of bad cholesterol, lower levels of good cholesterol and insulin resistance. It also increases risk of stroke, dementia, depression, arthritis, sleep disorders and cancers of the colon, liver, pancreas, intestines, uterus, gall bladder and kidneys. Don't worry about other body fat. This is the fat you want to go after.

Reach for a Lucky and you'll be toast.
The good news is that reducing your abdominal fat will dramatically decrease your chances of the diseases listed above, especially heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, and diabetes. Heart disease is the number one way Americans die. Cancer is number two. Stroke is number five, Alzheimer's is six, diabetes is seven. One in three US seniors die with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. Forty percent of American adults are diabetic or prediabetic, most of them unaware of their condition. It is far, far easier to prevent these diseases than to cure them. (Many cannot be cured, only managed.) If you can deal with your belly--deal with it now—you will likely avoid much future suffering, not to mention an early death. You’ll also feel way better now. It’s win-win all around.

Tapeworms are not your friend
But how to get rid of visceral fat that causes a big belly? The human body tends toward homeostasis. It has a set point weight it tries to maintain, and it will fight change to the downside. (Unfortunately, it will let you add fat without much resistance.) It will even send you hormonal signals that tell you you’re hungry when you obviously have plenty of fat to burn. What can you change about your life that will not only improve your energy levels, make your immune system more effective, but also jumpstart you body into losing those visceral fat inches?

As you likely know, the United States spends way more per capita on health care than any other country in the world. Sadly, such ruinous spending doesn’t actually give us good health or long life. The US average lifespan is 31st among nations and dropping. Even worse, our years of healthy life expectancy is 36th among nations. Growing old doesn't have to entail ill health or disability. The citizens of Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Italy, Israel, Iceland, France, Spain, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and Austria on average enjoy good health well into their seventies. Most of these countries also report higher levels of general happiness than the US does. They certainly consume a fraction of the anti-depressants , sleeping pills and opiods. And they spend a fraction of the money that Americans do to produce these superior results.

Old-fashioned pill-popping
I’m going to suggest three lifestyle changes that will significantly increase your odds of making it to the age of 80 not only alive, but with good mobility, of sound mind, and generally feeling good. All three are within your control; none of the three cost much. Even better, the three together will improve your life right now. They'll drop your needs for most drugs; they’ll increase your energy and stamina; they’ll help you sleep better and make you look great. But you’re going to have all sorts of arguments why you can’t do them. You may even think you’d rather live with a decade of debilitating illness and then die before you're old enough to collect social security than do what I’m proposing. Wow, how bad can they be? Read on.

    1) Walk thirty minutes a day. Your lymphatic system is the Rodney Dangerfield of the body. It gets no respect. Most people are unaware it even exists. However, it’s essential to health because it rids the body of toxins and wastes and transports infection-fighting white blood cells around the body. But this is key: unlike your vascular (blood) system, it has no pump. It requires your body’s movement to operate. There is absolutely no way you can be healthy without some form of moderate daily exercise to get this lymph moving around. It doesn’t have to be walking, however brilliant walking is. Bicycling counts. Yoga and tai chi count. So does gardening. So does sweeping, snow shoveling and hanging the laundry to dry. Do more vigorous exercise if you wish on some days, but every day do at least thirty minutes of moderate exercise without fail.

Laxative abuse does not create health.
This may sound simple, but you’d think I was asking people to jump over the moon given the raft of excuses they come up with. If you live in a neighborhood that is dangerous for walking and biking, you live in a neighborhood designed for poor health. Consider moving. (I’m serious. The average American changes residences 11.4 times in his/her lifetime. Next time, make your health a factor in choosing where to live.) Ladies, if you wear shoes that hurt to walk in, get some comfortable ones. Save the high heels for special occasions. (High heels cause an abundance of health problems that will eventually cripple you anyway. Better to be sexy via a slim waist than by permanently damaging your feet, ankles, knees and spine.) If you can’t walk thirty minutes in a row right now, start out at ten and add five minutes each week. You’ll get there. Walking alone will likely not drop all your belly fat, but it will strengthen your bones and leg muscles, prevent varicose veins, improve your lung and oxygen capacity, lift your mood, prevent countless chronic diseases, improve your digestion, and improve your balance and coordination. And it will help you sleep better. It will make a huge impact on how you feel and your general health. 

Empowerment! (blackgirlsrun.com)
The easiest way to fit thirty minutes of walking or biking into your day is to make it a natural part of how you commute or do errands. This is why the very design of America’s car-based society (that ensures nothing is close by and renders walking and biking dangerous) is terrible for American health. But here’s some good news: if you are fit in your fifties, you significantly delay infirmity. This is true even if you weren’t particularly fit earlier. You may eventually get the same chronic conditions as those who were unfit in their fifties, but you’ll get them in the final five years of your life instead of the final 10, 15, or 20 years. You will live much better—happier! active! mobile!--the last 20% of your life. And you don’t have to be super fit, just the regular fitness level that comes from walking thirty minutes a day.

Thirty minutes of daily, moderate exercise cuts your chance of Alzheimer's in half. It is the number one tool to protect your memory and your mind that you have at your disposal. (Here are some others.) You don't want Alzheimer's. Your family doesn't want you to develop Alzheimer's. Trust me on this.

     2)   Sit less than six hours a day. Yes, sitting is the new smoking. Our bodies were built for movement. Is it any surprise that sitting all day in a chair is bad for you? Too much sitting causes your metabolism to slow, your blood circulation to stagnate, less oxygen to be delivered to your brain, and it significantly increases your risk of heart disease, cancer (colon, endometrial, and lung), obesity, type 2 diabetes, muscular infirmity, and depression. It also impedes the functioning of the key enzyme that breaks down fat. Thirty minutes a day of exercise, while imperative for your lymph and circulatory systems, does not counteract the badness of twelve hours of sitting. No matter your age, the combined ill effects of extensive sitting basically double your risk of premature death. If you’re already on your feet all day with your job, you’re probably fine, unless it’s a job that requires you to stand still. (Standing still can give you back aches and varicose veins. We’ll talk about how to solve this in a second.)

If you have a desk job, I strongly encourage you to get a standing desk. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. I spent $40 on a stand to put my laptop screen at eye level, another $140 for a keyboard and trackpad separate from my laptop so I can keep my arms perpendicular to my body, and $80 for an anti-fatigue mat that is contoured and keeps my calves activated. (Explanation to follow.) There are also inexpensive standing desk hacks.

It may seem an oxymoron, but you don’t want to just stand at a standing desk. The key to great health with a standing desk or a standing job is to activate the calf muscles. We all know that our heart pumps blood away from the center of our bodies. However, gravity fights the return of that blood from our legs. That’s why calves are sometimes called the second heart. The activation of our calf muscles is what gets that blood back up to our hearts. When we sit, those calf muscles do next to nothing. When we stand motionless, it’s not much better. However, when we stand it’s not so hard to dance, wiggle, lift up our heels, or walk in place, all of which activates those calves. I find an anti-fatigue mat with bumps and contours promotes calf activation as well. If you want to try a walking treadmill desk ($), go for it. There are many studies that show (and I can verify from personal experience) that standing desks improve neurocognitive function, including memory, focus and alertness. I can attest that I’ve never felt sleepy at my standing desk. And it is far, far easier to keep good posture standing than while sitting if you pay attention to ergonomics when creating your standing desk. If you have neck, arm, hand, shoulder, back or carpal tunnel problems, it’s very possible that poor posture and/or poor ergonomics created them and good posture/ergonomics will help them disappear (as will dropping weight and strengthening your muscles.) Better to eliminate the source of pain than to rely on opioids to get you through the day.

Posture check
In tai chi, there’s a concept called suspended headtop. Think of the top of your head rising up, as if suspended from a string. Relax your shoulders down; don't stick your chest out military style. Bend your knees slightly and keep your weight towards the balls of your feet. Don’t slump, don’t lock out your knees and put all your weight on your heels. (Rocking back on your heels from time to time is fine.) Your butt muscles should be relaxed, not clenched. Your chest should be relaxed enough that you can breathe deep into your belly. Remember not to stand motionless. Shift your weight from foot to foot, lift up your heels, rise up onto your toes, wiggle, and wobble around. Swing your arms from time to time, even walk in place. Sitting down ten minutes here and there is okay, just remember to get back up. (It’s easy to get caught up in something and, before you know it, ninety minutes have passed and you haven’t moved.) If your job absolutely requires you to sit on your butt eight hours a day, I’m sorry to say you have a job that will lead to your infirmity and early death. Do they pay you enough for that? Truly consider a different job or a different line of work. If you can’t quit immediately, then getting up every 30 minutes to stretch and walk around for a minute will help a whole lot.

My favorites
Ladies, standing desks require flat shoes. (Socks and bare feet also work.) I recommend Softstar shoes because I love mine so much, not to mention that Softstar is a great small business that is environmentally conscious and treats their workers well. Wearing “barefoot” style shoes such as these will strengthen your feet, improve your balance and can even reverse a host of foot problems. I buy one pair a year and wear them for everything except running on hard pavement, walking over three miles on concrete, and fancy occasions. At work keep formal shoes in a desk drawer for when you need them.

As for other ways to refrain from sitting: walking meetings work well when you’re meeting with just one other person. If you can talk your employer into it, standing meeting tables are proven to increase productivity and reduce meeting times. At the very least, make a concerted effort to make your screen time standing time.

Screen at eye level
Now don’t try to go from sitting twelve hours a day (American average) to six overnight! Try standing for ten minutes an hour and then adding five minutes a week until you can do 45 minutes at a stretch. The hardest thing is travel. Either in a car or airplane, you’ve got forced butt time. (This is part of the reason truck and cab drivers have some of the worst health in the country.) On public transit you can stand; on a train you can get up and walk. Choose those options when you can.  

Okay. Let’s talk about waistline reduction again. As you walk, exercise, and stand, you’re going to be strengthening your legs. Adding muscle. This is good! However, since muscle is heavier than fat, even if your abdominal fat is vaporizing, your weight may not drop immediately. That’s okay. Weight is not nearly as important as your waist. If you’re replacing visceral fat with leg muscle, you’re doing amazing things for your health. Don’t even step on a scale. Get a tape measure and focus on your belly.

So we move on to lifestyle change number three. This is the one that people say they’d rather die than do. Oh my gosh. Seriously?
     3)   Cut out wheat and sugar for six months. (Noooo! I hear you all screaming.) Wheat and sugar are the king and queen of obesity, inflammation and diabetes. Combined with a sedentary lifestyle, they’re almost guaranteed to make you sick, weak and immobile before your time. If you've got problems with belly fat, eliminate all wheat, high fructose corn syrup, and desserts from your diet. Also all added sugars. For six months. I must point out this includes bread. Even whole wheat bread. It includes pasta. Beer. It certainly includes doughnuts. Freaking A, it includes most crackers.

Oh. My. God. The world is going to end.

If you want a detailed explanation of the problems with wheat, read Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. Suffice it to say that wheat has been massively hybridized the last fifty years into a form very different than what has been consumed by human beings the previous ten thousand. But I’m not telling you to give up wheat forever. Get your belly gone, and you can reintroduce wheat and see how it affects you, perhaps trying ancient and heirloom strains that haven’t been so manipulated to produce higher yields, pesticide accommodation, perkier baking properties, etc.

There are all sorts of good reasons to clear wheat and sugars from your diet, including the nasty way they spike your blood sugar, make you insulin resistant, age your skin, make you fat, weaken your bones, and diminish your mental acuity. But let’s put those aside for the moment. I propose you totally clear wheat and added sugars from your diet for the next six months because of homeostasis.

Your body doesn’t like change. Your body doesn’t want to lose its belly. Even with your new regimen of walking thirty minutes a day and sitting less than six hours, it will not say, “Sure, no problem, this belly has got to go.” No sirree. It will fight losing those inches. Cutting wheat and sugar from your food supply will jumpstart the process. It will reduce your high blood sugar levels that directly lead to visceral abdominal fat, not to mention diabetes, cataracts, arthritis, dementia and heart disease. Dropping wheat and sugar will make those fat cells say, “Whoa, what’s going on?” It will tell your body you mean business.

I can tell you that when I hit 50, I was not obese or overweight, but my weight was creeping up. I was running 5K three times a week, I was walking 30 minutes a day, I ate little in the way of sweets or desserts. Still my weight was creeping. Then I cut out wheat. My body made a marked shift; I dropped ten pounds without otherwise changing my diet. My waist dropped two inches. Yes, dropping wheat is that powerful.

But you have to cut the sugar, too, because it’s also nasty bad for you and can fill in for wheat at the drop of a hat. Yes, cutting out wheat means no more office cupcakes. Yes, it means avoiding the center of the grocery store and every beautiful bakery that wants to lure you in with its luscious scents and its big-eyed whole-grained muffins that can’t possibly be bad for you (can they?) Yes, it means forgoing most fast and prepared foods. (This is a feature, not a bug.) If you don't cook, you may have to start. Don’t replace wheat with “gluten free” processed corporate crapola products. They’re mostly made from rice starch, tapioca starch or other starch that is largely nutrition-free. You want the food you put in your mouth to both fill you up and actually have nutrition. (Ahem, this means not gorging yourself on potato chips or tortilla chips either, even if they don't contain wheat.)

Wheat stimulates the appetite. Getting it out of your diet will help you to not be constantly ravenous. Satiate your appetite with good fats—avocados, avocado oil, olives, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds. (Trans fats are so awful for you that I'm assuming you cut them out of your diet years ago?) You need protein, so throw in modest amounts of pasture-raised dairy and meat. (If you're vegan, you should already well know healthy vegan sources of protein.) And throw in lots and lots of vegetables that will give you the nutrition and micro-nutrients that your body needs and probably hasn’t gotten in years. Go easy on the rice, potatoes and non-wheat grains. Instead of snacking on pretzels and cookies, try carrots, pumpkin seeds or raw cashews. For a quick breakfast, grab a hard-boiled egg rather than a bagel. Trade your lunchtime sandwich for a salad sprinkled with cheese and sunflower seeds. Ever have grated sweet potato sautéed in coconut oil? Delicious!
Oh. My. God. You’re saying no pizza and beer. Ever.

First off, there are some wheat-free beers, and there are ways to make wheat-free pizza. And we're just talking six months. Wheat and sugar are addictive; both have properties that cause you to crave them. After a month or so the cravings will die down. I walk by bakeries now and I don’t even want a muffin. But that wasn’t true at first. Once you get your waist to a healthy circumference, then, if you really want, you can reintroduce wheat and see how your body reacts.

If you would rather die early than give up bread for six months, so be it. I’ll just suggest the one bite rule. Sometimes, if you’re craving something--if something looks so good, you might die if you don’t have it--one bite will get you far. Perhaps it’s a beautiful cake that everyone is raving about, ice cream that's magical, or the best biscuit in the history of the universe. Take exactly one bite. Your tastebuds will get most of their gratification (sweetness, texture, flavor.) Same with ice cream. Seriously, one bite gets you 80% of the joy. (Note: this works better for sweet/floury things than salty/oily things.)

This should be obvious, but cut out the soda and the sweet tea. This includes diet soda. (Very nasty for your poor brain, increasing risk of both stroke and dementia.) Hydrate mostly with water from your personal stainless steel water bottle. (Please, oh, please, don't buy bottled water. It's bad for you and bad for the planet.) Once you get rid of added sugars, food with natural sugars will start tasting quite sweet to you. Foods with nutrition, like milk, carrots, snap peas. Some fruit is okay, but don’t gorge on it. Get creative with vegetables instead. If your body is really stubborn about homeostasis and that belly fat won't budge, try switching to zero starch dinners (just protein and vegetables) or even skipping dinner a couple times a week to get over your body's set point inertia.

Let me also point out the foolishness of smoking and/or destroying your liver by drinking too much. It's simply bonkers to work hard on improving your health on the one hand while simultaneously monkey hammering it with drink and cigarettes on the other.

Don't say you don't have the time. It's all about priorities. Many people postpone prioritizing their health until their first heart attack or stroke. Or until they're diagnosed with cancer. Or they need a limb amputated. Then they must focus on nothing but their health for quite a while, with medical interventions that are stressful and unpleasant. How about preventing the heart attack, the stroke, the cancer, the amputation? How about taking action right now so that you can live actively and joyfully from age 60 to age 80? (Possibly even beyond.)

Yes, whatever you do, you might still get unlucky and get clobbered by a texting driver or contract a debilitating disease there was no way to prevent. But why not give yourself the best odds possible? Follow these three steps (that might seem impossible but really aren’t) and you will ignite your immune system and increase your strength and stamina. You’ll fire up your metabolism, reduce your current and future need for medications, get rid of your belly, and save both you and the nation oodles in future health care expense. You will feel energized, creative, and powerful not only when your belly’s gone, but as it’s going. Don’t choose death, disease and suffering due to the siren calls of sugar, wheat and your easy chair. However old you are, whatever shape you’re in, turn your health around. You can do it.

Note: this is not medical advice. I’m not a doctor! I just read the research and studies and tell you what I’ve experienced myself. I receive no remuneration for any products I recommend. I share things that have worked for me and that I like. Indeed this entire article benefits me in almost no way whatsoever except for the fact that if you’re a sane, non-evil person, and you improve your health, the world I inhabit gets a little better.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Importance of Not Being Miserable (About the Fate of the Planet or Anything Else)

Antidote? Vaccine?
If you’re reading this article it’s likely there’s much going on in the world to make you feel anxious, depressed, angry, frustrated, even downright miserable. Climate change is serious; the Paris accord is only a small step in the right direction even if the US government didn’t want to pull out of it. Depending on how much of a doomer you are, you may perceive that one to seven billion people are on deck to die an early, unpleasant death over the next hundred years due to human fecklessness now. Wealth inequality has skyrocketed in the United States; our federal government grows ever more corrupted by big money; and people of all stripes are conditioned into a simultaneous state of passivity and anxiety through television, social media, drugs, poor diet, poor health, and a culture that defines human worth through status and consumption. Nearly half of all animal species are at risk of extinction by mid-century; the entire biosphere of Earth, the lovely planet that is our home, is being threatened by unnecessary laziness, selfishness, stupidity, and greed. On top of all this, you may feel the current US political system is in such a shambles that it no longer has the ability to address problems, only a perverse faculty to create more.

If you stew on all this, the outlook is bleak indeed. (Please consider the possibility that the current political circus is designed to make us feel anxious and impotent.) I’m not going to tell you none of the above is untrue, that the dire predictions now floating in the blogosphere won’t come to pass. I can only say we can’t know at this point how it will all play out, that life is full of surprises, that history is rife with unexpected twists and turns. But I will tell you that even if depression, anger and anxiety are understandable responses to the predicaments at hand, you should give such emotional states a wide berth. **You are too important to squander your energy being miserable.** Indeed, even if you don’t have hope, you owe it to yourself to lead a contented, useful life. Let me explain.

Worth a read
Stress kills. Depression kills. Despair kills. Sometimes quickly through suicide or a drug overdose, but more often slowly, as the hormones these emotional states trigger hammer at your kidneys, your liver, your heart, your immune system, and your digestive system as well as make you more sensitive to pain and prone to insomnia. It may feel as if despair drains your energy, leaving you sapped, but that’s because you’re directing your life force down a black sinkhole that is an appalling repository for your vitality. That sinkhole will never return lost hours and days back to you. It will never do anyone (or any biosphere) one lick of good.

On an airplane, you’re told in case of emergency to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Why? Because if you pass out, not only will you be of no use to anyone, others will have to freak out assisting you. This is not to say ignoring reality is a good idea. It’s not to say that your emotions and your reason are not picking up good data on the current state of affairs, and that these affairs aren’t worthy of your attention. A certain level of worry and alarm are useful if your house is burning down.But no one can live long under the stress of constantly escaping a fire. Problems unlikely to be resolved in a short period of time must be approached with a degree of equanimity that will allow you to still thrive and enjoy your life.

Early zippiness
Yes, enjoy. No matter what the circumstances, you deserve to enjoy your life. Okay, if you’re a murderer, sadist, or swindler, maybe you deserve to enjoy life a whole lot less, but my guess is those aren’t your sins. In any event, we are all on a hero’s/heroine’s journey; we all get to be the central character as we write the book of our lives. Between our birth and our death are a chain of moments. These moments are all we get. We owe it to no one, not even the unborn future generations who are counting on us, to squander them in misery, rage, depression, and frustration.

Misery, rage, depression and frustration not only make us sick, they often spiral into self-hatred. They might prompt us to turn to alcohol or drugs (or porn or mindless TV or shopping or gambling) to blot the pain they cause. And (except, perhaps, in tiny, tiny amounts) they don’t help us constructively address the predicaments we face.

In love
This doesn’t mean we should all stop caring about others and the fate of our planet. It doesn’t mean we should stop worrying and learn to love the bomb. It means each of us has to get to a mental/emotional place where we can focus our attention without relying on a constant lash of anxiety for motivation. It means nurturing and strengthening our spirits so we can encompass the sad and the difficult and yet still see the joy and the beauty. The Chinese, from the ancients to modern-day, speak of cultivating their chi, their life force. To do the work ahead, each of us will need patience, clarity and strength. Each of us will need to tap into the deep well of our life force that we have zero access to if thunderstorms of misery always rage around us.

There are a multitude of ways to nurture spirit. The most important is the one Americans neglect the most: body movement. Simple walking is an extremely effective method of countering depression, anxiety and stress, as good or better than any drug, even better if it’s done out in nature. If you find yourself angry, anxious, or hopeless you simply must carve out thirty minutes a day to walk somewhere you enjoy. Do it before or after work, during lunch, maybe even as part of your commute. (Bicycle commuters report high levels of happiness and well-being, if that’s an option for you. You might think not, but it probably is.) If you enjoy more vigorous exercise, do that. Our bodies, especially our lymphatic systems, require movement in order to function properly. You simply cannot be healthy and be sedentary. Exercise also releases endorphins and other brain chemicals that give a fundamental, natural (!) sense of well-being. Maybe a few saints here and there are able to rise above physical discomfort to achieve spiritual heights but most of us must attend to our bodies in order to attend to our spirit. Walk or bike or get some other form of exercise every day. Do it. It works.

Next, cut out the sugar. Seriously. Sugar is addictive, wigs you out, and makes equanimity elusive. And it’s everywhere, in all sorts of food products you might not realize. (Read ingredient labels!) The average American eats 130 pounds of added sugars a year. This is nuts. Sugar makes your organs fat, it primes your body for diabetes, it makes heart attacks and strokes more likely, it creates tense blood vessels that lead to high blood pressure, it overloads and damages your liver, it increases your hunger level that leads to overeating, it ages your skin, it feeds cancer cells, it increases your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, it can make you anxious and irritable, and it gives you a 40% higher risk of developing depression. However, sugar can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the blood, which may be why some people drown their sorrows in quarts of ice cream. (This is why you need to come up with healthy ways to manage stress.) Don’t replace sugar with artificial sweeteners; they’re also terrible for your body. Recalibrate your palate and body instead. After a few days without added sugars, natural sugars will suddenly register on your tongue again. This article outlines a pretty good plan over a course of two months that will clean up your diet. Or you could go cold turkey with no sugar for three days, reset your taste buds, then add some foods back in. If you want to feel really good and lose weight, cut wheat out of your diet, too, especially in highly-processed crapola foods, but start with sugar first, especially sugar/corn syrup in beverages. (Please consider the possibility, whether intentionally designed this way or not, that a food supply that leaves you sickly and obese is a food supply that renders you passive, dependent and impotent.)

Many ways to be merry . . .
Next, be careful with alcohol and drugs. I’m not saying zero, but no using either for pain relief or self-medication. Without moderation, both can affect your health; both can get in the way of finding the deep equanimity that is in you. In particular, heavy alcohol use makes you fat, messes up your liver, messes with your sleep, and if you're depressed, leads to more depression. For those of you who are young, remember, what you do to your body before you’re thirty you’ll feel after you’re thirty.

Curb your news addiction. News reporting wants to attract your attention via tragedies, problems and threats of problems. Much of it is repetitive, voyeuristic and manipulative, not to mention mostly noise, not signal, designed to distract you and make you feel anxious. The time you spend pouring over the details of mass shootings, Senate subcommittee hearings, and special prosecutors is time not spent on your health, your family, your friends, your work, your real life. It's time not spent on the real things you can actually do to solve the problems we face. I'm not suggesting burying your head in the sand, but view news as a toxic substance you must ingest in small doses--say no more than half an hour a day. Note the info but don't stew or obsess about things you can't or won't change. (It's useless and makes you useless.) Conserve your attention and energy for what you actually can and want to impact. I personally read my news rather than see or hear it. It's faster, less repetitive, and it's easier that way for me to check multiple sources to note multiple viewpoints.

Get enough sleep, however much your body needs in order to feel alert and healthy. Sleep is more important than Facebook, it’s more important than TV. Turn media minutes into sleep minutes until you’re routinely getting enough rest.

Consider trying meditation, tai chi, yoga, dance, and/or immersion in the natural world. All these are helpful for some people. A simple walk among trees (“tree bathing”) is a proven stress reliever for many. Acupuncture can also address anxiety and depression. I strongly encourage you to check and see if any of these tried and true techniques (that are inexpensive, with no nasty side effects) work for you.

Of course you may have your own path to equanimity. What lifts your spirit? Brainstorm a list. Singing in a choir? Creating art? Gardening? Fishing? Brunch with friends? Woodworking? Listening to opera? Going to church? Staring at the ocean? Gazing at the stars? Reading a story to your grandchild? This list is not a frivolous exercise. What nourishes you, what replenishes you? What you come up with is part of the essential task you are put on this world to do. I know it’s especially hard for parents of young children to find time, but not nurturing your spirit is like not putting on your oxygen mask. You will dry out into a husk of a human being who is no good to anyone. Pay attention to your spirit. Feed it. That’s an order.

So why am I writing this? What is it to me if you spend your day raging at corporations or shaking your head glumly at inane tweets?

No man is an island
The answer is we are all connected. On a planetary biosphere level, obviously. (Pollution and carbon travel.) On an economic level. (Goods and services travel.) On a political level. (Refugees and terrorism travel.) Even, Jung would say, on a subconscious level. However tempting it is to think otherwise, how we treat the planet, other people and other nations boomerangs back on us in a very basic way. Others’ suffering not only diminishes us, it destabilizes the country and the world. Though America loves to see itself as a collection of rugged individualists, It’s a Wonderful Life, with its interconnected small town of Bedford Falls that George Bailey’s modest life is able to impact for the better, is a much more accurate model.

This basic interconnection means I benefit if I live among healthy, vibrant, creative, energetic, ethical people, so I deeply want that state of being for you. Beyond that, if you’re a person who gets that the human race needs to live in balance with the biosphere of its host planet, it’s even more essential that you don’t squander your life in gloom and doom. That you have the equanimity and energy to do what you can to alleviate future suffering, to preserve what still can be preserved, to repair what can be repaired, leading an enjoyable, contented life all the while. 

Pick a problem, any problem, to work on. There are plenty to choose from. Don’t fret, don’t endlessly rant about it; instead, give it a portion of your productive energy, your steadfast attention, your commitment. Yes, the future might play out badly just the same, but not trying due to despair or pessimism is the greater error. If the worst ends up happening, that’s even more reason to live the moments you have left as well as you can. Not deliriously happy, perhaps, but at peace. Not in an alcohol or chemical-induced stupor that makes you forget the clouds above, but with a wider vision that helps you see the storms as they travel, the seasons as they pass. Find a way of being that makes you whole, makes you strong. Then use that strength with as much compassion, integrity and fortitude as you know how. That’s my wish for you. That’s my wish for us all.

Note: If you have severe depression, severe anxiety, or frequent suicidal thoughts, humanity and the planet still need you. Try the suggestions above, but also get help from someone with the skills to address your level of problem.