Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Guide to Lifelong Learning

Just because you are out of school doesn't mean you should stop learning. Learning is something that you can and should do every day. To me learning and getting out and doing things is what makes life worth living, much more so than just spacing out in front of a screen all the time.

Some of this guide is focused on resources available in Duluth but look around and I am sure you will find some comparable services wherever you are.

1) Surround yourself with smart people
Intelligence isn't limited to book smarts. Chances are everyone you know has something to offer whether it is mechanical expertise, knowledge of a craft, or an understanding of nature. There are so many things to learn in the world. Surround yourself with the type of people who are interested in sharing their knowledge and skills. Who knows, you might also find that you have more to teach than you thought and teaching is also a great way to learn.

2) Read
The old standby, reading, has the opportunity to take you to another world or teach you almost everything you would want to know about the world we live in. You can use books to read about how things work or about things that have happened. You can also use books to pick up a new skill. Want to know how to knit? Crochet? Fix your car? Identify plants? Speak another language? Just go to your library and pick up a book to get you started.

3) Use the internet for good
The internet is a double edged sword. It can be a place of mindless distraction but it is also a compilation of human knowledge. You just have to be careful where you look. The internet is also a wonderful place to find tutorials and how-to videos that make learning a new skill easier than ever. Youtube is full of step by step guides to get you started with a number of crafts and skills. You should always be wary though- the information you find might just be wrong.

4) Take online classes
If you want to learn from home in a more structured way the internet is full of free college courses offered through real licensed institutions. One of my favorite sites is
which offers a large amount of courses many of which are through top tier universities. Some highlights of courses they are offering now or in the near future:
R Programming through John Hopkins University: "Learn how to program in R and how to use R for effective data analysis." I took this class to learn the statistical software I used for my thesis and for my job in general. It is amazing what you can do with your data.
Roman Architecture through Yale. "Roman Architecture is a course for people who love to travel and want to discover the power of architecture to shape politics, society, and culture."
Tibetan Buddhist Meditation through the University of Virginia. "...explores the immense variety of meditation practices past and present. We present their histories, their philosophical underpinnings, their transformations in the modern global world, and we give you a chance to reflect upon meditation practices through secular contemplations designed just for this course. "

Honestly I can go on forever but you should just go and explore for yourself! You can browse by subject or use the search bar. I find browsing to be more useful because the search bar doesn't always get you what you are looking for.

They also offer a number of "Specializations" which are groups of classes that taken together really help you understand a subject. You can even earn a certificate for completing the series and doing a capstone project but that costs money.

Other places to find free online courses: (not all free but many are)

5) Go to the library
The library is not just a great place to find books. The library is also a great place to go to learn some important skills like doing your taxes, basic computing, and more. The library also brings in interesting speakers to cover topics of local interest. The Duluth Public Library has an Events Page and an Event Calendar  For example on Thursday, October 8th Dan Hartman, director of Glensheen, is giving a talk titled "1918: Duluth's Worst Year"

6) Visit local educational sites
There are plenty of places you can go to learn and explore locally. Historic sites, museums, nature centers, zoos and planetariums all offer free or low cost educational programs or self guided learning through signs with or without the help of interpreters. Some places to go locally:

Hartley Nature CenterHawk Ridge
Lake Superior Zoo

Great Lakes Aquarium 
Glensheen Mansion
Lake Superior Railroad Museum

Lake Superior Marine Museum
Tweed Museum of Art
MWA Planetarium 

This list only brushes the surface of what is available in Duluth. It does not cover everything here, let alone what you can find in surrounding areas!

7) Take advantage of community education
Duluth has a number of community education opportunities. First of all there is
Duluth Community Education which offers a number of low cost classes on a variety of subjects. Some classes offered this fall include:


Go check out the schedule yourself to learn more. Different classes are taught seasonally including a course on the geology of the area and a series on classes about learning to cross country ski. Classes like these are also a great way to meet people who share your interests.

The Duluth Art Institute offers a number of classes and even some free lectures on art history.

Local business can also offer some classes. For example the Whole Foods Co-op offers public classes relating to food and health. Yarn Harbor offers classes on knitting, weaving, and crocheting. Whatever your interest in check to see if a local business offers learning opportunities. You might be surprised by how many do.

8) Join a club
Whatever your interest is there is a good chance that there is a local club of like minded individuals you can join to learn more. Clubs often bring in speakers and other experts to talk about or teach things in their field. I personally gave a talk about invasive species to the Duluth Superior Eco-Rotary last year. Google is your friend here. See what's out there!

9) Find out what else universities have to offer
Just because you aren't a university student doesn't mean you can't take advantage of some of the university resources. The Planetarium and the Art Museum I listed above are both a part of the University of Minnesota- Duluth.

If there is a specific field you are interested in it is likely that there are seminars. Seminars are when departments bring in special speakers and they are often open to the public. For example the UMD Department of Philosophy puts on some really interesting talks.

If you go look at their schedule you will see a list of upcoming events. One that looks interesting to me is on Friday October 9th from 6-8 PM. "CEPP: Minnesota Compassionate Care Act of 2015 (SF 1880): Should Minnesota Embrace a Right to Die"

Explore different departments and look at their schedules to see if anything catches your interest.

A lot of universities have some sort of outdoor program. Through the outdoor program are lots of different classes that are offered to both students and community members. For UMD's Outdoor Program a schedule of events for this fall semester can be found here. Some highlights:
There are lots more so be sure to take a look if you are interested in those things.

Also through the RSOP there are a number of fitness classes that are open to the public. If fitness classes are what you are interested in you should also check with local gyms.

Continuing Education:
From the Lake Superior College website: "
We offer a wide range of continuing education (open enrollment and non-credit) programs that are accessible and affordable. Individuals can acquire new skills and knowledge, or keep their professional training up to date." A lot of continuing education is professional in nature so ask your employer if they might cover it for you. You never know.

Take a class:
Taking a class is expensive. But sometimes taking a class at a community college is more affordable and it just might be worth it. Look for deals. For example anyone over the age of 62 can take classes at Lake Superior College for only $20 a credit! If you don't happen to be in that age range classes can still be affordable. And anyone in the country is eligible to receive a Lifetime Learners Tax Credit
The government will refund you
20% of tuition expenses, with a maximum of $2,000 in tax credits on the first $10,000 of college tuition expenses. 

More Resources:
Community Calendars are a great place to see some of the classes that are coming up. For Duluth I recommend Visit Duluth and Perfect Day Duluth

However you decide to do it make a pledge to learn something. There are so many resources available that you are bound to find something that fits your schedule and needs.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Zen and the Art of Squirrel - Not everyone wants to see your spreadsheets.

It hurts when you realize it, but not everyone wants to see your spreadsheets.

I know it is a difficult thing to hear, but I will say it again.  Not everyone wants to see your spreadsheets.

Here is the problem.  I know how much work you have put into your spreadsheets.  I know this because I write a lot of them myself, they are a pain to get everything in to the right places, and the formulas to work the way that they logically should.

Then you have to deal with the majority of the public does not even know what Excel is.

Excel is power, I know this, and you know this.

But not everyone is so enlightened.

The realization that there are people out there who have skills you cannot even begin to comprehend scares people.  Not everyone wants to see your spreadsheets.

I have a spreadsheet somewhere that goes over all of the details of sediment flow in a massive flood even on Lester River during the 2012 flood, including estimated flow volumes, sediment transport, calculations of the volume of the mouth bar and the time of deposition.  It has all kinds of cool stuff.

Not everyone wants to see it though.

There are people who want to see that sort of thing, and there were some people who were very interested in the contents of those spreadsheets.

But not everyone.

Some people are just not spreadsheet people.

We will call them deltas and make them all wear green.

We will make a spreadsheet that will keep track of them.  We can run experiments on how they react to stimuli.  We can look at how behaviors change life expectancies.  We can see what trends become evident as they get older, richer, poorer, healthier, sicker….

But, even though they are the subject of the spreadsheets, they still will not want to see them.

It is their loss, I can guarantee you.

Spreadsheets are an acquired taste; they are something that people who use large amounts of data use to make the data comprehensible.  I have used spreadsheets to analyze mountains of data, you can parse huge sets of numbers, and even better change a formula, drag it down and change the program across and entire set until you get something that works they way it is intended to work.

Spreadsheets are an incredibly valuable asset.

My work, unfortunately, does not involve any science.  I mostly analyze things like sales trends and inventory levels.  Spreadsheets make it really easy to do manipulations with things like that as well.  You can take the current inventory, the sales for the last three quarters and in twenty minutes make a list of all of the items that you need to order to make things work out for the next month’s emergency order.

Spreadsheets are awesome.  But even though I am saving the companies ass when I throw something like that together no one wants to see the spreadsheet.  They want to see the results, except a few people who will actually look at the spreadsheets and see if they agree with your methods.

Most people do not care, or do not understand.

They will never want to see your spreadsheets.

We will call them epsilons and make them all wear blue.

I think I am going to have to switch my literary references to another book for the second half of this, by Ford.

Even when they want you to write a paper about the results of your spreadsheets most people are not going to read the whole paper.  Most people are going to read the summary, scan the rest looking for things that are all in bold face letters.

This is something that makes me depressed because the presence or absence of bold face type really has nothing to do with the content of the writing.  The words that are chosen could be completely random.  They could just be the author messing with your head.  You never really can tell unless you read the entire article.

Well, I think I am going to venture out tonight, I could use a beer.  I had some horrific allergy attacks earlier and had to leave work early.  Who knows, maybe I will find someone who is interested in a snuggle, something that I will talk about in a later chapter.

Good night and good luck, and remember, not everyone wants to see your spreadsheets.

Copyright Jeff Harrison – 2015 all righst reserved.

Zen and the Art of Squirrel - Books

There is one thing that I know will always bring me out of a funk.  Books.  I love to read, I do it a lot, partially this is because I usually don’t sleep worth a damn, reading a book relaxes me and gets me ready for the restless tossing time that I usually have instead of actually getting regular sleep.

Now to top that even more there is the fun of going out and finding books.  Anyone can go to a book store, I usually do not like normal book stores all that much because it is too easy.  You need to have the quest for it to be satisfying.  I like rummage sales and quirky used book stores.  Especially the kind of book stores that just accept donations and then have a bag sale when it is time to clear out a bunch of inventory.  Those are my favorites.

You give me a chance to raid your shelves and fill a grocery bag for five bucks and I will love you forever.  I have gotten some of the strangest books at the neighborhood church book store.  Books of line drawings for most every aquatic invertebrate species in Eastern North America.  Books on space, the definition of time, the history of calculating Pi.

The next source, and usually harder pickings, but still satisfying is the rummage sales.  Occasionally I will run into a good estate sale where I am, for all intents and purposes, getting a grocery bag of books off the shelf for five bucks.  Occasionally I will find some gems in regular piles of books at sales as well. 

The best pick ups are still at estate sales, I picked up an entire book on how to draw a straight line.  I have found most of the local geology tomes, although I now know there is another pile I need to start tracking down.  I occasionally find good local history and classics as well.

The yard sales can be pretty sparse when it comes to finding things other than bibles and romance pulp.  Occasionally you will find a sale where someone obviously has some taste in reading materials and is for some odd reason parting with it.  I have found some wonderful books that are my normal reading staple, dystopic science fiction from the World War Two through the early computer era.

Those are some great books.  You have classics like 1984, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, and Catch 22.  Then you get into the newer books like Neuromancer, American Gods, Cryptonomicon, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Not everything I read is fluff though.  I love a good hard science tome.  I have run though a stack of Carl Sagan and Stephan Hawking books.  If you have never read ‘The Dragons of Eden’ or ‘Broca’s Brain’ you really, really should.  They are wonderful books.

I have a couple of book shelves that are buried in books.  I have even more that I do not have room to put in the shelves.  I buy more books when ever I find something that looks interesting.  If I was ever laid up with a serious injury I would have no lack of reading material.

Used books are the greatest things ever.  It also makes me happy when I see other people enjoying a used book.  I recently parsed a pile of books from my collection that I did not have a need for any more, books I had already finished and was not going to put into regular circulation (some books get read multiple times because they are that good).  I took this pile of books and put stickers on them to identify them as books that need to be returned to the bar and brought them there and put them on the shelf as a tiny-library.  I have continued to add books as I find things that I think should be on the shelf at the bar.  Sometimes people need to book to read, sometimes you need to look something up.  These are books you can borrow and theoretically return.  Other people can add books too, although I have not noticed a lot of additions as of yet.

Books need to be kept alive.  I heard a story recently that the influx of E-books has not actually caused harm in the traditional publishing industry, which is good.  E-books are harder to sell at a rummage sale.  I would much rather have a hard copy of a book over an E-book anyway.

The irony of that statement comes into when you find this on a blog or possibly eventually as an E-book.  We will cross that bridge when we get there.

Books calm the squirrel, I use them to line the den that I live in.  I would much rather have a pile of book shelves surrounding my living room than a pile of screens.  I was recently watching a debate on TV from the Ronald Reagan presidential library and I commented on the fact the one thing that you never see when they panned around the room was a book.

I do not think that the people who were on the stage at the time had wasted a lot of their time with reading either as none of them seemed to have a clue what job they were applying for or how government is supposed to work.

But back to books.  For years society has tried to make it uncool to be smart, to be well read, and to be a nerd.  I have an issue with this cultural phenomenon.  I think it is a shame to make people feel like reading is not a cool thing to do, the end result of discouraging people from reading books is that you have people without imaginations.  Imaginations are what we have developed as a way to find innovative solutions for problems.  Innovative solutions for problems are what we need to keep us, as a species, viable.

When people do not read they cannot disconnect from their personal reality easily and allow themselves to see things differently from how they think things are.  This results in a fundamentalist thought track and makes large groups of people who think that reality television is actually entertaining. 

Sports!  Go sports, one team beat other team.

I actually watched part of a football game the other night, although mainly because I was curious about how this fantasy football thing is supposed to work, I was pondering a massive excel spreadsheet that would rank everybody.  I spent more time actually laughing at a book that was there than watching what was actually happening on the screen.  From what I saw it was a lot of run three yards, fall down, throw ball, miss it, scowl, throw ball, catch it, cheer!  One team beat the other team, it was very exciting.

I should have been writing these words that I am writing now.  Instead I was out and about and not writing as I should have been.

I am fixing that now; I am going to stay here until I am done.  When I am done I am going to look at the time and ponder if I am going to fire together another chapter worth of words on a page.

Someone may enjoy them someday.

Someone may actually read them.

It could happen.

Copyright Jeff Harrison – 2015, All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

No more Ford Focus

I hated the Focus, I alternatively either referred to it as the Ford Ficus, or the Ford F##kass.

I am now the proud owner of a Toyota Corolla, 4 door, little tiny sedan.  This is far more to my liking.  I have a trunk!  I have not had a car with a trunk in years!

I can put dead hookers in the trunk....

Oh, the good old days....

Time for a different car, bridge, and ski trail.

Today is going to be a productive day.  We almost have the bridge over dribble creek finished.  It has been a long time coming, but soon the bridge will be in place and complete.

Then I can relax, that and I will have an easy route to go haul ashes from the fireplace out to the woods.  That will be a good thing.

The next big duty of the day is going to be going car shopping.  The forlorn Ford Ficus is at an end.  I am sick of the damn thing, it is a poorly engineered pile of shit and no one should be subjected to it.

Quite simply, Ford is the only brand of car that has ever left me stranded on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere...

Please see:

Hopefully I will be the proud owner of a Toyota by the end of the day.

Once I get that done I think I am going to look at building a cross country ski trail through the neighborhood.  We need more trails, and if you build it they will come.  Most of the land around me is tax forfeit or vacant anyway.  Might as well get some use out of it.  The one lot above me was going to be a church until they abandoned the idea.  The land across the road is owned by a friend who already told me I could do what I wanted on there.  He would likely come out and use the trails if they were there.

Of course then I have to build a groomer of some form or another, shouldn't be that hard.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Zen and the Art of Squirrel - Children

I don’t mind children.  They are loud, often obnoxious.

They make too much noise.  They produce smelly gunk.  They are often sticky.  You have no idea what the hell they are doing around your stuff.

They also, under certain circumstances will sit with rapt attention and listen.

Those times are really amazing.

On the whole I will tell you that the experience is not for me.  They are just too alien.  I am pretty sure that I never held my nephews when they were little.  It is not my thing.

I have done a good job of avoiding having any offspring of my own.  I have even gone to the extremes of getting a divorce to make sure that my record of not producing offspring stayed as it is.

I would never want to burden a child with all of the weights that I have been burdened.  Knowing what I know about myself, and the percentage of it that would likely be passed along to another generation to do so would be sadistic and self-serving.

No thanks, I am not that kind of guy.

Therefore, I am not going to have kids.

With my current relationship status maintaining this record is going to be pretty easy, but things have been known to change.  Every once in a while I find someone who finds me curious enough for a while.

I have a lot to teach, I suppose.  When I am in the right side of my cycles I have a lot of energy.  It takes a lot out of me though, and I will quietly suffer later for it.

This is the same reason that I do not want to teach. When I am in the right aspect of the cycles I have all of the creativity and energy anyone could want.  When I hit the other side I am a sore, mangled, pile of brain fuzz.

I will have short and entertaining moments with other people’s kids.  I will be somewhere and some bed-ragged sister or cousin will tell someone to “go bother Uncle Jeff.”

I can do it for a while.  I can talk at some level that makes sense to them.  But I would rather not.  As time has gone by I usually go away when there are objects under the age of eighteen in the house.

Too much frenetic movement and noise.  I like the senior citizens, they don’t move very fast and they don’t talk as much.

If I am outside I cannot hide as easy.  I have enough imagination that I can keep a group of children pretty well entertained for a spell.  I suppose if there was only one of them I could start teaching them things without them knowing that they are actually learning things.  That is usually the nest way to teach things to kids.  You can teach them anything, as long as they don’t know they are being taught.

I don’t have a lot to say about kids.  They do often bother me a little bit.  A lot of it is that I have a hell of a time moderating my speech and patterns of communication, and when there are little ones around the absorb everything.  Makes it far more difficult to avoid dropping bombs.

I think I have done a good job of avoiding actually holding a baby in my life.  If I have ever done it the experience escapes me, it was likely more transitory than anything else.  Basically a ‘here, hold this’ experience.

I am fine with it staying that way.

It is for the best.

Copyright Jeff Harrison – 2015 all rights reserved 

An Ohioan's Guide to Minnesota Etiquette

Guide to Etiquette in Minnesota vs Ohio

Situation: Someone offers you a cookie.
Ohio: Say "Thank you" and accept the cookie if you want to.
Minnesota: Refuse the cookie three times. Then accept the cookie if you want to.

Situation: You offer someone a cookie and they refuse
Ohio: Say "Alright." Maybe tell them that they are still welcome to it if they change their mind.
Minnesota: Insist that they take the cookie? Maybe? I am not clear on this. If they are required to refuse three times are you required to offer three times?

Situation: There is only one more cookie
Ohio: Ask if anyone wants the cookie. If no one speaks up or everyone says no then you can take the cookie.
Minnesota: No one gets to eat that cookie. Throw the cookie away at the end of the night after it has become stale. Alternatively cut the cookie into smaller and smaller bites infinitely until you have discovered a way to divide the atoms evenly but maybe that isn't fair? Calculate the atomic mass of the cookie. Hire a consulting firm. Split the atoms. But still no one can have the last one.

Situation: You have a problem with someone.
Ohio: Confront that person. Explain to them what you are feeling and why. Attempt to resolve the problem as peacefully as possible.
Minnesota: Act like everything is fine. Smile at them. Complain to everyone else about them. Exclude them from social gatherings.

Situations: You are leaving a friend's house
Ohio: Say goodnight, gather your things, hug everyone, then leave.
Minnesota: Plan ahead because there is another hour of talking left as you creep slowly towards the door.

I am sure there are more Minnesota social norms that I have not yet begun to comprehend. If anyone has any to add let me know.


I like people. I think I am alright with social cues and stuff like that. Being around certain people stops my thoughts from running so fast or taking such dark turns. I like and need time alone but I could not be healthy without time with others. Even if we aren't saying much just hiking or doing something active or fun it soothes my brain.

If I am in a crowd of strangers it is the opposite. All of the voices blend together into a sort of nightmare buzzing sound and the world gets dark and I need to step outside until it all goes away. If I am in a group of people who are all talking to each other and I don't feel like I really fit in (which is a lot of the time) I also have trouble. I just feel very quiet and withdrawn.

My problem is the backlash I get when I get home from hanging out with people. I could have felt wonderful and happy and charismatic. This is especially true with new people. If I feel like "Wow we really hit it off!" I am pretty much guaranteed to have a melt down later. Did I come on too strong? Did they really like me? I made an idiot of myself. I am too loud. Too annoying. No one wants to be around me anyway. I have this problem with established friends too. And it isn't really considered acceptable to regularly ask people to confirm that they actually like spending time with you because your brain is in overdrive. I just have to tell myself that people wouldn't have invited or agreed to hang out with me if they didn't actually want to. Which is probably at least mostly true. There has to be times when people are just doing that to be polite, right? Or not....

I really haven't figured out a good way to counteract those kinds of thoughts and feelings so if someone reads this and has ideas I am all ears.

I am actually pretty good with discussing my emotions in a logical way even when emotions aren't logical. I do alright in relationships with other upfront people because I am not afraid to say "I have no idea why but for some reason I get sad when you X. Can you reword it as Y?" Of course not everyone is up for that kind of communication so that isn't always a workable strategy but it is what I require in a partner.

I am usually pretty blunt and upfront about the things I am thinking and feeling. Which makes living in Minnesota hard. Next up: The perils of Minnesota "Nice"

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Other stuff, damn I have been writing a lot.

In four days I have written 10 long posts about Zen and the Art of Squirrel.  All of this began as a conversation that happened to hit me immediately after my return from a weekend retreat in Grand Marais.

The purpose of my retreat in Grand Marais was to clear my mind a little bit.  Let me have a weekend away from everything I was used to, and perhaps write a little.

Upon my return I have written a lot!

I mean a lot.  Those ten posts don't look like much until you suddenly realize that I have written about half of your average short book on a meaningless subject.

Not to say the subject is meaningless.  There is a lot that is going into writing these posts.  They may be a stream of consciousness brain dump on to the page and sometimes end up places that I did not originally intend them to end up.

They are amazing none the less.

I can make them better, and at some point I am going to put them all together into one document and then print it out and edit it all for content. Make it consistent and possibly coherent.

Then I my see where it all goes from here.  It is a long way down the rabbit hole, shall we see how far it goes?

We also had the single busiest day ever on the blog!  It was more that a ten fold increase over the normal traffic.  I have not been pushing the blog all that hard so that is a huge jump.

Zen and the Art of Squirrel - hobbies

I have hobbies that I do in order to keep me occupied and keep the demons away.  They are not real demons, jut the annoyances that happen when you let your mind wander too far. 

When left to my own devices I find most of my devices are broken.

I used to paint, I need to start doing this again.  I like painting, I like art when I was a kid I spent many hours drawing pictures of things.  Some of them were actually pretty good.  Most of those are lost.

I picked up painting, even sold a few.  The side effect of being odd is that you see things that others do not.  The end result is that you create things that most people wont.  Normal people really love that stuff.

I have always like writing.  I have written screen plays before, but none of them ever really went anywhere.  At some point I may try adapting one of them into a book and see if I can make it go anywhere.  I liked the idea, I liked the concept.  It had a twist, and a theme, and some odd turns that make it interesting.

I fear the characters lack some level of depth that book characters should have, but a lot of that is that I do not understand how people work.

How can I write about people when that is the one area where I am largely clueless?

I like sailing.  I have a little sailboat and I tool around the harbor from time to time.  I don’t want to go fast, I want to go quietly.  I wish it were big enough to use as a platform for doing science, unfortunately it is a little bit too small to start pulling core samples or towing plankton net behind.

I love science.  I love geology.  I love looking for faults in rock formations.  I love looking at a rock face and the cracks, folds, and layers and then figuring out what had to have happened to make that assemblage.

I am pretty good at it to.

Considering I do have a BS in Geology, I suppose I should be.

I used to bike everywhere.  I have not had the time to get out on the bike much this year.  I intend to make a few late season treks though.  There is a trail up the North Shore of Lake Superior that I have always been curious about.  My current automobile is a pile of crap which has prevented me from going up there and giving it a try.

I referee roller derby, although I am pretty close to calling it quits.  It isn’t fun anymore.  I fear that the changes that have been being made to the rule set and the adjustments to game play are actually to the detriment of game play and watchability.

I cut a lot of firewood.  I really enjoy being in the woods with a chainsaw.  Firewood warms you up twice as sometimes people have liked to say.  I agree with that adage.

Having hobbies is very important and is part of my Zen.  I do things that I enjoy and accomplish something so that later I can look at what I have produced and see how much I must have enjoyed it.

Hobbies have multiple purposes.  One of them is that you can take all of the time that you would normally be thinking about things that you should not be bothering with.  Things like the worry about the future.

You don’t have to worry about the future; it is going to happen regardless.  There are things in the future that we have to be wary of, climate change is a big problem that we should all be doing something about.  If you live in the areas within thirty degrees of the equator I would recommend planting a tree. 

Squirrels don’t seem to have hobbies, unless you consider defeating bird feeder anti-squirrel mechanisms to be a hobby.

The squirrel has a happy life.  Morons also often have a happy life, which makes me wonder what it is about intelligence that comes with such a burden. 

I suppose if you never understand that everything is broken you will never be frustrated that you can’t fix it.

The truth is that you really can’t fix it all.  You can make the world around you a more wonderful place.

I think the biggest thing is that you have to learn the art of appreciation.  There is a lot in the world that is wonderful and truly amazing.

Have you ever looked at the moon on a cold slightly overcast night?

There is a ring around the moon.

If you look even closer there is a slight rainbow in that ring.

Amazing, isn’t it.

Did you know if you look at the Big Dipper and it is dark enough you can see that the second to the last star on the handle is actually two very close stars (in reality there are more than two but not without a powerful telescope).  If you can see two you could then be an archer in the Greek or Roman army, or something like that.

In the northern hemisphere we see a lot of Orion in the wintertime.  There is the scabbard that hangs from the belt of Orion.  The middle star of the scabbard isn’t actually a star.  It is a star factory!  Hundreds of them, bright blue new stars growing out of a cloud of dust!

Oh yeah, astronomy is also a hobby of mine.

During the day time there are still amazing things to see.  Look at the patterns in the petals of a flower.  Flowering plants are actually relatively new in the evolution of life on Earth.  There were dinosaurs already living on Earth before we ever got flowers for them to give to one another.

I can’t imagine that a T-Rex would be that much of a romantic however.

Elephants have a highly evolved social structure, something that is common in large herbivores.  I wonder if the large herbivores of the dinosaur world had highly evolved social structures.

How would we ever know?

Riddle me that?

Copyright Jeff Harrison – 2015 all rights reserved.

Zen and the Art of Squirrel - simplify

Life is too complex.

It is the complexity that we have added to or lives that make me want to scream on a rather regular basis.

Right now my life is rather simple, but it has taken a lot of work to get here.

I go to work in the morning; I leave at 7:30, every day.  I get to work at about ten to eight, every day.  I grab two shots of espresso and head upstairs to answer phones and enter orders, although there is some variance in this depending on vacations and who is sick.  The phones quiet down around noon so I eat some lunch.  I have a cheese sandwich and some form of fruit.  I go back to work and make sure that there is nothing pressing that needs to get done right away, everything else can be put on the orders for the next day.  I put a list together of who has an order, who it is being shipped with, which ones are drop ships, and who has a COD.  I put something witty on the bottom as a signature line.  Something like “Its turtles all the way down”, or “Goonies never say die!”  Then I go down to the production floor and I help them finish up. 

At some point after that it will become obvious that everything is going to make its way out the door and the world will keep turning for another day.  I check to see if there is anything pressing going on in the downstairs world.  I look at the clock, update my time sheet and I go home.

Every two weeks I get a direct deposit into my bank account.

Sometimes when I am upstairs I work on spreadsheets, research problems, make forms for QuickBooks, do graphic design, sometimes I have nothing to do.  I hate those times.

I don’t like clock milking.  If I don’t have anything to do I would rather be accomplishing something important like cutting firewood.  Going on a nature hike, writing about Zen and squirrels.

I have a degree.  I also know that I could get a job somewhere else if I put my mind to it.  I know I cannot do sales, that would involve talking to people, even worse, meeting people.  I may have to remember names, put names with faces.  Talk to people that I don’t already know everything I need to know about them.

I like my simple life.  I don’t need much.  I am actually gradually working on getting even less than I already have.

I would love a tiny house.  I think it would be perfect, a life refined down to only the things that you need right now.  If that does not seem like the way things will work I may try for a sailboat.  I would not even really need to go out sailing; I sleep better on a boat than I do anywhere else.

The hardest thing that I would have to part with if I got everything more refined down is books.  I am not sure how many books I could actually fit on a small boat or in a tiny house.  I really like my books, but I do not consider have a book case or two of books to be extravagant.

Having a large screen TV, that would be extravagant.

Last year, in an attempt to make the basement where I am living while I take care of the parents and make sure that they have things like heat, lawn mowing, and snow shoveling.  The decision was made to get rid of the old tube TV in the basement and replace it with a small flat screen.  It was not a big screen, I did not object.  The resulting TV has not been turned on in a few weeks.  I will admit that a few weeks ago, maybe towards the beginning of summer there was a show on PBS that I found interesting and watched down there.

It has not been touched since.

I bought a gaming console in an attempt to get my mother to use the exercise program that we had for it.  She was just getting her mobility back after a joint replacement and it was a low-impact exercise option.  She didn’t use it; I think I played one game on it.  It is still there.

I did use it for NetFlix for a while, it was good for that.  I ran out of Doctor Who episodes and the selection of science programming was lacking.  The BBC makes good programming, but they can only produce just so much.

If I had a sailboat I would not likely have a TV set.

There is a stereo system down there, hooked up with the TV and with all of the surround sound stuff and doo-dads.  It also has not been turned on in months, perhaps not yet this year.

I have a basic laptop computer, which I am working on right now.  The first thing that I did with it was to remove all the extemporaneous software that I am never going to use, and truly just find bothersome.  I have to run Windows 7 as a result.  None of the newer systems can survive the process.

I need to do basic things with what I have.  I like programs like Excel®, I can do spreadsheets.  I can write spreadsheets that show you amazing things, even ones that you can just paste a data set from another program into it and it will do all of the calculations for you on another page.  It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes sales analysis much easier.

I like beer, but not fancy beer.  When I am at the bar I generally go to I drink Old Style®.  When I am out of town I drink Grain Belt Premium®.  I have my three beers and I go home.  I happen to be sitting at a bar while I am writing this.  I ordered the beer before I started getting set up to write and I am roughly a thousand words in now.  I have not taken a sip yet.

People try to maintain multiple social media profiles through Instagram®, Facebook®, Twitter®, and etcetra.  I have a Twitter® that I send notifications out on.  I have a Facebook® for my cat so that in an emergency people can get a hold of me.

I don’t have a cell phone.  I found that despite my complete lack of communication skills the cell phone culture was actually making it worse.  I started paying attention to the way that people behaved when they are out and I discovered that people spend most of their lives glued to a screen.  It is appalling. 

I crushed my phone in a hydraulic press in protest.

People who know me know that they an call my home phone at a reasonable hour and I will be there, and if I am not there, then there is a decent chance I will get the message that they called.

I have had the same main email for about a decade.  It is a very simple email address and other than the amount of spam that I get I have yet to want to get rid of it.  I have a couple of gmail accounts, but I never read them.   There may also be some abandoned accounts; I believe I had a hotmail and a yahoo.  I have no idea if they are still functional.

I have only really talked to two people since I got here.  I got invited to one event that I am not going to be able to make, although it sounded fun.

I do a lot in my life and I want to do less.  I am working on it, but I have to be careful where I trim.  People already get weirded out when I tell them that I don’t have a cell phone and deleted my Facebook®.

“But how can I get a hold of you?”

Write me a letter….

I have not actually gotten a letter in years.

If you scroll through this blog there is a good possibility you can even find my address if anyone feels so inclined.

Copyright Jeff Harrison – 2015 all rights reserved

Zen and the Art of Squirrel - Coffee

I really like coffee.

Even before I started working for a coffee roaster I really liked coffee.

Of course now I get free coffee, and I drink espresso shots all day, but I have liked coffee for a long time.  Not just any coffee, the stuff my parents drank while I was growing up was crap.  The stuff that they serve at most restaurants is warmed over crap.

I actually want to taste my coffee.  I drink it for the flavor.

Well the flavor and the fact that it relaxes me and allows me to think more clearly.

When we do travel for roller derby we sometimes have to be cooped up in a car for several hours as we go from one end of the state to the other.  The referees that I ride with don’t like riding with me so much unless I have my liter of coffee.  And this is not just any coffee, this is Jeffy coffee.  It is black, it is thick, it tastes and smells like coffee should.

If I do not hav my coffee my brain goes on overdrive since there is little else to do on a car ride but let it go, unless I am driving.  Usually we drive with Bacon because he is a very relaxed driver and has nicer cars.

One time I forgot my coffee.

I was calculating the kinetic energy potential of a weeping angel (from Doctor Who) based on that if you send someone back to the same location in space, but at an earlier time, due to the expansion of the universe they would be tecnically closer to the center.

It was a very long car ride.

They actually check to make sure I have my coffee with me now, before that they just found it to be a curiousity.

There is a reason that this works.

I have, among other things, a mind with a prediliction for attention deficite disorder.  The drug that they love prescribing for ADD is Ritalin®.  Ritalin® is a stimulant.  Caffeine is a stimulant.  My 600mg morning caffeine intake is comparable to taking a bunch of Ritalin®. 

Caffeine is cheaper, and I am going to guess better for you.

I love my coffee.

I dispair because there is a lack of late night coffee shops in this town.  Crusty old people drink coffee in the morning so they can go to work and coffee shops have built up around this market.  I am not in that market.  I don’t drink coffee to wake me up, it doesn’t work that way.  I am plenty awake, I need to slow my brain down.  I need my thoughts to stop tripping over one another.  I need another coffee shop that is open late so I ca drink coffee and write, read, study, think, create….

Because I love my coffee, I really love my coffee.

I do not like putting things in my coffee.  No cream, no sugar, no Pumpkin Spice flavoring and steamed milk.  I hate that crap.  The Pumkin Spice Latte is a sign of what is wrong with America.  I hate coffee pollution.  If the coffee that people were drinking did not taste like garbage most of the time they would realize that they didn’t need all of those flavors to cover the best part.

The coffee flavor.

I like coffee flavored coffee.

The caffeine hits my brain like a tsunami, the neurons start dancing together rather than trying to jump in all different directions at once.  Eventually the thoughts start to clear, the words start to slow down and make sense.  The ideas become unified and I can see the world as it is.

Sometimes, for a brief moment, I can even talk to people.

I walked into a class once, Senior Seminar in Natural History.  I was a little tired as it was the beginning of the afternoon and I usually start to slow down around noon in the winter.  The professor asked me if I wanted to go get a coffee and I said that I had already had six shots of espresso, another cup would not make a difference.

He was stunned.  Six shots of espresso and I was falling asleep?

I fall asleep in the middle of drinkin my liter of coffee sometimes.

I do not drink coffee to wake myself up.  I drink it to calm myself down.

Make the neurons all dance together and act like they are friends for a while.

I think we should stop prescribing all of the ridiculous gateway drugs that we prescribe to the youth of today and just give them coffee. It is cheaper and it I better for them.

You can cross the border with a cup of coffee and they don’t bat an eye. Try doing that with a handful of Ritlin®.

Someday I want to end up someplace where I am largely alone with my thought.  Whether that be on a boat, or a cabin in the woods, or a tin house on the prarie.  The main consideration that I have is where will I get my coffee.

I discovered last year that it is actually difficult to bre coffee properly at high elevation. I related this to a story in The Voyage of the Beagle where they are attempting to cook potatoes in the Andes.  The same reason you cannot cook potatoes at high elevation is the reason that you cannot brew a good French Press of coffee at elevation. 

When you go up in elevation the air prssure decreases.  When the air presure decreases the boiling point of water decreases.

The extraction of all the good parts of the coffee requires water of a certain temperature, that temperture is more difficult to obtain when the boiling point of water is to close. 

I was taking a class in Park City, Utah.  We were a bit over 6,000 feet for the time.  The air was clear, the stars were bright, and the water boiled too easily to make a decent cup of coffee.

It works great at sea level.

I wish I could go out at night and drink a good cup of coffee.  Talk to friends.  Play a nice game of Go.

There is a lack of late night coffee shops in this town.  We have plenty of bars, no late night coffee shops.

If I could get a decent cup of coffee right now I would be writing this right now with a cup of coffee sitting next to the lap top.  The only coffee I can get, and they don’t lke you just sitting there drinking one cup of coffee and killing the wifi, is Starbucks.

I like coffee, I don’t like burnt coffee.

When you dark roast a coffee you roast the character out of it.  It also allows you to cover up that you are buying a lower grade of bean and trying to pass it off as something that it really isn’t.

You can go to far the other way as well, that white espresso crap has to go.  There is a sweet spot where you can get the really amazing flavors out of a coffee.  It depends on the bean.  The beans that you can get amazing coffee flavors out of are often quite expensive.

You can put flavoring on anything and it will still smell like a flavored coffee.  I can’t drink the stuff.

The flavoring covers up the coffee.  What good is that?

Coffee is good for you, if you are on the ADD/ADHD spectrum it does calm the mind in a way that helps you think.

It is better for you than taking a bunch of drugs.

Copyright Jeff Harrison – 2015 All Rights Reserved

Zen and the Art of Squirrel - People

People scare me.

Not in the sense that I am going to hide in the basement and never come out or talk to anyone.  It is just that people I do not know scare me.

Once I know who people are and have a faint memory of things that we have in common I am fine, but you will not find I am that type of person who is going to start talking to someone at a bar, or introduce myself.

In general I would often prefer not to talk at all.  If I am with people that I know and I feel comfortable, and maybe a bit manic, then you cannot shut me up.

But people I do not know scare me, at least talking to them.

I do photography as a hobby, I am actually pretty good at it, although I am breaking from the mold and shooting live concerts with manual lenses on a modern digital body.  I think that sometimes I am trying for a super-hipster merit badge or something.  The truth is that I have issues with technology and I prefer things that just work.

As a result of this I will often end up at shows in the front row, on the edge of the stage, sometimes back stage, or in the security area up front.  However I am anonymous in front of hundreds of people.  I don’t have to speak to them.  I am just the guy taking pictures.

I hate writing captions.  Are people going to take offense to something I write on a caption?  I have now gotten away from doing captions.

I write an unrelated story instead.  The pictures are already worth a thousand words, why would they need more.

I am afraid of people, talking to people, speaking in front of people.

Ironically if you came to me and asked me to explain to a group how a geologic formation was formed on the fly I would not likely have any issue, but that is one of my strong areas.

If you really want to see me lock up ask me how I feel.  Especially when there is someone of the opposite sex involved.

A long time ago, and far away I was in one of those relationship type things.  It was becoming strained though, partially because of communication issues.

I have never been much for that communication thing.

But I was trying to make one work, even if it was a mostly fruitless effort.  Somehow or another managed to hold it together for a little while.  But, like I said, things were becoming strained.  I had some things that were really starting to aggravate me, but I could not effectively communicate what these things were to my partner.

Finally she told me to just go and write it down and email it to her.

This actually worked, I did not have to look at her face and try to determine what a facial expression meant.  I really don’t get much out of facial expressions anyway, I can only get the obvious ones.

The email things did work and extended the relationship out for a little while.  It still failed, although that had a lot to do with just general incompatibility.  We had different paths, and after a cooling off period we remained friends for the next several years.

It is not that I do not have feelings for people, I just have no clue what an appropriate way to express them is.  The end result is that I keep a lot of things inside.

No one can hurt you if you never give anyone a chance.

Except that you are hurting yourself be never giving yourself a chance either.

I can disseminate facts and figures until the cows come home.  I can have fluid conversations on topics that many people can only somewhat grasp.

Often I don’t want to though.  I keep my mouth shut a lot when I am out.

I can go hours in a bar and never speak.  I don’t even need to speak to get a beer, although sometimes I would prefer coffee.

I think that if I ever had to take a vow of silence, which is unlikely since I am, at heart, a militant atheist,  it would not be that hard.  Zen has its own reward, and Zen is a state that is not pinned upon the existence of some fuzzy-wuzzy sky daddy.

I find my zen in many places. 

Not all of the places I find my zen are the ones you would expect.

I am far from my zen when I am trying to talk to people.

I am close to my zen when I am talking to no one.

At another time in my life, just post-divorce.  My general line as a response to the “you were married?” question is that I got better.   Was having a little trouble sleeping.  Well if you consider basically skipping sleep in the month of October a little trouble sleeping.

For some odd reason I frequently have horrible insomnia in October.

I would go out and look for places where I could relax and think.  I bundled myself up one day and drove to the pier on the Wisconsin side of the harbor and watched the sun come up over the lake.  There were clouds, and a few stinging snow flurries, but the sun rising over the lake was a sight to see.

Then I went home so I could go to work a few hours later.

It was a very bad month.

But I watched the sun come up and did not speak a word for hours.  I tried to clear all thought from my mind.  I did a pretty good job of it.

When the sun first breaks over the lake it is incredibly bright, or at least it seems incredibly bright.

It is actually filtering through a lot more atmosphere so it is dimmer that it will be later in the day, but since it was night and the stars were out previously, it makes it seem extremely bright.

I did not speak to anyone and it was divine.

Because people scare me.

People scare me a lot more than they should.

Copyright Jeff Harrison - 2015  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A side note for Zen and the Art of Squirrel

I am writing this thing as we go, and as a result I post sections, one at a time, as I can.  The fact that I got six sections up in two days is pretty amazing!

But anyway, when you are trying to read it it will be in reverse order in the blog.  As in if you started at the top and scrolled down you would read chapter 6, then 5, then 4...

Start at the beginning, there are 6 sections so far.  Later I will see about getting links from one to the next on them, I haven't gotten that far yet.

And I have to go to work.

But I will be back later!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Zen and the Art of Squirrel - the Dangers of Patterns

Earlier I discussed how you have to watch for patterns.  Patterns are a wonderful thing to understand.  Patterns can give you an idea of what you are going to be expecting and how best to deal with it.

Patterns are not always that great.

Another odd effect of some of these brain monkeys is that sometimes I find it very easy to perceive patterns.  Unfortunately not all of the perceived patterns are actually there.

Oh, I did mention that this is the part where we start to be acting crazy up in here?

Nope,  forgot to mention that, sorry, but yeah, this is where we start sounding like we are actually nuts.

I look at numbers.  I have always found them enjoyable.  I do not have the kind of skills that allow me to look at a Sudoku and solve it in one glance, but I am very quick at solving them.

I have always loved certain patterns of numbers.  Like the Fibonacci sequence.


It is kind of cool when you see how many different places that one shows up in nature.

For a lot of my life I have been fascinated by prime numbers.

I would sit on a swing set thinking about prime numbers.

I would lie awake in bed thinking about prime numbers.

I would write programs to calculate prime numbers.

What is so fascinating about prime numbers anyway?  Well, there is no easily discernible pattern, although there looks like there should be one.

2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97

Two is an anomaly, it is the only one of the group that is even.  It also eliminates all other even numbers from consideration, which made writing a program to calculate primes much easier, I only had to consider odd numbers.

If you look at the spacing of the numbers it goes…

..1, 2, 2, 4, 2, 4, 6, 2, 6, 4, 2, 4, 6, 6, 2, 6, 4, 2, 6, 4, 6, 4….

Look at that, there is a…


Ok, never mind no pattern there….

Lets look at these numbers in binary


Well that is certainly interesting, and much easier to see than when you are lying in bed just imagining the numbers.  There are a few patterns that pop out, the wanderings of the zero and the fillings of the ones in a few sequences.  There is one pattern that looks like it will always work out.

And it is amazingly simple to see.

Any prime number of ones is the binary representation of a prime number.

11 = 3
111 = 7
1111, 4 ones, should not be prime, oh yeah, 15
11111 = 31
11111111111111111111111111111 (29 ones in a row)


Oh wait, what…

Not prime….


Another dead end for understanding that looks great until you get past where you can do the calculations in your head.

These are not the only things that show patterns that may or may not be there.  I often look at the positioning of earthquakes and where they are happening on a map and I have predicted several.  Although, predicting an earthquake in Chile gives you a 10% chance of success on any given day.

Patterns are interesting, but they are also dangerous.

Gambling machines run by patterns, to an extent, if you only sat and watched long enough you would start to see them.

I don’t have that much time, and I think that gambling is a waste of time.

Basically I consider it a tax on hope.

The cycles of depression and mania have patterns too, but they are not always the same.  You cannot assume that if you are up today you will be down tomorrow.  Or if you are down tomorrow, you will be up the next day. 

You will have a better guide, but that guide will not be 100%.

Patterns can be dangerous.

You have been warned.

Zen and the Art of Squirrel - the Zen of Nature

It does not hurt that I went to school fr geology which is primarily an outdoor sort of venture.  It does not hurt that I am taking a short respite to write this from being out in the yard with a chainsaw cutting firewood.

There is something magical about nature and what it can do for your moods if you learn to appreciate it.  Sometimes people say that it is hard to see the forest through the trees, but I want you to look even closer than that.

Do you have any idea what is living under that rock?

Now, in some parts of the country what is living under that rock could be poisonous, so if you live somewhere that has scorpions, rattlesnakes, big nasty spiders, be aware of these object before you start tipping rocks up to see what lives beneath, I happen to live in Northern Minnesota and it is pretty benign up here.

The other day a friend of mine and I went for a nature walk, we hiked up the creek for about two miles looking at various things in the woods, looking at things living in the creek, pondering about the cycles of life and at what point various creatures that we saw were in withing those cycles.

It is almost fall (as of this writing we have a few more hours of summer), and this is the time of year that creatures start getting ready for a long and brutal winter.  This is also inter-related to the above mentioned firewood, although I am already prepped for this season.  Many of the creatures that you would see earlier in the year have already started to disappear from the streams and are a little harder to find.  On our trek we saw a few crawfish, a few minnows, a stonefly, one leopard frog, although only briefly, a few birds, and some evidence of other creatures that had been making their passages previously.

Being a geologist I was looking at the chlorite in the rocks and the different basalt flows and crosscutting nature of dikes in the strata, and how erosion has varied dependent on the nature of the bedrock.  We listened to the waterfalls, and watched the patterns that objects made as the flowed down stream.  We had a discussion on the linear nature of time and what information we would send back if we were able to send data back in time.

The logic behind the being able to send data back in time is that data has no mass, and can be transmitted via energy, or even quantum relationships, therefore would not require as extreme of an energy supply to return back a few years.

Maybe you are not the kind of person who is really into biology, geology, and theoretical physics.  I do recommend all three, but the main point is that when you are out in nature you are free of the rest of the world.

All of those things that you need to be away from at work are not likely to be sitting out in a creek through the woods.  The noises that grate on you every day as you try to just get through the day.  They are usually not caused by things in a creek through the woods.

I can hear the tubes on TV sets, I can hear the electricity running through wires under load.  I can hear florescent light bulbs.  Flashing lights, especially strobes make me twitchy.  Really loud music makes me need to go away and just sit for a while sometimes, depends on the nature of the music.

None of these triggers occur in a creek through the woods.

Deer, as a general rule, do not use a lot of electric appliances.  Mice are not huge on having underground parties, at least not ones that I can hear.

This weekend I went up the North Shore of Lake Superior to hang out for the weekend in Grand Marais.  Grand Marais is an interesting town and it is the end of the tourist season right now, but it is still nice enough out that they are everywhere.  At some point we ended up in a bar surrounded by the locals and it was too loud, there was too much movement, and too many things going on at one time so I went outside and looked at the lake.

The lake I understand.

Saturday night we decided to skip town and drive even further out into nowhere.  We ended up at a cabin on Gunflint Lake.  From the dock where I sat taking pictures of the aurora borealis I could see Canada about a mile away.

We saw evidence of two other people at the lake all night.  Once I saw a light at a dock about a quarter mile away, once a boat went by in the distance.

I watched a thunderstorm that was barely visible on the horizon for about two hours.  I listened to loons and possibly some wolves in the distance.  We could hear the shrews digging through the underbrush in the yard.

When I looked up in the sky I saw stars.  Millions of them.  None of them tried to judge me.  The friend I was up there with and I sat on the dock and talked about life and family for the entire night as we watched the green, yellow, and violet glow in the sky.

There were no phones, no Internet, the only electric device that was running was the camera as it shot pictures from the tripod.

That night I slept like a rock, which actually resulted in my missing was was apparently an epic aurora show at about four in the morning, but I woke up rested and I felt great.

This summer I bought a sailboat and fixed it up.  I discovered that when I am on the water I have almost no stress.  The only sound is the sound of  fourteen feet of the waterline gently making waves.

The only issue I have with the boat is that it is designed as a go fast boat, and I have no reason to go fast.  I just want to go from point A to point B, as quietly and calmly as possible.

I have been joking that I think I need a bigger boat, bigger and slower would be more accurate.

Nature is a place that surrounds us.  If you live in the depths of the city it may be farther away for you than it is for me.  But either way, it surrounds us.  If you go out in nature you may even find that you have a critter living out there that you have a lot in common with.

His name is squirrel.

The view from the dock

Crazy Meds

For anyone who has to navigate the wonderful world of psychiatric medications I highly recommend this website:

From their welcome page:

At Crazymeds we make psychiatric and neurological conditions (AKA brain cooties) our bitches with evidence-based medicine and a healthy dose of gallows humor. We try to explain more about psychiatric and neurological medications than the WebMD family1 and any other site that offers “FDA-approved” information. Instead of what they give you - reformatted for a more advertising-rich experience2, but otherwise word-for-word copies of the same medication guides and prescribing information / package inserts (PI) that
oftenare supposed to come with your meds3 - Crazymeds is where you can learn what’s good, what’s bad, what’s interesting, and what’s plain weird and funny about the medications used to treat depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, epilepsy, migraines, anxiety, neuropathic pain, or whatever brain cooties you might have. We give you details other sites don’t, information that is really helpful for you to work with your doctor(s) to find the right treatment options. Things like:
  • How likely a med will work to treat what you have.
  • When will it start to work.
  • What its pros and cons are.
  • How long side effects stick around
    • and what, if anything, can be done about them.

Bipolar: A Different Story. Part 2: the Shame of Western Medicine

In those first really bad days I was lucky to be in an environment where mental health services were free and easy to access. As an undergraduate some amount of the exorbitant fees we paid went into "free" mental health services. As long as we could prove we had insurance we got counseling and psychiatry at no additional cost.

I got into counseling right away but psychiatry (medication) appointments were booked months in advance. I assumed back then that it was just because it was a college campus and in the "real world" going to the psychiatrist would be like going to any other specialty doctor. Appointments could be made to see someone in a few weeks at most and faster in a crisis situation. I did not know how wrong I was. It takes months to get to see a psychiatrist. If you are in a crisis situation it is the hospital or nothing. More on the hospital part later.

When I met with the psychiatrist for the first time they diagnosed me with unilateral depression and gave me prozac which, after some side effects (including sleeping all of the time) they reduced to a very low dose that pretty much didn't do anything either way. A few years after I first started being treated for mental health problems I experienced death in my family and other events I couldn't cope with. This is when I started my real journey down the rabbit hole of psychiatric medications. I went to a primary care doctor and said I needed help. One of the first sentences out of their mouth was "Well, what medication would you like to try?" What? You seriously have no idea what you are doing to the point where you think someone with no knowledge of medicine whatsoever will do a better job then you? I didn't take that for the warning sign it was. I let her experiment with my brain chemistry.

In the next year I tried a lot of different kinds of medication all with very different debilitating side effects. My case isn't unusual. It is the norm. The brain is very complex and we don't really understand what works and why. So we just throw things at it and see what sticks. This process is made worse by the fact that if something is going wrong it is difficult or impossible to get into a doctor right away to make the necessary changes to feel better. Eventually they found just the wrong medication. My roommate found me on the ground laughing hysterically (where I had been for at least half an hour) about how I was going to kill myself and it was going to be awesome. I had it all planned out, every detail. I was scared but also elated. My roommate was horrified and rightly so. So she took me to the hospital.

The hospital was a turning point in my life. I found out later how extremely lucky I was that my hospital experience was largely positive.

Bad things go on in hospital mental wards. They are overcrowded and the staff is usually overwhelmed. People who are there largely don't want to be there but when you are taken to a mental ward you are under lock and key. You can't go outside. Visiting hours are limited. People with very different problems and different degrees of problems are all locked away together. Sometimes doctors and nurses do things that aren't appropriate. They try to convert patients to their religion because it will make the patients feel better and how can you find happiness without god? All in all it isn't the kind of environment that makes people feel better. Basically they take away all of your coping mechanisms and won't let you out until you can successfully fake being better.

For me it was a place where I finally got help. The doctor seemed baffled that no one had tried on of the most basic antidepressants that is usually the first or second thing they try (Zoloft). They had tried me on so many new, experimental, or just less used drugs that no one had tried one of the basics. The hospital environment was also a safe place where they could monitor side effects without the chance of me hurting myself. I also had a wonderful talk with one of the therapists. I asked him what kind of meaning I could have without religion (I just went through a period where I tried really hard to be religious so that I could make some sense of the world). He said simply "What does religion have to do with life having meaning?" It doesn't sound like anything revolutionary now but at the time I was blindsided. It was what I needed to hear at the moment I needed to hear it.

Don't get me wrong. Even though the mental ward helped I never ever want to go back there. It isn't a good place. I need to be able to go outside and be with friends to be healthy. But sometimes people need to go there. And sometimes it helps. If there is no option other than pull the trigger or go to the hospital you literally have nothing to lose by going to the hospital. And if I have to make that choice again I hope I have the presence of mind to choose the hospital.

After the mental ward I graduated from college and moved to a new town. There I got a psychiatrist that actually figured out what was wrong with me. I wasn't just depressed. I was bipolar, and antidepressants by themselves can be very bad for bipolar folks. So I got put on a mood stabilizer and things were a lot better. I was still me but I could get out of bed in the morning. I wasn't so irritable.

I want to be clear here. Medication saved my life. I have no doubt I would be dead without it.
"I believe, without doubt, that manic-depressive illness is a medical illness; I also believe that, with rare exception, it is malpractice to treat it without medication." - Kay Redfield Jamison, John Hopkins School of Medicine in her book "An Unquiet Mind"
I understand I am going to be on medication for the rest of my life. I know that some people can get by without medication but some people can't. And that's okay. We call ourselves a prozac nation but in all honesty people who are on psychiatric medications are deemed as lesser. We just don't want to deal with life. We want to take the easy way. If we just had more self control or were better people  then we wouldn't need to take drugs. We are buying in to big Pharma and are shills to the system. Doctors are lying to us. We should just wake up. We should think happy thoughts and feel better.

That is my least favorite thing about how the mentally ill are treated. Depression is treated as the same as sadness. Everyone gets sad sometimes. And most people get sad but then they feel better. They try to explain to depressed people over and over again the steps they went through to feel better. They then get offended if you try to tell them that those things don't work for you. The depressed person is blamed for not wanting to feel happy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Being bipolar is viewed as just having emotions. It is what separates us from robots and politicians. I am paraphrasing something I saw someone say on Facebook just last week. Except that normal emotions don't usually keep you in bed for days or weeks at a time. Normal emotions don't make you feel like there are two very different songs playing in your head at the same time at full volume and the only way to slow them down is if you can figure out a way to peel your own skin off.

I am not going to say medication by itself is the way to go. There needs to be other things too. Something to keep you from going up to high or crashing too low. And it is important to have a friend to help you through that. And right now I am beyond grateful to have that friend. A friend who knows what it means to reach heights I can only dream with. Who has a mind that can understand mine. Someone to help me understand Zen and the Art of Squirrel.