Do Not Be Afraid to Tell the Truth

I just listened to a radio piece about a young woman who died from a heroin overdose. In the story, her father was explaining why he went public with her cause of death, posting on Facebook and listing that information in her obituary. The father, Tom, told Melissa Block from NPR that he could not understand why anyone would not want to help by telling the truth, letting the world know that people are dying from drug addiction.

I have lost a family member to drug addiction. We’ve seen relatives and friends die from cancer and heart disease, and no one raises an eyebrow when that information is shared. “Oh, I had an aunt who died of cancer,” they will say. But tell them about a 24-year-old who died of a heroin overdose. Suddenly they see that person as a criminal. That’s the problem with the War on Drugs. Since 1971, more money has been spent on criminal enforcement than on treatment. With so many “drug offenders” crowding prisons, it is obvious that tactic hasn’t worked.

Drugs, including legal ones like alcohol and tobacco, when abused have the potential to destroy you and your family. I have seen what happens to families where someone has an addiction. Its effects last for generations and beyond. Naturally, many people can control their use of drugs. That’s not to say that you could spot an addict. Many addicts easily hide their addiction. An alcoholic doesn’t have to be a drunken fool lying in the gutter. He or she could be sitting next to you in church. They just happen to have a disease, like diabetes or cancer. But like any disease, going untreated can result in death. I’m not kidding here.

Tobacco-related deaths far outnumber deaths due to alcohol abuse, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. But there are still too many drug-related deaths, most of which could be prevented with proper treatment. The girl in the radio story went to rehab repeatedly. But it wasn’t enough. The lesson to be learned here is to avoid drugs as much as possible. If you decide to drink, recognize when you’ve had too much. If you find yourself getting drunk every time you drink, seek help. As for heroin and other hard drugs, just do your best to stay away. If your friends try to get you to use them, find new friends. You know what they do to people. And anyone who does not care about you is not your friend.

I know some people who abuse drugs. I wish they would stop. I know that nothing I say will change their desire for that high, and they have to get themselves some help. Tom, the father in the story, talked about everything he tried to help his daughter, and he tried everything. That girl was blessed but unfortunate. She had a family who cared about her, but also a dealer wanting to make a buck. I suggest you listen to the story, and if you know someone struggling with addiction, tell them to get some help. I am through with holding my tongue. If people don’t want to hear what I have to say, they can walk away. I don’t care whom I offend. Your life is precious, and you are throwing it away. Someone ought to make you feel really, really uncomfortable about this.


Green Thumb

Project 3 in 642 Things to Write About is “A houseplant is dying. Tell it why it needs to live.” Houseplants are not intelligent beings. They are not pets. They do not possess emotions or desires. They do not feel fear, and they can’t hear me. They’re only needs are sunlight in varying degrees of intensity, moisture, warmth, nutrients, and air. Some, like cacti, require far less moisture than other plants, like ivy or succulents. Not knowing what each plant needs to survive can kill it. Too much water, not enough drainage, not enough sun, the wrong pH level in the soil. All these can pose problems to a healthy houseplant. But if you pay attention to where the plant was placed when you bought it, you can expect to see success.

For the most part, houseplants are to be kept indoors. Some varieties can tolerate moderate swings in temperatures, say from 12 to 25 degrees between day and night. (That’s Celsius, in case you haven’t been reading my blog for very long.) If you purchase a plant from a nursery or a Lowes or Home Depot-type store, notice that some plants are always kept indoors. These will not necessarily do well outside. Some plants will not grow just anywhere (unless you live in Hawaii or Southern California.) I tried to grow an avocado tree in a pot one time. I was somewhat successful, but my 9-kg Siamese cat landed on it or something, and it didn’t make it.

I have one ivy – devils ivy, it’s called, or pothos ivy – that I transplanted from a plant medley I received as a gift years ago. All the plants in that collection have flourished, and I think one is a tad root-bound and needs a larger pot. Some plants prefer to be in more confined spaces, however. The ivy is kind of taking over. If anything, I should convince this plant to going into a medically-induced coma. I could lean over the hospital bed and sing Billie Holiday songs. I don’t want it to wither and die. But I have a tendency to get things to grow. I have a green thumb.

It’s nothing I am conscious of. I don’t sing to the garden. I don’t use Miracle Gro, but I mulch and incorporate organic compost. It’s not that hard. I have a rather large patch of Greek oregano that I can’t contain. The elaeagnus on the side of the house must be pruned often to keep from taking over. The only problem I’m currently having is that the trees in the front of our property are casting too much shade and preventing the grass from growing. I’m looking for a ground cover that requires little or no direct sunlight. I doubt it will resemble a lawn. I mean, I have 23 trees on this property. Grass? Really?

You don’t need to talk to houseplants. They can’t hear you, and even if they did, they wouldn’t give a shit what you want. They just need the right environment. Any change to it causes stress. Not the kind of stress you or I feel. But they “feel” the effects of changes in their surroundings. Consistency and balance are key. Proper nutrition, clean water, natural light and warmth are what they need. Kind of like people. I’m not sure why I was granted this gift of a green thumb. I think I always had it. When I was little, my dad and us, we planted vegetables, and we ate them: cucumbers, okra, tomatoes, corn, beans, squash, and radishes. I think eating food you grow yourself endows a person with whatever it takes to be successful. It wasn’t as if we would starve if we failed. But seeing and tasting the product of those efforts were powerful motivators. Otherwise, I cannot explain it.

Knowing how to do something and wanting to do it are pretty much all you need to reach your goal. If you want to grow a herb garden, look up your growing zone and make a plan. Read about how to condition the soil and what plants will grow in your zone. Find out what plants are suited for your climate. Rosemary is very forgiving. Sweet basil is not frost-tolerant and requires more moisture than other herbs. Italian oregano is hearty and fragrant. Dill attracts black swallowtail butterflies. Some plants will survive winter (at least they survive what passes for winter in Texas).

I have a little moon cactus at my desk at work. I like having a plant in the office, but I can’t have one that requires daily watering, so the cactus makes perfect sense. It needs care, but can survive prolonged drought. You can actually kill a cactus if you don’t have all the facts. Anything living needs to be provided for. Everything needs attention and care. Is that love? Can you love a plant? Can you love a thing that does not love you back? Damn. I just started another post there.

Okay, folks. Shut it down!


That One Third

I’ve been sleep-deprived for some time, now. Well, up till a couple weeks ago. Everything changed back in March when I realized I was actually suffering bad health as a result of not getting adequate sleep. I was having memory problems, losing focus, unable to pay attention, and I was irritable, plus a number of other symptoms. WebMD lists some very unfavorable side effects of losing sleep. Doctors will tell you that most humans need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night (that proverbial 1/3 of your life), but most Americans do not get enough, especially me.

I have always been a “night owl”, preferring to stay up late, well past midnight in most cases for as long as I can remember. This carried into my adult life, and since we never had children, my schedule was my own to manage, except that some companies frown on people arriving at work close to 10:00 AM.

Knowing that sleep is vital to my career, my ability to write, and my health, I made up my mind to do the only thing that would insure a good night’s sleep: I ditched the alarm clock. Without an alarm clock, I rise earlier, feeling refreshed and less tired, and my sleep is of a higher quality, not just quantity.

In order to get better sleep, I had to force myself to go to bed at a certain time. Not having an alarm clock meant that I was forced to go to bed much earlier than I was used to, taking into consideration that I have always known I need 8 1/2 hours of sleep, more than most. Well, I assume most people need fewer hours sleep than I, but that is assuming that people are always honest about their health choices. Knowing this can’t possibly be true, I’m guessing 8 1/2 is about average.

Looking at the clock on that first night sans alarm clock – a Saturday, for safety – I saw 10:30 coming, and I made a very conscious effort to shut down. I left my mobile in the kitchen, I shut down my computer, turned off the lights, and I did the mise en place for a good night’s sleep (you’ll have to figure out what works for you. I recommend turning off the TV an hour ahead of time.) I was able to successfully fall asleep by around 11:00. Now, I realize there are many people who have trouble falling asleep. I honestly feel empathy for you. But I was able to overcome my aversion to bedtime, and I know others could succeed.

The first night was a drill, of course, because I didn’t have to be anywhere early on Sunday. The true test would be Sunday night. Arriving late for work is not a serious infraction in IT, but it’s not good form. In any case, I aimed at 7:00 AM to wake up. The unconscious alert was not tuned yet; therefore, I opened my eyes at 4:18, then at 5:22. I was awake at 5:22, but I have never in my life gotten up that early, and I was not pleased with the scenario. I closed my eyes and struggled to go back to sleep. I woke up again at 6:52 and so I got out of bed.

You will get up when you open your eyes because you will realize subconsciously that there is no mechanism for waking you up, there is no snooze function. But that’s okay: after a few nights of this, you will set your own alarm in your head, and it will wake you up at the appropriate time. Ironically, I get up earlier, feeling a lot better and more awake after getting rid of the alarm clock than when I relied on it. You see, at least where I am concerned, when I used an alarm to wake me up, I found many excuses for not going to bed; I knew in the back of my mind that something would nudge me. I didn’t have to worry, but also I didn’t have to take care of myself.

Going forward, I plan to continue this experiment. I tell people at work how I got rid of my alarm clock. Some of them are slightly amazed. Others say they could never do it. I asked one person why he could not do it. He said he would end up sleeping past 10:00 in the morning. I told him maybe that’s how much sleep he really needs. He said, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

Sleep is not for pussies, people. You need it.

Food: the Bad, and the Ugly

Topic number 2 from 642 Things to Write About is to identify the worst Thanksgiving dish I’ve ever tasted. Well, I tend to cook Thanksgiving dinner for a lot of people every year, so without trying to sound smug, I don’t usually screw it up (okay, I tried). I posted about my feelings for this holiday a while back. And now that spring has arrived, I thought it a little strange to revisit fall. As for the worst dish I’ve ever had, I’m not very picky. I consider myself gourmand as much as gourmet. But, I have to say the worst thing I’ve ever eaten is a McDonalds chicken sandwich that I had several years ago. The “meat” was hideously overcooked, lacking any hint of flavor. The bread was very stale, most likely frozen at some point. And the texture of the sandwich was entirely – well, gross.

Now, I’ve had some kitchen mishaps. I over-cooked some miniature eggplants once, and I tossed out a casserole that went horribly wrong, much to the shock of everyone in the house. Sorry. You may have discerned that I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Note that I do not take pride in this; I simply acknowledge my faults like my hubris regarding my own cooking. I’ve been guilty of refusing to let guests help me cook. Actually, it feels weird for someone to ask if there’s something they can do when I invited them to let me make them a meal. Of course there is some pride. But I am improving.

Humility is like medicine. It’s unpleasant, but it heals. Realizing that I can, and do, make mistakes, and that there is always someone better than I, has helped me more than any self-help DVD or motivational speaker or scripture verse. We don’t like looking as if we don’t know what we’re doing. No one likes to be humbled, but without the experience, you are left with nothing but the shell of conceit.

I’m still working on technique and timing. Timing is almost as important as the ingredients themselves. Bring eggs and milk to room temperature. Grow fresh herbs rather than using dried, if possible. Use fresh tomatoes instead of canned. Simple things make a big difference. In olden times, people went to the market daily because refrigeration was not available. That meant that meat and milk and eggs and vegetables were consumed closer to their point and date of origin. These days, one can still find farmers markets, and we might have the illusion of “farm fresh” produce, whatever that means. But it will never again be like what our great-grandparents knew. Those days are gone, unless you move to a kibbutz.

Insist on food with flavour. Don’t settle for fast-food insult. Our bodies are not evolved to accept the toxins in processed foods, and something’s gotta give. A little pride is in order. If you’re going to make a sandwich, make it the best damned sandwich you ever had. Make mealtime about the food. Otherwise, why bother?

One Second

I dug up a book I bought a few years ago. It was buried under several piles of other books I have not read, yet. The title of this one is 642 Things to Write About, edited and published by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto in 2011. The idea was to prompt writers to put pen to paper, as it were, and put down ideas free-flowing like stream, ideas that would become something more. All that was needed was that little push.

I do not make any promises that this will result in some inspired outpouring of artistic soul-bearing, culminating in the Great American Novel, or a compendium of blog posts. I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up. It’s just words on a page for now. Nothing more. But make of it what you will. Words have been used to start and end wars, cure diseases, launch rockets into space, and free slaves from bondage.

Lincoln’s 272 words delivered in Gettysburg, PA made history and probably saved the US from collapse. That might be reaching a bit, but that’s the benefit of history: you can make it whatever you need it to be to suit your agenda. Pretty cool, huh?

Back to the little book. The first assignment: “What can happen in a second?”

A lot of things take more than a second; ten seconds of silence in an auditorium feels like an eternity. Many things happen very quickly – too fast for us to detect, like the flapping of hummingbird wings or the expansion of gasses in a fireball. If you want to see some incredible videos of things that are measured in milliseconds, check out The Slow Mo Guys. They shoot ultra-high speed digital video of things like explosions, water balloons, fireworks, birds, playing with food, and much more. In one second, you see, anything is possible. We 21st-century humans are so busy with our lives that we don’t see the little things around us that are moving either too quickly or too slowly for us to notice.

What can happen in one second? A breath, a heartbeat, a golf swing, a fastball, an email. Silence to rock-n-roll takes a second. Stillness to motion in a second. It can take a second to decide to call someone. Texting. Taking a picture. Singing the first words to “Faithfully“. Saying hello. Shaking hands. Pulling the lever in a voting booth.

What will you do with a second today? You have 86,400 of them. Go.