How to Avoid Rodent Depression–Even If You Are Not a Rodent

Did you need a reminder that exercise helps both treat and prevent depression? Probably not. Or maybe you did.

exercise helps depression

Just start moving. . .

Our little mouse friends come through for us again in this study from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm described in the New York Times: LINK. It’s been long suspected that exercise helps. Now there are indications of why it does, thanks to genetically-engineered mice.

Before you go to a doctor for a prescription for some magic pill (that isn’t so magic, really), try diet and exercise. Even 15-30 minutes of mild exercise (like walking) each day helps. Anecdotes and studies point to exercise as being the real treatment for depression that antidepressants only enable. Once you’re out of bed, start moving.

The gist of the article: Exercise promotes the production of an enzyme called PGC-1alpha. This enables other substances in our bodies which help balance our mental processes:

“Rather it is what’s known as a promoter, sparking activity in genes, which in turn express proteins that then affect various physiological processes throughout the body.”

Is this the secret to eternal happiness? No. But it seems to indicate that exercise makes our bodies and minds more robust in the face of stress of all kinds.

Honestly, here’s what’s really sobering is this article: The stresses we are under everyday are enough to justify combat pay. The “mild stressors” that the mice experience are probably no more harrowing than most adults’ routines of morning commute, email-checking, disaster-porn-news-immersion, boss-confronting-or-avoiding, and looking-in-the-mirror-and-hating-what-we’ve-become. It’s sad that what most call “life” is a hideous jumble of barely-managed stress that would result in full-blown rodent depression when scaled down to their level.

As in, they just want to die:

“The scientists then exposed these animals to five weeks of mild stress. The mice responded with slight symptoms of worry. They lost weight. But they did not develop full-blown rodent depression. They continued to seek out sugar and fought to get out of the cold-water maze. Their high levels of PGC-1alpha1 appeared to render them depression-resistant.”

So until there’s a better solution, it’s a good idea to armor ourselves against depression the rodent way: through exercise. Other things that help: diet, sleep, meditation, conscious breathing, and avoiding situations that just intensify stress without a suitable payoff.

Be well!

Words and Images ©2014 Bill LaBrie

Science as Humility: Dealing Only in the Verifiable

Want to know the reason science is hard? The real reason?

searching

It requires humility.

I stumbled across this article by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry on The Week,. Despite a bombastic linkbait title there are some doozies in it:

“So let me explain what science actually is. Science is the process through which we derive reliable predictive rules through controlled experimentation.”

Hmmm… sound familiar? I think I recall that from 4th grade.

“In other words — and this is the key thing — when people say “science”, what they really mean is magic or truth.”

Ah hah! Yes. I’ve noticed. “Science” is practiced by these really smart people in lab coats who speak in a language you can’t understand and are like wizards or alchemists, right? And how has that taken hold?

“Countless academic disciplines have been wrecked by professors’ urges to look “more scientific” by, like a cargo cult, adopting the externals of Baconian science (math, impenetrable jargon, peer-reviewed journals) without the substance and hoping it will produce better knowledge.”

So, basically marketing, careerism, and self-regard, then. The usual suspects. What else?

“This is how you get the phenomenon of philistines like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne thinking science has made God irrelevant, even though, by definition, religion concerns the ultimate causes of things and, again, by definition, science cannot tell you about them.”

I actually know a scientist — a real one. Someone asked her about God. She demurred, saying she only dealt with the verifiable. Some chuckled, thinking it was her way of repudiating of the existence of God (which to me is about as feasible as repudiating the existence of triangles, but we won’t go there in this article). Actually, the people who chuckled didn’t hear what she said, or chose to ignore it. She didn’t say there was no God. She said it was outside her purview as a scientist. Scientists deal with the verifiable though empirically-observable experimentation. How are you going to test the the Prime Mover? By shutting it off? How?

Her statement was one of deep humility. She’s a scientist. She deals in the verifiable.

So what’s the real problem? Why is it so hard for even educated people to grasp what science really is and not conflate it with a mystical body of secret, irrefutable knowledge held by people wearing ceremonial garb?

“. . .the reason it took us so long to invent it and the reason we still haven’t quite understood what it is 500 years later is it is very hard to be scientific. Not because science is “expensive” but because it requires a fundamental epistemic humility, and humility is the hardest thing to wring out of the bombastic animals we are.”

Nailed it.

Science has its roots in an essential and gut-wrenching humility. If you aren’t proving yourself wrong about half the time, you aren’t doing science. Pride goeth before a fall, and pride doesn’t belong in science.
And that’s hard.

Words and Images ©2014 Bill LaBrie

Charles Bukowski’s Plan to Destroy Your Life From Beyond the Grave

Well, Uncle Chuck — I’ve done my best. Nothing else I do seems to work out, either. Might as well write about it.

charles-bukowski-speech-writer

so you want to be a writer?

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

–Charles Bukowski

Some will differ with what he says. There’s enough in it to offend just about everyone’s sensibilities.

But keep this in mind: If you try to force something, it wasn’t meant to be. The urge to write (or paint or sing or dance or whatever) comes first. Then the hard work to hone the craft. But the undeniable urge needs to be there first.

There are those who think they can just put in the hours and get something at the end to compensate for those hard hours. That’s how an accountant thinks. But no — you’re an artist. Do what you are and struggle to find the money you need to keep doing it. If you’re very, very lucky–you might have enough left over to eat.

So, no: The ancients talked about muses because the urge comes from elsewhere. It’s irrational. You just need to do it. You’d do it even if it didn’t pay a dime. If it cost you to do it, you’d find the money to go on doing it. If it resulted in you getting driven out of your home and shunned by friends and relatives, you’d still do it. You’re doing what you are, you undercover Nietzschean. Just say ja. You’re a bolt of lightning.

You are what you do.

Rock on, Chuck.

photo credit: waltarrrrr via photopin cc

A Note on Self-Publishing

Self-publishing. The very phrase itself inspires blood-curdling screams in many.

jump-through-hoops-self-publishing

It’s all about jumping through hoops.

I seem to collect such distinctions: “homeschooler”, “single dad”, “philosophy grad”, “one-time Renault owner”. I thrive on embracing that which marginalizes. I just can’t do what I’m s’posed to do.

My works so far have been self-published, and my upcoming novel Eye of the Diamond-T will be as well. It’s important to note that I probably could have found a publisher for it. I chose not to.

A while back I met a prominent reporter from a major daily newspaper. It was the great sort of encounter where you start talking to someone sitting next to you at a bar and he turns out to have some critical information. He had a publishing story to share.

He’d been a successful journalist for a long time when he finished his first novel. A major New York publishing house didn’t hesitate to pick it up, gave him an advance, put it out for reviews — all of the standard things that happen when you get a mass-market publishing deal with a major house. The book was made available through standard distribution channels to major bookstores and retailers. He was hoping the publisher would support some promotional activities, but they didn’t really. He was ok with that. He and his friends worked on promoting it through channels that a major media person can use.

The first edition sold about one thousand copies at a 10% royalty. There was no second printing, nor any move to paperback. I don’t think he made back his advance. The publisher basically shelved his work after it failed to set the charts on fire immediately after release.

After a couple years of frustration, he fought to get his publishing rights back. They finally released him from the contract. He turned to Amazon/CreateSpace and republished his work, this time with a heavy emphasis on social media marketing. Within months he was up to 6000 sales and was still counting. He couldn’t have been happier and said he wished he hadn’t bothered with the major pub house contract at all. Most first-time novelist like the validation of being “published,” but he certainly didn’t need that.  He wasn’t quite sure what a publishing house is for at this point, at least not in relation to writers of genre fiction. Technical manuals and scientific works still might need the element of peer-review that comes from being “published,” though sometimes that’s a farce as well.

Author, speaker, fellow serial failure and self-publishing convert James Altucher said it best: Just get your art in front of the public. Do it yourself. Everything needed to edit, design, publish and promote is available online. Just make it happen.

No one is coming to help. Just do it.

Words and Images ©2014 Bill LaBrie

Poem: Fell On Blank Days

“Fell On Blank Days”

It’s not with sorrow that we greet the days
When nothing seems to happen.
It’s more with a wish that we could know
That which will make us long for these crushing calms.

The days meted out in doctors’ waiting rooms while
TV chatters on: These are the true measures of love.
The most ardent lover is more done-in by
Boredom than by passionate strife and faithless contempt.

Limitless frustration as we stare into the abyss,
Fearing nothing can or should be done.
The infinite value of the faithful watcher:
He who could watch for one full hour would overjoy the Lord.

fell-on-blank-days

Words and Image ©2014 Bill LaBrie

More Spatula School of Finance: Money Advice for People who Don’t Like Money

Every day a few more visitors drop by my blog, apparently looking to enroll in the Spatula School of Personal Finance.

spatula-school-part-2
It’s not a real institution. It’s just an article — fairly lame one, I have often thought. It was a rough-hewn product of my imagination spilled out on a keyboard an hour or so before I took my kid to school one day.

Still, it seems to have captivated some people. Maybe the contrast of the simple and plain spatula with something more shrouded in mystery like finance is what does it. Can it really be that simple? Perhaps that’s what some are asking before they click the link.

Or maybe spatulas are some hot thing among the kids of today, possibly. . .

In the original article I pointed out that while I agree money is a useful and valuable commodity, I have no patience for people who obsessively chase it, just as I have no time for spatula enthusiasts, either. Money’s got the same mystique as a spatula to me.

And really, unless you’re in the financial industry in some capacity, there’s no reason money can’t be a simple utility to you, as well.

Don’t Suffer for your Spatula

We suffer for the things we love. It’s rather inevitable: We suffer for the skills we want to develop (because we love them) and the things we want to create (ditto). The people we love make us suffer. Whatever or whomever you love, it’s going to be the source of misery in some way —  if only due to the threat you will lose it or won’t achieve it.

My point is that if you love money, it’s a given that you’re going to suffer for it. But the upside of loving money doesn’t provide nearly enough compensation to for the suffering you’re going to experience  just for loving it.

Don’t suffer for a spatula. Don’t suffer for a love of money. If all you want is money and are suffering for it constantly, there’s something wrong.

I was Idiotic

I had gotten pretty good at managing money in my 30s. As with most things I decide to take on, my early enthusiasm paid off well. By my early-30s I had cash in the bank, no debt, a very manageable tax burden, great home equity, and a self-managed stock portfolio that had beaten a strong market about seven years in a row. My wife-at-the-time and I lived in a house that bordered on luxurious. When people would visit us — people who hadn’t done as well — they’d ask how we did it.

(Note: Those “salad days” were destroyed not by poor financial management, but by something far more essential that I’ll cover in a later article.)

Anyway, when I felt like being a smartass, I would tell them my wife was an insecticide heiress. She really was, in some ways, though we’d never seen any of that money.

When I was being a little less of a smartass, I’d put it this way: Cash good! Interest bad!

At one point just after I had graduated from college and bought a fancy pickup truck in which to court the ladies, I sat down one day after wondering why I had to put my Kraft mac-and-cheese and Diet Coke on my Discover card. It was because I was losing most of one paycheck to interest alone. It was interest on student loans, credit cards, and my car loan. It was wasted. I couldn’t even use tax deductibility as an excuse, the way the house-poor do.

It was idiotic, and I felt like an idiot.

Interest is The Rental Fee on a Time Machine

When you pay interest you’re paying to travel forward in time and pull back money you’ll have in the future. Interest is the fee you pay to use that time machine.

That’s really cool, but it’s also really expensive.

Interest dramatically increases the cost of whatever you buy. If you own a house, pull out your mortgage paperwork sometime and take a look at the total cost of payments on your house. Even with low interest rates you will find you will have paid for that house twice over a 30 year mortgage. Credit cards are even worse:

Credit-Card-Interest

 

So at the age of 25 I looked at my broken finances and I decided I would fix them. I would drive out the money lenders, by gum! And I did.

As I gradually reclaimed my income from the interest column of my budget, the savings went into my first house, then my second. It definitely helped that I changed jobs twice and rode the tide for tech workers at the time. But all of that new determination came from that one moment of decision when I realized the stupidity of paying interest on crap I didn’t really need and decided to simplify.

No longer would I pay to make trips through the time machine to grab money from some point in the future, which tends to get further and further out the more you are living in debt.

It’s hard to be casual about money when you are being crushed under interest.

The Goal: Financial Nirvana

If you don’t want to need to think about money — if you want it to be no more demanding of your time and care than what’s required to wash your spatula and toss it in the kitchen drawer — you need to make sure it is no more complicated than it needs to be. Avoiding debt — and therefore interest — is a good first step. If you’re already in debt, then paying off your balances starting with whichever is at the highest interest rate is next best thing.

The goal of the Spatula School of Personal Finance is to get you to a point where you barely need to acknowledge money exists at all, giving it no more thought than you do a spatula. No more racing to the bank to make payments on time after pawning your lawnmower. No long hours spent reading WSJ or watching CNBC. No need to run stock screens nor have conversations with stockbrokers (who are the last people you should talk to about managing money or investing). Just do what you really want to do while having enough money to keep doing it, with a little cushion to spare.

It’s money-as-a-utility. It’s financial minimalism, driven by the notion that in all things, there is some amount that is “enough”.

Spatula-visitors: Please let me know in the comments if you liked this and want to see more. I guess it could be that there are kinky spatula-fanciers out there who keep clicking the link to see sexy pictures of spatulas or something. I’m anxious to find out.

 

photo credit: Bill Gracey via photopin cc

Breathing: Your First Step Towards World Domination

All the people I’ve met who really knew what they were doing had one thing in common:

time-out-to-breathe

 

They took time to breathe.

I used to ride motorcycles a lot: every chance I could, in fact. I wasn’t part of the chopper-cruiser scene, though I bore those types no malice. They were on two wheels and were showing they had made a choice in existential freedom–and thus had my respect in a certain way. See: there’s no rational justification for riding a 150-horsepower bicycle (nor even a 50-horsepower one, as is the case with most Harleys). You need to make that choice for yourself.

I was a sport rider. I would go out to the local racetracks on trackdays and would ride around the circuit going very fast–well, fast for me, that is. I was on a small V-twin and was in my early 30’s — well past the age when I had something to prove to the guys in the pits. I was just a guy having some Walter Mitty fun.

But usually some 19-year-old hotshot would show up on a Suzuki GSXR and I could tell he was going to crash out on the first lap, perhaps taking someone else with him. Most times, I was right. Within a few minutes after the start of the first session, I would watch two hormonally-charged boys in colorful leathers headbutting each other with their helmets on the track post-crash, their mangled bikes in a smoking pile somewhere off in the background.

I knew it was going to end up like that. I looked at that kid and I knew he wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t REALLY breathing.

It’s not an age thing. There was this one kid named “Gordo” who rode a Yamaha R1, which was a motorcycle with enough horsepower to pull a travel trailer at a pretty good clip. He had just turned 19. I could tell by talking to him that I could have trusted him with my life: I could see him breathing. He led our little group on a blast of a ride through Salt River Canyon once along US60, dragging knee at every turn. There was a grace and quietude  to his riding.

In just about everything I’ve studied seriously enough to get passably good at (motorcycling, skiing, guitar, shooting, sex) “breathing” shows up in the title of a lesson in all the major books. It’s usually a lesson that’s far enough back to keep from discouraging hot-heads who just want to get started and who think (if they think at all) that breathing is bullshit. After these types have bought the book, glanced over the first few chapters, then gone out and crashed their toys, they let the book go to Goodwill while they mourn their broken bikes, broken skis, broken legs, broken hearts.

But see, I’m a little more patient. And weird.

Thus, I think it all gets back to breathing. If you’re not breathing freely and easily, your body and your brain aren’t getting the oxygen they need. Your body starts saying “Looks like we’re under stress. Something’s about to happen. Be ready for sudden action!” and you stop thinking. You start reacting instead.

This happens on motorcycles. It happens on ski slopes. It happens in bed on top of another person. It happens behind a keyboard.

Think about that for a bit. Just think.

By the way: I hear that taking a deep breath helps.

Welcome To Colorado

I first visited Colorado just after Columbine was shot up by those two guys. You know the ones — bent on eternal fame? Dylan something?

Colorado shooting spree

Welcome to Colorful Colorado. How are you doing for ammo?

“Yeah, we’re pretty weirded out by it. Not like this place at all.” said my friend-at-the-time after he picked me up at the airport. We drove past the nice old houses around the Capitol Hill section of Denver, admiring the gentility of our surroundings. Denver seemed so mellow, especially compared to Phoenix. In Phoenix, it seemed that people were always getting shot in traffic disputes. But not in Denver, and even less in other parts of Colorado. It seemed as mellow as my friend. He embodied the spirit of the place.

He later went on to beat the crap out of his wife and kids and get thrown in jail.

Shortly after my then-new wife and I moved to the mountains of Colorado, I was standing on the balcony of my Waterloo, the kid’s consignment store. I was taking in the mountain air. What a beautiful place! So nice that we moved out of the city and away from all that crime and decay.

And then I heard the sirens–dozens of them. At first it was just Jefferson County Sheriffs’ cars and local fire and rescue. I heard a few helicopters overhead. Then Colorado State Patrol. Then suburban cops from Morrison, Lakewood, and Littleton. Then unmarked cars that looked like FBI standard-issue. All were doing something close to the triple-digits westbound along US285 as their sirens wailed. Then the media trucks with their uplink antennas at the ready blasted by.

A drifter had wandered around the halls of the local high school unquestioned for 45 minutes before walking into one classroom and taking the kids and teacher hostage. The Park County Sheriff tried blasting in through a neighboring wall in a surprise attack, but before he take him down the kidnapper shot a few kids, killing one. Her last message text message to her family was “I luv you guys”.

In my years spent in Colorado that followed, it was rare for a year to pass without some random act of violence somewhere in Colorado, usually a mass shooting. There were even shootings in churches and workplaces.

It occurred to me that this essentially American trait we have of moving somewhere to get away from it all was in itself rotten and self-defeating. It’s like we could try to swim away from the shit floating in the water to get to some beautiful island, but the shit would always follow in our wake. It always did. Then we were guilty in some way of spreading shit.

My ex- tried to get me interested in becoming couple-friends with some nice people she had met at Bible study. The husband was a high school music teacher. He seemed OK. Then the day after our first meeting, he was arrested on nine counts of forcible sodomy with a minor. It had been going on for a while.

I had more-or-less moved back to Phoenix when the Aurora theatre shootings happened. By then I was almost — though not quite — shrugging such things off.

On the day I finally sold my house there was yet another school shooting. “Wrong place, wrong time” said the authorities in response to another beautiful 17 year old girl getting shot and killed.

And though that was an insanely, incredibly stupid comment (because after all, she wasn’t setting up a bake sale in Compton during the Rodney King riots. That would be a good example of “wrong place, wrong time”. A girl in school studying during normal classes is in the right place at the right time. Important distinction) in another way I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Colorado was the “wrong place, wrong time” for me, from beginning to finish.

photo credit: J. Stephen Conn via photopin cc

How to Improve your Mental Health in 10,000 Easy Steps

It’s not just mental health. These steps improve your physical health as well.

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Since most modern coping/self-help literature seems to be focused on averting ill-defined misery of the sort for which there is no clear cause, I throw out my simple suggestion based on what’s helped me battle anomie.

Walk.

Walk everywhere. If you live in a place where you can’t walk to get things you need for life, then move. If you have a job that prevents you from walking, buy yourself a wireless headset and/or wireless tablet and start walking. If your boss objects, flip him/her the bird. That situtation is trying to kill you. Defend yourself. It’s your duty as an organism. Walk. Just walk.

Try walking 10,000 steps a day.

There is research showing that after a brisk walk our brains are much more active. When I saw this I realized why at times in previous programming jobs I would need to just get up and walk around the block to get past a problem. It was a great strategy when I was working at a place like the former Northern Automotive building in central Phoenix, surrounded as it was by lawns and gracious homes. It wasn’t as good when I was working in various hellhole industrial parks and high-security finance buildings. My job satisfaction was — in retrospect — directly linked to the freedom I had to walk.

Through the misery of realizing my true weaknesses, and through the challenges I’ve faced in the last year, there have been times when I’ve just said “Screw it. I wanna stay in bed. I’ll go to the gym later.” That’s bad. That’s the first domino. Because as the brain loses its external stimulation and starts to stew in a sauce of stress-related hormones, one finds oneself less inclined to do anything. And one starts to consider oneself rather useless, I’m afraid.

I read a piece on Forbes (I believe) laying out for high-stress, hard-driving executives the ROI statement for taking 30 minutes each morning to walk, extolling the potential benefits for the bottom line. Well, I suppose to get the gig the writer needed to translate into terms that a mind possessed by an infantile greed could understand. I would just have said “Walk, or you will go crazy. And then you will die.” Of course, then I would have gotten responses from angry readers saying “YOU DIDN’T EXPLAIN HOW THIS WOULD AFFECT THE BOTTOM LINE, LABRIE! WHY SHOULD I DO THIS, AND EXPLAIN IN TERMS OF STANDARD ACCOUNTING PRACTICES, PLEASE!”

But. . . Whatever. . .

Anyway: Walking has been good to me. Every morning I get out of bed, take a mile-or-so jaunt around my neighborhood, and take pictures. Each morning I post one to Instagram with the line “Good morning.” I’ve been pretty shocked at how quick and numerous the responses are from my followers. I think some of them are vicariously walking with me. I’m flattered, but I also hope they are taking time to walk themselves.

You can follow me on Instagram at billlabrie if you like. I post other pics on there as well. Sometimes there’s even cleavage (but not mine. Sorry).

Every journey begins with a single step. Start on the 10,000 today.

And be well.

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