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I love chocolate, animation and modding my phone. I dislike Jim Carrey, weddings and Truck Nutz. I started as a video editor and motion graphics artist and now I find myself podcasting and writing.

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The Season Between

2 min read

A road with lifeless trees along it and the muck and leaves left after Winter

 

There is a void between Winter and Spring. The trees remain lifeless and decaying leaves are pasted to the anemic grass like papier-mâché. The dust, dirt, and refuse collected by the snow throughout winter is molded into the landscape. The muted tones of the environment make it impossible to distinguish a blade of grass from a flower stem. This purgatory is depression.

The unnamed void between the seasons in an anxious time. A glimmer of sunshine can quickly morph into a snow storm. Thus, I have taught myself to distrust the sun. I will not believe its lies of a better tomorrow. The snowfall and the expectation of it numbs me. I know what hides beneath the fluffy blanket of snow, my colorless purgatory.

There is a temptation to hope for a rain to wash away the decay and have a fresh start. Unfortunately, the rain transforms the landscape into an inescapable pit. The soft ground swallows me whole. If I should break free, the mud and decay clings to me as a constant reminder that this is where I belong. The lifeless browns and grays are now part of me and fog my vision.

Eventually, Spring will come. Trees and plants will bloom and the grass will glow green. Through my brown and gray lenses the change in the environment only signals that this metamorphosis will not last. Winter is around the corner. A frozen retreat to hide from the pain, anxiety, and depression.

I will welcome the blinding white of snow that burns the brown and gray fog of my vision. I will be free of the unnamed season and numb. I cannot predict the weather or when the seasons will change. Therefore, the only emotion I will engage with is fear. I am afraid the depression will come back. Let me be frozen. I want to stay numb. I am so afraid of the unnamed season between. Eventually, the fear melts the snow and I return to the purgatory I was trying to avoid.

 

The Unsustainable Upward Trend

7 min read

neurons at a meeting on happiness, a watercolor paintinghelpless neurons

Sustainability often comes up in economics, but rarely comes up as a topic in general discussions of mental health. Some think talking about relapse will do harm. It is also triggering to caretakers, friends, and family to see someone in pain, so we avoid anything that is not progress. However, the goal for those of us who are neural diverse is finding balance not a cure.

When we talk about normalizing mental wellness these days people often compare things like anxiety and depression to broken limbs-- you would take some time off work and seek medical attention if you broke your leg, you should be able to do the same for mental health. Unfortunately, some injuries can be more serious than others. The leg may not return to its previous usability. This is always the case for mental wellness. Trauma alters our brains. While someone with an injured leg may have to rely on a cane after physical trauma, we may require continued therapy, medication, meditation, or other supports.

Pain is debilitating. A friend with a back pain has good days and bad days. On those bad days they have difficulty focusing and feel like they are better off resting than making things worse. Psychological pain is no different from this physical pain. There are good days and bad days. One difference between physical pain and psychological pain is that we can often notice when others are in physical pain. Those of us dealing with mental health issues have pain that is not visible to the naked eye.

It is common for people that are neural diverse to isolate when they are in pain. My depression relentlessly attacks me with thoughts and feelings that I am a burden to others. Therefore, I can hide my pain from you because I do not want to burden you. Or, I believe if I am so distraught that you can see my psychological pain it is likely to have an adverse affect on you. We don't want to see our loved ones in pain. The raw emotion is uncomfortable. We want to avoid pain. This is a natural, human reaction. Though, my depression sees your frustration as proof that I am a burden, you are not the cause of my pain. Likewise, I am not the cause of your discomfort. Yet, an uncomfortable past experience may convince you to avoid discussing my pain in the fear that you'll trigger me more.

When we avoid the reality of psychological pain it can reinforce stigmas around mental wellness, confirm my distorted view that I am a burden, and disrupt the process of finding equilibrium. Our mental wellness will not be graphed with a green line shooting upward like some sort of dream stock price. There are hills and valleys and recovery is a lifelong process. My hope is to find neutrality. I want to find something sustainable. I have no interest in trying to make each day better than the one before because that's unrealistic. Even for people who may not have depression, anxiety, or another neural diversity, mental wellness does not trend upward every moment of their lives.

Finding balance between the ups and downs of mental wellness sounds like a very difficult task. As such, standing by and supporting someone through it is equally complicated. You cannot expect us to keep 'getting better' in an upward trend, but you want to help us avoid the pain. Avoidance is a strategy that eventually implodes in my experience. I would classify avoidance as damaging and distraction as a better alternative. Personally, I struggle with that classification. Shame tells me that my distraction is an avoidance tactic. However focusing on grief, loss, anxiety, or whatever the psychological pain is for 24/7 is draining. Therefore, a book, a movie, a coloring book, cooking, or whatever you find some satisfaction in can be a healthy distraction despite what the shame says.

Speaking of draining, you can encounter fatigue trying to support someone dealing with mental wellness issues. That desire to stop our pain fuels the need to see a steady improvement like a stock. Not meeting that goal can be frustrating and draining as a support. Perhaps redefining what 'getting better' means is a strategy to help those of us that are neural diverse and those of you trying to support us. The definition will likely be different for everyone. In general, getting better may mean accepting where I am at and setting a goal of preventing myself from hitting rock bottom again. Maybe, understanding that good days and bad days are a reality, but being able to recognize when the bad days are trending in order to ask for more support? I certainly don't feel that I have communicated what 'getting better' means to me very well in this paragraph. That is likely a sign that I do need to sit down and better define it so that I am not trying to reach unrealistic goals subconsciously. sigh

Using those unrefined parameters, how will I know 'bad days' are trending? This is the benefit of the hills and valleys of mental health. We learn in those valleys. Failure and mistakes are how we learn. The way to find balance or neutrality is to experience the highs and lows. In economics, companies that constantly try to make 20% profit from the year before often make cuts to achieve those numbers. They fail to innovate and learn. It's a strategy that works well if you're hoping to get large numbers to increase your selling price and move on. However, it is not a sustainable strategy. And, I am unable to sell my collection of traumatized neurons. So living with them is a better idea than shooting for an unrealistic upward trend in mental wellness.

If I do not try, I cannot fail. Somewhere along the line, perhaps early in my childhood, I adapted this philosophy in a low. Shame or embarrassment may have triggered the thought and it became law. Much of my anxiety comes from the expectations I put on myself. I build them up into an impassable mountain until I have convinced myself not to try. As such, I see expectations from others and want to run the other direction. In the same way as a caretaker, friend, or partner of someone like me, you may have experienced a severe low in your neurally diverse friend. In that moment you constructed a law that you do not want to see that again. You want to protect your friend, just as my anxiety is trying to protect me.

Sometimes, I need someone to just listen. Sometimes, I need a gentle reminder. Many times, I am unable to communicate what I need. As a support, you cannot be expected to know what it is I need. Remember that connection is always needed. Validating and accepting where we are in the highs and lows goes a long way to help. Empowering people with neural diversity to make their own choices is part of that validation. Directly set boundaries for your own mental wellness and we will respect that. Communicating your concerns helps us reality check what anxiety or depression is telling us. Maybe you don't find me a burden and want to hear what I have to say, but today is not a good day. Perhaps, there's a family member in your past who had similar issues and I am triggering you. It is okay to be direct and set that boundary. "This triggers something from my own past that I would rather not revisit. However, ruminating on this stuff all the time is really draining. So if you want a distraction, please reach out. I can totally help in that way."

We are social creatures and isolation is part of many mental health concerns. I cannot say every exposure to others will be beneficial, though it can often help to be surrounded by strangers at a park or a mall. Connection, even those as thin as being surrounded by other humans that are strangers can be helpful. Please do not let anything I have written prevent you from connecting with myself and others who are living with neural diversity. Just try not to be like the helpless neurons above.

Video Is A Tool Not A Learning Platform Says This Human

8 min read

A duck video conferencing with a mallet

remember that early cartoon of the duck with a mallet about to break his computer?

The pandemic has forced many organizations pivot to online training. Facilitators have quickly adjusted their in-person sessions to the age of Zoom. Perhaps, too quickly.

Technology has a reputation for making things efficient. Should I want to message a friend, I pick up a phone and text. They will get the message instantly. Before phones of any kind, my only hope was to mail a letter. Of course, the efficiency isn't always for the better. Social networks have proved, time and time again, to be harmful to mental health. Yet, many of us find ourselves losing time doom scrolling. In my experience with online training and learning through the pandemic, I feel like efficiency is getting in the way.

The school model is based on a factory. Thus, we all get arbitrarily sorted by age, instead of ability. A physical classroom and interaction with a teacher allows for some clarification and one-on-one instruction when time permits. Whereas, online learning has an opportunity to meet us where we are at. Many LMS (Learning Management Systems) allow those of us looking for new skills to go at our own pace. We choose a lesson and work at our own time, not that of the others in the class or the system's expectations. Learning online in this way may work for many, but others may struggle without the valuable interactions of other students. Furthermore, deadlines are often motivators for people.

Mental Health Learning

My experience with online training has come in the form of wellness groups and education. In my case, the courses I did had live instruction and work in an LMS. Through Coursera and Thinkific I watched instructional videos and slideshows. I filled out assignments and quizzes. Live instruction was give by facilitators to a group of us on Zoom. I have been in classes of a dozen people and over twenty. There were breakout groups and class discussions. Every facilitator stuck to a 90 minute rule. The idea of a 90 minute max of online class time seems to be a recommendation to those in the field, but I am unaware of its source.

I did find 90 minutes to be suitable, but facilitators became slaves to the clock. For example, I had a course on crisis intervention that was about 12 individual lessons in the LMS. The live instruction was 10 sessions. The facilitator had 90 minutes to present important material from those 12 chapters, take questions, allow for group discussions, and give us feedback on our work. With only 10 sessions, the facilitator just didn't have time for meaningful discussion and feedback. We could barely accomplish the assignments in the group breakouts. As this took place during the pandemic, our class was the first to try this new online format. So, I do not begrudge the organization or the facilitator.

Efficiency

A simple letter was typed on a typewriter and that was messy. You've got ink to deal with, white-out for mistakes, maybe carbon for copies, envelopes, stamps, and multiple file draws to store copies. Today, we sit down, tap the computer keyboard and hit send. Computers have made things easier. In the early days of computers, I remember getting a call from aunt who had a question about spreadsheets. I had a reputation for liking computers. Thus, I must know how to do a spreadsheet, right? No. That is to say, computers are not a magical solution. A computer is a tool and we must figure out how to use it. Yet, we see the computer, and the internet, as this miraculous answer to our problems. You want to sell those antique roller skates? Put it online. Surely, you'll get an interested party to buy it. You need a logo? Make one on the computer.

In reality, to sell some antique roller skates, you may need to find collectors. Simply screaming into the void that is Facebook may result in absolutely no interest. There's too much out there. You need to spend some time finding the right web communities. Making a logo requires some knowledge of drawing and designing using an application made for that purpose. Likewise, taking a 10 day, 3 hour course and compressing it to a few Zoom meetings and an LMS is not going to be as easy as we think. On paper, it sounds cost-effective and doable. After all, video is just like being there, right?

Much of communication is non-verbal. As a presenter, or teacher, you can look into the audience and see if they are engaged. Did they understand the material? If you see confused faces, people scrambling to take notes, or people on their phones, you may need to spend more or less time on a subject. On Zoom, everyone is compressed into tiny, icon-sized squares. Plus, the presenter gets to see themselves on their screen. How distracting is it to get to critique yourself on the fly? When attending an in-person presentation, you can take cues from the presenter's body language. In the example of time constraints, I may reserve my question for after class since I can visibly see my teacher is eager to move on. Or, I may notice the others in the room are clear on the topic and I want to wait to ask my question in private. These forms of communication are missing online.

Learning is different for everyone. There is no magic pill we can swallow to know Kung-Fu, Neo. I feel if online courses were effective, we wouldn't need them. After all, why not just learn straight from the textbook? Youtube tutorials are a textbook of sorts. They have all the bias that a book does-- Here's how to do this. As a reader or viewer, you do not get to seek clarification, ask for the information to be presented again in a new way, or question the content. Thus, prerecorded slideshows and videos are only dictating information at us.

These hybrid courses created during the pandemic that are part studying in an LMS and part lecture and discussion need more flexibility. Our expectations and goals when using these methods need to change. The way we use the technology will likely need to change as well. For example, could my live instruction on Zoom simply have been discussion, questions, and interactions with other learners? The facilitator could perhaps have led discussions on the reading materials, rather than going over some of it again. Though, I have been attending another course where the facilitator does give time to answer questions and get input. In that course, the facilitator is also only doing 90 minutes and ends every Zoom saying we are behind. Furthermore, that course has no workbook or LMS. So, will I actually get all the content intended?

Of course, I am not a teacher. I do not believe many of the people leading this sort of learning online are. Teaching is an art form and a profession. Scanning a workbook into a slideshow and recording myself talking is not teaching online. Online learning is different than what is happening during the pandemic. The short explanation is that online learning is designed to be online. What is happening now is an ad-hoc transition from a face-to-face situation to online.

Presenting information in-person gives facilitators a chance to get to know us. Why is that different through a flat image on a screen? How many times have you seen someone's photo avatar on LinkedIn or in a program at a speaking engagement and the real person looks nothing like them? My clothes, hair style, accessories, and facial expressions say something about me. Compressed video the size of a business card doesn't allow for me to be seen on Zoom. If a facilitator has a better idea of who I am, they may understand how to teach me when I am having difficulty. Furthermore, we get to know our classmates. There's a shared sense of belonging in groups. In the movie theater we laugh more at a comedy because others are laughing. At home on the TV, the same comedy does not illicit laughter. Humans are social animals.

There is no doubt the future, pandemic or not, will mean more online learning. We love money more than anything on the planet and online learning looks like it would save us money. Even though we've been thrust into remote learning, why bother to specifically design online learning for schools or mental health organizations, like I am working with? It's good enough as it is, right? Whether you are part of a mental wellness organization, a teacher, an employer, or another group sharing information, we need to have a discussion about the future of learning with this technology. I am all for finding better ways, but let's not let tech companies bully us into terrible learning models. When we wanted better ways to get around with interactive maps the trade-off was giving tech companies our location 24/7. While I may disagree with that on a personal level, we should all be concerned about what we give up if we allow technology a larger role in education than that of a tool.

The Equation of Mental Health and Sleep

5 min read

A watercolor of a man in bed not sleeping

"There's not enough time in the day." Whether you live paycheck-to-paycheck or comfortably,the demand for your time is ceaseless. Certainly the phrase, "I'll sleep when I'm dead." must be famous last words. Sleep is important and deeply impacted by our mental wellness.

Show Your Work

Many people lucky enough to be working during the pandemic are working from home. While there are some "productivity gurus" who believe the gig economy is a step toward a future where people work when they want to, the reality seems to be that we are working all the time. My old mantra, "you're not enough," has driven me to burnout on many occasions. This "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" shame that has been passed down through generations eradicates sleep. My bed is in the same space as work. So, what's another 10 minutes, an hour or 3 hours of work? In addition to the self-shaming that many of us inflict, we now live in a world where corporate masters are monitoring our work from home with invasive technology. My anxiety loves this idea enough to disrupt my focus, day and night.

Story Problems

Personally, I have had as much work as I have had sleep, which is not a lot. That anxiety I spoke of fires up before I have even applied for work or pitched a story. It is so demoralizing that when I do successfully complete an application or a pitch I feel like Atlas and think Sisyphus is an amateur with his boulder. Mostly, I spend my evenings in bed looking back at the "time I have wasted" being a jobless loser and what a burden I am to myself and those around me. Self comparison pops in to tell me what my successful friends are doing and sadness follows behind to shove me deeper into the abyss. The next morning, devoid of sleep, I lack any self-confidence to find work. If I "pull myself up by my bootstraps," I have difficulty focusing and planning because of the lack of rest.

If I set aside the all or nothing thinking and admit that situation cannot happen every day, there is still a challenge with sleep. When I am working so very hard to prove myself to others and burning out, I experience Bedtime Procrastination. Am I too wound up to sleep or do I feel that I am owed more time in the day because I worked so hard? When that study about Bedtime Procrastination hit Chinese social networks, the word "revenge" was added to the beginning of the phrase. Revenge Bedtime Procrastination is staying up past your intended bedtime for some self-care. Me time is important, but so is sleep.

Negative Integers

Depression and anxiety are bedfellows. This is a chicken and egg situation as well-- being anxious could lead me to a depressive state or I could feel anxious about rebooting after a period of depression. One of the stigmas about depression is around sleeping all the time. Sometimes a lack of productivity is seen as a lack of motivation. And even if one isn't sleeping all day, stagnation is discredited by those who do not understand. We are not unmotivated, those of us in depression are frequently stuck. We are frozen from anxiety. The realization of our condition is essential to recovery, but also a hindrance. The weight of the time we lost during our crash is overwhelming. It feeds the depression. It keeps us up at night.

In the same way that the loss of someone close to us can be exhausting, ruminating on your mental health and comparing yourself to others is debilitating. Whether it disrupts sleep with obsessive thoughts, a need to make up for lost time, or revenge bedtime procrastination we despair. Without sleep, we lose even more of the resilience that aids us to live with depression and anxiety. I haven't even touched on medications, many of which affect sleep. You cannot seem to get enough sleep or no sleep at all with many of the SSRI and SNRI meds.

Solve for Why

Some neurologists theorize that our strange dreams are the brain's way of processing the memories of the day. It is possible that we may be moving short-term memories into long-term storage. Without sleep and the dreams do memories get stuck in the short-term space, a place where we are always thinking of them? Trauma has been shown to inhibit the hippocampus from converting memories. This is why flashbacks occur in many people with PTSD, the memory is still as fresh as the day it happened.

Imagine my frustration from lack of sleep being used to shame myself to going to bed early. You are a loser and everyone knows it. Why can't you sleep? What else are you going to do? You are a talentless burden to your family and friends. You should have found a job today. You should have cleaned the house. You should have got your Masters. You should have invested money. You should have died, not your father. You should... It is hard to sleep when a critic with a megaphone can take any of your thoughts and twist them into pain.

There are many ways to improve sleep. Changes in diet, medication, and activities can help. All of those are easier said than done. Meditation has worked in the past. Talk therapy is useful and EMDR therapy can aid in moving those memories to long-term storage. However, I am beginning to think acceptance is also needed. This is a moment of difficulty. Difficulty is part of every human life. May I be kind to myself in this moment and give myself the compassion I need.

Never Enough Pain

3 min read

a red footprint with a band aid in watercolor

The skin is tight around the wound. Blood has tried to clot the area to form a scab. I can feel the tension at every moment while seated. When I walk on the foot there is a small stabbing pain. It is as if I am stepping on the edge of a butter knife with each stride. My mind tunes the ache down to a mild inconvenience and focuses on the worries about my day.

Yet, I cannot ignore the pain of the wound and I reflect, again and again, on the cause. It was a failure. A better person would not have caused the harm. This pain was self-inflicted. It was loss of self control because I am weak. I let anxiety get the better of me. I gave in to the strange satisfaction of fidgeting. I picked at the dry skin on the sole of my foot until it was gone. Then, I kept going. It is gross. I am gross. I disappointed you by revealing this disgusting act.

I blame nervous energy and anxiety, but the wound is deeper. The disappointing, weak, gross person is my self-image. The narrative within my mind for over 40 years is that I am not enough. I have been a terrible friend to those around me. I have consistently disappointed my family and failed every employer I have ever had. This is the keystone of my personal architecture. Whether I am baking a cake or writing a blog post, I will never do the task good enough.

The stabbing pain in my foot is a physical reminder of my inadequacies. The bleeding is deliberate. As I work to create new neural pathways and change my narrative, subconsciously I have sabotaged the process. With each step of my foot I find the dull pain that I seek. My keystone, my default, is pain. Without it, I feel lost and afraid. Satisfactory and successful are not me. It feels wrong, as if I were to put my shoes on the opposite feet.

The dried blood from my foot on the carpet is like the stain of failure on my mind. Here in this moment, I have realized my nervous habit of removing dried skin is far more sinister. Rather than using this information to update my healing process, I give into it. All the work up until now was for naught. Working towards a new narrative being enough for me has been subverted. I have been doing physical harm to my body through stress eating, nail biting, and the removal of dry skin.

Like the skin around my self-inflicted wound, I tighten up. I am frustrated. I am sad. I am ashamed that I am here feeling this way. Now, I have physical and mental pain. It feels familiar. I take a deep breath. I breathe in and out a few more times. The urge to find that rough edge on my pinky finger nail comes to mind. Instead of listening I take another breath. Success. It is a small victory, and the combination of those negative little things are used to beat myself up every day. So, it must work with positive as well, right? From heel to heal, one day at a time.

Chaotic Mindfulness

5 min read

A glitched image of text saying meditation mindfulness shame fear panic worth

 

How can mindfulness meditation practice help us with mental wellness? To answer the question we can look at how our minds function without it.

I recently listened to an interview with Dan Harris and he said something that kicked me in the ass. I had stumbled onto Harris when I started learning about healing my mental health. The news anchor found meditation at a time when he was dealing with PTSD and cocaine addiction. He made a Youtube video on the benefits of mindfulness that a few of my courses and doctors recommended. After seeing that video, I sort of forgot about him until this recent interview.

Harris tells Terry Gross that distracting thoughts during meditation are not a bad thing. "What do I have to do next?" "Am I doing this right?" "I'm frustrated," are a key part of the meditation process. He believes that by gently refocusing our attention on our breathing, or whatever you choose during meditation, we are training the brain to interrupt invasive thoughts outside of meditation as well. The hope is that later in the day, when you have a thought like, "I'm not good enough," you will be able to catch it and refocus rather than ruminate further on worthlessness.

My inner critic bristles at this idea. During meditation, I am focused on this task of, well focusing. In the middle of a busy workday or having an accomplishment being evaluated by someone close to me, I am too frantic to refocus. Fear and loathing dominate my thinking and mindfulness is some distant concept. Of course, as I pondered Harris' words further I wondered if my critical thoughts have proved his theory.

Here's a real world example. I am scared that you, the reader, think I am a moron. In fact, I know I am a moron because yesterday I measured wrong and cut a board for a flower box I was building incorrectly. Some time in the week, I was filling the humidifier and spilled water everywhere on the counter and the floor. In university, I did worked on a team project where I did most of the work and I think it was because my teammate hated my moronic idea for the video. In grade 10...I remember as a child my parents were frustrated...and so on, and so on.

My mind has trained for many years to find evidence of my worthlessness. When I feel shame, embarrassment or criticized, I focus on proving that to be true. I was worried you would think I was a moron and proceeded to dive into memories of shameful experiences from years ago. Could this be the same process of training Harris describes? If so, then it should be possible to change my thinking.

The Gotcha

I meditated daily between 2017-2018. Today, it rarely happens. It didn't work. I'm still broken. I still do not like who I am. This appears to be my inner critic at work again. In reality, I've had 40 years to train myself to loath who I am. A year of meditation is barely a dent into that pattern. Somewhere along the line, I let that old pattern back in and decided mindfulness meditation was a failure, like me. Instead of gently refocusing, I chose to continue beating myself up.

Personally, I wonder if there's some all or nothing thinking preventing me from moving forward. Perhaps, deep down I want to believe in a cure. I'm not completely rid of my depression and anxiety, therefore the meditation, the CBT, DBT, and psychiatrist sessions do not work. I've written before about the idea of accepting depression will always be a part of my life. Yet, there are those times, especially when I am wading through it, that I don't want to accept it. I want to be free of these intrusive thoughts, forever.

Even now, as I type this, I struggle. I want to end on a positive note and inspire myself and others. Yet I think, How many times have you said you would try harder and failed? Nobody is going to be inspired by what you say because you fail to follow through. It is exhausting to try and build new patterns. Am I a broken record, constantly saying the same thing over and over, but not following through? That's one way to look at it. However, it may show that I am working and trying to heal. If I have said I need to break this pattern of self-loathing before, than maybe I am training myself each time I repeat it. I suppose. Failure is how we learn. Is each time I sit here and feel bad for not following through with CBT or things I told my psychiatrist or partner a failure, or a lesson in improvement?

I am sad to say it doesn't feel like improvement. My mind is a forest fire of disbelief scorching any hope that was in the last paragraph. The only tree left unharmed is the one labeled, "maybe these thoughts will help someone else." I think this is a good time to stop writing and try a meditation to put out the flames. Be kind to yourselves. Much love.

Computer Printers: 50 Shades of No Way

9 min read

Printer Error Screen

In the last 15 years I have done my best to have a paperless work flow. It was easy for a video professional. Those times I did need something printed, I would send my files to a local copy shop. Without a home printer, I wasn't buying ink cartridges, fixing paper jams, or wondering why my computer couldn't see the printer. Recently, my partner has been working on her Masters and many of the courses provide articles as the teaching materials, rather than textbooks. Screens are not great for reading. We spend so much time in front of screens, I can understand why my spouse prefers paper. I love my e-ink reader, a very old Kindle, but it is a special kind of hell trying to read a PDF on one of those. So, we decided to get a printer. Now, I feel absolutely filthy.

1980s Hacker Mom

The dream of the future was alive in my youth thanks to my Commodore 64 computer. Buying joysticks, a tape drive, a floppy drive, and a printer for the home was the start of something exciting. We got an Okidata Okimate color printer that was surprisingly inexpensive! That is, compared to the typical black & white printers at the time, which were more focused on small businesses, not hobbyists. Like the printers of today, the Okimate had cyan, magenta, and yellow to print in color. However, all three colors were stitched together on one ribbon in a single cartridge. Perhaps 5 inches of cyan, followed by 5 of magenta, 5 of yellow and repeat. If the Okimate was sitting on magenta, but needed to make green, it would fast forward to yellow and then print cyan over that. Need more green? Skip magenta again. It was wasteful, there's whole parts of the ribbon that had never been used. Get to the end of the cartridge? Sorry, buy a new one.

Okidata Okimate 20 Printer

Not so fast! As you can imagine printing took a long time back then, so what else are you going to do, but watch? Mom noticed the color skipping behavior of the printer. When a cartridge reached its end, my mother grabbed a number two pencil and rewound the ribbon, much like us old people had to do if a cassette tape malfunctioned. She placed it back in the printer and we tried to print something new. It worked! Occasionally, the printer would attempt to use a color that was previously used the first time around and that would make some colorful glitches.(Maybe this is my first introduction to something I now enjoy, glitch art) Yet, this hack was worth it to a teenager who's most important prints were silly posters for the student council election. This is before the days of spell-check. I remember that poster on which I misspelled intelligent. Ugh.

Offset and Get the Fix

That brief trip down memory lane illustrates how printer manufacturers make money. In the early 2000s printers were dirt cheap. Buy an HP printer for $50! Better yet, buy an Apple computer and we'll throw in a printer for free. The companies do not make money on the hardware. They make money by selling you their proprietary ink cartridges. I remember those $50 printers having replacement ink starting at $30 apiece. Buy 12 of those in a year and you've just purchased 7 printers. Have a color printer? Now you're buying 4 different ink refills.

As consumers took notice of this pusher/drug user model, we started to fight back. Making a mess with syringes people began filling the previously used cartridge with ink. Whole businesses sprung from this and created a 3rd party market. We could get aftermarket ink on the cheap! As technology progressed those disruptive companies manufactured cartridges that looked exactly like the original equipment.

Of course, tech progressed at the printer manufacturers as well. Inexpensive chips could be added to print cartridges in much the same way car keys were chipped. Not an OEM cartridge? Sorry, you cannot print today. To further increase profit printers came with more bells and whistles. All-in-one printer scanners and 'wireless' printers were made to justify a higher price upfront. Ever have success with a wireless printer? Finding them on your network is harder than finding a giant squid in the ocean. No problem touch screens to the rescue. Easily configure your printer on the network, for an added cost of a touch screen.

Tanks for Nothing

In recent years, a few companies like Epson and Canon have taken a note from consumers and created eco or mega tank printers. They do not take cartridges, but have reservoirs for the ink. I was impressed by this innovation because I want to be less wasteful. This looked pretty interesting and excited me. However, I am very cynical. What's the catch? Well, the main benefit for the companies is getting your money upfront. Rather than giving you the typical smaller than normal ink cartridge in the box when you buy the printer, they give the tank printers a 2 year supply. Instead of paying $120 for that all-in-one printer, you pay $400 because you're getting 2 years of ink.

Okay, the working poor at Epson have to pay for their mandatory Disney+ subscription to forget about life. Plus, regular yacht maintenance is not cheap for the CEOs of the printer giants. Either pay for the ink with the purchase of the tank printer, or buy cartridges over the lifetime of another printer? The super tank printer seems slightly better for the environment, so how about I purchase...ERROR 5b00

The next best thing to selling you ink on a regular basis is planned obsolescence. While researching Epson EcoTank and Canon Megatank printers, I found lots of complaints about similar errors. Canons spit out the error above which means that the waste ink absorber pad is full. Inkjet printers can clog easily, so this pad is there to soak up things after a print or during a cleaning. So by maintaining the printer, you are killing it. You cannot replace the pad. You cannot print with the error. Epson has a similar design and gives you a less cryptic message, 'end of life.' Consumers who have called in for service have been told that the repair plus shipping is likely going to cost more than buying a new one. Epson's own site says the following.

Most consumers who are out of warranty elect to replace the printer because replacement of ink pads may not be a good investment for lower-cost printers. In most cases, when this message occurs, the printer's other components also may be near the end of usable life."

What about just making a serviceable ink pad? Again Epson, "Implementing this type of a design would result in more expensive printers. Most users would not benefit from such higher costs because their printers will never reach the Parts End of Life message.

Paper Jam

Today, after researching what printer to purchase, I feel exploited and weary. Epson is completely correct in its assumption people will buy new printers if they receive the planned obsolescence error. Bringing this issue to our governments would likely result in zero interest from politicians. We, the people, do not have the time and energy to fight lobbyists and lawyers. A lawmaker is more likely to send you a new $120 printer, then take your concerns and investigate.

We live in a disposable society. There are no vacuum or television repair businesses. Washers, dryers, and even bicycles make their way to landfills because the cost of repair is far more than replacement. Warranties are lip service more than anything else. When you complete the phone maze to finally get a human, they explain to you that buried in the fine print is a clause that says, "Not today, Sunshine." Instead of manufacturers backing a product with pride, retailers and other companies fill the warranty gap with "extended warranties." Much like the manufacturers, they have their own fine print. Thus, we are left with making another purchase to avoid the headache. The path of least resistance always wins.

There Is No Margin

One last note to add to my research. If we go back to the beginning, printer manufactures create these devices to make a profit. One of the ways companies have found to sustain profits is through subscription. So, HP has created a program where the printer tells HP it is running low and they automatically send you new ink in the mail. They have several monthly payment plans and you can quit to let the useless device collect dust at any time. Sound familiar? This is how Xerox works. The price of their copy machines is beyond affordable for even large businesses. Instead, most lease the machines and pay for the toner and maintenance. As an aside, movie theaters are now stuck in this model thanks to the rise of digital projectors. We live in the age of Subscribe or Die, I guess.

So what could I buy to solve the issue of printing many documents at home in an economical and environmentally friendly way? As I said above, I was weary from the research. I gave up on finding something that would be a useful and worthwhile investment for our future endeavors. Instead, I opted for something that could handle infrequent printing. No clogs in a laser printer. I will bow to my new master, Brother, and be thankful every time I am able to easily find the required toner cartridge. Perhaps I should take bets on how many prints it will be able to make before it reaches the manufactured "end of life" count coded into the machine?

 

A Planet in Pain and You

5 min read

a pensive person sitting on the darkside of a small dried out planet in watercolor

Tears cloud my vision as I type. The realization that my anguish is self-inflicted is difficult to accept. The external world has brought me to this place, but it is up to me to find solace. So, here I am writing to myself and those of you that may find yourself here.

The COVID-19 pandemic brings bad news and self-isolation every day. There are those of us out there who are Highly Sensitive People, now called Sensory processing sensitivity, that have a heightened emotional response to what is happening in the world. Seeing the death tolls rise and the matter of fact attitude of reporters and politicians can be extremely difficult. Personally, I see the people losing work and feel ashamed that I wasn't working enough before the pandemic. Fellow humans living paycheck to paycheck that are panicked about rent and mortgage payments also fuel that shame. My privilege of having a partner who has taken care of me as I try to deal with my mental wellness is a tremendous source of shame. I feel like a burden. Once again, I am using the external world as an excuse to abuse myself mentally.

If I wasn't around during this crisis, my spouse could support someone worth it. Things are not entirely secure for us. I should have had a regular salary well before the pandemic. What if I get my spouse sick when I leave to get the groceries? I will be a source of more pain, if that's even possible. I deserve to get the virus more than those hardworking people that have been deemed essential workers.

Shame is a powerful depressant. It is ultimately demotivating. Shame is also familiar to me. I know how to lay down in shame. To hide and make myself invisible and avoid fears and expectations. Facing the shame, anger, sadness, and fear is mostly foreign to me. It will be uncomfortable and hurt me in ways that I am unfamiliar with. It is bubbling up as I write this. I shudder with a desire to push it back down. I am not strong enough to handle this. Again, I engage shame, but this time about not being able to handle the shame? Things begin to stack up here. I pile on more reasons to be sad and upset.

I am not working much, so I should be super fit, right? No. I am a fat ass who has woken up everyday for the last 2 months saying 'I am going to workout.' My spouse said I should contact my psychiatrist, but I didn't yet. So she must be disappointed in me. Look at myself right now, in this state, pathetic. My sister asked me to call today and I haven't. I am a terrible brother. Who is going to read this? They will likely wonder what a loser I am. Why do I make a mess of everything?

I have heard various theories on the time we spend with emotions. Some addictions experts think cravings last about 7-10 seconds. Recently, I read that an emotion like sadness or happiness passes through the body in a minute and a half. Either way, we bring ourselves back after the time has passed with thoughts like those above. I specifically found other reasons to remain in pain. At this point, I can use this information to continue to feed my shame, why do I keep hurting myself? Or, I can attempt to break the loop.

Finding ways to stop this pattern is very difficult. I have a perceived notion that I have bottled emotions up in the past. Reading on mental wellness and therapy has illustrated to me that acceptance is a better strategy. So, if I break the loop am I bottling it up or accepting where I am and moving forward? The only person who has that answer is me. That can feel like a lot of pressure to someone who would rather be invisible and run from expectations. Right now, there is a desire to explain that I was better at accepting my emotions a few months ago, but I have failed. I think that could be my shame at work again, demotivating me and bringing me to familiar territory.

Examining my past with the help of psychiatry has allowed me to see some of the origins of my shame. I then perceived another idea that if I just worked through some of this ancient pain in meditation, writing, and therapy I would be better. Suddenly, writing was a daunting task. Meditation became a punishment. I deserved to relive these things because I am an awful person. In therapy, I started to avoid the past. That brings me to today. When the news of the pandemic breaks the dam that I have been holding back.

I needed this outlet. It was, and is, necessary for me to feel heard. I hope nothing I said triggered you. Of course, I'm deflecting outward again. I am worried about you legitimately, but it also serves me because I am avoiding myself. The only way we can make real change is by first observing what is happening. We learn by making mistakes. The pandemic has taught many of us what is necessary versus what we may want. One of the things that I still have trouble remembering is that I am not alone. That is one way to see our world crisis. Each of us is suffering despite our nationality, race, or gender. We are all humans. Each of us wants to be heard and loved. We cannot avoid the way the COVID-19 is harming our lives. Just as we cannot avoid our individual pain and emotions.

Stay safe. Wash your hands. Call a friend.

Much love.

What is 'The Economy?'

5 min read

A digital collage of graphs money and a worker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fear of what will happen to the economy during the pandemic permeates our daily lives. Politicians, entertainer-journalists, and your friends and neighbors are frightened about the financial future. "What will happen to the economy?"

The Fantastical Beast Economy

I am fascinated that we refer to the economy like the weather. As if we do not have any control over it, the economy roams the planet devouring currency and disrupting markets. We lose jobs, our homes and possessions because of 'the economy.' The value of our labor and the products and services we offer changes because of 'the economy.' Leaders suspend protective laws, start wars, and base taxes on 'the economy.' If the economy isn't a creature like the Loch Ness monster or a force of nature like a hurricane, what exactly is it?

The definition of the word revolves around the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. We are the producers, the distributors, and the consumers. So do we fear ourselves? If the economy collapses we are out of work and cannot afford to consume. It's an ouroborus, the serpent eating its own tail. Or is it? We are the force behind the economy. Perhaps the problem we will face after the pandemic isn't 'the economy,' but what we choose to value.

Worth

As individuals we have different interests and passions. A Michael Jordan autographed photo has little value for myself and others. However, there are those who would pay top dollar for his authentic autograph. Of course, there is some complexity there. Were I to have stumbled onto a Jordan autograph, I may be tempted to find someone who would pay a pretty penny for it. This is how our society operates, trading valuables for promissory notes.

Prior to the 1930s many countries used the gold standard to back currency. A dollar represented a number of ounces of gold. Like the example above, I don't really have a need for gold. I don't create electric circuits or desire gold jewelry. Yet, gold was a commodity that one could trade for necessary items like food and clothing. Whether currency is backed by gold or not, I cannot deny that it is nice to have a standard accepted by everyone.

Once again, we are talking about representation. Money and the system obscure what is happening and the real value being traded. The economy represents production, distribution and consumption of goods and service. Currency now represents monetary policy, instead of gold. We've agreed I should be paid currency for my production. I will use the currency to pay others for their goods and services. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there is less production as we get ill and stay home. Though, we all still need to consume necessities. Thus, 'the economy' is failing?

An image of text

'The economy' is about our work and consumption, right? Money is a stand-in for the things we need and desire. The currency is used to bridge the gap in what each of us value. I make a wooden chair, you trade me some promissory notes that I can exchange for some shoes from someone else. With my very basic and general understanding of 'the economy' it is hard to understand how it can fail. Of course, I am not getting into the speculation market and stock exchange. Perhaps that is what we fear will fall apart, not the economy.

Value

One definition for 'value' is worth. Another is meaning. The fact that nurses and doctors are working incredible hours in dangerous conditions during the pandemic is not about monetary worth. What they are doing has meaning far beyond currency. After being in a car accident, the value of my partner holding and consoling me is worth more than a suitcase full of currency to pay for a new car. No one wants the money for cancer treatment, they need the treatment.

Without promissory notes people barter. Prisoners find value in barter since cash is hard to come by and perhaps not worth as much as tobacco or real cheese. When Greece went through the recent financial crisis a barter economy emerged. In fact, the website created for this barter market in Greece exchanges credits similar to bank notes. So what is the difference? I would argue connection. A small community of people bartering is building a network of human connection. The value bleeds into meaning. We often take pride in helping others. We trust the people in our networks and those closest to us. Emotional connection creates a healthier society. Perhaps one where N95 masks are given freely to those in need and not hoarded for profit.

The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel

The economy represents how we interact with each other and currency seems more like a placeholder. That Michael Jordan autograph may be worth a new TV to you, but I would likely only value the paper it was written on. I want the paper, you want the autograph, neither one of us needs the bank notes in reality. We only use them to represent value we create. There are only 5 Liberty Head Nickels. To a collector this single coin could be worth $2-4 million dollars. To the bank, the coin is still only worth $.05. Value is in the eye of the beholder, so how will our economy fail? The stock market, or gambling on the how people may value future goods, may indeed fail.

One of the disadvantages of the gold standard was the distribution gold deposits. This means some countries would have more than others and that could limit trade and growth.'The economy' is a system born from us. It is not as important as what we value. Perhaps the pandemic is an opportunity to examine what worth truly is?

The iLung 4

3 min read

a backpack that looks like an iMac

Digging into my unpublished blogs and stories, I found this. I painted an image today and decided to publish this bit of satire. Enjoy.

Found were these notes from the Apple Keynote of the year 2100-

Breathing is intuitive. When we set out to make the iLung 1, we knew it also needed to be intuitive. More importantly, it had to be hassle-free. This is literally a life or death situation. Other oxygen supplies on the market were safe and functional, but clunky, confusing, and austere.

We engineered the iLung for comfort, ease, and of course, air. Today, we bring you the iLung 4. While our patented nose-pods still remain the most comfortable on the market, we are happy to introduce the new Breez connector!

The last thing you want to do is fumble around with the tube connection that supplies your oxygen. At the same time it must be secure when it is connected. Apple brings you the Breez connector. The Gust connector is no more. The Breez has been completely redesigned.

The iLung 4 is still made of a single piece of aluminum to make sure there are no leaks, but we've managed to increase the volume of oxygen it can carry by 35% while still making the unit smaller!

Of course, any sort of new designs are tested to ensure the highest level of safety. When you're carrying around flamible gas out in the tremendous temperatures that ravish the planet now, you want to feel secure. We wanted to do something special for you. We hoped to send the iLung 4 to the planet Mercury. If it could survive at those temperatures, the iLung 4 would survive here for at least another two decades. Ah, but that was the issue. In the amount of time that it would take for our product to get to Mercury, well we will have likely released 4 more updates to the live-saving device. It's no use showing you the iLung 4's durability if we're already giving you the iLung 8. (Pause for laughter) Instead, we put the iLung 4 on a robot and sent it to the super volcano that was once Wyoming. What you're about to see is the video of that super heated trip.

What you're looking at is 2 camera angles, on the left is infared to show us any combustion, since the traditional video camera is so distorted from the heat at the site. Those flashes are some of the robot's hydrallic hoses melting, but as you can see the iLung 4 is doing great! (Pause for applause) Now here the cameras give in to the heat, but sensors showed that the iLung 4 was still intact when we left! Of course, we don't recommend anyone take a vacation to the former Yellowstone park with your new iLung!