Nor a Lender Be

Most of us have heard the expression “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” at some point, right? But why do we say that?

Whether you see a moral dilemma or a purely practical one in loaning out anything of value, my answer simplifies both.

Never “lend” anything that you can’t afford to lose. Instead of calling it a loan, just give the money or items away. If your friend returns it to you someday, terrific! If not, then you weren’t expecting them to do so anyway, and everything is still fine.

By making it a gift (and only giving to friends if you’re worried about the character of the recipient – you did see me include that part, right?), you remove the expectations, the fear, the disappointment, and the potential sense of loss – because you already didn’t need what you gave away.

This way, if they ever offer to return to you those things or that money, then THEY can make it a gift back to YOU. And if you don’t need it at that time, you can give it to someone else who might.

The entire cycle of giving and receiving is healthier this way, and no strings need be attached to anything. Ever!

If you have to request something from a friend that you need, and you intend to return it in the future, it is always your choice to view it that way. But you’ll both feel better if you just ask, and they give, without a sense of debt hanging over either of you.

If this idea seems new and unusual to you, let me offer another perspective to help.

With a gift to a stranger (of money, food, clothes, or anything else you donate to someone who may be in need), you wouldn’t expect to get that gift back anyway, right? With donations, you can relieve yourself of goods you don’t need, food you wouldn’t eat, or money in excess of what you need to live comfortably (at least right now). AND you gain the satisfaction of knowing that you helped another person or family who does need what you gave.

Gifts among friends make sense, too. Why not enrich a friendship with gifts, rather than strain it with unhealthy expectations and obligations?

Give yourself the gift of grace today, and see what other treasures it helps you to discover.

Simple, right?

Testing Out of Life’s Remedial Class

We are at the age now where life does not always wait to drop the other shoe. I have a theory about that, but first, a little background.

When you’re young, every obstacle can seem like a challenge to be met. Things holding you back become tasks to finish, puzzles to overcome, or a longer race than you anticipated. But for some, everything seems possible as a young adult.

In the past three years, this has happened, and in fairly rapid sequence, all things considered:

  • I met an amazing woman and moved across the country (without a job yet) to court and marry her.
  • Once settled, I got a temporary job, and as soon as it moved to permanent, I asked my fiancée to quit her abusive job before it killed her (she did so, and her health gradually rebounded).
  • The pandemic swiftly encompassed most of the USA.
  • We moved up our wedding but postponed any honeymoon for safety reasons.
  • Stay-at-home orders were rolled out.
  • Wildfires and their smoke crippled most of our state, making even our backyard off-limits for most of the summer.
  • We launched a new writing project for 2021 and got our first couple of pieces published in a timely fashion. Then…
  • Literally four days before I would have been able to get a vaccine to reduce my family’s risk, the company I was with eliminated my position (and thus my eligibility for said vaccine).
  • Before I managed to find work again, we had a death in the family.
  • Some of my professional relationships happily evolved into personal friendships.
  • I learned that freelancing while looking for full-time work elsewhere is like working two jobs anyway, but only getting paid for one. (0/10 – do not recommend)
  • A local startup invited me to join their small, powerful team and focus my unique skill set where it could do the most good.
  • One of my thesis statements was proven to be correct.
  • A remedial class dropped into my life, only this time I “tested out” successfully. I was on the right track, but my wife helped me understand the final exam with which I was wrestling. Only then did I manage to pass a crucial test.

Quite the winding road! Yet when familiar patterns emerged, I saw some forks that I missed before. As our journey lengthens, does the pace accelerate, or do we simply see more, if we have the wisdom to pay full attention?

I have long said that life will give you the exact same lesson, in different forms, until you learn what you need to from it. But then, you get different lessons.

Is it a good sign to have so many chances to learn new skills and solve new problems, in quick succession? Or is it just exhausting? And how much of that depends on your attitude?

For the record, I think that how we respond to things matters more than what happens, on balance. And both can still be true: it is indeed exhausting AND probably still a sign that we’re ready to “level up” in life.

Well aware that the next thing could come up before we’ve sorted through the last events… I still have hope that we will learn what we need to from each struggle and reach a new, higher equilibrium. If that makes the next lesson easier to understand, so much the better.

Until then, remember to keep living, and not just waiting.

Branching Into a Third Class

I am always on a mission for greater self-awareness. Striving for this bears its own merit, in my opinion, because I think we can all be healthier, stronger, more productive, more efficient, more honest, and of course happier, with greater self-awareness. It’s not always pretty to look inside, especially when we’ve made mistakes, or if we have survived trauma. But facing such things honestly can take away some of their teeth, as naming any fear helps to defang it.

So self-awareness is a worthy goal in its own right. But that journey leads me to some most interesting places.

I pondered some things on a long, familiar drive today. I was alone in the car. I never turned on music. I just thought out loud. And I challenged one of my oldest biases: the bias against waste, which for me, hinges on three things more than any others:

  • wasted water — clean water running down the drain for no benefit;
  • wasted paper — crisp, processed, brand-new paper, thrown away for no benefit; and
  • wasted fuel — gasoline, with all of the pain and all of the destruction that goes into producing it, being burned so that someone can sit there, inside a very large truck, burning a great deal of fuel, while someone else stands outside the truck, leaning up against it, leisurely smoking a cigarette.

You may have surmised that I saw this last one today up close. It disgusted me, it infuriated me, and it made me angry and — because of anger — probably a little bit afraid. And as soon as I realized I was having this reaction, I started asking myself WHY.

I’ve learned to throw out a little bit of leftover food, rather than eat it, if I know that eating it will only make me feel sick (or worse), and if I know that putting it away will only mean that I’ll have to throw it away tomorrow or the day after, and then I’ll have a dish to wash, which will cost more water, and more energy, and more space in my head and in my life.

So I’ve learned to throw away food at times (“wasting” food), because it is sometimes the more efficient and the more effective option. Knowing the true cost of food, and especially of meat, how can I justify accepting that with a calmness I do not feel when I see people throw away perfectly good paper? Not into the recycler, but into the trash. Or when I see someone run water down the drain, and walk away from the tap while it’s running. Or sit in a car for one full hour, reading a book and eating, or even sleeping, while they just burn gas and pollute the air around me.

(Note that I’m not referring to someone who is sleeping for a bit between long shifts on a cold winter’s night while trying not to freeze; this frustration comes from seeing people sit in an air-conditioned vehicle when it’s barely hot out, while I’ve sat in my own car at the same time, with windows down and a sunshade in the windshield, enjoying the breeze while I eat my own lunch and read in the indirect light.)

These things infuriate me, but I still wanted to know why. This level of awareness has been long in coming. I’ve lived with these observations for years, but I haven’t always been able to figure out why they affect me so. And today, I set out to do just that.

Careless pollution infuriates me, but it should anyone. That’s a reasonable reaction. We all need to breathe the air!

And if I can accept wasting a little food sometimes, but not wasting water, why is that? I can pour water out on the ground, where plants will absorb it, and that’s fine. To me, that’s returning it to the natural water cycle, and some life still benefits from it. Even pouring it out in a parking lot seems better than just pouring it into the drain (back to the chemical treatment plant with you, clean stuff of life!), or throwing a plastic bottle (that could also be emptied and recycled) into a garbage can, water and all.

Exploring these curious variances, I wondered if my drive for efficiency has been my dominant force for so long, professionally and personally, that I’ve finally taken it too far.

Time to look back, then.

When I was much younger, I focused on mastery. Everything that I tried, I wanted to get very good at immediately. I found this was often possible, but if I couldn’t master it quickly, I tended to lose interest just as quickly. Eventually I learned that I will NOT always master everything I attempt to learn anyway. There are things I do not have the physical prowess for, or the mental acuity for, or the discipline to focus on, or the interest in spending the time to master. And that’s fine, too.

Knowing where my strengths lie, and focusing on getting a return for those, seems like a better investment anyway. I love to learn a smattering of all new things, but if I lose interest for any reason, I don’t always try to drive myself deeper now, unless there is another goal at stake (professional accomplishment, some personal attachment, or solving a mystery, for example). And so I move on.

For much of my professional life, efficiency has been my chief driver. It is one of my Unique Selling Propositions, as recruiters, salespeople, and consultants often say. Efficiency! Learn accuracy first, and follow with efficiency. If you do it right the first time, that’s still more efficient, so really, it’s the same driver for both.

And if efficiency goes too far, you start to worry so much about waste (in time, distance, or complexity) that you can lose sight of the bigger picture. Small moves do add up, and tiny steps can make a real difference in the grand scheme. However, if you keep sight of the bigger picture along the way, you will often find that you chose a better course in the end.

Which leads me to my third driver. My first phase was mastery. My second phase was efficiency. And perhaps my third phase is harmony.

Harmony requires calmness, and honesty, and lots of communication. But mostly, calmness and honesty. As many throughout history have paraphrased, think before you speak, and pause again if you need more time to do that thinking. Snap judgments and harsh words can destroy harmony in seconds, and they can break trust that takes ages to rebuild, if ever you can.

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” – (attributed to everyone)

In seeking the source of my inner disharmony — the imbalance between my logical observations and my visceral responses — I remembered something curious. Even games from forty years ago can still teach me lessons today.

I learned about role-playing games when I was five years old. Too young to realize that this art mirrored life in many important ways, I focused on the rules and stretched my childish imagination. Characters could only have one “class” (or profession) for their whole lives. An oversimplified view of the world, for certain, but it welcomed new players with the concept of a deep study and lifelong specialization.

As a teenager, I discovered an evolution in these games. Someone’s character could now switch “classes” later in life, and they could keep using their skills and insights in the first class they had chosen, but only after surpassing their achievements in the new class. Again, real life tells some of the best students that they cannot serve two masters… or at least, not at the same time. Even geniuses seem to stay in one field until they reach an endpoint of study, or until some new curiosity leads them to step into a different lane, whatever changes that may require.

Mastery. Efficiency. Harmony.

Long ago I read a version of how to think on your words before you loose them into a room, or onto the world at large. This is how I remember it today:

  • Are you about to speak the truth? Not “your” truth, but objective truth?
  • Does this need to be spoken? If not, save your breath for something better. Maybe listen instead.
  • Will it help or will it hurt someone? Never hurt anyone on purpose, and try not to hurt anyone by accident, either.
  • Is it kind? There is usually a kind way to deliver difficult news or necessary criticism. Be humble, and patient, and always share bad news or corrective actions in private. Help someone learn, but let them save face, and you will find more grateful friends than bitter enemies by far.
  • If it needs to be spoken, it is truthful, and it will help someone, speak it kindly! If not (to any of those criteria), remain calm, and often quiet.

For the wise, study never ends as long as we draw breath in this world. You can only reach a new level of awareness by understanding where you are now. Better still if you recognize a problem or three around you as the stepping stones they are perhaps meant to be. There are lessons everywhere, if you pay attention.

Harmony may be an overarching goal that can lead me to the next phase of my life and my growth, and can still help the world an immense amount.

Today I begin this new journey.

Where is yours taking you?

Lifetime Learning

This is NOT a rant about Lifetime movies. Well, not really.

My wife is a big fan of them, though. We watch them together sometimes. If you are a fan of these movies and have one you’ve been itching to watch, please bookmark this post and read it only after you’ve seen the whole film to which you’re so looking forward. I’m not talking about specifics here, but some of the connections could be obvious.

***** GENERAL SPOILERS AHEAD *****

Let’s discuss some formatting items before I get to the thematic spoilers. I would never ruin a movie anyone wants to see, unless a single person told me they didn’t want to see it but needed to know how it turned out. So: warning posted.

We watch a fair number of these movies, so I’ve seen patterns emerge. While most of the films aim to empower women of any age, and many do a good job at this, I do take issue with a few problems therein, which all stem from the same cause.

***** SERIOUSLY, HERE WE GO *****

Most Lifetime movies follow one of two patterns: sadist or killer.

In the first scenario, everyone trusts the psychopathic sadist who shows up suddenly and tries to ruin everyone’s life due to some perceived slight or long-ago hurt. This person will gaslight everyone around them, and either no one suspects until near the end, or one person smells a rat early on, and the sadist isolates her from everyone in her life. Those people around her believe the worst about the person they’ve known for years, and they trust almost everything the antagonist says, usually without question.

In the second scenario, several people recognize the psychopathic killer but are murdered. Usually a few of those threaten to expose the killer without making backup plans, after which they typically turn their backs on said killer to call the police or send a crucial text. Whereupon each new victim dies quickly and foolishly. (Sometimes one last victim gets the word out to the protagonist, setting up the reveal at last.)

Both of these setups completely ignore the benefits of critical thinking.

No one locks their doors or looks behind them in these movies, so a killer is often lurking in the backseat, and people regularly sneak around in each other’s houses. And no one ever calls for backup before confronting the psychopath (unless perhaps at the very end).

If someone cuts brake lines, no one has the presence of mind to downshift, which allows engine braking to help them keep control of their car. I learned this at age 16, as I was learning to drive, and my brakes did fail organically once! The aging master cylinder came apart, and I lost brake power suddenly. But I knew what to do, and I stopped the car without hurting anyone or anything.

People constantly jump to conclusions and assume the worst about the heroine, or the best about the villain. If there is an obvious intruder knocking things over outside (or breaking in a window), people usually hear the sound and then mutter something about an animal and how harmless it is. Sometimes they even dismiss their worries and just go to sleep, with their backs to the bedroom door!

Also, villains frequently strangle their victims, but no one ever fights back. At all. People just stand there and die, without throwing themselves backward (if attacked from behind), striking at the inside elbows of the attacker (if grabbed from the front), pulling their seat lever and flinging it backward (if garrotted in the car), or kicking for the groin, instep, shin, knee, or stomach.

There are plenty of vulnerable spots to strike at if someone grabs you, but none of these people use even the basics of self-defense. When did we stop teaching that, and for goodness’ sake, why?

If these movies are teaching things to watch out for, how many does it take to make the message stick?

Roger Ebert once described a type of film that he did not enjoy, which he called an “if only” movie. In these, the entire plot line would have unraveled IF ONLY one character had said or done something differently. When the complete story arc hinges on a single unasked question, or a few crucial words that one leaves unspoken when they had the chance to say them, it can weaken the impact. The meaning of the story can dissolve.

I try to live my life on the lookout for those “if only” moments, and anytime I see them, I choose the safer road: the path where I tell that person I love them; or where I say what’s on my mind NOW, when I can, without waiting until “maybe later”. And for the sake of literally living another day, if I am suspicious of something I see or hear, I first tell my wife, and then I grab at least a makeshift weapon of some kind before investigating. And if you have security cameras, put a password on them and CHECK them before you venture outside. If you heard it, it’s probably SOMETHING!

A very different kind of movie taught me something else when I was much younger. In “The Princess Bride”, Chris Sarandon’s character is asked, “Could this be a trap?” and he smugly replies, “I always think everything could be a trap… which is why I’m still alive!”

You don’t have to be Prince Humperdinck to be careful, and you certainly don’t have to go around making enemies and trying to rule the world (or even your small portion of it). But if you’re constantly rude to people, get over it; everyone is going through something, just like you are. The details may be different, but we’re all human, and we all have struggles.

Good people get hurt, too, but a little caution goes a long way sometimes. And you’ve probably heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? Well, it’s a sound piece of advice, but there ARE killers and sociopathic, vengeful people out there, so sometimes there IS no cure if you’re careless. Be kind where you can, but be mindful, too. Don’t trust strangers with your life unnecessarily, don’t anger people on purpose, and please safeguard your personal information! Lock your phone, your computer, your tablet, your CAR, and your doors and windows!

Pay attention, and live another day. Life isn’t always easy, but it’s often worthwhile. If you’re enjoying any part of it, please stay here.

And when you need a lesson outside of your own experience, there’s always a movie on.

Losing Big with Stock Investing

I read a thread on Twitter this morning about Apple’s reaching three TRILLION dollars in supposed value, and about one person’s crushing regret that they did not invest in Apple stock some time ago. Thinking about this gave me a few insights that are worth sharing.

Stock trading in a nutshell

A quick note for those who don’t know how single-stock trading works. When you buy one or more shares of stock, you own a piece of paper (more on this later), and you hope it will increase in supposed value. Then you can sell it at a later time, ideally for more than you paid, and you have a profit, or net gain.

That’s how you want things to go. If it drops in value, or if you need your cash back in a hurry, you can sell it at a loss and just take your money to do something else. This happens a LOT, and more than investment firms probably want you to dwell on.

Still, it’s possible to make plenty of money trading stocks, especially if you don’t care where it comes from. See, to strike it big with stock trading, you almost always take money from other investors; it rarely has any contact with the actual company in which you’re “investing”.

Q: Then how does it keep going?

That’s a great question!

The easy answer is cynical but probably accurate. I’ve heard more than once that the reason no one ever brings down this house of cards is that, if you’re smart enough to understand how it works and what’s wrong with the structure, a giant investment firm will usually try to snap you up and offer you an absurd amount of money to keep the deck stacked in THEIR favor, and help them make even more from it. They benefit, you benefit, and nothing changes.

The other side of that is that while some professors/lawyers (I’m looking at you two, Robert Reich and Elizabeth Warren) do explain the very real effects of this in pretty clear terms, they don’t pay to advertise. Investment firms and stock-trading apps are everywhere, and they pay huge sums to keep the promises of big returns and the dream of passive income (“easy money”), right in your face, every day.

So a lot of people might never hear the dark side of this unless they lose out, and even then, if they don’t dig into the process, they might think it’s just bad luck, and not the natural result of a flawed process in which the house almost always wins. Traders and exchanges have been streamlining the system to ensure that for centuries now.

Preferred versus Common stock

It gets weirder, of course. Consider this as well, before you think you’ve missed out on something fantastic.

Preferred stock is a specialized investment into a company you believe in, when you want money and not control. Preferred stock is far more likely to repay your initial investment if the company liquidates for any reason (bankruptcy may or may not lead to liquidation of their assets), and the tax incentives to owning preferred stocks are ridiculously generous. If you have tons of money and want more, this is your safest bet.

Plus, if a company actually earns money by providing valuable goods or services to their clientele, they can pay real dividends to stockholders. But preferred stockholders always get paid first.

Common stock gives you voting rights over a company’s board of directors, and even the CEO. It will be a percentage based on what you own (usually one vote per share, with however many shares there are in the company’s holdings). While you can influence policy at times with your votes, that same board of directors can easily decide not to pay dividends to common stockholders at all. So, pros and cons for each.

Q: But what about trading?

You can still sell stock shares, and for more if the company is doing well in the public eye, or less if they’re visibly struggling. However, this is 100% subjective with common stock (preferred gives the company that issued the stock, the chance to buy those shares back from the market, so again, you’re more likely to get your money back at some point with preferred stock than with common stock).

As with art, the value of common stock is purely in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, the buyer. While art may provide real emotional or mental benefits that make any price you pay worthwhile (and how I do love museums and showcases, too!), common stock just gives you a piece of paper that someone else, someday, might try to buy from you.

Convince others it’s worth less when you buy, and convince them it’s worth more when you sell. You’re making money by trading hard-earned cash for a piece of paper. It is literally something for nothing. And I won’t even BEGIN to explain “futures” in this post.

Q: How did we get here from there?

I started this with a few brief points to mention, but the background is there if you need it, too.

Here are your takeaways:

1) A stock purchase without understanding, or made from sentimentality, or from jumping on the bandwagon, is just throwing away your real money on ephemeral items of questionable worth. Might they turn out to be terrific investments one day, if you know when to sell? Maybe. Casinos supposedly pay out to players once in a while, too, but most people who visit them spend a lot on the experience and gain nothing more. (Experience is the only thing you can buy that always makes you richer, by the way. That part can be worthwhile anywhere.)

2) It is NOT a loss to look back on a skipped investment years ago that you think might have made you wealthy by today. And did you have any expenses back then that you’ve forgotten about now? If your money was tied up in paper slips that you wanted to sit on for twenty years, what else would you have missed out on along the way?

3) Finally, anyone who has studied the observer effect knows that things might have gone quite differently if they HAD taken the other road. You literally cannot expect that things would be the same everywhere, except for your new fortune today. That is not how causality works; not at the quantum level, and not at the macro level.

Q: Some of that is awfully specific. Got anything else?

Live in the moment and look at what you can do now. Not decades past. Haunting your regrets will make you miss out on the rest of your life. Literally. What can you do today and tomorrow to make your life better now, more interesting, more enjoyable?

What’s past is past, for everyone I’ve ever known.

What’s next, for you?

Agnostic No More?

It’s funny how connotation works, isn’t it?

You immediately think you know what that word means here, and you might be right. But as with so many things in life, it carries another meaning that also applies.

Most people see “agnostic” and think it must mean a belief, or a lack of belief, in a deity or a doctrine. I’m an etymologist, though. Not one with a degree, just a passion.

As an avid reader, I love to discover new words, but I am always on guard for alternate meanings.

As a writer, I constantly work to choose the best words — the most precise for what I am trying to describe, or the one that purposely has a dual meaning, to convey both at once, where appropriate. This is a perfect example of the latter use.

Years ago, I described myself as an agnostic in its modern sense: someone who distinctly does NOT know all the answers about a deity or the world(s) beyond our five most common senses and our three-dimensional environment. Most people know this meaning today.

However, as an explorer of science, medical discovery, applied psychology, and general self-development (I mean, really: can’t we all learn to do something better today?), that would seem to make me an agnostic in other ways, too.

The word agnostic comes into English from gnostic, which derives from the Greek for “known” and is related to the Latin “know”, according to Oxford Languages. Agnostic literally means “not knowing”, in its simplest form.

etymology of the word gnostic
I don’t know all the symbols to type this out myself yet. 😉

If you are certain you know the answers to something, people might say that you have faith, which Merriam-Webster defines as “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”. However, I suspect that most people with a powerful faith believe what they believe either due to evidence they’ve witnessed (ideally) or from simple indoctrination, where beliefs are pounded into someone’s head through repetition (and sometimes punishment) without any evidence.

Most people who profess faith in a religious doctrine might point to holy texts, or even to a spiritual experience they’ve had which reinforced what they already suspected or believed or learned, and which left them with even stronger faith in their existing beliefs or hopes. This is evidence-based, even knowing that our minds are subject to bias and error and all manner of struggles, and that seems like a better reason for believing in anything.

This is why I support the scientific process all the time, too. Scientists are constantly discovering evidence that tests their hypotheses and forces them to evolve new theories, which often lead to more discoveries. This is how the human brain seems to be wired: constant feedback and growth is how we learn about our environment, and it is literally key to our survival in the world around us.

We’re not straying from the point, by the way. Quite the opposite.

Knowing what you don’t know gives you room to learn and even helps light the way. Anything that you study, with critical thinking and an open mind, can lead you to incredible discoveries: both the work others have done before you looked, and of course the ground that you break as well. And anyone can develop a new theory of how the world works, or how people think, or how to solve a previously-befuddling problem in astrophysics, psychology, medicine, theoretical mathematics, or almost anything else.

Artists constantly reinterpret and even reinvent the world around them, and such a new vision can enlighten, dishearten, inspire, anger, or simply teach. Artistic expression is crucial to our growth as a species, because while scientific curiosity can open many doors to knowledge, artistic curiosity can open doors to mysteries. And mystery itself can be frightening or exciting, depending on your perspective, which of course can change and grow anytime.

Also, doesn’t every mystery invite exploration? How better to keep us seeking a deeper understanding, and more knowledge — and even theory — of the world (or worlds) around us? Maybe we’re wired for curiosity as well. Maybe it’s what we need the most in this life.

What do you think you know the best? What are you working to discover about yourself, your world, or the life around you? Please comment below and share your thoughts!

Learning the Sum of Your Parts

So I was listening to ‘Dreamlover’ by Mariah Carey, and she sang, “Just want someone to belong to, every day of my life, always, so come and take me away.” And of course that set me to thinking.

It feels great to belong. It feels great to be needed. But if it’s your defining emotion, you might be codependent.

If you don’t feel like anything’s right until this happens, that might be the sign of a problem.

However, if you know who you are, and you relish that feeling, but it’s not THE defining characteristic of your life, then you understand the difference between an emotion and your core being. That’s a difficult lesson to learn in life.

Reading the Map

Emotions are powerful; they’re meant to be. And the amygdala actually releases brain chemicals when we feel emotions. It’s more than just a brain wave. It’s more than just a moment. You feel it throughout your entire body, good or bad. It can fill us with euphoria; it can flush us with dread; it can paralyze us with terror; it can make us angry and drive us to make things better when there’s an injustice. It can also make you warm and tingly, or incite passions. All of these things are real, physical reactions to emotions. Emotions are real, but they’re not everything.

You are more than the sum of your emotions; you are more than the sum of your body chemistry; you are more than just your thoughts. Your thoughts and those you choose to turn into actions are incredibly important. They may define how others perceive you, but they don’t define your whole self. You are more than the sum of all of your parts, inside and out.

So feeling like you belong to someone, or feeling like you are completed by someone; a fine line separates those two, and if you don’t understand the difference, you might be on the wrong side of it.

Feeling like you’re incomplete without someone – that’s the sign of a problem, too. If you felt incomplete before you met this person, then you had a problem before you met them, and meeting them has not solved it.

If you don’t think you’re missing any pieces in your personal puzzle, and then you find someone with whom you just “click”; someone who fascinates you, or who enriches your days and nights in any way; then you two could be a great fit!

A Brief Success Story

Meredith and I followed this last course. We were each doing well enough on our own when we met, and we had a couple of things in common from the beginning. “You know, I really liked the way you said that.” “Oh, that’s a very good point about kindness.” “Oh, isn’t that mutual friend great?” It sparked some interest. Once we really looked at each other, and we liked what we saw, that sparked a little more interest.

But then we started getting to know each other. And when THAT happened, that’s when we began to learn just how well we meshed.

Now, nobody’s perfect. But it was a lot like a zipper zipping up correctly. So many things lined up with our values and our humor and our thinking, that we’ve been together ever since, and happily so.

To Keep or Not to Keep?

Plenty of couples are simply mismatches. You may have some wild passion, or strong attraction; you may have this one cause that brings you together, but you just can’t agree on anything else…. You two are not meant to be together! You can spend time together; you can talk; you can exchange ideas; you can have great sex; just understand that this is not a relationship that’s gonna last forever and fulfill you both, if you don’t complement each other in a lot of ways.

Enough common interests to enjoy them together; enough shared values to believe that the same types of things are important in life (that’s a big one!); but enough differences to remain interesting to each other: THAT is a formula with the potential for a long-term relationship.

And I do believe in love that lasts forever. Don’t think for a minute that I’m saying anything else. It’s just that until you figure out who you are first, you’re not gonna know if you really fit someone else, or if they’re just shielding you from the things that you don’t want to face.

If all they do is keep you from being alone at night, because you can’t stand to get into a cold, empty bed – that’s another sign of a problem.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking somebody home if you want; if you trust them, you like them, and you know that there’s no commitment here, that’s fine (as long as you’re all consenting adults who feel the same way). But if you’re not actually talking about that, then how are you gonna know that you’re on the same page?

There’s nothing wrong with falling in love with somebody immediately, either. But you still should take the time to find out these things about each other. If you fall in love immediately, and you get married three days later – good luck! I don’t know how that’s gonna work out. I haven’t seen it work very often, but it certainly can.

However, if you fall in love immediately and then spend three months getting to know each other, and then you decide, “Hey, I’m gonna spend a lot more time with this person,” and then, six months after that, you get married? Congratulations! Married a year later because you know what’s right and you’ve checked all these things? That has a lot of promise. (Yes, I might know a little extra about this type of scenario!)

And if you decide never to marry anyone, but you simply cultivate terrific relationships throughout your life? Anything that fulfills you, that doesn’t leave broken hearts in its wake, sounds admirable and worthwhile to me!

You don’t have to fit into any mold to find true contentment or even overflowing joy. Just learn who you really are, don’t hurt anyone on purpose, and try not to hurt anyone by accident, and you’re on your way to a rich life of friends, family, or whoever and whatever you choose to fill it with.

Find yourself, forge your path, and enjoy.

Misunderstanding the Novel Coronavirus

Here’s what people seem to misunderstand about the novel coronavirus in 2021.

The Delta variant – just one of the newest variants circulating the globe now – sheds approximately 1000 times as much as the previously-dominant variant. Even vaccinated people, whose primed immune systems keep it mostly at bay, can carry this around for a time, freely sharing it among others they approach.

The more people who carry the virus around (in any variant), the more chances these viruses have to mutate yet again. The *longer* people carry the virus around, the more chances it has to mutate.

Vaccinated people’s bodies recognize and kill off the virus more quickly, limiting its life cycle despite the high shed rate of Delta. Isolating themselves after exposure, or upon ANY symptoms, or any suspicion, is the best way for even vaccinated people to avoid spreading it to others. And masks still help!

If a vaccinated person isolates for the life cycle of the virus, their body will typically overcome it fully. This means that even if a mutation developed during that time, it would be destroyed by the immune system without spreading to new hosts. But only if they don’t expose anyone else.

While Delta spreads the fastest and most aggressively, there are many other variants that are circulating around the world right now. There is a Lambda variant already, which means there are eleven NEW known variants of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The original virus mutated to a more contagious version in 2020, before we started cataloguing the variants and giving them designations like Alpha, Delta, and Lambda. But this pandemic has been going on so long, and with vaccines still too few and far between, that eleven MORE variants have been discovered and identified.

All viruses mutate as they replicate. This one is no exception. But with its incubation time, the fact that some people can spread it without ever developing symptoms, and its extremely contagious nature, it has a longer reach and a greater footprint than many that came before.

Now we are tracking at least 11 new mutations, plus the previous dominant strain, that have all established their own successful chains. Every one of them will continue to mutate as it spreads. Every variant has the potential to spawn a new, worse variety, like the Delta variant.

The Delta strain has a shed speed that attempts to outpace even an inoculated immune system. While it may not overwhelm a body that is primed to fight it off, if it keeps ahead of the body’s defenses for a time, it can keep spreading, with more chances to find an unprepared host.

The only way we will overcome this virus as a species – the human species – is if we can all work together to survive long enough to get effective vaccines to everyone. On the planet. This means that we must help each other survive from a distance: Eat. Rest. Heal. Safely.

There is no “island” in our population where people can afford to turn away from this pandemic. When the former President of the United States denied the severity of the virus, and caught it, he doubtless had the best care money could buy, and he survived. Many more have not.

Every infected person creates the potential for a new variant to beat our existing and developing defenses. No one is safe until we are all safe. We MUST work together to succeed in this. It’s NOT “just a flu”. It DOES kill people. It CAN ruin a life even if the body survives.

This is serious. This is life or death for almost everyone. If you’re lucky enough to have immunity, you may know or love someone who doesn’t. For them, if not for you, PLEASE do your part.

This pandemic continues to worsen. We are literally running out of time, and no one knows how long we have left before a new variant emerges that might get around all of our existing vaccines. Starve the virus of prey by distancing, masking, washing, and paying attention.

Everyone has someone to lose. Don’t be that loss for someone you care about. And don’t lose anyone else you love, either. Wear a mask in public. Get vaccinated. Practice physical distancing, not social distancing. Keep in touch, but do it safely. It has to be now.

Right now.

Better Manners of Getting Things Done

Today I found myself in line at a big hardware store to return something that had arrived broken. Not the end of the world; it was just something that I’d hoped I could get without an involved trip to the store, but I wouldn’t have ordered a replacement to be shipped when I had weekend time to resolve it more safely. There was only one guy in front of me at the Returns line, and he was FURIOUS. But he didn’t know how to handle the problem he was facing.

If you go to Returns for something large and heavy in your vehicle, and they ask you to have the Pro Desk (at the other end of the store) unload it first – sensibly, so you don’t get a refund and then run away with it – fine. If the Pro Desk then sends you back to Returns, you don’t need to go to Returns and throw a swearing tantrum, threatening to dump your return in the middle of the parking lot and blow off your money before storming away without a resolution. Of course he did just that, which got me thinking. I’ve been in the same type of situation before, and you may have, too… at the store, at work, or anywhere else.

What you CAN do in this situation is much simpler. You thank the first person and assume they’re right until you learn otherwise. Then you get the name of the second person who sent you backward and take it to the first person or place. If the first place sticks to their story, you calmly tell them that Ron at the Pro Desk (for example) insisted on the Return being done before the unload, and you calmly ask Lynn at Returns (for example) to get hold of Ron by phone or radio and sort this out. You calmly explain that they (not you – you’re being calm and civil) have a misunderstanding and that they (not you) need to straighten it out before you go back and forth and waste any more of THEIR (not your) time. Then you smile expectantly and stand calmly and quietly in the way until Lynn reaches Ron or gets him to come to you. Once both people are in the same place or at least on the same page, you get a straight answer and have a firm plan on who will help you first. That’s all it takes.

We’re all going through a lot right now, but yelling at people who just need a little guidance and respect doesn’t really solve anything, and it can darken everyone’s day.

Manners and diplomacy aren’t taught in most schools in the USA. Perhaps they should be. There is almost always room for a better manner of getting things done.