I Said Doctor, Mr. Md, Can You Tell Me, What’s Ailin’ Me?

Moonlighting did Shakespeare, back in the day. Yes, really.

I’m really sleepy right now. After I finish my 500–1000 words, I’m headed straight to bed, where I will probably fuck around on my phone for an hour before turning off the internet, rolling over, and going to sleep later than I probably should for what time I have to be at work. 

Or as I like to call it, “the usual evening.” 

I got a physical exam from a doctor today. Been worried about several different sets of symptoms and wanted to get a baseline measurement. Blood work and everything. I even got a flu shot! And it cost me nothing out-of-pocket; I have good insurance. I am lucky to have good insurance; that’s not a given in America for people of my class (working class—the class that doesn’t own capital and has to trade labor for our living needs.) 

My family has a saying: “There are two people in your life who gets the whole, unvarnished truth. Your doctor and your lawyer.” And I put that into practice today. I ran down everything physical and mental I have been feeling lately, and he took it all in, processed it with his decades of education and experience, and gave me some simple courses of action. It was probably the most efficient doctor’s visit I have ever had. I liked that.

He calmed my worst fears but didn’t let me neglect some more reasonable concerns. And there’s more to come: the blood tests will come back tomorrow, and there is more about my body, my aging, uncultivated body, to learn. 

I was worried about what I might find out. That’s my inner child, scared of the unknown, with a bright mind that’s been turned up too hot, reacting to shapeless afflictions of what might be. Of course, the Inner Negative Voice is also stoking those fears, making things worse. My anxiety was on high alert today.

My rational brain (and my closest friends) were all quick to remind me that knowing what’s going on is better. It shines a light into the darkness. I can’t address and fix what I don’t know, so I have to know it first. 

In the end, today, my rational brain won because I went in, unloaded all of my worries, and have a plan to deal with it.

I’m not going to post any specifics here. But don’t worry too much, it’s just a list of the common things a 54-year-old man who drinks heavily when he drinks, eats whatever the fuck he wants, and only really exercised for a brief ten year period almost a decade ago, has to face—simple stuff. 

My shoulder is sore from the flu shot and tetanus booster shots. My eyes are closing from the stress and come-down from stress. My stomach is rumbling because I didn’t eat much at all today, for various reasons.

But as my doctor reminded me: I have been healthy all my life, with no surgeries, no illnesses, no conditions. And every concern I have at this moment are things that can be addressed with small lifestyle changes. He suggested I start running again, for instance. He damn near insisted. Regular exercise is good for me (although he sarcastically said that running a marathon is probably “going too far.”) 

I’ve been OK. 

I am OK. 

I’m going to be OK. 

Winding down for the Weekend

Weekends are too short. It’s a pity. I’m typing this out late in the afternoon on Sunday, thinking about what I’ve done this weekend, and it does not seem like enough. 

I blogged yesterday about all my running around I did to that point. After posting that, I mostly watched TV. Caught up on The Good Place, watched ContraPoints’ newest video (I love her channel), then finished up the night by finding out what happened to Jesse Pinkman

Today you can add a few more odds and ends of spending (but that’s not what this post is about), and some more running around: I went to Baja Fresh, Target, the Dollar Tree, and Fred Meyers. At home, I also made breakfast, did a couple of loads of laundry, did the dishes, and moved this very blog to SiteGround.com

SiteGround seems great, but it’s been less than 24 hours, haha sigh. The migration went very smoothly, and I’ve been able to tweak some things behind-the-scenes to make the site better. F’rinstance, you may have noticed that bamoon.com automatically redirects to https; that was a free feature at SiteGround, where my previous host charged a lot of money for it. 

I’ve listened to a couple of podcasts, mostly from The Incomparable network. I tried to polish my Green Lantern ring and have only succeeded in making it more tarnished; I guess it was a cheap ring, and not genuinely sterling silver after all, sadly.

Made my bed using clean sheets. I love clean sheets, which is why I make my bed often. There’s nothing like climbing into bed with clean sheets. Best feeling.

But… is that it? Is that all I have to show for this weekend? 

I have blogged daily, adding to my streak and my word count. That’s not nothing. That counts.

I’ve joked and laughed with my friends, primarily through text messages. That is also a good thing, though I miss all of their (your!) faces. I want to see you all soon and often.

I reached out to my dad but have not heard back. He’s probably busy driving passengers around for Uber. Weekends are his peak times. He loves driving for Uber. Well, that’s not 100% accurate. He loves driving people around, telling them stories, and hearing their own stories. He loves being around people. It’s an excellent job for a retiree with a pension; he doesn’t need the money, but he craves social interaction. My dad is an extrovert, quite unlike me.

I gave plenty of pets to the tortoiseshell cat that roams around my apartment building. If she’s outside, she will always come over for pets. She’s got an owner; she wears a collar. She’s just a friendly cat. That was nice, though it makes me want a cat or two of my own. 

Does that seem like enough? I’ve checked more than a few things off my to-do list this weekend. But it feels… lacking. I want more. I want to feel accomplished. I want to feel proud of all I’ve achieved. Or, if I can’t feel that, I want to feel like I’ve built a foundation for future greatness. 

Maybe the blog stuff is that foundation. I can do more with my blog, and the new host offers unlimited email and domains, as well as a free email subscription list service I can set up. I can communicate more and better things going forward. I can move the Uncasting blog to my new host and build on that. I can find homes and projects for all those random domains I’ve bought over the years and to which I still hold on. 

I’ve got clean clothes for the week. I’ve got food in the fridge and a roof over my head and friends who love me and whom I love. I’ve got a job I mostly enjoy working with people I like, and it pays me enough to relax about paying my bills. 

Maybe that’s enough for now. Maybe so.

If Money Go Before, All Ways Do Lie Open

I’m trying not to spend money I don’t have to this weekend. Here, let me tell you what I’ve already spent money on, and you tell me how I’m doing on my goal.

Friday night, I met my friends for happy hour. I bought a HH burrito and two beers. With tip, that was $26.00. Maybe I could have eaten cheaper, perhaps I could have just gone home and eaten what was in my cupboards, but I did get to hang out with my friends for several hours.

Oh, I also paid my friend Ken back for a ticket he bought me to see Spoon at the Crystal Ballroom in December. $47.00. 

This morning I drove to Bertie Lou’s Cafe and got breakfast. Again, I could have eaten at home and saved on both food and the gas I used driving there, but I eat at home during the week, and I enjoy the ambiance.

I filled up my tank with the cheapest gas I could find in the area. It was $3.079/gallon, and my tank was nearly empty, so the total was $36.40. Why did gas go up? My last fill-up was exactly a week ago, and it was only $2.899/gallon. Did we piss off some oil-producing country or something? But with a full tank, I’ll be getting to and from work all week with some to spare. It’s a necessary purchase.

Then I drove to the Apple Store at Washington Square, for the sole purpose of seeing the new iPhone 11 Pro in person. I compared it to my current iPhone 7 in size. I already think my 7 is too big, but I also want to get a new phone, so I’m taunting myself by looking at the new phone. 

The 11 Pro is, indeed, larger in nearly every dimension from my current phone. It’s a little bit taller, a little bit wider, a little bit thicker, and significantly heavier. I was not prepared for how hefty it feels in hand. That’s a turn-off for me. The single selling point in its favor for me is the camera. The camera is very nice. I love the idea of zoom, Night Mode, and the whole camera upgrade.

I’m torn, though, on the size, as mentioned. Ugh. Why no small phones, Apple? Other drawbacks: Face ID seems more fiddly than Touch ID. I did not get a chance to try Face ID because these were demo phones. 

I’m neutral on the longer battery life; that’s a nice-to-have but not a must-have. My current phone mostly lasts my whole day, and it’s three years old. So I’m okay there.

In the end, I have not yet upgraded. So the only money I spent there was driving to the store. Then I drove across town again to Andy & Bax, a military surplus store. I wanted to price a Navy pea coat; I’m looking for a winter coat, my current one is long in the tooth, and I’ve fattened up to where it doesn’t quite fit me any longer. Alas, they did not have any pea coats in stock.

While I was there, I also tried on a pair of medium waist BDUs. I like wearing BDUs because they are super comfy, and they’re loaded with pockets. My current pairs are size Large, and they’re baggy on me. I hoped a Medium would fit better. Alas, also, the Medium is slightly too small. I could button the top button, but it was not comfortable: maybe if I lose a bit more weight. 

I left Andy & Bax without spending any money. The next stop was Red Castle Games, where I had a pre-order for a board game called Dune. It has not yet shipped, so I left without the boardgame I have already purchased.

Next, I arrived at WinCo. I picked up some breakfast foods, including basically a month’s worth of bacon and oatmeal, paper towels, frozen burritos, salsa, some spices (cinnamon, mmm (I spilled a bunch of cinnamon on myself and the counter at the bulk spices area))… I can’t recall what else I bought. Some almonds? A jar of aspirin? There had to be more; my tab there was $68.12. But I don’t remember what I got. Oh! Some black beans and some red beans and some canned chicken; those make super easy meals. And cans of diced green chilies and diced jalapenos. Anyway, I’m now well-stocked for food for the next month. I feel that it was a good purchase.

I got home and put the groceries away, and then started laundry. I paid for a month of CBS All Access because I want to watch the Short Trek episodes they’re dropping now. I will drop that after a month unless Star Trek Disco starts up soon. That month cost me $9.99 (the plan with no commercials).

By then, I realized that I had left my wallet in my pants. When I fished it out, I had the bright idea to try to dry the leather wallet in the microwave (I removed the cards and money first). Hey, if you ever have that idea, don’t follow through. The leather shrunk and curled up, and the wallet was ruined.

Bundling up my driver’s license and debit card with a rubber band, I drove to the nearby Ross Dress For Less, where I bought a new leather wallet for $10.99. That was a necessary purchase, and a reasonably frugal one—except that it was due to my negligence. I know how to score that one.

Lastly, I went to Fred Meyers and bought a big old bottle of hand soap. I’ve been out, and I just wanted to refill the bottles I have. I purchased the coconut smelling one. I like coconut. I also got a silver polishing cloth to polish my Green Lantern ring, which has tarnished, and severely. I got some cash back with my purchase, so the total at the self-serve register was $50.98, but $40 of that was cash. I then spent $3.00 on lottery tickets for tonights’ drawings. Y’know, dream a little. I’m never going to win, but dreaming what I would do if I did win is worth three bucks to me (as the Twitterers say: don’t @ me).

My total expenditures for this weekend come to $212.48. I’m mostly okay with that: the gas and food will definitely be used; the hand soap was also a pragmatic purchase. Eating out twice, and a concert in December, are entertainment purchases I did, and will, enjoy. The wallet was to fix a mistake I made. The lottery tickets won’t break me, and could also be considered an entertainment purchase. 

When I total it all up, though, it does seem more significant than I would have thought. Maybe keeping track is a good thing?

And also, seeing that I spent that much is a strong deterrent for me going to a strip club tonight.

Warm Glow of Friendship

Happy Hour with my friends tonight. My four best friends could all make it, and that makes me happy.

We were meeting at Kay’s Lounge, in Sellwood. It’s a classic old-school lounge, with comfy leather booths and a nicely-stocked bar and bar food that’s got that little somethin’ extra that pushes a burger or a burrito into artisanal territory. I don’t have words to describe it right now, probably because I’m still a little buzzed, but it’s a cut above normal bar food, but not so expensive it’s a Portlandia type joke.

I mean, I can’t say a lot of bad things about a bar where I had a food item named after me, but believe me, the food is good. Even the burgers have that little extra bit of care.

The taps at this bar are constantly rotating but there’s always at least one cider on tap, and at least one dark beer (a stout or a porter) and also, always something “interesting”, like a spicy porter or a fruity IPA or something otherwise unusual. They do a good job at Kay’s, picking out good beers. Only eight taps but you’re sure to find something you like among the choices.

Happy Hour on a Friday night is pretty much peak time, and let me tell you, the bar isn’t as big as it is popular. There are maybe 15 bar stools, and 10 booths for 2-4 people each; if you get there late you have to stand around and wait, or move on to somewhere less popular. Oh, and 4 tables outside on the sidewalk, where you are encouraged to share, but Portland weather patterns make those dicy about 70% of the time.

And even at peak time, like tonight, there’s one bartender, one waitstaff, and one cook, so be prepared to wait a bit for attention. Unless you’re a regular, like me, and you get recognized. Or you’re just not shy and go right up and ask when the next table is ready. Or a bit of both. I’ve done both.

I’ve been coming here for years and years. I did mention the Lunar Burger, right? It was tasty, I’ll give the cook that. I’m not yet regular enough to be immortalized in the big painting on the wall, the picture with a lot of staff and regular faces included. Maybe someday.

Former Governor of Oregon Barbara Roberts is a regular here. I’ve sat with her and had a chat. She’s great! Very knowledgeable and down-to-brass-tacks. Her face is in the painting, because, well, of course she is.

Tracy showed up tonight first. Usually, I’m the first one to arrive, but I got waylaid by work, so I was a bit late. Tracy stationed herself by the door, under the mirror, on the sidebar, which is not a great place to be noticed by the waitstaff or bartender. She’s a good person, but she just isn’t in tune with the rhythms of a working bar. When I showed up, I talked to her, and then (after hitting the restroom—it was a long drive from Canby) I leaned against the bar under the aforementioned painting, which is right in the path between the kitchen window, the cash register, and the wait station, which ensures that the waiter for the night (on this night it was Krissi) had to talk to me. Tracy joined me shortly after.

We waited there, with a drink in hand each, for a while. Happy Hour ends at 6 PM, and it was 5:50 PM before a table finally opened up. By that time, Ken had joined us, where we stood around, looking conspicuous, getting in Krissi’s way sometimes, and making “are you leaving yet?” eyes at everyone hogging a table. But a table finally emptied, and we aggressively but politely nudged our way in, where the evening entered its second phase.

We ordered food and settled in, and then Terry joined us, fresh from his Han Solo haircut. He said his hairdresser was both surprised and impressed when he requested a Han Solo haircut. “70s haircuts are coming back in style,” he said she said. And it’s true; Terry looks great in that haircut. She did a great job.

We talked about baseball (I don’t want to talk about it). We talked about building houses (that’s Terry’s thing). We asked Tracy about hockey (she’s a giant Winterhawks fan). We argued about the feminism of the Joker, and we admired the diversity of Nike. I’m only scratching the surface of our winding, continuous, and sprawling conversation.

But it was a happy night for me. I love my friends, and any chance I get to spend with them, with all of them, is a good time. I’ve known these three humans for a long time. We have all of us been through a lot together. None of us are perfect, but we are all perfectly ourselves.

It was a good night.

I wish you had been there.

Mind Bicycles

Two computers sit on a desk in a dark room, lit only by a small lamp on the table.
Steve Jobs once said a personal computer was like a bicycle for the mind. No, really. He did.

My day job is computer support, which sounds complicated and possibly stressful. Wait, maybe I shouldn’t be assuming what it sounds like to you, my dear reader. I welcome your thoughts on what you think of when you hear someone say something like, “I do computer support for a living.” Is it based on TV or movies, where a young (or old) hoodie-wearing man, either impossibly thin or impossibly large sits in a darkened room, stares at a glowing computer screen, types out seemingly-random letters, and whispers

“I’m in.”

Is that what you’re thinking?

OK, sometimes it’s like that. I mean, my co-worker and I do prefer to keep our office very dark, with the blinds closed. Mostly that’s because she gets migraines. I just like it dark most of the time. And this morning, when I got in to the office, I had to try to troubleshoot a wireless access point across town remotely, with the help of another co-worker I was chatting with on Slack; so to anyone watching me, it looked like I was staring at a computer screen, in the dark, and typing random things on a screen, and cursing under my breath.

Oh, and yes, I was wearing a hoodie today. It gets cold in the office. I did have a collared shirt on under the hoodie (that’s the dress code, the entire dress code: “must wear a collared shirt.” It’s a somewhat relaxed dress code.)

But that was not what I ended up doing to fix the wifi. Well, it was the start of it. I had to configure a replacement access point, and then I had to drive across town to the fleet maintenance yard, climb up on a ladder, and swap the broken wifi with a new one. If you’re wondering, yes, I got my hands dirty. Also I ended up going up and down that stupid ladder, because it didn’t work right at first, and I kept having to go to a computer in the fleet manager’s office, where I remoted back to the server—oh gods, yes, I was typing random things into multiple windows on a computer screen while wearing a hoodie.

Of course, I whisper, “I’m in!” when I connect to something on the computer. I started doing it ironically at first, because Hollywood, and now I do it automatically.

I’m a godsdamned cliche. Fuck.

OK, but later in the day, I had to sit in a city-owned car for several hours, killing time while the in-car hard drive formatted itself into oblivion. I was mad at myself the entire time, more and more as it went on and on, because I chose “Full Format” instead of “Quick Format,” thinking that would fix the problem it was having. It did not solve the problem, and it remains not-solved.

Not-solved problems are a burr under my saddle, a constant low-level irritation. It’s why I do this job; I live for the happiness I feel when I can say, “I solved this!” and it works again. That’s my motivation. If I’m honest, I realize that the annoyance that things breaking gives me is required; before I can feel satisfaction, I have to have that motivating impact of stress. If things did not break, I could not do my job.

Thanks, computer makers, for making things that break a lot. Without you, I would have to find some other labor I could trade for housing, food, and health care!

The Ornament of a House

It’s Sunday, and I’m house-sitting for my sister. She, her husband, and her mother-in-law live in a sprawling multi-level house on a bluff up in Portland’s West Hills. It’s got a fantastic view from a deck that’s probably about the same square footage as my whole apartment. It’s not the kind of house I’d buy, even if I could afford one like it, but it’s nice to visit sometimes. It’s a house that is well-suited to having lots of people come over.

Another feature of my sister’s place is Archer, the dog. He’s a medium dog, an English Setter (bred for birding and hunting). He’s curious, easily bored, generally mellow. He’s a Good Boy (they’re all Good Boys, Bront). Again, I don’t know that I’d have the temperament to own a dog and work with it all the time, but Archer is terrific company to visit sometimes.

Speaking for myself, I find some of the features of my sister’s house would not work for my habits. For instance, the living room is mostly open, and there are huge windows on two walls, and the corner between those walls is entirely glass bricks. The other wall has a fireplace. That is great if you like lots of natural light, which is fine. But it’s also where the TV is, and it’s not a room made for a dark, movie-theater-like experience when watching movies or TV shows.

My living room at home is dark, and the TV covers the one blank wall; my couch is lined up to the TV, making a bench. The couch is close to the TV, but that’s because my living area is narrow; the furniture lays along the long axis of the rectangle. I can’t separate the seating from the TV more without blocking the path to the kitchen. It’s not a big apartment.

I don’t mind my apartment’s small size. I have all the space I need. Would not mind it laid out a little less long and wide; a square footprint would be great; but for size, to hold all my stuff, it’s the right size. I’ve been there a year, and I could use more bookcases and books, but I’ve got my movie-watching room, my bedroom, my computer/library room, a bathroom and a half, a kitchen, and a dining room. Oh, and a little deck for when the sun is out, or I decide to get into gardening, or for doing projects like painting or sanding or sawing things.

I definitely would not have room for a dog the size of Archer. I want a cat or maybe a pair of cats, and for them, I have plenty of room. A small dog would fit, but I lean more towards liking cats; that’s just me.

If I suddenly had the money to buy or build a house, my ideal one would not look much different on the inside from my current apartment—two stories, not that many rooms. More square, as I said, to use the space better. Maybe a few more windows, but not near the room I use for entertainment, or if that couldn’t happen, heavy, light-blocking curtains floor-to-ceiling.

The significant changes I’d make to my current living situation is that it would be closer to a more walkable neighborhood, more centrally located, near bars and restaurants and grocery stores. Don’t need or want a big yard so that the house could fit on a small lot. If I were really loaded and were building it from scratch, I would wire the whole place with networking cables, and make it as energy-efficient as I could, and install solar power and storage batteries to try to live off the grid as much as I can. And I’d choose a high spot, for when the waters rise (and they are going to rise, even probably within my remaining lifetime).

None of that is going to happen soon, though. For now, it’s enough to visit other peoples’ houses, compare and contrast, and enjoy the differences.

Is the Door Broken, or Am I?

There’s a storage closet at work that we use to keep old computers and other IT equipment. It’s right near an exterior door that requires a badge to enter; the door itself locks with a key. For as long as I’ve worked here, the lock is only sometimes effective. Sometimes it doesn’t latch, despite the lock being in the “locked” position.

We’ve had the maintenance guy come out a couple of times to try to fix it, he says it’s fixed, and then the next time I go down to use it, I test it, and again and again, it just won’t lock. 

I’ve stopped asking Dustin to fix it. I just figure I’ll try my best and if it doesn’t latch this time, oh, well. 

Yesterday, I had to toss an old computer and some keyboards in the closet, and when I was finished, I closed the door then gently pushed it. It opened again. Did not latch.

And I thought to myself, “Is it me? Am I doing it wrong? Does the key need to be in a specific position?” I thought this instead of thinking, “Is the door broken?”

I realized at that moment that this is the perfect example of what psychologists call “locus of control” (LOC). “Is it me?” is an internal locus of control; “is it the door?” identifies an external locus of control. At least I think so.  

Generally, folks with an internal locus of control attribute success or failure to their efforts or skills, where an external locus means that external factors are the reasons for succeeding or failing. Furthermore, people with internal LOC are often happier and more successful than those with external LOC, though that’s a generalization that doesn’t take other factors into account.

Now that I’m thinking about it, though… maybe I have it backward in this particular instance. Perhaps I’m attributing failure to myself: “I’ve done everything I can, and this door still won’t latch, so there’s nothing more I can do.” Put that way, it sounds like I’m blaming the door for the problem, right? It’s broken, and it’s beyond my abilities to fix. So the cause of the problem is external to me.

If I thought “is it the door?” then there’s still a chance I could fix it; I just haven’t found the solution yet. There’s more I could try. I haven’t reached the limits of my power or skills. That’s retaining an internal LOC. It’s persistence. It’s a can-do attitude. 

Now that I’ve given it some thought, I don’t know which is which. I’ve confused myself. But writing it all out has at least filled my word count for the day, right? 

The next question would be, if I do have an external LOC, can I change it to an internal one? Is that a thing that can happen? It would require a lot of mental energy and persistence. I believe I do have those things. Well, wait: is stubbornness the same thing as persistence? I’ve got stubbornness down pat, believe you me. I’ve got stubbornness in spades. Buckets and buckets of it. I only deploy it for special occasions, though, like arguing with my friends over stupid minor shit. I have been known to use it for my own benefit but it’s not 100% of the time. More’s the pity.

Now that I’m aware, though. I have a chance. Can’t fix something until you’ve diagnosed it. I can do it.

I can do it. I can do it. Me. I can. My skills and talents and energy is up to this task. Me.

(I’ll repeat this as necessary.)

Every Man Is Well Supplied with It

Yesterday’s post, “Using Science to Be Happier” touched on a topic that is probably ripe for further exploration: our intuition about the world around us is frequently entirely wrong. In the post, I was explicitly referring to Dr. Laurie Santos’ contention that the things we generally think make us happier, don’t—for example, many people yearn to avoid human contact, while science tells us that happier people are much more social. 

Thinking about that topic today, I came up with a short list of other examples where science blatantly contradicts our common sense about the world around us, and since I don’t have any other ideas, and it’s late in the day, here’s that short list, padded out to fill the word count, because I am too lazy and tired tonight to do much more than this.

My first and favorite example is the intuitive-but-incorrect idea that the world is flat and that the sun moves through the sky. I don’t want to surprise any of my readers, but this is about as incorrect as it can be. The world is roundish (kind of pear-shaped, really, although at large scale it’s tough for us to tell), and so large that to our human eyes, it only appears flat to anyone not paying attention. The horizon curves away from us in all directions, when we can see the horizon at all. In flatter regions, or out on the ocean, anything tall moving away from us will slowly sink below the horizon, giving away the real shape of the planet on which we stand. 

Likewise, with respect to the Earth, the sun is relatively motionless: it sits at the center of a bunch of smaller planets orbiting around. The sun is not literally stationary, though: it is moving through space. But it does not orbit the Earth at all. It just doesn’t.

A trickier one, involving human psychology, but one that I enjoy reading about, involves rich people and their motivations. In our capitalist society (remember, I am an anti-capitalist politically), people observe that very rich people are often assholes, and many conclude that the rich people got that way because they are assholes. It must, they think, take a certain kind of personality to have the drive to accumulate all that wealth. 

But there are many social scientists doing studies on the link, if any, between wealth and empathy. My favorite is Paul Piff of Berkeley, who has done a ton of studies about this topic, and his work strongly suggests the opposite: as someone becomes rich, regardless of whether they strive and earn their wealth or if it’s randomly given to them, they gradually lose their empathy towards others and gain a strong sense of entitlement

My favorite example is the rigged Monopoly game. Piff has replicated this many times. The players are told upfront that the game will be rigged to favor one or the other in ways like one of them starting with twice as much cash as the other, or being able to roll two dice instead of one to move. Then the beneficiary of the advantage is decided by a coin toss. There’s no skill involved to this point, and yet, as the game progresses, the player with all the advantages begins to act much more aggressively towards their opponent. And in interviews after-the-fact, they will talk much more about their choices and strategies, and downplay the lift they got to begin with.

So it’s clear that gaining wealth will often drain a person of their connection and feeling of society, which in a harsh environment would mean that person becoming more and more ostracized and therefore more vulnerable. Humans have succeeded when we work together for everyone’s benefit. Except in America, it seems, more’s the pity. 

I’ve come across stories like this all my life, and they are a strong reason why I consider myself a skeptic and an atheist. The lesson, at least to me, is clear: beware your common sense, or at least consider your intuitions with some skepticism, because when studied dispassionately and in a controlled environment, they could turn out to be misleading in the extreme.

Using Science to Be Happier

A man sits by himself in a booth at a cafe, distraught and looking at his laptop.
Is he writing a novel, or just reading the news?

I’m listening to this podcast and they’re talking about happiness and what makes people happy and it made me reflect on my current situation.

The podcast is  You Are Not So Smart, and I love it so much. David McRaney has been writing about all the various ways our brains fool ourselves for a long time. It started as a blog, way back in the day, before it became a podcast. He’s done a whole season on logical fallacies; he’s talked about right-wing and left-wing thinking; he’s examined the idea of consciousness itself. 

But this episode, the most recent one, Episode 163, is called The Happiness Lab and in it, he interviews Dr. Laurie Santos, who has started a podcast herself called, non-surprisingly enough, The Happiness Lab. They cover a lot of ground together. I don’t know if this episode is one I’d recommend you jump right in on if you’re not familiar with the way McRaney approaches the topic, although it’s hard for me to tell, being a long-time fan. 

But the part that made me think “Hey this is something I can write about tonight!” is where the host invites Dr. Santos to explain why so many people seem to be depressed or lonely now, and what may have changed in society to cause that change in the past few decades. She has a somewhat intuitive but still remarkable answer.

ATMs.

She feels, from her research and study of what makes people happy, that generally, our intuitions and feelings about what might make us happy are often wrong—as I said, this is right in the YANSS podcast wheelhouse—and that science can examine the evidence and make recommendations for us to follow, recommendations that will let us live happier lives. 

And the science tells her (she tells us) that generally speaking, happier people are also more social. They spend more time around other people. They interact with other people more; they live and work around other people. They don’t hide out in their apartments; they go out to coffee shops instead of using DoorDash or whatever to have food and coffee brought to them. 

She traces all this back through the usual suspects: iPhones and always-on internet in our pockets; Twitter and Facebook and Amazon Prime and streaming videos; cell phones and texting and online dating… but the initial inflection point was the ATM. When they were introduced, they represented replacing a human interaction between us and a bank teller with an interaction with a robot, a machine, that had no human qualities. 

I’ve written here before about feeling isolated; in an apartment, that’s at least a 30-minute drive from my closest friends’ house, on the outskirts of my city. I’m not in a neighborhood that is nearly as walkable as my beloved Sellwood. There are few good bars I can walk to from here. I have to drive to a grocery store, unlike having two grocery stores in walking distance in my old stomping grounds. And my roommate moved out (for his own reasons, which I understand, but which is still a factor for me now).

In a lot of ways, I’m more isolated than I was. Granted, I wasn’t that social in Sellwood, except that I knew the names of many of the bartenders and waitstaff for the bars and restaurants and coffee shops and diners I would haunt. And my friends rarely came over to visit me, even when they were closer than they are now—but we would hang out from time to time, slightly more often than we do these days.

I don’t just want to focus on the current adverse effects, however. As Dr. Santos suggests, I’d like to take this info and see if I can use it to move in a happier direction. Are there any ways I can spend more time around people?

I do spend time around people at work. I work side-by-side with Val; we share an office. And once or twice a week, Kevin, a fellow tech, works out of that office. Plus I talk to and deal with my users daily. And even though I don’t work with the rest of the tech team (they have their own office and work for other clients), my boss does have regular in-office casual time. Not meetings; we don’t talk about work. We drink adult beverages and hang out and sometimes play games. My job is already more social than my previous job.

I always make a point of going to my favorite Sellwood haunts whenever I can. I like being recognized and knowing the names of the staff there. Those are the ways I’m being more social.

Could I try to interact with my neighbors more? Is that a thing? It seems a difficult hurdle to hurdle over but maybe so.

Ideally, I think, when I move back closer in, I’d like to try living in a big house with a lot of roommates. That seems fun. Last year, when I lived in my sister’s house, even though I’m sure I got on everyone’s nerves sometimes, and I sometimes felt the same about them, it was comfortable having people around. It was my sister and her husband, my niece, and nephew, and their mother-in-law. And my sister is far more social than I am, and by extension, so is her family. They would have people over, throw parties, the niece and nephew would have their friends over… there were always people coming and going. Plus the adorable dog and the two cats. That house was a-rockin’. And I responded to it all.

I’m going to see what I can do to add more of that in my life. I want to do whatever I can to be happier. 

For science.