lists


I get to think and talk about insomnia a lot, because it is such a common symptom in my therapy clients (at least three-quarters of them) and because I’ve had plenty of it myself over the years. (Here is my advice for insomniacs.) Based on my experience, I’d like to propose a pattern of insomnia that I believe is the most common and hardest to overcome kind of insomnia: structural insomnia.

Imagine you were held prisoner for an interrogation. Your captors might try to make you pliable by depriving you of sleep. Maybe they don’t let you lie down, or force you to do some kind of work instead of sleep, or force you to drink caffeine to keep you awake, or use lights, sounds, music, or movement to keep you from sleeping. The lack of sleep you experience would be structural insomnia: lack of sleep created by your waking or sleeping environment, or by bad scheduling.

That would be a pretty cruel way to treat someone else, but when we do it to ourselves it seems pretty normal. Here are some of the most common ways we torture ourselves with structural insomnia:

We create sleeping spaces that are not dark, quiet, still, and/or comfortable.

We use caffeine less than 6 hours before wanting to fall asleep. It takes your liver 6 hours to process caffeine. You have to give it enough time to do it’s job.

We expose ourselves to light right up to when we want to fall asleep. Light tells your brain it’s day, which keeps it from producing the hormone that pressures and allows you to fall asleep.

We work up to the last minute, or stew on something provocative. You have to give yourself some mellow transition time between being on the ball and asleep.

We do not allow ourselves enough time fall asleep and sleep adequately before we have to wake up in the morning. This is a big one! If you need to wake up at 6am, you must be lying down in the dark, doing nothing but trying to fall asleep by 9:30pm in order to get 8 hours of sleep. And that’s if you can fall asleep in 30 minutes. If you know it takes you two hours to fall asleep, you need to schedule ten hours in bed to get your eight.

We wake up at night and shine light in our eyes. Phones, clocks, TV, refrigerator lights, etc.

We set an object right by our head that will randomly light up, play music, buzz, or make other alarm-like sounds. Phones, of course. Turn them off.

If you agree that it would be torture, or at least mistreatment, if you did this stuff to someone else, consider not doing it to yourself!

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On New Year’s Eve I found myself thinking what a crappy year 2014 had been. Too many people I loved had died and/or almost died. And a bunch of other stuff. To counteract this mood, I went through my calendar to write the story of 2014 as a series of fortunate and enjoyable events. Now that I’ve compiled this list, I’m feeling better and I think it was a great idea:

Listening to a bunch of really great audiobooks and podcasts–probably hundreds of hours worth
Learning to ride a dirt bike, getting pretty decent at it, and going on some spectacular rides
A bunch of massages—weekly, for a good part of the year
Good help from my chiropractor, Dr. Goff, resulting in significantly less back and neck pain over the course of the year.
About 50 group supervisions with Sheri Marquez
A good visit from my brother in law, Rob
Gourmet ramen in the middle of Wonder Valley at night
The highly unlikely moving of a 10×20’ shed
A bunch of great hikes to nearby microconfluences
Military/PTSD show at BOXO
Monthly consultations with John Viola
Dancing 50 or more songs with Reanna, some at Pappy & Harriet’s, mostly at home in the trailer
Dad’s shows at Ma Rouge
Saving a tiny baby tortoise with Reanna
Seeing the Pixies at Pappy & Harriet’s
Visit from Grace and Yared
Visits from Jeannie and Christian
Visits from Doug and Kathryn
Visit from Blake
Julian’s 1st birthday party, Wiley’s 1st birthday party, Christian’s 6th birthday party, Wally’s birthday party
A lot of cooking Mexican food using peppers I grew in the garden
Watched a lot of fantastic movies
Reanna’s dinners and lunches. We eat so good.
Lunch at Del Rey Deli w- Corrina & Alders
Teaching couples communication at Nourishing Tree
Ovenights at Ely & Christina’s before Pasadena trainings
Grey water systems workshop by Nicholas
Lovely evening outdoor meals at Damian & Maya’s
Swimming at the JT retreat center
Tram up San Jacinto and hike with Reanna
Swale digging party at Damian & Maya’s
Talks about new urbanism with Ely
Mexico vs Brazil World Cup game at Santana’s
Summer evenings in the hammock under the stars with Reanna
Teaching suicide prevention a bunch of times
NBTSC at Camp Latgawa
Teaching “the future of facts” workshop at camp
Good talks with Tilke
Scorpion hunting with Ollie
Bunch of trips to Joshua Tree farmers market
Watching Cosmos with family. Also Call the Midwife, the 7 Up series, Tudor Monastery Farm, and generally just hanging out, lounging around in my parents’ living room with family.
Jeff Lantz moves to Joshua Tree
Acquiring a real fixer-upper next door
Reanna’s obsession with floor plans
Marble run games with Ollie
Going on a date with Reanna to the dry lake in bloom
Starting to take piano lessons, learning stride
The latest Shins, Tame Impala, Modest Mouse & Johnny Marr albums. And Louis Armstrong.
Visits from Ely, Christina & Julian
Visit from John and his family

We tend to think and talk about our jobs in terms of what we produce, not what we do. In some ways, this is misleading. I am a therapist for military families in southern California, so I produce therapeutic conversations with people and clinical documentation to convince the county that I had those conversations. But what would you see me doing if you watched me work for a week? It varies a little but it would look something like this:

19 hours sitting across from people, talking sometimes, writing on a clipboard occasionally

19 hours sitting at a desk, mousing and typing as fast as I can on a laptop

2 hours sitting in my car, driving between offices or client’s homes

30 minutes sitting at a desk, talking on the phone

30 minutes walking to the printer and back to my desk

As you can see, I mostly sit for a living. It’s not what you think when you set out to be a therapist, but that’s the job, and it’s a health sacrifice. The peak of physical exertion in my day is standing up to walk to the printer, and believe me, I value those moments. It’s pretty clear from research that sitting is not a great way to live one’s life: Time spent sitting takes a toll on your health in a way that can’t be made up for by exercising after work. Here’s a pretty good review of some of the research. (It’s a small sacrifice, of course, compared to the sacrifices my clients make in the course of military life. It’s helpful for me to think about it like that–one small sacrifice in return for many big sacrifices.)

It’s also not good for some of the ways I like to be creative, like writing this blog or composing music. I get home and think about sitting down to write, and no thanks. I’ll fly my kite, check for tomato worms, take a walk, help prep dinner, or lie in the hammock. Standing, squatting, walking, lying down, anything but sitting!

Straw bale standing desk

Straw bale standing desk

 

I have experimented with standing desks a bit. At work I can put my laptop on my in/outbox stack and an external mouse/keyboard setup on my briefcase on top of my desk. It doesn’t work for paperwork out in the field–too much stuff to carry around–but works OK at my main office, as long as I have the energy. That’s been the main problem with it at work; I pretty quickly get tired of standing and want to sit down. Standing is not the solution to sitting, but it’s some variety.

Beck’s Guero is the record that made me realize there is indeed a Holy Grail of rock and roll records—a record that rock and roll has been reaching for but never fully achieving for at least my lifetime. Here are my criteria for the Holy Grail and then a case for Guero as a candidate:

  1. It’s a great rock and roll record: consistent, very strong songwriting, arrangements, performances, great sound, and adventurous or at least beautiful production that also stands the test of time. It has to work as a whole—larger than the sum of it’s songs. It has to be musically interesting enough to get you and keep you even if you couldn’t understand the lyrics.
  2. It is a great dance record. Based on the evidence, this may be the most difficult criterion for a great rock record to meet. Records that you can sway to or jump around to, but are not made to dance to, fail this criterion. (If you can’t or don’t dance, you don’t get a vote on this one.)
  3. It is a great pop record. It’s accessible, catchy, melodic, and makes good use of harmonies.
  4. The lyrics occupy that evocative space between the boring extremes of story telling and completely cryptic. They are also not limited to pretentiousness or goofiness, and are at least occasionally poignant and/or profound.

These criteria are a lot to ask from a record, of course, thus “Holy Grail.” When I presented them to my friend Zen, he said something like, “Wait a second, rock records don’t need to be dance records. Is it really better to try to do both?” Very sensible. In fact, that’s the point. It’s generally a bad idea to try to do too much with a rock record—you end up doing less. There are tradeoffs.

This is why I chose “great” in criteria 1-3 instead of “perfect.” It was partly so that I could nominate an existing record—every perfect rock record so far miserably fails at least one of the other criteria—but also because I’ve come to think there are structural constraints at play. The consistent punchiness of a perfect dance record, for example, probably works against the dynamics and introspective moments of a perfect rock record.

So anyway, Guero:

I call Guero a great rock and roll record. It’s not perfect, so it could be vulnerable to a new record coming along; it has its lazy moments, notably the intro to “Rental Car,” and to a lesser extent the verses of “Missing” and “Earthquake Weather.” Guero’s songwriting, performances, and sounds, however, are consistently great. The songs flow together. The production is top notch, adventurous, occasionally beautiful (notably in “Emergency Exit”), and has stood the test of nine years, which is pretty good.

Not every song makes you want to dance, but most do, and insistently, so I call Guero a great dance record. It is undeniably accessible and catchy, with strong melodies and some harmonies—great pop record. The lyrics are in the right space, somewhat cryptic but not boringly so, and not, as Beck’s lyrics so often are, over-the-top goofy. And the light-heartedness in the music and goofiness in the lyrics is balanced by real introspection and dark themes: deserts, dust, imagining death, and loneliness punctuated by peeking into others’ lives.

Guero

Holy Grail of Rock Records?

I’ve been wearing “barefoot shoes” for about six years now and they have taught me a few things about feet and shoes in general:

1) We need shoes. No matter how adapted our bare feet are to forest floors or savannah, which is debatable, they are not adapted to industrial landscapes. This is true no matter how gnarly your feet get and no matter how prancing of a gait you adopt. (If this does not seem true to you, you are either young, do not have a real job, or both, and that’s awesome. Enjoy it while you can.) This is especially true if you like to have fun with foot-intense activities like dancing all night, or running marathons.

2) All shoes are uncomfortable, even barefoot shoes. You may not yet know this because you wear shoes all the time or haven’t paid enough attention.  The major problems with shoe discomfort are from narrow toe boxes, heaviness, stiff uppers, heel lift, and lack of cushion. Since there are no truly comfortable, versatile shoes right now, I have to assume these are tough engineering problems. Still, I can complain.

3) The toe box seems to be a fashion problem rather than an engineering problem. Clearly, narrow toe boxes are hipper than wide ones. I remember the first time I saw a shoe with a wide toe box (a early-2000s Birkenstock shoe) how weird and somehow wrong they looked to me. This, I think, is something we just have to get over. We need shoes that are shaped like feet. Anything else is culturally accepted foot binding. Look at any old person’s feet and ask yourself, did they “break in” their shoes or did their shoes “break in” their feet?

(Those early Birkenstock shoes turned out to be really heavy, clunky, and with painfully stiff uppers. Can’t recommend them even though their toe box was lovely.)

4) Once you get used to barefoot shoes, regular shoes mostly feel like cement blocks tied to your feet, and you can feel the weight and clunkiness of them jarring your ankles and knees with each step. It’s awful. Barefoot shoes are straightforwardly better in this way. However, if your real job involves the possibility of heavy and/or sharp objects landing on your feet, there are no good barefoot shoe options for you.

5) A surprising number of barefoot shoes have stiff uppers that cut into the tops of your feet almost as bad as normal dress shoes. Nike Frees have the best upper I’ve found so far, though it depends on the model, and they have heel-lift problems.

6) Heel lift may have a place for runners–I’m not particularly a runner so I have no opinion–but is purely uncomfortable otherwise. Once you are used to no heel lift, putting on heel lift shoes feels like standing on or walking down a slope constantly, which is hard on the toes and knees. The only thing I’d miss about heel lift is getting to be slightly taller than my wife every once in a while, which is nice for partner dancing.

7) Barefoot shoe enthusiasts say your feet need to be able to feel the terrain, and many barefoot shoes have little or no cushion underneath to accomplish this. I do enjoy being able to feel the terrain, as long as it is not concrete, but as far as I can tell the benefit of this is still an open question. It is obviously, experientially true, though, that walking without cushion is more tiring and harsher on feet, legs, and low back than walking with cushion.  Walking through a city in very low cushion shoes, like Terra Plana Vivobarefoots, it is clear that sidewalk is harsher than asphalt to walk on, which is harsher than brick or cobblestone–the more texture the better. Lawns and devil strips are the best terrain you will find in a city by far, and barefoot shoes turn you into a deviant grass-walker.

8) Barefoot shoe enthusiasts believe that arch support is just bad, that it weakens the muscles that would otherwise hold up your arch, making you dependent on supports. I think it is more complicated than that. I think spending time with collapsed arches is probably worse than having weak arch-supporting muscles, so be careful, especially during taxing activities like backpacking. After some experimentation, I’ve settled on wearing flexible, custom leather orthotics in my barefoot shoes most of the time–any time I’ve got a long day on my feet or doing anything athletic for an extended time. When my feet are fresh, the supports don’t seem to come into play much. When tired, they rest on the supports. It’s working for me so far.

9) It may be possible to design truly comfortable, versatile shoes. I’d like to try Nike Frees with no heel lift and without the wide sole in the heel. That might be the perfect athletic shoe, especially if they could tone down the bright, ugly color combinations so long compulsory for athletic shoes. For work, I’d like to try Terra Plana’s Vivobarefoot Gobi Suede but with some cushion in the sole.

10) I can’t comment much on toe shoes, but I haven’t found any that fit me. I am interested in them for the way they spread toes out–maybe they could help correct problems that years of regular shoes create. I found, though, that I needed a perfect fit: Too small hurts and too big means little floppy extensions on the end of each toe. No thanks. I have been wearing Injinji toe socks to get a little spread for the last few months and I like them.

 

My Shoes for the Last Year

Vivobarefoot Terraplanas. I wear these to work most of the time.

Vivobarefoot Terra Planas. I wear these to work most of the time. I got married in these.

Nike Free Run + for anything athletic or yard work.

photo-5

Merrell Edge Gloves for casual stuff, or a break from the others. I wear these the least, but a few times a week.

One of the last books I read before starting to work full time was Atule Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto, on the recommendation of my friend Joe Dillon. It was really good and I’ll pass the recommendation on to you. He argues that across many disciplines we no longer live in a very very complicated world; we live in a truly complex world. Part of what that means is that our brains, our intuitions, are no longer up to the task of flying modern airliners, constructing modern buildings, or performing modern surgery. To do these things well, we need well-constructed checklists to keep from killing people.

One particularly frustrating, inefficient day in grad school, I realized that my brain/intuition wasn’t up to the task of leaving the house with everything I needed for the day. I put some serious thought into a checklist, wrote the list on a note card and taped it to the inside my front door, at eye level:

Keys

Money

Phone

It was very helpful. I started singing it after a week and have ever since, eventually abandoning the note. I sing it before I go anywhere and check my pockets for each item as I do. It sounds like this:

"Keys Money Phone"(Tempo varies with mood, but usually 120+ bpm)

I was washing my hands at work two months ago when my wedding ring slipped off my finger and fell into the sink. I grabbed it before it went down the drain, but it took some luck. I’d just gotten over a flu and my left-hand ring finger had lost some weight. I couldn’t have my wedding ring falling off at random moments so I decided to wear it on my right hand until I gained my weight back.

That day has come. My ring fits on my left hand again. Now I’m wondering what I may have been broadcasting by wearing my ring on my right hand. Here is a list, cobbled together from the internet, none of which are true for me:

That I am not married and wear a ring for decoration

That I am a gay man in a committed, monogamous relationship

That I am married but want to cheat on my wife

That I am left-handed and don’t want to wear a ring on my dominant hand

That my wife is dead

That I am from one of the many countries, cultures or religions that prefers weddings rings on right hands or has no preference

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