What’s Your Disorder? (Can’t I Just Enjoy Mine In Peace?)

Will the labeling committee please stand up?

I mean, who gets to decide an action, a trait, or a preference, is ”pathological”, then create a pithy little acronym by tagging a ”D” on, and subjugate the behavior into a disorder? Who are these people?

Can somebody please tell me what is so wrong with being active and having a hard time paying attention to one thing at a time? So what your knee twitches up and down like the needle on a sewing machine; you wave your hands like a traffic-cop on speed when you talk; and you happen to notice and point out every cardinal that lands in the back yard during your wife’s attempt to tell you about her day with the kids? Is it really such a crime to be aware? (At least you choked down your suspected Aspergers and didn’t mock her for the hair you saw growing out of her left ear.)

Maybe a chart exists with the exact amount of attention every single topic deserves to have paid to it in milliseconds of unbroken focus. But who actually came up with the precise sum of Attention you have to pay not to be in a deficit state? Who are these attention auditors who determine what attention should be spent on?

I think what the attention police really have a problem with isn’t that you’re not paying attention. It’s that you’re paying attention to the WRONG DAMN THING! You should be aware that there may come a day in the not-too-distant-future, when you’re prevented from going to a movie, reading a novel, or stalking on Facebook because your attention credit score is blown from missed attention installments to the right things: like work meetings and class lectures.

You’d think that protecting your attention from boredom, and saving it for important stuff like the way dust mites sometimes sparkle like floating rainbow-prisms if you hold your head sideways near your desktop and the sunlight slants in the classroom window just so, would help you to jack up your Attention balance. That attention to detail ought to count for something! But your balance takes a beating because the pencil sharpener is diagonally opposite and across the room from you and you need the fine point of a very sharp pencil several times a class. Your deficit only decreases in a ratio proportionate both to how uninspiring the subject matter is, and how little temptation it holds for your innate curiosity (with extra-credit given if you sit ramrod straight with your hands folded in your lap, no matter how dull your pencil gets).

Look, just because when you’re at work, you don’t happen to notice and become distracted by the sound of your spinning hard drive, doesn’t prove that I’ve got a problem for ALWAYS NOTICING MINE! Maybe I’m just sensitive to my environment, like a finely-attuned, fully-functional, highly-trained member of the ecosystem, you ever think of that, you haters? (I bet you don’t even hear the audible frequency change when your DVR cycles on in the night! And yet, I’m the one with the disorder?)

Here’s my vote for the Attention-Deficit-Hyper-Active crowd. I propose we start calling ourselves Awareness Ninjas because we need love too! Reacting to being surrounded by sedentary people with Yawn-Inducing-Conversation-Topic-Disorder, shouldn’t result in all the negative publicity and prescriptions for adderall. Who but we will interrupt you in the middle of your rambling story to point out the cool way the tree branches bounce and sway in the breeze like they’re connected to invisible yo-yo bungees? Give credit where credit is due.

But let’s move on to my favorites, the Obsessive-Compulsives, of whom I admit I am a charter member. Everything is fine with scouring the Internet to accumulate every little nuanced scrap of minute data about waterfowl hunting and collecting items for said pursuit until somebody has to go and call it “Obsessive!” Yes, I remember owning the chest high waders and tying my chocolate Labrador in the trunk of the Buick to go duck hunting with forty-five dollar boxes of copper-pelleted shotgun shells and three different types of handmade duck calls after spending hours practicing in front of VHS duck-calling videos and almost got my shotgun thrown into the lake by the irate, duck-loving landowner whose permission I forgot to seek before putting my two-dozen plastic decoys into his favorite bass pond without tethering them to anything more substantial than his wife’s rose trellis. (A man’s got to hunt!) Plus, I told you that yes, all three calls were necessary because they represented the three different stages of successfully convincing the little gourmet-meals-on-the-wing to apply their air brakes and alight in your spread within shotgun range, and they’re expensive because you have to pay for quality with ducks being smart enough to discern the difference between plastic and handmade as anyone who’s researched the matter knows.

Of course, since you’ve watched me grok out on (and later graduate from) duck hunting…and mountain bike riding…and drawing…and Battlefield 3, I don’t expect you to understand that in fact it does require a bare minimum of two subscriptions to different golf magazines, and an hour a day watching “Golf Fix” plus several times a week hitting buckets of balls in order to be moderately successful on the course. I’m sure you don’t realize that most serious golfers own three or four putters and three or four drivers like I do, and that the quest for the perfect driver/putter is a serious one with no discernible end in sight and, I am not the one who sets the prices on this stuff.

Don’t even get me started on the number of guns one must own, and the accessories one must acquire, and time one must devote, in order to be a responsibly armed citizen with the requisite knowledge and skill to secure his domicile, and to protect your right to label people like me if and when the SHTF. Truly, I should be praised for being intense and thorough and practical, not degraded with a label like OCD. I guess some people are just content to be passive and mediocre.

And does it really bother you so much that all of my picture frames hang straight and that the items on my desk are lined up into neat little, geometrically symmetrical piles? At least all of the golf tees emptied on to it from my pocket (even the broken ones) all point in the same direction like they should. Who else would be devoted to precision like that? Just because I feel nauseous and get vertigo when I walk in your house with its tilted pictures, and I freak out when I open the silverware drawer to discover that the spoons have hopped the barrier and nestled in with your forks, you have to judge me and say I’m the one with a disorder? Ever hear of a thing called a level? I mean, please! Why do you even bother with a divider tray? And you should just confess you were being a little devious to stack the tee shirts in groups of mixed colors on the closet shelf.

And while I’m on it: just how do you go about making coffee if you think your way is better than mine? Do you really think yours tastes better just because you can make it at any old haphazard time of morning with any old kind of coffee you happen to have on hand and you don’t count the exact same number of scoops aloud to yourself? How are you supposed to achieve CONSISTENCY that way? I know you’ve even committed the sacrilege of microwaving yesterday’s coffee…heaven forfend!

And I guarantee you my system of organizing the bills in my wallet by denomination in ascending order with all of the faces and numbers pointing in the same direction, is better than yours. I bet you don’t even know where to find a fiver when you need to. I, on the other hand, know that Abe is always tucked right behind George and in front of Alexander. I know it can be embarrassing when I hold up the cafeteria line to get them all in place before moving on, but hey, do you really expect me to be able to feel okay to “keep the line moving sir” with them just crammed in there all willy-nilly? Oh, hell no!

I will admit that getting up at four a.m. to watch foreigners play tennis seven time zones away is a little compulsive, but hey, like Grandaddy Leo used to say, ”sleep is for the birds.” Maybe I just happen to feel guilty knowing someone is over there sweating, while back here in America we’re all asleep. How are they supposed to play to their full potential if I don’t get up and watch?

Also, for the record, there are plenty of other people who become excessively angry when provoked. Been to a Little League game lately? Do we all have Borderline Personalities because we aren’t afraid to display negative emotions and show how much we care? How about your mild-mannered girlfriend who can’t drive to the grocery store without breaking out with traffic Tourette’s? Does she have BPD too?

While we’re on it, I can handle being “bi-polar” a hell of a lot better than being, what? Mono-polar?, uni-polar?, what? Have you looked at a globe recently? How many poles do you see? What’s the big problem with having two of them? How would we know North if not for South, or Hot if not for Cold, or Happy if not for Sad? Just seems well-rounded to me, but I digress…

Look, I don’t go around campaigning that you have RMD (Random Money Disorder) or CNFCKIYPD (Can Never Find Car Keys In Your Pocketbook Disorder), so stop hating on me, alright?

Anyway, I’d like to meet these people with all the spare “D’s” to throw around? I bet they are some real calm, focused, middle-of-the-road, milquetoast dudes and dudettes.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ…

I’d buy them a beer at Hinson’s, and try to liven them up a little bit, except anyone who shows up at Hinson’s more than once (and likes it) obviously has some kind of greasy food and alcohol disorder.

Dawn Moon (An Invitation to Appreciation)

The man sat down at his desk, feeling harried with the business of the new day. He logged on to the open computer, but before losing himself in the contents that appeared on its screen, he glanced up through the open blinds and immediately noticed the full moon hanging torpid and pregnant in the dawn sky. Pink-tinged, vanilla cotton clouds veiled it against a sky so blue it didn’t look real. Such a scene as this always made him hold his breath and linger, trying with all his might to apprehend and infuse the splendor into his memory the way a connoisseur of wine might taste a rare vintage and embrace it on his tongue. Who else in all the world is looking at this same sight right now, He asked himself, and thanked God in heaven for such a lovely portent of the day, if no eyes but his own beheld and appreciated it.

He recalled a passage read long ago suggesting that the deepest yearning of the spiritual man is not just to behold beauty in nature, but to be one with it. Gazing again upon such a masterpiece of perfection, he felt the ache and longing for such a union.

In the few moments he spent meditating on these things, the moon gave way to the greater light and was visible no more. He considered that this was all the better as such loveliness is always passing by, and not a thing to be caged and captured. He gave thanks again and rose from his desk richer in soul and spirit, having gilded them in a beauty rare, and secure in the knowledge that He who so ordered the relations of sun. moon, and clouds to create such magnificence could yet make something beautiful of his life.

Five Years

Today marks five years since my ex-wife and I went to a local bank to have a separation agreement notarized, and I moved out of the house away from her and six of our seven children. When I mentioned this to my eighteen year-old daughter earlier, she couldn’t believe it had only been five years. ”It seems like forever,” she said.

She’s right. It does seem like much longer than five years. The marriage lasted twenty-two and a half years, the last two and a half of which were pure hell on everyone involved. Having done all that was humanly possible to preserve my marriage and keep my family intact, when I finally succumbed to the inevitable, it was time.

I am such a different person than the one who drove away from the family home with a borrowed pick up truck full of personal belongings. I am a man again, whole and complete, not the shell of a man I allowed myself to become; eviscerated in my efforts to hold onto an unfaithful woman, letting myself believe that I somehow deserved her treatment. I accepted the labels and derision that she heaped upon me, and I felt every bit a failure.

In leaving my family and giving up on my marriage, I was also leaving behind and giving up on my entire conception of myself, my identity, my being and meaning in the world. As a practicing Christian, I had somehow contorted the truth that a married man and woman become ”one flesh” into meaning they become ”one being.” I gave up my identity as an individual apart from my role as husband and father. As a result, I had not made a single decision of any consequence in over twenty-two years without considering its impact on my wife and my children; usually in consultation with them; from what to eat for dinner, to what type of toilet paper to buy, to whether or not we should paint a room, to where and when we should go on vacation, or even whether it was okay to take a few minutes alone to quietly read my bible. I can see my married readers nodding in recognition.

In the beginning of our dating relationship, and perhaps even early in our marriage, these mutual, shared decisions about all the various minutiae of life were a source of bonding and delight. Over the course of time, especially in the midst of a marriage gone bad, these same decisions provided instant feedback in the form of criticism, derision, and ridicule, even when a decision was supposedly agreed upon. Because I was the ”head of the household”, I shouldered the blame for every mistake, mishap, accident, unforeseen consequence, hurt feeling, and dollar spent. So much so that my oldest son now jokes with me when anything goes wrong and says, ”must be your fault dad!” I realize now that being the head of a family doesn’t mean being the family scapegoat.

I’m not sure why many if not most relationships devolve into this kind of acrimony and resentment. I only know mine did. Living on my own, alone and in my own rented house, was a brave new world for me. Even going to the grocery store was an adventure as I chose foods strictly because I might like them whether any one else in the household did or not. I watched what I wanted on television. I read the books and articles I wanted. I bought furniture I liked and decorated how it pleased me. Not once did I consult my ex.

This is the most wonderful thing about divorce. I found myself again. This is so important that I will likely spend the rest of my life trying to write about how crucial and rare this is. The greatest commandment it is said is to love God with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength. The second greatest is, ”you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Having lost myself in a bad marriage, and then being told in the most brutal way (the unfaithfulness of a spouse) how inadequate I was as a husband, I certainly had no love for myself to even know how I ought to love my neighbor. If you don’t know yourself, how can you love yourself? If you can’t love yourself, how can you love your neighbor?

But I do know myself again. I am able to make decisions with an appropriate regard for my own pleasure and live with the blessings or consequences, taking full responsibility for either. I care about the people around me in a way that is no longer a feeble attempt at self-validation. I know both how to receive love and how to give it. I have an amazing girlfriend who has shared these five years with me without either of us trying to stifle or undermine the other’s individuality, and who has made me feel good about myself again as a man worthy of love and of faithfulness.

Divorce has left me very jaded and cynical about marriage, but it has made me very optimistic about life. I think that’s why today’s anniversary seems like too short a time: the living has been so condensed and concentrated in these five years that it has more than made up for the bad years at the end of my marriage and the initial faltering steps out on my own.

Here’s to many happy returns!

There Is No Good Filter For My Eclectic Reading List

It’s Saturday morning and therefore one of the most luxurious days of the week for me. I woke up sans alarm at 7:15, fell back asleep for fifteen more minutes, then motored off to Starbuck’s to replenish my bean supply and get a ready-made cup of wake-up fuel.

Back home, I began trying to catch up on all of the auto-collected stories and articles that had been accumulating during the week. For the next hour and a half, I sat on the deck and read articles on making war movies, germ theory, the arc of innovation, a story about a reporter’s Bernese Mountain Dog, and how the British now can make brewed tea with a specially designed gadget in their armoured vehicles because the Germans in WWII kept killing them when they’d stop and get out of their tanks to brew tea on the roadside, etc.

It’s a collection of reading material that is nothing if not eclectic. And therein lies the problem. I read for the pure pleasure of it. It ranks 2nd or 3rd in my top most enjoyable activities in life. And yet, it’s a little depressing too. There’s so much out there to read, so much to learn, to know, to be exposed to…

A few weeks ago, I discovered and began using a combination of web-services and connected apps to crawl through various sites that generate content I might wish to consume, and collect it for me into one place to peruse at my leisure. I read a lot! I mean a hell of a lot! But I cannot keep up. Having read six or seven articles this morning, there are eighty-eight…EIGHTY-EIGHT…88…still to read. Damn! I feel guilty as hell to delete even one of them without at least a quick, speed-reading glance, but at a rate of one article read every fifteen or twenty minutes, it will take me twenty-nine and one-third hours to read the ones still left.

That realization makes me yearn for a better system to gather the material, but maybe with a little more ”filtering”, kind of like when I’m looking at an item on Amazon, the site is kind enough to inform me, ”customers who looked at the item you’re looking at ultimately bought X…” or, similar to the way Netflix makes suggestions about movies I might want to watch based on my previous selections and ratings. That would be cool…

Or would it? What kind of filter could ever have put together my reading list this morning? What kind of relationship is there between tea brewed by soldiers in a tank, and the 2,4-D herbicide that started the Green Revolution among Iowa corn farmers that has led to the most plenteous and cheap food production of all time and has contributed to this country’s obesity epidemic?

I guess I’ll have to keep using the one filter that can amalgamate and make sense out of all this motley collection, my own brain. How do you decide what to read? What to follow? What to pay attention to?

Hey, one of my apps just signaled on my iPhone that another article just arrived, number 89, titled, Breaking up with Facebook. That sounds interesting. Let’s see, that’ll push me to twenty-nine and a half hours…

Get In Touch With Your Inner Geek

I love technology that works and fulfills the promise of either higher efficiency in terms of productivity, or saved time, or both. I’ve just finished reading the book Less Doing = More Living by Ari Meisel. It is one of those books that has re-awakened the dormant geek in me that has lain fallow for several months. As a result, I have subscribed to several web services in order to adopt some of the principles of efficiency and automation espoused by Meisel.

Here are some of the ones I’m currently using in no particular order.

I will probably write more about these over the next few months as I either adopt and use them or abandon and jettison them.

Unroll.me at http://www.unroll.me is a great service that will search your email account for all ”subscriptions” and then give you the option of unsubscribing all at once or one at a time from the ones you no longer wish to receive, or if you’re like me, ones you cannot remember ever signing up for to begin with. On first run, it found an amazing 240 subscriptions in my account! I unsubscribed from 160 of them! That will equal real time saved on a daily and weekly basis not having to deal with unwanted emails, even if just to delete them.

Box is a very robust service with a free plan that allows storage and access of up to 10GB of all kinds of data. There are several other paid plans allowing more storage and more administrative control. Use Box to upload a folder full of photos and then send a link to anyone you wish to be able to view them in a very cool format that even allows downloading if you enable that feature. It is most commonly used for group or team collaboration on projects that require multiple documents or document types. An admin can assign levels of access to the files in a project folder and each team member can contribute and collaborate on the project files without those files having to be stored on one of the team member’s local, personal devices. There is a web-based service and also apps for your mobile devices. There are even dedicated applications to use while working with files hosted on Box. For PC users, this means the full suite of Microsoft Office apps. Find out more and set up your account at http://www.box.com

Followup.cc is a web service that allows you defer reading or acting on received emails by employing follow-up triggers that will basically send the email back to you at a specified time or interval. For an email you want to read or act on tomorrow, you just forward the email to: 1day@followup.cc and send it. The original email will arrive 24 hours later. It can be used for a group or team to improve collaborative efforts. I plan to use it in lieu of ”flagging” so many emails for later reading. I have a ”Smart Mailbox” that collects all my flagged emails and I have gotten into a habit of flagging and archiving emails that I want to read at some time in the future, then never making time to actually revisit them to read and process. Followup.cc is a paid service with a modest monthly subscription fee of around $10 for 250 reminders. Check it out at http://www.followup.cc.

Pocket is both a web service and iOS/Android app that acts like a storage ”pocket” for anything from emails to videos, websites to images. I think it will be a nice tool for saving items that I want to explore further when I am in a web-browsing mood and serendipitously stumble upon something I want to spend more time reading or exploring. I have installed the Safari extension on my MacBook Pro and a bookmarklet on my iOS devices. It also integrates with Evernote and Dropbox so that anything I save to Pocket also gets saved as its own note in both of those apps. The difference between Pocket and Evernote is the difference between the pocket of my jeans and the change dish near my desk. I carry the change in my pocket just long enough to either spend it or stash it in the dish. Evernote is where I stash stuff I want to keep longer term. Pocket is a short-term place to put stuff to check out later. You can learn more at http://www.getpocket.com.

Feedly is a great RSS reader. It can be customized for the categories and subject matter that is particularly interesting to you. Using IFTTT (which you can read about below) Anything I tag for reading later saves automatically to Pocket, and anything I mark as a ”favorite” saves to Evernote. Create your own account on the web at cloud.feedly.com. There are also iOS and Android apps for Feedly.

IFTTTIf This Then That – is another cool web service that utilizes ”channels” to trigger actions. For instance, when I tag an article in Feedly to read later, it sends that article to Pocket and to Evernote. I am using 15 or 16 ”recipes” like this. I will spend more time with this service to create my own custom recipes. I want to create one that will recognize all emails from Apple iTunes and forward and file them in the appropriate folder in my Evernote account. You can look for recipes that will work for you at https://ifttt.com

Penultimate is an app by the developers of Evernote that will allow for writing, drawing, sketching, and doodling on an iPad. Every ”note” created in a Penultimate notebook gets synced to Evernote. I ordered a bluetooth enable stylus specifically designed to work with Penultimate. Unfortunately, when the stylus arrived I attempted to use it with no joy at all. My handwriting is remarkably poor. I have not written in cursive since high school, choosing instead to print, usually in all caps. The stylus doesn’t exactly make ”marks” where I touch it to the screen, but rather, somewhere very close by. It also doesn’t stop marking when I lift it off the screen, but if still in near proximity, it will continue to mark almost like an etch-a-sketch would. Printing, rather than cursive script, requires much more “touch and lift” technique. The JotScript stylus made my normal chicken scratch look like chicken sh*t! Frustrating! Oh well. You may have better handwriting, more patience, and therefore better success with both this app and the tool mentioned. I really wanted this to work for me. If you want to give Penultimate a try, it can be downloaded for free at the iTunes App Store.

Back on a positive note,  HelloFax is terrific, inexpensive, paid subscription service that allows both sending and receiving paperless faxes as PDF documents via a web-interface and email. I had previously been using Free Fax which has worked just fine for sending invoices to my customers by fax, but it does not offer receive capability, and the faxes look cheap and clunky. HelloFax has several cool features:

1 – Although the entire service is web based, you are assigned and actual telephone number. This way, it looks like the faxes are coming from and being sent to an honest to God fax machine.

2- It also integrates with Evernote. Every fax that is either sent or received gets filed in its own notebook as an individual, searchable, tagged note in Evernote. It also integrates with Dropbox where all faxes are stored in separate folders. Very cool! The faxes look great too! They also offer a service called HelloSign for signing documents and receiving signed documents from others. I plan to check it out soon. You can get a free HelloFax account at:https://www.hellofax.com?ref=32cdc1ed&s=F. Using this link will get both you and I five free pages in the first month of service.

FileThis, found at http://www.filethis.com is another very handy web service that will automatically pull statements from any account you specify and file those statements to their own categories and folders in Evernote or Dropbox. The ”forever free” version allows connection for up to 5 accounts and will poll those accounts monthly to download and file statements. There are several paid plans allowing connection of more accounts and more frequent downloading and filing. I love the idea that my statements for AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Piedmont Natural Gas and a couple of credit cards get automatically pulled and filed for me without me having to look them up, download them, or print them. Very cool.

I have written assuming that you already use either Evernote, or Dropbox, or both, to store files like documents (everything from receipts to tax returns), photos, and music and then synchronize and access those files across all your devices. If not, you owe it to yourself to check out what they can do for you

Point your browser to http://evernote.com , for Evernote, which uses the phrase “Remember Everything” as it’s raison d’être. I use this app everyday on my MacBook, my iPhone, and my iPad. It is one of the coolest, most useful apps I’ve found. One of the things that differentiates it from Dropbox is how conveniently you can search for anything that you’ve filed there. The contents of each “note” in Evernote is searchable, even hand written ones that have been created in Penultimate. The use of descriptive tags makes this process even easier and allows you to search for all the related notes that you’ve filed.

Dropbox is equally as useful and can be found at: https://www.dropbox.com. It is an online storage service that synchronizes files and folders from your computer and all your mobile devices. It is astonishingly simple in concept, but is unlimited in execution. I use it to store items that I may need to access from anywhere on any device. It is not as easy to search as Evernote, but I use it for larger, more “static” files for which it is perfect. It provides some redundant backup security too, since anything stored there is “offsite” and immune to theft, fire, loss, or accident.

I hope some of these services and apps will be helpful to you. Ari Meisel’s philosophy is that you shouldn’t spend time on things that can be automated and/or done by someone else cheap enough to allow you to focus on those things that can only be done by you. I agree. Some of these apps and services allow me to offload stuff out of my mind into a secure place that lets me get back to dealing with life at hand. Some of them just give me more time to chill in the real, er, non-digital world…

If you are using an app or service I haven’t mentioned that provides real value to your life, please add a comment to let me know. I love trying out apps and services that come already endorsed. Thanks!