My Prius priority

January 29th, 2015

Saving gas while saving the planet

It’s the end of January and looking back over the month, this Wanderer blog has been pretty bleak. I blame the cold and the grayness mostly. But I don’t want you to think that I haven’t accomplished anything. Apart from a super top-secret bit of long form fiction I’ve been writing, (my great American novel), I also made it through the month on just under $12.00 worth of gas!

Like others here at Read The Spirit, I drive a Prius. Unlike the others, mine plugs into the wall (but boy, do I need a mighty long extension cord when I go somewhere! — rim shot, please). My plug-in allows me to barely sip gas, filling up generally about once each month. Like The Chevy Volt and the Ford C-Max, the car runs on electricity, mostly, until it needs to be recharged. Then the gas engine takes over with some help from electricity generated whenever I brake. Residential electrical power is still much cheaper than gasoline — especially when I charge it overnight during off-peak hours — so I save even more.

People wonder if I’m bummed out about my purchase, in light of the currently low gas prices. Here’s the thing. Low gas prices are low gas prices. What helps you, helps me too. $12.00 a month is wonderful. We buy all our cars used so they’re typically a lot less expensive. And we buy them from local dealerships so we’re still contributing to the area economy.

More and more, people are doing the same thing. I parked in an Ann Arbor parking garage and found myself taking the last available spot of the dozen or so provided free of, ahem, charge.

Yes, I realize our electricity doesn’t always come from clean sources (cough, cough, coal). But the trend is moving in that direction. If I can get some solar shingles attached to my roof or maybe buy some wind power from those wonderful turbines in Michigan’s thumb area, I’d be all set. Until that time, I’ll cruise along at 60 miles per gallon (58 MPG, actually, during the dead of winter).

I don’t mean to come across as self-righteous or holier than thou. Making a conscious effort to help the environment just makes me happy, that’s all.

My Prius priority

I joined a dozen or so other cars charging in an Ann Arbor public parking garage.


Sleeping Outside of the Box

December 6th, 2014

Sure, eight hours is great, but it doesn’t have to happen all at once.

Sleeping in shifts

My wife and daughters snuggle in bed on an early vacation morning, snoozing in and slowly waking up at their leisure.

It’s 4:34 am.

I call this time “heh.” I’ve written about it in the past, back when my digital clock seemed to be chuckling at me. Turn 4:34 upside down and it says hEh.

Heh, you’re not sleeping. Heh, those thoughts racing through your brain are going nowhere fast. Heh.

I don’t hate 4:34 anymore. I’ve come to embrace it. I have the New York Times and David K. Randall to thank.

In a piece I read a few years back, Randall writes about “The tyranny of the eight hour block” of sleep. We’ve been told for generations that we must get at least eight hours of sleep each night in order to thrive, function, stay slim — and I don’t know — live longer. According to, it’s even supposed to help you “Be a winner.” hEh.

I generally agree that eight hours of sleep is great, but I can’t tell you the last time I got that amount in one chunk. Oh, I get eight hours I think. Or seven or nine, I don’t really keep track. It’s hard to figure out how much I’m getting when I wake up for an hour or two (or more) every single night now.

I don’t mind and neither did our ancestors. Apparently it’s only very recently in our human history that we felt the need to force all of our night’s rest into one continuous snooze.

“For most of evolution we slept a certain way,” says sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs.

“Waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology,” writes Stephanie Hegarty in a BBC News article.

Randall tells about a Virginia Tech history professor who found references to something called “firste sleep” in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. That same professor, Roger Ekirch, says that references go all the way back to the writings of Homer, (the ancient Greek, NOT the Simpson).

In fact, according to Hegarty, Ekirch’s book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past “unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern – in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.”

At Day's CloseOur ancestors would naturally wake up in the middle of the night. And instead of fighting it because they had to get enough sleep to survive modern life in the office or their morning commutes, they just went with it. They read, they meditated, they prayed, they wandered around, they had sex. They probably didn’t log onto Facebook or check the scores from last night’s games on their phones though.

And that’s part of it. Electronics, and more importantly, artificial lighting has led to bedtimes gradually getting later and later. In the past, we used to fall asleep a few hours after sundown, wake up a while later, then go back to sleep. Once European cities began lighting their streets, people thought it was fun to stay up later. These days we have something like that too; it’s called Jon Stewart.

The Industrial Revolution didn’t help our sleep much either. We used to nap during the afternoon. It was a normal part of our day. Try napping on the job these days. You’ll be derided at best, fired at worst. That’s in America. Other cultures understand napping. You’ve heard of the afternoon siesta in Spain. In other countries, businesses will actually shut down so their employees (and customers) can go home and nap for a while.

In Japan a brief nap after lunch is common and encouraged. Some workers push it too far and even fake taking a nap in order to look committed to their company. Seriously!

Realizing that it’s only natural for me to be awake during the wee hours has made my life so much better. I tell lots of people about it and they look at me a bit oddly. We are so conditioned to believe in a full, uninterrupted night’s sleep that I’m almost speaking heresy. I can’t tell you how many social media friends of mine have commented that I’m burning the midnight oil or have asked why I’m up so late (or early). I’ve sent the New York Times Rethinking Sleep link out countless times.

A good friend, Tom Gottfried, told me most of his coworkers are middle aged and are commonly awake at 3:00 am. He said there’s a joke going around his office that they should hold all their meetings in the middle of the night. I guess nobody would have an excuse for falling asleep during meetings then, eh?

Back when I was still in high school, I learned from my Psychology teacher that even if you’re not sleeping, as long as you’re lying down relaxed, it’s almost as good as heavy ZZZs. I’ve tried to follow that lesson throughout my adult life. Regardless of if it works or not, fighting the lack of sleep while you’re lying in bed, tossing and turning, is just so counterintuitive. Counterproductive too.

Speaking of not fighting it, I feel a yawn coming on. I don’t think it’s a good idea to fight the onset of sleep either. Usually.

Besides, as Homer put it, “There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.”


He’s not just anyone

November 7th, 2014

A bone marrow donor who thinks “anyone would do that”

Thorsten has a calm, easy-going sense of humor as evidenced by the poster on his apartment door.

Thorsten — a German student  — has a calm, easy-going sense of humor as evidenced by the poster on his apartment door.

Thorsten isn’t comfortable with me writing this. In fact, I’m not even sure if I’m allowed to tell you about him at all. But I’ll risk it. You see, he’s a hero of mine.

I met Thorsten last month. He’s a young German student getting his second degree. His first career path — being a corporate lawyer in Stuttgart — didn’t really gel with his ideologies. Making money for corporations and helping them retain it didn’t seem to sit well with him.

He’s back in school now, studying at Trinity College in Ireland, rooming with my daughter and a few other intelligent, fun, incredible leaders of the future. He knows more about America and our politics than most of us do. But as I found out, he knows more about Australian politics and Finnish politics than most Aussies and Finns do too. I’m going to call him brilliant and hope that it somehow gets lost in translation for him.

(It probably won’t. The guy’s English is flawless. Even the word “onamonapia” makes him hahaha, teehee, chortle or snort).

A few years back, someone phoned Thorsten saying his bone marrow type matched a cancer patient’s. That patient needed a transplant. Let me pause here. Before finding out that somebody matched him, he had to become registered.

“It was just a simple cotton swab of my mouth,” he explained. “Anyone would do that.”

Well, not “anyone” Thorsten. Even taking that first step is a significant, altruistic move.

When he heard somebody needed his stem cells to help them regrow their own bone marrow,  his only question was, “how soon can we do this?”

He didn’t know the person in need and that didn’t matter.

So they checked Thorsten into the hospital and gave him drugs to greatly multiply his own marrow. He spent a few days as a patient before they drew his blood and the excess stem cells out of him. A few hours later, the primordial concoction of Thorsten’s stem cells and blood were being flown across town, across the country or across the world to a patient in desperate need.

“It was a pretty easy procedure. All I really had to do was lie in bed,” he said. And then he said again, “Anyone would do that.”

I’m glad he thinks that way, “anyone would do that.” My brother, the firefighter who gave me HIS stem cells, said the same thing. I politely dispute Thorsten and my brother. There are many, many people who wouldn’t dream of doing that. There are entire religions who believe giving or receiving blood goes against biblical doctrine (I’m looking at you, Jehovah’s Witnesses).

So no, not “anyone” would do what you did.

Thorsten’s blood saved the life of a patient somewhere in the world. Interestingly, he doesn’t really care if he meets that person.

“They would probably make a big deal about it,” he said. “I’m no hero.” And again he reiterated, “anyone would do that.”

Sorry Thorsten. You are a hero, like it or not. Not only are you my hero, you’re also the hero to that anonymous patient, his family, friends and the one million others who have successfully received a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

I’m not saying you should run right out and greet your new blood brother, but I’ve spoken to enough transplant patients who personally would love to thank their donor. They feel your life-giving cells flowing through themselves every darn minute of every darn day and they are honored to continue on with your legacy of courage and selflessness. Heck, Thorsten, let ‘em buy you dinner or at least a beer. I can guarantee they’d love to say thanks in person.

Anyone would do that.

Go See Pride

October 19th, 2014

When lesbians and gays helped out the coal miners

Pride movie starring Bill Nighy

You should know, by now, that if a movie stars Bill Nighy, I’m going to have something to say about it. Although Nighy takes a backseat in Pride, his role is fun, perfect and integral to the story.

But this isn’t about Bill Nighy.Pride movie poster

This is a movie — based on an extraordinary reality — about a time in 1984/1985 when a small group of lesbian and gay Brits chose to help out Welsh coal miners who were on strike. I couldn’t believe it was a true story; subsequent research showed me it was. Part of the movie was even filmed in the same small town in Wales where the events of the 1980s originally took place.

“Mining communities are being bullied, just like we are,” says one of the lead characters. In truth, both parties shared three common foes; the police, the Thatcher government and the tabloid press. Even so, it seems remarkable that LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) jumped in to help back then.

“We’ve been through some of the same things you’ve been through,” is the common theme.

But shared experiences and shared goals don’t necessarily make for harmonious relationships. Tensions ran throughout the movie. There was tension not only between the coal miners, their families and the Brits trying to help them, but also interpersonal tension and humor between all the different factions involved.

There’s something for everybody in the film. If you like humor you’ll find plenty of it. If you like 80s music, sure, there’s a great sound track. Dancing, check. Your favorite British stars? How about Moriarty from Sherlock (Andrew Scott). How about Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter (Imelda Staunton). There’s Richard Burton from Burton and Taylor (Dominic West). If you saw The Book Thief, Ben Schnetzer plays that German-Jewish prisoner that’s hidden in the basement. He’s really an American and in Pride, plays an Irishman living in London. That’s some impressive range. And as always, there’s the incomparable Bill Nighy.

If you need to categorize movies, think of this one as Kinky Boots meets Billy Elliott. Those two movies were eventually made into very successful plays. Pride’s director, Matthew Warchus also directed the stage version of Matilda. I’m not really a gambling guy, but you can bet people are already talking about bringing Pride to the West End or Broadway.

I was lucky enough to see this a few weeks early, while visiting my daughter in Ireland. Skye has always been an advocate for LGBT causes, including helping get the Troy, Michigan mayor kicked out of office for her homophobic remarks. During the movie, we laughed a lot and, yes, cried too. Mine were mostly tears of joy during the closing sequences and subsequent credits.

By the way, there is absolutely no reason for this film to be rated R. Reviewers and activists speculate that the Motion Picture Association of America is a bit homophobic itself.

This is one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year and will undoubtedly make my year-end list. As I said in the title, go see Pride.