Causes of Death in America (Reality/Google/Media)

I ran across this infographic back in December and found it interesting. It’s a breakdown of what Americans die from, what Americans search on Google, and what the news reports on. You can quickly see how America’s biggest killer heart disease, is not exciting and thus gets little to no coverage in the media nor do Americans feel compelled to research it. The flashy, exciting, and scary stuff like homicide and terrorism get a lot more love, especially from the media.

This is just another example of how the media and internet skew data for profit. I feel like I’ve lived my world through various screens over the years and because of this, my outlook has been quite skewed from reality. There is actually a term for this: mean world syndrome.

Sometimes understanding these biases and seeing some hard data can make a real impact on how I interpret things. I just thought someone else might find it interesting as well.

Movies Watched in January

I began 2021 by watching a handful of movies and to be honest, not that many good ones.

News of the World – This is an above average Western starring Tom Hanks and is directed by Paul Greengrass (Bourne Identity, Green Zone). It was my first time watching a Western on the big screen since seeing Open Range in theaters back in 2003. News of the World is a nice story that was only sullied by some questionable uses of CGI. Definitely worth a look for Western fans, but don’t go in expecting Unforgiven or even Open Range.

Brittany Runs a Marathon – Arguably the biggest surprise this month was Brittany Runs a Marathon on Amazon Prime. I’m a fan of Jillian Bell and I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this film. It’s a little oddly plotted out, which allowed it to retain that independent vibe while still telling a top notch story.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – It took me three times to get through this movie, but I finally did it. One of the most recommended inspirational movies online, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was not my cup of tea. I didn’t find it inspirational nor did I find it all that interesting.

Wolfman’s Got Nards – Now this film, I loved. It’s an excellent documentary looking back on the 80’s cult classic The Monster Squad. You can read my full review at Brandon’s Horror.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Slow and dull. Read my review for more thoughts.

Chef – This movie has been on my watch list for years! I finally turned it on and found myself smiling throughout the entire movie. It’s laid back, doesn’t have any crazy drama, and is just a love letter to food. It was a fantastic movie that I could see myself revisiting in the near future.

Ghosts of War – This horror film has been on my mind since I first saw the trailer last year. It’s marketed as a World War II ghost story, although it’s really not. The first half of the film is great and the second half is pretty terrible.

In Search of Darkness II – The follow up to one of my favorite horror documentaries that focuses on 80’s horror. I loved the first film, and I found the second to be quite enjoyable. The movies chosen were not nearly as good, nor were the talking heads. Also, I felt like there was too much of a focus on foreign horror which just doesn’t interest me.

Camp Cold Brook – Wow… what a terrible film. The film stars Chad Michael Murry and Danielle Harris and was produced by Joe Dante. I went in with low expectations but the film failed to even reach those. Despite having an interesting setup the movie just never gets going and the jump scares seem to be off by a second or two.

Nanny

Over the past year, I’ve thought about my grandmother a lot. She died in late 2018 after a slow decline in health and by the time she passed, I was ready for her to go. She was a frail shell of who she used to be and death seemed like a better alternative to the existence she was living in the nursing home. I wasn’t upset with her passing, because I felt like I had mourned her death a year or two prior when she began going downhill, but it took a year or so for her to take up residence in my mind. Today, I want to talk about that.

My grandmother, whom I affectionately called Nanny, was a simple country woman. Raised in the foothills of North Carolina, she grew up in a family of farmers in a small cinderblock house that her parents built by hand in 1940. She was a small, skinny woman who would take hours to get ready to leave the house, even if it was just a quick trip to the Dollar General. 

After my parents’ divorce, my dad quickly remarried and that marriage didn’t last but a few months. Being a military man on the road two weeks out of every month, he needed someone to watch my brother and I, so Nanny and her mother (Granny) moved down to Orlando to join us. It was the first time either one of them had lived outside of North Carolina and the first time in the city. There wasn’t as much of a culture shock as Nanny embraced the change and loved Orlando. The unlimited shopping opportunities, good weather, and the opportunity to take care of my brother and I enriched her life. She would remind me a lot as an adult that she had no better time in her life than those couple of years in Orlando.

Nanny was my saving grace in Orlando. My dad was devastated still from my parents’ divorce and the detour with a second wife had only made things worse. He didn’t have the skills or capabilities to raise two boys and quite a bit of the adult responsibilities fell onto me at the age of ten. For a few months, I acted as arguably the primary parent until we were able to make it to North Carolina and move Nanny down.

Once Nanny arrived, she took over like she’d lived there forever. For the first time (and only time in my life) I had three home cooked meals a day. The house was spotless and organized. And on the weekends, I found myself dropped off at the movies often while she went shopping for the day. It was a great time in my life and the only time I truly felt like I had the opportunity to just be a kid.

Nanny wasn’t what you’d describe as nurturing, I guess. I never thought of it until a recent conversation with my wife, but she was more of a strong, Southern woman. She loved you, had no problem saying that or hugging you, but she was not the type of person to get down on the floor and play with you. Instead, she was the type of woman who you’d want to be around so you’d volunteer to stand on a chair and rinse off the dishes just to be next to her. 

I believe Nanny first took up residence in my head around the time COVID hit. Being a poor, country woman, I’d once asked her about the hardships of our family during The Great Depression. Her response was, “We didn’t really notice. There’s always someone who needs a ditch dug.” In a strange way that was comforting to me.

Nanny didn’t live a life of luxury. After my Dad remarried and we were transferred to Dallas, Nanny and Granny moved back into the same old cinderblock house she grew up. I’ll never forget spending that summer cleaning it out. The floor had to be jacked up and canned foods from the 1960’s had to be removed from the closet. It was a mess, but a fun time. Granny had suffered from Alzheimer’s for years, which is why she lived with Nanny. Everyone thought that maybe moving Granny back into the house she lived in most of her life would help her feel more at ease.

Granny would die in that house eight or nine years later and Nanny would live in it until somewhere around 2015-2016 before being moved into a nursing home. 

I have dozens of great memories with Nanny and could write all day about her, but I wanted to hone in on what has really been stuck in my head lately:

Nanny led a very simple life. The type of life that some might call boring. She got up at the same time every day and went to bed at the same time. She watched the Today show, the 12 o’clock news, Days of Our Lives, and 5 o’clock news. In between those programs, she cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When she wasn’t in the kitchen making drop biscuits or cooking her delicious green beans, she was cleaning the floors, dusting, or bleaching something. That woman used so much bleach she’d take the paint and finish right off of stuff. 

She enjoyed mowing her yard, working in the garden, and snapping green beans. She liked her Diet Coke, coffee, and loved a Wendy’s Frosty. But never once did I see her go on a rant. I never saw her get extremely upset about politics or throw a fit about her favorite show being delayed. She didn’t panic when her car wouldn’t start or the air conditioner went out. She was always so calm and in control. In fact, she rarely would ever raise her voice. I’m guessing that is why it was so peaceful to be around her.

I even remember the first hurricane that we encountered while living in Orlando. I was terrified and I stayed up all night and recorded the wind and trees on her video camera. Nanny, like Granny, went to bed right after the news with not a care in the world.

I’m not saying Nanny was perfect, because no one is. She had her flaws like everyone, but she had some fantastic attributes I hope to implement in my life. I’d love to find the calmness that she had when facing adversity, but most important, I’d love to find the peace and comfort she had with the ebbs and flow of daily life. Nanny was content with her boring life. She enjoyed cooking, cleaning, and just living. She didn’t complain about not being able to travel the world nor did she hang her self-worth on having some grandiose job title. She just lived each day to the fullest by taking care of herself and those around her. When she was needed, she was always there.

Nanny didn’t read self-help books and I don’t think the idea of improving yourself had ever crossed her mind. In fact, the only thing she really ever read was Star or The National Inquirer, her little “trash magazines” as she liked to call them. But Nanny lived in the moment and maybe she didn’t need a self-improvement book to teach her that.

The Great Digital Purge

A few weeks leading up to 2021 and now a few weeks into 2021, I’ve been on a digital purge. In my quest for minimalism, I’ve been removing/deleting/unsubscribing from everything that I possibly can.

I started off by deleting two lingering email accounts, which now leaves me just my main account and old legacy Gmail account I just can’t shake.

I went through all of my emails, RSS feeds, email subscriptions, and bookmarks and removed anything that was sitting for more than three months and hadn’t been used. Anything that didn’t bring me joy or still aligned with my interests was also taken out of rotation.

I bought a five terabyte hard drive at CostCo and two 128 gig thumb drives on Amazon to back up everything. I removed almost all of my files from both my laptop and Surface and also dumped all the files from my OneDrive. I then deleted anything that no longer served me and organized the rest. The external hard drive will be my base while the two thumb drives are my backups. They’ll backup my photos, docs, and important files. I plan on keeping one with a family member out of state in case of a natural disaster as I slowly ween myself off Cloud storage.

My blog was gutted (as you know) and all photos were removed my cell phone and organized into folders. I keep one folder of photos I might need on my OneDrive (at least for now) in case I want to show someone a photo sometime.

All unused apps and programs have been removed from my phone and computer. I also removed Windows from my Surface, which now leaves me with two Linux devices and my Android cell phone.

Basically, I attempted to begin everything with a clean slate. I wanted everything as close to Factory Reset as possible so that I had the space to create and invest. I’m a big believer in dumping the cup before filling it back up and at least for me, the process is meditative and relaxing. I love removing things that no longer being me joy and replacing them with those that do.

Home

I was once a huge fan of the movie Garden State. It was released a couple of years after I graduated from high school and I felt as if the movie spoke to me. The story of feeling awkward and disconnected really resonated with me. So much so, I even wrote a paper in college about it. I watched Garden State at least a dozen times 2004-2006, but I’ve only watched it once since then, maybe ten years ago. It was during that re-watch that one particular exchange really stuck out to me.

Andrew Largeman: You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone.

Sam: I still feel at home in my house.

Andrew Largeman: You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.

This quote stopped me in my tracks. It had no meaning all those years earlier, but by this point in my life it was the single most important part of the movie for me. It had summed up my love of nostalgia and put some of my family dynamics into perspective.

I’m purposely being a bit vague here because this isn’t a post about a terrible childhood or the bright spots growing up. It also isn’t about how this strange little movie had an effect on a young version of myself. Instead, I’m writing because this morning I finally tied together my nostalgia and my concept of home.

I moved around a lot as a kid and struggle to define where I’m from. Does that mean where I was born? Does it mean where I lived the longest? Does it mean where I felt like I grew up? I’m not really sure what metric I’m supposed to use to determine and answer, so my answer is usually a shrug and “I’m a military brat, so a little here and there.”

Recently, I mentioned that I was really excited for the upcoming TV show Walker, a reimagining of Walker, Texas Ranger. I even emphasized that I was “really” excited for it. This may not seem like a big deal, but rarely do I get excited, especially not “really excited.” And even more rarely do I get excited for a reboot of a show that I didn’t even watch, stars actors who I’m pretty meh about (I was always a Dean guy), and has released trailers that look pretty mediocre at best. Still, my excitement hasn’t wavered, in fact, it’s only grown as the premiere grows nearer.

Sunday afternoon, I was looking something light to watch and settled on King of the Hill, the 90’s sitcom about a suburban Texas family. I watched this quite a bit when it first aired and I spent some time last year watching the first three seasons. I decided to pick up where I left off and I found a strange sort of calm come over me. It was peaceful and exactly what I needed after a long Saturday and a very hard work week.

Yesterday, I spent some time researching King of the Hill and I stumbled upon a soundtrack that was released. Surprisingly, this soundtrack (including the cast dialogue) can be found on Spotify. I adore soundtrack tie-in’s so I listened to it on the way home from work and on the way into work this morning. So far, it’s very enjoyable featuring artists like The Barenaked Ladies and Brooks and Dunn.

As I began the longish walk into work, I had sort of an epiphany. I was nostalgic for Texas.

I lived outside of Dallas for a portion of my early teenage years in the mid 90’s. It was during this time that Walker, Texas Ranger was a huge show and King of the Hill debuted. It was the time that I enjoyed the internet the most and loved working on websites. It was the time I truly became obsessed with professional wrestling and began serious console gaming. It was the time when my musical tastes became what they are today and I began cultivating a love for horror movies. It was the time that I think back to when I get nostalgic. It was also the time when my family was the happiest.

I’m not sure why it took me thirty-seven years to realize this. In the past, I’ve said the best time I had growing up was in Texas, but I didn’t realize exactly how influential it was on my life. I’ve spent the morning replaying my favorite childhood memories, the times that felt so special and I realize they all took place in Texas. I think back to those key moments in entertainment where my tastes developed and I realize they all took place while I lived in Texas. It’s a little mind blowing.

Suddenly, the calming that came from King of the Hill made sense. The excitement for Walker became a little more understandable. My parents watched a ton of Walker, Texas Ranger back in the 90’s. I realize that maybe on some subconscious level, maybe I feel like the reemergence of Walker will somehow result in the peace and security that I once felt for those few short years a long time ago.

I realize that I’m missing the imaginary place as mentioned in the Garden State quote. My family doesn’t live in Texas and hasn’t in twenty-two years, but in my imagination, it’s my childhood home. It was the place of many firsts and great moments. It was the one time in my entire childhood where things weren’t rocky. I felt part of a community and went to the same school for three years in a row (a record I never did reach again).

All those moments I like to discuss like visiting the video store, playing Command and Conquer, learning HTML, sitting in a computer room, playing basketball with my Dad, getting my Nintendo 64, running between bedrooms to watch WCW and the WWF at the same time, amassing my video collection, visiting horror movie chat rooms, Instant Messaging, etc all took place during those few years in Texas.

When life gets hard, I lean into my nostalgia quite a bit. It’s calming to me. I long for the simple life that I once knew in a home where the future was bright. A time when I wasn’t always connected and I had free time to explore and discover new things. A time when my mind was way more open to new things.

It’s not possible to go back to that time. I can’t visit the place in real life either. It doesn’t exist anymore. But somewhere deep inside of me I have this concept of home and that is comforting, loving, exciting, and full of hope. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for Texas.

Seven Day Experiments

I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I think making a yearlong commitment to something that you may or may not enjoy isn’t productive. There is too much guilt and bad feelings that come from not meeting your goal and while that fear can propel some people to work hard to avoid such unpleasant feelings for the rest of us it is just a pending punishment that hangs over whatever goal we’ve decided to take on. I don’t like living my life in fear, so I don’t see much benefit in undertaking such a long commitment where the odds are not in my favor. 365 days is a lot to commit to anything.

I do, however, enjoy small goals. I like the feeling of success when accomplishing small goals and I feel like those little successes can compound quickly and not only is this good for your mental health, but also for your achievement of goals.

So, when I looked at things I wanted to change in 2021, I struggled to find balance in what I wanted to undertake. There are lots of little improvements I want to make and not one huge goal (i.e., lose weight). After some deliberation, I decided that I would break down all these things I wanted to experiment with into seven day goals. These tiny, attainable goals would be reasonable in length and long enough to hopefully allow me to experience any benefit from them. It would also give me a chance to experiment with a lot of things in my life to see whether or not I enjoyed it and/or whether I thought it was something I could realistically stick to.

For example:

One of my goals for 2021 is to stop reading the news. I’ve been quite good about avoiding the news over the years, but sometimes big events occur that draw me in. Last year it was a mixture of COVID and the election. By the end of the year, I found myself scrolling the news while at work. I also found myself on r/all on reddit while at home. I could physically feel myself become anxious while doom scrolling and I realized that what I was doing was no better than anyone scrolling Facebook for triggering information. It needed to stop, so my first seven day experiment for 2021 was to not read the news.

Every day that I skipped the news, I tracked it in a Habit app I found on F-Droid. It’s simple and no frills and exactly what I need. Here is a quick assessment.

Seven Day Goal: Stop Reading the News
Dates: Jan 1 – Jan 7
Result: Accomplished
Thoughts: I have felt less anxiety and the state of the world have not been on my mind nearly as much. I found more enjoyment when browsing the web.
Will I Continue this Goal: Yes

I plan on tracking each goal and reporting the results back like this. I don’t have any expectations to continue this for all of 2021, but I want to experiment when I have the capacity and see where things go from there.

Be Kind To Yourself

If I had a time machine and could go back and tell my younger self anything (despite some winning lottery numbers) I’d tell me to be patient and kind to myself.

I’m not sure why this isn’t something you learn growing up. Maybe it’s just the way our society views things. We live in a world where being stressed is something to brag about. Where working seventy hours or three job is something that to define yourself by. Perfectionism runs rampant throughout the land and the casualties it leaves are tremendous. I know, I’ve been one of them.

Straight As, Dean’s List, knowing all the basketball stats… these were just some of the things that got me attention and were stressed as important. Failure to do so resulted in a disappointing look from my Dad, but more significant an emotional lashing from myself. I had to do better. I had to know more. I had to do these things so that I would be loveable and respectable.

I can’t recall a specific conversation that made me feel that way, but I’m guessing something happened that triggered that sort of belief in my head. Failure to meet these increasingly high standards would result in an internal punishment that was far worse than anything anyone else might dish out. This became a normal part of my daily living. Try hard, never quite succeed the right way, then destroy myself while I’m already feeling down. I can totally see why alcoholism runs in my family.

A few years ago, I began to ask myself this question when I found myself in a stick situation that resulted in self flogging: “What advice would I give a friend?” Would I tell my friend he’s worthless, unloveable, and a loser? Would I tell him a simple mistake was the worst thing he’s ever done? Would I grill him over his past and hold every single bad decision against him? Of course not. That would make me a horrible friend. So why the heck would I do that to myself?

It helped, a lot, but I still struggle with it at times. There is still this drive for perfectionism that I struggle with. But it’s getting better. Slowly every single day, it gets a little easier and a little better.

Be A Gold Fish

Over the years, I’ve utilized various quotes and phrases as a sort of guide to life. For a while there was “Just Keep Livin” made popular by Matthew McConaughey. After that there was “Keep Moving Forward” taken from the famous speech by Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa. Both phrases pretty much said the same thing, but they were there as reminders to just keep moving when life tries to get ya down.

Recently, another phrase made it into my bag of trick: “Be a goldfish” taken from Apple+’s hit Ted Lasso. Ted Lasso is arguably the best show I’ve seen in years and one I hope to discuss more on here in the near future. But until then, if you haven’t seen it it’s about an American football coach who goes to England to coach a Premier League soccer team. It’s a feel good show that leaves you wanting to be a better person after watching it. The show has resonated with me since my first viewing and is definitely having some influence on my attempts to better myself.

In the show, Ted tells a player, “You know what the happiest animal in the world is? It’s a goldfish. It’s got a ten second memory. Be a goldfish.”

I’m not sure if that is actually true or not, and honestly, I don’t want to know the answer. What I do want to do is be a goldfish.

I want to be able to hear something bad, be talked down to, or experience a setback and just move on quickly. I want to take a minute to process, stop the rumination and self-criticism and just enjoy life. So, being a goldfish sounds darn good.

I changed my lock screen wallpaper to a goldfish as a little reminder to myself. When things kind of suck and I encounter difficulty, I take it for what it’s worth and then I try my best to be a goldfish.