How Many Sociopaths Do We Interact With?

Yesterday I posted an article on Vigilant Vote called Sociopaths Among Us. Part of me wanted to also share it here, but it was too political, and I don’t want to scare any of my followers away. But I think it is an important subject to understand. Even though I am not one for fear mongering, there are legitimate dangers that must be realized in order to be avoided.

I just finished reading A Clockwork Orange. Clearly the main character and narrator, Alex, is a sociopath. He has no conscience, and feels no remorse or guilt for the brutal assaults, rapes, and murders that he carries out. In discussing the book’s relation to politics, I mentioned how Alex’s friends joined in on these crimes, but were not caught, and therefore not punished. When Alex gets out of prison after a controversial treatment, he finds a former friend and a former enemy, both horrible thugs, have become police officers. The point being that sociopaths are drawn to positions of power, and therefore we must have the right mechanisms in place as a society to thwart that power when used unjustly against the innocent.

Really I was just using A Clockwork Orange as an example, while I had found another book, non-fiction, called The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. I have not yet read it, but a review was helpful to explain that we do in fact live amongst sociopaths who are not murderers and rapists; not because they don’t want to be, but because getting caught would bring consequences that interfere with their desired lifestyle.

The fact is, we all almost certainly know at least one or more sociopaths already. Part of the urgency in reading The Sociopath Next Door is the moment when we suddenly recognize that someone we know—someone we worked for, or were involved with, or voted for—is a sociopath. But what do we do with that knowledge? To arm us against the sociopath, Dr. Stout teaches us to question authority, suspect flattery, and beware the pity play. Above all, she writes, when a sociopath is beckoning, do not join the game.

Now in the political realm, questioning authority is probably most important. But in day to day lives, being suspect of the pity play is more applicable.

(The only reason I haven’t focused much on suspecting flattery is because that one seems more obvious to me. If someone if throwing compliments your way they might be a sociopath, or they might have ulterior motives, or they might just be nice. I think however, that we are used to suspecting flattery: “What are you trying to get?”).

In A Clockwork Orange, Alex and his gang use the appeal to pity on multiple occasions to find victims. In the beginning their standard operating procedure is for Alex to knock on a door and innocently ask for help for his “sick friend who has passed out in the street”. One woman told him she did not have a telephone, but goes to get him some water after he continues his charade. When she fails to lock the dead bolt, he wriggles the chain lock undone, and barges in with his droogs to rape and beat the unsuspecting husband and wife. Of course if she had been less inclined to help someone in need, she may not have been victimized. Unfortunately this means only the most decent people are victimized, because a more selfish person would not fall prey, simply because they would not care about the fake victim.

The next victim of the thugs, an old woman with many cats, suspected that Alex was up to no good, and tells him to go away. Now while they do still break into her house, the old baboochka has time to call the police. This leads to Alex’s arrest and punishment for his crimes. While she was still victimized, the assailant suffered the consequences only when his victim did not fall for the pity play. The night before, Alex got away scott free (and guilt free since he is a sociopath) because his victims did not suspect he was playing on their pity to take advantage of their generosity and charity.

Now believe me, I am not saying you should abandon all charity for your fellow man. Many in need are sincere, and not trying to trick anyone. But beware the pity play. For example, my parents told me a story of how a man came to their Priest’s church claiming he did not have any money to fill his oil tank for winter. For whatever reason, the priest was suspect of this man’s story, but wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, he decided to offer the man some help without putting himself out on a limb. He said that if the man wanted to earn some money he would be happy to pay him to rake some leaves. Well the man started to rake, but about 15 minutes later he was on his phone, and in another 15 minutes he was gone. That Priest’s charity will be better spent on someone who needs it, versus this apparent conman.

So it is not always a matter of blind trust or outright denial. There are ways to help people without putting yourself or your coffer in harm’s way: like giving the homeless man a sandwich instead of money that could go towards drugs. But often we should trust our instincts in situations that could become dangerous for us. Unfortunately it is not safe to give a random stranger a ride somewhere. There may be someone innocent who actually needs your help, but they should understand a stranger’s unease about helping another stranger, when that help puts them at the mercy of their passenger. A sociopath does not care for his victim, and therefore will exploit their good intentions. A normal person would understand your reservations about giving a ride to a stranger.

And of course it is not always just strangers that victimize. Some sociopaths among us you may already know, or even consider friends. We still must be suspect of the pity play. There is a difference between helping a friend in need, and being a doormat for people to wipe their feet on. Again, I think the best strategy is to offer help on your own terms, and the honest man will understand your reservations.

We have a tendency to fear being rude. But there are real dangers out there; as many as 12 million sociopaths could be amongst us in America alone. Sometimes if something doesn’t feel right, it is better to be thought rude, than to be victimized.

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Fears, Nightmares, and Dreams Collide

My friend Ben Mancino is working on a photography project he calls Fears, Nightmares, and Dreams Collide. I was lucky enough to model for one of his shoots. Check out his Facebook page, Ben Mancino Photography.

“Through the Tree Tunnel”

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“Hide and Seek”

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“I can Feel Your Heart Beat”

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This last one is not yet titled. Comment below with your ideas for a title, and we can see if Ben takes your advice 🙂

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Breaking the Cycle: From Ideas to Action

Yesterday I talked about the plethora of options we have in life, and the vast opportunities available for personal gain and fulfillment. But in some sense, it was mostly a theoretical post. Although I gave you my experiences on how I am “breaking the cycle”, there was not much in the way of how others can break the cycle.

Here was a comment from that post:

I think your next post should be “How to break the cycle”. You may have already discussed this in an earlier post with a link to a TED talk, but I think a lot of people end up at a job they hate out of lack of direction or necessity to pay the bills and then wake up one day and they have been there for 5, 10, 20 years and at that point they have invested (or feel that they have invested) too much time to walk away. How do you decide today is the day I am done? Also, how do you harvest your talents for monetary gain? I do not plan to work for my company forever, but I think the scary part can come when you are unable to recognize that you either have talents, or that your talents are valuable to yourself or others. If you do not see value in your own skills or the things you enjoy, then how will you ever market yourself to get a paycheck out of them? Essentially, the scariness factor in leaving your job would directly correlate to your level of self-confidence.

Now, part of the problem is that, like I am talking about, there are countless avenues to follow in life, so there is no one answer on how to break away from the rat race and daily grind. But I think we can all take small steps as part of a bigger goal. While it might work for some people to up and quit their jobs on a whim, most people need some kind of security or back-up plan.

Figuring Out An Alternative

The first problem might be that you don’t know of any way to monetize your passions, or don’t know which passions to try to monetize. This is where you need to do some brainstorming. Write a list of all the businesses you would want to start, if money was not an option. Write a list of all the jobs you would want, if you had the skills and training. Make a list of all your skills, from excel worksheets to gardening, from cleaning toilets to running.

Rate the skills from 1-10 on how much you enjoy doing each one, or rate them in order from most to least enjoyable. Rate the jobs and business lists with 1-10 based on which one you would enjoy the most, and which ones would be the easiest to land. Maybe even group some together if one would be a step to another; example: you want to be a nurse, but you need to go to school first, however you could immediately get a job at a nursing home, which you would find more rewarding than your current job.

You may have a skill you want to focus on, but that itself cannot earn you money. Example: you love to paint or knit, but cannot realistically make a living selling the things you paint or knit. But you could teach others how to paint or knit, or perhaps run one of those bar painting classes. You may never be a pro-tennis player, but could you teach others how to play tennis?

Perhaps you cannot realistically quit your job until you find something to replace it with equal income. You might need to work on something at night or on weekends. The time spent training, studying, building, planning is an investment, and like any investment it can pay off or not. Sometimes it is straightforward like taking night classes to earn a specific degree or certification. Sometimes it is more about building a clientele, or  gaining exposure, or putting together a website.

Plan it out. If you earn the degree, what is the next step to getting the job? If you finish the website, what is the next step to gaining traffic? If you acquire clients, can you fulfill their needs in your free time, and can you sustain them or are they limited time customers? Will your business spread by word of mouth, or do you need another method?

The more planning you do the more confident and comfortable you will be in leaving your job. If you fall short on your planning, it might mean you need to spend more time getting prepared before you can move onto the next step. But usually the planning stages are fun and can invigorate you to make the change quicker. If the planning stages are not exciting, it may be a sign that the end result would not be exciting either.

Planning the Move

I think people in the position of hating their job or being stuck in a rut need to assess what they want and need. If you quit your job, run out of money in two weeks, and start sinking into debt, that is not a long term solution and any momentary happiness will quickly wane.

But if you have a dream already, if you are set in the change you want to make, if you know what you want you just can’t pull the trigger: set a plan in motion to nudge you towards action.

Maybe you know that you need a certain amount of money to live, and a certain amount to start your new venture, whatever that may be. You could save up enough for 4 months before quitting, attempt turning your passion into an income full time for at least 3 months, then reassess to see if you can continue at the same rate, or need to make extra money on the side.

Or you could figure out your actual expenses, strictly budget yourself, and take up a lower paying, but more rewarding job (or at least less time consuming). While doing this job, exploring your interests and honing your skills, you can be planning for your next step. Are you working at the type of store you want to open? Are you gaining skills that will help you start a blog on a certain subject? Are you networking with people in your field to find the next opportunity? Or are you building your future in the newly acquired free time?

Not ready to make the decision on a whim? Set a date in the distance, possibly adding some checkpoints along the way. Set savings goals so that you have more freedom from bills. Keep a jar and put money in it every time you decide not to get a coffee or fast food. Decide at what dollar amount you will leave your current job.

What’s the Worst that could happen?

The not so easy part to answer is if you do not believe in yourself. It is easy for me to say, go out and do it, but I don’t know you. But chances are, if you are not confident, you are underestimating yourself.

Bertrand Russel said, “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts”. Honestly, it is good to have doubts. It shows you are assessing things properly: weighing the risks and rewards. It is not, however, good to let those doubts rule you. They have their place, but it is a support role, not a central piece.

It may help to write down your doubts, and follow them to their logical conclusion. Ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen. I decided to start this blog in July. What is the worst that could happen? No one reads it, or people read it and criticize it. The worst outcome is losing time writing (not that bad since it is still good practice), and the $8 per year for the domain name.

But don’t just be negative, write down the best case scenario as well. My blog takes off, millions of people read it, and I become the millionaire voice of a generation. See, things can only get so bad, but the possible benefits are practically limitless. It may be less likely to end that well, but since the possible negative is negligible, there is really no point in not trying.

Obviously some things will have more negatives, and it is up to you to honestly assess what outcome is most likely. But base your assessment on something, not just “everything goes wrong for me”. Worst case scenario for starting a running shoe store for me would be going into hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and possible bankruptcy. But is that likely if I do my homework in the first place?

If I look into the area I want to start a store: how much rent will cost, what the population is like, if it is a rich or poor area, will the bank give me a loan, and can I recapture any capital if things go south? You may find the worst case scenario is unlikely to happen. While even if things do not end up ideal, perhaps vendors will take back their product for a refund, or perhaps the type of loan can be restructured.

It is useful to realize the full repercussions of what could happen. But those possible negatives should not paralyze you. The worst case scenario should be incentive to make sure you pick a good area, do your homework, and run a tight ship.

While there are always unforeseen circumstances and hurdles, you are not helpless; your life is not completely out of your control. You can affect what happens to you, your business, your ideas, and your life.

It may all be a dream right now, but just because your grand plan will take 5 or 10 years to come to fruition doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it. In fact start now, and in 10 years you will be happy you did. Otherwise you might look back ten years from now and say, wow, I could have earned a degree by now, I could have saved up $100,000 by now, or I could be quitting today to start my own business. But I didn’t start making moves because ten years seemed so far away; almost unattainable.

It is daunting to look ahead with no light at the end of the tunnel. But if not now, then when?

Write a letter to your future self, and seal it with the date you want to read it on. Tell yourself your goals. Capture your enthusiasm and chastise your future self if they lose faith; congratulate your future self if they have made progress. Maybe even respond to the letter, setting more goals, probably shifting the game plan, and seal them up again. This might just be a fun activity for self improvement even if it is not career related or life changing.

Putting My Ideas into Action

Let me end by relating this back to me, because I’m not a success story, I am trying to carve out my niche in this world as well.

I want to publish a book. Well really I want to publish multiple books, and have planned out a whole series that takes place in the same universe. Last January, I had an outline and 0 words. Today I have finished the first draft of 63,000 words that my family and friends are now editing.

Worst case scenario is I wasted a lot of time. But even if this book is not published, I have gained so much writing experience. Now I am ready to start writing another book from the same series, and I get pangs of anxiety since even if I start today, it will be at least March before I am finished. Well if I wait until March I will have nothing and be in the same position as I am now. And if I hadn’t started writing the first one in January, I would still be going back and forth, unsure if I want to possibly waste all that time.

But I pulled the trigger back in January to start, and now have a story, and 63,000 words that I have crafted together to form a novel. I remember when I hit 1,000 words, and 10,000 words, and 30,000 words and thinking about how much further I had to go. It would be easy to have a half finished book on my google drive that every time I go to work on I convince myself not to waste my time, since there is so far to go. But I didn’t do that, and I can now say with certainty that I can write a full length book, thus encouraging me that much more for the next one.

Action begets action. You may not be ready to quit your job, but you can take out a notebook and make the first move.

Don’t Be Scared into the Status Quo: Ordering Off the Menu versus Building Your Own Life

So here’s the conundrum. Life has such vast opportunities, but that means it is impossible to calculate where a choice will lead. It is scary to invite the world in, because inevitably some bad might come in with the good. It can be comfortable to stay were you are at, having reached a benchmark. But there are limitless opportunities and adventures out there! There is not 1 formula for how a life must be lived. With infinite paths, this life can be any combination of experiences, people, adventures, and opportunities you desire. Feel free to mix and match.

The “Sure Thing”

Most of us end up falling back on the sure thing… well as sure as anything can get in this life. We get a job, maybe start a family, save for retirement, and raise some kids. I am not criticizing anyone for doing that if it makes/ made you happy. I think that is an awesome choice for some people, one that can truly be a blessing. But that is one option. To make that choice for yourself is great, but it is natural to try to make your own choice look like the best one, and project outwardly how awesome your circumstances are.

So the problem becomes when enough people collectively adopt the same path, and pressure others to take the same path. Some people do this because they honestly think they took the best possible path and want to help others do the same. Some people are just programmed robots who repeat what they feel they should. Some people are pissed off about their life circumstances and misery loves company.

Don’t let other people talk you out of the typical life if that is what you want, but don’t let anyone trick you into thinking the same thing will make any one of us happy. Everyone is free to make their own choices, but it is hard for some people to resist societal and peer pressure. I am pretty confidant and happy in the abnormal direction I am taking with my life. But even I have to remind myself often that it is okay to not do the same thing “all my friends” are doing, in terms of pursuing careers etcetera.

I am not just saying play video games on the couch your whole life. Actually the opposite. Don’t use “I’m an individual” as an excuse to be lazy and go fewer places, literally of figuratively, than a normal 9-5 would take you. But if you have a plan, and it doesn’t include a cubicle, go for it! I have to constantly remind myself that it is okay that I do not work in a cubicle doing something I hate for five days, just to try to squeeze some enjoyment from the other two, overshadowed by the next 5 days spent doing something I hate.

It makes sense that the “sure thing” is what the majority of people go for. They order off the menu. If you honestly don’t know what you want, you might as well provide yourself with the means to buy necessities, and some spending money to pursue fun and adventure on the side. Even if you do know what you want, the “sure thing”might be the best path to get there. Why try to build my own sandwich when I already see a delicious one available? But some people choose the “sure thing” out of fear, and end up surviving when they should be living.

Build Your Own Happiness

So if that typical work life isn’t for you, try something else. Even just talking about jobs (because I understand we all have needs) there are countless, although most likely lower paying, alternatives to doing something you hate. It may be cliche, but they say do what you love and the money will come. So maybe you like hiking… and just walking around the woods might never earn you much money. But have you looked into becoming a park ranger, a canoe/ kayak guide, or even part of a grounds crew for a park? It might not be glamorous, but for some people the quality of life might be better earning less but working outside.

There are so many ingredients in life, why not try your hand at combining just the right ones for you?

Running is one of my hobbies, so on the side I work for a running shoe store. Is working at a running shoe store the same thing as running? No, but it is closer than working on a computer. I get to interact with runners, trade training tips and knowledge, offer advice, learn from anecdotes, address injuries, and use the stick and the foam roller while getting paid to be there. I work with awesome people, the customers are almost always happy and excited, and I’ve gained enough knowledge and expertise that this job could be a stepping stone. I could use it as a jumping off point to become a coach, a nutritionist, a trainer, or maybe even someday open my own running store.

I am that guy that likes hiking, and no I haven’t earned any money from walking around the woods. But I did pick up foraging, and reading into natural medicines. This is a skill that I practice while hiking; it adds to the fun of being in the woods to identify useful plants. I could see becoming an herbal healer some day, perhaps combining my interests in physical activity with diet, and throw in some experience working for a small business. I’ve got the background to start a natural medicine clinic. And the perfect base for customers would be injury prone runners, who may not know that some ginger and pineapple after a run will help reduce inflammation in the joints, and eating a beet regiment can help open up the blood vessels, increasing oxygen flow.

I don’t know if I am going to go into the running or natural medicine business—right now I am trying my hand in the writing industry. But I do know not to get too caught up in padding my bank account, instead focusing on the endless opportunities that life has in store.

I want to move south, at least for a while. I feel the need to change my surroundings after 25 years, live somewhere new, and experience a different atmosphere. That is scary though, and it is sad just thinking about not seeing certain friends and family for prolonged periods of time. But it is something that will keep me from stagnating, move me forward, and afford me with new opportunities and skills. I haven’t had much opportunity to try my hand at mini-farming, which also fits into my interests and possibilities for future income generation.

And I want to see the world. Again, it might be tough to ever make money on some of these things. But seeing the world gives you perspective, the kind that might impress someone in conversation, the type of someone who happens to be able to get you a job as a tour guide at a museum of fine art. I don’t know! That’s the point, there are a thousand opportunities around every corner, and doing what you love can’t hurt. The more you break outside of the status quo, the more likely things will be new, exciting, and rewarding!

Don’t let fear stop you from doing what you love. It may be safer and easier to stay at a job you hate, pay the bills, and try to squeeze some enjoyment out of life. But if that doesn’t make you happy, it might be time to take a chance, and see where it leads you. Seriously why is 95% of the population trapped in the same “this is how it has to be” mentality, when there are countless, endless opportunities for gains, adventure, fun, knowledge, skills, and anything else you might crave, desire, or need for fulfillment.

Don’t let the fear control you. Don’t be so scared to grab at an opportunity, or create your own opportunity, that you let the sand slip between your fingers. What’s that old cliche: on their death bed, most people don’t regret the things they did, they regret the things they didn’t do.

Single Serve Apple Pie

Thought of this one last night and decided to try it out. I think it is an interesting fall dessert.

I just cored an apple but left in the bottom so that nothing would drip through.

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Then I chopped up the removed apple minus the core, shredded some ginger, and packed that all back into the hollow apple.

Next I drizzled molasses over the top.

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Finally, I threw some granola on top, and baked for about a half hour, at 350.

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It was easy, and actually really good!

You could of course make some changes. Perhaps you would like to use brown sugar and cinnamon instead of molasses. Next time I think I will replace the granola topping with a swedish apple pie crust. The crust is easy, just mix:

  • 3/4 cup of melted butter
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (optional)

Spread this dough on top of the apple, and bake. Of course this will be enough crust for a whole pie, not just one apple, so adjust in proportion accordingly, or freeze the rest for later!

Marriage: A Mile Marker

Today I’ll be heading up to New Hampshire for a wedding. Really, these are the first of my friends from high school to get married. Sure, I went to my cousin’s wedding this past summer, but even though we are the same age, there’s a different aspect to being at a wedding as one of the friends, versus one of the relatives. This will be my first friend wedding, versus family wedding.

It makes me feel old. I still react with shock every time I hear someone my age is getting married or having a baby. It takes me a couple minutes to realize that these are not teenage pregnancies and shotgun weddings. It is actually quite normal to be starting a family at 24 or 25 years old. My sister had two kids at my age, and was celebrating her third wedding anniversary.

It has got to be very exciting to start a new chapter of one’s life, being married. It is a definitive time when one stage ends and another begins; you can’t mistake yourself for a child anymore. Me on the other hand, I still feel like a kid. There’s no threshold I’ve passed that has said, “alright, now life’s different”, so things just seem jumbled into one stage of life. You could say two stages, but the second stage has such a fluid starting point.

Did adulthood start at 16 when I could drive, or 18 when I was “legally” an adult who couldn’t legally drink. At 18 in America, you got another 3 years of being treated like a child. So does adulthood start at 21, at which point everyone wonders why these young adults are still acting like children (because they’ve been treated like children for 21 years, well into historically recognized adulthood).

Some expect artificial milestones to change people, but really, changed people reach organic milestones.

Marriage makes the shift quite obvious. Stage 2: creating your own family. You decide when to get married, it isn’t a predestined time and place for everyone around you to then say, “alright, you’re an adult now!”. The choice is yours, and it is something to embark on when you feel like an adult. There’s an order of operations here. Getting married in order to feel like an adult will probably end poorly; getting married because you feel like an adult makes sense.

It is scary to outsiders like me who see themselves in such a different stage. It is natural to compare yourself with your peers, and wonder if you are doing something wrong. When people start getting married around me, it makes me wonder if there is something I am missing. A flurry of emotions is awakened in the unmarried wedding goer. It makes you think. Do they really have their shit together that much more than me?

I wonder if it feels like wiping the slate clean. Is marriage the time when you can finally get past all the little things that bothered you about adolescence, and all the petty quirks from high school and college? It seems like a perfect time to fully harden the “I don’t care” attitude. The good kind of “I don’t care”, not the Lindsay Lohan kind. The type of “I don’t care” because you got someone that will always have your back. You are no longer alone in the world, to fight your own battles. There is always backup on the way, always an ear ready to listen, and always someone else to share the struggles and the best of times with.

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Interestingly, Nick and Amanda have been together for a decade at the age of 24. This isn’t one of those “is it gonna last” marriages: they have already passed the seven year itch. Marriage just makes it official, confirms what we have all known for a long time: that this pair makes sense together. They add something to the other, they work well together. They have already been moving through life together for a long time, but tomorrow, there will be no mistaking it. It is Team Amanda and Nick, entering adulthood together.

Congratulations, Amanda and Nick! You are marking the first official time when we can sit back and reminisce, sure that certain things are exclusively in the past. We may never again frolic on the golf course late at night, setting off firecrackers and running from no one. We might be done packing 5 people into a canoe, sunken so far into the water one false move will sink it; lighting fires and sending soda cans rocketing off the coals.

These events can clearly be designated to the Stage 1 of life,  and viewed through a new lens. From here the conversations will begin to shift; instead of talking about how cool we are for drinking, and causing trouble, we will probably be discussing how to keep our future children from drinking and causing trouble. How the hell did we make it out of there unscathed? That has already happened with my sister and some of her friends. I consider my experienced advice invaluable to them.

It is funny how it can seem like a blink of an eye from being a kid, to being an adult. Marriage, like most ceremonies, has as much meaning as you want to give it. Some people think there is something magical about ceremonies; that due to marriage an outside force will make you a different person. That’s not true though. Marriage is something to undertake when you are ready to make yourself a different person. Otherwise it would be putting the cart before the horse, and I see that too often. People think that getting married will make their boyfriend become more mature, or their girlfriend act more like a stereotype.

But I know it is not like that for Nick and Amanda. I think you guys have got it all figured out. You’re not doing it for other people, and you are not doing it as a way to convince yourselves of anything. Marriage won’t change anything by itself; you have already gotten to that point, made the positive change. Marriage is just the celebration, the recognition of what you have, and will have for the rest of your lives!

Nashoba Valley Brewery and Orchards

Right off 495 in central Massachusetts is a great place to go pick apples, or take a tour of the brewing and winemaking facilities. This brewery is located right on an orchard and farm that produces much of the ingredients that go into the wine. They have a variety of wine that I tried at their tasting bar (just $6 for a tasting, $10 for a tour), and got my included wine glass to take home. But let’s be honest… I’ve done all this before, about a half dozen times. It is a great place to return to year after year.

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They mostly had golden delicious available for picking, which made me branch out, since I would usually go for the macintosh and cortland varieties. But The golden are indeed delicious, and I have already started making some super apple products. My favorite is an apple salsa I threw together with chopped up apples, ginger, red pepper, garlic, turmeric, and a little olive oil. I also probably threw some salt and a couple other spices in there… it’s fun to experiment, but it means never really making the same thing twice.

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It was the epitome of a new england day, mid sixties, dry, sunny; crisp as the apples we were picking. It was actually pretty busy around the brewery for the early afternoon on a Friday, but out in the orchard we didn’t run into too many people.

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Don’t worry about those apples on the ground, they are what will be used for cider! It is always good to take a step back, slow down, and enjoy the scenery. This is the part of New England I would miss. The quickly approaching frigid temperatures though… not so much.

My Theory on the Secret to Great Health (and suggestions on foods to integrate into your diet)

The Benefit of Variation

I named this blog Joe Jarvis explains it all, and damnit I intend to explain it all! Eventually…

As for today I’ll share with you the secret to perfect health! Okay I might be exaggerating slightly. But I am being serious when I say that variety is key to health.

Every so often there is a big hype about something that will supposedly double your lifespan. Add turmeric to everything because the curcumin is the elixir of life! And you know what, turmeric is really good for you. But sometimes we focus too much on one thing and lose the forest through the trees.

There might be a million things your body needs, and turmeric might have 900,000 of them. But if all you use to boost your health is turmeric, you will be missing 100,000 needed health agents.

So add some ginger, garlic, and onions; foods I swear by. Maybe they each have 900,000 of their own benefits, and when they are all figured in, after the healthy overlap, you get 970,000 of the things you need out of a million.  That’s pretty good, but why stop there?

You like apples so you have an apple everyday. Great! But still, apples have very different constituents than oranges. And oranges don’t have everything that kiwis have, which don’t have everything that pineapple has. But if you decide to try a new fruit each week, while also getting your fill of the classic favorites, you’re undoubtedly going to be scooping up nutrients, antioxidants, and amino acids that your body may otherwise have lacked.

And since each fruit, vegetable, and spice is so complex, even science cannot yet properly pinpoint everything the food will do for you. Why wait for the research to come out, when you could inadvertently be preventing hundreds of diseases, just by eating lots of different healthful and delicious foods?

Variation! The same principle applies to exercise. Any one exercise is good for you, but could put a lot of stress on particular joints, and only strengthen particular muscles. But if you cross train, do a little running, some biking, a bit of lifting, and yoga, you will be strengthening more muscles, and spreading the workload across various joints and ligaments.

Running may prevent heart disease, but cause joint inflammation. Lifting may increase bone density, but stress ligaments. Yoga may protect muscles and joints, but do little in the way of preventing heart disease. All together, each in moderation, you will have a pretty good formula for protecting the muscles and bones, preventing heart disease, and avoiding long term damage in any one area.

Same goes for healthy food. If you always eat the same 10 fruits and vegetables, you will probably be pretty healthy. But suppose you are chronically low on one particular nutrient or antioxidant. Well whatever illness that nutrient prevents might be what gets you!

I’m not trying to scare anyone, and I feel like not getting too worked up about these things is important, since stress itself can be more harmful to you than what you are stressing about. But if you are constantly switching up what you eat, you  are that much more likely to get important nutrients that may otherwise fall between the cracks.

Ginger has almost a dozen antiviral compounds, and each one varies in effectiveness against various virus’s. If you start feeling flu symptoms, chances are ginger will help. But garlic and licorice also have antiviral constituents, and while some may overlap, parts of each plant will be more effective in different areas and against different viral strains. Varying the intake of antiviral foods when you start to feel sick increases the number of different antiviral compounds, which makes it more likely to kill whatever virus is ailing you. Also, it increases the overall volume of the helpful components. You may find it tough to each 5 cloves of garlic per day, but you could easily put two in your dinner, throw some ginger in your salad, and put some licorice in your tea.

Target Ailments with Specific Foods

If you are the health conscious type, you may even want to tailor your intake of veggies and fruits towards whatever has recently been ailing you. I’m a runner, so I try to eat a lot of pineapple and ginger, both powerful anti-inflammatories. In addition to reducing joint pain, and warding off tendonitis, pineapple contains a protein dissolving compound which can help prevent gout, by dissolving the crystals which form and collect in the joints. So even when you eat a food to target one ailment, it will almost certainly overlap to prevent another ill.

But again, don’t stop with pineapple and ginger. If swelling and inflammation is a problem—and lots of research suggests inflammation is an underlying long term cause of many killer diseases—then try different anti-inflammatories that will all tackle the problem with slightly different compounds that may be variably effective on different people, parts of the body, and sources of inflammation. Turmeric would be a great addition to an after workout smoothie to reduce swelling, and in addition it would inadvertently help keep your liver healthy. You could also forage some dandelions, and beyond draining excess fluid, some research suggests the flowers could actually help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

The bottom line is that no matter how good for you one fruit, vegetable, or spice, it will never cover all of your bases. But eating a plethora of different fruits, veggies, and spices will vastly expand how many beneficial compounds are introduced to your body, possibly eradicating a problem before symptoms ever even show up. And anyway, it’s fun to try new stuff! So here are a few suggestions for health foods that might be a good starting point to expand your horizons.

Avocado: This is a great source of beneficial fats which can also reduce inflammation. Avocado can help with skin issues too. I try to eat avocado daily if possible during the winter, since dry skin can be a problem in New England. It also helps people absorb beneficial fat soluble compounds in other vegetables, so throwing one in a salad is a good idea.

Brazil Nut: This is another promising possibility for treating and preventing Alzheimer’s disease, since a compound in them prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine, thought to be a cause of the disease and accompanying memory loss. The brazil nut is like a multi-vitamin in a shell; just a couple per day provide all the selenium (prevents cancer), and vitamin E you need, as well as large doses of copper, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, calcium, and the good fatty acids that lower bad cholesterol, and boost good cholesterol.

Beets: Try having some beets before a workout, because they expand the blood vessels, and will therefore get more oxygen to the mussels, increasing performance and aiding in recovery. Also a great blood purifier and liver repair man, beets are another who’s who of essential vitamins and minerals. And the sugars from beets are released into the body slowly, increasing energy without the classic “sugar crash”.

Collard Greens: These and similar leafy greens can prevent macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the elderly. The antioxidants neutralize free-radicals which damage nerves in the back of the eye. In addition to their antioxidant content, collard greens are another anti-inflammatory, and help detoxify the body by activating our own enzymes. These three factors combined are why collard greens are said to prevent many cancers.

Purslane: I now see purslane everywhere! It is a common fleshy “weed” that can be foraged, found creeping along the ground in lawns and parking lots. You could also find it at a farmer’s market, or Whole Foods. Purslane apparently contains the highest levels of omega-3 fats of any edible plant, and “10 to 20 times more melatonin—an antioxidant that may inhibit cancer growth—than any other fruit or vegetable tested”.

Red Pepper: If you like spice, throw some hot red pepper in everything you can, especially if you have any chronic pain. Capsaicin is what helps reduce pain, by triggering the body to release endorphins. These pain reducing benefits can also be absorbed through the skin, by applying a capsaicin cream to sore area, and arthritic joints. The spicy heat also increases blood flow to the area, and promotes healthy circulation in general. Red pepper can also help aide in weight loss, by increasing the metabolic rate and body temperature after meals.

Food can be your medicine, and generally with fewer and less harmful side effects. The real key to health is preventing rather than treating illnesses. If your diet includes all different spices, foreign fruits, obscure vegetables, and foraged fare, you are that much more likely to give your body what it needs, and then some!

Thanks to James A. Duke who wrote The Green Pharmacy for informing me on much of what I’ve shared here.