Monday, November 23, 2015

MOvember II, Beating Cancer in a Manly Fashion

     Much of the patient-authored info floating around the net comes from our sister cancer warriors, and it seems that the boys are less likely to publish their thoughts.  Our wives and mothers know all too well how we handle being sick, so it's worth sharing some thoughts with the gents out there on how we get through this.  The points listed below are things that I was either told or should have been told, mostly from my medical team or survivors.  Getting through the initial stress of diagnosis was the least supported part of my treatment, but an experienced patient can nudge you in the right direction.  Wax the 'stache into some handlebars, pour a brandy, light off a good stogie and scroll on.  Here's how we beat cancer in a manly fashion.

Forget everything you ever knew about cancer, treatment, survival and how you expected to handle it.  If you thought you'd never seek treatment if diagnosed, or that treatment was pointless and everyone who gets it dies anyway, you're wrong.  Cancer and treatment are extremely complex, and the treatment between forms of the disease can be radically different.  Your will to keep walking on this planet will overpower your previous thoughts on dying with your boots on instead of seeking treatment.

You're not dead.  Not today.  Not tomorrow, either.  No matter how serious your case is, there is time.  It may sound ridiculous, but the stress at diagnosis feels like you're going to be executed at dawn.  Take a breath and read the next paragraph.

Prepare for the most intense stress of your life.  I dealt with some unbelievable mental pressure in my long law enforcement career, but the first couple of months after cancer diagnosis set the high mark.  It's time to clear the calendar and the mind, reduce your load and take any steps necessary to slow down and get a grip.  You'll stop sleeping. It's time for family, work and obligation to know that you're on the bench for now.  Your health must be the center of attention for a while.  The world will have to learn how to revolve around you for a bit.  Many head for the bottle or anti-depressants at this point, but I believe it's important to get through all of the stages of this hellish experience with as clear a head as possible to get it over with.  

Get off Google.  You want answers, so you'll become an online researcher.  It's a natural response, but results are hard to understand.  Survival charts can look pretty dismal, but they don't account for variations like age, existing health, treatment tolerance, genetic mutations, etc.  My favorite go-to place for information online is M.D Anderson's web site and COLONTOWN, a very closely moderated and secret Facebook page for survivors and caregivers.  Many people tend to fade from online forum communities after they are cured, but Facebook users stick around. "COLONTOWNies" are very helpful with new patients, and these sort of groups are extremely helpful and encouraging, and after a few weeks you'll understand what I mean about statistics. It takes some searching, but I guarantee there's something like it for whatever cancer you're facing.  You'll be very surprised at how many survivors are walking around disease free after beating aggressive forms of the disease.

Everything is slow.  Test results can take forever.  Appointments are days or weeks away.  Surgeries seem to be over the horizon.  It's not like a heart attack or a car crash.  Updates take a long time.  You'll feel like a shark, wanting to constantly move forward.  Be prepared and understand that the wait isn't killing your body, just your patience.  

Prepare for the reactions of other people.  This was the one I never saw coming.  Everyone around you will encounter stress over your cancer diagnosis, and their response may not be helpful.  It may even seem thoughtless or rude, or cause more stress.  The best defense is a buffer, a person willing to pass news and keep the load off the patient.  Others will have to understand that you're the center of the universe for now.  It's not a comfortable place to be, but it's necessary.  Make sure people understand what sort of interaction you need, and that needing to be alone to rest doesn't mean you have a pistol in your mouth.  Whether you need some space or some company, be honest to everyone around you. This is a great topic to share with other survivors.  

Understand "positive thinking."  We're warriors, fathers, fixers, teachers and leaders.  We're closer to reality and probability than the sending of good vibes.  Most thoughts will be pretty dark.  There's a lot of dread, ugliness and death around cancer, and positive thinking won't cure or prevent it.  Acknowledging the dark stuff is vitally important and a part of our thinking, but don't let go of anything that makes you happy and clears your head.  You'll need it.  If you're hounded about your dark thoughts, search hard for cracks of light to break the trend.  They're out there and will keep you sane.  

Don't be a jerk.  This is universal, old-fashioned good stuff from your dad here, but I've seen big, brawny guys act like bratty little kids in the chemo room.  This is where you "man up."  You'll feel like shit and be terrified, but don't take it out on anyone trying to take care of you.  Sometimes we have to be carried. Tighten up so you're easier to lift. If you're married, you'll understand why dealing with sickness is in the vows.  Treat your caregivers and supporters with the love and respect they're earning.

Dig in.  Treatment sucks.  It's painful and tiring.  It's frustrating because it eats your masculine fiber.  It does grow back, but it's slow.  Pull-starting a lawn mower or walking to the mailbox might be a "heavy" day for a while, but it's important to file that away as a healing evolution and be proud that you made it.  You'll get tired of sitting around being weak, but it will pass.  It sounds horribly cliche, but you have to be stronger than the disease.  Most importantly, listen to your care provider and do exactly what you're told.  If you go through chemotherapy, be prepared for temporary changes in mood and thought processes.  You'll likely be scatterbrained and emotional.  You may cry over chick flicks.  Really.

Beware the false prophets. You'll be amazed at the idiocy that people believe on the topic of cancer.  Don't discount valuable holistic and alternative treatments that help with your recovery and minimize side effects, but don't buy into the hype.  Your medical crew isn't out to suck money from you.  Saving your life is expensive and worth it.

Seek the best treatment possible.  Large cancer hospitals offer treatment may not be available in smaller cities.  That's not to say that physicians or treatment in other places is sub-par, but you'll find very specialized medicine in the bigger centers.  I received excellent care at my local center for chemo and radiation, but my surgery was handled by a specialist in a large center. The downside to big hospitals is that the cost of travel may be prohibitive for some.  There are charities and support groups for patients needing help with these extra expenses.  Please consider supporting them.

Do exactly as you're told.  Take notes, bring someone with a clear head to appointments,  read everything that's given to you, ask questions and follow directions. Know what you're supposed to do and follow every instruction.  Don't hide symptoms.  Most treatment centers offer an online log to write down notes as often as needed for your staff to monitor how you're doing.  Use it.  Feedback to your care team is critical.  Don't make someone have to tell your doctor how you're really doing.  This valuable advice saved me quite a bit of discomfort along the way.

Don't fear tough changes.  People have died because they feared life with a colostomy or similar life-changing mod to their factory gear.  I had an ileostomy (similar to a colostomy) for seven months, and it's not a big deal.  Colostomy bags and similar appliances come in cartoon character patterns for infants and children.  You can be as tough as them.  There's a reason you hear the word "life" before "limb." We're pretty resilient creatures and can adapt to just about anything.

Recovery feels strange.  Treatment is a battle.  It's a challenging, busy time.  When it's over, things are oddly quiet.  You're checked less and less often as you heal and beat the disease, and it feels very odd to not be under constant care.  It's tough to focus on rebuilding your health, but that's the goal.  Not only does restoring health seem to help prevent recurrence in some cases, it will be critical to survival should you have to fight again.  It may take years to feel completely normal again.  This is a great time to communicate with other survivors and keep your head straight.

When you're healed, give something back.  Be thankful and appreciative of your supporters and medical staff.  Help others.  Stay active in patient social media circles.  We always want to hear from survivors.  Volunteer at your local center.  Participate in fundraising and awareness.  Grow a goofy Victorian mustache and spam your friends with a blog.

Hopefully this is information that my growing reader base will never need.  Just about every survivor I've encountered is happy to discuss their treatment, especially the hacks that make it more tolerable.  We always look to veterans of the job at hand for pointers, and cancer is no different.  Never be afraid to ask for help.  It's out there.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

MOvember Message for Men

Movember/No-Shave-November is upon us.  It’s a great time to sport the monster “mo” to support a cause.  I’m sure there’s no shortage of charities happy to take money, but I’m using my magnificent handlebar creation for awareness.  I’m a colon cancer survivor.  What’s more, I’m the annoying diet/exercise guy who wouldn’t eat the office birthday cake and takes lunch at the gym.  In a 24 year police and military career, I’ve been subject to physical fitness tests and medical exams all my adult life.  My bride and I are solvent, young empty nesters who live mostly on home-cooked organic food.  I don’t have a family history of colon cancer.  I’m not a cigarette smoker or heavy drinker.  Statistically, I shouldn’t have cancer, but at 42 years old, I got the bad news.

I’m very often asked how I discovered the disease, and that’s an important part of my story.  I was passing blood.  In the vast majority of cases, that’s not a big deal.  It’s almost always attributed to hemorrhoids, which is the diagnosis given in my first doctor’s visit, without an exam.  I was given an expensive foam medication and sent home.  I returned a week or two later, insisting that I did not have any other symptoms supporting hemorrhoids and was still bleeding.  I was finally checked for ‘roids the “old fashioned” way and nothing was found.  I was referred to another doctor who insisted that I was “fine” before performing tests that discovered a tumor.  In further testing an unrelated tumor was found in my thyroid.

Otherwise, I felt fine.  I had recently made personal record length mountain climb and competed in the U.S. Fencing nationals.  I didn’t feel sick, but a year of treatment took care of that.  After radiation, chemotherapy and five surgical procedures, I’m currently cancer-free.  I’m not back to my original athletic levels, and that may never happen.  That’s one of the tick marks in the “sucks” category, but I’m alive and otherwise happy.  Whether or not I’ll stay that way for long is a complete crapshoot, but my cancer was discovered rather late (stage IIIc) which means that I most likely won’t have to deal with having gray hair. 

A number of reasons led me to be open about my experience, but the most outstanding was learning how many people lived with symptoms of the disease and never sought treatment.  Even more shocking is the number of people who sought treatment and were sent home with a non-life threatening diagnosis.  I was completely amazed by how many people asked detailed questions about the color, frequency and other characteristics about the bleeding because they were experiencing the same issues but wouldn’t see a doctor.  In a Reddit thread about assumptive behavior in medicine, I shared my story.  Here’s a response from someone appearing to be in medicine:   

  "A digital rectal exam can't diagnose colon cancer.  The vast majority of people who come in with bright red blood per rectum have hemorrhoids, it's not worthwhile to have them all undergo colonoscopies, plus if we did that, it would keep a lot of people from ever seeing the doctor." 

This person is right, but I have two issues with this.  First, my personal health concerns do not involve “the vast majority of people."  I’m all about the greater good at times, but this isn’t one of them.  Second, a digital rectal exam, in my case, excluded most hemorrhoid conditions and led to a colonoscopy.  Had I waited longer than a couple of weeks to press further, my life would have been shortened by many years, especially many good years.

Colon cancer isn’t just a man’s disease, but male survivors just aren’t as vocal as our fairer counterparts.  In honor of the No-Shave November theme, here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way for the midlife guys to squeeze a bit more juice out of life.  Gentlemen, I give you Matt’s MOvember Message for Men in a social-media listed format:

1.       Take charge of your healthcare.  You’re driving the boat.  Ask questions and make sure you understand everything. We’d all rather face a bear than deal with tough health issues.  We have to be emotionally courageous as well as physically.

2.       Take advantage of free screenings.  Blood drives, employee clinics and health fairs offer free screenings that may point out problems before they grow beyond control.

3.       Seek the best care.  We will drive hours for a good hunting lease, a new car or a concert.  Why not two hours for a specialist?   

4.       Don’t be cheap.  Yes, good healthcare is expensive and our system isn’t perfect.  Honest discussion with your provider will very often bring down the cost for a cash patient.  Much of the overhead in medical care is in the cost of dealing with insurance.  It never hurts to ask.

5.       Diet and exercise aren’t just buzzwords.  Yes, even athletic people with the perfect diet get cancer, but that’s not an excuse to live on potato chips and beer alone.  Facing the disease with a strong body significantly improves your survival because you can tolerate aggressive treatment and recover faster and stronger than most.  You don’t have to run marathons or Crossfit yourself to the orthopedic specialist.  Try walking for an hour.

6.       Don’t be afraid.  I have actually heard grown-ass men say that they won’t get any exam that involves butt stuff.  It’s time to grow up and get a camera poked up your arse.  Trust me, it’s better than the ass traffic involved in beating cancer.  If you get cancer, you’ll want to beat it.

7.       Don’t smoke.  Cigarettes will kill you.  

8.       Know your history.  Health problems are often hereditary, so start your prevention early.

9.       Easy on the booze.  Here’s another area where moderation makes the man.  If you have a problem, fix it.

10.   Your mind matters.  It’s time for us to realize that John Wayne was an actor, and just being tough all the time doesn’t fix everything.  It’s true that there’s a lot of hype and over-diagnosis in mental health issues, but depression, anxiety and similar issues are very common and will take a toll on physical health if not faced.  Grow a pair and face the demons.  Turn on the bullshit filter and turn off frustrating news feeds.  Whether it’s in a church, circle of friends or the middle of a lake, get your thoughts straight enough to sleep at night.

11.   Don’t discount “alternative” therapies.  Yoga, massage and chiropractic treatment will repair or prevent many problems before you take it to a specialist.  It’s not witchcraft.  Don’t be the guy in assless motorcycle chaps calling others “gay” for going to a yoga class.  Yoga guy is surrounded by women in tights.  Assless chaps guy is hanging out with other assless chaps guys.  Let that image sink in.

12.   Beware the snake oil.  I have had people look me straight in the eye and tell me that consuming some obscure fruit or baking soda will cure cancer.  Remember the red wine/resveratrol thing, and how great it is for your heart?  The damage caused by alcohol outweighs the benefit.  The bullshit tide rides high in health issues.

13.   Make time.  Take time for exercise and mental decompression.  You’re not abusing your kids by taking some “me” time and clearing the head.  You might accidentally teach your kids that everyone deserves a little space.

14.   Be safe.  Break out the safety glasses that came with your finish nailer.  They’re probably still in the wrapper.  Be safe in your work and play.  Injuries in the 40+ class will take you out of the game longer.

15.   Encourage your buddies.  Share success and lean on others to help with health goals.

Take care of the machine, gents!  

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Cecil and the White Guy

     I'm usually on the receiving end of the race card, which the presenter always seems to "hate" playing.  When the story of Cecil the lion scrambled masses of keyboard commandos to action, I recalled some recent social media chatter about dead African wildlife and decided it was my turn to throw it down.

     Over the past few years the random meme forwarding activists have been upset over big game hunters with various captions, either cheerleaders or entire families killing African big game.  The internet warriors launched threat and smear campaigns against the hunters through their key-clacking efforts across the electronic ether.

     Let's get the particulars out of the way.  I'm a hunter and an omnivore.  A previous post details my attempt at veganism.  I'm blessed with access to hunting grounds with ample herds of whitetail deer, and I fill my freezer with free-range, organic, grass fed, humanely and legally harvested meat every year.  I tried archery hunting, and despite my high level of marksmanship, I found the potential for injuring an animal too high.  Archery caused Cecil's suffering, according to what I've read.  I appreciate the challenge of hunting up close, but I prefer my kill to hit the ground dead.  No suffering, no tracking, no trauma.  From on-the-hoof to unprocessed meat in less than a second is a far better fate than commercial food animals face.  It's the way I'd prefer to go.

     I've met several hunters of African game.  While they hunt for trophy, each has told me in detail how the entire animal is consumed by locals, except for what returns with the hunter.  The hunts are expensive (five digits or so) and are conducted through government management programs.  This means that only certain animals may be hunted.  This type of management often saves animals from a horrible natural death, as seen in the video below.  The legality of Cecil's demise is questioned, of course.

      Not long before Cecil's fate, I stumbled onto an article about anti-poaching efforts underway in Africa.  Poaching kills larger numbers than legal hunting, and is not selective about taking only animals beneficial to management.  These are the people causing animals to become extinct.  The reason for the hunting is ivory, and one effort involves an injected dye to turn off buyers of poached and exported ivory.  Some efforts consider poisoning rhino horns with the intent to kill consumers.  This is where I learned some important things about ivory.  It is illegally and unethically harvested in Africa by Africans to feed an Asian market who believes it has
miraculous curative properties.

     That's when it hit me.  The keyboard warriors aren't after the most imminent threat to African wildlife, they're after their greatest foe:  Affluent white people.  Every photo I've seen cross my feed has a dead animal next to one of the three great evils in social media:  A rich white guy, attractive white girl, or rich white family, or a rich white family reported as Christian.  Religious groups are hated as well, but somehow believing rhino horn cures cancer or a hangover isn't as interesting in a tweet as slamming a Caucasian dominant religion.

     The meme forwarding masses stir the pot and ignite hatred with images of white people killing game, when the actual threat to numbers of African wildlife are being decimated by Africans (not white) harvesting animals to feed the superstition-based hunger of Asian countries (also not white).  In every reputable story I've seen about white people killing African game, African people benefit from the money, food and other resources derived from taking the animal.  The hunts are extremely expensive with the intent to maximize revenue with a relatively small number of harvested animals.  One American hunter I spent some time with told me that their hunting party assisted in anti-poaching activities as required by law, which is fairly common for legal foreign hunters.  Poachers take the ivory and let the animal rot, and they're not likely to selfie an emotional photo with the dead animal, but the photos are out there, and very graphic.  I'll bet you've never seen one cross your news feed.
We should be upset about Cecil's fate because he could have been taken by more ethical means, but it would be nice for the committed Facebook avengers to concentrate their efforts on poachers rather than lawful hunters, or maybe educate themselves on game management a bit.  Here we have another issue driven astray by racism and emotion over facts.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Guads

El Capitan - Photo by Matt Vann

There's one great thing about living in Midland, Texas:  There are far better places to be and they’re a day’s travel or less.  Mountains, forests, big cities, charming small towns, lakes, rivers and oceans are weekend destinations for us.  One of the most overlooked spots is Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GMNP), about three and a half hours to the west.

Almost everyone in the area is familiar with Carlsbad Caverns National Park, but fewer know about the “Guads,” just a few miles away along the same mountain chain.  This is probably because the Guads are for a different sort of visitor than the Caverns.  There’s no hotel nearby, only a primitive camping area and a parking lot for RV’s.  There are no hookups and you won’t hear generators running all night.  Decent restrooms and a dishwashing area are all the amenities you’ll find other than what you brought.  The people you’ll run into at the park are pretty “outdoorsy” types and won’t be carousing at the next campsite all night.
Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, is probably the most popular hike in the park.  Most who start it are not prepared.  A trip up the peak and back takes around eight hours or so and it’s very strenuous for the average person.  I compare it to climbing stairs all day.  The top offers spectacular view and the opportunity to sign the register at the peak’s monument.  Like many others, my first trip up the peak was miserable, but I was very young and not prepared.  I think the peak is a bit overrated in comparison to the experience offered by other trails in the park.  I encourage people to try some of the other trails in the park before taking on the peak.
The day hikes offered in the park are worth a weekend trip.  You’ll get a little taste of the elevation changes you'll face in the higher country, but it’s not exhausting.  I always recommend Devil’s Hall, Smith and Manzanita Springs, McKittrick Canyon and El Capitan trails for day trips.  All offer spectacular views.  I’ve often made solo “decompression trips” to the park on my motorcycle at the end of the work week.  With the bike packed the night before, I can leave after work on Friday and be enjoying a cigar at sunset from my campsite.  I can hit a couple of day trails, take the long way home and be back in time for dinner on Saturday.
The most impressive aspect of the Guads is the transformation from arid desert at the bottom to pine forest at higher elevation.  Tejas trail is the best way to experience this.  Tejas is not as tough as the peak but it’s a good climb.  If you still have some energy, you can check out nearby Hunter’s Peak, the third highest of the peaks.  It’s a full day of hiking but you’ll be back at the campground in plenty of time for dinner.

Backcountry camping is the best way to experience the park.  My favorite trip in GMNP is Bush Mountain, the second highest climb.  Round-trip is about 12 miles, so it’s not a day hike.  Leaving Midland around 6:00 a.m, I can hit the park headquarters about the time they open.  I can be in the high country before the day’s heat sets in, even in mid-summer.  Lunch will be in the pines and dinner is on Bush Mountain.  The return trip gets a little hot coming back on the next day, but it’s bearable.  Backcountry is the way to experience the tougher trails, even the peak.  Even though I’ve been up the peak several times, I spent the night in the peak’s campground once and thoroughly enjoyed the morning hike back down because I wasn’t exhausted.

There are several big things to be aware of before hiking in the park.  First, there is no water ANYWHERE except the park headquarters, so you will be packing in every drop you’ll need for the entire trip.  Nothing in the park is more dangerous than dehydration.  Second is wind.  The Guads are known for unpredictable winds.  I’ve had winds go from dead calm to actually blowing me down within a few hours.  Be ready for this.  Apart from winds is the weather in general.  Check the weather carefully and understand that the canyons and mountain tops have their own climate.  I’ve scorched at the bottom and shivered at night in mid-summer.  Clif Sikes and I left for the Mescalero site one January.  We were wearing T-shirts at the trailhead and found ourselves in parkas while pitching tents in the snow up top.  Just like the Boy Scouts and the Coast Guard say, be prepared.
The park headquarters website is the first place to check for info on park conditions and alerts.  Wunderground has weather stations at different altitudes at the park and will help prepare for conditions.  Finally, even though cell coverage in the park is generally good and true GPS devices are better than ever, it’s always a great idea to carry a map, and the National Geographic series is one of the best.

Break in a set of good boots and head for the Guads!  Keep your gear light and bring a good camera.  Be ready to share dinner with a curious mule deer or kangaroo rat.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, take your time and sit in the shade.  Bring a bottle of wine and a couple of lawn chairs for an evening at the campground.  I’ll see you along the trail somewhere! 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The $1000 Foil Hat Challenge – Put Up or Shut Up

Image Courtesy of
                Readers outside of Texas may not know the story, so here’s the brief:  One of two Walmart stores in Midland, Texas closed suddenly.  The story from Walmart was that plumbing issues were being repaired and the store would reopen in six months.  At the same time, the military announced a training exercise, called “Jade Helm,” to be held in a small town about half an hour away.  That’s where all reality stops in the story.
                What followed is an explosion of stupidity.  Conspiracy fanatics, incapable of understanding basic high school levels of geography, physics, math, history or logic, radiated an unprecedented amount of garbage onto the internet.  The prevailing conspiracy theory is that military forces are involved and Walmart is going to be used as a prison camp.  There's some variance to these stories, but this is the central theme.  They suddenly noticed anything suspicious to them, including the many trucks and trains passing through town, as they have for years, carrying military vehicles.  Septic tanks became FEMA caskets, and suddenly there was an outbreak of UN vehicles all over the internet in the form of re-posted photos of UN vehicles manufactured in the US.  The five military branches all use our international airport as a fuel stop, but suddenly their mission has changed to surreptitious preparatory action.

                If you are a believer and you really want to wake the “sheeple,” please read on.  I have a challenge for you.  This is your chance to show the world that you’ve done the research and you are serious about stopping the coming storm.  I am doing this for two reasons.  First, if you are right, you are one of the most important people in history.  You have deciphered the most complex conspiracy against citizens that has ever been devised.  You have decoded the coming of the greatest tragedy against the American people, caused by their own government, in the history of this nation.  Second, I think you are wrong.  I don’t care how much you hate Obama or whoever is upsetting you today, your theory is crap.  What is the challenge?

                Put your money where your mouth is.  A very wise crime analyst told me that people tend to make the best decision based on available data when they have to put up their own, hard-earned scratch.  This is your chance.  Your research cost you nothing.  Those hours on Infowars cost precious heartbeats and Hot Pockets, but not actual Benjamins.  Show the world you are serious about saving lives.  Make a wager with me.

                I will make a bet with any conspiracy theorist, as long as it is legal in both jurisdictions, that there will be no military occupation, no declaration of martial law and no mass internment, execution or relocation of US citizens due to some political military takeover.  Sure, there will be provisions.  It won’t apply to riots or insurrection along the lines of Baltimore or Ferguson, where National Guard troops may interact.  I’m talking about troops, US or foreign, marching into town and herding people into the FEMA death camps.  A natural disaster won’t cut it, no matter who you say caused it.  It’s boots on the ground and butts in camps or graves, even if we’re the only genocidal race in the world to ever produce caskets in advance of the event.  You say it’s going to happen, I say it’s not.

                Fine print is negotiable, but takers must be ready to put the cash up front.  If you’re afraid the financial system is going to implode, rest assured that I will back my cash position with things you’ll love, like guns and ammo.  If you’re right and we find ourselves on a FEMA train headed to Walmart, I promise you a $1000 back rub during the trip.

                This is a call to action, and I'm taking the action.  Stop putting more rails on your rifle and declare your interest by commenting.  Show the world that Alex Jones is right, and that you believe $1000 deep in the cause!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

10 Reasons to Dump Facebook for Reddit

      Facebook has everything needed to be successful in today’s culture.  It sucks away hours of time with meaningless drivel, drama and completely unoriginal thought.   I drastically reduced my Facebook consumption as a Lenten goal to better focus my time.  That turned out to be a metamorphic choice.

     When I opened a Facebook account years ago, I wasn’t sure the lackluster site would ever be as popular as MySpace.  My fortune telling skills never improved but I enjoyed a period of relative peace with Facebook.  Like everyone else, I enjoyed keeping in touch with family, friends and others who I didn’t get to spend time with on a daily basis.  I was encouraged to build a large “friend” base to promote my music efforts and it worked. 

     That’s how Facebook sinks the teeth in.  When it becomes your central news feed, a scrolling current events medium with your morning coffee, is when the darkness creeps into your very being.  Despite a  very interesting collection of artists, writers, musicians, scientists, geeks and tradesmen on my page, a significant amount of noise creeps through.  Despite my efforts to weed it out using the “follow” feature, maddening stuff still creeps through and makes my coffee taste like bile.  

     Still, as with passive-aggressive yet very attractive girlfriend, you keep going back.  Just like the last time, the interesting article a high school buddy posted about the Martian plumes is bookended by the same cat video and political re-post that disgusted you the last time.  Sure, you can unfollow, but you’ll wind up unfollowing 90% of your friends list, so why not just delete our account?

     We don’t want to delete because, despite what we may want to think, we are social creatures.  The rantings of our true friends and family make us smile, but large friend lists dilute the experience.  It really sucks up the time, especially if you’re using it to “cherry pick” your news, as I did.  When Lent rolled around, I added Facebook to the fire of time-vampires.  I chose to use the time for more productive things.  The plan was pretty simple.  I don’t have the option of deleting or completely abandoning my account.  I’m in it for the long haul because it’s a means of communication within organizations and circles very precious to me as well as my day job, so there’s no going back.  The plan was to check messages and group updates a time or two during the day, then go away.

     The plan worked, but maybe a little too well.  I was missing a newsfeed that covered a broad range of interests and offered input from varying points of view.  I was already a “Redditor,” so I spent a bit more time there and took the relationship to the next level.

     Reddit,, has become huge over the last few years.  It is a giant, international site that receives posting of links, articles and photos, submitted by users, and categorizes them by topics and allows viewing by topic or popularity.  There are thousands of “subreddits,” Reddit’s sub-groups, and a search will bring up just about ANYTHING you’re into.   Since lists are all the rage, here are 10 reasons why Reddit is better than Facebook:

1.     Much of the content is original, or at least original to the reader.  Cool stuff is usually on Reddit a week before it’s recycled ad-nauseum on your Facebook feed.

2.       Whatever you want, it’s there.  If not, put it there.  I mean EVERYTHING from needlepoint to Nazis, it’s on Reddit.

3.       Content placement is vote-based.  The stupid stuff doesn’t make it to the top of your feed.

4.       It’s easier to dial in what you want to see and tune out what you don’t.

5.       It’s a little tougher to use, so it “weeds out” a layer of users who don’t need to be there. 

6.       Good writing.  You’ll often be impressed with fellow Redditors.

7.       Far fewer ads.  They’re less intrusive and can be turned off. 

8.       You can award people with “Reddit Gold.”  For a couple of bucks, you can give another user premium access for a post that’s particularly moving to you.

9.       It’s anonymous.  If you really have to reply, you can do so without offending Aunt Myrtle.  You can also rant or confess and still show your face at work.

10.   International.  Did you know that Australians have rednecks?  They call them “bogans” and they make for hilarious conversation when comparing to the domestic variety.

Remember that Facebook is social media.  If you’re looking for more media and less social, Reddit is the place.  If it’s not the place for you, learn how to configure your settings and it will become a place for you.  I often close my Reddit sessions with a sense that I gained something, which is not the case with Facebook.  My goal was to limit and make better use of my time at the keyboard.  Done.