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There I was, writing and editing for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week. To that regimen I added a thousand word blog article every three or four days. On top of that I like to fiddle with video editing projects for fun. On most days I was skipping breakfast and lunch. Occasionally I missed dinner too. During the months from January to April I hardly went outside. I was beginning to sleep poorly, sometimes only getting three or four hours of rest on any given night. Then, towards the end of April, I hit a brick wall. I woke up and had a scintillating scotoma, otherwise known as a migraine aura, while perusing news articles on my phone after waking up.

For those that don’t know what a scintillating scotoma is, it’s a disturbance in the visual field that precedes a migraine in some sufferers. I’ve had them once or twice a year since I was twenty-eight years old. They start as a small blank spot with a sparkling zig-zaggy border near the center of my field of vision that grows over the next twenty to thirty minutes until it passes from view in my peripheral vision. Then it’s gone like nothing ever happened. Some get a classic migraine headache afterwards, but I’m lucky to be one of the ones who don’t (or at least, I didn’t).

This time however, several hours after the first aura, I had two more while writing at the computer. Later that day I developed a bad headache and threw up after dinner when my head began spinning with nausea. The next day I had two more auras again and the day after that another one. I started going for walks, but I had another one and this time it was accompanied by a throbbing headache and a bout of vertigo. Needless to say, I went to my doctor who listened to my symptoms and diagnosed me with migraines. Why they decided to become more severe probably has a lot to do with the way I was treating my body for the last few months.

This prompted some much needed lifestyle changes and a trip to the optometrist. As I write this I have a pair of prescription glasses on order. Turns out my eyes weren’t working very well together either, which certainly wasn’t helping. As well, I have seasonal allergies and my sinuses feel like someone pressured them up to about fifty PSI. The doctor put me back on nasal corticosteriods, which seems to be helping.

I’m writing less than I was before and I had to back away from my self-imposed daily word count goal, as too much time in front of the computer causes an unpleasant tension to build in my neck that will lead to a whopper of a headache if I don’t take a break. It’s been a good lesson for me. I was pushing myself too hard and spending far too much time in front of screens—whether it was my computer, tablet or phone. I wasn’t eating or sleeping right and at forty-five years of age I obviously can’t get away with that sort of behavior like I could when I was twenty-five.

Part of it was an obsessive drive to get my writing career off the ground as fast as possible. I’m a notoriously stubborn person when I set my mind to something and though I saw the warning signs that I was headed for a cliff health-wise, I ignored them. Not anymore though. Nothing is worth wrecking your health over. A word to the wise then: go have a sandwich and take a walk outside more often. Don’t wait until you’re back is against the wall.

Image Credit-Pixabay

It’s a fair question, and one that people fail to ask themselves often enough when they look in the mirror. The answer depends on how honest we can stand to be with ourselves. People tend to avoid looking inward for fear of what they might see behind the mask they present to the world. Others have come to see the mask itself as being representative of who they truly are, and refuse to consider there’s something more underneath. Something deep within them that they don’t want to admit.

We are all avatars in some way and the digital world has made it easier than ever to present an idealized version of ourselves. We would like to think that we’re enlightened creatures that have mostly grown beyond petty rivalries, jealously and other human foibles—because those negative qualities hurt other’s opinions of us. Yet we are human and all of us necessarily have these faults and many more. No one is without flaws and to deny them is to deny the possibility of real improvement. To ignore them in favour of projecting a fake image is worse.

The trend these days is to embrace our differences and celebrate our uniqueness. We are encouraged to become the best versions of ourselves that we can be. Follow your heart is a common bit of wisdom that many espouse, along with a zealous admonishment to disregard what anyone else thinks. You do you. Only your truth matters. Be who you want to be. It sounds good on paper, even noble, but how do you know what the best version of you should even look like? There can’t be seven billion distinct truths out there, a little different for each person. Some of them are just bunk. Sorry…it’s true. So how do we figure out if the person we want to be is worth investing the time and effort into becoming?

Socrates is credited with saying that the unexamined life is not worth living. Without self-reflection how can we hope to make any real or lasting improvements? And if the way we see ourselves is only skin deep, how can we say we really know ourselves at all? I’m not saying I have any more immunity than anyone else regarding this tendency to gloss over the unvarnished truth of our lives, and I’m not here to get up on a soapbox and preach. I have noticed from time to time, however, that when I’m truly honest with myself I find that I’m far from the person I project for the world to see.

I’m a collection of contradictions. I hate when people are rude or ignorant, but when things aren’t going well for me I’m not above being an asshole sometimes. I like to think that I’m a good father, but there are times when I know I’m making parenting choices that put my needs first. It’s not that I can’t be kind, generous, and loving—it’s just that I’m not able or willing to be these things all the time. Sometimes I’m selfish and petty.

So how do we learn to see things as they are so that we can begin to improve? Partially by listening to what others say. Therein lies a problem, though. The natural inclination of humans is to take a side and then stick with it no matter how much dissenting opinion is thrown our way. This plays out in countless ways in chats groups, social media circles, and any other virtual spaces where people engage in discussions. We are like islands within ourselves: insular, proud and unwilling to consider that we’re just plain wrong about a great many things. You can spout facts until you’re blue in the face and it won’t make any difference most of the time. That flat-earther is going to go right on believing we live on a Frisbee, not a globe.

Instead of just admitting we’re wrong about things, we resort to justifications and excuses. We’ll do just about anything to protect our fragile egos from being tested. If you steal things from work and justify it by saying that they don’t pay you well enough, that’s a lame a crock of shit and you know it. You fucking know it, if you’re honest with yourself. And what about that person you cut off in traffic this morning because you were in a hurry? All the excuses in the world don’t justify your actions. You might say the person you cut in front of was just too slow or you’re a better driver and should therefore be allowed to drive as you wish. We both know if you’d just left a bit earlier you wouldn’t have had to rush. What if someone got hurt? Would you say it’s their fault for getting in your way?

This is compounded when something bad happens as a result of our poor choices in life. What if someone dies because of our negligence? How many of us could admit that we fucked up and shoulder the blame, whatever the consequences? How many of us would keep our mouths shut and hope the whole thing passes us by so that we could keep on living the way we have been?

It’s hard to look in the mirror and see things for what they really are. It’s hard to admit that we aren’t the best person in the world. It’s hard to not make excuses for fuck ups that we had a direct hand in creating. I’m not saying there aren’t saints out there, living blameless lives. I’m sure there are, just as I’m sure there’s a lot of good people living life the best they know how under difficult circumstances. What I’m saying is that not enough people are willing to admit that they need to work on themselves because facing that cold, hard reality is unpleasant and we only have so much time on this ball of mud.

All I’m asking is that when you go home tonight and look in the mirror: see yourself. Really see yourself. If there’s something you know you should change, work on it. Then work on the next thing. Will you ever be perfect? Nope. But the pursuit of grace and honesty isn’t a waste of time. It’s what separates us from the wild beasts.

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You’ve been there, I know you have. It’s Wednesday evening and the family is screaming for blood. Well, maybe not blood, but they’re definitely hungry. You go online, looking for a recipe that won’t require too much time to prepare. In the back of your head, you remember the ground beef you took out of the freezer the other night. It’s still sitting on a plate in the fridge, floating in a pool of watery blood.

So, whatever you make has to include ground beef. Should be simple, you think. Except it isn’t. Though versatile, ground beef tends to put people in a rut. When my wife made beef and rice for the third time in a week once, I had to say something. I got the stink eye, but she eventually conceded that it was getting a little monotonous (before you say anything, I do my fair share of the cooking too, and have fallen victim to the same-old, same-old doldrums more than once).

Nobody wants to eat Hamburger Helper, and if you do you need counselling. Over the years you’ve cooked up tons of meatloafs, burgers, meat sauces, tacos, sloppy Joe’s and countless other old stand-by’s, and you’re sick to death of every one of them. You want easy, but you want novel too. This will require the big guns—a google search. You look up “easy recipes using ground beef” and start looking through the returns.

There’s literally hundreds of pages to peruse, all claiming to have exciting, fast, and nutritious meal ideas with minimal fuss involved. You skip past some of them without hesitation, knowing that your son or daughter will not countenance the spicy ones. Others just sound too bizarre. Who really eats curried hamburger wrapped in dill-infused lettuce leaves anyway?

You keep searching, growing more anxious with each passing minute, until one finally catches your eye. It’s a hash of some sort, with sweet peppers and onions and diced chunks of potato. It looks delicious and there’s only six ingredients, including the ground beef itself. Even better, it requires only one pan and promises to be fast and easy. You’re relieved to find something that will appease the endless whining chorus of: “When is dinner gonna be ready? I’m hungry,” that issues from the living room at regular intervals like a demonic broken record.

You don’t have long before they release the hounds, so you click on the link and hope for the best. It takes you to the page, but immediately something is wrong. The recipe title is there at the top in bold letters, with a sexy food-porn photo front and center, but the recipe itself is nowhere in sight.

You start scrolling down further, reading through the introductory prelude. You keep scrolling and your heart begins to sink as you realize the writer hasn’t written a recipe—they’ve produced an epic tome. Suddenly you’re reading about the time the author rediscovered this particular recipe after recalling some misty water-coloured memory from their youth.

Jesus Harold Christmas, as my father used to say. I don’t want to hear about the summers you spent as a child at your grandmother’s house in Martha’s Vineyard, just tell me how to make the goddamn hash!

There’s photos of the process, interspersed with gouts of verbal diarrhea that goes on and on. Now it’s become a life-affirming lesson of some sort, about the power of family bonds or some crap like that. Really food writer? You’re gonna go there? I got hungry people here ready to eat the cats; I don’t have time for your feel-good shit.

Granted, there’s mention of ingredients and preparation tips among the dross, but it’s like a distraction that the author keeps distancing himself/herself from so they can get back to talking about the time Grampy Bob swamped the boat in front of the lake house. Screw your Grampy! I want food, not platitudes.

Finally, though, the end is in sight. After all that extraneous blather the recipe lies at the bottom of the page, condensed into ten little bullet points. It really couldn’t be easier. By then, however, I’ve had enough. I reach into the cupboard and pull out some Hamburger Helper. I wasted too much time reading to make anything else.

Image Credit-Pixabay

My grandfather came from Denmark, hence my last name: Eriksen. It literally means “son of Erik.” He was a fascinating man, who saw more than a century of changes from the time he was born in a small village in Denmark in the early 1900’s to his life as a farmer on the plains of central Saskatchewan throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. I’ve always been proud of the Scandinavian blood that runs in my veins. Our family tree has been traced back several generations and I have a number of black & white photos of my distant kin, including one of my great-great grandfather—a sailor with a white beard and gold hoops in his earlobes. It’s not hard to see the evidence of our Viking roots in the lined contours of his weathered face.

Great-great grandfather
Great-great grandfather: Circa 1906

There’s such a long, deep, and rich history that came out of those lands north of the Baltic Sea. From their primitive beginnings, to the cultural development of the Norse people and their fascinating mythologies and paganistic religious practices, and on to the time of the Vikings and their eventual Christianization—there is no shortage of interesting narratives from those times.

There’s abundant evidence that early Germanic tribes populated the plains of Denmark and southern Sweden since the Neolithic age (10,000 BC). It was around then that human beings first began learning how to control their environment through animal domestication and agriculture. Like other cultures, the northern Germanic people’s eventual development of forged weapons and tools from iron and bronze further cemented their mastery over nature, and allowed for the establishment of stable communities that didn’t have to be as nomadic as their ancient ancestors. It gave them breathing room.

The oldest form of the various runic alphabets, Elder Futhark, is estimated to have been developed sometime in the first century, shortly before the Germanic tribes began moving south en masse during the great migration period (between the second and eighth centuries). The crudely hatcheted design of the runes was necessary, given the way they were inscribed on to early writing mediums like wood and steel, but were not an exclusive feature of their alphabet. They were a common motif noted in other early alphabets as well, including the Old Italic scripts used by the early Romans, from which modern historians believe Elder Futhark developed from.

These historians theorize that at one point there was some kind of cultural exchange between the northern Germanic tribes and the Romans. It’s likely that small groups of Germanic wanderers became mercenaries for the Roman army or traded with them as merchants. Eventually they took the Roman’s written language back with them to their homelands where it was developed into the Elder Futhark runic alphabet. Elder Futhark remained in use until it was further modified into Younger Futhark around the eighth century and the Anglo-Saxon futhorc alphabet thereafter.

In modern times these ancient runes have come to be associated with the mysterious pagan practices that represented heathen worship before Christianity became the dominant religion of the western world. Their’s was a world filled with strange gods, terrifying omens and blood sacrifices of appeasement. These symbols stand as an enduring reminder of practices that have long since been relegated to history books and museums. In popular entertainment their use has been associated with the occult and dark magical rites, and it’s not hard to see why. Given their primitive appearance and esoteric meaning, they look like something some evil mage would write in his spell book while consorting with dark forces.

In reality, though, they are simply the symbols of an old alphabet that fell by the wayside long ago. For many centuries the knowledge of how to read Elder Futhark was lost entirely, and wasn’t regained until a Norwegian scholar deciphered it again in 1865. Below is the transliteration of the Elder Futhark runes to their modern English equivalents (Image Credit-Wikipedia).

f f u u th,þ þ a a r r k k g g w w
h h n n i i j j ï,ei ï p p z z s s
t t b b e e m m l l ŋ ŋ d d o o

I have a fascination with these runes, not just because they look cool, but also because they represent part my own history. This is how my ancient ancestors communicated with each other. This is how they transitioned from oral history to written history. Like other cultures, it enabled them to preserve their wisdom and teachings in an accurate way. This led to advancement, as their collective knowledge grew and compounded. It’s part of the reason why I’m able to sit here at this computer and bash out stuff for other people to read.

As an aside, it should be noted that with the above transliteration key, it would be possible for someone to translate the writing in those weird videos contained in the artifacts section of my website. Just for fun, it might be interesting for inclined individuals to see what they mean. Just saying…