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Thor Harris

Musician, Painter, Writer, Plumber, and Carpenter

Thor Harris is a musician, painter, writer, plumber, and carpenter (he built his own house). He was the percussionist in Swans from 2010 to 2016, and has performed with Shearwater, Bill Callahan, Ben Frost, and many others. He currently plays in Thor and Friends, who released their self-titled debut album in October 2016. Harris, an outspoken proponent of mental health advocacy, has published chapbooks of his drawings and writing. His “How To Live Like a King for Very Little” is a DIY classic.

Some thoughts on how to feel good by Thor Harris

Hi. My name is Thor. I live in Austin, TX and I play drums with lots of good bands. I’m 52 years old and still strong as an ox. Here are some things I’ve learned—mostly on my own, from books, and from super smart friends. They are tips on rethinking a lot of the shit we were fed growing up because it’s hard to be a creative person if you feel terrible.

Part 1. Don’t Eat That Shit

I started studying food and nutrition in the 8th grade, in 1978. This was probably because my father died very young. He was 47. Our understanding of food has grown since then, but we have always known fresh fruits and vegetables are key.

Our forebears ate lots of plants, bread, and wild game when they could get it. Not often. Most wild animals are fairly lean and full of Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids—essentials for good joint and neurological function. You can get fish oil supplements for the omega fats, or get them made with flax if you are vegan. Protein abounds in many plant sources. Factory-grown cows have none of this. The “meat” they produce is bad fats and a little protein. Don’t eat that shit. Not to mention (but I will), factory farms exacerbate climate change a lot. With 7.5 billion of us here, meat consumption must be phased out.

Most of us were raised in America on a meat-plus-starch diet (think hamburgers). But it’s killing us at alarming rates. If you leave this country for a few weeks and then come back, you can see the toll our diet is taking on us. It’s true that we’re like rats, in that we can survive on damn near anything. But surviving is not thriving.

Part 1. Don’t Eat That Shit

The bread we eat is usually (but not always) made from wheat that has been stripped of much of its meager nutrients. It’s basically filler for our guts. Don’t panic. There’s other great stuff to eat—you just have to spend a little money and some time learning about food. There are three main components to food: proteins, fats and carbohydrates. You need ALL THREE. Any diet that claims one of these should be avoided is bullshit.

Vitamins and minerals are in most foods, but especially in fruits and vegetables. We need to eat less, and it should be mostly or entirely plants. Michael Pollan has written several great books on food. The most famous one is Omnivore’s Dilemma. He says we can live on many different diets, just not the American diet.

In Europe dairy products taste better. This is because of lobbyists for the American dairy industry are working to maximize profit in the short term. Most foods taste cleaner over there because of this. Regulations over the way food is produced result in better food. Most European countries set up universal healthcare around 1915 and still have it. Lead paint was made illegal in most of Europe in the 30s. Because of paint industry lobbyists we kept lead in paint until 1978. See a pattern?

We are raised to expect three huge meals per day. If your schedule permits, try five or six smaller meals, with the morning meal being the largest. Then taper your eating down throughout the day.

There is a vitamin B supplement called folic acid. Many of us are allergic to it. We need a methylated B instead. Leafy greens have tons of it. You can buy methylated B supplements too. If you have depression, it may be because you can’t absorb folic acid.

Chapped lips? Headaches? Drink more water. Most of our ailments are pretty treatable.

Part 2. Move!

Why does the President look like a chapped scrotum? The American diet, coupled with no exercise. Golf is not exercise. When we enter the first grade, we are told we have to sit in a chair for seven hours a day. Nothing could be worse for a kid. Most of us get used to it. I never could. Turns out, it’s hell for the body.

In 1997 I bought an old house and rebuilt it. It was really fun and not that hard. I learned what I needed to know from books, from observing construction sites, and from talking to leathery old carpenters. Being strong made it much more fun and allowed me to do much of the work alone. I still work as a plumber and carpenter on other peoples’ houses. We may not be fighting tigers and bears anymore, but there are still plenty of reasons to get and stay strong. A friend of mine who is about 5’2” defended herself against a huge attacker using only a tire wrench. When you’re strong, people don’t want to fuck with you, or even argue with you for that matter. As we get older, having some muscle mass is really helpful. Ask anyone who works with the elderly—the hardest part of being old is mobility issues. Who the fuck knows if being fit extends our lives? But it certainly extends the quality of our years.

For the first 200,000 years we walked a lot to hunt game and gather edible plants. Our bodies are designed to move. When we turn about 15, our hormones deck our bodies out with muscles and we get extremely horny for about 20 or so years. This period of our lives is for fighting and fucking. When these hormones start to fade, around our mid 30s, we start to lose muscle mass—unless we keep using those muscles. It’s that easy. Once have have built some muscle mass, it will protect you from joint injury and make you look foxy. It takes more work to build muscle than to maintain it. Use it or lose it, as they say. You can maintain it into old age with just a little exercise. It’s never too late to start. Our bodies need movement to function.

Part 3. Madness Takes Its Toll

It’s hard to know if we as a species are more or less mentally ill than we were in the past. Overall, anxiety does seem to be up. Diet and exercise have profound effects on our mental health, but sometimes our brains need additional assistance. I hang out with a lot of creative people, and many of them use psychotropic meds and/or talk therapy. If you ever feel like criticizing anyone for employing these, shut the fuck up. You are ignorant. Using pharma to help your brain is not “treating the symptoms and ignoring the problem.” We all have to figure out what works for us. I have many friends who are on SSRIs. Others microdose with everything from LSD, to ketamine, to mushrooms, to lithium, to marijuana.

As the natural world disappears, anxiety could be a way sensitive brains respond. Who the hell knows? But if your brain chemistry betrays you, treat yourself the way you would treat a friend in a similar situation: with gentle care. Do not isolate. We are social creatures. We all (even introverts) need each other. Get help. It is harder for many of us to accept help than to give it.

Many of us are cruel self critics. Quit it. Be good to others and for fuck’s sake be good to yourself. Purge all of your childish expectation about what you (or your parents) thought you should be by now. None of that shit has any basis in reality. Important work does not always pay. Capitalism is pretty shitty to a lot of the most brilliant members of our society. It actually rewards cruelty. I deal with depression. It ain’t easy, but it can be managed.

Part 4. The Company You Keep

The company you keep will make or break you. Find the most honest, smartest, kindest, most creative people who will tolerate you. Get them to be your friends. You need friends. If someone makes you feel tired or shitty about yourself, AVOID THEM. Psychic vampires are real. Try to leave things better than you found them. Don’t treat people like they are stupid, even if they are. Because I was always pretty good at art and music, I got to hang with people much smarter than me.

Part 5. Artists

If you are an artist, then you are by nature a non-profit. You need to work much harder for less pay than others. But don’t dwell on that. Yours is a much higher calling. You are here to look at and understand the world in new, peculiar ways, and then show them to us. Without you, the world is boring. You must learn to live with less. People who work jobs will always have more money than you. It’s ok. Take your vow of poverty and make the best thing you can. I have found it inspiring to constantly consume tons of new and old music constantly. Don’t get stuck or bored, or you’re dead.

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