There’s an old joke about two hunters, call them Bob and Ed, who are sitting around their campfire one evening, making dinner and telling stories, when suddenly a bear comes charging out of the forest and tackles Ed. They’re rolling around on the ground, and the bear’s roaring, and Ed’s screaming. Bob shouts “I’m coming, Ed! I’ll save you!”

So he grabs the nearest thing to hand, which is the cast iron skillet they were making dinner in, and he hauls off and swings at the bear’s head. But Ed and the bear are rolling around so much that he accidentally clocks Ed in the face. Now Ed’s screaming louder. “Hold on, Ed!” Bob shouts, and he pulls a big flaming stick out of the campfire and pokes at the bear with it, shouting “Go away!” But again, Ed and the bear are rolling around so much that he ends up jabbing Ed in the side with the burning stick, and Ed yowls in pain again.

Finally, Bob dashes over and grabs his shotgun. “I’ll save you, Ed!” he yells, and he fires. But…you can see where this is going. Ed gets a load of pellets in his backside. But the noise scares the bear, and it drops Ed and lumbers off into the woods. Bob rushes to Ed, who’s a terrible sight, all scraped up with a huge black eye, and his shirt’s still smoking. He’s a mess.

“Ed!” says Bob, trying to help him sit up. “Are you okay, Ed?”

“Damn it, of course I’m not okay,” says Ed. “I got mauled by a bear! And you hit me in the face with a skillet! Then you set my clothes on fire! And if that wasn’t enough, you went and shot me in the ass! What the hell were you doing?”

“I was helping you!” says Bob.

“Well next, time,” Ed says, “help the bear.”

So “help the bear” is something you say when someone’s well-intentioned efforts to help you are having the opposite effect.

I use it quite a bit. It’s a very useful phrase.

Most recently, I’ve been using it with Microsoft. I set up an email address with Microsoft’s Outlook.com recently. And one thing I like to do with a new email account is sign up for my mailing list. (You can do that here, if you haven’t already.) I like to test the links from time to time, and make sure readers are getting the automated sequence of emails that introduces me and my books.

This time, something didn’t look right. The dashboard on my mailing list provider showed my new address and said it had sent the new address three emails, but in Outlook I could only find two. After a great deal of messing around in spam tabs and mucking around in Outlook’s controls, I figured out what had happened. By default, Outlook tries to help you pull out the important emails from the ones it thinks are less important. It puts the ones it deems important in a “focused” tab, and stashes the rest in some mysterious phantom zone called “other.” Two of my emails from myself had shown up in the focused inbox, but the third one for some reason was  deemed unimportant and hidden. And it wasn’t as though opening up the “open” tab revealed it. I had to literally turn off focused inbox, and then all my emails popped into the inbox as they should.

Thanks, Microsoft. Help the bear.

One of the other things my mailing list tells me is what email client my subscribers are using, and the huge majority use Gmail. I don’t think very many of you are on Outlook, but if you are, I’d strongly advise turning off focused inbox. To do that, click the gear icon in the upper right of the window. That’s settings, and one of the items in the pull-down menu is a switch labeled “Focused Inbox.” Just flip that switch, and you’ll be able to find your mail.

As I said, most of you didn’t really need to know this because you’re on Gmail. Separate issues there. So I’m sorry if this doesn’t help you any. But at least you got a joke out of it…