Friday, August 31, 2012

A Little Historical Context


Sound familiar?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Case (Or Three) of Car Trouble

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball
___________________

A Case (Or Three) of Car Trouble

I’ll be the first to admit that mechanized vehicles confound me. The spatial logic and reasoning skills needed to operate an automobile have always mystified me. I learned bit by bit how to drive. While I know how to manage a powerful but short-lived summer downpour, I cannot parallel park. Much to the consternation of my father, I know little to nothing about what makes cars run.

Are you some kind of feminine man? This was his disgusted synopsis after a particularly exhausting effort to teach me how to change a tire. Now, I can manage it barely without the need of assistance, but that took years and some especially dismal failures to take hold. Dad was quite the handyman and could often perform home maintenance by himself. I was followed him around as a child, fully intending to commit to memory whatever it was he was fixing.

I shouldn’t have even bothered.

In the course of my life, I have totaled three cars. I remember well the first. One drizzly, overcast November morning, I took my place behind other cars on a four-lane highway with many traffic lights. The roadway was moderately busy, but morning commuters, in a hurry to get to work, were riding the bumpers of the car in front of them. This meant abrupt braking which required far more stopping distance, made worse with the wet roadway.

The most hazardous road conditions occur when rain has only just begun to fall. The oily residue of constant traffic combines with falling precipitation, making slick spots. Until enough rain water has washed away the residue, the combination can be very problematic. My car had an unfortunate tendency to hydroplane already, as it was deliberately lightweight and designed to get better gas milage.

I applied the brake in desperation as the silver Jaguar ahead of me ground to a halt. No such luck. The force of impact folded up the hood of the car like an accordion. The Jaguar escaped without a scratch. In my car, the airbag deflated, though I would have been perfectly fine had it not.

A device designed to keep me safe instead left a lifelong injury. My left thumb was dislocated, caught in the path of the rapidly inflating airbag. I thought at first that it must be broken. In any case, it has never been the same since then.

I’ll fully take the blame for the second time it happened. I was driving in downtown Birmingham in the middle of a rainstorm. Stoned, I pulled out in front of a truck, but didn’t give the driver behind me adequate space to adjust. Though he tried to avoid the outcome, he couldn’t avoid hitting me from behind. The force of impact spun the car hard to the left, into a side road. My back end now rested in a ditch.

It must have looked worse than it turned out to be. Unfazed but slightly dazed, I exited the car. Employees of a small business had heard the commotion and went outside to observe. One of them was smoking a cigarette and I, not missing a beat, I bummed a cigarette off of her. I wasn’t sure what else to do.

The driver who had hit me looked very concerned. He had obviously been afraid that I might have been seriously hurt. The rain continued, so he suggested I sit in the cab of the truck until the police got there.

The accident was ruled to be my fault, which it was. The right-side back brake light in my car was destroyed, crushed by the force of the impact. The light looked like a huge gloved fist had punched it. As from that, the rest of the car was undamaged. I drove it for the next six months, until the engine sounded like it was popping corn, not powering the rest of the car.

The third altercation took place during the infamous and disastrous trip to St. Cloud, Minnesota. After my wreck in Chicago, the car was essentially totaled. What completely did it in was a deer. The animal ran out in front of me. I was returning back to the hotel around two o’clock in the morning, and encountered a herd of the creatures making their way across the roadway back to the woods.

My shattered headlight shined light lower than normal. This blinded one of the does, immobilizing her in front of me. My malfunctioning back brakes were no help. I recall the hollow thud of contact, how a red spray of blood and guts was flung against the windshield. The deer made a horrifying cry of panic shortly before impact.

Due to sleep deprivation and marijuana, I was beginning to hallucinate, seeing tiny glints of light everywhere. This development added a level of surrealism to what had already been a very strange trip.

The engine began to overheat. Remembering high school Driver’s Ed, I recalled that by turning on the heat, some of the excess temperature from the engine could be siphoned away. In my case, this meant that the deer guts coating the inside now began to cook.

The smell was beyond disgusting, but I had no other choice. I was a couple miles away from where I needed to be, and wasn’t strong enough to walk the rest of the way.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Definition of Discipline: Religious and Secular


I rewrote what I posted yesterday afternoon for a broader audience. It is posted below.

____________

For a long while, I’ve been contemplating the notion of group discipline and how it has evolved over time. What form does it take today? Discipline seems to vary considerably depending on membership in a group, be it secular or religious.

An example I routinely use is as follows: around a century and a half ago, Quakers were read out (excommunicated, roughly) of their Meeting for simply daring to marry non-Friends. Punishment had a very different context back then, one that was, it appears, frequently backed up with action.

In a religious context, some people of faith fear being punitive and confrontational. We shy away from the process of what would be known to Friends as "eldering". Some definition is necessary. In the old days, Overseers were appointed to oversee the whole flock, to have a concern for the spiritual condition of all members of the Meeting, and to speak with Friends who were considered disorderly walkers.

Due to the potentially offensive connotations of the term, many Friends do not use it these days. But in any case, that description is what most Friends today seem to mean by the infinitive, "to elder" and the act of "eldering." Or, to put it another way, eldering is something to be feared, rather than accepted as as a necessary responsibility.

In our current view, political or religious, an Elder would be little more than a humorless scold. He or she would wound and injure with words and deeds, many times without first examining the consequences. Liberals often fear being excluded, and the phobia is not entirely without just cause. A few of us may have had negative experiences a time or two before on our religious journey, making us fearful of interceding where it is needed. Yet, when a need shows itself, we must not hesitate.

As we all do, I hold different identities in addition to that of Quaker. My religious life is important, but it's not the end all, be all of my existence. Several of my own causes come to mind as I write. Feminist groups, to cite one example, often manage their own gatherings in a particular, distinct, and no-nonsense manner.

For one, they regularly enforce zero tolerance policies. These are in place for desired attendees who have perpetrated sexual assault, in any form. This is to say, those convicted of these offenses are, more often than not, prevented from attending, regardless of how contrite they claim to be. No apologies necessary.

Taking into account the fact that most rapes and sexual assaults go unreported, these feminist activists believe that it is up to them to loudly and frequently vocalize the severity of the problem. Forgiveness is often perceived as a coerced measure, an insulting gesture that lets guilty men go free, over and over again. They are darkly suspicious of anything that might remove agency from women, when many are intimidated and bullied into silence.

Though I understand the logic, I’ve never felt that this attitude was entirely fair. What we have before us is a classic example of how secular and religious concerns sometimes violently contradict each other. In houses of worship, I think we should practice love and compassion to those who desire a Spiritual community, that is, if they are not repeatedly disruptive or antagonistic. Should they be, there are other avenues.

This doesn’t mean we ought to be immune from wielding discipline when it is needed, but rather that we should strive, as a statement of purpose, to see that of God in everyone. In secular groups, there is no God on high, no system of Divine morality to regulate responses and reactions. One might see them as much tougher and more inflexible than we are. Lock-’em-up and throw-away-the-key. That’s their philosophy, more often than not. To believe otherwise is to be naive and overly permissive.

I don’t tell this story much, but I’d like to share for the sake of advancing the narrative. I chose to leave the Unitarian Universalist Church some years ago because of the unforgiving, caustic, suspicious attitudes of a particular minister. To make a very tedious story short, a member of the congregation and I ended up having to go to court over a private, but hotly contested matter.

She had given more money to the Church than I had and, over time, won the sympathetic ear of the minister. Because of this, she was allowed to stay and I was told to keep my distance for six months. Money and influence were more important than basic fairness and equanimity. I was bitter for a long time, but now I can address the matter without letting hurt feelings compromise the integrity of my account.

The Corinthian Church of the First Century A.D. was a textbook example of dysfunction. Church leadership was fragmented among three specific preachers, members were divided about what to believe and how to worship, a man was having an open affair with his mother, and no one knew quite what to do about any of it.

The outside world of the city of Corinth was a constant bad influence, considered a wicked place. The city's corrupting effects often tainted the best intentions of many believers. It was a large and diverse church, and both characteristics created problem after problem.

To some extent, when we speak of discipline, we are having an extended discussion about acceptable boundaries. Where do we draw the line? In a world of noise, confusion, and relentless pressures, we long for Peace. Tranquility seems to be our foremost ambition, though we may differ in how we get there.

If we don’t define Peace for ourselves, than outside forces will do it for us. It is not impossible to actualize the concept, but it requires all hands on deck. We need everyone's help and everyone's participation. Do we want justice or do we want a loving community? It seems to me that we can't have it both ways.

There is a difference between having opposing viewpoints and being divisive. Our Meeting still seeks to find that balance, though I pray that it will, someday. Liberals struggle with the very same discourse, especially in articulating their political beliefs. Believing that we are not heard can sometimes become a self-fulfilling prophecy in the minds of many.

Harmonious relations will end the need for Eldering, though one must necessarily follow the other. Eldering should be done out of love, not out of vengeance. In saying this, I admit that I have lost my temper a time or two before and have crossed the line from one to the other. It's easy to adopt a guise of vengeance, after all.

When I fall short, I ask for forgiveness (here’s that word again) and resolve to do better next time. It’s easy to believe that a person should always and forever be defined by his or her past problems. It’s also easy to resort to anger in place of God’s purpose for us and our work. God's hand in our life is present, but it is also rarely spelled out for us.

No one ought to run roughshod over anyone else, but discipline should not be avoided when it is required. Our mortal selves and our belief in God will be tested. No one said that faith was supposed to be easy. In fact, it's much easier to not believe. Those who live in a secular universe have the fortune of inhabiting a much more black and white, cut and dried reality.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mary-Anne with the Shaky Hands

 
This one is a little bawdy. Tell me if you figure it out.


I danced with Linda
I danced with Jean
I danced with Cindy
Then I suddenly see

Mary-Anne with the shaky hands
What they've done to her man
Those shaky hands

Mary is so pretty
The prettiest in the land
Guys come from every city
Just to shake her shaky hands

Linda can cook
Jean reads books
Cindy can sew
But I'd rather know

Mary-Anne with the shaky hands
What they've done to her man
Those shaky hands

Mary-Anne with the shaky hands
What they've done to her man
Those shaky hands

Mary-Anne with the shaky hands
What they've done to her man
Those shaky hands

Monday, August 27, 2012

Don't Fade on Me

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball
___________________

Don’t Fade on Me

If someone goes two days without calling me, I’m convinced that I’ll never hear from them again. It wasn’t until I first got involved in therapy that I learned the proper label to describe my symptoms. These are fears of abandonment. Establishing an indisputable reason why was difficult at first, but  I held myself up to enough scrutiny to find the proper answers.

In the times before feminism and greater empowerment, women found their own fates hopelessly linked with that of their boyfriend or husband. Their dreams were his dreams. Her life was his life. For them, being cast aside was a fate worse than death. For me, being discarded for any reason created pain on par with nothing else. Regardless of how separation was intended, I believed I had been rejected once more.

In addition to having a difficult infancy, separation anxiety persisted beyond birth into early childhood. Mom literally dragged me to preschool day after day. When it was time for class to begin, I pitched a fit, every morning. Clinging bodily to her, I had to be forced to disengage and head inside the building, to immediately take my place at my desk. I became less clingy and fearful with time, but the same basic anxiety remained.

Once I called my preschool teacher “mother” by accident. She found the slip-up cute, but I found it horrifying. I remember running to the center of the room, instantly in tears. My confused and sympathetic classmates circled around me. They meant well, but I had now become the center of attention. Having every eye in the room on me was the very last thing I ever wanted.

Years later, these anxieties kept me from being much of a baseball player. Being able to hit is what separates the average from the skilled, and I never developed the ability. With every eye on me, from the outfield to the dugout, the pressure was simply too much. I could field, but that was a solitary pursuit I performed by myself. I had no time to ruminate, only to react. For a time, I hated myself for not performing as I thought I should, but now I know that introverts like myself work much better in isolation.  

We return to the present day. I was seeing someone again. She stayed in almost continual contact. I might receive seven phone calls every day, each for a different reason. For a while, I didn’t mind. I saw a reflection of myself in her behavior and didn’t want to be hypocritical. I even found this attention blitz endearing. I craved being needed, being wanted. In love, I was a giver, but had learned to be careful of how I sought to heal and enlighten others. This world has no shortage of takers.

My relationships with women weren’t always dark and dysfunctional. Periods of sweetness and romance existed alongside the more trying times. I remember the comforting silence and contentment of a lengthy embrace. I recall hours cuddled in bed, thinking of nothing else but how I enjoyed her company. The more dramatic and dynamic experiences tend to rise to the surface more easily. Tragedy wins an audience with ease.

Some people aren’t the relationship kind, or at least not the marrying sort. My dating history and the people who comprised it never truly reflected my intentions. Life had been challenging in many aspects. Basic interpersonal communication had come at a price. I suppose I never believed that anything would come without sufficient exertion. I stumbled through the dark for years, as if blindfolded. Did I learn more from insight, or from the process of elimination? Who knows.

She had to be constantly reassured. I went with her once to a gathering of her friends; I left realizing how different she was from all of them. She hadn’t given herself the opportunity to form any sort of intense bond, preferring the role of impassive observer. But at the same time, I knew how much she needed membership in some group to which she could belong. She treated friends the same way I often responded to relationship partners; even if they weren’t a good fit, they were at least something.

I knew she was lost and incredibly self-doubting. A lassiez-faire, brooding acceptance in her fate made her appear defeated, beat down by life. Her situation made my own problems seem minuscule in comparison, and without meaning to, she boosted my own self-confidence. I loved her but could not intervene; if I did, she only pushed me away.

If only her faith in herself had been more prominent. When she left me, the fears of being cruelly jettisoned once more were proven true. Had our ending concluded with harsh words and raised voices, my worries might have been justified. Instead, our parting was sad and bittersweet. She wanted to stay together, noting that I’d pushed her to finally take control of her life. I couldn’t be angry, but I could surely feel hollow and rejected.

Later she came to me in nervous gratitude. I’d gotten her out of her parent’s house and into a better job. If only I’d been able to observe these breakthroughs myself, instead of hearing about them secondhand. I have nothing but spleen for several people I’ve dated, but not for her. She tried, though I wish she had not given up at the end, immobilized by doubt.

Though I practiced serial monogamy, I was after a soulmate. When most people were finding themselves and dating around, I wanted something permanent and lasting. I was always out of step with my peers, or at least years ahead of schedule. I had a vague notion of what I wanted, but  eventually recognized that my offers of healing were sometimes insufficient, sometimes unwanted.

I always had the opportunity to turn around and start over afresh. Relationships ended and another episode entered, keeping me single for a little while until I recovered. The one-two punch of demoralizing mental illness and relationship collapse threw me back against the ropes. In the midst of a catastrophic life, one is afforded no time to mourn, no time for lamentations. Would this new person, he or she, be the one for me?    

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Quote of the Week


“I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they're good talkers, but they don't have good ideas. It's so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent. Someone seems like a good presenter, easy to get along with, and those traits are rewarded.

Well, why is that? They're valuable traits, but we put too much of a premium on presenting and not enough on substance and critical thinking.” - Susan Cain

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday Video



Tell ya man
I'm stuck on this lovely girl
Of course to me she mean all the world

But then
She like another guy
I fall down dead
She never see the tears I cry

So please please please
Do not go

Please please please
Do not go

Please please please
Do not go

How long can the days go on
When my love is so strong?
And I know I cannot tell a lie
I want to see him go bye

Goodbye bye goodbye
bye bye bye bye bye bye

Now I wonder, I wonder what she would say
If I told her, If I told her I felt this way

You know it might make her turn
Might make her turn, might make her turn
Either way

So all I can do is patiently pray pray
pray pray pray

So please please please
Do not go
Please please please
Do not go
Please please please
Do not go

How long can the days go on
When my love is so strong?
And I know I cannot tell a lie

I wanna see him go bye
Goodbye bye
goodbye bye bye bye bye bye bye

I'll tell you man I'm stuck
I'm stuck, I'm stuck on this lovely girl
And y'know I'd travel,
I could travel over the whole world

And you know what she does
She turn around and like another guy
I fall down dead
She never see the tears I cry

Please please please
Do not go
Please please please
Do not go

Friday, August 24, 2012

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball
___________________

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

Am I under arrest? 

Yes, technically, said the officer.

His partner had forcefully placed me in the back of a squad car minutes prior, in handcuffs. My destination was the psychiatric ward. Due to the effects of a new, very powerful antidepressant, I’d been accidentally thrown into a severe state of mania. Every patient's case is different and this unwelcome development had been entirely beyond the skill of my psychiatrist.

Intended or not, one still needed to pick up the pieces. Mania fractures many things, with all its awful power. My psychiatrist had even tentatively toyed with the notion of amending my diagnosis. Instead of bipolar disorder, I was temporarily labeled as having schizoaffective disorder, a mild form of schizophrenia. A month later, the psychosis abetted, revealing thankfully that I had only mania and was not more or less permanently delusional.

My behavior had grown extreme and outlandish over the course of four months. Every episode takes a slightly different form, but this one was incredibly intense. Observing my behavior and fearing for my safety, my parents had headed down to the courthouse and put out a petition on me. Once put into effect, I was to be involuntarily committed. It was in my own best interest, but the act was one of the most difficult things they'd ever had to do, as I learned later.

Most of the time, patients admitted to a psych ward are what is termed “voluntary”. They can leave whenever they wish, though departing Against Medical Advice (AMA) means the cost of the stay will not be covered by insurance. An involuntary admission, however, means that one cannot leave of one’s volition. The petition in force must first be revoked, which can only be done by a social worker, a doctor, or both.

This time around, I was hospitalized for nearly a month. Mania melts away slowly, though it is still easier to treat than depression. For the first week I was there, I was given Geodon shots to be able to sleep at night. Geodon is an aytpical antipsychotic with sedative properties in high doses. I begged the nurses for relief, day after day, and fortunately they obliged me. Within five minutes of injection, the drug hit me like a ton of bricks. I blissfully snoozed, finally obtaining adequate rest.

Every night I cried myself to sleep, praying to be well. By now, I was conscious of how ill I was. Mania is deceptive, especially at first. As had been the case before, the episode had cost me another job. Afraid that I might have malicious and violent intentions, my last two paychecks had been served to me by two plain-clothed police officers. I was to be terminated immediately.

A trespassing notice was now in effect, specifying that I was to be arrested if I returned to my former place of employment. I recall that I was threatened with arrest even if I entered the parking lot. My first reaction was of indignation. Most of my co-workers really didn’t know me and never had. A large number of them were too self-obsessed, focused on selfish pursuits. They'd never accepted me as one of their own and never would.

Especially when in the grips of a severe bout of illness, returning to the scene of the crime was the very last thing I wanted. I was infuriated, sure, but wanted to air my grievance in a court of law. I even contacted a lawyer, but he wanted several thousand dollars I didn’t have. I wanted retribution and justice, but didn't have the wealth required to obtain it.  

I’d walked into the middle of a dysfunctional workplace environment, unaware of the challenges that would soon daily face me. Upper-level management knew how to attend meetings, dress up impressively, and act the part, but could not lead workers properly. It was too permissive and enabling of gossip and drama. Workers that should have been fired for incompetence or toxic attitudes were allowed to stay.

Everyone was in everyone else’s business. Never was this more evident than when I began a relationship with a woman, a co-worker. I’d previously been seeing someone, but found myself disenchanted and left it behind with the promise of someone new. Following a familiar pattern, the woman with whom I was interested was older than me by several years. After putting out tentative feelers, she soon invited me to lunch.

News of our first date spread like wildfire, whether we wanted it or not. I was cautioned, indirectly, from higher up to use strict discretion in our communication and interaction. I would visit her at her office once a day, but only for a few minutes at a time. Anything more than that was not allowed. As the relationship progressed, she began to wear black regularly, to appear as slim as possible. I thought she looked great as she was, but understood the reason for the extra effort.

As for where we both worked, I thought I’d managed to escape high school. Instead, I was thrust back into into it. No one spoke to anyone directly. Talking behind everyone else’s back was the most favored tactic for information dispersal. Direct confrontation, while it can be unsettling, is often unavoidable and necessary. Each floor, each department, had its own office politics and unwritten rules. These had never been challenged, nor dismantled, so they persisted.

Throw mania into the middle of this morass, and you can imagine why people reacted the way that they did. By the end of my tenure, I stood up to each of the regular offenders, and managed to scare the hell out of them. Making them afraid of me wasn’t exactly my intention, but mania has a way of removing fear and producing a kind of mad courage in its stead.

The upheaval did have one especially unfortunate consequence. It cost me the new relationship that had yet to fully flower. If I’d been in control of its development, the pace would have been considerably quicker. She was very measured and self-contained throughout. It was clear she'd been burned before and had no desire to repeat the process. But I know that eventually, within a few months, we’d have grown closer. I can’t fault her for wanting to proceed slowly.

One of the toughest lessons I’ve learned is that, often, a person can’t fight city hall. Had my health been stable and on an even-keel, I might have been able to make a compelling case for myself. Though I had legitimate legal grounds, my mental well-being would have been questioned by the other side, serving as an effective trump card. Many lawyers in the city wanted to take on my former employer, if for no other reason than to increase their stature. But the deck and the odds were stacked against me, and a victory would have been a tall order.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How to Drive Children and Parents Out of a House of Worship

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. If the foot says, "I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand," that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, "I am not part of the body because I am not an eye," would that make it any less a part of the body?
_________

A few months back, I wrote about some especially significant problems with which my Quaker Meeting was struggling. They centered around the presence of a registered sex offender who wished to worship with us. Some Friends strongly desired to incorporate him into Meeting, with the inevitable caveats in place to guarantee child safety. Many parents, however, were much more leery of his presence among their children.

Meetings, churches, and houses of worship, I have learned, can have tragic flaws. Ours comes down to a matter of communication. We don't do it especially well. Often times, the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing. Different committees, task forces, and groups simply do not speak to each other. The emotional intensity of the debate blew the lid off of multiple pressures that had been building for years.

The consequences of this entire debacle have been highly unfortunate. Within the past two or three months, parents and their children have left en masse. At last count, 14 adults and 18 children have picked up and gone elsewhere. 32 total Friends have departed for good, or at least for a while. Because of this, we may not have a First Day School (Sunday School) program starting in September. We may very well be a childless meeting from now going forward.

As I've surveyed the names of the recently departed, I find that I know few of them. Our Meeting consigns each group to its own universe, its own orbit. I report, with great regret, that I was never formally introduced to anyone, parent or child, who was involved in First Day School. Old hurts were significant and increased the desire to go elsewhere. Parents felt that they weren't supported by the Meeting and that they had to do everything themselves. I don't doubt that this was true with some.

I find it difficult to know how to be impartial in this matter. Part of me wants to be critical of Friends who are not especially welcoming, nor seem to have that inclination. Another facet of my views entertains the fact that the sex offender, who agreed without complaint to significant restrictions, was never given a chance to plead his case. Many parents believed that they were shamed and guilted into being radically inclusive. On one level, they cannot be faulted for being instantly and immediately afraid of someone who they saw as a threat to the safety of their children.

What did not help matters was when it was discovered that three other registered sex offenders were regular attenders of Meeting. Their identity had been known by some for a long time, but they were not publicly acknowledged until very recently. One of them offered to supervise and take the children out on an activity. When his past behavior was discovered, already squeamish parents began to panic. Panic turned to paranoia. Paranoia and a perceived deficiency in how concerns were respectfully addressed led people out of the Meeting.

This entire ignoble chapter of our Meeting's history reveals many lessons and hard truths. If we truly practiced open communication instead of our usual stuffy, distant attitudes, things may not have reached boiling point. As a member of Ministry and Worship, I have to say that I do not understand the roles and functions of many other committees and task forces. Unprogrammed Friends do not have a called minister, instead consigning tasks a minister would perform to the laity. When I have called for greater transparency within the leadership structure, it has usually been provided in a half-hearted, reluctant manner.

That this happened does not surprise me, I'm sorry to say. It was a long time coming. Chasing after people who are inclined to leave has been, in my experience, wasted energy. I am one person and I cannot reverse years of Meeting culture by myself. However, I do acknowledge that any Meeting without children has cast its fate and will eventually die a slow death. It pains me to observe how few members and regular attenders appear to have no such reservations. 

Every time I speak to someone, I learn new information and particulars, information that should have been public knowledge. I get a little bit more of a complicated context. As a Meeting, we simply haven't been talking to each other. No dialogue exists or has existed over time. The Young Adult Friend group of which I have been an active participant was initially formed because we felt ignored by the rest of the Meeting. I can understand how parents would feel the same way.

This post is, in part, my plea for change and for successful conversation. I may not be able to part the Red Sea by myself, but let this story serve as an example and a warning. For people of faith, your house of worship likely contains at least one sex offender, if we're playing the odds. If he or she is not an active member or regular attender, there is still a strong likelihood that one has worshiped with you as a visitor. How you choose to handle the situation is up to you, but I recommend you not take the same course of action. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Act Naturally



They're gonna put me in the movies
They're gonna make a big star out of me
We'll make a film about a man that's sad and lonely
And all I got to do is act naturally

Well, I bet you I'm a gonna be a big star
Might win an Oscar you can never tell
The movie's gonna make me a big star,
'Cause I can play the part so well.

Well, I hope you come and see me in the movie
Then I'll know that you will plainly see
The biggest fool that ever hit the big time
And all I got to do is act naturally.

We'll make this film about a man that's sad and lonely
I'm begging down upon his bended knee
I'll play the part but I won't need rehearsing
All I have to do is act naturally.

Well, I bet you I'm a gonna be a big star
Might win an Oscar you can never tell
The movie's gonna make me a big star,
'Cause I can play the part so well.

Well, I hope you come and see me in the movie
Then I'll know that you will plainly see
The biggest fool that's ever hit the big time
And all I got to do is act naturally

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Religious Exploration

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball
___________________

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter

T.S. Eliot, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock

Religion has been helpful with my physical and psychiatric medical problems. But then again, I’d always been a religious person, well before my first nervous breakdown. Even as a little boy, I remember attending every worship service alone during Holy Week, which begins on Palm Sunday and ends a week later on Easter.

No one else in the family felt the compulsion to be present on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. My mother would drop me off in the church parking lot. I’d quietly sit down at a back pew, participate in the service, then Mom would come by to pick me up.

My own family was not as observant as I was, though weekly attendance on Sunday was stressed and practiced. Raised a United Methodist, I did go through confirmation classes to formally join the faith, and I was baptized in the faith at the age of twelve. The day I was to be baptized, I recall I went a little heavy on the hairspray. Unlike Baptists, Methodists do not baptize by full immersion. Instead, I received a handful of water to the crown of my head.

Because of the formidable amount of hairspray present, the water did not soak into my hair. Instead, most of it was deflected by the chemical stiffness and headed directly for the floor. I remember feeling humiliated, but then again, it’s never taken much to make me feel ashamed. No one seemed to notice, fortunately, and the baptism did indeed count. My initial fear was that I'd have to do it over again.

Though I went through a period of extreme religious doubt in my teens, I never lost belief in a higher power. God has always made sense to me. Spirituality and religion have always been very important, even when I couldn’t always articulate why. I spent several years as a seeker, critical of Christianity, but never rejecting the basic precepts.

On some level, I relate to Paul of Taursus, who had been actively persecuting Christians with impunity until a powerful conversion experience. As the story goes, Jesus came to Paul in a vision and asked him why the latter was violently suppressing his people and their ability to worship in peace. This roadside conversion on the way to Damascus transformed Paul into the most influential leader and writer in the early church.

I hadn’t been sending Christians to their death, like Paul, but I had been scathingly critical of the entire belief structure. I’m not proud of some of the words I used and the attitude I adopted at the time. In his own time, as is always the case, God came to me and presented me a leading and Spiritual direction. I am grateful that I was eventually granted an ability to convene with the Spirit and know God intimately. Some people go years without that opportunity.

My own sense of timing and perspective, as a mortal being, is meaningless compared to God's sense of proportion. Why did he wait until I was twenty-eight until granting me the vision to know where I was to do his work and where to go for strength and guidance? I may never know, and it’s all irrelevant in the end. I know that the way has opened for me, and why scrutinize a blessing?

Now I am a Quaker, and very happy with my decision to become Convinced, which in Quakerspeak means converted. I’ve been deliberately vocal about the particulars of the religion to others who are likely ignorant of them. One always fears being placed in the middle of a false dichotomy. Articulating what I mean and how I worship is not merely good outreach, but it is a defense against being misunderstood and wrongly categorized.

Ideally, this would be unnecessary, but I may always be defining what I believe for the rest of my earthly existence. I've accepted this and walk cheerfully through my life, seeking that of God in everyone, in the words of our founder, George Fox, some 350 years ago.

If I admit that I’m a Christian, some people automatically think I’m a religious zealot. Others conceptualize my beliefs according to their own perception, be it negative or positive. I admit that I don’t want to be perceived wrongly as an evangelical Christian, which I am not. To many followers of Jesus, my views appear heretical and contradictory to their own.

The Southern Baptist kids where I grew up were obsessed with outward perfection, placing significant emphasis upon acting the part. I believe that this was energy wasted. Inward perfection, by Grace, not works, is where I believe my daily focus should be.

I would like to be seen as a worthwhile, moral person. And I would also like to be seen as someone faithful to God’s direction and purpose, not my own. To some, the more graphic and truthful accounts of my life contained in this book might seem offensive. Every life contains shades of dark and light. Light is an especially important concept to the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), of which I am a proud member. We hold Light as sacred, as the Light of God and the divine.

If I were to ascribe to the school of the born-again, my past sins are wiped clean if I am truly contrite for my shortcomings, failings, and past sins. That is a very tantalizing concept. I understand why people are to go to confession in the Catholic church. And I do admit that I have several regrets, as I’m sure is true with many. I’m not sharing every story.

It’s embarrassing to be reminded of instances where mania and depression twisted my behavior. Like the actress Vivian Leigh, who similarly struggled with manic depression, she found herself humiliated when told of what she’d said or done in an episode. She retained no memory of what happened in her periods of sickness.

I have at times prayed that I might be able to go back into the past and find the right combination of meds earlier than I did. I wouldn’t have suffered as long, for one. Several people know me only as odd, eccentric, and erratic.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Martin Guitar Factory

P8170215P8170213P8170212P8170210P8170207P8170206
P8170205P8170201P8170200P8170199P8170197P8170194
P8170193P8170190P8170189P8170188P8170186P8170181
P8170178P8170177P8170176P8170175P8170173P8170172

Martin Guitar Factory, a set on Flickr.

Untitled


                            Click to Embiggen.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday Video



For 50 years they've been married
They can't wait for their 51st
To roll around, yeah, roll around.

For 30 years they've been married
And now they're old and happy
And they settle down, ha ha
Settle down, yeah.

For 20 years they've been married
And they did everything that could be done
You know, they had their fun.

And then you come along and talkin' about:
So you, you say you wanna be married,
I'm gonna change your mind.
Oh, gotta change it.

There was a good side, baby
Here comes the bad side.

For 10 years they've been married
A thousand kids run around hungry
'Cause their Mom was a louse
Daddy's down at the whisky house.

That ain't all,
For 3 years they've been married
They don't get along so good,
They're tired of each other.

You know how that goes,
She got another lover.
Hah, same old thing.

So now you're 17
Run around hangin' out
And having your fun
Life for you has just begun, baby.

And then you come sayin:
So you, you say you wanna be married.
Oh, baby, tryin' to put me on a chain
Ain't that some shame?

You must be losin' your sweet little mind.
I ain't ready yet, baby
I ain't ready.

I'm gonna change your mind.
Ooh, look out baby.
Uh, I ain't ready to get tied down

I ain't ready, I ain't ready now
Let me live a little while longer
Let me live, let me live a little while longer

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Harper's Ferry Pictures

Taken on the way to the wedding.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hold On




Hold on John, John hold on
It's gonna be alright
You're gonna win the fight

Hold on Yoko, Yoko hold on
It's gonna be alright
You're gonna win the fight

When you're by yourself
And there's no-one else
You just have yourself
And you tell yourself
 
Just to hold on

Hold on world, world hold on
It's gonna be alright
You're gonna see the Light

When you're one
Really one

Well, you get things done
Like they've never been done
So hold on

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sexual Beauty

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball
___________________

Sexual Beauty

We’d exchanged daily phone calls ever since discharge. My release had proceeded without a hitch. Hers had hit a significant snag. She didn’t have insurance, but could hardly be blamed for wanting to receive what she assumed was the best care in the city. When her credit card balance began to reach the tens of thousands of dollars, then exceeded its limit, she was pushed out of the facility.

I was lucky because I had insurance. And even then, my claim had been initially rejected, but was only fully covered when charged a second time. I’m not sure what I would have done if I’d had a $60,000 bill staring me in the face. Since then, I’ve learned that this private, for-profit hospital was more concerned with getting paid than with aiding patients. It reminds me of the current state of health insurance. For all of their shortcomings, public plans like Medicare and Medicaid are less rankled with greed, less inclined to rake in money at all cost.

I’d returned home in shame, once more. My year in Atlanta was a disaster, punctuated by an absolutely awful breakup and two hospitalizations within three months of each other. But at least I had her. She was sympathetic to my feelings. If her family had not been in the business of renting houses to fellow townspeople, she’d have had to live with her parents, too. A mother and grandmother owned the house where she stayed.

My parents, out of caution, refused to let me take a trip to see her. In defiance, I stole away from the house, much as I had multiple times before. Five hours later, I arrived, having only gotten moderately lost once. I parked the car in her yard, then saw her shyly make her way out to me. We passed a malfunctioning clothes dryer on my way into the house. When we finally had time alone, we embraced, kissed, then made our way upstairs. Desire fulfilled at last is one of the most pleasurable experiences I’ve had the good fortune to experience.

I’ve been careful throughout this book to be tasteful, especially in my depiction of sexuality and sexual expression. If what I’ve written was translated to a feature film, I can imagine writing the scene as follows. The audience would be satisfactorily made aware of what was happening, but only aware enough to establish the context. Two people would begin the process of lovemaking, then the scene would fade to black. However, it seems inauthentic to not provide some depiction of the images that have persisted over the years.

There’s an intimacy present in being astride a partner, smiling down at him or her. Kisses are equal parts tender and ferocious. The act itself seems like a dream. Dead to your surroundings, your universe shrinks. The overstimulated brain lights up. There’s a kind of animalistic single-mindedness present. What one is doing for the moment is the most important act of one’s entire life, or at least it seems that way. And when this most primal, most carnal, most sensual deed is ongoing, nothing else matters.

It lasts for minutes, usually, though all concept of time and space is lost in the ether. When concluded, the senses take a while to re-calibrate. Holding onto one another, mutually processing, both become aware of their own nakedness with time, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I’ve seen the glassy eyed look of a lover pushing herself or himself up on shaky arms, taking stock of the situation. I’ve taken in with my senses a nudity of another sort, the naturalness of that exact moment. Eventually, our brains return to normal waking thoughts.

We spent the whole day together in bed, making love off and on. I suppose the expected depiction would be for me to brag about this experience, as men before me have done. I never much was the kind inclined to kiss and tell, and a cocky, braggadocious swagger is not the pose I wish to adopt in this situation. My thoughts and recollections are usually too tied up in the memory of what happened, and I can’t remove my lover from the equation. I wouldn’t do it if I could.

The cheerfully disoriented nature of sex is what I remember most. On some instinctual plane, I always feel satisfied with myself afterwards. Regardless of the gender of the person who has shared my bed, I believe that I’ve fulfilled some kind of primordial need or obligation. The emotional component is significant, but I do recall a few powerful visuals here and there.

These still images, like memory itself, are randomly scattered and wholly non-linear. I’ve just experienced a personal photo shoot of a sort. In it, the best pictures are pulled out of sequence and put on display. The gallery is my mind. A handful last forever.

While the feeling itself subsides quickly, the photography session of my mind’s eye will never be wiped clean. The feat has always felt like a distillation, a grand encapsulation of the human experience. Why anyone would want to deny this pleasure and corresponding sense of wonder has always escaped me. Abstinence is cruelly restrictive. Sex is beautiful and moving. Instead of taking a holistic view, we are fixated upon the eroticism, the tawdry, and the salacious.

While all are undeniably present, if separated from the whole of their parts, it is only one component and should not be held in isolation. Sex is a gift from God and should be treated as such.

A Notice

I will be elsewhere starting from this Wednesday, August 15, until Sunday, August 19. The reason for my absence is that I am attending a particularly epic and involved wedding. Blogging will be sporadic during that time. I might be able to steal a few moments away here and there to post, but I don't expect to be terribly prolific for a while.

What free time I do have will likely be used to write more of the book. Briefly, I will say that I'm 75 pages into the manuscript. My next milestone is to reach 100. You may have noticed that writing this book has taken precedent over other work. Though I'm under no firm timetable, I do feel that I need to use creative energy when I can.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Quote of the Week



"When you neighbor wrongs you, do not resent him; rather have pity for his lack of wisdom and understanding that would prevent his wrongful acts. We should make more haste to do right to our neighbor, than we do to wrong him; and instead of being revengeful, we should leave him to be judge of his own satisfaction or dissatisfaction with his unjust acts."- William Penn

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday Video



Express yourself, don't repress yourself
Express yourself, don't repress yourself
Express yourself, don't repress yourself
Express yourself, don't repress yourself

And I'm not sorry [I'm not sorry]
It's human nature [it's human nature]
And I'm not sorry [I'm not sorry]
I'm not your bitch don't hang your shit on me [it's human nature]

You wouldn't let me say the words I longed to say
You didn't want to see life through my eyes
[Express yourself, don't repress yourself]

You tried to shove me back inside your narrow room
And silence me with bitterness and lies
[Express yourself, don't repress yourself]

Did I say something wrong?
Oops, I didn't know I couldn't talk about sex
[I musta been crazy]

Did I stay too long?
Oops, I didn't know I couldn't speak my mind
[What was I thinking]

And I'm not sorry [I'm not sorry]
It's human nature [it's human nature]
And I'm not sorry [I'm not sorry]
I'm not your bitch don't hang your shit on me [it's human nature]

You punished me for telling you my fantasies
I'm breakin' all the rules I didn't make
[Express yourself, don't repress yourself]

You took my words and made a trap for silly fools
You held me down and tried to make me break
[Express yourself, don't repress yourself]

Did I say something true?
Oops, I didn't know I couldn't talk about sex
[I musta been crazy]

Did I have a point of view?
Oops, I didn't know I couldn't talk about you
[What was I thinking]

And I'm not sorry [I'm not sorry]
It's human nature [it's human nature]
And I'm not sorry [I'm not sorry]
I'm not your bitch don't hang your shit on me [it's human nature]

Express yourself, don't repress yourself
Express yourself, don't repress yourself
Express yourself, don't repress yourself
Express yourself, don't repress yourself

Did I say something true?
Oops, I didn't know I couldn't talk about sex
[I musta been crazy]

Did I have a point of view?
Oops, I didn't know I couldn't talk about you
[What was I thinking]

And I'm not sorry [I'm not sorry]
It's human nature [it's human nature]
And I'm not sorry [I'm not sorry]
I'm not your bitch don't hang your shit on me [it's human nature]

And I'm not sorry [I'm not apologizing]
It's human nature [Would it sound better if I were a man?]
And I'm not sorry [You're the one with the problem]
I'm not your bitch don't hang your shit on me [Why don't you just deal with it]

And I'm not sorry [Would you like me better if I was?]
It's human nature [We all feel the same way]
And I'm not sorry [I have no regrets]
I'm not your bitch don't hang your shit on me [Just look in the mirror]

And I'm not sorry [I don't have to justify anything]
It's human nature [I'm just like you]
And I'm not sorry [Why should I be?]
I'm not your bitch don't hang your shit on me [Deal with it]

Friday, August 10, 2012

Don't Fade on Me

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball
___________________

Don’t Fade on Me

If someone goes two days without calling me, I’m convinced that I’ll never hear from them again. It wasn’t until I first got involved in therapy that I learned of the appropriate label to describe the condition. These were fears of abandonment. Establishing a bonafide reason why was difficult at first, but eventually I held myself up to enough scrutiny to solve a few riddles.

It has been said that in the times before feminism, women found their own fates hopelessly linked with that of their boyfriend or husband. For them, being cast aside was a fate worse than death. For me, being discarded for any reason created pain on par with nothing else. Regardless of how separation was intended, I believed I had been neglected once more.

In addition to having a difficult infancy, separation anxiety persisted beyond birth into early childhood. Mom literally dragged me to preschool day after day. When it was time for class to begin, I pitched a fit, every morning. Clinging bodily to her, I had to be forced to disengage and head inside the building, to immediately take my place at my desk. I became less clingy and fearful with time, but the same basic anxiety remained.

I was seeing someone again. She stayed in almost continual contact. I might receive seven phone calls every day, each for a different reason. For a while, I didn’t mind. I saw a reflection of myself in her behavior and didn’t want to be hypocritical. I even found this attention blitz endearing. I craved being needed, being wanted. In love, I was a giver, but had learned to be careful of how I sought to heal and enlighten others. This world has no shortage of takers.

My relationships with women weren’t always dark and dysfunctional. Periods of sweetness and romance existed alongside the more trying times. I remember the comforting silence and contentment of a lengthy embrace. I recall hours cuddled in bed, thinking of nothing else but how I enjoyed her company. The more dramatic and dynamic experiences tend to rise to the surface more easily. Tragedy wins an audience with ease.

Some people aren’t the relationship kind, or at least not the marrying sort. My dating history never truly reflected my intentions. Life had been challenging in many aspects. Basic interpersonal communication had come at a price. I suppose I never believed that anything much about it would come without sufficient exertion. I stumbled through the dark for years, as if blindfolded. Did I learn more from insight, or from the process of elimination?

She had to be constantly reassured. I went with her once to a gathering of her friends; I left realizing how different she was from all of them. She hadn’t given herself the opportunity to form any sort of intense bond, preferring the role of impassive observer. But at the same time, I knew how much she needed membership in some group to which she could belong. She treated friends the same way I often responded to relationship partners; even if they weren’t a good fit, they were at least something.

I knew she was lost and incredibly self-doubting. A lassiez-faire, melancholy acceptance in her fate made her appear defeated, beat down by life. Her situation made my own problems seem minuscule in comparison, and without meaning to, she boosted my own self-confidence. I loved her but could not intervene; if I did, she only pushed me away.

If only her faith in herself had been more prominent. When she left me, the fears of being cruelly jettisoned once more were proven true. Had our ending concluded with harsh words and raised voices, my worries might have been justified. Instead, our parting was sad and bittersweet. She wanted to stay together, noting that I’d pushed her to finally take control of her life. I couldn’t be angry, but I could surely feel hollow and rejected.

I always had the opportunity to turn around and start over afresh. Relationships ended and another episode entered, keeping me single for a little while until I recovered. The one-two punch of demoralizing mental illness and relationship collapse threw me back against the ropes. In the midst of a catastrophic life, one is afforded no time to mourn, no time for lamentations. Would this new person, he or she, be the one for me?      

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Gotta Get Up: Version 2

I recorded a version of this live a couple weeks back. In this version, I played rhythm guitar first, then overdubbed a vocal onto the backing track.




Gotta get up, gotta get out,
gotta get home before the morning comes.

What if I'm late? Gotta big date,
gotta get home before the sun comes up.
Up and away, got a big day,

Sorry can't stay, I gotta run run, yeah
Gotta get home, pick up the phone,
I gotta let the people know I'm gonna be late

There was a time when we could dance
until a quarter to ten,
We never thought it would end then,
we never thought it would end,

We used to carry on and drink
and do the rock and roll,
We never thought we'd get older,
We never thought we'd grow cold.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Self-Analysis (Or Lack Thereof)

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball
___________________

Self-Analysis (Or Lack Thereof)

Here, I comment about the craft of writing, not the actual text itself.

Throughout the process of writing, both of my sisters have contributed their own written accounts. I’ve used these submissions as background research. Primary sources such as these have been frequently illuminating. Raw emotion, however, often enters the picture. It would be unrealistic to expect otherwise. Turbulent times are being discussed, emotionally loaded memories are being reconsidered once more.

In its proper proportion, energy and enthusiasm are helpful, but angry commentary is not especially productive. Anger and resentment has crept in from time to time into these first-person accounts. Many of these issues have been held inside for a long time, never fully resolved. Forgiving and forgetting might be the best solution of all. Writing can be a catharsis, both for the writer and the active participants of any memoir.

Examining what I have read already, my sister Sara could be seen in literary terms as an unreliable narrator. She views no need within herself for personal change, defensively projecting her problems onto others. It’s her against the world, in her deliberately cloistered existence, and everyone else is a threat to freedom and autonomy. For those disinclined to see the truth as she sees it, she rarely has any time, nor any patience. Being an avoidant, evasive personality is her stock in trade.

Sara is a mass of contradictions. She complains repeatedly that she has been, with frequency, passed over by virtue of being the youngest born. Yet, curiously, she does not stand up for herself. She believes she’s been infantilized, reduced to the status of a perpetual child by two siblings and two parents. Instead, she’s never developed the skills to get her ideas across in a competitive, active, vocal family. Should criticism of any form be voiced, even constructive criticism, she retreats into herself. She talks a good game, but she can’t back it up.

Sara, in addition, holds significant resentment towards me. It is true that, when she was a child, my sister Melissa and I teased her. I wish we had not, but she was much younger than us and an easy target. I can’t think of a single child who wasn’t put through similar treatment. Most kids learn to put those times behind them, but Sara’s sensitivity will not allow her to move on with her life.

What she suffers from most is a victim complex. Her delusions of persecution are much of what holds her back, from a maturation and development standpoint. Contrary to what she thinks, none of us ever perceived of her contemptuously or dismissively. When I was very sick and suicidal, I was trying to will myself to take my own life. She’s never completely processed the fear and worry she felt during that time.

Sad to say, she’s not been willing to understand my struggles, compulsively focused instead on her own emotional reaction to the outside world. And what she has not mentioned in any of her accounts is her own suicide attempt and hospitalization, not long afterwards. The attempt upset me considerably. The woman who I was dating at the time helped me through it efficiently and effectively, and I’m lucky for that.

I remember feeling guilty that the years of family upheaval caused by my illness might have been the mitigating circumstances. But if this discussion is to serve out its best purpose, it needs to take a very different direction. That upon which she has been writing of late has little to nothing to do about an intent, or any intent, to end one’s own life. Nor does it have really all that much to do about me or anyone else. What is really laid before us is mostly a study of envy and inadequacy.

In writing this book, I’ve noted that of each family member has struggled with mental illness. Ranking who got the worst roll of the dice isn’t, as I’ve learned, an especially helpful exercise. Sara’s resistance to seeking treatment is meant to stand in for the vast number of people who, for their own reasons, delay or prolong seeking help. I’ve included her bitter vitriol to showcase how certain people with a chronic illness may respond to those who wish to help them get better.

My heart goes out to those who have been caretakers to the reluctant and suspicious. No person can be saved if he or she isn’t willing to make the first tentative, wobbly steps towards recovery. We learn much with time, though it takes some of us longer than others to hear it. Resources exist, but people can be extraordinarily stubborn.

Reading The Paradoxical Commandments, written by Kent M. Keith, has often provided me with words of wisdom and strength. I’ve found it especially helpful when managing a relationship with family members who have mental illness and chronic health conditions. Here are three commandments, the three that may be the most useful for these purposes.

1. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.

Help people anyway.

2. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.

Love them anyway.

3. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.

Be honest and frank anyway.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Doctor's Office Day

I don't have time to blog today, so I'll share a song with you instead. It is not meant to be taken literally, rather a criticism of bigotry and prejudice.


Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason
To live

They got little hands
And little eyes
And they walk around
Tellin' great big lies

They got little noses
And tiny little teeth
They wear platform shoes
On their nasty little feet

Well, I don't want no short people
Don't want no short people
Don't want no short people
Round here

Short people are just the same
As you and I
(a fool such as I)
All men are brothers
Until the day they die
(It's a wonderful world)

Short people got nobody
Short people got nobody
Short people got nobody
To love

They got little baby legs
And they stand so low
You got to pick 'em up
Just to say hello

They got little cars
That go beep, beep, beep
They got little voices
Goin' peep, peep, peep

They got grubby little fingers
And dirty little minds
They're gonna get you every time

Well, I don't want no short people
Don't want no short people
Don't want no short people
'round here

Monday, August 06, 2012

Channel One Is Not the Enemy



I remember Channel One as a middle school student. One of the anchors was Anderson Cooper, well before his hair turned prematurely grey. Channel One provided television sets to every classroom, assuming that the school air its daily broadcasts. My school subscribed, manipulating its daily rotating schedule to make sure we students could see it. Each day's broadcast was aired in a brief home room period in the early morning.

With the push of a button, television sets turned on automatically. A particular kind of magic was produced by making the whole school light up. Students often competed with each other to activate the large video recorder which recorded and played the broadcast. It took two minutes for screens to fully warm up, after which a slickly produced program began. Seeking to be hip, in much the same fashion as MTV, the studio where each broadcast originated was referred to as the “Hacienda”. The reporters were usually unknowns. Each was in his or her twenties or early thirties.

Channel One has always been controversial. From the start, many educators and outside groups have questioned its educational value. Yet, especially for schools without sufficient revenue, Channel One has provided technology they otherwise would have lacked. The affluent suburban public school district of my upbringing may have been seeking to save money. Channel One, to my knowledge, hasn’t been broadcast in its schools for fifteen years.
[One such group] Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, asserts that the Channel One television news program has limited educational value, its commercials are nothing more than plugs for the latest movie or movie star, and the Channel One website promotes other websites with inappropriate and even sexual content.

Channel One is a television news program -- along with commercials -- targeted toward teenagers. It is offered to schools, along with the hardware and television equipment to receive it, if they agree to show a daily 12-minute program that includes news, feature stories and two minutes of commercials.
For me, homeroom was a time to either frantically catch up on neglected homework, or to watch the broadcast. Other students ignored it outright, believing that getting caught up on the latest gossip was was more to their liking. I was a serious student and intelligent without apology, never understanding why my peers could be so dismissive. I always managed to get something out of every airing.

Seeking to educate the resistant and rebellious, especially at that age, is a challenge. The intractable attitudes of my classmates may well have been part of their development as somewhere between children and adults.

At the peak of puberty, the fashion was to avoid seeming too studious. Teachers tried to break through the impasse but these attempts rarely succeeded. We were the latest edition of the television generation. It was thought that if anything could reach young teenagers, Channel One could. As is often the case in a variety of areas, the actual broadcast was appreciated by the A students and usually ignored by everyone else. Television alone is no panacea as a teaching aid, especially when not backed up by effective pedagogy.

To speak to the arguments of concerned parents and non-profit groups, on occasion, we were transformed into marketing guinea pigs. To wit, we always got a sneak peak at a handful of the Super Bowl commercials a few days before Sunday evening. Much as is the case today in the rest of my life, the ads that were entertaining I remembered. Commercials that bored me or left no impact whatsoever I almost immediately forgot.

I happen to recall a series of several movie trailers preceding the 1994 release of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. This, if you'll recall, was the film that made Jim Carrey a superstar. Did this advertising barrage contribute to its massive box office success? I'm sure it must have, even a little. At that age, I found the film's silly humor absolutely hysterical. A report prepared by the same Anti-Channel One group states,
"The educational content is minimal. One analysis found that only 20 percent of Channel One's coverage was about recent political, social or cultural events; the other 80 percent was devoted to sports, weather, natural disasters, features and profiles and self-promotion of Channel One."
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood might consider changing its name. No childhood will ever be completely free from marketing and advertising. Our consumer society is at fault. Well-meaning parents often try to shield their kids from television’s poison, even removing sets completely from dens and bedrooms. These efforts have limited effectiveness. Capitalism’s direct effects are everywhere.

People sometimes think that if they can’t make a large splash, they’ll latch onto a smaller, more manageable issue. Regulating what children watch and observe in media is an example. Aggressively attacking the cultural currents and trends driving advertising towards children and adolescents might be a better goal. But impressing upon people the seriousness of a cause can create the same willful dismissiveness as is true for the average thirteen-year-old. When learning is a priority to all, there won’t be any need for Channel One.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Quote of the Week


"When you're rich, you want a Republican in office."- Jenna Jameson

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Poor People



            F                   F4
Poor people are poor people 

        F6                    F7
And they don't understand

     Bb7+                     A Gm
A man's got to make whatever he wants

      Bb7+                      C7
And take it with his own hands.

   F               F4
Poor people stay poor people
        F6                     F7
And they never get to see

    Bb7+                    A   Gm
Someone's got to win in the human race
      Bb7+                   C7
If it isn't you, then it's got to be me.



      Bb7+                  Fdim
So smile while you're makin' it
   Bb7+                  Fdim
Laugh while you're takin' it
    Bb7+                  Fdim
Even though you're fakin' it
 Bb7+         C7       F
Nobody's gonna know.

Bb7+          C7       F
Nobody's gonna know.


           F                  
No use mumbling.

      F4
It's no use grumbling.

F6                   F7
Life just isn't fair
          Bb7+
There's no easy days

         Gm
There's no easy ways

          Bb7+               C7
Just get out there and do it!

         Bb7+           Edim

And sing and they'll sing your song

   Bb7+               Edim

Laugh while you're getting on

   Bb7+               Edim

Smile and they'll string along

     Bb7+     C7       F
And nobody's gonna know.

     Bb7+  C7       F
Nobody's gonna know.

     Bb7+  C7       F
Nobody's gonna know.

     Bb7+       C7       F
And nobody's gonna know.

Bb7+       Fdim     Bb7+      Fdim

Saturday Video



Northeastern southwest Mississippi
and I'm going to reach my destination

Northeastern southwest Mississippi
and I'm going to reach my home
I'll wave to the river as I'm flying over

Northeastern southwest Mississippi
never mind the times

And as a matter of fact, you're just the kind
alone and temperamental

So rewind the clock, the machine,
and your one-wheeled unicycle
and as a matter of fact,

You're underpaid for all that you can offer
so tell the boys that they can fight
over your one-starred uniform

Friday, August 03, 2012

Country Roads, City Lights

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball
___________________

Country Roads, City Lights

My father grew up working class and poor in a small town in east Alabama, right on the Georgia line. His mother and far were primarily uneducated. Neither had even set foot inside a high school classroom. Like almost everyone else in that little town, my grandfather and grandmother worked inside a textile mill starting from a young age until they eventually retired. Few townspeople, certainly not my father's parents, understood why anyone would entertain the idea of leaving. This was the established way of life for many, much as subsistence farming had been the vocation of most before the mills were built.

Dad’s perseverance paid off. Though he was never more than an average student in public school, he was nevertheless the first person in his family to go to college. He chose to enroll at the University of Alabama, rather than Auburn University, which was located only a few miles from the place of his birth. Alabama was considered a school of higher prestige, having trained many of the state’s lawyers, politicians, and notable persons. Auburn, once called Alabama Polytechnic Institute, was the ag school and considered something of a cow college.

A couple years after graduation, my father met and then married my mother. Mom, nineteen at the time, was taking classes at Auburn, but then transferred to Alabama. Two years later, she would receive her own degree. Dad thought of himself on some level as a working class kid made good, but my mother had been raised to think very differently. Her family lived a blue collar life as well, but her parents held strong intellectual and cultural pretenses. They desperately wanted a middle class life for themselves and conducted themselves accordingly.

After five years of living without children, the decision was made to have me. My two sisters followed. Before long, car trips to visit my grandparents were scheduled with frequency. Mom and Dad were very democratic about it. One week they’d visit my father’s parents, the week after that, they’d visit my mother’s folks.

The trips to see my father’s family were the worst. These exercises in culture shock occurred with regularity for a while, always on Saturdays. I remember the long drive down, mostly on four lane highways with red lights. Immediately after exiting the car, dodging fire ant beds and the dusty red clay, I was confronted with an opposing culture that I could not and never would really understand. It challenged the middle class suburban outlook to which I’d been accustomed, a more urban perspective where southern accents were milder and opinions far less regional.

My cousins thought we were rich, which I found incredible. Their interests were incomprehensible, at best. They supported NASCAR, talked incessantly about automobile repair, and openly speculated about favored stock car drivers and races yet to come. Phrases like out yonder and over yonder were used in conversation, archaic English that was centuries out of date. The usage underscored the undeniable fact that we might as well have been speaking a different language.

My aunt displayed a black velvet painting of Elvis on the wall of a room adjacent to the screened in back porch. This was the living room where one of two televisions sat, though it had once been a bedroom. My aunt and cousins chain-smoked cigarettes and, took several breaks throughout our visit to attend to their addictions. Because of a substandard diet and lack of emphasis upon regular exercise, my cousins were several pounds overweight and always looked somewhat ill.
    
Sometimes, but not always, my grandparents fought. They were both on their second marriage. The first marriage for each had produced a child and very frosty divorce. My grandmother destroyed all of the pictures in her possession of her first husband. My grandfather never talked of his first wife. Dad has a half-sister who shares with him the same biological father, but she has never appeared to desire a relationship with him. She and he have never met in person and, over sixty years later, and I doubt they ever will.

Matrimony, the second time around, was not without its own problems. I must admit I often wondered why the two of them had stayed together as long as they had. Dad wasn't really allowed to be a child; he was too busy playing referee between two warring parents. On occasion, his mother left the family for days on end. She'd browbeat my father upon her return. I only came back because of you. For this reason, among others, my father held ambivalent feelings about her for the rest of her life.

Though this might be idle speculation, pathology seems present here. Alongside unstated emotional issues is co-dependency. The mental health problems in my father’s family, though always deflected by Dad, took the form of severe dysfunction, but not any diagnosed illness. No one would have thought to consult a specialist. Such things were simply not done, not in the rural South.

My mother’s father most likely had bipolar disorder. Though never medically pronounced as such, he showed all the classic symptoms, but lived in a time where men were too ashamed to admit to mental illness. When he could work, he worked hard out in the fields, drilling water wells. In many out of the way places, often in rural settings, wells were the only source of potable water. They were especially irreplaceable in situations where city water systems did not reach his customers.

When he could not work, my grandfather took to bed, whereupon my grandmother took over running the business until he resurfaced. That was a silent agreement never to be vocalized publicly. My mother's family kept secrets, and that was one of them.

My grandfather took many of them to the grave. It is evident that his life had not been easy. His first wife committed suicide. He had the misfortune of having to discover her body. I didn’t learn this story until I well into adulthood, years after his death. A shared history of psychiatric disorders, whether expressed or unexpressed, can attract and hold two people together. Indeed, here are at least two instances where illness has been unifying, the adhesive. But, as is also plain to see, illness can also complicate matters considerably.  

My mother’s mother had been born into Depression-era adversity, a difficult life made even more hardscrabble because of her own mother’s emotional storms. Probably schizophrenic, the unfortunate woman was eventually shipped away to an insane asylum. This event occurred when my grandmother was very young, still a child. And, in all of twenty years, I heard my Grandmother speak about her own mother only once. She was only mentioned in the context of my own illness. Grandmother always felt guilty that her genes had contributed to my bipolar disorder.

As the story goes, my great-grandmother, in a suicide attempt, had tried to drown herself in a water tank. The tank was located outside on the family property. A servant fished her out. She was barely alive when discovered. Her condition sadly deteriorated further from there, requiring additional methods of treatment. My great-grandmother lived out the rest of her days in the asylum. In those days, the medications that could have adequately regulated her condition had not yet been discovered.

Considered a shameful secret, my great-grandmother’s story was never to be spoken of for any reason. Families who keep mental illness under lock and key are part of my motivation for writing this book. Secretive attitudes have frustrated treatment, or driven those with psychiatric conditions to resort to self-medication. Though today’s prescription drugs are not perfect, it is possible for many people to live near-to-normal lives. I am an example of that.