Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Look out, Mama,
there's a white boat comin' up the river
With a big red beacon, and a flag,
and a man on the rail

I think you'd better call John,
'Cause it don't look like they're here
to deliver the mail

And it's less than a mile away
I hope they didn't come to stay
It's got numbers on the side and a gun
And it's makin' big waves.

Daddy's gone, my brother's
out hunting in the mountains
Big John's been drinking
since the river took Emmy-Lou

So the powers that be left
me here to do the thinkin'
And I just turned twenty-two
I was wonderin' what to do

And the closer they got,
The more those feelings grew.

Daddy's rifle in my hand felt reassurin'
He told me, Red means run, son,
numbers add up to nothin'

But when the first shot hit the dock
I saw it comin'

Raised my rifle to my eye
Never stopped to wonder why.
Then I saw black,
And my face splashed in the sky.

Shelter me from the powder and the finger
Cover me with the thought that pulled the trigger
Think of me as one you'd never figured

Would fade away so young
With so much left undone
Remember me to my love, I know I'll miss her.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Good News/Bad News

I retained power during Hurricane Sandy. However, I'm still too tired due to thyroid to post. Writing may be sporadic until I am properly treated.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Conditional Love

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Conditional Love

Until I got sick, our family was the spitting image of saccharine wholesomeness. A picture that still hangs on the wall in my parents’ house shows a family portrait in happier days. Everyone is smiling with great gusto, flashing expressions that would have appeared forced had they not been genuine. Even my father seems relaxed, beaming at the camera. For once, I appear comfortable in front of the lens, not introverted and shy, seeking to collapse into myself.

Twenty years later, the change has been prominent. I’m not sure that I would consider our family dysfunctional as much as battle-weary. We’ve had our moments of histrionics and our quirks, for sure. My father is a chronic worrier and inclined to catastrophize even the smallest of problems. It is a condition I have inherited, to some extent, either genetically or by osmosis.

I am very fortunate to have had the parents I did. My mother’s brothers are thoroughly self-absorbed. They’ve never felt like real people to me, this because they’ve never been willing to show a broad range of personality. One of my uncles is always right and never wrong. If he is challenged, he terminates conversation immediately. He wants to be validated, but if he doesn’t receive it, he can’t tolerate being challenged.

My other uncle appears to have a pleasing, friendly personality, at least at first. He is, however, a name-dropper and social climber. The charm is all for show, and often to gain some material ends. His business dealings at times have bordered on unethical. Once, years ago, he was desperate for political power and tried to set himself up as a candidate for elective office. This was, of course, until his own mistakes and character flaws eliminated him as a plausible politician.

Both are heavy drinkers and likely functional alcoholics. Much of their personalities result from the place of the birth, small-town Alabama of the 1950’s. The Fifties were a time in which masculinity revolved around being tough and not showing weakness. Nowadays, you’d refer to the both of them as geeks. In the hyper masculine, tough guy culture of their upbringing, this distinction automatically rendered a person unable to conform, forever an outsider.

Their God is money. I do not want to seem uncharitable in levying that charge. My uncles grew up in borderline poverty, constantly without enough money. The psychological impact made enough of an impression that they were convinced they needed to make money by any means necessary. Or, as Scarlett O’Hara put it in Gone with the Wind,

As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!

I remember most the forced family gatherings. Thanksgiving dinners, in particular, were an experience akin to waterboarding. One uncle and his wife always hosted the gathering and prepared the meal. The two of them were sure to be at least somewhat intoxicated before everyone showed up. The blood feud always resumed when my other uncle entered the house with his own wife in tow.

Before long, accusations and counter-charges flew across the table. As a child, I could pick up on the thick tension in the room, knowing something was very wrong without having words to describe it. My uncles have never resolved their grievances and I sincerely doubt they ever will. They’re too old and set in their ways now. Most of the arguments were petty, often about the amount of power each presumably had in the Republican Party.

I’m glad my mother managed to survive this noxious atmosphere. If you want my honest opinion, I think that mental illness of one kind or another is present across the board. Genetically, it is rampant in the family, and knowing what I do now, I recognize their denial for what it is. They cannot own up to what they have, so they refuse to seek treatment. It is their unhealthy conduct that has led me to be open, truthful, and forthright with my own manic depression.

My Grandmother used guilt to pull her warring children together one more time. She was the only person who could have done it. Following her death, the custom has not been resumed. My mother tolerated the behavior of her brothers and their wives for a time, but their attitudes eventually led her to mostly disassociate herself entirely from certain members.

When it happened, I felt satisfied and proud of my mother for being courageous enough to make the difficult, but necessary decision. She put up with family drama about ten times longer than I ever could. As I study the dynamics present, I see conditional love and denial in great proportion. The jury’s still out as to how I make sense of it all.

When my grandmother died, I didn’t grieve her passing much. I was the fair haired child who could do no wrong. My sisters could do no right. I find it strange that such a strong woman would favor male children over female children. Eventually, I came to resent having to constantly defend my sisters while being placed upon a pedestal. I never asked to be placed on high and did not find it flattering.

My uncles made a few lame, half-hearted gestures to establish a relationship with me. One took me hunting, a practice I felt no need to continue. The other paid to have me flown down shortly before Christmas. We went fishing, then fried the recent catch in peanut oil on the boat with a portable grill. Beyond these gestures, we had no real relationship and do not now.

I can only remember their behavior while intoxicated. The two become extremely silly, even childish. But I do not consider them to be authentic people. They are much too repressed and neurotic for that.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Quote of the Week

"The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught."- H.L. Mencken

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday Video

Can anybody see the light
Where the morn meets the dew and the tide rises
Did you realize, no one can see inside your view?
Did you realize, for why this sight belongs to you?

Just set aside your fears of life
Through this sole desire
Done it warning
Done it now
This ain't real

On in this side
Done it warning
Done it now
This ain't real
On in this side

Done it warning
Done it now
This ain't real

Done it warning
Done it now
This ain't real
On in this side

Can anybody see the light
Where the morn meets the dew and the tide rises?
Did you realize, no one can ever see inside your view?
Did you realize, for why this sight belongs to you?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Step Inside Love

Step inside love, let me find you a place
Where all the cares of the day
Will be carried away
By the smile on your face
We are together now and forever
Come what may
Step inside love and stay

Step inside love
Step inside love
Step inside love
I want you to stay

You look tired love, let me turn down the light
Come in out of the cold
Rest your head on my shoulder
And love me tonight
I'll always be here if you should need me
Night and day
Step inside love and stay

Step inside love
Step inside love
Step inside love
I want you to stay

When you leave me, say you'll see me again
For I know in my heart
We will not be apart
And I'll miss you till then
We'll be together now and forever
Come what may
Step inside love and stay

Step inside love
Step inside love
Step inside love
I want you to stay

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Health Update

This morning I visited my third separate endocrinologist in the DC area. It pleases me greatly to report that I finally received a diagnosis that was in keeping with my symptoms. I only wish the office of the doctor was more accessible to public transportation, as I very deliberately do not own a car. Insurance isn't going to cover as much of the total cost as I would like, but to receive actual answers instead of nothing at all is worth the increased bill.

It has been determined that, indeed, I do have a thyroid condition. The gland itself is very swollen. To determine whether the thyroid gland is under-producing or over-producing hormone, I will undergo a test in two weeks. In keeping with the protocol, I will consume radioactive iodine in pill form, then have its effects measured throughout the day. I must arrive at 8:30 am two days in a row.  

It is believed that my condition is caused by taking high doses of Lithium. Lithium has been extremely effective as a mood stabilizer for bipolar disorder. I credit it with keeping me out of mania for the last four years. I won't stop taking it, but the hefty daily dose has begun to negatively effect other parts of my body. Side effects like these are unavoidable sometimes, especially with powerful psychotropic medication. The effect on the body, with time, can be an issue.

Keeping this blog regularly updated is a goal I keep for myself every day. Unfortunately, for the duration, fatigue and other side effects have made me too weak to regularly produce content. When I can do it, I will. When I can't, I'll rest. Those are the only choices I have. Thank you, readers, for being patient with me.

I'm fast approaching the end of the book, but may need to delay my end date by a few weeks. Being effectively treated is the highest priority I now hold for myself.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Medical appointments today. More tomorrow.

Today is my birthday, as well. I'm not sure how one is supposed to feel at 32.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Harmless Fun

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Harmless Fun

For each of the last two years of high school, my destination was always the same immediately following dismissal. After parking my car in a vacant lot next door, I walked up the steps to a highly elevated front porch, where one of my classmates lived. Often the family’s two erstwhile cats had decapitated a small animal or two, usually squirrels, leaving their severed heads on the floor mat.

After disposing of the latest feline love offering, the glass pipe came out and smoking began. I was a novice at first, but wanted to seem as though I knew what I was doing. My cover was blown almost instantly, but no one gave me a hard time about it. I did not know the proper way to light the bowl. A fellow participant corrected me early on, as before I’d confused the bowl for the carb. A carb regulates airflow in and out of the pipe. Lighting it does absolutely nothing.

Her parents always returned home from work a couple hours later. We finished up well before they arrived. I can’t remember now how I got hooked into this network of friends. Because I’d always had trouble forming friendships, I graciously accepted the offer and appreciated the fellowship. They were kind and non-judgmental at a time where many of my peers were the exact opposite.

One of the reasons I was there was because of my feelings for the host of the party. She kindly swatted away my advances, one by one. Serially monogamous, I got the feeling that she didn’t really know what she wanted out of a boyfriend. Few of us did at that time. My feelings faded away eventually.

My first creative writing efforts were often introduced to those present on the front porch. Though I consider them juvenile and a little embarrassing now, they do show great promise. The people with whom I kept company were not academic high-achievers as I was. If anything, they were classic underachievers, the sort of kids we called “alternative” then, although that phrase doesn’t mean now what it meant then.

I was a huge Tori Amos fan at the time, as was she. Her older sister left behind the sheet music to several songs. A guitarist, the complicated chords of each song were beyond my skill. Around the same time, Tori became something of a gay icon. I saw her in concert twice, surrounded by queer men and women. Most people passing time on the front porch were as interested in music as I was, but mostly disinterested in the same bland, formulaic Top 40 that ruled the charts.

Bluff Park is a self-contained community within the city limits of Hoover. As the name would suggest, it is at a higher elevation than the rest of the city. The last vestiges of blue collar life, or at least lower middle class life can be found there. Bluff Park kids stick together through thick and thin. I still remember watching packs of girls walking the streets together after school, talking and gossiping.

Earlier in high school, I’d befriended a fellow guitarist from the same community. I was just learning the instrument, but was picking things up quickly. Both of his parents smoked inside the house. Now, I’d find the practice intolerable, but in those days I smoked copiously myself, so it didn’t really seem to matter. I will say that, should I sleep over, I smelled like I’d been out to a club all night.

His mother was an alcoholic, or at least a heavy drinker. She made passes at me, even though I was fifteen and still several years underage. She didn’t seem to discriminate much with her affections, since she also flirted shamelessly with my father when he arrived to pick me up. My friend appeared to ignore this as much as possible. I suppose, under the circumstances, I would have tried to do the same thing.

I remember heading for the showers the instant I arrived home, to wash off the cigarette smell. Not yet having much confidence or experience around those to whom I was attracted, my attentions often turned to his mother. Did she really want me, or did she only want the attention? She was clearly quite fond of me because of my musical ability, but due to my young age, I wasn’t sure what to do with the mixed messages.

As it turns out, I never pushed too hard. I was intimidated enough by women my age. Her husband was always present, only a room or two away. I wondered if he knew about his wife’s preoccupations. They were flagrant, so I imagine he must have registered complaints at some time or another. Though speculation is rarely constructive or helpful, I wondered then and wonder now if they had an open relationship.

Monday, October 22, 2012


I saw something of myself in you
Too much, in fact

The way you preened
before a mirror
talked a little too loudly

Projectile vomited
your life story
in the direction
of anyone within earshot

They only rolled their eyes
clucked their tongues
made circular motions
around their temples

when you weren't looking

I tried not to notice

the intoxicated swagger
you seemed to mistake
for self-confidence

I never pointed out
the brightly lit stage
you strode upon

was held up by
contradiction and condescension

I knew
that myths and fairy tales
kept your heart beating

Thus I wasn't surprised
to find the death
of your last panacea

covered in your own blood

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Quote of the Week

"A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all-knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity."- Eleanor Roosevelt

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday Video

Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.
Ain't nothing like the real thing.
Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.
Ain't nothing like the real thing.

I got your picture hangin' on the wall,
But it can't see or come to me when I call your name.
I realize it's just a picture in a frame.

I read your letters when you're not near me,
But they don't move me, and they don't groove me
Like when I hear your sweet voice whispering in my ear.

I play the game, a fantasy.
I pretend I'm not in reality.
I need the shelter of your arms to comfort me.

I got some memories to look back on
And though they help me when you're gone,
I'm well aware nothin' can take the place of you being there.
No other sound is quite the same as your name.
No touch can do half as much to make me feel better,
So let's get together.

Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.
Ain't nothing like the real thing.
Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.
Ain't nothing like the real thing.

Friday, October 19, 2012

San Antonio


San Antonio, a set on Flickr.

Health Update

Pardon for minimal posting. My thyroid is screwed up. It will be Thursday before I even begin to get a preliminary diagnosis. Endocrinologist are over-scheduled these days. Baby boomers with diabetes are their primary clientele, and they never hurt for business.

I'll save a lengthy description of what's going on with me for later.

I've been forcing myself to write the minimum until my strength returns. Properly spaced, the book now runs to 163 pages. As I've read through each chapter, I recognize I've repeated myself a few times. But this is the domain of an editor. I first believed I'd never write 100 pages, and now I'm wondering what the optimum length should be. I've packed an awful lot into this, the first draft.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

False Prophets

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

False Prophets

After waiting for eight hours in the ER, I was finally triaged and made to sit in a room. The hospital was the best in town and I'd made a conscious decision to choose it. Quality of care from hospital to hospital varies considerably, based primarily on available financial resources. Unfortunately, all the beds were taken, so I was transferred to another one. In accordance with the law, I had to be placed somewhere, whether it was in the next country over or the next state. Where I was headed was based entirely upon chance.

A bed opened up at the worst hospital in the city, one that was in danger of completely coming apart. I wanted to leave almost immediately upon being admitted, but I needed help and couldn’t turn down any offer of assistance. Psychiatric wards are not my favorite places to be, especially because I’ve experienced multiple lengthy stays over time.

Upon entrance, the patients reacted to me in unexpected ways. Some treated me like The Messiah. The label was not deserved, nor sought. My mistakes and limitations were no different than theirs. Mine came attached with the splendor of a college education, a loftier vocabulary, and a few more exotic road trips. Even had I tried, I wouldn't have been able to convince the most mentally ill of my mortal status.

I noticed, rather quickly, that they asked to borrow my clothing. They coveted things that had touched my body, lusted after them like talismans, as though they somehow had power and charm. There was a touch of the supernatural about it, as though they believed that wearing my clothes would make my own supposed superior traits transfer onto them. I imagined they worshiped them, placed them before altars, and whispered incantations before bed.

I went through the motions as I had many times before. I yet again unenthusiastically watercolored a cheap piece of balsa wood in the shape of a fish. While doing so, I made unsatisfying small talk with fellow patients. Social class and educational opportunity kept me from the company I sought, forcing me to skim across the surface instead with unsubstantial small talk.

I never quite understood the point of occupational therapy. Nor did I understand the choice of words. This activity wasn't exactly labor-intensive, nor did it promote any sort of helpful exercise that I could reckon. What it did to was occupy patients' time while the staff took smoke breaks and drank copious amounts of diet soft drinks.

We filed into a room with lots of tables and chairs. One was supposed to select three colors that he or she preferred, all found in large plastic see-through cylinders. One hoped that they weren't painted shut from someone else's earlier carelessness. One was next supposed to select an object to paint. I went through the motion, but not with much relish or zest for the task at hand.

All of us patients had a measure of freedom perhaps undeserved, one that could be dangerous. The staff was too consumed with making sure that a particularly patient, who everyone called Mr. Norris, wasn't sexually harassing the other patients or mutilating himself. He would sidle up to female patients and express a desire to kiss them. The only thing the staff could think to do to discipline him was to restrict his smoke breaks.

No, you ain't smoking today, Mister Norris, said the nurse, her face a portrait of annoyance, hands on hips. I heard you been causin' trouble.

I had the misfortune of rooming with Mr. Norris. I would find bloody rags and paper towels in the trash can. I would wipe the urine off of the toilet seat. I would never walk around in the bathroom without rubber soled shoes. Having lived with men before, some of this was expected, but I still found that a lack of basic cleanliness was totally disgusting.

They called all of us, even the hopeless cases, Mister, Miss, or Misses. One could almost believe that we really weren't stark raving insane, that we were instead guests at some exclusive resort with horrible food and dishwater coffee. I appreciated the professionalism, but it didn’t seem to fit here, under these circumstances.

The true entertainment was watching Mr. Norris moonwalk across the room with a dishcloth on top of his head, much to the amusement of other patients. The day room was where we spent most of our waking hours. A round-faced, sarcastic patient had maybe one-half a front tooth left, due to years of drug addiction. I tried to ignore the visuals. At some point, she accidentally brushed up against me, whereupon the oily foundation she had caked onto her cheeks rubbed off on me.

Is this even? I didn't have the heart to tell her that she was asking the wrong questions. Whether or not her makeup was evenly distributed wasn't the problem. I doubt she was well enough to do it herself. Until she recovered, her hands were too unsteady, her perception too impaired.

I had various rude nicknames for certain patients I disliked. Snow White was the moniker of one such woman, an exceptionally pale-skinned thirty-two-year-old who had slashed her wrists. She showed us all the threads of the stitches that had closed the open wound. It reminded me of horror films--the way that eyelids are sewn shut. She pulled out her Bible in an effort to show us how the events of the present day were connected in some large, overlapping way.

She a day later, she terrified the more trusting, and more devout members of the ward by feigning a seizure in the dayroom. Faking her convulsions she continually repeated the same verse in Proverbs. This had drawn the fury of the rest of the patients, and leaving her now a pariah. Other patients angrily confronted her for faking illness and turning the ward upside down. I suppose she wanted the attention.

Later in the day, she practically dry-humped me, leaning over my body under the pretense of re-attaching a loose telephone cable. She wondered out loud if she could divorce her husband. I wasn’t sure what she was implying, but didn’t want to find out. I wasn't interested, if she was suggesting I might consider being her lover.

Mr. Norris talked non-stop. Initially, he'd kept me anxious and on edge. The staff had seen everything by now. A nurse gave me a reassuring smile and told me oh, he's just old and confused. Mr. Norris droned on and on, returning to the same two or three lines. He owned a house over by the helicopter pad, he claimed. He’d point out the window towards the location, with great emphasis, assuming you were also capable of seeing it yourself.

I arrived at the hospital in the middle of some fairly massive exploration of my sexual orientation. I was too sick to hide evidence of it. My socks off, Mr. Norris looked at my painted toenails. I wish I had some polish on my nails. Would you do it for me? You know if they saw a man like me with polish on his nails they'd call him a sissy. I wasn’t sure how to honor his request and had not, in any case, brought toenail polish with me.

After Last Night's Debate

Don't call it a comeback.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Grad School, Part Two

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

In seminar my behavior could get tongues wagging. In a small program, the same fifteen people took courses simultaneously, several times a week. I got to know several of my classmates well as a result and I’m sure they got to know at least one prominent side of me. A year or so before, I’d attended an intense, highly partisan Unitarian Young Adult conference. For the first time in my life, I was introduced to an aggressive dose of queer theory and radical politics.

Memories of the experience stayed with me for a long time. I suppose I’m still processing the shock today. I’d been afraid of many of those parts of myself until then, but the energetic presentation I observed boosted my confidence considerably. But then I had to go home, back to a culture diametrically opposed to what I’d learned.

Upon my return to Alabama, I’m sure I courted gossip in bushels. To most of my fellow students, I think I was probably considered something of a radical leftist. It was true that I had been recently radicalized and empowered, but I returned to a very conservative state and a very conservative school. Few shared my beliefs and a few were hostile to them, though they never directly challenged me.

I’d previously conducted my affairs with men incognito, but I was no longer willing to stay closeted. Had I not been in the middle of mania, I would have never had the courage to be so open. Today, with thousands of dollars of therapy bills to show for it, I’m still afraid and made uncomfortable around other men. One of the paradoxes of my life is that only being inhibited or intoxicated allows me the ability to truly relax and not feel mortified in male company.

One day, on some errand or another to the history department office, I shyly asked a student in my program if he was gay. He was seated behind a desk in the front, the de facto secretary. I believe I passed him a note written on notebook paper, not courageous enough to ask point blank. He indicated that he was, noting that he wished there wasn’t a need for such secrecy. Now he was in on what would become the worst kept secret of all.

From then on out, I took great delight in being a huge tease. I discovered he wasn’t bold enough to suggest we go to bed. For the sake of shock value alone, while seated a chair over in seminar, I’d leave my notebook open where he could see it. Inside, I’d earlier, quite deliberately, hidden a particular magazine that showcased the physical profiles of attractive, very naked men. With a kind of glee, I delighted as he took a sharp intake of breath in surprise, as I immediately closed my notebook resolutely shut.

I enjoyed having control in situations like these, situations that I’d created myself. Earlier in my life, I’d been placed in a submissive posture where I’d been unable to assert my own free will. Now, seeking to even the score, I got to be the one who called the shots. It was pleasurable and gratifying to encourage men to pursue me, or at least to acknowledge that they found me sexually appealing.

In the unique circumstances mania provided,  I wanted as much as I could get. This recently adopted attitude influenced all aspects of my life. For example, I audaciously chose to review a book for class that explored the intersection between homosexuality and southern identity. Once I’d given my presentation, the professor moved across the table from me. I’d dared to show myself as queer, and he couldn’t deal with it.

Nearly ten years later, I could feel more scorned, more rejected, but I don’t. Our personalities and ideas were similar and I thought of him almost as a colleague, not an instructor. Perhaps that is what got to him, the idea that someone who wasn’t heterosexual could hold similar views with the same no-nonsense logic. I still hold him in high regard as a scholar and intellectual. Though his behavior disappointed me, I greatly respected his intellect and the ideas he introduced. Many still percolate in my mind, influencing the words I write today.

To his credit, he made a concerted effort later in the class to redeem himself. I could tell he was uncomfortable with me as I was. He was not used to this display of boldness. In the South, being queer is a private matter, where it might conceivably be less of a societal taboo in a different location. There were too many ironies at play for me to be indignant, even for wholly justified reasons.

To return to the minutia of class, I found my life constantly occupied with reading, writing, memorizing, and theorizing. School usually came easily for me. I focused now exclusively on my strongest subject, history, and assumed it would be only moderately challenging. Instead, I found myself stretched in ways I’d never before thought possible. I was never given an exam or a test once during my master’s program, but was expected to spit out completed assignments and analysis on a nearly daily basis.

For a while, mania came to my aid. When some students would spend two or three hours on a paper, I’d be hyperactive enough to devote nine or ten hours. Had mania not reached a state where I’d border and teeter on the edge of psychosis, which simply means being out of touch with reality, it might have been helpful. I made mostly A’s on my papers. My contributions in seminar were uniformly strong, and sometimes I even dazzled, reaching heights I’d never before dreamed I could manage.

In academia, eccentricity is expected and not necessarily thought to be out of the ordinary. Provided I could get my work done, no one really objected to my frequently erratic behavior. As is the case in many separate instances throughout the course of my life, I wish people had intervened well before I got severely ill. Environment was also a factor in why no one thought to reach out. I spent most of my time in situations among other people whose behavior and demeanor was often not considered ordinary or usual.

It was only a matter of time, I suppose, before I got too high and too ill. Final presentations came due. We were to observe and comment upon the work of others. A classmate wrote a paper on the history of The Beatles. He played a video segment in front of the class on a laptop as part of his presentation.  I’d seen it myself several times before. As it played, I energetically mimed, word perfect, the words of John Lennon during a particular interview.

My overstimulated mind performed flawlessly with the mimicry. Even when mentally well, my recall and memory was thought by many to be impressive. But in any case, my behavior during the presentation made me seem even stranger than before. Everything came to a crashing, clattering halt shortly thereafter. I was so manic that I began to dominate class discussions with rambling commentary.

My manic depression was common knowledge because I made no attempt to hide it. My professors were concerned about me, but likely didn’t know how to respond. Disaster struck. I lost the ability to write papers, read, and keep up with my classroom obligations.

The ability to produce expired with two weeks left at end of the term. It seemed unfair to have completed 90% of the work, only to fall flat at the end. I would have failed all three classes, had I not withdrawn from them. My first hospitalization specifically for mania, not for depression, followed next.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Different Look at The Civil War

The life of President Abraham Lincoln is now venerated legend. The legacy and history of the first and only President of the Confederacy, however, is not so well known. Jefferson Davis was ultimately blamed by many Southerners for losing the war, but at the outset was held in highest regard. Much as was true with Lincoln and the North, the South’s perception of its appointed, not elected leader changed dramatically from the beginning of the war until its conclusion four years later. Jefferson Davis’ story is compelling in its own right, showing the inner strength and decisiveness of a proud, but often intractable man.

Augustin Stucker’s new book, Lincoln & Davis: A Dual Biography of America’s Civil War Presidents, explores decisions made, battles won and lost, and the leadership qualities of both men. Within the pages, he advances several audacious arguments that previous scholarship has deliberately skirted. Stucker is unafraid to label the deified Abraham Lincoln as a believer in racist ideology, at least in his earlier days. The man usually credited with freeing the slaves, according to Stucker, should not be excused for merely being a product of his times.

Lincoln’s working class, small town Illinois upbringing and daily dealings took place almost exclusively in the company of other whites. Prior to the war, Lincoln’s only real interaction with blacks took place on journeys South. There, he encountered, from a safe distance, slaves working in the field. A moderate on most racial issues until the very end of the war, Lincoln believed from the outset that blacks were inferior to whites. Like many Northerners of his time, Lincoln found the practice morally objectionable, but hoped that slavery would eventually die out of its own accord.

Augustin’s account thoroughly covers forgotten events during the course of the war. Historians and journalists both are culpable to the same easy-to-digest story narratives that overemphasize detail for the sake of simplicity. Abraham Lincoln’s legacy as liberator does not always hold up alongside the facts.

The man who would eventually be the first Chief Executive of the Republican Party sought containment, not eradication of the peculiar institution. His paternalistic, somewhat condescending attitudes towards people in bondage were not unusual for the day. Radical abolitionists pushed Lincoln steadily towards Emancipation, but the cautious President was wary of causing needless division during the already heated wartime atmosphere.

Only upon meeting with notable free blacks like Frederick Douglass did Lincoln’s views changed. By the end of his life, Honest Abe began to adopt an attitude of full and unequivocal racial equality. Though the cause of the war had always been about slavery, the North’s stated agenda was to preserve the Union, not to liberate Negroes. It is to Lincoln’s credit that he was open-minded enough to set aside prejudices many of his age either could not or would not. The eloquent orator and consummate activist Douglass noted that Lincoln treated him no differently than if he had been white.

Lincoln’s Southern counterpart, Jefferson Davis, was considered the foremost political voice of the new Confederate States. Though he had served as a U.S. Senator from Mississippi, Davis was raised primarily in the divided border state of Kentucky. Though the family ran into financial trouble from time to time, Davis owned a plantation and lived as a wealthy planter in Mississippi, where his estate was located.

He’d been Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. Pierce and Davis were lifelong friends. By virtue of their close-knit ties, Davis was granted significant Executive authority over the country. He may well have been the power behind the throne. After Pierce’s single term in office concluded, Davis was selected by his adopted home state’s legislature to be a Senator. In those days, Senators were not yet directly elected by voters.

Davis did not court the office of President of the C.S.A. and only reluctantly accepted his appointed post. He was thought to be the only man capable enough for the job, and Davis recognized the faith his new country placed in him. When the news of his appointment reached him, Davis was initially aghast, not the even the slightest bit enthusiastic about taking on such a mammoth responsibility. Lincoln, by contrast, courted votes by the bushel and ran an energetic, eventually successful campaign.

In the end, Lincoln won the 1860 U.S. Presidential Election because he ran against an impossibly divided Democratic Party. The former Illinois Congressman captured a sufficient number of votes in the Electoral College, even when, in several Southern states, his name was not even printed on the ballot Lincoln’s election was the last straw for the South, though its views of Lincoln were reactionary rather than factual. The U.S. President was far more conciliatory and centrist than Confederate propaganda would lead one to believe.

The managerial styles of both men were opposite in nature. Whereas Lincoln relied on a so-called Team of Rivalries in his cabinet to make crucial decisions, Davis was by nature a micromanager. While Lincoln sought as many perspectives as possible when crafting policy, Davis always had the final say. Once Davis’ mind was made up, no one could ever change it.

An insomniac and workaholic, the Confederate President often kept active until the early hours of the morning. Unlike Lincoln, who saw limited military action earlier in life, Davis considered himself first and foremost a military man. Though he graduated towards the bottom of his class at West Point, Davis nonetheless had substantial prior combat experience. Like many Civil War generals, Davis had cut his teeth as a commanding officer in the Mexican War, twenty years prior.

Jefferson Davis signed off on many significant strategic decisions during the conflict. He worked best with Robert E. Lee, but clashed considerably with less successful and less skilled generals. Davis preferred a hand’s on approach to plotting military strategy; he had a large say in the decisions made. Lincoln knew little of battlefield tactics upon assuming his office, but when war came studied them extensively in his spare time. Due to his own persistence, he was eventually able to converse directly and extensively with his generals.

Lincoln, as it turns out, would need a good grasp of battlefield maneuvers. It took several changes of command before Lincoln found a winner. Davis focused his primary attention upon War Department business, seeing himself as a self-proclaimed War President. Much of the minutia could have easily been delegated to subordinates, but Davis was adamant that he and he alone was the most competent person to handle almost all military matters that crossed his desk.

A few months prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, the Lincoln Administration made an audacious offer to the slave-holding border states of Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. All three were offered money from the United States Government to buy outright the freedom of their slaves. Each state legislature flatly declined the offer. Lincoln and other politicians were of the opinion that whites and blacks could never live together peacefully, suggesting instead that freedmen and freedwomen should be sent to colonies to live apart from white society.

Davis had a different challenge before him. He found it difficult keeping the Confederate States united and on the same page. Confederate citizens tended see themselves as residents of a state first and a country last. Georgia’s governor Joseph E. Brown was Jefferson Davis’ wartime nemesis, denying the Confederacy needed soldiers and raw materials to the very end of the conflict. Governor Brown was unwilling to provide troops and economic support to the Confederacy, believing that his state needed preservation most of all.

In some respects, this struggle was no different than what the still-brand new United States had experienced eighty years before. Under its first written constitution, the Articles of Confederation, a weak central government proved to be wholly impotent and ineffective in running the country. Without a stronger central government, the United States could not raise needed tax revenue, nor could it build and maintain a standing army. For this reason, among others, the U.S. Constitution was eventually enacted in 1787.

Because of the focus on state first, not country first, the Confederate States were hampered by a defensive strategy that stretched troops too thinly. Its intention was to keep the entire borders of the fledgling country protected from attack. Against superior troop numbers, it proved to be an ineffective strategy. Confederate armies were outnumbered two and sometimes three to one, and could not challenge Northern armies in conventional ways.

In the South, Jefferson Davis’ legacy is mixed. Though blamed for losing the war by some, others champion his memory. Several Southern states still formally celebrate his birthday in early June, though certainly not as publicly as once was the case. Pro-Confederate stances are not politically correct these days. Even now, Abraham Lincoln is still one of the most highly regarded Presidents to hold the office. His face graces coinage and paper currency. Monuments and statues have been built to celebrate his honor.

As for how we should view the Civil War, we’ve been taught to focus on turning points—the names of a few pertinent battles, a few notable personalities, and an often overly simplified rendering of the facts. Usually these turning points are military blunders or poor strategic decisions made by politicians. The Civil War, for North and South alike, was a grand study in ego, hubris, and human nature. Generals flagrantly ignored orders, reinforcements arrived either too late or right on time, and skill was often subservient to luck.

The North and South both experienced triumphant successes and demoralizing defeats. It’s impossible to say for certain if one or two changes here and there could have swung the war in an entirely different direction. Each side struggled with poor leadership and each benefited from a few fortunate rolls of the dice. Nearly 150 years later, we continue to grapple with an account of how each event played out in time and space. Augustin’s book encourages us to take into account an accurate context of the times before we form our arguments and make our conclusions.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Quote of the Week

"If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal."- Emma Goldman

Saturday, October 13, 2012

For My Quaker Readers

Hello Friends,

As Liberal Quakers, we say we value a multiplicity of voices and opinions. We strive to ensure that no one's voice is left out of the greater discussion. Because we would not like to be excluded ourselves, we try to be justly tolerant of other religious traditions. We're often the first to champion and promote interfaith outreach efforts.

But do we focus as much on our own theology as we do strive to assist those who are persecuted? It's perfectly understandable to hoist aloft someone else's religious beliefs, for the sake of inclusion, but we can be exceptionally lukewarm in articulating our own.

Does this radically inclusive approach really work for us? To me, sometimes it seems to be counter-intuitive. As a Religious Society of Friends, are we often inclined to find fault with some perceived Friendly lacking more than we are in pursuit of a unifying common ground. In vocal ministry and dialogue, I encounter Friends who adamantly state, time and time again, what they are not, not what they are.

These personal views are often defensive in nature. To this I say, must we be instantly put on the defensive when it comes time to elucidate what we believe? That doesn't seem to be a very fair deal, never having control of the conversation.

How can we show ourselves as member of a Religious Society without worrying about how we might be perceived by others? Why let our skepticism and cynicism of organized religion lead us away from the Spirit? I myself wonder why we worry so much about being defined wrongly, without first energetically and enthusiastically showing who we really are.

Some people will always wrongly characterize others, usually for their own ends. That is a basic aspect of human nature and I wish we'd accept that we will never truly be able to be seen completely on our own terms.

Our conception of Spiritual purity and idealism may need to be modified. We know who we are not, but who are we, Friends?

As it has been noted many times before,

You will say, 'Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;' but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?"

This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly: and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, "We are all thieves; we are all thieves; we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves."

In the Light,


Saturday Video

Moving, just keep moving,
Till I don't know what's sane,
I've been moving so long,
The days all feel the same.

Moving, just keep moving,
Well I don't know why to stay,
No ties to bind me,
No reasons to remain.

Got a low, low feeling around me,
And a stone cold feeling inside.
And I just can't stop messing my mind up,
Or wasting my time.

There's a mow, low feeling around me,
And a stone cold feeling inside.
I've got to find somebody to help me,
I keep you in mind.

So I'll keep moving, just keep moving,
Well I don't know who I am,
No need to follow.
There's no way back again.

Moving, keep on moving,
Where I feel I'm home again,
And when it's over,
I'll see you again.

Got a low, low feeling around me,
And a stone cold feeling inside.
And I just can't stop messing my mind up,
Or wasting my time.

There's a low, low feeling around me,
And a stone cold feeling inside.
I've got to find somebody to help me,
I'll keep you in mind.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Grad School, Part One

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Grad School

After I finished with undergrad, I admit that I didn’t really know what to do with the rest of my life. In four and a half years, I’d struck up several close friendships with my professors. Observing their daily life and finding it appealing, I decided I’d enter academia myself. This was easier said than done, but of course I didn’t know that at first.

Applying for grad school, for the uninitiated, is accomplished in a series of exacting steps. One first studies for, then takes the GRE. The test itself is not cheap. It costs $160 today, but was a little less expensive when I took it. Because the exam contains a lengthy mathematics portion, my overall score was far lower than I would have liked. Some of the math deficiency was excused because my chosen field was history.

Score in hand, one decides upon presumptive universities upon which to apply, places one might eventually be admitted. Each school charges a fee to process and consider an application. As I recall, I spent between $50-$70 to cover each application fee. Had I been less pinched for money, I might well have applied for more.

Filling out a form and submitting the requisite fees is only part of the process. Each university wants no fewer than three recommendations per applicant from a professor. One must next find professors who are willing to comply, then nicely badger them to produce the requested paperwork in a timely fashion. In what they wrote about me, I’m sure that all my professors spoke highly of my intellect and academic achievement in their classes.

The most difficult to convince was a professor whose opinion I valued highly. He did not sugarcoat anything. His concerns were that I might be admitted to grad school, but would never make it the whole way through due to the mental and emotional stress. He had a valid point. After all, I’d had to drop three quarters during undergraduate due to substantial bouts with paralyzing depression. I was as well known for my mercurial moods and frequent nervous breakdowns as I was for proficiency in class.

I know that his letter of recommendation came with a strict caveat that I might not be stable enough to attain a degree. That would be enough to make some schools back off completely. Knowing my limitations, I opted for public universities and state schools. I wasn’t an impressive enough catch for any of the elite schools, so I didn’t waste time and money trying to win their favor.

I very nearly got into the University of Maryland, but fell at the final hurdle. I was asked to send to them a paper I’d written for a history class during my undergraduate career. Foolishly, I’d thrown most of them away, thinking there’d be no use for them anymore. The only paper I could locate was not one of my better efforts. As I recall, it received a C. But I had no choice but to send it along.

Had I enough foresight, I might have ended up relocating to the Washington, DC, area about five years before I did. When admission to Maryland didn’t pan out, I had to return to my alma mater. Though I might get away with receiving my M.A. from the same institution as my B.A., where I headed next to receive a PhD needed to be much higher up the food chain.

I started classes in August, a manic mess. Believed to only be eccentric, I was tolerated by my professors and fellow classmates. The first semester I managed to achieve passing grades. Challenged in a way I had never been before, I began to smoke pot constantly throughout the day. I believed I needed the intoxication to cope with the amount of work I was expected to consistently churn out.

I read 15-20 lengthy books per class. Along with the regimen of reading, I also had to locate and summarize journal articles in the library, write lengthy papers, and not sound uninformed during seminar. For a while, my strategy of staying stoned from sunup to sundown seemed to be working. It disguised that I was really scared to death of falling off the treadmill.

Medical Appointment Day

Posting today and tomorrow will be late, due to doctor's appointments.

More later.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

First Rejection

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

First Rejection

I remember well my first crush. I’d had other interests beforehand, but I’d never had much success. In fifth grade, with my mother's help, I presented gift after gift to a girl I liked. My mother pushed the relationship hard. A teacher at the same school I attended, I assumed her persistent suggestions meant that she had inside information. Not receiving much in the way of attention at first, I gave up trying. But just as my efforts to capture her attention had ceased, she expressed interest.

I'd been knocked off stride the whole time and promptly retreated within myself. A year passed. I kept a close friendship going with another girl. Like before, everyone else recognized the mutual attraction between us. Ironically, we never formally acknowledged it for what it was. In high school, she’d date a friend of mine and eventually get married a little while afterwards. She is now a mother, has gained a substantial amount of weight, and has never left Birmingham.

The hell known as seventh grade had descended. Puberty is hard-edged and unforgiving. Though we never talked about it, all of us were paradoxically fighting to survive as close to unscathed as possible. My next infatuation was very different from the ones that preceded it. She was mostly a stranger. I didn’t really know her well, beyond the fact that we had a mutual friend and inhabited the same English class.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at the rejection. She barely knew me. Not brave enough to tell me her decision directly to my face, she instead conveyed the message through an intermediary. At the time, I was a little miffed that I couldn’t have learned this information in a more direct way. When my hurt feelings subsided, I understood why she’d taken the course of action she did. I'd placed her in an awkward position, but she seemed to take it in stride, far more calmly than I ever could have.

Two minutes after the final bell, an unexpected figure approached me, pushing through the crowd of students headed back home. I recognized it to be one of her friends. The words she shared were brief. She says she’s really sorry, but no.

While still processing, I witnessed a fellow student deliberately pull the fire alarm, forcing the evacuation of the entire school. Surrounded by the frantic effort of principals and administrators to establish order, I spent the time deep in thought. In the middle of a crowd of fellow students, I found the juxtaposition jarring. When the all-clear was given, I boarded the bus home in silence.

I’d worked up the courage to ask her out over the phone. This took an extraordinary effort. Unbeknownst to me, someone else unwanted had been listening in to our conversation. My sister Melissa had correctly observed, from my slightly-panicked prior behavior, that I was going to call a girl. I’d made an extra effort to make sure that the land line would be my own for the next few minutes. The temptation to spy must have been too much for her.

She was listening in the whole time. Melissa ran into my room the instant the phone had been placed back in its cradle. A teasing, slightly mocking smile was on her face. I felt even more mortified than had been thought possible. The girl I’d called responded to my request with a nervous laugh. We’ll see, she said. I don’t really think she seriously considered my inquiry, but I can’t fault her for her response. It came out of the blue.

Melissa would sometimes hide in my room to observe for herself what I thought was my own private behavior. Then she’d appear from a hiding place, loudly announce her presence, and run out of my room. Surprise! I was never certain of her motives. Did she enjoy seeing me squirm, or did she simply want to have a stronger sibling relationship?

I spent the rest of the afternoon writing terrible poetry and feeling sorry for myself

I never really held much interest in Melissa’s dating habits. For one, she seemed to be better at the game of pursuit than me, at least initially. At the time, her nickname for me was “shy bug.” And yet for a shy bug, my desire for companionship was such that I propelled myself forward into the unknown.

Eventually, I gathered that luck is as much a part of romantic success as any other factor. It evaded me at first. The first several women I sought were either too socially inhibited to respond to my overtures or already committed to another man.

Dating is a numbers game. It is additionally a means of personal exploration and introspection. In our zeal to partner with someone, we easily overlook the intended lessons which go along with the process. What we consider to be the end of our efforts to find someone can be the sprouting of wisdom, not the end of life as we know it. The relationships we form, romantic or platonic, continue forward in space and time. They are not the end, though we may believe that they are.

One of the minor miracles of our time is the ability to easily locate people from the past. Through Facebook, I opened an honest and frank dialogue between myself and my seventh grade crush. I found that we had lots in common. Conversation flowed freely between the two of us. It was through our mutual dialogue that I finally healed the emotional wounds, the feelings of rejection that I’d long carried with me. For a while after she politely turned me down, I doubted my own judgment and insight with others for whom I had feelings.

As it turns out, I was right on the money all along. We might well have even dated, had a different set of circumstances been present. The timing happened to be wrong, not any internal deficiency on my part. If I’d established a friendship first, something I was too scared to do, I might well have gotten a different reply. Instead of second-guessing myself, as I often did, I would have done better to trust my instincts.

Dating and relationships don’t necessarily provide us the structure we may crave. In their place, we may assert our own individual means of measurement, for better or for worse, but these assumptions can be quite incorrect. Sometimes letting go and taking part in the journey is better than micromanaging the process.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


Falling in and out of love with you
Don't know what I'm gonna do
I keep falling in and out of love with you

I can see why you think you belong to me
I never tried to make you think,
or let you see one thing for yourself

But now you're off with someone else
and I'm alone
You see, I thought that I might
keep you for my own
Amie, what you wanna do
I think I could stay with you
For a while, maybe longer if I do

Don't you think the time is right for us to find
All the things we thought weren't proper
could be right in time

And can you see, which way we should turn,
together or alone
I can never see what's right or what is wrong,

Yeah you take too long to see

Amie, what you wanna do
I think I could stay with you
For a while, maybe longer if I do

Now it's come to what you want,
you've had your way
And all the things you thought
before just faded into gray

And can you see, that I don't know
if it's you or if it's me

If it's one of us I'm sure we both will see,
won't you look at me and tell me
I keep falling in and out of love with you

Falling in and out of love with you
Don't know what I'm gonna do
I keep falling in and out of love with you

Monday, October 08, 2012

Live! Sold Out! Tonight!

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Live! Sold Out! Tonight!

I didn’t actually begin to play live in front of people until much later in life. Though a proficient guitarist with a strong singing voice, I was too shy and neurotic to appear natural and relaxed in front of an audience. I was always scared, avoiding eye contact with listeners, so to not reach sensory overload. Every performance and every song stretched me almost to the breaking point.

With time, I developed strategies to keep my anxieties away, for the most part. I set an ambitious goal for myself. I would perform as many nights a week as I could for six months. If by the end of those six months, I wasn’t making any headway, I’d set aside the dream of larger fame. And as it turned out, six months was long enough to give me a good idea of the towering odds facing anyone who sought the same ends.

I was twenty-six, aware that most people who are discovered are never older than thirty. The clock was ticking. Surrounded by musicians who were sometimes much younger than me, I never sold into their uber-serious dreams of stardom. I had no starry-eyed pretenses. I just wanted to see if I could eke out a decent living, not end up with a single in heavy rotation.

I knew better. I started out on the open mic circuit, playing to those who weren’t necessarily in attendance to listen to me play. Most were present to drink, flirt, and be social. That didn’t leave much room for me. I was glorified background music. My intention every night, regardless of venue, was to grab the attention of the audience from other pursuits. I worked hard and sometimes was rewarded for my efforts.

Open mics were led by one specific person each venue, each night. Several of them were encouraging, though I never believed their words of comfort. You know that Elton John has a house not far from here, one said. This could be your night. Possibly, but I couldn’t really picture Sir Elton being out late at night at a very ordinary bar which advertised chicken wings on a large banner outside the establishment.

Volume and energy were the tools I had at my disposal. Sometimes I could lose myself in the moment and these were the best nights. Usually, while on stage I resembled Roy Orbison in posture. Orbison’s own substantial stage fright kept him rooted to the ground, as if planted there. His performances were noted for his virtuoso singing voice and quality of composition, not the stage show.

When performing with a group, the attention of the audience is divided among members. In playing solo, a person has nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. I still remember my feet shifting uneasily on the stool beneath me. The self-conscious rush of performing in front of people gave me such an adrenalin rush; the nervous energy stayed with me for whole minutes after I’d left the spotlight.

A few waitresses here and there developed a fondness for me. They served me beer in between sets. In an open mic, each musician is given ten minutes or so to perform. After that, it’s someone else’s turn in front of the lights. The person assigned to lead the open mic makes sure that everyone signed up gets a turn. After making what I hoped was a strong impact on the crowd, I conducted my flirtations. I usually had lots of lag time both before and after my performance.

The waitresses and I struck up a rapport, small talking between customers. We kept each other company during long nights until closing time, which was usually very early in the morning. The net result of these conversations were often as strategic as much as anything else. Because they liked me, I was often sheltered from rude drunks or from the fits of temper commonplace to restaurant owners. In a more opportune setting, we would have had time to really get to know each other. The nature of the job kept them on constantly on the move, on their feet.

Should one attempt to break into the music business, self-promotion is a skill one first must master. Talent is vastly less important than selling oneself. Following a tip from another struggling musician, I’d learned to print up cards with my name and number on them, which I then I distributed them freely. Truthfully, they seemed to be found more in the possession of impressed women than record producers.

One waitress was interested in me but only had the courage to call me once. When I picked up the phone, she sounded like a combination of drunk and overly enthusiastic. It was three o’clock in the morning. She was on Spring Break somewhere in Florida. I’d just gotten back in from another performance out, otherwise I probably would have completely missed it. Her own self-doubt combined with five or six years in age difference were too much for her to disregard.

I could hear the sounds of other women talking loudly in the background. As our conversation progressed, I was told she’d arrived at the beach with several female friends in tow. No doubt talk of men had been constant and I might have been her ace card. She didn’t have to feel left out of the conversation. A flesh and blood man was interested in her, the proof of which was my card, which she’d kept tucked away in her purse. For that moment of high spirits and competition, I was real and tangible, only a phone call away.

But it never went any further than that. Peer pressure is one thing, but I’ve found that self-doubt usually wins out every time. I could show kindness and sympathy, but I couldn’t teach confidence. Many prior partners were deficient in this area themselves and in similar ways. Without courage and confidence, tantalizing possibilities are never given sufficient time to grow and flourish.

My other infatuation, who I saw every Thursday night, had only recently left a long-term, serious relationship. She was not yet ready to launch back into dating and I sought to respect her reservations. Even then, I fought hard to win her hand, making a habit of playing her favorite song every week, at her request. With time, I began to lose patience, mostly because of the intensity of my affections for her.

Other women and other nights aside, my affections lay with her. 
She encouraged tenderness and compassion, bringing out the best in me. This is why I pursued her as vociferously as I did. She was a good girl, solid, stable, and might have even been a good wife. Musically entrancing a member of the opposite sex is not as easy, nor as fruitful as one might believe. It’s a good ice breaker, but hooking up is far less commonplace than one might think. Perhaps I had standards.

Eventually, I found a way to make a steady, albeit feeble source of income. Open mic pays its participant nothing, but theoretically builds a reputation. Along the way, I encountered a fellow musician whose band played late at night. They took up residence at bars and restaurants in the area. He arranged it so that I regularly opened for them. This might sound romantic, but it's a difficult living, full of dysfunctional people who have never grown into adults. The real challenge is playing for hours and retaining stamina.

A group or artist plays forty-five minutes at a time, then takes a five minute break before starting up again, just as a rule. For the amount of energy and time that goes into it, one only makes a few hundred dollars per night. Should one be part of a group, the night’s take might be divided four or five ways. In that situation, it’s almost not even worth the sweat and toil. I only made a couple hundred dollars at most, as a solo artist, most often opening for a much more popular group.

The culture of the club scene or the bar scene is hard-partying and hard-drinking. I consumed alcohol on top of my medications, when I should have completely abstained. Every night felt like a frat party. For the first time in my life, I began to expand my drinking repertoire beyond beer. Never much of a liquor drinker before, I accepted whatever was bought for me. One fan and regular customer bought me multiple shots of Jagermeister every night, which became my habit.

My alcohol tolerance became incredible. My tolerance for other people, however, deteriorated considerably. I witnessed a fight between a performer and one of his friends. He was convinced that a currently popular musical artist had ripped him off. With an aggressive bitterness, he helped himself to half my pack of cigarettes. I could have complained but I chose not to in this situation. He’d been sullen and brooding most of the night and was ready to strike at someone or something.

Before I knew it, the gloves had come off. The first punch sent his friend sprawling against a table. I’m not sure exactly what happened or how it started. Two men ran in to break it up, but by then the damage had been done. Four mostly full beer bottles spilled across the floor, one fracturing into jagged pieces. A kitchen worker arrived on the scene quickly with a mop. This had been a relatively tame fight, one that hadn't lasted more than two minutes.

I learned that the best strategy I could take in such circumstances was fairly simple. I put as much distance as I could between the pugilists, while nervously cradling my guitar in my arms, ensuring that it wouldn’t be damaged or stolen. The guitar I’d saved up for months to buy was a vintage instrument from the late 1960’s. Though it needed lots of work, when electrified and distorted, it sounded like a mellow swarm of bees.

I saw fights and almost-fights from time to time, though not with any frequency. Most of what I ran across were sloppy drunks, many of whom would throw an arm around me as though I was their instant best friend. After I finished up for the night, one such character promised that’d we’d smoke pot at his loft apartment. That is, he added, if the wicked witch of the west doesn’t show up. By that he meant his long-suffering girlfriend who disapproved of his aimless lifestyle.

He was the king of empty promises, and it took me a few weeks to figure out his generosity would never be fulfilled. She always arrived five minutes after his promises to the rest of the bar, if not the entire outside universe, specifically to lecture him. Insisting that he give up the late nights, the drinking, and the drugging, it came off as theater. It was all a charade. He never changed, but neither did she stop the early morning discussions.

I tapped my foot impatiently, waiting for the melodrama to subside. Thirty minutes became forty-five, forty-five became an hour. I left, disgustedly, somehow sober enough to drive home. Promises were constant, but the only thing people seemed to do with any regularity was buy me a drink. Drinking helped me conquer my stage fright, but if I ever overdid it, I was so numb and sleepy that it was difficult to play an entire song from start to finish with much enthusiasm.

The odds of winning the lottery seemed lower than making it. I knew, if I had the stomach for it, that I might live a life of virtual poverty, always in demand, but never reimbursed enough for my efforts. I couldn’t trust myself around that much temptation. When everyone else is always drunk, it’s easy to not want to feel left out. Our immediate environment shapes us to a large degree, in every situation imaginable. Six months later, I put my cautious dreams aside.  

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Quote of the Week

"Same sex marriage will be the ultimate destruction of our country because it destroys the very foundation upon which this nation is based. Divisive, I've been accused of being divisive. I'll tell you what's divisive. It's this Democratic platform."- Roy Moore

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Saturday Video

Add a little sugar, honeysuckle,
And a great big expression of happiness
Boy, you couldn't miss

With a dozen roses
Such will astound you
The joy of children laughing around you

These are the makings of you
It is true, the makings of you

The righteous way to go
Little one would know
Or believe if I told them so
You're second to none

The love of all mankind
Should reflect some sign of these words
I've tried to recite
They are close but not quite

Almost impossible to do
Reciting the makings of you

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Yes It Is

Apologies for not having this up sooner. I've had a challenging day, medically.

I decided I'd return to the multitracker recorder today

If you wear red tonight,
Remember what I said tonight.
For red is the colour that my baby wore,
And what is more, it's true,

Yes it is.

Scarlet were the clothes she wore,
Everybody knows I've sure.
I would remember all the things we planned,
Understand, it's true,
Yes it is, it's true.

Yes it is.

I could be happy with you by my side
If I could forget her, but it's my pride.
Yes it is, yes it is.

Oh, yes it is, yeah.
"Please don't wear red tonight."
This is what I said tonight.

For red is the colour that will make me blue,
In spite of you, it's true,
Yes it is, it's true.

I could be happy with you by my side
If I could forget her, but it's my pride.
Yes it is, yes it is.
Oh, yes it is, yeah.

"Please don't wear red tonight."
This is what I said tonight.
For red is the colour that will make me blue,
In spite of you, it's true,

Yes it is, it's true.
Yes it is, it's true.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Boys Will Be Boys

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Boys Will Be Boys

While in elementary school, I was aware that I was part of a close-knit community. Everyone knew my name. My parents associated with other parents who had small children. It is a natural impulse, I have learned, for young parents to stick together. Raising children requires lots of energy. It is an incredibly difficult, sometimes lonely endeavor. My sympathies are with those who have chosen to start a family.

My two sisters and I spent summer days together at the local swim club. There I learned a rudimentary version of the backstroke and to despise the smell of chlorine. The same fifty or sixty kids had classes with each other, year after year. Though we might be assigned to a different teacher in third grade, we'd usually be in the same room come fourth grade. A small town, laid back attitude was in place, something my own parents were strongly seeking when they moved us south of the city.

They'd both grown up in small, rural towns, but seemed to have an ambivalent attitude towards them. There was much they disliked about their past, but a small suburb seemed to be the compromise they sought.

I consider myself fortunate to have had this experience. Nowadays, community spirit and allegiance is rare, especially for children raised in urban settings. Increasingly, class size in public school swells beyond all proportion, depriving kids of the ability to feel part of an extended family.

If I’d been able to get a hold on my anxiety, I would have thrived in this environment, where my classmates weren't testy and competitive as was true in other parts of Birmingham. Even with my limitations, I was still accepted by many, who saw me as somewhat eccentric, withdrawn, but a generally worthwhile person.

My boyhood was fragmented, split between good times and bad times. I have fond memories of my best friend impulsively stealing a machete that had been left out in the woods. A soon-to-be Eagle Scout was building a bridge over the creek as part of his mandatory service project. He left behind his tools. Nowadays, I’m sure many hyper-vigilant parents would have confiscated the instrument as soon it was discovered. We knew instinctively how sharp and dangerous a tool it was, and mainly used it to hack away at tree branches.

I remember the medicinal, waxy smell of the exposed bark. The tree was native to the area and I haven't run across one since in other parts of the country, even during lengthy hikes. The trunk had been felled by high winds during a thunderstorm, cracking completely in half. Its inside was greasy and thick. The two of us took care to avoid accidentally smearing the sticky balm on the soles of our shoes as we made our way towards the creek bed. I’ll never forget the pungent, sickly-sweet scent for the rest of my days.

Once, both of us, plus two others ended up taking shelter inside a cave during a heavy rainstorm. Our clothes were soaked by the time we entered the rock overhang, which was not especially tall, requiring us to sit rather than stand. It was decided that we ought to start a fire and dry ourselves. My friend had recently run across some green-tipped waterproof matches, from God know where, perfect for this kind of situation.

Inside the cave were piles and piles of dry leaves, which we promptly burned for heat. As we waited out the storm, our soggy clothes grew less so, though we now reeked of acrid smoke. We extinguished the remaining embers, then made our way back home. That was a typical day in my boyhood.

In those days, we didn’t have a care in the world. Someone would suggest an idea and, provided it made halfway decent sense, we’d do it. Whether that meant hiking up to the caves in a blinding rainstorm, as we’d done, or taking a trip down the creek in an inflatable raft, we pursued it. I've never again felt as free and unrestrained as I did then.

The outcome of the rafting trip, unfortunately. was a disaster. The decision to depart in December, which is cold even in Alabama, should have been taken under consideration. After the raft accidentally capsized, halfway towards the intended destination, one member of the party ended up with minor frostbite on one of his hands.

I grew up not much different from most boys, which is to say I was fixated on sports. I even invented a sport of my own. According to the rules, both players grabbed tennis rackets and stood on opposite ends of a grassy lawn. The backyard served as an all-purpose field, regardless of sport. It was divided from other backyards by a chain link fence.

The point of the game was to hit a tennis ball past one’s opponent until it made a ringing, slightly musical contact with the fence behind him. Doing so scored a point. Complicating the game was that one half of the yard was on a slight incline, meaning it took extra force to propel the ball forward from uphill. It was easier to score when directing the ball downhill, relying upon gravity for extra force.

These days, I observe the super-serious, overly structured parenting of those who have privilege and money to burn. When walking home the other day, I overheard a father giving his son the third degree as to whether or not the boy had taken a drug test.

Did you test? The father kept asking this. Did you test?

The child could not be much older than ten. When I was ten, I didn't even know what drugs were.

I narrowly missed this kind of litigious parental regulation. Three or four years after I graduated high school, athletes and those in extracurricular activities were required to undergo periodic, mandatory testing. These tests were so advanced that even recent tobacco usage and alcohol consumption could be detected, not just the heavier drugs.

Around the time of high school, my father demanded regular drug tests of me. Through word of mouth, I’d learned how to beat the system. All one had to do was take an overdose of the dietary supplement Niacin, which flushed out the system or at least concealed the presence of other drugs. It made one’s skin itchy and flushed for most of a day, but the momentary discomfort was entirely worth it.

Childhood was not all punitive, not all misery. Like many kids my age, I collected baseball cards, always chasing after the rarest and most elusive ones. It was my bad fortune to be a child at a time when sports cards were mass-produced. Printing too much currency for a nation creates excessive inflation. The same thing happened with the cards I purchased at convenience stores and supermarkets. Twenty years later, the monetary value of most of them remains under a dollar. The price hasn’t budged in all of those years.

Once a year, audiophiles would meet in a large hall to sell and swap rare albums and singles. I looked forward to these gatherings, though I’m glad I didn’t buy much. Much of what I found was eventually digitally remastered, sounding ten times better than a worn out vinyl LP. I mostly appreciated looking at titles, cover art, and becoming familiarized with previously-unknown artists. If I was ever truly compelled and fascinated by a new group or new sound, I committed those pertinent details to memory and never forgot them.

These are only a few of the fond memories that collectively represent my formative years. It’s fortunate that the abuse occupied a relatively short time, though its effects have persisted. I’ve known several people in my own life who went through multiple years of molestation at the hand of a close family member. How would I have responded had the perpetrator been my own father or my own uncle?

At least two of my childhood playmates have likely asked themselves that very question over the course of their lifetimes. How can you love someone who contributed to your birth, then used you for his own ends?

The stories shared in this book must necessarily be somewhat sad and tragic. My intent is to show the common humanity present inside each of us, even if we do not identify as survivors of any shape or size. Readers may struggle from chronic illness themselves, but they know well that lives are certainly not over. We will all have our own life struggles and trials. If we have not had them by now, we definitely will have them sooner than later.

Life is, to my reckoning, an exercise in survival. Not that long ago, women faced the real risk of perishing in childbirth. Men knew that the latest pandemic illness could be deadly, or could damage their bodies for the rest of their lives, should they survive. That which we now call life expectancy was once a fraction of what is expected now. A corresponding increase in lifespan has provided us ample leisure time. I'm still not convinced we know how to handle it properly.

It is only in the last century that our expectations of health have risen, as we now believe that sustained health ought to be a kind of entitlement. Our lives may be yet fragile, on one extreme, but we’ve also put together centuries of adaptive, evolutionary responses that have strengthened the human race. The good and the bad must therefore be measured and equally weighted. We can't have one without the other.