03 May 2016

If I Have Two Sets of Questions, The First is Made Up of Serious Questions About Our Society and the Second Set is Comprised of Light Hearted Questions About Home Schooling



I have some questions:

If sex between consenting adults is legal and giving someone money for services rendered is legal, why isn’t paying someone for sex legal?

Why is whiskey legal everywhere in the US but marijuana is still illegal in most of the country? Doesn’t whiskey consumption lead to more domestic violence and car accidents than smoking marijuana does?

Why is it easier to buy a gun in the US than it is to adopt a puppy?

Why do most corporation care more about profits for their shareholders than they do the welfare of the United States?

Why do some people think that its a good idea to elect someone with no experience in government to the highest position of government?

Why do the television networks still consider it obscene to show a naked human body? And why do they consider nudity worse for children than depicting extreme acts of violence?



Why do so many Americans reject the findings of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and believe that climate change is not real?

Why is that you can drive a car at 16, vote and join the military at 18 but can’t drink alcohol until you are 21?

Why do some people care that other people enjoy having sexual relations with members of their own gender?

Why are there so many fast food restaurants and liquor stores near low income neighborhoods?

Why is healthy, natural, organic food more expensive than unhealthy junk food?

Why do some people not see that helping low income families in the short run can help the economy in the long run?

Why does the United States spend more on the military then the next eight biggest spending countries combined?

Why do we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday when we ignore his central message of non violence?

Why do so many people still smoke cigarettes?

Why is the gap between the richest people and the poorest people growing? Don't we want it to shrink?

Why is racism still a thing in this country and why do some people claim we live in a post racial society?

Why don't we have universal health care?

Why do we allow money to control politics and politicians?


I also have questions about home schooling: 

If you get suspended from school, where do you go?

Do you bother having elections for class president?

Isn’t the yearbook awfully thin?

What’s your prom like?

Are you captain of all the teams?

Aren’t you automatically class clown, valedictorian and most improved?

Isn’t working in pairs only possible if you are schizophrenic?

How long does your graduation ceremony last?

Are parent teacher conferences just your mom talking to herself?

Since your school is at home do you still call it homework?

Who do you cheat off of?

Who do you pass notes to?

If you’re giving detention do you really notice?

Is a hall monitor necessary?

What does it say about you if you’re not the teacher’s pet?

Are there any fights at your school?

Is it easier or more difficult to cut class?

Who do you hang out with at lunch?

Do you just your dog as lab partner in science?

01 May 2016

Ever Wonder What it's Like to Visit a Shrink? Wonder No More!

I'm going to give my psychoanalyst one more year, then I'm going to Lourdes. - Woody Allen

You sit there trying to look casual and relaxed. If you happen to make eye contact with someone there is a very quick exchange of half smiles and then a quick look away. It is quiet. No one would ever dream of saying anything. People look at their cell phones or a magazine or straight ahead. A door opens and one of the therapists, still holding the door knob, looks at a patient, smiles and nods. Maybe the therapist says a first name. The patient gets up quickly as if embarrassed then follows the therapist.

I make a point not to seem the slightest embarrassed, instead acting as if I’m in the green room of a talk show and have just been told I’m about to be announced. I stride eagerly behind the therapist anxious to unburden myself to this relative stranger, offering all manner of intimate detail about my youth or current state of affairs or anything in between. I sit very casually as if relaxing in front of the television set after a long day of work. I wait for my cue, which usually comes in the form of the question, “so how have you been?” Then I launch into whatever is foremost in my mind. I spew forth until I run out of momentum or until I’m interrupted with a question or a request for clarification.

If I’m seeing a therapist they will offer feedback, questions, or observations. If it is a psychiatrist there are liable to be silences. Long frustrating ones in which I can’t think of what to say or simply need a prompting. I’ve seen all kinds. Some seem to make a practice out of keeping their mouths closed. They regard you as if from afar appearing to be passing judgment but not sharing it. This can be maddening. On more than one occasion I’ve barked at them, “well, say something!” I got up and walked out on one when I was a teenager. I passed him on the way to the door and he cowered evidently fearful that I was about to strike. However some will talk. These are therapists who actually act concerned.

In most rooms there is the choice between a couch and a chair. I have never opted for the couch. There is a small table or a desk nearby with a handy box of kleenexes. Also accessible is a small trashcan and it often has used tissues in it. I suppose some have been utilized by people with colds or allergies but I further suspect that some patients cry. I’ve never cried. I may have gotten choked up once or twice and had to pause, but no one sees me cry other than my wife. I’m not proud of this, it just is.

There is always a clock clearly visible to the patient and another behind you that the therapist can see. It wouldn’t do for the doctor to be checking a watch or turning a head to find the time. I had one psychiatrist who yawned from time to time — always trying to stifle it and always apologizing for it — and he even left to pee a few times. None of the others have left their post.

For your first visit the therapist takes copious notes. Thereafter their hands are free. Sometimes folded in a lap, other times held in front of them as if in prayer. A psychiatrist will even stroke his chin. They may get a bit glassy-eyed but I’ve never noticed. Their eyes don’t stray. They look at you. I sometimes look straight back but my eyes tend to wander. To recall memories it sometimes necessary for me to tilt my head upwards to the left. When recounting a horror from my childhood I often look down. When talking about anxiety and especially when discussing a panic attack, I’ll fidget, change positions and occasionally work my way into an agitated state.

I love to make people laugh and have been doing since I was a small child and it is quite natural to me. So too during therapy sessions I’ll make quips even in discussing quite painful. Therapists almost never laugh though sometimes you’ll get a chuckle and often a broad smile.

When your time is just about up (visits are always 50 minutes though you pay for an hour) your therapist will say, “our time is just about up,” and you’ll confirm or decide upon the time of your next appointment. Invariably they will get confused when looking at available times and it will turn out that Tuesday at 7:00 won’t work but there’s an opening Wednesday, how’s 7:30? Sometimes there's payment to discuss. This can be terribly awkward. With medical doctor's any talk about bills is done with someone in reception. To have to sort dollars and cents with the person with whom you have this completely opposite relationship with is weird and wrong. But that, as they say, is the way it is. I've never seen a shrink yet who had anyone else handle payment.

I always get up and say thanks and goodbye. I don’t know if this is par for the course. Once you’re standing the therapist seems anxious for you to leave as if you’re a guest who has long over stayed a visit. If you stupidly make idle chit chat about the weather or something else it is addressed perfunctorily, it is expected that you will be on your way. Once out the door you feel a bit refreshed maybe even rejuvenated. At the very least there is the sense that you’ve done yourself a good deed, that you are a healthier person for having shared the details of your being with another person. Sometimes you will ruminate over what was said and other times you will think of everything but what just transpired. You may or may not mentally re-visit the past 50 minutes later that day or the next.  In any event your subconscious has a lot to mull over and as they say in AA, more will be revealed.

If anyone save a very trusted friend or immediate family member happens to ask where you’ve been you simply say, “an appointment" or "the doctor’s.” There is no longer a stigma about seeing someone for mental or emotional issues  but you still don’t tell anyone that you of all people need any kind of  such “help.” You’re fine, thanks. Actually you are fine because you are getting help. You’re taking care of yourself and that’s a good feeling.

28 April 2016

Hello Darkness My Old Friend



When the dream came
I held my breath
with my eyes closed
I went insane,
Like a smoke ring day
When the wind blows
Now I won't be back
till later on
If I do come back at all
- From On the Way Home by Neil Young

My mind ravaged by wild dogs. Mauling my soul, setting my psychosis free. The unbound gory glory of a life in casual ruins with butter topped mountains of light cascading toward me. A reckless beauty all its own.

I stare into the face of rapture but it turns back to assess my joy. There is none. And into this squalid scene of yesteryears I find the dumpling shaded morals of a society seeking somber solace. None.

The words come out and try to form meaning but I’m unable to grasp any at this time. I am ravaged by angst and depression and existential wonder. So here I sit awaiting my next mood, expecting just more sorrow but hoping for a reprieve. I know all the right things to do in these cases and have even written about it but doing them seems utterly impossible. How am I even writing these words? Where do they come from and where will they go? What is left here for me in this life? News, changes, the latest. Discovering more art. New films, old painters, classic literature, history exposing new truths and the gears of political machinery grinding through the lives of the disadvantaged creating nothing but capital gain for the wealthy. But it makes for interesting reading. Oh yes and there is poetry to be read, meals to be eaten, places to see, people to meet, sports thrills and disappointments to enjoy or endure. There is hope too. Always that. But it all looks so empty right now. I see vast seas of nothingness instead and I sigh deeply dreading the next thought, the next feeling, the anguish of living.

The terror of 1,000 sleepless Sunday nights wrapped into one momentary feeling occasionally ravages my brain. Ouch. It is tiring to be so weighted down with unhappiness. Maybe especially when there is nothing to be unhappy about. It all comes from nothing and it makes nothing feel like the only thing. Occasionally I start to weep but I suppose it is too much effort and instead I lower my head. The self indulgence of depression. The self pity of melancholia. The sweetness of possible relief — which, however, is impossibly distant. I get up and go anyway because I must. To stop and quit is still unthinkable. There must be a way forward somehow, someway. I have learned in this life that you always have to take the next step. Do the next task in front of you. Keep moving. These days it requires effort. I will myself to proceeded maybe because I’m OCD. It would just compound my misery to give up. The last thing I need is more pain.

Distractions abound but by definition their impact is but temporary. I can laugh out loud at some things on television or in movies. I can even be engaged by something I’m watching. Work provides a respite. Running not only distracts but the consequent endorphins keep my mood elevated for an hour or two after. Then I slump back down into the pit where swirling waters of inky blackness envelop me. And more sighs and more staring down or up or straight ahead but never seeing. Mind a blank an open slate upon which all is written in invisible ink. Despair doubles down and wins big.

Wings of angels. That’s what I’d like to see. An angel rescuing me. Magic wand in hand sprinkling the cure and me dancing again. Don’t I wish. But to accept such a gracious gift I must be able to see it and feel it first. Would that such were possible.

The saddest thing is how natural this can feel how right it seems how appropriate how deserved. Joy seems like it is the sole reserve of all the “other” people out there. I am not to be allowed such indulgences. No it is for me to be here in the forever doldrums. Eternally slumped in sadness. I know that can’t be true but it sure feels right. Oh my god. 

25 April 2016

Don't Let it Bring You Down It's Only Castles Burning


Who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish - from Howl by Allen Ginsberg

It’s odd to not know what to do next. That moment when you are stuck. Limbo. Just there and you reach for something to do. Nothing seems quite right. Nothing feels good. Nothing makes much sense and most certainly and above all nothing matters. Nothing you do can make the slightest difference. You are beyond lost. You are nowhere and good and stuck at that.

There’s no use trying to rationalize it either. And why bother trying to turn it into some moment of clarity. Deeper meaning, significance don’t exist. The air is tired and the mind is soft with dull death-like limpness. There are no destinations nor journeys. Everything is abstract and unknowable and you can’t even understand your own thoughts which don’t amount to anything anyway.

Well. At least. It’s better than full on depression (though it’s a byproduct of it). That all encompassing sadness is at bay. It is now a flaccid suffering with no meaning. Maybe its not better than depression which is, after all, a state from which you can create something if you push hard enough.

Nothing is worse than the pure panic. Not panic attacks really. More like terror seizures. Those minutes in which life is absolute hell. Totally unbearable and indescribable. Pure torture. The emotional and mental equivalents of excruciating physical pain.

How to get out of the trap? Where to find direction, a purpose, forget meaning — that’s long past. Dive, dive, dive into the pit of despair and submerge yourself in the rapidly flowing waters of self pity. Look out for the rapids because with them the existential crisis turns into utter madness. So many dances with demons. So much discomfort. So little pleasure so few inspirations. The living death. The virtual lobotomy. The endless anxiety and assuredness of futility.

I had a plan plan can you do the can can but I sat there swaying and found myself saying it was all so painful and nothing seemed gainful. Telegrams to the soul. An outmoded previous centuries way of telling yourself that the message was in code. An ode. To joy? How I wish, oh boy. Lyrical but no miracle and I dance at the very thought of your onion sprayed lilacs and pretty little semi colon ridden sentences telling all about that cute addition you built for your kitchen although you had SOOOOOO much trouble with that darn contractor and felt maybe a little ripped off and now you’re thinking of solar panels and Skyler has started piano lessons and seems to have a knack for it just as Josh once seemed to be the best soccer player on his team but now, well you know how kids grow and change and I should definitely see your garden and isn’t a shame about something awful that happened and could you be any more banal. Please oh god please please please say something else really inane so that I can defecate on your front porch you self centered prick and look at the humming bird.

Let’s talk again later. Much later well after my death or yours which ever comes first. Then there was that tall brunette with the impossibly long legs striding down the street she passed me and smiled as if I was Prince Charming himself and not some short much older man wearing a baseball cap and twitching and leering and damn near salivating. You young lady who totally disarmed me by not acting superior and put out but looking at me and treating me like a sweet old guy. Who expects that. I wonder how you smell (with your nose — not what I meant). Perfect, I imagine. But really I don’t imagine. That would be a bit too much. Wrong of me. Carrying it all a bit too far and we must never ever carry anything too far at all. Keep it all within limits. Restraint. Decorum. The observation of social conventions.  — Love. — Please check your ego at the door and smile politely to your host.

Say do you believe in ghosts? An afterlife? The spirt world? Heaven? Hell?

Did you write the book of love
And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so?
Now do you believe in rock and roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?
from American Pie by Don McClean

I have complete faith in the arbitrariness of nature and the unfairness of life and the unpredictably of the human spirit. I’m a great believer in un. Isn’t that unbelievable? Unknowable? Uninteresting? Unkind? Nihilist bastards. The mind is a terrible thing to mind. Don’t waste time minding it. Don't trouble yourself with too much but never trouble yourself with nothing. If everything is always great all the time you're doing it all wrong. Boooo to you too for messing up the gig. There's got to be conflict and strife at least within yourself. But don't let it get you down because as Neil Young said its only castles burning. And as I said its gonna be cool. All right. But you've got to push and pull and tug and wrestle and form things. Things. All things are things. That's the thing about it. Things and stuff. So much stuff. So many things to do. So much stuff to do. All these things and all that stuff. Gets to you after awhile. So smile. Just try, try, try, try to believe in something. Something good. Something that will grow and make you and others happy and smiles all around let's give grins a big round of applause. Super! Super big! Super wonderful. Like your garden, man. Why don't you grow some pot, dude? You could toke up practically for free. Now there's a belief system.

Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos. - Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski

But I remember well the drama of earlier days and years and decades the tear gas and the helicopters and the radicals and the psychedelics and the war and the draft and peace symbols and the love and the spirit and the dreams. Oh the dreams of possibility. The progress. Incremental. The assassinations and the government scandals and the cover ups and the exposes. The due diligence and the determination and the belief in better and the struggle. Always the struggle. We were (are?) always trying to make a better place and better world for future generations those dashing you sensations. And we created and felt important and maybe we really were.

So where are we here. A brain that is the dead zone. A dead zone that is a brain. A life teetering on the edges of writing 1,000 words a day and ignoring the catechisms. Oh heavenly mother — or — oh earthly one, give us this day our daily dread and forewarn us of our trespassing and traipsing and lead us not into temptation unless it happens to be the tall brunette with…no that’s not right. Nothing like that ever is. And me a married man. Happily I might add. How did I get to this point? Was it the bus or the train or the rickshaw or my own two feet. Some feat. But somehow I lurk here among you and we all might as well get used to it. Especially me. The rest of you lot seem to be doing all right. But is that just an illusion?  Confusion in profusion. Messing with my own mind like playing with fire. The unlit kind. Benign. My tumorous humorous life. All taps and jigs and swirls and say I wonder what’s on TV?






23 April 2016

Look Everybody! More Stories From Commuting!!!! A Whole Week's Worth!



I experienced a perfect storm riding MUNI to the subway on Monday. The bus I take is incredibly reliable and usually comes within three minutes. On this day I spent nine minutes in the sun before it pulled up. The bus was packed. I was lucky to get a seat but that was all the luck involved in this trip. MUNI buses do not benefit from such modern comforts as air conditioning, so on such a hot day it would naturally feel as if one was sitting in the middle of an oven. Of course the bus was packed with humans so it was more like being inside a blast furnace. But, as they say on infomercials, THAT’s NOT ALL! Traffic was unusually heavy so I got to enjoy more time on this moving broiler. It should not surprise you to learn that as we slowly wended through Chinatown someone boarded the bus carrying a shopping bag from a local market that — from the smell of it — evidently contained a halibut with amoebic dysentery. This aroma on a hot crowded bus was enough to make a the strongest of stomachs do a samba. The overly long ride had the added benefit of making me miss my train and thus delaying my return home. Sometimes you can have it all.

On Tuesday I was sitting on a crowded subway car. I noticed a tall beautiful Asian woman enter, she stood next to my seat. Before I could turn my attention back to my book I observed that a drop of liquid was making its way down the back of her leg. Odd. Could it have been urine? Was it sweat? Neither seemed plausible. But what else? If it was urine shouldn’t it have been stopped by underwear? Maybe she wasn’t wearing any. Then why the back of the leg? Sweat seemed unlikely too. One does not normally sweat there unless perspiration has already started in other places as well. Plus just one drop? And it was neither a hot day nor a hot train and there were no signs that she’d been running. This perplexed me. More than it should have. Maybe because she had such lovely legs. Finally I returned to my book. But I had difficulty focusing what with the question of the drip that had meandered down this woman’s leg nagging. I looked again but there not only were no more drips, but that the one I saw had evaporated. Forever a mystery.

Wednesday I got off the train and took the escalator to the next level. As usual there was a busker with a receptacle for donations. This gent was playing the guitar and singing. At least that seemed his intention. It was more like caterwauling.  Normally I don’t hear subway musicians when exiting because I have my ear buds playing music of my own selection. But I happened to near him when a song ended on my iPod and there was the silent pause before the next tune. Thus I got a good dose of this “musician.” His singing was akin to a cat being choked and his guitar playing called to mind someone sawing metal cans. When I got a full blast I looked his direction and winced. As I did we happened to make eye contact. I’m reasonably certain that he realized my pained expression was a consequence of his “music” and not an old war wound of mine acting up. Whattaya gonna do? It was an awkward moment but I couldn't very well take back the wince and I'll bet dollars to donuts it wasn't the only one he elicited.

I take a bus into SF then the trolley to work. The trolleys are an attraction in themselves plus they go to Fisherman's Wharf and pass such places as the stop for the Alcatraz ferry. In other words the line gets a lot of tourists even during the morning commute. On Thursday a tourist from a foreign land got on and showed the driver a map on his iPhone asking if he went "there." The driver said he couldn't read the map and didn't have the time anyway and would he please just tell him where he wanted to go. The tourist's English was not so good and he again pointed to the map on his phone. The driver was adamant that he couldn't and wouldn't look at the map and he should say where he wanted to go. I was in sympathy with the driver in part because I was in a hurry -- as is usually the case in the morning. I also felt for the tourist. After all my job is to work with people from all over the world to improve their English. I could have helped. But the tourist grew frustrated with the driver and got off the bus. Maybe he'd get help from the next driver or someone waiting for the next bus. Well that seems the end of the story but not quite. The driver started going on and on about the incident to an acquaintance who was sitting in the front near him. "I can't read those things and I don't have time, just tell me, where you wanna go, that's all. I can't try to read maps. Just say where you wanna go." He made the same point over and over again, then some more for emphasis. Time for me to put the ear buds in. About eight minutes later I stopped the music as I neared my stop. Just as I did the driver started up again singing the exact same song about the tourist. Just as adamantly too. I submit this is a  textbook case of someone needing to "get over it" and "move on." Sheesh.

Yesterday as I was making my way off the train I noted an adult woman who had a blank expression on her face. Nothing in that, of course. But then tears started flowing. There were no sobbing sounds nor any of the noises one associates with even a wee cry, but her countenance had become noticeably sadder. Just as I was passing her she began to talk, evidently to herself. Well, why not? I didn't hear exactly what she was saying -- nor was it any of my business - but she sounded perfectly normal and she spoke in a soft voice sans any histrionics. No one seemed to pay her any mind. There are enough frighteningly crazy (I'm sorry, should I have said, 'disturbed' or perhaps 'emotionally overwrought' or maybe 'troubled'?) people in urban areas without taking pause at a perfectly harmless kook soundlessly crying and having a chat with no one.

Someday I'll look back at commuting and laugh. Can't wait.

16 April 2016

I Assail a Phrase, Discuss Teaching (Again), Give Advice About Emotional Problems and Conclude with Pancake Memories

I got another email asking me to review a film. I responded as I’ve done for the past two years by saying that I no longer review movies but good luck. The filmmaker wrote back. His email began with those dreaded words: “no worries.” I hadn’t thought there were any worries. Not even one. I’m baffled by this phenomenon. A colleague once emailed me to ask if I had a particular film on DVD that he could borrow for class the next day. I answered that I was sorry but I didn’t own that film. He took the time to reply, “no worries.” Why would I have thought there were any “worries” at all? Even one worry, let alone multiple “worries”?

Neither my co worker nor the director needed to respond at all. Wasn’t necessary. They asked for something, I told them I couldn’t provide it, end of story. Did either think I was worrying about the situation? Because I wasn’t.

Much more often then people write “no worries” they say it. In exactly the same kind of situations I’ve described above. Where did this phrase come from and how soon can we expect it to go away? It sounds affected, unnatural and worst of all unnecessary. Please everyone, let’s stop.

Actually the next thing I’m going to write about is the mysterious use of the word “actually” at the beginning of some spoken sentences. Actually, it generally precedes a statement about a change in plan. “Actually, today we’re going to meet in another room.” Actually, I could do without this word.

Something else that should sort of go is sort of. I used to work with a person who would sort of left and right. Nothing just was, everything was sort of. “This is sort of designed to help with that problem. It’s sort of a way to fix it. I think we sort of should implement it.” Nothing is gained by using “sort of” ever. Things usually are or aren’t. It’s Tuesday, not sort of Tuesday. It’s cloudy out or sunny out not sort of cloudy or sort of sunny. Of course some people don’t ever or rarely say sort of. For them its kind of. This is kind of the same thing as saying sort of. It’s kind of annoying too.

Recently I had to write a description of myself that included strengths and weaknesses. I wrote that I was “an excellent teacher.” This is wrong. Not that I’m not good it’s just that a teacher should never assign an adjective to their ability save perhaps dedicated. Students decide whether you’e any good or not. I don’t like to hear a lot of praise because it messes with your head. You start to believe it’s true and that can lead to arrogance which can lead to complacency. Teachers can’t afford that. Resting on your laurels is what retirement is for. You have to adjust, innovate and constantly be aware of shifting student and class needs. You’ve got to remember you’re closer to knowing nothing about teaching than you are to knowing everything. I take teaching seriously but not myself. Teaching is fun and I enjoy the hell out of it. Its performance art, it’s a craft, it’s a stand up routine, it’s a seminar, it’s charity. It’s also an escape. No matter what has been going on in my personal life, teaching has always been a sanctuary. One reason you don’t discuss personal woes with students is because they shouldn’t be on your mind during class. You’re there for them.

THIS BLOG POST HAS BEEN INTERRUPTED BY A CRIME! I was in the middle of the final edit of this post when someone tried to break into our dwelling. Oldest daughter actually saw one of the perps try to come in through a window. She made a noise, they ran off and I saw one running by. We called the police who caught two suspects almost immediately. We later ID'd them from the safety of a police car a few blocks from our abode. We gave statements and are now processing this. I may have more on this incident at another time but I would now like to return to the editing of this post so that the whole world can enjoy it -- even you Botswana. 

Imagine you tell someone your leg is broken, it hurts and you're in a cast and on crutches. They reply: Oh, that’s nothing I’ve had that happen a lot of times. Or. You don’t really need a cast or crutches, you’ll be fine. Or. That’s a good thing, you’re just getting insight into life. Or. How do the doctors know? How can they know that’s what it is? Or. You’re just trying to be different. Or. You don’t need a crutch or a cast, just meditate, do some yoga, you’ll be fine. Or. I don’t know what you’re talking about, seems strange to me, are you sure, you’re not making this up?

You’re right. No one in her right mind would respond in any of those ways to you if you broke your leg. But what if your ailment wasn’t physical? What if you were describing a mental or emotional problem? Suddenly everyone is an expert, doctors know nothing, whatever you’ve got is commonplace and your making a big deal out of nothing or its actually a good thing or you’re just trying to be different. A lot of people don’t want to except emotional ailments in others, a lot of people fancy themselves experts on mental problems and their treatment. Many people don’t, for example, believe that depression is a real ailment. They act as though you can just shake it off and you’ll be fine. If someone tells you about some emotional difficulty or recent experience, try this: just listen. You might also offer some kind words of support.

Of course people who suffer from emotional problems often don’t want to discuss them with others. One reason is, of course, the stigma. If you’ve got a kidney disease you’re a victim of bad luck, but if you have an emotional difficulty, you’re fucking nuts. But people also don’t want to talk to about their issues because other people can be so damn insensitive. Its one thing to be ignorant about something, it’s quite another to be unaware of your ignorance and say something stupid.

I was thinking about pancakes the other day. This is not unusual. I probably spend more time thinking about pancakes than is healthy. Anyhoo, I recollected that my dear old grandma used to make me pancakes, upon request. At any time of day. I don’t think I abused the privilege but neither was I shy about taking advantage. This set a bad precedent in my life. No, I haven’t expected women to make me pancakes at my whim (would be nice) but — as my wife has continually pointed out to me — it has given me the notion that women will cook for me and all I’ve got to do is ask. The truth has taken decades to sink in. Can’t blame grandma though, I’m sure it made her happy. She also used to make peanut butter cookies pretty much everyday so there were always some on hand. I further recall her sitting in a chair in her backyard and pitching baseballs to me. She spoiled the hell out of me. It's what grandparents do.

11 April 2016

Gerald

Found this photo on the internet, Gerald looked very much like this man.
There were a lot of stories about Gerald. I never heard Gerald tell any of them and when they were brought up he balked at commenting. The stories all centered around his prowess on the basketball court. One of them was that he got a try out with the Chicago Bulls and nearly made the team.

When I met Gerald in the early 1980s he was just past his prime. He claimed to be in his early 30s though he looked a lot older. Living on the streets and being a drug addict will do that to you. His dark black skin was stretched tightly over his skinny body. His eyes were milky white pools with black dots in them. His hair was unkempt but his clothes were a step above the normal attire of a homeless person. He dressed more like someone who was cleaning out the garage than a mendicant.

The stories about Gerald were a little difficult to believe given his physical state. Plus in bars there are always exaggerated stories about people and their past deeds. Bars are where people hang out who only have past accomplishments to talk about and nothing much going on in the present. There too are some in bars who have future glory to regale people with, again because the here and now is devoid of anything worth mentioning. There were stories about me and what I’d done, some of which were true. I know because I had spread them. So when people talked about Gerald’s former talents it was both interesting and just more bar bullshit.

But one day a group of us actually left the bar on a Saturday afternoon and meandered down to the basketball courts. Gerald joined us. I conspired to be on his team. I was in pretty decent shape for a bar denizen and had always been a good basketball player, so I figured I could “carry” him against the pot bellied out of shape mugs we’d been playing against.

The game started with me inbounding to Gerald. Someone was guarding him pretty tightly. Gerald seemed to elevate from a standing position to three feet of the ground in the wink of an eye. The ball rolled off his finger tips and through the hoop. Nothing but net. The other team took out the ball and Gerald stole it effortlessly and zipped a pass to me in the same motion. He was like that for the next ten minutes, doing what no one else could and ever so quickly. If he was like this now, how must he have been a dozen years ago when he was not only not using but was in shape?

Gerald begged off from playing anymore. He made his excuses and left. We all agreed that his departure was really because he didn’t want to show us up anymore and he was — already — physically spent. I concluded from Gerald’s display that the stories about him probably were true.

I got to be friends with Gerald, mostly because he was so damn fun to talk too. In a bar there’s no more appreciated ability than the gift of gab. Gerald needed it because he never had a cent on him. I or someone else was always buying for him. I used to carry change or $1 bill in one pocket and called it Gerald money. If I didn’t see him in the bar it was likely I’d encounter him on the streets and when I did he’d hit me up for money. I couldn’t say no. Once when I gave him a buck he asked if I couldn’t spare a bit more. This is simply not done when panhandling from a friend or acquaintance. You take what you’re given and are thankful for it. But this was Gerald, a man who was about as far down on your luck as you can get but always smiled, always had a story to tell, always laughed and was always upbeat. I dug into my wallet and pulled out another couple of bucks. He shook my hand.

Gerald would always shake my or anyone else’s hand upon greeting us and when given money. On two separate occasions his hand was bloody. I never knew why nor did I say anything.

I was a copyeditor at a big accounting firm at the time. One day I was given the firm’s tickets for a Warriors game. Needless to say they were excellent seats just a few rows from the floor smack in center court. I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather take or who would appreciate it more than Gerald. He was delighted to go.

There were a few looks our way when we took our seats. It was not at all unusual that an African American should be sitting in the pricey section, but Gerald’s appearance did suggest someone down and out. I’ve attended a lot of sports events with a lot of different people and going to an NBA game with Gerald is among my favorite experiences. Sure he had some unique insights into the game but more than that he was a wit and our senses of humor matched perfectly. We chatted and chuckled through most of the game. Gerald appreciated me taking him to the game and thanked me profusely. I said I hoped we could do it again sometime and meant it.

In the coming months I saw less and less of Gerald at the bar and eventually he didn’t come in at all. More worrisome was that no long after that I stopped seeing him on the streets. I asked everyone who’d ever talked to Gerald at the bar if they knew his whereabouts and no one had a clue. I thought to ask some of the people on the streets but was uncomfortable with the notion. I’m not sure why, it wouldn’t have done any harm. People come and go on the streets. Gerald had been around for around six months. No one pays much attention.

A few years later I stopped frequenting the bar and stopped drinking. I’ve never missed booze nor the bar scene nor any of my old drinking partners. Just about the only person I think of from those days with any affection is Gerald. He was a warm, gentle man who’d had a great talent. More than that he was clearly quite intelligent as his conversations and humor demonstrated. Of course I have no idea what became of him but the odds are that it was not good. Some things in life are just damn sad.

07 April 2016

Alternative Advice for Being a Teacher -or- Important Steps Toward Total Incompetence



Previously on this blog I've given advice to people considering teaching as a profession. There was a first part and later a second. But here I offer advice for those of you looking not to excel at teaching, but to stink the joint up. I hope it helps...or harms...whatever.

Never answer questions. Students will start to feel dependent on you for information and clarification. They should learn to seek and find answers on their own.

After collecting student papers toss them out immediately. You want to resist all temptation to “grade” them or write comments. Trust me, grading is a colossal bore.

Give all students Fs. This will motivate them to try harder.

Whenever possible come to class in an advanced state of intoxication. This will make dealing with any unpleasant students you may have much easier to bear.

You should always feel that clothing is optional. Especially on warm days. Don’t feel duty bound to conform to society’s repressive rules about being “dressed.”

When speaking to your class it's good to mumble. This trains students to listen carefully. Unintelligible remarks should also  be thrown in to keep students off balance.

Words to the wise: Come late, leave early. Your lessons will thus be shorter and you’ll have less planning to do. (Then again "planning" is discouraged.)

If a student speaks out of turn — regardless of the school, the course or the age — strike them repeatedly on or about the head with a blunt object or sharp instrument. Repeat until blood flows freely. Alternatively you can use cattle prods, pepper spray or electric drills. Anything to make your point.

Make demeaning remarks to students, most particularly the younger ones. Insults, put downs, harsh criticisms, racial slurs, belittling, persecuting and castigations are also recommended. Builds character.

Feel free to nap during class time. It’s a good opportunity to stack up a few z’s so that you’re fresh during your off hours.

Laugh uproariously at student mistakes. Laughter is the best medicine so everyone will enjoy a hearty chuckle.

Don’t make eye contact. Look at the ceiling or the floor but for the love of god don’t look at your students.  You don’t want them to start getting ideas about interacting with you.

If you’re dealing with personal problems, share them with the class. If you aren’t dealing with personal problems, make some up. It’s a great time killer and really there’s nothing as important as that.

It’s always good to break into a samba in the middle of a lesson, particularly if you are explaining a complex point. The benefits of this should be self-evident.

Rules are made to be broken so don’t bother having any. If you’ve got rules you’re setting yourself up to enforce them and that takes effort. In the same vein, don’t exert any discipline.

Always remember that students are your sworn enemies. Treat them with the contempt they deserve.

Feel free to not show up every now and again. You deserve the time off and they shouldn’t need you all that much anyway. Don’t bothering trying to arrange for a substitute teacher either. If you do it’ll mean having to prepare a lesson and nobody wants to do that. Speaking of which….

Don’t prepare anything. What they say about the best laid plans of mice and men is true. Why go to all the bother of preparing a lesson plan when something is liable to throw a monkey wrench into it? As for curriculum, well the very notions is simply passé.

If by some miracle a student learns anything remember that you deserve all the credit. You’re awesome. But if a student fails to learn it’s on them, they’re a bunch of idiots.

Never give tests. What? You want to have to grade the damn things? C'mon!

Keep students off guard by feigning tourette’s syndrome. Make sure you toss in a healthy dose of particularly vulgar profanity.

If you need to have a boil lanced class time is as good as any to get it done. Just find a physician or homeless person willing to perform the procedure.

Blow off meetings, co-workers, social niceties, extra curricular activities and any other time wasters. However you should be diligent about getting paid and doing all necessary paperwork towards the end. You are, after all, a professional.

05 April 2016

When the Mood Strikes it Sometimes Pummels



Between black tusks the roses shine. - Hart Crane

And then the black wave surges through the body. Palpable. It comes in the aftermath of that horrible experience Saturday. It started in the parking lot after loading the groceries in the car. Panic is not the right word. Terror is closer to it. Not attacked so much as seized. Stricken. The world seems a most dangerous and unfamiliar place and there is nowhere to go, nothing to turn to except a pill that will eventually provide calm. Meanwhile the desire for something, anything else as reality. Death seems preferable. Sitting in the passenger seat, the ride home is horrific. The light outside seems to have been turned on too brightly. It is a screaming, tormenting light, ugly in its fierceness.

What to do? Scream? Cry? Bang head against the dashboard? Pray? Clutch cell phone. Don’t look up. Don’t allow thoughts. Don’t wonder or imagine. Focus on one thing. There is the thought that this state might be permanent but it is too horrible to entertain. This has to end. This. Has. To. End. There must be relief. Bedlam awaits.

Want the hospital. Want an injection. Want to be cured. What’s next, the straight jacket? Hospitalization? Insanity? Why do I feel as if my soul is about to float out of my body? Why do I feel unhinged? As if my internal mechanisms have blown out. Why, why…why; why: why — why! why? “Why.”

Home to hyperventilate. This is new. This feels…hmm, I wanna say: bad. Very. Awful. Drink water. TV put on. Stare at The Simpsons. Pill starts to get into blood stream. Calming. Its over. But not really. Now there is the fear. The humiliation. The horrible memory so fresh. It happened again. It was the worst one yet. It can come again. I will anticipate. I will have anxiety. I will have fear. I will feel, I do, feel helpless, vulnerable. Sad about something, a thing, the “attack.” Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.

Fear.

Worry.

And so later when the attack is firmly a memory, the black wave comes, envelops. Can feel it coursing through my veins. Making every thought tinged by sorrow. All is bleak now. No anxiety or panic or fear, just flat sadness. No joy anywhere, in anything. Best to do is distract it. But you always come back to it, it’s there, waiting. You can go out for awhile but its in your home. No avoiding it. Sitting on your shoulder blowing a black dust of misery into your ear that clouds your brain and makes you doubt that such a thing as happiness can ever exist again. Woe.

These are the days that try the soul and stomp on it.

Boogie woogie I shuggie shuggie. Gotta move the body and soul and race for the elusive answer to all these plagues and rages and pains and ermine lined pinafores of anguish that ramble through my soul. Not defeating it yet but will quell it and spell it and not dwell in it. Then hell it.

I stamp on the mustard seed and watch the ogre bleed but there is nowhere there, just the care. Anxious and anxiety and awful wrenching worry for no reason other then body chemistry and brain malfunction. Not fair.

Should have spelled myself more easily in the dusty days of yore when I pushed inwards to the neck of…

Ecclesiastes is followed by the book of Esther but before Esther gets her due, we read the words of the teacher son of David, King of Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!”says the Teacher.“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

And later: “All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.”

I burn eternal and don’t know why. I suffer badly but don’t cry. I reap what I have sowed but wasn’t there for the sowing. Black, inky, ebony, darkness swallows the reaper.

More from Ecclesiastes: “What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.” Harumph I say. But I agree. Groans and lamentations but love and indifference. So true to the few.

And in the waning twilight my mind dances, thrilled by the pounding of my soul against the shores of misery. I recover only to stumble and tumble and then to grumble. Such a wearying fate it is to not control -- fully -- one's emotions. Cannot dawdle as the mood sways lackadaisically in the hurricane winds. Perforce to run asunder of these variable moods and feelings and pains and the sudden horrors that make life a waking nightmare. I cannot lie to myself or the self that is outside watching my cries and hearing my tears and feeling my frowns. The bitter Spring will have its way. Cry no more sweet prince of pain and rail at the tumult.