19 March 2017

Stuff Happens, Some is Interesting -- I Write About it Because That's What I Do

How’m I doing? Sure why not, let’s start with that. Earlier today I ran nine miles so I feel pretty good. But subsequent to that I made what I thought was a funny comment to the wife but she was offended by it, got angry and I sunk into depression. It happens just like that. A small upset will take me from the top of the world to the bottom of the chasm. Sometimes nothing is required, I’ll just be sitting in my favorite chair feeling wonderful and in an instant I’m overcome with sorrow. No warning either. Earlier today I watched my favorite English soccer team suffer an ignominious defeat. Bummer. That was before my run. The run produced endorphins aplenty and the consequent runner’s high. After the run I watched my second favorite English soccer team win. It helped a little. Then came the dumb remark. So I was depressed and useless to the world. It’s difficult to be of any value to yourself or others during depression unless you’re working in which case you go on automatic pilot and are your usual self. I managed to pop a DVD that I got from Netflix into my computer. Fifteen minutes in I realized I wasn’t going to like the movie so I cut my losses and ejected it. Then I selected a movie from my extensive DVD collection (somewhere around 240 films) knowing that as one of my favorites I would enjoy it. The film in question was The Big Lebowski and I did indeed enjoy it.  I like The Dude his madcap adventures and wacky friends, lovers and opponents. The Coens directed the film and they're among my favorite directors. Right now the wife is out having dinner with an old friend (she’s no longer miffed with me, in case you were wondering) so finding myself home alone and hungry I ordered a pizza. As I write these very words that you are reading (I flatter myself that anyone will ever read this) I await the arrival of said pizza. Because it is for me and me alone I got to order any toppings I wanted and so it will come with anchovies, pineapple and green peppers. A Caesar salad will accompany said pizza. Yum. Thus ends this overly long paragraph.

Here begins what promises to be a much shorter paragraph. Yesterday during a teacher meeting we were informed of this that and the other thing and discussed one or two matters. There was nothing earth shattering being discussed, that’s the way of such things. A half an hour in I had to excuse myself to answer Mother Nature’s call. When I returned a teacher was discussing her problems with bored students and those (often, of course, bored) who can’t stay off their cell phone. I saw the boss glance over at me a couple of times and feared she’d call on me to advise in this matter. However I managed to keep my yap shut as other teachers commiserated and offered feeble suggestions and shared similar tragedies.Why my reluctance to throw in the proverbial two cents? I might have been forced — when asked what I do about bored students — to reply that I do not have bored students. Or at least none who are bored for more than a few seconds. How arrogant would that have sounded? Very, I’m sure. But the truth is I don’t have bored students. My only advice to teachers whose students are bored is to make your lessons more interesting. Be a more interesting person. It is not the fault of the student if she or he is bored. That’s on you the teacher, pal. As for cell phones, this is in large part a byproduct of boredom. But even in the best of classes students are constantly nagged by the feeling that their phone requires their immediate attention. Goodness knows what texts have been missed, or email or Facebook posts, or news or sports scores or Instagrams or tweets. The phone is irresistible because there is always something new on it. New, new, new. Yes I’ve gone off topic and am in danger of making this paragraph as long as the last when I’d promised not to. Simple enough. I stop it here.

This paragraph will be a more manageable length. So you may be wondering what I do about cell phones in class. Simple. I bash the offender over the head with a crowbar. Lesson learned. No but seriously folks. First of all repeat offenders lose their attendance for that class -- that rarely happens. Usually I stop teaching and stare at the person’s phone until they see fit to put it away. Only rarely do I have to “get tough.” I hasten to add that “getting tough” with ESL students from around the world is a piece of cake for someone such as myself who taught middle school for two decades.

I recently heard the same teacher who was whining about bored students talk to a colleague about how well a class had gone and how engaged everyone had been. She then spoke of how disappointed they’d all be the next day when the focus was entirely on grammar. She imagined having to tell them that they would have to take their medicine (I paraphrased, by the way, she said nothing of medicine, but it was the same idea). I was aghast. Imagine a teacher setting aside an entire class to grammar (perfectly okay — indeed encouraged — in a grammar elective class) and conceding that an entire class period was libel to be a big snooze. What an awful thing to do to students. Every class should cover several different skills and should be divided accordingly. Also, every class should have at least a modicum of fun. Learning should never be painful (unless you’re studying to be a masochist) learning should be a pleasurable experience. You can stuff in one helluva lot of knowledge and expertise and understanding while having a right jolly good time in the bargain. In fact people are better learners when they’re happy.

There are other things on my mind tonight, like a great many people I’m — shall we say —

That’s where I stopped writing on Saturday. Mid sentence. I don’t recall what interrupted me, maybe a meteor shower. We pick up this post on Sunday AM. You will note that some of the following is fictional — or is it?

Subsequent to the writings of last night I got into a knife fight with a passerby. Successful in this venture and intent on a peaceful blood-free evening, I watched an episode of he The Simpsons and ate my pizza. Eventually my wife returned from her dinner with old friend and we engaged in conversation. This was followed by a movie, more chatting and then off to bed. However the journey from living room to bedroom was interrupted by a beam of light radiating from the sky and shining through our window. I went outside to find that an alien spacecraft had landed  in front of our abode. One member of the crew alighted from the flying saucer and engaged me in conversation. Her first question was about the NCAA basketball tournament. I gave as much of an update as I could from memory then checked the other scores on my iPhone. She lamented that their internet was a bit spotty and the ship’s tech guy was at this moment working on it. The alien, who’s Earth name was Nancy, said that her home planet was several million light years away and their journey took six months. It would have been shorter but they stopped a few places to eat and take bathroom breaks and buy souvenirs. Eventually our conversation got around to the current political state of the world. I invited Nancy into the house and the wife and I got out our computers and showed her some clips of Donald Trump speaking and read her some of his tweets. Once fully apprised of the leader of the free world Nancy thanked us and said: “with this man being in charge I think it best we hightail it out of here.” Before departing she took a selfie with us. By the way Nancy bore a striking resemblance to a young Diane Keaton.

Because of the excitement of the evening it was difficult to get to sleep straightaway so I counted the number of alien encounters I’ve had. I remember getting to 30. I slept well. This morning I breakfasted on cereal, keifer and a banana along with English Breakfast tea. After a thorough scouring of the internet, the better half and I went grocery shopping. We have since returned home and I have written some of the words which you are no doubt not reading as you’ve never heard of me or my blog and wouldn’t read it if you had.

Now then, can you guess which parts of today’s addition to the blog post are fictional? Feel free to submit your guess in the comments section. Winners will receive an all expense round trip vacation to Syria. No foolin’.

13 March 2017

Those Were The Days: Burglary, Booze and Drugs and Mooney's Garage Home

One of my best friends in high school was Mike Mooney -- people only ever called him Mooney. He’d been kicked out of his parents’ house, though not very far out. He lived in the converted garage in the backyard. It was actually better than his room in the house or any of the rooms any of us had in our homes. He even had a hot plate and a toilet. I don't remember exactly why he got the heave ho but it likely had to do with his preference for drugs over school.

We used to hang out at Mooney’s because it offered us maximum privacy. Mooney's parents had as little to do with him as possible so there was no risk of anyone walking in us. We were all around 16 and had recently become enamored of alcohol and drugs, including psychedelics. We would sometimes drop acid there and then head for Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills.

The most nefarious of our activities was burglary. The rest of us were only accessories before and after the fact. Mooney did the dirty work. He would slip out of the garage and be gone for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and half. He was always successful and came back with liquor. He only once took anything else when there was a wad of cash sitting on a table that he felt was too tempting to resist. Our thieving friend also sometimes left a calling card in the form of a full toilet — provided that mother nature had called.

Being an idiot teenager I was able to rationalize Mooney’s escapades because it was booze he was heisting and often from people who had plenty to spare and maybe even so much that they wouldn’t miss what he took. My other friend, Mark Norman, and I did berate him for taking the cash but quickly forgot about it.

We would gladly imbibe whatever Mooney brought us. We had heard somewhere that mixing different kinds of alcohol was not recommend but we were young and invulnerable so didn’t worry about it. Usually the spirits accompanied the other drugs we took whether grass or acid so we didn't drink too much anyway.

We were great ones for conversations often covering great philosophical concepts. Like most teenagers we had a greatly exaggerated sense of our understanding of and insights into life. By virtue of our drug use we reckoned that we’d risen to another level of consciousness. Most everyone else — grown ups in particular — were hopelessly square and took everything at face value. We, on the other hand, were as enlightened as rock stars, who in our estimation were the true great thinkers of the world. Within the lyrics of rock songs were the keys to understanding life. Rock songs were the portals to higher levels of awareness. We constantly strove to reach higher levels of awareness. Politics invariably entered our conversations as we railed against Nixon, Vietnam and social injustice of all kinds. But mostly we laughed and talked about girls and movies and sports. We were basically happy lads though racked with psychological pain that we were not prepared to admit to much less wrestle with. Both Mooney and I were seeing psychiatrists. In my case the benefits of analysis were minimized by my steadfast determination to put on a good show for the doctor by being as cool as I possibly could and betraying no vulnerabilities.

We did delve into a lot of personal issues during our debauches and this was certainly cathartic although mitigated somewhat by how damn high we got. And get high we did. For my part scholastic achievements, glory on the athletic fields and family relationships didn’t suffer (though one could argue that all three might have been better had I not indulged so much). I received mostly “A”s and was a soccer star and other than my schizophrenic mother got along famously with family both immediate and extended.

One Saturday the soccer team Mark and I starred on won our league championship. The game was over by early afternoon so we headed over to Mooney’s. He had by this time accumulated several bottles of liquor. This was a rare occasion in that we had no drugs. Booze was not going to be the supplement but the main and only course. We decided to find a secluded spot in the hills and partake.

I recall taking large swigs of various types of liquor, primarily whiskey and vodka. My companions were more restrained. It was not long before I was stinking drunk and could neither stand nor see. Yes, I was blind drunk. Mark and Mooney had to lead me stumbling through the streets of Berkeley on a long trek back to my home. My father was away for the weekend and my mother was of sound body but not mind. After being deposited at the front door, mom put me to bed concluding that I had a nasty case of the flu. This notion was not diminished when the next morning I went on an extended vomiting spree.

On Monday I was fit as a fiddle again, I’ve always been able to rebound from illness and during my drinking days from hangovers. I saw Mark that day and he told me of a conversation that him and Mooney had as I lied there on the hill totally out of it. They had decided that if the three of us were stranded on an island I would be the first to die. It seemed an unnecessary remark to make, not to mention cruel, but teenage boys are not known for their tact. I remembered that comments years later. Within two years of it Mooney had died of a drug overdose and a several years after that I spoke with Mark on the phone and his mind was all but gone from hundreds of acid trips. This former pacifist said he wanted to join the army so he’d have the chance to legally kill people. I don’t know whatever became of him but it couldn't have been good.

Eventually, of course, I became more proficient at drinking, in large part because my beverage of choice became beer, which is far easier to handle. I would sometimes partake of scotch, brandy, wine with meals, martinis and other concoctions if the spirit or moment so moved me. I steered away from all drugs with the rather notable exception of cocaine which I indulged in given half a chance, or a quarter of one.

Drinking became a way of life for me, one that was all encompassing and threatening to destroy me. It was a miracle when the lightning struck and the realization came that I was an addict. Now nearly 30 years later I am miles away from perfect with no possibility of getting much closer — progress not perfection being the byword. I’m bi polar and struggle with depression but so long as I don’t yield to despair I manage well enough.

My times with Mark and Mooney and other assorted friends who sometimes joined us remain an important memory for me, indeed one I cherish. Those were — at the risk of being obvious — formative years and for better and for worse shaped the person I’ve been ever since. I appreciate the headiness of those times and the ongoing efforts to make sense of the world. I’m forever sorry that fate was not kinder to my two companions and forever grateful that I’ve lived such a fulfilling and happy life highlighted by a successful marriage and two daughters who I love beyond all measure.

Good ole Mooney, good ole Mark. High times, fun times. Times.

06 March 2017

What if While Riding on the Subway......



What if while riding on the subway someone ran down the aisle throwing confetti?

What if while riding on the subway the person next to me claimed to be the reincarnation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky?

What if while riding on the subway I faked a heart attack?

What if while riding on the subway a ball of fire came flying down the car right at me?

What if while riding on the subway a giraffe tried to board but couldn’t because it’s neck was too long?

What if while riding on the subway all the passengers broke into song and the song was Stairway to Heaven?

What if while riding on the subway Beyonce and Jay Z sat across from me?

What if while riding on the subway a service dog started break dancing?

What if while riding on the subway a ballet troupe boarded and proceeded to recite dirty limericks?

What if while riding on the subway the driver got on the intercom and said he wasn’t wearing pants?

What if while riding on the subway someone created a ruckus or a brouhaha or a free-for-all?

What if while riding on the subway two passengers exchanged harsh words regarding the hidden message of Peter Pan?

What if while riding on the subway someone played a recording of the Sermon on the Mount as read by Fred Flinstone?

What if while riding on the subway a pelican wearing kilts and a tam o’ shanter got on?

What if while riding on the subway I started asking people if they had ever met Gilbert and or Sullivan?

What if while riding on the subway someone got on board extolling the virtues of necrophilia?

What if while riding on the subway everyone started speaking Iroquois?

What if while riding on the subway I thought of some particularly silly questions about riding the subway?

What if while riding on the subway I had an existential —                ?

What if while riding on the subway someone complained about their lumbago while eating a liverwurst sandwich?

What if while riding on the subway half the passengers started to think about one thing and the other half started to think about the other?

What if while riding on the subway someone stopped looking at her or his cellphone and said, “Maybe I’ll just think for a little while"?

What if while riding on the subway the train went into and out of and into and out of different dimensions?

What if while riding on the subway there was a momentary lull and then a crash and a boom?

What if while riding on the subway the air was rife with a tension so thick you could use it as dry wall?

What if while riding on the subway toxic fumes rendered everyone narcoleptic?

What if while riding on the subway I made an obscure literary reference and someone coughed?

What if while riding on the subway someone initiated a burping contest?

What if while riding on the subway angels flitted about kissing foreheads?

What if while riding on the subway there was a pleasant interlude?

What if while riding on the subway the ghost of William Howard Taft walked through asking people, "what the hell are you doing here, buddy?"

What if while riding on the subway the Gestapo came through saying, "your papers, please?"

What if while riding on the subway there was an act of kindness and another of civil disobedience and yet another of courageous defiance?

What if while riding on the subway a hushed silence fell over the crowd as the great man rose to speak in defense of the accused?

What if while riding on the subway there was an outbreak of sanity?

What if while riding on the subway a dentist plied his tried?

What if while riding on the subway there was turbulence and it was because we had taken flight?

What if while riding on the subway Jean Valjean ran through our car with Inspector Javert in hot pursuit?

What if while riding the subway I just said, "th-th-th- that's all folks!"?

01 March 2017

My Goddamned Brain is Having its Way With Me Again



“I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.”
-- Sylvia Plath

The brightness outside is paralyzing. I got a block and half and had to turn around and come home. I’m currently a prisoner in my home. I’d only just taken my morning Ativan minutes before leaving. Maybe if I wait for it to kick in I can try again. Maybe I’ll take a second one. It’s okay to take two in a day. If I take two and still can’t venture out then I’m in trouble. I suppose I’m in trouble as it is.

I have no such problems when it’s cloudy or at night. No panic attacks then. But bright sunlight, sometimes even when I’m indoors, can trigger whatever it is that makes me feel the grip of terror. That horrible, awful feeling of not belonging in my own skin. The surety of pending madness, the total death of reality and the fall into the abyss.

The odd thing is that one of my stops was going to be the pharmacy where refills on some of the medications I take await me. You think I like being a slave to pills? Trust me, it’s not my idea, not my choice. I bristle every time a doctor prescribes something. But I’m fighting desperate battles against acute panic disorder and depression. I’m bi-polar. Going to war without meds is like fighting a well-armed enemy without weapons. Yes I go to therapy as well. In fact I have an appointment this afternoon. I’m worried about making it there. But I know I have to so one way or the other I will.

Sometimes my life is a living hell. Fortunately I have so much love and beauty and warmth and kindness surrounding me that I can still push on. Yesterday was my birthday and the love and well wishes I received filled me with strength enough to carry on for another year. But right now I’m scared and worried and sad. I can’t take a normal walk on a normal day on normal errands.

Normal, what a concept. What the hell is “normal” anyway? I don’t feel like I’ve ever had the benefit of normality. I’ve also never really understood it. Does it exist? Do I even want it? I see people who seem normal and are in seemingly normal situations and their lives appear so empty, so dull, so uninspired, a walking death. Of course I can’t possibly know all the triumphs and all the tragedies that make up their lives, just as they can’t know mine. We really know so little about one another, even the people we encounter on a daily basis. What do they really think? What turns them on? What scares them? What are their hopes, dreams, foibles, fears, idiosyncrasies?

We all put on public faces. There are ways in which we want others to perceive us. For one thing we want to be seen as normal, we want to fit in, be liked. Some of us want more attention than others, some of want less. I know for my part I want both. I want to be left alone but at the same time noted for what makes me interesting.

In putting on public masks people obviously want to show themselves at their best. This often requires exaggeration and the glossing over of weaknesses. Our public face is like a resume that highlights our accomplishments — stretching the truth as necessary — and ignores our failures.

In fitting in we try to find common ground. This is often easiest when recounting everyday experiences. We share stories and feelings about naturally occurring experiences. The vagaries of commuting, the common cold, minor mishaps, meals, the weather, weekends, sleep are all typical fodder to relating to one another without over sharing and without risk.

There is also a common language used by each generation. For example I work with a lot of people who are many years my junior. They constantly say things like: “totally” “no worries” “right on” “so…..” “awesome.” None of these words are extraordinary in anyway but it is their particular usage and the frequency with which they are employed that is different from people of my generation.

End of first part. After writing it I successfully ran my errands, returned home, watched a movie, cleaned the house, went to my appointment and returned home again. This second part is written  seven hours later.

I am, according to my psychiatrist, a puzzler. My depression is erratic and neither seems biological nor caused by external factors. I do not consider this to be good news. My panic attacks are another matter and not so pressing as, today aside, they haven’t been a problem for the past eight months or so. Barring a repeat of this afternoon’s trouble, we can steady our focus on the mystery of my bouts of depression, one of which has made its way into my consciousness in the past half hour. Great. Fantastic. Wonderful. Super. Once again I’m enveloped by sorrow and the pain of living no matter that all in my life is both hunky dory and peachy keen.

At least I’m so far able to write. The depression has sometimes makes the very idea of creating sentences seem like climbing up a sheer cliff. Already now I find it hard to finish a sentence and very difficult indeed to start a new one. The dull all encompassing mental ache is starting to take over. I’m trying mightily to push through it and create.

…………………………….. Harder and….harder. I probe I push I pull I pulverize I ponder I peak I perambulate I prevaricate I passssssssssssss.

Nuh.

Dinner is cooking. I can smell it. Tamales. Refried beans (why were they fried again?). There will be cool water. There will be desert. There will be reading if the depression doesn’t tighten its grip and if it does I will resort to the television and I will sigh. So these are my days. Sometimes. Unless they are not. Never know what’s coming. At least I can count on surprises.

Oh god I feel soooooooooooo bad. Totally. Not awesome. Many worries. Right on and off. World without end, the whirling dervish and the captive brain cells and the hells bells and turtle shells and smells of —