30 April 2020

Coronavirus Quarantine Diary: Day 46, Entry 12, I Say What I'm Missing Then Offer Serious Advice to People Dealing with Mental Health Issues and Addiction

You know how irritated you get when someone brushing past you bumps you and then doesn’t say excuse me? I miss that. I miss people walking too close behind me (I call it pedestrian tailgating). I miss people trying to cut in front of me. I miss standing in slow moving lines. I miss having to wait fifteen minutes for a table in a restaurant. I miss the machine  I want to use at the gym being in use. I miss waiting to have to use the copier at work. I miss navigating my shopping cart down crowded aisles at the grocery store. I miss normal.

(I’ll never miss Trumpy and his wild inconsistencies, lies, contradictions, self-aggrandizing statements, insults and verbal cruelty. That can’t go soon enough.)

I’m also ready to see the last of the coronavirus. It sucks big time.

I’ve been happy for the time to write, to read, watch movies and yak with the wife and I’m feeling busy. But I’d really like to supplement my current activities with some of what one does when things are “normal.” (Remember normal? It was much cooler than we realized at the time as in the Joni Mitchell song: “don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone…”)

But I don’t want to use this entire blog post to whine, moan and complain (that’s what marriage is for). Instead I thought I’d try to provide an actual service and share some advice for anyone out there suffering from mental health issues, be it depression, anxiety, panic attacks or drug or alcohol abuse. I’m only an authority on these issues in that I have suffered from them for decades and while not exactly (or inexactly for that matter) cured, I have learned to face them and ease the pain that they can cause.

I have offered advice on this blog previously in these posts:
When Suicide Seems An Option and Some Advice,
I Assail a Phrase, Discuss Teaching (Again), Give Advice About Emotional Problems
Surviving Depression, A User's Guide
Do's and Don'ts if You're Suffering From Depression, Panic Attacks or other Emotional Distress

Those will certainly help but I thought that here I would include advice about psychiatry and addiction, along with recommendations on depression and panic attacks and anxiety, all in one post. I hope it helps.

But first, remember: you are not alone.

Advice about drug and alcohol abuse. The first question is, how do you know if you're an addict. The mere fact that you consider the possibility is a pretty clear sign that you do. Here is just one of many websites that provides an easy litmus test. Okay so assuming you "pass" the test, what next? Go to an AA or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting. Of course the coronavirus is making that difficult in most areas but you can often go to an online meeting. Reality check: most addicts who try to quit, whether through twelve step programs, cold turkey or other methods, fail. You don't have to. Go to meetings until you want to. Don't pick up that first drink. If there are elements to twelve-step programs that you object to, that's normal, just take what you can get out of it and be patient. Listen to people, share your story and show up for life and for meetings. If you stick with it you will find it possible to go twenty-four hours, a week, a month, two months, without getting high. Then you'll be ready to learn how to live successfully and happily without drugs or alcohol. Not always easy, but many of us have done it.

Remember: you are not alone.

Advice about panic attacks and severe anxiety attacks. Get help and I mean immediately, no hesitation, right now. You do not want to be saddled with crippling attacks that leave you wishing for death and afraid to go outside or to particular places or to get out of bed. You will likely have to take meds. Maybe for a little awhile, maybe for the rest of your life, depending on the exact nature of your attacks. Sometimes the issue is more a matter of body chemistry and other times the causes are related to events in your life, be they past traumas or your present circumstances. When prescribed meds be sure you are told all the possible side effects and the likelihood of you suffering one or more. Not that that always helps. I was given some meds for depression and was told that there was only seven percent chance I would get a rash from it. Jackpot. I got a terrible rash. Side effects can make the cure worse than the disease. Usually through trial and error you'll find something that works for. But please don't be afraid to use meds, sometimes there's no alternative. You may also want or even be required to see a therapist of one sort or another because of your attacks. I'll address the vagaries of that separately. Meanwhile, don't let well-meaning friends, acquaintances, relatives or co-workers poo-poo what you're going through and give the kind of medical advice that they'd never offer to someone with a physical ailment. Believe me, people who have no clue what you're going through will say some crazy shit. You've got to trust the medical professionals. But also remember that if you're not satisfied by what a doctor says, don't hesitate to see someone else.

Remember: you are not alone.

Advice about seeing a psychiatrist or other therapist. Be careful. While there are many excellent doctors and counselors who can be of enormous help, indeed veritable life-savers, there's a lot of quackery out there too. We are not dealing with an exact science here. I've been seeing shrinks and therapists since I was a teenager -- for fifty years to be exact -- and have been through the mill. Here's a little of what to avoid. If you've got a strict Freudian who nods a lot but hardly utters a word other than,"I'm afraid our time is up," head for the hills. You're supposed to do most of the talking, not all of it. If you've got another kind of Freudian who looks for symbolism in everything and offers no practical advice or direction, get out of Dodge. If you get someone who forgets important details that you've previously shared or clearly is confusing you with another patient, hightail out of there. If you get someone who yawns frequently, either start bringing them coffee or look for someone who is awake. If you get someone who uses your time to try to talk about sports or movies, vamoose and look for someone serious about their job. If you get someone who is forever trying to prescribe you meds for any compliant you have (they're probably getting a cut from big Pharma) be on your way. Yes, I have had, at one time or another, all of the above. One shrink I had made a not so thinly veiled racist remark and another stereotyped Jews. But if you find someone who listens, who provides direction and feedback and shows an ounce or two of empathy, stick around. I struck gold a few times; the main lesson I learned was to be willing to change therapists as needed.

Remember: you are not alone.

Advice about depression. As with panic disorder and anxiety attacks, you're going to need professional help. It is also possible, depending on the nature and severity of your depression, that you're going to need to take meds. Be willing but wary and see my advice above. Depression is a terrible disease because it can defy everything you do to try to drive it away. Mine haunts me still and can sometimes be awful and that's why seeing medical professional and perhaps taking meds are musts. But there are other things you can and must do. Exercise. Go to a gym or take long walks, or swim or ride your bike. Anything to get the blood circulating and releasing endorphins. Be as vigorous as your body will allow. Yoga is also very good for you. Meditation is helpful and if you happen to be an addict, regular attendance at twelve-step meetings is another must. Try to do as many "normal" activities as your depression will allow as normally as possible. Get out of the house,  Go to museums, films, sports events, parks whatever it is that brings you joy. Spend time with people. Also let people around you who you trust know about your depression. Ask them to check in on you, particularly if they haven't heard from you in awhile. Meanwhile reach out to people when you're down. Use alcohol in moderation, if at all, and don't go overboard with sweets. Keep your place clean. You can find pleasure out of doing the laundry, washing dishes, tidying the house. Also, if you've got a garden, go for it. Normal activities in which you use your hands and aren't mentally taxing can be just the ticket.

Remember: you are not alone.

I conclude by again noting how difficult the coronavirus is making it for people who suffer from emotional problems. It is especially so because people often need the intimacy of a therapy session or the comfort of the twelve-step group and the occasional hug. Human contact is essential to many with emotional issues. Fortunately you can Skype, FaceTime and Zoom with people, whether an individual or a group. Hopefully sooner rather than later we'll be able to mix again and the nice thing will be how wonderful the world is going to seem when we no longer are forced into isolation. I'm sure these are the darkest times for many people, but I am also sure that is indeed darkest before the dawn.

And remember: you are not alone.

26 April 2020

Coronavirus Quarantine Diary: Day 42, Entry Eleven, This One is For Amusement Purposes Only

Lady MacBeth who seeks a spot remover
I was going to write about what it's been like living during the pandemic but I was depressed enough so I thought I'd instead offer these amusing tidbits from my rich inner life -- I mean daily life. Bon appetit.

I draw inspiration from a now deceased friend of mine who recently said, “I’m dead, whattaya want from me?” Being in a terminal state is no excuse for not contributing to a discussion or offering suggestions. We have a president whose brain is quite dead and that doesn’t stop him talking a blue streak. (What if instead of a blue streak, people talked a blue steak? It makes as much sense as talking a blue streak. Also, why blue? Can you talk a lavender or chartreuse streak. Or steak? Let’s try it: my Uncle Herb talks a chartreuse steak.) Forget I brought it up….

I sometimes refer to my wife as “the better half.” This is selling her short. She’s so much the better of the two of us that she is more the better three-quarters. Speaking of quarters…I found one on my walk yesterday and picked it up. Many years ago I stopped picking up pennies despite the old saw that goes “find a penny, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck.” Doesn’t work. I’ve found pennies and had miserable days. The only value of a penny is if you have a second one and can toss them into a discussion (for those of you slow on the uptake — that would include all evangelicals — this is in reference to throwing or adding your two cents as a means to contribute your ideas). You’re welcome….

Actually, now that you mention it, a penny can be used to buy access to a person’s thoughts as in “a penny for yours.” Although that’s an old phrase and I’m sure with inflation a typical thought will now go for a nickel or in hoity toity places like New York, a dime....

Where was I? Oh yes, picking up a quarter. So first I stopped stooping to pick up mere pennies, then later I began turning up my nose at nickles and dimes. I am, however, not ready to pass a quarter by. You can no longer buy anything with a quarter but if you put four of them together you’ve got yourself a dollar. Come to think of it you can’t do a helluva lot with a dollar either other than tip. But the pandemic has put a crimp on tipping. You can add gratuities via your credit card but I prefer the peeling of a fin or a tenner off my bankroll and when I say peeling off big bills from my bankroll what I really mean is that I scrounge around in my wallet for a one….

I find it fascinating that the first choice to play Tom Joad in Grapes of Wrath was not Henry Fonda, but George Sanders. Apparently director John Ford was originally intent on taking the film in a different direction (well, they still would have traveled west to California, but you now what I mean) having Tom being erudite, urbane and affecting a high class British accent. He thought it would be interesting to have a contrast to the uneducated rabble that comprised the rest of the Joad family. In any event studio heads intervened and sobered up Ford and Fonda got the part. What might have been….

Recently I was able to chat over Zoom with Lord and Lady MacBeth who long ago were immortalized by Billy Shakespeare in something called The Scottish Play — at least that’s what it’s known as by the casts and crews that put it on, I believe it’s official title is Othello. Anyhoo, the MacBeths (or the Macky Bs as those of us close to them like to call them) were their usual chatty selves, although Lady Mac did so go one about having a dickens of a time getting a spot out. I suggested Clorox, now in a handy spray battle. We also discussed haggis…..

I subsequently had a conversation — again via the magic of Zoom — with an old friend, Ichabod Crane, who resides in a place called Sleepy Hollow. You may know Ichy from his popular program on the Discovery Channel: Myth Busters. Ichabod spoke of simple pleasures, like scones, plum wines, chamber music, chamber maids and headless horsemen. How we laughed….

Speaking of stupid…according to a recent article in Scientific American, our current president, DJ Trumpy, has the same level of intelligence as a walnut. Also, both are tough nuts to crack….

When I attended staff meetings at the public school where I labored for may eons, it was not all hard work and difficult decisions, we used to like to play the blame game. This was often accompanied by pointing fingers. Later we would re-invent the wheel. It felt good to be an inventor. Sometimes we get into groups to discuss something, the share out. This was better than sharing in. We would also sometimes beat a dead horse although given its dormant state there was no harm in it. It was weird when someone would piggyback on something that someone else said. So precarious. Of course it was safer to echo another person’s comment. We would eventually — mind you without benefit of paper or ribbons — wrap things up….

I neglected to mention earlier that the Macbeth’s told me that their favorite musical group is Fleetwood Mac, their favorite song, Mack the Knife, their favorite meal Mac and Cheese, their favorite vehicle, the Mac Truck, their favorite term for raincoat, Mackintosh and their favorite burger is a quarter pounder with cheese…..

That reminds me of an old joke which I just forgot which reminds me that I keep forgetting things and forgetting this reminds me that, damn I forgot….

I hope you’ve found this blog post terribly amusing but likely you’ve just found it terrible. You must think it terrible that it amuses me to have written it, or as my grandfather once said shortly before we put him in a home, “was that supposed to be funny?

24 April 2020

The Author Reflects After Having Just Proofread His Entire Damn Blog -- All 12 Years of it

The author and his father many moons ago.
Mission accomplished. I have now proofread all 1,215 posts on this blog. The task began in early January. When I started I reckoned it would take me well into late Summer. But thanks to the coronavirus and being laid off, here I am finished on April, 24. (This blog turns twelve years old next month.)

About a dozen posts were deleted for various reasons. Many new labels were created and a few removed. Editing for clarity was done as well as fixing formatting. All told it was one helluva lot of reading centered mostly around one topic -- me.

I noted that over the years I've repeated myself constantly. I've shared many observations, anecdotes, stories, complaints, comments, numerous times. Many complaints and some stories related to my commute. Thank god commuting is no longer part of my life. I also constantly complain about people who talk loudly on their cell phones in public places, especially in the gym. Indeed gym behavior has been a constant topic of mine. I've also mentioned my arch nemesis -- inconsiderate bicycle riders -- roughly a quarter of a billion times.

I've written a lot about my depression with 34 posts so labeled. On the one hand it's been cathartic for me, on the other hand, ease up a little bit there buddy. Maybe don't feel compelled to share all of them. I've also written about dear old crazy mom. One assumes that if I'd had a normal mother there's been very little here about her. So it goes.

Of course I used to write a lot about films -- indeed for several years this was almost exclusively a film blog -- and now do so only occasionally. I was surprised how insightful and entertaining much of my writing on films has been. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of movies and occasionally am able to share interesting insights on everything from classic thirties films to recent releases. I've also provided some entertaining lists of favorites of various kinds. In addition to the obvious favorite all- time films there have been favorites in all manner of category.

I've delved into politics more than once, usually when particularly miffed about a recent event and with Trumpy president there are daily opportunities for being miffed. I've also shared social commentary -- too often in the forms of my ubiquitous complaints -- and written about African Americans and the LGBTQ community. Some of these posts have allowed me to share my copious knowledge of US History.

There has been a lot about my past including old friends, my childhood, my college years, my father (some particularly nice posts about him) and of course mom. A los of my reminiscences have been about my past abuses of drugs and alcohol and subsequent recovery. This has been good for me and anyone else who is an addict, whether practicing or clean.

Some of my better posts have been from the various trips the missus and I have taken since the blog began, including three to Europe and four to New York. They -- like a lot of what I've written -- have done a good job of bringing back memories.

I've written a lot about teaching, including providing advice to fellow teachers, particularly those just starting. I'm proud of these writings and know that they have been read and appreciated.

There have also been a lot of humor pieces and a few have actually been funny. I've been somewhat of a cut-up for as long as I can remember and was always the class clown and the funniest person at any place I worked. Making people chuckle is one thing I can unabashedly say that I'm accomplished at.

Since last month I've been writing my coronavirus quarantine diaries and I'm too close to these to comment on them other than to say I hope they add a little bit to the record of this pandemic, at least how it has effected our family.

One topic I have not touched upon in my lovely, wonderful, adorable, sexy, brilliant, kind and perfect wife. While I do make reference to going to a film or being on a trip with "the missus" or the "better half," I do not name her nor describe her in any detail other than to slap a glowing adjective her way as seen above. She prefers her anonymity and I respect that. (She does like and praise a lot of what I write here and always encourages me to write.) I am of course the opposite in that I have no secrets from the world, it's all here on this blog. I'll be dead someday anyway, so what's the difference.

One reason I've started being so meticulous about this blog is that I am leaving it behind so when the Grim Reaper shows up the kiddies and any offspring they have and my nieces and nephews and their progeny will have this to remember what a sap I was. Or perhaps they'll find in it some insight into just what made me tick (that ticking sound is super annoying) plus this is full of family history that may be of actual interest to them.

That's it. I just ran out of things to say on this topic. This is my blog and for better or worse I'm proud of it and mean to keep at it for the foreseeable future. I'm so glad that there have been people all over the world who have at one time or another stopped by and enjoyed something I've written. That's pretty darn cool.

17 April 2020

Coronavirus Quarantine Diary: Day 34, Entry Ten, A Routine Writing on My Daily Routine

Me prepared for my daily walk.
Despite the quarantine and the fact that I'm not working I still set the alarm. Of course I no longer avail myself of an alarm clock. My iPhone suffices. (I also use my iPhone in lieu of a camera and cam corder and watch and a large hardbound dictionary and fold-up maps. It also serves as a place to check Instagram and twitter, breaking news and sports scores). Setting my alarm assures that I do not sleep too late and get a late start to my day. It also fosters discipline. I need to maintain self-discipline because I've got a lot to do. Yes, I'm unemployed, home bound and yet busy. Always things to do.

One of my projects has been curating this blog. I've been re-reading every post from the 12 years this blog has existed. As I am at times prolific, this is a big job. To date I've made it through just over eight years. I aim to finish by the end of this month. One thing I've been doing is adding labels to many of my posts. This has also entailed altering some labels, adding many and subtracting a few. The blog not only records my impressions of life these past dozen years (with many more to come, I hope) but includes a lot of short stories and a lot of personal and family history. I've also documented my struggles with depression and panic attacks. There are humor pieces aplenty, though other should judge just how humorous they are.

In editing my blog I've mostly been changing its to it's. There is an occasional their where a there should be or a there where a they're is required. Even some excepts replacing accepts. Many commas have gone missing and need replacing. There are instances of excess verbiage so I've done a bit of trimming but have also tried not to re-write posts -- except for clarity -- as I want posts to reflect my mood at the time of writing. I've also been doing some formatting, particularly with pictures and quotes at the top of posts, which is mostly a matter of closing gaps and being consistent in the way quotes are formatted. (Quotes should be in italics followed by a double dash, then the "from source by author" in regular type except that the name of the source -- usually a book, poem or song -- which should be in bold letters.)

I've also had to make the call on which posts garner the "favorite posts" label. I've added a quite a few new ones to this category and when I'm done I'm going to cull the list. I've got just over 100 now and should try to pare that down to...well, I'm not sure. Maybe 50 is unrealistic, perhaps around 75. Favorite posts are simply the ones I deem my best work. It wouldn't do to have too many. It would be like over crowding the Hall of Fame.

A year ago I started copying and pasting my fiction into a folder titled short stories. My aim is to someday publish them in a collection. Initially I only included the very best stories but have become much more democratic on that count including merely adequate stories that I believe can later be revised into absolute pearls. One hopes.

In addition to the blog I've got novel number two to work on although I've only been pecking away at recently more focused on the requisite research. So each day has to include a minimal amount of reading. Each day also has to include watching a film. Weekends I'll watch two or three movies. I've got to keep up. I've got over 240 films as part of my extensive DVD collection and they aren't there just to look good. There's also my queue on the Criterion Collection, plus Netflix sends me two DVDs a week. Amazon and Hulu and the TV also provide more viewing opportunities. Given all his my average of ten movies a week barely suffices. No. No, it doesn't suffice.

But I've also got to get in my walks, stretching and a bit of exercise. Nothing is going to make up for the gym not being open but I'm doing the best I can.

I also have to keep up with the news no matter the circumstances, but when there's a pandemic, it's especially important.

Some days I'm slowed by depression but if I've got strict routine it's easier to power through it. So far the depression hasn't been either more frequent or more pronounced than pre-pandemic but that could change. These days everything is subject to change.

Last but not least I'm in quarantine with two of my favorite people: wife and oldest daughter. The latter is busy with her studies so mostly it's the missus who's stuck with me. Fortunately we enjoy one another's company enormously (I know, what does she see in me?) and can yak about this or that for hour on end. Oh, and we've also got a few shows we watch together: Better Call Saul, The Plot Against America, Brooklyn Nine-Nine (all three ending next week!) The Last O.G. A Late Show With Stephen Colbert and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

I've been seeing fewer people on my walks and one and all seem more determined to keep their six feet of social distance and usually opt for more. My last few walks I didn't come within 12 feet of anyone. Who ever imagined that this would be a thing? I've also taken to wearing a mask -- see photo above.

I sill miss having sports as a distraction and the immediate future in that regards looks mighty bleak. I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that neither I nor anyone else from the general public will be going to Cal football games this coming Fall. This one hurts mightily as it is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world and has been a rich part of my life for most of the last 55 years and all of the last 38. And that this comes when Cal was (is?) likely headed for its best season in 14 years -- by objective standards -- makes it all the worse. (Why couldn't the 2013 season been obliterated?)

But I keep showing up. There's no other way. There have been days in which I've wanted to just lay in bed and do as close to nothing as humanly possible but there's a large part of my make up that won't let that happen. I thank my dad for instilling in me the spirit of survival and determination in the face of any all setbacks and obstacles. He was a paragon and I miss him still these 12 years since his death.

I got a comment on my last blog post suggesting that I must be "an excellent teacher." I replied that despite failings in many areas I am a "pretty good teacher." I wish I hadn't said that. I still may teach yet and I don't need to be labeling myself one way or the other. It's a bad practice. Better to say that I'm a dedicated, hard-working teacher who has earned praise from students. These are empirical facts and motivate me to continue to improve. Whether I'm a poor, okay, good, pretty good, excellent or outstanding teacher is for others to say. I've written about this before.

Time I wrapped this up. I've got a movie to watch and some reading to do and the dishes need my attention and I've barely yakked with the wife yet today. Busy times.

12 April 2020

Coronavirus Quarantine Diary: Day Maybe Around 30, Entry Nine, Favorite Sit Coms, and Dark Moods

I wanted to write something today. Something memorable. Something that would hang in the air taking solid form. Something I could climb up and repose on and dance with and shimmy down the hall in the company of. I wanted to write something big. Something that The New Yorker would pay me double for. That Forbes magazine would take notice of. That would be featured on the PBS NewsHour. Something that pundits would discuss. I wanted something that anti intellectual right wingers would rail about. I wanted to write something that would be compared to the best of James Joyce and at the same time to Hemingway and somehow to Descartes and to The Beatles, of course. I wanted to write something that would be hung in the Louvre and would be credited with reviving literature. I wanted to write something that would cause a national holiday to be declared so that people could take the time to read it. I wanted to write something that was translated into 100 languages. I wanted to write something that would soar to the heavens. With wings. I wanted to write something that you could taste, feel, smell and hold.

I wanted to consequently be hailed a genius and awarded a special Pulitzer Prize and an extra special Nobel Prize. I wanted to receive long standing ovations and parades and I wanted to be celebrated by the rich and famous and to have beautiful women throw themselves at me. I wanted to be hailed and feted and honored and applauded and acclaimed and extolled and given encomiums and kudos and hosannahs. I wanted the writing to earn me riches beyond my wildest dreams.
— From a Streams of Unconsciousness blog post dated 3/8/15.

Last week saw the airing of the final episode of Schitt’s Creek a sitcom that the missus and I very much enjoyed. If you are unfamiliar with the show, I strongly recommend that you, in modern parlance, “check it out.” You can thank me later. Schitt’s Creek was so good that upon it’s completion I realized it was worthy of a lofty perch among my top ten all-time favorite sit coms. The fact that I had no such list of course necessitated me creating one. In trying to do so I realized that a top ten excluded too many hilarious shows so I made it a top 20. Here it is:

My Top 20 All-Time Sit-Coms
1. Seinfeld
2. 30 Rock
3. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
4. Fawlty Towers
5. Schitt’s Creek
6. Extras
7. The Honeymooners
8. Men Behaving Badly (British Version)
9. The Bob Newhart Show
10. Blackadder
11. Taxi
12. The Jack Benny Program
13. The Odd Couple (The original version with Klugman and Randall)
14. Frasier
15. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
16. The Phil Silvers Show
17. The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show
18. Brockmire
19. I Love Lucy
20. Cheers

Honorable Mention: The Dick Van Dyke Show, Get Smart, Car 54 Where Are You?, WKRP in Cincinnati, Sanford and Son, Night Court, The Andy Griffith Show*, Will and Grace (original version), and The Office (British Version).

Monty Python and the Flying Circus did not make the list because it is in no way a sitcom. Were I to include it, it would sit at the top of the list. Also not included was The Simpsons because it is —as you may have noticed — animated. If I were to include it, it would be at number two with the caveat that only the first dozen seasons or so should be considered.

*Only up until Don Knotts left, after that it was flamingly mediocre.

Also you will note that the show Friends is nowhere to be found on this list or among the honorable mentions, this is solely because I hate the show.

My favorite Western is The Searchers
And now, a word or two about lists. In days of yore when on this blog I wrote almost exclusively about films and many of my posts were linked on the Internet Movie Database, I had a sizable readership (today it’s just you and me Connie Spankenship of Dover, Delaware). I often would include various lists similar to the one above. It was interesting to note the responses I got despite having clearly labeled the lists “my favorite." I was not trying to tell a sole, not even myself, that they were the greatest. Nonetheless readers would be indignant that I left off a favorite of theirs and in some cases would cry foul at the inclusion of a film they didn’t like. For a list of my favorite Westerns one commenter opined that given what I had left out, I must never have seen a Western in my life. Left unexplained was how I managed to list ten of them. Another person frothed at the mouth because I had nothing from Sergio Leone. Again this was a list of my personal favorites. Imagine getting peeved with someone because they don’t like the same flavor of ice cream you do. Clearly some people come to such lists hoping to see mirrored (and thus validated) their own personal favorites. Here’s what I do when I see a list of someone’s favorites. I look for commonality with my own and if there is some I look to see if she or he has included a film I’m unfamiliar with. If so then I look into that film. If someone’s list is totally different than what I would have made my impulse is to think: "this person has different tastes than I do.” Perhaps that will mean I’ll be less likely to read her or his writings in the future. But I won’t get angry. Another common response to lists is the more passive aggressive: you forgot….This is a way of noting that you did not include one of their favorites without them seeming bent out of shape about it. I sometimes reply, “no I didn’t forget Sunshine at the Vomit Palace, it’s just not one of my favorites." I wonder if I’ll get an angry screed from someone about this latest list? Maybe it will be a more honest one and read as follows: "You don’t have the exact same favorites in the exact same order as I do and so I’m unnecessarily upset. Shame on you."

In other news, the corona virus. I'm still no fan. So far it has not increased the number of hours I spend in depression but it has intensified the hours in a most unpleasant way. I now provide an example. A couple of days I got I was in the throes of a nasty bout of melancholia that was not so bad that I couldn’t write so I decided to try to write about it. I think what came out gives some insight to where my brain goes in darker moments.

I am feeling corona depression to the nth degree. It is and it has been and it seems to want to continue to be. I’ll go on and on thinking and trying and being but there is that awful pounding of horror terrorizing the existential and the permanent and temporal and oh how I could be living in another time in other circumstances doing something else and being.

There was 1974. I could do that again. That was a lot of fun. There were parties there were people there were drinks there were girls there was kissing and there was hope and I was not depressed or repressed or in need of medication. I was 20 years old and believing in the power of fun which was my lord and master.

Now it seems there is no hope no relief only suffering and misery and this until I die and of course that could be any. Day. Now. Or I might go through hell on this earth in my waning days or months or weeks or moments or — god forbid — years.

This is not what I’d planned for myself. Not that I’d ever done much planning at all. I anticipated nothing but that night. Foreswore.

Who was I? Who have I been? Who am I now — just a lonely, suffering old man no use to any of you young healthy brazen and beautiful people. It is all so unknowable. So awful.

There. That was it unedited (remarkable that I make less or no typos when depressed). Light-hearted and fun, wasn’t it? No? I’m feeling okay today as evidenced by the rest of this blog post which has been pretty darn cheery. How about that?

07 April 2020

Coronavirus Quarantine Diary: Day Whatever, Entry Eight, Ordinary People, Running Into People, Teaching People (Preferably Not Online)

I google imaged "ordinary Americans" and this is one of the first images that appeared.
Here was a paragraph in a story I read on CNN this morning: "On social media and in interviews with CNN, a number of people of color — activists, academics and ordinary Americans — expressed fears that homemade masks could exacerbate racial profiling and place blacks and Latinos in danger."

What struck me about this was “activists, academics and ordinary Americans.” I gather from this that one would not consider either activists or academics to be “ordinary Americans.” My questions is: why the hell not? Is there something extraordinary about people in academia that separates them from normal people? And aren’t most activists "normal" people who are concerned and trying to do something about wrongs that they see in this country?  I would argue that being an activist should be considered the height of normalcy in the U.S. You might just as well say “carpenters, voters and ordinary Americans.”

It reminds one of that odious phrase, that has variations such as “when you get out in the real world,” or “you’re not living in the real world” or “it’s just not that easy in the real world.” For chrissakes it’s all real. Every second of every part of life is “real” whether you’re in a Fortune 500 boardroom, a public market or Disneyland, it’s all real. Every bit of it.

Sunday I went for my daily stroll and happened down a street not far from our humble abode that I don’t believe I’d ever traversed before. There sitting on his fronts steps with his wife was a former colleague of mine from my middle school teaching days, they were talking to two people who stood in their driveway. This couple was comprised of another former colleague of mine and his wife. What a stroke of luck! (For me, anyway, the wives didn’t seemed thrilled to see me.) Anyway I was thus able to engage in — you should excuse the expression — social intercourse. In person conversations have these last few weeks been limited to the wife, oldest daughter and my pharmacist. Adding to the joy of being able to chew the rag with living breathing humanoids was the fact that I’d not seen any of them in several years. What fun.

In my last blog post I wrote off how teaching online (as I did via Zoom for the previous three weeks) was about a third as effective and a tenth as much fun as teaching in an actual classroom. A reader (I do have some, ya know) asked in the comments section if I would expand on this.

First of all I will concede that online courses are not so bad in some cases, I’m thinking of college classes that are done lecture-style (as opposed to ranch style) with dozens of students. Although I’d still prefer to be in the classroom, that might not be so bad. However my teaching experience is comprised of nearly nine years of teaching ESL classes with seven to 18 students and prior to that 20 years of teaching middle school classes with 18-32 charges (usually right around 25). In those circumstances not being in the same room is a huge disadvantage.

For me teaching is about relationships. You have a relationship with each student and one with the class as a whole (classes quickly take on unique personalities). It is most difficult indeed to maintain a relationship with people and with a group when you are not in the same physical space as they are. You can’t look people in the eye. You cannot — and this is crucial in effective teaching — read the room. It’s difficult to tell when a student is bored, distracted or has a question that they are afraid to ask. Reading the room successfully allows you to speed up or slow down a lesson, expand one aspect of it, cut something out or move on to the next thing. I do what I refer to as “calling audibles” all the time while teaching, which simply means deviating from my planned lesson as needed. I noted that while teaching online I didn’t do this at all. This is not good.

The worst thing about teaching online is that you end up talking way too much. I try to keep TTT (teacher talk time) to less than 20% of class time and would say that I am successful almost 100% of the time. I start most classes with students getting into groups and talking. They read something, they get into groups and share their thoughts. They write something, they get into groups and share it. They work on some grammar exercises, they compare answers with a partner. Students constantly talk in my class and I am the conductor, the facilitator, the time keeper. This is nigh on impossible to do online.

I also meet with students every week to go over their writing. This is, of course, is best done face-to-face. With the Zoom class I was able to correct student writing on google drive and give written feedback, but that’s a poor substitute for going over their writing in person and answering questions and expanding on written comments and corrections.

Mostly though I like to circulate around the room, check in with students. I’m a physical teacher who adds panache to my lessons with gestures, leaps, bounds, stretches, hops, contortions, anything to give attention to a point I’m making and liven up the proceedings. I also like to get close to students (always appropriately, of course) and even offer a pat on the back, a high five or fist bump. But mainly I like to — nay, need to — look students in the eye. I like to be able to focus on one student but still be able to tell what’s going on with everyone else in the room.

I suppose other teachers — particularly those who are more tech savvy — are better able to adapt to the brave new world of teaching via Zoom, but I’m a rather old dog capable of only comprehending a few new tricks at a time. Like everyone, I hope this pandemic is over sooner than the current models predict. I look forward to re-entering a classroom. I’m certainly not going to take the classroom for granted anymore — if I ever did. It’s a great place to be.

05 April 2020

Coronavirus Quarantine Diary: Day Whatever, Entry Seven, While There May Be Depression, There is Also Hope

From Ruggles of Red Gap which we watched last night.
Struggling. The full bright, dark, glowing somber glare of depression is shinning its dark and empty lights on me. I sit here feeling like  I’ve been punched repeatedly in the face by the ugly melancholia. It is possible I’d be feeling this way even if the coronavirus wasn’t a terrible fact of life today. Even if it no one need speak of social distancing, even if restaurants, museums, ballparks, bookstores and gyms were open this might have been one of the bad days. Of course if this had been a gym day I would not be in the throes of depression. It would have to wait another day.

I take walks and see other people walking, some now wearing masks. People make a point of staying away from one another. Crossing streets, walking in the street, waiting in drive ways until others pass. It is the coronavirus dance. The dance of avoidance. Pleasantries are sometimes exchanged. I think in part to maintain some level of human contact with strangers.

Tomorrow I teach my class online for the last time. I, like 75% of the employees working for Language Studies International (LSI) and likely similar numbers for other ESL schools, have been laid off. Don’t cry for me Argentina or Albania or Athens or Antwerp or anywhere else. Teaching ESL online is about 25% is effective as teaching in person and about 10% as much fine. (Three uses of percentages in one paragraph — how about that?)

I still enjoyed my students and got to like each one. But the phrase “it’s just not the same” is most applicable. I don’t think it crude to say that teaching online to teaching in an actual classroom is like comparing making love to having a wank. The proverbial better than nothing, I suppose.

What I find myself missing the most besides going to the gym is having sports around. I, of course, especially miss those games that I would be watching on the telly or attending in person, but I miss all of it. Sports have been the backdrop for my entire life. Unlike every previous March there was no men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournament. I wouldn’t have watched more that a couple of games — if that — but I would have compulsively checked scores. Here it is April and there is no baseball as there has been every year of my life. Friday would have been the Giants’ home opener and, absent having a ticket, I would have dutifully sat in front of the TV and watched. The European Cup (football — soccer to you Yanks) has already been postponed a year and thus I have to wait an additional 12 months to see Finland’s first ever appearance in the finals. Meanwhile I’ve been missing watching Arsenal and the rest of the English premier league in action with no resumption of play in sight. Even next season’s Cal football season is in jeopardy. Cal home games are a particularly special and integral part of my life. This departure from the norm is unsettling for those of who struggle with emotional issues.

The loss of sports pales in comparison to the other issues surrounding this damned virus, people are getting sick and dying all over the world and it will likely get far worse before it gets at all better. But in the past when the news has been virtually unpalatable and all seems bleak, we’ve still had our distractions. Goodness do we need our distractions now. Being on the spectrum and suffering as I do from depression, I particularly desire the normalcy that comes from having sports events occur like clockwork at their appointed times.

What also hurts is the helplessness of the situation. The most that so many of us can do is just stay at home, maintain social distances and wash our hands. Hardly feels like making a contribution at all when you’re doing your part by watching another movie (three for me yesterday and if you must know: Double Indemnity (1944), Viridiana (1961) and Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) Three terrific films the latter of which I watched with the missus). I also do my bit by reading (currently reading The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee by David Treuer, and selections from various books of poetry) and writing and keeping abreast of the world via the internet.

Please, if you’re reading this (does anyone?) don’t think I want anyone feeling sorry for me. I’m a lucky bloke indeed. Neither I nor anyone I know has the virus — yet — and my health and that of my loved ones is all tip top. We will feel no financial strain, we will share much love and there’s plenty of food and endless hours of entertainment to amuse us. My depression is bad but usually not crippling and the same can be said of my anxiety which, while it sees the occasional spike more often these days does not impede my walks. I know that things will get better and maybe the virus won’t last as long as some people fear. We are deprived of a lot these days but not of hope.

Hope is a good thing to have.