My Psychotic Break

I pretty much have to write about this.

A month or so ago, I found myself in a spiral of irritation. My sleep pattern slipped from not much to none at all. I was unsettled by something in my relationship and let it fill my mind. I spent the entire day of Sunday yelling at Janice. That’s what I remember.

In a lull of my mania, I asked for something to relax, Janice handed me a few of her pills. After that it gets hazy. The next thing I remember is the phone waking me. It was the police, they were outside my door and would like me to come out with my hands in the air. In my mind, I thought it was Sunday evening. It was Monday evening.

What I have been able to put together is that I was increasingly irrational, and threatened to kill myself quite convincingly. Janice was able to show me texts I had sent; I was horrible. But at this point in time all I knew was that I had fallen asleep and she had left.

I threw on some clothes, and slowly opened the door, revealing myself hands first. There was a nice little barricade set up down the hall, and the glint of laser sights from the rifles pointed at me. I invited them in, they placed handcuff on my wrists, and we took a ride to the hospital. My memory is still shaky at this point, I remember moments but not entire scenes. I know I was well mannered entering the hospital, and I know I lost all contact with reality shortly after arriving. I remember trying to bite one of the nurses, and seeing Janice through the glass door of my room. Later, they took me to a mental hospital, I had been involuntarily committed.

I arrived at the hospital Tuesday about noon, and suddenly realized I was missing an entire day. In my mind I was angry at Janice, thinking she had drugged and abandoned me. The conditions were as one might expect, a few steps up from Ken Kesey’s Oregon State Hospital, but the vibe remained. “Long Distance” calls had to be dialed from a special room, and for some reason anything out of the area code was considered long distance. It took another two days to get in touch with Janice. I think that was a good thing, I hadn’t quite figured out what had happened yet. She had been the person who had signed the order for involuntary commitment.

After release I was able to read the notes from my intake interview. I was described as having a flat affect. I remember slowly waking into reality, realizing the time lost, feeling shock.

It became rapidly apparent that the way out was to comply with treatment. I attended all the groups I could, making friends with the other mental patients. It was a fascinating microcosm of society, we had all, in effect, been equalized, stripped of our individuality. The depth of our mental illnesses determined our ability to recover. Some folks would obviously wait their time out and be released, some folks I seriously hope are never released, but I did not meet anyone who did not belong there. When I was able to realize that, I was able to realize that I belonged there, opening my mind to correcting my mistakes.

The groups were educational, not always about the subjects for which they were designed. One group about red flags put a bright light on one person’s attitudes about relationships, and also showed the folks paying attention that everything goes both ways. Had it not been such a hetero-normative group the message might have sunk in better.

I was (of course) open about my sexuality, I figured it would confuse the staff and spare me a room mate. It did, I was the only male without a room mate. A couple of women opened up about their sexuality, as far as I could see no one was uncomfortable in our group. We quickly became known as “The cool kids,” sitting at our own table at meals; then we slowly became “The old folks” as we dispensed our wisdom to the younger folks. The camaraderie helped us all.

As the week passed, new people arrived, most of them faceless, keeping to themselves, a few more aggressive, pointing out to us how we had felt during the early hours of our incarceration. I could see how I had been and was glad I had not been able to talk to Janice until after I calmed down. One person was particularly intimidating, and knew how to play the staff. He was what they called a “frequent flyer,” someone who had been there repeatedly. The staff knew he wouldn’t follow through on his threats, but we the patients did not. The tension was palpable, and I would like to think that my explanation to staff was a part of my release. I could see it from both sides and explained the difference between physical safety and emotional safety to a couple of nurses, people trained in the field who had just turned a blind eye to the purpose of the facility.

My medications were interesting. I received prompt attention because I take Truvada, an anti HIV drug. They wanted to know if I was HIV positive, so I was processed through medical quickly. Because I had drugs in my system (the ones Janice gave me) when I was admitted, they diagnosed me as a drug addict, and gave me anti-withdrawal meds all week. I received my anti-depressants as usual, but because Truvada and Fosamax are expensive they asked me to have them brought in. Remember the Long Distance issue? Knowing they would have to put out thousands for my meds helped me get permission to make phone calls.

That first phone call with Janice, on Thursday, was overwhelming. I was disgusted by the things she told me I had done as she gave me the timeline of my missing day. I thanked her for having me admitted. I was astounded that she cared for me, and missed me so much. I gave her the number to call in, so I could hear from her, and returned to my group. They could tell I had spoken to Janice, I was glowing. She called every evening, and for that time I was free, not incarcerated. She came to visit and time stood still.

I was released on Monday, and the morning was pure stress. I was told my regular psychiatrist had not been contacted, and I couldn’t be released without appointments with her in the next week. It was less than an hour before my scheduled release when I finally got my post hospitalization therapy schedule. We drove home and spent the rest of the day talking. I had the epiphany that the psychotic break was related to having never fully grieved Emma, and was up all night organizing her shrine, telling stories about each item.

As a result of my commitment, I am no longer eligible to own firearms. I agree. I had no idea what I was doing for over twenty four hours, had I chosen to resort to violence I had a solid arsenal and a couple thousand rounds of ammunition. The possibility I could have another break is higher after having one, so I have no issue with surrendering my weapons. The police were exceptionally nice, assisting with selling the firearms and returning items that were borderline inappropriate, like a set of rolling papers in packages designed by Olivia De Berardinas. I did like the expression on the detective’s face when he said how nice my rifles were, and don’t want to imagine the look when he entered the bedroom with the swing.

My doctors have been interesting, the “What happened?” opening was almost funny. Because what happened was not funny. My brain broke. You can call it a nervous breakdown or psychotic break or whatever makes you comfortable, but I did a hard reboot. I did things I do not remember any part of. I had conversations and wrote texts of which I have no memory. I am better, but the experience was moving. I am fortunate that Janice, against her normal intuition, called 911 and followed through in committing me. I needed the rest. I still need rest, but have spent the intervening month helping Janice move her mother in law (her husband passed away) into my home. I have watched my friend’s final performances before “retiring” to Arizona after fifty years in the music business and spent late nights hanging with musicians several times. I know I am slowing down relative to what I was before, but when I look at it I can not call it “slow.”

I know the path to illness and can avoid it, I am building my resources to be prepared.

 

Family ties

My family has never been much for communication. They believe they communicate, they certainly talk a great deal, but the contact required for actual communication is not always present.

My previous favorite example was a letter my father wrote to me. At one point in the Two Thousands, my company had a contract with the Philadelphia Water Department. There were old pictures on the walls, one of a gas chromatograph from my father’s old company. I sent him a picture of it, and talked about some things going on in my life at the time. His response was a four page history of the Beckman GC-4 (the one in the picture).

Today he exceeded his previous record.

Months after berating me for my life of sin, he sent a short note about what he had been doing and what was happening in his life. I responded with an equally neutral update on my comings and goings, leading off with a mention that I was recently released from a mental hospital following an exhaustion induced psychotic break, mentioning Janice and her Mother in Law who are now living with me, telling him my cat survived cancer, letting him know about future plans. I also mentioned that President Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds could not be rationalized.

A few days later I received his response. He did not comment on any of the things I mentioned, not a word about the psychotic break; instead a two line defense (and praise) of President Trump’s tactics. Love Dad.

Since the break, I have been considering the concept of erasure. So perhaps I’m a little sensitive. My life meant nothing to him.

I’ll write more about the break next time. It was a fascinating experience.

My family has always been interesting. They all tend to be complex amalgams of various points of view, and they are all focused on one of them at a time. Sometimes that is a good thing, sometimes it is challenging. My eldest son is still focused on some issue that came up after he stopped seeing me.

This is a contrast to Janice. Her family is closer, and her extended family is endless. Sometimes seeing the universe as your family is a bit off-putting to me, I’m doing my best to find a compromise. Janice’s husband ended his life a few years ago, which did not slow her when her former Mother in Law (Connie) needed a place to stay. Now that Janice has moved in with me, so did her Mother in Law. It has certainly brought some changes to our lives, but none that we would not welcome. Connie has been a wonderful addition to my home, to my family.

Connie promptly had a heart attack after moving in and is in the local hospital, and Janice’s children will be visiting today, more family.

I wasn’t sure I would like this. My previous explorations into mixed families have been horrendous failures. Janice’s family has been wonderful, there has never been any friction. As a counterpoint to my own family, they have been humbling. Not that my family is unusually cold, it is just the contrast.

I find it pleasant to have a family to care for, it’s nice to have people to cook for, little things to do for each other. Rather than an increase in stress, it is having a calming effect. This is the peace I have needed. I am grounded and stable.

 

 

Who am I now?

 

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There are things I do remember, among them a love of quantum mechanics. Of late I have been running reality checks on life.

Of the things I know, my name has always been a problem. My Birth Certificate says Kenneth Blake Cash. but my parents never mentioned Kenneth was my name until after that first day in Kindergarten where the teacher called me by the “wrong” name. Turns out they wanted to name me James but didn’t want people to call me Jimmy, so they named me Kenneth and called me Blake. It made just as much sense then as it does now, so I am not questioning my ability to process that information. I have had identity issues all my life, so I should be well equipped to handle them now. I just can’t find my equipment.

I hear on a routine basis that I need to accept who I am now. Usually unspoken is “because you are not who you were,” sometimes with lovely imagery about being a new person every sunrise. Yeah, right. This is not a glorious dawn.

I am not precisely starting afresh every day, but more so than before, as far as I can tell. My short term memory is failing, I compensate by taking notes (when possible) and telling people I have difficulty  processing information due to a brain injury. This is supposed to be a good sign, I am accepting what I am not “allowed” to acknowledge. I am not supposed to say I am damaged, or that the efforts I make are unsatisfactory.  See, in what is left of my mind, being unhappy with a failure is a positive move towards self improvement, but I am not supposed to damage my own self-esteem. Hard to have self-esteem when you don’t have a self.

Who I am is based on what I recall about how I got here. Even the things I remember I don’t feel a part of, making it difficult to distinguish between memory and dreams. Last week I had a strong memory of flying a C-130, I could feel the trembling and see the ground falling away. Trouble is, I have no memory of attending flight school, and the possibility I actually piloted a C-130 is remote. This scared me deeply. How many of the unlikely things in my past did not happen? My “sense of self” is exceptionally weak.

As far as I know, I do not suffer hallucinations. I am considering verifying the presence of new people, and if I am ever aware a hallucination has taken place I will.

Most of my “feelings” are vacant, I have little emotion, and I am not chasing their return. I see enough people adamant about untruths and fierce about mistaken beliefs centered around the election, I don’t want that to be my life. Some of my facilities are returning, although their return can be fleeting; I am told they are an indication of “higher executive functions.” I have a sense of sarcasm, and I’m fairly certain that I can be humorous and people are not laughing at me (today). I am aware that testosterone is missing, and I am scheduled to see an endocrinologist to measure pituitary function, these would seem to be affecting my drive and will. Frustration occurs when I know I should accomplish something and just can not begin the project. I also have read that my serotonin levels should be addressed, but I doubt my own medical skills enough to leave the dosaging of SSRIs to professionals. Again, I know (or think I know) enough to see my primary physician is less than skilled in the administration of SSRIs, so for this and other reasons I am seeking out a psychiatrist.

I know I am not who I was, but I am not certain exactly who I was. This appears to be the perfect opportunity to redefine myself, but I know I will have no past. Seems like it was interesting, I hate to let it go.

I have read through my articles since the accident, I can identify a spirit believing it is healing. That spirit no longer exists, which in a way is odd; from what I am told, recognizing my deficits is an improvement over not recognizing them. So I’m better because I know I’m worse. You should not be surprised at my confusion. Expect incredulous questions about the election.

My desire at this point is to record these facets of brain injury, so that one day I will be able to collect and edit them into a book. What I am most aware of is I may not feel this way in the future. I certainly don’t feel as I did nine, six, or even three months ago. Writing is what I can do, and apparently I am a fairly good writer, although it does not feel that way now. I know I was married to a woman named Emma, and I blogged through her fight with pancreatic cancer, and I turned that into a book. I know this because I looked it up. It is nice having things written down.

My ability to see the future is on par with my ability to see the past, I have no way of knowing this will ever turn into a book, it is a dream, and I am told it is useful to have goals. One goal is to financially survive until Social Security approves my disability claim, I’ve been selling what assets I can on Ebay, and I have started a charity fundraising web page on “YouCaring.”  Please consider donating a few dollars, the theory is it all adds up.

For now, I am Blake to my friends, Kenneth to my ever growing army of doctors, K. Blake Cash to my readers, and KB to my social media contacts and grandson (he says “kib”). The man behind the name is developing, trying to establish an identity with a foggy history. I think he will be KB, my grandfathers were known by their initials, I am now the age they were when they met Blake, now Blake can meet KB.

The construction of KB will be on a foundation of those memories he can verify, woven with the beliefs which resonate with his presence. I can remember every printer I ever touched and long to take apart new ones (the psychiatrist has a Toshiba, cognitive therapist a Konica Minolta, Neurologist Kyocera Mita). I recall an astounding array of songs. I have a couple of bass guitars but I can’t get my fingers to where they are trying to go. I know it is acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition. I have a drum, and I know how to use it.

In just over a month I will have my 58th birthday, I don’t know who will be there.

 

 

 

 

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Frustration

It has come to my attention I should take a break.

During a cognitive evaluation last week I mentioned my frustration with the results of my tests on Lumosity. I am not showing improvement, in fact some areas are showing a decline, and my best scores are in percentiles below sixty. I used to routinely rate in percentiles of the upper nineties, my IQ is well into the “genius” range. My arm is healing, why isn’t my brain?

The therapist suggested I step away from immediate results such as Lumosity, my recovery will take at very least a year, and there is no guarantee I will ever have the abilities I had just a few months ago. Watching the progress at this point is bound to be frustrating, and frustration can be a stumbling block in the process of creating new neural paths. I’m hoping she will also be speaking to the folks who approve my disability payments, they seem to think I’ve been away long enough, I can dress and feed myself, I should be healed.

I am not healed. Although my writing has been sporadic, what used to take a few hours to put together now takes several days, and my latest attempt sits in my “drafts” file, less than half complete after a week. I am quite frustrated.

HST at a similar crossroad

HST at a similar crossroad

My mind is filled with fragments, lines, and even paragraphs, but I can’t tie them together into an article. There is so much to write about, but I still want my thoughts to make more sense than the reality which inspires them. I will probably work on drafts and withhold publishing them until they are proper. Subscribing by email will ensure you receive anything I do manage to publish.

At the moment, frustration and depression are fighting for dominance, today would have been Emma and my seventeenth anniversary. I am aware I am not the man she loved, and question if love will be a part of my life again.

One more appeal, the bills haven’t stopped coming in and a future with a roof over my head depends largely on charity. Please share my GoFundMe campaign, little contributions add up.

I just can’t stare at empty pages right now.

 

Happy Birthday Babybaby

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The lightest shackle I’ve ever worn

We talk all the time, but I seldom write to you anymore. You know how I am, better than anyone; I need to see things written down once in a while, and as you know you’ve been all over me lately. So here are a few of your favorite songs and an update from planet Earth.

It’s been five years. I say this to remind you, I’m not sure how time works over there. One thousand nine hundred forty six days on this side, since last I kissed you. I’ve felt you since, but I don’t know what you can feel from me. I know when you have guided me, kissed me, and slapped me on the back of the head. You can take that last bit a little easier, I’m developing a bald spot.

Autumn is doing well, she’s been outside a few times but prefers her perch at the window. After you left she allowed other people to see her, Abby came up for a drink and Autumn walked right up to her just a week after you left. She’s been sleeping with me the last few weeks (Autumn silly), I’m pretty sure you put her up to it.

 

 

Everybody else has moved along, Carlo just moved to North Carolina, I can’t believe he’s in his forties now and already semi-retiring. Coop is incredible, I saw him last year. Mark never showed up for the things you saved for him (I still have them), but I’ve kept an eye on Gino, he’s doing great, you would be so proud. Kyle is getting by, he had some problems but seems to have pulled out of them. I haven’t heard a word about Dominic, he only wanted to harass you, not me. I saw Uncle Tommy a few times, he’s been with you a couple of years now. Rocky called a few times, but I don’t think Catherine liked what I said about her in the book. My kids haven’t changed, Nolan would still be your favorite, he’s grown into a solid man, with a bit of his dad’s crazy. I spent a few weeks with my Grandson Tommy a couple of years ago, you would love him.

I started driving again, living in Jersey makes it a requirement. You know how I feel about Jersey babe, but I’ve met some nice people, you would love this place (not the town, but the property is wonderful). This weekend I was planning to drive to upstate New York, taking some time to see the leaves change and visit Karen, the woman whose husband passed of pancreatic cancer the November before your surgery. That trip has been postponed, so I’ll probably just drive North until I see some nice trees. I get down to Delaware County occasionally, my friend Buddy plays at Tom and Jerry’s on Fridays, and I see glimpses of you there. I drive past the old place but haven’t stopped to see if Jen still lives there, but Jay’s is still in business. I stopped into Mazza’s a few months back, Mimi and Baba have moved back to Lebanon,  they sold the place to some Asians, probably the same family from the 10th St. Cafe. Tarik is living in Jersey somewhere. Last time I saw Mimi I had put on some weight and she said how happy you would be. I’m down under 130 today. I talked to David and Jackie a few times when I was thinking of moving back to Philly, but there’s nothing there for me. There’s nothing anywhere without you.

I’m not Doctor House anymore, but I still carry the cane you gave me from time to time; I get to board first when I fly if I’m using it that day. The MS has stayed in the background, I’m a little wobbly lately but there has been a great deal of stress. I don’t wear ties anymore, and haven’t been called at “the most inconvenient moment” by a technician in a different time zone since you were here.

I’m working meat into my diet again, I’m sure being a vegetarian had you scratching your head, although I did eat a horse steak in Belgium. I developed some vegetarian recipes even you would have liked though, and everything you taught me carried me through cooking for Lieve’s family.

You know how my relationships have gone. Don’t slap my head again, you know I thank you for everyone you have sent. I knew there was no one like you, yet you realized I must fill the vacuum you left with something, it’s not working. They don’t understand, saying “I can’t take anymore” where you would have said “more.” Apparently I love “too much.” I couldn’t believe it either but it appears to be the consensus, other people don’t love each other the way we do, and apparently most people are not as open about it as we are. We never did anything halfway. Except for now, I’m here and you are not. I see glimpses of you, and am confused.

I’ve been listening to different music, you live in the chords of the music we shared. I’ve been playing more this last month, you know what that means. Buddy plays a lot of our songs, making Tom and Jerry’s all the more spooky. And no, I haven’t heard from any of those people lately, but I have been considering a change of scenery. I found a new vocalist, Sharon Van Etten, not your style but I think you would like her, she has your edge.  I saw Neil Young over the summer. I wonder, with all the lives out there, if mine were the only cheeks running with tears through “Hurricane.” I’m in this weird place, feeling a loss most unique, a “you don’t know how I feel” anger, and alternately knowing others must have similar losses from their own perspectives. It’s not the kind of thing you talk about. Except to you. We talked about everything.

There have been so many beautiful moments I wanted to share with you. There have been dark ones during which I needed you to lean upon. The parts you left behind got me through each. Your faith was well placed, I am still the man you loved, I have remained a gentleman and gentle man. There is a field nearby I can wander through, the wildflowers up to my chest, I think of you saying you wanted to run through the tall grass and I am with you, the sun on my face like the warmth of your kiss. This time of year the tops of the flowers have an unearthly purple tint, it is what called me to the field originally.

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I don’t drink much anymore, I switched to beers while I was married to the Belgian woman, she was a lot of fun, I know you sent her. I’m moving back to wine, winter is coming and you would love the fireplace here, accented with a hefty St. Emilion. I don’t think I’ll be drinking Chateau Margaux without you, but there will be some of your favorites in my cellar. Stop by and hold me by the fire.

I don’t often think of you in the hospital, but I did the other night. It was worse than reality, in my memory you are yourself, your body’s health mirroring your spirit’s. Why are these things happening to my babybaby? I know what the images actually were, but I don’t “see” them in my mind. I recall the radiologist thinking I was your son, but the memories I see are of my beautiful girl in pain.

We discussed life apart at length, and sometimes I think you wanted me to appreciate you more through your absence. I could not appreciate you any more than I already did, and although I’ve done some good things and touched some lives since you left, we always did better work together. Everything was better together and I’m getting a little tired of that fact being thrown in my face repeatedly. I still look both ways before crossing the street, but I’m ready to be with you anytime. Just hold out your hand.

 

Dancing about Architecture

It has been a rough month. My typical approach to such times is to embrace the mantra “When the going gets tough, the tough go dancing,” but this has provided little comfort this time around, the wounds I have received are far deeper than any logic would predict or dance could remedy.

I have yet to prove to myself any purpose in continuing to exist, and such thoughts cause me to define existence. The definition, of course, returns me to the dance, the depression staining my interpretations cannot obliterate the beauty of the performance. I remember, and try to convince myself of what I once held as truth. One does not travel the paths I have without making connections in the matrices which serve as a foundation when life attempts to remove one’s soul.

One footing of that foundation is music, which has sounded sour to my ears these last few weeks, another is writing, which requires more thought than a mind filled with self doubt can provide. Another footing is human connections, and despite the betrayal these connections have faithfully provided, little sparks of hope occasionally illuminate a bridge. Knowing I must pull myself together, the universe conspired to bring me to a minuscule venue over a fabric store in Philadelphia, the irony of the side street sharing the name of the woman who has torn my heart to shreds is not lost on me.

A string of obscure introductions led me to meet Ritchie DeCarlo, a local musician who plays in a couple of bands. I’m going to call him a “drummer” rather than “percussionist,” although his kit contains some fascinating percussion instruments, because he also covers synthesized sounds which are only percussion in an examination at the quantum level, such as his use of a theremin.

 

Ritchie on theremin

 

Playing theremin always reminds me of someone conducting an orchestra. I had explained to my second wife (the Conductor) how a conductor was the only person allowed to dance at a performance; she was not amused. So I guess it is time to explain the title of this article to those unfamiliar with the phrase. It is from a quote by Frank Zappa, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” In my world, “Dancing” is a metaphor for life. The matrix of meanings and metaphors choreographs a sequence which supports my soul, even when that soul is in tatters.

One of the lineups Ritchie is involved with, the “The Trio from Hell,” more commonly referred to by the names of the band members; Percy Jones, Scott McGill, and Ritchie DeCarlo, performed at TTR Studios last night to a crowd of about fifty. Ritchie introduced the band, categorizing the music as “Not so easy listening.” It is a fusion of styles, most noticeably Jazz, “New Age,” and Electronica. Here’s a taste from last night;

 

 

 

Funny the things you notice in a video, I would have never noticed that bald spot developing on the back of my head. Back to the dance.

I find the music very easy to listen to, soothing with just enough twists to keep me from lulling into a trance. The guitar work of McGill was fascinating, his use of fretless guitars and midis, combined with a left hand that floated over the neck delivering lightening strikes reminiscent of a gulf thunderstorm, must be seen to be believed.

 

Scott turns chaos into order

 

In an industry in which the term “legend” has been overused to the point of meaninglessness, Percy Jones demands a personal adjective. His playing not only has influenced my musical directions, it has influenced many of my other influences. He effortlessly propels his line from “rhythm section” to “lead instrument” and back, creating sounds many people might not associate with the bass. This type of thing warms my heart, having been ridiculed for some of my arrangements; living within the definition of “improvisation,” yet not improvised at all.

 

 

Percy Jones

Percy Jones

 

Ritchie’s drumming glides between the styles fused in this band, again demonstrating the strengths required to play in a trio, the ability to effortlessly transition from lead to rhythm. In the case of a drummer, changing rhythm can be difficult, the mind (approach) is altered with time signatures and style. I recall trying to teach a drummer a particular passage which he envisioned as a waltz, or 3/4 time. It was not, it was a sequence of triplets in 4/4 time. The guitarist (whose ego dictated he believe “RMS” was a reference to his initials) scoffed at the explanation, but the drummer got it and never missed the beat in that piece again. Ritchie played a rather large kit this evening, but far from being gimmickry each piece fit the arrangement in which it was used, from his tympani tomtom through his eclectic collection of cymbals.

Most of Ritchie's kit

Most of Ritchie’s kit

 

Perhaps the most fortunate part of the evening was my friend bailing out at the last minute, leaving me with no one to share the experience. Because I do have someone, you.

Writers write, musicians play, and chefs cook. I’m ready to do all three today. I’m not back yet, I still need to make the “Lovers love” part work again, which rests with that woman named with a side street.

Life

I have not written in a month. A great deal has been happening, much of it beautiful, all of it fascinating. Someone else was making plans, I was living.

Today, 1 April, is the sixteenth anniversary of my wedding to Emma. So much has taken place since then, meeting her family, moving to South Philadelphia, discovering the mysteries of pancreatic cancer. Emma now watches over me from an urn on the shelf, having witnessed the five years of my life since her departure in relative silence. I would so like to hear her opinions.

After Emma left I retired, focusing on a life of writing, letting go of the stress of the world in which we had lived. You know me, the dreamer. I wrote a book, kept a daily blog going, learned a new language, and gained a score of pounds as I discovered Belgian beers.

New stresses were waiting around the corner. C’est la vie. This is, after all, where Emma wanted me to be, alive, doing what she could not. My retirement savings were designed for a solitary life in South Philadelphia, after watching them evaporate I find myself back in the workforce, writing less and less often, and once again single.

Today is also an intermediate step in the marriage I entered after Emma moved on. The divorce papers are being delivered, with which my current wife and I will attempt to convince the State of New Jersey to end our marriage. These are melancholy times, I do not have ill feelings towards my wife, in fact in many ways I still love her, but time and space never quite placed us on the same plane. It’s so much easier when your ex is the object of disgust, divorcing someone you love is counter intuitive.

Emma steps in to help again. I loved her, but I moved on. So again, I move on.

I had largely lost the desire to live alone, that has not changed. Other people have come into my life, one of them quite a bright star at the moment. I would like for that to develop into a relationship which would rival mine with Emma, but I have learned that promises are not always fulfilled. I have also learned that tomorrow is not even promised, so today is all I have. And today is far more interesting than I had expected it to be.

Which brings us to today, April Fool’s Day.

Emma and I were both the others third spouse. She had been widowed twice, we entered quoting Oscar Wilde, “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” This being each of our third, April Fools day seemed a natural. She was supposed to out live me.

My friend used to love “practical jokes,” yet they were neither, usually just rude and crass. This was sad, because John was such a warm and loving family man and trusted friend. One year when he was at lunch I placed a “While you were out” note on his desk, saying a witness wanted him to call, the name was “Coati Mundi.” There was a phone number, that of the small mammal house at the Philadelphia Zoo. I happened to know the person who would answer the phone and hear him say “Hello, this is Detective Murphy, may I speak with Coati Mundi?”

Coatimundi, native to Brazil

Coatimundi, native to Brazil

 

They both laughed about it later. That’s what life is about. Being able to laugh about it later. Make it easier by laughing today. What purpose is served by any other action?

 

Laugh.

 

 

I am still here

I have been having a rather rough time lately. I write from my heart and my heart has been broken.

Today, 16 August 2014, is the fourth anniversary of my first my first date with Lieve. It was the evening, and remainder of the date, that changed my life. I was struggling for meaning, and I found someone who believed in me. We connected on every level.

In a few weeks she leaves for Belgium. We had planned to go together, but she changed her mind and decided to “take a break,” so I will be staying behind, wondering how long her break will be. I remain hopeful, but there is reason to believe she will not be coming back, at least not to be husband and wife.

I’ve been to seek counseling, have seen psychologists and psychiatrists, have started taking anti-depressants again and stopped crying. Better living through chemistry.

I’ll be writing again, maybe once a week at first to share my insights and experiences. I’ve started a real job, working for Amazon, it’s rather interesting if not terribly challenging. I’ll have a roommate, a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology from Iran, which promises to produce some interesting conversations, and maybe some new recipes.

So just taking the moment, an anniversary of when I started living again, to let you all know I’m still alive and will be around more.

Oh, and I saw Sharon again…

And I cut my hair.

Verjaardag

In Flemish, the word “verjaardag” means “anniversary” or “birthday”. Flemish is one of those languages that ties together words, “Ver”in this case is like the prefix “re-” or “returning”, “jaar” is “year” and “dag” is “day”. The pronunciation is much like a background in English would suggest, except the “j” is pronounced as “y”. There are so many similarities to English I once believed learning Flemish would be easy, but three years into the project I’m still fumbling about. I’m not going to attempt to explain the word for “Happy” other than to explain “g” is pronounced like “h” and then “j” in “Gelukkige”. I take you down this road because today is my blog’s anniversary, or “vandaag is mijn blog verjaardag.”

One year ago I started this blog, with the initial goal of writing one thousand words a day. That changed to “around one thousand words, six days a week” rather quickly. Some days it is barely five hundred words, but I’ve been told that writers write, so being a writer this is what I do, moving along with whatever topic has my mind going that day. The exercise has been good for my writing skills and also has been a relief to my wife, who encouraged me to do this because I was “wasting my talent” commenting in public fora.

In global terms of popularity, readership has been small. I didn’t set unrealistic goals, so I managed to exceed them. As of this morning, there have been 10,171 unique visitors to the page, and those visitors have been based in 93 countries. Central Africa, China, and some of the former Soviet states are the only areas which haven’t produced readers, although there are many explanations for that. There are over one hundred and fifty people who receive the blog by email each day,  and others find the blog through search engines or links in other articles. Sometimes I’m surprised by the popularity of an article, the third chapter of my series on world religions picks up a view almost everyday, the last few days have been from Singapore. The article on wave-particle duality gets a couple of hits a week, and thanks to a link in an astronomy journal the article on interstellar distances gets a fair amount of attention. There are two food articles and two obituaries (one a person, the other a career) in the top ten, then one just hits a chord, like an article on hypocritical intolerance, which became the most read article of the year even though it was only published two weeks ago.

The number of comments have been disappointing, averaging two a day, but I have no basis for my expectation on that. There are comments on the websites on which I publicize the blog, and some people email me directly, but the conversations I had hoped for on the blog itself have not materialized. Yet.

I have tried some unorthodox approaches, tying music into articles in unusual ways. I attempt to remain light-hearted and even humorous when writing about difficult issues. My politics encompass the entire spectrum, so someone who absolutely loves me for my stand on one issue may end up hating me for my position on another. This is my way of expressing the concept of duality, we are all grey, very few people are completely black or white, and those folks tend to be exceptionally boring.

There are drawbacks to having a variety of topics, and a couple of people have suggested I focus on one area, or compile a group of entries into a book. I think it is likely I’ll reformat the blog, separating topics into categories and providing a separate page for each category, all joined on a home page. Compilations will require more thought, my last adventure in publishing was not a textbook experience, and would not apply to any other project. Perhaps someone will volunteer to edit a book, or perhaps I’ll just write a book instead of compiling and editing blog articles. Spring is here, the magnolias in my office should be blooming soon, and I will be able to spend more time without distractions.

Most importantly, thank you all for reading, commenting on, and sharing my articles.

Another day at the office

Another day at the office

 

 

 

Obfuscation

I dig words. Words are like paint, you can paint a beautiful picture, or you can paint over a beautiful picture.

What you paint on top of the beautiful picture might be beautiful as well, or it might be a clever and artistic camouflage of the original. It might be a solid color, or it might be a facsimile of feces. What it will never be is the original picture.

I found the word “obfuscation” interesting when I first heard it, because I like the sound of it, and because not knowing what it meant I had to look it up. It is the concept of concealing the meaning of a communication by making it more confusing and harder to interpret by adding extraneous information. Talking more in order to say less. This is why I can appreciate politicians (whose job requirements include mastering obfuscation) even when I do not agree with them. An artist is an artist, whether or not you like the subject of the painting.

Obfuscation may have noble purposes, as when used in medical writing. In a 1976 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Michael Crichton said medical writing is “actually a highly skilled, calculated attempt to confuse the reader.” and B.F Skinner had called medical notation a form of multiple audience control, which allows the doctor to communicate to the pharmacist things which might be opposed by the patient if they could understand it. Information Technology uses obfuscation in an attempt to conceal information, making the work appear more complicated than it is. The cable that connects your computer to a network jack (assuming you connect by cable) has about five different names. Do you know which to buy? The technician knows they all refer to the same cable. The acronym TWAIN has been deciphered to mean “Technology Without An Interesting Name,” because “scan interpreter” was just too pedestrian.

Just as there are masters in the world of art, there are also craft stores in which anyone can purchase a brush and pigments. Owning a paintbrush makes you a painter, not an artist. Good obfuscation can be entertaining, poor obfuscation can be frustrating. The use of alternate words to avoid reality can be transparent, causing the reader (or listener) to realize not only what is being hidden but also that a clumsy attempt to hide it is being made. An example is Gweneth Paltrow’s divorce, which she described as “conscious uncoupling”. It still says “divorce” on the paperwork, and the choice of words brought more attention, not less. The motives of people who survive on a diet of publicity are always a mystery, but this feels like an obfuscation failure.

Appreciating good obfuscation removes some of the stress of being lied to. So I should be a very happy guy, right? The “Affordable Care Act” does not provide any care, nor does it make care affordable. This is where obfuscation works best. If what you say sounds like what your audience wants to hear, you own them.

The problem is, when people get used to lying, they don’t know when to stop, and when people realize they have been lied to, they stop trusting you. Obfuscation is like anything else, acceptable in moderation, lethal in excess.

 

Writing styles

A friend once told me she did not care to be corrected, and asked me to not comment on her conversations. I see a radical difference between commenting in a conversation and correcting someone. It turned out she had a variety of insecurities, and we have since parted ways. In my thoughts, differences are the fertilizer for the growth of mature opinions. I continue to grow.

I attended a seminar on writing last night, it was intellectually invigorating. I can see several flaws in my writing style, some of which are  grammatical and some simply stylistic. Some things I will change, others I will keep.

One thing I have not been doing is indenting paragraphs, a habit from the military. I am an author (a title I prefer over “writer”) and writing is formal, so I should write more formally. I can call myself an author because I have a published book, in case you didn’t know. “Surviving” is the story of my last wife’s struggle with pancreatic cancer. In an attempt to lose formality, I have been using contractions, which is also not correct form. I even plan to place periods within quotation marks, although to my eye it appears odd. I can not criticize the damage others do to language if I am not following standards myself.

I also use hyperlinks, which are wonderful shortcuts for those of you reading my articles. Hyperlinks do not work on paper, so printed copies of my articles lack the credibility provided by the sources which have been linked to a statement. I would enjoy having my work picked up and possibly printed somewhere, so going forward I will at least identify sources and references within the text of an article.

There are certain stylistic issues which I would never change, you are, after all, reading this at least in part because these are my words, so there should be an element of Blake included. I cannot stand that argument in most cases, but if there were not some hypocritical elements to me I might lose my “human” badge. I may have to back down on the “no contractions” rule as well, in just these few paragraphs it has made me slightly uncomfortable.

My writing influences have been Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King, although a recent software analysis of my writing indicated a similarity to Kurt Vonnegut Jr. My background in writing is mostly technical, intelligence assessment in the military, incident reports in law enforcement, and technical reports when I was an electronics technician. From that and my desire to be precise there is a certain rigidity present, which I consciously attempt to avoid, but perhaps I have gotten too conversational. Most importantly, I want to communicate, so no one should ever hesitate to comment on my writing if they find a concept poorly expressed, but it is my job to express myself clearly enough you will not find the need to do so.

So here we go, always growing, trying to do my best. Please tell me if I am not.

 

It appears WordPress doesn’t allow for indentations, automatically “correcting” to right alignment. I’ll look into that.


			

The company we keep

A couple of very nice people have asked me to start writing again. I thought a good place to start would be by reaffirming my beliefs and the direction of this blog.

My points of view cover several spectra. So do my friends and readers. I write to suggest ideas you may not have considered, or to reinforce ideas you thought no one but you believed.

God passes judgement, I observe behavior.

I’m against abortion, but not against it being legal. I just would never have one myself, even if I were a woman.

I have nothing against homosexuals, but my understanding of statistics prevents me from referring to something six percent of the population is involved in as “normal”. I belong to groups that are smaller than six percent of the population, so I understand the effects of prejudice. I belong to groups that represent well more than fifty percent of the population, so I appreciate the respect afforded a majority in a democratic community, without thinking “might makes right”.

I believe strongly in the second amendment and responsible gun ownership, the word “responsible” is the big red flag indicating I don’t believe everyone should be issued a gun with their birth certificate. Rights carry responsibilities.

I believe God created the universe, and that evolution was one of the tools God used to create the various form of life.

I am a Christian, capital C. If you don’t understand Christianity, I’ll be happy to enlighten you. I do understand Christianity, so please don’t tell me what I believe. Tell me what you believe.

I’m a conservative, lower case c. I don’t believe that something is automatically wrong because it was suggested by a liberal. Nor do I believe that something is automatically right because it was suggested by a conservative.

I don’t trust people who want to be in positions of power. If their ideas were so good they wouldn’t have to force them on people.

I believe in a basic goodness in humanity, but not a basic intelligence.

As you may imagine, some people find these views contradictory. I understand. I understand we are are born with equal opportunities but not equal abilities.

Learn English before thinking about a second language

Learn English before thinking about a second language

I may agree with a point of view, but not with the wanker shouting about it. I may disagree with a point of view, but still applaud the eloquence with which it is stated.

I don’t think people are stupid because they don’t understand something. I think people are stupid when they refuse to understand something. Not knowing something is not stupid, claiming to know what you don’t is. Signing a petition to lower the temperature of the sun is stupid, but that doesn’t mean everyone who believes in global warming is stupid.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with people less talented than I am, I am less talented than a lot of people. I have a sliding scale of respect for people who refuse to accept their limitations, the more specialized your talent, the more responsible you are to recognize your limits. A bus driver who thinks he could drive Grand Prix receives a great deal more respect than an attorney who believes he is an astrophysicist. Unless he really is an astrophysicist. Because I am aware that some people are capable of being many things, although most people are hard pressed to be one.

Just because you don’t happen to be an expert doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong opinion. If it’s your opinion you should be able to explain it, and explain why it is your opinion. Not with a video or a meme, but with your own words.

I have a real problem with people who lie. If you repeat something you know not to be true, you are lying. If you have lied about something, how am I supposed to know when you’re telling the truth?

I love the sciences. I despise people who worship a God named “science”. Science is a discipline that garners a level of respect due to its complexity. Blind faith in anything is blind faith, it’s bad in religion, it’s bad in science.

I will sound condescending. Slap me. I want to extend every courtesy I intend to extend, but I would never claim to be perfect and can barely keep my composure in order to type “I would never claim to be dispassionate”. I’m straightforward with my resources and qualifications, if you think I’m out of line, say so. I would love to see conversations evolve, just play nice and be prepared to document any claims about “facts”. Irrelevant ad hominem attacks will not be tolerated, note the word irrelevant.

Someone asked me the other day “What do you have?”. I have myself, my understanding of the workings of the universe. With that comes “the universe”. These articles represent nothing more than my desire to share my thoughts. Perhaps inspire yours.

So if you can deal with an honest independent viewpoint, maybe read something you don’t agree with without feeling threatened, feel welcome in this company.

The news

A body was found on the street. The police investigated, cause of death was obvious, a fall from the adjacent parking garage. Surveillance footage showed the young man entered the garage alone, he left some personal belongings behind, climbed up the wall on the edge of the garage, and jumped. Police interviewed the family and found he had been having “mental health issues” lately, and had researched suicide. He left no note.

If you knew him, you know. If you didn’t know him, you now know all you need to know.

Suicide doesn’t solve problems, it is an escape for the person choosing to take the exit, and places the problems in the hands of those left behind. Some psychiatrists have said that suicide is an act of violence towards the survivors, although sometimes it is the only rational choice available. I can only imagine the horror of losing a child, losing one to suicide is beyond my imagination. I would like to believe I could intervene, but the question might be “Should I?” Maybe it was the best choice for the individual.

This young man’s family requested the police not release his name. The police tried to honor the family’s request, but being public officials, their work and records are public, so they advised a public records request could be filed to obtain the identity of the young man. One local paper made enough of a fuss that the police backed down and released the name. Say that again, out loud. The police department, standing firmly on a legal procedure, backed down to pressure from a local newspaper in a matter of hours rather than respect the family of a citizen.

A town of 28,000 people has two free newspapers, one commercial newspaper, and one internet local news source in addition to the major media outlets of the state and the two actual cultural centers , Philadelphia and Manhattan. There’s a lot of talking, not a lot of thinking, and almost no “doing”. The answer to the question “What are we going to do about this?” is most often “Talk about it”.

Despite having one of the nations highest ranked private universities in its backyard, Princeton is still just another small town. Its local government and police department wouldn’t be out of place in Mississippi (okay, the police would be eaten alive day one), all the weaknesses borne out of inbreeding are present and even celebrated in a perverse local pride.

After another news outlet in town (Planet Princeton, operated by Krystal Knapp) firmly stated they would not publish the deceased name, the Princeton Packet decided they didn’t want to be the “jerk” in “jerkwater town” and chose not to publish the name either, proving that no matter how evil a managing editor’s parents may have been in naming their child, he won’t take it out on other parents. Had he not made that decision, you would have been reading his name, phone number, and email address in this paragraph. Ethics in journalism may be dying, but it’s still kicking.

Of the seven billion people on Earth, one million will commit suicide this year. America rates as 33rd in the world at 12 per 100,000 (2009), below the world average of 16 per 100,000. Worldwide, a life ends due to suicide every forty seconds, and that rate has risen sixty percent in the last forty five years with no indications of slowing. The important story is not who the person is, it is not why the person chose to escape, the important story is what the alternatives are. Option one, keep talking. If only to understand the choice.

I know that privacy is an antiquated, foolish notion, but decency doesn’t have to be.

Search results

I’ve now written over two hundred articles on this blog, and as I tend to do, I’ve looked at some of the statistics gathered about my readers and found things to be thankful for.

Over one hundred people are followers, that is, people who receive my blog by email. In addition, some twenty five or so people visit the web site every day. They come from over eighty countries, filling the map of the world. There have been over seven thousand views at the website. I notice that on the website, the most viewed article each day is seldom the one published that day.

Certain articles have been more popular than others, but I’m not always sure what that means. There was an increase in views of the GPS blog last week, then I noticed in the “search terms” section that people had been searching GSP, or George St. Pierre, a mixed martial arts fighter. I wonder how far they read in the article about Gertrude taking me on an adventure on Staten Island.. Over time, the home page is the most often viewed page (of course), after that, the article about the Pillars of Creation, a study on time travel as we experience seeing a nebula that was destroyed thousands of years ago, but is also thousands of light years away.

There have been some interesting comments and conversations, I met one guy who lives about a mile from Lieve’s parents in Belgium, and some back and forth about vegetarianism that seemed to be more about the other party wishing to argue about something we agreed on. I’ve only had to delete two comments, from past acquaintances who wanted to bring up issues from long dead relationships. Everyone else has been polite.

I do enjoy exploring new subjects, so if there’s a conversation anyone wold like to have just let me know and I’ll start with my point of view. I would like to develop the discipline of writing at least one science article each week, a food article, a news article, something political, and my religious theme each Sunday. Lately Obama has been throwing so much material that it’s been overwhelming.

Today I’m off to brew beer with a friend who often brings up interesting topics, and I think Wednesday will be about my wife, it will be our three year anniversary so I’ll tell you about our wedding.

Thanks for being there.

Learning English

As I consider basing my writing platform in another country, it was obvious that I would need to learn another language or two. What wasn’t immediately apparent was that one of those languages would be English.

Growing up in America led me to believe that I was fluent in English, but as it turns out, my native tongue is American. Looking at the world, more people in America speak the English language than any other country (England is fifth), but there are two English languages, American English and British English. Most English speakers in the world speak British English, that is, those who speak English as a first language (considering Canada, Australia, India, and other countries are more British than American). The numbers on which English is more popular as a second language are difficult to define, but with the number of people in China who learn English growing, American English is on the rise. Which raises the question of fluency in the language. I have always considered myself fluent in English, but Lieve corrects me occasionally (Of nations in which English is not a primary language, Belgium ranks sixth in fluency). The thing is, she’s fluent in British English. I wonder about the measure of fluency, and how native English speakers would score on the test.

This is how I see this. Every language has dialects, but there should be a standard. Flemish, which is based on Dutch, has within its six million speakers several dialects. In fact Flemish itself is largely seen to be a dialect of Dutch, making Flemish dialects more dialects of a dialect. As in Bronx verses Staten Island within New York City within New York within American within English. I know people who cannot understand a language if there is an accent they are not familiar with. Emma couldn’t follow British, people in the North and South have difficulty understanding each other, and Lieve had to turn off a Flemish movie we were watching because she couldn’t understand the accent.

What brought all this to mind was a spelling issue, in which Lieve was able to demonstrate she is more fluent in British English than many British English speaking people. “Defence” verses “Defense”. I know that there are differences in spelling and pronounciation of many words, and these differences follow certain rules, so I was confused by a story from the BBC in which the spelling was “Defense”. I googled the question, and found that opinion was universal among both Americans and British speakers, defence is British, defense is American.

Lieve, whose mother was an English teacher in Belgium, knew the answer. “C” is the noun, “S” is the verb. Department of Defence, acting in self-defense. A little more research, now that I had a clue, proved the case. There is a standard in British English and Lieve, the Belgian, knew about it.

Understanding a language requires more than just knowing the words. I am fluent in English because I can understand the language, written or spoken, regardless of dialect or accent. I’m not sure how I’ll write English for a European audience, I’ve always mixed spellings in an attempt to maintain attention, and I believe that by using various idioms I foster greater understanding across dialects. That would be my goal, helping people understand each other. In order to help people understand each other, I have to be understood,

That may be the core of my frustration. I have difficulty reaching people who don’t want to be reached. It really has nothing to do with accents, every voice carries the tones of its path. It has more to do with the desire to be unique, rather than actually being unique. These are the people I most want to reach out to, and the ones least likely to be receptive.

In Flemish, they say “Maakt dat de kat wijs”. Literally “Make that the cat wise”, a rougher translation would be “Go tell it to the cat”. If you want to understand the meaning, it appears (to me) obvious, at least in context. It is a reply to an unbelievable story. If you were the one telling the unbelievable story, you might find it odd to share your “wisdom” with a cat, or you might understand that you were being called on your credibility. In America, we seldom literally pull someones leg, but people are accused of it all the time. By “all the time” most people would understand that I mean “frequently” rather than “constantly”.

There is probably a standard definition of the lines between “Language”, “Dialect”, “Accent”, and “Wanker” (particularly the last), but each distinction is driven by ego, the desire to be unique, special, and exclusive. A modern vision of Babel.

 

 

Suppression by expression

It is possible to suppress ideas by talking over them. If you tell the lie often enough, not only is the lie believed but the truth is forgotten. This is rarely recognized as censorship, but the result is the same. Magazines routinely “tailor” covers for their audience, in doing so they can bring a story to light, or hide an unpopular story.

time-covers

After the recent shooting on a Navy base in Washington, DC, the CNN anchor said she had never heard of a shooting at a military base. Faced with the overwhelming public response that only four years ago an Army doctor killed the same number of people and injured thirty more, CNN is now saying she had meant “in Washington”. In her defense, President Obama has declared the Ft. Hood shootings “Workplace violence”, even though the shooter insisted all the way through his trial and sentencing that he had done it to prevent those soldiers from going to Afghanistan where they would fight Al-Qaeda. Because it was workplace violence, the victims do not receive benefits for injuries suffered at the hands of the enemy, or receive purple hearts, and the story that there is no terrorism in America can stay intact. Yet for some reason we still need to intercept all domestic communications.

There are several issues with the Navy yard shooting, and while I will center my thoughts on that event, I will bounce around (as I always do) to related subjects.

As with any tragedy, the news media went into overdrive. Honestly folks, if you ever run into Wolf Blitzer, let him ask you a question and respond with “What the F*** does that have to do with anything?”. I get the impression that he is usually mining for misinformation. My favorite Wolf question from this event was “There are reports that the shooter was wearing a black shirt and black pants. Can you tell me what that indicates?” How about “he doesn’t have any white pets?”

The immediate speculation was that the shooter had an AR-15. This would be speculation by people who were in other states, as an AR-15 looks nothing like the Remington 870 shotgun (the weapon Joe Biden said should be in every home) the shooter actually used. Nonetheless, this tragedy will be used to promote gun control, specifically banning “assault rifles”.

The shooter was identified as a Muslim, when in fact he was a Buddhist. He was identified as a terrorist targeting whites, when in fact he was mentally ill and chose his targets at random, killing at least three blacks and an Oriental. Nonetheless, once started the rumor will continue, with conspiracy theorists linking to the early reports rather than the later corrections.

For some reason, anti gun groups have been clamoring that the incident disproves a statement made frequently by the NRA, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. I guess they don’t think the police are “good guys”. What this all does prove is the facts just don’t matter to these people.

Diane Feinstein has made the tactic of swearing to falsehoods her career. Among her more fantastic claims is “PTSD is a symptom of the Iraq war”, followed with “all veterans have PTSD”, therefore “all veterans should be denied gun permits”. Where to start? The story fits her narrative because if PTSD is a symptom of the Iraq war, then PTSD is Bush’s fault. Not only is this a statement of incredible ignorance and denial (PTSD has been seen since people started throwing rocks at each other, we called it “Battle fatigue”and “Shell shock”), it also excuses her own PTSD, suffered when she witnessed the shooting of George Moscone. If she has PTSD, and it is evidence to deny a gun permit, she would have to stop carrying that Glock 19 she has a permit for (and would like to ban citizens from owning).  But only veterans have PTSD, not only that, all veterans have PTSD. Oh the horrors those supply clerks in Kansas have seen…

Manipulating the media only works when you control all of the media, so Senator Feinstein would like the government to define who is and is not a journalist. If you are not a journalist, the first amendment doesn’t apply to you. Let me flesh that out. The right to free speech means that you may speak your opinion with impunity. The entire concept of a “shield law” is that some people are allowed impunity and others are not. Senator Feinstein would like to limit the people who it applies to even further than it is already limited.

I don’t mind so much that journalism has been reduced to coverage of who’s on “Dancing with the stars”. I am concerned by the prospect of no other information being available.

Growing up

Last week I spent some time with a group from high school. Some of them had known each other since grade school, I had only spent my last two years there, and I was asked more than once “Where did you grow up?”. The answer that came to mind first was “Who said I grew up?” but the one I vocalized was “America”.

I was born in a hospital in Corsicana TX, my parents lived in Trinidad (1), in a company community serving the power station of Texas Power and Light, for whom my father was a chemist. I have several distinct memories of these years. My parents other son was born while we lived there, on reflection I realize that I could tell the that he wasn’t of this world. Many years later he told me the community no longer existed and had been flooded. A check of Google satellite shows that the homes are gone but the island is still there.

In another year we moved to Dallas TX, my father taking a job with Beckman Instruments. At first we lived in an apartment(2), where I managed to experience all the childhood diseases, among my memories are house calls by the doctor for my chicken pox. Then we moved to a house on Flaxley Dr.(3) not far from my maternal grandparents. Loads of memories from there, Kindergarten, first grade, half of second. Getting in trouble doing kid stuff, family, friends and church. Oddly, when you click on that link, it brings you to the exact house. one of those trees I had planted as a pecan from my paternal grandparents farm.

Christmas of 1966 we moved to Walnut Creek, CA,(4) the first of many moves caused by my father’s rise through his company. We lived in the shadow of Mt. Diablo, in an odd little community of British ex pats. Some of my friends parents still observed afternoon tea. We lived there for eight months. The most interesting eight months possible, including the “Summer of Love“, visiting relatives first tourist stop was the Haight.

In August we moved to what is now Tustin CA,(5) but was actually an unincorporated area at the time. Because of that, I ended up going to two different elementary schools, neither of which still exist. In fact, looking at Google Earth, the house I lived in has changed so much it may have been demolished and rebuilt. My parents divorced while we lived there, I had my first kiss, took piano lessons, leared saxophone and started on drums. After the divorce my mother and I, along with the alien, moved to an apartment(6) and I started junior high, then Mom got married and we moved to Ventura CA on Halloween. At first we lived in an apartment(7) just two blocks from the beach. I attended the same junior high as Kevin Costner. Mom and her new husband bought a house in Saticoy the summer before ninth grade, and for a few months we lived in a different apartment(8) in the keys, but Saticoy(9) was still in an area where I was bussed to the same junior high. I ended up at a different high school than my beach friends, oddly so had Kevin Costner. When I look at the google satellite of Saticoy it’s kind of sad, most of those neighborhoods were orange groves when I lived there, they were a great place to party.

My sister was born while I lived there, but my step father was getting to be more than I could handle, so I moved in with my father in Murray Hill, NJ.(10) I liked the east coast accent on girls, so even though I had a driver’s license in California but was too young in New Jersey, I’d get to drinking age first in New Jersey. This is the way a kid’s mind works, measuring benefits that never occur to their parents. I experienced all the “first” that young people experience during those years. I formed friendships that have lasted through now. After graduation, my father moved to Perth Amboy(11). I pretty much stayed in the house in Murray Hill, which hadn’t yet sold, and then one snowy morning decided to move back to California. I left the next day.

When I arrived in Ventura, where my mother had moved to a condominium, I lived with her(12) for a few months before getting an apartment(13) on “The Avenue”. This was far from the nicest section of town, a welfare housing project was across the street, but we had wonderful old hippie neighbors on our side of the street. After I was assaulted we decided to move anyway, this time to El Rio,(14) for an exceptionally earthy experience. We had a cute little house on a deep property with two other houses. I drove a converted mail truck, friends from New Jersey could visit safely.

Me and my van in El Rio

Me and my van in El Rio

My mom had moved to Las Vegas with her husband and my sister, things weren’t working out for them so Cindy and I found a larger place(15), just a few houses down from where I had first lived in the keys. It was nice being so close to the beach again, I finally decided to start college, and things looked stable for a few minutes. Then one day Cindy called me and said “I’m pregnant, I’m going home (Pennsylvania). My aunt has already arranged airline tickets, I’m leaving day after tomorrow”. I’m an old fashioned kind of guy, the idea of my child being born and living three thousand miles away was not an option, so I hooked up with a friend who was also moving East and we dragged our stuff across the country.

When I first arrived we lived with Cindy’s mother(16) until we could afford a little place(17) in Bloomsburg. College wasn’t going to happen, I found a decent job for the area and we saved enough to buy a little house overlooking the river(18). Bloomsburg is rural enough that there are no street views available on Google satellite. After a couple of years Cindy was pregnant again, and as nice as my job was, there was no way to support a family of four with a new house on it. The best choice available was the military, so I enlisted in the Air Force.

Basic Training was in San Antomio TX(19), and Technical school was at Lowry AFB(20) in CO. Cindy decided to rent out the house and join me in Colorado, so we rented a place in Aurora(21) while I finished school. We received our orders, and a couple of us ended up stationed at Offutt AFB, SAC HQ. We arrived at Offutt in time for our second child to be born there, after we had moved out of temporary quarters(22) and into base housing(23).

My story takes a fork here, there is the official version and the classified version. You’ll be getting the official version, with a bit of the other to kick it off. I was approached with an opportunity that would involve a little travel and no uniforms. I would receive an honorable discharge but it would be recorded that I lost my security clearance.

Cindy and I moved off base(24) to a nice house in a neighborhood that was rebuilding. Then we moved to Dallas TX, living with my aunts (first one(25), then the other(26)) until we determined we would stay in the Dallas area after our third child was born. We moved into an apartment complex(27), where Cindy was able to take the position of manager after a few months, and we moved into the management apartment(28). There are few things worse than moving your entire household one hundred yards. I worked for the City of Dallas, and spent a lot of time away from home. Cindy got bored and decided to have an affair with one of the tenants, so I moved in with a coworker(29) (who happened to be female, but we had separate bedrooms) while Cindy and I figured out what we were going to do. It appeared it was going to take a while, so my coworker and I decided to rent a nicer condo(30).

I got another call from Cindy. She was taking the kids to live in Pennsylvania, her aunt had already purchased the airline tickets. Certain things never change, I helped pack everything and moved up to Pennsylvania with her. We lived with her mother at first(31), until we were able to find a place in town(32). At that point, she basically said “Thanks for the ride and all your money and credit, you can go now”. That was over twenty five years ago, I’ve gotten over it, but for some reason she’s still angry. I moved into a long term hotel (33), but there was nothing to work out, so I followed a coworker to Wildwood NJ where there were plentiful summer jobs. I took an apartment(34) and stayed the summer, then moved to Bryn Mawr PA with the woman who had been a coworker, became a girlfriend, and later became my wife. She was living in the dorms of Combs College of Music, and for a while I assumed a female persona so I could live there(35). After a few months I found an apartment(36) in Lansdowne PA, and I took a job at the SPCA and then the police department. After a few years Paula became pregnant, so we moved to another apartment in the building (37) (I hadn’t learned the lesson in Dallas, now I had a piano) and then about a year later we took an apartment(38) in Aldan. Paula wasn’t crazy about the neighbors, so we ended up moving again, this time to a house(39) in Prospect Park.

Paula and I were decreasingly happy with each other, so I moved to an apartment(40) in nearby Wilmington DE just off the shore of the Delaware river. I met a woman from Bensalem PA and rented an apartment(41) there. We eventually moved in together (42), and found yet another apartment (43) before we broke up. I shared an apartment in Warminster, PA (44) before moving in with an old friend in Lansdowne (45). When my friend realized that we were just friend and I was not going to marry her, I moved to South Philadelphia (46).

Shortly after that I met Emma. I moved to her apartment(47) in Crum Lynne, PA where we lived for a few years, until an unfortunate incident which caused us to move back to South Philly, first living with her brother (48) and then to an apartment on Tenth and Wolf(49).

That was supposed to be it, but Emma died. I had intended to finish my days in that apartment, but then I met Lieve, and moved to Princeton(50). A couple of things made us decide that we wanted to have a place we could call “ours”, with no ghosts of our pasts, so we currently live next door to the Governor(51). It’s a nice place, he doesn’t invite us to any parties, but we can sit in the yard and listen to the music. Eventually, we’ll move again, Belgium is certainly in our future, and as long as I can keep the number of my addresses lower than the number of my years. I’m comfortable.

Home is where you wear your hat.

The life of this author

When I was working on my first book, my wife made a T shirt for me. On the front is a quill, on the back “Writer at work” is written in red letters. Being married to a graphic artist is filled with such things. I wear the shirt when I am not writing, attempting to share the idea that a large part of writing takes place away from the keyboard. As I think about it, a large part of my time at the keyboard is not putting words together, but doing research and confirming sources.

Some of my best poetry came to me when I was mowing the lawn. Complex plots occur while I’m in the shower. Watching the network news or a cardinal in the garden have similar, often annoying, results (Rascal sets the birds into warning mode), as my blood pressure rises and my mind clears. Noticing the ironies and inconsistencies in society are hard things to miss, my problems stem from realizing that there is no cure, I survive by knowing there isn’t supposed to be.

My full time job is “House husband”, one of my more enjoyable vocations. I’m not a huge fan of the vacuum cleaner, but I actually enjoy doing the laundry, and cooking is pure joy (The other day I made falafel stuffed peppers, and falafel patties with guacamole for dinner, and banana bread). Shopping is dangerous, I always want to try new recipes or ingredients, usually successfully, always a learning experience. Caring for the cats is interesting, their microcosm of society always a curious blend of passive aggressive behaviors.

I spend my days wondering how people can be so mean to each other. Maybe not so much how as why. I know how. I’ve known people who couldn’t learn from their own mistakes, usually because they can’t admit to their own mistakes. I used to think such people were stupid, or masochists. Now it occurs to me that such people are the catalysts for the rest of us to do better. I no longer pity the wankers, I’m thankful for them.

When my grandfather was very young, shotgun shells used black powder, prior to the popular use of smokeless powder, or “cordite”. As kids, they would open shotgun shells, place the powder in their hand, and ignite it. The powder would flash, like an old time camera flash. Black powder essentially explodes, leaving little residue. When the first kid with a cordite shell tried igniting the powder, it just burned. Right into the kid’s hand. My grandfather said other kids tried it (I suspect not too many), but seeing the first one was enough for him. He would tell that story when talking about learning from your own mistakes. He had gone one better, learning from other people’s mistakes.

There are some people, however, who learn from their mistakes, but what they learn is the wrong lesson. Every new technology manages to be turned into a weapon, positive ideas are used to mask evil, pain motivates as much if not more than love. So we just have to speak louder. I honestly believe there are more of us than them, so why allow them any time in the spotlight?

So I’ve spent much of my life learning. That’s what a writer does. I made plenty of mistakes of my own, and I spent a lot of time listening and reading. I assembled a huge inventory of stories, with a lesson inside each. I’ve tried to guide others with the lessons within their own lives. When someone asked the other night “How long have you been writing?”, I said “Three years”. In reality, I’ve always been writing.

My 11 September story

I live in the Northeast, the events of 11 September 2001 hit very close to home. I knew people who died, I know people who survived, thankfully I was one hundred miles away.

I finished High school in Northern New Jersey, and would take the train into Manhattan often. The World Trade Centers were new then, I did the touristy thing and walked on the rooftops, I took my mother there when she visited from California, I ate and drank at “Windows on the World” a couple of times. Emma’s first husband (who was a good deal older than she) had been a steelworker, and had worked on the construction of the towers. That is the past.

On the morning of 11 September 2001 I was living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I had stopped driving due to a pesky exacerbation of multiple sclerosis and took the train into Philadelphia each day. My office was in the Philadelphia version of twin towers, “Liberty Place” a matched pair of seventy story buildings.

I was doing some research at my desk when I noticed a crowd down the hall. There were monitors on “junction floors” where you would have to change elevators, and the crowd was silently watching one of the monitors. I walked down to see the initial reports on CNN of a plane striking one of the twin towers.

My friend Brandt was there, he said “they’re not sure if it was an accident”. I knew enough about flight paths and altitudes to know that it wasn’t. Moments later the second plane impacted. I looked at Brandt and said “Still not sure?”. My pager was beeping and my phone was ringing. The fax machine at the FAA office in the airport had failed. Things were happening too fast to consider repair, and my manager wanted to know if I had a spare to send with a technician to the airport. I told him he could have mine.

I was making arrangements with the technician, Anonxai, when we were interrupted by our manager who told us the city was being evacuated and it would be quicker to pick up the machine at the branch due to the traffic. I was a little bummed out, because I was hoping Anonxai would be able to drop me off at home, which was near the airport. A third plane had crashed in Washington DC, early reports were fuzzy about the exact target. I remember saying to my manager “Remember this name, Osama bin Laden. I’m getting out of here.”

I decided to call my mother in California, she was up and watching the news. My buildings were nothing like the World Trade Centers, but I wanted to let her know that I was okay. While we were talking the first tower collapsed. I will never forget the sound of her voice, the hollowness. “Now there’s only one World Trade Center” she said. She has pictures of us standing together atop a building that no longer existed.

I got to the train station and it was packed. Amtrak had already shut down, and it was pretty clear the regional lines would be following before the next train was scheduled. The subway was still running so I took it out to Upper Darby, where I could catch a trolley to Sharon Hill. While I was on the trolley the driver received a message to leave the car at the Sharon Hill station, all rail service was being suspended. From Sharon Hill I was able to catch a bus home. The trip took about three hours, normally it took forty five minutes on the train.

Emma and I watched the news, saw the people trapped in Manhattan, the videos of the people jumping from the towers before they collapsed, some hand in hand. We heard about the fourth plane, that story wasn’t sorted out for days.

All air traffic had been grounded before the first tower had collapsed, before Anonxai reached the airport. Several co workers had been at a conference and had been in the air returning home. They were scattered around the country, one landed in Pittsburgh, and rented a car to finish the trip. Others were stuck for days or took Amtrak before air traffic was restored.

We had about one hundred employees in the towers, four didn’t make it out. My friend Ed decided to get coffee at the last minute, before getting on the elevator. The first plane hit, and he decided to get out. My friend Carl, who was always late, had an interview on the 102nd floor at 0900. He was on the Path train when the first plane hit.

In the two days after the attacks, there were no aircraft flying, and the first few planes were surprising. Odd how quickly we became used to the silence. A friend was in the Caribbean, and apparently his flight back was manned by the military rather than stewardesses. His descriptions of inflight services were funny. Two years later, Emma and I lived on 10th street in South Philly, which was the flight path for a formation of A-10’s flying over the Army Navy game. I found Emma under the bed.

In the years since I have found myself at the Pentagon, and the memorial in Shanksville PA for flight 93. I finally visited Manhattan in 2009, and have been back a few times, but I’m just not ready to see the memorials at the site of the towers yet.

Antiquities

A light article for a change.

 

I like old things, which is good as I become an old thing myself. There is something reassuring about old technology. Yes we can do it “better” by some measure today, but we managed to get there before in a simpler way.

I started with cameras. It was a natural, being a photographer, and where I lived there were a number of yard sales and antique shops that didn’t know what they had, so I built quite a collection. So many, I couldn’t display them all, so I ended up giving them to my son, who has them in his gallery.

Polaroids

Polaroids

This is mostly Polaroids, including a Kodak Colorburst. Most of them are in original packaging, and back when I had obtained them film was still available so I used each of them to get a feel for their limitations.

cameras 2

Nicer cameras

These are the nicer cameras of the collection, including my Grandfather’s Crown Graphic. He had taken my parents’ wedding photographs with that camera (I have a few of those as well), and there was a collection of backs, including a couple in five by seven format. When I was a child, my grandfather would let me play with the flash, which used the old magnesium bulbs.

Among with the various musical instruments I’ve collected have been a silver trombone (easier to play than I had thought) and the harmonica my first wife never touched after I picked it up and played the opening of “Piano Man” when she couldn’t get a clean note. When I started playing bass my (second) wife bought this beautiful amp for me.

Earth Research Laboratories "Revival"

Earth Sound Research “Revival”

I still have and use this amp (not often enough). Earth Sound Research was a tiny company producing all tube amps during the golden age of “louder”. The dials go up to twelve, one better than Nigel’s amp in Spinal Tap.

As I got older, I needed to get a computer. I wanted a way to save my writing, and I needed to catalog my growing comic book collection. Yes, I was collecting comic books at age thirty, I had become interested in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and had everything of theirs that had been published, from the entire series by Eastman and Laird to the Archie comics series, all the crossovers, action figures, and related materiel. I can be obsessive at times. I still follow Kevin Eastman’s work. Since my parents’ other son was a computer geek (he was the first one on his block with a one gigabyte hard drive) I went the other direction, getting a Kaypro II, one of the early “luggable” computers.

kayproii

The Kaypro II

The keyboard folded onto the body, and there was a carrying strap. It weighed almost thirty pounds, making “luggable” an accurate description. State of the art at one point, it had two five and a quarter inch floppy drives (single sided) and 64K of RAM. My Atari game console had more RAM. The operating system was C/PM, a pre-DOS configuration. For you non geeks out there, that’s less memory than your digital watch, and an operating system that was obsolete before Windows was invented. I used this computer until 1998, and there was still a healthy group of C/PM users, sharing programs through the mail. Real mail, not Email.

Today we live in what I call a “microwave” society. Waiting sixty seconds for water to boil is asking too much. Boiling water is too much. Music from two years ago is called “Golden Oldies”. “Instagram” creates photographs that appear old for people who have no idea what an f-stop is, or pigment fading. There is a pseudo respect for antiquities and little appreciation for technology that withstands the years. “New” is better, even when it isn’t.

Witch Hunts

Quick to judge
Quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand…

Every now and then it gets to me. I manage to have intelligent conversations with complete strangers about issues which we have strong and opposite views about, and then some wanker chimes in and starts throwing insults.

The issue itself doesn’t matter. I just get involved when one group is being singled out as the source of all evil. When I was young, we didn’t use the word “racism”, we called it “prejudice”. I was taught that prejudice is wrong. I realize my own prejudices and try to work around them. The only group I truly despise are wankers, because they weren’t born that way, they chose to be that way.

Today, I was accused of being a member of the KKK. The discussion wasn’t even about race. I don’t mind the misinterpretations so much, but the absolute non sequiturs really just say “Wanker!” in flashing lights. I’ve decided that I will allow five wankers for every one intelligent response, should the ratio go any higher I abandon the site. So, goodbye “AlterNet”.

The first encounter was forty years ago, walking through Ventura, CA trying to drum up business for my aquarium maintenance service. A scruffy couple deluged me with insults because of my long hair. Being called a “girl” by a woman attempting to insult me was so odd I had to laugh.

Today, I piss off people on both ends of the political spectrum, and lacking an intelligent response they kick in with assumptions about my political leanings. I’ve been called a “Right-Winger”, “Tea bagger”,”fascist”, and now a “member of the KKK” by those ever so open minded liberals, and a “Communist”, “Socialist”, “liberal”, and “Leftist” by those compassionate conservatives. When it comes to religion I’ve been called everything from an “Atheist” to “Pagan” to “Fundamentalist Christian”.

That’s not mentioning the profanities that have been used, usually by someone with a screen name like “Iwouldneversaythistoyourface123”.

The way it gets to me is not on a personal level. I know better than to take the words of someone who won’t identify themselves seriously. It is the confirmation of the stupidity of the masses, combined with the indications we are rapidly declining into mob rule.

Here’s your fact for the day. Nobody knows everything. We all have opinions, and if we’re intelligent we listen to other points of view. Sometimes we alter our opinions, sometimes the people we talk to alter their opinions. Sometimes we just disagree, and respect each others thoughts.

I have editorial control over comments on this blog, but I don’t recall ever not publishing something anyone has said. I consider myself fortunate, in that it would be troubling to me to deny anyone their ability to express their opinion. If there are any wankers reading this blog, they have kept to themselves. Thank you.

A democracy cannot survive without the free exchange of ideas. This is a situation in which if you are not part of the solution, you really are a part of the problem.

How many times do you hear it?
It goes on all day long
Everyone knows everything
And no one’s ever wrong
Until later…

Want to know what I really am? I’m a free thinking human being. Everyone is welcome to join.

I saw it on TV

And so it was. Every night a grandfatherly gentleman told us the monsters would stay under our beds for another night. He was the most trusted man in America for a large portion of the late twentieth century. History hasn’t judged him as kindly, for which we may thank Walter and his contemporaries. He was human, he was flawed, and he upheld most of the standards of the golden age of journalism.

As a nation, we turned from the newspaper to the television. When Walter said “And that’s the way it is”, we believed that we didn’t need to know anything more. There was no need to look any deeper. Today’s “joke”, “they can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true”, began as “they can’t put anything on television that isn’t true”. Only it wasn’t a joke back then, we believed it. Believing that what we saw on television had to be true is what made some people believe that the internet (a television) had the same standards.

An unexpected blow to the newspaper industry was recycling, as unread newspapers stacked up people realized there was no point in subscribing. With the decay of actual investigative reporting, “real” journalism became a thing of the past. “News” has been replaced by “Infotainment”, which has quickly been replaced by pure entertainment. So where is the news?

We have, unfortunately, regressed to word of mouth. Making things worse, we’re not all political analysts, for Christ’s sake we’re not all terribly bright, so discovering valid information and knowing what it means has become increasingly difficult. Being able to do something with that information is next to impossible.

I’m not big on the concept of conspiracies. If I was, there’s enough stuff out there to put me in a rubber room. Everyone with an opinion can publish a blog (you’re reading one now), a website with a unique domain name can be had for ten dollars a year, There are a lot of voices out there, who either don’t know what they’re talking about, or worse, they do and they’re lying to you. I include in this the media outlets who give sixty seconds of airtime to a laughing baby, but don’t get around to mentioning riots in Brazil. Omission is a class of lying in and of itself.

These are some of the reasons why credible sources use links, to take you to source material so you can determine accuracy yourself. I’ve always linked pertinent sources, but I’ve become aware that links are not very visible on this blog, so from this post forward I will underline any links to make them more noticeable.

I could tell there were alternate views of the situation in Egypt, the early days of democracy are bound to be difficult. To me, it seemed obvious that a democratically elected president being deposed by the military satisfied the criteria for “Military Coup“, despite the fact that a number of Egyptian contacts were calling it a “democratic process” or “anti-terrorism protests“, and our own government won’t call it a coup.

A few weeks ago, some outlets were reporting protests in Brazil. I have friends in Brazil (who I will in no way identify), so I asked what was going on. I can’t go into depth of the explanation without possibly revealing the source, but there is much more than a “protest against bus fares“. There are economic issues similar to those in America, and political unrest similar to Syria. Nonetheless, the civilian population was taking measures to ensure peaceful protests, including ostracizing trouble makers, and befriending the police.

No large gathering escapes the attention of hooligans, and things have gotten out of hand at times. You might have heard about it, unless you live in Brazil. According to my source, the only media news about the protests refers to the traffic jams. Not even that a protest caused the traffic jam, just that there is a traffic jam.

983594_525652224151161_1425647885_n

My “meme” friends are into revolution, and conspiracies. According to my source, Brazil is experiencing neither, but these conflicts in reality give the meme folks some credibility. And this is where we run into a problem.

As our traditional media becomes less trustworthy, one way of verifying sources is “Have they been right before?”. I’m giving this one to the wanna be revolutionaries, with a reminder that there are other ways to verify a source. Consider what your source has to gain (in this case, supporting “revolutions” emboldens the timid). When people try to get you to back them in a fight, make sure they plan to be in front.

The other part of verification is the believability of the information itself. A secret UFO base under the Washington Monument is going to draw immediate furrowed brows, but let’s use the Egyptian example.

Was there a coup? Yes. Was it facilitated by the military? Yes. Why does the American government say it wasn’t a military coup? Because they’ve been providing equipment to the Egyptian military, and don’t want to be seen as “puppet masters”. But what about the word on the street? Since we have nothing more reliable than social media, we need to recognize that what we are hearing is opinions. The “people of Egypt” took to the street and demanded change. But who are the people of Egypt? In order to be a candidate in the election, one had to be of Egyptian parentage. Not just a citizen, but at very least a second generation citizen, without dual citizenship, and not married to a non-Egyptian. To vote, one only needed a national identity card. That ruled out about half the population. Democracy has many definitions, and the half that wasn’t eligible to vote can make a demonstration look like it expresses the will of “the people”. We face a similar dilemma in America, where were we to allow non citizens to vote we could settle the “National Language” question, we would be required to speak Spanish.

So the real question in Egypt is the legitimacy of the elections, and to determine that, we need to know who the legitimate voters are. My best source of information in the Middle East is Lebanese, and he ran from country to country making bad decisions on where the next revolution would be. I haven’t heard from him in a bit, so I suspect he made a tragically poor decision. All we have is the voice of social media. A demonstration in which sixteen people are killed would tend to get a lot of press if it happened in, say, Memphis, and I doubt it would be characterized as a “peaceful demonstration”, but to understand that aspect requires an “Arab mind”. Here’s one view into that mind.

It’s complicated. Too complicated for the evening news, more suited to a number of books, in tandem with some understanding of the culture of the applicable society. Contrary to the beliefs of many American politicians, understanding world affairs requires understanding the world.

Next question. Is there a “conspiracy” preventing you from understanding what is happening in the world, and if so, why?

Extreme prejudice

We all have prejudices. It’s an evolutionary trait. It can be as simple as “spicy foods don’t agree with me”, or more complex, like “my girlfriend left me for a guy with red hair, so now I don’t trust people with red hair”.

I’m more interested in the latter, not that a girlfriend ever left me for a guy with red hair, just the concept of undeserved judgement.  A good deal of generational prejudice springs from what children see in their parents, and a fair amount of parents do things they don’t understand.

I spend my days wondering how people can be so mean to each other. Maybe not so much how as why. I know how. I’ve known people who couldn’t learn from their own mistakes, usually because they can’t admit to their own mistakes. I used to think such people were stupid, or masochists. Now it occurs to me that such people are the catalysts for the rest of us to do better. I no longer pity the wankers, I’m thankful for them.

When my grandfather was very young, shotgun shells used black powder, prior to the popular use of smokeless powder, or “cordite”. As kids, they would open shotgun shells, place the powder in their hand, and ignite it. The powder would flash, like an old time camera flash. Black powder essentially explodes, leaving little residue. When the first kid with a cordite shell tried igniting the powder, it just burned. Right into the kid’s hand. My grandfather said other kids tried it (I suspect not too many), but seeing the first one was enough for him. He would tell that story when talking about learning from your own mistakes. He had gone one better, learning from other people’s mistakes.

There are people, though, who learn from their mistakes, but pick up the wrong lesson. From personal pain they learn to induce pain in others. Either because nothing can make their lives brighter, or because of some failed sense that sharing pain will make theirs bearable. This is where we get to the guy with red hair, or rather, the jilted boyfriend.

Filled with anger, our raven haired agonist spends his life mistrusting gingers. Soon he forgets why, but the uneasiness never goes away. His friends might sense it, his family certainly does. Then one day his daughter meets a boy with orange hair, and despite the fact that he’s everything she ever desired, she can’t trust him.

Now change hair color to religion, race, political leanings, or occupation, and you can see how prejudice spreads. We do things that make no sense, because we don’t take the time to consider our motives, or how those motives came into being.

We feel pain, and rather than fix ourselves we hurt others. After a while, we don’t even realize we’re doing it, or that there’s anything wrong with it. A man kicks his dog because he’s angry with his boss, the boss kicks his dog because his employees won’t perform. Some innocent kid gets bitten by a dog that keeps getting kicked for no reason. The wives of the boss and the employee meet at the animal shelter because their dogs have been determined “vicious”. They form a group to help victims of dog bites, and help the innocent kid develop an interest in behavioral science. All because of a couple of wankers.

It’s a very small world we live in. Even though I chose not to follow a teaching career, I have always felt an obligation to teach. Recently I have found that there are many people who just don’t want to know. They’ve shrouded themselves in their prejudices, and see what they want to see, regardless of what they’re presented with. They know not to pour the cordite into their hand, but can’t resist pouring it into another person’s hand. Someone with red hair.

Someone told me recently that being a teacher meant not giving up. They obviously hadn’t seen the schools in Philadelphia. I can’t get through the day without something angering me, my disappointment with humanity is often overwhelming. But I don’t give up, I try to inspire others, and in doing so inspire myself. I know that Homo Sapiens Sapiens has an intertwined past with its ancestors, Homo sapiens idaltu was extinct prior to Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis and Cro-Magnon man fighting over whether to speak French or Dutch. Our next evolutionary step lives among us, as does our last.

A hundred thousand years ago we would have just hit the wankers with a rock. Today we try to inspire the rare members of our successors, and hope they’re the lithe intelligent ones (gingers), not the brutish stupid ones (wankers).

Full disclosure, I am devoting my life to installing the term “wanker” into American English. I want to hear it on elevators.

One hundred

This article marks my one hundredth post in this blog. Time to evaluate.

Without a standard reference, I’m not sure how I’m doing. I’m averaging over thirty six views a day, complemented by eighty nine followers who receive each article by email. I’ve been viewed in forty six countries, and every continent save Antarctica, circling the globe (not much happening in Central America or Central Africa). To me, a landmark was a couple of days ago when someone commented on someone else’ comment. The zygote of a community.

Seems like a lot, except that a video of a kitten in a box can get a million views on You Tube overnight.

I prefer to think of the difference as quality over quantity, and maybe more people would follow if I wrote about a particular theme everyday instead of free associating into the internet, but hitting on the issues that are on my mind keeps everything fresh. I’ve hit politics, music, food, religion, beer, a little history, science, and current events. I’ve philosophized and whined, talked about my weaknesses and strengths, and my opinions. I’ve tried to be balanced, honest, factual, fair, and humorous.

Suggestions are more than welcome, I know the things I like to rant about, but I don’t know what you like to read, or prefer not to read. Probably shouldn’t approach that last one, there’s a bug in my head that likes to bring up things people are uncomfortable about.

So at this point, I’m thinking about Genetically Modified Organisms on Monday, maybe blending with genetically modified humans. I’m not sure what I’ll be moved to preach about on Sunday, that inspiration usually comes to me Saturday morning.

Thank you all for reading, staying polite in your responses, and sharing my articles with others.

Peace,

Blake

Grails, holy and otherwise

The object of the quest

The object of the quest

I haven’t always liked beer. In fact, for a very long time I didn’t drink beer at all. Back in the 90s, Samuel Adams produced a triple bock, and it came in a cool blue bottle with a cork, so I tried it, and had it been routinely available I would have tried more, but it wasn’t that great. Then I met this Belgian woman, and I found out that there were many more interesting beers out there.

The right glass for Mc Chouffe

The right glass for Mc Chouffe

 

 

I’ve had some great guides, Lieve’s brother not only enjoys a variety of beers, but also has all the right glasses.

 

 

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Beer sampler serving

 

 

 

 

 

And so the search for the perfect beer began. Every trip to Belgium contained not only new sights, but new beers. My preference has been for dark beers, but I’ve found quite a few White, or Witte beers that I enjoy.

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Straffe Hendrik brewery in Brugge

 

 

 

Our next trip included Brugge, and while I was daunted by one pub that carried 750 different beers, I carried on, visiting breweries and comparing styles. Fortunately, Lieve was always there to assist when there were too many to drink at once.

Just across the street from Straffe Hendrik!

Just across the street from Straffe Hendrik!

 

 

 

It was in Brugge that I discovered the Quadrupel. In a little restaurant next door to our B&B, they had La Trappe, one of only twelve breweries producing the quadrupel style at the time.

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La Trappe Quadrupel at “De Republiek” in Brugge

 

 

 

 

I continued my search as I traveled, trying house brews wherever we went. One pub in the English countryside reminded Lieve of “An American Werewolf in London

Scary small pub in English countryside

Scary small pub in English countryside

 

 

 

 

 

And at a dinner in Leuven I found Wolf 8, a widely available Belgian beer. I also tried a type of meat I’d never had before.

Wolf 8. Goes well with paard.

Wolf 8. Goes well with paard.

 

 

 

In Brussels I tried a Trappiste Rochefort 10, another widely available Belgian beer. With us was Lieve’s nephew Joren, who, like his father enjoys trying new beers. He suggested the elusive Westvlateren, a beer that can only be obtained at the abbey, but he knew where to find it in a cafe.

Trappste Rochefort 10

Trappste Rochefort 10

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At the Cafe Metafoor in Leuven

Our quest led us to the Cafe Metafoor in Leuven. They didn’t have Westvleteren, but they did have what became my favorite, St. Berndus Abt 12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our next trip took us to Amsterdam, where just like in Belgium, you can have beer with breakfast!

Breakfast in Amsterdam

Breakfast in Amsterdam

 

 

This year, we checked out Cafe Metafoor again, for one thing, I just love the name. They knew where I could get Westvleteren. I’m not allowed to reveal the secret, but Joren was familiar with the place.

Alpaide, at Cafe Metafoor

Alpaide, at Cafe Metafoor

We had dinner (and a Westmalle Dubbel) with Joren, and decided to meet the next day at his student house. Side note. If you ever order a martini and the waiter looks at you with a question on his face, just cancel the order and have a beer.

Dinner with Joren

Dinner with Joren

 

 

Joren just completed his Masters in archeology, and is vice president of his student house. It’s like a fraternity, and they have a bar which he was painting when we arrived. I noticed beer coasters on the ceiling, but since it’s a historical building, they are not allowed to touch the ceiling.

 

Beer coasters on the ceiling.

Beer coasters on the ceiling.

 

 

 

The student house bar had some of the blond Westvleteren. In order to stay within the rules, they give a bottle away after you buy five other beers (not necessarily in one night). Although a closer look at the ceiling suggests that some people just might drink all those beers in one sitting.

Tennis shoe stuck to ceiling.

Tennis shoe stuck to ceiling.

 

 

 

 

Since the bar wasn’t open, he gave me a bottle of the blond Westvleteren after Lieve and I had a Leffe Bruin.

 

 

 

Westvleten blond

Westvleteren blond

 

It was very promising. We made plans to meet after dinner at the “secret” cafe. Realizing that the beers had been breakfast, Lieve and I stopped across the street and had some lunch, an oddly out of place Mexican salad at the Cafe Appel, along with a Westmalle Tripel.

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We did some shopping, and stopped at another cafe that Joren had suggested. The beer menu was a book.

Massive beer menu

Massive beer menu

 

 

 

This menu is of seven hundred beers, Joren knows of a pub that is planning to carry two thousand five hundred Belgian Beers, a world record. I wonder what they would serve while you are making your decision.

Lieve waits while I peruse the menu

Lieve waits while I peruse the menu

Westvleteren is made with the same recipe as St. Bernardus, they just use different water, and probably different techniques, so I decided to refresh my palate memory with an Abt 12. Lieve had a Lindemann’s Kriek, her favorite, a sour cherry beer.

 

 

 

 

The day’s work completed, it was time to relax. We met Lieve’s brother and Sister in law for dinner and a concert in the square before going on to meet Joren. The cafe at which we had dinner also had La Trappe quadrupel.

Dinner before the concert

Dinner before the concert

 

 

 

After the concert, the moment had arrived. We worked our way through the small streets to the pub, where Joren was waiting with a friend.

 

 

 

The "secret" pub

The “secret” pub

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The legendary Westvleteren

 

Westvleteren is not on the menu, due to the rules of the abbey, but it is available on request, at fourteen euro a bottle. The waitress asked if I wanted to spend that much, having no idea of the trek that brought me here.

Oh yes. This was definitely worth the search.

There is no label on a Westvleteren bottle, only the cap identifies the maker and style. There is a date stamp, called the “minimum sale date”, but the beer allegedly continues to develop for years after the date. When I eventually move to Belgium, I will be able to go through the process to purchase a case every two months from the Abbey, and I’ll do all I can to preserve a bottle or two in order to test that theory.

Later I had a Duchesse de Bourgogne, what is called a “sour beer”, with Joren. With thousands of beers produced in Belgium alone, there will always be new beers to explore. Just last night at dinner, Joren’s father and I tried the house brew at the restaurant, the “Troubadour”. Luc had the Blond, I had the Obscurra.

Troubador Obscurra

Troubadour Obscurra

Lieve’s appreciation of beers has expanded as well, although she is usually the designated driver, or as they say in Belgium, the “BOB“. We haven’t discovered where the term comes from, but apparently it’s an acronym, in either Flemish, French, or German, and has developed from the noun (I’m the bob) into a verb (who’s bobbing tonight?)

 

 

 

 

Stop by sometime and join us for a beer. With all the choices, there is certainly something you will enjoy.

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Suffering idiots

The word “suffer” is immediately connected with pain. One might read the title above and think of fools in pain. Today I consider a different meaning, “allow” or “tolerate”, as in “He does not suffer fools”. Although the allowance of fools is indeed painful, the word does not necessarily imply pain.

As much as I enjoy Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, one of their songs has been abused by fools for over forty years. Yes, I am speaking of “Teach your Children Well“, a song that might be sub-sub titled “I am an idiot for using these lyrics as justification for my ignorance”. The song does not suggest that children are wiser than their parents, it suggests that all generations need to strive to understand each other. I once lived with a woman who would pair this song with the phrase “From the mouths of babes” to explain why she thought her daughters opinion was superior to hers. Not on occasion, but always. Yes, I have loved morons.

When the same daughter received academic scores in the first percentile, not only did I have to explain percentiles to this woman, but I was asked not to explain them to her daughter, because she didn’t want her to “feel bad”. When the daughter expressed an interest in becoming a brain surgeon, she was encouraged in order to spare her feelings. I lost track of them soon afterward, having never bitten completely through my tongue, but on occasion I wonder whatever happened to them, the daughter would be closing on thirty now, if she survived the crushing blow to her ego that was waiting for her.

Another woman I lived with shortly thought that the music video “Land of Confusion” by Genesis was real. Not just true, but real. She based her political opinions on muppets. In fairness, this may not have been true stupidity but was more likely brain damage. I can’t recall a three hour interval during which she did not smoke marijuana. We eventually parted ways because she felt I was not adequately terrified of a hurricane we weathered in Antigua. Of all our differences, that was the one that annoyed her.

So you don’t think too poorly of me (or maybe this makes it worse), there have been many women in my life, and I am not attracted to idiots, I just tolerate them and am able to weed out inspirational jewels from their unusual viewpoints. A mind that is free of the ravages of intelligence can be quite refreshing. A martini can be refreshing as well, neither should be the center of a healthy diet.

It often comes to suffering, feeling mental anguish, but if I only sought out people exactly like myself, I would be very lonely. Not because there are few people like me, but staring at one’s reflection must be isolating.

The two edged sword of technology is that with universal access, there is no filter. The viewpoint of the genius and the moron stand side by side on the internet. You have no way of knowing my credentials, if I am intelligent or just egotistical, from a single article. Over time you most likely realize a constant tone, and you either agree or disagree with the point of view, and it is my hope that you find a reason to reference me as a reliable source of information. I come from a long line of teachers, and it is always my desire to inform and educate. I don’t expect to be profound every day, just often enough for you to keep coming back.

My tone can be acerbic, there was in fact a time it was my only joy, the “inside joke” with myself as I worked in a field surrounded by fools I had pledged to assist. One client was in the habit of calling me “Doctor House”, after the television character portrayed by Hugh Laurie. The nick name fit well enough that my wife gave me a cane with flames painted on it. Although I rarely need to use the cane anymore, I do carry it when traveling, “handicapped” people get preferential boarding on aircraft, and do not stand in line at security checkpoints, so I consider it one of the few positive aspects of multiple sclerosis.

We all have our place, and our value, in society. It is not up to any of us to judge the relativity of that value, as without all of us, none of us could enjoy a full existence. It is through understanding a spectrum of viewpoints that our own has any validity.

Emma

I wrote this ahead of time. As you read this, I have arrived in Belgium, having flown all night and missing all the fireworks displays.

Breaking from my usual practice of celebrating life on birthdays, today I fill this space with memories of someone on the anniversary of her death. Amelia Mary “Emma” Aquilino – May – Armstrong – Cash, shuffled off this mortal coil on 5 July, 2010, right about 0600 EDT. I believe she was at peace, having brought her fight with cancer to an end on her own terms.

You can read all about that stuff on my previous blog, or in the book I wrote from it. Just because I can’t get those images out of my mind doesn’t mean that you have to experience them (but I do like the occasional guest book entry and royalty check).

I thought I’d spend a few words telling about the woman I knew and loved.

Emma was not a shy person, at least not on the exterior. She came across as brash, but there was a vulnerable little girl inside. She had not had a pleasant childhood, and made up for it by taking control of just about every situation.

Emma was widowed twice before meeting me. She was not certain about dating again, but her downstairs neighbor insisted she place an ad in the personals section of the paper. This was before the internet and all the dating services there are today. Neither of them were poets, but they had the formula right.

adThis was her ad, I now keep it with some of her things next to her ashes. Who could not be intrigued? I was looking for a date for the Nouveau party at Chaddsford Winery. I wasn’t really looking for a life partner, just someone to go to a wine tasting who actually enjoyed good wines. Emma was direct when we first spoke on the phone. “There are two things you need to know about me” she said, “I’m Sicilian and I smoke”. As the years passed, I could think of no better introduction for her.

I picked her up at her place and drove to the winery. There was a “secret” entrance in the back, and it never occurred to me that it might be a little scary to drive off into the woods twenty minutes after meeting for the first time. She told me later that she had her hand on the door handle the entire time in case she needed to jump out.

After the party we went back to my place, a tiny apartment in South Philly. She walked in, looked around, and said “No, this won’t do at all”. I had no idea what she was referring to. “You’ll have to move in with me, this is much too small” she said. Obviously I had already made a good impression. I moved into her apartment the next week. She allowed me into the kitchen a few months later. Emma was an incredible chef, and it took a few years for her to acknowledge my skills.

We were married on April Fools Day, and had our ups and downs for over eleven years. She was not the easiest person to live with, neither am I, but we both felt it was worth it. Her mood could flip in a second, and there was a particular level of alcohol that would push her over the edge. I never did figure out how to measure that, probably had something to do with the stars.

Emma was “quirky” (no surprise). Over the years I met her family, I’m not sure how to describe them. There were odd relationships, but the strength of the word “family” kept them together, sometimes beyond any understanding. Family gatherings usually ended in a fight, I heard that fistfights were not uncommon at funerals, maybe that was why she didn’t want one.

If there was ever a person who could really be psychic, it was Emma. Although she was wrong about a few things, she was right far more often. She could meet a stranger and know all their secrets, would know when someone was pregnant before they did along with the sex of the baby. Sometime though, she would have a dream and wake up angry over something that hadn’t happened, and it would be difficult to calm her down because she was right so often.

We joked about being each others third spouses, what would people think if I were to die. Cancer answered that question. She softened in many ways during her last year, things that would have set her off no longer would, and her “team leader” qualities came to the fore, she was everyone’s’ inspiration in radiation and chemo, always smiling and joking and never looking sick in public. In fact, she looked healthier than I, so folks often thought I was the patient. I guess that’s when it finally got to me that we weren’t doing as well as I thought, when a tech asked if I was her son. She never lost her humor, even the night before she died she was still touching the lives of the medical staff.

Lieve and I are listening to a book together about perception, how events and circumstances alter our memories and expectations. When I lost Emma I thought my life was over, and of course it wasn’t. Two years later I thought that I was past the worst part, and thought I was fully recovered. Today, despite all the wonderful things in my life, I can tell you I’m not there yet, and there’s no reason to believe I ever should be.

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Menopause

If you have been following my blog, you are aware that I choose titles that rarely directly reflect the subject of the article. The reason behind that strategy is my desire for you to actually read the article. I have noticed people commenting on articles on every forum from NPR to FaceBook, and it appears that very few have actually read the article. Knowing that your readers have the attention span of a squirrel leads to writing titles that will give enough of a glimpse of your article that they will either be drawn to read, or at least will remember the title and your byline. For instance, consider these recent headlines:

Study: Menopause All Men’s Fault

Men ‘to blame for the menopause’

Men Force Women Into Menopause

You might fairly guess that all three articles were based on the same study. You might even correctly guess that all three articles were written by women. Taking into consideration the first two answers, you might guess that no refuting claims or even discussion was presented. You’d be wrong on that one, but in an analog world you would only be partially wrong.

While the discussion segment of the study doesn’t come right out and say “Based on the sexist and oedipally confused views of the authors”, it might as well. The correlations to other studies, and their use as corroborating evidence, are questionable at best, but the fact is that further research in this area is not likely to attract respectable biologists, so there will be no flurry of dissenting studies. Besides, this is a popular finding, and as with global warming, popular trumps accurate.

Popular? Of course! Regardless of your sex, those headlines started a conversation. You smiled, and either thought “Oh great, one more thing that’s my fault”, or “Oh great, something else I can blame men for”. At some point in time, science went from a source of education, to a source of vindication.

So as long as we’re on the subject, I’m a big fan of menopause. So are most of the women I’ve known. There are few things as life as annoying as a monthly period, some of them being the absence of a monthly period, or having a weekly period. The peace of mind that being free from birth control brings is another of the benefits of menopause. Sure, there are a few months when your loved ones think you’re losing your mind, but this just improves communication, because they always thought you were close to the edge. It weeds out the flakes, you know who your true friends are. Of the women I have been intimate with during menopause, only one actually lost her mind, and it wasn’t much of a loss for her.

Menopause is a biological function. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. Your menopause will occur when you run out of eggs. If there were to be an evolutionary function, women with more eggs would produce more offspring who would produce more eggs, so menopause would occur later in life over the millennia. In no way are men involved in that process. I would guess that the women who wrote these articles have not reached menopause, and do not know the peace of accepting their place in the universe, preferring to see themselves as victims.

I had no desire to have teenagers at this age, much less infants. The process is supposed to be children move out, and bring their offspring to brighten your afternoon, and then take them back home. It’s not that I don’t like children, I just don’t want to go through all the steps again. I liked Afghanistan, but I have no desire to return.

So here’s the point. We live in an information avalanche. We want to stay informed, so sometimes we just scan the headlines. If this is going to work, we need writers who can capture the finer points of a study and determine if it’s worth reporting, then write about it in an accessible fashion, and then write a headline that reflects the reality of the research. Should the menopause study have been reported? Absolutely. It should also have been explained. Instead it was sold out. Exploited for headlines. So in the middle of this information avalanche, we’re distracted from productive research with misreported nonsense.

“Infographics” and “memes” are substituted for research. This is the natural evolution of “teaching the test”, we neither teach nor encourage understanding a subject, we just need the correct answer for the test. This is why an engineer at NASA said a few years ago that we couldn’t build the Space Shuttle today because it was “too complex”. It wasn’t too complex in 1975, what do you think changed?

We’re not moving forward or even standing still, we’re sliding backwards.

Finding a job

I am not independently wealthy. Well, not by the measure of most folks, notably my father. I am independent, and I measure my wealth as my ability to remain independent, not in currency or possessions.

As graduation time comes around again, I see everyone asking the young graduates “what do you plan to do?”, so I know I’m not the only one still looking for ideas. There have been times that I have thought that I’ve done it all, but the truth is that would be neither possible nor even desirable.

After Emma died, my initial plan had been to follow her, but she asked that I not, so I respected her request. She must have wanted some time alone anyway. I had a relatively large sum of money, and had I stayed in my little apartment in South Philly, I projected I would not need any additional funds for almost ten years. All my life friends, relatives, and total strangers had suggested I write a book. I love the world of words, more so than photography, in that words direct the reader into a line of thought they had not considered, where a photograph may only do so to those whose minds are open to the possibility.

I remember three distinct “discussions” with my father in the Spring of 1977. One had was centered on the reason my father’s other son (the good one) had moved to California. Obviously it was my fault (it was, but not in the way he thought). He thought it was because I had pierced my ear and tended towards somewhat flamboyant ear rings. I must be gay (actually, the word he used was “faggot”), and he was too embarrassed to live in the same house. The truth was that I had seen a girl’s phone number next to the phone and called her, made a date, and then developed a relationship with her. The girl was one that my father’s other son was pursuing, I thought it had been a message for me. To make matters worse, she had only been talking to him to get close to me. So yes, he was embarrassed by my sexuality, but it wasn’t because of any ambiguous desires.

Another had to do with my yearbook. There was a practice of taking quotes and having them printed under your picture. My quote was “To be successful in a group, one must first be an individual”. I was greeted as I came home with “What the hell is this supposed to mean?”, as my father, a rugged individualist, explained the virtues of conformity, at a volume that shared the information with anyone who might be within one hundred yards. I admit I did not have a proper response, it was only later in life I would learn to ignore fury and remain calm. I explained my meaning, that one’s value to a group is in having a distinct set of experiences and views, but on this day he wasn’t buying it.

The third had to do with what I wanted to be when I grew up. My response was “Happy”. Not good enough, as he spent a great deal of time explaining the intricacies of happiness and how it was not a goal, but the product of reaching one’s goals. Just a note here. If you ever find yourself trying to tell someone how to be happy, you’ll be more convincing if you appear to be happy yourself. Fortunately I decided not to share that jewel of knowledge at that point, and left the conversation with all my teeth.

{To be clear, my father only very rarely struck me, and I love him very much. Many of his lessons were time bombs. When I was nearing forty, I came to understand him much better. From that experience, I learned to be patient with my children, they’re starting to close in on forty now so we’ll see how that works out. Although he said many hurtful things over the years, I know he always meant well. I inherited from my father some wonderful qualities, he is a genuinely good man.}

When Emma died, I found that I was no longer happy. Not much of a shock to anyone. But I knew the path to happiness was in removing myself from society, and writing was a great way to do that. Unfortunately those pesky desires were still alive, so I sought out companionship. For better or worse I met the most incredible woman, and left Philadelphia behind. I altered my budget and still had five years in which to get things going, but I failed to recognize the expense of an ex spouse. My experience had been that the female tends to be on the profitable side. Take notice, that “rule” is not written in stone.

So finances went from black to grey to pink, and I’ve been actively pursuing employment for the last few months. It’s been an enlightening process.

My first application was responded to immediately. An animal shelter was looking for an experienced manager, but they were non profit and couldn’t pay what I was asking. I didn’t care, I took the job anyway because I love working with animals. I could see some obvious problems but was assured I could change anything that would make the shelter run more efficiently. I had never had a prospective employer lie to me before. Not only was I not the manager, nothing was going to change, and even providing appropriate care was not on the agenda. I left after two weeks.

I had a couple of other second interviews, surgical instrument repair, copier technician, and pizza delivery, but nothing really fit. I took the job at the farm, and a week later they told me they were cutting back. I started cold calling companies, and although they were polite, I don’t expect a callback. The most interesting was Chuck E. Cheese, they have a fascinating pre-employment test (really, you should apply just to take the test), and the kid who interviewed me was interesting. I keep trying to explain that I have no expectations of making anything close to my previous salary, but they get a little quiet when they realize your age. As if the twenty year old they hire will stay for twenty years.

A friend recommended me for a position in home care, helping a quadriplegic woman around the house and cooking. Sounded perfect, we liked each other, I completed all the background checks and such, and when I called her back she said “I read your blog, and you didn’t tell me you’re moving to Belgium”. Well, if I can’t find a job I will do so sooner rather than later. I can’t commit for the remainder of my life, that’s something spouses do. She could have least complimented my writing.

At anytime else in my life, I would be perfectly happy to face the possibilities, to play whatever hand is dealt, but for some reason I feel I have more responsibilities today than ever before in my life. I thought I was freer than ever before, but I am far from it. So I am less than happy.
That is not to say I am sad, but a number of disappointments have left me somewhat depressed. That feeling that accompanies the realization that you are finished changing the world. I did what I could do, and felt pretty good about it, but it’s messed up again and I feel left out sometimes.

There remain adventures ahead, and the maturity to appreciate and find the humor and beauty in them. And I have a wonderful companion with which to share them.

Depression

I’ve heard it said that all great writers are depressed. Watch out Hemingway, here I come.

I have always been a “look on the bright side” kind of person, but my ability to see all sides of an issue always had me aware of the dark side as well. I just ignored it. I told myself that was part of the life drive, to remain positive at all times.

I know my brain isn’t always honest with me. I don’t carry many unhappy memories. I can remember things that were bad, they just don’t inhabit my daily experience. If I don’t think about them, on some level they did not happen. At least the pain they caused did not happen. For instance, there was a period of my life that I remember rather vividly. It was filled with exciting events and good friends. If I really focus on it, I can remember the hell I was living in and how very close to death I came a number of times, how those good memories comprised a very small percentage of the actual tour. As long as I don’t focus on it, it was a really good time, but if those memories were in my mind all the time I would not be much fun to be around. Maybe I’m not, and everyone is just patronizing me.

When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis my neurologist mentioned that depression could be a symptom, and that fifty percent of people with MS get divorced. It occurred to me that fifty percent of people who get married get divorced, so I didn’t let it bother me.

When my second wife and I were later considering divorce, I went to a psychiatrist. My wife had told me I was crazy and I was looking for a second opinion. The psychiatrist asked me about my childhood and such, and then told me that I was very depressed, because I had had such a traumatic childhood. Really? I just couldn’t believe it. I had never thought of my childhood as anything other than good. My parents rarely beat me, we did happy family things, we were moderately well off financially, what was traumatic? He said it was because my family had moved so often and my parents divorced when I was thirteen. Lots of kids move about, hadn’t he ever come in contact with an upwardly mobile family? Or a military family? This was in 1994, wasn’t divorce rather common by then? It just didn’t make sense, but I’m not a doctor so I took his word for it.

My mother told me that depression ran on her side of the family. My grandmother had been bedridden for the last ten years of her life, and my grandfather took care of her twenty four hours a day. They never appeared outwardly to be depressed, but yes, I could see being depressed under those circumstances. She said she was “clinically depressed”, which I later discovered was a way of saying a doctor had confirmed that she was depressed. Well, so was I then.

A few years later I had a really bad incident, and started taking an anti-depressant, and it worked rather nicely. The only problem was that it interfered with my ability to enjoy alcohol, and working at a winery I needed to be able to drink on a regular basis, so I left the winery. That was more depressing. No win there.

I’ve gone back to the anti-depressants, having learned how to adjust the dosage when needed, and my daily depression has largely subsided. I still have days when I just cry for no apparent reason, and depressing events can get to me more than they “should”, and I tend to be much more emotional than I used to be, but I can tell that the pills do have a positive effect. My current psychiatrist is either a really good actor or he believes I’m handling the ups and downs rather well. He doesn’t tell me I’m depressed, he asks if I feel depressed. I usually don’t. On the other hand, I know that if I allow myself to laugh out loud at disasters he’ll want to give me something a little stronger. So maybe I’m the good actor.

All in all, I know I’ve weathered storms that have sunk others, I know I can make it to tomorrow. I also know that I have depression. I just try not to suffer from it.

Prose sample

This is cheating. I kept this on hand in case I didn’t have a blog written, so since you’re reading it, I must have run out of articles. This is the first page of an unfinished novel I started a few years ago. A chapter down the path I came to a rape scene, and couldn’t get it. The first draft was too erotic, and I couldn’t combine the violence and sexuality in a believable way so I left the project.

Sophia turned the key. The click of the lock was more felt than heard, but in her state of excitement it sounded like a rifle shot. She slid through the doorway, trying to move so smoothly that even the air would not be disturbed. The lamp just inside would not cooperate, it crashed to the floor, shattering, stained glass that would never refract its gentle tones to a lover’s closed eyes again spilled across the floor like the blood that had been spilled earlier. Silence might be desired, but if anyone was in the house they certainly heard that.

She sat on the bed, her hand over her mouth as if that were the source of the disturbance, as if there was a way to pull back the noise. No sound, no steps, no indication of reaction. How many minutes had it been, five? More like one, better to wait a touch longer before moving again. She thought of Stewart, waiting for her, sleeping without an inkling of where she was, what she had done. He would have to be told, but not now, not soon.

It was safe now. She rose, sliding her feet to avoid the glass, making a slight rustling noise. There was no way to hide the fact that someone had been here, that opportunity passed about an hour ago. Her mission now was to hide who had been here. Part of that would be to hide why she had been here. She removed the desk drawer, setting it on the bed. Taped to the back of the drawer was another key, a key to another lock, part of a chain of secrets. She took the key and placed it in her pocket. Two more stops and she could leave, back to Stewart, never to see this house again.

She moved slowly, silence the better habit, reinforcing her attention to detail. She closed the door, locking it, placing that key in her breast pocket. The thought of Stewart’s lips on her breast, echoed in her touch, made her pause. The memory of Michael’s touch shook her back to reality. Sophia made her way down the hall, down the steps, into the library. The key from the bedroom drawer fit a small wooden box. She opened the box, knowing what was there but needing to confirm. The words on the paper more than she could bear to read, she recognized the signatures, there should be a disc, there, nothing else of importance, but she would take it all anyway. She placed the keys in the box and closed it.

She walked out the back door, the box under her arm. The sky still dark, one more stop before Stewart’s bed.

That’s where it sits, Sophia is the heroine, victim of Michael’s abuse from which she may have recovered. Stewart is her lover who knows nothing about the past incident. Keys and locks are recurring symbols, and it appears that Michael may be dead downstairs, having interrupted her break in, in which she was recovering the evidence that he was using against her (or maybe was going to use against Stewart) in a blackmail scheme.

I’ve done this a number of times, I’ll get a fabulous first page, a hook that will get the reader to turn the page and continue, but I just don’t get the story to work. That appears to be changing. I’m still not interested in trying to write a rape scene, but my imagination should allow me to get around that roadblock.

Ah, the rationale. We have a guest, so rather than writing we’re entertaining. Today is a trip to Philly for cheesecake  and some sightseeing, I think tomorrow’s subject may be our guest, a charming woman from Japan.