Thursday, December 9, 2010

Teacher Trouble

I have once again the need to address my kid's teacher in a manner that resembles confrontation as little as possible. So far, it has been easy to be objective about the situation, considering that the Kid, the Wife, and the Teacher have thus far been the only people both involved in and knowledgeable of the situation. The last time I had to do this, I was not so objective.

A couple years ago, I wrote an email to a teacher which, while it accurately represented my feelings, I regretted sending as soon as I clicked the button. I knew that I should have said something, but I was sure I'd overdone it. I was right in so many ways. I found out that the email was received right before a pre-marital counseling session with the teacher, his fiancée, and his minister, and I put things in quite a negative spin for the poor man emotionally. Later during the week, both he and I were at a school function. I took the opportunity to speak to him about the thing, and we made nice.

What I realize in my perfect 20/20 hindsight is that both the nasty email and the making nice conversation were essential elements in the teacher/student and teacher/parent relationships. Also, I seemed to have made a solid impression on him that will never be forgotten, which, considering he is currently a teacher at the Kid's new school, may prove helpful. Hopefully, with this new situation, I can learn from my previous experience and repeat the lasting positive effects.

Now that the thing is long over and done with, I'm posting the email for posterity. Enjoy.

    4 June 2008

    Mr. H,

    I am writing you out of concern for some of the things A has told me about his school year, in particular the emptying of his desk and backpack onto the classroom floor while he was out of the room, and his return to find his belongings in a pile which he was then required to sort through and clean up. Given the limited details I can glean from A's account, I will refrain from speculating on how many people were in the classroom when you did this and while he cleaned up, what condition his desk was in and whether or not he was warned it would be dumped, whether or not this is a common practice for your class and/or the school, and what conversations may have taken place between you and A regarding his organization before and after you did this. These things I will leave for you to explain. You should note that some of his music papers went missing after this, about a week before his orchestra concert. Also, his backpack is personal property, and should not have been subject to either your judgment of cleanliness or decision to empty onto the floor.

    It's no secret A is not always an easy child to teach. He becomes easily complacent and can be lazy. He is forgetful, disorganized, and easily distracted. He is emotionally unpredictable. As his father, no one knows this better than I, and trust me when I say that no one has worked harder to curb these tendencies than I have. I was raised and attempt to raise my children on the simple approach that good work and diligence are worth more than shortcuts and excuses, and that once responsibility is accepted it is to be taken seriously.

    A's struggle this year has been apparent to us all. In particular for us as parents, this has been a major concern for not only the emotional welfare of our son, but also of our finances as we seek professional help. There are many possible reasons for his behavior, as I have mentioned above, some that may be remedied professionally while others simply grown out of, but it is my very genuine feeling that incidents like this forced reorganization do not help. A's confidence and ability to work independently have regressed this school year. He is emotionally withdrawn, and is reluctant to discuss his school day and assignments.

    We are now very concerned that he will find himself emotionally unprepared for fifth grade, which of course will only further the issues he has developed. Considering the conversations we have had with you and J.M regarding his inattention, late and missing assignments, and occasional disruptive behavior, I'm surprised you didn't feel the need to contact us if there were problems with his organization. Also please remember that you agreed at one point to provide me with a weekly summary of his assignments so that, together, we might be able to keep him better on task.

    As his teacher, you must understand by now that A is far more than his faults, and his weekly PAW, and his crazy hair. He is a bright and sensitive boy who loves art and music, has a sharp wit and sense of humor, and has been given a great gift of empathy. For anyone to treat him in any way that might embarrass or belittle him is nothing short of bullying, which as I recall is strictly against District policy. While I understand you were probably doing what you thought best in your efforts to teach and guide our son, I can tell you assuredly that it had no constructive effect on A.

    This has been a trying year for our family, especially the kids. We as parents have found ourselves in the unique and terrifying position of having to explain death and ethical/religious issues to our kids, the youngest of whom is only five. And as the school year is coming to a close, it seems there will be more work to do besides allowing A to take a breather before his final year at L--- P--- School. I realize it's too late to change the course of A's fourth grade year, but before it ends, I am asking that you make every effort to recognize more than his shortcomings, and that you think about the effect your actions might have on the developing mind of a nine year old boy before you decide what's best for him.



Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I once heard a woman describe her husband as the hardest working man she knows. I can't remember if it was in passing, over the radio, in person, or what, but I do remember, very vividly, that in that moment I thought it was the greatest possible compliment anyone (especially a woman) can bestow on a man. I decided right then that, if ever I was able, this is something I wanted people to say about me.

This was fairly long ago, and many things have happened since those days of being a new husband and green young man. I have not always been the man I envisioned that I'd become. In fact, there are very memorable occasions when I've been more like the men I loathed growing up. I suppose these realizations and self-disappointments are part of every man's maturation, and maybe every man takes them as hard as I have, but some days I feel like I'm at the bottom of the barrel as good men go.

I'm still disappointing myself, cheating myself out of what was in my school days an overly-celebrated potential. Maybe I still have that much potential; I'm inclined to think I may even have more (though with considerably less time to realize it.) Certainly I'm still bright, though over the years I've felt the keen edge of my mind dull, and watched my energy and awareness of the world around me shrink to the size of a two-story colonial. I know I have so much--I know so many men, much more successful than me by standard measures, would gladly trade places with me for one reason or another. But this only serves to remind me that, by not making myself the best man I'm capable of being, I'm failing not only myself, but now my beautiful, healthy family. And that makes me the worst kind of man there is.

I'm by far not the hardest working man I (and certainly not my wife) know, but maybe I can still strive for something just as good. To the people I love, I still want to be at the top of some list. Any list so long as I'm at the top. The lists I'm going for now are related more to caring, showing and teaching love, searching for inner peace, and providing a healthy and happy life for my family. But the more I think about it, the more I tend to believe that, the higher I get on all those lists, and all the other smaller ones I try to be on, the closer I will get to becoming that one thing I've always dreamed of being.


Sunday, October 31, 2010


I often view my life as many broken pieces of a whole and beautiful existence waiting to be found and put back together. Here are a few of them for consideration. For any of the three or so readers that may pass by, I will kindly reiterate my disclaimer here.

I. When I turned 18 or so, my mom gave me a mix tape for my birthday. My mom, you see, isn't a great communicator, but passed on her love of music to me, and so as a result, it is a medium we both use extensively to address and express our deepest feelings. All the songs on the tape had meaning, but among the most memorable was that tune by Lynyrd Skynrd called "Simple Man."

You don't need to be a hardcore fan of the band to get this song:
    Mama told me when I was young Come sit beside me, my only son And listen closely to what I say And if you do this it'll help you some sunny day Oh, take your time don't live too fast Troubles will come and they will pass Go find a woman you'll find love And don't forget son there is someone up above And be a simple kind of man Be something you love and understand Baby be a simple kind of man Oh, won't you do this for me son if you can? Forget your lust for the rich man's gold All that you need is in your soul And you can do this, oh baby, if you try All that I want for you my son is to be satisfied And be a simple kind of man Be something you love and understand Baby be a simple kind of man Oh, won't you do this for me son if you can? Oh yes, I will Boy, don't you worry you'll find yourself Follow your heart and nothing else And you can do this, oh baby, if you try All that I want for you my son is to be satisfied And be a simple kind of man Be something you love and understand Baby be a simple kind of man Oh, won't you do this for me son if you can? Baby be a simple, be a simple man Be something you love and understand Baby be a simple kind of man (Songwriters: Ron Van Zant, Gary Rossington; lyrics found here)
Obviously, a lot has happened in nearly 20 years since, but the message here is timeless. I'm still working nearly every day to follow this advice.

II. This morning, I had the fortunate experience of mixing up my weeks. It was not the fourth Sunday, and I was not on duty in the preschool Sunday school room, as I'd thought. So I sat in the actual church service. Imagine that.

Now, I've discussed in varying degrees my faith and spirituality. According to Doctrine, I'm a clumsy and crude believer at best, but it is not uncommon for the spiritual energy handed out word after word from the pastor, or note after note from the choir or organist, to overwhelm me. It is always difficult for me to comprehend this experience, and it is never easy to have in front of anyone who knows me better than in passing. This isn't the way one should feel attending the church they were married in, their children were baptised in, et cetera, but it's true.

Today's sermon was entitled, "The Melting of the Wicked Witch;" the scripture was the story of Zacchaeus. In short, Rev. K (an avid fan of much of the same fiction so beloved to me) told us how in a particular presence--a Great Presence--all the wickedness upon a person can be stripped away, revealing only that which we were intended to be. (The example in title is after the Wicked Witch is melted by Dorothy's accidental splash, all the soldiers suddenly were glad of her demise. The example in scripture is after Zacchaeus was in the presence of Jesus, offered half his fortune to charity and to recompense those he'd cheated fourfold.)

III. There as been a great underground upheaval in my daily existence. Not a great tragedy, not a grand betrayal, not a life-changing family event... but something massively significant just the same. A part of me was called into question, and because that part sees so little daylight to begin with, its presentation in the glare of interrogation made everyone uncomfortable, and therefore suspicious. As a result, whispers turned to grumbles, and trepidation turned to tears. I learned a long time ago that the best way to save face is the keep the lower half of it shut. So I stopped expressing the questioned part, and, consequently, squelched an important piece of who I am. I am forced into this position until I can express this piece in a manner that is easily understood and survives the scrutiny of public examination. I am very afraid that if it takes too long to figure this out, this piece will again be driven underground, and the parts of my soul that depend on that spiritual and emotional nutrition it provides will fade and darken. And then nothing will have been solved.

IV. Inside me is a Core Being. While it has many complexities, it is essentially a simple Being, created with a Divine Purpose, grown and nurtured with all the Good I've encountered, tempered and taught patience with all the Bad. Everything I do and feel originates from this.

The problem is that in the course of my days, I've built complex filters and structures along and on top of this Core Being. Some have been meant to tweak or modify the experience others have of who and what this Being is, while others are meant to protect the Being from adverse emotional and spiritual surroundings.

The problem this creates is that I've compromised myself. In shielding others from those things I am afraid to show and share (or don't show/share well), I deprive those people of my True Self. In shielding myself from the negativity handed freely from many of the people I surround myself with, I dilute my awareness of my True Self and deprive myself of the ability to share it with people who are willing to accept it as-is.

Obviously, living in a society requires some such filters and protocols. Keeping a job, living in a neighborhood, raising children, and working a marriage all have different requirements of this sort. However, what I've missed, and what I think most people have missed, is that a person's job, friends, neighborhood, and family should all reflect who and what a person really is on the inside, as opposed to a person becoming defined by all those things. In truth, I don't think anyone can be truly defined by the life he lives publicly, though he can delude himself and others into thinking that is the case, and therefore seem happy and content.

What I am in need of (indeed, maybe what we all are in need of) is a Great Presence in which to immerse ourselves, and thereby remove all those filters and structures we put in place to make ourselves and everyone around us happy. What is the Real Happiness that is waiting for us when we strip away all the falseness, and share our True Selves with each other? How much are we losing? How tragic is it that we teach our children not to be True, but to live in this society/world and follow all its rules so we don't stand out (unless by virtue of having mastered those rules)?

Let us all stop a moment and wonder: What if we all just stopped pretending, and allowed ourselves to be the Beings were were made and intended to be?

Let this serve as a warning: I might be trying this soon.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Am

Here's what I am: I am thankful for what I have, even though it may not fit your description of satisfactory. I am working to become a better person, in one way or another, every day, though I am also occasionally complacent. I am sometimes morally weak, but I am also quick to recognize it. I am simple and humble, and as a result, stronger. I am eager to reciprocate and be your true friend, if you're willing to share your true self. I am sexual and raw, and I am almost sorry if that offends you. I am as good as anyone else in this world. I am process-oriented and analytical. I am always trying to be as honest with myself and with you as I can.

Here's what I am not: I am not satisfied with being sedentary. I am not interested in your negative assessment of how I live my life, treat my family, or keep my home. I am not going to spend any time or energy playing social games just to make you feel better about yourself or help you support some emotional facade. I am not lecherous. I am not willing to change who I am because you disapprove. I am not better than anyone else in this world, and neither are you. I am not cold or calculating. I am not always pleasant to be around.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

This Shell

In this shell made of flesh and bone, my self-awareness is convoluted, every sensation and perception made through the veil of the flesh is suspect and subjective. "Real" feelings and expressions require exclusive in and out filtration via nerve endings and vocal chords and synaptic patterns. The Body is the Doorman of the Soul.

But I must remember that this is by design, this was done on purpose. We are wrapped in this shroud, which clouds a senseful experience, for what is likely a very good reason. I can only guess, but I'm sure it has something to do with protection of that Divine Gift which makes us unique beings. It certainly is meant as an interface, both through which to interact in this physical, material world and with each other. How else would we find any means of expression, either in or out, without these senses? To make a crude comparison, even the most powerful computer is useless without a monitor and keyboard.

I must also remember that this body and its limited duration is a gift: a gift which goes wasted and unappreciated by lamenting its limitations. We are simple and fragile creatures, yes, but capable of great civilization, art, language, culture, philosophy, and wonder, and we are learning through science that, simple and fragile though we may be, we are also fascinating and complex, so much so that we are beyond our own understanding--not just us as a species, but the whole world and universe that surrounds us.

We are given only a little while to discover ourselves, our world, and each other. Here's to hoping that I, and those around me, in my physical and spiritual worlds, are able to discover and share our gifts before our time is over, together.

(A bit esoteric, I know, but it was in there, and it had to come out. Do with it what you will.)

Friday, June 11, 2010


(Fragment, possibly a repeat post. Dated /19/2009)

Falling apart, but not for the first time. Pieces go in different directions, according to their inclinations. I hold onto as much as I'm able, but not much is retained. Orientation has gone awry.

I Am Dante's Grand Deception

(Unfinished, dated 3/20/2008)

I am Dante's grand deception.

How am I doing? Well...

Do you want the truth or the cover story? Are you sure? Here goes; it's not pretty.

I'm a mess. I've got a car I left months ago at a dealership, which they consider abandoned, that I just can't pay for. Funny thing, I work at a building whose property is adjacent to this dealership's back lot, and every day when I pull in and every day when I go home, I see my green derelict right against that fence.

Late last summer I got a ticket which I never paid. Several weeks ago my license was suspended. I recently had a birthday, which means the tags on both our vehicles are now expired. If I get pulled over, chances are I won't be driving away in my own car with a ticket my only souvenir.

I Am Jack's Utter Self-Loathing

(Unfinished, dated 12/12/2007)

Alright you, it's time we had a talk.

We both know there are things going on that are completely out of control, and it's time to grab that rope, burn or no burn.

I won't get into specifics here; it's neither the time nor the place, but this crap you pull on yourself is costing money, causing stress, and creating an environment that isn't good for anyone in the family. How can you concentrate on what's real and true? Truth is you can't, and I can't either. The only "real" and "true" is the facade you wear every day as you dress for work, give a progress report, talk about school and


Wednesday, May 12, 2010


There was a conflict, which was caused by me answering a non-inflammatory question, and then answering another. There was a warning before the second answer, and a prediction of the outcome, but it was pushed for, and so given.

My prediction was spot on.

Despite my apparent handle on myself and the situation, I found myself feeling confused and emotionally disoriented. I became angry that my warning had not been listened to.

I unhinged.

I shouted, but only briefly. No dishes were broken, no doors kicked in. But I unplugged. Completely. And sat in my own personal abyss for a good few hours. I couldn't muster any memory of the original conflict. I was alone in my mind and in my heart, and couldn't remember how I got there, and was certainly without a clue as to how to get out.

This kind of thing worries me greatly. My apparent ability to ostrich and emotionally ditch myself in the real world could prove dangerous in the wrong situation. Parts of me are dividing, which contributes to a better of understanding of Inside, but also makes it easier for the Team to separate if one or another part gets caught up on a detail, or can't navigate a change in the emotional landscape. It could be disastrous.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

It's All in Your Head

Well, yes. Yes it is.

But if by "in your head" you mean a perception manufactured by interactions of brain chemicals and synaptic patterns, then I ask you: what isn't? Isn't what we as biological beings perceive through our traditional five senses truly nothing more than our brain's interpretation of electrical impulses sent via our optic nerves, eardrums, taste buds, receptors in the nasal passage, and nerve endings in our epidermis?

Ever seen The Matrix? There's an elaborate, entertaining, and brilliantly told story based solely on the idea that the whole world we live in is a lie, fed to us via biochemical cocktails administered in the right order to produce a tailored perception. Ever taken a philosophy course? For thousands of years, men and women from every culture on our world have asked fundamental questions about what we are, what our purpose is, whether any of the things we think we are surrounded by our whole lives are even real...and what "real" would even mean if the answer was yes. Even heard of psychology? There's a science based 100% on learning how our minds interpret input and feed us a reality that may or may not be the same as that experienced by those around us, and then figuring out ways to manipulate the reality of those whose are different and make theirs more like ours.

So when you give me that look to test whether I'm joking, or ask me if I'm serious, or comment about metaphysical bunk, I will indulge you, and smile. And then you will return the favor by seriously considering that while you think you have your two feet firmly on the ground, and tell me about the things that are truly important and real, you are merely experiencing a similar illusion, custom made for you by your brain and fed to you through a filter of social expectations, cultural influences, and interactions with the people you've surrounded yourself with.

And then we can begin to truly communicate.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


There is more here than we can perceive. As humans, our tissue-synapse based senses are woefully limited in their abilities to detect the world around us. As members of a society ignorant of this fact, we are taught to ignore our other perceptive abilities, and therefore lose them.

If you've never considered this, don't dismiss it simply because it doesn't appear in scientific or medical journals. This isn't just mysterious metaphysical pseudoscience. Take magnetism, for instance: it cannot be seen, felt, heard, tasted, or smelled, yet as a scientific society we know full well that it not only exists, but is a defining force in world we live in. The structure of the atom and the interaction of molecules to form everything from the basic compounds that sustain the chemical systems in our bodies to the weather resistant properties of that stain you just put on your deck would all be considered fiction to a society less scientifically advanced than ours, all because of the attitude that something needs to be seen (heard, felt, tasted, smelled, etc.) to be believed.

Well, don't believe it. We were all given the ability to detect the world around us in more terms than the five senses afford. True, there are forces which are beyond both our perception and our understanding, but this isn't what I'm talking about. Every one of us has an internal antenna that picks up signals the people and things around us are broadcasting, absorbing, or reflecting. The mood in a room, the serenity of a hidden waterfall, the calm of a place deep in the earth, and the joy of a child are all examples of these signals. Can you think of any that you've experienced? Focus on them a moment, and you'll start reaching for the tuner knob on that antenna.

It is one of my greatest goals to broaden my ability to perceive the world around me, and therefore more fully appreciate the gifts I've been given in this lifetime, in this place, with these people around me. Please, join me.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Rules

This is something I've worked on intellectually for many years. When I was younger, I could tell you lots of these from memory. I think there were more. Obviously, they didn't all stick by the time I decided to write them down. Dated 28 October 2008.

The Rules

1. The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.

2. The Ketchup Rule: Even if a little is good, more may not necessarily be better, no matter how tempting it may seem. (May also be called the Peanut Butter Rule.)

3. The Iceberg Rule: If you see a bit of something, chances are good there may be a lot more to it than you can tell. Akin to the phrase 'where there's smoke there's fire.'

4. The No-Fault Rule: Don't use other people's mistakes to excuse or justify your own.

5. The Control Rule: You're the only (adult) person you can control. Period. End of story. Any efforts or expectations otherwise will only lead to disappointment. The basic premise behind this rule is RESPECT. The corollary of this is don't expect or allow anyone else to control you. Respect yourself and others enough to take care of your own business and keep it at home, without interfering with others' lives and/or their (in)ability to do the same.

6. The Reciprocation Rule: Don't expect someone else to do a thing for you just because you'd do it for them. This does not override the Golden Rule (#1) because of the Control Rule (#5).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What If

Something I dug up, written for fun and originally submitted to (and rejected by) McSweeney's, dated 28 March 2006:

Imagine how the great moments of history would be different if...

- the library at Alexandria hadn't burned
- the Seahawks had actually made an effort in the second half of Superbowl XL
- L. Ron Hubbard had lost the bet
- Cornwallis hadn't surrendered, but made a final charge and defeated Washington's forces
- zombies really were imaginary
- Adolf Hitler's career as a street artist had paid off
- Lucious Malfoy hadn't handed Dobby that book
- Julius Caesar hadn't crossed the Rubicon
- Firefly hadn't been cancelled
- Deagol hadn't found the One Ring at the bottom of the Anduin


(16 November 2009)

It is beginning: my tween son has declared a crush.

He did so nonchalantly, and, to his credit, to his mother. This is a great indicator of self-confidence, which is actually the best part of this whole business. I don't have to explain to anyone of the male persuasion how ominous a prospect it is to let your MOM know you like girls, let alone any adult, or any of your friends, or anyone outside the family- or friends circles...because this opens you up to judgment. And becoming vulnerable to anyone at age eleven simply is not a choice made without a great deal of self-reliance.


No Can Do

(19 February 2010)

As a depressed person, I know there is only so far I can go in life. I say this in the face of the "can-doers" who would tell me that, no matter what, I can do anything I set my mind to, those who would say, "If it is to be, it is up to me!"

Sigh. Of course, they're right. But that take-life-by-the horns mindset comes with a necessary set of personality traits and social skills, many of which are, by definition, not part of a depressive's emotional repertoire.



(15 May 2009)

I tend to overplay my hand.

I'm used to losing, you see, or at least being the underdog in any given situation. Of course, that's more related to my personality than any actual game being played, but that's really beside the point when perception is your reality. So when I am inadvertently dealt a decent card or two, I blow it.

It's not that I lack a poker face. I'm no pro, to be sure, but I know enough about body language and panic reactions to keep a cool head when I need to. My downfall is my confidence: I just don't know how to play my bets.

When I think I can win, I start strong. Compared to my normal demeanor, this creates suspicion. I rush the game, and by the time the river comes around my effort to draw a high pot has only resulted in everyone but the real players folding. Then underdog kicks in again: I doubt my abilities face with the prospect of 'true' talent, and either fold myself or brace for the inevitable double slap of luck and odds.

So it is in personal situations, too. I learned early that humility is a virtue, and though I had my days of experimenting with that notion (turns out Dad was right) I mostly keep my ideas and words to myself. Though not technically related, this personality trait is tied to my confidence.

The whole sour stew puts me at an automatic disadvantage when compared to others with more confidence, and less humility. Even when I have an answer or solution, the loudest person in the room is usually heard first, and when their idea inevitably fails, and my time has come around, I am criticized for holding my tongue too long. So it goes, but I've learned to live with it.

So when I find myself holding an ace, I'm set at unease. Unused to having any advantage, an awkward confidence sets in. The thing teeters like an amateur tightrope walker, and by the time I've figured out how to play my advantage, it's fallen and my opportunity to win is gone. I step before I know where I'm headed, and rush right into a hole.

But not this time.


Left in a Facebook discussion for the US Army fan group, 15 March 2010:

When those ignorant of what it means to be an American express their disdain for our country's government, people, or armed forces, it's an insult to anyone who's ever known or loved one of those True Heroes who ensure our freedom, and a vilification of those who have died for it. The right to exercise freedom of speech comes with the responsibility of knowing how to do so responsibly and respectably. If you're lucky enough to have this right, and fortunate enough to be completely unaware of what it takes to provide it, count yourself in a privileged minority, and consider just saying "thank you" to a veteran, or attending a Memorial Day service. America has never been perfect, but we've more than earned our place at the global table, and helped preseve that of many other nations. Repeated for posterity: If you can't stand behind our soldiers, feel free to stand in front of them.


(16 April 2007)

All in all, I like to consider my brain as very functional in all the traditional ways, and then some. I can critically read Dante is its historical context as well as appreciate the humor of the Knights of the Pactoganal table in Dragon Fable. I occasionally win chess games without the forethought of a Master, and understand the complexities of sequentially casting Divine Plea, Avenging Wrath, and Sacred Shield *before* engaging a high-level monster in melee combat. I equally appreciate my progressive metal Dream Theater epics, the Moonlight Sonata, and an hour of either Ira Glass or Garrison Keiler (even if I don't know how to spell his name). I see harmony in a combination lush gardens and natural overgrowth, the beauty of a 100-year old fountain nestled in the middle of nowhere. I can explain how benzoic acid fragments under electron ionization in LEGO terms without being condescending.

In the everyday game of life, I consider myself a low level Renaissance man. I have many strikes against me which I will not recount here, but most can be undone with (unfinished)


(10 February 2010)

There are days when you tell yourself what kind of man you're going to be. Some of these days are major milestones in a man's life: high school graduation, first day of college or boot camp, college graduation...or the day you decide not to re-enroll, the discovery that you'll be a father for the first time, the day that child is born, the day you irreparably disappoint a mentor, the day a loved one dies. And many more.

For me, it's not uncommon to set very similar expectations on every such day, though as I get older they just become more mature versions of themselves. Sometimes, you decide to drop a bullet point or two, whether because they may no longer apply to the man you'd like to be, or maybe because you've come to believe such an expectation is no longer realistic. Those days, depending on the abandoned expectation and the reason, can be little life-changing tragedies.

In my experience, what matters most are not the conclusions you come to on those days, but the actions you take after the decisions are made. A man struggles his whole life to define himself, and any day he commits to becoming one kind of man or another is a pretty major event. Though some may be hasty or spontaneous, no decision is made lightly.

But more than drawing an idealized future version of yourself, it's an even bigger personal struggle to make that man a reality.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Excerpt from 26 April 2006 piece:

I think it's fate that we all find ourselves alone at this time of our lives. It's a lesson that tries to teach that we, ourselves, are really the only people we have on this earth, in this life, and that to rely on another human for anything is a gamble at best. Then we're confused by what a healthy partnership really is. One thing it is NOT, I know, is to meet the others every need. Some needs, probably most, can only be met from within. It's a tragic thing that with all the people on this earth, and all the reaching out, and after thousands of years of timeless philosophy and poetry and religion, that it comes to this: we are still ultimately alone, too confused about our own nature, too afraid to ask for help. And if we're lucky, it takes one whole lifetime to understand and find the key to our happiness. Most people reach the end without even knowing there's a difference. I am luckier than them, but maybe not as lucky as the ones who find the answer. I can only hope.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Diminishing Returns of Self-Discovery

Personal enlightenment is a fabulous thing, at least in theory. It's something I think all intelligent people strive for at some time in their lives, to one extent or another, and through a combination of that effort and various occurrences beyond their control, I think most people achieve some degree of it, or at least enough that they reach a kind of equilibrium between the things they wish for and the things they have.

In my own journey, I have a long list of both intentional efforts and accidental consequences (cataclysmic and otherwise) that brought me to my own state of self-awareness. It hasn't always been pretty, but I think I can safely say that it has been effective. I know myself pretty well; I think better than the average person of my age and background. I can't always tell the difference, but I know people around me notice from time to time, and that's a more accurate measure of growth anyhow.

However, not all progress is permanent. I have the unfortunate flaw that I am human, and so frequently relapse into previously unenlightened States of Self. I am prone to the effects of brain and body chemicals, as well as core input, that alter my states of well-being. Many a potentially life-changing resolve made during the morning shower or commute is lost to fatigue or minutia by the end of a day. This is why I haven't yet painted the hall, finished my degree, made a stock portfolio to speak of, built a 50" chest with 17" biceps, bicycled across the state, or written my many novels.

Of course, this is one major reason I maintain this blog: to stick pins into those ideas and experiences I think are worth saving in the hopes that they won't fall off the map, and maybe (just maybe) they'll help me figure out what I'm doing on this rock. In a discussion with a friend about her own very similar journey, it occurred to me that despite my best efforts, I may never quite reach my Optimum Self, if only because my brain/core capacity isn't high enough to hold onto everything I learn along the way. I suspect that once I reach a certain level of self-discovery, diminishing returns start to kick in.

As an analytical person, I naturally think of this in context of the phenomenon's origin: mathematics. Diminishing returns is the idea that a thing's effectiveness will decrease after a certain amount of it has been gathered.

See Figure 1. Point α along the x-axis theoretically represents the optimum point of self-awareness, after which the relationship between the self-awareness and the benefits thereof is no longer linear (assuming it begins that way at all), and learning more about oneself has less and less positive effect.

Figure 2 shows the many possible shapes of the graph after point α.
  • "A" shows true diminishing returns, where the y-axis continues to increase, but at a decreasing rate. It continually takes more and more self-awareness to have the same effect as a lesser amount previously.
  • "B" is what I imagine happens in an environment without diminishing returns, such as a monastery. Obviously, these are ideal conditions, and not a realistic scenario with a modern Western lifestyle.
  • "C" is what I typically do: get to a certain point of understanding, then become distracted, or disenchanted. Whatever the cause, I fall off the wagon.
  • "D" is what I'm going for: even if my quality of life isn't continually improved, I want to keep learning who and what I am. I think if this path is followed, the graph will eventually turn north again and I will reach another period of growth.

Well, now that I've beaten this horse to death with imaginary mathematics that probably don't apply anyway, suffice it to say that I'm still learning not only what's happening inside, but why I even make the effort. It's a noble one, to be sure, but I still have a lot to learn about how to apply the lessons I gain along the way. Wish me luck.

Another disclaimer: It may have become glaringly obvious during the reading, but I don't have an education in philosophy, psychology, theology, medicine, counseling, or energy healing. I write what my gut tells me. While I welcome your input, any disrespectful attempt to call me out on a point of my own ignorance may result in undesired consequences. You have been warned.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Vision

(25 July 2006)

A three year old girl plays in the fountain. A light rain begins to fall, but she pays no mind. She marvels at the falling water and laughs when her cheeks get hit with raindrops. Her tiny feet splash, wetting the cuffs of her rolled up peach capris, while a man sitting on one of the low steps with her sandles smiles. She calls him Daddy. A warm breeze carries lavender and marigold over the water, and the cardinals call in the courtyard trees.


(15 August 2006)

I'm falling down again. In the last 3 days I've seen increasing changes in my mood and energy, and today the light came on. I'm scared as hell.

I'm on the verge of a major commitment and I'm unsure whether I should make it. I'm on my own at work and I'm not sure I can handle it. I'm missing a dear friend. I'm unsafe at home, or at least I perceive that I am.

I don't want to go back on medication. Self-administered has been restricted, which is in itself a good thing, but symptoms reappear like so many gophers popping their heads up to ensure the coast is clear. And once those suckers start chirping, the whole colony heads out unhindered.

There is a relationship I've abused, and at least two jobs I've fallen down on. The relationship needs immediate remedy; the jobs are urgent but just jobs. Energy-tapping devices (biking, music, hard labor) should be in full force this week. But I'm not sure I'll pull myself out that quickly. The yard sure could use it, though.

My Drug

(18 October 2006)

My drug is free. I can catch it in small doses on TV commercials or magazine ads, internet news sites and billboards on the side of the road. My drug is handed to every mainstream adult in America every day, and they don't even know they possess it.

My drug is legal. It's used to sell everything from cars to clothes to sports drinks and beach toys. It's plastered on labels and posters. Anyone can have my drug without fear of incarceration, even minors.

My drug is invisible. When you have it with you, nobody can see it, and if you told them, they wouldn't care. They might even show you their own stash. You could look at my drug a hundred times a day and never see it.

My drug is clean. It doesn't smoke when it burns or make your clothes smell bad. It won't stain your fingers or give you cancer. After using, I look and act just the same as before. Even when I'm high on my drug, I integrate socially with the best of them.

My drug is silent. Using is a quiet affair and easy to conceal. It's not time consuming and can be done alone or with a partner. And the destruction it renders is something you can never detect.


This will not be a proper post.

Beginning with that previous post, Poem, I will periodically publish content written long ago. It will be dated. Though the original reason for writing may or may not be apparent, the reason for posting is simple: posterity.

I maintain this blog only because I must write, and the stuff I produce are breadcrumbs. Sometimes those crumbs lead me back to a place I was happier, other times they show me how far I've come. Sometimes, they are a contrast to better places I've been when I find myself lost in the woods.

The posterity posts will also be breadcrumbs, though not necessarily placed in order.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Coward, 12 May 2009

When the days of you and I have passed
What remains will ever last
Upon my heart in dark and darker places.

Those who pass will know not love
And tender souls that might above
will fall--

And I will be repeated,
And I will be repeated,
And I will be repeated?

And all will have been for naught.

This must be the thirteenth step:
Close your eyes, this is only going to hurt
The rest of your life.

And Tinturn Abbey may as well be
The fucking Elysium Fields to me.
I am no warrior--just a simple coward.

And these are perfect places
I will never be
I will never see.

Just a simple coward
Is all I'll ever be.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Untitled Short Fiction

"Thing is, I'm not welcome there anymore," John said as he eyed the place sideways.

His wife looked at him puzzled for a moment, then deliberately diverted her attention. "Then where are we going to go?" she asked simply, looking away from him.

John sighed deeply, and the pain in his forehead let him know he wasn't hiding his anxiety well. He looked directly as Melissa. "I don't know. We'll find someplace." He added, "I'll find someplace."

"Well Jesus Christ, John," Melissa snapped, this time making full eye contact. Her gaze was unforgiving. "That's what you said last week. And the week before that you told me this place wouldn't be a problem. And in June it was all, 'Baby, we on a roll!'" She huffed to stop herself, looking away again. "This isn't going to work, John. I'm going without you." She shook her head and picked up the baby seat. "See you later," she said, as she walked away.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fury From the Sky

At the place where I work, I volunteer to lower the US flag to halfstaff on those days when it's appropriate. Usually, it's to honor a fallen American, especially those from Michigan. Looking back, I've lowered the flag seventeen times since September 11, 2008 for various men and women, young and old, according to the Governor's emailed announcements. I feel a sense of duty to them and their families, and since I'm not serving myself, I do what I can to thank them for their sacrifice.

Today, I lowered it for Army Sergeant Dillon B. Foxx, of Traverse City. Now, I didn't know this young man. It's a coincidence that I have family in Traverse City, and that caught my eye as peculiar. What really got me, however, was his unit: the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. I'm pretty sure this Army unit is a direct descendent of the one my dad served in. Back then, it was called the 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment. My dad served at Fort Kobbe, in the (Panama) Canal Zone. Over the years, that unit saw changes in mission and location, and was absorbed into the 82nd Airborne Division.

I've been lucky in that I've only known a few people who have died in the Middle East. I've been luckier in that I am able to live my life as I see fit while others defend my right to do so. It might be cheesy of me, but I feel a connection to this particular soldier, this particular sacrifice.


I am in a fog...or at least, I was three days ago.

I don't know how depression is classified medically, but I know how it affects me.

I currently take what's been described as a mild anti-depressant. At the time I started it, nearly ten years ago, I was on half the typical dose for those given this drug. Like many people, I knew I had some problems. Like most young men, I believed my lack of self-discipline was the main issue, and all I needed to do was buckle down and get my head on straight, and all my ducks would fall neatly into a row. The idea that any alteration in my brain chemistry (1) was to blame, or (2) would fix my shortcomings, was ludicrous. I was, after all, a whole being, created like any other, but simply existing in different conditions than those who had more successful lives and healthier relationships. The challenge for me was to find the correct conditions in which to live, and success would be mine as a matter of course.

Trouble is, by the time I was 25, I had been married four years and had just become a father. I had tried and re-tried to finish my college education until I ran out of money and got kicked out of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Fine, I thought, I'll go another way. And I did. To make lots of long stories short, by the time I was forced to deal with my depression, I had firmly entrenched myself into a pretty specific set of emotional, social, and economic conditions, and the search for that lofty optimal setting was looking pretty grim.

There's also a fact that only hindsight can provide. Though I still believe that self-discipline is the biggest factor in changing my life (and really, who ISN'T this true for?), I was wrong about the brain chemistry thing. As it turns out, the way depression works--at the brain chemistry level--is pretty straightforward. It amounts to sitting someone with short arms down at a wide table and asking them to reach across. They simply can't do it--not while sitting down, anyway. And for that person to be at a table with many others, most of whom are perfectly capable of reaching across the table, and be expected to do exactly the same things as those others, is expecting too much. When they try, it's obvious they're struggling. Some can eventually do it, but only with great effort, and the possibility of being ostracized or pitied.

So it is with depression. People with that kind of limitation don't like to be recognized or singled out. We hide, try to blend in. When we're reaching across that table, next to our long-armed family members and coworkers and friends, we don't like anyone to notice the trouble we're having. It's usually obvious to those around us, but only that we're failing to achieve, or commit, or follow through, or some other desirable end result. What isn't obvious is the reason. Typically, that doesn't matter. The end result is more important, and any "reason" for failing to get there has a label: excuse.

I got to a point in my life where I realized this was happening, and cutting down on the number things I had to concentrate on wasn't an option. Therefore, in the storm of my life's accumulated tribulations--marital problems, work challenges, home ownership, parenthood, etc--I threw in a little towel. Fine, I said again, despite my better judgment. I'll take the damn pills.

And to my immense surprise...nothing changed. Nothing inside, anyway. The way I described it then was like this: if you are accustomed to going through a door and running down a hall to another door, you really are only aware of those two, and they're the only ones you'll consider using, even if that last door always leads to trouble. But if you slow down a bit after coming into the hall, you might notice how many other doors are available, and possibly make another choice. Another favorite desription is related to navigating a turbulent ocean with rocks jutting up all around. When that ocean is calmed, those big rocks are still there, but more easily avoided, and furthermore, smaller rocks become apparent which were hidden before. Not all of these are avoidable, but at least in a calmer sea they are visible beforehand, whereas before they would have taken you completely by surprise. So it was with my reactions to certain stimuli, and things that were happening to me as a result of decisions I had no idea I was making.

My only regret is the loss of some degree of creativity. I blame my loss of interest in Liberty Fleet (and my part in its eventual demise) on my meds.

But I know now I need these drugs, and that was a difficult thing for me to come to terms with. Being drug-free has two major effects.

When I'm off meds, my mind begins to float. It becomes free from those things that would restrain it longer than a moment, usually longer than it takes to complete a task or make good on an obligation. It moves among all those stations of my daily existence--work, family, chores, mortgage, timesheets, dinner, kids' schedules, marriage, etc--as a function not of their relative importance to my life as a whole, but their immediate demand for attention in a given moment. Off meds, my mind goes adrift, prone to every crashing wave on the stormy sea of adult responsibility. The pilot, you see, isn't paying attention to the instruments.

This, of course, is not the most devastating effect of my depression. In fact, in an existence that entailed less responsibility, it wouldn't be much of a problem at all. I guess that is likely the reason I wasn't diagnosed before age 25. Granted, off meds I become an irresponsible flake, but many young adults go through a stage closely resembling this at one or more points in their lives. I even venture to guess that this first set of symptoms may not even be depression-related at all. Indeed, the way it reads, it looks more like an attention deficit or executive processing thing. Whatever else may be at work, however, I cannot possibly deny that I'm depressed. The second major effect ensures that.

I state this factually because when I'm unmedicated, I very easily slip into all the standard descriptions of a depressed person: difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in hobbies and relationships, and persistent sad or empty feelings, among other things. I take myself too seriously. On the few occasions that I smile, it looks more like I'm twisting my face than being happy. I am uncomfortable in adult social settings, afraid someone will "out" me because I obviously (as far as I can tell) don't fit in.

Usually, the trouble starts when I just put something off a little, then I drop a few balls, then I'm missing deadlines (real and perceived), and before I know it I've effectively dropped off the face of the earth. It all ends in avoidance and isolation, followed by feelings of guilt and worthlessness over all the people I've disappointed (or pissed off) and all the things I've let go or lost track of. I tell myself I'm just not cut out for that kind of role in this life: the role of a successful, happy, satisfied person. Or the role of someone who can take care of his family.

I know all of these things about myself. I've had to learn them to survive without ending up in a cardboard box or padded room. I've seen the cycle at work over and over. In fact, until a few days ago, I had been unmedicated for almost a week. I hate needing them, but no matter how much I would like to hit a reset button in my soul and get a clean slate, times like this make it impossible to forget my limitations. I guess that's why the insurance company calls them "maintenance drugs."

I sometimes wonder when (not if) I'll end up in that cardboard box or padded room. I do legitimately fear that I'm losing my mind at times. I already have an embarassingly bad memory. There are times I am unable to do a simple calculation in my head, or look at a word like "are" and fail to recognize it. I have fits of stuttering, when I've never before had any trouble speaking. I even go through old blog posts and wonder at the intelligence and self-worth of the man who wrote them. I fear for my sanity sometimes, but I know that if I'm ever going to truly lose it, there isn't anything I can do to stop it.

So I take my medicine, and I'm at the table again, short arms and all, but this time equipped with my booster seat. It's not comfortable admitting I need one. Most days, it feels like I'm pretending...pretending to be normal, pretending to be healthy, pretending to be CAPABLE. I don't like that. But the alternative, pretending that all the effort I must go through to reach across that table when everyone else simply has to extend a hand is normal and healthy, is without a doubt the greater of two evils.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


My best friend is dying.

I've known him 13 years. He knows most of the things about me that I hide from others, because they're parts of myself that I hate. None of them have ever affected his love for me. He's seen me at my best and worst. Thankfully, he's more forgiving than anyone I know. We've fought each other and cried together. He's permanently scarred me, and I'm a better person because of it. He is my dog, and I'm losing him.

Baron is one of the four beings on this earth I've called 'Best Friend,' and he epitomizes the title in dozens of ways. He is loyal and faithful and loving and gentle. He's been a caretaker, watching over our family for what has amounted to almost 54 collective years. Our children grew up with him, and he was always the first to meet each new child whenever we'd bring them home, even the ones that weren't babies.

Baron's been called the most relaxed person in our house, and I never realized how true it was until now. Through all the emotional dysfuction and marital stress and diminutive bullcrap that goes on day after day, year after year in our house, he has remained the same, and he has loved us through every long hour of it. He has an old, passionate soul, and we were lucky to have him with us for so long.

But now his body is old, too. He hasn't been up or down more than two stairs in over five years. For the last year, he's been unsure on his feet, especially on uncarpeted floors, and prone to accidents around the house. (It's embarrassing but true. If your grampa made the house smell bad, you wouldn't put him out, would you? Neither would we our dog.) Now he can't walk at all. He barely eats and even then only because we insist. He goes through spells like seizures where his left side tightens up and his jaw locks shut. His body is failing him. Though he doesn't express pain, I know he is miserable. In two days, our vet comes back to town, and will help Baron escape the prison he's trapped in.

Baron is the reason that, for the rest of my life, loyalty and friendship will always be symbolized by a yellow dog. He will be sorely missed, and deeply mourned.

I know general Biblical wisdom is that animals don't have souls, et cetera, but I think that's all divine manifest destiny talking, and Baron has been more than just an animal or a companion. In truth, we didn't own Baron any more than we own our children. He was just part of the family, and he loved and cared for us in his own ways as much as we did for him. I don't know what anyone else will call it, but he has something inside him, something that will live on, something I hope to see again.

Memories of Baron:

Right after we bought our house, we got our dog. Baron came to us from a stray rescue organization. It was cold outside as we walked from pen to pen, looking at dozens of animals of every type. I don't know how many pens there were, but when I got the pen where he was, I was done looking. We approached the fence and every dog inside ran to meet us, some wagging, some barking, all excited. Every dog but one: a beefy yellow lab mix. He stood back and watched us, and I knew I had to meet him. Soon after, we took him home. Knowing his approximate age, we assigned him a birthday of July 4th.

We don't know what his breed is, other than the yellow lab part. That seems a minority, given his body shape and short hair. I always wondered if it was pitbull because of his barrel chest and the shape of his head. He also has a curious upside-down-Y shaped ridge atop his skull that goes from the top of each eye socket to the back of his head, so Rhodesian Ridgeback has also been suggested. Whatever the case, he looked menacing in his day. His big teeth and loud bark kept would-be punks away from our house and out of our yard. Many people crossed the street when I walked him, rather than pass by us.

Baron was a runner in his younger days. We think he ran away from his first family. This is likely the same family who spent thousands of dollars on him as a puppy. He was 1½ when we got him, and his first trip to the vet revealed very faint scars on each side of his back end. An x-ray revealed that he'd had reconstructive surgery on both hips. Many times he'd see an open door or gate and run for the hills. When we'd go after him, he treated it like a game. The Wife has a fantastic story involving a slushy winter night and a Toys 'R Us shipping dock. Twice, we thought he was gone for good, but just like all the times we found him quickly, he'd simply followed his nose slowly through everyone's backyards.

I will always remember exploratory walks in the empty fields across our street after the state hospital was torn down. I will always remember telling him to stay off the loveseat all day, then coming downstairs each morning with him fast asleep at the end of it. I'll always remember when he was left alone for longer than he liked and stripped the end of the couch down to bare wood. I will always remember the look on his face after being caught--many times--eating crayons and the multi-colored poo we always found a couple days after. He still loves crayons; I caught him as recenty as a month or two ago.

I'll never forget the time he bit me, and the lesson I learned. He knew my mind that day, and he was right to come after me. He put me in my place. (Thinking about it now, that incident started with the discovery of a pile of crayon crumbs.) After I put him out of the house and wrapped my bleeding (and soon-to-be infected) arm, he and I had a talk on the deck, and I said I was sorry, and he said he was too, and we were best friends again.

Santos called him "Big Boy" and Dhiara called him her boyfriend. Both my boys have used him for a pillow, a footrest, a comforter, and a means of locomotion. My daughter hugs him and his head is bigger than hers. He graciously lets her drape him with stuffed animals and use him as a prop in her games. He loves these little creatures who came into his house well after he was an established resident, and they love him.