Who’s On First?

June 28, 2014

When you live with your parents and sleep on their couch, communication is key. Lack of communication may be catastrophic. If you are divorced with children and you live with your parents and sleep on their couch, lack of communication may be apocalyptic. My mom and my ex-wife are on opposite ends of what I will call the “organization spectrum.” My mom knows what she is having for dinner Tuesday night three weeks from now. My ex knows that Tuesday comes after Monday. There is a second spectrum that I will call the “adaptability” spectrum, which has an inversely proportionate relationship to the organization spectrum. My mom and my ex are on opposite ends of that spectrum as well. For my ex, plans are subject to change right up until the moment the tires lift up off the ground. For my mom, plans are sacred covenants, the variation of which is tantamount to a material contract breach. Damages and reparations must be paid, apologies must be given, contrition must be shown. Somewhere in between these social-philosophical extremes you have me, between a metaphorical rock and a hard place.

This leads to all kinds of problems. First and foremost, we have the problem of communication. I am used to making plans with my ex about our children, free from interference from anyone, including my parents. But now, since I rely on my parents for certain things, including transportation (sigh…this will get a post all it’s own at some future date), any plan relating to my children must involve my parents. You would think: we alternate weekends, how hard can that be? The divorced parents with children would be nodding along in solemn agreement with me as I say: very. It can be very hard. I hope that at some point in the future the blazing hate of a thousand suns my ex harbors for me will phase down into the heat of a thousand brown dwarf stars. But that does not appear to be happening.

In fact – for reasons known only to my ex, God and her therapist – we appear to be headed the wrong direction. Her distrust for me and general dislike appear to be gathering steam. As an aside, it really is amazing to see the effect blind, unchecked rage has on a person. They become completely irrational in a very self-sabotaging way. “Oh really? You want the kids this week? Well you can’t have them! What’s that? My JOB? I’ll QUIT my job, then. I don’t care!!” I have seen up close the kind of cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face anger that leads someone to load up the kids in the family station wagon and chart a course for the bottom of Lake Erie. It’s scary stuff.

This leads to a cloak-and-dagger kind of existence where I have to mask my true feelings about people and things. I have to be careful about letting the ex know that something means a lot to me or that I really want to do something. Because her knee-jerk reaction to something that is important to me is to try and blow it up. For the first six months after I met my girlfriend (I swear she’s real), any time I didn’t do something the ex- wanted, she started making threats to contact my girlfriend – presumably to tell her what an unrepentant douche-bag I am. She even made these threats about my boss – at the job from whence the child support comes(!). That’s what I mean by self-sabotage. You know how every story has two sides? Well this one kind of doesn’t, okay? Just take my word for it now. Or read “Texts From the Ex.” I deal with some crazy sh@t.

This cloak and dagger existence applies to plans and the custody schedule. I have to be real careful about letting the ex know I want to do something. Because if she gets wind of that, she the answer to “do you mind having the kids that weekend?” becomes an obstinate “No. Deal with it (words from an actual text. Several actual texts.).” So I have to use misdirection and subterfuge in order to make plans. And quite often, I fail miserably. The problem, in addition to the cloak and dagger existence,  is that my ex makes all kinds of assumptions. Assumptions like: well, I took them for a week, so now you get them for a week – whether that actually works for me and my job and my parents or not.

The logistical problems we have learned to work around, for the most part.The other problem is what I will call the diminishing tolerance my parents have for being around children generally, and my kids in particular. My parents are great grandparents. They love my kids and they know it and I know it. But they are not necessarily sensitive to the fact that I am not my children’s grandparents – I am their parents. I want to spend the amount of time around them that is appropriate for a father. Which is a totally different time commitment. Sometimes I feel like my mom and dad have reached their saturation point after about 20 minutes. 

And I get it – my parents have done their time with kids, and my kids – trust me on this – are exhausting. But I’m still trying to be the best dad I can under the circumstances – and it is not my kids’ fault that their parents kind of want to tear each others eyes out like rabid spider monkeys. But they are the ones caught in the middle, just like me. This all leads to situations where I am getting blistered by the ex- with texts, emails and phone calls about how I am the “f@cking Dad of the year” while also getting heat from my parents about how my mom just doesn’t have the stamina she used to and “she’s not wonder woman” anymore – sometimes at the same time. My mom has also perfected passive-aggressive to a near art form. And round and round it goes. I literally can’t win. And it’s a pretty common occurrence that everyone is mad at me at once.

Those of us who are parents have a difficult enough job as it is. And navigating the inter-generational waters of the competing agendas of parenting and grand-parenting is difficult enough as it is. And a terrible job market and economic difficulties create real-world pressures that are difficult enough as they are. But all those things at once, PLUS a recalcitrant and obstreperous babies’ momma who is hell-bent on making everyone’s life more difficult?

It’s just the worst, Jerry. The worst.

 

I feel immense pressure to create. Allow me to deconstruct that loaded statement. I mean “pressure” in the sense of aligning my professional trajectory and that of of the right hemisphere of my brain; I’ve always doubted that I’m productive enough to find purpose on a moon-lighting basis. By “create” I mean arrange some kind of material element in a way no one else has ever organized it before. And not because I was being paid for it (but still having the contradictory expectation that I would), or because of some utility it served, but simply because of an aesthetic, or to serve as the conduit for some kind of insight or a reflection of a greater truth.

The only real talent I have is writing. I mean, I have other talents that might – and do – make wonderful hobbies. But there’s only one that could ever become a profession. And I’ve always thought that I have important things to say, and will eventually know what to say and when to say it, and that then, and only then, will I be able to get paid to create.

I have taken the longest way possible to say that I have always expected that at some point I would say that I am a writer. It never really bothered me that – although writing is an important part of my profession – I couldn’t describe myself as a writer by trade. My profession always felt like kind of a place-warmer to keep my writing skills sharp for when I would actually use them to Find Fulfillment. I have been biding my time, keeping more notes than I could ever possibly use in MEADE compositions books, making audio notes going back several generations of cell phone, and conjuring up more ideas than I could ever bring to fruition if I wrote from now until the Second Coming. I always figured it would be self-evident when I needed to start making that transition to professional writing. After all, I have plenty of time to find my voice for all those important things I have to say.

But now it doesn’t feel like I have all that much time. And I’m also beginning to wonder if I really have all that much to say. Some major bouts with addiction and depression haven’t helped, nor has the scramble to provide for my children in the aftermath of those twin scourges. 

There is also a more fundamental problem that I have been vaguely aware of for quite some time. My brain seems more wired to poke holes in other ways of thinking than come up with alternatives. I can find all the problems with your solution, but damned if I have my own. Rather than collecting answers to questions or special insights about the human condition, or least this human’s condition, I feel that all I’m doing is collecting more questions. What kind of writer just asks a bunch of questions? Don’t I need to at least need to have something of my own to add to the dialogue? Even fiction requires the writer to commit to some kind of narrative. I don’t want to pick a narrative; I want to tell you your narrative sucks. 

But the process of asking the questions at least makes me feel like I am getting closer to the self-awareness that might some day lead to some tentative answers. Because I think I won’t ever know what it is that I’m supposed to say if I don’t know who I am. And I’m afraid I still don’t. Getting away from this blog set me back in that respect. Even though all I’ve ever done here is curse the darkness – as opposed to lighting a match – at least I was asking the questions, sometimes the right questions. Lamenting the questions might be the more accurate description. And I think I need to be content to do this just for me, and stop worrying about whether it’s my day job. Above all, I need to be completely honest, something I really struggle with. I want to be liked too much.

So this entry is a preface to what I hope will be my most honest period of writing. Ever. And I am going to try to do it without being cognizant of what anyone might think of me. I think that my answers, and my fulfillment, and my recovery – something I have barely mentioned in this post – demand honesty as a first step.

I am going to be completely honest, maybe for the first time ever. This is my commitment to you, the reader, who I will now try to do my best to pretend doesn’t exist. 

Arrested Development

May 29, 2013

Image

“I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

Arrested Development is defined as “an abnormal state in which development has stopped prematurely; fixation, infantile fixation, regression, abnormalcy, abnormality - an abnormal physical condition resulting from defective genes or developmental deficiencies.” That sounds really, really awful. I’m really having second thoughts about associating myself with that concept. But hey, I’ve cut and pasted it now – it’s there.

I was looking for a concept more along the lines that “I have been away from my blog for a little while, to my detriment.” But on second thought, this is probably better. The Arrested Development imagery – as in the TV show/rumored motion picture – is appropriate because after a hiatus of several years, AD – “Arrested Development,” to the layman – is out with an entire season’s worth of episodes on Netflix. I’m hoping this little plug will dissuade would-be intellectual property police from coming after me for whatever copyright I have infringed with the use of the photo of Gob Bluth you see above.

This is appropriate for another reason, namely, that I have been away from this forum for a while and a whole bunch of stuff has happened during the interim. Some of it good, some of it…not so good. There is now such a thing as twitter, something I am going to try to take advantage of, anonymously of course. So I can explode to, like, 7 readers. That’s right – the sky’s the limit.

And I have a lot of material to cover. Much like the Bluth family and its season’s worth of episodes coming out all at once, there will be a lot of information, some of it will be bizarre, some of it will be ironic, and there might even be a banana stand made of money. God I hope there’s a banana stand made of money.

Someone else who died too young. And he wasn't even a musician.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon, we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”

- John F. Kennedy

     The rain is providing a welcome respite from the oppressive heat and humidity that has otherwise smothered the residents of the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch. I need rainy days sometimes, if only to let my melancholy out for a stretch. Not that I don’t anyway.

    Some days are still off. Sometimes I feel still feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Some days the outcome still feels like it’s in doubt. Some days I wake up and it feels like faith is out of the question. I don’t always put my recovery first. I still have days when I am eaten up with fear, resentment and shame. I still put too much pressure on myself, often for the wrong things. As for the things that I should be doing, regarding which I should be putting pressure on myself, I still procrastinate. I still allow other people to put pressure on me, and I still enable them to do so. I still mask my true feelings. I still fight with myself to tell people the truth rather than what I think they want to hear. I still put the approval of other people way too high on my priority list.

    I am starting to reconcile myself with the fact that I am hurt and I am angry. More so than I realized, and certainly more than I let on to anyone else. I’m mad that certain people in a position to make a difference failed to see the things about me that make me unique. But it took me 35 years to see some of those things, so to an extent the person I’m mad at is me. I’m mad at the people in this world who are oblivious to the damage they do with their words. Arising out of that general principal, specific unforgettable words out of specific mouths comprise my most personal and acute resentments. In a more subtle way, people also use words to invalidate feelings, personal taste, or personality traits. Not being kind is unconscionable. It is the one thing any human-being can do. It doesn’t take talent, it doesn’t take beauty, it doesn’t take practice. Anyone can choose to do it. But it is a choice.

    Sometimes, I hate being as sensitive as I am, but I wouldn’t change it if I were given the choice. Nor would I trade my gift of empathy; I like that I hurt for other people who are hurting. But I would change, and am trying to change, my tendency to empathize to the point of following them down the drain. I’m not there yet; I still over-relate. I have come across some people in my time here with stories that are absolutely heart-breaking. I still have a tendency to co-opt their pain. I need to figure out how to do the good that I can without becoming a casualty myself. I also need to recognize that Satan uses  the bad-things-happening-to-good-people narrative to attack my faith. My sensitivity makes me vulnerable.

     I still feel overwhelmed by the future, by decisions I have to make, and by the people who are depending on me. I feel overwhelmed by the people I worry about, the remorse I have and the time I have lost. I feel overwhelmed by this path I am on. It is long, it is narrow and it is treacherous. And littered with bodies. Some days that is more apparent than others. Like on a rainy Sunday afternoon. But, borrowing from President Kennedy, I do not do these things because they are easy. I do them because they are hard. It is a challenge which I am willing to accept, one which I am not willing to postpone, and one which I intend to win.

Happy Father’s Day

June 19, 2011

I will actually be here today. Weird.

    I’ll be taking my oldest to Disney World today for father’s day. /Huge Smiley Face. We leave from the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch in about 10 minutes, so I just have a second to post. I’ll have a lot to talk about this week, including a road trip that I will be taking later tonight and tomorrow in order to go see an old friend.  I will take a lot of pictures, and will probably make it back alive. There’s at least a 90% chance I survive. Okay, maybe 80%. 75? Call it even odds that I survive.*

* This is a joke

    C.S. Lewis is one of my intellectual heroes. I have described my association with him during the secular-humanist phase of my metaphysical journey as the “C.S. Lewis problem.” The C.S. Lewis problem was a lingering shadow of an idea in the back of my mind that suggested, even when my frontal cortex wanted to declare me an atheist, that there was a major blind spot in my world-view. Because C.S. Lewis believed that beauty, or “glimpses of the sublime” here on earth, pointed to something much bigger. Pointed to God.

    Human beings seem to be programmed with an appreciation of beauty, both natural and man-made. This is a subsection for me of the more general and often-repeated idea that mankind is born with a void inside that hungers after the infinite. After God. As an atheist/agnostic, it was difficult for me to reconcile the idea that the Sistine Chapel was just another piece of art, even if its conception and execution were of the highest standard. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, an excellent piece of music, but nothing more. For me these two things, and so many more like them, are much more than just technical masterpieces. What are they then? One can become technically proficient at water-skiing, cross-stitch, archery, basket-weaving. There are those who will be in the top one percent of the top one percent at any ridiculous thing that humans conceive of to try. But on those relatively rare occasions that humans succeed in making something truly beautiful, what is that?

    What is different about Ode to Joy, and Moonlight Sonata, and the Allegreto from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony? Why do songs without lyrics make us weep? I have a theory. Art and beauty of the highest form point to something. I think that something is God. And I don’t even think it matters if the artist intends it (as Mozart usually did, or, obviously, Michelangelo). God made music; He doesn’t just exist in the “spiritual songs” box. God made art. When man makes art, when he makes music, he points to God whether he means to or not. Listen to Allegretto from Beethoven’s Seventh and a song called Exogenesis Symphony: Part III from the rock band Muse (of Twilight fame, unfortunately), two songs that were not composed, at least overtly, as an homage to God. Then tell me if you agree.

Allegretto from the Seventh.

Muse: Exogenesis Symphony Part III (from the movie Children of Man).

 

 

The Man in Black could be a man of few words.

    But they sure beat a Sunday Morning Coming Down. I’ve mentioned several music icons in this space. Specifically, I have identified a few who were ultimately victims of the disease. The thought occurred to me that I might need some new music role models. Not that I’ll ever completely forget where I came from.  But since the idea is that progress is forward, not backwards, I took a look at my musical catalog and looked for someone who made it out alive. Cue, the Man in Black.

    Johnny Cash was a complicated man, often described as a devout but troubled Christian. His heart was good but his behavior wasn’t always. His music probably describes the internal and uniquely human dichotomy of high-minded intellect opposing base instinct as vividly as anyone this side of the Apostle Paul. He had a decades-long battle with addiction, but he died a sober and old man. His humility and willingness to be honest with himself about his shortcomings are the touchstones of any successful recovery.

    Johnny Cash resonates with me personally because even at his most debaucherous, he knew that he was not being true to himself or his roots. There was a yearning in him for a place and a time he had been before, but did not know exactly how to recapture. As AIC put it, “have I run too far to get home?” For our subject today, the answer was thankfully no. He eventually found Peace in the Valley.

    Sunday Morning Coming Down.

 

Peace in the Valley.

 

Day 47. Still Here.

June 10, 2011

Another original. Birds express expert indifference. Second only to cats.

     I’m still here. I’m not dead, relapsed, in jail, or in an institution. I have so far avoided the dreaded three-headed Hydra of “jails, institutions or death” referenced in the Big Book. But I am in a bit of a danger zone emotionally. Kind of just holding on in a strong head-wind some days, like my friend up there. My brain is still healing, which is so apparent in acute physical withdrawal, but easy to forget post-acute. Miraculous organ that it is, the brain eventually makes an adjustment and the most acute physical symptoms go away. During the period of being physically sick, those symptoms crowd everything else out.

    But when those symptoms go away, there is a sudden glut of emotions that cannot be trusted whatsoever. Because the physical manifestations of withdrawal are gone, the temptation is to think that this…is…what…sober…feels…like. But it’s not. I see too much evidence to contrary “in the rooms,” as we say. (It is an exercise in futility, by the way, to throw yourself into this program without having the lingo seep into your subconscious. So why fight it?) I see people who have years of sobriety. Decades. I see people who have buried parents, buried children, lost careers, lost every material thing they own, etc., all without picking up a drink. I saw a person today who tomorrow is moving home with their spouse, who has a terminal illness, to allow their spouse to die and be buried in the place of their birth. NEWSFLASH: I’m not there yet. But these people provide evidence to me of the potential for a serenity that I have never known.

    Which leads me to the reason I have been a little remiss here on regular posting. The best place for me right now is in the rooms. Not the rooms of the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch. The rooms of AA or NA. Hearing people with more time than me talk. Because some of them sound terminally happy, and I want that. And even if I find myself in a lousy meeting (they do exist) listening to someone talk who does not have a program that I would like to emulate: hearing what those people have to say is better than listening to the stuff that’s inside my head right now. I’m writing some of that stuff down, too, but I want to give myself time to sift through that material to determine what’s real and what’s diseased thinking. I prefer, in other words, a little bit more distance between my brain and my keyboard, for the time-being.

    P.S., Go Dallas.

Day 44: Sunset.

June 6, 2011

This one is an original, so the legal department is happy.

    Took some pictures yesterday of something we have an abundance of at the NotDisneyworld Sober Ranch: beautiful sunsets.

The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them, He has set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoices like a strong man to run its race. Its rising is from one end of heaven, And its circuit to the other end; And there is nothing hidden from its heat. Psalm 19: 1-6.

    Sunday school over. Sometimes you need to let your Mom know your head is in the right place, ya know? I’ve given her plenty of material to fret over in this space; it never hurts to push the needle in the other direction.

I will mind-melt you!

    Mike never had to answer for losing a 15-point lead in the final 6 minutes of a home game in the NBA Finals. He never had to answer questions like this. If this had happened, Mike would have probably  blamed you and he would have been forced to melt you with his mind.  Love ya, Scottie.

    But please stop talking.  LeBron, great; Mike, GREATEST.

   Off topic, I know. But I’m the boss, applesauce, and I will never miss a chance to advocate for the greatest competitor in the history of team sports.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.