Friday, July 21, 2017

Depression isn't logical, but it's real.

I haven't posted anything for a while. Today, though, in the wake of yet another notable suicide, I feel compelled to share something that's... well... about as personal as it gets.

I didn't know Chester Bennington. I didn't know Chris Cornell or Kurt Cobain either, so I can't fathom the anguish their deaths inflicted on family and friends who did know and love them. Even so, their music provided such joy for so many, including this random fan in the upper left corner of the country, each of their losses packed quite a wallop. It's a sensation that approximates the dull ache of a gut punch, one that diminishes over time but never completely dissipates.

On the surface it's puzzling, bordering even on the absurd, that these gifted artists in their creative primes would choose to end their lives at their own hands. Such acts of self-destruction, to the outside observer, defy logic. These men seemingly had it all: loving families, adoring fans, wealth, fame and unfathomable talent. Further, we're taught that our very existence has always hinged on the strongest of human instincts—survival.

Yet still it happens time and again, to rich and poor, to famous and anonymous.

I suffer from depression. I'm sure I've had it my whole life, but I really wasn't conscious of it until my twenties, when I finally was able to label my emotions with a modicum of maturity. The thing is, it really does fly in the face of reason for those who haven't experienced it, so it's very difficult to convey in words. Nonetheless, I'll give it a try.

Depression comes on slowly, like a thick, damp fog rolling in from the horizon. Once it hits shore, you're enveloped in it. The world transforms to tinted shades of dull brown sepia. Ordinary tasks seem insurmountable, especially when the alarm clock signals the promise of a day filled with them. You tell yourself to snap out of it, but you know that's foolish. Minutes, sometimes hours, creep along on the brink of tears. Respites of emotional optimism surface in uneven intervals, yet the certainty of despair is never far away. In simpler terms, depression is toxic combination of helplessness and hopelessness.

Have I ever considered suicide? No, but that doesn't mean that at various times I didn't believe life was pointless. I'd try to count my blessings—my wife and daughters, a comfortable life in a beautiful part of the world, a career I loved—but the fog wasn't about to lift by sheer force of will.

Finally, I got help. Depression isn't curable, but it is manageable. It's not a weakness or a character flaw, but it's a condition that requires continued care and vigilance, and it only took me 55 years to begin figuring out how to deal with it:

1) Don't ignore it. Healthy distractions can be useful short-term tools, but try hard to not gloss it over. You might not like how it manifests itself due to your inattention.

2) Don't self-medicate. You might alter your consciousness after four IPAs, but trust me, things will be that much worse in the morning, when you wake up depressed, dehydrated and craving three breakfast burritos.

3) Talk to someone, anyone. It's so much better than keeping it bottled up, and when another person is aware of your situation, you're more likely to seek professional help. It's like having a workout partner.

4) If you're uncomfortable talking about it, write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal. You'll be amazed how much it helps.

5) Talk to your doctor. He or she can provide a wealth of options, both pharmaceutical and not.

6) If you aren't prone to depression, pay attention to friends and loved ones who present symptoms of it—lethargy, moodiness, loss of appetite, increase in appetite, sleeplessness, oversleeping—just things that aren't typical of the person you thought you knew so well.

I'm not a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker, but I know enough about depression to understand that I should withhold judgment about people who take their own lives. Their struggle is real and it defies logic, which is why it's up to all of us to help prevent it.

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Johnson and Johnson.

Bless his heart... and... all other organs that aren't clearly visible.

I'll call him Burt. He's an older guy; looks to be in great shape, like he's led an athletic lifestyle since before I was born. The two of us have been cohabiting the Y locker room on an early-morning basis for the past few months.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, Burt had faithfully regaled a different patron of the cramped men's quarters, his raconteuring prowess something I'd passively processed with minimal attention. But when his main listener stopped showing up, Burt's extroverted demeanor required only seconds to view its options and realize I was the only other dude in the locker room for him to talk to. Obviously undeterred, he promptly introduced himself and has been supplying me with his lanky yarns ever since.

As you can imagine, it's not easy to be at your target emotional and physical plane at six in the morning, which is cool since all I usually have to to is listen to him and nod. Speaking with calculated nonchalance about his DEA agent son-in-law or brother with a PhD from MIT or friend who randomly encountered Frank Sinatra in Palm Springs and ended up spending the entire day with him, Burt waxes on the daily abut his life's journey and the many fascinating individuals who've orbited his world. So don't get me wrong—Burt's a treasure, really, and what I'm about to tell you is my problem, not his, so I'll cut to the chase.

He seems to like to talk to me most when we're both naked. I wouldn't say he waits for it, but, well... After having spent my adult life in and out of YMCA locker rooms and getting to nakedly know several fellows, it didn't take long to learn one of the cardinal rules: When having a conversation with someone, all talking ends when your last article of clothing comes off so that you might move unencumbered into the shower. Why? Let's just say that assuming the role of stationery naked man presents profound challenges, where constant motion is as critical to the nude male as swimming is to the shark.

Standing still presents an alarming risk of contracting the scurrilous Italian malady, "Roman eyes." An errant, split-second glance is all it takes to tell the other person, "I'll finish hearing your story, but I'm gonna need to check out Little Anthony and the Imperials real quick. Okay, go ahead, I'm listening now."

In other words, dudes tend to do anything to avoid the dreaded "lookdown," which brings me back to Burt. The other day, just as I stepped past the scale, mere inches from the shower area's relative shelter, he suddenly blurted, "One day I was drying off in the locker room of a Jack LaLane gym in San Jose, I want to say around 1963. Well, wouldn't you know it, a goddamn woman came right in there and started talking to me."

My fears realized, I stood motionless. I had no idea what to do with my hands—no pockets, no towel to hold—all I could think to do was put my hands on my hips like a humbled pink superhero. I felt my peripheral vision surveying naked Burt as he demonstrated how he was standing, one foot on the bench and the other planted on the floor. as the lady entered the room. "It was like we were both at the grocery store or something,. She didn't even blink," he said.

It felt as if my chin had grown two eyeballs that were focused on nothing but Burt's balls and the hanging hypotenuse that bisected his bold stance. Thankfully, the clouds briefly parted and a line came to me straight from the pages of The Towel-Snapper's Guide to Locker Room Clichés.

"Did she laugh and point?" Good one, I thought. Put Burt on the defensive so you can make a quick exit.

It took Burt a second to get it, but when he did, he began laughing so boisterously that his belly shook, which in turn made a few things start rhythmically nodding and bobbing. That's when I'm convinced I lost focus and surrendered my gaze to Burt's single-act puppet show.

Attempting to avoid further embarrassment, I interpreted his prolonged laughter as a signal to continue into the relative haven of the shower area and maybe just hang out until he was dressed and gone.

As I said, Burt is a great guy who tells wonderful stories and obviously doesn't clutter his life with superficial hangups (hangdowns?). as I do. Maybe someday I'll be as comfortable in my air-dried skin as he, but until I arrive there...

... I'll need to keep moving.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Your guess is as good as mine. Probably better, actually.

Hey there, stranger! I'd like to start out with some flash fiction to illustrate today's topic.

John was stressed. 

He'd promised Shirley he wouldn't be late, and at this point it had become an agonizing certainty. She'd never met the Hancocks, John's now-married college roommates, and he knew Shirley would be highly chapped if the couple arrived before John got home. 

Perspiring with the vigor that only a healthy anxiety can muster, John boarded the bus and sat next to an older women who smelled of soggy tobacco and Robitussin. Beads of clamminess lined his forehead as he unzipped his raincoat and did some quick math—25 minutes to get to my stop, another 15 to walk home from there... shit, that puts me home ten minutes after they're supposed to get there. Damnit! He took a few deep breaths. Nothing I can do about it now, right? I'll get there when I get there.

He tried to imagine potential discussion topics between his wife and the Hancocks, but nothing really came to mind besides the usual traffic and weather defaults. Flustered even further, John focused on more pleasant thoughts as the packed vehicle lumbered back to the suburbs. 

John's armpits. while no longer depositing corpulent sweat dollops into the contours of his torso, hadn't fully dried by the time he stepped off the bus. Five minutes to get home. Impossible.  He'd grown accustomed to his odd route to and from the bus stop each workday: a c-shaped journey that took him around the fenced-off square block that held the ruins of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. Shirley and he had moved in across the street from the place four years ago, and while a hedge blocked any view of the hospital from the street, John always assumed he and Shirley had gotten a good deal on their townhouse because of its close proximity to an abandoned nuthouse. 

Now, with five minutes before his guests were to arrive, he surveyed the block's elongated fence line and broke into a jog to shave some time off his tardiness. Distractedly punching at a padlocked gate fifteen yards down the sidewalk, John's New Balances squeaked to a stop as he watched the door swung inward. 

Holy shit, What luck! he thought, pushing the gate further open as the rusty lock plummeted and clacked on the sidewalk. This is perfect, I can just cut through here. Once I get to the other side, I'll hop the fence, jog another 90 feet and bam! Home on time—sweating like a pig—but home on time.

John squeezed between the hedge's thick trunks, feeling oddly guilty that he'd lived across the street from this place for four years, yet never checked it out. As his body poked through the foliage, John gazed to his left upon the looming structure, its Gothic spires silhouetted against the pink winter sunset. 

What are you doing standing here? Go! John broke into a high-stepping jog, his shins brushing rhythmically through the grass and weeds that comprised the facility's expansive but unkempt front lawn. John pranced steadily and deliberately toward the other side, intent on getting through this creepy lot as quickly as possible. Still, he couldn't pry his eyes from the dark, hulking monument to the mental abnormalities of yesteryear. Did they shock people in there? he wondered. Probably, right? What about lobotomies? Hell, yes, probably an entire wing devoted to...

One of the windows on the top floor suddenly glowed yellow. It wasn't a light; more of an orb hovering just behind the glass. Oh, my God. Another popped on behind a fourth floor window, followed rapidly by circular amber glimmers on the third and second floors. John didn't even realize he'd frozen in his tracks until a brilliant beam of light filled in windows of the main doors and they burst open, emitting the unpleasant noise of splintering wood and shattering leaded glass.

Smelling his own fear, a cocktail reminiscent of sour flesh and burnt wire, John willed his brain stem's most primal flee mechanism to kick in. Come on asshole, move! His legs finally stirred, first a labored shuffle, then a forced gallop followed finally by an all-out, panic-fueled sprint. The far hedge was coming into view. Finally.

Any spare wind stored in his diaphragm exited with a sudden gust as the creature's skull drove into John's kidneys. John collapsed and rolled onto his back, grunting hoarsely and sipping in shallow, fruitless gulps of air. Only after he stared into the thing's face and slowly absorbed each ghastly feature, did John realize:

Those clowns know how to tackle.

Here's the interactive part for you guys. At this point, John is probably:

1) Second-guessing himself for taking the shortcut through the abandoned insane asylum.
2) Losing control of key muscles which could prove embarrassing upon his impending encounter with Shirley and the Hancocks.
3) Scared. Also slightly confused about a clown at a mental institution. But mostly scared.
4) All of the above.

Technically, the answer is 4), but 1) describes the most likely scenario had we been asked to choose only one answer.

Are you a second-guesser? I sure am, in fact, pretty much every waking decision I make is second-guessed, and it needs to stop. You'd think that, the older we get, the more confident should be in our first choice being our best choice?

Yeah, apparently not. Here are some personal second guessing instances from a typical day of mine. I'm confident you'll be able to easily tell which ones are worthwhile and which are nothing but the paranoid time-sucks of an OCD-addled brain:

7:48 AM—Coffee isn't for guzzling, period. There's always another bus.

5:17 PM—I shouldn't have tried to jump over the cat.

7:44 PM—I shouldn't have eaten a whole bag of Hot Funyons, especially in the Uber. Now I'm a one-star-rated passenger who feels icky.

8:13 PM—I shouldn't have tried to high-five that man from Bulgaria. I won't elaborate, but now my bottom hurts.

9:09 PM—I knew I should have spent a little more for the name-brand giblets.

See? And that's just one day. Maybe I should heed the example set by our commander-in-chief, yes? Not only does that dude never second-guess himself, he's defends actions he's never even performed.

Okay, hang on. Upon further review, I'd rather be a second-guesser than a lying psychopath.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Cac Dúirt mo sheanathair (Shit my grandfather said).

Not sure if I've ever mentioned this, but good Lord above, I love folksy talk. You know what I mean—phrases and slogans and sayings that we incessantly bandy about, yet we've nary a clue how or where they originated. So hey, just for a little icebreaker, see if you can spot the idiom in the following sentence:

Shirley, still fuming at John following his potluck mishap, gave him the cold shoulder as they ascended the stairs from the musty church basement.

"Cold shoulder" is defined as "behaving toward someone in a way that is not at all friendly." But wow, let's back up a little. Any idea where it came from? After all, what could such ostracism possibly have to do with a chilly scapula?

Like many of the folk idioms you're about to read, no one is certain as to the derivation of "cold shoulder," but the prevailing explanation is that the phrase stems from a particular way to serve food to an unwanted guest. In this case, cold shoulder refers to serving of an inferior cut of meat, namely a cold shoulder of mutton to an uninvited guest, as opposed to serving a hot meal or roast that was fresh out of the oven to an invitee, which was customary at the time.

Now I feel bad that we had cold mutton at Christmas. Damn Pinterest.

Anyway, how well versed are you in the phraseology of yore, clichés that were employed way back before people had access to antibiotics, massive chicken breasts or snap stories? Let's find out. Below are a few statements, mostly tweets, made by President Voldemorange. One point will be awarded for each correct answer, with extra credit given for those who can cite the saying's derivation.

“I have so many fabulous friends who happen to be gay, but I am a traditionalist.” 
In this sentence, Trump shows that he's:
a) Eating the sparrow to spare the newt.
b) Massaging the flitterfly.
c) A Vicar of Bray
The correct answer is c). A person who changes their beliefs and principles to stay popular with people above them is a Vicar of Bray. It's roots can be traced to the 16th century cleric and vicar of Bray, Berkshire, Simon Aleyn (1540–1588), who lived in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth.

“My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”
In this situation, Trump is:
a) Choking on his piccolo.
b) Getting his dickie in a rimple.
c) All mouth and no trousers.
The correct answer is c). As defined by the the Dictionary of Catchphrases American and British, the term denotes "noisy and worthless stuff applied to a loud-mouthed, blustering fellow." I might modify this phrase for Trump to say "all mouth and necktie and not an inch of trou'."

“I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” 
Speaking of nasty. This means, in Trump's mind:
a) He's on the pull for some lurgy rumpy-pumpy.
b) He's been jack-tickling for some kinnish gnidge for a nae a dozen donkey years.
c) Bob's your uncle... and apparently also your boyfriend.
The correct answer is c). "Bob's your uncle" translates to "there you go," or, "simple as that," which makes it all the creepier that he's so sure about it.

“I will build a great wall—and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me—and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” 
In this phrase, Trump is attempting to avoid:
a) Blustering like a tadbilly's maiden.
b Wrestling a dingleberry from a snollygoster.
c) Doing a Devon Loch.
The correct answer is c). If someone does a Devon Loch, they suddenly fail when everybody expects them to succeed or simply crumble at the very last minute when they were almost winning.

Devon Loch was a racehorse who fell on the final straight while leading the 1956 Grand National.

"Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage..."
In this situation, Trump demonstrates that he's:
a) Begging a buttercrock from a middle wife.
b) Nibbling a keen one.
c) Throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
The correct answer is c). "Throwing the baby out with the bathwater," while sounding highly immoral in present-day context (unless you're baby's a jerk), can trace its origins to 16th century Germany, and literally means rejecting the essential along with the inessential.

Some claim the phrase originates from a time when the whole household shared the same bath water. The head of household (Lord) would bathe first, followed by the men, then the Lady and the women, then the children, followed lastly by the baby. The water would be so black from dirt that a baby could be accidentally "tossed out with the bathwater".

"In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."
As to the popular vote, Trump was claiming:
a) He had pecked squirrel bits and hollered, "Nee!"
b) He had taken the broad road to Billingsgate.
c) He had gotten enough votes to cobble dogs with.
The correct answer is c). If a cobbler has enough leather to cobble an animal with four feet, then hey, guy's got either a surplus of leather or he's jumped aboard the lucrative bandwagon of designer dog shoes. Also, he's lying, or "kissing the preacher's armpit (sorry, made-up)."

"Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!" 
To the majority of Americans who didn't vote for him, Trump comes across as:
a) A billet of wiener in a tube steak pageant.
b) Pissing around the wally shed.
c) A silly sausage.
The correct answer is c). I heard a British person say it on the bus a couple of weeks ago.

How'd you do? I knew you'd nail most of these, but if you didn't, it's okay, they're pretty tough. Or, as someone in old Ireland might say, "No boher sur take her handy."

Monday, January 23, 2017

We Have the Best Protests.

Saturday, we took a walk through Seattle with 100,000 of our closest friends. 

The official title of the event was Womxn’s March on Seattle, the “x” acknowledging the impact of discrimination based not only on gender, but on race, sexual orientation, nationality, faith, class and disability, and how different forms of discrimination often intersect, overlap and reinforce each other.

Seems that sort of behavior has been on the upswing lately. And since becoming official policy on January 21, a few million people decided to address the issue peacefully, joyfully and in multitudes not seen since the Iraq War protests.  

So many causes were represented, from Black Lives Matter to Planned Parenthood, yet the common thread was a defiance to a newly-anointed administration that believes civil rights are nothing more than “alternate” rights.

Frankly, I haven’t experienced discrimination. I’m a white guy, and contrary to what a lot of rightward leaning hombres blancos may think, we pretty much reside at the top of the privilege pyramid, right there with Yertle the Turtle:

The star-bellied Sneetches:

And Don Draper:

Seriously, the closest I’ve ever come to being discriminated against is when the lunch lady looked at my protruding belly and told me it might not be the best idea to get seconds on hamburger gravy. Innocuous as her comment may have been in the big picture, it still didn’t feel very good along with all the other insults I heard as a fat kid. Even so, I can’t imagine what it must be like to endure that kind of bullshit on a weekly, if not daily, basis your entire life.

Which brings me to the march. And rather than trying to describe what happened, I’ll do my best to illustrate the day in semi-accurate diary form.

10:57 AM—My wife and I arrive at Judkins Park/Playfield. Crowded as all get-out, but naturally not too crowded for the ultimate documentary evidence, the selfie:

11:45 AM—Still not out of the park yet, but lots of folks behind us now. As you can see, feline-based headwear dominates the scene:

12:38—Finally out on Jackson Street. Great signs everywhere, including "Viva la Vulva," "If men got pregnant, you could get an abortion at the ATM," and this one:

My bride chose not to carry a sign, but it's not like I didn't provide her with some good ideas. Among them were "Donald Trump: at your cervix," and "You've got Melania, so stay away from m'labia." 

Not interested, even when I posed it to her in an Irish brogue. 

By far the most prevalent sign is one that reads, "This pussy grabs back." Hmm. Okay, ouch.

1:02—People packed the street in both directions as far as the eye could see:

One of the day's coolest aspects, other than the perpetual electric buzz of being around so many like-minded people, is the constant groundswells of cheering, usually forming blocks away and spreading over the crowd in waves.

1:29—Two bald eagles soar in circular formation over the march. Would've been even cooler if two people behind us hadn't started singing, "This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius, age of Aquarius..." That was a little too over the top for even this hippie commie AARPnick.

2:15—Taking a bathroom break at the Seattle Public Library. Here's the view:

This, which is about halfway into the march, is where we first encountered Seattle police. Were they wearing riot gear, champing at the bit to break some heads and douse a few mugs with habanero spray? Heck no. In fact, one cop is stationed by the women's bathroom, letting people in a few at a time and making sure the toilet paper is fully stocked. 

So, yeah, sorry to disappoint my conservative pals who envisioned a day of chaos and thuggish violence; WTO 1999 this is not.

2:41—Still haven't gotten over how chill this whole thing is. Everyone is so joyful and every block or so are bull horn stations where people wait in line to say their piece while standing on actual soap boxes!

3:10—Seattle Center! Of course, I insist that we touch the fountain to signify the ceremonial to the march, because that's what we OCD types like to do. My wife, ever the good sport, agrees, so naturally, as any good documentarian does:

I take another selfie. 

Afterward, I couldn't help but imagine how opposite the process of peaceful protest was for the Freedom Riders and other civil rights marchers of the '50s and '60s, back when organized resistance was met with violence, humiliation and imprisonment. I doubt that many police officers back then handed out toilet paper or high-fived students on their way into the South's first integrated public schools.

We have so many people to thank for their sacrifice, and a responsibility to use our privilege to resist the new tyranny seeping from the Oval Office. Get involved!