Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Get Used to Disappointment

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
and the sanity to know that you don’t exist;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know that it’s a just a roll of the dice. 

Get used to disappointment is just a pirate's way of saying practice acceptance. This is a Zen pirate. He sails the seven seas, resisting his craving for gold, seeking instead to calm the raging seas inside himself. Of course, he never resists the opportunity to grab some booty. He’s not crazy. Just calm.

Disappointment is directly tied to hope. Remember when mom used to say, “Don’t get your hopes up.” She knew that Disappointment Eve was just around the corner, and she hadn’t yet hung the stockings by the chimney with care.

Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul -- and sings the tunes without the words -- and never stops at all.” Of course, Emily was a shut-in, who most likely knew a thing or two about disappointment.

Red in The Shawshank Redemption says “Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” One my favorite philosophers, Mad Max, says “…hope is a mistake.” It pays off in disappointment dividends. Hope is a losing investment, but we just can’t help ourselves. To hope is human, and to disappoint is divine.

I have a habit of disappointing myself and those closest to me on a regular basis. One might think that my middle initial stood for Disappointment rather than Douglas. I’ve always been my own harshest critic, but I also let myself skate free when I should shackle myself to the grindstone of life, until I get it right. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it breeds consistency. I seem to be carrying my disappointment around like Pigpen and this cloud of disappointment is following me about, like it’s about to rain shame and judgment upon me.

I’m married to my third wife, so I obviously disappointed the first two. I never want to disappointment my son, but I’m human and I leave a trail of mistakes behind as I journey through life. My shining star is always my son, and his amazing ability to love unconditionally and forgive without condition. I wish I could delete the many disappointments that I have introduced into my family’s life, and fill those moments with cherry pie and cute woodland creatures, but my time machine is sitting in the backyard with engine problems and mold, growing on the interior. I don’t think it would get me back to yesterday at this point.

I am a disappointment artist. I am the Duke of Disappointment. The downbeat devil himself. I admit that freely, but not without some shame. What is the opposite of disappointment? Satisfaction, but it’s never guaranteed. I don’t live to disappointment others. It’s unfortunate that those closest to me are unlucky enough to see me at my worst. My worst is worse than liverwurst, but today is another opportunity to do right, and leave disappointment in the dust. I just need to take a right turn at the bottom of the hill, and never look back.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bonus Video

The Police - Reggatta De Blanc (Old Grey Whistle Test '79)
I am trying to assemble some sort of blog post, but my brain feels like mush and I want to lie down for a rest. Sticking to this writing regimen is good for me, but life gets in the way sometimes.

Speaking of essays, I always did well with the essay questions on tests. It never seemed to be a problem to stretch a few facts out to a three or four paragraphs.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Brother, Can You Spare the Time?

My brother is on the left, looking towards the future.
My brother and I were both adopted. We are not blood brothers. We’re not part of a brotherhood or fraternity, but we are both sons of Norman and Ruth. We never threw the baseball back and forth, or went camping together. I was the bullying older brother, calling my brother Lippy Hollow-Head, and drawing caricatures of him in my sketchbooks; putting Hersey's syrup in his underwear, and leaving it outside on his window, only to be found that spring by my parents when they were doing yard work. "Brian must have been embarrassed and threw them out the window,” said my mom upon the discovery.

Brian was the oldest at the time of his adoption. The rest of us were babies. He was starting to walk and talk, and grow a personality. He hated to have his picture taken and would start to ball whenever the camera came out. We shared a bedroom when he was a toddler. Late one night, I was awoken by his labored breathing. I woke my parents up and they brought Brian out to the kitchen and filled the room with steam that smelled like camphor. I returned to bed with the impression that I had saved his life.

When we were children, Brian had two epileptic seizures. I witnessed both of them. It was frightening, especially when the nurse, who lived upstairs, used a kitchen knife in his mouth, to keep him from biting his tongue. (A kitchen knife?!) His second seizure occurred on a chilly fall day, when my father was doing yard work. Brian was sitting on some concrete steps and my dad told him to put a jacket on. Brian was non-responsive and seemed almost catatonic. My dad picked him up and ran into the house with him. Brian vomited on himself, so my dad changed his clothes before running him to the hospital. He never had another seizure that I know of; just the two.

He has never married, although he’s had girlfriends on and off. He was a regular on the Karaoke circuit for a while, but as his drink started to take its toll, he was less able to maintain a relationship with anyone except the bottle. He’s been arrested multiple times for drunk driving, once getting off by using the Binaca Blast defense. He no longer has a driver’s license in Massachusetts. He once lit his kitchen on fire, while living in a dilapidated trailer by a lake. He has called me many times over the last few years, always drunk and usually incomprehensible. One night he fell asleep while on the phone with me. I found out the next day that he passed out against the radiator in his house. He was so inebriated that the pain from the heater never woke him up and he now has burn scars on that side of his face.

I was visiting the east coast while he was in the midst of a prison sentence. He spent nearly a year and a half in jail on a charge filed by an ex-girlfriend. I went with my mother, who was using her walker with the tennis balls on the bottom. After an unexplained delay, Brian arrived at the visiting booth. I could barely see his face through the scratched layers of security glass. There was only one phone, so I talked to him and then passed the phone to my mom. He went through some hard times, being in jail with some genuinely dangerous criminals. Brain was just a drunk with a really bad choice in friends. Friends don’t come back to your parents’ house after the party and rob the place.

This is not a memorial. My brother is still alive, but not well. I cannot imagine the emotional pain he must feel inside to want to commit slow suicide by drinking. He has admitted his death wish to me. It breaks my heart, but I cannot talk to him when he is drunk, never mind that I can barely understand him. We are three-thousand miles apart. I am four years older than my brother, but we have both gotten older on opposite coasts. When his liver gives out, and his other organs start to break down, there will be no family nearby to hold his quaking hand. No family to reassure him that our love for him has never lessened, even though he has felt abandoned and hopeless. The only hope left is to start again tomorrow.

I love you, Brian.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Bonus Video

Oh, it's late...or early, depending on your angle. I've been out on my deck, stargazing and listening to the Kaiser Chiefs. Check them out!

Kaiser Chiefs - The Angry Mob

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Twenty Year Plan

It’s awfully presumptuous of me to project my life years into the future, but I’m pretty healthy at fifty-five years old. I just have to stay out of the crossfire. That means no trips to the mall or movie theater. Forget about that vacation to Nice. Do I need to become the Boy in the Bubble to live another two decades? In these times of ours, people get mowed down by nuts, who are having a bad day, or ex-employees, who recently visited the gun auction. “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

If I’m lucky, I figure I have a good twenty years left of life. Twenty years. Sounds like a prison sentence, but I’m not talking about ten to life. I’m talking about twenty years of living the good life. That’s being a positive, glass-is-half-full kind of guy. It’s true that my dad is 95 and my mom is 86, but I’m adopted, so I don’t share their longevity genes. My birth mother is still alive, and she has battled cancer already. One of her two sons – my half brothers (are they half full or half empty?) – died a few years ago of cancer. In another year or so, it’ll be time for my second colonoscopy. I want to keep the big C away from little ole me.

My priority now and as long as I am breathing is being the best father I can be for my son. That includes staying sane. So staying sane is up at the top of the list. I want to live in a more rural setting. Some place where I can have a dog. Those two things alone will lower my stress and add years to my life. I want to continue to write, and hope to publish some stories or essays. I could publish my memoir and sell the film rights. It could happen. Stranger things may not have happened yet, but they will. Mark my words. They will.

The truth is I never had a plan at all. I’ve been winging it all along. I suppose I’ll be winging it the rest of my life, too. I have never planned for my future. Plan indicates some type of forethought and reasoning. I only started saving for my retirement last year and it’s not like I’ve got a nest egg squirreled away somewhere. (Was that mixing metaphors?) I won’t be hitting the road in the Winnebago for points unknown, or raising the mast and setting sail for the sunset and beyond.

Speaking of tropical vacations, (weren’t we?) this could easily just become some kind of wish list. I loathe the term bucket list. Maybe because my bucket has always had a hole in it. I could've listed all the rosy events that I’d like to see occur in my future, but wishing is not planning. Wishing and hoping doesn’t make dreams come true. Going back to bed does.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Curse of the Unsaid

What if all the things I had left unsaid were released like wolves in the night, traversing the land in search of their intended victims? Would I then have to be tracked down and shot with the silver bullet of shame, for daring to utter the unutterable? Civilization is balanced on the precipice of good manners, and as my mom always said, “If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” Moms always offer sage advice.

Some of us have decent self-control, while others blurt out inappropriate comments like a sailor with Tourette syndrome. Some of us never get the courage to tell that girl sitting in the front of us on the bus how pretty she looks in natural light; and most of us don’t have the nerve to ask the boss for that well-deserved and overdue raise, while we’re on our knees. It’s an important human skill to know what and when to say it. Like that great philosopher Kenneth Ray Rogers said, “You've got to know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away. And know when to run” You’ve got to shit or get off the pot.

This is one of those weeks, where all of my thoughts just seem to be begging to be withheld. I could post a painfully truthful post, but redact all the nasty stuff. A page of redactions is very in these days. And besides. Sometimes it’s not what one says, but what doesn’t say, reading between the lines and so forth. Maybe this should be my John Cage piece. I could entitle it 4 Paragraphs, 33 Words and just leave that space there for you to imagine my wonderful prose.

All those things I want to say, but are better left unsaid. Words and sentences can cause libel lawsuits, strain relationships, and ruin careers (Jimmy the Greek, Michael Richards.) We don’t want to needlessly offend our family or loved ones. (Oops! Too late!) We don’t want to lose our job, because of some rant we made on Facebook. I have taken down a half dozen posts that I later determined were too personal for public viewing.

This blog is quite personal as it is, but I try to keep my criticism of people I know to a minimum. I try not to air dirty laundry. It’s not a scratch and sniff page. I’ve written honestly about my depression and its cousins angst and frustration. (They’re always sleeping on my couch.) I’ve talked about my past marriages to some extent, but I try to keep my personal criticism of others to a minimum. I’d rather castigate society as a whole, and the other holes can figure out if I’m talking about them or not.

We creative types are always looking for recognition. I want to be recognized. ("The chair recognizes the crusty old guy with mood issues.") Fifty-five years of wandering around on this planet and I’m still yearning to be understood by others. I write to assuage my feelings of loneliness and frustration. I want to feel free and brave enough to share my feelings, without fear of repercussion. I figure I’ve got about twenty years left to perfect this art.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Life's Little Lemons

There is an old proverb: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” The meaning, of course, is that lemons are naturally quite sour, and that lemonade is usually sweetened. Luckily, I tend to like my lemonade on the sour side anyway. These days, trendy restaurants are adding rosemary to their lemonade, which I personally like; but then again, I like Wendy (“hot and juicy”) and Little Debbie (“unwrap a smile!”)

Career con Carne, with Flaming Lemon Disappointment Sauce – History may be written by the victors, but not my employment history. My career path is more of a downward spiral, going from a job that required some skill and education to a job in retail, where being polite to rude people is priority one. After leaving the air force in 1982, I continued my electronics training at a two year vocational school. No. Not ITT Technical Institute. The Commodore 64 was the cutting edge in home computers, and companies like Texas Instruments and GTE were still hiring Americans. It only took one move too many across the country to end my technical career. While living in Auburn, Maine, I got a job at a new Michaels’ Arts & Crafts. I was hired as a custom picture framer, which included training. Out of all my various jobs, I think I enjoyed picture framing the most. I got to use my creativity and build a project from start to finish. There was satisfaction in that. By the time I left the Berkshires, I had been employed as a bookseller at The Bookloft in Great Barrington for about four years. I returned to Seattle and was employed by Third Place Books within a week of my return. I’ve been working in the bookstore business ever since. So, in other words, I’m still poor.

Lemon Marriage Pie – If one falls off a horse – as the old adage goes – they should get right back on. Similarly with riding bikes. When falling off, it’s always best to get right back on. Apparently, I also apply that same advice to marriages. When one fails, I just go out and marry another fish from the sea. (Sorry, Charlie) I married too young the first time. The second marriage involved sharing custody of my wonderful son at its demise. I couldn’t have asked for a bigger bucket of lemonade than having my son in my life.

After my second marriage, I said never again, but, like Sean Connery with James Bond, I learned to Never Say Never Again. I am almost five years into my third marriage to a wonderful woman, who will have the honor of being my third and last wife. (Dude! Never say never!) My own parents have been married forever! It’s somewhere over sixty years now. They have always seemed like best friends, and I rarely saw them fight. I think that was mainly because of my mom’s amazing self-control. Marriage is about commitment and promises. Insurance and mutual debts. Compromise and commiserating. In-jokes and staycations.

Upside Down Smile Cake with Dour Lemon Frosting – Before I even knew what to call it, I have suffered from depression. Thanks to my DNA and upbringing, I’m predisposed to be depressed. Shortly before turning thirty years old, I was arrested for drunk driving. It was a teachable moment, or rather a teachable night in jail. After my DWI debacle, I decided to seek counseling on my own. Those sessions with Dallas Alice (a pseudonym) resulted in my finding my birth mother. Shortly after that, my first wife and I moved to the west coast -- Olympia, Washington, to be specific. There ended marriage number one, but my depression stuck around like a bad best friend. I saw a counselor out here in Washington for quite a few years, but she moved back to Michigan. These days I take my anti-depressants, cry when necessary and spend a lot of time on my deck, stargazing and imbibing organic cannabis. Once in a while, I dip below the surface and flail about for a bit, but for the most part, I’m able to keep my head above water. I’ve never been the best swimmer in this big social ocean of ours. I’d rather find a spot in the dunes, and bury myself in a book. I try my best to channel my angst and frustration into my writing. Better art through suffering, I've always said.

Now, if you're lucky enough that life gives you grapes, well then make some friggin' wine!