Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Unaltered States

Life makes an honest attempt to kick my ass on a daily basis. Many may scoff at that statement, since – at age 55 – I still have all my limbs and I’m fairly healthy. I don’t even need to knock on wood. I walk a half hour to and from work every day, pretty much rain or shine and that keeps me fit – the fittest I’ve been in probably a dozen years. Those walks also help me to release the stress of daily life, as I amble to and from the bookstore.

Some may say, “How does life kick your skinny white ass, when you’ve avoided major illness; both of your parents are still alive. Your only major period of unemployment was by choice and that was to take on the role as stay-at-home parent. You even have two separate internet routers! One for the house and one for your man cave in the garage.” Okay. It’s not a “man cave.” Once it warms up enough, the space in the garage will be this cynic’s sanctuary. It is true though, that I’ve led a relatively tragedy-free life, but unfortunately, depression doesn’t check our social media status, before checking into our life.

I started taking anti-depressants almost ten years ago. I had been seeing a counselor and she had gently suggested I might try medication. I would get into these ruts, not want to leave the house. I’d blow off concerts, wasting expensive seats. I felt as if I didn’t even know how to interact with my friends and neighbors. My continuing battle with depression was taxing on my marriage, and now I had a young son. After a stressful visit from my parents (“Why don’t you do something with this yard?”) and the death of my cat, I acquiesced and decided to try medication. I needed to climb out of my dark hole, so that I could be a healthy functioning parent for my son and so I could also enjoy life, like humans sometimes do.

Initially, I felt much better on citalopram (brand name Celexa®). This drug works cumulatively, so it took a little while and the internal changes were subtle. As other patients have said, I felt more like myself after using serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Unfortunately, my marriage did not endure and we now share custody of our beautiful son. Like some kind of Richard Burton wannabe, I got remarried soon after my separation. I continued to battle depression and after a few rage episodes, and a general feeling of malaise, I decided that the citalopram may no longer be working as it initially had. Upon consulting with a doctor, I decided to try Wellbutrin®, which is also used for smoking cessation. The initial idea was to wean off of the citalopram, and solely use the bupropion (brand name Wellbutrin®,) but at some point it seemed safer not to back off the meds any further.

These are not miracle drugs, and results may vary; hence the variety of anti-depressants, I suppose. Citalopram and bupropion are also not without their side effects, which include seizures, constipation, nausea, headache, tremors, confusion, anxiety, sinusitis, insomnia, night sweats and those old favorites: ejaculatory disorder and a general a loss of interest in sex. In fact, taking citalopram can actually cause thoughts of suicide! Seriously? Yeah. Seriously. Just ask the widow of Del Shannon. How are these medications supposed to be helping me, again? I think I deserve a break today.

I stopped taking my anti-depressants a couple of weeks ago. Usually, any pause is caused by a lack of funds – running out of my prescriptions before payday – but I have wanted to wean off my anti-depressants for a few years now, if only to find out who I am without them. I talked to my doctor about this on my last visit and had one of the prescriptions drastically reduced, with the intent of dropping it entirely. I had never intended to be on two anti-depressants! That’s depressing right there! I do need to restart taking my blood pressure medication, especially if I’m trying to survive without ingesting selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors on a daily basis.

Like anything else in this world worth saving, I’m a work in progress. Yes, it’s about the journey. There is no winner’s tape to break through victoriously between now and my last breath. The only victory will be in living a good life, being kind to others and myself and then moving on to make room. Strip away the corporate medication and I’m left with my unaltered mind. Well, unaltered except for daily doses of chocolate, marijuana and fresh air. Being mindful is all the rage, but despite being trendy, it works. Besides being a terrible thing to waste, our mind is basically who we are. Take it or leave it. I think therefore I have drama in my life. Otherwise I’d be a rock. I’d be an island. And no man is an island.

Just a song before I go

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hey! That's Funny!

Some humor is timeless. Charlie Chaplin, Bug Bunny, the Three Stooges and, if I may, Gilbert Gottfried. This particular routine is from a Cinemax special Gilbert did in 1987. It was taped at the American Place Theatre in New York City, as part of the "Cinemax Comedy Experiment" series.This is one of those guaranteed-to-make-me-laugh pieces, and with the world crumbling around me, and those closest to me, playing their violins, I need to laugh, because it takes a train to cry.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Chartley Pond

Chartley Pond
I have always felt most at home amidst natural surroundings. When I lived in Massachusetts there were places I would go to escape the daily grind and reconnect with the rhythms of nature. I spent many days and even some nights at these places and I knew their paths like the back of my hand. There was Hemlock Island, which was a short hike from my backdoor, and where I spent most of my youth. When I began driving, I would often go to the Easton Conservation Area, which has over 4,000 acres of protected land. Situated pretty much halfway between those two destinations is Chartley Pond.

My earliest memories of Chartley Pond are of my dad and me, fishing by the railroad crossing, and catching hornpout, which is a species of bullhead catfish. My dad warned me that their whiskers, of which they have eight, will sting if they touch you. Actually, it’s not the whiskers, but three fins — two pectoral and one dorsal – that have a poisonous sting. Hornpout also have a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth and slimy skin rather than scales like other fish. They are odd. Many folks eat catfish, but my dad would throw them back. We sometimes caught small carp and sunfish at Chartley pond, but it wasn’t the greatest spot for fishing.

Through most of my youth there was a Bristol Farms ice cream stand on the hill overlooking Chartley Pond. They had a to-go window, where they sold ice cream in waffle cones, and frappes. Also, around the corner from Chartley Pond was the Wetherell Paint Store, where my dad would stop to buy paint and socialize. Next door was the fire station, where I was sometimes able to climb up on the fire engines. The Wetherell Paint Store was actually opened by former fire chief Hank Wetherell. Across the street was the Chartley Country Store, where one could buy specialty meats, American cheese and to-die-for marinated mushrooms.

A stone’s throw from the deli sat the Chartley Methodist Church, with whom we, at the North Rehoboth Methodist church, had always shared our pastor. Two churches, one minister. There were always these underlying jealousies, especially since the parsonage was on the property adjoining the Chartley church, and our church was way the hell up in North Rehoboth. I barely remember ever stepping foot in the Chartley Church. It always just felt like there was some bad juju there. (That’s Methodist humor right there, which is a contradiction in terms.)

Back in the 1980’s, my first wife and I would sometimes go canoeing at Chartley Pond. We’d haul our heavy green Coleman canoe to the water’s edge, and set out onto the placid water with lunch, and a few wine coolers. Since most sections of the pond were fairly secluded, my wife would sometimes remove her shirt to soak up the sun. In fact, we had precarious canoe sex out there on Chartley Pond. Caution was a must, because not only are there slimy hornpout with stinging dorsal fins in those murky depths, but it’s also populated with snapping turtles! Good reasons to keep any dangling appendages in the boat.

I haven’t found a secluded pond to dip my paddle in out here in Seattle, but I do have my moments of connecting with nature, whether it’s communing with the hummingbird hovering over my head, while taking my lunch break behind a nearby church; or sitting in my front yard, between two steadfast evergreen trees, catching glimpses of the orbiting moon through the foliage. Those moments are like life preservers in these tumultuous times, and I cherish each one.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Conundrum

Light it up!

Open-minded: having or showing a mind receptive to new ideas or arguments. 2. Unprejudiced; unbigoted; impartial.

Close-minded: not willing to consider different ideas or opinions: having or showing a closed mind.

Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living, just before he was sentenced to death for impiety and corrupting the youth with his radical ideas. When I examine life, I end up with more questions than answers, which I guess means that I’m doing it right. I don't trust anyone, who claims to have all the answers. I’ve searched through many of the same caverns and mountaintops and I’m still left with a bag of questions. One question in particular has been gnawing my consciousness since the election: How does one, who is open-minded, stay open-minded with a close-minded individual?

Being nonjudgmental is a difficult task for the best of us. We judge other drivers on the road. We judge co-workers and customers. We judge other parents for the deeds of their children. We judge judges, juries and lawyers. We all make judgments. It’s part of being human. We try and discern danger and stupidity. Is this a good apple or a bad apple? Is this a good person or a bad person? Should I be on guard for my safety? Profiling is considering a prejudicial police tactic, but we all do it every day. One of the great paradoxes in our world is sharing so many similarities with our fellow humans, while simultaneously seeing our differences so starkly, and through so many filters. Objectivity is a near impossibility.

Nazis. I find of difficult to be sympathetic with Nazis. Climate change deniers and those, who say that evolution is “just a theory” obviously got a hold of some bad science at some point, and nobody of authority has bothered to straighten them out. There are viewpoints and then there is right and wrong. Facts and falsehoods. Facts and falsehoods are not about opinion. A fact means that it's undisputed. It's been gone at from many different directions by many different experts and this is their result. Peer reviewed, you might say. If changing data alters the initial result, they will then change their findings to reflect the truth. It’s not your truth and my truth. If that's how you label it then we’re not talking about truth. We’ve entered the territory of beliefs, and believing in something does not necessarily make it true. Oh, if only that were true!

At the end of the day, it’s more about my ego being bruised then it is about close-mindedness. I feel emasculated and disrespected when universally accepted truths are not also accepted as household truths. For my part though, much of it is about my desire to be right. I do not deny that. My ego needs crushing as much as the next guy’s, if not more so. Otherwise, I’d just chill-out. Live and let live. Let it be, and let it free. If you love someone, you set them free. Free to make the same mistakes you have made and even some new ones. In the meantime, I need to learn to eliminate desire. “When there is no desire, all things are at peace.” – Tao Te Ching, verse 37

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in a scene from "Shall We Dance" (1937)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thanks for Waiting

It's time to post a music video, because I am still knee-deep in my current blog post, trying to write my way out. I picked a tough topic, with unanswerable questions, but that doesn't mean that the piece is unwritable. Here is a beautiful song to pass the time, while I go into editor mode.

"Fly High" - Anders Parker, Jim James, Jay Farrar, Will Johnson (New Multitudes)