Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Horrible Sin of Smoking?

The Horrible Sin of Smoking?

In my youth – in a galaxy long ago and far, far away – smoking was everywhere.  Everywhere!  When you went to see a Doctor, the Doctor could come in to see you, while still smoking a cigarette!!!  There were ashtrays attached to the walls in the corridors of every public building, including hospitals.  Ashtrays on the tables in the Public Library.  On every desk in every business and on the coffee table in nearly every single home.  The smell of tobacco was so prevalent, everywhere, the only time you noticed it was when it wasn’t there.  Like standing on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, and even then it was very likely the guy standing next to you would be smoking.

When I was in the Army, GI’s would be smoking right at the mess hall table.  I was a smoker and yet, I didn’t like the taste of cigarette smoke in my food.  I would ask the smokers to stop and at least wait until we had eaten.  Frequently I was told, “Go fuck yourself.”  Jeez, stop for ten minutes until we are done eating?  Even at breakfast – cigarette smoke and eggs?  No.  Not a good recipe.  Tastes real bad.  Forget it.  At that time, breakfast was the time to get a good start on the day’s nicotine fix.  Gotta get that nicotine level up – up, up, up.  The breakfast of champions – nicotine and caffeine.  And then hit the can for a good shit.  It did keep you regular.

Really … my mother, who was a Mormon, and Mormons do not smoke or drink, kept a little tray of cigarettes and an ashtray on our coffee table.  My father's business included a number of home parties and socially required events, so the ciggies had to be available.  When I got to college, everyone in the classrooms were usually smoking; always the professor was smoking.  When I started teaching High School in the late 80’s, most of my students were already smokers.  The High School parking lot was always littered with cigarette butts.  When they hung out before and after school in that parking lot, they smoked.  Nobody thought anything about it.  Even noticed, really.

Slowly at first, as we all now recognize, smoking was found to be really bad for a person’s health.  I mean really, really bad.  Where and when a person could smoke began to tighten in on the whole American culture.  At first it was no public buildings, then, with seemingly light-speed, nowhere there were other people.  Second hand smoke was deemed as bad as being on the working end of a cigarette.  Being within the distance of a good rock throw of a smoker was – like – horrible.

When I was teaching High School at a boarding school, students smoked in their rooms.  Now if nicotine is found in their urine, they can get kicked out of the school.
And with all the drug problems, teachers can require a urine test anytime they have a suspicion of drugs or smoking.

I have written about all the exposure of alcohol on television and movies and stuff.  In the old days, actors would be holding a cigarette to make some on-screen use of their hands.  Gotta be doing something with your hands on-screen.  Now, they pour a drinky-poo and dialogue with a shot of booze in their hand.  And we know, for sure, alcohol is also really, really bad for your health – especially if you’re driving a car. 

I just wonder where we are going, what we are saying, when you can walk into a public place with a gun on your hip – bullets are super-di-dooper bad for your health – and yet you can’t have a smoke!  It is seen almost as not as bad to be on a sex offenders list as to be known as a smoker.  At a church I often pass, they have AA meetings.  As you pass by that church, you immediately know when an AA meeting is about to start because there are dozens of people out in front smoking.  Conclusion:  one of the major tools to getting your life back together after you’ve wrecked it with alcohol, is to smoke.  ???  It most places now, even in a bar where the whole purpose is to get drunk, you can’t smoke any more.  ???

Which would you rather have, somebody sitting next you in a coffee shop with a gun on his hip and a pissed off look in his eyes or a smoker?  Who would you rather stand next to at a bus stop, somebody staggering a bit with a can of beer in his hand or a smoker?  Who is more likely to t-bone you in an intersection, a drunk or a smoker (who is not also a drunk)?

Where is the rational here?  Who’s in charge of perceived social sins?  In fact, when and where did the logic of the greater good switch from personal habits that are really stupid to personal habits that are really stupid and broadly destructive?

I’m just sayin’.  ???

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Life, Death and Suicide

Life, Death and Suicide

I was so taken with this article by Ms. Rorrer, I wanted to preface my own blog addition with a link.  She is in no way connected to me or responsible for what I say in what follows.

Five years after I got out of the Army (Viet Nam War), oh some forty-five years ago, my first wife, of ten years, took her own life.  For at least forty of those years I have not told anyone, but my very closest, dearest and most trusted friends of how she actually died.  Of course, my second wife (of thirty-eight years at this writing) knew – but then she is my best, closest and dearest friend and has been since the first day I met her.  And all of our children were told when they were old enough to understand and not be traumatized by that knowledge.

Other than those family members and few friends, we have kept it to ourselves.  She did have diabetes AND post-partum epilepsy – so diabetes has been the quick answer and the subject has been closed.  After that quick lie, everybody who asks says, “Oh I’m sorry.”  That’s it  - we move on.  But it’s a lie.  It’s a lie I have told countless times over the years.  Always figuring it’s nobody’s business but mine.  I have also told that lie to the teachers, baseball coaches or other supervising adults of my oldest two children by my first wife.  To save my children from the stigma that almost all adults did, when those two oldest of my six children were young (they are now in their forties) attached to mental illness.

What I have discovered is that almost all adults still do – attach stigma to mental illness.  Once you admit to a suicide in your family, especially by a spouse, people never look at you the same again.  I know this from observing those treasured and trusted friends.  Some I have actually had to stop associating with because it always seemed to come up, that’s how I know.  Those were my best friends, at the time; so how would more casual friends react?  Forget it.  I don’t need that kind of pebble in my shoe every day.

It is true that mental illness is, or often is, genetic.  It does seem to travel in family lines, but it is definitely not always the case.  We tend to loose sight of something I believe is a fact, alcoholism, and most any form of substance abuse and addiction also tend to follow family lines.  For centuries though, millennia truly, at least alcoholism has been seen as a problem, but never as a possible result of self-medication for what is actually a mental illness. 

Self-medication with socially approved substances and behavior, however, does not seem to carry anywhere near the stigma, though, that mental illness does.  Why is that?  (Blog for another day?)

What happened is this; I spent so many decades pushing down the trauma of my participation in a really stupid war, followed by the death, by suicide, of the first love of my lifeI wound up with a mental illness.  Diagnosed with PTSD and bipolar disorder in my late fifties.  From my behavior over the previous years, it was pretty obvious I was suffering (under the influence of a brain disorder) for a very long time.  Since I had decided in my early thirties to avoid alcohol and anything else that might affect my ability to react properly in emergencies for the safety of my children, I couldn’t blame what was happening in my own brain on substance abuse.
Something was really wrong.  It became apparent, by my own decision, that I needed help.

It was a very difficult decision to come to and only with the help and support of my second wife, that I just said, “Screw it!  I’m going to a head Doctor.  This is just more than I can handle anymore.”  Having been a professional artist for the first twenty years of my adult working life, I was used to being a social outsider.  I was used to having people think, and sometimes even say, “Oh you’re an Artist.  You don’t work? Or, do you have a real job?”  Two decades of that, and as a person I didn’t really have a personal stigma associated with mental illness.  I knew my brain was fucked up, or sup-di-dooper different and most of artist friends were all pretty weird too.

So, in that sense, it made it easier for me to decide that it had gotten too far out of hand to handle alone in the day to day.  And, I didn’t care what anybody else thought.  I just wouldn’t say anything or simply lie like I had about my first wife’s suicide.  In those times past when other people would ask why my hands we're so shaky or that my voice quivered (on occasion when I'm a bit nervous), I'd say,
“I have a brain disorder.”
“Oh, what is it?”
“Just a genetic thing.  Makes my hands shake and stuff; nothing serious.”
“Well, that’s good.”

I no longer do this.  Now I just say, "I'm bipolar.  It's a side effect of the meds.  Don't worry it's not a big deal."  Then I just let the other person stew on that information.  I don't get into long conversations on it.  Sometimes they thank me for sharing something they interpret as deeply personal.  I don't care if they think it's deeply personal or not.  I just don't care anymore.  If they think it's catching, or communicable, and want to avoid me.  That's their choice and personally if that's they way they feel, I'd rather not hang out with them either.  Take me as I am (these days) or walk away.  This is my life.  I really really don't care about your judgements.

The truth; it is impossible to bury the stigma of mental illness.  It will never happen.  Stupid people will always – as in forever – put a label on the forehead of the different, the strange, the mentally ill.  Until, we who live with these conditions just stop caring what others think.  It is up to us!  This is where all the Fun Runs, the Marches, Rallies, speeches and the rest of that shit where we are only preaching to the choir.  Where the audiences are always just full of people with mental illnesses.
Is of not that much value.

My bipolar disorder gives me a deep deep imagination when I soar up into a manic stage.  Everything is sort of magical.  Creativity flows so smoothly, the hairs on the back of my neck tingle.  My hands work from some kind of broadband wifi tied directly into my soul.  It is not ego, it is not a desperate grab for greatness; it is very very simply that intense satisfaction of making something beautiful, seemingly out of thin air.  A small piece of beauty and glory that wasn't there before.

The depression stages are tough, but, to me, that’s what Netflix and exercise are for.  Best is watching Netflix, wearing headphones and rowing for miles on my erg.  And when the depressions are over, it’s like somebody has stopped punching me in the stomach.  When that pain is gone, it’s almost like pleasure.

If I stop for just a second, I just have to remember that life is beautiful, wonderful; yes; deeply challenging sometimes, but still beautiful.  Hold a baby, pet a dog, sit on a dock on a lake and fish ... watch a sunset.  Life is a miracle.  Get help if you need it and stop hiding.

Sure the medications make me overweight and sometimes a bit shaky in the hands, but truly after all of the Art and other adventures, this roller coaster that is labeled a metal illness has allowed me to do; I think it’s actually a good trade-off.

As has been said, “You can’t be extraordinary if you’re ordinary.”

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Still Lives Run Deep

Still Lives Run Deep

Here is my latest video.

What seems like a few seconds, can be actually hours, days, even months.  In order to make this video I had to learn to use Blender 3D software.  And, Blender is a very difficult program.  Not at all intuitive.  Hours of watching and cross referencing YouTube tutorials is a requirement, because the on-line manual is a disaster and several of the book I spent good money were just no good.  And those books were out of date.

Still There was a total of easily 100 hours in making the video - per a period of three months.

I am always fascinated, but mostly flummoxed when other people, especially my own students ask, "Wow.  How long did that take?"  Also I am irritated by that question.  A real artist, designer or craftsperson doesn't think in how long something takes.  They think more in terms of how to get what is in my head out into the real world?  Time doesn't enter into it.

The skills they need, if they don't have them, they learn.  They practice and practice and practice until they can get what they want.  And then they start in on a piece.  And as they go they practice up on anything they need until that is working.  They make any tools they need, if they can't find those tools to buy.

It tends to be a quiet life, buried deep deep into your work.  Not thinking about how long a piece will take.  You do whatever you need to do, until you get what you feel is finished.

Monday, May 4, 2015

My Father’s Thumb

My Father’s Thumb

So it has been nearly a year and a half since my father died.  No tears.  He was ninety-five, had a good life and really long life.  War hero, father hero, grandfather hero.

The funeral home that did his preparation and all those arrangements did an excellent job.  One of the things they did that was extremely cool, and something I have never seen or heard of before, was to take an impression of his right thumb print and cast it in sterling silver and hang that on a silver chain.  This is sort of a novel idea, I think, but as time has gone on I find this little piece of jewelry becomes more and more precious to me.

It’s pretty small, like about the size of a dime, or even a tad smaller.  I do wish it was bigger.  More like the size of his actual thumb print.  My father was a really big man and his thumb was   like   large also.  However, if it was more to scale, as big as HE was, I probably couldn’t have afforded all the silver it would have taken.  And, honestly I have to trust the funeral home that what they gave us, my sister and I, was the actual true impression of my Dad’s real and actual thumb.  But I do.  I just do.  I mean think about the bad karma if they tried to pull some shyster move like faking those things.

It made me think about my own lineage, however.  I was so fortunate in that I not only had a great Dad, but I had a great Grandfather.  My Grandfather was a dirt poor farmer who raised six children on a loosing proposition of leased farmland during the Great Depression.  He had, maybe, four or five years of formal education.  His own father died before he was sixteen and he raised his two sisters and a brother before he married and had his own family. 

I spent one summer with him, the one just before he died.  As an old man of eighty he couldn’t farm anymore and made his living hauling livestock from the local stock auction.  Rich farmers – ones who actually owned their farms – would come to the auction in fancy washed cars and bid on animals (pigs and beef cattle, sometimes sheep). Grandpa and I would load them into his truck and deliver the poor beasts to their last residences.  I was eighteen at the time.

Grandpa’s old Ford pick-up was –like – ancient.  Six cylinders, four on the floor.  Except the gear pattern plate had been worn into something like just a circle.  Because Grandpa was eighty, I did a lot of the driving.  However, even though I had learned to drive a stick shift (or manual as they are called today) – actually in those days manuals were all that there were, automatic hadn’t even been invented yet – driving that old truck took love.  That’s all I can say.  It took love, because that old piece of shit sucked all your patience and good feelings just trying to get it into the right gear.

The clutch plate was so old, it had to have been as slick as ice on a road, and the clutch cable was stretched beyond its sell by date by decades.  Just getting the clutch to disengage enough to start slapping the stick shifter around to find the next gear was an exercise in it self.  This wasn’t a double-clutch technique.  It was a pump down – pump down – swear – swear some more – grind, grind grind – clutch pump, clutch pump – grind, grind grind – swear!!! GRrrrr –runch!! And a lurch forward, or maybe a stall.  It was a total gearing crapshoot. 

Now, if the load was pigs or sheep, all this lunging, lurching and stalling wasn't such a bad thing.  Pigs ‘n sheep are short animals, built low to the ground, low centers of gravity.  Plus when things start lurching around, pigs ‘n sheep tend to lay down (I do not know why).  Beef cattle on the other hand are dumber than broccoli and have long legs and a high center of gravity.  It is really way too easy for them to break a leg being slung around in the back of an old pick-up.  And when they get frightened they shit buckets and buckets of green horrible shit – more than the gallons of brown slimy shit they shit just walking around.

Sheep aren’t bad, although they are also pretty dumb.  Pigs, on the other hand, tend to be smart, ornery (no, pigs are just mean when they’re pissed).  Pigs can actually control their shitters and choose just when and how much they want to unload.  Like on your boots when you have to zap with the prodder to get them up the shoot into the truck.  The little jolt from the prodder doesn’t seem to do much more than get their attention.  You know it is just meanness though, because after you jolt ‘em, they sort of turn their heads, look you in the eye and SHIT a wagonload of runny crap as high as they can force it to go.  Usually about knee high, running into your boots.  I just know they did it on purpose.

That summer with my Grandpa hauling animals, driving that old truck, cleaning up all that shit - well, it kind of made me appreciate the man.  More than just love him ,which I did, and more than respect him, which I did, but appreciate him.  He was a simple man, but he was a real man.  He was everything a real man should be.  That's an important lesson to learn when you're an eighteen year old boy.

So I have taken to attaching my father’s silver thumbprint to my motorcycle jackets.  I move it from my winter to my summer jacket as the seasons change.  Every time I notice it, many many cherished memories of both my father and grandfather pass across my mind and somehow I feel protected.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Depth of Hurt

The Depth of Hurt

Beneath and deep within is a black stone.  A seed, or a pit, no bigger than a pit maybe, but burning like a piece of coal.  Once ignited, like coal, it cannot be put out.  It continues to burn.  It is possible to grow some kind of hard shell to contain it.  It’s affect on the host organism can be insulated.  It cannot be cut out though – only insulated through much effort, discipline and total commitment.

The host can move forward, but retreat is never an option.  Reflection is to be avoided at nearly all cost.  I find that I don’t envy those who can have walls covered with photographs of their past years and those others they shared those years with.  Knowing that I cannot do that without more pain than I know I can tolerate, I don’t have anything to remind me of my past. 

It is possible to live without a limb – an arm, leg.  You can live without eyesight or hearing.  Even if these conditions happen later in life due to accidents, the spirit can revive and overcome.  There are things that can happen that can be more devastation than any of those other conditions.  How is it possible, you say, to have anything more horrible happen than – say – loosing your eyesight?  Loosing a child to cancer.  Loosing a child to suicide.  Loosing any loved one to suicide.

There are many things that can hurt worse than a physical injury – no matter how devastating at the time.  It is far more devastating to loose contact with the mortal and normal world from the standpoint of a mental illness.  Often because in the beginning, the symptoms for unnoticed and therefore uncontrolled until the person’s life is ruined.  Marriage lost.  Job lost.  Family lost.  Sanity lost.  And the person affected can’t figure it out, doesn’t understand, is left isolated and socially condemned.

Often, finding on this condemnation so complete the mentally ill cannot find the road back.  They become so lost even a path with blazes on every tree goes unnoticed.  And because it is their mind that is ruined, as opposed to a limb or a sense, and is therefore not obvious, empathy is nearly impossible by those surrounding them.  Only sympathy is possible and then it is often begrudgingly given.  Noting that sympathy, a more accurate synonym would be pity, is one of the most destructive emotions, or forces, that can be inflicted by one person on another – no matter how well meant.

Sympathy states simply, “I am superior to you and feel sorry for you.  I will help out of, or from, my superior position.”  Whether a person is disabled physically or even mentally, they recognize this as being not only duplicitous, but degrading.  They might be nice about it, even appreciate it on the surface, but honestly inside they are saying, “Fuck You!   And, “Either help me because I need it and you want to, or leave me the fuck alone.  I don’t need your pity.”

The hurt can be so deep, so encrusted with time pushing backwards that at times it seems even possible it is gone.

Then it isn’t, the host – the person surrounding the hurt – feels it again.  It’s there.  The deep knowledge that it is always there, returns.  So, what then …

The Aboriginals say, “Always face the sun, then you will never fear the shadows.”  Maybe that’s an answer.