Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book Is Good Food

What do books mean to you?

Whoa. Ever since I read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, books have been even more important to me. For those not familiar with Fahrenheit 451, it’s set in a future time when firefighters are rendered obsolete due to the invention of fireproofing technology, so they are re-engineered by the government to collect and burn books instead. (How’s that for a synopsis, eh?) I wonder how Bradbury would deal with the advent of digital technology and the scanning of books and print documents into electronic storage… Is Ray still with us? (A quick check of Wikipedia says Ray is a fine 89…)

I’ve always loved books. They are conduits. Wormholes. Spaceships. They can take you through space and time to places real or imagined. They are like God. Powerful. Unlimited.

I remember loving books from a very young age. My mom enrolled me in a book club when I was 2 or so, and I’d get a book, full of colors and dreams, every week (I think. I’ll let her do the fact checking on all that.) I still have some of those books.

In the 1st grade, we were to read as many books as we could for a contest– each student had a “bookworm” where the teacher would write the titles of the books each had read. I filled up my worm so that she had to add segments to the tail for additional space for titles. I didn’t read the most in the class, but I read a lot.

When my grandfather died, after my dad settled the estate, he gave my sister and I a sum of money that we were to use in a meaningful manner, to honor our grandparents (Grandma Rose had passed several years earlier.) I took the opportunity to go book shopping, investing in titles that I thought would stick with me in my life. It was a glorious shopping spree, and I still had most of the money left. But I had filled my arms with enough wisdom and intellect to travel the universe and return with stories of my own. I still have most if not all of those books I bought that day, and although I haven’t read them all, I still intend to.

Books for me are an investment. They’re like investing in stocks and bonds. If carefully selected, books can not only hold their value, but increase exponentially. Because they invest in the reader, in the form of knowledge and imagination.

Books are powerful, indeed. Why do you think fascist governments ban and burn them? Not because they’re offensive, vulgar, anti-Christ, or whatever reason they try to use– but because they give power to the people. The written word is an immensely powerful tool in foraging for truth, resonating with communities, and fortifying opinions. It sparks thought and allows for self reflection and development. It is the stuff of revolution.

So books mean freedom to me. A book is freedom.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Anybody Hungry?

What kinds of foods do you consider to be "picnic food"? Where do you like to go to eat them?

I associate barbeque with picnics. I especially like barbequed chicken, my grandmother's macaroni salad, my mother's baked beans, grilled asparagus, and oh man am I getting hungry!

Corn on the cob. With lots of real butter. BBQ steak, still red in the middle (I like it bloody-- I'm a bit of a vampire, I guess...). BBQ hot dogs and hamburgers that you cook for the kids but you end up eating a few yourself. Large pitchers of iced tea. Cans of soda buried in ice in a cooler. Chips and dip or salsa. Cookies, cakes and brownies. Strawberry pretzel jello.

I remember having picnic lunches and dinners on the lake up at Lake Shasta when I was a kid. Something about the atmosphere while playing in the water and being baked in the sun made the food that much more tasty.

One time we rented a houseboat, along with our family friends. We had versatile inboard/outboard boat and they had a jet boat. They also had four boys, mostly all around the same age as me. We spent a lot of time skiing the lake (although I was not one to participate-- I was too afraid of failing to try!) and then would return to the houseboat for fuel-- body fuel, that is. At that point we were hungry enough that dirt and rocks would have sounded good. Luckily for us, our moms were better cooks than that.

Just cheese and crackers and salami was exquisite enough, in the environment of the lake. The scenery, and the sounds of other boats pulling skiers past us, and the gentle lapping of the wake along the shore-- it all added up to make everything seem more intensely experienced. Emotional augmentation, if you will.

I'm remembering large gatherings that I associate with the "picnic" genre-- like Park Fete in Escalon, CA. Originally an event organized to clean up the downtown park, Park Fete grew to become a fierce trashing force of the entire downtown area. Booths with crafts and face painting and the like added to the carnival atmosphere-- but the real agent of mischief was the mixing in of alcohol. Drinkers from the two bars on the main street would spill into the street as the day drew into night and quite a ruckus would ensue. Not to quell the mood, there used to be a "street dance" with live music from a local band. They'd set up on a large flatbed truck trailer and play dancing tunes into the wee hours, while drunks got drunker and dancers got a little too free-swinging with their arms-- fights would ensue, and the next day would be spent drying out and mending fences, both metaphorically and literally. And the next week would be spent cleaning up.

I thought I should mention corn dogs.

Not being one to partake in the festive libation anymore, I've gained perspective on the art of over indulgence. I still respect beer, and wish my lips and tongue could dance with its velvety elixir. But I know in this time that I cannot partake, and so I observe as others do the partaking. At any rate, I still imagine I could produce a long riff on the ultimate picnic food: beer. But, alas, today is not the day for such an endeavor. Besides, beer deserves its own chapter, if not its own book; it's not a footnote in the annuls of picnic food. Suffice it to say that beer does as much to the environment of enjoyment as a warm sunny day on the lake does.

And then some. Especially if you have a cold one on a warm sunny day while relaxing on the lake.

With potato chips. Yeah.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I wish that I could come back as a flower

If you could be a flower, which one would you choose and why?

I like tulips. They're beautiful, indeed. And they're my wife's favorite. That and hydrangeas. Roses are another excellent choice, especially the fragrant ones. But if I had to choose, I think I would side with the blossom on a fruit tree, like an apple blossom. Because it becomes something more than just a visually stunning display of gentle, fragile natural beauty-- it becomes nutrition. It becomes food. It metamorphesizes over the course of its lifetime, transforming from a beautiful flower to a nutritious fruit. Much like the catepillar and the butterfly, only the apple brings forth and gives life to those who eat it. It gives its life to us, as a favor. For bringing forth the conditions for it and all nature to prosper. Nature doesn't need us to intervene and save it; it will do just fine without us. But it thanks us for good deeds, fuels our imagination and our very life source.

Now that I think of it a bit more... I think I'd want to be a sunflower. Follow the sun from dusk to dawn all day... feed the birds, and whomever else wanted my extra seeds... and have my children sprout all around where I grew up, right there where I take my final breath. Some children would catch a ride in a bird's mouth and end up a distance away, but they would still sprout in the next growing season. And in my youth, I would be a beautiful flower, with a dark center and glorious yellow petals. Yes, that would be great. Then I could watch the sun as it does its thing, as Louis Armstrong sang: "That lucky old sun has nothing to do but roll around Heaven all day."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Christmas in February

What is your favorite Christmas memory?

Another one from the Journal Jar.

I'm lucky in that I have a lot of Christmas memories to choose from. One of the things I used to love as a kid was going to get the Christmas tree. My mom and dad and my sister and I would drive up into the Saratoga Hills and go to a tree farm. We'd trudge around the hills and try to find that perfect tree, then watch dad cut it down and drag it back to the truck. Mom usually made us hot chocolate and sometimes we breakfasted on linguica and egg sandwiches. Absolute yummy.

I also remember fondly sitting in the livingroom with only the lights of the Christmas tree lit, listening to Christmas songs, cuddling with my family. There was such a priceless peace in our hearts at that moment. I love that memory.

Then there was the year that I got exactly what I was asking for-- long after I was of the age to receive presents from Santa. I was in 6th grade, and I wanted a cool new jacket with zip off sleeves, like the other cool (and rich) boy in my class had. Actually, his jacket was a lot cooler than he was, but anyway... I knew it was too expensive, but I held out hope for one nonetheless. And my parents came through. Home Run! And a total surprise. There is genuine unrestrained joy in my face in the photo that they captured of me opening it.

Another memory I remember fondly was a song that we laughed and laughed at when we heard it on the radio around Christmas of 1979, I believe. One of the radio stations that we listened to would play it every now and then, and we would listen for hours to find it, and then to try and get the artist and title of the song. We were unsuccessful, even when calling the radio station. No luck. About 30 years later, thanks to the internet, I was able to chase down the song. It's "The Twelve Daze of Christmas" by the Fabulous Fay McKay. Ms. McKay was a Las Vegas lounge singer in the heyday of lounge entertainment. She regularly warmed up crowds between the big name acts. She was quite the entertainer in her own right. The song is now almost as old as I am, so it's not politically correct. But I still laugh. The only downer was that I was the only one that remembered the song-- everybody else in the family forgot all about it. But they liked it anew. Perhaps you will too. That is, if I can figure out how to link it... Christmas in February. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mikey and the Bionator

Describe a typical day in elementary school.

It seemed that the Life cereal commercial that followed “Mikey” around his entire life did the same for me, as we shared our name. A typical elementary school day produced multiple reenactments of the bit, either in part or in whole, with the intent of getting a rise out of the targeted Mikey. I was able to stay fairly low to the ground. But to this day I’m affected in a tenderly annoying fashion by the name Mikey.

But this is about the day in elementary school. Typically. Can I summarize elementary school? My experience wasn’t typical, I think. I went to five different elementary schools. Two of them for single years only. One was a private school. So I guess in the context of the school year, there was a “typical” day, but a different typical for each school attended. So where do we go from here?

Well, I remember more atypical stuff than typical. So maybe we’ll just go with that.

I was pulled out of class fairly early on—3rd grade, I think—to test for accelerated learning abilities. It was somewhat typical that I was disrupted from the regular schedule of my classmates, either for testing or for other learning programs. In 3rd grade, I left the classroom and went over to read with the “big kids”—4th and 5th graders. In 4th grade, I would spend a time with other gifted children from around the district, and of varied grade levels, in the Mentally Gifted Minors program. In 7th grade, I was identified as a G.A.T.E. student (Gifted and Talented Education) and earned the opportunity to travel to England and Scotland with my teacher and other students.

But those things were definitely not typical. There are some interesting stories around my dental work—I had a retainer, or a “bionator” that I had to wear inside my mouth to correct a severe overbite. I wore it for about a year, I think. It made my speech kind of slurred, as it was a mass of plastic and wires inside my mouth that didn’t allow me to enunciate. This may have contributed to my quiet demeanor, but I doubt it. I was very shy for the most part until halfway through high school, when I somehow found my sense of humor. But that’s another story for another day.

The bionator had to be taken out so I could eat at lunch. My mom would pack me a lunch, usually a brown bag with a sandwich of some sort, maybe some fruit and something snacky, like cheez-its or the like. Embarrassed by the site of the bionator (it smelled horrible, too, no matter how much mouthwash I soaked it in), I would wrap it in a napkin or paper towel while I ate lunch. Well, many a time I accidentally threw that wad of paper away when I was cleaning up after eating. I had to dig the bionator out of the trash and then give it a good cleaning before sticking it back in my mouth. Yeesh. The things adults use to torture their children. And within the law!

One time, I forgot my bionator on the table after eating, wrapped politely in a paper napkin. I was at a friend’s house, and everything got swept up off the table after the meal. I of course went off to continue playing, not giving another thought to my dental health. When I remembered a few hours later... I learned about a kitchen appliance that was new to me—the trash compactor. My bionator had been crushed! And I knew that I was on the hook for it—it was my responsibility! And it was expensive! What was going to happen to me? My parents surely would harvest my organs or place me in solitary confinement for the next 20 years. My life was over.

Truth be told, those exaggerated thoughts of disaster and ruin were probably the most typical thing in elementary school.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wanted: Job Assessment

I've been afraid to do this. Reluctant, yes. Cautious. Downright trepidation laden.

But it needs to be done. So let the games begin.

I have been unhappy at work for some time now. Like, five years or so. Maybe longer. I don't know anymore. I've been dealing with a lot of irons out of the frying pan and into my hair that's on fire. The whole bipolar scenario has taken most of my energy. But I feel as though I've turned a corner, and I've got some ducks in a row now, allowing me to focus more on other problems.

So work. Definitely, some of the problems I have there are related to my disorder. But it's not all that. Yes, there's the bad attendance, and the poor productivity, and the general malaise, a strain on coworker relationships, etc. But mixed in is something else. I don't like my job anymore.

I've been afraid to put anything down on paper. A long time ago, I wrote a letter to my boss at the time and that just didn't go well. Certainly didn't go as I had hoped. That was a tough lesson to learn-- that your boss has a commitment to the company that you both work for and a responsibility to deal with things within a certain protocol. And that it trumps what you might have considered a "friendship." Or it did in my case, anyway. I'm still amazed at how all the advice I got after the fact was so overwhelmingly emphatic-- "Oh, no, you shouldn't have done that." Not one person thought that writing a letter was a good idea. Where were they before I gave the letter away?

So now-- back to the present. I'm gunshy about writing on this subject now for the above stated reason. But here goes nothing.

A few years ago, we were in a situation where we (the employees) were being told that there just wasn't any money in the budget for raises, with the economy struggling and all. We had been asked to tighten our belts and ride it out. Staffing was cut back, so we were asked to do more work. Our alternative work schedule, which was very popular with those who chose to work it, was taken away without appropriate justification. The trends were that we were to do more with and for less. And with a smile.

I became frustrated with it all. The inability to negotiate with directors of the budget process. The inability to organize the employees in a unified positive voice. The inability to get my concerns through the chain of command. The inequity of responsibility between the supervisors and the subordinates.

There are so many examples of ineptitude, unfairness, disillusionment, cynicism, neglect, mis-communication, procrastination, and waste that I'll refrain from listing them here. Instead, I want to try and explore why it still bothers me.

Because there has been change. New supervisors. Raises. Pleasant negotiations. People turning over new leaves. So what about me? Why not me?

Well, there's obviously some latent negativity that didn't get dealt with at the time because I was handling my health issues. But why does it continue to ruin my day? Or should I say, why do I let it ruin my day?

This has been going on for a time now, and I've mostly been attributing it to my illness. Some of that is happening, I believe it. But there's more going on in my head than needs to be.

I start my days having difficulty waking up, getting up. Some of that is the medication, which I take the night before and helps me to sleep soundly through the night. Not exactly what it's prescribed for, but that's one of the effects it has on me. I seem to start each workday with a mental malaise, a fog that clouds my perception and my thinking. The fog generates messages of a negative nature-- What's the point? You can't do this anymore. You don't want to go.

So I soldier through as much as I can, all the while the bed with a hypo-magnetic pull, and me with my lead suit and moon boots. Some days I can't get a shower in. Some days I don't brush my teeth. It's all I can do to get dressed.

On my days off, I still am slow to rise. But I have so much more energy. I have clarity of thought. I am excited to do things that I want to do.

So I should just find another job, right? Problems. This job is outside, gets me walking most of the time. I'm out on my own for the most part. I can wear shorts in the nice weather. I'm paid very well. The work isn't too demanding, more physically than mentally, but still not too bad, as long as you don't push too hard. I have good benefits, a pension. Vacation time and holidays. I get paid to exercise!

So what am I missing here? Why is it so hard to remember in my freakin' head that work is good for me? And that I can actually enjoy it? I can play in the rain! I can go for a walk in the sun! There's so much that is good, why all the negativity?

I need help in determining a plan of action. Can this job be salvaged? Or do I need to move on to whatever it is that I'm going to do next-- be it a transition job with less pay and benefits and the like, or whatever-- if I try to become a full-time writer of some sort, for instance.

Please weigh in with your impressions from what I've written to you-- you're always helpful. Thank you kindly.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Greased Mania

This is a bit of a timed writing. I've got about an hour before I have to pick my wife up at the airport, so off I go, into the wild unconscious...

Read Ryan Christman's account (what he's posted so far at www.deepbluecalm.com) of his initial realization and diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Very good read, well presented and riveting. Do check it out.

I found a lot of similarities to my own experience in his words-- the all encompassing, grandiose thoughts that are so compelling, so utterly super-logical that they explain away the most erudite fact. It's thrilling, really, and terrifying at the same time. Thinking you have all the answers in an exhilarating brief moment, that you've figured it all out, only to find yourself groping for what it was you had been actually thinking about...

My first experience with mania and non-drug-induced psychotic thinking (there were some LSD trips that certainly covered this territory) was after a vacation to Greece. I started to come apart mentally towards the end of our trip. I hadn't been sleeping well, as I had a head cold come on part way through the trip. That and my thoughts started racing as I took in the scenery and culture and had extreme fun with friends old and new. I was having the time of my life, and I almost didn't want to come home. I certainly didn't want it to end.

We had traveled to the island of Samos, a relatively small island near the coast of Turkey. It had been home to Pythagorus, that really smart dude who invented the theorem and all.

We spent about a week on Samos, doing touristy stuff like shopping at all the markets along the water, visiting beaches and fishing towns, taking hikes to secluded beaches, and even lounging at the hotel pool and bar.

One day we got up early and went to catch a boat that would take us to Turkey. Several cruise ships were docked at the same place where our small craft with about 80 people landed. We got off the boat and made the trek by bus to Ephesus to visit the ruins of an ancient civilization.

We had to fight the heat-- it was at least 100 degrees-- but it was pleasant, venturing into the former city, walking along what used to be streets teaming with markets and activity, and seeing what was left of what had been built so many thousands of years ago. There was a library and an ampitheater, and also pointed out to me was a mural of a soldier, with sword and shield, being confronted by a pen with a large quill. Depicting, of course, that the pen is mightier than the sword.

Had to get my picture with that.

After touring Ephesus, we were fed a fair meal and then taken to a room full of salesmen who would try their best to sell us as many hand woven rugs as we could arrange to have shipped away from Turkey. We watched as carpet after carpet was unrolled, and each displayed remarkable beauty and craftsmanship. But we weren't about to buy a rug.

As we left the room, we had to snake our way between all of the salesmen that were cued up to make sales. They were almost menacing with their stares, ready to take advantage of any guilt we might be feeling for being shown such amazing carpets and surely being given the greatest deals on the planet.

One of the more savvy travelers (and shoppers) from our group hung back and asked to see the highest quality rugs that they hadn't shown yet. She had a hunch that the best were saved for the more discretionary connoisseur. We got to hear her story at dinner that night, about how she had coaxed them into sharing with her the Tree of Life rugs that are extremely rare and special. She had purchased some and had regarded them as an exceptional find.

After the "rug show" we opted to check out the shops nearer to the boat and dock, so that we could easily make our way back to the boat on time. The shops catered to tourists and had lots of knick-knacks and trinkets, as well as film and batteries and other stuff you tend to need when you're a tourist. But it was fun going from shop to shop and talking with the locals, as much as you were able through the language barrier. Most of the shop clerks knew some English, and we had fun looking around at things.

What we didn't do was go with a group that went quickly to view what is purported to be Mary's final resting place. There wasn't enough room in the cab for both my wife and I, and we didn't want to spend the money for a cab for just two of us, so we stayed near the dock. Someone who went did get some holy water for my wife to give to her mother when we got back. My wife would actually use the holy water on me later, while I was having my psychotic manic episode. She didn't know what else to do.

The boat ride back to Samos was a lot rougher than the ride out in the morning. There was a lot more wind, and so the waves were bounding and rocking the boat up and down. I learned that I don't get seasick very easily, but I watched some others in our group struggle with it. I sat down just below the captain's windshield and had a great conversation with Dr. Garcia, one of the friends of the family we were touring with. I wish there were some way to go back and record the conversation, because my recollection is that it was a very good one, but I don't remember specifics much at all. We laughed a little, but mostly we were exchanging ideas and concepts at a highly intellectual level. It felt good, and I remember it as being rejuvenating, and confidence building.

My confidence and very self-concept would be shattered just a few short days later.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I'm not supposed to think. I'm just supposed to write. And not look at the keys. And not worry about punctuation or spelling. So on we go.

Paste. That's what holds it together. The thoughts and the meaning and the feelings all together with the paste. Or is it paced? We must have pace to get the words down and to paint our stories. The holes get spackled at a later date after the first coat dries. No back spacing only forward thinking...

Moronic thinking-- it just eats at me-- the negatives and the paste no not paste more like glue and syrup or tar or gum. Sticky sticky notes to live by-- there's sex in them thar hills-- that's one form earlier that i thought and remarked how funny make a post it note.

You've got to keep moving. And stop yawning you're making me self conscious. Don't worry about anything at all just keep the thoughts going and the typoing going forward. Even though it hurts you have to push and get past it get past the pain and the torture and feel the way out and make it real make the writing real reel in the reader and make if all real.

I once knew a girl named Joan. I don't know her anymore. But she was in my grade school class. So was Polly. Polly wore thick glasses, but was dignified, somehow. Much like the photo of the girl I took at the California State Fair back in 1995. I don't know her real name, so I named the piece Polly.

I can't get comfortable, I need to pee, I need to blow my nose or at least wipe it as it's leaking down my lip, I'm not happy, my wrists hurt.

I'm a writer. Feel my drama.

I'm not inspired tonight. I'm doing my "homework" though. I'm writing anyway. It's like doing the scales on the piano. Not exactly making "music", but it's gotta be done if you're going to get any better at playing. So I'm jammin' up a storm tonight, just pasting and copying and baloneying (or is that bolognaing?) by way through the page, getting it down. Whatever it is.

How about a riff on lunchmeat? Nah. Too greasy. Would mess up the keys. Of both the computer keyboard and a piano.

I want to wow, and I want to, now. But now is more ow than wow.

This is torture! Perhaps I'd be better off wringing my hands for the next twenty minutes. Well, that would be better than wringing my brain any longer. I'm getting a headache.

To go with my wrists-ache, my backed-up bladder, my stiff neck... Maybe I need to see a doctor?

Get real. You've just got procrastinitis. The cure for which is action.

Roll camera. Quiet on the set! Lights! And...