Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Part of the Grinnell Experience

Wanted to get a word in before the end of the month and our trip away...  Going to Grinnell, Iowa for a few days to reconnect with friends and colleagues at my alumni reunion.  20 years since I "graduated" there.  It's in quotes because I didn't want to use an asterisk.

The story of my graduation is a culmination of my childhood or teenhood.  I grew up that day.  In a hurry.

I wore the gown, after having traversed the multitudinous syllabi and reaching the apex of requirements.  At least, I thought I had paid the right people for the desired results...

I had plans to pull out my wallet once I walked across the stage to face then president of the college, Pamela Ferguson (did I spell that correctly?) and settle my tab.  "What do I owe you?" I would ask her in my best theatrical voice.

But I stammered, mentally.  I got worked up and worried.  Nervous.  So I stepped in front of her, holding my wallet, and stood there.  She smiled and handed me my diploma folder.  I fumbled with my wallet, then took the folder, juggling.  I think I even shook her hand (details are not very clear).

It was now time for me to exit the stage.  My moment had passed, and I had not taken full advantage of it.  This was to be a bit of a metaphor for my academic experience while at Grinnell.  I was confused-- I couldn't see where my classmates had gone to get off the stage.  Which way was I supposed to walk?  I didn't see stairs or a ramp or anything.

So I finally acted and zigged instead of zagging.  I walked over to the back of the platform, behind the backs of the faculty and other dignitaries sitting in their folding chairs on the stage, and jumped off. 

It was totally unrehearsed, just me getting through it, muddled mind and all.  I don't recall the reaction of the crowd.  I just remember what happened next.

I stepped into the shade of one of the great trees there on central campus and opened the diploma folder.  But there was no diploma in it.  Instead, there was a note explaining that I had not satisfied the requirements for my successful graduation.

A friend walked up to me, laughing and joking with me for jumping off the back of the stage.  He saw me open the folder and experience the let down.  He commiserated with me as my thoughts swirled.  I knew that I had come up short in my French class.  That had to be it.

Soon I was surrounded by family.  I was totally defeated.  I had failed!  All that work, all that money.  What a waste of time!  I was humiliated and despondent.  I was inconsolable.

In the next couple days I learned that I had actually flunked my French final and earned a "D" in the class.  I had been so distracted by the fact that I broke up with my girlfriend the night before the final that I had failed to study well.  But the work hadn't been done for the whole semester, really.  I hated that I had to take a language class as part of my major.  Wasn't studying English enough?  And I was so nervous and anxious in those classes, so much going on and me not able to figure out what it was.  I couldn't get over the hump and relax enough to learn.  So I avoided the classes.

I was also erroneously enlivened by the fact that I had worked on and given a good oral report.  I had figured that this was my ultimate weakness-- speaking-- as I had trouble speaking up in class in a language that I had been speaking all of my life.  It was shyness, yes, but also perhaps social anxiety.  I couldn't think straight when I didn't know for sure what was going on.  I'd get self-conscious and figure that I was too dumb to learn-- or I feared that such a truth would be exposed if I tried to talk in class.  My fears were too great to allow me to learn in a relaxed, natural fashion.  So I found ways to get by, and I found my own way off the stage.

I traversed an unbeaten path to get through my Grinnell Experience.  It was my path alone.  It led to me receiving the "Closest to Earning a Degree, but No Cigar" Award. 

I've since tried going back to school and taking a language class to satisfy the requirement.  But I haven't been successful.  I've started over with Spanish but flamed out when employment challenges got in the way.  I've tried auditing a Latin course at our local university, but you have to be an alum to register or audit a class, unless you go to summer school, where language classes aren't often offered there. 

So I haven't found my path to my degree.  At least, not yet.  I had enough credits to graduate;  I just needed a "C" where I received a "D" because the language requirement was considered to be part of my English major requirements.  So I missed my degree by a few percentage points.

If I had come from a family of litigators, I might have found a way to financially motivate Grinnell to working with me.  But as it stands, I don't have the piece of paper.  What I do have, though, is a great education and access to the network of friends and colleagues through the college.  There is a fellowship that exists between any- and everyone that has gone through Grinnell, and I'm proud to be a part of that.  I'm still walking the path for my steps alone, finding my way through my Grinnell Experience.

An education is not a piece of paper, anyway.  It's the journey and the mind set.  The Grinnell Experience.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Forms of Communication (with God)

So I'm working with books these days.  Right now I'm editing electronic copies of Italian books.  The one I worked on the last couple days had a lot of Italian, some Latin, some Greek, and a few passages of English.  Just enough to get me interested.

So here's the mystery.  The quote that I was able to read, pronounce, and understand was of great interest to me.  But all of the particulars that I'm usually able to use to facilitate further understanding were in different languages, not of my comprehension.  Anyway.  So I have this puzzle that I want to try and put together.

First item.  One of the footnotes listed Alfred North Whitehead, who turns out to be a very interesting bloke.  He did a series of lectures that were compiled into a book under the title "Religion in the Making," at least I think that's what happened.  This work was noted in the Italian book that I was reading-- er, editing.  Well, you gotta read when you edit, right?

Next item.  Another footnote listed John Dewey's "Art as Experience."  The quote included from Mr. Dewey was "Communicability has nothing to do with popularity."  Hmm.  Yes.

Last item is W.E. Hocking and his "Science and the Idea of God." Oooo.  I find very interesting.  Like.

And finally, (part of) the quote that I jotted down:  " if Plato's eternal ideas abandoned their impassivity and at the touch of divine persuasion entered the world of change and addressed themselves to our suffrages..."

Okay.  Connect the dots.

I'll wait.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Perfect Machine

There are lots of things swimming around in my head today, so let's get started.  Fresh.

I pause.  Where to start?  Uh-oh.  I freeze.  Could it be?

Writer's block?  No!

Maybe.  I'll just have to try and write through it.

Got something in the mail yesterday advertising this year's Bioneers Conference in October.  Really do love that organization.  They're inspiring and informative.  They provide vision and tutelage in these days of dire conditions and underwhelming mainstream information.  They complement the movements that they feature and endorse.  It's a wonderful thing.

I'm sensing that I am going to be working on my books a lot in the coming months.  Both my picture book, that I'm  now considering as less of a children's book and more of an adult story perhaps.  I don't know.  But it is still enticing me to look at it and work on it.  I want to do more work with the illustrations, make them "pop" more.  And I'll take the copy that I made to my college reunion to get some more feedback from friends and colleagues. 

I'm also feeling myself ramp up towards writing about Greece more.  I've started a compilation file of many of the blog posts that I've done and am looking to go through and expand on things.  Writing about doing this is part of the project, too.  Making myself accountable for my brainstorms.

I'm seeing things come together for me.  I am settling into a rhythm.  I can sense a new dawning of production and creativity.  I can feel myself sprouting new limbs, fresh wings.  I am transforming into the being that I want to be, the angelic temple with fortitude and moxie.  I am coming of age, awakening from my slumber.  I am bringing forth the tools to build the temple.  I have bricks and mortar and sweat.  I have mud and guts and strength.  I bring a fountain that sustains, flowing as a river.  I am finding my way.  I am creating with the creator.  I am lifting me up and stretching my lengths.

I will be heard.  I will be read.  I will write and draw and create.  I will find the answers to my questions.  I will find the path that leads me home.  I will make the perfect breakfast.  I will drink my fill.  I will turn water into fuel.  I will my way into my future.  I make my world, my reality.  I bring it up out of the ashes and blow off the dust, and thrust it into the water to the sizzling sounds of its baptism.  It emerges still warm, fresh.  Anew with purpose.  The perfect tool.  The perfect machine.

That's me.  The Perfect Machine.  Making it perfect, one step at a time.  I will walk this perfect journey to the house that holds my ideal.  I will make the trip through the rain and the heat.  I can endure, and I will.

This too shall pass.  It will lead me to the promised land.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Price Your Train of Thought?

I don't know how to say this.

I want to work again, but I'm having trouble with the existing system.

It sucks that I only get paid ten bucks an hour to do editing and stuff.  That I can't just wake up in the morning and go to my desk and do something and make ten bucks an hour.  But no, I've gotta go sit in their office for eight hours, while they time me and rent me and make me "productive" as they want it defined.

I don't like the rules.  I don't like the system.  I should get more for doing what it is that I want to do.

I'm not asking for a million dollars.  I'm asking for enough to get by.  And that's more than ten bucks an hour, doing something I would rather not do.

If I made twice that amount, it would be better.  Maybe even okay.  Then we could breathe, economically.  Financially.  If I could collect the money from my retirement fund, the ten bucks an hour would be okay, because we'd be covering our debts.  But it's not adding up right now.

We're sinking into greater debt, there's more going out than coming in, and there's no end in sight.  No turnaround foreseen.  How do we turn this thing around?  How can I take my many talents and make a living again?

I feel like I've got to put myself out there, right out in front.  Go live, so to speak, and just have everyone stare at my big ass hairy problems as they are.  A big ol' plate of honesty.  How much is that worth?

I hate that I feel guilty for feeling sick like I am.  As if feeling sick isn't enough, I need a "real" problem as well.  If I could just snap out of it I would have done it years ago.  But that's not happening.  If you can actually develop a methodology and practice for the "snap out of it" therapy that works, you'd have yourself a winning product in the marketplace.  I don't think it's been invented as of yet.

But mental illness exists, and it exists with a grand stigma.  People don't talk about having mental illness, even if they do, because they don't want to be judged as "crazy" or "weak" or whatever.  You can't be president of the United States if you're mentally ill.  Well, evidently, anyway.  That's what our insane "vetting" process says, and yet we have a whole congress full of nutcases.

I don't know what else I want to say, except that we have real problems that need real solutions, and to get at those real solutions we need to be real honest with ourselves. 

If I'm going to do anything for forty hours a week, I need to benefit from it.  I need more than 400 bucks and a "thank you."  Especially when it costs me a hundred bucks for gas and wear and tear on my vehicle. 

This is not a plea for winning the lottery, or handouts, or even sympathy.  I'm entitled to peace of mind, and for that I'm willing to work.  But I don't want to paint myself into a corner.  And especially not at ten bucks an hour.

I want to get fair value for the work I've been doing.  I'm making progress, I do believe.  I'm writing much more frequently these days, and I'm approaching a consensus, or a vision.  A clarity, perhaps?  I don't know, but I'm moving along the path toward greater understanding and wisdom, I do feel that.  And I'm creating something here with this blog.  I will continue to work at it, and allow it to define itself.  It will evolve as I evolve.

And the acorn does bloom into a grand canopy of tree greatness.  In time, and at its own pace.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Through the Balcony Portal

I know I’ve written about this before, I just don’t know where to find it exactly.  When we stayed at the hotel on Samos, the main level had a bar with a large walk-through opening that led to a balcony that overlooked the ocean.  I sat and looked out through that passage and thought it to be magical; transformative.  Almost like the Looking Glass portal or some such thing.  I imagined taking a run at it and launching myself up and over the balcony and into the air, never to return to the ground.  I would take flight and find my way over and through the various realms until I was reunited with my ultimate love.

The seeds of this vision were planted by my reading of Jitterbug Perfume, where Alobar exists in a parallel universe for hundreds of years, waiting to be reunited with his long lost love.  I had visions of another character coming into existence after my taking flight.  I would separate from my body and give birth to another man’s psychosis.  This wild man of Samos would be a community vagrant, shifting around the town, surviving off the fat of the land.  The wild man of Samos would be a legend, just like the wild cat.

I would be somehow connected to both of these characters—the wild man and the soul that took flight.  I existed in metaphors with this thinking, having left my body behind at the balcony and becoming an ideal that would eventually make its way back home.  And the wild man would appear about town, not making a ruckus but being a presence enough that people would notice and wonder who he was and what his story was.

The wild man would be a lost soul, in search of the true love he had lost at the resort.  This vision tied into the vision at the water’s edge, where a royal beauty decided to walk into the water and just keep going, along the floor of the ocean, under the sea.  Did the wild man lose his one and only true love while on vacation?  Did he lose her to the ocean?

There was a vision of a hotel room, where there was a stained bedspread.  The stain looked as though it could have been blood;  it was unclear what had happened there.  But the wild man knows, and he is haunted by it.  He had been given a rose by his love, and the rose had been smashed into the bedspread by the suitcase that was hurriedly thrown onto the bed and packed with the belongings of both him and her.  He had paused to notice the stain, and fretted the demise of the gifted rose, rubbed painfully into the bedspread like a melting crayon.

The wild man would wander the town in the coming years, searching for his lost love, saying light poems to her, drinking and bathing in the fountains at the town square.  He felt that he would always love her.  He would return to the room at the hotel once a year, on the anniversary of her loss, and revisit the moments in his mind, staring into a red stain on the bed.

The wild man, it turns out, was who I might become if I were to stay and live out my life in the small resort town in Samos.  The woman that I would have lost would have been my wife, as she was adamant on returning to our life back in the United States.  There were no other options.  Either I said goodbye to her and stayed to live my lonely life as a wandering vagrant in this exotic locale, or I had to go back and face my suspended reality back home.  Or I could take flight and leave my body behind, separate my soul and entity energy from the physical being by running out the opening and jumping off the balcony.  While floating over the ground below, my soul and body would separate, and though my body would eventually have to deal with the reality of the harsh concrete below, my soul would be released, featherlike, to the wind.

My body would fall to the earth and crumple, but I would be floating, soaring.  And I would and could go anywhere that I wished to go.

So the vision wasn’t explicitly a suicidal one; it felt like I would be choosing life, eternity, happiness, magic.  There wasn’t a place in the thinking for things such as death.

The Process of Loving

It's nearly 3am and I can't sleep.  I'm kinda tired but my mind is alert and kind of racing.  Maybe I had too much caffeine today.  Or maybe I slept too late or too much.  Or maybe my bipolar mind has its own agenda and sleep just will have to come later.

Last night, before I went to bed, I had a lengthy conversation with a friend who is struggling with her own issues.  I think she's looking for answers and might be asking too much of herself in some ways.  I don't know; I'm not a professional.  But the professionals don't always know the right thing either.  I gave her the advice that I could come up with, drawing from my experiences in group therapy and the intensive outpatient program that I've been through several times with my episodes and after my hospitalizations.  But I still felt worried about giving a lot of advice, and about her once our conversation ended.

She's a fan of my blog.  This blog.  This practice that I've been developing and using as a ritual to work out some of my issues and try and achieve something bigger, so to speak.  I'm trying to write my memoir of my experiences, centered around my struggles with bipolar disorder and the diagnosing process, or all the processes I've been through to this point.  I've had trials and tribulations with medication combinations.  I've tried taking time off away from work.  I've tried monitoring my sleeping and my eating rituals with the "Social Rhythm Metric" that we use as part of our group therapy.  And all of these things work in concert to bring me forth in this world.  To help me manage my moods instead of having them manage or manipulate me.

I sense that my friend is feeling grief because she doesn't have the support of her family in the way that she desires.  I know what this is like.  It still bothers me that my dad doesn't have a functional relationship with my mom's sister, for example.  And it bothers me that my dad doesn't make more of an effort to contact me or spend time with me.  But I haven't expressed these things to him because I haven't found the time and the right words.  I can make a difference and take charge of this situation by taking the initiative to talk to him about it, and ask him for more support.  Then again, he might read this before I am able to talk to him.  I hope that he doesn't take it wrong, or end up being too hard on himself.  I understand that he is trying as hard as he can, doing the best that he knows how.  And I know that he loves me.  He does a lot to make that evident.

So this is turning into an outing of my dad, and that wasn't my intention.  But you have to go where the writing takes you most of the time.  I love you, Dad.  Know that is true.  You have done so much for me, instilled a great love in me that I share with the world when I can, when I feel my best.  You have made me the best that I can be.  You can be proud of yourself, because you were there for me, during my childhood.  You got me to go to college, and that may be the single most important and enriching thing that I have done in my life to date.  You had a vision, and you made it happen.  Thank you for that.  You rock.

I miss our weekly rendezvous, when we used to meet for breakfast.  That was a great ritual for our relationship.  We just spent time together, once a week, more or less, sharing thoughts and observations about the world and how to fix it.  That was another thing that you have done for me-- you've made efforts to spend time with me, just to sit across the table from me, and make me feel safe.  Safe to utter my thoughts and get them out from swimming in my head.

I feel a loss that we haven't done that in a while.  Things happen; life happens, and we get into other routines.  I was just noticing the other day that we don't speak on the phone nearly as much as we used to.  So I felt a lack, and that's where the support request is coming from.  I'd like to meet with you more than we have been these last couple of years.  Not your fault, or mine-- I don't wish to assign blame.  I just am asserting my needs to have more time with you.  So let's see what we can make happen.

There.  That feels better.  Makes me think of my colon, and what amazing work it does on a daily basis.  Don't always know what it's doing, but it is productive, and something makes itself evident eventually...

Something pulls you along, while the thoughts are dancing and the ideas are formulating.  One of my favorite quotes I learned from Anne Lamott.  It's a quote by E.L. Doctorow that goes something like "Writing is like driving at night.  You can't see beyond the light of your headlights, and yet you can make the whole journey that way."  Hmm.  I think I will look up the actual quote and list it here.

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” --E.L. Doctorow

There you go.  Talk amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Taste of Sanity

So I'm wondering today if everything I do is viewed through the bipolar lens, or if I'm just a regular guy that has bipolar moments in his life.


*cricket sounds*

Okay.  How about we talk about Jersey Shore?

*insert din here*

I've looked back, not today, but before, at some of my posts and re-read them, with the thought of "I wrote this while I was manic," or "I wrote this while I was really depressed."  And I'm actually surprised by the writing.  It seems that through all the disabling feelings of depression and mania, I'm able to have a voice.  And it comes through regardless of how I'm feeling when I'm writing.  So it seems.

So press on, and do the work, regardless of how you feel.  It will show when you're feeling better.  There are some speedbumps and potholes, sure, but the over-arching theme of the work will come through, radiantly.

Or maybe I'm just manic now.

No.  I am hungry though.  So maybe that distracts and distorts my experience.  Do they have a pill for hunger yet?  Something I can take with my daily medication so I don't have to bother with all of this chronic eating?

Just kidding, of course.  I don't want to rid myself of the pleasure of eating.  But I do want to slow down and get a hold of myself when it comes to eating.  I could stand to not gain any more weight.  I'll be flirting with the 300lbs. mile marker if I keep on like I've been.

I really can't afford to eat the way that I have been.  Grabbing meals conveniently (read "fast food") just isn't convenient long term.  I can't afford it financially or physically.  And I pay a mental price, too.  Having a good nutritious diet is good medicine.

So for lunch today, I'm going to go out for Chinese food.


What was I talking about?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tell Me Where It Hurts

So I continue to stabilize.  I'm not having the suicidal ideation anymore.  I'm back at work, sleeping well, spending time with friends.  Laughing.  I realize that I did the right thing, and that feels good.  I'm at peace with myself.  I'm not searching for my voice or my calling.  I just am my calling.  I just am my voice.

Feels damn good, if I can say so myself, and apparently I most certainly can.  So what else can I say?

I wish that I didn't have to pay for an overnight stay in the hospital and an ambulance ride that was less than a city block's distance from one Kaiser facility to another.  But it's the price of doin' business here in America.  And I have healthcare coverage.  A person without my experience and coverage might be looking at a several thousand dollar invoice after an overnight stay for the same affliction.  And that's wrong.  Because mental illness doesn't care if you're affluent, or poor, or middle class.  It's doesn't favor women over men, or one race over another.  It attacks like cancer, without the lesions or visible symptoms. 

I went to work today, but work wasn't ready for us.  The work ran out, and they couldn't come up with a way for us to have more work to do, so they sent us home at our lunch/dinner break.  Half a day's pay for half a day's work.  I gave one of my coworkers a ride home, as she lives in Santa Clara too.  As we talked on the ride home, I shared with her how I had been through a crisis last week (we were already sharing personal stuff so I thought it appropriate.)  I told her that I had been hospitalized because I was suicidal.  I described what that had felt like for me-- that I had felt hopeless, and that I just wanted it all to go away.

"I feel like that all the time," she shared.  She explained her situation, and how tough it is sometimes to get through what life throws at you.  It was a good, cleansing, and nurturing talk that we had.

I wonder if more people have that feeling, and struggle with suicidal thoughts and plans and other hurtful things.  Are there really so many of us suffering out there?  I'm sure I'd be surprised by the numbers.  And the numbers are probably lower than what is happening in reality, because people, at least in this country, don't talk about such things as suicide and mental illness.  We don't ask for help.  We don't admit that we are broken, or hurt, or vulnerable.  We don't want to show any weakness.  We tough it out, with our "rugged individualism" that only goes so far.  You just can't think your way out of a broken mind.  It doesn't work.  And there's a lot more mental illness in this country than people are willing to admit and acknowledge.

I'm reminded of the documentary film "I Am," by Tom Shadyac, and his personal journey to arrive at a healthier place.  Recommended for viewing, I think it's out on DVD now.

That's what is known as a product placement.  And since I blew up my AdSense, it's one of the few ways for me to benefit something on this here blog.

So I think I've given you enough to think about for now.  Talk to you later.  Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sensing the Ending

So I'm fresh out of the hospital again.  Just an overnight stay this time to make sure I got my thinking right and could "contract for safety" as they say these days.  I'm in charge of my life, after all.  Especially when it comes to thoughts about ending it.

I don't know why I was thinking about killing myself, exactly.  But I was.  Can't deny that.  I was thinking about it in great detail, wondering about who would be the first to find me, and what they would find.  What materials I would use and how I would go about it.  How I could account for contingencies, like if I got halfway into it and changed my mind, how I could be sure that what I was doing was right.  Like if I started to struggle to save my own life, could I anticipate such a struggle so that said struggle could be denied, unsuccessful?

This is not easy stuff to talk about.  But it's not fun to think about either.  This I know.  I'm not recounting this now for sympathy or attention.  I'm trying to understand it, too.

So I thought about suffocating myself with a plastic bag and duct tape.  I'd get a couple plastic bags and wrap the duct tape around my neck nice and tight.  Then I'd wrap my hands up in duct tape so that I couldn't claw at the plastic when I was struggling for air.  Not sure I would have been successful, as it's hard to wrap your own hands up, but I did try to envision how I could do it successfully.  This, of course, is dangerous.  Getting this far into a suicide scenario can't be a good thing, unless you're really meaning to end your life.

I was confused.  I think I believed that I was slipping into a situation that would land me back in the hospital and on various medications that would disrupt me and be another great struggle for me.  This didn't happen, and for that I'm thankful.  I knew that I didn't want to go through that again.  I still know that I don't want to have to fight for my very sanity like that again.  But that's what we do, every day of our life: fight for what we believe in.  Fight for what is right.  Fight for those that we love.

There's something about death that intrigues me.  I am in awe of it.  How does it work?  How is life here one moment and not the next?  Where does it go?

I will always wonder at these questions.  Maybe someday I will know, but I don't need to kill myself just to try and find out.

I know that I have received very good care and help during this latest crisis.  Thank you all that have assisted and counseled me.  I have a great group of support.  I am blessed and loved, it is clear.  I hope I can always draw upon this knowledge and love to get me through the tough times.