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pursuing the horizon
STEPHEN CRANE, WK#22
When the prophet, a complacent fat man,
Arrived at the mountain-top,
He cried: "Woe to my knowledge!
I intended to see good white lands
And bad black lands,
But the scene is grey."
My parents raised their kids to be self-centered ego maniacs, trumpeting only our own opinion. I have written many angry letters; to the editor, co-workers, neighbors, others, figuring to "fix" them.
In these last several years at home, staying in one place, living with the same people day in and day out, I have come to see and appreciate all the grey in life.
Two years have passed with no need or interest for me to write anything here, as posting has only caused me grief. But now I find myself wanting once again to learn brevity and focus. Practice makes perfect. If only my stories weren’t so inane.
This project is so good for me, as my words run on and on (without practice). But loved ones read my words here and try to deduce what I am thinking or secretly planning to do next. (Like Reports to Congress from the Federal Reserve Chairman). It is why I quit posting here last time.
Neurontin (Gabapentin) quells the lightning inside your manic brain, like a smothering blanket thrown upon clothes that are on fire.
It takes weeks to convince yourself the medication is working, several more to figure out the dosage is too large. Marvelously, you stop picking pointless arguments, acting impulsively on spontaneous crazy ideas. Later, you don’t care if dinner is meat, fish, wonder bread or Grape Kool-Aid; they all satisfy equally. It takes weeks to cut back to feel alive again, and during readjustment you temporarily over reduce and land again in hell's fire.
For months you dance atop a pin.
Exactly one hundred words are a form of torture to the radical swings of my brain.
When I am fluid or angry or building a case for some point, I stream thousands of words upon dozens of pages (with embarrassment) that undulate nonsensically when reviewed the following day. Yet when my spirit is suppressed by meds or days without creative outlet - the drudged rituals of bills and wash and errands - words must be painfully extruded as caulk pulled from a tube left outside for weeks, straining to pull those gooey filaments (as with needle-nosed pliers) then weave them together.
I dismiss my life stresses, chase them from my mind. I focus on my task at hand, and do not churn or cycle or iterate about “what-if” scenarios, plans of vengeance, or fears of some dreaded outcome. These demons escape only once each day: as I lay my head on my pillow, my conscious mind wakens each monster to tell their story of unjustified fear or scheme to get even. In the minutes where my thoughts should slow to sleep, it is three hours, tossing and turning, worry and dread. The rest of my day, my demons reside in cages.
Life is the ceaseless ritual of accepting as fate without complaint our random pointless daily episodes; adapting and overcoming them, while still maintaining some overarching personal vision and goal, setting aside a small piece of yourself, your consciousness, spirit, or energy toward that higher purpose. When you surrender to the hopeless death march of the thousand ants, and give up solving your daily pointless challenges (that possess neither purpose nor anthropomorphic ill will) you drown, quickly and silently, albeit in a very small bucket of water. When you forget to make effort beyond your daily struggle, you may as well.
I have spent 20 years constantly chasing some crazy collection. When I traveled, I would visit and photograph certain things (state capitals, bank signs). As I completed various collections, I invented new targets. To this day, I get emails from strangers about my pictures from many years ago.
Now I seem to cycle so quickly, one week chasing “saving money” with coupons and rebates, later watching classic movies from the library, then compulsively cleaning and organizing things. I made dozens of batches of homemade ice cream, later watched TV news in Spanish.
Each compulsion ends as quickly as it starts.
I cannot control my thoughts, but try to keep them tamed. I ended at the hospital. I was in bed several days with chest pains, spiking blood pressure, and headaches. Later, an ambulance ride to the emergency room.
Our neighborhood is in the middle of a serious schism, splitting up sides, pitting one ‘neighbor’ against another. I stopped taking visitors, and my symptoms abated. Then I allowed one rabble rouser to call, two hours later I was in again in misery. For three days, no visitors, no symptoms. Another legal “strategy session”, chest pains returned.
I resigned from the committee.
While it is important to learn lessons from life, so you don’t ‘repeat your mistakes’, I have come to see that many people cannot generalize those lesson. I sometimes worry if I do the same thing. Like that cat that will not sit on ANY stove, hot or cold.
When your heart is broken, when you are betrayed, when give your trust and it is violated, its ok to no longer trust that person, but you must still risk putting your trust in humanity. The experience should bruise your skin, then heal, but you cannot let it bruise your soul.
I am on a fool’s errand.
A small subset of my neighbors have set out to ruin my reputation with the rest of my neighborhood. I have made the mistake of trying to help, trying to lead, trying to make things better for the rest of us. Small people enjoy perceived power, the power to leverage their authority into your life, to charge you money, to force your compliance. And when you oppose them, like the jaws of a vice, they close about you to crush you.
90% could not care less. It is just some fool trying to help.
My meds give me clarity and keep me human. When I take them as scheduled, I work my daily to-do list, if not with vigor, at least with consistency. I am productive and focused, and maintain attention to detail. But one of my daily tasks is to take my pills every morning.
Missing one day is ok. But if I forget two days in a row, my world slows down on its axis, and my four walls inch in on me, hour by hour. It becomes impossible in coming days to take my meds, and the process worsens. Sarte laughs.
I have learned how to make Bar-B-Q pork ribs. This fact is probably not amazing, but for me no less miraculous than transforming water into wine. The process is really quite simple, using the techniques my wife learned from her mother (and I am sure either grandmother or the Betty Crocker cookbook). The ribs are basted in a sauce we buy at Costco, and squirt right from the bottle.
The miracle is that a food I found tremendously enjoyable, delicious, and a special treat (she would make ribs for my birthday, etc), now reside at my fingertips. I am invincible.
Our cat got fleas.
I am a terrible housekeeper. I used to manage million dollar projects, and now I wash, and vacuum, and buy groceries. Well actually, not really.
Our house had reached the point where you could not sit on one couch, could not eat on the table, with the desk covered in unpaid bills. I had not vacuumed in six months.
Then the cat got fleas.
My wife went crazy:
“How could you?”
“Look what you’ve done to her!”
I considered it God’s will, telling me it was time to change my life. And so it is done.
My wife and I have read 20 self-help marriage books in our 30 years together. We got another one (from our counselor) two months ago. I was not hopeful. 250 pages later, the usual follow-up exercises.
This time it worked. We have fallen in love again for some reason.
The premise of the 250 pages, in simple words: “be nice” and “quit being a jerk to your spouse”. Surely this proves the adage that you will progress when you are ready, and not based on external stimulus.
Since being grounded from constant business travel, I have joined my wife in her habit of eating dinner in the living room in front of the television set. It started with cable episodes of “Law and Order”. We watched two or three episodes every night, until we saw almost every one. Next was ‘Everyone Loves Raymond”, later it was L&O:SVU, now Criminal Intent and Psych.
I do not understand how people watch a show in prime time, waiting for its weekly appearance (say, every Tuesday night). I have come to expect to take a TV Series directly into my veins.
Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and I am under pressure to clean the house (again). Certain places collect clutter like a magnet. The kitchen counter, dining room table, small table near the front door, our dresser, the piano. Its bizarre. These surfaces shrink a little every day. I have enough trouble just with the laundry, vacuuming, the bills. Organizing clutter drives me crazy!
We already have company invited. Our family tradition is to make prime rib. Years ago a friend gave me this idea with his favorite saying: “If the pilgrims knew about Prime Rib, nobody would eat turkey for Thanksgiving”
Every parent knows its important, with an 8-year-old, to wait them out with their chores, for hours if necessary, for something you could do yourself in a few minutes. It teaches them responsibility, gives you a chance to praise them for a job well done, but often it becomes a war of wills.
Ours is now 20-years old. He commutes to college, and agreed to wash the car every 2 weeks, change the oil, take out the trash. I stopped doing his laundry. As a parent I wait hoping for my chance to praise him for a job well done.
We lived in Utah for 3 years and, as a middle manager, all of my peers were either transplants like myself or Mormons. I quickly versed myself in LDS, reading “No Man Knows My History”, “The God Makers”, and attending a couple free evening seminars (pro and con). We toured a new temple in the final days before it is sealed and only carded LDS are allowed inside.
It was fun to start a conversation “So where did you do your mission”? I would beat them to their question “Is there anything you would like to know about our religion?”
I still drive my wife to her work each morning, then return at night. She’s relaxed, I get doughnuts. I ask about her day: (which clients? which projects? co-workers sick?) The nine miles means we burn 40 miles daily, instead of 18. I ‘keep the car” to run errands.
Today I rushed, late to pick her up. After passing the guard house, she finally called. Crisis: “30 minutes”. (It took 50). I brought my crosswords and jumbles and could sit for hours.
But had I known she was late, I’d stop for a cup of decaf to keep me company.
For many years I worked with manufacturers (when there were American manufacturers). One client, a metal forger, sheepishly admitted their main product was the small wheel attached to the plumbing stopcock that you turn your garden hose on and off. He added, “but we make A LOT of them”.
Later (with a chuckle) I told my boss. He replied, “I don’t know, I’ve owned several homes, and every one had at least two stopcocks, probably half a dozen.”
Whenever I landed in Chicago or Los Angeles, with city lights stretching over the horizon, I thought to myself, “all those stopcocks …… ”
I have always had a gift for 3 dimensional imagination. I can look up and visualize a problem like a hologram, rotate it around, then actually ‘see’ a solution. My first job was ‘computer programmer’. I could remember and ‘see’ an entire set of code in 3D space, ‘see’ the interfaces or errors. I still amaze my wife by never getting lost.
My dad did not graduate 7th grade, went to work in a factory. He once showed me a ‘suggestion’ he wrote (won $300 award). It was a perfect 3D layout of an engineering improvement to an overhead crane.
Thanksgiving. Ours was simple: dinner at the table with the addition of one family friend. For many years it was this huge event, with grown siblings, their spouses and children, grandparents. It would take many hours to prepare, and relatives would gorge to disgusting gluttony, then lie about afterward discussing the devoured food while planning the menu for the pending Christmas derangement.
Annually I would saying a sweeping, inspiring and sentimental grace; now remembering relatives eating, talking, even slapping their children while I spoke.
This year we just sat, and ate, enjoying our own company. It was pleasant and serene.
Our third cat is our first female. The personality difference is comical. Our first cat was mine. He came when I whistled. We sat on the sofa to eat salami together. The second was my wife’s. Neither of us cared if the other lived or died. If either cat wanted attention, he jumped on you. If you forgot to feed them, he banged his bowl.
With her, she acts ‘coy’, playing hard to get, then ‘gives in’ when you give her attention. If she tears around the house, ripping things for no reason, check her food bowl: it is empty.
I had a horrible counseling session, by which I mean wonderful. As a kid, my mom frequently slapped my face. I hold no malice, it was a different time, and she was from a WAY earlier generation. It was very random. The same action, several times, would elicit no response. The fourth or fifth time: “SLAP!”
For my adult life, I have been Passive-Aggressive when disagreeable, and cowardly when proposing ideas (using roundabout requests). Yesterday, we tied these two patterns together: the child performing direct negative behavior or risking a positive proposal and receiving the ultimate maternal response to avoid.
I may have an extremely rare genetic blood disorder. My older sister and brother both have it. It causes you to have ‘mini-strokes’, in your late 50’s. My brother has been beset by them, cannot work, now walks only with a cane.
I told my doctor about my fear, showed her the website with the proper genetic test (cost $500 to $800). Her common sense reply: if you are TRULY worried about having a stroke, lose 50 (out of 120) pounds, then we will test. Obesity increases your risk of heart attack and stroke more than any obscure blood disorder.
I keep trying to cook, picking recipes from the internet then spending hours making an incredible mess. I always deliver some dish that just doesn’t taste “right”. Over or under baked. Over or under seasoned. Over or under whipped. Nothing I make is so awful that it gets tossed into the trash, nor does anyone ever say “wow”. Always “A for Effort”.
I can imagine the flavors when reading the recipe. I will even seek recipes with a certain taste from certain imagined ingredients. But somewhere between that printout and the table, in my kitchen befuddlement, I deliver another mediocrity.
My wife required minor toe surgery and was in pain for a couple days. So I drove her to work and picked her up after. It turns out, it was fun. After dropping her off, I went to Dunkin’ Donuts, had a coffee with the elderly gentlemen’s club, did the crossword and suduko. I started my day an hour early and full of energy. I’ve driven her daily since then.
The usual reasons someone is driven to work by their spouse is they have one car, saving fuel, or a DUI conviction. I tease her mercilessly about drinking while driving.
As I sit in sunny Florida, I watch the weather reports of snow and storms “up north”. For many years I would travel weekly off into them; packing a coat, hat, and gloves too hot to wear to or from the airport. I would dread the ice and cold dampness, and celebrate returning at week’s end, to the visual novelty of palm trees dressed up in Christmas lights. I still wear shorts and t-shirt while all my neighbors wear jackets or coats.
Cold weather, rain and snow, make me a prisoner. My wife longs for “the seasons” from “back home”.
Every year at Christmastime, I slip into blue funk. It has already started.
The vulgar commercialization overwhelms me; commencing with the 20 pounds of advertisements in my Thanksgiving Wednesday newspaper. Each muzak carol makes it worse.
I try to focus on traditional season meanings. This year I made spiced cider and autumnal casseroles, inappropriate in balmy Florida. We try to make donations or volunteer, but this year cannot afford much and I’m ailing.
The harder that retailers try to pound me into the ‘holiday spirit’, the more my subconscious rebels. As Scrooge said: “May they choke on their Christmas pudding”
I am glad to have finished another month of posting on 100words. This is such a good exercise for me. I seem to always require either a thousand (or more) words, or I sit silently (stewing or fuming or just a plain bump). By the end of this month, each entry flowed from my head and finished between 95 and 110 words. That was the skill I wanted. To write a concise letter to the editor, a brief note of affection, a summarized to-do list or list of daily accomplishments. My brain, without practice, simply does not work that way.
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