Friday, December 31, 2004

Let It Snow

And boy is it. Thankfully my elevation has been right at the snow line through this last series of Sierra storms, or we'd be completely stuck. We've had hours of rain, then hours of snow. It snowed a good eight or ten inches last night, still, and luckily the plow had come by once so I could shovel my wife's car out of the driveway and she made it to work (before dawn). She called a few minutes ago to tell me she was there; I feel better getting the call.

Because we live in a town where it snows occasionally during the winter, sometimes heavily, but work and go to church below snowline, we don't have snow tires on our subarus. (Without an all wheel or four wheel drive up here, forget it; I see those poor souls putting on chains on dangerous roadsides in heavy snows all the time and thank God we could afford new cars). We try to put good tires on and make sure they're pretty new when winter hits, but we don't have actual snow tires because they wear so quickly on pavement.

What all this means is that even though we have two subarus with their high tech all wheel drive computer driven whatevers (and I have no idea how these work) we still can slip and slide, even get stuck. If we can wait for a fresh plow track, great. But our street is plowed last and not often. So this morning, even with just a couple inches of snow and slush, S was slipping around a bit until she got the tires to bite and headed up the hill in the dark.

You can see why I like her to call me when she gets there. At least this morning it was hardly snowing; some mornings it's blowing like mad.

True, she could always call the hospital where she works and tell them they're going to have to wait to see her; I'd call for her. That has happened. But most days she's able to get in, as am I.

***

The beauty out my window right now is unearthly. The sun is just beginning to rise in the mountains; every branch in every tree is heavy with snow; there is more than a foot of powder in my front yard. In the dim light, with the sky overcast, it looks slightly blue, though it will soon be a brilliant white. And it's cathedral quiet. Snow absorbs sound. Powder muffles the world.

I believe it was Garrison Keillor (but it could have been someone else) who writes about a famous blue snow, the year of the amazing blue snow. Once, maybe our first winter here, it snowed even more than this. My Legacy was half-buried. And while I was shoveling out the berm left by the plow and the soft drifts behind it, I'd push my shovel into the snow and see blue light down inside. When I threw a shovelful of the stuff onto the pile, more blue light. I don't know what that was or how common that is, but it was amazing. A faint, sky blue glow inside the powder.

***

In the winter here, you carry a blanket, a small shovel, extra food and water, maybe spare gloves or rain pants, flares too, in the car all winter (I can only imagine what is required in Montana). We've never been stuck for long; a plow has always come by in an hour or two, and we've gotten our car off the road and back to our house. But some roads are not plowed, ever.

My mother lives in a truly isolated town not far from here. S and I took the back road out after visiting, one that runs through deep forest many miles from any building; it hadn't snowed in three weeks and the day was warm and beautiful. We left right around dark without telling my mom what we were doing. It's a lovely drive in summer. But we almost got stuck back there, more than once, in snow and ice still piled onto low spots in the road. And it would have been a long walk, maybe six miles, to the nearest travelled mountain road, also unplowed but with more traffic and the possibility of a ride. We would have spent the night in the car of course and left at first light, but if we hadn't found anyone on the larger road, it was a good dozen miles further to the lake not far from my house where people actually live. We didn't even have extra food or water with us. That would have been a long walk, and a long blog. Luckily, we scooted out (at one point, sliding down hill with my brake pedal completely pressed) and now we're careful to let someone know if we're going anywhere unplowed like that (and that road, which right now is probably buried under five feet of snow, is off limits till June!)

You do read in the local paper about people getting stuck, and found; I've talked to a couple people who've spent nights in their vehicles. But some of the back roads up here...if you were caught in a big enough storm you'd be fortunate if a snowmobiler ran over your luggage rack before you froze. The Sierra is full of fire roads, logging roads, recreation roads, which will never see a plow and are not even paved.

Of course we do little of this; our subarus aren't anything like the monster rubicon jeeps I see up here all the time. I do check the weather, almost obsessively. Most people up here do in winter; it's a local hobby as I suppose it is most places that get snow.

For the Sierras are hard to predict: it may be sunny and warm (relatively, 50's say) for two weeks in winter and then wham! The mountain freezes solid.

***

This has been a long blog and I don't want to edit it, try to work with the diction or phrasing and make it sound pretty. It's now 7:30, I'm tired and the sun is fully up and I need to build a fire and eat. Mikey, of course, is still fast asleep. Thank you for reading, those of you who got this far. It truly is a gift, to be able to jot down my thoughts at any hour and be heard.

Blessings to all.




Thursday, December 30, 2004

A Brief Note

It's 2:00 in the morning, it's been snowing and blowing for hours. The power keeps popping in an out (literally; a blue flash from somewhere out there, a thump sound, and no power; a minute later, the same phenomena and the power returns; some kind of high voltage damage in the neighborhood lines). Since I could lose this post at any moment, I'll make it very short.

I'm not on the emotional holiday high of a few days ago, but I'm okay. We've spent the last two or three days inside mostly, going for snow walks, having snowball fights that are much too short by Mikey's standards. The next two days it's really supposed to snow. We'll see. We had a few days of rain first, unusual for this time of year, but the weather in the Sierra is forever tied to California and that town fights the fourth season all it can.

I don't know why I'm up. Partly to keep the wood stove hot so the living room won't be freezing if we do lose power for the rest of the night (our central heater needs electricity to run) and partly because laying in bed and watching that blue flash every so often was kind of unnerving. Hearing it. Mikey and I were walking back, well after dark, on the road in front of our place (a late night snowball adventure) the first time it happened. It lit up the whole street. Better to stay inside until the electrical guys, insane as they are, find and fix it.

So I can't really write. I don't want to lose all this!

The typing makes me sleepy, which is very nice.

See you all again soon, if I have power to connect! It never goes out for more than a day. Luxury living. Everyone who lived up here ten or twenty years ago talks about five, six, seven days without power every winter. Guess we moved up at a good time.

And it really does't get cold here, not really. Okay, twenties, teens at best. But usually twenties at night, thirties in the day in winter. Sometimes it won't go over freezing for a few days, but that's rare. Again, I hear global warming from everyone who grew up here; it used to snow so much more, etc. All in all, I'm beginning to find it pretty temparate. My first couple winters I couldn't believe the weather change.

Okay, I am officially wasting time. Back to bed.

t

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Poem at Yule

Okay, this isn't actually a poem, and I again I find myself without time: we fed our dogs so much beef fat and bone left over from our roast, they've had the squirts for two days. All over my office carpet, mostly. Things like that take time to clean. I want to write about advent, but it will have to wait. Considering I attend a liturgical chuch, I guess this is only day two of the twelve anyway. I have until epiphany to reflect on the greatest of all holidays.

I will say a few things though. One, the last few days have been good for me. At times, very good. Nearly as good as I think mood can get. I am very grateful for that, for the lack of anxiety and obsession and depression and pain. I think it came from releasing so much energy over my father. I have much more work there to go, but I'll take the better days when I can. Sincere, heartfelt thanks to all who have prayed.

My mood began to lift about a week ago when I read Amanda's post about Handel's Messiah. I, of course, posted something witty like 'the Messiah is our faith set to music.' Well, I hadn't really listened to the thing closely. Napster time.

I played the entire oratorio, found the libretto, and realized it was made up of snippets of scripture. I began looking up those chapters, in Isaiah, for example. I admit it's impressive: the prophecies about Galilee and Bethlehem. The imagery in those old books. I've never read them; my gospel only policy may need revision. For the spiritual imagery in Malachi, in Isaiah, is very beautiful. The OT seems to progress from ancient patriarchial Sumerian law to something quite other in the prophetic books. Of course, I'm reading them as a Christian.

But even this skeptical Christian was moved. And then slowly, I believe in response to an intense and heartfelt prayer I tore out to the Father after I dropped my son off at the airport and had the long, float-drive home to myself, my faith began to build again. Oh, I'm still a bit 'outside,' but one thing I have established I cannot doubt, like Descartes and his cogito first premise: the Christian faith is good for me psychologically; it touches the part of me that must be fed spiritually. I have a deep need for the love of humans who believe they are loving in reaction to a love from above, and I crave the transcendent. I have a friend who is an atheist, who reads this blog (hey prof-brother, you know who you are) and I watched him Christmas day as he immersed himself in the film Return of the King. I'm a Tolkien fan from way back, sure. But I saw in his passion for middle-earth, in my own passion for it, a desire for a different world than the one we all suffer in. And while that desire does not mean that world exists (as Lewis and many others have argued) while that desire could be learned (as Moreland and others have noted) I bloody still need it. I suppose that Michael Schermer, Gould, Dawkins, the Huxleys, even Darwin himself, who have abandoned a Christian world view in response to scientific descriptions of the world, have found contentment and fulfillment in their wonder at a non-personal and random universe. Perhaps loss off faith does not necessarily lead to the existential crisis. But it often does. I could argue that perhaps for the thinking soul it usually does. I know for many staunch disbelievers it has, from Sartre (who later pulled himself out of despair into Marxism) to Bertrand Russell to my own self. But how have I drifted so far?

The fact is I need God. I have always needed him. If that need is learned, then perhaps I have been given a weakness which has led to ears to hear, and I am grateful beyond the capacity of emotion. How much faith God will give me in this life I don't know; it may never be much against my over-critical mind. I would like to continue working through my many doubts, of course. But I know one thing: I need to be in church; I need that specific kind of community; I need to pray and I need to worship and I need to serve those in need in the name of Jesus. All apart from a rational construction. Maybe Kierkegaard (who is high on my list of cats to read) was right and we can't prove God in this life at all, we must turn to him out of despair. I don't know. But I know I need the sayings in the gospels and the poetry of the Jewish prophets which Christ clearly, historically applied to himself.

And perhaps this is my first premise. Not cogito, or even senseo, but egeo (and it has been many years since my latin). What I mean is not I think therefore I am, or I feel therefore I am, but I need. My first premise is need. I know that many have described human spirituality along biological and evoltionary-sociological lines. Even if they are right, this does not prove God does not exist. But they are speculating about processes never observed, and that makes as much sense to me right now as telling a seventeen year old boy his overwhelming craving for the naked body of a girl, for that touch and release, is simply a hormonal state, a moment in random evolutionary process.

Well, now I really am drifting, and I don't have any more time to look at this again. Perhaps I'll edit later. But I wanted to tell you all I'm doing better this week, much better, and that includes my spiritual journey as well. May God make an apostle out of me yet, meaning one who is sure he has met God, and cannot stop sharing what he has seen. It is the greatest prayer I can offer.

And now, most poetically, the Hallelujah chorus has come on. I began the Messiah when I began this, and now seems like a good spot to end.

I always say it, but I mean it: thanks to all who support me here. It touches me in a way I can't describe, in part because most of you who comment, all I guess, are Christians and much better at it than I am. Still, I have not been rejected.

Hallelujah

And Merry Christmas to all us sinners.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Authenticity

I sincerely appreciate the kind comments below. And those of you who I know pray. There a handful of damned cool people who support me here, and I'm truly grateful.

It really is funny: I began this wanting to write apologetic articles. And here I am, using the blog as a share resource, a strange, I want to say immaterial context for a support group, but one that helps me still.

And I will say, again, that while Sunday was even worse (and my mood slump started, of all things, with Favre's first interception) I got through it intact and Sunday night when S came home was actually good; today was also pretty good. I'm lifting weights again consistently, and that truly helps. Iron and steel. Nothing like it. I swear it changes my whole chemistry.

It's late and I want to go to bed, but a couple things first:

For what it's worth, my brother did get presents, at least as nice as the ones S and I got. How about that. And my dad is visiting them this week. Yet the emotion I was pouring out here was so true, so authentic, so much a part of me, I had to let it go. Doing that does allow me to begin, just begin, maybe, to see that my father has a side in all this, though it's demented and sad...it's still a side. In that sense I'm proud of myself. I'm feeling and healing, though it doesn't look graceful or Christian or poised. Well, I always railed against white glove Christianity in the past; in some kind of Dantean sense I'm being forced to practice publicly what I preached. Not my idea of fun, but so it is.

Also, OCD, maybe even more than depression (and I've langored in both...is that a word?) is not authentic. Oh it's quite real; it is a most distinct form of suffering. But it has to run off something, at least when it becomes problematic. And that something is anxiety, fear, anger, even sadness or disappointment or despair, in short, emotion. Sunday after that interception I dropped into such stark feelings of isolation, I mean truly black feelings (well pretty black, not death black). I actually think I was feeling some of the lonely horror, the disbelief and frustration, of my childhood. I was fighting not to obsess, to stay in those feelings, and it was very hard. But I had some success. Talked with a friend on the phone. And by the time S got off work I was starting to see the world around me again.

My therapist has said, and it's probably true, that feelings underlie obsessive process. I sure know they underlie depression and every other form of acting out I've experienced. My major depressions were unbearable pain beneath which was unbelievable anger in response to intense hurt. I lived through it and know that was true in my case. And some of that is still there. But OCD, even more than depression, tends to be chronic. It's a change-resistant defense mechanism; it turns in the mind like a gyroscope, like one of those balls I can hold in my hand and turn, and turn, until it turns my wrist with its own humming energy. OCD settles in like a demon; it digs its own roads. Still, I can see it more clearly now, and I doubt I will ever quit working; the thing won't let me. I'd like to relax and be Matt Damon and eat caviar and japanese beef and drink Petrus every night. For sometimes, many times over the years, my career has felt like a sideline compared to the effort I put into the business of trying to feel well. Letting such powerful emotion move through me this weekend, these last couple months really, is what I think I need in my quest for freedom. Experience, strength, hope.

In that sense, I suppose it is pretty Christian. Truth always is. But why defend myself here? I assure you, there are other things I'd rather be doing. Jillions.

***

Sincere thanks again to those who read and wrote. It has been a hard time. But I feel supported! By you guys, by my bro and my weekly phone friend. I just wanted you all to know, that as always, the tough stuff passed and I'm doing better.

Time to drink my protein drink, sleep and let the muscle build.

Sincere love to all this community

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Back to Friday

well, yesterday was also hard. My therapist had been to a conference and heard some psychiatrist say that ocd is not an anxiety disorder, though it's fueled by anxiety, etc.; the speaker said, 'it's a brain disorder, and is treated with the antipsychotic medication risperdal.' Fucking great. What does that mean? I did a little web research, and in fact sometimes that med is used to treat ocd in conjunction with the ssri's (you know, the ones with all the nice commercials) or sometimes alone. But an antipsychotic? No one knows why risperdal works for schizophrenia and bipolar mania (and I must thank God I don't have these disorders, especially the first) so of course no one knows why it helps ocd.

Of course, I know I'm not psychotic. I know that I never will be. But the idea of suffering hard-wired into my brain is quite terrifying; one of my great core fears, and one of the reasons I've had so much trouble feeling my hard feelings over the years, is the belief that the feeling will never end. So when someone comes along and says that the ocd 'loop,' that dark repetetive and terror-filled circuit, where some thing that someone else could overlook hangs around my neck like Frodo's ring, pulling, dragging, whispering...when someone tells me that loop is a permanenet part of my head, I get very afraid. I know, rationally, that ocd responds to cognitive and exposure therapies, that releasing feelings like anger helps, that relaxation helps; shit, scotch helps. I know that I may yet find a med I can tolerate which will help. And I've been told for many years, by different therapists, that it will never completely go away, but that I can learn to manage it, can significant relief. It wasn't long ago I felt great relief myself, and I admit the last few weeks have been as much pain and anger and simply hard feelings (and why should I run from those, even if I don't like facing them) as anxiety and obsession.

But I am sure, my spiritual doubt is at least partly ocd. It's that core fear: 'you are not loved and you are alone in this world.' Actually, that was my childhood experience. It replays itself in my doubt problem; it's what gives my doubts that belly-terror umph they have. I don't just think, 'hmmm, maybe God isn't real and Shermer and Huxley and Hume are right;' I think that and am filled with terror and horror immediately. That, friends, is an obsession. And you can't reason with an obsession. Thinking about my doubt at that time yields nothing productive. Those issues can be sorted out, but not when my mind, I almost said my child's mind, is racing.

Of course, if I lived in the sixteenth century, my doubts would have a different character, perhaps something like Luther's sin obsessions. But with so much intelligent energy channelled into the cause of agnosticism these days...it's tough for an inquisitive person not to stumble across those arguments. And then...I've shared the rest.

But back to the hard feeling part of my share. I got Christmas presents from my dad this week, a first. In fact, everyone in my family got something (I suppose I need to call and thank him). My brother, who has drawn a more obvious boundary, I doubt got anything. I know my dad called him and said, 'we won't be coming to so. cal. anytime in the near future.' What a man. Fuck you dad. He simply no idea what a jerk he is being, an emotional junior-higher. No, wait, my son is in seventh grade and wouldn't treat a son like that if he had one, magically, tomorrow. No, dad pulls away when he gets a little bit hurt, sees himself as the victim, and blames my brother. And I'm supposed to be the good guy now? Does he know, he doesn't know, how I feel about the way he treated my bro. Feeling all these feelings may cause me to feel differently towards him in time, maybe not; but I'm doing this because I've discovered a part of myself I didn't know was there, a part which needs to be experienced and heard.

But what will I do? Call the space cadet and tell him thanks, I guess. Mikey got a very nice little thing. I am grateful for that, though not at the cost of my brother's blood, which is how it feels. Did it even occur to my stepmother, who is quite agile in the world of interpersonal drama, that my brother would of course find out we got stuff and he didn't? Is that part of this or am I paranoid? But then, I don't know that his family didn't get anything. Yet I'm so angry it seems it almost doesn't matter; this is triggering some past hurt and it might as well roll on out here.

Oh boy.

And one more thing. Regular readers (and I love you all) remember my work drama from a couple months ago. That led me to look into moving campuses within my district. I had lunch again yesterday with two faculty from the English dept at the school I'd like to shift to, and it went well. I'd still have to apply just like everybody else, do a teaching demo, interview, all that. Things could go wrong along any step. But I have the support of two of them, and I may be able to get more aboard before they even begin screening apps (and for this job, there will probably be around 200). I told them I still wasn't sure I'd apply. Of course, time is getting short, and I will have to make a choice soon. There are so many issues involved in this I need another post, but for those of you who pray, I appreciate quick prayer for this. Tell you what, I'll even pray for myself, like a fundraiser donation matching thing. I'm grateful that the quick prayers of others will get me to pray.

Oh man.

What else? Things are a bit tough right now with S and I; this is not surprising considering all the crap I'm going through...my feelings are so powerful. I do feel like we're communicating a little more; we need more and more of the open talking and closeness we fostered years ago. Marriage has changed our relationship so much, made it more like our parents' relationships (which were not good) in subtle ways. My therapist says that's because we didn't know our parents when they were dating, but we have them as unconscious role models as married partners. Yuch. Puke. Blech.

But then, my dear wife may read this (hi honey) and I need to tell her these things directly.

***

Another Christmas party tonight, at a friend's house. I admit I love getting dressed up for those things; I like to officially party. I may bake if I have time as that is so therapeutic. But either way, it will be nice to have the human contact, eat, drink and be merry. (Yeah, I know the context of that quote in Paul).

***

Thanks to all for reading. I let my self hang out here, and I need it and love it. These posts aren't about writing, they're about sharing, healing, finding support in a strange and frightening world. I still need to find a meeting! But this is a great help regardless.

On a very separate note, James Brown can sure sing a Christmas tune. Napster him if you can.

Peace to all, including myself

Monday, December 13, 2004

Sunday's Child

I must say, yesterday was mostly a good day; at times, it was a brilliant, best of the year day. Story of my life.

I had a hard Saturday. How hard? Well, listen to "Tourette's" on In Utero and you'll get an idea. The lift began driving home; I got so angry at my father, at ocd, at everything. A friend called me on my cell; I pulled over and just let it go, talked it out for ten intense minutes. He said, 'what do you need right now, feeling so intense?' And I thought of what my therapist says, 'you have to move it, move the feeling out.' So I talked, and did.

And then yesterday morning I was in church (I've missed the last two weeks though it's advent). Despite all my doubts, there is no way to deny the empirical value (sounds sterile, I know) of being in Christian community. Of hearing the gospel reading, of taking the body and blood in faith. For the altar rail is about the only place my doubt disappears, and I prayed briefly but intensely for my son and his unbaptized friend next to us. Then the poetry of the gorgeous advent hymns and the duet during communion, sung by two very young women in beatific harmony. The emotional release was incredbile. Purification beyond catharsis.

Yesterday was also our holiday open house. S thought of it and we only started planning and inviting people Tuesday of this week, but our house was packed. I think we had about 30 people come. It looked like a tv commercial of what a holiday party should be. A couple came from our neighborhood, others from church, from S's work, even an old friend from Sac. Ham, mulled wine, pecan pie...you guys know my love for food and drink by now. And you know the amazing thing? I often feel so isolated up here, so down on where I live, but I could tell most people at this party were envying us. Look at this house, look at this food, most of all, look at all these people!

One woman who is going through a bitter divorce and who does not attend church said, 'so, you guys go to a pretty neat church, huh?' I've said before how hard I've struggled trying to fit in at my little mountain parish. But I had to look around and say, 'yeah, I guess so.' Then she said, 'this is what life's all about.' And I thought, my god, she's right. She's also more isolated than I am, and going though a much harder time. My house is full of kind (if mostly older) people in holiday sweaters all talking to each other and eating and drinking. It was a powerful moment. A wonderful day. Some of us hung around later and drank nog (that stuff is liquid ice cream) and rum and then S and I watched tv and basked in the beauty, the lingering energy of so many people still radiating in our home.

How do I get more days like that?

The answers are there: keep doing the hard recovery work, moving feelings out, consciously relax my mind when I can (including exposure work), attend church and keep reaching out to that community, trust God and ask for help; build what I need. My brother said it's no big deal that my church is so small (though the service is growing, it's doubled since we started); he said, 'make your choice and make it work' or something like that. Stick with one place and try. Yesterday, it was all working.

I think I'm mr. isolated and yet we threw the best attended holiday party of the season. How funny is that? Something more than funny.

So you see, it's Friday, but Friday always passes to Sunday, to Monday, to another day. I know that, but it's great when it happens. I don't feel 100 percent okay today, but more than 90, and I'll take it.

I am writing this again, quickly, papers hanging over my head. But I had to let you guys know I was feeling better the last two days. I do want to write more, take more time, on the blog...in a week or so when my grades are in maybe.

Peace to all, and Merry Christmas

Friday, December 10, 2004

Friday's Child

Another Friday, another sesssion in my therapist's office talking about my father and seeing B, my stepbro. Is she pushing me? It really doesn't feel that way. But it is very hard for me after those sessions, especially the first couple of days. Obsessions, depression, and in my better moments, hurt, anger, fear. My head is much above water compared to where it would have been a few years ago with all this dad contact going on. This is, after all, my core, or half of it. Still, it is harder than I thought it would be.

I finally worked out today, lifted and cardio. First time in probably three weeks. Second time in probably two months. It was great, but it far from fixed everything I'm feeling.

Came home, cranked up rob zombie and manson on napster. I need the angry music (I worked out to limp bizkit on the head set); I have to keep my anger in front of me or it will drive me into despair and deep, obsessive loops: either of these is a form of self-abuse. I'm having mixed results feeling my feelings, but I'm getting some breathing room. I remember when I couldn't get that for days at a time.

When I started this blog, I didn't expect to use it for this. I thought it would be a tool for me to share the gospel, write about my faith; I'd share my struggles alongside my theology as a show of honesty. Even, if I may say it, show off a little while I sorted things out for myself. This strikes me as a bit funny now. As the last month, especially, and even the month and a half before that, have been quite tough and it's pouring out here. This isn't the only place, but it's one of them.

So, what else to say? I'm behind in my grading still, though I'm catching up; we're having a holiday party Sun. and have oodles of work to do to get ready. This is a good thing. Distraction, keeping busy, is an excellent response to depression and anxiety, as long as it's positive activity. These days my distractions usually are. Many of my old acting out behaviors have faded, save the internal ones, the toughest ones of all, which are not positive and must be resisited.

So I'm cleaning floor glue off the hardwood, grading, praying a little (my faith is still off kilter) and writing this. S will be home in about three hours. Mike has a dance tonight at his school. This really is very sweet. He slow dances with girls. I never did that at 12. It must be quite the rush, though mostly he goes to see his friends. Or so he tells us.

You know, he is one of the best basketball players on his team. Maybe the best all around. Pretty cool thing. You should see his confidence level. It's wonderful to watch his life unfold the way that it is. I hope his teenage years aren't pure crisis for S and I, but I think he'll keep his conscientous core. I just can't imagine him getting hairy and stinky, yet I know he's close.

I worry about his high school, but that's another thing.

So here I am, another Friday, another day in the Nam, hanging in, figuring I may never experience nirvana in this life, but hoping to get a little closer.

The feelings are just pouring through me like water; maybe I should try to write a poem. It would be my first in, oh, two years? My friend, who really is quasi-famous, writes ten hours a week.

So I'm drifting. Blah blah blah. The simple sentence construction of a share.

Thanks to all who read and even more to those who pray. Many thanks to Amanda for her wonderful post below. How community helps.



Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A Twist in the Plot

I'm behind in my grading and haven't worked out in two weeks. Bad deal. I'm hoping to get my butt into the gym in the morning. On the positive: Mikey won his basketball game tonight. And something else....

I got a call Monday afternoon from my stepbrother, my stepmother's youngest son, a guy I used to hang out with (and get drunk with, on occasion) when we were teenagers and my dad had first married his mom. I haven't talked to him in almost 20 years. Probably not seen him in 15. It turns out he was in Sac. on business and thought of calling me. Considering that I'm slogging through so many issues with my father, and have been in contact with my dad for more than a year, it's astounding that I found myself back in contact with this guy.

So we had lunch Tues. It was a good, and for me, validating conversation. He sees the madness in my father and even in his mother, though he seems more loyal than I. He did put in the heavy pitch at the end...you dad would really like to see you...even after I told him that my dad knew where I lived for years at a time and made little or no effort to contact me. Dad just sat around and wished I'd show up. But the betrayal I felt from my father when I was seventeen...I haven't even written about this much on this board, but his remarriage and his move out of the area and what happened to me...seeing my stepbro really brought back those feelings, so fresh. And for that, I guess I'm grateful, though I'm tired. I don't know how much I trust him, but I don't have much to lose either.

My stepbro was surprised to hear my side of the story, or part of it. I think Dad's victim view of himself has carried over twenty years across a whole other family.

I don't have time to write now, but I want to say something in my defence: my first marriage (whose story I still need to tell) was whacked, and I stayed with that girl; my second marriage presents real challenges to me, but I am loyal there also. I don't quit. Almost ever. And I quit on my dad when I was 17. I've quit on him since I guess, though certainly the neglect was mutual. At least now I'm learning, feeling, what he's really like and what I've probably felt all these years. But I'm not the kind of person who bails out easily.

Once, summer of 88 I think, I was delivering refrigerators for a summer job. My dad saw me walk into the place and parked his truck and walked in. The owner, Max, had heard me say I didn't get along well with my dad, wasn't in contact with him. But my dad walked in, said he wanted to talk to me, and there he was. We didn't say much, but it was clear he wanted to see me. We had only been out of contact a few years that time. Still, Max was moved. Even he took my dad's side. 'Your dad, he wants to see you, he's alright,' or some such thing. I don't remember what happened after that.

When I got married the next summer my dad was around, and for a while he hung out with my in-laws. The four of them even went out a few times together apart from E and I. How bizarrre is that? My father-in-law was a junior exec., and my dad? Perhaps my view of things was tainted, but my dad was going back to city college and taking accounting classes, and my stepmother used to talk about it, 'someday he'll get a different job and make millions and millions of dollars.' I remember that phrase specifically.

I saw her as rapacious, as trying to get my in-laws, who were firmly upper middle class, to rub off on my truckdriver talk to himself dad. But was I wrong? I never had serious conversations with any of the four of them about it. I do remember my dad taking us all out to a nice restaurant when I was trying to see him again. He dressed nice. But I'll tell you, he would start staring off, muttering to himself...I saw that even then. He managed to maintain some contact, and my ex m.i.l. was a bit snooty, as she could be, 'so, have you been to japan? our daughter has been twice,' bullshit like that.

So I'm looking at myself, have I given my dad a fair shake. Is my hatred, and that is the word, of my stepmother legitimate? What really happened when I was 17? Was part of the trauma my re-experience of earlier trauma which intensified my feelings? Did my father, would he, choose his wife over us? Yeah. He shouldn't have to make that choice, and I don't think I made him make it at all, but what little attention he was capable of went immediately to a very demanding woman. Even her son said that. And I and my bro were spining in the wind. Especially since she was very concerned with her own children and not the two of us. That I believe too.

But all this digging, talking, seeing the stepbro (who I'll call B I guess) has got to be good for me. I've simply avoided my father's existence, for the most part, for almost my entire adult life. I am still angry at him about many things. Hurt. Distrustful. Anxious. Very angry. But I need to look at this stuff, work it through. Without the rampant, insistent push of ocd, I might not have to. OCD is like a dredge, or a well bucket, which will bring up anything in the well. Not that I don't need to face all this anyway, for myself and my faith, but obsessions add another complex component and force me to look more closely, feel the underlying feelings.

I have to get back to the papers. Online classes. Grading in word. The glow of the screen.

Bye for now.


Sunday, December 05, 2004

Doug the Tree

Oh guys, what a crappy afternoon. The Green Bay Packers, the only team in any sport I half follow, got killed in record kill-style. Brett Favre left the game. And the Christmas tree Mikey and I bought didn't work out. How can this be?

There are a dozen live tree lots where I live, at least. I like to cut the tree live because it lasts so long; green well to epiphany. Mike and I went out two days ago, had fun trapsing around a very small lot near our house. We beat the crowds (and you should see the lines of traffic heading back to Sacramento, trees atop) but had a hard time finding a tree. We ended up cutting the top half off a tree, unsure how big it really was.

When we brought it in today (at halftime, no less) it was huge. I mean huge. We have a peaked wood ceiling, and there was no way it would fit. So I started cutting. Off the bottom. Off the top. Ohmygod I'm starting to laugh now. Because by the the time we were done, what tree was left, the middle of the top we had brought home, looked ridiculous. I'm laughing more. So now there is greenery all over my living room (I believe there is some liturgical significance to this) as well as chunks of stump from the bottom of the tree and a very nice top piece about a foot tall which might make a pretty charley brown tree.

Oh jeez. So now we have to clean it up. Well, I imagine I feel better than Brett Favre right now.

But not much! I've never had this happen with a tree. I don't want to get down on myself, but I've been struggling with those feelings so much lately. I mean this is only 25 dollars. I saved that much by cooking beef stew all day (which, actually, smells like it will be killer, all beef, vegetables, red wine, heat and time). I have yet to tell my wife who is at work; I think, though, that what's left is too silly to keep. Stubby, very wide, but with huge holes. Mikey said, 'I'm not letting any of my friends come over if we have this tree.' He of course, is fine, playing video games while I get up the emotional gumption to haul the scraps and carcass out to our burn pile, to be burned when it dries.

There is something tragic about that.

Oh well. Last night S and I went to her work Christmas party, and she truly did look dazzling. We invited friends over tonight and I haven't heard back. Hopefully, this means they're not coming, because I could never get the place ready now.

I was reading (another) hack article online about Christmas, one which gives as much credibility to the Jesus Seminar and Da Vinci Code as Matthew (how can one assume Mary was not a source for any of the gospel material? She was present at the crucifixion and pentecost; she was taken in by John) and there was a great quote from John Paul II. He said that faith and hope are "like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth" and that both are required in our search. Very nice.

Okay, I don't have any time right now, but I just had to talk about the tree.

Oh, Mikey named it Doug as we were working on it. As in Doug Fir. Yeah, cute. Count my blessings. My son is the coolest kid on the West Slope and everybody knows it. Thanks be to God.

And thanks for those of you who I know pray for me. How moving that is. Some of you I've met once or twice, maybe some not at all. But I am deeply grateful, truly moved.

I'll be in touch.



Friday, December 03, 2004

A Far, Far, Better Thing

Today was very hard. I saw my therapist, and it seems as though feelings I've held back about my father, the way I've felt around him and in response to things he has done, is flooding me; a new pain, yet an old pain. My life was so crazy for so many years...Estella, the girl after her, Robert and Keith, and above all my obsessions, shoving all other players from the stage of my mind. I believe this is called growth. It feels almost like madness. But I have been through worse, and I've been through this before as a child with no support whatsoever, and I survived. And I will survive this.

But I want more than just survival. I want closeness with my spouse, my son, as much inner peace and freedom from anxiety as I can find in this life. Clarity of purpose. The love of God. Is all this too much to ask?

I am not a Dickens fan per se. I've read a handful of the novels, Expectations, Bleak House, Hard Times, maybe another I don't recall, and now Tale of Two Cities. I almost didn't stay with the book. I don't think it really shines until Darnay goes back to France. But oh how it shines after. Do we get the realistic psychology of Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy or George Eliot? No. Dickens remains himself. But what he has done in this book, flooding it with the Christian hope, the last moment rescue from the grave, the price paid by another, the great words from John which have throbbed over the entire earth for two thousand years...'I am the resurrection and the life'...I wept so hard through the final pages, for myself, for the real victims of the Terrors, for everything in me the book touches. My own doubt and fears. The desires I hold in me which are the most sincere hopes of all humanity, at least all humanity touched by the words of Jesus, the fabric of the great Christian mythos: forgiveness, eternal life in loving communion, hope beyond all despair.

As I have said, my faith is taking a battering, probably as much a result of what I'm going through emotionally as anything I've read or thought. But I've thought it all: Romans prayed to the lares, Hindus pray to one god and myriad gods, Catholics pray to Mary, of course you pray to Jesus; because you want to feel like someone actuallly cares about you, that your life is not without meaning, that you will not die, that even if you die you will yet live. Who wouldn't want that?

And yet the Voice cries out across my despair, 'I am the resurrection and the life.' Did Jesus not believe that? I've read no critic who can convince me otherwise. And are all the miracles fabrications? Jeez. I can't even say how hard I've been thinking, perhaps obsessing, over those questions. I've walked the dark soul walk of the last two months without the support or hope of Christ, without relying on him, though I've said myself on this blog that's what Christianity is. I have prayed, but not often. I've analyzed everything to sickness instead.

Still, the beauty of Dickens' fable. I know he had a mistress for years, ended up divorced from the mother of his children, lived a less than perfect life. Was he even happy? I don't know enough to say if the gospel he preaches in Tale was one he believed. Or perhaps, sometimes he did. Living when he did, as rationalism and science dismembered the faith that had been.

And those things have changed Christianity, at least for me, for good. The earth is not six thousand years old, and the universe was not made in six days. The ot and the epistles of the nt, at least, are not word for word God's decree. I can't believe it when I read them, anymore than Plato could believe Homer and Hesiod were telling the truth about the greek pantheon. But the truth is in there. In some mysterious way. It's terrifying, sometimes, to imagine...maybe some of Jesus' sayings are incorrect, perhaps a miracle or two didn't really happen, some mistaken traditions arose...all this I admit as possibility, perhaps probability, though I have seen no evidence either way; and if I admit one miracle, the rest could be genuine.

But the central gospel message remains. It is consistent as far as I can tell. I have to meet the intellectual challenges I face as they arise, but because of my emotional history, my ocd...it's almost a bad thing for me to sort out my own apologetics, though I can't imagine not doing it. Less analysis, more of something else, dependence, reliance, communication, even trust. Yikes, trust. In the face of no empirical evidence in my own experience. On the strength of the message alone and a unique historical record. And admittedly, the strength of my own need.

But back to Dickens. What a finish. I knew almost nothing of the French Revolution before I started the book and I know only a little now, reading website history as I read the novel. The whole thing reminds me of the madness that exists in potential in any human culture, even if degree varies. Could my own culture, my own town or country, descend into such violent anarchy? Given the right circumstances, I think it could. All the more reason to constantly wean Americans away from violent solutions; we need to see how outrageous violence really is, how it should be a final, desparate fix. How easy is it, when I am inured to the death of Iraqi's on the battlefield of their own soil (yes, and the foreign fighters who have joined them, martyr fools all) to begin to imagine the death of an American who might be politically dangerous? Events in history like the Terrors, the Holocaust (and there have been many genocides) the rapes in Sudan, these are so difficult to understand. But they happen when a group or class is dehumanized, even out of revenge. Oh, group A, those guys have killed lots of us group B's; go ahead, rape their women and butcher their children. That happens. And the cycle continues.

But isn't is possible that the same way Americans have begun to see women as equals, certainly capable of voting at least, the same way our culture has been educated about things like date rape, a term, a concept, I never heard when young. Isn't it possible we could be taught that violence is never a good solution; war always involves innocent death and breeds lasting hatred? Couldn't we begin to look for other ways whenever possible?

Am I a true pacifist? Do I think Bin Laden, for example, or those responsible for the attacks in New York or Madrid should not draw a military response? I don't think that yet. I know intelligent people who feel the appropriate action would be to find and arrest and imprison those who supported those massacres using international law enforcement. Good idea. But I admit I also support what we were/are doing in Afghanistan looking for those guys using troops. Yet even there I know innocents have died. And good soldiers.

Embracing the true and complex nature of war is the first step in ordering it. Lie next to its true nature. Then breathe in the brotherhood of man. Think.

Otherwise, more Terrors await our retributive race. What made those men and women that different from us? Poverty and oppression? I guess. But there have been numerous slaughters in world history, involving greater numbers.

We can never allow the sick luxury of dehumanizing any group or race or religion. Of elevating any Republic over the lives of beings. It is astonishing to me (and a biblical higher critic, incidentally, would never believe it) that the French Revolution came after ours. At almost the same time, or just after, the Bill of Rights was ratified. Some have argued (and again, I'm a true novice) that the French people misunderstood what had happened in our country, what was happening, when they themsleves revolted. But while our states were agreeing that speech must be free in this country, the French were beheading people in mass hysteria, a marxist revolution before marx, the madness of lenin more than a century before.

Well, I am tired now, and I'm drifting. And I don't want to go back and edit this, so you get it as it is. The novel drove me on. And I get such mental peace, freedom from my suffering, when I write. It simpy feels good.

Finally, unlike the notes in the back of my penguin edition, I didn't really give the end away. If you can wade through the first two thirds or so, it's worth the effort to get to the end.

Peace and well wishes to all. It's one butt cold sierra night. Snow coming in tomorrow night.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Who's Your Daddy?

I appreciate the kind comments to my post below; my bro read it, and told me when I saw him it was 100 percent accurate. Well, is that good or bad?

My trip to Long Beach was good, though mostly hard. I always get triggered, anxious and/or depressed, when I travel south, even though I never regret the trips, and so much good comes from them. I saw my little baby niece, only ten days old! I had the best talk I may have ever had with my brother, mostly about Dad. And I generally did cool stuff: went to Getty for the first time (saw Wesley Clark) at lunch and roaming the galleries; Huntington Library for the twentieth time probably; hit the Queen Mary, the Observation Bar, this little art deco bar in the front of the ship. Why the band was playing cheesy top 40 instead of jazz is beyond me.

And incidentally, you can go onto that ship for free at night, and no one is around. It's really very cool. I saw a couple who had brought taco bell up and was eating at a table on the starboard deck, the side that faces the city. What a view they had! For a six buck dinner! S and I walked all the way around that thing. I dug.

What else was good? Lots of food, too much, at Steph's mom's. I ate pie at least once a day, yams, ham, turkey...we made both. We actually ate twice on thanksgiving. Now the reckoning...I have to cut back on calories and make more time for exercise.

S saw her father for the first time in nearly a decade, and interacted with him more than she had in longer than that. He tried very hard. He was an okay cat, quirks aside. Which brings me back to my start and my title.

My father just called me, to say hi, but also I think because he was wondering about my brother and the baby. And everything my mother says about him is still true: he feels so sorry for himself, he whines, he assumes the worst in every situation that regards him. Remember that low self-image I was talking about? That incredible self-deprecation, and the underlying defensive anger? It's still there. Lurid. I was cool to him on the phone. That's been my attempt for a while now, the last couple years or so since I looked him up and found where he was living: treat Dad like he's mentally ill, which he actually is in some sense I feel; like the rainman, or a retarded person, or a drug addict or an alcoholic. That sounds cruel, but to me it's realistic. I can't expect much from him; I try to treat him humanely in return. I know it means a great deal to him, a man who has lost his sons and probably doesn't know why, or who would have to think very hard, probably harder than he wants to, to understand why.

Oh man. This hurts.

But I pay a price. I try to let my anger out here, or in talking to others, so that when I call him I don't smash that fragile ego. Maybe I'm protecting him more than I need to. It was so good to talk to my brother about what happened when I was 17, when he moved out of the area just after his marriage, about my stepmother and her obsession, I mean obsession, with her own kids (the last time I saw her, she talked about each of them for the entire three hours she was here). That conversation with my brother included some heavy realities. Stark truths. Hard emotions. Things I've forgotten. I do know my ocd blew into full swing that year I was 17, as my dad meandered a hundred miles away and stayed in Long Beach and tried to make it. That story is for another time; it's worth telling, or I'm worth telling it.

So yeah, dad. A man who needs to be cared for, controlled really, so much by his wife he would choose her over his own children. A man who did just that. And now a man who wants everything to be forgiven, forgotten, resolved. It has been more than twenty years, and I'm trying, but it is very difficult and I can't blame my brother; in some ways I admire him for taking a harder line with dad, for sticking up for his feelings more, admitting them and not trying to minimize them in any way. It's more self-respecting, maybe. I've wondered many times: do I have depression and anxiety and obsessions because of genetic influence? He has little or none of this and he was adopted. But what stuck out to me most in our conversation was how much more he lets himself feel angry, how much less he blames himself. That doesn't sound genetic to me.


***

Other news: as I said, the trip was hard emotionally, and good. Now that I'm back the reality of what it's like to work from home alone is again settling in and I wonder: should I shift colleges to the one in my district more near my house? I could work there maybe four days a week instead of two? At least three. Heck, I might have to do five. But the long days home alone are hard, harder than they were, and the lack of structure is part of that. Right now I'm so behind in my online classes. It's just getting tough to sit here and do the work, though I'm not ignoring it completely. I should be grading right now; I needed this first.

And to top all this hard dad work off, my faith has taken a dip. Since Schweitzer. I actually think I've come to a place where I have a response to his central argument, but I haven't had time to process it, write it all down, center into it. I haven't stopped praying, but I have doubts, again. I actually think it's connected to my other anxieties and my ocd. Was it Erickson who says that faith results from positive infant/mother connection? What happens in the absence of that? But my doubt is also the product of simply thinking. Schweitzer's thesis is possible, not certain, but possible. And then there are so many other issues. Foremost among them miracles. Certainly, if a God is admitted, miracles could happen. But when miracles are examined inductively, in light of other historical accounts of miraculous events and even current accounts, it becomes much more complex. This was Hume's main point, or one of them: humans believe all kinds of whacky things. Myths get built quickly after the death of a great man. Has it ever happened to anyone else the way it's happened to Jesus? No. Not that I know of. And I've never seen that kind of ethical teaching (though Christ's world-view has philosophical problems too, like damnation) or self-aggrandized view in the presence of that kind of miracle record.

But all that's for another time. Thanks to funkiller and chameleon for posting so often! And thanks to scooter and my bro for reading regularly, I know. And to the rest who read and post.

God will not conceal himself from one who seeks, even a wounded one. And I suppose working through all this dad pain is part of getting well (as opposed to obsessing until my brain is raw). My ocd does respond to exposure work, but no doubt, that's tough to do when so many emotions are running through my mind. In some strange way, obsessions are a primitive attempt to nurture the self. Like cutting (and I've never cut, though man have I struggled with obsessions regarding it). A therapist told me that years ago, and I sensed it on this vacation. There's also much more going on, including a mental pattern, an instinctive response to anxiety, a way to cloak anger and pain, all kinds of things.

Most of all, I crave the hope of Christ again. With that, there is no darkness of any real depth. Christ promises more than just eternal life, he promises eternal love, final justice, limitless grace for his children...it's tough to get too down for too long in the face of those. Just writing that I feel the muscles in my shoulders and arms relax, for the moment at least.

Peace to all.