Thursday, April 28, 2005

Final List

Okay....

so I spent two hours watching g.i. jane on cable so that my brain might turn to comfortable lime gelatin, only lime gelatin is not comfortable I found; and I have eaten more pizza, I mean pepperoni sausage mushroom black olive this is not how one bulks clean pizza than I have eaten in months. Even a margarita, though when I made the second I spilt it on the floor, mopped up the ice and left it at that.

I made finalist. Five names were advanced for two positions. This morning was my exec. interview; me, the president and the vice-president of instruction. And it was longer, more grueling again, than I expected. I think they might be pushing for a third position, which means the candidates were probably very strong. Coming from in district with my tech background....I think I chatted them up pretty well. But now that I've done all I can do (I'll hear by Tuesday, by phone, either way) I feel like eating drinking watching crap t.v.

Which I have done.

It's been exhausting. I know I already have a job, have tenure. What I'm after could even be called convenience, or quality of life. Plenty of good teachers out there are sweating on adjunct slave pay. Plenty of them will keep doing so if I take this position.

Good god, now some chuck norris vietnam movie is on television. I'm too lazy to change the channel. And the laptop on my lap is so nourishingly warm.

On my first real job as senior warden: I don't know what the man I helped move did or when. I know he's supposed to be back out in a few months; he hasn't committed a new crime. I also know a handful of very amazing people showed up to help me on Wed., and I'm humbled. For whatever reason, his place was thrashed and smelled like cat piss (luckily, someone had already rescued the cats). I've talked before on my blog about service being the heart of Christian faith; I feel fortunate enough just to have tasted that truth. For as grimy and dirty and creepy as that work felt, I had a chance to do something that I know unequivocally was right, even apart from my faith. And if I consider my faith, something which represents it completely. Over and over I thought of the story of the man who rescues the despised samaritan:

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Not much ambiguity in that text. My goal is to still go and visit this guy in prison when school gets out; it's a day trip, and I have to get pre-approved or something, but he wants visitors and why not go and pray with him at least? Hell, I've been mentally ill in my own way.

And something else: I'm looking at taking EFM classes. If I could fit this in, I would love it. Four years of seminary (lite--no actual units or papers) right at my parish. For me, dream time. There's nothing I want to study more right now than what I understand is in their curriculum. And this is my priest's strength, small group academic study.

Oh everybody, I'm full and tired and need a hot bath. All is not perfect, but I've gotten past one giant hump and will post soon as I know if I got the job at the other campus; I feel I've made too much of it, but it's felt so heavy to carry all the same. Meantime, I think I can shove in one more piece of pizza. More on Mr. Doom, my epithet for my ocd, soon.

t

Friday, April 22, 2005

Interview Daze

those of you who read regularly know I applied for a position in another college in my district. Yesterday I interviewed. It was rigorous, grueling even, and truthfully, I think I did okay. I didn't fall on my face but I didn't wow the room, either. That's how I recall it anyway. I'm not a very good judge of how I do in situations like that.

I still have deep tech background, very deep, and online experience they need desperately. But while I've had teachers in my classroom, and faced two other hiring panels in my life and always done very well, yesterday...I'm not so sure. Coming from in district and having the vita I do will be what gets me the second interview with the president if that happens.

Because I have have such a vicious, relentless and critical side I'm trying just to let this go. Take care of myself today, work out, and know I'm powerless over the outcome. Either way, I've got tenure. I'd probably have to work harder the first few years anyway.

And another thing which I can barely talk about even in an 'anonymous' blog. As senior warden, I'm helping a guy (I haven't met him yet, just helping him with business in the 'outside') who violated parole and was sent back to prison, at least for a few months. I wasn't told what his crime was by my priest. S has been talking about those Megan's law sites and so I checked one out yesterday; you know, the sites which detail where all the registered sex offenders in the county live, even give their pictures. I found several in my neighborhood. That was tough. Then, sure enough, I found this guy. He's a registered offender with some serious problems. I'm supposed to help him find storage for his stuff.

I don't even want to go into this guy's apt. I don't know precisely what he did as those sites give broad legal descriptions of the offenders' crimes, but this thing is making me sick to my stomach. I've already said I'd like to go visit him in prison when school gets out, an entire day's trip for me. What can I say or do? Pray with him, sure. Will he even discuss, admit, any of his crimes. Sex offenders scare me, what little I know about them. I trust them less than anyone on the planet. Their disease is so potent and clearly lifelong in most cases.

So there you go. A less than great interview for a job I still feel sad about taking (leaving my other campus and all) and a guy I'm helping who is a s.o. who, somehow or other, violated parole. Rockin. Good times.

I simply have to think about the boundless, truly boundless, grace of Christ. It's not my responsibility to protect the world from this guy; this system has to do that. All I can do is offer assistance as much as I'm capapable. It doesn't help that I just read about that little florida girl who they think was raped, tied in garbage bags clutching a stuffed animal and buried alive. I've been anti-death penalty for a while now, though since I have nothing to do with death penalty cases or legislation I don't give it much thought. But what that guy in Florida did...can I extend grace in my heart to that man? I don't know. Luckily I don't have to.

And I don't think the guy in my parish did anything like that or he wouldn't be going back in for just six months. My priest, who is not telling any of what he's in for, is really advocating for us to assist him in his basic needs. I guess this is the real deal. I was very excited about doing this kind of work, felt truly right about helping a poor guy in jail, until I found him on the web.

Well, enough for now. Other things call. I've begun blogging more on Mr. Doom but I'll post another time.

t

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Vote for Pedro

before the next heavy post (I'm still feeling the last one; strange dreams, some fear)...a quick note on the two latest netflicks.

I have to confess how charmed I was by Napoleon Dynamite. What is it about that strange little movie? I watched it twice. A color palette which reminded me of The Royal Tennenbaums, but also the 1980's (stirrup pants) when I was as angry and felt as dorky as Napoleon himself. The way he speaks, eyes closed, too pissed and insecure to look at you; his martial arts fantasies, his inability to talk to girls, I love that guy. And the honesty of Pedro. The lowriders. Rico's wierdness. Of course, Deb's smile captured everything, just everything. All the warmth and love and beauty...the need for which seems to move in some boy's genes at that age. Or any other age. What most of us don't know we have when we have it. The first stirrings of the promise of home, family, of someone who comes and does not leave.

The girl who rides her bike up to Rico's van out of nowhere at the end, same thing. That is almost a religious moment for geeks like me. The people who made this movie made, and remade, myth.

Hope I haven't dropped in anyone's estimation.

I also saw Sideways, though, and did not dig. Even as a (recovering) wine geek. Sure, it demystified the wine industry/community very accurately: wine is the new poetic drug of the American middle class; we drink its art, and sometimes it makes us eloquent, sometimes just hot and stupid drunk. Also, it's an agricultural industry first and last. The stuff really does not spill out of Bacchus' holy mouth. But I hated the two main characters. Too realistic for my romantic tastes? Maybe. I love realist, even naturalist, fiction. Maybe for movies it's different. I just didn't think this one was pulled together well.

But if you haven't seen Napoleon, give it a whirl. Vote for Pedro.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Mr. Doom 1.0

I'm blogging so infrequently I fear I'll lose my blog readership, all six of you. I've made true friends up here, even if they're virtual friends, Romy, Mike, Karen, Sheri, Amanda, and brought back a couple old friends, Scott and Pdub. But again, I'm finding blogging these days to be challenging.

In more than one sense. Reading KMJ's posts recently...I echo her feelings...what do I do with blog? Truthfully, the most gut share stuff I could put up here would be unfair to my wife. How do I write about my past and honor her as a reader? Not that my past was dramatic or promiscous. But I think of Edward Abbey's title for his journals (or his publisher's): Confessions of a Barbarian. When I saw that, even as a grad student, I thought, man, that's me. I'd call my blog that, but it's taken.

Barbarian how? In so many ways...anger and frustration, lust and sweet desire, above all, a great belief in the promise of my own future, much of it fastened unwisely on girls. Somehow, someday, journalling in anxious desair, living in my mom's living room at 20, I believed someone would read my journals (and now, funny thing, it's almost happening). I knew somehow I'd overcome my challenges; I'd have the great life, the nearly perfect life, the golden girl bride. Yet I made decisions which brought me something much less than that. Even now, there are things about my life I don't like which will never change, things I'm trying to change, and a whole lot of other material which affects my mood I don't even process yet. Barbarian, somehow. But with an insane belief in never fully quitting, an optimism which kept me alive.

And so now what will I write about tonight. The second part of Estella's story? No, I'm going, deeper, darker. Into a past I don't like to remember. How far I can go I have yet to see. And I know I can't do it as well as others who blog, and surely, writing in between am. lit. essays which are due tomorrow, writing at midnight, I don't have the time to reach even my limited narrative potential.

This, though, is a story I have long wanted to tell; one which was meant to be told to a safe audience as it was happening and wasn't. Here is my beginning:

***

Mental illness is more treatable now than at any time in history; it is also better understood. Still, much is not known, much goes untreated; some still can't be. What I will say at the outset is that it is one thing to go into a depression for six months, or develop an anxiety disorder for a year because of a new boss, or become bulimic during college. These are serious conditions which deserve professional treatment. But it is another thing to carry a lifelong weight. To have one's illness define one's life. For as long as I can remember that has been my story (though I admit, the last year has brought great change, the latter stages of years of change).

I have had anxiety my entire life, though it is depression I eventually want to focus on, to spit from the mouth of Mr. Black, his memory, his sharp-edged touch. But before the death-urge came the terror. Before Mr. Black came Mr. OCD (both of whom, I believe, will die the second death under the feet of the Lamb).

I was hospitalized for twenty days in traction at 19 months (yes, at the beginning of Margaret Mahler's critical rapproachment period) for a broken arm. In those days, children were left alone at the hospital at night. At least I was. My parents were never good at spending time with me or looking out for me; my grandmother did most of that. But my father tells of going to see me once and I had sores on my tongue, I was not taken care of, I was wailing, dehydrated, had vomited. My grandmother told me she could watch me through the glass windows until they'd close the curtains at dusk and I'd cry and cry. Any therapist will tell you now that a child cannot be left alone at night for days in a hosital, let alone in pain and in traction, without damage, but these, I guess, were the Camelot years. Even more amazing, according to my grandmother, who was not an educated women, my doctor was 'sadistic.' That was her word. I was afraid to go see him after I got out, he would hurt my arm, I guess, during examination. Sadistic. All I must have felt was terrified, angry, very weak.

For after that experience my mother tells me I was never the same. I followed her from room to room, developed what is known as seperation anxiety, though to me it simply felt like an unarguable, overwhelming rush of terror whenever I was left alone. Something I long felt as a deep weakness, a crack in the foundation of my soul. What we might call a character defect. I was afraid to be separated in the super market; afraid to be alone in the house. It didn't help that my mother and grandmother held to some strange religious beliefs also, derived from the Holiness: everytime you sin, your salvation is lost; if you die, you'll go to hell. Worse, or so it seemed to me as a little boy, if the rapture comes, and it's coming any time now, you'll be left behind. I kept my aunt Carole's phone number where I knew I could get itjust for this reason. Though she lived four hundred miles away I knew she smoked, hence, she'd get left behind at the rapture too and my little brother and I could live with her. I was very young when I had that number, between five and seven. My brother was two or three.

School terrified me. I was petrified of physical confrontation, horrified of being beat up on the way to school or in the boy's bathroom. Above all, being left alone in the house filled me with dread, as I've said. I'd walk home from school every day in the fourth grade past this long Mayflower truck which was always parked in the same place on our street in Cyrpess. I knew when I got to the end of it I could see my home, and my stomach would churn, whirl, burn, I'd salivate and fear I'd throw up until I got past and could see my mother, my angry, distant, aloof and disturbed mother, had her car in the driveway. Once it wasn't there. I ran to a friend's house (we hadn't even lived in the neighborhood long) because I couldn't get in and was horrified (the rapture, finally?). The kid who helped me, I can still see him...blonde hair, gray sweats, none of my own fear though he was concerned. We tried to break in for a while, then my mom finally showed up. I was so nervous I went into the bathroom and threw up, a reaction I'd had since the first grade at least when my anxiety got very bad. My friend quickly left. My mother berated me, horribly, told me she couldn't do anything, couldn't go anywhere, had stopped at a garage sale with my little brother (wandering around, that same absent look in his young eyes amidst the emotional chaos; does he remember this day at all?) If she called me names, weak, pathetic, nervous, I can't remember. She did other times. But I do know it was not good when she did get home.

Oh, my friends, I have so much more to share.

Terror, like that, became agoraphobia: if I went to the mall or the park I'd get my ass kicked. Hence I couldnt' leave my house except to go to my private school. I was afraid all through junior high. Why? Another story I guess, but that's how the terror lodged itself. In high school, when I realized that if I did have to throw up in a public place, things got a bit better, though I remained scared of horror movies (wouldn't go; why the hell would anyone want to be scared!) physical confrontation still, having a stomach ulcer, getting tetantus, or rabies...before my ocd kicked in full swing at around 16 (though I had been counting to assuage anxiety since seven or so) I was painfully hypochondriacal. And when the fear is that strong it is unmanageable by the subject-self. I had no tools and no one to tell me I was okay. What I needed was a figure I could trust (and with my parents, just who would that be) to sit me down, affirm the reality of my fears but then teach me that they were unfounded; these things weren't going to happen to me. I do this for my own son now all the time, more when he was younger. I never had that. No one was able to tell me I had nothing to be afraid of, and I was scared to share my terrors with the barely functioning parents I had. So I lived in horror, night was the worst, all of my childhood.

When my mother left us at 14 I 'swallowed it down' as I put it at the time; I had no experience feeling any kind of emotion besides terror. Seeing the closet with all her stuff gone from her half was hard, but she didn't even tell me they were getting a divorce. She woke me up, said she and my father were having problems, and that she was going to stay with my aunt (the one, incidentally, I just had such a good time with in Sedona). It was my father, later that day, who told me the truth. And only when I protested, 'it's not like you guys are getting a divorce,' and he simply nodded, sadly, seriously, but like a child would nod.

(Word of advice here. If any one us ever decides to leave our spouses and children are involved, do it fucking right, if there is a way; involve a support network; be truthful. Don't bail, not tell the entire story, and leave it up to a dazed, depressed, and shocked parent to explain.)

Anyway, a couple years later began dating my stepmother. During those years I couldn't bear to be seperated from Sandie, my little high school girlfriend. She went to Wyoming the summer I was 15 and I couldn't eat; only when I went to the beach and felt the warm air blowing on me could I relax enough to eat Arby's. I made a calendar and crossed off each day she was gone, and I cried, hard, as if at a death, every day. The next summer I managed (with my dad's help, incidentally) to talk her parents into letting me go along. When I came back after two weeks, all the furniture in our little apartment was gone. The couch (granted, tacky red velvet) my parents had owned together was gone. All of it. In its place was Nancy's stuff, my stepmother's stuff. They were not yet married. I had no warning. This was very hard for me. The fact that she was living there before they were married was hard, but the entire loss of my home...I still don't know if I've processed this.

It was only a few days later I was sitting on her/our couch talking to her, a sixteen year old desperate boy still looking for acceptance and nurturance and not getting it, when she mentioned how a friend we knew had died of a brain aneurysm. What's that, I asked. She told me. From that moment on, I was in terror, surely this would get me, surely I would drop dead at any moment. I had this. I would lay in bed and hear my pulse pounding in my head and know it was coming.

How I tried to shake that obsession, for obsession it was. I remember going to see Keith Green in Long Beach and praying so hard....imagining leaving the aneurysm behind me at the concert hall, being free. But I wasn't free. It didn't work. And that was the first true obsession I had, the beginning, friends, of much darker and more terrifying days. It's where I'll end now. That first chronic phobia developed into others much worse, more un-real, ones I'm afraid to share but will share I believe. This kind of writing may not have much of an audience, and I'm blaze-drafting without whatever little craft I may have, but I'm sharing here, not composing.

I think I've found what I want to do with my blog.

Peace and more soon, promise,

Friday, April 01, 2005

Sedona

My vacation was wonderful.

I saw my father and stepmother in Havasu. Amazingly, it felt nearly natural. I've had no consistent contact with either of them for more than twenty years, closer to twenty five. Here and then I'd talk to my dad; he'd find me or I'd find him, we'd meet once or twice...it was never comfortable for me...and we'd fall out of touch. I found him online about two years ago; he was living in AZ, and this is the second time since then I've seen him.

He was more relaxed in his own home. My stepmother, who was a dark frown shy of nurturing when I knew her, made a wonderful lunch; stacks of deli meats, good breads, even gherkins, though the sweet american kind, not the french. Something about being fed changes every color in the room for me.

They took me to see the London Bridge in Havasu. This was a bit of a disappointment as it was only 19th century Londoners who cruised the Thames under the stones in Havasu, not authors and monarchs from before. More's head did not hang from this bridge. Still...Darwin, Dickens, Victoria, Jack the Ripper...compelling crew. It was the closest to the UK I've gotten with my fear of flying, so far at least.

We only spent an afternoon in Havasu, from there I went on to Sedona to see my mother's younger sister, a woman I haven't seen, except for my grandmother's funeral, in 15 years. She has invited me to stay with her and her husband more than once; I never went even though I knew she had a beautiful home. I think my mother's critical assessments, her fear of my aunt and perhaps her jealousy, left me unconsciously biased. I expected a money grubbing, shallow, distant, critical person.

The fact is my aunt, and my uncle, are wonderful people. They were great hosts, their home is in fact beautiful, and so is the desert red rock around it (Sedona is something to see). It was cloudy, near stormy, the entire time, and the sky was even more beautiful than the landscape. Two mornings we went hiking with her. S and I were so moved we cooked for them and her son and wife (my cousin) one night; four courses, wine included.

As I posted before, I drink much less than I did; most days not at all. This, however, was one of those exceptional evenings. S and I came home with two bottles of wine and my aunt, a church-going and clean living woman, told us, 'oh, two bottles, this is far too much; we'll never finish it.' Luckily she had a few whites on hand because the six of us polished off five bottles by the time we were done. It was beautiful to be able to give back by serving them food and wine in their own home. I felt more at home working in the kitchen (and what a kitchen!). Her husband sold a business and retired by 40. When they moved to Sedona he began working in construction, for free, to learn the trade. It took him two years. Now he has a contractor's license; he buys lots and builds homes to sell or rent. Their own home is almost 4000 square feet, single story with gorgeously high ceilings, designed by an architect, and he built the thing himself. Using subcontractors, but mostly by himself.

And then the Grand Canyon. It snowed most of the time we were there, but it cleared enough to see the entire canyon from the different vantage points. Of all things I have seen in my life, nothing matches it. If you haven't been, find a way to go. It is so wide, deep, long...like an entire mountain range sunk into the ground and seen from beneath. It was also a great place to work on my heights fear. I did pretty well considering I was staring straight down several thousand feet.

We saw Flagstaff, a little, also. I have an old friend, my dive buddy, who is finishing grad school there. The drive from Flag to the canyon is very beautiful. It's all part of the Colorado Plateau, and snow blew in sheets across the road, driven by winds much higher than I get at my home, sunk among tall trees and slopes as it is.

After three days in Sedona (the canyon is just a day trip from there) we drove to Vegas. It took us two hours to go four miles over the Hoover Dam, otherwise I would've toured that art-deco sci-fi mammoth. We spent only four hours in Vegas. Some things about that town are very different than twelve years ago when I was there last; some things the same. The Venetian is impressive, especially the facade architecture, and the shops inside are upscale. Ceasar's also. Money money money. One evening was enough. It was very crowded, and my son and his friend, walking up a stairway on a main street, looked down and saw a 4/4 color glossy of a naked woman with open legs. Beauty. That's the thing I hate about that town and a reason I'll never see it as the family resort it markets itself as.

We spent that night in a very little town called Beatty, just outside death valley. Turns out this is one of the greatest wildflower years in history for the park, and we drove around for a couple hours looking at the broad fields of yellow flecked with purple and white. The weather was perfect, in the seventies, and I've never seen a low desert in that much bloom.

That day was the also the long drive home, coming up the back of the Sierra on 395, past Mammoth and through Carson Valley. Lots of snow on the peaks and along the highway. The Sierra rise almost vertical on the east side, as opposed to the long gentle climb from the west (what's known as 'the west slope') so the mountains appear huge, the range stretching as far as you can see to the north and south.

There and back again.

This was all that a family car vacation should or can be. I found new family members, got along with my father and stepmother, and saw three of the natural wonders of the west. I saw wildflowers in the low desert and drove in blowing snow in AZ. All good. Maybe we'll do a repeat performance this summer. It will be hot, sure, but I so enjoyed seeing my aunt.

When we found her address and drove up the drive, I actually couldn't tell if the garage was the house or not. When we found the front door, the sixteen foot high double wood door, Mike asked me, 'Troy, is your aunt rich?' I said, 'I guess so.' As soon as she let us in (I half expected a butler) she asked for a hug. She said, 'I know your mom's not a hugger, but I like to hug.' What new warmth. No one else from that family does that.

What a gift.