Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Sunny Side Up

what do I follow a post like the post below with? Things that grow in the present I guess. Like the gorgeous spring which is all around my house. My neighbor's ridiculous hound dog which is baying, tied up, at eight in the morning. The final on Frankenstein I have to give this afternoon, (still need to come up with prompts, with questions); the slew of esssays yet to grade before my grades are due next Tuesday (actually, it would be nice to finish everything Friday).

All this, too, is real.

Somehow I've always believed life would get better, get easier, no matter the challenge. I know that will not always be true. I will someday die (well, if Jesus can be trusted, that will be the greatest beginning of all). When I began this blog just over a year ago I felt desperately lonely much of the time. Things at my church appeared bleak; I was home alone a lot; my karate gym had shut down without notice (allegedly because the sensei, a good guy to me at least and a well-trained fighter, was tweaking). Things felt pretty distant between S and I, at least from my side, more often than I'd wish. I didn't even feel as close to Mikey. This board, this little group, was my 'blog family.' I felt adopted, and wanted to adopt everyone in that first generation: scott/romy/kmj/ian/funkiller/sheri/dave. I hope I'm not forgetting anyone, others came later, like amanda. Of course I got hurt early on; that was over my blog post regarding the murdered russian children. Relational hurt is part of life. But this group felt like the only real social circle I had, working as far from work as I do and did (and at work, only one real friend, one true soul to share with).

Just a little over a year later I still love blogging and reading the blogs of my friends. It's been hard lately to stay caught up, but I manage. The wonderful thing is that I don't feel so isolated even apart from the blog. Every place I felt desperate has improved. My ocd has undergone major improvements in the last fourteen months or so using exposure therapy; my church, by giving me things to do, has integrated me in a way I didn't think possible, though of course more relationships need to be built there, and will. I've fed my city-hunger by going to s.f. more than once; I've also appreciated the astounding beauty of the woods around my home in a new way. Things feel stronger with S, though I think hard work remains to be done. And maybe the thing I'm most proud of...my relationship with my newly teenage son seems to be genuinely good. I think there was an awkward time between childhood and adolescence, when all he cared about was ESPN, when Pokemon was gone and he hadn't yet begun to fully socialize, a time when I didn't feel as close to him. Now he's talking about things I can give input on: girls, mostly, but making responsible choices, knowing how much freedom to give him and when to curtail that freedom.

Sure, he's only 13! What will I say at 16! But it seems he is going into his teenage years with an open relationship with me, one built on communication and respect and not just boundaries. Children need love more than they need discipline and limits. I'm not saying they need both, but they need love and sharing most of all. We all need that most of all. There are tense moments, but I'm proud of my relationship with my stepson, especially as his biological father, someone he's still close to and sees twice a month, is getting married to a woman he's only known a few months, less than a year anyway. Hopefully all will be good there, but she barely knows Mikey, and his soul, I tell you, is more precious than any diamond. Anyone who knows him can say the same, will say the same. So with things changing with his dad, I'm grateful to feel like a larger part of his life. Grateful is the word.

Also, I'm still no great river of faith, but taking classes at my church has and will help. I need a rational Christianity, as far as any faith can be rational, and too many groups sacrifice reason for rigid tradionality and comfort. I need a faith that embraces higher criticism of scripture, intellectual skepticism, but still places faith in the saving Christ. This may be weakness more than strength on my part, but I've found a denomination, the episcopal, which lets me be who I am and do it with others like me. Also good.

My clear point here is that things are better than they were when I started the blog (oh, I started weight lifting also) and I don't know how much I can credit the other voices up here...perhaps it has been their prayers for me more than anything. All is not perfect, I've been having some muscle spasms in my lower back and taking valium for it...some moments of real pain which are however resolving, and which I know will recede. But I feel so much less lonely. Even without getting the other job, my teaching schedule is very good next year: the entire am. lit. survey and a new class in science fiction (I need to brush up there). Plus I'm using some great books in my comp. classes. And, to top all off, I'm reading the entire Republic cover to cover, something I've never done before. I don't think I was educated before, truly, without that book. Some parts of it, where Plato discusses divinity, are outstanding. Other parts are wierd, yes...like the letters of St. Paul. Very different, but I can't help make the comparison, I surely don't mean to offend.

Be well all. One more week and I get a break and can blog and read blog more than I've been able to lately.

Hope comes with the morning.


Friday, May 13, 2005

Mr. Doom 2.0

Part One of this entry is here.

Since I'm trying to name the different part of my suffering, and this also helps shape my narrative into blog entries, I've changed the title of my posts regarding my ocd to Mr. Doom. This just fits. I considered Mr. Terror, Mr. Loop, but something about Doom is just right. That feeling, that sense of impending catastrophe, underlies all things ocd. Obsessing feels like my own death is just about to happen, or that some great dread event is coming; a silent, singular apocalypse. So Doom it is.

I left off when my stepmother moved in when I was 16, but I neglected significant content from before that time. One thing I mentioned only a little, but it deserves more treatment here: I had an intense fear of vomiting in public. My am. lit. class recently discussed Tenessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie; I had forgotten Laura, the borderline and fragile girl in the play, has the same problem: she vomits on the floor during a typing speed test her first week at business college and never returns. How that scene haunts me now, haunted me as I discussed it in class. That, apart from my separation anxiety, was my first great fear, the terror of committing an embarassing, uncontrollable, act. It was with me from about six or seven until high school, though it will still creep on at rare times.

My mother tells me I did throw up in class in kindergarden, and I have only the vaguest memories of some students standing around talking about this event (and what was their tone, they seem like shadows now, murmuring...were they setting me apart like a weak animal, were they laughing, were they sorry and supportive, all the above...I don't know). But that memory lay buried for a long time. All I knew was that when the first day of school rolled around, especially by second grade, third grade, I would be throwing up in the bathroom that first morning, telling my mother I was sick, terrified to go. She, of course, was mocking. Critical. Absolutely without nurturing empathy. Telling me to stop being nervous and to snap out of it, or that I was undergoing some spiritual trial (perhaps that came later). But the fear of throwing up in public escalates exactly like the cycle of ocd: first the thought, then the anxiety, then a stronger thought, the water in the mouth, the feeling of lightness in the stomach...it happens fast. The only release seems to be to let the stomach contents go. Then, if one actually vomits in public: the great horror has come.

Why did school scare me so much? I know in part because my father would forget to pick me up, actually would pick me up late, many days. Second grade for some reason stands out as especially bad for this. I'd wait behind the yellow line where all the kids waited, one side playground and one side parking lot, and no dad; sometimes I'd only wait a few minutes, a half an hour, sometimes hours; once he didn't show until after dark. That night I was finally put into a room with the few kids who were left and we were supposed to be watching television I think; I remember some boy I didn't know, some strange and predatory looking boy, holding out his hand to me to show that he had stuck a pin entirely through a callous in his palm. It didn't hurt, he said, as he showed me his hand with that pin completely through the skin. I felt very sick then. It felt like the darkest night of my life. Perhaps I had some memory of the pins that were in my elbow for so long in the hospital, perhaps the scene was simply too surreal to manage.

And when my dad finally did show that night, and I clung to him in the dark outside the little classroom where the handful of kids were being kept (by then the school had called him) one of the few times I ever remember holding him, he told me it had completely slipped his mind. He had gotten caught up at work and it had completely slipped his mind. His mind, you see, is not very good with things like that.

But most days he was not that late; I had memorized exactly what his car looked like, a brown Plymouth four door, and one would always drive by a few minutes after school would let out. My insides would jump, I'd think for a second that he'd made it, but then I learned the other car had an orange 76 ball on the arial. Some days I'd just wander the playground, or start to play kickball with the kids who were supposed to stay after, but I was always angry and nervous that he wouldn't make it. Somehow I associated all this with cloudy weather, perhaps the weather change of fall and school, and for years that season depressed me. Because any lateness at all bothered me; he was supposed to be there on time, and there was never any good discussion of why he wasn't. Certainly criticism, anger, was not tolerated when directed at either of my parents. My mother, especially, was vicious in this sense.

Also, I went to a private Christian school where they beat children right in the classroom. The 2nd grade teacher, his name was Mr. DeWoody, was proud of this fact. I heard him break a paddle on a child in a little area between classrooms when I was in the first grade, heard the boy screaming, then watched Mr. DeWoody come into my room and tell my teacher, a rather elderly woman, smiling how it happened, how he swung the paddle and it broke. She was also smiling. We were threatened more than once with that man. A child from our class may have been sent to him in hysterics once or twice; I don't recall. But I do remember, vividly, Mrs. Deal, my teacher, holding the only black boy in our class over her knee and beating him with the paddle. Not one or two swats, but a whole series of vicious whacks as he wailed and the tears fell off his face. Over a chair. Right in front of my class. At a Christian school. Praise the fucking lord.

Those teachers were both gone the next year I believe. I know Mr. DeWoody was gone; much to my intense relief, my second grade teacher, who taught in the same room he had taught in, was a nice woman, generally kind, young and newly married. Later that school year she did take the outrageous step of swatting a few of the most popular boys in their underwear; she made them pull down their pants before she spanked them. I don't know what they did to deserve this. I remember hearing the story, going to find them and they were playing catch with a baseball, seemingly not much effected, but embarrassed. But she was never a DeWoody.

One final thing about DeWoody, though. I believe he had just come back from the Nam. This was 1971 after all. I do know that one day he guest taught in my Sunday school class (our little charismatic church was on the same grounds as the school) and his lesson for the day, I remember this disinctly, was how an M-16 uploads a round and fires automatically. He drew the rifle on the board. Told us how to aim one, how to handle the upkick from the bullet bouncing up out of the clip. At the time I may have actually thought this was cool, though my fear of him must have been very real. Looking back, I am astonished he was left alone with children. He used to turn his eyelids backwards, I haven't seen anyone do that in years but I still hate it, and walk up and down the line of kids outside his room talking with a fake german accent as if he were a nazi.

The fear of throwing up stayed with me a long time, especially the first day of school or when I moved to a new school. I had some hard times going into junior high I'll have to get to another time, but because I was afraid of being beat up I didn't go to the public school my friends were going to (I was young, for one thing, having skipped fifth grade against my initial objections). It's sad, really, because I was a good student in grade school and the honors people at the public junior high already wanted me in their classes; the track that might have taken me into a very different life, though perhaps not a better one. Regardless, I ended up at a Christian school, and my horror of that first day, with my mother walking me around the campus unable to relax or comfort me, horrified herself I think, the dep gel she had plastered my hair with though this was long out of style...the fact that she fed me breakfast and I ate it when I knew even then it was not a good idea. I remember staring at a spider in the assembly that morning before we went to our home rooms, staring at that spider who was certainly unaware of my own misery, and feeling as dark as I have ever felt.

That first morning, in my home room, I did throw up. It hit me, it kept hitting me, by the time I raised my hand the vomit was already coming out my mouth and onto my hand. I made it into the hallway, got some into a trashcan, then into the safety of an empty boys' bathroom.

And once I vomited, how calm, how much better I felt; the fear was gone! Almost like the feeling after crying. The terror exorcised. But I had to go back to that classroom. Kids teased me, though not viciously. I was so distressed I left the school, left my stuff in my locker and got my parents to transfer me to another Christian school that started a week or two later. I think I threw up that first morning too though I had the sense to skip breakfast, but I got out of the assembly (in the bethany sanctuary, for those of you who know) and took my little seventh grade (should have been sixth grade) self into the bathroom before I let it out. That fear, the fear of throwing up in public, became a large part of the agoraphobia, my fear of going into public places, for years. Finally, as I said before I think, I realized about tenth grade that if I had to throw up I could just go and do it. And I had a pastor, someone who became famous for a while in the Christian recovery scene years later, who after trying to literally exorcise demons out of me actually had a good talk with me, did some cognitive therapy. He asked me what I was afraid would happen if someone threw up in public, and I said I felt people would laugh, think I was stupid; he said he believed most people would feel sorry for the person, want to help. That made sense. Those two things worked in tandem, and since then that particular fear has not been debilitating. I no longer get that feeling, or only very faint echoes once every few years on a very big day. And I tell myself, go ahead, go someplace and puke if you want to, and I'm okay.

OCD is a devious, insidious master. It is a loud and boisterous and relentless madness in the mind of an otherwise sane individual. This series on Mr. Doom will have to have many parts, some very unsettling to write and difficult to read. I said once, years ago, to a pastor trying to help me that 'I walk in places in my mind I should not walk.' That is not true now as it was then; I've made significant progress. But my plan is to take these posts into those places, to relieve those hours which felt like years, which then, tragically, became years. It's healing for me to do it. Maybe it will help someone else. Maybe, as a good friend once said about himself, I just need to articulate my life in language.

One truly final thing about the vomit reaction (which felt like such unbearable weakness at the time; I judged myself so severely for having this problem) is that many of us with ocd are afraid of committing some insane, uncontrolled, or dangerous act. I have to wonder...was there some link to all that and to the fear of vomiting? Surely vomiting was some way of trying to handle my terror, perhaps one which went all the way back to the hospital, when my grandmother would feed me custard and then I'd throw it up all over the sheets and according to her piss off the nurses who then had to change them. Throwing up, probably, was a way to release the anxiety, and to cry for help, as ocd is also a way to manage anxiety and underlying feelings. Unfortunately, ocd develops a strength of its own, a proprietary circuitry right in the brain. Thank God, thank God, thank God, I've come as far as I have; I intend to go farther still. There really is hope, and I've done it without being on psychotropic meds of any kind for many years.

These posts will head down darker paths yet, but hope, I've found, is more real than the dark.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Great White

thanks, Scott, for pointing out that my entire blog has disappeared. Nothing but a white page. Cyber white-out. John Cage's blog. So this is a test; I'm making a new post and I'm going to try and upload the entire blog again, every entry, to see what happened. I haven't been doing anything to it lately, and all my posts are still on the server. Let's see if this works.

Ah, yes, I'm back. I don't know what happened. How wierd. I don't archive any of this; I'm not sure how I'd feel it if was all gone for good. Guess I'd just start over, like always.

So far, I am handling not getting the job/transfer pretty well. Things at my college continue to look good, at least in the near future. It may end up I don't want to move. Who knows. At least I made a couple friends on the faculty up here I will continue to see. And it's nice working where I feel appreciated! I did a faculty training last week (actually the day I found out I didn't get the new job) and it went very well.

Well, I want to post a longer entry, but not at this moment. Thanks again Scott for pointing out my flatline absence.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

Moving On

if something truly nefarious happened in my attempt to get the job, I would like to know about it; if I was weak in an area or two, I'd like to know where I could improve. Fact is, all I can say is that I did better than I thought in the first round (doesn't the fact that I became a finalist prove that), and that lots of faculty at that college think the president is an idiot. I guess I'm part of that faction now also.

And beyond that, it's time to move on. I have a great job now that I can engage more closely. I've made a couple friends who work at the other college, and I can stay in touch with them and they live closer to me; that I count a gain. Of course, if things are really that whacked at their school, I don't want to work there anyway.

What I really want to do is grow in my faith. More than any college work. Sure it's fun to do campus projects, to receive minor praise or congratulations for a job well done, to impact students (a part of my job I rarely reflect on unfortunately) and assist other faculty. It's darn sure fun to discuss ideas and literature for a living. But really, like that elf, what's his name, Hermie or something? in the Christmas special who wants to be a dentist, what I want to do is study Christianity, and more than that even, to try and live it. To serve is to know.

Reason has its limitations; I'm changing the top of my blog. The character I'm quoting from Pilgrim's Regress is one part of John's journey across the Canyon. That doesn't mean I don't need a rational support structure for my faith, I do, and for me that centers entirely on the gospel record and Christ as he is revealed there. I'm trusting EFM to provide me guidance I can't provide myself. Like getting professional help. But I'm finding there are things I can do, service I guess it's called in some circles (I'm not sure what the church calls it, charity?) which transcend all knowledge. Do I really believe, whatever kind of ranking there may or may not be in the next life, that the brightest, the best theologians and apologists and writers and teachers, the big names on the bookshelf, will hold the highest positions if such positions exist? I don't believe that. Jesus never says it any place. The first shall be last. The greatest will serve. I'm beginning to see I can find meaning in church work, often mundane church work, I've never felt anyplace else. This really is what it's all about. Leading there doesn't feel like leading anyplace else, and serving there doesn't feel like serving anyplace else.

So now I'm just happy to continue in my little mountain parish. One I half-hated, pitied, less than two years ago.

Pray for me, those of you who pray to whomever you pray to. I don't know where my future in the church lies, but I'm very grateful, consider myself wildly lucky, to have come as far as I have, to know the sense of purpose that my first stabs at service have provided, imperfect as my efforts are and have been. This life will never provide long-lasting ecstasy of any kind; for me, even moments of contentment are rare. But they may be getting less rare. The church provides structure, yes, but a clarity of purpose I can't deny.

Be well all,


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The News

I didn't get the position. I know I got into the final five, and the president is supposed to draw two from the those five, but I do know I wasn't hired. I got the call yesterday morning.

Can I count the many blessings of my current job: yes. In fact, it's a better gig, it's just so far away! And it was me who moved myself into the mountains, well, my wife and I, with an eye even then, back in 01, on the college where I just missed getting a position. There's a thousand things to say, but I'll just hit the big ones.

First, thanks for all the kind comments to the two posts below; I just read them.

Two, I woke this morning after a bad dream, a dream where someone from the college I applied to was showing me this long list of all the things I could have done better. And I'm anxious, sad and sick anxious; didn't C.S. Lewis say he was surprised 'how much grief felt like fear.' That's it. But it's not overwhelming, I'm hanging in, and most amazingly, I haven't retreated into any dark obsessions, dark as in bang into this, bump into that, cut yourself on that corner over there or worse. I let my anger roll pretty freely yesterday, and my hurt. And everyone at my campus I told reacted the same way: shock but sincere and deep support. I'm hurting, yes, and scared, yes, and unsure now we'll manage our long-distance future, but while next semester I'm on campus three days a week instead of two, for the near future anyway, online classes are plentiful.

Because the college is not meeting its growth numbers for the first time in many years; we're building a new parking structure over the next couple years and students (and faculty) will have a hard time parking; that will further impact growth. So now online is hotter than ever; it's come down hard and heavy from the top, and I will be able to teach plenty for the next three years at least. Pretty funny, almost.

And three (am I on three or four now) I received communication from someone at the campus I applied to. The same day I found out. This person wants to talk with me secretly. In my district any feedback regarding the hiring process is strictly forbidden; you're told flat out, 'you were never here.' Like the CIA or something. But this person hinted that something very wrong went down. I haven't heard the full story, or as much of the story as I can or will get, but I think the President may have overridden the recommendations of the faculty hiring panel, or worse. The one thing this person did say is that their campus is a sick and dysfunctional family, and I'm better off staying at the functional one I'm in for now; also, that there would be opportunities to apply again later when things had changed their campus.

What to make of this? Whether this person is overstating out of kindness or not, it sure felt good to hear that I may have been a victim of something underhanded. That sounds funny, but it would mean that my not getting the job had less to do with me than I thought.

Because while I may have biffed my f2f interview a bit being on muscle relaxants and all, the truth is I'm not a normal candidate and I was applying in-district. I know at this level things get random, but I've done impressive work at my current college, work the college I applied to needs done, and I'm pretty surprised it didn't happen. Truthfully, I thought I had it after that second interview.

Well, I may be rambling.

It hurts, gang. But I have to say I asked God, tentatively but plainly, to let his will be done in this thing three or four weeks ago. Maybe it has been. I don't know, but it sounds like this new job might have been a much worse situation than I knew, might have interfered with my work at my little mountain parish or my efm classes starting in the fall.

Whatever, at the feeling level, I'd like to punch the president in the face. Just a feeling, of course.

I need to run for now. Sincere thanks for all who have supported me in prayers and hearts since this mess began. At least now I know what I have to deal with in the near future; the uncertainty is past.


Monday, May 02, 2005

Monday Puking

okay, not acutally puking, but the call is supposed to come today (and it's nearly nine, so today is probably out) or tomorrow! I want this now, more than I wanted my current job because I didn't know anything about the campus, really. Now...the more I think about it, the more I want it. Oh gosh, I hope I get it. I thought I did very well in the exec. interview, though I was a little surprised to get that far.

It sounds smarmy, but I really am very self-critical. I thought I blew the panel interview, did well enough to get to the presidential interview, and actually thought I did well there. But it gets random at this level, too.

Well, I should know by tomorrow night. Either way, I'll be okay. Church continues to go well.

Gotta run.