Shifting Gears

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There’s a building where an island was before. That sums up my new reality.  Change sucks.  My personality tends to on the lazy side. Lots of reasons or rationalizations.  Years of realizations actually.  Too much surface illusion  without understanding the underlying conditions. There has always been the nagging comment about being more of a dreamer than worker. Guilty. A large part of it is being Bipolar. One side benefit is being a creative thinker. That and a cup of coffee leaves you looking throough job listings. There are exercises and methods to change my behaviors learned over years of coping.  It took 4 tries and 3 doctors before the stars aligned to get the right meds from the right person. Ones that won’t suddenly stop working. That’s the driving fear the mentally ill face every day.  Years of chaos disappears. Or receed into the background. Hope and relief.  With the full knowledge that peace has a time limit before it all starts over.

The knowledge that comes with the lack of fear doesn’t eliminate the bad days.  It makes the occasional days worse. Being fully aware what is happening and sometimes the why. Consist awareness strips away the illusions of created by magical thinking. Which makes right now so difficult. There’s a struggle between the old master of short term thinking and my amater skills at  long term planning. I’ve found an employment opportunity in an environment that will set me up for failure. It is diametrically opposed to the awareness of who and what I am.  There have been too many jobs filled with dread of walking in the door. A windowless metal box in different clothing. People doing jobs that leave them empty. A landscape littered with broken dreams. Dreams have become the source of all my writing. Until a year ago I started calling myself a writer.  Someone who the has the compulsion to write. It is my way of of navigating the world. A successful author refer to herself has an editor not a writer. So very true. The burst of inspiration is the easy part. Molding into something readable, that’s the hard part  Last year I fully accepted fully the title of writer.

In big letters, I am a writer flowed from my pen. Again and again. Joy burst a the deep emotional well. One that was always at the edge of my sight. This time I was not afraid to turn and see it. It had always been there. Waiting. Indifferent in it own way.  That was the first step on another path. From the people that have liked my post enough to folllow me, many have gone through the same moment of clarity. And stood where I am now.  Wondering what to do next.  the old well trod path is so inviting in its comforting ease. The known. the accepted way.  No silence to the answer of the defining question of life.  What do you do for a living?  A question asked out of habit. Not any real desire to process the answer. An assumption an standard answer to fit into a comfortable hole.  A piece of the who of the image they have built without conscious thought.

The world demands certain realities that increase age and responsibilities.  A limiting of possibilities.  Youthful dreams are critically analysed or carelessly discarded. Studies have quantified our behavior.  any raise will be used to buy more stuff.  Anything the financial gurus say are easier when you aren’t living paycheck to paycheck.  Selling hope for a good retirement, the permanency of home or weight loss is a good living.  How many books are in your bookcases gathering dust before the next garage sale?  The Tiny house movement is driven by stagnant wages has much as an ideological decision.  Personally I feel those houses surrounded by seas of green are best maintained with goats or sheep. Owning a house is a lifestyle choice.  One I’ve rejected.  That small amount of freedom still has costs attached.  One of which is causing much stress in my current situation.

My children are center of gravity in my life.  Whatever else can be said of me, being a bad parent isn’t one.  In part it has been a way to deal with the contentious relationship with my father.  I can’t use the word dad with a man who is still a mystery. forgiveness has laid to rest much of my resentment and anger. But I’m my father’s son. Seeing my kids every morning has become a habit and many times the best part of many bad days.  Which is now in direct conflict with the location of the shelter and economic destitution.  Gas has become a barrier not easily bridged.  The past year has created a seismic shift in the discover phase of understanding.

There’s a an aspect of all this that can’t be ignored. Early in life Robert Heinlein cast a spell on me.  His later writing matched an undiscovered major tenet of my teenage self. The words about sexuality, religion and how his characters explained their actions appealed to me.  It fostered a sense of specialness in a boy caught in the eye of a dysfunctional hurricane created by an abusive mentally ill father. A flawed man god a boy wanted to love but couldn’t trust him enough to.  This is my statement on human behavior.  One I stand by.  We do things because it makes feel good about ourselves.  The universe does revolve around us. Yes children and family are rationalized in the tight circle. Look at the bumper stickers on the back of minivans. Cynical? Selfish? Self centered? Been accused of all of them. According to the people at the mission, god fixes all. Does helping others fulfill a basic need that have? How’s is that different from a universality of core beliefs of religions systems and the people doing the same?  Place. Country. Culture.

So here I sit looking at the ugliest building in an otherwise charming downtown writing on my computer about my thoughts.  Practicing writing skills that in years to come will make me cringe. Circular. Wandering. Or missing the mark completely.  If there’s not a little fear when putting my words out for the world to see, I’m doing it wrong.

 

 

A Winter’s Day.

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Snowflakes dance on the wind.

One partner visible due to other

Tango. swing. Hip Hop.

Skeletal trees color. contrast.

One Many  Clouds of black birds swirl

Dart dodge to the sound of an unheard melody.

At rest still in a moving world

suddenly explosive in response

from a single liberty window.

Where Would be IF…

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One of the great question is why are we here.  I think the more important is how did we get to where we’re at. This is an exercise in imagination. List 3 people who influenced your life in some significant way.  Time isn’t important. Influence is. No hurry I’ll wait.  Ready.  What if they weren’t there?  That mentor outside of the family you didn’t fit into.  They loved you. Maybe supported the dreams they couldn’t understand.  I hear that the way families are supposed to work. How many do? One small casual moment doesn’t happen.  The dominos fall different. This is the stuff of movies and plays.  Two gentlemen of Verona.

The hardest part of being in the shelter isn’t the rules.  The vast majority of men there come out of some institution with strict rules.  the two other vets with me and myself are used to the framework from the military.  no the hardest part is the empty time. I use it to listen.

Mom was doing drugs when she was pregnant with me.

My folks were good people but not really curious.

Family smoked so I been smoking since age 12.  Hope it’s not COPD or cancer

Have a degree but can’t find a job. Came here with a promise of an opportunity. Just need some place warm so I can get back down south.

I’m a good welder but would wander to the machine shop because I was bored.

That could have been any of us with mentors and role models. The drug culture and gangs, minus the illegality and destructive moral issues, are the only business they know.  Those football players who make it out had people in their life that helped them see a different life. When you’re dealing with the basic needs, It’s hard to find hope. To those of you in a stable place, is it built on sand or something stronger.  This is the lesson.  I’m where I’m at for circumstances beyond my control.  Having had mentors, role models and family, my future is brighter than others.  Others won’t ever be very productive members of society.  Too much baggage or afflictions. Missteps others avoid by a guiding hand or a hand up.

Who are we and how did we get here? The answer always changes.

World View, What’s yours

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The world is experienced in shading of grey. The popular book is about the sexuallity Americans work to make fit into nice little boxes with high walls. What I’m illuding is more fundamental. Is the prism of your worldview more Utopian or Dystopian?  Tigger or Eeyore? The orientation of the prism begins at birth. Fifty percent of all we learn is in the first five years. Kids, sponges without filters or prejudice. Adults channel and refine those lessons. We don’t always get it right. My son reflects things learned in ways that make me cringe. What I see was a learned pattern from my father.  Did he ever see his father reflected back in me?  It’s a question that can never be asked or answered.  What has been a surety is being challenged by the overtly christian surrounding of the shelter. Everyone needs to defend what they consider core beliefs occasionally. Not they will change under the pressure.

A particular toxic mixture of conditions made any relationship with my father contentious. Age and distance has allowed me the freedom to examine elements in a different light. Recent combat injuries and the NFL concussion issues have led me to believe my father suffered from such. in 1941 he played interior lineman for a very competitive high school in Houston. Before the injury he was a writer, active in civic activities and ROTC. Then the blackouts started.  He was now 4F during WWII. The defining moment for the entire country.  The last picture from that time is of a smiling good looking young man working for the DOD in Hawaii.  The twisting poison hadn’t worked it way through the man to be yet.  Forgiveness is a hard thing.  It’s letting go of something that has been an anchor point around which our lives have traveled.  A basic reality is an illusion.  Questions long settled spin free.  Answers of a younger self no longer fit. The person you have become now examine painful moments. What becomes revealed is that we were wrong in principle and fact. Only the strong can look into the abyss.

I gravitate to the dystopian view. It was too much a part of my home life. Rage and uncertainty or cold indifference. We never lacked for anything.  Which makes being in a shelter that much more jarring. Over the past 8 years, I’ve learned how to survive with a different set of skills. What still surprises me is the basic decency and humanity of those in the same condition. House rules are chapel every week night.  While I will defend the right of street preachers to be at public events, it’s the utterly disrespectful manner they show for others that piss me off. Respect and courtesy cost nothing. Taking a small side step changes how things appear.  One speaker talked about trust. And how that made us vulnerable. Pain is to be avoided. It drives some to drugs or extreme behavior.  Many to suicide. Including Mitch who shared my room. I understand that pain.  Has a contrarian expecting the worst, I’ve developed a higher threshold.  The older I get the more wearing it becomes. Lucky that street is no longer my permanent address.  I do visit occasionally.

In being forced to listen in exchange for food and shelter, their stories are compelling.  The same desires and fears.  A common theme running through all the stories in the shelter.  Call it arrogance or pride or just being stubborn, believing in an unseen hand is highly improbable. None is absolute.  None of that diminishes the respect I have for those who give of themselves for what they hold has true in their heart.  So my shading has become degrees lighter.  Sunshine and unicorns are impossible.  It simply could be not having learned to trust has a children makes it harder for me to learn as an adult.  Trust and chaos are opposite ends of an yardstick.  From birth to death we are all works in progress. Outcome, unknown. A man reaching for the stars with feet in the mud.

Wait, what?

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We are all storytellers, I just happen to write them down. That requires listening. It falls under the heading Is the system rigged.  A man from Michigan, T, wants to start over from a checkered past.  Moving to another place seems to be the best thing.  There he is diagnosed with MS.  Not wanting to be a Taker, a Burden or a symbol for everything wrong with the system in an election year, he starts school.  Problem.  Receiving any public assistance ends if T continues an education that could lift him from his current situation. It was an online university. Whether that had any weight in the decision is unknown.  This was how T relayed his story. I’m not sure how one of you would receive the news of a life threatening chronic disease.  Those without complete support of friends and family generally handle it badly. Making the pain go away is a very human trait.  we shy away from painful things.  My next story was heard on NPR about kids living in homeless communities.

My overall impression is how similar a community built and organized by the homeless mirrors the city society surrounding it. The community volunteer collects the kids in one spot.  They all hold hands and walk through the connecting camps.  When they get to the rougher sections, they all start singing a song.  At the top of their lungs.  The crack pipes are hidden.  the dealer moves further back into the shadows. Some remember long forgotten smiles.  How many times are the ring of good neighborhoods reached by traversing marginal ones? Those kids will be afforded opportunities to pull themselves out of their parent’s reality.  Will all succeed? No. Will a majority succeed? Unknown.  What measure will be their success be measured? Depends on who’s asking.

There seems to be a disconnect in America. Twelve years of conflict made us weary of war. The unemployment numbers keep growing down but no one ask why.  A overwhelming majority of bankruptcy are still caused by medical expenses. Credit card companies wanted to move from 6 cents on the dollar to 9. Before someone could walk away from an insurmountable financial burden for a fresh start. Now it a brave new world of the payment plan.  Technology is allowing those with chronic illnesses to still be productive members of society. To earn wages that can be taxed.  The rules and regulations are in need of overhauling in order to allow it. I don’t hear of any political speeches about this. Not sexy enough.  Doesn’t energize the base. makes to much sense. A solution involving real work not the appearance of work.

Meanwhile the fragile network of shelter, kitchens and programs run by good people continues the struggle with one hand tied behind their backs.  I’m not saying all things are equal.  Fair is a word used in too many arguments has a stick. Life isn’t fair. Or nice. Or utopian.  Life is a large messy dog with big paws and drool.

Day 5 of a New Reality

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How do you prepare for someplace other people use?  Being in a shelter at 50 wasn’t on my bucket list. Everyone should put that on their list. it’s a study in compassion . Spending the last 5 days listening to personal stories has been enlightening.  The saving grace for me is being a veteran,s room.  There’s an understanding of a shared mindset across the rival services. A learned skill for living closely with people that you wouldn’t choose to be around.  My world on board the San Jose consisted of a bed for sleeping not sitting.  All my belongs fit underneath in a ten inch tall by a single mattress size box and a small locker. There’s a reason it was a coffin locker. Travelling light.  The shelter has a taller box and no closet.  Familiar comfort at a stressful time.  Even the restrictions of the rules are an old coat, long forgotten. What is hardest is the empty time.

A particular place filled with men, most younger, who have made missteps. Some will never be fully productive in terms of definition in a modern society.  Born into families of poverty, drugs and/or violence.  breaking the mold containing that toxic brew is a generational challenge.  In past times they would be left to die. Starvation, war or disease. Genetic defects corrected and treated by modern medicine were death sentences.  It still bothers me that the only relief or help comes after losing everything.  Not an uncommon tale in the shelter.  Any shelter.  Meeting basic needs creates a stress that becomes corrosive.  A poison many aren’t equipped to with.  Education isn’t always the cure for a bad decision making process.  Short term needs. Thanks social media. A 140 character world.

With the speed of technical knowledge increasing, those late to the game are falling further behind.  A burden to a  local and state economy still struggling to recover from 2008.  Fewer services for more people.  Now food banks and soup kitchens are being shut down because of traffic.  Hey poor and those families without food security, Not in My Backyard.  Just get a job.  Insert all the popular complaints of political spin doctors here. Agree. Disagree.  I could care less.  This is my reality at this point in time.

 

New Day

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Walking into the VA annex to say I needed a spot in a shelter was a relief.  Wait, a relief.  Yep.  By trying to stay out of a shelter, I was operating outside the boundaries of the  bureaucracy.  Now they aren’t having  to creative in my behalf.  It’s not a bad place.  Filled with men who made some questionable choices in relationships or work.  Sure there’s a price in return for this second chance.  The shelter is run by a Christian foundation.  Certain rules for interacting with the women and families sharing the facilities. Break the rules, back on the street. Michigan winters are a bitch.  The good word is everywhere.  They asked The Question last night.  Have you accepted Christ?  The manager was not surprised by me being a Non.  OK.  Still have to attend chapel.  No worries.  The cost of doing business.  Back under military discipline.  Funny when men share the same condition, the world is instantly less complicated.

For me it’s a different stop on my evolving journey.  Most of them have lost their self confidence. They also lost their way.  Talents and strengths have been forgotten in the chaos.  It seems my talent is reminding  people that they have choices.  Tarot card readers do it with better props. Guarantees?  Nope.  That a sucker bet.  I’ve been wrong many times.  It’s what you learn getting back up that counts.  Wisdom comes complete with scars.  The hardest bit is cleaning out the apartment.  Moving sucks.

 

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