Hope is a delicate mindset.

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I have written about my friend with MS before.  The 2 1/2 years waiting for disability is over. Sort of. All the support received over the time of Dirt Poor has magically disappeared. No co-pays on the multiple medications. Doctors visits with the regular ER crisis in between. Most caused by the stress of having nothing. Now are all on him. He didn’t write the rules that punish him for having an chronic conditions. One that caused him to lose of everything society considers being a productive member. .

I want you to think about this. Knowing you won’t be around to see your kids graduate high school. Get married. No Father/Daughter dance to that special song. All those shared joys when the adult child gets the joys and hardship of being the Parent. And knowing he won’t be around. Or if he lingers. I’ll let you finish the sentence. The human animal flees pain. However temporary. Alcohol. Gaming. Sex. Drugs. Religion. Something to blunt the sharp rocks at the end of the fall.

A very American way of thinking. It will all work out. Always has. But not right now. Rising above the low spots is a function of long term planning. A survival tool available to those with resources. A family trait of stability. Searching for the hidden horizon. Sorry to say that people who suffer from depression or chronic debilitating illness don’t have that luxury. Our lives have gone off the rails. Fundamental brain chemistry has shifted. Cortisone floods the system. In a continuous state, the structures of the reality creating brain adapt. Normal becomes seeing an endless horizon over a flat landscape. One which hides the holes covered by thin mats of hope.

My brass ring has been smack in the middle of some very large ones. No amount of effort will put it in my reach.  Down the deep dark hole. Again. All the effort climbing out is the same others put into moving forward. Medication allowed me to sublet the shallow gopher hole I called home for decades. A bucket list item has been to learn Spanish. My mind understands Quantum Mechanics. Mutual exclusive. Another foreign language should be Long term thinking.

One of the first casualty to falling into poverty is hope. A flower not a weed. Flowers can have deep roots in the right soil. Soil that has been cared for over time. Protected when young. Tended with love. Those of you who are eternally optimistic think depressed people need to work harder. We think you’re has crazy as we are. In a different way. One that makes our life harder. Not better or easier. ‘You’re broken. We’re not.”  Work Harder. Unfortunately bubbly personalities follow the American script of a better tomorrow.

And these folks elect lawmakers who are fully immersed in the belief that a person dying with a chronic disease is the same as the very small percentage trying to scam the system. Two and a half years. Then penalized his win by taking away benefits. Ask a lottery winner what it’s like to go from poor to RICH. Trump is a product of losing hope. Hillary is living in the reflection of a past where hope was strong. My friend and I simply find ways to manage the constant dull ache of living. Hope is a dangerous way. One false step. Worse off than before.

 

Reflections on my Labor day

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Living at the northernmost end of the GM highway has some downsides. For those out of staters, The Big Three and all their suppliers are clustered along the concrete ribbon of I-75. The factory of the 1937 sit down strike where the UAW came to power, was one of the first torn down by GM. A forgotten place. No plaque. No sacred place for rally the troops. All of this explains the reverence Labor Day retains. The rest of the country uses the long weekend in malls or shops going full tilt in a back to school shopping orgy. Smaller cities, mine include, shut down. That is reason for this post the day after.

Economics drive all of this. In a city divided by a river, two cultures emerged. Eastsiders have the Lumber Baron mansions. A large patch of land filled with grand homes that fade by economic means into small cottages. Nestled inside are small neighborhood shopping districts.  The West side was industrial. Small neighborhood of working class homes. All pre WWII. Good wages meant they were owned. Not rented. Both connected by the web of sidewalks. Daily forced interaction of people living their day to day lives. Communities.

Post war. Cars and concrete destroyed sidewalks. The rise of malls. Labor was still king here. Cities awash with union wages. Labor Day parades were bigger than the Christmas ones. No more. Summer tourism has surpassed factories as the big money driver. Bay City is a gateway to the vast Northern Michigan wilderness. Around which is hung the jeweled necklace of lakeside towns. Sleepy towns built by the influence of Union retirees and workers escaping the humanity killing factories. Places that are now too expensive to have enough workers for the restaurants and shops for all those living there. Labor day is the last gasp of summer money. Six months of service economy money doesn’t stretch. Multiple seasonal jobs. The New Reality.

A bit of history. Service sector jobs surpassed the farming in the 1910s. Surpassed the Manufacturing sector in the 1960/70s. Non union positions generally filled by women entering the workforce for the first time. Even today, some of the highest paid jobs are Skilled Trades. CNC operators. Millwrights. Heavy industrial certified trades. Mostly working in well lite climate controlled environments. Computers Hate dirty hot shops. There are more positions than skilled workers to fill them. Unions allowed themselves to be demonized the Free Market Republicans.

Labor Day 2016 in Bay City was quiet. The mass crowds of shoppers stayed on the other side of the river. Big Box retailers run by workers lucky to have an almost full time position  where Labor Day is notable day for different reasons. Crowds of harried shoppers taking it out on the nameless employee in front of them. Somebody they won’t see in their neighborhood.

I’ll take the unfilled hours where boredom reigns over that. My lack of driving need is an anomaly in this consumer mad world. Also a perceived defect. One I’ll own. In full measure. My last job was in a windowless metal building. Feeding machine that cost more than I would ever make in wages. My soul was whittled away with each measure of raw material feed into the machine.  Never underestimate the discipline needed to willing walk through a door into your personal hell. One you rationalize every way possible. The joke about Bay City is there’s a bar and church on every corner. Places that relieve personal pain in different ways.

View from the Bottom of the food chain

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“The smallest prison in the world is the 8 inches between your ears.”                                      Vietnam POW asked about how he survived.

The two things that separated me from the rest of the men in the shelter was being a Vet and having a car. Being a Vet meant a room with three others indoctrinated in the military culture. If you or your family aren’t military, the weight of the last sentence is lost on you.  Walking or the bus were options for me. Try this. One day leave your car parked then use a bus to get somewhere.  Simple becomes very hard. Remember that first taste of freedom a bike allowed? Heady. Fast. Scary. No parents. Friends only.  Age or responsibility slowly erode the time. When was the last time you rode your bike? America is built for cars.

Delayed repairs became immediate ones. When the mechanic’s first words are, “Have you thought about getting another car?” The world shifted under my feet. I’m in that majority group of Americans where a sudden emergency will led directly to crisis. That extra credit card offer doesn’t get thrown away. Family loans. Hey do know anyone who can do the work for ___$.  With kids back in school living close with the ex, being car less doesn’t help. Anything. At. All.

The subtle stress of being on government programs is a daily burden. The oppressive heat in a converted attic apartment  doesn’t help. Or the fact bright sunny days aren’t good for my moods. Those were manageable. The possibility of seeing my kids kept things stable. Freedom to fit their schedule. $800 might has well be $10,000. Rebuilding my life at 53 sucks. Knowing tech and society has no role for me double down.  It still easier being poor in a poor region. Part time jobs are the norm. So is having two. Or three. All by the closed connections of friends and family.

Why don’t you move? Cost of living comes to mind. It takes money to move. First and last months rent. Public transportation? Answering the question, how are you doing? gets honesty not fluff. I awoke up. Starting low some days is easier. Then it’s where? The South? Been there, done that. They balance their budget by NOT using money for social support services. Finally, I’m lazy. All the effort expended to get out of bed or leave my apartment, leaves little for anything else.

This blog is the only form of therapy open to me. The struggle to find the words is a diversion from the world inside my head.  That’s all. thanks for reading. Can’t promise regular posts.

Being a Friend….

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My friend is dying. MS is robbing him of life. It’s the first time I have faced the death on such a personal level.  There is nothing I can do but watch. Late night calls for rides to the ER have become common. The doctors ask what he needs. They have no clue. Specialists are few and really good ones book appointments months out. Late night companionship to escape the depression and isolation are something I understand. Intimately. His guide through the darkness.

Time doesn’t matter when you find a friend. Eighteen months ago we met in a homeless shelter. Both of our lives had hit rock bottom for different reasons. Circumstances that radically changed how we saw the world around us. Relationships with those closest changed. My friend has young children. Divorce and work made it hard to be there for those milestones parents cherish. We are both economically redundant in a changed economy. Growing older is a daily mediation on legacy.  There will be no great buildings or memorials.  That was never to be. Being a good Dad. Striving to become a decent human being. Living an ethical life every moment.  Those are worthy goals. A luxury he will never have.

Two years of waiting for his disability hearing has finally happened. His lawyer is confident. Now they  have up to 40 days to finalize the decision. Can you wash dishes? When we met he weighed 160 pounds. Walking wasn’t a problem. Mentally still sharp. Now he’s 140 and struggling. Walking is slow shuffle at times. Exhaustion hammers him at odd times.  It’s hard watch.

His family is working their way through denial. Everything won’t be better. That’s what his father wants. One of their children will die an unpleasant death. And they have to watch. So will I. It is something our modern society has become isolated from. Modern medicine can cure everything. The reality isn’t so neat or tidy. Considering I started writing this 2 month ago. Have come back to it many times since. Staring it the screen wondering if I could find the words.

My friend is dying. There’s nothing I can do but be a witness. The Jewish faith believes that  as long has one person remembers your name, you still live is what I’ll do.

 

Built in America,

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House and dog sitting for the 4th. Binge watching the few shows worthy of expensive cable. Road racing yesterday. Classic car builds today.  Guys working in metal. Using their hands to turn what they see in their mind into works of street art. Skills that built the nation we celebrate tonight with fireworks. By others who mastered a set of skills used to amaze the child in all of us. I’m thinking the popularity this genre is watching men at work.

Let’s face it, an idea puts in motion a series of actions we will never see the end of. Sense of accomplishment? Start to finish? A tangible result? Sure a project gets done. Then you go looking for the next one.  It’s not like driving a car you fixed. Or watching the kids play on the tree house you built. I know that feeling. The primal satisfaction of leaving a legacy in the world. The wealthy can put their name of buildings. The rest of us patch drywall. Small victories.

College has been sold has the only route to the good life. 2008 exposed the fragility of that. Then there’s those whose intelligence or creativity is expressed through manipulating materials in 3d space. In a my youth, it was luck or family history that directed you into a career path. An ill fit for many. Technology expanded the possibilities. Still very much of the family and neighborhood but exposure to the wider world can become a way out. Or a life absent of dread that is work.

Don’t get me wrong. Work is still work. 80% of it is drudgery. Parts of the day to push through. No very satisfying. Then there are those days. Wow. The goal is increasing the wow. If that means needing a shower at the end of the day rather then after the gym, OK. The world has enough lawyers. The critical need is in the skilled trades. Computer controlled machines need climate controlled clean environments. Plus knowing complex math and programming. Not the old pictures of endless rivers of men entering the maw of sprawling manufacturing plants. One last thought. America still out manufactures the rest of the world combined. Fewer men and women outproducing the world in a global economy.

Have a happy 4th.

Trenches

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The way of modern warfare during WWI caused the evolution of trench warfare. Both side built elaborate complexes of interconnected small towns. The Germans did it better. Many still exist has historical tours destinations. All to preserve soldiers. So they could kill their opposite number. Those soldier who endured that wet sloppy hell adapted. Mentally and physically. Their struggles to move past that trauma is mirrored by today’s returning Vets. What was a private condition is now a national debate. To date it’s been a national disgrace to those in power towards those in uniform.

I’ve created my own trenches. Decisions made in times madness and stress. Reinforced by behaviors that seemed to keep me safe. All of which left me sitting in a bunker looking up a narrow slice of sky. Grey days are preferred. Bright sunny days reveal all the flaws in construction. That place doesn’t need remodeling. It demands dynamite. Then the question that stays my hand is what’s next?  Maybe I’m missing that section in the self help books. Where the author describes all the dark hard days. Weeks. Months. Failures. Before they turned the corner. Experience has taught me that’s a process. The Journey not the destination. An daily exercise of new tools or thoughts. Always aware the old ones are waiting in the tall grass to pounce.  All presented in a slick wrapper of success American style. Where’s the guy in jeans and tee shirt talking about his book? That audience doesn’t buy self help books discussed in hotel ballrooms.

Question. How does someone that has a physical need for quiet and space surround themselves with positive people?  Self knowledge is a bitch. Those of us struggling depression are rumored to see the world more clearly. Someone studied it. We tend to discard those options with smaller percentages of success. The absence of unbridled hope. Old patterns. Tall grass.  Which brings me to a point that only a small group of humans deal with. Whether by nature or nurture, I’m a loner. At this point it doesn’t matter. They’ve blended into one.

That doesn’t means anti social. Or reclusive. A danger to myself or others. At the most basic level personal interactions drain me. Being bipolar makes it worse. Multi person conversations? Large groups? Extreme noise? Not gonna happen. Can’t read the body language or follow fragments of bland conversations. Which has contributed my current isolation. Growing up an only children helped develop my skills to cope. My personality enforced it. More of my type live in the bigger cities. They created sanctuaries to combat the overload. Found professions catering to their strengths. Well done. How did you get there?

My current job is cook. A more eclectic group of folks never existed. Hot cramped kitchens filled with odd personalities creating sublime works of art. Or in my case, good solid food those eating didn’t have to cook. Still the question remains. How did you get there?  Self Help books are always on the best sellers list. I could print all my various scattered blog post. Work hard not to kill myself reading the inarticulate ramblings gathered in one place. Then edit. Edit. Edit.  Might take the rest of my life. A work in progress. I’ll leave it there.

Thanks for reading my whatever this is. It helps me and hopefully helps someone else.

The Empire has fallen

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Brexit won. Not in Scotland. I see another referendum there. Look the EU is the result of those countries trying to recreate a modern Roman Empire. Put one map over the other. Tell me what you see. Just as Iran still culturally thinks of themselves has Persians. Who were once a global power. Before it collapsed. Turkey has the fundamental mindset. Nationalist sentiment trumps an open society when rabble rousers exploit the fear of Others. The common currency took the ability of officials to manipulate their currencies to quiet the mob.

Let’s be blunt. the UK just royally Fucked Itself. The thing about Empire is giving foreign outlying nationals citizenship keeps the flow of resources back to Home country happening. A restive population ruled lightly by a popular limited monarchy. That is until those of different skin colors, language and belief start exercising their rights to create self rule. London and Paris have the same problem. Agreements for peaceful transfer of control granted dual citizenship. The Empire came home. And they didn’t look like us.  Integration of  the Others. America saw these with the hollowing out of the cities following WWII. A rising economic tide floats all ships. The result of Jim Crow was and still is a clustering of second class citizens.

Funny thing was those prosperous blacks who moved into white or ethic urban communities shared the same values with those that ran away.Except for the color of their skin. The Other. Fear. the UK never could integrate the West Indians and Jamaicans. Pakistanis. Indians. They all did what immigrant communities do in a foreign land. They clustered. Entire cities became culturally different. Mostly where rents were cheap. Economic depressed areas where unemployment was high due to the collapse of traditional industry. Michigan and the auto industry. Those with resources. The young creatives moved. Those with skills. All moved. Leaving who?

Immigrants are the problem according to the Exit pundits. We see it here. The urban centers are majority Dems. The rural areas are gerrymandered Reps. Their are no Purple states. Forget elected officials not seeing the change in the world economy. Forget under funding the schools. Reinvestment in job retraining? Forget about it. Those people don’t vote for my party. Rabble. Let em eat cake.

The hub of world trade. Banking. Shipping. Culture. The British Empire. Guess what. You aren’t the only game in town anymore.The winners forgot or don’t care the world is now interconnected by all those factors. The Congressional sit down protest carried on Periscope. Sure London was a great Financial center. Enforcement of contract law and all that. Watch all those institutions leave. Hong Kong. Berlin. New York. Paris. Say hello to those high paying jobs. England is at the back of the line once the trade deals expire. And all those Brits living aboard? Collecting better benefits than in Jolly Old? All coming home. Net loss.

The home of Shakespeare, Chaucer and 1 Direction has overnight chosen 2nd nation status. Well done. But hey, you still have the best football league in the world. For now. The faded glory of an island empire. Enjoy being JUST an island nation. Until Scotland tells you to bugger off.

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