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This both an apology and an explanation to my family outside of Michigan. Twenty two years ago I left the place where I was born and raised. It was the final resolution of a growing dissatisfaction. A feeling that has been with me since childhood.  And it had nothing to do with my large sprawling family.  When mom and her first husband, Raymond, stopped being gypsies to put down roots, the sisters followed. She was the heart of a growing clan of family and friends anchoring them to one place.  Before it was the wartime shipyards in LA or the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. Trips back home to Tulsa or early Vegas or next door to New Orleans. Where they both collected memories and people like seashells.

When He died at an early age, the gypsy life called once again.  Into this void stepped the man who would become my father. This formed the backdrop to my life. A chaotic confusion of loud cousins. Aunts, uncles and grandparents who weren’t by blood. Friends of friends or from church. Epic Christmas celebration quickly followed by the appearance of the Nut Sisters on New Year’s eve.  Summer get togethers because the drive was short. And those shopping trips to Mexican border towns for pots and wrought iron my Aunt Sharon loved. My Uncle Boyd would always led the caravan to the border inspection every time. It became another piece of family lore.  Woven into to all this were my mom’s stories of people and places.

Travel shifts perspective.  For some it temporary.  A brief escape from an ordinary seeming  life. For others it’s permanent.  Life is a framework of streets where we live or work. People. Landmarks were we turn if there’s traffic. Short cuts and long drives in spring. This is the movie you star in. Write and direct. That reel stopped when I was on a Naval supply ship stationed out of Guam. Forward deployed supply ship never stay in port for very long. Gypsies of the fleet. Three years of collecting memories and friends. No one knew I was leaving the Navy until the phone call from Houston Hobby.  Could someone come pick me up please.  My first choice was the train.  The land Navy couldn’t understand taking the slow way home.

The film was turned back on for my family. But I had become an Expat. Problem being an expat is only others, who have some of that inside them, understand. Swimming against the stream. Dated. Got married.  Moved to a different coast. Close along the shores of the Great Lakes with neither of us having jobs waiting.  To a place settled before America expanded out of the colonies. What I found was silence. The insistent nagging voice was gone.  Where my body fit the seasons.

Regrets? No. Do I wish my kids could meet their relatives in Texas? Sure. But my memories don’t reflect the reality either. Growing up both of my uncles lived in Oklahoma. Uncle Lawrence had a large family I never met.  By now it could be in the hundreds.  My mom died 5 years ago. A was an alien in a strange new world. An illusion of returning, gone. By then another generation had grown up in their version of my family.  Names on FB without any context. That’s what I am to them. . She was the keeper of the family pictures. That role is now mine. The outlier in the north.

Why is it I’m compelled to write about this? Uncle Boyd has a chronic lung problem from years of working around asbestos. He and Aunt Jo are the last Elders. My last real connection to my past. And I had not thought of them until yesterday.  A suggestion for a FB like from Uncle Boyd brought it into sharp focus.

Words are all I have to offer. Historians study the intimate mundane words sent on scraps of paper of the long dead. A temporary fragile medium carried the weight of hope, love and thoughts to those far away. Now it’s 140 character shorthand that are forever stored somewhere.  But only if there’s power.  This is a letter from where a river flows into the wide bay of a Great Lake.

I hope this letter finds everyone in good health. Surrounded by people who love and care about them. And lastly that I haven’t forgotten you.

Love Will

Friendship

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The simplest questions are the most profound. Where were you born? Where is your home?

Where are you going?What are you doing?

Think about these once and a while, and watch your answers change.

This quote is from one of my desert island books. Recent events have forced me to examine concepts that are fundamental to being human. Friendship is an important one. What I’ve learned is finding work in a new town comes down to who you know. Friends and family tell other friends and family about work before anyone else.  Networking. At this moment there’s only one person I call friend.

A man’s circle of friends happen in childhood.  For women it’s early college. Specific places and time. Roughly a third of Americans are on the move at any given time. I read somewhere that most settle back within 50 miles of where they grew up. The pull of Place. Jason is the only person from the shelter that has stayed in my life from that event.  We both share tales of chronic conditions.  Mine is controlled by medication and knowledge.  He will lose the ability to walk within the year or a decade.  MS is called the snowflake disease.  A range of afflictions that manifest differently from person to person. But the ending is the same. We both will have years taken off our lives. Stress Hormones and the body attacking itself.

My car is a lifeline for both of us. There’s a wind chill warning tonight followed by sub zero temperatures on the weekend. He returned to his hometown and family. Where an old job became a new one. We depend on each other for support.  Some days needing to get to appointments is the only reason I’d leave my apartment. It has forced me to realize that being a friend was just a word in my vocabulary. My use was too casual.  Its true meaning was beyond my ability to grasp in many cases.  This is my view.

Those that have called me friend will disagree. It’s my hope. The past three months has sharpen my sense of what’s important. A friend can tell you things that would get someone else hit. I used feel envy as others told stories about long term relationship. Either Friends or family. We all want to belong to something greater than ourselves.  Take away one of the circles of daily interactions, we feel lost.  A subtle emptiness or panic.  Although for the vast majority of my life I’ve been alone, there was very little loneliness.  It’s both a strength and weakness. Without the passive web of belonging, my one friend has special value. Something I refuse to take for granted.

Too many times in my life that has happened. This is a blanket apology to those I took lightly or ignored.  One little book has guided me when my life went off the rails.  Richard Bach the Reluctant Messiah.  It’s been a candle in the darkness. Whatever my reason for starting this blog, it has come down to this simple purpose.  If this kept one person from taking their life to end the pain, I’ve done something good.

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To paraphrase Monty Python, It’s been a bitch of a week in Bay City. The apartment still feels temporary. My VA caseworker assures me it’s not. Just follow the rules. Four decades of living at the corner of Crazy and Rue de Abyss tends to warp reality.  What I don’t realize was there was a someone else sharing the space. An artist who left spiky balls of pain everywhere.  Some cleverly hidden to feel slightly uncomfortable till you moved.  Funny how furniture becomes important.  It breaks up empty walls.  Creates anchor points that allow stability in your life.

I have an air mattress and a chair the last tenant left.  Living in a converted attic space does limit choice. The 38 stairs have a lot to do with it. Last night the isolation body slammed me.  There was that crippling psychological pain.  Mentally I knew the cause.  And knew I had to work through it. Instead empty calories became my self medicating way to make it go away. another land mine. I’m learning the Middle Way of the Buddha. Not the religion that grew from it. That trumped the entire thought process of turning it over to the christian god. I need a new tool box to get me out of the hole. This was all triggered by the downside of owning a car. Maintenance and gas.  A loss of the one thing that kept above bum status.  A term used by someone in the shelter. walk or get a bike. In a Michigan winter.

One by one the lies I’ve spun to buffer the trials of life by shattered. That leaves the choice. What happens next? Intelligent. Needs the structure of work.  Can be slightly lazy if unintersted. Isolated socially. All in a new city. That is the killer. Jobs are hidden in the network of relationships or shared values.  Going back to school isn’t an option open to me.  Short term decisions made in crisis. Funny thing is how adaptable we are. All of this has become my norm. Therein lies the key. Am I brave enough to take the key and open a new door? Haven’t yet.

This blog is the third one in a series of failed attempts. When it became an open discussion of my mental illness is still mystery. My hope is my daily struggles help someone else get through theirs.  Even when I seem to be stuck in neutral. Keep pushing the boulder up the hill.  One thing that I’ve learn is occasionally there’s a small rock that you can use as a wedge.  Step away.  Enjoy the view.

Super Bowl Sunday.

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The yearly mega event for the most American of sports starts the month. When it’s all over the name of an athlete or athletes will be raised to an iconic figure of myth and veneration.  Why? Envy.  We will never be an elite anything. Can any of us say, outside of sports or the military, that our entire lifetime of training or sacrifice will come down to one moment of fulfillment.  Everyone knows Tom Brady but who knows the special teams guy who was lucky enough to make the squad playing today?  An average professional career last 3 seasons. Still a rare achievement. Being a parent last a lifetime. No halftime shows for us.  I’d rather have memories of a fridge covered in pictures and report cards than a diamond encrusted ring.  An object of jewelry that is painful with each handshake.

At the end of this month is my 51 birthday.  A simple date on a calendar for a man who has battled mental illness all his life. Worked a string of dead end jobs because of it. Who for three years traveled a portion of the world in the Navy.  Has been loved by three women.  Who saw qualities still hidden when he looks in the mirror.  And the father of two great kids.  Being teenagers still, the future is uncertain. No video. No stories in the media. Just a man doing the best he can.

An ordinary life. My life. Given the chance to go back to change it, I’d decline. For although my story is the same in general terms as the vast majority, It is still distinctly mine.  All the scars and pain have brought a certain level of wisdom.  An acceptance of my flaws.  Watch the last scene of The World’s End.  That sums it in humorous angry way.  It’s dealing with the aftermath that shows your character. Not everyone gets a trophy just for showing up.  Success or happiness is a personal measure.  It’s what drives our everyday decisions.  Moral and ethical behavior are what we carry with us. Not something to be imposed on others.

These are my thoughts as I watch the snow swirl outside the library.  A beautiful public space with free WiFi. 24/7 connectivity has been beyond my means for many years.  It has put me out of step with the modern world. Surprising a condition I find comforting. An American yearning for the lifestyle of found in Europe. One more challenge in a complex yet simple life.

A Dream

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This is what woke me at 4am. When you dream in full technicolor and complete dialogue, getting all can be tough.

“We all have parts to play. Some great. Some quiet. These change over the course of time without rhyme or reason. All are equally important.  Most important is what we get wrong. Either brilliant or rubbish, doesn’t matter. It’s all about relationships.”

That’s the gist of it.

Philosophical Frustration

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Oh for the days of having the freedom to homeless, hungry and cold. That sounds strange to those of you have been reading my blog. I ,have to some in the media, fallen into the category of  being a Taker. A net drag on all things productive and American. Facts and reports to the contrary carry no weight in this belief.  The following is my personal definition of this emotional and politically charged term. The 95% are punished for the circumstantial abuses of the 5% or less who have learned the complex rules of the game. One of the state agencies that could possibly help me required an orientation. One of many. It was to outline the scope of service.  Read manage expectations.  The main take away was each case counselor handed 200 to 300 people at any one time. Some cases reach a point of being nonproductive.  At that point the contract is void.  Yes accountability for an agreement between two parties fighting for limited resources.

At the end of the hour, everyone got an appointment time. Most were in two weeks. Mine was three. That appointment came in conflict with another agency’s orientation for housing.  Reschedule for after the first of the year. Two more weeks.  An hour long intake interview.  Can they help me? I need to take a three hour vocational inventory battery of tests.  Results? another three weeks. Then schedule the appointment.  Now it’s the middle of February. For those of you that have done this, that was quick. What about just enrolling in college?  Working 5 months out of 14 does tend to drain the money needed to pay taxes.  Owe the government, no student loans or Pell grants.

Which you have to justify to the SNAP program.  Food stamps. Document the how and why to their satisfaction, get it back.  But hey it makes you find out where all the food banks and churches serving hot meals are.  Go ahead and do the same has an intellectual exercise. Then volunteer there.  Yes I have government housing under one program till another long term program kicks in. Paperwork, 30 to 45 days.  Pass an inspection most older private houses couldn’t. Reinspect in 12 months.  Actually 10 months because of the above paperwork I’ll have to file. One of the main reasons for me being in this situation is my stellar lack of long term planning.  Today I had to look on my phone to see what day it was. People who work with those trying to break the cycle of poverty say the first they make them buy is an alarm clock. Work, family, friends and church form the framework of everyday life.

At this time, I have 4 case managers for programs with complex rules. Barriers to those without the special decoder ring for the foreign language of acronyms. The state or federal worker is doing the work of two due to budget cuts.  Everyone I’ve ever talked to, worked with or friends have, know someone using the system. Generally family. Here’s the thing, it all goes back into the local economy. By those living in survival mode. Basic needs. Sorry cell phones are a necessity. Capitalism to the rescue. Cheap smart phones with data plans. Pay has you go. No credit check needed. Same with a car. America wasn’t built for walking. Insurance. Gas. Tabs. Maintenance. There’s only two class of people who own multiple cars. The very rich or very poor. Quality counts. Conservative blood boiling yet.

For my entire life, I’ve paid my own way.  Not always successfully. There was a freedom of choice to that.  No one in my business.  Certain dirty little secrets remained hidden. The IRS and I have been on a five year before.  FYI, the interest on back taxes is 7% compounded DAILY.  That’s robbery. With resources, it can be bartered down for a fee. I could live where I wanted. Have a roommate to split expenses. Wanted clean furniture 90 days same as cash. Now Salvation Army or the like. That’s all in the past or the shadowy future. To repeat, I’d would rather be Homeless, Hungry and Cold.  It’s an odd type of freedom being a Taker doesn’t have. Having to answer question to which there are no real answers. I won’t delve into being a Veteran and the VA.

I’m simply playing the hand I’ve been dealt. The frustration and stress has played havoc with my bipolar. Overeating empty calorie food or not eating. Sleep?  Airmattress.  Not the weekend. A dollar for dollar reduction in benefits for working is a disincentive. More stress from having a strong work ethic. My story isn’t uncommon. I simply choose to write about it.  America is the land of second chances for some.  Many, do to youthful ignorance or circumstances, have to forge a path outside of traditional society. I end it there.  Thanks.

Friends

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Falling down the Rabbit hole has meant more than losing material things. My connection to people I worked with was tenuous at best. Third shift hours slowly cut down any outside relationships. Then there were and are the bad days. This article sums it up better than I could.

http://mindslikeours.org/2015/01/03/depression/

A perfect score. 21/21. Not Good. By deciding to enter a shelter in another city, removed me from whatever circles of support I still had.  There are two men who could be considered my friends.  One who I met at the shelter and another who was an chance meeting over soccer. All three of us are broken. Mick is on complete work related disability with PTSD thrown in for good measure. J is discovering the joys of the early stages of MS. I was his ride to the hospital last night. All of us are making the best of our individual situations.

Getting back into the habit of work is proving more difficult than I imagined.  A large part of it that is my natural tendency for laziness. When overwhelmed I tend to shut down. The same traits that are great for a writer aren’t so great for the work available in the area. It is all about who you know. How large is my network going to be? Write myself into the role of the reluctant extrovert for a period of time before becoming the hermit again. It’s a start.  Not seeing my kids has been the hardest. Cheap gas makes the money stretch. But not enough. Of course there’s that big heaping shovel of guilt.

The last fourteen months of my struggles have dropped the entire support for my kids on my ex.  She’s getting hit financially at work. Teachers shouldn’t have to work two jobs. Then there’s having two teenagers at home.  Neither of which my situation helps.  There’s a simple fact that stands in the glaring light. One I must own. Great Dad. Lousy husband.  Too many forgotten anniversaries and important little things.  This a public apology for being the lead anchor.  Yes a lifetime of crazy bad habits was at the heart of it.  It doesn’t absolve the hurt and pain of living with it.  That she focused on the dad not the husband when we separated, is a blessing I’ll never forget.  That it will continue is an ongoing challenge.

We are both at the mercy of factors beyond our control. It’s the same everyone faces that work for someone else. Mick is on the right track by finding a niche that allows him to work for himself.  At Jimmy John’s, one of the signs talks about an American businessman and a Mexican fisherman. I’m the fisherman. Go out a work to bring the catch. Eat some lunch. Play the guitar. Play with kids. At night visit with the neighbors. Now to find a way to do that and do what I need to do has a modern parent.

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