Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bloody Blood Pressure

I saw my doctor a few weeks ago and he told me I needed to get my blood pressure down.  When I saw him, it was 142/85 I think, with normal being under 120/80.

On my 40th birthday, June 15th, being at an "upper-level of my lifetime weight range" of 215 pounds, I began a new diet.  I stopped drinking sodas or caffeine, and I (mostly) got my morning exercise routine back on track.  In two weeks, I've dropped about seven pounds.  I know, I know, water weight, and it will come off more slowly as I continue.  Point is, I've been doing all the things that should lower my blood pressure, including watching my sodium and drinking potassium-rich fruit juices.

So I was pretty pissed yesterday when I used the blood-pressure monitor at the pharmacy and it read 142/82.  Let me describe yesterday.  I woke up, did yoga, wrote in my blog, worked for a while, had sex, took a nap, drove to pick up my son, went grocery shopping, and had high blood pressure.  There was a huge, relaxing thunderstorm in the afternoon.  There is no way it could be described as a stressful day.  I felt fine.  I was really shocked that my bp wasn't lower.

I took a reading again this morning at home, and it was 140/84.  I'll take it again right now.  136/77.  Okay, that's a little better, but nowhere near "won't kill you".  But the only thing I can think of that I'm doing that would stress me out and contribute to high blood pressure is my having anxiety over having high blood pressure.

Prevention Magazine says I should drink Hibiscus tea.  Hibiscus tea it is, then.  Anything so I don't keel over and die, or stroke out and leave my loved ones responsible for wiping my ass. 

Singing to myself, "it's Bloody, Blood Pressure" to the tune of "Muddy Mudskipper" from Ren and Stimpy.  I hope this is not a sign from my subconscious that I'm going to have an aneurysm.

***Mister Mirror*** Please link to us on your blog or website.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Don't Write any More Poetry

A Famous Poet
The problem with poetry is that as a commodity, it's something plenty of people want to produce but very few people want to purchase.  There's already a huge supply of poetry out there, in chapbooks, bound leather volumes, and wrinkled, dog-eared spiral notebooks underneath teenage girls' mattresses.  Trillions of pages of it, and so few fanatical readers.

The question you have to ask yourself as an amateur poet is "Have I read all the poetry that's out there yet, and if not, why am I adding to that great towering heap of Unread?"  Now, if you write poems just as therapy to give release to your deepest feelings, by all means do what you do.  No one wants you to commit suicide or reveal your secret crush, so if it helps you to express it and put it under your pillow, no one's judging.  But if you write in order to be read, that is, if you intend to communicate something to someone else, you should probably take stock of what's already been said, and how, before you try to find your voice.

A Famous Poet
I know, I know, that'll take like forever, even just to read the good stuff.  First, you have to memorize all of Shakespeare's sonnets, then dig into Wordsworth and Byron and Shelley and ee cummings and Maya Angelou and Baudelaire and Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson, and you're just getting started on the rock stars.  Then there are thousands of amazing writers who are less anthologized, and you'll need to at least skim over the life's work of each of them, then go back and do some serious research on the ones which were your favorites.  Then you have to subscribe to some contemporary poetry journals and figure out what all the modern voices are saying, and check out the internet, where there are thriving poetry communities, and then decide whether hip-hop counts or if adding electronic beats to your poetry is cheating.  In the meantime, the muse on your back will have to hold the reins because you don't want to start writing and come off as derivative, a constant danger when you're immersing yourself in other people's work.  Finally, after a few decades of research and contemplation, you may be ready to put your first word to the page, if you can still lie to yourself that there's something to be said that hasn't been said, and that you are the talented bastard to say it.

A Famous Poet
In fairness, the same thing applies to novels... how many novels come out annually?  Reviewers can't even review all the books they're sent in a year, much less read all the older ones they wish they had time for, and they're paid to read them.  Maybe we as consumers should tell companies that they should stop publishing new books, and stop making new movies and TV shows, and stop issuing CDs of new music, so we can catch up on what's already been done.  Have you tackled The Iliad lately?  It's held up pretty well.  Let's all commit it to memory, and recite it around campfires, and forget all this newness.  There is already more media in existence than all of us together could read, watch or listen to in all of our combined lifetimes, so we can stop pretending to be cool and modern and on top of things.

Oddly, though, none of these notions applies to blogs.  Except poetry blogs.  If you write a blog, I recommend you put on tunnel-vision goggles and keep plugging away, pounding it out, oblivious to all the other blogs that are out there.  Masturbate in public four or five times a week, as often as you can handle it.  It's what the world wants.  Just keep telling yourself "The people demand that I continue to give them masterpieces". 

***Mister Mirror*** Please link to us on your blog or website.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Homelessness and an Eight-Year Old

For the last few weeks on the way to drop my eight-year old son at his summer camp facility, I've noticed a huge increase in the number of out-of-work folks standing at intersections selling newspapers or holding hand-made signs.  A year ago, I'd see a few.  Now I see a dozen over the same distance.

Today, my kid was looking out the window at a grubby, bearded man dressed in camo and holding up a sign which said "And Cigarrets" (we were at the intersection long enough for him to flip the sign and reveal "Will work for Beer").  So I tried to explain why the man was standing on the side of the road.

"That man is asking people for money so he can buy food", I explained.  Some people aren't able to work or find a job, and what happens if you can't work?  He can't pay for a house, or a car, and he has to beg for money just to eat.  Where do you think he sleeps?  Maybe behind a building.  Maybe right on the sidewalk.  He may have to eat out of a trash can.  Isn't that terrible?" 

My son agreed that the man's situation was terrible.

"He was also asking people for beer money."  At which point I talked about why drinking is bad and why drugs are bad, which my son told me he already knew, not from school, but because he thought about it.  We didn't get into mental illness.  It felt like it was already a pretty heavy conversation to be having with a child.

My son promised me he'd never do drugs.  I said "good".  He told me I'd never do drugs.  I told him the truth, which is that years ago, I smoked marijuana, but that now I didn't drink, smoke or do drugs.  He said "good".  Because I wanted to stay alive to see you grow up, and to run with you, I didn't say, but I will one day.   

So driving in my air-conditioned car on the way back from dropping him at his summer camp, which I'm paying $128 a week for just so I don't feel guilty that he's bored while I work, I tried to explain to my 40-year-old self where I've come to in my position on homelessness.  I've never been homeless, but I've been close.  And close was close enough.  I can't pretend to know what it's like to be completely out of options.

 I've always leaned Liberal.  I can't look at people suffering and not think that we as a society, with our great resources, should provide for our poor and destitute, help them get on their feet, and give them a hand up.  I understand the more Conservative position that people are responsible for their own choices and should pull themselves up, I just don't think it's so simple: Culture and Competition are always going to stick their feet in your face to keep you down.  Context matters so much.  It's easy to say "work hard and pull yourself up" when your friends and family have solid middle-class lives and contacts and friends and opportunities, and you grew up with an education, and expectations.  But try to do for yourself when no one will talk to or look at or acknowledge you. 

That said... "Will work for beer?"  As I've gotten older, I've gotten... it's not that I have less sympathy, it's just that I see the hopelessness of trying to help someone who can't or won't help themselves.  I can't judge someone who's life is to wander on a sidewalk -- living like that would probably make me crazy, and I'd probably want to drink or do drugs, just to numb myself.  But the first step in getting off the street has to be to get cleaned up, right?  So when I see an alcoholic who just wants to continue being an alcoholic, it takes some of the air out of my Liberal tires.  It's hard to want to help someone who doesn't seem to be trying. 

But then, it's easy for you and I to look at a grizzled, hobbled person on the side of the road and pronounce what we think that person needs to do to get his life together.  Hey, just get cleaned up, shave, put on some nice clothes, and go get a job!  But we don't take him home and give him a place to bathe, and buy him clothes, and introduce him to our employer.  It's someone else's problem, or maybe we've been burned before, trying to help someone and having them use us or steal from us.  So we give some change, or don't, and leave it to the churches, and to government programs.  It's easy to dictate solutions from behind a steering wheel, then drive on.

I think no matter what you do, there will always be poor and homeless.  Some people just do not have it in them to function within society, for whatever reason.  But at the end of the day, I believe there need to be strong, well-funded institutions ready to help anyone who wants to try to pull themselves together.  I think that's a nobler way to spend my tax dime than rebuilding a Middle-East which only needs rebuilding because we destroyed it.  Keep our Money at Home, Bums not Bombs, Health Care for Everybody, etc.

Now, I am imagining scenarios in which my son grows up to become homeless.  If you have kids, try it.  They're not hard to come up with.  A teenage drug habit spun out of control, or the onset of schizophrenia, or running away from home... we work to teach our kids to make good decisions, but we aren't there for them forever.  Sooner or later, they go or we do.  Every homeless person on every street of the world was once someone's child, whose parents had dreams for, whose parents probably never imagined would be standing on a corner breathing in carbon monoxide from tailpipes and begging strangers for enough change to buy bread with.

I can't look at my eight-year-old son and tell him "Look, if despite my best efforts you make mistakes or choose poorly and screw up your life or if you just have dumb bad luck, I won't still care about you.  And I don't think the rest of the world should either."  I'll do my best to raise him to try to feel compassion for people, even those who fail to thrive in American-style Capitalism.  
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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pixos Moon

In the center of our living room dangles a pull-string, suspended from the overhead fan and anchored by a crescent moon made of Pixos that one of the kids must have made. The string broke recently, and since it has been reattached, the Pixos moon hovers at exactly the same height as my forehead.  Now I find that whenever I pass through the living room, I feel the overwhelming compulsion to smack the moon with my forehead as though I were heading a soccer ball into a goal.

Now that I've been doing it for a week or so, I can't stop.  Every time I see the thing, I have to whack it with my head, or something bad will happen.

I have two concerns.  First, I need some reassurance that this is not the first stage in the OCD spiral that makes otherwise normal people do things like count the number of steps they take to get somewhere and make sure they take the same number of steps back.  Second, will the imprint of a crescent moon in my forehead be a good look for me?

 I'm reminded of scenes in Werner Herzog's Wheel of Time where the pilgrims are making a journey of thousands of miles on foot and stopping every step of the way to kneel and touch their foreheads to the ground.  After months of this, each of the weary travelers grows a third eye of calloused skin in the middle of his forehead.  That's really affecting to see, and has nothing to do with my experience of course; those people have strength and perseverance and conviction, while I'm just some dope with a glitch and a cheap plastic icon of commodity getting in his face ten times a day. 

It's just, the forehead touch, it reminds me of something I can't seem to remember, a task I forgot to see through, a goal I was pursuing but let myself get sidetracked from.  Sometimes these clues are stars in your eyes, and sometimes they're lost on the ground like a contact lens.  

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

You Can't Make Me Read My Blog Comments

I write or contribute to several blogs with varying themes.  Sometimes, People of the Internet respond to what I've written by posting comments which are surprising, insightful and enlightening.  Or so I imagine, anyway.  While I do get notices in my email inbox all the time that someone has actually wandered into one of my blogs and left me a note, I never, ever look at what people have written.

When I get my writing dander up, I just let it flow, mixed metaphors be damned.  Sometimes I adopt personalities that aren't like my own at all, or I argue different sides of issues, or I get downright grouchy, sanctimonious, and pompous.  I can get over-heated, overbearing, and over-the-top.   Depending on how well I slept, I may be a sweetheart or a heart-eater, or wear a sweater.  I want to give myself permission to indulge my passions, follow my whims, and sniff up the skirt of whatever muse gives me the wink.  That's why I always write using an assumed identity, even right now.  If I worried what people thought, worried that I might offend someone, I would become frozen  If I tried to write with an eye to what people think of me, I wouldn't be able to write in my blogs at all, and then where would the world be?

Okay, well, that sounds okay but it's mostly malarkey.  The real reason I don't look at my comments is because I'm a coward and I can't take criticism.  Although I notice it's become less problematic since I stopped drinking caffeine, I have real problems with obsessive thoughts which combine in a volatile way with the personal issues I have about being judged.  So if I were to post a blog entry and then get a comment saying, oh I don't know, "You're a fucking idiot and you don't know what you're talking about, go kill yourself retard," it would stun me, I'd become unproductive at my job for a week, and it would probably take that entire week of hearing that phrase over and over again in my head before I managed to come up with something clever to say in response, which I would then edit and add to and edit and add to over and over again for another several days until it was a thousand words too long, but still a wiry ball of white hot hate.  Which I would never post, and which the commenter would never read if I did.  My reading my blog comments would result in my periodic slow self-destruction in a hot gas fireball.  

If someone shoots me a bird in traffic I get tied me up in knots for days.  I often can't bring myself to open my email inbox because there might be bad news in there.  Why would I ever think I could deal with direct criticism of my actual thoughts and feelings in my blogs?  I know better. Hey, I know I can be an idiot, and I'm well aware that I often don't know what I'm talking about, but man, having it pointed out by a third party fucks me up.  But good.

"Let me tell you what I think of your blog."
Now, it's likely that almost all the folks who post comments on my blog are just promoting their own blogs, or posting hotlinks to, or maybe, just maybe, saying nice things to me about what I wrote.  I might even be missing opportunities.  What if a major publisher has left me a comment requesting that I contact him or her about having my writing turned into a book which  would sell a million copies and be read on toilets around the world (even really cool toilets, after it's translated to Japanese)?  What if a rich widow is a really big fan of my stuff and wants to give me a huge pile of money so I can quit my day job and masturbate in public like this all the time, and she left me a comment to say so?  What if a commune filled with nubile nymphettes have confused my writing with erotica and my lazy editing with talent, and have invited to pay to have me come vacation with them in the Bahamas because they're blog groupies who're just dying to rub me down with the juices of the fruit of their loins, and have said as much, only I don't know and will never know because I'm a fraidy-cat?  Well, it's a chance I have to take, because there's no way I'm looking at those comments. 

And if someone IS trying to contact me to give me money or anything else, there's a better way to contact me than a blog comment.  I don't want to risk giving those who want to say cruel and hurtful things to me any ideas, but it rhymes with "mend me a personal sea snail".
Mean people suck, but as far as I know, they don't exist on the internet.  Let's keep it that way.   

***Mister Mirror*** Please link to us on your blog or website.

Eat Yourself

So I've been dieting since my birthday a week ago, and I quit drinking caffeine.  The lack of caffeine sent me for a loop, and I experienced some foul moods and awful headaches, but I think I'm over the worst of it now.  I've been eating at the house, pretty much only when I'm hungry.  We've always had a diverse and fairly healthy diet at home, but I've never managed to eliminate the temptation to eat out or swing through fast-food drive-throughs every few days. My doctor says I've got to drop some pounds, and I know it to be true.

If I'm out on the road, everywhere I look are temptations: billboards, fast food signs, and the scent of burgers, fried chicken and barbeque, which you can suddenly smell from a mile away if you're no longer eating those things.  Yes, I can get over physical cravings, but as I remember from quitting smoking, the mind is insidious and will try arguments like "You didn't mean you're not going to eat a sausage biscuit ever again in your life, did you?  Be realistic.  How about once a week.  That would be okay, right?" or "It's rainy and grey this morning, and it's only 7:45, so if you drink a Mountain Dew you'll have all day to burn off the calories."  Evil.  Well, there are going to be temptations, and I'm going to have cravings.  What I have to tell myself is that if I'm in an area where there's a fast-food restaurant, I'm probably in an area where there's a grocery store.  If I have five minutes for a drive-through, I have five minutes to walk into a grocery store and spend the same six bucks I would have spent on a Whopper combo on a banana and a bottled water and maybe some blueberries or strawberries or wheat thins or a bag of salad or some wheat bread or even a pouch of tuna, all foods which I also enjoy but which won't kill me.

two delicious pieces of golden-brown fried chicken, taunting someone on a diet

Quick aside: that you can't eat healthy food because junk food is cheaper than vegetables is a complete fallacy, as I know from shopping for and cooking for a family of six.  Brown rice is cheap, potatoes are cheap, pasta is cheap, and you can build your meals from there.  You do have to actually cook, though.  Like people did for centuries.  I admit fresh vegetables can be a pain because they can go bad as fast as you eat them here in the South, and you have to shop more, so frozen veggies take up a lot of slack for me.  Anyone can take $25 they would have spent on pizzas for the family to the grocery store and bring home a healthy feast instead.  Any reason for not doing so is based on laziness. 

So anyway, I know I shouldn't stop and eat crappy death food.  So why in the past have I always ended up doing so, even though I know better?  Another argument my evil brain uses is that I "work hard and deserve a treat every now and then".  Well, look brain, your roommate, my body, is composed of about 15 pounds too much fat, and if I stroke out, you literally won't feel so clever.  So work with me here.  

a snake accidentally eats itself
I had an idea this morning while driving, which I haven't really thought through, but that won't stop me from sharing it with strangers.  Maybe "Losing Weight" is the wrong way to think about dieting.  It's so negative!  What a sad loss, you loser, did you lose something on your diet?  Good luck with the losing, loser.  So sad.  Well, what you're actually doing when you lose weight is eating yourself... you're eating the fat which your body has accumulated and stored.  So maybe I should think of myself as a predatory animal, and my extra fat as prey.  When I'm hungry, really I'm hunting.  The sound of my stomach growling is actually the snarling of a wolf with a fatty rabbit trembling in its jaws.  Maybe that's a mindset I can work with.  I'm not losing a part of my self.  I'm devouring it.    

***Mister Mirror*** Please link to us on your blog or website.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I Took Chantix and Didn't Die

On Halloween, October 31st of 2007, I quit smoking after 20 years.  I had tried to quit many, many times prior to this, using a variety of approaches: cold turkey, patches, nicotine gum... and I had always started smoking again after a few days, a week or two at most.  This time, I quit smoking and have not had or wanted a cigarette since.  I credit my success this time not to some miracle wellspring of willpower, but to the drug Chantix, and my decision to join a smoking-cessation program.

 I took Chantix for some six months, and was a little worried that when I stopped, the nicotine cravings would come back, but they didn't.  I experienced no side-effects that I can attribute to Chantix.  This drug may have saved my life.  So when I see, often, on forums, people claiming that Chantix made them psychotic or depressed, I feel obliged to point something out: quitting smoking makes you psychotic and depressed, whether you take Chantix or not.

Quitting smoking means denying your body a substance to which it is physically addicted.  Nicotine withdrawal gives you crazy, vivid dreams.  You have wild mood swings.  You snap at your loved ones.  You feel terrible.  You get depressed.  Life loses its luster.  Nicotine is a wonder drug that gives you a lift when you need a lift, and calms you down when you need calming down.  And now you're flying without crutches, so to speak.  You feel as bad as you've ever felt in your life.  Are you really in a position to evaluate whether the way you feel is based on a drug you're taking, as opposed to the effects of detoxing from a chemical dependency which you volunteered for, which is entirely your responsibility?

When you're nic-ing, you lash out at people around you, you curse at stop lights that catch you, and you're probably really likely to blame it all on that damned drug, Chantix, if you're taking it.  In fact, this is one of the tricks your mind will use so it can satisfy its addiction: you have to stop the Chantix and have a cigarette; Chantix is the enemy, Cigarette is your friend.  All these bad feelings will pass after a couple of weeks, if you fight through them.

a cigarette slowly smokes and burns as it dangles off of stone

I'm not saying Chantix has never caused a negative psychological reaction in someone.  I'm just saying it doesn't happen nearly as often as people believe it does, and that administering Chantix to all smokers would save many, many lives, and probably endanger very, very few.  But try telling that to someone who "totally freaked out" on Chantix and quit taking it.  Then ask them if they're still smoking.   

A quick note on patches: I don't believe in them.  In fact, when I took the smoking-cessation program and did the numbers, I realized that when I had used the patch that I had actually been putting more nicotine in my body than I was used to in the first place.  I used to smoke Lights or Ultra Lights, and the patch would give me twice or three times as much nicotine in a day as I was getting from a pack of my normal brand.  Then if I cheated and smoked anyway, which I did, I was getting even more.  At the end of the day, it makes no sense to me to keep putting into your body the substance you're trying to break an addiction to.  Stop putting nicotine in your body and deal with the consequences.  You had the party, you earned the hangover.  It -- and all the depressed, angry, savage feelings that will come no matter how you choose to break your chemical dependency -- will pass.

A fine mantra I picked up somewhere: "Your craving will pass, whether you smoke or not."  It's true, you know.  My personal mantra was "Not even one".  When I'd have a craving, I'd say that and it'd go away.  Normally, when I quit smoking, I'd have to wrestle the craving, talk myself down, go back and forth for a few minutes.  With Chantix, it was immediate.  "Not even one".  And it would go away.  It worked so well for  me.

I would urge anyone who's had trouble quitting to join a smoking cessation program.  Your local hospital will have one, and they're cheap or free.  They'll help you get vouchers for quit-smoking supplements if you can't afford them.  Doctors WANT you to quit.  If you don't think anyone cares, talk to someone who's job it is to suck black goo out of your lungs, or counsel you through the awful last months of COPD.  The group format is nice, too, whether you're the social type ("We can do this -- together!") or the competitive type ("That dude isn't going to make it -- but I AM").  If you think you can do it alone, well, maybe you can -- but you haven't.  And you don't have to. 

Not everything will work for every person.  But what worked for me after 20 years was Chantix, combined with the support of my local hospital's anti-smoking program.  That's my testimonial.  Please remember it the next time someone says they tried to quit smoking and felt terrible, and told all their friends it was Chantix.

***Mister Mirror*** Please link to us on your blog or website.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Time and Civilization

Steam says that since October, I have played 332 hours of Civilization 5.  Civ V is a PC video game in which you take the role of the leader of a country and try to dominate the world.  What the fuck is wrong with me?  332 hours is 8.3 workweeks.  If I had taken a second job at even $8 an hour and done that instead, I'd have made $2656.00.  If I had spent that time working out, I'd be ripped.  I could have been working on another degree.  Just about anything I did would be a better use of that time.

But if it weren't Civ 5, it would be Chess.  Or Bloons Tower Defense 4.  Or graphic novels.  Or movies.  I work, I parent, I do my duties, and then when I get the chance, I completely remove myself from reality.  This is standard, right?  Sort of.  I don't drink, or smoke, or do drugs, but like most people, I have a variety of pseudo-opiates to keep me distracted.  Now, what am I distracting myself from?  From thinking about a) my humiliating place in the human class system and b) mortality.  In fact, if I'm not allowed something colorful to involve myself in, these subjects are what I'll think about.  "Just think pleasant things" is not an option.

Montezuma, leader of the Aztecs, from the PC video game Civilization 5
"More bodies for the altar!"

I'm crazy (but harmless).  It's not OCD, just -- obsessive thoughts.  If I am not thoroughly exhausted when I lie down to sleep, I will think about my child dying, or my lover dying, or what will happen to them when I die, or why we have to die at all, and whether I'll wake up again, and then I will have to get back out of bed and distract myself until I'm so tired I'll just fall asleep without thinking.  On the other hand, going outside and dealing with other people leads to thinking over and over how humiliating it is to be alive, how it is to be judged every time you walk through a doorway, how awful humans are to each other, how much I am made to feel as though I don't belong.  These thought-trains are not just debilitating, they have guided the direction of my entire life.  They're the reasons I work from home and have few if any real friends.  It is to laugh.

332 hours playing a video game in 9 months.  But the other way to look at it... 332 hours of playing Civilization 5, over the course of 36 weeks, is 1.3 hours a day... do you watch an hour and twenty minutes a day of television?  Probably more than that, so don't look down on me.  Heh.

See, funny thing.  I started this blog entry to scold myself for spending so much time wasting time, and ended up pointing a finger at you.  The kick kicks in.  It's not so bad to waste time, everyone does it.  I'm sure I'll keep doing it.  But it is something to think about, right?  The choices we make form a line that leads us to the person we become.  It is all about the choices we make, even 1.3 hours a day.  I just have to start choosing more wisely.

***Mister Mirror*** Please link to us on your blog or website.