Tag Archives: writing

What Writing Does and Doesn’t Do For Me

Writing. I write to express myself. Sometimes it brings a smile of recognition to those that have known me or shared a portion of the same paths I’ve traveled. Other times in sparks interest of a sort that is more intriguing. Revealing of a self I may never have thought to share or may even have been hugely ┬áinvested in hiding. For me writing sublimates rage, actualizes vulnerability and exposes fear. It’s lessened the load considerably.

Sometimes I write merely to impress. To give myself and hopefully some others a few laughs. I like the feeling of making people laugh. I like the feeling of people thinking I’m funny even more. I like them telling me I made them laugh and that I’m funny most. I’m as easily wooed by flattery as anyone. Moreso than many, I’m sure. External validations are sweeter than the internal ones. Not as long lasting, but at least theres a button to push. Can’t always find it, but at least I know its there, waiting to be pressed.

It’s amongst my healthiest coping tools, writing. It’s creative and productive and a tool for reflection that has served me well. I fear the times when I’m uninspired and don’t write for a few weeks. I spent twenty years scrawling incoherent ramblings of rage and confusion into manic and crazy looking notebooks and journals wanting desperately to be a ‘writer’ only to learn it took others reading to make me one.

After that I learned that a facility for words merely means you meet the minimum requirements. What became apparent quickly to me was that I had to start getting naked. I had to start writing down the truths of me and not just the flattering ones. I wrote about rage and failings and experiences I buried deep. I shared my scariest moments and my more vulnerable ones. I have not fully cleaned out the closet as yet, but I’ve made space so when I look in I can make some sense of what’s left in there. I can see it all. I don’t just crumble under the sheer mass of emotional detritus. It’s been a very healing and healthy exercise. One I’m proud of.

If you are one of the few that has read a good deal of my work you’re aware of this. To one degree or another you’ve seen the praise seeking showoff, the vulnerable human and the emotional rager. I’ve kind of put it all out there. What’s not so present is the view you might have of me if you were actually looking at me with your own eyes. Every day.

Writing. It’s the best tool I’ve had to cope. With the pressure of being a dad and a husband. The pressure of working in a field where we are caring for people and their loved ones. Having what feels like a lot of responsibility on me a lot of the time due to both those things. Not to mention the inherrent guilt I seem to have been born with. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t there. It’s the best tool. But it’s not the only tool. Just the best.

The others I won’t get into. I won’t lay them at your feet and wait for some unearned praise, though that needy part desperately wants to. He wants to share all he does from midnight to three, wants to watch the little numbers crawl up. He wants your manipulated respect and even the tender feelings you have and share for a person being truthful about the lesser parts. But they would only validate me and make me more prone to continuing the other things. The ones I won’t share. Not with you or anyone. The parts I don’t want to let go of. That meet me in the middle of the night and stay primary no matter how much I squeeze in to distract me.

Writing is my best tool for coping. I just wish it was enough.

Spies and Rocket Ships

Last night after dinner, before bed we were engaged in the ‘wind down.’ This is what we’ve come to call that time of night that was ‘the witching hour’, when they were younger. Now it’s ‘wind down time.’ I prefer to think that this is not an entirely misleading name for this time, but rather an aspirational one. As is the custom during this time, the boys were running wildly between floors, screaming and laughing and we were in the kitchen, ignoring them as much as we could.

Ignoring a couple of hyped up little boys is impossible, so we ignore them merely as best we can. This is quite the change over a relatively short period of time and frankly, there’s some serious growth that is to be admired in it. After all it wasn’t 4 years ago where we were so scared of anything happening to them that we lived as volunteer shut-ins. I know. It’s hard hearted to invoke the word ‘shut-in’ for the purposes of humor. Fine. We were new parent nut bags so engrossed in over parenting our little ones that we never slept, pulled the alarms for every cough and acted as spotters for the first 10-22 months that they were walking. And I mean every minute of them walking.

So, to be at a place where we can pay only minimal attention to them, to be able to hear patterns of speech without engaging other than to recognize where our required, ‘Sure, buddy.’, or ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’, were needed, well, that’s like Will Hunting fleeing all he knew to pursue his dream and his dream girl at the end of the movie, without so much as a note for Chucky and the rest of the gang knowing damn well they were family and would not only understand but be damn proud of him level of growth we’re talking about.

Well, like all good things this one too had to end, so we jumped back in at some point when we knew we really couldn’t hope to ignore them any longer. Notably, this usually occurs when one punches the other or the other grabs something they want from the other and they bite them instead of relinquishing something of such a precious nature as a tiny, long forgotten instruction booklet from a tiny Lego set we may or may not have ever had, or a found rubber band or some other precious booty they salvage from the flotsam and jetsam of our lives here on this pioneer outpost. But not tonight. Tonight it went the way it should. We ignored, they entertained each other, we re-engaged and voila, this is how you start the bedtime process a mere 2-3 hours later than you always swear you will tomorrow.

‘Did you sign up? Wait, are you signing up tomorrow?’ Charlie asks as I settle in to the couch and start to brush his teeth ten feet from a sink where he could do it himself, but instead we act as servants to these boys who pay only in affection and dependence. Granted, we make out on the deal, still, we may coddle a bit too much.

‘Oh, I’m signing up tomorrow.’ I say and tense up ever so slightly.

‘Okay’ he says.

Phew. I haven’t felt this good about faking my way through since telling my doctor, ‘yeah, I don’t know. I guess I have 2-3 drinks a week.’ Felt pretty good.

‘Remind me again what I’m signing up for?’ You can absolutely be this transparent. THEY DON’T KNOW ANY OF THE TRICKS YET!

‘Spies.’

‘Okay, spies. Sounds like fun. What is it?’ Seriously, you can be this blunt in your blatant disavowing of knowledge you ‘yeah buddy’d’ not 5 minutes earlier.

‘It’s a game.’ Charlie says.

‘Yeah, we are spies and we run around the house.’, said Teddy. He’s even less sure and more confident than me. I’ll have to keep an eye on this one.

‘That sounds fun.’ I say

‘Yeah and tomorrow we’re going to build a real rocket ship.’

‘What!’ I exclaim. This is really taking a turn.

‘Do spies fly rocket ships?’ I ask.

‘Yeah. We’re going to build a real one. A real rocket ship.’, says Charlie. He’s pretty insistent. This is a new and serious tone. They recently saw the Wallace and Gromit short where they build a rocket in the basement and spend the day on the moon, so I’m pretty sure this is real.

‘I believe you.’, I say. ‘What else do spies do.’

‘They fly to space and do experiments and build rocket ships.’ The ‘duh’ was implied.

‘Okay. When are sign ups?’ I ask.

‘Tomorrow. We’re signing up and so are you and mommy.’

Done.

Turns out Spies is a pretty great game. If you ever have the chance I highly recommend signing up.

‘I Like That I’m Weird’

‘Tell me something you love about yourself. What is something about you that you really like.’ his mommy asked.

‘I like that I’m weird. I like ‘small potatoes’. I know it’s supposed to be for little kids, but I like it anyways. I like that I’m weird like that.’ Charlie said.

img_4893img_4891When Karen came down from putting him to bed she could barely contain how excited she was to tell me about this little conversation. She was right to be excited. I couldn’t have been happier to hear it.

‘I like that I’m weird.’ How great is that?

Getting comfortable with my weirdness is something that’s taken me a lifetime. First step for me was seeing that I was weird and trying with all my might to deny/hide it. Since then, since getting to a place where I passed as a normal I’ve been working like nobody’s business to try to unburden myself of my various insecurities and collected disguises. I needed to conform, emotionally. I needed to fit in first. It left me safe and sad. Once there I needed to get back out, which was harder. It was definitely harder to reclaim my ‘weird’ than it was to fit in.

So to hear this news, well, I just wanted to wake him up and tell him how proud I was of him. I wanted to tell him he’d discovered the secret to happiness. I wanted to tell him that loving things you aren’t ‘supposed to’ is something it took me forever to learn to do and longer to be comfortable saying I loved those things. I was so impressed with him. I wanted to open YouTube and start playing endless episodes of ‘Small Potatoes’ with him.

Furthermore I wanted to tell him that his life would forever be better as long as he is true to himself. If you like sports and that’s not weird, so what, it’s true. I guess that’s it. I felt shame around my weirdness. Still do from time to time. Then I come here, I tell on myself and I learn to get comfortable being me. My weird self. My journey is as much about meeting me as it is about meeting the world and he has a moment now, one he can call back on and know, being weird, feeling different, it can be a huge gift!

I love my little weirdos so damn much.

Surviving My Kids Friends Birthday Parties

I was sitting in a room full of 5 and 6 year old’s and their parents this past weekend. We were at one of Charlie’s friends birthday parties. It’s remarkable how much a 6 year old’s birthday has changed since I was a kid. Perhaps I went to one at a McDonald’s once. I don’t think I went to all that many kindergarten birthday parties. If I went to 5 that would seem to be a lot. Now we’re busy like I was during the summers of my late 20’s when I was  traveling every weekend to weddings of friends and family.

17022102_1224967080954027_8283132131191062470_nThis was our second birthday party in as many days from this one kindergarten class and it was at the same location as the first. It was one of those former retail spots made over as a kid-party factory, complete with monstrous bounce houses and inflatable slides. This one was particularly cool as it also had scooters and floor projected interactive video games. Ultimately a perfect place for a couple hours of fun. He loved it.

I also, of course, loved that he loved it and was super appreciative of the family hosting it for giving such a fun experience to our boy. But it’s an awkward place for me. I’ll write more about that in a short while, I’m sure. It’s really worthy of milking for some laughs when you see me, a 43 year old dad to two, so socially petrified that I’m stuck staring at my phone trying hard not to look creepy to all the other, seemingly more socially gifted parents sitting in small groups chatting away. It’s just strange. And I’m not the only dad to end up this way at these things. So UNCOMFORTABLE. But like I said, you’ll get some laughs out of this in a future post, I hope.

Back to the room of kids, eating pizza and drinking juice. They sit there so confident. I recognize this confidence. It’s not social confidence. By 5 or 6 you start to see some self awareness and self consciousness start to sneak in as they observe there classmates and occasionally wonder if they are doing it right. Whatever ‘it’ is. No. This is the confidence in exactly what is shaky inside me. Confidence that those grown ups, as present and attended to as the muffled and ignored teachers and parents in the old Charlie Brown cartoons, are all knowing, never wavering, able to know exactly what to do and how to do it. It’s a blind confidence. Never questioned or examined by the kids. Its exactly the opposite of what I feel at the moment.

Should I sit down? I should sit? Shit, did I make the mom sitting next to me uncomfortable? I should introduce myself. Shit. Of course I just introduced myself to the woman I exchange pleasantries with everyday and of course we know each other. I should stand up. Shit. Did she take that the wrong way? Do I, do we have an enemy now? I’m not eating. Damn it. Should I stand by the wall or hang by the door. I just don’t want to look like a creep and everything is making me look that way. These are my thoughts while my child sits there, assured and confident because I, who knows all and controls all, is present.

I don’t know how all the other parents feel but I have to imagine I’m not the only one that has these moments where it all becomes so clear. We are all doing the best we can. It’s a blend of planning and reacting. It’s a combo of following in footsteps and improvising. It’s intuitive and learned. We all want to do well. There’s never really a time when you know whether or not you are. You win moments, sure you handled something perfectly. Those moments are followed by other moments and that goes on forever.

As much as anything this makes me realize how much of my own life was and to some degree, will always remain a fabrication of my own misunderstanding of what my parents were and what they were doing. And there parents and there parents for as far back as we go. Structures we rely on make it possible and we’ve been fortunate enough in recent generations to have stable structures. It’s hard not to feel a little off balance when so much seems so fragile.

Before I know it Charlie’s asking the nice lady in the party factory uniform for seconds of ice cream cake. Some folks are leaving, getting gift bags, saying thank yous and finding coats. I’ve actually had a nice conversation with another parent, a mom of one of Charlie’s good friends. Everything is back to normal. I know my script and am ready to dad.

‘Yep, time to go, buddy. Did you say thank you? Don’t forget to say Happy Birthday.’

The Lodge, Part V: Figuring it Out

‘I really love it. It’s crazy. I’m here with people from all over the world, we work around the clock and we get one day off per 13. It’s perfect.’ I said. I meant it.

‘Joey, I’m so happy for you. I’m so excited.’

‘Thanks. It’s just a lot, but I think I really like it.’

This was my first call home after the guests had arrived. After the week long, 9AM-9PM trainings we were all ready to get to it, whatever it was. Even with that much time spent learning, with that many people who’d done it before there was no amount of preparation that was going to give me so much as a clue as to what that first day would entail.

‘I got picked to be on the bus that went into the city to pick up the guests. It was crazy. Unbelievable how much could happen in so short a time.’

This is not the staff picture from my 1st year. 3rd year, maybe?

About half of us staff were selected to ride the bus down to the city that first day. It really was a good omen, even if I didn’t know it yet. I’d be prepping the busses and coordinating the drop offs and pick ups within a couple of years and would continue to do them for many years after. You really had to trust the people on that crew. Any number of issues could arise, between the guests and their anxiety or separation or some other totally unexpected thing having to do with their diagnosis to random cars breaking down in front of you in the Lincoln Tunnel, car accidents, staff walking off never to be seen again (this happened more than once, place could drive you mad), incidents between guests on the bus, anxious, angry or just plain mean parents (as a rule they were ALL lovely. As a rule. Rules are ocassionally broken), mixed up medication, short fuses, insane heat, torrential rain. Whatever we ran into, whatever ran into us, we were there to check in 60 or so individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, process their personal effects and account for them, ensure they were fully stocked with meds, check in money get them on the bus and start to entertain them and continue to do so, and to be entertained by them for two weeks, sun up to well past sundown. It really was the most amazing thing I’ll ever do. Having and raising kids will mean more, but we can relate to so many others who’ve done it. But this, this was a singular experience.

‘Guests?’

‘Oh, yeah. Thing is they aren’t campers really. They’re grown ups and face it, grown ups don’t go to camps. They go on vacation. So they aren’t campers, they’re guests.’

‘That’s interesting.’ Mom said.

‘Yeah. Not so much, it’s just what it is. You forget about the word after a day of using it. Not even when you hear it so much during training. Truth is I was ready to see some guests by Sunday. They got here, Sunday.’

I was already spewing my person first language, practicing my committment to treating people respectfully and in line with their life experience and not the way I had before those trainings, which would have still been sensitive, but wouldn’t have been mindful of age appropriate language. In real terms I have learned a hand full of things in the 22 years since that week of training, some real valuable things, but none of it will ever come close to what I learned in those two weeks. Two because the training really didn’t end until after the first week that you were putting it into practice with the guys.

The training wea almost all centered around the arts and crafts room that was off the kitchen, the dining hall and the administrative/infirmary hallway. It was painted grey cement floors with knee to ceiling roller windows lining the walls to either side of our rows of chairs we lugged back and forth to and from the dining hall between meals to reset our classroom all day every day. I was given basic, sanctioned safety trainings, by the book and repeated yearly or near yearly since. I was given first hand trainings on what it meant to work in a field that was still populated with residents and former workers at Willowbrook State School. I met some of those who transformed our entire service system, from the inside, from one fraught and underfunded, filled with systemic abuse into one that was so truly person centered that we busted our asses to ensure that every person was given every ability to choose every single activity on their own and we would modify everything to ensure they could do it regardless of ability. I learned what it was like to be a sibling or a parent of a person with a disability from one of those parents. I met some of the heroic figures who said no to Doctors in the fifties who told them to put their child with a disability in the institutions and forget them. I met many of those children who found their way, through decades of darkness, both literally and in every other way and emerged on the other side heroic and still in touch with their tender and delicate humanity which had been so forsaken. They taught me. And I soaked it up. I loved it.

img_0191And I wasn’t alone. There was a core of us who made it through and reaped endless rewards because of it. There were at root about 30 or so of us who worked in cabins, lived with the guys. We were on call all through the night and working every waking minute (save the one hour break you lived for in order to shower and make a ten minute call to whoever to say how amazing the whole thing was or to cry because it was breaking you). Of those thirty about 16 or so made it through the summer. My cabin started with the full allotment of 6 staff. We lost Ausberto and Jim the Marine and I can’t remember who else, but one more. We made it through 3, two week sessions with just me, Mike and Tony. A suburban, an urban and a comrade. We cared for and loved 16 guys in that cabin every day. Two in wheelchairs? No problem, everyone will have what they need cause anyone of us would push ourselves miles past our limits to make sure of it. Truth is we did it to gut busting laughter much of the time. There were moments of discord and hot tempers, but they were over fast. Still love those guys and dozens more and would have the time of my life sitting around a fire all night reminiscing on those days. I can say confidently we all would. I met real family there.

‘Joey. I’m really proud of you.’

It’s still the most important thing I ever hear them say. Whenever they do I just eat it up.

‘Thanks mom. I think you would love it here more than anyone.’

And I’m sure I was right. It was a utopian society experimentation lab built on the ideals I learned from her. Love, compassion, understanding, committment, service and tireless giving that results in you getting so much after giving all of yourself.

3AM

I’m sick of everyone 

and their crockpot recipes. 

I’m sick of their Midwest mockeries. 

I’m tired of the constant cacophony 

of pained but righteous melodies 

sung by sparrows feeling entitled to everything 

and assholes baring their baritones 

and all the others who can’t be alone. 

Who won’t atone. Who sling their wares 

through country roadsides and broader thoroughfares. 

All the noise feels redundant but looks resplendent. 

Feels remarkable. But sounds insolent. 

I’m tired of wanting and wishing and playing 

never missing a moment I’m convinced is so vital 

to find it arrives and passes with no residue, no lasting. 

I leave wanting not more, not less. 

All I ever want is next. 

This can’t be me. It can’t be what it seems. 

I’m filled and fly on wings of dreams 

but ever I know and ever I try there’s nothing left but next. 

Next year and sorrow. 

Next pity and wallow. 

Next thing to be earned next feeling to burn. 

Forgotten piles amount to a life well mined 

by others who don’t give mine the time 

or the mind.

Funny Boys

Charlie: I like this one.

Teddy: I like pick pun

Charlie: What’s a ‘pick pun’?

Teddy: Um.. It’s a kind of pun?

Charlie: What’s a ‘pun’?

Teddy: It’s a type of berry.

************

These conversations happen all the time now. So often I don’t even hear them. They are part of the white noise of parenthood, the ever present hum that fills the background of our lives and colors the corners of the spaces we share. They are amazing and we hardly ever notice them. But we were in the car and I happened to note the entire exchange. Once it hit me I couldn’t stop laughing. Like, fully exhaled, tears coming, hysterical laughter. This was brilliantly funny.

First is the simple mock of ‘I like pick pun.’ This is a four year old’s greatest tool when confronting an irresistible force such as an older brother with whom he is endlessly enamored with and to whom he feels the yoke of tyranny. The force is strong in Teddy and he will be free the yoke sooner than I might even imagine, but for now the older brother is living up to his first born obligations as an authoritarian leader. He can’t and won’t be dissuaded. Though we do check his power whenever we see him abusing it. We’re even preemptive if we think any situation, from which order to eat his dinner to how long he is entitled to play with his own toys before ‘sharing’ them (like a feudal tax) to his (tor)mentor, the older brother.

Charlie, for his part, ever the straight man in this entire exchange, took his younger brother at face value. He was genuinely curious as to what a ‘pick pun’ was. The air of my second child changed. What was a playful, mocking tone immediately became something far more worthy of genuine consideration. His idol and hero noticed him. He asked him a question. He was interested in what was being said to him! I could practically hear his inner monologue as he pondered what to say now that he’d found himself here. ‘OMG, this is really happening. He want’s to know something that I can tell him… Don’t blow it… What is a pick pun, what is a pick pun.. ‘It’s a kind of pun.?.’ ‘

A good deal of the humor was in this shift from total silliness to serious.

‘What’s a pun’ said Charlie.

It worked! Teddy tested the waters with nonsensical logic and he bought it. He was on the line. This was more than a bite.. Now, how to reel him in..

‘It’s a type of berry.’

Talk about nailing the dismount…Brilliant! My boy is a creative genius!

Some might say that this simple exchange is not worthy of this level of line by line analysis. To them I say leave the assessment of my child’s genius to me. For now I will proceed knowing that regardless of whether or not these boys decide to develop this act, regardless of whether they choose the fame and riches of comedy genius, it doesn’t matter. Perhaps they will find more fulfillment in some other line of endeavor. But I’ll know, I’ll always know that they will always have this talent to fall back on. Not only as a career, but as a tool to navigate everything from meeting people to handling rejection. These boys are legit and the ‘yes and’ crowd should keep an eye on this up and coming improvisational duo.

What’s a pick pun.

It’s a kind of pun.

Gold, Jerry!

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