Saturday, October 31, 2015

Not A Hollow Ween

This is the first year in many that I did not bother to get pumpkins this year. It wasn't that I am lacking in spirit, necessarily; the Halloween decorations have been up for all of October, and if I had still been working yesterday, I probably would have done something for the office. There were a few factors in the absence of jack-o-lanterns: 1) I usually grow my own pumpkins. But this year, only one seed turned into a plant, and although it eventually turned into a thirty-foot vine, it never developed any pumpkins; 2) there aren't a lot of pumpkins to be had around town anyway. I remember reading several weeks ago that the pumpkin crop wasn't going to be good this year because of weather problems earlier in the year, and that seems to have born out; and 3) I've been rethinking, obviously, the entire framework of expenses while I am seeking other employment, and I decided that paying twenty bucks for a couple of pumpkins that would last maybe a week, and to toast a bowl of seeds that would last two days, really wasn't worthwhile.
I did attend my fellowship's Halloween-themed event for about an hour yesterday. I admit that this year, I did not really understand what everyone was trying to accomplish; I guess there was some sort of parking lot tour where the kids could trick-or-treat out of people's cars. I don't know; I really didn't get the concept, and since my kid was at her own Halloween party, I didn't have to. The speaker that I went to hear is a good friend of mine, and this was the first time I ever remember him being asked to share; he carried a very strong message, one that resonated with me at this point more than it would have even a few months ago. More than ever, it is imperative for me to trust the process, and I can show that trust by doing what I need to do for the right reasons. And then, when I left the event to go to the regularly scheduled meeting, that message was emphasized even more clearly. It takes courage to recover, and the essence of recovery is not cruising through life when all is going your way. It is staying on course and living by principles when things are not going our way, and when uncertainty and doubt are pressing upon us.
The other thing that has been going on this week, that contributed to my torpor, was being physically sick. As I arise this morning, it has become clear that this was merely a cold, but for two-three days, it was kicking my butt. There was a part of me that wanted to run to the walk-in, simply because I had a couple of days left on my old insurance policy--but I realized that it was not going to be worth paying the $50 co-pay at some point to find out I had a cold. I did suffer through two miserable days of croaking instead of speaking and a nose that ran like a spigot stuck in the "on" position (as an aside--where and how does the human body produce and store snot? I went through nearly an entire box of tissues, to the point where my nose is chapped and nearly raw this morning--and blowing my nose did not even afford five seconds of relief. Where does this stuff come from?  Why are we not filled with it when we're not sick? These are the kinds of things that the Discovery Channel needs to produce documentaries on). This morning, I'm not totally back to "normal," but I have been up for an hour and have blown my nose once, and I am breathing more or less normally. The worst is over. But the physical issue kept me from doing as much as I probably should have since about Wednesday. I wasn't all that diligent about sending out applications this week, and really stopped doing stuff around the house and outside (although the rain the other day was a factor in the latter).
But I did prioritize, and the major issues facing me this week--getting my kids alternate health coverage and taking care of a problem with my car--were rectified. My health insurance status is still up in the air; I'm not sure whether I am going to be on Medicaid or one of the Obamacare plans. But I will be on something, which is a damn sight better than the last time I was unemployed years ago. I also will step up the job search in the week or two to come; I've sent out about a dozen applications so far, but that's really been the low-hanging, it-would-be-great-to-get-but-probably-not-going-to-happen type of listings. I keep reminding myself that I've only been out of work for eleven days, and that it was always unlikely that I was just going to jump into another job, but there's still the feeling of hearing little else but crickets after sending your information out into the world. But that can't be enough to keep from continuing to look and send it out there.
And the Queen's imminent return--ten days from now--is also moving into the forefront of my consciousness. Of course, I am ecstatic that she will be around, and I am looking very much forward to living our lives as a joint endeavor--but it is going to be a major change and adjustment, for both of us. She admitted to me last night that she is exceptionally nervous about it all, from being in the community full-time to what conditions she's going to have to meet, with the added uncertainty of trying to become a bigger part of her daughter's life again. I know that I am going to have to be as supportive as I have been all along--just in a different fashion. I'm not worried about what I thought I would be--I really do not think that she is much of a risk for relapse or violation. What I do worry about is that she is going to feel overwhelmed in the first days and weeks, trying to get back to "normal" more quickly than is healthy or even possible. I am viewing the fact that I am much more available, time-wise, than I was at any point in the last thirteen years as one of the positives of the loss of the job--I have come to believe that there is a reason for everything that happens, and it sure seems as though God's will here might be that she is going to need my support--not financial, but emotional and investment of time--like never before in those first couple of weeks, and that the decks have been cleared for me to be able to provide it. There will be a lot of joy accompanying this commitment of time, too, obviously; this relationship has evolved into the most significant one I've been in for decades, perhaps ever. I don't know whether this is going to turn out to be The One, but I do know that I feel a lot differently than I ever have before. The insecurities and the doubts really are not there; the monkey cage remains quiet.
So while there may not be any carved pumpkins on the front stoop, or candy given out to kids tonight--our neighborhood is filled with geriatrics, and we don't get a lot of foot traffic, anyway--this Halloween is not turning out to be, despite some outward excuses to go in that direction, a frightening time. The ghosts and goblins and monsters remain, despite some turbulence, ficticious, merely surface manifestations of dark phantasms. Despite a few jarring hits, my life remains manageable, and I am continuing to move forward, secure in the knowledge that I will be, in the long run, all right at worst, And that there is the potential for positive changes even when what has been familiar and comfortable for many years has changed.

Friday, October 30, 2015

More Stink On The Food Services Deal

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how our esteemed county government had decided to close the Central Foods unit and "privatize" it, by giving the contract to a company that has earned a reputation for serving inmates and kids in the schools it provides food services for actual garbage and other substandard fare, repeatedly. Yesterday, details about the agreement became public. To no one's surprise, it looks like a bad deal all around, and the county government essentially did what it wanted to do, in accordance with its philosophical bias, without considering any alternatives or subjecting itself to any scrutiny.
The paper-thin justification for the move seems to be a study done last year about ways to save money at the county-owned nursing home. The plan calls for the county to cut costs for preparing meals for the elderly in the home and that use Meals on Wheels by eliminating the Central Foods Department (which is a county department filled with citizens that get a realistic salary and benefits, and are functional members of society), which currently makes the meals, and instead using jail inmates to prepare the food (slave labor, essentially)--and hire three new corrections officers to "oversee" the inmates making the food.
Before I go any further--whatever the possible "cost savings" may be, I do not want jail inmates making meals for any of my relatives or loved ones. I am very openminded about people that are incarcerated--but I also know that for everyone there that caught a bad break or made stupid decisions, there's another one there that is simply a failed human being. Human nature, especially in this segment of the population, being what it is, I am sure that 1) occasionally, out of boredom or spite, food will be tampered with, 2) the motivation for a jail inmate to do the job well is lacking, and 3) it is very doubtful that anyone assigned to such a work detail will have any expertise in preparing and handling food. Money should not be the only consideration in play here; why in the world do we want to use slave labor--inmates at the county level don't even get the 14 cents an hour that state and federal inmates get for their "work details, so it is truly slave labor--to prepare our food? What's that old saying about "shitting where you eat?"
The optics on this are even worse. We are talking about serving the elderly in nursing homes here. It doesn't take much imagination to believe that the reasoning here is "half these people are senile or so broken down physically that they're not going to complain about the quality of food, so why put any effort into feeding them? Let's just do the bare minimum." If your relatives, your friends, your mom, was in Willow Point--is this what you want them eating? The proposal allegedly says that inmates will not be allowed to handle food destined for seniors or the nursing home--except that Aramark, the company from hell that is to be awarded the contract, has a long. long history of not living up to the contract terms it makes. And the Aramark employees that it claims will handle the food for the nursing home will be making considerably less than the current employees are. Again, human nature being what it is, people getting paid more do a better job than those that get lousy pay from a company that does little or nothing for them. Even in a best-case scenario here, it's not quite slave labor, but it's going to be a lower-quality service.
And then there is the way that the county did this. The move was considered behind closed doors, cooked up by people in the county executive building without even considering alternatives. Some flak was quoted in the paper saying that "all parties" had "extensive meetings and discussions" about the proposal--except that several of the "parties" are the ones screaming the loudest that they were not part of the process of decision-making. Frankly, I don't believe the county people--I had some personal experience dealing with them in my previous job, and their word is usually not their bond, to be kind. And when you hear the words "saving the taxpayers money," you know you're hearing bullshit--all that is happening is that a service best done by the public sector (or it wouldn't be done by the public sector to begin with) is being handed to a private concern. When the private concern is a company as rapacious and callous as Aramark is--well, you wonder who really is benefiting.
And the county is going to have to build a new kitchen at Willow Point, if the proposal goes through. I'm sure that the contractor that gets that job will be one that has contributed often and heavily to the county executive's campaigns. The proposal projects a savings a half a million dollars by this move--and again, this is a best-case scenario; the proposal the executive sent to the legislature had a figure a million dollars lower than even this reduced-from-present figure. And again, we would do well to be very, very skeptical about these figures. These people have been in office now for four years, and have not once been proven correct in any of their financial "projections-" indeed, one reason that "savings" have become necessary to seek out in the budget is because no one in the current administration has been able to accurate forecast sales tax revenues since this regime took office. There is a lot more reason for believing that that projections are fantasy than to believe that any real savings will be realized.
And the savings projections going out five years allegedly show that hiring three new sheriff's deputies would cost about $348,000 in that time frame. That's complete bullshit. That projects the cost of a deputy of just under $70K a year. The job that I used to have didn't pay overtime, didn't have as good health insurance as county workers do, and paid less than a deputy gets--and my footprint in my budget was $65K a year. For one worker, not three. I suppose that the argument can be made that having three deputies is a savings over 80 food service workers. But if all that is going to be saved is $70K a year over a difference between 80 and 3 workers--well, something(s) don't make sense here. It fails the logic test. And if the projected savings were higher, I'm sure that the county would trumpeting them like an elephant.
And the best part about all this loveliness is that there isn't even a signed contract between Aramark and the county for the legislature to look over before they are being asked to approve it. In other words, "take our word for it, because privatization is always better." This has been Republican/conservative orthodoxy for decades--and it has led to a precipitous long-term decline in general prosperity levels and income inequality rates in the 21st-century USA that would have embarrassed medieval feudal lords. Privatization is rarely better, and in a case like this one, the proposed savings come with a huge cost.
Namely, 80 people lose their relatively well-paying jobs, and at best, three-quarters of them will be hired back at half the salary and with no benefits. At best. And the work that 80 people did will be passed off in part to slave labor. This is not progress. This is not savings. This is not anything other than an excuse for some campaign donors to be hit off with opportunities to make money on a responsibility that rightfully and ethically belongs to a governmental enterprise. If there is one axiom that has proven since time immemorial, it is that private enterprise will always take advantage of those that cannot fend for themselves--and you can't get much more vulnerable than nursing home residents and incarcerated individuals. The "taxpayers" might see a few cents less in their assessments--might, because the math is dubious--but that doesn't justify what is being planned in any event.
This is one of the most awful proposals I've seen in my lifetime. I'm sure it will be rubberstamped by the compliant legislature, which seats a majority of people that swallowed and internalized conservative mantras to the point where reality hasn't intruded on their thought processes in years. It's very frustrating to watch this happen, knowing that it's going to be a disaster. But hey, it's what the people want, right?
Until it's their mom in the nursing home. Until it's their daughter or son, in jail for a few months because of a drug charge, that has to work in the kitchen for hours a day for no compensation. Until it's their friend that is unemployed after ten years at a decent job. But even then, they may carp and complain--but still will fill out a ballot for those steering and manning the crew of the Ship of Fools. And we wonder why Broome County is dying? When we throw up obstacles to every outfit that actually would make a positive difference in the community, like the university, like the chemical dependency treatment facilities, but welcome in predatory corporations like Aramark--well, you got what you voted for.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Book Review: THE BLOODING

One way to get me to read a work of historical fiction is to make the protagonist someone that was on the eventual losing side of a historical story. James McGee's The Blooding features such a character prominently--two of them, in fact. The story, on paper, is pretty straightforward--two British spies are desperately trying to get to Canada in the first year of the War of 1812 to warn British garrisons there that an American army is on the move looking to take Montreal and Quebec. But the backstory is explored in some detail--one of the spies was born American, and turned against the then-colonists during the Revolution because of atrocities perpetrated on his family. One of the main characters is a Mohawk Indian, trying desperately to keep back the inexorable tide of history by helping the British as much as possible. The actual story is presented extremely well--the spies are nearly done for several times, managing to escape only to run into danger again, until the end of the book with a quasi-successful ending--the British are warned, Canada stays British, history is altered.
Except that it really wasn't. The Mohawk and the other Iroquois tribes desperately needed the British to defeat the Americans in the War of 1812, and the eventual agreement between the USA and Great Britain to act as if hostilities never happened left the American Indian tribes as the big losers. This is a point that never seems to make into historical discussions of this war. One often reads that the war was inconclusive; that no one remembers it; that it wasn't important. If one goes by the stated aims of the Americans at the time--ending the harassment of American marine commerce by the British navy, taking of all or some of Canadian territory--then the Americans did not win the war. But there were three sides in this war, not two, and the third--the loose alliance of virtually every American Indian tribe north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi Rivers against the Americans--lost, and badly. If the Indians were to maintain meaningful independence, they needed the British to remain an active presence in North America south of the Great Lakes--and at war's end, in 1815, the British were content, after nearly sixty years of near-constant conflict both in North America and Europe, to hold onto Canada if the Americans would leave it in peace, which they did. The long-term result is that it takes minutes to drive through the various territories of the Iroquois Confederacy today, not hours or days.
There are a few flaws that seem endemic to the genre. People take bullet wounds that don't seem to impair their ability to physically perform tasks at a very high level. There is a bit of "noble savage" presentation that seems a little over the top, and many of the battle scenes read like a screenplay. But I have to say that the interest in the story never flags, and even more so when the flashbacks to the Revolutionary War conclude and the narrative sticks to 1812. I found out after finishing the book that this is actually the fifth in a series (of course; what fiction published today is not part of a series?), and I may expend some effort locating some of the earlier books.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Seventeen Years Clean

Seventeen years ago this morning, I didn't know that I had used drugs for the last time. Seventeen years ago this morning, I was painfully aware that my life had completely imploded, and my inability to stop smoking crack was the reason why. Seventeen years ago this morning, I weighed about 140 pounds, was living in a hotel room that I was only staying in because I didn't have the money to check out of it, and owned only my car, the (dirty) clothes in its trunk, and the clothes on my back. The car was parked by the riverbank at the end of Front Street in Binghamton because it wouldn't start. None of that mattered as much as the fact that I was under arrest, because of my part in a dispute about ways and means to get more in the hotel early that morning.
Seventeen years is a long time ago. While many details of active addiction have receded into distant memory, hard to dredge up, that evening and early morning remains as fresh as yesterday in my mind, and I suspect it would even if I develop full-blown Alzheimer's in the years to come. I had not slept for four or five days at that point--this is not unusual for people that are in full-blown addiction to crack--and my overwhelming memory of that last run is the utter despair and hopelessness of my existence. I really thought that the end was going to come soon; I didn't know how, I didn't know exactly when, but I really believed that I was not going to see my daughters again, that I was not going to be alive when Sabrina was born (her birth was still ten weeks off), and that I was never going to get off the streets. I was merely existing, a skeletal robot engaging in behaviors he never thought he would trying to get enough money to get more drugs.And while I desperately wanted to feel free of the need and compulsion to get more drugs, I really did not think it was possible. I thought about little else, even when I had my drug and was using it.
How different my life is today. I've been rather open in this space about the challenges that I have faced and am facing currently--but compared to October 1998, this is nothing. My three daughters are all good kids, well-provided for, and Sabrina in particular has been a true miracle. I might be jobless at the moment, but I am nine days removed from a nearly-thirteen year, career-making post that allowed me the chance to make a positive difference not only in the community, but in the lives of scores of young people. I was completely lost spiritually for many years before (and a couple years after) getting clean; my concept of and relationship with a God of my (not anyone else's) understanding is the defining characteristic of my life today. When I look in the mirror, I no longer see a physical wreck, to be sure--but I also do not see that vacant-eyed, empty shell of a man that I was seventeen years ago today, who was mechanically seeking his own destruction as a coping strategy to escape the mess that he had made of his life.
A grateful addict will never use again. That's a cliche, but it's also my experience. I could write for days about what's different between now and then--but those of you that read this space regularly already know those differences. And what I have been grateful for since sitting in the back of the squad car that night, hands cuffed behind my back, is the release from the hopelessness, a process that began with that night. I sure as hell did not want to be arrested, and was not happy when I was not bailed out by my father, and did not anticipate that it would be six months before I was at liberty in my home town again--but even sitting in that car, I knew, on a deep level, that the nightmare had the potential to end. There was a way out; it was now possible that I was not going to die out there. Somewhere buried under a glacial mass of accumulated consequences and pain, a small rumble of what eventually became a calving off of the more lurid and grotesque manifestations of my disease of addiction was beginning. I've nurtured that ever since, sometimes actively, sometimes sullenly--but I have never once backtracked on several things I already knew, on some level, that evening.
It would be a few weeks before I heard it said for the first of thousands of times, but on some level, I knew as it was happening that God does do for us what we can't do for ourselves. I had proven to myself already that I could not stop getting high, and sitting in that police car, I knew that now I did not have to stop--I had just stopped, by dint of intervention by authority. And in the days and weeks to come, even though I was miserable and angry most of the time, I also knew on a very deep level that someone had managed to get a very evil genie back in the bottle--and it would be the stupidest decision in a lifetime of stupid decisions to willingly open that bottle back up. It remains unopened seventeen years later.
Because nothing I have gone through in those seventeen years has compared to how awful those last few weeks and months of active addiction were. I have buried my father and some of my friends. I have lost jobs, not only now but before. I have struggled with gaining access to my children. I struggle with debts incurred two decades ago still. I changed careers with three years clean. I have had to deal with physical aging. I have fought like the armies of Rome against my own self-destructive personality, not always winning. I have come to painful realizations that my value system was seriously flawed, and had to find the courage to change those values.
But I have also, in those seventeen years, found the key to happiness and serenity. I now walk the earth, secure that I have a purpose, that I am not alone, that there is a God that does care for me and attempts to show His love by making His will clear to me. I have found many things that give me a sense of fulfillment. My children not only love me, but admire me for the example I have set. I have made amends for those I came into recovery owing them to, and as time passes, those owed to those I have hurt while clean decrease in number and intensity. I have learned what it is like to love, to care for others, and how to overcome hurt and adversity.
And I have learned how to do all this without using drugs. Without suppressing feelings, Without re-embarking on a path of self-destruction. I'm not going to lose my gratitude for all that because I lost a job. I'm not going to lose my gratitude for all that because I don't have all the toys I could want, or have to drive a twelve-year old car, or because I had to give up cable television in order to keep current on bills. Material things are material; they can be replaced and they can be done without. I had nothing when I got here except the clothes on my back and a car that didn't run. And when my life comes to an end, as everyone's does, none of that stuff is going to make the journey to wherever we go with me anyway. I've actually come to believe that the definition of hell for some of us is that they will not be able to have with them, on the other side, what they valued most while here.
That's not going to be the case with me. I don't know what is on the other side, but my belief is that the spirit, or the soul, or the mind, or the consciousness, or whatever term we use to define the part of us that is not mere physical body, does survive physical death. That part of me is what is most important to me, and I think shedding this existence opens the door to an even greater contact with a God of my understanding than I can achieve here. And that will definitely make the crossing with me when the time comes.
And it is making the time I spend here more meaningful and more pleasant. I never would have guessed that this level of inner peace was possible, not only seventeen years ago this morning, but at any point in the thirty-five years previous to that as well. I was told that this sort of existence was possible, if I followed the program of the fellowship I identified with to the best of my ability. I doubted it, frankly, and I focused for the first few years I was clean mainly on the absence of drugs in my life. But I have walked on this journey long and far enough to tell you without reservation that I cannot imagine a circumstance where I would get high again. There's too much good in my life, too much to lose, to take the chance. And I long ago accepted that there was no way I was going to use my drug of choice successfully or in moderation or recreationally. Crack vs. me was like Foreman vs. Frazier--I got my ass kicked, thoroughly and in frighteningly short order. There's no rush worth experiencing to open the door to that sort of destruction again.
Some of the things I am going through now are not things I would ideally choose for myself. But they are peanuts compared to what I've already overcome. And ground covered already is ground I never have to go over again, if I keep moving forward and do what I've been doing for seventeen years. And it can happen, and has, for anyone that has embarked on the same journey with the same determination to keep moving ahead.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Real Disease

One of the axioms that is heard often in recovery settings is that drug addiction is merely a symptom of the actual disease of addiction. It was a concept that I had a lot of difficulty coming to terms with the first year or three I was clean, but it's one I have come to believe in with the fervor of a missionary now. The temptation is to believe that if only we can put and keep the drugs down, that everything in our lives will become wonderful most of the time--because by the time we enter into recovery, either willingly or at the behest of some authority, our uncontrolled and uncontrollable drug use dominates our lives. It's easy to forget why one started getting high in the first place.
With the perspective of years in the process, I know better. I've never relapsed since my first 12-Step meeting--and yet I can tell you without reservation that I struggle with some of the same feelings and issues that were part and parcel of the reasons why I started to get high fairly regularly. I often tell my non-addict acquaintances that drug addiction is the ultimate obsessive-compulsive disorder--and even though the drugs have not been a part of my life for nearly seventeen years, I am still very prone to obsession, and probably will be for the rest of my life; I just am not obsessing over ways and means to get more any longer.
And I am coming face to face with the exact nature of my disease often these days. When a change of the magnitude of the loss of a job occurs in a life, it kicks up feelings. When one has held that job for a quarter of a lifetime, it's a big loss emotionally, almost like a long-time and trusted friend dying. And it certainly leads to my mind going places I'd rather it didn't. I have put in a bunch of applications online to various prospective employers, I spent yesterday looking for health insurance that is somewhat affordable. I've been taking care of some things around the house and noticing just how much could stand to be done around here. I look at the numbers in the checkbook and then at the pile of bills, and wonder how this stuff is all going to reconcile. I go back to the job-seeker websites, and spend minutes, if not hours, wondering why I haven't gotten instant responses from many of these places I've applied to--and then move on to such productive ideas as "Is my resume crap? Did it get where it was supposed to? Is the outfit just going through the motions because they already know who's getting the job?" And then, as much as I know better than to do it, I start projecting into the future, and wondering how, in a few weeks or a few months, I am going to be keeping up with all this if I don't get a steady source of income soon. And on and on and on, and the next thing I know, I am wide awake at 4 AM feeling anxious, and my mind starts the same feedback loops over and over again.
I have been, as of this morning, out of work for exactly one week.
The long-term benefit of being in recovery has been the gift of perspective, and the ability to fight off the obsessive thinking. One indispensable tool has been the acceptance of the fact that, as much as I would like to, I cannot control what I think or feel. I can control what I do. And what I can do is exactly what I have been doing--diligently seeking openings and applying for them, taking steps to alleviate issues as they come up, taking a deep breath and dealing with some things that won't be easy or pleasant but are necessary. I know from past experience that I will get through this if I do what I am supposed to do. But that knowledge does not give me the ability to shut off the mind's obsessive loops--it merely gives me a way to deal with it, as well. The obsessions do get relieved, not by outthinking them, but by committing to courses of actions that are not driven by obsessions, but rather by principles and by logic. I know that someone is not going to knock on my door and ask me to come work for them. I know that Child Support is not going to file a violation and try to lock me up because there's a possibility--and it's only a possibility; I actually think there's not going to be an interruption--that a week will be missed. My landlord, even though we're not as close as we once were, is not going to kick my butt to the curb if the rent is a week or two later than usual.
And I have no further to look at how to defeat the obsession that occasionally spin through my mind than other parts of my life. The relationship I am in has gone to a level I'm not sure I've ever been able to break through to with anybody else before--because I made a commitment months ago that any relationship can only work by practicing trust--by believing that what I see and hear is honest and real. Even at this point, there are people out there that try to sow doubt, and I am sure that this is going to become more of an issue in a few weeks when the Queen is reintegrating into local life. But I have accepted that I can't control what other people do and say, and more importantly, I know that I have gotten to know her inside out, much better and much more deeply than any of these other people. I am not going to drive myself crazy with insecurities and what-ifs based on how one of our NA acronyms defines fear--False Evidence Appearing Real. The true evidence in this case is that she calls me at least once and often more a day; that she has told me repeatedly that she intends to share her life with me when she comes home; that she loves me; that I mean the world to her. I have a hell of a lot more reasons to believe what I see and hear than I do for believing endemic shit-stirrers that haven't spoken to her in almost a year.
And those lessons are broadly applicable to the other areas of my life, too. I do not know how various HR departments work. I remember when I was unemployed twice in 2002, that it took several weeks each time before I found another job; I really don't know why, in a much different world, I would expect to hook on right away somewhere else. The logical side of me says that it would be better for all of us if I didn't find another job right away, knowing that I have to devote at least two days in the second week of November to getting the Queen home. So why do I feel uneasy and fearful some of the time?
Because this is the true disease of addiction. This is what we all deal with on a regular basis. I actually think most, if not all, human beings do this, but drug addicts historically have turned to drugs to try to quell the feelings. That's not a solution, and for me, it's not an option I'm going to consider, because I know better than to think it's going to be helpful. I know what the solutions are, and my professed faith in God and a Higher Power would be meaningless and empty if it didn't translate into action. But as I said, one cannot stop feeling and thinking what I do. I can just choose which feelings to act on.
And the ones I am going to act on, just for today, are the ones that are infused with principle and logic. I have a to-do list, and none of the things on it say "go cop" or "lay on the couch and mope" or "look to act out in some way." And at the end of the day, not all the pressing issues in my life are going to be resolved. There might even be some new ones to deal with.
But if there are, they won't be self-inflicted ones caused by reverting to behaviors that I know do not provide anything positive or more than fleeting relief. The real nature of my personal disease of addiction tells me that those behaviors and attitudes can work now, that all the evidence of the past doesn't mean anything, that the fears are real and I need to try to take more control of what's going on in the world than I am entitled to take or able to take. I do know better. But as much as I'd like it to be the default or autopilot reaction now, it's not.
It takes an effort. In Twelve-Step terms, it's a conscious contact with God as we understand Him. My understanding isn't religious, but it is real--and it involves asking for knowledge of His will and the power to carry it out. After all this time, I've got a real good idea of what God's will isn't, and a much clearer one than I had years ago about what it is. It's the power to carry it out that has always been the bigger struggle, and where I am at often these days. I don't always succeed to the best of my ability, and I am aware of that.
But I am a lot higher up the mountain, and do a much better job of working toward aligning my will with His, than I ever have before. And this, too, shall pass.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Odds and Ends, Late October 2015

1) The reality of unemployment is starting to sink in. I've sent out a bunch of applications already, and haven't received anything other than a couple of acknowledgments that the application was received. I am beginning to intensely dislike this mania for doing everything online. It's easier to reject someone that you haven't laid on eyes on, and there's a part of me that believes that almost every hiring person out there doesn't even look at half the applications that come in, that they immediately go into the junk or deleted file. And there's no real way to find out, or even follow up. The one interview I've had thus far was a month ago, and since I have heard nothing, I am sure the position went to someone else. I went on the Labor Department website yesterday and printed off a number of new jobs that were listed in the last week, but none of them were as good a fit as the ones I applied for last week. I'm not feeling desperate...yet. But I'd like to get back at least a glimmer of interest from some of these places.
And I have to do two things that unemployed people have to do this morning. The first is relatively straightforward. I got a notice from the state Friday, giving me my benefit rate, and instructions on how to claim.Since I worked Monday last week, this week is the unpaid week, and I will start to draw money the following week. Which will be all right, except that this week is the final paycheck from my employer, and it's only about half of a normal check. It's going to be tough to get by this week... and the second is that the COBRA paperwork came in the mail. There's no way that I am paying what it's going to cost to keep coverage, not this month, not in three months. So I am going to spend however long I need to on the Obamacare website today, trying to find something I can even half-afford on a temporary basis. I can live with a high-deductible plan that covers prescriptions, at least temporarily, so that's what I will be looking for first. I haven't heard a lot of bitching recently about how slow the website is, so I am hoping that the glitches that plagued it when it was rolled out a few years ago have been rectified.
2) I am not making excuses for the Buffalo Bills losing yesterday, despite what I am going to write. There is no way that any allegedly professional football team should find itself down by 24 points to the Jacksonville Jaguars in any case. Yes, they came back to take the lead, but it never should have gotten to that point. That Jacksonville came back to re-take the lead was the result of a few things--but none more important than an absolutely egregious, awful officiating call, a completely phantom pass interference call on 3rd-and-15 that gave Jacksonville a first down and got them fifteen yards down the field. Much has been made of the Bills' undisciplined play--they are by far the most penalized team in the league--and rightly so. But there are times when it appears that the Bills get flags on plays no one else would; this is the third week in a row where flags were dropped on plays that were not penalties at a key point in the game.
Part of this is due to human nature; every officiating crew is briefed on the teams they will be working with, and the Bills' propensity for fouls no doubt predispose the officials to see fouls in every situation where there is contact or doubt. But the Bills are reaping the dubious consequences of two circumstances. One is that they made a choice to hire a loudmouth braggart as head coach, a man who has made a habit of antagonizing opponents and officials for the length of his career. Rex Ryan's career trajectory resembles his father Buddy's eerily well. Buddy Ryan had some success with the Eagles in his first years, but wore out his welcome within a few years. His second stint, in Arizona, was a complete disaster, as he became a parody of himself with moves like playing linebackers at safety and trying to run the defensive scheme of the 1985 Bears with players that weren't anywhere near as talented as those he had on the Bears. Buddy's teams were also hopeless on offense, and committed ten to fifteen penalties per game regularly.
That sounds a lot like today's Bills. I thought before the season that there was too much talent here to not finish around .500--but I really think 4-12 is a possibility now, because this team looks lost. They commit penalties. They turn the ball over constantly. They're banged up. They took the best defense in the league and tried to make it something it's not to fit Ryan's "scheme," and their biggest strength is now a weakness. It's a train wreck happening before our eyes. And it's frustrating as hell.
The second circumstance is what happens when you've been lousy for fifteen years. A contributing factor to the Bills' penalty woes is that they invariably get the second-(and third)tier officials assigned to their game. Ed Hochuli and the other "TV" refs that you see doing Patriot and Seahawk games all the time are never assigned to Bills games, because the Bills are never good. If I see Jerome Bogar one more time, I think I'm going to puke--but the Bills get a referee of Bogar's ineptitude because the league isn't going to inflict Bogar's crew on teams playing a meaningful game. I've never Bogar do a Patriots game; I've seen his crew do a dozen Bills games since 2013. It's not a coincidence.
3) I am slack-jawed with disbelief at the continuing circus that is the Republican contest for the presidential nomination. Seriously, not a day goes by when somebody doesn't do or say something that absolutely makes one stare in disbelief. This week alone, we had Ben Carson calling for the repression of "liberal" speech, but not conservative, on college campuses, Jeb Bush doggedly insisting that his brother wasn't really President when 9/11 took place, and Marco Rubio essentially admitting that he's quit his job as United States Senator because the body won't do what he wants it to do--except he still draws his salary and holds the seat.
I cannot believe that any rational human being can look at any of the thirteen or fourteen candidates running in that party and truly believe that they would be an effective chief executive of the country. The catch there is "rational," and I am increasingly believing that we have an electorate filled with people not just willfully ignorant and latent or blatantly racist, but genuinely stupid, incapable of thinking in terms in any way consistent with logic, people who have a lifetime's experience in not thinking about anything for more than a few seconds. It's not even the lack of brainpower that irritates me; it's the complete unwillingness to think through anything for more than a moment. It's the tendency to believe just about anything that they are told by the media or their preferred candidates without a second thought. It's the dogged refusal to even crack open the doors of intellectual process even when their beliefs are not only challenged, but proved to be erroneous and not backed by the evidence.
And I have lost patience with some. I've cut ties with some people that I just can't take anymore, and there are others that I simply cannot deal with on anything more than a "hi, how are you?" basis anymore. And I am starting to wonder if this enforced sabbatical is designed to get me involved with the political process. I don't have an employer to mind now, and as much as the Carlin Solution appeals at times, in the end I am not willing to surrender two and a half centuries of political history and rights without a fight. If I merely rage in the pages of a tiny blog and limit my involvement to that, than perhaps I'm part of the problem, too. There are always too many people lining the road to Golgotha, that don't like what they see but don't take action, either...
4) It's late October, which means that one's doorbell is sure to ring every few days and residents will be face-to-face with either some earnest volunteer for a local candidate for office or the candidate themselves. I really try not to give these people a hard time; they're just doing what needs to be done, and I recognize that. But... if you ask me a question, and I answer it, don't fucking argue with me. Some nitwit college kid was canvassing the neighborhood for Barbara Fiala the other day. I'm a registered Democrat, so I was on her list, and she asked me if I was going to vote for Fiala for State Senate. I replied I wasn't sure, that considering Fiala's lukewarm at best support for my program when she was county executive, her inflicting a complete non-entity on us as Youth Bureau director for two years, her throwing several of her subordinates under the bus when the county legislature starting looking for scalps in 2010 in the name of "fiscal responsibility," her unseemly abandonment of the county to take the state DMV job, and her role in protecting her son from the legal consequences he deserved for a hit-and-run he did while under the influence, And the kid, who couldn't have been out of middle school when Fiala was county executive, started arguing with me... I ended up saying that if she's looking to get the vote out, her methods could use some reevaluation. Jesus Christ, Politics 101 is that you never drive away those that are supposed to be on your side. If this is the best Fiala can come up with, in her son's old Council district, then Election Day is going to be a bloodbath. I would be surprised if she gets 40% of the vote.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Good Side of Social Media

Social media has become a favorite whipping boy (or girl) for a lot of people. People get flamed, it is said. People engage in too much attention-seeking behavior, it is said. People talk about fluff and post inane stuff incessantly, it is said. People push their political views upon audiences that either don't care or don't agree with them, it is said. People give out way too much information, it is said. Bogus information gets put out there and shared, it is said. And all of this may be true, to a large degree or even entirely.
But social media is also one of the unquestioned boons to human beings that has ever been invented. To take the more practical effects first, the sharing of information when something happens in the world is instantaneous. If someone with a smart phone is (almost) anywhere in the world where something is happening, the rest of the world knows about it within minutes, if not seconds. This is a hugely positive development; even if initial reports are incomplete or have some erroneous information, having the event known as it happens is much more beneficial than those relatively minor issues. And the check on behavior of people whose motivations are not pleasant is simply awe-inspiring. A recent small example was the photographer in Hungary who was filmed tripping a refugee and got her miserable ass fired as a result of the footage going viral. Recent middling examples are the instant publicizing of every unbelievably bigoted and stupid utterance that comes from Mike Huckabee's mouth. And recent large examples are the increasing and voluminous disclosures of just how much police misconduct there is in the this country, and how, although it continues seemingly unabated, exposure at least offers a glimmer of hope that positive changes may occur.
Social media also allows people to make more informed judgments about what kind of character the people that touch their lives, either lightly or that are fully involved, possess. There is never been anything like a Facebook page that will, over a length of time, provide a window into the fullness and breadth of the personality and beliefs of an individual. We're seven years or more into the social community era, and if you end up "betrayed" or surprised by someone that you are friends with on Facebook--you simply weren't paying attention. It's all there; it's like a personal resume that gets added to daily.
And the community aspect of social media is, simply, awesome, at least to those people like me that have always enjoyed being a part of a larger community. I loved being a part of athletic teams when I was younger as much for the shared sense of purpose and camaraderie as I did for actually enjoying playing the sport. I was part of a rather large and tight group of people when I was at college, and I deeply mourned its loss after graduation--there was, and is, nothing like waking up in the morning and hanging out with a bunch of friends for hours at a time every day. I've been part of my 12-Step fellowship for nearly seventeen years, and one reason I've been a part of it for so long is precisely because we are like a small society, a part of each other's lives that share a sense of purpose and direction. The reason I took to Facebook so readily in the beginning was because it was like being a part of the same sort of phenomenon, and I've never really gotten tired of it. There are people that I talk to or exchange thoughts with on Facebook every single day. I missed that interaction deeply during some periods of my life, and I could no more do without it now than I could do without food and water.
And the best part about this larger community is that it is not limited to those in physical proximity. My Facebook friends tend to fall into two groups: those that I have met in recovery and those that attended the same high school I did. The recovery group does tend to be more local (although, the longer I and others have stayed clean, the wider the circle gets, as people either move to different areas or I attend events out of town that I meet new people at), but that is offset by the fact that the fellowship is constantly evolving, gaining new members and with those of us working the process changing ourselves for the better as that process takes hold. Those that attended Union-Endicott right before the apocalypse (when IBM first poisoned us and then blew town) are a much more spread out group; there are people that I attended school with all over the country now. The best part about being friends on social media with such a large and diverse group is that you find out that some people you barely knew when I was actually in school turn out to be great people. To take one example, there is a woman that graduated two years ahead of me that has been my friend on Facebook for a few years. In high school, obviously we were not close--she was older, she was seriously beautiful, and she was pretty much someone that I noticed but didn't dare talk to. And the last few years, I have discovered, through Facebook, that this is one of the most interesting people I've ever come across, someone with a huge heart, someone who is wickedly funny at times, and someone whose motor runs very high--she's very accomplished and involved in a lot of things. And she is also someone who has been deeply affected by a very chaotic family situation, someone who has felt the loss of her father and mother very keenly, and with a strong sense of decency and justice that has been markedly affected by what has been going on in the country in the last thirty-five years. I haven't seen this person since 1979--but I feel like I've gotten to know her very well, as a friend, and appreciate her own input and comments on the stuff that I put out there on Facebook.
And she's hardly the only example. One of the huge pleasures of the Facebook experience has been reconnecting with one of my best, if not the actual best, friend of my middle and high school years; he now lives in the belly of Satan, in South Carolina, but that doesn't stop us from communicating pretty much every day and being very up-to-date and involved in each other's lives (and he has grudgingly forced me to realize that not everyone that lives south of the Mason-Dixon line is an inherently evil racist homophobe with an unhealthy fetish for guns that is still fighting the Civil War. Just most of them). I have discovered that there are a few--a very few, but a few--thoughtful people on the other side of the political spectrum, people that can actually blend conservative ideas with being a decent human being. People that I barely or didn't know even in my own grade--my graduating class had 525 members, and as much as I would like to think I was socially active back then, it simply wasn't possible to know everybody then--have turned out to be insightful and bust-a-gut funny observers of the human condition, to have deep social consciences, to be conscientious parents, to be quietly supportive of others, and dozens of other good things.
And the result has been not only that my circle of friends and acquaintances has deepened and expanded. They've all had positive effects on me and the way I am, as well. I've written, more in wonder than anything else, about the change in my over the last couple of years, and how I've become happier, more mellow, more sure of myself on a deep level, and less apt to carp and find fault with others. The impetus for that evolution has come from a number of sources--but the people that I interact with regularly on Facebook is not only one of them, but an important element in that. Having people like Charmaine, John, Mike W., Tami, Rob, Charlie, Mark, Linda--they've had a significant role in what's changed, as much as more obvious influences such as my sponsor, sponsees, girlfriend, kids, and friends I spend time with every day.
And that's what social media can do, and why it's a good thing. In some ways, this has been like living on that college floor again--it's a big community that's tied into each other's life in a way that simply wasn't possible a decade ago. I am aware that there are different strokes for different folks--but this is the type of environment that I've always needed to thrive in. I'm getting that now, and it is helping through what have become turbulent and unsettled times. And the positive presence that they are, even thousands of miles away, helps me get through each and every day.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Book Review: STORM OF THE CENTURY

As Hurricane Patricia bore down on the Mexican coast this week, coincidentally I happened to be reading Storm of the Century, an account of the 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston, Texas. And it wasn't hard to see how far meteorology has come in the last century-plus. This book is reasonably readable, straightforward in its accounts of what happened in the city before, during, and in the immediate aftermath of the Category 4 storm.
There are two main things I want to write about concerning the book. One is that it illustrates human nature perfectly, and that human nature unfortunately hasn't changed much. One of the reasons that the hurricane was so damaging was that the United States Weather Service at the time was in the charge of a racist idiot, who wouldn't allow Cuban forecast information out of Cuba because "everyone knew" that hurricanes inevitably turned north after hitting the Florida Straits. Even when it became clear that the storm had proceeded westward, the Weather Service insisted that it was a totally unrelated storm and not a hurricane that was traversing the Gulf of Mexico. Even after the hurricane hit, the Weather Service would not acknowledge for years that the hurricane that hit Galveston was the same one that had hit Cuba a few days before, because "everyone knew" hurricanes didn't travel west through the Gulf. This has uncomfortable echoes in today's news, in the wake of the Benghazi hearings and a dozen other instances where what "everyone knows" is still parroted and trumpeted, even when reality shows and has shown for a long time otherwise.
The second is the author of the book. Al Roker has been nationally famous for years as a television weatherman. His jocular on-air personality has won him fans, but he's never been renowned as particularly effective at what he does. And this book is written as he talks on television--disjointed, text full of sentence fragments, heavy on human interest stories that aren't all that interesting. Let's put it this way--if you or I submitted this manuscript to a publisher, it wouldn't get a second look. This book exists because Al Roker's name is on the cover. It isn't awful; the subject matter is too interesting for that. But it sure could have been better.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Horrific Crime

It takes a lot to shock me at this point in my life. There isn't much I haven't seen, few depths that I am surprised that human beings can sink to. But even I was shaken this week by events that took place locally. An apartment building burned down a few nights ago, and two young pre-school boys burned to death and two women in the house suffered major burns and other physical damage sustained from having to jump out a third-story window to escape the flames. Awful stuff, to be sure, but the morning I read the story, I didn't think a whole lot about it after reading it; unfortunately, accidents happen, even horrible ones.
Except it wasn't an accident. Within twelve hours, there was an arrest made, for arson and murder. Apparently one of the women had been repeatedly harassed and stalked by a man for at least a year, if not longer; the guy was convicted of a stalking-type crime early this year. And according to the charges, he not only set the fire in the middle of the night, but doused the building with accelerent, presumably gasoline.
Wow.
What kind of sick bastard does this? Social media exploded in the wake of the news; the victims were people that people that I am connected with know, and several of them seem to have been familiar with the ongoing problems this woman was having with this guy. The responses have been predictable--trolls advocating creative, sadistic ways of execution; appeals going out to the community for financial help for the victims. And once again, there are calls for more emphasis on keeping harassers and stalkers locked up before their behavior becomes deadly. I confess that when I was younger, I didn't pay much heed to such calls.
But as I've gotten older, my perspective has changed. One, I have three daughters now, between 16 and 21, and as such are now susceptible to becoming the focus of obsession of one of these kinds of men. Two, I have a much deeper knowledge of obsession than I did when I was younger, and I know that it doesn't "get better" with either therapy or wrist slaps; the only motivation to change that is proven to work is making not changing more painful than changing, and for this sort of behavior, the pain should be significant consequences paid early and often for engaging in it. And three, I have a better understanding, too, of why there seem to be more of these guys around than ever before.
Simply, we are reaping the fruits of a cultural change. The widespread and ubiquitous availability of pornography, combined with the steady and somewhat common prevalence of "traditional" religious beliefs that are heavy on the subservience of women to men, have led to a substantial number of men truly believing that women in their lives are objects to be possessed. In conjunction with the tendency of most people to try to control their environments and the people in them--well, this is an extreme acting out on that belief, but the belief and attitude itself is not all that uncommon.
It's frightening to behold. The best way to combat it is to raise your daughters in a fashion where they have healthy self-esteem, where they do not feel they need a relationship to validate their sense of self, with the result that any guy that exhibits any sort of controlling tendencies is instantly and permanently unattractive. I didn't have a lot to do with the raising of my two older daughters, but that appears to be how they are, and I know that's how Sabrina is. And yet Sabrina has run up against at least two of these type of kids, and she is barely halfway through high school. Both, thankfully, were forcefully repelled and have moved on, no doubt making some other young lady's life uncomfortable. But Sabrina is hardly an obvious target. She's attractive, but not in a flashy way; she certainly does not act in a manner that indicates any overweening interest in male companionship; and she has a very strong and independent personality that does not send signals of vulnerability or weakness. And yet two kids decided that they were attracted to her (which is fine) and that she was an object of obsession (which is not fine). There had to be interventions with both of them--one had a relative that is a good friend of mine that I put a bug into the ear of, and the other I said something to a school official regarding (Sabrina didn't and doesn't know I had done so, and to this day thinks the kid finally "lost interest." He didn't; the fact that his parents, while professionals, still aren't US citizens yet was a strong motivation for them to keep the little cretin's behavior in check after authority was made aware of his stalker-like behavior).
And for people that don't have the sort of support and values imprinted that my kids did--it's a lot tougher to have effective defenses against. And there are so many boys and men out there with unhealthy attitudes toward women that it's truly disheartening. The fellowship that I attend has gotten a lot younger in the last decade, and I am seeing a lot of people in their twenties in the rooms--and with few exceptions, the males are Neanderthals at best and downright creeps at worst. Of course, a recovery fellowship is by definition filled with people whose values and behaviors became warped at one time because of drug abuse, and so it might be somewhat more obvious to see. But for them, there's some hope; sticking around and working a 12 Step program will cause some changes in basic attitudes, given time. But for guys like the accused arsonist--where's the impetus for changing attitude going to come from? Jail? (sure it will). Counseling? (yeah, 45 minutes a week with someone that has no idea of whether you're bullshitting them or not is going to work) Getting beaten within an inch of their life by friends/relatives of those they obsess on? (possible, but not likely, and in any event the idea that violence is the solution to a problem is not the message we as a society want to send, I don't believe, and especially to people that exhibit this tendency already).
My views on a few subjects are starting to evolve in a more conservative way. The Internet has been an unquestioned boon to society as a whole, on balance, and I do not think that a return to Victorian or 1950's attitudes toward sex is desirable or necessary. But the pornography, the attitudes explicit and implicit behind its presentation, and above all its availability to the point of saturation have clearly become a problem that is deeply affecting society on a foundational level. And I'm not sure what the answer is. I don't believe in censorship, and I don't believe in the death penalty. But it wouldn't bother me in the least to see all pornography vanish from the Internet, and I certainly think someone that does what the guy arrested the other day is accused of doing has forfeited his right to continued respiration.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Getting Through The Horse Latitudes

And on the third day...what? I pleasantly surprised myself by how much of my to-do list I was able to take care of on Tuesday--all of it. It helped that there were a lot of items on the list. Yesterday was a different story. I did not want to do much of anything, and it was a real struggle to slog through the entire day, from getting out a couple of job applications in the morning to opening up my home group and attending it in the evening. And I'm not sure how today is going to do, although being up for 40 minutes before even starting to write this probably isn't an indication that this is going to be a gold-star day.
Before I get too hard on myself, though, 1) It took a longer time than it should have, but everything on the to-do list got done yesterday, just not in a go-getter frame of mind, and 2) There was a partial excuse for yesterday's mood; it was the Queen's birthday and her absence, keenly noted during every day, was felt even more acutely yesterday. I'm not the first and I'm not going to be the last man that is bummed out by something of this nature, and it's perfectly understandable that I felt somewhat unmotivated for slogging through online applications, turning over the soil in the garden, or sitting on hold for twenty minutes trying to get through to my daughter's doctor's office. Knowing that the end of her exile is near--under three weeks now--just added to the empty feeling. Talking with her in the afternoon and late last night was helpful, but it's not quite the same as celebrating a milestone with each other.
But a number of things helped me get through the day. Now that I'm not working a block away, I thought that I would stop going to the noon meeting--but I was glad it was there yesterday, because even the fifteen minutes I spent there gave me a needed shot of perspective to get out of the self-pity mode I was in.The commitment to the home group ended up being a positive; the speaker last night gave a very good and timely message, and I ended up talking over some things with my sponsor, who came to the meeting early, and getting another healthy dose of perspective from him. I remembered--as I don't too often--to pray not only for others, but for help myself to combat some of the feelings I was feeling, and I got through it without having to act out or distract myself with a movie or cruising You Tube or some other neglect of responsibility. And at the end of the day, I felt like I accomplished more than I had the day before--because yesterday, I didn't want to do hardly anything.
And as I am writing this, I think today is going to be better. The second part of missing the Queen yesterday was knowing she was meeting with her discharge counselor for the final time yesterday morning; we now know what is expected of her the day she returns home. While it isn't what we completely wanted, it's something we can certainly live with, and it sure as hell beats where she is at now. I am still not sure what God's will is going to turn out to be, but I can at least see some dim outline in the distance, and my faith that it will all turn out all right if I continue to do the right things remains unshaken.
Today's agenda is a little different than yesterday's. Most job applications are now done online, and that's going to take some time this morning. The house-cleaning project moves into a more difficult area of the house, but I am lot better equipped mentally to deal with that today than I would have been yesterday. The garden project continues, as well. I only have one errand to run today, and I don't have anything to do after dinner, for once, so I can start on some writing projects that I just haven't seemed to have time for the last two days.
I've been deluged with messages from a lot of my friends telling me that this layoff can be an opportunity to find a different and better way. And I do believe that. I wish I could feel uniformly on fire to move forward, but some days, the motivation flags and it's tough to do much of anything. I am also still easing into the new reality; quite honestly, I feel like I'm on vacation more than I feel unemployed, and it hasn't hit full-force yet that there isn't a job to return to in a week or two. It will, and I do have to say that in some ways, I do feel liberated--my key ring is smaller, and I don't have to worry about it if I leave my phone inside while I am digging in the garden.
It's a journey. And when I think of it in the abstract, I tend to view it as a land expedition, climbing hills and mountains and hacking my way through the forest. But on days like yesterday, it's more like a voyage, and there are times when there is no following wind and I have to go below decks and man an oar to keep moving. Today, there seems to be a bit of a breeze, and I don't think I'm going to have to row very much. And the longer I sit here and work on this post, the better I am feeling about what lies ahead.
Maybe I just needed some coffee.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Heroin Forum

As part of my new service commitment in the fellowship I am a part of, I attended a Community Forum hosted by three members of the New York Assembly last night. I doubted I would have a reason to speak up, because the Public Relations Subcommittee is not supposed to promote Narcotics Anonymous, and in a setting like last night, focusing on a specific drug and almost exclusively on strategies to combat the growing use of it, it was clear within a couple of minutes that long-term recovery was not a pressing issue. I'm not saying that to be sarcastic, either--there was a very strong awareness of the depth and breadth of the problem, and the issues surrounding the treatment options for those in active addiction or in very early recovery.
The testimony taken was heavily tilted toward "professionals" in the chemical dependency treatment field, and the parents of young people who are struggling with active addiction to opiates. Which concerned me a little in the beginning, but the purpose of the forum became clearer to me as the evening progressed, and my unease dissipated. The men hosting the forum are legislators, and their purpose in having these forums is that they are seeking knowledge of the problem in order that they can write legislation that responds to the information they receive. And it also quite quickly became clear that the information they are getting is that there are not enough beds available in detoxes and in-patient facilities; that insurance companies do not pay for long enough stays in treatment facilities for detox and treatment to be truly effective; and that arrests and incarceration have not proven to be an effective strategy in combating addiction.
And all three of those points are ideas that I fully agree with, inarguably true in my experience. Any laws that are eventually passed that partially or totally rectify those issues would be enormously helpful to people in early recovery. And from the standpoint of the fellowship, these would all be helpful to the chances of addicts finding long-term recovery, as well. A majority of addicts are introduced to 12-Step Fellowships while in treatment, and it stands to reason that easier access to and longer stays in treatment would bring a better chance of attending and becoming involved in a fellowship that would and does improve the chances of an addict maintaining long-term abstinence.
There was even some information presented that was new to me. The guy who runs the local in-patient rehab, someone I've known slightly for years and who seems to be pretty on-the-ball, gave a rather succinct and informative talk about how opiates are different than other drugs--he said that the human body already has a natural, pre-existing neural pathway designed to use opiates, and as a result both the susceptibility to becoming addicted and the long-term damage done to the body's natural pain-management systems are greater than with other drugs.
It is a matter of 12-Step orthodoxy that a drug is a drug, and for the purposes of recovering from drugs, they are. But I've been in recovery since before the turn of the century, and I noticed a long time ago that one's drug of choice certainly is a factor in individual addicts' propensity to relapse. All addicts tend to be subject to relapse in early stages of recovery. But the likelihood of addicts that have put together some clean time--a year to many years-- relapsing does seem, to my eyes and from my experience in the fellowship, to vary according to one's drug of choice. Cocaine/crack and various other "upper" users tend to stay clean without interruption once a certain threshold of time away is reached. It has been very rare for someone whose drug of choice was crack to relapse with many years clean; the only one that comes to mind was a guy that developed cancer with about eight years clean and went back to smoking crack when it became clear he was going to die--and he was an anomaly before then because he got and stayed clean at age 56, a lot later in life than most people who get and stay clean do.It is an article of faith in the fellowship that we are all subject to relapse, and we are. But I have noticed over the years I've been here that those whose drug of choice is some sort of opiate are never truly out of the woods. Most relapses that come with years clean have been, from what I've seen, of heroin users, and it used to puzzle me why this was. The guy's talk last night shed some light on that--he said that because opiates work through an existing part of the body's pain management system and alter it drastically, opiate users often take many years--or even are never able-- to feel truly physically "normal" or good again, and using heroin does tend to, however briefly, change that feeling of "not right." I've never used opiates, so I have no direct knowledge of that, but it makes sense and jibes with what I've seen.
There were a couple of things noted in passing last night that I felt could have been emphasized more--in particular the tendency of parents of young addicts that end up in treatment in their teens to not follow through for a long period of time on aftercare. There was also no recognition at all given to something that we in 12 Step programs have come to know intimately--that eventual drug addiction is usually firmly rooted in family dynamics of the addict's youth. But that is something that is addressed in the program in the later Steps, and can't really be legislated anyway, so it wasn't a glaring omission by any means. There also was a marked tendency among almost everyone there that the goal of "recovery" is a job or some other material milestone--and recovery as defined by 12 Step fellowships emphasizes spiritual health and development. But really, those are secondary to getting a grip on the plague of addiction that is currently raging; there will be time enough to determine those sorts of paths to be taken after the drug is down. But it has to be put down first, and the purpose of the forum was trying to find ways to give addicts a better chance of putting it down safely and with support.
I and my colleagues there were also able to see some things a little more clearly than non-addicts in attendance. Withdrawal is not a pleasant experience, to be sure--but the descriptions of it that non-addicts were repeating out loud as being given by addicts they know came across as severely dramatic. To my ears, this was an instance of the addict's primary behavioral characteristic--the tendency to manipulate their audience to elicit either means to address a perceived need or to draw sympathic attention. And someone there did say that unlike alcohol withdrawals, no one is going to die from opiate withdrawal; it also was mentioned that withdrawal times tend to be variable. I also can see manipulation strategies in the larger society--and the growing recognition of Big Pharma's role in creating this opiate-dependency monster out there is being seen for what it is. Hopefully, there will be legislative pushback, and the nearly-indiscriminate marketing of opiate-based painkilling prescription drugs will be curtailed or even banned. That doesn't help those already in the depths, but it might prevent the generation to come from getting exposed and hooked as early as this one has.
All in all, it was an encouraging evening. If the end result of this epidemic is an end to the War on Drugs and an increase in opportunities to treat the disease, then it might have been worth it. And the things being discussed yesterday are the beginning of a brisk walk moving in that direction.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: SECRETS OF STATE

Although other trouble areas garner more attention across the globe, one of the most endemic and dangerous conflicts in the world is between India and Pakistan, centering around the disputed area of Kashmir. The two countries have fought two conflicts over the province, and with both countries now possessing nuclear weapons, many believe that if there is ever going to be a nuclear war between countries, it will be between these two. Matthew Palmer's Secrets of State is a suspense novel built around this premise. The actual action takes place mostly in Washington, among the intelligence analyst community.
Palmer is not a professional writer, but rather someone with a diplomatic background, and as such I am trying to be kind here and focus on the positives. The plot, such as it is, is decently constructed, and there are no huge inconsistencies that make one throw up their hands. But there are many issues with this book. One is that, although the secret cabal guiding and causing world events is a staple of suspense thrillers, Palmer goes one better than usual in positing that this group has existed for centuries and was responsible for many world events. I almost put the book down after reading its "flashback" chapter to Dallas on 11/22/63, and in general the flashbacks add nothing to the narrative. The second is that the character that the plot revolves around--the embedded agent in the enemy cell--is simply not believable. The third is that I have a particular revulsion toward stock portrayals of fanatical Muslim jihadists in these kind of books, and this novel features one of those groups. And finally, the body counts that somehow don't draw the attention of law enforcement that are characteristic of these type of books are also present, detracting from the most salient feature of all good suspense novels--the belief that this could actually happen.
I have read worse books. But I have read better, too. Let's hope Mr. Palmer gets better with practice.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Every Parent's Nightmare

I had a long day yesterday, going to see the Queen and not getting back home until early evening. When I made my dinner and sat down in front of the laptop, I had a day's worth of Facebook to scroll through (I freely admit that I am on Facebook constantly; that's a subject for another post another day). And was totally blown away when I saw that one of my friends had put up a notice that her 18YO son had been shot and killed.
A wave of nausea hit me when I saw it, and it just hit me again as I typed the sentence. I do believe that the worst possible emotionally searing experience one can go through is surviving a child. And to lose one this way--in an act of random, senseless violence, out of the blue--can only be accurately described as catastrophic. I know the woman quite well--we briefly dated a few years ago, as a matter of fact--which makes the gut punch that much more pronounced. And of course my thoughts and prayers are with her, and for the rest of the family.
And yet that somehow seems woefully inadequate. I am struggling for words for a number of reasons, but I cannot really express in any event how much pain this is causing her and them. The young man did not live here--he lived with his father in Indiana--and I only met him a couple of times, but he was a good kid that was still a part of his mom's life. And without giving too many details, I really hope it is true that God does not allow us to deal with more than we can handle, and that there is some vein of strength there that can be tapped into.
But there is no way to minimize how painful this experience would be for any of us with children. My heart and soul goes out to her this morning, and no doubt many mornings to come after this. And I can say without hesitation that the things I am dealing with in my own life pale by comparison. This was not the post I thought I was going to write on the morning of the last day I am going to work at the job I have had for twelve years, eleven months, and one day. This has been a dose of perspective applied with the force of a sledgehammer.
The mom has a lot of friends here, a fiance, and her mom lives with her, so she is not alone physically during all this, It will be helpful, I am sure, because the enormity of what has happened has only begun to sink in. And having dealt with sudden death in my own life before, when my dad dropped dead, I know that having other people around is very helpful in the first few days of dealing with any tragedy. No one will take the pain away; that's not possible. But having distractions to occupy the mind, and to know that we are not going through our emotional maelstrom by ourselves, does provide small comfort. That's all the comfort that we can realistically get, especially when it is our child that is gone. But it is better than none.
I have cracked open Sabrina's door three times already this morning. And no doubt will continue to check on her for days, and will text my children at college. The pictures of my kids that were all over my office, that got packed up last week and taken home and are now sitting in the box on the floor--well, it just became a priority to make sure they find new places to be displayed, sometime today. All of us will say, if asked, that we don't take our kids love and affection--and existence--for granted, but we do.
Until something like this happens. For at least a few days or weeks, my daughters will occupy front and center in my mind most of the time, most days. And I will do what I can realistically do to help my friend bear up. All the while hoping that I never have to carry a burden this heavy for the remainder of my life.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Not Extinct After All

Apparently there are two professional baseball teams in New York. For a decade, the one not based in the Bronx has been absent from meaningful October baseball. This year, the Mets won their division, and have won the first series they played in. I guess, judging from the posts I've been seeing on Facebook, they won again last night, too. Which doesn't really affect me too much, one way or the other; as far as I am concerned, it is football and hockey season now.
But what is really amazing to me is how many Mets fans have crawled out from whatever rock they've been hiding under for many years. People that I didn't even think knew what a baseball was suddenly are wearing orange and blue, and I've had cause to remember that when I was in high school and college, this area was split rather evenly between Met and Yankee fans. I've also, fleetingly, been reminded of the pain of 1986 a few times recently--although the Sox winning three World Series in the last eleven years has provided the best analgesic possible for that.
I guess it's a sign of how much I've grown up that the cloying, annoying "Let's Go Mets!" cheer doesn't bother me anymore. And this generation of Met fans doesn't seem to possess the smug obnoxiousness of those that rooted for the Strawberry/Gooden/Dykstra teams. Suffering through a couple of decades in the wilderness will do that, I think (although a similar run of futility did little to make Islander fans more bearable once their team became competitive again). They undoubtedly have the nation hoping for them to lose this round; they are playing the Cubs, who haven't won the World Series since Taft was President. But I, surprisingly, find myself leaning in their direction. Not so much for the team, but for the fans that I know who have gone almost thirty years--unbelievably--since the last championship. I've suffered through too many long droughts myself to want to see any of my friends continue to be afflicted with disappointment.
But I draw the line at chanting "Let's Go, Mets." There are some things I'm just not going to do.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Walking Through It

One day to go. My office is almost empty, and will get closer to empty this morning when someone comes over to take our couch. Several of the big-ticket items have also departed. The conference table isn't going anywhere; the landlord will be keeping that, and homes have been found for almost all of the outreach material that we have left, too--a whole bunch of T-shirts, for the most part. All that's really left to do Monday is move a few odds and ends to things I've been allowed to keep, get a couple more to another staff member who has been allowed to keep them--and about a dozen boxes of files and records that have to go to the main office. It appears to be about two trips worth of back and forth. Then there will be the depressing spectacle of turning in keys, computer,agency phone (so long, iPhone, and honestly, I don't see what the big deal was and is with them--I like my personal Droid so much more) and agency ID--and then I will become a predecessor, Someone That Used To Work There.
I wrote a few weeks ago that dealing with all this has been a bit like the immediate aftermath of someone close dying; there's just a lot of busy work associated with getting them in the ground and taking care of associated issues. I'm full into that stage right now, especially since my job was only a part of my life and the rest of it marches on, as well. Tuesday, I have to get myself set up for unemployment, meet with my lawyer, and get a petition into Support Court, and later in the week there are other obligations to deal with--getting set up at Broome-Tioga Workforce, starting to scour the Internet in earnest for job opportunities, following up on those I've already applied for. The health insurance thing that so jolted me the other day has been eased somewhat; essentially, if need arises, just go to the doctor--I have 60 days to make up my mind to choose COBRA and then 45 days to pay for it after that, and if I'm still looking for a job at the end of January, I'm going to have more problems than finding health insurance for me and my kids.
The Queen's birthday is within the coming week, and I made the decision a couple of weeks ago that I was not going to let fear of the future dictate or change what I was going to do for her. One of the reasons that I hold the place in her heart that I do is that I am the first man she has ever been with that has valued her and matched his actions to his words regarding her no matter what, and to me, this is a continuation of what I have been doing for nearly a year. In the same vein--she and Sabrina are going to have a Christmas. I will get a substantial vacation  payout in a few weeks, and I am setting aside a good portion of that and sticking it into a drawer for a month, to ensure that those that matter to me will be not be getting used towels and popcorn tins for presents. Allowances have to be made for changed circumstances, and I know this. But there are matters, emotional as well as financial, that have to be set as priorities. My daughter and my lady are the most important people in my life, and I am not going to use a temporary--and it is temporary; I am sure that this is not the last job I will ever have--interruption in income as an excuse to degrade the quality of the special occasions in their lives. 
The tough stretch is going to be the last week of this month. My last paycheck is going to be short, since my last day is two days short of a full week (I took that up with HR a month ago, and was kind of brushed off about it, but three days worth is better than none, I suppose), and my memory of unemployment is that they make you wait a week to start drawing it. If someone were to steal my checkbook now, they would drop it in horror because the ledger shows a substantial negative balance--but there are also several checks sitting on my desk that are written but have not been mailed, and won't be until I am sure that they will be good (as an aside, I have done this for much of my adult life, and have done reasonably well with making sure I don't bounce checks--until this summer. I swear to God, M and Fee Bank was bound and determined to f*** with my posting dates until they could hit me with an overdraft fee, because there sure were some curious items in some of the statements. I don't understand how some checks take a week to clear, and others hit less than 48 hours after I mailed the damn things. Anyway, they got me, three times in a month, and now that direct deposit is winding down, I'm probably going to change banks here before too much longer). I have a general idea of what I have to do and when, and although it will be difficult, I think I can manage the next few weeks.
It helps that gas is as cheap as it's been in a decade. It also helps that after the last time I was unemployed, thirteen years ago, and I seriously had many days where there was no food in the house, I used the first two years I was working to build a cushion. I have a freezer full of meat and other food, a zillion rice mixes, spare condiments and canned and jarred goods, a bunch of cereal and stuff like that, all maintained like a quartermaster for many years now--and I have done that precisely prepping for a situation like this. I don't have to spend $50-75 at the grocery store every week if I don't have it to spend, and I may end up putting this idea into practice in the next few weeks and months. I have had a washer and dryer for a couple of years, so I don't have to drop ten bucks a week at the laundromat. As annoying as Time Warner is, I held off on changing providers because whatever else it may or may not be, Roadrunner Internet is dependable and as close to universally available as there is around here. I stocked up on print cartridges and stuff like that, too.
In other words, I've prepared the best I could for this day. Now it's just a matter of walking through it. I probably can't survive for ten months without a job--but I can make it through a short stretch, and maybe a little longer with help... But I am eleven days away from marking seventeen years clean. And I got to this point by taking to heart and practicing a very simple principle: live my life one day at a time. Making plans and preparing is fine, but none of us can plan results, and I am very aware that I don't know what the results are going to be. But I do feel like I've done a pretty good job of contingency planning, and of keeping my priorities in order. I am very grateful for many things, but I am most grateful for Sabrina and the Queen's presence in my life, and their importance is not going to diminish because of some financial travails.
We will get through this. And as much of a pain in the ass as this is going to be, there are many doors that could open, too. If you are reading this, you already appreciate my ability and affinity for writing--but I haven't seriously tried to make a living off it ever, and haven't even dabbled with free lancing for two decades. That may change. After the initial rush of activity subsides in several days, there is much to do around the house and property that there never seems to be time to do--and if it's a few weeks or a month before finding another job, this house will be the cleanest it's ever been and the garden and fences and yard will start to resemble what I've always wanted them to look like, at least until the weather turns irrevocably cold. I've garnered a few more commitments in the fellowship than I've had in recent years, and I can devote more time to nurturing them. The Queen is less than a month from coming home, and I will have an opportunity to spend a lot of time with her and help her get done what she is going to need to do. And I have to say that the chance to spend all day every day for a few weeks with the woman I love and that I have dearly missed for a long period of time does not fill me with dread.
I've said this a few times recently, and it's not--at least not all--whistling in the dark. I am only losing a job, not a life. It is not the end of the world, and with every setback comes opportunities, too. I know this, and I am about to experience it yet again. So although it is unfamiliar, and my routine is changing, and it will be difficult in some aspects--it will be all right. My survival is not immediately imperiled. I'm not looking at living on the streets or utter destitution, not at this point. And for that I am grateful.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Finis

The last gasp effort to ward off professional dissipation was rejected yesterday, and it is now written in stone that Monday is going to be my last day. As the last prop was knocked out, I felt a mix of emotions. One was a reaffirmation that what I have been feeling for weeks--that it's time, that this phase of my life had run its course. But, as the actual departure date approaches, some queasiness is entering in, I have been through enough in my life to know that this is merely raw naked fear horning into my consciousness. I've spent the last seventeen years of my life learning how to work through fear, and part of that process has been understanding that it is perfectly natural to feel it in many situations. My life is about to change radically, with a whole lot of uncertainty on the immediate horizon; of course I'm going to experience fears over it. But scared people make poor decisions, and on the myriad occasions in my life when fear has served as my Higher Power, matters have never worked out well. I'm not going to become paralyzed by it, and I'm going to do my level best to make sure that I do not make any decisions that are guided by it. With my seventeen-year anniversary of entering recovery less than two weeks away, to do otherwise would not only render the milestone essentially meaningless, but it would be a reversion to a way of thinking that I know does not lead to positive results. It's OK to feel fear. The way out of it is to identify what is causing it, and facing it down by resolutely clinging to principled behavior while walking through it--and conversely, not by engaging in denial or attempting to evade it.
And I've already been able to identify one source of it: dealing with my ex-wife. I told her late yesterday that the insurance was going to come to an end on October 31, and she went into immediate attack mode, with thinly-veiled threats of dire consequences awiating me should there be any lapse of coverage for our kids. I stayed reasonable, told her there are still a few weeks left before it ends, mentioned that a month or two of COBRA coverage is possible, and in general tried to keep matters calm. But another fantasy that I had been allowing myself to indulge in in recent years was blown apart: that the passage of time had somehow made her more approachable and reasonable on matters like this. I would rather not have there be confrontation, and after thirteen years of being completely and totally responsible with child support, and at least ten of providing health insurance for Rachel and Jessica, my logical brain tells me that there isn't much chance of legal consequences. But all the same, I'd rather not take a chance at all if possible.
The other hassles associated with unemployment lie just ahead--the filing of claims, the notification of the county's child support unit, filing a petition for temporary reduction or suspension of support until I start working again, and the actual looking for jobs. The three I've already put in for do not seem to be happening; the BU position appears to have been filled, and I haven't heard back from the two non-profits. And there is a remote possibility that I could return to work for my present employer in January; they have put in a proposal for a foster-care prevention program in Cortland County that might get approved, and if it does, I've been assured that if I am willing to drive to Cortland every day, one of the positions is mine. The pay would be somewhat less (but honestly, it was a higher number than I expected), but that doesn't worry me so much anymore; if the Queen is here and contributing to the cause, the finances will be manageable. And the insurance would pick up again.
But there are no guarantees that's going to happen, and I certainly am not going to lay around the house for a couple of months waiting to find out. More than ever, this is going to be a period of putting one foot in front of the other, doing what I need to do on a daily basis, and praying for God's will to be revealed to me.
I've come too far, and have experienced too much, not to trust in God now. I know that if I do what I need and ought to do, things will fall into place, eventually. I have also accepted, after years of experience, that I likely have no clue what "falling into place" means; the last time I was unemployed, I had no idea when I answered the ad for this position that it would end up being the anchor of my life for thirteen years.
And for those that are expecting or hoping for a flaming expose of my soon-to-be former employer--you are waiting in vain. There are times when I am totally exasperated by what I have seen. And yes, I do feel that changes wrought by upper management were a contributing factor to our grant not getting renewed and this program coming to a close. But this agency provided more than a job; it gave me a career. It allowed me a chance to grow exponentially as a worker and as a person; I was given, in retrospect, a very long leash and forgiven many transgressions. And it allowed me a chance to be a stable and effective parent for all three of my children during their childhoods and collective adolescence.
And if there is one thing that the last seventeen years of my life have instilled in me, it is to feel gratitude for what I have been given. And I am grateful for my employer, not bitter and not angry, and for all that has been done for me and for giving me the best years of my professional life. And should the next stage lead in another direction, my thirteen years here are going to travel with me. As I sat through the end of the farewell luncheon yesterday, there was some reminiscing about what has happened over the years--office politics, figures from the past, crazy things that happened, what we all went through. And I realized that other people, in these circumstances in the years to come, are going to be talking about me the way we were talking about the departed yesterday--and that while not everything is going to be rose-colored, on the whole I have left a very positive legacy behind me. Even the things that used to piss off others have softened and mellowed over time. I've learned how to rein in emotions, to be professional, to fit into a structure rather than always chafe at conformity. And most of all, I--I, of all people--ended up being someone that other people looked to as a model of professional behavior, something that is continuing at this very moment. I have had at least a half-dozen of my colleagues mention to me that I seem to be taking the impending departure very well, or am "handling" it better than they think they would. And maybe that's the final positive I can provide for those that are in the midst of their careers.
It's not over yet; I still have a couple of days left, and the disposal and storing of the program office and files continues apace. But I am definitely a silhouette growing smaller against the setting sun. And while it is a trial that, all things considered, I would rather not go through, I move on with my dignity  and my core intact, knowing that I have been serving as an attractive example of how to live life on life's terms. I accomplished much during my time there--but perhaps the most lasting and durable legacy of my time there has been the profound change in the way that those I have worked with and interacted with in the community regard those in recovery from addiction. And the way I am handling my departure is the final piece of illumination, the best way yet to show that we do recover and that lasting and profound changes do take place in people, even well into adulthood.