Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review: THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN


The Shards of Heaven has brought a lot of acclaim to Michael Livingston, for a first time author. I am wary of books that deal with Roman history, though, because Colleen McCullough spoiled the genre for everyone attempting to write about Rome by her excellence, and this book is unfortunately not an exception. It was all I could do to continue reading after the first fifteen pages, when people referred to Julius Caesar in dialogue as "Julius". People in Rome at the time of Caesar would have used his first name--Gaius--or his cognomen (essentially a nickname)--Caesar, but never would have referred to him colloquially as "Julius," The story did get better, not least because I found out the intellectual genesis of a lot of my own views on God and religion (I was positive that my take was not unique to me, but I had no idea that it was old news in the ancient world, and in fact predated Christianity). The plot revolves around relics of immense power and the attempts of several of the characters to get them. I'd say more, except there is going to be an inevitable sequel, and also because the historical inaccuaracies extend to the famous Antony/Cleopatra romance and bugged the crap out of me, too.
This isn't the worst book I've ever read, even about Roman affairs. But it could have been so much better.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An Unlikely Boost

Between disruptions to my regular routines and some choices I've made, I've been drifting away from the fellowship for months now. Yesterday, after another disappointing afternoon that made it clear to me that more changes need to be made, I decided to do something different. I considered attending a meeting of the other fellowship that isn't too far from my house, but before I committed to that, I realized that I wasn't in that frame of mind.
So I did something I haven't done this century; I attended my fellowship's Tuesday night meeting, which I hadn't done since Sabrina was a toddler. It has had the reputation over the years of being large and unruly, of drawing an element to it that I'm not in tune with, and of being more of a social club than a meeting. All of those things have been true at times, but last night, I saw and heard something not too different from meetings I like--middling attendance, realistic and largely positive messages, and familar faces. I actually got something good out of the meeting, and more importantly, I filled my tank up with courage and resolve to do what I know I need to do in the next few days/weeks. There's nothing like hearing your story from someone else's mouth, and three different people shared things last night that I can strongly identify with.
Not every path that one embarks upon leads to a better place--but that doesn't mean the trip was wasted or wrong. The journey of the past couple years has changed me, irrevocably and largely for the better, and I don't have many regrets. But I can see a dead end looming. And I don't have to get to that point.
Some days, a day at a time is more than a cliche. I have a rather busy day today, and a perfect opportunity to alter course, if not necessarily turn completely around. And then I go back to work tonight. I have a tough nine days until the next paycheck, but I got an unexpected gift yesterday from a credit card company, of all places, and I think with a little determination, it won't get all that desperate around here until next Friday comes.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Discretion

There isn't a lot than I can safely say on this issue without exposing someone that already has more than enough to deal with to travail. I wrote a fairly long piece over the last hour, and decided that the risk of putting it out there was just too great. So I am going to limit myself to one general observation.
There has been a lot of press attention recently about police misconduct, about how many cops do not observe the laws they are sworn to uphold. There is less exposure, but still some, about prosecutorial misconduct, and even some judges come under occasional scrutiny. But there is one class of the law enforcement apparatus that gets almost no media scrutiny, and that sorely needs to. And that group are the people that are responsible for the supervision/monitoring of those that have been released from jails and prisons on probation and parole. And that's all I feel can safely say this morning.

Monday, April 25, 2016

For a Few Days, Back to Normal

Ah, to go to bed when it's dark and wake up with birds singing. It's the little things... Obviously, working overnight shifts is going to take some getting used to. After working the last four nights, ten-hour shifts, I had made up my mind that I was going to stay up during the day yesterday and make until the evening, which I did without too much trouble. I slept more or less straight through from 10 PM to about a half-hour ago, and feel more rested than I have in a week. It's a work in progress, but I am glad for the respite.
But the hours are not the hardest thing to get used to with the job. There are two things that I did not anticipate about this. One is that while my job does not involve a lot of physical labor, it does involve a lot of going up and down stairs--and my legs hurt for four days. When I get tired, my legs feel it first, and I ended up taking aspirin and Motrin for three days just to keep the pain level tolerable. That will probably improve over time, but in the beginning, it hurts. The second thing is that of the many things about my former job that I didn't fully appreciate, the ability to leave the premises for any reason now is at the top of the list. It's weird to stay in one place for ten hours at a time, especially with no distractions at all for most of the period. The building I work in is next door to a fast food place, renowned for its coffee, and at 430 AM, when your eyes are struggling to stay open, it's kind of sad to know that you cannot just stroll out the door and walk over and get something, because if, God forbid, something happens in the house in that five minutes I'm gone, I'm fired. Not taking that chance.
I am also enjoying coffee for the first time in four days. I was afraid to make some at the job, for fear that I would be too revved up to sleep when the shift ended, and obviously I wasn't about to have any after I got off work in the morning. I think some of the physical discomfort I was feeling the first days of the job was coffee withdrawal, seriously. I missed my habit of several cups in the morning more than I thought I would.
I'm not liking this getting paid every two weeks deal, at all. When I got home for the final time yesterday, I looked at the bank balance and realized that it's going to be twelve days before there is anything more going in... well, it's going to be hard, and my impressive-to-me record of not being behind on any bills is going to be a thing of the past. I am beginning to wonder if the trend of getting paid every two weeks is another small skirmish in the war Corporate America is waging against its workforce to bleed us dry. I noticed after my previous job ended and I spent some time around other people that I normally didn't that their apparent affluence was a bit of a mirage, because they were behind on their bills. It's still early, but I am going to say this much--I'm probably going to join their ranks. It's simply too damn long to go two weeks without money coming in, because there are a dozen unexpected expenses during a given two-week period that are impossible to plan for and either impossible or very difficult not to address. Just another lesson in the ongoing education I am receiving in humility, or "stop being judgmental about other people because you don't know the whole story just yet."
And today is also going to be a bit busy, in that I am helping someone move into their own apartment in the afternoon and perhaps into the evening. However our story plays out, I have to say that there are two things that have surprised me in the last month or so: 1) the commitment to change certain things in her life is genuine, and 2) that regardless of whether my role in her life is what I would like to be, it has become very clear that in her mind, I have an important one. It's an ongoing process, one that I continue to be amazed and educated by, and one that I am afraid I don't handle as well as I ought to sometimes. It's impossible to tell what the future holds--but I am pleasantly reminded every day that the road that the one constant in the path of all those that have made the journey she is embarked upon--the decision that going back to the ways that haven't worked in the past simply is not an option--is happening for her as well. And when that happens, all things truly are possible.
The adventure continues.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Book Review: ENDZONE

Endzone is a fascinating story, all true, about the disaster that was the reign of Dave Brandon as the athletic director at Michigan University. I wrote a few posts about Brandon in 2014, about how he was perhaps the biggest asshole on the planet, and the book by and large, although it portrays a more balanced picture, confirms that impression. The entire experience of being a Michigan Man is eloquently drawn by Bacon, a Michigan professor, and how that self-perception has permeated the university's sports and academics over its existence is very informative and interesting. The pursuit of Jim Harbaugh as coach is also written of extensively.
But Brandon is the book's central figure, and it is hard not to read this book and think that the 1%, of which Brandon is an unabashed member and proponent of its values, ought to be liquidated. There is nothing attractive about how Brandon ran this university's athletics, and there is nothing attractive about what an asshole he really is. Even if you don't like sports, this book is informative for that reason.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

What We're Up Against

I haven't been posting a lot about the recovery community and process lately, partially because someone always thinks something I say is about them or about someone they know (even though almost always, it isn't) and drama ensues, and also because I have been steadily detaching myself from the rooms as other parts of my life have moved to the forefront. But the last two days have reminded me of what exactly I am dealing with, on a daily basis, and what I will always be dealing with--the disease of addiction in all its manifestations.
I've been very diligent, and somewhat open, about the way I have had to practice principles in my personal life in the last few months. That continues to be a focus every day; the struggle between what I ideally want and what I am realistically expect from the other person is never-ending, and applying spiritual principles--or a dose of reality, whichever you prefer--is perhaps the most surprising fight I have ever been in. There are times when I am astonished by my own mind--how quickly I can indulge worst-case scenarios, and how self-absorbed and self-centered I really can be, in my head. If there is a reason why we are treading new ground, it is because both of us have grown over the time we've been around each other--but honestly, I never would have thought that my part in our issues was so substantial. And I got another example today. I don't want to get into gory details, but her roommate almost died this morning, and understandably it shook her  up badly. I know her better than anyone else on earth by this time, and I know how she deals with inner turmoil and trauma--and yet on a couple of occasions today, I came thisclose to making what she's going through about me. I drew back from the brink of acting completely like an ass, but it was a near-run thing--and it scared the hell out of me, because the last thing I want is to cause a rift when she's already out of sorts, and yet I nearly went there, twice. One positive benefit was that it made me attend my home group tonight, and the reading there was about returning, even with substantial clean time, to worked in the beginning time and again if necessary.
DINGDINGDINGDING!
To that end, I will make sure I attend the meeting tomorrow, and will make time for Ray and Don this week, and in general start to become a participating member of the fellowship again. Yes, I have had other pressing matters to tend to--but I've gotten away from what is necessary to maintain my own manageability. I can feel myself sliding into bad spaces, and I need to--I need to--apply some remedial action, now. She is, after all, looking to me for support and help, because she has a lot less experience in this way of life, and my reverting to self-absorption is not going to help either one of us. Period.
And the other thing that happened this week was the death, from diabetes complications, of a guy that was a big part of early recovery for me. He struggled to keep it down for three decades, but the one substantial period of time he had coincided with my first year, and I got a lot out of his insight and experience. He was the one that said something that clicked about relapsing--that the issue is putting it down, not picking it up, and that if I choose to pick up, that' will the the last choice I make for a long time to come. I've never forgotten that, and I truly believe that this is the major pillar, the foundation, of the fact that I have never relapses--because once you hear something that pierces the denial and wall of obfuscation so clearly, I can't justify, no matter how much I tried and try, picking it up again. You can't unlearn the truth. And the other thing he said that hit like a diamond bullet was his assertion back then that his retirement plan was "work until I die"--because he had essentially used up his retirement benefits in the service of addiction when he was young. His financial difficulties were the result of his choices, and he had no right to bitch. And honestly,, as much as I have chafed at times with my financial reality--that's the truth for me, too. You don't get a free pass or a guarantee on a fairy tale ending in anything, and that includes financial matters, too.
I didn't see much of him recently; he had stayed away from meetings because of his health, because of chronic relapses, and the belief that was drilled into him when he first started coming around that people on methadone weren't really clean--and he was on methadone for at much of the last decade, perhaps to the end. He did reconcile and become very important to his daughter, and he did stay somewhat manageable over the last few years of his life, and he seemed more at peace than he did fifteen years ago. He never failed to ask about how Sabrina was doing, and he never failed to complement me on my progress from the dick--there is no other word--that I was in 1999 to who I am now. I even sponsored him briefly in 2006; that didn't work so well because at that time, he wasn't able to make a commitment to doing the work I was asking of sponsees. But we never lost our affection for one another, and I feel a genuine sense of loss now that he is gone.
And I also am more grateful than ever that I escaped active addiction as healthy as I did. I have some ailments that addiction played a role in--but nothing like hepatitis C or chronic diabetes or a nervous and hormonal system forever altered by opiates. And as long as I don't pick it up again, that is going to remain the case.
And I am able to be useful to others, if I choose to be. In a strange way, today helped reaffirm in my own mind that my significant other has genuine affection for me. It may not be all that I want it to be, with all the bells and whistles and overt attention and a whole lot else. But when the event happened this morning, she called me immediately. She wanted to see me after my meeting was over. She talked to me a few times via text today. She's using me as a reference on job apps, and is counting on me to help her move into her own place Monday. I am important to her, and that's become very clear. And the occasional crap that goes through my head is ultimately nonsense. I'm a grownup, not a high school sophomore. I shouldn't feel like I need to be the center of her attention all the time. Most of the time, I'm fine with that, and I act like that. The times when the monkey cage in my mind erupts--well, I managed to shut them up before I actually did anything stupid.
And for a long time, I was incapable of that restraint. The ability to interrupt the impulses I still feel after all these years is the battle. That obsession/compulsive aspect is the disease of addiction, as much with emotions and internal feelings as it is with the use of drugs. As such, I will never be free of it. And as such, I also have tried-and-true remedies for the condition, that will work if I only choose to use them.
And just for today, I did.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Book Review: KING OF THE COURT

It's hard to beleive that it has been nearly fifty years since Bill Russell retired. Russell is the one player in any sport, with the possible exception of Yogi Berra, that has the strongest claim to being the All-Time Winner--eleven championships in thirteen seasons He was also a 1960's icon, front and center in some of the more dramatic episodes of the civil rights era, and has never completely gone away since his retirement, as an executive, TV announcer, and personality.
Aram Goudsouzian's King of the Court captures all of this fascinating man over the length of his life. The author doesn't sugarcoat Russell's less savory traits, and is unsparing in his analysis of the his post-playing career, but this is by far the best account of Russell's Celtics that I've ever read, even compared to books on the team. It's a great read, and not so old (2010 publishing date) that a reader can't find it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Better Late Than Never

Yes, I know it is late afternoon. But new developments require adjustments, and one thing I was not about to do this morning after a ten-hour overnight shift was sit down and write a blog post. I slept for three hours after coming home, spent a little time with someone special this afternoon, and napped again until Sabrina needed dinner. And I am likely going to go back to bed before getting up again; I've dozed, but I haven't really slept since Tuesday night.
And I can already tell that this is going to be a major adjustment. There's a lot of dead time in the middle of the night, but there's a lot of chores to be done around the job environment, as well, so it isn't like I'm sitting on my butt most of the night. But ten hours is a lot longer than eight hours; it will be worth it with the extra day off, but it's going to take some getting used to. And the major adjustments in other areas are coming, too. I am learning to relinquish fears and feelings about my someone special; it's not been completely smooth sailing, but we somehow find time for one another every day, the noise isn't as bad in my head as I thougth it would be, and regardless of what the future may bring, there have been substantial changes, both in her and in me. The uneasiness that I felt in November isn't there, largely because what I was seeing that made me uneasy in November is not there this time. The next steps are coming; I'm working, and she's getting her own place and starting to look for a job herself. I don't know what is going to happen in the future, but there's a different vibe, and it's enough to keep moving forward.
Especially since I'm not sure what is going to happen at the job. There are two months of school left, and I suspect that the job is going to be much different in the summer than it is now. But I will deal with that in the summer. First (half) paycheck is tomorrow, and that means notifyting Support Court and a few other things to do Monday.
But first there is some sleep to be had, and then another shift to get through.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Few Thoughts On Voting

Yes, I voted. We did our part in our county; the Bern won here comfortably. As he did in most of the state, but of course, with over half the people in the state in New York City and environs--well, the math wasn't good. Which leads to...
1) I don't know how we forget this--but New York was the original home of crooked politics. Tammany Hall is in Manhattan, after all. More to the point, with the possible exception of neighboring New Jersey, New York's state government is the most corrupt and broken in the entire country. In the last year, the majority leaders of both chambers of the legislature have been indicted, convicted, and sentenced to prison. My own state senator was convicted of corrupt practices and had to resign. There have been something like two dozen legislators that have gone down in recent years. So... tell me again that you're extremely confident that the voting process is totally, 100% above-board and honest?
2) The mechanics of actually voting were troublesome all over the state, and there were a few issues locally, too. For one, there is no reason that polls should not have been open in the morning. They opened at noon instead, and for the first time in memory, I actually had to wait in line to vote, in early afternoon. Granted, it would have been helpful if both parties had separate areas, but still, if I had been on lunch hour, I would have been pissed and perhaps late .
3) One of the reasons that voting was troublesome was the complete inability of the poll volunteers to even remotely do their job at anything other than a snail's pace. I understand when the retired and old are 95% of your labor pool, that's inevitable, to a degree...but for Christ's sake, moving like you have rigor mortis is inexcusable.
4) And while I suppose everyone has a right to vote--there were several elderly people in front of me in line (all of them voting in the Republican primary, by the way; in fifteen years, this state is going to be 3/4 Democratic). I understand that the new voting machines aren't familiar--but it's not rocket science to fill out the ballot, and it sure isn't rocket science to actually feed it into the machine. One old guy took six minutes, in front of the scanner, to get his ballot accepted--first he wouldn't feed it all the way in, then he wouldn't let go of it, than he wouldn't pull it out of the sleeve. The worker trying to help him was dying to just put it in the machine herself, but clearly was afraid to with others watching. The point is, if you're too fucking stupid to feed a piece of paper into a slot, you're probably too stupid to have a voice in how we're governed. It has bothered me since the time I turned 18 that my vote counts exactly the same as those of the ignorosi. But that was never more true than it was yesterday.
5) The law that prohibits those on parole and those convicted of certain crimes in the past from voting needs to be changed. Yesterday. These people are just as much a part of our community as the supposed fine, upstanding citizens, and deserve a voice in the process. I am still waiting to hear a justification that makes any kind of logical sense other than "petty vengeance" that justifies this practice.
6) Bring back the old machines. This new way isn't as hard to figure out as some people make it, and New York's system is actually somewhat better than a lot of other states, but there was nothing--nothing--wrong with the old booths and levers pulled to register votes. There were more complaints across the state yesterday than there have ever  been in the past about votes being improperly counted, lines, other problems, etc. And going back to Point 1, if you really think that this is being done in the vast majority of us' best interest--you're a fool.
7) Clinton won, more or less easily. It seems inevitable that she is going to be the nominee. But she has gone from a likely winner to a Humphrey, someone with a whiff of illegitimacy and tainted what she did in high office. The only solace yesterday was that Trump won every delegate there was to win, and seems much more likely to be the nominee, and people feel even more intensely, like or dislike, about Trump than they do Clinton. But God, what a letdown that would be.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Book Review: THE KILLING FOREST

This is the second Sara Blaedel book I've written, about a Danish detective and the town she lives in with a rather sordid and horrible past of secrets that she is still trying to confront. The Killing Forest picks up where the previous book in the series left off; a strange cult based on the ancient Norse gods holds an initiation rite for a teen that goes wrong, which sets off a missing persons' report and blows the lid off not only what has been happening for decades, but the crime that has haunted the detective since she was a teen. I really found this book very interesting, and the idea that such a closed group could operate more or less undetected--if the chief of police was part of it--is uncomfortably relevant to our society, in the wake of the revelations of widespread misconduct by authority in recent years. I'm not sure where Blaedel goes from here, since the underlying mystery was solved in this book, but whatever the next offering is, I'm going to read it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Resisting Tempations

One of the concepts that I've really taken to heart in the last few years that I always struggled with in the first forty-five years or so of my life was the idea that changing behavior and mindset could become more or less the new norm. Obviously, I changed a number of behaviors and mindsets many years ago, or I wouldn't be writing this morning having lived the last third of my life clean. But some of the more deeper-rooted and corrosive behaviors that I displayed most of my life were not changed easily, and there were many, many times when I despaired of ever having the ability to change them.
And to be sure, there are still things I struggle with. I walked out of both meetings I went to this weekend because I simply could not abide what I was hearing, for example--even though that the root cause is a net positive in me. I have been able to develop an ability to stay quiet when sharing will not be helpful or when I have nothing urgent to contribute, something that I could not do for many years--but I am still very intolerant when it comes to other people that are sharing to hear the sound of their own voice and/or giving the same standard cliche-ridden set speeches that they have been making the rest of us endure for years and even decades. And while I don't act on certain things anymore, it doesn't mean that I don't feel the feelings that used to lead to acting out. My fantasy is that the feelings eventually get relegated to the dustbin of history, but I don't think that is likely.
But I know I've grown, and I know that my behavior and mindset have changed dramatically in many cases. I have learned a great deal about what makes relationships function better. I have learned a great deal about how not to cause problems with other people, how to let go of things. I have learned that there are truly are questions that there are no answers to that would be helpful or that would make me feel good--and so it is better not to ask. I have learned, after hearing about the concept for fifteen years, how to cut someone a break, how to forgive wrongs. I have learned that no situation is black and white, all one thing or another. I have finally learned that I am not unique in all ways--for instance, I am rarely motivated by single emotions or ideas, but it took me fifty years on earth to realize that other people might have multiple thoughts, feelings, and ideas going through their heads at the same time, and that those multiples are present in their dealings/relationships/interactions concerning me.
That last one has been huge. The circumstances of what I've been going through in my personal life the last few years have really brought that home. The women I have been with have proven to have very complex backgrounds, with some pretty distressing factors in their histories, and those experiences have necessarily had a huge effect on how they live their lives at present. I've spent seventeen years unraveling the tangled web that my own story is, and am not even close to getting to the true core--and I have understood that this web affected and affects me in myriad ways. So why wouldn't that be true for others? Yet for a long time, I certainly acted like it should not be, that there was only one dominant emotion or reason or factor in any given situation--and as a result, relationships never worked for long and could not stand up to the stresses that life inevitably brings. I am learning, slowly, how to change that. One--maybe the only--good thing about the way things have played out the last two years is that I have gotten to know somebody inside out more than anyone else I have ever known, learning how to communicate and how to process information.
And how to better understand that the other person in a relationship doesn't have any more idea of how they feel or where they're headed or what they want than I do much of the time. Often less, actually, since I have a lot more background and experience in figuring this stuff out. And I have realized that my own place in her mind and soul is different than what we have been culturally imprinted with--we as in all of us, and we as in both of us. It's taken some getting used to, but life is not a movie. There is something real and strong here, but it is not necessarily what I pictured or what "romance" looks like culturally.
That's not necessarily the point I'm making. The point is that because those "pictures" in my mind are present, I have struggled mightily when reality doesn't match the picture. It has taken work and effort, and a lot of it, to see that "picture" for what it is--a mixture of fantasy and expectation that doesn't take into account the reality of the person you have cast to fill the role in the story you have constructed. The reality is wonderful enough, if you take the time and make the effort to discover it, but the illusions and wishful thinking die hard and at times poison the reality. It creates real internal conflicts, ones that I have learned to ignore and/or indulge at my peril. I have learned that unfortunately, feelings get felt--but I am not doomed to act on them. It's getting somewhat easier to process them and see them for what they are, especially since the results are reasaonably pleasant when I do so, if not necessarily what I want or hope for or intensely desire at a certain time.
And for the first time in my life, really, I am not picking up pieces or regretting things hastily said or done. I have learned that other people keenly regret their mistakes and screw-ups--and that they appreciate not being forever defined by them just as much as I appreciate not being forever defined by mine. I have learned that not everything that has hurt me was done with the express intention of hurting me--just as that has been true in many instances in my actions concerning other people. I have learned that someone can care deeply about others even though they sometimes don't seem to. I've learned that at times, people just don't have their "A" game. I have learned a lot, in other words.
But what's different is that I am applying the knowledge more and more. The most frightening thing about it is that I feel more and more alienated from my peers because I am. The next challenge for me is going to be finding the patience and ability to cut the same slack to everybody that I am finding I am able to cut to those that matter a great deal to me. But I do feel like I have identified the exact nature, and having done that, I can move toward a solution. And that acting out on temporary emotions is not a solution in any case, with anyone.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Book Review: THE PASSENGER

The Passenger is a novel by F.R. Tallis that takes place mostly aboard a German U-boat in World War II. The boat is called upon to transport two prisoners back to base, but one of them obtains a gun and kills both before they can complete the mission. For the rest of the book, strange things start to happen on board the boat, even following it back to base when it is refitted. The action sequences in the book are pretty interesting; the psychological stuff, not so much. I've read worse, but this wasn't the most compelling read I've had recently.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Some Lessons About Perspective

Growth and maturity is a long-term, never-ending process. When I was a kid, I had this admittedly simple idea that adulthood was a destination, a place where one arrived and really never moved to any substantial degree from emotionally or spiritually (not that I could really express the thought in those terms at the time, but that was essentially the essence). In my own early adulthood, there was a nagging sense of disappointment, mostly with myself, that I was "supposed" to be an adult and knew that I often didn't act or (more distressingly) feel like one. And I do think that this sense of disappointment contributed, to some degree, to the troubles I created for myself with substance abuse in my early thirties.
I have since come to realize, to know, that growth is ongoing, and that in  a crude metaphorical sense, we are more like sharks than we think--if we don't keep moving, we die, perhaps not literally but certainly emotionally and spiritually. And I have since noted many times that the term "growing pains" has renewed relevance as I age; growth often is accompanied by pain (cause and effect is sometimes not clear, sometimes is). I have become more adept at being able to grow without having to go through the emotional growth spurts of a 12YO Shaquille O'Neal, thankfully; there are certainly some advantages of maturity, of being able to learn from experience and not have to have every instance of growth be an emotional and/or spiritual catastrophe. And I've also learned through that the better I manage my own growth process, the more useful and more pleasant I am to others, and the more manageable my life becomes.
I was thinking about this yesterday, more than once. In the morning, the orientation training at my job concluded with the testing of our knowledge and skills. There are elements of the orientation that I am philosophically not in agreement with, and I am sure that I will never, ever initiate some of the procedures that we were taught to do (not to worry, the option to not use these techniques is discussed thoroughly early in the training and the "conscientious objectors" are not in danger of losing their employment for holding those views). But it is a requirement of working for the agency that employees know how to perform these techniques. And in the practice run-throughs before the actual testing, I was not doing well, and a couple of the trainers gently but firmly told me, in front of everyone else in the training class, that I was not doing well. Twenty years ago, I would have told them off in no uncertain terms and stalked out. Ten years ago, I would have been very defensive and argumentative. And even a few years ago, I would have shut down, stopped participating, sullenly nursed resentments and brooded on the injustice of it all for weeks until somehow the feeling was expressed. Yesterday, I realized that the as much as I didn't like what had to do, it had to be done--and when the time came, I performed the tasks well enough to garner a passing grade. The greater need--to continue holding this job that took me five months to find and that will allow me to survive in this world--overtook the emotional mini-storm that was churning through my mind.
And that is just one small example of how I am approaching these little tempests these days. I want to emphasize that I am not handling everything perfectly. But I am handling more and more in a better fashion, and the results are showing in a more generalized and smooth manageability to my life. There was a time not so long ago--November, in fact--when I was caught up more in my own wants and desires concerning what was happening in my personal life, and it was a factor in a catastrophic development in the life of someone else. But I was able to put aside resentments, own my part in what happened, and make a commitment to acting and being different. Obviously, the same self-assessment and commitment to change took place within the other party, too, or else there would have been no basis to move forward. The price was paid, and there is now newer ground to be traveled---and I have applied the lessons I learned from the experience.
I've learned that suspicion is an emotional  cancer that kills. I have learned that unrealistic expectations lead only to anger and misery. I have learned that life has as many nuances and different areas of emphasis for others as it does for me. I have learned that fears are  often truly False Events Appearing Real. And I have re-learned that I actually have more power and influence than I sometimes feel that I do; it's just a matter of how I choose to use it and project it.
Or put in concrete terms--every time someone is off the radar does not mean that they are plotting illicit activity. I'm not totally accountable for 100% of my time; why would anyone else be? I am still learning profound truths at my age; why would I expect someone a lot younger than me with a lot less experience in living a better way to know more than they do (indeed, even realizing that one of the main attractions about me is that I do know better, and that the other party learns from me)? I have learned how overwhelming moving to the "real world" from a sheltered environment truly is, and that the most effective good  I can do is be an anchor, a home port--and not become viewed as another form of incarcerating authority. And I have realized that my wants, even some of my needs, are not necessarily priorities for the other party at this time and place in life.
I have often had cause to remember several conversations I have had with Ray over the last couple of years. Ultimately, the two points of reference in this are the other party and God. Or put another way, it doesn't matter what the world at large sees or thinks or believes. I've gotten way too caught up in the past on that stuff, and I still struggle with it at times. But the reality is that life is not a TV show or a Facebook page or a romance novel. I am reasonably sure of where I stand, and I have good reasons for feeling like I do. Could I be wrong? Yeah, I suppose I could be. But one good effect of making the effort to know someone is that you know the other person. Unless the other person is a complete sociopath, and there is no reason to believe that, you learn to discern what is real and what is not--and when there is some space in between, and the perspective to know that that space often is the someone else coming to terms with something you don't have much control or influence over.  Fairy tales are nice stories, but they're not real. Reality can be messy. Reality can be chaotic. Reality can be disappointing at times. Reality requires compromises. Reality requires coming to terms that we share this planet with a lot of other people, and many of them are up to no good or can be mixed blessings.
And the reality is that ultimately, all you can really do is be the best person you can be--and trust that it will be good enough for other people that they will want you around, whether it be professionally, personally, or romantically. No one is at their best all the time, but when the gap between ideal and reality is consistently small--well, people notice and react accordingly. Especially when they are going through the same process of growth and maturing as you are.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Book Review: THE BONE LABYRINTH

The Bone Labyrinth is the latest offering in James Rollins' Sigma Force series of suspense novels. It's got the usual combination of good (very interesting story line, taken from the more interesting and outlandish theories of human history) and bad (ridiculous body counts that draw no official notice or attention, cardboard villains). The central premise of the novel--how did humans make a quantum leap in intelligence capability about fifty thousand years ago--is one well worth exploring, and a lot of the more "mysterious" aspects of history, from surviving Neanderthals to Atlantis, are fitted together in the narrative. Still, the rather cheesy resolution--all these mysteries somehow stayed hidden for hundreds of years, then become permanently inaccessible as a result of fights between good and evil in the present day--marred what had been an entertaining, if implausible, yarn.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Decisions, Decisions

Sometimes we hear things that leave a profound impact on us. Many years ago, I first heard the phrase "we are the sum of our decisions," and I've never forgotten it, because it is absolutely true. I can't think of a single aspect of my life that has not been the result of at least one and often many decisions that I have made in the past. The ability to make good decisions is something that has not always come easy to me, and although I've gotten a lot better at it in recent years, sometimes I still don't make good ones, and when I don't, the effects usually aren't long in coming. Good decisions also have immediate effects, too, but we tend to take the long-term good effects of those decisions for granted, and consequently don't think about them as often. 
We also tend to take the ability to make good decisions for granted, after we've gotten reasonably effective at doing it. Which makes the occasional misstep even more jarring when it occurs. Is there a point to this little philosophical meanderings? Yes. I've been faced with a series of decisions, minor and major, recently, and with most of them, I'm happy with the results. I'm happy that I persevered with the job search as long as I did; I don't have much doubt that I landed in a good place. I'm happy that I made the decision to persevere in personal matters, deviating from my usual practice. I've had to make some hard decisions regarding priorities of what to spend limited funds on; those choices may bring consequences in the future, but so far, I've handled those well enough so that the lights are on and food is in the house. 
Some of the other choices I've made haven't been so good. The other day, I chose to indulge a trait I don't often indulge in anymore--twisting the knife in someone that hurt me badly in the past when the opportunity presented itself--and for only the five hundredth time in my life, I found the experience to be unsatisfying. I've been withdrawing from the fellowship I've been a part of for a long, long time--and I'm aware that I need to reverse that trend. There are always opportunities to work on tolerance, opportunities I sometimes do not take, even though in the long term I am always glad when I do. 
One of the decisions I've wrestled with is how much to write in this space. I don't flame people like I used to here, but the flip side is that many mornings, what I am feeling jacked up about--and what would make for interesting reading--is not something that experience tells me would be good to post. It makes it hard to write some days, because not only am I not going to be open about what I am passionately feeling, but I have to find something else to put up here, too. This, to no one that has read down this far's surprise, is one of those mornings. I do have a few things on my mind, largely positive but not entirely so. I don't want to mess with what's been working, and I am very aware that some that matter to me are very much affected by what I do. So I put up some vague stuff, and hope that regular readers slog through it, secure in the knowledge that tomorrow or soon, there will be something more colorful and interesting up here.
But another adage I heard a long time ago is relevant here--"boring is good." I'm not blowing my life or other people's just to entertain a few hundred people for five minutes. It's not worth it. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Book Review: A BRIEF HISTORY OF CREATION

A Brief History of Creation is one of those books that looks more interesting than it is. It is basically is a chronicle, by two academics, of the search, from ancient times till now, of the origin of life. I think there is an interesting book to be written about this quest.
But this isn't it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Feeling The Bern? Not WBNG

Some got turned away yesterday from our Arena--the first time in memory that it was filled to capacity for anything. The absence rate at Binghamton High School was over 10 percent, and several teachers called in as well. People came from all over the Southern Tier to attend. And yet our local television station didn't see fit to put yesterday's Bernie Sanders campaign event in Binghamton on its list of top five stories that headline the news section of its website.
There are two main points I want to make. One is that Sanders, whether or not he actually becomes the President or the nominee, has hit a major nerve in American politics. He is the first politician since Eugene McCarthy that has energized American youth to this extent. My daughter, as I pointed out yesterday, is a major Bern fanatic, but she is far from alone. And even those that don't like Sanders ought to be on their knees thanking him, because he has been responsible, at least for a few months in one campaign season, for inspiring American youth to believe that the current rotten system actually can work. 
The Sanders-inspired awakening has the potential to have a longer and deeper impact than the McCarthy movement did. I'm not sure Sanders is a one-issue candidate, but his major focus--economic inequality and the effects it has had on our society--is not going to be rectified as relatively easily as ending an unpopular war was. For all the crap Nixon got for bombing North Vietnam and extending the war into Cambodia, one of the understated reasons he won such a huge victory in 1972 was that the American troop presence in Vietnam shrank dramatically during his first term--whatever rhetoric was out there, the boys were coming home (and the ending of the Iraq conflict was an underrated factor in Obama winning as easily as he did in 2012, too). The looting of the country by the wealthy is extremely well-entrenched, and the wealthy have firmly grasped all the levers of power except, perhaps, the White House. Sanders is the most obvious rebuke available to the oligarchic class, and those that are just entering adulthood have joined forces with those that aren't willing to bullshit themselves about the true causes of the problems we now have in America to make Sanders not only viable, but also are giving him a real chance at winning. Not a great one, but it's at least a puncher's chance now, and months ago, no one saw this coming. 
And it's beautiful to see. The Baby Boomer generation that was so up in arms in the sixties was considered, at the time, to be "idealistic," and a great deal was made then and subsequently about the "tragedy" of a generation losing its idealism. It was bullshit then and it's bullshit now; the Baby Boomers are the most narcissistic, self-absorbed, infantile generation that has ever existed, and the unrest in the sixties was almost entirely a reflection of that narcissism--their existence was threatened by the war, and that fueled their "idealism." Period. As soon as that danger passed, their inherent selfishness became starkly apparent, and it's the Baby Boomers that are responsible for the inequality we now see. This generation--millennials, I suppose--is also driven by self-interest to a degree. But their idealism is not pathological, and their self-interest is much more broadly based. Depending on what happens in the next few months, the awakened leviathan may well change the direction of America for a generation to come, whether in the form of reform and change--or of repression. But my biggest fear from circa 2010, that we were just going to passively accept our slide into de facto fascism/slavery, has been alleviated. It may still happen, but at least we're not going down quietly.
The second point is much more prosaic. The main TV station here is the major form of media; I don't know the numbers, but it is the clear leader of the three local stations in influence, and what passes for a newspaper around here barely dents the radar anymore. And it has been exposed as an arm of the local Republican establishment, which I suppose is not surprising, given that several former employees of the station are now highly-placed officials in the county executive's office. I have been first amused, then alarmed and sickened by the fawning treatment the county executive (and to a lesser extent, the Binghamton mayor, who is Republican,  but he at least is arguably competent and within speaking distance of reality in his views of how the world actually works) and the Republican establishment get in their "news" stories. The way the feckless, frankly ridiculous attempts to address the heroin epidemic around here by the county executive have been portrayed is party-line, Pravda-like propaganda, no more and no less. The way other initiatives, similarly lacking in purpose and with a similar tenuous connection to the reality of conditions, have been presented to the public has been galling and depressing--not to mention damaging to the community. And while a local (admittedly doltish) Democratic pol has his alcohol-related issues prominently and negatively displayed on the news, similar problems among past members of the executive's team have been softpedaled. And the problems with alcoholism certainly are not limited to past members of the administration. I'm not an advocate for putting people's dirty laundry all over the media--but when there is rank hypocrisy in the construction of policies affecting everyone in the county, then it's "news.". I realize that objective media is a fantasy--but they could at least pretend more than they do to be somewhat balanced. 
And the judgment call that the Sanders rally was not worthy of news coverage was simply amazing to behold. Well, nothing is forever, and the perch that this station has had on top of the local media market is almost entirely built on a demographic that is dying out. And the younger generation doesn't pay much attention to it at all, and will only continue to ignore it in the years to come. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

How To Be a Hero To Your Kid

Sorry, this isn't going to be a big, long post about specialized parenting information. But it does take into account perspective and a sense of larger educational purposes.
While I am not a particularly politically active person, I have always been, with the exception of the tail end of active addiction, very aware of what is going on politically in this country. My cynicism and pessimism about the past, present, and future of American politics is well-grounded; I have a hell of a lot more reason for holding the beliefs that I do than almost anyone else that I know. My daughters, bless their souls, have taken much more after me than their respective mothers, who are passively conservative and aggressively ignorant, respectively, about politics; they are reasonably well-informed, especially when compared to their peers, and reliably progressive in outlook (the likelihood of starting professional life hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt tends to concentrate the lenses of political philosophy wonderfully). My youngest is the most progressive of all, almost radical in her views, and has been an enthusiastic supporter of Bernie Sanders for months now.
Well, the Bern is coming to Binghamton today. She asked me if she could skip school to go to the rally. And I told her yes, she could. Why? One, it's another little grind to the school system, which, the firing of the world's worst superintendent notwithstanding, remains poorly run and is providing, in my humble opinion, an education of dubious value. But mostly it is because the aim of an educational system is ostensibly to provide well-informed citizens capable of participating in the political process in a meaningful fashion. And getting involved in an event like this is more beneficial to that aim than sitting through a day of classes ever will be. Not to mention, who knows when the next opportunity will take place to see a major presidential candidate, or office-holder, come to our benighted burg?
Anyway, the doors open at 7 to the Arena, and she left the house an hour ago so that she and her friends could stand in line to ensure getting in. It's rainy and cold, but she is as happy as I have seen her in months. I wish I could go, frankly, but after taking 5 1/2 months to get a job, I'm not about to call in for any reason short of contracting bubonic plague at this point; I will be going to work as scheduled...But I am giving her an opportunity that I took when I was younger.
Not many people know this, but I was a very committed and active volunteer for the Jesse Jackson campaign in 1988. At the time, I was 24-turning-25, and had suffered through the full disillusionment of the Reagan years, from believing the propaganda in 1980 to seeing through the smoke and mirrors and bullshit by 1988. I was appalled by the prospect of a Bush presidency, thought Dukakis was in over his head, and saw through the BS of "conservative Democrat" even then, which made me instinctively repulsed by Al Gore even then (and Tipper's campaign for censorship of music repulsed me even more). Obama now is essentially Jackson Lite. Jesse turned out to be a bit of a charlatan in some ways, but at the time, he had a vision for America that was radically different than anyone else in the race--and time has proved that we, and the world, would not be in the mess we're in if his ideas had won out.
Volunteering that spring, my rose-colored glasses about the Fatherland were first tarnished. The virulent racism that has marred the Obama years was even more prevalent in 1988; I was absolutely astounded by the huge number of people that absolutely could not see past the color of Jackson's skin. Even my father, liberal in many ways, invariably referred to him as "that jigaboo," and gave me a raft of shit that forever altered our relationship for volunteering on the campaign.
I don't know if volunteering is going to be in the cards for Sabrina and Sanders. But I do know that this is an opportunity that she should be able to experience first-hand. I am going to be a rapt listener tonight when I return home from work to hear her impressions. I hope that her already-stoked fire is given even more fuel. And there are worse things to spend time away from school on than attending the ultimate civics lesson.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bleak

The New York Ranger regular season ended yesterday. They are in the playoffs for the sixth year in a row, and tenth of the last eleven (with the eleventh year only missing a playoff berth because of a shootout loss on the last day of the regular season--the infamous Oli Jokinen game), which is a pretty amazing run of success. And yet there have been no Stanley Cups in that run, only one Finals appearance, and there will be no Cup this year, either.
As much as I would like to say otherwise. This is a team that is damn lucky to be in the postseason. And it is largely the same story as it has been for almost the length of the last decade--there are a number of good players, but no one, aside from Henrik Lundqvist, that's among the best in the league at their positions. And their problems this year have been made worse by the way Alain Vigneault has coached. Simply put, giving ice time to players that are known, limited quantities (at best) and not playing young players that have a chance to become much better is a short-term loser's strategy. Tanner Glass now plays regularly, at the expense of two younger players whose ceilings are miles above Glass'. Dan Girardi and Marc Staal once were effective defensive defensemen; they are not now, and they are killing the team, only the coach keeps throwing them out there. The inability to write the name "Dylan McIlrath" on a lineup card is criminal. It took Vigneault three years to play JT Miller regularly. The Rangers traded a top prospect and a first-rounder for Keith Yandle, one of the best offensive defenseman in the league--and the coach won't play him top-player minutes. Eric Staal was a gamble this year, and he has done nothiing but prove he is washed up--although again, it would be nice if Vignault would play him with players that actually complement his abilities.
And they are going to play Pittsburgh in the first round. The Rangers have beaten Pittsburgh in the playoffs the last two years, but have been fortunate to do so, and this year, the Penguins are coming into the playoffs on fire. It's not going to be pretty.
The playoffs start Wednesday. I fully expect the season to be over by the following Friday. And I have no idea where the team goes from here.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Eleven Observations

1) Getting back into a working routine is going to be harder than I thought. I knew at the time I had it that the last job I had was more or less ideal for me, in that I was not tied down to an office for eight hours at a time and that the flexibility I had as a salaried employee to take care of what I needed, and wanted, to as I saw fit was simply amazing. While I like my job so far, that's not the case now. I'm not complaining, but it is an adjustment that is going to take time to get used to.
2) After twenty-eight years of presidential candidates I wouldn't go to see if you paid me, a candidate I would love to hear in person is coming to Binghamton on Monday. And I can't feel the Bern because I will be at work. Sigh.
3) Four weeks ago, for whatever reason, the Mobile Patrol app stopped being updated by the Sheriff's Office. I don't know if something is broken or whether the office simply stopped participating, but it's stuck on March 13. And after some initial anxiety... I've let it go. I got along just fine for many years without knowing within hours who has gotten arrested and incarcerated, and I'm finding that, especially as I am helping someone that matters to me a great deal find a new path in life, it's actually beneficial not knowing who's struggling. It's a voyeur's thing, really, or at least akin to someone rubbernecking at an accident, and the longer it's unavailable, the less I miss it and the more I realize how unhealthy it was for me to even care about the knowledge in the first place.
4) And along the same lines, I am discovering more every day the benefits of keeping the more personal details of my life on the sideline and out of public view, in particular on this site and on Facebook. I see a lot more than I comment on when it comes to other people, and I've discovered, late in life but indelibly so, that not voicing every thought that comes to mind helps friendships and relationships stay functional and unstrained. You simply can't unsay things, and even deleting comments doesn't mean that they weren't seen. And there are always those whose interpretations of comments only add to the problems. It's the old War Games adage: the only way to win is not to play.
5) And having said that, it's alternately disappointing and amusing to see some of what I've seen. A few weeks ago, a guy came into a meeting on fire about people that "cause drama" by getting involved in situations and "talking shit" about people that they don't say anything to their face about. So yesterday, the same guy drops a very curious comment into a months-old post on someone he hasn't spoken to in two years' page in a way that cannot be considered anything other than judgmental and inflammatory. Wow. Just wow.
6) And now I understand why all the people I had conflicts with over the years didn't like it when I was doing those sort of things. I've apologized many times, and have changed my behavior so that I don't do that anymore, regularly or even irregularly.. But it's sobering to realize how it looks when other people do it, and a motivator to keep on doing what I've been doing to change that. I rather like not being in constant conflict now.
7) And the conflicts I can't avoid--almost entirely within myself--are also being dealt with and resolved much more constructively than ever before, largely because I've refrained from putting things out there where the uninformed and mischievous can work their dark arts on them. I am beginning to see that the insecurities I tortured myself with for a long time were in part due to giving too much weight to chatter around me, and not enough weight to both my own judgment abilities and the difference between reality and fantasy.
Act II  has been different--not entirely smooth sailing, but different. Trust is both delicate and essential, and in some ways it's like building a Jenga tower. It's hard enough when one or two hands are involved. It simply isn't going to happen if five or six hands are involved, with another dozen shouting instructions and suggestions in the background...the monkey cage isn't silent all the time, but it is most of the time, and when it isn't, sitting still and not responding on impulse has proven to be a much more effective way of dealing with the noise. Sometimes I feel foolish for not applying what I've known for many years is the right solution in the past. But truly, better late than never.
8) I already feel very welcome in my new agency, and I'm not doing a lot of looking backward. But it has not escaped my notice that I did not hear one word back from my former agency's HR department about the opening in Tioga County that I put in for over a month ago. You'd think my thirteen years there of carrying their water in a lot of different ways would have counted for more than it apparently did. And much like I suspected it would, the farming out of the HR process that was being implemented when my program ended turned out to be the unwieldy instrument many of us feared it would be; it was another in a long line of instances where feedback from the provinces was ignored by upper management and they did what they planned to do before the dog-and-pony show of seeking input from those that actually had to make the directive work was allegedly solicited. Three months was already a standard vacancy time for open positions by the time I left Berkshire. The entire time between first interview and first day of work at this agency was twenty-six days. Actions speak louder than propaganda and slogans.
9) The miracle sports story I wrote about a few weeks ago in Great Britain is close to being clinched. Leicester City is seven points in front going into this weekend's games of Tottenham Hotspur (soccer leagues award three points for a win, one for a tie, and obviously zero for a loss), with six games remaining for both. Leicester is playing Sunderland, a team fighting off relegation, while Spurs are playing Manchester United, the Yankees of English soccer and always formidable even in down years. If Leicester wins and Spurs lose, it's over; making up three-plus games with five to go is going to be impossible. Even if both win, two-plus games with five to go is going to be next-to-impossible. I know no one in the United States cares, but I'm telling you, this is the greatest Cinderella story ever actually played out. There's stuff available on the Internet and You Tube that details the miracle from the time it started a couple of years ago, It's worth wasting forty minutes to find out more about it.
10) On a personal note, I have found that my interest in NASCAR has vanished with the retirement of Jeff Gordon. I've tried to watch this year, and I've really found that while the drivers I didn't like are capable of sustaining my interest for a few moments, I'm not really rooting for anybody. And that lack of a positive interest means it's not much different from watching rodeo  or skiing--something that's on in the background.
11) I've been paying a little more attention to the NBA than I normally do, because there is a lot of drama in the Warriors' quest for the all-time single-season best record. What I am finding more amazing is that they did not clinch the best record in the league until two nights ago, because San Antonio is also having a season for the ages. Which brings up the point of this observation. I have read reams of material all season long about Golden State's pursuit of a perfect home record, which finally ended the other night after a 37-0 start. Fine; it was noteworthy.
San Antonio's home record this year? 39-0. And not a freaking word in the media about it. I don't get it. You will hear something this weekend, because their next home game (NBA teams play 41 home games a season) is tomorrow night against--Golden State. But I have just been flabbergasted by the lack of attention that has accompanied San Antonio on this quest, compared to a team that wasn't as far along as they are chasing the same record. I think it's because San Antonio has been so good for so long--five championships in the last fifteen seasons, and an incomprehensible nineteen seasons in a row with 50 or more wins (I'm counting the 37-13 record in the lockout season; it certainly would have been had the full season been played)--that they have ceased to be newsworthy. Which is understandable, if not necessarily right.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Even More Inadequate

Both the county and the City of Binghamton came up with new "programs" that represent their "action" on the opiate epidemic that is ravaging our area (it's ravaging a lot of other places, too, but since I live here, that's what I am going to limit myself to commenting on). Both come under the heading of "fingers in the dike," unfortunately, and seemed destined to be wastes of (admittedly too little) money.
Taking the more recent first, the City announced yesterday that the main chemical dependency treatment agency in this area, the one that runs the crisis center, the halfway house, and the supporting living and Shelter Care Plus programs, will hire a new individual whose job will be following up with those discharged from the crisis center. The "care navigator" will help those discharged to an environment other than a rehab facility find the "services they need" while they wait for a long-term bed or attempt to live a drug-free life after only a short stay in the center. The director was on the news saying that 40% of the people discharged in such circumstances never follow up with recommendations, and the idea is that the navigator will decrease that percentage.
In the first place, the 40% is a fantasy; the real number is likely close to twice that. And the main reason the follow-up rates are so low is simple, and one that the agency is not going to go public with, because it's one of the root causes of the epidemic: they do not provide a true detox for opiate users. I am not as deeply involved in the 12-Step fellowship I've been a part of for nearly two decades as I once was, but I can think of at least twelve people off the top of my head that went to the Addictions Crisis Center attempting to kick heroin or other opiates, and left three days later because all they were given for withdrawals was Motrin and Gatorade. And every one of them that left the facility left to go cop opiates because they were suffering acute withdrawal symptoms, and as such are not going to "follow up" with service providers. The powers that be can dance around the issue all they want, but the only way that anything is going to make a dent in the lack of follow up problem is that addicts have Suboxone made available to them to manage detox and withdrawal--and then somewhere to go to immediately afterward for a long-term (at least sixty days and preferably 3-6 months ) stay.
Professionals in the field know that much drug use is environmental, in that people pick up mostly because of triggers and factors present in the lives they were leading before full-blown addiction. And the only way--the only way--that recovery is ever going to take root is that there is a significant interruption in that routine. There needs to be a separation from the environment that the addict used in; there is no alternative that works. My own experience is that I spent 5 1/2 months in 1998-99 away from the streets of Binghamton before returning to "real life", and was extremely fortunate not to relapse that first spring/summer clean as it was--and my drug of choice wasn't physically addicting like opiates are. This "care navigator" position is bound to be largely ineffective, mostly because there is no care out there that addresses the need that the population being served has.
But at least it's a well-meaning gesture. The county's initiative, announced earlier in the week, is a complete travesty. I'd call it a joke except it is almost criminally negligent and insulting to our collective intelligence. The county's "big" program to help deal with this issue was leaked to the media a few weeks ago, and consisted of a poorly-paid position that would help "educate" doctors on the dangers of overprescribing opiate-based pain medications, which has been the main engine driving opiate addiction among the young. And when a press conference was held announcing the guy who was hired to be that person, I almost gagged. It's a retired pharmaceutical representative--a guy, in other words, that has spent the last three decades going around to these very same doctors selling them on the benefits of prescribing his company's products--which are drugs, opiate-based pain medications.
In other words, the guy who made a career persuading doctors to prescribe the drugs causing, to a significant degree, the epidemic is now going to go to the same people and tell them, "don't do that anymore." I don't think so. I really think that his main, unstated focus is going to be to help doctors figure out a way to not be held liable for the damage they have been causing. And it's typical of the mindset of this administration to hire a fox to watch a hen house; they are so wedded to their bullshit "philosophy" that has dominated Republican politics since the time of Reagan's ascendancy forty years ago that they cannot understand that it doesn't work, never has worked, never will work, and that their deeply held ideas and biases about the nature of addiction and those that get addicted are largely wrong and shot through with prejudice. And since all of them are adults that have ridden those ideas to power, they're not going to have any come-to-Jesus conversions.
They need to lose their jobs. Period. Because they're clueless and they're aiming us straight down the drain.
The county executive's challenger has proposed making the recently-closed center that used to house the area's developmentally disabled population a long-term addiction treatment facility. It's certainly an idea worth exploring, and the basic framework does provide a way to address the problem in a way that at least can work, if done right. I will reserve my final opinion until I see some meat on the bones, but the proposal does take into account a basic truth---that if we want to make a dent in this problem, we need a long-term facility that cares for addicts for a long enough period of time to at least give them a fighting chance to make a new, drug-free existence for themselves and their loved ones for the long term.
It beats recommending things that have zero chance of making significant differences. Two positions costing $120K are not going to do a goddamn thing to solve this epidemic, and what passes for media around here ought to be ashamed of themselves for giving this any positive coverage at all.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Different Culture

One of the aspects of working for a different employer after being somewhere else for well over a decade that I underestimated was the difference in corporate cultures. Even after just a few days, it's become clear to me that I work in a very different environment than the one I had gotten used to. It seems more relaxed, more laid-back, than I am used to, and believe me, I've already noticed and am starting to treasure the difference.
The biggest one is that the powers that be are people that you can actually see every day. While this is a large agency, it is thoroughly local. Decisions get made in hours, not days, on practical matters. Meetings are not all-day affairs that people have to travel hours to get to. While financial considerations are a factor in organizational decisions, they're not as omnipresent as they were at my old outfit. And most of all, there is not the sense that everybody in the agency is doing the job that three people used to do ten years ago. People have their jobs to do, but it doesn't seem like this agency came through a life-threatening crisis that resulted in serious job attrition. I've already seen that people that have positions roughly analogous to the one I used to have at my old agency have fewer balls in the air, and are able to focus more on their immediate program needs.
It's different. And so far I like it.








Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Random Notes, Early April 2016

In no particular order:
1) With another large victory for the Bern last night, and the Canadian's win on the other side of the aisle, both presidential nominating contests now seemed assured of going well into May, and perhaps all the way to the conventions, before being decided. These are both positives and negatives--positives in that more attention is being focused on the process and on politics in general, negatives because it is becoming clearer that even when the system works like it is supposed to, inefficient as it is, the elites and kleptocracy game the outcome anyway. I don't really care about the Republican race except for sideshow potential, but I am becoming increasingly worried by the Democratic one, and the prospect of a Clinton nomination.
I am not a Clinton supporter. I would probably hold my nose and vote for her in November; every Presidential ballot I've ever cast in a general election in my lifetime has been for the lesser of two evils, so why would that change this year? But damn it, it has been really disillusioning to see just how much of a creature of business-as-usual she truly is in the last month or so. I'm not naive; I know that Sanders is not going to change the world all by himself. But it would be a start to have a guy in charge that was on the side of most of us. And what worries me most about Clinton is that as many or more people can't stand her as do Trump--which leads to the possibility that if she does become the nominee and there's a gaffe or a damaging revelation, the White House could be lost to the forces of darkness. And then we are all screwed.
2) Speaking of anxiety, I've spent much of the last several months feeling anxious on one level or another. Some of the anxieties have been eased somewhat--I am employed again, and some other pressing concerns have been addressed. But it never really stops, I'm finding. One thing I am grateful for is the ability to deal with it without medications--I feel dependent enough on having to take a blood pressure med every day, and I can't imagine needing to regulate moods out of a bottle. And the other thing I am grateful for, increasingly, is something I don't see much of in other people--a measure of decisiveness that doesn't paralyze me. I do not, thankfully, have an infinite capacity for pain, and I am proving to myself again that I will not suffer agony helplessly. I am finding that I am able to adjust emotionally to situations enough to inject reality into areas where fantasy used to run unchecked (or maybe it's just that scar tissue doesn't have as many nerve endings and pain receptors as normal skin).  I learned a long time ago that keeping expectations realistic was one of the unheralded secrets of life, and I do try to live by that insight. On the other hand, any relationship, whether it be romantic or friendship or filial, has some degree of expectations attached--because otherwise there is no relationship. I'm doing much better on managing expectations on others--and one "other" in particular--than I was even a few months ago.
But the flip side is that I don't care as much, out of self-defense and self-preservation, as I did at one time. Yes, it leads to less pain. But it also leads to a sense of loss, too, and of a wariness that I wish I didn't feel. Maybe this just comes with the territory when you're at the point of life that I am. But I feel like Jack Nicholson sometimes asking "Is this as good as it gets?" Because if it is, it's a bit of a letdown.
3) The big sports story around these parts has been the run to the Final Four by Syracuse that ended the other day. Yeah, it was a great run. But it doesn't alter the fact that they should not have been in the tournament to begin with. What it really proved that 68 is a pretty arbitrary number to allow into the tournament; there really isn't a whole lot of difference between the twenty-fifth best team in the country and the hundredth-best team in the country. It's long past time when the tournament became open to every team in the country.
It's not an exact corollary, but there are competitions in other countries that open the field to every team in that sport in the land. The English FA Cup is one example; every soccer team in the country starts out with a theoretical chance to win. In practice, no one other than the equivalent of a 8 or 9 seed has ever won it, and almost always the winner is one of the best teams in the country. But there are Cinderella stories every year of teams that get six or seven rounds deep that play several levels below the top of the pyramid. Why not do that here?
4) And finally this morning-- I was seriously considering planting my garden a week or two ago. I am glad I did not, because there is now snow on the ground and the temperature outside is 16 degrees. Every school district in the area called off school Monday, the first snow day of the year. And the weather really isn't going to warm up for another week or better.
Anyone still want to debate whether climate change is real? Yes, we've had snow in April before--but not the first frigging snow of the season.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Different Directions

For the first time in 13 1/2 years, I reported to work for a different agency yesterday. It was orientation training, a long day of various people running departments of a large non-profit. After spending so many years at another non-profit, there wasn't a lot gone over that was completely unfamiliar to me, and I am looking forward to the next few days, as familiarity grows.
I wrote a longer section earlier about something else that is going on, but since it is likely that more will be revealed today on that issue, I decided to hold off. Sorry for the light content this morning, but I am trying to be more responsible with my social media presence, especially since my new employer has made it clear that they are somewhat more concerned about their employees' online footprint than my previous employer was. So this is all I'm going to write this morning.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Book Review: THE CROSSING

I love Michael Connelly, and I love his main protagonist, Harry Bosch. The last fifteen years have seen a series of novels tracing Bosch's career as an LAPD homicide detective, but also major developments in his personal life, including the discovery of a half-brother, Mickey Haller, that is a well-known defense attorney. The Crossing, the latest offering in the series, details how Bosch, forced into retirement at the end of the last book in the series, reluctantly agrees to work for Haller as his investigator on a high-profile  murder case. The contrast between cop and lawyer is explored masterfully, and Bosch's dogged pursuit of the true story leads to everyone's worst nightmare--a corrupt pair of policemen that have no boundaries. The story unfolds like an accordion, and it is totally riveting--it took me about five hours, if that, to finish the book. Connelly's last few efforts have been uneven, but this book sees him return to the top of his game.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Bit of Anxiety

Today is the last day I am going to be unemployed. It's been a long, difficult five and a half months. So much has happened that it honestly seems like five years ago since I cleared out my office and turned in my keys. I remember the initial optimism that it wouldn't take long to get another job. The crushing disappointment of not getting a couple of jobs that I really wanted. The breaking of the dam recently, when it became clear that I was going to get selected by a number of places, and it was going to be my choice which one I went to.
And it's amazing how much my internal clock has changed. I've managed to keep getting up in the morning at the same time I did, but that's mostly a conditioned response to putting together daily missives like this one. But I have gotten very, very used to having my days free. In the long term, I will still have my days free, because the job I took is third shift. For the next two weeks, though, it is a straight eight-hour workday for training, and that's going to be a change, a big change, because the last several years I was at my previous job, I more or less was a master of my own schedule. Yes, I know that was after several years there and a couple of promotions, but that was my reality, and I got used to it. It's not going to be like that for some time, if ever.
And my life has gone through a bunch of changes since October (September, really, which was when I found out the grant that funded my program was not going to be renewed). The hiatus allowed me and the queen to get through some very rocky times; there is simply no way that could have happened without the time I had available to devote to it. It's time for the next level, the next steps, and while I am optimistic that it will all be fine, it's still going to be a change, and change isn't easy.
And there's been a lot of change in the household, too. My daughter and I are struggling, and my taking a third shift position isn't going to be helping matters. I really don't know how this is going to work out, to be honest. One good thing is that the position is going to be four days, ten-hour shifts; at least one day should be somewhat normal, and tentative plans are that my days off are Mondays and Tuesdays. But it's already been difficult for us, and change/adjustment is even harder for a 17YO than it is for adults. I wouldn't necessarily say that I am filled with foreboding, but I do feel somewhat anxious.
But life is anxiety, on some levels; there is no way to completely dispense with it. Some people claim that they have this abiding, all-encompassing faith that shields them from feeling anxious. Whether or not that is true is debatable, but I know it isn't the case for me. I feel anxiety, a lot. Where progress has come over the course of my life is not allowing it to paralyze me, or become the basis of my decisions (or at least the sole basis).
And in this case, the anxiety was tempered by realistic considerations. I spent down the entire cushion I had built up over a decade during his period of unemployment; I need to go back to work, now. This job paid the most of those I had available to me. The third shift thing is a gamble, but it can also work out better in some ways, too. If my relationship is going to move forward, it has to be able to survive periods of absence and the intrusions of life's responsibilities. It is time to step out on faith, and see how it plays out. There's not a whole lot else I can do, anxious or not.
And so it is time to do it. And to enjoy, as much as possible, the last day of leisure.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

I Know What Day Is Today

And I'm not walking around muttering "Humbug" like I might have been in the past. But my birthday this year actually has some significance, as major changes are happening at the moment when the anniversary of my arrival on earth is occurring. There's always the hope that a deep, dark time has passed forever, and that all that lies ahead is sunshine and joy. While I can hope for better things to happen, I'm realistic enough to know that there are going to be setbacks ahead, too, and most of all, there is just uncertainty. Sometimes I'm all right with that, in that my faith that God will provide an opportunity for good things to happen will come to the fore. Other times, I'm not--I remain, after all these years, a recovering addict, and as such am prone to obsessive thoughts on a daily basis. The job is to not allow my obsessions to become the reasons I make my decisions to act. 
And I'm doing that, better than I thought I would be. I don't have this queasy feeling in my stomach very much anymore. Getting a job has helped; it is official in that it starts on Monday. The pay isn't anywhere what I was making at the end of my time with Berkshire, but it is enough to be within shouting distance of solvency in the future, and there is the possibility of advancement within that agency, too. But it has its complications, too; I've never worked for an outfit that pays every two weeks before (unusual in this day and age, but true), and that is going to force me to radically reshape my budgeting. Not only that, but I am starting to work in the middle of a pay period, which means it will be three weeks before I get a paycheck and it's only going to be a half-check. I really do not know how bills are going to get paid in April... but I will manage the best I can.
Other areas of my life are moving forward, too. A major change took place this week, and things seem to be going all right. Expectations seem to be more realistic for both of us, and at least for now, it's working. It's not all about me, either; she's got a much bigger, and much more important, adjustment to make, and I've figured out that it's imperative for me to not add to her burdens (and she has many) by insisting that this aspect of our lives should be all important at all times. We spent a lot of time in the past few months working out how to make things better between us when this moment came, and so far I've been able to do what I knew I needed to do, and to all appearances she is doing what she said she needed to do, as well. The vibe is different, in a better way; that's really all there is to say. And I've learned to trust my gut in this area. The next couple of weeks are going to be hard, in that time is going to be at a premium. But just to be at this point seemed impossible a few months ago, and I am not getting caught up in extraneous and unproductive thoughts. I'm grateful that it is what it is, right now, and that she is present in my life. 
And the most important aspect of my life is my daughter. We have been struggling a bit for months; it got better for a long time, but there was an issue the other day, in which I realized, definitively, that I am dealing with an adolescent still. There comes a point where one has to make stands, and I am not going to be manipulated or browbeaten by my own kid about matters that are important to me. At the same time, I am the rock her world is anchored on, and I need to be cognizant of that at all times, not just most of the time.  Parenting has been the greatest and most rewarding challenge of my life, and it doesn't stop being so after children reach independent age (I'm sure my mother could talk to you for hours on that subject). She still needs me to take care of her, support her in many ways, to be the force of stability that I have always been, even as her forays into emotional independence get further and further from the nest. That doesn't mean I have to surrender authority or kowtow to her every whim--but it does mean that I do what a father does, even when I don't like her attitude or her passive-aggressive acting out.
Part of the expectation adjustments referred to in the previous paragraphs is the realization that the children of others are as important to them as mine are to me. As much as I would like to spend my birthday with my most-important friend, I realize that she hasn't seen her daughter in four months, and this weekend is her visitation weekend,...In this, and in dealing with my own kids, the words of my then-sponsor and always-friend Aldo from fifteen years ago ring in my ears like a church bell--essentially, act like an adult when dealing with children, and that the surest way to ruin someone's attraction to you is to insist that you are the only legitimate concern they should have. 
A rarity happened at the meeting last night. The format was pitch-topic, in which the person who has just talked asks someone else in the room to speak next, and I got picked very early in the meeting, which hasn't happened in a year or more. The topic was serenity, something which I am still working on achieving but also something I have been experiencing a lot more in recent months and years, even as outside parts of my life have radically changed. And the essence of what I was saying was that I can't get wrapped up in things I cannot control, and I cannot let my obsessions control my life. And most of all, I need to extend to other people the same forbearance and slack I want to be extended. The most noticeable change in my life from three or four years ago is not any surface stuff.
It is the lack of conflict. And on the flip side of that coin, it is the ability to let go of hurt and anger without letting them consume me, without fueling internal coal fires that cannot be quenched. Forgiving hurt allows healing, and it also allows people that you really don't want to be gone from your life to stay in it. Not getting all up in what everyone else is doing allows me to stay friendly with pretty much everyone, and certainly leads to more peace in the small society I am a part of. I'm sure not everyone thinks I'm wonderful. I know that some people can't see past some things I've done and said at times, and others focus on aspects of situations and choose to make decisions based on those aspects. I can't control that, and the difference is that now I don't try to change it. I'm not going to be one of those people that says, "I don't care what others say or think;" to a degree, I do. But not to the point where those opinions and beliefs are the reason I make decisions. 
It's taken a long time, fifty-three years, to get to the point where I am comfortable enough when looking in the mirror to be OK with presenting that image to the world. I don't always get what I want. I am not guaranteed against future painful experiences. But I am less burdened with regrets, and I do not spend much of my time in conflict with others. And the ultimate result is that more of my time is spent with people I like to spend time with, and that I spend more time doing things that I want to do. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Book Review: BEING NIXON

Richard Nixon is perhaps the most fascinating American political figure of all, and certainly of my lifetime. He was the first President I actually remember as President, and as such occupies an outsize shadow in my mind, and given the way his Presidency ended, he has been written about and talked about more than any other political figure of my lifetime. And yet Being Nixon, by Evan Thomas, told me much I didn't know about the man and his life, particularly his White House years.
Every human being is, at any given time, experiencing an emotional tug-of-war between what he feels like he needs to be and what he wants to be. Nixon was perhaps the most extreme example of this in our history. There are far, far too many anecdotes about Nixon's habit of incredible personal kindnesses and surprising empathy to dismiss, that also couldn't contrast more with some of the unsavory aspects of him that led to his downfall. The book spends a lot of time discussing this, from why the tendency was so pronounced in him from childhood on till the end of his life. But there were so many other details here that were new to me. To take one example, Nixon's successor was pilloried and made fun of for physical gaffes--yet Nixon was so clumsy that his staff had to substitute clips for pins on ceremonial medals the President gives out because he invariably stabbed the recipient. Nixon, too, had all sorts of trouble saying appropriate things in personal encounters, much worse than the usual awkwardness in such situations. He and his wife had a strange (although not loveless) relationship, but the sleeping in separate rooms, which caused a stir when publicly known in the 1970's, was because he was an insomniac and usually got up after an hour or two of restless near-sleep.
Watergate obviously is a big part of the book, and the author is actually reasonably sympathetic to Nixon, arguing that he didn't know details until March 1973. But in a general way, he knew within days of the break-in happening, and his insistence on getting the best of his adversaries was the engine that drove it all to begin with. The parts about his interactions with Kissinger are enlightening and almost humorous, and this book is the best treatment of Nixon as Congressman, Senator, and Vice-President that I have ever seen. I also did not know that his daughters and their husbands were living in the White House after their marriages... I've deliberately written this review in a rambling, disconnected manner, because that was how Nixon himself operated and spoke, It was a tool, a tactic, but it also served him well and helped keep him in control of situations  This is a very interesting and readable 500 pages on the most interesting President of my lifetime.