Monday, January 31, 2011

 I have had writer’s block lately. Well, that is not entirely true……I’ve written a ton of vindictive and critical stuff about my….well someone that I have known for a very long time. However, on the counsel of my brilliant and pragmatic wife I have refrained from sending it or posting it publicly. There were some really great lines in my rant too! I will just have to outlive everyone in order to see them in print.

I did try to stray from the theme of what an idiot that person who I was venting about but won’t name publicly because I’m just not that kind of person, but you know who you are and what you did and how STUPID IT WAS!!!!!  Sorry…where was I. Oh yeah, when I strayed from my ranting I ended up being preachy and philosophical. Not the worst crimes, but not the kind of story-teller I want to be. 

So while I’m trying to figure out the next story that needs telling I’m going to shamelessly promote one of my talented and wonderful nieces. Please check out her artwork at


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Asking for the water

      My wife and I were talking about my post, “Never get between a woman and her Crazy”. I thought it was one of my better posts. She did not. She summed up her critique by telling the story of an actor and a writer making a sit-com. During the run through the actor killed the audience when he asked for some water. However, during shooting the audience did not respond to the same line.

         “What happened?” asked the actor.
         “During rehearsal”, the writer began, “you asked for the water, but during shooting you asked for the laugh.”

         When my wife read the post, she thought I was asking for the laugh. She has a point. For the last couple of days I have been trying to write humorous and entertaining posts, and failing miserably. Sometimes I try too hard. I was never one of those people who could keep up with the funny going around the dinner table. It almost always ended badly, by which I mean the creation of a cringe moment that tends to haunt me if my mind should accidentally drift towards my childhood.

         So why do I continue to go for the funny? Maybe it’s the approval junkie in me. That last post had some truth to it. Part of my own personal “Crazy” is a need for some external validation. Sometimes I can transcend that impulse and accept myself as is (with the notable exception of my recent weight gain). But……on a bad day, I go right for seeking approval. It’s part of my DNA, I’m just built that way.

         There is hope for someone like me. I am increasingly aware of when the approval seeking rears it’s ugly head. When I am lucky enough to be conscious of it, I can remind myself that I don’t have to impress anyone. I can let it go, on a good day. On a bad day……not so much.

         My point is that being mindful of your motivations is very hard work. Asking for water only when you are thirsty is hard work. I think what my wife was saying, is that my best posts have to do with sharing something of myself rather than seeking the approval of laughter. Which is not to say that I will banish the funny. I just need to let it happen more effortlessly. The human condition is funny enough on it’s own, it doesn’t need my help.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fear of Flying

        No, I am not talking about Erica Jong’s iconic book, but “Fear of Turbulence”  makes a lousy title and “Fear of crashing into the Earth after a 37,000 foot free fall” is too long. I actually haven’t reached cruising altitude yet, so the panic in my voice, figuratively speaking, is genuine and raw. I am hoping that the Bonine Raspberry Flavored Chewable Meclinzine, which “works four hours longer” kicks in soon. Four hours longer than what, I’m not sure? It doesn’t really matter how long it lasts, because it arrived late and I was fully conscious for take off. So I am scared, pissed, and unfortunately conscious. I am weighing the cost of a Scotch induced coma vs. the inevitable migraine I get if I have more than one drink. I think the only thing keeping me from ordering a drink is that it is a 6:00 a.m. flight and the passenger two seats away from me has the distinct look of a social worker fresh out of school. I really don’t want amateur counseling right now (that’s my job!). The truth is, if I talked about the genesis of my fear the young woman two rows down thumbing through the DSM-V (the social workers bible) might just start pouring us both a few shots if Glenn Fidditch.
         I was flying out of Naples, Florida about 16 years ago, on my way back to New York. We had barely gotten over the Everglades  when the plane dropped vertically for about three seconds. My head hit the ceiling, hard. Even the stewardess screamed. To this day I don’t know what happened because the pilot never came on to explain things or acknowledge that we had just plummeted out of the sky. After the sudden loss of altitude, we hit some hard air and somehow started moving forward rather than downward. Ten minutes after the fall we flew into clouds that seemed to stay with this all the way to LaGaurdia. It was rough going all the way back to New York, big shifts in every direction as we flew through industrial strength turbulence. I think the worst part of it was the limbo of flying threw clouds, with no frame of reference. I’m not sure when I decided I was going to die, but I think it was somewhere over Georgia. In my mind I started saying good-bye. I heard other people crying around me. As I was mentally saying good-bye to the people I loved, my mind wondered to my cat.  My mind fastened on to her. She was purring to me and, in cat talk, telling me that it was all okay. That death was not the end. Lady, my cat, could be very convincing when she wanted to be, even in my fear induced fantasies.  I found that when I thought of her, I became calm.

         When we landed at LaGaurdia the young woman who had been sitting behind me said a very tearful and sincere “thank you” to me. I wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about, it took me a few minutes to put it all together. I had been sitting on an aisle seat and at some point during the flight she had gripped my bicep. She held my arm the entire flight. Back in the early 1990’s it was fashionable among urban Afro-Americans women to wear very ornate fake fingernails. The young woman who sat behind me had drawn blood with her gold leaf and fake diamond studded nails. I never felt a thing, I was deep in my own fear. I hadn’t even realized she had gripped my arm until she let go as the plane pulled up to the gate. It took more than a week for the bruises on my right arm to fade.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Spoon full of Crazy, an Occupational Hazard

     There is no good way to gage just how sane you are. Our internal logic always makes sense to us. You need to ask someone else to be your yardstick if you really want an honest answer[1]. Still, going a little nuts is an occupational hazard if you work in the mental health industry for any significant length of time. The truth is crazy is contagious.
         Hang out at the Chicken Bone Saloon in Framingham on any given week night and you will see the seeds of crazy being planted. It’s where the staff of a certain well-known residential program goes to wash off the crazy with beer, whiskey, and blues after work. It is impossible to wash off all the crazy, even with top-shelf whiskey (which none of them can afford because they work in a residential program). Eavesdrop on a few of their conversations. This won’t be difficult as they all have learned to speak with voices that carry into the most reluctant ears. Chances are, if they just got off work, they have not drunk their voices back to normal yet.  You’ll hear something like this:

Veteran 1: “Did you see JP go off after lunch today?”

Veteran 2: “No, was it the Granny Nurses again?”

Veteran 1: “Yup, she ended up biting three people then she took a swan dive off the table, aiming for the silverware tray.”

Veteran 2: “ All because of the Granny Nurses? What did they do to piss her off this time?”

Veteran 1: “I think they missed her birthday again, all she could talk about was ‘How those old b**ches couldn’t get anything right’”

Veteran 2: “Well when you have a birthday every two weeks….”

Newby: “Umm, who are the Granny Nurses?”

Veteran 2: (laughing) “We are all Granny Nurses”

Newby: “Huh?”

Veteran 1: “Look, JP has a bunch of old ladies living in her head she calls the Granny Nurses, if she starts twirling her hair and rocking back and forth, take cover- she’s fighting with the Granny Nurses.”

Veteran 2: “That’s when we all become Granny Nurses”

Veteran 1: “The only person who can calm her down when she is mad at the Granny Nurses is the ‘Biggest Fattest Granny Nurse Ever’, BUT…… she but doesn’t work until ‘tomorrow’ ”

Newby: (after doing the mental math and coming up one fat lady short on the staff roster) “I’ll get the next round”

         You just can’t spend 40-60 hours a week cleaning up after the Granny Nurses without a stronger astringent than whiskey. By far, the best medicine for insanity is a spoon full of Crazy. No, they are NOT the same thing. After the novelty of drinking wears off, meaning last call at the Chicken Bone, someone inevitably will say, “anyone in the mood for a swim?”  Framingham is blessed with a reservoir that is dissected by a train-bridge. If you happen to be driving along Route 9, at say 2:15 a.m., look across the water and you will see the silhouette of naked bodies balanced precariously along the train tracks about 8 feet above the water. They will, allegedly[2], be jumping into the water at the mid-point of said bridge. Okay, that doesn’t sound soooo crazy, but remember most of these kids are rookies. Eventually jumping naked off a bridge into ice-cold water gets boring. That’s when crazy takes a road trip into the foothills of insanity. At this point you are going to need to seek out that reliable person who is your yardstick and ask them for an honest appraisal. Of course, you already know the answer because you had to ask.
         If the person you are asking works with you………have a nice trip, we will see you both when you get back.

[1] I’m not sure any of us really want the honest answer, if you do- you’re crazy
[2] Allegedly, because it is not strictly speaking “legal” to do this.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

He Started It

   There are some things one never outgrows. For my brothers and me that thing is adolescence. This was fully on display during our New Year’s Day Skype-call between me and my twin [1].  I don’t know who started it (well technically if Mom asks, it was totally his fault-he started it honest), but somehow we ended up comparing bellies. He was making the general point that he has more of a six-pack than I do, even though there are less than two pounds difference between us. Granted his weight is dedicated to muscle, where my weight is more of the blubbery kind. So there we are in front of the cameras with our shirts pulled up arguing about this. He is winning the argument, so I call for reinforcements:

         “Hey, J. come here a second!”

Enter my thirteen year old son, who is now traumatized by the sight of identical middle aged men sucking in their stomachs trying to talk without letting their guts spill over their jeans.

“Oh my God, you’re an ape!”

“Yeah, yeah, just tell us who has got the better abs”

“Please, please tell me I’m never going to be that hairy!!!”

"J. just tell Uncle Glenn that your Dad is cut like a rock!" 

(full disclosure time, I held out five fingers off camera, indicating  how much money such a declaration might earn him [2])

"MOOOOM , the're doing it again!"
         There is a reason that my son can’t be bribed. It all started about eight years ago while I was wrestling with J, who was about five years old at the time. Please note that as I tell this story it is very clear WHO STARTED IT (that would be Glenn, in case you miss the subtle nuances of this tale). Uncle Glenn called just as I was doing my best Andre the Giant attacks Super Speed Boy[3] routine. I put my son in a scissor lock so I could talk to my brother. After I explain the situation to Glenn, he asks if he could talk to J. for a second. I hand the phone down to my knee-caps. J. starts to giggle and eagerly agrees with his soon to be favorite Uncle. He hands the phone back to me.  I get as far as “Wh” before J. hits me in the groin.  Rolling over in agony I could hear in one ear my son triumphantly shouting, “I win, I win, it worked!” The other ear, pressed to the phone, heard a resounding belly laugh from my brother. Thus started an alliance, against me, that can withstand the temptations of a five dollar bribe.

         Hey, D., I know you are only five, but if you can read this ask your Dad if you can call Uncle Corey. I have a really fun job for you.


[1] For those of you unfamiliar with Skype, it’s a free video conferencing tool.
[2] As long as we are being that honest, I should disclose that I am about 30 lbs. past a six-pack.
[3] Five year old boys generally stink at making up cool wrestling names.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rumi and Husam

After completing the self-indulgent "One Week Challenge", I have decided to re-post this piece. I have added MEW's comment to the body of the text. It's the day before returning to school and a healthy dose of humility is in order as I return to my classroom. -C. 

I just read something about Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, and his friend Husam[1]. The story goes that Rumi pulled a piece of paper from his turban and read the first lines of the Mathnawi, which he had written that morning to Husam. 

                  “There must be more”, said Husam.
                  “If you will write for me, I will continue”, replied Rumi.

Twelve years later Husam had scribed six volumes containing over fifty-one thousand verses of poetry. Husam recalls that, “He [Rumi] never took a pen in his hand while composing the Mathnawi.” I can’t help but wonder at the remarkable sense of humility Husam had achieved. I’m not sure how much Husam is ever mentioned in discussions of the great poet, but I have to wonder if there would have been a Rumi without a Husam? Husam replied to Rumi, “From this moment, I am your servant” after hearing the promise of more poetry to come.

         I’d like know Husam a little bit better. Was it love? It had to be. My 21st century brain wants to know if it was romantic love, but my second thoughts dismiss the question as irrelevant. Did Husam have an intuition that there was twelve years of brilliance hiding in Rumi’s head? Did he recognize his own contribution to the creative process? Without a witness, without a scribe, I don’t believe Rumi could have produced the body of work that he did. His words would have been the proverbial tree falling in the woods. Husam reminds me of how different people draw out different aspects of us. What was it about this seemingly humble man that liberated the master to delve so deep into thought? Did Husam care for Rumi, feed him, cook, and clean , and serve?

         I think the Husam’s of this world go uncelebrated, and perhaps they prefer it that way. They are, after all, a modest and humble group. But, they make the world work. They make room for the genius to happen. They make the container that can hold the creation, which would otherwise spill onto the floor and be lost. I have no doubt that the world would be a better place if there were more Husams in it and less aspiring Rumis. 

MEW'S Comment:
as teachers aren't we all Husam? we get things out of others that might never come to light if we didn't ask for them. yet our role in their creation is never the focus of the final product.

[1] The Longing: Poetry, Teachings, Stories, and Letters of Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mig’s Dream

A few days after Herb's death, Mig dreamt about her father. She was sitting on the beach in front of her home in St. Criox when she saw the old man walking towards her. He was surrounded by dogs. This was not all that unusual. Herb was always a man who preferred the company of dogs over most people. He was a man who carried dog treats in his pockets, just in case.
It was no surprise that he would gather a crowd of Carribean beach mutts as he walked. Even in a dream, dogs meant the world to Grandpa Herb.
         “Dad, Mom’s going to kill you when she sees all of these dogs”

Then Mig remembered, her father was gone. She looked closer at the dogs and began to recognize them.
         “Dad, what’s going on?”
         “They all came back to me. Each and everyone. Every dog I ever owned.” He paused, tossing a treat to the closest open mouth. Laughing he said to Mig,
         “I’m going to keep walking, I’ll see you later.” 
He walked away in the middle of the pack, cigar smoke trailing behind him.
Grandpa and I never really understood each other. Not the way my other brothers knew the man. While he held court in his little sitting room, smoking cigars and watching golf with my brothers, I was in the kitchen listening to Grandma talk politics and learning how to drink strong coffee. 
But dogs…..he and I always had a way with dogs. We understood that part of each other, the part that could speak dog. It was our wordless bond. Some people have Bar Mitzvahs. My rite of passage into adulthood was when Gramps asked me to take care of Jo-Jo, an ornery mutt with the body of an over-fed Corgy and the face of a mustached Terrier. It was the highest compliment he ever gave me. 
The dream is likely an invention, but I’ll keep it. It is how I choose to remember Gramps.