Am I Enough? My reply to the Daily Post

If you didn’t read the original posting, take the time to do it otherwise this might seem disjointed.  or maybe it’s just the nice selection of Pharmaceutical Grade painkillers they gave me to help me get some rest?

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So far this evening I’ve had a parade of people come in a try to tell me that everything is going to be fine.  That when this is over sometime tomorrow afternoon that we will have corrected the problem of this stupid tumor in my head.  Of course had things gone according to plan, we’d be past this particular hurdle.  I do sometimes wonder if I have heard enough of the off-color jokes to complete my own compendium.  One of these nurses should either go out on tour or possibly have a long talk with the Human Resources Department about workplace etiquette.

Are we ever really enough for others?  Can someone reach a point where they feel that their best just doesn’t measure up or even get some consideration?  I guess it all becomes a matter of personal value and self-worth.  Two things currently lacking in my personal life.  I’d hoped by now to be more than a cliche, a guy whose value is determined by the level of workplace success he has.  But doubt is a fun thing to deal with.

When I’m writing there are times when it comes out just as my mind is forming it.  As if the reader were in the room and we conversed.  Other times I hold back because the reader isn’t quite the target of the comments, but they are like a third wheel getting to watch the evolution of a relationship, or the disintegration of a relationship.  That’s always the fun seat to be in.  Driving from one place to another, trapped with a couple fighting.  Been there, don’t care for it!

Today when I named Abigail for the public to recognize; at a time when I worry about the next round of something medical robbing me of some precious moment, I wanted the world to have a record of her.  Proof beyond a bright spot in my life that she existed.  Never long enough for me, but that was beyond my abilities.  That sounds odd, but no one in my family talks about her with me.  My mom tries, but she just see the hurt in my eyes and stops.  Putting her name out there makes her real for everyone, not just Lary’s daughter, but a person with value beyond a story line.

And that’s what is important, letting someone know they have value.  Even the youngest of child can have the biggest impact on a life.  Her deeds don’t go beyond family, they never needed to.  Like I told the former Mrs. Lary, I was never prouder than when she tried anything.  Succeed, Fail, something in-between?  It was about not letting doubt win.

Wish I had taken that advice when I let her mother win by placing such doubt in my mind that I felt I failed at everything.

Am I enough?  I try to be the best version of who I am, of whom I can be.  While I don’t know how others see me anymore, I do know that I sometimes don’t like what I see in myself.  That’s a battle worth fighting,

Don’t Ask Me, I’ll Screw with You…

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Polite Company.”

Religion and Politics, two topics that are openly whispered about until it is time to run for some elected office.  All of a sudden, where you go to church is as important as the viewpoint you have on tax reform.  Let’s leave some of the more interesting crossovers of religion and politics out of this, most notably abortion.  I’m a guy, I have a viewpoint but in reality I don’t have a say in that arena.  So let’s run from that topic…

When John Kennedy ran for office they all thought the Pope would be running the country from afar.  The notion of our forefather’s that the separation of church and state was going to be blurred in some unrecoverable way.  Only that wasn’t the case.  I’m sure in the quiet of his office, when not being visited by Marilyn Monroe, Kennedy was more concerned with Cuba and Moon Shot dreams and didn’t pick up the phone because the Pope wanted to discuss trade policy. So later when Mitt Romney ran and they said the same things about Mormons, those same “rumors” fell aside quickly in the debates.  We had progressed to the point where religion was a biographical note, not the reason someone was qualified.

My aunt used to send me tshirts from Greenpeace when I was a teenager.  They had some wonderful depictions of whales or some other creature and I would call her up and poke fun at why she was hugging the trees!  Now I watch the news and see how crab prices are affected by the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.  Politics making it easy to have done one thing, until it reaches the point where those actions have a lasting effect on the consumer product and livelihood of thousands.  Makes me long for the days when you could drive along some oceanfront road in Maine and by a 2 lb lobster for pocket change off the back of some guy’s pickup truck.

Would I walk up to some random stranger on the D.C. Metro and start asking their viewpoint in the latest “reforms” in either politic or religion?  Not a chance, people are crazy.  Never know when some radical fundamentalist is going to start screaming about his gun rights or how Jesus saved his momma from some disease because she “testified” at the latest gathering.  Okay a little extreme, but you never know what you are going to encounter.  Someone asking me would get a long diatribe about how religion excludes more than it includes these days.  But that’s my opinion, based on my experiences and possibly not based on yours.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses like to wander around my neighborhood on Christmas.  I guess they know most people are home and they can spread the word.  I don’t have anything against them, but don’t knock on my door please.  The last pair were invited in so that they could attend the Satan worshiping we were having.  They would need to remove their shoes and put on cloven hooves if they wished to continue their conversation.  We had a small goat to sacrifice.  They politely declined, but I think I made a list.  No new visitors the past two years.

And just so you know that I don’t limit my mind screwing to religion, during the last election cycle someone representing an official running for reelection came knocking as well.  I listened to about two minutes of their talk and then asked a simple question, “Do you think we could get a change to the marriage laws in this state?”  “Well sir, what did you have in mind?”  I’m sure they thought this would be about marriage equality, but boy were they mistaken.  “I’m really attracted to this goat down the road.  I pass her every day and just want to tell her how much I love her.”  This followed by a series of facial ticks and uncomfortable silence.  Any idea how hard it is to keep a straight face while the person in front of you wonders what kind of illness you suffer from?  It’s hard work!!

I love a good debate about anything.  Learning from someone who is willing to share their viewpoint makes for a fun experience.  Talking about how most people are financially conservative, yet socially progressive makes for an interesting contradiction about modern society.  I want everyone to have health care, food, a safe place to raise their families.  No one wants war, not unless their moral compass is a little off.  You can’t blame religion for that, nor politics, that comes from a different place.

This is the lesson I learned at the holiday table of my grandparent’s as a child.  The phone would ring, and someone who wasn’t able to get home for whatever event was currently being celebrated was invited over to share a meal.  No one was ever turned away, no one was ever asked to do anything more than share food and some fun.  People from around the globe sat at that table, including the pen pal from Singapore I had as a 7 year old.  To me it was just the way things were done.

People, religion, politics; they are all going to bring vast shifts in the emotional spectrum.  The one unified theory not presented by Einstein would be that the universe is a large enough place for everyone to have an opinion.  Mine isn’t any more valid than yours, only in that is what I believe, today.

So come sit around my table, tell me about your thoughts, your hopes and dreams.  They are more important than politics or religion.  Let me offer you a “hot beverage” and learn about you.  Maybe I can learn about myself in the process.  And if you’re lucky enough, some telemarketer will call from “Windows Support” and you’ll get to watch me go into action.  I do love screwing with them.

Could we get a rewrite?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Four Stars.”

I started off wanting to like this story, but it slowly found it ways into the cliches that bog down most great stories.  The author not being able to define what the conflict was and how to overcome it.  Everyone likes a good comeback story, a tale of redemption; but it seems like we hit a point where the story had no true ending.  Could it be that this was a much longer work and might be continued in a second book.  Or maybe the author will keep updating through a website or newsletter so as to not cheat the public of their hard earned dollars.

The classic man vs. man dynamic is what underwhelms the narrative.  At times when the subject should be looking to create conflict, he instead internalizes the entire process.  That gets us to more of a man vs. himself scenario.  Those are always the hardest to adequately get across to the audience.  How to capture the raw nature of pain, happiness, sorrow without pandering, there briefly touched upon.  Maybe if the author trusted himself enough to go that one step further, it would allow his creation to touch people rather than just describe actions.  An example:

“I awoke today only to find myself wanting something I couldn’t have.  Not just piece of mind, but peace within my mind.”

What is it he wants.  There are the times when we touch upon medical concerns, or could it be the time he longed for the touch of a lost love?  See the author just hasn’t gotten the ability to get a grasp on the narrative, maybe there are too many things to capture and having them all appear simultaneously has left him crippled with the weight of his thoughts.

The younger years are captured beautifully.  Learning to be a man, the journey of school and the dedication he shows for trying to make his own mark on the world are common themes.  Notions that the audience can relate to.  I particularly enjoyed the sections talking about how the subject talked about his feelings, that’s where the true story begins.  It may be a variation on the theme of man vs. himself, but the lessons learned are universal in nature.  We’ve all been there.

That feeling of falling in love, the uncertainty of leaving the nest for the first time to attend college, and deciding to move to the other side of the country to learn about ourselves; we’ve all been in those shoes.  Everyone knows how ti feels to put a bunch of things in the car and just drive to a new destination.  That cold, clammy feeling your hand gets the first time you reach out to another person.  Even knowing they are feeling some of the same emotions- universal themes.

I wish the author would allow himself to truly express how he felt after losing his daughter.  Not the basics that everyone can brush up upon, but the visceral nature of what triggered him to cry that night just because he thought he heard something.  Go deeper into that night where he sat with the phone clutched in his hand trying to get reach out when he was scared by his medical information, only to put it down and walk away.  Was it him or the people around him?  Did he not know what to say?

The one thing that clearly is missing is a well defined antagonist.  The audience can only handle obvious choices being ignored so many times.  There are fingers to be pointed, but mainly they remain firmly pointed within.  IT may be an extension on the continuous theme of man vs. himself, but the reader wants to cheer for him, wants to see a better outcome than the one the author obviously sees for himself.

There are so many things that are bright about this story.  The section alone about graduate school would be worth perusing even for the casual reader.  I also enjoyed learning about the lessons discovered while,he watched his nephew grow.  There is also a portion of a chapter about his ex’s niece who is used to watch after camp during the summer.  Stories that let you know somewhere beneath all of this pain, there is good.

Would I run out and buy this, I’m not sure.  But I would likely go to the library and check it out.

Sisyphus on Rollerblades

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Powerful Suggestion.”

I was leaving a meeting and someone turned to me and said “You need to stop beating yourself up!”  The only thing I could say in response was that I am a master at it.  Atlas in the form of a skinny, white guy.  Maybe I’m Sisyphus on rollerblades trying to get up the hill and tied to a bungie cord? He’s not the first person to make that suggestion, to let myself off the hook for things I couldn’t control.  But I keep seeing some of them as an extension of things I didn’t have a good enough grip on to be able to control.

See I miss my daughter, every day.  It’s been 14 months and I still can’t help wondering what we would have been doing today.  As I look out the window I see a series of Cherry Trees and let my mind drift to her sitting underneath them.  Me clicking away with my camera and abusing my friends with email, Facebook postings.  My mother liking every single one of them and forwarding them to her friends, a perpetual chain letter containing a single, bright eyed subject.

The thing i haven’t told anyone is that someone has written me two letters saying that if I had only done things differently, asked better questions, my family would be intact today.  Reading words like that, especially when I know I’m at times two steps from the lovely young men with their gleaming white coats shuffling me off to the Funny Farm [where life is beautiful all the time…]  How do you find peace when you wait for the next bit of unsolicited admonition to drop in your mailbox?  What did I miss that would have saved my daughter, maybe saved my relationship?  So the beatings continue.

At this point I feel like that Monty Python bit with Jesus on the cross singing about “Always look on the bright side of life”.  The juxtaposition of a sunny outlook coupled with people frying in the desert sun awaiting death.  Okay, it’s a little funny.

I’ve shared details, both minor and major, about how things have gone wrong with this blog.  Probably to a point where Whitney would be very uncomfortable, maybe angry, if she knew the details were floating about.  But the conversations that I needed to have with her in the present, I have with this group en mass.  A general psychopathy liking my words at times, sharing their hopes that things change in a way I pray they will but know they won’t.  Every morning writing a series of random musings, some funny, others making people hit the backspace key.  I’m cool with that.

Today I find out how things are progressing with the chemo.  Part of me just doesn’t want to know.  Let’s either say we’re making progress or that we should re-evaluate the game plan.  Specifics don’t matter right now.  A different kind of beating.

How many Dialects are there?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Take That, Rosetta!.”

The problem I see is that there are so many languages to pick from that I can’t chose just one to concentrate on.  I’ve learned a few over the years, Japanese, German, French and can be rather proficient in them.  One or two others are just offshoots of the Latin from high school, I can muddle through portions of them.  But I rarely use anything but the Japanese and that’s for work.  The language I have longed to understand is that of “love”.  I’ve dabbled in it throughout my life, all 43 years have brought different dialects, but mainly I would like to be able to wake up tomorrow morning and understand that.

From the time I was little my parents have loved me.  Periodically the kind of love you find smothering when all you want to do is grab the car keys and head out to eat with friends.  My dad gleefully letting go of my little red bike as I careened down the hill in the backyard when I was 6.  The look on my mother’s face when they dropped me off for college, her oldest starting a path all of his own.  The phone being the line of defense for everyone.  I’d call my dad two or three times a week to talk about some computer issue, but I just as easily could have read the instructions.  We’d conference call in my mother from her office as well.  15 minutes of “Are you eating?” and “Make sure you go to class, even the boring ones!”   These days it’s text messages making sure I’m on the right side of the dirt!  [gallows humor from a hospital bed?]

The most varied of those dialects has to be the kind of love you feel for friends.  I care about my neighbors, have spent years watching their kids grow from infants to adults.  Tutored some of them, played basketball when they needed an extra body, but it’s not the drop everything and sit on the couch while you cry kind of love.  I’ve reserved that for only a few in my life.  This dialect is the second hardest to master, it changes over the years.  Deepens my mastery with some, goes away with others, the ability to communicate strangely effected by emotions and physical distance.

I’m trying to study a version right now that requires me to practice on my own?  Trying to periodically explore my ability to get the right idea across to someone without saying the wrong thing.  Well French class was much easier, those headphones blocking out others from hearing me recite “Je suis Lary”.  My voice cracking from nerves and puberty.  I carefully poured over the letter before sending it, but I guess my words weren’t in the right order?  Maybe I had changed the tense to the present perfect when we are only to remain friends in the past?  It would have been an interesting time sitting across the table in some language lab learning together how to process this new line of communication.

Romantic love, a language that has so many dialects of it’s own maybe we should think of it as a separate language.  I’ve had a deep understanding of it three times in my life.  That first time, stumbling for words, hoping you got the right ones out and don’t get tongue tied the first time you tell someone you love them.  The problem that time was that she was there one day and gone the next, but that wasn’t her fault.  Just her time to leave us all.

The second time was a confusing one.  We’d meet up and try to communicate, but we definitely were speaking from different regions.  And by the time we each traveled enough to understand what the other was saying, the language has morphed into something else.  Only to return back to it’s origins at a later date.  Her speaking French, me speaking Belgian French when we could have learned Swiss together?

This last round I thought I had finally gotten some incite into my language skills.  It wasn’t that I didn’t struggle at times, my brain unable to get the words out correctly.  Sometimes I even mixed up the phrases.  Saying something stupid, when I should have just kept quiet.  For a decade I thought I was finally getting it right.  I was enjoying my studies, knowing that time was going to deepen my mastery.  Only my lab partner was starting to have problems understanding.  The lessons she was getting elsewhere differed, her family spoke another dialect that they stopped teaching me.  Hard to communicate under those conditions.  Maybe an immersion class would have been better for us?  I still long to practice this one, but I think I’m the only one who does.

But there is one version I know I have mastered.  Every little piece of dialog easily coming forth.  My daughter had my full attention to my studies.  Where there words I was going to screw up?  There would come a time when the dialect would start to diverge.  My French would not be the same as hers.  Maybe she would even pick up Russian for a while, and all I know how to do is utter a few curse words in that language!  [Thanks to a philosophy professor who would write them on the blackboard and later use them for extra credit.  Damn double negatives!]  I continue to practice my writing skills with her, even though she’ll never be able to read them.  While that dialect of love will not grow any further, it doesn’t mean that I won’t hold silent conversations from time to time.  There’s a class I miss.

So while I understand the romance languages as taught in school, the language of love is something I continue to struggle with.

My goofball advisor!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Mentor Me.”

There are lots of people I met through the time I started college until I finally walked across that stage and heard my name with the “Dr.” part in front of it.  Classmates who would sit with me in some cubicle in the library at Boston University and spend hours conversing about the nature of life, love, sometimes we actually worked through the writing assignments we had been given.  This continued through my time at Florida State and ended at George Washington University when I finally had enough, or at least they call it a terminal degree so there was no other place to go with my studies.

They let you go through your department and find someone who is going to shepherd you towards the end goal.  It’s like a beauty contest, ironically an economic theory, but without the hurt feelings or silly sashes.  There are however a series of question and answer periods that take place, some public, most private.  Bryan was shortly to become the head of the department and was a logically choice.  Like most growing field, Game Theory was still a new set of course requirements, so go with the guy making the decisions.

That first meeting was so much like any first date.  Sitting in the room, minus the awkward food selections, drinking out of our Starbuck’s cups.  “Gee, why did you pick this school?” and “You do realize that we charting new territory with your dissertation topic, so we need to be careful and go slowly.”  See, just like a relationship!

We spent those first couple of weeks going over my class schedule and how I was going to be able to pick up the slack teaching the classes he just didn’t care about.  Maybe cared about is a crass way of looking at it, he just wanted to know if I was willing to take over the Cattle Call classes with people just trying to fulfill a requirement.  Some of them showing up solely for the tests and others who didn’t even do that!  [Maybe at this point I should apologize to any person who suffered through one of my lectures, teaching Microeconomics 101 is a joke even among the faculty!]

More important then staring at 275 pages of text, Bryan taught me how to be a better communicator.  Writing has never been easy for me, even when it is something extremely simple.  Learning to sit in a room, talk to people, and more importantly learn to listen to those same people made me a better teacher.  It also helped me figure out how to tailor that dissertation into something that would not only make the subject matter approachable, but understandable.  Writing what amounts to a novel but for an audience so narrowly defined means they know when you screw up.

I wanted to have the same relationship that my father had with his advisor, someone I knew growing up and spent time with over the years.  It was more than just an academic connection, those two cared about each other.  My father even wanted me to attend the same college as he did just so I would have that experience.  And maybe see the look on Al’s face when he saw the class roster with a name he was very familiar with.  [I’m named after my father, so that would have been an easy jump!]

When it was time to defend my paper before the committee of my, Bryan walked me through the entire process.  I had been to other defenses previously, but when you are sitting at the table staring at 4 people with the fate of your work before them, it’s a panic inducing, anxiety riddled event.  My mother sitting in the chairs behind me, my father listening over the computer line because he was travelling.  Whenever it was Bryan’s turn to ask a question, he would reference some page of my material to consider.  On my copy, on each one of the pages he referenced was some sticky note with a dumb cartoon!  [he switched out my personal copy before we sat down, smart ass!]  It was his way of telling me to have fun with this, they knew I worked hard; just talk to people like they are people, not holding your future in question.

After everything, over the years they have asked me to talk to a student or two and be some outside mentor.  Help advise someone in minor ways how to finish what is a daunting task.  I’ve found we talked about life more than the subject matter.  But maybe that was the point, sometimes people just need someone to talk to whose been there, lived to tell their tale.  I know both of the students I have dealt with graduated and that makes me smile.

I use those lessons in talking with my 6 year old nephew.  Just listen to the question, he might not understand the question he is asking, but just listen.  We last talked about Black Holes, his newest fascination.  He doesn’t understand the math, or physics, or even the basic concept beyond his own experiences.  But I’m hoping that there comes a time when he looks back on that and remembers sitting on the floor, talking.

Maybe those lessons paid off in the larger world.  Thanks for everything you did Bryan!

It’s okay, I’ll wait…

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Mad as a Hatter.”

Anger is my Achilles Heel, I try to bury it as much as possible but when it does come out to the surface it tends to be an endless stream of cursing and blustery rhetoric.  I used to be able to control that beast by running until my legs hurt and my stomach was ready to purge itself, but lately that hasn’t been an option.  Fortunately there also hasn’t been any need to get angry with anyone but myself, so I internalize all of that until it makes my stomach want to purge it’s contents.

Last week I had a Gamma knife plow into the side of my head.  Would I have loved to wake up with Hulk-like powers?  Hell yes!  A big green rage monster sounded good.  I also know from the comic that disease didn’t affect him, so that would have been a great solution to the problem to begin with.  My mother, who is in her later 60’s [shhh, don’t tell anyone!], stares at me when I joke about some Marvel movie.  I have to remind her it’s her fault for allowing me piles of comics when I was a kid.  Plus I am old enough to recall watching “The Incredible Hulk” back when it was originally running.  [Another hint to my mom, you would send me to bed right before Dallas came on!]

See I know the last time I got angry, truly angry.  My mind was so wrapped up in trying to protect someone, my mouth might have been doing damage as well.  It was always the same circular argument, how to handle her mother.  I was so desperate to talk things out, get it in the open and deal with it.  On the other hand, it was a source of great fear for her, watching two forces collide.  The winner was always going to be her mother, that was always my plan.  Say what I needed to and get ready for the beat down.  In plenty of ways I had earned it.

But that day I found out about the cancer returning was supposed to be a simple conversation.  Sit down, talk about what they found and how we were going to deal with it.  That talk got delayed, Whitney was not feeling well so I had to make a choice.  Make her day worse or bury it so deeply that it wouldn’t show.  Guess where I went with it!  Bury it!

It only made things worse later that day.  She never asked what was so important and that hurt.  So while she was out at the doctors and letting her parents know she wasn’t feeling great, I was holding onto this knowledge that was explosive in many ways.  Later when she got home, it came out in an unexpected way.  I told her to go to her parent’s house.  It wasn’t fair to include them in her illness but not tell them what was going on.  It wasn’t that I didn’t wish her to go crawl in bed and sleep the rest of the night away, but I knew I couldn’t help her right then.  I needed to cry, I needed to get it out in some manner.  It only came out like I was an unfeeling bastard.

Days went by without a word, then the call from the doctor’s office.  Then another trip to the E.R.  We still hadn’t talked about anything other than how to fix the root of her stomach problem, the stress she was feeling.  My stress by now was so high I couldn’t think straight.

See when I asked her to marry me, it came with a long list of things I knew.  I knew her mother was going to interfere, I knew my mother was going to as well.  Things were going to be a roller coaster of good, bad, great highs and heart wrenching lows.  But the most important among them was that I was supposed to take care of her no matter what the outside situations were.  Shut the door, close the windows and make sure to do everything possible to keep her safe.

Forgot that once in a while I might be the thing that was making it worse.

We never had that talk before she left permanently.  I don’t know what she knows.  And that also makes me angry.