Self Improvement? Do I Have To? Can It Wait Until Tomorrow?

I hate the idea of dieting almost as much as I hate the suggestion that I read a self-improvement book.  It’s not that I don’t need to lose a few pounds, or that I couldn’t learn somethings about my better self through the words of others.  It’s just that remaining in a state of denial and self-loathing are so much easier that the work that one needs to put in to actually make substantive life changes.

Regardless, last week, for only the second time in my life, I began a structured diet plan because I had grown tired of watching the tire grow about my waist and because I had read an article about heart health that made me think that dropping these really unattractive pounds would be good for me.

Since I’m too lazy to do any research on my own and rely heavily on recommendations of people I like and respect, I leaned on the advice of my acupuncturist to guide me into a program that she enthusiastically endorsed. I had her order the shakes, supplements, and other goodies that would see me through an initial two-week cleanse/detox/weight-loss experience.  Last Monday I jumped in.

I discovered that the claims that sold me on the program proved to be true (mostly):

The shakes taste great!

I don’t really ever get hungry!

I have more, not less, energy than ever before!

I have stopped craving the things that are bad for me!

All of the above were true for about 48 hours.  The two daily shakes, which now make up my breakfast and lunch, do not taste bad at all, but are the consistency of wall-patching compound.  I frequently feel like I’m eating the shake, not drinking it.  By the third day, I was really hungry and found the shakes weren’t holding me until I learned a bit more about how to snack effectively.

It is absolutely true that I have more energy that before I started the diet.  The big negative to this development is that it has begun to cut into my afternoon nap time. I’m having to plan more work for myself to keep busy because I’m sleeping more soundly, waking up earlier, and having trouble drifting off in the afternoon.  If this keeps up I might actually finish projects around the house that I’ve been avoiding for almost 30 years, and I find that a bit distressing. It’s always been comforting to know that I’m behind on something

My craving for beer absolutely died for exactly two days.  My enthusiastic resolve to take advantage of the diet plan killed my desire for a brew for 48 hours, and then it came back with a vengeance.  I’m cheating moderately, but it’s OK–I feel plenty guilty about it.  Please don’t tell anyone.

So, of course, given this (mostly) concerted effort, I expect the pounds to fall away precipitously, but then I remember that it took several years to attain this unsightly fat and it might just take more than a couple of weeks to burn it all off.

My highly Puritanical digital scale does not help, especially when I start checking my weight twice daily, expecting quick results.  It is either just highly sensitive or wildly inaccurate.  I swear that if I have a passing thought about eating a donut, the scale jumps a pound or two just as a warning.  However, my clothes are fitting better, I have regained a notch on my belt, and I’ve stopped weighing myself for the time being so I can just focus on how I feel more than the half-pound I might have gained or lost.

Time is another issue.  I have too much of it now.  Having a shake as a meal twice a day really cuts into the amount of time needed for grocery shopping, food preparation, and meals.  I try to take my time while chewing on my shake to really savor all 8 ounces of it, but from start to finish, it’s about a 15-minute process.  And then I stare longingly at last night’s leftovers, the delicious lunch-sized portions of healthy looking soups, stews, and other dishes that my wife so lovingly prepares for our dinners.  I check my watch to see how many hours are left until dinnertime and a real meal.

Today, I am enjoying a “cleanse” day where instead of the shakes, my food intake will be limited to four 8-ounce glasses of nutritious bliss spread out across the day, along with other supplements and a couple of snacks.  It’s easier than it sounds actually.  And, heck, it’s given me time to write this piece.  Who knows, I might even pick up one of those self-help books that people keep giving me and give it a try.

 

Advertisements

Doing Stuff That Women Do

I’ve written recently about my sudden lack of fear to try new and death-defying activities like indoor skydiving, zip lining, and white-water rafting, but until recently I had been far too afraid to try something as scary as a spa treatment.

Then my wife gave me a gift certificate to get a “men’s facial.”  My idea of facial skin care involves shaving every day and occasionally putting on sunscreen.  The thought of filling my drawer with creams and astringents and actually learning what is good for my skin seemed like a massive waste of time and money.

However, I had started to notice that my “laugh lines” were starting to look like fault lines, small crevasses etched around my eyes and across my forehead.  The parenthesis around my lips was starting to look like misplaced dimples growing deeper every day and being joined with other weird creases that I had never noticed before.

I figured that if I could crash through a Class V rapid, I could survive a facial with my dignity intact. So, I made the appointment.

Walking into the spa, I can immediately feel zen-like atmosphere they are trying to project.  The receptionist greets me as if I’m a long-lost friend even though we are complete strangers.  All of the people working the desk speak in smooth, hushed tones.  I appreciate the hours it must take to train oneself to talk like that.  I’m far more used to having someone greet me by flipping me a coaster and growling, “Waddaya drinkin’?’”

I’m ushered into a lounge where I can sip on tea or flavored water, and I am told that Krissy will be with me shortly.  I feel mildly aroused at the thought, but I’m pretty sure it’s just the rush that I’m getting from the flavored water.

Minutes later, I’m greeted by a pleasant young woman who takes me back to a dimly lit room featuring something like a massage table. She instructs me to take off my t-shirt and shoes and make myself comfortable on the bed.

She comes back moments later, makes sure I’m comfortable, and then extends the arm of a small machine that is hissing steam out of a small robot-head and aims it closely at my face.  “This is a steamer,” she explains, “to help open up your pores.”

Maybe it’s just me, or maybe its volume of the steamer but I find breathing the steamy air through my nose to be distinctly uncomfortable.  I feel a little like I’m being waterboarded except that I’m paying for it, and I feel like I can’t complain because I have absolutely no idea how it’s supposed to feel.

As I grow used to the hissing robot arm, Krissy goes to work.  I discover quickly that there is no chatting during a facial.  As she starts spreading the first layer of oil or cream across my forehead, down my cheeks and everywhere that is not my eyes and mouth, I realize that I need to keep my mouth shut or risk swallowing whatever product she is using.

Relieved of the need of any conversation, I begin to relax as she slathers layer after layer of creamy, oily goo over my face.  She removes each one gently with warm towels before she applies the next layer, but they all seem exactly the same to me except for some are more slightly aromatic.  I’m starting to think that they are all the same (after all, my eyes are closed) when she slips in a lotion that is tinged with Ajax or some other abrasive.  I think that maybe I’m being exfoliated although I don’t exactly know what that means.  I think of it as the light sanding that I do before I put on the finishing coats of paint on a wood project at home.  Sure enough, one or two layers later, I’m done.

She lets the warm towel rest on my face for a bit before giving me a final wipe-down and informing me that “our time is up” and that she’ll meet me in the hallway when I’m ready.  She is impersonally friendly as she asks if I enjoyed the experience, and I’m reservedly enthusiastic while I thank her and retire to the rest room to actually stare at my face and see if all that attention has made any difference.

To my surprise, it has.  It is as if she has Spackled over the worst of the cracks and crevices, and even once I remove the residual oiliness, I can feel how much smoother my skin is to the touch.  I do not look any more youthful–I’m pretty sure no amount of lotion is going to achieve that–but it is as if I have gotten a very inexpensive face lift or a Botox treatment without the nasty needles.

I start to think that this was actually a darn good investment as I walk back through the coma-inducing lounge and into the reception area.  I’m greeted once again by my new best friends who assure me that, of course they can book me with Krissy for another facial some time soon.

After all, let’s face it.  The women that I know look better, smell better, and are smarter than I am.  I’m all in on the facials.  Bring on the mani-pedis.  I’m ready.

First Kiss

It was inevitable, I suppose, that a woman would create my first moral quandary.

It was near the end of my eighth grade year when plans for a class trip to Disneyland began.  I was caught off guard when, Carmela, the girl I liked best in the class, suddenly asked me if I was going to take a “date” to the Magic Kingdom.  I had missed the memo that “dating” was now a thing, that having a girlfriend had changed from being repulsive (or at least something you kept a secret) to being desirable.  So, I answered “No,” disdainfully and with conviction.

Carmela didn’t take it personally, although in the moment she seemed disappointed in my answer, and she quickly set her sights on my soon-to-be-ex-best-friend, Mike.  Suddenly, it was clear that the boys and girls were pairing up and I was behind the curve.  Carmela was looking out for me though and let me know that Suzanne, a perfectly suitable replacement, was hoping I would ask her.  I did so, and secured my very first date.

I mean, what was not to like about Suzanne–long dark hair, turned-up nose, and somehow she managed to show off a lot of leg when sitting in class despite the lengthy, Catholic-school uniform skirt.  I didn’t know what lust was yet, but I was interested in finding out.

Some time before the trip, the girls formed a conspiracy.  They each tied a piece of string around their wrists, a string with three knots in it.  The boys were told, if you were to break your girl’s string, you would owe her a kiss.

I broke Suzanne’s string some time before Disneyland and there seemed to be an understanding that the big moment would come some time shortly after.  I agonized about it for days.  It wasn’t that I was against kissing.  I also wasn’t particularly interested in it yet, but I had no moral objections.  The problem was that I knew that Suzanne’s mom did not want her kissing anyone.  I could not have known this if Suzanne hadn’t told me.  Why she chose to torture me with this information, I have never understood.  It was clear that she had every intention of getting herself kissed, but I was an altar boy and a rule-follower.  Wouldn’t kissing her, in light of her mother’s objection be a conscious transgression?

I was sure I was in a potential sin situation and decided to consult an expert.  The easiest way to talk with a priest was to go to confession, so the following Wednesday I rode my bike down to the church.  I entered the dark confessional and went through whatever sins I could think of and then interrupted the ritual to ask if I could meet with up with him after his sin-hearing session was over.  The deep, disembodied voice told me where to wait.

I can’t remember his name and I wish that I could.  He was tall and powerfully built and his head was shaven.  I remember that he drove an expensive car and that parishioners sometimes whispered about a priest driving a nicer car than most in the parish.

I was nervous as he walked toward me near an entrance to the church, and we began a stroll around the church grounds.  To a boy of my age the aura of a priest was still magical.  They spoke with God.  They touched God.  Their word was the word of God.  I felt awed by his personal attention.

Luckily, he was kind and patient, and I told him of the conspiracy of the strings.  With a serious look on his face he asked, “And just how many of these strings have you broken?”

Mortified, I quickly assured him that I had broken only one.  Even at that age I knew better than to over-extend myself.  We walked and talked in the cool of the early evening, the priest with his hands clasped behind him and me with my hands jammed into my pockets. I can’t remember anything specific that he gave me in the way of guidance, but somehow he managed to reassure me that my intentions were pure and that a kiss wasn’t going to derail me into hell.

The Disneyland trip finally came and Suzanne and I spent the day holding hands as we went from ride to ride feeling very adult.  We ate lunch, bought gifts for our parents, and thoroughly enjoyed our day away from school.  However, the thought of kissing her later that night lurked in the back of my mind constantly.  After all, I had never done it before.  So many things could go wrong, I thought.

The bus dropped us off at the school at the end of the day and we walked from there to her house.  We turned into her tree-lined street just as it was getting dark.  I glanced toward the front of the house to make sure that her mom wasn’t peeking through the drapes or lurking on the front porch.  I tried to remain nonchalant and managed to escort her to the porch without tripping.  In those few seconds as we exchanged goodbyes important questions raced through my mind:  Would our noses get in the way?  Was it important to close my eyes?   Should I worry about mono?

Suddenly we weren’t talking anymore and I realized it was time.  In that moment I had my first experience with what Hemingway called “grace under pressure.” I leaned forward and kissed her quickly but fervently on the lips.

She seemed pleased, and I was greatly relieved.  We repeated polite goodbyes, and I began walking down the quiet sidewalk alone.

I was about three houses away when I heard my name being called, and I turned to see Suzanne walking quickly toward me. I stood in surprise as she approached me, and clearly overcome by passion, she pulled me toward her and gave me a second, lingering kiss on the cheek.  Without a word, she turned and retreated to her house.

I stood there for a long minute mystified. I’ve gotten used to associating that feeling with the behavior of women, but at the time it was new to me.  Everything was new to me.

But what filled my eighth-grade heart that night, the sensation that began on that night and which I still both crave and am surprised at every time I experience it, was feeling of being drenched by the emotion of having been chosen.  Her simple, spontaneous, and unexpected act of affection overwhelmed me.  It said, “I choose you” or “you are special to me” or “I like you better than some of the others” or something like that.

At least, standing under that street light that night, that’s what I thought it said.  And I had never felt that before.  And to this day, I think it is maybe just the best feeling ever.

 

If you enjoy stories of me being a fool for love, you might also enjoy Visiting Love: One Letter at a Time and Thank You, Paul McCartney.

My Museum

On my most recent visit spring visit to Phoenix, Arizona to watch spring training baseball, I took a day off to visit the MIM (Musical Instrument Museum) which had been recommended to me repeatedly by two of my best friends.

I am not a great museum visitor.  If it says to plan to stay for three hours, I’m pretty sure I will be done in one.  It’s one of the substantial differences between my wife and I when it comes to travel is that she will go through EVERY room, and read EVERY card for every part of the exhibits.  This is not a criticism.  She likes to soak in all of the details and moves through the museum at a most leisurely pace.

I sort of cruise through and skim a lot of what I see unless or until something really catches my attention, and then I’ll read up on it more thoroughly.  On this particular day, I found two rooms that were terrific.  One exhibit, called “Dragons and Vines” was dedicated to the art of how elements like pearl, abalone and other substances are inlaid into the fretboard and body of guitars.  The technology,craftsmanship, and flights of imagination were incredible.  The second room was dedicated to individual artists worldwide featuring pictures, videos, instruments, and outfits that they wore on stage.  I think I spent over an hour in these two rooms alone. I had to go back into both rooms twice, just to be sure I hadn’t missed anything.

I spent about 10 minutes in the entire rest of the museum which featured a vast array of musical instruments from all over the world.  It was overwhelming, and I really didn’t care about the how or why the noisemakers of Sri Lanka were different that those from Serbia.  If I had read any of the info cards on the second floor, I would have forgotten anything I learned by the time I got back to my car.  It’s why I don’t spend the time reading up on all of the historical stuff.  I just don’t retain it. I leave museums with a few highlights in my mind and a general sense of if it met or exceeded my expectations going in.  In this case, the MIM absolutely did.  I loved the two rooms that I loved.  That was plenty for me.

Museums are like our archives of our civilizations, right?  Besides teaching us about who we are, we are trying to hold on to the good stuff so we don’t forget about it.

I’ve been thinking about that as my wife and I have been going through a continual purging process around the house.   It started when we had to move virtually everything out while we were having our floors re-done.  We have thrown away and given away boxes and bags full of clothing, books, furniture, kitchen supplies, you name it.  Going through the process made us look at everything, contemplate how long it had been since we used or even touched the item (we have lived in the same house for 36 years) and soon we had cleared whole shelves and emptied multiple storage boxes.

We’ve been trying to narrow the archive, our personal museum, down to the really important stuff–to the things that will bring us joy to look at and that will enrich the lives of whomever we decide to leave these things to in the future.

I keep thinking about what I wanted to leave behind to the people I love to remember me by.  Didn’t it make sense to start giving some of this stuff away now?  I’d rather give them a keepsake of some real or sentimental value now, while I can cogently say to them, “Here’s the story behind this object and why it’s so important to me, and I want you to have it because I know you’ll love and value it just as much as I have.”

Like, I have this wine opener, a simple but elegant design, that my dad gave to me when I was 21. We met up after work on the day I turned 21, and he took me out for my first official drink.  But as we were drinking in this divey little bar, he told me what he had REALLY wanted to do for me on my birthday.  He had planned to take me to a strip club when I turned 21.  Apparently, his father had done this with him on his 21st as kind of a rite of passage thing, to expose him to the “world of men” and show him it was no big thing.  He wanted to continue that little tradition with his son, but my mom quashed his plan, so we had to settle for a drink together.  I kind of wish he had thrown caution to the wind and that we had had that moment together doing something a little salacious, just me and him.  Even though we didn’t, I appreciated that his heart was in the right place.

The fact that I have managed to hold on to this token for over 40 years makes it valuable along with the memories it holds.  My daughter Emily, who enjoys an occasional glass of wine recently celebrated her 30th birthday.  I gave her the opener with a letter explaining its history and significance to me.  I knew that she would like the thought that the gift was from both me and her Grandpa Jack.

So, as I go through every box and crate, I take a hard look at what is still stuck in our own personal museum and think about the people I love and wonder if they might like this object or that book, dedicated especially to them.  It’s easy to accumulate a lot over nearly 40 years and sometimes so much harder to begin to let it go.

Heartbeats and Airplanes

One of the goals I set for 2016 was to throw myself out of a plane.  That is, to experience skydiving.

When I told my wife I wanted to do it, she was all for it. She has a friend who is really connected to the sport and has friends that run a company up in Lake Elsinore, I think.  She started to throw out ideas about getting a bunch of friends together, having a party afterwards, etc.  It was the last thing I wanted. I wanted to be alone when I did it because if I backed out at the last minute, I wanted me to be the only one who knew.

I have a pretty good track record of talking myself out of things that I perceive as being risky, even when the risk level is actually pretty low.  However, I started planning for the jump.  I researched a place nearby (the one out in Otay), cheap rates during the middle of the week, and had actually picked the day I was going to go, written down the directions, chosen a time.  I wanted to be sure it was a day that Mary was going to be working so I could just do it on my own.

And then, as it became more a reality, my heart began to skip beats. For years I’ve had something called “premature ventricular contractions” (or PVCs for short), extra, abnormal heartbeats.  It is generally a benign condition that I will have occasional bouts with, and have come to ignore them, pretty much knowing that it just means something is messing with my body’s electrical system and the heart is not getting the consistent messages it needs.  Stress, alcohol, dehydration all can contribute to starting off an episode that can last a few minutes,a few days, or even a few months.

But it’s still my heart, and while I don’t mind stressing it with a little exercise during an episode, it seemed to me that jumping out of a plane might be unwise while I was having symptoms.  So I scrubbed the first date I had chosen and decided to wait until I was symptom-free for a while.

And then it just sort of slid to the back burner of my mind.  The episodes still come and go, but I’ve had some pretty nice stretches of stability.  It’s just that when one of those stretches comes along, I don’t immediately think, “Hey, it’s a good day to jump out of an airplane!”

I really don’t think it’s the height thing.  I feel pretty secure with the idea that the guy I’m attached to values his life enough to make sure that I get to the ground safely.  I just want to feel a higher degree of confidence that my heart isn’t going to burst on the way down. It would really suck to only get to enjoy half of the experience.  I haven’t checked to see if my family would get a partial refund if I died half-way down.  I probably should ask.

So now, it’s an excellent goal for 2017, and I still have 8 months left to talk myself into or out of this particular five-minute thrill ride.

Perspective

One of the great things about getting old(er) is that you get to tell young people about the way things used to be “back in the day.”  It’s fun to play the numbers game with them.

When I got my first car, gas prices floated between 29.9 cents to 31.9 cents per gallon.  In 1973, I was dating my future wife who lived in Orange County which meant driving up to see her every weekend.  I started to worry about the future of our relationship the day I saw gas prices hit 53 cents per gallon.  How could I possibly sustain this?  Long-distance phone calls were very expensive, so we wrote each other at least once or twice weekly, which I described here.  The earliest of those letters carried a 6¢ stamp.

I declared my independence from my parents on July 4, 1973 when I moved into my first apartment, a one-bedroom place in a four-plex just 10 minutes from San Diego State University where I would finish my degree and credential programs.  It was a delightfully seedy place called the Aloha Garden Apartments because there was a couple of unkempt palm trees on the property.  My rent was $95 per month.

A covered wooden porch/deck ran around the front of the four attached units, and I put a chair that my parents gave me out on it but never used it.  Apparently, it got taken over by neighborhood cats.  When I finally met the two girls who lived next to me, they told me that (because of the cats) they had decided that I must be a warlock.

By 1977, Mary and I had been married for three years and were ready to jump into the housing market (sort of).  We had $2000 and some change in savings and found a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom place in Spring Valley for $40,000.  We each borrowed $1000 from our parents to come up with the down payment and signed the papers on August 16, the day that Elvis died .

We were oblivious to what a dump it was, because it was OUR dump.  We did what amounted to a slow-motion flip of the house, taking three years to paint and wallpaper every interior wall in the house.  A friendly neighborhood carpenter volunteered to come over and put up cedar planking on one wall in our dining room, creating a cool feature wall before we ever knew such a thing existed. We replaced all of the flooring. We painted the exterior. We had every intention of staying there longer but when a garage band that we had battled over noise for all three years we had been there moved back in across the street for the 10th time, we put it on the market and it sold in a matter of weeks for $75,000.

With that profit, we bought the house in which we still live for $108,000 (3 bdr, 2 bath, 1600 square feet) but were saddled with a whopping interest rate of 11 3/4%.  Interest rates were absurdly high in the early eighties.

When I landed my first (and only) teaching job at Valhalla High School in 1976 my salary for the year was $10,000.  Since the district could not figure out how to spread that over 12 months, it meant that I got paid monthly from September to June–no paycheck for July or August.  Veteran teachers coached me on saving 1/6 of every check to get through the summer since I had no intention of working at a temp job for two months.  My wife tried it and lasted one day as a tele-marketer.  We were happy to tighten our belts and simply enjoy the summer being poor.

The numbers just seem ridiculous to me now.  It was a long time ago.  The cool thing to think about is that in 30 years, my kids will get to do the same thing to other youngsters. And, come to think of it, it will be most unlikely that I will be there to see it.  How’s that for perspective?

Road Trippin’

Every year since I retired in 2012, I have taken a road trip to Phoenix, AZ to watch spring training baseball, specifically to watch my San Diego Padres play meaningless exhibition games while sitting out in the desert sun.  I wrote about the experience of those games in a piece called The Hope That Only Comes in Spring. But, part of the fun every year is getting there–road trippin’.

Departure–8:30 AM

300 miles–no problem; I got this.  Car is loaded up with enough stuff for four people, 4 snacks, and two water bottles.  It takes me an extra 10 minutes to do all of the paranoid house checks I do–lock windows, check the doors, make sure the water is turned off.  Hit the road.

Buckman Springs Rest Stop–9:05 AM

First available rest stop.  Necessary because sometimes my bladder is the size of a teacup.  Hoping this gets me through to Yuma.  Ironically, I pack plenty of water and then force myself into a state of dehydration so I don’t have to stop to go pee.

Soundtrack

John Lennon (Imagine) and then Jackson Browne (Running on Empty) get me through to Yuma.  Imagine is OK because I haven’t heard it in a while, but Running on Empty is one of my standard traveling discs, just full of great road songs.  I let it run all the way to Yuma.

Yuma–11:00 AM

Making good time when I stop at the Arco on 16th St. and discover that gas is 78 cents cheaper here than in San Diego.  78 cents a gallon cheaper.  Of course, you have to live in Yuma to enjoy those prices. I find that I’ve gone through all my snacks already.  Do you know that there is virtually nothing edible at gas station mini-marts if you care at all about your health?  I mean, I have plenty of bad habits, but I can’t eat any of that crap.  The bathrooms are nice though.

On the road again–11:15/Soundtrack

I’m halfway there, but there is road construction everywhere slowing things down from Yuma to Gila Bend.  I pull out Michael Franti and Spearhead’s Yell Fire CD which seems much more relevant now than it did a few years ago.  I haven’t listened to him for a long time, and I just let it run all the way to Gila.

Gila Bend–1:00 PM

Time for lunch at my all time favorite greasy spoon, The Space Age Restaurant.  It is part of a motel there and has a mock-up of a space ship sitting on top of the restaurant.  It has been there for over 50 years, and I can remember stopping there when I was a kid and we were on a family vacation to Oklahoma City (relatives) and to see the Carlsbad Caverns.  I stop here every year for lunch on the way in and breakfast on the way home.  Gila Bend–population 1,917 souls.

On the road again–2:00 PM/Soundtrack

Neil Young.  Neil Young the rest of the way.  The more desolate the desert, the better his reedy voice sounds.  I play Only Love Can Break Your Heart over and over and over again.

Phoenix–3:00 PM

The upgrade to a Cabana suite that they tempted me with in an email I got yesterday (depending on availability) is not available.  Fuck!  I was imagining having my own sitting room with a fold-out couch and separate bedroom with a king bed AND promised access to the Sun Deck, and I don’t even know what the Sun Deck is, but I decided that for only $20 more a night, I wanted it.  Forget that I didn’t actually need any of those amenities.  They had dangled a sparkly thing in front of me, and I wanted it.

I get into my standard room, which now seems shabby to me, and discover that the cabinet that houses the fridge is minus one fridge.  I am told that the fridges are for customers “as available.”  I point out to the young lady that my reservation says that I get a fridge, and if I’m not getting the goddam Sun Deck, then I’d better be getting my own goddam fridge.  I don’t actually say any of that out loud.  She says she’ll work on it, and I get my fridge within 30 minutes.

Nap–3:30-5:30

One of the top ten best naps ever.  Just time enough to get showered and ready for the game.

Game–7:10-10:00  Peoria Sports Complex

It’s a balmy evening–shorts and t-shirt weather. I allow myself not just one, but two hot dogs during the course of the game.  Padres give up 2 in the first and then tie it in the eighth on a home run, win it in the 9th on another homer leading off the inning. I discover that despite the hotdogs, the victory has made me ravenous, so I stop at the Safeway on the way back to my hotel and buy a salad, some yogurt, and a fruit bowl which I eat when I get back.

Hotel–11:00 PM-2:00 AM

I’m out on the warm deserted patio writing because at the time I was involved in a 30 day writing challenge and I had to get my piece written for that day.  While on-line, I discover that there are other writers still up and active and we begin chatting through comments and FB Messenger. Since I never quite know how to go to bed on my first night of travel by myself, I linger on the patio long after I should. It’s a pleasant and unexpected way to spend the night.

Connected

Yesterday, Mary and I took a hike to Kitchen Creek Falls (near Buckman Springs), and enjoyed a nice view of the falls but decided not to climb all the way down because we had taken some wrong turns and were getting tired.  As we began to head back, we could see a young couple approaching.

“Hey, Mr. Waldron!” the young woman called out.  Yep.  Middle of nowhere.  Former student.

This happens pretty often. It’s a function of having taught in the same school for thirty six years and living in the same community.  It’s actually pretty nice.

Like, there were those years where after coaching AYSO soccer for 10 years so that I could spend more time with my daughter, my former players started showing up in my classroom, kids who I had coached when they were as young as 6, now appearing as teenaged students, and their parents, happy that “Coach Tom” was now their daughter’s English teacher.

There was the time that, when I was an acting vice-principal, I had to pretend to be stern with a 9th grade girl over a minor disciplinary incident.  She was dissolving into tears especially over the fact that I was going to have to call her mom.  I knew that the mom had high expectations for her girls because I had already had her two older sisters as students in my class.  One day I discovered the eldest, tucked away in a corner of the school in tears.  I sat with her for a while, and she told me about the constant pressure she felt from her mom, no matter how hard she tried or how well she did.  Years later, when I was looking for a referral to an acupuncturist, a friend recommended a woman who had a clinic nearby.  It turned out to be the mother of the three girls.  It took us a while to make the connection, but when her eldest daughter began to practice in the same clinic and take over some of her patients, my former student became my doctor and treats me weekly now.  She remembers our high school interactions and the support I offered.  I get invited to her children’s birthday parties.

At the end of 2008, I went through a rigorous, but exciting process, and was selected as one of five San Diego County Teachers of the Year.  I received many pretty certificates and collected a lot of pieces of engraved acrylic trophies, most of which I’ve discarded now.  But the nicest recognition happened when I walked into my local pub, and the man who had run my local hardware store for many years was sitting at the bar and when he noticed me got all excited.  “You got picked as a teacher of the year!” he said, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out a profile of me that had been written up in the local paper.  He’d been holding on to that clipping knowing he might run into me at the bar eventually.  As I settled in, he began going up and down the bar and showing all the regulars the article and pointing at me and pretty soon I had a group of guys coming up to shake my hand and offer their congratulations.  The band broke out their rendition of the CSN song “Teach Your Children.”  It was so spontaneous and heartfelt that I’m sure I did not stop smiling all evening.

So, when I look back at my work life I wonder sometimes about how limited it was, how many experiences I may have missed by not branching out a little more.  But I loved what I did, and I really value the connections that I have in my life as a result of the choice that I made.

Volunteering: Feed the Hungry

mk-logo-03-11458

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting into in last June when I decided to jump in as a volunteer for Mama’s Kitchen, a local non-profit that provides food assistance for San Diego residents who are living with HIV/AIDS or cancer. I went through the training to become a driver, someone who would have a selected route that I would cover one day a week and from about 3:30-5:30 PM would get bags of food out to my list of clients.

img_2372

By the time I show up, a whole lot of people have done a whole lot of work preparing the meals that I will deliver to my clients.

I did know that I was going to work for a first-class organization filled with compassionate, dedicated people.  Since 1990, Mama’s Kitchen has served over 8 million meals to needy San Diegans.  Their mission is to provide three nutritional meals a day, for no charge, to their clients with AIDS or cancer and to their clients’ dependents.  That means getting over 400 bags of food delivered every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 52 weeks out of the year.

That’s where people like me come in.  I show up every Wednesday at around 3:15, load up my bags of food (my client list has ranged from 7 to 17 on any given day) along with a hot bag that contains a freshly prepared hot meal for each client to have for dinner that night.

img_2366

Packed up and ready to go!

Then I’m on the road for the next 1-2 hours making deliveries.  To be honest, there was a lot that I did not like about the work in the beginning.  The route changed every time a client was added or deleted as the routing computer tries to give me the most efficient order of delivery.  Initially, that made it hard to relax as I was often in unfamiliar territory and had to pay close attention to Siri’s sometimes imperious directions.

What makes her think I know my east from my west, anyway?

Needless, to say, at the beginning, I missed a lot of turns and sometimes was unsure if I was at the right house even though Siri reassured me I had “arrived at my destination.”  I had to do a lot of checking and double-checking until streets and houses became more familiar.  The transactions with client seemed strangely impersonal, and I just felt like the rewards of this particular volunteer gig were going to be limited.

Seven months in, I’m enjoying it tremendously.  I now am covering the route on both Wednesdays and Fridays and some Mondays as needed.  Now that my clients know I’m committed to the work, that I’m not a student who is looking to do some volunteer work to be able to listed on a college application or someone on probation who has been sentenced to community service, they have begun to treat me more as a real person and not just “the food guy.”

And my clients are no longer just strangers which makes the work both harder and easier.  It’s hard to see them when they are having a bad day because all of them are on a rollercoaster when it comes to their strength and vitality.  I often have to pound on the door and ring the doorbell repeatedly, and shout that, “It’s me, Tom, the good looking-looking food delivery guy!” because they sometimes sleep heavily in the afternoon, and it pains me to think that they might not get their food for the next two or three days.  We are expressly forbidden from leaving food on the porch with the hope that they’ll get it before it begins to spoil.

The longer I do the route, the more of a sense of ownership I have and the more the positives pile up.  I have a standing invitation to join one of my clients for bingo night (Wednesdays at 6 PM) at the senior apartment complex where she lives.  At Christmas, one of my clients insisted I come in while she bagged up some tamales for me to take home.  I get a lot of good wishes and “God bless you”s since I’m the final contact for Mama’s Kitchen and represent all the work done by so many people. The son of one of my clients has offered to detail my SUV for me assuring me that he’ll “take good care” of me.

My favorite moment on the route is delivering to a family with two school-aged daughters, maybe 7 and 10 years of age.  They seem to love being “my favorite helpers!” which I announce loudly whenever I see them.  The older daughter’s bright eyes and ready smile kill me every time as she takes one or two of the three bags I need to tote up to the house.  I haven’t been able to resist treating them by slipping a pack of gel pens or drawing pads into their bags on Fridays and claiming that it “must have been the elves at Mama’s Kitchen.  They must have heard you are taking good care of your mom!” –two children managing to thrive in the most precarious of situations.

As the fifth pillar of my guide to “Surviving the Trump Apocalypse” (soon to be revisited and revised), volunteering is a solid investment of my time.  It takes me out of the whirlwind of bad news that #notmypresident Trump inspires and makes a small contribution to a vulnerable population, one that will receive no help soon from the federal government.

Depression: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Torn pieces of paper with the word "Depression". Concept Image. Black and White. Close-up.

I am prone to depression as I wrote about some time ago.

It’s not the kind of curl-up-in-the-fetal-position, paralytic, soul-crushing kind of depression that I know a lot of people suffer from.  It’s more the garden variety, somedays-I-just-get-the-blues kind of sadness.  It feels like a dark, silently negative squatter invades my heart, mind, and spirit and decides to take up residence.  It’s hard to get rid of him.  He came to town about a month ago, and and just this past week, I managed to evict him–for the time being.

Given the fact that I’ve got a pretty good life, I feel like I don’t deserve to be depressed.  I marvel as I see people who have so much less than I have, so much more to complain about, making their way through the world happily and wonder, what am I doing wrong?

When I sink into this state, I can’t seem to enjoy anything.  I’m sensitive to every slight, every perceived criticism. Every negative perception that I have about myself bubbles to the surface just to make me feel more miserable.  I feel like the people I love the most have withdrawn from me when often I am the one pushing them away at the moment that I absolutely need them the most.  My sense of isolation is palpable.

During this past bout I could actually identify some of the triggers that had opened the door to this sadness.  One was having to watch this horrible election cycle play out where instead of being able to root for an inspirational, dynamic, progressive candidate like Barack Obama, I had to entertain he thought that a buffoon like Donald Trump might conceivably take his place.  Only by unplugging myself from the intense day-to-day  coverage could I begin to feel some peace.

Dealing with chronic pain can wear down my spirits.  My depression coincided with a flare-up of some symptoms that have made my lower back and legs feel as though they are on fire at times, all the way down to my feet.  Since exercise and activity are my best weapons against depression, the pain makes it doubly hard to fight back.

When I start to feel some of my most important relationships begin to shift and drift, I worry that I am beginning to lose something that has been a pillar for everything that means anything to me.  I know our bonds are strong, but fear creeps in and doubts create uncertainty and sometimes resentment in my heart.  What did I do?  What should I do?  Those questions become part of the cycle that squashes my spirit.

So, how did I manage to start feeling better?  It was a web of things, but it started in the midst of my daily practice of yoga.  I’m a firm believer in the mind-body-spirit connection, but at the same time, I think of yoga as a form of low-impact exercise that I enjoy and during which I rarely get injured, not as a spiritual exercise.  However, in the midst of a yoga routine the words “gratitude” and “forgiveness” simply floated into my mind.  I could actually see the words in my mind’s eye.

Afterwards, I thought that by consciously practicing gratitude for all that I have, constantly making myself aware of the goodness in my life, I’d be less prone to the self-pity that goes hand in hand with my depressive periods.  I saw that the practice of forgiveness was something that I have long neglected, knowing that I tend to hold on to past grievances long after their code date has expired, doing nothing but poisoning my own mind and spirit.

Armed with this new insight, I felt I was ready for the breakthrough, but having an intellectual realization didn’t mean I was ready to put it to its best use.  I literally have to practice these values daily. I post the words around the house so I have constant reminders that both my thinking and my behavior must change. It’s going to take time.

I lucked out though, and had a lovely week where I managed to reconnect with family members and important friends, sometimes in just casual and informal ways, just enough to stave off that sense of isolation and feel once again connected to the people who nourish my spirit. I felt, once again, how lucky I really am (practicing some gratitude here!).  It could not have come at a better time.

I didn’t really want to write this piece.  Now that things are going better, I didn’t want to go back, but I know how many of us struggle in this same way.  It seemed that sharing one good moment was the least I could do.