Food for thought

There is no limit to the stupidity of content on Social Media. From posts asking you if you remember your phone # or address from your childhood (an obvious attempt at identity theft) to the idiotic “everyone’s first job was at McDonalds, prove me wrong”. I don’t understand why anyone would comment on them but hey, that’s just me. One that has caught my attention recently is the “would you want your father (mother, sister, etc.) to be your father if you could do it over again?” On these, I immediately hit the comments. It is incredible how many people say no.

As it turns out, a silly FB post stimulated me a bit. I can’t begin to imagine a scenario in which the foremost influences in my life would be held in such poor regard? This interests me because I am a person that believes that good or bad, your experiences made you who you are and, in addition, it’s a waste of time to think about the past because you can’t change it.

I suppose if I had horrible parents, and was mistreated in some way that resulted in a traumatic childhood that left me a damaged and dysfunctional adult then maybe my thinking would be different. On that, I honestly can’t relate and will reserve judgment. But I still found a takeaway in the comments section, it made me think about my childhood.

After all, it all comes down to the childhood, doesn’t it?

Even if I could, I wouldn’t change a damn thing about mine. No revisionist thinking taking place here. I think I’ll dedicate a few posts to it.

The Horseshoe

I’m a fortunate man. Things seem to fall in my lap sometimes. S0 often in fact, that I began to believe an idiom that I used to scoff at,”Everything happens for a reason.” I was always a shit is random kind of guy. But so many things, series of events, and happenings have occurred for it to be random. Tonight’s tale is the latest.

I clean cars for people in town. It has become an illustrious little enterprise for me and, in three years, has netted some much-needed disposable income and also some great relationships. One such relationship is Ellen, a Nurse who lives in a Condo development in town. I dropped off her car early this summer and she waiting with a check and a cash tip. As I pulled into my driveway I noticed that she had given me two 20’s. I called her and asked if she meant to. She hadn’t, the bills were stuck together. I brought her the money back. She was very impressed with my honesty and told me that in turn, she would spread the word about my services in her development. I thanked her of course, but that wasn’t why I did it.

Last month I got a call from a woman in that development, referred by Ellen. I gladly cleaned her car for her and when I dropped it off she was quite talkative. She had heard through the grapevine the story of Bill’s health journey and she wanted to know if I was ready to go back to work. I told her about my Insurance license and the position I had committed to. She told me that her company was hiring. She is a therapist at a Drug/Alcohol Recovery center. Undeterred by the fact that I told her I was about to be employed, she continued. I was intrigued and told her that if the Ins gig didn’t work out, I would reach out. I drove home excited, working with people in recovery is something I have mentioned many times as a career choice. But I was committed so I put it out of my mind.

Then the Insurance thing didn’t work out. I immediately called her. She gave me a contact to call. I told my mother and she immediately recognized that I had expressed interest in that field before but I had moved on because I didn’t have a Social Work License. As it turns out, the available Case Manager position doesn’t require one. I made the call and it was requested that I fill out an online application. I did it that evening. The next day I got a call and ten minutes later I had an interview for the following day.

The interview went great. I was prepared and dressed to the nines. Interview equals suit to me, my dad would roll over in his grave if I showed up to an interview without it. I made the right call. The interview was great. I wish I had the confidence I have now in what I bring to the table twenty years ago. I explained my reasons for wanting to work with people in recovery. Wanting to help people is paramount of course and that was the central theme. I came across as humble, genuine, caring, and compassionate. It wasn’t an act, I don’t state those qualities, I exemplify them. I knew the role of Case Manager in and out and made sure they knew that. They repeatedly emphasized how hard the job is. I wasn’t phased. They even admitted that they try to talk people out of it to see if they are intimidated. It didn’t work. I like to work hard.
I left excited and I knew that they had seen the real me.
That was Thursday.
I got the call today. I was offered the position.

I did a job. I went the extra mile to the point where someone felt the need to help me. That effort resulted in meeting a person who had access to something that I have always wanted to do. At a time when I most needed it. That is not a coincidence. I have a lucky horseshoe lodged in my ass and I will leave it there.

It is definitely bringing me luck.

On selfishness

self·ish[ˈselfiSH]
ADJECTIVE

  1. (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure:
  2. “I joined them for selfish reasons”

One of my least favorite aspects of human nature is demonization. I don’t know if it is inherently human to seek ways in which to feel superior to others but it is absolutely everywhere you look. Racially, politically and socially we make assumptions and cast aspersions in order to well, let’s call it what it is, to feel better about ourselves. We call each other racist, rich, poor, spoiled, uncultured, and any other labels that seek to classify and denigrate others. One that has been sticking in my figurative craw is selfish.

It never ceases to amaze me how people, and this is a behavior that I suspect is here to stay, are compelled to compare value systems as if theirs and only theirs is the right one. How they have to weigh in on the way others live their lives. My take on this is simple and oft-heard. To each his own. If someone is happy, not bothering anyone, and not harming children and animals then I don’t care what they do or how they live their life. That extends to the extent of time and effort expended in the pursuit of their own interests.

Ayn Rand, the much-maligned Russian novelist known for strong and controversial opinions noted in The Virtue of Selfishness,

“In popular usage, the word ‘selfishness’ is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends . . . and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.
“Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is concern with one’s own interests.
“This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.”

The long and short of it is that I think it’s ok to look after yourself. There are many popular euphemisms surrounding it;
You must take care of yourself before you can take care of another…
Put your oxygen mask on first…
Take a breather…
You can’t pour from an empty cup…

All of these allude to the notion that at some point you must come first. I find it to be a valid concept, especially if you are a person who dedicates a considerable amount of personal resources to the assistance of others. Yes, take care of yourself first. But what if you are a person who does the bare minimum, or maybe nothing at all in the service of others? Is it acceptable to villainize them for looking after their own needs only?

There are many people who, not out of contempt for charity or out of deliberate disregard for others, simply dedicate their lives to the pursuit of their own interests.

I believe every person has a purpose in life. Many people feel as I do and they strive for that purpose in building a career, growing or creating a business, and working towards countless goals. There are too many to list. But bottom line, they are comfortable enough worrying about their own lives. I don’t condemn people for this. The reason one person stands out as giving and generous and selfless is because there are plenty of people who are not. It’s just how we are wired as individuals and it is not always something that can be changed. Or villainized.

No person is more villainized along those lines than the person who has the brave audacity to admit in a crowded room that they don’t want children. I feel for these people because they are constantly forced to justify it. They are challenged;
“Don’t you want to carry on the family name…?”
“What about the joy of creating life…?”

The list goes on. It’s especially bad for women. It’s as if it comes down to the fact that because they are able to conceive then they must. How Catholic. It is perfectly valid, especially in 2022, to not want to bring a child into this world.
Parenthood isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of BAD parents out there. There are also a lot of children that are born into despair and poverty with little hope for survival, never mind a future. Raising a child is prohibitively expensive, physically and emotionally draining, and requires complete and total commitment. As I always said, once you have a child your life is no longer about you. It is not something that everyone can even do. Recognizing that and choosing not to make the leap is perfectly ok. It doesn’t make you selfish.

Selfishness can be a bad thing and I’m not defending it. But not everyone who is focused on their own life and goals is necessarily a bad person. In many cases a person is barely able to handle their own life, never mind assisting others. The term is used as yet another harmful and judgmental label. To me, it flies directly in the face of a saying that I believe should be in the Declaration of Independence…

“Live, and let live.”

Hot summer days

I miss those hot summer days
Basking in the sun’s rays
Always outside, even when skies were grey
The knock on the door…
Can Billy come out to play?
Cops and robbers in the yard
My shins and elbows were always scarred
Streetlamps were my curfew
Go home already? There’s still stuff to do
Wax bottles and candy cigarettes
Eight-tracks and mix-tape cassettes
Hot afternoons in the pool
Mirrorshades, trying to look cool
Sleepovers at summer camp
Motocross bikes, let’s jump that ramp
Swimming and fishing
Shooting stars and wishing
Cool lakes to dive in
The Saturday night drive-in
Talking to my first cutie
Worried about getting cooties
Bad music and One-hit wonders
School dances and social blunders
First day of school, new clothes and sneakers
My first Hi-Fi with the big speakers
The sound of the crack of the bat
My very first Red Sox hat
The first day of tryouts
Please don’t make a flyout
The ground ball heading to first
Missed it. I’m the worst

Those days were the best
I just didn’t know it
Let me go back
This time I won’t blow it
I don’t want to play adult
Tell Zoltar to stop winking
I wanted to be Big
What was I thinking?
I miss my old house
I miss my first dog
I miss not worrying
About every damn thing
I miss feeling good
rugged and strong
I feel like I lost my joy
I used to be a happy boy
My longevity is fleeting
I’ve taken a beating
I’m tired of this, my downward phase
I want to go back to those hot summer days

A much needed reminder

How are you don’t lieInstead of heading straight downstairs to find a seat for dinner I asked my Brother John to save me a seat. I knew many people at the event but I always prefer to sit with close friends at these events and for some reason, one which will reveal itself at the end of this post, I wanted to sit with John. I can’t put my finger on it but for some reason, we really click. He agreed and I went outside to clear my head and put on my “everything is fine” face. I knew that I would be asked how I was doing by many. My health history is well known and it is a blessing and a curse that many inquiries regarding my progress are made. I needed to be ready. You see, it is my opinion that for some the greeting “How are you?” is generic at best. But among my brethren they really mean it. And they know me, I have famously said “fine” to the greeting hundreds of times when I was anything but. A true friend would push and ask for the truth. That night, it was going to be difficult to satisfy those people because despite my robust physical appearance, I was bearing the weight of the world. Someone was going to call me on it.

The walls really were closing in on me. I was beating myself up over leaving my first Insurance Job. Three weeks in I was being pushed too hard and trained too little and despite my Herculean efforts to learn and apply TONS of information from Licenses to Certifications they weren’t happy with my progress and we parted ways. It really isn’t a huge deal career-wise. It wasn’t a good fit and I wasn’t contracted yet. Still, I felt like a failure, as I am prone to do. I was miserable. On top of that, I was disgusted and upset that my recently-broken-up-with ex-girlfriend didn’t have the decency to even text me after I drove over an hour out of my way to give back some belongings. Why would she be so childish and angry with me after she dumped my ass? She broke my heart and n top of reeling from that, now I have to wonder about this? I was consumed and my mind was racing. I shook it off and went inside.

I joined John and a few other good friends for dinner. It really was a tremendous set up. The room was full of well-dressed happy people. The decorations were lovely, the food was amazing and the bar was open. As expected, many inquiries were made about my health. I think I fooled all of them. Then John says to the whole table, hand resting on my shoulder, “Bill has the most amazing attitude. He is the most determined, optimistic and cheerful guy I’ve ever met. He’s been through so much and he keeps dusting himself off. He’s an inspiration to me.” Everyone at the table offered up similar sentiments. I gratefully acknowledged them and thanked them profusely.
Then it hit me.
There was the reason I had felt compelled to sit with John that evening. Because I was destined to hear that. Not for the praise, despite how flattering and humbling it was. No, it was a REMINDER to stop spiraling down the drain of negative thinking and remember that I have survived so much big and important shit in my life that I can’t let a couple of setbacks get me down. Somehow I had lost my mojo but John’s words snapped me right out of it. To Hell with the heartbreak, it’s her loss. To Hell with the job, it wasn’t the right company but I’ve still got the license and I will use it. To Hell with negativity in general, I needed to get back on track.

I know this is hard for some people to believe, but sometimes things really do happen for a reason. I was at an absolute low and by the end of dinner, I was actually in a decent place. I can’t begin to understand how it happened that quickly, but I can’t deny that it happened.

Today, I’m not 100%. I still miss her terribly and I still wish the job had turned out better. But neither of them are getting me down. And for now that is good enough.

Right place, wrong mood

As a Mason, my favorite time of year is Installation season. Every year, and every 2 for some lodges, there is a turnover in Lodge Officers. The officers of a Masonic Lodge are modeled after the ancient Stone Masons guild and have roles ranging from Master to the man that watches the door. The officer line changes as some move in, others move up and in my case, as departing Master of the Lodge I moved out. I’m done and my role is now diminished.

The Installation is a special event for all involved. Families and friends are invited as well as any Masons that want to attend as they witness a ceremony that is not only historic but memorable as well. Especially for the Master. Becoming Master of the Lodge is a special thing. I can only speak for myself when I say that, when I first joined, I didn’t know if I wanted to move to the big chair. But a few years in I committed to it. It can take many years to move through the line and there is a great deal of work involved to prepare. But if you “get it”, as those in the know say, it’s worth it. It is a position of respect to be celebrated. I will always fondly remember mine. As Masons, we are very supportive of each other and an Installation is well attended by well-meaning brothers. I am a well-meaning Brother and I attended many this season. The most recent was Tuesday night.

I visited another lodge in my district to witness my friend Tony be installed as Master. I sat with a great group of Brothers who I consider dear friends. I couldn’t be in better company nor could I be doing anything more enjoyable at that moment in time.
Yet I was in a terrible mood.
Everything was bothering me at that moment and the environment I was in failed to improve my mood or even distract me for a while. I was in a terrible place. The ceremony was wonderful, perfect in every way in the way of fellowship, camaraderie and the love and respect being given to my friend, yet it couldn’t be over fast enough for me. When it ended, I only wanted to have a drink and eat. In that order. I asked my Brother John to save me a seat in the dining hall. I went outside to get a breath of the cool September air. Before I would re-enter the building I would have to put on my “everything is fine face”.

More tomorrow…

A new venture

I’ve been away a while. When I get really involved in something I totally dive into it and I don’t allow time for other things. This includes Blogging. I really got into something and I just now feel that I have time to get back to putting my thoughts to paper (as it were).

The biggest change in my life of late is the confirmation that I am in good health and should be, depending on how diligent and committed I am to maintaining it, for a very long time. While this is to be rejoiced, it presents a new set of challenges. For one, my Disability Benefits are expiring and I have to return to work. I’ve known this for some time but it’s getting closer and closer to the day they cut me off. I look forward to going back to work, I’m not really a big “collecting” kinda guy. I’m excited actually because this time around I may be able to find something I want to do as opposed to a life of tolerating jobs because my family and finances required it. Fuck money, I’m never going to be rich and my overhead is a lot lower now. Satisfaction and the possibility of helping someone is the goal.

So I started interviewing.

Despite hiring a professional Resume service, with the specific request that my skillset acquired through years in the car business was presented in a more universal manner because I believe that the skills are transferable. Many hundreds of dollars and several weeks on job sites later…you guessed it. Car sales were what I was being offered. Double sigh.

Then I got a call from a recruiter who offered me an interview in a business that had always interested me, Insurance. So I interviewed. A good group of people with a lot of good products in a fairly friendly atmosphere. They offered to take me on, as a contractor. Agents are generally not salaried and benefitted employees. Again, at this point in my life, I can do something like that so I asked for the next step. I was told I couldn’t do anything until I got my State Insurance license.

Oh boy, testing. My favorite thing, with the possible exception of shaving my scrotum with a cheese grater. But I decided that an Insurance License would give me a tool for life to earn a living. There are so many possibilities. I was excited. So I signed up for the prep course.

For 3 weeks I lived, ate and breathed Life, Accident and Health Insurance and Annuities. I worked my ass off. All the while the agency checked in with me on my progress. I registered for the test on the following Monday and 2 excruciating hours later I passed with an 84. A 71 was the minimum score allowed. With one click of the mouse I received my license and producer number and I became a licensed Insurance Agent. My life was about to change.

Anxiety

In my last post, I referenced view here that I am vulnerable to going down the Rabbithole of anxiety. It being a positive post, I touched on it only briefly, limiting it to the issues I had with negative thinking while using Marijuana. In short, I stopped using it when I noticed it started to enhance, rather than subdue my anxiety. Now I feel the need to delve into the bigger picture, which is the recent revelation that not only do I have an abnormal level of general anxiety, but that I have had it forever, and that it is undoubtedly the greatest obstacle I face in my life in the way of finally moving forward and reaching my full potential.

I don’t know how many people my age are focusing as intently on self-improvement as I. I suppose that many men my age are on the “back nine” of their lives and their careers and find themselves in a decent, at least acceptable place in which a take me as I am or leave me alone attitude is the rule. Perhaps they are too settled in their ways to seek and elicit change. Most likely, a lot of men my age are settled into good habits because they made good decisions that have resulted in a satisfactory life. That is not me. I am ALWAYS trying to make change for the better in all aspects of my life, personal and vocational, because I did not make good choices in my life and I am not at all in a place in which I am willing to accept it as “it is what it is”.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that I am completely unhappy with myself. I am comfortable with many aspects of my life. Certainly, the obstacles I have faced have taught me strength, and positivity and have given me an outlook that I could never have attained otherwise. But I know I am capable of more. Unfortunately, I will not be able to grow outside my metaphorical terrarium because my anxiety has boxed me in.

How did I not recognize until now the blatantly obvious fact that I was not just “in my own head”, but instead suffering from crushing anxiety for most of my life?

My Social Worker at the Transplant center is a wonderful resource and I consider her a friend. I generally don’t believe in therapy but her services are part of my monthly visit. At first, I merely accommodated her, but 11 months later we have in-depth conversations and she really knows me. She has observed that I am one of the most self-aware people she has ever met. That is to say that I know everything about myself and I know what to do, my only problem is actually doing it. I agree. I trust her judgment. That is why I place enormous value in her evaluation that if I don’t make serious and sincere efforts to control my general anxiety, I will never get to where I want to be.

The first step was to recognize that I have it. That wasn’t difficult. What I didn’t recognize how bad it really was. Now that I do, let the healing begin.

the rabbithole

I am proud to report that I am in an extended period of excellent health. It’s no accident, I have been focusing on it. It all started 2 months ago when my transplant doctor told me that he believes that my new kidney was potentially viable for the rest of my life. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before that moment; I can only surmise that after the crushing and prolonged anger and disappointment I experienced after my previous transplant failed after only 5 years, maybe I was subconsciously waiting for this one to as well. I reacted to this revelation by vowing mentally to double down on my already successful efforts to attain and keep good health. Recently, I had become less anxious and more confident when my monthly appointment arrived that my lab results would be excellent, as they have been consistently since the surgery. I am now 11 months and my numbers are phenomenal.

I left the office that day with a renewed purpose. I knew that I had to do change my remaining bad habits so that I could continue on this path. I changed my diet. No more fast food takeout, watch my salt, cut down on my snacking, cut out the alcohol (not completely but I was falling back into an everyday pattern), and most important I stopped using marijuana. Weed helped me a lot when I was sick on dialysis. It eased my anxiety and helped me sleep. I was an anxious insomniac for quite some time and the health effects of weed didn’t matter to me because I really didn’t care if I died or not at that point. I quit the weed for another reason beyond health. It was affecting my thinking, which was never a problem until recently. Previously, I got stoned at night and watched TV. I was numb and my brain slowed down to a fast walk. I loved it. Until recently. At some undefined point, the high produced more anxiety.

I have been looking for my next gainful employment. Drug testing had already crossed my mind and I was planning on stopping. But when the negative voices began, and I spiraled down “the Rabbithole” of negative thinking my motivation to quit increased. My brain spoke to me. It said things like “you can’t do it.”, “you’re not good enough”, you’re too old and lack the skills”, dangerous shit to a guy who already suffers from anxiety. It scared me. It happened enough when I was sober, it was threefold when high. Weed was now a liability. So last month I just quit it Cold Turkey. In addition to my lungs feeling better, I now have clarity of mind that I have missed for years. I am enjoying it. My job search is going well, I have performed well in interviews, I’m blogging again, so many good things. The job I will likely be taking doesn’t require a drug test. At one recent point, that factoid may have allowed me to light up again. Still, I don’t want to. I may again at some point but not now. I got through the withdrawal period (YES weed is addictive), it wasn’t easy but willpower got me through and now I can even fall asleep. That was my biggest reason for doing it in the first place.

Now I feel absolutely great. Mind and body. I feel strong, fit, and confident. Good things are going to happen for me. For the first time in years, I feel like I have a future. Soon I will be a functioning, contributing member of society again. Look out world, that is all I can say. I and my potential lifetime kidney are going to be a force.

As long as I can avoid going down the rabbit hole of anxiety. But that is a topic for another blog.

Not right away of course, but eventually. That revelations was notable, it was a perfect example of

the tattoo

I recently got my first tattoo. I’m not sure why I waited so long.

When the heavily tatted and pierced young lady at the tattoo parlor learned that it was my first she was genuinely surprised. I suppose in her world; her job, her generation, etc., it may be a bit late but if she knew anything about my generation she would be less surprised. I am the last of the boomers, by that I mean I’m the cutoff age, and my generation was plagued, or blessed I suppose, with “‘cations” as I call them. Ramifications, Identifications, advocation, dedication, indication, and if your parents or peers really got fed up with your shit then you were cursed with abdication, which of course means disowned by your parents or social circles. By this somewhat pedantic rant what I am really saying is that my generation was judgmental as all hell. Tattoos were one of those things that drew criticism and scorn and had social implications (oops I did it again baby). So, in the interest of presentation and reputation, I refrained from inking my body.

But as I have aged and my concern about what people think of me has sharply declined I decided that at age 56 it was time. The question became a matter of what and not when. I decided that my passion, my driving force, the thing that has influenced my life the most in recent years has been my involvement with Freemasonry. It has been the driving force behind most of the improvements I have made in my life that have resulted in me finally liking myself. If you know me at all, that was no small feat. So I decided that the Masonic credo of “Faith, Hope, and Charity” would be my first, prominently displayed on my right forearm. It means “Faith in God, Hope for eternal life, and Charity to all mankind”. I live by it and I now wear it.

My children have been having a blast with me over the word Faith tattooed on me. You see, it was not long ago that I was a pretty strong agnostic, if not a borderline atheist. What can I say, I’ve had a change in position.

Hey, people change.

It was Freemasonry that brought about the change. One of the only requirements for membership, besides a documented history of good character, is a belief in a higher power. No particular denomination or definition of deity is required. You just have to believe in something as the driving force of the Universe. I struggled at first when I researched joining. I disliked the notion of joining a fraternity based upon good character on a falsehood. So I took a hard look at myself. I was one year out of life-saving transplant surgery. Over my lifetime I was a cancer survivor, had flatlined for 2 minutes after contracting a staph infection, walked out of the hospital after I was told I might not walk again after a motorcycle crash, and had suffered a severe head injury as a child. Yet there I was, still standing and still kicking. I had to ask myself, did I survive all of that just on my own? Or did I have help?

I had been seriously grappling with faith for many years before that, my whole life perhaps. The conclusion I was approaching is that what I really had was an aversion to organized religion. You will thank me for leaving it at that. But a deity, an unknown power, a driving force if you will is very believable and doesn’t need to be defined. Atheists believe that there is nothing, zip, zero, squat out there. I believe that nobody can say that for sure and the sheer vanity of that alarms me. So by the laws of deductive reasoning, if you don’t believe there is nothing then there has to be something. Mother Nature, the ocean, Karma, whatever strikes awe in you and demands further explanation. It opened the door for me to accept faith. Many call Spirituality a “Cop-out”. It’s not, it’s faith that lacks a precise definition. I still reject most of the tenets of traditional belief but, quite simply, what I do practice makes me feel good.

So I wear it proud. Without fear of reproach from the judgmental ones of my generation, and free from those who know my past belief system. It is just what a tattoo should be. It means something to me. That’s what matters to me. I now have faith, I would love for there to be some form of eternal life, and the goodness that I try to exemplify in my heart causes me to be charitable.

No matter how long I live I will have it. Unlike most tattoos on people today, I will never look at it one day and ask myself “what was I thinking?” At that moment, my heart, my head and my thinking had never been clearer.