Existential Crisis

I gave up a couple of my bad habits last month that previously helped me cope with my existential angst, and I haven’t learned new coping mechanisms quite yet. So, I end up sitting in my car in Quiktrip parking lots staring off into space or playing Free Cell on my phone while my brain struggles to figure out the meaning of life.
I’m not making a whole lot of progress on that front. Mostly, I’m just gaining weight from the candy bars and donuts from inside the convenience stores I frequent.

Thursday is Weight Watchers meeting day for me, my mom, daughter, and sister, which means it’s also weigh-in day. I managed to put on 5.6 pounds in just the last week thanks to my newfound tendency to roam all around town and make pit-stops at convenience stores and fast food joints to stuff my face.
I’ve put a lot of miles on my crappy old 2007 Ford Explorer since the beginning of the year when I gave up smoking and whoring around, and I spend most of that time listening to the “My Mix” selection of music videos from my YouTube account. About 20 or 30 songs reappear quite regularly with an occasional new one sneaking in. I’ve managed to memorize most of the lyrics to Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel”, Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets”, and Eminem’s “Rap God” while I try to figure out what I ought to be doing with my empty, lonely existence. I’ve gotten particularly good at mimicking Chris Stapleton’s voice as he sings “Tennessee Whiskey”, or so I was told by an old drunk lady who sang it with me when it came on the jukebox at a bar called Pappy’s Den a few blocks down Truman Road from home. I’ve turned to booze a couple of times since the first of the year as a coping mechanism as well, which no doubt is a terrible idea that shouldn’t be allowed to set a precedent.
So here I sit on a Thursday night, at my desk in my office at the back of the house, feeling lonely as hell, and wondering what the hell to do about it.
It’s going to take some more thinking, but I’m hoping it will take less moping and driving around eating like a pig.

Super bowl thoughts

So, the Super Bowl was yesterday, and I had an amazing time watching it. Partly because I’ve lived in the Kansas City area since the second grade and I’m now 53. I’ve been hearing about the amazing Chiefs appearing in the first Super Bowl and winning the fourth one. Len Dawson was the sports reporter on the local news for ages. I know rationally that it wasn’t my victory in the Super Bowl, but fuck that, I feel like a winner today anyway.

But it wasn’t just that my Chiefs won. The spectacle of the Super Bowl was absolutely enthralling. For the last several weeks, the majority of people that I’ve run into in public have been wearing Chiefs gear. The excitement has been contagious. And then we get to the actual game and the broadcast that goes with it!

I’ve been feeling really terrible about America for the last few months as our government makes us look bad on a daily basis. The Super Bowl, on the other hand, made me quite proud and optimistic. 

The “take it to the house” kid and the film that went with his delivery of the game ball was a thrill to watch. Action movie adrenaline kicked in as he pinballed down the streets of our cities. Then there was the quiet moment, when he stopped at the Pat Tillman statue to honor his memory. Hell of an opening presentation by the NFL. 

Once the ball was delivered, then there was the separate joy of watching the military color guard bring in the flags, and the joyous sound of America the Beautiful and the Star Spangled Banner.

Even more pride in our history and country as the four 100-year-old WWII veterans were introduced as special guests, and the Tuskegee airman presented the commemorative coin for the coin toss. We got to honor those who serve us in the military and we got to see how far we’ve come in overcoming racism since then. 

Hell, all the commercials were a rebuke of the terrible crap that I’ve been hearing about my country over the last few years. It turns out we’re not a bunch of racist homophobes after all. Ellen Degeneres did a great commercial with her wife for Amazon. And black and brown people were all over the place in the commercials too. We’ve really come a long way since my youth, and it was a delight to see. 

Once the game got started, I could hear the Chiefs war chant in the background quite frequently. I’m not quite sure to make of that. I’m told that Native Americans find it to be cultural appropriation and racist, but as an old white guy, I’m less inclined to see it that way. Hell’s bells, are the Minnesota Vikings going to have to change their name to stop appropriating the culture of ancient Scandinavia? To me, the Tomahawk Chop is a cheer to honor the reputation of the aboriginal American tribes as great warriors. People can take that as an insult if they want, or they can be like those of Scandinavian ancestry who can be proud of their Viking heritage. Frankly, it was a joy to me to hear all those people chanting in unison, kind of like the YouTube video of an Arrowhead crowd singing Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” in unison. 

Then there was the half-time show. Holy crap, that was a whole lot of beautiful women. And the two stars were middle-aged moms who refused to be shamed for their sexuality. They also proudly displayed their Hispanic heritage with many of their lyrics in Spanish, and with J-Lo coming out wearing a double-sided flag with the US on one side and Puerto Rico on the other. Again, this is not something I could have imagined happening back during the last Chiefs Super Bowl appearance. 

Once half-time was over, there was the drama of the ball game. Athletes celebrating their prowess when they performed well. I even loved it when the 49ers all gathered to celebrate one of their big plays posing for the crowd at the edge of the field. I was worried that my Chiefs weren’t going to be able to perform a miracle comeback three games in a row, but I was gladly proven wrong. 

Once we took the lead, the celebrations here in KC started. I let the dogs out the backdoor to do their business, and I could hear the fireworks coming from every direction. I spent the last few minutes of the game standing on the back porch watching the game through the open door and enjoyed the noise. 

When the game was over though, the noise really started. The neighbors two doors down set off several rockets. A couple of people even stopped their car in the middle of my street, got out with Chiefs flags, and ran up and down the street shouting. The shouting was coming from everywhere. 

It was fucking amazing to see the spectacle of hope, joy, and athletic prowess in the game, the half-time show, and the commercials, and it was pretty damn cool to hear all the celebrations here in the neighborhood 10 minutes from Arrowhead. 

Yesterday was awesome, and today has been pretty damn good too. Thank you to the Chiefs and the NFL for providing me with an attitude adjustment.

Just because I said I would

So, I was going to write a long blog post tonight because I said yesterday that I was going to start blogging regularly, but instead, I’m going to just settle for something short. I’ll save my blog post on God and agnosticism etc. for another evening.

Today, I went to breakfast at Corner Cafe with Mom before we headed out to Pottery Palace in Grain Valley for our weekly ceramics painting. Mom finished the house she had been working on and started on the foot-tall owl she bought last time. The two things that I had finished last week had come out of the kiln yesterday, so I was able to pick up my three-eyed monster and little frog. That left me with the difficult decision of what to work on next. We’ve been painting ceramics every weekend for awhile now and I’m starting to wonder what to do with all this stuff I’m making. I finally settled on painting a dinner plate. It’s useful, and I know exactly where to put it when I’m finished with it. Plates and bowls seem to be fairly rational choices for me since I’m trying to purge so many of my belongings.

After we finished, I drove Mom back home, and wandered up to Quiktrip for an afternoon snack. Damn donuts and pepperoni pizza used all my Weight Watcher points for the day. Yet again, my impulsive behavior is causing harm. After that, I drove on home and took a two-hour nap because I didn’t have anything else to do that I could think of.

I dragged my ass back out of bed after 6:00 p.m. with still no idea what to do with the rest of my day. Around 7:00, I decided to go for a drive and wander around the city looking for a place where I could eat quietly and write in my journal. I drove through downtown KC, and into Johnson County, before finally settling on going to Hooters on Metcalf. Why Hooters? Especially after I felt like such a scumbag for going to Twin Peaks the night before? Mostly because I knew I wanted a beer, and sitting on a barstool is a pretty peaceful way to spend a meal. Hooters isn’t as disgusting as Twin Peaks, but the poor waitresses are still wandering around in short shorts with their butt cheeks hanging out.

Eventually, I got on the interstate and drove back home with a stop at QT again, for a 6-pack of KC Bier Dunkel this time. Now, I’m planted on a barstool in my own basement after watching WW2 videos and science videos on YouTube for a bit. Not the best use of my time, but I’m relaxed less depressed than I was several hours ago.

And, look! I even managed to write in my blog for a second day in a row. Tomorrow, I hope to write again, and talk happily about the Chiefs victory in the Super Bowl. Until then, good night.

Blogging again?

Jeez, it’s been awhile since I posted to my blog. I’m paying Yahoo quarterly for it. Maybe I should actually post something. Hell, I even get emails on a regular basis from Yahoo telling me how many people have been visiting my site and how much time they spend reading the crap that I’ve posted. My guess is that most of it is just search engines and that people aren’t actually reading anything I have had to say. But I’m going to start posting again. Maybe I’ll find something to say that is worth reading in the meantime.

I have been writing in my journal on Google Drive all this time, but that’s where I confess all my sins and tell the truth about what I’m actually thinking. I dare not do that on a website where my actual name is linked to the site. Then again, fuck it. Why not?

LOL, there’s damn good reason why not. I’m a hot mess and I shouldn’t be telling everyone all the shit that I’m up to.

So, it’s Friday night. I went out and had a few beers tonight. I’m still feeling their effects at the moment so I’m feeling braver than normal. The first beer was at a “Twin Peaks” franchise out by the mall. What an awful place that is! The waitresses were all quite attractive I must admit, but, Jesus, what kind of employer uses their employees like sex objects that way? They were all in short jean shorts where you could see the bottom of their butt cheeks, and in half-shirts tied off behind their backs to accentuate their bosoms. I was surprised to see so many female customers and that some people actually even brought their children to eat with them there. I only stuck around for a veggie burger with sweet potato fries and a KC Bier Dunkel before I fled for home.

I didn’t actually make it home immediately however. I stopped at Three Trails Brewery on the Indepedence Square a few blocks from home instead. The Dunkel from Twin Peaks had tickled my taste buds in just the right way, that I needed more beer.

Three Trails had a couple of gorgeous bartenders as well, but they didn’t have to dress like sex objects, luckily for them. I ended up having three glasses of their Bess’s Bock as with my butt parked on a the last bar stool at the bar.

While drinking my beers, I went through my old journal entries on my phone from the last two or three years, and reminded myself what a disaster I’ve been emotionally in that time.

Luckily, I’m doing a little bit better these days. I’ve given up two of my worst habits. Today, I’m four weeks clear of one of those bad habits, and 20 days clear of the other one. And, no, I’m not going to admit which particular sins that I’ve been indulging in. But, let it suffice to say, that you don’t want to be in a relationship with me.

There was plenty of really depressing shit in those old journal entries on top of my confessions of sin. Reading about Dad’s last days with Alzheimer’s was traumatic all over again. Then there were the deaths of my ex Tracy’s dad, and of my daughter Jill’s cat Riley. Both of those pretty shitty as well.

I could have gladly sat there at the bar and had several more beers to drown my sorrows. But I went home instead. And here I am now, writing in this stupid blog for the first time in more then two years, after finally updating my versions of PHP and WordPress. For fuck’s sake, I’m a programmer, and I let my own blog get several versions behind on it’s basic software.

So, now, it’s the last day of January of 2020. I’m 53 years old. I’ve dreamed for years of being a writer. I’m lonely and I’ve got nothing better to do, so why don’t I sit my ass down and make a blog post for once?

I guess my next trick will be to keep posting instead of just letting it sit idle for years at a time. Meanwhile, it’s 11:43 at night, and I need to get my ass to bed.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll have an actual topic to post about.

I lost the lottery

The PowerBall lottery jackpot was up over $200 million yesterday, so I bought $10 worth of tickets. That is totally irrational and I realize this, but it’s nice to dream sometimes.

I thought about what I would do if I actually won, and I realized that I would like to take up writing on a more regular basis. And then, of course, I realized that there is nothing stopping me now from writing more regularly.
For chrissakes, I’ve wanted to be a writer since my sophomore year of college, but year after year, I create excuses and I never get around to it.
Well, I only won $7 off my $10 of PowerBall tickets, but I decided to go ahead and start writing anyway. So, here’s what I hope will be the first in a long line of blog posts where I write something that someone else might actually read.
I don’t have a lot of time today to write anything lengthy or particularly worthwhile, but I swore I’d post something so here it is.
Tomorrow, I’ll post again, and then the day after, etc. Maybe one of these posts will be worth reading soon.

Dad’s Eulogy

My dad was a believer. He didn’t like religion, and in particular, he didn’t like being told not to question received wisdom, but he believed in God, and he believed in life after death. I don’t think he would’ve liked having his beliefs labeled, but when he took the Belief-o-matic quiz on beliefnet.com a few years ago, the results declared him a pantheist. That seems pretty accurate since he expressed the basic tenet of pantheism in one of his old journals, when he declared that he believed the God is everything and everywhere and “all that is”, and that we are all part of God. Why am I telling you this? After all, my Belief-o-matic results label me as an atheist. But dad and I loved to talk spirituality, philosophy, and religion. And he wanted people to know what he believed, so I’ve taken it upon myself to share his beliefs with you.

 

I’m not so much of a believer myself. I’d call myself a “hoper”, and I’m hoping like mad that Dad is right about life after death. I spent the other night going through Dad’s journals and I found the following from 2010: “I believe that I am an eternal soul who will never die and will be born into physical life again and again. I am diving into the future, and I see it as something good. I yearn to learn.” Dad did indeed love to learn. He was a prolific reader and a prolific writer (as evidenced by the thousands of pages of his journals that he left behind.)

Unfortunately, Dad lost his ability to learn, to read, and to write as the Alzheimer’s disease robbed him of his faculties over the last few years. He was tested by his neurologist in late 2012 after we first noticed his mind slipping. Then, he had a knee replacement surgery on Monday, February 11, 2013, and when he came out from under the anesthesia, he was a changed man. He was stuck in a state of delirium for months that put him in a nursing home for the first time. We got the results from that first confirming the Alzheimer’s diagnosis on a conference call on March 12, 2013, with the neurologists (Dr. Deutsch) while Dad was still in the hospital.   Once the delirium passed in April 2013, dad got to go back home, but it was clear that the dementia had a strengthened its grip on him. He wasn’t back home long before he had to go back to the nursing home a second time in May 2013 because of a blood clot. He got to come home the second time on July 7, 2013. And he got to stay at home with Mom for another 3 and half years until just before this last Christmas.  

Unfortunately, the disease continued to progress between 2013 and 2016. At one point, Mom had to buy him an ID bracelet after he got lost while out on a walk around their own neighborhood. Dad never liked being told what to do, but we eventually even had to take away his driver’s license which annoyed him to no end. The loss of freedom and independence was quite painful for him.

He was becoming increasingly unhappy with his situation. At one point, he even stopped eating in order to hasten his own death, but started eating again because he didn’t want to break Mom’s heart. Kind to a fault as always.

By last fall, we couldn’t even take him out in public anymore unless we stayed by his side the entire time. He would wander off. Mom would try to take him to the grocery store with her, but she couldn’t even go a couple aisles over to grab a box of cereal because he wouldn’t stay where she’d left him. I used to take him to the Unitarian church with me on Sunday mornings, but I couldn’t take a bathroom break without Dad leaving the chapel and looking for a ride home.

He was getting physically weaker as well. On December 18, 2016, he had a fall and we had to put him back in the nursing home for the third and final time where he ended up stuck in a wheelchair. He could still speak in complete sentences, but he had lost the ability to even have a basic conversation. One sentence didn’t have anything to do with the next. Every time I went to visit him, he was either sleeping or sitting in his wheelchair staring off into space. He couldn’t read, couldn’t write. He didn’t listen to the radio. He didn’t watch TV. He still recognized our faces, but frequently couldn’t remember what relationship we were to him. He was unfailingly happy to see us, and would always tell us that he loved us. But he was mostly already gone, and it was an awful thing to see.

Last week, he came down with pneumonia again. Probably aspiration pneumonia because his swallowing reflexes had degraded and food and water would get into his lungs. The nursing home staff had him rushed to the hospital Monday morning in a very sorry state. By Tuesday afternoon, the hospice folks came into room 256 of the ICU at Centerpoint Medical Center to talk to us about palliative care. In a rare moment of clarity, Dad woke up and shouted, “I want to die. I want to die.” At 2:30 on that Tuesday afternoon, we withdrew the treatment for the pneumonia and let the medical staff make him comfortable with morphine and ativan. Once the bothersome high-flow nasal cannula that was pumping him full of oxygen was removed, Dad fell into a deep sleep. At 9:40 that night Dad stopped breathing. For the next 4 or 5 minutes, we held Dad’s hands and watched the heart monitor as his heart stopped beating in its normal sinus rhythm, degraded into ventricular fibrillation, and finally to a flat line. While this was happening, I was thinking that this is the last of the energy from Dad’s physical being released back into the universe. He’s no longer trapped in this decaying form. He was able to dive into the future once again, and get back to learning.

I wish I knew what form he was going to take next. He liked to say that he would be reincarnated as one of his great-grandchildren, and I hope that’s true. In the meantime, I hope there is a heaven, an afterlife, where he’s waiting to come back and where he’s whole and joyful again.

The day after he died, a message Dad wrote to me six years ago popped up on my social media feed. “You are my favorite son. Thanks for helping me earlier.” Sure, it was just some algorithm in the Timehop app that put that in my news feed, but I’m always going to think of it as a message from Dad on the other side, letting me know that he’s okay and that we did the right thing letting him go.

Observations of rural Missouri interstate

I just got back from a road trip to the East Coast. I drove many hours on Interstate 70 from Missouri to Pennsylvania, and here are some of the things I noticed.

Shredded tires everywhere. Who the hell is having all these blowouts?

Everything seems to cater either to agriculture or to truckers.

Turns out that I hate billboards. Jesus freaks, porn stores, political wingnuts, and fireworks stands seem to be monopolizing them.

Doesn’t anyone mow the sides of the highway anymore? Is the state out of money or is it some new fangled environmental idea to let the weeds grow like crazy?

Has rural Missouri become obsolete? There is very little new here. Boonville and Columbia have some nice new stuff but mostly all the exits have convenience stores and gas stations that are run down and crappy and not much else.

What’s with all the adult shops? Are Truckers that desperate for instant gratification? Or is it that people don’t know that porno is available online for free and that you can buy sex toys on the internet shipped to your house in a plain brown box?

Embracing change just a little bit

So here I am sitting on a wooden chair in the politics and travel aisle of Half-price Books waiting for the 20-something hipster kid with the big beard up at the front of the store to judge how much five milk crates full of my books are worth. It would have been a depressing enterprise a year or two ago because I would have been focused on giving up a long-loved collection for a fraction of what I paid for it. But instead, I feel freed from the burden of caring for these dusty old things that I haven’t looked at in years. Now, my only regret is that I didn’t do this years ago. Sure, I’m getting garage sale prices, but I’d gladly give them away for free at this point. Why was I so attached to my book collection for all these years? Did it make me feel smart? Did I feel guilty for spending money on books that I never got around to reading? I’m sure it’s at least a little bit of both of those things.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can fit all my belongings in a fraction of the space that they once occupied.

I’m not terribly self aware but perhaps one of the reasons that my relationship with Tracy didn’t work out was that I was resisting the necessity of letting go of my past. There wasn’t room in our apartment for all my things so I was going to have to let a lot of them go, and I was having a lot of trouble with that. I wanted to keep all my books, my collection of 5k race t-shirts, and even my old house. Tracy and I had some other problems as well, but my inability to address this resistance to change was certainly no help in the matter.

Seven months after our breakup, I still struggle with doubts and regrets, but I’m learning to let go of the past piece by piece, and I’m looking forward to a future full of opportunities to be embraced.

There is still a boat load of anxiety that goes with that, but I can feel it now, and I’m not in denial about it. It’s much easier to confront now that I can see it.

I suppose that I should be worried about all the other emotional time bombs I’ve got ticking in my head that I’m not aware of, but being ignorant of them makes it much easier to be sanguine.

I’ve got big plans and I look forward to seeing them come to fruition, even though I’m sure Fate is silently giggling somewhere.

Perspective

I’ve got this daily habit of printing out a form I created in Google Sheets that serves as a combination calendar, to-do list, and checklist of daily habits. And on this form, I handwrite mantras and affirmations to keep reminding me of the things that I claim to value. You would thing that if I actually valued these things then I wouldn’t need to remind myself, but I do it anyway. The current version is just one sentence: "Be grateful, be ethical, work hard, and carpe diem!". It used to be four sentences and was much wordier, but I’ve boiled it down quite a bit.

The "be grateful" part is on my mind this morning. It’s in the list because it’s supposed to be a key to happiness. That’s right, I’ve done a bunch of internet research on how to be happy and what the field of positive psychology has to say on the subject. I know what you’re thinking: how hopelessly nerdy. But I ask you, am I supposed to just hope for happiness to happen to me, or is there a way to actually go out and get it? What the scientific research shows is that practicing gratitude is one of the keys to happiness. It’s an ancient idea that features in many religious practices, and it turns out that there is actual scientific evidence supporting it. So, I added "be grateful" to my daily affirmation in the hopes that the reminder will help me be a happier, more satisfied person.

Which brings me to why the topic is on my mind: I went out for a drive last night and was listening to the Invisibilia podcast episode "Frame of Reference". I love my podcasts because I learn so much, and some of it is even of actual use in my daily life. This particular episode is one that is sticking in my head because I haven’t quite been able to figure out how to be grateful on a daily basis, and this episode showed in a very concrete way how to do it. Basically, it’s all about "relative deprivation", or the "it could be worse" school of thought. One of the hosts (Alix Spiegel) is the child of a Holocaust survivor, and she was interviewing a comedian from the Daily Show who is the child of a guy who escaped from India during the wars of partition after independence from Britain. Their parents didn’t have much patience for the trials and tribulations of their American offspring. "Are you a lamp made of skin?" is how the holocaust survivor phrased it to her daughter. "Come back and talk to me when you have real problems."

Once you adopt the frame of reference of these survivors of real hardship, then it’s so much easier to recognize how terrific your life is. And thus, happiness.

But the thing that the Alix points out in the show is that it can’t be our only frame of reference or we’ll fail to make progress. Progress requires dissatisfaction with the way things are.

We have to be able to swap out our frame of reference. We need to see things from more than one perspective. Yes, my life is great compared to a lot of other people’s lives, but there are ways that my life could be so much better. So, when I want to practice gratitude, I need to adopt the perspective that shows me how terrific my life is, and when I need a reason to work hard and improve my life, then I switch perspectives and try to see how my life looks to a person who experiences more comfort, privilege, and joy than I currently do.

The trick is to not get stuck with just one perspective. It’s going to take some practice for sure, but I have no doubt that looking at things in more than one way is a good thing.

What the future holds

So, here I sit in my basement at 10:10 in the evening. I should be in bed, but I promised myself that I would do some writing tonight. But I don’t know what to write about. I’d prefer not to write depressing shit or complain so there goes a whole bunch of topics right out the window. Perhaps I should take advantage of the Interwebs and look for suggested blog topics online.

The Internet is an amazing thing. How did we ever get along without it. It’s like having the biggest library in the world at your fingertips, but it also allows you to be an author and have the whole world available to you as audience without the trouble of proving your worth to publishing companies. And, obviously, it’s not just the written word. We’ve all got access to our own mobile movie studios and movie theaters. It’s just amazing to this boy who grew up in Bethany, Missouri, where we got just one channel on our TV back in the early 1970s. And that didn’t come in terribly well since KQTV, Channel 2, was all the way down in the big city of St. Joseph.

The pace of change is so fast that it’s becoming impossible to predict what’s going to come next. I know some of the things that I hope for from the future though. May they come soon enough to do some good! I hope for medical advances in nano-technology and pharmaceuticals and advanced artificial intelligence that can cure the diseases that would otherwise be the death of my loved ones. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could inject nanobots into the blood stream of people with Alzheimer’s disease that could clean up those nasty prions that are robbing my father of his ability to think. Perhaps, IBM’s Watson will develop a cure for the peripheral neuropathy that has been slowly crippling my mother. Maybe many more of us can avoid the ravages of old age and live for hundreds of years by reprogramming our epigenetic code to stop shedding the telomeres that act as the ticking clock counting down to our death.

While hopeful for the miracles that technology could bring, I also worry that we won’t survive as a species long enough to see these advances come to fruition. Will some idiot hack into military drones or into our nuclear missile bases and send us back to the stone age? Or will Monsanto botch their latest GMO experiment and kill us all with a super-virus? Or will our Artificial Intelligences go all Skynet on us?

I’ve developed a habit over the last few weeks of listening to Elon Musk and Ray Kurzweil hold forth on the future in a number of YouTube videos so I have hope that the world is becoming a better place, that we will become a multi-planet species, and that the Singularity will arrive soon and transform the human race from it’s ape-like irrationality into super-intelligent cybernetic beings. But because of the pace of change, it’s nearly impossible to predict what even the near future holds for us. Let’s just do our best to not fuck it up, alright?