Shame and Regret: The Sting of Social Stigma

First posted in August 2012 Shame And Regret: The Sting of Social Stigma has more of a wallop five years later than four years earlier. We as a race must get something out of persecuting the disenfranchised and marginalized friends, family’s, lovers, idols, and heroes. Maybe we ought to look inside ourselves and find that kernel of fear. Then erase it. And then get back to being compassionate brothers and sisters.

 

boygerman

Why are we ashamed by what we do?  We do what we choose to do because we stand to gain something.  Yes, some people are forced, say at gun point, to compromise; some are coerced through drugs and alcohol; and yes, some actions are purely altruistic (ashamed of philanthropy?).  It’s my opinion that consciously withholding or denying or lying about our actions is caused by fear.  Not a generic fear, but a two-tier fear.  The first tier-fear: judgement by others is beyond your control; but the second tier-fear: consequence sits squarely in your lap, and which, by the way, you’d already equated as a potential cost of your unprecedented action.  We all know this simple truth: We have absolutely no control over the actions of others.  That said, we can remove the first tier-fear: judgement by others; we now find ourselves staring down the steely barrel of culpability: we encountered a situation, measured consequence against benefit, and toed the line or stepped across it.  So shame and regret were considered well before we pandered to our hunger, thirst, or warm body (emphasis on warm).

The best possible precursor to a mental illness diagnosis was, until 1973 its own mental illness: homosexuality.  Coming out as a gay man taught me the valuable lesson that there will be people who can’t distinguish between my sexual orientation (which places me in a specific group) and who I am (in general terms) as a fellow human being.  Having learned that lesson years ago I was well prepared to face similar discrimination based upon my mental orientation, i.e. mental illness, e.g. bipolar disorder.  And yet, what is there to be ashamed and regretful about?  Don’t carry the burden of Shame or wear the shackles of Regret; never apologize to anyone irritated by what you have, especially if what you have is a medically recognized disease.

Recently I conducted a thoroughly non-scientific giddy-up poll which asked: What diseases do you think you’d be ashamed to admit having?

Answers?  Anal warts, vaginal herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea. . .what?  Anal warts? Venereal diseases? According to our non-scientific poll of middle-aged men and women, they said that carrying a sexually transmitted disease is the only other human affliction besides mental illness that they would be ashamed of having and which also carries with it a damning social stigma.  STD’s are the result of risky and unsafe sexual activities engaged in by choice. Does mental illness really belong in their company? Really?

Shame and Regret are burdens that those who choose to remain ignorant and judgmental should shoulder.

Not me.  Not you.  And certainly not the neighbor, best friend, Richard Dreyfuss rdreyfuss2
parishioner, bowling buddy, Ryan Phillippe, phillippeprom date, recipient of the first kiss, Girl Scout, Teddy Roosevelt (yes, really), Girl Scout Leader, Sinéad O’Conner, full back,  Metta World Peace ,
mettapeace offensive line coach, movie star, Burgess Meredith, Opera Star, Ronald Braunstein, famous orchestra conductor, infamous commuter train conductor or any one of the other 25% of our world’s population. How about the other 75% of the world’s population loosen the reins of their prejudice.

I Reckon, It Was My Reckoning

PLEASE NOTE: BnB has 190 posts. I doubt you’re going to rummage around in the basement of my blog, so I’ve decided to bring a handful of posts forward and mention why these are some of my favorites. Like: My Penned Invention of the Pen Invention (because I had fun writing it); or, The Start starring Wile E. Coyote (because this was my first post and of which has received 138 comments); or this one I Reckon, It Was My Reckoning (an early attempt to illustrate a dire consequence when you barter your character for wealth, fame, power and career). I hope you enjoy it and, as always, I invite you to leave comments.

 

It was now, right now, right now as you read this, exactly four years ago, that I stood in front of an old, caged teller’s window and watched The Principle Clerk place the Scales of Character atop an antiquated green-marbled counter.  His craggy index finger moved slowly down a ledger, then stopped; picking up the ledger he walked to the back where small drawers were stacked thirty feet high. Looking near the bottom he opened a drawer, plucked out a box, then returned it, plucked another, returned it, and after five attempts in four different drawers he removed a box, closed the drawer, snapped shut the ledger and returned to the front.  

“That drawer was really packed,” I said to relieve my tension.  

“That drawer is all you,” he said, “You in different lives; there’s quite a bit of you; more is better than less; you didn’t squander character; admirable.”  From the

From the box, he lifted a small parcel and placed it on the counter beneath his barred window. Looking at me above his spectacles he said, “You’ve got to open it and verify that everything’s there; that there’s nothing missing, and that it meets with your satisfaction; once you’re finished, close it, tie the string, and then pass it back to me under the barred window.” Then leaning in, within whispering distance, he looked left and then right to check if anyone was within earshot and whispered, “Almost everyone expects more; don’t be surprised; a bit is withdrawn each time you barter truth to self,” then he turned and went about his busy work.

Hands shaking, I untied the bow, peeled back the paper and gazed upon five brilliant, transparent, and twinkling jewels.  Immediately I felt absorbed or better, renewed; I felt capricious and peculiar; I looked eagerly for paper and pencil so I could describe it; I felt shy and naked; every ploy and deceit and means were displayed. I folded the paper atop the jewels, tied a knot in the string and called for the clerk.  “Everything in order, sir?” he asked.  

“I assume so,” I replied absolutely uncertain as to the truth of my answer.

“Excellent,” he said, “Now, let’s take a look at where you stand,” as he carried my box back to the Scales of Character.

“On the left,” he started to explain, “we place your parcel, that is, what remains of your character,” he says as he delicately places my parcel on the brass tray.  “On the right,” he continued, “we place the whole of your Lifetimes represented by these incremental weights.  The target for which we aim is that the left side, You, outweighs the right side, Lifetime. The objective is that one’s Character can outlast one’s Existence.” 

“And what does it mean if the right outweighs the left?” I asked hesitantly.

“Many things,” he said after taking a deep breath, “and one which you must choose. But before we talk about that, let’s see where you stand,” has said quietly, turning back to the scale. I tried to peer through the closeness of the bars of his window and watched as he carefully selected the right-side weights and placed them delicately in the elevated tray.  With each weights placement, he paused momentarily, allowing the scale to stop moving before he proceeded.  When he placed the second to last weight on the tray the right side sunk significantly but remained higher than the left.  “Not too bad, not too bad at all,” he said over his shoulder, “that weight is what does so many, so so many people in.”

“One weight left. . .” my comment exposing my nervousness.

“Yes,” the Clerk said, “but it represents the last decade,” he said as he placed it on the scale causing the left side to rise above the lowered right side.  

“Out of balance,” I mumbled, defeated.

Turning, he walked to the counter and studied me before speaking.  In a voice resembling that of my conscience, he began to explain, “There are people that stand where you’re standing and their left side hit bottom long before I stacked the weight. They knew what it meant before I started my explanation.  And for those people, there are no options: There’s just one thing to do. But it’s not the thing that’s hard to believe, it’s knowing that they won’t know when. That by overdrawing their Character account they lost the privilege of forethought.  Now they spend their time oblivious to all the choices of life, they’re left behind; indecisiveness caused missed chances, lost opportunities, and the upstarts, the less deserving were handed promotions. And they continued to fall further and further down their chosen ladder. And on his way down all of the trappings associated with bartered success fell too like leaves or thin branches: their wives and children and grandchildren. Here we call that damnation.”  He checked his watch and placed a sign directing people to other windows, walked back to a coat tree, grabbed his hat and coat and stood next to me.

“You stopped by at a good time.  You didn’t wait thinking the ship would right itself. You abandoned the inclination to compromise.  Compromise depletes Character quicker than any other life choice; compromise also happens to be the easiest and most benign.  And yet Character is the most coveted virtue by people besieged by empty character overdrafts and find themselves pleading for, but being denied protection. This persona non grata will happily promise anyone anything to convince the unwitting to give it up; let it go; who cares; nobody will see and who cares if they do; everyone else does it; it’s just for a while; come on we’re friends. And before the new initiates know it, their high-rolling days are over; they’re marginalized; they’re alone at any bar on any street and in that part of town; no wingmen; no gaggles and gaggles of girls gathering and giggling; no brunette with Azurite eyes. Those seeking devotees have already begun to feel that Life is no longer a Miracle but a rubric to be endured for all time. Not celebrated or explored or shared or even predicted.  The damned chides those with Character but those with Character cannot hear their heckles. You see, it’s not that those with Character won’t listen. They have listened. It’s the damned that didn’t listen and sadly they’ll be the only ones that will listen.

“But here’s what’s going to happen to you:  You saw that you’re a wee bit short on Character to last your Lifetime. Maybe you traded it, sold it, or gave it away. So you’re going off-line for a few years; to recharge; to reenergize; to rediscover curiosity and creativity; to stop, take root, sprout and expand; to see not simply look; to listen and understand not just hear and obey; to get back to the business of your life; to be you to the end.  Expect people to identify you as crazy, loony, out-of-your-head and off your noggin, a victim of mental illness; they may even identify you as a kind of nut case; a specific type of lunatic; because, they’ll say, if Crayola can have five different reds and blues and greens, then why can’t the mentally ill be as colorful! Let it be, let it wash ashore like the tide; you’ll survive. That pinch of Character you might need to navigate life will be available and parsed out.  Now, once that door opens and you cross that threshold your entire life will fall apart.  You won’t know why you won’t remember here or me. That is until one day some years from now when it’s time for your turn at the window you’ll recall a sort of Déjà vu clerking behind the window.  And being one of Generous Character you may even tell this story using your own voice which mysteriously fell silent twenty years ago just like mine did twenty years ago. And maybe the middle-aged man standing in front of your window will have more Character than Life remaining. And then both of you can walk out that door over there.” 

“What’s it say?” I asked, careening my neck in order to see. 

“There’s no need knowing now,” he said as one strong hand went to my back and the other hand to the lock. “Besides,” he said turning the knob, “Time just eats you up,” as he nudged me, waited, then with considerably more strength he nudged me again with more purpose, and then he barked loudly and snarled like a teased-to-mean junkyard dog waving that craggy finger at me, “Now, get out!” he snarled, “Twenty more years until I can go through that door marked “To Trains.” Then with great conviction, he pushed me into the street followed by doors slamming and deadbolts being thrown. When I turned back I saw an empty, fenced-in lot among pitiless faces deep within a strange city when my eyes shot open early this morning.

Has Been’s, Could’ve Been’s, Once Was’s, and Children

Note: Like a sliver that’s penetrated the thick skin, it needs to be removed by a sterilized needle and constant squeezing. It will continue to ache until its presence causes you far more anguish than it’s extraction. The parallels are one reason why this post means so much to me.
Me (right) and my brother (left)

My brother got my dad’s physique; I got his mental illness.

Once I assumed the role of cook a couple of years ago, I planned my menu so that every other day I’d prepare a new meal.  The only cookbook I owned was a 1960’s copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook.  This cookbook was my mother’s, and if you saw it, you’d think Betty Crocker herself passed it along to my mother.  It was a solid first-step for me, my hesitation quieted by my mother’s obvious use of the cookbook, evidenced by the incredible number of batter-splattered pages; missing pages; half-pages; and an index at the rear which resembled the color palette of Crayola’s 64-Color box of crayons.  There were highlighted recipes; notations at the margins; and just a few, but oddly significant in an extreme way, an ad infinitum decree by way of thick, heavy lines, one or two eliminated altogether by a formidable, dense marker, applied as determined and repeated coats, forbidding any chance that these recipes might appear on our kitchen table.

My father was already a train wreck when my brain began recording his presence.  Failing at life (mainly due to his undiagnosed mental illness, bipolar), his appearance was infrequent: his social mask was one of humor: albeit acidic sarcasm and shearing, pointed wit composed in the key of tease and enacted before an unending column of untried yet promising second-shift ladies.  His role as a bullying, boorish big shot, whose sole domestic purpose was to reprise the 1963 verbal variety of water boarding. His peacocking drove us  closer and closer to suffocation, as though with each matinée he pressed another thick pillow of despair onto our faces and then, just when our desperation went quiet and we felt that first, foamy wave of disappearance, back we’d go into his second act and the shrill, ingenuous cackle of his subordinate’s callow laughter warned us that he was gaining adoration.  And the louder the laughter, the more lewd, raunchy, and viscous his anecdotes became, and our mention increased proportionally until, by the end, the three of us, his family, descended well past indecency, a good way beyond degenerate, and somewhere between contemptible and worthless.

And as the ladies stood and he, broadcasting his manners, helped them with their coats, those ladies whose saturating attention fueled my father’s mania sending him further and further afield, looked at the three of us, fodder of my father’s insanity, and delicately lifted the corners of their mouths in an effort to produce a symbol of empathy that my father couldn’t decode.

But what those lips produced was that sneer tossed at has been’s, could’ve beens, once was’s, and children who repeatedly witness their father falling apart.

Ker-Plunk!

"I love it here!"
“I love it here!”

Our dog Jenni is a Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier. The Wheaten was bred in Ireland for over 200 years to be an all-purpose farm dog. They share a common ancestry with the Kerry Blue Terrier and the Irish Terrier. In Ireland, they were commonly referred to as the “Poor Man’s Wolfhound.” The Wheaten was not recognized as a breed in Ireland until 1937. The first Wheaties were exported to the United States in the 1940s.[7] Finally, in 1973, they were recognized by the American Kennel Club. They are loving and very smart dogs i.e. Jenni knows English, Spanish, and Shitzu. She greets everyone in the same way: standing up and licking their faces. Jenni is protective of us, but isn’t aggressive even when attacked by a Rottweiler. And most importantly, they maintain their puppy like qualities throughout their lives. Yay! (Sheesh).

I had no intention of buying a dog, but I was in a manic state. When I’m manic my mantra is, “I get what I want. Period!” I’d wanted a dog for the longest time; ever since FiFi my childhood pet leapt into the front seat of the car holding a one way ticket. Had I known she’d never come back I’d at least been able to tell her how much I loved her, and that I’ll miss her dearly, and I didn’t know why adults kidnap pets which won’t be coming home.  Back then I convinced myself that my toy poodle had been set free in the woods where she could join the seldom seen and subject of many legends, the pack of wild poodles!

What a great day!
What a great day!

Of all the things Jenni is, there’s one she isn’t. She’ll never make the Olympic Swim Team in the 100 meter freestyle. In other words, she can paddle for her life, but Esther Williams she ain’t. It was late spring and the fish in our 500 gallon, 5 foot deep pond were beginning to shed their winter blues by swimming close to the water’s surface to enjoy the warmth of longer days and warmer sunlight. I let Jenni out to explore the Daffodils, Crocuses, and Snow Drops, all signs of Winter’s imminent departure. I always kept an eye on her even though the perimeter of our backyard was fenced in. Then I saw her: She had leaned to far beyond the safety of soil and onto the slippery limestone, her paws slid across the smooth face of limestone and Ker-Plunk, head first into the pond! I ran to the pond to find her circling in the middle precariously beyond my reach. I tried to coax her to the side, but she was panicking and her dog paddling was becoming erratic. I leaned over the edge of the pond, well beyond balance, grabbed her by the nape of her neck, and lifted, with one arm, a saturated fifty pound dog.
I expected that my bravery would result in a flurry of unstoppable wet kisses, but instead was the target of three whole body shakes, saturating me with gallons of my own pond water.

Conventional Wisdom is an Oxymoron!

The Truth of your Action often turns to shame which eventually turns to secret(s) which requires evasion and misrepresentations which causes perjury and self incrimination and arrest.

aaa-Conventional ArrestThe penance in 1928 for this path of omission would be swift, impudent, and ruinous to his sixteen year old daughter’s moral character according to Mr. Williams, the father to Miss Williams (confirmed to be with child). The father, H. Didrickson, eighteen, from Green Bay whose moral turpitude shamelessly corrupted his daughter’s moral character, and who would experience the wrath and fury of a politic and au fait Superintendent of a timber railway in Northern Wisconsin after Mr. Williams follows the advice of Conventional Wisdom to relocate his daughter to one of the neighboring counties and corruptly gains assurance of his family’s anonymity due to the handwritten misspelling of the birth father’s surname by the County Clerk. Conventional Wisdom was the modus operandi first employed in 1838 by the ruling class, and which were widely accepted as true explanations or actions by the proletariat even though they were unexamined and unproven. Simply put, Conventional Wisdom was high society’s “rule of thumb” when dealing with the ignorant, common rabble.

aaa-wisdom1It would appear that Conventional Wisdom adamantly insisted that: 1) any scandalous; 2) censurable; or 3) malevolent activity and its vicarious, foreseeable, or misbegotten side-effect i.e. bastard, crime, or hardship be: 1) blueprints; 2) engineered; and 3) dispatched clandestinely as to: 1) disquiet suspicion; 2) stave off defamation; and 3) avoid malice.  Conventional Wisdom’s golden era must’ve been a time when the world loomed large. An age when Europe would never be a destination. A time when the thoughtlessness of Conventional Wisdom empowered mandates set forth by the secretive, dodging, and manipulating rich, powerful, and self-appointed Grand Standers for irrational, ill-mannered, and bizarre vitriol; when men and women became lifetime politicians whose focus is their career not their conscience; and obscenely privately funded think tanks that thumb their noses at Liberty and bring our country to a dead stop simply by pouting and voting “No!”

A time of waywardness, of lost directions, of greed. An environment when citizens witness abject corruption which no longer scurries like insects or vermin, but are embolden and brazen, self-absorbed, and defying, criminals that remain free but those on whom they fed, those suffering their gluttony now face thirty penniless years of old age. A time when the dream to be President of the United States was ripped from the minds of the majority and entertained by those few able to conjure at least $1 billion. These are the times of Conventional Wisdom. Times of turning inward. Times of isolation. Times of blindness, and deafness, and silence. Times of cowardice, of intelligent ignorance: That is, being smart enough to turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, and a silenced voice. Times of surrender. Times of apathy. Times of villainous denigration caused by rubbernecks, scandalmongers, and nosey parker’s. The time when Conventional Wisdom rose from arcane and obscure backwoods’ breeding to become the basis and keystone of our culture’s moral compass.

aaa-wisdom

 

Dusk Darkens Days; Night Neglects Nary One

aaadeath3I stopped living My Miracle of Life seven months ago when
incantations permitted a glimpse beneath a crust delicate
as early winter’s creeping ice across a pond; peering
deep and deeper still to the depth’s of the mind‘s
deep sea trenches only to chance upon a ghostly image, curdled,
it confirmed a tiny grid lock whose ID hid 48 hours;
the mind’s fluid sidesteps this log jam and a storm
surge barged into priceless brain tissue causing
a breaker to trip in this prevailing mild
and coherent character. The surge retiredaaadeath4
dragging its bounty of fifty-eight years, a lifetime
of pleasure, reticence, failure, and small, immortalized
moments of glory into an abyss oft named forgotten. I stopped

dreaming stopped
imagining, stopped
unreasonable and half-wit ideas,
to jump start thinking which held me tight
like a kite caught in a gale and drew me in
lest I be lost to my mind’s struggle of fantasy
against a world of Conventional Wisdom; Wisdom
burdened 
by pragmatism, a reality of dead-ends, of
darkness, of emptiness, 
of fear, of inescapability, of
aaadeath1an absent place holding no bearing but a place 
nonetheless,
void of dreams, man’s anathema,
death.

If imagination is my Miracle of Life,
I must first domesticate my culture’s greatest
fear: an early death forfeiting decades of dreams
and desires.

Dark

aaadeath2

 

 

 
Dark
an accusation of guilt due
to my deliberate and
captured words, drawing emotion
in any direction; or,
it’s been identified by those
looking to capture a comet
like summer’s fireflies:
they point with the comfort
of warm blankets, that now is a period
without an ending; it’s a nod or a wink
or deflection enduring propriety; mostly
it’s the haunting of those alive for the
dead’s forgotten.