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.

 

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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.

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.

That One Mid-Morning in November, 1963

“I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”   Matthew 5:28

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I’d admittedly forgotten some vague dots over the years until a tiny ember (resembling my aging mother’s voice) leaped through my firewall. She read to me an obituary of one Ms.
Daisy Polé the sole daughter and heiress of the late Mr. Raleigh (Buck) Polé. Ms. Polé, an unmarried woman and Mr. Polé, a widower since 1941 moved to Gilroy in the Santa Clara Valley in 1964 and accepted administration of the family’s lucrative portfolio of land ownerships including the keystone of Santa Clara, the Sebastiani Vineyard among others. a-1sebastianiIn 1916 his parents, M. Benoît-Pierre Polé of La Rogue Gageac, France, and his fiancé Miss Caroline Agnew of Tippah County, Missouri, entered into a 99-year periodic tenancy of the 4,467 acre vineyard of Mr. Samuele Sebastiani. This agreement allowed Mr. Sebastiani and his heirs to farm the land autonomously for a share of each yield. In a statement issued by family attorneys: “In the margin of the original will Ms. Pole noted in her own handwriting which was witnessed that “Upon my death and by freea-1daisy4 choice, it is my wish that all landownership be dissolved immediately and set free; all the land returned to heirs of Samuele Sebastiani (as well as Banshee, R. Strong, Paradise, and Truett-Hurst).” According to the Santa Clara County Recorder of Deeds Office, Ms. Polé’s gesture is the largest periodic tenant return in Santa Clara County, and is reportedly valued at $110 million.

It was back in 1963, one of a dozen sunny and bitterly cold Mid-November mornings. It was that particular mid-November day in 1963 that Mr. R. Polé and Miss D. Polé, and Mr. B. Bleddstone were exiled from my memory. That was the day my Mother (then a deeply discounted, cash only housekeeper) exploded. Her honesty while certainly noxious was also injurious and fatal to the futures of three adults and one child.

When I was five my single-parent Mother whose career as a deeply discounted, cash only personal 0-momnmewinter.jpgHousekeeper was forced to dress me, pack her lunch, pack my lunch, check our bus fare, and one last-minute cross-check of her self supplied and professionally preferred cleaning products deftly loaded into her briefcase (a doubled National Foods, brown paper shopping bag) and haul us to her four daily housekeeping a1-housekeeperandsonjobs. And though she never said it, my waving-hand-hello’s which greeted the Mrs. of the House always – except today elicited the friendliest responses in the form of an angelic smile, pat on the head, brief tickling episode, or my favorite, an invitation to (one of my Mother’s strictly forbidden breakfasts) sandwich cookies and milk!

We never suspected the degree of turmoil Mrs. Daisy Bleddstone had deflected on a weekly basis for my Mother’s tardiness. On this intense and nippy Mid-November morning,  I stood shivering and whispered under my breath, “C’mon, it’s just a ring of keys in a car coat! Jeez!” I paced as I grew impatiently colder watching my Mother plunder her car coat like a determined cop ransacked a suspects coat for contraband. At wits end, she threw the coat to the ground, a-1momstimexchecked her Timex and proclaimed, “Holy Jesus, it’s a quarter past!” then dropped to her knees and began twisting and tearing and rifling through her proudly self-purchased woolen car coat which eventually puddled, ruined and lifeless, before her. Then my Mother in a strained, ironic voice peppered with diabolic laughter quietly confessed, “They’re on the kitchen counter!” (Again we were rushed, determined to avoid another condescending explanation of the value of her employer’s time, which is, by the way, priceless!)  “And fifteen lousy minutes to someone with all the time in the world cost me the only coat I’ve bought for myself in six years.” And as we knelt there staring at the woolen carcass, the immense front door (resembling the Wizard of Oz’s deterring, massive and inadmissible portico) opened and Mrs. Bleddstone stood there like an over starched shirt. She said in hushed tones,a-1thief her voice quivering unnaturally, as though a crook was poking her ribs with a cold snub-nosed .38 ordering, “Get rid of them or I will for permanent!”

Mrs. Bleddstone, in a breathy, desperate whisper said, “Buddy’s looking for his shirts!” “Oh Holy Jesus,” my Mother blurted flying past Mrs. Bleddstone and beelining it for the kitchen. saying over her shoulder to the Mrs.,, “They’re in the fridge staying cold and damp ready for me to iron them.” When my Mother finally emptied the Fridgedaire, the door slammed shut unexpectantly and barely missed my Mother. On the other side of the door stood Mr. Bleddstone, dressed for work except for a shirt. Mr. Bleddstone chortled, “Do you expect me to wear a wet shirt to work?” Then he buddys take-offbegan to mumble, inaudibly at first, then tightly restrained; a “can’t two damned women figure out how to iron . . . someone’s to blame and she’s going to pay, Christ! She’s going to  “Daisy,” Buddy asked casually (while he studied, carefully recalling this whole fucking debacle: ‘Which one’s really to blame? Which of the two bitches made a patsy of me? And in front of the god-damn kid!), “At what time do we begin paying our laundress and her little thimble?” “Eight o’clock Buddy, but . . . today’s an exception . . .” My Mother, hopeful that after watching eighteen months of Daisy’s acceptance of denigrating sexism and impolitic adultery, Daisy would finally go chin to chin with him.

Then Wham! Down came his fist like a butcher’s cleaver!

And again; Wham! But this time the noise and crushing impact caused Daisy to retreat to the nook next to the broom closet; as though she’d learned to protect some of her body. a1-buddy angryBuddy, without breaking his stare at Daisy, whipped his hand to within inches of my Mother’s face; yet she didn’t flinch (having been a “Daisy” years before). Buddy yelled at Daisy, “Those folk don’t get exceptions, they are exceptions! Damaged, cracked, and “hopeful’s” waiting on a dusty shelf, propped between bookends; on one side alimony and child support and on the other side a line of suitors waiting their turn . . . that is until they spot her little anchor. The kid is competition for privacy, intimacy, and affection. He’s a nuisance; one more rain-check, yet another rain-delay; stood-up because of a kid’s runny nose. Finally he gets it: Every suitor is enchanted by the promises of a lonesome blonde with ripe, plump strawberry lips. Eventually every suitor becomes disenchanted by ignored or forgotten promises of afa-1soldiersfection and boundless hours of sex. Every suitor was embarrassed that a few well-placed promises led to her mockery of the suitors understanding, forgiveness, and patience. Eventually it became clear that her primary attention and affection was toward the kid and every suitor had the leftovers. This was her way of giving the kid a daddy ’cause she knew nobody wanted to be daddy to some little bastard!”

I heard it but never saw it. The sound resembled a bat cracked during a ballgame on the a1-woman slapsmanradio. And Buddy stood there stupefied by the burning sting of a Housekeeper’s hand (a fucking Housekeeper’s hand) which hung, opening and closing quickly like the mouths of caught fish. Slowly Buddy shook off the shock, steadied himself off the ropes, his chest began to swell signaling an apoplectic eruption.

But before Buddy had the chance, my Mother, with years of staggering physical abuse; years of self-denial, of crushed hope, of denigration, of inhumanity, and the pestilence of rotting promises; finally, Catholicism’s orthodoxy of eternal damnation if she divorced a cruel and punishing bigot; and her character decaying as she endured (out of fear) the self-important icy hands (also fists) which stripped then roughly rummaged  beneath  her clothing. My Mother, her eyes locked on Buddy said, “Well, a damp shirt is more dignified than one streaked with cheap lipstick. It’s so cheap in fact, that one day one of us “Housekeepers,” will climb the basement stairs where we’ve been scrubbing lipstick longer and with more determination than I scrub the grass stains from my boy’s dungarees. All that effort so your wife (and all the other wives that I’ve worked for) won’t face the humiliation of infidelity and worse, your cruel and bemused recklessness knowing she’ll notice it, deny it, admit it just as the last drop of dignity rolls down her cheek. Daisy’s fear of life alone and the weight of the word divorcee keeps you here to be beaten like a farmyard dog; beaten when it’s convenient for him!

“Good luck, Daisy,” my mother said in whispered tones; “I hope that one day you’ll have the courage to stand-up to this cowardly bastard!”

a-1buddyyellingBuddy spun around as quickly as a toy top, his fists clenched tightly and stood inches from my Mother’s face. His fists shook and clenched tightly like a school boy’s first after school fight. Daisy reached out to Buddy’s shoulder hoping to detour his anger. Which it sure did! The interruption lit Buddy’s fuse and subsequent explosion! First was a painful back-handed slap which spun Daisy around; then bare-knuckled fists which accurately landed painfully and repeatedly at Daisy. It was then, right then as Buddy was preoccupied with torturing his wife that Buddy yelled, “you’re fired so get the fuck out of my house!

My Mother grabbed our coats and mittens and never looking back, led us quickly to the back door.  Upon opening the door my Mother and I ran smack-dab into Buck holding a plate of Danish. “Isn’t it a bit early for you and your boy to be leaving?” Buck asked. My Mother replied, “Today’s not a good day for us and it’s probably not a good day for you.” She practically ran down the sidewalk dragging me behind and didn’t slow until the Bleddstone house disappeared behind a wall of Junipers. She kneeled a-1anger and looked deeply into my eyes as though she wanted to bury something deep inside of me; something that I’d likely to forget, yet it would somehow be something that would shape my life: “Bruises aren’t tokens of love. And that first yellow and green and blue and nobility purple resemble badly applied make-up and doesn’t streak down your cheek with the tears. But, you realize, the bruise is deeper, a place that can’t be wiped away but is absorbed like the deep pile carpeting of your marriage. And as your shivering fingers deftly touch it you hear his voice, “Want one more? Another helping?” And the next morning you awaken early and study your portrait in the bathroom mirror: the accolades about your beauty just a few years ago: “Priceless, gorgeous, the face of perfection!” But this morning you realize the beauty is counterfeit. And while closing the bathroom door so he doesn’t stir, out they come sob after sob after sob after sob all fueled by unutterable recollections.

The moment Buck stepped threw the door he saw Buddy slap Daisy so hard that she’d spun, landing face down and splayed across the kitchen table. When the plate of Danish shattered as it struck the kitchen floor its sound broke through Buddy’s madness, leaving him out of breath and surprised by his degree of destruction. Buck calmly walked to Daisy, scooped her into his arms and began to walk out of the kitchen, when he suddenly turned to Buddy, “I assume you’ll be here after Daisy’s packed a few things and is sitting in my car. I think we’ve got a thing or two that requires immediate intervention. Don’t you?” Buddy stood motionless then began crying. “You know,” Buck said, “In twenty-eight years I never, not once, laid a hand on her.” Then Buck climbed the stairs with Daisy cradled in his arms.

“She wrote to you, didn’t she?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “Right after Buck passed away. She said they never talked about it. Not once for all those years.”

“Never?” I asked.

“Just once,” she said sadly, “When Buck knew time was running out.”

“So?” I asked quickly.

“She asked me not to discuss it with anyone, any-one, until she passed away,” my Mother answered.

“And?” my curiosity leaped ahead of my manners.

My Mother paused, then answered, “She mentioned only two things: She said that while sitting in Buck’s car she swore a wrecking ball was demolishing the kitchen.” Then my Mother paused and in that silence I knew she was fighting back very painful memories and the tears which soon follow. Continuing, she spoke quietly, “She said while sitting in Buck’s car and for the rest of her life, that she never found an answer to this question: ‘How can love as deep as mine look like this?”

a1-bottled anger

Newtown Might Be Anytown

cryingobamaSince I first heard President Obama fight back agony so wrenching it overwhelmed the indomitable propriety of his office, I sensed a depth of heartache rarely freed by a sitting president.  President Obama’s valiant attempt to sandbag the stalwart character of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was breached nevertheless as the surge of emotion overwhelmed his duty as the harbinger of serious information to America‘s citizens.

Every time I read an article, listen to President Obama’s painful pauses, or watch television coverage I simply cry for everyone involved.  And everyone is involved.  By everyone I mean everybody; all of us; each of us.  It’s impossible to locate anyone unmoved by this horrific incident.

It’s all part of an escalation of rights protected by the constitution, to the safety of the innocent, to the invasion of privacy at pat down check-points, to righteous citizens hawking firearms at uncontrolled, unregulated gun showgunshow free-for-alls at which anyone — anyone regardless of their background — can purchase a firearm because, by law and by money and by lobbyists and by radical firearms enthusiasts, gun shows are not gun shops, gun shows are for the gun collector, the gun enthusiast.  But what do these collectors and enthusiasts feel or imagine as they feel the firearms heft, the iciness of the steel, the clip or chamber, the single cartridge trigger or the semi-automatic trigger; what do they feel or imagine that propels them to dodge laws, drop a few hundred dollars, and leave pleased as punch.  They must imagine the kickback of that first round, the power the firearm possesses, the. . .the. . .____________ of ownership.  It’s the blank I’m curious about; the “what” as to why they insist on owning firearms.

Which is their constitutional right: “To bear arms. . .”   But the Constitution doesn’t mention ammunition.

policefront deskSo here’s my idea:  Treat ammunition for publicly owned firearms in the same manner our society treats prescription drugs.  If you want ammunition you need to go to your local police department; there pharmacythey’ll write you a legal dispense order for thirty rounds only and non-refillable within a thirty day period.  The federal government would monitor ammunition shops like they monitor pharmacies.

Have all the lawless gun shows you want!  Have all the gun shops you want!  Let everyone carry concealed weapons!  And most of all, appease the self-righteous, entitlement-wielding, insensitive and ignorant myopic NRA by letting them bear as many bloody arms as they can carry!

But you can’t have any bullets.

 

After 50 Years, I Can Speak My Father’s Language

I became Harold’s (my father’s name) youngest son when he was forty-nine years old.  Forty-nine today isn’t what it was in 1958, especially when you lived life full bore.  By the time I became conscious of his presence (three years old) he’d already begun his initial descent.  He had the looks of Walter Cronkite, the physique of Jackie Gleason, the temper of John McEnroe, the contempt for women of August Strindberg (Swedish Playwright and infamous misogynist 1849-1912), the alcoholism of Johnny Cash, and a creative and innovative mind in the areas of electrical and mechanical engineering.

There were just two of us (me and my older (2 years) brother.  That is, until 1972 (I was 14 years old), when the dirty laundry was aired: Our father had a previous marriage which produced two daughters and a son.  As I recall I was excited by the prospect (kind of like the “Brady Bunch“) and my brother was apprehensive and quite angry.  The confession of a first marriage only occurred because the eldest daughter had the strong desire to discover what happened to her “real daddy.”  The first wife’s precept that no one was to try to find their father until she had passed was strictly enforced and subsequently honored by all.  She passed in the early 70’s after which the eldest daughter’s search began.  As to why our mother or father kept this secret and never disclosed anything about it is anyone’s guess.

The marriage bond between my father and mother was broadsided by the wrecking ball in 1963 when the County Sheriff appeared at our front door to serve our dad his notice to vacate immediately which, we learned later, was a bitterly contested condition of their divorce. From that day on and until the day he died he expressed a cruel, ruthless and chronic acrimony and rancor toward our mother which he publicly and conspicuously displayed, especially when we visited on Sunday afternoons.  I don’t know if his brutish and vengeful behavior during our visits was aimed at my brother and I, or if he thought we’d run back to headquarters and repeat verbatim his vitriolic euphemisms such as “that god-damned pollock” (those were the only words he ever used to reference her).  I think his ruthless contention began after his first wife deserted him in the middle of the night with the children and his business partner and their business’s assets liquidated to cash.  The few things he treasured had fled in the night leaving him alone and penniless.

But he was not the victim; he was the perpetrator.

As I was to learn later in life, my father lived fast!  It took me a number of years before I could admit that my dad had already been someone else’s dad before he was mine.  What’s more, he was dad to three kids and husband to some lady some place and neighbors and club members and tavern buddies and business partners and customers all of whom I would never meet, but of whom meant very much or very little to him, and this whole other life never ever in a million years, not even for a split second ever imagined that somewhere some day in the universe there’d be Harold’s youngest child telling you their life story.  Well, until the age of fourteen I thought Harold being my dad was a one-act play; I was shocked to discover that there had been an earlier play, a one-man production entitled The First Dad is the Real Dad penned by his first family, which unbeknownst to me, devolved my one-act into a superfluous epilogue found in ancient Greek dramas.

Yet there were earlier chapters, when he was practically barbaric; young and handsome and strong and libertine.  Chapters in which he had pockets stuffed full of youthful immortality and adventurous hunger. Chapters which bore great resemblance to the stories of Hemingway or Faulkner or Steinbeck.  Chapters of male bonding and passage: acquiring the finesse of fly fishing; developing the patience of a deer hunter; learning how to set up camp.  Chapters about acquiring mechanical and electrical skills when combined with his creativity conjured up devices which awed his employers.  It’s these chapters that are out-of-print, those few siblings able to remember have long passed, names of friends or places or dates abandoned.  It would seem that my understanding of who and what my father really was would be conjecture, similar to explanations of figures in portraits painted by famous artists.

Except, there was one trail which we’d never bothered to follow: a couple of phenomenally heavy boxes which contained an enormous array of hand tools, parts, components, knobs, fuses, and rust.  These boxes had been buried in my brother’s basement for years, neither he nor I had any practical use for them.  In fact, they reminded both of us of particularly painful memories when both of us declined our dad’s invitation to study drafting in high school (and therefore follow his life’s path) and turned our attentions to the performing arts.  That was when I could feel my father’s pride drain from him as though he’d just been gutted.  But fifty years later, after I endured a break down and was determined to entertain my curiosities and creativity I spotted the art of wood working.  And I read a passage: “A Woodworker works wood with hand tools, he doesn’t machine wood with power tools.”  And so began my acquisition of various tools, all with specific purposes, and some which looked distantly familiar, as though I’d stumbled across them long ago but didn’t know what, if any, use they’d have.  What I didn’t understand then, I clearly understand now: Context was missing; meaning was missing; purpose and use and technique and discipline and understanding were all missing the first time, as an adolescent, I had found them.  But today, as I work wood with my hand tools I finally understand my father’s native language.  A language of tools and imagination and creativity.  A language of applied science.  A language which died the same day he did.

But it’s been rediscovered and is as important to me as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I finally understand the language he’d been speaking, how he saw his world, what he’d use to solve problems, and why he was so devastated when my brother and I impolitely snubbed his advice about drafting class and joined glee club instead.  And while I’m overjoyed to finally uncover a common thread uniting me to my dad, it’s also bittersweet: It’s a reminder that he’s gone and a wish that I’d give anything if he and I could, for just one day, sit together in my work space and “talk shop.”

The attached pictures show my dad’s tool at the top or the left and my tool underneath or to the right of his.

The (Un)expected Outcome(s)

Fear stops me like a two by four to the back of the head.  Real fear.  Not anxiety, not nervousness, not hesitation.  The kind of fear that rushes to a moment of quiet like children playing musical chairs.  Real Fear.  Life or Death Fear.  My fear has been the writers-block-in-residence for the past fourteen days.  My fear was a distraction; then my fear developed into an annoyance; then fear and I were bedfellows, fear being the last thing at night and first thing upon waking that knocked on my mind’s front door.  What is my fear?  I’m afraid I’m dying.

As you know, in November, 2008 I was classified as bipolar.  This determination included established and biased reasoning for my life on a seesaw: I was predisposed to life as a yo-yo by genetic roulette.  This milestone was marked by a simple psychiatric ah-ha.  Their specialty professes its ideological conjecture as formative and their ignorance evidenced by the devastating news that they can’t offer a cure, or even a likely protocol.  Instead they offer an indifferent forecast of pharmaceutical trials often resulting in failure and cautioned of a likely future weathering mania-driven misjudgments followed by the doomed deciension into a grey melancholia exacerbated by the digestion of manic destruction and attempted repair.  And then there’s that overcast statistic regarding effectual suicides: 40%.

Fear immediately hit the brakes and sent my entire life crashing headlong into the windshield. Fear sat immobilized by truths: I’ll only be free of madness if I’m one of four out of ten.  Fear’s rationale was logical and pragmatic; why endure decades of depression and delirium only to draw the same conclusion?  I’d decided to ignore Fear’s advice and try, one day at a time, to continue my membership in the sixty percent club.

But two months ago despite my determined effort to avoid that 40%, a wholly separate yet equally incurable physical condition reappeared. Its symptoms are aggravated and impairing; inexplicable weight gain (45 pounds in six weeks); undermining fatigue; breathlessness following exertion; intentional harboring of fluid forced from arteries and causes swelling and immobility.  But just like the Rambler my father owned in the early sixties, no one could determine the cause of the knocking.  That is, until the 1959 V-8 wagon blew a cylinder and sent my father’s first love to every car’s destiny: an auto scrap yard seen from the interstate.  Will my erosion be similar?  An unidentifiable murmur like a whispered yet repeated rumor one day erupts and immediately my initial litany of enigmatic symptoms is sensible, albeit much too late for prevention and most likely too late for intervention.

I’ve been blindsided by these illnesses and worse, hobbled by their improbable cures.  This simply was not my life’s expected outcome.  Or so I believed until very recently when I remembered what a mentor once suggested as a remedy to writer’s block:

“Writer’s block excuses lazy writers; Write about what’s preventing you from writing; Suddenly you’re mindlessly writing and only when you pause do you remember what was prohibiting your expression, but you can’t remember why.  When you can’t write, you must write.  The living face death every day — and then go about living!”

The American Lexicon Is Fundamentally Evolutionary

We make all kinds of decisions every day.  I’d assert that a tenet of life is decision.

Decisions are based on a fundamental understanding of options.  These options are often presented through language.  Our language has mirrored our intellectual expansion during the past twenty years (since the commercialization of the internet), but it’s also exponentially increased the likelihood of poor decisions versus good decisions.  And not for the reason you’re probably thinking about right now.

It’s not that our decision-making ability has declined, it’s that our American English lexicon has been stripped of standards and replaced by Idiolects which are varieties of a specific language unique to an individual. In other words, how an individual (all individuals) use parts of speech specific to the language they’re speaking.  Huh?  Are you suggesting that we’re using vocabulary generally accepted but individually defined?

Yes, for example: I’ve had a great evening; would you like to come up for a night cap?  Twenty years ago you had a pretty good idea that the night cap meant some form of refreshment and m-a-y-b-e. . .But today a night cap most likely is prone to interpretation, and depending on the interpreter, the night cap might be the evening’s last tango which spins and dips and clutches its way to dawn, or the night cap might be the gut-wrenching sound of starboard iron scraping along larboard iron in a dense fog on a moonless night in the frigid north sea.  Both invitations were accepted but only one, the former, seemed to coalesce.  The latter was respectfully disharmonious and most likely eliminated any tandem future.  Okay, so what?  What’s this got to do with me?

We’re all assuming that what we say and what they hear are synonymous.  But in this day and age of individuality, identity, and me-me-meism which is reinforced constantly through internet-based social networks and the hardboiled, pragmatic, and mundane personal updates which someone somewhere will proclaim as unique (dismissing our language’s standard usages) and applaud their meism misuse (interpretation) of vocabulary, and whammo!  A word or phrase which held a generalized meaning now has a bastard son.  This phenomenon is known as Language Evolution Based on the Idiolectic Intersection of Individual Adoption.

So what’ve you been blathering on about?

Simply put: What you know you’re saying (standardized use) is being heard as something different (Idiolectic use).  Perhaps if communication was bipartisan (the talkers and listeners understand that their communication is reshaping the English lexicon) then we might lessen misunderstandings and agree to use a mutually standardized language in order to foster a sense of unity.