Is it a good thing for them to give?

Not always.

We’re asking for money at the cash registers again – for a very good cause, one I can really get behind (Our Voice, a community agency that fights against sexual and domestic abuse).  There are all kinds of good reasons why it might be good for our customers to say “No”.  They may need to pull their energy in today.  Even thinking about this agency may trigger some of their own traumatic experiences.  The bottom line is that in that moment “No” may have the most integrity for them – may in some way even be healing.


If we want to let it be equally as good for them to say “No” as “Yes”, then – to keep our own energy intact – we need to somehow just not care whether they give or not.   We need to plant our feet, take a deep breath, hold our center – and simply be glad we asked.  That’s all: we did our part in the dance.  Now we turn it over.

Now here’s where there’s a delicate paradox.  At the same time that you don’t care whether they give or not – while you say to yourself that “No” may be just the right answer for them – still it’s OK and maybe useful to have another part of your mental machinery that is pulling for them to say “Yes”.

Why?  Because, overall, yes is more life-affirming than no.  It’s good to say yes. It’s a celebration of life.  Be happy for them that they are in a place of yes.  If they are in a conflicted place, cheer for them to break through their no barriers and choose life.

Bless them whichever way they choose.  This is good for you too.  Embrace life. Don’t ask because you are supposed to ask or because it will look good in your numbers.  Ask because you believe in the cause.  Ask because you want be filled with yes energy.  Ask because you want to offer your customer the chance to have a yes moment.  Ask  because it’s a chance – in a job that sometimes can become robotic – for real human contact.  Ask because otherwise you’re just swiping groceries.

Bring out all your compassion for customers who are in a place of no.  It’s a painful place.  I say “Great”, whether people say yes or no – and I really mean it.  When I say “Have a great day”, I lean into it even a little more with people who have said no.  “I think your day maybe hasn’t been all that great so far.  I wish for it to get better.”

I give them all my big toothy grin at the end.  If they think I’m a goof, so be it.  It may help them dispel any energy that accumulated during this transaction.  It might be right.


My Body

My body is so funky
It has a mind of its own
My energy moves powerfully up and down
So predictably
7 days up, 10 days down
Like clockwork
It doesn’t seem fair
Why not 7 and 7 at least

It hasn’t always been like this
Until my early 40’s I always ran slightly high
Energetic, a go-getter, an overachiever
Enthusiastic, people called me
The occasional person told me I was too intense
Occasional enough that I could dismiss the charge
Though there was an important kernel of truth in it

In my early 40’s a constellation of circumstances
Conspired to pull the plug on my headlong momentum
And I crashed
Then, in my vulnerable state
I didn’t have the same kind of defenses
Against dangerous internal material
And my sex abuse memories came back
And I fell apart more completely

A few years later, I was in psychotherapy
With Dan, a psychologist who specialized
In treating men with a history of sex abuse
He said to me
“You do such great work in therapy
You break through walls heroically
But you always end up flat on the floor
I think you have clinical depression
Yes, yes, I know –
You’re going to say that you don’t believe in biochemical depression
We were trained as psychologists in the same era
I thought that too
All I can say is that when men like you
Get on antidepressants they tend to get better”

I saw Dan’s psychiatric associate
She actually did convince me that I had clinical depression
I got on Zoloft – and got better
Oh, my sexuality went totally away
That was hard on me and Jennifer
But I was desperate –
It felt like an acceptable price

A couple of years later, an antidepressant
Spiked a mania in me and
I got diagnosed bipolar
And so it has been for the last 13 years
Always taking some kind or another
Potent cocktail of meds
Frequently visiting a seriously suicidal state
Frequently being hospitalized for my own protection
Much less often but occasionally
Getting way too high for my own good

So, having just made the case to you
For how I am bipolar
I stand before you and say that I have become
Convinced that I am not bipolar
But did I not stand in front of you five years ago
After my abortive move to Mexico
And ask for your blessing for my depression
For my mental illness?

But I’ll say it again
 I am not bipolar
Bipolar disorder is a metaphor
Made up by the doctors
Who have no more idea than you and I
What is going on in this state
It assumes that all of us who show these patterns
Are essentially the same
When we are actually exquisitely unique

The behaviors I show when I am cycling high
Expanded is my favorite label for it
Are usually actually my best self
Enthusiastic again,
Engaging, warm, loving
Productive, creative
My low cycle can still be
Very painful
But I am learning better how to deal with it
I always go to work if I am scheduled
If I’m not scheduled
I may spend three days in bed
Not the best use of time, perhaps
But who knows?
I seem to hate myself less this way
Maybe I’m administering myself
Huge doses of TLC
I’m taking Charlie’s advice
To try classical music to soothe my soul
I’m getting my friends to look in on me
To get me out for a walk if I can do it
To bring me soup
To sit on the side of the bed and hold my hand                        

So once again I ask for your blessing
For me to fully wake up from the hypnosis
Of psychiatric name-calling
In many aboriginal cultures
What comes through me when I am up
Would be called shamanism
Send me love for my down cycles
When I need it most
Bless the wide circle of friends that I have recruited to support me
As I go through this metamorphosis

Oh and some of you are already wanting to ask
“What about the meds?”
They are going away, very gradually
I can’t assert that I do not have a mental illness
While I am medicating my maybe-very-healthy cycles
Hazardous yes, even stretched out over a full year
Some of the bad old days were very bad
But not as destructive as calling myself psychiatric names

So picture my body recovering from a 15 year onslaught of powerful drugs
Picture my dreams returning, picture my sexuality returning
OK, you don’t have to picture that
Picture me back among you, more fully me than ever
Oh, and if you feel so moved, give me a hug.

God winking at us

About ten minutes ago, I was wandering around my apartment looking for something (I can’t even remember what anymore).  It’s a sign of how random are the workings of my mind that i also cannot anymore remember why I was trying to remember the name of the restaurant on Biltmore Ave. where I have had some lovely times hanging out with my laptop.

I remember now!  I was (for some reason I no longer remember) thinking about having tea (or juice) next Thursday with my friend Kelly McKibben at Nectar Cafe and Juice Bar on Merrimon in North Asheville.  My sweet friends Tim and Pippin Boissy (it’s her birthday today – Ha, Facebook started this whole thread) opened this restaurant a few months ago and I have not even made it there.  Wouldn’t it be nice if it were to become a fav new internet cafe for me?  I could rotate with Green Sage/Westgate and that other restaurant on Biltmore.  I felt a little wave of frustration at not being able to remember its name, but thought that probably it would eventually come to me.

Then I walked into my bedroom, still looking for that elusive something, and on the lower shelf of my nightstand, peering clearly out at me from a perch that I swear i have not looked at for months, was a brochure for the restaurant named 67 Biltmore!  I took that brochure to order side dishes for my Christmas feast at Johanna and Tom’s – which I sure didn’t do, I brought a sixpack of beer.  Why was that brochure still sitting there?  So it could tickle my funny bone today?

When my son was in his early teens, I used to point out these synchronicities to him and refer to them as “God winking at us”.  In spite of (or because of) his mom dragging him to church every Sunday, he was an early atheist.  He thought this was one of the stupidest things I ever said (amidst strong competition).  A few years ago (he’s now 40), he told me that now he says it sometimes to himself when he encounters this kind of uncanny coincidence.

Our atheist mind sees all these coincidences as random, the mindless careening of the billiard balls of life.  The mind/ego experiences itself as separate/alone and thinks that’s true of everything.  But we know better, right?

Tomorrow I’ll post a poem that a wrote a few years ago about all this.  It’s called “The Whale”.



Heaven help us.

Heaven help us, I’m praying.

I am comfortably ensconced at my table at Green Sage Cafe, my current fav place to hang out with my laptop.  I have 2-4 hours of work ahead of me, which I will only relax if I accomplish this afternoon.  I have not made a blog post for weeks.  I have several topics floating around in my mind, in my little spiral notebook, dictated into my phone.  But there is this other work.  I know! I will write a short post – quick and dirty or, as my writing coach Nina Hart says, short and crappy.

I will write about what I am going to do next, still before launching into the dreaded “work”.  I am going to pray for my friends.

I am not a big prayer guy. My vision of a Great Spirit is not personal – I have no one to whom to pray.  But I have this little recent (or recently renewed) angle into prayer.  I don’t think that anybody thinks of me when I am not right in front of them – in spite of some people telling me they do, in spite of a variety of friends or even acquaintances describing to me incidents in which they were thinking of me or sending me positive energy or praying for me.

And I know why I don’t think that anybody thinks of me when I am not right in front of them: I don’t often think about the other people in my life, even very important other people like my son and my brother.  I am absorbed in survival.  In Steven Covey’s terms, I focus on what is or seems urgent, as opposed to what is genuinely important.  So I am going to take a page from people who regularly pray for their friends.  I’m going to do that too.

The other day I spent an hour or two creating three prayer lists, to use on three rotating days.  Each has the short list of my most intimate people, for whom I will pray every day:

  • my son
  • my brother
  • the woman I have been dating (or something, it’s not clear what, but I want to affirm her importance in my life)
  • my roommate Patti
  • the guys in my men’s group and their partners
  • my best friend Lynn
  • my 35-year best buddy Monty (one year deceased)
  • my dog Buddy (two years deceased but lately on my mind)
  • my parents (long deceased, but I am wanting to think of them more – to be grateful to them).

Each list also has a somewhat longer list of a whole variety of people I want to make important, to remember at a minimum every three days:

  • my seven housemates (who live in the other two apartments at our house, as opposed to Pattie who shares my  apartment with me)
  • people I work with
  • people I dance with
  • people i go to church with
  • people I practice Tae Kwon Do with
  • cashier-servers at my fav internet cafe (where I am now)
  • the man who molested me (very long deceased)
  • some living less-close relatives (one of whom I don’t like)
  • my old girlfriend

My goal is to spend at least a few minutes every day focusing on one of these three lists.  i want to make my friends – and other people in my life – important.  I want to remember that i am actually connected with others.  I want to make it easier for me to believe that others also actually think about me.  I want to open my heart.




Just that time of year

This is last year’s 10-minute Christmas poem edited down to three minutes.  I have a real fondness for that long, rambling Christmas letter of a poem – but I like this better.  It makes a lot of reference to my day job as a cashier at Earth Fare grocery store.  Enjoy.  Happy holidays.

Just that time of year…abridged  (Majo, 12/17/15)

It’s that time of year again
Jingle bells and all
But is there really all
That much to celebrate?
The cold and dark have returned again
Do pretty much the same time every year
I try to be cheerful about them
But this little whoosy man
Gets depressed with the onset of the shorter days
And pisses and moans pretty much the same
The whole winter through

The events in the world
Wars, gang shootings
Racial profiling and horrific injustices
Seem no better than ever
I want so badly to believe
That the human race and societies
Are somehow evolving
Somehow getting better, smarter
More fair, more loving
But can see no signs
That this is true

Everybody, it seems
Has their struggles and their sorrows
Caroling with the Jubilee group,
I realized that we were singing
Not just for the shut-ins we were visiting all evening
But also for ourselves
We – all of us
Need to buck up our spirits
At this dark time
We – all of us
Need all of us
To come together
To love each other
We – all of us
Need this poem
We – all of us
Need to create
Whenever we can
However we can
We – all of us
Need to hope for the future
For our writing and painting
And music-making
And our gardening and cooking
And parenting and love-making

We need to come together
As we are reading this poem
We are coming together
As all of us staff at my grocery store
Are serving all of our customers
We are coming together
As all of our customers
Rub shoulders in our store
Stand next to each other
In our checkout lines
Greet and often hug their friends
You are coming together
As all of us front-line customer servers
In all of the various stores
Serve all of our customers
Who, at other times
Are all of us
Who, when we are not working
Also patronize these other stores
We are all
Every one of us who deals
With customer servers
Coming togetherwinter-dark-2

We are serving our customers
Trying to put a smile on their face
Trying to put a smile on our face
Trying to get our customer’s needs met
Trying to check them out
Quickly and accurately
Bagging their groceries tenderly
Ripe avocados on top
Trying to exchange some pleasantries
And, when we are lucky
Even some meaningful exchange
Some “What’s been a highlight of your day?”
Trying to be real for each other
And to be kind
Trying, trying, trying
All of us humans trying
To make things work
To make this a better year
And when we are lucky
To love, even

“Buy the card.”

Suzanne was tenacious.  She wanted me to buy the Barnes and Noble membership card.  When I came through her check-out line with my first set of purchases, she said, “You could have saved $8 – you’d be a third of a the way through to having your card paid for.” I hemmed and hawed and then said no.  “I come here once a year, for Christmas gifts – you have a great selection of gift books.”  They don’t have that big footprint for nothing.


Books – I love ’em.  It’s something that Suzanne and I have in common. And I don’t often indulge in my love for books.  It could actually be good for me to spend more time in book stores.

So I went away not buying the card.  Then I realized several more purchases I wanted to make – and came back to Suzanne with another $75 worth of books.  She said, “You know, if you had bought that card… and by the way, it’s not too late.  We could go back and re-ring that whole first sale.”  She was really willing to go out of her way to do this.

I was on the edge this time – and finally said, “No. I’m a Malaprops shopper.  I don’t buy from big chains. I support our local independent bookseller.  They have my loyalty – I don’t want to do something that will build loyalty elsewhere.”  Suzanne said, “Well, in some ways you are buying from independent booksellers.  I’ve been here 15 years.  I love to read and I’m a writer.  This is a job where I get to be around books.  Tony over here has worked for Barnes and Noble for 18 years.  You’re not buying from some high school kid – you’re dealing with book professionals.”

As Suzanne was bagging my books, she continued her sales pitch: “Each month you will get a coupon for 20% off certain kinds of books.  When you buy online you always get free expedited shopping.”  Now that made me perk up.

But I have loyalty to Amazon, too.  I think Amazon is great – it revolutionized the book industry.  What I couldn’t escape though, was that Suzanne was building a relationship with me.  She was my bookseller.  So I said yes.  Suzanne was pleased, though she kept her dignity.  She didn’t do a happy dance or anything gouche like that.

But she had gone the extra mile.  I know, from being a cashier, what it’s like to really invest in selling your company – to really invest in getting the best for your customer.  You have to put it on the line.  It takes energy.  Suzanne did it.  I don’t know how many customers a day she did that for, but she did it for me.

She had said that she’s a writer.  I pulled out my business card and told her, “I’m a writer too.  I write a blog about cashiering and you are a superb cashier.  I’d like to write a post about you.” She was tickled, a little shy but happy about this prospect.  I think she was happy just that there was such a blog, then doubly happy at the prospect of being featured in it.

I said, “Maybe tonight I’ll write this up.” I didn’t say “I’ve got about three other posts queued up in front of it – it might not be tonight.”

I took my new purchases over to the gift-wrapping station and while I was there I realized two missing pieces for this blog post – her first name and, preferably, a photo.  I went back around to the check out area.  This time there was a line.  She spotted me in the line and giggled right away.

When I went up to her I said, “I have two requests: I’d like to use your first name and I’d like a picture of you.”  She said, “I look terrible today.”  “I don’t think you look terrible – I think you look fine.  And it will make the blog post just pop.  And if you do that for me I promise that I will write a blog post about you tonight.”


Suzanne.  She’s alive, vibrant, warm, friendly – a real human being in a big corporation.  She’s beautiful.

Now it’s a promise.  There’s a good likelihood that by the time I get through some other to do’s tonight it will be late and I won’t feel like doing this – may actually have a hard time marshaling the level of focus needed to write this.  (But I actually have pretty directly transcribed all this from a digital recording I made right after leaving Barnes and Noble.)  I do well with accountability…not to say that every time I have promised to write a blog post I actually have done it.

Suzanne had won me over.  I wasn’t buying from Barnes and Noble – I was buying from Suzanne.  Now she was not really going to be my personal bookseller.  I wouldn’t be able to call her up.  But in this moment, in a merchandising market that can be so impersonal, she met me as a person.  She seemed to genuinely care about me. Even if she was primarily driven by a desire (or pressure) to drive her upsell numbers up, for me in that moment it was all personal.

I had a spiffy new Barnes and Noble membership card and a promise that lots of B&N promotions would be hitting my email inbox (“Just once a week”, Suzanne said).  I do not know if this card will actually end up saving me money – or in any way change my book buying habits.  I don’t know if it will draw me into the store, where I will immerse myself in the world of books.  I don’t know in which situations I will choose for Malaprop’s – certainly some.  And when I will choose for Amazon – probably sometimes I will comparison shop, though that may get to be a pain in the neck.

I left Barnes and Noble happy.  I had had a real exchange with a real person – doing her best, with a lot of dignity, to do a good job.  I felt like she liked me – and I definitely liked her.  She made me proud to be a cashier.


So much community

I have  an embarrassing amount of support in my life.  I have several separate groups where I am accepted, supported, even loved.

  • I have the Jubilee Spiritual Community, my funky unchurch (it’s sure not your gramma’s church) here in Asheville – which in times past has been more vital to me, but still is important as a base of many friendships and a venue for my poetry and stand-up comedy.  I am out about my bipolar disorder there.  I know that I am loved there – and that there are many people (some of whom also go only seldom or not at all) whom I genuinely love.
  • I have the Asheville Movement Collective ecstatic dance community, where people share not just dance but often become real friends.  When you are all making yourselves vulnerable together by taking the risk of authentic movement, intimacy tends to spring up.
  • I have the Magnetic Minds depression and bipolar support group: these are really my people and it feels like my real mission is to and for these people.  This extends to wider circles of bipolar people, whom I reach through this blog and through the online healing community which I am developing for people with bipolar disorder.
  • I have my grocery store community: our staff and staff-and-customers overlapping communities offer genuine support and at times even love.
  • For the last several months, I have been passionately involved in the Sun Soo Tae Kwon Do community.  In a couple of weeks I am going to the birthday party for an eight-year-old girl, who apparently thinks I’m her grandfather for the way she has adopted me.  Need I say more about community?  I’ve been averaging four Tae Kwon Do classes a week.

So why do I want one more community?  Because my overeating and sugar addiction have not been helped by these other communities.  So I need Overeaters Anonymous.  I went to OA for a few months about a year ago.  I had some good experiences.  I overall ate better.  Sometimes, when I was pulled towards sugar or compulsive overeating, I managed to call one of my OA friends and was able to stay straight.  But I left dissatisfied, and I think there were two interwoven reasons:

The 12 steps of AA and OA. Corny? Rigid? Oppressive? Too religious.? I have thought all of these things about  these steps. Deep and in some ways mystical? A potent vehicle for personal/spiritual transformation. I'm getting an intuition that, for me, it may turn out to be both of these things.

The 12 steps of AA and OA. Corny? Rigid? Oppressive? Too religious.? I have thought all of these things about these steps. Deep and in some ways mystical? A potent vehicle for personal/spiritual transformation. I’m getting an intuition that, for me, it may turn out to be both of these things.

  1. After a couple of months with a “food sponsor” who then moved away, which really kind of worked for me, I never got a sponsor. Except for that transitional sponsor (we signed on as a trial, then when she decided to move away she wanted to lighten up her commitments, I couldn’t find a sponsor who would work with my limits: I don’t want to weigh and measure my food.  I don’t want to submit a food plan for each day.  I need more spontaneity or I will totally act out or leave. It really did work for me to report every evening the food I ate that day.  Just this took a lot of discipline.  This accountability boosted my moment-to-moment mindfulness of my eating and helped me to make better food choices.
  2. I never immersed myself in the 12 steps, which is where the spiritual transformation happens.  To really work the steps, you need a sponsor – so these two problems interface with each other.  I have an intuitive feeling that the steps can be very powerful for me – could maybe be exactly what I need next spiritually.

So I went to an OA meeting on Saturday morning and another Monday evening.  I’m going to target two meetings a week – not enough, some would say, to do the job but quite a stretch goal in the context of my very busy life. I didn’t speak at the first meeting aside to introduce myself, but did see a couple of people there who I could picture being my sponsor.  At the meeting Monday night there were a couple of other prospects.  I got both of their phone numbers and actually approached one (a friend of mine from other circles) about whether we could meet and talk sometime. (She gave an enthusiastic yes.)

I do know that after several weeks depressed, yesterday (four days into my new food regimen, which I will describe in a separate post) I started to feel good.  No mania that I can see yet, but feeling good.  Is it getting away from sugar, off of wheat, off of caffeine?  Maybe all of this.  Maybe also my new meds, which I have been gradually increasing for several months now.  I may never fully know.

Oh well, that’s enough for now – more to come, I’m sure.