“Here, take this – I want you to have it.”

Michael is a new cashier, a young guy – full of energy and dreams and promise for his future.  I think he’s in pre-med and plans to be a doctor. We were talking in the cafe  – me on my last ten-minute break, he (having started later than me) on his lunch.

Michael

Michael

“I was reading your blog the other night – I read it until 3 a.m., three hours worth.  So much of it spoke to me.”  This post is mostly going to be about concrete things people have given me at work.  I’m going to violate some time-honored writing principles by starting with the biggest one – this personal, non-concrete gift from Michael.  Michael was letting me know that my writing had given him gifts, but in the process he gave me one of the biggest gifts I could receive – he helped me to believe in myself.  He told me that my writing has value, can help people.

This post I’m writing here has been sitting dormant for two weeks.  Two weeks ago I wrote the barest outline – a list of several things people have given me at work, and maybe a few words about each.  (I can’t even find that outline now.)  But nothing has happened with it since  – I’ve written not one more word.  I believed in this post – I thought it could be really strong.  One night I sat down to try to write it, but it was 8:30 p.m. already and I soon succumbed to sleepiness.

But I came away from my really very brief conversation with Michael today charged up. “I’m meant to be writing! And that post is next!”  So here I am, having walked the dog after work (during which time I was writing this in my head), and now I’m at my computer writing.  No emails, no reading the Washington Post online – I’m writing.  Thank you Michael.  And I shall steer you Michael towards this post after it’s posted – and I think you may get some good stuff from it.

I’m going to start my list of gifts given to me at work with the oldest one and then work towards the present.  Some of these names (not Michael) have been changed to protect people’s privacy – or just made up because I didn’t know the person’s name.

( 4 years ago)PBR
Walter was clearly intoxicated.   But that didn’t invalidate his good-hearted generosity when he shoved at me one of the beers he was buying from me and said, “Have it – pop it open.  Let’s both have one.  You’re a good guy – I want you to have it.”  I obviously couldn’t drink a beer during my shift at the cash register, so Walter’s kindly insistence was really kind of comical, but it was also really kind of sweet – he wanted to share with me.

(2 years ago)hat and gloves
I was immediately drawn to Sharon’s beautiful red homemade knit hat.  When I expressed my appreciation of it, she said, “Thank you, I made it.”  “Wow, do you sell them somewhere?”  “No, I mostly just give them away to my friends.”  “Well I want to buy one from you.”  She took a breath as if considering for just a moment, then took the hat off her head and handed it to me – along with matching fingerless gloves (perfect for cashiering in a cold grocery store) she had in her purse.  “Here, I want you to have them.”  I protested, but she was very clear that she wanted me to have them, as a gift – and, truth be told, I also really wanted to have them.  I have taken a lot of pleasure in wearing them.

(6 months ago)

Andy beer

Andy’s favorite beer.  

Andy and Debbie have become friends of mine.  We had lunch together once.  They are not party people and don’t come to my  birthday parties – but we love our brief time together every Monday.  And I know that they care about me – when they ask how I am doing, they mean it.  They read my blog and know that my ups and downs are more ferocious than most people’s.  Andy has a favorite beer that he stocks up on periodically.  I’m on a quest to find out what beers I most like and was asking him about his.  He pulled one out of his grocery bag and gave it to me.  It was an effortless gesture – what you would do with a friend.  And it was also effortless to let Andy know later that I like his beer a lot.

(4 months ago)
Peter and Jessi are regular customers of mine.  They are young, energetic (rock climbers) and fun – and they did come to my birthday party last year, along with Peter’s kids Jack and Ruby.  Peter is a big, strapping young guy.  As soon as  Peter came through the door  one morning, he came straight over to me and said, “You told us you are going to move – do you need help?”  “Well, uh – sure.”  He flexed his enormous bicep: “I’ve got this…and a truck.”  I’ve probably told that story 20 times and I still laugh with delight – it was so perfect.

IMG_20171029_143458571_HDR.jpg

Peter, Jessi and their new friend, my Toni.

(2 months ago)
That new house, with two friends taking me in, was always meant to be short-term.  Six weeks later I was moving to my friend John’s house – also agreed to be short-to-medium term, maybe several months.  When Peter and Jessi arrived to once more help me move, I told them so apologetically, “John just called me.  He got a text from his landlord that he is selling the house – we have 30 days to get out.”  Peter paused a few moments before saying, “We’re going to have to just keep doing this until we get you settled somewhere.”  When two days later I saw Jessi at the store, she said, “That’s just who he is – generous.  He’s like that every day.”

(3 weeks ago)|
I didn’t remember ever seeing Mary before, but I was very personally drawn to her.  I didn’t even know just what I liked so much about her, but I liked her a lot.  When I went through my regular routine of asking myself what  I would like to validate about her,  I couldn’t even immediately come up with anything.  She was pretty, but that didn’t feel on target for a validation.  I just kind of irrationally liked her.  We had a sweet mini-encounter.  Nothing especially meaningful got said, but I felt good about it.  And then she was gone.Trilogy

And then three minutes later she was back.  She stood behind the customer I was waiting on, held up a bottle of Synergy brand kombucha, Trilogy flavor – my favorite flavor.  “I asked around what you might like and they said this.”  I was dumbfounded.  She gave me a huge smile and glided towards the door, looking at me and smiling all the time.  I raised my hands in a shrug and mouthed, “Why?”  I thought she enjoyed my confusion.

I think that part of what made that encounter, that act of generosity, so special to me was the very fact that I didn’t understand it.  I didn’t think I had done anything to deserve it.  When, during my ten-minute break, I told a coworker about this scenario I added – in my attempt to  make sense of this – that the whole time I waited on Mary I was also thinking about my new roommate Lucy.  I was thinking about what validation I wanted to give Lucy next.  The one I had on the tip of my tongue was seeming too superficial and I was reaching for something more meaningful.  My coworker said, “That’s it – the whole time you were waiting on Mary you were standing in a field of love, and she felt it.  She became part of it.”  That felt and continues to feel really right.

(2 weeks ago)
chocolate ba.jpg
I didn’t remember Linda and nothing special happened between us – but I enjoyed the encounter with her.  The last item that I swiped and that she picked up off the counter and dropped in her grocery bag was a chocolate bar.  “Do you like chocolate?” she asked.  “Sure.”  “Chocolate with orange pieces in it?”  “Yeah”?  (Where is this going?)  She pulled that last chocolate bar back out and handed it to me.  “Here, I want you to have this.”  “Why?” (I was genuinely confused.)  “Because you’re awesome.”  (But why am I awesome?  I didn’t do anything.)  I indicated to Linda how genuinely happy this made me.  I didn’t comment on my confusion.  I think she got that, and maybe even took a little satisfaction from it.  (What does it mean to be awesome and why would she want to give me her chocolate bar?)

(4 days ago)
rose
When I got back from my lunch break, there was a beautiful rose (probably from our floral department, just steps away from the cashier area) in front of my cash register.  This time, along with a little bit of “Why?”, I more just accepted it – and felt really, really good.  Somehow having no idea who or why made it more possible for me to just let go of the questions.

(3 days ago)
Jose hat
I was sitting in the café, fussing over a predicament.  The next day I was going to a benefit “Sock hop” with a 50’s theme.  The family I was going with (Peter and his family) had all put together 50’s style clothes – and I had nothing, nothing that felt in any way 50’s.  As I was sitting there I looked across the café and saw my friend Jose from the meat department wearing a blue seersucker bomber cap – that looked to me like 50’s!  I’ve gotta have that hat!  So, in a move that felt to me bold and intrusive and maybe even inappropriate, I went to Jose, explained my predicament and said, “I’ve gotta borrow your hat!”  Jose immediately took it off his head and seemed positively enthused to loan it to me.

At the cash register that afternoon, at the party and at the cash register again on Monday (Jose wasn’t due in until 2 p.m.), I got so many compliments about the hat that I started saying, “Either this hat is really great or you just don’t expect me to wear anything cool.”  One of my customers said, “That hat is so you – you need to not give it back.”  I was almost ashamed to admit to myself that I really kind of did not want to give it back.

Jose cafe

Jose told me today that he would be glad to let me take his picture – if he could wear his motorcycle helmet.

When, on my afternoon break, I went back to the meat department to give Jose his hat, he wouldn’t take it.  “No, it’s your hat now.  It’s really you – it’s yours.”  I was both completely knocked out by this generosity – and also somehow not surprised.  It just fit with how I know Jose.

(Today)cookies - 11-15-117
Today when I came back from my break, there was a chocolate chip cookie in a bag at my station.  How did it get there?  Was it a “put back” – somebody decided they didn’t want it and gave it to the cashier working next to me, who then accidentally pushed into my area?  This seemed far-fetched.  I asked Megan, my podmate.  She knew nothing about it.  “Maybe you have a secret admirer.” “I think I have a lot of them.”

In one of J.D. Salinger’s books there is a character who describes himself as a “reverse paranoid – I think that the world is conspiring to make me happy.”  I think this is happening to me.

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My blessings list

All day long at the grocery store, I ask people “What’s been a highlight of your day?” I breeze right past “How are you today?”, which tends to pull for a lot of bullshit.  If they beat me to the punch and ask me how I am, I give the obligatory “Fine” (which they are liable not to believe any way) and jump to the good stuff.

If they reflect my question as “What’s been the highlight of my day?”, I correct them.  “A highlight, not the highlight – you don’t have to figure out what was the biggest one.  Just pick any one of the little ones.”

Part of the point of this is to get us/me to focus on all these little ones – to notice that they are happening.  Another, less secular version of this is my blessings list.  I periodically wander away from this – forget to do it for months at a time.  Then a big blessing is that something brings me back to it.

Absent practices like this I become a little unintentional atheist.  My ego/mind takes over and convinces me that all is chaos, that I am alone and helpless in this big, uncaring world.

I can create my list in lots of formats: maybe my fav is here in my laptop, but I can also write them down in my little pocket-sized spiral-bound notebook or aloud as I drive home from work.  When my dog was still alive, I used to do this almost every evening as I took him for a walk – that was a juicy way to do it, because I was surrounded by blessings: being out for a walk, my neighborhood which I liked, the company of my dog who I loved.  I can directly trace the loss of this practice – two years ago, yikes! – to the loss of my dog.

This example, from my morning, shows how little these blessings can be:

  • Tuesday – 2/9
    • 67 biltmore – spotting that brochure just when i was trying to remember the name of the restaurant
    • google calendar – lots of good stuff, really apprecitaing my smartphhone
    • i get to get a new phone in July!
    • I can feel so good about something happening so many months from now!
    • making plans with the cortes family
    • Netflix worked – Kung Fu Panda shipped
    • a whole new world of Netflix! (I used to belong, but not for several years now)
    • I am having a very pleasant time at my desk thismorning
    • I made myself a nice breakfast

 

I am making plans to attend a meditation at the Open Heart meditation center here in Asheville.  Just thinking about this – and talking with Steve Swearingen and Bob Lantis, two friends who attend and are very enthused about it – has got me going back to two practices that massage my heart: my prayer list (which I resumed a couple of weeks ago) and this blessings list, resumed yesterday.

What’s going to happen when i crack the book Steve loaned me or listen to the meditation CD – much less make it to the actual center?!

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.

 

 

 

Come Ride With Me 2

Today I was part of the third and final video conference for the Shine Expansive online creativity and life purpose workshop I have been participating in for the month of October.  I was great out of the starting gate in this course – right up to writing the “Come Speak To Me Of Love” poem on Day 7 – then I promptly fell apart in my participation in the workshop.  I was depressed – I fell apart everywhere.  I even went 10 days without going to Tae Kwon Do.  And I haven’t been writing here (that’s been going on longer and there’s got to be more to it).

So I arrived at our conference today feeling behind the eight ball. (I had quickly scanned two weeks’ worth of Shine materials in advance of performing my improv poem – Wednesday’s post here – then done nothing since.)  I saw Jessica, our instructor, at church on Sunday and confessed what she already suspected from my lack of participation on the online forum that is one element of the Shine.  She said the last three days of the workshop would be the big finish and that she was encouraging everybody, regardless of how far “behind” they were, to go through the last three days together. I was feeling like so much of a loser in regard to the workshop that I wasn’t ready to commit, but did tuck away her invitation for considering.

On Wednesday, I scanned the assignment for the day, then did get on the conference.  And pretty quickly, the depression that has been dogging me for ten days went to work on me.  I was convinced that, having participated so poorly in the course, I had no business asking for attention on this call – so I stayed on the sidelines for the first 2/3 of the time.  And, reviewing my life from the sidelines, I got to see how this depressive “You don’t belong here” voice torments me in many areas of my life when I’m depressed: at church, on the dance floor (very much a communal activity in the Asheville Movement Collective), in my household, in my depression and bipolar support group (of all the crazy places to not feel like I belong).

Seeing how tormented I tend to be when I’m depressed, I pushed back my reluctance and the next time the floor was open for someone to solicit Jessica’s consultation I raised my hand.  And we did some terrific work together:

  • With her support, I backed off some from the vision I announced in my “Come Talk To Me Of Love” poem, where I would no longer let depression drive my car.  There is so much history around this and the pull of my biochemistry is so strong that sometimes depression is going to take over.
  • What I can do, however, is to monitor very closely its behavior, and when it gets too destructive – torments me too painfully – bump it back in the passenger seat.  Some of the ways I can do this are
    • to write a blog post – or, if that’s too much of a stretch, at least organize my notes for a post (from the liittle spiral pad where I enter these notes at work) or at the very least review some of these notes
    •  to practice my Tae Kwon Do – or if that’s too much of a stretch read or watch some videos on our center’s Facebook page.
  • When depression is having its way with me at work, I can
    • pull out my little pad and start capturing notes from my encounters at the cash register – there is pretty much always something there.
    • I can find things to appreciate about my customers and co-workers.  This comes easily and naturally when I am up, but is difficult when I am down – when I am more likely to find fault with everyone around me.  Or I will judge them as lots better than me – more attractive, more successful, etc.  In this case, I can reach for ways we are alike – maybe just our common humanity, that we both have our struggles, heartaches, etc.

Today I have already had some success in this regard. When depression started to take over the driver’s seat:

  • I cued up the website with my Tae Kwon Do videos and practiced my current form.  When trying to learn from the video got too frustrating, I settled for learning one new move and then shifted to watching a video from the Facebook page – an interview with one of the other students whom I like quite a lot.  This made me feel good.
  • I’ve been writing this blog post, harvesting my notes from the conference call yesterday.

As with any positive new habit, success with these tactics will probably come and go.  I will probably need to develop some cues to remind me to do them.  When you see me – or with an email (my address is at the bottom of the right column) – feel free, actually encouraged, to ask me how it’s going.

 

Come Ride With Me

On our Shine Expansive conference call today, I told Jessica Chilton (the creator and facilitator) that in my bipolar disorder, depression forgets its role as a part and takes completely over, asserting that it is me. She suggested the metaphor of a car, in which depression is no longer allowed to drive. She also suggested that I write a poem about it. Here’s the poem:

Come Ride with Me

All parts of me are good
But some don’t know their place
Dance with me depression
You teach me some steps that are graceful
But I will lead, my dear
Come ride with me in my shiny new Benz
But you no longer get to drive
Settle in, let the wind blow in your hair
Whisper to me of where there is pain
In me and in the world
But whisper
You no longer get to pin me down
And snarl those menacing words into my face
Tell me what I need from you
Show me where there is risk
Keep my feet on the ground
Teach me of vulnerability
It has value when I do not blame myself for it
When I do not say that I deserve ill
Caress me with your long fingers
Coo to me of how I’ve grown
How suffering has brought me here
Where I know so much
Of what hurts my brothers and sisters
But enough is enough
From now I learn mostly from joy and intimacy and love
Pain will come, but only when I need it
Only when it keeps me in balance
Not as punishment
Which I have sometimes thought I deserved
But no longer

Come ride with me, depression
But I will drive
Come speak to me
But only speak to me of love.

Shit

Last Sunday at Jubilee, where I go to church, I introduced a poem in this way:

This morning around 8:30, I read a post Howard put on the Jubilee Facebook page about today’s service, where he said that I was going to offer a poem.  Shit….I thought sure I cancelled on that poem.  I went through my recent correspondence with Howard and found no reference to cancelling.  “Well I’m just gonna call him and cancel anyway – I’ve got no poem ready.”  But all that started to feel really lousy, so I pulled out my poetry book and came up with a poem that is serviceable – not great but good enough, not exactly on point for the theme of the service but close enough.  And if you spin the theme to embracing our imperfections, then it’s right on the money..  So here it is, full of imperfections – it’s called “Shit”.


SHIT     (Majo, 11/3/05) 

This morning, shit, my bus was late
It made me late for work
My job today might be at stake
This world did not regard my hurt

I do not only think today
That things are going very wrong
I know it in my bones
Or, where do I know it, actually?
I know it in my mind – that biggest know-it-all
My mind does not only think and think
Mr. Descartes, sir
It thinks it really knows

Talk about a job at risk!
If my mind is not really right
Is not sure, does not know
And know for sure it knows
It fears for life its very self

What if my old mind, day-in, day-out
Is making all its knowing up?
Is maybe seeing nothing as it is?
But perhaps is just a movie screen
Projecting all its weary plots
As if they all were real?
What if I know nothing, not at all?
Save just that this moment here, of time and space
Is tied to every other one
As this breath to my next and last

Today I think that things are going wrong
Because I yesterday saw them as right
The hubris of my mind, my guide
Does bounce me like a silly ball
My thirst to know, to judge the plays
Is the only fatal flaw

Or what if even that is not?
What if this dramatic life I live
With me as hero, villain too
But mostly victim of the script
Is scripted by a bigger brain?
By Life, which sees and is it all
Me, my fellow actors, props and stage

I will insist to tell my tale
Full of fury, idiot that I am
As long as Life gives me that role.
This moment’s glimpse of waking up
Is just as it was meant to be
But no better or no worse
Than the next moment’s fitful sleep

Nothing here is good or bad
Including my persistent dreams
They are all, like this poem, too
With its freedom, flaws and doubts
Just part of the show
Like you and me – and him and her
At least I think it’s so – you know?

 

For Cheryl

Here’s the poem I offered – and briefly messed up – at Barry Barton’s dance performance.

For Cheryl

Your father took the poison pill
Of hate for self
He swallowed it and went away
Was struck dumb and then could not
Speak on your behalf or his
He did not wield his pen of truth for you
When they served to you the same sick drug
Toxic with their shame and pain
They saw your lovely innocence
And tried to claim it for themselves
They carved in it their names
“If I scar it, then it’s mine
Let me leave a handprint on your face
Or a mournful dream of your small hand
Placed on me against your will”

But the twisted trying there
To wrest from you your life, your love
By those who loved so wrong, so wrong
Could not quench your fire, your self
The would-be spirit breakers did not know
What spirit truly is – nor saw your soul
Or they would have touched you not those ways
For fear your angels would have struck them down.
The gold of that sweet soul was not destroyed
Just melted and formed new again
Nothing burned away but dross
You wanted gone so long

And when you felt your most alone
And when you were the most at risk
Of saying yes to that last dose
And lying in the fitful sleep
Of those who dream when they were real

And when you felt your most alone

And when you felt your most alone

Your truly faithful dad – long one with you
In the bonds of suffering and fierce love
Somehow coughed up his toxic wad
Smiled his warm and human smile of old
And said to you, his precious child
“Don’t swallow, darling girl of mine
You must not follow me
Into this silent truthless place
I need your words so bad
They are my legacy
Perhaps tomorrow I will find my own, but now
Rage at what they’d have you eat
You are my little queen
All the forebears of your mother’s and of mine
Salute you as you spit this back”

And so with raging, potent, loving words
You gather to you us
All of us who hold our own
Toxic dose of pain
Carried still in pouch of silk
“When all else fails eat me
I will kill you fast or slow
But I am all you really know”

You say to us with loud ferocious tones
“No-no-no-no-no-no!
Give me those precious pouches now
This whole sad pharmacy of fear and lies
Place all these pills together here
On this basement floor within
Flush them with our healing tears
And we who have been sick but have not died
Shall come away the stronger still
And make a pact to grasp those pills
Wherever they be found
And give that purge to all the lost
And bring the de-pilled people home
Into our sacred tribe
And love ourselves and our poems
And each other – and the children we create
And our parents too, who need it most

“Because I say so
And I am Cheryl
Triumphant and alive
And innocent and good.”