Thursday, November 24, 2005

Condolences 101

Condolences 101

When my first parent passed away, many people said that since they did not know what to say, that they did not say anything. After hearing this numerous times, I really felt bad for these people. It must have been rough on them to think of something to say to someone that had lost a parent, much less two.
I am going to offer some sage advice so that the next time someone loses a parent (or two), that you will practically be grief counselors.

Maybe I should start off by telling you what not to say. One, ANYthing that does not take into consideration the situation, and its priorities. The very night that mother let go from her coma, a friend came to take me out to dinner. On my second drink, she started talking about drinking, and how I need to be careful, because she was worried about me. You know, there were a world of things that needed MORE worrying about than my buzz. (Like… me losing my buzz.)
Another now-ex-friend the second night said if there was anything that I needed… so, I said “I need you to drive me to that happy hour.” Well, the excuses came, and I wasn’t in the mood to be very forgiving, so we argued until we were done. (He had a history of stupidity and selfishness. The argument was my pointing out examples of how his behavior at the time was not an exception, but the rule.) If you say, “anything,” something shit simple should be done, and without discussion. In this case, it should have been offered, but since he did not mean “anything,” any one thing would be too much.

Another friend said, “I did not know what to say. I didn’t want to say “sorry” because I hadn’t done anything. I had nothing to be sorry about. So, I (yadda yadda yadda).

“I’m sorry,” and all the normal things you say might be cliché, but at the time, we want the clichés. We want to know that you know we are suffering immensely, and you wish it would stop. Don’t go in the other direction, and tell us everything is going to be okay. You don’t know that, and nothing from that point is going to be okay for a very long time, so it sounds lazy and condescending. Just let us know that you know it’s bad. Also, check in on us from time to time. These things hit in waves. I, myself have not had one big breakdown moment yet. Does that mean that I passed my time, or is it still waiting?

And this leads me into more talk about drinking. I know drinking keeps coming up, but despite what you read here, the people mentioned above never got a drunken phone call in the middle of the night, never received a call from jail, Mexican or otherwise, never found me unshaven, my clothes dirty, locked in my apartment for days on end, etc, etc. This last case was at a anniversary party, where in the invitation it said, “BYOB.” (Did “B” mean blondes? They knew me better than that.) So, I bring a bottle of Captain Morgan’s, and I start getting some kind of hillbilly intervention. The woman’s family started chirping in. When I went for the second drink, and Mama made a comment, I mentally made that her last free shot. The only thing that made up for this was that the wife made my third drink for me, sorta apologizing for starting the mess in the first place. Again, if you’re actually concerned with how I’m doing, check in. Have me over for dinner, so I have something to think about at night besides never being able to say goodbye.

Other gems from friends were, “Not as talkative as you usually are,” and “You sound drunk, like you were off or something.” Imagine that.

Basically, anything you can do to make their lives go a little smoother is good. Facilitating anything for the person, just so they get a sense that they are not alone in this world; that someone is watching out for them just a little bit. That’s good stuff.

Monday, November 21, 2005



Last night, I dreamt about my mother. She was still alive, but we found out that she was dying. (From what was never specified.) We had been getting along great, almost like I almost lost her, and was THAT glad to be with her. In the dream, I had to deal with the fact that someday, my mother was going to die. This became worse when she announced in the next scene that she was flying back to Alaska to die. No good reason. Just flying back.
While she was there, she did not die. It was worse than dying. I flew out to her, and found out that she had been withering away from the outside. She did not have the strength to get out of bed on her own. She had no hair on her head, no nose, no lips. Her eyelids were barely there. She had shrunk some, and speech was difficult beyond a few words. She looked like the pharaoh in The Mummy, except small.
When I sat on the bed next to her, she cried out in frustration. It was sickening to see her eyes roll in her head from her suffering. I told her that it was okay, and hugged the bed around her, so as not to hurt her. I lied. It was anything but okay.
This is when I woke up. This is not the first time I have had a dream about my recently deceased mother, but it is, by far, the worst. I do not go back to sleep when these dreams occur. I want to make damn good and sure that the mood I get into from one dream does not influence the next.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

God Only Gives Us Wh

God Only Gives Us What We Can Handle

If you have read this blog from the beginning, you know that both of my parents died this year, four months apart. You also know that I have been left to handle this alone. One of my churchy friends tried to console me (the one that thought it was wise to lecture me about my drinking not 24 hours after my mother went into her surprise coma which she never woke from) with the line, “God only gives us what we can handle.”

THIS… is THEE stupidest line that I have ever heard. So, what you are saying is that because I am stronger, people close to me have to die? About a week or so before my mother passed, I was telling someone that I thought the worst way to lose someone is suddenly. No final words; no goodbye. And then it happens? Why? BECAUSE I DESERVE IT? BECAUSE I AM STRONGER? What a fucking load of shit. Oh, and if that isn’t bad enough, my next parent goes four months later. Oh, and I get to move three times in one year BECAUSE I’M STRONG ENOUGH?

What the phrase is saying, (and the jackasses that think it consoles) is that those of us deemed “strong enough” have to tow the load for societies crybabies and self-pitying, self-proclaimed victims. I get to be “strong enough” so fuck me while the people around me get to feel awkward, or can’t remember why I am not on track.

I think the majority of the world out there is in desperate need of some major trial-by-fires. Some quality, life-shaking, character-building events that will a) strengthen them b) weed them out, Darwin-style and c) at least let someone besides carry the load for a while.

And the ones that I want to get it first and the worst? THE ONES THAT SLING THIS STUPID PHRASE AROUND. Yes. Not that I think it will shake their faith, and by faith I mean, faith in their stupid cliché.  I think they would appreciate the attention of Hurricane Katrina or The Cedar Fires. But, if Hurricane Katrina gave them AIDS, THEN they would reconsider that stupid cliché. THEN they can tell me “that’s how it goes.”

Here’s the bottom line. God does not give a crap about us. He doesn’t think about us, and he doesn’t extend his open hands, cupped from the clouds. His gift to us? He gave us the beginning, and he gave us the tools. Everything started as primordial muck, but WE got the brains and opposable thumbs. The rest is up to us. So, the next asshole that tries to feed me that blessing-in-disguise bullshit is going to find out how much of a size 11 Doc Martin their colon can handle


Monday, November 07, 2005

MTVs Made

MTV’s Made ™

I know. None of you watch MTV. At least, nobody in my age “demographic” does. (You “age out” of MTV’s demographic at 34. At 34, you are not necessarily ready to “age out” of things.) They all but stopped playing music videos long ago, opting out for inexpensive, reality television. (MTV2 will play your videos for you, but you have to pay for that service. Didn’t they learn from that mistake the first time?) Besides, they…   (WHAT WAS I GOING TO SAY BEFORE I ANSWERED THE DAMN PHONE?)

I, for one, would never be someone to try and sell you on MTV as a whole. For the most part, it is Tn’A fluff, and therefore could only sell parts of the network to parts of my inner circle (not forgetting to kill the witness’). On the other hand, good is good and bad is bad. Something good should not be judged or punished just because it landed on the wrong channel. By giving good shows good ratings, it sends a message that quality can sell. That is my goal in this blog; to convince you that MTV’s Made ™ is worth watching.

What Made ™ does is take someone of high school age, and in four to six weeks, help that person achieve a goal that a) they never could have on their own and b) is so far out of their personal comfort zone, that the goal is usually something opposite of the activities they had done up to that point in their lives. The students that participate in this transformation are required to treat it as any extra-curricular activity, so it cannot interfere with their current studies or other extra-curricular activities. They get a trainer called a “Made Coach” to whom they report to and with whom they cooperate. Generally, the challenge for the coach is that they have to make up for a decade of training in six weeks. At the end of the show, there usually is a competition for the student to use his new-found talent in, as well as to measure how far he or she has come. What I like about the show is that whether they win or lose places very low on the list compared to the other life-lessons Made highlights.

  1. The Social Aspect – Social expertise is one of the common themes that run through all of the episodes. A symptom of someone wanting to break out and be something else is that they want to be noticed or known, but do not have the social skills to go out and find the attention in of itself. Almost every episode has some sort of training that strengthens the child’s skills. Usually, this covers going out, meeting new people, starting and maintaining a conversation. All activities that can be very challenging to someone that feels like they are on the outside. Seeing this personal transformation occur is nice, but seeing its value in relation to general success being emphasized is what I really like about the show. With a little practice, I think every subject came out of their shell, and with the fear of the unknown out of the way, realized that it was not the big deal they thought it was. This may sound basic to adults, but I can remember wanting more as a teenager, but also thinking that I did not have to “get along” to get anywhere.

  1. Working Toward A Goal – I say this with an emphasis on “work.” There are many stories of these kids winning their competition or making the teams that they have worked so hard to join. Others do not reach the goal they initially intended. Regardless, another aspect of this show that keeps bringing me back is all of the important personal developments they take away from them that they will use for the rest of their lives. The idea that the success or failure does not come from whether or not they won or lost, but the sincerity of their effort. Sometimes, participants become overwhelmed. Sometimes, they break down. The idea is that it is okay to have your breakdown moment. You take some time; get it out of your system, and then you get your head back in the game. I cannot remember how many things I did not try because I was not instantly an expert at them over my lifetime. You might have a talent that you are not aware of, and it is just waiting just on the other side of a hill that you are unwilling or have been told that you cannot climb, because it “just not you.” It is good to see that good things do not come easy to others besides myself, but that is what makes them worth so much more once you achieve them. Also, once you gain a skill, it is not something that you have borrowed. It is something that is your own to use as you see fit.

  1. Breaking out of Your Assigned Role In Life -- I feel that when people are growing up, they are regarded as being one way, and so they get filed into a rut of everything they do revolving around that rut. Some examples are the cheerleader that only cheers and shops, the football player that only goes to football practice and hangs out with his teammates, the metal head that only has a few friends and is only looking for negative attention. I personally grew up playing the tuba, so when I went looking for a creative outlet, it would usually be the next concert band in which to play. It was not until college that I even tried creative writing and only until a few years ago that I tried improvisational comedy. Made ™ has had the cheerleader that wanted to become the BMX biker, the football player that wanted to be an opera singer among many others. Another symptom of wanting to do something radically different is that there is something inside a person that cannot get out because they are being told, “Doing that is not ‘you,’ this other thing is you. You’ve done this all your life. Just stick to what you know.” I like the idea of people being deep, complex characters as opposed to caricatures that are there to decorate somebody else’s life.

  1. The True Victory You Will Take Everywhere -- Even though they might not succeed at what they initially attempt, they succeed in realizing that if they want something, they can work at it, and do whatever they want in life. Life offers more choices than the category in which you are placed so early in life. If you are willing to leave your comfort zone, and strong enough to be off balance for a while, you can be almost anything.

I guess what I like about the show is that it demonstrates the strength of faith, hope, and determination; three things of which that I have just about ran out. Made demonstrates not only that there are talents out there for everybody, but hidden talents that must be dug for to be unearthed.

Now, I must go to the gym, and practice doing pull-ups.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Treat Or Else

I want to discuss a growing trend amongst our youth and not-so-young. It seems that for some people, for some entire families, Halloween has become nothing more than “Hold-Out-Our-Bag” night.

On Halloween, I was at a friend’s house helping him give out candy. I noticed that about half of the kids did not even say “Thank you,” much less “Trick-or-Treat.” I am writing to you about the worst. This family of four walks up, the oldest child first. Their ages seems to range from fourteen to seven. None of them had costumes, (unless you count strapping your school backpack to your chest a costume) none of them said thank you, and even the little one did not say “Trick or Treat.” To top it all off, the mother was with them, watching from the sidewalk. No dignity. No class.

Part of the deal, part of the ritual of the night, the reason you get to go out and ask strangers for candy is that you took the time to entertain them with some sort of costume beyond the daily dress of rude child. You get to participate with the subtle form of extortion because it is part of the holiday, but that comes with a few basic rules.

On the radio today, I heard people say they give in fear of what would happen to their houses. When your costume is “ungrateful child,” I say that is where you draw the line. This is especially when so-called parents are teaching their children an overblown sense of entitlement. (You think that attitude and lesson does not carry over into their everyday life?) I am not suggesting that you get into any kind of debate or altercation with a bad parent, or the poor children caught in the middle by her bad teachings. I say you send a subtler message.
Next Halloween, you keep two bowls by the door. You keep one bowl full of candy for people PARTICIPATING in Halloween, and one full of broccoli. As a child that had to carry broccoli, and as a parent that encouraged the action that led to Punishment Broccoli ™, (and what broccoli ISN’T punishment), the message has to be clear.

And if it’s not, you didn’t deserve candy in the first place. Better off dodging coal at Christmas.