Old Things, Broken Things

Shattered glassSometimes things just break. You can do your best to take care of them in the hope that they will last, or you can mistreat them with little regard for their long-term durability. It doesn’t matter: Sometimes things just break.

One summer when I was a boy, my family rescued several wild rabbit babies. The mother had abandoned them – or died – and my father found them while mowing. My mother, the nurse, helped us to take care of them. We got a box and lined it with a blanket and fresh-cut grass. We made sure they had water, and even fed them milk with an eyedropper. We might have used bad techniques, but it was the best we knew to do, and our intentions were good. We only wanted the best for those little helpless balls of fur. But all our effort and all our intentions were wasted. All of them died within a day.

This is about what they looked like

This is about what they looked like

I think about those little rabbits sometimes – just like I think about other things that have been broken over they years – and I wonder if I could have done something different to save them. We didn’t have the money to take the rabbits to a vet, and this was long before the internet with its YouTube videos for everything. So in the end I’d have to say there wasn’t much else we could have done. Those helpless baby rabbits were always going to die no matter what we did. We just had to wait a day to be convinced.

This is true with other things in life as well, of course. Cars, careers, romantic relationships, friendships, family members.

Sometimes you don’t even know they are breaking until they’re broken beyond repair. This happened to me with a girlfriend who one day wouldn’t talk to me. Just like that. Perhaps I missed something – I’m sure I did – but if I honestly missed it, how could I do anything about it, right? She just moved sorrow chairon, and she didn’t take me along with her. This has happened in my life with other friendly and romantic relationships as well. Ok, so perhaps I’m pretty clueless, but isn’t everyone sometimes?

And if you believe you did the best you could to keep things together, doesn’t that count for something? If you take care of the car, change the oil, get it serviced, and the block cracks because it was weak all along, you can’t blame yourself.  That would be foolish and unproductive.

What if you’re at least partly to blame? There’s an old highschool friend of mine that I haven’t talked to in 20 years. We were inseparable in junior high and high school. We clung onto each other like drowning men in a storm, and it helped. I am a richer person for having known him. But after highschool I went to college and he pursued a trade instead. Our worlds quietly broke apart the summer after graduation, and that was that. I could have tried harder to maintain the friendship, but I didn’t. I just didn’t, and neither did he. He was swept down one fork of the river, and I careened down the other.

Stan, old buddy. If you ever read this, I hope you know you made me a better person. You were the best of friends; I couldn’t have asked for better.

I don’t like things to break. I don’t like endings. I’m not against change, in fact I’m a big fan of it, but the price you pay for change can leave scars that never fully heal. So instead of endings, I focus on beginnings. If something has to end, I look forward to what will begin next to take its place. I’m always amazed by the cool things life throws at me. It’s a video game with infinite levels, and you can choose where to go. Mostly.

But not everything that breaks is making way for a newer, cooler thing. Sometimes things just break and then they’re broken. That’s it. They’re just broken. So what do you do then?About the story

We do what we have to do. We do what we’re supposed to do. Take the broken pieces – the thing that has died or ended – and try to craft something new out of it. The broken thing will never be the same as it was, nor should it be. But it might possibly end up being something as nice or nicer than what existed before. After all, isn’t stained glass made up of lots of little pieces of glass? Isn’t cement made from crushed stone?

And if, after all you have done, all you’ve tried to do, the broken thing remains broken, and you can’t make anything better out of it, you mourn. You mourn for the loss of the thing that will never be again, you cry for the hole in your heart.

And you remember.

Green grass, warm in the sunshine. Cardboard box before me filled with grass clippings. And in my hand a helpless baby rabbit, squirming and struggling. It’s a powerful memory I have, one where I could feel love for another creature without any judgments or personal conflicts. I did all I could to save them. I loved those rabbits for one beautiful day, and I will carry that with me always.

Paradigm Shift

I’m a vegan. Well, mostly. I’m 80% vegan, 10% vegetarian and 10% normal eater. Is there a name for a normal eater? A Normaterian? Or would you justvegan 1 call them an omnivore? Anyway, now I’ve said it publically. Please comment below with all the terrible and nasty things you’ve heard about us. I’m just smug and self-important enough to bet I’m not any of them. Except, you know, vegan.

vegan2My family chooses to follow this path for many reasons. Compassionate (If you’re not aware of how horrible a meat animal’s life is, it’s because you choose not to look), socioeconomic (meat production contributes to massive poverty in the third world, and also here in the US), dietary (meat isn’t good for you, and most food you buy in a supermarket is very distant from what your great grandparents would have called food. Also, we need to lose weight), health (meat, artificial ingredients and high-fructose corn syrup are all linked to cancer, and aspartame – the most common artificial sweetener – is a neurotoxin once you digest it. Plus, it also causes me blinding migraines) and mathematical (it takes 10 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. That means if we removed meat, we’d be able to feed many more people than we already do).

That being said, it’s harder in some ways to be a vegan, and the biggest place we feel the pinch is in our wallets. It simply costs more in the short-term to eat healthy than to eat the processed garbage the agricultural/industrial complex sell us. This is pretty much a fact. In the long run, it might save you on health costs, and provide you a better and longer life, but right now, in the moment, we find it difficult.

This is exactly what my church doesn't at all look like

This is exactly what my church doesn’t at all look like

As I was sitting in church this morning (yes, some people still go to church that can also speak in full sentences not ending in “Hell”), I realized something interesting, and here it is.

We, all of us, have been duped. Of course that might seem obvious to many people. Let me be more specific, if you’ll allow it.

My grandfather, Milton Hoffman, was a bricklayer by trade. By all accounts he was a second-generation immigrant who learned his trade from his father and lived the life of a hard-working laborer. During his life, however, he built a house. No, not he built houses but he built a house. His house. The one he lived in. The one my grandmother Dorothy lived in after he died until she sold the house and moved into a seniors apartment. She did that because the house he built was too big.

I have dim memories of it, and I remember it was indeed big, at least to a seven year old. Two story house with a large two-car garage. I also remember the shocking experience of biting into a peppercorn in her kitchen – the kitchen with the blocks of wavy glass that were so popular in the 40’s and 50’s. It wasn’t a small house by any means. Not a mansion, but not small.

My father and mother, by comparison, lived in a trailer for the first eight or so years of my life, then bought a modest ranch home outside Kutztown, PA. It wasn’t as big as my grandfather’s house, however. It had a good-sized plot of land, but land was much cheaper in the country in the mid-70’s. But they owned the house; it was theirs. My older brother lives there now, and by what little I hear from him these days, they struggle to keep that house.

My grandfather was a tradesman who dropped out of school very early. My father was more of a vagabond, but he did have some schooling, having gone to community college and having training as a paramedic, park ranger and cop. Also, he was at times a small businessman.

Then there’s me. College educated and I’ve worked hard all my life, but I own nothing of consequence. Not a house. Not land. And I think I understand why. But first, I want to make sure you understand two terms. Paradigm shift and min/maxing.

Chalk-board-paradigm-shiftA paradigm shift is when the established order (of whatever, quantum physics, microwave manufacture or popular music) is dramatically overturned by changes from generally younger members of that community (quantum physicists, microwave manufacturers or popular musicians). Two easy to understand examples of this would be Charles Darwin and Michael Jackson.

Before Darwin, biologists were struggling to understand how the natural world came to be. When Darwin set forth his Origin of Species (which, I need to be very, very clear never said humans descended from any sort of monkey or ape), many biologists (more commonly known as natural historians in those days) were up in arms. The established order was threatened by this new theory, but in the end all the old scientists died off and the young ones carried the day. The theory of Evolution is the accepted norm these days.

In the same vein Michael Jackson appeared on the scene in the 1970’s and proceeded in just ten years to re-write how people viewed popular music. It was possible, he proved, to be slick and experimental and outrageously successful. With Madonna figuratively by his side, he became the third-highest-selling artist in world history. And he was more successful than those numbers would imply. He changed the entire way that people viewed music. He changed the paradigm.

You're much more likely to roll numbers in the center since there are more ways it can happen

You’re much more likely to roll numbers in the center since there are more ways it can happen

Ok. That’s settled. Now, min/maxing is when someone using any system (gambling, role-playing game systems, Wall Street investment portfolios) tries to minimize the weaknesses of the system or his access to the system, and maximize the system strengths or his access to the system. Another way to put it is like this: What is the minimum effort I can put out to get the maximum effect? How low can I leave my thermostat in the winter and not feel like I’m freezing? Everyone does this to some degree whenever interfacing with any system. This is one of the reasons why when people first start playing a game, they tend to do more poorly than someone experienced with that game. Sure the more experienced player knows that railroads are a good investment in Monopoly, but she also knows they’re much more likely to roll a six, seven or eight on the dice, and can make predictions on the outcome of any roll based on that. This is normal and expected.

However, it becomes a problem when the person min/maxing has taken so much time and put out so much in resources that almost nobody can min/max as well as they can. This is why professional gamblers can beat anyone but other professionals. I read a book once on how to win at Monopoly. Someone had taken the time to crunch all the numbers in that game (initial costs, extended costs like houses and hotels, the odds of the property being landed on, the cost to land on any property depending on the presence of houses or hotels and so forth) and had determined that certain properties were a much better investment than others, and if you invested in those properties to the exclusion of others, odds increased of you winning. That is min/maxing.

And I think that’s what happened to America. I think corporations have been min/maxing everything they could for years now. They have crunched the numbers on their respective markets, profit margins, product size, weight and composition tracked sales figures, seasonal changes, weather effects and ethnic make up for so long that they have squeezed every last possible penny out of us, the consumers.

My grandfather could afford to build an entire house on his own, nights and weekends, because he had enough savings and disposable income to pull it off while still feeding his family. My father didn’t do as well, but he was still able to buy a house with a large yard. He had much less in savings and disposable income, but still some to work with.

But my generation, we have no disposable income left. And I have never had money in the bank that wasn’t already slated to pay this bill or that. I’ve worked hard all my life, and I have nothing to show for it. I’m not asking for sympathy; my brothers are hardly better off. My older brother moved into my parents house after buying out the estate in 2003. My younger brother just bought his first house this year. It’s smaller than my parents house, with almost no yard, and it’s in a worse location by being right against a busy train track. None of us brothers is even as well off as my parents, and nowhere near as well off as my grandfather.

Something has to change. American citizens are, for the most part, under so much pressure that it’s only a matter of time till they start breaking. When things start breaking, people usually get hurt, one way or another. But, like it or not, no matter your political affiliation, we’re headed for a break. We’re headed for a dramatic change sooner or later.

paradigm_shift 1You can ignore it all you want, but the United States of America is staring change in the face. We’re just waiting for a paradigm shift. And let’s all hope nobody gets hurt.

Migraine Psychology

stress!Stress. It’s an amazing, complex internal reaction to external events. Everybody has it at one time or another. Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad.

Stress helps you get that term paper done on time, or that project completed before it’s due. Stress can also come about when facing deep-seated fears or anxieties.

Sometimes, you’re not sure why you’re stressed.

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This is what I see when a migraine starts. Even looking at it here gives me anxiety!

Migraine headaches are similarly complex, little understood by neurologists. Many people who get migraines do so because of subtle food allergies. These aren’t the “puff up like a blowfish and stop breathing” types of allergies. Instead, they can cause your brain to have a sort of electrical cascade failure hours, days or even weeks after ingesting the trigger food.

And just for the record, if you’ve ever had a “bad” headache and told someone you were having a migraine, please don’t. A migraine headache is a massive neurological event, and they often lead to lying in a dark room and throwing up for hours or days. If you have a bad headache, say you have a bad headache. Don’t say you have a migraine. M’kay?

I am one of a minority of men who gets migraine headaches. I don’t know why, I just do. I’ve managed to eliminate most of them from my life because I found what seems to be my one and only food trigger: Aspartame. If you’re drinking diet sodas or eating “zero-calorie” or “reduced sugar” foods, you’re likely consuming Aspartame.

I urge you to stop. It’s a poison.

dietsoda_tomb1-580x360

But beyond the discovery of Aspartame as my primary trigger, I still get a migraine from time to time. I don’t know for certain why, but I suspect a culprit.

Stress.

I tend to be very laid back – unless we get to talking about something I’m really passionate about like history or politics or Doctor Who – and this is on purpose. I made a choice in my college years to be as laid back as I could because I didn’t like how I felt when I was stressed out. Also, I didn’t know it at the time, but I got migraine headaches sometimes when I was stressed. The puzzle of my migraines is ever-evolving, and I didn’t even know what they were until about 1998. But I had my first when I was 19, and they’ve been with me ever since.

So, stress. You see, I have doubts about my worth and quality. This is a result of being bullied in junior high and high school. Bullied or, as I prefer to call it, “condemned to the pits of hell and tortured.” Potato, potahto, right?

Self-DoubtAnyway, when I do something that challenges this self-worth, I’m much more prone to get a migraine. And that brings me to yesterday. I did something that challenged the Demon of Doubt that lives inside my head. I did something that may drive him out, or at least shrink the size of his apartment significantly. It may seem small to others, certainly to other writers, but it’s a really big deal for me. I did something I believed I would never be able to do.

I submitted my novel, Bloodsun Rising to an agent, and asked them to represent me.

I have put my work before a professional writer who doesn’t know me at all, and asked them if I was good enough to be published. I put my work out there because, for the first time in my life, I believe I have something unique to offer the world at large. I believe, dear Demon of Doubt, that I am worth something. I matter.sick of feeling

Odds are really good that I will be rejected. Most writers send out dozens if not hundreds of query letters before hearing a positive result. Some never get representation, never get published.

But I did it. I took that first, irrevocable step into the larger world of writing and publishing.

Two hours later, I was lying in a dark room with a migraine. As I write this, I’m still in pain, still feeling the after-effects of that headache.

But I did it.doubt quote