For art, go stand by an eagle.

It was the first day of kindergarten, and free time had begun. Importantly, I had done everything Miss Petersen had said to do –to the letter. In fact, I was pretty impressed with myself for having identified and found an eagle in the visual cacophony of the kindergarten classroom at Manasquan elementary. There I was standing underneath the flag to which we had earlier learned to pledge our undying allegiance to the great man who made America possible, Richard Stanz, and yet I still had no painting supplies in my hand.

I had art to create. I felt I had done some amazing work with finger paints in pre-school, and I was looking forward to seeing what I could do with an actual brush.

“Everyone who wants to paint, go stand by an eagle.” Those were her words. Eagle. I know –it made no sense. Some kids went into an alcove and stood by big, propped-up boards. I didn’t know what you called those big, propped-up boards in the alcove, but they certainly weren’t eagles. I looked around the room. You could say I had an eagle eye. (Sorry. Not sorry) We had a bird book at home, and eagles looked exactly like what was at the tip of the flagpole at the end of the blackboard by the classroom door. So I stood there. Certainly she would get around to me sooner or later and lead me to that arting heaven I was promised in church. But she never did. Why did Miss Petersen hate me? I had half a mind to tell on her to Richard Stanz if I ever met him. Continue reading

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121 More Valedictorians Than Dalmatians

The high school from which I graduated just named 222 valedictorians; this former valedictorian is mildly chagrined.

This is NOT going to be an

This is NOT going to be an “everyone gets a trophy” rant, but…

On June 3, 1984 I spoke at my graduation from Dublin High School. At that time, Dublin had less than 4000 inhabitants, there was only one high school, and the sole traffic light on Sawmill Road south of I-270 was at Rt. 161.

That's my inspiration face.

That’s my inspiration face.

That day, my co-valedictorian and I gave what has been described as “an inspiring, well-prepared valedictorian speech” to a crowded set of football bleachers. Now Dublin has over 43,000 residents, there are three high schools, and driving on Sawmill frightens me down to my Shamrocks. My high school is now called Coffman, and the bleachers I spoke before are now the visitors’ seats at the shiny bajillion-dollar football “complex” they built on the other side of the school. Moreover, the school I went to is now invisible behind masses of additional wings.

Oh, and there are also 111 times as many valedictorians. From the Columbus Dispatch on June 3rd of this year:

Graduation ceremonies might still be going on if Dublin schools had asked all of its valedictorians to speak.

There were 222 of them.

That means two out of every 10 graduates at Dublin’s three high schools received top honors this year. Dublin Scioto had 44 valedictorians, Dublin Jerome had 82, and Dublin Coffman had 96.

Or to put it another way, the Dublin City School district now has 40 more valedictorians than it had graduating seniors in 1984. Yes, the district now has over 1100 grads, but at that same ratio, my class of 182 would have had 36 valedictorians.

Or yet another way, 121 more valedictorian than Dalmatians.

Even The Today Show’s toothy people who populate the show’s misbegotten third hour, had a laugh at Dublin’s expense. My alma mater is now a laughing stock.

This isn’t going to be some lament about how “everybody gets a trophy.” If you look at the comments section of the Dispatch article, a quick scansion shows approximately 850 mentions of that phrase. And, yes, I know I used “scansion” incorrectly. Would anyone but a valedictorian know it’s used incorrectly? I don’t think so.

No, my lament is about how this development cheapens one of my better cocktail-party lines. For some reason, mentioning this fact elicits a very pleasing “Well, isn’t that nice, but, again, please tell me what that has to do with Caitlyn Jenner?” Now I’m scared that dropping this tidbit will now only brings a cascade of “Me too’s” from the entire room. Continue reading

Did you really expect faking amnesia would get you out of this?

[As part of WordPress’ “Blogging 101” I received an assignment to write a post based upon that day’s writing prompt question.]

QUESTION: You’ve come into possession of one vial of truth serum. Who would you give it to (with the person’s consent, of course) — and what questions would you ask?

First, I would head to the 99¢ Store to round up some duct tape, Saran Wrap, chicken wire, and a teaspoonful of neutronium (behind the counter, next to the watch batteries). Yes, I know that much neutronium would weigh 100 million tons, but I think if I bring the granny cart, I’ll be able to get it home. After getting the stuff home and up the stairs, I would combine them in the usual manner to create a wormhole in my hall closet. After carefully adjusting the tension on the duct tape, I would step thru the closet to the campus of Bowling Green State University in June of 1983. There I would hunt down the seventeen-year-old version of myself, who would be up there for a week to participate in the American Legion’s Buckeye Boys State, and I would ask:

“Did you really expect faking amnesia would get you out of this?”

For the roughly five years after my mom passed away, from junior year of high school then through three different undergraduate institutions, a quick tally comes up with at least a dozen trips to the emergency room. Of course, some of these were for bona-fide emergencies, but way too many times I ended up in the back of an ambulance because of –for lack of a better word –“escalations.” In this case, I had run into a doorjamb… Continue reading

The night I sang “The Night My Dignity Died.”

The white cassette tape with no writing came from that particularly messy corner of my bedroom. I knew exactly what was on it without playing it: Me singing Paper Lace’s #1 hit from 1974, “The Night Chicago Died” in a karaoke bar. In Burbank. With seven vodka tonics in me.

It’s not perfect.  It starts late and drops out once or twice.  Also, I suck.  Come, discover why my brother-in-law wouldn’t allow me to sing the “Please don’t eat all the morsels” song to my future-niece in utero:

 

But, you have to admit, those voddys sure gave me some stage presence. Continue reading

Why ORNAMENTAL ILLNESSES?

I’ve actually managed to convince myself there’s some meat on these flippant wordbones. First of all, the word “ornamental” isn’t completely accidental. There’s a reason that word in all its forms was the base for a whole mess of handles on “dating” sites in the first few years after I came out. I’m a bit of a design geek, and by far my favorite architect/designer is Adolf Loos, an Austrian who worked at the turn of the 20th century. He is probably best remembered for his 1908 essay “Ornament and Crime” in which he declared –he was always declaring things –“The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from objects of daily use.” In his eyes, all extraneous ornament does is render an object subject to the whims of fashion; the crime part comes in when you think of all the labor that went into a thing that’s only going to wind up in the trash because folks stop liking tassels on their shoes, big-ass carved eagles on their breakfronts, or acid washing on their Z Cavariccis. You could say that one of the purposes of this blog is to get people to look past the extraneous illness and focus on the sturdy, well-made individual underneath.

Interior of the The Villa Müller in Prague.

Interior of the The Villa Müller in Prague.

Of course it’s not entirely accurate to say that whatever’s going on in my brain, or anybody’s mental illness, is an extraneous part of them. I was born with this, so naturally my personality developed and matured under somewhat different conditions than someone with “normal” chemistry. There’s not enough room here to go into what proportion of myself was shaped by this chemistry or by my environment or by an environment I perceive through a distorted lens because of the stupid chemistry.

Yet, there is one way that the “illness” can be seen as “ornamental.” I think sometimes I’m faking it. I know I’m not faking the underlying ailment, but I know sometimes I selectively emphasize and announce symptoms for my own purposes. I am not above using my reputation for claustrophobia as an excuse to leave a boring party or bar where all I’m doing with my life is shouting small talk over bad techno. Or there was the time when I got out of being arrested small-town Georgia deputy by staging a panic attack complete with wheezing and purple face. You could just see the visions of paperwork should I die passing over the deputy’s face. And I was voted Class Clutz of my senior class in high school, but don’t think for a second all those stair-dives were due to slippy TopSiders. Concern can be a powerful aphrodisiac. I have no illusions that my illness has made me a saint. I plan on exploring the ways I have used the bipolar to shape my surroundings to my liking. Whether that is a good thing or, shall we say, suboptimal, is open for debate.

It’s still Christmas if the tree is bare, but it’s a helluva lot more Christmas if the branches are dripping with glass balls and tinsel.

Welcome to ORNAMENTAL ILLNESSES…

Update: March 2019…

When I started this endeavor back in ‘013, it was a “writing blog devoted to this bipolar guy’s journey…” 

It’s still a writing blog because words and sentences and an over-reliance on ill-timed alliteration. A lot of keywords will still reference mental illness, and I’m not taking anything down.

 However, I am no longer operating under the assumption that I’m bipolar. Or bipolar II. Or borderline. Or unipolarly, majorly depressed, or psychotic. Some diagnoses had more staying power. Borderline didn’t last long because I refused to do the workbook. The bipolars have been suggested on and off since 1985 when I mentioned “sometimes I’m up, though.” Whatever it was, my brain was diseased.2567918_0

And a diseased brain needs drugs. My world soon began to resemble an early Damian Hirst installation done with way too many physicians’ samples.

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Pharmacy by Damian Hirst, 1992.

And on a small dais in the center of the room was me doing a long form performance art piece. Fancy crowds carrying plates of tiny appetizers gawk in amazement as I enact side effects in real time. Diarrhea painting! The impotence/priapism lotto! Profuse sweating! More diarrhea! And a stunning display of weight gain!

But like all performance art everywhere, this installation just peters out. The crowd slowly disperses as the the piece just sorta levels out. The highs and lows are gone. Even the diarrhea gets to be old hat. Soon it’s just a fat guy laying there, no visible emotion. Simple maintenance is never interesting. Maybe someone will buy a fridge magnet on their way out. Maybe not. Who cares?

In 2015, I had to move back to my hometown of Columbus because I was just winding down to nothing. Friends were peeling off because I was somehow both boring and suicidal. Thank god for the cat.

In Columbus I began working with a therapist who wanted me to view my brain in a different way. Instead of a diseased, structurally normal brain, maybe my brain is perfectly healthy, just odd?

As I understand it, I don’t have a bouncer. Every little bit of information is allowed in, each one of the utmost importance. Basically, I notice everything. Every sound. Every song. Every emotion. Every instance of discordant feng shui. Every word choice in every text from every acquaintance.

(He says I’m profoundly ADHD and could even be on a spectrum if that made me happy. ‘The Spectrum’ I asked. No, but it’s adjacent and somewhat overlapping. If two spectra overlap, aren’t they the same spectrum? This debate took up the rest of the hour.)

It all just pings around, and sometimes it overwhelms me. The therapist has me reconsidering many of the instances of worrying behavior that got me on the pills. Perhaps they were not DSM symptoms; instead, could they be overreactions to overstimulation?

So, what did I have to lose? Laying there, being chemically warehoused? In June of 2017, I quit the seven different psych meds I was on cold-turkey. Yes, I know that was stupid and the rollercoaster coming down was not fun, but I was very worried they would talk me out of pursuing a new path. Also, I was getting the feeling that I was just being seen as a revenue stream. (After all, why couldn’t I ever renew my scrips without seeing the psychiatrist every single month?)

And I’m sick of thinking of myself as diseased. Odd is not a disease.

It took around 18 months for me to feel my old brain coming back. I’m talking WAY too much again, sometimes even to people. I’ve lost 35 pounds. I tell myself colors are brighter. At the gym, I practice smiling (It hurts.) There are patterns again. All the birdsong. I’m itchy for stuff.

I don’t know where this will all lead, and I honestly have no idea what the hell I’m doing. It’s like moving thru an unfamiliar corridor with those automatic lights that only turn on when you’re underneath them.

And I’m running up against confusion, stigma, ageism. It’s always amusing/saddening when a supposedly inclusive space or person “others” you if you have some grey or drop a Kajagoogoo reference. Either I’m held up as everything that’s wrong with western civilization, or, if I do something surprisingly not-awful, I’m like a bear in a tutu riding a unicycle to them. Isn’t it amazing that he’s not awful?!?

I’m getting “that look” again. Good. I missed it.

I can’t control others’ reactions. You’d think with my brain being all odd and everything, I’d be able to control other people. But, it’s their thing. All I can do is plug ahead, choosing engagement over avoidance.

Now that I can, I just have to keep moving. 

I’m writing about that.