Thursday, 25 December 2014

Our Personal Christmas Spirits

Christmas is different now. There's something about it that hurts, and I don't know why I feel the way I do. So I'll try to figure it out as I write this.

I lost my dad five years ago and my mom 12 years ago. Since they've been gone it feels different, a kind of empty something missing feeling. My family is here with me and that feels good. The music's playing, there's a turkey cooking, the presents have been opened and the greetings came in waves this morning from friends and distant family. It all feels like it should. A happy day to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday - thanks.

But something's missing. I miss my parents and the way things were growing up. First of all, my dad was a nut. He was all over Christmas. The house was bedecked in every sort of decoration you could imagine, including dozens of Santas - everything from small ceramic statues to a giant plastic Santa hanging on the front door. We never had a wreath. If we did, it would be covered in Santa's face. There was over 100 of them. Then there was the rest of the decorations. And the tree. Covered in Santas. It was a running joke each year that when dad put everything away there would always be one Santa left out, somewhere. It was always fun to have the kids find it. Eventually he just left it alone, one Santa out all year. Each year it would change.

Dad also was Santa. He was the mall Santa, rang the bell for the Salvation Army campaign, hired himself out to people on Christmas Eve to visit the kids, and always visited the hospital where mom worked to put some cheer into some sick people's hearts. He was the embodiment of the Christmas spirit. And he loved it all, especially the kids. I took him to one gig one year, a rather wealthy man wanted to pay him a good sum to visit his kids at 2am Christmas morning, after midnight mass. He didn't take the money. He did it for the kids.

Mom was in the spirit too, although I still believe she didn't have much of a choice, she married Santa. We called her Mrs. Clause, appropriately. Dad called her SWMBO (pronounced schwambo): this stood for She Who Must Be Obeyed. My wife is now known as schwambo junior. Mom was a very spiritual woman, and ironically, dad wasn't, his spirit came from somewhere else. At least that's the impression he let people have of him, but we knew that without spirituality and faith, he couldn't have been anything like he was. It was in his heart.

Since they left us there's been a hole in our existence. We carry on like family does and deal with our loss. They will always be with us in spirit - their memories are just as important as those of us who are left to remember. We still hang ornaments on the tree that were part of our childhood and my parent's life. We always will. We still sit on their couch, read their books, I'm writing this on mom's desk. They're always going to be with us and everyday I feel that. But today is hard. Today is Christmas Day and they won't break bread with us.

But that's okay. I have to move on with life and realize that our existence on this little blue planet is fleeting. We will all go one day. It's the time we have with each other that matters. I cherish the memories of my childhood and the season. That's a spirit I share now with my children in whatever way I can, except for the Santa heads everywhere, they got a little unnerving. But traditions of old mixed with new traditions come together to mould us into a new family. A little of time gone by with a sense of the future. But above all else this year we never forget how it all began. Our traditions began with the traditions of our parents, as theirs did before them. And so on. Our children will take up the torch once they have families of their own and again the traditions will evolve.

So this year as you gather around your table with your family don't neglect to pay homage to your ancestors. Don't forget to thank them for what you have in your heart this Christmas. I intend to thank mom and dad for their generosity, love and hope. I do that everyday, but at this time of year we all stop and feel the presence of our parents and grandparents. We say Merry Christmas to them as they are still part of our families, even though they may not be here in person, they are still here in spirit.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Don't You Hate It When You're Head Explodes?


Me. With enlarged idea tumour. Soon, boom.
That's the sound of my head blowing up. The ideas want out, I have to open some sort of release valve soon. This blog is one part written explanation of my sordid little existence, and one part storage pit for the ideas and thoughts that fill my head on days I don't feel like crawling under a rock and hibernating. Today is the latter.

The nature of my illness, as I've explained previously, is that I bounce from one state to another rapidly, like, in a minute and a half. I can go from a deep solemn depression to a ecstatic high, or manic state in no time at all. If I'm really lucky, the manic state doesn't cause a deep crawl under a rock sort of depression, or crash. Today I feel good. I have ideas and thoughts I want to let out and put to practise, it will occupy me for the day, and hopefully longer. If there's one thing I've learned about this state of mind, it scares people. Lots of people. People slowly back away from me when I start into a rant about something occupying my brain. Sometimes the ideas are like tumours I'd like to yank out through my ears with a melon baller.

About five years ago I dreamt up a project and I haven't had the opportunity to bring it to fruition. The long drive home from work everyday on the highway gave me about a solid hour of thought time. Never good. I relished in ideas that were both terrifying and absorbing, all the time trying to keep out of oncoming traffic. Most times that worked. Other days I drove along like a lemming, mindlessly following the endless flow of commuters leaving or going to mindless jobs, like mine.

But I digress. 

The idea is unique and if I may say so, damn good! But I bit off more than I could chew in the sense that I haven't the resources to pull it off. I talked about it with several people, none of whom slammed me, if anything the idea was met with optimism and encouragement. This led me to believe I really have something here, and it needs to be done. But how? I need resources, I need assistance. And I don't want anyone stealing the evil plan. So I'm hush about it, still, after five years. 

Now it needs to be done. I need to open the valve and let the steam out. I sit in the house all day looking for a direction for the life I have in front of me. At mid-life, my career is stalled because of medical conditions, but I'm far from dead. I don't want to be a house husband for the rest of my life. As far as my doctor and the government are concerned I'm retired. To that I say bollucks. I'm not sitting on my ass for the next 40 years, I'm going to make a difference. Hence the idea. Again. 

And no, I'm not going to tell you what it is.
Deal. (Move along if you're only here to steal it, you bunch of selfish thieves).

I opened old files this week and dusted them off. I started working on the business plan again, and messed with options for progressing the project into the future. I have to consider things like marketing, design, web presence, sales, administration and logistics, sanity, and running out of coffee. (And bacon, I have to consider running out of bacon).

Most of this is easy to consider, that's what I did for 20 years. But I'm stumped at the web presence. I'm kicking myself in the ass now for not getting more involved in web building when I was younger, I always focused on print media. I have a working knowledge of web design but I've never really gotten the hang of it, too much code. I'm a graphic designer, not a frickin' code monkey. Now I realize I have to be both, as well as a salesman, administrator, marketing expert, and the rest. I have the software and the internet is full of people who know how to use it, so I started with tutorials the other day. My brain really hurts now. I'm stuck, probably because I'm listening to what the tutorial is saying and trying to figure it out visually, as an artist would. I need to get past that really annoying bit and think like a code monkey. Yuck. Don't want to. I like pictures.

Today I'll take a break from that and work on something else, like writing here. Or laundry, haven't quite decided which is more important. There's always bacon. I have coffee, that's a good start.

I'll let my mind wander back and forth, let the ideas flow around a bit, maybe take a walk. I couldn't sleep last night as I had visions of websites dancing in my head. Today I have to focus on something else to distract me from my nightmare of XHTML and CSS. I have to focus on other aspects of the project like 'how the hell am I going to sell this? There's a reason they kept me in a locked room all those years'.

I wish all this was as easy as writing, words flow like water some days, just as ideas. I am WRITING about this instead of DOING this. I'm sure that will change soon as I am becoming obsessed with accomplishing this and starting the next phase of life. I want this idea to become a career of sorts. It's entirely mine and no boss can fire me, no doctor can tell me to stop. The biggest concern I have is that I'm my own worst enemy, I still crash on occasion, but I need to find something to occupy myself, that's the best medicine for mental illness. Being alone with thoughts and fears can make anyone fail but bring mental illness into the picture and it's ten-fold. Besides, I would like to make some money in the future, it's hard to eat without that. You start gnawing on chairs after a while. I may crap out on this, I don't know. I hope not as I am really enthralled with the idea and I feel right now that nothing is going to stop me from at least attempting it. Except me.

Now, if you'll excuse me, all this talk of bacon is making me hungry.

More later.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

Christmas 2014 Is Not Going To Be Normal

Tis the season.

Christmas is right around the corner, and I'm a little nervous. I haven't felt the spirit yet this year for a number of reasons, first being my ongoing struggle with the whole state of mind issue. I sink into a depressive state so easily now, and when I see people going on about how wonderful the season is shaping up to be I get quite disturbed. When I go shopping I get quite perturbed. More often than not a panic attack ensues. Tough to pull up the socks and move forward into the best time of the year. It's got nothing to do with money or commercialism. It's the simple fact that I'm supposed to be happy and I'm not. 

That being said, I move forward knowing that I'm completely in the wrong mindset. I can't do that. If there's one time of year to thank God for what I've got in this life, regardless of how else I feel, it's now. Christmas is a time for thanks. I have a wonderful (if not dysfunctional) family, I have my physical health, I have good friends, and a neurotic dog. It's all good! I have more in my life than many others have. This year like so many we've experienced, we have too many people with nothing. People on the streets or in refuge camps in some far off land. I feel for them and think of how we should be trying to change that. One step at a time.

This year things are different, and so the season will reflect that. 

We always get a real tree at Christmas. It's an annual tradition, we load up and head out to the tree lots and spend hours in the cold slush trudging around for the perfect tree that 'talks' to my wife. She's the deciding factor. The tree must speak to her and her alone. Nobody else can hear trees talk. And they call me crazy. The best times are when we head out into the county and cut down our own. Doing that brings the whole nostalgic feeling of the season to fruition. But it begs the question, why couldn't Christ have been born in July?

This year is different. We didn't get a tree, we built one. Out of books. 

Two factors led to that decision. Ok, well three. First, we have no car this year and it's a long frickin' walk back to the house lugging a live tree behind you. We figured by the time it got home there would only be needles on one side. So no. Secondly, we have a dog that will eat anything. (see previous post). We were afraid that we'd wake up one morning to a bare dead skeleton of a tree and the dog happily sitting on the couch licking his chops. Then there's the whole antique decorations thing. Wasn't going to happen. The third factor was that we have a ton of books, and technically they used to be trees. So we decided to recycle.

The tree is up, it took the four of us about two hours to assemble it, each one of us picking books based on size and thickness for each stage of the project. Moving from large coffee table books for the base and working towards small pocket books at the top. Each book had a meaning. They weren't chosen at random. Here's what Kim had to say about the selection process....

A brief story about the tree that adorns our front hall. We did not randomly throw books into the pile.....books were chosen so that a piece of each of us is included in this tree of knowledge. We have Harry Potter from Bug, Winnie the Pooh from when the children were small. We have The Complete Works of Shakespeare and of course a Dictionary..From my Gramma Nora a copy of Gone with The Wind. From my Dad, a copy of Poem's to be Read. Faith's copies of Anne of Green Gables, and of course Papa's Poems of Robby Burns. My first copy of Little Women, and my original copy of Now We are Six. Keith's copy of The Chronicles of the World and Iain's copy of Mighty Machines, that he and Papa used to read together. It is a history of our family both present and past. It is the perfect reflection of who we were and who we are. It is Love.

The tree is done. The dog hasn’t attacked it, the stockings are hung with care, the mistletoe is up and more will be put out soon. But it’s starting to feel like the season. We had a problem that needed a creative solution, and because of that problem, this Christmas is shaping up to be one of the best instead of the mindset I was in just a short day ago.

This morning made me happy. It made the anxiety and fear go away, at least for now. 

And that’s all I really wanted for Christmas. Joy.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Things My Dog Has Eaten

Not necessarily in order.
Some numbers are estimates based on how we feel about him.

1 raw steak
1 raw chicken breast
1 raw pound of hamburger
3 pairs of jeans
7 pairs of Kim's dress shoes
13,876 pieces of tupperware
429 tennis balls
87 pairs of socks
54 pairs of underwear
1 package of SOS pads
3 picture frames
EVERY pen ever brought into the house
EVERY pencil ever brought into the house
1 wallet
1 ATM card
3 plastic bowls
1 skirt
6 pillows
38 books
1 pair of eye glasses
3 towels
1 arm of a recliner
The entire lower half of my computer chair
26 tin cans
47,963 cardboard boxes
1 ipod
2 internet cables
6 pounds of cat food
My daughter's homework
1 basketball (it's still here, just looks like a deflated dodge ball now)
1 spatula
6 wooden spoons (average lifespan - 1 day)
The entire lining from the underside of the couch
1 XBox game
2 leashes
16 dish scrubbies
1 bottle of ketchup (that was fun)
1 can of tomato sauce
13 two litre pop bottles
1 newspaper reporter (attempted really)
1 wasp
19 flies
6 rolls of toilet paper
5 rolls of paper towels
Everyone's right arm
2 pairs of slippers
And the partridge that used to be in the pear tree. Sorry kids.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Parenting v2.0

I just had an epiphany. 

I just realized how scared my son is of life and how lost we all are. Being a father just got much more difficult. And I have no idea what to do about it.

I stopped working about four years ago due to illness and in that time I have become the house husband and father. I have seen my life devolve from a working class stiff, going out everyday and earning my keep in this world, to being at home, medicated, and taking care of the house. The first thing I realized is that it's harder than working for a living. The second thing I realized is that I hate doing it. Not because I like going to work everyday, but because the responsibilities of being a father and a husband are still there and I don't know how to make the shift to a different mind frame. You'd figure after four years I'd figure it out, but no. 

This morning I realized how terrified my son is of becoming an adult, and there's nothing I can do about it. I talked to him, told him I loved him and encouraged him to seize the day and make it his own, but that didn't take away the fear. No longer can I lead by example. Everything is different now. Instead of encouraging him, and defacto, my daughter, to take the example I have set for them, I now have to say 'do what I used to do, not what I do'. 

In the past four years I have lost my military career, my professional career, my health, and much more. It has been a trial of the mind, in the sense that I fight with my inner demons regularly. I want to get back to the way things were and move forward, but I know it will never happen. Not the same way. Not at all. I have to accept the things for what they are, and I can't do that when I hate the way things are. I love my family, I love life and my friends, but that's not enough. I want to be able to give to them the way I used to, even though unmedicated and undiagnosed, I probably screwed things up even more. Is he scared because of what life has become for me? Seeing me wax poetic about better days? Is he scared about losing what we had? How did this happen for him. I don't know. Maybe better that I don't know what caused the fear, and just do something about it.

But I don't know how. I think I took the first step toward understanding this morning. I held him as he broke down, a scared little boy crying on my shoulder. I held him there, I didn't want to let go. I remember holding him like that when he fell off his bike when he was seven. I remember holding him like that when his best friend moved out of town when he was ten. Telling him things were going to be okay, time will heal the wounds and the scars will fade. It was easy then, it's not now. The things he's afraid of are monumental now. This is no scraped knee. This is life. He's 19 and just starting to live it as an adult and we're both afraid of it. I told him I will always be there for my kids, as a parent should, but I can't sway the direction his life takes him anymore. The ball is in his court now and I'm in the stands watching. We've tried to be good parents, mentors, tried to set the example, tried to lead. Now all we can do is watch and see if what we have done as parents made the difference. 

I told him it's too late for me. My path has been set down by forces beyond my control. Nobody can predict what will happen in life, we can only get on the ride, hold the wheel and try to steer, but inevitably, by some unknown force, the car is firmly affixed to the tracks. We are just passengers. He has to take the lead and try to force his direction. He has to choose what ride he gets on. Obviously, mine had a busted track and I fell off.

My daughter has grand plans. She wants to go to Oxford University in England and study to be an anthropologist. Or at least she did last night, that may change today. We will do everything in our power as parents to make that happen. My son also has dreams, to work in the entertainment industry doing the production work on major shows. He wants to work on the cruise ships, he wants to produce major venue events, he wants to be where the music is. He has the passion to do it, as does my daughter, but I can't do it for them. Not anymore. Now I sit by the side and hope and pray that I have been a good father. Good enough for my kids to realize their dreams.

I'm not sure of my dreams anymore. I know that I want to go back to work, I'm too young to be retired, even though everyone says that I can't work anymore. I think that's bullshit and I'm not going to let this illness stop me. At some point I will move forward. I just don't know when or where. I'll send a postcard when I get there. All I know is that whatever happens tomorrow, I'll still be a parent. I still have to care for and nurture my children, my wife, my relationship with my extended family and my friends. None of that has changed, only that I am nurturing those relationships differently. 

And I hope that these relationships can help me find my path again. Because my son is not the only one who's scared about this life.