Friday, October 31, 2014

A Halloween Story

October 31, 2014
Day 184

As Halloweens go, this one had sucked.  The weather was bad, and Heather had to work late on top of it.  By the time she got home, it was half past nine, and whatever trick-or-treaters might have been around earlier had long since given up for the day.

So it came as a surprise just after 11 when the doorbell rang.  It startled her at first, because she'd already forgotten about the holiday, but she quickly muted the TV and went to the door.  Grabbing the bowl of chocolates she'd left on the table, she opened the door up wide.

"Trick or treat," the little girl in a pink princess costume said, a gleaming smile on her face.  "Aww, you look so cute!" Heather said, but as she opened up the screen door for her, the little girl ran inside instead.  "Hey!  No, no, no, you can't just come in here, little girl."  The girl was out of sight quickly, and had run into the darkness of the house's back rooms.  Heather put down the bowl, and started chasing after her now, until she heard the front door close behind her.

Stopping to look back, she saw a tall young man dressed in goth makeup and all black clothes standing inside her living room by the door.  Her heart skipped a beat, and she froze for a moment in terror as his hand reached for the light switch to turn it off.  He walked forward with just a step, and was lit now by just the flashes from the muted TV in the dark room, and the occasional lightning bolt from outside.

"Get out of here right now!" she managed to yell at him through panting breaths.  "I'm not going to hurt you," he whispered, "That's not what I do."  "I mean it!" Heather yelled, "Get out of my house right now or I'm calling the police!"  He wasn't moving any closer now, but one side of his mouth curved upward in a demented grin.  Heather was terrified.  She thought about how quickly she could get to the bathroom, which had a secure-enough lock to give her time to climb out the window.  She thought about the little girl, and whether this man had come for her too.  She thought about her cell phone, which was laying on the couch, closer to him than her.  And she thought about what horrible things he might do to her.  She thought about all of this, and then she felt the baseball bat slam hard into her head from behind. 

Whatever vision was still possible in that moment disappeared quickly, as Heather looked up from the ground at the little girl in the princess outfit standing above her smiling.  As consciousness slipped away, she heard the young man's voice whispering in her ear, "I told you I wasn't going to hurt you."

When Heather finally awoke in the darkness of her home, she saw the TV still silently blinking light from the living room.  The thunder and rain she'd heard earlier had all now stopped.  Her head was throbbing, the pain severe, but she was alive.  Breathless, she looked around for any signs of the intruders.  From where she laid, she could see the time on the kitchen microwave.  It was now after four in the morning.  Her head was wet and sticky, and blood had puddled across her wood floors, channeling down into the cracks.

She stood up slowly and looked around her.  Stumbling forward toward the living room, she grabbed her phone and called the police.  Walking toward the front door, she opened it up and looked outside.  No one was there, but she wasn't so sure about the rest of her house.  "Hello, what is your emergency?" the voice answered calmly.  Heather frantically called out what had happened, as well as her address and fears about the safety of the rest of her house.  The calm voice on the other end assured her the police and an ambulance would be sent right over, and offered to stay on the phone with her until they came.  "Yes, thank you," she said, as the awful sobs of anguish started bellowing from within her uncontrollably.  The calm voice tried to assure her it was over now, and she tried to thank him through her crying. 

After a few minutes, she finally heard a siren begin to approach her house.  As it grew closer, Heather thanked the voice one last time, and he hung up.  She walked to the door, and stood in the door frame crying.  The police siren was coming right down her block now, but as she watched, he just kept driving past, on his way to another call.

Heather looked down at her phone and started dialing again just in case, but that's when the voice came from the kitchen.  "You didn't believe me before, did you?"  The young man was staring at her from the other side of the house, and Heather jumped quickly with a scream.  She fumbled with the lock on the screen door, petrified the man would come closer, yet watching from one eye as he stayed where he was.  "My sister's out there waiting for you, so you might not want to leave yet."

She froze and looked back at him, trying to understand what any of this was.  "Who are you, and why are you doing this?!" she asked.  He stared back at her without any emotion now in his face, and after a moment, he said, "I'd do anything for my sister.  She likes this, so I help her."  Heather was torn now between horror and confusion, and was doing her best to hold back gasps of air and tears.  "She died.  She died and now she plays.  She plays with people, and she wanted to play with you.  Did it hurt you when she did that?"

Heather was beside herself with discomfort and fear.  Her head was still throbbing, and she kept hoping the sirens would get closer.  "I can stay on the line with you if you'd like," he said, his voice the same as the one she thought she spoke to at the police station.  Heather let out a horrified scream and quickly broke into sobs again as she spun around and unlocked the door.  She ran outside and turned toward the sidewalk as the bat slammed hard into her face.  As Heather died slowly on the ground, the little girl smiled down at her.  And from the front door, the young man called out, "She should have listened to me." 

He walked out calmly to the sidewalk, and looked down at Heather's dead body, her face smashed in and bloody from the bat.  Opening a piece of Halloween chocolate, he popped it in his mouth.  Then he offered one to his little sister, who smiled and took it with a nod.  They looked down at Heather one last time, and then the young man offered his sister his hand.  Together, they walked down the sidewalk a bit, until she stopped him in front of another house.  Looking in at the light of a TV on inside, the little girl said, "I wanna play with this one next."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

HALFWAY THERE!

October 30, 2014
Day 183

I'm now halfway done with this year-long experiment.  For the past six months, I have documented every single day of my life with a blog reflection.  Some have been about my past experiences, some have been about the adventures (good and bad) I'm going through in the present, and others have just been about completely random topics.

I've tried hard to create a variety for my readers, because I know you're out there reading all the time.  Thank you!!!

Each day, I start the same way.  I stare at the screen, and think of what to write about.  On some days, it may be obvious: a funeral, jury duty, a special occasion or holiday, or perhaps just the anniversary of a special event in my life.  Other days, I think about what's going on in the world, or what the universe might be screaming at me to write on, and I begin to form that initial thought into a full reflection. 

Sometimes I preach, sometimes I teach, and sometimes I just screech a lot like a barn owl.  No matter what my approach is, I always look at how many views the blog got.  I don't freak out when a blog entry only gets a small number of views, and I don't celebrate too much when one becomes very popular, but I do sincerely focus on what entries seem to be more popular than others.  It helps me always write with you in mind!

And so today, I've reached the halfway point.  This is Day 183 in what will probably be a 366-day journey (ending on my 40th birthday next year).  I've tried very hard to make this interesting for you, and I hope you're enjoying it so far.  For those reading this as I write it and post it live each day, please know I appreciate all comments you give me very much! 

It's impossible for a writer to keep his demons completely out of mind, to completely dismiss the voices that seem to scream, "No one cares about you or your writing!"  So for those who let me know they read something, I thank you!  I truly appreciate you and your time very, very much!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cleaning House

October 29, 2014
Day 182

I'm not a neat freak, and I say that with confidence as well as clarification, because you might've guessed from my proofreading and other obsessive-compulsive behavior that this carried into the mystical Land of Cleanliness as well.  It does not. 

I will say, in some cases, I can be a tad bit silly about things (if you ask Andy, he might use a stronger word than "silly", something more like idiotic or insane, but I digress).  At any rate, there are times when my OCD for neatness does become, well, extreme.

If I've just cleaned the kitchen, and Andy dares place a used coffee mug beside the sink, I might quickly grow annoyed to the point of being stupidly angry in an unapologetic fashion. 

For the most part though, all quirks and unmedicated behavioral disorders aside, I am not actually a neat freak.  Dust bunnies, dust layers, dust films, and indeed even dust webs can usually be found in every corner of my house, and often between the corners as well. 

It is partially the fault of the home's owners, Andy and me, but it is also the fault of our housekeeper.  She never comes to clean the house.  Never.  And the fact that we've never hired a housekeeper has nothing to do with it.  She should have appeared one day anyway, we tell ourselves.  She should have been driving by and just sensed our need and rang our doorbell.  "Yes!" we'd have exclaimed, "Thank you for finding us and offering to help.  Please come right in, and start work immediately."  But she still hasn't done that.  No one who has ever rung our doorbell has offered said service, so our house is doomed to remain the dusty wasteland it is.

So what do I do to keep it generally clean and free from at least the thick layers of dust?  I plan parties.  I invite some friends and family over on a certain date, and the sole reason for the event is predetermined by this need to clean.  No, we don't really wish to celebrate Halloween or the holidays.  No, no, no, there was never any desire to watch the Golden Globes or sing Happy Birthday.  We just do these as rouses!  They're just cheap excuses that force us to clean the house! 

And so far, it's working.  Our guests have no idea, and we play it all off to perfection!  Ha, ha, ha, jingle bells, ha, ha, ha, Happy New Year, ha, ha, ha, Academy Awards.  All as we've just finished putting away the broom and dustpan.  The dustrag hasn't yet settled itself back in the cabinet when the doorbell rings for the first time at each event.  And once the party's over, we look at the calendar and pre-plan.  Ahh, looks like it's almost Christmas.  I guess we ought to run that dishwasher now.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Jury Duty Free

October 28, 2014
Day 181

I'm exhausted.

I'd love to start rattling off random details of this case--even obscured details--for your amusement, but the fact of the matter is, we returned a guilty verdict, and there's absolutely nothing entertaining about that at all.

The details of our deliberation time will remain, for now, a secret.  Suffice it to say, we were not all in agreement at the start, but by the end, we'd reached a consensus.  Of the six men and six women on the jury, every one of us thought and spoke passionately about the case.  Each and every juror, whether they began deliberations thinking guilt or innocence for the defendant, was given ample time and help to come to the consensus we ultimately reached.

Yet despite the consensus, despite the guilty verdict, something beautiful happened after we left the courtroom.  Between the time the judge dismissed us and the time we all left each other's company, just minutes after turning in the guilty verdict, at least four jurors openly admitted they felt sad for the defendant.  They chose to find him guilty by manner of due process, but they chose to feel sympathy anyway by manner of soul.

Despite all the evidence, and even despite all the guilt that was found, the jury I had the honor of serving on proved to me, beyond a reasonable doubt, that they felt bad for the person they found guilty.  Two jurors even embraced, and another juror said she had to hold back tears.  Finding guilt, and knowing a person's life is in your hands like this, is a supreme responsibility, and is in no way taken lightly, and certainly not entertaining.

And so, I'm exhausted.  I'm exhausted, and I'm drained.  This was not an easy case to witness.  It involved many people, and many broken lives, some broken before, some broken afterward.  Though I'm free from jury duty responsibilities now, I don't think I'll be free from this case for a long, long time.  The defendant, the victim, the jurors, the judge and her deputies--hell, even the lawyers--will be in my mind probably forever.  The case, for me at least, is now closed, but the psychological ramifications will remain open, in my mind, indefinitely.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Dating Game

(click for larger)
October 27, 2014
Day 180

When I first began meeting guys for dates (always through online dating sites), I didn't think I'd ever meet someone I'd fall in love with.  It just felt more and more like an impossibility the longer I searched, and the types of guys I met in those early days were far from my dream type.

Even the ones I was really attracted to didn't have the substance behind them I wanted, the kind of real personality I knew my dream partner would have.  Some had the personality but not the looks, and most had the looks, but not the personality I wanted.  On some occasions, I'd have amazing dates, only to find out later that what I thought was an awesome first date was his version of a one-time thing.  Part of me wanted to scream out in anger and frustration, but another part of me just sighed in defeat.  I made a point early on when this began happening to start clarifying my purpose.

Any potential dates needed to know up front what I was searching for, and they needed to be clear with me about what they wanted as well.  I didn't fault or judge those who wanted fun more than something real, but I demanded their honesty about said fact.  In some cases, I had some fun anyway.  In other cases, the kind of fun they wanted was something too same-day or short-lasting, so I turned them away right from the first conversation.

The dating game was, for me at least, a law of averages.  I knew going in that I wouldn't meet my Prince Charming right off the bat, but I also knew I had to keep putting myself out there, talking to guys online, and meeting them for dinners and walks, drinks and talks.  Sooner or later, I believed, someone special would just show up one day, and I'd know without a shadow of a doubt that he would be the love of my life.  I just knew it.

Now, I can't tell you how many guys I met before that day came, but I know I didn't give up hope, and I don't believe you should either.  If you're reading this, and have yet to find true love, I hope and pray you're still looking.  There's nothing at all wrong with being single, and for some people, maybe being single is what you truly desire.  If so, awesome!  But for those who want a someone special in their life, keep looking.  Your prince or princess is probably still out there, and looking for you too.  They won't find you if you keep yourself hidden, so keep your eyes and your mind open.  The dating game can be cruel and torturous at times, but it's a game worth playing.  Most of all, it's a game you can win.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Almost Heres of Life

October 26, 2014
Day 179

I can't tell you how often I've heard some version of the phrase, "I'm so glad ____ is almost here", or "I can't believe ____ is almost here".  The phrase might be about the weekend, or Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's, or even just spring, summer, fall, winter, or any number of occasions.

Whether we realize it or not, we live in this "almost here" mentality constantly, and if nothing else, it shows us how much we're always looking forward...which can often be a very good thing.

For some people though, they're not looking forward to the holidays, or to winter, or to anything at all.  They don't want to think about what comes next, because they haven't resolved where things are right now.  And that's completely understandable.  Others don't look forward because they can't look forward.  They're dealing with a loved one's imminent death, or possibly their own.  What will happen next Christmas or next summer doesn't bring them any joy at all, because they know life will be forever changed by then.

The almost heres of life are healthy, for the most part, especially when we want to unstick ourselves or others from the seriousness of a situation.  We might be crying our eyes out at a funeral, or stressing over a work situation, but just looking forward to a vacation that's almost here can almost instantly make us feel better. 

This week, I've got what will be (I hope) the last day or two of jury duty.  The conclusion of my "sentence" is almost here!  And for me, it will also be the end of a much larger time period.  From around August 12th until mid-October, Andy and I didn't have any completely normal weeks.  We were visiting Andy's Uncle Fai in the ICU every day up until his recent death.  And just as the week of wakes and funerals for my Aunt Nancy and Andy's Uncle Fai concluded, I had to call in for jury duty, which I began last Monday.  So for me right now, I know a return to some version of normality is now, finally, "almost here".

The almost heres of life are constant.  Once the almost heres of pre-Halloween season are over on October 31st, the almost heres of Thanksgiving will start right up, and then the almost heres of December and January will take right over after that, and then the almost here of the Super Bowl, the Oscars, and so on until, well, until forever.  There's literally always something else to make us think about with an "almost here".

The end of this reflection is almost here. 

And now it's here.  Just like that.  Hey, guess what?!  Tomorrow's reflection is almost here!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Three grave sites and a burial

October 25, 2014
Day 178

This morning, Andy and I accompanied his Aunt Lydia, cousins Ferdi and Joe, as well as some other close family members, to Pinelawn Cemetery on Long Island.  Uncle Fai's ashes were ready today for burial, just over a week after his funeral.

As we walked over to the grave site, where a small tent was erected and some chairs put out for us, I watched as another burial took place nearby.  There, just down a small path from us, a large group of approximately 100 mourners had gathered to pay their final respects to their own loved one.  I wondered who the person might be, and thought about the people who'd died in the ICU before Fai did.  Could this be one of those?  Someone we knew from the ICU?  Chances are, they weren't related at all, and the mourners were all complete strangers.  Still, they didn't feel like strangers to me.  I felt a spiritual kinship with them, even from across the graves.

After we laid Fai to rest, as the saying goes, we traveled to another part of the cemetery to pay our respects to the grave of Andy's maternal grandmother, Eileen Chong.  Though she died 11 years ago this past February, I felt a beautiful connection today.  Eileen's son Fai was dead in this life now too, and his body buried not so far away from hers.

And then, after saying goodbye to Andy's family members, Andy and I drove over to St. Charles Cemetery, to visit briefly with my mom and dad at their grave site.  I don't go to graves every year on special anniversaries usually, with some exceptions at times, but try to go now and then when I can, to set aside some special time to talk with my loved ones in Heaven.

All of these graves and all of these people mean something unique to both Andy and me.  Even though I never met Andy's grandmother, and he never met my father, we honor the special part each one played in the life of the other.  We also honor, I believe, the mystery of death itself.  We talk to our loved ones with the hope, if not faith that they can still hear us and sympathize with the struggles we face.  We honor the mystery by honoring their place of burial, by speaking some words of honor and respect at their grave, and allowing the mystery of what happens when we die to blow past us as the wind blows.

Across the way from where Fai was buried this morning, another burial was taking place.  And all across the cemeteries we visited, other bodies or ashes were being brought there to be lowered into the ground.  We didn't know all the people coming in and out of the cemetery at the same time as us, and they don't know us either, but I take comfort in knowing that somehow, we are all connected.  We may feel we're connected because of death, but really, it's because we're still living, and not just living, but living with the mystery, too.  As we cry for our loved ones who have died, we also feel a spiritual kinship with them, even from across the grave.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Three reflections


October 24, 2014
Day 177

I had a long day today, but wrote these reflections this morning, and offer them now.

Reflection 1
I live my life publicly, especially this year throughout my daily blog-writing experience, but that isn't to say I don't also have enough material in between blog entries to fill a book or two.  Perhaps I will one day write such a book, filled with all the otherwise unspeakable moments, the times in between the times, the times before and after the blog entries and reflections.  I don't mean to infer I've got some vast underworld of darkness and awful behavior I never write about, because I don't, but I think we all have interesting little stories all the time we'd rather not disperse to the public.

Reflection 2
I've known plenty of people who died in their 60s and 70s, but at no point do I recall talking with any of them in their late 50s about what they planned to do with the last 10-15 years of their life.  We all tell ourselves we'll live until 80 or 90, if not longer, but experience shows me that most of us simply do not.

Reflection 3
Serving jury duty is a unique experience that cannot be easily compared with any other in life.  In that way it is very clearly a true life experience, a vital thread of the whole fabric of our lives, and is quite honestly a very helpful one too.  Those who never serve jury duty may still have all the ability and experience of a full and thorough life, but by serving this civic duty, you receive a stipend from life itself.  You are handed, in a manner of speaking, course credits you can obtain no where else in the university of human experience.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The court is now in recess

October 23, 2014
Day 176

Today is Thursday, and the trial is on recess today.  It's the only time I'll have a day in the week off, but it also means I'm at work today...at my regular job.

We get little recesses each day during the trial: one break in the morning, one break for lunch, and one more in the afternoon.  Because the breaks add up to 90 minutes, and the trial day lasts from 10-5, we sit through approximately 5-and-a-half hours of trial time each day.  Doesn't sound like much, I know, but I promise you, it feels more like 10 hours' worth!

Once the mid-morning break arrives, everyone in the courtroom stands for us as we walk out.  They always stand for us when we move in or out, which is kinda nice.  Of course, jail mates stand for a death-row prisoner on his walk to the chair too, but I digress. 

I'm Juror #2, so as I mentioned before, it allows me quick access to one of the two private bathrooms located just outside the jurors' room.  Then I get into the room itself, and amid some random banter here and there about anything other than the trial, we all quickly settle down.

I can't just dive into a book on my 15-minute break.  I need to first allow all the courtroom-centric, trial-related thoughts float down from my brain and into my memory as best I can.  I literally imagine them all popping about this way and that, and need to let them settle before I can do anything else.  Once they have, I open up a book, and let myself wander into another subject matter for a while, just to calm myself down from the trial.  I may have a small cup of coffee at this time too.

Lunchtime is its own little adventure out into the world.  I leave my bag in the jurors' room, and wander off looking for something to eat.  I retrieve my phone from security, and call Andy at some point to say hi.  After I've eaten, I wander back inside, surrender my phone and go through security again, before heading upstairs to do some more reading.  It's a small room for the jurors, but just big enough for 15 people (12 jurors and 3 alternates) to sit around a table and either chat or read quietly.  Nice view of downtown Manhattan from there too.  We all get along well, but it really is much like being stuck in an elevator.  You can have friendly conversations for hours, but none of us expect to ever see the others again once we're free.

The afternoon recess is much like the morning one, except by this point, our minds are a little more fried.  The day already feels late, and even though we only have an hour to an hour and a half left, we may as well have six more hours ahead of us.  For me, my bed is no where near close by, so it can all be--  Well, it can all be something of a trial.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Courtroom Drama

October 22, 2014
Day 175

If there's one part of this experience serving on a jury that's taken me by surprise more than anything else, it's the actual unsurprising fact of it all.  Here's what I mean...

On the first day, you're sitting in a large room with hundreds of other citizens called upon to do their civic duty too, and 98.5% of us are thinking how much we hate being there.  Once we get picked as possible jurors for a trial, we're brought to another part of the building, and into a courtroom.  And that's when it begins to happen.

A minute earlier, you were annoyed and frustrated, praying to God you don't get picked, when all of a sudden, a very real judge, and some very real lawyers are staring at you as you walk into their very real, very serious court situation.

Once I was selected as juror #2, I didn't know what exactly I'd experience, but I decided I'd be ready for whatever.  I knew what the case was roughly about, and knew I'd do my best to be a very capable, very worthy juror, but on Day 1 of the actual trial, a brand new revelation came to me all of a sudden.  I was sitting in the jurors' box thinking for a moment that I was watching a really cool movie play out, when suddenly I realized I was in this movie!  The drama happening in front of me was completely surrounding me as well, fellow performers in the movie were lined up beside and behind me too!  The courtroom drama is no fictional affair.  It's all too real, and all happening in HD.

I've only been a juror in this case for just over 2 trial days now, and I still can't talk about the case I'm watching, but I can tell you it's got all the drama of a prime-time television show.  Part of me wishes you could watch this along with me, but I promise to give some general details (no names) once it's over.  I honestly have no idea how this film will end, so for now, I'm just sad there's no popcorn allowed inside the theater!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Things I've learned at jury duty

October 21, 2014
Day 174

Between all the trial hours and testimony time, your mind wanders now and then.  I mean, of course I'm paying very close attention when the trial itself is taking place, but in the time before we enter the courtroom, during the breaks, and just to and from Brooklyn, some realizations have materialized.

Here are just a few...

Approximately 1.5% of the U.S. population actually enjoys being called to Jury Duty.  Please identify yourself to me, and help me understand why?

Being packed into a NYC subway car like sardines in a can will instantly make you feel less spiritual.

There are A LOT of people out there.  Stick close to the ones you know are good for you, and don't feel guilty about avoiding the rest.

Jury Duty sucks, but it's not the end of the world, and certainly not anything worth being afraid of.  The commute though?  Yeah, that part is a nightmare.  Instead of my usual short commute on Long Island, this one requires a car ride, two LIRR train rides, a subway ride, a four-block walk, a security check where we surrender our phones, and then a trip to the jury room.  Then there's the actual trial time before you repeat the process all over again going home.

The view of the Brooklyn Bridge and downtown Manhattan (including the new World Trade Center building) is gorgeous from this part of Brooklyn.  Too bad I can't bring any recording devices with me...but I'll try to take some pics with my phone at the start or end of the day.

Like being stuck in an elevator, conversation avoids the trial itself by decree, but all other polite topics are in play.  Still, it's pretty weird not being able to discuss the trial, even with each other.  It's like we've all just come in from a torrential downpour, and can't talk about the weather as we look around at each other in the lobby.

And finally (for now), being Juror #2 has one very cool benefit.  I'm always the second person to leave the courtroom, which means I'm always first to one of the two jurors' bathrooms!

Monday, October 20, 2014

I am Juror #2


October, 20, 2014
Day 173

I guess I had this coming.  After all, I did send nothing but fear and dread out into the universe, not to mention a fair share of psychic messages to several people saying, don't pick me!

Perhaps it's divine justice that for the first time in my life, I'm now serving on a jury.  Maybe it is, as my cousin Jane told me, good fodder for my blog.  And maybe, just maybe, it's one of those life experiences that was destined to come my way during my 40th year of life on earth.  Or it could just be bad luck, I don't know.

I can't tell you what the case is about, so I'll just let you know how my day went overall.  Correction: I'll just tell you how my extra-long day went overall.

It started in a large room filled with comfortable chairs.  It felt a bit like the DMV with all the waiting we had to do at first, but very quickly, it turned into something from Nat Geo Wild.  With just a few words ("Listen as I call your names"), we all felt like elk out in a meadow, with lions beginning to circle.  I hoped the lions would grab the slow elk on the outside first, so I kept my head down and tried to blend in.  Be smart, Elk Sean, be smart!

The first herd was taken away from us by lions, and we all breathed a little easier.  Just minutes later, a second herd was taken away by more lions, and our numbers were thinned out big time.  It was harder to hide now!  Maybe I'm safe, I thought.  And that's when the last pack of lions came for me.  I was taken to the lion's den, a courtroom elsewhere in the building.

From around 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM, the lions didn't touch me.  They pawed me a bit with questions, but none took off my flesh.  Sometime soon after though, all bets were off, and I was officially chosen to be part of the main meal.  Shit!

My Jury Duty will continue for the rest of this week, and the lions may want me back next week too.

More to come, my fellow Elk, so stay tuned...and stay safe!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jury Duty

October 19, 2014
Day 172

There are only a few things I dread in this life with an unnatural fear, combined of course with a very natural hatred.  Public speaking and the occasional dentist appointments probably tie for second, but right up there in first place is having to serve jury duty.

I've never actually been on a jury.  The closest I ever got was the courtroom, but that was close enough.  Just being inside the same four walls as my fellow jurors who were picked was enough to make me feel just a lit bit mentally ill inside.  I imagine it's the same feeling you'd get if you had to watch your fellow inmates getting whipped and beaten in a public square.

I'm hoping they don't have some record on me that says I've never been picked, a list that clarifies how close I've come in the past.  I imagine a lawyer waving a big old manila folder in my face, with a huge, toothy grin as he says, "We've got you now, you son of a bitch!"

As much as people assure me it's nothing like this, that it's actually quite simple and straightforward, I seem to be locked in my unnatural fear-state anyway.  Doing my civic duty?  Eh.  Doesn't make me feel any better.  Can't I just write out a check for a thousand bucks and call it even?  Two thousand?  Okay, fine... five?  Please just let me go?  I promise not to break any laws if you'll just give me my cell phone back!

Still, I have this dread, and I think it's only exacerbated by the fact that Jury Duty this time is in Brooklyn. Yep, Brooklyn!  Why I have to show up to a place so far away from home to possibly judge my so-called peers, I'll never know.  These things work without reason sometimes.

All I know is, this sucks!  And I don't care how many blog reflections I get out of it, because I'd rather just get out of the civic duty itself.  UGH! 

Okay, okay, how about six thousand dollars?  Seven?  Eight?  I just want to ball myself up and start crying.  Hmm.  That might work.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Funeral Funnies

October 18, 2014
Day 171

At one point during the first wake for Andy's Uncle Fai, Andy's dad told me a joke, and then apologized right afterward.  "I can't believe I'm joking around today," he said with dismay.  Then he told me another.  I assured him it was not just natural to do so, but healthy too, and as it turned out, the many laughs these past few days really did help us a lot.

Andy's Uncle Buck spoke about his recent trip to Rome.  He said when he visited the Forum, and the tour guide showed them where Caesar was killed, Buck asked why there was no chalk line.  And when they took a tour of The Vatican, the tour guide asked if people knew who the pope's army was (The Swiss Guard), but Buck just suggested, "The Salvation Army?"

When Andy and I saw his cousin's son knocking things down off a table back at his aunt's house, someone jokingly referred to the toddler as Godzilla.  When Andy's great uncle Nilo spoke to us about our upcoming visit to D.C. to purchase some of his paintings, we told him we didn't want to spend too much money, so he calmly suggested we just take a loan out, before laughing once he saw our faces.  And even the names of some people in Andy's family make me laugh.  One woman is known as Fatty Mama, because she used to be very heavy, and another man is known only as Goggi, because he drinks so much. 

There were more funny moments too.  Andy's niece Lorelei told us she didn't like ceremonies, which is what she was told the wake and funeral were.  "People are sad at ceremonies," she said.  "But weddings are ceremonies too," Andy's dad assured her.  She smiled.  "I like weddings, because they have cake."  Another little girl, the granddaughter of Fai's next-door neighbor, was standing at the coffin with her grandparents.  The grandfather pointed to Fai and said, "Grandpa is sleeping."  The little girl frowned and said right back, "No he's not.  He's dead!"  From the mouths of babes!

Buck had some other great lines too.  At the funeral mass itself, he saw the incense smoke rising from the coffin and whispered, "They're not starting to cremate him right here, are they?"  And before that, when it was time for Communion, he said, "I don't want that.  There's no dip."

Laughter really is the best medicine, and it's very good for the soul.  You should joke around when you can, when appropriate, and enjoy life's happy moments, because this journey we're on here really is quite short.

There may not always be dip, but when there's cake, make sure you have some.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The new beginning


October 17, 2014
Day 170

My Aunt Nancy and Andy's Uncle Fai have now left this life here behind, but their journeys are only just beginning. 

This week is over, but new beginnings wait just around the corner.  All deaths, all separations, all endings are really just beginnings, new starts to new realities.  We can mourn for the ending, but we may as well mourn for the end of each minute, or each second.  Endings keep happening all the time, and new beginnings always follow.

In this week of death I've just gone through, one truth has appeared time and time again: life goes on.  When one of us dies, our loved ones will hopefully mourn our passing, but soon enough, life will continue.  New plans will be made, new adventures will be found, and new tomorrows will unfold ...without us.

The time we're given here on Earth is brief, and it's all ours to do with as we wish.  We can choose to be grumpy and mean, rude and judgmental, or we can be kind to every person we meet, embracing strangers like they are our neighbors, and maybe even our family.

When you cross a long beach and finally reach the sea, you haven't reached the end of everything.  All you've found is a new reality.  Your legs cannot take you across the ocean the same way they brought you across the sand.  New methods of traveling will be needed, and a new vessel.  The journey doesn't end, only the way we journey forward.

So today, as my week of death ends, I see new beginnings.  I see families who will heal and recover, who will live on and see new adventures, even though their loved one is no longer there on the sand with them.  They stare out at the ocean before them, the mysteries of life blowing through the air, and they know new vessels took their loved one forward.  And for now, all they can do is wave goodbye, and maybe take some time to appreciate this place at their feet right now, where the ocean meets the sand.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thank you, Fai

Stolen Borrowed from Jeanette Stevens. June, 2014.

October 16, 2014
Day 169

My partner Andy's family is much smaller than mine, so his aunts and uncles and their children are all part of what I'd call the immediate family in his life.  Events of any size, or gatherings here in New York or North Carolina, include different people, but the core group is always the same.

Uncle Fai was one of the chieftains of this inner circle, if not the head.  He wasn't the eldest, but his home became the focal point of many parties over the years, and he and his wife Lydia always welcomed many people for every event.  Family, extended family, neighbors who were always treated like family: all were welcome, and all were his family!  So losing Fai now is a heavy blow for many, many people.  Things will certainly never be the same again.

Fai in Tranquility Intermediate School in Trinidad, front row, fifth from right. 1950s.
People will still gather to celebrate special occasions, and no doubt his wife Lydia will still joyfully welcome people into her beautiful home, but without Fai, we are forever incomplete.  A piece of us is lost, gone to a better land that feels so very far away.

Today, we will have wakes for Fai, periods in the afternoon and evening for Fai's friends and family, and loved ones of his friends and family to come and mourn together. 

Our faith tells us his suffering is over, and his pain is no more, but our hearts ache with our own suffering now.  Our brother has left us, and won't be there at the next family gathering.  Thanksgiving and Christmas will feel that much emptier without him, and his sisters Lynette and Molly, his wife Lydia, sons Ferdi and Joe, and grandson Channing will all have to slowly adjust to a new world without him.

Today at the wakes, and tomorrow at the funeral, our tears will fall quickly and often.  We'll be mourning the man who welcomed us all as his own, a man we will forever call our friend, but more than just that, he was also our father and our brother...our family.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

10 years later


October 15, 2014
Day 168

It seems so wrong that you're gone so long, but feels so right that we knew your light.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the day my mom died, and in my mind, I can't help but see one of those movie cuts where the graphic on the screen boldly announces: 10 YEARS LATER. 

It's 10 years later, and where are we now?  Homes have been bought, babies were born, other family members have died, relationships blossomed and bloomed, and sometimes ended too, people have gotten married, gone on incredible vacations, experienced life-altering issues of all kinds, and in a thousand other ways, life has just happened.  And you have missed them all...at least from this side of the curtain.

You lived over 68 years on this Earth before you left us, and for those of us who literally owe our lives to you, you were so much more than just Marilyn, Mom, Grammy, Aunt Marilyn, Mrs. Dougan, or Mrs. Brennan.  You were our everything. 

In your 68 years, you taught us all so much by smiling and loving life, despite all the many challenges and hardships you experienced.  You were 9 months' pregnant with your fifth child when at just 29 years old, your husband was killed on Thanksgiving Day weekend.  How does any person go through something like that, and still hold on so tightly to faith and joy?  You did.

But it was never your sorrows that made you who you were.  It was your love.  You hated when your children fought with each other, and cried when anyone hurt you in any way.  Through your huge heart, and years of pain, we saw the pure soul you always were, the gentle woman caught up in all the uncomfortable entanglements of life.

It's now been 10 years since you left us here on Earth, but we know you still watch over us from Heaven.  You arrived there after your heart, which had given so much for so long, finally gave out.  It loved so much, it gave until it stopped.

On the way to the hospital, you suggested the medics drive down to the beach instead.  The beach would be so much nicer than the hospital, you told them.  And then when I saw you in the hospital, I told you things would be okay, that it was good that the doctors caught this heart of yours when they did, that they'd make you all better now.  I said this a couple of times, and you just responded by saying, "You keep saying that," with a knowing that really took me back, and still does. 

You knew.  You knew this would happen, that your time to leave had finally arrived.  We know not the day nor the hour, but you knew the moment was near. 

My faith is strong, Mom, so I know I'll see you again one day, but I sure do miss you in the mean time.  You gave me everything, not just my life itself, but my heart too.  You taught me everything you knew, and hoped I'd do my best to be a good person.  I'm trying my best, Mom.  It's not easy, but I'm trying.  If I'm ever half the angel you were, I'll be a lucky guy.  Thank you for everything.  We miss you and love you very much.  Until we meet again, please protect and guide us always. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This Week


October 14, 2014
Day 167

This is a sad week for Andy and me, so I'm going to try my best not to overwhelm you with depressing thoughts.  I do want to say though, when I'm asked if I'm doing okay, I answer, "Yes, because my faith is strong."  And I'll follow that up with, "Others aren't doing so well."  I don't always use those words, because for some people, it can come across the wrong way, and it's neither my purpose nor intent to upset people. 

Sunday night was the first wake for my Aunt Nancy, and Monday evening I went back again too.  Both were held in her beautiful home not far from me, and it was so nice being able to kneel before her casket and whisper to her, but then minutes later have a cup of tea and a slice of homemade Irish soda bread in my hands just 40 feet away.  This morning, Tuesday, was her funeral, and it brought with it several beautiful moments I'm sure I'll be writing about some other day.

Tomorrow, there are no wakes and funerals to go to, just a full workday for me, followed by time with Andy's family in the evening.  Tomorrow will also be the 10th anniversary of my mother's death day, which was my saddest day ever.  Even with great faith comes great sorrow.  It's not the sorrow of a permanent loss, but is the particular sorrow felt when you know the source of so much unconditional love in your life will not be there to hug and kiss you, and tell you things will be okay.  This is the feeling Nancy and Fai's children and grandchildren, as well as Fai's wife, are feeling right now.

On Thursday, we will have the wake periods for Andy's Uncle Fai.  After suffering for the past two months in the ICU, his release must have felt great to him, but was a profound loss for his wife and sons.  Fai was just 67 years old, far too young to leave his beautiful life and family behind. 

Friday will be Fai's funeral mass, and I imagine we'll spend a lot of time with Andy's family this whole week and the upcoming weekend.

It's a sad week for all of us, strong faith or not, as two of our loved ones have now left us to the mysterious great beyond.  We cry for them, but we really cry to honor them with our grief.  Our tears and our sadness are a testament to how much they meant to us, and how much we will miss them. 

"In the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing." -Robert Green Ingersoll

Monday, October 13, 2014

The bumps in this road

October 13, 2014
Day 166

Andy's Uncle Fai died yesterday morning in the ICU.  They decided to let him go if he had another cardiac arrest, so morphine replaced all the other meds he was on, and his body soon released his spirit.

I didn't post this here, but on Friday, two days earlier, my Aunt Nancy died as well.  She'd been dying at home of cancer, and finally succumbed to the disease, passing away peacefully at home surrounded by family.

By the time this month ends, I'll be at the halfway point of my journey from 39 to 40, and it's already clear I've found some bumps in the road.  For Aunt Nancy and Uncle Fai though, the road they'd lived on their whole lives suddenly ended.  Bumps or sharp turns are no longer an issue.  Nothing is an issue.  They're just gone, on to their reward in Heaven.

Over and over again throughout this year-long journal, I've talked about perspective.  Sometimes I've framed it within the blog itself, and other times I've just used it as a label or hashtag.  Perspective is everything, and on this journey I'm on right now from age 39 to 40, my perspective is ever changing. 

So often this year, like I am today, I'm writing about my own journey, but find myself thinking about the journeys others are on as well.  I think about Nancy and Fai who have now reached the bliss of paradise, as well as all my family and friends in the great beyond.  I think also about my family and friends who are struggling in different ways, with depression, addiction, AIDS, Lyme Disease, diabetes, Parkinson's, skin issues, knee-replacement surgery, and other ailments or difficulties. 

My perspective will always be skewed by what I alone can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell.  My body and mind dictate how I experience life on Earth, and I won't be able to fully understand what my family and friends are dealing with, because I don't walk in their shoes or live their life.  Still, by our very nature as caring human beings, we hear enough of the pain of others, we see them dying in the hospital, and we feel their grasp of reality slowly slipping away from them.

The bumps in this road are often scary.  They jar me from my peace, forcing me to reanalyze the situations around me.  My perspective is always changing, and my understanding of the road itself is forever reshaped with each passing day.  The bumps are many, the sharp, winding turns can be frightening, and the view is forever changing, but this is my road.  I've been on it now for almost 40 years, and I've learned a few things about the journey. 

Life is hard sometimes, very hard.  The bumps don't get any easier, even though I grow more and more used to them, and the road is mine until the very end.  When that end will be, I don't know.  In the mean time, I appreciate the view, and I learn to expect the bumps.  There's no steering around them, but knowing they'll be there?  Well, it makes going over them just a little bit easier to accept.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I.C.You., Death


October 12, 2014
Day 165

Andy's Uncle Fai has now been in the ICU for two full months, and last night was by far the scariest of all his days there.  Though Fai was alive when we left him, another patient died earlier yesterday, and her family members were left in tears.  She wasn't the first to die in that area--probably the fifth or sixth in the past two months, in fact--and she won't be the last.  Though ICU stands for Intensive Care Unit, I can't help but also think of it as an "I See You" recognition of Death itself. 

And now this morning, it appears Fai's turn may be next.

In the time we've been going there to visit Fai, we've heard more than half a dozen chimes across the PA system, announcing a new baby was just born into the world somewhere else in the building.  And in the time we've been going to the ICU, half a dozen patients have succumbed to their body's injuries or illnesses.  No matter how much good work is done there by dozens of amazing doctors and nurses day in and day out, there comes a time in every person's life...when life itself just needs to slip away.

Death may not come walking down the hall as a shrouded figure carrying a huge scythe, passing each ICU bed until he reaches the one he's going to attack, but there's absolutely a profound darkness about it all.  I'm a man of considerable faith, and yet I see no beautiful transitions in the ICU, no happy, peaceful passings, or even sad-but-easy endings.  This isn't end-of-life hospice care.  It's a do-all-you-can kind of fist fight against Death for each and every patient.  These are people suffering with really serious issues, and the "C" of ICU, the Care, is absolutely "I"ntensive. 

Last night, amid all the scary moments and beyond-serious situations around Fai's bed (I counted a dozen or more bags of medicine or blood going into him, and doctors and nurses rushing past this way and that), I was suddenly reminded again of the mystery of life.  With machines beeping and blipping all over, frowning nurses scrambling to check Fai's vitals, and doctors trying to explain to his family what they were trying to do to make him stable again, I heard a familiar chime on the hospital's PA system.  Another baby was born.

I don't know a lot of things, but I know for a fact that the soul survives death.  My father's soul proved that to me in 1999.  And yet his last hour, I am told, was horrible to witness.  Death, in all its many possible methods, can still be very, very hard to witness.  The soul is one thing, but the dying body can show enormous struggle and pain.  Watching a loved one suffer can rip you to shreds inside, and make you feel so bad for what the person is going through.  And then, in one single moment, their body just stops.  The many beeps turn into just one very long, unending beep.  Then finally, someone presses a button to silence the machine, before glancing behind him at the clock on the wall.  Minute and second are noted with the click of a ballpoint.

My faith tells me life is much more than the organs and blood squeezed into the body parts I carry, and my dad taught me that soul survives even the awfulness of death, but my eyes also tell me that in some of our darkest times, all we see is Death.  All we see is the darkness and the pain, the broken hearts and the loss.  Among all the blood-stained gloves and syringe caps littering the floor, there is no soul to watch floating away, or angel of light to tell us it'll all be better.  Though some people have had such rare moments of supreme hope and proven faith, most of the time, there is only darkness, and a most profound grief.

Somewhere as you read these words right now, a chime may or may not be playing to welcome a new life to planet Earth.  And somewhere else as you read these words, a long, uninterrupted beep may be playing for someone else.  So see the light where you can, but see the darkness too.  See the death, and the hardness, and the difficulty, and the tears.  See them all as well as you can, and absorb them when they cross your path.

Fai may leave us today.  He had a bad night that still hasn't ended.  Death may indeed have found him at last.  His family is most likely going to ask for morphine now above all other medicines.

The dark night of yesterday is showing us all no sunlight here today, but they will do all they can to make Fai's transition easy.  The darkness isn't easy to see by any means, but it's important to acknowledge.  Keep the light on inside you, but acknowledge the darkness when you see it too.  Respect its power, and respect its might.  Don't love it or wish it well, but do respect its presence and might when it walks down the long hall before you.

 We understand life a little better when we fully understand and acknowledge death.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Coming Out Day


October 11, 2014

Day 164

Each year when this day arrived, I'd think about whether or not I was ready yet to tell the world my biggest secret, and year after year, I just wasn't.  Year after year, it arrived, it left, and I was left alone with this humongous truth about myself I feared I'd never be able to share.

According to the Wikipedia article on National Coming Out Day, it was created in 1988 by Robert Eichberg and Jean O'Leary, and gained national recognition in 1990.  The date was chosen because it was the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

I didn't come out in 1990, and didn't in 1991 through 1996 either.  It took me until 1997, when I was 21 years old, to say the words out loud to another person, and myself, for the very first time.  And you'd think that 17 years later, things would be easier, that people would share their truth left and right all the time.  But it's not.  The amount of people still suffering silently with their true identity is staggering.  I hear from people all the time who are just stuck, scared, frightened of the ramifications in their personal life or work situation.

For the past two years, I shared the National Coming Out Day notice on my personal Facebook page, and I'll be doing it again this year too.  And in both of those past two years, after I reminded everyone I was a safe person to confide in, I received a private message from someone telling me their truth.  In neither case did I have any previous guess or assumption about the person other than 100% heterosexuality, but in both cases, I was trusted with a secret.

We all have our secrets, whether they're the silliest little things like habits we keep from the public, or bigger secrets like skeletons in our closets (hopefully not real ones!).  Keeping secrets is just something we learn to do over time.  We have trouble trusting other people, because we've just been totally burnt too many times.  It feels safer to keep a secret than to share a truth, no matter how treasured and special that truth is to us.

I don't say it often, because people make fun of me for it, but I'm technically bisexual.  I have an interest in both men and women.  Since I'm more like 95% homosexual, I don't even talk about it much.  It isn't something that changes who I really am, and the 5% bi-curious part of me isn't a big component of my identity.  To some degree, neither is the 95% homosexual part of me. 

Yet I share my truth here and elsewhere because I want my otherwise heterosexual loved ones to know that having this tiny bit of ourselves that's a little bit different is nothing to be ashamed of.  Neither does it mean you will ever act on it, or explore the curiosity in any way.  It just means you recognize it and own it, and when you share the truth with others, you'll find it's not such a crazy fact really, and certainly nothing worthy of shame.  Sharing it with loved ones who will keep your secret safe will make you feel a lot less alone, too.

So today, I wish you all a very happy National Coming Out Day. 

Maybe you're straight...great!  Maybe you're gay...yay!  Or maybe you're bi-curious or bi...hi! :)  No matter what your technicality on the spectrum is though, if you're anything other than 100% heterosexual, I hope you'll consider talking to others about it.  Don't be scared.  Talking about it doesn't mean you have to do anything about it, but with all secrets, it does certainly help to share yourself with trusted loved ones, people who will hear your truth, and love you no matter what!

Friday, October 10, 2014

My Sweet Addiction


October 10, 2014
Day 163

A few weeks ago, Andy finally got me to quit diet soda and artificial sweeteners.  It'd been his goal for quite some time, and he's now succeeded.  My return to real sugar is much like a return to Jesus: as much as artificiality worked for a time, I'm happy to let sugar back into my life.

As a writer, I'm tempted to go on a riff now about how much I enjoy sweet people and sweet things too, but rather than cause my readers to yawn with non-excitement, I think I'll just stick to the facts: I have a major sweet tooth, so baby, bring on the sugar--all of it!

Chocolate chip cookies, brownies, ice cream, Halloween candy, even extra sugar in my coffee: I love it all!!!  And I want it all!!!  All the time!!!

Does that make me addicted?  Just because I neeeeeeeeeeed it so badly?

Okay, maybe.  Or, you know, probably.  But it's an addiction I'm managing!  Weight loss goals being as they are, I don't indulge often, pretty rarely actually, and I use just two packets of sugar in my coffee now, which trust me is a huge departure from the two packets of sweet and low or equal I previously used.  No more diet soda, so I don't let artificial sweeteners in my body that way either.

So yes, I may have a slight, tiny, insignificant little sugar addiction, but I'm managing it.  I'm not the type to claim Jesus as my Lord and Savior, but I'm happy to let sugar back into my life as my poured in flavor.  And honestly?  I think Jesus would be happy for me!  He might even join me for a cup of coffee some time.  Or maybe tea?  Oprah Chai for two, please!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Floored by Reality

October 9, 2014
Day 162

Every day here at work, I walk from my little office on the first floor across our showroom, through three more doors, and then up three flights of stairs to the fourth floor.  I walk down a fairly long hallway after that, pick up and drop off work, then repeat the process in reverse. 

I do this four or five times each day, sometimes more, and though I'm quite used to it, the climb never ceases to tire me out, even if just a little.  No matter how much I work out and lose weight, by the time I reach the Art Department on the 4th Floor, I have to catch my breath.

It's always really cool when I climb these stairs almost absentmindedly at times, and I realize I'm already at the 4th floor, when I thought I was still only arriving at the 3rd.

Conversely, it's frustrating and annoying when I think I've finally reached my destination, only to realize I still have one more flight to go!

And it makes me think.  How often do I think I've gotten where I need to be in any given life situation, only to be reminded I've got more walking still ahead of me?  It can truly suck to realize your hard work and determination still isn't enough, that you have a longer journey still to go.  Just when you think you've finally found peace in a relationship, career, home, or other situation, the rug is pulled out from under you, and you stumble to realize you have more work still to do.

Thankfully in life, we also have those moments when we suddenly realize we've made it, that our dreams of some kind have finally been realized.  You wake up one day and say to yourself, "You know what?  I've got a good life!  No, I still don't have x, y, or z, or feel great about situation a, b, or c, but I sure am I happy to have letters d through w in my life!" 

Sometimes you reach the 4th Floor sooner than expected, and it was usually because you weren't focusing so much on the work involved with every little step, or the breathlessness of the struggle, but instead just trusted in the promise of the destination, enjoying the journey the whole way up.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sometimes, I'm an ass


October 8, 2014
Day 161


Today's blog entry will be both difficult and intriguing at the same.  I'll be exploring the many ways in which I can be an ass, but also checking to see how many people choose to read this entry more than the rest.

My tendency to act like an ass began in childhood, when I found that the more bizarre my behavior was, the more interest people seemed to take.  If I said or did something extra strange, for instance, more eyes would look my way, however squinted or dagger-shooting they may have been.  Ahh, I thought, this behavior will get me this result.  Okay then, let's try some similar approaches.

By high school, my desire to be an ass took a backseat at times, especially as I began struggling to keep my grades up, and eventually failed out of my first high school.  Bettering my situation suddenly became much more important than bettering my not-so-comedic routines.

Likewise in college, I slowed down quite a bit, having to master the life of a monk for just over four years.  Acting like an ass doesn't just get you strange looks in the monastery.  It gets you meetings with the Novice Master.

BUT HOW, you might ask, do I now most exhibit such asinine behavior?  Well my darlings, I'll tell you the truth.  I do it in a myriad of ways, of course, but here are just a few of them...

I judge people unnecessarily for their poor spelling and grammar, eating habits (as if I'm anyone to talk!), smoking habits, drinking habits, and gossip habits.  I am likewise a spectacular ass when I take my partner Andy for granted, or hit on other guys (usually in a most asininely nervous way), or otherwise just act like an atypical idiot male human being. 

But wait: there's more!  I am also an ass when I act like I deserve more readers or more sales from my books, when I pout like a baby when I'm not the center of attention due to my writing or for any other reason.  I am furthermore an ass when I turn any conversation back to myself at any opportunity, when I direct or order people around unnecessarily, or when I just act like I am better than anyone else in any way.

Friends, these are just some of the many ways I can be an absolute, unimaginable, unlikable ass! 

Am I an ass all of the time?  No.  But this blog entry isn't about those better times; it's about those many, many times I am not on my best behavior. 

And I divulge this greatest of non-secrets (certainly no secret to many of my loved ones) because I care so very much about you all, and want you to see how great I am to have said all this.  Whoops.  See?!  There I go again!!!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

For the money


October 7, 2014
Day 160

Tell me if this tune sounds familiar.

When I graduated college (and left the religious life), the whole world was out there just waiting for me to conquer it.  I felt a new sense of drive and purpose, a confidence in myself and the dreams I knew I could make come true.

While walking around with this confidence one day at a family party, an older family member stopped me with a handshake and asked, "So what do you want to do with your life?"  I imagine I stuck out my chest just a bit, and raised my chin with joy and announced, "I'd like to be a writer!"  He nodded and smiled, saying, "Well that's great, but what are you going to do about money?"

If the conversation took place in a movie, this is the moment you'd hear the record scratch, and watch as my face sagged ever so briefly, before a fake smile and a determined sense of pride returned to me.  I knew he was right, but I hated him for saying it.

That was 1997.  It ended up taking me until 2011 before I began publishing articles online, and 2013 before I finally published the book I'd been working on for the past decade.  And now, a year and a half after that momentous occasion, the second book now published too and a third in progress, I still don't have any of the "money" I once dreamed I'd receive from this not-so-illustrious work.

Curiously though, the less I care about success, the more I enjoy my craft, and more importantly, the better I seem to write.  Over-thinking (not just about money, but of all matters) turns out to be the writer's enemy.  Instead, you need to tap into the creative energy that breathes without air or money, and lives whether or not there are even any readers!

On Super Soul Sunday this past week, Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, spoke briefly about writing, and her own journey to reach the fame she has now.  Amid some other cool thoughts, she shared a line that made me laugh out loud with delight.  Talking about writers trying to break into the so-called  business, she said, "Here's a line you never hear: 'Oh yeah, that's where the big money is, kid!'"  And it's so, so true! 

You may want to be the next Jo Rowling or Stephen King, but chances are, you won't ever get there.  More importantly, writing's never been about the money some people get paid some of the time to write some books, stories, or articles.  Writing is about expression, an expression of truth and fiction, and it requires no reward for the breaths of purest energy it may choose to release through your humble hands.

Monday, October 6, 2014

These past eight weeks


October 6, 2014
Day 159

It's now been eight weeks since Andy's Uncle Fai has been in the hospital.  I haven't talked about it a whole lot here, but we still go every day to visit him, usually in the evening after work for about 45 minutes to an hour, sometimes more.  It doesn't feel like much considering the seriousness of his situation, but when you add in driving time, it's a big chunk out of our weekday evenings.

He still can't talk, as he's all tubed up all over and has a tracheotomy in to help his breathing, so even when he is awake and alert enough to see we're there, he can't talk to us, and often doesn't even look us in the eye.  I imagine he's depressed to some degree, or in pain, or just very tired, and it's probably all of that and more.

We walk into the ICU each evening and wave hello if he's awake, then wash our hands before approaching the bed.  And then it's always the same routine from there.  I look at his heart rate and his blood pressure, I check his blood output, urine output and yes, even the other-stuff output, all to see what color everything is.  I'd never have guessed I'd be so interested back when this all started, but I've learned to be happy when the colors are all exactly as they ought to be.

After washing our hands, saying hello, and looking at all his fluid output, we glance over at his IV tower to see what medicines he's on, and how much of each one he's currently getting.  Fentanyl and pantoprazole are the only ones I know offhand, the latter easy to remember because I pronounce it as if it's a dish I'd order at my favorite Italian restaurant.  "Yes Mario, I'll take the pantoprazole with bolognese sauce, please.  Thank you, my friend."

Can I just say again though: eight weeks!  For 56 days now, Fai has been laying in that bed, in the ICU at Nassau University Medical Center, with nothing but a nurse's station and some curtains to look at.  He's got no TV or even a radio there, and he's asleep or drugged up enough to be very sleepy most of the time anyway, but this has been going on for close to two full months!

I can't help but think to myself, what have I done with the last 56 days I haven't been laying in the ICU?  What have any of us done with our lives these past two months?  While Fai is laying there in bed, his stomach still distended, still not sealed from the original operations, medicines going into him all the time, and other tubes taking fluid out of him constantly, the rest of us have been going on with our lives.  And what have we done?  What have any of us done with our freedom from hospitalization and illness?

These past eight weeks, Uncle Fai has been bedridden in a serious, sometimes critical medical situation he has no control over.  He's at the mercy of his doctors and nurses, and can only nod his head or occasionally squeeze our hands in response to the random blather and conversation we offer when we visit.  And then, each evening, we leave him there, and we return to our lives back home.  We turn on the TV, or go back to our computers, and we forget again.  We forget he's in there sometimes, and we forget how good our lives back home really are.

So take a moment, wherever you are, to be grateful.  Be grateful for your health right now, and your life right now.  And if you can, say a prayer for Fai, or send him your positive energy and well wishes through the air.  You don't even need to wash your hands first. 

Thank you!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

My internet answering machine


October 5, 2014
Day 158

From 2003 to 2005, I had what was called an internet answering machine.  These were the days of dial-up, so my computer and phone line shared the same connection, making it impossible to use both at the same time.

So, because technology was trying very hard to keep up with itself, a service was created--for a small fee--that could siphon your incoming phone calls to a special answering service.  I'd be on my computer back in the day when an alert sound would come up on my screen, notifying me of an incoming call.  I think I had the choice of disconnecting from the internet to take the call, but it was such a slow process, there was just as good a chance I'd miss the call anyway.

What I'm still very grateful to have though are dozens of wav files of phone messages from that time, including three dozen from my mother alone, who died just three months after the last recording I have from her.  The others are from friends, family, and even some from strangers, four of which were wrong-number calls I thought were pretty funny, so I kept them.

These soundbites from the past are now saved for all time, and I hope to load some of them online somewhere soon for others to hear.  They are the voices of people who are still a part of my life in a very special way, whether living or deceased, and because they are messages from each person speaking only to me, they are quite meaningful, and I treasure every single one of them very much!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Running Out Of Time

October 4, 2014
Day 157

Eek!  October is speeding along at a rapid pace already, and I'm still accidentally writing September at work.  Yesterday at my proofreading job, I printed out calendar pages for October, November, and December, so part of my brain is now officially looking into the beginning of 2015.

Yes, it's still months away, and yes, I care deeply about the here and now, and all these many days and blogs before December 31st, but I'm also counting the weeks.  There are only 12 full weeks left now in the year!  Twelve!!!

Time is flying by so quickly, and if I blink, I might miss all the pumpkin spice coffees, Halloween chocolates, and butternut squash raviolis ahead of me. 

Hmm. 

Okay, so maybe my stomach could actually be helped by missing some of that, but I don't want to!  I like all the pumpkin-flavored everythings this time of year (even though most of it is just chemically induced imaginations of something that slightly resembles pumpkin).

All I know is, time's running out on my October, my fall, my holiday season, and my year.  Yes, it's still only October 4th, but in a few weeks, it'll be Halloween, and in a few weeks after that, it'll be Thanksgiving.  Then Christmas shopping will surely begin immediately after dinner that night, before the leftover cranberry sauce is even scraped off the plates.

Tomorrow will be here before I know it, and the tomorrows after that are staring at me from my calendar pages.  Soon enough, these empty days will be filled in or crossed out, and I'll be staring at a glass of champagne in my hand with the seconds counting down to midnight! 

Okay, okay, I know, I'm getting ahead of myself...a little.  Can I just ask one favor of you though, Father Time?  Can you let me drink a few more sips of this pumpkin-spice coffee before you play the Radio City Christmas commercial again?  I know Christmas makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but so do those bite-size pieces of chocolate I'm supposed to save for the Trick-or-Treaters, so I'd appreciate you giving us all these days slowly now, or at least at the usual pace of the clock, okay?  Please?  Thank you! 

Friday, October 3, 2014

ATONEMENT

October 3, 2014
Day 156

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not Jewish.  I have great respect for Judaism, and have had several wonderful opportunities to pray with Jewish friends and celebrate the Jewish holidays, but no, I'm not Jewish.

Atonement, though, just means apologizing, admitting a wrong, whether or not you feel the word "sin" should be used.  In that sense, we could all use a lot more atoning in our lives.  We could all stand to say "I'm sorry" more than we do, to admit we said something we shouldn't have, or did something we now regret.

On Yom Kippur* all over the world, Jewish men and women everywhere will fast from sundown to sundown, and spend most or all of the day in prayer and reflection. 

Most specifically, they will be praying to God for forgiveness of their sins.  In Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah, God writes down the fate of each person for an entire year in the Book of Life, and then on Yom Kippur, you are to repent for your sins in one last plea before your fate is sealed.

Now all of this I pretty much knew, or mostly knew, but a few years ago, The West Wing taught me something I'd never heard before.  Apparently on Yom Kippur, you must ask God for forgiveness of your sins, but on Erev Yom Kippur (the day before Yom Kippur), you must ask your fellow man for forgiveness.  You cannot go to God asking for forgiveness until you first ask forgiveness of others.  In other words, you need to say you're sorry to your fellow man before you can think to ask such forgiveness from God.

Personally, I find this remarkable.  In a family argument, the mother or father doesn't just want their child to apologize to them, but also to the sibling they hurt.  Say you're sorry to your sister, they might tell us, or Now apologize to your brother for what you said.  It makes complete sense then that we would want to find healing and peace here before going to our Father (or Mother) in Heaven.

I try very hard to be the kind of guy who says "I'm sorry" when I've said or done something wrong.  When I purposely caused some kind of pain or some kind of annoyance to another driver on the road or to a fellow customer at the store, or so on, I believe in offering an apology.  I do this because it's the right thing to do, but I confess I have an ulterior motive too, so tell me if this sounds familiar...

I'm sometimes eager to apologize for my fault because I want to hear the other person offer an apology as well.  It may be that they need to hear it from me first, I don't know, but I do try my best. 

Am I perfect?  Far from it!  Do I not apologize at times?  Mm-hm!  But I know I do usually say I'm sorry whenever I have intentionally hurt someone.  Once again, I'm no preacher, and once again, you don't want to hear me preach anyway, but once again, I believe it's good for me to offer this little sermon here anyway. 

I am genuinely sorry for my imperfections of character, for all my faults, and even for all my sins, and I do hope my friends and family, as well as strangers everywhere, will know I am sorry.  I may not be Jewish, but I sure do live with guilt at times, and I hope others will forgive me for my offenses to them.  This Yom Kippur, may we all know greater peace, greater regret, and yes, greater forgiveness from one another.  To put it another way, may we all see God in every soul we meet.

*Yom Kippur is pronounced yohm khi-poor.
It literally means Day (Yom) of Atonement (Kippur).