Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Scary Boots

You know that feeling you get when you are about to drive down a steep hill, and perhaps you were going too fast, and there's this little breathtaking sensation of lift-off as you are about to descend? Kind of like that strange whooshing feeling blended of excitement and blind panic right before the roller-coaster starts its first dive?

I've been getting that feeling in little flashes ever since I met with my boss yesterday. I had already received an email from him over the weekend in response to my apology and the post below this one, and knew that he was not angry with me and that he understood what I was going through. Still, though I didn't really think he was going to fire me, didn't believe that he would act unfairly or unreasonably in any way, thinking something or believing something or even having a reasonable assurance of something isn't the same as knowing, and I always prefer to know. I simply didn't know what exactly was going to happen, and therefore couldn't brace or prepare myself.

But things went better than I had expected: my parting from the office will be entirely amicable and honorable... he even went out of his way to make sure that I would not hurt financially and assured me a sterling recommendation. I am immensely relieved, and honored by his generosity, and so that part isn't scary any more.

And then, as I was looking over the various online job boards this weekend, I found a lot of jobs that I think I can do... exactly the kinds of jobs I was looking for, in big structured companies, for which I qualify and to which I might even bring a certain flair or dazzle. In fact, there were a number of jobs listed at one particular huge company that I am seriously considering already. So I'm not only not worried about finding another job, I'm also looking forward to maybe getting one of the jobs I've seen advertised.

What gives me those lift-off heebie-jeebies, though, is the timeline that has developed. In one of those "is it odd or is it God" moments of pure serendipity, my replacement has already been found, and is going to start in two weeks. So I shall be working as usual for the next two weeks, and then the third week will be spent familiarizing the replacement with my filing "system" and all of those odd little tasks that only I know how to do. And I shall also continue to be the notekeeper for our negotiations sessions for as long as I'm available.

That is a lot faster than I had expected, I had thought it would take a month or two to find a replacement... I am thrilled that the replacement is ready and that a definite timeline is in place, but when I stop and think that in three weeks my whole life will be different from what it is today, I get that little whoosh of panic in my chest. In three weeks I am going to wake up in the morning and not have to go to the job I've been going to most every day for the last six and a half years. Eep!

I also get that whoosh of panic when I start making plans for the job interviews I am going to be going on soon. I have to get a haircut, I have to get all of my dry-clean-only slacks and sweaters dry-cleaned, I need to have my shoes polished and my neckties pressed, my fingernails will have to be cut and buffed down into a masculine manicure... and most importantly, I have to brace myself for the possibility of rejection from any number of unknown HR directors. Scary shit, my friends.

Nevertheless, I am really excited about this change. There are going to be new people to meet, new challenges to test myself against, new things to learn... there will be new possibilities of financial security and professional advancement, too. And even these whooshes of panic are exciting and good. It's a healthy fear, not too big to be borne, just scary enough to let me know I'm alive and growing.

I am put in mind of how grateful I was for just such a whoosh of excited fear that I experienced right before going onstage when I appeared in that musical, summer before last. Or that whoosh of excited fear right before meeting someone for a pre-date coffee. It's scary, but it's anticipating scary rather than dreading scary, it's growth and opportunity that comes from getting out of a rut and flying out in the open, facing the big wide world and its many dangers and joys and adventures, and it feels great.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know what's going on. My posting is probably going to be spotty for the next three weeks... work is going to be very busy, as I tie up some projects and neaten the workspace before turning it over, and most of my writing energy is going to be devoted to getting a thorough explanation of a lot of my more arcane tasks written out. But then I'm going to take a couple of weeks to decompress before I start in on the interviewing rounds, so I'll have time to catch up on my writing then (I hope).

In the meantime, I wish you joy.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Mea Culpa

It happens to most of us eventually: you write something nasty or private or hurtful or potentially compromising about someone in your online journal, and that person wanders in and reads it. I've heard this scenario from a host of other bloggers; there are bloggers who've lost jobs and relationships when this happens; as a result, some of them made their journals password-protected or ceased entirely to speak of personal matters, and some even took their entire websites offline and retired from the blogging scene altogether.

It has happened to me, now, and my response has surprised me: I found a growth experience hidden within.


My regular readers will remember that I wrote a post last week about how I was in this terrible mood, and in that post I said some nasty things about my boss, my job, and the office bookkeeper. Well, my boss read it, and sent me a furious email about its contents.

Initially I felt violated, then ashamed, then afraid, then self-reproachful and even self-loathing; I considered taking an indignant stance and defending my right to say whatever I want on my own website, I considered taking my entire journal offline and grovelling in obsequious apologies, I considered a lot of possible reactions in between, I even fleetingly considered suicide.

But while I was spinning around in my reactions, I talked to my sponsor, I cried for such a long time and so intensely that I began to fear I was having a nervous breakdown, I prayed a lot, I took down the post in question and any other post I could find that criticized my boss, and in between each of these things I spent a lot of time writing a response to his email; but though each of these steps was important, it was in the writing I processed what was really going on in my heart.

I may well lose my job over this, which is mind-numbingly scary, but the really painful thing about it was that his response to my post forced me to see a view of myself that was very ugly, a view that I have been struggling obstinately to not see for some months.

He showed me that I have been existing in a state of denial in regard to my job performance: I have been making huge, expensive, and potentially disastrous mistakes, then blaming my mistakes on other people, and finally allowing those inappropriate assignments of blame to fester into angry and self-righteous resentments. I have called people incompetent and become angry over their actions or lack thereof, rather than look at and admit my own very real incompentence and how my actions or lack thereof have resulted in serious consequences.

I had taken the arrogant attitude that I was doing them a favor by showing up every day, just to cover up the humiliating fear I had that the only reason I was still there was because it would be too difficult to replace me. Since self-reproach was too painful, I deflected that reproach onto others, and turned on the snide bitchery to disguise the real cause of the problem: me.

It also showed me the petty, dishonest, and simply nasty practice I had taken on of talking smack about people who I don't think will read or hear about it. I wrote sneeringly and contemptuously about my boss, who is a man I actually respect and admire, because I was angry; and regardless of whether or not he might read it, I wrote it in a place where other people would read it... though none of you knows my boss (as far as I can tell), I was nevertheless representing a real person to you, and I did it dishonestly.

Though my anger was real, and my frustration intense, I only showed that one side of this man to you, this one entirely biased and quite narrow view of a complex individual, and did not show you anything else. There is no evidence in that post or any other of recent memory that I do respect him; in fact it is an empty statement for me to say that I respect him now, when I haven't said so before. It doesn't say much of one's respect for another person if the only time you speak of him is in anger; it doesn't say much of one's respect for another person to speak of him derogatively at all, in anger or in jest or in plain bitter bitchiness.

And even if I didn't respect him, if contempt and dislike were the only things I felt, it is still reprehensible to attack someone behind his back in this manner, whether or not one's anger is real and honest or even justifiable, whether one uses real names or not, to a public audience, however limited. This is not an honorable or even healthy way of dealing with anger. All it does is spread the poison in your soul over the internet where it can touch others.

One should never say anything about anybody that one wouldn't say to that person's face; to do so is wicked. I know that, we all know that. At the same time, one should never speak in anger, because one is never honest when one is in the grip of a strong and damaging emotion, one says things that are both hurtful and essentially untrue. It has nothing to do with the consequences of speaking honestly to a boss or a parent or someone whose returned anger will carry consequences: it's about living honestly and openly and honorably.

When I wrote of my anger, I was venting in what I considered a private forum. But I said things which were unkind, unnecessary, and untrue, and I dishonestly did not present balancing information, I did not present a true picture of either my own feelings or my boss's personality. And the very fact that I felt entitled to say such things about anybody shows the meanness and duplicity of my own soul.

Furthermore, I should have known that my boss might read this diary: I knew he knew it existed, he knew where to find it, and though I didn't expect that he would read it, I knew perfectly well that he could. To write such things in a place where it was possible, no matter how implausible, that he would read them, was criminally thoughtless and rude... for all my talk of "manners," I allowed myself this rudeness out of pure spitefulness and ugliness of spirit.

For all of this I have to apologize: to my boss in particular, to everyone at my work, and to you for letting this ugliness out where it can do damage.

I don't expect forgiveness. One of the hardest things for me to do while processing through this situation was to prevent myself from allowing self-service and face-saving... when I was writing back to my boss, I worked very hard to not allow myself to make excuses. Explanations certainly, to help him (and in the meantime myself) to understand what exactly had happened, but no excuses. The fact is that I did these things, I made these mistakes at work and I wrote these offensive things on my website, and I have to accept the responsibility and the consequences of my actions, and make amends.


I don't know exactly how I will make amends... if some of the mistakes I made cannot be fixed, there will be financial consequences in tens of thousands of dollars. Even if I relinquished all of my accrued sick-leave, vacation, and comp time, and took a substantial pay-cut to cover the losses, I would have to work months or even years to make such sums right.

But I do know that even if my boss doesn't fire me, I am going to have to leave that job. I just cannot do the job, and continuing to not do it while drawing a salary for doing it is quite simply fraudulent. I have to step down and let someone who can do the job be found and hired.

Then I have to find a job I can do. I don't know how much of my failures are attributable to my growing depression, or how much of my despression is attributable to my failures, but either way I am failing miserably and I am miserably depressed, and these things along with my poisonous behavior are all intertwined.

But as scary as job-hunting is, I can see a potential for growth in it. If I can find something I'm good at, someplace where I can make a contribution, someplace big and structured where my mistakes can't threaten the entire institution, where I don't have to continually play to my weaknesses, I will serve both myself and society better.

And before I go, I have to clean up my messes, rectify the mistakes I made as best I can and prepare the way for a transition of responsibilities to my replacement so that my institutional memory is not lost.


I want, before I close this post, to thank my boss for giving me this moment of clarity. It is a flaw of my character to enshroud true problems under a morass of other problems, the blame and resentments and psychological twists are the same that kept me wallowing in my alcoholism for so long, and if this situation had continued unchecked, I don't know how bad things would have gotten before I woke up and saw clearly. The burden of all of my convoluted rationales and resentments has been lifted, burned away by the bright light of the truth in his response to my nasty little diary-post.

The relief I feel right now, with a clear heart and clear eyes, was entirely worth the tears and pain that it took me to get here. This can only make me a better person, and as a better person I can be of greater service to humanity. I only regret now is that he was hurt in the process; I hope somehow I can find a way to make that up to him.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Spring Break Road Trip

I'm on vacation this week, my office closes when the schools close for Spring Break, and I just wanted to check in before I got in the car and went on a little road trip. And where do you suppose I'm going for Spring Break? To judge a tightie-whitie contest in Palm Springs? To do Jell-O shots off the meaty chest of an inebriated football jock in Myrtle Beach? To host an MTV house-party in Cancun, where I shall announce the hottest videos of the spring while rubbing cocoa-butter into the glittering bronzed skins of board-shorted Business majors?


And then I wake up.

I am preparing, just now, to drive Grandmother up to Folsom to visit her niece overnight. We're going to stop in Vacaville for a late lunch, too, and maybe hit the outlet mall on the way back! During the rest of the week, I'm going to clean my room, do my laundry, take my car to the tire-store and a body-shop, have a root canal, and work on my novel! Whooo-oo! Let's get this party started!


I don't know if it's leftover depression or what, but my mood has continued to baffle and confuse me this week. I feel so up-and-down, sad and sour and silly and snappish in turns.

Yesterday I had what can only be described as a Surprise Temper Tantrum, I lost my patience with Grandmother and the idiotically slapstick situation of trying to get her, her oddly heavy Bible and slippery accompanying notebook, her twenty-pound old-lady purse, and two open boxes of Girl Scout cookies up the front stairs while holding an umbrella; by the time I finally got her to the front porch, spilling Mystic Mints along the way, I flipped out and started screaming at the rain, jumping up and down and stomping the spilled cookies into the wet sidewalk. Later in the evening, I started crying while watching Legally Blonde on TV, and then had a real bawlfest while watching Peter Pan on DVD. It was really weird.

I had been irritable all day, mostly from lack of sleep, but exacerbated by that peculiarly glaring quality of light that comes between deluges of rain, and Grandmother's and Daddy's continuing deafness, and Grandmother's tendency to fuss and pick at useless things: "Is this safety pin yours?" she asked, plucking a tiny bit of wire off the littered floor of the car, while I was trying to get her out of the car and into the house before the rain started... who else's could it be? It's my car...and what the hell difference does it make? You either pick it up or you leave it the fuck alone, you don't ask dumbass questions about its provenance while somebody is standing in the rain waiting for you to get out of the goddamned car! GAH!

Do you ever get the feeling that your life would be a lot more pleasant if other people weren't so damned irritating? But one can't make them, so one strives to be less irritable... I do a lot to retain my patience when what I really want to do is scream imprecations, and it would be nice if other people would meet me halfway and not do those things that inspire the imprecations in the first place; but I guess that's too much to ask.


I am very much looking forward to working on Worst Luck this week. I think "Chapter 2" stands up pretty well, the only editing it needs is to clean up some repeated words make the separate parts flow together seamlessly. But "Chapter 3" is going to be a lot more challenging. I made a lot of notes on how to fix it, retaining the basic narrative while inserting a lot more emotional explication and toning down the inventory-like tone of some of the descriptions, and I am excited about having the time tospend on making them real.

It's going to get a lot longer, I think... it occurred to me while I was making notes yesterday (I bought myself a lovely leather-bound journal to keep notes in, which I can take with me into church or meetings or anyplace else I'm sitting around, wasting time, not doing anything) that this is a really important chapter, at least as important in establishing characters as "Chapter 1" was; I decided that I should spend a comparable amount of time and words to establish the characters of Valerien and Marquesa as I spent establishing the character of Danny. While I'm sure the reader wants to get along to the meat of the story, I think a thorough understanding of the characters is important before getting on to the murder itself.


Well, that's what's going on in my world today. I'm off to Folsom soon, and look forward to being bored out of my mind for the next twenty-four hours. But I'm taking the office laptop with me and will be working on my novel while I'm there, so it won't be an utter waste of time.

Pip-pip cheerio!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Wreading and Writing

I've just decided to invent a new word. I encourage you to use it in everyday speech whenever you get a chance, and by a painstakingly slow process of careful osmosis it will infiltrate the English language until such a time as my dearest dream is realized and it appears in the Oxford English Dictionary with my name as the first proponent of the word in literature.

    Wread: (verb) to obsessively read and re-read your own writing until you think your eyeballs are going to fall out, yet nevertheless remain impressed with your own cleverness.
So what do you think? It's what I've been doing for most of this week. I set myself two tasks, I was going to read Proust and I was going to clean my room; but instead of slogging through Swann's Way this week as intended (though I have been reading it, just not with any focus or progression), I have spent uncounted hours reading through my own archives and enjoying every word of them; and instead of cleaning my room this weekend, I spent all yesterday and today working on "Chapter 2 Part 5" of Worst Luck, which has had me reading and re-reading... WREADING, you know... (and of course writing and rewriting) the same paragraphs over and over, as well as adding more and more of them as I go.

But I finished the chapter off, (go read it, if you like) and I feel pretty good about it, even though my room is still an utter sty and the shelves and new chest-of-drawers I bought at Home Depot on Friday are still in my car, unassembled. The novel is simply more important to me.

Of course I still have to clean my room, and perhaps I will find the time to do that instead of focusing my brain on three brand-new characters who shall be introduced in the first part of "Chapter Three," and to whom I haven't devoted very much thought: an older gay police detective, his impulsive young straight partner, and a rather pedantic medical examiner. The next chapter is where the murder is discovered, you see, and where Danny will be arrested.


The little writing hand symbol usually indicates a change in topic, but it also frequently indicates a lapse in time. Three hours has passed since I opened this post to tell you about my progress on Worst Luck; I took a little nap, and then went back to WREAD the chapter I just finished writing.

And while I was there, I decided that the last two parts of "Chapter 2" really are their own chapter... aside from all five parts being far too long for one chapter, there was a distinct change in tone and speed with the introduction of Marquesa and Valerien. So I redid parts four and five as "Chapter Three," and therefore will be starting on "Chapter Four" next with the detectives et al. (most likely after I finish editing "Chapter 2" and "Chapter 3" complete... though "editing" implies a process of pruning and winnowing, where in fact I often add more words to the mess while tying the disparate parts together and making the whole thing flow better like one piece of literature.)

But now I am utterly exhausted, I only came back here to finish this post because it was on my mind and I can't have it nagging at me. Now I am going to go brush my teeth, get in bed, and read some more Proust (I'm doing the old Moncrieff translations, by the bye, a two-volume Random House set published in the 50s that I picked up for seven dollars at a garage sale some years ago); I doubt I'll be able to get to sleep any time soon, after that unscheduled nap, but I can try anyway.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Solution to Everything: Shelves

I'm just checking in because I am at work, I don't have anything to do right now, I don't want to start anything so close to quitting-time, and yet I'm having a manic spurt and can't just sit here looking at beefcake and watching my nails grow.

After I leave today, I am going to Home Depot to buy some more wall-mounting shelves. In an effort to encourage my depression to scram-skedaddle-begone, I have decided to cancel all of my engagements for the weekend (not as big a deal as it sounds, I was just going to go to San Jose Imperial Coronation on Saturday but I simply cannot deal with drag right now) and clean my room. Or at least straighten it up. Or, if nothing else, clear off my bed and put the goddamned sheets back on (I've been sleeping between two bedspreads for a month, and the books and videos are pushing me closer to the edge).

So I was thinking this morning, as I was shuffling through a foot-high pile of videotapes and magazines while trying to find where I put my glasses after I took them off last night, that perhaps if I had even more shelves, if indeed every blank space on my walls supported as many shelves as possible, and if I put my books and videos on those shelves, I might actually have some space in my room in which to move around.

And although I am still in my depression, still on the up-and-down kiddie-coaster of emotions, the very fact that I had such a thought heralds the departure of my depression. This happens every time I get depressed... while I'm wallowing, everything around me goes straight to hell because I simply don't care; but then as the depression starts packing its bags and making its plane reservations, I find myself wanting to clean. I think about how nice it would be to see my carpet. I become entranced by particularly attractive broom-and-dustpan sets and reasonably-priced natural ostrich dusters when browsing around at the store. And I start jonesing for more wall-mounted shelves from Home Depot.

We shall see if I actually make it to the end of the project before I get distracted. Regular readers will remember that I get into these cleaning rages quite frequently, and frequently will put up a new set of wall-mounted shelves during such a rage, but that I never quite finished the job. I think the last time my room was really clean was 2001. And that's because I paid Shiloh to do it.

Oh, well, I don't really care if my room is clean, but I would like to have the rest of my bed to sleep in... what's the point of having a queen-sized bed when you only sleep on a crib-sized portion of it? Well, it's after five, so I'm leaving now. I'll let you know how the shelving goes.


Tuesday, March 8, 2005

But Is It Normal?

I feel weird. Last night and this morning, I felt like my depression had passed off... I felt cheerful and calm, clear-headed, normal. I sang, even.

But then as I was getting dressed this morning, my mind went wandering down a train of thought that led to a particular person against whom I harbor resentments, and I got really really angry, suddenly and deeply furious. Later on, as I drove to work, I suddenly felt like crying. And then at the office, I found all these things that totally slipped my mind yesterday and today, and I repeatedly (like ten times or more) forgot about this one ongoing task that I had running, so I doubt I'm as focused and clear-headed as I thought I was.

As the day passed, I found myself on a sort of roller-coaster of emotions, anger and sadness and befuddlement (I know that befuddlement is a state of mind, rather than an emotion, but I can't think of a better word for this feeling), and I felt very unfocused and at the same time fidgetty. It's not a severe rollercoaster, mind you, it's more of a kiddie-coaster with three-foot drops and little cars shaped like caterpillars. Still, I don't like it.

So am I manic? Am I depressed? Am I fluctuating wildly between the two? Or just swinging in shorter arcs, not quite all the way to the pole of each, just winding down like a pendulum that has lost momentum? Or is this normal, with a side-order of overwork and a dollop of resentment? Have I become so accustomed to the depression that I've simply forgotten what normal feels like?

But aside from keeping a record of the oscillations and permutations (that was for Tom, who admires my vocabulary) of my depression, there seems little point in talking about it any more. Like all chronic problems, it becomes boring in its sameness after a while... though every day is different, it all boils down the same boring old word, one I'm tired of writing.


So. Over in the world of Worst Luck, I have been stuck on visualizing and planning out the upcoming scenes. As I first conceived of the scenes, some time ago, I had a visual concept of Valerien's apartment; however, while trying to figure out how such an arrangement of rooms would work, I discovered to my dismay that it wouldn't really... I mean, I can design the building underneath the apartment to any shape and size that suits my purposes, but a simple problem of practicality came up: nobody would build a bedroom suite so that the bathroom and closets were facing the view and the bedroom was facing a hillside, which is how I had it plotted when I was really more concerned about the positions of the rooms in relation to one another, without considering the geography of the place. Futhermore, I've already drawn the plans for Marshall's apartment, which is in the same building, so there was a certain amount of proportions already settled, such as the depth of the building (about forty to fifty feet).

Well, eventually I got the floor-plan for Valerien's apartment worked out, after several hours of sketching on paper and plotting on my 3-D Home Designer, and have been training my mind to conceive of the scene accomodating this new plan, but I am having difficulty reorienting the scenes to the simple fact of having the bed and the bathroom on a different side of the bedroom.

Why all this attention to floor plans, you may ask? Well, I have always had a great love of floor plans and domestic architecture, to begin with. But also I've found that when the author doesn't have a terribly clear concept of the layout of a room, they make mistakes that people who do map things out in their minds (like me) notice and find jarring. In Pride & Prejudice, for example, there was this one room in which a number of scenes occurred, and either the servants were constantly shifting the furniture around so that the thing Jane Austen wanted was next to the fireplace, or else every stick of furniture was clustered up in one corner of this room... no matter what piece of furniture the the characters used, the sofa or the escritoire or the pianoforte or whatever, they were right beside the fireplace. It drove me mad.

I also got stuck worrying about Danny's nonstop erection, which was a source of embarrassment on Danny's part (and pleasure on other people's) in the last scene. Might Marshall have slipped him a Viagra or Cialis unbeknownst? Might he, perhaps, have slipped a little pill up Danny's back passage while mauling him in the foyer? And if so, wouldn't that put an entirely different spin on Danny's perspective of his encounter with Marshall, once he realized he had been drugged, despite all his cautions?

I became quite enamored of this idea, and was working a fairly emotional and interesting scene around it... but then I wondered, can Viagra or any other medication be administered rectally? I was under the impression that putting anything up your anus has pretty much the same effect as swallowing it, if not more immediate. But after a fairly laborious Google search, I couldn't find any confirmation of that assumption. I had to come to grips with the possibility of throwing the scene out... it wasn't necessary, but I really liked it.

Fortunately at the meeting tonight I realized I could ask a certain friend of mine in the health-care profession, and was told to my joy that, yes, it would work that way... if placed in the rectum, a medication will have a slower absobtion rate than the stomach, and can be expelled from the body easily, but if Marshall pushed it beyond the rectum and into the colon, which shouldn't be too difficult to do with normal-length fingers, and especially if it were an uncoated substance embedded in a glycerin suppository, it would go in smoothly, stay in, and absorb completely and rather quickly. So, hooray!

Of course, now all I need is the time and energy — and most importantly imagination — to get through the next scenes, which are going to be specifically sexual... I always have difficulty writing about sex, it's difficult to know where to pull back from the narration and become vague, difficult to know how much information is too much, difficult to balance the prose and not veer off to either maidenish reticence or downright pornography. Then there's the whole issue of not personally having had sex in almost nine years, I've sort of forgotten some of the feelings and mechanics, the thereness of sex, if you will... I'll have to focus on the visuals (which are quite familiar to me), but whenever I talk about anything with which I am not entirely familiar, it's difficult to maintain authenticity.

Ah, well, these are the little trials from which we learn so much, and which make this project so satisfying. When something is a little bit difficult to do, it's so much more pleasing when one finishes.

Well, my ducklings, I am going to bed now. I am most sleepy, even a kiddie-coaster of emotions are draining after a whole day, and I have another long day ahead of me tomorrow.

Bono's Nachos!

Friday, March 4, 2005

La La La La I Can't Hear You La La La La

What does it mean? I don't know. Sometimes when I start off with a stream-of-consciousness attempt at inspiring a post-topic, titles just occur to me... but I've already typed them out and moved on to the body of the post before I realize that they don't make any sense, and I don't want to go back and change them. But sometimes I do go back and change them. I might come back and change this one... but if I did, you wouldn't know, because if I changed the title I would also have to delete any paragraphs that discuss the former title.

Does anyone remember those standardized tests they used to give you in school? The ones with the little capsules or bubbles printed in purplish ink, corresponding to the multiple choice questions in an accompanying book, in which you were strictly forbidden to write with your regulation Number Two pencil? The ones titled with ominously official-sounding acronyms (PCEST or JWCTE or something like that), where you were herded into the cafeteria and lectured for an hour about how massively important these tests were to your academic future and the continued funding of the school, and how critically important it was that you fill in the bubbles on your answer card completely and erase your mistakes completely and not write in the test booklets under any circumstances, and how vitally important it was that you return the regulation Number Two pencil to the test proctor or else be branded for life as a petty thief on your Permanent Record? Or was that just in California? Or just my generation?

Anyway, my point in bringing that up, there was always this feature in the Reading Comprehension section of the tests, in which you would read a short story or essay and then choose the most appropriate title for that short story or essay from a list of five titles. And I always loved that part of the test... first because it involved reading comprehension, at which I have always excelled, and second because it involved making appropriate assignments of ideas, which is a lot like accessorizing and color-coordinating, at which I have also always excelled.

And so, with such a training in my background, I find that the dissociation of a title from a post gives me pause... and I think we can all agree that the title of this post, like certain shades of orange or green, doesn't "go with" anything.


Having mentioned Standardized Testing, my stream-of-consciousness suddenly reminded me of a peculiar episode of my youth, which I shall now mine up and share with you.

Once Upon A Time... I think it was in the fifth or sixth grade, I was having one of my "moods" on the day for end-of-year Standardized Testing (we got this crap coming and going, in each grade), and I staged my own personal sit-down strike when confronted with the Reading and Writing portions of the test. One would think that I'd have staged my strike on something I detested, like Mathematics, but apparently I was in a mood to cut off my nose to spite my face. In this writing segment, one was invited, after several pages of bubble-filling multiple-choices, to go outside of the accustomed bubble-filling format and hand-write two short stories or essays of one's own, in order to demonstrate one's writing skills.

And for reasons I wish I understood today, I filled out all of the bubbles in an arbitrary zig-zag pattern and, when asked to write a story about what I did over the previous summer vacation, I wrote (very clearly and neatly in block printing, as I'd been instructed), "None of your business." When asked in the second part to describe my family, I wrote "There isn't enough space here" (which was at least true, there were only a dozen or so lines and my family set-up was fairly baroque with remarriages and custody arrangements by this time); then I spent the rest of the testing period drawing pictures of ladies in Medieval dress.

(Now I know it was the fifth grade, because that's when we first learned about European history, and the ladies' costumes I habitually drew became more historically specific, evolving from generic Disney "princess" outfits to authentic-looking gowns and headdresses inspired by the twelfth-century tapestries and paintings that illustrated our history textbook. I also remember learning how to pronounce "Medieval" properly, as I'd been reading and pronouncing it as "Medevial" up until then, and I recall very clearly that it was Mr. Polton, the Stonewall clone with the mustache and the silk knit ties who also introduced me to classical music and whom I idolized, who corrected me on this point. So, Fifth Grade.)

Well, much to my surprise, the tests were not whisked away to some undisclosed location in Washington DC, there to be fed into an impersonal warehouse-sized mainframe computer and the results stored in some top-secret vault, as I had supposed... I mean, nobody ever gave us back our test scores, no gold stars or report-card grades rewarded our accomplishments, so I assumed it was done off-site and completely anonymous. But no, somebody right there in the confines of Willow Creek Elementary actually fed these things through the Scantron and evaluated the written portion, and the undisclosed test scores were secretly installed in one's so-called Permanent Record before being forwarded on to the state.

So my terse little refusal to play along with the Standardized Testing had immediate and dire consequences: first I was ignominiously called into the principle's office (at Willow Creek, students were summoned to disciplinary sessions by name over the PA system) and asked to explain myself; then I had to go talk to the school psychologist and explain myself again (my answer to both of these well-meaning educators was my patented "I don't know," with which I responded to all invitations to explain my inexplicable behavior... and on a side-note, why do people ask children to explain their own behavior? Have you ever known a child who was capable of analyzing his or her own motives?); and then I was informed that since I failed the Standardized Test I would either have to stay back a grade (which would put me in my little sister's class) or else go to Summer School.

The response to this news at home was mixed... while my stepmother (who was called "Mom," in contradistinction to my mother who was called "Mother") was always glad for an opportunity to get one (if not all) of us out of the house and out of her hair during the summer months, there was the shameful stigma of "Remedial" attached to this one... this was no benign day-camp or educational activities program, this was the School of Failure, and no self-respecting codependent mother or step-mother cares to have it known that any of the children in her care are Failures.

It was especially irksome that it was The Smart One who got sentenced to Summer School (regular readers might remember that fifth grade is also when I was given an IQ test and scored a 98, which is just a skosh below an average adult's, and had been shoved into an accelerated learing program)... for if this was the kind of thing that happens with your Smart child, what terrors might one expect from the Strong children? (The future eventually revealed the answer to that question: teenage pregnancy. My popular, sassy, athletic sister and step-sisters were all mothers by the age of sixteen.)

I actually kind of enjoyed the experience of Summer School, though, once I got used to the physical strain of having to ride my bicycle (it was a metallic-orange Huffy three-speed with white rubber grips on the handles... amazing, the things I remember when I let my mind wander) two or three miles through Downtown Concord to the distant junior-high building in which Summer School was held, instead of just traipsing down the block to my accustomed elementary school, all in the inhospitable heat of a Diablo Valley summer.

The bicycled commute gave me a lot of time alone, which I adored, and there were a lot of shops and strip-malls along the way between the school and home, in which I could browse freely after school (honesty compels me to admit that I also shoplifted a little, pocketing a succession of those adorable little round tins of French hard candies from a Rexall drugstore). The classes themselves were terribly easy, since they were geared toward remedying illiteracy, and I was already as literate as your average adult; so I pretty much tuned out and spent the whole schoolday wrapped up in my own thoughts and fantasies and costume-designs.

But a situation rife with pitfalls was presented to me after a couple of weeks of this: my step-aunt, who lived right across the street from the distant junior high in which I was attending Summer School, took six week's vacation to Ireland; and since I was already right across the street all summer long, I was given the responsibility of walking, feeding, and cleaning up after her dogs while she was gone; two weeks later, I became friends with another boy in my class (whose name I think was John, but I'm not sure), a dark-haired elfin creature who was as inclined toward trouble as I was.

Now let's understand that I was only eleven years old, was known to have behavior and authority problems, and had never had any kind of unsupervised responsibilities before... I mean, Mom didn't even let us stay in our own home alone, so I had no idea how to deal with the tantalizing privacy and heady freedom of having exclusive access to a private home inhabited only by an ill-bred pair of shar-pei dogs. I had furthermore never had a male friend before, nor any kind of friend of my own who did not come already connected to my family through my sisters or the neighbors. The combination proved fatal.

John was a compulsive liar with behavioral problems and an overdeveloped devious imagination, just like me... but unlike me, John was good at lying, and had a talent for compelling people to actually carry out the things he dreamed up in his twisted little mind. John was the legendary Bad Influence type, and I was all too willing to be led. I think, too, that I had a sort of protosexual crush on John; I remember being fascinated by his large faunish green eyes, wanting to touch him, being curious about his body, and being confused by this fascination and want and curiosity. At eleven years old, your sexual identity starts firming up, but your body is not on board with the actual sexual need that directs your yearnings, and this can be a very confusing time.

Before John came along, I had gone through Pam's house with an overpowering sense of curiosity, and a very sketchy sense of right and wrong; aside from snooping through all of her drawers and cabinets, I helped myself to an unnoticeable few of the rather large collection of Bicentennial silver dollars in her jewelry box, dressed up in her clothes and put on her makeup, and ate every piece of candy she had in the house. But with John's deviousness added to my own, our wicked ideas fed off of each-other and grew exponentially, then were carried out with absolutely no regard for consequences.

One afternoon, I remember, John started crying out and writhing with sham but convincing pain, claiming that his bionic leg was malfunctioning... and I was gullible enough to buy it, my predilection for fantasy and my fondness for hunky Lee Majors and glamorous Lindsey Wagner overriding any voice of common sense that would have advised me that bionic limbs were the stuff of televised fiction; I "helped" him by unplugging Pam's telephones and binding his leg with the wires as he directed, in hopes that the magnetic properties of the wires would balance the surging electricity in John's leg. He went home with the wires on his leg, and it never occurred to me that Pam might miss them.

Another afternoon, we both dressed up in Pam's nicest party-dresses (the sort of lacy-chintzy Little House on the Prairie dresses that were popular in 1979) and put on her makeup, then walked boldly down to the Rexall drugstore (where I'd been shoplifting the French candy tins) and bought gum with stolen silver dollars. Another time we tried to see how fast we could ride our bikes indoors without having an accident... which turned out to be not very fast at all, I immediately lost control of my bicycle and slammed it into the wall of the bedroom hallway, punching a fair-sized hole in the plaster. And these were just the crimes for which I later was punished; we got up to something illicit every single day after walking and feeding the dogs.

Well, when Pam came home from Ireland, there was hell to pay. I didn't like Pam very much, I thought her an overbearing frustrated prig who covered a meanness of spirit with a veneer of saccharine sentimentality and wooly-minded piety; but nobody deserved what I did to her house. I mean, this poor woman goes off for a nice vacation and comes home to disabled telephones, a hole in her wall, evidence that her clothing and personal things had been rifled through, and a missing wealth of commemorative silver dollars and chocolate.

My stepmother, whose sister this was, who had expected kudos and thanks for lending her stepson to the enterprise of dog- and house-sitting while her little sister was gallivanting on foreign shores, suddenly had to bear a load of shame for which she was simply not prepared... not that she really had to feel shame, mind you, but Mom was a textbook codependent who consistently felt things because she expected herself to feel them, and who was in every way a slave to the deep and unexamined expectations she harbored in her heart and projected on everyone around her (like the expectation that an eccentric and troubled eleven-year-old boy would suddenly and without training be able to house-sit unsupervised).

The shame I felt, myself, was amazing. I admitted to the theft of the silver dollars, but lied about the hole in the wall, saying I'd tripped over one of the dogs and broken through the plaster with my arm (which wasn't much wider than the bicycle tire); but the missing telephone wires forced me to admit to John's presence and my humiliating gullibility in regard to the "bionic leg" episode; John's parents were then dragged into it, and John folded immediately under pressure, spilling everything so that even crimes which left no evidence (like our drag excursion and some mean things we did to the dogs) were made known. Suddenly all these people knew what I had done, they all knew what a perverted, destructive, idiotic little freak I was; and they were not people I could simply avoid in the future, they were Family and I had to see them all the time.

The ensuing punishment was the most severe I had ever experienced. My shamed and enraged stepmother spent a solid two hours screaming and yelling at Daddy in their bedroom, working him into a frenzy of violent indignation and anger on her behalf and then loosing him into my room to spank me (if left to himself, I imagine Daddy would have grounded me and made me pay for the damage); and with my hysterical screaming (I always started crying long before the spanking started) following so close on the heels of Mom's hysterical screaming, the pants-down belting he'd intended quickly went out of control and turned into a furious whipping that really qualified as child-abuse. The next day, my buttocks were literally black with bruises, and there were welts all up my back and down my thighs, as well on my hands and wrists where I had tried to block the blows.

Daddy was simply shocked by what he'd done, and I don't think he looked me in the eye for months after that; I was shocked by the unfolding consequences of what I'd done, and spent a lot of time actually thinking about it alone in my room, something I'd never done following on the consequences of an action, and really came to understand why what I'd done was wrong and how I deserved the consequences, or at least brought them on myself. I wonder if Mom was shocked, or vindicated, or what. She passed away a few years ago, so I'll never know.

The beating wasn't the extent of my punishment, by any means: for the rest of the summer and well into the school-year, I wasn't allowed to watch television, visit Grandmother, play with any of my toys, or leave the house unescorted for any reason except school; my pittance of an allowance was forfeit and I was Pam's personal yard-slave every day after summer-school, performing hours of heavy grunt-work on what seemed like several acres of untamed forest, in payment for the hole in the wall; and all the time I could feel the disgusted eyes of Mom's entire extensive family on me at every gathering that summer, of which there suddenly seemed an inordinate number.

And so at the end of summer, when I was sitting painfully on my still-tender tuchus (I had been literally unable to sit down for several days, and it hurt for weeks afterward) in the cafeteria of the distant junior high, re-taking the Standardized Test, it was extremely fortunate that they gave me different topics to write on: "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" and "All About My Family" would have made for some pretty hair-raising essays.

I don't remember what I did write about, but I'm pretty sure that my stories were purely fictional, and that they were excellently and carefully written in neat block letters with perfect grammar and punctuation.


I feel kind of shivery-naked all of a sudden, having relived all of that through the writing. I certainly had no idea that when I opened a stream of consciousness by typing La La La La I Can't Hear You La La La La in the Title field that I would end up remembering in excruciating detail the train of consquences set in motion by my silly whim to blow off the Standardized Test. And now I feel like I just yanked an old arrowhead out of my flesh: kind of relieved, extremely pained, and entirely shocked.

I don't think I've thought about any of those events since I did my first Fourth Step nine years ago, and I certainly didn't remember it then in such dazzling detail, even down to a visual memory of John's dark-green eyes and the purple belt-marks on my hands.

And I'm afraid I make Daddy, and even moreso Mom, look monstrous in this story; Mom is dead and can't defend or explain herself, but I think Daddy understands and accepts that he wasn't a very successful parent; nevertheless, I have forgiven them both, understanding that though they should have done better, they did the best they could with some singularly difficult material, and I certainly did nothing to ease their way.


In other news (how do you segue into a chatty personal update after such lurid confessions? Just brazen it out, I guess) my Depression is whacking me pretty good this week. My burst of cheer and energy earlier this week was indeed a manic swing, which by Tueday evening had me completely exhausted and unbearably grouchy; on Wednesday I felt okay, I balanced out almost to normal as I started swinging back down into a depressive state; but the last two days I have felt utterly miserable, lethargic, heavy, and emotionally fragile, like I'm going to start crying any moment.

Making matters worse, I had some dental work done last week, and the temporary crown is on wrong, I think... I've had a terrible but intermittent toothache all week, which for some reason seems to get worse at night when I'm trying to sleep. Depression, toothache, and lack of sleep make a nasty combo.

I have decided that I have definitely come to the time where I have to have medical attention for my depression. My reasons for avoiding it (prodigal money-management practices and a rabid case of Terminal Uniqueness) have been completely outweighed by the suffering I have experienced and inflicted on others these last three weeks. When I was writing to my friend Becky last week, I had a sort of Moment of Clarity, and became inescapably convinced that I need to start therapy and antidepressants as soon as possible, despite the sacrifice I will have to make in my budget and my pride; I have since taken steps to obtain membership in an medical program so that I can have access to a physician and a pharmacy.

Unfortunately, these steps cannot have immediate results. Kaiser Permanente does not move with lightning speed, to begin with, and they definitely don't fall all over themselves offering their health-plan to single buyers, being more interested in administering more lucrative employer-paid group plans. So by the time I get my application through, start paying for my benefits, and get to see an actual real-live doctor in order to get a psych referral and then a prescription for antidepressants, the antevernal depression in which I am currently enmired will be long gone.

On the other hand, my allergies will probably be roaring away at full throttle by then, so I can deal with that, instead. And then when my anteautumnal depression, or one of my many less-severe unscheduled depressions, will turn up eventually and can be dealt with in turn.

[UPDATE 9:45 pm: I just got an email from Kaiser, and my application was approved! As long as I pay my premium immediately after I get the statement in seven-to-ten business days, I'll have medical coverage starting on April 1! YAY!]


Well, darlings, I think I have spent enough time writing in this blog today (it's a quarter to six as I make this hopefully-last-edit... nope, another run-through with changes at five to seven... and one last typo-sweep at seven-forty). I have some writing for work to do, and I would like to get back to work on Worst Luck ASAP.

I have been plugging away at the next scene, in which Danny meets the other two main characters, and I have been struggling a bit. I have written a good deal this week, in fact the scene is almost finished, but all of the dialogue and description I've got down seems so awkward and cumbersome. It needs editing, at the very least, and may call for a complete re-think.

But I feel accomplished, anyway, working on my fiction instead of letting it slip to the wayside while I waste my life in front of the television. I'll let you know when I'm finished tweaking about with this scene and get it posted.

[UPDATE 9:45 pm: Oh, screw it! I finished out the scene, cleaned up some of the problematic parts, and posted Chapter 2 Part 4 just now, for your consideration and perusal... it's still a little cumbersome, but I want to get on to the next scene and the rest of the story. I feel so prolific today! At any rate, I don't feel like crying when I'm writing about Danny and Valerien and Marquesa stuck in an elevator.]

In the meantime, have a lovely day! If not on your own account, then do it for me, and the rest of us unmedicated depressives who are incapable of having one today.