Friday, April 30, 2010

Kentucky Derby 136 Picks

Tomorrow's the big day, and it's going to be nasty, a possible deluge for the fine folks in Louisville to wake up to. Rumors say the race may be canceled (or postponed) depending on the condition of the track. Another rumor I've heard is that the Woodford Turf will be not taken off the turf no matter what. So who knows what to expect?

I'm hoping it clears early and the track dries and the turf doesn't get dangerously soft. I'm hoping WISE decisions are made.

It's tough to handicap, not knowing how the tracks may be. In the picks below, I've taken the wet into consideration. But I might make some last minute changes, and since I'll be at the Turf Club at Golden Gate Fields tomorrow (where there is no wi-fi), I can't post unless I use my iPhone. If I can post changes, I will. But whoever you are, double-check the status of the turf (if a race moves to the main track, that changes everything), and get the scratches.

I'm not bothering with the whole card; the good stuff starts with Race 6. I'll just give my thoughts and selections. You can cobble tickets together the way you think best.

Race 6: There's a single in Hot Dixie Chick if you like. But Decelerator and Buckleupbuttercup are my other two choices.

Race 7: Tizaqueena, Hot Cha Cha, and then it's a toss-up between Fantasia or Diamondrella. See, Diamondrella loves the soft turf. But she's been off form lately. On the other hand, she was with a different trainer who was new to the training business (Gary Stevens was a great jockey, though, and perhaps has a new television career ahead of him). Diamondrella is presently back with a top turf trainer. It could make all the difference.

Race 8: There's a lot of speed to close into in this race. Free Flying Soul could be an upsetter if she can set off the pace and if she handles the dirt AND if she doesn't mind traveling (first time shipper), AND if she handles the off track. She was impressive in the Breeder's Cup last year, setting the pace and giving way yet hanging on for third. This race is a big test, though. Her owner is Marsha Naify, President of TOC here in California, so if they don't scratch her, that means they think she could steal it. Having said that, the more likely ones are Informed Decision, Dr. Zic, and Dubai Majesty. This is probably a race to go a little deep in.

Race 9: Another race to go deep in, because there are a lot of good horses in this field. One intriguing entry is on the outside, Accredit. I'd normally overlook this horse because his Beyers are a notch below. But last May on this very same sloppy track, he wired the field and got a 102 Beyer. Otherwise, the usual cast of characters loom threats: Musket Man, Cool Coal Man, Munnings, and do NOT leave out Warrior's Reward. Leparoux, who rode Accredit on that big win, stuck with Warrior's Reward rather than take Accredit as his mount.

Race 10: I'm already committed to four: Battle of Hastings, Blues Street, Court Vision, and Loup Breton. Court Vision is the likely chalk.

Race 11, THE KENTUCKY DERBY. On my Oaks-Woodford-Derby Pick 3 tickets, I'm committed to Stately Victor, Lookin At Lucky, Jackson Bend, and Sidney's Candy. But Ice Box is hard to ignore since he just had a .46 bullet over a sloppy track at Churchill. Noble's Promise has a shot. Devil May Care, the filly, has won on a wet track. Backtalk, a bit slow on Beyers with this crowd, seems to love it wet and has won both times he's run on a wet track (and Smarty Jones is his daddy). So there's much to do in the gimmicks. My personal favorite is Lookin At Lucky despite his abysmal post--I can't see Garrett Gomez, a very canny jockey, letting this race get screwed up for him again, as happened in the Santa Anita Derby. Lucky will have to have awful racing luck to NOT win this race. But Stately Victor is a sentimental favorite for me as well as I explained here.

One more thing. If the main track is playing nuts tomorrow and longer shots keep coming in while favorites don't perform as usual, take that as your cue. It is, in my opinion, a perfectly legitimate betting strategy on the Derby (due to the large field) to just place a $2 win bet on the field. That will be a $40 bet. You are guaranteed to win if you do that; the risk is that if a shorter odds horse wins, you lose money. But if a longshot comes in, you make money. I did this the day Giacomo won and last year when Mine That Bird won, and both times got over $100 on the race (for a profit of @$60). Or just don't bet any horses at short odds at all, and bet the remaining ones. It'll be interesting to see how the betting goes tomorrow and to see if the gambling public is all over the place.

Gamble responsibly, and good luck everybody!

Oaks Day Results

Well, I was correct to single Blind Luck, and I wasn't being stupid by going deep in the third leg in my Pick 4, but unfortunately I left out the one that actually won! So I got only three of four legs; sorry if that was a loser for anyone.

On the other hand, because Blind Luck won, I have two tickets alive in the Oaks-Woodford-Derby Pick 3. One is identical to the one I posted here yesterday, and the other one is a last minute bet I did. It goes: 1,5,13/3,6,7,8/1,13,20. The second leg on the two tickets is identical; the last leg has Stately Victor singled on one, and Lookin At Lucky, Jackson Bend, and Sidney's Candy on the other.

Now I have to get cracking on 'capping the card at Churchill Downs tomorrow. So far they're saying nasty weather, sloppy track early, and lots of wind; hopefully the track will dry out by the Derby. More to come later....

Rachel Loses Again!

Rachel Alexandra, the heavy 1/9 favorite, lost today to Unrivaled Belle. In typical style, Rachel went to the front, then settled in right off of the pace, then shot to the front and tried to pull away. Unrivaled Belle caught her, and they dueled down the lane. Rachel's rival got her head in front at the wire.

I cheered. Sorry. I know that will upset a lot of you. But it's not like Rachel is injured (heaven forbid, and I would NEVER cheer about a loss caused by that). Rather, I think she's just not got her 3 year-old form. It happens. Now that she's facing older horses, she's not as good.

She had a great 3 year-old campaign. That campaign did win her Horse of the Year. Yet, I will always be disappointed that Rachel didn't come out to Santa Anita to meet Zenyatta in the Breeder's Cup. It's also clear that had Rachel met Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom on dirt this year, she would have lost. She did have an excuse, though, after the long layoff. Today she had no excuse. If she were the same Rachel Alexandra, Unrivaled Belle would not have caught her. Period.

People are already speculating that Jess Jackson will retire Rachel to be bred (to Curlin--won't we love to see how those babies do!) But my thoughts today are that Jackson's not about to put Rachel up against the mighty Zenyatta (pictured) this year. No way.

In my world, Zenyatta's the better overall horse. She's raced for three years now and remains undefeated. She's won on dirt and synthetic. She's beat fillies, mares, and colts. Rachel was, well, dare I say it? She was last year's flash in the pan. A good horse (heck, I've got two Tom Chapman paintings of her and the new Breyer model of her), but just not quite as good as Zenyatta.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kentucky Oaks Pick 4

Well, you have to single somebody if you want an affordable ticket. So I'm going to commit to the favorite in the Oaks on this ticket, Blind Luck. Barring a bad trip, Blind Luck stands head and shoulders over the field.

So here's my Pick 4 ticket, starting with race 8:

Race 8: 3,6,9
Race 9: 2,4,7
Race 10: 1,4,5,11
Race 11: 5

This is a $36 dollar ticket if you go with a $1 Pick 4 bet.

Good luck, all.

Oaks-Woodford-Derby Pick 3

These pay handsomely if your longshots hit. Since the Kentucky Derby is such a big crapshoot, it seldom is worth your while to pick the ones at short odds, even though they may very well win. (Hey, that's why it's called gambling.)

So here's a Pick 3 I've put together that singles Stately Victor in the Kentucky Derby. That's right. Stately Victor. He's gotten a second on an off track, just fired a bullet over the Churchill track on slop, and is on the improve. Plus he was named after a friend of mine's brother, Victor Perrone. (Yeah, yeah, I know, the last one is a purely sentimental reason.)

It's a $24 bet that, if it hits, should pay well.

OAKS: (crazy fillies) 1,4,5,7,8,13
WOODFORD: 3,7,8,6

If you're a feminist, bet the filly, Devil May Care (the 11), instead of Stately Victor. Who knows, maybe she'll end Pletcher's Derby curse.

Gamble responsibly!

Picks for the Kentucky Oaks

Damn. They're saying the track at Churchill Downs will be muddy tomorrow, and possibly Saturday, too, for the Derby. (Weather update: Looks now like it'll be warm and sunny, but Saturday, not so much.) Now my personal opinion is that a really good horse can handle slop or any kind of surface. So I'm reluctant to rule out any horse solely because they've never run on an off track. I am, however, reluctant to pick a horse who has performed only on synthetics. Sometimes they handle the switch to dirt (e.g., Zenyatta, Lookin At Lucky); sometimes they don't match their usual form at all.

At present, I've narrowed my Oaks picks down to five horses in the 14-horse field. In addition to these five, I also haven't ruled out John Sadler's Crisp, because I've been following that horse since her first race. That was a sight to behold. She ran so greenly that she veered almost into the grandstand before Raphael Bejarano could straighten her out, but once she did, she missed second place by a mere nose. She's won ever since except for once. My misgivings, though, are that she's not run on dirt, and who knows how she'll handle the muddy track...then again, she had a 6 furlong bullet at Churchill in the mud this week. So, knowing me, I'm likely to wind up using her on cover bets.

Having said that, here are the ones I like: Blind Luck (of course); Amen Hallelujah, Tidal Pool, It's Tea Time, and Age of Humor. I haven't figured out yet how I'll cobble together actual tickets, but I'll post those as soon as I have.

Tonight I'll at least post my Oaks bets and the Oaks, Woodford, and Derby Pick 3. So that means I'll be handicapping the Kentucky Derby as well for my friends who are going to be there (you know who you are!)

Let's win some money, y'all!

UPDATE: I'm going to wait to make Derby selections because, after studying the Form, I think it's a bit of a crapshoot. Lookin At Lucky has an abysmal post and so does Sidney's Candy (two horses I like). But one horse that may go overlooked is Jackson Bend, one of Nick Zito's. He barely squeezed into the race, but if you look at his pp's, that horse gets first or second every time he runs. You have to love a horse that has heart. Anyway, I want to see how the track is playing tomorrow and then tomorrow night I'll post Derby bets, Pick 4's, etc. In the meantime, regarding Oaks day, I have some more tickets posted, so click "home" to see them.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Angry Dragon Has 2-Furlong Work

Ignore the horse on the outside and pay attention to the two horses coming down by the rail. Chelle's and my filly, Angry Dragon, is the one on the inside closest to the rail. She's running with another Smarty Jones colt, and she keeps pace with him nicely. So far she's looking good. Am I excited? Yes. Why, yes, I am.

Best. Rant. Ever.

Brought to you by Christian Struzan.

YOU WANT TO GET MAD? We had eight years of Bush and Cheney, but now you get mad! You didn’t get mad when the Supreme Court stopped a legal recount and appointed a President. You didn’t get mad when Cheney allowed Energy company officials to dictate energy policy. You didn’t get mad when a covert CIA operative got ousted. You didn’t get mad when the Patriot Act got passed.. You didn’t get mad when we illegally invaded a country that posed no threat to us. You didn’t get mad when we spent over 600 billion(and counting) on said illegal war. You didn’t get mad when over 10 billion dollars just disappeared in Iraq. You didn’t get mad when you found out we were torturing people. You didn’t get mad when the government was illegally wiretapping Americans. You didn’t get mad when we didn’t catch Bin Laden. You didn’t get mad when you saw the horrible conditions at Walter Reed. You didn’t get mad when we let a major US city drown. You didn’t get mad when we gave a 900 billion tax break to the rich. You didn’t get mad when, using reconciliation; a trillion dollars of our tax dollars were redirected to insurance companies for Medicare Advantage which cost over 20 percent more for basically the same services that Medicare provides. You didn’t get mad when the deficit hit the trillion dollar mark, and our debt hit the thirteen trillion dollar mark. You finally got mad when the government decided that people in America deserved the right to see a doctor if they are sick. Yes, illegal wars, lies, corruption, torture, stealing your tax dollars to make the rich richer, are all okay with you, but helping other Americans… oh hell no. AND NOW YOU’RE MAD !

Monday, April 26, 2010

My New Baby!

Chelle and I got one of those offers you just can't refuse. So today we bought 5% of two Smarty Jones fillies. This one is Angry Dragon. She's a two-year old who's all set to start racing at the end of June, if everything goes as planned.

Besides having Smarty Jones as her daddy, her mama is Screamer, who won a Grade II and is half sister to El Roblar. If you go to Pedigree Query here, you can see her pedigree.

The other filly, Red Baroness, is also by Smarty Jones, but she's out of Must Be A Lady, who has already produced two winners. Smarty Jones, of course, is already turning out to be an excellent sire, and an early win sire, so we're pretty excited about these two fillies. Red Baroness's pedigree is here. I'll post a photo when we get one. There's some turf in her breeding, so that gives us some options.

Chuck Simon is their trainer and is based out of Arlington Park. But he's run horses at Churchill Downs, Fairgrounds, and many other of the larger tracks. He'll run horses where they can succeed.

So perhaps some traveling is in our future.

Heart: "Dreamboat Annie" (Live)

This is one of my favorite songs by Heart. Anne Wilson's voice soars, and Nancy Wilson on guitar is brilliant as always. Actually, "Dreamboat Annie" isn't a tough song to play--no barre chords and a pretty simple fingerpicking pattern. Once upon a time, I could play it. One of these days, I really do need to pick up my guitar again.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Meditations on Fear

In a meeting last week, the daily meditation was about fear, and how fear is incongruent with faith. If you're fearful, the thinking goes, you're not trusting in your Higher Power. I appreciate the sentiment, but I don't entirely buy it. I like the other saying that gets thrown around a lot: "Courage is fear that has said its prayers." I interpret this as, you may be afraid, but despite this, you do whatever it is you're afraid of because you trust God to give you a hand. Heck, I pray with my eyes open, dude. Sometimes God lets me know to NOT forge ahead if my courage is a stupid idea. Hence I like this old proverb, too: "Call on God, but row away from the rocks."

Be brave, be faithful, but don't be an idiot.

It's why I don't really understand snake handlers.

It's also why I was more than a little amused by a guy in the meeting who told the story of wanting to buy a gun for protection because his neighborhood isn't safe. He couldn't get the gun, though, because he wasn't licensed. He concluded, "God is my gun!"

Meanwhile I'm thinking, "I would just move to a safer neighborhood."

You've also heard that God helps those who help themselves.

Anyway. I've written before about my diagnosis of social anxiety disorder. Think of it as severe shyness or stage fright in social situations, or in situations in which I think I'll be judged. That's rough for a community college professor. But the problem has been under control with various medications: Cymbalta, Ativan, and a beta blocker. Lo and behold, upon leaving rehab, I was advised by both staff and my new sponsor that the Ativan was a bad idea because it's a narcotic. (Now, I've been on this stuff as needed since 1999, and it hasn't been a problem yet, but why tempt fate was the thinking). I figured, "Okay. I'll try."

The first day I set foot into a classroom out of rehab, I hadn't taken my Ativan, but I did have Cymbalta on board and a double dose of the beta blockers. Since the Ativan (think of it as a mild valium) was the medication that calmed down all my panicky self-talk prior to a stressful situation, the committee in my head was chattering full-force. I was terrified. "I'm going to go in, and forget what I'm saying, and they'll all stare at me, and I'll look stupid." "They'll laugh at me." "I'm going to start shaking and get dizzy and my knees will buckle and I'll fall."

Then I told myself, "You've done this a million times just fine." That didn't help. And then I dashed off a mental prayer: "God, help me get through this."

I took a deep breath and blew it out. Then I went in, scribbled something on the board, took attendance, and started talking. I was fine. The hard part had been simply braving it out, going in, and doing it. "Doing it" itself was a cinch. It was stepping into the abyss that had been the problem.

After about a week of this, I decided to try teaching without the beta blockers.

That worked, too.

So now I've been teaching for six months without any chemical assistance except for the Cymbalta. That I can't stop without consulting with my doctor, because you can't safely stop taking an SSRI. You have to taper off. I figure this summer, when I'm not teaching, will be the time to do that.

I don't think this is like the man kicking away his crutches and exclaiming, "I'm cured! Hallelujah!" But it's clear to me it's faith that gave me the courage to walk into my classroom day after day those first few weeks, despite being horribly afraid. I had the wherewithal to do it on my own, but faith gave me the extra little push I needed.

I will also say this. Since I stopped drinking, my anxiety has really eased off, despite taking much less medication. Is that my Higher Power at work?

It's Holy Week! The Kentucky Derby

It's that time of year again!

Today's news is that Eskendereya is out of the Derby, not a huge surprise to those who noted he had front wraps on for the Wood Memorial and hasn't done any serious works since.

This opens the door for the filly Devil May Care to get in, or Jackson Bend, or Backtalk...

Unfortunately for me, now Lookin At Lucky will no doubt be the favorite for the Run for the Roses, and I hate taking low odds, especially on a race with a huge field like the Kentucky Derby, where anything can happen. But the fact remains I have a futures bet on Lucky; he's exacta boxed with the field.

I also have a soft spot for longshot Stately Victor, who upset at Keeneland in the Bluegrass Stakes. He's named after Victor Perrone, a young man who was killed at age 23 in a car accident, and probably half of Louisville, Kentucky, would like to see this horse do well. Stately Victor's namesake is the brother of an online buddy of mine, and his wife is my BFINM (Best Friend I've Never Met). Is it a sentimental bet? You bet your booty. But if Stately Victor can get first, and Lookin At Lucky gets second, I'll take that--all the way to the IRS window.

(Hi, Dawn!)

The other big news is that Rachel Alexandra will be running in the undercard on Oaks Day. I just wish Zenyatta had had the heads up to be there as well so those two could finally meet on dirt.

I'll be posting updates on the Oaks and Derby all week, posting picks the night before each race and tweeting them. So stay tuned! Would be very interested in hearing other people's picks (post here, or, if you're a Facebook friend, there).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Do You Suffer From Shyness?

Well, it's true! I do believe I have done many stupid things while drunk.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Things I Carried

In the liquor cabinet: Patron Silver tequila, Belvedere vodka, Shaker's wheat vodka, Grand Marnier, triple sec, dry vermouth, Bacardi rum, Myer's dark rum, Tanqueray, grenadine, bitters.

On the counter: Maker's Mark, Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek, Booker's bourbons. Fonseca 20-year tawny port.

In the refrigerator: six-pack Anchor Steam, six-pack Gordon Biersch blonde bock. Mint julep syrup. Agave nectar. Limes. Olives. Maraschino cherries. Chilled Dry Creek chardonnay. Mrs. T's Bloody Mary mix. Worchester sauce. Horseradish.

On the wall in the den: two display cases with over 60 shot glasses from different states and several countries.

In the 3-case wine rack: mostly red blends. Imagery, Hook and Ladder, Kenwood, BV, Sequoia Grove, Thomas Fogarty, Ridge, Cooper Garrod, Mondavi, Opus 1, Beringer, Benziger, Byron, Jordan.

In the cupboard: 6 martini glasses. 20 white wine glasses, seldom used. 6 large red wine glasses. 6 tumblers. One insulated shaker. Too many pint glasses to count.

In the kitchen drawers: 3 customized wine corks. Several corkscrews. Three bottle openers. A strainer. A gadget for cutting the foil off an unopened bottle of wine. A wine saver pump. Wine pourers. Wine stoppers. An absinthe spoon. Assorted stirrers and wine charms.

Gone: all of it, except for the displays of shot glasses. (Hey, those are souvenirs and I never used them even when I drank!)

Days Sober: 231.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Ever Look Back and Wonder ... "

A new group on Facebook is rapidly becoming popular. I admit it. I joined. It's called "Ever look at your Ex and think, Was I drunk our whole relationship?"

Of course, most people are just kidding when they say that. It's like its peer group, "Looking back at the people I dated and wondering what the hell I was thinking." I did chuckle, which is why I joined, but for a recovering alcoholic like me, it's also the cringe-inducing truth. In every long-term relationship I've ever been in, I was drunk--to some degree or another--at least a part of the time. With some relationships, it was even much of the time (drunk or hungover). With my latter relationships, I was drunk pretty much all the time.

One thing that some folks don't get about alcoholics is that, even when they're not drunk, they still have alcoholic brains. So even when we're sober, we're not thinking straight. The addict part of us is like that little devil crouched next to one ear, whispering its advice. We don't identify sick thinking when we hear it. So we're stuck in denial, rationalizing, lying, and doing whatever it takes to continue to feed our addiction, over the long term, not just in one any particular instance.

Examples: "I'm not an alcoholic. But I don't dare tell my doctor the truth when he asks, 'How much do you normally drink?' because he'll think I'm an alcoholic."

"My partner told me I could see people outside the relationship as long as it doesn't threaten our relationship. Well, she's just setting a trap! How is it possible to become involved with someone else without it threatening our relationship? So I give myself permission to cheat. So-and-so doesn't mind my drinking, and says my partner is just trying to control me. So ... yeah."

"These people at this party are all boring. Look at all those cases of beer. I'm just going to swipe a six-pack of that and head home. They won't miss it, and these dimwits don't need it."

"Joe Blow is a jerk! When he gave me that television set, it's because he didn't have room for it in his new house. Now he wants it back because his new rec room is all finished? What's the big deal? Look at his expensive house; he can afford a new tv. All I've got is this ancient old set. He wants fifty bucks if I keep his? Talk about taking advantage."

Some of this (not all) I actually did, in some form or another, but you get the gist. Alcoholics, even if they're not actively drinking, aren't really recovering unless they're also working on their patterns of thinking. In rehab, one of the counselors used to joke, "Recovery isn't hard. It requires only one thing. All you need to do is change everything."

Ah, but "Jesters often prove prophets," as Shakespeare said.

Some of my examples directly involve alcohol, and some don't. But all are examples of how alcoholics think. We constantly change the rules to fit our own agenda, muddy the water of an issue so much that we can convince ourselves that anything we want or do is justifiable, or even correct, behavior. There are sober people, too, who do this. We cheerfully say, "You're thinking like an alcoholic." Yet it remains that there's not a single alcoholic out there who hasn't done this crap.

Recently there have been days when I look back over my life and wonder in amazement where I was. It's as if something else had possessed me. In the middle of some events, I would have sworn then that this or that was the truth, or that I really, truly and deeply felt this or that, but now I see that same event an entirely different way. Some days it feels as if I've woken up from a nightmare. I'm abashed. Yet, I know I'm a good person who just did some bad things. I was sick.

I wrote recently of forgiveness. A friend on Facebook wrote in the comments that forgiveness is both a gift and a process. It's something we practice. Reading over this, I do see that I also need to practice forgiving myself. And I can only hope that the people I harmed will find it in their hearts to forgive me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hitler Rants That Odysseus Is Out of the Derby

Hitler angry over Odysseus

If you haven't kept track of the Hitler rants on Youtube, you're missing some hilarity. He rants over who gets kicked off American Idol, he rants about the Apple iPod, he rants on his birthday ... you get the picture. In this one, he rants about his Derby horse losing the Bluegrass Stakes over the synthetic track at Keeneland.

Guitar Greats

Tommy Emmanuel mashes up "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" and "Classical Gas" in a blast from the past.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A State of Perpetual Intoxication

I caught myself this morning singing in the car on the way to work. I was singing Broadway tunes from Wicked, in fact. (Go on and laugh--I know you wanna!) Suddenly I was struck by how good I feel. My eyes are clear (Chelle stroked my cheek last night and told me my eyes are "kind," which made my heart melt); I'm leaning out; my brain is firing on all cylinders--my teaching is much improved this semester, and it was never bad); I feel a connection with a Higher Power; I'm not angry about anything; it's springtime and flowers are blooming everywhere; and, well, I'm just happy.

I'm not sure I've ever really understood happiness before. I think about that, and I guess I had a vague, unformed impression that happiness is some kind of constant state of utter bliss. You know, the happy feeling you get when you've had the first drink or two. Your spirits lift and all seems right in the world. Or that high you get when you're first falling in love. I suppose I thought that if you're truly happy, you're in a state of continual ecstasy. Everything clicks into place and nothing much is ever wrong--a kind of perpetual intoxication.

So, naturally, I seldom felt happy, except for in times like those I've just listed. Maybe that offers up at least one of the many reasons I drank all the time. I was looking for happiness. Unfortunately, after that initial buzz wore off and I was merely drinking to try to get the feeling back or to maintain it, I'd overshoot, have too much, and then happiness was the last thing I felt. I'd get angry, cruel, self-pitying, and all those things I normally dislike in others, much less myself.

A need for instant gratification was a part of it, too. When I felt lousy, I wanted something to perk me up and make me happy right then. Of course, life doesn't work that way. Not only is it folly to rely on someone or something outside of yourself to make you happy, but also happiness comes along on its own timeline. I've had to learn patience and to count to ten when I get an impulse. Happiness isn't really a constant string of joyous moments--it's more like a general outlook that comes from within.

I think what I feel now is genuine happiness. I'm not sure how to describe it. It's contentment. It's a feeling that overall, things are good and are going well. As for the things that aren't, well, they can't and won't break me. Some things I just can't control and I've learned to stop resisting when it's futile. I've learned to ask myself questions and root out the real issues behind the things that bother me. "Why does it matter to you so much whether they're your friend?" "Why does their opinion of me bother me?" When I find the answer, I understand myself and push it a bit further: "Does this serve you?" "Does this serve them?" "What's your agenda here?" I've been having some frank conversations with myself. I'm not a hero by any means; I have some failings as a human being. Real failings. But, those can be worked on. And there is a serenity that comes in recognizing that, a sense of overall well-being.

So, this morning I sang joyously in the car.

I Got Nuthin'

I've been so serious lately. Today I'm having an Ellen moment.

Monday, April 19, 2010


We're reading Elie Wiesel's Night in my pre- freshman comp class now, and one issue that inevitably arises is that of forgiveness. Elie Wiesel has fought tirelessly for the rights of the disenfranchised, on behalf of Jews, of blacks who were victims of apartheid in South Africa, on behalf of the "disappeared" in Argentina, on behalf of Bosnian victims of genocide in the former Yugoslavia, and the list goes on. For his work, which he continues to do, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

Yet, I've never heard that Wiesel forgives the Nazis. (The very idea seems offensive!) I've seen video of his speeches and it seems to me he doesn't. He gets angry, rightfully so. And sad. But I expect he also feels it's not his place to forgive the Nazis for the Holocaust. He can, perhaps, forgive what was done to him, but he probably doesn't feel it's his place to forgive on behalf of those who were murdered, on behalf of those who can't speak for themselves.

There's another Holocaust survivor--one of Mengele's twins--named Eva Mozes Kor who runs a little Holocaust Museum, Candles, in Terre Haute, Indiana. She has forgiven the Nazis on behalf of the Jews. Many Jews are outraged at her, because they say to forgive someone requires an apology from them. Most of the Nazi war criminals are long dead, so an apology will never be forthcoming. Nevertheless, Kor speaks eloquently about how forgiving the Nazis has healed her. She took her act of forgiveness very seriously, meeting up with a former Nazi doctor who also worked in Auschwitz (he knew Josef Mengele, and knew he was conducting experiments, but he did not know the nature of those experiments). On the spot, at the scene of the crime at Auschwitz, with this doctor standing beside her, Kor publicly forgave him and the Nazis for what they had done. It was a powerful moment.

Hatred is a poison; bearing resentment and bitterness poisons the soul. In AA meetings, you'll hear the old timers say that resentment is like wishing harm on someone else by swallowing the poison yourself. I think when Jesus spoke of forgiving our enemies and those that harm us, he wasn't talking about cowering or accepting oppression or ignoring the harms committed by another; nor was he saying you had to have an apology to forgive. Rather, I think he was talking about a genuine effort to understand your enemy and their actions, to not judge them, but to be at peace with them and not internalize their injury of you. Evil feeds on fear, anger, and hatred. You do yourself harm when you can't forgive. It simply makes the injury worse. We've all seen bitter people. They are consumed by their pain.

So forgive. Open your heart. Make the effort, however imperfect it may be. It doesn't mean you have to forget or pretend it never happened. Sometimes the willingness to forgive is all you need. One day you may find the pain has simply vanished.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Flat Mason Visits Old Ed

Flat Mason, Chelle, and I had a great time running all over San Francisco yesterday. But today, we took him to our favorite place of all: Golden Gate Fields! He learned what win, place, and show bets are, and then we got into the more exotic bets like the quinella, trifecta, and superfecta. But Chelle is the master of Pick 3s and 4s, and I even did a Super High 5 bet for him.

The best part of the day was taking him to the barn of our trainer, Steve Sherman, where Flat Mason learned how to feed Old Ed a carrot.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Heather Combs: "This Town"

Heather Combs is a fantastic local artist (although she does travel, sometimes with her band). I first met her at Alice's Now and Zen when we were all there to see Shelby Lynne, Alanis Morrisette, and Melissa Etheridge perform. Heather told me then to come hear her play some time, and when I finally got around to it, I was stunned. She's THAT good.

The video quality is a mite sketchy, but you should still be able to appreciate her amazing guitar work--and that voice! Keep an eye out for her.

Thoughts on Visiting Alcatraz

Chelle and I went into the city today with Flat Mason, based on Flat Stanley, and we took him all over: to the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Walt Disney Museum, to Pier 39/Fisherman's Wharf, and to Alcatraz. The photo on the left is of a cell in Alcatraz, and though I've toured the old penitentiary before, it never fails to strike me how tiny those spaces were. Those guys had to stay cooped up in a small world with constant reminders of their confinement (the sight of San Francisco, the sounds, the smells traveling over the water) vexing them day after endless day. Alcatraz was a place of beauty on the outside--the views of San Francisco Bay and the landscaping on this piece of rock are breathtaking--but sheer hell on the inside.

In turn, this reminded me of the prison of the mind I posted about here a few weeks ago.

What's troubling me lately is the thought of how often our actions (we may think we're doing the right thing, or the sane thing) are based on incorrect preconceptions. Or, we can't bear to look at something about ourselves we may not wish to see, so we "monsterize" other people so we can pin all the blame for something on them and not have to look at ourselves or at our own part in a situation. It's so easy to think we're special because we're the only sensitive one, the only caring one, the only one who "sees" the world and its occupants for who they really are...and unfortunately, they're mostly all assholes who never turn out to be whom they present themselves to be! So we feel victimized. The world has got us caught behind its bars.

But it's not always the world, nor its people. Sometimes it's us. (Pogo had great words of wisdom about this: "We have met the enemy and he is us.") Sitting in meetings, I'm continually seeing how common, and normal, it is for us to project our own crap (our own unacknowledged feelings, or how we might personally react in a situation) onto someone else, and if it happens to be an unpleasant thought or feeling, we start despising someone for feeling a certain way when they might not even feel that way at all. We cut ourselves off from other people unnecessarily; we close our hearts when it's our own hearts that need to be opened.

And that, perhaps, is a bigger prison: being in one and not even knowing it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

No Posts Today: National Day of Silence

Instead of posting music, humor, thoughts on recovery, or my usual yabber, today I won't be blogging in honor of this National Day of Silence.

"Dear Joyce, On this 14th annual National Day of Silence, hundreds of thousands of students across our nation have taken a vow of silence to bring serious attention to the epidemic of anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.

But you may not know that tomorrow, April 17th, is my son Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover’s birthday. Had he not taken his own life one year ago, in a desperate act to escape the daily torment of bullying and harassment at his school, Carl would be entering his teenage years. Instead, his life and beautiful spirit are gone forever.

While my son did not identify as gay, his tragic loss is further proof that anti-LBGT bullying affects all students, and it often has life-threatening consequences. Please remember my son and support students who are taking part in Day of Silence today by signing our pledge to support safe schools legislation in Congress.

Tell Congress: Pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act Now.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act will require local schools that receive federal funding to implement comprehensive anti-bullying policies that specifically address anti-LGBT behaviors.

Have you already signed our petition? Please consider forwarding this email to a friend. The more names we have, the stronger our message will be for Congress to pass safe schools legislation.

Since my son’s death, I have found comfort in being part of a community of compassionate people like you who make GLSEN’s work possible. As you go about your day, I hope you will find the time to partake in Day of Silence -- in memory of my son Carl, who is silenced forever by anti-LGBT harassment, and the countless others just like him who have suffered at the hands of merciless bullies.

Be part of today’s National Day of Silence by signing our
petition to pass safe schools legislation today.

Thank you for your support and dedication, and for taking action today in support of safe schools legislation.

Sirdeaner Walker"

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blast From the Past: "One Night In Bangkok"

From Chess.

Tax Day!

This year, Barack Obama claimed a $5.5 million dollar income but paid only 10% tax on it. How is that possible? Well, he had overpaid about 8K and then had quite a bit of charitable donations to claim. Still ... 10%?

Chelle and I live comfortably but not extravagantly. When I tell people that together we make six figures, people think we're rich, but when I remind them we live in the San Francisco Bay Area (which means everything is pricier), they realize we're not. Rent on our two-bedroom condo is about $2100 monthly, which is about...oh, three times more than the payment on a four-bedroom house I was part owner of when I lived in Ohio.

I don't mind paying taxes. I've gotten my fair share of help from the government in the form of a free public education that was good enough to get me into college; my keep was paid for when I was in foster care for three years; a good portion of my college education was funded via government grants and guaranteed student loans. I use my local library; I'm glad we have decent local police and fire departments. Even my job is partly possible because I teach at a public community college, which is largely funded by state money.

But nobody likes giving such a big chunk of their annual salary away when they see rich people and wealthy corporations getting away with (legally) paying less in tax, percentage-wise, than the average Jane and Joe do. For instance, Exxon Corporation made $42.5 BILLION dollars in profit in 2008. How much tax did they pay the United States? I can't find what they paid in 2008, but I did find out that in 2009, they paid absolutely NOTHING in U.S. taxes. Zero. Zilch. Neither did G.E., who apparently brings good things to no one but themselves.

Rich individuals do much the same thing, moving money around, offsetting "gains" and "losses" and finding ways to pay as little as they possibly can. Tax law is always trying to chase these practices around, playing catch up, but once they close one loophole, it seems like other ones pop up. Don't get me wrong. Like the Obamas, many wealthy people fund charities, so I'm not saying they all lack any sense of responsibility to their fellow human beings, but let's not forget these are all tax write-offs. In a sense they at least get to pick where their "tax money" goes.

I don't. And it irks me that my hard-earned cash goes towards things like funding wars I disagree with.

Still, in the balance, we did see the health care reform bill pass this year, although it didn't include the public option. I figure as more Baby Boomers age, get sick, and are bankrupted by their illnesses, more of the American public may change their thinking on the public option and start agitating for universal health care in America.

The Teabaggers are protesting today, and I understand their frustration at paying taxes (though thus far Obama hasn't raised their taxes--we didn't pay any more this year than we did last year), but I think their anger is misplaced. Sarah Palin, Miss Queen of the Earmarks, would have you think she's on your side, but hey. She was all for the Bridge to Nowhere until she wasn't. She accepted federal money hand over fist until it became popular to say she didn't. She likes the political process--when it works in her favor. These same Teabagger types didn't mind the Patriot Act and the war with Iraq. So I'm still not sure I really follow their logic on health care for all. And I'm sorry to have to point out this fact, but it's a fact: a lot of their rhetoric mimics the same rhetoric of the Timothy McVeighs and the white supremacist movement in this country, so they'd better deal with the reality that they've got some strange bedfellows.

One thing's clear. When it comes to tax law, we have an imperfect system. We need to keep the dialogue going. The violence we can live without. And the godforsaken line at the Post Office today I can also live without. Lord! It took me a half hour to get through it, and then I had to pony up another $17 to pay for certified mail, return receipt, and postage for a packet to the IRS and another to the State Franchise Board. Yeah, with something like my tax returns, I don't trust the postal service quite enough to get it right. Ah, the irony.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jane Lynch Channels Madonna

Even if you aren't a fan of Glee, you've got to see this. "Sue Sylvester" is Lynch's character on the show. Outstanding!

Growing Up with a Hoarder

Ah, Step Four. Does it ever end? I've been thinking today about why I've spent a good part of my life being somewhat impressionable. If someone's in a position of power over me, sometimes I'll have way more patience than perhaps is good for me in accepting without question their directions. This, in turn, took me back to my childhood and when I ran into that age-old problem that all kids run into at some point: realizing that your parents aren't always right. And then what do you do? For me, the dilemma was a little more complicated because it also involved my realizing that my stepmother was a little off her rocker. Or maybe a lot off her rocker. As an adult, many years later, I, of course, understand that she was a troubled person. But as a teenager, I didn't understand her obstinance in adhering to "rules" she set that made no sense to me whatsoever. Yet if I dared break them, there was the belt, or the switch from the forsythia bush, or the back of her hand, or writing a thousand times "I must not ..."

She was a hoarder. Not like the hoarders on A&E, but an animal hoarder and a food hoarder. We had exactly fourteen cats living in our house, in addition to occasional strays that knew to come by. This wouldn't be so odd if she were, say, in animal rescue and the animals would be there only temporarily while new homes for them were sought. Nope, these cats were there for the duration. They never went outside (except for two of them) and she paid absolutely no attention to them. There were four show cats, Persians, that stayed shut in a tiny guest room, and she never brushed them. Consequently they got horrible mats, which, whenever it occurred to her to give them some attention, would involve me having to hold them while she scissored the mats out. These show Persians she'd spent hundreds of dollars apiece on (meanwhile Wayne and I are decked out in polyester clothes from K-Mart and being teased mercilessly at school) were covered in bald patches and grossly obese from the lack of exercise. The guest room bedspread was a solid sea of cat hair. It was a room that was otherwise unusable.

It was my job to stave off the damage to the house as much as one teenager can do. Every day, I emptied the four litter boxes (this was before scoopable cat litter), so changing each box involved taking it outside to dump in the garbage, then around to the side of the house to rinse out with the hose, then down into the basement to fill the box with clay litter, then back upstairs to whatever room it belonged in. Four times. It was also my job to put fresh newspaper under each box, to change the waterbowls, and to feed the cats twice a day (wet food in four rooms once a day; dry food topped off in four rooms twice a day).

Though the cats were all neutered or spayed (eventually, after several litters of unwanted kittens), two of the males got into a battle of spraying to mark territory, and no amount of scrubbing the rugs or wiping off the walls could put an end to that. I tried, but the house stank. I stopped inviting friends over after I opened the front door once to two buddies from school. They set foot into the house, stopped, looked at each other, and finally one said, apologetically, "I'm sorry, it really stinks. Can we just hang out on the porch?"

The only two cats of the fourteen in that house that ever went outdoors were two of mine, Felix and Boots. But they weren't allowed to run free. To this day I have no clue why these two were singled out, but it was the job of my brother Wayne and me to walk these cats on leashes every day when we got home from school. The leashes proved too short, so eventually Lois had Dad rig up long chains with clips on the end that we could hook to the clothesline. Then our job was to hook the cats up and sit on the back porch and watch them, going over to untangle their chains whenever they got wrapped around a pole or around each other. Every day, we did this. For. Hours. On. End. Until Lois got home from work.

Otherwise, all the cats stayed inside, cooped up in rooms. Lois and Dad had three cats in their room; I had five cats in mine; Wayne had two cats in his; and the four Persians were in the guest room. During the day, I was allowed to open the door to my room and let my cats have the run of the house. At night, I shut them up in the room with me and would open the door to Dad and Lois's room so their cats would have the evening shift.

Now, I'm describing this in such detail not because I want you to feel sorry for me; on the contrary, I describe it so you can appreciate how truly absurd it all was! But now let me move on to the food hoarding.

I'll preface this by saying that Lois was anorexic/bulimic. In the 1970s, this was a little-known condition, so I didn't even have a name for what she was until I became aware of the condition in the mid-80s. Apparently, before she met my father and married him, she'd weighed well over 300 pounds and then made up her mind to lose it. Lost it she did, sticking her finger down her throat and puking so often that when she married Dad at age 35, she already had false teeth. She didn't vomit while she lived with us; her method over the years I knew her was using laxatives and eating very little. She'd sit there at dinner and pick at her plate, barely eating two or three bites (meanwhile, Wayne and I were expected to clean our plates, even the one time she put frog legs in front of us--oh, my god--but that's another story.) It was routine for me to be in the bathroom in the morning brushing my teeth and Lois would pound on the door to be let in. She'd run to the toilet, flip up the lid, and sit there and squirt out the foulest ... well, you get the idea. Too much Ex-Lax. She bought the little chocolate candy-like ones by the gross, I think.

It killed her, her disease. Eventually her kidneys were destroyed, she had to go on dialysis, and ultimately her kidneys failed altogether. She was 48.

(Damn. I'll be 48 in June. Life is weird sometimes.)

Anyway, to get back to hoarding. Despite her illness, Lois hoarded food like someone who was afraid we might someday run out. We had a pantry off the kitchen that had three rows of shelving along two walls, and these shelves were loaded with various everyday types of foodstuffs (flour, shortening, cereal, canned goods--let's not forget cat food--sugar, boxed food like spaghetti, Hamburger Helper, etc). And there was a refrigerator full of the usual stuff.

But. In the basement, there was an extra freezer crammed full of frozen meat. You could not have shoved another thing in there if you wanted to. The entire time I lived there, not once do I ever remember something being taken out of that freezer and being thawed to eat.

And then one wall of the entire basement had about five to six three-shelf shelving units, all packed to the gills with canned goods. Soups. Vegetables. Tuna. Fruits. None of it was ever touched.

Every week, Lois would go on a big grocery trip and she'd always buy a few extra canned items to be stored downstairs in the basement. Sometimes cans down there would get so old and rusted they'd start leaking, but she'd simply have me throw it away, clean up the mess, and it would all serve as an excuse to buy a few more cans of that same item the next time she was at the grocery store. I just didn't understand it. She wouldn't eat it. We'd never eat it. Why on earth did she keep buying more?

I guess I took my cue from my Dad. For whatever reason, he accommodated her in her bizarre behavior. He's the one who built the shelving units in the basement. He's the one who fashioned the cat chains. He didn't put his foot down when Lois wanted to bring yet another cat into the house. I suppose he humored her because he didn't think these things were worth the fight. I was never witness to their private conversations, so who knows how irrational Lois would get if he tried to put a spoke in the wheel of her anxieties? I guess he just gave up, checked out, passively did as she asked in the name of household peace. And in the process, his children didn't learn how to deal with confrontation. I grew up fearing confrontation and conflict of any kind. It's been a real battle learning how to stand up for myself. As an adult, I've had to stumble my way through and learn (or not learn) from my mistakes in conflicts with people, from trial-and-error.

On the flip side, I can be quite diplomatic. In a given situation, I don't automatically think I'm right. I don't run roughshod over people. I can admit when I'm wrong. So as with anything, there are positives if you look for them. And yeah, I've been called "Pollyanna," too.

But one thing's for sure. Whenever God slams a door shut, a window opens. You just need to look for it. Sometimes it feels like it takes forever to find it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Zenyatta Takes a Bow When Introduced

I posted a video here of her pawing and prancing in the paddock down at Santa Anita when I saw her, and she usually dances a bit (I swear she also digs dressage), but here is Zenyatta actually bowing when they call her name before her last race at Oaklawn. She is incredibly smart, and "Big Ham" doesn't even begin to describe this amazing horse!

"Amazing Grace" in Inuit

I remember when I lived in Iowa, I used to travel every other weekend to a small town in Indiana that was a halfway point between a woman I was seeing who lived in Ohio and me. One cold, crisp winter night, the Northern Lights were ablaze over the horizon, and we were both in awe. This video reminds me of that. To hear this spiritual sung by a member of the First Nations makes it even more cool.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Just Sayin'

Tiggers love clouded leopards because, like us, they like to stay clean.

Thoughts on a Rainy Sunday

I have four more essays to grade, and then both piles are finished, ready to return to my classes tomorrow as promised. As usual, some students progressed; some students regressed; some students exhibited about the same. And it occurs to me that this is the way of the world.

Some of us move forward after our struggles. Some of us don't, becoming bitter, angry, or resentful, letting that struggle serve as yet more fuel to throw on whatever fire is the sum total of our lives. And yet others stay stuck. The odds are against us humans. Two-thirds of our options at any given time involve not learning, not growing, not forging ahead.

I watched a documentary about Dietrich Bonhoeffer last night. You don't hear too much about him unless you're a religious studies major or are interested in theology. We hear about Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., two great religious leaders who fought for justice and social change. We don't really hear much about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a great Protestant theologian from Germany, who happened to be teaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York right before WWII broke out. He thought about what God would want him to do. His faith and his conscience took him back to Germany, to preach against the Nazis and the persecution of Jews and to (albeit indirectly) take part in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Needless to say, that plot failed, and Bonhoeffer was hanged in a concentration camp.

What fascinates me about Bonhoeffer is that faith for him was a challenge to not be lightly met. The popular view of the Sermon on the Mount at the time was that it was a reminder of how sinful we are as human beings, for who can do as Jesus directed? Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Disdain wealth and help the poor? Bonhoeffer's great contribution to the theological debate was declaring that Jesus's teachings weren't supposed to be a reminder of how bad we are; they're meant to be a goal, an ideal, that we all strive for. Now. Right here. Now. We struggle to express the will of God in the here and now, through faith. But, he added, to be a human who claims to know God's will is to invite idolatry. Who can know? Faith is acting by your conscience in a way you believe God wants you to act, but you can't know--and that's why it's called faith.

I am finding my way back to faith after years of spiritual limbo. I've never been an atheist--I just emotionally feel in my gut that there is something out there, some kind of great love, order, plan, something bigger than mere me--in the Universe. We call it "God" for lack of knowing its name. My view is rather ecumenical; I think, loosely, that all different faiths are simply taking different paths to the same God. I think all faiths have done wonderful things for humankind. I also think all faiths can absolutely be, and have, been corrupted at times and that people acting "in the name of God" have often committed great harm and crimes against humanity. Despite that, I think God is still good because he, she, it can't intervene--God's "terrible non-intervention"--because we must retain our freedom of choice. Otherwise, we're not human beings; we're puppets.

I don't go to church. It's rather tough when the gay community isn't embraced by most churches and many (not all) see homosexuality as a sin (and usually quote Leviticus to "prove" it). There are gay churches and denominations that do accept gay people, and perhaps I should check some of these out. But for me, largely, faith is very much an inner and individual relationship I have with God. My own private religion is large enough to incorporate things like meditation and chakras and spirit guides, reincarnation, and bodywork. And Jesus was a cool guy. Was he literally God? Absolutely, and all of us are literally of God, too. We are all everything; and being everything, we are nothing. Nothing but the One.

If you're still with me here, I apologize for getting esoteric. Rainy Sundays will do that to me. The truth is that I like sidetracking myself so I can put off grading essays. But a promise is a promise, so I need to get to them. I posted a quote from the Dalai Lama last night on Facebook that lots of people are clicking "like" for and commenting on. So, I'll close with it here:

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart, is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cool Stuff: Every Child Has the Right to be a Child

Persil "Roboboy" from Aidan Gibbons on Vimeo.

Roboboy is “the touching story of a little robot who transforms into a real living boy as he kicks up the dry leaves, feels the grass under his feet, picks up a worm, catches raindrops on his tongue and sloshes in a muddy puddle.”

Spot directed by Philippe Andre. Postprod. at The Mill.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Zenyatta: Now 16-for-16!

She spots them a decent lead, yet all Mike has to do is shake the reins at her. She wins easily under a hand ride once again. Now she's won over dirt twice, although the Rachel Alexandra fans will insist she had no competition in this race. Well, Rachel was invited to it. It's my hope they meet in the Breeder's Cup this year at Churchill Downs so we can put an end to this argument once and for all. But one thing's for sure, if Rachel had shown up today, she would have lost.

Indigo Girls: "Closer to Fine"

An oldie, but this one's always a goodie.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

When Are We Responsible for Each Other?

We're reading Elie Wiesel's Night in my pre- freshman composition course right now. I teach the book within a unit on prejudice and racism because it accomplishes a couple of things: we're required to do a text-based writing on a work of nonfiction, and the book itself is a powerful firsthand account of the extremes to which prejudice can go. Though the Holocaust really didn't happen all that long ago from the sweeping view of history (what? just 60 years?), many of its lessons are falling by the wayside already. There are Holocaust deniers, and plenty of hate groups exist right here in the good ole U.S. of A. who embrace the rhetoric of the Nazi Party. We often view American History X and connect that film to what's happening on the streets right now--for instance, there's an article in today's Chronicle about anti-Semitic graffiti and similar incidents taking place at UC Davis.

The question always becomes, when do we speak up? When do we intervene? Or when do we keep out of it? When is it rightly not our business? When is claiming "it's not my business" an excuse for not acting when we should? When is saying "it is my business" an excuse for butting in when we shouldn't?

This one's a problem for me, because I tend to be one of those persons who takes on way more responsibility for things than I should. (Maybe it's one of the many reasons I drank--to assuage my guilty conscience.) When I was in college, I was inspired by slogans such as "To do nothing is to be a part of the problem." One of my favorite quotations is "All that's required for evil to thrive is for men of good will to look the other way." I always feel morally required to shoulder burdens--the girl with the weight of the world in her hands. It can be overwhelming.

I know, poor me. But that isn't what this post is about. I'm wondering lately if I've even needed to feel guilty all those times when I haven't spoken up. I wonder if some of us sometimes don't do damage to ourselves, and hence do no good for anybody, when we take on responsibilities that don't belong to us.

I'm thinking of a friend I know who has problems with alcohol. To date I haven't said anything to him because I don't know him very well, and he hasn't asked me for my help. I think of how I used to despise the people in recovery who used to pass judgment on, it seemed, everybody I knew (including me) who drank. They reminded me of intolerant ex-smokers, who wave their hands frantically around their faces if someone lights up around them and launch into lectures on the dangers of secondhand smoke. I hated having to go out to dinner with a crowd of them, because they expected you to not drink lest your cocktail sway them from their own resolve. Heck, they were a drag. I don't want to be a party pooper.

But then I watch Intervention on A&E and see groups of family members and friends take the bull by the horns and confront their addict with their problem. They intervene. They speak up. They do so even when they know the alcoholic or drug abuser will feel humiliated, horrified, and angry. They refuse to look the other way anymore.

What to do, what to do? What's the right thing to do?

Torn, I approached my sponsor, fully expecting her to say, "Hell yeah, say something!"

She took me completely by surprise by saying, "It's not your business."

So we had to tease all of it out. Distinctions: what are my motives? Rescuing him? That's not a good motive. I can't expect to save him from himself. He has to reach his own bottom and ask for help himself. But the people in Intervention don't. Well, they're family and friends directly impacted by the addict's behavior. Their alcoholic is bankrupting them, or interfering with family life at home, or abusing them when drunk and belligerent.

As with most situations, then, the answer is "it depends." Am I enabling an alcoholic by not intervening? No, but I am, of course, if I keep buying him drinks when he runs out of money.

So whether you speak out is a matter of motivation, personal involvement, how much knowledge you have of the situation, and degree. If it's a political issue--say someone's rights are being broken--then it is my business to speak up. You remove one person's rights, then next it's someone else's rights, and finally they'll be your rights removed. It affects me; it affects us all. If it's a personal issue, on the other hand, then maybe not. If someone else's problem doesn't impact me in some way, it's not my business (or "Nunya!" as my friend Heather would say). You stay out of it--unless you're asked for help, in which case you may gladly chip in and do what you can. And always, always, examine your own motives for sticking your nose where it perhaps doesn't belong. Silence can be golden.

I can live with that. And I can stop bearing the weight of the world in my hands. Do what I can when it's called for, but do no more. I can live with that.

And boy, does that feel better.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

One More Sign of Alcoholism

This occurred to me this morning while I was drinking coffee, waking up slowly, enjoying not having to go in early to work today because it's Spring Break. Alcoholics, it's plain, don't respond to booze the same way normal drinkers ("normies") do. I've blogged about the telltale signs of alcoholism, but there's one thing I forgot to mention.

It's called "alcoholic insomnia."

Normies have one or two drinks; it relaxes them, and they might even view alcohol as a sleep aid. Not so for an actively using alcoholic. For booze to knock us out, we have to drink a lot. And I mean a LOT.

Otherwise, when we just tie one on, say it's a night of moderate drinking of about five or six or whatever "moderate" may be, given one's level of tolerance, we have trouble falling asleep. For some weird reason, alcohol doesn't seem to depress our systems and slow us down. Oh, no. It ramps us up.

I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the sugar. But the University of Maryland Medical Center goes so far as to say that roughly 10-15% of insomniacs in general actually have problems with substance abuse, usually alcohol (not speed).

Or, if we fall asleep drunk, after a few hours of unconsciousness, we wake up and can't get back to sleep. It seemed as if every last alcoholic I met in rehab could hold forth with authority on this subject. My contribution to the conversation was this: Whenever I woke while sobering up from an alcohol-induced sleep, I at least would use the time to pound back bottles of water so I wouldn't be so dehydrated in the morning. Mostly, though, I'd lie there and watch the clock with mounting desperation, knowing I'd have to get up for work in a few hours and that if I didn't get more sleep, I'd be dragging and feeling like death warmed over all day.

Those were the days when I wasn't really hungover, but I'd be so tired I'd make this excuse to my students before class: "Did you ever have one of those nights where it seems like you wake up every hour? A night of restless sleep? Go easy on me today."

(Horrifying thought as an aside: my sponsor isn't going to have me make amends to every last student I've ever taught, is she?!)

One thing's for sure: I haven't had a bad night's sleep since I stopped drinking. In early recovery, it's common for an alcoholic to not sleep well, but you can chalk that right up to the disrupted sleep patterns. The sleepless nights after drinking, followed by a day in which you nap if you're lucky, then having trouble getting to sleep because you took a nap, and so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, all wreak havoc on your inner clock. Eventually it resets itself and starts working normally, just as if you'd had jet lag. Bad jet lag.

So, the moral of the story is: Add occasional insomnia to the list of signs and symptoms of alcoholism.

Humor, Brought To You By The Onion

This reminds me so much of living in Spokane. Chelle and I lived right below a young man who was in the Air Force. He was "deployed" for something at some point (leaving a handwritten note saying so on his front door, so the UPS man would drop his packages at the office), and when he came back, we didn't sleep for a friggin' week.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Energy Sappers

We all know 'em, but not necessarily when we see 'em.

Rather, we feel them. Or, more accurately, we feel their effects on us. They are the people who exhaust you. They're the ones who, when you hang up the phone with them, have drained you of energy. They do it numerous ways. They complain. They gripe. They never have anything to be happy about. They always have to "one-up" you. If you mention that something is pressing on you, they quickly re-steer the conversation back to themselves. Yours is a very one-sided relationship (they get all the attention), but when you try to step away to regroup, recenter, and recharge, they guilt trip you for needing to do that. They always have to be right. If you dare to disagree with them, they will argue until they're blue in the face, leaving you tapped out. They feel superior enough that they feel entitled to ridicule you because you don't think exactly like they do. They don't take responsibility for hurtful things they may do or say. If you're hurt, that's your fault. They're not responsible for your feelings. They know the jargon, and they apply it whenever it's convenient.

On other days, they may be completely self-pitying. Life isn't fair, so-and-so isn't fair, this or that isn't right, and they're powerless victims. They need you to prop them up. Unfortunately, you may collapse under all that weight.

If you're an alcoholic or addict, these energy vampires are double poison. They not only drain you, they may actually serve as triggers to make you want to pick up and use, just to feel better ... just to get them out of your head.

The only real solution to dealing with energy vampires is to learn to recognize the "sapping" feeling when it begins. Don't even try to find a happy medium of protecting yourself AND giving them your time and precious peace of mind. The problem is that they're not actually interested in you, or in your friendship. What they want is for you to be in their own private fanclub. All they really want is for you to heap compliments on them. Or if they're bitching about something, they want you to agree with them and join in on the bitching party. You have to remember that when they're attacking something or someone, they're projecting: we hate most in others what we most despise in ourselves. So the typical energy sapper will kvetch that so-and-so is a jackass of a know-it-all; meanwhile you're sitting there thinking to yourself, "Isn't the pot calling the kettle black?"

Don't engage them. Smile, and graciously take your leave. Make a mental note to self: "Stay away from this person." I'm sure they have lots of reasons, some even good ones, for why they are the way they are, but face it: you can't change them. They like being what they are, because they have the choice to change themselves whenever they want. Yet they stay stuck in that place.

So don't even go there.

Your day will be happier and more productive for it.

Alanis Morissette: "Thank You"

This one's for you, Lynn.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Clearing the Decks

I think Step Four is going to take me a hundred years to finish. For now my sponsor and I have settled on completing it in ten year chunks. And I seem to be arranging my, um, "fearless and thorough moral inventory" by persons with whom I've had conflicts. My Sponsifer (I call her that because she used to be a cop) says we'll tackle ten years, talk it out, clear the decks, then go back ten more years, etc etc. until I'm done. And then, I think, in Hawaii we'll make a bonfire on the beach and burn the whole thing.

Burn Round One, anyway. I expect as I discover more and more about my ways of dealing with things and have "aha!" moments, I'll continually have to revisit episodes and view them with a newer, more mature perspective.

So far it's been a huge breakthrough for me just to accept that I've done some crappy things, and yet I'm not an evil person. I (so far) haven't found anything I've done out of malicious intent to harm someone. Yet the fact remains that I've hurt people. It's been freeing to be able to acknowledge that and recognize the poor patterns of thinking that led me to commit the actions (and rationalizations for them) that I did. And it's been freeing to understand that I can do that without feeling like I have to judge myself negatively. I am, after all, only human.

I blogged about lying a while back. It's funny, but I used to think, in comparison to the average Joe Blow on the street, I wasn't a big liar. I would concede I'd fib just as much as the next person, but I really didn't lie about the big stuff. One of my exes used to drive me nuts because she'd say flatly, "If you say something you don't mean, don't say it. It will wind up being a lie." Well, duh! But she'd apply that rule to every damn little thing. I'd find myself saying, "Well, I meant it when I said it! But when I said it, I didn't know that [insert whatever reason here] would happen, and that changes the picture." She'd shake her head and insist, "Nope. If something possibly would come along that would shake you from your word, then don't give your word to begin with."

I thought she was living in a fantasy land. Good lord. We used to have these discussions when I was taking ethics in college. Didn't Auden say something along the lines of, how can I ever honestly tell someone I love them? What if she ages horribly and grows a mustache? Shall I not ever say I love you because one day something could conceivably change? (Of course, Auden was gay, so his example was hypothetical.)

So I had this idea that you speak your truth as it's so in the moment. But the door is always open that circumstances can change, and those circumstances can then change the rules.

And that's fine, with a caveat. The caveat needs to be, I'm thinking, that the person with whom you have the agreement understands this in the same way as you, and that you also extend the same "wiggle room" to the other person. If that isn't the case, then don't make the damn promise.

For me, the problem was always that it was okay for me to change the agreement if circumstances changed, but not so much if the other person changed the agreement. I was of the mind that it was better to seek forgiveness than permission, and if I changed the agreement, it was okay to do so because I said so, and if the other person had a problem with that, well, come on! Be realistic. Things change.

There was always some reason that could be found to change the agreement. I promised I wouldn't drink on a weeknight? I meant it--until that surprise royalty check arrived in the mail so I could afford to buy some fresh cracked crab and an expensive bottle of an old style, oaky-buttery chardonnay. Look, honey! Isn't this a great surprise? I'm bending the rules because I wanted to treat you!

What bullshit.

But that's how my mind worked. And I just didn't get it why she wasn't equally delighted. And why, in heaven's name, was this little thing worth getting upset over?

So lying is one of my "defects of character." That's okay. I see that now. The key thing is, I don't have to work on my lying. The key thing I have to work on is honesty. It's being scrupulous with my word. It's refusing to take part in deceptions. It's not looking the other way. It's not allowing myself to be someone else's beard. It's the pursuit of truth. It's speaking honestly whenever I realize I may have inadvertently been a part of a lie, so retracting a statement with an apology is part of the deal. It's removing myself from any situation that calls for a lie. It's accepting the challenge of examining my conscience and praying for guidance whenever a lie presents itself as the best option (like, would I lie to the Nazis if they came banging on my door asking if the Frank family was hiding upstairs in the annex? Saving a life trumps a lie, but I'd better be willing to accept the consequences of the lie). And it's not becoming a pain in the ass by feeling it's my business to blurt out others' business to the world. Truth-telling ought never be used as a weapon.

I guess the moral of the story is keep it simple, stupid. That's all I've got for now.

Funniest thing in a long time (Hannity related)

Found this over at Daily Kos, and Left Take has reposted to Facebook, hoping it will go viral. It's cute. It's passive aggressive. It's something a snarky alcoholic would do. Hence, it belongs on Hapless Tigger.

Funniest thing in a long time (Hannity related)

Posted using ShareThis

Saturday, April 3, 2010

U2: Beautiful Day

Got up, drank coffee and read the paper, then hopped on the treadmill for a good run. Relaxing today with a book, meeting at 5:00, then dinner tonight with my sponsor. Shaping up to be a beautiful day.
(By the way, Youtube has changed its sharing settings and videos are showing up wacky on my blog nowadays. Just click on the video itself to enlarge it until I figure out how to make video shares not show up halfcocked.)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Drunk Dreams

People in recovery have 'em. They can really mess with your mind.

Last night I had a chase-the-clock dream, you know, one in which you're desperately trying to get somewhere before time runs out? I can't remember what I was chasing after, but at one point I found myself in a crowded, bustling place. People were shouting all around me. Somebody was with me, but it wasn't a person I knew well. We paused for a moment to catch our breath and I was very thirsty.

My buddy handed me a cup and I gulped greedily. Then I was distracted by a loud noise and looked over to see what it was, noticed our time was running out, and started pulling at my friend to get going. He looked at me crossly, as if to say, "Give me a minute." And then he took a swallow of his own drink.

It was then I realized he was drinking from a yellow beer cup, like the ones we used to haul around campus to keg parties when I was in college. Horrified, I looked down at my drink and realized I had unknowingly chugged half a beer.

A sick feeling washed over me. I sank down onto a bench and held my head in my hands. "I blew it!" I was silently wailing. "All that sobriety down the toilet!" And I was scared shitless. I sat there, waiting. Waiting for the buzz to come. And praying. Praying that I hadn't taken in enough that I would feel it. I started clicking back through what I'd eaten that day. Had I eaten enough to stave off the effects of half a beer? God, please, please, please don't let me feel this beer.

Then I got angry. Furious, even. Furious that this person would hand me a beer. And I woke up.

Whew. Relief. It was only a dream.

The question becomes, what does it mean? Does the dream mean I secretly want to drink? That seems unlikely because I clearly did NOT enjoy it and did NOT want to feel the effects of alcohol. So I don't think it's the harbinger of a slip or relapse. Does it mean I blame others for my drinking? I examine my conscience and the answer is no. Nobody made me drink; I chose to do that. But what the "acquaintance" could be is a metaphor for alcohol itself. I have no power over it. In a sense it's true that alcoholism sneaked up on me in that insidious way it has. It has you before you're aware that it has you (so, I consumed half the drink before realizing what it was.)

And then maybe the dream was also about triggers and protecting myself from them. I was in a hurry, totally occupied with something else, and anxious. So my guard was dropped. I wasn't being attentive to what was in my hand, what I was bringing to my own mouth.

The dream was also about fear. Fear of booze. Fear of its effects on me. I know damn well if I drink, I'll find that buzzed feeling irresistible. When I feel that feeling, I have to have more of it. I can't let it get away. I have to keep feeding it or it will be painful. I don't know how else to describe that desperate drive, that pull, that push, that unquenchable desire to get more, and how uncomfortable and anxious I get when the source is cut off.

So you know, the dream partly pleases me as well. I responded to the beer with revulsion. I immediately began praying for help. It seems pretty clear the nature of my addiction has sunk into my subconscious mind.

Early in sobriety there were other drunk dreams. I mean vivid ones, in which I'd sneak away to a bar and drink and get tanked in my dream. I could feel it, the dreams were so real. I got trashed in my own dreams. I would wake up and groan and roll over... and blink, confused; then reality would dawn, and I'd breathe a sigh of relief because I wasn't hungover! Others would have them too in rehab, and we'd hash them out in group work. It's normal to have a drunk or using dream. We're still processing things. Our counselors would tell us they mean nothing more than "pay attention." Go to a meeting. Do a self-check. Feelings, dreams, impulses, aren't facts. One person cleverly suggested, "Maybe your brain is prepping you for the inevitable temptation and challenging you to make a strategy for dealing with it." I liked that interpretation.

I'm guessing I also had last night's dream because today is my 7th month sobriety birthday. Seven months is significant because that's the longest I've ever been sober the entire time I've been drinking (since age 18). Sometime this month (I wasn't really counting actual days that one time I quit long ago, so all I can say is 'sometime' between 7 and 8 months), I will silently pass that milestone. So the dream can be a warning, too. Don't get too complacent in your sobriety. You never know what might happen.