With my hand on the wheel and my brain in neutral . . .

Archive for the ‘My world’ Category

A Book is Like a Boat and a Baby

Jack Poww and GO-Girl

While I was writing my second book (Jack Poww and GO-Girl), I sincerely believed I was doing it mainly for the project itself. I can write, I want to write because I enjoy writing, so I did write a book, regardless of what would become of it. I would create a book, release it into the world, and see what happens.

I was able to have this attitude because of the success of my first book, Napism (for people who take their naps “religiously”.) It sold and continues to sell, but, frankly, not nearly as much as I thought it would. Do a quick Google / Instagram / Facebook search on #nap, napping, etc., and you will find many thousands of nap-related memes, jokes, serious biomedical research, and so on, so I figured if I could get a sale for every one-hundredth or even one-thousandth of one percent of all those nap mentions, I’d do quite well. Despite good (international!) reviews of my book, the sales have not been the torrent I thought they might be. The reasons for this are, for the point I’m making here, irrelevant. What my experience with my first book did for me was to make real the idea that writing a book is one thing and its commercial success is quite another. For me, it is no longer a concept or theory: it is an internalized fact.

So, as I wrote Jack Poww and GO-Girl’s first adventure, although I certainly kept in mind to make it readable for others, I truly did write it for me. I had fun with it. I took it through several drafts and beta reads, and finally I pronounced it finished. I knew that if I let it sit for a few months and looked at it again, I would surely change a few words or scenes, but I pronounced it finished. I didn’t do this because I was tired of it: I did it because I happen to be a sailor, and I thoroughly know that if you don’t take your boat out until absolutely everything on it is in perfect condition, you will never get out on the water. So, just like my “good ol’ boat”, I felt the book was ready to be enjoyable out there flying in the wind.

Very soon after I clicked the final release button, I switched from thinking of the book as a boat to thinking of it as a baby. Why? Because when men and women are expecting a baby, mostly they’re thinking some version of “I just hope the baby’s okay. I just hope the baby’s generally healthy. I just hope the child will be reasonably happy.” But then, very soon after the baby’s born, the parents start wishing things like “I can’t wait until she laughs. I want to see her walk, and run, and dance. I want her to have lots of friends! I want her to have a great life!”

It’s the same with giving birth to a book. It goes quickly from “I’m creating this just because I can and it is what I want for me” to “Great God Almighty! I want a ba-zillion people to read it and like it!” Of course it would be a very good thing if the book earns even half a ba-zillion pennies, but that truly is totally separate from having strangers (with no reason to try to make you feel good about your work) let you know that your book is enjoyable. It is very much like when you have a child: for his own sake, you want him to do well and have many friends.

Advertisements

People who “don’t believe in Prozac”

Every now and then I hear somebody say, “I don’t believe in Prozac” (or other anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication.) It has become increasingly harder for me not to reply. That statement can somehow instantly suck my Zen serenity right out of me and deflate my bubble of hope for the other person.

My first question is, “What do you mean you don’t believe in it? You don’t believe that it exists, like Santa Claus?” Yes, it’s just a little bit of play, an attempt at a lighthearted opening to a non-confrontational or non-defensive discussion. Then I’ll hear some version and combination of the following statements:

“I really don’t like putting chemicals into my body.”

They’ll say something about being very leery of taking drugs – even medicinal, even mild medicine such as aspirin – to alter their brain function, but they’ll tell me this over a cup of coffee, a can of soda, a bottle of beer, or a glass of wine . . . all the while munching on processed foods packed with artificial sweeteners and chemical preservatives. (Yes, I know it is human, but nonetheless it is inconsistent logic.)

Many, many people seem to have this belief that their personality is pure and separate from the meat of their bodies, that their cosmic soul is not hampered by their human genetics and filtered through their day-by-day biochemical balance. It is commonly understood that everything about our bodies – the shape of our faces, the color of our eyes and hair and skin, our general physical builds, our level of innate athleticism, and even our various levels of intelligence – are strongly influenced by both genetics and diet (biochemical balance), so why is it such a hurdle to extend this understanding to the product of our primary organ, the brain?

We know that our thoughts (and their resultant feelings) reside in the brain; we knew that long before science could explain exactly how a “hard knock on the noggin” could severely change a person’s mental functioning; we knew that long before science could explain why women’s moods tend to change with their hormonal cycle; we knew that long before science could explain why normally sensible men became someone else when under the influence of testosterone (in love or war). Hell, we know it when we excuse a friend’s behavior when we say, “Don’t worry about; he’s just had too much to drink.” So why is it that we can believe, that we can empirically and scientifically know, that our thinking is done by our body’s brain – a biological organ subject to biological influences and problems – but somehow completely separate this, disassociate this, from our ephemeral and “pure” personality? (Yes, I know it is human, but nonetheless it is inconsistent logic.)

“I prefer to do without it, to live the way God made me.”

They’ll take their insulin or blood pressure medication, they’ll wear their eyeglasses or contacts, they’ll go to the dentist or orthodontist, they’ll even get cosmetic surgery – but oh, no, they won’t mess with the way God created them, the way they move through life . . . (And again, inconsistent logic.)

“I don’t need it; I’m not that bad off.”

Oh, is that so?   Maybe they should ask the people around them and then not dismiss or discredit their answers.

“I tried it and didn’t like it, didn’t like the way it made me feel.”

Okay, that’s perfectly valid. The big question, though, is whether they tried the right medicine and right dosage for them, and if they took it long enough for their bodies to adjust to it.

This statement is almost the same as the next:

“I’ve had bad experiences with it.”

Slow down; there are a couple of points here:

  1. Yes, absolutely, as we hear in the warning sections of so many pharmaceutical commercials on TV, yes, it is entirely possible that the prescribed drug exacerbated the problem and created fairly-appraised “bad experiences.”
  2. So, again, did they have the right medicine and the right dosage?
  3. Did they try more than one or two medications? If your adult child went out and dated just one, two, three, or four different people then came home and said he or she was not ever going to date again because he or she “had bad experiences with it,” what would you say? Or the same with two or three jobs? Keep looking!
  4. What were the current circumstances of their lives?   If they had several stressors active at the time, can they be sure it was the medicine and not the circumstantial stress that was giving them headaches, clouding their minds, making them sleepy, and so on? As in all other areas of life, most people simply do NOT carefully separate all possible variables to identify the true cause.
  5. THE TRICKIEST REASON to understand and accept just might be that the medication did indeed work, that it made them healthier and strong enough to begin to face whatever problems and dysfunctions and demons were stressing them. Disrupting the status quo and finding themselves in unknown territory can be quite unnerving. (I know a man whose wife stayed by his side for 20 years while he was a (self-proclaimed) drunk, but soon after he finally sobered up, she divorced him.)

“Everyone I know who has used it is still unhappy and kind of wacky.”

Yes, they are.   (Well, actually, maybe not: it is doubtful that anyone is aware of every person around them who uses anti-anxiety or anti-depressant meds at a maintenance level.) But, how unhappy and more wacky might they be if they didn’t have their meds? No one can say for sure, but – if they’ve been accurately diagnosed and properly prescribed – they’re probably better off. Ask the properly medicated what they think of their medication use. The meds are not a magic pill; they don’t make you instantly happy and mentally healthy. For that, you have to change the way you live your life and maybe even change the circumstances of your life. Not only does that take time but also it is an endless struggle, for all of us. The meds are intended just to enable you to get out of bed and make it through a day with at least half a chance of being functional enough to make progress on your own.

“It’s a crutch. I’ll be stronger if I learn to do without it.”

Uh-huh, yes, it is.   If their ankle were sprained, would they use a physical crutch? Same with their coats in cold weather, shoes on their feet, etc., no?

Readers, I have been taking anti-depressants for about 20 years now, and there is a clear demarcation between the first “half”, the “before” part of my life and the second, “after” part of my life. The medicinal drugs don’t make me a superman, that’s for sure, but I shudder to think of living without them. You know those futuristic apocalyptic movies where either in the city or in the desert even basic living is brutally hard? Without my meds, that would sort of be the world I would be living in today, here, now (but with less bizarre clothing.) They’d call me (No-)Med Max . . . So, yes, hell yes, I “believe” in anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds.

I have one question for steadily depressed or anxious people who tell me they don’t believe in meds.   So far, I haven’t asked it of anyone, but each time the topic is broached, I can feel that question crawling up my throat. One of these days it will escape my lips, so I hope I can lead up to it gently, and find softer words than I have up till now. Here it is:

Instead of you taking medication, more convenient than you taking medication, are you forcing your family and all the people around you to suffer your behavior and make adjustments in their lives to deal with all the overt and subtle repercussions of your maybe simple biochemical imbalance? Especially with your family, is it fair, healthy, and loving of you to dump long term echoes of dysfunction permanently into their hearts and lives simply because you are afraid of finding medicine that will help you?

Ya, I know: ouch.

Maybe before I get so pointed I’ll say just – when steadily depressed or anxious people tell me they don’t believe in meds – that I have had to adopt a policy for investing my energy where I believe it will do good and not investing it where I’m banging my head against a wall while there’s a doorway open to me. Aww, hell, maybe I’ll tell them I “don’t believe” in helping to solve the depression or anxiety problems of people who “don’t believe” in proper medication . . .

Two Old Men of Iron and One Not-So-Old Man of Polish Sausage

Ya, I did that teak!

Lately I’ve been working on the teak cap and hand rails on a 104-foot power yacht, and I’ve been having a hard time keeping up with my workmates, an 86-year-old man and a 74-year-old-man. I’m not kidding: every day, long after I’d be ready for a break, long after I’d ask them if they’d like me to fetch drinking water “for them”, they’d shoot me a quick glance and say, “Less talk, more work.” Sweat would be dripping off our faces, sweat would soak our shirts not damp but downright wet, and as we walked we would trail a cloud of teak dust. Eventually, finally, we’d break for lunch. These old doogans were working machines!

Once, going to lunch, I told them every night I went home and cried myself to sleep because they were Men of Iron and in comparison I was just a Boy Made of Polish Sausage and French Crepes. Telling them that opened the door, or should I say, opened their mouths.  After lunch, and for days, they ran with the joke:

“Hey, Sausage! You got the box of paper?”

“Hey, Scrapple! . . . ”

“Hey, Hamburger! . . . ”

“Hey, Ground Beef . . .”

“Hey, Chopped Liver. . .”

“Hey, Peanut Butter and Jelly . . .” followed quickly by “No, no Peanut Butter – just Jelly.”

“Hey, Soup . . .” and “No, not Soup – just Broth!” and “What’s that Mexican cold soup? Gar-bage-bo?”

“Hey, Puddin’ . . .”

“Hey, Jello . . . ”

(Note: I’m not using their names or photos ’cause they both hate the internet and love their privacy.)

Today I Killed a Piano

Piano kill b

It seemed like a good idea at the time: when my friend and I were moving his old and unwanted piano to the curb and happened to break it open on the way down the driveway, I spied the “harp” inside and thought it would make a great coffee table. It would, too: later I Googled “piano harp table” and found plenty of images that matched or exceeded my imaginary project results. I wanted to make it, but not for myself: I live on a not-big sailboat, so even if I did have space for a coffee table – especially one that takes at least two men to lift – on a sailboat it would be ridiculous and dangerous. No, I figured it would be great for either of my nephews in their college apartments.

I called my nephews to see if they were interested in making strong legs and mounting a glass or plexiglass top, and then I claimed it from my friend’s curb. I deconstructed the piano at his house and trucked the harp to my marina, where I tucked it away in a shed.

Weekend after weekend passed, and before I knew it, the piano harp had been sitting there for months, still attached to its backboard and not looking the least bit closer to becoming a coffee table. With my nephews’ busy term breaks, part-time job schedules, and the 100 miles between us, we accepted that it just wasn’t going to happen, and about that time the marina owner asked me to get rid of it.

To take it to the recycler, the harp had to be separated from the wood backing, and that turned out to be more work than deconstructing the rest of the entire piano. The fine-threaded tuning screws had to be loosened one by one before the strings could be cut (a piano-tuning friend of mine warned me about the danger of an unequally stressed harp!), and the wood parts were strongly glued and screwed together. It took a couple of hours over three afternoons to get it ready to throw away!

The reason for writing about this? As I was turning the small wrench on those 88 finely-threaded and very tight piano wire adjustment screws, I started thinking about the day I conceived this project. It would have been cool, but both of my nephews and I were a bit too busy to start something none of us really needed. Ya, it was a cool project, but it was also much more of a want than a need. That’s what I learned (again, dammit!) from this: sometimes you have to say no to things you want to do, no matter how cool it might be, so that you have time to do things more useful to the rest of your life. The thought might have jelled in my head because I heard something about Steve Jobs saying no to a lot of good projects so Apple could focus on the best projects. Focus is not about only keeping your eye on the target; it’s also about narrowing your field of peripheral vision. “Wants” have a seductive way of distracting you from your more important goals.

So, I killed a piano, and from it I harvested not a coffee table but a reminder to use what I already knew . . .

One Way Sailors Understand Cold

While not the bitter, ass-biting cold of late winter, cold air has certainly arrived here in Annapolis. Supposedly it’s been down to 33 the last two nights. Winter . . . it’s he-e-e-re. As you fellow sailors know, cold air often creates disturbances in the space-time continuum. The young couple at the end of my pier told me how the walk to the corner store – which in the summer time, moving slow, takes about 1/2 hour but feels like 10 minutes – now, moving faster, but with the wind blowing through your jeans, takes 10 minutes but feels like 1/2 hour . . . Yep, with our sailor-ly knowledge of physics and the laws of the natural world, a disturbance in the space-time continuum is the only rational explanation.

Tag Cloud