I am reading a really good book right now about co-dependency.
I never knew before that I am incredibly co-dependent. But it explains a whole lot of stuff.
One of the many things this book talks about is "acceptance." Accepting reality. Which is something I've always had trouble with. I always want things to be the way I want them to be, instead of accepting the way they actually are.
Last summer, for example, I turned 60 years old, and I've had a pretty hard time accepting it. Understanding it. Dealing with it.
Like so many others say: What the hell happened? Where did the time go?
I want to back up some and try again. I really do.
It is truly difficult for me to believe that I am 60 years old.
I don't feel old -- most of the time.
I don't look old, although my hair is really gray, and I'm 30 pounds overweight. But 60 is fucking old, man (excuse my language, please). In nine-and-a-half more years, I'll be 70!
My days are getting truly numbered, and the numbers are growing smaller and smaller ...
I have a very active imagination -- curse of a creative mind? -- and I project a lot of times into the future, imagining myself being gone from this Earth. The idea is really sad to me.
I don't wanna go.
I like it here -- it's a nice place, in spite of all the bad stuff.
eIn the weekly therapy sessions I am doing, spirituality is something my counselor is having me consider.
Sometimes, when one is reluctant to believe in, rely on, trust, etc., a higher power, it can be due to confusion between "God, the Father," and one's earthly father. Conflicts with dad can produce conflicts with God, whoever or whatever that concept may be.
For me, that could indeed be the case, or at least a part of the problem. I've been exposed to so much contradictory information throughout my life that my spiritual beliefs are mostly a big mess.
Just the other day, I came across a copy of the Bible's New Testament. A little miniature copy. I've been planning to ready the entire Bible, just to see what happens. Maybe I'll have some sort of spiritual awakening.
Well, hell -- no pun intended -- I couldn't get past the first pages of Matthew, where it talks about all the ancestors of Jesus.
Ancestors of Jesus?
So Jesus had brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, all that?
But wait a minute ...
Jesus is really God, right? In human form, sent to Earth to save poor, pitiful, sinful mankind. So that means that God has brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, all that? Huh?
See what I mean?
I saw an excellent cartoon the other day -- Jesus was knocking at someone's door. The people inside asked what he wanted. Jesus said:
"To come inside."
"To save you."
"Save us from what?"
"From what is going to happen to you, if you don't let me in."
That illustrates pretty damn well the fundamental problem I have with Christianity, which is the only major religion I've ever really been exposed to. The whole Jesus story makes no sense to me. If such a thing is God's plan, as so many Christians say, it's a damn strange plan.
Recently, I was pleased and proud to be able to guest post on a terrific blog site about depression run by a guy named Bill White. The site is http://chipur.com/, and if you're interested in such things, do yourself a favor and go check it out.
Depression has been a part of my life for always and forever. Since I was born, I guess.
Born with depression? Maybe. Who knows? I doubt it, but anything's possible, isn't it? I am, however, definitely a product of depression, and raised by people with depression running all through their veins. It absolutely runs in the family, and my dad is the worst case I know about.
I've tried all kinds of things over the years to deal with it: counseling, prescribed medication, unprescribed medication, hypnosis, Reiki, acupuncture, alternative medicine, massage therapy, booze. The list goes on ...
Nothing really worked for the long-term. I think because all those things I've tried are mostly Band-Aid solutions. None of that was getting to the heart of the matter. A few months ago, though, on the recommendation of a holistic healer I decided to see to try and deal with my stress issues, I started visiting a counselor once a week, and I think I may be onto something this time.
I'm learning quite a bit about my crazy brain, and why I think the way I do, and react to situations the way I do (abnormally). It all goes back to childhood hurts and slights and scars that have never really healed. And they never really will go away, but I can learn to recognize how those things affect me even today, and how to better manage them.
Depression is definitely part of my problem(s), but being raised in a depressive environment, by two damaged people with limited emotional resources and understanding, is the bigger issue with me, I'm finding out. It wasn't their fault. They just didn't know any better.
If you think you might have depression, or know someone who does, go check out Bill White's blog (http://chipur.com/), and check out my book, "Depression Blues," by clicking the My Books tab at the top of the page.
Ciao, y'all ...
All right, boys and girls. Today is the start of somethin' exciting. It's going to be a challenge -- a pretty significant challenge, mostly mental -- but I like challenges, so here we go ...
On April 8, I'll be competing in my first old-person track and field competition at the Texas Senior Games in San Antonio. I've been doing some training for the past few months for my event, but pretty much only once a week. Sometimes more often, but, you know, other things get in the way. Work is stressful and exhausting. Too many other things to do. The weather's terrible. Sun got in my eyes. Blah, blah, blah ...
So, with just a little more than six weeks to go, I've decided to shift things into high gear, and at least get in somewhat decent shape when I pick up that 14-foot fiberglass pole and head down the runway, trying to clear a bar and maybe even finish in the top 5. I don't know how many people will be competing in my age-bracket, but if there are more than five contestants, then a top 5 finish will be OK, sort of, I guess.
Until last summer, I'd never pole-vaulted in my life, and it's only been the past three months, really, that I've made any real progress, after getting off to a slow start marred by various minor but nagging injuries: groin pull, severely strained elbow, calf muscle tear. I've come a long way from that first Sunday afternoon session when I tried six four-step jumps after watching a bunch of high school kids fly through the air with the greatest of ease for two hours.
When they all started packing up and heading home, I finally got out there and gave it a try. It wasn't pretty, but at least I didn't chicken out.
Why pole vaulting, you ask?
Well, I was inspired by an old childhood friend, Bubba Sparks, who was and still is a champion vaulter, at the ripe old age of 64. Bubba has been coaching me, and says I'm doing really well -- especially for an old, slow, overweight guy who is just starting out.
Today, after my dental appointment, I'll stop off at the gym on the way home and do some upper body weight training, maybe some cardio. Starting tomorrow, it's two-a-days for the next six weeks, except for Sundays, when Bubba and I practice vaulting at a friend's professional training facility. Those sessions are fairly intense workouts, and warrant a little extra recovery time.
For what is referred to as Masters vaulters, the primary concern is how to put in significant enough training time to perform well in competition, without doing too much and getting injured. Bubba recently went to jump at a big meet in New Mexico, and I asked him about his goal.
"Have fun and don't get hurt," he said.
Right on ...
Howdy, folks. Time flies, don't it? I mean -- doesn't it?
Quite a bit of water under the bridge since that last blog about Christmas with the Clarks. I've cranked out a few new books (see the My Books tab at the top of the page), taken up painting, and even sold a few of my masterpieces at a couple of art shows!
Before too long, I plan to add a "John's artwork" page to this site, but in the meantime, I'll try and post a few examples of what I've been doing here on the blog.
If you've ever thought about trying your hand at painting, or some other type of artwork, I say go for it. Early results might not be so terrific -- some of mine were awful -- but you'll be surprised at how quickly you improve. There are lots of great lessons and such on YouTube, and it's a mighty satisfying way to scratch that creative itch.
My latest batch of books is all about depression and related issues, a subject with which I am all too familiar. I've suffered from depression, and what I've only recently learned is a lack of self-worth, most all my life.
If you or someone you know and care about is in the same boat, I encourage you to check it out. Just click on the "My Books" tab up above.
Take care, y'all.
More later ...
Last weekend, I drove down to Houston to have Christmas dinner with my dad, stepmom and my aunt.
I know Christmas is this week, not last week, but family holidays in the Clark clan are a little, um … shall we say, complicated.
Childhood memories of Christmas for me are good ones. Helping dad put up lights around the outside of the house; decorating the tree inside with lights, ornaments, tinsel; going to see Santa at the department store.
Watching special television shows, like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Helping mama make fudge, divinity, and cut out and bake colorful cookies – snowmen, Santas, reindeer, candy canes – squeezing out ribbons of icing just so on top, and adding red hots and sprinkles.
My brother, sister and I always got one “big” present and then a few “little” ones. Christmas stockings were bulging with candy and various little trinkets.
Then there were the trips across town to see grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins we hardly knew and only saw once a year. More presents, cookies, candy, food, and my old man operating his movie camera with the giant light bar across the top, blasting beams of illumination so bright that all the people in those now-lost home movies were half-turned away, squinting their eyes, and waving.
As we kids got older, and even after I moved out on my own, Christmases remained a fun-filled family affair, and then things started to change.
Divorces started happening, grandparents started dying, simmering family feuds boiled over, and holidays started getting more … untraditional.
My mother – heart and soul of the family – has been gone for 15 years now. She was diagnosed with a nasty brain tumor, underwent surgery and the usual array of punishing follow-up treatments, but never really had a chance.
After my parents got divorced when I was 24 years old, it was always great fun going to mama’s house over near Bryan-College Station for the holidays. Grandma was always there, sitting in her easy chair with two cocker spaniels curled in her lap. One dog was named Martha, and I don’t remember the other one’s name.
There was an old pot-belly, wood-burning stove in the corner, and Christmas movies playing on the TV.
Mama loved to celebrate, and there were colorful, twinkling lights and decorations all over the place; a big, sparkly tree in front of the living room window; carefully wrapped gifts piled high; and lots and lots of delicious food. Big ol’ turkey, ham, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, giblet gravy, yams with melted marshmallows on top, cranberry sauce, sweet pickles, black olives, green olives, celery sticks stuffed with cream cheese, fresh rolls, fruit salad, an assortment of homemade pies. All the usual stuff.
My brother was there, and my sister with her kids. There was lots of laughing and story-telling and good times.
Fast-forward to today.
My sister and I haven’t shared a kind word since before my mother’s memorial service in June 2000. Grandma died a year later. I have neither seen nor spoken to my little brother in about five years. Mama’s father, Paw-Paw, committed suicide back when I was in college, and my aunt – mama’s sister – never came around much.
When mama died, the family basically detonated. Ka-boom. Blown apart. Nobody around anymore to hold it all together.
As for my father, our relationship has always been a little tricky.
Now that he’s nearing 80 years old, my dad has turned into a squishy, lovey-dovey, touchy-feely old dude, but in his prime, he was the complete opposite.
We don’t see a whole lot of each other, but we talk on the phone now and then, and he always tells me how proud he is, how much he loves me, and all that good stuff, but it took a long time for those words to come out of his mouth. I still remember the first time I ever heard him say anything like that.
I was 26 years old, and we were standing in an upstairs apartment I had on Bissonnet Street in southwest Houston. He had stopped by for a quick visit, and as he was leaving, he suddenly stepped forward, hugged me close and said, “I love you.”
I froze, with my arms down at my sides. What in the hell is this? Did it make me feel all warm and fuzzy, to finally, at long last, hear my old man say those words to me?
No, it did not.
What it did, in all honesty, was kind of p--- me off. All I could think about was, “Where was that when I was 10 years old, and wanted more than anything in the world to hear those words from my daddy?
I found out fairly recently that it was basically the same for him when he was growing up. In fact, he told me that he and his father never once said “I love you” to each other, even when my granddaddy was on his deathbed in a downtown Houston hospital in 1962.
But, he says it all the time now, and I say it back.
It’s strange to watch your dad go from a tall, strong, macho man to a frail, hunched over, shuffling old guy who sometimes needs help getting out of his overstuffed chair. For most of his life, he and I were the same height – 6-feet, 1 ¾ inches – although he always outweighed me by nearly 100 pounds. Now, he stands 5-9, and I imagine I’ve got him by 20 or 30 pounds.
And then there’s his sister, Aunt Nita, who touches my heart every time I walk in the room and see her eyes light up, and a big smile cross her face. Uncle Howard, a motorcycle-riding, Donald Duck-imitating toy collector who served as crew chief on a World War II bomber, died from a massive heart attack a few years ago at age 95. They were together for 50-something years, and Nita will never get over his death.
My stepmother, Deanna, an Oklahoma native who has been married to my dad for 20-something years and has three sons of her own, takes care of everybody.
She and I are not very close, but I admire and respect and appreciate her for being the kind of person willing to do the vast majority of all-day, every day caretaking for a couple of elderly folks who could not survive on their own. I told her so last weekend as we stood alone in the kitchen, surrounded by enough homemade holiday food to feed a platoon, and she said, “Well, we all kind of take care of each other.”
My niece and a nephew I haven’t seen in about 15 years showed up, which was nice. Emily, my sister’s middle child, is a college student and aspiring novel writer who has been through a lot with her mother. She asked me to take a look at a writing project she is working on, and it was really pretty good.
Apparently, my brother was also invited to the little shindig, but came down with a sudden illness, probably after finding out that brother John was going to be there.
It is a strange situation. Sort of a Brady Bunch-style family in which the kids are either virtual strangers, or can’t stand the sight of each other. Like I said, it makes for some complicated holidays and other occasions.
So, if your family is close, and everyone is able to peacefully spend time together on holidays, birthdays and such, consider yourself both fortunate and blessed.
Merry Christmas, y’all.
I interviewed a fella a few hours ago who turns 100 years old on Friday.
Such an honor for me.
Just now, I was looking at a photograph I took of him sitting in his easy chair, with one of his daughters on one side and one of his granddaughters on the other side. All were smiling brightly, with a joy and happiness radiating from their expressions that was remarkable.
I didn't notice it while I was there, talking to this quiet, rugged, gentle old man and his girls. It dawned on me later, as I decided which photo to use when this story runs in Friday's paper.
It was love. Pride.
Family pride and love.
Interviewing people and writing their stories is something I love to do.
Their stories constantly amaze me, and almost always reinforce something that it took me a long time to find out -- down deep inside, behind the masks, the pain and suffering, hurts and disappointments, tragedies and triumphs, different backgrounds and upbringings, all of us humans are pretty much the same.
Granted, there are mean people out there who enjoy hurting other people, and there is evil in the world, to be sure, but for most of us, we are all just out there slugging away, doing the best we can to be happy.
Today, I spent an hour with a guy I'd never met, a Desert Storm veteran who is now disabled, ostensibly to talk about the impressive comic book collection he has amassed since leaving the military 20 years ago. As he showed off different parts of the collection, he somewhat casually mentioned seeing his stepfather beat his mother to death when he was 10 years old.
He continued talking, as if this little detail from his past was just another day in the life, until I said, "Uh, hang on a second, Mike. Let's go back to that for a minute."
Imagine this being your life story: growing up in a family of eight kids in the deep South, in the midst of poverty and abuse, moving back and forth across various states, never staying in one place for more than six months; watching your mother beaten to death by your abusive stepfather; living the next eight years in a children's home; joining the Army, seeing buddies die and seeing yourself kill enemy soldiers; experiencing the death of your only child; being discharged from the Army and coming down with an untreatable, apparently lifelong medical condition.
That is not the amazing part of the story, though. The amazing part is that this guy says he has had a great life. He has no complaints, and is perfectly happy and content. Even if he could, he wouldn't change a thing.
"I have more to be thankful for than I have to not be thankful for," he told me. "What do I have to complain about?"
Oh, and he's got a great comic book collection. Did you know that, back in the day, Superman couldn't fly and didn't have x-ray vision?
Well, now you know.