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Tree-lined footpath in Bristol

6" x 8" in Faber-Castell Studio Oil Pastels on Createur canva-paper with Gemini Masterpiece odorless thinner on the first layer. Painted from a photo reference in the April 3-5th Weekend Drawing Event hosted by DominicM who provided most of the references including this one. Site of that event is http://www.wetcanvas.com which I'd recommend to anyone interested in drawing or painting or any form of art.

This morning is not nearly as insane blotto as yesterday morning. Yesterday was the worst day of getting over the Laundry Excursion. I really overdid it. I wound up falling into that old mindset of it's got to be done and completely forgot that I could reasonably ask either Kitten or Karl for a bit of help with it. Or even beg off on it and not do my laundry till I felt better since I had at least a week's clean clothes still.

One of the big problems with chronic pain/fatigue is that once it gets bad, I have no judgment either. I often feel like I might as well get something done since I'm not enjoying myself anyway. It at least gets my mind off dwelling on the pain. Or dwelling on past traumas because the pain reminds me of them.

That's a particularly nasty vicious circle and the only way out of it is to dive into a Stephen King book or something equally immersive. I have to be in a state where I can focus my eyes and read though. When it goes past that, it starts getting very hard to tell what I'm doing and that's when I'm going to get the idea of doing difficult obnoxious chores that have to be done anyway.

I don't know how to break that pattern at all. I don't know if pain's a good time for getting around to the chore of painful introspection or if it's just that like drink it drops all inhibitions so I face the things I don't want to remember.

Sometimes though, the ruminations do put some things to rest.

I saw one of those ubiquitous ads for contacting people who went to school with you and it annoyed me the way they always do. Why would I want to? They blatted on about it a lot at the time. The friends you make in high school are the friends you'll keep lifelong.

Yeah, if you go on living in the same town and maybe do what your dad did for a living and never move or move around or get locked up for one of those high school years. And then not wind up continuing on the Crazy lifestyle or the Juvenile Delinquent lifestyle. You have to actually fit one of the groups neatly for that to apply and then grow up into it and go on being part of it.

I thought of a couple of them that I'd have liked to see again but the guy at the top of the list who I can honestly say was my closest high school friend killed himself in my senior year. I'm not going to go looking him up, no matter how many times pain-10 makes that sound feasible and reasonable. Then there were half a dozen girls I had been in love with and never said anything to them.

35 years is too long to get up the nerve to ask them out and I don't have the resources to fly cross country and date her if any of them happened to be at a lonely enough point in life to take me up on it.

None of them, not even the closest, really got it about any of what I had to struggle with. Two of the closest wound up taking a depressed prose poem I wrote and asking if they could perform it at an assembly -- and turned a scream for help into a comedy gag. It worked as a comedy gag. The only hitch was that it crushed me and denied that I felt anything or had a right to feel anything, it was making fun of me for being in that much pain.

Other than the suicide those were my two closest friends. That was how understanding those high school friends were. I should be so thrilled about chasing them down later in life? For what? To rub their noses in my assorted diagnoses and guilt trip them about how they acted as dumb sheltered kids living in a world, a society that buried a kid with epilepsy that lived next door so deep that it took over a year of living right next to his house to know he existed?

They didn't get it, any of them, that I thought what his parents were doing was wrong, as wrong as anything in 1984 and on that order. They tried to defend his parents' decision to me. It was for his own good that he didn't go to school, didn't get to have any friends his own age, didn't get to meet anyone not in his nuclear family or leave his house unless literally no one was out in their yards. I happened to come out while he was alone in his yard and I got three hours of talking to him.

I learned a bit about epilepsy and was so relieved there was another teen so close by, a friend, someone that by proximity alone would be a friend and beyond that, intelligent and well read. He had nothing better to do in his familial prison. But he would do what they said. He believed they were doing the right thing. He defended them.

He was never allowed to talk to me again and told me that awkwardly in the second two minute conversation before he turned and ran back into his house.

Just like all the grade school kids who apologized and said they liked me but their parents told them that they couldn't talk to me any more or be my friend.

I should really want to get in touch with that? I'm sure by now he did get out. They started springing all of them in the late seventies and eighties, started aggressively doing rehab for the numerous disabled people who'd been raised sometimes completely illiterate and always socially shut down to the point they never saw anyone but medics or family.

It's horrifying now because someone whose epilepsy was managed to the point of nothing but an occasional once a month blank-out for a minute or two just lives normal -- except for not having a driver's license, life's like anyone else's. But not then.

But I don't remember his name. Only his face. Only the way he looked on the day he said goodbye and the way he looked when I started talking about my ambition to be a writer and how he could do things like that, he could become an artist or a writer or something if he didn't want to have to deal with wearing a crash helmet at a job. How I thought it was wrong he didn't have friends and that I wanted to hang out with him.

I liked him.

I could've been selling Jesus instead of self employment in the arts and his eyes would have shone the way they did. I liked him. I was not a family member, not obligated to like him by anything in the world, but there I was being friendly for no other reason than that I was bored and he was cool. I didn't patronize him. I didn't give him dignity, I just treated him like I would anyone else who had half a brain in that normative hellhole of boredom.

He was someone who read Melville without it being assigned and loved Dickens. It was real. He liked science fiction and comic books and had books I wished I owned. It was real.

So was the broken look in his eyes when he did what he was told and told me to go away.

I think his name was Larry or something like that. Larry sounds right, with his mom calling him Lawrence and him introducing himself as Larry and meaning it. He'd had a normal life up till age ten at his first Childhood Onset epileptic seizure, which was grand mal and happened on a playground and left him pretty beat up from falling down and banging around with nobody knowing what to do.

So he remembered what it was like to have friends and get to hang out with someone who wasn't in charge of him. He soaked it in like the necessity it was. And then it got shut down and the bars closed again and I hope to all the gods that he was one of the early releases. That he got as much out of life as he could, that he did find out fast that I was right and a medical problem is just a problem to solve, not something that set him apart lower than humans and shameful for existing.

Some of the things I did in high school were cruel.

I was an intellectual bully. I threw myself into political, social and religious arguments with a ferocious intelligence and a well of rage that other boys might have used to take a baseball bat to someone's head. The only thing I can say to it is that I always did allow retreat -- I only got in the face of the ones who got in my face on those things. Those who admitted it was a circular argument got off lightly on "agree to disagree."

No, life wasn't fair.

But I was. When I sort through all of it, I was. Getting in the face of people who were trying to sell me provably stupid and self destructive ideas was fun, but it wasn't that cruel when I really think of it. I was like the sympathetic vampire -- I would only go after the ones who actually did ask for it and wouldn't shut up or back down or even admit there could be such a thing as "agree to disagree."

I think a lot of them did the same, were looking to convince the onlookers because they knew they couldn't convince me. Or just didn't understand that they couldn't convince me of any of it. They couldn't understand it without admitting I was right about some of those things I was talking about.

And now history's swung around and in all these decades there really has been so much social progress. Now I look at my brown-skinned mutt President and I feel proud to be in a country in recovery. Maybe the USA will start looking at problems as something to be sorted out and worked on instead of making the victims of trouble the scapegoats for breaking the illusion that everybody's happy.

I didn't smile unless I meant it.

I still don't but I smile a lot more now. I smile when the cats congregate in my room. I smile when Sascha comes in and bangs her dinosaurs together and giggles when I do sound effects like saying "Ow" when the styracosaurus gores the Dilophosaurus. We played dinosaurs for about an hour yesterday. It was trippy and beautiful. I wasn't at my writerly best coming up with good lines but "Ow, ya got me!" was good enough along with "Yum, lunch!"

She's a fun little girl. Healthy and beautiful as a squirrel or a kitten. Running all over the place and jumping and squealing. Her brother rocks too. I look at them and it's all different now. I know that for all the current trouble they're in a better world and will only make it better as they get older.

I got off on this high school stream of thought first from running into that ad and then last night from Kitten renting Twilight.

It got panned all over the place. But surprisingly, it turned out to be an excellent movie. The vampire was not stereotypically suave. No, he was as inarticulate as most of the kids I hung out with. He did not fit the stereotype of "the guy who always has more money and sweeps in and steals your girl." Nope. Tongue tied and stupidly asking if she liked the weather.

They were all like that. The characters in the movie were vividly real. It was a genuine visit to flashback city all right because a lot of the styles that were cool when I was in HS are cool again. Very long hair and/or facial hair on boys, optional, some of the cool boys have short hair now, it stopped being a political statement. Girls with long loose hair that isn't dyed or anything. Jeans, sometimes bell bottoms. The styles cycle around and around.

Only a lot of why it isn't political is that those battles got won gradually inch by painful inch. In the movie there was a rather sympathetic character in a wheelchair, seen as a tough cop, and lo, he was not snapped up by the monsters. Among the evil vampires it was the white male that wigged out, the black one was reasonable and so was the woman. Those two were ready to drop it, but the white male got into the dominance-contest thing with the romance hero boy. Who was just a little bit self-flagellating but tolerably so.

Especially considering that most of the kids got that insecure and the movie underlined that his being a vampire did not change his being seventeen one whit. I was more of a stereotype vampire in HS than that kid, which cracked me up because of course I am actually human. It left me thinking though, left me getting plot ideas and gave me a little more sympathy for the kids I ran roughshod over who were just parroting what they got told by older people.

Then again a great many of them on hitting my eloquence turned around and started thinking, because it wasn't enough to just parrot my views. They had to understand them and the discussions bounced around all over the place. But there weren't many of them who went much farther than "the war is wrong" and "racism is wrong" and "partying and wearing long hair and smoking pot is great and should be legal."

I remember the weird little glitch reading about the Gray Panthers fighting for some dignity and freedom. The thought that creepy conservative old people were also an oppressed group was a serious mind bender -- but I made that leap and disseminated it. Did some good there.

I fought with words. I didn't tackle my own issues except in the case of Larry, though.

That is something my daughter reminds me of. I managed not to be a jerk about others but I didn't see it that I was beating myself up as much as that teen vampire all the time. I am not a monster. I am a man, a good man, a thinking man too and a writer. That's all. That's all I need to be.

That is a great point on behalf of Twilight, a portrait of adolescence that isn't romanticized and isn't played broad for laughs. That movie made me think. That movie made me look at the memories that hurt and for once something uncoiled in me and I quit beating myself up over it -- over the things I didn't stand up for back then. Over not getting to the 1969 Democratic Convention to get beat up and arrested with the rest of my ilk because I had no money, no transportation and didn't have the strength to hike it.

Over watching it on television listening to my grandfather saying they all ought to be shot. Knowing that I was in the house of a mortal enemy who meant it even if he wouldn't do anything about it. My family held both extremes -- me and a genuine member of the German-American Bund who wanted America to jump in on the German side of WWII.

So given that, is it such a surprise that rift never healed and they still don't accept me?

I wound up forgiving myself a lot of things. I was stupid sometimes and extremely aggressive in my own way. I was young even though I felt like I was going on ninety. There is a whole lot that I didn't know that would've been very hard to convince me of. It would've taken a miracle to break me out of it -- and it would've taken a real mentor.

I didn't reach out to the ones I had. Some teachers I had were very sympathetic and sensible and might well have gone to bat for me if I'd explained everything. Heck, the scoliosis got diagnosed because of one that I didn't even think of as a friend, the history teacher that saw me fall down and not be able to get up because I'd dropped my books.

It happened all the time in gym but the gym teacher just screamed at me till I could move again. Once out of that context it took someone sensible to realize that no, it was not malingering. It took there being obviously no earthly reason to malinger and an obvious case of miserable embarrassment on top of it.

So maybe this essay is dedicated to a good movie and the folks who made it, and to every teacher out there who's been observant when a kid is not faking but actually embarrassed about a real problem. For every unfair power-mad crazy out there, there's also some people who are fair, who make the idea of fairness something valid by living it.
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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 6th, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for sharing this. I know that writing about your memories must be very painful, but it's also an incredibly generous thing to do. Reading about how other people have survived such harsh challenges helps me to survive, too. :) Thanks again.
Apr. 6th, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC)
Wow, thank you. It is painful to write about those memories. To know someone's reading it and that it helps -- that I'm Kafka now, that I'm Tolkein or Bradbury, that makes it all worthwhile. Those were my real friends from grade school or high school.

I hope you go on reading and I will be doing more novels this year too. Maybe this year's the one that I get a big advance and get to be a more-published writer. :D

Thank you.
Apr. 6th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
School and growing up is horrible. I am so glad I have never been that miserable and figure I probably never will be again. I'm a big proponent of teenagers rights. We need them so that we aren't reduced to things you can yell at and abuse.

I understand what you mean by the gym thing. At age 27 I was just diagnosed with exercised induced asthma. I've always had this and just figured my cardio vascular health sucked (I've always played sports and been active!) a gym teacher never mentioned that my frequent breaks to catch my breath might be asthma. Good grief!

Anyway, I just wanted to say that a lot of us were in your boat. You weren't alone even if it felt like it.
Apr. 7th, 2009 12:34 am (UTC)
Exactly. You don't have the common legal rights of freedom of religion or the right to self defense. An ugly twist of history has turned emotional abuse of teens into tradition. In the 1960s there was an enormous cultural divide between generations, so extreme it was as if we came from a different country.

I sometimes think the tradition of people picking on teenagers per se for being teenagers comes out of the sixties, the cultural divide so deep and real it was like two different countries. But then I remember all the fifties and the way it started in the thirties and forties, the way traditionally in America teens are scapegoated for everything in so many ways.

Often the ones that get it the worst are not the Future Criminals of America but the ones trying to get scholarships and acting too adult and responsible. A lot of young friends got driven round the bend over that while keeping up AP programs with 8 or 9 hours of homework a night. The schools have degenerated, they are a lot worse than they were. The content of all that makework is less stimulating and far more rote-repetitious makework. Boilerplate essays.

I would not have gotten my good grades that I did after I had the gym slip if it happened today because I could not force myself to do the boilerplate essays. I wrote well but not in a way that could be scored on a computer without any thought. If I'd had that much homework and it mattered that much to the grades, I'd have flunked out just on time available -- during those years I slept 12-15 hours a night. There weren't that many hours in the day.

You are right. Life may never be that bad again. Avoid homeless shelters and signing up for wars or getting so sick that you can't take care of yourself and you may well be looking at life always being better than that. I hope that's true and you never face anything that bad again in your life, that from here on out it's good and you make it what you want it to be.

From now on there is always choice.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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Robert A. Sloan, author of Raven Dance

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