Anniversaries and Immigration

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Two dozen years out and it’s still a humbling thing to think that someone chose to leave her family and home country halfway around the world in order to spend her life with me.

Perhaps if our decision to get married hadn’t been so essentially impulsive, we would have been a bit better prepared for the hassles we faced with what was known at the time as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)—now the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) operating under the Department of Homeland Security.

Then again, if it hadn’t been for hassles with the INS, we might not have made the decision we did. See, M was here on a student visa that was set to expire. If she returned home, she didn’t know when—or if—she would be able to make it back to the states.

Get married, we thought. That’ll fix the situation, we thought.

Okay, we didn’t really enter into our marriage to address a situation with a student visa. But we were young and foolish enough to think that getting married, having known each other less than a year (and, really, only a few months at the time we decided to get married) was a solid enough plan, when the alternative was to be apart for months, perhaps even years. If it’s rash to get married after knowing each other only a short time, it is potentially deadly to so short a relationship to have a prolonged separation.

And so we married. And so began our long-term relationship with the INS.

I cannot express how fortunate we were to live in a city with a major INS office. The mind reels to think what the immigration process is like for someone trying to navigate it from outside the country, or even from a few states away from an INS hub.

Keep in mind, this was back before the Internet was a common thing in peoples’ homes. In fact, at the time, I wasn’t even aware it was a thing. We couldn’t just log on and download the forms we needed. We had to phone the INS, tell them what we needed, and wait for them to send out the forms in the mail. We then had to complete the forms, gather up the necessary supporting items (photographs, birth certificates, marriage certificate, translations of M’s birth certificate, etc.) and mail them into a government office that would then get back to us at some unspecified time, with essentially no means for us to track the progress of our case.

Adding to the complications was the fact that M was not legally allowed to work, so I was having to cover the immigration filing fees on top of all of our other living expenses, on what is perhaps best described as a meager income. I was trying to build a business screen-printing shirts, and occasionally temping in different offices around town when funds came up short. Making sure we had enough funds in the bank to cover a check to the INS, with no idea of when it might be cashed, was a bit of a strain.

I didn’t keep a count of the number of times we had to submit the complete package for M to get her ‘resident alien’ status, or ‘green card’. Perhaps overly optimistic, and clearly naïve, I didn’t realize just how many ways we could be made to re-do a few detailed forms, and ship off all of our supporting documents.

The packet was returned to us for the photographs (a strip of four for each of us) being the wrong size (we’d paid a professional photographer for that first set, not realizing we could’ve gone to Kinko’s for the correct-sized photos for much less).

The packet was returned to us, because it was not clear who had completed the translation of M’s birth certificate (we did—thankfully, the INS accepted that).

The packet was returned to us because we were missing a form. (It had been in the packet when we sent it). Did I mention we were having to mail in our marriage certificate and our birth certificates with these forms—not copies—the actual documents?

Rather than call the INS toll-free number to request a new form, I drove down to the office, thinking that, like with the Post Office, I could just pop in and grab the form. (The office was down near the wholesaler where I bought t-shirts anyway). Instead, I stood on line for over 45 minutes, as the number of clerks dwindled down to only one clerk at one window.

Then he was gone.

All of us in line stood there, looking about nervously, irritated, wondering how it was possible that they had just stopped dealing with us altogether. Roughly fifteen minutes later, one of the clerks returned and announced that if we had not already gotten an appointment, we would have to come back the next day, because all the day’s appointments were filled. That clerk, again, disappeared. Wait? Was I in the wrong line? I can’t just get a form from somebody? I had been waiting in line to schedule an appointment to get a form? I ping-ponged about the building, stopping and waiting in a few other lines, trying to find out if there was some way to just get a copy of the form. ‘Call the INS toll-free line,’ I was told.

Seattle INS

Love, Marriage, and Bureaucracy — The old Seattle Immigration Office–complete with holding cells.

The packet was returned to us another time because there was ink on our photographs. Sure enough, there was a smear of blue ink across the bottom of my strip of photographs—a smear that had most certainly not been there when I mailed the packet in.

The packet was returned to us because the date we wrote next to our signatures had passed the one-year mark.

Then, after we re-did those forms, the packet was returned to us again, because the INS had updated one of the forms—although, aside from the form number and issue date, I’m really not sure what was different.  But we had to fill out that new form, anyway, directly transferring information from the old form.

The whole process seemed designed to frustrate people into deciding that a green card just wasn’t really worth it—or to force them to pay a lawyer to file paperwork that really wasn’t all that complicated—at least on the surface.

By the time our forms had been approved and we had an appointment for an interview scheduled, our daughter was approaching the one-year-old mark. In all that time, M was unable to leave the country to visit her family, lest she be denied re-entry.

The interview itself was rather anti-climactic. The agent who interviewed us, apparently taking the presence of our child as evidence that we weren’t in a sham, immigration-law-circumventing marriage, asked us a few brief questions about our wedding and our backgrounds, then signed off on all our paperwork and sent us on our way.

Our later dealings with the INS—to get M her full U.S. citizenship status—took place when the Internet was more of a thing, a new immigration office had been built in our region, and processes had reportedly been streamlined. It was much less dramatic and frustrating. And, despite her nervousness, M passed the immigration exam handily.

Still, even with all the immigration hoop-jumping we had to endure, I’m glad we made the essentially impulsive decision we made.

Happy anniversary, M. I love you.

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday to Me—Am I Getting a Present? Am I Getting a Present? Am I…

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

In the few weeks leading up to my eighth or ninth birthday, I remember driving my mom crazy asking her if I was getting a present.

She returned the crazy-driving favor throughout most of that time with vague, non-committal answers. On some level, I’m guessing she thought if she answered my question affirmatively, I would sneak into her room in search of the gift. (I went through a few periods of extreme snoopiness as a child—or perhaps spikes in an overall pattern of snooping). On another level, I think my mom just enjoyed goofing on me—especially when I was being extremely annoying (again, a constant throughout my childhood with plenty of spikes).

I have one photograph of each birthday throughout my childhood. In each picture, I am posing with the cake my mom made (including a number of cool cakes in the shape of animals, people, etc.). In some of the photos, my siblings stand behind me and to my sides, the birthday boy clearly the center of attention. And in some—only some—the gift I received that year is situated next to the cake.

I don’t specifically remember why I became obsessed with the idea of getting a birthday gift, or rather, the idea that I might not get a birthday gift that year. I suspect my big sister had something to do with it—either floating the idea that I was not getting a birthday gift because of what a little turd I was, or letting me know that she knew what I was getting for my birthday—with the certainty that it would drive me mad to think she knew something that I didn’t, and was not about to let me in on the secret—no matter what. Either way, the more I obsessed about whatever gift I may or may not have been getting, the more turdly I became, probably leading my mom to consider the idea of not celebrating my birthday that year or any other for the rest of time.

What is oddest in my memories from that period, though, was my sense of the novelty of getting a birthday gift. That is, what had sparked my obsession with getting a gift of any kind was a feeling that I had never gotten a birthday gift from my mom before. The idea that I might be getting one now was so exciting that I couldn’t deal with the thought that it might not be true. I needed to know if a gift was coming or not, so I could adjust my expectations. What a fantastic thing it would be if I just knew that I was getting a gift! What a crushing blow it would be to expect a gift and get none!

Of course I had gotten gifts from my mom before. There was plenty of photographic evidence of me with a birthday cake and a toy—and the physical evidence of those toys still residing on the shelves of my bedroom. Then again, I don’t recall spending a lot of time looking through family photos. In the years since then, the narrative that my sister was somehow involved in provoking the situation caused me to wonder if she had been so insidiously clever as to show me one of the photos of me with just my birthday cake as proof that I did not get birthday gifts. ‘See—there it is! Pictures don’t lie! No gifts for Jonny!’

I need to be clear that I don’t actually recall my sister doing any of the things I suggested. It’s just a bit more comforting to think she was messing with me than that I completely lost my mind speculating about whether or not I was getting a gift—not what the gift may or may not be—just the idea that I may or may not get any gift.

In the weeks leading up to that birthday, I seriously could not recall having ever gotten a birthday gift before. I could’ve gone up to my room, and looked at the toys, and puzzled out their origins. But logic and rationality were not in order. I needed someone in authority to tell me—definitively and right now—was I getting a birthday gift?!?

And after all that torturing of myself and my mother, the sad conclusion to this tale is that my mom wasn’t able to get me a gift that year, or even a cake.

Just kidding.

I got an awesome gift. The Adventure People Sea Explorer set.

doug and mary

Not my photo–and all these years I thought that dude’s name was Doug, not Dave.  Memory is a fickle thing, I guess.

I couldn’t find a commercial specifically featuring that set, but for a strangely simple earworm that haunts me to this day, watch this commercial and try not belting out that one line, “The Adventure People!”, for the rest of the day, or maybe the rest of your life.

“Suicide by Cop”—Mental Illness and Law Enforcement Response

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Georgia Tech engineering student and Pride Alliance president Scout Schultz phoned 911 at 11:17 p.m. Eastern last Saturday night to report a dangerous, armed individual—Scout Shultz. All indications are that the call was a suicide attempt, which the police, lamentably, completed.

In the world of crisis intervention and suicide prevention, we routinely assess for plan, means, and intent. In other words, we ask if someone expressing suicidal ideation has a plan to harm themself; if so, we ask if they have the means to carry out the plan; and we also seek to determine how determined the suicidal person is to actually go through with the plan.

For instance, if an adult male says he is suicidal and has a plan to shoot himself, but he has no access to a gun, there is a plan but no means. If that same person has a plan to shoot himself, and access to a gun, but says he is not going to do it because he would never do that to his family or has religious reasons for avoiding suicide, then he has a plan and means, but the intent is absent or lacking. If that same person has a plan to shoot himself as soon as he finishes his drink, access to a gun, and no reasons he identifies for not shooting himself, then plan, means and intent have all come together in a rather urgent fashion.

In the case of Schultz, the plan, means, and intent might be characterized in the following way.

Plan: suicide by cop; means: a call to 911 to anonymously report self (in the third person) as an armed danger to the community; intent: plenty enough to make the call and brandish a weapon at the police.

Scout and the cops

Crisis intervention or crisis escalation?

Schultz apparently knew enough to indicate the possible presence of a gun, rather than just reporting the knife (which turned out to be a “multipurpose tool”—something that is generally less fatal than a gun, or even, say, a hunting knife or kitchen knife). The threat of a firearm is likely to put officers in a different frame of mind prior to even arriving on scene, even if protocols are still essentially the same.

Even so, it is puzzling that an officer, with a second officer nearby who was also aiming a gun at the allegedly dangerous individual, would choose to stop said multipurpose-tool-wielding individual with a bullet to the chest. Granted, even with the best training available, professionals can panic in novel situations, or situations where they feel threatened. And, generally speaking, the sense of feeling threatened is the main criteria for police officers to be excused for fatally shooting anybody, regardless of what that anybody may be armed with, or why they may be engaging in some form of threatening behavior.

For those not familiar with the dynamic, I suppose there could be questions about how being shot by the police is a form of suicide. But for people in crisis intervention and suicide prevention, and, I suspect, for a majority of law enforcement officers out there, it’s far more common than one might imagine. Deliberately provoking an armed person into killing you is, arguably, less difficult than taking the steps yourself. For instance, if you don’t have access to a gun, shooting yourself is rather difficult. Getting shot by someone else is, perhaps, more within reach.

Beyond that, any method of suicide where you have to push yourself into that final, fatal act forces you to overcome eons of ingrained animal behavior that drives you to keep yourself alive. With the right threats, a suicidal person can turn that same instinct in someone else into a means for suicide completion.

When it comes to crisis intervention, and 911 dispatch, suicide by cop is also a bit of a conundrum. If a person calls to report suicidal ideation and refuses to ‘contract for safety’ (essentially, agree to do something other than killing him/herself), the person can report any of a number of intended means of suicide, including “suicide by cop”, knowing that the standard protocol in any report of intent to complete suicide is to send police out for a ‘welfare check’. Whether or not the person reports “suicide by cop” as the intended means, he/she is likely to know that the right provocation can lead to the use of deadly force. The police will get almost always get dispatched one way or another, because of the threat of suicide, and the directives to get suicidal people to an Emergency Room for a mental health assessment.

Schultz found a way to bypass some of the usual protocols by going straight to 911 and exaggerating the threat. No crisis counselors engaging in a clinical assessment. Deliberately misleading information provided to 911 dispatchers, which was, in turn, relayed to police.

But the entire situation begs plenty of questions about how Schultz’s plan, assuming Schultz was fully intending to die, could have been brought to fruition with what was essentially a minor manipulation of information.

Why was a shot to the chest the means the officer chose as self-preservation and to subdue the threat? If a gun needed to be the tool of choice, why wasn’t a debilitating, but non-fatal shot attempted instead? Why did the officers not use a taser or pepper spray to disable Schultz?

But, perhaps most of all, we need to ask if there are there police officers who aren’t trained to recognize and address attempts at suicide by cop? Police officers, so divorced from knowledge of mental health issues and basic human behavior that all threats are considered deadly? Police officers who are not trained to reasonably assess the threat level any given individual represents and to respond with non-lethal force in every instance possible?

Granted, when they are sent out on a call, law enforcement officers never know what they are walking into, or how any particular situation may unfold, and only have whatever information has been provided dispatchers, and then been filtered down to them. Such an information chain most certainly adds to the stress of police officers’ jobs, and the potential for error.

This post isn’t intended as an anti-police rant. In crisis intervention, mental health professionals have to work closely with the police in coordinating appropriate responses to potentially dangerous situations—which are most often about clients putting themselves at risk more than anyone else. That said, Police are the ones who put themselves in harm’s way as first responders, to ensure that nurses, doctors, social workers, and counselors can then step in to engage in assessments and treatment.

But we need to make sure that police aren’t bringing guns to a multipurpose-tool fight as part of a routine and accepted response, especially when that fight is against people struggling with mental illness—lest the need for mental health assessment and treatment is removed by a fatal, law-enforcement-administered gunshot.

Evil DeAddiction

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

I finally watched the ‘reboot’ or ‘re-imagining’ of The Evil Dead ‘. It’s only four years old at this point, proving that this blog is up-to-the-minute timely if nothing else.

I’m sure to some this will sound like an old-man horror-fan rant. And certainly I could probably create an entire blog called “Old Man Horror Fan Rant”, easily generating a post at least every other week based on how often I watch horror films, read horror novels (at least recently and in my teens), and my horror-centered habit, which stretches back to my childhood.

Speaking of habits, that is the big problem at the center of the Evil Dead remake.

I couldn’t care less whether film-makers change the gender or ethnicity of film characters…provided those alterations aren’t playing into stereotypes or other lazy writing/film-making practices, although I have no idea why the main character in the Evil Dead reboot didn’t retain the gender-neutral-tilting-toward-female name Ashley (opting for Mia instead).

That said, I do have issues with current ideas of how to remake horror movies to fit a more “modern” sensibility, with an appeal to audience “sophistication.” For instance, the bland Nightmare on Elm Street reboot, starring Jackie Earle Haley, tried to play up the whole child-molestation angle of Freddy Krueger—essentially draining the original film’s humor, and making it difficult to really get behind Freddy’s imaginative, dream-based murders. Yes, I said “get behind…murders.” Somehow, Freddy ended up being much less entertaining, and much less scary at the same time, by attempting to ground his evil in explicitly exposited child molestation—perhaps because, prior to Nightmare, Haley played a more disturbing and scary child molester in the more real-world movie, Little Children.

Now, as much as I appreciate the inclusion of the original version of The Evil Dead in the pantheon of horror movies, and enjoy the low-budget craftiness and concept of the film, I’ve only ever been a casual fan, largely due to the last third of the film devolving into non-stop witchy cackling, spewing blood, melting faces, and various other forms of jetting viscera and cracking, crumbling bones.

Old Evil Dead

Old-school, drug-free evil.

The simple premise of the original film could be characterized as, ‘whoops, our group of five friends tried to have a fun weekend getaway at a rustic rental cabin, but by messing with a book and tapes we found in the basement, accidentally awakened an ancient evil that has trapped us here and is now infesting/killing us all.’

The crafters of the remake decided to add layers of ‘sophistication’, to make the story much more drab and burdensome, so that the premise becomes, ‘our group of five friends, including a brother-sister pair and the brother’s nurse girlfriend have to go to the brother-sister pair’s family cabin where everyone can pitch in to help the sister kick her heroin habit (again), following the brother-sister pair’s mother’s death, and after discovering that somebody set fire to the basement and hung numerous dead cats there, and, whoops, the biggest nerd among us found a book wrapped in barbed wire, that he cut open and started messing with/reading/reciting from, accidentally awakening an ancient evil that trapped us here and is now infesting/killing us all.’

Like with the child-rape angle of the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, the family-cabin/addiction/nurse angle of The Evil Dead remake drains the fun out of the original movie, trying to make cackling, possessed, trap-door-pounding twenty-somethings serious, just-say-no business.

To get back to the habits I mentioned being at the center of the problems with the reboot of The Evil Dead

The reboot tries to make heroin addiction a central plot device. Of course, addiction of any sort can certainly be horrific. But the writers/filmmakers here don’t actually commit to the drug abuse as something that is frightening. Rather, they use addiction as part of a hokey empowerment narrative that can best be described as ‘an addict becomes infected with evil because of her idiotic nerd friend and finds the kind of inner strength none of her sober friends/family members have, not only to expel the evil from her own body, but to just plain kick its ass’.

New Evil Dead

New and improved evil!  Now with addiction!

Early on, I thought the addiction might become some kind of clever metaphor for making the kinds of errors in judgment that lead to evil infesting one’s body, that there might be some wild, conceptual departure from the original film. But that hope was quickly shattered. The addiction of one among them just becomes an excuse for everybody else in the party to dismiss whatever the addict says/feels, and to engage in all manner of their own irrational behavior and stupid decisions.

Beyond the already-mentioned foolishness of the nerd cutting barbed wire so he can peruse the contents of a book bound in flesh that he found in the basement of the addict’s family cabin, along with numerous hanging dead cats, and evidence of a deliberately set fire—things that everyone in the group, with essentially no discussion, decides are not as concerning as the heroin habit of one of their party—we also have a nurse among the group who apparently stole equipment and medications from her job in order to treat someone in withdrawal. Either that, or we are supposed to believe that the use of these tools/substances, ”the same treatment she would get in a hospital”, was approved by her bosses.

‘Sure, Olivia, we always encourage our staff to treat withdrawal in their off hours.  Take whatever you need. Just make sure to dispose of the hypodermic needles properly!’

And did I mention that this group of friends apparently isn’t all that alarmed at finding hanging dead cats in a basement where a fire was set? Is that the kind of thing anybody sees without being concerned about who may have been there, and who might come back anytime—especially given that they left a flesh-bound, barbed-wire-wrapped book full of disturbing illustrations and ancient incantations down there? And why on earth would those people have left the book there? At least in the original, we recognize that the people who left the book and the recordings were already taken by the evil.

It’s also confounding that in the midst of all this modernizing and sophisticating, the film-makers didn’t think to remove or alter the tree-rape scene to where it was, maybe, not a rape scene. Certainly, childish fan-boys would have been upset at such an omission, but they were probably already upset at having a female protagonist anyway–a protagonist who is both an addict, and the victim of rape by tree roots.

In the end, the remake is most disappointing not just because it doesn’t improve on the original in any identifiable way, aside from maybe its special effects, and, well, better acting. It is most disappointing because it treats addiction as a pointless plot device. As much as addiction is treated as a central element of the movie’s set-up, the writers have nothing original to say about addiction, or even anything unoriginal that might lend some weight or authenticity to the story, except maybe that the family members and friends of addicts get completely stupid when trying to get the addicts to ‘kick’. But I’m guessing that’s not the intended message.

The central character could have just as easily come down with a vicious case of the flu, or been dealing with a bad breakup, or, really, since it is already there, been having a particularly hard time dealing with the loss of her mother; or, since it is already there, been dealing with the trauma of a sexual assault by a tree (not that I would recommend that as a similarly pointless plot device).

Horror movies tend to be most effective when they are simplest (dead return to life and begin eating the living, giant shark terrorizes coastal town, teens stumble upon the isolated home of a murderous family, young people visit a cabin where they accidentally awaken an ancient evil); or when there are clever concepts or twists on expectations (a puzzle box releases evil beings from hell, murdered child murderer invades the dreams of his killer’s children, the therapist is really dead, time-travelling jet engine fails to kill teen who kills teen in a rabbit costume…ok, maybe I shouldn’t try to explain that one here).

But when horror movies (or any movies) try to introduce “real world” problems as nothing more than a plot device, they risk ruining fantastical or otherwise functional concepts with movie-of-the-week blandness and clichés, which is exactly what the reboot of The Evil Dead does—shoves weak “recovery” and “intervention” ideas in the middle of an otherwise simple, effective, and scary idea, making addiction just some dumb excuse for other dumb things that happen, and happen more pointlessly than they would have if the addiction angle had been left out.

And, if you want to get right down to it, the movie blames the addiction problem of one character for killing all of her friends by making them commit to staying in a cabin infused with evil…even though it’s really the nerd toying with a book that kills everybody. And that’s a burden the nerd should bear…but he’s dead, and the addict is alive. How do you think that’s gonna work out?

Nebraska Never Lets You Come Back Home

by
JC Schildbach, LMHC

September 13th marks the anniversary of the death of my father. September 13th, 2017 marks the 46th anniversary of his death.

A rural Nebraska town. A young man running a stop sign. A wife and six kids left without a husband/dad. A small congregation left without a Pastor.

The subtitle of this blog used to be “Missives from an Insecurely Attached Therapist”. But I changed that when I moved away from doing therapy proper, and moved away from trying to focus all of these posts on mental health issues (as much as anything can ever be divorced from mental health issues).

Still, my attachment issues have remained, although awareness of those issues has helped me manage them.

It’s odd to have almost no conscious sense of loss when a subconscious sense of loss pervades your entire existence and informs far too much of your behavior…forcing you to rein in your immediate reactions in favor of more rational approaches to, well, most silly little situations that are often no more than the day-in-day-out ins and outs of life.

It’s like having to constantly remind yourself that bumper cars are fun, and not an affront to your personhood.

It’s like forever being on alert that your friends might not really be your friends, that everyone is potentially just messing with you…that any positive is about to be clobbered by a ‘however’.

Or, to be even less mature, it’s feeling that any time you’re feeling a bit of joy, a big ‘but’ is gonna get shoved in your face.

It’s wishing you had lashed out and punched a LOT of people in the face when that was an option, and realizing you didn’t, because living with confusion rather than violence was more your style…and maybe something that Jesus demanded of you.

Or did He?

Did I mention I stabbed a classmate in the back with a pencil once?

couch

Circa 1970, when I was still the big-headed baby of the family.

It’s being angry with Jesus for not equipping you with the appropriate skills and permission to beat the piss out of your enemies, because that was what was ultimately right and good…right?

It’s recognizing that everyone is always looking out for everyoneself.

It’s measuring whether or not any of those everyones are capable of/interested in looking out for anyone else, and knowing that’s always a risky calculation.

It’s knowing that figuring intent and motive is forever a frightening measure…one that assumes a skewed calculator…and a bullshit answer, regardless of what you punch in.

So you move on in your own tightly-wound world, having faith where you see fit, often recognizing that faith falls where you wouldn’t expect.

It’s knowing that faith is stupid.

It’s knowing that faith isn’t making the appropriate calculations to provide you a safe path.

It’s knowing that a safe path isn’t really that interesting.

It’s knowing that “faith” is a loaded word, a word in which you lack faith.

Sorry if I’m not on your same page, faith-wise, dad.

Now to get back to my Bowlby reading.

Happy death day, Pops.

I Can See the Stars Again

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

The original writing I did on this post was under the title “I Can’t See the Stars at Night” roughly two weeks ago–writing that took a hard turn, and escaped me, putting me off track completely.

But things can shift rather suddenly.

When I got home from work tonight, more than an hour-and-a-half late, I took the dogs for a walk. As I was heading out across the front lawn, I heard what I initially mistook for some sort of chorale. It turned out to be the yipping of my neighbor’s Chihuahua, on the far side of her property, a distance that, on this magical night, transformed the aggravating noise into a brief delusion of angelic harmony.

How are such mistakes made?

I was also stopped by police on the way home for speeding. “Going over 40 in a 35 zone,” said the cop, who was rather quick with the whole process and let me off with a warning…without even calling it a warning.

At any rate, my abandoned piece on not seeing the stars started off as an idea about “self care”—those things we do to avoid burning out at work, or charring the circuits in other facets of our lives—as well as the need to have self-care back-up plans.

One of my main self care strategies…at least during the warmer months, although I will do it throughout the year so long as it’s dry enough…is to sit out on the deck, drink in hand, staring up at the stars. I usually listen to music on my headphones, as much to drown out the noise of passing cars and other neighborly cacophony as to help focus on the experience. Just simply listening to music, while disengaging from everything else is also a big self care piece for me…although much harder without something magnificent upon which to gaze.  Plain darkness, or the light of a few candles can work in a pinch.

I’m not good at plain meditation.

red moon blog

The moon at night through the smoke…bloody enough for you?

This summer, though, the stars in this part of the world have been blocked out more than once by, to steal a line from the Sanford Townsend band, smoke from a distant fire.

These blockages went on for days upon days, reaching into weeks. The only way they lift is with heavy winds, or a bout of rain…neither of which has been in abundance in the stretch since May.

Of course, even if you get a bit of rain, the clouds also block out the stars.

To now steal a line from Bananarama, it’s been a cruel, cruel summer. Despite a fun trip to Southern California, and an abundance of warm, sunny weather here at home, there’s been a perpetual fog hanging around my head. A sense that things had tanked, and were not going to improve. I was fighting to keep away from teeth-grinding, profanity-spitting, head-banging despair.

The unusually hot, dry weather meant I had to fill my rain barrels repeatedly with a garden hose, just to keep the plants on my deck from burning up. I stopped counting how many times, although in the past I can’t recall having to do it more than twice without the rain intervening.

sunflower sun

Stare into the sun…it won’t hurt your eyes…the smoke is protection.

But it wasn’t the weather—the heat and the lack of precipitation—that was at the core of my despair, so much as it was a personal situation…or, hey, let’s call it a work situation.

I got word today that the situation has changed, that my teeth-grinding, profanity-spitting, head-banging despair was unnecessarily dire.

So I’ll revert back to happy head-banging, with my world suddenly, and perhaps ridiculously optimistically, changed.

Changed to the point where being pulled over by the cops barely registered as a thing that happened.

Changed to the point where the yipping of a Chihuahua could be mistaken for a choir.

Changed to the point where I wish you similar good news and good happenings in your life, and I wish for myself that I won’t get too convinced that this news is some kind of actual solution, and that I won’t revel too much in anyone else’s misfortune.

And I look forward to a few more nights this year where I can actually stare up at the stars, music filling my ears (Chihuahua-based or otherwise), and sipping on, say, a mineral water.

Enjoy your last week-and-a-half of summer.

Peace.

Caddyshack Fan Fiction

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

So, I was at a family dinner over my niece’s wedding weekend—not a specifically wedding-related event-meal, but that’s why we were all there—when I overheard (parts of) a conversation between my daughter, and my nephew’s significant other, about artist Patrick Nagel—he of Duran Duran Rio fame…or, as my daughter put it, “Hair Salon Art”. I might refer to it as Playboy Advisor art, but I wouldn’t want to have to explain why I would know such a thing.  Hey…it was the 80s, alright?

Nagel rio

And when she shines…or some such…

At any rate, the random combination of a pre-wedding get-together and artist Patrick Nagel kicked me in the head with a bad memory…or rather, a personal embarrassment barely shared with anyone outside of my own head…until now. Okay, I shared the story with at least two people…my closest friend of 30+ years (now—10+ but almost 20 years then), and a writing professor I admired.

Neither turned out to be all that impressed by the…er… competency of the writing, or the craft of the story.

To clarify, back when I was (playing at) writing short fiction—not counting the fugues I occasionally yield to on this particular platform—I completed an exercise in dialog-based storytelling, which, along with most of my other efforts in that particular arena, belie a certain lack of ability to capture how real-live people speak…or at least how real-live people might speak in totally contrived situations. (I still have a frightening recall of actual conversations…except when I deliberately try to forget…but those often seem unlikely and bland when written out as fiction).

The Nagel-involved story I wrote, or rather, dribbled out onto the page, involved a frustrated-artist-turned-housepainter, on the eve of his ex-girlfriend’s wedding to another man, trying to express his love for ‘the one that got away’—on a golf course, in the rain—or some such. I don’t remember a lot of the specifics.

Or, rather, I’ve tried to forget a lot of the specifics.  I can safely say I have no idea how the golf course came into play.

And, fortunately or unfortunately, a Microsoft update on a Dell computer shunted the file containing that story out into some undiscoverable place. I don’t dare dig through my ‘hard copy’ files to see if that embarrassment still exists, for fear I might feel obligated to share it here…or revisit the personal nightmare by reading said hard copy. Although, if it does exist, I know exactly where it would be.

But we’ll leave that to a day when I am feeling more up to facing my personal demons.

In the sound and fury of the particular tale under consideration, our angry, young, male protagonist laments how the public ignores his latest works—an attempt to utilize the style of Patrick Nagel’s work while capturing “real women’s” bodies, in all their perfect imperfection. So, he was basically using a style of highly-defined lines and an art-deco sensibility to show something that didn’t fit into clean lines and an art-deco sensibility…or some stupid crap along those lines. Thank the maker I didn’t try to do any illustrations or samples of the alleged works, or get into any more detailed explanations of them than I did.

As I write this, I realize I still remember too many of the specifics, even if the golf course piece doesn’t make any sense to me.

The idea behind the art aspect of the story was that our protagonist was trying to make a statement, to convey his understanding of women and how women are objectified, and—well, I suppose the idea was about men who are passionate and supportive of women who are then left by women who move on to men who aren’t so passionate and supportive. It was, to my thinking at the time, some kind of feminist statement—in spite of the clearly patronizing message.

Ultimately, it was just a dramatized version of the “nice guy’s” lament, (‘why are women always choosing bad guys, and not nice guys like me when I’m so much more understanding?’) but with a ridiculous art-criticism angle to it.  Or, to put it another way, it was pretentious in the dumbest of ways.

Did I mention that I was working through some of my own crap at the time, involving a failing relationship? And that I was maybe 20 years old, and knew exactly nothing about relationships? (Which is not to say I know that much more now, but…)

What might have made the story marginally more functional in its intent would have been to have a female character that wasn’t just a vague object of the angry young man’s affection—having a character that was more fleshed out than just a guy’s desired woman. But even that wouldn’t have saved the story, since, at base, it was just a story about a guy whining to his ex-girlfriend about how he can’t understand why she wants somebody else instead of him…all while continuing to pretend to be just a nice guy.

What might have made the story marginally more functional in its intent would have been if I understood, or even tried to understand, the person who the female character was based on.  But it was a selfish, self-indulgent complaint of a story.  Self-reflection?  No, I’m a writer–arrogance is my birth-right!

Looking back, though, I realize that I had set the bulk of the story on a golf course, in stormy weather—just like the scene in Caddyshack, where Bill Murray’s character, Carl Spackler, caddies for “The Bishop” in a nighttime thunderstorm, until the Bishop is struck by lightning, and Spackler sneaks off, leaving him for dead.

caddyshack lightning

If only the wrath of God took out embarrassing memories.

My protagonist was essentially Spackler—clueless and self-centered—living in a fantasy-world where he is the center of attention—just a Cinderella story of flower-decimating, golf-club-swinging, muttering foolishness.

But played for drama, rather than comedy.

caddyshack runa away

It’s funny to run away from a lightning-struck priest. Whining to an ex-girlfriend on a rain-soaked golf course?  Less funny.

In the course of all of this kicking myself in the head, I realized I could maybe go back and re-tool the story, to actually make it Caddyshack fan fiction—turn it from pathetic to hilarious—Carl Spackler’s back-story…the crisis that pushes him out into the world where he makes contact with the Dalai Lama, who promises Spackler he will achieve “total consciousness” upon reaching his deathbed.

But then, the Nagel element began causing problems. Would Spackler, in 1980, have been aware of Nagel’s art? In the short time between Nagel’s rise to prominence, and Nagel’s death in 1984, would Spackler have tried to connect with the Dalai Lama about consciousness, and women’s issues, and art, and all that?  As a back story, the timeline wouldn’t work out?

Could I substitute a different artist for Nagel?  Leroy Neiman, perhaps?  (Sorry, just thinking, of Playboy-affiliated artists for no reason in particular.)

Of course, when I think of the effort and the potential embarrassment involved–no matter how private–I’m not gonna go back and write any Caddyshack fan fiction—not after spending a few decades trying to forget about the story that would form the basis of that fan fiction.

But, hey…anybody else out there itching to create some Caddyshack fan fiction?

If so, feel free to submit here in the comments section.

Happy fan-fictioning, y’all.

 

Slow with Liquor

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Nelsan Ellis, known to most as the character Lafayette Reynolds, a gay, V-dealing short-order cook, medium, cousin to Tara Thornton, and friend to Sookie Stackhouse on the series True Blood, died July 8th, 2017 of a heart attack. More specifically, Ellis died of complications following heart failure due to alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Ellis, who, in real life, had a wife and two young children, was only 39 years old when his attempt to put down the bottle killed him.

I can’t claim to know the full extent of Ellis’ alcohol abuse, or whatever other factors might have contributed to his untimely death. But the thought that his efforts to end an addiction to alcohol was what ultimately killed him should give us all pause.

Lafayette with a drink

Ciao, bitches!  Ellis has left the building.

The good ol’ U.S. of A. still has a massive alcohol problem, in terms of use, perception of use, and understanding of impacts. Sure, we’ve gotten all M.A.D.D. and managed to sharply decrease drunk driving—or, rather, to at least make drunk driving illegal and unacceptable—for the most part. Still, almost a third of all deaths in automobile accidents involve alcohol.

President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis raised a big stink about declaring opioid addiction a national public health emergency, citing a 142-deaths-per-day figure for deaths by drug overdose (which includes all unintentional drug overdoses, not just OD by opioids, which sits at 91 per day for 2015).

And while opioid abuse has been climbing towards alarming, our nonchalance about alcohol abuse is still confounding.

If you look at deaths in the United States directly attributed to alcohol, they are at about the same level annually as deaths by gun (including both homicides and suicides), or annual deaths in automobile accidents–or right around 80 deaths per day.

But when you factor in all the deaths involving alcohol…those primarily attributed to alcohol (diseases, alcohol poisoning, and such), and those deaths where alcohol was a significant factor (car crashes, suicides, homicides, all other forms of accidents involving alcohol) then the total number of alcohol-related deaths rises to over 230 per day (albeit, intruding on other categories of death).

But how many of us, in our puritanical, cold-turkey, I-can-quit-anytime-I-want culture of addiction-denial and personal responsibility even realize that heart failure from alcohol withdrawal is a thing?

Sure, we’ve seen movies, TV shows, and even documentaries depicting the horrific sickness and potential death that comes from withdrawing from opiates–“kicking” heroin being a dramatic staple of drug addiction stories. But how often do we see any depictions of the danger of alcohol withdrawal, or any kind of realistic portrayal of the dangers of alcohol use and abuse?

As a culture we celebrate drunkenness and binge-drinking…until we don’t.

Think of a recent comedy you’ve seen, or at least a recent R-rated comedy. If it had scenes involving alcohol, what happened in those scenes, and what messages were conveyed? I’d venture a guess that the messages included the idea that binge drinking is, at its least problematic, an awesome escape from life stressors, just a way to cut loose and have fun; and that at increased levels, binge drinking is still pretty hilarious—leading to some wildly comedic pratfalls and other scenarios involving what would probably be fatal, or at least permanently-disabling, head injuries—all played for laughs.

Moving beyond such comedic depictions, chronic, excessive drinking might become marginally less comical over the course of a film. But, ultimately, movies tend to show us that people who chronically drink are able to get it together and turn their lives around in the space of a montage, or perhaps following a heart-felt speech from a loved one. Think Trainwreck, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, How to be Single, or maybe as far back as Knocked Up—I could go on and on, and back through decades of movies. But at least I now realize that I spend a ridiculous amount of time watching comedies on DirecTV.

Such messages of hilarity are typically upended in more ‘serious’ fare, like Flight, starring Denzel Washington, or Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges. Or, at least they’re sort of upended.

In Flight, Denzel’s character, Whip Whitaker, saves (most of) an airplane full of people by flying while wasted, then tries to quit, but relapses, then corrects the alcohol relapse with cocaine, in order to become jury-pleasing honest and speak beautiful truths.

In Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges’ character, Bad Blake, realizes what a disappointment he’s become, and we flash forward from Blake staggering off stage to throw up massive quantities of Jack Daniels between alleyway dumpsters and nearly losing a friend’s child in a mall, to several months later when he is clean and sober, and everything is hunky dory—except that he doesn’t get the ‘girl’ who is about half his age.

Beyond just Hollywood portrayals, think of how you, and other people you know–friends, family, co-workers, online acquaintances–talk about alcohol. A stray comment about the urgency of a drink to take the edge off some negative experience. Expressing a desire to wash away the workday with a bottle. An impending vacation where one intends to aggressively day-drink, evening drink, and late-night drink.  Drinking memes suggesting alcohol is just a comically enjoyable part of life.

I don’t mean to get all holier-than-thou. I’m more-than-guilty myself…of the drinking, of the denial, of the comments and laughter about, at, and around drunkenness. I’ve got no end of irresponsible drinking stories to spin—going back decades. As a matter of fact, I’m currently nursing a vicious bacon-grease burn that was birthed into this world by the midwifery of a bottle of Kirkland brand vodka.

And I don’t want to suggest we all drop our sense of humor.  Just maybe stop and think about it awhile.  When drinking is played for laughs, or treated as just something we all do, how much longer does it take anybody to get serious about problem drinking? How much easier is it to stave off the idea that maybe we should tone down the booze intake?

I also don’t want to imply that Hollywood is responsible for anybody’s personal decisions and habits. However, we as a culture endorse a lot of pro-booze, and pro-binge-drinking messages, while slapping a little “drink responsibly” disclaimer in tiny letters and hushed tones, after our big, bold cries of, “Hold my drink! Woooooooo!”

On the other hand, we portray opioid abuse as a disturbing descent into hell, and a national emergency.

Perhaps that’s because, except when alcohol abuse results in a sudden, accidental death, or the relatively rare withdrawal-based-heart attack like that suffered by Ellis, death by alcohol is often a long, slow process, while opioid OD seems much more shocking, short-term, and immediate. We’re allowed to see alcohol abuse as amusing…something people might grow out of after a few (or a few years of) wild exploits, whereas opioid abuse seems like a wholly disturbing, sudden collapse into hopelessness.

But we need to look at whether those perceived differences are real, or just a matter of cultural acceptance versus cultural rejection, normalization versus novelty, and indifference versus shock. We, as good ol’ Americans, enjoy our drugs, and, like all things American, X-treme is where it’s at!  Be that a quick-and-painless death by extreme, or a decades-to-death extreme.

So, I’ll just bring this all to a close with a quote from Ellis’ character, Lafeyette…

“All the shit I done in my life – the drugs… the sex… the web site. I did it so my life wouldn’t be a dead-end, and this is where I end up. Now what kind of punchline is that?”

Or perhaps just…

“Ciao, bitches.”

(Drink responsibly, and all that…there are plenty of ways to find help, like via your insurance company, or https://www.aa.org , where you can find local meetings…not that I’m endorsing any particular source of help or another…call 211 or a local crisis line if you want to look for some other options…crisis line locator at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/our-network/ or perhaps https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help –the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, where “find help” is even in the name of the link).

 

LGBTChaos in the Military: Another Trump Distraction?

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

It must have come as a surprise to many in the military community to learn that major DoD policy decisions are now being made under advisement of “generals and military experts” who provide secret counsel to a demented old man tapping away at his tiny phone keyboard with his tiny thumbs, as he sits atop his porcelain throne in a 3 a.m. constipation rage.

(Note to President Trump: Steve Bannon staggering drunkenly around the oval office in a Napoleon hat is not a “general”, and your son-in-law Jared is not a “military expert” in spite of your need to believe he is super-human in both physical and mental capacities as a justification for why your favorite daughter chose him over you as a breeding partner.)

Trump trans tweet turd

The fuzzy turd of Donald’s logic.

There is actual evidence, Twitter- and otherwise-based, that Trump supported the rights of the entire LGBTQ community, and advocated for everybody just calming the f*ck down about bathroom laws, and all that other genital-fixated nonsense as recently as last year.

Trump lgbt flag

Hey–look at my totally-not-staged prop-flag!!  I’m so progressive!  Psych!!

But that was before he had the neo-Nazis…er, I mean the Brown shirts…er, I mean the alt-Breit folks whispering in his ear about the threat non-masculine men and masculine women pose to the good ol’ US of A in general, and the U.S. Military in particular.

When President Trump wasn’t trying to play shapeshifter to fit the desires of his loyal, yet indiscriminate, yet hyper-discriminatory base, he shouted out his support for “The Gays” and anybody else who fell anywhere near that camp. President Trump was cool with anybody who wouldn’t get too upset about him grabbing their pussies, or anything else they might potentially bleed out of if the grabbing got a bit too intense. Or so he said.

But now that he knows the terrible expense of gender reassignment surgery, and how that money could be much better spent on his weekend trips to his own resorts, he needs to protect the American taxpayers from such wastefulness, so that he might funnel those funds to himself.

So, f*ck transgender people who would put themselves in harm’s way to serve in the U.S. military! We can safely say they are doing nothing more than risking their lives just to finance their elective surgery, and maybe pass on state secrets to people who shouldn’t have them…like maybe their friends in the Soviet Union…wait…that’s not what we call it anymore…is it?  Anyway, they’re clearly in it for themselves…right?

Given Trump’s history of valiant service to this country, we can trust that he has the best interests of the military community at heart…and the LGBTQ community as well…just like he has always come out in favor of all Americans at all times, and has never used divisiveness and distraction for his own benefit.

Russia what?!?  Russia who?!?

God bless our Commander in Chief…for what it’s worth.

 

A Searchlight Soul

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Chester Bennington completed suicide by hanging on Chris Cornell’s birthday, just over a month after Chris Cornell completed suicide by hanging on the 37th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ suicide by hanging.

For those unfamiliar, Bennington was best known as the lead singer of Linkin Park; Chris Cornell was best known as the lead singer of Soundgarden; and Ian Curtis was best known as lead singer of Joy Division.

Now, Linkin Park’s music makes me want to grind my teeth, spit, and curse—and not in a good way. And I never got into Joy Division beyond owning a ‘greatest hits’ collection for a few years as an undergrad. I am, however, a big fan of Soundgarden, as well as another of Cornell’s bands, Audioslave—not such a big fan that I ever made it to a concert. But, living in Seattle, I would see members of the band at other bands’ shows around town in the way back of the early 90s.

cornell dark

How would I know?  Cornell from ‘Fell on Black Days.’

I have no idea if Cornell’s suicide was related to Curtis’ beyond coincidence. But Bennington’s was directly connected to Cornell’s. They were friends, and, from what I understand, Bennington took Cornell’s death particularly hard. Both Cornell and Bennington had struggled with addiction and mental health issues during their lives.

But the takeaway shouldn’t only be that a life marbled with addiction and mental health issues leads to suicide. That makes it too easy for people to distance themselves from suicide, its causes, and our potential susceptibility to its draw.

In the wake of a loved one’s death, thoughts of suicide can arise or increase, and suicide attempts climb.

In the wake of a loved one’s death from suicide, those thoughts and those attempts climb significantly higher.

There are those who have criticized Curtis’, Cornell’s, and Bennington’s suicides by pointing out that they had achieved success, or had spouses, friends, children…all of which should have somehow prevented them from committing suicide, much less having thoughts of such.

That’s a natural impulse—to want to point out why we never would have killed ourselves in similar circumstances. But it’s also false comfort.

Just try to imagine finding yourself in a space where money, success, and a loving family can be discounted as not providing enough impetus to go on living. Imagine finding yourself in a space where you actually feel the people who care about you most will be better off without you. Imagine being so deep into that thought process that you can’t find your way out—that it seems completely logical—that suicide actually seems like the only rational decision.

I could get into explanations of survivor guilt, or what grief can do to people, or the impact of knowing that a friend reached the conclusion that suicide was an appropriate response to the world around them–a world that you were part of.

But I’d rather you think on how declaring yourself immune to something, insisting you are completely separate from some problem, is the first step to blocking your understanding of that problem…or worse, blocking your compassion toward others affected by that problem. You can feel for the families and friends of those who complete suicide without feeling the need to condemn the dead. That condemnation does nothing to help the grieving, or anybody else, least of all you.