Book of interest: “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” (my thoughts)

Today I began listening to the audiobook Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance and am currently on chapter 10, putting it on pause until tomorrow. Definitely speaks to my own spirit and life experiences, both directly and indirectly among people I knew.

To begin with, rarely have I heard of anybody else referring to a Memaw and Peppa. That’s what my stepdad’s parents were known as too. Memaw Allen we called her, and Peppa Pete we called him. Weird to write down those names now since I’ve long since switched to referred to them as simply Mr. and Mrs. Allen, having effectively divorced myself from accepting them as kin since back in my teenage years.

J.D. Vance’s description of his Appalachian Kentucky-rooted family shares similarities with what I’m familiar with in my section of the Deep South, though notable differences as well. Enough similarities though that his story really is resonating with me, reminding me very much of various family members, particularly my Papa (my maternal grandpa, not to be confused with Pepa Pete mentioned prior). Though I’d say that my own people tend to be a bit more conservative both in mannerism and political affiliation, as well as religious involvement. Interesting to observe the overlap between our two camps, not that it should be too surprising considering we share historical ethnic heritages (Scottish primarily). His people and my people came originally from the same regions of the United Kingdom at roughly the same time, belonging to the same socioeconomic class as well. Some went to Appalachia whereas others populated deeper parts of the South. The rowdiness he described there among his people is reminiscent of that which was described by Dr. Thomas Sowell in his book Black Rednecks and White Liberals, which also resonated with me. But the differences are worth noting here. He spoke of his people being Christian yet rarely attending church services, whereas many of my people remain lifelong active in their churches. He tells of his people voting Democrat because they were union folks and associated that political party with being for the working men, while my people viewed the Conservative political party as more beneficial for the working class, if only because they viewed government encroachment on their lives as doing more harm than good more often than not. Though I can see the commonality in the underlying political sentiments despite our camps belonging on opposite sides of the political divide, most markedly in their distrust of getting the Law involved in their personal affairs and vying to align themselves with the political party least likely to screw them and theirs over (though it appears we’ve all failed in that regard, both political parties demonstrating over time that they don’t give much of a damn about the working class aside from paying lip service to gain votes).

Parts of the book struck me as very funny, particularly when he described his grandparents hillbilly ways and inability (and/or unwillingness) to adjust to the established middle class norms and expectations in Ohio where they migrated to in search of jobs and an escape from Appalachian poverty. My Papa shared a lot in common with his people, from the gruff talk to the gun-toting, as well as the years of drinking and the damage that did to his family. But also the defiant pride and desire for your children and grandchildren to go to college so as not to have to work in laboring jobs like he and others in his generation had to. So much Vance said on all of that had me tripping down memory lane about my home county in Mississippi and various family members and neighbors. But we’re not hillbillies since we never resided in hill country — we were rednecks. Though I suppose to outside onlookers we all appeared to simply be “white trash” (a pejorative I do not like or accept being applied to my people).

Our stories differed in important ways, such as my mother thankfully not subjecting us to a carousel of husbands and boyfriends (to which I give credit to my stepdad for working with her as much as he did expressly to ensure that did not happen). And my mother never became a drinker nor a drug user (prescription or otherwise). Was just crazy in her own right, though not necessarily in a uniquely Southern/redneck fashion (we speculate it being due to brain damage likely experienced early in life during a car accident). But I knew those kind of people too. And I also wound up being raised largely by my grandparents and proved better off as a result thanks to the stability that offered. I also grew up hearing rough stories of violence and abuse, including episodes between my grandparents back when Papa was drinking. I can also understand the feistiness  among women that he described, though my own female family members tended to be a little more reserved about it than his. Among my people it was less acceptable for women to smoke and drink and curse like the men did, though some did anyway (myself included). And even among the men it wasn’t viewed as positive attributes to do so, the only exception being when they channeled their aggressive tendencies in the service for protecting the family. There is especially where I saw the women behave like junkyard dogs themselves, because all bets are off when it comes to defending one’s own. It’s a matter of pride and protecting, checking disloyalty and disrespect. And yes, it can go too far and wind up creating total chaos in some circumstances, which I myself have had to discover the hard way in my own behavior and reactions.

Perhaps that’s the biggest difference I noted there between our camps of people: self-control. Not that mine are terrific at maintaining self-control, but it’s definitely prized among them in many social situations. Because they deem it necessary for moving up in this world, though they too expressed feeling conflicted about it when it came to accepting poor treatment from others. There’s an underlying resentment toward those who look down upon you, who see you as nothing more than a member of a downtrodden class not worth much and treat you accordingly, leading to the manifestation of a great deal of class-related distrust (which I too continue to struggle with). On one hand they want you to do well in school so as to have greater opportunities, but on the other they don’t want you to get “too big for your britches” and forget where you come from and who helped you along the way. It does create a bit of cognitive dissonance within us to come up with so many contradictory messages. Want your daughter to marry well but then resent the man she does marry because he’s some highfalutin academic who doesn’t really with the rest of the family. Kind of sets up a no-win situation in a way. But that’s the way it goes. Probably has something to do with why I prefer to date working-class men — feels like there’s too much of a social divide between myself and my people and folks of middle-class origins for a romantic partnership to likely prove workable long-term.

In chapter 7 where J.D. Vance spoke of his Pepa dying, it really pulled at my heart strings. Especially when he stated that his Pepa died on a Tuesday and how that Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Tuesday’s Gone” played on the radio afterward. Was out walking in a neighborhood while listening to that part and had to turn off the audiobook so as to compose myself. Breaks my heart to hear of someone losing such an important father-figure while they’re still so young, he only being in his early teens by then. My Papa died 6 years ago when I was 29 and I still can’t barely talk about it without crying. Just can’t. Losing the big man in one’s life is a tragedy we don’t easily recover from apparently. In J.D. Vance’s case, it was so sudden with no warning, which is really sad. My Papa had cancer so we knew he was going down for a year and a half and tried to prepare ourselves for it, so much as one is truly able to do so. And I can understand how one wrestles with the memory of someone so important to them who also happened to have had drama with others in the family, largely due to his own doing through drinking and acting wrongly. You love him so much, and yet you can’t pretend he was perfect. We’re lucky in that our grandpas did change over time, they did both quit drinking (his in 1983, I believe he said; mine in 1990) and they sought to become better people toward their loved ones so as to find some sort of redemption. I think there’s a lot to learn from life stories like that, demonstrating that many people we consider good and valuable had to make a conscience effort to become that over time. They weren’t necessarily born that way, or their life experiences didn’t incline them toward a more noble direction originally. They had to make the choice themselves at some point, and often it comes after years of pain and strife created within their own families unfortunately. Pain likes to pay forward, and that can be a very difficult cycle to break. Speaks a lot to their merit as people, I would say. To come up in such rough circumstances, to fall into bad habits, and to eventually pull out of it. But we each wind up experiencing these events in life differently, especially us grandkids who weren’t yet alive for the worst of the storm.

He mentioned a book that really resonated with him that actually was about black people in urban areas and the problems they face. Many times I’ve noticed similar overlaps between members of the black community and my people as well. People like Thomas Sowell attribute that to a shared Southern culture, which I don’t doubt plays a role to whatever extent. But this is one reason why I find it difficult to view black people as if foreign, as if their community’s problems are entirely unique. There are similarities worth noting there, as I hope more of us explore in going forward since we’re all Americans here and share more in common than some may care to acknowledge.

When he spoke about his mom claiming her addiction was a “disease” I couldn’t help but cringe. He’s absolutely on to something when he stated that regarding addiction as a disease, while that may be somewhat true insofar as brain chemistry is concerned, winds up causing the addict to have less success in kicking the bad habit. It’s almost as if thinking of addiction like a disease winds up being some sort of crutch whereby one can dispense with personal agency, and that’s not a good situation. He spoke of his Pepa giving up alcohol after years of drinking without much fanfare or going to meetings, and my Papa handled it the same way. Yet I see so many out here returning to treatment facilities and turning to AA only to relapse again and again. But we’re not supposed to judge them because they have a “disease.” Yeah, a disease of the spirit, I’d say. An excuse to give up and give in to craven desires that destroy one’s life. It’s no good. Am currently 6 months into sobriety myself and while I’m proud of me, I’m very wary of myself also because I know me and I know the allure of alcohol and how much trouble it’s caused me and others. It’s an ongoing decision to leave that lifestyle and substance alone, one that has to be renewed with each waking day and bout of temptation. It’s not easy, but it is indeed a personal decision. A choice, ultimately. Yet some folks prefer instead to remain infantile and blame all off on external factors, as if the substance itself has the power to penetrate our bodies without our willful involvement. He has my sympathy in dealing with all of that. I’ve known many people who’ve had drug-addicted and/or alcohol-dependent parents and it sounds like a horrible way to come up. My former partner’s parents both drank (and still do) and I hear the resentment in him pretty frequently, reminded of the fighting and negligence. My ex-step-aunt and her husband were like that too, and it wound up producing nothing but carnage. Some people can manage their drinking and drug use better than others, but many can’t.

He spoke of his mom being unable to comprehend the significance of her father dying on her kids who viewed him as a father figure. Gotta admit, no disrespect intended toward the author (considering how sensitive he admits to being when it comes to his family), that level of selfishness burned my soul a bit to hear. My mother was like that in her own way, unable to comprehend how I could view her father differently than she did, she opting to blame everything in her life on him. And when he died, she didn’t attend the funeral and didn’t even so much as contact me or anybody else in the family. Asked her last year for the first time what she thought of his passing and she simply said she would not talk about it, so I dropped the inquiry. To her he’s a monster. To my aunt, he was her daddy but they grew apart emotionally over time, and I think she was bitter about that. To my uncle, he was a frustrating man but his daddy, and I think he has a lot of conflicted emotions too. None of them aired their grievances to him while he was alive, so now they’ll fester on, unresolved. Very unfortunate. But I can recall back when I was little and my grandparents were fighting for custody of me and I got caught in the middle and was made to choose on the spot between my mother and my Papa. I didn’t know what to do, being only 6 at the time, so I laid still until she began crying and walked away. In her heart I doubt she’ll ever let me live that down, and it still bothers me sometimes since I didn’t know what to do. I had to go with him — he was more trustworthy than her, more dedicated. Yet all she’s ever seen is her own view of him and her own sorrows from her upbringing, conveniently forgetting that she had a kid that had to be raised by them and who bonded with them. But in her warped mind, she just sees betrayal. As a result, I now see her as a lost cause. Like a perpetual child unable to grasp anything outside of her own perspective. Forever. No drugs or alcohol even needed to cause this to be the case. It is very frustrating to deal with, especially when you felt loyal to them all and loved them all.

I hate those memories. They always get to me, no matter how many times I’ve been over them in my head and recognize the situation for what it is. Left me feeling like the best way to stop this stupid cycle was to refuse to ever become a mother myself. Never wanted to let anybody down to that extent. Tarnishes one’s view of motherhood, whether we mean for it to or not. Some are able to overcome these types of upbringings and do better by their own children, which is good. But some of us think it’s best to withdraw from taking on such obligations, uncertain of ourselves in such a scenario and very wary of what the past brought. Guess we all must handle such matters in our own individual ways since there indeed is no one-size-fits-all answer to be found. That aggressiveness he spoke of I feel inside myself and express from time to time, always making me think that it wouldn’t be suitable around children. Not in this day and age, most definitely. Especially not outside of a tribe where such expressions are regarded as the norm, though even there it tends to prove dysfunctional. In my mind’s eye I can hear police sirens and crying, and I’ve never wanted any part of it, never wanted to bring children into such a life. Right or wrong, that’s been my resolve since I was young and remains so. Tangles my emotions to read or hear of parents fucking up, of children have to raise themselves and one another, of new men being cycled in and out of kids’ lives, of mothers who don’t understand the harm they’re creating, etc. Ugh…it messes with my head. Definitely stopped me in my tracks long ago, thank god. I just cannot imagine bearing the burden of bringing new people here and then winding up failing them. Yet, it goes on all the time…

Burden. J.D. Vance mentioned that word in reference to his Memaw having to raise him. I can most definitely relate with that. It’s quite embarrassing to feel like a burden on one’s family, so once again he and his sister have my sympathies on that. My Grandma would say things sometimes too, mostly when I was a teenager, like how she couldn’t afford me anymore. Hence why I kept moving around, trying to find ways to take care of myself so I wouldn’t be such a burden on her and Papa. Though I kept having return to her home, at least until I was old enough to attend college. Went into debt for it but never returned home to live again. Gave her and Papa money throughout my 20s in an effort to try to offset some of what they had to spend on raising me, as well as paying back what I owed her directly. Yet that feeling of being a burden hauntingly lingers on. I feel it with friends and loved ones even now sometimes. Live alone and try to be as independent as possible, yet still it lingers, whispering that if not for others I would be nothing and that I ought to find some sort of way to succeed so as to make it all worth it in the end. However success is to be defined here. Never do I forget where I come from or how much I am indebted to my grandparents for taking me in and providing so much love. Their commitment to me was a game-changer, no question. But I don’t wish feeling like a burden even on my worst enemies. Messes with the head and trains you to see yourself as a lesser-than, like a little parasite — needy. Because you can’t help but be needy as a kid. But when your own parents can’t or won’t take care of you properly, others have to, and that entails a sacrifice. I don’t know if it’s possible for such a realization to not color one’s outlook on life. But such is life. Guess it’s most important to take to heart what others have been willing to do for us and to carry that love forward in whatever ways we can. They made a choice because they love us, and I’m infinitely grateful for that. The alternative would’ve been to be perceived as a burden by people who didn’t give a damn about us, which would’ve been so much worse.

I know I’m rambling off on here a lot about my own people and upbringing, but this book tapped into all of that. And it’s a very good book so far. Very worthwhile. The author became a lawyer, so he really did manage to succeed. That makes me very happy for him. I look forward to continuing on in chapter 10 tomorrow.

Disco and Oldies night

Songs on my mind lately, beginning with a perennial favorite, Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way”:

Gloria Gaynor’s “Never Can Say Goodbye”:

“Barbara Ann” by The Beach Boys:

Not a big Beach Boys fan normally, but that song got into my head over time. Though when I listen to it I hear “Bomb Iran,” probably a discordant remnant from my peace community days. lol  Not that I wish to see Iran bombed, for the record. Just a silly play on words is all. tongue_smile

“Runaway” by Del Shannon:

Dion’s “The Wanderer”:

“Disco Inferno” by The Trammps:

Basically a bunch of songs from before my time. Foreign times to an ’80s baby like me, yet worthwhile snapshots of American culture and talent.

For good measure, while switching gears, here’s an older song’s somewhat newer Spanish rendition:

That was Gypsy King’s “Hotel California.” Couldn’t find the studio version of the song, probably due to copyright issues on youtube. So we’ll settle for a live bar performance. Actually prefer that version to The Eagles’. Yep, I’m sacrilegious like that.

Organic grossness (Flackers rosemary crackers)

While out grocery shopping today I picked up a bag of Doctor in the Kitchen brand Flackers organic flax seed crackers in the flavor rosemary. Yeah, I’m down for trying new and odd things apparently. Well, this turned out to be the second most disgusting organic food I’ve put in my mouth thus far this year. Super yuck! yuck_smilie  Managed to swallow this cracker though, unlike the Annie Chun’s sesame-flavored roasted seaweed snack that had to be spat out. Friggin’ gross and left a bad taste in my mouth thereafter. Won’t be trying that brand again.

I seriously doubt there’s anyway to make it any better either, like by adding cheese or meats. Nope. Just straight-up nasty and guaranteed to ruin any snacking session. Foul tasting. Difficult to comprehend anybody actually liking that cracker. How did it ever make it into a mainstream grocery market?

Giving that out as a gift to others in a snack basket will assuredly signal to them how shockingly bad of taste you have, even if they do happen to be vegan. Expect back a lump of coal.

“Gulag ArchiCanado: Free Thought Under Siege” (plus my thoughts)

Truly terrifying that it’s come this far this soon. Grateful to not be a Canadian, though I recognize the threat in the U.S. as well and hope that prove more rebellious and less willing to silence ourselves in the face of batshit ideologically-driven craziness. Hopefully enough of us out here are willing to tirelessly defend our freedom of speech and to explore ideas, including the ongoing search for scientifically-backed truths. To allow ourselves to be pushed around and shut down by wannabe-communists would be a damned (unforgivable) shame. Especially since what these Far Leftist types desire to bring about is purely idealistic and will ultimately prove unrealistic to implement in the real world.

Such has been tried already, as we now all know, and it’s always failed miserably, racking up great body counts in the process. To assume that primadonna campus feminists and outspoken trannies and lesbians and their indoctrination-pushing professors are going to lose this battle in the short run strikes me as naive at best. We’ve been watching this trend gather speed all of our lives — it’s not dissolving despite the Far Left appearing to eat itself at times. If anything, it’s becoming more deeply entrenched and powerful within academia, both in the U.S. and Canada (though Canada appears especially off the hook at present — and should serve as a serious warning to us Americans observing what’s happening there).

As a Social Sciences major myself I am well aware of how slanted the information presented could be (depending on the professors in question), but it appears to only have gotten worse since I graduated nearly a decade back. Some of what I learned at college has taken me years since to reckon with and call into question, not realizing the narrative for what it was until much later. I continue to have very mixed feelings on that curriculum and have had to struggle against its claims in more recent years. Because so much was presented as fact, as indisputable reality, as ground-level critiques and resistance to the corporate monied interests and those made rich off of it. Some of what they presented was indeed worth considering, but it’s wrapped within a greater narrative that attempts to remold how we view life and country. And some of those added trappings are themselves conveniently adapted to bolster the grand narrative, though further scrutiny shows that what was presented rarely was the full story. Such educational programming can send one down a rabbit hole of questioning everything, including the curriculum itself, which turns out to be the best possible outcome in such a scenario since all does indeed deserve to be reexamined. But in doing so you wind up unable to trust your lying eyes and all that’s ever been presented to you from all directions, at least for a spell while you try to make sense out of what you’ve been taught. There is no “listen and believe” in that world. Can’t be. Not when all winds up looking like various forms of indoctrination and truths must be teased out from them. In that regard, I can’t help but value my education in the end, though not its price tag. Though, with that said, I cannot in good conscience encourage others to follow in suit and sign up for social science majors, especially not nowadays. Better to learn about it on our own (via textbooks that we all have access to) than to continue padding the pockets of professors and administrators who apparently wish to see our societies irreparably divided, believing that that somehow serves their cause. In short, students should not be used as ideologically-programmable fodder for older professors with axes to grind. Especially not when we wind up drowning in student loan debt in the end as a result.

They’ve been using us. And by now they’ve used enough of us that they’ve effectively undermined the general sense of national pride predicated on protection of individual rights. Back to tribalism — that’s what’s occurring. But those calling for tribal divisions tend to be the weakest among the weak, those who contribute the least to society and who depend on our collective funding in order to remain in power. Truly parasitic, if you ask me. They appear to be angry at The System that they feel they cannot compete competently within, and their words hold most appeal for youths who fear the same thing (myself included back in the day). Rather than learn to play the game as it stands currently, they’d rather flip the entire gameboard and start anew, as if it’s ever that easy. Their own fears and frustrations fuel the words they preach and are intended to sow seeds of doubt and worry in the minds of youths who otherwise might fare reasonably well in our societies. The goal has been and continues to be to divide, to find groups to blame, and to destroy the game as it currently operates. But what they will actually accomplish is the formation of a new game with a new class rising in power, most of whom aren’t competent enough to assume such positions, and the whole project is destined to fail once more. Of course these people cannot and will not accept this reality, so attempting to get them to see it winds up being an exercise in futility.

I’m not a particularly successful person out in the crowd (depending on how one chooses to define success) and I too had been filled with enough propaganda (from all possible sides) to sate me for a lifetime. Has driven me away from people over time and hardened my heart toward all things political. I say this in order to explain that I haven’t necessarily discovered bootstraps and have therefore changed my opinion accordingly. No, I’ve grown critical of all of it, all sides in these debates, all claims of truth and all peddlers of ideologies. Because all appear interested in using us to further their own causes and aims. And I don’t take kindly to being used for someone or something else’s purposes, especially covertly.

I must say, though, that some of what these Leftists point to is indeed worrisome. The Game is rigged in ways, though not to the extent nor in the fashion as they like to claim it is. Everybody has their own pet theories about reality and why it functions as it does. Some prefer the oppressed/oppressor model, which is the weakest dichotomy to operate under. My life has brought me to finally seeing that so much is an accident of fortune, of era and opportunities, but also that some are better poised to take advantage of whatever arises at any given time and to profit from it as a result. And many others out here seethe with resentment in kind, believing that they’ve been shut out from effectively competing by those who proved successful. But that is not really the case. Oftentimes we shut ourselves out of the running due to our own mindsets and irritation with the Game, which is fine if that’s the case but let us not fool ourselves or others into believing otherwise.

Again, I continue to have a lot of mixed feelings about what all I’ve learned from all sides of the aisle. There are truths and falsehoods peddled by all sides. BUT there are also principles that truly do matter much more than all else because they’ve given us all a shot at living as free as one could hope, freer than any people at any other time in history. And at the end of the day, my loyalties have to go toward that, regardless of whatever else I might quibble over. It’s the principles themselves that matter, not any groups or ideologies or narratives. So, I find myself in opposition to some of those who once taught me and to others who now feel emboldened to silence academic freedom and inquiry. And here I will remain. Always have been here, come to find out, but it’s become so much more clear with each passing year. The benefit of the doubt that I once extended to those who pushed such narratives is now being revoked since they will not reciprocate the tolerance and understanding that they’ve requested. What once appeared to be simply be an alternative way of looking at things nowadays appears to me to be an obfuscation, a dramatic pack of lies intended to confuse us so that we would do their bidding and destroy what we didn’t yet sufficiently understand. That’s pretty crummy, if you ask me. Pretty horrible thing to do to naive young people who lack the life experience to know better.

But I’m no longer that young and it all looks very disturbing at this juncture.

“Jordan Peterson LIVE: 12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos”

His 4th appearance on the Rubin Report:

More tunes and thoughts in November

Back in from turkey night. Ate myself stuffed. Calories and carbs were ridiculous. But it was a great meal. Left me feeling very thankful, appreciative and blessed. He worked hard on that meal, as he always does, and he’s a very good cook. It’s been a nice day.

Things can always be worse — that’s a very true statement. Don’t realize how good we’ve got until it’s gone is another true statement. We’re lucky to be loved and to love. Isn’t always (or usually) on time, but c’est la vie. Hidden blessings matter too. And sometimes we do get what we wish for and find out why we’re admonished to be careful with our wishes.

All truly is simply what it is, much as some hate that little declaration. Super simple yet inescapable truism. We like to think we can dramatically alter reality, and in our own limited ways we indeed can, but the Truth remains unaffected by our whims and fancies.

Anyway, also grateful for my cat. She’s a somewhat naughty girl, but she’s my lovebug. Gotten in the habit of trying to balance on my breasts while I sleep, nips on a regular basis, and thinks she’s a monkey. Otherwise she’s pretty well-behaved and sweet. A good baby. Been my housemate for a nearly a decade now.

Grateful for a warm apartment, working plumbing, a decent car, a job I like, grandparents who loved me, my true-blue friends, a largely-functional society, a healthy brother, being surrounded by so many interesting books, amazing music, and this computer before me that delivers an ungodly stream of information and entertainment, as well as allowing us to communicate quickly across long distances. Also grateful for the other technologies I rely upon, much as I gripe about modernity and its overwhelming abundance of stuff.

Time to turn on some more tunes. Beginning with one that plays regularly in my car, “Man Who Sold the World” cover by Nirvana:

Adore that song.

That was Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” It plays regularly and risks turning into little more than barely noticed background noise. Worthwhile to pause occasionally and pay close attention to its lyrics, to really let it sink in and feel it. We are where we are and it’s been coming a long time. Continuously unfolding. God only knows what all lays in store for us as a society.

“In the Flesh” by Pink Floyd:

“Karma Police” by Radiohead:

Works that way more often than we realize. ‘Course we aren’t the best at recognizing cause and effect anyhow, forever distracted with rationalizations and explanations that accord with what we prefer were true.

Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” (1964 version):

Nina Simone performing “The Sound of Silence” on the piano (circa 1968):

Switching gears, R.L. Burnside’s “.44 Blues”:

One of Mississippi’s finest homegrown bluesmen, there shown performing in the U.K. in the early ’90s.

That’s enough for one evening. Getting late.

Music for a fallen one

A song he liked to listen to during the first year I knew him (1999), Everlast’s “What It’s Like”:

Never listen to that song without remembering him. And its sentiment permeated my life from thereon, now nearly 20 years later.

A tune from the time when we moved just south of Memphis (2001-2002), System of a Down’s “Toxicity”:

From the same band, “Aerials”:

He enjoyed Metallica too.

That was “Nothing Else Matters.”

Metallica’s “The Unforgiven”:

His taste in music left a definite impression on me.

Everlast “Ends”:

Nirvana’s “Polly”:

Dwight Yoakam – “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere”:

Dwight Yoakam’s “Suspicious Minds”:

I recall having that one as my ringtone for his phone number after we separated. Though I always preferred Elvis Presley’s original version.

Moby’s “Natural Blues”:

“Streets of Bakersfield” by Buck Owens (this rendition including Dwight Yoakam):

Kid Rock – “Bawitdaba”:

Lastly, Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing”:

A bit of an inside story on that last one. Young love is a funny thing.

Today was his birthday. He would’ve been 37 years old, but instead he died just shy of his 32nd birthday. We never again met in person after late 2002, then later quit speaking altogether for at least 4 years until I finally looked him up on Facebook a few years ago and contacted him. We talked on the phone a few times, maybe 4 times total, over the span of a couple years. Made as much peace as we could with the past. And then Grandma called one day out of the blue to say she heard he may have passed, and sure enough, it was him.

He’s never not been on my mind, though I remain glad that we went our separate ways back when we did. Our young relationship had run its course. But we made a big impact on one another during our time together, as we discussed a bit during our final phone calls. Went through a lot together and changed one another, for better or worse. Every year around this time I always recognize him in my thoughts, wondering what the afterlife must be like, if such a thing exists. Wondering if he truly found a sense of peace. Strange to have outlived him — still doesn’t seem quite real that he’s no longer among the living.

I’m forever grateful that we did talk on the phone and decided to let bygones be bygones, having no way of knowing what the future held in store. Had I waited on calling him, we might never have spoken again, and I’d hate for that to have been the case, considering it really seemed to help in letting old resentments go. Goes to show that we never know when our time is up, so say what ya gotta say now while there’s still time. No guarantees on tomorrow for any of us.

Rest in peace, EHF.

Funk rejection (an update)

Pulling up out of the funk I’ve been in the last few days. Was kind of rough for a minute there. Very likely hormones played a role. Not much can be done about it other than to wait it out. Might make some folks uncomfortable to even hear about, but so be it. It comes and goes, but always it will return. Figured out by now that to expect to live without the funk’s repeated interruptions is a pipe dream. Certainly helps to pull out of it when my loved ones and I are getting along. And I’ll leave it at that for now.

Went in for a massage yesterday, courtesy of a gift certificate received by a lady I work for. Had the masseuse lady work mostly on my left arm and back since those are my problem spots currently. And she did an amazing job! Haven’t had many professional massages (maybe 3 now total), and that was the best so far. Confirmed that I probably do have a mild case of so-called tennis elbow from strength training, so I have to take it easier on my triceps for a while. Need to pay better attention to my form too. But then she said it seemed to her that I have a disc problem in my lower back, which I figured has been the case for years. Can’t afford to see a doctor for that, so my only option is to strengthen my back and core enough to manage it, as I’ve been doing. There will be no surgeries in my future, no MRI scans, nada. Only physical therapy on my own and with my gym trainer. Been knowing this has been a problem for a long time already, perhaps since teenagehood when I first began experiencing acute lower back pain, but regular exercise has helped immensely in reducing the pinched nerve pain down my left leg over the last 3 years. It returns occasionally, but I’m doing a lot better these days than I was about 4 years ago. So, in short, strength training has helped, and I intend to keep it up for the rest of my life in order to maintain the feeling of relief.

We humans weren’t designed the greatest when it comes to our backs. Becoming bipedal messed us all up apparently. Ha!  But c’est la vie. My best guyfriend has been suffering major back pain again lately also, and he went in to see the doctor this past week since it got to where he couldn’t stand. Already had a surgery many years ago for discs in his back, and now other discs are acting up on him. Unfortunate. Difficult to enjoy living when your back hurts too much. He’s always been an active guy, but still he has to go through this. Not sure what to say about it other than to expand his exercise regimen since biking doesn’t really help build the muscles to support the back. He has medical insurance so they’ve provided him with pain pills and an exercise plan, with the option to undergo another surgery in the future if needed.

Told both him and Former that they ought to go in and see the massage lady I met with yesterday. Might do them each some good. Of course Former will have nothing to do with it, for whatever reasons.

Been cooking a decent amount lately, per my new norm since I’m trying to improve my diet. Fell in love with roasted brussels sprouts (who’d a thunk it?!). Been eating on leftovers of a beef mac-n-cheese with broccoli cuts tossed in — came out terrific. Made avocado/banana brownies again a week back, which were delicious, but I forgot to freeze them so they went bad pretty quickly. Today I whipped together an olive oil-based pasta salad with zucchini and mozzarella chunks to take over to Former’s house later since he’s cooking up a turkey dinner tonight. Looking forward to all that. Throwing caution to the wind in terms of carbs today so as to enjoy his spread. Last night I experimented with zucchini hasselback, which was just a notched zucchini filled with pepperoni slices and mozzarella (and seasoned with red pepper flakes and garlic powder), baked in an aluminum foil tent until fairly tender. Turned out good. Not a bad alternative to pizza.

What else? Been listening to a couple new audiobooks. Recently I finished The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains by Robert H. Lustig. An excerpt from his publisher’s summary of the book:

While researching the toxic and addictive properties of sugar for his New York Times best seller Fat Chance, Robert Lustig made an alarming discovery – our pursuit of happiness is being subverted by a culture of addiction and depression from which we may never recover.

Was a pretty good book by a pediatric endocrinologist. Would recommend it to my peers.

The book I’m currently listening to is Ryan Holiday’s Ego Is the Enemy. It’s so far covered a lot of what I’ve already read elsewhere, but I do really appreciate his delivery style and am planning to check out his book The Obstacle Is the Way in the future.

Haven’t been taking time with any print books lately, preferring instead to listen along while going about my day.

For the record, it’s now been over 21 weeks since embarking on my commitment to quit drinking. No slip-ups, though I did have some strong cravings last weekend for some reason. Former was drinking a strawberry margarita in front of me and I damn-near reached over to sample it. Then he’d partaken in a big sale at some local grocer that marked their alcohol way down, dragging home a crate full of bottles including Captain Morgan rum and wine and some blue stuff. Kind of tripped my trigger for a minute there, but then I refocused my attention and forgot about it. Gets easier and easier to leave alcohol alone. Already know what kind of a beast that particular drug can turn me into, not needing to reconfirm it. Moderation never worked for me, so the only option now is to simply leave it be. And so I do. But the cravings still come and go, as they perhaps always will. That little gremlin in my brain likes to try to remind me of the positive side to drinking, but thankfully I remain well-aware of the downside to it too. Can’t recall one without the other. Any substance that causes me to act like a fool and quit liking myself is no friend of mine.

An old man bar pal called up the other day out of the blue. Might be what initially set my mind to thinking about alcohol again. He asked where I’ve been, said he’d heard through the grapevine that I’d quit drinking, and then suggested that I should still come to the bar and just abstain from drinking while there. Not too interested, frankly. Especially not so as to visit with that particular grabby old man. Told him off a number of times already for groping me and saying perverted shit. Wish he’d lose my phone number (which I gave him a couple years ago when he gave me rides to and from the bar a couple times, before he turned as gropey). But of course everybody out at the bar likes the guy, thinks he’s swell and makes excuses for his behavior toward the younger female clientele (of course we’re all younger than him there). People used to say that I was “being mean” to him when I checked him, that he’s an old man so I should be more tolerant and forgiving. Ugh. Sometimes I really loathed my fellow bar patrons. They liked to make excuses for the sorriest shit. And I wound up looking like a bitch for not going along with the program. Oh well. So be it. I am a bitch. And I don’t like 70+-year-old men pawing at me while I’m out. He’s not entitled to do that. They can all put up with it if it suits them, but it bothered me, so I said so. And yet he still adores me, still considers me special and tries to get me to communicate with him. Says I remind him of his wife when she was younger. Lovely. I gave him a bunch of chances, but now I prefer to avoid him. Sure, it does make me feel kind of like a bad person to be so bitchy toward an old man, but then again, I also am really perturbed to see all these old men out in society demonstrating themselves to be such crappy role models. Don’t teach us anything; just prefer to act like perverts. Just here to get their jollies off messing with the (relative) youths. Gets old. Makes me feel queasy inside. I put up with such nonsense for years from a number of guys in trying to appear easy-going to those I was surrounded by. Well, they’re not worth it. Bunch of loser drunks with skewed consciences so far as I can tell anymore. Not saying that against all of them, but plenty of them, yes. Besides, those who aren’t like the rest still do tend to behave as they do so as not to rock the boat, so how’s that really any better? They enable one another.

So, yeah, I still have a decent amount of animosity toward the barscene. Probably partially because since leaving it I find myself a lot more isolated, yet I know this is for the best. Better than hanging around with a bunch of people who only concern themselves with hedonistic escapism. Gotta keep that party rolling on and on and on, lest they be forced to reckon with real life and how they’re failing at it. Fucking depressing. Depressed me about myself when I was a part of it too. Fifteen years is a long time to devote to such people and places, so I’ve paid my dues. Don’t owe any of them anything anymore. Their lives are their own, and they can poison and ruin them if they so desire. Not my problem and I don’t wish to belong among them. Been there, done that, and damn-near wrecked what I have in the process. And all for what? So as to lose yourself within a crowd? To try to tune out reality? Well, reality has proven to be awfully persistent regardless of how much alcohol I tried pouring on it. Better to just face the facts than keep on dallying until you wind up losing more.

I met so many characters in that lifestyle over the years. But when I sit back now, a few months removed from the last batch, with a sober perspective, I’m unable to grasp what the great appeal really was. Wicked women and stupid men like to populate bars. Myself included in that assessment. What makes us wicked? Remaining immature, which alcohol aids in by allowing us a repeated escape. Keeps one’s thoughts dulled, along with our reflections and introspection. Plus, it puts us in contact with others doing the same thing who are more than happy to pat us on the backs and tell us shit’s not our fault and to lay blame elsewhere. Because every regular in such taverns is looking to escape personal responsibility and negative thoughts about their own past choices and behaviors. Hence why we regularly drank — to escape something. To delude ourselves into believing the problems didn’t lie in us, that we were unfortunate victims of circumstance. That life is largely about luck so all we really need to do is wait around for that stroke of fortune to come our way (no active work required on our parts). To cry in our beers over past loved ones and heart-breaks and questions we can’t find answers to. To drown out the past instead of finding a way to forge through its remnants. To meet up with sexual partners to add to the hedonistic experience and provide an outlet for the mounting tension within. To await death, partying in the meantime, telling ourselves that you only live once and that there’s no point focusing on the things that bring us down. Etc. I’m very familiar with how that lifestyle operated.

Sometimes I get to feeling like I was put here so as to provide an example of what not to do. But now I’m taking steps toward better directions, so perhaps now I can redefine my personal purpose as a striving toward redemption. Lounging around in the muck with those perfectly content behaving as swines doesn’t help one’s soul one iota, especially not when that path is embraced for years on end. And now I stand a mere 5 months removed from it. So I’m still finding my bearings and trying to figure out where to go from here. Figure my Papa is probably proud that I gave it up too, and that gives me some peace. But I am still angry at what that lifestyle represented to me and how I let myself go within it, plus how much jeopardy I placed myself in by dealing with the wrong sorts, as well as what unnecessary drama and jeopardy I created.

It’s very difficult to forgive others, but I’m finding it especially difficult to forgive myself. Though I know I have to let that go eventually so as to move on, the bitterness that realization produces still has a strong hold on me. Makes me angry at myself along with all the others who aided and abetted me. Looking back on them all, I’m having trouble accepting them for who they are. Yes, sure, they’re a bunch of fallible humans like myself who are destined to learn things the hard way, as is natural. But damn. The severity of our blindness and how that spills over onto others is astounding. Willful blindness in many cases. Advantage-taking motivations and raw selfishness. Like not only did we lose our ways, but then we came to encourage others to follow in suit. We spread it around and lured others in so as not to feel lonely in the games we played. To feel validated perhaps, instead of shunned like we very probably deserved. But I was shunned regardless, before then, during, and still now. Gives me mixed feelings there since it felt like the shunning was what I initially (as a very young adult) was aiming to escape in the first place. And you don’t feel like such a misfit when you’re surrounded by a bunch of other misfits.

Too bad it was all an illusion. Didn’t fix a thing and instead created quite a few added problems. But here we are. Onward and upward. Can’t change the past.

There are some very painful aspects from the last few years that will continue to trouble me for many moons to come undoubtedly. Things that I succumbed to. Ways that I behaved. Surprised myself with how cruel I could be. And the reminders are always around. I’d love to blame the drug, but alcohol is only part of the equation. An important part, no question, but only one aspect. The rest involves reckoning with my own human potential, which, come to find out, isn’t so rosy and innocent. People say that you’ll bog yourself down in thinking about all of that, spinning it around in your head, that you’re just at risk of developing a new victim complex of sorts. Hmm. I can see where they’re coming from with that, and I am being careful in this stage as a result. But I have mixed feelings on such claims. You really have to see yourself as you actually are, not what you wish you were, not what you pretend to be, right and wrong. That stage in personal exploration is undeniably important. To try to skip that step is likely to wind one up seeking out another addiction to hide within. And that I cannot tolerate or allow. I’d rather be hard on myself and get it over with than treat myself with kid’s gloves and not ever get to the bottom of this situation, thereby risking history repeating. I understand why others shy away from such talk, as they’re so prone to do, but I am not them nor do I wish to pretend to be like them any longer. I can take the fight and I’m not so scared of myself and my capabilities. Seen enough of my own dark side that I can’t help but be well aware of it. Can’t force a genie back in a bottle once it’s out. Gotta learn to live with it. So that’s where I’m at presently.

So yeah, this is how my days go. One foot in front of the other. Try to keep steady, accepting that sometimes that’s not possible but putting alcohol in my mouth will most certainly only make things worse, as the past has proven. Don’t plan on staying in this state of mind forever, but this remains where I’m at right now. Life doesn’t always (or often) unfold the way we think it should or wish it would. And there’s no shortage of people out there willing to pat us on the back and help in deflecting responsibility elsewhere, but that’s not actually helpful, nice as it might feel at times. If it feels good, question it — that’s become my motto. Because we tend to be weak in the face of comforts and pleasures, though it should be evident by now that a lot of those lull us into a false sense of security. Which certainly doesn’t make us stronger and more competent in managing our lives.

All is a bunch of lessons to learn, and plenty winds up being learned the hard way. Such is life. Hop over one trap only to find ourselves mired in another we didn’t see. That’s just the way it often goes. But that’s also what makes life so interesting and perplexing. If nothing else, it keeps us busy in trying to make heads or tails out of what’s going on. Some days I’m up to the challenge, while others I’d rather hide my head, wondering what the hell this is all for. And that’s precisely the wrong question to be asking. THAT is where we succumb to seeing ourselves and others as victims of circumstances instead of as fellow travelers in this journey we call Life. Giving in to nihilism and destructive tendencies is too easy to be of much (if any) value. Counter-intuitive as it seems, it’s almost as if trying to carry the toughest and heaviest load we can bear winds up bringing greater life satisfaction, as well as provides a better example to others so as to lessen their fears. But I’m still sorting all of that out and won’t make grand claims. I just know that we’re capable of a lot more than we typically give in this life. Sitting up in a bar is for laborers after a long day working, not for commonfolk running from reality.