News Addiction

If you are depressed stop wallowing in the outrage culture. Think happy thoughts, you’ll feel better.

That was the gist of the suggestion offered to a friend who posted the image featured in yesterday’s article Depression. As if depression is something you can turn off, like a switch. It isn’t like that.

I do follow the news closely these days, as does my friend. I was a news hound for decades before Meniere’s took my joie de vivre. I was active in the Travis County Libertarian Party, taking a hands-on role in as much local politics as I could handle while still holding down a full-time architecture job. I listened to news and radio talk shows constantly while working on whatever architecture project was in front of me that day so as to keep informed of whatever the current trends were. It was crucial to know what was happening if you wanted to have a hand in changing it. I switched to podcasts for my news well before most other people even knew that podcasts existed. I read newspapers and news sites. I immersed myself in the political realities of Austin, of Texas, of the United States, and did my best to be the positive change that I thought the world needed. Just as every good citizen of the world should do.

But then I got sick, and I didn’t get better. I didn’t have a livelihood any longer and I couldn’t look forward to finding one again, probably ever. The constant stream of information about what was going on in the world became a distraction from what it was that I needed to deal with. The barrage of things that I couldn’t change externally just drove home how helpless I was to even be able to alter what was happening in my own body.

That was what was important. Figuring out what was wrong with me. Finding ways to cope with the new reality of my disabilities. I didn’t have time to spend on informing myself about things that weren’t directly impacting my health until I found a way to stabilize my own internal situation.

So I quit the news.

I quit listening in 2006-ish. I just quit, cold turkey. I’m not saying that I didn’t know what was happening in the world, I simply quit seeking out that information. There is no way to stay completely uninformed (a perfect idiot) so long as there are people who tell you things they think you want to hear. But I put science, medical and skeptical podcasts at the top of my queue starting at about that time and stopped even listening to news feeds that didn’t include other information that I might personally find useful.

I only started back listening to the news directly, for news content, when all the hatred for Barack Obama made me decide to find out what all the fuss was about. That was when I realized that the news culture had split into two camps that couldn’t even agree on basic facts. While I hadn’t been paying attention, FOX had lead conservatives and Republicans down a dark alley that lead to a thousand foot cliff and then expected all those lemmings following them to walk off the cliff in blind subservience.

In determining what the facts were I came to realize just how poor my understanding of the world was prior to that point, and just how poorly the average American, the average human, understands anything that isn’t forced into their stream of consciousness. I stopped seeing Rachel Maddow as someone who brought up questionable narratives about accepted truths and instead saw her as the accomplished storyteller that the current crop of news consumers clearly see her as today.

However, It’s going to take an American version of the Extinction Rebellion protests that have been taking place in London and New York to also take place in everytown, USA to wake the average FOX news watcher up to the requirement that we do something about climate change. I’m not even certain that anything short of re-education will make them understand just how scandalous their behavior and the behavior of their leaders are.

The Extinction Rebellion Returns | Jonathan Pie | 9 October 2019

But I remain hopeful, for the time being.

After all, the Wife was telling me “they won’t impeach Trump” just two weeks ago. Now Rachel Maddow has said it is a foregone conclusion that they will impeach him. I have to agree with Rachel. I don’t see any way for them to not impeach him given the crimes he has committed that we know of, to say nothing of the crimes we suspect him of but still don’t have the proof to convict him of. The sticking point remains the Senate and Trump’s co-conspirator, Moscow Mitch McConnell.

I’m reserving judgement until after the power hand-off that should occur in 2020-2021, impeachment or no impeachment. We’ll see just how bad things really are at that point. To draw this circular argument to a close and tie it in with the title, I quit listening to the news precisely because I felt that my health was suffering from spending so much time obsessing about what was going on in the world and what the proper solution to the problems were. I’m glad I stopped paying attention then. The solutions that I would have embraced back then are completely different than the ones I would embrace today. 180 degrees different.

So I improved my health by breaking the news addiction. I’ll break it again if I feel that following the news is negatively impacting my health. So long as the authoritarians that back the Orange Hate-Monkey lose power, I’m pretty sanguine with whatever else happens along with it. Which means, my depression isn’t based on my news consumption. But I do appreciate the suggestion.

Wildly expanded from Facebook comments.

Depression

Being depressed is the natural side effect of having a bystander to my own existence perspective on life. How can you take an active interest in something that you are merely a witness to? If that something is your own life? I don’t even know how to describe depression, as I experience it. It is a kind of a funk that clouds up every decision, making even basic self-care hard to achieve.

TEDxMet | October 2013 – Andrew Solomon – Depression, the secret we share

“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.”

Andrew Solomon

As Andrew Solomon points out at about the halfway mark in the TED talk above, depression isn’t something that one easily admits to having, even to the people you are closest to. It is perceived as weakness, and one never wants to be seen as weak by others.

But depression isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a signal of despair. A loss of hope. An individual’s response to external or internal conditions that are beyond the control of the individual. Depression is not the fault of the sufferer, but ending depression does require action on the part of the sufferer.

One thing about depression is that it makes it really difficult to access the parts of your life that are genuinely good. For some people, this takes the form of anhedonia–losing pleasure or interest in things you used to enjoy. Not necessarily completely or all of the things, but sometimes completely and all of the things. For some people, this can mean that watching their favorite show or playing their favorite game is suddenly not fun anymore. For some, it can mean that trying to socialize with their good friends feels like reading a really boring story and not being able to actually interact with the story in any way. For others, it can mean not perceiving food as tasty anymore.

brutereason

Losing my interest in almost everything I ever cared about seems to be a huge part of depression for me. The problem is that most of what I was interested in is now different in experience on the one hand (music is muffled or tinny because of hearing loss) or causes stress, bringing on vertigo (just thinking about CAD or Architecture) and so should be avoided. Even my love of creative writing is subject to this intermittent destroyer of hope. This article, for example. I started it five years ago and then abandoned it for no good reason. Why? I don’t want to talk about my depression, also something that Andrew Solomon points out.

For many people, depression causes a pervasive sense of disconnection from the world and from other people. When I’m having a depressive episode, I feel like I’m not part of anything, like I’m just one person and I don’t matter, like I could disappear and nothing would even change, etc. I feel like there’s a glass wall between me and everyone else. I feel like I can’t do “normal” things like laugh at a sitcom or make someone happy or fall in love. I feel like an alien sent here to try to learn how to act like a human being only I’m completely failing.

brutereason

I have always been disconnected from the world. I have always held myself apart from the crowd. I never wanted to fit in. I never wanted to join a group or a movement. I was like Greta Thunberg as a teenager, just not as motivated as she is. Had I been born in the last decade, with all this information at my fingertips, I’d like to think that I would have acted as she has. But I don’t know. I’d like to think I’d accept the findings of science on climate change, from the perspective that I now occupy, that of a skeptical rationalist and freethinker. But I could just as easily have been hoodwinked by the fakirs who ply the edges of society today looking to preserve their fossil fuel profits. Once you start shutting out legitimate sources of information, it is a short trip to fantasyland from there.

But because I never tried to fit in, never identified with a larger group aside from the work that I did for a living, being alone in the universe wasn’t something I was frightened of. Wasn’t something I could feel depression from perceiving. Being alone in the universe was the nature of existence for me. I am an alien sent here to try to fit in. Failure was a given, on many fronts.

When the Wife started to become disabled, though, that was a different story. I started to see how people (normal people) build up bulwarks of social interaction that kept them engaged with others. How losing the ability to interact with people on a daily basis was in itself enough to cause depression for some (most) people. I don’t pretend to understand this necessity of social bonding that most people feel. I just know that it is crucial for them, and that losing it is tantamount to becoming irrelevant to the world.

I’m truly am happy, generally, just sitting alone in my office typing away. I’m creating something. Hopefully someone will find it interesting enough to keep reading it. Perhaps that is my point of connection with the rest of humanity, through the written word. That makes sense. Reading has always made me feel more alive than anything else has through my long life. To create narratives for others to read? That is contributing to the social interactions that keep this crazy bus of human existence on the road. Writing is bigger than any one person, by its very nature.

So for me, the most helpful thing that someone can do is to help bring me back into connection with others. This is why I find venting mostly useless. When I’m venting, I’m still only talking about my depression, and while the person I’m venting to may be very kind and a very good listener, this isn’t something we can connect over, you know? It’s not the same as a two-sided conversation about difficulties we’ve dealt with in our lives. It’s totally one-sided. It’s just me, talking about the exact thing I need to learn how to stop ruminating over.

brutereason

Both the Wife and I seem to dig deeper holes these days, when the depression is talking. When two depressives argue.  When we met, I was Mister Sunshine. I had been depressed for most of my teenage years, the results of abuse and neglect, and a complete inability of existing social structures to deal with someone with my unique set of challenges. When I got out on my own, I had a plan of action. I knew what I was going to be doing with my life. I was going to be drawing architecture, creating a sense of permanence for other people through structures that were well designed and well documented. I was convinced that I could change the world, not be the sad person I had been when I was younger. I had a plan and I was going to make it happen.

Then I couldn’t do that anymore, and the guy with the plan suddenly didn’t have any plans anymore and also had no idea how to dig himself out of the hole that Meniere’s had put him in. Which is still the hole I’m in now.

The Wife might argue that the Mr. Sunshine image of myself that I painted above is bullshit, and she probably will argue about it (I predict that she will also have a valid point) But in our relationship I could at least pretend to be the Mr. Sunshine to her Little Rain Cloud, at least when she was in her depressive phase. A favor she would reciprocate for me when I would go depressive as well. We both had our cycles (as does everyone. Even you, dear reader) and I always had a plan to fall back on. Until I didn’t. Now we’re both depressed for large segments of time together, and that is a recipe for disaster. Disaster that we both have to actively work to avoid on a regular basis.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

LA Times, Ring Theory

The Reason for the Season, 2016

The solstice approaches.

I know this because my self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder is kicking in. I want to stay in bed all day. I can’t be bothered to go out to do routine shopping.

Well, the latter isn’t just the SAD.  No, that comes from my cumulative experience with this time of year, which is why a self-diagnosis for SAD may just be my hypochondria (also self-diagnosed. Well, self-diagnosed if the wife calling you a hypochondriac for 30 years constitutes self-diagnosis) kicking in, reinforcing my disgust with the crass commercialism which denotes this slowly expanding season.

There was a time in my youth when we waited until after Thanksgiving to start hyping all things Christmas. I remember going out in the yard after Thanksgiving to admire the life-size nativity scene that my grandfather always put up (complete with genuine hay bales borrowed from farming relatives) in the front yard across the street from the Methodist church in Leoti where he sang in the choir regularly. Setting up the tree and decorating it was generally a part of the Thanksgiving celebration.

These days if you are into labor-saving you put up “Halloween lights” which can be color-changed to “Christmas lights” or just put up the Christmas decorations early. In this household you will find Christmas decorations that stay up all year, the ultimate in labor-saving.

Holiday shopping madness hits just about the time that November rolls around; consequently I refuse to go out amidst the press of people who are willing to knife total strangers in order to get the last dublafluwhitchy that is the thing to have this year. I won’t go shopping between Thanksgiving and New Years unless I run completely out of an essential food item (eggs, oatmeal, tea) and even then I won’t go gladly. I won’t go gladly because I hate Christmas music and it is played non-stop in most retail businesses between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Basically I turn into the Grinch promptly following Halloween, and stay that way until Christmas Eve, when I put on my best face in order to not spoil the holiday for the family. Christmas and the solstice holiday it supplanted are celebrated when they are because of the effect that shortened days have on the human psyche; and it would be pointless to attend a celebration as the Grinch when it is thrown specifically to drive the Grinch away.

But the real reason I know the solstice is approaching is that even in my current boycott of the news cycle the War on Christmas, the incessant whining of the christian majority of the US that they are in fact an oppressed minority, has made its way into my information stream despite my best efforts.

The Winter solstice is a pagan holiday. This year it will occur on December 21st for the Northern hemisphere of planet Earth. The pagan holiday (which went by several names) spanned across the current date of Christmas, traditionally for about two weeks, until a few days after the current New Year’s day.

Retconning Christmas: David Kyle Johnson on the Real Reason for the Season

This task that I set myself periodically, this attempt to push back against the wilful ignorance of the average American, this attempt to enlighten the masses as to the true breadth and depth of the history that is expressed in the secular holiday we call Christmas seems hopeless. Even the simple idea that facts when presented without bias can change minds seems hopeless in light of current psychological studies into things like Motivated Numeracy or the Dunning-Kruger Effect especially when polls conducted by the Pew Research Center show,

…that most Americans believe that the biblical Christmas story reflects historical events that actually occurred. About three-quarters of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, and that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. And eight-in-ten U.S. adults believe the newborn baby Jesus was laid in a manger.

In total, 65% of U.S. adults believe that all of these aspects of the Christmas story – the virgin birth, the journey of the magi, the angel’s announcement to the shepherds and the manger story – reflect events that actually happened. Among U.S. Christians, fully eight-in-ten (81%) believe in all four elements of the Christmas story. Even among people who are not affiliated with any religion, 21% believe all these events took place, and 37% believe at least one (but not all) of them occurred.

But still I soldier on, year after year, attempting to point out the silliness that surrounds us.

The word christmas is a bastardization of Christ’s Mass, which is specifically a Catholic celebration. The Catholics, being the earliest example of admen on the planet, realized that they could more easily sell their religion if they simply adopted the holidays in the areas that they wished to convert. When they moved into Northern Europe, they took on the holiday known as Yule and incorporated it into their religion as the day of Christ’s birth (even though it’s considered most likely that the date would have been in spring) and it is even more likely that the celebrations of Saturnalia spread around the Roman Empire, influencing the the celebrations held informally long after Rome had ceased to be a power in the region. Whereby Roman celebrations influenced Yule which in turn influenced celebrations in the later christian eras.

Christ’s Mass (Mass being what a protestant refers to as a ‘sermon’) was thereby invented, placing a holiday that directly coincided with celebrations already being held on the shortest day of the year, accurate calculations of which could be made (and were and still are essential for agriculture) with the crude technologies of the time.

What I’m getting at is this; if you are calling the solstice holiday Christmas and you aren’t a Catholic, then you are referring to the secularized solstice holiday officially celebrated in the US, which doesn’t observe holidays for any recognized religion including christianity. There is no need to further secularize your solstice celebration by calling it a Holiday.

This sort of silliness knows no bounds. The Son attended a charter school that was hosted at a Catholic Church for a few years while he was in grade school and they used the phrase Holiday Party to describe their Christmas Party. If there is one group that should be using the word Christmas it’s the Catholics.  They certainly didn’t hesitate to tell him all about god in that school, which was the main reason his attendance there was brief. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t just say Christmas.

Christmas being Yule modernized isn’t nearly the earth shattering revelation that FOX and their devotees might think.  A good number of the names for things that we use daily, even the names of the days themselves, are derived from Germanic/Northern European traditions, whose gods were not the gods the Romans worshipped (Remember to think of Odin on Wednesday next time it rolls around) nor the later god of the christians that Rome would officially adopt. Our traditions in the US are a literal smorgasbord of celebrations cobbled together from every major culture on the face of the planet.

If you hear me wish you a Merry Christmas, it is because May your feast of the Winter Solstice be Enjoyable is too cumbersome to say repeatedly. It certainly isn’t because I revere Jesus, or self-identify as a christian.

“Jesus is the reason for the season!”

Axis tilt (22.5 degrees) is the reason for the season. Lack of sunlight causing depression is the reason for the celebration. Christmas has as much to do with Odin as it does with Jesus, and has even more in common with Coca-Cola ads from the early 20th century than it does with any god; Coca-Cola having created the figure of Santa Claus that most of us recognize today.

the Coca-Cola Company

Jesus was not a capitalist. Jesus does not want you to buy gifts to give away on the winter solstice; not only because he wasn’t born then, but because you should give gifts every day of your life. If you really want to know WWJD? Then I’ll tell you, that is what Jesus would do as well as washing the feet of the poor and feeding hosts with loaves and fishes. Give gifts every day to the people around you who need them. Be thankful you have them near you every day that you can, because those days are finite like the number of days remaining in our lives.

If you remain unfazed by these facts; if you are still determined to insist that Christmas is a christian holiday, I’ll go a few steps further to illustrate my point. The Puritans that the average US citizen credits as founding the American colonies specifically targeted Christmas as being a pagan influence introduced by the Catholic church. They exorcised it’s celebration from their religious practices, even punishing celebrants caught loafing during the early years of the colony.

The US is not a christian nation. The authors of the Constitution had little evident love of religion. Having just escaped religious persecution in Britain and the rest of Europe, and being besieged by the mandatory religious practices written into several state charters, they consciously kept all mention of religion out of the document aside from the proscription against religious tests. If you go beyond their ranks you are faced with the fact that there were French colonies as well as Spanish colonies, and if you want a contrast with the straight-laced Puritans it’s hard to find one more glaring than the types of celebrations held in New Orleans down through the years.

The United States exists as a celebration of reason not religion. Reason is the basis for Humanism and the Enlightenment, this country’s real foundations.

I apologize for ruining Christmas for you, I’m sorry.

The world isn’t as simple as any of us want it to be, wish it would be. It won’t change just because you or I think it should; and like those toys you bought for the children, it won’t go back in the !@#$%^&*! box so you can return it. Next time buy the pre-assembled one that has all the pieces in the right place. The child will be happy for the gift anyway, they probably won’t notice the missing parts, and the world will continue to spin on its (tilted) axis whether we will it or not.

Just relax, sit back, and have some more eggnog (or whatever your beverage of choice is) it’s just a few more weeks and then we’ll have a whole new year of problems to deal with. Now isn’t that a refreshing outlook?

…Oh, and Merry Christmas!

(abridged and enhanced from this post)

Meniere’s Awareness

It seems silly to me that people still don’t know what Meniere’s is. I guess that is because it has become so central to my life these days.  For the last couple of weeks I’ve toyed with writing several articles on various subjects, including some work on short fiction that I’d like to finish someday.

But for the entirety of these last few weeks my hearing has been burdened by painful tinnitus. So loud that I can’t even soothe the sound away with rainymood or any other white noise treatment. I have a hard time forcing coherent thoughts through a barrier of noise that impenetrable, much less the capacity for multiple readings necessary to weed out all the random keystrokes that slip in when you aren’t paying attention.

I wandered over to a fellow sufferer’s blog earlier today (thanks to my reddit habit) and noticed he had put a new entry up on it. For those of you who don’t know what Meniere’s is, I’ll post a short quote;

Symptomatically, most people experience “attacks” of violent rotational vertigo (feeling like the room is spinning), a feeling of fullness and pressure in the affected ear, loud ringing known as tinnitus, and progressive hearing loss. Many sufferers also report nausea, cognitive impairment (brain fog), fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

Meniere’s disease affects .2% of the population, roughly the same rate of incidence as Multiple Sclerosis. Yet virtually no one has ever heard of Meniere’s disease.

Here’s the bit that caught my attention. A study I’d never run across conducted in 2000. The sample size is on the small side, but it still represents a statistically valid group.  The attention grabbing quote was this one;

“Meniere’s disease patients are among the most severely impaired non-hospitalized patients studied thus far … Patients describe impairment in travel, ambulation, work and other major social roles as well as trouble learning, remembering and thinking clearly.”

While this is clearly hyperbole from an unknown author (I can’t seem to track down the original article quoted) the dense jargon in the study backs up the statement. Quality of life is reduced below the levels of deathly ill cancer patients.  Very few of my vertigo attacks didn’t include my begging everyone in earshot to please kill me.  The sensations are intolerable, and yet you have to tolerate them. You cannot escape them. Had someone offered me an easy way to end it all while in a vertiginous state, I would have readily taken them up on it.

That is what Meniere’s is like on the bad days.  On the good days I just kick myself for being unable to accomplish the simplest tasks because I’m lucky to remember my name from one minute to the next, like the last two weeks have been.  There are days I forget. Mercifully, there are whole months that go by and I’m not forced to remember why I’m not working in architecture anymore. Looking forward to having a few of those days sometime in the hopefully not too distant future.

Back to the point.  The point of writing this. Meniere’s awareness. At the bottom of the Mind Over Meniere’s post (I hate that blog name. Sorry. I’m sure mine is annoying to many as well) is a link to yet another Change.org petition. One amongst thousands. This one seems silly, but maybe it will have a genuine effect if Bono can be convinced to help raise Meniere’s awareness.  Who knows? Couldn’t hurt to have someone say the word Meniere’s in front of a crowded audience.  Surely someone will notice.

The song they’re asking him to announce in front of is Vertigo. It goes to show you how far out of music that I am; I don’t think I’ve even heard the song before. There was a day when I knew every artist on the charts. Knew who they were and what they sang.  The last thing I remember U2 doing was Joshua Tree.  Are they still a thing?

Anyway. Sign the petition if you are so inclined. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. All I know is that I want this damn ear to stop ringing so I can organize a few thoughts.


Editor’s note: 2019. We have another famous musician who has contracted Meniere’s disease. Huey Lewis announced in 2018 that he was ending his current tour because of the effects of Meniere’s on his hearing. Here he is talking to the Today Show,

On Monday, Lewis spoke of when the disorder – which causes vertigo, ringing and hearing loss – first surfaced. “As I walked to the stage [in Dallas], it sounded like there was a jet engine going on,” he said. “I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t find pitch. Distorted. Nightmare. It’s cacophony.”

RollingStone

Someone should get ahold of him and see if he is willing to be the poster child for Meniere’s. That is what we sufferers need. Someone to carry the torch of research for us.

Getting Disability; a Record of the Process.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for years.  When I started the process in 2005, I never dreamed that it would take me several years and multiple advocates just to secure the disability income that I had paid for through my taxes for my entire life. But it did, and when it was finally finished my then attorney said “you should write this all down so that other people can find out how this is done.  I’ll even refer my clients to it” (I’m going to hold her to that one) but months turned into years, memory fades, depression is an evil beast, and procrastination is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A few days ago a Facebook friend of mine posted a link to an article about Alecia Pennington. Now, I don’t know how much of her story is true, but her tale of being denied basic services due to lack of documentation reminded me of the troubles I went through getting my disability approved.

…and it all started with the lack of a US birth certificate.  Well, actually it started with a friend of a friend who said he could act as my advocate for my Social Security claim, but several years later it ended with my getting my own passport.


I gave up working very grudgingly. I had been out of work for months before my last official full time job. I worked some contracts in those months, but mostly I just looked for work and wished I could get hired on somewhere. This lack of full time employment went on for almost a year, maybe more than a year, and then I was offered two jobs simultaneously. There was a job available for me in Las Vegas that would have required me to move the whole family (I’m actually glad I didn’t take that one now) and the other job was here in Austin, working for an architect who was adamant he needed me.  He said he knew what I was good at, was aware of what my health was like and needed me to save his business (his words) So I agreed to go work for him and turned down the job in Las Vegas that was offering more money.

I spent eight months working at my last full time job. Less time than I spent trying to find that job.  Eight months of learning another CAD system (I think that’s 5 different CAD platforms) documenting the tools for other users in the firm, automating the process of modeling and document production as much as possible. The coup-de-gras for this whole endeavor was producing finish-out drawings for an office space in less than a day, just to demonstrate how the process could be completed quickly.

That work, the kind of managerial design work I loved getting into, coupled with spending an excessive amount of time on paper getting to that point, all while suffering with weekly active vertigo and the accompanying brain fog that slows mental processes (a side effect of the vertigo) I spent months finishing the modeling and documentation on the building that was my primary responsibility, when that project probably should have been finished in weeks. That fumble that I couldn’t explain outside of sickness ultimately left me jobless again with a family to feed and even fewer possibilities than I had a year previously.

I was able to get commended for producing an entire project’s documents in a single day, and get fired for being sick too much, all within the same 8 month period.

I was literally hopeless at that point. The months of contract work that I had engaged in before that final full time job had taught me that I wasn’t as good at my job as I remembered being. The two or three part-time contracts I got after that last full time job simply underscored this fact. I was failing to do the work required because I could no longer picture the construction in my head as I had done previously, the mental trick that allowed me to do the job that I wanted to do was getting harder and harder to grasp.

I didn’t know what else I could do, and the bills kept coming in, my health care incurring mounting costs of its own on top of everything else. I was spending a lot of time helping a wheelchair bound family friend then, and she suggested I contact a friend of hers to see if disability was something I could get. Something to keep the roof over my family’s heads.  Given that the only remaining choice that appeared to me was life insurance coupled with a fatal accident, I figured I’d give the government a chance to own up to the promise that I could rely on it to be there when I was in need. So I called her friend, and we started the process.

The first thing you need to know about applying for disability is that you have to have doctors on your side in order for the application to be successful. You have to have a medical finding in writing. A statement from a medical professional that you have an illness which is covered as a disability.  Luckily for me Meniere’s is one of those illnesses, and I had an ENT who was happy to backup my disability claim. So we filled out the government application forms, got the statement from my doctor, and then we filed all the documents and waited.

You do a lot of waiting when dealing with the government. Every time I mention filing or documents, you should understand that at least a month goes by before there is a response.  That is if you are lucky.  If you aren’t lucky they lose your paperwork and you have to refile and wait another month (that happened more than once) It’s also worth noting that every single application for disability will be denied the first time. So if you don’t intend to appeal, don’t even start.

The first application was denied (of course) So we appealed. That appeal was denied. On second appeal, we had to go before the administrative law judge. So I got all dressed up and went to that hearing, prepared to throw up on the judge if I needed to. That appeal was also denied (I probably should have thrown up on him) This was the point when I realized that what I needed wasn’t just an advocate for my Social Security disability claim. I needed an attorney, because the advocate I had just shrugged and told me he tried. Trying was not enough, in my book. I was owed disability and my family had to have income, one way or the other.

If you are thinking of pursuing a disability claim, start by getting an attorney on your side and save yourself some time. That should probably be the first thing to know, but it was the second thing for me. My new found attorney and I started another application through the process.  This second application had secondary documentation and signed affidavits from witnesses. This one was also denied the first time through, just like the last one.

We appealed. The appeal was denied.  We appealed again. Then one day (months later) much like any other day in the life of the average chronic illness sufferer. Desperate. Feeling alone. Feeling like the world just wants you to die quietly somewhere. My attorney called. She said “the Meniere’s isn’t enough by itself. We can’t get approved with just the Meniere’s.”  She paused for a bit.  “Do you think you are depressed?”

Am I depressed? Well, I couldn’t very well admit that suicide was my only other alternative to government assistance (not without ruining the viability of that option) the only other alternative if I wanted to see my family fed. So I had to admit that I was struggling with just a little bit of depression. The entire tone of the conversation changed. She said something like that will make it much easier for me and got back to work on my case.

I had almost given up the faint hope that disability would offer when the approval for my claim finally came through. After two years of applications, denials and appeals, I was approved for disability payments.  Just in time too, because we had scraped out the last of our savings and were in the process of hocking valuable items in order to get the bills paid that month.

There was just one problem, though.  One tiny little hitch.  Hardly worth the bother, really.  See here, Ray Anthony Steele, you aren’t really a U.S. citizen.

Excuse me?

I’ve paid taxes my entire working life, starting at age sixteen. I’ve never failed to file, I’ve never failed to pay. I even paid twice some years. Every time that the IRS audited me I wrote them another check, and they audited me every year that I was a card-carrying member of the Libertarian Party.  I’ve paid my dues for 30 years. I think I’m a member of this club, this club called the United States, and I would be seen that way by the government except for one tiny little problem.

When getting a Social Security card, make sure that you bring with you all the documentation required to prove US citizenship; do not, under any circumstances, allow the person handling your application to harbor any illusions that you are not 100% a US citizen or allow them to submit the application without insuring that the box “US citizen” is checked.  This is of paramount importance.

I was born overseas to parents who were in the military, stationed overseas. The hospital on the base where my parents were stationed didn’t have the ability to handle a premature birth, and I was early according to the doctor’s charts. So my mom went to where the premature birth care was, a hospital off-base that wasn’t considered part of US territory. All US military bases are considered part of the United States, just as all embassies are considered part of the country they represent. I wasn’t born on the base, I was born in England, at the hospital my mom had been sent to by the military doctors. As a consequence of this little snafu, I have dual citizenship.  I’m a limey (it explains my love of a cuppa) as well as a US citizen. I have one of those birth certificates that makes conservatives sleep poorly at night knowing I live next to them.

When I got my Social Security card back in the dark ages before computers, we went in with my British birth certificate.  They told us no problem and marked me down as not a US citizen. Forty years later, it really is a problem after all.  It’s a problem because that little notation on my Social Security record means I can’t claim benefits from the US government. So, so long Mr. Steele, don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.  It matters not at all that taxes are deducted from our paychecks every time we earn a wage.  It doesn’t matter that both our parents are American citizens. What matters is the checkbox next to US citizen on the Social Security form. Believe it or not it is true. Foreigners can not qualify for benefits.

According to the computers at the Social Security Administration, I wasn’t a citizen. We had stumbled across this fact earlier in the process and when it was noticed by the Social Security representative who filed my paperwork I was assured that if the claim was validated, the citizenship problem wouldn’t be an issue. I believe the phrase not a problem was repeated then, too. Except it was.  Because my birth certificate is British.  Very clearly British and not American.  What was needed to clear this up was a record from the embassy in London stating that I was an American citizen born to US parents. This was a piece of paper I didn’t’ have.

The document I wished I had at that point.

At this point I started talking to immigration attorneys. Immigration law is a tangled jungle of lies and deception; and nobody, not even non-immigration attorneys have a clue how immigration decisions are rendered. I’m not even sure immigration attorneys know.  I did find out that the specific document I needed was called a Council Record.  If I could find that document it would prove that I was an American citizen born abroad, and I would qualify for disability.

A Council Record is an obscure reference for those who aren’t up on all this legal mumbo-jumbo. I’ll try my best to clear up the confusion here. The council (or counsel) in question in this instance is the United States ambassador to England and the United Kingdom. He is the councilor that has jurisdiction over births and deaths in the country that he is ambassador to, ergo Council Record. If you were born overseas you should have a document like the one above that says you were born to US citizens overseas. That is you US birth certificate, for all intents and purposes. Hang on to that document if you run across it. It is your lifeline to access government services.

I didn’t have a council record. I had never seen said document before. I had no idea what it looked like, so I started talking to relatives. I talked to my mom first. She remembered that I came into the country on her passport, that I was listed as a US citizen when I entered the country. Unfortunately she couldn’t find that old passport, it had been lost somewhere in the 20 or so family moves that had occurred since the 1960’s. So I went back to the immigration attorney. He told me it was possible to request a copy of the passport, if I was listed on the passport.

So I found that form. I filled it out, got it notarized and sent it in. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. I waited a long time, longer than any of the other times I waited on a government response through this entire multi-year process. The State department eventually did find and mail the passport record back to me, a lucky break at last, and I was able to use that record to apply for my own passport. That passport made me a citizen. After forty years of productive life in the US listed as a non-citizen, I officially became a citizen just to get disability benefits. There is some humor in there somewhere, I’m sure.

…and The government said congratulations citizen.  Here’s your first check.

Hang on now. This check is for one month. I’ve been working on this process for nearly 4 years now. Am I not owed disability since the date of my first application? “Well, yes” the government said. “That would be true if you had been a citizen when you first applied. But you see this date on your passport, the one saying it was issued last month? That is when you became a citizen.” Once again, have a nice day, don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.

Nothing doing. I am not giving up now. Four years I’ve been at this. Four fucking years. I’m not stopping till I get my four years of blood back. At this point I’m trying to exude patience and understanding, just to see if I can get through to the bureaucrat on the other side of the desk.  I have this passport because my mother brought me back to the US on her passport back in the 1960’s.  That passport from the 1960’s makes me a citizen. A citizen for my whole fucking life. It says so right on this document.

…and the government replies, “Well, that might be true, but that just means your mother was a citizen and she brought you home with her.  Was your father a citizen?”

Was my father a citizen? Was my father a citizen? Well, he was in the United States military at the time I was conceived, so for all of our sakes I hope he was. I mean, we don’t want any foreigners fighting in our ranks or having sex with our women, that would be unthinkable.

Robert Allen, the reason
I’m stuck with Ray Anthony

I don’t know my biological father. I sent the man an invitation to my high school graduation even though I had never met him in living memory. He never replied to the invitation, has never attempted to get in touch with me at any point during my life. For all I knew he didn’t even care if I was alive or not. I was raised by two different men instead of by my biological father and both of them tried to be dad and failed in various ways. I have never seen a page of correspondence from my biological father anywhere in any record that I kept or my mother kept.  He’s a cipher to me. A complete unknown. I wouldn’t know where to even contact him at this point. I don’t know if he is still alive (not sure if I care either) I’m sure he had a Social Security number, I’m sure he was a citizen. I’m sure he has a military record.  I have no idea how that information is dredged up without contacting his family, which had also been tried previously and ended in failure.

So I asked the Social Security administration if they knew how to find his number, how to track down his military record. I started putting out feelers, once again trying to get that information, looking for his family to contact. However, the Social Security administration came up with the information all by themselves. Proving once and for all (for me anyway) that they aren’t all demons placed here on Earth just to torment us average folk. They attached his file to mine and approved the back payments without my having to do the costly and time consuming legwork of tracking down my father and armwrestling him mano-a-mano for his Social Security number.


After that. After the years of fighting. After the many setbacks. After the successful conclusion of the application and subsequent reversal of the judgement that I was not a citizen. There was a year or two of argument about paying my attorney and discovering that they had withheld two attorneys worth of money from my back payments, and so they should give me money rather than try to take money away from me to pay my attorney. But, I was a citizen and I was getting the disability that I had dutifully paid for all my life. My children had a home. We had food on the table. I was satisfied.

Then my dad died. The man who tried hardest to be dad, to care. The man I could rely on even though he wasn’t married to my mom anymore. Jack Steele, the man whose name I carry with pride, died. A decade of battle with cancer was finally over. He made up for his earlier failures, and I accepted his apologies and considered him my dad for a good number of years before the end, even though his genes are not my genes. I loved him. I loved his family and their history. I was very sad to see him go.

While we were in Colorado preparing for the funeral, going through old records and photos, reminiscing about the past, his last wife (my second mom. I think I have 4 now. Maybe even 5. Well, mom is mom, but then there are other moms. Yes, it’s confusing) she was suddenly struck with a memory. When they were going through the attic at gramma’s house preparing it for sale, they stumbled across a box of stuff that had been shipped back to the US from England when mom moved back to the States with me. There was a document about me in the box, and she didn’t know if it was important but she thought I’d want to keep it. After rummaging around in a drawer for a few minutes, she produced the Council Record that would have saved me years of work had I only known who to talk to about it. I just thanked her and gave her a hug. What else are you going to do, at that point?

That’s it.  That’s my disability story finally written.  I should probably see if I can track down the document numbers for the documents I submitted, just for clarity’s sake.  But right now I just want to step back and admire the fact that I’ve written this damn thing.  It took me long enough. Longer than it took to get my disability approved? Just about.

The Reason for the Season

(abridged and enhanced from this post)

Every year I hear the same thing; Holiday this and Holiday that and the counter mantra they’re taking god out of Christmas. There seems to be some confusion about the origin of Christmas amongst the general population; and this year is worse than most, with Kurt Cameron’s latest christian film (labeled a comedy for face saving reasons I’m sure) Saving Christmas currently out in theaters.

On top of everything else, FOX’s mindless genning up of  the War on Christmas, the incessant whining of the christian majority of the US that they are in fact an oppressed minority, and their demands that they be allowed to persecute actual minorities or they really will be oppressed; this year Texas is allowing a nativity scene to be displayed in the Capitol rotunda. (this is probably in violation of  the US Constitution, which clearly states that no preference for any religion can be shown in public spaces, and in decision after decision handed down by the courts) Apparently they look forward to being forced to allow atheist, pastafarian, festivus and even satanist displays in the rotunda as well, since that is the only way that religious displays of any kind are allowed.

It’s almost hopeless, the idea that facts when presented without bias can change minds, especially when polls like those conducted by the Pew Research Center show;

…that most Americans believe that the biblical Christmas story reflects historical events that actually occurred. About three-quarters of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, and that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. And eight-in-ten U.S. adults believe the newborn baby Jesus was laid in a manger.

In total, 65% of U.S. adults believe that all of these aspects of the Christmas story – the virgin birth, the journey of the magi, the angel’s announcement to the shepherds and the manger story – reflect events that actually happened. Among U.S. Christians, fully eight-in-ten (81%) believe in all four elements of the Christmas story. Even among people who are not affiliated with any religion, 21% believe all these events took place, and 37% believe at least one (but not all) of them occurred.

But still I soldier on, year after year, attempting to point out the silliness that surrounds us.

The word christmas is a bastardization of Christ’s Mass, which is specifically a Catholic celebration. The Catholics, being the earliest example of admen on the planet, realized that they could more easily sell their religion if they simply adopted the holidays in the areas that they wished to convert. When they moved into Northern Europe, they took on the holiday known as Yule and incorporated it into their religion as the day of Christ’s birth (even though it’s considered most likely that the date would have been in spring) it is even more likely that the celebrations of Saturnalia spread around the Roman Empire, influencing the the celebrations held informally long after Rome had ceased to be a power in the region. Whereby Roman celebrations influenced Yule which in turn influenced celebrations in the later christian eras.

Christ’s Mass (Mass being what a protestant refers to as a ‘sermon’) was thereby invented, placing a holiday that directly coincided with celebrations already being held on the shortest day of the year, accurate calculations of which could be made (and were and still are essential for agriculture) with the crude technologies of the time. What I’m getting at is, if you are calling the holiday Christmas and you aren’t a Catholic, you are referring to the secularized holiday formerly known as Yule. There is no need to further secularize it by calling it a Holiday.

My son attended a charter school that was hosted at a Catholic Church for a few years while he was in grade school (long past now) and they used the phrase Holiday Party to describe thier Christmas Party. If there is one group that should be using the word Christmas it’s the Catholics.  They certainly didn’t hesitate to tell him all about god in that school (which was the main reason his attendance there was brief) I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t just say Christmas.

Christmas being Yule modernized isn’t nearly the earth shattering revelation that FOX and their devotees might think.  A good number of the names for things that we use daily, even the names of the days themselves, are related to Germanic/Northern European traditions, whose gods were not the gods the Romans worshipped (Remember to think of Odin on Wednesday next time it rolls around) nor the later god of the christians that Rome would officially adopt. Our traditions in the US are a literal smorgasbord of celebrations cobbled together from every major culture on the face of the planet.

So, if you hear me wish you a Merry Christmas, it is because May your feast of the Winter Solstice be enjoyable is too cumbersome to say repeatedly. Christmas has as much to do with Odin as it does with Jesus, and has even more in common with Coca-Cola ads from the early 20th century than it does with any god; Coca-Cola having created the figure of Santa Claus that most of us recognize today.


(courtesy the Coca-Cola Company)

I can hear it already, in stentorian tones even “Jesus is the reason for the season”. 

Axis tilt (22.5 degrees) is the reason for the season. Lack of sunlight causing depression is the reason for the celebration.

It also bears mentioning that the pilgrims that the average US citizen credits as founding the American colonies specifically targeted Christmas as being a pagan influence introduced by the Catholic church, and they exorcised it’s celebration from their religious practices, even punishing celebrants caught loafing during the early years of the colony.

But that view is a oversimplification anyway. No one group can be said to be the founders of the United States, unless you are talking specifically about the authors of the Constitution, a group that consciously kept all mention of religion out of the document (aside from the proscription against religious tests) If you go beyond their ranks, you are faced with the fact that there were French colonies as well as Spanish colonies, and if you want a contrast with the straight-laced Puritans it’s hard to find one more glaring than the types of celebrations held in New Orleans down through the years.

The US is not a christian nation. Establishing a new christian nation would have placed the Constitutional authors at odds with the cause of a good many early colonists moving to the Americas, to escape religious persecution in European state-run christian orthodoxy. Jesus was not a capitalist.  Jesus does not want you to buy gifts to give away on the winter solstice, not only because he wasn’t born then, but because you should give gifts every day of your life. If you really want to know, that is What Jesus Would Do, as well as washing the feet of the poor and feeding hosts with loaves and fishes. The United States exists as a celebration of reason not religion. Reason is the basis for Humanism and the Enlightenment, this country’s real foundations.

Yes, I know, I’ve ruined Christmas for you. I’m sorry. The world isn’t as simple as you want it to be, it won’t change just because you or I think it should, and like those toys you bought for the kids, it won’t go back in the !@#$%^&*! box so that you can return it to the pimply-faced clerk that sold it to you, so that you can just get the preassembled one that has all the pieces in the right place! The kid will be happy for the gift anyway, he probably won’t notice the missing parts, and the world will continue to spin on it’s (tilted) axis whether we will it or not.

Just relax, sit back, and have some more eggnog (or whatever your beverage of choice is) it’s just a few more weeks and then we’ll have a whole new year of problems to deal with. Now isn’t that a refreshing outlook?

…Oh, and Merry Christmas!

Robin Williams

“Keep a little bit of madness in you. Just a little touch of it. Just enough, so you don’t become stupid. A little madness will keep you alive, because no one in the world knows how to tax that.”

Robin Williams – Reality… What a Concept

I owned that work on cassette. It was one of my first purchases, if not the first comedy album I ever owned. I listened to it so often I memorized it, before the tape fell apart and I had to stop playing it.

Robin Williams Live at the Roxy – 1978HBO Special it and Reality-What a Concept are currently out of print according to the Robin Williams Fan website.  MP3’s from the album are available on Amazon.com

I loved Mork & Mindy. Watched his appearances on Carson. Went to see every film he was in, just because he was in it, and for no other reason.

I was outraged at Dead Poets Society, though. (spoilers!)  I’ve watched it since, and I know now that I was wrong, that I shouldn’t have been so angry at the suicide portrayed in that film.  But at the time I felt it was a betrayal, that it was an acknowledgement of the darkness in the world, that the film let the darkness win, by killing what I saw as the main character, the character I identified with at the time. Worse, I associated Robin with the film, because I had gone to see it specifically because he was in it.

All of us fight our own inner demons. I’ve fought with depression for many years, longer than I can count. Menieres has only made it harder to cope with, but the darkness has been there for as long as I can remember.  It’s been with me so long that I don’t even remember when I made the pact with myself that I wouldn’t contemplate suicide.

It’s a sad observation of human existence that suicides increase when someone else commits suicide; this is especially true of prominent figures.  Watching MSNBC’s coverage, I was struck by this when they flashed the numbers for suicide prevention on the screen.  I feel it is a shame that Robin let depression win; and as someone who fights depression, and who knows there are others out there engaged in a daily battle with it, I have to see it as letting depression win.  This is not a judgement on Robin, or an observation of failure on his part.

Depression is not cancer; or maybe it is. Cancer of the mental processes, perhaps. In any case, when the physical body fails (and it will, for all of us) then it really is over.  But when the mind gets trapped in that inward spiral, no one can break you out of it unless you want them to, unless you want to keep living. That is a choice you make.

I will not leave a body for relatives to find, to ask themselves “what did I do wrong” when it isn’t about them. It’s about me.  There will be no notes.  No questions.  Because (fate willing) I will not have to make that choice. I just hope I have time to write down all the things I think need to be related before that Mind That Bus moment happens.

Like Dead Poets Society. It’s not actually about the suicidal character; or rather, it not just about him. It’s about the mousy little guy who follows along for the whole film (my first conscious introduction to Ethan Hawke, another actor who’s films I try not to miss) never hazarding more than is required of him because he is too afraid to take that chance.  It’s about all the other characters, sucking all the marrow because they had a teacher who encouraged them to live life to its fullest. Because we’re only here for a brief moment, and then we’re gone.


I’ve meant to write a postscript to this one for awhile now.  On the revelation that Robin suffered from early stages of Parkinson’s, and that he had that road ahead of him clearly mapped out by others (including his friend Micheal J. Fox whose charity he donated to) I can easily imagine that he chose his time to leave rather than wait for the disease to rob him of his independence. Preferred to be remembered this way, rather than risk being the subject of pity; no longer able to ask people to laugh at him, with him.

That he had to kill himself the way he did is more an indictment of  current societal norms than it is of Robin Williams himself.  When you are stricken with a disease for which there is no cure, one that will slowly destroy what you were if not actually kill you outright, you are faced with some pretty hard choices.  One of them is the ability to say “Ok, I’ve had enough now. I’d like to just check out.” A choice which is denied to the sufferer in nearly every case; requiring those determined enough to seek solutions to the problem, to resort to cruder tactics than they would have preferred had they actually had a choice.

I am convinced that Robin Williams is one of those people.  Being denied the right to end his life legally at some point later, he chose that time and that place to act, right or wrong.  

For me, it was the wrong choice.  But then I’m not Robin Williams.  Never wanted to be him.  I just enjoyed his pointed wit, his ability to flit apparently effortlessly through characters; his willingness to laugh, and to encourage us to laugh, at his all too human foibles.  In the end, it was those foibles, those failings, that killed him.

We sat down and rewatched Dead Poets Society as a family last week.  Just wanted to see if his chosen ending for his life alters the way the film feels. In reflection, I think this film actually captures the real Robin; both the flashy in-your-face moments of characterization, and the quiet man who contemplates the meaning of life, tries to communicate the drive to find meaning to younger minds. In any case it holds up well, and I think I’ll have to dig up some of his other early works, dust off the Laser Disk player if I have to.  Re-experience his work again, while the pain is fresh.  Just to see if I can still laugh with him.  I think I need a good laugh.

Dead Poets Society scene, What will your verse be?

“O Me! O life!…
of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless
of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself,
(for who more foolish than I,
and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light
of the objects mean
of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all
of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest
with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring
What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here
that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
q on cbc, Ethan Hawke on Robin Williams, Published on Sep 11, 2014

I ran across this article submitted by Susan Schneider Williams (Robin Williams’s widow) to the journal Neurology. He apparently suffered from Lewy Body disease, undiagnosed until after his death. She discusses her experience with him in the final days of his life in the article and in this audio clip from the journal.

Although not alone, his case was extreme. Not until the coroner’s report, 3 months after his death, would I learn that it was diffuse LBD that took him. All 4 of the doctors I met with afterwards and who had reviewed his records indicated his was one of the worst pathologies they had seen. He had about 40% loss of dopamine neurons and almost no neurons were free of Lewy bodies throughout the entire brain and brainstem.

Robin is and will always be a larger-than-life spirit who was inside the body of a normal man with a human brain. He just happened to be that 1 in 6 who is affected by brain disease.

Not only did I lose my husband to LBD, I lost my best friend. Robin and I had in each other a safe harbor of unconditional love that we had both always longed for. For 7 years together, we got to tell each other our greatest hopes and fears without any judgment, just safety. As we said often to one another, we were each other’s anchor and mojo: that magical elixir of feeling grounded and inspired at the same time by each other’s presence.

One of my favorite bedrock things we would do together was review how our days went. Often, this was more than just at the end of the day. It did not matter if we were both working at home, traveling together, or if he was on the road. We would discuss our joys and triumphs, our fears and insecurities, and our concerns. Any obstacles life threw at us individually or as a couple were somehow surmountable because we had each other.

The causes of his suicide are far more complex than anyone could understand until long after he was gone. I’m just now (Oct. 2017) able to look back on him and his work with a calm dispassion. Finally over the emotional hurdle of his leaving us in this way.


Terry Gross interviewed Dave Itzkoff on Fresh Air this week (May, 2018) about his latest book titled Robin,

Fresh Air – Dave Itzkoff – May, 2018

Here is a link to the book on Audible (or Amazon) I fell asleep to this audiobook for about two weeks or so. Because of this I’ve been having a lot of flashbacks to the times I laughed and cried with him over the decades. It wasn’t the greatest biography I’ve ever read, but then I read a lot of biographies written by a lot of talented people. It is definitely not the worst one I’ve read, either. I could have done with less dramatization of Robin’s work by the performer. No one can do Robin except Robin. The publisher probably should have spliced in actual cuts from Robin’s audio recordings for those segments. It would have cost them licensing fees, so I know why they didn’t do that. Still, it would have made the book far more enjoyable to listen to. Reading it may change the experience since you’ll be hearing Robin’s voice in your head if you have an active imagination like mine.

I learned things that I didn’t know about the subject of Robin Williams, the man, which is really all I require of the biographies I read. There were plenty of personal insights from family and friends and from interviews with Robin himself. I recommend the book even if you are only half the fan of Robin Williams that I am. Another great intellect has left us. He would not believe this of himself, but he made the world bearable and a little more understandable for me while he was here. I will miss him.

Pastel ProductionsRobin Williams rare footage – Aug 14, 2014

In the early 1980’s I was working at a production company. We were editing a segment for director Howard Storm. I was amazed then and after seeing it again amazed at Robin’s natural ability to make people laugh. I never had the privilege of meeting him but like us all, will miss him terribly. The world has lost a little happiness.

Pastel Productions

Christmas lists…

“Dear Buddha, I would like a pony and a plastic rocket…”

Malcolm Reynolds

I have a different kind of list in mind. A list of standard rants that I just want to get off my chest. The opportunity for them occurs nearly every “Holiday Season”. So let’s just get to it, shall we?

First.

Every year, I hear the same thing. “Holiday this” and “Holiday that” and the counter mantra “they’re taking god out of Christmas”. There seems to be some confusion about the origin of ‘Christmas’. Let’s see if we can clear this up, eh?
Christmas is a ‘bastardization’ of “Christ’s Mass”, which is a Catholic celebration. The Catholics, being the earliest example of ‘admen‘ on the planet, realized that they could more easily sell their religion if they simply adopted the holidays in the areas that they wished to convert. When they moved into Northern Europe, they took on the holiday known as Yule and incorporated it into their religion as the day of Christ’s birth (even though it’s considered most likely that the date would have been in spring) ergo, “Christ’s Mass”. (Mass being what a protestant refers to as a ‘sermon’) What I’m getting at is, if you are calling the holiday ‘Christmas’ and you aren’t a Catholic, you are referring to the secularized holiday formerly known as Yule. There is no need to further secularize it by calling it a “Holiday”.

(I was at a charter school the other day that is hosted at a Catholic Church, and they actually used the phrase “Holiday Party” to describe the Christmas Party. If there’s one group that should be using the word “Christmas” it’s the Catholics)

So, if you hear me wish you a “Merry Christmas”, it’s because “May your feast of the Winter Solstice be enjoyable” is too cumbersome to say repeatedly.

Second.

“Jesus is the reason for the season”. See the above rant. Axis tilt (22.5 degrees) is the reason for the season. Lack of sunlight causing depression is the reason for the celebration. Marketing is the reason that Jesus is associated with the season.

Admen everywhere should give thanks for their unique heritage; and I really don’t understand a protestants insistance on associating Jesus and the Holiday formerly known as Yule. I thought they wanted to get away from Papal edict?

Third.

For some reason, the last few Christmas seasons have occasioned messages in my inbox exhorting us to rediscover our ‘Christian roots’, telling us to hold tight to our language and our culture. Most of them have declarative statements similar to the following:

“…Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented.”

Anyone who has done more than a cursory hours worth of work on the subject KNOWS that this is incorrect. If you are talking about the ‘Founding fathers’, then you are talking about educated men for whom the dogma of organized religion represented the belief system of the past. True men of the enlightenment age (most of them) while they still professed a belief in god, they were not ‘Christians’. Fully half of them were acknowledged ‘Deists‘, which is the belief system of the true ‘father’ of the philosophy that is enshrined in the founding documents, John Locke, who first wrote the famous phrase as life, liberty, and estate (Jefferson changed the last to “Pursuit of Happiness” for various reasons)

But, the basis for this (country and philosophy) is not Christianity!

If, however, you are talking about the average people who founded this country…
…Then you would also be mistaken. From Buddhism to Zoroastrianism America has been host to every religion known to man, and those who came here weren’t told to “check their religion at the door”. We don’t even “Speak English” as some of the posts assert (the British would attest to that quite readily) walk into any major city and see how many languages you run across.

While I despise the word “multiculturalism” as much as the next guy (the next guy probably being blissfully ignorant of Postmodernism and it’s adherent’s dismissal of objective reality and reason. Reason being the basis for Humanism and the Enlightenment, this country’s REAL foundations) the “Melting pot” that is America isn’t something that happens instantaneously; and as with any alloy, the base material is changed by what is added.

Yes, I know, I’ve ruined Christmas for you. I’m sorry but, the world isn’t as simple as you want it to be, it won’t change just because you think it should, and like those toys you bought for the kids, it won’t go back in the !@#$%^&*! box so that you can return it to the pimply clerk that sold it to you so that you can just get the preassembled one that has all the pieces in the right place! The kid will be happy for the gift anyway, he probably won’t notice the missing parts, and the world will continue to spin on it’s (tilted) axis whether we will it or not.

Just relax, sit back, and have some more eggnog (or whatever your beverage of choice is) it’s just a few more weeks and then we’ll have a whole new year of problems to deal with. Now isn’t that a refreshing outlook?

…Oh, and Merry Christmas!