I’m Going Back to School

When I was in middle school, age 12 or 13, I took one of those aptitude assessments that’s supposed to tell you what you want to do for the rest of your life. I found the actual sheet a few years back — since my mother was a notorious pack rat, and hell she was right, I did enjoy seeing it — and I listed three occupations that I’d like to pursue:

  1. Baseball Player
  2. Detective
  3. Therapist
Keith in Spring Little League
Super young Keith in a baseball uniform.

Baseball has been a lifelong passion of mine, and at the time I was a pretty decent ballplayer. I could hit the snot out of the ball, and I had an accurate, strong arm in the outfield. I couldn’t run for shit, but my bat was good enough to keep me in starting lineups. It’s every kid’s dream to be a star of some type, right? Music, movies, sports…

It certainly wasn’t meant to be, but it didn’t stop me from fantasizing about it.

Detective might seem weird to you, or it might feel right on with what you know about me. I’m logical, thorough when seeking out facts, and I was even mockingly nicknamed “Mr. Technicality” by my immediate family because I kept pushing them for specifics on questions I asked. Vague answers about birds and bees weren’t enough. I needed the details on erect penises, vaginal penetration, sperms, eggs, fertilization, and gestation. I’m sure it was a nightmare for them.

pembleton
Andre Braugher as Frank Pembleton

My favorite show of all time is Homicide: Life on the Street, and my favorite character on the show was Frank Pembleton. I loved his intensity and attention to detail. I strove to emulate that when I’d play cops and robbers with my friends. I’d carry around a little field notebook and record details about what the bad guys were doing. It would get to the point that they wanted to stop playing because I took it so seriously and they were obviously called out on what they were trying to cover up. I continually piss Dorena off when we argue, because I recall specifics in conversations and environmental changes that aren’t significant to most people. It’s a gift and a curse.

Unfortunately, I turned out to be pretty squeamish, so any job dealing with blood and guts was not for me.

The reason I wanted to be a therapist was because I was so incredibly grateful to one for helping me at that age. I was a problem child, and not in that goofy 4-star movie kind of way. I was a kleptomaniac, pyromaniac, and pathological liar. I won’t go into the specifics of what was behind all of that, because that could be a 2,000-word post on its own. Basically, I was given tools to evaluate my feelings in a way most adults don’t have, and it made me turn my life around in a substantial way. I thought it would be cool to aid others akin to the way I was.

The problem is that I was never a good student. I didn’t apply myself at all, and when the time for college came around I settled for an education in web design. It was the only thing outside of playing music that I had any real talent for, and I went for it tepidly. I dropped out of college after four years of half-assed attempts at classes that didn’t interest me.

animal-houseHere I am at 33, twelve years after my last college course was completed, and I’m going back to school. I’m going to become a psychologist.

I’m going to become a psychologist.

I’m repeating that for emphasis, but not for you. It’s for me. I’ve made up my mind, set up my first semester of classes, and I’m working toward that goal. It’s still not real to me yet. The idea that this fucked up kid could become a doctor, let alone earn any college degree is taking its sweet fucking time to sink in.

While battling through my depression, I was helped immeasurably by another mental health professional. For the second time in my life, someone helped me get back on track through therapy, and I’m intoxicated by that potential again. I’ve also got ten months of direct care experience that’s been insanely fulfilling. It’s a really great high when you see in someone’s eyes that they appreciate your help, and that you’re responsible for facilitating a better life for them. I want to do that with as many people as I can.

It doesn’t matter if it takes six, ten, or fifteen years. I will become a psychologist, and I will impact a lot of lives in a meaningful way.

Learning to Love Some Music Again

It can be years — hell, it can be decades — since last hearing a song, but the music and lyrics come back to me, and it floods my mind with memories of when and where I’ve heard it before.

I accredit this to my mother, who always had music playing while I was growing up. In the house, she had an extensive vinyl collection that extended back to the days of her youth, and in the car, she’d have mixtapes she spent hours compiling. She followed my lead on the portable electronics front, going through multiple generations of Walkmans and Discmans alongside me, and fully embraced the streaming movement right before she died. Spotify was pretty close to replacing me as her favorite child.

The weekend she died, my aunt, sister, and I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy to get our mind off it for a couple hours. What a shitty choice.

Within the first ten minutes, you see the main protagonist’s mother die, and how important their bond over the same music was. Then you get tidbits of music Ma sang together with all of us for two more hours, culminating with Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (a song that, two years later, I still can’t hear without tearing up).

My therapist told me that everything gets easier with exposure so, with increasing frequency, I’m revisiting music that I’ve shied away from the last couple of years. I get choked up — sometimes cry like a baby — but do my best to sing along. It’s an interesting experience to say the least.

It’s not so much overwriting the emotional response to my musical memories, it’s more like refining the visceral reaction. Motown is creeping back in my life, and I love it.

Yeah, I’m crying. But I’m also smiling. This feels pretty damned good.

 

Why do strangers talk to me?

Last night, I went to Walmart to pick up sinus pills, a box of Mrs. Grass soup, elbow noodles to mix into it, and a peanut-buttery snack because I was feeling miserable. It was shaping up as a perfect in-and-out trip until I got to the registers.

I approached the only express lane open, and waited my turn. I was next in line as the cashier caught a peak of my shirt and flashed a goofy grin.

hatebreed keep calm and destroy everything shirt
My Hatebreed “Destroy Everything” shirt looks like this, but I’m not that scrawny.

It’s a look I’ve grown accustomed to over the years, as people who listen to the same music as me are relatively scarce. Usually people notice the band on my shirt, and they remark how cool it is to see someone else that likes that band, and I get roped into an awkward exchange. He fit the stereotypical “heavier music guy” look, but the hesitant smile had nothing to do with Hatebreed.

“Your shirt reminds me of a quote,” he said, as he scanned my box of soup with a widening smile. “Well, it’s a line by a character named Poffo, a 245-year-old vampire, in the novel Poffo: The Strange-Ass Garbage Story of a Vampire by Some Crazy Fucking Author.”  I don’t recall the specifics, but I’m doing my best here.

My eyes widened because I was so taken aback by the introduction. Give me a fucking break, dude, I’ve got four things for you scan.

I hoped my look of incredulous judgment would embarrass him into silence, but he prattled on. “Poffo is often locked in the basement of her master’s manor because she just doesn’t know how to control her own incomprehensible strength,” he said gleefully, trying to pique my interest.

Instead, I focused on the card reader to dissuade further discussion. Undeterred, he continued, “She’s not necessarily an evil vampire — I mean, she feeds on humans, because, duh, she’s a vampire — but she’s a great person, and she just can’t help it. It’s cool because her sister sneaks small mammals down into the basement to feed her when she’s being punished for decimating her playthings. It’s a fascinating look into the domain of…”

I continued staring at the card reader to follow the scanning process. Here’s the box of elbow noodles and peanut butter bars… Almost there! His words stole focus as the absurdity of what he was saying sank in.

“…constrains her ability to transmogrify into a bat, and the chain around her neck actively combats incantations she would normally invoke to…”

Meanwhile, I haven’t said a single word, and I haven’t looked him in the eye since the first glance as I stood next in line.

“There’s one novel where– Oh, I need your I.D. for the, uh, ‘daytime/night-time sinus tablets’ for some reason.” He looked bewildered as though he didn’t realize there was an alternate use for the medicine.

With great disdain, I grumbled, “Dude, I’m 32. I’m sick. I just want to get home.” There was no fucking way I was going to let this guy know my name or address.

“Oh! You do sound sick,” he replied, as he hit the okay button to let the pills through. He hit the total button, selected credit card as the method of payment, and looked back up at me to continue his story while the receipt pooled in his hand. “Anyway, Poffo befriends an imp that’s able to communicate with the real world, despite being kept afloat in purgatory after a mishap with a woodland–”

“Thanks,” I interjected, reaching for the receipt. I had more than enough. He turned to keep talking to me as I walked away. I heard his voice, but I have no idea what he was saying. As I got to the exit, the door-greeter stood up from his stool and took a step toward me. One corner of his lip curled into a sneering grin as he spoke.

“He’s a piece of work, ain’t he?”

You have no idea, man. No fucking idea.

Why do we need to pretend so much?

Lego set 70818, the Double-Decker Couch

I built a cool Lego set last night, and it was sitting on my desk when Dorena came into the room this morning. She opined how cute “Hello Kitty” was, and asked if she could take the minifig to work to place it on her desk. Knowing that she fell asleep during the one attempt we made to watch The Lego Movie together, I didn’t want to let it stand — because I rarely do, and that’s a character flaw for another post — and ragged on her about not being able to take Unikitty because she still hasn’t even sat through the movie yet.

Her defenses fired up immediately. “I’ve seen different parts of it, so I’ve pretty much seen the whole thing. It’s been on HBO!”

Indeed, it has been on HBO, where I’ve sat through it a few times. For some reason, I was feeling extra feisty this morning, and asked which part she liked the best.

“The beginning where he’s following all the instructions.”

“Oh, the one part you watched with me that one time, and then fell asleep?”

“No, you don’t sit in the living room with me and see what I watch. I’ve caught parts of it at different times.”

I liked the attempt to deflect on a perceived deficiency of attention, but I pushed on with my line of questioning instead of engaging.  “So what else happens in the movie?”

“I guess it just doesn’t stick in my mind.”

One of the reasons I love this chick is because she’s into TV and movies like I am, and she’s great at quoting things we’ve watched together. Something doesn’t need to be super special to “stick in her mind,” and I’m not writing this to pick on her — I mean, I am, but it’s not the main point. It got me thinking about how we humans always pretend to know about everything. I’ve been contemplating it for a while, and wanted to flesh out my thoughts.

We’re social beings, and we want to fit in. It’s natural to want to be accepted by those we respect in our circles, and part of that is sharing common ground. “I know as much about this thing you like, so you should like me.” That passes the surface test, but maybe it’s more primal.

Exposing any weakness, no matter how insignificant, deflates our ego and in turn makes us vulnerable. To escape that, we improvise a story that should fit into the discussion. We’re creatures of habit and patterns, so we’re able to surmise what’s an expected response to a situation, and can piece it together on the fly. Being able to read threats and counter them helped our earlier sapiens survive, and damn it, it can still work! Instead of diffusing a battle for territory, we’re using anecdotes to maintain conversational standing.

I think that’s the difference between me and my Little Froggy. I’m a knowledge-seeker, so I’m naturally curious about the “whys” and “hows,” while Dorena just goes with the flow. If she gets the behind-the-scenes info it’s cool, but she doesn’t care as long as it just works. It’s a really nice balance, and it brings me down to Earth at times.

Other times, it makes me ponder the inner-workings of the psyche and the social implications, and I write a bunch of words on a blog that no one reads1. You can tell which one of those happened today.

1. The writer previously discarded multiple readers of the blog as "no one," and has revised the entry after receiving affirmations that they are indeed not "no one."

The renewed push.

My family is horrible at communication, and it’s something I’ve half-ass tried to fix a few times. It’s just so ingrained that I can’t avoid it at times. We don’t share our emotions, and we typically wait until it’s the last minute to deal with things. That added up to being really bad at handling loss. I didn’t know what I was feeling, let alone what I needed to get better, and I certainly didn’t know how to convey any of it to my loved ones. The worst part is that I thought I had it figured out.

I did a lot better with Ma’s death than I did Gram’s. I attribute that to the shock of hearing of her condition and within the next 10 hours making the final decision to let her die. You go into emotional desolation and recovery so quickly because you need to ensure your thought process is sound.

I’ve been a lot better at noticing when I slip into bouts of depression, and I’ve been reaching out to people for company when I need to snap out of it. I’ve lost days (and nights) to being a husk, but it’s substantially fewer than I’ve had over the previous two years.

Unfortunately, the last few weeks have been pretty rough on me. Dorena’s grandmother, Libby, went into the hospital for a few days, and at the same time her Great Uncle Garry was admitted to the hospital after a terrifying hallucination.

He woke up in the middle of the night, and thought there were robbers in the home. He called the police because he was certain there was a woman standing over his bed aiming an AK-47 at him. Very scary stuff. His life is tragic in its own right, and his way of battling his depression was heavy alcohol usage. While in the hospital, he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, and I’m pretty sure it led to dementia. His mental faculties have diminished significantly the last eight months, first with general aloofness, and now this especially ominous episode.

On top of that, the one sibling my father-in-law had any sort of normal relationship with died early last week. I love her parents, and to see them so hurt by the loss was really bad. They were out of touch for a while before he passed, so I got a glimpse at what it would have been like if I didn’t reconcile with Ma before it was too late. The remorse is palpable. Body language, facial expressions, vocal tone… It’s more than loss; it’s acute, compounded dejection.

For all the faults in our relationship, I’m glad Ma and I had a chance to connect again, and not finish in discontent. That trepidation of regret was drilled home in full effect at a wake for my Great Uncle Jack last night.

Both sides of my family are quite large when you start getting into generations of cousins. After Gram moved to Florida with Aunt Joette and Garry, I really lost contact with all of Gram’s surviving siblings and their kids. Ma became our liaison with the rest of the family, and she was in close contact with her cousin Gary, who maintained the relationships we didn’t. Together they painted the full familial picture, and it still felt like we were associated.

The biggest bond I had with Ma was music, and I still listen to the artists and songs she introduced me to. There’s a few songs that have come up over the last six months that have really hit me hard because we loved singing them together, but I’ve never missed her more than I did last night.

There was a massive hole in my being as I was a fly on the wall watching my second and third cousins commiserate. It was that sock to the gut telling me that I couldn’t call her and tell her I was there on her behalf. It’s that deep sorrow that she was supposed to move back up here last fall so we could have more time together. It always seems like the biggest fits of melancholy revolve around selfish desires. It’s tedious.

I guess the swirling thoughts in my head boil down to my yearn to stay positive and maintain relationships. I don’t want to wind up missing out on time with loved ones because I was too lazy to try.

John A. Miller TROY – John A. Miller, 84, of Troy entered into eternal life on Friday January 23, 2015 at the Albany Stratton V.A. Medical Center surrounded by his loving family. Born in Cohoes he was the son of the late George and Kathryn Murphy Miller and the beloved husband of the late Janice Shea Miller. Mr. Miller was a graduate of Catholic Central High School. He was a Korean War Veteran serving proudley with the U.S. Army. Upon returning home he accepted a position with Allegany Steel in Watervliet where he was employed as a Millwrite until retirment. Jack was the head usher and a long time parishoner of St. Jude the Apostle Church in Wynantskill. He was an avid NY Yankees fan, and also enjoyed gardening, hunting and most of all spending time with his family and friends especially his morning coffee group at McDonald’s. In addition to his late wife Janice he was pre deceased by his son Scott (Yogi) Miller, daughter Lisa Miller, his siblings Thomas and Marilyn Miller, Joanne Hedges and his niece Joanne Hedges Frank. He is survived by one son James Dubiel, his brother Richard Miller and sister in law Kim Miller, his nieces and nephews , Dickie, David, Cindy, Charles and Kenneth Miller, Carolyn Oleyourryk, Donna Clement, Linda Luciano, Joette Hedges, Kevin Hedges, Gary and James Fernet, also survived by many grand nieces, and nephews and his beloved friend Bonesie the cat. Funeral services will be held on Friday at 8:45 am from the Wm. Leahy Funeral Home, 336 3rd St., Troy, to St. Jude the Apostle Church where at 9:30 am a Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated. Interment will follow in St. Jean’s Cemetery. Family and friends are invited and may call on Thursday, January 29, 2015 from 5-7pm at the funeral home. Jacks family wishes to thank Dr. Mede and Dr. Pasquelle along with the staff of the ICU, Palliative Care and Oncology units of the VA Hospital and also to the many wonderful neighbors that surrounded Jack for their friendship throughout the years. In lieu of flowers donations in Jack’s memory may be made to the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center Hospice Unit, 113 Holland Ave. (135), Albany, NY 12208. – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/troyrecord/obituary.aspx?n=john-a-miller&pid=173989576&fhid=3913#sthash.egqJChVQ.dpuf