Could never be a criminal

For years now I’ve had this one story about why I can never be a criminal. Now I have two, and I need to share them both before I forget.

I attended college twice, once in the eighties and again in the nineties where I went back to upgrade my skills.

In the eighties I wore t-shirts and a ragged sports jacket with jeans and runners. I was young. I was also clean shaven and had long hair down to the middle of my back. My name at the time was Joel Bush.

By the time I returned in the nineties I had a beard and shaved my head. I wore button down shirts, a leather jacket, and combat boots. I had also changed my last name to Palenychka, the name I was born with. I was married and had tattoos on my arms. I’d also gained something like fifty pounds.

The first day back in college I walked across the street to the little convenience store that’s been there for decades. The very moment I walked in the clerk recognized me and asked if I was there for my usual diet coke.

It was at that moment that I realized I could never be a criminal. The witness would have to be completely blind to be unable to pick me out of a police lineup.

A few days ago at work I had a customer come up to the till with his liquor purchase and he gave me a real odd look.

“Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

His face didn’t ring any bells for me so I just kind of half shrugged.

“Is your name Joel?”

I looked down at my name tag. There was no denying it so I nodded.

“You ever work at McDonalds?”

I laughed at that and said “Not for over thirty years. Not since I was a kid.”

He nodded and said “Yeah, yeah, that’s where I know you from! We worked at McDonalds together, in Marlborough.”

He then gave me his name and I remembered it, although his face wasn’t as familiar. He mentioned a few other names and they rang faint bells but I couldn’t remember what they’d looked like.

This is just further confirmation that I could never succeed as a criminal. Shave my head, grow a beard, change my clothes, gain a hundred pounds, and give me a bunch of tattoos, and people will still recognize me thirty five years later.

I love that … what?

“I love that…”

This is the writing prompt that Dianne has provided for me, the initial spark to inspire me to write a blog post starting with those words. I know what she’s trying to do, and I thank her for it.

Dianne is doing what she can to get me focused on the positive, and I understand her reasons for doing so. I’m sinking deeper and deeper into the negative and losing the fight to come back.

I honestly feel I’m resting in a bog of quicksand and the only thing keeping my head above water is doing my best to Not Move. For the past year it seems that every move I make just sinks me deeper and deeper. Deeper into different jobs that I like even less than the previous one. Moves that are ostensibly meant to provide me with more income either provided me with less, or pretty much the same. Financial failures finally breaking through the levees of minimal payments and adding water to the sucking bog. The dawning realization that I’m worse off now than I have been in over thirty years, and it isn’t going to get any better.

So what I “love” now are those fleeting moments that bring me temporary relief.

I love that moment before sleep, when I’ve set all the pieces in place for me to rest as best I can, when I can set my mind to pretending I’m somewhere else. Closing my eyes and trying so hard to come up with a dream of escape, or release. Daydreaming in those final moments numerous fantasies of flight or superhuman durability. Daydreaming of just not hurting anymore. Daydreaming about being rich enough to not only feel secure myself but to ensure the security of those I care about. Little figments of distraction to trick my brain into calming down and giving in to sleep. So far it’s still working, but I’m waking up earlier and earlier each morning with reality reasserting it’s crushing presence.

I love that morning hour on the weekends when I wake up with the usual tension and urgency of another workday to be faced, only to realize it’s the weekend and I can sleep in.

I love that moment over lunch where I can lose myself in a book, and I love that moment when I can pack up the remains of my lunch and close my eyes to crash nap for ten to fifteen minutes. I love the furtive little dreams that crash through my head as I let the pain medication sink in so I can make it through the last four hours of work.

I love that feeling of settling into a new show, watching numerous episodes each evening, getting to know the characters and watching the drama unfold. I love that sensation of getting lost in a well crafted fantasy world where the problems are either easy to solve, exciting to work through, or both.

I love that feeling of putting word to line, of etching my own fantasies onto paper, although I haven’t had the drive to do so in a very long time. It has been weeks since I have felt that desire and I’m not sure how to get it back.

Wait! What was that?! Bring it back!

Wait! What was that?! Bring it back!

Lastly… lastly I love that moment with friends where you can shed your armor and relax. I love that moment where laughter comes easy and it doesn’t matter what you have or what you do, they genuinely love you for who you are and are just as happy to have you there are you are to be there. I’ve missed that so very much in my little world, and it was so very nice to have it back last weekend. It’s so very nice to have that back in my world.

What is family?

I’ve been given a writing prompt, a simple three word question to turn into a journal entry: “what is family?”

When I read that prompt my knee jerk reaction was “I have no idea.” But that doesn’t work for a full length blog post so I figured I should mull it over for a bit.

So I walked home from work, took a short nap, did the dishes, cooked supper, ate some, and surfed the internet for an hour or so… and I haven’t come up with any better answer than “I have no idea.”
I’ve seen plenty of other people’s families, from my aunts and uncles and cousins to various friends throughout the years, and all families were unique.

There are some common elements, I suppose. Siblings fight, and siblings support. Parents teach and lead and discipline. Children learn and grow and rebel.

Can you count on your family for support? Some evidence says “yes”, other evidence demonstrates “no”. Will you always get along with your family? No, not always. Will you often get along with your family? That just seems to depend on your relations, on the season, on the situation, and… a million other things.

My immediate family consisted of my mother. She did her best to keep me in contact with our extended family, but I was the weird, psychedelic sheep of the family. Nobody understood me and I could tell I confused everyone. I was intelligent but emotional, large but not physical, and I was more of a “girl” in temperament than many of my female cousins.

I think Connie’s father summed up my uncles’ collective thoughts about me in one statement of confusion: “He looks like he should be useful, but he isn’t.”

I was weird and impossible. Worse, I knew it. I could see them all looking at me with puzzled expressions, shaking their heads and just not knowing what the hell to do with me.

So my experience of family is, was, my mother. One on one we were more friends than family, I suppose. At least in later years. To my eternal regret we drifted apart when I hit puberty. She would spend evenings watching TV in the ironically named “family room” in the basement and I would spend my evenings reading and listening to music upstairs. Weekends she would work, taking family and wedding photos. For a while I assisted her, but eventually started getting my own part time jobs.

Prior to that she was mostly absent, busy running her own business. I grew up having to learn to take care of myself on my own and doing a very poor job of it. I don’t remember very many birthday parties. Even when I see pictures of them I don’t remember being there.

The one birthday I remember most was the day I came home from college classes to find my mother waiting for me dressed up an angry. It was nearly 10 in the evening and and she asked me where I’d been. I was confused. I had been at the university working on my assignments. School had only just started but I already had a lot to do. She complained that she had intended on taking me out for dinner for my birthday. I’d not even been aware that it was my birthday that day.

So… what is family? I have no idea. I’m not sure I will ever really know. I’ve never really been involved in one.

A page a day, day thirty-seven: working out by jumping hurdles

Went for a workout this afternoon. First time in a couple of months. Thank you Foursquare for alerting me to that. “Hello Joel, it has been two months since you were last at the Beltline Aquatic Leisure Center.” Like I needed more guilt.

I just did cardio. I know it’s a cliche excuse but, honestly, I don’t want to overdo it. I’m going to be hurting enough as it is.

I do have a plan, though, of developing my core strength back. I definitely feel the need for it. My knees keep telling me I have a need for it every day.

It’s bad enough when your joints hurt worse when you move too much, but now my joints are starting to hurt from not moving at all. If I’m sitting at my desk all day, or in front of my Xbox all day, my knees protest horribly when I get up to move. I know a lot of that is weight, and I know some of that is age, but I also know the only thing that’s going to help is to keep moving.

It is *very* tough, though, to remain motivated all day long to going to they gym, even just for those twenty minute cardio workouts. (plus five minutes of cool-down, so, y’know, 25 minutes of constant movement at least) By the time the workday is done I’m generally exhausted both mentally and physically. All I want to do is switch off.

Plus it also gets harder to face the reality of just how badly my body is in decline. I know this should be *more* motivation to go to the gym, but when you’re already self conscious about changing in front of strangers because of how you look, particularly at a gym where the majority of people there have been working for years to look pretty damned good, knowing you’re just looking worse the longer you don’t go becomes a daunting hurdle against going.

So on the way home I have to a) have enough physical energy to feel I can get through the exercise, b) have enough emotional detachment to not care about what others might be thinking of me while I’m there, and c) have enough mental energy left to talk myself into it.

Today I managed that trifecta. Tomorrow … we’ll see.

Breaking Bad in controlled doses

So I’m starting to gain an appreciation for why I shouldn’t watch too many “Breaking Bad” episodes in a row. I’ve always been too easily influenced by the characters and stories I watch or read. Any particularly good book that gets me identifying with the character will strongly influence my emotions as I read it. If the character has a high self confidence or is strong willed I’ll find myself enjoying those parts of my personality more and more. If the character is weak or unsure my own doubts will plague me just that much more. If the character I’m identifying with is feeling lost and rejected, I’ll very easily feel the same.

I’ve known this for a lot of my life. I keep meaning to use it to my advantage but it only really works if I’m becoming engaged by the character for the first time. If I’m re-reading a book, or re-watching a movie, the effect is much less pronounced. It becomes much less about identifying with the character and much more about visiting an old friend you’re very familiar with. Re-experiencing a story can still influence my mood, but the influence is fleeting and lacks depth.

So it only really works well with new books, and I’m never guaranteed how well I’ll identify with the characters of a new book until I’ve read it. So I’m aware of the effect, but I can’t predict it.

I’m starting to see a pattern with Breaking Bad, though, and it’s making me cautious. Walter, the main character in Breaking Bad, is brilliant and resourceful. He’s also at the end of his rope, facing cancer and financial ruin he turns to cooking up meth to make money to leave for his family after he’s gone. The lies and deceptions he engages in to make this work without getting caught are diabolical and complex. They twist and weave and keep the viewer on the edge of his or her seat at all times. He dances beautifully and we admire him even as we wince at the choices he makes.

Breaking Bad

Don’t mess with him… he knows chemistry

We can identify with him easily. He’s in a job that’s beneath him in which he’s not only underappreciated but often derided or villified. I have to wonder if being a high school teacher isn’t as depressing as being a dentist sometimes. So many of the kids range from just not wanting to be there to becoming outright hostile that I have to wonder how so many people manage it from day to day.

Anyway… Walter… he’s at the end, emotionally. He’s hit the bottom and can’t see anyway up except to make increasingly villainous decisions. The American health system he’s forced to rely on… doesn’t exist. He’s stuck making it on his own and ventures further and further into the shadows to do it. Each step makes him harder, tempers him like iron in a forge, and you cheer along with him as the spineless high school chemistry teacher starts facing down insane drug dealers while outmaneuvering the local and federal police agencies. Every time he faces a wall he bluffs and batters his way through it. Despite the sentence of death, and quite likely because of it, he dares more and more, gaining strength of resolve along the way.

But he also loses, more and more, easily as much as he gains. I’m down to the last few episodes of season two (it’s taken me this long to work through it) and he is becomng increasingly fractured in his personality. The dark is grinding up against the light to the point where good news has him flailing in anger while dangerous threats are exciting him.

And this is the point where identifying with the main character becomes a chore for me. After watching an episode of Breaking Bad I have to restore myself with something much lighter. Big Bang Theory is always good for it, but Eureka is even better. Was. Was better. Eureka is over, and lord I’ll miss it.


The problem with any story, any truly good story, is that it ends. I’ve said it for years, held onto it as a personal phylosophy: All stories have to end or they go nowhere. That’s the simple rule of stories. If we ever become truly immortal we better have mastered space travel as well because no finite little ball of mud will ever hold enough mystery to keep us engaged for eternity.

In television series “going nowhere” gets identified by “jumping the shark”, reaching that point a story where there isn’t any more worth adding but producers still force writers to churn out episodes in vain attempts to rake in the cash.

So, if a story is good, it has to end. Unfortunately, we become attached to some of these stories and having them end can feel a little like losing a whole circle of friends. Eureka was one of the best.
:End Tangent

I just finished three episodes of Breaking Bad, watched them back to back this evening. I fell victim to the entertainment version of “hand-to-mouth”. Each episode ends on a question, or a big reveal, or a cliff hanger of some sort. Something to keep you on edge for a week and eager to see the next episode. But if you already have the next episode in hand there’s nothing to make you wait that week and you just fire it up.

If you’re not careful you can wind up watching some shows until four in the morning. Worse, you’ll find yourself debating on whether that two hours of sleep before work will really be worth it or if maybe you should just do a few more episodes and finish off the entire night.

But… breaking bad. Walter. He gets under my skin when I watch him. The actor is brilliant. Too brilliant. I subscribe to his reality wholeheartedly, but his reality isn’t good. It’s too much. Too much trouble, too much bottom, not enough top. His successes just lead to more trouble and even his most ardent supporters end up working against him.

He makes me paranoid. His psyche meshes in seamlessly with my own insecurities and I begin seeing the shadows and dark corners a little more clearly every time an episode ends. He is still the hero, he still strives and succeeds, but as one of the characters mentions even the good news isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s just more tunnel.

I want to be inspired by his stoic strength, his grim determination to succeed, but I end up wallowing in fear and dispair with him as I watch him turn ever more dark and violent to overcome each new hurdle.

I have to watch the show, though. I have to watch it because it is just so damned good. But I have to be careful. Like taking some psychadelic drug I have to be careful to not dose on an episode of Breaking Bad when I’m already down or struggling. It won’t improve my mood. It will just make it worse, possibly even undoing any positive steps I may have already taken that day.

I admire Walter. He’s an everyman caught in a terrible situation and struggling with heroic efforts to overcome, to survive. I admire him, respect him, and possibly even love him a little. I just never, ever want to be him, or anything like him.