"Oh, but it's Christmas! It's a special time of the year! I know, we're in debt, overall, but it's Christmas, and that's only once a year, and -- "
"And..." you're an idiot. Seriously.
The Sage says it in love. The Sage also says, in love, that if you spend $150 on your kid for Christmas when you don't have $150, you're not only giving your kid a neat-o Nano, you're giving your kid a gift that keeps on giving: The gift of foolishness, surrounded by beautiful lights, the scent of pine, and fudge. The gift of foolishness, on display, etched in memory. Ah.
Yes, Target and Apple and Best Buy don't advertise many $30 gifts, and they've ratcheted up the expectation level for Christmas. But -- last time I checked -- your will remains free. This means you don't have to be an idiot.
Yes, your parents may have overspent every year as you grew up. Yes, they may have been Baby Boomers, seeking to atone for parental guilt, for one or another reason. Yes, there may have been stacks of presents under your tree. Yes, you think this is way Christmas "is supposed to be".
Yes, so what.
Christmas is not "supposed to be" you, buying stuff you don't have money for. Sorry. If you're a dad, and feel bad because you can't spend hundreds on everybody, tell them you don't have the money for it, and you'll still have a great Christmas. If that makes you feel bad, man up. You're being bullied by a bunch of advertising majors.
Gee, you're in debt? How'd that happen? This is a mystery. Someone call a C.S.I. unit. Maybe they can figure out what happened. Maybe they can piece it together.
Or maybe you bought a bunch of crap. Maybe you should stop it. Maybe Christmas isn't special at all. Maybe it's just the latest excuse to overspend. Gee. Huh. Wow. Gosh. You think?
"Okay, we're in debt, and yeah, we did buy a $1,200 TV, but it's not that simple, because sometimes --"
No, it is that simple. Sorry. Next?
"But everyone at my kids' school gets tons of expensive gifts like 360s and Wiis and stuff and -- " Are you in debt? "Well, yes, but it's not that simple, and -- "
Nope. It's that simple.
"But it's not realistic to spend only $20 per person in this day and age, and -- " Why? "It's just not that simple, and -- "
If you don't have the money for it, you don't buy it. Don't act like your kid "needs" a Zune, either. It has nothing to do with "needs", or even your kid, really. It has everything to do with you: Your desire to have some kind of "perfect Christmas", your guilt, your insecurities, your conflict-avoidance, your expectations, and you know, just generally...you.
Bottom line: You wish you a merry Christmas.
"But didn't the 'wise men' bring GOLD to baby Jesus? And fancy myrrh and stuff? That was extravagant, and -- " They were royalty. You think they used a Discover Card?
(Just thought I'd pull this from the old xanga blog, given the season. I wrote it for the Sun-Sentinel)
No, wait.Check that.You likely know that “Wednesday” really means “Woden’s Day” -- a nod to the Teutonic god.
I, for one, do not worship Woden. I'm not wont to worship Woden, and, well, wouldn't worship Woden. Perhaps you pursue a personal relationship with Woden. But maybe not. So forgive my insensitivity.
Granted, in this culture, the fourth day of the week is, most obviously, “Wednesday” – why, it’s as obvious as, say, December 25th is Christmas – but we shouldn’t simply say things like that out loud because “it’s been that way” for centuries.
It’s time to recognize, and celebrate, our differences. Joining the celebration of religious expression is easy: Simply be offended by everyone else’s religious expression. Celebrate good times, come on.
What’s disturbing:Our own government continues to refer to this day as the Day of Woden, clearly embracing one religious view over others.Even our public schools embrace Woden, throughout school publications and practices.While I’m not steeped in Teutonic lore, I suspect, based on our monthly cafeteria calendars, that Woden remains the Teutonic Lord of pizza square, pear, brownie and choice of milk.
Not to mention these “Saturdays” we keep having!I try to be open-minded about this stuff, but c’mon:“Saturn” is just the Roman equivalent of the Greek god “Cronus”.What did Cronus do?Oh, boy.
“Cronus was the ruling Titan who came to power by castrating his Father Uranus. His wife was Rhea. There offspring were the first of the Olympians. To insure his safety Cronus ate each of the children as they were born…”
That's pretty much not cool.I don’t want to judge, I'd have to walk a mile in his shoes, etc., but -- I don't know, man -- this just seems out of line.
But he gets his own DAY for that. He castrates his dad, eats his kids…and then mall stores honor Cronus with “Saturday Sales Events”?I don’t even want to know what goes down at those things.
So yeah, stop saying “Saturday” around me.New rule:Even if the culture is steeped in it, and even if most even prefer it; even if it might seem to be reasonable to expect I could accommodate it, heck, even if it IS Saturday:don’t say it.
Times are changing.I remember my public high school (!) marching band, performing that song by Chicago: You know what day of the week, in the park, I think it was the fourth of that month named after a militaristic dead white guy.
I doubt the whole crowd at the Assumption, Illinois football game was into Cronus. Krokus, yes. Cronus, pretty much no. Couldn't we have found something else to play?
Let’s re-name everything, and pretend our culture appeared out of thin air, thirty seconds ago.Sure, it would be a massive, and massively strange, project. We could make a court case out of it, since the Constitution itself doesn’t afford different protections for expression of mostly-dead religions and expression of religions more widely practiced.
Or, we could just chill, and recognize that, for example, Saturday is Saturday, whether I worship Saturn or not.
And we could even say that December 25th is “Christmas” whether you’re a Christian or not. Heck, maybe then, with one of the most painfully annoying melody lines ever written, we could even wish you a merry one.
For those who struggle with depression, or whatever mental malady, please read the comments in the last thread. They are very helpful; far more helpful than what I originally wrote, I think. They are like fresh water to me.
Marie asked a great question, right off the bat:
What do you think about the idea that it is ok to be angry, to not relax much, to not be able to nap, to be impatient? ...is it normal for us to be happy and relaxed all the time? Maybe some of the struggle you have is because you are feeling cheated of a happy, well-adjusted "normal" when that's not really normal? ...maybe it is ok to be sad. Maybe it would be inappropriate to be all well-adjusted and contented all the time. There is a lot of sin in this world (ours and others'). Shouldn't it bother us?
I think pain, foolishness, oppression, injustice -- it should bother us. Makes sense. Still does, Prozac (now Cymbalta, for me!) and all.
What doesn't make sense has been my own sense of failure. It doesn't square with reality. It does, however, make sense, in light of the way I grew up. I'm not going to get into details, but while talking to a counselor last week (first time ever) it took him a half-hour to say, "Of course you're going to struggle with that, given what you've been through. Of course."
Before, I couldn't sit and watch my kids play without thinking, "I've blown it. I should have done X, or Y, and then they could have had a nicer house and I should've taken that job years ago and..." Not for a moment could I just relax.
After, I sat next to our neighborhood pool, and watched my daughter sit on the pavers in the sun with her little friends, under the waving palms. I just sat and watched my beautiful little girl. Just sat and watched her. And I thought about how sweet she was, what a simple privilege it was to be, at her request, "Rubber Duck-Themed Game Leader" and I didn't think about me...at all.
God, I don't want to go back to before.
Fact is, my brain put itself in a groove, early on, and I'll be danged if I can will myself out of it. The counselor says the drug gives me that chance. For a split-second, I can think, "Does this really matter?", and most of the time? It just doesn't. Not, "My brain is tricked into thinking I shouldn't be angry at myself," but I'm given a shot at reality: I shouldn't be angry at myself. It's okay. Deep breath.
As for making me a "better moral person", he disagreed. He allowed only that it gives me a chance to do so. What I choose remains up to me. Makes sense. But man, it's easier now. I love -- finally! -- having been able to pour myself into others, without focusing on the me-meister.
Please bear in mind, regarding the concern that the drugs can make us inordinately happy: I've been taking these pills for a year now. If anyone has noticed, in this blog, a tendency toward slappy-happiness during the year, please let me know. The counselor says I likely grew up hyper-vigilant (my mom says that makes sense, too) and the drugs may be helping me, for the very first time, to be myself.
The counselor said he, himself, has been taking meds for eight years to help him with chronic anger, something handed down to him from his dad. I asked him how he dealt with that as a Christian: How did he think God viewed it?
He said -- mostly jokingly -- that maybe he'd have to sit among burning haystacks for eternity. But...he was simply not going to put his family through it anymore. That simple. "They don't deserve it, and my wife couldn't be happier now."
Fellow losers, God uses us. He uses the weak, the messed-up, the openly failed.
I'm so embarrassed to talk about this stuff. But I talked about it the other day, at the gym, with a Jewish friend who works there. He knows I'm a believer. I talk to him about it. We get along, but he's never too comfortable with me. He asked "How you doin?" and leaned on the treadmill. I told him how I was honestly doing, pills and all. Look at me: Christian boy. Messed-up. Something clicked.
We talked for a half-hour, and he invited me over to play guitar.
(Thanks for the VERY kind comments and emails regarding my little hiatus. I'm doing okay these days. I was able to take time off from work and go into a cave, essentially. It was much-needed.
I'd been thinking of writing about my little drug habit for some time, and I took the opportunity last week. I was feeling especially depleted when I wrote this; please forgive me if it's needlessly depressing. I think some can relate to it. Please also forgive the length. If uninterested, don't read it. You are excused. This was written when I was particularly down.
I talked about this -- my struggle -- on the air this week, by the way. I'm glad I did, save for some of the response: "Well, you don't have enough faith, and..." "You're not living in Victory, brother..." and "You are giving in to a Satanic attack, and..."
Well, thanks, there, partner..
Most of the response was VERY appreciative. "I love that a Christian radio station is actually talking about this, instead of playing pretend, and..." I was glad I did it. Made for some great, honest radio, too. And I think the message was largely hopeful.
Honestly? I'm embarrassed that I take drugs. But you don't know my past, and I don't know yours, and the fact is, our neurology is dynamic. It's not a one-way street: Our decisions are shaped by our physiology, and our physiology is shaped by our experience. And -- duh -- we can't control our past experience.
My life was blessed before I started with the drugs. My marriage was outstanding, I was a good employee, had career "success", and I believe God used me.
But now? Now, I can rest. That's all I know. Lord have mercy on me, and I hope you do, too. Mostly, please know, if you take Prozac or something -- I understand you.)
My name is Brant, and I'm on mind-altering drugs.
And that is both the best first line, ever, on this blog, and -- distressingly --it's also quite true.
Fluoxetine, to be exact. 20 mg a day. It's for my brain, which isn't normal. Or, perhaps it's very normal, given the millions currently taking fluoxetine, or its name-brand equivalent, Prozac. I've been taking fluoxetine for the past year
(That last sentence was interrupted. I'm sitting at Panera, and a guy came up and said, "Brant, I love you. Awesome. I love you." I don't know who he is. I'm not kidding. Thus is small-time celebrity. You'd think that would help the ego.)
As I was saying, it's been a year. And there hasn't been a day I haven't struggled with the fact that I'm messing with my brain. And there hasn't been a day I've been as viciously angry at myself as I had been in my previous 37 years. Truth is, I suspect I was angry at myself when I was lying in a neo-natal unit. My guess: I heard the cries of other babies, and wondered why I was failing to help.
I remember sitting next a woman, and sobbing. My life had been wasted. I'd accomplished nothing, and the sorrow of it all was descending on me. The vanished years! I've done nothing! Where did the time go? Life is too fast, rushing by like a freight train, and I couldn't get on it.
The woman comforted me, and tried to understand, and I think she did, if only because that's the way moms are. But she may have wondered how a seven year-old could consider himself an abysmal failure.
I broke down again, years later, in front of my high school English teacher. Same thing: I'm a failure, I'd accomplished nothing, I've blown it. I was a freshman.
I started taking drugs because of this blog. I posted about an odd day, when my self-esteem was downright okay. Weeks later, some very good, and insightful, Christian friends told me they were taking anti-depressants, and I should look into it. So I did, and within a day -- literally, after a pill -- my mindset was different.
I know it's not supposed to happen that fast, and I can tell you I'm not given to the placebo-effect. But everything changed. I wasn't angry. I was patient. I thought about myself less. I didn't consider myself a failure. I was actually content with my station in life.
I could take naps, because I wasn't roiling with regret. I couldn't take naps before! I'd lie there and think about how I blew it on the air this morning; how I never should have quit talk radio; how I haven't written a book, how I shouldn't have said that one awkward thing five, 10, or 25 years ago; how I'd wasted whatever intellect I'd been given; how I'd failed to provide a yard for my kids to play in; how I should've gone another way.
A few years ago, I took the LSAT. Despite being, in so many ways, a doofus, I wrote a top 1% score, and got full-ride scholarships to some top law schools. Then I realized, following law school, I'd be absent from my family for a few years, so I passed, and opted for a more family-friendly arrangement. My brain and I decided to retire here in South Florida.
Regrets? I've had a few. Actually, probably no more than anyone else, but even good decisions -- like opting for family time over intellectual fulfillment and big money -- can play into regret. I'd blown it again! Wasted whatever potential I had -- again! No, it's not rational. But none of this is. And it was self-absorption, too, which gave me something else to feel failed about.
But I take a little pill, once a day, and wham -- I can think about other people. I think I'm okay. I can sit and relax and fall asleep. I can be on the air, do something stupid -- and move on. Happens to the best of 'em, you know? One little pill, and I'm a better person.
And that, friend, is the disturbing thing. As a Christian, I'm uncomfortable with purely mechanistic explanations for our behavior. Friends say, "What's the struggle? Taking this pill is just like taking Tylenol for an ache." But no. No, it's not. I take this pill, and I'm morally better. I'm not kidding.
Think about it: They tell addicts about "HALT". Watch out, they say, when you're Hurt, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. That's when you'll be most apt to succumb to temptation, to be given to weakness, to engage in behavior and thoughts you know you don't want to do or entertain. Look out when you're Hurt. Angry. Lonely. Tired.
Imagine taking a pill and, suddenly, you're not hurt, or angry, or lonely, or tired. You'll be less likely to succumb to temptation. Your need to retreat into bad habits, addictions, and destructive behavior lessens dramatically. So you don't -- because of a pill. You're more patient with people, more loving, more joyful, more peaceful; less likely to argue, less bitter, less angry, less selfish.
That ain't Tylenol, folks. That's messing with who you are.
Ironically, in my euphoria about being, at last, "released from myself" -- I felt like my head had cooled off, my mind had stopped over-heating after 37 years -- I was a bit angry about one thing: I was wondering, "So -- is THIS how it's been for everyone else? 'Normal' people feel this way? They don't constantly berate themselves? They can simply enjoy a sunny day?"
I began to understand simple contentment, simple delight, simple patience, and I'm telling you, it's not fair. All my life I had to put up with that melancholia? And other people could be happy? No fair. This is how other people see the world?
And it's easier now, for me to be a moral, other-centered person, content to listen to someone else without worrying about my failed self? This is how other people have it?
How does God judge people? Did He judge me differently, because of my brain chemistry, so easily altered? If I had more seratonin, sooner, I would've been happier, more content, less apt to "sin". The debate over mind/body interaction, the physical and the spiritual, is an ancient one.
But now I go to CVS, stand in line for a moment, and I'm handed the whole of the issue in a little brown bottle.
This ain't Tylenol.
I'm anti-drugs, by the way. I just use them. Believe me, a fair-minded person cannot easily dismiss marijuana use while popping 20 mg of fluoxetine every day. It's just not a simple issue. Yes, one's legal, the other's not, but that rather begs a question, doesn't it? I'm not pro-legalization. I've argued with those groups before on the radio. Let's just say I know how I'd argue with me now.
My new sticker idea would cover the whole bumper: "Just say no, and yes, but mostly no, but kind of yes, for me."
Ever readFlowers for Algernon? I did, and I've been thinking about that little mouse a lot, lately. For some reason, I've been growing depressed these last days. I've wondered about the efficacy of the pills, and sure enough, for a third of users, Prozac wears off in a year or so. As I say, it's been a year or so.
I don't want to go back. As you can tell, I struggle with this. I struggle with treating a melancholy, critical personality as though it were aberrant, and the shiny, happy, faces were the ideal. I struggle with wondering if I won't produce that something, that I-don't-know-what, that I would have were I not medicated. (I'm no Mozart, but would W.A.M. have been placed on meds, were the opportunity there? Certainly so, and then what would he have given us?)
I struggle, but please -- I don't want to go back. It may not be me, but I like the new guy better. He thinks of other people more, has more time for them, and can enjoy the sun and the sand, and, while his brain is atrophying on the beach, he at least isn't angry about it.
I don't want to go back.
Is Jesus enough?
Of course He is.
Of course He is, and I also have some other things. I live in Margaritaville, literally under the shade of a lush, tall palm tree. I have a convertible, too, and a surfboard, though I can't drive or surf well.
I have Jesus, Who is enough, and I have what, apparently, pretty much everyone wants: A beautiful, smart, funny wife, and beautiful, smart, funny kids. And good health -- I can run for many miles. And hair. And I have Jesus.
I'm a ridiculously fortunate white male in the richest area of the most materially-successful culture in man's history. I have a family-friendly job with a great boss. I don't ever shave. I have a loving, adventurous church community, loaded with friends. I have a well-behaved, if poorly-balanced, three-legged beagle. I have a Taylor and a Martin. And I have Jesus, too.
I talk gooder than most. I get to travel the world. I get to help children in poverty-stricken nations. I live next door to the spring training stadium of my most beloved sports team, and occasionally even do P.A. for them. I sign hundreds of autographs. I have cool shoes. Oh -- and Jesus, too.
I've got peace in my home. So much so, in fact, that I rarely discuss it, for fear of making people gag reactively. I've got good credit, and no debt. How about that? I've got that, along with Jesus.
He's my "All in All", and "all I want", and "all I need", and "everything I ever wanted", and in case I should forget, I sing the words frequently. Jesus is all I need.
Because there's nothing more fun than forcing people to look at your own photo albums, here's an online version.
I can't force you to look at it. I can't even force myself to think you'd want to. But here it is.
Oh, the places you'll go!