Just a Couple of Guys Who got Me Thinking

I read the obituaries in the Star Tribune every Sunday. I like to learn about the people who died. Mostly there is nothing to learn other than age, where they’re from, who died before them and who survives them. But sometimes they are much more interesting – often poignant, every so often even funny. As you can imagine, I like those best because I can get a much better sense of the person and of those who loved them. There was one in particular this Sunday – a young man named Tyler P. Thoresen.

Yesterday’s paper also contained an article about a man named Jim Moore. Jim had a rather quirky sense of humor and one day when he was younger and lamenting the fact that no one wrote letters any more, he went to a map, picked Turtle Lake, MN, then picked a typical Minnesota name – Olson, found an Olson family in Turtle Lake, and then a few times each year he would send them postcards. “Hoping to go sailing tomorrow if the old leg isn’t bothering me too much. Jim” or “Was in Paris and saw Francois and Emilie. They send their regards. Jim”

I found that just spectacular – beautiful, random and kind of touching. The Olson family loved the notes. They had no idea who Jim was, but they still got a real kick out of getting the cards. They kept every one of them. Jim developed bile duct cancer and died in January. Jim’s friend sent the Olsons a note telling them about Jim, why he had written and that he had passed away. Jim was just 38.

Tyler Thoresen was just a month shy of his 28th birthday when he died. Tyler suffered from schizoaffective disorder and like Jim, the illness eventually killed him. Tyler’s obituary paints a picture of a great guy – funny, athletic and a lover of good food. What really got me was how his family chose to begin his obituary: “Tyler Thoreson, of New Brighton, chose to end his earthly struggles on March 20th, 2012…”

Mental illnesses are often sorely misunderstood and that ignorance leads to stigma – and that stigma, if you’ll excuse my terminology, is bullshit. People like Tyler, his family and loved ones face that stigma every day, despite all the amazing work that organizations such as NAMI Minnesota – to which they have directed memorials – accomplish. That stigma is tenacious. And that’s why I so appreciated their obituary.

Tyler’s family could have used some euphemism to describe how Tyler died, but instead they just said it and said it beautifully: “…chose to end his earthly struggles…” They went on, “While he was burdened with schizoaffective disorder for most of his adult life, that is not what defined him.” Indeed. And struggles they no doubt were as he took his own life.

Mental illnesses are just that – illnesses – and not only do the sufferers and their families have to deal with the illness, but with the stigma as well. This obituary is just one more step in the right direction. Take that, stigma. Screw you, ignorance.

I didn’t know either of these guys so it’s a bit presumptuous of me to be sitting here writing about them. But they both touched me. I guess that’s how we live on after death. The rest of us learn from those who left before us – in how they lived and how they died. Life is precious – and precipitous – so let’s keep an eye out for one another, reach out to strangers, and work hard to understand them and their suffering. Thanks for the lessons, guys. Godspeed and all that.

Full disclosure: My company has had the pleasure of working with NAMI Minnesota over the last eight or so years developing their educational materials, and it’s no doubt the most important work we do.

I Know A Guy

I know a guy knows everything.
You know that guy? I know you do.
He lives right down the street from you.
No matter what you think you do,
he’ll tell you what you ought to do.

His wife, she knows he knows, it’s true:
“He says,” she says, “that red is blue.”
And certainly she’s certain, too,
That blue is blue and red is, too.

I know a guy’s done everything.
You know that guy? I know you do.
He’s done it all once more than you.
You say to him,
“I once fell from a jet airliner.
Thank god I had a carabiner,
For as I hit the atmosphere,
I passed a purple elephant ear,
Saw angels playing synthesizers,
And fans who cheered from balsa risers,
And landed on a 10-foot crow,
who brought me safely down below.”

“That’s nice,” he’ll bleat,
“but my crow was 22 feet.”

Online Shenanigan-sanity

I like to go online and weigh in with a nice dose of balanced, well-reasoned sanity in the comments section after news or opinion articles on, say, Sarah Palin, where the great mass of goombas hiding behind names like Bubba01 ejaculate angry misspelled sentences packed with vitriol. It’s like tossing a carrot into the mouth of the fat kid that’s already overflowing with French fries and Whopper juice. Confusion abounds. And no one ever comments on my comments. There’s the occasional thumbs-up by some poor soul looking for some sanity, but rarely ever thumbs-down I’m guessing because they probably never get past an opening  like “Actually, and while I disagree with the overall premise for reasons I will make clear below, the article is very well written and the support the author provides is relatively sound; however, in light of…” Snooze. I can just imagine them getting about 8 words into it, punching a mental “delete” button, and scanning down for words like “dumbfuck” and “dipshit”, then smiling gleefully when they come across them. The carrot, while nibbled, is left uneaten to rot.

I love people, but

I think I’ve had an epiphany of sorts – or maybe I was just able to put into a simple, tidy little phrase something I’ve known all of my life, but haven’t quite understood so simply. That is, I love individuals, but I don’t care for groups of people. In fact, I really don’t like groups of people much at all. I may even hate them – mostly. This is why I’ve always said, and with some weird pride, “I’m not a joiner.” I would often then go on to enumerate that which I will not join: I don’t want to be a part of your religion, book club, biker gang, ultimate frisbee team and so on and so on. It is not that I don’t like those in and of themselves, but I do not want to be a part of them. But at the same time, I love the individuals who make them up. Well, not all of them of course, but would give them all the benefit of the doubt, not as the group, but as individuals, in the beginning.

I am definitely suspicious of groups. They are unnerving for a host of very good reasons: They are dangerous; they are often possessed by mob mentality (even in small groups); they are often self-righteous; they allow individuals to be lazy and force others to pick up their slack, they are physically large and can lose control of that physicality, and on and on. Think groupthink. That is not to say that I am some sort of whacked-out every man for himself libertarian, or rugged individualist (whatever that means) as I’m really not all that rugged and I do love those I love dearly – my family, my close friends and co-workers – and I love to be around them. I even understand the need for and desire to help one another as individuals and even as a society (big group, that one).

But still I chafe at the little trappings of groups; god save me if I have to dress like a group of people beyond whatever I would normally choose for myself; scheduled and regular meetings I am certain each knock a good 20 minutes (beyond the wasted time of the meeting itself) off the end of my life; I can feel my ultimate demise inching toward me each time I am forced into a group experience not of my choosing. Little bits of me die within.

And I wonder even at the logistics of it all! How on god’s green earth do people round up large groups for biking, or ultimate frisbee, or to re-enact some bygone battle with muskets and period outfits(!) for that matter? That is a great mystery to me, but then again I am imagining 45 me’s at the end of the phone line receiving the invite: “Hey, wanna come out and meet a bunch of us at…” Nope.

But let me say again, I’m not anti-people – just anti-bunches-of-people. I’m also averse to concerts, sporting events, bullfights – wherever great hoards of humanity pile into a confined space. One could be crushed! I love the idea of Woodstock, but would have blown my head off to have had to be there for more than 15 or so minutes – even clean and sober; add some acid or mushrooms or even whatever weed they were smoking back then to that experience and I might have simply physically honestly exploded into individual atoms rather suddenly, simply ceasing to exist entirely.

People who know me gave up long ago inviting me to join anything. And I don’t think they love me less for it. I think they, as individuals, accept that. As a group, they could turn up at my door in the middle of the night with pitchforks and torches and stakes and demands of my skills for ultimate frisbee every other Thursday down at Como Park – rain or shine! What a nightmare!

what do you hear?

“The faculty of embarrassment was located in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex by neurologists who made brain-damaged subjects sing along to “My Girl” and then listen to their own singing played back without musical accompaniment.”

From Harper’s Findings June 2011

Forget “brain-damaged”, most people are at first uncomfortable with their own voice when they hear it played back on another device – even embarrassed. Somehow the resonance of our voice in our heads often sounds quite different from how we sound to the rest of the world, and that sudden realization can be startling. Why is that? Is it just the surprise that we sound different? Personally, I was shocked at just how nasally I sounded playing back my voice on our little cassette recorder as a kid. I remember asking, “Is that how I sound?” And my sister giving me the bad news.

Makes me wonder, too, whether people hear other people’s voices differently from one another, possibly related to the size, shape and location of the ear and ear drum. Could it be that my daughter’s enjoyment of the singing of her pubescent Disney stars is related to just how differently her ear is to mine? Why is it that bagpipes make me want to tear my ears off while others find them beautiful?

I’ve often wondered if other people see colors differently as well. Is my blue your green? Why should they be the same exactly? To me it actually makes more sense that we all see them somewhat differently, if not completely. My brown is your gray. Without any prodding as far as I can tell, my daughter fell in love with pink as a color – as so many young girls do, but I’m certain (no, hopeful) that “my girl” will soon learn to love other colors as vividly. Something oddly creepy about an older woman purposely surrounding herself in too much pink.

To each his or her own, I suppose, and for good reason maybe.

The Grover BORGquist

The Grover BORGquist: resistance, apparently, is futile

The Grover BORGquist descended upon the Publicant’s and entered the party through the bottom, taking the easy path past the least of them; then veered right again and captured most of the rest of them. They signed themselves over, pledging themselves to assimilation with the BORGquist, They gave in and gave up on independent thought and action. (‘Rolled over and took it up the sick bay,’ might say.)

Cantinacrats

Meanwhile at the Democantina, all hell was breaking loose again. The party was on, everyone was represented – locals, freaks, foreigners – and everybody was demanding to be heard, like barkers at some whacked out baazar and there was no order because there were too many people and too many opinions; factions; ‘factionistas’ one man opined. Cantinacrats. But the music was good.

learn after you leap

“Scientists concluded that … frogs learned to leap before they learned how to land,” which is obvious at one level, I suppose, but also inspiring at another. Not only for many of us who experience a certain amount of trepidation when up against that moment that separates the leapers from the losers, but for frogs, as well, who’ve been relegated to croaking, slow-moving blobs by much of popular culture.

It’s hard to learn how to land without leaping first, but having the fortitude to leap first is where the excitement begins. Suddenly, I wish I were more like a frog.

bipartisan sleazery

“An analysis of 20 years of politicians’ sex scandals reveals that Republicans have slightly more of them – 34 since 1990, compared with 27 for Democrats. Republicans have had more scandals that involved prostitutes, politicians claiming to stand for ‘family values,’ and underage boys; Democrats’ scandals are more likely to involve female staffers, sexual harassment, and underage girls.”

It seems Republicans are kinkier, gayer and more hypocritical and Democrats are, quite frankly, less interesting in their extra-marital screwing-abouts.

generations and freedoms

“Every generation brings more freedoms.
Every freedom brings generations of problems.
That’s what makes life interesting.”

A truer truth has never been uttered. Okay, maybe it has, but this is pretty damn true. And where does it all end? Certainly we temper ourselves over time; the orgies of the sixties didn’t take long to look rather self-indulgent, so let’s follow that sex bit a bit.

As a kid growing up in the 1970s a naked woman was something to be mostly wondered about and occasionally glimpsed in National Geographic magazine or, in utterly sublime moments, a father’s Playboy. But it really was a glimpse, personally cut short by our sense of propriety (20 percent) and fear of being caught (80 percent). But it was the limited exposure that gave it its magic. Had I been put in a room with a twelve foot high stack of Playboys, Penthouses and Oui magazines back when I was 10 or 12 without a chance of being caught, I’m not sure how I would have handled it, but I do know that whatever magic I glimpsed in the former scenario, this full-on, uncensored immersion in it all would have been certainly unsettling and quite frankly, magic-killing.

That’s what it must be like for kids today growing up in the age of the Internet. They’re always just a couple of clicks away from the most unseemly copulation by a still shocking number of people who are willing to film themselves having sex, thinking about sex, fondling themselves or simply looking naked and stupid. It’s one thing to have a population of exhibitionists* among us and quite another to give them this border crossing, ever-present, technicolor stage to exhibit.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of relatively open sexuality.** To this day I’m shocked at how much our particular country is willing to put up with a constant fire hose of violence, murder, shots, cuts, rapes, beheadings, molestations and so on on television, but if a woman’s breast slips from her blouse, we cry bloody murder. It seems most European countries have a much better balance on that particular front.

Hopefully this new-found instant access to smut won’t have a huge affect on young people and it appears that it hasn’t, at least to date. These strange and explicit freedoms seem to have been mostly welcomed with a big yawn. The kids aren’t all crazed sexophiles. Instead, teenage pregnancy has gone down. I suppose they are like I was and not particularly impressed by sex en mass, but instead recognize that there is sex and sexuality and then there’s this parody of it all we find on the web (in magazines, television and other media).

One need only replace sex with chocolate (some would gladly, by the way) and you get the idea.

* I dub thee the copulation population…just have to.

**To wit, this relatively innocent and earnest college paper written as a mythology of Prince.