Happy Birthday, Melanie

Today is my Cousin Melanie Segal‘s birthday, and I want to acknowledge it here because hers is a birthday to celebrate for many reasons.

Mood music:

We’ve always enjoyed poking fun at Melanie because she likes to play the airhead. Or at least she used to. But I think that all along she’s been smarter than most of us. She’s always been the ray of sunshine in the family, always positive, always smiling.

She’ll tell me I’m wrong, but that’s always how I’ve seen her. All the way back to when she was a toddler.

We were students at Salem State College at the same time in the early 1990s, and I used to bum cigarettes and lunch money off her constantly. She would just laugh it off. Me being the parasite I was back then, I think I enjoyed it all the more because she laughed it off, which doesn’t speak well of the person I was back then. But what’s done is done.

I have never heard her complain or speak ill of others.

Now she’s suffering from diseased kidneys and other maladies, and I’m told she’s eventually going to need a kidney transplant. She’s a regular at the local dialysis center. Her liver is shot to hell, too.

And yet she still jokes and smiles. You never see her on Facebook complaining about her lot in life. In fact, I have seen her on there telling other family members to work harder at seeing the rainbows through the clouds.

You want to see courage?

Look her way.

And when you’re having a shitty day and feel like telling the world how much life sucks, think of her and you’ll realize just how stupid you can be.

I love ya, kid. Have a very Happy Birthday.

I hear there’s a wedding coming up, so we’ll see you soon.

Born On A Street Corner

I thought we had a good childbirth story when, on the way to the hospital to give birth to Duncan in 2003, Erin’s water broke as I plowed our brand-new car over the train tracks.

But Tim Whitman, one of my security PR friends, and his wife, Lauren, just wrote their own birthing tale that just goes to show how far Tim will go to generate publicity.

Here’s a bit of the story from the Brookline Tab:

Lauren Arnold planned to give birth to Wyatt Whitman from the comforts of a hospital bed, surrounded by nurses and family. Wyatt? He chose the corner of Independence Drive and Russett Road in Brookline.

“When he walks to school every day he’s going to be able to say ‘this is where I was born’,” Arnold said with a laugh, gesturing towards the corner where she gave birth to her second son on July 19. “It’s crazy.”

Like many expecting parents, Arnold and her husband Tim Whitman spent months preparing for Wyatt’s birth. So when her contractions worsened they knew what to do: they hopped in a car and drove to the hospital. 

At the hospital the staff told her she was not quite ready to give birth and sent her on a walk. When that did not work they sent her home with instructions to take a warm bath and walk some more. The couple headed home, even though they were surprised by the decision.

Around 4:30 a.m. the couple decided to take a stroll around their neighborhood. About halfway through the walk Arnold’s water broke. Cue the chaos. 

I guess the water breaking all over the floor of a new car isn’t so dramatic after all. Oh, well.

A hearty congratulations to the Whitman family on their latest addition.

Debt Ceiling Debate Would’ve Killed Me A Few Years Ago

I’m watching the political brinkmanship over the debt with much interest. But this time I’m more detached. A few years ago, I would have been sick over it.

Mood music:

That’s not to say I’m not more than a little concerned. If the U.S. goes into default the depth of economic chaos for us all will be severe. The world won’t end, but a lot of jobs could, which is a bad combination when you consider how the cost of living would skyrocket.

I just don’t see the value in putting life on hold as this thing plays out. The world is going to keep turning, with or without me. I prefer to keep up with the rotation.

It’s a similar situation to what I mentioned recently in a post about learning to shut off the TV news.

When you have an out-of-control case of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), you latch onto all the things you can’t control and worry about them nonstop. Nothing feeds that devil like the cable news networks, especially when a story as grave as the debt is on the screen nonstop.

I’ve written before about the anxiety and fear I used to have over current events. I would think about all the things going on in the world over and over again, until it left me physically ill. I personally wanted to set everything right and control the shape of events, which of course is delusional, dangerous thinking.

Right after 9-11 I realized the obsession had taken a much darker, deeper tone. This time, I had the Internet as well as the TV networks to fill me with horror. Everyone was filled with horror on 9-11, obviously, but while others were able to go about their business in a depressed haze, I froze. Two weeks after the event, I refused to get on a plane to go to a wedding in Arizona. Everyone was afraid to fly at that point, but I let my fear own me. It’s one of my big regrets.

Part of the problem was my inability to take my eyes off the news. To do so for a five-hour plane ride was unthinkable. To not know what was going on for five hours? Holy shit. If I don’t know about it, I can’t control it!

I really used to think like that.

Fear and anxiety were byproducts of my particular brand of OCD, just like my addictions were a byproduct.

The fear meant a lot of things. Working myself into a stupor over the safety of my wife and children. An obsession with cleanliness, which was interesting since depression always meant my personal hygiene took a dive.

It also meant a fear of world events. When that Nostradamus movie “The Man Who Saw Tomorrow” came out on HBO in the early 1980s, I was terrified by the “future” scenes.

I look at the debt crisis and think back to all the economic tales of doom I’ve heard over the years.

Why am I reacting differently now? I guess it’s because of all the therapy I’ve had over the years. I’ve gotten a lot better at detachment over current events. Through raw experience, I’ve found that the only meaningful change is the kind that starts in your own mind and inner circle.

I hope the debt crisis ends without a default. I suspect it will. If you feel strongly about the proper solution, you should absolutely contact your elected officials.

Just don’t forget that your life can’t stop in the meantime.

I wasted a lot of precious life before I learned that lesson.

My Filthy, Despicable Mouth

When my first child was born, I resolved to clean up my language. I was pretty successful for a long time. Lately, though, the Revere talk is reasserting itself.

Mood music:

I probably wouldn’t even notice the increasingly filthy mouth if not for the curse jar Erin put out. Whenever someone uses a curse word, they have to put 25 cents in the jar. The kids were delighted last week when Erin herself said something requiring her to cough up a quarter.

“Give me a hint on what Mom said,” I told the kids on my arrival home.

Duncan spelled it out: “D-A-M-M-I-T.”

Sean corrected him: “You forgot to add the ‘N’ stupid.”

I wish I could report that the worst thing to come out of my mouth is that word. I tend to veer toward words starting in “F” and “S” — and while I haven’t realized I said it at the time, the kids point out that they’ve heard me use the “S” word more than once.

Then there’s the cursing that involves using the Lord’s name in vain. I do that more than I should, and Sean is quick to call me out on it.

“Stop using the Lord’s name in vain,” he sneered at me one day, barely looking up from his video game.

Great. Even when he’s distracted by video screens he can hear me.

How much have I put in the curse jar? Nothing yet. But my tab is probably up to about eight quarters by now.

I’m not going to give you a tale of the past to explain my use of profanity. I can tell you it’s because I came from Revere, but I’ve found that language isn’t always about where you come from. Sometimes, it’s the emotions. In my case, a quick temper and a history of anger.

I’m a more peaceful person than I used to be. I’m certainly a very grateful person. I think in this case I’m swearing more simply out of fatigue. Going back and forth to see my father in rehab after a day of work, an hour-plus commute that almost always involves heavy traffic, is probably wearing down my discipline.

I refuse to give in to my addictions, so I do the swearing instead.

If it helps, it helps. But doing it in front of the kids is probably a bad idea.

I know that one of these days, one of them will get in trouble for cursing in school. They will inevitably be asked where they heard the word in the first place and they won’t hesitate to throw me under the bus.

They’ve seen “A Christmas Story” and have opined that Ralphie was stupid not to sell his old man out for using the “F” world all the time.

Oh, well.

This is just one more thing I have to work on. But I guess it’s better than having nothing to do.

After all, boredom leads to swearing, too.

I’m a Narcissist (And So Are You)

Someone asked me when I reached a point in my recovery where I stopped being self-absorbed. I told her I never stopped. But when you think about it, you’re not much different from me.

Mood music:

As I’ve said before, people with obsessive-compulsive tendencies are basket cases about being in control. Maybe it’s simply control of one’s sanity. Usually, it’s control of situations and people you have no business trying to control.

Part of it, to be honest, includes an obsession with how people perceive you. All it takes is a couple of people telling you you’re “awesome” to send your narcissistic side swelling out of control.

My ego is a nasty beast. I do battle with him every day because I don’t want to be focused on me, myself and I. Many days I lose.

We all do, of course. Tell me you’re not carrying at least a little narcissism in you and I’ll tell you you’re full of shit.

Yesterday was an example of how my own tendencies can get the better of me.

I went looking for a definition and found this on Wikipedia:

Narcissism is the personality trait of egotism, vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness. Applied to a social group, it is sometimes used to denote elitism or an indifference to the plight of others. The name “narcissism” was coined by Freud after Narcissus who in Greek myth was a pathologically self-absorbed young man who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool.

So, let’s see…

I’ve never fallen in love with my reflection. Usually, when I look in a mirror, it’s to make sure I don’t look too fat, though that too is an act of vanity. I don’t get people who insist on having their bedroom or bathroom fitted with wall-to-wall mirror. I’ve also gone through long periods of hating myself.

But I am guilty of thinking I’m better than the guy sitting next to me. I probably think I’m a better writer than I really am. There are days when I think a little too highly of myself.

And I care way too much about how many followers/friends/circles I have in the social media world. I don’t want to care. I’ll tell you I don’t care. But I do.

I have the highest friend count I’ve ever had on Facebook — 1654 — and I have nearly 2200 Twitter followers. But when I discovered a long-time Facebook friend had ditched me yesterday I started going through my list to see who else dropped me. Then, the inevitable wondering why.

If it sounds stupid, that’s because it is.

Despite my posts about how you shouldn’t friend me if you’re not finding my content useful, there I was, bumming that someone didn’t like what I was pushing.

That’s how I roll. It aint always pretty.

I know I shouldn’t be this way. Maybe I’ll figure out a way to stop.

In the meantime, I have the comfort you get in knowing you’re not alone — the “misery loves company” syndrome.

That’s right, I’m staring at you and suggesting that you have a bit of narcissism in you as well.

I don’t mean it as an insult. I’m simply making an observation.

How many of you put new pictures of yourself on Facebook daily, usually snaps you took of yourself while sitting in the car? Quite a few of you, from what I’ve seen on my homepage.

How many of you fill your status updates with quotes others have made, figuring that since your name is over it you’ll look super smart? I’ve done it. I’ve seen you do it, too.

To be fair, not everyone carries on like this. Some people despise themselves too much to be seen or heard, which is also unhealthy — and goes to show that sometimes you just can’t win.  Others hate themselves and tell the world about it on every social network they have access to. They do it to make themselves feel better. But since they obviously hope someone is reading and caring, they too are engaging in a little bit of narcissism. Somewhere there’s a balance. I haven’t found it yet.

It’s been said that the first step in tackling your problem is admitting you have the problem in the first place. Or, as the first of the 12 Steps says, “We admitted we were powerless over (insert addiction — Here’s mine), that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Then there’s the fact that “we’re all in this together.”

We can go down together, or we could help each other stand up. To be honest, I don’t know how we do the latter. Maybe, if we see a friend carrying on with a bloated ego, a good start is to nudge them in private and suggest a different approach. That person may be insulted, but chances are at least 50-50 that they’ll get over it.

Unfollowing can send a message too, though it’s better to back up the action by explaining to someone why they have become too much trouble to associate with.

Narcissism is an ugly word and an ugly truth. It might be the hardest challenge of all.

I Thought I Was Perfect. I Was Just Stupid

Let me tell you about the time I wanted to be perfect, how the urge nearly ruined me and how I learned to accept — if not embrace — my flaws.

One of the great delusions an OCD sufferer labors under is the notion that he/she can achieve absolute perfection. Maybe the goal is to be the perfect employee. Maybe it’s to be the perfect parent and spouse. In some cases, the goal can even be to be the perfect addict.

The suicide drive for perfection is closely tied into the OCD case’s compulsion to control as much of their environment as possible.

Why yes, everything you’ve heard about OCD and control freakism is true. People like us crave control like a junkie craves a shot of smack to the arm. It grabs us by the nose and drags us down the road until our emotions are raw and bleeding.

That’s why I used to be such an asshole at The Eagle-Tribune. Every story I edited then went through three more editors and then to the page designer. Along the way, everyone after me had to take a whack at it. I’d hover over the poor page designers because it was the closest thing I had to control. Ultimate control would have meant laying out the pages myself. That would have been a stupid thing to do, mind you. I couldn’t lay out a news page to save my life.

When I was the assistant news editor for the paper’s New Hampshire editions, I was out a week when my son Sean was born. I came in one night to catch up on e-mail and saw the message where my boss, Jeff McMenemy, announced my son’s birth. In it, he joked that I probably stood over the doctor and told him how to deliver the baby.

I wanted to punch him.

I saw red.

Because I knew that was something I could easily be pictured doing. It hit too close to the truth.

All along, I just wanted to be perfect. The perfect editor, in the latter case.

I wanted to be the perfect family man and thought the way to be it was to do as many chores as I could. The problem was that I wasn’t there for my family emotionally. That still happens sometimes.

The drive for perfection always takes me to the brink of disaster.

But all the treatment I’ve received for OCD and addiction has cooled down that compulsion. It still surfaces from time to time, but it’s no longer a feeling that stalks me every minute of every day.

Sometimes my work gets sloppy, but most of the time I do a better job than I used to because I don’t try to get it perfect. As a result, I enjoy what I do more, even if it gets messy sometimes.

Erin has noted a few times that I’m more of a slob now that I’m better. I leave books, socks and gadgets lying around the house.

Somewhere along the way, it stopped being about perfection.

Now I just do the best I can and hope it’s enough most of the time.

You Can Change Your Name, But You Can’t Hide Who You Are

An epilogue to yesterday’s post about Lynn, Mass.: A reader reminded me yesterday of the time some Lynners tried to get the city’s name changed so the “Lynn, Lynn city of sin” insult could no longer apply.

Mood music:

From my friend Katherine Doot: “Thought they wanted to change the name to Ocean Park some years ago? So it was Ocean Park Ocean Park never go out after dark?!”

I had forgotten about that, but it’s true. That was one of the movements afoot the year I covered the city as a reporter in 1997. I thought it was a stupid idea from the start, and I’m glad most people didn’t take it seriously.

My first concert was a festival headlined by Motley Crue in 1985 at Manning Bowl in Lynn. That was at the start of the band’s “Theater of Pain” tour. I have fond memories of singer Vince Neil badly mispronouncing the city’s name as “Leeeee-innnnn!”

If the city had been named Ocean Park, he might have pronounced it correctly and I wouldn’t have that fun memory of mangled language today. That would suck.

My main point is this, though: You can change your name, but it isn’t going to change who you are or who you should be.

If you don’t like yourself or your city, a name change is a stupid and ineffective way of trying to hide in plain sight.

You want real change for a city, you have to change the politics and clean up the streets. I think Lynn has made good progress on both fronts.

If you want real change for yourself, you have to identify what you don’t like and rebuild yourself.