235. Dry eyes

 I’ve had numerous clients over the years who have complained that they cannot cry or sustain weeping if they ever do have tears. What’s up with that?  The problem is not a lack of sadness, fear, trauma, or chaos. It’s a lack of direct connection to their feelings. Crying is a natural physiological reaction to certain stressors or mood states. How then do some folks manage to override nature and shut down the crying reaction?  You can find out about types of tears on the internet. Go ahead, no, wait, well I’ll just tell you. There are three types; the first two are not connected to emotions but to basic physiological functions of lubrication and defending against irritation. The third type, emotional tears, is what I’m talking about.

One person I know claims that she cried so much when her father died that she resolved to never be that vulnerable again. As a result she built up psychological walls and filters to prevent her from crying at all. If a tear should ever surprise her, as it has on occasion, she distracts herself, looks away, and reverses gravity somehow to reel her tears backwards, like rewinding an old videotape.  Any emotion in the sadness neighborhood is locked down also, so her range of emotions is narrower than most folks. You see, you can’t just trap one emotion without trapping a cluster of them, a constellation if you will. Emotions are like mice scurrying about your psychological cheese. Think about that for a moment. As a result she laughed a lot and maintained a helium balloon persona for the world to witness. Something was/is wrong, though. When adults strike you as cartoon characters, something is missing.

PhotoThen there’s Justin. He is proudly stoic. “Tears are weakness”, he says without any hesitation. “My mother abused me as a kid with anything that was handy… a wooden spoon, clothes hanger, toys. It didn’t matter. She was determined to make me cry. I refused and it made her all the madder. She’d say, ‘ I’ll make you cry!’ But I just bit down on my lip and gritted my teeth. I was not gonna let that witch see tears on my face. Not then not now. Nobody makes me cry, ever. When I was older, I’d laugh in her face. It pissed her off so much. It was like me spanking her.” Well, that’s the mechanism to shut off the tears. Problem is that emotional tears need to be shed. No matter how many you suck back or blink away, there are millions ready to burst forth. Tears have a job to do

Emotional tears are different from lubricating or anti-irritant tears. Apparently they are full of components lacking in  the other two, like red wine compared to plain water. It’s funny that such tears would be chemically different under analysis, something we know intuitively when somebody’s eyes are smoked out or under the influence of onion vapors. Emotional tears work in conjunction with facial expressions and vocalizations, body language and gestures that tell of the feelings connected to the tears. There is a matching context usually. Tears are the blood of emotions.

Sometimes at death tears won’t come to the grievers. Some may be in shock while others are tangled up in complex mixtures of fear and anger and love. At my father’s funeral I could not find a tear. I was stoic and reserved. My conscious mind was in “fix it” mode. What to do with our mother? What were the new expectations after my father’s death?  He was such an odd duck that it would be hard to grieve his passing at 68 years of age.  He smoked himself to death with Camel cigarettes over 50 years. My mother labeled him “an emotional cripple”, incapable of appropriate emotional articulation. He did not, however, cripple himself; he had help.

I think it was two years later that I was overcome with a delayed wailing  and whimpering of grief while watching the baseball movie “Field of Dreams” in my family room.  I got sucked into the story and the emotions involved as the protagonist tried to fulfill a mission given to him by an other worldly message coming out of a rookie farmer’s cornfield. “Ease his pain.” “If you build it, he will come.” “Go the distance.” My father was my baseball coach and originated from Boston. One of the clues involved in solving the mystery was obtained at Fenway Park… and I came unglued. Thought I was losing my mind. Fortunately my wife was consoling and wise. She sat with me and said, “You never cried at your dad’s death.” However this attack was not only tears but an intestinal tearing of emotional tumors that I spewed up. I was prostrate, gagging, emotionally vomiting.  I could not understand this horrific upchucking of undigestible dead animals dislodged from my stomach walls.

I asked God to take it from me; I didn’t want it anymore, though I was not certain what “it” was at that time. My head throbbed; my throat was raw; and my tear ducts were pumped dry. How could this be? Well, there’s a lot more to a human being than the conscious world, folks. You can carry disease or tumors or parasites in you all your life and not know it. It’s not such a big jump to memories and ungrieved losses hanging around the storage bins of your mind. Remember the mice analogy?  Well they were running wild all over my being when I saw Burt Lancaster tip his hat, knowing that he was dead and the heroes of this ballgame were all long dead. The infamous Black Sox of 1919, my dad would have known that story well. He would have known the weirdness of unfulfilled dreams that Lancaster’s character portrayed. He would have wept easily and often throughout this film, completely unable to articulate his feelings further than lachrymosity.

I watched the movie again a couple of nights later. I had a similar reaction at the same places in the movie. I was convinced that I had tripped onto something profound in my psychic life. Grief pressure poured out the second time, but it was not as crazy scary as the first go around. A little finch of wisdom sat on my shoulder, chittering, “It’s okay”.


234. Wanderlust

“Wanderlust may be driven by the desire to escape and leave behind depressive feelings of guilt, and has been linked to bipolar disorder in the periodicity of the attacks. Or it may reflect an intense urge for self-development by experiencing the unknown, confronting unforeseen challenges, getting to know unfamiliar cultures, ways of life and behaviours.

In adolescence, dissatisfaction with the restrictions of home and locality may also fuel the desire to travel.” That’s Wikipedia’s quick and dirty definition.

I had a good dose of wanderlust as a young guy. I grew up in the same sameness of a cookie cutter neighborhood in the 1960’s while the world raged around me and I could not engage it. My parents’ frame of reference was pre-World War II and later on the marvelous uniformity of the 1950’s. Life seemed pretty well scripted for them– go to church, go to school, go to work. Asking why or what else there could be never seemed to occur to them. Or for their entire generation for that matter. And it makes sense when you consider that they were born during World War I, into pre electrification and pre automobile America. They came of age in the Great Depression and the rise of global Fascism. Wanting a predictable script is understandable when the world you live in has unleashed fear, loathing and insecurity again and again. Having safety, food, a job, a home, and predictable routines trumps having an adventure. I always say, “We want what we do not have, e.g., If you have a double cheeseburger, then you don’t want one.”

So when my turn came to bat, I had all of the things my parents often lacked. Consequently, I wanted what I did not have– travel, adventure, novelty, diversity, art, music, romance, etc. I did not want the cookie cutter house, the government job, the Catholic faith, the same old same old. I began exploring as a kid, often wandering off to see what was on the other side of the road, the neighborhood, the highway, the world. In an odd way childhood wanderlust confirms the security or desperation at the heart of the matter. This sort of thing was not encouraged, by the way.

One of my first wanderings was away from the childcare room at my mother’s bowling league on Thursday mornings. I was five, I think. I took my little brother Chris along with me and started walking home, about two miles. No one noticed. I knew the way and we crossed a four lane highway and walked along a two lane country road before our neighbor lady, Connie Page, stopped and picked us up. I got my butt whipped for that adventure; to no avail. I liked the taste of risk. No one died, and besides, you ought to pay more attention to sneaky kids, dontcha think?

When I was older, I’d ride my bike farther than permitted, out into the hinterlands of the unknown. Maybe a half mile away. Maybe five. It was never hard to find another boy in my neighborhood with absent-minded parents and an itch to go. Sometimes we’d ride in little gangs of four or five, jabbering as we pedaled without helmets or pads, often without working brakes, “Look, No hands!” up to the Giant store on Route 1 or down to the 7-11 on Kings Highway or over to Rose Hill shopping center. At other times we’d simply follow woods or streams as far as we had daylight and then come home again. Often enough we’d collect returnable bottles to fund our soda or pack of gum at the destination, at two cents per discarded bottle.

By age 12 my world expanded with junior high school and lots of new folks from other neighborhoods. The local Metro bus stopped at my street corner and continued all the way to the Mall in D.C. For thirty five cents you could cross state lines and arrive in another world full of diverse tourists or civil protesters. I did that at 12 years of age, just out of curiosity. I wanted to see what an anti-war protest looked like up close in 1968, I believe it was. Thousands and thousands of hippies were camped all around the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, smoking pot and burning flags. They were bathing buck naked in the reflecting pool and in a fountain near the Smithsonian. Thus my wandering was lustfully rewarded with large doses of nakedness. Yes, my grandchildren, it’s hard to believe now, but it’s true: The Nation’s capital was briefly a strip club before the D.C. police started firing tear gas all over the place. Then it was just naked brutality.

Hitchhiking was a common practice back then. I used to hitchhike back and forth to high school without too much effort or worry. Later on I hitched back and forth to college. And ultimately across the country in 1978. That was some awesome wanderlust that I posted about early on in this blog.[ I even hitched a few rides in England when I was there in 1973 trying to impress my lost high school girlfriend with my wanderlust. To no lustful avail, my blogguppies.] In those days I knew where I was, and I didn’t want to be there. My blinking GPS pin was always somewhere else. I wonder if an Irish gypsy slept with one of my ancestors.  Eventually life became too harsh for hitchhiking, maybe in the go go 1980’s when the gap between rich and poor skyrocketed; when free agency came into mainstream American life; and greedy individualism swelled up with 401k’s and property values. But I believe those days are gone… replaced by bunkerlust, a longing to burrow into one’s own luxuriously appointed gated community.

What was is no more and yet there is nothing new under the sun, except for the folks who have not learned this lesson. Wander on, young ones. Someone will pay more attention to you after you’ve gone.



233. On Vacation

So we were vacationing on the Florida panhandle last week. It’s funny how time seems to change when you move down a few latitudes and across a few longitude lines. You lose or pick up an hour, depends on how you look at it, when you cross an invisible line near western Georgia, I think. And then as you relax in the pool or on the beach, your internal clock goes silent because your ear drums relax and your vocal chords go slack. The tree frogs croak when it’s dark and mockingbirds chirp when it’s dawn. That’s all you need to know. Slow down, blog clowns.

The Deep South is just about tropical. There are a whole lot of water bodies down there– swamps, creeks, streams, puddles, rivers, ponds, lakes, lagoons, and the huge Gulf of Mexico. Naturally there’s a commensurate level of humidity, about a billion gallons per cubic mile, which makes moving in and out of air conditioning an acute experience either way. One morning I stepped out onto our third floor balcony at 7 a.m. I was engulfed in a heavy soup of moisture in that small space. Imagine if Queen Latifah had twin sisters who all mashed you into a family reunion group hug after exiting a sauna. Now take that image and cover it in melting marshmallow crème head to toe. Roll it all in a tortilla and toast it. Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about.

Kids were everywhere at the gated and very safe resort. No kidnappings were reported during our stay. I did have two interesting experiences at the pools, however. One direct and one indirect, okay I eavesdropped. While in the hot tub a father/son combo came by. The boy was talking about all drugs being bad. His father corrected him. “Son, the ones a doctor gives you are good for you.” To which his son rejoined, “Justin Bieber uses drugs, Dad, and he’s bad.” His dad chuckled and went to check on a younger child, leaving his innocent son jabbering to me in a lilting southern accent.

“Justin Bieber wears girls shoes and make up. Did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“He takes drugs to schools too.”

“I didn’t know that either.”

“He’s bad. He acts like a girl, a bad girl.”

“Well I don’t know the Beebs very well.”

“Do you like baseball?” and off he went on another tangent.

The second conversation was between a very aggressive and articulate youngish mother and her sullen preteen daughter. The tone and intensity were something you might hear in a courtroom. Mom did all the talking. Seems that the daughter had been on her phone/computer all week long, ignoring the other sullen preteen girl who was presumably a cousin or friend.

“You’ve been in front of a screen the entire time, Honey, and it’s disturbing. You don’t know how to interact without that technology. I want you to just be human, talk, ride bikes, swim. But you treat your phone like it’s your very heart. Now I know Daddy and Uncle Jim are techno nerds, and they spend all their time in front of a screen. They think it’s normal to live like this, but it’s not. They’re IT engineers, Honey.  It’s slowly destroying their social skills, and I don’t want that for you. Promise me you’ll stay off the phone or I’ll take it and keep it for the rest of the week. Promise me you’ll talk with Megan. Okay? I’m so worried about you turning into a robot like your father.”

“Okay, Mom!!”  And they both sulked away, back to their dysfunctionality.

Now karaoke is an okay thing to do. We decided on our last evening at the resort to attend Friday karaoke at the little bar/restaurant around the corner. It was okay, I guess. But I noticed that families with small children were eating and drinking there. It seemed weird to me that little kids shuffled about while grown up strangers drank hard liquor at the bar. At around 7 pm the dysfunctional d.j. got his gear going and began calling for the folks who had signed up to sing. It was an eclectic bunch. There was an older woman at the table next to the stage. She sang a country tune, maybe “All My Exes Live in Texas”. Then her young adult daughters eventually followed her lead. One sang Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” while trying to look sexy. The other daughter actually did a nice job with a deeper sort of song I have forgotten. Along the way kids under ten years of age sang “Let it Go” from the Disney movie Frozen and “Happy” from Pharrell the Dude.  Awkward and yet cute collided, and I kept wondering “Aren’t there laws against having little kids in active bars?” Apparently not in Florida. Anyway, my daughter sang two Adele songs and did her usual nice work, but wouldn’t you know it? One of the little tykes sang a second “Rollin’ in the Deep” after Jess. Eight year olds should not be permitted to sing Adele songs. It’s creepy not cute.

I drank two Blue Moon beers. My limit. Naturally I had to use the bathroom and I asked the waitress where the facilities were. “Go out to the lobby and take the elevator to the second floor. They are down the hall to your left.” I was a bit surprised. I’ve used upstairs bathrooms before, but I thought sending tipsy people on an elevator to go potty was a bad idea. What if they get sick along the way?  Anyway I did as she said. I took the elevator up to the second floor and got off. It was weird. Apparently there had been a sports bar up there at one time. It was roped off and taped off now like a CSI crime scene. Plus the a/c was not working on that floor, so as you exited the elevator you were hit with a twenty degree increase in temperature and a 200 % increase in humidity. The dark wood and dirty red carpet were depressing, as if they held murder clues mixed with old beer and dried blood smells. I turned left since the other directions were cordoned off. I went into the men’s bathroom reluctantly, feeling as if some presence were lurking about this place. It was so quiet and stagnant at the same time. I half expected to find a dead body slumped over the toilet. No such luck, but the creep factor was strong. Then back to the elevator to travel ten feet down into a family friendly bar. At least it was cool downstairs.

Of course there were good moments, but I tend to recall the bizarre ones. They are more interesting, dontcha think?