Day 4 of my positivity challenge. On Facebook, I spend five days listing five things you are grateful for each day and tag three people to do the same. I’m enjoying this though it can be daunting for some topics. Overall pretty good.

  1. Jolene C.: I am one of those rare people who is unlucky in cards and love. A lot of my relationships were with the wrong person—emotionally and psychologically—because that’s what I tend to attract, and get hurt big time. Those that were good people for me I wound up sabotaging or pushing them away because I didn’t know what I was doing, and I probably hurt them (and later on me). Other times I break my own heart thinking something might go somewhere but they don’t think of me in that way, which also hurts. Every time I think I’m destined to not be with anyone, I’m reminded that I did have one relationship that worked for a short while. I met Jolene online while in grad school and we dated for about a year. It was long distance but we did get together for a couple of weeks over he summer in her home state of Ohio. It came at a time when I was already wounded from a relationship from years before and it was one that did heal me. It was sweet, caring, communicative, honest, and something I can aspire to in a relationship. We broke up amicably but we lost touch years ago. I know she’s married now with three kids, and I hope she’s happy. I’m grateful for that time with her because it gives me some hope for the future; that I’m not completely hopeless and if I was able to manage a relationship once before, I can do it again.
  2. Classic rock music: I was born in ’69 and pretty much missed everything in terms of good rock music. When I found my dad’s vinyl copy of Meet The Beatles, I was pretty much hooked. I got my friends into them as well and that was pretty much the end for me musically. I got hooked on Jimi Hendrix listening to Third Stone From the Sun on WNEW radio in NYC sleep deprived and somewhere in between asleep and awake—probably the best way to experience Jimi. My cousin got me hooked on Skynard listening to his tape of Street Survivors—with the flames on the cover—down in my dad’s basement. My default music is anything 12-bar blues based rock from the ’60s and ’70s. The Who, Cream, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, The Clash, The Ramones, The Undertones, The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Bad Brains, Joe Jackson and Carlos Santana are all on my playlists in one form or another. I’m completely out of touch with any pop songs from the ’80s on, and I’m really grateful for that musical education.
  3. I’m a Liberal: Yeah, I said it. Fuck you all who think it’s a bad thing. I’m on the side of the Minutemen (the 1776-78 guys, not the militia now), abolitionists, suffragettes, feminists, civil rights marchers, gay rights advocates, union workers, environmentalists, no-nukes advocates, free thinkers, progressives, forward thinkers, accepting, welcoming, and tolerant people. I have no problem being that and grateful that I can proudly stand up for those beliefs.
  4. Type II Diabetes: Actually I’m not grateful for this, but I am grateful that I don’t have Type I. I am grateful all I have to do for the time being is monitor my carbs and starches, exercise and take a pill. No daily insulin shots or constant monitoring right now. I need to step up what I need to do but I’m in a better position to do so than I was a year ago.
  5. Pinocchio’s Pizza: Growing up in New York City has taught me a lot, including how GOOD pizza is supposed to taste like. I’ve had gourmet pizza too, but I’m talking about the kind in a shop off of St. Marks Street or in Brooklyn Heights you get on the go. I also learned the greatness that is the Sicilian pizza: square, thick dough, lots of cheese and sauce. Growing up in New York has also made me realize other cities don’t do pizza very well; and VERY few actually make Sicilian slices at all. I am glad that I found a little gem around Harvard called Pinocchio’s Pizza & Subs. They almost specialize in Sicilian slices—they’re cheaper on the menu and come in more varieties than the regular slices—and they do them well. I still love Original Ray’s, but in Boston this is as good as pizza gets. I’m grateful I found where to get the good stuff up here.

And we are now officially grasping for straws…

This is day 3 of my positivity challenge. On Facebook, I spend five days listing five things you are grateful for each day and tag three people to do the same. It’s been interesting to say the least. Not grasping for straws yet, but who knows.

  1. Born and raised Unitarian Universalist: My parents—Father, Catholic; Mother, Jewish—were married in a UU church, and I started attending with my parents when I was four or five. It’s the one religion I’ve known all my life, but through it have learned about most other world religions. Our religion isn’t marked by creed or dogma, but in how we treat each other and others in our community—however large that community may be. There are no set beliefs for the religion but it’s NOT “you can do whatever you want” (if your spiritual beliefs are about hurting others, we’re going to have a problem with you. There’s a great article about it here). Our seven principles (you can read those here) guide us but they are not the end all and be all of who we are. I came up through UU Sunday school that gave me a basis to believe in what I do; youth groups and youth retreats that served as an oasis from the torture and pain of everyday life at school and home, and still is an aspiration to me for how to be together in community; and various traditional congregations that helped me to become a lay leader within the communities and supported me in times of crisis. Without this religious background I could not be the person I am today.
  2. Elementary and High Schools: In addition to Unitarian Sunday classes, I spent first through eighth grades in a Quaker school. I tell people that I was a burned out activist at the age of 9; people who know the Unitarians and Quakers say they’re amazed I made it to 9. But the level of education there was phenomenal and prepared me more for college than high school. They treated us as older than we were and we needed to rise to that level of learning, and we did. Art and dance was treated with equal weight as science and English, and it allowed for kids to find what they wanted to excel in. That combined with the social justice aspect of Quaker teachings made for an incredibly well rounded education. While I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock that was high school (Quaker schools are predominately upper middle class and—at that time in the ’70s—white majority), I went to an art high school to try and pursue a cartooning career. That kind of fell by the wayside when I was able to study film/video. Almost all my closest friends to this day I met in ninth or tenth graded at the High School of Art & Design, and we have stayed in touch all these years. Reconnecting with my graduating class after our 20 year reunion has been surprising in the best possible ways. I was one of the nerds and outcasts all through my schooling until college and had to lose my own self esteem in order to be less of a target (which didn’t really help), but the good that came out of it outweighs all the bad that I had to endure.
  3. Having money in the bank: I don’t have a lot and it’s dwindling from its peak when I got my federal refund, but there’s still some in there. I’m not going to be able to save for retirement with what I’m making or have, but I can pay for food and clothes, rent and a book for Sophia once in a while. I also realize that if I have two dollars in my pocket, I have more money available than about 70% of the world’s population. It’s hard to be poor in the US, but there are other countries where being poor can mean much worse than choosing between medicine or rent and food. I’m grateful I have what I have—at least until my next bill.
  4. Adaptability: A friend of mine told me once that I was a survivor; whatever the hardship confronted, I can eventually manage it. A lot of times I don’t feel like I manage or survive things, but I do. Part of that is being able to adapt to various things. When I was making a living as a desktop publisher, a lot of time went into teaching myself various software programs on the fly to get the job done. I’ve made $5 last a week where three square meals would consist of ramen noodles or Lil’ Debbie cakes, because I had to. The emotional learning curve might be difficult, but I do manage to learn the skills needed when I need to depending on the obstacle and/or goal. I might not always in the best shape right after the fact, but I will survive what is thrown at me because I can find a way to deal with the mess while being in the mess.
  5. Creativity: I wrote, directed and performed in plays for my birthdays from ages five through 9. I wrote and drew my own comic books and an occasional comic strip as well. I was writing movie scripts since the age of 8. I learned how to play guitar at age ten, learned animation through eighth grade, learned photography in tenth grade, and taught myself how to draw portraits, still life, and desktop design. On any given day my head is spinning with ideas that I have to do eventually in numerous different mediums. While sometimes it can halt me in my tracks because I have too many ways to go that I don’t go anywhere, I’d rather be drowning in my own creative juices than live through a drought. Only recently I had to be reminded that being creative means I don’t fit into any one hole perfectly, so I need to forge my own way. It’s hard to do but going with that idea is much easier than killing off any creative impulse I have. Arts have defined me in one way or another all my life and that won’t change.

Day 2 of the challenge. This stuff now is still reflecting back and being grateful about who I am for the most part—something I don’t really affirm all too often. It might get a little more grasping for straws near the end of the challenge, so you have been warned.

  1. US Citizenship: While I rail at the government for the way it operates towards its own people and those around the world, I can still do so without fear of government retribution, censure, disappearance, or death. I don’t have to live in hiding or underground because of who I am or what I believe. Even though I may have had to if I were born at an earlier time in American history, that I don’t have to currently is a testament to the values we—the Country, big C—stands for. It’s something that natural born citizens or those unaware of atrocities around the world easily take for granted. Even if I object to who governs us and how, I’m proud to be born and raised in the United States.
  2. Native New Yorker: I am most grateful that I was born and raised in the largest city in the Northeastern part of the country. Every day I read about the conditions of education, health, economy, and general culture in other states that may have only marginally improved in the last 30 years, and I feel lucky to be from New York. I grew up in Brooklyn in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Queens in the ‘80s and ‘90s and the Upper West Side of Manhattan on weekends from ‘79 through ‘95. I remember the Deuce (Times Square) when it was porn theaters and martial arts shops before Disney would ever set foot there. I knew the place to get the best chicken wings and fries was a fish fry shop underneath the Number 1 el train on Broadway between 123 and 124 street. I am so Brooklyn we played two-hand touch football in the street—manhole to manhole almost corner to corner—and catching the long pass while dodging the tag and a ’76 Oldsmobile simultaneously was an art form. I remember Reggie bars, the death of Thurman Munson, and wishing Steinbrenner would butt the fuck out of everything. I can’t afford to live there anymore, the city moves faster now than I ever remember, and each time I visit more of my old landmarks and memories have disappeared, but I will always be a New Yorker.
  3. Being multiracial and multiethnic: As I am adopted, I claim all the nationalities of all my parents—biological and adoptive—into my unique identity. I am Colombian, South American Indian, African, Puerto Rican, and Jewish of Russian and Polish descent. I’m a minority in my own house and proud of it. I never say I am more of one than another because they are all a part of me and it recognizes my personal history and a history of people on the outside of dominant power. I lived through eras when being biracial was still rare, times when the world was coming to terms with it, and now it is becoming the norm. It is both fluid and my core simultaneously. It’s a dizzying perspective but it is mine.
  4. My part-time job(s): I left a full-time job in 2009 before being fired “with cause” (which meant not getting unemployment insurance) and thought I had three part time jobs locked in to make due. Two of the jobs fell out from under me and was stuck with a permanent part time gig with the Census bureau. This was the start of the mental death spiral. Since then it’s been a scramble to find jobs that can pay my bills, and that seems to only be through part time work. Luckily I now have one really great part-time job and an unpaid internship. My paid gig is as a driver for the restaurant Via Lago in Lexington, MA. It’s on-call, part time driving of catered meals but it has been a godsend for me. From accepting my application even though I was overqualified to paying a decent wage to sending me and Sophia a weekend’s worth of food when Sophia’s mom died, they’ve been people I can count to help out. Even though times are often slow and I don’t always make what I need for the week, I don’t blame them. They try to fit me in when they can and throw me hours when they know I need it. I’m very proud to work for them. I’m also an unpaid intern at Best Bilingual Publishing a few hours a week. It has been slow year but they are also helpful. I get a chance to do the work I did for years so my skills don’t completely atrophy, and it’s a hope that I can do something more than manual labor. Plus if they get their Kickstarter campaign in gear, I might start getting paid in the future. It’s not the optimal situation by far, but they are a safe haven in troubled times and I’m glad to have that to hang on to.
  5. Public assistance: I never thought I would ever be saying this (much less be on public assistance), but I’m glad it exists and I’m glad I can be on it. Since 2009, I’ve been in financial and emotional free fall, but getting section 8 for housing, food stamps for me and Sophia, and SSDI for Sophia (death benefits from her mom) has helped us stabilize. I have a floor I can stand on—even if it is near rock bottom—and try to rebuild my life again. I don’t like being on “welfare” and have always managed to avoid it, but it has turned out to be a big help in getting back on track. I don’t know how long I will be on public assistance and I hope it will be for a shorter than a loner time, but it is helping both me and my daughter get through a rough time. For me and my family I am grateful for that.

My friend on Facebook had a 5 day challenge posted on his status. You were to spend five days listing five things you are grateful for each day and tag three people to do the same. He hadn’t tagged me but seeing what he wrote for what he was grateful for, I decided to take up the same challenge, and put it in my blog. I figure I can always go back to being bitter after the fifth day, but for now I can do something to kind of change my mood for the time being. The abridged version in on my Facebook page; this is the full version 🙂

  1. Sophia, my daughter: I’m grateful she is in my life, doing well in school and life, making friends, and is happy. Sometimes it’s hard to tell she is happy but then she’ll do something to surprise me and show who she is coming through. I’m also proud of her as she thinks about what to do with her life. She told a friend that she’d like to work at her current afterschool program as a junior staff member when she gets old enough; she told me she wants to major in English or art and minor in zoology in college. Sometimes I feel she is my last admittance ticket to humanity (admittedly that’s a little dark to be considered grateful), but I am very grateful she’s here and teaching me how to be more responsible.
  2. Sense of humor: As dark as it is and as inappropriate as it can get, it’s the one thing that has kept me from suicide and/or true insanity (I have mental health issues, but I haven’t gone so far over the edge that I couldn’t return). While gallows humor helps me deal with life, being humorous has helped me start and maintain friendships, connects me with others, and helps feed a moral compass when necessary. It also gives me a decent amount of Polish and dead baby jokes, for which I am grateful.
  3. Both parents are still alive: This was hard fought, but it is important to be grateful for this. They both hurt me (sometimes intentionally, more often unintentionally), scarred me, and made mistakes in the lessons taught to me, but I am who I am in part because of who they were. My attempts to get away from them only served to realize I still need to learn things from them. Now that I’m a father, I understand some of where they were coming from (though some stuff is still a mystery to me). Ever since the 2008 recession and all the fallout thereof, they’ve both helped me with financial and emotional support, as well as making sure their granddaughter is taken care of—the depths of which sometimes surprises me. It may be selfish to be grateful for the help they’ve given me recently, but it has helped me to understand parent-child relationships better and still gives me something to aspire to when my daughter moves out on her own. I can’t take for granted that I know this while they are both still above ground to do so.
  4. Friends: When I never wanted to be at home with my family, I could always be with my friends. They’ve been with me through thick and thin and know me best even at my worst. The close friendships I’ve made in high school and college have lasted the test of time. My closest friends have always been at my side and had my back wherever they may be. I’ve been grateful for their stability and presence in my life. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without most of them.
  5. Writing ability: I’ve been writing since I was old enough to remember. Even teachers who hated me said I had writing talent. When I realized I wasn’t as good enough comic artist to make it in the business, I fell back on my writing to get me through. It’s the one common thread and the biggest strength in all my jobs and creative endeavors. Even with my recent mental troubles, I never lost those abilities; sometimes they have helped the healing process. It’s been harder to do lately, but I plug at it. I’m grateful that I can still do it well.

Marquee Humor

July 25, 2014

Seen this week at the Lexington Venue in Lexington MA:

Life Itself   Begin Again

Tall order or desperate plea? I also thought it was cute the film above this was “Chef”.

Marquee Humor

July 20, 2014

Seen at the Midway Theater in Forest Hills, NYC:

“The Purge  Sex Tape”

I don’t even know where to begin with this one, and my head’s already in the gutter.

Mischievous

July 20, 2014

A friend of mine lent me her car while she was on vacation, so we drove down to NYC to visit grandma. Because of bad traffic spots, needing gas at a good price and lunch, we didn’t get out of the state for close to 2 hours. Somewhere during that time, Sophia got frustrated with sitting in a car.

Sophia: “Where are we?”
Me: “Massachusetts.”
Sophia: “Still?!?”
Me: “Yep. We still need to get through Connecticut.”
Sophia: “How many states are there?”
Me: “50. You know that. If you mean how many states do we have to drive through, 2.”
Sophia: “You’re mean!”

I’m not mean, just mischievous. 

Bitter Pill

July 18, 2014

This is the more nuanced and lengthier blog that I should have written the other day. I wanted to talk about how I’ve been feeling the last few weeks or longer and get some things out onto the page that I couldn’t put into words for a while. But of course I was trying to write and watch TV while playing Bubble Safari at 12:30am when I couldn’t sleep but was dead tired. I finally gave up the piece and wrote “These days it’s not so much the depression that’s seriously gripped me but a lot of bitterness…” on my Facebook page status. That didn’t go as I’d hoped. What I thought would be a way to mildly get stuff out of my head to vent a bit more sounded like a prelude to suicide. My friends chimed in, which was good; my dad saw the post and told me to call him, which is not so good (scaring family I mean). I guess this is a chance to explain things more and better.

As I’ve said over the past few months, I’ve been feeling very out of focus; that’s the best way I can explain it. There are things I need to do and instead of doing them, I procrastinate so I can say I don’t have time to do them. But this makes me more upset and feeds the cycle. I know I have depression and anxiety to deal with (not necessarily bi-polar disorder but both separately), but there is more to it. The anger feeding the depression is also a sense of bitterness. I’ve been really upset thinking about where I was hoping to be at this time of my life with my artistic endeavors and career and where I’m at in reality. I was hoping I’d have a completed film or sold a screenplay by now, but no luck. I know I shouldn’t be comparing my life to others, but I have friends who are in the industry in one form or another and doing well—not famous but certainly able to live the way they want to because of what they’ve done. Meanwhile I’m no closer to what I’ve wanted to do and I’m angry about it. With that anger the bitterness sets in. I can’t live in the past but my head seems to get stuck there a lot.

I got a new laptop recently (and finally) so I’ve been looking at old files on my computer as I transfer them over. A lot of them had to do with issues dealing with Sophia’s mom when she was alive including the court case to lower my child support which I lost. I re-read those emails and letters and I’m suddenly back in that moment again, seething, and unable to do anything about the situation OR my reaction to it. I had the same reaction with a bunch of emails I had from a friend talking about a mutual friend (now no longer a friend) that brought up a lot of feelings about that time, as well as my fight with WGBH about my job. Some of those emails will make good research for a book or movie, but it still is hard to go through those wounds again. I know I made it through, but I look at where I was at the time and I still can’t see the lesson I was supposed to learn or what it was supposed to accomplish. It all makes me feel disgruntled and angry. Some of the emails weren’t even ones I kept but a conversation about a conversation that takes me back to the initial incident, and I’m suddenly in PTSD mode again. It’s tough having this much of a grudge or holding onto the anger, but I don’t know how to let it go.

Of course it’s a part of who I am anyway. I’ve always been jealous of other people who I thought were popular or had more stuff or were happier than I was. I remember being at a film conference and talking to a screenwriter who said she was a finalist for an award that I was trying for as well. When she said it, I was angry that she made the finals and I didn’t and kept asking how she heard about it—thinking maybe I would hear the same but hadn’t yet. Of course any chance of making a contact in the industry died right there. All from being jealous.

Aside from jealousy, I also hold onto grudges I should have let go of a long time ago. It’s like the emails: at some point just mentioning something about something that happened or someone who did something to me and I flashback to that anger at the person. I know I need to be able to let go of stuff and get it out of my system, but two things: one—of course—I don’t know how; two there are so many people and incidents that I remember and can’t forget. It gets trapped in my head and, as a result, it traps me in the past. Richard Nixon said (and I can’t believe I’m quoting him and my mom will hate it) “Never get discouraged. Never be petty. Always remember, others may hate you. But those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.” And he’s right because he did destroy himself (not to mention nearly the whole country), but that’s exactly what I’m doing to myself. I’m becoming bitter about things. Bitter about where I am and where I’m not, what is and isn’t happening, what I am and am not doing. It’s a cycle I don’t like to be trapped in but I don’t know how to get out of it. It partly feels like it could be a midlife crisis. Made all the worse that I can’t afford a convertible.

So no I’m not going to harm myself anytime soon, let’s be clear on that. I’m just not feeling the way I used to be, which is less miserable. And less brave. I used to be pretty fearless as a kid (under 7), but that got stomped out of me especially lately. Maybe I’m in mourning for the old me.

Interview on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from January 2013 that is still relevant today.

https://theologyinaction.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/israeli-palestinian-conflict-roundtable/

Changing the Set List

July 9, 2014

August is a notoriously slow month for the catering business. Last year I think I worked one day each week in August IF that much. This year I’m trying to do something about it other than panic and lie on the floor in a fetal position. A friend of mine gave me one of his guitars so I can practice. He’s been terrific for me in the past helping me out of a bunch of jams; so much so that I told him he can declare me as a dependent on his taxes if he wanted to (and to all the IRS investigators reading my blog, no he didn’t). Giving me the guitar was just another one that helped. So I decided I’d try to perform in the subways in the month of August. I have the permit forms filled out and will be going to the permit offices tomorrow so I can play down in the T in various places on days I’m not driving the trucks to the city.

Couple of issues about it. I don’t have an amp or microphone and won’t for a while, so it’s pretty much me unplugged for a while. I have a big enough voice if I actually let loose to do it; which I guess gets to the second issue: stagefright. I do have it and it’s hard, but I do know once I get going I can be okay. Doing it at the start is TOUGH. So that’s one reason I need to practice and get my confidence up. Which leads to a third obstacle I set up for myself: I’m really out of practice. I played for 13 years starting when I was 10; however once I stopped, I stopped. I haven’t played publicly for five years or so and that wasn’t in front of everyone riding the T. I’m getting back into it well enough. I can read tabs easily and I do know chords. Barre chords are l a little harder than I remember doing but I’m managing. I feel like I’m unintentionally muffling more notes than I should be, but it sounds like it’s supposed to. 

I revised my set list of 12 songs to relearn/learn. Mostly Beatles and Neil Young stuff and other things I want to play. However I had to completely throw out the idea that I can do Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again” by August. My learning curve is not that good. There are a couple of acoustic blues numbers I still think I can do by then so I’m going to try that, but for now simple Beatles and other basic folk/rock songs will work. Gotta learn to walk before I can run. Right now I’m a wobbly toddler on guitar again.