Stir of Echos

August 29, 2014

As a writer, I constantly have voices in my head. Voices of characters and dialogue, scene descriptions, events unfolding in surround sound—all these I hear before and during the writing process. Not every writer hears things, but that seems to be my primary sensory focus when inspiration strikes or during the writing itself. At its best, it can be like dictation—simply writing what you hear going on in your head. However there’s another reason I occasionally hear voices: depression. Now I’m not talking serious auditory hallucinations telling me to kill my neighbors with a fork (though that would make an interesting short story); I’m talking about a lot of negative voices I’ve heard in the past that get louder and drown out normal emotional perceptions. I thought about it this last week because of that email exchange with a former FB friend where he brought up something I wrote in his yearbook when we were in high school (see my previous blog entry Reason to be Grateful). He threw that quote at me and it set the anger sensory overload in motion—I get so I’m hyperaware of what’s being said and some of those words get stuck in my head. I used to call it a “tape loop”—recorded phrases of damnation hurled at me that I kept in storage and would automatically play when I’m at my most nervous. The thing is I’m not sure it is or ever was a tape; it’s like echos. You hear these things over and over again being said at you, and seeing that my primary sensory intake is sound, these sounds reverberate in my head. When I was younger, the repetitions were clear and loud. Now that I have some distance and age, they’re there but fainter. Incidents like this past week bring some of those echos back up, but I need to remember they’re only echos: things I’ve heard in the past that bounced around my brain for too long, that may not even mean anything or be true anymore. These echos can damage when they’re always present and loud, but when they soften and far in between, it’s less painful.

Sometimes those echos hinder the writing process. One voice every writer has is the inner critic. Its a voice that doesn’t seem to shut up either and gets in the way of writing. The thing is the inner critic voice gets crossed with and boosted by those harmful echos—even when they’re faint. This makes the writing harder which only worsens the depression which makes the whole thing sustain itself. To make matters stranger, like any writer I use things in my life in my writing, including things I’ve heard. Sometimes it’s therapeutic to process those feelings in my writing; other times it’s like creating a sustained flashback. The thing is I need the helpful voices in my head when I write, but not the ones that hinder me. This is a very subtle battle: the need to differentiate which are the echos of the past and which are conversations I want to use. Not easy but I’m trying to process all the voices in my head.


Reason to be Grateful

August 27, 2014

I’ve been posting a lot on my Facebook page about the events in Ferguson as well as talking about it on my internet radio show (Theology in Action on –check it out sometime). Of course it’s a subject that is very sensitive for some people; and yes I do have friends that are on the police force or retired police vets. But I got into a heated email exchange on FB with someone I knew in high school; Facebook has been an amazing way for us in that school graduating class to stay in touch and a a few alumni went onto the police force.

So we got into this argument over email—I kept it private even though he started by tagging me on a video in public. He was adamantly pro-cop no matter what and I was on Michael Brown’s side based on the evidence and general history about this stuff with the cops in Black neighborhoods. But I finally got tired of it and shot back my response figuring he’d do the same and defriend me or just defriend me outright. What he sent back threw me but not for what you’d expect. It was all a rant saying I was anti-cop and spreading hatred on facebook and I am a very angry man. What threw me for a loop was that he quoted me from our high school yearbook that I signed 25 years ago: “I know you will have a great life, because I know I won’t.” It came SO out of left field that I don’t know what hit me. I almost didn’t recognize me in that quote.

I will say I wrote that in jest on a lot of people’s yearbooks at the time (he however seemed to take it seriously, which is why I’m sure he’s sticking to his trusted Fox News counterpoints on the subject of Ferguson). Looking back on that quote, I kind of see the depression battles already there in that time (high school was not the best time for me, though I mended a lot of fences since the reunion) and my efforts to deal with it in humor. I know I’m a much different person now than I was back then, but didn’t realize I was such a fatalist at the age of 18. Especially after all I’ve been through this last year, I’m grateful for what I am and what I have—read my positivity blog entries if you doubt that! I am grateful I can let go of hateful people and feelings a little better now; not totally but with better results.

The saying goes people are in your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Luckily I’m getting better at saying goodbye to people once their reasons are up.

A little while ago, a comedian committed suicide. He was hilariously funny on stage, had his own sitcom, made movies and was living a relatively charmed life. But he suffered from mental illness—depression among other things—and that meant no matter what he had in his life—work, family, money—he would never feel whole. And one morning after making an irrationally rational decision, he killed himself. With the outpouring of emotions and tributes, his girlfriend urged people to learn about mental illness and to help others. That comedian was Richard Jeni, and he died in 2007. This last week we lost Robin Williams in the same way. While the death certificate would never list depression as the cause of death, it was the mental illness that made the decision to take his own life the only logical option. While we didn’t heed the words of Richard Jeni’s girlfriend, more people have taken the death of Robin Williams to heart and are opening up about their own battles with depression and to better educate people on mental illness.

I have written and spoken out about my own dealings with mental illness, but with all the misconceptions and misplaced emotions/accusations about Williams’ death, I felt it necessary to add my voice to the national conversation.

Depression isn’t a state of being sad. As Freud pointed out, it’s anger turned inward. But that’s only clinical talk from someone who reads too many articles and thinks he knows everything. As someone who deals with depression, it’s more than that.

A couple of weeks back, I was in a bad state. A lot of pressure and not medicated properly (missed a few doses and awaiting another prescription to be refilled) pushed me further inward; as I like to say, I hide under a desk in the fetal position waiting for things to go away—all inside me. I vague-blogged a post on Facebook, and of course people were scared that I might really hurt myself. One of my friends said I should try to remember the love I have for my daughter and that she feels for me, and of course that nearly sent me over the edge; because one big problem was that I couldn’t feel that love at all at the moment. It’s not that I didn’t want to feel it or that I didn’t love my daughter; not that at all. I did, but because of the way my depression works, I wasn’t able to feel it (or had access to those feelings).

The void people with depressive disorders often talk about isn’t about having something physical or emotional in their life or enough of something material to feel good; the void is the distance between the emotional receptors of my brain and the correct synapses needed to feel emotional truth. Sometimes the serotonin doesn’t build up enough so we feel empty and stretch for anything to feel something, and other times the serotonin builds up too much so we go into emotional overload and need sanctuary from the flood. Either extreme is enough to put me in a state of confusion. When people ask me what I could use, I couldn’t tell you because I don’t know myself. I’m not trying to push people away; I literally don’t have an answer and it’s frustrating—which only adds to the emotional turmoil. That’s one thing that makes it hard to deal with people who are depressed: we don’t have the answers to how to solve the problem no matter how often you ask us. Unfortunately this gives people the idea that we want to be like this, or just are negative people, or get annoyed because they can’t help us with any magic words. So instead of hanging in there—which we really do need whether we can say it or not—people walk away; sometimes blaming us in the process, which continues to shame us and exacerbate the problem.

The thing is we don’t know what can bring us around, but when it does come it’s good to know we have people in our corner. When I was 17, I had a particularly bad day and was trying to do a mental inventory of what was in the bathroom medicine chest; I was hoping to figure out what was lethal in there that I could swallow. At that about that time, I heard John Cougar Mellancamp’s song “Scarecrow” on the radio, which gave me a vision of my own funeral. All my friends, past and present, were there mourning. What struck me at that moment was how many friends I did have. I cried the rest of the evening before going to sleep. That stopped me from suicide. What kept me from attempting it after that was what a friend of mine said the next day when I told him about the dream. He said “I would never come to your funeral if you killed yourself, because you threw away all your potential.” For decades I was able to have that phrase in my mind when times got that hard and it kept me from trying or considering the unthinkable. That is until last year, when things were so hard and overwhelming that those words couldn’t stop me from thinking that there was a butcher knife only a foot away from me in the SRO I was about to get thrown out of and how easy it would be to use it. I happened to pick up on that and make a call to the Samaritan’s hotline. I wasn’t an urgent case as I wasn’t going to do it at that moment, but the guy stayed on the phone to get me though a little bit. He asked me if I was reading anything lately. I told him “I was reading Hamlet, which, considering my current state of mind, was probably not the best choice of material at the moment. ”He said it was good that I still had a sense of humor about things. We talked another minute or two and then he had to hang up. I wasn’t suicidal anymore but definitely still depressed. Later in the winter when things calmed a bit, I called that same high school friend who helped when I was 17. I told him what he said to me all those years ago and how it helped, but that it was tougher to hear this time around. He told me, “Okay, if you do kill yourself, I will show up to your funeral. And sing.” That’s kept me going a while now as well. It was vitally important to absolutely know I had a friend in my corner, and he knew how to talk to me and let me know he was there.

I was lucky because not everyone has that, and some don’t know exactly what to say or how to hang in there. But that’s something a lot of those with mental illness absolutely need: persistence. People who are persistent in sticking with someone who suffers from mental illness; persistence to find the right combination of medication and therapy; persistence to live with an illness that is equally persistent as it is devastating. It’s treatable, but not easy. We see that with the death this week of someone who could make the world laugh but had little joy in his own mind. If anything can come out of the tragedy of Robin Williams’ death, it is that more light can be shone on the problems of mental illness and bring people out of the shadows of confusion and stigma to be treated. Maybe then we can heed the wishes of Richard Jeni’s girlfriend from years ago.

Dear American Pop Culture,

While I was sitting in South Station with my daughter—as I heard them announcing the boarding of the train to the One Direction concert at Gillette Stadium—I saw the news that Kim Kardashian will be publishing a book of selfies. Art book publisher Rizzoli announced they are putting together a 352-page book of selfies taken my Ms. Kardashian, going so far as to call her a “trailblazer of the selfie movement.” After learning of this, my only response is this: I quit, I’m done.

I’ve been writing short stories since I was in high school, screenplays since I was in college, and blogs, personal essays, and sermons for the last decade with not much to show for it; yet this woman who is famous for a sex tape and a reality show gets a prestigious art publishing deal? I thought it was hard work and talent that got you contracts. Instead this is what it takes to get a book published? I’d like to think that I can deal with a lot and have been very patient over the years, but this is going too far. I can’t pretend that making a coffee table book out of one person’s hundreds of iPhone selfies is considered something worth publishing for public consumption, much less paying $19.95 for (especially when they were free on Instagram). I can’t pretend to understand why you are trying to lower yourself to the most common denominator in hopes to attract more attention at the expense of talented artists who struggle to make a mark. I can’t pretend that this doesn’t matter and doesn’t bother me. So for that reason alone, I have to end this… whatever this is I’ve been trying to do.

I would love to say “it’s not you; it’s me,” but I can’t; it IS you. For years, despite the warning signs of the dumbing down of America, you’ve consistently lowered the standards for the sake of market share, money and attention. The Learning Channel (TLC) used to be a place to learn about science, nature, and history; a channel that was educational and intelligent. Now it shows Honey Boo Boo, 19 Kids and Counting, and Extreme Couponing; a reality show hell that celebrates “White trash” culture. There are more channels on cable than anyone can watch and a majority of them show nothing but reality shows. The real reality is that to cut costs, you cut out writers who want to script anything meaningful or intelligent. It’s easier to put a camera in front of people who are desperate for attention—whether they deserve to get it or not—and let them do what they do and publicize it to the nth degree to gain an audience you desperately need—whether you deserve it or not. It’s sad, but what’s worse is that it affects all artists who want to be meaningful with their work. You sell this crap as the best that is out there these days, yet will not green light quality projects if you there is the slightest doubt of how much money can be made on it. Since I fall into the latter category, it’s obvious where I stand.

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am hurt. I’ve tried to do what I can, but shy of actually ramming my head into a cinder block over and over I can’t dumb myself or my work down. Maybe I believed it when I told myself that you’d come around an learn eventually. And when you see shows like Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey and True Detective make it through the white noise, there is hope. But a book deal like this just takes all that away. You cant change who you are and I can’t change for you. So I’m going to take my blogs, scripts and short stories and be done with it. I may not ever corner the market share or gain the attention of everyone in the world, but I will be happy; and more importantly, I’ll be able to live with myself and know I still have standards.

Good luck.

David Concepcion

Marquee Humor

August 2, 2014

This wasn’t a theater marquee but a T-shirt I saw on the Green Line that I couldn’t resist.

for bacon

If you substitute “bacon” for “chocolate,” you will have my issue with weight management. (or “bagel” since chocolate wouldn’t fit on the T-shirt well).

LOVE this!!!

the bippity boppity beautiful blog

Check out how Nathan W. Pyle describes the basics of living in New York City.

His book is called “NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette,” which he worked on for over a year. You can purchase this as a hard copy of a book, an e-book, or an animated e-book (GIFs included, like the ones you will see below. But, of course, there will be more).

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This is the final day of the positivity challenge. On Facebook, I spent five days listing five things I am grateful for each day and tag three people to do the same. In some ways it’s been daunting to think of things without being thankful for trivial stuff—bagels almost came up, but as a New York Jew nothing is trivial about good bagels—but I really like where this has led me and what I can see in the narrative.

  1. Deli Haus and Buzzy’s Fabulous Roast Beef: Gentrification kills the character of a neighborhood, and by gentrification I mean corporate gentrification (e.g. Times Square). Yes areas are made safer and can thrive, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of the neighborhood’s identity. Some places have managed the balance well, others have not. These are two victims to gentrification of Boston that I remember. When I came to Boston in 1995, the Rathskeller (The Rat) was near the end of its run as the crown jewel of Kenmore Square, and closed in ’97 to make room for the Hotel Commonwealth. But luckily the Deli Haus remained for another four years. In basic terms it was an after hours punk diner. From the ’50s style counter and booths, to the waitstaff with multiple piercings and tattoos, to that deadly first step down into the place, it was a cool place to hang out after the T stopped running, the bars closed and the dawn wasn’t due for a couple of hours. Plus they had the best chili cheese fries I can remember. I spent quite a few nights walking back to Allston at 4am after carbo-loading there. Buzzy’s Fabulous Roast Beef was similar—open 24 hours—in the MGH area. I remember being able to see the Buzzy’s sign from the Red Line stop at Charles/MGH as we cross the Longfellow Bridge. Since it was close to the Boston Garden, rock musicians would stop by after concerts. People flocked there for the roast beef on a bulkie with onion rings. Now I’m from New York and I’ve been to Katz’ Deli, so I thought the roast beef was okay, but after a late night drinking around town that was the best kind of roast beef at 3am; and you get to see a whole different crowd of people at that time of night. They closed in 2002 when MGH bought it out to develop the area further for patient facilities. Both were classic Boston hangouts and both are gone, lost to progress and changing character to fit economic models. I’m glad I got to experience them before they disappeared.
  2. Libraries: In high school and college, I practically camped out in libraries for research papers. High school was my favorite because I got to use the Lincoln Center performing arts library for my film research. I hadn’t really used them much after that until Sophia came along, then we could spend a whole afternoon killing time at the Robbins Library in Arlington, MA reading children books and playing with their stuffed animals. We even got to see live owls there for a presentation they did, which was so fucking cool (LOVE owls!). After the recession hit and I left the full time job, libraries became an all around godsend—using computers to search for jobs, rent DVDs for Sophia for less, getting museum passes I could no longer get at my old job, and as a place to relax for a bit before the next meeting. I’m grateful they have been a big part of my daughter’s education and a safe place in times of chaos.
  3. Ebooks: My mom bought her granddaughter a Nook reader, which Sophia kind of liked. Later when she realized she liked holding actual books, I took over her Nook. I enjoyed reading on it and read quite a few ebooks, including a few classics I hadn’t expected to ever read in general. I enjoy the ease of ereading than the physical books. Glad I can keep up with my reading with a new technology.
  4. A good night’s sleep: Granted I say this having gone to bed too late and woke up too early for the last two days, but I know what a good restorative night’s sleep can do for your mood, your outlook and your health. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea in my early 30’s, but I think I’ve had it most of my life as I never really got a lot of rest from my sleep. It was after I got used to the BiPAP machine that I felt rested from a night’s sleep. I’m glad I got to stop the backslide of sleep deprivation, and when it happens, I’m glad I can get the rest I need to manage the day.
  5. Things could be worse: With all I’ve been through and continue to experience, I do have to acknowledge that it could have gotten a lot worse than things are. This can arguably be part of my being a survivor (see day 3 of the challenge), but it really is more an outlook than a survival mode. With all that is going on around us in the world, our own country, and even our residential cities, we haven’t hit the rock bottom worst of things that can happen to us. I don’t want to get to that point, but I am glad I’m making the strides I need to make and know that I’m doing a lot better than a majority of people in the news or even on a Facebook feed. For that I am eternally grateful.

It’s been good to take stock of what I have in my life instead of seeing the events that are taking things away. Hope the positive attitude continues to grow.