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Drugged Boy

esq040114drugging01-1519855960My sister recently tagged me in a link/post on Facebook. I highly recommend you read it before you read what I have to say. It’s long but worth it.

I haven’t spent time considering my boyhood years in a very long while. I read this post and it inspired me to write. If you are my friend and you like the image of me you have, you might want to stop reading now. However, if you are indeed my friend, you’ll read, understand, refuse to judge and just maybe come away with a better understanding of who I am or why I do certain things.

Fair warning, this post may be all over the place. ;)

Some Back Story

If you know me, you probably know my father and his father, my grandfather, died within six days of each other over Thanksgiving (On Thanksgiving Day for my dad) in 1982 when I was 8 years old and my sister was 5. In the span of less than a week I’d lost any real chance at male role models in my life. I’d never crawl around my dad’s 1970’s Monte Carlo with him and understand why opening the butterfly valve on the carburetor changed the fuel/air mix. I’d never hear my grandfather’s stories of traveling the world with my grandmother.

My mother had lost her husband and with him some of the support that came from his side of the family. To be blunt, they mostly abandoned us after the funeral. My mother was left to her own devices. My home had been the traditional sort where dad worked and mom stayed home with the kids. My memories of life before my father died are mostly clouded so I don’t remember my mom being home all the time. My father got sick when I was five and so my early years are pretty much memories of my father wasting away and my mother being strong, taking care of him and managing life. Mom went to work, we went to daycare or babysitters.

My mother is still the strongest woman I know. She never re-married and only rarely dated. My sister and I were her life and she did everything she possibly could to make sure we turned out alright. By mine and my sister’s own words, she did an amazing job. My sister and I are both compassionate people, loyal to our friends and family nearly to a fault. My sister is also a single mother who is doing a fantastic job with my niece. I often look at my niece and think that perhaps her “wildness” might, by another person and in another time, be taken as something that “needed to be addressed”. I am eternally grateful that my sister lets her be who she is going to be because she is simply amazing.

I have no children and no desire for them. I attribute a lot of this to my childhood. I don’t “blame” my childhood, rather, I say it was a good teacher and I do not believe I would be strong enough to handle things as well as my mother did in the worst case scenario she had to endure.

After my father died, I understand from my mom and others that I did not handle it well. My own memories are pretty fleeting except for a few very vivid ones I cling to. I lashed out at my mother but I don’t know if it was any more than another boy would have at that age. My mother took me to a counselor shortly after my father died and perhaps a psychiatric doctor, I’m not certain. I do know that not long after, I was put on Ritalin. I was also put into “special education” classes for people with learning disabilities. I’ll address this first.

Special Education

How do I explain “special education”? Unless you’ve been through the system, you probably have no idea what this entails. you might have seen these kids in school but you probably never really knew them. Maybe you even made jokes about them. These kids were those on the spectrum, or perhaps those who truly had learning disabilities like dyslexia (My best friend back then had a form of this in which he read books backwards). Some had very real anger and violence issues. One of my more vivid memories of these classes was around fifth grade where a kid was screaming and hitting the teacher. He ended up climbing up on top of a tall cabinet out of reach and the room was soon filled with staff trying to get him down.

The curriculum was not the same either. It was for lack of a better term, “dumbed down”. I became bored quickly and would often be reprimanded for “day dreaming”. I started reading books for enjoyment around this time and it was the only thing that took me out of my head.

For my own part, I was in these classes because I did indeed lash out, mostly at my mother and my sister. I was especially mean to my sister even into high school. I believe now that I was jealous of her. She never had to go into special classes, never got put on Ritalin and to my blind young eyes, didn’t have any “problems”. Later I would learn she had dealt with as much or more than I ever would.  I cannot tell you if this anger I had was just “who I was” at the time or if it was due to my father’s death or the Ritalin or a mixture but I can say that I still struggle with anger issues sometimes. I’ll get into more of that later but thankfully, age and experience have taught me to temper anger with creativity and other outlets.

When I was going into my 8th grade year, my mother decided she had had enough of doing it alone and planned to move us from the outskirts of Chicago to Roswell, NM where her parents lived. It would be the beginning of me taking control of my life. I told my mother in no uncertain terms that I would refuse to go back into “special education” classes when we moved. I wanted a new start. Sometimes I laugh at that memory, a twelve going on thirteen year old “telling” his mother he would refuse to go into anything but “regular” classes. To my surprise, she agreed. I saw it as a new start where no-one knew me, where I wasn’t called a “retard” when I came out of the room everyone knew was for “the weird kids”. I was bullied non-stop by a kid in my 6th and 7th grade years. I even remember his name, Mike Zimmerman. I was glad to be leaving even if it was for an ex-military town in the middle of the desert.

By the first month of 8th grade, I knew I was behind. The “special education” classes had not prepared me for the true curriculum I should have known. I struggled hard. My struggles caused me anger and the kids around me could feel this. I got into fights, I spent time in In-School Suspension and I was even suspended out of school a few times. I continued to be bullied until around 10th grade when, after having my nose destroyed by a kid who jumped me for no other reason than I was a loner. I came back to school after a week long suspension (yes, I was suspended for getting hit in the face and running into the counselors office bleeding all over). The kid who hit me was a year younger and was not suspended because “I was older and should know better than to get into fights”. Yes. Really. Something changed after that. I became aware of myself in many ways. One of these ways was my size. I was not a small kid then, nor was I grossly overweight but I did have broad shoulders and natural muscle. The next time this same kid got me alone was in a locker-room in the gym a few weeks after my return. I saw him coming up behind me and without any words I spun on him and drove his head into a locker. I kept bashing his head into the locker until I saw him crying and then I just walked away. He never approached me again, he never looked at me again and he never squealed to the office that I had assaulted him. I had learned to stand up for myself but I had also learned that I had little to know control over my anger in that type of situation. This was something I would struggle with well into my 30’s. People picking on defenseless people became a trigger for me and I would unleash on them. Only in the last few years have I truly come to a place where I can control the black rage which assails me when I see a situation like this.

School never really worked for me and I dropped out in the 11th grade. I did not end up flipping burgers but I’ll get into that below.

Drugged Boy

I do not recall when I was put on Ritalin or when I was taken off of it but I do have memories of being influenced by it. The article, if you read it, touches on some of these and I will do the same with my own experiences here.

I have a memory of standing at my second story bedroom window and wondering what it would be like to jump. My mother corroborate this memory I believe though it’s been a long while since we spoke of it. I would have been around eight or nine. Suicidal thoughts at that age are not unheard of but rare I’d imagine. I believe highly that the Ritalin I was on altered how I perceived things around me.

I relate to some of the article’s other mentions of side effects and longer lasting permanent alterations. Insomnia is probably my earliest memory of any side effect. I remember being up until one or two a.m. when I was ten or eleven and then not being able to get up for school.

Anxiety and Agitation are things I deal with daily. Again, it is hard to tell whether this is just who I would have become anyway or if the years of Ritalin had a hand in shaping me along with a traumatic childhood loss of parents. There really is no way to know.

Suicidal thoughts and depression have also assaulted me from time to time. Since my late twenties the occurrences have been very few and far between and thankfully, never more than a few months of struggling. The most recent bout of these feelings was about a year ago. Each time however, I learn a little more and I’m able to move on.

But, are you ADD/ADHD?

No. At least, I don’t believe I am and I’ve had doctors tell me as an adult that I was most likely misdiagnosed. I believe much of this has to do with advances in the understanding of ADD/ADHD. I absolutely have some ADD moments but I think that is human nature. My career is full of multi-tasking and that could be taken as ADD.

The article I mention at the top touches on this quite a bit. I was a “wild” kid. I had and still have a ton of energy. My friends who are ten years younger than me often comment on it. I was also an adventurous kid. I wanted to and again, still want to explore everything. I consume tons of random information on things as wide and varied as how the Mayan language evolved to why my dog farts and then checks his own backside. I live in Wikipedia for hours at a time and I get sucked into clicking through related topics. Does this make me ADD? Maybe. Or maybe I just enjoy learning new things but never spending a ton of time on one topic. I credit this “dysfunction” for my success in my career so if I’m like this because my mom put me on Ritalin at the advice of a misinformed doctor then all I can say is “Thanks Mom!”

What saved you?
Do you blame the doctors or your mom?
Who are you now?

Define “saved”…

My mother obviously “saved” me. I do not blame her for anything yet she often makes comments and blames herself for the special education, the Ritalin, even not getting re-married. I shush her of course. My mother was a suddenly widowed woman with two young children. To say “she did the best she could” would be an insult. The woman didn’t just “do the best she could”, instead she gave up every dream of how her life might go.  My mother’s goal in life became making sure that my sister and I would have one. She more than succeeded. My mother “creatively financed” (her term), when she needed to make something happen. If we were broke and struggling, my sister and I didn’t really know. Only later would we come to understand how many times we were close to financial ruin. We had what we needed for school, we had food on the table and most important, we had my mother as a stalwart and fair defender of her children. She didn’t back down from those who would try to do us wrong nor would she stand for any bullshit we tried to lay on her. I could spend page upon page telling stories of what my mother taught me, how she taught me even when she wasn’t intending on teach me, etc.

I do not blame the doctors either. That is too easy. Research in this area and most psychiatric areas has come leaps and bounds since that time. I cannot blame a misinformed doctor for putting a kid who’d just lost all the men in his immediate and local family on a central nervous system drug in order to help a single mother control her all-over-the-place son.

I blame no one. The situation perhaps but no one. At the end of the day, I’m pretty happy with who I am.

So then what did “save” me or, at least, what helped me out?

Mom made a decision just after my dad died that would end up being the catalyst for change in my life. It would save me from flipping those burgers when I dropped out of high school and would steer my career. The decision, combined with my natural inclination toward tearing things apart to understand them and putting them back together would steer me toward the life and career I now know.

My mother bought a computer.

It was a Commodore 64. It had a modem. I was instantly addicted. Instead of tearing it apart like I had done with countless alarm clocks, toys, etc to see what made it work, I taught myself how it worked through it’s own language. My equally nerdy babysitter also like computers and showed me a magazine that had code in the back. I was hooked. Looking back, it also focused me. It continues to focus me to this day but not in that dead eyed stare at a gaming console way. It challenges me to focus in order to learn which has the side effect of centering me similar to how meditation works which I also spend quite a bit of time doing.

Today I am 43 years old. Only a year older than my father was when he died. I’ve been married an divorced. My ex-wife and I are still friends and she is still one of the few people I completely trust unequivocally. My lifestyle is not 2.5 kids and a white picket fence. My fence is red-brown and I have no kids. I tend to have more female friends than male, something I absolutely credit my upbringing for. I have an excellent “personal life”. My career is fun and fulfilling. Sometimes I struggle with depression. Sometimes I struggle with anger and maybe I am even a little ADD but all in all, I’m happy.

In closing

I’m not a parent. I’ve never raised a child nor do I have any interest in raising one and perhaps do not have the required patience to do so but I do agree with the article in saying that we need to stop medicating our boys and instead try to embrace who they might be. Certainly there are going to be cases where ADHD/ADD are absolutely something that needs to be treated. I know several mothers and fathers with boys who are truly suffering from these debilitating conditions but I also know and work with young adults who were mis-diagnosed, given Adderal and now have come to rely on it in adulthood as a crutch they probably never really needed. Some of my 20-somethings I work with have admitted suicidal thoughts to me when they try to get off Adderall and others abuse it for the wakefulness effects.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read the article mentioned at the top. My own story is not a fair telling of the more common outcomes of boys who are mis-diagnosed and then drugged. I count myself as one of the lucky ones. I am not an alcoholic, I’ve never dived into the drug scene even when I was constantly surrounded by it on a nightly basis. I don’t suffer from much PTSD regarding my childhood nor do I rely on any medication dave for an Advil or two here and there. I have been lucky. Many others have not.

A Changing Mindset

124614-matte-white-square-icon-arrows-two-directions-left-right1In the past few weeks, I have randomly asked acquaintances, that is to say, people who do not know me well enough to know my “leaning”; “Do you think I am Democrat or Republican?” The answers varied from shock at why I would ask such a thing to a confident “Republican”. I have been told I “look like a Republican”. Ha!

In reality, I’ve always put myself square in the middle and honestly, if you do know me, you know politics have never been big in my life. I have never voted. Not once. I’ve never felt my centrist views allowed me to vote fairly. I’m often heard saying “Well, I believe the government should stay out of women’s bodies and I also like my guns, so you tell me which way I lean.” Those are two very large discussions though, aren’t they?

Lately, especially in light of this most recent campaign, I find myself agreeing more with the Democratic side than the Republican side and those things I have agreed with in the past on the right are beginning to wane. I certainly don’t believe we “need a wall” and instead need to enact programs to help people come here if they have an honest desire to do so. Sure, terrorism is a problem but building a wall isn’t going to help. I know this for fact. Anti-Cyberterrorism is what I am contracted to fight. Healthcare is also a big one. I’ve always thought the socialist views on healthcare were the best and look at the countries enjoying those benefits.

There are many more and there is *much* I am uneducated about concerning both parties but this is where you come in. In a few minutes I am going to be sending out an email to an email list I’ve kept updated with people I’ve met along the way who have intrigued me or in some way captivated my “brain side”. I am going to ask you to explain your views to me and why you believe what you do because, honestly, I know very little.

 

525,600 Minutes

flat,800x800,070,fThe Bridges he Burned

For the past several weeks I have been doing quite a bit of self exploration. I won’t get into the details because it does not matter for this particular post but today I had yet another a epiphany. These have become common lately. I have spent much time in meditation and soul-searching. If you have been reading this blog or you know me personally this probably does not sound like something you would expect to hear from me.

I can be very cloak and dagger, even with people I hold dear and this has not served me well. This has provoked the ire of friends in the past and more recently put a rift between myself and someone I care for and love. While I am not about to begin walking up to strangers on the street and spilling my life story, I am dedicated to being more open with those who are close to me going forward.

On a few occasions in my life, I have lost people I am close to, not due to death or moving away, but because of my own intensity. It does not happen often thankfully but I always seem to handle it the same way up until now. Normally I am extremely upset and I want to fix everything right now. This generally causes the other person to back away even further. With this last most recent incident, I attempted to take a different path which was to back off as much as possible and give them the space they required. I have not earned a gold star but I am giving it a shot. Instead of trying to contact them constantly to try and “fix it”, I began keeping a daily journal both publicly online at a dedicated web address and in a hand written  journal. So far this has served me pretty well and allows me to put my thoughts down without blowing up someone’s phone.

While the above are realizations I’ve come to recently, they are not the epiphany I had today so lets get into that.

How do you Measure?

If you are anything of a musicals buff, you already know what the subject is about. If not I encourage you to look up the musical “RENT” and the song “Season’s of Love”. The short version is that this song asks how you measure a year in the life of a person. I was listening to this song today and I listen to it pretty often. It got me thinking about how I handle someone going away.

My immediate thought is “we are going to be wasting so much time being apart and we only have so very little time to live.” It upsets me greatly because I truly feel like anything can be solved through communication but on a few occasions in my life, including this one, communication was the last thing someone wanted. My mind just keeps playing that over and over again; “we have such little time why are we wasting it being upset when we could spend it working things out. What if one of us gets hurt? What if one of us has an accident and we can never resolve?” And over and over it goes.

The fact is, when someone wants space, that is the only thing they are thinking about. They are not thinking about any of those possibilities I’ve mentioned above or if they are, the need for space outweighs the risk. They need time to sort out how they feel about a situation or they need to focus on something else without interruptions  from you.

When someone requests space from you and you do not give it to them, it only serves to push them further away. A person who wants space from another is going to get it one way or another. Either you’ll grant their desire or they will put more distance between you. Certainly they could be “letting you down easy” by telling you they just want space temporarily when in reality they have no intention of working on the issue, but I would like to believe that most of the time people truly do want to resolve things with others who are close to them. Admittedly, I have not always been good at granting space from someone I deeply care about.

I have hope for this most recent situation as the person involved is extremely intelligent and self aware. I tend to believe that while I did not want the space and it has been and continues to be extremely painful for me, the end result of resolution will be worth it.

Personal Crossroads

d64912afea_2012-originalWhen I was about 19 or 20, I moved to Longview, TX. It was my first apartment along with my first real “job” on top of being 120 miles from home. It was a new adventure. I turned 21 and another first happened; I bought my first handgun and later, my CHL.

I’ve been around guns all my life thanks to my uncle, who not only taught me to respect them from a young age but also how to care for them, when to use them and when not to use them. I credit him alone with recognizing that I was very interested in firearms and instead of hiding them away, invited me to handle them and later to shoot them. He passed away many years ago but he will always get the credit for giving me a proper respect for firearms.

If you know me well, you know I enjoy the right to own firearms and add another level of protection to myself, my family and my home. If you know me extremely well, you know I am proficient in using them when the need arises. You rarely see me advertising this right on Facebook because I don’t believe it is something that needs to be advertised. You will also rarely see me join a gun debate because, again, I don’t think that kind of thing needs to be argued. I don’t check in from the gun range, I don’t post pictures two-fisting Glocks. The occasional shot of Celeste holding an M4 slips into my Facebook album on occasion because, honestly, that is just pretty (and she is proficient with it which is even more pretty to me).

Although I’ve had my CHL from nearly the day it became a law, I rarely “Conceal Carry”. I keep firearms in the cars most of the time, in the house all the time and I make sure I carry one on long trips. I rarely carry into Star Bucks or Walmart (I know the hardcore are going to balk but that’s ok) and I have not exercised my right to Open Carry even though I fully support it and enjoy the option.

Until recently, I haven’t felt like I “needed” to carry into Walmart, Starbucks or anywhere else like that. Part of this is my training, I feel I can handle myself in hand-to-hand combat well enough not to need to carry all the time. Even in a gun situation, I’ve trained and trained over the years on how to disarm someone whether they are holding a knife, a bat, a small child.. or a gun.

But… Things are changing.

I was downtown, maybe five blocks away the night five officers were killed during a protest. I was armed. I was happy to be armed but I was also happy I didn’t get caught in the middle of it and that my biggest inconvenience was getting out of downtown due to road closures. I keep reading about random acts of violence against minorities by bigots. I keep reading about racist epitaphs left at schools and little girls raped by entitled college white boys.

I keep hearing about hate.

I don’t hate much personally. There are few things in this world I will affix that title to but it seems like those things keep cropping up more and more lately. Rapists, murder of innocents, abusers of women, etc. More and more I think “Man, I should be carrying just in case”.

Perhaps it would shock you to learn that I’d prefer peace over carrying a gun. Hell, I’d prefer legalized sword carrying over a gun but we do not have either and the criminals have guns. Utopia is not possible but a better class of living is in reach if we can come together as a nation and decide to work toward it.

There is a famous and way-overused Ghandi quote; “Be the change you see in the world”. It’s splashed on meme’s, t-shirts, number stickers, tattoos and everywhere in between. It is also true.

For now, I’ll keep looking around, taking in my surroundings, remaining aware and do what I can as one person to make my place in the world a better one. I hope you will do the same and then perhaps, one day, our children, or their children will enjoy a time without war, without hate, without bigotry and with more understanding and respect of each other.

…You handed me the scissors

scissorsIt has been just under a year since I quietly severed a friendship with someone I cared for deeply. There was no drama, no pomp and circumstance – no facebook comment seeking bitch-fest about being wronged. Just a decision to discard someone from my life who I had previously held close and went out of my way for and of whom I feel started taking those things for granted. It was, in this case, the right decision as I have not heard from them in almost a year. No “Hey, what happened” and no “Sorry, I’ve been crappy at friendship lately”. This leads me to believe that 1) It was the right decision and 2) they know what they did.

I hold very few people extremely close, or what I consider “close”. I can count on one hand the number of people I could confide most things in and I can count on one finger the number of people who, aside from myself, know some of my biggest secrets.  I have an amazing amount of filters people have to breach before they get to know who I really am. For the majority of people, I come off as direct and harsh but intelligent and at times condescending. For those who have gotten past all of my filters, or more easily said, for those few I trust to confide in my fears, dreams and mistakes, the person they know is completely different.

With this impending anniversary looming, I give you:

5 Ways to cut yourself out of my life.

1) Take me for granted.

I have been known to drive two hundred miles to help a friend stuck on the side of the road in the middle of the night. I take care of my friends. They are family. Start assuming my good nature is a sign of weakness and I’ll think twice the next time you need help. Eventually, you’ll just stop hearing from me.

2) Don’t hold up your side of the friendship.

We are all busy. I get that. I’m busy. If you know me you KNOW I’m busy. I don’t expect to hear from you every day or even every week. However, it takes about 2.5 seconds to send a text just to say hello and about 2.5 seconds to get one back that says “Doing great, thanks!”. Communication these days is extremely convenient. If you like having someone in your life, it’s pretty easy to keep them.

3) Drag me into un-necessary drama.

If you are close to me and you call on me, I’ll be there. Most of those close to me will back that statement up. However, if you continually drag me into teenager-like drama, you’ll push me out of your life quickly. I’m a positive person for the most part. The direct and abrasive mask I wear is a filter that most people don’t get past. If you have, then you know I will come to your aid, but if you start causing drama just to pull me (or anyone) into it for your own enjoyment, you’ll earn yourself a ticket off my bus.

4) Lie.

I do not stand for liars. Period. I completely understand “withholding to save someone some pain” and sometimes those come about, (Before you say “there is never a good time to withhold”, think about the father who dies while the son is recovering from heart failure.. Think it’s a good idea to tell him now or wait until post recovery? HMM?)  but when you lie to hurt people, you are doing it for your own pleasure and I just do not live like that. This makes you an insecure bully. Plain and simple.

5) Harm yourself.

I’m going to be there for you if you are in a bad way and want to help yourself. The moment I detect you are doing it for attention, and I will, empathy is a gift, I’ll be gone. If you are truly in a bad spot, I’m there. If you consistently do things to harm yourself without trying to move in the other direction, then I cannot help you. No one can help you until you want to help yourself. I completely believe this and I speak from experience.

 And everything else

These are the main reasons, I’m sure there are many more obvious occurrences. In my opinion, some of these should be reasons ANYONE would decide to remove someone from their life. Consistently negative people do not bring anything positive to another person’s well-being.

“If I cut you out of my life, chances are you handed me the scissors…”

Why EVERY man should learn how to dance.

salsa-dancingI can say with some certainty that for as long as there have been humans on this ball of mud, there has been dancing. Our bodies react to rhythm. Some better than others admittedly but we all *want* to move. Each of us stirs a little when our favorite song comes on.

So it baffles me then, as someone who has been part of the club scene as a DJ, the bar scene as an owner and an overall lover of music and  dancing, why I hear so frequently from women the phrase “He doesn’t dance…”. This is usually followed by a tell-tale look of disappointment I’ve seen so many times before.

Men are by nature, “macho”. In Mexico, a place I love like I was born there, “Macho” is actually a term for a man (or more accurately a boy) who is parading himself around like a peacock. It’s a coming of age but during this coming of age, Mexican boys learn something that has seemingly been lost on American’s. Dancing.

In many countries other than Mexico, dancing is an important right of passage as well.

So why doesn’t your man dance?

Most of the responses I’ve heard when badgering a guy into telling me his reasoning for refusing to dance is lack of confidence rather than lack of desire, which is a common instant rebuttal. This  is valid. It takes a little bit of courage to get out there and ask a woman to trust you to throw her around the dance-floor. Never having been taught is another reason I hear. “Dancing is girlie”, “I have no interest” as well as other weak responses are common as well.

If you think dancing is “girly” you should ask a woman what she thinks of men who dance. I did. Several. Just for this blog. You know what I got back when I asked several female friends to give me three adjectives that come to mind when they see a man dancing?

Sexy
Mysterious
Confident
Fun
Intriguing
Light-Hearted
Spirited
Comfortable in his own Skin

Admittedly not all adjectives, but, do you still think dancing is “girlie”?

You can dance if you want to…

Want is the first step. You have to “want” to learn to dance. But why should you?

The reasons TO learn in my opinion far outweigh those NOT to. For a single guy, one of the best reasons to at least familiarize yourself with some simple dancing is, well, women. Women love to dance, women love men who dance. I guarantee you that more women are going to be intrigued with your “Sure, I’ll dance with you” response then your “I’m too much of a bad-ass for that sissy crap” response. Women dig confidence and as I mentioned, it takes confidence to get out there. Dancing is an amazing ice breaker.

For the married or otherwise attached man, dancing is a social activity that you can enjoy with your partner and meet other couples who are of similar interests. Dancing is a challenge and learning new routines can be a confidence builder. It’s something you and your significant other can practice at home. It takes almost no investment and dancing is great cardio.

But. You have to get out there first.

You can leave your friends behind…

Confidence is the hill you are going to have to climb. If you have the desire but not the will, push yourself to get out there. Skill will come naturally with time and practice. If your friends make fun of you (like they did to me), you’ll have to ignore it and keep pushing. I promise you they’ll be asking you for advice when they see you confidently walk out on the floor and ask a women to dance.

Dancing and music in general is what saved me from becoming an extremely shy and anti-social adult. I never danced in high-school and I was terrified of the prospect of asking a girl to dance. This changed with the right words at the right time from a friend of mine just after high-school. You have to assume you’ll get rejected and just keep moving. She might lack confidence as well, she might just not be interested in it. She might be where you were when you started. If you are familiar enough, offer to teach and if not, move on.

Most importantly, ignore any ridicule you get from other men for your dancing. Peer pressure is a confidence killer but if you ignore it and move past it, you are going to see looks of envy from those same friends who had faces of disgust. Nothing shuts a “macho” man up faster then seeing you walking out to the dance-floor hand in hand with the women he was admiring. Nothing.

Ok, I admit it, I want to learn, but how?

There are so many answers to that question. If you aren’t standing in a douche-bag laden club full of guys twerking (which is NOT dancing), most dancers will be willing to teach you the basic steps. One of the ways I learned Salsa for example, was simply by going to Salsa nights at local dance-halls and restaurants. Often they will have free lessons for the first hour and because so many people come out, you are bound to find a partner at a similar skill level. I met many friends this way and even a partner who was willing to put the time into it like I was. She was married, her husband came as well but because of build differences, Salsa was difficult for them as a couple but they enjoyed the dance style with others. Later, when they married, both myself and his Salsa partner took the floor after their first dance and did a duet dance.

There are also MANY You-Tube videos out there with free instruction. Books can be found at resale book shops for next to nothing and there is always your social group, surely someone you know cuts the rug?

Repetition is important so you become familiar with the steps and aren’t concentrating on them. When you achieve this, your flow will be smooth. If you are lucky enough to master a school of dance with a partner, you will begin to anticipate their moves.

In ending…

Aside from all of the above, dancing is sexy. Plain and simple. When you are one with your partner on the floor and your bodies are accentuating one another’s, people notice and that is a huge confidence builder. You are looking in each other’s eyes and there is a bond of anything from mutual respect and grace to “I want to rip your clothes off right here and now”. Whether it is a graceful waltz or a sex-emitting salsa, feeling another person’s body in your hands as you ebb and flow through a routine is one of the most beautiful, sexy and primal things you can do with another person.

Additionally, there are a few times in a man’s life where he should be required to dance. Yes, the wedding. Obviously. Nothing makes me cringe more than watching a new husband and wife struggle awkwardly through their first dance. It’s painful to watch. On the other side of the coin, it is extremely joyful to witness the same couple who obviously did a little preparation and choreographed a simple first dance that looks rehearsed and polished. You don’t have to be Fred Astaire out there, you just have to put a little effort in.

Suicidal Tendencies

suicide7Suicide is never the answer little camper. That line comes from an 80’s comedy I know well but there is nothing comedic about suicide.

When I was a teenager, I thought long and hard about taking my own life. I even went “all the way” once which, obviously, didn’t pan out but is a story of it’s own. This might be a surprising revelation to you if you happen to know me now.

I thought I was not loved. Certainly I knew my family loved me but I thought that was as much as I would ever know. Enough of course, the love of your family but somehow at the same time not enough. These were the thoughts of a shy, awkward teenager. I was the fat kid. I was the geek. I was the kid alone at the dance. I thought “this is as good as it gets”.

Tonight I’m sitting I am sitting in a bar around the corner from my loft. The bartender who is usually chipper and excitable looks like someone hit her with a truck. I ask her what is behind the lost look in her eyes. Silence. Contemplation. Finally; “My sister committed suicide this weekend”. She looks me dead in the eye and says “I love her, but that was the most selfish thing she ever did.” I agree of course because I’ve come to believe the same, that suicide is a selfish way to go.

Earlier this year I lost two people to suicide within a week of each other. One I didn’t know well, the other however, is someone I counseled and thought I knew pretty well. He had his demons as we all do but I thought he had them under control.

What I am about to say might piss you off. So be it. Suicide is the chicken shit selfish ass way out. Chances are if you are reading this, you aren’t living on the streets of a third world country. Think you have it bad? Think again. And before you go off ranting about “you’ve never been there, you have no idea” please remember, I have indeed been there. Not been there for attention but been there in my room with a gun to my head counting up the reasons why I should and should not pull the trigger. Yes, I get that depression can play a part. Yes, I understand all too well that teenage angst, hormones and naievty causes our children to think “This is as good as it gets”. Whatever the reason, I stand by my rant. It’s the chicken shit way out.

I spent a good amount of time as a teen mentor in my mid to late twenties. Along the way, I lost two. The last finally pushing me, as it has pushed many, out of the mostly volunteer field of young adult mentorship. I felt responsible. I felt like I didn’t do enough and for years it lived with me as “my fault”. It wasn’t of course. Nothing anyone could have said would have fixed that little girl. She had to want to fix herself. She refused. She decided “this was as good as it gets” and at 15 hung herself in her bedroom where her parents found her. Selfish? Absolutely. Her parents will forever live with the image of their baby girl hanging limp in the bedroom she grew up in. Her friends will never forget the day she left them. Her brother, previous an honor roll student dropped out of school the next semester and last I heard had been put in rehab for a heroin addiction.

The kids are the hardest but on some level more understandable than a grown adult taking their own life. Young adults don’t have a worldly view, they have a narrow view and so it’s easier to understand why they might think “this is as good as it gets”. You want to scream at them “Just wait, it gets better!” as they are stepping off the roof. But adults? I don’t get it. Yes I know it gets bad. I was married to a bi-polar woman for many years. An amazing woman but one who was off medication for the better part of our marriage. She really hated the meds and when I was young I supported her, I thought “She’s strong”. And she is, but as I’ve gained knowledge and understanding, I’ve also changed my opinion on medication that assists chemical imbalances and completely changed my view that “you can overcome by just trying”. Shortly after we split, she found the right doctor and the right cocktail and she is a completely different person. It works, but you have to want to help yourself.

In 2005 I dealt with my own first experience with complete depression. I had gone through something extremely painful. I went to work, like a robot. I cam home and slept. I was sick to my stomach constantly. While suicide never entered my mind, I started to understand how it could for others going through the same thing. I didn’t seek counseling but I did read a lot. Slowly I recovered and one day I just felt like it was all going to be alright. That doesn’t work for everyone but it worked for me. What it taught me is that depression is for real. It isn’t for the “weak minded” as I once thought. I remember being a teenager and telling my sister that depression was for the weak. I was wrong. I was oh so wrong.

As I sit here writing, I am thinking back to all the people I’ve personally lost to suicide. A girl I worked with in high school who also happened to be on the same volleyball team with a girl I dated. A young adult who I worked with and with whom my ex-wife was also connected to through his wife who shot himself not long after having their first child. A girl I dated in a small town in Texas just after I moved out of my mom’s house. The list goes on and on. The fact that I can remember each one of them proves to me the selfishness of suicide. If I can remember them so vividly, imagine how those close to them were affected.

I’ve rambled quite a bit in this post. For that I apologize. I implore you. If you are reading this. If you think it’s the way out. It isn’t. I know it’s dark. I know you feel like no one will understand. They will. You have to open up and I know that is the hardest part. Take it from someone who has been there, who has been there for other and who has lost still others; your life is worth the effort.

“You’re pretty.” – “&%$# off!”

woman-throwing-drink-on-man(1)I am a hopeless romantic. The first time I realized this was probably around sixth grade. I remember going to an ice cream social and the feelings I had for a cute little curly headed girl. I was pretty shy which people find hard to believe these days so the first time I acted on my romantic inclinations was at a mall when I was approximately 16 years old. A friend and I were walking through the mall and there was a florist pagoda. I bought three roses while my friend stared at me in confusion. I explained to him that I was going to walk up to three pretty girls and give them a rose with no explanation. He thought this was absolutely ludicrous and that we should go down to the arcade instead.

Very few people can fathom that I even have a romantic side. Even fewer can imagine that I would act on it in such a way. As I have matured, I find myself doing these types of things less and less. The reasoning behind this has nothing to do with desire but rather the reactions that I have gotten from people over the years. Where once things like the flowers at the mall seemed romantic and innocent, they are now considered creepy or even assuming. I went back-and-forth trying to decide if this was a changing of the times or simply something that happens with age. I settled on both. The times have changed and we get more suspicious and less willing to be hurt with age and experience.

But. Rant.

Ladies, just because he tells you that you’re pretty, doesn’t mean he wants to sleep with you.

Certainly, many DO want to sleep with you and an opening line like that is supposed to woo you. However, if you come to assume that every one of us  “wants you” because we tell you that you look nice, you are not only an ego maniac but you are going to be lonely too.

I get it. You can get laid any time you want. You are female and have “the power” and you are going to tell me you can brush off as many men as you care to and still pick one up a minute later. This is true. It is. Except that the “guy you can pick any time” is going to have the intellectual capacity of one of the Jersey Shore boys. He is only going to want you for what is under your clothing. Which is what many women end up dating… And then complaining about… To the guy they should be dating.

There is an internet saying I’ve heard where a woman asks “Where are all the nice guys?” and some random off-screen male yells “In the Friend-Zone where you left them!”. There is some absolute truth to this. Many women I know have said to me “But I want to date the bad boy!” There are plenty of bad boys out there who have stable careers, triple digit IQ’s and don’t have to borrow mom’s car to take you out.

I’m not defending the males here. We have ourselves directed you ladies into thinking every compliment really means “can I sleep with you?”. I have in my head a bar graph that shows the lack of innocent comments to the increase of comments said only in hopes of bedding you. The slope looks like a big X. Because of the sheer ratio of innocent, from the heart comments to those made in hopes of getting laid, it is easy to fathom why most women simply blow off romantic comments from someone they don’t know. The vicious cycle is that the guys willing to step up and say something from the heart diminishes each time they are completely and sometimes rudely blown off.

I mentioned earlier that women “have the power” and it’s true. I only recently had a conversation along these lines with a female friend. It’s not hard for a woman to get a date. On the contrary, it takes a bit more for a guy, even a confident one, to step up and ask a woman out on a date. Most of us got past our rejection issues early on but they still linger there, whispering in our ears as we build the courage to ask you out. We know from experience how easily and quickly we will get blown off. We pick the situation carefully in which we will ask.

So women have the power. Men also have some of this, especially confident men. Yes, some of us could probably go out and pick up a woman tonight. The difference is, those same guys who are in the business of making sincere compliments are the same ones who aren’t going to pick up a woman for the night because it is not chivalry and the same ones you left in the friend-zone and complain about not finding.

Next time a guy walks up and says you are pretty, utilize some of your natural empathy skills and decide if he is just trying to get laid, or, if something you did caught his attention. “Pretty” might have been all he could muster but it could have been the sway of your hair, the glint of your eyes or the way you sipped coffee that intrigued him rather than your chest, backside or what he imagined you to be like in bed.

5 Mistakes Men make about Strong Women

strongwomanI’ve been known to wax poetic about strong women in my course of blogging over the years. People generally write about things they are familiar with and while I am familiar with strong women, I won’t say I’m an expert.. on women.. at all..  As a male, to have the gall to say “I understand women” is akin to talking in the men’s room or not looking straight ahead while standing at the urinal. Men just don’t do it. Boys do. Which is why they are still boys.

I was lucky to have been brought up in a family of tough women whom I’ve written about. My oldest and closest friend is one of the strongest women I know. I have previously been married to and dated strong women. Along the way I have figured a few things out which you will find below.  I’m sure I have a lot more to learn.

1) She needs you.

No she doesn’t. Confused? She doesn’t need you. Simple as that. As a male, there is a good chance you’ve been brought up by a father who instilled male pride. That is great. If he also taught you about chivalry, courtesy and protecting your people then he is a saint. But. She still doesn’t *need* you. Women are no longer brought up to serve you. They are brought up to be independent, career oriented and self sufficient. The days of the hunter bringing home the game and the woman toiling in the house day in and day out are all but gone. Certainly some households still operate like this but not because they HAVE to, rather because they DECIDE to and believe me, being a housewife while you are out in the world at your “day-job” is a much harder job then whatever you are doing.

So. She doesn’t need you. You are going to have to deal with that. The mistake many men make here is to *treat* her like she needs you and you can never lose her. Taking advantage of a strong woman and acting as if you can get away with anything and she will put up with it is the fastest way to make her claw her way out of your life (and maybe your face along with it).

She does need you, she just doesn’t need you to tell her what to do or act like she can’t go on without you.

2) Treating her like “One of the Guys”.

Don’t get me wrong, many of the strong women I know like to be “one of the guys” but almost all of them will tell you that it should end when you leave the bar, pool hall, bowling alley, etc. When you and your lady are standing at home in the kitchen. In morning comfy clothes. Making eggs and brushing your teeth at the same time (I’ve seen this. In person), you shouldn’t be elbow nudging her in the ribs about that great hockey game you both watched last night. Yes she was screaming at the goalie louder than you, yes her man card might actually have more notches in it than yours but she is still a woman. No matter how strong a woman is or appears to be she is still the fairer sex and should be treated as such. I’m not saying coddle her, I’m definitely not, but putting your arm around her or stroking her hair instead of the elbow to rib nudge is a good start. Even if she is a bigger hockey fan then you.

Many men make the mistake here of thinking that her “one of the guys” personality is her all the time personality. This can especially happen when you’ve met for the first time in a public setting dominated by men such as sporting events, etc. Take time to get to know all sides of her and find things you adore about all of them.

3) Control Issues

Being in a relationship with a strong women is beneficial to the man who knows how to communicate and compromise. If you were brought up in a house where dad told mom what to do all the time, you probably do not appreciate strong women the way someone (like me), who grew up raised by a hard working single mom does. Strong, independent women don’t want to be told what to do. They want a partner, someone who compliments their strength with his own strength. Men who seek out women with weak constitutions usually do this due to insecurity within themselves. You’ll hear many men say “I love a strong independent woman” but then get into a relationship with one and two weeks later tell his buddies “She was too head strong” or “She was stubborn”. No. She was strong and independent and you couldn’t handle it. Simple as that. We all have insecurities but the difference is who controls the insecurities and who is controlled by them. A man whose insecurities control him will enter into a relationship with a strong woman and either be controlled by her or end up resenting her strength. A man in control of his insecurities will enter into a relationship with a strong woman and admire her courage, adore her strength and seek to build her up as she seeks to build him up.

4) The Gold Rush

I often hear “Men don’t want Gold Diggers”. Neither do women. Especially strong women. If she is out there building her career or making ends meet while you stay at home because you “can’t find a job” – eating Doritos and playing Call of Duty all day, she is going to kick you to the curb. Quickly.  A strong woman still wants a strong man who *can* take care of her, but doesn’t *need* to take care of her. Women find men who are “taking care of business” very sexy.

I have a close friend who years ago jokingly said “Nothing turns me on more than a man doing laundry”. That is a strong women who see’s a man taking care of his business. The opposite of lazy. The opposite of Doritos and Call of Duty.

5) Mr. Tough Guy

That crap you pull in the club to attract those little insecure minions? That won’t work with a strong woman. She is attracted to your strength, yes, but also to many other qualities. If you walk around all day like a peacock, it’s going to get old real fast. Strong women are still women and women have this thing called compassion that is built in. Men have it too, of course, but women are natural nurturers. There are going to be days when she comes home and just wants to curl up next to you. If you are too busy strutting around like Johnny Bravo, she’s going to find someone else who gets her softer side. On the contrary, she also wants to nurture. If you refuse to let her, say when you are not feeling well, you are taking away a natural joy that is built into her.

Hard to Handle

I’ve had many strong female friends say things like “So-and-so says I’m too independent”. Ironically one of those friends said this to me only a few minutes ago (which reminded me I hadn’t finished this draft yet!).

So, are strong, independent women “Hard to Handle”? That depends on the perspective. Instead of that phrase I tend toward “intriguing to know” or “always-keep-you-guessing personality” or even “an ever challenging intellect”. For an insecure man who is needy or wants to control the woman he is with, “hard to handle” might be the term that first comes to mind. In his case, he needs to decide if he his just not cut out to date a strong woman or address his personal insecurities and “be good for himself” before he can be good for another person.

Back that… Pic up?

brokenhddPass the Pepto

I remember the sick feeling I had. I remember nearly vomiting from the anxiety that followed the “click, click, click”. I was twenty-seven years old and as an IT guy with a Photography habit, I was very familiar with the hallmark noise a hard drive makes when it has spun it’s last bit, byte or gig of data. This time however, the data in question was twenty-five hundred pictures from a wedding I had shot three weeks prior. My knee-jerk reaction was that I had lost everything from a very important day in someone’s life for which I was responsible  (and paid to) memorialize. When my heart dipped below 160 bpm, I realized there was a good chance all the data was still on the card’s I’d shot with.

I had only been accepting money for my photography for a short time before this incident. Although I had been shooting for many years and even selling my print work to various area restaurants, hotels and coffee shops, it had always been on my terms. If I lost something, I lost it. I had also only recently transitioned from film to digital. My career in IT left me no excuse for not backing up my data and going forward that is exactly what I did. I have over 700 shoots backed up these days in three different locations including an “offsite” backup location (more on that below).

Whether you are technically savvy or not, there are some very easy ways to make sure you never have to experience the pit-of-your-stomach-loathing that is losing someone’s work. Even if you are not a professional photographer or a photographer at all, backing up what is important to you should be… Important to you.

Local Backup

The phrase “Local Backup” is a fancy term for keeping a copy of your data in the same place where it actually lives, in the case of my photography, it lives in my studio. This can be as in depth as a RAID based NAS file-server like I use (If you aren’t technical, that is gibberish) or simply another hard drive with an exact replica  of your primary photography work drive. There are also many programs out there which allow easy backups of directories on a schedule so you never have to worry about whether you remembered to back up.  OSX (Apple’s Operating System) includes “Time Machine” which is invaluable to the non-computer-geek photographer. Other applications also mimic this functionality and a quick search on Google for “Backup Utilities” will generate hundreds of websites that provide software for local backup scenarios on both Windows and OSX. If you are a photographer who uses Lightroom (and why wouldn’t you), during import you can simply check a box to “Make a Second Copy” to a location, that being your second hard drive.  Should your primary drive fail, you now have your backup to copy all of your work from once you restore your primary, buy a new computer, etc.

Remote Backup

Remote backups refer to backups that do not live where your primary data lives. This means if your computer is stolen or an earthquake swallows your home where your local and primary backup are, your data is still safe. There are many ways to do this including an example of a photographer I know who keeps a second backup drive in a safe deposit box and updates it once a week. That is a bit extreme and there are easier examples. Data storage is cheap these days and there are several companies that offer remote backups for less than $10 a month. CrashPlan and Backblaze are two. I use the former. You simply install a client, tell it what directories you want to back up and it begins it’s initial backup. As things change on your drive, it uploads them. Simple and a cheap piece of mind.