Mid Life Crisis…Over

Being over “the hump” has been interesting.  From the start of it all at the age of 45 until now I never really felt like I was going through anything.  Realizing now, during that specific period I purchased my third motorcycle, my Camaro, and I was trying (desperately) to get in good enough shape to continue Breakdancing…I would have to say there was “something” going on there.

I was thinking about how now that I’m 50 years old my midlife technically is over.  But my wife and I have a three-year-old child, almost 4.  So is it really over?  I know I’m only going to live another 40 years maximum but it’s just something to contemplate so I thought I’d put a few words out here ins the blog world.

I figure I’m one of the few men in this world who actually knows there was something that I went through.  Most of my life I was late doing everything.  Late getting married, late graduating from college, late having kids…well, kid.  I don’t consider any of this a bad thing.  I did a lot of stuff people do after they retire while I was still young and could enjoy it.  Not that retirement time would be a bad time to do “things.”  I just don’t believe that I’m ever going to actually get to retire.

My wife and I both purchased our houses around the time when the real estate agents were doing their worst to the public.  We tried to hold on to our homes but lost both because each was too small to start a family in and we needed to sell them to join our lives together.  Being that the economy tanked we weren’t able to sell.  Although buying one was REALLY easy at that time.  So at one point, yes, we had three mortgages.  Oh, it was horrible.  Needless to say, we weren’t the best in class when it came to a prominent financial situation.  My current situational understanding regarding my retiring before I turn 70 is that it would be a bad thing.

I’m just glad that I am now feeling that a “settle down” situation has started in my life.  I smoked cigarettes starting at the age of 12.  I worked as a DJ from the age of 17 so I began drinking well before I was old enough.  I partied with drug dealers girlfriends.  I dated well outside my age range and I lived an overactive life.  I continued smoking until my wife and I got together.  She “made” me quit, which was a good thing.  I bought a TV with the money I saved during that first year.  Now I haven’t smoked in over a decade.

I slowed down on the drinking and am trying to get into better shape.  As Kathleen Madigan says, “I’m just trying to pull a ‘Hail Mary” out of my butt in this last quarter.  Currently I walk about two miles a day and run a 5k at night.  I’m still overweight, but I’m trying to change my diet to compensate and actually get to where I look like I feel, because oddly enough, I feel great – most days.

The home we bought is starting to come into some shape too.  At least we know what needs to be done and are starting to make plans to do it.  The goal is to leave behind an investment for our kid.  To let her get a jump start on life.  One we never had.  I guess the whole thing about the mid-life crisis being over is understanding there is an end in sight.  Not wanting it to come, but preparing for it anyway.

Personally, I would love to hear from some other people about their situations.  Maybe about their crisis’.  Some of the silly things people bought, sold, tried, or did.  I know this blog isn’t a revelation of any type, but it’s just something I wanted to say.

Bullying

There will always be stories about “game changers.”  You know, those things that happen in one’s life that affect how they perceive a situation, how they turn out and, overall, who they become in life.  This story is along those same lines; although, there are some twists to it and it isn’t from the side one normally hears life stories from.  This story is from the side of the actual “bully.”

It was fall 1982 and the din from the hustle and bustle of children’s chatter, shuffling shoes, and rustling papers filled the hallways.   (Yes, this story takes place in school, as one would expect when you hear the word “bully.”  I mean, you wouldn’t expect the story to happen at work in one’s thirties.)  The halls were filled with the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of children.  Seasoned ninth graders as well as us new seventh graders beginning our first day of a new school year at John D. Pierce Junior High School [now known as Pierce Middle school] in Redford Township Michigan. 

I only lived three blocks away so I walked to school every day.  In 1982 we were allowed to walk miles to school if we had, or wanted, too.  There was one winter of my High School career that the busses wouldn’t start because of how cold it was outside.  We were told to walk to school, and we did.  Of course some kids got rides from their parents, but many of us walked.  I was over a mile away, had to cross one main road and a set of railroad tracks to get there.   (When I tell that story to my daughter it is, of course, uphill both ways in six inches of snow.  In actuality there were a few inches of snow and it was below freezing, but that’s just how it was done then.)

In 1985 kids were still “allowed” to smoke just outside the school grounds.  This group of children, known as the “Druggies,” gathered at the United Methodist Church on the corner of Beech Daly road and Orangelawn street.   These were the kids from the “wrong side of the tracks,” as my mom would say.  They wore jean jackets with patches of rock and speed metal bands, leather jackets that looked as if they had been through a war, ripped pants, and bandanas.  Their hair, typically, was long and ratty and you could see there were probably parental issues with most of them. 

Growing up in a drug free home I didn’t do drugs, but, somehow, I knew what pot smelled like.  It was perfect that we started school in the fall and it smelled like burning leaves every day when I walked past this little group of “overachievers.”  [My insult here is actually aimed back toward myself as I would eventually join this band of merry boys and girls – but that is another story for another time.]  On this day in particular I was in more fear of these kids because; although they were doing drugs and smoking pot, they appeared angry and as most of us do, I too feared the unknown. 

As I passed by all of the different cliques on the way to school, the overwhelming feeling for how small I actually was compared to this leviathan of never ending labyrinth hallways, lockers, rooms, and closed doors began to fill my gut as I looked up at the three stories of brick, mortar, and glass.  This school was larger than all of the Elementary schools in our district combined, for obvious reasons.  Of course this “new world” is intimidating and scary for most of us newcomers, but back then it seemed like I was the only one who was feeling out of place. 

As I mentioned, once inside, the hallways were loud.  We didn’t receive any type of orientation from Elementary school so I had never seen the inside of Pierce before the first day of classes so, once in, I had no idea where to go.   We had a schedule that listed the room numbers so finding “Homeroom” was the first task after I figured out where my locker was.  I missed the ease of Elementary school.

In Elementary school, I was at the top of the food chain.   I achieved that recognition through the game of Dodge ball.  Dodge ball can be a fantastic game, for those who are good at it, or a horrible symbol of torture for those who are not.  Jeff V. was the most powerful kid in school.  His throw caused welts on the weaker kids.  He knocked out more kids than the rats of the black plague in the 1300’s.  I don’t remember anyone who could catch the ball when he threw it…except for me. 

I always wanted to be on his team because he was a friend of mine and I had seen the devastation his throwing arm caused.  He was unstoppable.  Alas, one day I ended up on the opposite side.  I don’t recall who the two Captains were, that day but usually Peter M. and Dan K. were one of them if Jeff V. wasn’t.  Jeff V. was always called first.  Typically I ended up being called in the middle, but at least I wasn’t last. 

Being picked last was sheer torture.  Usually kids like Alan W. and Jeffrey F. were picked last.  Of course, in their defense, they were much more academic than the other kids.  Myself and many of the other boys were more physical.  At that age, we were always trying to prove ourselves to each other.

One way of proving oneself was by coming up with something no one else had.  I had a paper route and earned my own money and was able to buy things for myself that my parents couldn’t or wouldn’t.  I had found the perfect item.  It was a watch that played “Space Invaders.”  The watch was made by Nelsonic, a company long since out of business as far as I know.   It was an electronic marvel.

The watch played a simple game where a space ship flew over the top of a turret and you would point left or right to shoot the ship out of the sky.  When I bought the watch I, of course, took it to school to show it off.  The entire class gathered around to see the game.  Back then this was a huge deal.  I mean I had a video game on my wrist.  No one else had that.   I bought the watch sometime in 1981 just after it came out.  I don’t recall the exact amount but I believe it was somewhere between $35 and $50.  That was an incredible amount of money to pay for anything in that year, especially for a kid.

Of course I didn’t want the watch ruined so I wouldn’t let anyone play with it on their wrist.  They could watch me play it or play it while it was on my wrist but I wouldn’t take it off, except when we went to Gym or Recess outside.  I would enclose it in my desk as we all exited the classroom.  Well, it appears that one child REALLY wanted to play with the watch.  Apparently he left recess and snuck back into the classroom, went into my desk, took the watch and played with it.  While he was playing with it he dropped it cracking the screen and breaking several connections to where the watch wouldn’t even turn on anymore.

I returned from recess and found the broken watch in my desk.  I have blocked out how upset I was but I’m pretty positive I cried.  I know that I was very angry but I couldn’t do anything about it because I had no idea who it was that did it.  Fortunately for that kid it was the end of the school year and I wouldn’t find out.  However, during summer break someone, I don’t recall who, told me that it was Jeffrey F.   They saw him or he mentioned it to them.  I’m not positive why they told me and he never did.

You remember Jeffrey F.  He is one of the kids who was always picked last.  He was annoying as a person and, to be honest, I didn’t really like him as it was.  This made me hate him…with a passion.  He didn’t apologize to me even though we had spoken before Elementary school let out and we graduated.  He didn’t offer to pay for the watch even though he was an only child who I am quite sure had much more money than I did.  Nothing!  He offered nothing!  I was pissed and I held that grudge until this first day of seventh grade.

I walked the hallways with my hands filled with the books for my classes.  I was following the numbers on the lockers to my eventual remuneration.  By this time I had begun to recognize several faces.  The school grouped us into sections of lockers by grade, which made sense.  I don’t know how it all started but another individual came up behind me and said: “Hey, there’s Jeffrey F.  Isn’t he the kid that stole your watch?”

I yelled to him.  “Hey jerk, you owe me a watch!”  I don’t recall exactly what our conversation was but I remembered his lack of taking responsibility for his actions several months before.  I had said something that eventually upset him to where he finally engaged.  My anger had grown very quickly and I could feel my ears turning red.  By this time our outbursts had already drawn a pretty good crowd.  It didn’t take much in those days.  Everyone wanted to see some type of altercation.  

No one really knew me in this school, but this ninth grader came out of nowhere.  He was towering over me and I recall he didn’t like one of my brothers (again that is another story for another time).  He looked at me standing there holding my stack of books and very calmly said “Can I hold your books for you?”  As I handed him my books I quickly looked around at all of the faces that had gathered around us.  I knew I had no choice now, I was definitely going to have to fight this kid. 

When I grew up I was always taught that fighting is bad, losing your temper is worse, and being out of control is unacceptable.  Unfortunately most of my heritage is Irish.  Some may know about the Irish temper, but let me just say the red hair on so many Irish heads is a genetic result of years of anger passed down through the generations.  We see red for so long that our children actually become red.  Now, I don’t have red hair making me a carrier of said anger gene.   For the most part, I’m always angry but I bury it.  My favorite line from a movie is “That’s my secret Captain, I’m always angry.”  But I only let it surface in extreme situations.

The brother I told you wasn’t liked by the ninth grader is my next oldest brother Eric.  He is one of the four brothers I have.  He is incredibly odd and had a very hard time growing up.  Jim M. was the ninth grader who was so kind to me but Jim M. was friends with several other kids who felt Eric was a strange bird.  One day when Eric and I got off the bus from Elementary school (I was in fourth grade, he was in sixth), four kids got off at our bus stop who didn’t normally get off there.  Brian C. was the instigator and he wanted to tear Eric apart.  Eric was a jerk and had mouthed off to several of these kids.

I was much smaller than all of them.  They started in on my brother.  It was winter.  Slippery.  Icy.  A man was at his house on that particular corner chipping the ice off of his sidewalk with a spade shovel.  As the boys were kicking and punching Eric I started crying.  The rest is a blur.  I turned around to the man, who was doing nothing to stop the fight, and I grabbed the shovel out of his hands.  I swung it up and over my head to bring down the sharpest part of the blade near Brian’s face but across his chest ripping his jacket.  Everyone stopped fighting immediately. 

Brian was, at this point, crying too.  Partly because I hurt him but I think mostly because I told him that I would kill him if he ever touched my brother again.   The raw anger I expressed was beyond my control at that time.  I was crying still for what they were doing to my brother but I was also crying because I was out of control. 

The anger had taken over.  I couldn’t stop it.  I could easily have killed him with that shovel.  At some point the man who owned the shovel came up behind me and grabbed it with both of his hands.  He then told the other four boys to “Go home!” and he sent us home down the street without saying another word.

Jeffrey F. actually started the fight in the hallway that first day of school.  He came up quickly and punched me in the face.  Several times.  This was three years after the shovel incident.  By this time I had learned to control my tears, but the anger was still another story.  He went for my body.  Punching me in the stomach and then back to my face again.  I was frozen.  I was in awe at the audacity of this incident.  Why was he hitting me?  I didn’t steal and break his watch.  Furthermore, why couldn’t I feel it?  In any instance, all this did was infuriate me.

I smacked both of his arms down at the same time.  Then I punched him in his stomach and uppercut his jaw.  I must have come back with another hit to his face because he was bleeding.  Badly.  I pushed him into the lockers behind him several times and then I opened up a locker and began shoving him into it.  He tried to fight back but it was useless.  I pushed him deep into the locker and he cut his hand on the shelf above his head.  Then I slammed the door on him and the foot that remained outside of the locker.  Then the rage subsided.

I looked at this weak little boy shoved halfway inside the locker and all I could see was myself staring back.  What if someone had beat me up like that?  How could I explain that to my dad?  What would my dad say if I had to tell him that I did something to someone else and they obliterated me in front of a bunch of other kids at school and humiliated me by shoving me into a locker?  I felt bad for what I did but I just grabbed my books and walked away.  I never spoke to Jeffrey F. again but this incident changed my perspective on bullies because, apparently I had just become one. 

Most of kids in the school had no idea why I beat him up.  They just saw me kick his ass for what appeared to be no reason and then walk away.  I guess that was my “prison moment.”  It didn’t have to be the largest person.  It just needed to be someone and just brutal enough that other people would pass the word around about you.

The change in my attitude was one that denounced bullies though.  I wasn’t one!  I wasn’t taught to be one!  I would make sure that smaller kids weren’t picked on or bullied by someone like me!  That attitude was an eighties attitude though, as it turns out.  This stigmatic teaching was ingrained in most of our after school specials, movies of the time, and inspirational posters of the day.  We were all to stand up to someone bullying us.  My group of friends took it one step further.

The kids I hung out with in High School were the larger kids.  If anyone was being a bully it would have been someone in our group and we had all decided we weren’t going to be like that.  An example of our credo was when we heard of a smaller kid being picked on in one of the back hallways.  A good friend of mine, Jocko, and I went back to help him out.  We told him to sit with us during lunch and the word spread that we would wreck anyone who picked on him again.

We didn’t exert any force and we didn’t bully anyone, but we did make sure the smaller people were being taken care of.  The cool thing about this last part of this story is this last guy grew up and became one of the best martial art trainers in Michigan.  Now he teaches other people how not to be bullied through controlling their situation and not through aggression.  He teaches that strength used properly is true power but used improperly is true evil.

Although I still, to this day, feel bad about what happened in school that day I don’t condone fighting for any situation – regardless of the reason.  In every situation we should be able to resolve the circumstance without using our fists, or worse in today’s era – guns and knives.  There is too much anger in the world today.  We have consistent road rage here in Michigan.  Our political officials don’t give us any reason to be happy and much of what is on television is very dark in nature.  All I can say is hang in there.  It always gets better.

Finish What You Started

I want to tell you about a young man I once knew. His story takes place many years ago in November of 1986. His name isn’t important, but I have always referred to him as ‘Din’. That was his nickname on the streets where we grew up. It was a short derivative of the song “Din Daa Daa” by George Kranz. On one brisk Fall November morning ‘Din’ woke from his own bed.  Nothing strange about that except this was something he hadn’t done in 33 days. You see, he and Pollyanna, the young lady he had fallen madly in love with and just couldn’t stand to be apart from, had been living together at her parents house that whole time.  Well, just the day before her parents found out they hadn’t been going to school at all during that time and they promptly threw ‘Din’ out of their house. But, as he was getting ready to go back to High School on this specific morning, what he didn’t realize was, like Polly’s parents, the school would also throw him out that day.

This chain of events started when ‘Din’ graduated from Middle School to High School in 1984.  For him, this was starting all over. Bottom of the pile. Low man on the roster. A feeling many children experience.  New place. New faces. New surroundings. During this change, he didn’t know what group would accept him. So he tried to fit in anywhere and everywhere.  ‘Din’ tried all the different cliques. The “druggies”, the “jocks”, the “nerds”. Eventually he settled into a new group that formed – the “Breakdancers”.

Back in the 1980’s the average suburban neighborhoods were being consumed by the new Rap culture.  ‘Din’ grew up the youngest of five children in one such neighborhood. He was raised Christian.  Two parents, dinner at 6:00 p.m, and Church on the weekends. A good part of the whole American dream. 

According to several of his friends I interviewed for this story, he was smart.  Book smart and street smart.  When he was in 6th Grade he was able to perform 9th Grade level mathematical equations but had never been taught how to do them.  His street knowledge was better than average too. Once when confronted by 9 other children on the streets of Detroit, while he was delivering flyers for Amico’s Pizza, the local pizza place, he almost got his butt kicked.  He noticed the kids following him from a house where he had just delivered a flyer.  Inside the house someone had yelled at him to get off of their porch. He put the flyer in the door and left immediately. 

They followed him down the street quietly behind him. He heard the whispers and glanced around to see all of them standing there, but before they could jump him, and without speaking any words, he pulled out a pair of nunchucks hidden in his bag of flyers and began working them.  He swung them around his neck, back and forth in front of himself. Flipping them up and around frantically so all one could hear was the sound of them breaking the wind. After he was finished, he turned around and simply walked away without saying a word. One of the kids yelled to him, “Next time you come to Detroit, don’t bring those!”  

Even growing up in a fairly good environment ‘Din’ still made choices that would take him to bad places.  His breakdancer friends were a wild group of kids. Much like the Hippies of the 1960’s they had their own wants and desires.  Some of which were gang related, based on how the Rap culture was represented. True, the genre participated, but was in no way to blame for the finite event that would unfold at school in the morning that Fall day in 1986.

Now, the Breakdancers were a tight group of friends who hung out all the time.  From 1984 through 1986 they had developed an equal amount of influence on each others lives.  Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. In the 1980’s there were plenty of places for teenagers to spend time.  They had the mall, local recreation centers, and clubs designed for young adults. Unfortunately getting into trouble of various kinds was something this group appeared to have a proclivity for.  And many times they preferred trouble to recreational activities.

In total, two incidents happened.  Both in 1986. One during the spring and the other during the summer.  Each event involved stolen articles. Now what actually happened isn’t important because, in ‘Din’s’ words, he was “innocent, for the most part.”  The actual records say different though; and that’s what matters. In short, ‘Din’ was caught and put on two years probation, with provisions. The first: he had to live at his parents’ house.  The second: he had to stay in and finish high school.

Now having been in trouble, ‘Din’s’ perception was that everyone looked at him differently.  Mainly those in positions of authority like his parents and teachers. It was because of this inner feeling that his attitude toward everything changed.  He became bored with school and stopped going to church. All he wanted to do was hang-out with his friends and party.

Even after school started up for his Senior year, ‘Din’s’ group of friends continued to do a lot of partying.  They caused an immense amount of trouble at school too. This drew the attention of the Assistant Principal, who, too ‘Din’, appeared to hate him for all of the trouble caused, and possibly a few other reasons that were actually justified like drinking at school and destroying school property.  

Now outside of school the one thing the Breakdancers loved to do, was dance.  They would go to local clubs and burn off their destructive energy.  One club in particular was the Grande Ballroom in Westland. This is where ‘Din’ and Pollyanna met, not long after the two incidents.

To ‘Din’, Pollyanna was an Aztec goddess.  She stood 5 feet 4 inches tall and had a perfect athletically slender build.  She had the most amazing raven curly hair cresting over her extremely beautiful face.  Her eyes were the lightest brown with a small fleck of green in them. Her skin was as soft as silk with the most angelic golden hue to it.  On a scale of 1 to 10, she was probably only an 8; although, not in ‘Din’s’ eyes. To him everything about her was as melodic and beautiful to behold as any Mozart composure.  She was the most perfect girl in the world.

And, outside of that she could move her body! This girl could dance, which was huge back in those days! 

‘Din’ and Pollyanna became exclusive and they spent an unprecedented amount of time together.  They were inseparable. Pollyanna had a car so they drove everywhere and did everything they could think of, or afford, to do. They were doing what every kid their age was supposed to be doing.  They went on dates, hung out at parties, and went to dance clubs. There were no issues until…well, let’s just say they began to spend too much time together and had trouble keeping their hands off of each other.

Overall, they were just two kids who had fallen in lust with each other.  But, yes, they loved each other too. The problem was, the only things they thought about were dancing and having sex.  Those two things became problematic.

It wasn’t that they didn’t like school.  School was where their friends were. That was ‘Din’s’ main reason to continue going.  It was ‘Din’s’ lack of enthusiasm with school that created issues. The teachers handed out their assignments.  He did them and handed them back the next day. On occasion he would work weeks ahead and wait until they finally caught up.  School became more of a social function to him and less of an educational one.

Eventually ‘Din’ just stopped doing his school work.  Part of this was due to boredom and another part because of his attitude change from the events of the summer of 1986.  He began to feel trapped.  He only wanted to invest his time in Pollyanna.  All they thought about was each other. So, together, they stopped going to school.  For 33 days straight they stayed at her parents’ home and did other things.  That is, until Pollyanna’s parents found out.  

Now, it wasn’t as if they just threw him out of their house and forbid them from seeing each other. No, they kicked ‘Din’ out of their daughters life.  Or to be more correct, they actually kicked her out of his.  Polly’s parents sent her to live with her grandmother in Texas.  There she would finish her High School career. He had no choice but to go on without her. Obviously he didn’t know it, but it would be decades before they would ever see each other again. 

In 1986, ‘Din’ slept in the basement of his parents’ house, in a room his dad built for him.  His bedroom was always dark and a little cold, much like his heart would quickly become after being separated from Pollyanna.  There was a light above his bed but he never turned it on. He would let his eyes slowly adjust to the tiny sliver of light he allowed to come through the window that looked out into the rest of the basement, which he covered with a blanket.  Thinking this Fall day would be like any other school day he previously experienced he eventually got up. He showered. He got dressed. And he headed off to his first day back to school where he would, once again, see his friends.

Stewart Hardcastle was the Assistant Principal.  Because of the previous trouble ‘Din’ was involved in he didn’t appear to want him in his school.  When he saw ‘Din’ coming up to the school doors he got up from his desk and raced to stop him from coming into the school altogether.  A conversation along these lines ensued: “Where do you think you’re going Mr. ‘Din’?” the Assistant Principal requested. “I’m going to class.” ‘Din’ replied.  “You haven’t attended this school for more than 30 days and are no longer welcome here.” ‘Din’ immediately took the offensive and started yelling at the Mr. Hardcastle.  ‘Din’ told him that he didn’t “need this school” and it would be “a cold day in hell” if he “ever came back to this dump”. A few other words were exchanged between them but eventually they both turned and walked away.

No girlfriend.  No school. Now no friends.  ‘Din’s’ senior year was over before midterms even started.  This boy thought he was bored when he was able to still go to school.  Well, take school away and all that he was left with was a lot of disappointment.  From every angle. Parent’s, teachers, and himself. Now he had nothing but time to think about everything that went wrong and how he got to this point in his life.

For nine months he sat around pondering what type of future a person without a High School diploma has.  Fortunately, he allowed his parents to influence him. A few of his friends that he still hung out with brought him around to see things the right way too.  During that time he spent out of school, he grew to understand what he was missing out on. He also figured out what he would miss out on had he continued down the path he was on.  During this time away from school his friends, like me and of course, his family helped make him understand that he needed school. 

Before Fall 1987 came, ‘Din’ registered for classes, again, at the same High School.  He had even began going back to church.  

I don’t have the specifics on the exact day, but on a drizzly Fall day in September 1987 ‘Din’ started back for the first day of his second Senior year.  On this approach to the school doors the Assistant Principal was, again, ready to greet him. This time, just inside the main lobby.  

This would be the second conversation in just under a year these two would have.  I was there and I recall it went something like: “Where do you think you’re going Mr. ‘Din’?” “I’m here to go to school Mr. Hardcastle.”  Hardcastle took a quick step to his left to block ‘Din’s’ continued entrance. ‘Din’ continued walking toward him and said, “It’s my right to be here Mr. Hardcastle.  And you can’t stop me from getting my education!” ‘Din’ began to circle around the Assistant Principal but at the same time Stewart Hardcastle moved back to his right and let him pass.  No other words were exchanged between the two.

For the most part, ‘Din’s’ Senior year was uneventful, which was a good thing.  ‘Din’ helped paint the Christmas Windows in Senior hall. He rode on the Senior float for the Homecoming game.  He even helped on the Entertainment committee with all of the school dances. No drinking. No drugs. No destruction of property.  No fights. No distractions. Just school.   

It appears after what had happened to ‘Din’, the whole Breakdancing group had settled down a bit.  ‘Din’ worked hard to stay focused and finish his senior year. He didn’t play any sports but he still earned a letter.  He lettered in academics. On graduation day, as ‘Din’ walked across the commencement stage, Mr. Hardcastle grabbed his hand, shook it, and said, in the most sincere and earnest way, “I knew you could do it.”  ‘Din’ smiled at him and continued on his path.

No Guarantees!

People talk about how wonderful it is to experience natural childbirth.  How it will change your life. No one really talks about the process of becoming a parent.  How much time and effort is actually involved in the process. And no one speaks about the level of persistence and the amount of time required to actually get pregnant.   For my wife and I, our journey to becoming parents began ten years ago.  

Not unlike other people, we wanted to have children the natural way.  We figured one-part her, one-part me, a little flour, and some sugar; put it in “the oven” for nine plus months and pull out an adorable, perfectly baked, chunky little muffin whose toes you just want to soak in butter and eat with a spoon.  So we tried for several years from the time we went on our honeymoon in 2010. Unfortunately we just couldn’t quite pull off that blue ribbon recipe.  

We discussed our situation with each other and decided to try a more scientific method for having children.  At this time I was 41 and she had, well, less years on this planet than me, and we, obviously, weren’t getting any younger.  My wife bought an ovulation kit and we started the systematic measuring of time between menstrual cycles. Tick-Tock! Not just days but hours as well. Tick-Tock!  There were days when we had to perform multiple times. Had to!  Tick-Tick-Tick-Tock!  We, well she, tracked her cycles down to the second.  Tick-Tock! She knew the exact calculation of days until the best possible time.  Tick-Tock! It’s just that over the short amount of days, (Tick), we began to feel very rushed as time moved forward, (Tock).  

We tried your typical Western medications and some natural methods that were less expensive than seeing a specialist.  But nothing seemed to work. At some point during 2012 my wife scheduled an appointment with Dr. Michael at the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Surgery in Bloomfield Hills to get a professional opinion.  This, for me, was embarrassing. Not super-embarrassing, but the kind of feeling you get when you get off the elevator on the wrong floor. Sure, you step out with confidence but then it hits you that you’re on the wrong floor and immediately you begin to feel like you are a few clowns short of a circus, so you casually look back and forth until the doors close, in an attempt to hide the fact that apparently you just don’t know what you’re doing.  I mean, seeing a doctor to do something our bodies should, by nature, know how to do. Who does that? Well – apparently we do. 

First the doctor checked my wife for any “irregularities”.  After multiple tests inflicted upon her, he told us she suffers from PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and was also insulin resistant.  PCOS is where multiple non-cancerous cysts form on a woman’s ovaries. It’s actually quite common. Of course I had never heard of this before.  Due to these complications, we were informed she would have some difficulty getting pregnant and there could be “complications”, which didn’t exactly explain anything.  Seriously, it’s getting pregnant, what is there to it? People do it all the time, and, by accident even. You know, Prom, Tequila, a little wham bam thank you ma’am. Easy right?  So why couldn’t we get pregnant? 

Dr. Michael spoke to us about other, more expensive, methods stating, several times, there were “no guarantees.”  So we continued trying with the fertilization medicines to see if those would work first. One of the methods we tried was where my wife had to give her self injections in her stomach.  For me it was disconcerting to watch her jab that needle into her belly each time; however, with some luck, she became pregnant after several sessions.  

We were elated and immediately told everybody we knew.  We celebrated with our families and boasted about it on Facebook.  This was awesome! We were going to be parents! After all our trying and praying and waiting.  Woo-hoo! We received tons of congratulations through social media, phone calls, and text messages.  Everyone was so nice about our success. It was a great couple of weeks – until her stomach began to ache.

My wife was working nights at the time.  While she was at work, she began menstruating and she noticed blood spotting, which is possible in the first months of pregnancy.  But, she also felt a sharp pain in her side. She left work around 2:00 a.m. or so, to come home earlier than normal.  Once home, she decided to take a bath. While in the bathtub she was stretching and noticed another really sharp pain in her side.  At this point she almost passed out from the pain. So she got out of the tub and collapsed on the cold tile floor. 

About an hour later she started feeling better and got up to go make something to eat, thinking her blood sugar might have been low.  Finally she came to bed around 3:30 a.m. Still sleeping, I was unaware of anything regarding her situation. When she laid on the bed her shoulder began to hurt.  Fortunately she knew this was a sign of a possible tubal rupture because she either read about it or was told by the doctor that this was a possibility and what some of the symptoms were.  More than likely if it was a tubal rupture, she had internal bleeding. As far as this goes, blood in your veins, good. Blood in your body, not so good.

She woke me up, told me, and I immediately got dressed.  I have to admit that I was scared to death because without knowing all of the ramifications I didn’t know how much time we had.  It took a bit to get her into the car but, without further hesitation, we rushed to the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor.  We lived in White Lake so it took some time to get there and I remember the worry I had on the drive. She was in pain and I couldn’t do anything to help her, so I prayed silently to God, to make sure the love of my life would be ok.  I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I do remember being selfish and telling Him that if it was between her and the baby, I didn’t care about the baby. My wife is my world. Enough said.

By the time we arrived at the Emergency Room she was in great pain from the blood going into her body and from the slowly exploding fallopian tube.  To me, her pain would be like having someone push a knife into your abdomen, slowly, over a long period of time and each bump the car had gone over was like a slight twisting of the handle.  She said “it was horrible.” They performed an ultrasound but weren’t able to do anything to help her for several hours. In retrospect I believe they assessed her fairly quickly; however, at the time it wasn’t fast enough.  We did explain to them what we thought the situation was so they responded as fast as they could. They gave her morphine for the pain, but they couldn’t do much else because she had eaten and anesthesia could cause nausea during an operation, which would further complicate the situation.   

They checked her for the pregnancy right when we arrived but found that her “numbers” were already dropping rapidly.  I don’t pretend to know what “numbers” are, but I know based on most scores, higher is better except when it comes to blood pressure or cholesterol readings.  For the rest of the hospital experience I remember only bits and pieces because I was there alone. I know that it had been too early for me to wake family up but I also knew she was in good hands so the fear of losing her was pretty much gone at this point.  Unfortunately, I stayed the rest of the night there by myself. Alone. I had never felt so alone. It’s ironic that in trying to increase the size of our family we could have quite possibly caused it to become smaller. A reality I didn’t want to face, especially alone in the waiting room.  I recall crying to myself in the room and I also recall being angry over the situation and wanting to break something.   

By the time the doctor had come out to see me and explain that they had to remove one of my wife’s fallopian tubes I wasn’t thinking straight.  Before my wife came home that night I had gone to bed around 11 or 12 so I was only on about four hours of sleep and didn’t quite comprehend what that meant for us overall.  Her personal care physician had told her that her tubes were fine. Her PCP performed a test on her involving some type of dye and a balloon. They blew the balloon up inside her uterus and watched the dye flow through the tubes.  The pregnancy, however, did not “flow through the tubes.” This pregnancy happened within the tube. The embryo caused the tube too rupture so they removed both the tube and the baby. There was no option to save the fetus.

The medical community calls it an ectopic pregnancy miscarriage.  All I knew was that my wife was pregnant and now she wasn’t and it would be even harder to get pregnant again, since the female body switches the side it allows pregnancy to happen in every other month.  We finally went home sometime that next day. My wife was a mess and I wasn’t much better. I was always taught that a man holds in their feelings to be strong. That’s how I grew up. But I wasn’t as strong as I needed to be.  Again, enough said.  

We were together in our shared sorrow and misery and we had just jumped over another roadblock on a journey we never would have imagined being on; although, at this moment we didn’t know where this would eventually lead us.  Of course it took more time for us to get over this major setback. We eventually did. Again. For the most part.  

In 2013 we started the insemination process with Dr. Michael.  This was, by far, my most favorite part because of my contribution to this whole thing.  I know you can’t read the sarcasm in that statement, but believe me, it’s there. We had to schedule appointments around my wife’s ovulation schedule again.  So my contribution was supposed to be the fun part of this whole operation; however, I’m not sure if it was as much fun as it should’ve been because I had mixed feelings about the whole process.  

How would you feel going into your doctor’s office, which was always filled with either the women who worked there or female patients, knowing what you had to do there?  I was literally paying a doctor so that I could come into his office and masturbate in one of his rooms. This was something I could actually do in there for free, if I wanted to get arrested.  Well, as far as I was concerned, EVERYONE knew what I was about to do. I was going to choke the chicken, flog the dog, bash the bishop, whack the pud, do the dirty deed, you know, go on a date with Rosey Palmer and her five sisters in a little 6 by 8 room.  Seriously, as are those statements, this was also slightly disturbing.

Insemination and in vitro fertilization were, for me, the same process.  I would go into the office and do “my thing”. The difference between each was in the doctor’s processes and the cost to us.  Insemination was just my sample shot into my wife with a turkey baster. That’s how it was explained to me. The process for my sperm was that they had to “wash” it and then check it for viability.  In my head I reverted to a two year old and made a few disgusting jokes, to my wife, for how the washing process was done (swish, swish, swish…don’t swallow). I thought they were funny but she didn’t seem to appreciate my humor; however, at $4000.00 a pop for the insemination process, I needed some angry humor to get through this first phase.  I found out later this part was actually way more intense than I could have ever imagined. Not as crazy as the in vitro steps were though. Unfortunately the two insemination processes we went through didn’t work so we moved on to the next, more expensive, phase.

The in vitro fertilization process was the most invasive.  They gave my wife the means to have a bunch of eggs produced during her ovulation cycle.  We could only afford to do this two times. The cost for each cycle was just over $10,000.  We had explained to the doctor that we needed to take out a loan since we blew our savings on the first processes we went through and the other “incidentals” that came up with them, not to mention we had just purchased a new house the year before taking the last of the money we had saved.  In short, we were broke. From this point, almost literally, all of our eggs were in one basket. The first time she produced 36 eggs and the second time just 11. They took the eggs and the washed sperm and put them together to create multiple embryos. A genetic sampling process happens which will decide who the survivors are and of those survivors who will be used.  

All of this really defies the laws of nature and this seems to go against how God intended things to be.  Seriously, nothing about this process says “this is normal.” Again, not one bit of this was guaranteed to work.  The first time we only had two or three survivors out of 36. After insertion, my wife took a pregnancy test which read positive, but this time we decided to keep it to ourselves.  We didn’t want to inform anyone because we didn’t know what would happen and wanted to be sure, unlike last time. Five weeks in she had a miscarriage.  

We were devastated, but we had one more opportunity.  With the tubal pregnancy she was pregnant for six weeks so this, much more expensive process, didn’t last as long and in my simple mind I thought if you pay more you should get more.  However, it appeared that our overall “numbers” were trending in a downward fashion again. When we were ready we went back for our last time. I went in and did “my thing,” but this time her part was different.  

The doctor requested to see both of us during my wife’s visit.  I had already felt this wasn’t a good thing and my wife had her reservations as well.  He greeted us with as much enthusiasm as he typically did. We entered his extremely large office and sat at a small round table as he began explaining to us that none of the sperm, or eggs, survived the processes this time.  My wife was already in tears and I became upset because she was upset.  

With our backs physically to the wall at the little round table he explained how the process had failed and how we have our “issues” but, and this is the part that almost made me jump over the table and feed him his stethoscope through his sphincter, we “…should come back and keep trying.”  He must have said it three or four times. “You need to try again and don’t stop trying.” I could feel my ears turn red yet at the same time my throat was closing up. I could feel the tears welling which made me even more angry.  

Sure, in his world $10,000 isn’t a lot of money.  But for us, this was it. We had already explained this to him in our initial consultation months before!  He should have remembered! I wanted to kill him! My wife was crying, and again, I needed something to break!  We just spent you $28,000. We didn’t have any more money to spend on this “no guarantees” quack doctoring! And he made it quite clear.  There were “no guarantees”. I put my arm around my sobbing wife and exited his office. We drove home in complete silence. This was going to be harder to recover from than anything we had already been through in the past.

Eventually we did go through an inner healing process to get past this major setback.  We have each other to get us through the tough times. We decided to look at our other options so we looked into the invasive and confusing adoption process and eventually settled on foster care.  On February 10, 2017 we became foster parents to an adorable little 7 month old baby girl. She just celebrated her third birthday this past July and her smile brightens our lives each and every day.  And that is guaranteed!

Not What We Got, But What We Shared.

On Saturday June 7, 2003, my four brothers and I were throwing a surprise 50th anniversary party for our parents.  For us, this was a great honor. We rented out the main banquet room at the Novi Hilton hotel and invited just enough people to fill it. At this milestone event we also presented them with gifts.  One of these gifts would become important to me for reasons I didn’t yet understand.     

Clapping ensued upon their arrival to the party.  The expressions of surprise and bewilderment on our parents faces were unforgettable as they entered the fully decorated room filled with family, friends, balloons, and streamers.  Dad had his suspicions about the whole “invitation to dinner” rouse we used to get them there. He later told me he “figured you boys had something planned”, but he “didn’t know it would be that big.”  He also told me he “didn’t let on to your Mother” because he “didn’t want to ruin the surprise for her.” It was clear though, they were both equally astounded in different ways.  

Mom didn’t know why the room was so lively at first, but she figured it out when she began to see all of her friends and family.  As the clapping from their entrance began to die down, slowly there came a tinkling of glasses, just a small amount at first and then the whole room sounded like silver and glass wind chimes.  Dad leaned over to Mom and said “We should kiss like when we were first married.” Mom replied, “Not in front of the kids!”, but he held Mom in his arms and they had a polite, yet mildly passionate kiss anyway.

50 years ago, in 1953, their wedding was much smaller than the gathering we were hosting on this day.  In 1953 it was mostly immediate family members, parents, and grandparents. My brothers and I figure probably 35 or so people.  Our understanding is weddings were smaller then. The gifts were also different than today for newly married couples.

Mom and Dad received many of the standard wedding gifts. A toaster, some towels, dishes, and other domestic items.  But my brothers and I are familiar with the gifts that were safeguarded throughout our entire lives. We tried to find out what significance, if any, our parents placed on the trinkets and objects they owned.  It turns out we couldn’t think of any item they ever put any extensive amount of value on.  

The items we are aware of, that stayed within the family, from their wedding are a set of 24 karat gold rimmed lead crystal drinking goblets and wine glasses, two lead crystal bowls, and a lead crystal serving platter.  Nothing of extreme interest to us but valuable to them. Several of these items were all handed down to me and now sit at my home collecting dust. Some on display and some not.

Our parents weren’t the type of people who would go out and purchase expensive items for themselves.  If it didn’t serve a purpose they didn’t buy it. Our dad was born in 1926 just before the Great Depression and Mom was born near the tail end six years later.  Their lives were reflective of the era they grew up in. We weren’t a wealthy family and there were many times my parents had to rely on credit cards to get us through, which would always equal Dad working harder to pay them off.

Dad worked outside the home and Mom worked in it, as one would anticipate from people of their generation.  Our dad worked for the Detroit Public School system as a Boiler Engineer. He went to work everyday to heat the school in the winter and cool it in the summer.  Based on when he worked for the DPS, I estimate his salary to have been between $35,000 and $40,000 per year.  

In my family there were seven mouths to feed, so Dad worked more than his share of overtime.  Obviously we didn’t grow up wealthy; however, we never needed anything we didn’t have or wanted something we thought we needed.  Buying the unessential things we “admired” or “lusted after” wasn’t something the Davis household was able to do. So we didn’t own any true valuables like gold, a microwave, or a color TV (until I turned 15 or 16 years old).

Most of my memories are from our house in Redford Township where I did the majority of my growing up.  Mom and Dad kept all of their precious items in a china cabinet and a buffet table. The thing is, none of the items were frivolous or had meaning other than to serve the family.  They were just the wedding gifts I already mentioned or dishes and silverware they had inherited over the years. Treasures? Yes. But nothing acquired because of desire.

The house in Redford was small and only had three bedrooms and a basement.  No second floor. The living and dining rooms were where the trinkets were kept and we, the children, were not allowed in those rooms without one of our parents being there.  Our dad wasn’t so concerned with their valuables but he appreciated the importance of them and shared that with our mom. Mom, on the other hand, loved her niceties and she would show them off to visitors.  My recollection throughout childhood is she seemed to want some other symbols of status.  You know, the types of things every woman deserves to have just for being alive.

When I was young I worked and bought two gold necklaces.  Mom would ask to borrow them. I always complied. The fact is, I knew she wouldn’t, or couldn’t, indulge in such luxuries.  Mainly because they had so many children. She would wear the necklaces and show them off in public. Both she and Dad enjoyed nice things but neither had any interest in mollycoddling themselves.  It always had to be thrust upon them in one way or another.

At their 50th anniversary party my brothers and I provided a choice of dinner for the guests and an open bar.  We treated this event just like it was a wedding reception. One exception was we had a presentation in which my brothers and I staged for everyone the gifts we bought for Mom and Dad.  My middle brother chose to MC the event. He prefaced the gifts with a request for Dad to speak. He handed Dad a microphone. Dad stood up in front of everyone and said:

I just wanted to say to each and every one of you…thank you very much for being here for us.  There are many here that we have not seen in 20 or 30 years. So, it’s been quite an occasion for us.  A very happy occasion. For our sons to do this for us is something we will never forget and we were very pleased that they were able to do it and make it such a nice time for us.  Thank you all for being here. God bless you all.

His voice had cracked a little but I could tell he was already very happy with what had transpired today.  Dad handed the microphone back to Eric, who started the presentation.

The gifts we chose were as multifarious as we brothers are.  All were for different reasons and purposes. My middle brother brought a gift of meaning.  He spoke about how Mom and Dad’s “two small worlds” came together and he presented them with two small handheld globes propped up from small individual bases that contained clocks.  Each was made from lapis gemstones. They were polished, black in color, and contained very shiny multicolored rocks formed to shape the different nations within the ultimate shape of each continent.  He continued on, stating, “as you can see 50 years later the world’s changed…the lives encompassed around Mom and Dad have gotten a whole lot bigger.” He then presented them with a similar, yet very large, globe made from black onyx gemstone and held in a nice solid brass tripod base with a compass centered at the bottom.

My third oldest brother is the shy brother.  Not a public speaker by any means.  When he got up to speak he wasn’t as clear, or loud, as our middle brother had been.  The shy brother presented a practical, yet very necessary, gift. He explained that his gift was a washing machine since theirs had just broken down two days before the party.  It had been in its last days as of a few weeks before, which is where he came up with the idea. He stood up and presented it to them via a nice card and let them know “It’s not [physically] here.”  He then, very quietly, thanked everyone for coming. The only thing that came through the speakers clearly was when he said “I love you Mom and Dad.” in his choked up voice, so I guess that was enough.

My eldest brother and I went last.  The gifts we gave to our parents were more of the frivolous type.  Depictive of the items they would never buy for themselves. Something that neither needed, but possibly wanted, and just wouldn’t indulge in.  My oldest brother took the microphone first and began his speech:

Both my brother, [DJ] and I got together to give my mom and dad separate gifts.  Individual gifts. After 50 years they have quite a few things. It’s hard to give them things.  For myself, I was given the chore of giving Dad something, [my youngest brother] was going to give Mom something.  Dad likes to watch movies. [He] likes to watch Westerns [and] older movies. They do have a couple of TV’s right now, but they’re not exactly what you would call visual quality.  So, with that in mind I got you a 27” Sony, flat screen TV.

In 2003 a 27” flat screen TV was fairly large and it was a very nice gift.  The clapping drowned out part of his speech, but it turns out the TV was still at his house “being broken in.”  He had also purchased a bunch of movies on DVD for Dad to watch as well. Those would be delivered later in the week.  

My oldest brother handed me the microphone and I repeated part of what he stated about the split between us for our parents.  I prefaced my gift to Mom with a small gift for both of them. I bought them a bottle of ‘93 Dom Perignon champagne.  It was the second bottle I had purchased for them in the last few years, yet oddly enough I was never over at their house when they opened either of them so I have, to this day, never tasted Dom.  It is one of those things I wouldn’t buy for myself to indulge in without a very good reason.  

I continued with my presentation: “Now my gift for Mom was a lot easier than figuring out what to get for Dad because Mom actually said, for my anniversary this year…buy me jewelry.”  I presented her with a 1⁄4 carat Very Slight Inclusion (VS1) radiant cut diamond pendant gently held in place by four prongs and a 14 carat, diamond cut, solid gold chain to wear it on. I also gave her a set of 1⁄4 carat Slight Inclusion (SI1) standard round cut diamond earrings encased and held in place by six prongs on 14 carat gold studs.  

Outside of her wedding and engagement ring set, our mom didn’t own any other real jewelry.  I felt this gift was perfect for her.  I knew she was only kidding when she said “buy me jewelry”, but how could I not given the history of her borrowing mine.  I knew she would appreciate it, but I didn’t fathom how much.  

As Mom unwrapped the boxes I gave her she had a look that said, to me, ‘Oh this can’t be.’  But her smile was, for me, totally worth it. She would later thank me, continually, for the earrings.  Although Mom always borrowed the gold necklace I bought for myself I didn’t see her wearing the gold chain and pendant as much as I thought she would, or ever for that matter.  But she wore the diamond earrings emphatically. I joked with my second oldest brother that maybe it was because my visits were always announced that I always saw her wearing the earrings.  Either way, I knew she loved them because she always told me so at every gathering and that made me very happy.   

Three years later on August 22, 2006 Dad called me to their house in South Lyon.  He needed my help to get Mom into the car so he could take her to the hospital. He couldn’t lift her and she wasn’t able to walk on her own anymore.  It was a 20 minute drive to their house, which was one of the things I liked about where I worked juxtaposed to where they lived. Quick and easy access to them.  

Mom hadn’t eaten in several days from what I recall and her body looked incredibly frail.  Her skin hung from her in the way old people’s skin does where you could see she had muscle and fat that used to hold it in place.  Her stomach was bloated, which didn’t appear right. How could her stomach appear full when the rest of her body contained hardly any mass at all?   

Mom and Dad took off to the hospital and I headed back to work.  I called all of my brothers to let each of them know what the situation was.  A few hours later, one of them called me back. Mom had passed away. Apparently she was suffering from heart failure. 

I would love to be able to say that the last words I had with my mom were enlightening, encouraging, or even life altering. Unfortunately, I don’t have that memory.  The less than fortunate memory I do have, is that of my mother crying because she didn’t want to go. She pleaded with me not to put her in the car but Dad and I thought it was best to take her.  She needed to go where someone could help her. We were afraid she would die if she didn’t go but never thought she would if she did.

Some time after Mom passed away Dad said he needed me to come out to his house on a day I didn’t normally visit him.  Because I displayed an interest in the ‘shiny’ things Mom liked Dad wanted me to have all of her jewelry. It was primarily costume jewelry but he thought maybe I could save it for the daughter I didn’t have yet.  I don’t know why, but I didn’t really want him to know that I wanted the earrings back. I thought about the earrings quite a bit after Mom’s passing. They meant so much to her. I know they were a gift from me, but I wanted them back now.  Of all the things they kept on display, wedding gifts, family heirlooms…I wanted something of hers that I could actually keep with me. Something of hers I could keep on me. Something of hers that I knew meant something to her

The earrings didn’t only have a physical value.  They were something that my Mother always wanted.  I was able to give them to her which made me feel connected on a different level.  I was only 37 years old when she passed away. I didn’t get to spend that much time with her.  Not as much as I should have been able to. Obviously my mother wasn’t physically with me, but with the earrings I felt as if she were.  I recall her boasting about them and telling me how much she loved them. With the earrings I could take her with me.

I used to wear the earrings everywhere.  Over the years I have calmed to taking her only to special memorable moments.  When I got married in 2009 I wasn’t able to have the Mother/Son dance. But she was there with me.  She was there when Dad performed the wedding ceremony for us earlier that day. She was there on every vacation we took. She was there for every holiday.  She was there at every birthday. She was there when we fostered our baby girl. And she will continue to be there with me until the day of my daughter’s wedding when I plan to pass her this part of my mother and I along to her.

You Never Stop Learning How To Write

If you peruse my blog, you will know that I just finished attending undergraduate school. During my final semester I took a class on writing. It was a very beneficial class and it helped me out quite a bit.

Before I attended JASS 436, Memoir and Travel Writing, I wasn’t sure what benefits it would have for me.  I was a tri-major student with a focus on Business Management.  Where would a course like that fit in? What memories do I have that I could write about?  Do I even want to write? Who would even want to hear my stories? I don’t do a whole lot of traveling.  I hardly ever write anything down. And I read even less.

Those questions and issues were all posed by me before the class opened my mind giving me ideas on how to improve myself as a writer, a thinker, and (dare I say) as a person.  This class proved to be different than other composition classes I previously attended. The class also helped my writing by teaching me how to overcome obstacles, identify areas I (still) need to work on, and it has given me the tools to do all of this with.

I am currently attempting to improve my writing technique.  I recognized several areas requiring my immediate attention though.  One being, to get to the point. I need to shorten my sentences and remove unnecessary words.  Overall, my thought process wasn’t that good. I tried to write too much, without creating some version of a timeline and before figuring out what parts of my stories to tell and when.  This tended to make my first drafts wordy. From the first day of class until now, based on knowledge obtained from activities and discussions in class, as well as instructions given in the book The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr, I have been attempting to adjust my thinking regarding what I write about.  I found a need to concentrate on how it develops in my head and how I will process that on paper.

My hope is that the stories within my blog will be interesting, concise, and provide some level of entertainment or knowledge to those who read them. – The additional information below this paragraph is about the class. Feel free to continue reading if you would like to know more about writing and what I went through in the class.

A typical paper, for me, was purely academic.  Here’s what I’m going to tell you, here’s me telling you, and here’s what I told you.  I have been taught this method of essay writing in every other class I’ve ever taken. I still fight with that concept of thinking because it comes naturally.  Much of what I’ve written for this class has started out in this same fashion. Often I have written from the perspective that what’s in my head is relayed in my writing.  Unfortunately, I’ve noticed in my reviews for papers I’ve written, I interjected outside information from my mind to fill blank spots. These experiences were never written into my work.  Obviously I haven’t mastered this yet, but at least I recognize this fault and was taught something that will help me in the future.   

The tool that will help is one of the most amazing activities for writing I have ever been taught.  This activity helps me adjust how I tackle a project; although, it comes after the initial idea is on the page.  The activity is called side-shadowing and has been most useful to me. It is this method of defining, questioning, and suggesting that works really well to help further define, expand, or contract my writing.  I had never heard of this method of revision before and when I first read through the process I wasn’t on board. It appeared quite extensive and time consuming; however, after using this exercise on my first article I found it to be extremely useful.  Someday I hope to write a book, or a slew of articles or blogs, about my life experiences and side-shadowing will help. I have heard people say “you are your best critic”, so I hope there’s truth in that statement.

I enjoyed the writing exercise we performed in class on being descriptive.  Unfortunately, this exercise made me realize I need to use more of my imagination.  Not to make things up, but to describe situations, surroundings, people, places, and everything I write about much clearer than I do.  This, in and of itself, will take a lot of practice for me. In the exercise I wrote about my garage. A place I go into everyday. I gutted the building and rebuilt it inch by inch.  I know how many screws are in each shelving unit, exactly how the units are secured to the walls, where each stud is located behind the OSB and how much insulation is contained within each wall and between each stud.  The problem was, I couldn’t provide a better description than it was dark and smelled like gasoline and oil. I need to take a few lessons from Haruki Murakami and his methods of describing scenes. He described an event in his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running where on a run in Greece he encountered a mass of dead animals on the road while he ran.  His descriptions of the road, the animals, and the countryside were very well done, not too graphic, and they helped to bring me into his story.

 I also believe that getting a better handle on describing my stories to people will allow for a little more interest in the story itself, which might make me seem more interesting as a person too.  Haruki Murakami’s book was well written but I feel the most helpful reading from this class was Mary Karr’s book, The Art of Memoir.  

Karr’s book reads as a story and it contains a plethora of viable information.  Her methods will help me on my path to becoming a better writer.  Murakami’s book will help with the display of my words and ideas if I review his examples and consider how he uses his words to describe events and places.  Karr’s book contains an intense amount of valuable information. Karr provides several lists to remember and think about when writing such as: expressing your voice, setting emotional stakes, not using exaggeration, express the inner enemies, verbalizing one’s outer conflict, and more.  To write well one should use her examples and incorporate them into their writing. Her book also mades me realize I have much to overcome on my path to becoming a better writer.

In reviewing other writings of mine, I noted that starting my articles and essays has been difficult for me.  I have found it hard to get the reader on board initially by giving enough cause for investment without revealing too much at the same time.  I recognize the need to write a much better opening as well as the need for bread-crumbing. My trouble is figuring out what people don’t know, and what they need to know, to keep them interested.  I also don’t want it to be too boring or the polar opposite causing an information overload. Working on these challenges has been a good place to start, pun intended.  

Another challenge I face is grammar logistics.  I need to improve this as well as sentence punctuation.  In speaking with the Professor, a good method for me to use came up.  Reading out loud. When I vocalize the article or essay it should flow based on the writing, not on the reading of it.  If I insert a comma or forget one and don’t pause at a certain point the sentence may read incorrectly. A good example of this comes from a journalism class I took in a previous semester where the professor used the sentence, “Stop clubbing, baby seals.”  He indicated that it should have read “Stop clubbing baby seals.” Overall, this class has uncovered viable areas for me to focus on and I hope future students will gain insight as I have.

Along that same line, the most important advice I can give to any future students of this class, is to not feel overwhelmed.  The syllabus indicates quite a few written assignments and a fair amount of reading but it is all manageable. Karr’s book reads like a story and the other two books are good reads as well.  Most importantly, don’t get too caught up with your own personal interests, or even the story itself, when reading the articles or books. Each lesson is just that – a lesson. There is knowledge to be acquired.  Future students should use the knowledge in Karr’s writings to be more analytical with the other assigned books.

The second bit of advice I can give about this class is to read the materials and take notes for discussions.  Simply put, do the work! While in class, I noticed if a student doesn’t do their work, and we form into groups for discussion, they have nothing to offer and are often a hindrance on the group.  Personally I want to remember what I’m being taught and take something away from this. I anticipate mental value from all of the classes I have taken at this University. If someone isn’t doing his part then he can’t expect there to be any value from these lessons for him to take away.

Will I ever be a great writer?  I don’t know. With the challenges I have discovered I realize I have much work to do.  This class is far from over – in the universal sense of that word – over. Joe Bunting, a British television presenter, producer, and writer once said: “No one is born a writer.  You must become a writer. In fact, you never cease to becoming [one], because you never stop learning how to write.” In my case, in order to truly learn, I need to continue practicing what I have been taught long after I complete this class.  But, I will continue to improve – because I won’t stop trying.  

(Not) Without You

At the age of 50 I have finally graduated from University. I wasn’t “smart” enough to go when I graduated from High School. I was too busy having fun. Overall, I’m very glad that I was finally able to complete this milestone of my life. It has to be said that this achievement only came to me because of my wife. She carried me through this journey and if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish as much as I did.

Going to college is hard enough at any age. Of course, the older one gets the more difficult it becomes to complete because life gets in the way. Work, wife, kids, holidays, family gatherings, and friends. It all piles up on us and before you know it you’re 50 years old and thinking about the AARP and retirement.

Three years ago my wife and I became Foster parents. I was attending school at the time and decided to drop out so that we could acclimate the little 7 month old girl into our home and our lives. I was registered for classes and went to the first few in January but I dropped before the first deadline so that I wouldn’t have to pay for the classes (roughly $2k for each class).

As I mentioned, I didn’t go to college after High School. It took me years before I would go. It was around the time the Trade Center was attacked. Just before actually that I had started. I would complete my Associates degree in Business Management around 2005. I took my credits over to University and accepted whatever they would acknowledge.

At that time I was single and working full-time so I paid cash for the classes I had already taken. I continued that way until my first semester at University was over. I couldn’t afford to do that anymore because the cost was more than double and my workplace wasn’t willing to help pay for school, so I dropped out (seems to be a lot of that in my school history).

Every few years I would try again, but the expense was too much. At that time I wasn’t willing to seek government help because I had heard so many horror stories about student loans and how people ended owing for years and years. So I took, pretty much, a decade off.

I was at my current job when my new G.M. asked me how much I had left to go and he wanted to know why I didn’t finish. At that time my college credits placed me as a Junior. I had 40+ credits I needed to fill to graduate. The G.M. offered to have the company help pay if I would go back. That was 2016. My wife and I had been married for seven years but we didn’t have any children (which is a whole other story). So my wife and I discussed my going back and we worked out how it would go down.

Obviously I would go after work one or two days a week. Then I would need time to study during the week and one day on the weekend. She picked up the slack at the house. Cleaning, washing clothes, cooking meals, and pretty much everything else that needed to be done. I spent most of my time studying because I wanted to get good grades and learn something. I figured that I was paying for it, I might as well take something away from all of it.

Before all of this talk about University even came about we had already been registered to become Foster Parents. Nothing had been happening with that in a few years so I figured that going back to school would only help our status. So I went back in 2016 and did pretty well for that whole year. In January of 2017 we finally heard that there might be a chance that we would receive our first Foster child, so as I mentioned, I stopped going.

In 2018, when I started back up I was told, by the University, that my degree was no longer valid and that I would have to, pretty much, start all over. They wanted to remove all but 40 of the 90 credits I had at that time and set me back to Sophomore status. I wanted to quit altogether but my wife wouldn’t let me. I checked into other colleges and universities but everyone said the same thing…I would have to start all over.

So I “fought” the system. I wrote a letter to the Dean of my college and copied a few other individuals on it. Basically I told them we had just become Foster Parents. I said that it appeared Fostering a child was the worst thing anyone could do for their academic career. I also mentioned, had I known the University would do this, I would have probably sent the little girl packing because apparently Fostering a child doesn’t fall in line with the Universities agenda. I don’t fully recall, but I think I alluded to the fact it might possibly be a good human interest story for local TV.

I received a letter and a phone call asking me to come in and see the Associate Dean of Admissions. The “problem” was quickly resolved and I was admitted, once again, with my full credit standing.

In 2018 I started back. The only issue was cost. The money the company I work for would pay me wouldn’t cover the full cost of this University, so I became a FASFA aficionado. Again, my wife and I discussed this. Being that we had so many more responsibilities with the kid, my going back would leave a VERY large burden on her. She wore the increased burden like a badge.

From 2018 through 2019 I spent an exuberant amount of time studying, writing, and memorizing (where necessary) and in December of 2019 I graduated with High Distinction (Summa Cum Laude) from the University of Michigan. I also received the Honor’s Scholar award, which is an award given to only one recipient in each college of the University for each degree.

If it wasn’t for my wife taking up my slack and encouraging me to do better and to complete what I started I would never have finished. If not for her, none of that would have been possible. When I was graduating I kept looking over at her and, in my head, “my” accomplishment was our accomplishment. I could not have done any of this without her.