Sunday, September 10, 2017

Something Needs To Be Done

No, not that. I am a serious man, and if I ever decide to harm myself, you won’t hear about it from me. But something needs to be done with a growing list of things that are supremely annoying; things that have ceased to repay the considerable effort; things that have moved from the positive column to the negative; things that are causing me great upset these days; a condition that I really must resolve, not only to achieve peace of mind, but also as a matter of general health.

The list is long, and various.

(At this point I went on to write seven or eight hundred words about my tormentors, which I am throwing away as senseless complaining. It was only beginning to scratch the surface; it was turning into a novel. They are who they are; I wish them the best of good fortune; fare thee well; via con Dios, y’all!)

 I had a nice conversation with my buddy Professor Kamtorn the other day. Kamtorn is a great big brother, and he sees life very clearly. He is more familiar than most people with disappointing relatives and the unpredictable course of fate. He gave me some very good advice, which, although I am not going to take it, led me to an important understanding.

We were discussing our hearts, no, not as in the things that we love, rather the bloody organs themselves. Kamtorn is seventy-five years old, and he is eighteen years after a triple bypass operation. I am, let’s say, experiencing symptoms, and I am for the first time under the care of a cardiologist. In my case, various tests, including an EKG, a cardiac stress test and an echocardiogram, show only a perfect heart functioning normally. The doctor is confused and I am rather annoyed about the fact that my blood pressure spikes almost every evening between seven and ten p.m. Upon waking it’s actually a bit low, and during the entire day it’s in a very good range. Then it starts creeping up, sometimes reaching alarming levels and causing chest pains. As a result, I now own nitroglycerine tablets, which I resort to about once per week.

This, by the way, is long after having given up cigarettes (one year), alcohol (six months), and coffee (just to be on the safe side. If you’re giving shit up, why not go all the way?).

I am pretty well convinced, and the doctor is persuaded, that this is all stress related. During the day I am busy; in the evenings I am more liable to start worrying about the things that are bothering me. What bothers me the most is the awful treatment that I am getting from my family, in three generations, no less. What did I do to my parents to cause them to give up on me and curse my name? Was I such a terrible father that I gave my sons adequate reason to cut me off from everything, including my grandchildren? It just makes my head spin. It’s like that movie “Gaslight;” you begin to wonder if you are remembering everything bass-ackwards and that you might be the crazy one after all.

Kamtorn has known me for ten years now, and we work closely together, often on shared tasks. He has had similar problems with close relatives. So his advice was simple.

“Are they helping you in any way?”

“Why, no,” I said.  

“Do you need them to help you?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“So cut them off. Give them up. Like they were dead to you. They’re hurting you and you need to let them go.”

It was a little shocking to hear it said so plainly, especially from a Thai person. I guess Kamtorn’s tongue has been freed up by the presence of death in his field of vision. I considered his words for a day or two, and then I had an important realization:

Even if I could manage to block my ungrateful family, living and dead, from my mind, the problem would remain BECAUSE THE PROBLEM IS IN ME. The problem is that it bothers the hell out of me. The problem is my attitude.

My favorite fictional character is Tom Ripley. Tom’s morals and ethics are completely situational. Whatever best suits the needs of Tom and a very few of his loved ones serves effortlessly as the directed course of action. This includes situations where one or more individuals outside of the circle of love must be murdered. When these terrible things happen, Tom is very clear-minded about rationalizing the events. “What is most important in life is never what actually happens to us.” I’m paraphrasing. “What is important is our attitude towards what has happened.”

I don’t need to murder anyone, nor would I ever even consider it, but I do need to work on my attitude.

I need to reconsider my attitude towards my own life. I’ve always been much too hard on myself, way too self-critical. Did I say, “always?” I mean since I was a young boy.

I need to put my various successes and shortcomings into a more appropriate context.

I need to attach much less weight to the judgments that have been directed at me by others. As the great man said, “when the expression of an artist (in this case me) collides with the mind of a beholder (in this case my detractors), and produces a dull thud, it remains to be established which of the two is at fault.” (Alfred Jarry? Salvatore Dali?)

So I’ll be busy at that for a while. Pro-active; cognitive self-help and all that. I bought a notebook! It’s actually working. My efforts so far are already illuminating my triggers and preventing those vortices of negative energy that can be so common in depressed people.

More than anything I need to learn how not to be my own worst enemy. The things that have happened to me are not among the worst things that happen to people. They are merely annoying (although I did lose considerable money on the deal, and sometimes “very annoying” is a better fit). My current situation is very pleasant, and I have many resources (as the professionals say). With only a little bit of luck, I should be able to live the rest of my life in relative comfort. I am not without the wherewithal that life requires.

Thank you, Kamtorn, for leading my in the right direction, and thank you, Patricia Highsmith (speaking through her character, Tom Ripley), for reminding us that attitude is critical in everything that we do or experience. Now it is up to me to do something with these little insights. Wish me luck, dear reader! I can’t help but notice that this post is already a bit more positive than usual. It suggests a course of action and allows for the possibility of a happy outcome! If anyone out there is sitting on a fence that is similar to mine, I hope that this has been helpful.  

P.S. W.C. Fields was quoted on the importance of attitude. He held an opinion much like Tom Ripley's. He said, "[A]ttitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what people do or say. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill."

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