Sabrina Throws a Party

•February 10, 2018 • Leave a Comment

It’s unusual for me to repost after posting a new blog, but these are strange times. This post covers a night rich in memory for me about a friend who may be on his deathbed in Minneapolis. I was sorry to hear about this, but happy to (re)share this post. Mark and his family should know I wanted to use the incident (of the case of Miller beer in trunk) in an as-yet unpublished novel (a pivotal scene), so I’ll have to dig through boxes to find that and report back later. Ah, life. Go hug someone you love. Or call them. God bless you, Mark and family.

Completely in the Dark

Awaking late the morning of Jan. 1, 1978, head still buzzing from the night out with Stephanie in the backseat of Harvey’s ’68 Mustang, I had one pressing chore: Pack for the Family Project’s ski trip to Telemark Resort in Wisconsin.

Dad had rented a condo in the town of Cable, on Lake Owen, and we were leaving on New Year’s Day. We’d be gone for nearly a week. I hastily called Steph, the diary reports, “before we left around 7:00 or so. I told her I’d be thinking about her, she said she’d miss me too.” I added, “But when I get back, there will be Sabrina’s party for us to go to.”

The drive was uneventful. But when we reached the place near midnight, it wasn’t yet ready for us. Dad angrily put us up at a little place called “The Alpine Motel,” where we…

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The Year That Changed My Life (Part 1)

•February 10, 2018 • Leave a Comment

When I don’t know where my life is going, I always lean back to the past. It just makes me feel better—like I actually came from someplace.

Last time we were here, at Completely in the Dark, it was the mid-1980s.

I’d left University of Iowa for a proofreader gig at a direct mail marketing corporation in Hopkins, Minn., where I’d moved in April 1986. It was my first-ever apartment (photo at left) and I was proud that I had a full-time job. I had benefits, a 401k (another first!), a new girlfriend, and I entertained coworkers with dinner parties and nights on the town.

It was a heady time.

Of course, heady was never enough and I crashed under the weight of it all in 1987. The Cliff’s Notes of the story include recovering in 1988, taking another shot at finishing an undergraduate degree, and changing work from day to night shift.

In 1989, the work change gave me time to write my first screenplay, The Wandering Moon, and still pay the rent. Then I set another goal: I’d return to England that autumn, the first draft in my hot little hand, and complete research on outstanding questions I had about the story—not to mention seeing the locations up close and personal.

Plus, it would be my 30th birthday.

I knew I wanted that milestone to mean more than a passage of years—it had to bring new purpose to my life.

In hindsight, it did. Big time.

It’s important for me to remember all this now because I’m at a similar crossroads.

I’ve just come off probably the hardest decade of my life, beginning in 2006 and finally turning around last year. Over that time I gained two new jobs, back-to-back, a condo home (with a mortgage!), a girlfriend, and was on a strong foundation.

Then 2008 arrived.

Both my parents died. The economy tanked. The following year, the girlfriend and I broke up; just over two years after that, left the full-time job. Everything went south, fast. The losses accumulated year after year from then on—less work, less money, finally losing my home and having to move in 2016. It was horrifying. But friends remarked my inborn Stoicism seemed to bear me through it all. Sometimes, not so much.

Now I’m seeing some exciting possibilities on the horizon, and I’m reminded of the year that changed my life—1989.

That year pushed open the door wider because I hunkered down and did the work. On the way to the office for evening shift, echoing in my head, I heard horses’ hooves clacking on cobblestone streets of 1864 London, after I’d been working on the script all day.

I had a goal for year’s end, and I made it.

I saw it was all possible.

So here’s how the journal begins telling he story of the year that changed my life:

Wednesday, 15 November, 1989. The Return to England.

Huh. What a day. It’s been absolutely dream-like. The plane got going late (7:05) and then we had a 1-1/2 hr. stop-over in Boston where we filled the plane to capacity. I sat next to a young guy from Oxfordshire named Gary and his red-headed little boy. The rest of his family (wife and daughter) were a few rows behind us. He was the first Brit I’ve showed The Wandering Moon to. He was impressed and amused.

Earlier, Hollingsworth had driven me to the airport in his newly bought used pickup truck. Traffic was backed up for miles and a snowstorm had begun. I was feeling jittery and anxious. The flight was tedious. I tried to read the script, then I tried to sleep. I dozed for about an hour, listening to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and dozing off to the hum of activity around me. That was the moment this dream journey began. I sat opposite on the aisle of the plane with a girl, blonde, early twenties, from a town outside Bath, county Avon, who was flying back home after staying with an American family in Wisconsin. She seemed very shy—in a tired way. She was also lovely. We only chatted now and then.

When the plane arrived at Gatwick, we all said goodbye—I hustled through Customs, getting pounds Sterling, then making the train to Victoria, London. It was a dizzying ride—my jet lag was extreme and I was swirling in my head just trying to stay awake. The countryside flicked by more frantically than I’d remembered it had when I took the coach in ’82. At Victoria, I struggled with my baggage as I attempted to relearn the Subway and eventually lugged my way to 6 Ladbroke Terrace. The Israeli/Iranian guy running the place had given up my room with facilities, but he had a cheaper room without, so I took it. I took a hot steaming bath down the hall as the maid made up the bed, and then the phone rang as I prepared to take a nap. It was Dan calling from Gatwick—Sharon had missed her flight out but her luggage was on its way to the US of A sans Sharon. So Dan & Sharon made plans to come up to see me in Kensington, then we’d go out shopping for a day’s worth of clothes for Sharon and, afterwards, supper. I slept for almost an hour, after which I phoned Abi (not at home) and Joy Melville (of the Ellen & Edy biography) and she was hurrying to meet a deadline, but she was interested to see the first draft of my script and we made plans to get together between Nov. 25–27 when I returned to London.

Dan & Sharon arrived at Holland Park Hotel around 6:00 and after a brief tour of my doormouse-sized bedsit, we went shopping. It was a fun evening, chatting happily with friendly London salesclerks. We gawked at all the toys and food items at Harrods. Then we had supper at a little café in Knightsbridge called “The Stock Pot”—chicken, soup, coffee, cake—they treated me to a birthday dinner. I got back to my room at around 9 o’clock & called Abi. Her boyfriend was over and she was doing his laundry. We chatted for a bit—I saying I’d see her on the 25th. London! What a cacophony of noise, sights—beautiful women! Tomorrow EARLY:

1) Get coach ticket to Tenterden

2) See “Choosing” at the Nat’l Portrait Gallery

3) Get back and packed and out of Hotel by 11:00

4) Get on bus to Kent!

The Boxes

•January 12, 2018 • 2 Comments

Unfortunately, still buried in boxes. Returning to new CITD posts in another week, picking back up in 1989 and the second trip I made to England that autumn. Happy New Year, reader friends! MM

Completely in the Dark

I think the ugly buggers are trying to kill me.

It’s like mud-wrestling with your past. Except the mud just piles up, toweringly stupid and spectacular in its sheer mud-ness, always intimidating, sassing back: “You’ll never take me down!”

So I’ve been fighting back. Because now I have the time and resources to torch the Piles of Sorrow accumulating over the past eight years, so I can move on to better things.

And I’ve had two other thoughts on my mind lately: Why March 1989 might’ve been a before-unrecognized personal breakthrough, and how the current death of conversation affects us all.

So, conversation. It’s dead. Now you can text, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, tweet—and that’s all bullshit. I’ll go to social media to catch up, maybe, but rarely converse.

It doesn’t help that small talk exhausts me—making it and hearing it. I want to go for substance every.Single.Time.

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The Last Christmas on Earth

•December 28, 2017 • Leave a Comment

It’s a bitch to write about Christmas without seeming like a huge grump.

So, any feelings I have of sadness, regret, or pain, here’s something I’m willing to toss onto that shit pile: a total poverty of my imagination.

“Willing myself” to feel better has never worked, but some things have: getting out and about in the world, seeing what the day has to offer, as if it were a surprise gift waiting for me to unwrap.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been thinking about times in my life when I felt really happy.

Instead I discovered I’m leaning on the same old attitudes.

You see, it took awhile for me to settle into Saint Paul after I moved here in December 1992. I rented a room in a Summit Avenue mansion and threw a “Christmas ceilidh” for my friends. That was fun.

Things went downhill from there (as life does when you’re young) and I ended up moving twice before renting a Merriam Park one bedroom in August 1993, the same year my late parents retired to southwest Florida.

Christmas as I knew it changed forever at that point—even moreso the following year when, on Friday, Dec. 16, 1994, a journal entry reports:

“Dad called from Florida and he sounded strange. I had to sit down as he said Mom was in the hospital for what they thought was a mild cardiac arrest Monday night. They didn’t call us up here when it happened because they wanted to learn more. She hadn’t felt well since after Thanksgiving and had swollen up in her legs and belly so badly that she was taken to the Emergency Room and kept over for observation. I felt like I had to comfort Dad, he thought he almost lost Mom, and as I started to think about it, it bothered me too. Before I left for shopping, I cried and prayed by my bedside, something I can’t recall ever doing before. As of today, Mom is home again and taking medication for her condition. I feel better, but am still worried. I’m not used to the idea of possibly losing my parents yet.”

I’d entirely forgotten that incident. It was the first time I learned about Mom’s congestive heart disease, and how she would need to treat it for the rest of her life.

It was, as the journal reports in January 1995, the “first Christmas not shared with my parents” and I was feeling guilty and wary about the future. Christmas was always a happy time in our family—Mom and Dad married four days before Christmas Day 1957. They joyfully embraced the season and generously gave to others.

But back in 1994, I had a glimpse of a future that would arrive in full force 14 years later, when they both died in 2008. That Christmas was truly the last and since then I’ve been asking myself how I can recreate joys I knew long ago.

I’ve come to a troubling realization—something I seem to keep dismissing.

And if I keep doing that, I think it could cost me my life.

***

I was first diagnosed with dysthymic disorder in 1987 by a psychiatrist in St. Louis Park, Minn. I met him because I was curious about Mom’s descent into clinical depression after her mother died in 1981, and was concerned about what I was feeling.

Or not.

Like, for a long time.

Medication helped to a degree, but I had a hard time staying in therapy. I couldn’t see an end to it, and I did not like being lumped into a group. Maybe I can change that reluctance with a plan toward “wellness,” since ignoring my condition serves no one, especially me.

After poking around on the Internet, I found there’s been new research into dysthymia. This statement in particular really hits home:

“…the damage dysthymic disorder deals to quality of life and social and occupational functioning appears to outweigh that of major depression, although the latter receives far more research attention. Dysthymic disorder should no longer be considered ‘subsyndromal’ but a major public health problem.”

I notice my condition more over the Christmas holidays because I distinctly feel less cheerful. I hear people laughing and think, “Whoa, I can’t do that.” Or, if I do find something amusing, I’m ridiculously self-conscious about it. When I’m feeling “lighter” I don’t act that way. But “lighter” is more “in-the-rear-view mirror” with each passing year.

That’s what I find really upsetting. It’s bullshit. I want it to stop. I don’t want what happened to Mom back in 1994 to happen to me.

I don’t want to be blindsided by health conditions that dysthymia might exacerbate. I instinctively know that emotions have a direct impact on a person’s overall well-being (and yeah, you can literally die from homesickness).

And I do know that my dysthymia has lowered my quality of life in long-term relationships, jobs and careers, and just plain “having fun.”

Ongoing cognitive behavioral therapy could be one answer.

I don’t know. I never feel like I know my own mind.

But I’m feeling in my gut that treatment must be front and center in the new year.

When Talk Was Cheap

•December 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

All-new post in draft mode and not ready by publish time (today), so this will have to do. Happy holidays and Happy New Year to you all!

Completely in the Dark

Talk1So, I took this class at Lakewood.

Must’ve been fall of 1980, since I can’t find it in the transcripts for fall-winter quarters of 1979–80.

“Interpersonal Communication. 10 a.m.”

We had to keep a journal.

Like, yeah. Hadn’t been here before.

There were ten pages of questions posed by the instructor, whose name I’ve since forgotten. I still have the assignment—I received a B.

First question: What are your three goals in writing this journal?

A: I would say, 1) Fulfill class requirement; 2) Curiosity in seeing how I will answer the questions ahead and 3) Test what I’ve learned from the class.

I found the assignment among the 1980 papers and it gave me pause. I think it was the old love of questioning and being asked questions that lit my fire. It was also interesting as I wrote about the Family Project. Responding in longhand…

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Let’s Go to Germany! (Part 1: Escape Is Beautiful)

•December 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment

If your life seems packed with bad situations, maybe the road is calling. Here’s a chestnut about how that played out once before in my life. Cheers, MM

Completely in the Dark

“Riding along on this big ol’ jetliner, I been thinkin’ about my home…” —Steve Miller Band

I started March 1978 with something of a meltdown.Flight to Germany

There it is, in the diary, in all its flying colors: double- and triple-spaced entries, random song lyrics and unfocussed reportage of the day’s news: “Gee,” the March 2 entry reads, “I wrote a poem today.” The following day I got into a fist fight with Vince Marshall. No indication of what caused it (more evidence of general spaciness), just that it “really drained me, sore from Track. I hit him I did.”

Then, on March 4, a Saturday, this bomb dropped on the page:

“I got fired today.”

Apparently Super Sam’s went from bad to worse. After working a shift with fellow burger-flipper Jeff Brodie, I “got real bitchy at Sabrina and she fired me as we were closing down the gate around…

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A Few Short Steps Down to Hell

•November 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Dear fellow men: If you loved your mother, would you treat any woman otherwise? That’s been the core of my relationships, as best I can do. Be good. Cheers MM

Completely in the Dark

Dear Mom,

May has always been my golden month, but it suddenly turned sour.

Wasn’t easy that this past week was the ninth anniversary of your death.

Even the previous weekend was difficult. That Sunday I took a bus to my weekend gig. It was a spectacular May day—Mother’s Day, in fact.

—That’s when a crazy man got on the bus.

Another day of shit,” he snarled at the bus driver and plodded toward a seat in the back. All the passengers, about a half dozen of us, were then subjected to his loud self-talk and cursing. When the bus passed the Cathedral of St. Paul, where parishioners were spilling out into the fresh spring air, he started ranting about Mother’s Day.

“Everyone I love is dead,” he howled.

It was then, Mom, that I realized I was in the presence of evil—the kind of evil…

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