A Lesson from the Life of Nimoy

“Knowing he is no longer around makes things feel a little… less”
That was part of my initial reaction to the passing of Leonard Nimoy, a memory catalogued for posterity since such moments are, as mine was, shared on Facebook. It was a strange thought in a way. I didn’t know the man, beyond the public view of him. Spock, “Three Men and a Baby”, his autobiographies, even his photography (was not as familiar with his musical work, save having once heard “The Legend of Bilbo Baggins”. There have been people who I’ve seen on a near daily basis who have passed, and I didn’t have the same reaction. So, what gives?
I think a big part of it is found in stories people have shared in the past day. One, such as the one about when Nimoy was told that Nichelle Nichols was being paid less than other supporting actors, he used his weight as a lead to get her more money; others of casual interactions with people when he was open and friendly and interested and a genuinely kind fellow. And if you look at the quotes attributed to him, there is one conclusion – he was a genuinely nice guy.
And that seems like something that comes in shorter and shorter supply – genuinely nice people. They are out there, either famous or obscure. But it isn’t something we seem to care about anymore.
Now, there certainly was never that idealized time in America where everyone tipped their hat at passing strangers, all men walked on the street-side next to a woman to take the hit should there be a splash, where people would stop what they were doing to help someone else out just… because. Because it is the right thing to do. There were always bastards among us.
But now, it feels a bit different. In America, many like the idea of objectivism, that selfishness isn’t just alright, it is the better path (the fact that many public figures who speak kindly of objectivism also wear their religion on their sleeve, one of the greatest humor-by-irony cases one will witness). Capitalism isn’t just an economic system, it is treated as a religion, and those who might suggest something considered a hair less capitalistic are deemed heretics.
We live in the era of Kim Kardasian, someone who starts out with access to millions, gets slightly famous for being friends with a more famous person, really blows up on her own due to a sex tape, and parlays that into even more millions. “When someone asks me, ‘What do you do?’ under my breath I want to say, ‘Ask my f*cking bank account what I do.’” That sums up her attitude – I have money, it doesn’t matter how I get it. The money is the end, the means are secondary.
But it isn’t just her, because one thing she’s been able to do is parlay her fame into millions of fans, a cadre of people who look to her and her life as an example of how to live. Who buy into the story that the ends justify the means, as long as the end is cash. Though perhaps it comes off as a little unfair to specifically target KK on this; as I said, she isn’t the first one to do as she does, and for those following many Wall Street leaders during the collapse a few years ago, the notion of making-a-profit-justifies-everything isn’t exclusive to reality stars.
But it just seems like a stark contrast to the feeling of losing Nimoy. Because he was an example of a person who put out to other people with faith that it would come back to him. It is an attitude that seems to be becoming rarer and rarer. But it is one I want to hold on to, a standard I hope to wave until the end.

Choosing among three not-quite-evils

One can’t be perfect, as hard as we try.
But I would have hoped I’d make it a week before I missed a daily essay. It was going to happen at some point; while my goal was to do write something-a-day for a year, that was going to be pretty lofty and knowing myself, completely unrealistic (though my secondary goal is 365 somethings written in a year, so I’ll have to double it up at some point to catch up).
So, the question I am asking myself is, “Why?” I know the circumstances; I’d worked a third long day in a row, and was a bit tired. But I didn’t go home and crash right away. I was at my computer, and thought that I should write something. I just didn’t
I’ve written in detail in another blog attempt about my adventures in psychiatry, so here’s a quick summary. Nearly two years ago, I finally went to see a psychiatrist, after years of thinking I should. I had been having the occasional suicidal thought for years; it was an involuntary voice that was completely irrational, and I could recognize that so it was annoying but didn’t seem like that much of a threat. But with added stress and a loss in my life, it was near constant and I didn’t trust my ability to ignore it. So, I decided to see someone.
Just seeing someone alone was enough to take a large amount of that weight off my shoulders. We worked through some issues, and I was on a few medications. The diagnosis was depression and anxiety. And through my sessions, I got more insight about my own personality, which is definitely an introvert.
I eventually realized I fell into the trap of the “double dip depression” – once the big problem was solved (suicidal thoughts), it seemed things were solved. But that was a surge in the depression, the underlying baseline was still there. I was talking in one session when we seemed to be wrapping things up, with everything honky-dory. But I mentioned one thing that was bugging me, my inability to get things done that I wanted to do; actually, having a hard time to start them. I talked about one day where I was off, all I planned to do was get a haircut, and the place I go was so close, I could see it from my window, a 4 minute walk away. But no matter how much I thought, “I need to get up and do this,” I just didn’t. Spent the whole day “vegging out”. I mentioned how it makes me upset when I’m that way, that there is a lot of things I want to do and just… don’t. No other way to put it.
My therapist put her notebook down, took off her glasses and looked me in the eye. “THAT… is the depression.” It was a moment of realization, because depression isn’t, as people seem to think of it and talk about it, feeling sad. It’s a depression of all sorts of emotions – joy and pleasure, desire and drive.
This is all mentioned because, as I said, I wonder when I don’t get something done, what was the reason. And depression certainly could have been a cause. But my introversion could be, as well.
One short-hand I’ve heard that seems to hit the nail on the head – introverts gain energy by themselves and expend it with people; extroverts expend it by themselves and gain it with people. In other words, as an introvert, my mental energy levels are spent when with a lot of people, and it takes some time by myself to recharge. I’m a manager in my job, I oversee two dozen people directly, and interact with about a hundred others in the course of a day. And as I said, I’ve had some long days lately – 14 hours surrounded by people. That is pretty draining. So, after three days, without a lot of time to recharge myself, the tank was a bit low.
Perhaps that was the reason for the lack of a drive. Because I’m finding that it not only takes a little bit of mental energy to come up with some thought, as asinine as it may be, and spilling out some words about it, but it is also a bit like being among people. I’m not actively sharing this, but it is out there, so there is an aspect like talking to someone. So, maybe depression? Maybe introversion?
Then again, what about anxiety? OK, that’s not the case here. But in terms of things in life I don’t go through with, that one certainly has appeared. That one is a bit hard to describe, but this is how I think about my experience – imagine a first time parachuting, sitting in the open door of the plane, ready to jump. You have that moment where the base animal instinct in you is telling you to pull the hell back, that you are not actually suicidal. There is a hurdle you have to get over in your mind to go through with it. Some have a much easier time to do so, the thrill seekers in life. When anxiety rears up, it means that same fear of jumping out of a plane hits me when going into a new restaurant or some other public place. I’ll pull up in front, but suddenly that feeling of “are you fucking nuts?” hits, at a level that I can’t get over, and I pull away.
Anxiety, depression, introversion…. pretty much have a lot of the bases covered in the realm of not getting things done. And I finally understand that now, after 25+ years of kicking myself for it. Though just because I know what may be causing these issues does not mean I feel I can use it as an excuse. There are a lot of things I want to do still – cookbook projects, website projects, plays and movies and short stories and so on, all in my head waiting to get out. And I need to do it.
No, knowing it might be one of the Three Horsemen of My Neurosis does not excuse the behavior. But knowing allows me a path to overcome it. Once I have a grasp as to what’s causing things, I can attack it and get going. The key is to figure out which problem is causing the problem.

Ping Ponging as I Age

“… but I’ve very immature for my age.”
It’s the line I use when asked my age. As I get old, in many ways I haven’t felt it. Waking up on my 30th birthday, it wasn’t like the whole world was different, I was exactly the same. Well, in a few weeks, I would find my metabolism had hit the brakes hard, something I still try to overcome to this day. And the same when I was 40, though such milestones seemed so monumentally… old.
Aging is a bit like looking into a mirror every morning. You don’t notice changes day-to-day, but they happen. Those who don’t see you for a while notice the changes better than you can yourself. Both physically, and mentally and emotionally. Were I locked away from the rest of the work, a proposition that the introvert in me finds tempting, I’m sure I’d still consider myself 18.
But we live among other people, and other people are what are making me feel old. At least as frequently as my “immature” line, I find myself saying “F-ing kids.” (If you watch “Clerks”, there is an old guy who says it in the inflection that I say it in). And I never use it to refer to tots or toddlers or pre-teens or teens… I love kids, and while those groups can be trying at times, it is understandable, so they get a wide pass.
No, the kids I refer to are adults, occasionally older than I am. I work with them, I manage them, I’m occasionally their customer. And I just don’t get them.
“In my day…” I can’t believe how often I at least think that term, thought in a cracking old-man voice. In my day, you went to work, were told what to do, did it, and got paid for it. If I didn’t do it in a satisfactory way, I didn’t need to be employed by them. If I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t have to keep working for them. It is the magic of capitalism.
Now, it seems people want to be congratulated just for showing up. Do their duties as they were supposed to? That’s a future Employee of the Month right there, at least in their mind. Paychecks are deserved before anything is actually done, and doing more than you need to is a fool’s game (and then you are asked why they aren’t getting the promotion or shifts they want).
It leaves me nostalgic for a time I never experienced, a time like the ’40s, when people did their job because that’s what you do. You work in order to get paid. You want to make more, you work harder or do extra. Same if you want to move ahead in a career. Of course, I may be falling prey to the old trap of idealizing a time that didn’t exist exactly like than, such as when Republicans talk about the ’50s as Glory Days for the US, while ignoring what the tax rates were.
So, I find myself bouncing back and forth throughout the day. Talking about Batman; sighing that I found work I was told was done wasn’t. Hoping to get home to play a few minutes of Xbox; cleaning up after adults whose propensity for messes make me fear visiting their homes; cracking up uncontrollably over a well-timed “That’s what she said!”; wanting to clear out the whole staff in the hopes that I can get the right people by rebuilding. Feeling like the dorky kid I was; complaining like a crotchety old man. Frankly, it gets tiring.
There is not a lot to be done about it. I’ve watched people in my business slowly lose any sense of personal responsibility or drive, so it isn’t a particular individual. I can try to cling to the good ones, the ones who are old school in the sense that they want to do their job, but their drive gets sucked out by the slackers just as mine does. Nope, there is no sign the whole of the talent pool, as it were, is going to change, and I’m just going to have to accept that.
The one thing I can do, though, it to hold onto the kid-like nature. Have those moments of goofy fun when I can, and when I can’t, try to get back there as soon as I can. The game of Ping-Pong back and forth can be tiring, I’ll just need to try to make it fun.

The Chaff is Ruining It for the Wheat

Alex Gallo-Brown wrote a piece in Salon called “Why do you care whether I’m really gluten intolerant?” It is a fair enough question to ask the public in general. There are bits like from Jimmy Kimmel, asking people on te street if they follow a gluten-free diet, and following up with the question, “What is gluten?” Of course, we aren’t shown the ones who got the answer right, and people not understanding a basic part of a diet they say they follow is where the humor lies.
At the end of the day, what difference does it make for the people in the Kimmel audience or at home? It is somewhat the same thing as mocking someone for being a huge Nickelback fan, or even for who they are dating. The difference is, people do put a lot of judgment over someone based on it, though they have no dog in the fight. It is people making decisions they feel affect their health, and while that argument is also made by people who are anti-vaccers, this has no consequence on the health of those that are doing the judging.
But I do have some concern about it. Because as a chef, this is my job, feeding people in a way that they have a good time and not make them sick. And the truth of the matter is, there are a lot of people out there screaming “No Gluten!” that are ruining it for those who have a serious health concern.
To begin with, the very real “Gluten Allergy” is called Celiac Disease. It affect less than 1% of the population. And what it does is not pretty, and I’m glad I’ve not experienced it or even seen someone else experience. In simplest terms, it shut down the small intenstine, so one cannot absorb nutrients. Not a pleasant thing on a system or cellular level.
Now, as a chef, when someone says they have Celiac, it is Red Alert time. Just as when someone says they have a shellfish allergy or the like, every aspect of the dish get scrutinized. What they are actually ordering, is there any chance it was next to shellfish? If so, grab new ingredient to be safe. Use cleaned and sanitized utensils and equipment on that dish, which can be a lot more work for a cook who is working a half-dozen dishes along with the Celiac patient’s dish. Want French Fries? We’ll fire up a pot of fresh oil since we fry chicken wings that have some flour on it in our main fryer. The chance of cross contamination is minimal, but why risk it?
And even if it is just the question of ‘is this item safe’, I am grabbing the recipe book of recipes I created (and use flour products rarely if there is a non-gluten equivalent) just to confirm – and specifically asking the cook whose initials are on the container to be sure they didn’t vary it at all.
In short, it takes a lot of work to make sure we’re 100% certain the dish we make is safe. Because one big reason I am in this business is to make sure people are having a great time. Sick in bed or even having to see a doctor, that is a huge no-no, the sort of mistake that I personally would not want to live with. And that’s not counting the possible legal liability of making someone sick in the restaurant or banquet hall.
But then we get into people with gluten intolerance, which, as Gallo-Brown acknowledges, may not even be a disease. It may be another item in the food causing it, so that we can make a gluten-free dish that still has the same effect on our guest.
And then you have the people who are simply on a ‘gluten free’ diet because an article somewhere said it would be healthier. I am fairly well convinced that the term “gluten free” has replaced “low carb” in people’s diet requests, with them seeming the same thing in people’s minds. Gluten? That’s like bread and pasta? That’s the same as Atkins, I guess.
So, professionally, we get requests for gluten-free, which you later realize wasn’t a real issue. After a while, it does wear on one’s perception.
I’m sorry, we can’t do the crab cakes gluten-free, there is some breading as a binder. “Oh, that’s fine, a little won’t hurt me.”
The fish has been marinating with soy sauce. “I’ve never had any problem with soy sauce before, I eat sushi twice a week.”
And so on, and so on.
I have no issue with Mr. Gallo-Brown or anyone else who need a gluten-free diet not because of serious health risks, but because it makes them feel better physically. The issue is the people for whom it makes them feel better mentally, because they’re smart enough to self-diagnose, or be on the latest trend. The people who have no idea that saying “gluten-free” is like crying out “Fire!” in a crowded theater… when the fire brigade comes, they better see some flames, otherwise, not only are they going to be upset, they may not be giving others the attention they need.
We cannot, for lack of a better term to describe this gluten situation, the wheat from the chaff. The chaff ends up making the whole group look bad, makes every claim seem suspicious. I would never stop taking all the steps I need to in order to ensure safe food is served, but it does make me grumble about it a bit. Until the fad of the diet passes, and we’re left with the people who truly need to limit their gluten intake, someone asking for “gluten-free” will naturally get a suspicious eye. And a gluten-free plate.

I Wanna Know What Love (of America) Is

One can’t be surprised that Rudy Giuliani goes out and makes some asinine comments about the President, and double-downs on the asinine-ness in trying to explain them away. It has been the only real means he’s gotten any attention for years, saying something provocative so people will talk about him, trying to still coast on the image of “America’s Mayor” from 9/11, surviving on the support of people who refuse to read the post-attack investigations that showed how many times he chose wrong in preparing NYC for an inevitable attack.
But he goes after Obama for a supposed lack of “Love of America”. Whatever the hell that means. In the context of what Giuliani says, it means having a different philosophy on how to move forward than Giuliani, or any of the Republicans who flash the flag as a means of distracting from the actual political actions they take.
It means their view of military action as the ultimate answer to foreign policy is right, anyone who thinks different is surrendering. It means claiming that America has by far the best healthcare system in the world is right, any anyone who cites the actual data and looks to counties with better systems for solutions are socialist bastards bent on destroying our economy. It means that since 1964, race relations would be fair and level if it weren’t for the problems African-Americans bring on themselves, and anyone who acknowledges that African-Americans are perceived as “less American” that whites, or that there are less opportunities to advance to that same population and wants to try to fix them, is a race baiter, looking for America to fall in a race war.
No, none of those are signs of people who hate America, who want to see it go away, who wants to harm the citizens. It is, indeed, different from the love Giuliani and his supporters. The question is, what is the real difference?
When we are kids, we love our parents, unconditionally. When we are grown up, most of us are lucky to still love our parents and have a better relationship than when we were younger. But the nature of that love is quite different.
As a kid, one’s dad or mom can do anything. Arguments erupt in schoolyards over whose dad is better than whose. My dad can beat up your dad. Oh, yeah, my dad can dunk a basketball standing still? Oh, yeah, my dad can jump so high he stands on the rim when he dunks. And so on, and so on. And as kids, we say these things out of an innate love for our parents. But there is no basis in facts. In fact, as kids, we ignore anything empirical that might tarnish our superhero parental image, calling those who dare bring that up crap-head or some other creative curse.
As adults though, we can see our parents’ faults. Some you just accept. Oh, that’s just how Mom is. Some might be a matter of contention. But when we love our parents as adults, we do it fully recognizing the areas where they fall short. We may even appreciate more the things they were able to do even with their faults.
Obama has repeatedly mentioned in his books and in speeches about the opportunities the United States provided him as the son of a single mother. He’s talked about the promise of America, how it has acted as a beacon for nations and peoples around the world. But he’s also mentioned where America has stumbled, where the deeds have fallen short of the words of her promise. How the echo of 400 years of racist policy still affects people’s day-to-day lives, how not everyone is born with the same opportunity as everyone else, how we are a prosperous nation that is an outlier in making people go without proper medical attention.
To say those things is not to hate America, but to love America and want to see it live up to its potential. To recognize that like everything else in the world, nothing is perfect, but we should keep striving to be better and better.
The alternative is to pretend that America is the most awesomest nation in all things. America, as a country, is better than your country. America can beat up your country. America cannot only dunk a basketball, but jumps so high that it stands on the rim when it does so. That when faced with the data that shows our health system ranked in the mid20s in many major categories, to give the rhetorical equivalent of “Nuh-uh! Shut Up! America is the bestest!” That’s the behavior that Giuliani and his supporters want to see.
That is still a love of America. But it isn’t a very useful one. If we don’t stop and assess what is wrong, beyond the fact that there are politicians who disagree with us so they must be evil, we cannot get better. We will not improve. We will, in fact, atrophy, because as long as we stay in place and the rest of the world adapts and changes and moves ahead, we’ll just fall behind.
So, unlike Giuliani, we shouldn’t turn the tables and say that it’s really him that doesn’t love America. We need to recognize how much he really does, just as a 5-year-old loves his dad. And if you don’t agree with him, well, you’re just a poopy-head.

Changing Course

As I’m getting older, it is getting harder and harder to change course in life. This may simply be me facing the laws of physics – as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a touch bit heavier, so there is more momentum carrying me in the direction I’ve been going, more work that is needed to slow down or change course. And as one of the things I want to make changes to is diet and exercise, which would bring that weight down, there is a bit of an irony there. And I normally like irony, but this one pisses me off.
To make a change, I’ve found that I really need to be conscious of the change I’m trying to make. I mean, actively conscious of it. Let’s take the diet thing. I know what is healthy and not, what is loaded with calories and what will work to fill me up without packing on the middle tire. I’m a chef, it’s part of my job to know that. However, it is also my job to taste things, so fasting pretty much means not doing my job. And it often means bowls of French fries and pieces of cheese and all the goodness that I love just lying around within arms reach.
So, I can make the decision to make a change. I can spend a couple days off trying to clean things up around the apartment, make an eating plan that will work without starving myself, and generally psych myself up for it all.
And then I go to work. And I have to think about the plan. The plan, the plan, the plan. As I’m working the pass during lunch, there is a bowl of fries pretty much right under my nose. Don’t eat the fries, don’t eat the fries, don’t eat the fries. It runs over and over in my head, and I manage to not touch them. Until something distracts me. And when that looping record, “Don’t eat the fries!”, stops, a few seconds later I often find my mouth full of fries.
But this isn’t really about a diet. This is about making a change. Or a lot of changes. Sure, diet is part of it for me. But it is the pattern of extreme concentration and not allowing myself to be distracted to get these things done. From what I’ve learned in therapy, my mixture of depression, anxiety and a very introverted personality is not the best combination to charge forward and maintain that. It is more like building myself up to charge, starting the charge, and when the first hiccup hits, retreating to regather myself and replan. I’m a great planner, not so great executing the battle plan.
Which brings me back to this. Not just this piece, but what I’ve been wanting to do with this website. I used to write and read. I used to do it a lot, many years ago. In college, there was a point where I was taking 3 PoliSci and 2 history classes (which is all reading and writing), working at the Michigan Daily, and still reading a fiction book a week (generally a Tom Clancy-type political thriller) and write screenplays and fan fiction.
But writing is a muscle, and mine has atrophied something fierce, barely able to put together a sentence that I can live with (rereading what I have so far is making me wince). I once ran the Baltimore Marathon, but don’t run now, and physically, it is like I haven’t run before. I have to get going, put in the work to get going again.
I suspect writing works the same way. At least I hope that it does. Because while the ability to write has gotten weak, the desire is still there. Essay ideas, jokes, stories – this one could make a good short story, this one a screenplay, this one an actual play – they fill the gaps in my head when I’m not working on the day-to-day duties I have to keep up with.
An essay a day. Maybe a couple paragraphs, a few pages, whatever I can do. That’s my idea of how to get back into writing. To clear the clutter of ideas and thoughts out of my head and putting it somewhere. That’s why I named this blog as I did. It’s something I think I should be able to do. “Think” is a key word there, as I laid out the issues I’ve had getting going on these things.
Because there is one bit of information to keep in mind… this blog is the Matrix. It has been here before, I’ve written some form of this essay and posted it. This was a New Year’s resolution, and here we are nearing the end of February. I had a WordPress issue shortly after that early January post (my first one didn’t happen right on the first as planned… another sign that I’ve had issues getting this off of the ground), so I had to start over after 2 entries. And by start over, I mean rebuild the site (15 minutes) and then sit around for 7 weeks or so thinking, “hey, I should do something about that.”
So, here we are. Talking about it. But talk isn’t really worth anything. Heck, all of this isn’t worth the paper it is written on, which is even less than when we actually used paper to write on,. I can make this promise to myself, I can make it out to the universe (which in this form is the couple of people who might stumble across this), but until I do something about it I’m just full of shit. And I hate when people think that of me. Time to get the hell off my ass, go get on my ass in front of my computer, my tablet, my phone, whichever means I have to contribute for the day, and do something about it.
So, here we go….