A Bob's Life: A Modest Thing, but Thine Own
It's a good question because it may open out to a more general discussion of how one one leads a spiritual life in this modern space age a go-go world of ours. But it also won't tax the stomach flu-weakened Gagdad system. I prematurely celebrated the passing gastric storm last night by pounding some chicken with black bean sauce with my customary gusto, but it turns out that my traumatized tummy was not fully prepared for this kind of commitment. It was not an outright rejection, mind you, but let us just say that General Chang's finest was accepted only with a marked ambivalence that lasted well into the night. A less rash and bold man would have started with oatmeal or jello. But such a timid man would not be a Coon, now would he?
My point is that when I am feeling less than on top of the Cosmos, my coon vision shrinks proportionately, but I am always capable of writing about myself. Such is the power of my narcissism that it is my last body system to shut down.
Now, as to this matter of my typical day. This might be a little tedious for most of you, so feel free to take the day off and come back tomorrow. It's much more than most Coons want or need to know.
Of course, everything changed with the arrival of Future Leader in April of 2005. But to be honest, everything changed with the pregnancy, which commenced on July 25, 2004 (unless you count Future Leader's lonely three days in the petri dish immediately prior to that, culminating in a very robust-looking blastocyst).
To be even more honest, it probably all changed with the decision to have a child after some 15 years of marriage with no such desire. As fate would have it, we both changed our minds simultaneously in the fall of 2002. In my case, these child-centered thoughts came as a great surprise. I won't go into all of the details, otherwise this post will be hijacked in a different direction. Suffice it to say that when these child-thoughts began barging into my head, they were as alien as if I were having impure thoughts about Brad Pitt. Very disorienting, don't you know. How can this be?
But immediately after that, in December of 2002, my sister-in-law tragically died, and that too changed everything. My wife was terribly depressed for awhile, so we didn't get back on the baby track until late 2003.
The reason why I bring up the baby business is that everything about the experience changed the orientation of my life. Up until that time, I pretty much lived in the moment. I meditated every day, read widely, and worked on the book when the inspiration struck.
But because we were a relatively older couple (I was 48 and Mrs. G was 43 when she became pregnant), I couldn't just enjoy the pregnancy in the usual way. Rather, I was very aware of the fact that the clock was ticking, and the older the mother, the more things can go wrong. I imagine that if you're 25 or 30, you can enjoy the pregnancy in a much more organic way, because you don't feel the pressure of the clock. But in my case, I just couldn't wait to get my hands on that baby. For two years I was walking around like Fat Bastard mumbling I want the baby!
Anything short of the baby was slightly unreal and abstract, which had the effect of making those two years somewhat unreal and abstract -- just a transitional period from point A to point C. Because of my spiritual practice, I was entirely unaccustomed to living in this future-oriented manner, and I just wanted to get it over with.
In one of those cosmic tri-incidences, the final version of my book was submitted the same month Mrs. G. became pregnant, which also turned out to be the same month I was diagnosed with adult onset type I diabetes. This also changed everything, not just by virtue of having the disease, which was not that big of a deal for me. What was a big deal was that I was now not just responsible for myself, but to Future Leader. It's weird enough having a child this late in life, weirder still when you suddenly have a disease that may significantly shorten your lifespan. Again, if it were just me, it wouldn't be that big a deal. But I owed it to him to stick around for as long as possible. I want to be around to see him drop out of high school.
So it is fair to say that my spiritual life receded into the background during this time. And then, after he was born in 2005, that again changed everything. For although Future Leader is an extraordinarily delightful and entertaining baby, he is not an easy baby -- something like a combination of Robin Williams and Harpo Marx on crack cocaine. As a result, every day since then has more or less been a matter of getting through the day by any means necessary, especially for Mrs. G., who left her career as a therapist, career transition coach, and writer to be a full time servant of His Majesty. Suffice it to say, the focus is back on the present, big time, but not in the old way, since the focus is on this little imposter instead of the real baby, me.
I know, I know, my typical day. I'm getting there.
We've worked it out so that Mrs. G. ministers to Future Leader should the need arise at night. For a long time -- until February of 2006 -- he was a terrible sleeper, which almost cost Mrs. G. her sanity, and by extension, Dear Leader his serenity. Things have been much better since then, but he still goes through his phases, like right now. In any event, once I wake up, I take over and allow Mrs. G. to sleep in for as long as she needs to avoid giving me a headache.
Now, I try to wake up no later than 5:00AM in order to get started on a post, because Future Leader generally starts to stir as early as 6:00. This in itself is a big change for me, as I used to be unable to function without nine hours of sleep, whereas now I get by on seven. Occasionally I am able to wake up at 4:00, which is much better and always makes for a deeper and more well-written post.
Two other big changes are related to this. In the past I always thought of myself as a "night person." I was very slow to wake up in the morning, and the idea of bounding out of bed and trying to be creative would have been strictly inconceivable. Furthermore, I always thought of myself as the "inspirational" type, in that I only bothered writing when the occasional burst of creativity came over me. For example, during the course of working on my book, weeks would pass by without feeling inspired enough to write a thing.
But after I began blogging, I settled into this pattern of waking up early and, without any preparation, writing whatever came into my mind. About half the time, the seed of an idea is already present, and it is merely up to me to follow where it leads. As I have said before, nowadays I will often wake up with the post starting to write itself before I even get out of bed. In that case, I have to get up and "catch it" before it blows away.
Other times I literally start typing in search of the thread, with the faith that it is somewhere, and that I will be able to grasp it. You may notice sometimes that a post sort of meanders a bit until it suddenly takes off with a "zing." That's the sound of me catching the thread and suddenly being yanked into hyperspace.
Have you ever tried to remember a dream that is beyond the edge of consciousness? It feels something like that. You can't use effort to remember the dream. Rather, you have to sort of relax back into that state. Eventually you'll get a little thread of it -- an image or a feeling -- which will lead back to the dream. That's what the posts are like. Once I find the thread, then the rest tumbles down into place. Vertical recollection.
So the pressure is on as soon as I wake up, because I need to find that thread before the beast in the next room starts to stir. But long as I have the thread in hand, then -- much to my surprise -- I can continue working on it under the most adverse circumstances, with Future Leader crawling all over me and generally greeting the day in his characteristically enthusiastic manner, with inane Elmo in the background, and with the 24 second clock winding down.
Again, compared to my previous life, the ability to write anything under these circumstances is more or less indistinguishable from magic. It's something I never would have imagined.
So I work on my post between 5:00 and 8:00, but not continuously. There are a lot of disruptions. You may also be uninterested to know that, because of the diabetes, food intake is never far from my mind. I maintain a fairly strict and fanatical regimen in that regard, because it's just not worth it to ever have your blood sugar out of range.
The way I look at it, each and every day my body is on fire, and it is my job to put out the fire. I have a specific target where I want my blood sugar to be when I wake up, before each meal, within two hours after each meal, and before going to bed. I take a pretty radical approach, because I basically determined the minimum amount of carbohydrates (no less and no more) compatible with survival, and apportion it into six small meals per day, every three hours. It's a matter of trying to keep a constant blood sugar level, with no peaks and valleys. As far as anyone knows, this is the whole key to avoiding the long term complications of diabetes.
This may well be the best approach to dietary health in general. As it so happens, I converted to a Zone-like diet over a decade ago (I was never a fanatic about it, but just incorporated some of the general principles) and it made a dramatic difference on my mood and my cognitive abilities. With the Zone diet, insulin is considered the "master hormone," and the whole idea is to eliminate bad carbohydrates in order to regulate it, while increasing protein and healthy fats. As a matter of fact, one thing that strikes me about the whole climate change hoo-haw is that if experts can't even get the food pyramid right, why should we believe them about what the weather is going to be like in 50 years? I began following Zone principles back when dieticians counseled us to eat as many carbs as possible and to avoid fat, which has disastrous consequences. It is the reason why we have the epidemic of obesity and type II diabetes.
As I have gotten more deeply into blogging, my so-called career has become an increasingly bizarre nuisance to me. Needless to say, Raccoons are not envious creatures, but if they were, here is who I would envy: imagine being Charles Krauthammer or Tom Sowell, or even a lightweight like Tom Friedman or a dope like Paul Krugman. Their entire work life consists of producing a couple of measly columns a week! That's it! In my case, I produce a longer one every day before my work life even begins.
But such is man's fate. You know the drill -- "by the sweat of your brow you shall earn your bread," and all that. I suppose it's best for the writing to remain a hobby anyway, as it keeps it free from any commercial taint whatsoever. It truly is a joy, and the most intense and happy part of my day is when I'm sitting here in the pre-dawn silence and darkness, chasing after one of those little threads. It really has come to be the basis of my own spiritual life. Frankly, I don't know what I'd do without it.
Now, a couple of outraged readers have raised a valid criticism, asking how I can possibly be a psychotherapist with all of my various prejudices? As a matter of fact, they're right. I can't anymore. I have more or less phased that out, with the exception of short term situations. Instead, I mainly work in forensic psychology, which involves lengthy, one-time clinical interviews lasting anywhere from three to eight hours, psych testing, reviewing voluminous medical files, and writing long and ponderous med-legal reports. As a result, I only have to leave the house two or three times a week, and do a lot of work (dictation and editing) right here in the Coon den.
If I am honest with myself, I simply cannot do psychoanalytic psychotherapy, which is the only type of therapy I am trained to do (and any other kind would just be too boring). Doing this kind of therapy requires a tremendous amount of self-discipline in order to maintain neutrality and not project oneself into the situation, and I just can't do that anymore. To be honest, I was never cut out to be a therapist to begin with, and I only ended up with a Ph.D. in psychology because of my unbridled curiosity, not because I was thinking of a career. I am much more suited to be a teacher, but that is a very different thing than being a therapist.
I remember a patient from a while back. He was a secular Jewish man who was getting involved in Cub Scouts with his nine year-old son. He was angrily complaining about the religious aspect, bitterly questioning why they had to ram this worthless religious BS down their throats. I remember another person who said that Yasser Arafat was one of his heroes. Or a female patient, a feminist child of the sixties, who, like a male "playboy," went from one unfulfilling sexual relationship to another, never questioning the basis of her feminist orthodoxy, to the point of being mildly suicidal due to the absence of meaning in her life. Or one who was obsessed with left wing politics and was full of the typical conspiratorial ideas about the right. His sickness was entirely embodied in his politics, but where to begin?
As I said, I just can't do it. I want to shake them, not do therapy on them. I don't know how ShrinkWrapped does it! He has discipline of steel.
Say, you folks must be awfully bored by now....
Anyway, I work seven days a week, so that I can knock off by mid-afternoon. If I am able to get any meaningful reading done, it is while Future Leader is napping between 1:00 and 3:00. Not too long after that, it's time for exercise, either weight lifting, yoga, mountain biking, or stationary bike. I also sometimes take the young 'un to the park in order to give Mrs. G. a little sanity break.
Somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00 I will have exactly two beers, preferably a dark ale. In addition to all the other health benefits, it turns out that it has a beneficial effect on my diabetes, as alcohol temporarily suppresses the liver's release of sugar. Everyone's diabetes is different, but in my case, I am lucky enough that if I don't drink my two beers, my blood sugar is higher in the morning, so I am truly blessed! Beer is a medical necessity for me.
This is also the time that I may be able to listen to some music. In my old life, I listened to music all the time, whereas now I have to do so when I can. At the same time, we play with Future Leader until he goes down at 7:30 or 8:00 -- if I am lucky, with a Dodger or Laker game in the background. Except when I'm sick, I put him down every night, rocking him to sleep with a bottle while softly singing whatever songs spontaneously pop into my head. I have never mentioned this embarassing factoid before, but I am a huge fan of the little-appreciated cult-genre of Sunshine Pop, which makes for very good lullabyes.
Are any other Coons aficionados of this guilty pleasure? Can I get an amen for the Yellow Balloon? The Sunshine Company? Spanky & Our Gang? The Millennium? And of course the immortal Godfather of the genre, Brian Wilson.
That's pretty much my life. I guess it doesn't look like much, but I like to think that what it lacks in breadth it makes up for in depth.
Well now the babies are all sleeping,
And the twilight's giving in,
She looks like you,
He looks like her,
And we all look like him.
Well maybe it's just a little thing,
The way I feel tonight,
A little joy, a little love, and a whole lot of light.
You got a real fine love,
You got a real fine love,
One I am unworthy of.
You got a real fine love, baby. --Real Fine Love, John Hiatt