How to approach my videos of Appalachia in the year of the pandemic…

Last April, at age 73, I fled my subsidized senior apartment building in Asheville, North Carolina to prevent being quarantined in that building.

I spent the next week living out of my car in Asheville. I posted information about the events of that week on Facebook. At the end of that week, a good friend of mine – concerned about me from what she was seeing about me on Facebook – texted me that she had a little walk-in basement apartment in her own home out in the mountains, and that I should come out there to get away from the mean streets of pandemic Asheville.

My little dog Panchita and I spent six weeks out at Petula’s house in the mountains. (I have given her the name “Petula” to protect her privacy.)

On day 2 out in the mountains, I realized why I had been so unhappy in Asheville. “I was meant to be living out in the mountains all along!”

The power of nature out in the Appalachian Mountains transformed me – and my little chihuahua – in the next few weeks.

When it was time to leave my friend’s home, Pancho and I pushed farther north – in search of a new home. We first went to Marshall, NC, a very sweet town nestled on the beautiful French Broad River – full of artists displaced by the steeply-rising studio rents in boom-town Asheville.

Pancho the wonder-Chihuahua

From there, we pushed further north to Burnsville and Bakersville – then over the sacred Roan Mountain to the sleepy little town of Roan Mountain, Tennessee.

Several people now have told me that when I finally settle somewhere out in the north country, I should consider the Toe River area and the Celo community. I’ve got a hunch that’s going to turn out to be accurate.

Four months before the Covid hit America, I had left my “retirement job” as a grocery store cashier to pursue my creative vision of an innovative consulting and coaching practice – that would be driven equally by my lifelong passions of storytelling and dance.

The pandemic made sure that there was no chance of getting this new business off the ground. My Social Security check never covers our expenses for the whole month – and often we have spent the second half of the month being quite poor.

I worked for years in a black VA hospital, raised a black son – and have been generally sculpted to have a special relationship with people of color. The “summer of racial reckoning” has figured heavily in my experience of the last eight months.

Driving a big, very old van which we park in random places has naturally drawn the attention of local police, in every town where we have spent much time. I have had almost entirely great experiences with police.

I never can know how much of that very positive experience with police has to do with me being white, but I have yet to encounter a country cop who I could spot as being more racist than the rest of us white people. I have had extraordinary conversations with several police officers about the dialectic between laws or rules and personal freedom.

And then there has been the constant specter of our 45th president, that has cast such a giant shadow on our country.

One of my central experiences has been to fall in love with the people of Appalachia – who are mostly not unusually racist, but suffer from lack of experience with diversity. Although they mostly support our current president, they are not stupid at all – but suffer from a radical lack of good information.

The serious lack of good broadband coverage in rural America is a very significant civil rights issue of our time. (I have spent extraordinary amounts of time hunting for a good Wi-Fi signal.)

Along the way, a generous $5000 grant from a good friend allowed me to move up from the little Suzuki mini SUV – which had been a torture chamber to attempt to sleep in, and after two months of very little sleep had left me toxically exhausted – to a very old Ford Econoline camper van.

I dubbed my cargo truck Narwal the Whale in honor of her 6000 pound weight – and “A turning radius like an ocean liner”.

Narwal has been a central figure in our journey. She has had a world of electrical problems and tends to run out of gas because of a broken gas gauge.

But she has a bed, she is virtually indestructible, she has gotten us down roads that she never should have – and even though she has sometimes gotten stuck, we have always gotten out before the end of the day.

Narwal the Whale – ’88 Ford Econoline camper van

At this point, we are taking shelter for the winter – out of our camper van – in a little apartment way up in the mountains north of Spruce Pine, North Carolina. But we are committed to our mobile lifestyle and will go back out on the open road in Narwal the Whale come spring. I love asking my little dog Pancho, at the beginning of each day, “Where shall we live tomorrow?”

I started our adventure as a writer. I guess I am still a writer, but I have also morphed into a videographer. Most of my writing these days consists of my spontaneous observations while I am videotaping the towns and countryside of the Appalachian mountains.

At this point, I have well upwards of 200 videos – which I cherish as documentation of our journey of personal transformation – and many of which I think may be helpful to other people.

I have learned a lot out in these mountains, especially about myself and my dog – but my background as a psychologist and a management consultant has caused me to muse about topics including “the demise of humanistic capitalism in America”, “the ongoing rape of Appalachia”, “the systematic oppression of homeless people”, “why alpha dogs make bad cops and women make good ones” and other topics.

My personal background includes a lifelong passion for and commitment to personal growth and healing – and 30 years of being misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder, and being heavily drugged with psychotropic medications during that whole period.

You will hear in many of these videos how totally thrilled I am to be drug-free and fully alive. And I do have many things to say about “the problem of pain”.

I now believe that most of psychology and psychiatry can be boiled down to “What do we do with our human pain?” Philosophers have mused about this question through the ages – and the Buddha’s first principle is that “life is suffering”.

I have many pointed things to say about what I consider to be an out-of-control psychiatry industry.

Several of my posts deal with an event that occurred last June back in Asheville. I had been punched in the face and reported to the big, newly-“for-profit” hospital – asking to be treated for a possible concussion and/or broken nose. I also reported that “I think I’m kind of delirious.”

The ER intake team saw in my records my background of psych hospitalizations and locked me up on a psych unit. They never treated me for a concussion or a broken nose – both of which their own ER later confirmed that I had. My discharge summary from the hospital, after 48 hours, made no mention of any medical complaints.

In this post I offer two videos;

The first video suggests ideas about how to make fruitful use of my videos.

I shot the second video about 15 minutes after the first one. It deals with the topic of “good things and bad things”. It flows naturally out of that first video, because the first video ends with me discovering that I have left my car lights on and that my battery is dead.

One might think that having a broken-down car would be a bad thing, but maybe not….

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0tM5igZh_nitvKwmNvEVP3nIw

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0mJIjgynkr5xZz9N8zC_ZPj5A

A birthday toast to Dr. King

Here’s my toast to Dr. King – recorded very spontaneously about 30 minutes ago.

Note: I say on the video that I did a “pretty good job” of raising my black son. As good as you can claim to have done, when I chose for many years of his childhood to live 300 miles away from him to pursue my career.

He, on the other hand, has done an awesome job of growing up. He knows who he is as a person, is an amazing husband and father – and just an overall great guy.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0x2v5wHkb38AO0fsvW0GBHNtA

Washing that man right out of our hair

I am currently saying “good riddance“ to the psychiatric medical model as a way of thinking about the pain in my life. That model has been disastrous to me personally – and I think has also been disastrous to many other people.

The other day, I created a new Spotify playlist – to dance how happy I am to be free of the invidious role that psychiatry has played in my life.

As I was dancing, I realized that I was also celebrating how happy I am to be free of a particular politician who has been so destructive to the life of our country.

The playlist is an awful lot of fun. I encourage you to dance it and join me – and the rest of the country – in celebrating that we have a chance, finally to start over.

At just 12 songs so far, the playlist is also not yet finished. I welcome all your suggestions about songs that help you dance your happiness at the end of this godforsaken last four years.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/12maNL3UZQECstt1LOS6iC?si=_egpcn32Q5aNXehheOgvDQ



NPR’s 1A show on “mental health” – Monday, 1/10/21

All morning long yesterday, I was taking a stand against the mistreatment I received for 30 years from the psychiatric profession. I was quoted twice on NPR’s wonderful national radio call-in show, 1A (the1a.org).

I had heard on that show on Friday that on Monday they would be doing the first audience-chosen topic for the year – “mental health”. I got excited about this news: “Wow! I have got a helluva story for them!”

Later that evening, I taped for 1A this 19-minute video – introducing myself to them and giving a summary of my story of 30 years in the clutches of the psychiatric industry.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0hgQSK-II50Kz332D1NIEi_2g

Over the course of the weekend, I also sent off to the 1A folks this “funky, candid, very informal bio” of myself:

https://healingvalidations.com/2020/12/16/who-he-was/

By Monday morning, I had coached myself to “curb my enthusiasm”. This was public radio’s flagship call-in show. For a topic that had been most popular in voting by listeners, my input would be a speck.

I knew that there also would be options for sending in comments during the show. The first hour, 10-11 AM on Asheville’s NPR affiliate (bpr.org) gave exciting updates on the mob action in DC.

When the “mental health” segment began at 11 AM, I had windows open in my phone to send tweets and emails to 1A, real-time.

Audio for that segment is now posted on the 1A website:

https://the1a.org/segments/the-future-of-mental-healthcare-after-the-pandemic/)

10 minutes into the show, I exclaimed to myself at my kitchen table, “They’re missing the whole point! This whole paradigm is wrong!”

I fired off this email:

“The very term ‘mental health’ is a root of the problem. The opposite of health is disease. When we call human pain a health issue, we automatically suggest that doctors are the people to handle it. Human pain is a fundamental existential issue that all people need to wrestle with.”

Five minutes later, I heard my comment on the air!

As soon as I caught my breath and my heartbeat slowed down, I noticed that my “fabulous comment” had almost no impact on the conversation. One of the panelists agreed, but the trajectory of the conversation was unchanged.

My comment had been completely outside the paradigm of the conversation. They were there to talk about “mental health”, by God! I had challenged the very use of the “health versus illness” model.

Frustrated, I started to write a text message to challenge the trajectory of the conversation more directly. I knew it would not reach them before the hour was up.

Here is what I wrote:

“The psychiatry industry in America is a huge, powerful, deep-pockets lobby that props up big Pharma and university Institutes around the country.

“There will be tremendous resistance to going back to a fundamental human understanding that pain is everybody’s problem – and that labeling some people as having a mental illness only takes our eye off the ball of the issue we all must wrestle with.”

I was feeling all pleased and proud with my more confrontive intervention, when I heard a familiar voice come through the radio. Jennifer White, the host, introduced the audio input by saying, “John from Spruce Pine called this in.

They were playing a 45 second voice message I had left on their answering machine Friday night! Here it is:

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0PpHBcbBpk9RYOS-gozWQhr-w

It was thrilling to hear myself making such a strong, clear statement – way better than the text I had just written. I felt excited and proud. But again the conversation proceeded blithely past my comment.

As a management consultant, I once worked for a company where guys liked to say, “Doing a good job around here is like peeing yourself in a dark blue suit. It gives you a nice warm feeling, but nobody notices.”

One of the guests said, “Of course we don’t want people to feel like damaged goods. Mental illness affects so many people a recent study showed that 50% of us has a diagnosable psychiatric condition.”

No! No! No! Not a psychiatric condition – human pain!

William James – the “father of American psychology”, who invented many of these psychiatric labels – said, near the end of his career (around 1900):

“When all is said and done, we are all much more human than anything else.”

Spiritual teachers from so many different traditions tell us that the purpose of human life is to discover that we are all one – not to get clear what our diagnostic label is.

Or, maybe even worse, to fall into the dualistic fallacy that some people are “sick” and some are not.

When the show is over, I certainly did not feel like I had been very well heard by any of the panelists, but I did not blame them. They came to talk about “mental health” – and I was saying that that was the wrong conversation to be having. I was just way too out of the box for them.

So I did not win the war, or even really the battle – but I had fired off an opening salvo. At least within me – and maybe for a listener or two – I had put the psychiatric industry on notice that I’m coming for them.

I felt really happy – triumphant.

I celebrated what felt like a real breakthrough by placing a call that I have been putting off for months, until I could get enough supporting material online: I called a lawyer to consult about suing our big local hospital for my recent misdiagnosis there.

I had been punched very violently full in the face by quite a powerful guy. The one witness said to me,

“That was a hell of a punch you just took. I think you might have a concussion – maybe a broken nose. You might even have internal bleeding. You need to go to the ER.”

I had been hit so unexpectedly that I literally never saw the punch – and never felt it. Never had any pain, until that afternoon when I got a little headache.

I had, in fact, sustained a concussion and – had my friend not urged me so strongly to go to the ER – was prepared to just go about my business.

I presented in the ER saying,

“I’ve been punched in the face. I think I may have a concussion – and may be a broken nose. And I noticed that I’m feeling kind of delirious.”

The ER staff saw that I was kind of delirious – and found in my record that I had a history of psych hospitalizations there. They put me on the psychiatry side of the ER, without telling me that that’s what they were doing. And they made no attempt to assess any medical problems.

When, only an hour later, I realized that I was being treated as a psych patient, I did not filter my discontent about this. They actually had just bitten off more than they could chew.

I was very nice to all the front line staff and other patients, several whom I helped quite a bit – because the overworked and understaffed team in the ER (in this very traumatized, newly-bought-out-hospital) were handling too many patients – even before a big Covid onslaught in Asheville.

The overstretched nursing staff had no time to do anything but try to keep up with charting. Any time that I or another patient asked for something – even to send off my release of information so my last psychiatrist could “clear me” and get me the hell out of there – their response ranged from irritated to extremely angry.

I have many stories to tell about the next 48 hours – all of which I feel very proud of – but it was, on one level, 48 hours of pure hell.

I have been patiently gathering data about various law firm possibilities and had recently narrowed my field down to one in particular. Monday afternoon I called that firm, had a terrific conversation with the woman at the other end of the phone – and came away super happy and excited.

I celebrated that breakthrough by creating a new Spotify playlist, which I titled “Payback time”.

Brene Brown says that real emotional health comes from the right dialectic between open-heartedness and solid boundaries. 

Every time I added a new “get the hell out of my life” song to the playlist, I ecstatically danced to it.

It was only later in the afternoon that I realized it’s also a great playlist for dancing our celebration about a certain politician who we are in the process of throwing out of our lives.

I think you may have fun with this playlist – especially if you let yourself surrender to enthusiastically dancing to it.

It is definitely a work in progress, at only 10 songs so far. After you have had fun with these songs – enough to get the feel of where I’m going with this thing – I would welcome any suggestions for additional songs.

I think there’s the potential that many of us could use this dancing as an opportunity to transcend our anxieties about the last six days of our tyrant prince – and start to lean into the thrill of having him gone in another six days.

When I let the reality of the shift that’s about to happen wash over me the other day, I wept with relief and celebration.

Try this wonderful, high-attitude, fun song by the brilliant Sarah Barreiles for starters:

https://open.spotify.com/track/3VA8T3rNy5V24AXxNK5u9E?si=UNslxRkmSTi6uvy1tnpJyw

The “Payback time” playlist is now up to ten songs. I think we need to party longer than that! I would welcome any suggestions for other songs that fit the mood – and the amazing, historical time.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/12maNL3UZQECstt1LOS6iC?si=RP6Dz-X2RPqsAr4SYYvNTg

For me, a real bonus is the YouTube video of the song “Done” by The Band Perry. I discovered that video on the TV in the day room when I was wrongfully hospitalized on a psych unit back in the summer. Dancing to that song helped me get through that particular nightmare.

At that time, I really thought that this song – with all their wonderful black and white actors – was the band’s message about being over with systemic racism and the killing of unarmed Black people. I still think they have that on their mind.

But, in today’s context, there is a certain politician that we are pretty much all done with. Kimberly Perry, the lead singer of the band, has disgust down to an art form.

When, near the end of the song, she leans on the microphone and simply grunts her disgust, that one gesture will forever – for me – encapsulate this moment in time.

https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=4emYaDbaJ8w&feature=share

Thanks, all!

My comment for NPR’s 1A show on “mental health”

National Public Radio has really helped me get through the trials of the last year – especially the pandemic and the Trump travesty. Never before have I had so much need for good, solid, trustworthy information.

Last Friday, the host of NPR’s wonderful call-in show, 1A, announced that on Monday they would be having a show on the topic of “mental health” – and invited listeners to submit 45-second voicemail comments.

I did submit the following comment later that evening – and it actually got aired on the show on Monday!

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0PpHBcbBpk9RYOS-gozWQhr-w

Below is a link to that whole one-hour segment of the show on 1/10/21: 

There is actually a lot more to my story about that particular segment on mental health. I will be posting a longer version of the story, probably later today.

https://the1a.org/segments/the-future-of-mental-healthcare-after-the-pandemic/

Waking up! My integrity day – June 26, 2019

A little over a year ago, I sold out my integrity.

I gave up my perfect job – as a cashier at Earth Fare, not your average grocery store – because I had moved into a subsidized senior living high-rise, where they told me as I was moving in (after putting my application a year before) that – between my Social Security check and my earnings at Earth Fare – I had too much income to live there.  Giving up my Social Security was not really an option, so I quit my wonderful job (the only real problem with which was that it paid lousy wages – $11 an hour, nothing like a living wage).Mr Squishy

Within two weeks, I was pathetically depressed.  Desperate to get out of this depression, I decided that I was missing my job and went over to Earth Fare and got my job back.  (I am, honestly, magic with customers and they love me there.)  “So now I’ll move – I don’t really like living in a high-rise two-room apartment in the middle of all the concrete downtown.”building front

My loving, well-meaning friends absolutely jumped in my shit.  “You have moved way too much in the last year.”  This was true – I almost never seemed to get along with my roommates (the only way I could live in a house, which my dog needed) – the only exceptions being my friend John Langdon

21994160_10212678546111910_5837675235959647142_o
John and his beloved dog Ralf

and the husband of a woman who liked me at first and invited me to live there, and then learned to hate me and my adorable 5 lb. yorkiepoo dog Toni.

with diana
My “soul friend” Diana and Toni, in front of Battery Park Apartments

“The rent is cheap there and you will finally have stability.  You won’t need roommates.  You can live there the rest of your life if you want.”  (Most people do just that, leaving only on a gurney.)

So I dutifully quit my job again and committed myself to somehow make the cursed apartment work for me and little Toni.

It didn’t work.  And not having the job – the structure, the identity, the community of staff and customers – was very, very bad for me.  Over the next eight months, the life energy gradually dripped out of me – drip, drip, drip.  I got suicidally depressed and – with support from my friends John and Diana and the building’s wonderful counselor Donna – went to the hospital after, in a kind of hysterical state, coming very very close to going to the top of the 13-floor building and jumping.

I shifted into mania and came out of the hospital happy – high, actually.  I organized and performed a hugely successful “Something Rises 2019 – Majo’s Comeback Tour” poetry concert.

Majo (2)
Something Rises 2019 – Majo’s Comeback Tour – drew 78 people and did, honestly, totally rock.

That night after the wonderful poetry concert – having truly been in the zone with those 78 people – I was extremely happy, content and peaceful.

A week later I was again in tremendous pain from depression. (The core symptom of what I call my “depression” – because it alternates with mania – is a very painful physical contraction through my whole body, like every cell is in a vice.  The shrinks, for 30 years, have never known what I was talking about – it doesn’t fit any of their models – and have always pretty much ignored this reporting). I spent most of the next week in bed – mostly isolated from other people, especially my world-class circle of important friends.  I got progressively more depressed and – exactly like the previous time, just five weeks earlier – felt that I could not bear the pain any longer, and prepared to make my departure. Again by jumping off the roof.  I understand there is actually a long history of people doing just that – which, however, the management of the building works hard to minimize.

Coming out of the hospital after two weeks in what felt like a sensory deprivation tank (my fellow patients almost all were suffering from dementia), I was still almost as depressed as when I went in.  My really very good hospital psychiatrist apologized to me in a heartfelt way that he was very sorry they had not helped me – that they really had tried every medication that they thought might be helpful, but obviously nothing worked.  (I thought even then that changing my meds so many times in two weeks in itself whacked me out.)

I had an appointment with my regular psychiatrist the day after I came out of the hospital and told her, “Don’t let me fall through the cracks – I’m still in danger.”  She said, “Your hospital psychiatrist made that very clear in his discharge summary, which they faxed to me.  He said you are still a serious suicide risk.  They let you go only because you really, really hated being there – and they couldn’t think of anything else to do for you.  And because you told them that you were safe, that you were not thinking of hurting yourself – even though they didn’t really believe you.” And, in fact, I had consciously lied to them – I was ready to say whatever it took to get out of there.

I spent the rest of the week in bed.  My behavior and language were so similar to before my two brushes with suicide that my really good friend Tom Kilby got very worried about me and called me every day.

A week after I came out of the hospital, on June 26, my new little dog Pancho

Susie - my homecoming 6-19
Courtesy Susie Davis

 

(Toni had very sadly died on October 1) got up in the middle of the night and acted like she was going to be sick.  I got her out of the apartment and took her for a walk through the dark, mostly deserted 3 a.m. streets of downtown Asheville.  Walking down an eerily quiet Patton Avenue, very near Jubilee’s back door, out of the blue several things came together:

“You gave away your integrity.  You gave up a job you loved and that was made for you – to take an apartment that you knew was not right for you – because your loving, well-meaning friends told you to do it.  You always knew they were wrong, but you didn’t trust your instincts and bowed to their pressure.  It’s time to take your integrity back.”

I came home from that walk as charged up as I had been dispirited at the beginning of it.  That afternoon I got my job back – it took about thirty seconds.  Even though I had quit twice in six weeks a year before, when I said to the store manager Brandon that I wanted my job back, he totally lit up and asked, “When can you start?”

Now that I would be making too much money to stay at Battery Park Apartments, that evening I started to think hard about my escape.  Wednesday a week later, in the morning I said to a friend, “I need to find two roommates and a house we can afford.  That task feels a little daunting, but I really feel like it’s going to work.  I seem to deal better with male roommates.  My favorite roommate of all time was my friend Tom Kilby.”

Tom Kilby
Tom Kilby and mystery cat

That same day in the afternoon, I was shopping at Earth Fare.  I now was employed again at Earth Fare – as is Tom and our old roommate, and his current roommate, Will.  I ran into Will in the store and was bending his ear while he loaded a frig with kombucha.  I vented pretty much the same way I had in the morning.

“I need to find two roommates and a house we can afford.”

“When do you want to move?”

“Around the end of September. Why?”

“That might be perfect.”

“Why, Will?”

“I want to move in with my girlfriend right around then.  I have been feeling a responsibility to find a roommate for Tom and Ian” (Tom’s 19 year old son, who really likes me – and vice-versa). Within a week, I had met with Tom and Ian and we had a plan in place.  All three of us are very excited about this. They both love Pancho.

Something has really changed in me since I decided to reclaim my integrity.  This sometimes-too-nice guy has become assertive in ways that sometimes shock people – and feel really great to me.

The social scientist Brene Brown says that her research has shown that the personal quality that correlates most closely with happiness is open-heartedness – and the quality that correlates most closely with open-heartedness is solid boundaries.  If we trust our own capacity to say “No”, we feel freer about saying “Yes”.

Without ever thinking about it or consciously willing it, my personal boundaries have become a thing of wonder.  I don’t suffer fools gladly and won’t let someone stay standing on my foot: I start by nicely asking them to get off my foot – but if they don’t I escalate, in stages, just as much as is necessary to get them off.  All this makes me very happy.

At Earth Fare – a place where I have always been loved, admired and known for being outrageous and funny – I am now way more outrageous and funny.  And I will also let myself be crabby with customers in ways I never would do before – especially when their behavior is begging for it.

My signature intervention with customers (and staff) has always been to validate them – to find something fresh and positive and genuine to appreciate about them.  I am now way more enthusiastic and intuitive at this than ever before.  This girl had gotten about two words out of her mouth when I erupted with, “You’re really a fun person, aren’t you?”  “Yes, I actually really am.  How did you know?” I didn’t know how I knew – I just knew.

While my “depressive” physical pain continues non-stop, 24/7. there are ways I can take my mind off it – including reading the Washington Post online, which really kinda helps, I ain’t kiddin’.  But the primo distraction is standing in front of a customer at Earth Fare: it’s a performance, it’s show time, it’s the Majo Show – it’s a total blast.  It’s what I was born for.  It’s what I have been shaped for in these 72 years,  For two hours at a crack, I feel no pain.  When I get a ten minute break and head outside, my hand has not touched the front door before my pain comes back.  It is worst in the morning when I get up – until I open up my laptop and start to surf the Washington Post – and then in the evening when nothing is going on.  But it can also kick up at the checkout if things get slow and I don’t have a customer in front of me.

While the physical “depression” has honestly been kicking my ass, the affective depression that most people associate with the word “depression” never seems to touch me.  In the four months or so since my “Integrity Day” (that’s how I have marked it in my calendar), I have never been blue or worried or anything.  I have never stopped liking myself – even (or especially) when someone else is not liking me.  And, as I get way more assertive and emphatically hold my boundaries, those situations where I piss somebody off are more common.  The other person’s upset typically feels like a sign that I am doing something new and very right.

I can feel emotional pain (maybe more acutely than ever), like when a dear friend called me yesterday and – in so much pain herself – told me a horrific story about the sudden accidental death of her cousin two days before.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and cried mightily through her whole telling of it.  I’m crying now remembering this call.  But, while what happened to this guy – and is now happening for his wife and three kids – seems so terribly wrong, I still know that I am not wrong, that inside of me I am safe.

I have never, in four months, in any way disliked myself (my old depressive specialty), felt guilty or blamed myself in any way.  I see myself do things wrong, but all that seems very fixable.  I still have problems, like making $11 an hour and seeing my 24 hour a week job shrink to 12-18 hours because corporate is putting the squeeze on every department in every store – but more than ever I trust that “every little ting, is gonna be alright” – in Jubilee-speak, that “all shall be well”.

I sing all the time these days.  I’ve never been a great singer, but that isn’t stopping me.  I sing to my dog a real lot – almost non-stop.  I sing in the woods – loud – and never worry that another hiker might come around the corner.  I really belt out the songs that I know so well and love so much at Jubilee – and I actually sound really good to me.  People turn and look at me.  They may be thinking “Jesus, he’s loud”, but I imagine they are thinking “Wow – what a beautiful voice.”

I seem to be so much a new person – sometimes just like Majo on steroids, but other times like somebody I don’t know but like a lot.  I seem suddenly so awake!  The other day, just for laughs, I googled the word “enlightened”.  I didn’t find any definitions that seemed compelling to me, so I wrote my own list of qualities.  Not too surprisingly, I guess, this list that I just created looks a lot like me in the last four months.

What do I know?

The Weight – removed

I created this playlist to celebrate the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

I began it on Sunday, Nov. 2 – visualizing and fully intending that Tuesday night would be a landslide and we would dance through the night.

Somehow it didn’t all work out that way – and various plans for parties kept getting undermined by things like a fool president who swore he wasn’t going to leave.

This seems like as good a time as any to haul out this playlist – and to celebrate that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be our top leaders, working seamlessly as a team, and will begin to lead us out of all this insanity.

There’s about seven hours of music here folks :-). Enjoy – and I guarantee you’ll enjoy it more if you, in any way, put your body behind it.

Even if you dance by tapping your foot or waving your right hand – or just smiling inside – let’s dance!

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0fHCP7Vu4zsrPrS1n8USPP?si=-8LpaQ-jTVeewm-ykpTYNw

Don’t just be upset about what happened in Washington today. Take a risk – do something about it.

Maybe you or a loved one has been in the hospital today – or you have had some other personal or family or business crisis that kept you from appreciating the full gravity of what was unfolding today in DC.

I got all my news today from NPR (National Public Radio) and Twitter. I needed the visuals of this article tweeted from BuzzFeed. These photos made today’s events even more shocking.

https://apple.news/A09NI09B7RWmjUpVyupPCBg

Maybe you, like myself a ways back, believe that there is too much going on in your own life to have the free energy to pay attention to the bigger picture of what is going on in the world.

Almost 40 years ago, I said to my ex-wife, “We have a kid to raise. We each have jobs to go to every day. Why, oh why, are you focusing your precious energies on things that are going on thousands of miles away in Nicaragua.“

Fortunately, life intervened and got my attention. Somehow, I came across a picture album of the brutally murdered bodies of young men who had been “disappeared” in Guatemala. Within 10 minutes of looking at these devastating photos, my heart opened, I wept bitterly – and I realized that “These are my people”.

Just a few weeks later, the social justice team that I was part of in our local Catholic Church asked me if I might have room in my fairly large new apartment to take in family of Guatemalan refugees.

Margarito (the dad), Maria (the mom), 6-year old Regina and 10-year old Adolpho came to live with me.

Margarito and Maria slept on the floor in my small back bedroom and the kids slept in the big walk-in closet. For all four of them, this was quite an upgrade in their living situation.

My six months with the Martin family changed me forever – in oh-so-many good ways. Those “simple Indian peasants” from the mountains of Guatemala, who spoke not Spanish but their own native dialect, taught me a lot about how to be a better human being.

It’s partly because of the Martin family, and my realization that I directly bore responsibility to do something about what was going on in Guatemala – instigated by my government – that has led to me being so focused on national and world news. It no longer is possible for me to deny that what is going on on the bigger stage is also part of my responsibility.

It was months before the George Floyd murder and America‘s summer of racial reckoning, when I cornered the racist guy in my apartment building who had disgustingly insulted my black roommate.

I said to him “It’s 2020, Alan – you don’t get to do these things to black people anymore.” It was very clear that it was crucial that my friend Eric not go to jail, that the American legal system would probably treat me – as a white PhD – better than it would treat my black homeless roommate. There was no question to me that fixing this situation – holding my racist neighbor to account for his acts – needed to be my responsibility and not Eric‘s.

Perhaps no other event in my life has liberated me more than punching Alan. I don’t think I even really landed a punch – I’m pretty sure I would’ve remembered that.

But he charged me with it and I will appear in court for it. Knowing that I had probably not really ever gotten off the punch did not stop this adolescent “coward”- who had never previously been in a fight – from driving down the road the next morning , holding my fist in the air, and proudly and happily announcing “I’m a fighter!”

Seeing myself as no longer a coward has honestly changed the trajectory of my life. I trust and respect and like myself more. When some old lady in my seniors building said to me, “Well I hope you got that out of your system”, my tongue was in my cheek – and I meant it – when I winked and said to her, ‘I think the next time will be easier’.”

Trust me folks – when you take that first step towards a little more courage, the next step actually is easier.

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to take a step around the events of today. How do you feel about the President of the United States inciting a mob to violence, and then doing nothing to quell it?

He, in person, told his white supremacist fans outside the White House this morning, “Now let’s go up to the Capitol Building.”

When they followed his orders and did exactly that – storming the Capitol and killing at least one person, the inciter-in-chief was not there with them. He was hiding somewhere behind a TV screen, writing tweets.

If you think, like I do, that Donald Trump carries personal and legal responsibility for the murder of the carnage of this afternoon – and the attempt to overthrow the US government – tell someone.

The more public the better. You could put it on social media, you could call a friend, you could call one of your legislators, you could write a letter to the editor.

If you do feel like the president should pay a price for his illegal behavior today, don’t just be upset – do something about it.

My life has been dramatically better since punching Alan.

Maybe you are already someone who routinely calls out the Alan’s of the world. If not, I hope you do something today or tomorrow that moves your life more in the direction of taking responsibility for the world around you.

I’m here to tell you that it makes life way more exciting, way more interesting, way more satisfying – and way more fun.

Life is way too short to let it be boring.

Healing validations

In my early 20s, I decided that to think something good about somebody and not tell them is one of the saddest things going. I made a commitment to myself that I would not let these positive thoughts about others sit idle in my own brain. I rolled up my sleeves and started developing skills at saying good things to other people.

This quest to say good things to people has remained a central theme in my life. When I recently worked for four years as a cashier in a grocery store, I became known for trying to find some interesting, creative – preferably honest – good thing to say to each customer as they went through my line.

I even taught a class in customer service skills at the Earth Fare Westgate store in Asheville, North Carolina - that was all about validations. When, after taking a year off from that position, I went back to try to get my job back, Brandon the store manager – when he interviewed me – reminisced about that class.

He remembered it quite vividly: “Yeah, validating the customer – a core part of good customer service.”

I think I’m quite a hotshot at this skill. But this morning, some Appalachian guy made me see how timid my verbal appreciations of others may actually be.

(The little white car in the middle of the picture – currently maybe blocked in by the Coca-Cola truck – is the vehicle on which some Appalachian guy wrote “BEST WIFE EVER!” in soap on the back window of his wife’s car. What a guy!)

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0UA-mUdWVvKKncxyxBThDGI-Q

“Sure I smoked marijuana in college, but I didn’t exhale.”

One of Bill Clinton’s most-quoted lines was, “Yes, I did smoke marijuana in college, but I didn’t inhale.”

Barack Obama, when asked if he smoked marijuana in college, gave the very bold and surprising answer of “I thought that was the point.”

When I am famous and they ask me if I smoked marijuana in college, I will simply say, “Yes, but I didn’t exhale.”

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0Wyqvg0r95D9nHPceHm42VxbQ

Two sides of Spruce Pine, NC

Our Christmas day got off to a pretty rough start.

We were snowed in in the Walmart parking lot in Spruce Pine. We had just gotten there in time on Christmas Eve, before the rain turned to freezing rain. Over the course of the night, the temperatures kept dropping and several inches of snow fell.

By the morning, we were snowed in and frozen in: I couldn’t get the doors of my van open even by throwing my full weight against them.

We had 10 hours of propane left in our little heater and $.50 to our name.

We had a tentative plan to rent a wonderful apartment way in the country starting on January 1, but did not have the $200 earnest money that I had promised my new landlord for Friday.

By the end of the day, my dear friend Stef had rented us a room for the week at a sweet little motel down in Spruce Pine – and we had managed to make it there.

The next day, my very special friend Mary Ellen in Chicago told me that she was administering a Covid relief fund that would pay my first three months rent.

Two days after Christmas, I took a walk downtown in Spruce Pine to the fabulous pedestrian bridge suspended 100 feet over the Toe River.

I mused about my circumstances – and about the circumstances of Spruce Pine, a little town that time forgot. In this first video, we can clearly see the sweet side of Spruce Pine being left untouched by modern changes.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0Fu5xUZMFx0UiFw9vHCzcSuxQ

Later in the day I took another street – just one block away from where I had been walking earlier in the day – and videotaped the less sweet side of Spruce Pine having time pass by.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0QsXWKL9Nt3hPRua934ef_gBw