Sunday, January 24, 2010

Resentment and Alienation

You've heard the saying, "If you can remember the '60's, you weren't really there." The saying is referring to the the counter culture movement which didn't really start happening until '66 and was over by the early 70's. The peak years were '67, '68 and '69, the years I was in the Army. I can truly say I remember the '60's and I wasn't there. Recently I've read some autobiographies by David Crosby, Joan Baez and Peter Coyote. They all lived through and were central figures then. From my perspective now, the youth of that time were mostly self-indulgent. There probably is some jealousy on my part. While they were taking drugs, saving the world and screwing their brains out, with the exception of Ms. Baez who was only partaking in the latter two, I was either in training, on an Army Base in Texas or in Vietnam. All three of the above individuals were fiercely against the war, but in their books show very little interest, understanding or empathy for those of us who were forced to go off and participate in it. I didn't want to go into the Army. I would have loved to join the counter culture party, but since I was having trouble staying in Junior College, Uncle Sam had other plans for me. I didn't think I had a choice in the matter. Only from a later perspective do I feel the need to clarify that I could have fled the country, gone to jail or filed as a conscientious objector, which I wasn't. To me at the time, there were only two choices, the Army or the Marines. The other branches of Service had long waiting lists and my local draftboard had me on their list. In 1966 President Johnson decided to go all out and I was swept up in the biggest escalation of the war. At 19 I didn't have a very broad perspective on domestic and world affairs. If you were to ask me at the time if I thought we should be in Vietnam, I would have said yes, we were helping the the south Vietnamese people remain independent and democratic by preventing a communist takeover. There were tens of thousands just like me and once we went off to satisfy our military obligation, the party at home didn't include us anymore. After all these years I'm still resentful about that. Not only did the anti-war and Hippie movement not include us, we were looked at as part of the problem. Many veterans in my therapy groups tell stories of coming home to crowds of protesters shouting at them. Most thought they were being welcomed home by these crowds, only to find themselves on the receiving end of rotten fruit and being assaulted by screams of "Baby Killer" or "War Monger". I was lucky, I came home on a rainy winter night. The protest movement usually happened in nice weather and during school breaks, I don't know what I expect of the above celebrities, but they come off as being self-righteous about their anti-war activities. I desperately wanted to be part of the "movement" when I got home but I didn't fit in. My views about life had changed and my fellow college students seemed naive, self-indulgent and crazed. I couldn't talk to them about what I had been doing for the last few years. Nobody really wanted to know and their reactions would have been shock, disdain, pity or some combination. I just kept quiet about it like other vets and harbored a deep sense of resentment and alienation. I am still hesitant and embarrassed to stand up as a veteran for fear I will be looked at as a pro-war hawkish type of person which I am not. This sense of alienation is a common feeling of war veterans. I don't think it will ever go away and I feel that the Vietnam Veteran will never be truly understood or accepted by the rest of society. I probably should just listen to their music or watch their movies and not read about these celebrities wild, crazy and "noble" exploits during the '60's.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The integrity of Jesse Stone

One of the things I like about retirement is having more time to read. Before I retired, reading was something I had to fit around my other "more important" activities. Reading was a vacation luxury. Now reading has become one of the major activities of my day. And I'm getting through a lot more books. I started writing down every book I read back in 2001. At the time I was just mimicking something my mom did as she got older. Now I'm beginning to understand why she did it. I heard on the news the other day that Robert Parker died. I feel sad about that. He was in his late 70's and died while writing at his desk. Like Bing Crosby who died on the golf course, he was doing what he loved. Just within the last few years I started reading Parker's Jesse Stone novels. I've really become quite fond of Jesse Stone and now he is gone with Mr. Parker. Tom Selleck plays the character in the movie versions of the books and it was a good fit. Thinking about why I like Jesse Stone so much the word "integrity" popped into my head. It comes from the latin word "integritas" which means "soundness, whole or complete". Webster's definition of integrity is: firm adherence to a code or standard of values. Jesse Stone has integrity in his role as the police chief of a small town. The rest of his life is a mess, however. Jesse often says that he needs his job because with it, his life makes sense. It  transcends his personality and allows him to be his best self. This transcendent role is open, creative and follows the truth where ever it leads. Jesse Stone always puts his drunken, love-starved, jealous personality aside when he is acting as the police chief. He stands up to bad guys, politicians, fellow law men and civilians. I noticed that most of the books and movies I chose in my blog profile have characters inhabiting roles of transcendent integrity. Gus and Call as Texas Rangers in Lonesome Dove, Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan, the butler in Remains of the Day, Jake Holman in the Sand Pebbles and Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff. Like Jesse Stone, they all found their best selves within a role. We all inhabit many roles in this life. What a blessing if we find at least one where we can become our best selves. Thanks to Robert Parker we have another great character of integrity. I just bought a new Jesse Stone novel recently and looking on my "books I've read list" I am pleased to see I haven't read it yet.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Happy Birthday Ben

Today our son Ben would have been 30. He died at 28. His death changed the way we are in fundamental ways. We are probably retired and living down here in Arizona in a great measure because of it. Both of us worked our whole careers in the helping professions, me as a counselor and Katie a social worker. It felt like we couldn't do it anymore. We both know we will continue to be giving and helping people, but the level of intensity of our jobs was too much after Ben died. Moving to Arizona was somewhat of a new beginning. Both of us are determined not to have our grief define our lives, but to live what we have left in a full and meaningful way. Soon enough our lives will be over too. One of the ways we've changed is that we have limited tolerance for the superficial, i.e. social events or interactions that promote the participants' egoes. Needless to say we haven't been going to many of the social events here in Green Valley. There are all sorts of clubs and groups to join. I know many of the retirees here have experienced tragedies in their lives. You can't have lived this long without losing someone you love: parents, spouses, friends, relatives, pets and children. We are not unique in that. But everyone handles it differently. With Ben's death, we seem to have lost a certain kind of happiness, one that is conditional and circumstantial. It's hard to continue playing the "game of life". It would be easy to become depressed and many people do. There is certainly some depression that has become part of our personalities. But we also realize this is an opportunity to become more authentic people, livng more honest and thoughtful lives. We've found there is peace in stillness, and that life is good, and that friends and family matter. We've found that appreciation and true enjoyment only happens in its own time and only when one is totally present. We are learning to live our lives from the inside out. And out of this still peaceful feeling, everything good can be experienced and appreciated. Ben's death helped us to become more real and more compassionate. Happy birthday, Ben, and thank you. We witnessed and experienced the light of life and love in you and we will continue to cultivate it in ourselves.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

FNG's and the IN Crowd

Katie and I are new guys down here in Green Valley. It's not the first time I've been a "new guy". It's an experience that has both positive and negatve stuff. When I went to private high school, for example, there was a distinction between those that lived on campus (Boarders) and those that lived at home and came to school by bus (Day Pups). In general Boarders were the "in crowd" and Day Pups were not. But the worst time I experienced being the newbie was in Vietnam. You weren't just a new guy there, you were a Fucking New Guy (FNG). Soldiers that had been "in country" longer knew that FNGs could get you killed. And many FNGs didn't live as long as the more seasoned soldiers, so by not getting to know you these more hardened soldiers protected themselves from the pain of losing somebody they knew. In time, I too became a seasoned soldier, but there was another stigma attached to me. I was in Army Intelligence at the brigade level. I lived in a hooch and I slept every night on a bunk and if I chose I could get a hot meal in the mess hall every day. Also I lived in a relatively safer world than your average Grunt. To the soldier out in the field who only came in to a base camp every month or so, I was a REMF (Rear Echelon Mother Fucker).  This was just a matter of perspective, however.  Our relatively small basecamp was in real danger of getting overrun. We were periodically barraged by  mortars and rockets. Sometimes the VC attempted  to infitrate our perimeter. We did go out on missions to gather intelligence information, which meant at times we humped with the infantry or were flown into dangerous areas to screen villages or  locate weapons or food caches that one of our detainees told us about. These missions definitely put us in harm's way. To the Intelligence personnel up at Division level, we were like Rambo.  So like I say it's all a matter of perspective. Here in Green Valley even though we are new guys, we fall into the category of "Year Rounders". I don't know how many times we've been asked if we're just here for the winter or if we  live here permanently. When we tell them we are here all year round, we seem to earn some sort of status. At least with other "Year Rounders". Truthfully, I don't think the Snowbirds down here give a shit one way or the other. They are so busy enjoying being away from the hellish winters in Michigan or wherever that they are frantically driving around in their golf carts  trying to maximize the "fun factor" before having to return home.   But we will take whatever status is bestowed upon us, which allows us to talk behind the Snowbirds' backs to other "Year Rounders". "Won't it be nice and quiet around here when all the Snowbirds go back home? And we won't have to wait for a machine at the Rec Center and we can ride our bikes around without the fear of being run over." It's great to be in the in crowd even though we are really FNG's.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Rebellion in the Rec room

This afternoon I went over the Rec center to work out. There weren't very many people there so I decided to use the circuit training machines before I got on the elliptical trainer. I usually start with my legs, then work the stomach and last the arms and chest. I was coming off of my second leg machine when this tiny little lady, probably in her 80's walked right up to me and said, "You didn't wipe the machine down." She was the volunteer that monitors the workout room. I saw her official badge hanging around her neck. On the leg machines I didn't really touch anything with my hands except the little gismo that makes the weight lighter or heavier. So I asked the lady where exactly would she have me wipe. She proceeded to lead me over to where the solution bottle and paper towel dispenser were and demonstrated how to pick up the bottle and pull out a piece of paper. I repeated, "Where am I supposed to wipe, I didn't touch anything with my hands." Then she went on to explain how one can't be too careful with this MRSA going around. In fact she told me I probably should wipe the machine down before I use it as well. She made a jesture with her head and her hand like, "Well what are you waiting for? Go on and get busy!" I visualized myself spending most of my workout time cleaning these machines, which takes longer than using them. I didn't argue with her and never got clarity on where I should wipe. I dutifully took the paper towel, squirted it with solution and went back to the two machines I had used and began to wipe them down. I then looked around the room and noticed all these other men were frantically wiping the machines also. I noticed one old man would wipe a little on the machine he had just used and then sneak a peek to see if she was looking. If she wasn't he would go to the next machine. I thought that was a pretty good strategy, so I adopted his method; I really wanted to finish my workout. This little woman couldn't have been more than 5 feet tall and probably weighed about 90 pounds. I definitely could have taken her in a fight. I guess the up side was I had no fear of getting any bad diseases from these machine. I bet the men in there would later discover that their wiping muscles were sorer than their working out muscles. I finally finished with that portion of my workout and went on to use the elliptical trainer. There are three of these machines in the Rec room. None of them were being used. I chose one, turned on my IPod, put in my ear buds and started working out. To the right of these machines is a grease board. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a lady walk over and write the number of my machine and her name and time on the board. In other words she wanted my machine and will have to wait until I'm done. I continued on but was aware that she was standing there waiting. The rule is that you are only supposed to use the machine for 25 minutes. I had programmed my workout for 30. I wondered if she could see the minutes on my machine. Finally I became so anxious about it, I got off and asked her if she would like to have it now. She thanked me and I hurriedly went over, got the solution and a paper towel and wiped the machine off. I then moved over to the next machine, which to me seemed exactly like the one I was just on. I didn't wipe it off before using it though. I'm that kind of rebel. I did however peek over to see if the monitor was looking.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Good and Bad about Retirement

There's a lot to like about retirement. Last night I didn't sleep very well, which is often the case, but I didn't have to get anxious about it because I knew I could sleep in this morning. And while making the bed I thought how nice it is not to hurry through some of life's little activities because of the pressure to get to work. Not going to work takes away a huge amount of worry and pressure. For someone who's working, this sounds like heaven itself, but I'm discovering there are some pitfalls. I had one appointment to go to this week. It was at the VA and I made it about a month ago. Between my wife and me we have 4 new calendars. Two beautiful ones that hang on the walls and one each that we can carry around with us. Written on all these calendars was my appointment at the VA. It wasn't long ago when I worked 5 days a week, taught several Tai Chi classes in the evening and a writer's workshop, had lists and phone numbers of all my students and clients, went to meetings at work, had a family and a house and rarely was even late to anything. Well I missed my one appointment at the VA. One stinkin' appointment for the whole week and I missed it. It's of no interest to anyone why I missed my one appoointment, but this is my blog and it's helpful for me to know why, because in two weeks I have another appointment at the VA. I was all ready to go the night before. I had my appointment slip out and the alarm set and knew which building to go to. But in the morning when I started to get up, minutes before the alarm went off, my wife asks me what I was doing. I told her I was going to my VA appointment. Then she said "Isn't it Wednesday?"My appointment was on Thursday. We launched into a discussion about our looking forward to and talking about going to the Wednesday Farmers' Market, and didn't we just talk about that on our hike yesterday. Well we both agreed it was only Wednesday, and I didn't sleep very well that night and so I pulled up the covers and went back to sleep. I was awakened by her saying, "Oh shit, I think it is Thursday." I had to think for a moment how a person knows what day it is. We don't get a newspaper and are trying not to watch TV, so we don't have TV (for the moment). She then said, my cell phone will tell me. Well, she got up and checked and sure enough it was Thursday and it was too late to go to my appointment. I felt terrible and called the VA. The guy I talked to didn't want to hear any of my excuses, in fact, he didn't seem to care one way or the other. He just rescheduled me and I told him apologetically, "I won't miss the next one" and he replied, "Good for you buddy" and hung up. The good thing about retirement is I don't have another appointment for 2 weeks. I hope I make it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Another Sunny day in Arizona

It's sunny here in southern Arizona almost every day. Up in the Seattle area where we moved from, a sunny day meant "get going because you don't want to waste this rare sunny day". We've been down here for two months and it still feels like a long sunny weekend. I retired in October and my wife retired in March of last year. This long weekend has got to end sometime. There is a certain kind of pressure when you can do whatever you want. I've only had this kind of freedom fleetingly over the past 30 years. As a kid I would have no trouble figuring out what to do. But at my age, 62, the future looks different. First of all there is not as much future to look at. Also I've experienced quite a lot over the years and with every exciting new adventure there was disillusionment. For example when I was 18 my friend and I took off for southern California from our home in the St. Louis area to make it as rock 'n' roll singers. We thought we were pretty good. We got a ride all the way to San Francisco and on the drive out we practiced our Everly Brothers style harmony. Within several months from the time we left, we had called our parents to send money for our flight back home. This was 1966 and it wasn't long before Uncle Sam got hold of both of us. So OK, it's another sunny day in Arizona, now what should I do?