A Poor Sinner Went to Church One Day

A Poor Sinner Went to Church One Day

A couple of years ago my wife had dragged me to one of her biannual trips to a Catholic Church. This is not the sort of thing I look forward to doing because I’m not a fan of the way that some in the church choose to demonize gay people.  Then there is that little global sex abuse scandal that the church likes to sweep under a rug. However Jess grew up in a household where the church held a central role in her family’s life. Her parents are still very devout Catholics, and so every now and then Jessie feels compelled to go to church because its what her family has always done. So I chose to set politics aside and tag along for the ride, because doing things that you hate is what marriage sometimes is all about.

I found myself sitting in the pew alongside Jess situated somewhere near the back of the church, as a middle aged Mexican gentleman with his Sunday’s best on was reading a bible verse before the entire congregation. The priest, another middle aged Latino male, with a pudgy physic and a slicked back   hair-do that made me suspect that he frequented the same barber as I, was sitting to the side of the altar facing 2 alter boys that were seated across  from him. Every time I find myself in a church  my eyes wander around the ornately decorated room and at some point become fixated at it’s main center piece; the image of an oversize crucifix. This particular church, which is situated in one of the more pleasant neighborhoods in Cicero, had its crucifix with a copper colored molding of Jesus nailed to it. It was raised prominently in all it’s glory up on the ceiling above the altar for all to see. A crown of thorn adorned the top of  Jesus head. There was a faint look of longing on his mostly relaxed face. I find it so strange that for us (I was born into a Roman  Catholic family too)  that the most powerful symbolic image our religion is that of a 1st Century torture device used to execute prisoners and enemies of the Roman empire. I often ask myself if any of the other great religions feature such somber imagery, and perhaps in a sign of my ignorance, none ever really come to mind.  I half jokingly wondering what would have happened if Jesus had been executed during the French Revolution or in Jim Crow era Alabama. Would we have the a small guillotine hanging on our chains, or would we all be staring up at the image of Jesus in a chain gang prison garb, strapped to an electric chair?

After brushing away my silly musings I allowed my eyes to take in the rest of the congregation. They are made up of a mixture of bored young Mexican couples with their figgity children, and older, silver haired Latinos with slightly bent backs, and life worn weary faces; who I imagine have been coming to mass every Sunday since they were children. It only takes me a moment to see that there is a contrast between the two prevailing age groups that makes up this congregation; and I’m not talking about the obvious age gap that exist between the two groups. The older followers are mostly there unaccompanied. Many of them don’t appear to me that they are following along with middle aged gentleman that has sought out the honor to assist the priest in giving today’s homily. Instead many of the older folks appear to be facing down, eyes closed, muttering private prayers that nobody can hear. I imagine many of them, especially the women are holding a rosary, but I can’t really tell. These folks are devout believers. They are here to plead with God to answer their prayers. Some are obviously asking for good health and a positive break in their financial situation, others probably are asking for guidance and forgiveness. But no matter what these folks are muttering, I get the sense that they have faith that someone is up there listening to their prayer. On the other hand I don’t get that same sense from the younger crowd.

I notice a young couple sitting about two pews ahead of where Jess and I are sited. They have two young children with them. One of the kids, a boy, no older than one years old, is in his mothers arms, trying to squirm his way out of her grasp. A young girl,around 4 years old, is seated closely alongside her mother. The stringy little girl with long brown hair that is tied in a ponytail, is better behaved than her baby brother; however every few minutes the little girl still finds a need to tap her mother in the arm to get her undivided attention, and then whisper something into her ear.

 

The young mother, a twenty something Mexican woman, with long brown hair that clearly illustrates whose hair the daughter inherited, is sitting there holding the energetic baby close to her breast. I can’t help but give the young mother some credit, because although I can’t quite see her face yet, her overall body language doesn’t show a hint of frustration, despite the fact that her attention is seemingly being pulled in different direction by her children. Eventually I get a good look at the profile of her face when she turned to look over at her husband, or at least that’s who I figured he was, who was sitting at the same pew, but about 3 to 4 spots to her right. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had witnessed the little girl slide across the pew to whisper in his ears on several occasions, I wouldn’t have known that he was with them at all.  I notice that the mother appears to be very tired. She had darks spots under her eyes that robbed her face of its youth. Her skin tone was a light colored caramel, which made me wonder if somewhere in her bloodline there was a Conquistador that forced himself upon an Aztec ancestor.

I never observed any other types of emotions coming from the young mother. She didn’t seem angry, she never flashed a smile, not a hint of frustration. All there was to see was a weary, joylessness on her face that seemed almost permanent. She looked over to at her husband multiple times as if looking for something, perhaps an acknowledgment from him. But for as long as I was there, I never saw her get one. He just sat there looking at something in his lap, perhaps a cell phone, or looked around aimlessly, appearing as if he just wanted to get the mass over with. The same could be said for all the other young folks in church that day. Most, if not all who were below the age of 40,  were just going through the motions. We weren’t inspired by the homily, the well wasn’t being replenished of faith. We were in a way doing exactly what we all figured was expected of us, because that’s the way it had always been.

It was then that I realized that I, like the young husband that was sitting before me, hadn’t bothered to acknowledge my own wife. I peeked over to the side to see Jess still sitting there listening to the lecture, looking half bored. I guess she got that feeling that we all get when we sense a pair of eyes are on us because she turned her head towards me. She gives me this have quizzical look and mouthed if I was feeling alright. I give her a quick smile, nodded my head and mouthed back that I was ok. She smiles and sticks her tongue out at me like a naughty 5 year old before rising up on up to her feet, along with the rest of the congregation, as the priest came up to the podium.

That day I found myself in church because I was trying to be a good husband. My wife was there simply because she wanted to be a good daughter. All the young folks attending mass with their young children, were probably there because they wanted to instill in their children the types of traditional values and customs that they themselves had grown up with. And the elders, who had been coming to mass since the light of the sun was dawning on their lives and not setting on it, wanted to be in good graces with God. A god that to them was just one silent prayer away. We were all trying to please someone else in order to feel like we belonged. What each of us wanted to belong too may have differed, but in the end we were all their just trying not to feel alone, just like Christ did while he was up on that cross.

A Funny Thing Happened While I Waited for Santa: Getting Diagnosed for ADHD

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow’s it going folks. Fancy seeing you all here again. For those that actually missed my regular posting on LATB, all one of you that is (Love you Mom), please accept my apology for my absence. It was the holidays and all, and work being as fun as it always is, I thought it was a good time to take a bit a break from the blog. Besides with all the stress that the holidays bring with it, anything that I would have posted would have been just a jumbled series of rants about how unfair life is, and how Christmas was now nothing more than an exercise in consumer excess and yada-yada-yada. Honestly, who in their right mind would want to sit through all that? Like the old adage goes, “If you got nothing nice to say, then perhaps it best you say nothing at all.” So that’s exactly what I chose to do. But that didn’t mean that I just sat in a corner somewhere and just went with the flow. That’s never been much of my style. No, instead I took that extra free time that I gave myself to finally seek help with a monster that kept getting the better of me no matter how hard I fought.

Since I started this blog I have been putting some serious thought about my suspected ADHD. I was 90% sure that I had it. My old doc suspected as much. But I had been hesitant to get it officially diagnosed. I had my reasons for this. Some were financial.  Plus getting a diagnosis wasn’t exactly high on my priorities list. But I think the biggest reason was that I was a little afraid that maybe I didn’t have it. I know you’re probably scratching your head a bit by that one. Please allow me to explain.

It’s no big secret that I have always considered myself a bit of a screw-up. I’ve taken the easy route more times than not. I have lacked confidence and never managed to develop the discipline required to persevere in those precarious instances when the road got too bumpy. I never could grasp and take-in any subject matter that did not capture my imagination or moved me, no matter how hard I tried. When something did finally garner my interest, I would become obsessed with learning all of its ins-and-out at the detriment of everything else around me. I have started dozens of hobbie over the years and spent a good amount of money on them, only to abandoned each and every one of my new obsessions after a couple of months once the novelty of it all wore off. I am argumentative, and can go from perfectly calm and friendly to hulkish rageaholic in a blink of an eye. I am guilty of opening my mouth and blurting things that I usually come to regret; which is really an extension of my lack of impulse control and my need to experience instant gratification. All of that, combined with a few less glaring, yet significant human frailties, have combined like robot lions to make me one Voltron sized underachiever.

********************

Being a chronic underachiever, over-time, destroyed my confidence. I felt stupid, angry, and lashed out to folks who did not deserve that kind of treatment from me because it is just easier to blame others for my own personal shortcomings. There was a whole lot of self loathing going on inside me. There still is to some extent. I would consistently beat myself up for always coming up short. I felt worthless, and deep down inside, I thought I always would be. Then I discovered ADHD. For the first time in two decades my life made sense. I had the sudden revelation that perhaps I wasn’t some pathetic loser that wasn’t good enough to archive anything worthwhile, but that basically I maybe had been trying to participate in a rock climbing contest while not realizing that my hands had been handcuffed behind my back. Now I’m not saying that if you have ADHD that your are destined to fail. But I am saying that if you’re not aware that you have the disorder, then you don’t have the amount of self awareness required to manage all the symptoms that come with it. And it also keeps you from seeking medical help when you don’t have the tools required to deal with it in a constructive and well thought out manner.

But as I had mentioned, I hesitated to get an official diagnosis. A part of me worried “What if I don’t have it?” What would that say about me? Would it mean I was nothing more than an apathetic slacker? The worlds most self aware village idiot? What if the only reason I didn’t accomplish many of the things I had sought after was because in the end I just simply didn’t care enough to push myself to work for it. Then there was my fear of the drugs used to treat the disorder. I read up enough info on them to grow a healthy amount of respect and fear of them. Coming from a family that has a long history of dealing with addiction, the idea of taking a controlled substance like most stimulants , was something I was hesitant to do. Then there where the horror stories I read up on about individuals who were scatter-brain like myself, but who had a perfectly healthy outlook on life, but once on the meds they where transformed over time into emotionless automatons. And then there were the cases of those unlucky few who were at one time high on life, but after being on medication decided to take a long walk off a very short peer.

But despite all my hesitations, I became resolute over the holidays to find out once and for all whether or not I had ADHD.  It wasn’t an easy decision for me. But it was one that I felt I had to make. Because if I did have it, then I could seek help in treating it. I came to understand all too well that I could no longer deal with this alone. No matter how many books I read on the subject, or how much I tried to treat my possible case of ADHD with simple lifestyles changes, the fact was that my brain just lacked the necessary tools to implement any positive changes for the long term. I would need help if I was ever going to learn how to cope with ADHD. So I made an appointment. After getting some blood work to eliminate any other potential causes for my troubles, and taking an assessment, my suspicions were finally confirmed.

Thankfully after explaining to the my doc the reservations I had on using stimulants, like Ritalin and Aderall, for treatment, my doctor thought that it would be prudent to put me on a drug called Strattera. It is the only non-stimulant approved for the treatment of ADHD. I’ve been on the medication for two weeks now. It is much too early to tell if Stattera will aid me in my struggles. So far I have seen some improvements in some areas. Productivity at work has doubled. Feel more calm and relaxed. The inner monologue isn’t chatting away 24/7, and I’m less impulsive. The downside so far is that there are a few uncomfortable side-effects that I could most definitely do without. Feeling lethargic, dry mouth, nausea, just to name a few.

I understand that the meds are not a long term solution for what will probably be a lifelong problem. Only lifestyle changes, like exercising, both my mind and body, practicing mindfulness, and following a proper diet will truly help me gain a measure of control over ADHD. But I hope the medication will grant me just enough momentum to implement and follow-through with the necessary changes. After all the medication will not grant me a mastery over what things I choose to focus on. They only grant me a slight increase in will power to focus on what matters. The rest is ultimately up to me.

Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day: My Failed Attempt at NaNoWriMo

Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day: My Failed Attempt at NaNoWriMo

insecurewriterssupportgroup

It is Wednesday, December 4th. Which means that it is the “Insecure Writers Support Group” Day. And boy I could use the support.

If you are, like me, a struggling writer, or just someone looking to discover some great talent out there, go check out this great blog that I found called The Insecure Writer’s Support Group. It’s a great little community of writers that have come together to express some of the joys and struggles of writing. I hope you get a chance to check the site out. It will be well worth your time.

Soooooo National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo as everyone else seems to call it was a complete and utter failure for me. I didn’t even come close to writing the amount of words that I had hoped for at the beginning of the month. Which to be honest really bums me out because I felt like I was up to the challenge back at the end of October.

I was confident I had everything in place to start my novel. I had the frame work to a good story. 5 friends come together to make sense and come to terms with the events that tore them apart almost 15 years earlier. It was a story about breakdowns and what could have beens. It was an angry story. But it also had a sense of hope.

I had a good idea of who the characters are. What were the things that motivated them. I knew their likes and dislikes. I knew their backgrounds, and what their childhood was like. I knew everything from their favorite color, to the kind of dreams they were likely each to have at night. They were 5 real, breathing, three dimensional characters. Distinct in every way, and bound forever by their shared experiences.

Everything was set. All I had to do was sit down and write the story. But in the end, I just couldn’t bring myself to do so. Every Time I made an attempt, something would come up, or I would make something up; just so I wouldn’t have to sit down and write it. I would be lying if I didn’t say I didn’t hate myself a bit for it. It’s just that sometimes I just can’t get myself going. No matter how hard I try. My brain just doesn’t cooperate. Writing for my blog is one thing. That comes easy. Because it doesn’t feel like work. But sitting down to write a novel is different. That feels like a job. That takes a different kind of concentration. The kind that at this moment in time I just dont simply have. Maybe it’s the ADHD. Maybe I’m just afraid to succeed at something that I love. Maybe it’s a bit of both. Whatever the reason, I sure don’t like myself much for it.

 

Did I do Thaaaat?

English: This "Burning Paper" was cr...
English: This “Burning Paper” was created in Photoshop CS5. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I have mentioned previously folks with ADHD are often an impulsive bunch. We buy stuff on a whim without thinking if it fits within our budget. We commit ourselves to task without taking a moment to reflect on how much time and effort it will require of us to see the commitment through. We also have a tendency of blurting out things that most people would consider inappropriate. Like the telling of a rather crude joke at a respectable dinner party or making an insensitive comment without stopping to think how the recipient of said comment might feel about it. So as you can see we aren’t the best decision makers. This lack of a personal firewall also make it easier for folks like me to share these very personal stories with the rest of you without really giving it a second thought. It is only once we have opened our big fat mouths do we kick ourselves in the ass for doing so in the first place. But by then the damage is done and we are left wishing that a black hole would suddenly develop over our heads and suck us through it’s singularity. Maybe if we are lucky the black hole will transport us into alternate dimension where almost everyone has ADHD and the ones that aren’t making a complete ass of themselves on a regular basis are the ones considered to have a mental disorder.

I remember there was this one time when I was about 7 years old. My mom, younger brother, and I were staying with my Aunt and her family at her house in Puerto Rico. About 100 feet from where we were staying was the little shack that my mother and her 3 older siblings grew up in with my grandmother. My tio (uncle) Cano was actually staying in the shack at the time. So I would go and walk on over from my aunts house to the shack to pay my uncle regular visits. Tio Cano was a pretty cool laid back fella. Often times I would walk over only to find him laying down on a hammock inside the shack picking the strings on his favorite Spanish guitar. I would often ask him to play a song and he would humor me with a few tunes that sounded ancient to my young ears. I also liked going over to pay Tio Cano regular visits because he would actually rough house with me just like my dad would when I was living in Brooklyn. I guessed I missed getting roughed up a bit. My mom and aunt would get a bit upset when they saw me wrestling with my uncle that way. They felt I was being disrespectful to my uncle for fighting back. Plus I’m sure there was the added fear of me falling down and breaking something. But I was a young boy and playing rough is what I loved to do.

Then one day I go and pay my uncle a visit. I found him laying on the hammock where he always seemed to be. Only that this time he was sound asleep. Now every time we roughed house he got the better of me. After all I was only 7 and he was a good 40 years older than me. But seeing that he was off in dreamland made me realize that for once I had the upper hand on him.  I made up my mind that I was gonna get him back for always wiping the floor with me all those other times. So I quietly made my way into the shack and walk over to the makeshift kitchen area. I spotted a long piece of paper towel, grabbed it, took it to the stove, and lit it on fire. I then rushed over to my unsuspecting uncle and placed the lit up piece of paper right on his chest.

Now I don’t know if he awoke due to the pain of having a nice size flame burning through his t-shirt or if it was my hysterical giggling that did the job but either way i’m sure that the last thing he expected to see when he woke that day was his chest to be on fire. Naturally the man was so startled by the flames that he tried to leap out of the hammock but the sudden move caused the hammock to flip over; tossing my poor uncle on the ground with a large heavy thud. It was safe to say that I just about saw all I needed to see and took off like a tubby Usain Bolt straight to the relative safety of my Aunts abode.

I come through the door and ran past my mom at full sprint. I immediately barricaded myself in the bedroom we were staying at. My mom didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that I had just finished running away from something I shouldn’t have done. So she immediately starts to yell out “Tomasito get your ass back here? What did you do?” I did what every kid does when he finds himself in a tight spot; I feigned complete ignorance. I shouted through the door “Nothing ma! I swear.” Of course as soon as I said that I could hear my uncle cursing my name every which way he knew how as he made his way from the shack over to my aunts house. I was scared. I knew I was about to get the ass whooping of my short life. Remember this is the mid 80’s. It was still socially acceptable to beat your kid within an inch of his or her life if they did anything that brought embarrassment upon the parents. I felt so stupid for doing it. What the hell was I thinking. I mean yes I was rather young but most kids at that age still know that it is not a good idea to lite their uncles on fire. What exactly happened to me after that I can’t quite recall. I know my mom gave me a good whooping once she got her hands on me. I also recall my uncle feeling bad for me and telling my mom that I had suffered enough. But after that it all becomes rather hazy. My best guess is that I just passed out from major blood loss suffered at the hands of my mother. That last part was a joke America.

My brain consistently fails to properly evaluate the potential consequences of my actions. I have spent $100 on a cheap samurai sword bought at an Asian shop at the North Riverside Mall just because I had the cash in my wallet. Or wasted $150 for a $75 electric guitar at Summerfest in Milwaukee, WI. I have intentionally shattered perfectly good working phones just because I didn’t have a legitimate excuse to buy a new one. I can safely say that I have tossed out thousands of my hard earned dollars purely on impulse buys. And even when I had some inclination that buying something wasn’t in my best interest I could not force myself to stop thinking about it until I finally caved in and bought it. Throwing fireballs at sleeping people and spending money isn’t the only way I have demonstrated poor judgment. My big fat mouth has gotten me in plenty of hot water before by either speaking out of turn or just saying something completely inappropriate. The thing is that I don’t ever mean to open my mouth I just sometimes blurt things out before I get a chance to process whether or not it is wise thing for me to do. Sometimes what I say leads to a good laugh amongst friends but every now I will say something that just ends in an uncomfortable silence; and it makes me wish that the earth would split open and swallow me whole. It’s not easy dealing with the impulsive aspects of my nature. And it has cost me more headaches and dollars than I care to remember at this time. But I am getting better at policing myself. Plus the wifey is around to make my life a living hell if I get out of line so that serves as a pretty big incentive to stay disciplined. I just wish I didn’t have to exert so much energy just to do the right thing.

Motivated to do Nothing

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some unashamedly enthusiastic individuals. Folks that are driven to wake up every morning and dedicate their waking life to pursuing the passions that move them. One or two aspired to guide the next generation of Latino leaders. Other’s get fired up about social and economic injustices. And do everything in the power to spread the word even though for the most part their message falls on deaf ears. Then there the many friends I have who have chosen education as their profession. I get tired just by thinking about the the amount of energy that they bring to a sometimes thankless job. There are those that dedicate every waking moment to their family. They sweat and toil at what mostly turns out to be dead end jobs with very little prospects  because they aspire to afford their children the opportunities that they themselves never had. Or how about some of my artist friends. They spend hour after hour working on their craft. Then they spend the rest of the time trying to get their art noticed so that they can make a meager living at it. And yet when they see those tiny returns, it is as if someone had handed them a convoy of trucks loaded with all of Fort Knox gold. Lastly, there are all the great blogs that I’ve come across since I started my own here. So many of you out there commit yourselves to the things that move you. Sometimes it only takes me a few minutes of browsing through WordPress or Blogger in order to feel both humbled and terribly inadequate. People place so much of themselves into these pages. I swear reading some of your stuff just makes me feel ashamed of myself because I know that I have never been one to work so tirelessly at anything ever.

Cover of "The Royal Tenenbaums (The Crite...
Cover via Amazon

I can’t bring up a single instance where I felt like I truly gave my all for something. As far back as I can remember I have always been that guy that does just enough to get me by. I’m not sure if it is a direct result of possibly having ADHD or if I’m just simply not cut out for hard work. Yes there have been plenty of things that I have dug and enjoyed greatly. Things that served as a means for some desperately needed escapism. I can enjoy a great show like Game of Thrones or genre defining films like the Dark Knight and The Royal Tenenbaums. I might even speak about them in excited tones and show an almost fan-boyish devotion. But in the end they are just someone else’s hard work that I happen to admire. Same thing with music. I listen to music every day, and spend maybe a couple of hours a week actively searching for new hidden gems. Yet music only moves me for those few minutes a track is playing. It doesn’t really linger in my head, haunting my thoughts. The same can be said for comic books, and concerts, and books, and video games, and anything else that captures my short attention span.

I’ve never felt impassioned about anything I’ve ever done. I never been dedicated to any of the jobs I have ever held. I mean I do the job I am supposed to be doing, but I never have been one to go that extra mile. To chase after that raise or promotion. And I wonder why is that? Why do some folks know exactly what they want to do with their lives from the get go. Almost as if they were born  just to serve that one purpose in life. While others just wander around trying everything but doing nothing.

My father was a great Respiratory Therapist. He may have been a rather questionable human being at times, but the man was an artist with a respirator. And I can only imagine how many life saving procedures my father was a part of.  His other passion was radio. He took a number of classes. He even recorded several audition tapes of his studio work and sent them around to a number of stations in the city. I remember accompanying my father to the broadcasting school’s studio a couple of times just to watched him work his magic. I’m not saying this because he was my father, but I honestly thought he was pretty damn good at it. He had a fantastic voice for radio. It was deep and booming, but yet smooth like Carvel ice cream.  If it hadn’t been for all the demons he was dealing with, plus the fact that he was seeking a radio announcing gig in the largest media market in the country, he might have had a future in the radio business.

My mother was also incredibly passionate about her job. Being a nurses aid for 20 years exposed her to all manners of horrors. She applied pressure on gaping wounds, washed the corpses of burnt children, she comforted deeply disturbed psychiatric patients, and she helped deliver probably hundreds of babies. And when I would sit down with my mother and ask how she could stand working in such a chaotic environment; her eyes would come alive and a smile would suddenly come across her face. Each time she would give me the same answer. She was never more alive than when she was working in the hospital making a difference in the lives of people who were probably too out of it to even notice.

Yet for some reason all that passion that my parents possessed seems to have eluded me. I can get myself motivated to do things for more few months if not less. Eventually the laws of diminishing returns kicks in and I just abandoned whatever it was that had captured my attention. Is passion something that you are born with? Or is it something that you discover within yourself as you grow as a person? If it’s the latter, then I guess I still have a whole lot more growing up to do. I just really hope I can get it together soon and figure out what I wish to do with the rest of my life. I think this whole drifting aimlessly has grown quite old if I do say so myself. Personally I hope my rediscovery for the joys of writing will be the passion I have been searching for my whole life. Guess only time will tell.