Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Once In A Life Time Day

Okay.  So this day won't come again for another four years.  Or so they say.  Truth is, it won't ever come again.
Let's try really hard to treasure every moment.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Calling In Crazy

Calling In Crazy: Why We Must Normalize Mental Illness

published in the Huffington Post

It's tough to admit that we are all from time to time a little mentally ill. We don't want to acknowledge our intermittent mental illness because we would then become part of a stigmatized population -- a population that we ourselves have perhaps at times helped to stigmatize.
Throughout our lives, we travel a health-to-illness continuum, always seeking a return to wellbeing. While we acknowledge the physical realities of this continuum, it's harder to accept the emotional, cognitive and behavioral aspects.
If I comment to a friend that I'm sneezing, my joints ache, my temperature is slightly elevated, my throat hurts and I feel nauseous, my friend will very likely reply with something like, "Sounds like you're coming down with a cold or the flu." My friend might also suggest a remedy. "Don't forget to drink plenty of fluids and get a lot of rest. Eat some chicken soup. That always helps me." The conclusion might be that I'm a little physically ill. The assumption is that with proper, time-tested care, I will recover. Should my symptoms get worse, it is understood and expected that I will seek professional care, which might include a visit to my doctor, medications and even hospitalization.
It's not so easy for me to say to a friend that I'm feeling kind of hopeless, I'm not sleeping well, nothing seems to interest me and I've lost my appetite. However, wouldn't it be great if I could comfortably say those things? And wouldn't it be even greater if my friend could reply with something like, "Sounds like you're coming down with a touch of depression." And wouldn't it be greater still if my friend reminded me of possible remedies such as, "Don't forget to utilize your positive coping skills like talking to friends, exercising and restructuring negative thoughts. Remember that these episodes pass. Stay hopeful. I'm here for you." The conclusion might be that I'm a little mentally ill. The assumption might be that with proper, time-tested care, I will recover. But should my symptoms worsen, I would know to seek professional care, which might include a visit to my doctor, medications and even hospitalization. I would know that because with the normalization of mental illness, there would be no more stigma attached to my depression than is currently attached to my cold or touch of the flu.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in four (close to 58 million) American adults experiences symptoms of a mental illness at some time during the year. I suspect that the one in four is fluid and interchangeable. Today I am the one in four. Tomorrow you might be the one.
These symptoms of mental illness that you and I experience in the one in four exchange are generally about as inconvenient as experiencing the symptoms of a cold or the flu. They pass, often without much effort or attention from us. Nevertheless, though, in the best of all possible worlds we would acknowledge that for the few hours or days of discomfort, we were suffering from a mild mental illness.
Of course, on that continuum of health-to-illness and back again to wellbeing, NAMI goes on to tell us that one in 17 American adults experiences and lives with symptoms of severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression. Just as we acknowledge the impact of chronic physical conditions, a chronic mental illness can profoundly impair functioning and, yes, kill us. Suicide, according to NAMI, is the 11th-leading cause of death in this country. And all of these symptoms and behaviors exist in stigma.
Living with stigma not only damages. It silences. Silence in turn informs greater stigma. The intention of normalizing mental illness is not to minimize or trivialize its impact, but instead to openly acknowledge its existence.
As a first step in this normalization process, let's acknowledge that we are all, at one time or another, number one in the NAMI one in four who throughout the year experience symptoms of mental illness. Having accomplished that, it may be easier for us to look at the one in 17 among us suffering from severe mental illness not as separate, but as companions traveling with us on the continuum of wellbeing.
Since there's no such thing as a stigmatized majority, we could begin eliminating the stigma of mental illness simply by talking about our own symptoms however minor and fleeting they may be.
Yesterday I was a little mentally ill. Today I'm okay. Let's talk.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Tracking the Rainbow

I finished my last visit of the working day. Five thirty p.m. Quittin' time. I was right down the street from a Von's market, and I remembered that we needed a couple of things, so I headed that way. As I waited in the left turn lane for the light to change, I looked at the sky ahead of me and saw a wonderful rainbow. A few seconds later, another rainbow formed a little to the outside of the first. A double rainbow! I looked around at the other drivers and at the pedestrians on the street. I expected crowds to gather and point at the sky. But it appeared that I was the only one who noticed.

I pulled into the Von's parking lot and got out of the car for a better look. I was still facing the rainbow, which had by now had intensified in color and size. People were coming out of the store with their groceries, getting in their cars and driving away. A couple of Von's employees on break sat on a bench in front of the store drinking sodas. No one paid any attention. I bid the rainbow goodbye and walked toward the entrance as a young man came out of the store and looked straight at the sky. "Oh, wow!" he said, to everyone, and no one in particular, "Beautiful!". I smiled at my kindred spirit, and went in to do my shopping.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

These Are The Rules

And make no mistake about it.  We mean business.

It Has To Be For Forever

Adopting a dog (or a cat) is serious business.  If it's a casual thing for you, please don't to it.  Someone else will come along who knows that pets are forever.  It's a long haul kind of thing.

Yet Another Shopping Adventure

Today I was in a Whole Foods store.  The store was pretty crowded as is generally the case in any Whole Foods grocery store.  It's pretty easy to become mesmerized by the astonishing array of produce in one of those stores and that's the way it was for me this morning.  I hadn't selected anything.  I had no produce receptacle in hand (no plastic, hemp, canvas, or paper bag).  I noticed a woman walking quickly and deliberately to me.  When she got a few feet away from me she held her hand out to me.  It contained  six or seven twist ties.
"These are the only ones left in the store," she said to me in a tone conveying urgent determination.
I stared at her unable to make a quick switch from produce to person.
"I want you to have them," she continued even more earnest and urgent than before.
She held the twist ties closer to me.
"Excuse me?" was all I could manage.
"I want you to have these.  You seem like the most deserving person here."
I should probably add right here that such experiences are not foreign to me so please don't think I was frightened or even confused or alarmed.  Those moments were more like an of course kind of thing, just so you know.
"Oh," I eventually replied.  "Tell you what.  I'll take one.  You save the rest for yourself and others who might need them."
She gave me one twist tie saying, "I knew I could count on you."
She then walked out of the store with the remaining twist ties in her hand.
I continued my shopping.
I got everything on my list except Ezekiel bread.  The store was out of that.  Oh, yeah, and I got a twist tie.
Life is full of unexpected gifts.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Confusing Weather Front

The check out line at the department store was long and with only one cashier forward movement was at a glacial pace.  Plenty of time to listen in on the conversations of the others waiting in line.
Here was the best from the two women in front of me:
"It's pretty hot in here."
"I know."
"I think I'm beginning to sweat."
"I'm perplexed, too."
I have to admit that after listening in on that exchange I was feeling confused myself.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"lets do this"

My 13 year old who suffers from Alopecia went in for another round of Kenalog injections to his head (47 of them, yes, forty seven) earlier this evening. He was composed and said to the doctor prior to the treatment "let's do it." This is not his first round of injections, however as Robert explained to me, "it's never fun dad." As the injections started he squeezed my hands tightly but never did he ask any quarter from the clinician rendering the injections. My eyes welled up with tears several times during the process as he squeezed my hands, I kept it together...barely. After the process was completed and the clinician left the room, Robert asked me if I was 'ok'...Am I ok?...I explained to him that had he not been there holding my hand, I would not have been, "dad I'm the one who got the shots." I'm not entirely sure if he understands or can grasp how much he inspires me.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What I Never Saw

As part of my job, I visit some patients at a local hospital. My agency has a small office on the eighth floor of this hospital. I am in it for at least an hour or two several days a week.

Across the hall from that office there is a set of double doors which I had never seen opened, and to which I had never paid any attention. But last week when I came up in the elevator, those doors were opened. To my astonishment, there was a six-bed cardiac intensive care unit not ten feet from the office in which I had been sitting for a year. I had been completely unaware of its existence. I actually had to stand still and refocus my eyes and mind, because it had changed that familiar landscape so dramatically.

It reminded me of the way things are between people; that you can know someone well for a long time in certain ways, and still never know about some of the important parts of their lives. Not, that is, unless you happen by some day when the doors are open.

Saying Goodbye To The Tree

It was at least forty years old.  During recent high winds a top branch snapped off and ripped into the second story balcony of our home.  The tree's jagged, torn branch served as a stark reminder of that terrifying night when the winds roared down our canyon.
Today tree trimmers cut down the tree.  While it's a relief to know that should the winds reach that speed again there's no more tall tree to fall on us, it's also kind of sad to see a fifty foot tall tree piece by severed piece disappear.

Brain v. Tongue

Well, this has been a day of informational twists and turns: First, the boy woke me this morning with the declaration, "I like number one better than number two,...or three." While I was trying to formulate a response, he reminded me that we were going to go see "Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace 3-D" today. Then at Trader Joe's, he stated, "I like my brain, but I think I like my tongue better." Again, at a loss, he went on to explain, "My brain can imagine how this all tastes, but my tongue makes it real." - by Michael Walker

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Positive Changes With Panney Wei

Tonight at midnight I will be featured on the Panney Wei Positive Changes radio show.  She was intrigued by my article in the Huffington Post titled Declining With Dignity.
The interview was fun and Panney puts a lot of positive energy into helping people make Positive Changes.
Give a listen later on tonight.

Inspiration Is Where You Find It

For the past few days I've been doing a lot of coughing. Nothing serious, just left over winter cold stuff. To help with the cough I've been using Halls cough drops. Not only do they help with the cough, each drop contains a motivational message.

Kind of neat.  And my cough is better, too.

Mark Twain Wisdom

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Perfect Valentine's Meal

For our Valentine's dinner we went to Chili John's in Burbank for beans, chili and spaghetti or rice. There's nothing better.

Driving In The Future

Yesterday for what I believe to be the first time in my life I left home without my wallet.  Halfway to work I began to inventory what I had taken with me and the wallet didn't make it to the list.  I knew exactly where I'd left it -- on  the third shelf down from the top of the living room bookcase.  That's what happens, I told myself, when we make changes in our routines.  Normally the wallet is on my bedside table along with everything else I take to work with me.  Why I failed to keep that routine is not my point in this particular writing, though.
Here's the point.
The moment I realized that I'd forgotten my wallet my mind began racing through possible and doubtless predictable catastrophes.  It was raining.  What if I had car trouble (Jeep trouble to be specific).  How would I contact the auto club without my membership card?  Even though I was leaving work at noon, what if I got hungry?  Where would I buy food.  Wait.  Go back to car trouble.  What if it wasn't car trouble?  What if it was a car wreck in which I was injured?  My health insurance information was in my wallet was wasn't with me.  And forget the health insurance information, how would the paramedics even know my identity because, of course, I had no identification.  And what if I got pulled over and asked to show my license to drive and my proof of insurance?  And what if that?  And what if this?  And what if and what if and what if????
I soon realized that I was so completely absorbed in my catastrophic thinking that I was driving in the future and paying no attention to the present which is where at least my vehicle was speeding east on the 210 freeway.  If I continued driving into the future it was very likely that I would create all of the crisis scenarios I feared.
With effort I abandoned the future and forced myself to reclaim the present -- checking and maintaining my speed within the legal limit, keeping both hands on the steering wheel instead of waving them in despair, and ignoring my ringing cell phone.
By the time I arrived at work I got out of the old Jeep with both feet planted firmly on the solid ground of the present.  It's the best place to be, anyway.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Who Was Not On First

‎"Where wolf?"
"No. Werewolf."
"There wolf?"
"No! Werewolf!"
"Noo!!! Werewolf!! Can't you ever be serious for just one minute! Really?"
(You decide: A scene from the screenplay I'm writing, "Cavemen vs. Werewolves," slated to star Jan Michael Vincent in his triumphant return to Hollywood, or me being scolded by the boy last night when I was trying to make him forget about the bad dream he had while he was sick.) - by Michael Walker

Thank you, Isaac

Thursday, February 9, 2012

An Out Of The Blue Mention in Social Workers Speak

Helping a Relative Age with Dignity

Mary Walker Baron. Photo courtesy of

Cheers to the National Association of Social Workers member Mary Walker Baron for her blog on Huffington Post about helping her elderly father-in-law age with dignity.
John was 94 years old and blind and almost deaf when he decided to relocate to California from New Jersey to be closer to relatives after his wife died. Baron soon realized their home could not meet John’s disability needs.
So with much angst they decided to put him in a senior citizen community. And to their relief things worked out, although John complains sometimes about things, like being served coffee at the end of his lunch instead of the beginning.
“John is living his life and life lived well is full of challenges and complaints and quiet caring for others. Yes, he is declining. So am I. So are you. But in his full throttle claiming all of life’s vagaries, my father-in-law has forged dignity into his decline and that might truly be the best of all possible worlds.”

A Wonderful Review of But This Is Different

‘But This Is Different’ by Mary Walker Baron

Posted on 08. Feb, 2012 by in Fiction, Reviews
Amelia Earhart, America’s beloved and iconic aviatrix, who disappeared over the South Pacific in 1937, remains a mysterious figure in American history. She has inspired movies, books, music, and a number of conspiracies—none proven—and her disappearance continues to intrigue.
Enter But This is Different (Steel Cut Press), a new novel from Mary Walker Baron. It opens on a tiny island with an important ritual about to take place. It is immediately apparent that this is no normal island, and these people, especially the main character, Mere, are no normal people. As the novel continues to open, the mystery fans out: with meticulous detail we learn the names of the people and place, and very soon we learn the true name of Mere—Amelia. I am not giving anything away by telling you this Amelia is Amelia Earhart. In fact, the engrossing plot depends on the reader understanding this point. There are clues all over the first seven chapters: the woman’s haircut, the Pratt & Whitney engine rigged to the makeshift boat, the brief description of the myriad islands of the South Pacific, the balsam wood plane that flutters in the corner of her hut. As soon as Mere states “I am Amelia,” the plot gains more and more momentum.
As the story unfolds, we discover more about Mere/Amelia, the island she has come to call home, and the world she forsook long ago. Ultimately But This Is Different is a love story, one of many layers. There is the true love (also a forbidden love) that led Mere to the island—an unfaltering love that does not fade despite years of absence and unfulfilled promises; there is the love of nature and the love of the remote place she’s come to call home; there is the love of finding family and companionship. When Mere leaves the island where she’s lived for 40 years, the reader understands the depth of her devotion to her lover, and the depth of her strength.
Mere, who used to be Amelia, and who must be Mary Anderson in order to reenter the world in 1978 (names are very important, and frequently complicated, in this book), travels from island to island, each progressively bigger (in size or importance) than the last, as she makes the arduous journey to her former home. By the time she lands inNew York City, Amelia has only just begun to grasp how much the world has changed in the time she’s been gone.
The plot is full of surprises and unexpected turns of event, and Walker Baron certainly knows how to keep a reader’s interest. This novel does, of course, require that you suspend your disbelief. Of the many narratives about Amelia Earhart’s life, this is definitely one you’ve never heard before. There are parts of the plot that might seem downright strange, but Amelia remains a sympathetic character throughout and this carries the story.
There is a kindness and gentleness in But This Is Different that runs through the storyline, the characters and their actions, the setting, the dialogue. The language is simple and guileless, which creates an implicit trust of the narration, though there are occasions when the language feels too simplistic and maddeningly vague. The identity of Amelia’s lover is hinted at from the beginning (and some of the more historically informed readers might guess who it is), but it isn’t until two-thirds of the way through that we discover who she is. Here, Walker Baron, though she teeters on the edge of ferocious sentimentality, delves deep into the complex bond between women that is at once miraculous, fraught, and overwhelming. She captures the devotion, the anxiety, the confusion, and the connection between female lovers without flinching.
As the story winds toward its inevitable conclusion, the reader is reminded again and again of the lengths that women have gone to in order to keep their love lives secret and protected. The bond that connects women survives, against all odds.

But This Is Different
By Mary Walker Baron
Steel Cut Press
Paperback, 9781936380008,286pp 
January 2011

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Taking Time In The Rain To Say Thanks

There we were in the parking lot of the Whole Foods store. It was dark. It was raining, which is in itself an unusual Southern California event. The events that followed were even more unusual than a rainy evening.

I was transferring groceries from cart to car. They were laughing and walking across the parking lot -- teenagers all. Just then a firetruck pulled up and the fire fighters started getting out of the truck presumably to do some grocery shopping since there didn't appear to be a fire or any other emergency nearby.

Here's what I overheard in the parking lot in the dark in the rain.

Teenager: Hi, firefighters.
Firefighter: Hello.
Teenager: How was your day?
Firefighter. Just about perfect.
Teenager: We want to thank you.
Firefighter: Pardon me?
Teenager: We want to thank you for everything you do.
Firefighter: My goodness. I appreciate that.
Teenager: Yeah. So do we. Thank you for saving lives and for putting out burning buildings.
Silence from the firefighter then: Wow! You really made my day. Our day.
Teenager: You're welcome.

In the rain. In the dark parking lot.

There is hope for the human race.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Clint Eastwood And Halftime In America

This Superbowl commercial is about so much more than selling cars.

We Write The Script

The events of our lives are just data.  What matters to us are the stories we make up based on the data.  In other words, events only have the meanings we give them.  We can choose whether we assign positive meanings or negative meanings to those events.  For example, if my boss sets high standards for my performance I can choose that he is picking on me and feel awful.  Or I can choose that he wants me to perform at my potential and feel honored by the attention.  The choice is mine.  Generally we all choose the negative spin on events.  We can learn to create positive spins.  It's all in our heads, anyway.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Getting Back To Now

I didn't realize it until I stopped to sort things out.  I had been feeling pretty overwhelmed.  Things just seemed to be piling up and I couldn't sort them out.
That's when I realized that I didn't need to sort anything out.  I've learned that when I feel overwhelmed it doesn't matter what action I take.  The important thing is to do something.  What the something is doesn't particularly matter -- take out the trash, sort the bills, clean out a drawer, do the laundry.  While it's true that none of those things may solve the bigger pile of 'stuff' the activity alone brings me back to the present.  And at least for me feeling overwhelmed means that's I've left the present moment and run head long into the future and allowed all of the unknowns to pile on top of me.
Take a deep breath is my secret.
It might just work for you, too.

Parenting On The Roller Coaster

Well, after bringing me such unadulterated joy yesterday, today told a completely different story. As I began making the traditional Sunday morning pancakes, he declared that he just wanted "regular" pancakes, because he's "too big" for the usual Mickey Mouse pancakes. So, instead, I gave him pancakes shaped like broken hearts bursting with nostalgic longing.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Neighborhood Cat Gone Missing

Oreo the cat has gone missing.  We live in a canyon where nature comes down into yards and onto streets -- coyotes, bob cats, raccoons.  Once a neighbor spotted a small mountain lion.  So did the animal control people.  A couple of weeks ago I saw a large owl watching me.  I was quick to remind the owl that objects seen through owl eyes are generally larger than they appear so he shouldn't consider eating me.  The owl understood and flew away.
When Oreo the cat moved into a house down the street we old timers warned the new neighbors of the wild life.  Apparently, though, Oreo was just one of those cats who couldn't stay inside.  Oreo tempted fate often by sunning herself in the middle of the street and forcing cars to go around her.  She seemed pretty quick to run inside the gated patio when Bradford walked by and he isn't all that intimidating.  After all, he is a Basset Hound.
Anyway, no one has seen Oreo for over a week.  Her last sighting was on a hillside where she never before ventured.  Her humans are devastated.
Come to fine out, Oreo was seventeen years old.  Since no one knows what happened to her, we of the street have decided that she went up on the hillside where she had never before ventured to die a peaceful death.  Cats sometimes know when that peaceful time is coming and find a nice, quiet, private place to die.
The joy of not knowing what really happened is that we truly can write our own story.  Most of the time we choose to write horror stories.  We can learn, though, to write different narratives.
In this one, Oreo the cat - having grown old - died a peaceful death in a place of her choosing.

Another Existential Quagmire

As I was sitting on the patio at Starbucks a while ago, watching two guys on opposite corners trying to draw attention to whatever was on their signs, I sank into an existential quagmire, trying to decide if it's more depressing to be a sign twirler who's just mailing it in, or a sign twirler who's REALLY into it.