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2007/11/20

Embracing the Holidays / Wrestling with Guilt

I’m embracing the holidays this year.

I’m going to embrace them, wrestle them to the ground, pin them against the carpet and…

Well, not sure what happens after that.

I put up my tree last Friday. It is tiny and ugly and much loved.

I sing Christmas carols when I mute the TV during commercials. I am amazed at the number of words I remember. I plan on appearing in a church somewhere in the metro to sing along with the congregation. Provided of course I do not burst into flame or turn to salt once I step into the sanctuary.

I put those plastic light-up decorations in the front yard. They are all there: Santa (twice), The Snowman, and a Wooden Soldier. I broke the light bulb in The Snowman. I may get around to replacing it. (It's the the thought that counts).

So, I’m all set.

In years past… I hated the whole she-bang. I grudgingly went along with it, doing the bare minimum.

What changed?

I just got over it… the guilt.


The guilt that makes you buy things for people who you see maybe once or twice a year. And usually, on that occasion you give them a gift to make up for the fact that you haven’t seen them all year - the fact that you haven’t been the best brother or friend that you could of/should have been.

Well. To hell with all that.

Nobody’s getting anything this year.

If I didn’t see you all year, there is probably a reason behind that non-action - something that a really nice blender or a set of pots and pans isn’t going to make up for.

Also keep in mind – visits are a two-way thing. So are phone calls. So are cards and letters. And emails for that matter. Geez.

So, I’m just as guilty as you are. Stop trying to buy my forgiveness and stop trying to pretend that there’s nothing wrong with our relationship.

I am stopping. Nobody gets anything this year.

Except those I see everyday and help me out in every way. You get chocolate. Unless you're diabetic or allergic. Then you get a bottle of wine. Unless you're an alcoholic or a diabetic. Then you get a nice card.

The rest of you? If I do get to see you during the holiday season, yay! If not, then I guess the problem between us is bigger than we thought. If you want to do something about it, let me know. If not, cool with me.

At least I won’t feel like a fool in January when I get my December credit card bill.

2007/09/28

Sheena WAS a punk rocker - Jann S. Wenner never was.

I lament what’s become of Rolling Stone magazine. Once the chief source for great information about the music industry and what was the rebel culture of Rock n’ Roll – it has become little more than a Madison Avenue shill-machine.

I’ve been a subscriber on and off for many years; dating back to the late seventies. Back then, its format was similar to a newspaper – a smaller, dirtier paper (think 70’s smut rag). Then it took on the form of a pulp-weekly (think local rag one picks up for free, found sitting outside various establishments in any metro area). Finally, in the eighties, (or the ‘haties’ as I like to think of them) the Stone adopted its current, oversized-glossy magazine style.

Rolling Stone tipped it’s hat – and America’s youth culture never picked up on it.

About five years ago I received an offer for a lifetime subscription. Wow, really? A lifetime subscription? Of course I accepted.

Yes, I had been outraged from time to time by some of the magazine’s coverage and cover subjects. In particular those issues graced with the likes of Sam Kinison (a dead, fat comedian whose hate-filled rants were never funny), Sebastian Bach (who?) and Andrew Dice Clay (again, who?). And I objected to all those issues featuring nearly nude celebrity-wannabes whose names no one remembers, or in some cases, wants to (Jenny McCarthy! Ewww). What the hell did they have to do with Rock ‘n Roll? Yes, sex has always been an important part of the rock culture – but this was something else. Something more blatant minus the usual cultural significance – it was cheap, tawdry and in most cases totally unwarranted.

Of course, now, it has become a matter of course for Rolling Stone to choose the flavor of the week for their covers. People who often have nothing in common with and are not even in the same realm as cover subjects of its first two decades. Crap ‘celebs’ like Disney’s (no, really DISNEY’S?) current teen scream Zac Efron, in a photo that is so air brushed it almost renders him featureless and genderless, routinely grace this once credible mag’s cover. That is when they are not paying homage to their own legend or drudging up ancient rock casualties like Kurt Cobain (suicide – big whiner) and Axl Rose (career suicide – big whiner). I guess suicide really IS a good career move, not to mention a means to sell magazines. Or when they are not advocating their insufferable HOT LIST issues – which are nothing more than shopping lists culled from all the freebies accorded the staff of Rolling Stone via advertisers and the wannabe famous. Or when they are not making yet another MOST IMPORTANT albums ever list – which are usually short-sighted (featuring many of today’s big sellers), oddly misogynistic (women not only rock – they also write credible songs with a unique sensibility – hello?) and almost immediately rendered irrelevant.

It’s sad. Very, very sad. But the suspect cover models, endless self-back-pats, waste-of-time nostalgia trips and horrible, lackluster writing (seriously – where do they find these writers?), are not the only thing that makes my heart sink with the arrival of each new issue.

Remember that lifetime subscription? It’s a scam – sort of. Yes, a new issue appears faithfully every two to three weeks. But with a major difference – one that flies in the face of what the magazine once stood for.

You see, those lifers represent a devoted audience – one that adds up to big numbers – numbers which are then hawked to advertisers as a means of proof of readership which in turn keeps ad rates up, up, up. Fact is, Rolling Stone no longer cares about their readers. They don’t have to. The readers are no longer an integral part of the financial support the magazine needs to stay afloat. It’s now all about the advertising. And if you look at a recent issue, there are pages upon pages upon pages of the stuff; big glossy, high-concept flotsam featuring dead-eyed models sporting the trendiest stuff. Most of the ads promote ‘hip’ clothing lines (like I need a $700 pair of jeans) and schools that promise to teach you pro tools and ‘the business’. And, oh yes, there is the occasional ad promoting a new album (music? In Rolling Stone? Why that would be like MTV playing a music video) – usually in the very same issue that includes a lukewarm, badly written review of the said/same album.

I remember when the ads were as exciting as the cover. As exciting as the articles. What happened to the promise of punk rock? At least anger was not apathy. Punks railed against the establishment. And so did the Stone. Conspicuous consumption was intended to be part of the revolution. Being complacent; resigning one’s self to the inevitable was simply not in the cards.

Oh, well. Sheena WAS a punk rocker (Jann S. Wenner, incidentally NEVER was). Now Sheena’s in P.R. Or a reality television show producer. (Note to the balding, fat, lead singer from Poison – YOU are NOT a Rock Star!). She hates here life and what she’s become – but all that Cristal champagne keeps the demons of lost promise at bay.

The Stone still does a fairly good job of covering liberal politics in America – villainizing Republicans and religious zealots with predictable glee while exalting the likes of Hillary and Obama. Yeah! And they should, considering a lot of the money the magazine generates for publisher Wenner goes to wonderful, needy liberal causes – like the Democratic Party.

I sure miss the days of old – when the magazine stood for the counter culture – and not THE CULTURE.

You see, I don’t want naked nymphs coming into my house. I know it sells copies, but it bores the hell out of me. Same with all the gossip column crap and the glassy-eyed nostalgia pieces (Johnny Rotten is throwing up in his grave and, yes, he really is dead – in a way). And the album reviews? Writers used to build entire careers based on the strength of their album reviews. Now it is just some biased poser playing connect the dots with the latest buzz words. I can picture the little brats huddled in their pubic hair lined bathrooms, masturbating all over the page featuring their review the day an issue comes out. No doubt, exactly the same activity they were enjoying while writing it.

Rolling Stone has become like that sad Uncle you have. The one that shows up at your party sporting a bad toupee’ and a lip-glossed twink girlfriend who is constantly talking on her cell phone, careful to remain at least three steps behind him at all times. Your Uncle touts duds featuring the labels that are (gasp) advertised in Rolling Stone magazine. They’re way too young for him and the whole ensemble (twink, toup, haute couture) makes his flesh look sickly and makes yours feel prickly icky. You know who I’m referring to… the Uncle who every time you see him, you just want to knock off that damn head nest and tell him to go get some f*cking integrity!

Rolling Stone grew older alright. It even grew up. But – as previous generations at the heart and soul of the origin of the magazine have so eloquently expressed – if that’s what growing up means, then I want no part of it.

I don’t want any part of the hollow shell that Rolling Stone has become.

Sheena doesn’t either, Jann.

2007/08/21

The Snuff Film Ethics of Modern Celebrity

I’m so disillusioned. Again.

The Michael Vick case is a textbook example of how life is unfair.

Here is a man with way more going for him than your average human being. Did the Falcons really sign him for $130 million with a $22 million signing bonus? Given such a gift, why spend a penny of that money supporting a bloodsport as despicable as dog fighting? This is Caligula-style hubris, folks. You have to wonder just what the hell happened to Vick during his short life that would result in such a callous, soulless person.

I can’t wait to hear his excuse. It will have something to do with the tragedy of his childhood. Afterall... His father was in the army and then worked in the shipyards. His mother worked at Kmart. His father introduced him to football. His mother insisted he get involved in after-school activities so he wouldn’t become a discipline problem. His parents were married. His parents were involved in his life.

Yep… some tragedy.

But Michael Vick is just one of the many poor excuses for human beings masquerading as heroes – or as they are known in this day and age – celebrities.

The HO-lee trinity of Paris, Britney and Lindsay continue to entertain us with their inability to manage their lives in an adult fashion. Now – THAT is the Bratz movie I would pay to see. Car crashes, drug busts and coochie showings – all done to a techno beat and in haute couture.

Hey, let’s all go to the mall!

Politicians are just as bad – no, worse. Affairs with interns. Lusting after male interns and then blaming their alcoholism. Or did he blame a Catholic priest? Not to mention all that pork. Frankly… the lust I can understand – but the pork? Geez. Pork the intern, guys, not the bill.

I miss the days of Erotica era Madonna. When shocking the American public was something a celebrity did on purpose – with a purpose in mind actually. Yes, to make money and generate publicity, but also to bring attention to America’s hypocrisy and rather puritanical stance when it comes to sex. Madonna did a good job. Maybe too good. Just watch any ‘family’ style sitcom.

In these sitcoms, the laughs don’t come due to the outrageous circumstances of the characters have gotten themselves into (see Lucy) or the clash of personality types (see Raymond). No, not it’s all about sex. Double entendre? Hardly. Your average sitcom is now about as subtle as Britney Spears getting out of a limo.

But, hey – that is the price you pay for the enlightening of a society. Oh, gosh… did I really use that term? Enlightening? I’m no prude, but the snuff film ethics of today’s celebrity culture hardly makes me feel enlightened.

If this is enlightenment - I’d rather be left in the dark.

Speaking of which… Britney? Close your legs, honey. There’s enough ugliness in the world.

And speaking of ugly. Michael Vick? I hope you never see the light of day again, you sick, sick bastard. There is no excuse for what you’ve done. You have reaped what you have sown. I just wish you had even an inkling of the horrors you have committed and why this is going to cost you so much. You chose so badly.

Unlike those dogs. They had no choice. None.

In many ways, Michael Vicks, I wish you the same fate.

2007/07/05

For your consideration... so to speak.

Fireworks are a part of Fourth of July. That’s just a given. They are fun and awe-inspiring. And since Minnesota – in a rare bit of anti-safety/pro-fun legislation - repealed the law banning individuals from possessing, purchasing and operating fireworks, not a lot can be done about a neighbor that exercises their right to light up the night sky.

It does, however, become a matter of consideration – for your neighbors and society at large – to not exercise that right from 10:30 pm – 12:15 am. And that’s at the heart of this little missive – what happened to being considerate of others? What happened to granting individuals unknown respect simply based on common sense and the fact that they are part of that great stew we are all beholden to (or supposed to be) known as society?

I’m a former boy scout. No, I never liked it (and I abhor their current policy of discriminating against gay people), but it did teach me one thing; that we are all part of a larger unit called society. Belonging to society brings with it both privileges and responsibilities. A lot of those responsibilities are assumed considerations – like not making excess noise after 10:00 pm and keeping your dogs on leashes or fenced when they are outdoors. I learned these things as a child and they were constantly reinforced by my parents as I was growing up. The children in my family were taught to respect others – their property, their privacy, their lifestyles, their choices, and their well-being. The latter covers things like creating excess noise, not parking in front of their house if at all possible and to not encroach on their property - ever.

Somewhere along the line, these unwritten rules got left behind. They’re no longer taught. In fact, a lot of adults my age seem to have amnesia when it comes to what it means to be considerate. For proof – just try merging on a busy highway or driving on one during rush hour – and count the number of careless lane changes and selfish, grudging power plays you experience. Scary, huh?

Consideration for others, granted without exception, just makes good common sense. It’s like that invisible force field that Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four is able to project. It shields one and their loved ones from harm – be it physical or emotional. It protects one’s personal property and personal space. In short - it allows you to get a decent night’s sleep.

When a neighbor allows their yard to become filled with garbage, or parks their SUV on your lawn, or blasts offensive, sexually-explicit and insensitive hip-hop music at an equally offensive volume level, or uses a shared alleyway that backs up to another homeowner’s property to shoot off over-the-top pyrotechnics until 12:15 am in the middle of the week – you have to wonder what are they thinking? Are these really the values they want to pass along to their children?

Inconsideration/rudeness is a pebble dropped onto the smooth surface of society. The ripple it causes reverberates and grows in size. The effects of each such act live long after the act itself. The lack of foresight shown by people who are inconsiderate and feel they owe society nothing – not even common respect simply appalls and amazes me.

Yet, these people are the same people who, if disrespected or encroached upon – are the first to scream discrimination or foul – at the top of their ill-mannered voices. They have no trouble recognizing when they hurt, so why can’t they see when their actions hurt others? How self-absorbed can one be?

Consideration requires empathy. I am empathetic. I can see how my neighbors have the right to enjoy fireworks on the Fourth of July. Good for them. How American.

I just wish they would be considerate while doing so. That's American, as well.


Or, at least it used to be.

2007/05/21

Animals

Animals seem to be drifting in and out of my life these days, occupying my thoughts.

There is a morning dove that visits my backyard daily. She or he arrives alone. Eats alone. Leaves alone. Morning doves typically mate for life and travel in pairs. To see this solo dove causes me to wonder what their life is like. If the norm is to be mated, and that is what one’s internal wiring is geared towards – what kind of life does one have when there is no other half?

It’s Shel Silverstein’s ‘The Missing Piece’ in a nutshell.

Now don’t get upset. I’m not equating being single with being less than whole. I’m not equating the morning dove’s life to those of happy single humans. We are talking about a bird – whose life was pretty much limited to searching for food, shelter and struggling to survive. The possibility of bearing offspring figures in there, too. So what happens when those are the limits of your expectations of life and the other half of your team – meant to guarantee one of those expectations – is missing in action?

If you were a bird, then I suppose the joy of flying might make up for it – but once the magic of that became part of the mundane – what then?

I guess you’d end up hanging out at the same place every day or night. Kind of like a neighborhood bar.

So, I do my part to keep it interesting. I change the kind of bird seed I put out once in awhile, just for varieties sake… and I make sure it’s there, along with adequate water. My yard is fenced, so it’s relatively safe… save for the two Chihuahuas that live with me.

The dove… it just makes me wonder (and a little sad). What happened to his/her partner? Was there ever a partner? Are birds capable of missing something – even if it never was?

I’m not sure what I want to believe. But I hope the bird is happy no matter what. I certainly am doing my best to see that it is.

Then - there is a Shih Tzu in the paper that someone is trying to find a home for. The dog is nine years old and deaf. The Shih Tzu had a partner for nine years, but apparently - no more. Maybe the owner died and there isn’t anyone to take the dog.

That is what I want to believe.

I can’t imagine giving away a dog that has lived with me for nine years. It must be a great hardship – for both parties.

I hope the Shih Tzu finds a good home. They’re very nice dogs.

A very nice cat recently made my front steps its home. The cat was a black short-hair and, by my estimates, about 6 months old. I first saw the cat the previous Friday on my way home from work. Two of the neighborhood boys were chasing it. I know the boys – not on a personal level – but because of their many activities in the neighborhood – like throwing snowballs at passing cars and then ducking behind their house. Kid stuff, right? Not in my eyes. In my eyes such activities are the stuff of kids in need of supervision. I was proven right after dropping by to chat with their parents after the boys had pelted my car (two days old at the time) with sloppy gobs of snow. The youngest member of the brood (all boys) answered the door (he was maybe seven, probably six). He told me that no one else was home and that I could check if I wanted to. I declined the invitation and drove home. Those kids are one of the reason my entire yard, including the front, is fenced. They are also the reason I installed a security system and watch my dogs when they are outside.

But back to that cat.

I stopped my car and yelled (like a real ugly adult) that they had better not hurt that cat. The boys stopped and looked at me. They told me it was theirs. Sorry. I didn’t buy it. I told them that hurting animals was not a good thing to do (leads to being a serial killer). After feeling like the old crank I was, I drove on. Moments later the boys were at the back fence of one of my neighbor’s house. The cat was in the neighbor’s fenced in yard, under a vehicle. Again I came to the defense of the cat… don’t you dare hurt that cat, I screeched. They turned and looked at me dead-faced. There were three of them now. It’s our cat, one of them said. Well… our cat? But none of you are brothers (only one of the kids chasing the cats came from the house of The Brood). What’s its name, I asked. There was a slight pause. ‘Buddy’, came the answer. The boys began calling out the cat’s ‘name’. I warned the boys that if they hurt the cat I was going to call the police and walked away. Moments later I saw one of the boys climb the fence (so much for mine), and retrieve the cat from under the car. I guess I forgot to mention that trespassing was also a not a good thing.

Off they went.

The following day, ‘‘Buddy’’ began spending time in my backyard, no doubt attracted to the number of birds, squirrels and bunnies. The resident Chihuahuas were less than welcoming. But this didn’t deter ‘Buddy’ from climbing the fence, letting the dogs know that he wasn’t to be intimidated and eventually take up residence on my front steps – an area separated from the back yard by a gate – hence no dogs.

‘Buddy’ wanted in my house. He was very vocal and persistent. But I wouldn’t budge. I had a cat for 16 years some ten years ago. The one thing I learned from that experience was… I am not a cat person. But ‘Buddy’ had no way of knowing that. He was just being nice.

First, I gave him some wet dog food. Then a can of tuna (he was very skinny and very hungry). Then some water and some milk. Then a towel to curl up in. Then two towels – it was early spring and I didn’t want him to get cold. I was amazed to find that not only had he spent the night sleeping on the towels, but that he remained on my doorstep for the entire weekend.

I contemplated having an outdoor cat that lived on my front steps. It didn’t seem like a quality life. Especially for ‘Buddy’, because he was just the sweetest, nicest cat – even if he wasn’t neutered, yet.

Wiser heads prevailed. Animal control was called. Animal control refused to take ‘Buddy’ unless he was ‘contained’. They suggested I shove him in a box or trap him under a clothes basket and place a brick on it. We opted to use one of the resident Chihuahuas kennels. ‘Buddy’ walked right in and made himself at home. I closed the door. He never made another sound. He was happy and content. We waited for animal control. They transferred ‘Buddy’ into one of their side compartments and ‘Buddy’ went along willingly. He was a happy cat.

I assume he still is.

Whoever adopted him – and for the sake of own well-being I tell myself that is undoubtedly the case – they got one nice cat.

I have a friend who constantly reminds me that I can’t save the world.

Well… I just hope someone in the world saved ‘Buddy’.

After all - he’s a very nice cat.

2007/05/07

What Happened to the Human in Human Resources?

When was the last time H.R. did anything for you?

The initial purpose of the human resources movement in Corporate America was to meld the human factor to the business factor in order to produce mutually beneficial results. It was supposed to benefit employee, employer and the company’s bottom line. A win-win-win, if you will.

But like a group of idealistic college students setting off on some grand adventure into the unknown… something went horribly wrong.

Despite claims to the contrary, H.R. has become little more than an indifferent placement agency saddled with compliance duties and an administrative hangover.

Their goal is not to fill openings with the best candidates and then to help those candidates succeed for the sake of the company, but to get those positions filled. Period. What happens once an employee is in place only becomes their concern if there is a breach of a compliance policy. And then (if you are management) only if it is a really serious breach.

I remember a time when H.R. had a face. Her name was Helen.

It was my first real job - with a major retailer on the in-store level. Helen, a very sweet, older woman, interviewed me. We hit it off right away. She had a good feel for people and the store benefited greatly from her knack of spotting bright prospects. Helen became my go-to person whenever I had issues, concerns, or problems, or when I just needed an ear or some constructive feedback. It was a large store, yet, amazingly, she knew everyone by name. She should. She hired them. In turn, employees felt comfortable going to her, confiding in her. She could be trusted to point them in the right direction – suggesting a course of action or inaction or a department to touch base with - or to tell you when you were way off base. And because we trusted her, we always took her advice.

She never dropped the ball. She was always accessible. She had a face.

None of this is true of modern H.R. Once you accept a position and attend orientation, you are pretty much on your own – and therefore, at the mercy of whomever they plugged into the role of your immediate supervisor. You see, H.R. expects managers to manage people in addition to their management of company projects. It’s that old you-fix-it-it’s-your-problem-now attitude. Unfortunately, most people placed in such positions, lack the basic tools to do so - and there is the crux of the situation. You’re stuck with whomever you’re given. For better or worse. Until resignation do you part. It’s a marriage of convenience, all right. Their convenience – not yours.

It’s sad. Because those supervisors incapable of managing people feel that it is H.R.’s responsibility to do so. H.R. on the other hand believes it to be the manager’s responsibility – that’s why they were hired. So, in the end, it begs the question:

What’s become of the human in human resources?

Should you have a problem with management (or lack, thereof), H.R. will tell you to deal with it directly. In other words, don’t look to them for help – don’t involve them – don’t even look in their direction. They will only intervene if an egregious violation of a written policy comes to light – like if your manager starts hitting you and leaving bruises. Keep in mind that H.R. doesn’t acknowledge spiritual or emotional bruises and that the more senior the management level, the more egregious the violation must be to warrant intervention. They’re consistent that way.

Sure. You can go to them and complain about things, but why waste your time, energy or breath? H.R. will begin to view you as the problem. You will be branded as ‘a problem’ – which means eventually you’ll need to go away. That’s kind of sad – and a waste of potential talent. Exactly when did employees with concerns and issues become ‘problems’? When did your development as a valued company employee come to rest solely on your own shoulders? Where did the win-win-win philosophy of having an H.R. department become an us against them kind of situation?

It feels like that. Frequently. Us versus Them.

That’s why I miss Helen. Helen listened. She was approachable. She had a face. She had common sense. And she was empowered to use it.

H.R. is there to serve the greater good. Which I think, at one time, included everyone employed by a company and the company goals. Now that greater good is something called ‘brand identity’ – which, I might point out, is a thing – and not human at all. H.R. is there to protect that brand identity. If you want to play on their playground with their equipment, you better be prepared to be branded. Even if it means being branded a problem.

And this branding? It’s not a question of choice. You will become what they say you are – be it problem or success. No matter what you bring to the table, what you heard in the myriad of interviews you participated in (my last position? nine separate interviews!), no matter what you thought you were getting yourself into – you will succumb or be banished. You will comply or be denied.

That’s why companies like Target Corporation and Walmart are represented by symbols (again, a thing, not human). Basically, once you come on board – that is what you must become – be it an omnipresent, stoic red and white bulls-eye or a big generic smiley face. To be anything else is heresy.

So could one to conclude that H.R. is there to take/keep the human aspect (individuality, originality, common sense, opinions) out of the company?

Everyone with a smidgeon of personal integrity (i.e. a personality, a sense of self, a world view based on reality, common sense, etc.) that I have spoken with in Corporate America has a horror story involving H.R. It would seem that those who lack such integrity (the bigoted, the cruel, the small-minded, the insecure – those with chips on their shoulders) use H.R. as a tool of evil so that they can remain in power. This explains a lot about the state of corporate America and the state of H.R. You see, H.R. likes it when people who lack integrity operate in that manner. That way, H.R. doesn’t have to be bothered with ethical dilemmas – like reassessing someone they put in a position of power or potentially making a judgment call based on common sense and not hearsay – or (gasp) actually investigating a situation before jumping to a conclusion. As long as all the rubber stamps are in the right places, then it’s right by H.R. After all… that is what they hired that manager to do - to keep people (the human element) away from H.R.

In my experience, most H.R. departments do even a worse job as administrators (think COBRA, confidentiality, etc.) than they do as placement and compliance entities. Is that possible? Yes.

Keep in mind - they hired those people, too.

There’s more to this little essay… a lot of back story, actually. But I’m not inclined to share the details. Mainly because I am still processing the experience – yes, it’s been that head-shakingly unbelievable. But one final thought…

Helen? Wherever you are? Please come back. Corporate America needs you.

2007/04/04

My Battle With Zoloft

I was away. Now I'm back. Back to tell you about my battle with Zoloft.

Spoiler alert: I win.

I know why I went on anti-depressants. My work situation had become intolerable – too much pressure to conform and a very unsympathetic manager who accused me of having a chip on my shoulder. I didn’t. He did. After a bit of nastiness where I said a few things I shouldn’t have and probably louder than I should have, I was called into HR. HR informed me that my behavior was questionable and objectionable. I hung my head and signed their pieces of paper. Then I went to my physician of 5 years, told him the story and asked to be put on ‘something’. His first stab at ‘something’ was Prozac. I took it for six months. Stories about how dreadful Prozac in the long run began to circulate. I quit Prozac. Cold turkey. For four weeks it was like being in a stop/start claymation film where the lead character gets zapped by electricity every once in awhile. I felt like the floor was falling away from under me. But I made it. And I felt good. I got a new manager placed between me and the horrible man I had worked with before. She liked me and stood up for me. Life was good.

Then I got stuck in an elevator at work. For about 45 minutes. I was cool the entire time I was actually stuck. Then the repairman came and lowered me down to safety. I got off. A security guard I know was there. He asked if I was okay. I laughed and said… no problem. Then the elevator repairman stood very close to me – face-to-face and began to tell me how I could easily I could have gotten killed (on the way down I pulled the doors apart about an inch so I could hear them better and get some air). He was standing too close and his affect was a bit shaming – I went off on him. Big time. I stormed away – scared out of my mind. My mind was racing and so was my heart.

I got back to my desk. The security guard came and asked if I was alright. I laughed. He laughed. I thought nothing more of it. Until a month later when I got called in by HR. The HR rep said that there had been an incident. I laughed and explained what happened. End of meeting. Or so I thought. But no… I was written up for it. So I went back to my physician explained what had happened and how desperate I was to conform. That’s when I got sent to his psychiatrist who then put me on Zoloft. With each additional disagreement at work… up went that dose. I spent five years on the max dose. I thought – it’s working! But I kept having less-than-acceptable experiences at work.

I finally had to leave that job after 6 years. Then for the next year and half I struggled in another horrible situation… with another clueless, horrible manager supported by a non-existent HR department – history wasn’t just repeating itself – it was getting worse. So I quit the day after Christmas. Soon, because I was home all the time while looking for another position, I began to notice just how odd my behavior had become. I should have been paying more attention to what my friends were saying to me, and in particular my best friend, Tony.

I wouldn’t go out socially – much.
I would never initiate a social event or gathering.
I wouldn’t answer the phone – even with caller I.D., whether I knew the person or not.
I watched a lot of television – in fact my life was regimented accordingly.
I’d stopped exercising and running – more so since my bike accident the previous summer – to the point of none at all.
I’d sit in the dark all the time. Complaining loudly when lights were on ‘for no reason’.
I overate at almost every meal and snacked non-stop. (Why I didn’t gain more weight than I did is amazing to me. Perhaps it was because I was also incredibly obsessed with weighing myself).
I stopped washing my own clothes.
I stopped deep cleaning. If it was tidy, I was happy.
I collected and stored more and more stuff.
I never cried. My grandmother died. I didn’t cry. Never. No tears.
I would waste incredible amounts of time doing nothing. Sitting in a car. In a parking lot. Staring. For hours.
I’d nap. When I could take no more, do no more, eat no more – I would take refuge in sleep. And dream vividly.

I was sleeping my life away.

Now – keep in mind that I was active before this time. Working full-time, running 2-3 miles M-F (until bike accident), biking (until bike accident), going to college full-time on the weekends, writing music and lyrics, keeping family obligations – and I even managed to mount a musical I wrote and take it to both the Kansas City and Minnesota Fringe Festival.

So, maybe I had reason to be tired. But not THAT tired.

I weaned myself off Zoloft under the guidance of my new physician. She gave me a new prescription for another drug.

I never filled it.

Guess what? I came alive again. I had energy. I had focus. I laughed. And I cried! Initially it all felt like… oops, here we go again – Manic Michael. But then it began to sink in, like your body does when hitting a welcoming bed. I was excited again. About everything.

So my life is perfect now? No. It wasn’t before Zoloft or Prozac, either.

I do more, worry less, and have come to accept myself. I will no longer try to warp myself into someone I am not – not for money, or security or for the sake of having a job.

Very slowly, I’m regaining parts of myself I had let go… come the dawn of summer – I should have everything I need and want again – exercise, friends, social occasions, laughter, the outdoors, a really clean house, empty storage space, etc.

And me. That person I used to like a lot.

Now, when I go to work, I bring with me the most important thing I can...

Me.

Next: The failure of the HR movement in corporate America.