Category Archives: Life

Reacting to the Present

The struggle is real (Microweber)

Blogging can be difficult work, especially when you maintain a full-time job and serve as a single father to a great nine-year-old boy. You also tend to get caught up in the habitual routines of life: doing chores, running errands, hoping that some altruistic housekeeper will come and do all the cleaning you’ve been neglecting for so long… the usual things. And when all your home computers are on the fritz—and you’re relegated to blogging during lunch hours at work—it can be even more of a struggle.

If it seems as if I’m trying to justify more than a month of no blog posts, it’s because I feel guilty for letting it get to this point. Writing this makes me feel a little better, but I obviously have a long way to go.

Today’s post isn’t based on any single thought, opinion or idea. And it wasn’t intended as an apology to readers hoping for some new, original material, either. Instead, this is simply a way for me to reconnect not only with my subscribers, but also with the larger world around me. Granted, this may have the effect of seeming random, disjointed or even stream-of-consciousness, but so be it.

I have to do something to get the creative juices flowing again, right? May as well start with some observations and other assorted nonsense.

Oddly enough, my last post focused on Ted Cruz finally dropping out of the Republican presidential race (“Cruz Gets Trumped”), so the best place for me to start is on the circus that is U.S. politics. Although Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders continues to linger like a bad fart—and this comes from someone who initially felt the Bern—it seems our presumptive candidates will be the rather sketchy, ethically questionable Hillary Clinton and the hair-challenged, misogynistic and racist Donald Trump.

Like many others, I am concerned about these choices, neither of which appeals to me much, but what can you do? This is where we are and we have to deal with it, I suppose.

As a registered Democrat—and a previous fan of Bill Clinton—I will likely vote for Hillary since I find it important to “break the glass ceiling” and elect our first female president. Yes, I would prefer someone like Elizabeth Warren, but Hillary will simply have to do. And let’s face it, the president is more of a figurehead anyway. I’m not sure she can do as much damage as people think since most of the power lies with Congress and the House. Those are the places where serious changes need to be made.

It’s no coincidence that “Trump” rhymes with “chump” (Reuters/Dominick Reuter)

Trump has his moments, of course, but I cannot support someone who wants to backtrack to past eras when seclusion, racism, discrimination and hatred ruled our land. We used to take pride in being a “melting pot” for all people, so building walls and banning immigrants based on religion run contrary to what established us as such a great nation. And I don’t want anyone so unpredictable and misguided at the helm regardless of what little power they may actually possess.

After all, this individual will still have their finger on the proverbial button that could start World War III.

One news story that caught my eye—mostly because you can’t surf the web or turn on the television without hearing about it—was the rape case involving Stanford sex offender Brock Turner. Apparently, this 20-year-old loser who chose to rape an unconscious woman behind a dumpster was sentenced to only six months in jail and three years’ probation because Judge Aaron Persky of Santa Clara County was worried about the effects a longer jail sentence would have on this jackass. And I just read that he will likely serve only three months in jail as long as he behaves himself. Three months instead of a maximum of 14 years? WTF?

Turner’s father even made a ridiculous statement about his son suffering from a lack of appetite due to this incident. He called his rapist son’s conviction “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action,” even though those 20 minutes included sexually penetrating a drunk, passed out woman in the dirt behind some fucking trash bin. Three months of jail is a steep price for rape? I can see the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree because they should lock up both of these pieces of shit.

What bothers me most—and what seems to bother everyone outraged by this story—isn’t the unrealistic sentence this sorry judge imposed, which is indicative of just how broken our justice system truly is. It’s the fact that this poor woman is being mistreated and marginalized for something that will undoubtedly darken the rest of her days. Turner may have to register as a sex offender—and steak may not taste as good to him anymore—but his sentence will end after three months in jail; hers will continue until the day she dies.

My advice to Brock Turner? Grow eyes in the back of your head, asshole. And get used to traveling in groups because if someone meets you in a dark alley alone someday, you will get the punishment you deserve. I promise you that.

This is where I seem to be headed. Time for some ab work! (Adam Rifkin)

On a lighter note, the summer is finally upon us and vacations should be in full swing by now. My own break from the monotony of daily life will come later this month when I head to the beach with my family, an annual trip we all use to recharge our batteries and catch up on the year-that-was. There will be kids, good food, strong drinks, pools slightly warm and salty from excessive pee… everything normally associated with a trip to the coast. I may be grossly overweight and lacking a significant other to share this with, but I am still looking forward to it—even if it’s only for one week.

Wow. It looks as if I still have some writing left in me because this is much longer than I originally intended. Granted, I could ramble on more, but you have likely suffered enough. And I suppose this wasn’t as disorganized and random as I thought it would be. Perhaps the next post will be more chaotic. No promises, of course, but I appreciate you reading and hope you’ll tune in next time.

Until we meet again, enjoy your life and by all means, please be good to one another. That is what life is all about—or at least it should be.

We Could Be Heroes, Vol. I

Jordan gave her life for her students (Wish TV)

In the spirit of recently deceased music icon David Bowie—whose song “Heroes” has become something of an anthem for many—I decided to start a blog series that focuses on regular people doing heroic and selfless deeds.

Most of the time, it seems as if only those serving in the military are labeled as heroes, which they certainly are. We just need to remember that regular, non-military folks can also earn this esteemed moniker. And it’s about time they got their time in the sun, too.

Today’s hero is Susan Jordan, principal of the Amy Beverland Elementary School in Indianapolis, Indiana. Yesterday afternoon, while buses were loading students to return home, one bus mysteriously lurched forward and jumped a curb. It started moving towards several children when Jordan leapt into action. She immediately tossed several kids out of harm’s way—none of whom were seriously injured—but sadly, she was killed in the process.

Jordan was a beloved principal and served for 22 years. And her sacrifice shows how much she loved those around her, as well.

“This is a great example of an educational leader in our state and our city. … Just a phenomenal individual that truly cared about children,” said Lawrence Township Schools Superintendent Shawn Smith. “This is a tragic situation that we have. This loss is going to ripple across our district of 15,000 students.”

Susan Jordan was a true hero… and one the community will never forget. May she rest in peace.

You Say You Want a Resolution

Sad but true (someecards.com)

I know more than a week of the New Year has passed—and that theoretically, resolutions are supposed to start on day one—but sometimes it isn’t that easy to decide what to change about yourself or your approach to life. This is especially true when you finally quit smoking and complete an ongoing resolution you have never been able to complete before, as I did last year. To be honest, this is probably the first resolution I have ever completed, which makes this year’s list a bit more challenging… but not by much since I have loads of things upon which to focus in 2016.

So without further ado, this year I resolve to…

Celebrate the end of the 2016 presidential campaign. The election won’t happen until November, but at least there is a finish line in sight. And I’ll be happy when the news outlets stop reporting on every dumbass thing the GOP says and instead return to important news—like what Kanye and the Kardashians have been up to lately.

The cast of “Rogue One” (Disney)

Look forward to the next Star Wars-themed film without letting it control my life. Like most nerds from a galaxy not so far away, I awaited the latest installment of the famous sci-fi epic by reading nearly everything published about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And I’m not even talking about mainstream reports, like casting decisions and potential plotlines. I’m referring instead to every rumor, set photo, fan theory and possible spoiler that ever dropped online about the J.J. Abrams-directed film. Now I have Rogue One to look forward to next December, only this time I’ll try to ignore all the hype and simply enjoy the final product once it’s released.

Exercise and start eating better. This is little more than the obligatory resolution I always include but never complete. Sure, I normally start off well, but my motivation fades with each new PS4 video game release or Netflix binge. Will 2016 be different? Only time will tell, but I’m certainly making no promises.

Time to get stress out in 2016 (mybodytutor.com)

Live in the present. Stress is obviously a killer. And each year, I find myself stressing more and more about things I can’t control, like the future and, in many ways, even the past. It’s time to face the fact that life will never be what it once was—and none of us truly know how life will be years or even decades from now (provided we make it that far). Living in the present and letting stress roll off our backs is basically all we can do, so that’s what I’ll strive for this year, as well.

Spend more time with friends. Actually, this should read “make friends with whom I can spend time,” but there’s no point in splitting hairs. We all know how busy life can be. Once you get up, go to work, leave work, run errands, return home, cook dinner, clean up and unwind, there really isn’t a lot of free time left—at least not during the work week. And although my favorite weekend routine is to lay around wearing sweatpants, watching television and playing video games, I understand how important human interaction can be. It’s time to get me some of that!

Olivia Wilde would be a good match (acelebritymag.com)

Reinvigorate the passion for my career. Like many of you, I began my work life as kind of an idealist—ready to make a difference in the world by helping college students achieve their goals and dreams. I still do this, of course, but the wide-eyed optimism of my youth has been replaced by a darker, more pessimistic nature. And the last thing I want to become is one of those “toxic people” you read about on Facebook—the ones positive people are encouraged to kick to the curb in order to improve their own lives. I may be older and wiser—in some ways more than others—but that doesn’t mean I have to give in to all the negativity. It’s time to take a more positive approach and to remember that life is what you make it.

Find a good woman. Former girlfriends should not read this as a criticism since I’ve been fortunate enough to date some really good women in the past. Sadly, though, this hasn’t been the case recently since I haven’t been dating at all. After my marriage fell apart, the last thing I wanted was to embroil myself in another relationship, but now I’m getting tired of being alone—and being my own romantic partner. Perhaps Match.com can help me find a suitable replacement for my right hand (and sometimes my left, since variety is the spice of life).

Get creative. Writing has always been one of my greatest pleasures. Unfortunately, I just haven’t felt very creative for the past few years, so the only writing I’ve done has been here on Gnostic Bent. This year, though, I hope to branch out and start writing fiction, film treatments and screenplays again. Perhaps nothing will come of them, but at least I’ll feel like I’m accomplishing something once more.

I’m sure that I could go on and on—since there are so many things I would like to change about myself in 2016—but I have bored you enough with my New Year’s resolutions. Now it’s time for action. And with any luck, my end-of-the-year post will focus on how much I actually accomplished this year, rather than how many of my resolutions again went unfulfilled. Only time will tell, I guess, but at least I have something that I haven’t had in a long time: hope. And right now, that is good enough for me.

Happy New Year, peeps!

Mother of the Year

Austen planned to give her daughter the worst birthday present ever! (Picslist)

Ask almost anyone who the most important person in their life is and a large percentage of people will likely say their mothers. After all, none of us would be here without them. And in most cases, mothers are there to help, support and nurture their kids. They lift us up when we’re down, remind us of our self-worth and understand how important the mother-child bond is with regard to our personal growth and development.

Every so often, though, a mother goes astray and does things more damaging than nurturing. And in some cases, what they do is downright stupid.

One such mom is Nicola Austen from the United Kingdom. And believe me—she won’t be winning any Mother of the Year awards anytime soon.

Last February, Austen’s daughter was going to turn 18, so mom decided to celebrate in style. Her plan was to rent a limousine and to head to London for a good time. To fuel their celebration, though, Austen ignored her motherly instincts and purchased some disturbing party favors: 12 bags of cocaine weighing more than eight grams.

Fortunately, Austen’s plans never materialized. In late January—and because she had six prior convictions, including one for methamphetamine possession—police paid her a little visit… and they brought a police dog with them. It didn’t take long for the curious canine to sniff out the coke, so Austen confessed. She got lucky, though. Because she had a young son who would suffer if she were tossed in jail—as well as a grandmother she cared for—the judge let her remain free. Her sentence was suspended and all she has to do now is complete 250 hours of community service.

Austen’s lucky she lives across the pond because if this happened in the States, her next Mother’s Day (or ten) would likely be spent behind bars. Talk about being born under a good sign!

Childhood Trauma

Proof that you should never force your kids to take freaky photos wearing matching outfits (Awkward Family Photos)

Proof that you should never force your kids to take freaky photos wearing matching outfits (Awkward Family Photos)

Jedi Babies

Two adorable toddlers dressed as Darth Vader and Princess Leia engage in a fierce lightsaber battle over a cupcake. Click through to find out who wins. <span class=meta>Oscar Rene/YouTube</span>

Using the force was never this adorable (Oscar Rene/YouTube)

With Episode VII set to open roughly a year from now, Star Wars buzz is starting to build and even toddlers and babies are getting into the spirit.

Take this VIDEO from filmmaker Oscar Rene Lozoya II entitled Star Wars Jedi Babies – Crib Wars Episode I: The Baby Menace. It features his kids as characters from a galaxy far, far away—and it could not be cuter.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Restored Faith

I know how you feel, Mr. President (Stress Management Tips)

Have you ever had one of those days when you felt like selling everything you owned, leaving your unsatisfying life behind and disappearing to start fresh somewhere else, most likely as a completely different person?

I have. And it’s happened almost daily since I quit smoking nearly two weeks ago.

Granted, I know the nicotine withdrawal my body is experiencing has something to do with it. I was a smoker for almost three decades, so I knew the physical effects would be pretty intense. And I honestly don’t miss cigarettes at all. They’re nothing more than little white and brown devils that make me feel terrible the moment I light them up, so what’s to miss?

No, the real problem is the effect non-smoking has had on my tolerance level for bullshit. I mean, I always had road rage. Only now I get so annoyed by bad drivers that I’m tempted to run them off the road every time they pull out in front of me, travel slower than the posted speed limit or focus more attention on their cell phones than the road ahead. Sure, they may receive a one-finger greeting or an expletive-filled “how-de-do,” but I still fantasize about doing something more serious in nature.

Of course, the recent mid-term elections didn’t help my outlook much, either. After years of gridlock and partisan posturing in Washington, we can now look forward to even more political bullshit in the next few years. To me, a Republican-run House and Senate mean nothing significant will be accomplished… and more people will get screwed in the process. Take Obamacare, for instance, which the GOP hopes to repeal. I know it isn’t perfect, but now we can look forward to insurance companies sticking it to people once again. And as long as big companies and corporations get paid—along with Republicans themselves—it’s all good, right?

Wrong. Politics are a joke and Washington seems like little more than a bad comedy club.

Yes, things seemed pretty grim earlier today. Fortunately, though, I read a story that lifted my spirits and restored my faith in humanity… at least for now.

SIEGEL POURNAZARIAN

Dylan and his buddy Jonah (David Siegel)

The story was about Dylan Siegel, an 8-year-old boy from Los Angeles who published a book entitled Chocolate Bar. To date, his book has sold more than 21,000 copies, which in itself is quite a feat, especially for someone so young. What touched me was the fact that Dylan hasn’t made one penny off his book sales. Instead, all of the proceeds are going towards a University of Florida fund to support research on glycogen storage disease, otherwise known as GSD.

Glycogen storage disease affects how people process sugars and, believe it or not, Dylan’s best friend Jonah suffers from the affliction. Jonah’s body cannot process sugars, so his parents have to feed him a special diet… and through a tube in his stomach, no less. To help his friend—and to hopefully find a cure for the disease—Dylan donated his book earnings to the cause and launched a fundraising campaign that has almost reached $1 million. Support has poured in from more than 60 countries around the globe and, with any luck, even more donations are forthcoming.

And Dylan could not be happier.

“I am so, so, so excited to be able to help my friend,” the young author said recently. “I am thankful to people everywhere for letting me share my story and inspire kids to change the world.”

Maybe there’s hope for the human race yet…and for non-smokers like me, as well. Thanks for the inspiration, Dylan!

Night of Terror

Those were the days! (Flickr)

Oh, how I miss the Halloween of my youth.

As a child growing up in 1970s America, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. I remember going to the local drug store with my parents, walking down rows of boxed costumes, selecting my identity for the evening and drooling over all the candy to come with the setting sun.

Sure, there were warnings about razor blades in apples, but none of us really cared since we would never eat the apples we were given. If anything, we tossed them into bushes, threw them at each other or chucked them back at the houses from whence they came.

All we wanted was candy, and lots of it.

Back then—and once I was old enough to handle things on my own—my friends and I could trick-or-treat without our parents. We never worried about pedophiles, psycho killers and other villains intent on doing us harm. The world was a safer place, we knew our neighbors and we all looked out for one another.

You think I’m kidding, but Kim Kardashian costumes could be all the rage this year (NY Daily News)

It was a far cry from today, in other words.

Of course, this doesn’t stop me from venturing out with my son every Halloween, collecting (and checking) mounds of candy and withdrawing indoors to watch scary movies until the wee hours of the morning. It’s not the Halloween I remember, but to my seven-year-old son it’s still new and exciting. And now it’s his turn to make some memories.

So as you venture out tonight with your brood—dressed as superheroes, monsters or even reality television stars (think Kardashians)—I hope you enjoy the spookiness that Halloween has to offer while also being safe. It should be a fun time for all!

Flashback: Living through ALS

I wrote this article a number of years ago as my father was wasting away from ALS. Given all the attention on this disease recently—as well as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenges appearing on Facebook and other social networking sites—I thought it might be nice to re-post this. Unfortunately, my father lost his battle and passed away in 2008—roughly a year after my son was born. It is too late to help my dad, but I hope we can find a way to save the lives of other ALS patients before they suffer the same fate. I love and miss you, Dad. This is for you.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—is a degenerative motor neuron disorder that generally affects the muscles, but later spreads into almost every system in the body. Those unfortunate enough to develop the disease experience “rapidly progressive weakness, muscle atrophy and fasciculations, muscle spasticity, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing and decline in breathing ability” (Wikipedia). And the mortality rate for ALS is 100%. There is no cure and the outlook is always grim.

I know this because my father passed away in 2008 from ALS.

My father in the early days

Although I’ve come to accept the fact that he is gone, I often find myself wondering how someone like my father could develop such a horrible disease in the first place. And even though it isn’t genetic—he was the first in our family to suffer from ALS—I worry that eventually, I could be next. Of course, my father and I were almost polar opposites in many respects, so I am optimistic and feel confident something else will likely get me.

This fact doesn’t make me feel much better, though. After all, we’ll all die from something eventually and none of us can escape it.

What bothers me most about my father dying from ALS is the way he lived his life and the eventual irony of it all. You see, my father was an orthopedic surgeon who exercised all the time. In fact, some of the equipment at our local YMCA had been donated by my father and uncle, both of them surgeons and partners who endorsed exercise and physical activity at every turn. When my brother and I were young, my father forced us to accompany him to work out, hoping we would follow his example and start exercising more on our own someday. Granted, we both stayed active through sports and other pursuits, but pumping iron wasn’t really our focus. And he was hoping to change that.

For years, the three of us would visit the YMCA, work out to the point of exhaustion and then repeat the process several times each week. Dad even hired personal trainers to set us up with exercise routines tailored to our specific needs. Combined with his exercise tips, we learned everything we needed to know and worked hard to get in shape, at least in the beginning.

Unfortunately, my brother and I responded to being forced to exercise in very different ways. He continued long after we were free to choose for ourselves and still exercises regularly today. I went the opposite way, choosing to exercise indirectly through work or other activities like sports. Oddly enough, the same thing happened with church. Being forced to go anywhere didn’t really agree with me, but my brother could find all sorts of value in it and, as a result, is a more religious person than me. And in this respect, I was more like my father.

Diet and nutrition were also important factors in my father’s life. To this day, I have never seen anyone consume as much fruit as him, sometimes two or three different fruits in one sitting. As for drinking, he would occasionally have some Vermouth with dinner, or the rare glass of wine or cold beer, but generally abstained. Smoking was never his vice, either. Instead, he would lecture me for hours about its dangers once he discovered that I had taken up smoking cigarettes. And no matter what ailed me, he always claimed it was the result of my smoking.

My dad was also a man of adventure and always took us on trips full of excitement and thrill-seeking, as evidenced in my earlier post “Ketchum If You Can”. Over the years, we traveled all over the world to go white-water rafting, skiing, hiking and sightseeing. We ended up at one time or another in Colorado,Costa Rica, Hawaii, Argentina and dozens of other wonderful locales. And even when he was unable to accompany us, my father would still finance our trips to places like Brazil and the US Virgin Islands.

It was during a family trip to Costa Rica that I first noticed some of his physical limitations.

During most of our previous hikes, my father was front-and-center, leading us through the woods or jungles with a Devil-may-care attitude and almost unlimited energy. This trip into the rain forest was much different. Instead of maintaining his footing and trudging along, my dad would often slip or have to keep himself from falling down an embankment that normally would not have fazed him. My siblings and I expressed concern, but he always blamed it on being a little older or unfamiliar with the terrain. We had our doubts, though.

Dad before the symptoms began

Later, I noticed that my father had started limping. When I asked what the problem was, he would simply qualify it as some minor nerve damage that would eventually correct itself. Only it never did. In fact, it started to get worse, but he insisted it was nothing. And since he was always the tough, macho man from South America, we never questioned it.

Then came the phone call that changed everything.

I was dining out in Raleigh with my fiancé and her family, walking back to the car after a delicious meal at the Macaroni Grill. The call from home seemed a little strange since I had spoken with my mother earlier, but I really started to worry when I heard my father’s voice instead. He was never much for phone calling and our conversations were always short and sweet.

This conversation was much different.

He told me he had been diagnosed with ALS almost a year before, but didn’t want us to worry so he kept it a secret during that time. Knowing next to nothing about the disease at the time, I asked about his prognosis and he told me he wasn’t sure, but things wouldn’t end well once the disease progressed. Of course, I was crushed and immediately thought the worst. He comforted me and assured me that he would be around for a long time. We both knew that wouldn’t be the case, but remaining optimistic seemed like the best approach at the time.

Over the next year, I watched helplessly as a man who was always strong, muscular and mentally sharp deteriorated into a mere shadow of the father I once knew. One by one, his muscular systems started to shut down and, towards the end, he even needed help using the bathroom. We bought him an electric wheelchair to allow him greater mobility, but he hated using it because he was so proud. About the only time he would ride it was when I brought my newborn son to visit. They only spent a year together, but my son still remembers cruising around the house with him.

The last time I saw my father, we talked about the life he helped me create for myself and the new family I had just formed, which brought him a great deal of pleasure. He just wanted to know that his own life had made a difference to someone else, which it certainly had. In fact, he had impacted nearly every person he came into contact with, including his family, friends and the hundreds of patients he served during his successful career in medicine. Everyone who knew him loved him. And I made sure he knew just how much I loved him, too.

The next morning, my mother called to tell me he had passed away in the middle of the night and that I should come over immediately to see him one last time. My sister had spent the night on the couch near his favorite chair in our living room. She woke up in the middle of the night and gave him a kiss before heading to bed. Little did she know, but that would be the last kiss he would ever receive.

I found my father lying in the same chair, only now he was perfectly still and cold. Grief took hold of us all as we wept beside his body, holding his hand or gently stroking his head. Then his body was removed and cremated, leaving me with only a small urn containing remains that were split between my mother, my siblings and me. Today, it sits on my mantle with his picture, a constant reminder of the man who spent his life for his family, and who made me the man I am today.

ALS is a terrible disease that affects roughly 30,000 people at any given time. And as I mentioned before, there is no known cure for it either, but there is hope. The ALS Association is working hard to find ways to treat and eventually cure this degenerative disease, and they are making progress. I encourage everyone to support their efforts because, believe me, you don’t want this to happen to you or someone you know and love.

And if you are living with ALS, please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Kung-Fu Kitty

This poor little guy needed ten stitches, but it could have been worse if not for Tara (Scripps Media/ABC News)

This VIDEO has gone viral, so there’s a good chance you may have seen it already. Nevertheless, I wanted to blog about arguably the coolest cat in the country: Tara from Bakersfield, CA.

Earlier this week, a young boy was riding his tricycle in the front yard of his home when surveillance video captured a vicious attack. His neighbors’ dog—who apparently got off his leash and was looking for trouble—suddenly “bum rushed” him, bit into his leg and started to drag him across the lawn.

Fortunately, Tara came to his rescue.

From off-screen, you can see the pissed-off pussy come flying into view—paws with claws spread in attack formation—and defend his “little brother.” And if you thought scaredy dogs didn’t exist, think again. This poor furry bastard learned his lesson and took off once he saw the feline fury heading his way. And do you know what impelled this kitty to defend his young owner?

Love, baby… and isn’t that what life is all about?

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