Blog Archives

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.

Golden Years

Cool as cool could be (Slimpaley)

I’m stepping through the door

And I’m floating in a most peculiar way

And the stars look very different today…

             “Space Oddity” (1969)

Growing up in America during the 1970s and 80s was an experience that I will never forget. And memories of those eras are as fresh in my mind today as they were when I was a child and teenager living through them. Of course, nothing takes me back there more than the music I love and the artists who created it. And one of my favorite artists of the era was none other than David Robert Jones, otherwise known as David Bowie.

Unfortunately, Bowie passed yesterday after battling cancer for the last 18 months. He was 69 years old.

Bowie as alter-ego Ziggy Stardust (Sukita)

The first David Bowie song I remember hearing is the same one I quoted at the beginning of this post: Space Oddity. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I heard it for the first time, but I know it was on the radio of my mother’s station wagon when I was a “wee lad” of only six or seven years. I eventually heard many of his other 1970s hits—like Young Americans, Rebel Rebel, Jean Genie and, of course, Golden Years—but my love for Bowie really took hold in the 80s.

During a decade famous for hair metal, teased bangs, friendship bracelets and denim coats, Bowie truly found his place in pop culture. And thanks to MTV—a cable station that once focused on playing music videos, if you can believe that—Bowie and his songs quickly became part of the zeitgeist. I still remember seeing the video for Blue Jean for the first time, slow dancing to Let’s Dance at a teenybopper birthday party and driving my first car down the highway with Modern Love blasting from the cassette player. Those certainly were the days.

Sadly, I lost track of David Bowie a little during college and beyond—at least in terms of his newer material—but my love for the man and his music never waned. In fact, I was excited to hear he was releasing a new album, Blackstar, and plan to purchase it later today. I’m sure it will be awesome, but there’s one thing that would make it better, and that’s having its creator around to enjoy it with his fans. That obviously isn’t going to happen—at least not in the physical realm—but I know Bowie will always be with us in spirit. And for fans like me, he will always have a special place in our hearts and minds.

Farewell, my friend. And thanks for making weirdness and eccentricity hurt so good…

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!

Farewell to Scott

Weiland with Stone Temple Pilots (Rock Revolt Magazine)

I just heard that one of my favorite singers from my youth—Stone Temple Pilots’ front man Scott Weiland—passed away at the age of 48… just four years older than I am right now.

The news is depressing, to say the least, since I equate so many happy memories with STP songs like Plush, Vasoline and Interstate Love Song. Sure, I knew that Weiland was a pretty serious drug abuser, having been in and out of rehab over the years. It seemed as if he had turned a corner, though, as he sang with Velvet Revolver and his newest band, Scott Weiland & the Wildabouts. And maybe he had, but it was likely too late. The damage of drugs and a rock & roll lifestyle had already taken its toll.

Based on reports from TMZ, Weiland died in his sleep on Thursday and was found dead on the tour bus outside his next show in Minnesota. A cause of death has not yet been determined, but Wildabouts guitarist Jeremy Brown died of a drug overdose in March, so it’s possible that drugs played a role in Weiland’s ultimate demise, as well.

Basically, this sucks, so please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers since he was a talent lost far too soon. Farewell, Scott—and thanks for the memories.

Snowed!

Yay! We have the milk and bread needed to survive the snow! (Bits and Pieces)

It’s almost time for snowy hell to break loose!

According to the most recent weather reports for my area—eastern North Carolina—a snow storm is bearing down on us and should strike sometime this afternoon. And you know what that means, right?

Get your ass to the grocery store for milk and bread quickly! Supplies are likely already running out!

Of course, I never understood why milk and bread were in such high demand when bad weather approached. Personally, I don’t go out of my way to ingest either of them with great frequency, which means I would likely turn to other foods in an emergency. Yet they both disappear from store shelves so fast that it makes me wonder: Are there other uses for milk and bread of which I am largely unaware?

Any insight you can provide in the comments section would be greatly appreciated, dear readers. Until then, however, please know that any lapse in blog posts from Gnostic Bent is likely indicative of my own efforts to survive the great snow storm to come. Wish me luck!

Bent Back

We should all “get bent” once in a while (Brainless Tales)

Sorry Gnostic Bent disappeared for the last few weeks, but like many of you, I took some time off to enjoy this holiday season. One of the perks of working at a private college is that the school shuts down in mid-December and reopens in early January. Students get more time off than staff and faculty, of course, but we still get a luxurious two-week break—and I really enjoyed having some time to recharge.

Granted, I did almost nothing but sit on my ass, watch television and play Far Cry 4 on my PS3—interspersed with Lego Batman 3, my son’s newest game—but it was just what the doctor ordered. And now that my vacation is over, I’m having some trouble adjusting to my daily routine, which includes blogging. I am back, though, and you can be sure that more ridiculous posts will follow.

So Happy New Year, dear readers. And here’s to getting Bent in 2015!

I Quit!

Easy for you to say! (spiritedpsych.com)

I remember the day as clearly now as I did when it first happened. I was 15 years old, walking down a suburban street on my way to toilet paper a house with friends, when my buddy Jon turned to me and offered me something that would change my life forever: a cigarette.

There wasn’t any real peer pressure to accept his offer, but being the rebellious teen, I did. My first smoke was a Merit and, from what I recall, it was good enough for me to bum a second cigarette, then a third.

The next day, I purchased my first pack. And the rest, as they say, is history.

For nearly three decades, I smoked cigarettes like they were going out of style. At my worst, I smoked two packs of Marlboro Lights a day. Sure, there was occasional hacking and the frequent coughing up of nasty goo, but I persisted. I smoked in the car, in the house and in groups exiled outdoors by employers or non-smokers. There were daily trips to the store for more packs and I even took up buying cartons to make things a little cheaper.

In other words, I was a smoker in every possible sense. And I was proud of it, too, especially when all the holier-than-thou non-smokers started preaching about the dangers of tobacco. I lived in North Carolina, for goodness sake. Smoking tobacco helped support our state economy, so what I was really doing was “giving back” to my local community, right?

Wrong.

Bye bye, butts! (Huffington Post)

No matter what my excuse was for smoking—and for continuing to smoke—the sad fact is that I smoked because I was weak. Sure, I started to be cool, to fit in with friends and to rebel against the so-called establishment, but it didn’t take long for smoking to become little more than a bad habit. There was the oral fixation, the constant need to do something with my hands, the physical reliance on nicotine and all the other addictive shit cigarette manufacturers added to their products. I was hooked and kept on being hooked for 28 years.

Today—with luck—my smoking journey will end.

It won’t be easy, of course. There’s likely as much nicotine coursing through my veins as blood by now. And I have attempted to quit twice before, but neither attempt lasted more than six months. I tried nicotine patches, but found myself smoking while wearing them. Then there was Chantix, the smoking cessation medicine that replaced cigarettes with migraine headaches and nearly killed me. I suppose I could try nicotine gum, lozenges or even electronic cigarettes, but let’s face it. Those things provide nothing but a crutch, and I need to quit for real this time.

I hate to admit it, but my mother was right: cold turkey is the only way to quit effectively. She always said that when I was ready to quit—and when I finally convinced myself I was ready—then I would quit and never return. Well, it seems that time is now. I’m tired of having breathing problems and needing an inhaler to catch my breath. I’m tired of freezing my ass off in the winter by being forced to smoke outside. And most of all, I’m tired of bringing death closer and closer with every puff.

Today, I am a non-smoker. And here’s hoping my third attempt at quitting will be my last.

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.

LEGO Love Fest

When I was a kid, I absolutely adored LEGO. These famous construction toys not only allowed me to flex my developing imagination, but also provided me with endless hours of fun and entertainment—a fact I relish now that my son is a huge LEGO fan, too.

Unfortunately, my use of LEGO waned as I got older, but I still love it enough to live vicariously through my son. Despite the high prices for themed sets—like Star Wars and Chima, for instance—and the tendency for me to step on all shapes and sizes of LEGOs in the minefield of my son’s bedroom, they still rock. And people are doing more and more creative things with these plastic building blocks, too.

Check out some of these LEGO creations and tell me this isn’t an underrated art form.

Vacation Time!

Tell me this isn't a good omen for a beach trip!

Tell me this isn’t a good omen for a beach trip!

Sorry if my blogging fades off this week, but I am currently enjoying a family vacation at the beach. Day one produced this rainbow—the first and only rainbow for which I have seen its start and end—and the weather could not be better. Time to recharge my battery and if the mood strikes me, I will blog. Otherwise, look for me on the beach because I plan to spend A LOT of time there. See you all soon!

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