Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Election Circus

            The only thing thinner than Trump’s toupee is the security of Hillary’s email server. Yes, it’s election season again. Well, it’s not quite election season. But, it’s not Halloween or Christmas season either, but Walmart is already rolling out the decorations. Why must the decorations come out earlier every year? Because every year, We The People have less to look forward to. So, every year we push the holiday hope a little sooner. The election circus comes earlier for a similar reason. Our sole hope as an electorate is a change of guard.
            I remember a day when we used to have hope. We had the Democratic version of hope—a vision of society helping those in need. We had the Republican version of hope—of economic prosperity emerging from free commerce. Both of those visions have some merit, but We The People now see the truth. The visions aren’t based on policies. They’re marketing slogans. That’s what our politicians have degraded into—slick snake oil salespeople. And, the snake oil is poison and it’s overpriced.
            We The People don’t want an insider. Used to be, we lacked trust in the Washington insider. Now, we no longer trust our governors.
            Let’s look at a few of the Republican candidates. Christie wants to cut social security. Kasich made disparaging comments about teachers. Walker’s policies have led to turmoil in Wisconsin. Graham has as much presidential demeanor as Foghorn Leghorn. This isn’t to say every Republican personality or idea is bad. But, at times I feel like I’m watching reality TV as opposed to thoughtful leaders.
            The Democratic side of things also has its drama. How can anyone seriously consider Hillary as viable? Benghazi! Email security issues! And, she tries to deflect with bad jokes as opposed to addressing the issues. There is Biden. He seems a nice man, but his propensity for spouting stupidity seems only surpassed by Dubya!
            Amidst this freak show, two candidates are stepping forward: Trump and Sanders. Two or three decades ago, I’m not sure either candidate would have been taken seriously. Trump seems to speak what’s on his mind. That seems to be his main appeal. He’s not one of them (political insider) and that’s why people like him. He doesn’t have a sliver of presidential demeanor. Electing Trump would make us the laughing stock of the world. But, here’s the catch. The bar is so low, that he’s a better choice than some of the other candidates.
            The Democrats have Sanders. He’s their black sheep. He claims to be a Socialist. At least he’s honest. And, some of his ideas do have merit. He wants to talk about income inequality, police brutality, the soaring cost of college education and the need for quality healthcare. These are key issues people are struggling with. Merely mentioning them grabs attention. His demeanor is crusty—not what one would expect for someone seeking a job that requires high-level diplomacy. At one level, I’m proud that We The People are able to see past the veneer of personality. At another level, Sanders may be a little too far left and too lacking in diplomatic demeanor. He may be the best the Democratic Party has running, but is he the best our country is able to produce? I don’t think so!

            This election season is a turning point. People are screaming NO to politics as usual. They don’t want the insiders. They don’t want slick politicians. They want a change of guards. I’m only hoping that We The People are beginning to see that the guards are not public servants. The guards are running the prison.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The GPS of Creativity

A sample from my book: Creativity is Factory Installed; Here's How to Open the Tap
Available on paperback at: https://www.createspace.com/5450039
Available on Kindle at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00WILDT9S

            The old woman grips the wheel and yells out obscenities. No doubt from the language she’s using, she’s had a vivid life. She pulls over to the side of the road and pulls out a map. The unfolding begins. She thinks she’s lost, because she needs to be on Main Street. She’s on MLK, which becomes Main if she’d only drive another half-mile.            A younger woman zips by her. She’s following her GPS, which happens to know that MLK becomes Main in half a mile. Both women face an arduous drive—from Ohio to California. The older woman is confused and disoriented—not due to age, because she’s as sharp any person; but, because she’s trying to picture the whole journey ahead of her. Her attempts to plot her course with a red marker on the thin-skinned map stretched over her steering wheel are only making holes in the map.            The younger woman is free to enjoy the journey. Her GPS only shows her the next half-mile and the only thing she needs to focus on is making the next turn. But, inside the GPS, the whole journey is plotted out. As she drives, she’s able to look out the window and enjoy the scenery. She sees cities, towns, rivers, streams, mountains and valleys.             Her journey is guided by the inner GPS, but broken down into turn-by-turn on screen. So, the drive becomes a vibrant experience. This is a picture of the creative process. We have an inner GPS—a dreamscape where the world of imagination meets our spirit. It’s the source of dreams, intuition and inspiration. It’s an inner voice and playground—the brain at play, processing all the millions of bits of information that’s entered our lives.            But, we can’t function in a world of millions of bits of information. So, our brain has a screen—those things we are thinking about and paying attention to at the moment. Sometimes that screen is focused on survival—I need to get to the grocery store and pay the electric bill. Sometimes that screen is focused on the mundane of life—let’s get some lunch and watch Star Wars. But, when we are on a creative journey, the screen receives its images from the inner GPS. It’s then that we just need to focus on turn-by-turn.
            Turn-by-turn: it’s simply the next chapter in our book, the skyline of our painting, or the next bar of music for our composition. Sometimes it’s even less—just the next sentence, the next brush stroke or the next note. Those that lack faith in the inner GPS pull to the side of the road and try to map out the whole journey. “Well, where is this story going? What is the whole picture supposed to look like? What is my symphony supposed to sound like?” And, time is wasted while holes are punched in the map. The true creative trusts the inner GPS and just focuses on the next turn. This is freedom to enjoy the creative journey—look out the window, watch the mountains, drink of the streams or have lunch in the quaint little village. At times the inner GPS has the entire creative journey plotted out. At times, it’s also figuring out the journey. The important thing to remember is that the inner GPS knows more of the journey than it puts on the screen; and, that if we just worry about driving the half-mile we see, the rest of the journey will unfold.


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Creativity is Factory Installed; Here’s How to Open the Tap:
The Secret of Dynamic Public Speaking: https://www.createspace.com/4059307
Overcoming Stage Fright: https://www.createspace.com/3794215
Learning is Fun, But Education Stinks: https://www.createspace.com/3886355
Biblical Keys to Success: https://www.createspace.com/3795970
Go Ye Therefore and Teach: https://www.createspace.com/4317161
Why We Light the Menorah: https://www.createspace.com/4372807

Some of these books are also available as Kindle versions on my website

Kindle $0.99 specials:

Parable of the Scavenger Lion: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PBBLW8W
Parable of the Squirrel and the Acorns: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PBBM80S


Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Learning Factory

A Sample Chapter in my book: Learning is Fun, But Education Stinks

            Teaching methods ought to be based on the way people learn. That statement seems so obvious I almost feel ludicrous stating it, but it has to be stated. So much of what is done in the education system is completely contrary to this simple idea. So, as a starting point let me describe to you how the brain functions.
            The brain is like a giant computer connected to the body. Just like a computer, it has inputs devices. These input devices are our senses: touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. Sensory information is inputted to the brain. The brain processes that information. Then, the brain outputs what it has processed to the body. This simple cycle of input-process-output is the learning process in a nutshell.
            Let’s consider the brain as a learning factory. Just like a factory it has shipping and receiving. In an actual factory, the receiving department takes in raw materials. These raw materials will later be turned into a product. That product will then be sent to the customers by the shipping department. In many companies shipping and receiving are combined together into one department. In the brain it isn’t quite so simple, but these two departments are closely linked. Both are found at the point the brain intersects with the body and both deal with electrochemical impulses being sent through a great network of nerves.
            Obviously, I’m simplifying the function of the brain. No one fully understands how it operates. But, the shipping and receiving analogy is an accurate one and helps illuminate the learning process.
            In any factory, much occurs between when raw materials are taken in and when completed products are shipping out. I’m going to use common functions seen within a factory to explain what goes on between input and output.
            Our survival depends on our brain making sense of its environment. After it makes sense of things it has to figure out what to do with this sense-making. So, it has functions similar to research and development. This research and development could be broken down into two distinct phases: 1) Figuring out what the inputs mean—a making-sense-of-things function, and 2) Figuring out what to do with that meaning—a what-do-I-do-with-the-meaning function.
            At this point our factory has done three things: 1) Received inputs (a receiving function), 2) Made sense of the inputs (a research and development function) and 3) Figured out what to do with the meaning (another research and development function). So, our brain now has a blueprint or game plan on how to proceed.
            In a factory, would a blueprint be sufficient? Obviously not! Research and development could produce all kinds of blueprints, but until those blue prints are turned into a product no real production has occurred.
            In the brain the products being produced are ideas. An idea is a mental road map. It explains how the various roads (inputs) are connected. It also gives someone a useful guide of how to apply information.
            Having a roadmap is meaningless unless one takes a journey. The ideas in the brain need to be applied—which means that the production and shipping functions are closely connected. In order for deep learning to occur, ideas must be translated into experiences. As I write this, I am translating my ideas into an experience: writing my ideas down for the world to see.
            What we output also becomes an input. I see the words on my screen. So, our shipping and receiving functions are closely connected—they are both experientially oriented. We could view learning as a circle of: 1) experiences, 2) processing meaning to those experiences, 3) figuring out how to apply that meaning, and 4) creating new experiences, which loops back to number 1.
            Is day dreaming an output? I mentioned the receiving and shipping parts of the learning factory is experiential. This often means receiving sensing from the body and sending commands to the body. However, consider what experiential means from the brain’s perspective. It means sensory-oriented. When daydreaming the brain is creating an experience for the brain. The brain can create things the brain hears, sees, touches, tastes and smells without receiving those raw materials from the body or outputting anything to the body. Does this mean when the brain is daydreaming that it is engaged in the learning process? Consider Albert Einstein. He loved imagination and it was a big part of his process for investigating physics. Many of the things he was dealing with could not be directly sensed and yet he figured them out. He did this using his imagination. He demonstrated an extremely creative form of learning. Olympic athletes will often visualize the event before they perform the event. Why would they do this unless this active imagining was somehow helping them perform better? And, couldn’t better performance be viewed as learning? Daydreaming is the learning factory churning away.
            What does our system do with daydreamers? “Suzie! Suzie! SUZIE! Quit staring out the window and pay attention!” We squash daydreaming, but daydreaming is learning. Students daydream when their brains are longing for learning and they aren’t getting it from the classroom!
            There are a few key things to take from this: 1) Learning is output-oriented. What I mean by that is learning does not occur until the process has come full circle. Simply inputting information is not enough. The brain must make sense of that information and produce a product. 2) Creativity is a key component of deep learning. We could view creativity as a function of research, development and production. In a factory, raw materials received must be transformed into something interesting or useful. Creativity is the process of the mind transforming raw materials (inputs) into something interesting or useful. The deeper the transformation—the deeper the learning!
            One key problem with our education system is that the focus is primarily on the receiving end of learning. Students are often treated as empty receptacles to be filled. In many cases a great deal of raw materials are stacked on the receiving docks, but those raw materials don’t go through a radical transformation. In many cases those raw materials are later shipped out, but they are shipped out in the exact same form as they were received. The education system drops off a load of intellectual wood and then later comes back and receives the same load of intellectual wood. It’s a passive handoff of information. It looks more like a game of catch than an intellectual idea factory.
            What schools often give students is a pattern to duplicate or a set of procedures to follow. When this happens there is a small degree of production between shipping and receiving. The intellectual planks received have been unpacked and organized into neat little piles. This did require some effort by the mental factory workers and a small degree of learning has occurred. But, this is far different than someone taking the planks and transforming them into something new. What I often see in college freshmen is an inability to think. They can collect and organize the mental planks of other people, but they cannot come up with their own planks. They are not able to analyze ideas and create. They are following some paint-by-numbers approach. Their research and development department has received little challenge and training. Their production department has been trained to answer questions as opposed to asking them.
            Imagine for a moment working in a factory. Say your job only involved collecting wood and organizing it into neat piles. Would you find that job fulfilling? Obviously not! You would just be going through the motions, emotionally detached and filled with apathy. Because our education system put little emphasis on creativity, students are bored, passive and apathetic.
            Let’s say for a moment in this factory you were paid $100/hour. Would you miss work? Would you neglect to do one single function of your job? Obviously you would do exactly what is asked of you. But, does this mean your heart would be involved? No! You would still be going through the motions, but you would be doing it in a highly compliant fashion, because you desire that fat paycheck. External systems of rewards may make people compliant, but that doesn’t make them excited about what they are doing. In fact, in such a system you would be less likely to ask questions or challenge the system. You would quietly and compliantly do what is told even if it meant nothing to you. Do you think having workers simply meandering around compliantly following orders translate into the factory producing a high quality product? Obviously the answer is no. A creative, energetic pursuit of an exceptional product comes from a person following their passions, asking questions and being fully engaged in the process. Later I will show how specific tools of the system (like grades, tests, textbooks and a whole host of other excrement) actually work against the brain producing an exceptional product. Our system is based on external rewards that condition people to compliance as opposed to tapping into their internal motivations that produce creative output.
            For a moment, compare a five-year old to a high school graduate. The five-year old will be filled with questions. Give them a blank sheet of paper and a box of crayons and they will create art! Their minds are active explorers. Then that poor kid enters kindergarten and the slow, deadly process of socialization begins. He is taught what to think instead of how to think. A high emphasis is placed on putting mental planks on the docks and later having him give back those planks. A low emphasis is placed on the research, development and production components of his learning factory. Even when those components receive some attention it’s done through bureaucratic procedure as opposed to artistic exploration. At five, the kid was bright, energetic, asking questions, creating art and passionately involved in the natural, wonderful process of learning. By the time that kid leaves high school he is an uninspired slacker who wants to know the answer to only one question from his teacher, “What do you want me to say and how do you want me to say it?” The fault is not the kid. He’s been conditioned to think that way!
            While you wouldn’t know it from our education system, learning is fun. Consider a kid playing. Perhaps the child is making a fort, playing house or drawing with crayons. In all those cases the brain is receiving information from the environment, processing that information (the research and develop—making sense of things—as well as the production—translating that meaning into blueprints) and translating that into an output (where production meets shipping—experiential based: building a fort, having tea or drawing a dinosaur). A child at play is the learning factory in action. When children are engaged in this fashion they are squealing, laughing and fully engrossed in the process. It is a natural, pleasurable experience.
            Children are naturally wired to test their environment. The whole learning process of play I just described is really just a child poking, prodding and exploring the world around them. Often children labeled as having a learning disability are doubly wired to test their environment. Consider a child labeled with ADHD. Such a child will: eat dirt to see what it tastes like, throw the cat in the pool to see if it likes water or take apart the lawn mower to see how it works. A child with ADHD does not have a learning disability. Our system has a teaching disability! Consider—these children are most disruptive to the education system when they are most engaged in the process of learning (testing their environment).
            There are genuine learning disabilities. Sometimes the learning factory does not function as it should. Such students need appropriate help. What often happens is a student is smart and has a well functioning brain. They are just having problems fitting into the system. Is it naturally for young children to sit and quietly listen to lectures for six to eight hours a day? No! Adults have a hard time doing it and for the most part survive the ordeal because they’ve learned how to daydream. For a child or adult not fitting into a dysfunctional system is not a disability, but I’m afraid often one is labeled as disabled when there is nothing wrong with their learning factory. Such a label carries a stigma that can be damaging. A student can think something is wrong with them. Or, they can use that as an excuse for improper behavior later in life—“I can’t do such and such, because I have ADHD.”
            Consider an adult taking up a hobby. Say they are learning to play trombone. They receive information from their instructor or trombone lesson book. Their brain needs to figure out what that information means, how to apply that meaning and then put that meaning into actual production. You can’t learn to play trombone merely by reading a book or listening to a teacher. Your learning must become experiential—you need to play the trombone. When an adult plays, we call it a hobby, but the same learning factory is churning as a child at play. All the various functions of the mental learning factory are in full gear. Hobbies bring us joy, make us laugh and enthrall us. Hobbies are learning!
            Learning is a highly pleasurable experience. If one is bored in school, they aren’t bored with learning. They are bored because little learning is occurring.


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Creativity is Factory Installed; Here’s How to Open the Tap:
The Secret of Dynamic Public Speaking: https://www.createspace.com/4059307
Overcoming Stage Fright: https://www.createspace.com/3794215
Learning is Fun, But Education Stinks: https://www.createspace.com/3886355
Biblical Keys to Success: https://www.createspace.com/3795970
Go Ye Therefore and Teach: https://www.createspace.com/4317161
Why We Light the Menorah: https://www.createspace.com/4372807

Some of these books are also available as Kindle versions on my website

Kindle $0.99 specials:

Parable of the Scavenger Lion: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PBBLW8W
Parable of the Squirrel and the Acorns: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PBBM80S

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Dark Side of Depression

            The dark side of Dad’s life was the depressions he went through. It’s only been in the last few years I’ve been able to really put all these things together and understand what he went through. Part of this is because I’ve gone through these things. I’m going to share some things about myself that I’ve never shared with anyone. But, they need to be shared for two reasons: first, I need to work through them; and, second, so others can work through these issues.
            The dark point of my life was early in 1989. I was taking classes at The University of Akron in chemical engineering. That’s no big secret. What is a big secret is that I was struggling with suicidal thoughts. I never got into drugs or alcohol through this period. I also was always able to talk myself through the fact that suicide was not the answer. But, I was on that tightrope, where I could have fell off the edge. I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it (at least in a better way) now. I just thought my life was heading in the wrong direction. What I really wanted to do at the time was study for the ministry. But, I felt pressure from my parents to go into engineering. I was gifted in mathematics in school, so a push for engineering was natural. Please understand, my parents were not the type that would try to pressure me like that. But, at the time I didn’t understand that. I was feeling a pressure that was in my mind. Sure, at that point they would have liked me to go into engineering, but had I felt more comfortable talking to them, perhaps I would have never gotten to the point of having suicidal thoughts.
            Talking things through is an important point for anyone struggling with these issues. There is a hopelessness one feels and it feels that hopelessness may never go away. I’ve seen it in Dad and later in 2008 really felt it. By 2008, I had the understanding to better understand what was going on.
            For about the last fifteen to twenty years of Dad's life (maybe a little longer, I can’t say) I watched Dad go through cycles of depression. In the late 1990’s he had a stroke. He recovered, but it may have been a contributing factor.
            The crushing blow for Dad was forced retirement from Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in 2002. He showed up one day and was asked to leave—after 36 years of service as a lab technician, which included work on several patents. One patent was for a curing process for the rubber compounds. Another was for a glow-in-the-dark marking that would be used in tires. To have a lab technician involved in these things was uncommon. Part of this was a special friendship he fostered with one of the engineers named Ramen. So, he was doing things lab technicians normally weren’t involved in. This was an area he showed his creativity.
            Goodyear was firing employees who were closing in on full retirement. Dad received the ax. He was ushered out of the building and the contents of his locker were brought down to him in a box. He was later involved in a class action suit with other employees who were fired improperly. I’m not sure Dad ever got over that—he was so faithful (a wonderful trait he had) and then was kicked in the nuts. It was a brutal blow.
            Dad went through cycles of depression. His thoughts were completely irrational. I remember him worrying he was going to die, because he couldn’t defecate for several days. He was worried things would back up in his system. He worried a lot about his legs and keeping up leg strength. This was particularly true when he had torn cartilage in his knee. In his mind, he wasn’t going to walk again, but he only faced a minor surgery. He also had some minor dental problems (obviously I’m not counting the major problems after his cancer diagnosis in 2013) and was constantly worried about his teeth and them rotting away.
            At times, we had some arguments as I was trying to help Dad see things logically. It wasn’t until I faced some depressions of my own that I realized logic and depression are separate things. You can’t help someone that is depressed by winning a logical argument over something they feel. Dad also struggled with panic attacks and anxiety and struggled with some addiction to anti-anxiety medication: particularly Ativan through this last bout with cancer, but he desired the magic happy pill throughout every depression. From what I’ve seen, these pills may be necessary in certain situations, but often just mask real issues that need to be dealt with. I’ve also seen you need to be careful with these pills.
            One medication that was terrible for Dad was Klonopin. He thought it made him better, but what it really did was make him numb to all emotions. Unless you’ve seen depression firsthand, you just don’t understand how hard it is to see someone that loses their spirit. There were points dad developed a blank expression—none of his heart or spirit showing through his countenance. As I consider things now, I realize with the proper course of treatment this may not have been necessary.
            During one depression, Dad ended up in the psychiatric ward at St. Thomas hospital in Akron, Ohio. I visited Dad several times. This psychiatric ward was a dark place. There was a spirit of oppression that permeated the air. It’s hard to explain. It’s a heaviness that can be felt. I’m not sure how people are supposed to regain health in a toxic environment.
            One evening they showed Dad, mom and I a video. It was about electroconvulsive therapy. The video painted this wonderful picture. Dad initially seemed receptive. Of course he was. He was depressed and wanted relief. They were offering him the magic pill! That evening I did some research. This treatment (also called electroshock therapy) is brutal. They run electricity through the brain and give someone a grand mal seizure. The idea is to reset the brain. I was frightened and angered. Mom and I talked to Dad and helped him see it wasn’t a good choice. The staff was pushing for the treatment.
            I never met the doctor behind this brutality, but was ready if necessary to find where he lived and attack him if he wouldn’t back down on the treatment. I meant it. Beating this monster within an inch of his life would be true justice. The doctors who perform these treatments are vampires—willing to suck the life out of others for their own benefit (big profit). This treatment should be immediately banned. It’s no wonder the psychiatric ward at St. Thomas was such a dark place. Evil was hanging in the air and traumatized patients were walking the halls.
            I think it was around 2007-2008 where I started to put the pieces together with Dad. 2008 was a hard time for me. I was approaching my 20-year high school reunion and I was single. I still am. I ache for a mate, but just haven’t met the right person. I suspect I do have a diminished attraction to and attractiveness towards women due to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)—something I’ve started to understand only in the last few years as I’ve reflected on my life. There are many struggles I face that disappeared when I lived in Florida. Dad was diagnosed with SAD.  There are therapies to treat this. Unfortunately, Dad wasn't diagnosed until later in life; and, as I'm learning more through my own personal experience, Dad may not have been given proper medical advice. SAD can be quite debilitating if not treated properly.
            Anyhow, back to 2008. I was struggling working two teaching jobs—one online at Liberty University and the other on campus at Bohecker College. At times I was teaching three classes for Liberty and six at Bohecker. This was a peak schedule. It could be as low as four or five (usually it was six or seven) while at least having one and up to three at Liberty. I was on-fire about teaching and gave my all to my students. I didn’t realize until 2007 how much that was burning me out. I’m still currently teaching as the Department Chair of General Studies for National College in Stow, Ohio. I also teach at the Youngstown campus and occasionally at the Canton campus. Right now I’m looking for a new career. I’ve had to face the fact I’m an introvert. I love people, but they wear me out.
            Dad was also an introvert. Introverts are energizers. They give themselves fully to others, but this can be to their own detriment. I’ve only come to fully understand this recently. I wish I understood this personality bent earlier. Maybe I could have helped Dad out more. I don’t feel guilty. I did the best I could with what I had, but I now have more. That’ why I’m sharing, so others can learn. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people that are the kindest, gentlest or most energizing (that’s how I am, although I’ve had to give less due to burnout) also end up with severe depression. I wouldn’t call Dad an energizer. I’d call him kind and generous. He warmed those around him. I don’t think he fully understood it and I didn’t really understand this personality trait until he was in the middle of his battle with cancer. At that point, we just needed to deal with the cancer, but I suspect Dad was the type that just couldn’t stop giving himself to others.
            The burnout I was facing in 2007 and 2008 started me researching into what was causing this and the effects of stress. People that are extremely driven (or under much stress) can wear out their adrenal glands. This changes the body chemistry, but it also changes the brain chemistry. It open up pathways that cause the brain to get stuck in anxious thinking—at the worst panic attacks and also extreme anxiety. Once those pathways are open, they can’t be closed through logic. Over time, with rest and a good mindset, those pathways can be closed. But, the racing, anxious thoughts just can’t be turned off like a switch. In some cases, it requires changes in lifestyle to close these switches over time. It’s a ramping down process as opposed to a switch and it is based on altered brain chemistry. So, someone can’t just go from depressed (or anxious) to normal thinking immediately. It can take considerable time. Around the summer and fall of 2008, I was experiencing panic attacks—particularly the thoughts of never having kids and being alone the rest of my life. It’s something that still bothers me.
            From 2006 to 2008 I took some doctoral classes at Kent State University in Education. I also started doing standup comedy in 2008. I’m thinking my first performance was June 3rd. I remember it was in a comedy competition at the Funny Stop in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. At the time I was teaching speech (as well as writing and management classes) and was thinking of a possible career in standup comedy. I now realize that wasn’t a proper thought process, but my thinking was messed up due to stress. I wasn’t doing well in my doctoral classes. My grades were great, but I hated academic research and writing. I had all these various threads in my life that were tearing me down. My brother was also struggling with alcohol abuse, which added to my problems, as I was worried about him drinking himself to death.
            Had something not changed, I may have been in trouble. But, I applied to an MFA program, which was a co-venture between The University of Akron, Kent State University and Youngstown State University. Figuring I would be accepted, I applied to teach English Composition classes at The University of Akron. I wasn’t accepted for the MFA program, but was offered a job (in one interview, which seemed too easy) at The University of Akron. I left Bohecker. For a short time in September, I was finishing out a Saturday class at Bohecker, but the job at The University of Akron was far less stressful. It was enough of a life change to lower my stress level to the point I wasn’t dealing with an anxious brain.
            I suspect part of the reason behind an anxious brain is a vivid imagination. I have it and Dad had it. Dad was involved with several patents. He also liked to design tomato planters. In an earlier blog I shared a poem he wrote. I don’t think he ever learned how to use his imagination. It’s only been in the past few years I’ve learned how to use mine through the creative outlet of writing.
            Dad’s father, Bill (William) Tipton, passed away when Dad was only four or five. His brother, My Uncle Ted, became the man of the family and Dad’s father figure. Uncle Ted went off to work. Dad was left alone with his mother, Lena. She had severe, rheumatoid arthritis. She constantly poured negative thinking into Dad’s head about health problems and how she was suffering with the loss of her husband. Dad was her counselor, something he shouldn’t have been doing at that young age. Grandma was mentally, spiritually and psychologically abusing him. I don’t think it was intentional. She genuinely loved him. It was simply a consequence of the grief she was going through and her own struggles. Dad was set up to have negative thinking about his health. It followed him through his life. This is a life lesson. If you’re struggling through something, don’t use a young child as your therapist. It can leave them scarred for life.
            Dad never talked to me in-depth about all the things his mom poured on him. I heard about them through mom. I suspect Dad was simply too kind to bad-mouth his mother to her grandkids. But, early in my parents’ marriage, Dad and mom helped care for Grandma Lena. So, mom saw it firsthand. I was too young to remember or comprehend.

DEALING WITH DEPRESSION
            Since I’ve suffered some with depression and saw Dad suffer, let me share some ideas on dealing with depression. I believe this is a societal issue that many people face. Addressing this problem will require more than a band-aid. It will require changes in our society.
            Good people experience depression. It’s easy to stigmatized depression or other mental illnesses. This isn’t fair. Good people become depressed. Dad was a kind, gentle person. People loved him. It’s weird that we don’t understand someone’s impact until after death. So many people have shared kind words about how much Dad meant to them.
            Sometimes someone becomes depressed because they are a good person. They give of themselves—their kindness, compassion and mental energy to others. Over time this can wear someone down. In a society of takers, the givers can end up empty.
            During many of the depressions I went through, I couldn’t afford help. People without the means don’t receive treatment. That’s one of the truths of our capitalistic economic system, which may more resemble feudalism or fascism than true capitalism. That is a debate for another essay, but in feudalism or fascism a small group has all the power and are free to operate in immoral ways in order to meet selfish needs. According to Mussolini, fascism is a mix of the government and corporations. Does that sound like our current system? We will see a rise in mental illness. We have a diseased society and a symptom of that is people can’t adjust. And, it’s often the most caring people that can least adjust to our diseased society.
            Depression is integrated. By that, I mean depression affects a person holistically. There are physical problems, psychological problems, social problems, socio-economic problems, spiritual problems, family problems or traumatic events that can all contribute to depression. There is no one trained to handle these problems. In our education and economic system, we train people to be specialists. There are doctors who understand the body, psychologists and psychiatrists who understand mental problems, sociologists who understand society, family therapists who understand family dynamics, and pastors and other religious leaders who understand spiritual problems. At least this is the theory, although my life experience has shown there are few people in these fields who have mastered their specialty. And, even if they have, they don’t understand all the various other contributing factors to depression. Treating depression requires someone who understands all these fields. The treatment requires a well-versed generalist in the entire human experience. Our society doesn’t train people in that manner. Our education and economic systems produce individuals with myopic viewpoints. This isn’t just detrimental to the treatment of depression. It affects the entire functioning of our society. Few see the big picture.
            Depression isn’t logical. It’s easy if a loved one is depressed to try to talk them out of their depression. It seems on the surface that depression is connected to illogical thinking. Because of my background in teaching, I understand how people think. There are truths that have great impact on the treatment of depression.
            Our thinking and our feelings are intimately intertwined. When we try to convince someone that their depressive thoughts are illogical, what we are asking them to do is to tackle the problem from a purely logical viewpoint. This is the wrong approach. First, people that approach the world through pure logic (detached from emotions) are often monsters. Our emotions play a big part in our morality. We wouldn’t want our loved one to detach their emotions and their thinking. If they did, they would no longer be the person we love!
            What I’ve discovered through teaching is that we often grab someone emotionally first. Once we have the heart, then we impact the mind. In depression, emotions are the horse. Logic is the cart. So, I’m suggesting another approach. We need to begin treating depression by making a person feel better. If we build up a person emotionally, eventually their thinking will start to change.
            Sometimes it may be best for a person outside someone’s immediate circle to provide support. For a loved one, constantly dealing with irrational thoughts is wearing. It’s easy to lose patience. Or, for the irrational thoughts of another to impact our thinking. Of course, finding an outsider that can truly help is difficult. And, it’s only possible for those who have the means.
            If we attack a person’s thinking, what we are doing is invalidating them. We’re telling a person, “You are wrong.” That makes them feel worse. And, once they feel worse, it begins to impact their feelings.
            What seems illogical from your viewpoint isn’t illogical from their viewpoint. Our viewpoint is derived from our experiences. Dad lost his father at a young age. Dad’s mother poured toxic thoughts into his head. Dad had struggles with work—with overbearing bosses and was eventually tossed out the door like a useless tool that was no longer needed. Based on all these experiences, his thought-processes were logical. His thought processes weren’t logical to me. I had a stable childhood with loving parents. Of course, from my experiences, some of his thoughts didn’t make sense.
            Imagine someone’s view on the world as being molded in clay—not normal clay, but a heavy, thick clay that resists being mold. The heavy hands of time and experience are the only things with enough strength to shape this clay. If these hands have molded one’s viewpoint into a monstrosity, it won’t change over night. It will require these same heavy hands molding through time and experience.
            Our society is filled with people whose clay has been molded into a monstrosity. We have people who grew up in poverty, who were abused as children, who may have faced the ravages of war or other problems. The heavy hands have bent, twisted and morphed the clay of viewpoint into something dreadful. Recovery requires these heavy hands creating new experiences, but these heavy hands must now operate in the gentlest of ways. We must show someone unconditional love—over and over and over—until they begin to feel better. Once they begin to feel better, eventually their thinking will follow. But, it may take months, years or even decades for complete recovery.
            Gentleness doesn’t mean softness. If a person may hurt themselves or others, immediate, drastic steps may need to be taken—short-term in order to overcome that crisis. Such drastic steps need to be bathed in a long process of unconditional love. Unfortunately, our society is not conducive to this process.
            Socio-economic issues lead to depression. Much of our economic system is based on dog eat dog. It’s an unhealthy competition based on the idea that in order for me to rise, I must step on someone else’s back. This is evident in our workforce, our school systems, our streets and prisons. The romanticized rugged individualism of America society is the socio-economic version of survival of the fittest. It’s Darwinism applied to society.
            I know some people proclaim that we are a Christian nation. If you believe that, then get off your ass and make this country operate according to Christian principles. Christians must be involved in social justice. The Old Testament tithing system wasn’t just a system to care for the priests. It was a taxation system that cared for the poor and the needy. The messages of the prophets are filled with biting accusations towards a society that didn’t take care for the poor, the needy, children or the widow. The Old Testament disallowed gleaning of one’s field or vineyard, so the poor could be fed. The Israelites were not allowed to charge each other usury (interest on loans). There was even the provision of the Jubilee, which cancelled out debts and returned property to the original owners. Does this sound anything like our society? I know things are different now, but the principles are the same. The Biblical ideal is a society that cares for every citizen—not a disjointed collection of rugged individuals that are solely concerned about me, myself and I! In order to achieve that, we may need a revolution—one that changes our government, our economic system, our system of corporate servitude, our education system and our society as a whole. If we had a society that ran according to Biblical principles, we would not have the extreme socio-economic oppression that is a key contributing factor to depression and other mental illnesses.
            Hard-working people are denied the opportunity of a good job, a good education or a fair break, simply so some rich bastards can become a little richer. We The People have become We The Bankers and We The Corporations and we have handed over the keys to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to an oligarchy of villainous snakes.
            We have a society where people are constantly trampled under someone else’s foot. That foot may be the foot of useless politicians, mean-spirited bosses, or the opportunities that one class has that is denied another.
            When my Dad was escorted out of Goodyear Tire & Rubber, he wasn’t just given the contents of his locker in a box. That box contained his self-worth. His 36 years of service, his involvement with several patents, his hard work was trampled—simply so some useless corporate heads could save a few bucks while denying people their retirements.

            Conclusions. As a society, we can do a better job helping those who suffer from depression. But, simply treating the individual is not enough. We must grasp that the depressed person isn’t the disease. The depressed person is simply a symptom of a diseased society. And, we’re becoming more diseased every day!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

3,000 Miles

            Last week I travelled across the country—from Akron, Ohio to Denver, Colorado. The main point of the trip was to visit Denver Seminary, which is in Littleton, Colorado. I was trying to determine if God might be leading me there. I’m still not sure, but I did learn some things in my travels.
            I visited many gas stations and rest stops. Most of them are pretty similar. In Kansas I saw an AR-15 fire starter near the register. I was definitely in NRA country. Some of the nicer gas stations across the country also serve as truck rest stops. You’ll find showers, lounges and restaurants in these oases.
            On the way over, I was able to visit some friends in Kettering, Ohio. I was able to have a nice talk with my friend from college, Kevin. He is dealing with aging parents. My dad just passed away this June 13th. We also talked a little about end-time events. Kevin and his wife, Jessica, have the two cutest boys—Nathan and Samuel. It was a nice visit.
            Around Indianapolis are Ponderosa restaurants. There used to be Ponderosas in the Akron area. It was a trip back in time and a yummy meal. My mom and brother were jealous when they saw the pictures.
            Illinois seems to be the land of road construction. Sure, all states have construction, but it seems to slow things down the most in Illinois. Every state will section off hundreds of miles of road to work on a bridge. All the signs about construction-zone speed limits and legal consequences of hitting a worker became wearing. I suspect less people would speed through these zones if they only sectioned off the road they’re working on. After driving miles and miles in a zone without seeing any workers, people forget they’re in a construction zone.
            I stopped in Kansas City, Missouri and did a poetry open mic. Kansas City has a nice vibe—relaxed, friendly with a creative air. The Uptown Arts Bar was decorated with a variety of paintings. They also served a great veggie pizza!
            All the poets were friendly. Some of the poetry was beautiful. Some was funny. Some was insightful. Some was strange—in a colorful, thought-provoking way. I found out there was a vibrant poetry scene in Kansas City. The poets out there apparently enjoy wine and dank. I didn’t see this, but someone mentioned it.
            Missouri has an Air Force base. Who knew? On the drive back I saw a B2 bomber. I was able to snap a clear photo with my cell phone. I wondered what a B2 was doing over Missouri. So, I did some research and found out there is an Air Force base where B2’s are kept. Mystery solved!
            Storms in Kansas are terrifying. Driving from Kansas City to Topeka, my GPS directed me down some rural roads. I later discovered I had it set to avoid toll roads. So, on the way back I avoided the back roads and drove through a toll section on I-70 East. The rural roads were in no-man’s land. There were storms all around. Kansas is so open, that the lightening seems to engulf—surrounding and flashing on all sides. I drove about 20 minutes or so through some heavy rain.
            The scariest part is the sense of vulnerability. If Mother Nature decided to kick me in the teeth, there was no place to hide. And, what happens if a tornado pops up? Supposedly you’re supposed to lie in a low-lying area. The lowest area was the small depression between the road and adjacent cornfield. At points this depression was only a few feet deep. I’m not sure that would protection someone from tornadic winds or a flying tractor.
            There were several museums driving through Kansas. I didn’t stop at any of them, but I understand why they’re there. After driving hundreds of miles through plains, Dwight D. Eisenhower starts to sound more interesting. I was somewhat surprised that my cell phone seemed to work better in part of Kansas than in the Akron area. Maybe no one else was bogging down the data connection!
            In Kansas and Colorado, some of the entrance ramps are short. The traffic is mostly light, so it didn’t really matter. It surprised me the first time and then I was used to it. Through the plains the speed limit is often 75 mph. This seems a fair speed limit. Most people didn’t drive much faster than that. I did drive faster than that, but I was passing people. I found once I was back in civilization, that speeds much slower than 75 mph seemed slow. I also found that driving much above that becomes fatiguing. Maybe I just need a better car than my Corolla! In Kansas and Colorado there are many giant windmills.
            Denver is an interesting area. It seems to be a collection of shopping and restaurants. It’s a beautiful area. There’s nice landscaping and everything seemed neat and clean. There are also many attractions in the Denver metropolitan area.
            Littleton, Colorado has a nice historic museum. I ended up waking up early. My body was still on Akron time. The museum was one of the earliest places to open. It had artwork, several displays, an outside blacksmith shop, barns, a farmhouse with animals, an old school house, a small area for outdoor wildlife, and an educational wing (classrooms apparently for school visits). I took quite a few pictures before I learned photography wasn’t allowed—oops! One thing interest was a bust of John Littleton. You’ll have to read my previous post about a dream I had. It included a head, which looked like that bust. Weird, huh?
            The mountains were beautiful. I was looking for a tourist site called Echo Lake. I didn’t find it, but I did find some smaller mountain roads. So, I found out that the Corolla can climb mountains! I’m guessing I was a mile-and-a-half to two miles up. I took some beautiful pictures. Apparently I was in coyote country and there were storms around. So, getting out of the car and walking around the mountain may not have been the safest thing to do. But, I survived and have some wonderful pictures to show. I was also able to see the Garden of the Gods, which is an area with giant, sandy-colored stone structure jutting out of the ground.
            My main reason for going out there was to see the seminary. After the visit, I still don’t have definite direction. However, I do have peace if God does lead me there. My past experience with seminary has been dealing with people who vary from emotionless, to uptight, to completely legalistic lunatics. The people there were relaxed, friendly and spiritual. It was refreshing.
            Overall, it was a tiring and refreshing trip. It allowed me to clear my head after my dad’s death. I saw much of this country—some beautiful and some boring. I was also able to have some time alone with my own thoughts.