Hey brother

The other day on the way down to the barn we were listening to Anna’s music and the Avicii song “Hey Brother” came on. She got that song from me – I think it made the best-of 2013 CD – but Heidi doesn’t really like it very much because we had a farrier who, while trimming the horse’s feet would always say “hey brother” and “ok brother” and it just reminds her of him. But Anna and I enjoy it quite a bit. Mostly I love that it’s Dan Tyminski of O Brother Where Art Thou fame singing to EDM. It’s like my musical worlds colliding.

I love the video but it always reduces me to a puddle because of the story it tells. Two brothers growing up in the 60s, doing the things that brothers do and then, inevitably, the older brother ends up in Vietnam and he doesn’t come home. Oh let’s just watch it.

The video always makes me think about my own brother, who lives thousands of miles away in Arizona. Despite the distance, we keep in touch and while we are brothers, we don’t see eye to eye on everything (especially during this highly divisive political season), but who in the hell does? The one thing I know for sure is that I can count on him for anything. Once I posted a political post on Facebook and someone replied with a nasty remark, prompting me to take the whole post down rather than have to get into it with people.  He instantly texted me and said “I’m sorry that you took that post down, I was going to rip him to shreds for you. Those guys fold faster than Superman on laundry day.” I don’t think I say it enough, but I really am glad that he’s my brother. We’re definitely not the same, but I think at this point in our lives, we have a quiet understanding of each other. He’s my brother and I love him and well, what can you say?

One of the things that has always been super important to me in my life is to cultivate friendships with other men, but wow, is that a hard thing to do. I’ve always connected well with women – most of my friends in high school were girls and in college, I always hung out with the female members of my class, having a harder time connecting with the guys. For so long, it’s felt like this big empty spot in me that, no matter how hard I try, I cannot fill. The answer to that question is that it cannot be filled by anyone but yourself – a particularly annoying answer but the truth nonetheless. Through the Internet and mostly via blogging, I’ve found tons of like-minded men to bond with, but they are scattered throughout the world and well, that doesn’t make it easy to meet for coffee. One of my “favorite” things to do was to sit and rue (McClanahan) the fact that I had “no close male friends that are local.” But when you really look at my life, I have not only one, but in fact, I have three. I will not call them out by name because I don’t want to embarrass them (although I did get their permission to write about them), but I want to recognize them for the difference they have all made in my life. They are brothers in many ways, blood being the only way they are not.

The first person has been in my life for as long as I can remember. We grew up in the same town, went to the same elementary school where he allegedly hated my guts for winning the student council presidency by virtue of being the only 5th grader to run, thereby locking up the entire 5th grade vote. The first time we ever really connected was in high school in a class we both dreaded – P.E. When most of the other people were participating in whatever passed as physical “education” in those days, we were talking about Madonna, specifically the “La Isla Bonita” video. We didn’t hang out much until college, but bonded by our love for all things Madonna, we kept in touch even after I left for Iowa City, after spending two years in Ames at Iowa State. I remember buying Erotica in the fall of 1992 and not being able to wait to call him to deconstruct its tracks. (“Secret Garden” is a good song!) Somehow throughout our lives, we’ve always managed to live in relatively close proximity to each other and since 2001, we’ve been to every Madonna tour. It’s not a matter of if we go to the show, it’s a matter of where we will see it. Our friendship is buoyed by the jokes and stories we tell over and over again like they are the first time we have ever told them and our deep thoughts conversations every time we are on a road trip to a concert. Honestly, I can’t imagine my life without him in it, even though we are always pretending to secretly hate each other. He’s a friend to our family, the godfather to my daughter, and the reason that Heidi and I even know each other in the first place.

The second person is someone who I probably never would have become friends with had I not stepped outside my comfort zone. My normal modus operandi is to wait for people to come to me – not always the most successful strategy. But one Sunday almost 10 years ago now, I had a fun interaction with him at a church we had joined (and have since left), so I went through my old e-mails and found his e-mail in a  group e-mail from when we were both in a Unitarian Universalist history class. I e-mailed him and initiated contact and through that initial interaction, we discovered we had a mutual Fleetwood Mac obsession. Trouble was, his was much more Lindsey Buckingham centered where I was all Stevie, all the time. Not that we were going to let a little thing like that stop us. Our friendship began with a flurry of e-mails and trading of songs and progressed to grabbing coffee a few times. Through that, we discovered that we both had a fondness for horror films and neither of our wives did. We hit more cheesy horror films at the now defunct North Grand Dollar Theater than I care to think about. Thirty Days of Night has the distinction of being the coldest movie we ever saw – the movie we saw in the dead of winter that took place in Alaska after the sun goes down for a month. I don’t know that we ever saw anything truly awful there – although we were traumatized by the ending of The Mist – but there were a lot of movies we were glad that we didn’t pay any more than a dollar to see. Our movie-going days are fewer and further between these days as paying full price to see a movie takes commitment. So now it’s mostly jumbo margaritas and fast, cheap Mexican food at El Azteca. Because of the jumbo margaritas and since neither of us can hold our liquor, we are usually stuck there for a good hour after we finish our food, which lets us catch up on everything. We both have busy lives – teenage daughters and demanding jobs – so we probably see each other roughly quarterly, but I never doubt his friendship ever – not even a little bit. We text a lot and I can’t count the number of political freak-outs he’s had to talk me out of. For that, I will be forever grateful.

The third of these guys is someone I’ve known for quite a while, but with whom I have only recently became social. Our paths crossed only tangentially most of the time, but when my daughter started babysitting for his son, our lives started intersecting a little more frequently. He was always someone that I thought was a cool guy and really good at his job, but even though we lived in the same neighborhood, we were just never social. I guess that’s the way it goes for men a lot of the time – if you don’t have a shared project or something, there’s no reason to get to know each other. A crisis in his life which he shared with me proved to be the impetus for us to get to know each other. We met for coffee and supper a lot, sometimes at his house, sometimes out and about. When my wife needed a wall built for her office, it was with a little trepidation that I approached him to see if he could help. I knew he was handy and could build things, but it felt like an awful lot to ask from someone who I was just getting to know. The two days we spent building the wall were two great days because not only did I learn a shit-ton, I got to spend it with a guy who has become a close friend. Much like the other two, we don’t see each other tons, although I would say I see him more than the other two only because he lives so close to me whereas the other two guys live out of town. Our interactions are always equal parts serious and hilarious, which, for me, makes the best kinds of friends.

People float in and out of our lives all the time – if there’s anything I’ve learned in my life, it’s that. Sometimes they are there for a long time, other times for a few fleeting moments. But I can’t imagine my life without these three guys in it. I view them as brothers and that’s important to me because it’s relationships like that that my life needs most. I don’t think it’s possible to have too many of these. Different people meet different needs in us, and to expect one person to meet all those needs is grossly unfair to them and completely unrealistic.

But back to Avicii’s “Hey Brother.” The song will always mean a lot to me, and my message to these men I talked about in this post comes straight from the song – “Oh, if the sky comes falling down for you/There’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do.”

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Revelations during mowing

I was out mowing the yard tonight after dinner – it was completely overgrown and a total embarrassment. This is nothing new as by the time August rolls around, I’m mowing about every other week at best. Tonight the grass was so long that I had to raise the blade to the second highest position, otherwise I would have been stopping to clean out the mower every 2 minutes. Even with that, it was a wet, sticky, messy job.

But it wasn’t all bad. We had gone to see the remake of Pete’s Dragon this afternoon and it had gotten me all in the mood to listen to Helen Reddy. The original Pete’s Dragon, which stars Reddy, is one of my favorite Disney movies and one I saw a million times growing up. I even had the soundtrack on 8-track! So I pulled up a Helen Reddy greatest hits compilation on Spotify and went to work. If listening to Helen Reddy while mowing is not one of the most Dan things ever, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, I’m super familiar with about 15 Helen Reddy songs, and one came up that I had not heard before, and frankly, I needed to hear it. The song that shuffled up was “Best Friend.”

Would you take better care of yourself
Would you be kinder to yourself
Would you be more forgiving of your human imperfections
If you realized your best friend was yourself

Who is always with you everywhere
Who is on your side when others are unfair
And tell me, who will never let you down in any situation
Who will always see you get your share

And that’s why I am a best friend to myself
And I take me out whenever I feel low
And I make my life as happy as a best friend would
I’m as nice to me as anyone I know

The lyrics really hit home because despite my med changes, I’m still struggling a lot. I feel like I’m marginally better, although I am ready to dump Klonopin completely because I’m thinking it might be doing more harm than good. I am still my own worst enemy. I am plagued by negative self talk.“If only you were a better husband, father, friend, pharmacist…” It’s so hard to turn off – impossible even. The trick is not giving it control, which is harder than it sounds sometimes but at my best I can swat it away like an annoying fly. On my worst days, the fly crawls into my ear a la Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan and then your mind is under its control. I guess it boils down to talking to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend – you wouldn’t undermine them at every turn and tell them that they’re a piece of shit and nothing but garbage so why would you ever talk to yourself that way.

This weekend has been hard on a lot of levels, but I think I’m ready to take on the week.

Of course, I had no idea that this song was in Airport 1975. Check out that posh airplane!

And of course, that only made me think of the analogous scene in Airplane!

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Adjustments, and the drug that ruined Stevie!

In an ongoing attempt to get my anxiety under control this summer, I finally, at Heidi’s behest, went to see a psychiatrist. Ever since I went on Effexor, my family doctor has been handling my anti-anxiety meds. They’ve consisted of Effexor XR 225mg and as needed Ativan. When I say as needed Ativan, I mean that a bottle of 20 tablets lasts me 6-8 months, so it’s not like I’m using it tons. However, it just didn’t feel like that was the most effective way to handle this moving forward. Something had to change.

I talked to a friend who sees someone in Des Moines and got a name. It was a name that I recognized from work so I called up and, amazingly, got an appointment for the next week. That was yesterday. It was an interesting experience to say the least. The doctor that I saw is about my age and he’s a dude. He talked to me a lot about what I was on already, what I had been on. He talked to me about my symptoms, asked me to rate my mood, made sure I wasn’t suicidal (I wasn’t and am not), and then thrilled to the fact that because I’m a pharmacist because he could talk in jargon with me and I’d understand it.

We had three options.

  1. Increase the med I was currently taking.
  2. Taper off the med I’m on and try something new.
  3. Add something else.

We had a lot of good conversation about what he thinks is effective and what he doesn’t think is effective.  What was especially cool is that he let me pick from those options by and large, nudging me along where he needed to. As a pharmacist, I’m very leery of the so-called “mood stabilizers” i.e., Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify. Those were all originally marketed for schizophrenic patients and, frankly, I think they are now being overprescribed for people without that. Not to say that they may not be effective, but it’s kind of like bringing a machine gun to a squirt gun fight

klonopin.jpgWe ended up settling on increasing my Effexor dose, combined with a short term run of clonazepam, also known as Klonopin. Look at how cute those brand name Klonopin tablets are, with a little “K” punched out of the middle. Sadly, I don’t remember the last time I saw an actual brand name Klonopin tablet.  In any event, we agreed that it might be a good idea to help get me through what’s been a very anxious summer while we wait for the increased dose of Effexor to kick in – likely to take 10-14 days.

Now I do not take the introduction of Klonopin lightly. It is, after all, the drug that ruined Stevie Nicks for 8 years. Fresh out of rehab and having kicked the cocaine habit in 1987, a psychiatrist prescribed her Klonopin to help calm her down and keep her from relapsing. What resulted was the loss of eight years of her life which, according to Stevie, could have resulted in her meeting someone, having a baby, and countless other things. She recorded Tango In The Night with Fleetwood Mac during that time, an album on which she barely appears and, according to Lindsey Buckingham, was only physically present for about 2 weeks of the 8 month recording time. Her next two solo albums, The Other Side of the Mirror and Street Angel, are subpar, sung in a flat voice with no real emotion. In 1993, she went into rehab again, this time to kick Klonopin, which took her 47 days and was worse than getting off cocaine.

Now, everyone’s experience is different.  From the sounds of it, she didn’t need it in the first place and she certainly didn’t need to be on it for 8 years. Because I’m a pharmacist, I’m suspicious of any drug, knowing full well that there are side effects and that the drugs don’t just work at the site they are supposed to.  That said, I’ve had 2 doses and I am sleeping better and I felt much more even (if a little tired) yesterday during a pretty busy day. Despite this, I’m already plotting how and when I can take myself off of this med.  I will continue with it until my follow up appointment in 2 weeks, but I am super cognizant of the habit forming qualities of it and I’m just not wanting to go there at all. In all my years as a pharmacist, I’ve found that those that are hyperaware of the habit forming properties of drugs are the ones least likely to ultimately abuse them.

So far, my experience with Klonopin has been different from Stevie’s. Granted, it’s been 2 days and not 8 years, but I have a good feeling that this will get me over the hump to a place where I can start managing my anxious thoughts and feelings a little bit more effectively. God knows 2016 has been a shit year, but there’s lots I can do to make it better for me. Being off social media has helped a lot, although I did go look at it during Clinton’s convention speech because I was feeling left out.

Meanwhile, here’s Stevie reacting to my being on Klonopin.

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When a major key is scarier than a minor key

A quick post this morning since I’m really getting into this blogging thing again. Most of the time, when you think of music to go along with scary stuff, you think of music in a minor key. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor springs immediately to mind. The minor key of the music helps to create a spooky atmosphere and the tension you associate with scary stuff.

But what happens when you shift something familiar from a minor key to a major key? The results can be, well, more disturbing than you might imagine.

I saw this on Reddit last night and I couldn’t stop playing it. I sent it to Anna and she was “OMG WAT.” As the fine folks on Reddit said, it’s like something you’d hear when playing Wii Sports or something. Heidi says she’s waiting for Link to appear.

I find this to be more disturbing and unsettling than the original X-Files theme song. But maybe it’s just me.

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I got 99 problems and none of the things I think are my problems actually are one…

Apologies to Jay-Z for destroying his song in my paraphrase, but sometimes I need to actually hear that.

I woke up today with a really sore lower back. It’s unusual for me because I don’t normally have aches and pains of the bodily nature – Heidi has more than enough for the both of us – but goddamn, it really hurt.  I stood under the hot water in the shower for a longer time than usual this morning. It didn’t work. So by the time I got to work, I decided I better drug up and went straight for the ibuprofen. Those of you who know me know that I do not medicate lightly. Every time I complain about a headache or any kind of pain, Heidi always asks me “did you take something for it?” and my answer is, inevitably, always “no.” But I was hurting pretty bad, so desperate times, desperate measures, etc., etc.

The ibuprofen really didn’t touch it, and it started to get worse. I was feeling it in my leg, in my hip. And this was when I did what I do best. I always say that pharmacists have just enough diagnostic ability to concoct the worst case scenario.  I was convinced at various points during the day today that I had one of these four things:

  1. Metastatic cancer to my spine
  2. Renal cancer
  3. Appendicitis
  4. A mesenteric deep vein thrombosis, which, if I did in fact have, probably means I have cancer.

It ain’t easy being me. Or at least having my brain and the sliver of diagnostic ability that I have.

It kind of waxed and waned as the day went on, and now, it’s just kind of a dull ache in my left lower back. I took one of Heidi’s muscle relaxers (bad pharmacist) and that seemed to help quite a bit, lending quite a bit of credence to the pulled muscle theory or the “I slept on my back wrong” theory – both of which are much more likely than any of the 4 things I came up with in the rush of anxiety that accompanied an ache or pain that had the gall to last more than 2 minutes.

If there was any doubt that my anxiety was out of control lately, today removed those doubts utterly and completely.  I am sure I will live to concoct another worst case scenario another day. It doesn’t help that one of my deepest fears is dying young (not the movie, although that was pretty scary too) from some unseen illness. It also does not help that a high school classmate of mine shuffled off the mortal coil this week six months after a cancer diagnosis. But just because it happened to someone does not mean it will happen to me.

I remember talking in a recent blog post that I am always worried about time these days, and not having enough of it. That’s probably why I do this. Exactly why I insist on spending the time that I do have inventing unlikely diagnoses for myself I may never understand. Perhaps that’s the thing I need to work on first.

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We’re on a break

Just putting a quick post here to let folks know that if you notice a decreased Facebook and Twitter presence from me in the next few weeks, it’s intentional. I have to do it for my sanity’s sake. The political stuff is making me very anxious and I’m just not in the best shape. Don’t worry – I’m taking care of myself and not letting the turkeys get me down to the best of my ability, but I am going to have to unplug for a little while, at least until I get my head back on.

I’ll probably do some blogging, and those links will autopost to FB and Twitter, but that’s it. I’ve taken both FB and Twitter off my phone, deleted the bookmark for FB on my computer and am closing Tweetdeck for a while. If you need to find me, e-mail me or text me.

I’ll miss the gifs and cute cat pics while I’m gone, but sometimes, self-care trumps even cat pics.

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30 Years Blue

I didn’t realize that today was the 30th anniversary of the release of Madonna’s third album, True Blue, until I started reading about it all over the blogosphere. So I guess I’m kind of late to the party, but I couldn’t let this day go by without saying something about this record.

The thing I always say about True Blue is how it’s the first Madonna album I experienced in real-time. Having been a fan since roughly the point of “Material Girl,” my fledgling Madonna fandom had yet to explode into the all-consuming fire that it is now. But in spring of 1986, “Live To Tell” hit and it was, in retrospect, the first time when Madonna really leveled up. Gone were the chirpy vocals and dance beats and in their place was a ballad sung in the deeper part of Madonna’s register. I remember it not making a terrible impact on me right away, but it eventually wormed its way into my brain and it’s been there ever since.

But even that could not prepare us for the onslaught that was “Papa Don’t Preach.” I’ll admit, when I first heard the title of the song, I thought it was going to be a song about how Madonna’s father was not a minister. But this ode to teenage pregnancy (that has not aged as well for me as it has for other fans) became inescapable that summer, on the radio and on MTV, where they world premiered the video at the top of every hour for 24 hours one Saturday in June. I probably watched it at least 12 of those times.

True Blue was probably released shortly after that – the date of the world premiere of the video is lost to my memory – but it wasn’t until the end of July that I finally picked up the album. During my hometown’s Ridiculous Days, a day when the downtown stores moved merchandise out into the streets at “ridiculous prices” – I was shopping inside the record department of the local department store and was going to buy both the “Live To Tell” and “Papa Don’t Preach” singles, when my brother showed me that they had the True Blue album. It was $9.49, a price I found exorbitant, but I bought it anyway. Clearly, True Blue was not included in the Ridiculous Days sale.

It quickly went on to define the summer of 1986. It was a magical summer for me because it was the first time in my life that I really paid attention to popular music and the charts. I would listen to the radio, recording songs from countdown shows and writing down the top ten every week, eventually transitioning it to a word processing document by the spring of 1987. It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered that I was not alone in this effort. Music nerds everywhere were doing the same thing – we just didn’t have the internet to find each other like we do now. It was during that summer that I learned to really love music because it brought me so much joy.  It still does to this very day.

I never did get the “Live To Tell” and “Papa Don’t Preach” 45s, although I bought the rest of the singles as they were released. I did manage to acquire them a year or two ago via a friend who shares my passion for both Madonna and vinyl.

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My original True Blue album is still around, with scratches and scuffs from years of play. In 2014, I found this 100% unofficial but 100% cool clear vinyl pressing of True Blue.

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And then who can forget when I Photoshopped my face into the True Blue album cover for my annual year-end best-of CD?

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Last but not least, Madonna included “True Blue” in her Rebel Hear Tour last year, marking the song’s first live performance in 28 years. It was worth the wait.

Happy birthday, True Blue. There’s a lot of memory packed into your 9 songs.

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