Monday, December 5, 2016

Help Support Detroit Youth Volume on December 10th

The first time I wrote about Detroit Youth Volume was last December 20th, when I made them the day's featured organization in the Causes and Effect blog I took the reins of for one month. Causes and Effect is a blog that features a different organization or cause each day. The person authoring the blog chooses the groups to write about and donates at least $10 to them.

On that day last December, I woke up and saw a story about Detroit Youth Volume (DYV) on the Detroit News website. The article explained that DYV teaches disadvantaged kids from the city of Detroit how to play violin using the Suzuki Method, while at the same time breaking down stereotypes. It also talked about an album the group was recording with some of Detroit's finest hip-hop talent; an album that would feature hip-hop beats mixed with standards like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." I was completely sold on DYV and made two donations that day: one to the organization itself and one to their Kickstarter campaign to fund their CD.

Over the past year, my wife and I have grown to love Detroit Youth Volume and its dedicated director Clara Hardie. We went to a recital for the kids in the program in April, attended their performance at Jack White's Third Man Records store in Detroit's Cass Corridor in May, and had a great time at their hip-hop album release party in August.

DYV performing at Third Man Records in May.
Everything about this organization fills our hearts and souls with good feelings. So much so that my wife and I have committed to making a small donation to them every month. We also drive a DYV student and her mother (who is blind) to violin class in downtown Detroit every Monday afternoon. The joy these simple acts bring us is immeasurable.

This Saturday, December 10th, Detroit Youth Volume is having a tea party/fundraiser/performance at Holding House, an artist-run workspace in southwest Detroit. It runs from noon until 4:00pm and will  feature tea and cookies, along with a sale of ceramics, prints, student violins, and music accessories. The violin/viola performance, featuring kids between the ages of 4 and 18, will take place at 1:00pm.

Proceeds from this event will go toward matching funds for the Knight Foundation Arts Challenge Grant DYV recently received. The organization will receive $50,000 to fund their project "Jazz Violin the Detroit Way," but only if they raise their own $50,000 first. That's a tall order, but DYV has a year to raise the money and they are bound and determined to make it happen.

My wife and I will be at Holding House on Saturday to support Detroit Youth Volume. If you live in the Detroit area, we urge you to do the same. I guarantee that seeing and hearing these young Detroiters play their instruments will bring a smile to your face. This is truly one of the greatest nonprofit programs in Detroit today, and the love and dedication of all the people involved in it is so inspirational.

There are a lot of amazing things going on in the city of Detroit these days, but not all of them have to do with new sports arenas, new office buildings, or new housing projects. Some of them are much smaller in scale but have a much bigger impact on the underprivileged youth of the city. Detroit Youth Volume is one such example.

Hope to see you Saturday!

Holding House is located at 3546 Michigan Avenue in Detroit. (See the map at the very bottom of this post.)

For more information on Detroit Youth Volume, visit their website:

To donate to Detroit Youth Volume, go to this link:

For more information on Saturday's fundraising event, visit the Facebook event page:

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Late-Night/Early-Morning Gratitude

I'm not sure exactly what time it was--I'm guessing maybe 1:00 or 2:00am--when I got up to pee in the middle of the night last night. (Something us middle-aged men do a lot of. Also, should I be concerned that this is my second blog post in a row that talks about urine?)

While I was in the bathroom, I heard a loud voice coming in from the slightly open window. My first thought was that my younger son and a couple of friends he had over were being loud in the family room, but I wanted to be sure before I went downstairs to tell them to lower the volume a notch.

So I opened the window a little more and listened.

What I heard wasn't the voice of a 20-something male. Instead it was a 30-something female neighbor who lives in a house on the street behind us. She was obviously out on her deck, on her cell phone, having a frantic conversation with someone.

I didn't listen long, but I didn't have to in order to understand what was bothering this woman so much: She found out her husband is having an affair.

She told the person on the other end of the conversation that she discovered some incriminating texts on her husband's phone. And that her husband's office smelled like...well, let's just say "sex." She also wondered why her husband would "want it" from someone so unattractive, saying "I wouldn't mind so much if she was hot."

I only listened to this conversation for about 30 seconds, but that was probably too long. And I probably shouldn't be writing about it either. But I can't help it. Because hearing this conversation--which was, by the way, loud and clear despite the fact that there are hundreds of feet between my upstairs bathroom window and this woman's deck--made me feel two things.

1.) I felt incredibly bad for the woman. She just had a baby a few months ago and now her world is shattering around her. I can't imagine how that must feel. I even told my wife today that we should ask the woman over for dinner. But we don't know her, so such an invitation coming from out of the blue would likely be pretty suspicious.

2.) When I finished peeing, I couldn't help but go back to bed feeling overwhelmingly grateful. Grateful that I have an amazing wife, and that our marriage--which is almost 28 years young now--is rock solid. I can't imagine ever being with anyone else; and I'm pretty sure my wife feels the same way.

Life is a challenge, for sure. My wife and I have encountered a whole lot of difficult situations that we never expected. But we've navigated our way through them the best way we know how. As a result, our relationship has grown stronger. And I'm forever grateful for that.

Like my friend Matthew Ryan likes to say, "Teamwork makes the dream work." And marriage is the ultimate team game.

I'm keeping the neighbor behind me in my thoughts and prayers today. I hope she can find some peace in her world sooner rather than later. No one should ever have to feel what she was feeling late last night/early this morning.

"A good marriage is where both people feel like they're getting the better end of the deal." --Anne Lamott

Me with my (way) better half.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Of Depression, Parenting, and...Cat Pee

It's been a difficult week in my world.

On Tuesday, a Facebook friend of mine's status update was, in fact, a suicide note. It started with "I began to think about ending my life several weeks ago" and ended with "I'm tired. SO I got the gun, loaded it up, and blew my head off." Despite a long thread of comments begging and pleading this person to please, please, please reconsider taking his own life, he went through with it. Now a teenage girl is left without a father.

On Wednesday, another Facebook friend posted that her 21-year-old son had gone missing. He left the house for school at 4 o'clock in the afternoon and hasn't been heard from since. They found the car he drove to school, but that's about it. It's a parent's worst nightmare and I'm praying hard for a happy ending for this family.

On top of those two things, my older son is still stuck in a major depressive episode. I know I recently wrote that I wasn't going to focus on my son and his issues in my blog posts anymore, but I feel I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention his ongoing struggle.

Pardon my language, but depression is a fucking bitch, and like addiction it's a family disease. When one of your children is battling depression and talks about wanting to die more than they talk about wanting to live, you can't help but be consumed by it. Especially when that child refuses to try so many things that could possibly help them feel better.

Depression is a black hole of despair. When someone is in it, it's so incredibly hard for them to think there could be a way out. So they build walls around themselves and isolate. Deep down inside, they may actually want help, but they firmly believe that nothing will make a difference; so they don't even try. It doesn't matter how much you love and encourage them. The circular thinking--I want help but nothing will help me so why try anything because it won't help?--is maddening to the people who care the most.

Especially parents.

Yesterday my wife and I took one of our cats to the vet for a check-up because the cats in our house have been acting kind of strange for a while. (For what it's worth, our cats fit perfectly into our family. One of them even takes birth control pills for dogs to help him with a chemical imbalance in his brain.) We got to talking with the doctor about changes in our household environment that may be influencing the cats' behavior and mentioned that our son was back living at home and going through a major depression.

When he heard that, the doctor paused for a moment. He then told us that he had lost his oldest son, who also struggled with addiction, to suicide. We had a good conversation about addiction, depression, stigma, and how it all impacts the entire family. He said our cats may be acting weird because our son is home and feeling so low. And because our son is feeling bad, my wife and I are affected, too. ("You're only as happy as your saddest child," the doctor reminded us. Ain't that the truth.) Cats can sense when the humans they love aren't at their best, and that can sometimes lead to some bizarre feline behavior.

I confess: I don't like cleaning up cat pee from the basement floor or the front hallway. But in the grand scheme of things, it's just a minor inconvenience. So I'll keep doing it as long as I have to. Perhaps the cats' stray peeing will stop if my son can somehow find his way back to a happier place. I know he can do it. But until he decides he can do it--and I hope and pray he will eventually get to that point--I will keep the paper towels and disinfectant close at hand.

"I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore." --Anne Lamott

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Eight Years Without Alcohol

Today marks eight years since I decided to quit drinking alcohol.

On September 10, 2008, I decided to give up drinking to be an example for my son, who at the time was in residential treatment for heroin addiction. Even though I never considered myself to be a "full blown" alcoholic, my son's struggle with addiction was a struggle for me, too. Instead of drinking wine because I enjoyed it, I started drinking it to numb the negative feelings I was experiencing. Not a good thing.

Given my family history, which is riddled with alcoholism, I'm pretty sure I would've ended up in a horrible place if the family therapist at my son's rehab hadn't told me:

"Be the change you want to see in your son."

It's clear to me now that even though I originally quit drinking as an act of solidarity, I likely saved my life by doing it.

I'll admit that life without alcohol was a little strange at first, because the society we live in puts so much emphasis on drinking. "Everything's better with alcohol!" is the advertising message that bombards us constantly. But that's just not true. Alcohol is sooooo overrated. And, as I tell a lot of people on the addiction/recovery forums I moderate, being sober is only as dull and boring as you make it. Believe me: My life has been way more fun without alcohol than it ever was with it.

So what's the hardest part about living a sober life? For me, it's dealing with the ups and downs of everyday life without having a beer or a glass (or--ahem--a bottle) of wine to "take the edge off" when things get a little overwhelming. A sober life is life at it's 100 percent, full-strength best...and worst. There are ups and downs and you just have to learn to deal with whatever is thrown at you. Thankfully, I've learned to accept that whether things are really good or really bad, they won't last. Things are constantly changing because life is funny that way.

I used to totally suck at dealing with change. I've gotten a lot better at it, but occasionally it's still really hard for me. For example, the other night--which happened to be my birthday--I was feeling super stressed out. A home repair I spent a couple of hours on that afternoon didn't go exactly how I wanted it to. Coupled with some family issues that have been weighing on me for a few weeks, the stupid home repair thing put my stress level over the top, and I was struggling. Big time.

On a day that was supposed to be chock full of happiness, our awesome neighbors had invited us over for pizza and root beer to celebrate my birthday. But I just couldn't go. I wanted to go. But instead I decided to crawl into bed at 8:00pm and decompress. In the past, I may have had a glass of wine or a beer to calm myself down and then gone on with the evening as planned. But these days I cope with things differently.

And that's okay.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Checks Are in the Mail!

My wife and I finally got all the information we needed to send out the scholarship checks for the winners of this year's My Life As 3D Scholarship Essay Contest. The checks are in the mail! The University of Michigan will be receiving a $1,500 check to apply to Carolyn Robbins's tuition and Arcadia University will be receiving $550 to apply to Katie Walker's tuition. Both of these young women are so incredibly deserving of their prizes.

As good as it makes me feel to have been able to put this contest on for the second consecutive year, the odds of it happening again next year are most likely slim and none. Helping fund college scholarships when you've been without a full-time job for almost three years isn't easy. If something changes, though--i.e., I'm able to find some sort of real job in the next few months--I will definitely consider a third year for the contest. I truly want to keep assisting college students who have been impacted by a sibling's addiction, but I can't afford to go (further) into the red doing it. I guess we'll see what happens.

Thanks again to all the college students who entered the contest; to the judges; and to everyone who took the time to read the amazing essays written by Carolyn and Katie. And special thanks to the 24 generous donors who contributed to the cause. Kathy and I couldn't have done it without you.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Rediscovering the Local Library

The library has become my home away from home. Well, maybe that's a bit of a stretch. But I have been to the library more times in the last month (twice!) than I had been in the previous couple of years...combined. And I like it.

Being underemployed and working as a freelance writer/addiction forum moderator/social media person/whatever-the-hell-it-is-that-I-do has its challenges. One of the biggest challenges--right after not making nearly enough money--is working from home every single day.

Don't get me wrong. I love my home. My wife and I have lived there for 11 (or is it 12?) years now, and after a lot of family chaos during the first several years we've finally settled in and are quite comfortable in our space. Even so, sitting around the house EVERY SINGLE DAY, whether you're working or chilling, can drive a person a little bit stir crazy. And over the last couple of months that stir craziness has started to eat away at me.

So I've started coming to the local library for a change of scenery. They just remodeled this place and it's pretty nice. Lots of comfy chairs, lots of plug outlets, very fast free WiFi, etc. All the things I need to get my work done. (They have a shitload of books, too.) There aren't any cats, which takes some getting used to. But there are lots of little kids running around, which also takes some getting used to.

All things considered, the change is pleasant. Hearing kids laughing and newspaper pages turning while I sit and write is a nice respite from hearing the air conditioning cycle on and off and being forced to listen to power mowers, edgers, and leaf blowers spew their noise pollution throughout the neighborhood. (Not to mention the sounds of the occasional cat fight.)

If I get bored or need a break from writing, I can even wander off and find reference books on the shelves that have my name in them, which is one of the perks (I guess) of having worked for a publishing company for almost 25 years.

I'm at the library right now, and when I left the house a little while ago, with my little computer bag packed full of my stuff, I actually felt like I was going somewhere. It was almost like I was going to work. Which I was. Kind of. I think.

If you haven't been to your local library in a while, I highly recommend you go. I had forgotten how badass libraries are. Before I leave today, I might do something really crazy. Like check out a book.

P.S. Wait. Libraries don't have snack bars??!??!?!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Crying on the Way Home from Costco

It's been just over a week since I announced some changes to this blog. In a nutshell, I've taken the focus off of my son and will be blogging more about addiction, recovery, mental health, and just life in general. So if you don't abandon this blog entirely, you'll likely end up reading about some of the things I'm passionate about, like cooking, music, or helping others. Or you might get stuck reading about things that happen to me in my everyday life. Like this post about something that happened earlier today.

This morning I decided to go to Costco to pick up a beef brisket flat to smoke sometime over the next few days. My wife and I are having an event at our house on October 7th and I've committed to smoking brisket for the occasion. Since I've only smoked brisket a handful of times since I bought a smoker a couple of years ago, I decided I'd do a practice run. It can't hurt, right? As I told my wife, "I want to do a test run before the actual cook," which sounded very Walter White-ish.

Off to Costco I went, which is always an adventure and a challenge. Trying to get out of that store without spending your entire checking account should be an Olympic event. Could that advertising tagline I see Costco using on Facebook be any more spot-on?

"Go for what you need, leave with what you love."


Despite my best intentions of going to Costco and only buying a beef brisket, I did end up leaving with more than I came for. But not that much more. The only additional items I caved to were a 4-pack box of organic Triscuits (on sale!) and two pairs of Levi's (one for me and one for my wife). I consider that pretty damn good for a Costco run.

On the drive home from Costco I was feeling fine. The sun was shining and I had Matthew Ryan's May Day album blasting on the stereo. I even gave the "homeless" person at the top of the freeway exit ramp a dollar, which I never do. (I use quotation marks around homeless because I don't think the guy is actually homeless; I think panhandling might just be his job. But I could be wrong.)

But as I started traversing the surface streets on the last leg of my ride home, something unexpected happened: I started crying. And this wasn't just an I-feel-sad-so-I'm-gonna-get-a-little-teary-eyed kind of cry. It was a full-on tears-running-down-both-of-my-cheeks-while-I-bawl-like-a-baby cry.

I started crying, out of the blue.

Now I'll be the first one to admit that I cry on a pretty regular basis. Not every other day or anything like that, but at least a few times a month. I find absolutely nothing wrong with crying, or with a man crying (God forbid!). Like Anne Lamott writes, "I cry intermittently, like a summer rain. I don't feel racked by the crying; in fact, it hydrates me."

Crying helps me. It always has. I consider crying to be my body's way of cleansing itself of an overload of emotions. Most of the time those emotions are negative, but I've cried a lot of happy tears, too. Regardless of what I'm feeling, if I'm feeling too much of it, crying always helps. So much so that back when I had an actual job and I was going through some tough times at home, I would book a conference room on occasion just so I could go sit and cry in private. (You've gotta do what you've gotta do.)

There was no particular reason why I started crying on the way home from Costco. I think it was just an accumulation of some very emotional stuff that's been going on in my life for the last few weeks. I was feeling too much, and my body decided it would open the relief valve and let the excess emotion out.

My cry only lasted a minute or two, but damn--it made me feel rejuvenated.

My penchant for crying might be strange for a 54-year-old man. I don't really know, and I don't really care. I'm an emotional person, and I'd rather "cry it out" than keep everything bottled up inside. Lord knows that's not healthy. I also kind of wonder where I picked up my crying gene (is that a thing?), because I never saw my dad cry. Never ever. I can't even imagine my dad crying. That just wouldn't have been manly. Come to think of it, I don't think I witnessed any grown man cry until I was in my mid-20s and saw my mom's father cry when his wife died.

My grandfather was overwhelmed with emotion. He felt too much and he cried to let it out. I'm so glad I got to see that, because it taught me something about life:

There's nothing wrong with crying. No matter who you are.

"Do not apologize for crying. Without this emotion, we are only robots." --Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love