Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year?

25 years ago today, my dad married my stepmom in a beautiful ceremony in a charming church in Sausalito, California. I was 14, just halfway through my freshman year in high school. My little brother had just turned 6, and my sister would have been 9. We were all part of the ceremony: Gavin was the ring-bearer, little white tux and all; Sara joined my stepmom's sister as a bridesmaid; and I stood up next to my uncle (all 6'7" of him - he looked like a Nordic Wookiee) as a groomsman.

The reception was held at a restaurant on the docks, and afterward, instead of driving off in a car decorated with shaving cream and dragging cans behind it, they sailed off into the sunset on my dad's trimaran sailboat, The Redwood Coast.

Another friend of mine, my neighbor John, is getting married to his longtime girlfriend tonight. I really wanted to be there and be happy for them. But for some reason my heart said, "stay home, be calm and quiet, and remember your dad."

So I am doing just that.

Katherine, know that I am thinking of you tonight. Remembering the two decades plus you had with my father, remembering the joy you brought each other. Remembering the good times as our family unit grew to include Samantha, for a time Sara's husband Jeff, then Gavin's wife Michelle, and the three grandchildren "Grampa Bear" loved so much (the relationship he had with my kids reminded me very much of the relationship I had with his father when I was young). The ski trips, Disneyland, Canada, Virgin Islands, college, and visiting you both in Florida. I'm glad you came out to Seattle when the cancer arrived. I'm glad we all had each other in our wagon circle when the times were especially hard.

When the Gregorian New Year hits for us at Midnight PST, I will toast the passing of another year minus two very amazing people. I will pour a shot of the Cruzan Black Strap navy rum and drink to Cap'n Bear, your wedding 25 years ago, his lasting effect on our family, and your lasting presence in our lives.

Fair winds and following seas, Pop.

Happy Anniversary, Katherine.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Yes, so I'm not an active member of a Christian church, and I know that Jesus of Nazareth wasn't born on December 25th (more likely in the spring, during lambing season), and I know the early Church planted Christmas right after the Winter Solstice to subvert the earlier Roman festival of Saturnalia and the pagan European Solstice festivals (like Yule). But like most secular Euro-Americans, I love this great, bizarre, lumbering behemoth of mixed pagan traditions, wrapped in colorful Christian trappings and tacky commercialism. It's Christmas (rhymes with Swiss Miss).

I didn't love it last year. And I certainly didn't love it the year before, with six inches of raw sewage in my bedroom. But I'm starting to get the feeling back. Yes, I absolutely miss Samantha at this time - most of my Christmases had been spent with her. And yes, I absolutely miss my dad. My world, and the world at large, is a less wonderful place without the two of them in it.

So I put on some Peter Gabriel last night and cried my fucking eyes out for a good twenty minutes.

Just another stone in the wall of memory. It was good and cathartic and I needed it. I think some of the melancholy not only has to do with Samantha and my father, but with the recent news that a heavy hitter in the RPG industry was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (metastasized to the liver) and his prognosis isn't good. Well duh.

Despite all of that, I feel really good today. My house is as clean as it ever gets, I'm having dinner with the stepmom and grandparents today, and we all do Christmas here tomorrow. Sam's brother Doug will be hanging with us - a first, I believe. I'm looking forward to it.

You know, underneath the religious dogma and the secular commercialism, there's a real kernel of universal truth and wisdom at the heart of Christmas. I'm blessed to have a family and circle of friends who GET that. The guy who cut me off in the Westwood parking lot, the stressed out yuppies killing each other over who gets the last Wii in the shop, they don't get it. If you've read my blog more than a month or so, you probably DO. :)

So think of that kernel of truth and wisdom at the heart of Christmas and what "holiday spirit" actually means. And know that I mean this from the heart:

Merry Christmas, and a Happy, Healthy and Miraculous New Year.

And now, here's some nog that I'd like to dig into, and it's totally better for you than the stuff with the eggs. ;)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sleep Disorder?

Tyler has never been a calm sleeper. Even as a baby, he was squirrelly in his crib or in our bed. Sam & I used to joke about having the Human Corkscrew as our son. We thought nothing of it.

Possibly unrelated but puzzle pieces nonetheless, Tyler had a very difficult birth. He went into distress twice and had to have his stomach pumped immediately on delivery. Sam hemorrhaged and started to bleed out, but thanks to Mark Beard's speedy and excellent needlework, she survived to go through a much less traumatic delivery of Kayleigh. Then when he was about two, Tyler fell off our open front porch into the flowerbed where Sam was gardening (a fall less than 3 feet, but he seized up and stopped breathing temporarily, went into shock, and had to be taken to the ER for examination). So, two physical traumas very early on, despite an otherwise loving and nurturing home.

Later, Tyler started acting out physically, exhibiting symptoms associated with ADD and ADHD (and was diagnosed such). Sam & I were the last people who wanted to medicate our child, but as his lack of impulse control had become a very real threat to his little sister's safety, and after trying diet and herbal alternatives, we finally felt like we had no other options.

We varied meds until we found one (and a dose) that seemed to give him some mileage without too many nasty side effects. Even so, our hearts broke every day, having to choose the lesser of two evils: a medicated but stable child, or a med-free and totally out of control child - and we are talking OUT of control, like even out of his own control. Like attacking people out of nowhere with various implements, digging holes in his bedroom wall, tearing up carpet, rolling around on the floor making weird and incessant chirping noises, hyperfocusing on an issue to a point beyond futility, and total disconnect between action and consequence. We chose a cocktail of counseling and 10mg Adderall XR (a pretty low dose, time-released). He was stable, a seemingly normal kid, not a drugged out zombie (which is always the parents' fear).

When he turned 13, the mutual decision between myself and our pediatrician was to give Tyler a vacation from the meds over the summer break, to allow him to catch up in his growth and weight (which he has, in spades), and to see how he functioned off them. Starting in May of this year, he's been off the Adderall, and has been pretty functional, so we just kept going without, knowing that things like rules, boundaries and schedules helped him maintain a sense of equilibrium.

Now, I'm not a clinical psychologist; just a parent whose ultimate concern is the health and well-being of his children. So all of what follows is strictly solo research.

As soon as the school year began, Tyler had a seemingly impossible time adjusting to his new and earlier schedule. Even after several promising weeks that included talking about new friendships and even possibly going steady with a girl, a slide into depression and lethargy became apparent. He wasn't going to sleep until 2AM or later, and could not be roused until late morning (if at all). Even well after the power cords to all electronics were removed before bedtime, thereby removing the temptation to play games into the wee hours, the problem continued. Negative behaviors began: the usual surly teenager attitude, a reversion to former violent habits with his sister, dissociative behavior, and a complete disregard for the fact that he was failing every class and might have to repeat the 8th grade. He went so far as to run away from home at 1AM one night, and had to be brought home by the SPD (he was found wandering near Roxhill Park, which is not a place you generally want to wander around at 1AM). There was a glimmer of empathy when he saw how terrified his sister and I were, so that gave me hope.

We worked with the school wellness counselor and the truant officer to get him re-motivated, changed the bedtime ritual to better facilitate relaxation, and got all three of us into family counseling.

What has come out of the counseling is that the loss of Sam, my dad and our house affected us in very different ways. Kayleigh and I process externally. We talk, we examine, we cry, and we get it out. Tyler internalizes everything. Always has. And while there is no right or wrong way to grieve, I've seen him actually shed tears maybe two or three times in the last three years, and one of those was the day his mom died. So here's this amazing, intelligent kid - the world should be his oyster, but he's really hurting, and despite having an open, loving, nurturing environment in which to grieve, he either won't or he can't process, and it just builds up until it explodes in any number of inappropriate and/or damaging ways. Even the way we process emotionally has created distance between Tyler and his other two family members.

So part of what we're doing in counseling is trying to get a handle on Tyler's process - what makes him tick - with the goal of a psychiatric re-evaluation. There's some depressive or bipolar behaviors going on, for sure. Tyler brooded through much of last night's session, and then randomly, in a very chipper tone, suggested we go to dinner at Elliott Bay, where he ate a great dinner and laughed and joked all evening.

Bedtime went as per usual. But at 1AM, Tyler came into my room, complaining that he couldn't sleep. This has always been his major justification for not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, that he "hardly got any sleep". So instead of tucking him back into his own bed, I just had him sleep in my bed, and I lay awake all last night and monitored him.

From the moment his head hit the pillow, he was asleep. But it was anything but restful. He would tense up for several seconds, twitch a bit, then relax for a few minutes. Then he'd mumble something, roll over, and relax again. It was like when he would "corkscrew" as a baby, only much more violent and spasmodic. This restless process continued from 1AM to 4AM, when he finally drifted into deep REM sleep.


I went to the computer, looked up sleep disorders and voila! Delayed sleep-phase syndrome. Often manifests in early childhood or adolescence, usually associated with physical or emotional trauma, associated with symptoms of depression and other emotional disorders, often misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD, only recently acknowledged as a unique disorder. People who have it say it's like functioning in a 9 to 5 world with 6 hours of jet-lag.

He's sleeping plenty, just not getting the deep sleep that should be occurring much earlier in the sleep cycle. My gut tells me he's not sleeping because he's depressed - he's showing symptoms of depression because he's not getting deep sleep when he should. And I'm sure it's exacerbated by the Pacific Northwest winter solar cycle (sun sets at 4PM). It's a disruption of the body's natural circadian rhythm, and can be helped with phototherapy (full spectrum lights) and other behavior modification.

So that's where we're going to look next. I really feel like I made a breakthrough on this, and am hopeful of positive results. Not to say that it's all wine and roses from here on out, but I feel like I have a better handle on what's going on in my son's head.

Monday, December 17, 2007

As Promised...

Wow, it's been a couple weeks without a proper post. Let's see if I can get caught up on everything for my loyal lurkers.

So we read a local actor for the part of Steve in the Duo film. We're not even technically in preproduction yet, but the executive producer feels having the principal cast attached when we pitch to the funders will be an asset to the project. Already, Eric Riedmann and Trish Loyd from Ordinary Angels have signed on as JD and Liz, respectively. We have Angela DiFiore, Khanh Doan and Jeremiah Peisert all returning from Samantha's original cast.

So we had Devielle Johnson come in and read opposite three other actors. He'd not worked with Eric Riedmann, but Eric is kind of from the whole OA alumni thing, and we've worked together a couple times. Khanh was from the old cast and we've been friends since the original casting process in late 2004, but have not yet worked together. Incidentally, she is in an indie feature called Simply FOBulous, which stars Steven Liu from Ordinary Angels. And Trish played the Dying Woman (Sam, for all intents and purposes) in OA, and she, Devielle and Dan Heinrich are all from the same acting school in Seattle. See how the strands of the web connect? Pay attention. There will be a quiz later.

For coming in cold and reading opposite two actors he had never met and one with whom he was very familiar, he did very well. I offered him the part a few days later, and he accepted. So we have our primary cast in place, and a selection of supporting parts to cast. Fortunately, doing a project with so many speaking roles like OA means that I now have a database of really great talent I can have read for parts without either party having to go through an open casting call. I know it's incestuous and "closed", but it worked for Orson Welles and the Mercury Players, and if I ever can't find the right actor through either my own network of those of my film friends, I will do another open call. I just prefer to avoid them when I can. It's uncomfortable.

Generally having issues with Tyler and his motivation, and there is a pending re-evaluation with the counseling service (probably after the holidays). I won't go into detail in this forum as I feel that Tyler's privacy is his own, so I will only lay out how his situation affects me as his parent. Needless to say, the last few weeks have been incredibly challenging, but we're sticking through it, trying to pull together as a family. The new counselor is pretty good. I have high hopes for continued success with the kids.

Today was a major victory, in that BOTH kids got up and got to school on time! I don't think that's happened at all in the last two weeks. It's the last week of school before the holiday break, so keeping Tyler's motivation up is a big challenge. For Kayleigh, school is all about the social aspect, so she's good - just a bit cranky this morning.

Anyway, the tree went up awhile ago - looks pretty good. Sam's brother Doug will be hanging with the Downing clan this year for Christmas, so I'm psyched about that. Did I just say "psyched"? That's rad.

I also got a few prints from JD & Alison's wedding:

Pretty cool.

The next week is going to be filled with cleaning, work, and trying to finish my Christmas shopping in the most frugal way possible, as things are really tight this month.

I predict another few posts before then, but if not, Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Proxy Post

Okay, so this isn't a REAL post, but one is coming, for reals. Pinky swear and everything. In the meantime, I redesigned the cover for the RADZ RPG. JD is quite happy with it. It'll be nice for the very patient Deep7 fans to have something new to look at in 2008. :)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Funeral for a Friend

Mike Cressy, renowned Seattle illustrator and good friend, lost his girlfriend Holly to suicide on 11/9. Mike just sent me this. There are no words, Mike. Welcome to the club nobody wants to join. I love you, man.


So most folks in this country know Gary Numan as the one-hit wonder behind the new wave single "Cars". What most don't know is that this guy was one of the vanguard of techno-industrial music, and has been quietly cranking out amazingly complex and beautifully dark alternative music for decades. With dozens of top-20 hits in Europe & the UK, he is often singled out as a prime influence of today's vanguard, including Trent Reznor.

Gary's still going strong. He's still delivering amazing music and amazing performances today, and looks as if he might have a magic portrait hidden away somewhere (he turns 50 next year).

So it's no surprise that his last 3 albums (as well as a 2-disc remix collection) have become favorites of mine, as they often include themes of loss and spiritual crisis.

One particular song from 1997's Exile has found its way into my playlists and my shower CDs recently. It's a pretty extreme declaration, but I find it a powerful statement of how love is the bottom line to everything, and trumps all spiritual dogma... it is the basis of existence.

I would swim across oceans
Just to talk with you
I would climb a tall mountain
Just to look at you
I'd give my soul to the devil
If you asked me to
I would walk out of heaven
Just to be with you

This is absolute
This is absolution

I will be your disciple
And I'll worship you
Burn the prophets of reason
Light the sky for you
Kill the children of Eden
If you want me to
Close the dead eyes of God
If they offended you

This is absolute
This is absolution

- Gary Numan, "Absolution"

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Evel Knievel, RIP

Another icon from my childhood has gone to that great stunt show in the sky. I remember the Snake River Canyon jump in the rocket car, many bus jumps, reports of assaults with a baseball bat, and most of all the crank-up Evel Knievel action figure stunt cycle.

Take care, big guy.