Tag Archives: Writing

John McPhee

John McPhee is my favorite writer.  He writes nonfiction for the New Yorker and has done so for fifty years.  He writes about whatever he wants to.  Alaska, the Pine Barrens, oranges, geology, transportation, and people.  Always, a topic is people.  He decides on a subject and searches out people engaged in his topic and weaves them into the narrative.

I read his stuff because of his subject matter (he has written extensively about geology).  He also has a warm and engaging style, his readers all fall in love with him.  The subject matter is always interesting, often because the people he seeks out are so colorful.

In Rising From the Plains, about Wyoming geology, McPhee found David Love, a USGS geologist from Laramie.  Gone now, Dr. Love was a renowned field geologist, focusing on Wyoming.  His  family is an integral part of Wyoming history.  His father started and ran a sheep outfit on Muskrat Creek in the Gas Hills, one of the most remote places in the lower forty eight.

The way McPhee portrays the man, his career, and Wyoming history makes one of the best books I have ever reread.  And reread, and give away.  If you have even the slightest interest in geology, read the book.  Rising From the Plains is a standalone book, and is part of Annals of the Former World, a collection of long pieces about geology mostly along I-80, skipping over the midwestern mud.  North America has fascinating geology and Annals gives a good overview.

Another book I like is The Control of Nature.  If you want to modify what nature produces, you get politicians to adopt the policy, then hire engineers to figure out what to do, then design the solution.  Sometimes they are asked to do the impossible, like keeping the eroding San Gabriel mountains from filling the Los Angeles Basin or control the lower Mississippi River.  Ask an engineer if something can be done and their answer is always “Yes.”  They make their money building stuff.  They may need lots of money, all the better.  Many of their projects fail at some time.  Don’t move to Morgan City, Louisiana.

McPhee has a wide range of interests.  He takes his storytelling skills to The Swiss army, to Loch Ness, to the Illinois River, California earthquake country, Alaska, and my least favorite book about a fish called shad. I read the book, but I still don’t care about the clammy, bony, tasteless things.  Not biased, though.

He is well into his eighties, and now writes mostly about writing.  His method is a complex blend of research, note taking, and building a structure to hold the piece together.  He is a real structure freak.  I have an idea, think about it a bit, and rip something out, editing as I go.  Of course he is producing around 50,000 words.  I do 500 to a thousand.  I have a structure as well, as I also learned how make outlines.  I tend to adapt the Army way: tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.  I like to introduce the subject, amplify it, then add my personal take.

Unlike McPhee, I tend to drift off topic into a rant or something mostly unrelated, but I like it.  “Oh look, a squirrel!”  Have I mentioned I have ADD?  I sometimes tend to bullshit; McPhee does not.  He has his extensive research and those wonderful New Yorker fact checkers.  I have my broken brain and Google.

Other McPhee assets are his sense of humor and his feel for dialect.  He is easy to read.



As I sit here in the coffee shop it is raining hard outside.  Almost everyone has their hood up.  We are truly in Colorado, however as no one has an umbrella.  My wife has umbrellas, but much of her childhood was in the Puget Sound area.

I am going to give you a little series about writing.  Writing is my most important retirement activity.  If I don’t get to write in any given week, I feel a little hole forming in my being.  So, here I am in the coffee shop with my trusty iPad.

To write, one must read.  I am a lifelong reader.  It wasn’t Dick and Jane, it was Scrooge McDuck with his three cubic acres of cash and his nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.  In the living room there was a big round oak coffee table cut down from a dining table with stacks of magazines.  I read them all, including my dad’s Cosmopolitan and Redbook he subscribed to for the romance short stories in every issue.

Time, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Outdoor Life, Lady’s Home Journal, Argosy, Popular Science, Sports Illustrated, and my Boy’s Life.  My comic books dwelt there as well.  My mother belonged to a local book club and the Book of the Month Club.  I read them all.

Other books were there as well.  My father’s railroad books and Utah and Colorado photography   books, all well thumbed to the point of loose bindings sat in the bookcase.  I had a bookcase in my room with lots of stuff to read.  My favorite books were Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels, and Parade of the Animal Kingdom by Jane and Robert Hegner.  I still have them.

In school, I read everything we were assigned.  I even used the library.

Now I subscribe to High Country News, Scientific American, The New Yorker, the Disabled American Veterans Journal, and the Environmental Defense Fund journal.  Carol is regularly after me to get rid of some books.  She doesn’t seem to understand that books are sacred objects.  I must admit, however, some of them remain unread.

My favorite subjects are history, geology, spirituality, mythology, and nature books about the Colorado Plateau.  I have some fiction and do read fiction, but most of my stuff is non-fiction.

The Dalai Lama’s Cat

Carol and I have a bedtime ritual.  I read to her.  Mostly it is mystery novels written by women, but we sometimes range afield.  Lately it was The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Art of Purring. By David Michie.   They are fun books told in the first person by Little Snow Lion, Rinpoche,  HHC (His Holiness’ Cat), and Meow Tse Tongue, all names acquired by that singular small feline.  They also contain good stuff about Tibetan Buddhism.  We got lots of good laughs.  Carol picks the books, so we seldom get bad writing.

One of the things the books bother me about is the popular market genre books suffer from poor editing and proofreading.  It looks to me publishers increasingly rely on authors to do their own editing.   Unfortunately, authors’ mistakes are often a function of ignorance about a subject.  For example, we recently read a couple of mysteries where the crimes occurred on rural gravel roads.  When those roads are built, the road itself is crowned so water will run off to the side rather than making ruts down the center.  The dirt for that crown comes from the side of the road, forming a borrow ditch.  The dirt is borrowed from the side.  I have seen barrow and burrow, but never borrow.  Those woman mystery writers just don’t know road construction.  Why don’t they ask me?  Why doesn’t their editor call me?

The Hurt, The Itch, and The Joke

It’s raining today, which means it is time for miscellany.  I always have a few short ideas rattling around in my head, and these days writing about them is the best way to get them out of there.  First, the itch. 

For years now, if it doesn’t hurt, it itches.  I have arthritis in several places and it bothers me from time to time.  Currently it is my left knee and my left wrist.  The knee hurts and is weak for the first few steps when I get out of the chair.  I get shots in the knee from time to time, usually good for six months or so.  I am left handed and the wrist is intermittently a real pain, usually when gardening.  I notice that my left hand is weaker than the other one (I won’t say right.)  as I am the official opener and fixer around the house, this is not good.   



The itch is the biggie.  I itch every morning until the Allegra kicks in, and every evening until the Benadryl kicks in.  I don’t know what the allergen is, and it is year around.  The worst spots are on my back over my kidneys.  Right now, the inside of my forearm and calf are itching.  The itch doesn’t drive me nuts, I was already there.   

I tried the allergy specialist with no luck.  The only things that help are the antihistamines.  There is a possibility the allergen is one of the medications I take.  Next time I see my doctor I will talk to her about doing an allergy elimination protocol.  I won’t do it myself, I take that stuff for a reason.  I don’t want to have a stroke while tracking the source of the itch. 

I didn’t itch when I was younger.  I even felt a bit smug when others complained about their allergies.  Maybe the whole thing is karma.   











Now, the joke, my favorite of all time.  I see a person wearing a college t-shirt or sweatshirt and ask them if they know why graduates of the school’s big rival keep a copy of their diploma on the dash of their car.  They do it so they can park in the handicapped spot.  Here in Denver it is usually Colorado-Nebraska or Denver University-Colorado College.  Nebraska, of course, is the most appropriate.  That N on their football player’s helmets stands for nowledge.  Most Coloradoans know that joke, but it is fun to see the reaction when in Nebraska. 

I have used it for schools all over the country.  Michigan-Ohio State, Purdue-Indiana, Notre Dame-Penn State, Duke-North Carolina, Auburn-Alabama, USC-UCLA, and especially Texas-Texas A&M, as Aggies are right in there with Nebraska.  I have told this to dozens of people, and only one didn’t like the joke.

Declining and Arising

The Quarter Moon

The Quarter Moon

A few years ago Carol, my wife, her sister Judi, and I wrote a blog about caregiving for aging parents.  The aging parents are gone and so is the blog, but one piece I wrote sticks with me.  Watching the decline.  I wrote the piece about Frank, Carol’s and Judi’s dad who went into a serious decline in his ’90s.   

Frank is gone, so now I am watching my own decline.  I had it come home to me when I forgot where I parked the car in downtown Minneapolis and spent three hours searching for the damn thing. By the time I found it I was tired, relieved, and a bit ashamed.  Not finding the car has always been a problem for me, a function of my ADD.  I keep a little yellow ball on the radio antenna of my pickup so I can see it in the parking lot.  Losing the car for three hours is a new one, however.  Yes, I have a GPS in my cell phone. 

Losing the car is only one symptom.  My knee, wrist, shoulder, and back hurt.  I fall down.  I can’t remember names.  Carol and I make a plan every week, and I forget what I am supposed to do.  I go downstairs to get something, do three other things and end up back upstairs without what I went for.  Three times. 

I will be 74 in October.  What do I have left?  Ten, maybe fifteen years?  Aging is reality for me.  Usually I take these things in stride.  After all what is important is the moment, which is almost always pretty good.  The trip to Minneapolis threw me into something of a funk.  I got scared when I couldn’t find the car.  I went to help my brother-in-law, who is facing some aging issues as well.  I still haven’t recovered from the trip. 

My life is good.  We have a nice home and garden, good things to do, travel some, and have fun together.  I can write, which I was unable to do until the last few years after getting diagnosed and treated for ADD.  I have gone places and done things.  I can ( http://www.insightmeditation.org/ )meditate which I could not do for most of my life.  I have found an important role as family caregiver. Caregiving is especially meaningful because it didn’t exist in my family. 

The meditation has opened up a spiritual life I have sought since I first asked “Why?”.  I now  know the answer: Because.  The secret to because is becoming.  The sun is up every morning.  The birds sing, even if I have trouble hearing them.  The new in my life outweighs the difficulties.      Most of the time.  I get myself in trouble when I stare at that unknowable wall out there.  If I stay where I belong, here and now, I’m fine.  Events, however, sometimes present that wall-my brief time on this world and in this body.  I’ll get through it.  Writing this has already helped.

Writing Short Essays

You have seen my ravings on this site for some time now.  I have written about not being able to write for many years, which I attribute to my Attention Deficit Disorder. I just did not have the focus.  Getting a diagnosis and treatment changed my life.  The ADD is still enough of a problem that I don’t think I have a novel or long nonfiction book in me. Maybe I could come up with a long piece on regional geology, but it has been done many times.  Someday, maybe.  

I love writing these short pieces.  I have wide interests, and there is no one telling me what to write.  I do think I will do some independent reporting the next time we have a big geology related event.  A good flood, landslide, or dam burst will do fine.  There is an opportunity to write for our neighborhood association, but I will not sit through meetings. 

Why not fiction?  I probably have as many ideas for fiction as nonfiction, but the craft is more demanding.  I can hammer out 500 to 1000 words in an hour or two, revising as I go, and it usually works just fine. I have a good editor/wife that straightens me out from time to time.   

I have always had some talent and encouragement from teachers in high school and college about my writing.  In college, I made some money writing papers for people for $10.00 a page.  It had to be a subject I liked and knew something about.  My best customers were forestry majors, who seemed to be only semi-literate.      

Now, with the help of a lot of stimulation in the coffee shop, I can scratch some things out.  My pieces seem to be getting longer, not because of any design on my part.  I also plan to write more.  No shortage of topics.  I just hope I can avoid politics for the most part.  Trevor Noah and Steven Colbert help me discharge most of my disgust for the current political climate. 

I would like to do more humor, but I don’t seem to have the reservoir of funny stuff people like Dave Barry seem to have.  People do tell me I am good at smart-ass remarks, however.  My favorite writer is John McPhee, who is the best expository writer in the business.

I have been published.  I wrote a book review for the journal of the Oregon-California Trails Association.  I plan to do more writing about pioneer trails and history.  The Western History section at the Denver Public Library is a good resource, but they won’t let you check anything out.  It is necessary to go there, and they don’t have a coffee shop. 

One thing is sure, I will keep inflicting my writing on you as long as there are a few of you to read my writing.  I would like more feedback and criticism, however.  Also, tell others about dofbill.com.  It’s easy to remember, dof stands for doddering old fart.  I started this with around thirty readers.  Now I average about 100 hits every week.  No Pulitzer yet, but I would write for just myself if that was it.  Extroverts do like an audience, however.

Small Towns



I am a city boy now.  After leaving Fruita to go to college in Boulder, I have mostly lived in cities.  I like the culture, the business, and the amenities that come with the city.  Here I am in the coffee shop right nest to the Denver University campus, with the energy those young people bring.  It helps my writing.

I grew up in a small town, and they still exert a pull on me.  I spent a couple of summers in Keystone, South Dakota peddling turquoise jewelry to the tourists.  I got to know some of the locals during that brief time and enjoyed the Black Hills culture.  I get back to Fruita some, my 55th reunion is coming up, and like rekindling old friendships.

Last weekend I made a quick trip to Grand Junction and Fruita on family business.  There are a lot of memories there, and I enjoyed the feel of a much larger town than it was all those years ago.  Bad news: the pool halls are gone.  Good news:  you don’t have to settle for chicken fried steak in the restaurant.


After my adventure in Rattlesnake Canyon the day before, I decided to take a scenic route back to Denver.  My first stop was Collbran, a town on Plateau Creek I have always liked.  I was looking for the landslide that killed three men last spring, but went up the wrong creek (story of my life).  At the gas station, a local rancher and his son had their rubber boots, so we talked about irrigating for a while.

I went over Grand Mesa and drove through Cedaredge, another favorite small town.  I like Cedaredge for the view of the Uncompahgre Valley, the Uncompahgre Plateau,and the San Juans.  No view last Sunday, the smoke from all the fires in the northwest obscuring everything.  Cedaredge and Eckert right down the road are nice towns, but the highway runs right through town, as it does in Collbran.  The roads are noisy, busy, and sort of split the town.

I had lunch in Paonia, just about my all-time favorite town but for the fact that they usually killed us in football.  My senior year we lost so badly that I even got to play.  Paonia is off the highway and is the home of High Country News, a great magazine about the west.  The West Elk Mountains are just out of town, but the area’s economy is mostly farming and ranching.  They grow peaches, cherries, apples, and lately, wine grapes.  They have a nice mild climate right at the foot of the mountains.

I had a good hamburger in one of the restaurants and drove around a bit (that takes about fifteen minutes).  I was struck by the life in the town.  OnSunday morning families were out walking and kids from age six on up were riding their bikes all over town.  The last town I remember seeing that was Winslow, Arizona.

So, my main criteria for a good small town are no McDonalds, no Walmart, a farming economy, and school age kids on bicycles.  I don’t think I will ever leave the city, but if I do, it will be to a town like Paonia.

The Buckner Banner


USNS Buckner

USNS Buckner

One of my first literary adventures was as editor of The Buckner Banner, the ship’s newspaper on the USNS Simon Bolivar Buckner,  a troopship sailing from New York to Bremerhaven, Germany.  It was 1963, and the U.S. Army was shipping me to Europe.  Just out of technical school, I had one skinny little stripe on my sleeve. I must have been chosen as editor by some random process, as I had no experience.  I guess that has always been the Army way.  The Banner ran a news digest from the radio room every day, and had a lot of canned content used on every nine day voyage.  My job was to come up with some original content. I had a crew of clerk typists who made mimeograph masters we ran off every morning.  The most valuable thing I learned as editor is to listen to your people.  One of the guys suggested we serialize a Sherlock Holmes novel. The passengers on the ship were a lot of GI’s headed to their first real duty station in Germany, stacked four deep in bunks in the cargo holds, and a large number of dependents, family members of career Army personnel.  There were daily movies and a library, but little else for people to do.  The Banner was a major defense against boredom. That Sherlock Holmes novel was a big hit.  The mimeographed paper was hard to read.  The machine was worn out, and the reproduction quality was terrible.  We made no effort to make each paper entirely readable, so the passengers were forced to share their copies in order to be able to read every page.  A detective novel became a shipboard community building event. People loved it, and I got a lot of compliments for someone else’s idea.  I also had the run of the ship as the editor and got to explore the entire vessel, from the heads in the bow to the fantail.  I was also exempt from all the nasty little jobs the Army gives troops to keep them busy.  I was on the same ship on the way home, and knew all the places to hide. Mostly, the voyage was routine.  There were stories about previous trips with bad weather.  Those cargo holds full of troops had waves of vomit sloshing back and forth as the ship rolled and pitched.  Then it had to be cleaned up.  The most excitement we had was the lifeboat drill the first day out.  The dependents lined up behind the lifeboats.  All the GI’s in their life jackets lined up facing the water.  We used to joke that part of the Army nomenclature for us was “expendable, non-returnable, with cover”. There have been some interruptions in my literary career, such as as the need to make a living, but the Army gave me a start.

Book Review: Battles and Massacres on the Southwestern Frontier


Here is a book review I wrote for the Overland Journal, the quarterly magazine of the Oregon California Trails Association.  I am Vice President of the Colorado Cherokee Trail chapter of the organization.  The review is the reason  for a delay in getting a post up.  I had trouble with one section of the book which has poor graphics and some errors, although it is important research.  It took weeks of ranting at people about it until I was able to calm down and include a short paragraph pointing out the problems.  Maybe next time I won’t get so personally involved in someone else’s work.




Edited by Ronald K. Weatherington and Frances Levine

Norman:  University of Oklahoma Press, 2014

248 pp., photos, maps, illustrations, extensive references, index

Paper, 5” x 8”

Battles and MassacresBattles and Massacres is a book that looks at several battles or massacres in the mid-nineteenth century from the perspectives of historians and archaeologists.  This is important because the historical record is usually written by one side of the conflict.  The archaeological record does not engage in cover ups, obfuscation, or have a political agenda.

The book examines four nineteenth century events in the American southwest involving Native Americans and Euro-Americans and the conflicts rising from westward expansion.  The encounters are the Battle of Cieneguilla in New Mexico, Adobe Walls in Texas, the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah.

The first three were direct conflicts involving Indians and soldiers or buffalo hunters.  Mountain Meadows was between Mormons of Southern Utah and a train of emigrants headed to California.  Some Paiutes acted with the Mormon militia.

This book is important in illustrating how modern archaeological methods can apply objective information to a historical record that can be essentially accurate, as at Adobe Walls, or what amounted to a cover-up at Cieneguilla.

Adobe Walls was a trading post in the Texas Panhandle occupied by a number of hide hunters engaging in killing as many Bison as possible for profit, while destroying the Native Americans livelihood.  A large group of Cheyenne warriors, believing that their medicine would protect them from the hide hunter’s bullets, attacked twenty-eight men and one woman.  The medicine did not work.  The big buffalo rifles were able to outrange the attacker’s weapons and many Indians were killed.  Three of the defenders were wounded.

The archaeological data showed that the majority of the Indian weapons were relatively short range rifles like the Henry and Spencer carbines, easily outranged by the big Sharps rifles of the hide hunters.  There were bullets from muzzleloaders and steel arrow points as well.

The recent archaeological investigations at Sand Creek have established the actual location of the massacre and validated the conclusion that there was a slaughter of people who were not able to effectively defend themselves, believing that they were under the protection of the U.S. Government.  Almost all of the recovered artifacts were from Army weapons.  The massacre was the result of John Chivington deciding that the Indians should all be killed.

Mountain Meadows is different, mostly Euro-Americans killing other Euro-Americans.  The essay in this book is unusual in that it comes from a Mormon Church historian and places culpability on the Southern Utah Mormon leadership for the massacre.  Given the tensions prevailing between the Utah Mormons and the U. S. Government, it was understandable there would be some conflict between the Mormons and a wagon train from Arkansas, but how it escalated into the slaughter of all the migrants over seven years old remains obscure.

Archaeological investigation at Mountain Meadows is difficult because of repeated disturbances over 150 years and the resistance of the Utah political leadership.  A study that was halted by the then Utah Governor, a descendant of one of the attackers, did provide forensic information that reinforced the conclusion that the emigrants were disarmed and slaughtered.

The studies of the battle of Cieneguilla in 1854 illustrate how an archaeological survey can refute the historical accounts dating from the time of the battle.  Of sixty troopers of the First Dragoons led into battle by Lt. John Davidson, twenty four were killed and twenty three wounded by about 100 Jicarilla Apaches.

The official report by Lt. Davidson is a story of a gallant attack by Dragoons against a superior force.  In fact, the troopers, after leaving their horses in a canyon bottom, attacked uphill and were outflanked and hunted down by the Apaches as they tried to retreat.  A Lt. Bell attempted to correct the report, but never received a hearing and was subsequently killed in action.

While the Cieneguilla study is important, there are some flaws.  The archeology is well done, the maps are not, making it difficult to visualize the entire battlefield and the movements of the combatants.  In addition, both essays explore the Battle of Cieneguilla, but fail to mention that what was Cieneguilla in 1854 is now Pilar, not far south of Taos.

The real tragedy of Cieneguilla is that the Apaches were then hunted down, starved, and sent to a reservation.

Overall, the book does an effective job of showing how history and archaeology can come together to provide a more accurate picture of events that occurred more than 150 years ago.

Winter Blues


Winter Blues

Winter Blues

Here it is January.  It was cloudy and snowy for days.  The sun is shining today,  but bleakly.  Christmas and the rest of the holidays are over.  They served as a temporary lift from the dark, depressing days of winter that every year remind us of the inevitable destiny we all share.

But, no, it isn’t all bad, just mostly.  I don’t know why, but my regular seasonal depression is worse this year.  I started feeling flat and unhappy sometime around Halloween, a holiday that was started to point out the return of darkness, the time when the spirits of the underworld again manifest here in our vale of tears.  Recent news events have not helped.

For weeks I could not write, and painful memories and feelings arose.  I read worthless trash, and was even drawn to watching mainstream television programs (I mostly resisted).  I was crabby, restless, and had trouble sleeping.  In times past when the melancholy struck, I would turn to drink, but I know it is only a temporary bit of oblivion that makes the everyday reality even more painful.

I got my meds changed, and the depression has lifted enough to allow me to write and get out of the house for a movie (Into the Woods).  I feel a bit better, and the return of the sun is helping.

Abraham Lincoln said that the secret of happiness is happiness.  That is true but he remained a melancholy.  Maybe we have these times to remind us of the good times we so often take for granted.  Maybe depressions force us to go inward, to leave daily life out there and look into those corners of our being we try to ignore.

Carl Jung wrote about the need to integrate the shadow,  that part of the psyche that lurks behind the face we try to present to the world.  If that part of the personality is ignored, it will surface as beliefs and acts that seem to be the opposite of who we want to be.  The tragedies of  twentieth century point out how the shadow operates in society as well as in the individual.

Depression brings the shadow out, especially at 3:00 AM.  When it happens to me, I get to look at the events in my life I regret.  I have to acknowledge that I have hurt people, been a bully, lied, shirked responsibility, had rage episodes, cheated, stolen, and overslept.  If one tries to bury the dark side, it will surface in a more virulent form.

Learning to accept my shadow allows me to see when it wants to come out, and I am better able to deal with it.  Carol, my wife, calls it the other Bill.  Now my shadow mostly surfaces as irritability.  I usually am able to recognize it and deal with it before I make a big ass out of myself.  Depression makes me more irritable.

Today I am sitting in the doctors office while Carol has a procedure.  With a few days of the medication change and some sunshine, the depression has eased somewhat, even with less sleep than normal.  I think things are improving, even with the bad coffee here.

My Life With ADD/ADHD

My Song

My Song

At age 59, I was diagnosed with ADD. I was in a therapy session which was, like most of my therapy sessions over the years, going nowhere.  My therapist stopped, looked at me and asked, “Have you ever been evaluated for ADD?”  Well,no.  No one had ever suggested it and it had never occurred to me.

That evening a computer search brought up several checklists. On the first one I took, almost every question was a head slapper.  I was a match for 48 of the 50 questions.  That therapist was not a big help for the ADD; most therapists aren’t.  The diagnosis, however, changed my life.  I had always known something was wrong.  I just did not function like most people, and the stress of living in a world where I didn’t quite fit in was taking a physical toll.

add quoteI have a number of symptoms, including a short attention span if not wholly engaged, impulsivity, irritability, hyper focus at times, forgetfulness, poor attention to detail, trouble getting started, distractibility, poor memory, and absent-mindedness.  Did I mention I forget stuff, like people’s names?

In my fifties I was treated for a bleeding ulcer, migraine headaches, had prostate surgery, rectal surgery, knee and back problems, hernias, and was involved in years of individual and couples therapy. Much of this was due to the stress of trying to function in a world of normies.

Work had ups and downs.  I always had authority problems and often missed small details.  I was never in enough trouble to get fired, but I had several of those long sessions with several levels of supervisors.

School was much the same way. I am fairly smart, so I almost always got by.  In college things got worse.  I couldn’t get by on brains and charm.  I actually had to work, and found that if the subject matter or the instructor didn’t engage me, I literally could not do the work.

Brain Disorder

Brain Disorder

I remember a political science course with an instructor who was always patronizing with students and wanted us to learn about Communism by studying Yugoslavia. By the time I realized I was not going to learn anything there, it was too late to drop the course.  Another F added to my list.

I lived with anxiety that I would do or say something wrong. I also have a lifetime of replaying the things I did do wrong.  Even now, 13 years after the diagnosis, I obsess about things that happened long ago.  I sometimes do things on impulse I later regret.  To protect my self-esteem I defend situations I get myself into that are indefensible.

Recently at work I threw some things away that needed replacing, but the replacements are not ready. My impulse got my colleagues all stirred up, and the children who come to play don’t have stick horses to ride.  I don’t think they minded that the old horses I threw away were worn out.

I get irritated by noise. Big crowds, barking dogs, truck traffic, elevator music, and crying children all get to me.  A neighbor friend had a little girl that cried a lot.  I found myself getting angry at her to the point of wanting to harm her.  I decided then that having children was not an option.  To my first wife’s disappointment I got a vasectomy.  I’m not sure that was the right decision, but I often believe so.  I have poor impulse control.

The diagnosis at age 59 changed my life. The first thing that happened is all sorts of feelings I had not allowed myself to feel came to the surface.  Anger, bitterness, rage, sadness, frustration, and just plain pain surged out.  I was not much fun to live with for a while.  I told Carol that I just had to be those feelings.

After the old feelings subsided and I found a good therapist and a good psychiatrist, things rapidly improved. Cognitive therapy gave me coping strategies more effective than making trouble to get my prefrontal lobes to wake up.  The medication helps with focus and awareness.  I can sustain tasks, where previously I was terrible at mundane tasks.  Now, I am just bad at them.

For me, the biggest change is that I can now write. I have always wanted to write, but the ADD did not allow me the focus to produce anything.  Now, except for occasional bouts of writer’s block, I can write. All those years of not writing were not wasted, as I studied good writing.  I also practiced doing clear, concise writing when writing the daily shift reports in the water treatment plants where I worked.  One or two paragraphs, but I got some practice.

Today, I have gratitude. I can manage the ADD (mostly), I have a wonderful marriage, a comfortable retirement, and I can write.  What a long, strange trip it’s been.

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