Monday, February 28, 2011

Frank Buckles, the last surviving United States veteran of World War I, has passed away

            In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

                    -- Lieutenant Colonel John McRae,
                        Canadian Army
                        written near Ypres, Belgium
                        May 3, 1915

The dawn of this day will see the Great War has finally passed from any American's living memory...

Think about that: Buckles grew up talking with Civil War veterans.  And those veterans in turn, did grow up hearing stories from those who fought in the American Revolution.

Frank Buckles was the last link to a past that belongs now only to history books and secondary source material.

I pray we have not forgotten what those who came before have done for us, what they have taught us, what they have given us. 
                         
 Frank Buckles, 1917

Frank Buckles, the last living "doughboy" who volunteered to serve in the United States Army during World War I, has died.

Buckles was born in 1901.  He turned 110 on the first of this month.  He was 16 when he pestered his way (literally) into getting an Army recruiter to take him (Buckles also lied about his age and claimed to be 18).

He never saw combat, but he was proud of the fact that he tried to do his part on the front lines.  And history wasn't done with him after the armistice was signed: during World War II Buckles was doing business in the Philippines when he was captured by the Japanese.  He was a prisoner of war for three years.

Nearly 5 million people enlisted in the U.S. military from 1917 to 1918.

And now, as of this hour, they have all gone.

The last surviving Canadian soldier from World War I, John Babcock, passed away a year ago.  Two British soldiers remain with us: Claude Choules and Florence Green.  There are no surviving French or German soldiers.

Frank Buckles, 2010

Mr. Buckles, more people than you could have ever imagined, have held you in highest honor.  This morning, they are none the fewer.

Rest in peace, and go with God.  You have done well.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Be thankful

My dear readers,

I was told that Tim Scales was at a meeting of the school board on Friday night. Everyone that I've spoken to said that he was, as always, full of cheer and good humor and... just full of life.

And then, yesterday morning at the Food Lion that he worked at, he collapsed and died. One member of the board tonight said that everyone is still in deep shock about Tim's passing.

People, I have asked you for prayer recently. I thank you for that. But tonight, I want to ask something else of you...

Whatever you have, whoever you have in your life, whatever blessings God has given you: Please, be thankful for them.

Don't stop being thankful. And if you've never told a person that you are thankful for him or her being in your life... well, what are you waiting for?? DO IT!!

Tonight I am thankful for having come to know Tim Scales. I am thankful for Mom and Dad. I am thankful for Chad and Ed and Eric and Steven and Michelle and Ashton and Jenna and Ashley and James and Brian and Bethany and... well, a lot of people that I want to be given opportunity to look them in the eye and say:

"Hey, I'm thankful for you."

Life is too short. Too short to be anything but grateful and appreciate what God has blessed each of us with.

To those that I don't see much of anymore: I am thankful for you too. And, I pray that I can see you again and tell you that. Because you deserve to hear it if only from one person.

Thank you.

Tim Scales has passed away

This community has lost a respected and admired leader... and a friend to many.

The sad word came late last night that Tim Scales, Vice-Chairman of the Rockingham County Schools system here in North Carolina, passed away yesterday morning. He had served on the board since 2000, and had been representing District 6 in the western part of the county.

Can't express how torn up I'm feeling since yesterday.

Tim was... well, whenever I've thought of him, I've most especially remembered his exuberant smile and hearty disposition the very first time that we met. It was in August of 2006: the early days of that wacky school board election. I went to a meeting of the school board - figuring that if I was going to run for a seat on it that I'd better get watch and observe as much as I could.

Tim and I met after the meeting, and we had a terrific conversation on the steps outside the system's main office. Tim had this... this sparkle in his eyes, that bespoke his enthusiasm for education.

I decided that night that if I got elected, that this was a gentleman that I could learn a lot from.

Tim was an exceptional advocate for the schools. A few minutes with him were more than enough to convince you: this was a man who absolutely have the children's best interests at heart.

There were some issues that, we didn't see totally eye to eye on. But you know: Tim was a person you could definitely trust, that he cared for the students, the teachers, the schools, and the parents. His was an eager ear to listen and seek understanding from all.

I know of no finer compliment than to say this about my friend Tim Scales: he was a statesman, through and through.

Here's the story on WGHP Fox 8's website about Tim's passing. And the school system has put up a page on its website where friends can leave condolences and notes of remembrance.

Thoughts and prayers going out to Tim's family tonight. He will be missed.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

BEING BIPOLAR: Trying to make amends

I don't care what this looks like. This is something that I need to do.

I am coming to realize that, during the span of my life I did hurt a lot of people. And even though those were times when I was suffering episodes of my bipolar mania, I still have to own up to all of it.

I am counting on this blog being read by many who have been in my life over the years. No, I don't know who you are or where you are. But since two people from my past have contacted me in the past week, I am hoping that there are others out there also, who I have sadly lost contact with in one way or another.

So I plead with anyone reading this, who I have wronged even though I never meant to or wanted to...

Please write to me at theknightshift@gmail.com and tell me what I did wrong, and how I can make it right.

Thank you.

BEING BIPOLAR: Video Log 6 - "Please, God..."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

BEING BIPOLAR, Part 5: God and Mental Illness

READER ADVISORY: This, the fifth installment of an ongoing series exploring what I have experienced and learned from living with bipolar disorder, contains an account of an extremely graphic nature. My writing about it here marks the first time that I have revealed in public an incident, the nature of which I pray would never happen to anyone. This advisory is not to "warn away" anyone from reading it at all. In fact, it is my desire that you would read it. I only ask for two things: that you, Dear Reader, will bear in mind that I am writing about this for the first time because it marks a very terrible period in my life that, I must give credit to God for bringing me through. And that the account itself is not the reason at all for this chapter of Being Bipolar. The real heartmeat of this installment comes a bit further down. And after sending this out for "proofreading" (something I have not done with any other Being Bipolar piece so far) to those that I trust and being given "the go to launch" by them, I am confident that other readers will recognize this as well.

As with other chapters, I do ask that you take the time at some point to read the previous entries of Being Bipolar, which now includes a number of video supplements. I can't vouch for my on-camera acting skills, but I do harbor some small pride in my capacity as a writer :-)

My belief in and hope from and expectations of God died that day when I was twelve and a male faculty member of the Christian school I was attending raped and sodomized me.

I have never disclosed that publicly, until now. So, please forgive me if I come across as... a bit nervous and unsure... in writing about it. But at least this is the last time that I ever have to write about it for the first time.

I had been at this school since kindergarten. And for the first several years it was a place not only of good education but also of earnest pursuit of Christ and the life of grace that He would have to enjoy. Then something happened and I'm not quite sure what precisely but behind the scenes some new policies were being enacted. The teacher who I credit for teaching me how to read at a vastly accelerated rate (I was measured as reading at a twelfth-grade level in the second grade) was fired because her membership was at another church and not the church that ran the school. She didn't want to leave the place of worship that she believed God had called her to be at and to serve Him in.

I've never understood that. If a person is following Christ as best he or she understands Him, then what difference does it make where he or she is serving Him at? Who am I or anyone else to say that a person is wrong for being in this congregation or that denomination (I don't believe that's an accurate term anyway: Christ is not divided and there is no such thing as a "denomination", only differing perspectives of Christ: Who is more magnificent than any one person or group of people can fully comprehend!).

And then there was what can only be called the "two minutes hate on the Roman Catholics" that I witnessed during what became my last year there. And maybe I made a mistake when I raised my hand and stood up and said "This is wrong! Why are Christians supposed to hate anybody? Aren't Catholics Christians too?"

I don't like seeing hatred toward others in the name of God. I just can't stay quiet when that is going on around me. I don't know where it comes from but, I've always been like that and I don't doubt that I always will be.

There was a Sunday night in late June of 1985 that I remember. I was eleven and was outside with my telescope. And the night was so unbelievably clear and starkly dark and... "beautiful" doesn't come close to describing it. And it was enough to compel me in one of the most unforgettable moments of my life to know that God made all of this and that I was thankful to Him for this night and every good thing that He had done in my life, like giving me good family and friends.

It wasn't a "religious" moment. I don't know if I was anything like a "Christian" in the terminology of rigid doctrine. But it was a mystical moment between God and myself and it was... the most wonderful single point of time in my entire life, up to then.

What? Did I say something wrong when I said "mystical"? I don't see how. "Mystic" in the purest sense means a personal experience of God. Mysticism might be the word that best describes my personal theology. To me, it means a pursuit of intimacy with God in a way that can't be achieved by mere doctrine or theology. So yes, I suppose that I am a Christian mystic. It wasn't something that I set out to be and to be honest, I don't think it's something that a person consciously aspires to be. But as one is drawn more and more to God, "mystical" is the sole word to adequately describe what a relationship with Him for those lingering in this temporal realm grows and transforms into.

But that sense of closeness to God was soon challenged. Several weeks later I saw a young man who I had come to regard as the older brother I never had, be crushed to death beneath a tractor in a freak accident on our farm. The grief from that, I'll never be able to fully get past. And then two months later Dad nearly lost his hand in another farm-related accident: this one involving a hay bailer. Then something happened at my school that... rattled my faith in "good Christian people". Perhaps that was my first realization that people who say they follow God, aren't perfect at all and in fact are too often much further from that than people who aren't "Christians" per se.

Then came that day in the spring of 1986. When I was accused of something that I had not done, and a male faculty member did not care to hear anything that I had to say about it. He said that I was guilty and that was that and I had to be "punished".

What happened behind closed doors afterward involved him masturbating (I didn't know at the time that was the word for what he did), his penis and my own, an action he did with his mouth that I had never come close to imagining, and him telling me that God demanded that I be a "good boy" and that I should "pray for forgiveness" for the "sin" that I committed.

It was four years before I was able to tell anyone about that. I never saw that man again after we left that school and entered public school the following fall. But I hated him. I came to hate everything about that school. My final day there, I wore a tank top shirt in defiance of the rules and told the teacher that she could "go to Hell" if she didn't like it. I wanted her to dare to do something to me. She didn't do anything.

I hated God most of all.

I hated everything that there was about the idea of God. I hated myself for ever believing in God. God, as I understood Him, would never put an innocent child into a situation where he or she is... treated like that!

And that's how it was that for most of the six years after that happened, that I declared myself to be an atheist.

Then around the time that I was a senior in high school, some... revelations, you could say... began occurring to me. I had another "mystical moment of clarity" which led me to understand that the universe was just too perfect to have arisen haphazardly on its own. Maybe it was the physics class I had that year which had something to do with it, and the orchestra of mathematical function in matter and energy which I began appreciating for the first time.

It was around my birthday that year when I found my belief in God again. And along with it, a disbelief that God would ever want to take me back.

Look: those six years of atheism? I did some horrible things in my rage against God during that period. I became a champion of disbelief in God. There were even some letters that I wrote to and had published in the area's largest newspaper, stemming from my refusal to believe in God. And in some ways, much worse. Most people today know that I am very against abortion. But that wasn't always so... and shamefully, I can prove it.

How could God want to take a person like me back into a relationship with Him?

That is where I was for the next few years. I was "outside looking in". I did see others who had that relationship with God, and I envied them for that. Secretly, I wanted to be like them. I don't think I ever even prayed to God to let that happen. But, He must have known...

...because a few years later I began studying at what was then Elon College (it's now Elon University). And God began putting some incredible people into my life. Sometimes, seemingly by accident (thinking of how I discovered the Baptist Student Union there). And it was in my second year there that I began to at last move toward that warm fire around which were people I had come to love and care for, and they shared love toward me and best of all they shared Christ with me. And I learned that God did want me after all.

I have not followed Him perfectly. In fact, there have been many more times that I have failed, than I have succeeded. I have discovered that to chase after God does not mean a life of ease and comfort. But it does mean that He will never leave us or forsake us or abandon us.

And that is how I can write about my relationship with Jesus Christ today...

...in spite of how, more than anything else that has happened to me in my life, I have cried out to Him about the disease which has robbed me of capability, of opportunity, and of family.

The Fire Of The Forge

Ever since first going public with my having bipolar disorder a few months ago, I have wondered a few times: "Should I reveal the sexual molestation that happened when I was an adolescent?" Talking about having a mental illness is one thing. Recounting an incident like that... I've had to live with that for almost a quarter-century.

But now, I don't have a problem with it. And maybe it is time to be open about it. I didn't ask for that to happen to me either, but it did. I wasn't the guilty one. I didn't choose that or invite it to happen. It took place because there are very evil people in this world who take advantage of others and sometimes in ways which... let's put it this way: I'm against the death penalty. EXCEPT for child molesters. I wish that I could see past that to a place where I can pray to God to be merciful to even them... yes, even to that man... and show them the grace that they need as much as any of us do.

Maybe someday I will grow enough to reach that place. I hope it does. But it hasn't happened yet.

But I can and will talk about it, if for no other reason than because that very horrible thing is a part of my testimony. And now, it can be that as much as anything else that God has done in my life. He did not make that man do what he did. But God also did not leave me, even when I most hated Him. I no longer have to dwell upon the evil that was done to me, but instead I can write about and give praise to God for the good that He has done in my life in spite of that.

That is why I am writing about that happening to me, as part of the Being Bipolar series. Not because that was something that had any bearing on my mental illness, but because once again my original outline for this endeavor has been thoroughly smashed and I was led to write about my faith in God and how it has related to this medical condition. Because this is about my "being bipolar" and because my spiritual life is a very large – honestly the largest – component of my identity. Because I've no doubt that many others also have struggled with reconciling their belief in God with having a disease, and not necessarily a mental one either.

So... who knows? Maybe sharing what I have gone through in this aspect of having bipolar disorder will be a boon to others as well.

And for those of you wondering (which I'm sure is the vast majority of those reading this): I have NOT been able to find any bearing that what happened to me when I was twelve, has had on my having bipolar. Did it affect me? Absolutely. Maybe some day I'll be able to write more about that particular hell. But that was a traumatic experience, not a chronic condition with physiological and genetic causes. One which I have now recognized that I was suffering from much earlier than when that incident took place.

But I have thought at times: am I able to be here now, today, because of all the crap that I went through from a very young age? Could it be that God, even when I was most distant from Him, was with me and not only letting me survive that, but also building me and toughening me up for things yet to come?

I think... yeah, He did. And in my best moments I know that He did.

Was He bringing me through hardship and pain so that I might one day be able to write about having bipolar, as I am doing now? I think that's altogether possible. I can't not regret what happened to me back then. But, I can be thankful that God didn't abandon me and in fact was letting that be something that would in due time bring me to a place that I could never have reached on my own.

It's like what that German philosopher dude once said: "That which does not kill me, can only make me stronger." But I much more prefer the worst of the apostle Peter, as written in 1st Peter 1:7...

"These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire —may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

A preacher friend once accompanied me on a visit to Dad's knife shop. Dad showed him all around and then he lit up the forge that he uses to heat up steel red-hot so he can beat them on the anvil or with his power hammer (something he designed and built on his own!). My minister friend marveled at it and noted that Dad's forge was a lot like what God does to us: He puts us through fire, and sometimes He pounds on us at the same time to get us into the shape He wants us to be. But in the end, like those bars of steel, we come out tougher, harder... and with purpose that was not there before.

In the times of despair that I have had these past months and couple of years, I have striven to remember that. It helps to give me hope that if God didn't abandon me then, He will not abandon me now. It reminds me that God is working on me. Making me to be a Chris Knight that I am yet to be and can't begin to imagine is coming in His time. That, I could never be that Chris Knight without Him putting me through the fire of the forge of life: burning away impurities as a refiner with gold, and making me stronger and sharper than I could have ever done by my own efforts.

(I think Roland, my friend, wound up preaching a bunch of messages about Dad's forge! It certainly does seem to inspire, when it's going full-flame and you see that steel glowing fiery orange and the sound of the blower and you witness plain dull metal becoming something you can wield raw muscle and sweat into making a gorgeous tool of.)

I am a hunk of ugly and ordinary metal, that has been put through fire and fire again, and that the Master Blacksmith has not been ceasing in crafting into a most precious implement to be used in a design for His glory and majesty.

We all are.

Confessing Doubts Of An Unquiet Mind

And then... there are the times when I am usually alone and I can't stop myself from weeping and crying aloud to God (literally on occasion) about why my bipolar just doesn't make sense with what I have come to know about Him.

Please know something: I do not believe that God "caused" my mental illness. Indeed, God doesn't cause any illness to strike a person. But many times God allows a sickness to hit someone. Jesus Himself addressed this very thing, in the Book of John, chapter 9. A blind man was brought before Him and His disciples asked whose fault was it that he was born unable to see.

Jesus told them...

"'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'"

And if there be entertained any further notion that God makes disease happen, I can most heartily recommend the Book of Job: a work that I have probably read just shy of twenty times in recent months.

That is something else that I cling to for the hope that it gives: that what I suffer, will be something that the work of God might be made manifest in.

It would certainly help to alleviate the grief and misery that I have been feeling especially since early this past fall. Grief and misery that, there hasn't been a day that's gone by that I haven't prayed to God to bring relief and understanding from.

The most painful of all, is that I keep praying to Him and asking Him why did He let me have this when it is what led to me, without ever wanting to have done so, hurt those closest and dearest to me. I have especially begged Him to help me understand how it is that He allowed me to have this condition when it led to the destruction of my marriage: something that I had never conceived He could even be possible of doing. That just... seems so wrong and against the nature of God as I have come to know Him...

...and then, I have friends who usually remind me, because I need to be reminded of it no matter how much it hurts: that God's ways are not ours. And I can't begin to even come close to understanding Him. All I can do, all I should do, is... trust in Him. Even though that is VERY hard to do most of the time.

A friend let me borrow a book recently: When God Winks At You. Ever since reading it I've found myself praying for God to wink at me: to let me know "Hey, Chris, I'm still here and I love you and I haven't forgotten you!" For much of the productions of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and Gypsy that I was recently a cast member of, I would drive past this church on the way to rehearsal and on the sign outside it said "We Must All Trust In God's Plan". Was that God "winking" at me? Telling me to trust Him in spite of my grasp of circumstances?

I want to believe so. I REALLY want to believe so.

Because I don't doubt that God is there and that God answers prayer.

I just wonder if God is listening to my prayers. If He has heard me at all during these past few months.

Does that seem strange? To talk about faith in God and yet not feeling sure that He is listening?

For a person with mental illness... well, for me anyway, it is not such a contradiction. Because, there are times when, I admit with great sadness, I do catch myself falling into a trap of "Is my belief in God a delusion of my mind?"

There. Yes. I said it. I know that I have a mental illness and I do often wonder if God is just something that my mind produces that I want to believe in. And please know that I would give darn near anything to not have that kind of doubt enter into my thinking!

And sometimes, there is a horrible converse of that which overwhelms me. Lately, it has been the worst doubt that I have had to content with...

...that there is a God, and He does listen to prayers. But that my own mind is too severely damaged and hopeless and irredeemable to pray to and approach God as I should be.

That's a weird alternative to atheism, you gotta admit. That I can believe in God but I can't believe my self is able to reach out to Him. I could probably write a whole book about that. Or maybe shoot a film about it. Except I don't know if it would make for a good tragedy or a good comedy...

But can you imagine many things that are more terrible than that? To wonder... to seriously wonder... that your own mind isn't what it needs to be to talk to God in prayer and that it might never be as normal and healthy as it should be to commune with your Father and Creator...

Does that mean that I am truly without hope?

Does that mean that I am a freak, a "mistake"?

If I cry out to my Heavenly Father and not know for certain if He can hear me, does that mean that I am an ecclesiastical orphan?

Could it be that I really am a monster? That I have lost people close to me because I don't have mind enough to have the humanity and sympathy and empathy that a person needs to have?

One of the most un-endurable things about my mental illness, is that it has caused many people who had been in my life to seriously question whether I have been a true follower of Christ at all. To know that they think that of me... has HURT so much!!

But, what if they are right? What if I never did and never could earnestly and sincerely follow Christ? What if nothing I can do could change that?

Why did God make me? Does He have a purpose for me?

Has He cared... has He been able to care, as I know He does toward others... about what I have lost?

Will He forget about me on the day that I die?

Am I damned because of my mind?

These thoughts, and so many more, are what race through my mind many times when I am going through a hyper-manic bipolar episode.

Then I usually take a tablet of Seroquel and my thoughts slow down and usually, I wind up taking a nap or completely turning in for the night.

But the thoughts are always waiting to return, and to torment me with doubt and despair. Sometimes, they even return several hours later. And it's not good to take more Seroquel so soon.

So then I pray. And find that I'm thankful to God for letting me have, for even a short time, a scrap of mind quiet and stable enough to pray.

Dear Reader, it would probably surprise you just how hard that much can be. When one is trying to talk to God as a child to his Father, but can't because his mind is racing out of control and it's impossible to focus enough.

Prayer is a commodity that is more precious than most appreciate. When I can pray without struggle, I can't but be grateful.

Testimony Without End

A few days ago a friend who I hadn't heard from in many years wrote to me. He said that he found my blog last month, that he's been reading Being Bipolar and watching the videos.

He told me something that I once knew and had forgotten, and when I read it again, I was wog-bogglinginly astonished at how so simple and yet supremely powerful it was to realize. It was as if I was just discovering it for the first time.

He said, "Chris, God is still writing your story."

And that has filled me with great optimism and hope for my life.

Take a moment to think about some of the greatest and most influential people in history. Many of them... if not most of them... did not live lives of complete joy and comfort. In fact, their time in this world was marked and marred by painful circumstances or tragic events. Gandhi was beaten and imprisoned numerous times during the long decades when he was leading the movement toward independence for India (and he was later assassinated for trying to bring peace between Hindus and Moslems). Today we know that Abraham Lincoln suffered numerous physical ailments as well as chronic depression. Mozart also struggled with depression. Beethoven was deaf. Homer (the Greek poet not The Simpsons character) was blind. Sir Winston Churchill regretted that he was never able to be close with his mother (he once wrote that there had been "a great distance" between them). Einstein had Asperger's (a form of autism) that prevented him from being competent in math for many years. Leonardo da Vinci was dyslexic. George Washington had a learning disability and could barely write (it's true!). Epilepsy plagued Agatha Christie. John Nash has gone his entire life with schizophrenia, but that didn't keep him from revolutionizing mathematics with game theory. And one of the most famous voices of our time, that of James Earl Jones, was silent for the first many years of his life: Jones – the man who gave Darth Vader his vocal persona – had a severe speech impediment that he eventually overcame.

All of these people and many, many more have or had lives that were not the ideal that any of us would want. And yet, rather than be what held them back, their respective disabilities and sad situations enhanced each of them as individuals!

Those aspects of their lives often defined them. But they did not destroy them. What any of us would gladly avoid, countless men and women throughout history have had to greet head-on with courage, with determination, and with... well, what else can it be called but faith?

Their tragic circumstance became part of the story of each. They became their testimony.

Just as my living and coping with and managing my mental illness, is now part of my testimony.

I'm not gonna ever dare compare myself to the great men and women who have come before, as if my bipolar is something that has me on the short list for fame and fortune. If that is the price for that, then it is too much and I would just as soon tell God that He can keep this and "Thanks but, 'no thanks'."

But, this is what God has allowed to happen in my life. Just as He allowed all of the other things to happen. This is part of the story of Chris Knight.

And it is a story that is even now still being written.

In all honesty: when everything is drawing to a close, would I have seriously been happy with a life that did not have some tragedy here and there?

Nah. Then my life would have been nothing but a comedy. And I trust God too much to know that He absolutely understands that Chris Knight is a unique and wonderful mix of the funny and the serious.

God is simply writing the story that I know I want to be able to read and reflect upon and be glad that He did write it, someday.

Just as He is writing your story!

What came before, is part of my testimony of what God has done in my life.

What I live with today, is part of my testimony of what God is still doing in my life.

And when I am stronger still because of this, that will become testimony of what is God will be doing in my life in the years yet to come.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Trailer for ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART 1

Yes, I have seen the new trailers for Thor, and for Captain America: The First Avenger, and for Green Lantern and Transformers: Dark of the Moon and every other trailer out right now for a tentpole movie this year.

But I haven't posted about them. If you want to find them, here's YouTube. Knock yourself out.

I am however going to post the trailer for Atlas Shrugged: Part 1...

The first film of the trilogy hits theaters, appropriately enough, on April 15th. So fitting that on Income Tax Day here in the United States, that many who had never even heard of him before will be asking "Who is John Galt?"

There have been efforts to cinematically adapt Ayn Rand's classic novel going on since 1972. It's finally come to fruition. I plan to see this movie on opening day.

Click here for the official website for Atlas Shrugged, Part 1.

Detroit to get geeks-financed statue of RoboCop

I guess if Philadelphia can have a Rocky Balboa statue, and if New York City has one of Ralph Kramden and if Milwaukee has the Fonz as a landmark, then Detroit should get a lasting monument to its own... hero?

(Oh yeah, I almost forgot : nearby Mount Airy - the model for Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show - has that life-sized bronze statue of Andy and Opie going fishing! So I guess the precedent has already been set for fictional lawmen. Law-cyborgs. Whatever...)

Earlier this week a flood of support coalesced across Facebook and Twitter to erect in Detroit a statue of... RoboCop. The titular "part man, part machine, all cop" hero of the 1987 sci-fi action smash-hit movie. Somebody forwarded the idea to Detroit mayor Dave Bing, who responded with "There are not any plans to erect a statue to Robocop. Thank you for the suggestion."

That's when the wheels of justice, ummm... Motor City, errrr... fandom kicked into overdrive. Before you can say "interface spike" a fundraising effort was in high gear, determined to raise $50,000 to finance the statue of RoboCop.

A few days ago, with $25,000 left to accrue for the project, a donor kicked in the last half. The RoboCop statue has enough money to become a reality.

When that will happen is another story. Word on the streets of Old Detroit is that Mayor Bing won't give the clearance for the statue to be placed. One of the reasons why some don't want it is how RoboCop was a movie that played off of Detroit's hard times and urban blight during the Eighties (something which hasn't drastically improved). A RoboCop statue, opponents claim, would be a monument to the Detroit that many in that city are trying to escape from being. But the statue might well wind up on private property, where it is hope that it will become a landmark regardless.

Ehhhh, interesting. I wonder what Bixby Snyder has to say about it:

"I'D BUY THAT..."
"...FOR A DOLLAR!!!"

And now there's news that a reboot of RoboCop is underway. Hmmmm... not too crazy about that. The first movie was excellent and RoboCop 2 is better than its reputation. I think there should be a serious RoboCop 3 (forget the one that was, what, direct to video?) and put lots of Bixby Snyder in it. Or, have a full-length It's Not My Problem movie. Surely I can't be the only one who would watch that... right?!?

(Or make me really happy and put a statue of Snake Plissken up in Central Park.)

This blogger is impressed... but just mildly... by Watson's streak on JEOPARDY!

So one of the bigger stories this past week has been IBM's supercomputer Watson beating all-time champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter during a three-game series on Jeopardy!. Watson's final haul was $77,147, with Jennings coming in second with $24,000 and Rutter third with $21,600. During Final Jeopardy! on the last night of the contest Jennings wrote "Who is Stoker?" and in parenthesis added "I for one welcome our new computer overlords".

I thought Watson's performance was... impressive. But, I'm not too terrified about a droid uprising just yet.

For one thing, Watson is not much more than a glorified search engine. IBM's engineers assured the Jeopardy! audience that Watson could not access the Internet: that "he" relied entirely on his oodles of terabytes of storage, containing (it is thought) every iota of trivia that has possibly been digitized. Clearly, an advantage was held by Watson.

And yet, even that was fallible, as was demonstrated by Watson's widely-scorned inability to know that Toronto is not a U.S. city (the correct question should have been "What is Chicago?"). Watson also reported that Serbia was a country in the European Union (it is not).

Remember when Garry Kasparov beat IBM's Deep Blue in 1997? Kasparov also fought "sequel" Deep Junior to a draw in 2003. Now, to me that is much more extraordinary computer technology, even though those machines never achieved clear victory. There was legitimate strategy and intuitive thinking involved in those contests. In the end, human wetware prevailed over silicon. Watson, as far as I was able to tell, showed none of that capability.

But I will tell you what Watson did have that earned it some respect from this writer: that it was able to, for the vast majority of the time, communicate in natural language as well as most humans.

I first read about the Turing test when I was a high school sophomore. The concept has interested me since: Alan Turing's proposed test for a computer's ability to think. The idea is that if a human can not discern whether he is communicating with another person or with a computer, then that computer has achieved a measure of intelligence comparable to a human being.

What I saw on Jeopardy! this past week, was the most significant demonstration of how close computers have become to passing the Turing test. It's not quite there yet... but it is pretty darn close.

In the meantime, I wonder if IBM could pit Watson against Garry Kasparov in a game of chess? C'mon Garry, the rest of us humans are counting on you to win back our honor! :-P

Doug Smith remembers Dale Earnhardt and reflects on NASCAR

Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Sr.. On this occasion, good friend Doug Smith wrote some thoughts and posted them on Facebook. Doug asked if I could post his essay here as well. I don't follow NASCAR too well, but I remember Earnhardt as being one of the finest drivers to ever be in the sport, and Doug's thoughts about the state of NASCAR today are quite provocative and intriguing.

So without further ado, here's Doug Smith's post about No. 3 and what has happened to his sport...

"So, who you gonna pull for when he's not racing any more?"

This is gonna be very much a free for all and may not follow a lot of structure but I've been planning this for a while and been beating myself up all day about what I wanted to write and how I wanted to write it so basically this is as raw and unpolished as it can be.

The question that's in the title of this note was a question posed to me on or about February 9, 2001 by a guy named Chris Stanfield in the RCHS library. We had been working on a project for class and we needed all the computers in the library for the class. Needless to say, I had other things on my mind besides school and today, I wanted to see the practice speeds that had been coming out of Daytona in preps for that year's Daytona 500. Chris was talking with me as I looked up the speeds as well as the full Daytona schedule for that week. He saw me looking specifically for Dale Sr and Dale Jr.'s practice speeds. Just making conversation he asked me was I a Sr. or Jr. fan. I explained I was a Sr. fan but I also pulled for Jr. for obvious reasons. He then out of the blue asked me what was I gonna do when Dale Sr. was no longer racing. I thought little of this, I just simply answered "I don't know. I guess I'll pull for Dale Jr." Little did I know how much of an impact that simple question would have less than 10 days later.

On February 17th, after watching the then Busch series race and the IROC race, my dad asked me who I thought would win the 500. I told him I believed Michael Waltrip would win it, Dale Jr would finish 2nd and Dale Sr. would finish 3rd. I had no evidence for this, it was just simply what came to mind at that moment.

The day of the 500 itself, February 18th, 2001, started off on a bit of a sour note as I woke up to see that longtime Braves great Eddie Matthews had died that morning. He would regrettably be forgotten in the aftermath of the events to come later that day. The broadcast began on Fox at 12 Noon that day. It was the first race Fox had ever broadcast. During the pre-race segment, they interviewed many drivers and Dale Earnhardt was among them. He finished up his interview with a quote that, like Chris' question to me earlier, meant little at the time but would later be seared into my memory. His quote was "you're gonna see something you've never seen before today on Fox."

I didn't watch much of the race itself due to Directv not carrying local channels at that time. The interviews I saw were at my grandparent's house where they had basic cable which meant they got local channels. I figured I would read the results and watch highlights later and since my dad was recording it on vhs tape at my grandparents and if Dale won or anything big happened I'd watch the tape. This was up until my dad came in from playing golf around 3:30 pm. He came in the house and asked me had I seen the big wreck that happened. I asked him what he was talking about. He said there'd been a huge wreck with about 25 laps to go and that there was at least one car that flipped. I asked did Dale get through and he said he didn't know. So I went to my room, disconnected the Directv box so I could hopefully get a decent reception on Fox 8 which I managed to actually get through the antenna on the roof of the house. Much better than I usually got. Anyway, I saw the crash itself and watched as Tony Stewart flew like a leaf and 19 other cars hit each other like bumper cars in the crash that Nascar fans usually refer to as "the big one", a common occurence at the plate tracks(Daytona and Talladega). My question was soon answered as they did a rundown of the field and I saw that Dale had gotten through the crash so I was relieved.

After the race resumed, I watched the last 20 or so laps of the race and then came the white flag. Waltrip was in 1st, Dale Jr. in 2nd and Dale Sr. in 3rd, as I had predicted the day before. They come around turn 3, we see a wide shot that pans left as it follows Mikey and Jr. out of turn 4. The camera changes angles and we see in the upper right part of the screen 2 cars crashing. All I could see as to who was in it was a big white 3 and I then silently muttered some obscenity after seeing he'd crashed. But Mikey had won the race and Dale Jr. had gotten 2nd so it was a nice finish. It was Waltrip's first career win in almost 15 years of racing in the then Winston Cup series.

The camera then switches to 2 crashed cars in the grass area just out of turn 4. One of them is Dale's car and one of them is Ken Schrader's car. Schrader was then shown to walk over to Dale's drivers side to see if he was okay. He then immediately jumped back slightly and waved the paramedics over to Dale's car in an almost panic. I knew then something was really wrong. Minutes passed, no new information, simply replays of the crash. It was easy to tell by the commentator's that it wasn't good but they didn't say anything because they themselves knew nothing official at the time. More minutes passed, I told my dad that he'd crashed and I thought something was really wrong because of what I'd seen Schrader doing. I went to eat supper while watching for information about the crash and Dale's condition. After nearly 90 minutes of no new information, I knew something tragic had probably happened and I began to prepare for the worst. Finally, around 6:30 pm, after I'd gone back home, my mom called the house and told my dad that Dale was gone. It was then I flipped on the tv and saw the press conference that had taken place about 10 minutes before and Mike Helton utter those words I will never forget.

"This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements that I've ever personally had to make, but after the accident in turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost Dale Earnhardt."

I was empty. I really didn't know what to think or do. I had lost a childhood hero before in 1993 but it was unthinkable to think that it had happened a second time and to Dale Earnhardt of all people who many Nascar fans truly thought was invincible. The driver in 1993 I'm referring to is Davey Allison who died in July 1993 in a helicopter crash at age 32. But it had happened, Dale was gone and the emotion and sadness from that day has not left me, even 10 years to the day of this tragedy.

Dale Earnhardt's death was to me the biggest tragedy in Nascar history and is one that, as time has shown, the sport as a whole may never truly recover from. No sport to my knowledge has ever lost its biggest star in its biggest event of the season. I spoke to many people afterwards who said they didn't care about Nascar any more now that he was gone and that sentiment still runs today. Most fans at some point returned to being fans again but it's more or less universally agreed that it hasn't been the same and will never be the same as it was before this day, 10 years ago.

To answer Chris' question if he happens to read this, I did become a Dale Jr. fan for a while as well as a Kevin Harvick fan who was handpicked by Dale Sr. himself to be his successor. It's pretty much believed that had he not died, he would've likely retired at the end of the 2002 season when his last contract with RCR expired. I later fell out of favor with Dale Jr. and focused solely on Harvick which is where I stood until the end of the 2010 season when I left the sport altogether due to many stupid decisions made by the sport since 2004. It is also my considered opinion that if Dale were alive today, he would be truly disgusted to see what this former sport has degenerated into. Dale was also known to be a voice of reason among the drivers and the brass at Nascar as a whole and I truly believe that so many awful decisions that have been made in the last decade of Nascar would've never been made if Dale Earnhardt were still alive.

As we move forward in time and Dale Earnhardt becomes even more of a name and a legend in time, his death will be felt by Nascar as long as it manages to exist and the results will not be pretty. I truly believe that Nascar will continue to tumble in the eyes of American sports fans as well as racing fans altogether. Ratings and attendance at the tracks(save for the major races) have tumbled, and because of this, it's entirely possible that by 2020 maybe 2025, Nascar may not be around any more. If by then Nascar still exists, it may no longer be on television and will be seen in the same vein as pro wrestling is seen in the US which is how many traditional Nascar fans see the sport today. When I say it will be seen like pro wrestling, I mean that it will be seen as a show and simply entertainment rather than a legitimate sport and legitimate competition which as I said is how many traditional fans view what the sport has become already. In the 10 years since his death, Nascar has gone from being second only to the NFL in terms of popularity and the fastest rising spectator sport on the planet, to being the butt of a joke and being one of the few cases in history where a sports own leadership purposely angered and ran off its core fan base over a period of a few years.

Nascar could've survived and even thrived in the post-Dale Earnhardt era but in 2004, it all changed forever and the decline that began with Dale Earnhardt's death went into overdrive and the sport continues on a downward spiral to this day that can only end with either major changes in leadership or with the sport folding and since there is no one around that seems to have the pull or the voice of reason Dale Earnhardt had with the Nascar brass, the sport simply cannot and will not be saved.

It will probably never be proven decisively if my beliefs are true, but I will go to my grave believing that Dale Earnhardt's death was the beginning of the end for Nascar as a sport.

-- Doug Smith
February 18, 2011

About those new features on The Knight Shift...

Last week I said that there were two new features coming to this blog: Movies I've Never Seen and A Sermon A Week. And the plan was to kick them off this past Sunday.

Obviously that didn't transpire according to plan.

It was bad timing more than anything else. This past weekend I was doing the last few performances of our community theatre guild's production of Gypsy. And then some other stuff happened and the new stuff got pushed to the backburner.

I'm now hoping to do the first Movies I've Never Seen sometime this coming week, and A Sermon A Week next Sunday. The stuff that's on my plate should have cleared off by then for me to give it the attention that it deserves. I'm not worried about Movies I've Never Seen, except that I just have to figure out which movie that I've never seen to, ummm... see :-P

(And next time I unleash a new feature, perhaps I should just let it happen unannounced? There aren't enough surprises in life after all :-)

Didja know that STARCRAFT II don't run so well on multi-core systems?

Well, you do now! But be of good cheer: I'm about to tell you how to fix that.

I've had StarCraft II for awhile now, but haven't played even anywhere close to finishing the first campaign. Among other reasons, I've been frustrated by what I have been certain is too slow performance for the high-end rig I've got it installed on. And yesterday, I finally set out to find out why (or if I was even right about that).

Turns out that StarCraft II doesn't like multiple CPUs all that well. Optimally it should be running on two cores, not three or four. So Yours Truly went searching for a way to bring it down to operating on only two processors. Lo and behold: it can be done! Start up StarCraft II from the desktop, then bring up Task Manager (usually done through CTRL+ALT+Delete), go to the sc2.exe process and right-click on it and look for "Set Affinity". From here you can specify which CPUs you want to run the game on and which ones to turn off.

I tried it yesterday and the game performed significantly faster than it had before.

But, there was one hitch: every time the game is exited, doing Set Affinity through Task Manager must be done all over again. Leaving the program causes CPU affinity to revert to the default four cores (or whatever is the number of cores on your computer).

This is the kind of problem that, I can sometimes be awake for days trying to solve. I just don't like it when I've a gut feeling that a technical issue can be resolved, given enough time and thinkin' about it.

Well dear readers, a short while ago I came across a fix.

Actually, good friend Adam Smith located the substance of the solution, so credit goes to where it must :-) If you're trying to get StarCraft II - or any program that might run faster on one or two cores instead of four or five or seven - downshifted from too much processing power, then PriFinitty is the tool you need. PriFinitty (currently at version 2.47) sets affinity for whatever executable programs you need to do it for, and it keeps the affinity settings in a profile that loads automatically whenever you launch PriFinitty (which can be set to load at startup). I set StarCraft II to use CPUs 2 and 3, ignoring the rest, and it worked beautifully! Then I exited the game, and re-launched it. The affinity settings were still binding just those two cores! So... color me impressed :-)

There is just one thing that I need to say about using PriFinitty with StarCraft II: you should have PriFinitty set affinity for both "starcraft ii.exe" and "sc2.exe". But there are more than one version of sc2.exe to consider: they're all in the Versions folder of the StarCraft II main folder. And then you'll have to look in the folders in the Versions folder that say "Base..." (my install has six of 'em currently). So, I'd recommend going into all of the Base* folders, and adding each sc2.exe to your PriFinitty profile and adjusting the affinity for each. Y'know, just to be on the safe side. I don't see how doing it to any extra sc2 executables is going to do any harm.

Then make sure that PriFinitty is running in the background with your profile and launch StarCraft II and prepare to take the fight to the Zerg faster than ever!

(And a tip o' the hat to Adam Smith for pointing me toward PriFinnity :-)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

BEING BIPOLAR: Video Log 5: Hyper-Manic Episode #1b

Late-night theological rumination

Righteousness before God must be desired before it can be deserved.

Chris set to tempt fate with... REAL BHUT JOLOKIA!

This is either one of the bravest things that I will have ever attempted... or it is the stoopidest of my entire life (which could be snuffed out by this stuff).

Back in December I posted about my filmmaking partner "Weird" Ed Woody passing along the link where you can purchase Bhut jolokia for your very own! Why did Ed tell me about ThinkGeek's Grow Your Own World's Hottest DIY Pepper kit? Because he's all too aware of my hideous interest in super-spicy hot food. Here's the link if you want to buy some too: whether to consume or just to display on your desk as a potent symbol of power.

Well, as you can see in the photo on the left, I am now in possession of a can of Bhut jolokia seeds, along with the soil (presumably from north-eastern India where the pepper originates) to grow it in. This can arrived shortly after Christmas. I've been considering what to do with it ever since. All it needs is water and sunlight and the hottest pepper on Earth is mine to wield.

"Bhut jolokia" in the native tongue means "ghost pepper". Because it is said that one bite of it can take you to an early grave. How hot is this stuff? Tabasco Sauce has a "hotness" of 2,500 Scoville units. Bhut jolokia is... more than 1 million.

Zoinks!

So here's the plan: sometime in the next few weeks I am going to begin growing my Bhut jolokia. And once the peppers have grown to a nice ripe size, I'm going to recruit good friend and fellow blogger Steven Glaspie to operate my best video camera and record Yours Truly eating a pepper (or more than one if I can manage it). I first thought of Steven as the one I wanted to videotape my doing this 'cuz he's the kind of guy that you wanna have on hand for a stunt of possible comedic potential. 'Course, that he's also a trained firefighter and well versed in first aid won't hurt matters either. And then (after I regain my senses) we'll post the video on YouTube.

Feel free to make odds on whether I survive this. Or how red my face becomes when I bite into the Bhut jolokia. I plan to have plenty of ice cream, bread, and other foods that are said to be good at countering capsaicin (the chemical which causes the "heat" sensation) on hand, just in case they're needed.

Stay tuned! This could turn into the most daring post that I've ever done... or the very last (which I may have to compose pre-posthumously :-P)

Awesome news: Monsterpocalypse to ditch collectible format (MUCH easier to get into the game)

I've been so busy with community theatre and other projects that it's been months since I've had time to get in a game of Monsterpocalypse: Privateer Press's terrific game of giant monsters and metropolitan destruction (or defense, depending on which faction you wanna side with). But that hasn't stopped my love for this sweet lil' game (which I wrote of my love for over a year ago). I now own sizable armies of each faction and every Mega figure except for Mega Vorgax (one just sold for $197 on eBay: I love the Planet Eaters but not that much :-P). And I've come to develop a pretty good metagame-thinkin' style so far as strategy goes.

Monsterpocalypse is one of the most fun games that I've ever played. But there's been one complaint about it: that its been a collectible miniatures game. Meaning, you had to buy booster boxes without being able to see firsthand what you were getting. So a typical box might have 1 building, and 5 units of differing factions... and they might not necessarily be a faction you want to collect. This has led to a significant trading element to the game (not to mention a secondary market on eBay and other sites) but horribly frustrating for most people.

But things are about to change for the better. Last week Privateer Press announced that Monsterpocalypse would soon be going to a non-collectible format. Beginning this summer there will be boxes clearly marked with each faction and those are the figures you can expect to get. So if you like to play G.U.A.R.D. and need more of that faction, you can buy that box and not have to worry about a single Lords of Cthul creeping out (though as a player who loves the Lords of Cthul perhaps too much, I for one wouldn't have a problem with that :-P). A lot more people are about to start playing this game, who wanted to get into it earlier but were turned off by the collectible marketing. Which can only be a good thing :-)

By the way, if you're in the Greensboro/Burlington area, we play Monsterpocalypse most Thursday nights at HyperMind: a very neat game store in Burlington, not far from Elon University's campus. And if you wanna know even more about this great game and also order Monsterpocalypse figures and accessories (including some super-kewl dice just for Monsterpocalypse) click on over to the Team Covenant website: those guys live and breathe Monsterpocalypse. I'm even considering attending the second MonCon convention in Tulsa, Oklahoma in a few months that these good folks organize.

And 'course, it goes without saying that I have to mention the video I made for HyperMind's entry in that Monsterpocalypse contest a year and a half ago...

According to my calculations, I used Defender X and Terra Khan to demolish all of downtown Burlington, North Carolina. But hey, it coulda been worse: I could very well have unleashed Yasheth :-P

Tragic day for our culture

Before today, Elvis Presley held the record for most singles on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, since it began keeping track of the most popular since in 1958. The King of Rock and Roll boasts 108 entries on the list.

But now, no more. Elvis has been dethroned by something that has 113 singles on Billboard's Hot 100.

Y'know... this is the kind of thing that typified the decay and fall of the Roman Empire, when you think about it.

What has the most singles to make the top one hundred?

Fox's hit show Glee: which has not produce even ONE original song! They've all been covers and "redone" versions of original songs by real musical artists!

(No, I haven't watched Glee except for this season's Christmas episode. But too many trusted sources have told me that it's true: ALL of Glee's songs are re-recordings of songs that were first done by serious musicians.)

I thought that remakes of classic movies were bad enough. This is... worse, far worse, somehow.

A Tennessee... WHAT?!

Oy vey...

During the next-to-last performance of Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production of Gypsy this past weekend, I happened to spot this curious visual oddity.

It was just before the show, during "lockdown": when all the actors and actresses are supposed to be sequestered in the makeshift dressing rooms across the hallway from the auditorium we use at Rockingham Community College, so that nobody in the audience spots us in costume before the play or musical starts. Another actor, Michael Olivo (he played Yonkers), had picked up a quick bite to eat at Taco Bell, including a large-sized Mountain Dew.

Okay, this is a seriously stylized Mountain Dew logo. I doubt that whoever designed it, meant for it to have any hidden meaning... which makes this all the more funny!

Because when you look at the cup from this angle...

...it looks like it says "Tn Jew". The abbreviated form of "Tennessee Jew".

That sounds like either a bluegrass band, or possibly a member of a soccer team. Or maybe a very, very progressive form of Judaism :-)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Congratulations to Brian and Betsi!

I've been asked not to post any pictures. Which I can understand and will respect but seriously: she is beautiful!!! I can only hope and pray that if the Lord might let me be a father someday, that I could be as blessed as my friends have become :-)

My friends Brian and Betsi welcomed their first child, the more-beautiful-than-words-can-convey Clara a few days ago! And Clara is a doll! Just a sweet tiny astonishingly cute bundle of joy. I'm so glad for Brian and Betsi: they really are going to be great parents. Heck, they already are: Brian sings Clara to sleep with the Star Wars theme and he reports that it works great :-P

Again, congrats to Brian and Betsi and welcome little Clara!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A request to this blog's readers

Dear friends that I have known and friends that I look forward to making in God's time:

I have never asked anything like this in my life. But tonight, I am needing this more than anything else...

I only ask that you please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

BEING BIPOLAR: Video Log 3

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

-- Maya Angelou

Edit 02/14/2011 2:18 pm EST: A friend let me borrow a book not long ago. It's called When God Winks At You. It's filled with stories of many people - including a number of celebrities - who experienced extraordinary coincidences and twists of fate that made them realize something: that God is watching over us. It's a very good book, and it written in a style that reads pretty quickly.

Ever since reading it, I have been praying that God might wink at me, too. And give me that personal assurance that "Chris, I know you are going through a very dark and difficult time. But I love you! I won't quit on you or abandon you. You are My child and I love you more than you could ever know and I will bring you through this."

I wish God would wink at me, and let me know that He didn't allow me to have this condition for naught, when it did lead to me hurting too many people.

Today, I am feeling... like damaged goods. Alone. Abandoned. Rejected.

I was a good person. I'm still a good person. I didn't ask for my condition or do anything to invite it to happen.

Mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder are diseases of the mind. Not the soul.

There was someone who was very precious to me, and I wanted nothing more in this world than to spend the rest of my life cherishing her, serving her, loving her... and having a relationship with her that put Christ at the center of it all. That's what I prayed for, for the longest time. God had to know that, wouldn't He?

But now, there is nothing. Because of a condition that hurt so many who were near and dear to my heart.

Is God punishing me for something? Is there something I missed in my pursuit of Christ and the life He would have me live?

This is the worst part of bipolar: that you are hurting and that you hurt others. You never mean to, but you do.

I have to be reminded that there was nothing that I could have done to have prevented this from happening to others and myself. But even on my best days, I harbor heart-wrenching regret for the pain that I caused.

That is something that I will never forgive myself for. And especially, I can never forgive myself for hurting her.

So I keep asking God to wink at me.

Maybe someday He will...

Edit 02/14/2011 4:45 p.m. EST: One person who has seen the video wrote this to me...

Chris, some of us have been on the other side of bipolar and other illness and apparently you don't know what that is like. You have hurt people, there is no denying that, and you need to stop putting the blame on God for 'letting you have the disease'.

I tend to not post when you say things like this because I believe you mean well. However, I do not agree with about 95% of what you say on the subject. I definitely agree that it is a struggle and that you will slip, heck we all do, but I don't agree that the blame should be on anything other than yourself. Now, with that said, once you realize it IS your fault then forgive yourself and move on with life. We all make mistakes.

Yes, we do. I do, especially. I'm not perfect and have never claimed to be perfect. I can only follow Christ, the only One who is perfect. The One who I must cling to and rely on to carry me and my heavy burdens. Burdens that I would not want any person to have to feel crushed beneath.

But here is the problem with what this person is saying...

Suppose that I had been drinking heavily. And I get into my car while intoxicated and drive off and then I hit another car because of my condition and the other driver is killed as a result.

Would that have been my fault? Absolutely. The condition was my own. I would have been the only party that could possibly be blamed. The bottle of liquor did not grab hold of my mouth and make me drink it. That would have been my choice... and I would have to suffer the due consequences and gone to prison. Because it would have been my fault.

However much cheap booze can rob a person of his or her faculties, judgment and sound mind, mental illness such as bipolar disorder do much, MUCH worse.

And there is no choice. It's in the cards that a person is dealt from the moment their chromosomes come together in a mother's womb.

I didn't have to get drunk. As a matter of fact, I've never been drunk in my entire life. Neither have I done illegal drugs. A person isn't born with the desire for drugs and alcohol.

I was born with this. I will die with this. I am trying as best God will let me, to make the moments between now and the time I leave this world mean something.

I do hurt and feel guilty about the things that I did when my bipolar was unable to be managed. I wish people would see that and understand it and not see me as some kind of a freak, or a pariah.

You wanna know something? I'm not suicidal, even though I know what it's like to be suicidal. But all the same: I can't fear death anymore like I used to. And you wanna know why?

Because Heaven is the place where nobody says "goodbye" to you, ever again. And it's the place where the people that you love do know that you really did love them and would have done anything for them and that you didn't mean to hurt them.

I don't know if I'll ever again in this life see the girl who I do still love as my wife. Knowing that I will get to see her again someday, in the presence of God, is the most precious bit of hope that I have.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

BEING BIPOLAR, Part 4: A Darklier Abyss

This is the fourth installment of an ongoing series exploring what it means to live with bipolar disorder. Reading the previous essays is recommended, but not absolutely required for understanding this one, which deals with depression associated with bipolar and how it differs from normal depression. But if you choose to take the time to read the other posts in this series, I for one would be grateful :-)

It took a very long time for me to go outside after Granny died.

It was the last Saturday in March of 2000. Our Boy Scout troop was camping for the weekend in some woods east of Reidsville. The winter that year had been harsh. Worse than anything we've had in recent seasons. After too many weeks snowed-in we were all ready for some fresh air and wide open space.

It was green. Very green. And so warm outside. All full of life. That is what I remember most from that day.

Just before I drove to the church that we would be meeting at and leaving from, the phone rang. It was my aunt. Telling me that my grandmother had fallen and an ambulance was coming to take her to the hospital. That's all that I would have known until we came back the following afternoon, had I not volunteered to make a quick trip into town to pick up some supplies that we discovered we needed (you can crack jokes about "Being prepared" if you like). And on the way back I stopped at the hospital to check on Granny's condition and was told that she had a severe heart attack and had to be taken to Moses Cone.

That's the main hospital in Greensboro. The one that you get transported to if Annie Penn in Reidsville isn't enough to help you.

I can't remember the drive back into the woods to our campsite. Well, not all of it. Not like I can remember most things. More than ten years later I still can't think of anything else but the green of the trees and the grass surrounding me on all sides as I drove to where we'd pitched our tents.

Green. Warmth. Life.

All wrong.

Would those memories have been less haunting if the next week transpired different? I don't know. I think, I knew then what was going to happen. And it made the world I saw around me all the more hostile and mocking.

Granny was the person in my life who I was closest to most of all. She was the personification of everything that I had come to know of what love and sweetness and Christ-like spirit was supposed to be. She was the focal point of our entire family.

Three days later, on March 28th, she passed away.

We had her funeral that Friday. I was one of the pallbearers: carrying the casket to the place of final rest. And there was green and warmth and life all around us at the cemetery...

...and it was my birthday.

And I could no longer stand the green and the warmth and the life.

After leaving Granny's house where our family had congregated after the funeral, I went home. And showered. And put on clothes that didn't have the scent of floral arrangements permeating them. And cried hard into my pillow. And wanted it all to just go away.

I think the number of times that I did manage to go outside between then and June could probably be numbered on both hands. It became genuinely painful to be outdoors. To even look outside...

...because wherever I saw life, I saw death waiting to happen. What rose and flourished would inevitably crumble and decay.

Before very long, I could not look a person in the face without seeing a rotting corpse staring back at me.

I knew this had to be wrong. But I did not know at the time that this was the beginning of my first severe bout with clinical depression.

I managed one trip to visit friends on campus at Elon a month after the funeral and by that point I was so messed-up that they took me to the nearby hospital to see if I could be helped. That turned into a trip in the dead of night to John Umstead Hospital all the way in Butner (on the outskirts of Raleigh) with me handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser "for protection". With my family not knowing where I was. Oh yeah, all of this because of a paperwork mistake at Alamance Regional...

It was the first time that I had been in a psychiatric hospital, but it wouldn't be the last. My five days at Umstead did nothing to make me feel better. The doctors – once they got around to seeing me – agreed that I had problems but nothing so desperate as to land me in their facility. If anything, being there worsened my depression. After Dad came to take me home from what I had come to call "the Mad Dog Ward" (first person to say where that name comes from without Google-ing for it can buy a candy bar and pretend I got it for them) I went into the house and showered and shaved and went into another room and made sure all the windows were covered so no sunlight could get in.

And that's where I stayed, for the most part, for the next month. In darkness. Away from light. Away from green and warmth and life. Because I couldn't stand it.

(It might give some of my two faithful readers a chuckle when I mention that while I was at Umstead I did what I could to keep myself together. F'rinstance, I drew a picture of the cartoon character The Tick, telling me "You're not going crazy. You're going SANE in a crazy world!" and taped that to the wall next to my bed as encouragement. Hey, whatever gets ya through the night, y'know?)

I am writing about this because I know what having severe clinical depression is like. I have been there and I would not wish my worst enemy to have to go through that. And I know that it can be overcome. Maybe not as soon as you would like, but... I did eventually come out of that seeing that even in the blackest depths of despair, God did have me in the cup of His hand. And He always had been holding me.

I see now in retrospect how He was working to bring me out of that and toward... something better. Because I didn't stay locked away inside forever. Before long a friend – a lady who I had only known from the Internet – told me of a job opportunity in Asheville and that she had a place to rent to me if I decided to take it.

And that is how I wound up a newspaper reporter for awhile in one of the most interesting cities that anyone can live in. God took me out of my "comfort zone" and into a place that, for the time I was there became one of the greatest periods of personal growth that I have ever enjoyed. That friend from the Internet became my landlady, and she and her sisters took me in and made me feel like family. My tiny apartment looked over the French Broad River on one side and had Mount Pisgah beyond my kitchen window on the other. I worked in what must have been one of the last of the old-school newspapers: the kind of place where the editor and publisher would be screaming profanities at each other in heated argument before going out the door together for lunch like preachers at a Sunday potluck.

And in the time that I was a reporter I wound up having... well, a lot of interesting things happen. Like, going on a ghost hunt (and maybe snapping a photo of F. Scott Fitzgerald's apparition... maybe). Being shot at. Covering a rally of witches and warlocks. Meeting Bill Cosby and hearing him crack a joke about me: I told him he was an inspiration for me to study to be a teacher. He looked at me and said "And here you are a reporter. I must not have been that big an inspiration for you, huh boy?!"

It was a great time.

It's funny though. I wouldn't wish what I had gone through with depression on anybody. But I would not take anything for my experience with depression. That kind of pain... prepared me. Made me stronger. It helped me to get to a place that I wouldn't have reached otherwise. And again, I have to thank God for that. Even though for much of that stretch of my life I couldn't see how He was with me.
God brought me through depression then. He even used it to make me a better person.
And just so, I know that He will bring me through bipolar depression now... and that He will make me all the more the Chris Knight that He needs me to be.

Bipolar, Depression, and Bipolar Depression

I had thought that Part 4 of this series would be covering a different subject pertaining to my experience and struggle with bipolar disorder. When I first began plotting this I came up with a rough outline going six or seven chapters out. And then like the previous installment, Part 3: "The Hell Curve", I was led away from my initial plans and instead strayed toward something else entirely.
So my original scheme is now thoroughly kaput! But that's okay. As I said in Part 3, this is something that I'm always going to be fighting against but also a condition that I'll forever be learning something new from. And as I ponder my illness further and further, it's only natural that I'll be sharing new observations and insights about my condition with you, Dear Reader.

Since posting Part 3 I began something a bit experimental with Being Bipolar: video supplements. And in the second and most recent of these I documented for the camera an episode of bipolar depression. That is what most led to the chapter you are reading this moment. Because I have had depression and I have had bipolar depression... and after this latest bout with the latter I felt it was time to address that.

Regular run-o'-the-mill clinical depression is as different from bipolar depression as Curious George is from King Kong. To a lot of people – maybe even most people – they are practically the same, with little to discern one from the other.

I am here to tell you otherwise, because I do know better. Having gone through both clinical depression and manic depression from bipolar, I possess more understanding of the qualities of each than I would have probably ever cared to have.

If you have time, go back to the first part of this installment and re-read the account of my first bout with depression. See if anything "jumps out" at you from it.

Go on, I'll wait for you.

Back already? You read awful fast!

Okay, let's continue...

A few things about that period of depression that I went through that you might have noticed. First of all: I did get better with enough time. I went to a psychiatrist once after I got out of the hospital and received a prescription for a medication to calm myself. That's it so far as drugs went. There was no counseling and nothing like the medication that I am currently taking for bipolar... because at the time it was the severe depression that was hitting me hardest.

I was able to work through the depression. By that I mean that as far down "in the valley" as I was, there was enough feeling and strength left to me that I could inch forward and before I knew it I was relocating to another city so that I could take a job that I really enjoyed doing. Was I still feeling depressed? Yes. It would be a long time before I could fully shake off the dread of being outside again... but I was able to go outdoors again in spite of that.

But here's what I'm hoping you might have caught from re-reading about my depression: when I was in the hospital, I kept up my sense of humor!

However dire (and ridiculous) my circumstance was, I was able to laugh at it instead of completely giving in to despair and hopelessness. The "Mad Dog Ward"? That was taken from a story arc in the Spider-Man comics. The drawing of The Tick that I did? And when I was asked during admittance who was President of the United States and without missing a beat I answered "Hillary Clinton"?

That was the real Chris Knight making light of his situation in spite of his depression! That is... what I do. It's something deep down in my nature that, when I'm in a place that I don't like, this near-primal instinct kicks in and won't let me stop until I've done one thing: gone back home. I first discovered that aspect of my character when I was 11 years old at this crappy summer church camp (it was nothing like it advertised itself to be). It was my first time away from home and I began feeling homesick. But I let that feeling overtake me for just a few hours before I chose to not let it destroy me. My resolve fired up. I decided this camp was not going to break me.

The night before we left, I was already packed. I slept in the clothes that I was going to wear on the bus for home. It's a custom that I still keep to this day whenever I'm about to escape from a place that I don't want to be anymore.

(We were promised a waterslide, darnnit! They didn't tell us that the waterslide had been broken for going on two years and counting!)

On my own, I can fare pretty well against clinical depression. It's still not something that I would want anyone to have to personally deal with. But it is far more manageable than I first realized.

However, bipolar depression, or manic depression, is a whole 'nother monster...

I could not have been joking and making light of so much if that had been bipolar depression that I was going through during that time of my life. And there would have been no chance of me "snapping out of it" on my own. Had that been bipolar depression, it would have to run its course or I would have to stave it off with more medication and counseling, or... I would have stood a great chance of taking my own life.

Thoughts of suicide never entered my mind during "normal" depression. Not even once. Did I feel like I wanted to die? Admittedly, yes. But that is not the same thing as actively considering killing myself in a bid to leave the pain behind.
Bipolar depression at its worst is an absence of pain as most people know it. It is also the absence of passion, of interest, of laughter, of... even indifference. Clinical depression is remarkable for the overwhelming sadness it fosters. Bipolar depression drains the mind of even that feeling.

The only thing you can feel from manic depression is how unendurable the emptiness is. It is existence without meaning. It is being here with no rationality or philosophy to cling to or that might explain the vacuous bubble that your flesh envelops by chance or malice of God.

Time becomes stretched and warped during manic depression. The bouts themselves can last days, or weeks, or even months. For every hour in bipolar-induced depression, it can feel like months or years.
I would lay on the bed or on a sofa, immobile. My mind debilitated and locked in a recursive loop of absent emotion. Nothing could faze me, nothing at all. There were times that the telephone would ring and I couldn't care enough to pick it up. It became a frustrating struggle just to get up enough motivation to go to the kitchen and find something to eat when I became hungry. As a result of that I inevitably came to lose considerable weight because of bipolar.

Trying to sleep is even something that is difficult to do. Maybe it's because dreaming becomes a thing so tantalizing and so maddeningly beyond reach of fulfillment, that the respite of a few hours sleep loses its appeal.

Manic depression takes a toll on the mind, on the body, and on everything and everyone you have in your life. All that you know becomes agony to endure, and invariably you become unendurable to those that love you. It's as if your very existence drains the mood and the energy from the ones closest to you. And then that becomes too great a burden to bear.

For me, one of the very worst things to happen because of bipolar was that its associated depression put the brakes on my brain's creative impulse. And... okay, I'm gonna try my best to explain this. Me, the "real me", was trapped inside my own mind and could want to be creative and productive. But my mind wouldn't budge. My mind became an immovable void that arrested my imagination, and stopped dead in its tracks my drive to produce a tangible product from that creativity.

I know: it sounds too much like the stereotypical "tortured artist". But think about it: for a person who deeply cherishes his ability to engage his imagination, his own mind revolting against him to the point that creativity becomes maddeningly out of reach is a cruel trick on the part of his neurobiology.

Bipolar depression... is life without life. It is an abominable dim shade of mere being. It is... hell. And I do know how and why it would drive a person to commit suicide. It's not an escape from the pain, because there is no "pain" in the routine sense to speak of. In a very sick and twisted way, the ability to feel pain sometimes becomes desirable for a person in the throes of manic depression. Because that would be something normal to cling hold to.

And so it is that too many people who suffer from manic depression, choose to leave it all behind them.

Once upon a time, I would have thought that those people were committing a grievous sin. But now, having gone through the same torment that wore them down to the end of their rope, I have sympathy and understanding. Suicide isn't the "coward's way out" that I had come to believe. These were people just like me and... yes, just like you. They didn't deserve that kind of pain any more than any of us would deserve it. They didn't choose to be afflicted by bipolar, or by any other kind of mental illness.

And the only reason why I'm writing these words today is because I was way more fortunate than I possibly deserve to be, in that I had friends and family, and doctors and counselors, and many others who did keep me from plunging too late into that darkness.

Ever Upward

I don't see myself contemplating suicide again, the one caveat being that affirming such depends on my bipolar disorder remaining as manageable as it is today. And I do intend to keep managing it. However, as my most recent video supplement demonstrated, I will never be completely rid of the depression that comes from bipolar.

But I also know that bipolar depression isn't reflective at all of the person I truly am. And there is great strength to be gained from that confidence.

I felt led to write this installment for several reasons. To help my readers discern between clinical depression and bipolar depression, obviously. But also: for anyone who may find this who is also going through manic depression...

Stay strong. This, too, shall pass.

I can say that because I have been where you are. At the bottom of the abyss, straining my eyes to see any glimpse of light and hope. Wondering if God was hearing me at all.

There is light. There is hope. And God is hearing you.

Don't give in to the emptiness. That isn't what you are, either. It's only the disease – something you didn't invite into your life – dragging you down. It can't and won't last forever.
Don't you dare believe that this is something to be ashamed of, or that you are "crazy" or "lazy" or anything else that others might have told you. They don't understand and they should be thankful that they don't have to understand. That's another reason why I'm writing this: so that those blessed to be free of bipolar might gain even a shred of wisdom about mental illness.

What can I offer up for advice, to those suffering from bipolar depression?

I'm going to write more about this in another chapter of Being Bipolar soon: one of the things that kept me from totally losing myself into the abyss is that if there is anything at all that you can keep an interest in, to grab hold of it and don't let go! In my own case this has been any number of things over the years, depending on what my mind could latch onto. Sometimes it was my love of all things Star Wars (oh man, that has gotta sound totally whacked: "Star Wars kept me from killing myself..." but in my case it's almost certainly true). During one point two years ago it was re-reading The Lord of the Rings. My own bipolar depression didn't become readily apparent until about 2003 or 2004 (though I now recognize episodes from much earlier in my life) and since then there have been numerous strategies that I have discovered which can keep me from falling down again. But one way or another they each have as the common factor grasping onto something – and it can be ludicrously simple, even – that you do take interest and enjoyment from, and use that as a safety handle until the depressive episode is over.

That doesn't mean that you should eschew real treatment like medication and counseling, though. And that also is going to be a topic for an upcoming Being Bipolar post: the responsibilities that come with having bipolar disorder (and there are plenty). And again: I'm not a professional physician or therapist. I'm just a guy with a blog, who happens to have bipolar. I can only talk about what I know.

But I do know that bipolar disorder and its associated depression does not mean that I can't have a productive, fulfilling life. I understand this condition better than I ever could have before, and that understanding just keeps getting deeper and more profound with each passing day.

It's like I said: God brought me through one depression. And He is going to bring me through this depression.

And if you have bipolar depression, I know He is going to bring you through it, too!