Do You Remember: Setting the World on Fire

Do You Remember: Setting the World on Fire

Do you remember when you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire?

Those who grew up like I did in high school probably started singing that as soon as you read it. The chorus line from Against Me! “I Was a Teenage Anarchist”. This song just recently started creeping back into my life and has now started to become my anthem recently. And I keep thinking about the phrase “wanted to set the world on fire” and now it has me thinking: When was the last time I felt like setting the world on fire?

I don’t mean like literally set it on fire burn it to the ground “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire”. I mean going out and changing the world. And I don’t mean it like “change the world” I mean really change the fucking world. Be someone who people want to be, do something that others aspire to, and just live as awesome as you possible can. When is the last time you felt that fire?

I’m trying to remember that right now. I used to have a fire that I was going to do something just absolutely great. My friends and I were going to shake up the establishment, really be creative and change the world. But then, something strange happened. Life happened. We got older, we got sober, we got wiser, we fell in love, we moved. We started working real jobs having to make real money and do real grown up things. Life happened.

Most of us now have a house, or at least rent a good one. We have been through college, and have degrees, and have kids, 2 cars, and a white-collar job. We’re nerds who spend Saturday’s at soccer games instead of shady concert venues that smelled like farts and old socks. Our days of copping cigarettes from other kids has turned into us copping a pen from the bank because the kids stole the other one in the car. Most of us no longer have hair to even think about styling and if we do, it’s turning gray with the quickness.

Combat boots are now work loafers and house shoes. Studded belts are now real leather belts with brass buckles. Torn up t-shirts are now what we wear to mow the lawn and the last concert we went to was probably one of the kids in choir, or band, or dance. The biggest fire we have in our lives is the one in the BBQ pit.

I’m not sure what happened to the guy that used to have fire. Did he die along with so many friends in the past? Did he take a quick path to success and leave me behind with my brokenness? Did I kill him with my selfishness, with my carelessness, with my pride, with my addictions and my failures? Or, did I simply make a choice to ignore him, and he’s been silently waiting on me to notice him once again?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. I do know this though: I want to set the world on fucking fire. I do remember when I was young. I do remember when I had passion. I do remember what it was like to love who I am, and to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say “You are the shit! You are awesome! You are someone worth giving a damn about!” Do you feel that? Do you feel that itch inside of you? No, not THAT itch, nasty. The itch that says, you know what, I remember that person too.

You know what? Anarchy, turned out to be a bogus belief. The basic of society want me to give up my identity and conform, and I did that. I wanted so hard to believe in everything I believed in, that I let the reality of life completely ruin me. I let go of my style, my ambition, and my revolution.

Do you remember? When you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire? Because I sure the hell do. And I think, for the first time in a long time, I am starting to remember. I’m starting to feel that again.

And I WILL set this fucking world on fire.

My fire.

Do you remember?

 

 

I’m Awkward and I’m Nervous: Being an Extrovert with Social Anxiety

I’m Awkward and I’m Nervous: Being an Extrovert with Social Anxiety

I know how it seems when I always sing to myself in public. I babble on like a mad man. I know how it seems when I’m always staring off into nothing. I’m lost in my head again. I’m sorry I don’t laugh at the right times. – “There, There” by The Wonder Years

I love people. For the most part, I get along with most everyone I come into contact with. I am typically outgoing, and love to make other people smile. Except, there is one huge problem with that: I am riddled with social anxiety.

This stands in stark contrast to what most people know about me. Usually upbeat, laughing a lot, cracking jokes every chance I get. I’m the guy that uses words like “rad” and “bodacious” like we still live in 1987 and have no problem skanking in public whenever I hear the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I talk to random old people in malls and for some reason, little kids love me.

The thing is, it’s almost a chore to be like this now. A few years ago, that was just me. It was how I was. Something in the last few years has changed though. Maybe it’s the insanely crazy few years my family has had and the stresses that came with it. Perhaps it’s the ever changing and saddening world around me. Maybe it’s just my mental illness adapting over the years to find new ways to interrupt my life.

Currently, I am diagnosed as bi-polar, struggling under the weight of PTSD, and riddled with social anxiety. Okay, so the doctor didn’t exactly put it that way, but that’s what it boils down to. So to struggle to be the guy I used to be kind of drives things deeper. I caution to use the word “faking my happiness” to describe how I am around most people. I’m not usually faking. I do wear my masks some days as most people with mental illness do. The more accurate term would be “struggling to be me”. Yeah, I like that better.

Awkward and nervous are not ways to live when you’re an extrovert. Social anxiety is a curse of sorts. Inside I’m all Dave Grohl and outside I’m Quasimodo. Total rocker badass by virtue, but awkward nerdy dude by pure damn chemical imbalance. I’m scared of my failing as a friend. I’m scared of how people will look at me with my strangely shaped body, and round face. My short stature and my shaky voice only seem to accent that awkwardness.

So what’s a dude to do?

I don’t know. That’s what I’m trying to figure out at this point. My anxiety has stripped me of what I used to be inside and out. Daily interactions are strategically planned out actions. But I don’t spend my whole day just yapping my jaw on the phone. I have people sitting to my left and right. People sitting directly across from me and diagonally across from me. I have bosses, and people I interact with running errands. I have friends that I only see at their place of employment because honestly, the hell with even trying to ask people about hanging out. That shit is too hard.

But, it’s not hard. Well, it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be hard to go crack open cold ones with the boys. It’s not a difficult decision to say “Hey, let’s drink whiskey and play Cards Against Humanity until someone pukes.” My kids shouldn’t have to wonder what it would be like to meet the kids of people I know, and wonder only. Mainly because their dad can’t swallow it and say “We should totally take the kids to just jump after getting them ripped on Mountain Dew and Reese’s Cups.

I don’t laugh at the right times. I don’t cry at the right times. I don’t smile and frown at the right times. I can’t figure out how I can just overcome and not be so scared of being me. It is a job in itself to keep my anxiety in check. I keep thinking “Tomorrow, tomorrow is the day it just stops and I get back to normal. Tomorrow is the day I am finally cool with myself, down with my weird body.” I wake up and say “Today is the day I stop giving a shit about how people may perceive me on the outside, and show them who I really am on the inside.”

But that tomorrow and today never comes. Anxiety wins every time and I’m left a shell once again. I stare in the mirror and think “Ugh.” I get myself hyped up by be being heavily caffeinated and overly medicated. I run through my days like they are rehearsed and scripted until I come home, in familiar surroundings, around very familiar faces. And I unwind and stop worrying for a bit.And then I dream some more.

I dream of not feeling like I am going to hurl my guts out at the thought of being in a crowded room. I dream of firm handshakes with strangers and a comforting tone to my voice that lets people know I’m just your average nerd. I will think about how awesome it would be to tell my stories in front of a crowd without my legs buckling under the dosage of Xanax I take just to show up. I will rock out in the shower because that’s the only place it’s comfortable to anymore….

And I will wonder…

Is this what it feels like with wings clipped? I’m awkward and I’m nervous.

Five Tips After Five Years: The First Week of Chemotherapy

Five Tips After Five Years: The First Week of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy

Five years ago this week, I started my medical battle against advanced stage testicular cancer. Chemotherapy was a go, and I found myself in scary, unfamiliar territory. That day, my mom and dad were at the hospital with me while my wife held down the fort at home. We went through chemo education, blood work, tours, and finally, I settled into a chair at the chemo suite to take my poison. It would be the first of 28 total treatments.

Many cancer survivors and patients have found themselves in that familiar uneasy situation. No matter how much you prepare yourself, you find yourself overwhelmed, and facing incomprehensible physical and mental anguish. It seems that no amount of preparation and research can actually prepare you for what lies ahead. Scared and confused, many cancer warriors find themselves later saying that the first week is the absolute hardest.

Over the last five years, I’ve had the chance to speak to many survivors and patients, and act as a patient ambassador and mentor. I’ve learned many things from all of the people I have been in contact with, and it’s always great to be able to share my story, in the hopes that it helps someone else. This has given me time to contemplate the first week of treatment and what goes through the minds of so many.

So as I look back on five years since my first time in the chemo chair, I want to share five tips for surviving the first week of chemotherapy.

Tip #1 : Stay Hydrated

I know they hook you up to a million different saline bags, but that’s just to keep everything flowing good. Depending on what chemotherapy you are taking, some can cause metallic tastes in the mouth, and others can make you feel like you’ve just run a marathon. Besides that, the toxins in the drugs can build up quickly in your system. It’s important to keep drinking water as much as possible. Letting ice melt in your mouth, or chugging those Fiji waters.

Sports drinks like Gatorade, while they may help replace much-needed electrolytes, are not always the best for the chemo patient. They can be high in sugars, and your body’s ability to process it may be altered by your treatment. Drinks that are high in sugar are generally not a good idea with an already queasy stomach. Here is a great information source on dehydration and chemotherapy.

Tip #2 : Ask Questions

Write them down ahead of time, write them down as you think about them, write them on your hands and arms if you have to. Most importantly, just ask them. This is one thing that, if I could do it over (like I would really want to) I would do differently. I didn’t ask enough questions. It wasn’t that I didn’t have plenty of them, I just didn’t ask them.

As a patient, you are your own best advocate. Nobody can know more about how you feel and how the treatment is affecting you. You have to stick up for you. If you don’t understand a procedure, or a blood work report, or something like that, ask questions. Don’t let a nurse or doctor walk away until you understand everything you need to.

Tip #3 : Go For Comfort

My grandmother, Nana B, is a wise lady. After watching my grandfather go through his own battle with cancer, she sent me on to my first week with sweat pants, and comfortable long sleeve shirts that buttoned part way down. Everything was lightweight, and the buttons on the shirt made it easy for them to access my portacath. I quickly learned as treatment went on that the rule of treatment days was comfort.

Take changes of clothes with you. Too hot? Change into something cooler. Too chilly? Change into something warmer. Bring extra pillows and blankets. Hats for your head, comfortable shoes. You’re going through a tough medical procedure. The last thing you need is to be even more uncomfortable than you already are. The more comfy you feel, the better you will feel in general.

Tip #4 : Get Your Entertainment On

Are you a music lover? Sketcher or painter? Are you a writer? Whatever your biggest form of entertainment is, bring it with you. For me, I had a sketchbook, iPod full of music, and my computer. You could guarantee that I wasn’t bored. The days were still long, but I got to kind of control the flow of what I was doing. From playing games, to blogging, to jamming out to Skankin Pickle, I kept my favorite things close.

It’s kind of like the comfort thing. The more familiarity you have around you, the better and more comfortable you are going to feel. Do you like to knit? Knit something during treatment. Play board games? Challenge a nurse to Connect 4. I guarantee it will make your day AND theirs. Life is changing and different when you start treatment, but you don’t have to let it steal all of your fun.

Tip #5 : Keep On Moving

Physically, emotionally, and mentally. Keep on moving. Another thing I think I did wrong. I slept and laid around… A lot. While getting your rest is going to be extremely important, it’s also going to be important to keep moving as much as you can. This keeps your immune system stronger, and can drastically help prevent wasting syndrome. Walk when you can, do some light aerobics, play some pool or hold a dance in your own living room.

Mentally and emotionally, you have to keep moving too. Dwelling too much on the situation and the fears will wear you down faster than the treatment. The mental rock bottom is a hard landing zone. Keep in touch with family and friends. Hold conversations with strangers at the mall. Challenge yourself to learn a new language, or skill, or start doing brain teasers.

 

That’s what I’ve got for today. My top five tips for surviving the first week of chemotherapy. Are you a cancer survivor? Someone who is going through treatment right now? What are your best tips? Share them in the comments below!

Five Years: Looking Back on the Day that Changed My Life Forever

Five Years: Looking Back on the Day that Changed My Life Forever

Five Years

Five years ago, I had what was not even arguably the most difficult day of my life to date. September 11 of all days. We should have known just by that. For months prior to that day, I had been experiencing symptoms of something. Some swelling and discomfort. But not having insurance I just tried different things at home. Until it started getting worse. So the evening of September 10th 2012, we decided I would go up to the ER to be checked out. This is how the following day went.

8am: Wife takes my son up to drop him off at the primary school.

9am: We watch my daughter walk with her class down to head start.

9:10am: Get in the car to go to Abingdon.

9:50am: We arrive in Abingdon at the ER and check in.

10:37am: The doctor comes in to the exam room and does a physical examination. An ultrasound is ordered.

11:00am: I go to the ultrasound room. The tech does her thing and the whole time has a serious and disconcerting look on her face.

11:37am: I am ordered to have CT scan done. My wife leaves the hospital because it’s time to get my daughter from Head Start. She decides to go ahead and pick up our son as well, because we knew it was going to be a while before I would get out of there.

1:17pm: ER doc returns to my room. She sits down and asks where my wife is. “She had to go pick up the kids” I inform her.

1:19pm: After all the medical jargon is spit out she looks at me and says “Mr. Taylor, your ultrasound showed a large mass within the left testicle. The following CT confirmed multiple masses within the abdomen, the lymph nodes, and in your lungs. Mr. Taylor, I’m not on oncologist, but there is enough evidence to show it’s cancer. And it doesn’t look good. In my opinion, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

That was five years ago now. Five long, tough, rocky years. So much has happened since the day that would forever change the course of my life story. Five years that went by in a flash, while at the same time seeming to have taken decades. Five years, and a whole lifetime of difference. I’ve watched myself bounce back from the toughest thing in my life. Watched my mother struggle with her own diagnosis, treatment, and life after cancer. Learned of my dad’s near brush with cancer. I watched countless online friends go through the struggles, and numerous ones that lost their lives during.

Five years have brought a world from the brink of prosperity to the brink of destruction. Lives from the bottom to the top, and from the top to rock bottom. So, what have the last five years held for me?

Back to school – In 2015 I entered a classroom for the first time in 13 years and began my journey to become a college graduate. I had dropped out of college before in 2001 and in 2002. In May of this year, with my wife and kids, mom and dad, and sister and niece in the crowd, I walked across the stage, Magna Cum Laude, and received my degree. 2 years of hard work both being a full-time dad, and a full-time student, combined with all the ins and outs of taking care of a house.

Starting over in the work force: I left my old job in 2012, just months ahead of my diagnosis. So five years had passed since the last time I had clocked in at a job. In July of this year, I began a new job, and a new path to an IT career. Landing with one of the better companies in town and have enjoyed (mostly) every moment of it. Nerves that almost had me sick to my stomach the first day have now gave way to forming friendships with those I work with, and finding my way into a new work family.

Dealing with demons: I write every now and then about mental illness and my own life living with it. It had been years since I had last acknowledged my demons. In 2014 I made the decision that to better myself and be better for those I share my life with, I would seek the help I needed to get back on track. I have no shame in the fact I take medicines daily, the fact that I off and on see a therapist. I do what I have to do for myself and my family.

The last five years have also brought around their fair share of struggles too. Not everything since February of 2013 has been completely peachy.

Outlasting the long lasting side-effects: Nobody told me how long the side-effects of treatment would last once it was over. Fatigue, stomach issues, neuropathy… It took many years to get back to my new normal and even feel like it wasn’t still something that was happening to me. Still to this day, I deal with many of the same side-effects. Of course, these things get better with time, but I can’t wait until it’s all over.

Balancing life and recovery: Life never slowed down for my cancer. The kids still had school, they needed dinner to be cooked. In the years following, there was not time for me to simply recover. They grew up, my wife worked, I had responsibilities to keep. Balancing it all was a major act of will-power and to this day remains so.

Five years can feel like a lifetime. They can feel like just yesterday. They can be the many stories of triumph and shortcoming. Five years can be the difference between where you are, and where you end up. Five years since my life changed forever. And in some ways, it is still changing my life. Except now, I get the option of how it does.

 

 

 

An Open Thank You Note to Those Who Saved My Life

An Open Thank You Note to Those Who Saved My Life

JMH Cancer Center

To those who saved my life:

How does thank you even begin to sound adequate at this point? Five years later I am on the verge of closing out one of the biggest chapters of my life. The chapter that started with Dr. Early in the Johnston Memorial Hospital emergency room saying these words to me:

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

I’ll never, EVER forget that day. I mean, how could I? That was the day I was told I had cancer. And not just a little cancer, a LOT of cancer. Life threatening as long as I had waited to be seen. The next few months I would walk in and out of the doors of the cancer center, the ER, and a couple of rooms and the third floor during my inpatient stays. I would fight with treatment, fight infections, and fight unwieldy IV poles that just didn’t want to roll with me as I walked.

But my fight was not mine alone. Nothing about it was just mine. It took the prayers, good vibes, and well wishes of thousands across the country. It took my family making emergency trips from Columbia, SC to Abingdon on call to help out. It took friends coming over to help out at the house. And it took you. All of you, working together, doing your jobs.

To the nurses: My God if I could bake you all a million cookies I would. Between the long shifts, the grueling pain in your feet and legs, long nights, and rude patients. You are angels and saints of the medical world. Your dedication to your jobs, to your patients, and to the world around you showed in every greeting and every lighthearted conversation we had. You deserve much more than you will ever get in return for the hard work you put in to saving lives of people like me. I owe you a lifetime of gratitude.

To the staff of the JMH Cancer Center: You know, I will have to admit, that I’ve seen much more of you than I have cared to in the last five years. But here’s the thing, you’re not just “the cancer center”. You became friends and family to us. You took on a role in a job that I’m sure has more disappointments than joys at the end of the day, and you never let it get the best of you. Your caring, compassionate nature welcomed a scared 29 year old man, and you limped through it with me. Dr Davis, you became Dr. D, the hip, awesome tie wearing oncologist who walked us through treatment and survivorship with a calm gait, and welcoming handshake. The volunteers have lifted our spirits on so many occasions, and I can’t imagine having ever been in a better place during that time in 2012.

To the imaging technicians: I wish I could remember all of your names. Sadly though, it’s not the cancer, it’s just me being terrible at remembering people’s names. I cannot imagine what it’s like to do your job. To be the ones to sit there and not make an apparent note as to what is going on during scans and x-rays. To be the first people to realize that someone’s day is about to get dramatically worse, and still treat them with a smile and a laugh. You all have become a second family as well. And I know you don’t often remember me when I come in for my regulars now, but rest assured I remember all of you.

To all the countless faces that supported me during my toughest trials: Mom, Dad, Sis, Wife, Kids, Friends, Strangers… A remarkable thing happened during those trying months. I witnessed family literally drop what they are doing to be at my side. I watched my wife, the warrior of our family, take on so many roles she was never asked to in order to keep our lives going. I saw friends willingly give up their time to be a part of my battle in whatever ways they could be. I watched people I have never met send me cards and prayers, and wishes of health and luck. I’ve searched the internet and seen the mass amount of support that complete strangers threw behind me. All of you, even if I don’t know you, need to know my deepest thanks are going out to you. Because of you, there was never a time I felt alone.

As we get ready to mark 5 years since that day in September, I want to not only think about the hard times, but think about the literal thousands of people who helped me through it. To me, you are all heroes. Whether you wore scrubs, or a stethoscope, mopped the floors of my hospital room, or came by to just hang out during my downtime, you are all what made it possible.

And I thank you.

Sincerely,

Johnny T (Cancer Free since Two Zero One Three)

Top Five Best Text Editors for Coding

Top Five Best Text Editors for Coding

Coding

I love the picture above. It’s the stereotypical depiction of what a workstation looks like when someone is lost deep down the hole of a massive breakthrough coding session. While it may look pretty cool, I’m pretty sure that most code writers and developers (those I know anyway) are not using some bright, multi-color text editor that makes your eyes bleed and drains your battery.

There are a good many editors out there that do have some color function to them, which in some cases, comes in handy when quickly searching for specific pieces of code. HTML and CSS can be extremely well searched with these color features. But no matter your preference, whether the good ole black and white, or the more new bedazled editors of today, there is sure to be a text editor that suits your needs.

Today I want to highlight my five favorite text editors for coding. From the basic, to the more advanced, a good text editor is the backbone of development coding. Even when using an IDE of some kind, I prefer to edit in a text editor, then copy and paste. Do note that all of the editors listed below are available on multiple OS platforms, and are all open-source or freeware. So without further ado, here are my top five favorite text editors for coding.

5) Notepad++

Coding with Notepadd++

This is like, the standard editor that everyone starts out with. But its use is not to be made light fun of. I have used Notepad++ for various coding projects, across multiple OS platforms, and it has never let me down. It is my go to editor for HTML, PHP, and CSS. I haven’t worked on a website yet that didn’t involve the use of Notepad++. It is a major step above the piece of garbage that Windows calls a Notepad, and it won’t give you nearly the headaches with encoding. You can learn more about it and download it right here.

4) VIM Text Editor

Coding in VIM

At first glance, some people might think they are having a flashback to the early Windows, late MS-DOS era. But no, this would not be it. Rather, this is VIM. THE text editor. This is a no frills kind of text editor based on the Vi text editor in UNIX systems. Syntax highlighting and color options, but that’s close to it. This is for people who don’t want distractions with coding. I’ll admit, I don’t have that much experience with VIM yet and have only used it on very rare occasions. Like, learning to automate Windows PowerShell stuff. But that’s it. The cool thing about VIM is that it is what they call charityware. Meaning, it’s free to distribute, but they do ask a contribution to ICCF Holland Foundation, helping children in Uganda. Click here to learn more about VIM and download it for yourself.

3) Light Table

Okay, what you’re seeing above is a little more advanced than what I use a text editor for when coding, but this is pretty cool and why I decided to add it to this list. I have just downloaded this in the last 48 hours and played around a bit with it. Using different little patches of code that you can find around the web, I was able to open up almost a “live viewer” of what I had in the editor. Light Table is a relative newcomer to the market, and bills itself more like an IDE than a text editor. Though it’s easy to see how it can be setup for both. Aside from the kind of “default” dark mode kind of look to it (that in my opinion is simply becoming obnoxious), Light Table is a nice little refresh of the standard coding editor. The documentation on Light Table is still kind of young, but I had no problems getting it up and running at least preliminarily. Check it out and grab the download here.

2) Brackets

Coding the Web with Brackets

Considering most of the coding I do on a regular basis is web page based, it was only natural to include Brackets. While not that much different from most text editors, this one stands apart as it is geared towards web developers. With autoprefixer capability, Git integration, and Emmet plugin support, this blazing fast lightweight editor is everything that a web dev needs. Check it out and download it for yourself here.

And finally… My number one pick for best text editor for coding purposes:

1) Atom

Coding with Atom

Hands down my favorite text editor to date. Atom is brought to you by the same brilliant minds behind Github. Lightweight but extensive if you want it to be. It supports a huge variety of different programming languages, and if the one you need isn’t on there, you can almost guarantee there is a plugin to make it compatible. Not only does it have a repository of packages, but you can build your own right there in the editor. Multiple panes allow for modifying multiple files in a package side by side instead of switching tabs. Running on the Electron platform, it is simply a must have for those who code.

 

And there it is. My list of the top five text editors for coding. Which ones on this list do you like? Which ones do you not? Which one(s) that you think should be on the list? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

The Top Six Punk Rock Songs Still Relevant Today

The Top Six Punk Rock Songs Still Relevant Today

Punk Rock

 

Where would the world be without the rise, silence, and re-rise, and re-silence of punk rock? I don’t know but I can guarantee it wouldn’t be nearly as effin cool as it is now. PunkĀ  has had a deep place in my heart since my more tumultuous high school years, and beyond. When my mental illness was kicking my ass? Punk rock helped me through. When I was cleaning up my act and figuring out what to do next with my life? Punk was there for me. When I was diagnosed with cancer, and afterwards getting my life back, punk rock lifted me up.

Punk is one of those genres that never really goes away. It’s always there, whether at the forefront of music or not. And a lot of great bands today would not be around if it weren’t for the earlier punk pioneers like Minor Threat, The Buzzcocks, Dead Kennedys, and more. The world owes a lot to punk rock. A major part of punk is rooted in addressing problems with society, politics, class warfare, and the state of the world in general. There are few situations related to those subjects that you can’t find a punk rock song for.

Looking at the state of the world we live in now, it’s not hard to see that punk rock still has a place. And a lot of songs from the past still ring true today. For my next list post, today I am bringing you the top six punk rock songs that are still relevant today.

Franco Un-american – NOFX

A classic from NOFX from 2003 that gives us a great description of the way people tend to have a sudo care for different things in the world. And how the problems of the world are nothing more than disturbances that we don’t care about. My favorite line from this song:

I want to move north and be a Canadian. Or hang down low with the nice Australians. I don’t want to be another “I-don’t-care”-ican. What are we gonna do Franco, Franco Un-American.

911 for Peace – Anti-Flag

Anti-Flag has way too many songs for me to be able to list on this post. I could write 10,000 words on them. 911 for peace came to us in 2002 as a response to the 9/11 attacks the prior September. But the lyrics are raw and powerful. Lines like “We are all human. It’s time to prove it.” It was a message to the world that enough is enough. Things have to change. Unfortunately, 15 years later, I’m afraid things are much worse. My favorite lyrics from this song:

This is a plea for peace (world peace). To the oppressors of the world and to the leaders of nations, corporate profit takers,
to the everyday citizen. Greed, envy, fear, hate– the competition has to stop. When you see someone down, now’s the time to pick them up. Set our differences aside and never look back, no

You are the Government – Bad Religion

In true punk rock style, Bad Religion delivers this great anthem in only a minute and a half. “You are the Government” was released in 1988, in the earlier days of the band’s success. Though this particular tune is not a direct anti-establishment song as one would think. This brief yet powerful song more deals with the concept that the people wield the power and with that power and voice, the government will not be able to ignore their cries. Best line in this quick ballad:

And as the people bend the moral fabric dies. Then the country can’t pretend to ignore its people’s cries.

 

Rise Above – Black Flag

Henry balls to the wall Rollins. Pioneer of punk and hardcore… General badass as well. Him along with his friends of Black Flag are some of the most notable voices in early punk rock. They had a number of power hits that put their names on the tongue of everyone with a mohawk in the 90’s. Rise Above is perhaps one of the most popular of their hard hitting ballads. In typical blaring fashion, Black Flag delivers line after line in this memorable song. The top line from this power anthem:

Laugh at us behind our backs. I find satisfaction in what they lack. We are tired of your abuse. Try to stop us. It’s no use.

If the Kids are United – Sham 69

Let’s go way back to 1987 with Sham 69. Th originators of one of the greatest (in my opinion) punk anthems of all time. This song would go on to be covered by punk greats like Rancid, where it appeared on the “Give Em The Boot” compilation in 1999. But this, this is the original, and a great throwback to the roots of punk rock. True back in the 80’s and true now:

They can lie to my face, but not to my heart. If we all stand together it will just be the start.

 

God Save The USA – Pennywise

This song of course contains a strong language warning. For those who love the outrageous use of the F bomb, this song is for you. Pennywise is another staple of the punk rock community, widely known for fast paced melodic punk, and great punk covers of old songs. But this is an upright obituary for the United States written back in 2003 during the Bush presidency, and now we can see this same need for rage and sadness for our country. Last verse says it all:

Government hypocrisy – American Idolatry – Corporate philosophy. Nightly news of tragedies – Where no one cares what’s right or wrong Our heroes now are all long gone – The freedoms that we all abuse. The obituaries front page news.

And there you have it. My pick for the top 6 punk rock songs still relevant today. What would you add to this list? Is there one that shouldn’t be one here? Spill your piece in the comments below.

I am Not Your Hero

I am Not Your Hero

Hero

I wrote the first version of this post a long time ago. Prompted by my then neighbor remarking something along the line of “You’re a ***damn hero to me. You’ve beat something that should have killed you.” It was something along those lines. Anyway, he meant it. I know this because this is a guy that doesn’t mince words. When he says something, he means it with heart. And I went to bed that night, a little drunk, but a lot in thought.

Hero. What does that mean? What makes one a hero? The dictionary defines a hero as such:

A person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

I’ve been called a lot of things in my lifetime. The majority of these things was nothing good, so I won’t go into the trouble of listing it out here. Just use your imagination. But until that conversation, I had never been called a hero, and I didn’t know how it was supposed to make me feel. On the one hand, it did inflate my ego for a bit. It felt good. On the other hand, it wasn’t really a label that I wanted.

There are some people who shun the label, and those that seek it. They do things that are heroic in nature, and decline the praise, or they intentionally do things to seem like they are worthy of that praise. Me? I don’t do either of those. I say thank you to the good-natured comments I receive, and I never intentionally seek those comments. The more I thought about it, the more I started to stew.

I do not want to be…

I am not, your hero.

People like to talk about how strong you are when you beat cancer. That you are a winner of battles. And I’ve never felt okay with that. As though somehow, those who lost their lives to this bastard beast were somehow weaker, and not winners. When I’ve found that most of the time, those people were a hell of a lot stronger than I can ever dream of being. Those people won life by fighting till the end, by inspiring others with their last breath. By always thinking about others before themselves.

Scott's Card
This is a card I received from a dear online friend named Scott. Sent to me during his battle with glioblastoma that would claim his life a few months later.

Scott was the very definition of a warrior. Going through this hellish Crossfit WOD after leaving the hospital receiving radiation treatment. I mean, a true badass. Am I to believe that somehow I am a winner and he is not? I can’t even make it through 10 pushups now without my lungs reminding me that I’m really that weak. Let alone a whole WOD. After Scott’s passing I did a set number of burpees as it was a part of the Serene WOD in his honor. No words can describe the pain I felt. I was sad, mourning, hurting physically, and there was no way I could give up. That is how Scott still wins. By still reminding me what real courage and heart looks like.

Scott, to me, is the definition of a hero.

But me? I am no hero. I have no noble qualities. I’ve been a liar, and a cheat in my life. I have failed others just as much as I’ve failed myself. I have gotten lucky a few times in the fact that I am still here. I’m not the greatest of husbands, or greatest of fathers. Not the greatest son, or brother, or friend, or coworker. I know this. I try, but I know deep down I could be much better.

No, I am no hero. I am but a simple dude. I wake in the morning grumpy like everyone else. I go to bed grumpy like most. I have fun when I can, and I get bored very easily. Sometimes I stay up late playing Mario with my son, some nights I just tell him I’m tired in crawl in bed at 8:30. No, I am no hero.

Save your heroes for those who truly deserve it. Like my great-grandfather. Started working in the mills to support his family at an elementary school age. And did well raising his family, watching them raise their own, and fighting his own battle. Loving his wife who had forgotten who he was, and making sure she still felt his love. Save heroes for men like Scott, who was selfless in every sense of the word and gave so much to this world that we could never give back.

Save your heroes for the people who lay down their lives for others without even being asked to do so. Save your heroes for those who expand our ability to treat disease with their efforts. Save your heroes for those working 48 hours to provide life saving care to people they will never know past a last name and a patient chart.

I….

I am not your hero. I am merely me. And a hero? Well, a hero is so much more than I will ever even dream to be.

 

 

I am Okay but the Memory Remains

Memory Remains

I’m okay, I promise you. I’ve had clean scans for the last 4.5 years. Yeah, there are still some long-term side effects that I deal with but otherwise, I’m okay. People ask me about my cancer experience all the time. I really don’t mind talking about it, especially if I think it will make a difference in somebody else’s life. It’s great that people I don’t see for long periods of time ask me if I’m still good. It shows they care. I’m really okay now. What still hurts, is simply this: The memory remains.

As time has gone by, the physical demands of surviving cancer have diminished greatly. Nausea isn’t as big of a problem as it used to be, neuropathy really only strikes when it’s cold or I’m over working my body. The fatigue I used to feel has gotten much better. But the memories of the experience linger, and they feel like it was simply a few hours ago. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings. All of it lingering behind like a bad tattoo sleeve that you can’t cover up.

That bench over there out in front of the main building? That’s where I was the only time I heard my father drop an F bomb, right after I did, discussing the discovery of something in my brain. That computer out there in the hallway? That’s where I first really saw what the doctors saw in the scans, and it shook me to my core. Room 3204? I can still show you where I hung up the felt Christmas trees my kids made me while I was inpatient. I’m okay now but,

The memory remains.

I look around the lobby and never forget that I am too fucking young to have to be doing this. At 29 years old and more than 30 years younger than the majority of patients I would say good morning to, I never fit in the scenery around the chemo suite. And now, at 34, I still don’t belong. Yet, there I am, a few times a year, hoping to God that the news is still good. I don’t know that I could handle it if it wasn’t. Ad everyone there has the same thought on their mind: Why the hell did it have to be me? Damnit, why couldn’t have been someone else?

The memory remains.

If you have ever had a CT scan with the IV contrast then you know the taste of pennies you get when it starts to run. I can taste that at the mention of a CT scan. I use hand sanitizer like nobodies business. But never without being able to smell the cleaning chemicals they use once a day to mop the hospital rooms. I have learned every bit of medical coding on my hospital orders and could probably do it all myself at this point. I can find my veins faster than the nurse and pose for the x-rays quicker than they can take them. I am okay now, but

The memory remains.

I spoke with the intake lady today as I waited for them to process my insurance for my x-rays and blood work. She is currently two years cancer free. She shares the same sentiment. We will never be quite the same again. While life will go on, and continue, there will always be a little bit of what if. What if I go to the doctor and they tell me something is wrong again? What if I end up with a secondary cancer due to my previous treatment? What if, what if, what if.

That is the biggest part of the remaining memory. It’s the part of us that will always remain under the watchful eye. It is part of us that will stay forever in the shadows of what could be, and what has been. The constant in our new-found lives after cancer. Long after the follow ups stop. Long after the sights and smells have vanished. This will be what remains.

For those that have been there or are there now, it is a common bond that we all share. Every one of use has different memories that are associated and remain. We all went through different experiences on our paths to being survivors. But we are all linked through one common thought.

The memory remains.

Mental Health and Celebrity Culture

Mental Health and Celebrity Culture

Mental health and celebrity culture is a hard to think about subject. Especially if you are like me, someone living daily with the battles of mental illness. You know it’s always something that will connect with you, but you don’t pay much attention until you see the news headlines. This month, it came in the form of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington committing suicide.

Immediately after the news broke online, the statuses and tweets started rolling out. Including mine.

Whether you want to admit it or not, Linkin Park has probably influenced you, your music taste, or the musicians you…

Posted by John Taylor onĀ Thursday, July 20, 2017

My take on these events tends to be a bit different than some others. Yes, I was saddened to hear the news. Just like I was to hear about Robin Williams. But this time was different. In Williams’ case, he didn’t show the world any outward signs that things were wrong. He had talked about it before in interviews, but not a lot. We didn’t know Robin Williams to make us sad. He made us extremely happy. And that was part of the devastation of the news.

In the case of Chester Bennington, he had given the world so much notice about what was going through his head. His lyrics said it all to us. Yet, it still came as a shock to us. Why did it do that? Why did we not see it before hand? How come nobody had really tried to reach him?

I don’t have the answers to these questions though I wish to God I did. But there’s other questions I want answers to concerning mental health and celebrity culture. Like, why is a celebrity considered brave for posting about their struggles and I’m told to “get over it” and “stop being selfish”? How come a celebrity gets an outpouring of support and I get only one message asking me if I’m okay? Why do we not ever think to reach out to celebrities like they are one of us and offer genuine support and not just “prayers” with a praying hands emoji?

This is particularly difficult when it comes to being male. Men are supposed to be the sociological idea of “masculine”. We’re not supposed to show our feelings on the outside and most definitely shouldn’t talk about it with our friends. This societal perception is killing men at a rapid pace, and it doesn’t seem like it ends with us “normies”.

Sometimes it is easier to see in celebrities. Chester Bennington put his thoughts out there in his lyrics. Why didn’t we take it more seriously? Robin Williams was on the opposite end of the spectrum. We had no clue from an outside perspective. And only his closest friends and family could know how much he felt comfortable reaching out.

So why is it that celebrity culture and mental illness are such confusing, crisscrossed subjects? There are three distinct occurrences that can be observed when taking these two subjects together. First, the god-like stature and hero status we give celebrities who come out with their issues. Second is the non-existent “agreements” we make to be there for friends and family. Lastly, is the non-existent real support for celebrities who don’t go through the battle as smoothly as others.

Celebrity Culture Gods

Let me say this. I get it. Celebrities are famous and have the possibility of reaching millions with their messages. So when a celebrity comes out publicly about their mental health, it makes a huge impact. However, I don’t always see this impact as great. In one post, people are talking about how brave these people are because they “are real”. In a different comment section they are telling others to get over themselves, that they are weak, and selfish. This is a good thing?

The people on the bad end of this two-way street are often still the headlines of other news articles. The ones dedicated to B section back pages that people see and go “Huh, I didn’t see that coming” before moving on. Those of us who speak publicly about our struggles often get chided and forgotten. Making us feel like we shout to the void. I don’t want to be someone’s hero, or be famous. I just want my voice to make a difference too.

Empty Promises

Would you call 911 for someone you only know online to try to help save their life? Would you think to try to contact local family and friends, and local places where help can be found? Probably not. I’ve done this twice in the last year, and multiple times in my lifetime. When we post about what we promise people in the wake of celebrity news, most of us can’t say we’ve kept that promise.

Sharing the suicide hotline number in a status that says “Copy and paste, do not share” is one thing. Actually listening on messenger for hours, or calling the person, or even meeting them face to face is another. It’s a bullshit paradigm that says “We don’t care about somebody nobody else is talking about them” and routinely acting shocked at an outcome that we might have had the power to prevent. It’s a sickening outcome of celebrity culture and mental illness intersecting each other. And it REALLY pisses me off.

Leaving them Hanging

On the other hand, there are the celebrities who slide through this hero status, to be forgotten until the headlines. And we sit back and say “Where were the warning signs?” People write and say “Hey, your lyrics helped me” or “Your story touched me” which has to be encouraging. But who is writing them and saying “How are you doing? I mean, really how are you doing?” Could this help? Maybe, maybe not. It’s that way in any situation for anyone battling a pit of darkness.

Why do we not hear stories about multiple celebrities lifting each other up? Why don’t we see them actively trying with others instead of trying to have their story published more than the other? Do you see where I’m going with this? Celebrities and mental health equate to the same as the rest of us. Empty and broken promises, and a wall of shame and emptiness that make it hard to climb out.

There isn’t really a coherent point to this post. Well, maybe a couple. Mental illness is not a joke, not an excuse, and not selfish. It is a battle, a reason, and something that affects more than just one person. Celebrity or normie, we are ALL in this together. Nobody should have to fight alone. Nobody should be made to feel their illness is inferior to others. Keep your promises. REALLY listen to your friends. Be prepared to make tough calls and save a life.

It’s been past time to start taking mental illness seriously, to oust those who abuse the words, to encourage those who live that world, and to finally come to terms with the fact that we can all be okay in the end.

If you are having thoughts of harming yourself and you need someone to talk to, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (United States) at 1-800-273-8255. There is also a texting version if you have anxieties about talking to a person over the phone. The number for the texting suicide hotline is 741-741-START.