Speaking of ad campaigns a retarded budgie could think up, Highliner (the fish people) are asking “Wonder why don’t you eat fish more often?” on billboards all over town. Long and painful minutes were spent in coming up with replies:
1) because there’s none left;
2) ask us again in Spanish;
3) very slowly ask again in simple English, it takes the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans a little longer than most to catch on;
4) because your product has the consistency and taste of flaky wet gyp-rock wrapped in dried kitty-litter;
5) because without the dolphin taste tuna is really bland.
The first Top 5 List I wrote as my college paper’s humour columnist, back in 1995. “Retarded” didn’t make the final edit.
Almost fifteen years ago, when I was in the second semester of my journalism program, the head of the program asked me to take over as humour columnist for the journalism program’s newspaper.
It was a fairly prestigious position, plus it gave me a guaranteed showcase every two weeks. Editorials, for whatever reason, had no byline at the time. The opinion page columns were shared among the class, and getting a news story into each issue was definitely not guaranteed.
Just weeks earlier, at the end of the first semester, I had actually been targeted for expulsion. For months I had been on a bipolar roller coaster — I was late by hours everyday, I missed the same morning class for six weeks in a row, and I failed several projects.
When he offered me the column, he told me the only reason he allowed me to return for the second semester, was the quality of a feature I had written on a local, legendary, radio personality.
It was the feature, plus a throwaway but irreverent story I wrote on what students were planning for March Break, that made him decide to hand the column to me.
“Students have a hard enough time finding the money to travel to the corner store let alone Disney World. So if you’re stuck in the Ottawa area trying to pay off the Valentines Day bills, try wandering over to one of the multitude of museums, take a tour of the parliament buildings, or spend the Doritos money and take a bus tour around town, it beats watching [OJ Simpson] sit and stare on CNN.”
From what I remember, the guy I was replacing had gotten lazy, or he was just overwhelmed by being in the last semester of a very tough program. I do know he owes me $10. His column was titled “Truth, Lies and Innuendo”, which I thought was cute.
When I sat down with a friend to brainstorm titles for my column, his idea was to call it “A handful of pills and a bottle of Jack Daniels”, which was shot down pretty quick. The program head, who also taught first-year journalism, came up with “From the edge”, which I thought was lame, but “Standing on a ledge” was cool — but only because I couldn’t get away with “Falling from a ledge”.
I managed to get away with my (kind of) subtle reference to suicide for the first few columns… pretty much right up until I told the program head I had a case of the Bipolars.
I actually only had an opportunity to write four columns before the semester ended. They were dark, sardonic, and pretty much random with regards to who I targeted — except for the college’s Students Association, I went after them every column.
But those four columns generated more letters to the editor, and direct calls to the program head, than every other piece published that year. I think there were only a dozen, but the letters were mostly positive. The calls, however, weren’t. I wrote something about an ad campaign for the number one local radio station, so they called asking what they had done to piss off the college.
Then there was the night when a bunch of us were taking advantage of the free Internet access to finish off some school work, when the president of the Student’s Association walked in, sat down, and spent twenty minutes alternating between anger at something I wrote, and desperately trying to be our friend.
He turned out to be a really decent human being.
Then, with only a few days left in the semester, the program head took me into his office and told me I was being kicked out of the program, but for really real this time. I had missed most of my classes, and some of the classwork I had submitted was definitely infected with the Manic.
He had already spoken to the head of the screenwriting program and, if I wanted, I would have a place there in the fall. Or, he said, I could take a full semester to get my Bipolar shit together, then come back to the journalism program in next year’s second semester.
I’m still not sure if it was the right choice, but I went with what I knew.
But either way the problem was, I had no idea how to find treatment for the problems I had. I had been living in a room at the YMCA, and they were also kicking me out for not following their rules. So, after three weeks of near starvation and looking at imminent homelessness, I moved back to my hometown where my parents paid for the first month’s rent for a small bachelor apartment.
After the first month I was back on welfare and sleeping 16-hours a day.
Six months later, having learned nothing about my recovery, I moved into Ottawa’s Youth Hostel and bought some ties and a few nice shirts.
My first day back, repeating my second semester, I was twenty minutes late. When I walked into the class the program head introduced me to my fellow — and much younger — students as the “best writer” he ever had.
He also told me to immediately take over the humour column. I renamed it “Life of the Times”, a play on the name of the paper. It was mine for the next three semesters, and a year later I won the Ontario Community Newspaper Associations award as “Best Humour Columnist” in all of Ontario.
In the awards magazine they called me “brilliant”.
But, during the school year, I fucked up every personal relationship I could create, I missed major projects and tests, I spent a lot of time drunk, there were teachers who wanted to toss me out of the program, and about half the students — who all worked on the paper — hated my column (mostly because they wanted it).
When I filled out my college application, I had to list three choices. Journalism was my third option, but I missed the “Mature Student” tests for the other two.
The reason I filled out the application in the first place was because my girlfriend of three years had finally tossed me to the curb. The bipolar was untreated the entire time, so my behaviour was… erratic, plus, except for a few jobs lifting heavy stuff, I had been on welfare the entire time we were together.
I’ve never held a grudge. She was supposed to have a boyfriend, not a patient. But she was magnificent, and I was deeply in love with her. And I was a completely devastated wreck for a long time afterwards.
Going to college was supposed to be a way to get back at her, or get her back.
I think the columns I wrote, with their bite, anger and sardonic humour, came from what I was feeling about her. I had other reasons to be bitter, angry and sardonic, but she left a gaping wound in my chest that I lacked the ability to heal.
And that was the foundation I built myself when I was twenty-four. Left entirely on my own, I used a tragic yet inevitable ending to a love affair as an excuse to prematurely enrol into a program I didn’t want to take, and which I was kicked out of, only to succeed beyond my wildest dreams, while failing nearly every course not directly associated with the school newspaper.
This is the rope I’ve been hanging myself with my entire life.
I spent years afterwards trying to live up to the words of the program head, and the awards people, but kept failing because I was constantly fighting the bipolars. People would hire me to work on their magazine, or newspaper, based on words like “brilliant” and “best”, only to find out months later that I couldn’t live up to the most basic of schedules.
Left untreated, the manic depression took away every opportunity I was able to create for myself. Finally, in 2002, I was left homeless, unemployed, banned from social assistance, and rapidly burning through whatever goodwill I had with the people who wanted to publish my book.
It took me seven years in recovery to learn the ways and means to control the manic depression, seven years before I could understand, every time I started to succeed, I’ve killed myself. Whoever I was at that time, I put a gun to that person’s head and pulled the trigger.
And it’s still going on. For a few years I had two very successful blogs, but now I only update this one once or twice a month, and in the past six months the other one has dropped from a PR5 to a PR3.
I was approached a few weeks ago to write a column for a good newspaper, the paper received letters praising my first column, but now I can’t focus on getting the second one done.
I impress someone with what I can do, then spend months proving them wrong.
And I do not know how to fix this.