For the last couple of days, I’ve been struggling with asking someone for forgiveness. It’s not really that complicated, is it? I would just say something like, “I’m asking your forgiveness for…” whatever I had done. Doesn’t really seem that complicated at all. And yet, it is for me right now.

Here’s the story.

Several decades ago, I was in a relationship with someone. I ended it badly. I don’t have many regrets, but this is one of them. We’ve remained friends for all these years, but distant. We’ve only seen each other a couple of times. No angry words. Nothing untoward. And, nothing better than pleasant, either.

After more than a decade of becoming much more self-aware, the struggle with this is about dealing with it directly. I’m sad about how it ended. I’m afraid of asking for forgiveness. I don’t want to touch that sadness. There’s a huge difference between guilt – having made a mistake, and shame – I am a mistake. Rarely, I mean very rarely, do I ever feel shame. In this case, I do. I know I made a mistake – guilt. But there’s a part of me wondering if I am a mistake – at least on the issue of relationships. Few of my relationships have ended well, including my very short marriage. In this moment, I’m wondering if there’s something wrong with me when it comes to relationships. I’m struggling.

I think of myself as fairly in touch with my emotions and idiosyncrasies. Typically, I don’t have a problem expressing myself. Why, then, am I struggling with this? Is there something inherently wrong with me regarding relationships? Am I just so closed off I self-sabotage any and all relationships I’ve had? I don’t seem to have difficulty living by myself. I’ve done it for the largest portion of my life. And, is that because I’m incapable of sustaining a relationship? Is that a mistake in my DNA? I might not be able to answer these questions. Or, maybe I am able to answer the questions, but there’s a protector side of me keeping me safe – away from the pain of what a sustained relationship might bring. Of course, there’s also the joy a relationship might bring. It’s the battle between those two which seems to be at the core of this life challenge. Regardless of the answers, I very much want to ask for the forgiveness from this person. And, when I do, I want to be heard. I don’t want an ‘Oh, it’s water under the bridge’ kind of response. I want her to hear my plea, and, if willing, offer the forgiveness. So, the hold back is about playing this scene in my head. Not doing it for real. Staying safe, without the risk. Because, the risk is asking for forgiveness and not getting it. The risk is also about asking for the forgiveness and receiving it. The question then seems to be ‘Am I willing to step into the fire, toe to toe and ask for forgiveness?’ In the end, it’s likely to be irrelevant if she forgives me, but am I able to let go of the past and forgive myself.

Buddhist Zen master, Thich Nhat Hahn says compassion is the key to forgiveness. Another truth for me. “In the film The Power of Forgiveness, he is seen reciting his mediation for the “many angry sons and daughters”. In a soft, measured voice he instructs, in meditative breathing, a room full of people who want to move on: “breathing in I see myself as a 5-year-old child; breathing out I hold that 5-year-old child with tenderness. Breathing in I see my father as a 5-year-old boy; breathing out I smile to my father as a 5-year-old boy”. The point is that only when you are able to visualize your father as a fragile and vulnerable 5-year-old, can you begin to understand and feel compassion for the person he has become.” ( Compassion, especially towards myself was and is a challenge. I have to believe in my own fragile and vulnerable 5-year-old and hold that vision in order to move forward.

Forgiveness, then, is not about the act of asking for it, it’s about loving myself enough to have compassion for the 21-year-old and for all of my ages when relationships are/were difficult. I’m not some superman. I’m not invulnerable. Quite the contrary. I’m very vulnerable. Deaths hurt. Lost relationships hurt. To move forward requires standing with the hurts and the pain and not only acknowledging them, but embracing them. Cursing them for the pain, and blessing them for the wisdom they bring. As a photojournalist, I know there cannot be white without black.

I will ask for the forgiveness. Any answer I might get from someone else, can only be added to the answer I give to myself.

How Am I Changing? I’m still looking for answers. It’s in the questions the answers may be found. I just have to be willing to ask the questions.


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Doctors: Those who practice medicine and those who just do business.

Vet Doing Surgery-LI didn’t always hate doctors. In fact, when I was a youngster, my favorite doctor was a surgeon. Where most kids under five have pediatricians, I guess I did too, I had a surgeon. His name was Charles Polivy; he lived to be 84 and I bet he treated all his patients with the love and care he gave me.

When I was 18-months-old, I was complaining about it hurting when I walked. My parents initially thought I

© Donny Hornstein,2015

was lazy (they might have been partially right.) Eventually, they took me to a doctor, Dr. Polivy, who told them I had an inguinal hernia. Of course I had the operation and that cleared up the walking bit. I’m told, while I was in recovery, Dr. Polivy came in and asked if I wanted anything. I did, and what he heard was cherries. So, he sent everyone he could looking for same, though they were certainly out of season at the time. Not having any luck, he came back to the room and said he had done everything he could, but there were no cherries in Hartford or anywhere in Connecticut. In my little voice, I said, “Not cherries. Jerry.” I had wanted my older brother. But Dr. Polivy had moved heaven and earth trying to find cherries for his patient. That’s the kind of man he was.

Later, when I was seven, I was bitten in the face, on the nose actually, by a dog. It was an accident. My parents were out of town at a cousin’s wedding. The friends who were taking care of my brother and me, rushed me to the hospital. Someone on duty, knew I was Dr. Polivy’s patient. He was called. Connecticut is a very small state, but the good doctor was somewhere other than at home. He told the person at the hospital he would get there as soon as possible, and that “No one is to touch that child until I arrive.” No one did. I remember before he stitched up my nose that he said he was going to give me a shot (Novocain), that it would sting and I should be brave. 45 stitches later, I was as good as new. So gifted were this man’s hands that all these years later, I have to scrunch my nose for anyone to see the scar. Dr. Polivy believed he should always do the best he could, and for me, he did.

That brings me around to how I started; I didn’t always hate doctors. I remember most other doctors I came into contact with after Dr. Polivy just didn’t display the care he did. When I had to get the diphtheria-pertusis-tetanus shots as a kid, I dreaded them. The doctors or nurses, whoever plunged that needle into my arm, took no heed that 12 hours after the shot, I would come down with a temperature of  103. Religiously. I really began to dislike doctors.

It wasn’t until I was 27, when I would change my mind about doctors, if only for a short while. At the time, I was working as a photojournalist at the newspaper in Colorado Springs. I remembered W. Eugene Smith’s Life magazine story on a small town doctor in Colorado and wanted to do something similar.

It was 1979. Doctors rarely did housecalls even almost 40 years ago. I received an assignment to shoot a football game in Woodland Park, CO which is just outside the Springs. The high school had a side line physician. His name is Dr. Richard Y. Harris. The Universe was guiding me on that particular Saturday. I started a conversation with Dr. Harris. I told him I wanted to do a photo story on a doctor; particularly as small town doctor who still did housecalls. When I asked him if he knew any such doctors, Dr. Harris smiled and said, “Yup. Me!” That, as line the line Casablanca goes, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Although we put many hours into the story, for reasons I can’t now remember, it never got published. But, when I cut my finger (it had been in a car engine somewhere it didn’t belong). Dr. Harris took me to his office and stitched me up. He asked when the last time I had a tetanus shot was. It had been a very long time. I told him my problem with the high fever after those shots. He said, “That won’t happen the way I’m going to give it to you.” I asked what that meant. He said rather than plunge the needle in and give me the shot quickly, which was normal, he would give it to me very slowly. He told me we would just talk and he would give me a very slow tetanus shot. I trusted him, not something I do easily. So we talked; for I don’t remember how long, but for a while. When we got to a perceived stopping point, he said he had finished the shot about five minutes earlier. I never felt the needle go in or come out. I did not get a fever 12 hours later. Another doctor in my life who cared about how he practiced medicine.

I can only wish that were true for the doctor I’ve had here for the last 30 some odd years. He doesn’t really practice medicine. He practices the BUSINESS of medicine. He orders tests, I tell myself, because he’s afraid of being sued. One time, after a routine physical’s urine test, he found three red blood cells in the sample. At the time, I’d been on Plavix because of coronary artery disease and the follow up. Rather than think this might just be a problem with the Plavix, he ordered a test with a urologist. One of the worst, most uncomfortable tests I’ve ever had. And, in my very non-medical opinion, needless. I don’t follow his recommendations for test any more. At least a decade ago, a sign went up in his office saying he and the other doctors at his clinic would no longer visit patients in the hospital. They just didn’t think it was necessary. Like I said, the business of medicine.

About a year ago, I tried to change doctors. I called an office recommended by a friend. They, too were practicing the business of medicine. I was told I couldn’t get in for a preliminary visit for several months. Then, about the time I was to go into their office, a nurse called me to inform me the doctor had decided to take vacation at the time of our appointment and it would be several months more before I could get an initial exam. I gave up on him and just decided to ride out the time until my regular doctor retired. I don’t think it will be very long.

I’m not sure what prompted me to write about this. Maybe, it’s how much I miss doctors like Polivy and Harris. I’m not sick, except for this summer cold which seems to want to hang on. If I did know what prompted me to write, I’d say it was about the sadness I feel around doctors I know where the business is more important than the healing of persons. Of course, that’s a story I tell myself. I do believe there are other doctors like my two mentioned here. They just haven’t been in my life for the most part (there is a third, by the way, the neurosurgeon who did my cervical discectomy, also qualifies.) It saddens me so many go into the field of medicine because it’s good for their income. It saddens me my long term physicians both before and after my doctors mentioned here appear to be so uncaring. It saddens me it may be a real struggle to find another physician for the latter part of my life. So I write about both the joy and the sadness. What about you? How do you feel about the doctors who have been or continue to be in your life? Leave a comment if you would care to; I’d love to hear what you have to say.

How Am I Changing? I’m willing to tell my story for good or not. I’m willing to talk about the persons who have brought me joy and not. I’m willing to have you look, and see me. I hope you do.

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Living alone is OK…and sometimes it’s not…but, that’s OK, too

As I write this, I’m 63-years-young. Except for one ten year period from 38-48 and three years from 53-56, I’ve lived alone since I was 24. Most of the time, I’m OK with that. But, sometimes, just sometimes, I’m not.

Today, while I was on the treadmill, I heard a song by Collin Raye. It’s called “Love, Me” Here’s the beginning of it.

I hear something like this, or I go to a movie and watch some kind of a love story unfold onscreen and I get sad. I think about all I’ve missed in the 39 years I’ve lived on my own. No great love to spend my time with. No one waiting for me to come home. And, I have to remind myself it’s a choice; not always one I’m happiest about and I’d bet it’s not one I’ll choose to change in the near future. The question I’m asking myself is what’s the payoff to being by myself?

I recognize there were three times in my life where there was a special relationship. One of those, I made a huge mistake in leaving. One, she left me; but I did nothing to try and win her back. The third, I married only to find out neither of us was willing to do the work to make it a marriage. It ended after only three years.

My belief is I’m lazy. In work, when I have a job, I work hard. I don’t however, do the really hard work which for a sole proprietor is the marketing.  I get by. On this blog, I haven’t been willing to “Hit 500 balls until your hands bleed.” It’s been nearly nine months since my previous post. A part of that I can attribute to that overbearing feeling, fear. I had a post in the can from seven months ago. I was afraid it might cause some hard feelings. I sat on it and eventually did publish it. Hard feelings? People mad at me? Not yet. Maybe never. Once upon a time, when I let myself run unfiltered, I got myself in a lot of hot water. It’s the time I refer to as my ‘Peck’s Bad Boy’ era. Once I started walking around consciously aware of that behavior, the part of me I call the ‘Risk Manager’ steered me in the opposite direction: overly cautious about what I do and say. But, I stray…

Lazy. It’s easier for me to be alone than to work at being in a relationship. Yet, I see relationships, on film, in real life, in a song and it’s what I long for. Not willing to “Hit 500 Balls until your hands bleed.” I want happily ever after. I want to write a song about it. Yeah, right. If I wanted it that badly, I’d be willing to do the work. What’s the payoff for remaining alone?

I believe another part of me, another area I can attribute to the ‘Risk Manager’ is I’m terrified of having someone leave, by choice or by death. It’s true for me about pets, also. In 1998-99, I lost my first cat; he was preceded by two dogs. I vowed never to get another pet because of the grief. It overwhelms me in the short term. It may be only two weeks, that’s about how long I cried when my last pet died in December. It seems like the pain of the loss will never go away. And…it will. I’m just not willing or wanting to deal with it. That sense of loss is exactly what I felt the first time I walked into my house after my divorce. It was unbearable. It lasted two weeks. Two weeks! Out of nearly 3,300. Something’s not adding up right? Not necessarily. Those two weeks, grieving for a pet or for the loss of someone in my life are enough of a deterrent for me to keep me living on my own. Sad, maybe, but it’s a reality in my life. What’s the payoff?

I get to live comfortably in the world I’ve created for myself. I don’t have to stretch into anything. I don’t have to work at anything. I can avoid both the success and failure of a relationship. I can avoid both the pain and the joy. I can continue with things being ‘just so’ without fearing the outcome. I can continue to see films about relationships or listen to songs about them and be sad about that missing part of my life. I can be happy and sad. I can live the life I’ve chosen. Regrets, I have a few (isn’t there a song in that?) For the most part, on most days I’m fine; but sometimes, just sometimes, I’m not.



Deuteronomy 29:9-28: “I have set before you life & death, the blessing and the curse, ” Moses concludes. “Therefore choose life, so that you may live.” 




I do. I choose life. With or without a singular relationship. Because, in my life I have relationship with many. Friends, family, new persons who come into my life as customers but turn out to be much more than that. Persons I went to high school with; im-not-single-inspirational-life-quotesprobably never said more than a dozen words to, but now, through the wonder of the Internet and places such as Facebook, have become some of my closest friends. Persons I have met through New Warrior, Woman Within, The Artist’s Way. Teachers and their families who’ve welcomed me into their lives as if I was always meant to be there. Persons I could call or message on a moment’s notice and get support if needed.

Persons who choose to love me for who I am, warts and all.

When things seem dark or bleak to me, I need only open my eyes to find it’s actually easy to let the light in. Open my eyes! What a concept! Who knew it was that simple?

So, if you come here to the blog, and don’t find something new, don’t give up on me. I’ll meet you when my chores are through; I don’t know how long I’ll be. But I’m not gonna let you down, just you wait and see. And between now and then, till I see you again, I’ll be thinking of you, and you me.
How Am I Changing? I’m looking at my life realistically. And for me, that means accepting the sadness with the joy; the bad with the good; the curses and the blessings. It’s tough sometimes, but so’s life. But not always!


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It’s Donny, with a ‘y’ and not Danny

(I wrote this originally for another venue. The editor there thought it too much of a rant. I’m sure it’s that, and I want to share this in the lighthearted manner it was intended. Hope you get a chuckle out of it.)

Did you ever think everyone around you was stupid because they couldn’t get your fucking name right? I wish people would just learn to read, and absorb what their eyes tell their brain. Sadly, it doesn’t happen as often as I would like.

My birth name is Donald Evan Hornstein. For as long as I can remember, my family called me Donny. Or Don Don. Or Donella (little Donny in Yiddish.) But mostly, it’s Donny. With a ‘y.’ And not Danny. Getting people to remember that, though, might take an act of Congress; and even then, under penalty of whatever, I don’t think they’ll pay attention and get it right.

I didn’t always use Donny, though. In the late 1960s, 1966 to be precise, Marlo Thomas stars on TV in ‘That Girl.’ What red blooded American male isn’t in love with Marlo Thomas? Me, included. On the show, she calls her boyfriend, Donald. OMG, (I was way ahead of my time) if I make people call me Donald, maybe I’ll get Marlo Thomas, or at least a reasonable facsimile. A boy can dream, can’t he? For the next decade or so, it’s Donald, and I never have to worry about someone misspelling my name. Maybe I’m a slow learner.

In college, the group I run around with has two brothers in it, Bobby & Donnie (yes, with an ‘ie) Ginsberg. Every time I hear Donnie’s name, something inside me quakes a little. (Remember, I’m still running around as Donald hoping for Marlo to show up, but I like how it sounds when someone says Donny.) I don’t realize consciously, I’m starting to struggle with such a formal name on such an informal guy. After all, I hate suits. I want to go to job interviews in business casual. Someone always has to remind me to put on a jacket and maybe even a tie.

In the late 1970s, I become a newspaper photographer and I begin to struggle with my credit line. Donald Hornstein? Don Hornstein? But never Donny Hornstein, the name I gave up for Marlo. I never have to go to a typesetter or editor or anyone to make sure they spell my name correctly. (Now I’m really starting to believe I’m a slow learner.) But, I struggle with my credit line, because it never looks right to me. I’m at the point where I start to wonder who this Donald guy is, because it sure as heck ain’t me.

I bomb out of photojournalism due to my Peck’s Bad Boy attitude (did you see me in Oral Fixation’s Slippery Slope? It’s on YouTube: It’s many years later, about a decade in fact, I’m living in Dallas, and working in a network marketing organization selling term life insurance. “Buy Term & Invest the Difference” is the motto of the company. I’m attending a weekly meeting with the Regional Vice President with whom I work. A good ol’ Texas boy, Steve, sees me and says, “Hey, Donny, how’s it goin’?” I stop dead in my tracks. “Why did you just call me Donny? No one has called me that for years.” He kinda scratches his head and says, “Well, that’s my little brother’s name. It just came out.” I think to myself, “Crap, Marlo Thomas is married to Phil Donahue. I don’t have a chance in hell with her. I should use the name I’m most comfortable with. It’s 1988 and I’m back to calling myself Donny, and I like it.

But, now, the problem starts. People are either spelling my name wrong or calling me by someone else’s name. Crap! Not quite as bad, people who knew me during the Donald years, a bunch of old fogies now, refuse to call me Donny. In one case, a girl I dated in college, calls me Donald for many of the same reasons she did 40 years ago. Her father is Robert Donald and goes by Don. Her brother is Robert Donald, Jr. and goes by Donny. When we were dating, it just made sense for me to be Donald (even though she wasn’t Marlo, she did kinda remind me of her.)

For nearly 30 years, it seems like every time I turn around, someone is screwing up my name. A part of me just wants to let it go. The other part, let’s call him the asshole, wants to cut everyone off at the knees who gets it wrong. He usually wins. The first guy says, “Just let it go. People just don’t pay attention. It’s no big deal.” The other guy, throws a hissy fit. “Hell no, why can’t people get my name right? How difficult is this? We’re talking about the modern man, not the planet of the apes!”

In an email exchange recently, a man I’ve known for 14 years wrote, “Bruce, u and Donnie, D-O-N-N-I-E, were missed”….I mean seriously! In any email, my name appears in the from field and typically in a signature. D-O-N-N-Y. We ain’t talkin’ rocket science here, folks. I wrote him back and say, “After all these years you can’t spell my name 😉 (smiley face.) His response, “I think it was sub conscience. The “i.e.” (sic) just means fun and light hearted (sic) to me.” Really, that’s the best he could do? And, how in the hell does Donnie with an ‘ie’ mean lighthearted and fun? Is that in some secret dictionary someplace? And do I have to know a secret handshake to see it? Puhleeeeease!

The other one, especially today with email so prevalent a form of communication, is Danny. My brain immediately goes to “Are you stupid or what?” There’s my name again at least twice in our email exchange. Oh, I get it! Most of us don’t want to admit we need glasses, if only reading glasses. They look at my name and mistake the ‘o’ for an ‘a’. They’re both vowels after all. OK, maybe. Could ya just please let your eyes and your brain work together? The asshole would really appreciate it.

I should end this by telling you I’m not the only one in my family with issues around a name. My brother is Jerrold, J-E-R-R-O-L-D. He complains it’s our Mother’s fault. What? He says the more common spelling is G-E-R-A-L-D. Where he came up with that, I haven’t a clue. Maybe a secret addition of Poor Richard’s Almanac. You need another secret handshake to see that. Nonetheless, he thinks our Mother just didn’t do such a great job with our names. Maybe. I wonder, since most people call him Jerry, if he gets G-E-R-R-I-E? Or Gary? Criminy!

Perhaps the writing really is on the wall. If I’d just stuck with Donald I wouldn’t be in this predicament. Or maybe, Mom could’ve named me Bill or George or even Sue! Nah. Just do me a favor and try to remember, it’s Donny, with a ‘y’. And not Danny.

How Am I Changing? I’m trying to not sweat the small stuff. I really am. It’s just that the asshole keeps getting in the way.

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Thanksgiving…and all that entails

2014, I thought this Thanksgiving could be a nightmare, instead, it became one filled with laughter, joy and great times.

This year, plans were for Thanksgiving to be in Denver with my niece, her husband and their two-year-old. Additionally, my brother and sister-in-law would be there. It sounded like a welcome relief to a year where I lost my job, had major surgery and was just a bit unsure of the future. (It often seems I’m unsure of the future, yet, when I remain positive and put my faith in the Universe and its ability to provide what I focus on, all turns out in a very positive spin.)

After purchasing my airfare, and several weeks out from the trip, I heard via my brother plans could change because my great nephew would be getting some surgery to correct a problem with his feet. At some point, as time passed, this became a reality. What to do? Call the airlines, change my ticket to go to San Jose instead and pay the change and ticketing fees. Just a little annoyed at this juncture.

A few weeks later, I again hear from my brother. Plans have changed and we’re heading back to Denver. The prospect of yet another change fee and possible airfare increases did not make me happy. Now, this trip was costing me double the original price. My old friend fear, I’m now without a job and the independent work I do is sporadic, manifests in not unexpected ways…I’m getting angry. What amazes me, more than a lot of things, is how fear and anger can still have such a ferocious hold on my well-being. In my mind, I think I should be well beyond this. I know from experience, if I focus on the positive outcome as opposed to the negative, that outcome is the one which will prevail. Yet, those old tapes, the ones begun so many years ago, continue to want to be the dominant ones and often, are.

When I’m told my niece still hasn’t decided her family will be able to make it back to Denver in time for Thanksgiving to actually happen, my fear and anger reach their peak. I tell my brother I think it’s best if I just don’t come. In my heart-of-hearts I know this is completely untrue, yet the stubborn, fearful me considers it a victory. The other part of me, the loving, joyful, loyal one, knows unequivocally it’s an out and out lie. I allow the fearful me to ‘win’ in this moment.

About two weeks later, that other me says, “Let’s just check the airfare to see if going is even remotely possible.” So, I do. Remember what I said about the Universe? What you focus on grows. I check the airfare, the fearful me is SURE the cost will be outrageous and he can be content he stood his ground. The airfare, wait for it, is actually substantially less than the last check. Universe 100,001, me -10. I humbly text my brother to ask if I’m still invited. He has a marvelous reply, “You were never uninvited.”

The day of travel finally arrives. My flight is slightly delayed. No biggie, my brother and sister-in-law are getting in three hours later than I am and there’s time to kill at the airport. The flight is uneventful. Arriving in Denver, I find a nice little restaurant in the terminal and have a lovely steak sandwich. It’s all off to a good holiday. When the others arrive, we get the car my nephew has left at the airport, and head off to my niece’s home. It’s a little later than I’m usually up, but it goes pretty well.

The two-year-old is uncomfortable because of his surgery and having to sleep with corrective shoes on. Poor little guy, none of it makes sense to him, nor should it at this age. During the day, he’s quite cranky from lack of sleep, but not in ways I might expect. He’s also quite shy. Reminds me of his uncle (my niece’s brother) when he was little. Most of the time, I’m laughing or chuckling at the curves the Universe throws at me.

We have a pretty good meal purchased from a French restaurant. Everyone, including moi, seem to be having a pretty good time. The Universe is teaching me yet again, joy can be just as easy as fear and anger, and so much more pleasant. I continue to wonder why the latter, then, continues to show up first so often.

As the weekend continues, things get better, then get worse. A Colorado football game with my nephew and his wife turns out to be a great time, as expected. Then, the grumpy curmudgeon shows back up around dinner time. I knew, or should have known, coming into this weekend, things would possibly focus around my grand nephew. So, when dinner plans are made closer to my niece’s home in Arvada, rather than someplace halfway between there and Boulder, where my nephew lives and where I’m now staying, I allow myself to become agitated, yet again. It’s a very average meal at a Mexican restaurant. I ought to know better than to be a Texan having Mexican food in Colorado. I don’t think that was so much the issue as all the photos being made. As a former photojournalist, there’s just something about ‘snapshots’ I don’t like and become uncomfortable with. My inner take on this has to do with having not worked on my personality disorder all those years ago. The result, I was fired at every newspaper I worked at and after my last job in 1983, I was unable to continue in the profession I loved the most. I don’t think there’s a day I don’t wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self to shape up before he loses the thing most dear to him. So, I rarely shoot snapshots and for the most part don’t like being in them, either.

Sunday, the last day of the trip. The family has planned an outing to the Rocky Mountain Toy Train Show. I know from the onset I’m going to be miserable – it’s a choice and I don’t like having made it. I just hate these kind of shows. They bore the heck out of me. And, in this case, I have absolutely zero interest in model trains. I’m resentful, again, I’m doing something because the little guy will enjoy it. I am, and always have been clear, I’m simply not a children-person. The question I’m asking myself: why didn’t I just have them drop me off at a Starbucks or someplace where I could have just read a book and relaxed? A part of me says I didn’t want to inconvenience others; another part says I don’t speak up for myself and would rather just be surly, angry and a general pain-in-the-ass.

Often, I need to get away from what I’m writing to really get to the bottom of things. While all of the above has merit, it’s all just story. After working out at the gym, I realize what the real problem is after checking out my timeline. My grumpiness really started Sunday morning. I received a text message from my cat sitter that one of my 16-year-old cats has sprayed in the house, again. This has been an ongoing problem for the last four or five years. The vet can’t figure it out, and neither can I. I’ve gotten to the point where I really want to put him down rather than continue to clean up and check up on him two or three times a day. He’s been on prozac for the last year or so, and that seems to have helped. But, he continues to spray and anyone who’s ever been around cats knows how bad this can be.

So, my problem is/was I didn’t feel there was anyone in the family I could really talk to about this. Not the spraying, but whether or not to put him down. It’s a horrible place to be and it’s a terrible thing for me to think I can’t really talk about this to anyone in my family. My solution is/was an old one. Retreat into my own world and damn anyone around me. Making things worse for myself, I didn’t want to go the train show. Compound the whole mess and I turn into someone I don’t like and don’t want to be. (Update: I didn’t have to make the decision. A month after I wrote this, he died. Made me very sad, and at the same time I was glad I didn’t have to decide on my own and the problem is no longer a problem. Again, I need to be careful what I ask from the Universe, it just might be granted.)

And…this was Thanksgiving weekend. There’s so much to be thankful for. I lost track of that. I’m disappointed in myself, and that, too, is OK. As long as there’s a lesson and I’m willing to look for it, I can continue to work on being the best me I can be. I’m grateful for a lot, including the opportunity to take a look at another part of me I want to work on.

How Am I Changing? I’m willing to look deeply at both the blessings and the other things which occur in my life. How about you? Do you see both the good and the bad or just one or the other?

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Still Angrily Impatient…But Not Always

A bunch of years ago, when I first started working on changing, or better, working on the whole me, a friend described me as angrily impatient. That’s still true. It’s something that has both caused me grief and served me. Probably more of the former than the latter.

For about 10 years, I was a photojournalist. During that era of my life, my opinion is it definitely caused me more grief, than helped. My last job in this capacity was in Cedar Rapids, IA. I can recall four distinct times being angrily impatient was not in my best interest. In the first, I had just started my job. I received an assignment to photograph some kids at a local event. It was in an auditorium. I remember getting there, and kids, being kids, it was difficult to get the attention of those I was supposed photograph. I really didn’t want to shoot this. Out comes Mr. AI, and in a manner not conducive to working with kids or persons in general, I did what I thought was necessary to get the picture done and out of there. When I returned to the paper, I was called into the managing editor’s office. He’d already had several parents call about “the rude photographer.” Strike one.

Another time Mr. AI showed up was a portrait I’d been assigned  of some guy who’d been responsible for updating a local theater. When I was working with the fellow, he kept wanting to ‘direct’ the photo. After several minutes of this, I finally said something to him akin to, “I’m the professional here. We’ll do it my way, understood?” Another phone call to the editor, another lecture. Clearly, Mr. AI wasn’t earning anyone’s welcome and causing me many more problems then he was solving. Strike Two.

The last time in Cedar Rapids this happened was the straw that broke the editor’s back. I was shooting a University of Iowa football game. It was raining pretty hard and in those days, maybe still, Iowa used Astroturf on their field. Funny thing about Astroturf and rain, they don’t play well together. In fact, there’s usually a pretty good lake that forms on the field. As a sideline photographer, I knew I was supposed to get on my knees to shoot, but with a field that wet, it would have been like jumping in a pool. An Iowa state trooper came by and ‘ordered’ me down on the field. Maybe I squatted, maybe I didn’t, I really don’t remember. What I do remember was standing, not kneeling. Up comes this state trooper, grabs my jacket, starts pulling me down with a “I said get down!” command. As you might imagine this went over like a lead balloon. Not only did I not go down, I told this guy if he put his hands on me again I’d file assault charges. A pretty good shouting match ensued. Unfortunately for me, the assistant sports director of the university is witnessing the whole thing. Not only did I get called in to the editor’s office, I was fired. Strike Three, you’re out! I remember him saying, “Donny, when I hired you I told you I would stand by you. I have. For three, long years. I just can’t anymore.” There was no begging forgiveness or another chance. It was to be the end of my career as a newspaper photographer. There’s almost never a day since I haven’t wished I knew then what I know now. I might still be shooting. It was one one of the most painful lessons ever. To this day, I don’t photograph much of anything. There’s still a stigma about what was lost. Maybe some day.

Did I learn anything from this? Yes. Many years later, I was in a situation with a K-12 school official. This guy, a former principal, and clearly someone used to getting his way, approached me on a project we were working together on. He asked me a question about an area of the project I was not responsible for. When I answered his question with that information, he began screaming at me. I mean screaming. In olden days, I might have strapped on my six-guns and invited him out to the street at high noon. This time, I stopped, caught me breath, and asked myself what this guy really needed. I knew his boss could be a real handful, he was likely under a lot of pressure from her. So, what did I do? I told him he was correct and asked him what I needed to do to make his life easier. The change was almost immediate. His anger deflated, we finished up what needed to be done with success. No one died. No one got fired.

While I’m nowhere near as angrily impatient as I was back in Iowa, I’m reminded how true it still is when I think about my relationship with my friend, Bruce. He is one of the most loving, caring men I know. He learns, he says, by asking questions – lots of questions. And that’s where I become angrily impatient with him. I can always feel the onset. It’s like I want to strangle him, never would of course, but the urge is there. I ask myself, “Who else in my life asked a lot of questions? How did I feel about it? Why does it make me angry – and is it really anger or my old friends fear & sadness? Another question might be, “Who didn’t ask me questions?” Right now, that seems to be the more relevant question. The answer would be Dad. He wanted me to be the way he wanted me to be, not the way I was. Another answer might be Mom. At the times Dad was raging, why wasn’t she asking him the questions of why he was taking his frustrations out on me.

With Bruce, I think it’s about how I’m processing his questions. Seems like (to me) he’s asking variations of the same questions repeatedly, so my frustration is, “He’s not getting it. Either figure it out, or stop with the questions!” It might also be that there’s a part of me which doesn’t want to allow somebody (Bruce) to get to know me that intimately. Because? Because if he does, he won’t like what he finds out about me; therefore, he won’t like me.

There’s a ring of truth to all of the above. Not enough question from Mom & Dad. Not wanting someone to know something about me which might cause them to dislike me. Nothing I can do about the former. For the latter, I want to be willing to accept whatever the outcome is. If someone doesn’t like me because of something they learn (I’m not a criminal, after all) that really isn’t my problem. It’s theirs. All I can do is be myself, warts and all. That’s either acceptable to someone else, or not, based on their own preconceptions. I don’t have to change the parts of me I like, only the parts I want to change.

I imagine, I’ll carry angrily impatient the rest of my life. How I choose to deal with it, well, that’s How Am I Changing?


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Taking Care of Myself…Maybe Not

Old Man on a Bench

© Donny Hornstein

I live alone. I’ve lived alone most of my adult life. I’m 62 years young.

Just a few months ago, I had a cervical discectomy at three levels. In less complicated terms, I had four cervical discs in my spine which through time had degenerated to the point where they needed to be cleaned up and fused. The symptoms I was having was loss of sensation in my hands. I couldn’t type. I could barely tie my shoes. I was dropping things. I had lost a huge amount of feeling in my hands. After many months of struggling with this and trying things such as acupuncture, electromyography, various meds, chiropractic, physical therapy and I can’t remember what else, I saw a neurologist. He did an MRI which finally showed the cause to be the degenerating discs. After a few more months of struggle, I picked a surgeon to ‘make me better.’ I have a great neurosurgeon. The result is about a 95% return of my hand use. I’m astounded almost every day.

For about five weeks after the surgery, I hired a friend of mine to take care of me and my cats. Really, the most important thing was the cats. The doctor had told me I shouldn’t bend below my knees and the cats eat on the floor, so what I needed most of all was someone to feed them twice a day. I also needed some personal care right after the surgery. Changing the dressing on my neck, transportation (I wasn’t supposed to drive) and sundry other things. I wasn’t paying him much but early on, I was expecting more than I had a right to.

About three days after the surgery, I had an incapacitating event related to the surgery. It was something so intense, I called the local fire department for help. I had never, and I mean never, had anything like this happen to me before. There was nothing the EMTs could do short of taking me to the ER. I didn’t want to do that, so I called another friend. He and his wife came to my aid, thank the heavens.

You might ask, “Why didn’t you call your friend you were paying?” And that’s where I’m headed.

He was involved with a local men’s training he and I are a part of. He wasn’t really reachable. And…it was neither his responsibility or fault he was out of pocket. I wasn’t paying him for round-the-clock care. I had retained his services for feeding the cats and doing little things for me when he could. Surprisingly, for me, I wasn’t angry I couldn’t reach him. I was angry with myself for not having thought how I might need him in the days immediately following the surgery. I was angry at myself, for trying to do things, as I have often done, on the cheap. More than that, I was angry & very sad about the choice I’ve made to live alone. Why should I have to pay someone at all to take care of me? And, yet, that, is the consequence of the choice. By choosing to live alone, I also choose to make alternative arrangements to get the care I need when necessary. This, then, became one of the times where I was not happy about living alone. And, there’s yet a third lesson in all this. I’m fortunate enough to have friends, such as the couple who came to my rescue, who will come if asked. The work, is in the asking.

I’m the son of depression era parents. I did not grow up in an affluent family. We by no means struggled, but neither did we live in luxury. What I learned from my parents was to be cautious about money. I will often consider the price of something, even food at the grocery store or at a restaurant, when making a decision. Although recently, I was making a salary where that really didn’t need to be a consideration, I continued to do so. It’s one of the things which cost me my friend’s help when I needed it.

Surprisingly, I will often not be quite so austere when it comes to an impulse buy of one of my toys; typically some electronic item I think I need or want. So the question I have for myself here and now is why? How does it or does it not serve me to continue being frugal over my daily care or food but not so over materialistic items? Why, do I continue to weigh the difference of a dollar here or a dollar there for many necessities? (By the way, while in my opinion I am materialistic, I don’t drive a fancy car or live in a house which says anything about success or money.) I find it an interesting paradox. Trying to love myself more, and yet, staying with old non-blessing habits. The dilemma then is how to love myself more AND do more things which bless me. Not just to simply allow myself the ‘possessions’ which give me a sense of pleasure or well-being, but to allow myself basic needs, such as food or care when I need or want them. For these needs, is it simply the “I’m not good enough” syndrome? Is it the lessons from my parents? Is it a combination of these two? I think so. I think nourishing myself, whether by food or care just seems extravagant. It seems such a silly thing to say, yet it has a ring of truth for me. The question I want to answer then, is this the way I choose to live my life? I really hope it is not. While I don’t want to place myself under an economic hardship, I also don’t want to have missed out on living in a way I will regret. I don’t want to be the guy on my death bed who says, “Gee, I wish I had taken better care and loved myself more.”

So what’s the small step I’m willing to take moving forward? I’m making a commitment to myself to stop penny-pinching on things like food or care. If something is within my means, by George, I deserve to go for it. Whether it’s a meal at Joe’s Stone Crabs (I hardly ever get back to my roots in Miami) or ponying up to have someone take care of me when I might not be able to. It’s the right time to say, “Yes!” instead of “Maybe” or “Someday.” There might not be enough “Somedays” left. While I am young-at-heart and in good health, there’s no way of knowing when the call to go ‘Home’ will come. (I’ve promised myself when that time comes, I won’t try to barter for extra time. I’ll go with the peace of having done what I can in this life as well as I was able. Isn’t that what writing this blog is about?)

Are there things in your life you don’t bless yourself with? Leave a comment if you feel brave; I do believe it takes courage to talk about these things. Courage, is something I am finding I have more of. Ever since, December 2000.

How Am I Changing?: I’m willing to bless myself more when it’s called for. I  want to live a life of fulfilling my desires. And, by asking for help, when I need it. That may in fact be the bigger challenge.

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What Is Home?

Playing Solitaire at the Salvation Army

© Donny Hornstein

I’ve known quite a few persons in my life for 50+ years. Some, have only really become what I’d call a friend in the last 10 years or so. I’ve known my friend, Willie since December 2000, almost 14 years. Yet, I would say he is not only one of my closest friends, but someone who knows me almost as well as my birth brother. In some ways, better.

Here’s some history. In December 2000, Willie and I had both signed up to do a New Warrior Training Adventure. We were assigned to carpool together. We emailed a few times before we actually left for our training and I liked him from the get-go. He uses a Mac, so I knew he must be good people. I think he would agree, that weekend was life changing; it was for me, for sure. On that weekend, one of the things I noticed about Willie was how social a person he is. While I was content, maybe not the right word, to stay in my own little world, Willie probably knew every man on the weekend before it was over. There were probably 40 or more men there.

Willie, as long as I’ve known him, is what I call a Golden Child. What I mean by that, he could fall down in a hog trough full of manure and come up smelling like he’d just bathed in rose water. Putting it another way, from one of the two brief stints I’ve had in what’s called network marketing or multi-level marketing, one of my leaders there once said, “If you could build a church, you can be very successful here.” Willie is the kind of person who, if he started a church tomorrow, which right now would be Saturday, would have a full congregation on Sunday.

For several years, Willie’s been working on a project he calls “We Are All Homeless.” At first, this was about his buying the cardboard signs from the folks on the side of the road. He’s since had a few gatherings of friends, holding the signs he’s bought, in fairly prominent places around Dallas. He’s done a TEDx talk on it. He’s had art gallery showings. And now, he’s making a movie. A full length documentary. He’s been interviewed by many newspapers, TV and Radio stations, to include a segment on NPR’s All Things Considered. Like I said, a Golden Child.

Yesterday, at lunch, we talked. About how my job hunt was going. About how I was healing from my surgery. And, about his film. It sounds to be an extraordinary endeavor with all kinds of persons getting involved. Who knows, with Willie, it might win a documentary Academy Award. During the course of lunch and the conversation, Willie hit me with a question I wasn’t prepared for. Would I be willing to be interviewed for the film about what home means to me? I was both flattered and frightened. I don’t do my best thinking spontaneously in person; that’s why I write. I answered him with a partial truth: Having been a former photojournalist, I was much more comfortable behind the camera than I was in front of it. The real, untold story, until now, is I was much more frightened about not being so eloquent on camera. So, this blog piece is my way of taking care of me. I can think out my answer here, before I’m in front of the camera. And, this may just be a start to think about how and what I’ll really say when the time comes.

So, What is Home?

It’s where I feel safe. When I was young, and living in my parents home, I mostly felt safe. On the odd times when my father was raging, no, but most other times, yes. And, I must admit, I was a great trigger for his raging. I knew, in many cases, just how to get him started. His raging and my ability to start it was one of many reasons, beside being married only for three years in my 50s, why I chose not to have children. I told myself, if I had a boy like me, I’d have to kill him. I’m sure that’s an exaggeration, but it always felt true to how I saw myself as a catalyst for my father’s rage.

Home is where I can hide from the world. I’ve never been much of a social animal, so home is where I can stay to hide away from everyone else. Much of the time, I like my solitude. Some times, I don’t. But, the majority of the time, I do. I can sit, watch TV, read, listen to music or the radio, and not have to worry about someone else not liking what I’m doing.

I’m pretty crummy as a decorator. So, my home looks, well, like a bachelor lives there. I will admit, there are often times I wish I had what most would call a ‘normal’ home. Well decorated, nice furniture, clean. Instead, there’s always stuff piled everywhere. Not as bad as some homes I’ve seen, but nowhere near as nice as others I’ve admired. Yet, there must be a part of me that doesn’t really care what my home looks like. Else, I would do something about it. So home is a place for me which doesn’t need the approval of others; and, sometimes I’m embarrassed to invite someone in.

Home is also a place to be thankful for. I’m grateful everyday I have someplace to call home. I’ve gone through periods of unemployment and slow work where I was deathly afraid I’d wind up under an overpass somewhere – like many of the persons Willie has purchased signs from. I mentioned this to him once. I remember him saying, “That’s not gonna happen.” Somehow, I believed him and that particular fear has not come back a knockin’ for a long time now.

I like to cook. I don’t do much cooking outside of simple things anymore, but when I do, I enjoy it. So, home is a place I can nourish my body with food I prepare.

This is something I’ve only recently discovered about myself. I really like clean sheets at least, usually only, once a week. So, home is a place to crawl under clean sheets to sleep on a Friday night.

Finally, home is my place. Where I live. Where I sleep. Where I spend time. Where I can have a friend over if I want. Where I can call this place, my own. Home, in other words, is where I want home to be. All the time. Anytime.

I’m sure there are other things I’ve not thought of here. Maybe I’ll think of them when Willie and his crew put a camera and microphone in my face. At any rate, stay golden Willie boy. Thanks for the challenge.

How Am I Changing?: I’m willing to take a stretch when a friend asks me if I’d be willing to do so.

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Suicide…It Isn’t Painless

Since 2006, maybe even a little before, suicide has shown up in my life. There have been three which have touched me and at least one other where I knew the person who chose to leave this world by their own hand. Two of these were friends. One was someone I knew of, but never met. All three impacted me in some way.

The first happened, as I’ve said, in late 2006. This was a man I’d only recently gotten to know. We had been in the same men’s group together for a while. I’d originally known him from this perspective, but was able to know him much better when he became a part of a regular group of men I met with on a weekly basis. I got to know him even better when he and I carpooled together to a men’s weekend about two-and-one-half hours from where we live; so, I spent five hours alone with this guy just getting to know him and allowing him to know me. I liked and a had a great deal of respect for this man. He was someone from my industry, information technology, and he really knew his stuff. He’d begun an online group for the men from my Warrior community (I’ve written about that before.) For several years before his suicide, he’d had quite a bit of tsuris, as we say in Yiddish, or trouble or distress as Merriam-Webster defines it. He’d gone through a divorce and his ex had custody of their child. He had developed a fairly serious illness where his body was fighting against him – almost all the time. And, he battled some other inner demons. Sitting together with him in our group, I had no idea how serious this all was affecting him. Not until one of my best friends, whom he had been living with, came home and found him dead. Like so many things in his life, this man had carefully thought out how we do it, then, he did. I was shocked, sad and on one level glad for him to have ended his pain. I went to his funeral. I don’t really remember if I shed any tears that day. What I do remember is being sad I would no longer see my friend again. I’m not really aware of much in the way of aftermath to me from his suicide. I do know, the man had made a drum to use in the work we do in Warriors. His roommate’s decision was to place this drum in the room where the staff meets during a Warrior weekend. I thought this was appropriate and fully supported the ceremony we put together to commemorate this man. On a subsequent staffing, I found the drum was gone, not in the place of honor we had left it. That, disturbed me. So on yet another staffing, when I found the drum back, my fear, anger and sadness all came into play such that I removed the drum to give it a place in my home. It sits there today. I asked for and received the blessing of my friend, this man’s roommate, to do so. I often think about this man, this friend, and I miss him. I understand and accept his choice, but there is a hole inside me for him. If I were to use one feeling word about this suicide, it would be sad. I’m sad, Jim, I miss you.

The second time I was impacted by suicide was five years later in late 2011. This, too, was a shock – but not as much as the first as that was totally unexpected. At least a few years before, this second man had called me, either very late at night or early in the morning depending on your perspective, to ask me to come to his house. He said he had been out with a bicycle in traffic and had been suicidal. Of course, I got dressed and went over to his place as quickly as I could. Once there, I found him, his wife and another close friend of his and mine there. We talked. Drank coffee. Decided it would be best for the man if he checked into the hospital psychiatric ward, at least overnight, to get a professional evaluation of his state of mind. We drove him to the hospital. When we left, we were convinced the right decision had been made. Ultimately, the man left without ever having checked in. I was sad, and scared, but I also was able to trust he knew what was best for him. Men who knew him, kept watchful eyes on him, and I have to admit, he seemed OK. Better. Not so troubled. I relaxed. This man was also a Warrior. I staffed a few times with him after this event. During two of those staffings, there is a time on Saturday evening when a ritual elder asks men of the staff to bless another man if he feels so compelled. Twice, this man came to offer a blessing to me, done through the cleansing of the man being blessed with a scented, warm wash cloth. Both times he looked directly at me and said, “I owe you my life. You saved me.” I cried hard, both times. It was difficult for me to accept the blessing of another man. I thought I had done what any reasonable person would do, so why should I be blessed for that? It’s part of that “Not good enough” shadow I carry. Then, in 2011 I received another phone call. My friend had accomplished what he’d set out to do several years before. He took his own life. I was shocked, again. I was sad, again. I was angry. This time, he hadn’t called and asked for help, he just ended his life. I went to a tribute for him, and I spoke about him, his life and what he’d meant to me. So did many others. I don’t remember going to his funeral, or if there was a funeral.

This second man had been responsible for an annual sort of picnic in our community. He was from Louisiana and he was the cook for our annual crawfish boil. He was very good at it. He enjoyed it. And, dare I say, many came because they enjoyed the food – and the man who prepared it. A decision was made to continue the tradition and to name it after him. I’ve been angry about that for the last several years. While I don’t think it’s a sin to end your own life, I didn’t think it was correct to name an event for a man who had committed suicide. As I’ve said, at every new annual occurrence, I became angry, and confused, when I saw his name attached to the event. How dare someone honor a man who had taken his own life by commemorating the event with his name. How dare they!

It wasn’t until the most recent suicide, that of Robin Williams, I allowed myself the gift of looking behind what was driving this anger in me about the second man. I never balked at any of the tributes bestowed upon Mr. Williams. Not once. So what was driving this anger about my friend? It was my old pal/nemesis, sadness. I was sad the second man hadn’t reached out to me a second time. I was sad he had chosen what, in my judgment, was a terrible way to die. I was sad he would never prepare the crawfish at our annual gathering again. I was sad I wouldn’t get a chance to tell him I thought he was a good man. A good father. A man who brought blessing to others. I was sad. And, I had covered it up the way I’ve covered sadness before in my life – I camouflaged it with anger. I felt a big weight lifted from me with that realization. I’m good, no great, with the idea we as a community, have an annual event with this man’s name associated with an event he began. I bless you, Raymond, for the joy you brought to so many others, but mostly, I bless you for the joy and blessings you brought to me. I hope you are at peace. That is my blessing for you, this day, my friend.

The Last Salute

© Donny Hornstein

I think it’s so important for me to remember all the persons who’ve somehow touched my life. As a Jew, I was taught, “We Shall Never Forget” about the Holocaust. While that may well apply to the way in which the Jewish people were annihilated by the Nazis, it also means to not forget the six million who were lost. In my mind, it’s one of the reasons Yom HaShoah, or the Holocaust Remembrance Day came into being. Whether it’s six million or just a handful, the memories will be forever embedded in my soul. I shall not forget.

How Am I Changing?: It’s incredibly important for me to feel the pain of loss and more especially the sadness of loss. To camouflage that pain, serves no one, least of all me.

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