Why People Are Getting More and More Neurotic

I spent most of my life just accepting everything in the world. I didn’t think I had any other choice. After all, it was created by adults, and I was just a punk kid taking up space. Then it dawned on me one day that much of what we consider to be normal is not, at all.

Part of the problem is human beings adapt to change very well. We can get used to just about anything. If a fleet of flying saucers landed on the White House lawn tomorrow morning and a bunch of slimy aliens with hundreds of eyeballs got out and said hello, we’d all freak out for a day or two, but then we’d go back to talking about the usual crap. We would move on. The same is true of the following stuff that makes us neurotic but we’ve come to accept as “normal” – – 


Up until 100 years or so ago, only the wealthy could afford to hire a photographer to get a personal portrait or family photo taken. Before that, people had to be even more wealthy to afford to hire an artist to paint their rough likeness. Before that, if you wanted to see yourself, you had to look into a puddle of water and risk getting your nose bit off by a snapping turtle. As time passed, photography became cheaper and easier. Now that we don’t have to buy film anymore, even the most mundane moments are chronicled – photos of lunch, for example.

But what really makes us neurotic are two things – seeing hundreds of photos and videos of ourselves in the prime of our youths makes getting older harder than ever before, and seeing photos and videos of friends and family who have passed away makes getting over their loss harder than ever before. How many people are out there right now in dark rooms with curtains drawn, longing for the glory days of their youth and/or watching home movies of deceased loved ones for the thousandth time, trapped in the past?  



Human spirits are more suited to village life, walking everywhere, knowing the same few hundred people from birth to death, people who will notice if we friggin’ die in our sleep. In the city, nobody notices somebody is missing until they notice an odor while walking by the house. There is also a lack of accountability in being able to be a total bastard and never get called on it because nobody ever sees anybody twice anyway. It’s the best place to be a prick (or criminal) for those who are so inclined.


The division between Republicans and Democrats has never been deeper or more caustic. It seems we’ve lost the ability to talk and maintain some emotional detachment from those who disagree with us. There have always been political differences – some Romans hated Caesar (and kept it to themselves!) and some loved him, and up until recently, people could disagree without hating or wanting to hurt each other. Presidential candidate Ben Carson nailed it when he said, “You can read the public comments under any news story on the internet, and no matter what it’s about, it won’t take long before you see people cursing and threatening each other. Where did this spirit come from? Definitely not from our Judeo-Christian background. Something is wrong in America.” Again, the easiest thing to do (calling people names) is the worst thing to do. If the goal is to truly influence people, we must be respectful. 


The Civil Rights Movement was a huge success. Ask any eighty-year old black person how their childhood was compared to the lives of the average black child today. A lot of whites got their heads busted open by police batons and got bitten by police dogs during those marches, too. A lot of whites died to end slavery. Most whites are still basically good, as are most members of every race. In fact, most whites bend over backwards to prove how non-racist they are.

But if you watch the news, which seems hellbent on driving us all into a murderous rage, especially if you’re black, you would think nothing had improved. This is because the news is run by the same corporations that regular TV shows are, and they notice a spike in ratings and viewership when they sensationalize and exaggerate stories, and make us all sick and suspicious of each other. People being nice to each other doesn’t make the news, but when someone punches, stabs or shoots someone, they’re all over it. So 99% of the world is getting along great but the other 1% gets all the attention, which gives us a skewed version of reality every day, especially for those who don’t get out of the house much, or don’t get out of their own group much.

Victor Fankl wrote, “There are two races – the decent and the indecent. The best way to end racism is stop thinking and talking about it, for each of us to stop seeing skin color and look to the heart of each person we meet. Again, that’s harder than just categorizing people into groups – black, white, brown, yellow, red, liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, rich, poor, etc.

Morgan Freeman said it best in this interview – 



The irony of bloggers spending countless hours alone for the purpose of “communication” is lost on most people. Most people in today’s internet generation actually think Facebook posts are human interaction. They gain confidence when strangers “like” their posts and lose it when followers fall away. Strangers who could be mildly insane for all they know. Strangers they wouldn’t even want to talk to if they met them on the street.

If we insist on pursuing blogging, we should look at losing followers as refining our base, shedding dead weight, separating the grain from the chaff. That is, building a community, albeit digital, of like-minded, like-souled human beings. We should be pleased when someone stops following us the same way we would be happy if someone we didn’t like and who didn’t like us left a party we were attending.



A friend once posted on Facebook that he couldn’t care less if anybody likes his posts, then I saw him check and re-check that post repeatedly to see how many people had liked and commented on it. Oh, the irony!

Like blogging, especially for teenagers, our self-worth depends far too much on how many “friends” (again, 98% of which we haven’t met and will never meet) we have, how many likes or comments our posts get, etc., and we stare at our iPhones when living human beings who we could actually talk and laugh with are sitting right next to us. So many missed opportunities for real conversations with real people, for the sake of typed, brief comments from strangers on the internet. Who hasn’t seen a couple on a date in a restaurant, both of them staring at their phones? I mean, really, what is happening to us? Are we really going to allow ourselves to be led by the nose like this? Apparently, yes.


(Find the person with the most peace of mind in this photograph.)

I’m not saying we should all throw away our phones, but for the love of God, can we ignore them while we’re having dinner with family or on a date? Can we resist peeking at every text that comes in for one hour before we rush back to it like a junkie to a needle as soon as our friend or family member says goodbye?


Until the last thirty years or so, men could be thin and women could be a bit chunky, and both found the other wildly attractive anyway. Consider the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello beach movies. The butts on some of the women in those movies would be ridiculed today, and the guys, even the ones who were supposed to be “tough”, were wimps by modern standards. 

Nowadays, however, men are supposed to look like Conan the Barbarian and women are supposed to be thin and athletic, but somehow still with large breasts, which consist mainly of fat. Of course, the only people who have absolutely no problem with these impossibly high standards are plastic surgeons and peddlers of fitness programs and equipment. 


We can’t live without them, but car crashes take over 300 lives a day in America alone. That’s the equivalent of one commercial plane crashing every day. But we accept it because we love the convenience, privacy and sometimes the prestige of our cars. The fact is, however, the human body is not supposed to sit in a steel contraption traveling at high rates of speed. The human mind is not supposed to sit in traffic for hours a day, either. This is why people are so much nicer outside of their cars than inside them.



“Oh, God. He’s gonna get all puritanical now. What a sanctimonious pain in the ass.”

 Have you ever watched one of those shows from the 1950’s or 60’s like Leave it to Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show? If you’re like most people, part of you probably thought it was quaint or cute, a little boring compared to modern shows due to the lack of swearing and violence, and you saw the characters as somewhat simple-minded and dull.

But were they? The people of the 1950’s had survived two world wars, Korea, the Great Depression, and diseases there was no cure for such as polio. In other words, they saw a lot of death and misery. They weren’t naive and simple, they chose to be wholesome because they had seen so much that wasn’t. Yet despite all that, their minds were pure compared to the average person’s mind today, untainted by the thousands of murders the average TV viewer sees in his or her lifetime, or the sordid and depraved acts the unfortunate patrons of pornography subject their minds to. Porn is not about sex, it’s about domination. It’s customers are men who resent and objectify women, and enjoy seeing them degraded. 

When I was about twenty-one, I went to a friend’s house on a Saturday night. He was having a get-together because his mother (who was divorced) was out of town for the weekend. When I got there, his younger stepbrother had five of his high school friends over. My friend, who was a little older than me, said “watch this” and put a porno movie in the VCR. A montage of graphic sex scenes started to play. I wasn’t the most mature 21-year old in the world but even I could see the irresponsibility in showing children porno. Most of them were quiet as they watched, probably stunned silent, but one of them kept saying, with wide eyes, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God” the same way he might have if he saw something horribly violent. I knew I was watching a brain being re-wired. I knew he was being damaged. It was all in his voice and on his face. Innocence was being smashed. I got up and turned it off. Somebody had to be the adult in the room. But it was too late for all of them.

This is why pornographers intentionally market their “product” to children. There was even a porn site once (before it got shut down) with the address fisney.com because they knew children would accidentally hit the F key next to the D key while typing disney.com. They would immediately see explicit images. Advertisers hired by pornographers consult psychologists the way any other ad agency does. They exploit the natural curiosity children and teenagers have about sexuality and what adults do behind closed doors. Like the Catholic church, they know if they get them as a child, they’ll own them for life.

Most of us are more careful about what we eat than what we feed our mind, then we expect it to have no lasting effect on us. Personally, when I watch an old movie, I envy how childlike and pure their minds were, and I miss how childlike and pure America (and I) used to be. I sometimes feel that America and I lost our innocence at the same time, starting mainly with the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam war. What was left our innocence crashed and burned during the 60’s.

Conflict is the essence of drama, so there’s no way around violence, physical or psychological. We’ve got to wade through the bad to get to the good. (Seeing the bad guys get punished and the good guys rewarded.) But it’s a matter of sophistication. A good example of this is the movie Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock. A woman is killed in a shower but we never see the knife piercing her skin. We see a shadowy figure, a knife being raised, see and hear her screaming, the curtain hooks being pulled off one by one as she falls, and blood running down the drain. It was horrifying for its time but extremely tame by today’s standards, even for TV.

In ancient Roman theater, if an actor got an arm cut off in the script, he got an arm cut off. If he died, he actually died. Talk about commitment to the craft! As the centuries passed, we became more civilized. By the time “talking pictures” (movies) were invented, murders were sanitized. Censorship extended this custom. When censorship was lifted, movies gradually became what Bob Dole correctly called “nightmares of depravity and violence.”

Do we really need to see the brains or entrails spill out? Isn’t that what imagination is for? The same is true of sex. In old movies, the couple got into bed, smiled at each other, then pulled the chain on the lamp by the bed. We all knew what happened next. Now we see it all in lurid detail. As the poet Charles Bukowski once wrote, “Show me a well-turned ankle in a white sundress and I’m ready to go. Show me everything at once and it’s hamburger on a plate. I’m not interested.” (Paraphrased.)

I love movies. I love seeing bad guys get taken out. It’s in our blood as human beings to tell stories. But what does it do to the mind to see endless representations of the worst of humanity, even if the movie ends with the good guys winning? Does it help us advance as a species to constantly set the bar so low? Some movies inspire and remind us of the power of cinema to transform minds/hearts, but most are just mental junk food. i.e., “They killed his family. Now he’s out for revenge.” 

So what’s the answer? I’m not moving to a cave in the Himalayas anytime soon, so all I or any of us can do is be careful about what we put in our minds because we become what we think about, be careful not to confuse who we are online with who we really are, and have just a little respect for the sanctity and purity of our inner world. What else do we really own, after all?

The degree to which one scoffs at this idea or writes it off as naive marks two distances – how far they have traveled from their original childlike (some might say God-like) purity, and how far they need to travel from this polluted world to the time when their mind was clean and their heart was happy, before the poisons were willingly and repeatedly ingested. 

There’s no way to say any of the above without sounding preachy. That’s not my intent. In my own life, my intent is to purify my mind/heart/soul because I’ve seen enough of the darkness. I’ve seen people killed up close. A man died in my arms as the blood from a bullet wound in his chest squirted through my fingers. I put my hand on a blood stain on the ground and prayed for the soul of a child who had died there the day before. I’ve walked through murder scenes and scraped coagulated blood off my shoes. I’ve beaten the hell out of two would-be rapists. And I’m not even a soldier or a cop. I’ve just lived in Los Angeles too long.

When I was a teenager, I actually thought I needed to see violent movies and horror movies to prepare myself for this world. As a father now of two girls, I realize, as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “Violence is not strength, compassion is not weakness.” As James Garner’s character in Murphy’s Romance (the kind of movie that uses conflict wisely) said after walking out of a slasher flick, “I saw that up close in Korea. I’m not going to pay good money to see it again.”

I’ve always had questions and doubts about faith, so it’s difficult for me to be impressed or moved by sermons. But one Sunday something the pastor said rang true for me. He said, “A lot of people think the commandments and other rules Christians strive to live by are meant to take away their fun. But they’re really like street signs and traffic laws. They weren’t created to keep you from driving, they were created to keep you alive and out of trouble.” 

Should we give in to lower impulses or live in an old-fashioned way, like the 1950’s when people still expected something from each other? When no man left the house at night without a suit and hat? When every man carried a handkerchief in his breast pocket, not for himself but for a lady who might need one. When it was shameful for anyone to curse, especially women. When a man who cursed around a woman was guaranteed a punch in the mouth.

Lazy thinking and living is easier, of course, but the bad choices always are. It’s hard to do the right thing, to say no to anything we know will hurt our mind/heart/spirit, just as it’s hard to turn down the slop burger and fries everyone else is eating when we’re trying to get our bodies in shape. So I suppose it’s just a matter of discipline. Nobody ever said being a holy man/woman was easy.

I miss the purity of the 1950’s, and of my own childhood. I guess I always will. I’ve learned all I can learn from the night. From here on in, I’ll take the morning, when the day is as innocent as the baby blue sky, and anything is still possible.



Statues Are Not The Problem


When we can’t solve personal problems, we go after impersonal ones. If people can’t fix the gang problem, drug abuse, drug trafficking, fatherless homes, the high school drop-out rate, street violence, criminality, and a completely shattered moral compass, they’ll just go beat up people and tear down a statue instead. That’s a lot easier, and may also be an outlet for the rage they feel over all those other, bigger, unsolved, chronic problems.

Has a statue of anyone ever stepped down off a podium to mess up anyone’s life? No, we do that all by ourselves.

I’m no fan of the confederacy, of course, and I wish slavery never would have happened in America, but  I keep in mind that America is the only country that ever fought a war, in large part, to abolish it at the cost of many lives. I remind myself that a lot of white people died in that war. I also remind myself that slavery existed in most other countries of the world at one time or another, and still does today in quite a few. I remind myself that slavery existed in Africa long before whites ever showed up. It didn’t start with us. But we ended it with a Civil War at the cost of 620,000 lives.

So as I watch people tear down statues, I wonder if they ever stop to think that – instead of trying to erase history – it might be wiser to take that energy and fight to add another little plaque at the feet of those statues that will teach children the Confederacy lost, that slavery lost, that hatred lost. That’s something to be proud of, and unique in world history. It’s true that forgetting history condemns us to repeat it. And destroying statues is what Islamic terrorists do. 

If America were a person with a voice, she would be able to say, “Yeah, I had some major problems, but I fixed them. It wasn’t easy, but I’m okay now. Not perfect, but a whole lot better than I was.”

How many of the people currently trying to destroy the evidence of America’s problems of the past can say the same about themselves?

Personally, I’d rather have a visual tool to teach my kids that the good guys won, let them see what a bad guy looks like, and have another reason to be proud of America for all she has overcome. I’d rather stand at the foot of that statue and smile, knowing evil lost.

The irony is that if every person on earth would get their own house in order, all societal problems would cease immediately. But “becoming the change we want to see in the world” is hard so, instead, as an outlet for all the frustration and rage people feel for not being able to change themselves, they just go out and smash something, or someone. Being paid by a political party to cause mayhem and division makes them not only fools, but pawns, too. 



We can be better than this. We can be smarter than this. We can fight fascism without becoming fascists. We can embrace our past and learn the hard lessons it taught, or destroy it all and guarantee that future generations will forget and repeat it. 


Paradise Almost Lost


Do you ever feel like our parents and/or grandparents got the best of America? Open any American magazine before 1965 and you’ll see people who dressed impeccably, had haircuts that actually improved their appearance, and generally looked terrific. Now people wear shorts and sandals to the opera.

Imagine what it feels like to walk through any neighborhood at night without worry. To know you can take your children to a movie and not be dive-bombed by inappropriate content or veiled political messages. To be able to trust other people. To feel comfortable in your body just as it is without feeling compelled to go to the gym every day. Men were “wimps” and women were fat by today’s standards (that was the ideal, actually) and everyone was happier.

Imagine what it feels like to make enough money at a normal job to pay for a house and car. To drive a car that’s more like a UFO. To listen to music that didn’t need mature audience warning labels. To live in a world where being a thug is shameful, not something to be proud of. A world where modesty was still a virtue. (Jayne Mansfield showed her boobs in a movie in a desperate attempt to revive her career and she was shunned. It ended her career forever.)

I suppose we needed to loosen up a bit, and the music and movies were so clean largely because of censorship, but it seems we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. It depends on who you ask, but even with the things that needed to improve in America like race relations (and did), I’d happily go back just so I could go two full days without hearing about a carjacking or gang shooting.



I’m probably more nostalgic than most, especially about California, because I lived part of the 60’s, the tail end of a period of grace. The guy on the left in the photo above (Bill Cunningham) was my dad’s best friend. My parents, brother and I visited him and his wife and three kids or they us every other weekend for most of my childhood. He influenced me to stay in shape and honor my health. He was a bodybuilder in a sea of other Irish immigrant males who smoked, drank and had horrible diets. He always had a joke at the ready and helped me take life less seriously. He greeted me enthusiastically and made me feel special, even though I was just a kid. He also made me interested in Frankie and Annette movies. 

Watching those old movies today, they seem like pure fantasy, but for the late 50’s and early 60’s in California, they were the reality most surfers knew. California was still a mostly undeveloped paradise, and if a surfer saw another surfer pass him on Pacific Coast Highway, they probably knew each other. I was a very observant child (probably why I became a writer) and absorbed that culture – the happy energy of the beach, the parties with Sinatra, Sammy and Dean playing in the background, my parents and their friends laughing with strange, brightly-colored cocktails in their hands, cars like Hot Wheels in a caravan to Palm Springs swimming pools, kind adults who seemed happier than I perceive adults to be today, and flower children determined to change the world with peace and love. I know nothing gold can stay, but I never expected it all to be washed away so completely either. 

So what do we do? The best answer, as the old saying goes, is to “become the change you want to see in the world.” There’s no going back, but we can bring it back with our attitude and become the kind of person others say “they don’t make ’em like him anymore” about. I feel like I do that most of the time, but I sure wish I didn’t have to share air with the monsters this society seems to be churning out. Those noble men in WWI and WWII didn’t die to create a better America just so I/we could hand it over to trash. So I’ll continue to be wholesome, but I’ve got a black belt to go with it and am working on a second one (Krav Maga) so if a monster makes its way into my wholesome world, trying to hurt me or some other wholesome person, God help him. I’m old school that way, too. I will get involved. I love peace, and innocent life, and I will kill to protect them both. We can no longer afford to keep our heads in the sand. Paradise must be protected.

Sorry to end this on such a sour note, but I just read another story about a carjacking. A daily occurrence in Los Angeles, but this time a six-year old boy was in the back of the car, and the car was found with him inside, shot to death. I probably shouldn’t write when my heart is so heavy. A line from one of my favorite movies, Tombstone, comes to mind. The bad guys attacked a house full of women and ambushed Virgil. Morgan says to Wyatt, “They’re bugs, Wyatt. There ain’t no living with bugs.” Nothing has changed except firepower and tolerance.

Celebrity Deaths


Man, what a year. It seems more celebrities died in 2016 than any year ever. For this reason, and also the most contentious election in recent memory, most of us were happy to see 2016 go. 

Some wonder why people make such a big deal out of celebrities dying. “You don’t even know them,” they say. “What did they ever do for you?” It’s because they’re not just mourning that person, they’re mourning the part of their life they represent. 

I remember watching the Mary Tyler Moore Show with my parents when they were young and healthy, the world was new to me, and my little family didn’t have a worry in the world. Good art of any kind can connect us to moments in our lives like a teleportation machine. Paintings, sculptures, even just tabletop knick-knacks, bring back happy memories of the event, day or moment they were bought and who we were with. Songs, books, and TV shows are portals to the past, and the artists seem like friends, even though we may have never met them. 

Now that my brother and dad are gone, I regress a lot (too much, actually), fantasizing about being back there again, all of us whole and happy, the future still unwritten. Then I look at my wife and kids and realize, as hard as it is to let go of what was, of the people I’ve lost and all they were to me, my wife and children are all that matter now. So, for them, I commit to living in the moment again, and that saves me from despairing completely. With my tendency toward melancholy and romanticizing the past, I don’t know what I would do if I were alone. 

So when I mourn another artist who made my family and I laugh in simpler days, I’m not only mourning that artist, I’m mourning the loss of my own past that their creation was a small part of. This is fine for any of us to do, as long as we wipe the tear away – for them and all the yesterdays we can never live again – so we can see the road ahead. There’s a lot more living to do up there.

Black Lives Matter vs. The Police




“We just want respect.”
“We just want to be seen as human beings.”
“We need them to understand the reality we live with every day.”
” We want them to stop painting us all with the same brush.”
“We just want to make it through the day without being harassed or shot at.”


“We just want respect.”
“We just want to be seen as human beings.”
“We need them to understand the reality we live with every day.”
” We want them to stop painting us all with the same brush.”
“We just want to make it through the day without being harassed or shot at.”

New Book Release: Chicken Soup for the Soul – The Spirit of America

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

My story “The Sixty-Year Old Little Girl” is in this new book – Chicken Soup for the Soul book – The Spirit of America, available now at Walmart, Barnes and Noble and online.

I have contributed to twenty Chicken Soup for the Soul titles now and am always proud to do so because of the positivity, inspiration and light they bring to a world that sometimes seems to grow more negative every day. This election is a perfect example. It’s not so much about the politicians. They’ve always been ruthless. What disturbs me more is the Americans becoming violent with each other for having differences of opinion rather than discussing it, even if that means yelling at each other. So at this time more than any other, I’m proud to be part of something that can help bring Americans together. Here is the official press release from Chicken Soup for the Soul headquarters:

This book focuses on what unites us, not what divides us. When Chicken Soup for the Soul’s author, editor-in-chief and publisher Amy Newmark decided to collect stories for a book about the spirit of America more than a year ago, she never anticipated how much we, as a nation, would need this book. “I knew that we would need an antidote to all the negativity that always arises during a presidential election year, but I had no idea it would get this bad,” she said. “We recognize there are significant problems that need to be addressed, but we do live in a wonderful country. We can forget that sometimes amid all the emotions of the election process. 

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America is our chicken soup for our fellow Americans—a reminder of why we are all so passionate about what we believe is best for our country. I hope this collection of 101 stories about everything American will help to unite us, not divide us.”

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America takes us on a journey across our beautiful nation, meeting our veterans, active service members and their families; revisiting the patriotism and unity of 9/11; showing us the ingenuity and positive attitude that we’re known for; displaying the diversity of our geography and our people; relating stories about our favorite American traditions; and introducing us to proud new citizens who remind us how lucky we are to live here—with our freedom to advance, to move, and to express ourselves. There’s even a whole chapter on the American flag, with inspiring stories about how much the red, white and blue means to us, right in time for Flag Day on June 14th.

“As we do often, we are using this book to raise money for a worthy cause – and one that is very relevant to its subject matter – the Bob Woodruff Foundation and its Stand Up for Heroes fundraising program,” said William J. Rouhana, Jr., chief executive officer of Chicken Soup for the Soul. “This is the second time that we have earmarked royalties from one of our books to raise funds for the Bob Woodruff Foundation to support their work with post–9/11 injured service members, veterans and their families.”

The book’s foreword writer Lee Woodruff, who is married to broadcaster Bob Woodruff, says, “The people you meet in these pages, and the tales they tell, will remind you why we are the most fortunate people in the world—Americans.” She talks about her particular passion—the military—in the foreword. After her husband was wounded while embedded as a reporter with the Army in Iraq, Lee saw our military at its best, saving her husband’s life. And she and Bob have given back in a major way, founding the Bob Woodruff Foundation to support programs that provide health and social services for veterans.

Chicken Soup for the Soul, the world’s favorite and most recognized storyteller, publishes the famous Chicken Soup for the Soulbook series. With well over 100 million books sold to date in the U.S. and Canada alone, more than 250 titles, and translations into more than 40 languages, “chicken soup for the soul” is one of the world’s best-known phrases and is regularly referenced in pop culture. Today, 23 years after it first began sharing happiness, inspiration and hope through its books, this socially conscious company continues to publish a new title a month, but has also evolved beyond the bookstore with super premium pet food, television shows and movies, and a variety of other digital content and licensed products, all inspired by stories, as it continues “changing the world one story at a time®.”

To receive a review copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America or to request an interview, please contact Tanya Taylor Miciak at 615.254.9389 or tanya@triple7pr.com

CONTACT: Tanya Taylor Miciak 615.254.9389