Saturday, April 29, 2006

Wordland and Other Thoughts


I know my current diary cannot compete with the adventures that beset us in Mexico, but one must sometimes make bricks without straw, especially when one’s mood disorder persuades one that one is incapable of making a ham sandwich

This third person neutral prose troubles me. What is the proper usage to acknowledge a reading audience today? You may find it will best serve you to speak in the second person. Or is it better when I speak and the audience becomes the thou, and mutual recognition occurs. When one speaks of one doesn’t one seem some faceless automaton who obeys the directives of the audience and writer? There remains it, the more personal third person, he, and the alternative, she, and the most awkward of all, he/she—which I think has thankfully left the language.

(Among languages English is known for its common sense. As a mutation of Germanic and Romance languages, English is endlessly adaptable, unlike French, a language jealously protected from contamination from inferior tongues. If I could write in any language in 2006, I would choose English. What a luxury that it is my native tongue!)

Interesting to consider how these different usages affect the topography of Wordland. I speak of Wordland, of course, the land that language generates in our brains. Now that I am using the first person plural, do we feel more included or does it strike us as an imposition?

Wordland is nothing like reality. In Wordland the sound of a muffled gong at twilight should generate, at the very least, either leather or brass in the reader’s mind. Or not? Please write.

Perhaps the affinity for image generation from language determines the audience for poetry and the best-written prose.

If words paint they do so through the transducer of the brain, integrating the senses, dominated by vision. Much easier to describe a thing than a sound, smell, touch or taste.

If there is a wide range in our ability to transform language into an ersatz sensory experience, unique to each reader, there must also be a Jungian commonality that allows us to speak of written works to each other for purposes of discussion in Wordland.

Here it gets dicier, because it is words interpreting words until a new commonality of terms becomes the playing field. An upper level rink in the Galleria of Wordland, in other words. One must have a tremendous commonality of language simply to agree to disagree. In disagreeing through the common use of language, one is more in agreement than otherwise.

The existence of literary criticism is evidence of a general understanding of language.

Language need not be propaganda, or a puzzle of texts and context, assumptions deconstructionism, which I poorly understand, sometimes implies.

Language need not have an ulterior motive. It doesn’t have to be used. There can be honest language.

I write a blog without remuneration and only the faintest assurance than anyone reads me.

Why, then, do I write? To write. It’s a pleasure to write. If I do well, the thoughts I put on a page eventually assume a life of their own apart from me. I enjoy that. I also enjoy the progress I’ve made as a writer. For most of my life I was primarily a poet, but I have made some strides in prose in the last few years, and this blog, in addition to its therapeutic value, gives me room to practice.

I most envy the prose style of C. S. Lewis, who always makes me feel like just the two of us are sitting by a fire with a glass of port and talking. I don’t know how he achieves such intimacy in prose, but I suspect it has something to do with humility—not my chief virtue.

Recently I’ve been writing about depression. I didn’t e-mail anyone about it because I thought it wasn’t worth reading. But as T. S. Eliot said in our encounter at the end of my essay on his Four Quartets:

CE: Do you think my attempt to make your work more accessible to those who may not be among “the elite” of any value?

TS: I cannot pass judgment on what you undertake. It would be presumptuous. Let the reader decide.

CE: Good advice.

TS: The only advice.

The link to this issue with that essay is, btw:

T.S. Eliot: Four Quartets

(It’s been nearly three months since the publication of Melic’s last issue and no one to date has written me about the Eliot essay. I’m wondering if anyone has yet managed it. If anyone has, I’d like them to know I’ve revised it, especially the muddy “Overview” section, and I’d be happy to e-mail a revised draft to any who wish it. Just write me at with the subject header, “Eliot.”)

As to my mood, I think I am ascending out of the Slough of Despond, so cross your fingers because human kind cannot bear very much reality.

I intended to write today about our landlord, whom we nicknamed “I’m Not Crazy,” and our new neighbor from Manhattan, whom we nicknamed “I’m Not Creepy.” But I’ll save that for tomorrow, along with the Naked Tile Guy I met at an Irish bar tonight. Not to mention the hippie who pinched my nipples there, then ran after me when I was leaving, screaming “I’m not gay! I’m not gay!”—while begging me to slap his face in retaliation, indeed insisting until I touched his cheek with my finger, something he apparently needed for his primitive version of atonement.

I also want to write about the saga of our dog, Kenyon, and our grandson, Jacob. Something occurred between them 21/2 years ago that nearly tore our family apart, and I recently had a healing experience that seemed to put a cap on the trauma.

To be continued....

4/29 I'm Not Creepy and I'm Not Crazy

Why then has our landlord been christened “I’m Not Crazy”?

It’s simple. When we were first applying for tenancy at his little chalet in the redwoods, he would often call before 8 AM, hardly the hour a writer is generally conscious. One morning he called me to discuss the placement of various skirts around a chimney on the roof of his property, going on at length. I told him I was confused but was willing to listen. He concluded the conversation apparently satisfied, not realizing that he was not speaking with his carpenter. Afterwards the phone rang again, but I chose not to answer it, fearing it was he again. So it was. He left a message. “Doc, I’m sorry I called you earlier about construction issues, I want you to know, despite the appearance, that I’m not crazy.”

When a new acquaintance and prospective landlord feels the need to assure you that he is not crazy, the opposite suspicion blossoms. Hence his moniker.

Near us is another residence, one we considered before renting ours, into which a new tenant just moved. I’m Not Crazy warned us that a new tenant might be moving in, and that he hoped we’d get along. I told INC that we would do our best, but that we considered him our village god should any disputes arise. He gave me an anxious smile.

That same day I thought I heard a car, and going out back discovered a man with disheveled white hair that drooping in curls, a five-day beard, and polyester slacks, looking as seedy as a displaced professor. I approached him and he introduced himself. “I’m just killing time,” he said. “I’m just killing time. I hope you don’t mind. This is so beautiful. It’s the only place I’ve applied for. I hope you don’t mind. I’m just killing time.” He was obviously enraptured by the redwoods, but I found his social graces lacking; not that he was offensive, only in a world apart, in a word, creepy. There are better ways to introduce oneself. “Hi, my name is ___, I’ll be your neighbor, how are you? I hope you don’t mind, I’m just enjoying the view of the woods here. It’s really spectacular.”

Now it was none of my business, but seeing as how this man might be destined to be our near neighbor, I called I’m Not Crazy to render an opinion. I told him his prospective tenant seemed a little creepy to me. He responded by saying “We’re all different, you and I are different.” To which I said, “Yes, but although we are different, I don’t think either of us is creepy.” And that was that.

I’m Not Creepy turned out to be from Manhattan, where he just sold his co-op for God knows how much money. He’s been very friendly, just gave us bookcase today that he didn’t need, but his boundaries are shaky, the kind of person who immediately tells you about his most intimate struggles as if you had been bosom friends for a decade. He desperately wanted to tell me about his troubles with the co-op board, etc., etc., and I could have cared less, but he did go through four glasses of wine in less than half an hour while first visiting with us and unabashedly recited his travails back in Manhattan. At least INC seems harmless.

Thine as Always,


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Micromanaging Melancholy

Yes, give up hope all ye who enter here. I persist in my depression that began three weeks ago, give or take a few mixed states.

I have settled into my negative personality. I imagine explanations for every blow of Kathleen's criticism, though it rarely comes--I am nevertheless prepared for that iron rain.

Everyone ignores me, I am invisible. I sit on the deck and read Keats by the redwoods and wish to become insensate in their towering excellence, their ramrod-straight striving for the sun without apology.

Love Keats' "Ode to Melancholy," one of the best poems I know that tries to make sense out of manic-depression. "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode to a Grecian Urn" skirt the same subject but not so personally.

Kathleen is happy. She tells me I am negative and boring. I wholeheartedly agree while in this state. I am grateful for her company but have no right to expect anything more than a grudging tolerance for my existence. She tells me she loves me but I know better; that's the transparent habit of compassion she's developed for a nobody of no consequence.

I am too tired to catch her in the lie; after all, what difference does it make if I cannot imagine being loved, much less feel love?

It's amazing how very bad Keats was until the last years of his life. The transformation is quick and unforeseen. Beforehand I would never have imagined him becoming a first rate poet, rather relegated as a minor Romantic hack. Only five of all his belabored sonnets are worth saving. Then come "St. Agnes" and the incredible Odes. Go figure.

Dead at 25. Lucky bastard. I see my last twenty years going by in a "poof" of forgettable gray negatives of nothing some fools might mistake for a life.
So much for the happy ramblings of the depressed.

NOTE: None of the above should be construed as strictly true or even what the writer believes, rather a sour exhalation of melancholic vapors.

Thine in Despondency,


Saturday, April 22, 2006


Last night I said to Kathleen, "Kenyon is old and boring." Whereupon she burst into angry tears and left for the upstairs, where we now have a full-size bed. I was afraid to sleep with her and didn't. She claimed I harped on Kenyon's age, I thought I just mentioned it. In trying to clarify my remark this morning, she broke into tears again.

Why are men so stupid?

Kenyon isn't boring when we take him swimming, and he was frisky this morning as he danced around Kathleen with his favorite sock in his mouth. I fear Kathleen without a dog and want to get a puppy. She feels a puppy would shorten Kenyon's life, displacing him.

She is always right because it is her dog.

But Kenyon may have another three years, and I dread the day he goes to doggie heaven, as my sweeheart will weep for weeks.

Can't be helped, I guess.


I've had an awful cold, so bad I needed a chest X-ray. I didn't see anything serious on the X-ray but I'll wait for the radiologist's imprimatur. What's so strange is that I know I'm coughing out of my anterior left lung, and recumbency worsens it, and I've been doing so for two months with various shades of productivity, presently yellow-white. This means it was time to check for TB (from Mexico), lymphoma, lung cancer and other delights. I'll have four weeks off the damn cigs Monday as will Kathleen.

I hate going to doctors. Luckily I saw a PA. Ka-Ching!

I had to tell him how important I was. He told me he knew that I had to know everything. Wise man.

Strange, I always hated hospitals and clinics, even when I worked in them or managed them. I hate the sterility of it all, the implied inhumanity.

Shit, as we have no insurance, they wanted $318 for the chest X-ray! But I get a 30% discount if I pay the bill withing 45 days. Could illegal immigrants be driving the price up? Hmmm.....


Our check from Principal is late this month so we are being forced to be sober because we can't afford booze. I'd like to cut back on our drinking anyway, but as we so recently achieved smobriety, better one thing at a time, so I'm told.

Just a note for today. I'm computer-impaired as I left mine at my sister's like a blockhead. (You know, last minute, I'm telling myself "Don't forget the computer, Doc, don't forget..."

And then I do!)



Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Sky is Falling

As part of my treatment for depression I try to stay busy and avoid being alone, even though I can't stand my own company. So I just finished five days with my oldest daughter and grandson Jacob, and am now visiting my two younger daughters in Long Beach, CA.

Yesterday I had to drive to San Diego for a doctor's appointment, about 100 miles from here, a two hour drive. After my appointment I stopped at Costco for my prescription, then got on the road about 1 PM. But I miscalculated. It was Good Friday and the last day before spring break for many students. But worst of all, it began to rain and rain hard. And nothing so paralyzes SoCal drivers as that strange liquid.

It took me four-and-a-half hours to get back to Long Beach, and I only narrowly avoided rear-ending several herky-jerky drivers who seemed driven by Brownian motion.

Now I used to write a regular column called "View from the Left Coast," but each of the three magazines that featured it eventually went belly-up. Either my column was a curse or this is simply a reflection of the instability of small presses, especially web publications. In any event, since my column on SoCal drivers in the rain is no longer available online (previously published in Savoy, I reprint it below.

I would happily write a column for an e-zine again but I would insist on being paid. Not a lot--just enough to make me feel like a real writer, not some cyberhackwhore who gives it away for free (as I do here!)

Here's the column:

The Sky is Falling!

With our annual rainfall around thirteen inches, the Los Angeles basin qualifies as a desert. Though our climate is labeled "Mediterranean," a low elevation hike in the foothills will quickly convince you by its spiny barrenness that this is a desert-- unless you prefer a jaunt downtown, where the traffic court building has huge planters filled with nothing but dirt. We survive by stealing water from Arizona and Northern California (see Chinatown), though desalinization plants (one is currently being tested on Catalina Island) will make all this moot in the future, given technology's exponential progress.

The Sons of Champlin sang: "Why Do People Run from the Rain?" In LA we don't. Instead we undergo mass paralysis. Freeways move slower than Mississippi mud. Millions call in sick. If "Nobody Walks in LA," then when it rains, we need a stronger pronoun than "nobody"— and "Mad dogs and Englishmen" has already been co-opted by the noonday sun.

Why, when it rains, do our freeways slow to the tempo of blood through plaque-filled coronaries? Our road surfaces are good, their drainage is good, there's really no reason to go less than 60 mph on the freeways when it rains. Yet magically, when it does rain, the freeways fill like seats for The Phantom of the Opera when Michael Crawford was still appearing.

Here's some possible reasons for this peculiarly LA phenomenon, something I've never witnessed in Houston or Seattle:

1) Braking in rain requires longer distances.
2) Water from puddles can impair brake function.
3) It's harder to see through rain.
4) A gray sky makes gray freeways treacherously indistinct.
5) People fear rain by force of unfamiliarity.
6) Not everyone has a SUV just yet.
7) Rain makes Angelenos mooningly homesick for their more temperate birthplaces, since anyone who lives here and was born here is a rarity.
8) Culture shock, or geographic/habitat dystonia, i.e., rain is natural, and LA, artificial.
9) The old man is snoring.
10) The spermatozoa-like rivulets on carnuba-waxed Jaguar hoods can be hypnotizing.
11) Leaking sun roofs and convertible tops.
12) Rain makes one concentrate too much on driving to employ a cell phone effectively.
13) All of the above.
14) None of the above.
15) #5, again. And again.

I asked my favorite California Highway Patrol contact, Officer Judy, to explain the phenomenon.

CE: Why is it that Angelenos go into paralysis when it rains?

OJ: Isn't it obvious?

CE: To you, perhaps.

OJ: We have a term for it.

CE: Yes?

OJ: Toxic Terrapinization.

CE: Huh?

OJ: Notice how each driver feels safe in their carapace, err…vehicle. They can see out the windows of their shell and proceed. When rain smears the windows people begin to lose faith in their vision and thus retract their heads and limbs, so to speak, and proceed at turtle speeds with their heads up their asses. Notice I didn't say tortoise, though perhaps I should, since the tortoise is a desert animal and rain in LA forces drivers into an unwanted state of evolution, back into their amphibious past.

CE: Are you sure it isn't because they can't use their cruise control settings?

OJ: Shit, those aren't any good on our freeways, anyway. Even at 2 A.M.

CE: But don't the windshield wipers help?

OJ: Oh, no, they make it worse. Most people don't know how to turn them on, and those who do are frightened by the noise. It reminds them of the score from Jaws, another aquatic nightmare.

CE: That's the silliest thing I've ever heard.

OJ: Sillier than a cop named "Judy," whose initials remind us all of a great friend of the force, or as we affectionately refer to him, “Bronco-Man?” Strange that grief over his murdered wife nearly drove him to suicide. Hey, you know if anyone’s picked up the reward yet? Rumor has it the killer had a limp and a bad arm.

CE: Oh, stop it. The Smothers Brothers show was canceled ages ago and hear I’m giving you a second chance for notoriety and you’re turning into a bore. What, did your mother contaminate your DNA sample, too?

OJ: No, actually, I think that was my dad. Or a sperm bank.

CE: No wonder they canceled the show, with lines like that.

OJ: Stop rubbing in the carnuba wax.

CE: Ouch!

OJ: As I was saying, the AQMB (Air Quality Management Board) has succeeded in reducing smog for over thirty years, I'll have you know, but they haven't made much headway with this other unwelcome toxin. As all well-informed Californians know, rain spoils the lettuce in our irrigated central valley, causes weeds to sprout in our planned communities, and forces the homeless inside, which frustrates do-gooders, and worst of all, it can ruin the crease in your chinos in a society where appearance is everything. Didn't you know most women under thirty iron their jeans?

CE: I uhh… no……

OJ: Rain is poison. We don't want it. We don't need it. The only people that benefit from the uninvited liquid are the owners of local ski resorts, but they have snow-making machines now so who needs it? Someday they may even progress to permanent synthetic snow, the kind which has successfully adorned Disneyland’s Matterhorn for fifty years. In short, rain is the enemy of the state. Mayor Yorty told me so himself.

CE: You don't look old enough to have known him.

OJ: Give me a break. I saw him on videos then met him through channeling, dufus. Where have you been?

CE: I like to read books and don’t believe in reincarnation, FYI.

OJ: God, you journalistic-literary types are so out of it. See, rain also interferes with our psychic reception, and that's big business. It's hard to get a clear reading from Mafu when it rains. Since a lot of people rely on channeling for automatic driving, so they can use their commute time to practice the saxophone or other important business, having their guidance severed is a crippling blow to transportation and commerce.

CE: So you're telling me that enough drivers depend on spirit guides that when rain impairs communication with the upper reaches, it affects traffic?

OJ: What planet did you say you were from? This is LA!

Per usual, Officer Judy proved a big help in understanding “Toxic Terrapinization.” I'm curious whether it affects Phoenix and San Diego similarly, but not curious enough to go down there and wait for a year just to see some real rain.

Thine in Truth and Rain,

C. E. Chaffin

Monday, April 10, 2006

Back to Depression with Kenyon

Kathleen’s in NY until 4/17 and I have sunk into a depression. As a bipolar I, I knew I was in a mixed state at the motel in Fort Bragg. As my last post described, our new abode filled me with anxiety for the very contrast between the starkness of our indoor environment and the luxuriance of the coastal redwoods. I started lithium while there, and by the time I arrived at my daughter’s, near Sacramento, I had all the symptoms of depression, though masked by lithium.

I added olanzapine last night and today obtained a prescription from my new psychiatrist for fluoxetine and buproprion. Unfortunately my debit card won’t work to pay for them yet, as the money I gave my daughter to help obtain a lawyer put me in the hole again, from which my sister again extricated me, generous soul, with the admonition not to try to pay her back her loan until I was settled.

I do not regret the shame I felt in inconveniencing her, as the money I gave my daughter was to help with the custody battle for our grandson, Jacob, with whom I feel a special bond. But when depressed it is rare that I feel I am doing the right thing; in this I felt I was, which was a miracle, as with regard to everything else, while melancholic, I feel that I might as well throw darts. “Do I dare to eat a peach?” How about watermelon? Sit or stand? Drink or not drink? Walk or sit? All such considerations are only pointless exercises in the indecision of existential despair.

When depressed everything looks strange to me. Every place I go it seems I’ve never been there before. My own body becomes alien; my spirit has abandoned it. I seek distraction as I am incapable of pleasure. In the worst depressions I cannot eat or sleep. This one has not gotten that bad yet, and won’t, as I have quickly attacked with medications from long experience.

It is not surprising that I have finally sunk into a depression after the last year-and-a-half. I am not Superman, after all, and life takes its toll. And the increased medications, though they keep the abyss from completely swallowing me, only do so by clouding my vision and slowing my synapses. This is, of course, better than the hypervigilant deer-in-the-headlights anxiety that would otherwise attend me. What’s terrible about melancholia is the need to act, to do something, anything, while you cannot bring yourself to act. It’s like trying to run in place in cement. There’s a desperation that requires you do something but there’s nothing to do, only the sense that something must be done and done quickly, else you are damned.

I am not alone in this mood, however. Ever since he was separated from Kathleen, Kenyon has been moping. He doesn't want to go on walks, eats little, and when I leave him alone he just stares into the distance, sitting, waiting for Kathleen to come. It' unnerving. Today I let him out and positioned himself on the grass near my daughter's door, always looking in the distance as if Kathleen might arrive at any second.

The best thing in all this has been playing with my grandson, Jacob. But I'll save that for another post. He is so rambunctious there is not time for me to stew in my own juices for long. He left for his father's today and I miss him terribly already.

Thine in Truth and Art,

C. E. Chaffin

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

We Move into the Former Home of a Slacker-Stoner

We moved into our new domicile on April 1, no fooling, located about four miles east of Mendocino, a small coastal town in NorCal. Although in the middle of the redwoods, the rental was our third choice. Due to “poor” credit (naturally besmirched by our homeless adventures to Mexico and back), in every competition for a rental the landlord invariably chose the party with better credit, despite bribes and proof of income.

Yes, bribes. I offered our first prospective landlord, whose income I learned was only $1500/mo., $500 extra just to choose us. She wouldn’t take it, choosing a single woman to live near her instead. Then her property would likely have seemed overpopulated what with me, Kathleen and Kenyon wandering around. I also think our energy overwhelmed this solitary artist who struck me as a chronic depressive besides. She missed out because I’m really good at raising such people out of their doldrums, which helps protect me from my own melancholy, which I’m suffering today—but I’ll get to that later.

Our next and preferred choice of all remaining rentals had a panoramic ocean view overlooking Highway 1 from the east. It was also the most expensive we considered. As if it mattered. Shot down by poor credit.

What, you voyeur, you want an actual number? Our best, Equifax: 539, “poor.” But I’m working on it.

Our third choice of rental, in which we now live, is situated in the coastal redwoods, as I noted above. Built a year ago, the walls are pristine white. The two-level modernistic dwelling has three skylights and lots of large windows to make it seem that we are living in a reverse terrarium. From inside a white vacuum we gaze out upon a wet, lush forest. Our outdoor deck is flanked by two large redwoods on each side.

Between the bare walls we sleep on two thin futons that our new landlord kindly lent us yesterday. He’s new to the business, likely why he trusted us in the first place with our poor credit, also the reason his former tenant was such an irresponsible pig, as the place was not clean when we moved in, but filthy in the way only a slacker-stoner could make it filthy.

We found no evidence of food in the cupboards but mouse turds nevertheless. Kathleen deduced the mice must have subsisted in part on pot seeds. Though the house was emptied of most objects (save the garage where many had been hastily thrown), it had the pervasive odor of Humboldt County grass, a smell Kathleen, being from NY, did not at first recognize. And although smoking had been forbidden by the lease, there were ashes everywhere, and the cupboards were littered with scraps of bud, so much that they amounted to at least half an ounce when collected. The linoleum in the kitchen had been repeatedly burned by dropping ash. The dishwasher had never been used. I found the original instructions and sample detergent within. (This may be in part explained by all the pizza boxes in the garage.)

Based on the evidence, we suspect this young man was self-employed in the growth and sale of pot, although like many dealers, he was only barely successful—because he liked his product too much. While I was gone yesterday Kathleen saw him creeping around the property, which spooked her. He had already stopped by the day before “to get some stuff.” When accosted by Kathleen he sheepishly explained he had returned for his “alfalfa seedlings,” not yet sprouted but supposedly contained in three 36-pocket plastic trays. Only a horse would need that much alfalfa, but I wasn’t there to intimidate the bastard, he had the cheek to ask Kathleen to help him carry his projects to the car. She said his eyes were strangely clear, nearly colorless, and although wispy and slight, that he gave off an air of hidden malevolence. Later she saw him creeping across the driveway up the hill to examine something. We both assume he had some gardening to attend to and hope he took care of it.

Wait—I just went downstairs to find another scraggly stoner at the door with a large, glass bowl held out like an offering. “Is Nathan here?” he asked. Now I was pissed; not only had Nathan shown up twice, but this was the second stoner who came here to buy some pot, so I assume by his proffered container, blithely parking in our driveway and disturbing our privacy. I told the young man that if I ever see Nathan again that I will kick his ass, and to spread the word that there was a new sheriff in town who didn’t sell pot.

You can’t imagine how uncool such a frontal assault is in drifty NorCal. The poor boy was in shock, so much so, I expect, that he got his diesel Mercedes stuck in the mud near the top of our driveway. I went up to help him, explaining I was pissed at Nathan and not him. Finally he managed to back his car down and escape with his belts screaming under the hood. I’ve noticed a lot of screaming belts in up here. Is it the moisture or just the quiet? Could cars actually be that noisy everywhere?

After this I went up the hill where Nathan had skulked to see what I could see. There he had hidden nothing but a Shop-Vac and two trashcans with five gallon buckets inside. I was expecting to find some dopage but I doubt that place gets enough sun. If Nathan comes back a third time, too bad; we don’t know where his vacuum or trash cans and buckets are, period (although we will be using some that very much resemble his). We learned this strategy of passive ignorance in Mexico. If the poor buy starts to whine, I’ll let him know that he is illegally on our property and thus in grave danger. (Jack: “Is there any other kind?”)

I shouldn’t be so hard on these slackers, it’s just a territorial thing—that Nathan was skulking around without identifying himself while my deaf wife was home alone. Kathleen opined that the reason Kenyon didn’t bark at him was because he seemed such a nonentity.

The 60s were never over; they just moved north.

As for my melancholy? It has to do with the cognitive dissonance of living in a sterile fish bowl while being surrounded by a lush forest. Add the fact Kathleen leaves for NY on Thursday and we have no bed as yet and our arthritis medication has not arrived from the Internet—

No, I think it’s mainly the stillness here! I’ve never lived in a place so quiet, where the refrigerator makes the most noise and you can hear a mouse fart. Strange. I did not know I was overstimulated; now I am suffering understimulation or stimulation withdrawal, not to mention withdrawal from my favorite stimulant, nicotine.

I’m sure I’ll become accustomed to this new space eventually but for now I find it kind of spooky. It’s as if I, too, were deaf, as there is nothing to hear. This must be somewhat how it is for Kathleen (without her hearing aid) all the time. Peaceful but slightly disconnected, so I suppose, and then there is always the issue of safety—you can’t hear a creeping stoner, for instance.

Kathleen loves it here, by the way. Her hearing aid normally picks up so much ambient noise that she finds the quiet delicious. “In the city all I hear is noise,” she says.

I’m still mad at Kenyon for not barking at a potential intruder. Then, to be fair, Kenyon don’t hear and see like he used to. And neither do I.

Thine in Truth and Art,

C. E. Chaffin

Monday, April 03, 2006

Epic on Addiction: The Deprivathon Entire (thoughts while quitting smoking)

The Deprivathon


Nothing fills the body like tobacco gas
sating each bronchiole
until alveoli collapse,
punctured bubble wrap,
Yet it is not the health risk I address but slavery,
the false comfort of stuffing the God-shaped vacuum
with dark matter.

Inscrutable face of the known universe
know that without tobacco
my chest is an abandoned altar,
my lungs empty gloves.

This day
by the grace of the unknowable
I will not smoke.


How can I wax oracular about a deadly habit? Shall I say, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by white voodoo missiles from the military industrial suicidal tobacco coven,
Red Man's revenge funded by oil-wealthy Oklahoma Indians,
saw the blue smoke climb the undefended caves of their nostrils like mutated kudzu planting a Manitou deep in their unsuspecting ribs
to one day metastasize and waste their brains for the prize of a green oxygen tank and a wheelchair!

O Cancer! O Emphysema! O Stroke! O Coronary!
O insidious degenerative enzymes from secret hybrid leaves developed for mass destruction!
O refreshing Salems in a waterfall among the green ferns!
O perfect models with khaki slacks and sweaters tied around their necks sailing off Martha's Vineyard, liberated by Newports!
O Marlboro man who never talks but rides by purple mountains and orange sunsets in his fleece-lined suede jacket!
O Virginia Slims who keep that weight off for a woman who is only a clothes rack for designers, X-Ray clavicles and Botox.
O be happy, go Lucky, Winston tastes good, the pause that refreshes, smooth, smooth, smooth as polished agate.
But I'm not starving hysterical naked only addicted to inhaled nicotine jolting the brain in seven seconds, instantaneous pleasure loop hydrogen jukebox!


Mornings are made worse
by smoking too much under the influence of alcohol
the night before, which temporarily dulled
the pain of inhalation. You wake up
feeling like a crematorium,
still, have to have that morning rush
while listening to the coffeemaker
hum with the refrigerator.

I can’t ignore the pleading quality of machines—
a whir, a whine, as if a wish for petting,
as if they sympathized somehow,
could understand the loss of choice.

It’s said "one of three" will die from smoking
but this is only pseudoscientific propaganda.
Easier to see the damage in finely furrowed faces,
gray with sunken cheeks
who purse their lips to make it easier to exhale
against the increased resistance:
The blue bloaters of emphysema.

Then there are the barrel-chested wheezers
who hyperventilate to compensate:
The pink puffers of chronic bronchitis.

Yet none of this so terrifies
as does the black crab.

Lung cancer patients stink.
No one wants to play with them
on the field or at the rink,
no one wants to stay with them

Because cancer is possession by an alien—
cells gone native, cells too stupid to know
they destroy their host,
mole burrowed deep, tiny claws
scratch at the pulmonary tree
in the darkness of blood and bronchi.


Depression and loss look much the same
along life's hedgerow, still, differ
as hawthorn from holly, as grape from pear.
Loss is a coin tossed down a well
until you hear the plunk of water and weep;
in depression you never hear the coin

Nicotine, like benzedrine,
has antidepressant properties.
Deprived, the mind shudders
like an old engine.
Who will pull this train?
I think I can, I think I can,
desiring this man's art and that man's scope
the sea has jaws and a gray-green coat.
what hangs from the jaws is pulverized
to pebbles until the shingle rattles
before an otter floating in the caramel kelp.
The disconnection, stoppage, hesitation, grappling
for numbers, addresses, details, sans nicotine
I mourn the vanished power of the stimulated reign.


My parents smoked, it was not unpleasant.
It was present at Christmas with the holly wreath
and the brown couch with the little nubs
and the wrought iron legs from which my mother read
Hiawatha to us while smoking.

Mom smoked when I was a fetus.
Bad, bad mother.
Mom withheld her nipples from me.
Mean, mean mother.
She tried to nurse my older brother but failed.
Weak, weak mother.
At birth I knew what she knew:
There must be a substitute.


I saw the spirit of fire,
in her coronet of coals
dancing in a leaf skirt
of golden brown,
her incendiary thighs

burning burning burning.

Before her only God breathed fire.
Afterwards came dragons,
venomous snakes and toads.
Finally man's penis swelled
and woman's labia grew
bloody-purple, pink and wet.

I heard Tobaccohontas speak:

"I burn for you, Brave.
Do not forget your love.
Cleave me with your tomahawk,
undo the seam so lightly stitched by nature
or my own nails will ream it,
drive your spear into the ravenous slit
beneath the golden curls of my mons,
pound me as a bear ruts a sow
in a ditch littered with salmon bones and acorns.
My mouths have swallowed
the seed of many warriors, come.”

Ah, Tobaccohontas,
I once fingered your moist fragrance
in blue pouches of Drum tobacco.
Your scent still calls me
from the tent of the elders
puff by puff
but moderation is beyond me.
I must devour and be devoured.
Hear me:

My lava grows hard in your ocean.
Your undersea cleft shapes me.
My tip breaks off like a coal in your wet purse.
I shudder, deflate and die.
You are the siren of my death.
I stub you out in ashtrays
as if they were vampires’ coffins
through which to pound my stake.
Now I can only suck
the memory of your forbidden pleasure
and cast its usage toward some future
beyond obsession. Forgive me
Princess; you were the best.


Withdrawal still twists me on its spit.
I suck my toothbrush in a rage,
spit out toothpicks like a nail gun.
When then is there an end to it?
Was slavery worth the wage?
No—I must—can’t—think of it!
I’ll wash my inside windows today.

After the Windex and the suds
the accumulated slime runs
yellow and gray onto my rag,
phlegm of oncology.
the same sick mucous color you get
from washing an ashtray—
I was living in an ashtray—no;
I was a living ashtray.
Yet when the windows were done
I was at a loss at how to reward myself.
A glass of water? A walk in the park?
A swim at the gym?
A pitcher of warm spit?
Nothing beats a cigarette.

I must hold on hold out hold to
hold forth hold back hold sway—
Mommy, don’t let me die an ashtray.


There is an absence greater than absence of life
there is a hollow hollower than death
when the lights go off in the gunman's eyes
and every man becomes a purse.

There is a loss greater than loss of pleasure
when there is no breast or nipple
and the nurse removes your pacifier
and the wailing of your deprivation
goes unnoticed in the bassinet
and your infant body shakes
into the grief of sleep.

Or when standing at the railing of your crib
and there is no mother
and no substitute for mother
in the endless darkness—
“Why can’t you change yourself?”

After such abandonment you may spend your life
seeking a fix like the milk-dewed nipple
in the rhythm of the bliss of your sucking,
the warm pillow of breast pressed against your face


There is so little poetry left
I suffer its loss as much as cigarettes.
It may leave a bigger emptiness.
Love or addiction?

Sometimes I think addiction
especially when I am around poets
and feel the heat of their narcissism
rise like steam from a meatloaf,
the endless infantile hunger to be heard.
The problem is that poets can’t give themselves a fix,
they need an audience for praise.

Plato was right and wrong.
He never imagined the democratization of poetry,
fearing Aeschylus and Aristophanes
not Angelou and Bukowski.

You say I am writing prose now.
I say form must fit function
in this proliferation of venues and dilution of talent
on the Internet and in overpriced coffeehouses.
What do I really think?

Forget poetry, poetry sucks.
Poetry sucks donkey dicks in the dead of night.
Poetry sucks the butt holes of rabid bats
Poetry sucks the big Walla-Walla like a Staubsauger.
Poetry is a concentration camp for narcissists.
Poetry is eternal competition with every poet, living or dead.
Poetry causes stillborns, curdles milk and stains the altar with pig’s blood.
Poetry is bread in the mouth of a pigeon spreading Legionnaire's disease.
Poetry is the word flu.
Fuck poetry.


When asked why she didn't quit,
Bette Davis replied, "Then how would I talk?"
gesturing with her cigarette holder.

And what if I become seriously depressed
when the faces of familiar cars look strange
and I am frightened by doorknobs and tea kettles,
when whatever spark of self I knew
flies up and out the chimney into the wailing dark?
Will I zero-sum suck again?

That is always one danger: when smoking
or not smoking appear equally pointless
in a universe without pity.
Ergo, “Who cares if I smoke?”
In that state, which always returns
I vow to pretend to care
against all evidence.

The other danger is similar—
on a very good day, say your daughter’s wedding
or grandson's baptism, when the joyful
conviction of invulnerability
whispers, “You’ve achieved control
and can have just one.”

I have decided
when I get the urge
to imagine a silver angel
with glacier-blue eyes and crystal hair
swooping down like Winged Victory
to pluck my desire in her gleaming hands
and throw it back to heaven as a spent coal.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Quitting Smoking Day 6; Update on Our Situation

First, as of yesterday, we moved into our own rented domicile, and slept on linoleum in sleeping bags without a chair to sit on, in a house schmegged up by a former stoner tenant with ashes and bud trace everywhere--and seedling pots, and mouse turds in the cupboards.

But at least this slacker launched, since 33% of men 24-32, I read today, are still living with their parents.

Anyway, our new landlord, whom we call "I'm not crazy" Bill (because one morning he called me to discuss the building of a water tank and only afterwards realized I wasn't the contractor--so he left another message assuring us he "was not crazy," and it stuck).

Very nice man; as a landlord he has a lot to learn. Still, in that he's not charging us to crash in the redwoods in the modern two-level studio with the large windows and skylights until the place is ship-shape, hey, where's the downside?--only in our aging bones. Send us a mattress ASAP.

Kathleen proceeds to NY on Thursday for a spell; I proceed to Rachel and Jacob's (first daughter and only grandkid) on the same day and will stay until I'm not welcome, but I figure the more babysit my boy, the happier mom will be, and I might even get three days without a scene. One can hope. "Daughters are forever."

Finally, today, below, the conclusion of The Deprivathon, the longest poem I've ever penned. It may end more with a whimper than a bang, but isn't that the way giving up an addiction goes? I mean, being a non-smoker becomes almost commonplace? (Although I do describe my greatest know dangers for recidivism.)

Anyway, for those who haven't glanced this way, since I'm not announcing a new blog until I post the poem in its entirety, the work covers the first six days of withdrawal. That was enough time for God to create the world, likewise enough time for a poetic journey in a world of video blogs.

Thanks to C. Bagley for hanging with me for the duration!

Thine as ever,

Dr. Chaffin


The Deprivathon, Day 6

X. Will I Make It?

When asked why she didn't quit,
Bette Davis asked, "Then how would I talk?"
while furiously gesturing with her cigarette holder.

And what if as a non-smoker
I become seriously depressed
when the faces of familiar cars look strange
and I am firghtened by doorknobs and tea kettles,
when whatever spark of self I knew
flies up and out the chimney into the wailing dark?

That is always one danger, when smoking
or not smoking appear equally pointless
in a universe mostly composed of dark matter
so why should I care if I smoke?
In that state, which will come again,
I must pretend to care against all evidence.

The other danger is similar
as on a very good day,
say your daughter’s wedding or grandson's baptism,
when the joyful conviction of invulnerability
convinces you you’ve finally got control
and you can have just one.

Yet on a day like this,
betwee cycles and rather stable,
I choose to imagine a silver angel
with glacier-blue eyes and crystal hair
swooping down like a winged victory
to pluck my desire in her gleaming hands
and throw it back to heaven like a coal.


Unexpected Light

Unexpected Light
Selected Poems and Love Poems 1998-2008 ON SALE NOW!