Friday, June 30, 2006

Penis-Pumping Judge

From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, AP: "Former Judge Donald D. Thompson, a veteran of 23 years on the bench, is on trial on charges he used a penis pump on himself in the courtroom while sitting in the judgment of others."

More: "She [court reporter Lisa Foster] testified that during a trial in 2002, she heard the pump during the emotional testimony of a murdered toddler’s grandmother."

And: "The allegation came to light after a police officer...heard pumping sounds."

My, after such a long and distinguished career, already receiving a $7500/mo. pension, Donald D. must find this deflating.

He (in my opinion) pump-perjured himself in testimony when he claimed the device was just a gag gift he should have thrown away. But isn't it really an anti-gag gift, since it won't gag as some humans are known to do (even if it can't swallow)?

As a pre-Viagra doctor I used to prescribe these things. They are generally composed of a plastic cylinder with a pump that sucks air out of it, creating a negative pressure, so that when the open end of the cylinder is placed closely around the base of the penis, the penis fills with blood. They're clumsy, and the erection is hard to sustain. so many of these devices come with rubber cock rings to slip down the erect penis before the blood leaks out. And in my examining room I used to have to estimate what size ring to prescribe. That's a good way to ruin your practice.

Sexy, huh?

The devices weren't very successful in my experience, for the most part producing a hard-on with the attitude of a drooping hot dog. And I never had a patient tell me the experience produced an orgasm, so don't think of poor Donald D. as soiling his robes--this story isn't that juicy.

My dear and darling wife, Kathleen was rather horrified by this revelation, but I said, "Hey, trials are boring, think of it as if he were just chewing gum." In reply she said, "Craig Erick, you are disgusting!" I knew that.

But seriously, have some compassion for this man. He had to wear a big black dress and sit on his ass all day, listening to procedural drivel and picayune wrangling while trying to appear attentive. After 20 years of this he needed something to keep him attentive--yes, a little risky, but I think playing with the pump kept him sharp. As for indecent exposure, how did the clerk or policeman peek that far behind the bench? I'd say the judge's privacy was invaded.

He could get 40 years and have to register as a sex-offender if convicted, a sentence crazier than using the pump. For Donald's sake I hope the judge that handles this case also handles himself occasionally to stay attentive.

Still, isn't the possible sentence taking the rod of justice too far? I say, what is done under the bench stays under the bench. Let the poor guy go. So he took an infantile comfort in this penis pump, did he hurt anybody? Only the court reporter's sense of propriety. Get over it, lady, and wait until your man gets old.

Of course the Freudian aspects of his behavior are obvious: He's acting out as the naughty little boy with Oedipal problems, willing to risk everything to pretend to dominance, while secretly hoping to be caught, punished, and relieved of the responsibility of the bench by a powerful mother figure. He should have just gotten a private spanking partner for these urges. No need to humiliate oneself when another would gladly do it.

There's a whole cult of spankers out there, btw, claiming not to have intercourse but simply exchanging swats. They think it wholesome. I knew one who was spanking his best friend's wife and vice-versa; his friend never found out. There's millions of paddlers out there, trust me. There's something about sex that brings the infantile out in all of us.

For any interested, I'm at about 1.5 kilo rats of depression. I actually had a few positive feelings in inspecting my vegetable garden yesterday. And even in the worst of depressions, I never quite lose my sense of humor, even if I can't laugh. Humor, Freud taught us, is a mature defense. In my family of origin that means black humor. (Is there any other kind?)

Thine as Always,

C. E. Chaffin

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Depression and Weight Gain

There has been quite a response to my last post on kilorats of depression, so I want to thank those who read it.

My intent all along in this blog has been to make people laugh.

In that spirit, bloggers have informed me that Thursday is the traditional day for bloggers to post poems. Notice I have a link to "Poetry Thursday."

Again, for the veterans here, if you look at my profile at the top of the page you may have noticed that my weight has changed from 250 lbs. to 270. I blame this on quitting smoking and the weight-gaining medications I'm taking for my depression like lithium and olanzapine (Zyprexa). But I'd much rather be fat and happy then svelte and depressed, and I am improving incrementally. It helps when Kathleen makes fun of me. It seems in my depressions only abuse feels ego-syntonic, probably because I think I deserve it. And in that abuse by my friends and family, I find a certain sanity, and a connection to my own humanity I might otherwise not make.

Satirizing me when depressed helps much more than compassion, as sympathy will bring the "tears, idle tears" of which Tennyson wrote. He was, incidentally, likely a bipolar II and his uncle (or father?) "Mad Jack" was definitely a bipolar I. At least 20% of recognized poets through the ages have been manic-depressive, the highest of any known artistic pursuit, and I suspect it's even higher when you look at self-treatment with laudenum and alcohol.

But enough statistics. I'm posting a poem today about weight gain as a consequence or defense against depression, a poem that should convince the skeptic that poetry can actually be fun. Here goes:


Two days ago I woke up fat.
I'm not gonna hate myself for that.
I did indulge my appetite

like a starving rat,
So I avoid mirrors and dress in black.
I’m not gonna hate myself for that.

I may be fat but I'm not blind.
I did indulge my appetite
because depression savaged my mind.

You see, it's not easy to be easy on me.
I'm all spiky inside like a cactus.
Two days ago I woke up fat.

I may be fat but I'm not blind.
If I did indulge my appetite,
it was only to distract

my stomach’s acid pit
from the black hole of my mind,
too melancholy to react.

(published in Ygdrasil)

(click on the magazine to see this poem and others)

And what does all this prove? That fat people aren't always jolly!

Though improved, I'm at least in a 2 kilorat depression.

Thine in Calories and Committment,


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

In Petaluma, CA: Roger Dier's 1000-Rat Depression

No more need for the Hamilton Depression Inventory or other studied tools of medical discovery. A man in Petaluma, CA, has provided us with a new measure of depression.

Last week Roger Dier was apprehended with 1000 rats in his apartment, mostly in cages, some free range. Everything in his small house had been gnawed on. He had to buy 250 lbs. of rat food every five days to support his charges. He slept at his office to avoid the smell and noise of his own menagerie at night.

From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat 6/24: "Dier said depression, loneliness, denial and his recent bout with ill health were to blame for the rats."

So, this guy who claims to be depressed nevertheless has it together to schlepp 250 lbs. of rat food every five days to spare these dear creatures? The horde, incidentally, began when Roger spared a baby rat trying to escape from being dinner for his three-foot python, who would not eat dead rodents.

Frankly, I don't think much of this fellow's depression. A 1000-rat depression must therefore be considered fairly mild. I mean, he's still feeding the rats! So his depression must weigh less than 250 lbs.

Later in the same article Roger is quoted: "I did not set out to do this. I do acknowledge irresponsibility and there's a case for laziness, denial, incompetence and just plain foolishness." But, "It was not all my fault," he added. "It was this force of nature that overwhelmed me." More: "I was aware of the crushing burden of having to take care of them all," he said.

For starters, whether I were depressed or manic, I would have it together not to be overwhelmed by pet rats. I mean, one would have to be beyond using toilet paper to be so neglectful of reality--nearly catatonic with self-neglect--and this guy wasn't. I think this 60-something dude is just an elder slacker.

Seriously, how depressed could he be? He still has feelings for the rats, which means he still has some positive feelings for himself. And he can't bear to face the holocaust of their future; he's the Oskar Schindler of rodents! So much to live for.

In another article I learned that "animal hoarders" are typically women and involve cats, which made Roger's case even more interesting.

In a true depression I would not feel qualified to care for rats.

Maybe I could manage one dog or cat. Yet the serious depressive might give his beloved pet up for fear that association with its owner could be having a deleterious effect upon the poor animal.

So, a 1000-rat depression I take as a mild depression. Henceforth I propose that all depressions be estimated in kilorats. The upper limit might be 10 kilorats, for which I nominate melancholic catatonia. Naturally, the depression of suicides must be excluded, not only because they must communicate from beyond the grave but because their participation would be unfair to those of us who have never summoned the courage. Besides, suicide is for wimps. I've had worse depressions when I felt that suicide would draw unwarranted attention to myself, which I did not deserve, hence suicide would be crediting myself with too much importance. I'd give that sort of depression nine kilorats, as well as any depression requiring ECT. Right now I'd rate myself at two kilorats; my depression has been slowly improving, as you can see by the lighter material offered today.

I have a poem today that shares something with Mr. Dier's rat problem, below. Watch your kilorats. If you get over three, please see a doctor, but don't bother me, I just play one on the Net.

Until the next post,


The Intruder

Evil seeped through floorboards.
Only the dead could endure it.
From a faint bud it blossomed
into a putrid flower
stuffing every pore, rank as hell.
So I imagined
a dead whale beneath the house
in blubbery liquefaction,
or corpses bloated with gas,
or death itself, if it has a smell.

The red velvet of my guitar case
began to stink.
We called a professional.

I led him to the crawl space vent
where it reeked so thickly
I thought the air had died.
Gowned and masked
for his grotesque midwifery,
he pulled a rigid possum out,
pink tail curled like a stiff worm dangling,
fur falling out in chunks
like some cheap carnival toy.

And the sharp-toothed grin
on that pointed face
with its obsidian eyes
looked mean, even vengeful,
as if he decomposed to spite us.

(published in Afternoon Magazine, no archives now available)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Poem #4 in ascent to mania; current mood not congruent with poem.

The poem below is the fourth in the second half of Sine Wave which leads from a neutral mood to a manic state as it ascends and intensifies. This poem was previously published in 2 River View. I think it is mainly the intensity of the language, a language seeking to capture light, that gives this poem a manic air, along with the rather freedom-flaunting diction. No, it does not reflect my present mood, but that is of no consequence in art. For me to be out-of-synch with my art as I post it makes me more an artist than not. My works exist apart from me and my current mood cycle. If I have been successful, my poems achieve an existence entirely separate from me or even any consideration of my personality or biography.

I think I wrote this in Oklahoma while attending an Oral Roberts University conference on "Christianity and Medicine." I must have been 24. Don't ask me about the conference or Oral. I did visit the prayer tower, however. Apparently Oral thought the higher we pray, the quicker we got to God. He really should have leased a room in the Sears Tower IMHO.

Still depressed, and thinking about Oral Roberts' prayer tower just makes it worse.

Telephone Wires at Dusk

These wires, iced at sunset with duskfire,
have a brightness beside themselves,
their taut lengths humming with unknown conversations
lipping their secrets electrically
through the copper entrails
of the black rubber body,
transfigured at twilight into phosphorescence
of brightwire, a thin white welder’s rod
of incandescent tongues.
-------------------------As if the light could see
the cold particulars passing between ears
at this second dawn, dying of day
and night’s birth; and if the sun
could expose it all by omniscient heliotelepathy—
and if the words were fire laced with the salt of reason,
leaving the burnt scent of compassion
in the air—
-------------If but the words,
the words between men I mean,
were true as these flaming wires,
how beautiful these transient fires would be:
fit companions of stars.

(published in 2 River View)
(click link for original publication)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Self-Esteem Problems; New Poem

I changed my photo again, the new one's from a reading in San Francisco sponsored by Pedestal Magazine.

I did not plan to blog today, but in trying to change my picture I ended up here.

I already had my morning catharsis by writing a long letter to a friend. While writing I started crying about my chronic self-esteem issues, how nothing I ever did was good enough, and besides, how accomplishments would never bring me love, much less self-love. But knowing how you're fucked up often doesn't help you're being fucked up.

Self-esteem is a gift that cannot be earned. Those who try to earn it will eventually be disappointed by their own efforts. Knowing this does not deliver one from being driven, sadly.

Why is it so many good people feel bad about themselves and so many bad people feel good about themselves?

I had a depressive dream last night with the recurrent theme: Why didn't you finish your psychiatry residency? (I had just a year to go.) When I woke I remembered the reason I dropped out was severe depression, something no one on the faculty could diagnose in me because I was their "golden boy" and none presumed that I might be suffering from one of the two major mental illnesses, the one that inspired the term, "lunatic."

Today I'm going to post a poem from my For Kathleen: Love Poems manuscript, because she was insightful enough to instantly recognize my self-esteem problem, sending me a piece of jewelry as an antidote back in '99. The poem tells the story well enough:

About the Bracelet

You sent me a silver bracelet.
"Damn I'm good," it said. But I found it
heavy and constricting, even painful
in its alien density. I was forgetting
my body again, how any restriction
burns like handcuffs, even a watchband,
but you know this—so I hung it from my keychain.
I like the heft of it there, I like to stretch
my knuckles against its links and feel
the ache of constant use relax.

What if all the righteous faded
by subtle increments to stark transparency
until no one could see them but themselves?
Left to our sordid board games,
would we even notice their absence?
In this scenario, you'd have disappeared
before we met. I'm so glad I see you!
And this bracelet, whether it marks my wrist
or jabbers with the keys, proves
I am also visible to you:

You saw the poor boy in the rich man's house.
You clothed him in your sea-green light.
You kissed him with your coral lips,
sucked poison from his stonefish heart
and smoothed the ragged seaweed
from his brow with patient fingers, whispering,
"You are loved, little boy, you are loved."

(published in Niederngasse)

If you click on the Niederngasse link above, you can read six more love poems from my feature.

Thine in ups and downs,


Friday, June 23, 2006

Poem #30; Depression Continues

On the Anthropic Principle

Here at the spoke-ends of our galaxy
it is easy to forget the central axle moving
insensibly slow, still the silvery-white
dispersion of stars soothes randomly
until we impose a pattern, like the Magi,
like the Greeks.
-------------------And despite the most
accurate of calendars, dawn remains a wager
until the great lion of the sun peers over the plains
with a growl of heat and the day blooms and withers
toward the violet hour where even wise men
arrive as strangers because the arrangement
is never the same.
-------------------As the latest layer of bones,
can we ever appreciate how far
the swan’s neck stretched to uphold its head,
how far the spider’s strand thinned without snapping?
Can we recall the dark alternatives dodged,
any of which could have unmade us?
Always there were detours where the river
never creased the rock that never
rose from the sea that never
spawned a single fossil.
-------------------------When light illumines
the Grand Canyon in winter’s slant at sundown,
the stripes of ages burn with every visible color.
What is the color of a radio wave?
Only a man asks that.

(I had to used dashes because I couldn't figure out how to html the spacing; published in Poetry Now)

I’m proud of today’s poem in that my ambition in poetry has always been to combine philosophy with music, substance with form, and I thought this one turned out pretty well. That I can say this may indicate my depression is not as severe. If so I can only credit the addition of an antipsychotic drug two days ago. In addition I’m taking two mood stabilizers and two classes of antidepressants. Since 1996 this combination has not failed to eventually lift me out of the doldrums, and I say doldrums ironically, since the word sounds so harmless and normal. It’s not doldrums, it’s a maelstrom.

What the antipsychotic seems to do, besides increase my appetite, cause weight gain, and other fun side effects, is to dull the inner fear, the apprehension that constantly accompanies depression.

I wanted to mention another symptom of depression, which you likely won’t find in the textbooks. I call it dysynchrony. Here’s what it’s like: I go to make coffee. I have trouble remembering how to do it, and anxiety pushes me forward in time or keeps me behind, so the feeling is that there is an ideal time, a synchronous time in which I might make coffee smoothly, but I can’t drop into that stream of time. Instead I fall behind or clumsily speed ahead. I’m spooning coffee into the filter, for instance, but I spill because I’m thinking of putting the water in. Then the grounds that fell out into the plastic cone have to be washed out, and I shudder at the extra task, fearing the detour will ruin my chances at making coffee. It’s as if the linear progression of a nearly automatic task has been fragmented into pieces, and I’m trying to put them together in a row but they keep moving about. When I finally succeed in making the coffee, it seems like a miracle and I wonder how I did it.

The worst experience of this, which I think I already mentioned in this blog, was when I was hospitalized for depression in 1996. I was trying to figure out how to tie my boots. I stared and stared at the eyelets, I didn’t know where to begin, or how to pull the laces diagonally across the tongue. I thought I would never figure it out, that I might never wear shoes again or that I might have to go barefoot about the hospital. I was too paralyzed to ask for help, but I finally managed it myself. That depression, incidentally, lasted eleven months, and necessitated my going on disability. Since I have not had to work as a doctor I haven’t been hospitalized again. But I’ve also become more skillful in managing my meds.

I don’t want today’s memo to sound too hopeful. As I re-read it, it sounds much too positive for my present state. I’m far from being out of the woods.

All for today,


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Though Depressed, frightens neighbors and upsets wife but makes it to gym.Though depressed, upsets wife, frightens neighbors and goes to gym..

Last night our neighbors reminded me of how I'd cavalierly spoken of suicide during my last visit, which they thought was... well, harsh... then they're from Malibu. In any case I didn't remember, though no doubt I likely did make said remarks, since I think of suicide as part of life's woof and warp and not a subject to be feared or avoided.

I answered the "suicide question" at age 30. I don't like to let the idea of it remain in my brain for very long since it is therefore of of no comfort, contrary to Nietzsche's cheerful prescription.

It is an old misnomer that people who really commit suicide don't talk about it: they do--until those last hours or minutes when the thought goes on automatic, when it's too late to call out because they've already hopped the train.

Unless otherwise proven, most cases of suicide are clearly the result of inadequately treated depression, which we have all around us.


Yesterday was extremely stressful. I was out in the world, and my mate keep asking me questions, like, "Do you need anything from the market?" In my depressed state the pressure of making decisions is fearful. I finally blurted: "Don't ask me any more questions, please!" which, although it made Kathleen angry, also gave me some protection from going daffy-odo-yodel-hoo, if you get my drift.

Later when she asked me if I wanted pepper or salt on my sandwich I made my own rather than respond to another query. She was miffed by this as well. So we avoided each other all night and I went to bed early, afraid of her coming up, afraid I might accidentally touch her when she got in bed, since I had been so clearly shoved away. When she got into bed and put her hand on my wrist, I was afraid to touch her back, not knowing if it were better that I protected myself and allowed no connection, or to pretened that things were normal and reciprocate. I finally touched her back, hesitantly, feeling no connection but hoping the behavior she expected might mollify her for the night.


I did something yesterday in my depression for which I deserve a medal. I haven't been to a gym in years, but we'd joined one here, and I hadn't been yet in two months. Kathleen dropped me off. I did my floor exercises, mild weight-lifting, 10 min. at level 2 on the Stairmaster, and 500 yards of swimming.

When depressed and forcing yourself to exercise like this, each stroke of the arm in the pool makes the next one more difficult to believe, but you persist, almost like a cartoon being drawn by another hand, and you get through it, though you can't believe it afterwards. Exercise in depression, something very hard to make oneself do, has this advantage: no human contact necessary.


Now, ironically, I get to paste in a happier poem than my present mood can tolerate, from Sine Wave Part II: "To the Apogee...And Down Again."
At the Aquarium of the Pacific

I saw a brilliant angelfish whose tail
and fins shimmered yellow until it turned
and silver spread like an undercoat of fur
when stroked against the nap, across its scales.
Black as caviar and rimmed with gold,
its eyes, though flat as dimes, looked deep as wells.
The clownfish cruising by above the shells,
its idiotic smile painted bold,
passed disinterested as if it’d seen
it all before. Maybe. But I've heard
fish see only black-and-white, so why
this purple puffer and iridescent green
parrot fish-- and for whom? It's absurd
to credit chance. Either for us or for the light.
(pubished in Niederngasse)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Dr. Chaffin Capitulates; Blog Resumed

I remember when I first heard of web diaries or journals; an e-zine for which I wrote a column was giving an award for the best web journal. I paid it no mind, even though that's essentially what the other columnist at the magazine wrote (a diary of living in New York).

My columns were more set pieces: distilled to amuse and graze the absurd. As such they were not about me, merely processed through my mind. Still, the voice of a written piece exerts an influence on how material is presented so that even when one is writing about something, the personal is unavoidable. Call it "the unavoidable subjective."

Objectivity is voiceless; without a voice written pieces don't interest, except for technical information. And even instruction manuals have a voice: "Put tab A in Slot B;" "Be sure to disconnect these wires before proceeding." The voice of such manuals strikes me as the voice of an early TV robot, as in Lost in Space, trying to give instructions in a jerky, solicitious manner which, by imitating the foibles of a machine, emphasized its humanity.

If the unavoidable subjective is celebrated and admitted, as in the typical blog, then an opposite danger arises: that in habitual confession of one's actual view the view begins to assume a life of its own, until it can become a parody of itself and no longer honest, though it strive to be honest--at this point the autobiographical becomes a noose for creativity.

In writing fiction characters must be created. Of course there is part of the writer and parts of people he's observed in such characters, as they don't arrive from nowhere. But a good writer of fiction is praised not for being himself, but for being someone in his characters.

What if I were to reverse this trend by writing autobiographically while actually becoming different characters because of my mood disorder?

This may not work because my defenses mask the disease. In fact, my brother and his wife, who were just up to visit and he had no idea I was seriously depressed until I told him near the end of our second outing.

"You hide it so well!" he said.

"I don't like depression to get in the way of having fun," I deadpanned. (I almost laughed at that.)

Although I took no pleasure to our outing to the beach with the dogs, I am committed to going through the motions as if I were not depressed, as in depression one thing's just as bad as another. When the terror of solitude is equal to the terror of company, why not endure company? You're just killing time.

If I write confessionally to utmost of my abilities, trying to deliver my inner experience to the reader, will it result in multiple characters because of manic-depression? Probably not, because the voice I write in to communicate the different persons will have and equalizing effect.

This is why the poems about manic-depression are important to me, though I have published more poems about other things; because in poetry one can change the form, the substance and the voice so that one poem can incarnate a different character, or at least the distortions of a phase.

To be present, right now I bore myself to tears. I feel fractured; my past endeavors and roles seem to recede below me into paper dolls. If I pass a janitor I begin to wonder why I'm not a janitor, and I envy the concrete tasks he has before him, and I want to be a janitor; what a failure I am compared to that janitor! Look how useful he is! But if I consider the job of the janitor it fills me with anxiety, too, because what would I say to the principal? What if I hurt myself? Being a janitor is equally scary.

The self wants to get out of the self into something else in depression, but the problem is that in inhabiting another self for purposes of escape from the self, the self that imagines that alternate self brings its own sense of pervasive worthlesness with it and ruins it all. The grass is greener on the other side of the hill but it's just the same old grass, because there you are.

I'll start posting the second half of my ms., Sine Wave, even though my life belongs in the first half of depression. Today's poem:

American Zen

I lay on a railroad track
and felt the thrum
of approaching engines
until the near shiver
nudged me down
the gravel skirt to safety.

I was not suicidal,
just possessed
of a beingness
so elementary
I wouldn't know
I was marble
if you chiseled out my eyes.

Like the meniscus
of an abandoned well
walled from wind
by a chimney of stone
there is no bucket
to disturb my black transparency.

I am beyond boredom,
so occupied with nothing
I lack all patience with sentience.

The poem, obviously, tries to convey of a state of acceptance beyond the ravages of feeling. A "neutral" poem in the middle of the ms.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Still Depressed: Should I Continue?

I said I wouldn't post for a month.

Therefore this cannot be considered a post.

I have received encouragement from approximately 5% of those who sample this page.

I asked for 10%.

Why? Because I'm depressed. Because I crave validation. Because I want to be loved and think that I am useful. So far the response to this blog has been more validating than my numerous publications of poems, essays and stories by magazines.

Call it my first self-publishing venture.

Still melancholic, anhedonic and terminally insignificant,



From C. E.'s agent:

Keep those cards and letters coming. Either post here or write to Busy volunteers will be counting letters of encouragement as we pursue our budget goal.

Think: Just another ten messages of encouragement could keep CE blogging. And if you act now, you can get a free NPR tote bag autographed by Terry Gross and emblazoned with: "Blog on, CE!"

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sine Wave Part I Ends; No More Posts Until July Unless You Want Me.


The child is not the father to the man,
only an impressionable embryo.

Casualties ooze between my fingers
like congealed blood, unredeemable:

The little deaths of growing older:
the genuine smile now forced,

The honest glance engineered,
the green hope dissembled.

Is adulthood a capitulation,
a choice, or a deterioration?

I only know that the inevitable
losses we collect by living

Are best accepted and transformed
into a volume of forgiveness

Equal to the innocence displaced.

(Published in Solitary Harvest)
Amazingly, their archives are still available, just click on the link above. They feature two poets by name: myself and Marc Awodey. In the early days of the net he was prominent so I was happy to follow him and try to get published in the magazines in which he had appeared. I was not his fan neither but neither did I dislike his poetry; I took him for a trailblazer in polling art's worth: Did editors consider my poems worthy of publication? I considered him a somebody and I wanted to be one, too.

This was an important phase to me. I should never denigrate the encouragement early e-zines afforded me as a poet. I wonder where Marc is now, and whether I shall disappear as he did, and another writer and friend, Alan Kaufman (he went on to the paying media).
I'll give you a hint about today's piece, which signals a return to normal mood. It's not about "Time heals all wounds." It's about spiritual work, keeping current with the past, going to your brother before you go to the altar with an offering for some unknowable god as an excuse not to face your human burden.

Habits that help sustain sanity, in other words.
As the title of my post states, I will not post again until July. I know many of you are going on vacation, life goes on, etc.
Nevertheless, and I'm not pulling an Oral Roberts here, I need to know if enough people benefit from this blog that I should continue writing. If 10% of those on my mailing list respond, I will continue. If not, I have better things to do with my time. I don't mean this as sour grapes but as a simple calculation of the best investment of my limited talent in the lottery of human need.

Until July (if you wish),

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Sine Wave #26 and How Do Agnostics Sustain Optimism?

The Existential Don Quixote

I am no knight in titanium armor
pushing destiny's buttons with a mailed finger,
more a janitor of chance collisions
sweeping up debris.

As a toddler I would have petted
the snakes Hercules strangled—
and his reward? A poison shirt
woven from immortal jealousy.

I was never captain of my soul,
just a kite's dream of control,
a myth of wind, the string too thin
to see between the windmill blades.

(Published in the now defunct shallow end.)


This is my penultimate posting before the NBA Finals break.

Above the speaker no longer dwells upon the significance of his own chemically-induced sorrow, instead endorses entropy, admitting how little control he has over anything, including himself--a good therapeutic negotiation.

Hercules is used as an example; as the son of Zeus he did nearly everything right, and when he didn't, he repented and tried to make restitution. But that's not good enough for the gods; they are capricious. He died not in battle but by trickery, and a painful death it was. Ironically it was the blood of his own tutor, Chiron the centaur, that killed him, possibly because he did not follow his teacher's precepts as well as he might have--if one looks for a moral in the story.

If this is how a son of God was treated, how could I deserve anything better? Long-term the hard question is: If I were wrongly condemned to death and executed, would I still believe in the goodness of God? That's an easy "yes" for a believer. For the unbeliever I find it hard to understand optimism as derived from experience. "If mercy were based on evidence, I'd shoot you," I wrote in an earlier poem. If life sucks, why believe in anything better?

Jack London's Wolf Larsen declares man's individual ambition to be the ability to indulge in more "piggishness" than others. There is little to refute this in this world. "Steal a little and you go to jail, steal a lot and they make you king."

I'm sure I'm being too simplistic for enlightened humanists, but without a supernatural hope about the nature of the universe, morality is as much an impediment as anything else. From where do the agnostic majority derive hope? Radio gurus, self-help books, self-talk? Does it matter if such things are true or merely that they help?

I did read a great Arab proverb today: "If you ask a mule who his father was, he'll say, 'My mother was a horse.'" (from Wallace Stegner)


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Cockroaches and Depression: Sine Wave #25

Kitchen Talk

The world's expert on melancholy
cringes in the corner.
"It's just my mood," he says
then scurries under the refrigerator,
safe in the compressor's hum.

Herky-jerky he scales the wall.

"Where are you going?" I ask.

"While that sweet motor still sings in my head
like the blessed cicadas, I must seize
this absence of self-absorption to scavenge."

"When will you return to human form?"

"When my shell chafes and I crave light
and faces don't look alien anymore."

"What about my face?"

"Don't make me look."



Strangely, this is one of the favorite poems of a former student of mine, Teresa White, whose website link appears on this blog (In What Furnace?).

You may not know her but if you google her you can sample her work.

Right now she is facing a serious health issue. My prayers are with her, but just as the speaker above cannot impose his view upon the cockroach, I will not try to impose compassion for a unknown friend upon readers.

Her husband is terrified.

Then the patient, after diagnosis, is often strangely protected by the dissociation between mind and body, the same dissociation doctors suffer from when discussing cases.

In any case I can give you the link to her being featured poet in The Melic Review: "Melic in Heat" --sexy stuff!

I have of late been receiving less comments about my blog, which may be due to the onset of summer or just the random concatenation of forces unknown. But do keep those cards and letters coming; though they won't reverse depression, they do help sustain me while I endure it.

I'm sending my finished manuscript on T. S. Eliot (T. S. Eliot: Dissociation and Incarnation) to a professor at a small Midwestern college tomorrow. I hope it doesn't seem too sophomoric to him, as he is someone I admire. He was also a great friend when I was a psychiatric resident in Michigan. We'd read our newly composed poems to each other over omelets on Saturday mornings. I can't even remember how I met him.

I often regret how geographical distance inhibits ongoing friendships. I imagine a village where all the people who've been close to me over the years live within walking distance. In modern life such an ambition is absurd, I suppose, despite Carole King's protestations. But isn't it interesting in this modern high-tech world that despite all our means of communication, there is no substitute for incarnation, for physical presence? When friends move away or I move away from them, a gradual loss ensues. Most of us are too busy to connect unless we remain in actual propinquity. This gives the lie to the phone, the Internet, and television evangelism.

Anyway, there's only two more days before Sine Wave Part I ("From the Nadir") will be entirely posted here. As I'm still suffering from depression, I'm not going to post the second half of the book until I have some confidence that my mood has improved and is likewise sustained for at least two weeks. I suppose most readers will be relieved by the break, and I don't blame them. Two weeks may not sound like much, but in severe depression it is an eternity. I am not severely depressed at present, but I'm definitely more submerged than above water, for reasons I explained in yesterday's post.

I must say, for those uninformed, that I found the saga of Laura VanRyn quite entertaining today. You can google the name if you wonder what all the fuss is about, but ironically, she is from the same area where I trained in psychiatry and met the aforementioned professor, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

May your optimism exceed your realism,



Monday, June 05, 2006

Sine Wave #24: "To My Psychiatrist": Mood Update

Poem redacted.


I like working in form, and this poem, is, of course, a mangled villanelle. It is self-explanatory and almost whimsical when compared with some of the earlier pieces. The speaker's honesty with himself, while not entirely trusting himself to psychiatric intervention, shows good boundaries and perspective. He is a survivor, not a true believer. And he shows little shame for his habits; they mark the difference between psychiatric theory and what it's like for the patient.


I fell back into a depression about May 20, which I ascribe to resuming the analgesic therapy prescribed by my pain specialist, namely hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Along with Celebrex, these tablets work really well for my back pain. But, paradoxically, when I first take them they can render me hypomanic; at other times, continued use pushes me into melancholy. Withdrawal is certainly dangerous and may precipitate a depression, so withdrawal must be managed very incrementally.

The problem is change: my pain specialist is 600 miles away in San Diego, and will only give me enough medicine for two months, so unless I manage to get down there I have to withdraw. It is probably better that I don't take narcotics at all, but they are very seductive: Imagine a vacation from pain. And when one's mood is normal, the twin dangers of hypomania and depression don't appear so bad, one of the terrible things about a mood disorder: after a period of euthymia, or normal mood, we sometimes have trouble imagining the horrors of depression or the dangers of mania. As Heraclitus showed, you can't put your hand in the same stream twice, thus humans only notice change for the most part, and past lessons are hard to employ in present temptation.

Though I felt worthless yesterday, I did one good deed. Kathleen and I went to the local fair in Mendocino, a charming one-horse affair to raise money for local schools. Afterwards we strolled down in the village, and before I could turn my head, Kenyon and a larger, younger dog with the chest of a pit bull were locked in a mortal embrace; it took three of us to separate them, and afterwards Kenyon was bleeding; Kathleen came running out of the grocery store in tears, and I, of course, felt responsible.

Kenyon's wounds were not serious. A nice local lady offered to go bother her vet a few blocks over on his behalf; I explained I was a physician and could sew him up. Due to my dress and appearance no one ever believes me when I tell them this; so we finally left after her protestations. We drove home and I numbed Kenyon up and sewed up his two wounds with Kathleen restraining his head. He's a great patient, but it's hell on my back to kneel on the floor to do surgery; we don't have a table yet.

This incident didn't shock me out of depression; it only distracted me briefly. The dog is doing fine. Kathleen slept with him downstairs overnight. (The only thing better than being Kathleen's husband is to be her pet.)

I still want to get back to the theme of the unknown artist, though to be fair, at least on the net, I am not entirely unknown. "Jealousy is the essence of narcissism," I wrote long ago, and the primitive emotion I often experience vis a vis recognized performers stems from the fact that I know I'm better; I know, for instance, that I can play blues and rock guitar better than most people who perform; I write poetry better than most featured readers (I used to be one, as I noted yesterday.) So I wonder if the emotion is not so much jealousy as a mistaken sense of fairness; Why should they be up there instead of me? Or better, why should they be up there at all when I know personally know better talents who go neglected? And then I remind myself: they wanted it more, they worked for it harder, their recognition may have even been harder to achieve with mediocre talent. Then I relax somewhat and tell myself: It is fair. They were willing to pay the price and you weren't, Dr. Chaffin. Still I can't seem to cure myself of this curious process.

Also, one measure of depression is that nothing could make you feel better. If they gave me the Nobel Prize tomorrow I would be nonplussed and assume they had made a mistake. My being given the award would naturally devalue the award--the defeatist logic of depression.

One other thing: I'm going to take a break from these daily postings on Thursday, when the first section of Sine Wave is complete. It also happens to be the first day of the NBA finals, and I am a huge fan, even if the Lakers aren't in it.

All for today,

Dr. Chaffin

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sine Wave #23: Aubade


We like to make love in the morning
not because of the light
but because my medication levels
are lower before the morning dosage.
Since El Nino our frequency has increased.

I don't claim dawn’s light
renders us sexier, just less repulsive.
At night we use candles
for the same flattering effect.
Candles can be as forgiving
as a good marriage.
I have a belly and you use powder
to keep your thighs from chafing.
When did we go soft?

The sun is cruel to remind us
of our sin against California
where youth is beauty and beauty youth.
That is all you know out here
and all you need to know.

(pubished in Savoy)


Again, though melancholy, this poem shows progress in depression. The speaker is thinking about sex and marriage, even if his take is somewhat depressing, since he can't help judging himself by the standards of youth and advertising. An aubade is a morning song.


Last night I was surfing the net, looking for ms. contests for poetry. One publisher required a purchase from their catalogue as the price for entry. In perusing their titles, I noticed a former winner was my student of two years ago, whose chapbook, which I assume from the reviews formed the basis for her book, I extensively edited. I was given no credit, naturally, nor did she ever write me about her success, about which I am always glad to hear from former students. In my judgment she was not ready for publication of a book, although she was rather determined about it.

Anyway, the publisher listed who the judge of the next contest would be. That's always the most important thing in these contests, which I have rarely entered and never won. I went to look at his verse on the web and found it prolix and sophomorish. As I whined to my wife and editor, Kathleen, she gave me no comfort. "You can't have it both ways," she said. "Either you give the poetry world credit and play the game their way, or you resign from it, as I did years ago." I hated this either/or option, although her logic seems unassailable. If I do not respect the judgment of contemporary poetry, I have no right to complain if I have not been mainstreamed into it. I do not suffer fools gladly; I was blackballed in LA when I publicly derided the quality of poets at all the popular coffeehouse venues.

The world of poetry is small, and never is heard a discouraging word--you can't say anything critical about anyone else or you will be kicked out of the club. There is so much cronyism it is no better than Hollywood. Even the Pulitzer committee doesn't know what good poetry is anymore, why they usually make safe choices of poets who already have a reputation.

I tend to bite the hand that feeds me if the nails aren't clean. But I love poetry and I believe in mine; trouble is, I have very few connections academic or otherwise, and there is no one I can go to and say, "Give this manuscript a fair reading, won't you?" More and more I'm tempted to self-publish, since 85% of titles in the U.S. are self-published anyway. But all the gladhanding at major bookstores, where I would have to promote my work, and the required networking with no-talent powers that be--the whole scene makes me reluctant to set forth. So I sit here paralyzed, with a blog where I post my poetry at present, unable to embrace the larger world of self-congratulatory published wannabes, but unable to give up the dream of poetry. I should swallow my pride and jump through whatever hoops I need to jump through; unfortunately, when I used to be a featured reader in LA, I always had a bad feeling in my gut about the performances--and when I quit the game I felt a great relief.

Here's the link to my column on that experience: Tempted to Television

(My other column, Karaokepoetry, has been de-published.)

As Kathleen said, "You have no right to feel sorry for yourself." But I can't accept that I have only an either/or choice here. There is cynical participation, and there is rebellious participation, as in William Logan's case, but even rebellion requires an authority, and if I don't credit that authority, what is the basis for rebellion?

As to my mood, I'm still stuck in a lingering depression. I'll try to address that tomorrow.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, June 03, 2006

Sine Wave Day 22: Tithonus


Wherever I volunteer I find myself
compassionately pushed to the periphery
like trash on a lake.

I don't blame the young.
I know how I must look to them
with my tissue paper skin
flaking from too many suns
and the flesh-colored hearing aid
stuck in my ear like chewing gum,
the bad shave and cologne
and the dentures that stain
the angles of my mouth with drool.

Mornings when I shuffle in
stooped like a question mark,
my sharp knees poking
through my slacks like coat hangers,
I can't help thinking
they wish I were a ghost
instead of a prophecy.

(published in Contrary)


One of the symptoms of clinical depression is the illusion of premature old age, often accompanied by fears of failing health. It's ironic that someone who entertains thoughts of suicide simultaneously suffers fears of impending physical doom. Then I remember what my mother always said about auto accidents: "I don't mind being killed, I just don't want to be maimed--and I don't want to linger."

For those who have forgotten their Edith Hamilton, Tithonus was a mortal whom a goddess loved. She asked Zeus that he might receive eternal life but forgot to request eternal youth. Thus she watched him shrivel and decay until he was mercifully transformed into a cricket.

T. S. Eliot wrote in the persona of an old man at age 30 in "Gerontion," and also explored the theme in several passages of Four Quartets. Yeats, on the other hand, in poems like "Among School Children," explored the them of old age when he was old. So did Tennyson in "Ulysses."


Friday, June 02, 2006

Climbing out of Depression Poem #21

You, Cardinal

Crimson startled the snow--
powder shook from his feet.
Between sunflower seeds
his raccoon eyes
gave no thought to benefactors
so I buried my face
in the editorial section
like a hunting blind,
hoping he’d linger.

Above the paper I'd spy him
handsome as a captain,
his pyramidal tuft
like a German helmet
and I had gotten used to him
and he, perhaps, to me,
when glancing through
the window he was gone.

The void surprised me.
What did I expect?
That he would stay?
Ah, the mind invents hopes
and you, cardinal,
though your feathers be dipped in blood,
know nothing of the sadness
new absences bring.


As we near the end of the speaker's depressive episode, having only six more poems to add to it, the speaker encounters a healthy emotion--sadness--(as opposed to the sadness-without-an-object of serious depression). And in a tradition as old as poetry, he envies a lesser being, one not so afflicted with memory, a bird. He recognizes their relationship is unequal, that he has invested more feeling in the cardinal than the cardinal in him; he realizes the bird will never connect the available winter food with the poet; even so the brief encounter is enough to generate a feeling of loss in a sensitive soul. If more optimistic the speaker might have thought about what new bird might come next, but as things stand, the speaker can only think about what he's lost.


Unexpected Light

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