Thursday, July 26, 2007

Black Bile and Toss-Offs

Here's a cross section from a liver containing black and green bile:

As you know, the ancients blamed melancholy on an overabundance of one of the four humors, namely black bile. I'm sure my liver looks worse.

Home internet service has been cut off for now, so I may be blogging more infrequently. If we do get it restored, it will only be dial-up, where there is enough time to commit suicide between downloads, and where such waiting may indeed drive one to suicide.

I woke up today at 1:30 PM due to a new antipsychotic I initiated (Zyprexa), though my shrink wanted me to wait a week. I couldn’t bear to wait. I’ve been so discouraged I’ve begun to think of depression as a condition not an illness. At the end of July I will have matched my longest depression of 1982, 16 months. That one was cut short by electroconvulsive therapy, thankfully, something unavailable to me now because I make too much for the government to help me but not enough to afford health insurance. I should apply for SSI but am told the process is so time-consuming that I had thought I would be out of this depression before Medicare would pay for ECT. 16 months later that appears as a very bad idea, but there is also a strong pride within me that would refuse government help. As a former taxpayer that is also bad thinking.

This depression has not been as intense as the 1982-83 depression, mainly because at 52 I have a foundation of knowledge that gives me hope beyond my present symptoms. It doesn’t make the pain less painful, just less final. But the idea that depression could be my life condition does scare me. (Here I would normally begin to weep but the Zyprexa has the upper hand.) Also, as those of you know who have followed my journey, I have had brief spells of euthymia during this depression, only to have them crushed. In my worst depression there was no relief whatsoever before Ben Franklin flew a kite from my head.

Imagine that your brain was your liver and you had Hepatitis C. Or say you were a kidney that needed dialysis but couldn’t afford it, or a hip joint whose pain no cane could ameliorate but without funds to be replaced. These are metaphors to help explain manic-depression to those who don’t suffer it.

Because the disease involves the brain directly, the ego, the consciousness that says “I,” the brain, in what normally would not be faulty logic, becomes convinced that it, the brain, is the cause of the disease rather than a victim of the disease. Imagine if the liver blamed itself for hepatitis when it was really a contaminated needle; if the kidney blamed itself when its demise was due to lupus; or if the hip named itself the guilty party when every septuagenarian suffers hip degeneration. The beauty of hepatitis, nephropathy and degenerative arthritis is that the organs and joints involved do not harbor consciousness, thus can’t blame themselves. Imagine: “I’m such a bad hip. I’m a complete fuck-up. Why did I let the protective cartilage wear down? I should have told her to stop jogging in her fifties. But would she have listened? Woe is me, I am only pain, pain is all I am; if only I could be replaced! If your brain were in your hip, that’s how it would sound.

This is an oversimplification of a complex disease, yet all metaphorical parallels for other processes suffer some distorting parallax; in this case I think the comparison apt.

On the poetry front, although I have given up writing it, I still have submissions pending. One I sent to New Zealand Magazine by post. Today I received an acceptance of the poem, “Strangers.” Per usual I thought it the weakest poem in the lot; it was a toss-off, something I scribbled down about an experience in a matter of minutes. I find that such toss-offs fare far better with editors than what I consider my best poems, poems not only inspired but also labored over, with each word and line mouthed out loud and carefully considered. This is no criticism of editors or this fine magazine; I'm glad to be accepted by anybody, seeing as how I can't accept myself.

What I think my best is not what editors want. They want fresh experience transmitted. Photos of the human condition. Home movie clips.

The death of Confessional Poetry, whose heyday was the 60s, has been much exaggerated, and with six billion humans, say 2 billion of them literate, our reserve of individual experience is still holding. Still, experience is not an inexhaustible resource. The Romantics, like Coleridge, Shelly and Keats, hailed “Fancy” (their word for imagination) as the basis of poetry. Thus we have great poems like “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “The Eve of Saint Agnes,” both of them imagined. Romantics thought imagination, or the power of fictional creation, to be the heart of poetry. Nowadays it is the reverse. Only real experience, or at best “creative non-fiction,” satisfies editors’ craving for the real.

What this means for me is that what I consider my lesser poems, my toss-offs, will always be preferred over my better ones. I ever return to writing poetry, I must throw away my classical prejudices and write for the moment.

My essay on inductive and deductive poetry will soon appear in Blue Fifth Review and does a nice job of dissecting these preferences.

Meanwhile, in between crying jags and thoughts of hopelessness, impending impoverishment and the annihilation of the self, I continue to labor over my “airport” novel. I’m three quarters of the way through but have come upon a knotty problem; the idea and the execution of the supposed climactic ending simply stink. There is less tension in the conclusion of the novel than what precedes it, a death knell for any story. So I must start nearly from scratch and re-think the whole section. My self-imposed deadline is August 9, when the writer’s conference begins. Kathleen has offered to read the first three quarters of the book to help me realize an ending; I am loathe to inflict such suffering on her but have agreed to do so, as I am neither at my wit’s end nor beginning; I am without wit and short on Fancy.

3 Kilorats,



  1. Anonymous10:33 PM PDT

    Good to see you back....dial-up living here is the pits, I agree. I hope Zyprexa works for was a disaster for us but then we have the anti-convulsants on board to interact with. Geodon, so far, has been the best, for us...anti-psychotic-wise. But sedation is a problem. My mentor as an artist has lived all her life with psychiatric illness...speaking of drugs, she told me long ago, that sometimes she thinks it is better to feel sad than to feel nothing at all.

    As a mother, I still have no answer to that nagging question when making decisions on behalf of someone I love very much.


  2. Masale.Wallah8:43 AM PDT

    "...I have a foundation of knowledge that gives me hope beyond my present symptoms. It doesn’t make the pain less painful, just less final."

    Truer words were never spoken. Hope really does spring eternal.

  3. I hope everything works out in the end!

  4. Thank you all.

    Pat, see my new post!


Please share your opinion!

Unexpected Light

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