Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Happy Birthday, Dr. Depresso!

Famous People born on October 17th:

1920 Montgomery Clift (actor)
1938 Evel Knievel (motorcycle stunt rider)
1948 Margot Kidder (actress)
1954 C. E. Chaffin (journeyman poet and critic, family doctor)
1962 Mike Judge (cartoonist, animator, writer, actor)
1968 Ziggy Marley (singer)
1972 Eminem (rapper)

Margot is bipolar. The creator of Beevis and Butthead? Definitely up my line. Daredevil? Oh yes. Singer/poet? Yes, but never much into Reggae. Rapper? Only in so far as poetry qualifies. Clift is one of my favorite actors but was very effed up, probably a male Borderline Personality Disorder, heavy into polysubstance abuse, alcoholism, and libertine bisexuality.

It is also Black Poetry Day in the U.S., the date Einstein moved to the U.S., U.N. International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the Feast of St. Ignatius and the day on which Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion.

It would be nice if I were listed and people were happy to share my birthday. Don't look for it in my lifetime. For now these lists are a bunch of meaningless "granfalloons," or unimportant coincidences, to use Vonnegut's term.

Happy birthday now to me!
Strong and smart at 53!
A face of great utility
and hands licensed for surgery.

Instead of simply googling myself on my birthday as Homer Simpson does all day, I thought I would call my information center to demonstrate how hard it is to get anything done over the phone anymore. And when you get done registering, a computer is really no faster. I contend that with human operators information was disseminated more quickly than today.
Here goes:

You have reached the center for Craig Chaffin. Por Espanol por favor marque el numero dos. Please listen to the following menu:

For psychiatric history, please press or say, ‘1.’
For literary history, please press or say, ‘2.’

For vital statistics, please press or say, ‘3.’

For sexual history please press or say ‘4.’

For a biography, please press or say ‘5.’

For an exaggerated biography featuring Craig as the savior of the universe, please press or say ‘6.’To register a complaint against Craig, please press or say ‘7.’


What would you like to know? You can say, for instance, “The size of his Peter.”

”I’m not interested in that. I’m lucky to see it in the shower.”

I’m sorry, I did not understand your entry. You can say something like, “Where was he born?”

“How many psychedelic drugs did he consume in his youth?”

I’m sorry, I did not understand your entry. Please try again.

“Shoe size.”

Did you say, “Shoe size?”


OK. Now let me connect you to that department. You may meanwhile hear, under terrible audio conditions, a Muzak version of “Let’s Spend the Night Together” by the Rolling Stones.


Your conversation may be monitored for quality assurance purposes.

(The band plays “da-da-da-da-- dat dat ta da da” for three minutes.)

Hello, my name is Dale, how may I help you?

“Your phone menu directed me here. I asked for Craig’s shoe size.”

Would that be European or American?


Let me connect you to another department.

(ring, ring, beep)

Hello, this is Jack Gilley. I’m sorry but I’m not at my desk right now. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.


For any dying to know the answer, I usually say: “Same as mouth.” But for those who must know, I wear 13 in American and 46 in European sizes, which means my feet are average for a man my size (and you know what they say about feet—which answers the first impertinent question I asked the phone menu).

On my birthdays I usually wax melancholy and look back at my life with a certain disappointed wistfulness, thinking it may never be better than it was, thinking that perhaps my life has been wasted, hoping to turn over a new leaf or accomplish something at last. But today I feel fine. Isn’t that a bitch? Because my blog is more popular when I’m struggling with grief or depression, as I’m told that my descriptions of these experiences are helpful to others. If I post poems and speak of literary matters my readership contracts.

Truthfully I don’t blog for an audience, or at least I didn’t used to. Now that a fair number of readers have attached themselves to me, I am more likely to try to please them. Every good artist must be sensitive to his audience while cognizant of the fact that an audience always changes art.

I finished my umpteenth re-write of my book of essays, T. S. Eliot: The Major Poems: An Undergraduate Primer at 12:15 AM last night, a great thing to have accomplished on my birthday. I felt satisfied and justified as I went to bed; I felt I had done my best to make Eliot understandable to this generation. Even if no academic press takes the book, I am proud of the work. Here’s an excerpt:

“‘Prufrock,’ in my view, is quite simply one of the greatest poems in the history of the language, as well as the first truly modern poem. Its appearance cannot be predicted by any antecedents in English literature. Although Eliot was a student of literary history in a number of languages, especially French (in which he published four poems in his second collection), the voice, technique and substance of “Prufrock” are undeniably something new: an original synthesis of all that had gone before while claiming vast new territories for the future. The cardinal difference between ‘Prufrock’ and previous poetry is the fact that ‘Prufrock,’ though a drama, occurs almost entirely inside the head of the narrator. What external human interaction the poem contains is comprised of only six lines.”

58,000 words of that. My greatest satisfaction was in explicating Four Quartets, which took up half the book. I have never read a lucid explication of Eliot’s masterwork (then my ignorance is vas and I would have wanted to do it myself in any event).

Birthday plans? Kathleen was going to fix me a special dinner but since I’ll be playing music with friends around 7 PM, we’ll likely skip that. Maybe she’ll bring some Dungeness crab home. They're back in season.

I planned to devote today to getting Kathleen’s new wireless voice transcriber to work, but the engineer has failed to call me back (although he has, inexplicably, been text messaging Kathleen while she is driving around trying to do her job of coaching the developmentally disabled in employment situations).

I have seven books ready for publication: three collections of poetry, a novel, a book of short stories about growing up in LA, a book with five short stories and a play, and my tome on Eliot, a collection of essays--and a theological tome as well, but it is only half re-written. To date I have published but one book, Elementary, in 1997, my first collection of poems. I need to get cracking on these other properties. I need to stop my life and promote my writing instead of taking on new projects. So I intend to do in this, my 54th year. And if after a year I meet with no success, I will certainly consider self-publishing with publishing on demand convenience. I mean, there must be someone who wants to read one of these books! Or?

My 53rd has been a terrible year, in that I lost my oldest daughter, not to mention being clinically depressed nearly the whole time. On the other hand, my youngest, Sarah, graduated from high school; I've reconciled with my estranged stepson; I constructed a website for my works despite being depressed; I was kicked out of a local creative writing class for being too critical; I have stopped and started drinking several times; and I did get a ton of writing done by sheer will, also because work is the only respite for a mind dominated by depression.

The book on Eliot is the toughest thing I’ve ever written, and it took me four years altogether to polish it to my satisfaction. I think it’s lucid now.

Oh, and there's this blog--another aid in preserving my sanity, and a source of much encouragement. I'm glad I continued it in my 18-month depression.

Freud defined mental health as the ability to love and to work. Life is sweet when you’re loved, employed and in good health. I even know 14 souls who strive to love me unconditionally. How lucky can a man be?

My hope for this year is that I learn how to successfully market my writing. Self-promotion has always been distasteful to me, why I have a backlog of seven finished books. I am ready to go on the attack, which means a hell of a lot of envelope and stamp-licking and typing e-mails into the ether. I also want to re-decorate the small space we live in so that I feel better about my environment, and follow through on a landscaping plan I have for my garden.

Happy birthday, all!

3 Kilobunnies,

Craig Erick


  1. Happy B-Day CE!!! Check out: for an absurdly long list of other things that happened on your birthday.

  2. S. Thomas Summers5:30 AM PDT

    Happy birthday!!!!! Hey, you share a day with Lois Lane. Special, special!!

    S. Thomas Summers

  3. Happy Birthday, CE, from someone who is a bit further down the road than you.

    And, FYI, 17 October is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Antioch, not the warrior/mystic of Loyola. His is 31 July.


  4. Masale.Wallah10:56 AM PDT

    Belated birthday greetings to you, CE!

  5. Well tell us...was it a good birthday? Hope so.


  6. I'd like to hear the story about your being kicked out of the writing class. (I was wondering how the class was going; I couldn't visualize you as a student of writing.)

  7. Pat, my birthday was super swell. As to the story of the writing class, well, I'll consider it for my next post.


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