Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Sayings

Yes, you're all here tonight, all the plankton spirits and their keepers, the locavores praising their beets.

When you are confronted by monsters and every monster is a version of a human that you've met and every one of those humans gets inside your head and talks, yeah, that really sucks.

If your beliefs conflict with the truth, open your eyes and tame your heart.

I felt sorry for a man without feet until I saw a man with no knees, but when I met a man with no hips my compassion tanked.

If science can duplicate nature, why is "natural" still used as a promotional quality?

To train the young mind: music, math and essays.

I lay the stone of my foul heart in the lap of your fiery hem.

Aging is not for cowards.

The more critical a person, the more sensitive.

We labor under the illusion that life makes sense. All our fantasies, religious and otherwise, are directed toward supporting that illusion. If we have such a need to make sense, does it make sense that it really does make sense?

The traits you least like in others are your own.

The key to happiness is to be born with a sunny temperament.

God is not on your side. His is the only side.

The Internet is the virtual end of privacy. Either live by subsistence in the woods or drop your pants.

Does anyone today really want privacy? Only after celebrity has been achieved.

Norm Ball understands these things, but we don't know if our insights are due to our competitive narcissism (and jealousy of celebrity) or clear-headed cultural observation.

At a psychological level there are no clean hands.

Though time is relative, Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Morality of Feeling Good?

Yesterday's post was, I admit, discouraging to say the least. To compound my sins I described to my daughter the method I would use if I were to commit suicide while of course promising not to do it. Such a sick mixed message. If my children weren't legally adults I shouldn't be allowed to be around them.

Happiness is contagious to a degree and so is gloom. Why they should matter to us so much is what I don't understand. Why do we all want to "feel good?" Isn't this the most basic of hedonisms? And why does an organism even harbor the expectation of feeling good? And if feelings are amoral, why do we judge our morality so much on the feeling outcome?

And yet bad feelings are the most painful of experiences, one reason why cutting is popular. The distraction of the physical pain is more pleasurable, or less uncomfortable, than an awareness of painful feelings. When badly depressed I rejoice in my back pain because it distracts from the holocaust of my heart.

I have had a couple of thoughts: First, if you're as sick as I am, and I mean really sick, it's very important to accept yourself as such instead of walloping your pride with the bludgeon of failure. My brain is sick; it is therefore unreliable and I ought not to listen to it.

And here: Why not pursue whatever beauty and truth has traditionally given you joy, even if you are at present incapable of experiencing joy? Surely it must prime the pump to some extent. I should try reading Eliot and Shakespeare and listening to Jimi Hendrix.

As for Christmas, I had a thought as well. What if I was not put here for myself, to pursue my art and interests, but for the sake of others? Christ was not sent here for himself. A healthy tenet of a Christian faith is the belief that this is true: we are gifts to others, not ourselves. The less we concern ourselves with our own gifts and the more we concentrate on being gifts to others the sooner we forget our misery.

In my philosophy, happiness and "feeling good" are not the purpose of life. They can be by-products of living a good life. Still, my actions don't confirm my beliefs--unless you admit I am only trying to feel "normal," not "happy," which is how I understand it.

The first mark of goodness is honesty, inseparable from humility. To have "a sober assessment of oneself" is the prerequisite reality check for consciously doing good. But how black our hearts are! As soon as we see ourselves in our place we begin, Walter Mitty-like, to imagine ourselves in a more exalted position. As a manic-depressive blogging for my own sanity I should have no illusions that what I do is noble; I do it to distract myself, to keep my brain from feeding on itself. That reminds me of a poem from the archives, let me see, yes:

How I Got Published

When I think of a fire I know what to grab
after my children are safe: not my Stratocaster
whose rosewood fingerboard is spooned
between the frets from loving use,
nor my irreplaceable pink paisley blazer
custom made in the 60s, but my poems
(see me run through coiling smoke,
cradling manila folders, arm hairs curled like fuses.)

In high school my writing teacher
(whose silver-brown wig stuck to her head
like a frozen salad) screamed at me:
"You will never be a poet, Mr. Chaffin!"
Shame stole my voice and made
my purple acne blaze so even the girl
I loved in secret looked away.

In college one professor called my poems
"a confused blur of images"
and was probably right,
though I comforted myself that he was gay
and taught Restoration Literature.

After my fourth trip to the bughouse
I started writing poems to feed my mind
something besides itself. Afterwards,
just as new drugs began to lift
my suicidal melancholy,
I was published.

(De-published by the Cortland Review)

Madness can be made into art and art into madness. To think we are all driven by a desire for good feelings, how very simple! Too bad that for some, good feelings only come at the expense of others.

5 Kilorats,

Dr. Chaffin

Saturday, December 29, 2007

How I Really Am

It's hard to write. Since discontinuing the expensive wonder drugs, Lamictal and Abilify (they had stopped working despite increased doses), I've gotten worse. If I wake up at night I start crying. I can hardly speak to my visiting daughter without the necessity of strangling sobs. I feel so inestimably sad, it's as if all the sorrow of the universe could be poured in me and I would not overflow. I don't know what sadness and crying are for anymore. To me they are just an incapacitating signal I cannot turn off. Sure, I experience the feeling—a feeling like being left in the dark hungry with a dirty diaper by your mother when you're nine months old, something like that—but the feeling has no cause.

Sadness should be provoked by loss; free-floating sadness seeks an object for its own justification. So if I weep while thinking about my recently deceased daughter, Rachel, some dark part of me agrees, “Well, you're not just weeping for nothing.” But that's a lie. I am weeping for nothing and no one and everything and everyone; I'm just stuck, I'm a skipping record, the proverbial tape loop, the Mobius strip always condemned to be on one side of the equation: “I have seen the universe and it is dark. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

Do I feel guilty about my illness? You bet. How about helpless? Worthless? Selfish? Self-centered? Of course. Then there are inner accusations that I'm faking it, I'm not trying hard enough, I'm trying to get out of life, I'm a coward--but willfulness has nothing to with it.

I think back to similar times in my illness and how I tried to cope. Once while taking a full load at UCLA I took on three jobs so that not a minute could be devoted to my thinking about myself. Later, after I graduated, I took a job in a fabric warehouse for the mindlessness of it. Even there they tried to promote me but I refused. I can't seem to do a job badly except the job of being myself, but that has gone way beyond being a job into some supernatural burden.

I can't be myself. Yet here I am with myself. My whole life seems a travesty. For the last ten years I have had the privilege of being able to write what I wanted, but I have nothing to show for it except hundreds of publications, mainly in obscure and non-paying journals. My new ambition to write only for money has been sincere, but even if I were to receive a six-figure advance for a book I would feel no better. I am a laughingstock to myself.

It's true in the last year and a half that I've had two brief remissions from my underlying condition, one with Cymbalta and one with Abilify plus the other meds. But in both cases the meds quit working, even when they were increased. It felt so good to be normal--I had begun to make plans, to look forward to the future—normal meaning the usual checkered existence of light and dark, not one or the other, which to me feels like heaven—and then cruelly, for reasons I don't understand, it was taken from me. The entire episode has now lasted 19 mos; if I subtract the three months of normal mood, it leaves me with a depression of 16 mos, which matches the worst spell in my life, at age 29, when I had to drop out of the last year of psychiatric residency. Don't worry, the irony is free.

There are new treatments available I'd like to try, but unfortunately my insurance won't kick in for another several months and locally there is no mechanism for me to pursue intravenous ketamine or Diprivan (the latter snapped me out of a minor depression some seven years ago during an endoscopy; there is great promise in these short-acting anesthetics). I've heard of a street drug called DMTT, a powder that you smoke, that has a similar effect as Diprivan but am afraid to try it, naturally. But I'm close to it. If I had more gumption I might go looking for it.

It is a joy to have my baby, Sarah (18), visiting. It is also a strain since I don't want to load her down with my leaden affect. “Suck it up, Craig. You gotta suck it up, at least until she leaves.” So I tell myself.

I am sick with a physical illness. I do not want people telling me how a model of “learned helplessness” or Freudian “anger turned inward” have anything to do with my condition. I've been through this many times before. One day the chemicals straighten out and I am fine. Then it turns out there was nothing psychologically wrong with me besides an artist's dose of too much narcissism, I suppose, but nothing requiring therapy. I just get well. EOS.

As for suicide, I won't do it. My father did it at 62; as I like to say, “Why let him win?” Maybe when I'm 63 I'll re-evaluate the idea. My main fantasy for a method of suicide is to plunge a butcher knife directly under my sternum into my heart and have a little consciousness before I go. In driving to pick Sarah up at the airport Thursday, I did have visions of driving off of the road into the river, but the drop was not precipitous enough to guarantee my demise. These are fantasies and tempting ones at that, but no one should assume I'm at risk for them. I'm tougher than that.

I wonder if incurable depression will ever be a justification for euthanasia?

I have always gotten better in the past, eventually, even miraculously, but how much damage is done to me and my loved ones and this organ called the brain in the meanwhile cannot be calculated.

If there's anything you can do for me today, cheer up a friend, lighten the day up a little for someone who is able to receive it. You will be happy you did and so will they--provided the brain chemistry is normal.

6 Kilorats,


Monday, December 24, 2007

Getting Out of Ourselves at Christmas

It seems selfish to write about myself on Christmas Eve, but as we all know, the self is inescapable. For instance, ask yourself: When another opens your gift, do you hope it brings them joy, or are you more focused on whether they will like it or not, whether you made a good selection? Naturally these things are not mutually exclusive... and what about the guilt you may feel when someone spends more on you than you did on them? As a cook you may wonder if the gravy is too thin. As a woman you may compare festive outfits and decide yours was too bland. All this is normal, and expected, and part of our psychology. Some may blame our preoccupation with the self on some theoretical fall; I think we have too much time for our heads. For most of history men have worked like dogs. With increased leisure comes increased introspection, and many may not like what they find. Then others, the positive and irrepressible, use their leisure time for active pleasures--fishing boats and golf clubs and the like. I'm often in a quandary when asked about a Christmas list; most of my wishes are non-material. Here's my list:

1) Complete remission from depression.

I recognize my list is selfish, I just hope it's not too long.

I wish for all those I've met here good health in the New Year. Without health, everything else becomes hard to enjoy. So often we take good health for granted. In fact, we tend to take everything for granted. Too many blessings become entitlements in our minds. We only notice what changes, though many of us want everything to stay the same. We fear change, because each gain becomes a new potential loss. The answer is to try to stay in the moment and keep going and do what good you can.

I have organizing and cleaning to do today. I'm prevented from serious writing because I don't have my computer; the keyboard on Kathleen's, which she has let me borrow, just won't conform to my fingers properly. Besides, I'm at a bit of an impasse: I want to work on promoting my work instead of creating more. Yet all these books of advice on publishing contain one contradiction: 1) You must believe in your book, put your whole heart into it. 2) You must direct your book towards a specific target market. Doesn't two have to influence one? But if one is your dream, two may become your nightmare. And after publication is finally achieved, promotion must go on until you're thoroughly sick of your work. As one writer put it: "I feel like an employee of my former self."

My mind is rather blank today. I chose a poem from my archives for what reason I don't know, below, previously published in Ygdrasil and Tintern Abbey. Let's hope our selves can get out of ourselves this season.

To My Manic Self

I see you in the sky,
a runaway balloon
bent on another try
to penetrate the moon.

Your flight inflates my mind
like I was born to rule,
so I rise above mankind
(mortal and immortal fool)

to trail your Cheshire grin
into the stratosphere
where I am born again
as Jesus or King Lear.

The problem is collapse.
You always do deflate
and leave me holding maps
to places I was great.

So am I the puppeteer?
I thought it was always you!
You with your confident leer,
jeweled cane and retinue,

You, ready to hog the stage
and bask in cheap applause
to camouflage your rage
against the cosmic laws.

But when the show is over
it’s me that they arrest
while you go undercover
inside my empty chest.

So which one holds the strings?
I don’t know who I am--
but I wouldn’t have crowned me king
if they were in my hand.

2 Kilorats and a Merry Christmas!

C.E. Chaffin

Friday, December 21, 2007

Captain Melancholy and Dale Carnegie

Captain Melancholy (CM): What's with these dying trees? I see them being sold everywhere, people haul these things home to watch them die, to watch their needles brown while they turn into a first class fire hazard.

Dale Carnegie (DC): It's not about trees dying, it's a celebration of the evergreen as a symbol of the sun returning from its journey on the winter solstice.

CM: Who asked him to return? Hasn't he heard of global warming? Have Al Gore give Old Sol a clue.

DC: Global warming is not the fault of the sun, it's a sign of industrial progress. Progress, progress, progress is what it's all about. Think positive!

CM: And if I put all my retirement money into a coastal Florida shack?

DC: Think of the joy of rebuilding!

CM: I think without the sun there would be no global warming. Ergo cancel Christmas and construct some giant parasols in space. I love space; so dark and lifeless, so hopeless, so final. I want to be buried in space.

DC: If you take my sales course you might bve able to afford it someday.

CM: Ha! Do you know how much they pay me just to stay away from the inaugural ball? It's depression protection money. I'm not the mob, but I collect my due, even from the mob. Look at Tony Soprano. And I've gone easy on him.

DC: Eek! What's that look in your eyes?

CM: Just your death, how do you like it?

DC: I hope I don't see you later.

CM: Then pay up, dude, or I'll shit on your dreams. That's better. You can go back now to your imaginary world of happiness, full well knowing you have to pay protection money to preserve your illusion.

DC: I'll send Norman Vincent Peale and Tony Robbins after you!

CM: Two more of my paying clients. Where have you been?

DC: The best things in life are free!

CM: Like depression. You want some?

DC: Help! I'm out of here!

CM: Chicken. I want to sing:

"I'm dreaming of a black Christmas
Just like a mental hospital
Where the patients shuffle
And nurses bustle
To give us all our latest dose.

I'm dreaming of a black Christmas
With every Christmas card I burn.
May your days be sorry and sad
And may all your Christmases be bad."

I hope this finds you in good cheer so I can ruin it.

Depressively yours,

Captain Melancholy

(3 kilorats)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Captain Melancholy

I have thirty minutes today to blog something for my official 400th post. One wants to be profound in such cases, but profundity can never be summoned by will, it begins with an idea, and I'm short on ideas right now, a rare occurrence when I'm well but not surprising when I'm depressed.

I checked out several books from the library yesterday on getting published. The first tells me in no uncertain terms that I must choose a specific genre and target market and market, market, schmooze, go to every writer's conference, etc. I don't particularly like to hang out with writers, especially poets, as egotism tends to suck all the oxygen out of the room. I include myself in that atmospheric phenomenon, of course.

One question the book asked of me is why I write. As for poetry, I've written it all my life and mainly felt compelled to write it. With regard to prose, it started in my last depression of '96. Not being able to work as a doctor I had to think of something to do. So I started writing to keep my brain from feeding on itself (a diet of smaller and smaller portions). That year I wrote a book of short stories called "The Eric Chronicles." I'm still proud of them. I think they have commercial potential, but who knows? One agent said they were neither adult nor young adult fiction. That left me with infants and the senile.

Thus ultimately it is my depression that gave birth to my fiction and non-fiction endeavors; I have my illness to thank for my writing.

Speaking of my illness, I'm really sick right now. The happy pills (Abilify), even though the doctor doubled the dose, quit working after two months, the same experience I had with other cocktails that began to work this year. Now my doctor and I have agreed to do something radical; I'm tapering off all the expensive mood stabilizers and will take only the antidepressants. This runs a slight risk of mania, but I have an antidote (Seroquel) at home in case I start crawling the walls like Spiderman.

Perhaps I could be a super hero? The super hero of depression? What should I call myself? Captain Melancholy will do.

Imagine, Captain Melancholy goes to a Christmas party. Instead of a tight-fitting spandex suit he wears a friar's robe with the rope around his neck, not his waist. He enters the party, head down. When he makes eye contact with anyone he starts to weep and then avoids them. Within fifteen minutes Captain Melancholy has sucked all the joy out of Smallville. People are hushed, feeling guilty about drinking. Every woman wants to crawl into a closet because she now knows her outfit is awful. All the men think their packages have grown smaller, their heads balder and their wallets thinner. Anxiety rules. Drinking increases. Guilt increases. Finally, after about half an hour of sinking spirits people begin to leave without saying good-bye; they are afraid of the human contact saying good-bye would entail.

How should this superpower be used for good? If only I could be invited to a White House affair, maybe Cheney and company would get a dark view of themselves, one more consistent with reality. Or maybe wives could hire me to crash their husbands' Super Bowl parties as payback for all that lost time on the tube.

This follows in a great tradition of Eeeyor, Marvin the Paranoid Android and many other literary figures, including Lil' Abner's Joe Bfltstyk, the character with a rain cloud always over his head.

I am without a computer or net access at home now, so I can't even write--I have nothing to type on. There's a story behind this but I won't bore you with it. Suffice it to say, if I did stay home alone all day and could not write what would I do? One of the tragedies of my form of depression is that I am usually a very active person with many goals, so that when I'm depressed I feel I should always be doing something. With nothing to do, I don't know what I'd do. Gotta get my crappy computer back; unfortunately the repairman has taken ill. I sure hope he doesn't have what I have.

All my poems, columns, books, etc. are now maintained on one 4 GB memory stick that can easily be carried on a key chain. I lift the small plastic device up to my stepson and say, "Here's my life. My life is in this plastic thingamajig." And I am both amazed and disappointed.

Everyone's a writer but only some are worth reading. The last good book I read was The Historian. I have trouble getting into books in my condition. And I feel guilty about returning to the pit in my blog, but what can I do? I could "smile through my tears and sorrow" but that gets old after a while. I could try to "change my thinking" but it's really my feeling that needs to be changed; I'm biologically stuck. I don't usually worry or suffer from delusions, as I do now, as in "I might be dying from a mesothelioma," even though I forced myself to swim over a mile yesterday. I get short of breath because of anxiety. I don't get short of breath while exercising. Exercise itself is no worse than anything else and no better except that it is physical. I could cry while swimming if I let myself, but as I said in an earlier post I find that redundant. The swim goggles can't keep the water out if the water comes from within!

Thus ends my 400th post. I write for the sake of my sanity. I'm trying to transition to writing for money, but I don't know if it will work out since my motives are not commercial, thus my projects aren't pre-planned for a known slice of the market.

There is only one fruitcake, you know, and it gets passed around to everyone every year. "Figgy pudding," FYI, is much like fruitcake. Remember that if you find yourself singing, "We won't go until we get it."

4 Kilorats,


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Still depressed but coping; book rejection

First, there is a new post which got posted as an old one, "Writing and Personality" if you scroll down.

It's not just whining. ;-)

I wonder, can I work out my own psychology on paper or do I need a therapist? Is writing enough? I've written reams before trying to understand my melancholy, and the writing has helped somewhat with acceptance but not with the actual depression.

As in my essay, "My Struggle with Literary Narcissism," among other character defects, I am most worried about a lingering bitterness, I fear, about never getting my due. But why do I demand my due? Why should I need praise and publicity to validate my art? I used to be content just to write a good poem. Now I want it published or or praised or paid for. I don't write to be published or for contests, naturally, I write to write. But the darkness of feeling as if I got a raw deal disturbs me. "Rejoice with those who rejoice." That's hard to do when they are preferred above you and you honestly believe your work is superior. But I have been there before emotionally, rejoicing wit others instead of jealous, and hope to return there again.

This week, rather than stay at home, write and weep, I've been coming with Kathleen to town in the morning. I hang out at a coffee shop, go online at the library, exercise at the gym--somehow I manage to fill the day. And according to my rules for depression I am doing the right thing. It's better to be around people and out and about than cooped up with two cats and the two hemispheres of my brain, both pairs fighting.

I just got my first rejection for my Eliot book yesterday; it's what I expected. At least the editorial board of Mellen Press gave it a good read. I'm thinking that self-publishing is the easiest way to give my work a chance out there; with the proper promotion, you can do OK. Sure, I'd feel better if some august press wanted to feature me, but the chances of that happening, though not great, can only be played out if I continue to query for years. I am on the cusp of giving in to self-publishing, however, and selling my books on demand. At least then I'll have a tangible record to hand someone and prove I'm a writer, avoiding that embarrassing question about vanity press. But hey, Whitman did it, and others.

Having completed all my past writing projects except for my theological tome, "In Search of the Spirit," it's time to look forward to a new subject. And I think it's time to give in to my friends and few fans, who always find my life more interesting than my writing, what they're always asking me for. Yes, I'm talking autobiography, the memoir of a manic-depressive doctor and poet, both in hospital and jail and out. It's been done by Mark Vonnegut and Kay Jamison, but no matter; in an age of inauthenticity the audience still craves the authentic, the personal, for their vicarious delectation.

I'm about out of time at the library computer. This is my 399th post on this blog. Amazing. And since I installed the site meter sometime in 2006, over 20,000 have come this way. I'm grateful to be heard. This blog has proven to be more of a comfort to me than I imagined. I wanted to show off my writing, especially humorous essays here, but ended up in the confessional mode because of my disease. Whether a fortuitous change or not, it is what it is and I yam what I yam-- "I'm Craigie the mental man!"

3 Kilorats and fragile,


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christianity and Nature

I've been having a long correspondence with an old friend about Christianity, both personal and philosophical. As some readers may know, I call myself a Christian because I believe it historically true that Christ rose from the dead. I have confessed him as "Lord," but I don't feel it. In truth I get more spiritual nourishment from Nature and loved ones. To be fair, theologically, that is also God acting, though I think Nature too often spared criticism.

"Red in tooth and claw" wrote Tennyson. Why must nature be so filled with violence, from the praying mantis to the great white shark? The Christian explanation is that nature fell along with man, and man did not become a carnivore until after the flood. But given the fossil record, it is obvious that nature was red in tooth and claw long before man appeared. Just look at T. Rex! And there are thorns and thistles before man's appearance. Thus linking fallen Nature to man's fall is anachronistic, though some believers like to think of the Jurassic period as a time of monsters, of nature gone awry. Nonsense. So when did Nature fall? When man appeared? Rubbish.

If in paradise "the lion shall lay down with the lamb" (my, what big teeth you have, Grandmother, for grinding grain)-- the lion would have to be completely re-designed to become a vegetarian. Then one could argue all these animals we cherish will be resurrected like us, not needing material sustenance. But here: When the resurrected Christ re-appeared to the disciples near the end of The Book of John, he cooks fish for them. That involves killing; the finny tribe bleeds red just like the furry one. So the resurrected Christ blessed the killing of animals, did he not? Not surprising since the practice of Old Testament Judaism is all about slaughtering animals, and Christ was the ultimate sacrifice. All very neat. The example of the resurrected Christ shows no change in man's attitude toward nature. One can make an argument that he practiced the norm while in this world, but he could have as easily toasted some bread for his disciples.

You can't argue anything from Nature except beauty. Justice? Love? Goodness? A good lion kills.

Robinson Jeffers is the one poet I know who looks at nature realistically, without any contaminating anthropomorphism. His God finds war as beautiful as peace, the glow of an atom bomb as pleasing as a sunset. If we are honest with ourselves we will dispense with the illusion that Nature is some kind of soft landing, some example of kindness and goodness. We will see that sea otters are predators, however "cute" theyi appear. (BTW, "cuteness" means anything that resembles a human infant. I have established this to my satisfaction. Note that those kindly disposed to aliens give them big heads and big eyes and small noses, just like the human infant.)

So if one cannot derive the nature of God from Nature, it must come from revelation. Then revelation must arrive through the fallen beings who record it, and where does that leave us? With a spotty record of the truth, surely. One thing that makes me believe the New Testament is all the unflattering things included, like Christ cursing the poor fig tree. Still, if we object to that action, a good Christian would likely reply, "Who are you to judge God?" To which I say, "Sorry, I can't help it, I was born with this prickly thing called a conscience."

Back to my original discussion. I am a Christian philosophically but not emotionally. In other words, I believe in forgiveness but I don't feel forgiven. This is the perplexity that tortures me when I attend church, which is rarely, because I weep for loss--partly the loss of my early concepts of God, as I was converted to the "Jesus Movement" when I was 16. With my mind and mood disorder, a simple faith doesn't seem to be an option, but I envy those who have it, like my friend. He not only believes in forgiveness, he feels it. He experiences God. Since most of my experiences can be questioned experientially on the basis of my mental illness, how would I know if I really felt forgiven anyway? Maybe it would only reflect a leap in serotonin levels, though the two (feeling and brain chemistry) are by no means mutually exclusive.

What am I getting at? I don't know; like Robert Burton I write as an escape from melancholy. In a nutshell I don't trust my feelings, thus I am prevented from having a religious experience. All through the Bible one is supposed to love God with all one's heart; that is no easy proposition for me. A leper cannot "feel" a doorknob, thus may break his wrist trying to open a locked door. In the same way my feeling sensors are diseased and I don't know whether I'm feeling God or not. (I don't care how long this blog entry is, I want to know the problem.)

Why is it I can't embrace God? Why is it that I can't feel as if I believe? Where is the joy of forgiveness? And if the Christian God is all powerful, why can't he break through my illness and give me the gift of feeling forgiven? My argument is that it is not just a lack of faith on my part, but a consequence of my disease. Before I was diagnosed manic-depressive I had many religious "highs" which in retrospect I realize were most likely manifestations of the disease. In a very real sense, this disease has robbed me of my former faith. What I end up with is what I call "beef jerky Christianity," a faith stripped of experience, a dried up philosophical commitment to truth.

Is this noble or foolish? I don't know. Ever since I had electroconvulsive therapy at the age of 30 I have not been able to re-connect with God. The closest I've come is taking the Eucharist at an Episcopal church I attended in Mexico. At that moment I feel as if I can believe; as soon as I leave the altar I begin to doubt my experience, though I confess there is a faint glow in that action.

Maybe I should convert to Catholicism and be done with it. I've tried Buddhism, but it was an inferior sect. I dabbled in spiritualism when very young. Hinduism is a great comfort but for me no guide to life. Judaism is Christianity unfulfilled. Sikhism and Zoroastrianism are attractive, especially the concept of asa (truth) vs. lies in the latter. Islam holds no attraction for me; it seems a step back from both Judaism and Christianitiy. We all know the dangers of its fundamentalist version.

In these speculations I have stopped crying. The cats play; it's a sunny day; Kathleen is reading upstairs, dizzy with her ear infection. I look forward to my youngest daughter's visit on the 27th. Life ain't half bad, no matter how bad I get.

Another poem from my archives that reflects some of my struggles with Christianity:

Christ's Lighthouse

There is a pillar of light
stuck in the rocks like Excalibur
above a harbor of heavy water,
hushed and heavy with suffering,
where waves swallow their foam—
but much can obstruct your view
while your eyes crave on.

I used to lose sight of it, thinking
the ocean's furious slam dance the thing,
me roped to the mast between
the cold salt walls of death,
or ships would block it,
horns and radios distract me
until only a slip of light in the marbled sky
recalled its jeweled foghorn,
a dog whistle for the deaf.

Do I dare now? Do I dare say
I see it always, through iron bars
and self-revulsion as if the great stone
of the world were rolled away?
What terrible temptations do I then tempt,
What unexpected holy thing
may morph into evil,
baiting my inner eye
with self-congratulation—
me a blind man beating
his dog with a stick?

(published in Mindfire, where you can enjoy Kathleen's poems as well)

2 Kilorats,

Craig Erick

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fessing Up to a Relapse

I've been avoiding the mention of depression since Thanksgiving, after which I took a dive into my usual 11 AM and 4 PM weeping spells. I try to ignore them and let them play out. I try not to globalize and condemn myself after the sadness comes. It does bother me that in this run I have thought about myself more than Rachel. I hate melancholy.

At nights, partly with the help of a non-prescription elixir, I feel better. This is a standard pattern for clinical depression, mornings being worst, evenings better.

I'm a cliche'. There's nothing original about my disease. Like Robert Burton, who published his Anatomy of Melancholy in 1621, I cope in part by writing. The full title of Burton's book is typical of the obsessive depressive: The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Historically, Opened and Cut up.

I haven't read the thing, but I know it outsold Shakespeare, being one of the original self-help books (if one ignores Origen). ;-)

One thing you have to ask about self-help books: If the author's so frigging happy, why did he feel the need to write the book?

I find self-help books toxic when I'm depressed. I feel guilty for not being happier. But melancholy isn't my fault, just my responsibility, like having diabetes. Thus I saw my shrink today and he doubled the "happy pill" (so my friend Eric calls it) which I can't afford, making Christmas a little thin. It's worth it if it works, because who wants a depressed Craig around Christmas? It's hard enough putting up with him when he's well.

Some of my friend's wives have commented, in the past, that they actually liked me better depressed than euthymic. Not so my friends. They expect hypomanic entertainment and adventurous shenanigans from me. Who I've been in this blog is not how I will be remembered by those close to me.

I'm also going to withdraw from a narcotic pain management regimen to see if that may be contributing to my inability to put this depression to bed. It will be hard, my pain will increase, yada--but I'd rather be in physical than emotional pain. With modern pharmacopia we sometimes have a choice.

I cut a small redwood today for a Christmas tree. It looks like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree on steroids, gangly, a bit barren--but it's six feet tall and perfectly green, not drooping like Charlie's. Sure, I could go to the store and buy one of those perfectly trimmed Douglas Firs if I so chose, but they are artificially manicured into a cone shape. Trees don't grow like that in the wild. And here in the redwoods you're lucky to find a sapling with branches on all sides, given the fierce competition for the sun.

When Kathleen came down from a nap (she's been sick with a middle ear infection) she laughed and laughed at the tree. But being a good sport, she began to decorate it in earnest. As the foliage is not lush, the tree forces you to choose your favorite ornaments.

All I want for Christmas is a stable, euthymic mood.

New word: When paralyzed by the overwhelming chaos of a room in your efforts to clean it, a state of affairs we refer to as "schmegged," you are in "schmeggalysis."

I really want to end this entry with something positive, so from my poetic archives (when I used to write poetry), here's today's salutation:


If you haven't filed your taxes in years
and with a dry throat call the 800 number
to be put on hold forever while dying to hang up,
tempted to one more dereliction in a life of derelictions,

or if your teenagers grieve you by apathy
and drug abuse, reminding you of your own
adolescence so you can't draw the line
without feeling hypocritical,

or if you cultivate a false smile over coffee
because you went to bed angry at your mate,
pretending to polite conversation
while entertaining fantasies of divorce,

or if you write a hopeful piece
instead of your usual blue ramblings
and fear others will find it facile, your art
of no account, just therapy for the overeducated,

then reach out through the stillness
for a thimbleful of light poured
into your words without measure.
Look! It is already in your palm.

(published in Kimera)

I had a bad dream last night about running green lights. Everyone was doing it but I knew it was dangerously wrong.

2 Kilorats,



Friday, December 07, 2007

Subprime Debacle: No Morality but the Economy

I was trying to make reservations for Kathleen’s flight to NY for her mother’s birthday through NWA, where she has a “world perks” card for discounts and mileage. An hour-and-a-half later of laboring on the computer boiled down to this: Without her pin number (which she had forgotten or not been assigned) I could not reset her secret question; without her answer to her secret question I could not re-set the pin number. The secret question concerns the hospital where she was born; I assume our answer is wrong because there must be one letter out of place. Computers do not make allowances for general substance, only precise ciphers. So I chatted with an online rep, who dismissed me with an e-mail on how to re-set the pin. Phone assistance was no better. I accomplished nothing except the confirmation of the Catch-22 nature of living more and more with hired mechanical information processors.

Here’s a business idea I think would make millions: Form a company that specializes in outsourcing information support for larger corporations, information support given only by real humans in real time, flexible enough to obviate the Catch-22 nature of modern living. When was the last time you called a large business and got a real human instead of a cascade of automatic menus? Wouldn’t you pay a little extra for that service? And it might pay for itself in efficiency. The chief efficiency of phone menus and intractable computer demands for a transaction may actually be the discouragement of customers seeking help, thus lowering the overall support burden of an enterprise.


How about the bail out of subprime mortgage holders? It’s not a great solution as it only affects a small percentage of loan holders who must be up to date on their payments. Nevertheless it raises an interesting philosophical question.

Some economists aver that lack of support for homeowners and their outrageous loans will contribute to a recession, and that property values will fall. They say, “Why worry about morality when the economy is at stake?” Others, like myself, wonder why the government doesn’t deliver me from credit card debt or finance a new home for me with the golden calf of other people’s taxes. The consensus I sense from various sources seems to indicate that most politicians favor the bailout because it is good for the economy. The economy, in other words, trumps morality. Ah, the abortion mills must love this.

The obvious question is, then, why don’t we apply this same principle to the war in Iraq? Does the war benefit our economy? No. From Bush’s perspective it is a moral battle for democracy. So it’s OK to waste money in a moral crusade, but wrong to make moral judgments about greedy banks and debtors because it’s bad for the economy?

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. –Emerson

I beg to differ with Ralph Waldo when the foolish consistency of morality costs us a projected trillion dollars in Iraq. A wise consistency would bail out the loans and leave Iraq for economic reasons, or not bail out the loans and continue in Iraq for moral reasons (granting Bush the high ground on Iraq is only for purposes of argument).

I think it was foolish to invade Iraq but immoral to occupy it. It was immoral because it violated the sovereignty of another nation in order to impose alien values we had no right to impose.

The corporate profits from the war in no way compensate for the economic losses of men and materiel. Morality doesn’t either. God bless my demand for foolish consistency.


I’ve learned again from my recent near death that “almost” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. After I nearly choked to death I tried to get out of washing the dishes but Derek and Kathleen said, “No way!”

Obviously if I had died I would have gotten out of it.


Finished my mushroom identification course today. Now I’ve been charged to identify all the undocumented immigrant mushrooms that may be lurking between here and the border. Dirty fungus bastards! I’ll show you where you can stuff the free benefits of our forest decay!

Did you know that there are poachers here in the State Forest who work at night with large trucks to haul out trees, like Douglas fir and young redwoods? I had a ranger ask me to keep an eye out for fresh cuts of healthy trees. The poachers use chains saws and pulleys to haul the logs to the road. Reminds me of people tearing off the aluminum guard rails for resale. And a penny is worth more than a penny! Man is a scavenging mammal. Is this immoral? Who cares? The real question is, “Does it benefit the economy?”

The economy as the supreme value, btw, is bullshit. The government specializes in fear-mongering and robbing Peter to pay Paul. Oh, my, the subprime mortgages’ failing may lower the value of your home! Meaning some others could then afford a house? Say those new purchases are government supported. The government can’t support everything or there will be no economy to steal from anymore, and good intentions will have killed the golden goose of capitalism. Ah, well, I’m much more worried about my mood and my waistline, truth be told (and I’m not much worried about the latter).

We’ve seen the housing bubble twice before in California, and no one stepped in to change things—why should it change now? Because of the election cycle? Because socialism has triumphed in America? Remember that the speculators will be hurt first. And they accepted the risk. If Joe Blow could afford a house on a penny a month provided the payment would balloon to a thousand a month in three years, why should he be rewarded for buying the magic beans? It’s all about whose ox is gored; everyone believes in personal responsibility until a hurricane comes their way; then they beseech the government for deliverance. If you build your house on the Florida coast, well, tough, eat your losses. And if your home slides down the Malibu hills, sorry, Mel and Johnny, I can’t feel sorry for you. But the government surely will. Ah, the government for the people and for the people and guaranteeing more for the people shall not vanish from the earth while one tax dime goes unclaimed.

1 Kilobunny,


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Depressive Relapse; Writing and Personality

I wrote this the other day but forgot to post it, so forgive any redundancy at the mention of depression or the anachronistic reference to a lack of comments. --CE

The rainy season has begun, and here in coastal northern California, once it begins it seems never to end. It is the price we pay for redwoods and berries and mushrooms and all the lush vegetation that surrounds us in this emerald paradise. But you don't want to move here; it's much to damp and drizzly. And the economy sucks. And we locals treat tourists like lepers. (Actually our economy depends on them.)

To come clean, I have been in a bit of a depressive relapse since Thanksgiving, when I took a medication for pain for the trip to SF, a medication I know presents risks as soon as I go off of it. My brain screams: "Don't take it!" My back urges, "How can you drive four hours without it?" Truly my brain must win this argument, since the pain in my back can't compare with emotional pain. Strangely, though, when I now become tearful at my usual times, 11 AM and 4 PM, I think of Rachel. The sadness comes first (I am convinced the affect precedes the thought) but now, at least, I have a focus that feels healthier. She was my heart; she broke my heart in life; she shattered my heart in death.

I apologize to any who feel I sometimes ask too much of the reader, for some feeling of connection, usually when I reveal something extremely personal. I must remind myself that the medium of writing renders things impersonal; the writing is the show and the audience is the reader, and if it's a good show you don't think about the writer, you just enjoy the show--that's good writing in a nutshell. Eliot was partially right about this, how the personality must get out of the way for poetry; in confessional prose, the act of writing does change the personality into a persona; it is unavoidable. How I come across in the meat world is far different. If my mood is euthymic I tend to be a gregarious clown, something you might not guess from my writings.

I suppose what I most prize in writing, besides clarity and substance, is the virtual disappearance of the writer. Often we run into heavy-handed exposure of the writer, even in fiction, if the writer is not careful (Mailer and Thompson come to mind). One example of great writing is that no one really knows squat about Shakespeare from his plays; his sonnets are the only real record he gave us, and even they are somewhat stylized to please a patron.

The meaning of "Patron" (of the arts) has changed over the years. It used to mean the one guy you worked for to amuse, the same guy who paid you. You had to amuse him, and if he liked your stuff and paid for its printing, it added to the patron's reputation. Now "patron of the arts" seems a generic term for people who attend opera and donate now and then. In place of the old patronage system we have the grant system, where committees weight the investment of a foundation's money. It's not easy to get patronage in either case, but it sure would be nice to know for whom you're writing. Shakespeare was lucky in this regard; his audience was made up of all society's classes.

All art is for someone; initially for the artist, then for an audience, then for the critics. In my best writing, of course, an audience is never a consideration; it is all about the writing. If publication follows I feel slightly vindicated in my own judgment, but that is more frosting on the cake than the labor of the cake.

In view of the above, when I complain about a lack of comments, I deserve the criticism I get. Writing that does not objectify the writer into a voice may rightly be attacked by those who are repelled by the writer's personality and actions in the "real world."

Thine at 2 Kilorats,


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

No comments on my near untimely demise...

My last two posts resulted in no comments, at least so far. I can understand how a cheap DVD player with a toothache can be ignored, but it does puzzle me just a wee bit why no one responded to my nearly dying. Was it my tone? Did the style of my droll recollection undermine anyone taking me seriously? Where are you Pat, or you, Jennifer, or you, Norm? I forgive Laurel because she recently posted.

In my quest for fame and glory, death is the last card to play, and it's too soon for me, as my reputation as a writer must occur sometime in the future, as I am too old to die young and misunderstood. I prefer old and misunderstood anyway, as I have some perspective about how no one is truly understood to the degree they had hoped. Sure, "We are all much more alike than otherwise," but none of us can really imagine the world from inside another's head. Even when Descartes reduced himself to a single thought, you have to wonder what kind of mind would seek that kind of vacuum, and whether he could maintain a limited consciousness without secondary comments floating through his mind from his other presumptive selves.

I sometimes think that perhaps a native, an aboriginal, might live in real time--that his only conversations are with others, that no debate goes on inside his head. He doesn't think: "I'm going to hunt;" he hunts. He doesn't think: "What shall I cook?" He cooks what's available or doesn't because nothing is. And he doesn't ask if his hunger is a sign of some god's disfavor. To have a natural consciousness--is it just a dream of Western Man? Could such peace exist internally? Are our interior discussions a result of civilization? Is the education of civilization therefore psychotic, or psychosis-promoting?

Many times in my poetry I have sought the Zen moment of forgetting myself in nature, when there was no "word" for ocean. Here's an unpublished example, one of a very few poems written during my internship half a lifetime ago:

After Rain

After the thunderstorm’s crackling resonances
the air blinks once
and in the still, unoccupied space
the birds begin their chant
as if by signal
in the tall juniper.

There is a conspiracy among them
or between them and the sky.
Their bamboo bones
divine the air’s pulse
and news travels quickly
through delicate throats.

Their speech is not our speech
but as if one mouth were speaking;
it is not relief they feel
or joy as we know it
but crescendo, counterpoint,
what the proper sound is after rain.

I have other poems that more strain to enter into the moment than describe it, but they are usually not successful, as language breaks down into some unavoidable abstractions. After all, in my imagination, the Aborigine doesn't think, "Kill lizard"--he kills the lizard.

I don't want to go Tom Sawyer on my audience, but 60 people come here each day to read something, whether my latest blog or something in the archives; that not one would comment on my brush with death puzzles me. There, I said it again. And if I were to die, would I be missed artistically? Would my essays, poems, ramblings, unpublished books, songs, CDs, the whole enchilada--would anyone miss them? Or would only my loved ones be tempted to read or listen because it reminds them of me the way I look at photographs of my late daughter, Rachel. Speaking of which, I broke my rule again. Here's the first poem I've written about her death:

On Rachel’s Death

Foam rolls like lava
down the dark rock islands,
waterfalls of seawater,
seafalls of saltwater
down the dark rock,
past the phalanx of gulls
standing motionless
in gray and white,
the colors of my beard.
An old one limps, his yellow
foot more crooked than
this line. I used to joke
that you gave me
the most white hairs.

The ocean sobs at how you died
like Marilyn with her panties on.
These details are what police write,
like the man with the red flag in his pocket
supervising sand, how your hair
was red.

(I know I promised to forsake poetry, and I have for the most part, but sometimes an exception bubbles through.)

I suppose my death would provoke as little comment as my near-death did. It's a big world out there, and the craft of writing earns a smaller and smaller audience. My thanks to whomever reads this, and no, you don't have to comment on my near dying. It's moot now that I'm alive. (Or is time past present in time present?)

1 Kilorat,


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Dr. Chaffin Nearly Dies!

There is a lithograph hanging in my bedroom entitled "Nine Lives." It is a pyramid of stylized cats in shades of blue, with the cat at the top of the pile nearly white, presumably representing the ninth life. I have cheated death eight times, including twice in one summer while working on offshore oil rigs. Last night I used up my ninth, and I fear my guardian angel is back on Prozac.

Later, after my brush with death, we had a discussion about whether you got a tenth life after using up nine or whether nine was the limit. Derek (stepson) and I thought it meant you got a tenth while Kathleen said nine was the limit.

(She is more the "glass is half-empty" half of our marriage, or in other words, the outrigger of sanity who anticipates danger.)

Should I list my other eight brushes with death? No, in keeping with today's infotainment cycle I'll relate only last night's occurence.

I was cooking a tough steak and sampled it before serving. I got an especially grisly piece, or should I say fascia-laden (fascia is the tough, translucent-white covering over muscles; think of it as a cellular girdle. Without fascia our muscles would relax and we would be weak and uncoordinated, finding it difficult even to walk. Just imagine all the rubber bands holding the joints and skeleton together gone limp.).

"Gristle" ought to officially refer only to cartilage, that darkly translucent yet incredibly rubbery-tough stuff that lines joints. Lacking a good common word for fascia, I'll substitute gristle. (Forgive this bird walk of medical semantics.)

In sampling the steak I swallowed a gristly piece of elongated meat. I swear it was sliding toward the right pipe when my epiglottis failed me and it slimed like a slug in a U-turn down my trachea. my first thought was, "Is my trachea truly occluded?" That was confirmed by my inability to speak. Yet because of the shape of the piece of meat, if I am not mistaken, I was still able to take in a little air around it. Maybe I could breathe, maybe I couldn't; the point is my trachea was plugged.

I reached for the back of my throat but could not reach the meat. At this point Kathleen and Derek noticed I was in trouble. Kathleen bravely attempted the Heimlich maneuver, but as I am 6'6" and 270 lbs, she couldn't get her arms around me. I was trying to give Derek instructions in how to do it with hand gestures, but he hadn't been trained. Yet he could reach around me while Kathleen coached him. So I wrapped my hands over his in a combined fist and pushed hard under my sternum to force my diaphragm up and we made a little progress, as I reached back and briefly touched the edge of the meat before it dived back into its snake hole. Instinctively I bent over, tried to cough, and finally snagged the tip of the meat with my fingers and pulled the little alien out. I breathed freely; I was a little light-headed but nowhere near passing out. I remember Kathleen saying, "That was a long piece of meat!"

People often ask what you were thinking when you came near death. I wasn't thinking; I was instinctively seeking survival, prepared to ram my belly against the top of the spinet piano next. I didn't panic; I didnt think about anything except the meat in my throat and how to get it out.

Afterwards Kathleen and Derek went to pieces, literally, tears and all, not just because of my escape but because they had been discussing the death of her first husband, Derek's father, earlier.

The first thing I said to Derek, whose face had turned almost white with terror, was, "C'm here boy, let me give you a hug." I pulled him close. In his right ear I said, "Thanks for helping save my life." In his left ear I whispered "Damn you!" --as for many years I have longed to die, to free myself from depression and pain, though I think it better to stay and try to help. "Put on the apron of life!"

Back to the revelatory moment. After I had dislodged the meat and observed its sinewy nature stretched on the linoleum, my only thought was:

"What a tough piece of steak!"

Later I ate more but sliced it very thin. It wasn't the meat's fault, after all.

"Get back on the horse, get back in the plane, go chomp on the steak again."

It tasted good, though it was a little tough.



Saturday, December 01, 2007

Inauthenticity and Machines

In signing in I noticed I had made 391 blog entries prior to today's.

C. S. Lewis disparaged diaries.

But with creative nonfiction taking pride of place nowadays, the perfect work of literature would be the perfect diary, even if written in the third person. People crave reality; it is the age of reality TV, creative nonfiction, docudramas--which should tell you one thing: It is the age of unreality, the age of inauthenticity. And whatever authentic thing the media discovers in this world it generally exploits and devalues. In a free market world, where entertainment, like politics, competes for the wallet, this should be a given.


We have a DVD player purchased from Wal-Mart on the cheap. It has the most amazing rattling sound, like a playing card held to bicycle spokes by a clothes pin. I move the unit, elevate one end, and sometimes succeed in eliminating the rattle. Last night in my battle with the rattle I finally tied a bandana tight around the machine as if to squeeze it into submission--and it worked!--until tonight, when the machine rejected the toothache cliche' until I smothered it with blankets. Do machines have vanity?

All these Chinese machines. As our chief lender, China supports our slavery to consumption. They don't have to spy on us; we pull our pants down in public.

Soon it will be the ugly Chinese, buying our cities, strutting their stuff, giving Patrick Buchanan a reason to live. It's inevitable. And they will be superseded by another race, and so on, until there are only the elite and the drones. No, no, scratch that--it goes against the democratization of technology, so I reject the idea.

In my country I have found Japanese tourists the most impolite and intrusive, as if we were one giant tea garden. I actually had some of them ask me to move while I was meditating on a pool so they could get a shot of some lilies. I think my response shocked them. (Americans are not Canadians.)

Source of all human annihilation: To consider certain humans as subhuman.

Madness. No, merely mankind.

I liked the DVD player with the toothache, the innocent anthropomorphism of that. Machines have yet to reach perfection and likely never will. As things stand, their occasional failings are their most endearing qualities.

This is the Age of Inauthenticity, if I can neologize, where your next lover might be the real thing. (Not. BO and bored with positions. You will seek the real thing out if it kills you, and it likely will.) One thing about authenticity is its natural imperfections, as in the machine I mentioned. Such defects cannot be duplicated except through complicated negotiations at cellular and digital levels.

The feeling of unreality you have is quite common nowadays. We have objectified ourselves through webcams and home movies, confessions and reality shows. We are living life vicariously in the third person. Hello, Britney, Paris, Angelina!

Nothing is authentic enough for the those without grounding. Hold fast to your traditions, however quaint, for it is more than most have nowadays. Muslims see the day coming when their grounding will be stolen and they must fight for survival. Or did I miss something?

2 Kilorats,


Unexpected Light

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