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


  1. A Matter of Synodic Compensation

    At moon set, in bare feet and gown,
    there’s an unearthly feel to the well house light,
    upslope mist that softens the blackberry canes;
    an interesting contrast between satin and thorn
    (briefly noted) as I negotiate the shifts
    and twists of a damaged mind that suddenly bolts
    and threatens to kill me.

    I know my lines,
    how to move in slowly,
    say them softly, repeat them again
    before I touch him.

    The poetic failure here, as one critic interpreted it,
    does not spring from teenage angst,
    is not nearly as romantic as getting shit-faced,
    playing hide and seek by moonlight
    in skimpy clothing.

    It is about living with psychosis for thirty years,
    being awakened at dawn by a loved one ranting,
    threatening to off me; about my utmost respect
    for the bald lady, her effect yet unproven
    on human behavior; how her return
    both fuels and scares me.

    The failure, as I see it, is more than poetic.
    It lies, I fear, in my inability
    to capture her in words, tame him with doses of Abilify.

  2. Just so you know I am with you...hang in there. I will, too.


  3. Amazing poem, truly, you should send it to _Breath and Shadow_. The bald lady puzzled me a bit, but I assume she is the goddess of pharmacotherapy, some pagan figure, a Sibyl. She could also be the company logo for Pfizer or something. "Abilify"--How great to use such ready-made irony in a poem! I wonder, however, if your charge suffers as much from self-consciousness and self-loathing, or does he _become_ his illness for the nonce? That could be a small mercy.


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