Sunday, November 30, 2008

Best of: Playing Peter Lorre: Dr. Chaffin the Informer

From 8/26/06:

I recently had a brush with the law, imagine my surprise when I heard a rapping on my front door, which irritated me, as the importunate individual didn’t come in when I shouted, “Come in!” Instead I was forced to unwind my creaky and overweight body from its easy chair to let the visitor in (and right now it isn’t easy to rise. When I push on the arms of my chair to lift myself up, sparing my back, the bursitis in my right shoulder makes it a molar-grinding proposition).

Did I mention the knock came from a detective? He was in uniform, perhaps because he was from the County Sheriff’s office. He was tall, dark, and Italian, with eyes of blue topaz. Rarely do I comment on a man’s appearance but I’m glad Kathleen wasn’t home to see him. I already hear too much about Liam Neeson.

I do wish he had worn a suit. I mean, there’s a reason they call detectives “suits,” isn’t there? My whole television world, my false comfort in phony stereotypes, was shattered, to say the least. Then there is something about a man in uniform.

Verily, about which matter did said authority inquire?

Detective Ricky Del Fiorentino laid out a pile of photos and asked me if I’d seen any of the furnishings displayed in them at my neighbor’s house. Err... that would have been a “yes.”

There was a woman in the photos who claimed to be our neighbors’ former landlord. She alleged they had skipped out not only without paying the rent, but with some souvenirs. As the woman was square-faced and frumpy-looking, I thought her a more convincing witness than my neighbors, who claimed to be from Malibu, and said recently, when Mel Gibson had his trouble, “Serves him right. Everybody in Malibu knew he was a phony.” They dress very LA as well, which stands out in the redwoods.

I didn’t want to make a positive identification without Kathleen consenting as there was no way to insure anonymity. I also wanted her moral input. I hate handing anyone over to the authorities as I have a healthy distaste for our system of needless incarceration, I mean justice. But if this other woman was telling the truth, I should probably come clean... best to wait for Kathleen.

Having only recently been severely depressed and still feeling fragile, I feel the need at present to consult Kathleen about nearly everything. She’s a fount of knowledge, truly. I only hope my dependence isn’t a turn-off. (Women want men to confide in them while acting as if they don’t need to.)

Kathleen came home and was certain that the right thing to do was to drop the dime, but I didn’t feel good about it. On the other hand, if our neighbors go upstate for grand larceny, N will quit cutting my Swiss chard without permission. Kathleen and I haven’t even tasted it yet.

It's not that S and N are good friends, by any means, but they are pleasant acquaintances, and once in a while we'd have a laugh. On the other hand, they were likely in possession of up to $10,000 of stolen goods. Worse, N had hornswaggled Kathleen in trying to sell things for her on E-Bay, promising to split the profits. She was trying to make Kathleen her unwitting fence!

I grew up in the 60s and hate to turn anyone over to the oppressors, I mean authorities. But Kathleen and I both thought it was the right thing to do. No doubt our grifter friends will shimmy their way out of it. All I know is that no arrest has been made yet today—about eighteen hours after the fact. Then the officer was trying to get a warrant on a late Friday afternoon, and prosecutors have lives, too.

Although we are friendly with S and N we are not invested in them. I told Kathleen from the outset that they were scammers, sociopaths. They were living under the radar, paying cash for everything except things you can’t get with cash, as when they importuned us to use our debit card to order cable for them.

Incidentally, they watch television 16 hrs. a day. It is unapologetically the most important thing in their lives. Why should they go to jail when they’re already in it? In jail they will certainly read more. It could be good for them. So it’s a win-win. The lady will get her antiques back. Our neighbors will begin a reading program. And my vegetable garden will not be abused.

Is there a poem in my oeuvres that can possibly relate to this tale? I found one that was later combined with others into my poem, “Drug Trial.”


To stand for something,
to protest abortion or the destruction of wetlands,
to support the preservation of historic buildings
or the return of condors to the wild
fulfills our passion for goodness
more than tolerance,
an mere exercise in manners,
not even a virtue, more like ignoring
someone’s body odor in an elevator.

Who can say with a straight face,
“I understand and accept what you are doing
even though I find it detestable?”

Moral passion is not an oxymoron.

I’d still rate myself as rodent neutral, but there’s also a prickling in my gut that tells me I’m not far from the abyss.

Thine in Truth and Art,

C. E. Chaffin

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Best of: You Want It? Explanation of Kilorats and Kilobunnies

From 8/11/06:

OK, people, one in particular, keep pestering me because they don't understand the mood scale that you and I have discovered on our travels together. But for the sake of the uninitiated, here is the full scale, and remember that the scale is linear, although properly at the extremes it ought to be more logarithmic. Rats or rabbits, that's the question.

Normal mood = 0, or rodent neutral.

Kilobunnies measure relative mania.

Kilorats measure relative depression.

Kilobunnies +10 down to +1.

+10) You are Jesus and you had it all planned that the police would put you in handcuffs and strap you face down on a hospital gurney, here comes the shot of Haldol. But you're in total control, it's all part of the plan, even your royal humiliation. (You're madder than a March hare on hashish!)

+9) You suspect you're Jesus. You use your secret powers secretly up to the appointed time. Hawks follow you and perch on the lamp post above the driveway at all hours. You carve your hedge into an oriental dragon. You cash out your retirement to start a sure-fire business you know nothing about. You sleep less than four hours a night.


+2) Begins two projects at once. Needs one less hour of sleep. Driving a little faster on the freeways.

+1) More talkative than usual.

Kilobunnies (+)

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$**rodent neutral**$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Kilorats (-)

-1) Don't really feel like going to work today. Everything looks kind of gray. Feel better after you start working.

-2) Sleep disturbance. Fitful dreams. Decrease in energy. Less time spent out, more at home.


-9) Responding to the questions of the man playing doctor is so much work, so much work to open my mouth. I will curl here, on the floor, to shield my body from the critical faces that look down on me with scorn, and deservedly so. They are far too easy on me. I should be executed. That would be just.

-10) Catatonia or complete withdrawal from the world into one's impersonal personal black hole; in rare cases waxy flexibility may occur where one can move a patient's limbs about like a mannekin.

This scale was derived from an astute analysis by Dr. Chaffin of the Petaluma Rat Man's case, one Roger Dier. If you're listening, Roger, we love you!


Now for today's selection, a poem at about 5-7? kilobunnies (it's hard for me to measure my work).

It (II)

Does it blister your eyes to read it?

Does it sink like a dental filling into your marrow,
touched by a spray of cold air?

Would you trade it for enlightenment? For gold?

Will it sing you to sleep like your mother did,
who was too shy to sing with the lights on?

Would you love it if it didn’t look like you,
if it had gills and fur?

Is it better than drugs, would you snort, inject,
rub it into the capillaries of your lip?

Would you recognize its sound,
whether a night bird screaming in the jungle

or the distant, ironic chill of a train whistle
beside the Iowa silos bent like toothpaste tubes

above the too-green, knee-high cornfields
while Judy Garland waves good-bye?

You want it? Go get it.


I don't know what this poem means, but I know where it's taking me--toward Sehnsucht, a heartache for Kansas, that Romantic longing for perfection associated with the bliss of early childhood--your one true love, the shiny bicycle of your dreams that arrived on Christmas, your ultimate hope, salvation, whatever calls you on toward that which cannot be achieved in this world except by the imagination.


Still at 0.5 kilorats.

"Better than Roger, at least,"
I can say with intimate irony.

Chasing the blues away,


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Best of: Poetry Blogs and Karaokepoetry

From 7/28/06:

Note: the following post exceeds 2000 words and thus may prove too long for cyberlitcruisers, so I'm going to insert in the text where you pass another 500 words, approximately, the way Disneyland puts up signs telling you how long you have to wait for the ride.

I'm amending the post below with an admission: I understand that I may come off as suffering from hubris, and no doubt I do; but there is a psychological reason for this. Suffice it to say that because of my father I use a hammer to kill a fly. I write as if someone's against me, opposed to my opinions, else act cocksure to repel attacks. Truly this is not who I am, or who I want to be, at least I hope not. Although I'm trying to become more self-aware of my defects, like most of us I will die more a mystery to myself than not.

Here's a poem I wrote long ago that explains my defense mechanism better:


My dad turned to me at times,
eyes hooded in drink,
to say, “I love you, Son.”
The words were eerie and eviscerate,
mechanical nightingales of rickety song.
A cigar store Indian
could have spoken them better.
My heart burned anyway.

Late at night, curled on the rug
in a fetal position before the television,
his nostrils trumpeted snores
deep enough to rattle
the fragile beanstalk of my spine.
I could never wake him.

Especially in the mornings
I felt my bird-like spirit
unwelcome in his lap.
I might have been smothered
by the sports section
or crushed like a cigarette.

(Published long ago in print, later online--so my records say but I have lost the names of the journals. I only bother to explain this because of what I say below.)


A Bloggywood of Poets

I am a contrarian by nature. My wife defines genius as "being able to see your mountain from another's mountain." Once in a while I qualify.

The hallmark of genius is seeing through a different lens--much like painting the empty space around an object. It has nothing to do with SAT scores. Newton's discovery of gravity may be the single best example of genius. Who else thought about why things fall?

Archimedes, from what I've read, must have been one of the greatest geniuses ever to live. Thomas Edison, with his sixth grade education and hearing impairment, was also a genius, as was Lincoln for different reasons. The list is very long.

But the woman with the highest recorded IQ (210), Marilyn Vos Savant, is not a genius. She makes a living through a column that answers factual inquiries. She's never written a symphony or come up with a fundamental discovery in physics, and she has not supplied a paradigm for analyzing Jimi Hendrix's leads, to the best of my knowledge.

You have now read 479 words

As a same-sex second-born child, I have an exaggerated sense of fairness (my older brother beat up on me from a very early age). So when I see something crappy being praised, or merely damned with faint praise, I get angry, I get on my high horse and want to skewer the phony responses. I can't seem to get over this. Strange that birth order may be the secret to my contrariness. I have the courage of a fool. I'm the senator from Mars, the dog from disobedience school.

I feel the same contrarian spirit regarding this blogging business, especially with regard to blogged poetry.

Most comments on blogs are superficial and cheerful and very short. That's usually a sign that someone with a blog wants to get their picture and link into your blog in order to funnel more hits their way. Such bloggers go to their referral stats and post anywhere that is supplying them hits in order to increase their unique visitors per day. I’m guilty of this motive, I confess, but my comments are usually much longer than average.

Now there are a lot of crappy poets out there blogging. But because of the above, I am amazed at the trifling little compliments showered on mediocrity. It's all good!

No, Virginia, it's not. Much of it is very, very bad.

Like Hollywood and the Karaokepoetry scene, if you know the craft of poetry and are willing to speak your mind, you will soon make some permanent enemies. And that’s because most artists can’t divide their identity from their work. I tell my poetry students to “Wear your art like a loose suit.” If someone can help you taper the suit to better advantage, why not listen?

Now for my confession. Yesterday I left a less-than-complimentary comment at a blog of one who left a compliment here. I could have said nothing. I could have walked away. But after reading all the other facile comments, I wanted to say something. I tried to be polite in deviating from the constant stream of praise, but my last comment was something like, “Your poem concludes with a fatal sentimentality. I’m not interested in watching a Hummel figurines move about.”

I didn’t have to go that far, did I? What possible advantage can this have for me? None. And how does it help the artist? It doesn’t, because he/she is not at a level where my criticism would benefit them.

Anyway, if my opinion was right, all the comments before me were devalued. I may have made ten enemies with one post. I fear to return there for that reason, because friends will come to their friends’ aid and likely accuse me of cruelty. One always hopes that people will act more maturely, but I have discovered that they usually don’t. (Obviously, my need to speak "the truth" must be considered immature as well. How I loved the boy who exposed the emperor!)

I want it to be about the poetry; they want it to be about feelings. Few attitudes are more destructive to the quality of art, although it is a pervasive attitude in all the orbits of the art worlds I’ve come across, from drama to music. You know— the eleventh commandment.

If I am in awe of poetic achievement, I am equally irritated by substandard poetry, especially when it is fawned over. And there's more of the latter than the former on the Net, where any nitwit can start a poetry blog and self-publish. I’m not afraid to be an example. Almost all the poems I post here have been published elsewhere.

My mother told me over and over again, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything." Still, I felt the falseness of her compliments to others by some inflection or familiarity with her; she went beyond silence into trying to find one good thing to say about something that was marginal at best. That's good breeding. It wasn't passed on to me. Then she was the baby of six siblings, a better place in the birth order.

You have now read 1,176 words.

In the poetic blogosphere I see the same phenomenon: post a brief, superficial complimentary comment at someone else's blog and hope that your appearance there garners more hits on your home site. It's obvious that many people who comment on a blog do so only in order to pump up their own traffic. Rarely is anything of substance said, because this is Bloggywood. Don't say anything negative, that site might drop your link.! Oh no! Everything is good in Bloggywood, just like Hollywood: “Great work, it's a sure hit, a pleasure to read, yada yada yada sis bam boom.”

Having got that off my chest, here's contrarian column about why I quit doing readings in LA and how I was blackballed there.



Last night I did the unthinkable; at a venue in Santa Ana, CA, where I was "featured," I did the unthinkable; I spoke my mind and offended nearly everyone there. My first remark:

"I don't give a shit about what any of you think of me, nor do I mind if you leave now, or later, or go outside to smoke a cigarette while I am reading."

More: "I haven't heard one poem tonight, even from my co-feature, that deserves publication in a quality magazine." Then I employed my now standard cinema metaphor, where if poetry were film there might be one listener in the audience while the rest of the participants holed up in the projection room, desperately hawking their canisters for one projector, just as there is but one microphone.

I did my usual grandstanding of handing out books of poetry to any who came who read or listened to poetry but did not attempt to write it; unfortunately, their were four in the audience, the highest number I've ever found, and I had but two books, hardbacks by Tony Hoagland and David Slavitt-- but may I say in my defense that two of the non-writers were merely the parents of my "co-feature" who had come to support their daughter, though I was still sorry to have run out of books.

I went on speaking freely about the state of poetry today, the lack of a true audience not jealous of my every minute behind the microphone, the woeful standards, the ignorance, the smug Hollywood glad-handing world of the Spoken Word Scene here in LA. At the conclusion, the host did "something he'd never done before" and publicly castigated me from the stage for dissing poetry in general, even my own (I made fun of my most narcissistic poems as I read them.) Though livid, the crowd forced the host to allow me to reply, where I explained the difference between PEMLODS and unusual personal experiences worth recording, or universal personal experiences made fresh by the gift of language. Basically, as chief featured emperor, I pulled my own clothes off and tried to leave everyone else naked. I reminded myself somewhat of the Quaker who lit himself on fire in front of the Pentagon to protest the war, an event that haunted MacNamara for the rest of his life.

You have now read 1,698 words.

Afterwards, the host implied "You'll never work in this town again," yada yada. And by coincidence, he was forced to give me a ride home-- where we continued our argument. It was then that he gave a gift of poetry to me, in terms of metaphor: "CE, we know a lot of the poetry isn't great, but it's like... like... Karaoke."

A light then went off in my brain! That's it exactly; all spoken venues with an open mike are exactly like Karaoke, though the audiences are even less talented-- since writing good poetry, IMNSHO, is more difficult than singing passably. But I understood, finally, why for a year, with about one reading a month (solicited only because of my publications, I didn't go the "open mike" competition route), I more and more dreaded reading in public. I usually left feeling used, soiled and false. So last night I spoke my truth, and was roundly castigated for it. "Imagine," I said to the host, "where the one place you can't tell the truth is at a poetry reading. What does this say about the spoken word scene and poetry in general?"

To make my point about PEMLODS, I tried to refrain from first person poems, but was trapped even by my own work where an occasional 'I' would creep in at the end of a poem I thought safe as external to the poet's self-involvement. But as I said above and in last night's after debate, if the 'I' is universal and invites all into the experience, or the 'I' relates an exceptional experience, these are not to be discouraged. It is the 'I' that magnifies a trivial adolescent world view (depression, romance, discovery of language, poems about poems about writing poems, etc.) that qualifies for my displeasure, even disgust.

After the brouhaha they offered me my share of the hat passing and I said, "No, you hate me, I have embarrassed you, you keep the money. I don't care about it anyway." Afterwards, when they took pictures for the local Orange County rag, I refused to be in the picture because "I had shamed you and should not be included." Yet they insisted I pose with the other "feature," so I did so in penance, at which I am good, and need to be good, especially when I shoot my mouth off. ;-) But for me it was a cleansing and liberating experience.

The spoken word scene in LA, by in large, consists of poets not good enough to be published or win prizes, admittedly in themselves not the best measure of quality, but unfortunately the best measure of quality extant. If you put the words of most "performance poets" on paper they violate the opposite pole of Eliot, that is to say, boring in their repetitive monologues that have to be juiced up for delivery. Spoken word poetry to my mind more resembles the speech contest category of "Dramatic Interpretation," except the author is also the actor-- and lacks a director, or in this case, an editor. It's of poor quality, adolescent, omphaloskeptic, composed of run-on sentences, and not worth my time. Politely enduring this crap, including the "co-featured" if I am unlucky enough to have one, for ninety minutes in order to read for twenty minutes (after the Karaoke Poetry microphone is placed in my hands) is eminently not worth it to me.

So the host, driving me home, said: "Well, you can do what so and so does, and forbid open readings or co-features when you read." And I thought, "What a great idea. I may never read in LA again, but it's worth it. That way I don't have to be false and gushing (as expected of me socially) to a bunch of nitwits who, having followed the example of spoken word poets, write mostly crap, whose chief features are 1) Redundancy; 2) Narcissism; and 3) Cliché'(in a word, lack of craft).

You have now read 2,361 words.

A good poem is hard to write; a great poem nearly impossible, almost a gift, why the idea of the muse has persisted even today. But emptying your guts at a Karaokepoetry venue has very little to do with poetry. My host criticized Shakespeare and felt some LA spoken word poets compared favorably to him, that he was only good because he did it "first." Naturally, after such a comment, there could be no resolution between us, although the young man is earnest and fairly well-read. He has only been ruined by example of a decadent subculture, where celebrity is cultivated in a Hollywood atmosphere ("And never is (publicly) heard a discouraging word.")

My favorite quote about Hollywood: "In Hollywood, it is not enough to succeed; your best friend must also fail." And though there may be innocent souls out there at these venues, hungry for quality, open to improvement, the cultivation of celebrity in self-authored dramatic interpretation has to affect them negatively, and I hope they are eventually driven to read the Greats.

Ranting with Pleasure,

C.E. (blackballed in LA?) Chaffin

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Best of, cont'd: Depressed People Are Boring and Irritating

From 7/17/06:

I actually woke up depressed today, despite two nights on the antipsychotic (Zyprexa). Usually there's some attainment of consciousness that precedes the leaden feeling, but within fifteen minutes of waking I began to cry. About nothing. Just sadness spilling over, sadness not attached to any particular loss.

Depressed people are boring. Their loved ones, ultimately, can't help being irritated by them. Here's what happened yesterday:

We took Kenyon to a nearby beach to swim. When we thought he'd had enough he began to shiver and Kathleen took him to the car to escape the wind, as she was getting cold, too. She told me "I'd like to leave in a little while." I wasn't ready to leave. Lying in the sun by a chorus of waves I found soothing, and I prefer open vistas to closed spaces no matter how sick I am.

Yet eager to be compliant, or rather desperate not to displease, I packed up and got in the car. I drove home, and after bringing the van into the garage, I told Kathleen that I was going back to the beach. This made her angry. "Why didn't you tell me at the beach? I could have sat in the car and read the paper. We're married, you know. We're supposed to communicate. And it's a waste of gas!"

And here I thought (is it depressive thinking?) that by getting her and Kenyon home quickly I could avoid any conflict and return to the beach as well.

I've told patients' friends and families that it's OK to get angry with depressed people. It's what they expect anyway. I advise Kathleen to treat me as she normally would when I'm sick. The last thing a depressed person wants is to be singled out for special handling, which is more painful than blending in and passing for human.

People who have survived severe depressions are tough. We're not made of glassware. The mentally ill are some of the toughest people you'll ever meet. Do you have any idea what it is to come out of a psychosis? Have you ever had to step back into this world from an alternate world that seemed more real than this one and have to adapt all over again?

Obviously I'm worse today, say 5 Kilorats. I don't want to go lower but I have no control over the disease. I write to distract myself. If it distracts you as well, it has served some purpose.

It's terrible in the midst of depression to have the certainty it will come again, that "soul mutilator" of which Jane Kenyon speaks below.

When you step on a piece of concrete with a hollow space beneath and hear the clunk and shiver, I am the echo below.

Here's something really worth reading, a poem by Jane Kenyon, "Having It Out with Melancholy."


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Best of: Penis-Pumping Judge

From 6/30/06:

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

Best of: Roger Dier and the Origin of "Kilorats"

From 6/27/06: In hindsight I realize that my math was wrong. If in a mild depression a man can take care of 1000 rats, in a maximum depression he shouldn't be able to handle even one. Instead I inflated the scale to kilorats with ten kilorats being the maximum measure of depression. Despite the error, I kind of like "kilorats" and have stayed with it since.

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.

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,


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Best of: Religious Psychosis and Bipolars

From May 24, 2006:

Late last night I began to feel a little better; I began to talk with Kathleen a bit, was able to listen to music and read. This is normal with clinical depression. Just as patients with infections often have fevers only at night, likewise those mired in clinical depression often only feel better at night, the later the better (which makes me wonder whether the legend of vampires, like the term, "lunatics," was partly based on bipolar disease).

Nevertheless I woke up this morning nervous. Despite this or because of it I told Kathleen I'd drive to town to get the Sunday paper. I turned on the radio, thinking I had punched a public station but instead found a fundamentalist church service. The congregation was singing, "Slow me down, Lord," which is exactly what lithium and other anti-manic medications do. You can't make this stuff up! Meanwhile, my internal motor was sputtering and going into overdrive. Let me explain this.

A "mixed state" occurs when a bipolar is unstable and can go from manic symptoms to depressive symptoms rapidly. A patient can start out weeping, for instance, become anxious and possibly paranoid, change to hysterical laughter and hilarity, and all the while feel propelled forward by an energy that is ego-dystonic--a fancy psychiatric term for "unpleasant," though unpleasant doesn't cover it. Often when a bipolar is about to flip back into normal mood he experiences these hints and guesses--brief periods of feeling normal mixed with anxiety, sadness, and an internal energy that seems to be pushing him, of being driven. In its worst form, as described by Kay Jamison in her book, An Unquiet Mind, it can turn into a "black mania"--a psychotic depression with all the energy of mania, a horror that is nearly indescribable to the average person. It is hell. I have not experienced an extended black mania, thank God, but I have come close to it, briefly, in mixed states. Back to my story.

On the way back from town I put on a music station but was tempted to go back to the religious station, where the minister was preaching from the Gospel of John about the extended metaphor where Christ is the vine and we are the branches. In exposition of the term "abide," used eight times in the passage, the preacher explained that the sense was "to conform or comply"--which turned the passage into evidence to me of damnation, i.e., I cannot conform or comply with Christ's teachings, much less abide in him, with any confidence, especially when depressed, where all turns against me. I should know better than to have listened; religion is risky at best to the symptomatic bipolar. Thus the sermon had the opposite effect than intended, just as when depressed I always leave church feeling more guilty than I came in, paradoxically damned by my shortcomings rather than lifted by God's love.

It is well known that bipolars and schizophrenics often have severe religious delusions. (There is a book called The Three Christs of Ipsilanti where a psychiatrist actually had three patients in group therapy who all thought they were Christ). Religion can be extremely toxic to the bipolar, and it certainly is for me, because after I heard this portion of the sermon I broke out in tears, praying or crying out loud, "I can't conform to you, Lord, I can't comply with you, can't you abide with me? Please abide with me Lord, Oh please."

The redeeming aspect of this, thought the experience was painful, is that I did turn the tables on my self-condemnation; I was able to add a Lutheran flavor of grace to my mental suffering, that I was a helpless sinner dependent on grace, therefore by faith God should abide with me--not that I believed it with any conviction, but I did feel a little better afterwards. At least I stopped crying by the time I got home.

When I was younger, and before I was diagnosed, I was hyper-religious, mistaking my bipolar symptoms for nearness or distance from God, fasting and praying when depressed (fasting was not hard since I lost my appetite) and rejoicing and sharing my faith when manic. After electroconvulsive therapy at age 30 I didn't darken a church for nearly a decade, wanted nothing to do with any inner conception of religion, fearful that it would worsen my disease. My attitude was, "if God is interested, let him come to me." In Mexico over the last three years I have been able to attend church but only because it was Episcopal, where the form of worship took from me the personal burden of connecting with God. The symbol of the Eucharist became my main affirmation of faith and singing bass in the choir was my contribution. And luckily, during my time in Mexico, I had no extended depressions, only brief ones, just as I had brief manias, the main reason being that I knew from experience how to medicate myself quickly in order to prevent the extremes of cycling.

If I were in my right mind, I think I would tell religious bipolars that God grants us a special dispensation to avoid any intense involvement with religion. We're much better off doing good deeds and loving our neighbor than daring the insanity any form of Pentecostalism or mysticism may bring on. God loves us no less for our illness, it is only our self-hatred, chemically based, that makes us sometimes feel abandoned by God, just as the inappropriate inflation of self-love may convince us we are God incarnate. I've been through both.

I wish this disease on no one. Untreated it has over a 30% mortality rate lifetime. That's a bad number, not to mention lifetimes of relative disability because of it, like that poor composer, Schumann.

I'll conclude today's epistle with poem dealing with my past religious psychoses:

An Ex-Pentecostal Examines His Psychosis

God was a pet who lived in my head
and told me what to do
just before I thought of it,
as if the idea were His.
I heard: Go to the store, not,
I think I’ll go to the store.

Has God ever told you
to order a hamburger?
My God did– with pickles and lettuce.
(He knows if a sparrow falls
so a hamburger’s no big deal.)

More than a sparrow fell
when I dropped from that nest,
that mares-eat-oats-and-does-eat-oats
sick haven and all the rest.

I want no personal God;
I might mistake him for me.
If there’s a God, and he’s listening,
I pray he ignores this poem.

(published in Magma)

Thine in Bipolar Depression,


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Best of: Back to Depression

From May 12, 2006:

I've sunk back into depression, unfortunately, though it was slightly predictable. My pain management doctor had given me narcotics for control, but she's in San Diego, so naturally I ran out. And I didn't plan my withdrawal properly like I did last time, so I sank immediately into depression. Today is a little better. I made a list of goals for the day. And I'm writing, which is also a good sign. If I keep this palaver up I may convince myself that I'm coming out of it.

What I really hate about depression is how I can be on the beautiful Mendocino coast where the pines parade down to the sea and take no pleasure in it. This is called "anhedonia." Then there is the incapacity to feel love towards anyone or anything; there is simply a blank wall, Sylvia Plath's "bell jar." I am convinced in my bones that my life amounts to nothing and that all would be better off without me. When I asked myself where I might be happy, I could only think of a hole in the earth. My crying jags also arrive on time; right now they are scheduled for about 3 PM. This always happens in my depressions, a clockwork biology where I can predict when I will weep like a mock turtle on a schedule about the waste I call my life. No list of accomplishments can dissuade me from the opinion that I have done nothing. The future is unimaginable; the past is an incontrovertible witness in favor of the prosecution against me.

My "life script," also, a Transactional Analysis term, feeds into this. When I did my fourth step in AA, I reduced my life and the message I received in childhood to this: "If you're not perfect, you're worthless; if you're not the best, you're nothing." I'm sure my parents did not intend me to be branded by these double-binds, but they meshed nicely with my manic-depressive disease. My new psychiatrist pointed out this psychological misperception to me in our first session, and that upset me. But he had me.

Which raises the question, "What good is self-knowledge?" If I know how I'm fucked up, can write about it, talk about it, why can't I change it? It may be too deeply embedded to dislodge. My philosophy is to accept it and try to be aware of it, as it is too late to escape the programming entirely without a severe blow to the head.

If nothing I do can proves I'm not worthless, why do I keep trying? When not depressed I think my goals might be worthy in themselves, and my worth is not entirely dependent on them, rather I have some intrinsic worth granted by the Almighty and my loved ones. Nevertheless at the core of my being, like the rubber strands wound around the mystic center of a golf ball, the mantra persists.

In Mexico I counseled an elderly lady with severe myesthenia gravis who was virtually paralyzed, had to have her diapers changed, for instance. She could still talk. How she maintained fortitude and avoided depression under such conditions amazed me. If I became totally dependent upon others, there would be nothing to prove my worth. That scares me. And life is just that thin; "car crash tomorrow." "All flesh is like grass." Everything you trust in today could be ripped away tomorrow. Think of the Christmas tsunami and Katrina.

We can't let the vulnerability of our immediate lives into the forefront of our minds too much or it will undermine our confidence in the things we actually do and strive for, letting the air out of the balloon we have constructed in an unfounded faith in the continuity of our existence and expectations.

I recently read Jack London's "Sea Wolf" for the first time, where the captain, a thoroughgoing amoral atheist, preaches the gospel of survival, of bigger fish eating littler fish, where whoever gets to indulge in the most "piggishness" was the ostensible winner. The protagonist, Humphrey Van Weyden, tries to counter these arguments with his philosophy of the sacredness of life and altruism, but discovers that his reasoning is not nearly so water tight as the captain's, especially in view of the brutal conditions on the sealing ship where he is forced to work, along with the evil character of most of the hands.

So what remedy remains me? My best philosophy is acceptance. If I accept these features in my flawed self they will not exercise the unconscious power over me that they otherwise possess. In my best moments I will be able to actually laugh at myself and the programs I swallowed whole as a small child. Alas, today is not one of those days, because the biological aspect of my depression does not yet allow me such wisdom.

This too will pass, and I will embrace this ephemeral world as substantial again. But one thing depression teaches you is how thin the spider's thread we hang from truly is.

Thine in Depression (again),


Friday, November 21, 2008

Best of: Seagull Surgery and Consumerism

The economic view in this previous post now looks prescient, however unoriginal.

From March 24, '06:

Yesterday we went to Van Damme State Park beach to exercise Kenyon. He continues to limp on his left forelimb, which the vet diagnosed as osteoarthritis—no need even for X-Rays. Yet it still grieves us to watch him lope unevenly rather than run outright.

At the beach we tossed a chartreuse tennis ball into the Little River and watched him swim and fetch, gradually working up to the ocean, where he braved bigger and bigger waves to fetch his ball. Because he has one cataract his vision is not as keen as formerly, so we also use a green 7-Up bottle half filled with water for fetching.

Kathleen and I also engaged in a little batting practice with a piece of driftwood and Kenyon’s soggy tennis ball. She hit it hard twice but more often whiffed, for which I blame my pitching. Kenyon meanwhile played catcher and chased down every missed ball before grudgingly, and with much encouragement, returning it to the pitcher.

The good news is that Kenyon’s personality has made quite a comeback, overcoming his canine PTSD in increments. He will now wander out back of our motel without accompaniment, though most of the time he still stays very close to Kathleen. When we come home he now greets us with as many items as he can stuff in his mouth, including his favorite sock and rawhide bone. (Sometimes he gets two socks in his mouth but it’s hard to add the tennis ball.) He’s been up in our bed to be doted upon but has trouble climbing up without help. It’s always the left front leg that gives him trouble. I suggested a neoprene sleeve support to the vet, but she’d never heard of such a thing, so I think I may go to the local dive shop and have them make one.

As we were preparing to leave the beach yesterday, Kenyon happily tired out from his swim and fetch session, we noticed a mottled brown seagull flopping around in the parking lot. From a distance it appeared to have a broken right leg. On closer inspection I noted that it had been hamstrung by a long leader used for salmon trolling (which I believe is out of season and illegal now), including a hook through his right flipper and one deep in his gullet. I threw a towel over the bird and lifted it carefully into a box in the back of our beat-up van. As we drove back to Fort Bragg he escaped from his box and began fluttering amidst the luggage in the back (which made me feel like Tippie Hedren in a phone booth). Kathleen steadied Kenyon but he wasn’t terribly interested, once again confident that he is the center of the universe.

Returning to the motel, I called a number of state agencies for wildlife rehabilitation, only to receive the final recommendation that I should call a local vet. Your government at work. “Save the teacher’s union, not the seagulls.” As all the vets’ offices had closed, and being a qualified physician and surgeon myself, I thought it would be easier if I did the job. With the help of Suzanne, our motel manager, and Kathleen, I was able to remove both hooks and untangle the leaders and snap-swivels from the bird’s right wing.

Its tongue had been partially severed in the middle by the fishing line. The hooks were large and of stainless steel, so wire cutters were of no use; I had to crimp the barbs and back the hooks out, which worked, although “Benny” (I named him afterwards but his pronoun will now change from “it” to “he,” though I have no idea how to determine the sex of a seagull) was obviously in pain during the operation on his gullet. I did learn that the pressure of a seagull’s bite is not powerful enough to seriously injure a human finger, although it can be impressive to the uninitiated. I wore gloves in any case. Afterwards Kathleen soaked the gloves in detergent.

Only then did I realize that “Benny” might have given us the bird flu! Oh well. I wouldn’t have done anything different if he were the first North American case except to wear a mask and quarantine him. I don’t recall any cases in seagulls or vultures anyway, as their scavenging ways require a very aggressive immune system.

I let Benny down in the storeroom after the operation and he could walk normally again, but I wasn’t sure he could fly. Suzanne suggested we keep him in a box overnight to rest. This morning I released him and he seemed dazed; I gave him some bread and sardines and he ate them, though his aim in locating the morsels seemed a little unsure. Concerned that he couldn’t fly, I gave chase to him on foot, feeling like Rocky Balboa, only to see him take off from the parking lot, whirl around the trees at low altitude, and then land in the middle of Highway 1. What a bird brain is Benny! Kathleen and I raced to the median and held up cars in order to shoo him off the road. In the gas station across the street I couldn’t capture him with a towel, but he finally took off and flew back across the road. There he located a pool of fresh water flowing by the curb and drank his fill. I watched him a little longer before leaving him to his own wiles and the elements.


Yesterday we learned that we’d been declined as tenants for a second hoped-for rental, and we know it’s our credit scores doing the damage. As mad poets, Kathleen and I are occasionally seized by guilt at our joint unreliability when confronting the mechanics of modern reality. We’ve owned three houses between us and have nothing to show for it. We’ve both been through bankruptcies. In Mexico we spent way too much money, including the little amount of equity (by today’s housing market standards) we managed to recover when we sold our re-financed condo.

Sitting on the bed together, admitting our lifetime lack of interest in things material as well as our failure to cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s of modern living (we have no health and I have no life insurance, though we do have car insurance), Kathleen remarked, “It’s not so bad, Craig. That’s just who we are. We saved a seagull in distress that other people at the State Park ignored. We helped bring back Kenyon’s health. We had a good day.”

And you know, she’s right. We are truly God’s children, and though that’s no excuse for not doing better in the real, material world, we’re just the kind of people who more easily give away a dollar than pinch a penny. We do, however, believe in karma, that the good we’ve done in our lives (though it will not insulate us against suffering as this blog has pointedly illustrated) will ultimately rebound to us in times of need—and it has. “Cast your bread upon the waters.” “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” “Behold the lilies of the field.” And so on. For us this is not an excuse but a matter of faith. We are not in denial about not building bigger barns. We’re just not very good at it, but God is faithful even to the foolish.

Now I did pay all our bills yesterday, including half of the money my sister loaned me short-term when Child Support Services left us penniless again two weeks ago, and I am current with the car payment, the motel bill, the storage payment, and child support, so it’s not as if we’re totally irresponsible. What truly galls me is that three years ago, when we sold the condo, I was entirely debt free. But when I went to purchase a car, I couldn’t get a decent loan because, God, of all things, I had “no credit.” No payment records. A debtless soul. Thereby I learned again the logic of American consumerism: if you can’t be trusted to keep on borrowing, we can’t trust you to keep on lending.

So a word to the wise: do not become debt-free. Pay your credit card bills on time; in fact, it’s best to run up large bills and make large payments for at least six months to improve your credit. But never, never get entirely out of debt or the system will punish you for your frugality.

And remember our great example: a government of the consumer, by the consumer, and for the consumer, shall not perish from the earth, as Congress has just raised the national debt ceiling to nine trillion dollars—$9,000,000,000,000—more eggs than a million seagulls could lay in a lifetime. Still the thinking goes that compared to our yearly GNP it’s not that bad. Besides, if American credit goes down the drain, the global economy will tank as well, because those who have invested in our debt, like China and Japan, would be shaken to the core. Thus they would do anything to prop up the credit of the U.S., as we are all so economically intertwined—like mating snakes.

The moral of my story? A penny borrowed is two pennies earned.

And don’t waste your life on wounded seagulls unless you’re willing to pay the price.

Thine as ever,

C. E. Chaffin

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Best of: "Beach Glass and Glass Beach"

From March 12, 2006

I forgot to mention a very disturbing dream I had last night, which I attributes to eating a Uno bar before sleep. Chocolate has psychedelic properties, I’m convinced, and I think it raised my dopamine levels, which are low in Parkinson’s patients but high in schizophrenics.

For starters, Kathleen, Kenyon and I had visited Glass Beach the day before. Glass Beach used to be a dump before 1970, on the coast at the north end of Fort Bragg. Since its closing it has been transformed into a cove of shingle, pebbles and sand with a higher proportion of sea-smoothed glass than any other beach in California.

I collected beach glass in San Clemente for a decade, and after becoming choosey—that is to say, I came only to accept beach glass for my collection whose rough edges had been sufficiently sculpted into dull gems—I was able to fill over half of a medium-sized fish bowl with specimens. These included one yellow piece, one red piece, and two blue fragments I assumed were from Milk of Magnesia bottles. I was proud of my collection,

Then we visited Glass Beach, whose smoothed glass fragments were so plentiful the guide book said, “Be sure to visit it in full sun to see the glitter of the glass and ceramic on shore.” Imagine my surprise, even wild joy, when after years of collecting I could fill the same fish bowl in one day if I tried.

This experience reminded me of the principle of diminishing pleasure in unexpected returns. After the rare and unpredictable joy of finding one or two worthy specimens a day in San Clemente, to find such a plethora of specimens in Fort Bragg devalued my earlier exertions with the sweep of a magic wand. I found three blue specimens at Glass Beach in one afternoon, even a specimen of reinforced glass with the wires visible within, something I’d never encountered before. And I didn’t even look very hard; I was half-hearted about the effort. At first happy, my happiness had been diminished by an unprecedented abundance, as if the glory of my former finds, purchased with great effort, was now too easily attained--like climbing Mt. Everest via a helicopter. The value of these easily found specimens caused a great inflation in my spiritual economy, much like Twain deriding heaven as a boring vacation destination where harps and clouds and saints were all too commonplace.

I cannot help but think that the shock of the ease of collecting my previously hard-won trophies put me in an unconscious spin, which may have been the cause of my dream (combined with the late dose of chocolate).

In my dream I was seeking heaven or some sign of heaven on earth. Through secret communications I was directed to a group of people in a spacious, rustic house of great proportions. There the goodness was overwhelming. The presumption of eternal life and the ultimate triumph of goodness in this world was a given; people were confident in their faith and full of good humor, though also cognizant that they were an anomaly in this world of evil, which required of them a strict secrecy.

Amazed, overjoyed, I socialized with these souls who seemed to live in a glorious eternity most would never attain, much less suspect as a mode of being obtainable on earth. This vale of tears was completely subsumed by the generous smiles, glowing miens and forgiving natures of the secret conclave—all attractive, gracious, well-spoken, and guiltless while enjoying caviar and drinks.

Yet as I listened to their conversations, it occurred to me that they seemed somewhat bored, and that their concern for genocide in Darfur and Rwanda and the destruction of the Amazon Rain Forest had been superceded by their supreme and well-justified confidence in the future, knowing how it would all turn out. Gradually my joy at having discovered these spiritual giants was dampened by my disappointment, not in their self-satisfaction, but their seeming unconcern with the world’s current needs. To find my more spiritually advanced brethren unable to share the desperate compassion I felt for those on this dark planet still suffering, however blind, made for a guilty disillusionment on my part. Not that I found this company of saints evil, or proud, or condescending, or unconcerned, simply above the fray and thus slightly bored. However much I wanted to stay in their company I began to feel uncomfortable, as if I didn’t deserve to be in their company, while at the same time my sinful resentment surfaced in the suspicion that they might be “too heavenly minded for any earthly good.”

Like the unexpected and easy harvest of beach glass, these beings’ angelic, joyful insularity became too easy to countenance. Mournfully I realized I could not stay in their number, that I must return to the struggle of those still suffering on earth, however blind they might be to the all-conquering faith of the spiritual cognoscenti. They did not need to nurse AIDS patients because, as in the words of Dame Julian of Norwich, they knew that “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Their company struck me a little like an inauguration gala just waiting for the second coming. In contrast I felt like a spiritual Neanderthal who wanted to return to the playing ground when the victory was already assured. In my heart I felt it was too early to celebrate the triumph of goodness, however much I ultimately believe in that outcome. We parted amicably and though I sensed no pity on their part, I considered the price they paid for their assurance and easy grace: they were no longer in the fight. There was no point anymore, in their view (though never directly stated), to get their hands dirty as Mother Teresa had.

I woke from the dream with a sense of regret; I felt I belonged with them; I was grateful to have discovered their secret society; at the same time I was not content to rest on the promise of faith when so much still hung in the balance.

The whole dream was like an acid flashback; twice before as a teenager I had similar visions on LSD, visions of humanity united in a loving, telepathic unity of eternal spiritual bodies (“How does it feel to be / one of the beautiful people?”) But it was not for me; even wigged out on acid such a blessing seemed premature. As lucky as I was to encounter them, I knew I could not continue among them without the eventual tug of a spiritual lack, and this grieved me to no end, as their attitude toward the ongoing spiritual battle confirmed my best hopes for humanity. So I left each time discouraged but resigned to my lesser fate of trying to love my neighbor in this fallen world despite my many defects.

Sometime ago I wrote a love poem to Kathleen wherein I theorized a similar phenomenon. Here’s an excerpt from “About the Bracelet”:

“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.”

This stanza plays off the cabalistic notion that if only a few righteous men remain on earth, like Abraham arguing for Lot, they retain the power to extend God’s compassion before the inevitable day of judgment.

A strange dream, no? Yet the scriptures encourage me against any such premature fulfillment: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, for we walk by faith, not sight.” “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” “I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

The parallel to the disappointment of Glass Beach is obvious, though I don’t know if it’s fair to blame the chocolate.

I’d like to close this account with a poem I wrote about beach glass before I knew about Glass Beach.

Beach Glass

and soft to thumb
down in a palm
like a familiar coin
but heavier,
its once jagged face
has suffered the sea
and no longer fractures light
in glints and glares.

Ground to dull edges
by sand,
it welcomes light evenly
and glows
luminously green
beside the dark,
wet pebbles.

I do not know if nature’s transforming magic (in the face of man’s irresponsible litter) would have inspired me to pen this encomium if I had encountered Glass Beach before beach glass.

C. E. Chaffin

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Best of..."Dr. Chaffin Goes to Jail"

Wow, just as the economy is contracting so is my blog readership. I wonder if this is universal? Nevertheless I shall persist in posting "The Best of" for about a week, though the thirst for updates in current news drives the engine, the trip is still worth reviewing. From "Dr. Chaffin Goes to Jail," 2/6/06:

So here I was at the prosecutor's office at 9 AM, located in the same jail I was to visit later that day under a different status.

I was meeting with the prosecutor personally since our lawyer was again indisposed. I asked him when we'd get the dog and our stuff back. He decided to set a date for one week, where if our evil maid didn't appear she would be fined, and if she missed the subsequent date, she'd be fined again, and after the third failure another warrant would be issued for her arrest.

I stared in disbelief. That is, after someone has been convicted and it's proven she has stolen from you, she doesn't have to return your goods until three court dates later?

Flummoxed, with less than three hours sleep, knowing I should return home and back to bed, beset by the trots again, I just couldn't face Kathleen with the news. So I drove out to Maria's ranch where her son was working with another man on constructing her brick palace.

I stepped onto the property, asked Benjamin's co-worker if he was there, and strode into the shell of the palace where turkeys, chickens, and other beasts were being kept, but no Kenyon--which was my purpose in coming, to ascertain if he were there or not.

I asked Benjamin if he knew where Kenyon was and he said "No." Staring at his little monkey face (of 33 years), I just lost it, kicked him out of the brick palace and began pummeling his face. Then I just stopped, strangely. I was fagged, Kenyon wasn't there (although I had heard a bark that resembled his--turned out to be another dog).

So Benjamin, after covering his face as best he could, peeked out to see me doing nothing. Whereupon he ran for a crow bar and attacked me; I pulled the crowbar out of his fist with such force that I fell on my back. In this position Benjamin jumped on me with his co-worker; Benjamin pressed the crowbar on my left clavicle and neck, but could do no damage because I held the bar as well; but his co-worker put the point of a machete at my right carotid with an uncomfortable amount of pressure; both were obviously terrified of the giant Gringo, sweating bullets and repeatedly calling the police while both my arms were pinned down by their squat Mexican knees.

Lucky for them I wasn't manic, or in good health, or I probably would have done something stupid and hurt them. But I kept my head, as in my weakened condition I decided sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, so I waited patiently in the typical crucifixion position until the police came 45 minutes later. Meanwhile I stared up at the fungus balls on the dead Mesquite giant above me, tried to doze a little, and occasionally complained about my hands being numb or the machete being too deep in my throat.

The police arrived and seem puzzled per usual. They cuffed me behind too tightly (my left thumb is still slightly numb from the nerve pressure) and had be climb in the back of a small pick-up without help, which I managed. Then on bumpy, bumpy roads, with myself scrunched against the cab wall, I was finally taken to jail and given my own cell, though I did have to ask for water and toilet paper.

Further indigities occurred but I am still too exhausted to describe them until another post.

Only Benjamin was bleeding; my worst pain was of course in my back from being hauled through town as a spectacle. Mexicans smiled at the giant Gringo in the police truck with mixed admiration and wonder, but not much Schadenfreude.
Later my lawyer sprung me with a call to the mayor. That was an expensive call.

The good thing is that the incident lit a fire under my lawyer's ass, and also, when they hauled me (the second time) across town and back to record my version of the story at another ministry ten miles away, the office was too crowded--so I couldn't make a statemen--which would have put me in jail until Tuesday (this happened on Friday), except for my lawyer's connection.

I'm really close to giving up, unlike one of my (and my brother-in-law, Howard's) heroes, Winston Churchill. "Never give up, never ever give up except for reasons of principle or honor."

Obviously Winston's advice is that I continue. But at what cost? My health is nearly ruined, my financial status dicey, and my will, normally indomitable, has suffered spiritual fatigue of a sort I can't remember save in my deepest depressions.

I'll guess I'll see "what tomorrow may bring," as Dave Mason of Traffic sang so long ago.

Meanwhile I'll reconsider physical confrontations at my age. I never hit a man first before, except once when I took off a man's glasses and told him what was to follow. But feeling so weak in a fight really made me feel old and useless. Paul Simon's "Boxer" comes to mind.

Oh well, just another day in Mexico. Now the whole family down here has been to jail over the pooch. Mexicans think that's absolutely crazy. Hope you don't.

Now wasn't this more exciting than the Super Bowl?

Love to all,

C. E. "Jailbird" Chaffin

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

500th Post: Best of My Blog

To honor my 500th post since July of '06, I'm running "A Best of" series for any who missed my earlier narratives. This is from Oct. 5, 2006:

Yes, the black cloud of clinical depression has finally descended on me after a year-and-a-half of bad luck. I know from experience that once my brain chemistry is adequately adjusted, my wife's dear face will look familiar to me again, but one symptom of depression is derealization--the sense that everything is foreign, even the chairs at the restaurant this morning (where I didn't eat), as if every object in the world were new, entirely inexplicable and vaguely sinister.

The last time I was hospitalized for depression, January 1996, I remember how daunting it was to tie my shoes. It took much study, but after a while I managed it. However, the whole process of tying my shoes seemed as if I'd never done it before.

This is one reason I tell folks that ECT is a whole lot better than depression. My memory has been more damaged by depression that my one course of ECT, which restored it back in 1983.

Anyway, in writing about this I escape the feeling for a while. In the formation of words we are forced to ignore inner weather for a moment, perhaps because of the very demands of logic placed on the left hemisphere where depression is mainly centered.

Recent studies also show the use of antidepressants may keep the brain more agile over time, contrary to earlier fears.

I'll share with those likewise afflicted my rules for depression.

First, and above all, be evaluated biologically and enter treatment with the proper medications; wait for the worm to turn, it always does eventually. And if medications don't help a serious depression within two to three months, especially for manic-depressives, I think ECT a very good choice.

Now, behaviorally, here are Dr. Chaffin's rules:

1) It is better to do something than nothing.

2) It is better to do something active than something passive.

3) It is better to be with or around people than alone.

4) Try to set a modest goal each day. Mine is: "I'm going to try not to hate myself too much today."

I try to follow my own advice. Here I am writing, right?

As for the lawyer thingie planned yesterday, the public prosecutor is absent and won't be back until Thursday so we couldn't go.

Kathleen ate some excellent Eggs Benedict this morning. I had one bite and made a lame joke about the current Pope--as close as I came to humor.

I can still read. That's a good sign. When worse I can't concentrate enough to remember what I'm reading.

Here's a poem about depression:

Eternal Recurrence

Psychologists call mania
a defense against depression
but I find that silly.
There is no defense
against depression
and no adequate metaphor
for its recurrence, but I'll try:

You love someone with all your heart.
They are brutally murdered.
After an interminable grief
they magically reappear
and you fall down on your knees
and thank God with tears.

The second time is worse.

After the third funeral
you dread their resurrection
as much as their death
and love becomes a poisonous thing.
You would drive a stake through their heart
if only you could.

Here's a link to where it was published along with others, in Tryst:

All for now. Thanks for listening.


Friday, November 14, 2008

New Poem: Halloween 2008

This is the 499th post on my blog, begun in July of 2006, which means my next post must be triumphant, apopleptic, egregious and all-encompassing--or a mildly entertaining read.

I thought I'd use today's numerically less significant post to compose a spontaneous poem. Here goes:

Halloween 2008

I carved a cat-face shadow in a pumpkin.
Our teeth are always breaking down.
Dentists prepare the perfect crown.
After the candle the display was passable.
Protect your temporary crown
Do not chew up, do not chew down.

Light leered through lens of feline eyes,
my knife-work softened by the glow.
The cat did not appear a threat.
Dentists carve the dead stuff out,
that burning smell--you know the drill.
The pumpkin looked respectable.

I sat in an orange Volkswagen
convertible of leather and chrome
and wished the ragtop were my own.
I love the new car smell of it,
like Cinderella in her coach.
Goddamn my tooth! It hurts like shit!

Day by day the pumpkin turned
more hideous, frosted with mold
in dangling white or speckled black.
I've always driven convertibles, ah
the smell of eucalyptus groves!
Furry white fungus hung from feline eyes.

Soon its mien began to look like Satan.
The light along its ears turned into horns.
The temporary crown must be respected
Sans chew, sans gum, sans mints, sans everything.
If the gourd turned evil in my care
the candlelight would guard against despair.

Soon after I employed this course of action
the Jack-O-Lantern fell into the garden,
a Humpty-Dumpty wannabe from hell.
If it was evil I will never know.
But as for toothaches, pain is pain:
Pain writes the history of the body.

Well, that was fun! Comments appreciated.

Much to report but the poem wore me out.

Long day in court. I wore a tie for the first time since August 2007 at Rachel's memorial. I think I might have won my case. Our former landlord is a lightly gilded though not gelded asshole.

2 Kilobunnies,


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book Jacket, Turkeys, Green Technology and a Birthday

First, here's the book jacket for my selected poems and love poems, due out February 15.

Here's the jacket more complete, thout it lacks the blurbs for the back cover. I've received several good ones already though I'm still waiting for some heavyweights to weigh in.

Exciting stuff for a 54-yr.-old poet who thinks of himself as a journeyman but longs to break the glass ceiling.

Yesterday was my late daughter's 31st birthday. I was sad but kept busy; I never broke down in tears though I would have welcomed it. Her presence continues with me and is especially strong when her sisters are present--almost palpable.

I will see my daughters on Thanksgiving, along with my stepson and siblings and extended family. Great holiday, Thanksgiving, uniquely American if not lost in gluttony and commercialism. Every day should be a day of thanks but it's nice to have a nationally recognized holiday for it.

Why do Pilgrim's pants fall down?

Because they wear their buckles on their hats.

Ben Franklin thought the national bird should have been a turkey, instead of the warlike eagle. That's well and fine until you start making military uniforms with the insignia of a bird easily shot and eaten. We have a large flock of wild turkeys nearby, and some of them must weigh--prior to plucking--40 lbs. or more. They say the oldest Toms have the tenderest meat, unlike veal. But I don't know anyone who eats veal in California anymore. We just passed a measure where our chickens have to be able to move around in their cages, very humane. This will likely hurt business and bring Tyson Chicken to a bigger market share in our humane but economically challenged state. We may bankrupt ourselves even more (we're 11 million dollars in debt on the current budget) by legislating impossible green technology requirements in the short term that can cripple the transition as much as aid it. I mean, everyone talks about "clean coal," where 50% of America's energy comes from, but burning coal cleanly is prohibitively expensive at present, requiring CO2 to be buried deep in the ground and multiple burners and exhaust modifications.

Where Obama's $15 billion/yr. for green technology should go is straight into basic research, and only later, development. We lack an affordable technology to clean up our act and ethanol is a joke, hurting poor countries like Mexico by stealing cheap corn, with the government's help and subsidy, for our thirsty automobiles.

And how about the big three automakers? Per usual mired in their lack of foresight in the face of diminishing resources, trying to multilaterally pull their gashog SUVs and luxury trucks out of their respective assholes. And who foots the bill for our lack of imagination in not imitating the rest of the world and its more fuel-efficient cars? Yes, you guessed it, our children and grandchildren. These bailouts illustrate the modern socioeconomic dilemma: how far should government be involved in the economy? Too late to ask. The government has become a corporate welfare state to shield the consequences of greed from the top players to the bottom consumers. Fascinating. I wonder what Jefferson would have thought of our present dilemma--except that in his time, near 98% of Americans had farms and there were no steam trains yet.

Now farming is composed mainly of conglomerates who thirst for pesticide and fuels as much as any industry, and the small farmer has been eclipsed. I encourage everyone to grow vegetables at home; it's cheaper, healthier, and they taste better. Even in this weather I have a healthy lettuce crop but I could do much better.

A good friend of mine, Beau Blue of Cruzio's Cafe' (J. J. Webb) is facing an angioplasty and needs your prayers. He's a good man and I would like him to stay around a while. Go check out his site for some unique entertainment.

Do I have any poems to post? Let me see...ah, I've been revising some rough formal attempts from 2007:

To Seed

I don't believe “Don't let them see you bleed.”
My heart is open. I have no regrets
Worthy of contemplation. I am whole
And wounded. I have not hedged my bets,
I put it all in play. My given role
Of doctor, teacher, father, I accept.
My former dreams of prominence amuse me.
No glowing seraphim could disabuse me.
I have no reputation to protect
At least none I would defend to the teeth.
I'm not looking for a laurel wreath.
A publication here or there's enough,
The knowledge that some people like my stuff,
Stuff better than this sonnet gone to seed.

So I end on a whimper, not a bang. But here's one more picture of my late daughter, Rachel:

How I miss her!

2 Kilobunnies,


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Brief Thoughts on the Election

I feel the need to say something about this election. I donated to Obama (modestly) and displayed a bumper sticker. Sometimes I wore a button, regrettably once while leading a tour of elderly through the Botanical Gardens where I got a number of dirty looks.

Naturally African-Americans are rejoicing, and rightly so; the vision of a man of color on Pennsylvania Avenue must be a great tonic to racial self-esteem, and there's nothing wrong with that. 94% is a damn good number, I doubt that its ethnic solidarity has ever been matched in a contest of this magnitude. So "racism" lives on despite the Harvard polish of its beneficiary.

That the Latino, youth and women's vote so favored Obama was gratifying; we know who the poor voted for. And the college-educated.

My hope? First, my caution. The promises Presidents make in a campaign aren't worth the paper on which they're printed. Without the cooperation of Congress, a president can do very little (except to start wars and freeze wages and suspend habeus corpus), I mean, he can't spend a dime.

Obama would do well to concentrate on three things:

1) A semi-reliable economy.

2) Exit from Iraq and Afghanistan.

3) Solvency, especially Medicare and Social Security.

If he can concentrate his purpose and the economy can be partly stimulated by hope, perhaps these goals are not impossible for an eight-year term. For now I hope to hell he operates as a one-term president without regard to the next election, but that is too much to ask politically.

That Obama is eight years younger than I does make me feel strange, but 50 will get you an AARP card.

Michele Obama's dress for the acceptance speech was a horror, the red front panel making her look fat when she's not. And such muscular legs! I like her. She's got spine.

Palin's a flash in the pan. McCain was past his prime. So is Joe Biden but he should do OK as #2, though much more loose-lipped than Cheney, destined to be an occasional embarrassment and sometimes a comic foil. Such a bad hair transplant!

What Obama most embodies is a rational, businesslike approach to our national dilemmas. There is an aura of reasonableness about him, something Hellenistic even.
Bush is a fanatic and McCain is mercurial. We haven't had a candidate like Obama since Adlai Stevenson.

BTW, for all you Harold Stassen fans, he died in 2001. When Churchill said "Never give up," I don't think he meant to encourage Stassen in his Quixotic pursuit of office. He was at one time a near-legitimate candidate in '48 and '52.

Good thing Obama had more than a lemonade stand going for him.

Sad to see McCain's honor stained by false accusations and innuendos in his quest for power. He showed his stripes but only Charles Keating wore them.

Over and out,



Unexpected Light

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