Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Sayings II

One of the more popular of my postings has been "New Year's Sayings." I don't know if my mind is up to it today to create more semi-aphorisms, but I assure you these are my own unless they unconsciously filtered into my consciousness. They are not aimed at a New Year per se, only daily living and the philosophy of living.

Men have bodies; women are their bodies.

What's the thing people least like to hear? The Truth! (esp. about themselves)

What is the most necessary quality of a successful artist? Perseverance.

A good dog is better than a bad child and much easier to obtain.

To see your parent as an equal is taboo.

In America our cleanliness certainly exceeds our godliness.

Release your old friends from their childhood portraits and come to know them anew.

Family love is required, so loyalty must trump preference, even in the face of resentment.

There is no substitute for good parents or good genes.

Even a starving artist has to eat.

Nature, nurture, hard knocks and knowledge: a life.

To spoil a child, give them what they want. To bless a child, give them what they need.

Any defect in ourselves is what we most despise in others.

Wonder is not merely the province of childhood.

Have something to say and say it well--no more needs to be known about writing.

Imagine a world without music--how we take the arts for granted!

Eating healthy trumps dieting; loving one's neighbor trumps religion.

In a world of sheep, leadership is crucial, but beware of wolves in shepherd's clothing.

The most spiritual man is often the most practical.

Trees grow straight when they can but will always bend for the light.

True love is rarer than diamonds and more costly.

To sacrifice of necessity is adaptive; to sacrifice for oneself, ambitious; to sacrifice for others, saintly.

In our children we see the history of our earlier defects on display.

Etiology of adult ADD: overstimulation.

When going for a walk, do not bring your I-Pod; it imprisons your senses.

True luxury is having others do the work you don't want to do.

Wisdom consists of waiting for the nature of things to reveal their natures.

The economic crisis is the result of a banking on the future.

Mind over matter? Matter usually wins.

When you hit a brick wall, turn left.

Effeminate men are not necessarily gay, nor masculine women lesbian.

Dating encourages self-deception as we project our expectations on the other. Infatuation occurs when we believe in our own fantasies. Love appears when we see the other shorn of our distortions and yet remain devoted.

The Bing Bang: God's fingernail clipping lit on fire.

Multiverse: the new haven for UFO seekers.

Life is not a dress rehearsal.

"Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord, "But you need to mind forgiveness."

In an imperfect world, forgiveness is the most necessary expression of love.

God is the woof and warp of being, not the last explanation for unsolved mysteries.

Most people endure their jobs; he who loves his work is blessed.

Zionists are no better than the terrorists they incite.

The U.S.: Gulliver bound in threads, the helpless giant.

On science and wonder: Hummingbirds are impossible.

Water purifies itself; fanatics try to purify others.

Idolatry is the convenient substitution of ambition and loyalty for anything less than the Truth.

The Truth is neither didactic, abstract or situational. It can only be observed in living it out.

We all know what's right; it's the doing of it that burns.
Charity motivated by guilt is an unworthly offering.

Follow your heart, bet your life upon love; it is better to fail gloriously than succeed modestly.

In the age of personal promotion modesty has become a vice.

The ocean refuses nothing--the ultimate recycler.

Reality must be tailored to the size of our illusions; illusions are more necessary for living.

There is more truth in fiction than in non-fiction.

Everyone's the hero of their own story, and therapy consist of listening to their tale until they either buy it or see through it, when reconstruction begins.

We are, inside, very much more the child we once were than the adult we became.

The noose of his own opinion hangs the hypocrite.

What is better than Love?


Happy New Year!

I'm about 1 kilorat because of New Year's associated melancholy. It's been a tough year.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best of: Down to Five Kilorats

First, I got the proof copy of the hardback and softcover versions of my book. It's so exciting to hold them in my nicotine-stained hands! But for now, back to the best of, or worst of, if you consider depression. Some of these entries make my skin crawl, and my disgust for dogs was likely a mild manifestation of my depression at the time it was written.

From 7/7/07:

The sun is just lighting the east side of the redwood trees on this overcast morning. I prefer overcast when depressed; the sun seems an oxymoron.
I wonder if I can write anything more about clinical depression. It's been a rough ride. My shrink added antipsychotics last Wednesday, so I'm half-stoned most of the time, though I care less about my deeds and misdeeds than otherwise. Still my crying spells and interior self-denigrating thoughts persist.

I know this is depressive thinking, but it is not without merit to believe I have wasted my life. That thought brings tears to my eyes, bringing up the chicken and egg conundrum where the sad thought induces the sad affect; we've been over that already and you know that I believe it is the sad affect which generates the sad thoughts.

I've had all these years on disability with dreams of being a writer but no practical plan for marketing and making money from it. I would like to make money, a lot of money, and I can say that for the first time in my life, an ambition that most us come to in our twenties. I'm only thirty years late for that train, although a bad long-term marriage with a non-working wife and three children took their toll in alimony and custody. Nevertheless I always took money for granted and lived hand-to-mouth, save a few years I had some equity in my home. My interests were always "beyond" money. But nothing's really "beyond" money unless you're a monk. And by not paying enough attention, I'm now in a position where money controls me, not the other way around; if the flow stopped tomorrow Kathleen and I would have to move into a tent. Since my disability was yanked in the fall of 2005 (subsequently restored in December, although in the interim all my savings were taken by my first ex-wife), I have been understandably paranoid about having no income tomorrow, which doesn't help.

Premature old age is another symptom of depression. You start dwelling on penury and poor health and how will you get your medications and where will you live and such things. You wonder how you will die. Cancer runs in my family and my cardiac risk is now low without the smoking. But instead of making plans for today and "smelling the flowers," you can only see the brown blooms of winter on the denuded rose bush.

Here's a poem from my first and only book (I have stopped writing poetry):

A Time to Uproot

It shot forth one thin stem
from the waxed, purple stalks.
Suddenly they yellowed, wilted,
a sickness had taken hold.
I waited but no new shoot
grew fine and green between the thorns.

While weeding one day
I placed my hand around the branches,
testing them a little,
when the whole thing sprang into my clutch.
I inspected the roots:
an army of translucent termites
was feasting on the soft wood,
each a hideous jewel of pale yellow.

The bush left a wound in the ground,
dark and pleading, a crumbling mouth.
I salved it as best I could
with powdery white pesticide.


I was going to write about dogs and how I didn't like them today: How they haul in every burr and frond into the house, how a house is impossible to keep clean with a big, hairy dog, how I hate the consistency and smell as I mix the wet food in with the dry food in the morning before I have my coffee, how I wonder when a long hair squats how fecal matter can possibly be spared from hanging from its fur (which helps me understand why they cut off some dogs' tails for cleanliness, among other reasons). I hate picking up their poop in public places, I hate waiting around while they sniff in circles making up their minds where to poop. I don't like sticking my fingers down my dog's throat to make sure he swallows his medicine.

Dogs are gross: messy, stupid, smelly, and they demand a lot of care. I love Kenyon but I don't like him as a dog; I wish he had scales instead, that he were as clean as a lizard. There, I've said it. I'm more of a cat person at heart. They're cleaner and smarter. But you can't have nice furniture around them, and if they get mad and start pissing on things you're in big trouble, as the scent is impossible to remove.

One last thing: I don't know if I shall continue this blog after its two-year anniversary on July 27th. I don't know how much good it does me or anyone else. It helps most when I'm very depressed and the act of writing takes my mind off myself for a while. But today it's just making me cry.

4 Kilorats,


From 7/10/07 (sadly, as most of you know, upon finally obtaining ECT in February of '08 I worsened):

Despair is giving in absolutely to catatonia, immobility, infantilism, hopelessness, bowing down to the darkness, agreeing with the Devil.

In depression you experience the temptation to all these things but persevere in the face of them, acting as if, pretending to hope, believing one day you will be better.

My weeping spells generally occur around 11AM or 4PM or both. Today I was hit early, in the shower, around 10 AM. What triggered it? I was remembering my last hospitalization in January of 1996, when it took all the strength I had to get out of bed and get into the shower. I mean all my strength. Every last jot and tittle of my conscious will.

Afterwards I tried to tie my shoes. I couldn't remember how to tie my shoes. It was as if I had to re-think every step of the process, to learn all over again as if I had never done it before. It was extremely puzzling but I finally mastered it.

Likewise as I was showering today I was forgetting how to shower; in what order did I apply shampoo? Had I shampooed already? When to scrub my back? I burst into tears because I was reminded of trying to tie my shoes in '96.

When severely depressed you can't take any automatic behavior for granted, and it's a terrible thing to have to start every task from point zero, to have to look up your own phone number, to try to remember anything you've read. Depression is much harder on the memory than ECT; how I wish I had insurance and could afford ECT! So on with the drug trials.

You see, my present antidepressant is Cymbalta, which has a short half-life, which means the blood levels rise and fall quickly, much more quickly than Prozac, for instance. Therefore missing a day or taking a half dose for two days can completely undermine any progress. Thus I wonder if part of this roller coaster is because mornings my blood level is lower, and perhaps I have another drop in the late afternoon--then this is my usual pattern in depression of sadness seizures, so who knows?

I think it may be time to change my antidepressant. This one has me sputtering; it drops me like an eagle drops a fish back in a lake, where I wait for another eagle.

"Tears on my keyboard..."

Finished 26,000 words of novel revision. My how it sucks! Of course I think all my work sucks in this condition. I've been going through my unpublished poems and deleting liberally, poems that failed, poems I never want to see again.

I do feel better after I cry; numb, perhaps, but the tension is somewhat relieved. In my grief my infant self cries out for Daddy/Mommy/God. Pitiful, huh? But human, so human..

I don't know God. He may know me. Let him worry about me; I'm too sick to worry about him.

5 Kilorats,


Monday, December 29, 2008

Best of: At 4 Kilorats

From 7/3/07:

Do you ever feel invisible?

I mentioned that at my men's group no one asked me to "check in" and it wasn't noticed, though only four men were there.

Last night at a preparatory meeting for our yearly retreat, this year focused on the Jungian archetype of the King, many made suggestions. At first I decided not to speak, as it was my first visit to this meeting. But after a while I joined in, offering the idea that the King could not abdicate, as in King Lear's mistake; I pointed out the idea of the wounded King in the idea of the Fisher King; that a king could never really take a vacation from his responsibilities; that a king needs the humility to repent, and that we should first concentrate on the barriers that kept us from envisioning "the King within." All well and fine. But when the leader summed up the meeting, though he included some of my ideas, he curiously credited everyone for their ideas except me. As if I hadn't been there. As if mine were a disembodied voice without a person attached.

I know I tend to be overly intellectual; I mentioned some literary sources, like Nathan's famous upbraiding King David for the Bathsheba affair, the Grail legend, King Lear, and I hope none beyond that. Perhaps what makes people forget me is that I always feel the need to cite a reference for an opinion; maybe I know nothing except references; maybe I don't exist and have no opinion, substituting references and the opinions of others to shore up my own lack of identity. How do I come across to others? It's nearly impossible to say, but I fear I come across as cold and intellectual, separate, someone not involved in the social flow, someone who doesn't get the "hints" from other people about the social process, someone who throws red herrings on a pile of sardines.

Strangely I brought a notebook to the meeting, and it was the same notebook I brought to last year's retreat when I was seriously depressed-- as I am again now. And it contained notes on the very same problems I still experience, mainly regarding narcissism. Why must I be critical of others in my mind? Why do I suffer from jealousy? What infantile psychology lives in me to make me feel as if I ought to be up on the stage, the center of attention, instead of that person with the microphone?

Naturally depression causes psychological regression. (I'm crying as I write this.) I'm so tired of this journey. I feel like a raw nerve. Friendless. Worthless. Obviously too self-involved, but not knowing how to escape the bell jar.

I have had one good thought in this relapse of ten day's duration; I have prayed for a teacher. I guess that's another way of saying I want more than medications, I want "therapy" as well. But it's not psychodynamic therapy I seek; it's just a wise man to help guide me. All my life I've resisted trusting most authorities or teachers, to avoid the disappointment of overidealization and the subsequent devaluation, but I don't fear that now. What I fear is getting stuck here longer.

It's good to write because that gives me a brief respite from talking to myself inside my head, a habit I can rarely shake. Was I so lonely as an infant and toddler that I had to create all this noise in my mind? Ah to be cooking and not think about cooking, just to cook... the Zen of being wedded to the action without thinking, just doing... I went fishing yesterday and caught nothing from the rocks, I never do... but I couldn't just fish. I did think about making a catalogue of all my fears so that I could look at them and tackle them as best I could. Maybe I'll do that. But not on this blog.

Meanwhile I've been learning many new wildflowers here in my wanderings. Here's the coast onion, Allium dichlamydeum:

Here's sky lupine, Lupinus nanus:

Come July 27 it will be the two-year anniversary of my blog. I don't know how many have visited it as I've only had a tracker since October '06. Since then a little over 11,000 have, more than a thousand a month. Most are, no doubt, recurrent visitors, the rest find me, sometimes serendipitously while looking for something else, by searches.

Why do I persist in blogging? Mainly because it's therapeutic. I never believed in diaries; this is my first.

Since I sank into a depression on April 1, 2006, I've probably had less than two months relief--not of feeling happy but feeling normal. I most regret the burden my illness has placed on Kathleen. She is wonderful. No doubt if I were utterly home alone I would be much worse.

The problem with the psychological infantilization of depression is that one cannot receive the very praise and recognition one craves; it is suspect. Only when my chemicals are righted can I receive such things, but when my chemicals are righted the problem seems to disappear. So it's not worth thinking about. But I can't help it!

Depression is not a choice--why would anyone choose it? It is a curse, and in my case a familial, genetic curse. I got the bad genes. End of story. And I'm weak besides, while depressed; I don't always act in my own best interest because of the underlying hopelessness always whispering: "What's the use of doing this or that?" Yet I continue doing. Without doing I would go utterly under.

Thanks for listening.

At 4 Kilorats,


Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Best of": Avoiding a Depressive Crash

From 6/27/07:

I had planned upon our return from the trip to LA to have refills of my most needed medications in the mail from Canada, namely my antidepressant, Cymbalta, and my pain medication, Celebrex. To my horror and surprise, neither had arrived, only an old telephone message that both had been "back-ordered" from Europe. "Both?" I said, calling back. "Solly, one wasn't weady yet and dey don't like to ship dem together." Cheap bastards, I thought. I urged them to get them to me ASAP, whereupon the Indian pharmacist said: "Den you would accept generic?" Of course, you bubble-headed booby! I thought.

I try to keep such thoughts to myself today, because uttering them doesn't help anyone. In private with Kathleen these past two-and-a-half weeks on the road, I have often sat in a motel bed and said, "I hate everyone! I hope they all die!

"Bite your tongue and ask for forgiveness," she would say, especially if I mentioned a family member by name. So I would do what she asked, but the prayer always sounded disrespectful with the lisping effect of teeth on tongue. Nevertheless I did comfort myself with the knowledge that all would die, if not soon enough to suit me.

Why these near nightly rages on the road, I don't know; they were not manic, just a feeling of general anger towards everything, cheap motels, fast food, ungrateful children and obtuse others, all the while suffering pain, emotional and physical, while on limited means on what seemed an interminable road trip to Long Beach, CA, even if no major snafus occurred.

I wouldn't have missed my baby's graduation, but I wouldn't do it again, either.

I think my anger may have been warning me about my grief, particularly over the fortunes of my eldest daughter of late, whose care on the trip exhausted me. But I'll keep her secrets for now, even if she is fond of broadcasting them. Every time I think I have come to accept her as she is, she finds some new hot buttons to push. She's gifted that way. Yes, she's the redhead in the picture at the top right of the blog.

Back to the meds. When I had no Cymbalta for two days I sank into a depressive episode, weeping for half an hour, struggling not to let any verbal equivalents enter my brain, as in "You're worthless. You suck. You've never done anything. You despise your own children." No, I didn't let the lies of the frontal cortex insinuate themselves into the vortex of my lizard brain, thus was proud I could recognize my depressive seizure as just that, an uncontrollable outpouring of emotion unrelated to any specific thing. I also had the wherewithal to call my doctor for a short-term supply until the cheaper meds from Canada arrive; I got these yesterday afternoon and then proceeded to twitch so badly I had to sleep apart from my wife. This is an early side effect of some antidepressants, but thank God, it means they are starting to work.

I sometimes think that part of manic-depression is a complete disconnect, in time, between the emotions one should naturally experience and a safe time to let them out. So, for example, I could go tight-lipped through a funeral and weep at a video arcade a month later. Once I even thought I had come closer to better integrating my emotions with regard to circumstances, but I fear for us bipolars this is a chimera. It's as if we build up mountains of rage and dig chasms of grief of which we are consciously unaware, and one day we smack into them and all hell breaks loose. Chemically, from the standpoint of the actual illness, this likely holds little scientific truth, but it is a useful metaphor for conceptualizing how the phenomenon sometimes feels. In the end manic-depression is really just bad genes and bad luck.

Now it wasn't entirely my fault that I was out of meds, but first a cautionary note: if you respond to an antidepressant and go off of it, your chances of responding to it a second time are much reduced. Since Cymbalta was the only thing I responded to after a year's misery, even missing one day was inexcusable. But that's all I missed. So whoever reads this post, remember to take your medications faithfully, especially if you suffer a mood disorder.

Next post:

I obtained on Tuesday, through tearful anxious phone calls, a refill on my antidepressant, Cymbalta. The substitution of Prozac for two days wasn't cutting it; I switched back to my shrink's recommended dose of Cymbalta, twice normal, of 120 mg. Tuesday afternoon.

Soon after I began to experience akisthesia, a peculiar symptom where you can't become comfortable, where your body must constantly move, twitch--where there is a supreme discomfort in stillness and you must keep moving--your feet, your legs, something. You can't watch TV or read; you can't concentrate; mostly you indulge in various irresistible writhings. Naturally this physical phenomenon drives Kathleen crazy in bed so I had to sleep downstairs. But I knew it was a sign that the antidepressant was working again, or about to work, unlike the thousands of psychiatrists who hear this symptom from their patients and think it means they can't tolerate the medication. I find this "ants in the pants" feeling in my body almost always precedes an improvement in my mood, and have observed the same in countless patients.

Although not confident Wednesday, I didn't cry. And Thursday I worked out for hours at the gym. Today I was afflicted with a little melancholy but managed to get a lot of work done despite it.

So, gentle readers, I didn't mean to leave you hanging on my decompensation--I'm doing better. The downside is that the damn Cymbalta capsules, of which I need two a day, cost about $5 apiece here until the discounted meds arrive from Canada. That's an expensive habit, especially when you combine it with Lamictal, of which I must take two a day, when each tablet costs $4, even at Costco. Until the patents expire on new medicines you need, you're truly fucked without insurance, and as I have previously blogged, I can't obtain insurance, medical or life, because I am a bipolar: bad risk).

The pharmaceutical companies have a limited window to recover their R & D money, and I don't see them as villains, more occasional saviors who must recoup R & D costs on all the drugs that didn't work from ones that do. Accusing them of malfeasance is like attacking "big oil"--wrong target. I'm no Republican; it's just so easy to blame the nearest elephant. The reality is much more complicated.

I've added another paying poetry publication to Byline and and Contrary now; I just got a check from Valerie Polichar's Grasslimb for "The Gloaming." Since I quit writing poetry and started marketing it, I'm not doing half bad.

Even more amazing, an original copy of my first and only book of poems, Elementary, which sold as a paperback at $14.95 in 1997, is listed by one seller at for $398. My eldest daughter told me this but I couldn't believe it. Go figure. Did the rumor of my death exaggerate the price? There are likely book speculators out there, some who are betting that I might be important someday. Or maybe it's just a fluke. Curioser and curioser. (I've never received a single royalty payment from the book.)

This fact gives me hope that the same concern, Mellen Press, might consider publishing a second book of mine. No, I checked that out; like most smart publishers they don't do poetry anymore. .

In the spirit of marketing, I'll close with a poem I wrote before I was an ex-poet:

Homo Promo

You who huddle under billboards
happy in your anonymity,
grateful to avoid the rain,
how I pity you!

You should be up there
above the freeway
in a red bikini
with a high-end tequila
in your happy fist.
Don’t you get it?

Become a commodity
hawking you 24 hours a day:
be your own infomercial!
Celebrity is the only currency
and the Dow is measured in air time!

The first human infomercial was Muhammad Ali,
who became the most recognizable man on the globe.

To become your own spin doctor,

1) Wrap yourself up so tightly nothing hurts.

2) Like Rome, let every conversation lead to you.

3) Although you were never loved the way you wanted to be loved,
there's always a chance if you please your audience!

4) Always sell the product.

5) You are the product.

If Marx and Nietszche could see us now
united in the strife which divided us
at once worker and robber baron
it's hard to find good help anymore
no longer alienated from the product
nobody told me there'd be days like these
I'd love to see the look on their bearded faces.

Wish me luck as I perform solo at the Lavender Festival tomorrow. I hope the wine tasting goes quickly to loosen up my audience; I'm no James Taylor or Cat Stevens, that's for sure. But I do alright.

Thine at 1 kilorat,


Saturday, December 27, 2008

"Best of": Master of TIVO and Time

I like this off-the-cuff essay from 6/8/07:

Obviously "The Whole Thing" did not play well to my invisible audience. Not that I play for an audience. But if I did, I would suspect the great Zen-ness of my Boethian concept of the giant dough ball was above them. Or below them. Or beyond them. Or all around them.

There is no way to grasp the whole thing. I mean, multitask all you want. Your brain can't even wrap itself around the average species extinction quotient, as that has never been determined. Thus when climate prophets proclaim the rate of species extinction, you have nothing to compare it to. What if the average was nature's average? Hmmmm....

I recommend Michael Crichton's book, "State of Fear," as a contrarian riposte to Al Gore. Quite fascinating, Crichton's argument. The book is not a novel but a shill for delivering scientific/social rhetoric, much like B. F. Skinners "Walden Two" or Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged"--both books I thoroughly enjoyed. I guess that means I like my philosophy light, the way Plato did that there cave thing. Makes the whole thing more palatable. Pure philosophers, like Kant, can be boring in the extreme, since unlike current trends in poetry, they are loathe to give concrete examples. They like to build their philosophical castles from etymology and logic. Hell, I prefer a parable at least. Give me Jesus over Kant. I prefer the crucifixion of pure reason to its critique. But I cop to being lazy-brained and shiftless unless I'm cross-dressing.

Back to my topic. I'm house-sitting for my sister and she has TIVO. So after watching the first game of the NBA finals, which I had tivoed while attending a gallery opening, through which I fast-forwarded past commercials and the inevitable grind of the final outcome, I turned on Conan O'Brien. Live television! Suddenly the frustration set in: Why couldn't I fast-forward through his commercials? Why did I have to put up with all the boring bullshit?

Now I see why I must get digital recording of TV programs. If I have it all I have to do is wait for one or two hours before watching a show, and I can watch it commercial-free and pause it whenever I want.

So what?, all you TIVO experts out there say. Yet to me it feels like the Twilight Zone, where some guy has a stop watch that can stop time, and he can wander through a jewelry store of frozen mannequins and steal all the diamonds with nary a witness.

With TIVO (or its equivalent) I can master time. I am the master of time.

And if I master time, mass and energy can't be far behind!

Sorry, my brain is moving near the speed of light. Which makes its mass infinite.

I'm free, I'm free, thank heaven I'm free! (even if extremely fat-headed under the circumstances).

Still I have to figure out what Direct TV, my server, charges for this recording feature, and whether the time is worth the money. Time may be money, but only for those who are actually working and not on a fixed income like I am. ("Fixed?" Sounds like I'm a pet or an illicit gambling scam.)

I had "twice-cooked quail" tonight at an Oakland restaurant; it was so dry and stringy I didn't know whether to send it back for a third cook or ask them to go back and only cook it once. With TIVO I could have re-wound the whole process and tasted the little bird raw, once cooked, twice cooked, or thrice cooked. And no one would have noticed as I ruled them with my remote!

Ah, technology I love you! I have conquered time! And if all time is relative, whether live or recorded, whether in time past or time future, the time I conquer through TIVO is just as valid as any other time conquered or deferred, as in reading The New Yorker in your doctor's office.

It's late I'm done. Beware the blue-ringed octopus of Australia. Very venomous. Then you have to read the book.

--Ex-poet CE

(I have yet to re-post my "Giving Up Poetry" declaration in this series because it's embarrassing, in fact I've already passed it by chronologically. But that is why I sign off as an ex-poet here. Obviously I have not been able to escape my nature (for those who have followed my journey here).)

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Best of," cont'd: The Whole Thing

From 6/06/07

Regarding the whole thing. No one can see the whole thing. No one can deal with it. And no one can resist its gravity, its all-subsuming surface, its termite-tenting of reality, a GPS system for every point, in a word, the whole thing, the entire enchilada, the whole ball of wax, the sum of everything as it lies crushingly upon our shoulders.

I imagine it as a great ball of dirty dough rolling and bouncing over an old dirt road through a green valley. Everything it touches sticks to it and subsequently becomes part of the revolving show, much like the wheel of fortune about which Boethius wrote in his Consolation of Philosophy And everything that sticks to the dough can ride along for a spell or be plastered back on the road or thrown out to the fields.

I used to think that the reason I wasn't more successful in managing the whole thing was that I wasn't rich or famous enough to afford help with the whole thing.

Celebrities of every stripe have managers, maids, valets, lawyers, accountants, trainers and more, so I reasoned, to manage the whole thing for them with little supervision. Thus I lived in hope of becoming a celebrity to better deal with the whole thing. But each time I approached the cusp of fame I was so worn out from the swim that I missed the boat.

When I saw Whitney Houston looking like a Holocaust survivor in the tabloids, I realized that life can become unmanageable even for celebrities! Imagine that. (I do think Whitney would be well-served to hire a new drug counselor, one not afraid to slap the bitch around!).

Let us admit that not even a celebrity with support troops can manage the whole thing. The thing is--it's just too--too too too--gigantic to approach, this nightmare of a dough ball thundering through your green valley like a pale head.

Even with a personal trainer, you have to do the exercises. You have to decide what shade of white you want your teeth. Someone can shop for you, someone can dress you, but no one can sleep for you. And it's precisely in these unprotected moments that the whole thing comes to smash you and hoist you above like flattened gum on its sticky, inexhaustible surface.

There is no escaping the whole thing. The whole thing doesn't care if you have a personal trainer. The whole thing can make you fat if it wants to. We are talking about the very elemental forces of nature.

All matter, including sentient beings, is subject to the whole thing. And just when you reach the top of the spinning sphere with your beautiful wife and wonderful job and a ranch style house and 1.5 children, down you go. The whole thing will cram a Mercedes down your throat and a mortgage up your ass at the worst possible moment. As for children, there’s always leukemia. The wife? She can have an affair with your boss. If you're the boss, she can always have an affair with your secretary. The whole thing, the giant turning sphere of sticky dough that supersedes our most cherished plans is always there, ready to turn our existence inside out at a moment’s notice. It has and will.

There is no protection from the whole thing. Psychiatric medications may smooth out the gut-fluttering ride, but they can't protect you from being stuck in the dough and whirled about.

Occasionally the whole thing will drop you on the road and you feel a strange relief in getting off the randomly revolving spherical insanity without getting lost in the adjoining fields, where your inconsequentiality, as in death, will torture you and tempt you back to the unendurable ride. Trust me, this won't last: this is the whole thing psyching you up into a lack of caution before it swallows you again, plasters you to its surface, and takes you down the valley to the next dumping point, where contentment briefly threatens but ultimately eludes.

There is no escape from the whole thing.

Good luck with it!


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas 2008

I should be doing my honey-do list but could not resist blogging something in lieu of my failure to send Christmas cards. Below I'll try to attach pictures of everyone in our family, including the pets.

To all my readers a Merry Christmas. I don't like the generic "Happy Holidays" any more than I like the tyranny of tolerance to which our culture has been subjected. I say "Merry Christmas" because I'm an unabashed Christian. If I were a pagan I would likely say, "Happy Saturnalia." It is a diverse holiday but diversity is best served by individual commitment. As I often advise, it is better to pursue one path (or religion) assiduously than sample them all like chocolates. The spiritual discipline of every path does or should lead to the love of God. All else is dross.

Regarding peace on earth, our cats and new dog are finally co-existing in a semblance of harmony. He rarely barks at them and some nights both he and a cat sleep in our California king. But when the cats are roaming outside, he still thinks them fair game for a good treeing.

I'm grateful for so much this year: Kathleen, my children (all doing well), this beautiful place I live in, friends, enough to eat, shelter, and of course the miracle of the incarnation that ennobles man more than anything. To the PETA people: notice he didn't come as a bunny!

I used to dislike Christmas, but over the years my heart has healed from the bleak ones I've known, particularly those endured during a depression. Each ornament, each hug, each gift speaks of a generosity within in us that I wish we could access all year long. Then there might be peace on earth.

And I think of all our troops in places far away--I even have a good friend serving in Afghanistan as a psychiatrist. May they come home soon; may Obama keep his pledge to withdraw from Iraq in 16 mos., and may he reconsider expanding the mess in Afghanistan.

I'm also naturally grateful to my publisher, Kelly, who sought me out to publish my first volume of poetry in over ten years. Poetry is a great joy to me, especially as a reader. There's no better brain candy--I think stockings should be stuffed with poems, although the children would no doubt complain.

"If ifs and buts were candy and nuts then every day would be Christmas." --Dutch Proverb.

Here's a poem by Emily:

The Savior must have been
A docile Gentleman—
To come so far so cold a Day
For little Fellowmen—

The Road to Bethlehem
Since He and I were Boys
Was leveled, but for that 'twould be
A rugged Billion Miles—

To all you who read me but whom I've never met, I hope my ramblings, especially about my difficulties with manic-depression, have somewhat extended your compassion and understanding for a disease that affects one in a hundred worldwide. And I'm grateful for all those who read my literary musings and poems. It is a strange thing, this anonymous connection through the ether. I would name all the countries from which people come here, but it would take to long. For now hello to Iran, Kuwait and the Ukraine.

Have a blessed Christmas!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Best of," cont'd: The Parnassian vs. the Conversational in Poetry

From 5/21/08:

I'm trying to loosen up my verse a little. But there’s always a catch.

The tradition of Parnassian verse, as in Homer, Virgil, Beowulf, Spenser, Shakespeare (ignoring comedies and comedic interludes), Milton, Wordsworth, Shelley, Tennyson—a type of poetry Matthew Arnold wrote of as containing "high seriousness"—seems clearly over.

Yet much of the magic of poetry depends upon such high seriousness, since we must take poetry seriously to set up heroic expectations, or even anti-heroic expectations. (See "The Hollow Men" by Eliot, "Out, Out" by Frost, or "Roan Stallion" by Jeffers. The Moderns could still do high seriousness, though one may say as well that "Howl" has a high seriousness as well.)

What am I trying to say? There must be a point between the conversational voice of Billy Collins and the often elevated voices of Milosz, Larkin, Yeats and the like.... I think Eliot mixes the conversational with the Parnassian better than anyone:

From “Gerontion":

"The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours. Think at last
We have not reached conclusion, when I
Stiffen in a rented house. Think at last
I have not made this show purposelessly
And it is not by any concitation
Of the backward devils
I would meet you upon this honestly.
I that was near your heart was removed therefrom."

(italics mine)

I find the conversational more effective when set up by the serious, the empyrean, or the Parnassian, but so few poets can do this—change voices in mid-stream successfully. You have to be very good to do this. Most of us can only write well employing one voice. In reading Jane H. lately, as good as she is, she doesn't even attempt this. Most poets don’t.

Again, without form verse libre is impotent; without seriousness the conversational becomes banal. The necessary dualisms of great writing are in the very nature of writing, just as Shakespeare relieves the political machinations of Henry IV with Falstaff.

Here’s a different example of coming from the conversational to a conclusion of high seriousness (Yeats):


I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
'Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.'

'Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,' I cried.
'My friends are gone, but that's a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart's pride.

'A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.'

(italics mine)

Since first being enamored of poetry, I have been enamored of poetry of power. I find Plath powerful at times but not Collins. Dylan Thomas is powerful, as Larkin can be, but Walcott rarely. Milosz can do it, though he is a bit jagged. Coleridge's "Rime" must be the most powerful poem ever written in the sense I mean.

I wrote an essay called "Power Lyrics" several years ago in which I tried to develop this theme more clearly, but I doubt I'll ever explain it properly; it's like what Blackwell said about pornography; I know it when I see it.

What is even more powerful is when the poet has the skill to interrupt serious verse with a snatch of the intimately conversational, even ridiculous, or vice-versa, which takes us completely by surprise and works despite (and because of) the momentary jarring of switching inputs.

If you are confused by these points, it is the fault of the author, not your brain.

All for today,


Monday, December 22, 2008

Best of the Blog, cont'd: How I Pissed off My Congressman

From 5/16/07:

Yesterday I was awakened at 7:30 AM by a strange voice.

“Is this Craig? Craig Chaffin?”

Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I said “Yes?”

“This is Mike Thompson, your U.S. Representative, and I want to know why you called me a ‘weenie!’”

“Huh? Oh, in that letter I sent at your site?” I tried to remember, as I write a lot of letters to people who don't know me.

“Do you know my Iraq voting record? Do you know anything about me? Why did you write me such an offensive message?”

Gathering my dream-spattered thoughts: “Well, I assumed I would only get a form letter from you, so I called you a ‘weenie’ about Iraq in case I might actually get a response. Look’s like I did. You know, it’s hard to get the attention of an institution without spraying some graffiti.”


“Never mind.”

“Is it true you are a doctor, a medical doctor?”


“I can’t believe that you, an educated man, would write me this.”

“What, do you want me to apologize?”

“Do you know my record on the Iraq war? I was posterized by the Republicans for visiting Iraq before the war, looking for a non-military solution. And have you heard of the recent McGovern bill for immediate re-deployment of our troops? We only have 171 votes. So it won’t get passed. But I voted for it.”

“Is Pelosi with you on this?”

“Of course.”

“That’s good to know. But why do I hear all this noise of trying to compromise with the Republicans?”

“There is no compromise.”

(On his website he prides himself for being a moderate Democrat known for his bipartisan work.) “That’s refreshing to hear,” I say, “especially with the vetoes and Democrats talking about benchmarks and all.”

“Do you know I’m a vet and I saw my buddies blown up and that I go to Walter Reed every two weeks to visit the wounded?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Well I do!”

I resisted the temptation to ask, “Are you a chaplain, too, or just a saint?” because at this point I’m wondering what he wants. A medal? An apology? Absolution? A contribution? I mean, who am I? Just some nut case from his district that occupies all of coastal Northern California.

“Uh huh.”

“And I’ve opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. I’ve always voted against funding the war.”

This I tried to check online but I couldn’t find his 2002-03 voting record.

“That’s good to know.”

“So who told you I wasn’t doing anything about Iraq?”

“Oh--when I attended the peace rallies outside your office, it was the considered opinion of all the activists that you weren’t doing enough.”

“Why don’t you tell those people to go protest at the office of someone who supports the war and leave me alone!”

“Are there any other congressman in our district?”

“Uh… no.”

“So where do you suggest we go?”

He couldn't even recommend another congressman to bother.

I suppose you could make this stuff up but I didn’t. Since he called me at 7:30 AM I assume he was in DC. For reasons I can only surmise, my e-mail must have crawled up his tightly wound ass big time. I mean, “weenie?” I’m sure he wanted to wash my mouth out with soap or rap my knuckles like a nun with a ruler, his being a Catholic and a vet and all. I’m sure in Viet Nam he never heard anything worse than, “Watch out for those darn gooks!” Oliver Stone and Stanley Kubrick must have lied to me.

Afterwards I did him the courtesy of researching his record online as much as I could in a few hours, and indeed, he should be proud of his stance on Iraq, the salmon fisheries, and other issues.

But why a relative flew with him on a junket to China in 2005 and who paid for it, I couldn’t find out, so I wrote him back to ask. And what a general partnership in “Travis Webb,” worth $100,000, might be I have no idea so I asked him about that as well. I hear he serves at the World’s Largest Salmon Barbecue in Fort Bragg every year so I told him that I hoped to see him there and meet him in person. I was tempted to sign my new letter, “Your Employer,” but I don’t think he’s ready for that yet.

Ah, the hubris. In a country of free speech my own congressman spends half an hour on the phone with me because I dared to call him a “weenie.” As my employee, how dare he wake me up early in the morning and rant about my insulting him! I have every right to insult him!

What--after all these years dealing with the press and politicians and constituents, does he expect life to be fair? Is he losing touch? Did his wife turn him down the night before so he had to sublimate some anger at an easy target? Or is he just a stuffed shirt Boy Scout type like Shakespeare's Malvolio, wearing crossed yellow garters? Heck if I know (see how he's already helped me clean up my language?).

This kind of behavior can certainly make you doubt the sanity of a politician. He took a shotgun to an ant, a very sleepy ant at that. Luckily the ant, though mistaken about the facts of the congressman’s record, did not take the assault personally—especially since Thompson belongs to the Congressional Sportsman’s Club and I assume has guns, just as our late DA up here, Norm Vroman, was discovered to have a cache of illegal weapons and a small marijuana farm when they searched his house after he died. (Norm would have been re-elected, btw, if he hadn’t croaked. In fact, up here, if we’d contacted Jonathan Edwards we might have been able to re-elect him from the beyond. Everyone's so "spiritual" up here, though I think them more spiritualist. Did Arthur Conan Doyle really have a hand in murdering Houdini? Now there's an interesting story...)

Since marijuana is the biggest cash crop in our county, I regret I didn’t ask him what he was doing about it. I assume, like most politicians around here, he opposes legalization to keep our prices high. And since we need illegals to harvest the grapes and pears, of course he voted against the seven-hundred mile fence down south. That's too bad, because everyone knows that Mexicans steal the jobs Americans are too lazy to take.

All that said, I need to ask you this question to check my own sanity: Have you ever been awakened by a congressman early in the morning who bitterly complained about you calling him a “weenie” in an e-mail message? I submit that this may be one of the strangest occurrences in my long and interesting life. Unfortunately, now I can’t help but think of Mr. Thompson as “Weenie Mike.” I mean, who but a weenie would call up a constituent to complain about being called a weenie? Tsk, tsk.

Here'a picture of the good congressman, looking a little florid from wine or perhaps too much sun?

1 Kilobunny,


"Best of," cont'd: Managing a Mood Upswing

From 5/13/07:

At two or three kilobunnies hypomania begins to appear. I chatter; Kathleen says, “You’re moving too quickly.” I multitask, I stay up until 4 AM reading, I charm strangers (who naturally pour out their life stories to me), I think about punching out anyone who disrespects Kathleen, particularly all the idiots who have no idea of how to treat lip readers.

Money worries vanish. I exercise with gusto. My body is in less pain. I pump out submissions like a Saudi king. The world is my oyster again. (Where does that phrase come from, anyway? Oysters are rich, yes, but rather unsightly and very difficult to open, with dangerously sharp edges. Then if the world is truly your oyster you no doubt have underlings to open the oyster for you.)


One great thing about feeling good—a little above euthymia, almost hypomanic—is that one’s quandaries tend to become Seinfeld-like in their triviality.

Take yesterday. I was swimming at the gym. A Latino man entered the lane next to me and began to jog slowly up and down the pool. Each time I passed him I got a schnauze-full of treacly-sweet menthol lime deodorant. Ecch.

(Here’s today’s diversity comment: I’ve noticed an overuse of cologne in this order: Arabs, Blacks, Latinos. My worst experience was being stuck with a rich young Arab in an elevator. Afterwards I searched for turbans in the shape of an atomizer bulbs.)

Back to the gym. I remembered a notice on the locker room door pleading with clients not to use cologne or essential oils or other strong scents, as there had been complaints. So while swimming my requisite mile I was in a quandary as to whether, like a good Communist citizen, I should turn in this reeking pendejo; or whether, as a Libertarian, I should confront him directly if I was sufficiently bothered; or whether, as a Christian, I should turn the other cheek and fuhgedaboutit.

When I finished my laps and entered the locker room I re-read the notice. It only applied to the saunas, which I don’t use! I was off the hook! Oh Happy Day! I didn’t have to make a decision.


It doesn’t take a lot to make me happy on a euthymic day. I am, truly, a different person. Kathleen says: “I’m so glad to have my husband back.” My older brother repeats, “Good to have you back!” All I can say is, “Good to be back!”

But it’s not all good. In my free flowing, equal opportunity, people-bashing humor (though to be fair I am fondest of bashing myself), I’m more liable to hurt Kathleen’s feelings—though I am also quicker to apologize and make up. I’m also tempted to drink or abuse drugs, because I’m feeling so good already what possible difference could it make? It’s as if the increase in mood is so intoxicating I want to speed up the process to get maximum enjoyment out of it. Sly Stone knows I can get even higher. The world is my oyster indeed.

My point? In manic-depression intervention is needed at both arcs of the mood pendulum. Last night I finally dosed myself with antipsychotic medicine after a double dose of my sleep meds failed and I was still going strong on a Michael Crichton novel at 4 AM. Naturally I woke up this morning fuzzier than a sheep’s navel (just short of “the thorazine shuffle”).

Clearly, I don’t want to risk getting too high or I’ll eventually flame out and get too low.

I’m not saying that if you have this disorder you have to micromanage your mood, only that if it accelerates in one direction or the other, you need to pay attention, and fast.

At two kilobunnies,


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Best of, cont'd: Poetic Archaeology

First, I'm glad for the increased readership of my blog in this "Best of" series, but I wish fewer people were attracted by the one entry where I mentioned Satan long ago. Clearly the mention of the Dark Lord outweighs any consideration of depression or literature, but in our tabloid mentality we knew that. I would ask readers to stop entering the blog through that page, but who knows? Maybe that's their introduction to the whole blog--but I severely doubt it. Let's face it, the allure of the Devil often outweighs the attraction of the Almighty. Nevertheless I'm going back to change the title of that post in order to obtain a more accurate count of bona fide visitors.


From 4/6/07 (and there must be a bevy of journals to add to this list now):

God, what a nuisance! I've been trying to sort my publications, some indexed by the names of journals, some by the titles of individual pieces, and some by other titles for the same pieces. Using Google and other sources, I have managed to discover, so far, the following journals either without a website or without archives to include my past work:

Apples and Oranges
A Writer’s Choice
Adirondack Review
Beauty for Ashes
Blue Moon Review
Dust on My Palms
EZ Books
Free Cuisenart
Horsethief’s Journal
Muse Apprentice Guild
Poetry Cafe
Poetry Magazine (online journal, not the big one)
Poetry Now
Poetry Tonight
Recursive Angel
Shallow End
Spoken Word
Susquehanna Review
Tintern Abbey
Wired Heart
World Poetry
Writer’s Hood
Ze Books
Zuzu’s Petals

If I am in error about any of these, I would appreciate a note from readers or their scattered connections on the literary Internet.

There are also those journals who list me in their archives as a contributor, but strangely, have no record of or links to my poems--often right next to another poet whose links are still good. I assume this is random and not personal, though I have made some enemies in my faux career.

Anyway, my back hurts terribly from sitting despite the new pain medication, even though I did go easy at the gym yesterday. Since my recent cold I've put at least ten pounds back on from not exercising regularly, then Kathleen and I also became derelict re: our low carb high protein diet.

Three steps forward and four steps back.

Is it discouraging to find so much of your work erased from the net forever? Here's an advantage: when there is no record of a work I consider it unpublished and open for submission again, a liberty I don't take with print--which may appear inconsistent until you realize that with print publications I can still hold the evidence in my greedy little narcissistic hand. Where all evidence is erased, can anything have happened?

Speaking of narcissism, Kathleen and I watched the original "Sunset Boulevard" last night, and Kathleen threatened to fall asleep before the end, whereupon I threatened her with this: "You can never call me narcissistic again if you don't finish this movie." I mean, c'mon--compared to Norma Desmond even poets are normal. (Such a comparison does stretch the (Marvin) Bell curve.)

Ah, so little to say, so much to write. We'll be house sitting for my sister this weekend in the lovely SF suburb of Burlingame, while she goes south to check out the alma mater of my middle daughter and myself, UCLA. My sister's only daughter is making the college tour now, and from what I understand, likely has her choice of most, and money is no object thanks to the prudent planning of her parents. I had to put myself through college and medical school, which includes loans, of course. And I couldn't help my one college graduate daughter much monetarily, though some; mostly I provided emotional support and medical expertise--I'm still very proud that she, a bipolar I, got through UCLA in four years--a miracle. She has guts and determination, which can sometimes appear as an extreme and brittle stubbornness.

Enough about family. Like photos from a wallet, all that patter is a bore, isn't it? Here's a photo of my grandson:

I'm in a mixed state--fragile and sort of +2 and -2 at the same time--cried on the treadmill yesterday, have been anxious--but while I'm working I naturally feel better as I am not thinking about myself even if I'm writing about myself, which writers understand.

What's a kilorat and a kilobunny at the same time?

Put me at two kilobats.



Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Best of, cont'd: Channeling Dostoevsky

From 3/12/07:

You, you, how dare you look down on me! My coat may be shabby and missing buttons; it does a better job of keeping out the rain than your fine silk umbrella, I assure you. I notice how you avert your eyes from me on the sidewalk, on the bridge, in caf├ęs. It is easy to see how your feigned politeness only masks disgust. It would not become you to engage in conversation with such a shabby personage as myself, not that it would shame you, or damage your pride, but because it is not proper. I am a scrounging artist with an insolent servant I cannot afford in straitened quarters; you no doubt have a house on the hill or on the river and at least four servants. Perhaps you are having relations with one; perhaps you have dismissed two for becoming pregnant, handing them a little sack of rubles as compensation, knowing full well none will believe their tales— because on their one night out a week they must have been with sailors, or drunks, or others of the serving class with no self-control.

Your pocket watch chain may be gold, it may only be gilded. Your felt hat looks of good quality but is a little questionable around the edges. Your cravat? Ostentatious red silk. Cravats are cheap, of course. Your waistcoat looks in fine repair although your belly strains against it, a prosperous appearance if not refined. Your coat appears to be English tweed, certainly some sort of continental affectation, especially with those crude elbow patches. And the coat is not right for the cravat, which is certain. Which demands the question: Do you pick out your clothes or does your man? Obviously you do. Valets have better taste.

That you eschew boots in this thawing spring also proclaims your vanity; someone else will have to polish your brogues, but boots would not suit the gabardine slacks you affect. And is that an alligator belt? Again, your mismatched ensemble says more about you than fashion. You are bourgeois, an upper functionary perhaps, perhaps the last in a line of dwindling minor aristocrats with an income taken from the flesh of your serfs. You are not in the arts; doubtful in business, either, or you would have the sense to dress more tastefully. Had I your money I would certainly dress better than you; but I would rather have this ragged coat than your inelegant ensemble, however rich the material. You remind me of the “Emperor with No Clothes,” except it would be “The Emperor with Bad Clothes.”

As you smoke your cigarillo from an ivory holder, and gesture, world-weary to your better-dressed friends over a glass of vodka, you appear in command, a man among men, a man above the shabbiness I endure. But who’s to say how shabby you are inside? “One thing you can’t hide is when you’re crippled inside,” Lennoninsky wrote. Indeed, your subterfuges don’t fool me.

Your face is more indulgent than cruel, your cheeks soft and full, your moustache thick but not overweening, no need to hide your worsening teeth with a larger brush just yet; an early wattle on your neck that will come to swing with the years; the pomade on your thinning hair, the sensuous Mediterranean lips, the broad nose and the thin almond eyes recalling some Mongol ancestor, like your clothes, these features seem not to belong together, belying your outward, superficial, self-satisfied confidence!

I am wearing leather boots, the heels worn down but no holes as of yet; they manage to keep the rain out, though I am frequently footsore. No fancy shoes to hand waterlogged and scuffed over to a fawning servant. And though I have worn this, one of my two good shirts, for three days prior to this occasion tonight, and its cuffs are a little frayed, it is of good quality, a very fine wool, most likely a better quality once than you are wearing now. My stained beret, impractical for this weather, hangs on the rack. I took my hat off as I came in, a tradition you jauntily disrespect. And is the beret an affectation? No! By no means. It is a symbol by which I mock myself as an artist with little utility in this suffocating society of bores. I mock myself intentionally.

Have you ever mocked yourself? Have you ever looked in the mirror and beheld the essential evil behind your ingratiating smile? I doubt there has ever been a time in your life when you looked upon your reflection with anything save self-congratulation; such insight would be beyond you.

And yet you might represent a publishing house, a magazine, someone for whom I must scrape and bow to to eke out a living as an artist, someone not worth the last five thoughts from my brain. And if I met you in that relation, with these, my best clothes, you would certainly think to get the better of me and negotiate some scandalous payment for the sweat of my brain. You would not think me someone capable of bargaining over the quality of a piece; no, you would try to steal it from me, steal my thoughts and hope it improves your circulation, like some bug collector charging admission to his museum while adding a new bug. I am that bug, aren’t I?

How I despise you! How I despise the falsity of your pose, of everything it represents, half-measures, nods to liberalism, even Marxism, perhaps— no; that would be too daring and might make you slightly suspect even among those whom you call “friends,” no doubt old chums from the university who would abandon you if you fell out of society for your debts. I had to leave the university because of debts and become this creature you naturally avoid.

What if I were to walk up to your circle, right now, and begin talking as if I had been invited? I might talk of the recent architectural changes to Petersburg, or the price of pork rising above the peasant’s means, or the eternal illusion of freeing and reforming the serfs. I could nod and listen with the best of you, and for your sake pretend you were of equal intellectual standing as I, yes, I could pretend to humility among your overfed circle of bourgeoisie functionaries, minor aristocrats, businessmen, liberal-minded poseurs and the lot. And would you forgive my appearance? This three days’ beard? This ragged and thinning hair creeping over my ears like a bad fungus? Perhaps. Perhaps there is in you, or one of your circle, the ability to see beyond a man’s shell, to see into the heart and the mind—but what is the purpose of all your desultory and condescending conversation and polite niceties and slight bows toward your betters? To avoid this very thing, to lose humanity in inane politeness.

I pity you, Sir, I pray when your last breath comes it will be breathed with the sudden and horrifying realization of the triviality of your entire life. Only this will save you. Or should you lose a daughter or son or a beloved wife or friend you loved before that last deathbed revelation I doubt will ever overtake you, I pray the tragedy might be enough to make you kneel in church and confess, “Be merciful to me, O God, for I am a sinner,” and mean it. But you cannot do that now; church is for the best pews and the satisfaction that you are only a formal sinner, not in the real sense. You have not been unfaithful toward your wife in a long while, despite the opportunities your club regularly affords, and the last time meant nothing. The dismissed servants asked for your attentions, hardly your fault. You don’t cheat at cards and you return invitations for invitations; surely you are good, and insulated from common evil. Surely you are above the degradation God visits on the vast majority of humans, with their dirt floors and thatched roofs and drunken Saturdays, burying half their infants in graves whose markings disappear with the rains; surely you will never see how this might be your salvation, no, you must precede them into heaven! Surely you are the grasshopper with others to play the ant for you, while we, the hard working ants, suffer the fate of grasshoppers in the winter, that which you deserve--hungry and piled with blankets around a few coals. Have you earned anything in your life? You will know if that which has only been given is likewise taken away.

I'm a big fan of Fyodor, he vies with Eliot as my favorite author. Eliot is harder to imitate, and though it can be done, it usually ends in parody. Imitating Dostoevsky I find easier to do without degenerating into parody, but let the reader judge--that inveterate reader who will actually put up with 1400 words in one day's blog.

Thine at 1 Kilorat (feeling irritable and caged up),


Thursday, December 11, 2008

New Post: On Rilke and Eliot

It is time to interrupt this program of "The Best of" to pen something new. And having dwelt more on affective disorders than art in this string of posts, I feel impelled to write something about my favorite art, poetry.

Last night I was up until 4 AM reading Celan and all of Rilke's Duino Elegies. I know enough German to follow the translations and occasionally quibble with the translators, but Rilke's verse is difficult, even in German, because of his vast diction and complicated syntax, stumbling blocks for any translator. Yet the ineffable nature of Rilke's poetry shines through translation.

It's been said that poetry is what can't be translated, but I disagree, and put forth Shakespeare as an example, whose poetry has rivaled the Bible in the adaptation of his work to every major language.

Rilke is considered a Victorian/Edwardian poet by some, but I think his Duino Elegies put him squarely in the modern camp, for several reasons. First, the psychological depth of this, his later work; second, the almost conversational tenor of the Elegies; and third, the changing point of view that he manages so seamlessly. Sometimes he addresses an angel, sometimes a woman, sometimes the reader and often himself. There is also a deep honesty to his struggles, as if he tries to pull the last veil from his masks and find the essential being within. Yet even as he does this, he pulls away from the intimacy of being and calls upon the angels to save him, though he somewhat comically contends that the angels are most interested in "Things"--the details of a carnival for instance, while eschewing the temple.

I have never seen a work that so dovetails with Eliot's "Four Quartets" as the Elegies do, and the genesis of the majority of these ten master works occurred after a long fallow period, in a burst of inspiration in 1922 (he wrote the first three in 1912). In this Rilke observes a poetic silence much like Eliot's between "Ash Wednesday," written in 1927, and "Four Quartets" begun in 1936. Similar themes of time, mortality, spiritual illumination and being in the present also dominate the Elegies, though they bear the signature of a more consistent voice than Eliot's Quartets do. Yet note these comparisons:

"But this: that one can contain
death, the whole of death, even before
life has begun, can hold it in one's heart
gently, and not refuse to go on living,
is inexpressible." (Rilke, ending of the third Elegy)

"You can receive this: 'on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death'--that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others." (Eliot, Dry Salvages III, near the end)

Notice how the voice in each passage avoids lecturing, yet there is a certainty to the poet's arguments that is hard to resist, because each poet truly believes in what he is saying.

Here are another two passages:

"And you, dear women
who must have loved me for my small beginning
of love towards you, which I always turned away from
because the space in your features grew, changed,
even while I loved it, into cosmic space,
where you no longer were--" (fourth Elegy, near the middle)

"Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the past
Into different lives, or into any future;
You are not the same people who left the station...
You shall not think "the past is finished"
Or "the future is before us." (Dry Salvages III, middle passage)

How time transforms us into different people; how a human face changes with time until the person is no longer there. And both poets have a tenuous and mistrustful relationship with the body, best typified in Eliot's "Prufrock" but still present in 4Q:

Again, from the fourth Elegy:

"I won't endure these half-filled human masks;
better, the puppet. It at least is full.
I'll put up with the stuffed skin, the wire, the face
that is nothing but appearance."

From "Burnt Norton III":

"Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies empty of meaning."

So there are great similarities in substance between the Elegies and Four Quartets, although the pleading voice of Rilke is more Romantic and the more distant voice of Eliot more Classical.

Rilke's central theme is of a failed ascendancy; like the panther in the cage, he paces the world yet feels caged by it, hoping for the deliverance of angels, of some final epiphany, only to be returned to his body and the problems of human love and human boundaries that ultimately prevent a true earthly union between lovers, as in the famous passage at the end of the Fifth Elegy, so difficult to translate:

"If there were a place that we didn't know of, and there
on some unsayable carpet, lovers displayed
what they could never bring to mastery here--
Would... [the soundless dead] throw down their final, forever saved-up
forever hidden, unknown to us, eternally valid
coins of happiness before the at last
genuinely smiling pair on the gratified

Difficult to say, but would those who never experienced ideal love throw their horded idealization of it at the feet of those who achieved it in some other world? That it must happen in some other world is testimony to the fact that Rilke could not achieve it in this one; he is more identified with the soundless dead. Indeed, in his upbringing and personal relationships he fled from intimacy and perhaps his own femininity, having been raised as a girl by his mother until-shock of shocks!--his father put him in military school.

Naturally these speculations deserve a fuller treatment, and no doubt these thoughts will develop into a more fully-formed essay. But for now, let me but speak of the unadulterated joy of staying up late to bathe in greatness, of having my attention riveted by a poet whom I've read before before but never truly embraced. And to mention Celan in passing is a disservice, though I urge you to read him as well. The joy of poetry, when it descends upon you, exceeds any other intellectual joy that I know, not to mention the emotional engagement and sheer adventure of great verse.

Here ends the break from "The Best of."

At 2 Kilobunnies,


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Best of, cont'd.: Poetic Narcissism and Depression

From 11/13/06:

I was plain wrong when I claimed a week of euthymia (good mood) yesterday; in reviewing my blog it was only four days. It felt like a week because I felt like myself again. Unfortunately, today I feel on thin ice and I’m anxious.

I got up yesterday and wrote my sonnet and blogged, which is my daily mental toilette. Later I felt restless. I couldn’t concentrate on the book I am supposed to review, or on learning the hieroglyphics of html. Finally at 1:30 PM I jumped in the van and drove south about forty miles on winding Highway 1 to the Garcia River. Three years ago in October I had netted a steelhead and a salmon at a deep part of the river, and I thought perhaps there would be some fish pooling around now. I didn’t get a bite, which is not unusual for the unluckiest fisherman in the world. I wear a hat that proclaims, “Fish Control My Brain.” I have since learned that that control means that I am constantly directed away from fish. If I’m there, they are not.

But the feeling of restlessness and irritability persisted as I fished. The landscape was overcast with occasional sprinkles; the bracken of summer had decayed into the color of straw; the leaves of the blackberry bushes had begun to turn red, imitating the dreaded poison oak, but I know the difference in the shape of the leaves. I saw a raven fight off a white-tailed kite over a territory dispute near the bluff above. Placid cows grazed high on the steep embankment along the river, and I thought it a miracle that they did not fall off for an unscheduled swim. I saw a beautiful red-tailed hawk.

I was entirely alone in this somewhat forbidding landscape, and not surprisingly, following my irritability, an angry irritability, melancholy descended. Was it for not catching fish? Was it my memory of fishing there three years ago that reminded me of all that had transpired between, our whole sojourn in that unmentionable country south of the border? In any case I felt like crying but controlled myself. When I came home Kathleen immediately spotted my change in mood. I can hide nothing from her.

This morning I woke up anxious. I held on to Kathleen as if she were a large stuffed animal for comfort. Eventually Kenyon stirred and I had to walk the old boy, as in his dotage he can easily get lost and confused. He stops sometimes, stands still, and exhibits the thousand-yard stare. I remember when he was young and frisky. Now I am a helpless participant in managing his decline.

The point is, my mood is still fragile. I could dive down from here. The self-critical thoughts have returned; I’m no good, I’ve never done anything in my life, yada yada. But I noticed another aspect of my illness, namely jealousy.

I’m jealous of the success of other poets and musicians. I feel somehow it’s not fair, that I’m good enough to be recognized. But even as I think this I castigate myself for my narcissism, since those with greater recognition, in general, have also striven harder to attain what they have. Other than a whole wad of publications on the net and a lesser wad in print, I remain a third tier poet, one of thousands who have not distinguished themselves from the herd. It is sad that the world of poetry works much like Hollywood, but them’s the cards, deal with it. I’m not submitting to anyone right now, a deficiency I need to correct. but sometimes it seems purely hopeless to try; I think my poetry is retro and the moment of its potential recognition has passed me by. Can I accept that without bitterness? Jealousy is the essence of narcissism and I am ashamed of it. But I must admit it. I resent those with greater success, especially when I think their verse is inferior. I try to tell myself that they earned it, but I can’t help believing they had lucky breaks. Take Wanda Coleman, for instance; what’s she doing in the second tier of poets? She is obvious and bombastic, though a good performer. Or take Charles Bukowski, from whom Garrison Keillor chose multiple entries in his anthology of poetry. I could go on, but naming names is always dangerous. You risk expulsion from the potential circle of venerable elders. I suppose my greatest achievement in poetry was when Dorianne Laux solicited me for an issue of the Alaska Quarterly Review and I had as much space as Billy Collins. To be solicited for a top flight journal is a thrill.

At 52 I’ve pretty much let my music and songwriting slide. I’ve let medical practice slide, though not by direct choice. Look: I’m being honest. The Bible advises that we pray for our enemies, for which a competitor in the small world of poetry might qualify, especially if I think their verse inferior to mine.

In my worst moments I’m so jealous I want to appeal to some objective cosmic judge for a decision. After all these years, from adolescence on, why have I not been able to master these feelings of injury? Those who succeed are not injuring me, only helping themselves. Why do I, in my worst moments, resent them? The answer is simple: I think I’m their equal or better, and that it just isn’t FAIR. What a ridiculous concept, that life and art should be fair. In my case it stems in part, no doubt, from being a middle child, a same sex second child quickly followed by my sister only 16 mos. later. Why did my older brother get more liberties? How come I couldn’t be his equal? It never dawned on me that it was just a difference in age that allowed him greater privileges. But I took his privileges as somehow diminishing mine. This is a problem I go through on the edges of depression. I wish I knew a cure.

I do remember one epiphany when I practiced in Palm Springs. At that time a Mercedes was the commonest car in the upscale desert. One day when driving I realized why others had Mercedes and I didn’t: They had earned their cars. I was not gypped; their cars did not diminish me; they had earned their luxury. Enough said. Or not enough.

My narcissism, which crops up when my mood is bent, embraces the ridiculous idea that the success of others, particularly others I think less talented, somehow takes away from me. This is plain silly. But it is one of the slippery slopes into depression again, as I must condemn myself for my narcissism, afterwards paralyzed by my perceived failure. Perhaps the only antidote for this is to simply accept that I have these feelings, justified or not, and that I need to keep working in the hopes of being recognized someday. “Don’t look behind, someone might be gaining on you.” But I am open to comment or commiseration regarding this psychological thorn, and I trust, among artists, that I am not the only one to suffer from it.

At 2 Kilorats, with Anxiety,


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Best of, cont'd: Depression, Obesity and the Lizard Brain

From 11/5/06:

Yesterday was a bad day. I had at least three weepy/weeping spells, two of them on the cliff across from the sea lions that made for a passable poem. What really made me cry was the idea of God and an attempt at prayer. I have such feelings of rejection from the Almighty, and the idea of approaching him fills me with such a sense of unworthiness I can’t begin to describe it. I feel like a bug under glass, but smaller. It’s a feeling of primal abandonment which likely goes back to infant bonding issues with my mother, and is subsequently projected on that great screen, God. It’s a grief over a vacuum that persists from my adolescence and young adulthood. Back then I was such a fanatic I felt I had to have a message from God to do nearly anything of consequence.

For some strange reason I received the impression at the age of 17 that God wanted me to become a doctor. When I didn’t get in to medical school the first year with a 4.0 from UCLA, I felt betrayed—“Look, God, I’ve done all this work for you getting through college, working three jobs and the rest, and then you thwart the ambition you gave me?” I later realized this was the sin of presumption. But just when being a doctor began to make sense in the third year of my psychiatry residency, I fell into a severe depression that caused me to drop out. There went my hope to make something of being a doctor, something I could bear, as psychiatry dovetailed with the humanities. After this debacle, my primitive thinking was: “I tried to do God’s will, but he screwed me.” How could I be so special that God would screw me? All this demonstrates the narcissism of the depressive. When an infant does not have enough human bonding, he makes up people in his head, and his life revolves around his head instead of society. To the degree you were isolated in your earliest years, to that degree will your head fill with chatter as a substitute.

I know that my feelings toward God are opposed to Christian theology, but I can’t help how I feel. If I have a relationship with God it must be infantile on my part. Especially in depressions, prayer only makes me sadder. Yes, I did pray for myself yesterday. There’s no harm in that. But any emotional wholeness from a perceived contact with God is something I’ve never experienced. I wish for healing, of course, but at my age I settle for acceptance. This is how I’m built. My emotional wounds go way back to infancy. I project them on authority figures, even an authority figure presumably on my side.

Mental illness lends itself to hyperreligiosity and religious psychoses, in which I was an avid participant, though to be fair, I didn’t know of the illness that possessed me until I was 30.

One more thing: When I am well I like to say, “It is not I who have a relationship with God, it is he who has a relationship with me.” Let the burden be on the Almighty. He can take it, one assumes.


From 11/7/06:

In depression minor issues become major ones and long-term problems become immediate crises. When I crossed the border from Mexico in February of this year I weighed 245, which made me technically overweight but not obese. In no time at all I blossomed into my present weight of 270, the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. When I get the courage to look at myself in the mirror after a shower, my appearance gives me cognitive dissonance: I can’t believe I’m that fat. My belly protrudes, the definition in my arm muscles is barely discernible, and the new padding of the groin makes some items look smaller.

When I talked about this with my pain management doctor in April, while deeply depressed, she said, wisely: “That’s the last thing you need to worry about now.” Indeed. But that doesn’t make the depressive mindset let go of the issue. In depression we play with our defects like cats with dead mice. We pick at them like scabs. We revolve on a carousel from one defect to another. Here’s a list of some of my specific self-accusations in depression:

1) You’ve never done anything in your life.

2) You’re so fat how could anyone love you?

3) You’ve done nothing about retirement, do you want to be penniless?

4) You don’t deserve disability; you’re a mooching fraud.

5) Why don’t you go to the gym? Why don’t you swim?

6) You drink too much and it’s ruining your brain. You’ve permanently damaged your brain, especially with all the medications you take.

7) You’re a wimp to take so many medications. Why not just flush them and tough it out?

8) You’ve blasphemed against God and are beyond salvation.

9) Your children don’t care about you because they don’t call.

10) You call yourself a poet but you’re a fraud. You have three unpublished manuscripts that nobody wants. You’re afraid to get out there and do the real work of competition because secretly you know you’re not good enough. Poetry is a thin excuse to keep you occupied in your no-account life.

I could probably list a hundred of these and it would not be enough. When self turns against self it’s as if a stick were whittling itself-- whittling, belittling. All this is what I call “the chatter of the lizard brain.”

In depression the primary problem is mood. The depressive mood arises from primitive brain areas we share with reptiles. Thus our frontal cortex, the seat of thought, is directed by the lizard brain to spew all this self-denigrating chatter, because if only our accusations were true it would explain our depression and satisfy our need for causality.

In other words, in depression, the lizard brain is the horse and the frontal cortex is the cart. You can’t fight your lizard brain. It’s too primitive. Treatment requires medication, supportive therapy, and time, and if this does not suffice, possibly electroconvulsive therapy.

Some depressions are not just biochemically based, but mixed with psychology. In these cases cognitive-behavioral therapy can be helpful. But to a pure biochemical depressive, like a bipolar I, talk therapy can actually worsen the symptoms. After all, you have a new person to disappoint: your therapist. I’ve never had strict cognitive-behavioral therapy, but analytic therapy and ego-centered therapy have definitely made me worse. Anything beyond supportive therapy I find damaging. A biochemical depression is probably the worst time to try to make changes in your personality.

Back to obesity. I’m on medications (antipsychotics, lithium) that cause weight gain and fluid retention. The antipsychotic also takes all my stamina away, so I gasp going up stairs. I’ve found it terribly hard to exercise on my present medication regimen.

Like all fat people, I hope someday to be thin again, as I have been the majority of my life (until my early 40’s after failed back surgery). But as my doctor advised, it’s not something I should worry about now. For now I do two things: 1) try to accept that I’m sick; 2) try to stay busy. While writing this I’m doing the wash, for instance. Afterwards I have the kitchen to clean up. Then I want to start writing my book review, and later, perhaps, work more on my html course. That I can do these things shows that my depression is not as deep as it could be. Indeed, I could pass for normal.

At 3 kilorats,

Craig Erick

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Best of: Discourse on Depression

From my continuing "Best of" selections out of 500 posts, this from 10/4/06:

I want to be honest, but in the act of writing despair seems briefly arrested. Then I would not call my state despair, exactly, which implicates the heart and will, only clinical depression. Yet clinical depression leads to despair, which can only be defined negatively: without hope, helpless, without recourse, bereft of comfort, and so on.

When my mood is normal (may it be again!) I feel like myself. In depression I become my anti-self. Whatever I do is pointless; those who love me are deceived; I have made nothing of my life, indeed, have no life, and nothing I can do will change this. I constantly berate myself for perceived failings. And this from a Lutheran who supposedly believes in grace, “God’s unmerited favor toward us.” In depression I’m sure that God made a mistake, that in my case it doesn’t apply. I don’t feel loved by God yet I believe God is love. I am not comforted by Jesus; I can’t relate to him at all, indeed, have always had tremendous trouble with the second person of the Trinity. It is an article of faith that Christ suffered all our sins and griefs on the cross, so surely his suffering included clinical depression, but that doesn’t help my depression. It just makes me feel more guilty, as if I’m failing God by not believing. I think about going to church but know in this state I will misinterpret everything as a demand and leave church feeling more guilty than ever. In depression you question your core beliefs, and my faith is certainly one thing eroded by depression. This is no suffering to make me a better person; this is the extinguishing of personality itself.

There is a sense in clinical depression that the pain of the moment is eternal pain, that one has always hated oneself, that it has never been any different. Because I have had a few days of relief here and there, I am lucky to remember that it doesn’t have to be this way. In saying that I have hope. It is intellectual hope based on past depressions; I have always, eventually, come out of them, and I have been most helped by medications and electricity. Activity is good as well; simple tasks like washing the dishes. I am not so bad that I fear my inability to wash the dishes, each dish weighing a ton as my hand shakes with the fear of not being able to do them. But I have been there. I have been at 8 kilorats and it’s not pretty.

I feel the need to justify my existence every day, but the paradox is that nothing will justify my existence. I worry about old age, my body is tired and my joints ache, I am more than unhappy, I am abandoned. I know the form of my depression goes back to infancy, but that does not change the state of depression or explain its occurrence. One must have genetic predisposition to become clinically depressed.

Have you ever felt utterly alone, like a smudge on a windshield, like a microscopic dot in infinite darkness? Have you ever suffered constant accusations in your mind telling you all was for naught? Have you been nauseated by food, taking pleasure in nothing and wishing only for death? If you’ve had such symptoms for a week straight without relief it qualifies as depression. It used to be four weeks, then two weeks, and now the APA has decided the requirement for treatment is only one week. One week can be an eternity.

Right now the one thing I look forward to is seeing a better psychiatrist, although there is no guarantee I will be able to see him come Wednesday, as he will be on call for emergencies and may not be able to stay in the office. If that happens I will no doubt think that’s exactly what I deserve, that it’s hopeless anyway, that no one can help me. But I know better. Those who follow this blog know that I experienced a few kilobunnies several weeks ago, only to fall back in the pit.

As an aside, yesterday’s poem was roundly condemned by my editor and wife, and I couldn’t agree more. In my present state I think most of the poetry I’ve ever written should be thrust into the fire. Then in depression one can have no objectivity regarding anything about the self. I had the same experience as a practicing doctor, fearing everything I said was nonsense, that it was a miracle no one perceived me as a fraud and that I did not harm anyone while practicing in a psychotic depression. At that time work did not make me feel any better or worse, so I continued to work. When a crying spell would overcome me, I’d slip in the bathroom, cry, use Visine, and wash my face with cold water. I did that for more than a year, day after day. The only relief I experienced at that time was while driving. Something about the motion was comforting, and it was the one task I felt I could still do.

At 3.5 kilorats,

Craig Erick

Unexpected Light

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