Thursday, May 29, 2008
I had just gotten a letter from someone about my essay, “My Struggle with Literary Narcissism,” which she enjoyed, especially my musings on how much luck had to do with any success. Then the news of my inclusion with the immortals!
Irony is not dead! Kairos still concentrates experience! Here's to Jungian synchronicity!
I also received a letter from a new paying print venue, The Sigurd Journal, notifying me that my poem, “Dare,” will be featured on the cover and my interview on the back cover.
When it rains it pours! But I'm waiting for #3, since these things usually come in threes. I can't think of what it might be but I won't hold my breath.
I really need to get on the ball and start submitting my book on Eliot to academic presses on a regular basis. Since coming out of my depression I've been doing what my shrink advised: “Enjoy yourself.” And so I have, posting at various boards, entering debates, spilling my mind and guts where they might prove of interest. But my long-term publishing ambitions always seem to come last, likely for several reasons: First, the bother of print submissions, cover letters, research of markets, yada. Second, the sinking feeling that it is all in vain. Lastly the distraction of whatever my latest project is, whether a poem, and essay, or participation in a discussion at a forum or blog.
I'm alive! I'm alive!” --Baron Harkonnen in David Lynch's “Dune”
I have remedied the cats' decimation of my flower garden with an ingenious device known as “The Scarecrow,” which by photoelectric activation sprays any moving object within twenty feet of the flowers. Now my flowers are doing much better. Some may remember the poem I scribbled about it, I'll put the latest version below:
My cats kink and snurl together,
slink effortlessly up the windowsill
and pose, contemptuous of their grace,
as if it were expected,
as if the world held nothing else--
meanwhile destroy my garden,
a two-foot strip around my porch
I dared to punctuate with flowers.
They claw out plugs of hothouse blooms
and leave them baking in the sun;
mainly they trash the marigolds.
Still I re-plant, water and wait,
hoping the roots regenerate
while fearing the trauma's too severe
for drugstore flowers to persevere.
Here's a poem I've been working on, still sort of a draft, one a friend has tried to help me with (I won't mention his name lest he be associated with a bad result).
Someday when you were meaning
to look out the window
you will notice your face instead,
a map to the Holy Land
contained in the luggage
of your eyes, spread in lines
from their corners
like shatter-proof glass
See mine, beard quilled in white?
The scar of a cop's baton
juts out from my eyebrow
and my mustache was divided
by a brass knuckle's kiss,
a face more public than I wish
though it doesn't take a gypsy
to divine a face; it screams itself.
Mine's not a rich man's face but I hope
rich in love and free of envy.
The rich man rubs it in
whether he wants to or not.
His mere existence powers envy
which powers ambition
which powers achievement
which powers comparison
which powers dissatisfaction
which powers envy again.
It's not the thorn against the rose
but both against the deer--
the deer make them equals
and the sun, confederates.
Still on the blind horde runs
urged on like wasps
disturbed by a lawnmower,
pockets stuffed with lottery tickets.
On the human engine runs
toward the swimming pool
purchased on credit
from a second mortgage
toward the notion
that having all
might cure not having all.
The Buddha smiles
at the ouroboros of desire:
I smile back at the window.
That's all the good news for today—so far.
C. E. Chaffin
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
1) I have not felt the need to blog since my depression went into remission। Remember, I started the blog in Mexico as a way of enduring my trials, having white space in which to order my thoughts about my experience. Later, it became a therapeutic aid to enduring depression, to such a an extent that Kathleen and close friends questioned whether it was actually extending my depression by reinforcement; that, happily, was not true. In writing about my chemical distress I was able to objectify my diseased feelings during the act of writing and thus obtain some temporary relief by means of my blog. The comments were helpful, too. The contact. The affirmation. It was a discipline I practiced in order to hang onto some sort of stated reality, which you suffered with me when I wrote well.
2) I have run into discouraging technical problems and don't know how to fix them. When I post at my blog now, any change at the posting itself results in a translation into an unknown language whose script reminds me of Cambodian, though it is not Cambodian. How such a glitch developed is beyond me.
It has never been about numbers, but since I stopped blogging, visitors have dropped only 25% because of the long tail of references I left behind in former posts, so that searchers looking for a quote from Churchill or details on Freud's vasectomy unwittingly enter my blog space.
Only two close friends questioned why I wasn't blogging; I told them I no longer felt the need. I have contemplated a new blog to rid myself of the present glitches in this one, a blog dedicated to joy as in my last post, a place of hope where there was darkness. If you want to see such a blog, please comment.
Meanwhile I have been gardening, performing music, writing poetry, volunteering as a docent at The Botanical Gardens, leading music therapy at a ministry for the homeless and mentally ill, attending men's groups and debating poetry at various forums, where I defend Eliot again among other things। I've also been nursing Kathleen, who has suffered a gum infection from a botched root canal that also plunged her into a depression. She is a unipolar, I'm a bipolar. That doesn't mean her depression doesn't scare me, but I keep whistling through the graveyard of life. I'm confident enough to support her, as she did me for two years. As for bloviating online, here are links to recent discussions in which I play a primary role: �
Lost in the Shallows,� a discussion of contemporary verse
Defending Eliot at Babilu Forum
Critique thread at Alsop's Gazebo
Recent publications, including YouTube (posted before):
All for now, I fear the quasi-Cambodian interpreting ghost at my typing fingers' heels.
Monday, May 12, 2008
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time, waiting in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed, for the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God। For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord।” (NIV version, 8:19 ff.)
What is the Kingdom of Heaven but the indescribable joy of inseparable, insuperable eternal love, the very thing we craved from our first banishment from the dumb joy of the womb?
Keats comes closest, in of all places, his “Ode on Melancholy,” where the sorrow-tinged exaltation of which he speaks approaches Joy:
“But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud...
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes।
“She dwells with Beauty - Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine।”
Schiller's Ode to Joy, made famous by Beethoven's 9th, falls short of this standard:
Let the cosmos embrace you, you millions!
This kiss goes to the entire world!...
Whoever has had the great fortune
To know true friendship
Whoever has won the love of a devoted wife,
Add his to our jubilation!
(My translation, excerpted from the second stanza।)
This ode, written on the cusp when the Augustan age gave over to the Romantic, still contains more subject-object distance from joy than Keats। As such it may be that only my anachronistic eye fails to feel the joy of this piece, though the music certainly conveys it—music based on a German beer song, incidentally.
Yesterday I was sitting on an old redwood log facing a pasturer where wild turkeys flocked and deer feasted on the long grass। Stellar's Jays, supernaturally blue, hopped and pecked in the grass beside a robin। I listened to the bird song and wind and nothing else। I took my shirt off and lit a hand-rolled cigarette and guiltlessly enjoyed the smoke and the scene, experiencing a richness beyond words। In the distance small whitecaps erupted on the royal blue Pacific। There was nothing I wanted or didn't want, and to illustrate the paucity of words, I can only say I felt like I was in a Disney movieमूवी
This is in part what Eliot meant by “the timeless moment,” that out-of-self experience of all- encompassing joy. When my cigarette was done I wandered out into the pasture, staring at blue-eyed grass and yellow-eyed grass and the lavender and white profusion of wild radishes. A six-point buck pranced away at my approach, his body leaping, his neck proudly erect like a war horse. Joy in his motion, joy in his freedom, joy in his perfection.
It is in our most extreme states that our hearts turns toward the numinous. If we think of God at all, we are most apt to think of him in our deepest sorrow or greatest joy.
There is a great moment in “The Screw Tape Letters” where the protagonist is being oppressed by a demon with a mild depression, and he decides to go for a walk in the country. The beauty of nature transports him out of himself and back into awareness of God.
Afterwards the demon is scolded by his superior: “How could you possibly let the subject do something he enjoyed? You risked him getting out of himself. We want his pleasures circumscribed—the club, television, liquor, not something so dangerous as nature. You fool!”
Exactly. Extreme joy and sorrow are two paths to the same place, another point made in Eliot's “Four Quartets,” though not so directly; in its famous conclusion, sorrow and joy, earthly suffering and isolated moments of transport are fused:
“All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”
An old friend from the LitNet, Seth Abramson, gave me joy by getting three poems into the top print journal, Poetry, something most poets would give their eye teeth for. After all, we don't need them to see।
There's a new thread where I defend Eliot again, a sign of my improved mood, that you might find entertaining, as it begins with the usual charge of anti-Semitism and ends with a बर्डwalk into psychiatry.
I do enjoy comments but it seems that comments are inversely proportional to the length of my posts, so today's is shorter।In destroying my deer netting overnight, the cats' trampling of my little flower garden actually increased. Back to square one.
Although the Lakers lost yesterday they took it to overtime in hostile Utah, so I am still upbeat about their chances।
Next Saturday we plan a housewarming party not only to celebrate our new digs with the expansive ocean view, but to honor Kathleen's birthday, although her beauty is ageless।
Thine in Joy,
Thursday, May 08, 2008
I had a manic dream last night, something so rare I can't remember the last one। And it's the second night I've had one। I attribute it to taking my second dose of Effexor too late. I need to take it in the afternoon apparently. But just as depressive dreams often warn me of on oncoming depression and have prevented its clinical eruption by such caution, so likewise my body may be warning me of flipping past euthymia into hypomania if not careful.
In the first night's dream I battled an armored dwarf who came after me with a machete'; after I disarmed him, he picked up a battle-ax and assaulted me with increased vigor। Again I disarmed him easily and told him that if that sort of behavior turned him on, I might have to pay attention, but that his aggressions would be better served in some other way. He was crestfallen and felt diminished, though I didn't discount future attacks. I acted as if this sort of thing happened every day and that I was more than competent to deal with murderous dwarfs. Which reminds of the time when, while manic, I kept a police dog (German Shepherd) at bay with one hand, slapping him repeatedly when he tried to leap, keeping the other hand free to smoke, gesture, and reason with an arresting officer. The dog gave up; he realized that I was too quick for him and I don't know how hard I slap when I'm manic; very hard, I expect. I still have scars on my right hand from the occasional tooth.
In last night's dream we were in Mexico (Kathleen and I and her mother and Derek), where I would become enraged at the slightest deviation from my way, to the point of belittling my dear wife and shocking her mother while I ran around a beachside Mexican resort looking for conflict with with anyone from “the dark side।” I can't remember any physical altercations. It's pointless resisting me when in any case I'm manic, whether in a dream or reality. Either calm me down (which has been done by loved ones) or call the authorities.
At the supermarket yesterday late in the afternoon I snapped at Kathleen because I was “houchy” (so hungry I was grouchy), but luckily she didn't hear it। When my blood sugar dips too far I can get like that, in a mini-manic explosion of anger, but I got some Safeway sushi in time to quiet the demon.
This is the Scylla and Charybdis of my disease: in treating a depression you may overshoot into mania, and vice-versa। Yet as an informed consumer, the first logical step is to take my second dose of Effexor earlier; the second is to skip the second dose altogether. In addition I increased my mood-stabilizing agent, Klonopin, to 2 mg. last night, which made me sleep until noon, but I felt it a necessary precaution after two nights of manic dreams.
And yes, poetry has come back to me and I'm enjoying it। I have been posting at three boards and my poem, “Queen Melancholy,” was solicited by an editor. I also had two light verse pieces accepted. And I got a nice rejection from Poetry magazine, which, although a form letter, was one of the nicest form letters I've received. God bless you, Christian! (Unfortunately I had no record of my submitting there, so I can't tell what they rejected. Must have been one of my late at night brandy-drenched sorties into the world of publication that I failed to record.).
Today's question: Will Craig grow manic?
Today's answer: Not if he can help it। (It usually leads to an arrest, and he no like da police, though “he do the police in different voices.”)
I played at a rally Friday against Measure 'B' (to repeal liberal marijuana laws) in Fort Bragg and was well received, though I mistook their “Pot Luck” sign for food, afterward discovering they meant pooling alternative resources and burning them. I played at a Botanical Gardens soirée the week before and was well-received as well. (If I use “well” again in a sentence I shan't be feeling well.) I've been invited by a bass player to play Saturday Night at a local burger joint as well. (Now I'm
This brings up another component of my recovery that I neglected to mention in my last post। Though ECT and Invega (an anti-psychotic whose effects on me were similar to the demonic Haldol) made me worse in Jan/Feb of this year, I requested an MRI of my brain while hospitalized and they discovered a bilateral, chronic maxillary sinus infection (everyone in my family seems to have allergies but I never paid them no mind). I remembered a case as a family practitioner where a depressive perked up after I treated her chronic sinus infection, so I went to our family doctor and requested treatment. After a month's antibiotics (the first two weeks spitting up a lot of schmegg), not only was my depression better but my voice had improved markedly. It's timbre and resonance had returned, I was no longer singing through pockets of mucous that robbed me of my natural timbre. So add this to my list of fortuitous concatenation of circumstances in recovery under “physiochemical.”
The Lakers won handily last night, another reason for me to rejoice। They are now 6-0 in the playoffs. Only one team that started with such a record in the playoffs has ever failed to win a championship. Yes I know there are lies, damned lies, and statistics, but my beloved Lakers are the best passing team in the league now, displaying oodles of patience to get the best shot while fast-breaking when appropriate. They have no supernatural point (passing, play-making) guard like the Hornets' Chris Paul, but the triangle offense they employ doesn't need one; in it, every player must act as a point guard, a passer, and we are blessed with a number of big men who can pass—Gasol, Odom, Turiaf and Walton (although Walton is really more of a tweener, a swing man). If only Radmonivich could pass we would have five starters who were gifted passers, and good passing has overcome poor rebounding against Utah so far, though I expect them to win a couple of games in predicting a six-game series which the Lakers should win 4-2. If the Lakers sweep I will be surprised.
Meanwhile ugly eastern basketball proceeds, with the wrestling matches of the Celtics vs। the Cavaliers, and the suffocating Detroit defense against the mad three-point shooting Magic। It will likely be Boston and Detroit in the East semifinals and the Lakers and the Hornets in the West, because right now San Antonio, defending champion, seems completely befuddled by Chris Paul, who finished second only to Kobe in the MVP balloting, and based solely on this year's statistics, probably deserved it more.
I tried bark in my garden to discourage the cats, as Laurel suggested, but it has been no use। Next I shall try deer netting, and though the aesthetic of draping my porch railing and and flower borders in nylon squares does little for me, my plants will otherwise remain small if at all while the cats keep tramping and the deer keep chomping. The only annual flowers to do well so far are alyssum, which is low to the ground, thus survives trampling, and is apparently not deer-licious. As for perennials, the jasmine and the mints (apple mint, cat mint, mint) and sages (sage and pineapple sage) are doing OK. And to be fair, more of my drugstore (hothouse) flowers have survived than I expected, some clinging to life like the marigolds and petunias, some testing life like the pansies, while some thrive like the alyssum, something I hope for my newly planted sea thrift and lobelia, since they are also essentially ground covers. I should mention that an evil neighborhood cat has torn down whole stems repeatedly from the calla lily just for the fun of it. I caught him in the act. Strange behavior for a cat. Maybe he thinks it's Easter.
On the coast it's cold and windy, so low-lying thick-leaved plants do best। Ice plant would be ideal but since I grew up with it everywhere (in SoCal) I have no intention of planting such a common thing. I'm not a botanical snob but I know what I like, just like Disney: Color! Color! Color! More color than foliage if I can help it. BTW, it's peak rhododendron season out here and a lovely time to visit the Mendocino Coast, just don't move here, please.
How quickly over a thousand words shoot from my fingertips!
Lastly, a new poem:
It's hard to say whether fog is addition or subtraction
as it leaches color from shore pines, pinus contortus,
painting them slate while the sea's horizon
is lost in indistinction like a chalk line blurred।
All is dulled, dunned, drabbed, sullied
or alternately whitewashed by the bright gray
Flimsier than a negligee, thick as a cataract,
softening all by spell of the sea's breath,
a brume grown opaque as a drop cloth,
it's a lie cast over reality, else a new one
Reach out, rub it between your fingers;
nothing remains but a lick of humidity.
(“brume” = haze)
Kiloneutral but cautious
Thine in Truth and Art
Monday, May 05, 2008
Thus through age 29 I suffered five major depressions, and since being diagnosed, through age 53, while under treatment, I have suffered three more. This is not statistically significant in terms of prevention, unfortunately, but who knows how much I would have suffered without treatment?Just as alcoholics are in recovery, think of me as a melancholic in in recovery, though this parallel cannot stand much scrutiny, as the latter is more difficult to treat, in my experience.
Now you may rightly ask what concatenation of fortuitous circumstances led to my current recovery. In no particular order:
Spiritual: My friend Eric had a dream about Christ weeping over my body and healing me। About two weeks later, before the new antidepressant had had any effect, I wept in prayer while trying to pray as honestly as I possibly could. For the first time in I don't know how long, I felt some brief, inexplicable connection with the Light, a momentary piercing of the veil, so it seemed.
Chemical: On March 24 my doctor changed my antidepressant again। Within a week we upped it to therapeutic levels. Two-and-a-half weeks later, the usual time frame for response to an antidepressant (2 – 6 weeks), I began to feel a little better. This was on Thursday, April 10, when I was stranded in Lost Hills, CA, with a cracked radiator. Being confronted with a minor crisis was a pleasure in my state, as it got me out of myself. Thanks to a tip about some mechanics who hung around their shop late, we were able to move on the same night. (FGI (for general information) a plastic radiator can't be fixed with “Insta-Weld.” It must be replaced.)
Behavioral and Social: In visiting my daughters and my oldest friend, though cruelly prevented from seeing my grandson, I had a chance to pretend to be myself, to pour myself into the mold of the upbeat, humorous, philosophizing, friendly, garrulous (and sometimes offensive) person I usually am. My second daughter, Keturah, invited me to Happy Hour the next day, April 11, and we had an exotic martini-drinking jamboree/competition at half-price. I was also able to see Sarah perform in a play for only the second time since middle school. And I sat for two hours in an old familiar bar, Joe Jost's, with Eric, talking while trying to avoid any mention of depression. I was so sick of talking about it.
When I returned home I continued to pretend to be myself with dogged courage. There were times when melancholy begged admission, but I refused to discuss my depression। I lied to Kathleen about how I was feeling as a matter of course. I even avoided seeing my psychiatrist because in nearing his office I burst into tears at the memory of all the times I had sat in his office depressed. I told him by e-mail and he understood। This Wednesday I will likely be well enough to see him.
Socially I should also mention that traveling 1200 miles with my stepson, Derek, was a tonic He's funny and upbeat Among other things he taught me the difference between Hip Hop and Gangsta Rap (through a plethora of too-loud examples).
In returning home my volunteer work began to pick up, obligating me to work with others while Iavoiding any mention of my condition. I am now involved with six different volunteer groups, including a musical gig for a group sing with the homeless and mentally ill every Friday.
To sum up, there was Eric's dream and my later prayer; a significant change in medication (I went off two meds and on two others); and the social/behavioral opportunity to be myself, a chance I clung to like a life raft in a flood! Without all three features I do not know if I would have improved, but I consider the change in antidepressants the most important, as without a slight elevation in mood I would not have thought of pretending to be myself. Antidepressants sometimes make you just well enough to get better with other help. And that help comes through doing, not being, as my shrink is fond of saying.
In my next post I hope to create a plan for preventing relapse. Meanwhile I'll re-post my most encouraging poem, many readers' favorite:
I will love myself today।
Here are some fuzzy slippers
and a lollipop,
a warm hug and a wet kiss.
Let me tuck this
old familiar blanket
around my shoulders
and read this poem
before I nap.
Whatever I do today,
If I spill milk, I’ll clap.
If I button my shirt wrong
it’s a new style.
If I wet my pants
it was on purpose.
My, how well I walk!
How well I speak!
It’s so good to be
good to myself.
Where have I been
all these sad, long years?
Kiloneutral (though ever vigilant),
Thursday, May 01, 2008
I started this blog in the late summer of 2005 and continued it through our trials in Mexico and my subsequent two-year depression. That some would come here not in good faith but only to scribble graffiti saddens me.
At The Melic Review Roundtable poetry board we had about seven good years before the barbarians stormed the gates. I had a policy that adults should be able to ignore the posts of brigands bent on stealing the spirit of communal discourse without policing. Alas, at last, I was proved wrong--and as we switched to censorship the board simply collapsed, after which I put the whole enterprise on hold.
Right now I'm open to editing and publishing again, I'm even toying with the idea of starting a new magazine or resurrecting the old one. (Cyanide capsules may be mailed to my snail address.) Seriously, I know some untapped talent I suspect would make for a riveting magazine, my only impediment being the lack of a literary light also schooled in webmastering who might be willing to devote her gifts to the technical side. Any volunteers should e-mail me and I will try to provide some monetary reward as well, though likely not commensurate with the current commercial market.
Meanwhile my mood is holding, with a few dips, at least stable enough to write about melancholy not in the first person, a poem presently being workshopped at Gazebo and Wild Poetry Forum (at their Biofeedback thread), should you wish to visit the workshop process. I post the poem here for your convenience:
Dressed in perpetual blue,
her smile a wound too wise
for ordinary martyrdom,
with the stealth of a blue-bottle fly
she moves, black-veined wings
pressed on an azure gown.
Though her kiss is bitter
as the almond pit, her name
flows over the tongue
like maple syrup.
“All happens for a reason”
she reassures us
in a smoky cocktail voice,
rendering unreasonable pain
immune to reason's solace.
She will choke you
with a noose of accusations
woven from strictest honesty.
Beware her lying bed.
Great minds have languished there
and dined upon themselves.
My thanks to all who have followed my journey and apologies for delaying the publication of your comments. There is no other apt word for what I am being forced to do than censorship, which I detest. I hope the result will not be as discouraging as the downfall of the Melic poetry board.