Friday, January 30, 2009

Will as the Central Human Cogwheel

Some time back I posted a string of seminal thoughts on a new theory of the mind. I went on a Descartian journey that I never completed. But in musing upon those posts I will here assert that will is the central fact of human existence.

Think of thought as a funnel. Much of it swirls like napkins in the wind. Some lodges in the cabal of cogitation. Some becomes focused, and when it does, it must be filtered through the will--a sort of binary yes-no circuit, and when the will is engaged, that narrow field of deciding, action follows, a new funnel that with one choice can set a course where other decisions follow naturally in support.

Will is incarnation, the incarnation of thought, both cerebral and automatic. Once in a basketball game someone pushed me from behind and I pivoted and threw a right jab right to his jaw without thinking. This is bodily will, the natural instinct of self-preservation, the deepest law of the body, hard-wired.

As for cerebral thought, where, for instance, a man mulls over the purchase of a house or the prospect of divorce, much analysis obtains, but only when that analysis is funneled through the will can incarnation result.

God spoke and the world came to be. What is inevitable speech but the pronouncement of incarnation? When the All-Powerful speaks a word, thought is not divided from will or action, thus a word is sufficient for creation, but only because that word was willed.

Are you seated? Be still for a moment and contemplate raising your right arm. You must have the consent of your arm to lift it. A bodily response is required for incarnation. Will enacts the transfer of thought into reality.

I forget which 19th century German philosopher emphasized the will, but I am in agreement. "I will, therefore I am." (Here is no Adlerian intent because the will to power is another matter altogether.)

Of what practical value is this, then? Of great practical value.

"By your deeds you shall be judged" saith the prophets, from Egypt to Hammurabi to Islam. Deeds are proof of thought. Until then thought may be forgiven.

Christ takes it further: "If a man hates another in his heart he is guilty of murder." Just so. A festering thought can incarnate through the will into the action of murder, and the more the will aligns with the thought, the closer one comes to the deed. Stop evil before it is realized, in the chambers of the heart and the labyrinths of the mind. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

"As a man thinketh, so is he."

Why am I telling you this? Because I was sitting on the porch and these thoughts came to me. Then the choice of reading in bed or sitting down to blog was presented. I willed my body from the porch to the living room, turned the television off and sat down. And surprise, my computer opened up to the "new post" option, a blank screen. I had previously indicated to myself that I might want to blog, apparently.

Nevertheless, until I put my fingers to the keyboard it was all a fantasy. And briefly, before typing, I thought about reviewing my series on a new theory of the mind, but ultimately I decided that the reader would not be interested except for excerpts, and I had no desire to plow through old posts to retrieve a chestnut or two.

Meanwhile my thought tells me that I am fairly certain about my next post: Litnet Archaeology. In researching magazines in which I have been published, I noticed their eventual fates and found a pattern in e-zines which has probably not been noted before.

Until then,

At 1 Kilobunny,


New Poem: Why I Never Bring a Camera on Vacation

I am busy querying editors for book reviews and waiting for my copies to arrive so I can negotiate with local bookstores and start some readings. The long arc of promotion begins with exposure, then interaction, finally (one hopes) purchase. The longest journey begins with a single step; we do not know what fruit our actions will bear. What is important is to stay in the process, detached from results. The only way to travel.

Below, the last two posts of '07, first on the morality of feeling good, then a few New Year's sayings.

But first, in this extra-long triple post, a new poem:

Why I Never Bring a Camera on Vacation

Beached jellyfish:
saucers on gravel, translucent
as silicon gel, see through to shingle.
In the tuft of globules on top
I imagine a man-in-the-moon
with a gaping mouth.

The pathetic fallacy:
corpuscular indignation of blistering kelp.

Bull kelp bobbing on the pink-blue sea--
sometimes you think a seal.

Wind-quilted hollows of wavelets
exhaling susurrations of hissing foam.

The rich wood floors of my brother's house,
a blond fire warming your feet.

On his deck the burnished aluminum chairs
are patterned with holes, holes that won't make
a cross at right angles in my mind,
only a broken kite, a parallelogram's skeleton.
Were we and God saved both?

I'm playing the game, 'Go'
with my abacus of empty nightmares,
trying to put it all in code
like XHTML, like this--
why I never bring a camera on vacation.

Jasmine climbs the wooden trellis,
crosses of slats at angles.

The neighbor's live oak:
trunks bigger than the biggest
python swallowing a pig.

A raven on a far fir's top
caws me awake.
Hand-rolled and coffee.
Take your pills.

My land is likewise crossed
by northwest winds cutting latitudes
in parallelograms.
Who knows how well
the Roman carpenters did?
A good carpenter
would get the joint right.

Slightly irregular or not,
a cross can only meet in its center.
Its tips are alone,
sterile branches, stubs of nothingness.
Only the vital center matters.

My brother said he once
abandoned himself to God,
or rather “surrendered.”
“It was a good feeling,” he said,
“I felt like a child without responsibilities.
When I finally gave it up my friends said,
'Good to have you back.'”
But was he really gone?




From 12/30, The Morality of Feeling Good:

Yesterday's post (12/29/07) was, I admit, discouraging to say the least. To compound my sins I described to my daughter the method I would use if I were to commit suicide while of course promising not to do it. Such a sick mixed message. If my children weren't legally adults I shouldn't be allowed to be around them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first mark of goodness is honesty, inseparable from humility. To have "a sober assessment of oneself" is the prerequisite reality check for consciously doing good. But how black our hearts are! As soon as we see ourselves in our place we begin, Walter Mitty-like, to imagine ourselves in a more exalted position. As a manic-depressive blogging for my own sanity I should have no illusions that what I do is noble; I do it to distract myself, to keep my brain from feeding on itself.
Madness can be made into art and art into madness. To think we are all driven by a desire for good feelings, how very simple! Too bad that for some, good feelings only come at the expense of others.


12/31/07 A Few New Year's Sayings

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

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

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

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

Aging is not for cowards.

The more critical a person, the more sensitive.

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

The traits you least like in others are your own.

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Best of: At Six Kilorats

From 12/29/07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Kilorats,


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Best of: Christianity and Nature

From 12/13/07:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Kilorats,

Craig Erick

Best of, cont'd: Dr. Chaffin Almost Dies!

From 12/2/07:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What a tough piece of steak!"

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

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

It tasted good, though it was a little tough.



Friday, January 23, 2009

Prophecy and Earthly Paradise

Now to pre-empt the "Best of" again: I've been reading the Old Testament prophets for some reason and a friend asked me about my thoughts regarding the Christian Heaven and the earthly paradise predicted for the Jews. Here's my take:

One of the central questions of the Bible is how to reconcile the Christian heaven with the earthly paradise of the Jews.

There are three possibilities:

1. No earthly paradise.

2. An earthly paradise yet to come in history.

3. A spiritual interpretation of the earthly paradise that ignores actual fulfillment.

If the Bible is taken seriously, only the second option is probable, because the Jews are an earthly people with earthly expectations. Also, the prophecies of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and even the book of Revelation support an earthly temple in Jerusalem whose measurements and description already appear in Revelation and the last part of Ezekiel.

This temple and the city that surrounds it will dwarf all the edifices of history, and Christ will rule from it, and the River of Life will flow from it--the trees that line it will bear fruit monthly and the leaves will be "for the healing of the nations." Note: nations. These are earthly provinces.

The same prophecies that predicted the Babylonian captivity, the Persian overthrow of Babylon, the Egyptians being reduced to a minor people, the extinction of the Ammonites, Hittites and Philistines, also predict the earthly paradise. If, historically, the other prophecies came true, we cannot discount the unfulfilled prophecies.

Christians, on the other hand, "have no earthly habitation" (Paul) and our kingdom "is not of this world" (Jesus). Moreover, Christians are already "seated in the heavenlies in Christ" as Paul remarks in Ephesians.

The earthly temple will have twelve gates inscribed with the name of Israel's tribes, yet the foundations of the temple, according to Revelation, will be the twelve Jewish apostles of Christ, each one represented by another layer of pure gemstone.

When Christ rules the earth, therefore, he shall rule through the Jews, and indeed, as a Jew, in his second coming, he shall fulfill the prophecies of an earthly kingdom.

Where then will the Christians be? Subsumed in Christ? Waiting in heaven for the thousand year reign to end before the last judgment? It is not known, but certainly the Book of Revelation endorses the preeminence of the Jews in the time of tribulation and later reign over the earth. The Jews are thus the inheritors of earthly rule, the Christians relegated to heavenly rule. The details for the Jews are much better worked out in prophecy; the Christian destiny is, in comparison, a little hazy. The Church does not appear in the Book of Revelation after the first three chapters, leading some to believe in "The Rapture," when believers simply disappear from the earth. I don't subscribe to this doctrine because I don't believe God will necessarily spare believers when they have also suffered throughout history.

If the Jews are to inherit the earth, then the long arc of their impossible history may be seen as a training ground for future supremacy, when they must repent and recognize the Messiah as "him whom they pierced," also foretold in prophecy.

The Book of Revelation rightly belongs to the Old Testament, as does that dark little book before it, Jude. Thus the ouroboros comes to light; the Garden of Eden was an earthly paradise, the New Jerusalem will also come down from heaven to be an earthly paradise. Yet Christians, despite the haziness of our destiny re: paradise, have this promise: "Eye hath not seen, nor hath ear heard, what God hath prepared for those who love him." The reward for Christians, who are a spiritual tribe, will likely be spiritual, with this caveat--that we will again assume human form in perfect resurrected bodies, though perhaps in another realm, while the Jews have their earthly prophecies fulfilled.

One more thing: Some of the prophecies of the end of the diaspora applied to the remnant that returned from Babylon, but that prefillment does in no way diminish the ultimate material outcome in the future, because the descriptions of paradise and the re-building of Jerusalem in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. do not match it, just as the Jewish state today does not fulfill them beyond a gathering of the Jews--there is no spiritual revival there, only a rapacious dedication to survival against enemies who are greatly overmatched by Israel's firepower.

How then should Christians relate to the chosen people? With respect and neutrality; it is not our place but the place of the Jewish prophets to attempt reform from within. The punishment has and will fall heavily on the atheistic, socialistic Israel of today. Nevertheless they have the geography right: the true earthly kingdom must be established in Jerusalem, the geography is specified in the prophecies.

As for Jews in the world economy, where they are overrepresented, remember that usury is a big deal in the Old Testament, and punishment should be expected for such a departure from righteousness.

Christians are released from the ultimate demands of karma through Christ's sacrifice (though not from the law of karma in this world), but a people that holds to its concept of a God intervening in history on their behalf will also be judged in history in real time. This judgment Christians will escape, having opted for a spiritual outlook and reward.

If not for the miracle of the Jews still existing as a cohesive tribe over near four millennia, these predictions would be hard to swallow. Only the orthodox Jews still subscribe to them. But Jesus said (loose quote), "Not one jot or tittle of the law and the prophets will pass away before all is fulfilled."

Here endeth the epistle for the day.


Best of: Plants, Sex and Creative Writing

From 10/22/07 (one of my lighter forays):

I saw a pick-up truck today with tropical plants in the bed traveling at 50 mph along the frigid coast. I thought of reporting it to the SPCP, “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants.” Then I realized there was no such organization and that it was up to me to found it. Ah, one more small responsibility for Dr. Yours Truly. (You’d think people would have wised up by now and simply elected me supreme potentate, since I know what’s best for everyone. Who else worries about the damn plants, hmm?)

Did you know that plants grow better to Mozart and that carrots, according to electric sensors, emit the equivalent of a scream when uprooted? Just because we believe plants don’t have sentience doesn’t mean they can’t experience pain just as animals do. Yes, Cain’s vegetable offering was rejected and Abel’s received, and we grieve about the fratricide, but what about the poor vegetables and the emotional wound of their rejection by the very God who created them? We’re talking years of therapy with manure and fish emulsion.


I just got news that Oysters and Chocolate, an online magazine of erotica, will pay me for a poem entitled “Her Steaming Love Tunnel.” The link should worek but I don’t feel comfortable posting the poem--my Junior Poets' Club members’ parents might sue me and then who would pay my freight? Ever since I exposed Big Bird as the extraterrestrial queer that he is, many parents have directed their children here. Why did I write this silly, sexy piece? Because to write for money means experimenting with every paying genre. If porno poems sell better than love poems I’ll just go there. Wait—not porno--the poem has socially redeeming value, if only to affirm the joy of intromission, ejaculation and afterglow in pursuit of the “golden fleece” of the simultaneous orgasm. Near the end the narrator yells, “I’m a horse not a man!” I like that and so would Catherine the Great.


Someone asked me to detail how I got booted from a creative writing class. First, I joined it during my depression as a discipline for continuing social involvement that I demand of myself when depressed. I also hoped to meet a circle of writers in my new stomping grounds. And the teacher came highly recommended from my neighbor who claims to be a writer but will always lack the chops.

At the last class I attended a woman read a treacly, maudlin poem that made my hair stand on end. Since everyone else chimed in, I added my two cents that it sounded like “A Blue Mountain Arts” card. The teacher interrupted me to say “that’s over the line, let’s stop there.” I assure you there was no malice in my comment and that the “poem” was abominable.

After class the teacher asked to speak with me. She told me she tried to provide a nurturing environment for writers, and that this class had been together a long time. I asked her if feeling good was more important than writing well, and she dodged the question, indicating both were important, but one shouldn’t call another’s work “Hallmark,” to which I vociferously objected:

“I didn’t call it ‘Hallmark,’ I called it ‘Blue Mountain Arts,’ and there’s a world of difference in that distinction. I choose my comments carefully, unlike what you think.” That was over her head. I then asked her, “How many people have complained about me?”

She said, “four.” That amazed me. “And they don’t have the balls to speak to me but have to hide under the teacher’s skirt?” She didn’t like that one at all.

“So, do you really want me to come back?” I said.

“Oh yes,” she said, “You’re a very good writer.” (How would she know if she’s more concerned with feelings?)

I asked her again if she really wanted me to return. “By all means,” she said, “just try to be more nurturing and less critical.”

I said, “If four people complained about you in a writing class, would you feel like coming back?”

“I can’t say,” she said, “and it’s not like that.”

“Like what?” I said.

She demurred. Depressed or not I wasn’t going to return to a class of wannabes who couldn’t stand constructive, yes, constructive criticism. The story of my life: unable to judge the social acceptability of my utterance of the truth as I perceive it. My tongue believes in “Leap before thou lookest.”

1 Kilobunny,


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Poem and Video

I know the columns to the right of this post are messed up and don't show until the very bottom, but this is a result of my attempt to put the book and a new picture at the top. I'm so ham-handed at amateur webmastering, I'm in a pickle with pixels.

Some folks have ordered books already, thanks.

Wasn't the inauguration speech grand? Reagan played himself, which is why Obama is more convincing: he is himself.

A first generation African-American raised by a white mother in Kansas. No wonder Jesse Jackson felt cheated. Obama wasn't one of the real "bros."

I wrote an inauguration haiku that caused a bit of a furor at a poetry board, though I thought it was crystal clear:

Listen, slaves:
There's a black man in the white house
and he is your servant.

Now I feel as if I have to explain it. Slaves = all those Americans with the whisper of slavery still in their blood. The man in the white house is, of course, the president. And whereas blacks were only in the White House as servants heretofore, now the occupant is a servant in the highest sense. Someone accused me of racism based on this poem, another said I was unqualified to write it. Some people!

Although I have little energy to blog tonight, I have been seeing a UFO nightly. I think it might be space junk orbiting lower and lower. As it sinks into the sea, it becomes a glowing white disk that casts a silver reflection on the ocean while also pulsing red and green. The local stations and Coast Guard know nothing about it. If I didn't have two other witnesses I might question my eyes.

Here's another poem from the new book, one of my favorites:

In Your Hands

The desert two-lane flashes
its white segments so quickly
you forget the asphalt discontinuities
and think the dashes connected
toward some future rendezvous
where night and morning join
in a secret sunrise of stars
that explains all the causalities
that propelled you here–
but your eyes are sucked back
to this moment, furious and finite
as a fly seizuring against a screen.

The yellow smears on your windshield
are souls you’ve hurt without knowing.
The whistle through the window
is your suspicion of yourself.
The radio plays country
because you really are that simple.

When it’s time to pull over
you are no closer to but no farther
from your goal. In a waking sleep
you imagine topiaries of exhaust
in the shapes of visionaries:
Jesus, Blake, Jules Verne.
Were they as rooted to the moment?
Or did they veer off into the underbrush?
The wheel is in your hands.

(published in Eclectica)

I'm furiously networking to promote the book, a whole new learning experience. By the end of it I should be an expert on what not to do. One tip: Don't expect your Facebook "friends" to be helpful. Here's a wonderful link to a video about how Facebook friends would look in the real world: Facebook in Reality. It's a hoot!

The editor of the re-vamped Pif called me tonight, a swell guy named Derek Alger. He'll be doing a panel on the short story at the AWP conference in Chicago.

Not much more to say but "Congratulations, America!"

Let's hope our support for Obama does not waver in this time of tough decisions and uncertain futures. I think it's in to be patriotic again. Many will remind me that it never went out, but I beg to disagree. I lived in Mexico for three years while Bush was president, and let me tell you, it was downright embarrassing.

Over and out,


Sunday, January 18, 2009

New Poem: Unto Death....poetry book sales

I'm sitting here wondering if anyone has bought my book yet. Only my publisher knows. Should I write her or wait for her to write me?

A poetry book does not behave in an arc like a bestseller. It has a lower and longer trajectory and a longer shelf life. If you don't believe it, just visit the poetry section in the book store and compare dust levels. Orders, I expect, will dribble in slowly and hopefully pick up speed to a steady trickle. Is this pessimistic? I think it's realism. Besides, in this internet printing-on-demand age, a book can have a very long shelf life.

Writing a book is the easy part. Selling it is the hard part.


I often tire of Puritan America and perhaps that distaste helped fuel the poem I wrote tonight on this very blog (before speculating on book sales). Here goes:

Unto Death

When does pleasure turn to slavery?
When does bubble gum become
a tasteless mechanism of the mouth?
When do cigarettes take up the whip and chain?
When does alcohol require
denial for communion?

Tell all your blue-nose friends
addiction's rarely fatal.
Go shock them with your habits.
A house does not collapse from one bad timber.
A life does not collapse from one bad habit.
A crab can get by fine on seven legs.
There is little on this living earth
we can't make an obsession out of.

When does pleasure turn to slavery?
When does the staff become a crutch,
the crutch a knife? Because
denial is incremental
like crabgrass in the fescue
slowly transforming a lawn
until seeds are forgotten
and mowing, you settle for green.
Don't let the jealous judge you--
there are more important things.
It's adversity that makes a man,
not what's in his bloodstream.
How much whiskey does it take
to get through a war?
There's never enough.

In the angel of satisfaction
lurks the devil of enslavement.
In the house of stimulation
lurks the devil of increase.
When does pleasure turn to slavery?
When you cannot not do it unto death?

I got to MC an amateur show for our men's circle tonight. It went surprisingly well, no doubt because I was wearing my impresario's pink-and-yellow paisley sport coat from the 60s. It's my most righteous rag, a public eyesore, an assault on all good taste. For that reason it garners incredulous attention and ungrudging admiration.

1 Kilobunny,


Saturday, January 17, 2009

My Book Is Out, Hallelujah!

And Amen! Can I hear an "Amen!"?

Alright, folks, it's party time! You can now order my book directly through the publisher at the following site:

"Unexpected Light"

Only the hardback is available as yet; we ship throughout the known universe. In fact, we just got an order from the space station. Think how valuable that will be! Yet the shipping and handling are naturally enormous--but what's a few more dollars in the national debt? Here's a poem I think might fit well with the astronauts:

"Ground control to Major Tom" wait--I stole that.

Night Train

Dark, dark, dark
the moon a scimitar
Venus below
a dull round diamond
through low haze beyond
mesquite and mud
by the moon-pebbled lake.

Suddenly slicing
through the night-blue file of trees
comes the train’s
brass foghorn
and Cyclops’ beam

Through high gaps
in the trees’ soft palisade
I see the hard edges
of boxcars disappear
as flatcars sneak by--
the hulking rectangles return,
vanish again--
lights on the caboose.

Box snake,
mechanical river,
pram over cobblestones
(won’t wake the baby)
irregular rumble
comes from darkness
plows through darkness
recedes in darkness

In the lonely spaces
the dark shape
through the darkness
hugely moving
yet small against the hills
and endless highlands.
Tumbleweeds shiver
jackrabbits prick their ears
a coyote approaches
under cover of sound.

By this campfire
beside the moon-pebbled lake
I imagine the stars
as receding trains
head beams staring back
an infinity of cars
stacked behind them
snaking through the black ether
Doppler shift confirms retreat
the universe waving good-bye
constantly from its center
good-bye Stephen Hawking.

A lone train in the wilderness
mysteriously comforting
black obelisk on wheels
slicing through night-blue
beneath the imperative stars
moving to its own syncopation
into the Mexican night.

(published in Tryst; one of the longer pieces in the book)

Now the challenge of the book boils down to marketing. How do you market a book of poetry, esp. in the U.S. where the demand for it is likely less than in Europe or elsewhere? I must overcome the narcissitic quotient: Everyone in America thinks they can write a poem, by golly they did so in high school, so what's the big deal? And among poets: "It's really I that deserve a book, and I'm not going to contribute to another poet's narcissism by buying his!"

Malcom Gladwell in "Outliers" just posited that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. I guarantee I have put at least that much time in the reading and composition of poetry, not to mention near a thousand publications. So do not fear; you are not in the hands of an amateur.

I listed twelve reasons to buy my book in a previous post. Is it too early to throw my ambitions on the bonfire of charity and beg you to buy the book, so I can feed my dog and afford a cardboard shelter as a starving artist? No, I haven't come to that juncture of marketing humiliation yet, but stay tuned.

The mere existence of a book does little; it is only by purchase and word of mouth that a buzz is created, and once the buzz happens, it can snowball, and soon healthy sales result.

I guarantee you, as in the poem above, that my book will stretch your mind and help prevent Alzheimer's. I say this as a doctor and a poet.

So, what else is new? My darling baby daughter turned 20 yesterday, the same day my book became available, a nice coincidence or synchronicity. Here's a picture of her for those who don't remember her beautiful mug:

She's not only beautiful but talented, a star of stage and screen majoring in theater. Although she turned 20, I heard a rumor that there might be beer at her party--of course, only for friends that are 21. Right, and I'm going to win the Pulitzer!

But back to my plea: It is you, the long time readers of this blog, who now need to step up and do your part in sustaining my dream of being a recognized poet by not only purchasing a copy but telling your friends. The first version available is the hardback, but it's by far the best deal for the price and will last a lifetime (especially if you put it in a plastic bag and don't read it, although that is not the usual purpose of a book. Some think books should be read, unlike my younger brother who is more a collector--but that's another story).

The secret of marketing is twofold: First, branding--you gotta make your name known, especially in your marketing niche, which in the case of this book is mainly enlightened beings (to whom I'm already sending telepathic vibes). Secondly, you gotta make people want the product--because their lives are incomplete without it, because without it they won't be current, and besides, as everyone knows, poetry is the caviar of literature--and just the fact that you read it will elevate you in the eyes of others, leading to romance and riches and a generalized respect for your intellectual powers. Moreover, a book of poetry is convenient, as it can be read in one or two sittings or relished slowly poem by poem. But I guarantee, for those who take public transportation, the fact of your reading it will invite admirers and discussion.

There are those who read this blog from China, as well as Kuwait and other Muslim nations, where the act of purchasing the book may lead to problems with the authorities, but I say, stand firm with me on freedom of expression. Still, don't be in a hurry to share the book with your local Imam or Communist censor. The work does contain a couple of words that might be censored elsewhere--but only a couple. I won't tell you which ones, because I'm trying to generate prurient interest as well. After all, the book contains 20 love poems.

OK, I've had my say. Here's that link again:

"Unexpected Light"

Do not think this will be the last mention of "Unexpected Light," but I will try to temper its promotion with other posts about the usual suspects, poetry and manic-depression and life on the redwood coast.

In Worldwide Solidarity for Free Expression in the Fine Arts, and in Expectation of Support by All the Readers Here,

C. E. Chaffin

p.s. Those who do buy the book, please write me or comment here, won't you?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Best of: Tears for Rachel + poem

Grief is part of life and part of poetry; below a short poem about my daughter's death from my new book, then a re-posting of my walking the razor's edge of grief and depression.

On Rachel's Death

The hole
in the ground
left by the tree

the hole left
by her life
or my life
or any life

always lacks
dirt enough
to cover
the uprooted

Loss is a coin
tossed down
a depthless well

you listen
for a splash


(published in Abandoned Towers)

From 10/9/07: "Tears for Rachel":

Today marks two weeks since I was started on the "magic bullet," Abilify. Since I flipped into euthymia Thursday, September 27, I have daily been grateful for a huge negative: NOT TO BE DEPRESSED. Those who have suffered clinical depression know whereof I speak. It brings up the old question, is the avoidance of pain superior to the enjoyment of pleasure? As a manic-depressive I say, yes indeed!

Today is the second day I've experienced a little morning anxiety and suffered some of the recurring thoughts about my future and my past, not to suggest they are of such a level as to be depressive obsessions. Still, it scares me; it's as if the ground beneath me has become a net rather than solid earth, that I see the open squares to the abyss and must tread carefully.

Sometimes I need to cry but am afraid to; this morning apparently not, as the tears have begun and I think, "poor Rachel!" My darling baby. My sweet freckled redheaded sunshine. That's what I called her as a small child, my "Sunshine." Because she could distract me from my melancholy in an instant; she was filled with so much wonder for life, her smile could illuminate my heart, he constant activity distract me; she could rescue me from the vision of the net beneath my feet. She was a tonic; she was my sunshine.

Oh, it's true as a teenager and adult she was often a huge pain in the ass, but I think what parents most remember is the unadulterated nature of a child, their essential goodness from birth--before it is spoiled by this world, by competition and the special cruelty of other children. (Children are often emotionallly brutal but at least they tend to be more honest than adults.)

So I grieve today; perhaps this was the source of my anxiety, that I still need to cry. Yes, I fear weeping may lead me back to depression, but I pray not. I'm seeing my shrink tomorrow so I can run these concerns by him.

Yesterday Kathleen scared me by asking, "You're not going to relapse, are you?" I said no, of course. But that she would pick up on a diminution of my cheerfulness is also anxiety-provoking. It wasn't like I was crying or bemoaning my state or anything.

I'm sure if warning signs continue, my doctor will bump up the Abilify. I am on the lowest dose, which, incidentally, is the most expensive--5 mg. How those drug companies know how to stick it to you! (To be fair, likely fewer are on such a small dose, why it costs more, supply and demand, etc.) Still a months supply of 5 mg.Abilify, even from Canada, is $418.

Ah Rachel. Your absence makes me weep. I know you exist, but I miss you in this world. And I wonder what effect this will have on Jacob, losing his mother at 5. But we can't take on the sadness of the world like a saddle for a pack horse. We can only adjudicate our own sorrows slowly. I don't know where people get the energy to grieve for Darfur or Burma; I have enough on my plate. Then many idealists have thrown themselves into good works because of trouble inside and at home. As has been well said, and it sounds like it should have been Shaw, "I love humanity in general but can't stand it in particular."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Another Poem from "Unexpected Light"

In continuing anticipation of my book's release, here's another poem from the volume:

Christ's Lighthouse

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

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

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

(earlier version published in Mindfire)

Yesterday I was jonesing for a cheeseburger and satisfied myself, Oh how I satisfied myself, at Jenny's Giant Burger in Fort Bragg. As I was wadding up my napkins and paper to throw into the trash, I lifted my cup for a sip of Coke and managed to jam the straw up my nose rather deeply. In 54 years I can't remember this happening before, but I had another fast-food epiphany once, where I was sucking on a drink in the bathroom while peeing. I felt like an in-and-out factory. Strange.

I'm really a sushi and potatoes kind of guy.

If any have trouble with today's poem, please query or comment below. It's not one of my easier poems, though I constantly strive to be clear--yet there are some things that can only be said in a more complicated way, and sometimes I am not a good enough poet to simplify adequately.

The neurologist said of my neck injury and nerve impingement that I can get by without surgery. Hooray! I hate surgery and the stress it puts upon the body's recovery systems. To be avoided if at all possible.

I'm furiously writing editors who have published me, trying to obtain as many reviews as I can. As they are published I'll post them here. Writing the book took a long time, but promoting it is a new endeavor, and I ask your help with it. In other words, tell your friends!

I've also started a Facebook group around the book, which anyone can join. Here's the link: Unexpected Light

Thanks for stopping by!

At 1 Kilobunny (might be two if I didn't have this cold; hope the jammed straw helped with the congestion),


Monday, January 12, 2009

My Book Is on the Way...

With my book, "Unexpected Light," due out in a few weeks, I thought I better start posting some samples from the book as an inspiration for purchase. First, the jacket cover:

Yes, folks, the publisher insisted on a perfect-bound hardback with a gray cloth cover and book jacket, something that will last years. I've seen the prototype and it's a lovely book. Smells good, too.

The hardback will only be available through myself and the publisher; the paperback edition will be available to the market at large through Amazon and other stores. The hardback goes for $20.00, the paperback for $12. We tried hard to keep the price down on both; the paperback is 161 pages and the hardback, 156. That's twice the poetry you usually get in a book of poetry. And why should you buy it?

1) First, as a collector's item. My last paperback (1997) sold for $14.95 and now goes for $150 used.

2) Eleven years of hard work, publishing roughly fifty pieces a year during that time, braving hundreds of editors.

3) Because you love me.

4) Because you hate me and want to make fun of the book and my poems.

5) Because you like my work.

6) Because as someone with a mood disorder, you find solace in my poems.

7) Because you're a friend or relative and feel obligated.

8) Because you want to support poets who first achieved a reputation on the Net, despite what everyone said about having to make it in the print journals first, most of whom now have a Net presence, as I long ago predicted (even Poetry and The New Yorker now take e-mail submissions).

9) Because my poetry is a harbinger of a 21st century revolution: the broad diction of the Elizabethans combined with the pithy lucidity of the Augustans and the magical reality of the Romantics, along with the irony of the Moderns and the anxiety of the Post-Moderns. Because my style is a fulfillment of my essays on the Logopoetry School that prizes communication above mere linguistic entertainment or intellectual puzzlement. Because language isn't dead but has been suborned by the aficionados and the New York cabal, and we need some via media between the excesses of performance and academic poetry.

10) Because you've never bought a book of poetry before; for the sheer novelty!

11) Out of pity for me.

12) Because you're nice!


At 1 Kilobunny,

Thine in Truth and Art,

C. E. Chaffin

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Best of: Cry Me a River

From 9/24/07, while deeply depressed:

I wish I had better news. I wish I could say, “I’m well! I’m well! Thank God Almighty I’m well!”

But I’m not. I’m sick. I’m very sick.

Since Friday, soon after I wake up I burst into tears and sobs and they last all day until my tear ducts are just burned out by nighttime. Even yesterday, when I hiked with Kathleen along the beautiful cliffs of the coastline, I couldn’t stop the tears running down my cheeks beneath my Ray-Bans. I called my doctor but we did not connect. I don’t know how to stop crying. I don’t know what I’m crying about. It’s as if someone left the alarm clock on and it won’t shut off.

I am overcome with grief. Yes, I miss Rachel; yes, I can’t believe she’s dead. Yes, that thought makes me weep. But my grief, my physical expression of grief, triggers self-denigrating thoughts as well: How incompetent and incapable I am. What a failure I am. I couldn't get a job at McDonald's. I would never learn to flip the hamburgers properly. My back hurts always, yes, and my mind seems like a tattered kite hanging from the telephone wire, but I feel as if I deserve to be thrown out on the streets and given a shopping cart. Or perhaps I could join a freak circus. “The Saddest Man Alive,” the marquee would read. The curtain would open and there I would sit, watering the tulips.

I want to look “well” for Kathleen. But I can’t dissimulate in front of her. I tell her of my little triumphs, how I put shelves in the coat closet, how I cleaned out the entire refrigerator. During these tasks I continued to weep. Obviously I can function in this state, though it feels as if I can't.

What am I crying about? I don’t know. It’s like a record skipping. I should have had ECT a year ago, but who knows whether my daughter’s death might have sent me off the deep end again anyway? I took an antipsychotic this morning hoping it will calm me some. I called my doctor again. I try to be responsible about my illness.

Netflix sent me “The Elephant Man,” which I apparently ordered long ago. Terrific movie. I understand John Merrick, as I think most of us do. Not that I have actually suffered as a sideshow freak and been beaten by a drunken handler. It’s just the feeling of being so very different when I know I am not, just as he yells at his pursuers, “I am a human being!” And because he is befriended and loved, he receives more happiness than any of us can imagine—who can imagine being lifted from such a wretched state to become a favorite of London society, and that not because he was a freak, but because he was human despite his unfortunate appearance.

I have a friend who suffers from the same disease, neurofibromatosis or “Von Recklinghausen’s disease.” Like most cases, his is much less severe, though the fibrous tumors have necessitated multiple surgeries on his foot. I’ve never heard him complain about it.

I recently read an article in the New Yorker about those rare individuals afflicted with Lesch-Nyan syndrome. Because of one random mutation in their X chromosome, they chew their lips and fingers off and react oppositely in their emotions—that is, if they like someone they may cuss at him or punch him. If they dislike someone they may say something polite. Their hands must be covered with mitts because their fingers frighten them, as they feel suddenly compelled to bite them. Most have no lips, having long since chewed them off. Often they ask their caretakers to restrain them when they feel the self-destructive compulsions coming on. To think that one base pair askew in the DNA chain could result in such specific behaviors is frightening and raises serious questions about free will.

Kathleen tells me, “It’s not your fault. It’s your genes.”

But I don’t know any other me. Just because some genetic abnormality makes me cry for days on end doesn’t mean that that crying feels any less like me. And I don't dwell on suicide, a thought that more hounds me when depressed.

Nevertheless, if genetics is destiny, can I make myself stop crying? Can I will myself into sanity? Of course not. I can’t control it any more than an epileptic can control a seizure. This is not a failure of courage or anything else; it is not a failure at all. It is a biological sentence that differs from grief.

I don't feel sorry for myself; if I grieve, I grieve for the whole world, because I feel as if the object of my grief has become diffused and fills the universe.

If you asked me why I weep, I could only say, “For nothing. For everything.” My sadness has no limit except this body. Still, my state is not like a pure biological depression. It is something new. I have never cried this much when depressed; in that state there is too much of the bitter, metallic despair in me to do so.

I don’t feel inhuman. I feel too human, even if the capacity for sadness is only one aspect of being human.

In writing this I have temporarily stopped crying.

I feel like an emotional astronaut. I try to report the journey and it doesn’t have to make sense.



Best of: Football and Technology

As the college football championship has just been played, I thought I'd run this one again, from 9/9/07, also in view of today's day--a Sunday.

It’s Sunday and America’s obsession with pro football has begun. I think it fitting that our culture would prefer our brand of football over any other sport because of its technological complexity. No other team sport employs so many trainers, specialization, special teams, pads, helmets, gloves, wristbands—not to mention an awkward projectile of a ball. Then there are the team rosters that approach 50, many of whose players are paid a million a more a year, and some paid well for just one function, like a punter or a holder and long-hiker.

The most popular game in the world is soccer, called “football” everywhere but here. It can be played anywhere there is an open field and something resembling a ball. American football, by contrast, is a Rube Goldberg concoction—more bells and whistles than one could ever want or need. Baseball doesn’t compare, not even polo. Maybe mountain climbing would, except that the sport has no crowd appeal. “Piton advanced by two feet, look at that, wow!”

The Soviet MIGs were much cheaper to build than our Phantom jets. They were more maneuverable, not “technically” superior in speed or firepower. MIGs had inferior arms and guidance systems, but our jets were burdened with everything a group of engineers could come up with while locked in a room with those venerable monkeys pounding on typewriters. I’ve seen ravens easily fight off red-tailed hawks on the same principle. The most advanced is not necessarily the best.

At a time when Detroit was introducing the Edsel, with its pushbutton transmission, and T-Birds with automatic trunk openers and cruise control, a little car called a Volkswagen began to make inroads into American car sales. Not only were these imports cheaper, they were simpler; any teenager with an interest could do his own brakes and even re-build the engine. And the cars didn’t use as much gas. This was soon followed by the Japanese invasion and Detroit didn’t get it. It was simply expected that the standard rising middle class American would want the car with the most gizmos, the most futuristic styling, the ultimate in current technology.

Americans love football because it is technical, so technical that we need a million analysts to explain it to us. It’s more strategic than a war and more violent than boxing. Best of all it plays well on television. (In my experience at actual games I couldn’t see what the hell was going on from the fifty-yard line. Three yards and a cloud of dust.) Moreover, football is a sport of interrupted action, a sport ruled by minute calls of inches, video replays, picayune details that can decide the fate of a season. Our Puritan heritage loves rules and no sport has so many as football, I’d wager. Americans also love to argue and disagree with authorities, because, as we all know, the Declaration of Independence has morphed into a national sentiment that not only were men created equal in rights, they were created equal in ability and intelligence. Stanley Kowalski deserves to go to Harvard as much as the next guy.

I watch the Super Bowl every year just as I put out candy for Halloween, as an American tradition. The grand event is usually a disappointment, even when Justin Timberlake exposes one surgically enhanced breast of Janet Jackson in the halftime show. Last year was laughable, with the Strolling Bones going through the motions (have you ever seen musicians more bored than Keith Richards and Ron Wood?), while a sixty-year old man danced around in leather pants and thick make-up trying to preserve his sex symbol status while ultimately appearing ridiculous. What’s funnier is that the image-conscious NFL turned to the Rolling Stones for more wholesome entertainment than Janet and Justin, or perhaps their marketing division thought them advantageous as demographic baby boom fodder.

I digress. Americans are in love with technology. My middle daughter complained about my youngest daughter texting 500 messages last month on their joint account. It adds up. People stood in line overnight for I-Phones, now a bit angry that the price has fallen. But they wanted the latest technology and were quite willing to pay for it.

Think of how often in B-movies from the 50s, especially Sci-Fi movies, humanity is saved by technology, and it doesn’t stop there. There’s “Independence Day” and “The Andromeda Strain” and those two terrible movies about meteors where astronauts sacrifice themselves to avert the world’s destruction, and countless others. And I find it interesting how often, instead of a standard hero, Americans demand a technologically enhanced hero, like Batman. Is it any coincidence that all the Marvel comics are being made into movies today? Not only because of a failure of imagination in Hollywood, but because we want to believe in technology as the answer, as our ally and friend. Right now, with the greenhouse gas threat, technology is looking more like the question. But the genie’s out of the bottle and no one no one can tell a developing country like China that their rising standard of living isn’t worth the pollution it’s creating. (China has surpassed the U.S. as the greatest greenhouse gas contributor.)

I don’t even like an analog phone. I’m a bit of a Luddite. Right now we have only a dial-up Internet connection, which is painfully slow. Cell phones don’t even work where I live. My car’s a beat-up ’99 Plymouth Voyager. Though a beater, it has cruise control, a rear windshield wiper, A/C and electric windows and seat adjustment. It took me a while to learn all the options it featured after I bought it. I really did have to read the owner’s manual. I shudder to think what the dashboard of a 2007 Lincoln Town Car might look like. If only I had the money to hire a chauffeur!

Football. Emblematic of a nation obsessed with winning, the danger of violence, the endless chess board of play-calling, the specialists and the special teams, and most of all, the privilege of second-guessing the coach, general manager and owner (a joy shared throughout the world by all fans of professional sports).

Speaking of violence, did you know the average career of a pro football player is three years?

Again, why is America’s sport really football, while baseball is only its “national pastime?” Because it’s the most complicated, technological, violent competition known to man.

How many of you will watch football today? If you do, don’t be ashamed if you are an American. For any foreign readers I hope my remarks transmit some understanding of our obsession. And, given that we have more firearms in private hands than the rest of the world combined, football may assuage some of our need for violent confrontation. It’s not that Americans condone violence, more that we are accustomed to it, I fear, and football codifies it nicely, though I much prefer a good boxing match.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Celan and Poetic Genius

It's not often that I encounter a poem that blows my head off. But Paul Celan, a peculiar genius, wrote the piece below (although only a translation, but a good one, I think). He was a Holocaust survivor who battled depression and committed suicide late in life. His primary trauma was to return home at 16 and find both his parents gone--Jews--and never to see them again. What losses he endured are unimaginable; we are lucky he played out his grief in verse. There are very few poems that come to such a pitch as this, turning standard theology on its head:


We are near, Lord,
near and at hand.

Handled already, Lord,
clawed and clawing as though
the body of each of us were
your body, Lord.

Pray, Lord,
pray to us,
we are near.

Wind-awry we went there,
went there to bend
over hollow and ditch.

To be watered we went there, Lord.

It was blood, it was
what you shed, Lord.

It gleamed.

It cast your image into our eyes, Lord.
Our eyes and our mouths are open and empty, Lord.

We have drunk, Lord.
The blood and the image that was in the blood, Lord.

Pray, Lord.
We are near.

His use of Christian themes as a Jew are remarkable. He sought the whole of humanity from his whole heart. Another tragic figure, another great artist.

Instead of wondering at his suicide we might ask why he didn't commit it sooner, truly. His poetry speaks of inexpressible deprivation, unsatisfiable yearnings. Yet there is a dim light throughout; he tries to make peace with reality, a reality that is supercharged in his poetry, where the least experience can give rise to the greatest profundities. He called himself an "autobiographical artist" despite our difficulties with his verse. He is sui generis, a thing unto itself. I don't know who his literary antecedents were.

Then again, in literature we try to make sense of history by assigning schools, trends, influences and what not. But this is a convenient imposition on history.

There are two kinds of poets: the canonical and the upstarts. Yet the upstarts, given sufficient success, become canonical. Remember that Wordsworth and Coleridge were rebels subsequently subsumed by conservatism. Eliot and Pound were rebels too, as were Williams and Ginsberg and innumerable others. But as with Blake, Celan is one whose antecedents are hard to find. He arrives as a solitary genius like Blake. I doubt he, in the Supreme Bloviator's words (Harold Bloom) really subsumed the tradition. He went his own way, like Hopkins and Dylan Thomas: unique voices without traceable literary lineage.

Many still don't believe that the son of a suburban glover wrote Shakespeare's plays. Shakespeare was a creature of the Theater and learned his craft firsthand. He relied upon questionable histories and fantasies for his plots. He made such stories into human revelations, but as his contemporary, Ben Jonson, said of him, he had "Little Latin and less Greek." This only goes to show that there are at least two kinds of poetic geniuses; those, who like Shakespeare, Whitman, Blake and Celan, blaze an entirely new path, and those, who like Eliot and Neruda, acknowledge their literary debts yet depart from the tradition with knowledge thereof. Some poets are so gifted that they don't have to read a lot of poetry to be great. But I would warn aspiring poets that this is more exception than the rule. But ah, sweet exception! Think of Emily Dickinson.



p.s. My new book, "Unexpected Light," should be available in three weeks.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Best of, cont'd: More on Depression and Grief

On the heels of my last new post, uncharacteristically optimistic, here's a window into the past when I was dealing with the loss of my eldest daughter and an ongoing depression from 9/6/07:

It’s been over a month since Rachel died. Each day I wake up, take my medicines and come downstairs. Before I can pour myself a cup of coffee I start to weep.

Sometimes I wonder if the neighbors can hear me through the open windows but they never say anything. Everyone has their own sorrow to bear. It’s awkward to try to enter another’s; much safer to ignore it. There are rare persons who have a gift for sharing sorrow, who seem able to make your grief equally their own, entering silently, seamlessly, just to be present. I think Kathleen is one of these. And so what if my neighbors hear me crying? They know of my loss.

I saw my psychiatrist yesterday. I told him about my morning anxiety, the fist in my stomach, and the tears that inevitably followed as I got up. He asked me how I’d been when Sarah was visiting; I was, of course, much better, busy taking her around, showing her the wonders of the coast, visiting thrift shops, taking her to restaurants and spoiling her in general. (I pride myself on spoiling all my daughters.) My doctor pointed out how much sadder I’d become since Sarah had left, and that if her presence could affect me so much it was not likely that I was suffering depression, since an external influence could so affect my mood.

Words failed as I tried to tell him what Sarah’s visit meant to me: “Just to watch her, to touch her." And now she’s gone back to her life in Long Beach, and it’s unlikely we’ll talk much since she is a teenager and I’m an old man. She was a great comfort to me as I hope I was to her.

For now I am in uncharted waters. It encourages me for my doctor to tell me I am more in grief than depressed. And my symptoms tend to support that. I can laugh with Kathleen at night after she returns from work. And after my morning tears I find myself able to function. I paid the bills, for instance, on Labor Day, and was not beset by my usual longstanding fears when I paid them.


I’ve stopped crying now for this morning, I think. My shrink told me to “fill up my dance card,” to busy myself with whatever work was interested me. I told him how much I craved a job where I could punch the clock and put widgets and whatchamacallits together all day. The freedom I have to choose my work is frightening; I would much rather have it assigned.

Writing is my main form of work, followed by house husbandry, gardening and two college courses. It's time to take up my writing projects again.

Back when Kathleen had thought to promote me, she bought a number of books to help. Last night I paged through The Wealthy Writer, written by an Australian bloke who was willing to write anything. In doing so he made contact with the corporate world and found himself writing press releases, helping with ad campaigns and the like. He said “corporate clients paid best.” Most of his book was about business, how to establish a business of writing. He did not concern himself with what he had to write, only that he could get paid for writing. His approach didn’t appeal to me; it sounded as if he’d created a copywriting arm of an advertising agency on the cheap. I guess my fantasy of being a writer will always have me in a cabin with a typewriter, where my agent has to don snowshoes to reach me. My great genius should not be troubled by the business side of things.

My desire to make money as a writer, something new, is borne of an ambition to fulfill my Protestant work ethic and prove I can do without disability. If I could accept myself as I am, a man declared “disabled” by numerous specialists, a man who enjoys a modicum of success as a poet and essayist, I would, of course, be much happier.

Self-acceptance is easy for sociopaths—it never crosses their minds. For the neurotic it seems nearly unattainable. Even for the manic-depressive it is more than a question of neurochemistry.

What if I was loved as I am? Perish the thought! I can never be loved as I am, I must do something more to deserve it, and that, as well, will never be enough to appease my inner god, so it is all pointless. Still, when I hold Kathleen I can feel her healing love flow through me and I know she loves me just as I am (though she excepts my feet). Despite her help I have immense difficulty in imagining myself being loved as I am, which is the bedrock principle of Christianity: God loves sinners, period, just as they are, and there is nothing we can do to merit such love. I believe in this philosophy, why I call myself a Christian, but as for the inner experience of the good news, I am insensible.

When it comes to loving myself, the self-esteem movement never held any attraction for me because it had no traction. How can you love yourself unless you are loved? We need some external being to love us so that we can internalize it. This needs to come early in one's life, very early. Even then the psyche may reject it.

Though I believe my parents did their best, how could they have known that I felt unwanted, excluded, a burden to them from my earliest memories?--which resulted in my having to prove my worth over and over again in the hopes of being loved.

When it comes to such questions my friends like to remind me that my dad was an intimidating monster, that they didn’t feel welcome in my house with him around, rather intimidated; our house was the maze and Dad was the Minotaur. That was the cloud I lived under.

Do these ramblings sound like depression?

When I cry in the morning, what do I think of? I don’t think; I simply feel this emptiness open up inside me, an emptiness where Rachel isn’t, although she should be there. It’s a sadness that does not beg for her return so much as mourn the fact that she could ever leave, that she had for so long occupied such a large part of my heart. When I weep I weep not only for Rachel but for the human capacity to experience loss and for all who have suffered loss.

Marrying mortality to self-consciousness is a troublesome match. The latter gives the lie to the former because self-consciousness cannot conceive of its own end, thus has a terrible time accepting the evidence that this is indeed the case. We are mortal; the fiction of life we create, our own narrative, is written with disappearing ink; we can’t believe in our own deaths or we would abandon our narratives and follow Bartelby the Scrivener into a catatonic refusal to credit life at all.

That I weep for Rachel proves that I believe in life, but at the same time reminds me how much of a fiction I must create to live my own life. I can’t, for instance, do anything if I am constantly worrying about losing Kathleen or one of my other daughters.

In trying to sum up what I felt towards Sarah before she left, the best I could come up with was, “Don’t go dying on me.”



Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Heaven on Earth

I was feeling so blissful tonight I needed to write about it. I have sharply disregarded the idea of "heaven on earth" for obvious reasons in my life: mistaking it for a result of religious discipline; mistaking my mania for the real thing; a generally pessimistic attitude towards this world ("The poor you have with you always"); a knowledge that human nature has not changed since the dawn of recorded history, and a belief that Christians must naturally go against the grain of the world to live their faith. I'm having second thoughts.

In Ephesians 2: 4-7, the Apostle Paul offers these words: "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus."

In other words, we are already there: already seated, already resurrected, already saved. Believing this is a great tonic open to all, but it is difficult to grasp. It violates time, for one thing, not to mention the evidence of our eyes. But it is not smoke and mirrors. The foundation of Christian Faith teaches that heaven can be experienced here. It may only amount to a glimpse, Eliot's "timeless moment," but I think a prevailing attitude in accord with this tenet can be achieved as well, or better said, granted by grace.

I have written before about the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness can mean achievement, good luck, good genes, inborn optimism, relative security, even a good meal with friends. But it lacks the depth of joy, which for me is a near beatific response to having endured suffering and loss and transformed them into thanksgiving and wisdom. Joy gives me a deep ache in my heart, makes me draw a deep breath, acknowledges sorrow as much as rejoicing, cuts through to the primal foundation of being and whether that house is built on rock or sand, whether grounded in love or some imitation thereof like success or security. Joy grieves, sympathizes and rejoices. Happiness feels good about itself. Joy is humble; happiness may include a sense of deservedness. In all, the deep gratefulness that accompanies joy cannot be accounted for rationally; those who go there have made a choice, against the evidence of this world, aided by supernatural grace, to see through to the heart of the universe: the God of Love.

I'm not just a Christian, I also consider myself a bit of a Taoist and an Existentialist. Strange bedfellows, perhaps, but not in my mind. I like to think about The River of Life and how I am flowing in it today, and what impediments may face me in the current, and whether I need to negotiate rapids or falls. It is the same river, the living river, the river of karma and coincidence and kairos and salvation. Thus the Taoism; to go against the river is foolish, best to flow with it and try to avoid the stagnant pools and forks.

Are you in the River? Have you let go of yourself enough to rest in the current of Love? Do you think this is possible? Now I do. I have been so blessed in the last year, despite my trials, despite ECT and a serious motorcycle accident and all the rest. I feel good about myself. I like to say, "It's great to be me." And this is not a boast about who I am but what I think I may have discovered, that given the right attitude, some of us can live in present bliss much of the time, and that deep joy cannot be eroded by circumstance, however dire. Sure, we all fall out of the river at times and beach ourselves on shore, get tangled in weeds or circle down in a whirlpool, but that need not be our condition. Our condition, if I understand Paul, is glorious and we need to remember that.

You may say, "But that's only available to Christians." Maybe, but I don't think so. One spiritually attuned to the nature of the cosmos ought to come to the same conclusion, the eternality of love, and the necessity of dwelling in it as much as possible--also that that feeling, that empowerment, that revelation is founded in something more than the personal or historical, the transpersonal if you will. It must exceed yourself. It must dwarf your worldly concerns. It's something that shines so bright that Moses had to wear a veil when he came down off the mountain.

In addition to joy I also have happiness: being in love with Kathleen for ten years; the joy of our children and our new dog, with a minor nod to the cats; the beauty of the coast where we live; my recent unexpected success in having a book published; my recent run of writing some 20 songs in three weeks, many of them, I think, good; the pleasure of reading, of being able to concentrate; the fellowship of friends; and I could go on.

Beneath all this is a foundational layer of joy. It is free. It is by grace. If it is mythology, well, I have bet my life on it, and if it proves not to be true, I had a better life for believing it, but that's not why I believe it; I believe it because it is true, and joy is simply a by-product of the experience.

Here endeth the Epistle for the day,

Thine at 1 Kilobunny,


The Necessity of Denial

From 8/31/07, a month after Rachel's death:

When I find myself weeping and the object of loss fades away until my depressive mindset substitutes another reason for tears, I try to slap myself inwardly: I try to allow tears about Rachel without bleeding into tears about my extremely negative self-view. So I am lost in the middle of a dark wood at 52; what’s more important is she whom I lost.

When you lose someone very close to you it ignites other fears. The thought of losing Kathleen is or one of my other daughters is unendurable, of course. How could a man bear that? How do mothers with multiple sons lost to war cope?

One of the saintliest men I ever knew was a cardiologist, Dr. Srinatha. He lost his entire family in India in one crash (he was the only one not in the vehicle). He was the most compassionate of men, patient to a fault, willing to explain anything, and he never complained about being called to the CCU at 4 AM. His presence was always calming and his smile spiritually reassuring. I do not think his demeanor was solely a product of nature; I like to think grief helped transform him into the saintly being he became. Although grief can also bring lead to bitterness and isolation, the economy of the closed heart must eventually fail.

We need others too much. I hope I’m not leaning too hard on Kathleen. Sarah tells me to be a “poshead” and not a “neghead.” I’m in total agreement save for the wiring in my brain.

As for living with the conscious threat of a loved one’s death, it can’t be done sanely. We simply cannot operate while consciously cognizant of mortality, our own or theirs; such knowledge is existentially crippling and must be practically delimited, yes suppressed, to accomplish the smallest endeavor. Every action depends on faith, whether we trust our legs to rise out of a chair or trust gravity while pouring water in a glass.

We must live in denial to live. We cannot indulge in the Descartian (Cartesian) luxury of questioning every underlying assumption. That leads only to an obsessive unbelief in our own existence. Derealization, as the shrinkolas call it.

One thing that mixes up my grief: The writers conference. I was told point blank by two agents that my writing couldn’t earn money, that hardly any writers earned money. Writing for money had been my new goal of self-redemption, a way to get off the disability wheel that throws Protestant guilt at me like a gorilla heaving turds from a cage. And now I hear from the experts that my dream is wrongheaded.

This is no time to listen to them or analyze my chances, but the timing didn’t help. I was sad enough not to need my face rubbed in it. I don’t want to give up hope but this is no time to globalize about my future and my future goals. This is a time to take the long way home through the graveyard.

Sarah leaves tomorrow; God bless her! I may get back to the work of writing when she’s gone. I didn’t want to waste my time on it while she was here.

I’m in a public library trying not to cry. Earlier during my lunch break between the two halves of my mushroom identification class I did cry. But I cleaned up pretty good.

Last thing I want is to have someone stop me and say, “Woman, why do you weep?” Who wants to hear of your loss? Why spread the peanut butter misery of this world any thicker on the planet's crust?

My sister wrote Kathleen that she worries about me sometimes if I don’t blog. I wish I had the energy to visit the blogs of all those generous enough to comment here.

I still don’t get the Princess Di thing, ten years after her death today. I think it was her innocence, or the innocence we projected upon her—the same kind of innocence Marilyn conveyed. The same kind of innocence Rachel looked back to. We don’t want the innocent to suffer. We want to save them.



Sunday, January 04, 2009

Best of, cont'd: On Depression and Grief

From 7/26:

Imagine that your brain was your liver and you had Hepatitis C. Or say you were a kidney that needed dialysis but couldn't’t afford it, or a hip joint whose pain no cane could ameliorate but without funds to be replaced. These are metaphors to help explain manic-depression to those who don’t suffer it.

Because the disease involves the brain directly, the ego, the consciousness that says “I,” the brain, in what normally would not be faulty logic, becomes convinced that it, the brain, is the cause of the disease rather than a victim of the disease. Imagine if the liver blamed itself for hepatitis when it was really a contaminated needle; if the kidney blamed itself when its demise was due to lupus; or if the hip named itself the guilty party when every septuagenarian suffers hip degeneration. The beauty of hepatitis, nephropathy and degenerative arthritis is that the organs and joints involved do not harbor consciousness, thus can’t blame themselves. Imagine: “I’m such a bad hip. I’m a complete fuck-up. Why did I let the protective cartilage wear down? I should have told her to stop jogging in her fifties. But would she have listened? Woe is me, I am only pain, pain is all I am; if only I could be replaced! If your brain were in your hip, that’s how it would sound.

This is an oversimplification of a complex disease, yet all metaphorical parallels for other processes suffer some distorting parallax; in this case I think the comparison apt.

From 8/23/07:


This morning, after my first cup of coffee, what I greatly feared came upon me. I had a brief thought about my disability and how I had failed to deliver myself from its charitable bondage through being a writer, or by returning to medicine, or in anyway becoming “a useful engine” as Thomas the Tank, my grandson’s favorite, advises. Inevitably this thought was followed by the familiar spiral of worthlessness and failure to which I had become accustomed in my depression. Then I began to think about my darling Rachel and how selfish it was of me to think about me and my failings, which made me erupt in tears, of course, during which the object of my tears changed to the loss of Rachel. But I don’t know if that change was genuine or engineered to escape my own guilt about grieving over myself and my failures instead of my loss.

I know all grieving is grieving for yourself, for how can you possibly grieve except for your loss? I suppose one can genuinely grieve about the lost potential of a life cut short, but that seems like a historical insight. The loss of a loved one can never be so intellectual at first touch. It is more of an emotional amputation, sometimes accompanied by a “phantom limb” syndrome. You imagine the person is there but they’re not. Where they were is an emptiness they used to fill. In searching that negative shape for memories, a cascade of images appears in my mind of Rachel from babyhood to adulthood: all the joy she gave me, how she stretched my love, how she taught me unconditional love simply by being my child. How can you lose that?

In Kenyon’s case it is easier. I look behind me in the car and he is not there. I walk beside a river and he is not swimming. I glance to my heel and he is no longer heeling.

I have two other daughters that need me. They are technically adults and don’t need me like they once did, and I try never to infantilize them in my mind. But right now I need to hold them, to see them, to believe in them. They are equally dear as Rachel. But are they? Nothing is as dear as that which has been lost, as in the parable of the lost sheep. Rachel, coincidentally, whose name meant “ewe,” has left a whole collection of stuffed animal sheep behind, of which Sarah has become the curator, just as I am now the curator of Rachel’s collection of Oz books.

Jacob’s dad did not even attend the memorial service and is incommunicado. I don’t know when I’ll be able to see Jacob again, the last living vestige of Rachel I can hold in my arms (though he doesn’t like that, preferring to scramble out of them).


I wish I could say I was in grief or depression; I think still more grief than depression; but as the grieving process proceeds, will grief simply be replaced by the obsession of depression, or will the two morph into some new thing?

I woke up afraid yesterday, not numb. That is more a symptom of
depression. I squired Sarah and her friend around to several beaches and enjoyed watching them enjoy themselves. Sarah is grieving, yes, but she is not depressed. She doesn’t cry about her own sense of failure and then segue to losing Rachel. She does have some guilt about her last conversation with Rachel, but her sad-feelings are all Rachel-oriented. Of course, she is lucky enough not to have a mood disorder, for which the whole family gives thanks.

At Glass Beach I let the wet particles of sunlit gravel and glass fall through my spread fingers over and over in a sort of hypnotic ritual. I lost myself in that. God bless the gravel.

I do not want to dishonor the memory of my daughter with a depression, though to ascribe any control to myself over that is ridiculous. Kathleen says, “Just let it all out. You can’t distinguish the two. This is not a time for that.” Good advice, I think. I try to take it.

Someday I will stop crying, I guess. Or maybe never. I was once a star in this world, a power, a doctor over other doctors, a paid musician and teacher of poets, and now I am what? A small voice in the wilderness? A pinpoint on the Net?

Did I mention how the Mendocino Coast Writer’s Conference spent three days crushing my dreams during the weekend between Rachel’s viewing and memorial? I had paid extra to meet with an agent for half an hour. Her first words to me? “You’re in the wrong business.” And why did she say that? Because on my application I had the temerity to say “I want to make money writing.” Most writers don’t make money, so I was told. I think I knew that.

I gave the first ten pages of my thriller to another agent, and she e-mailed me to say it lacked “pageturnability,” that too soon I segued into some philosophical tangent. Me? C’mon. I’m as literal as concrete.

I was well received for my music at the Art in the Gardens festival, through which I sleepwalked just as I have been sleepwalking through life since Rachel died, except when I break down, which I think is a kind of waking. To stay busy, to move my body, to take the girls to interesting places, this is all good. But when the carousel stops the lack of motion assails me with all the inertia of death.

“Pray for us sinners at the hour of our death.”


Like Rachel, I am a dreamer. I, too, think the world is unfair and that Peter Pan should never grow old, that Puff the Dragon should not be deserted. Unfortunately, to be too enamored of childhood is against nature, which cautions: “grow or die.” Part of my great grief for Rachel is the knowledge of how painful it was for her to negotiate the world while her deepest psyche was dominated by a vision of an overidealized childhood, which became a lost paradise.

Expulsion from paradise is initially separation from the womb, after which comes psychological, and ultimately, with the cessation of nursing, a new kind of physical separation from the mother. Later childhood Freud called "the latent period," as ages 5 - 12 are fairly conflict free. It is the age of Tom Sawyer and Harry Potter. It is the adulthood of childhood, where the illusion of independence is encouraged and supported by the family on which the child actually depends.

The terror of independent identity dominates adolescence, which is the process of finding an adult personality: who you will be for the rest of your life. Failing this last stage means too much dependence on others for the rest of your life (though we are all dependent to a degree). Some remain, intrapsychically, at an earlier stage where separation and independence have not truly been achieved, where only merging insures safety. And the price of that missed stage is often drama, testing those who love you to reaffirm an intense merging, usually through reciprocal emotional pain--accusation, forgiveness and resolution--to be repeated over and over.

Unlike Rachel I grew up too independent, unable to ask for help, afraid to be a bother. Perhaps depression is in part nature's revenge for my claiming emotional independence at too early an age. But that's who I was; it's not as if I chose it.

Unfortunately my early independence did not make me any better at the practical details of life, since I, too, am essentially a dreamer. At 52 I have no money saved and no health insurance. I am often charged with overdraft fees of $35 from my bank. I have not bothered myself about the practical aspects of life; they have never particularly interested me, though when too long neglected they always bite me in the ass. This dereliction towards reality may or may not be part of a poet’s nature, though I now refer to myself as an ex-poet, though that newly assumed mantle has more to do with the practice of poetry than my nature. Even in my grief I have resisted the urge to poetry.

Here’s an unpublished poem about an interaction with Rachel when she was perhaps three years old, one editors have never favored but one that I won’t delete:

Home Surgery

Daughter, when I freed
the glass sliver from your heel
you screamed, you shook, your foot lurched—
so I gripped your ankle with all the firmness
love could muster.

Plucked from your sole, the fragment shone
like a jewel in the bathroom light
while blood streamed, mixed with water,
into the white altar of the sink.

At the moment you hurt more
from my maneuvering,
did you doubt me?

That thought wounds my heart
more deeply than the matador
can bury his long blade.

No doubt the poem is too direct, even maudlin for today’s sensibilities. It is what it is, a record of a parent who must inflict pain to deliver a child from more pain, which requires a great deal of trust. For all her trust in me, Rachel was the kind of child who would prefer to let a sliver fester than have it out due to her fear of pain. As she grew older, even the pain of a lecture or punishment was too much for her to bear so that her feeling of being hurt made her forget the point of the lesson. As I’ve said before, she was too much like the Princess and the Pea, except that she could do with an imaginary pea.

Kathleen and I had such trust with Kenyon. When I performed surgery on him in Mexico after the veterinarians had bungled the job twice, the anesthetic wore off before I finished stitching up his chest. He looked at me but never moved; his eyes trusted me implicitly. Animals are so much easier.

In her defense, Rachel could be convinced of the right thing to do, the right path to take, the responsible decision, and with all her heart she would commit herself to that course of action. But within a day she would usually forget her former resolve and go wandering about seeking another solution, as if the problem had never been addressed. I made so many lists for her in her life, partly due to her ADD, since she had only 20% of normal auditory memory, which makes teaching a difficult thing. I am amazed when my daughter, Sarah, does something after being asked once, and yet that is the norm (within the limits of willful disobedience).

I promised I would not turn this blog into a journal of grief about Rachel, but if I write from the heart I have little choice at present. And the writer’s drama is now, for those who have been following my blog: Will CE again succumb to depression? And for how long? And with the complication of grief, can his chemicals possibly be balanced? Will he feel hope again? Will he feel like a useful engine someday?

One thing I fear is that I may be down for the count, damaged and depressed in some fashion for the rest of my life. I’ve always come back before but I’ve never had a blow like this follow so soon after a nascent recovery from an extended depression.

Will I retreat into myself more and more, keeping the world at bay, avoiding participation? Or will I strike out once more in the hopes of feeling human again?



Unexpected Light

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