Friday, March 27, 2009

This and That

My stepson just got a bill for a one-night stay in the hospital: $45,000, I kid you not. He fell off of his motorcycle and had one laceration stapled on his head. I called Sutter Health. Here are some of the charges:

CT scans $6000

Trauma Room $4000

Stapling a superficial laceration in the trauma room: $8000

Of course he can't pay it, and the billing person I spoke to is going to send him a "charity" application. You wonder what's wrong with the healthcare system? It's unbelievably expensive, and Sutter Health does all it can to make a payday.

Determined to start a garden once again before the deer get hungry, I spent $250 on flowering plants only yesterday, eschewing all vegetables, and most of the flowers are in the daisy/poppy category, supposedly deer resistant--although deer will eat anything when they're hungry, in my experience. I love poppies, though. Showy, primitive flowers with four petals (Icelandic), though I've put in some new varieties.

It's hot on the coast today, maybe 70 and windy. I'm soaking the new plants for fear they may dry out. I must interrupt this post to move the soaker.

Back! For any who missed the announcement, I now have 24 songs ready for free download from Soundclick; all you need to do is click on the picture of me playing bottleneck in the upper right corner here. Feedback welcome; some cuts are professional studio work, some rough cuts at home on this very computer. My voice will soon improve when we quit smoking again on April 1, no fooling. But I pride myself most on melody, which I find in short supply in much contemporary music, to say the least.

I've been fighting a cold but it was suppressed by the prednisone I took for a week to combat my tick bite allergy; the prednisone also had me flirting with depression. Powerful stuff. Steroids, NSAIDs and antihistamines are all dangerous drugs for causing depression in my case. Our brain chemistry is weird, what?

In April some new reviews of my book will be out in Eclectica and Pedestal and elsewhere, I think. I'll post them here, naturally.

Tonight at our men's circle I'll be leading a discussion group on "The River of Life: Embracing the Feminine," the topic I hope will be picked up for this year's retreat. I'll be going through Jung's four female archetypes, from Eve to Helen to Mary to Sophia. Each represents ongoing progress in understanding the feminine, and Sophia is the internalization of the feminine--as my friend, Kelton, says: "I'm married to my inner bitch." LOL!

So far I've received only five entries in the contest for a signed hardback copy of "Unexpected Light." I need more entries! Simply mail them with the subject header "Contest" to cechaffin at gmail dot com.

That's all for today, save the obligatory poem. Let me look through my unpublished archives, as I have not written much of anything for a week. Ah, this seems appropriate as it is nearly Easter:

The Arrest

They thought it would be easy
to cow him with eagled breastplates
and the clank of scabbards on greaves
until they saw the royal
toleration in his eyes.

In the glaze of a Mideastern sun
he could have been Apollo.
“If any man thirsts, let him come after me”
--a thirst beyond Roman canteens.

“No man spoke like this man,”
they told their fuming captain.
He knew better than to go himself;
his god had warned him.

1 Kilobunny,


p.s. I just re-read this post and felt ashamed--this boy seemed so full of himself that trivial detail passes for blog material. He's worse than the Confessionalist poets. But I promise to repent.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rototilling; New Old Poem

First, as to the poetry contest here and at Facebook I've received only four entries thus far which make the odds of winning 50%. I'm sure there are many of you waiting until the April 15 deadline, just be sure to get your entries in with your taxes and don't forget to send me the refund.

Today, at some cost to my back, I rototilled the garden and planted some spring flowers to go with those already blooming. My goal is to have the whole yard littered in color. I'm trying mainly to plant the daisy family, as they are supposed to be deer-resistant. I also have my deer-repelling motion-activated sprinkler turned on. I want to plant many perennials as well, so they will continue to bloom every year. I'm a haphazard gardener at best; I learn as I go. I find out what works and try to duplicate it. But this I know: the rules for planting are just like the rules of real estate: location, location, location!

I'm excited about my soundclick page where there are now no less than 24 songs for your downloading pleasure, a number I intend to increase to 100 over the coming months. I have such a backlog of compositions I've never recorded seriously that I have a lot of pleasurable work ahead of me, though I need a bass guitar desperately to fill out the sound. My Fender bass is presently in the hands of my former bass player in Oceanside, CA, and I don't know how to get a hold of him.

The whales are still moving north here to their feeding grounds in the Bering Sea and below. We saw them spouting this morning when it was calm.

I'm happy to report that my garden has a healthy population of earthworms. After rototilling today, Kathleen said: "And now you've doubled them!"

It was my younger brother's birthday yesterday and I failed to call him, but he called me tonight to make up for it (that is, before 12 AM so it was still his birthday). I'm trying to think of a gift for him besides a CD or a book but it's hard. Remember buying gifts for Dad? How he must have tired of ties and pens. At least my girls always send me Simpsons or Lakers stuff.

As you can see, I have little to say tonight. Here's my soundclick link again for free downloading of songs by Dr. C.

There are songs there on everything from organ donors to reggae doctors to conspiratorial flounders. Truly eclectic in substance and style. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Here's an unpublished poem for my sign-off:

Back to Sleep

I went back to sleep and saw
the scorched ruins of my philosophy
begging for green wood
though I wouldn't ax a sapling
for my greater good.

I went back to sleep and saw
the Madonna of the Tortilla
in blue maize and white flour.
“Your time has come," she said
though it was not my hour.

I went back to sleep and saw
the present swallow the future
as the past swallowed the present
then woke with a start to the clock
that said I was and I wasn't.

Thine at 1 Kilobunny,


Friday, March 20, 2009

New Poetry Contest and How to Access My Music!

I have decided to host a little poetry contest for those who peek in here. Send your best poem to cechaffin (at) gmail (dot) com, and with the help of my editor, Kathleen, we will choose the winner. Send one poem only, your "best," whether published or unpublished. In the subject line put "Contest."

The deadline is April 15. The winner receives a signed hardback of my new book (see above). No entry fee, no strings attached. I'll publish the winner (and perhaps near-winners) here with comment.

Gentlemen, start your literary engines!

As for recent news, I have suffered a triad of illnesses: an abscessed tooth, pulled yesterday (oh the sound of the roots being wrenched from their socket!), a tick bite with another allergic reaction (I'm on prednisone now), as well as a cold I picked up from my lawyer coughing on me in court. I knew I was doomed when his droplets hit the air. But I'm recovering from these minor irritations, a mere blip on the radar when compared to depression, ugh!

For those who don't know, I've been writing and performing songs for forty years. Now I've uploaded fifteen, of various vintages and style, at Soundclick under "Dr. CE." You can listen there and download for free. I would dearly appreciate comment on my work.

Do I have a new poem today? Hmmm.... at least a recently revised one:

Among Schoolchildren

A old man in a brown cardigan
walks a black Chow
on a chain leash
beside a fence
where children throng and
in a supplication of white fingers
reach through galvanized diamonds of steel,
each clamoring for a touch,
the soft substantial feel
of mammalian welcome:
fur, abundant fur.

Would they trade
their fence for the leash?
Freedom, too, is relative.

As for my mood, despite my scare last week, I'm doing fine. My shrink even considered lowering one of my medications, a sure sign of stability, though he hasn't done it yet. For each pill I don't take, my percentage of normality increases incrementally. But to go off all medication would be an exceedingly stupid thing, and I urge all my fellow sufferers to keep popping their pills.

I just heard that a new review of my book is due out in Eclectica come April, along with three poems.

All for now.

At 1 Kilobunny,


Monday, March 16, 2009

New Poem?

Here's a new poem which is also a song:


I am the eyes in the ash of the slats of the fence that borders the meadow.

My eyes migrate to the top of my head like contacts for a flounder.

Fishy, you say? I cannot deny
that the stench of dead flounder can poison the sky.

Rocks don't talk but neither does God in any language we understand.

The nape of my neck will not protect my cervical spine from cancer.

Fishy, you say? I cannot deny
that a language of cancer might poison the sky.

A Sheba Inu's butt is white but so is that of the Roosevelt elk.

But first an implantation in your ear for better reception.

Fishy, you say? I cannot deny
that the flounder's a fish you mistake for a pie.

For the song go to Soundclick and click on "Flounders."

Enjoy or not,

Craig Erick

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tears and the Devil

I haven't blogged in a while, have been to LA and back.

First a poem from my old home town:

Before the Long Beach Grand Prix

Stripes of light interrupted
fall on shaded grass
under the grandstands
as if it were a highway
marked in fluorescent green.

A faux lighthouse warns no one.

Motor heads will come
from Bellflower, Agoura, Pasadena
to watch man wed machine
in a growl of gears
and a squeeze of brakes.

Topped in poles with chain link,
concrete barriers line the course.
Chances are no car will tumble over

Yet as in bullfights there is always
the unspoken, hidden rush of Cain
down where we keep the dark things
that keep us up at night,
a burning body maybe--
the Aztecs had nothing on us.

Human nature doesn't change, does it? In individual cases we see moral progress, but mankind taken as a whole has not, by the average or median improved at all. The numbers are larger, though it's doubtful that the proportions have changed: 6 million in Germany (and Poland), 800,000 in Rwanda, God knows how many in Iraq, Mao and Stalin directly or indirectly killed somewhere around 30 million. Need I go on?

So many of us live with the delusion that we are getting better when the fact is that we haven't changed in years. It is a delusion in most cases, still an optimistic override obtains for the individual--what we call hope. Still a hope to be better is already the hope of one above average in charity. As I said to my men's group when asked what I wanted out of the process, I said: "I want you to help me be a better man."

I'm not comparing apples and oranges here exactly; there is a moral law but absolute comparisons between sinners' relative virtues is prevented by one's personal psychology and limitations, each person's uniqueness, inheritance, and DNA. Those who wish to improve themselves spiritually I salute. Know only that humility is the first grace. Without it we are lost. And no one has monopoly on truth. It can come from anywhere, truly from the mouths of babes. And love is a gift of grace. Grace is God's unmerited favor toward the human race. Notice "unmerited," which reduces us all to equals just as the law was designed to do by its impossible demands.

Now for another poem:


I dreamed
of a frail old man
in a charcoal suit
of expensive cloth
of outmoded cut,
hands spotted with age,
for cuff links, crucifixes.

His thin white hair
was combed back
and his sympathetic
made you feel
as if nothing
were your fault.

Money was changing
hands somewhere.
He sought
to distract me
with a grand-
fatherly smile.
I knew he was
the Devil.

This poem was based on an actual vision I had while chained to a hospital bed and shot up with Haldol in a manic spell. It still rings true to me. The Devil is kindness itself, save for the strings that pull you into slavery. Most of us give up a piece at a time. Few if any actually sign a contract. The Devil doesn't need your signature, only your guilty deeds. He is called "The accuser of the brethren." He's that voice inside believers that intimates you have something special with God, or alternately damned forever--both narcissistic traps, I might add.

I was in LA to fight for grandparents' visitation rights for my seven-year-old grandson, Jacob. I have not been allowed to see him by his father since my daughter Rachel's death in July 2007. It all goes back to Jacob being bitten by our dog while in Mexico under my watch. Therefore I am not to be trusted with Jacob in the father's personal mythology. And the biting incident in question occurred in 2003, and Jacob has no visible scars nor was he traumatized emotionally because of how we handled it. He still loves dogs. Besides, Kenyon had never bitten anyone in his life but Jacob provoked him and Kenyon only behaved like a pack animal, grabbing the smaller and younger pup by the head for discipline.

Unfortunately it did not go well.

When the judge issued his ruling in court I broke out in tears and wept openly. "You are a cruel man," I said and walked out weeping. It took a while to compose myself while my lawyer tried to encourage me that now we must go to trial to prove my bonding with Jacob means our relationship is in his best interest. And we need a judge with the balls to step out of line a bit from the traditional.

I has a premonition that this round was going to go this way. As the court date approached I felt heavier and heavier. I was not surprised at the ruling. Thankfully my daughters cheered me up afterwards--because I felt as if I were on a precipice staring down into a depression, uggh! Cluck, cluck! Kazooey!

As it turns out, my tears were normal feelings and my daughters said they would have done the same.

I'm glad my manhood allows me to cry in public over things that need to be cried over. Man needs his Jungian anima, his feminine side, to be complete. This is the theme I'll be suggesting for the next Men's retreat.

Over and out at Kiloneutral,


Friday, March 06, 2009

"Best of," cont'd: Recovery from Depression: Three Posts

I edited these posts for extraneous information but included the meat. Though sequential they are not necessarily consistent in their connections. But it's interesting to see that just over a year ago I entered recovery from depression.

From 4/5/08: How It Happened

I am now in recovery from depression, neither cured not expecting to be. It is a chronic disease in my case, and it would be unrealistic not to expect another occurrence or two in my remaining lifetime. When I think back on my life, before my diagnosis I suffered 5 major depressions; since I have suffered 3 more. The longest was the recent one, two years, provided I remain in remission. The deepest one was at age 29 when I was finally ushered into treatment.

Thus through age 29 I suffered five major depressions, and since being diagnosed, through age 53, while under treatment, I have suffered three more. This is not statistically significant in terms of prevention, unfortunately, but who knows how much I would have suffered without treatment? Just as alcoholics are in recovery, think of me as a melancholic in in recovery, though this parallel cannot stand much scrutiny, as the latter is more difficult to treat, in my experience.

Now you may rightly ask what concatenation of fortuitous circumstances led to my current recovery. In no particular order:

Spiritual: My friend Eric had a dream about Christ weeping over my body and healing me. About two weeks later, before the new antidepressant had had any effect, I wept in prayer while trying to pray as honestly as I possibly could. For the first time in I don't know how long, I felt some brief, inexplicable connection with the Light, a momentary piercing of the veil, so it seemed.

Chemical: On March 24 my doctor changed my antidepressant again। Within a week we upped it to therapeutic levels. Two-and-a-half weeks later, the usual time frame for response to an antidepressant (2 – 6 weeks), I began to feel a little better. This was on Thursday, April 10, when I was stranded in Lost Hills, CA, with a cracked radiator. Being confronted with a minor crisis was a pleasure in my state, as it got me out of myself. Thanks to a tip about some mechanics who hung around their shop late, we were able to move on the same night. (FGI (for general information) a plastic radiator can't be fixed with “Insta-Weld.” It must be replaced.)

Physical: Though ECT and Invega (an anti-psychotic whose effects on me were similar to the demonic Haldol) made me worse in Jan/Feb of this year, I requested an MRI of my brain while hospitalized and they discovered a bilateral, chronic maxillary sinus infection (everyone in my family seems to have allergies but I never paid them no mind). I remembered a case as a family practitioner where a depressive perked up after I treated her chronic sinus infection, so I went to our family doctor and requested treatment. After a month's antibiotics (the first two weeks spitting up a lot of schmegg), not only was my depression better but my voice had improved markedly. It's timbre and resonance had returned, I was no longer singing through pockets of mucous that robbed me of my natural timbre. So add this to my list of fortuitous concatenation of circumstances.

Behavioral and Social: In visiting my daughters and my oldest friend, though cruelly prevented from seeing my grandson, I had a chance to pretend to be myself, to pour myself into the mold of the upbeat, humorous, philosophizing, friendly, garrulous (and sometimes offensive) person I usually am. My second daughter, Keturah, invited me to Happy Hour the next day, April 11, and we had an exotic martini-drinking jamboree/competition at half-price. I was also able to see Sarah perform in a play for only the second time since middle school. And I sat for two hours in an old familiar bar, Joe Jost's, with Eric, talking while trying to avoid any mention of depression. I was so sick of talking about it.

When I returned home I continued to pretend to be myself with dogged courage. There were times when melancholy begged admission, but I refused to discuss my depression। I lied to Kathleen about how I was feeling as a matter of course. I even avoided seeing my psychiatrist because in nearing his office I burst into tears at the memory of all the times I had sat in his office depressed. I told him by e-mail and he understood। This Wednesday I will likely be well enough to see him.

Socially I should also mention that traveling 1200 miles with my stepson, Derek, was a tonic He's funny and upbeat Among other things he taught me the difference between Hip Hop and Gangsta Rap (through a plethora of too-loud examples).

In returning home my volunteer work began to pick up, obligating me to work with others while Iavoiding any mention of my condition. I am now involved with six different volunteer groups, including a musical gig for a group sing with the homeless and mentally ill every Friday.

To sum up, there was Eric's dream and my later prayer; a significant change in medication (I went off two meds and on two others); the discovery and treatment of a chronic infection, and the social/behavioral opportunity to be myself, a chance I clung to like a life raft in a flood. Without all three features I do not know if I would have improved, but I consider the change in antidepressants the most important, as without a slight elevation in mood I would not have thought of pretending to be myself. Antidepressants sometimes make you just well enough to get better with other help. And that help comes through doing, not being, as my shrink is fond of saying.

From 4/8/08: In Danger of Mania?

I had a manic dream last night, something so rare I can't remember the last one. And it's the second night I've had one. I attribute it to taking my second dose of Effexor too late. I need to take it in the afternoon apparently. But just as depressive dreams often warn me of on oncoming depression and have prevented its clinical eruption by such caution, so likewise my body may be warning me of flipping past euthymia into hypomania if not careful.

In the first night's dream I battled an armored dwarf who came after me with a machete'; after I disarmed him, he picked up a battle-ax and assaulted me with increased vigor। Again I disarmed him easily and told him that if that sort of behavior turned him on, I might have to pay attention, but that his aggressions would be better served in some other way. He was crestfallen and felt diminished, though I didn't discount future attacks. I acted as if this sort of thing happened every day and that I was more than competent to deal with murderous dwarfs. Which reminds of the time when, while manic, I kept a police dog (German Shepherd) at bay with one hand, slapping him repeatedly when he tried to leap, keeping the other hand free to smoke, gesture, and reason with an arresting officer. The dog gave up; he realized that I was too quick for him and I don't know how hard I slap when I'm manic; very hard, I expect. I still have scars on my right hand from the occasional tooth.

In last night's dream we were in Mexico (Kathleen and I and her mother and Derek), where I would become enraged at the slightest deviation from my way, to the point of belittling my dear wife and shocking her mother while I ran around a beachside Mexican resort looking for conflict with with anyone from “the dark side।” I can't remember any physical altercations. It's pointless resisting me when in any case I'm manic, whether in a dream or reality. Either calm me down (which has been done by loved ones) or call the authorities.

At the supermarket yesterday late in the afternoon I snapped at Kathleen because I was “houchy” (so hungry I was grouchy), but luckily she didn't hear it। When my blood sugar dips too far I can get like that, in a mini-manic explosion of anger, but I got some Safeway sushi in time to quiet the demon.

This is the Scylla and Charybdis of my disease: in treating a depression you may overshoot into mania, and vice-versa. Yet as an informed consumer, the first logical step is to take my second dose of Effexor earlier; the second is to skip the second dose altogether. In addition I increased my mood-stabilizing agent, Klonopin, to 2 mg. last night, which made me sleep until noon, but I felt it a necessary precaution after two nights of manic dreams.

And yes, poetry has come back to me and I'm enjoying it. I have been posting at three boards and my poem, “Queen Melancholy,” was solicited by an editor.

The obvious question: Will Craig grow manic?

Not if he can help it. And it is much easier to tame a mania than to reverse a depression.

From 4/12/08: On Joy

Joy is much harder to capture in words than fear or sorrow. And by joy I do not mean contentment or happiness, but a deeper feeling, echoed in passages like Romans 8:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time, waiting in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed, for the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God। For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord।” (NIV version, 8:19 ff.)

What is the Kingdom of Heaven but the indescribable joy of inseparable, insuperable eternal love, the very thing we craved from our first banishment from the dumb joy of the womb?

Keats comes closest, in of all places, his “Ode on Melancholy,” where the sorrow-tinged exaltation of which he speaks approaches Joy:

"But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud...
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

"She dwells with Beauty - Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine."

Schiller's Ode to Joy, made famous by Beethoven's 9th, falls short of this standard:

Let the cosmos embrace you, you millions!
This kiss goes to the entire world!...
Whoever has had the great fortune
To know true friendship
Whoever has won the love of a devoted wife,
Add his to our jubilation."

(My translation, excerpted from the second stanza।)

This ode, written on the cusp when the Augustan age gave over to the Romantic, still contains more subject-object distance from joy than Keats. As such it may be that only my anachronistic eye fails to feel the joy of this piece, though the music certainly conveys it—music based on a German beer hall song, incidentally.

Yesterday I was sitting on an old redwood log facing a pasturer where wild turkeys flocked and deer feasted on the long grass. Stellar's Jays, supernaturally blue, hopped and pecked in the grass beside a robin. I listened to the bird song and wind and nothing else। I took my shirt off and lit a hand-rolled cigarette and guiltlessly enjoyed the smoke and the scene, experiencing a richness beyond words. In the distance small whitecaps erupted on the royal blue Pacific. There was nothing I wanted or didn't want, and to illustrate the paucity of words, I can only say I felt like I was in a Disney movie.

This is in part what Eliot meant by “the timeless moment,” that out-of-self experience of all- encompassing joy. When my cigarette was done I wandered out into the pasture, staring at blue-eyed grass and yellow-eyed grass and the lavender and white profusion of wild radishes. A six-point buck pranced away at my approach, his body leaping, his neck proudly erect like a war horse. Joy in his motion, joy in his freedom, joy in his perfection.

It is in our most extreme states that our hearts turns toward the numinous. If we think of God at all, we are most apt to think of him in our deepest sorrow or greatest joy.

There is a moment in “The Screw Tape Letters” where the protagonist is being oppressed by a demon with a mild depression, and he decides to go for a walk in the country. The beauty of nature transports him out of himself and back into awareness of God.

Afterwards the demon is scolded by his superior: “How could you possibly let the subject do something he enjoyed? You risked him getting out of himself. We want his pleasures circumscribed—the club, television, liquor, not something so dangerous as nature. You fool!”

Exactly. Extreme joy and sorrow are two paths to the same place, another point made in Eliot's “Four Quartets,” though not so directly; in its famous conclusion, sorrow and joy, earthly suffering and isolated moments of transport are fused:

“All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”

C. E. Chaffin

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Best of, cont'd: Post-ECT Musings

It's been a while since a "Best of" post, which I think a good sign. I have gotten these posts to within a year of today, and will hopefully bring them up to date in the near future. Sunday I leave for LA to sue for visitation rights re: my grandson. I'm anxious about the trip but trust my mood will hold for the hearings.

Now for the harrowing aftermath of ECT.

From 3/20/08 Post-ECT:

Having something to do with my hands is a blessing. I recall prior to my ECT that I generally made Kathleen lunches and tried to make dinner, but just like my former exercise regimen, ECT seemed to amputate my past from my future. The threads of things I was doing before the treatments I have had trouble reconnecting with. There was a chapbook contest I intended to enter, for example, and I had the chapbook done, but I no longer know where to send it. And I found myself published in a journal I didn't know was publishing me. I think the entire experience of ECT resembles a major concussive syndrome, with selective anterograde amnesia and a general disconnect with one's former life. If I were to do it over again, and I never plan to given the recent results, I would take the time to write down in a notebook beforehand all my ongoing activities and goals in a detailed fashion, so that I would have a guide for resuming my life. As it is, things crop up--”I was going to do that?” “I had promised to do that?” “There's a deadline for what?” “I owe whom a letter?”

ECT is a great interruption in the flow of one's life. Naturally anyone considering it would not call their life normal. But even depressed, as I have been, there are connections and recollections that seem to have been whited out by ECT.

Of course, underneath the inevitable progression of my bipolar disease lies the grief at the loss of my first-born daughter, Rachel, on July 29, 2007. At the time I welcomed the sad feelings because they were legitimate grief, and grief felt better than depression, but in the emotional economy of the human psyche one wonders if that great loss has not been feeding my depression at some level. Experientially I can't say so; theoretically it makes sense.

I've been worrying a lot about old age lately, where we might live, how we will afford to live and all the attendant worries. But I like what Bob Dylan said: “He who isn't busy being born is busy dying.” Also, T. S. Eliot: “Old men should be explorers.”

Fine quotes to live up to. Fear is the mind-killer. Once faith in yourself is undermined, faith in anything else becomes near impossible.

So, outside myself, I've shopped and cooked two meals. Tonight I will be playing a tune I wrote for a Spring Equinox ceremony. The performance, of course, fills me with fear. But the way around my basic fear of non-being, or global incompetence of my person, is to do the things of which I'm afraid. I know this and have done this many times in my approach to life. I even called the Medical Board about the status of my medical license renewal today. (They told me to call back Monday.)

Oh, I fed the cats and brought Kathleen coffee and provided her with a lunch today. Every little useful thing helps. I don't know how it is for others, but in my advanced mental illness I have so much trouble trying to inhabit my body. My body becomes a thing, not part of my person, and to heal my mind must slow down or speed up to the rhythm of my body, so that in washing dishes, for instance, my hands and mind can work in concert. This idea hearkens back to the “moral treatment” enlightened Christians first used on the mentally ill after saving them from asylums. Farming was a big part of that therapy. My capacity for abstraction puts me at risk of losing contact with the material universe and my necessary role in it.

I have tried to keep today's post from undue solipsism. This does not mean that I am necessarily better, only that I am trying to follow my own prescription for improved health.

From 3/25: Post-ECT: My Failure as an Author

Ignoring my depression doesn't seem to be working, so I'll indulge in writing as therapy, believing it helps objectify my suffering. Suffering can never be compared; each of us has suffered to a degree we would be afraid to exceed, as one can only know greater suffering when the soul is stretched beyond its former capacity for suffering. With enough suffering comes a numbness, as in Holocaust survivors, the mind's defense mechanism against overwhelming grief and terror. Depression differs from grief and trauma in that it comes from the inside out instead of from the outside in. It is self-generating.

As a form of suffering I find depression to be one of the worst varieties, because it darkens everything, it makes one unable to experience pleasure, it robs you of yourself--with all the history and attachments that implies. The past seems meaningless and the future seems a terror, while you spend every spare minute accusing yourself of one failure or another. Today my mind chose to accuse myself of not doing enough to end my depression--this despite exercise, ECT, compliance with psychiatric meds, attempts at gardening and cooking, continuing occasional publication of my poetry, hiking, and yes, a lot of basketball watching.

How do I enjoy basketball while being depressed? First, it generally comes on in the evening, when depression itself improves, as depression is usually worse in the morning and better at night. Second, it is essentially trivial. The fate of the chinook salmon or the arctic ice pack does not hang from a basketball rim. It's just a simple game with one ball and two hoops. When I was younger I could play it, which adds to my appreciation. Still the main reason I can "enjoy" (better "be distracted by") basketball is that it demands nothing of me except that I be a mindless fan, an illogical and irrational position and thus a relief from significance.

I will admit that I don't have enough to do. When my depression was less severe I spent a lot of time writing, but now that I've decided I'll never make it as an author I hardly have the heart to keep generating books that won't be published. My novel, "The Abomination," is so boring I can't finish it ( published one copy of it for my perusal when I entered their first novel contest; I think I mentioned that out of 5,000 entrants, I didn't even make the cut for the top 1000. But I do have the souvenir book!) I had high hopes for the novel to be a thriller, a page-turner, but I realize in reading it that the characters do not demand the kind of interest that makes for an interesting novel. I don't really care about the characters when I read it.

As for my poetry and literary criticism, I still have faith that some of it has merit beyond my lifetime, but I don't expect to be discovered any time soon.

I recently picked up a new collection of Charles Simic, our present poet laureate, and found no brilliance to envy. Why he is lauded above others I can only attribute to the usual East Coast Old Boys' network. His poems are workmanlike but underwhelming.

To be fair, my sense of failure as an author has not been properly earned because I haven't pulled out every stop and made every sacrifice to succeed. But I have become disheartened, and I don't know how to return to writing without confidence--a writer must have the conceit that he has something worth saying--lacking that at present, I don't write about anything, excepting the therapy of this blog.

So, how did I do today? I hit upon one thing that distracts me from depression: Basketball! I passed a small opinion on our poet laureate. And I confessed that my inner critic thinks I haven't done enough to come out of my depression; but what is enough? It doesn't get more serious than ECT, from which I'm still recovering in terms of memory and cognitive functioning. But what if ECT was a way of avoiding some other aspect of depression? The mind won't let up, the hook is set and the brain reels it in over and over again. That's a good metaphor for depression: having set the hook deep in your soul and afterwards trying to reel it in--you are the fish and the fisherman and therefore can never succeed. And the more you yank on the line the worse it gets. One of the best lines I ever heard about depression was, "If your car is stuck in the mud, don't spin your wheels, just wait for the sun to come out and dry the road and you'll be able to drive away." It's the waiting that kills us. I spin my wheels too much.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Lassoing the Ineffable

I remarked to Kathleen yesterday that my first book of poetry, "Elementary," was mainly concerned with nature, while my second book (above) concerns itself with human nature. This made me think of a third volume beyond any nature, after which I scribbled this poem, not the usual variety to which my readers have become accustomed:

Greenwood Beach

tsunami of my eyes
holocaust of my lungs
volcano of my mouth

sun's halo on the water
dark amethyst clouds
how rain spouts ascended

holy nasturtium grove
ice plant invading
scourge of freeways
not here, Lord

sea otter dipping
pelagic cormorant
shakes, submerges

brutally lavender horizon
the thin reed squealing
how a shovel functions

who kept the monster quiet
while gesturing and walking
who fed it arms and legs

there in the final desert
Ozymandias sands
the far reaches

hallelujah the ego has come
no need to piece it together
make it all mine

tsunami of my eyes
holocaust of my lungs
volcano of my mouth

Greenwood beach is beyond words, beyond nature in a sense, any attempt to grasp it seemed selfish, thus the undermining of the first and last stanzas by the possessive pronoun, "my." If this doesn't make sense it's OK, I was just experimenting. Here's another poem more to the point that I revised yesterday:

Big Creek at Sunrise

Tongues of white flame
bob downstream
like votive candles
held aloft by a horde
of gleaming water striders
scattering and coalescing
into glitter-ripples,
splinters like the first flare
of a match in broken
bits of mirror—white,
white, silver-white!
The cold fury of light.

I suppose this could be nature beyond nature, to some degree. An eastern Sierra creek at sunrise, just like that, closest I could come in words, but do they deliver? I honestly don't know. The light is uberfantastic. How to get at the light. Painters and film makers have the advantage of us, Virgil.

Nature inspires me, its otherness, its other-than-selfness, how we project a face on a cliff when there is no face, how we unfailingly seek tropes to anthropomorphize what cannot be reduced from its whole. There's no way to encompass the ocean in a poem, or the deep neon dark purple- lavender-amethyst color of the low clouds against the horizon yesterday. And the grove of nasturtiums in the middle of nowhere on shore, but also the ice plant that reminded me of LA parking lots and freeways--non-native just like the nasturtium--I know the poem doesn't make sense particularly, just curious as to whether it left a sense of something.

The more sublime the subject, the more impossible poetry becomes. We have to piece and parcel the universe out in subjecting it to words, hoping those words might bear a trace of the experience, but how can you transmit the glory of the Milky Way as you stare up from your sleeping bag on a campout? Or the crest of a towering wave before it breaks, the after-hollow, the degeneration into a white wall of suds, then the flattening, the hiss, the death on sand... it's all too much.

Here's a poem where I attempted to describe Denali:

Denali (Mt. McKinley)

Like a white fist clenched against the blue arctic sky,
Denali rises 20,000 feet high.

Beside it I am no taller than the blueberries
woven through ocher tundra at my feet.

Through a break in the clouds Valhalla beckons
where no slope should be.

Proportion withers like a December sun.

From now on mankind will be for me divided
into those who have and have not seen
"The Great One."

Denali and the Grand Canyon are the two greatest natural wonders I have seen, leaving me slack-jawed and speechless. Another poem from my new volume, "On the Anthropic Principle," includes the Grand Canyon in passing but by no means encompasses it.

In poetry, as in life, we must filter out the threads we can weave into our limited consciousness and leave the rest; we must partialize existence so that it does not overwhelm us by its sheer enormity, and that enormity includes the very miracle of consciousness itself, which allows us to appreciate the gap between experience and our homage to that experience.

Consciousness also promotes two of the most basic numinous instincts, gratefulness and awe.

Strangely some folks lack the gene for "nature appreciation" and notice only mosquitoes and the smell of smoke in their clothes. They want to get to the next thing--dinner, tourist trap, movie--they cannot dwell on the ineffable, it's not in them, they'd rather buy a postcard and leave it at that and say, "I was there," when they really weren't, at least not as a nature lover would be. I know people like this. They are more concerned with poison oak exposure than to be high on the humbling thereness all around. But see how language breaks down as we approach the other? I resort to "thereness!"

Like life, poetry must partialize to make sense, but the plain truth of it is, we cannot fully apprehend the ineffable, all our attempts to note it necessarily limit the experience-- you can't carry a mountain around in your pocket, now, can you? For me poetry come the closest, though a photograph of the quality of Ansel Adams' work does nicely--but photographs are static and do not capture the personal experience.

As for my mood, I'm doing fine, though a little apprehensive about the upcoming court date where I fight for visitation rights for my one and only grandchild, but again, the whole process is a legal partialization of what's best for the kid, and what's best for him is to stay in contact with his late mother's family, not to have that family treated as pariahs because some happen to suffer from mood disorders--disorders that are manageable, as this blog demonstrates--a blog which the child's father cherry-picked to try to prove me an unfit grandfather.

In depression my blog functioned as therapy and should not be taken out of context to assert that I could not cope with life. Yet by baring my heart in words in the worst of my depression I was able to comfort many who wrote me to say, "That's exactly how I felt only you express it better." That's all a writer can hope for, and I am glad my blogtherapy went beyond myself to encompass the needs of others, only I fervently pray not to have to go through that again any time soon--I would hope never--except that as this is a cyclic illness I'm likely to have at least one or two major depressions before my chapter on this earth is up.

As for Jacob's father, I only hope he receives his due. Justice is the worst I can wish people. "Mercy triumphs over justice."

Our plum tree is blooming, the ornamental apple is sure to follow, narcissus and tulips and daffodils are coming up, even some Icelandic poppies and snapdragons are blooming from last year. This year, as I've stated, I'm going for a garden of deer-resistant flowers, to hell with the vegetables, I don't want to go another three rounds with the late night or early morning deer; they will prevail as they have before. I want my garden a profuse and disordered mass of color. More to come, and eventually photos, I hope.

How I do go on when I have nothing to say. I read a story by Henry James last night and wondered as to whether he may go beyond language in his prose; his psychological distinctions are so finely drawn that at times I lose the thread altogether and must backtrack for paragraphs to pick it up. His writing is so reified, and Latinate in construction to a degree, with many dependent clauses and lots of abstractions, yet somehow he pulls off character and plot in a display of amazing technical mastery. The prose of Henry James is some of the most highly evolved prose extant. It was of its age, the Victorian, where many writers arrived at the pinnacle of high technique, like Dickens and Tennyson and Swinburne and Hopkins and the like. This pinnacle rightly preceded the revolution of the Moderns.

Enough. Or too much.

I should mention that at Blue's Cruzio Cafe there's a new animated feature of me reciting a love poem, along with other poets' features. These are really entertaining; do click on the link!

At 1 Kilobunny,


Unexpected Light

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