Friday, February 27, 2009

First Reading from "Unexpected Light"

Last night at Colored Horse Studios in Ukiah I gave my first featured reading from the new book. Out of a crowd of 14 (not counting Kathleen, me and the dog) I sold three books. I also received an honorarium of $75. I could get used to this! So if any of you west coast readers have connections to venues, "just call on me and I'll send it along / with love from me to you."

In paging through the book while reading, I concentrated on lighter pieces. For some reason I didn't want to get into depression or anything else too flypapery. I got a lot of laughs with "Fat" and "The Obesion," for instance.

One woman bought a book for her manic-depressive son, who happens to be my size; another bought the book because of "At the Vietnam Memorial;" and another bought the book for the power of the reading. Afterwards was an open mic where--well, let's just say it was an open mic. A good time was had by all, with red wine and chocolate for refreshments.

Here's "Fat":


Two days ago I woke up fat.
I'm not gonna hate myself for that.
I did indulge my appetite

like a starving rat.
So I avoid mirrors and dress in black.
I’m not gonna hate myself for that.

I may be fat but I'm not blind.
I did indulge my appetite
because depression savaged my mind.

You see, it's not easy to be easy on me.
I'm all spiky inside like a cactus.
Two days ago I woke up fat.

I may be fat but I'm not blind.
If I did indulge my appetite,
it was only to distract

my stomach’s acid pit
from the black hole of my mind,
too ravaged to react.

On second thought it's not entirely light. But that's the thing about the book, as one reviewer put it: it's "slanted" light. Dark humor. Unexpected twists of light. It's hard for me to be all this or that in a poem. Modulation requires shifts to retain the reader's attention and entertain him. Without such contrasts it would be greeting card verse. Ah Helen Steiner Rice and Susan Polis Schulz!

Not much to report otherwise except the fact that I intend to assay my garden today and try to uncover some of the bloomables from beneath the encroachment of weeds.

Oh, J. Alfred ditched me the other night on our walk, I suppose because it was getting too dark. I crated him when I got home out of anger. I think he understood. If not, it let me do something with my pissed-offness.

Another light poem from the volume? Why the hell not? (Though if you get it free here, why buy the book? Because many of the poems have been published through journals since defunct, therefore you can't find them on the net. Still, if you google me, as we recently discussed, you will have more than enough to read. But ah hell, get out of the cyberworld and get your hands on a real book. The hardback is the best value.) Here's the poem:

God and Cheetos

Don’t we all want to meet God,
engage omnipotence in conversation warm and natural
as in why Pete Rose is banned from Cooperstown
and whether Augustine’s "Confessions" are more an exercise
in literary narcissism than true devotion?
I prefer Pascal, but what would God think?

Picture us on a park bench, dispensing crusts
to avian communicants while sharing
Cheetos from an inexhaustible bag.
Perhaps we’d join the shoeless fellowship
of mumbling schizophrenics
or join in cursing citations on windshields.
And could he take his own name in vain?
There are some things even God can’t do,
like changing history--that would be dishonest.

Lord, thank you for the consciousness
that allows me to scribble this.
How about an autograph? In blood, of course.
So rudely forced into human form— how divine
it must have been when you rejoined yourself!

OK, so there are a few dark threads dangling, but overall a happy poem? How would I know? I can't rightly judge my own work.

Oprah, I'm calling you, I need a sales boost! You can have me on your couch to discuss romantic love in the new millennium and manic-depression as well.

In fun at 1 Kilobunny,


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Googling oneself and the Internet; Book Reviews

It's hilarious to watch Homer Simpson google himself in his childllike narcissism, and no doubt many of us do it. It's amazing how Google constantly pares references down for redundancy until they build up again. When I google myself I find it much work; I find published poems whose web pages I never bothered to save, comments about me at forums that I sometimes reply to, references from lists of which I'm not aware--and it becomes work, and slightly unmanageable at that.

It's like eavesdropping on oneself in the cyberworld--but not oneself, rather the objectified self of one's work. Since my metier is poetry, most of the references concern it, excepting my essays and contributions from my blog. My music is starting to pop up since I added it to my website, and that's gratifying. But these objectified representations of me are not me. Nor are they celebrity; even Billy Collins could walk through a supermarket unrecognized, one of the benefits or our arcane art. No one wants to know the size of my underwear--at least yet (I don't wear it). As P. D. James wrote, "Privacy is the last luxury"--and through media overload, privacy is sacrificed for promotion, though in my case it's the work and not me. Still I am horrified to see my address and phone number listed at various poets' lists.

In all of this I remind myself it's the work, the process of the work, that counts, not the result or the resultant attention. Still, the web invites us to objectify ourselves in a way not heretofore seen.

I think the four greatest inventions in human history are fire, language (spoken then written--recorded history does not begin until about 3500 B.C.), the Gutenburg press, and the Internet. Think of that--the most transforming technological advance in the last 600 years has been within our lifetime. The implications of Big Brother's spying in this context are immense, but on the other hand, the sheer volume of information makes it somewhat unmanageable--what search algorithms are for.

Spit out into the ether and it will find a wall to dry on.

The convenience of the net is also incredible. Last night I wondered if moles were really blind, and I found that some can sense light and motion. Now I have to look into bats to make sure the trope, "Blind as a bat," is not undermined as well.

I read a new book by Anny Ballardini that is truly unique: "Ghost Dance in 33 Movements," essentially her master's thesis for a MFA. It chronicles 33 avante garde movies in verse and quotations, trying to reproduce the experience of film in symbols. A noble attempt, and one that spurs the reader to investigate the films she has chosen, which can be referenced through UbuWeb It's published by Otoliths, whose journal I've been lucky enough to appear in. Given the miracle of the web, I could write Anny immediately through Facebook and get a reply.

The world is shrinking, shrinking, shrinking, and you are part of it. The objectification of humans is proceeding apace, and any yahoo can put up a website or start a magazine or put a movie out on U Tube. It's amazing, this universal forum, and I think the greatest enemy of Totalitarianism the world has ever seen. Imagine if the Jews had had the internet during the beginning of their persecution in Nazi Germany. The whole world would have known of it, and powers would have been summoned to their defense. If the pen is mightier than the sword, then the internet is the most powerful engine to date in changing history, and we are a part of it. As the exponential explosion of information proceeds, there will be little that is not known anymore, much less not available to anyone who wants to stick their nose in it.

When I think about my first computer and the dot matrix printer and the early manifestations of the internet and compare it to the canvas we now have, its evolution is also astounding. And here I am, typing into the ether again.

I don't know if I've mentioned some new publications for your perusal. So far two reviews are out about my book, one at the Hobble Creek Review blog (see Feb. 15th's post) and one in the new issue of Centrifugal Eye (see pg. 71; I also have two poems in the issue). Moreover, Ambush Arts has featured me with a poem, an interview, an artist's statment and myriad links. John Thomas treats his authors well, though it was difficult to qualify. I first sent him five poems and he liked one, then asked me to send more. He finally chose my recent, "With My Dog in the Rain," from the second batch, which I posted here, though he had an editorial suggestion to which I submitted. A demanding and discerning editor.

Meanwhile I need to stop these literary activities and concentrate on my garden, which I've avoided because of the recent weeks of rain. This year I plan to plant only deer-resistant flowers. Those of you who follow this blog will remember last year's war with the deer, which I lost. I don't want any vegetables tempting them this time around.

False spring continues on the Mendocino coast; daffodils and hyacinths are blooming, even blackberry brambles--all too early for our normal timeline. Even rhododendrons have begun. It's spring in February.

I've also begun a theological correspondence with the Christian editor of Rose and Thorn, a magazine that will soon feature another review of my book. (They have nominated me for a Pushcart Prize in the past, but I don't think Pushcart gives much credence to net publications.) So far the reviews are distinctly encouraging; I may be a poet after all! ;-)

And have I spoken recently of the joy my dog, J. Alfred Prufrock, gives me? He walks me daily, and to see his diminutive form leap over the tall grass like a gazelle in pursuit of deer gives me unspeakable pleasure, pure joy in his athleticism and indomitable hunting instincts. I love the daily experiences that transport me beyond language.

At 1 Kilobunny,


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Two New Poems; Warning on Afghanistan

Here's a couple of new poems:


Is a poem about nothing
as in the center of a windsock,
the form of a shovel,
the dome of a cereal bowl,
the space between petals
of a flaming rhododendron.
Cup your hands, open your mouth:
the haven between barbwire,
empty esophagus.
Spread your fingers and look:
the open-ended triangles.
You say, “But there's air!”
Air defines the borders
of what isn't there.

This is a poem about nothing,
the dull ending of despair
where no feeling lurks,
the empty crib, the empty throne
where Solomon once sat,
a gourd, a scooped-out pumpkin,
a glove, a jacket, how these wrap
themselves around a space
expecting something--
a sudden pregnancy of substance!

Substance is as much defined
by nothing as by something,
the spaces between stanzas,
hollows in these letters,
the blank stare, the pause
of the Alzheimer's patient,
a boot, a candy wrapper,
a picture frame, gazebo,
how a poem begins from nothing

What a Man Wants

To sharpen a Buck knife on your front porch
until you can whittle hickory,
jump naked in a glacial stream
and dry in the High Sierra wind,

hit a home run and savor its arc
as you slowly trot the bases,
bring the hammer down at a circus
and ring the bell on your first try,

ride a Harley in the Mojave
through the carpets of spring,
see the Grateful Dead once more,
sit courtside at a Lakers game,

worship a woman with your body
and have enough dough to buy
the red dress in the display window for her,
discover a new kind of meat,

make spoons from coconuts,
have an obedient dog that walks you daily,
get good and drunk with no explaining to do
and sleep with an easy conscience.

Why post two at once? Because I'm greedy? Because I'm lazy? Because I wrote them since I last blogged? The phones are open, winner to be announced later.

But seriously, folks, there's a new review of my book on pg. 71 of the newly-formatted Centrifugal Eye, along with two of my poems. Another review will be out soon. If you don't read the book at least read the reviews so you know what you're missing.

I have no comment on the Oscars except to say that the choices, per usual, were predictable, with the possible exception of Sean Penn over Mickey Rourke--but everyone knows which way Hollywood swings--not to take away from Penn's fine acting. His comments on Proposition 8 out here were nugatory, as I am one who still does not believe the vote on that issue. Who cares if homosexuals get married? I had not thought so many in California remained in the past. Also I should add that Hugh Jackman was great, and who knew he was a song-and-dance man?

Didn't Jerry Lewis look ancient? And Christopher Walken looked like the vampire he has so often played. He gives me the creeps.

False spring here has rhododendrons blooming already, imagine! Not to mention all the daffodils and heather. Perhaps spring has really come, albeit very early.

California, the world's sixth largest economy, finally has a budget and no one is happy per usual. Calls for a constitutional convention abound; our constitution is nearly four times the length of the U. S. Constitution and has over 500 amendments because of our yen for propositions, governance by polling the ignorant as opposed to government legislated by the informed corrupt.

Since Senator Burris is a liar, I think him well-qualified for the senate.

I adjure Obama not to stick his foot in it in Afghanistan. It has the population of Iraq with a quarter of its literacy. The only natural resources are tribalism, fanaticism, opium and corruption. Guns don't actual grow there, they are supplied by competing armies that fail to govern the mountainous intransigence of a nation better left to its medieval ways. It is a quagmire, one the British and the Soviets lost and left.

With unemployment rising, some might aver that it's better to leave our troops there; I say this is cynical. Bring them all home from unwinnable wars that we started.

People are also saying that Russian and Pakistan and North Korea and Iran are all taking advantage of Obama already. But beware a leader accused of weakness; Democrats have started most of our wars.

I'm sorry I have so little verve tonight. Best I could do. Hope you enjoyed the poems.

1 Kilobunny,


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Depression, Mania and Poetry

I can't make sense of readers' statistics--posts I think interesting are often poorly attended, and others garner large numbers. My "Best of" has been a success, I expect because many are searching the web for help with their mood disorders. Then Wednesday I posted a couple of poems and the meter went up again. Here's what my blog says about itself:

"Ongoing personal narrative by C. E. Chaffin M.D., FAAFP, Editor of The Melic Review. Widely published as a poet, critic and essayist, he began this blog as therapy but fears it has a larger audience than his other works. As an unapologetic manic-depressive (bipolar), he also hopes his adventures in mood fluctuation may be of some benefit to others so afflicted."

The blurb implies poetry but does not outright state it. My general audience divides into those interested in mood disorders and those in poetry. That 20% of name poets suffer manic-depression blurs the borders between the two. Here's a short list: Christopher Marlowe, John Clare, William Blake, Samuel Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson, Hopkins, Crane, Plath, Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, and John Berryman. The list is much more extensive, these are just from the top of my head. But I have written a poem about this phenomenon:

For Example

I do not recommend geniuses as models:
Coleridge the laudanum king,
Sylvia born too late for Auschwitz,
Roethke the manic ballerina with the body of a bear,
Hart Crane reciting to the cod,
Ernest sucking on a steel cigar,
Ginsberg hysterical naked procuring boys
or Pound blaming everything on the Jews.

Emily died a virgin without taking orders,
Sexton became the Jesus of the Housewives
then killed herself to fill the hollow.
(I don't mean to devalue the drunkenness
of Berryman and Bukowski or forget
that Dylan Thomas drank himself to death
because he found it easier than poetry.)

No one wants to hear about a healthy genius,
because the world needs to believe
the great must suffer greatly, as if
only Icarus flew above those jealous eyes
and Daedelus never landed.

(published in Interface; also in my new book)

I think the chief gift of a mood disorder for poets is loose associations, even dissociation, a certain liberty of the mind that issues in unseen connections between what we observe and experience. It's as if the normal mental filters that feed rational thought have been suspended for creative purposes. You can't just grind a poem out by thinking about it: it must be born, thrive, grow, and finally achieve adulthood--the point at which further revision is pointless. Thus the dissociative tendencies issue later in applied craft, and Voila! A poem.

And what drives people to write poetry more often than not? Grief and loss. The poetry of joy is neglected by comparison. Non-poets attempt poetry because of love as well--in other words, what drives folks to attempt poetry at all is deep feelings. That some are better than others in expressing such feelings should come as no surprise; that is merely the gift of language, and many can write passably. What distinguishes a poet is the knack of saying something in a memorable way. One of the best compliments I've received as a poet is the statment, "I felt like that but I could never have said it so well." Bingo! What poets are supposed to do.

Raw feeling expressed is not poetry. Wordsworth called poetry "emotion recollected in tranquilty," but that doesn't entirely wash--sometimes poems are written in the grip of emotion and survive to excellence, but only because the poet was well-exercised in his craft. Furthermore, to say something fresh requires a knowledge of what poetry went before, else cliche' will inevitably raise its hoary head.

In severe depression it's difficult to write poetry at all, much less poetry that lasts, because the last chapter of despair is numbness--the inability to feel at all, at least feel in proportion to circumstance, as the feedback loop of depression goes on autopilot and the whole personality is dominated by the disease. Here's an attempt that was born from a depression, also in my new book:

For the Record

I am myself, even in the dark
without mirrors or clues.
I may be as inconsequential
as the point of a fading penlight
but I am not this feeling
of being buried alive.
If I fall through the ice
I am not my hypothermia.
I am not my heart's vacuum's
cruel absence of presence.

There are times this seems specious,
as if I were a Jesuit preaching in a sewer,
hoping echoes could convince me—
but all I have is this distinction.
I hold it in a cup like Christ's blood
as I fall through infinite separations.
I am still here.
I write this for the record.

To write during mania or hypomania is much easier, the words simply flow like water, good words, lots of them--but mania may impair editing activity afterwards, as one becomes so enamored of one's voice that it's too much labor to take months to perfect the initial outburst.

I hope I have not turned off my audience by too much promoting my book.

Thine at 1 Kilobunny,


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day Poem; Uxorious Marketing

Yesterday was Valentine's Day, a day when Romans used to whip women with leather strips to increase fertility and keep the wolves away and .

Who was St. Valentine? He may have defied the Roman Emperor when the Emperor forbid marriage for soldiers, marrying them in secret, dying in 270 A.D. But here from is the pagan festival, Lupercella, that preceded our modern celebration:

"To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.

"The boys then sliced the goat's hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goathide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage."

Ah-hem. I wasn't very popular in high school but I know I would have made it with goathide strips dipped in blood with which to tease the girls.

I did write a Valentine's poem for my Mrs., though I have the unsettling feeling it is not quite soup yet. Nevertheless I will post it. But first there's a review out on my new book from Hobble Creek Review's Blog. (You will be happy to know that it's rather complimentary.)

Meanwhile one marketing angle my publicist has come up with is to present me as the uxorious husband, the man still desperately in love with his wife, which I am. The question is how to accomplish this in a photograph; my wife just ordered a charcoal zipper sweater for me for this assignment, under which I assume she will have me wear a flannel plaid for maximum uxoriousness. I suggested holding roses or kissing her picture but she says that's OTT. Better, I suggested we use only her picture, my inspiration. But that won't work because I'm the poet we're trying to market.

But here's a picture of Kathleen for the record:

Already I have crossed the line between personality and image as I comply with the publicist's vision of market share. We want frustrated women in their forties or fifties to embrace me as the next Neil Diamond--though married. Is he married? I saw him on the Grammys and my impression was that he was either single or gay. Let me look it up: actually he's been twice divorced. He's also known as the "Jewish Elvis." Maybe I can be the "Christian Elvis" of poetry. Ah c'mon!

But seriously folks, the work must stand on its own and sell itself. The market for poetry has been increasingly dismal since 1850, so those serious about their verse will just have to discover me, female and frustrated or not. Here's my Valentine's poem for Kathleen:

Valentine 2009

Love is our shibboleth.
A filament of doubt floats over lawns
only because you're gone.
Where will my seed find purchase
in your absence?
I say your name as if an awl
had pierced my heart
clean through to vertebrae.
How did I enter into such dependency?
My world is shrunk,
the last room of a nautilus.

The lighthouse flashes by daylight
with its flickering mirrors.
I cannot see myself without you
reflecting me in turn.
I bet my life on you, gambled away
my hiking boots and compass
at the bar where filmy circles
mar mahogany and heavy metal
roars from speakers meant
to engineer brief intimacies
by forcing all to shout.

I order your favorite drink.
Ice tickles my throat.
Some woman eyes me,
turns to show her ass.
I do not nod acknowledgement--
you taught me “the look”
long after all my looks
were spent on you.

Defenses that I summon
are but transparent armor.
The world sees through them.
I can browse your pictures if I wish,
compress your beauty into two dimensions,
but it's not adequate. You are
the wild iris by the snow-lined creek,
the single raven in the Douglas fir.
Did you know they mate for life?
Married before, I never mated
until I met the perfect counterweight
to everything I'd ever said or lived
or what lay fallow in the palm of time's god.

Days snail on, I sit at my computer,
compose aches and travails, dying falls,
redwoods uprooted by a northwest storm,
rabbit fur on meadow, bits of polished clams
strewn on the shingle and the setting sun
that prisms the horizon yellow to violet.

And when night swallows Sol
in a great forest of stars, Auriga, Draco,
you wear them as a cloak.
I hide beneath it. If I undressed
you to reveal the void,
what I once was without you,
I see a man who quit his gods,
content to reason from an armchair.

Suspended like a star I burn for you.
Because of you I burn twice as bright.
Where are the Twins, my mother's sign?
North of Orion. If not lovers we would be
fraternal twins at least, inseparable.
Look--there is Cygnus, our swan-shaped carriage.
I kiss your quivering lips!

The distance between New York and here
dissolves to nothing. I would engulf
or be engulfed, merge truly without
loss of me, worship your velvet skin
with fingers trained for surgery,
wrap you in all the stars and planets,
undress you again.

Like many of my love poems, this came during Kathleen's absence in New York. Absence does indeed make the heart grow, if not fonder, then more acutely aware of its dependence on another object. I could not be fonder of Kathleen, or if I could, I mightily aspire to it.

I will say something about the book: The first edition, now on sale, has a minor flaw in it which will make it unique as soon as the second edition is printed. (My first book, "Elementary," originally priced at $14.95, now goes for $150 on the net. Thus my motto is, "You need not read my poetry. Consider it a hedge against inflation.")

I have nothing more to add or subtract unless it be everything I already said, which if added and subtracted amounts to the same thing, namely nothing. I hope you all had a good time on Valentine's with your goathide strips. We actually went to a big band swing dance.

Thine at 1 Kilobunny,


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Blog, New Poem

I was going to blog tonight but fear I expended my energy on this poem:

With My Dog in the Rain

Deer paths, thin passages
of hoof-flattened grass

sometimes widen into creeks
dividing the high brush

by which we follow, the dog
running circles around my

plodding subsidy to his energy,
down the slope to the stream,

riparian gully of sword ferns
and stunted birches with puffs

of pale lime moss. Follow to cliff
where water threads over,

carving through sand to surf.
Swells lift the ocean

in a parade of salt explosions
liquid tons thundering

against the jagged implacable
wall of sea-resisting rock

though wilting in time, soon gravel.
One cold rain drop splits my forehead

like chilled mercury, slips
between my eyebrows, sobers.

Meanwhile I continue to labor in the promotion of my book (see panels above) like a voice crying in the wilderness, subsisting on locusts and honey, like Atlas shouldering the world, like Sisyphus dueling the boulder up and down the hill. It is, btw, for your convenience, now available in paperback at

How they are able to offer it so cheaply and so soon I have no idea. But the hardback is a better deal, which you can find at Diminuendo Press.

Just because I've had a complete work published does not mean that I'm over poetry and have quit writing it. Quite the contrary, the closure of the book has released me to write more freely than ever, as this rough draft above may demonstrate. I suppose I will always be at heart a Nature poet, and I make no apologies about it. My relationship to the urban has always been to seek the triumph of the natural within it, as in polished beach glass born of littering or dandelions blooming in asphalt cracks, hawks nesting in glass towers. Here's a short example:

Found Park

Downtown in a paved lot
ringed by sagging chain-link
I found a dandelion forest
where purple stalks
over six feet tall
sprouted from asphalt ridges
roots buckled for the sun.
There wasn't a trace of dirt.

Their white seed filaments
looked tightly bunched
inside green trumpets
unlike the silver
hundred-legged spiders
that hover over lawns.
Their flowers were deeper yellow,
smaller and thicker,
plentiful as stars.

(published in Terrain)

In any case, the carved wooden Indonesian frog doctor on my desk advises me, with his hooded eye, that it is past my bedtime. So be it.

1 Kilobunny,


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Best of: ECT Failure

The following was written over a number of days. I see little merit in posting it, then I see little merit in anything these days. I am not just a depresso; I am an ECT failure. It doesn't get much worse than that, does it (excluding all the evils one can think of)?

3/12 How am I doing? I was tearful when I spoke with my shrink today; he added another medicine to my collection of wonder drugs that aren't working. He also encouraged me to seize any activity I can, which I'm already doing. In blogging right now, for instance, I'm hanging out at a mini-mall with wireless service, because it's better to be around people than to be alone.

Craig cries when trying to explain how he feels. Even the smallest task or decision can burden Craig with anxiety, which often requires relief through tears. Craig feels that life is a wasteland, a desert devoid of succor or employment, a vast blank canvas on which he leaves no mark. But he's better than when he first finished his ECT treatments. Marginally, at least.

How does one get stuck in an emotional hell for two years? And does the very use of the word “hell” mitigate against healing? Perhaps I should call my feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness and all the rest just a “persistent dysphoria,” instead of tagging the experience with a negative value judgment.

This is always a conundrum in depression; you must accept it as your present condition but not as your permanent condition, because you have known better. Thus you cannot accept your present mood as normal, though you must accept it as your present mood in order to take the sting out of the condition.

I know my mood isn't normal. How? Because I've had a life. And because I've recovered from previous depressions, though I'll admit each one takes a big chunk out of me and leaves a large scar behind.

The great fear is that I will be like this until I die. I couldn't face that. But if it turns out that way, I will have to face it, just not yet—there's always something else to try (like Kromart, an herb from Southeast Asia one reader recommended).

3/13 For four days I have been unable to blog beyond the desultory remarks above. I sat in front of my screen yesterday and had virtually nothing to say, so I posted nothing, having written the last part when I got home. I'm looking forward to getting a new laptop, possibly this week, as this Acer bottom-of-the-line model is always gobbling text, and the screen is so dim I fear I shall go blind if I continue to stare at it. I have to play with the angle of the display screen to read the writing for many programs on my desktop. I got this machine as a hand-me-down, and trust me, it ought to be handed further down. Most irritating is the wandering cursor effect, where I am typing text and suddenly, without warning, the cursor pops up in another part of the text and starts inscribing there. Also, at times, large blocks of text have been lost that were irrecoverable for reasons unknown.

I think I said something important last night to Kathleen, and although not the cause of my depression, it does form a nice backdrop. I have not worked as a doctor since late 1995 other than some brief volunteer work in Mexico which my back could not endure. The reason for my not working was bipolar disease and chronic spinal pain. I took advantage of my enforced sabbatical from medicine as an opportunity to pursue my dream of being a poet and writer. I can't say how hard I've worked at my dream; of course I could always have worked harder. But since 1996, when I recovered enough to begin writing, I have written two book-length manuscripts of short stories, one mystery novel, two books of opinion columns, a book on the major poems of T. S. Eliot and another book on general literary criticism and a book of theology on the Holy Spirit. So much for the prose, not my main feature. As for the poetry, my chief ambition, I had one book published by Mellen Press but have failed to interest any publisher in a second book. Yet I have certainly written enough poetry for three additional collections, in order: Sine Wave, Unexpected Light, and Wear Me Like a River. And in paging through my files, my records indicate that I have published over 600 poems since 1996. That's prolific. To give you a touchstone for comparison, Yeats' collected poems number less than 500. So for twelve years, pretty consistently, I have averaged 50 published poems a year, and this does not include the many columns and essays I published, along with some short fiction. (Fiction is my most difficult genre.) The most I've been paid for an individual poem during this time was $100; the most I was paid for a group of poems was $250. I used to be on the LA reading circuit but despaired of the quality at the open mic venues and quit that scene years ago.

It's been said that if you can pay for your postage as a poet, you are successful indeed. I've done much better than that. Yet I have not done well enough to be a “name,” to be a somebody in the literary universe, somebody an editor will consider closely before rejecting simply on the basis of his name.

It's time to take a good, hard look in the mirror. My thriller, The Abomination, I've been re-reading and I don't think it is of marketable quality. The book on Eliot ought to be published, it's well-done, but I haven't promoted it adequately. My unpublished books of poems I consider better than my only published one; each book gets better, IMHO, and the book of love poems could really achieve some success if someone would publish it. But I'm getting into too much detail here.

Simply said, if I look in the mirror, in pursuing my dream of being a poet, I have not succeeded. I have not succeeded to the extent I wanted to succeed, namely to be fairly well-known and desired at conferences and readings and so forth, and published in the leading journals.

Poetry is not the kind of work you can measure in hours. Inspiration comes when it comes; the mind must be ready to receive it. You cannot compare the work of a poet to the work of a doctor. They differ in kind, not just degree.

Here's the thought I'm trying to work myself up to: Craig, you have not succeeded as a poet despite ample time and a workmanlike effort, of which your publications speak. Maybe it's time to pack in this ambition and take up work “by the sweat of the brow” once more. There was a time writing did occupy you sufficiently to say you were working, but here in this two-year depression you can, perhaps, see the writing on the wall. It would be better for you to be engaged in an outside, worldly endeavor than to continue on your interior journey, which is bankrupt at present in any case. You're only 53. Do you want to go on not earning money until you're 65? Wouldn't involvement in the world benefit you biochemically? You've had a good run as a minor net poet, why not be happy with that? But is this the right thing to do, to shut down the full-time pursuit of my dream in the interest of participating in “reality?” Remember, before I became depressed, I used to take my writing work seriously. Now I've lost faith in my work as a writer. Now I suffer from the summer syndrome, “What's there to do, Mom?”

When I'm healthy there is usually no shortage of things for me to do, gainfully employed or not.

And here, again, we have the question of what's good for Craig and what Craig is good for. There are many fine family doctors equal to or better than I. Practicing medicine would not be a special calling for me. It's not that I want to return to medicine per se as that I want to do whatever I need to do to get out of the clutches of my depression. Perhaps I can scare up enough volunteer work, provided my back can endure it, to keep me involved in the world, without having to desert my artist's world entirely for Mammon's arena. I do not claim the following is a good poem, only reflective of this meditation:

The Poet Bids His Muse Farewell

With the grace of a cat
you have patrolled my shoulders,
clawing me when I failed to see
the nimbus around
the blue-faced turkey
or the pink algae
spread like a holy blanket
on the brown stream.
If only I could see
what you see!
But that would be surfeit,
as in a Van Gogh painting.
There can be too much light;
a man can only take so much.

You also inspire by connections
that make all exceptional!
Hurrah for our interconnectedness!
That last bird that sang, what was it?
A meadowlark! I knew you'd know
I never tire of his song
but you can tire of mine,
yes, you can tire of mine.

To sum up: I am depressed. I don't have enough to do and I don't have a car during the week, which limits my options. I don't believe in my writing anymore as a viable pursuit beyond a hobby, so the main thing that had justified my continued existence and slaked my Protestant thirst for productivity feels as if it has been disqualified. Obviously no one should feel sorry for me, if I have the time to do what I want but fail to believe in the thing I was doing. Most would consider that an extreme luxury. The irony is, it is my bipolar disease that makes such freedom possible (through my disability), while at the same time rendering me incapable of enjoying such freedom. What good is freedom if you are too depressed to take advantage of it?

When they handed out the happiness glow sticks there must have been a hole in my bag. It's getting hard for me to remember ever being happy, but I know I have been, most memorably when Kathleen and I fell in love. And I'm always “happy” to be published. And I'm “happy” to see my close friends, but now I am using “happy” as the cliche' it's become. What would it be like to have an unshakable self-love and self-acceptance? In that case it wouldn't matter if you watched TV all day, you'd still feel good about yourself. You would not be haunted by the specter of self-justification, of Protestant productivity What you did would be acceptable because of who you are, not what you have done. And that includes doing nothing.

All this is making my head hurt.

But are you one of the blessed who accepts yourself regardless of situation or performance, one who embraces and loves the inimitable you through all its incarnations? If you are there, write me, or better, direct me to your blog.

A point about religion: When I get desperate I want to imagine some divine healing from God, so I go to churches in a near psychotically expectant state. This naturally makes my mental illness worse, though even today I'm tempted to go to some healing service. What could it hurt?

When I don't get well, then I can add God to the list of things I have failed or have failed me, and I don't want to do that. I must hold on to something apart from my illness, and my intellectual faith in Christianity, however battered, remains. If you have joy in your type of faith, consider yourself blessed.

5 kilorats,


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Best of: After Ten Courses of ECT

Tuesday, March 4, my first full day back home from treatment in the Bay Area, my last ECT treatment having been performed on 2/29. Kathleen and I arrived on the Mendocino Coast yesterday in the early afternoon, whereupon I was confronted with our new rental, as yet in shambles. The disorder was challenging to say the least. Kathleen, God bless her, had tidied up the kitchen and the bathroom as well as put her own wardrobe away in the new guest bedroom, but working full-time and being burdened, even long distance, by a sick husband, she hadn't had time to really straighten out the house. Besides, there are some things she'd rather leave for me, like where to hang which pictures.

If I were in any other state I would have tolerated the disorder fine, but in my present state of near dissociation, after ECT therapy, I found the state of our belongings daunting. Annie Lamott wrote a book called “Bird by Bird” in which the chief metaphor is an overdue school report on birds. Near the last day of the family vacation, her brother bemoans the fact that he'll never get all the birds he wants into his report, now that the time is short. “How can I ever do it?” he asks his family, holding the huge bird book in desperation. “Why, bird by bird,” his father says, simplifying the problem. And indeed, if I look at the disorganization of our new rental and don't know where to begin, if I look around and can't tell which boxes to open and what possessions to discard or donate to Goodwill, I will be overwhelmed and paralyzed, unable to act. But if I take one small thing at a time, I can make steady progress until the whole enchilada is cooked.

Still, there are other impediments to my progress than procrastination. I feel a bit like Charlton Heston in “Planet of the Apes,” as it feels as if I have landed on a totally new planet. Because far from grounding me, as far as I can tell, the ECT treatments splintered my consciousness into even smaller quanta, so that I must gather my thoughts up like dust in a shaft of light and try to cup them in my palm before their relations to each other disappear. All my clothes look new and unfamiliar, although there is a strange familiarity about them, as if I had worn them in another life. Even Kathleen and my stepson, Derek, look slightly alien. The fact that I have “returned” to a place I have never lived before is unfortunate, as it only aggravates the feelings of unfamiliarity. The rental is indeed what we had been long seeking, a place of light with an ocean view, and now we have it and a flock of wild turkeys to boot. But having just been discharged from what I consider a failed course of 10 ECT treatments, I experience what are called “dissociative” symptoms, where familiar objects and persons seem strange, as in “derealization,” and I feel as an object acted upon, not a person with a will who can change his environment, as in “depersonalization.” I don't know what it's like for a brain-injured or stroke patient to go home, but it must be something similar. A whole movie has been based on this premise, “Regarding Henry,” with Harrison Ford.

What dissociative states mean to the patient is hard to say, but it is as if the observing ego has been sheared off from the experiencing ego, as happens in times of great stress as when a mother, for instance, lifts a car off of her trapped child (and afterwards needs treatment for vertebral fractures). It's as if someone else is doing, experiencing, acting in your stead and in some cases it can lead to multiple personalities, created to cope with specific stresses—as when a woman becomes seductive around her pastor to flex her sexual power but becomes a prude at home because of marital unrest, each personality critical of the other.

How badly did ECT damage my memory? I lost whole chunks of people, places and things. The most curious phenomenon was my loss of visual memory. Normally I have a rather eidetic or strong visual memory, so that when I think of a sock in my drawer, I see the drawer and the sock in my mind's eye, and where the dresser is located before I pick out the sock. But after ECT I couldn't see the dresser; I couldn't imagine many of the visual clues that help me approach life's details. The question, “Where is the sock?” no longer took me on a brief physical journey. I could imagine the sock itself and presume it to be in the drawer, but I couldn't actually follow my visual memory down the stairs to the dresser and the proper drawer. This is frightening at first, and is worst at the end of the treatments, but if the treatments did you no good, it is a steep price to pay.

No doubt the reader wonders whether the treatments are painful. They are not, as the anesthesiologist puts you under before the current is discharged. Afterwards there is the equivalent of a temporal headache bilaterally, like a bad tension headache. But there's also a larger feeling of having the furniture moved in the apartment of your mind. Songs began playing in my head that I hadn't heard in years, including a lot of Simon and Garfunkel, as in “Sounds of Silence,” eerily appropriate.

But the most aggravating side effect of treatment, in my case, was how my visual library of recollections had many of its connections cut. A familiar name would be mentioned, for instance, and I couldn't imagine the face. Someone might say, “Remember when we went to Yosemite?” and I couldn't picture Half Dome or Bridal Veil Falls--they were just terms without visual correlation in the slide show of my mind.

I didn't forget how to brush my teeth or other rudimentary habits, and I knew who my family is, even if I could not visualize them in my mind, and I could give consent to the treatment while it was going on. Some seven shocks into the treatment I complained that I was getting worse, I was now tearful before and after my induced convulsion. I mentioned that my previous treatment, in 1983, employed bilateral ECT, and the doctors seemed to panic and put me on bilateral ECT, as well as loading me down with so many meds at once it was hard to keep track. In one swell foop they added lithium at 1200 mg./day, another Wellbutrin 150 mg. at bedtime, an antipsychotic named Invega in the morning, a new antidepressant, Remeron, for bedtime, and another antidepressant of the sedating kind, Trazodone, as needed for sleep. These were in addition to the 80 mg. of Prozac and 300 mg. of Wellbutrin I was taking daily, along with the stimulant, Adderrall. Truly the doctors seemed to overreact to my criticism that the unilateral treatment wasn't working by switching me to bilateral and loading my gray matter down with all of these new drugs. It's as if they were throwing good drugs after bad, just to let it be said that they had left no stone unturned. Had they been treating a stone it might have been appropriate, but here I was, tearful before ECT and after ECT, and especially affected by the Invega, which dropped me into a severe trough. It was a soul-killing medication much like Haldol for me; I feel that both lower me into some demonic world where I was at the mercy of evil and could not think for myself. I have naturally stopped the Invega and Remeron as I plan to speak to my psychiatrist tomorrow.

How am I doing today? I'm fragile and sketchy and and tear up talking to Kathleen of Derek about minor things, particularly things that may demand some action on my part that I feel helpless to provide. Just because I burst into tears doesn't make me quit talking necessarily; we wait it out until I can catch my breath and then move on. But it is difficult to describe the extreme vulnerability you feel after a course of ECT; in many ways you feel like a newborn with a tabula rasa for a brain. There is a sense of caution about what you should allow into your mind and what you should studiously ignore. I would very much like a handbook for recovering from ECT, telling patients how their humanity can best be restored. For ECT is a blunt and cruel treatment, one that tosses the baby with the bathwater, at least as it's been practiced on me. I was desperate enough to seek the treatment this time but I would not seek it again, ever. It can reduce you to a quivering mass of jelly, an Alzheimer's patient desperately trying to make sense of his surroundings (in the acute phase). It ought to be reserved for desperate cases, like me. Too bad I have not responded to it, though its long term effects on me remain to be seen. But I am not sorry I did it; it was the old “Hail Mary” play of psychiatry. And though Mary may be full of grace, the treatment did not impart that grace to me. I am presently in recovery from treatment, my last one having been on Feb. 29 (also my sister's birthday, “Leap Day.”) Again, whether we will remember it as “The Great Leap Forward” or “The Great Leap Back” remains to be seen. Early reports are not encouraging.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Best of: In the Hospital; My first ECT Treatment

From 2/7/08, where hope was premature. In retrospect what surprises me is the persistent humor of this post while beginning ECT. Guess it's just my personality, but it has sort of a detective-voice detachment from the proceedings going on.

I was just rudely awakened at 5 AM from a pleasant dream where I was laughing in a bar with my brother. The dream also involved, without carnal coupling, a lovely young woman whom I knew was to replace my first wife. The nightmares of my first marriage recur from time to time, though my nightmares of being a doctor and medical student are more frequent when depressed—if I dream at all. I can't remember when I laughed in a dream.

The nurse took my pulse and her face registered displeasure because my pulse was only 48. She asked me if this was normal for me and I told her yes, that bradycardia was normal. It's funny that when I use medical terms with staff they are never curious about how I know them. I assume my slow pulse may be in part from my aerobic exercise, though I have fallen off of late. Still, swimming a mile within the last two weeks might have some lingering benefits. Else I am unlike the grandfather clock, and instead of keeping good time and coming to an abrupt end, I am slowly winding down. If only life were that gradual! Mine has always been composed of starts and stops; I've been either ahead or behind. What would it be like to have a life of gradual transitions, say get married at 30 instead of 19 and not already be a doctor and father times two at 25? I've always felt pushed by some invisible hand, propelled to excel, whether from anxiety and inferiority (most likely) or some innate property of my disease—I've always been in a hurry to get to the next step, even if the next step is undesirable. I have been the proverbial hare to the tortoise, and let me tell you, the tortoise, though slower, does a much better job at life, though not as well at E-Harmony.

After my vitals the nurse gave me a shot of Rubinol in my left upper ass. It didn't burn much but began to itch afterwards, slightly. She explained the drug was to dry my secretions and prevent nausea for the procedure. I'm sure that's what they told Soviet dissidents.

Afterwards came the hospital gown, a puzzle I'd never solved before. But in remembering how my wife puts on her bra, I tied it in front then took it off and reversed it. I was proud of myself for such a neat solution. Too bad the gown is designed for someone much smaller. If I don't get another one, more than my crack will be out in the breeze; the moon will likely be half full.

I didn't wake up crying today. One change, even before the procedure, is that glimmer of hope. I know I'm getting what I need and I hope never to find myself in a position again where I need ECT but cannot obtain it. Depression is a a severe brownout and full power needs to be restored.

Last night I watched a video for patients on ECT. Patients kept repeating how their memory was fine. I thought they'd never stop.

Actually the memory loss of ECT is consistent with the “post-ictal” phase of naturally occurring seizures. Memory of the procedure itself remains fuzzy not just because of the seizure but but because of the anesthesia. Long-term memory is not affected, but please don't ask me my date of birth.

My roommate, who had ECT in September of 2006 and is here for it again, is a pleasant fellow who resembles Jon Stewart. He was admitted after turning the gas on in his apartment at night. The only problem was that he had roommates, but no one was hurt. He now regrets that oversight. The ghost of Sylvia Plath must have been watching over him. Unlike her, he didn't stick his head in the oven but just let the gas run. That's certainly a sign of depression--the laziness in carrying out a procedure. When depressed, no matter how well you do, it is never right, so you often end up doing a shitty job out of despair. But that tendency can apply in general to a life like mine, always taking things too far in overcorrection. In second grade, for instance, I pushed the crayons so hard against the paper that they broke and the picture smeared. I marveled at he girls who colored so lightly and neatly. Maximum intensity of color was what I sought, maximum effect. The result was sloppy, I admit in retrospect, but it reflected my nature, just as my love of purple and red reflect my romance with the far limits of the spectrum, just as I was born manic-depressive.

Oh, and my MRI was “normal” except that I have sinusitis. Since I don't have any symptoms, I assume that is the effect of weeping too much and too frequently. Maybe the Rubinol will dry my sinuses out. It's certainly drying my tongue out as I write.

Dressed in one hospital gown but with the advantage of a pair of underwear to civilize the view of my posterior—(that's periphrasis, btw—“to cover my ass” would be better English), my escort arrived with the obligatory wheelchair to take me down to the dungeons, as most surgical theaters are located in the basement of hospitals. Why, I don't know. In case of war? Because you can't get any lower? For ease of a sterile environment? To best protect all the expensive equipment? One thing I do know. As we descended on the elevator to lowest floor the air became at least ten degrees cooler. The only thing colder is the morgue, and that's convenient since one can easily lead to the other.

The ECT staff was quite solicitous. They wrapped me in heated blankets. (I asked for a facial but there wasn't time.) They hooked me up to the monitors and I got to follow my pulse, oxygen saturation and blood pressure at my leisure. It wasn't Katie Couric in the morning but I don't much go for cuteness anyway. They also stuck oxygen prongs in my nose, which I found slightly uncomfortable, like snot freezing inside your nostrils on a very cold day.

The anesthesiologist and treating psychiatrist came by my bedside briefly to explain the procedure. The shrink was surprised, like all have been here, at the answer to “How long has it been since you had ECT?” “24 years.” The general consensus is that I had a good run, but the truth is that there were three times I could have used it since the initial treatment instead of fooling around with expensive pills. An ounce of electricity is worth a pound of medicine.

After my roommate emerged from the treatment room I was wheeled in on the bed. The ECT nurse put an oxygen mask to my face over the prongs, the usual hospital redundancy, just as I have been asked at least ten times since admission if I am diabetic. The anesthesiologist started an IV in my left arm while the psychiatrist fastened the rubber strap with large, steel electrodes around my head. Afterwards he took over holding the oxygen mask to my face, which he did so tightly I couldn't breathe (likely why he became a psychiatrist). I asked him to loosen it and he moved it so far away I don't know if it was doing any good. The idea is, I'm sure, that extra oxygen might prevent the death of brain cells. I know of no study to prove this but it seems like a nice precaution.

“Breathe deep four times,” the anesthesiologist said. I was hoping he'd say, “I'm going to inject you now and you will go to sleep in one... two... three... four seconds.” I like to know when my drugs are having their effects so I don't lose out on a new experience, but it was not to be. The next thing I knew I was recumbent and awake inside the recovery room, and the nurse said to me “It's over.” There are better words to utter to a depressive but I knew her intent. I couldn't count the times I've wished it were really “over!”

It seemed as if little or no time had passed when I awoke, though the return to consciousness was not as alacritous as from Diprivan, or “milk of amnesia,” which I recommend to all depressed persons as an excellent treatment (yet to be approved). After staying in recovery for a brief time I was wheeled back in the bed up to the ward on the third floor, I left the bed under my own power while a nurse hurriedly added a second gown to hide my posterior, despite the underwear. Then I was positioned in a large, blue vinyl chair facing the nursing station, along with my roommate, and served breakfast, though not the one I ordered, naturally. I turned in my choices yesterday but the hamburger of efficiency is sometimes slowly ground at a hospital. The nurses then observed us, presumably to make sure that we didn't choke on our food. I was in more danger of choking from the psychiatrist's heavy hand with the oxygen mask.

I felt tired and groggy but not mentally impaired--I remembered my new landlord's phone number to call him and my sister's as well. The retrieval of my sister's number, which I know so well, did take a little longer in my internal Googling, but I snagged it.

Supposedly I'll be discharged tomorrow and ECT will be continued next Tuesday, February 12. How I will stay amused between now and then will be my biggest challenge. The writing helps. Oh, and there's basketball to watch!



Monday, February 02, 2009

Best of, cont'd: 7 Kilorats and a Temporary Reprieve

In tracking stats from this blog I've noticed that my "Best of" posts are more popular than the current ones I intersperse in this ongoing review. Perhaps they are more interesting, or better written, I don't know. One thing is certain, however: Depression has a large audience, however terrible it may be, and in my writing about the experience I have granted relief to some, many who have written me privately. Also, we've now broached 2008, where I am finally delivered from a two-year depression. It doesn't get that good yet. Nevertheless, here are past testaments to the struggle.

From 1/2/08: 7 Kilorats

My mind is blank from crying. Crying empties the mind and exhausts the body; it is a blessing under normal circumstances but in my case more of a reflexive seizure. I cried through most of my appointment with my shrink today; I think I conveyed the sense of utter hopelessness I experience. I have withdrawn from my pain medication and am not drinking, the former at my suggestion and the latter at his insistence. Whether his insistence is enough for my resistance is another matter. I fear not drinking; how else can I numb my mind at night in order to watch basketball on television, literally the only time in my day when I feel almost neutral?

In my present state it is hard to stay on one task for any amount of time. I try to read but find myself reading the same paragraph over and over. I am blank. The pressure will heat up again, however, after my brain begins to castigate me for all my failures and derelictions until a lump rises in my throat and the faucets come on again.

I did manage to throw out the Christmas tree last night. Being just a local redwood sapling it was rather sparse, but it never shed a single needle while it was up. I threw it out from the deck out back, and we (stepson Derek and daughter Sarah) put our hands on it to transfer the past year's sins onto its innocent bark as a convenient scapegoat. Afterwords I launched it like a spear out into the woods where it will feed the nitrogen cycle.

I ran across a curious article today in which it was shown that men who cease religious activities are actually at lower risk for anxiety and depression, while women who cease religious activities are more likely to suffer from them. They think it might have to do with different social networking styles. I thought it funny in light of my discussion with friend Eric about Christianity and my depression. Religion is toxic for me in this state, something he has difficulty understanding.

Wait--that little possessive adjective ("my") is part of my problem --I want this to be your depression, too! I should not hog all its glory for myself; you, too, can help carry the burden. So if any of you wish to undertake this, please write me and I'll instruct you in the fine art of breakdowns. Chemistry aside, there are some ways to achieve depression without being born into the disease, but it takes a big commitment.

When you get as bad as I am now, the main survival tool is to accept your depression. Like a winter tree, think of yourself as dormant, not dead. Oh, you feel dead, you feel worse than dead. It's a living hell. No one has described it better than Jesus, who said of hell "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth," except that he left out the anxiety part. Simply put, the emotion of despair includes sadness, fear and anger, the anger usually self-directed. In psychiatric terms this constitutes dysphoria.

What surprises me about this depression has been its gradations; at times I can laugh, at other times not. Twice I had temporary responses to medications. In the past when the worm turned it was sudden and for a long time; I can remember distinctly noticing the beauty of a fern while hiking during another depression, and afterwards realizing that in that moment of aesthetic appreciation I had flipped out of my depression. Nothing had been beautiful up to that moment for the longest time. Suddenly I was well. This is why I don't get psychotherapy--it just makes the disease worse, since the complaints I bring to the therapist are mainly biological in nature. I wrote a poem about this once, below:

Glass Giraffe

When my soul was sanded so raw
the capillaries couldn't even seep,
I questioned the value of pain.
"You must experience your feelings of abandonment
until you are comfortable with them," you said.

When my suicidal doppelganger
turned me inside out, pulling my anus
through my mouth, you said,
"Now that you are stripped of defenses
you have a better chance of changing them."

When I called you up one weekend
to say I was terrified of inanimate objects
like doorknobs and tea kettles, you said,
"Stay with it. Globalized fear indicates
a necessary therapeutic regression."

Finally the antidepressants kicked in
and I felt like myself.
When I left you gave me another card
since therapy was “unfinished”
and I might be back
on your couch or another’s.

I gazed at your office figurines,
crystal leopards and pewter trolls,
porcelain ballerinas and kachina dolls,
and imagined the souls of all your patients
trapped inside them-- those, who like me,
sought relief through words
when only medicines would do.
I could have been the glass giraffe.

7 Kilorats,


From 1/7/08: A Temporary Reversal

A Pacific storm (note the oxymoron) has caused a power outage at our place for five days, typical for the Mendocino coast in winter. Thus I have not had an opportunity to blog since I last saw my doctor. And lo and behold! From the depths of darkness a medication adjustment has raised me back to the world of normality for five days now. I quit drinking any alcohol and insisted going off of my long-acting oral morphine for my chronic disk pain, as either of these could possibly be contributing factors to my unresponsiveness. And in tears, telling my doctor what method of suicide I'd prefer while promising no intent, I said, "Can't we try a stimulant?" So, the doctor put me back on Abilify, which had stopped working, and added Adderall, a mixture of amphetamine salts. I took them the same day and felt better immediately. But what do I mean by better?

My depressive thoughts quit circling like sharks in the aquarium of my mind; my body felt normal, with normal energy; I had hope, I began to think of future plans; my crying spells stopped--just like that! Amazing. My fear is, of course, that this new cocktail, like the two others that worked then ceased working, will cease working as well, or that I'll develop tolerance. Or something. But maybe, just maybe, the third time is a charm.

It's a strange sensation, however, for one's body and brain to feel normal while the memory of the last nineteen months of horror remains in the center of my chest like a rubble-lined pit from a nuclear blast, my heart being ground zero.

My last post was signed with seven kilorats. That's the highest I've recorded in this blog, though I've been lower than that in previous depressions. I feel almost plastic in a way, the mood switch being so sudden and my heart still dragging behind me like an anchor. I am aware of the former emptiness in my chest but do not acutely experience it; my unutterable sadness suddenly feels like a phantom limb.

Suddenly the idea of a God of love seems imaginable to me. My religious torment has lifted. And in thinking of my correspondence with my Christian friend, I have to confess before God and man: My disease is more important to me than my religion. I can't help it. If my disease is not controlled I can't do faith except in a hollow intellectual sense. I can't pretend to be more virtuous than this.

As a man dying of thirst thinks only of water, so the severely depressed thinks only of annihilation, of an end; he is beyond hope of getting better but determined, at least in my case, not to kill himself because he remembers, as through a fog, recovering from previous depressions.

One thing I did to mark this miracle was to reverse my garuda. A garuda is an Indonesian mask carved in the form of an eagle-faced gargoyle, said to be the eagle who is the mount of the god, Vishnu, in the Hindu pantheon. It is meant to keep evil spirits out of a household. But I had hung it above my front door facing inwards when we moved into our new place on April 1, 2006, the day my depression began. As a visible sign of improvement, as an incarnation of hope, I have now hung the garuda on the wall facing the door. Now he looks out at the world and protects me and mine.

What was best about this change is that my daughter, Sarah, was visiting from LA and near the end of her stay she got her Papa back! And Kathleen got her Craig back. And I have myself back, though it will take time for me to trust the sensation of being me.

For those interested in a longer meditation on brain chemistry and personality, I recommend Listening to Prozac. We are all much more chemical than otherwise. If you were spared the gene for this devastating illness, you could never give proper thanks for not having it--and I am glad for you. If you suffer, all I can say is: hold on and keep seeking help. That's all I've done.

I'm tempted to sign this "kiloneutral" but am afraid to make such a claim for so short a period of recovery. Let us hold today's labeling in abeyance.



Unexpected Light

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