Tuesday, July 31, 2012

This Closeted Life

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

This Closeted Life

Birmingham to Atlanta is a familiar drive for me. Atlanta is the largest city in the southeast, home to roller coasters, water parks, sporting events, music shows, independent film showings, art exhibits, and other sites and sounds. Before I could even legally get behind the wheel, I was shuttled back and forth from one city to the other. When I was an undergrad, I went to Atlanta for other reasons.

Atlanta is known as The Queer Mecca of the Southeast. Midtown is the official gay district, marked by requisite rainbow flags and gay-friendly businesses. I came there for sex, plainly put. Birmingham’s out gay community was extremely small. Most men I knew kept company with a circle of associates who they had slept with, dated, or both. I didn’t want anyone to know my business, so I went elsewhere.

In Atlanta, I could have at least some anonymity. Finding a male sexual partner is not especially difficult. Holding out for something better is a different matter altogether. Standards, or lack of standards make all the difference. On occasion, I frequented a gay club or two, though I found the atmosphere overwhelming and the people who frequented such places often shallow and uninteresting.

Often I did my communication online, showing up at an apartment at a prearranged time. I didn’t want to develop feelings for anyone and I was never asked to do so. Men, I have found, have less an issue with one-night-stands or short-term couplings. Sympathetic men have tried to win my affections in times gone by, but, to me, having a boyfriend always felt like entrapment. I recognized those feelings for what they were. Regardless of how I may have received them, they were mine.

Once, I made plans to share the bedroom of two men, a couple. They maintained an open relationship. One partner, the most aggressive of the two, enjoyed this arrangement considerably. His partner was very meek and mild, and would later look jealously upon me when his boyfriend showed me more attention. I imagine he acted this way regardless of the company. I felt for him, because I recognized that he was a cutter. His stomach and legs bore many scars. I could barely stand to look at them without wincing.

Whether I intended to or not, I seemed to cross paths with people who had emotional problems of one form or another. At that time, I felt that only other people with similar personal demons could understand me. I felt particularly unlovable and misunderstood. Though I didn’t know it then, the relationship I’d walked into was in trouble and had been for a long time. Three months later, the two would go their separate ways. But for now, they were at least attempting to stay together.

Upon arrival and introductory conversation, I learned I couldn’t completely escape Birmingham. My hosts knew a particular person from back home who I crossed paths with on occasion. The more physically powerful of the two drew an immediate contrast. He described himself as “the bad gay” and the person in question as “the good gay.” I would soon learn precisely what was meant by that.

I received hickeys and carpet burns for my trouble. The hickeys were especially difficult to explain away to those not in on the open secret of my sexual orientation. My college friends mostly knew and needed no further clarification. I’d only recently spent one whole poetry writing workshop producing work after work about the act of coming out, and with it general self-acceptance. Now I view that period as overkill and excessive, but on one level I had to process and come to terms with this eventually.

I woke up the next morning to an interesting sight, to say the least. The men were rather energetically having sex with each other. The initiator of the act seemed to take a keen interest in my watching him. He smiled as I gazed at the proceedings. I think he fancied himself something of an amateur porn star or an exhibitionist. All of this took place only a few feet away from where I’d collapsed early in the morning. I couldn’t help but take in what was happening only a short distance away.  

The other involved party seemed as though he would rather still be asleep. Early morning sex like this apparently was the norm, and he appeared to have accepted the practice, albeit with some reluctance. I knew I wasn’t the first man to be presented a front row seat. The partner currently dictating terms and very much in control would be with a new man every day if he could manage it. This was showing off, to him. He’d suggested we watch pornography together the night before, but was the only person interested in it.  

I, however, had reached my limit. After showering, I left for home. I remember that I made the drive in complete silence. Processing what I’d just experienced took a long time. I felt torn between pleasure and total disgust. This was why I usually drugged myself up a little before taking a man to bed. Tranquilizers were my best friend. As uncomfortable as I felt, I kept coming back, over and over again.

I’ve forgotten the names and many of the faces now. This was a conscious decision on my part. I had a sexual need; they fulfilled it. As I vacated the premise, inevitably many of them used the same phrase. You can call me anytime. Come back whenever you want. I never took them up on the offer. I was too busy on my way to someone new.

Butchie's Tune

Don't give me a place
for my memories to stay
Don't show me an end
or a light to find the way

I ain't got time
for the things on your mind

And I'm leaving you today
On my way

Please don't you cry
when the time to part has come

It's not for what you've said
or anything that you've done
I've got to go anywhere any time

And I'm leaving, gone today
On my way
I'm going home

Please don't stick around to see
me when I'm feeling low
Don't pass the cards to me
to deal the crushing blow

I'll even close the door
so you won't see me go

When I'm leaving, gone today
I'm on my way

I'll walk away like
a shadow in the night
I won't give cause for you
to feel we have to fight

I'll make it easy so
that you won't really - quite

Know I'm leaving you today
On my way
And now I'm going.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Band Aids

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Band Aids

In middle school, one had the option of signing up for band, choir, or a rotating schedule of different electives. Though I had a strong voice, I always found the arrangements that choral members had to sing extremely silly and hackneyed. None of the electives offered seemed especially interesting. I didn’t care much for art class or whatever home economics had been renamed. 
My decision had been made a couple years prior, though I didn’t know it then. Precocious as always, I’d watched a PBS documentary on 19th Century superstar John Phillip Sousa late one night. Instantly fascinated by the music and its construction, I scoured the local record store for a cassette tape of Sousa marches. They had approximately one in stock.

For months, my parents and siblings were forced to listen to the same military march recordings on car trips. My mother, exasperated, eventually put an end to the practice. I nonetheless would retain a lasting interest. Though I knew little to nothing about what band entailed, I was eager to challenge myself and do something different.

The first week of seventh grade band practice established what instrument one would play. Everyone went through the same process. First, I was handed the mouth piece of a trumpet, to see if I could buzz my lips well enough to produce the desired sound. I could not. Next, I was given a clarinet's mouthpiece to see if I could manage the wooden reed without producing atonal squeaking and squawking. Again, I could not.

Those unable to play brass or woodwind instruments were consigned to percussion. In some ways, percussion was the holding pen for the untalented and uncommitted. But in the meantime, I was given a rhythm test, which I passed with flying colors, missing a perfect score by only one point. I would be a snare drummer, and with time, a first chair snare drummer. I’m afraid I wasn’t always able to enjoy the distinction.

The others in my section were the hyperactive, nihilistic kinds. They weren’t especially interested in achievement, but they surely did enjoy breaking things. While the director was busy working on a particularly exacting section of a piece with the rest of the band, two of my fellow percussionists decided to completely destroy a cymbal. Eventually they managed a large crack by repeatedly bashing it with drumsticks.

They would also destroy their practice pads with time, large black plastic inventions that, when laid across the head of the drum, muffled the sound. Theoretically, they enabled one to practice in places where one needed to be quiet and understated, rather than prominent. Resorting once again to their favored tool of destruction, drumsticks were used to gash slits into the edges of the pad. Eventually, the whole thing came apart in a series of slashing rips, leaving behind only the solid, heavy center.

They were all snotty, rebellious, and cliquey. I was never going to be one of them, but I was their most convenient and frequent target. I was, without meaning to be, the goody-two-shoes of the drum section. Quickly, I learned how to read rhythm well and to understand the notation. Because they play no musical notes, percussionists only learn half of what a trombonist, for example, has to commit to memory.

Other percussionists had no such drive, and inevitably played the least challenging parts, often on the bass drum. In some sections of the band, there was competition for first chair, but not here. I was the only person who honestly cared, and that made me first chair by default. Sometimes I felt like the long-suffering mother, because I made copies for every one of the songs we tackled during daily practice. They’d never do these sorts of things for themselves.

Until then, I’d never been picked on and bullied more than occasionally. An easy target, due to my work ethic, I was subject to ridicule during every band class. The clothes I wore were mocked, as was my eagerness to follow the rules. Because I was already inclined to beat myself up with frequency, due to the anxiety disorder, their words only reinforced the way I felt about myself. It would get better, but not for a while.

The conductor was a woman of middle age who had no patience for idle chit-chat. Her job required her to manage hyperactive young teenagers and she always seemed at the absolute end of her rope. She constantly repeated the same phrase: Please stop talking! I wish she’d been more attentive to what was going on at the back of the room, where eight drummers sat, their drum kits set up and adjusted to the desired height.

Had I not experienced rough treatment at an earlier time in life, this aggressive bullying would have been more traumatic. I had been initiated into a culture of violence and no longer questioned why I’d receive abuse like this. These sorts of things had to be endured, like it or not, which was why I didn’t speak up at the time. If I had, I knew that they’d retaliate, which would only make it worse. I decided that ignoring them outright was the best strategy.

As children, we repeated the same nursery rhymes, the ones dusted off and reintroduced by every generation. Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I know I voiced that old saying a time or two in childhood. But I was only trying to comfort myself. Words do hurt and not just a little, either. I was told later to excuse this psychological abuse as idle teasing, this by the perpetrators. No one should be forced to play the role of punching bag for any reason, regardless of how it is justified.

I suppose what I never understood is why I was such a compulsive interest to them. Nothing about who they were or what they believed was appealing to me in the least. They were all too often the problem kids, the ones summoned shortly after lunch to the nurse’s station, so that they might take their Ritalin. Did they envy me somehow? If they did, that was news to me.

Whatever their motives were, they themselves and their attitudes remained mysterious and incomprehensible. One or two became borderline criminals later in life, or at least total losers. The most persistently hurtful one has gained so much weight that he now looks like an ogre. He’s never really gotten his life together and has served time in jail. The one woman in the group at the end of the year at least tried to excuse her behavior inside the pages of my year book. You knew I was just kidding, right? It certainly didn’t feel like kidding.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Quote of the Week

"If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people."- Virginia Woolfe

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Friday, July 27, 2012

Picture from AADP Event

Myself and Mark Pinsky, the author of the book. The hyperthyroidism makes me look a little swollen.

Disabled Persons Deserve Better

Yesterday, the American Association of Disabled Persons (AADP) celebrated the 22nd  Anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, the sweeping legislation dramatically increased accommodations for the disabled. Alongside the celebration was an awards ceremony, whereby the AADP recognized several people for their work to further the cause.

The event was held at the Cannon House Office Building across from the Capitol. Three flights up is the Cannon Caucus Room. An ornate, high-ceilinged affair, the room was most famously used for some of the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950’s. I half expected for someone to ask: Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

Veteran religion writer Mark Pinsky was presented the 2012 Justice for All award for his most recent book. Entitled Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability, and Inclusion, the work tells the stories of over sixty people of faith that have struggled in a world that has little patience and understanding for those who are not able-bodied. My own personal narrative comprises one section of the book; my written words feature prominently in the account. Because of this, I was invited to the ceremony in support of the author. He took great pains to compile stories like mine into one volume, showing a wide spectrum of disability. 

What I observed was not what I expected. What I was privy to was, for all intents and purposes, a partisan pep rally. Only Washington political culture would invent awards to give to people for the sake of giving awards. As prominent figures walked to the podium one by one, I heard mainly self-aggrandizing talk. Washingtonese was the preferred language. Speakers used the lingo and shorthand of a very small, exclusive club where everyone had known each other for years. Bills past and currently under consideration were mentioned as though everyone in room knew of their existence and stated purpose.

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, and Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina all accepted awards. Each gave a mercifully brief speech. While I heard each speak, I heard lots of excessive self-congratulation and masturbatory commentary. Humility would have been appreciated. Beyond noting lifetime achievement, it was difficult to say why the work of these men needed to be commemorated once again. All three said the right things when it came their turn to speak, but there was a pronounced lack of substance and specificity to what was said.

The gathering took extra effort to define itself as non-partisan, but speakers took pot shots at Republicans for not being amendable to a spirit of partisan cooperation. The ideological makeup of the organization begs an important question. Are Democrats the only legislators and party who care about disability rights? Even with this important distinction, the only politicians who made their way to the podium were staunch Democrats and long-time Washington insiders. They were establishment players, thoroughly dyed in the wool. Most who spoke had made politics their primary career. 

In substantial contrast, Mark Pinsky came to the podium and humbly told of life on the outside, beyond the echo of marble hallways. He mentioned being arrested only a few blocks away for protesting the Vietnam War and fighting for social justice as a young man. He noted that he’d, more recently, participated in the Occupy movement, even when he believed he might be too old to take to the streets once again. The suits wanted to talk about the esoterica of legislation from twenty years before and the important figures they’d known. As is often true, a total disconnect was on prominent display.

AADP’s current goal is to impress to companies the importance of hiring disabled workers. I would have loved to hear some specifics about implementation, but received none. Some might have said that this occasion was not the time or place for an in-depth discussion, but I’ve grown tired of navel gazing Washington politics. Forgive me my skepticism, but I’ve struggled with disability my whole life. Hiring practices have been a severe impediment. I’ve drifted from dysfunctional workplace to dysfunctional workplace because these were the only companies willing to hire me.

One prominent speaker was the CEO of a company who had consented to put more disabled persons on its payroll. As was true with much that I heard, it all sounded impressive. Had I been able to pose a question to him, I’d have asked how he intended to pull this unprecedented challenge off with high unemployment, when even those who do not have significant limiting factors still can’t find jobs. Like any other minority, minority interests are usually the first to be shoved aside while citing the importance of the bottom line.

I’m not the first person to find Washington politics a clubby, incestuous business. Many Americans are inherently cynical on this prescient point, often for good reason. In living here in Washington, DC, for four years, I’ve seen how small and exclusive is the legislative branch. The halls of power, regardless of how seriously its residents take themselves, remind me more of a graduate seminar, or a kind of fraternity or sorority.

If the entire establishment would really seek to look beyond its tunnel vision and need for constant validation and affirmation, reform wouldn’t be paid lip service. Does Congress have such low self-esteem that it needs to be constantly patted on the back? The rights of the disabled are important, but with the current system intact, I’m often surprised much of anything gets done.      

Thursday, July 26, 2012


A goddess on a mountain top
Was burning like a silver flame
A summit of beauty and love
And Venus was her name

She's got it, yeah baby, she's got it
I'm your Venus, I'm your fire, at your desire
Well, I'm your Venus, I'm your fire, at your desire

Her weapons were her crystal eyes
Making every man mad
Black as the dark night she was
Got what no one else had

She's got it, yeah baby, she's got it
I'm your Venus, I'm your fire, at your desire
Well, I'm your Venus, I'm your fire, at your desire

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Change of Priorities

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

A Change of Priorities

Parts of college and grad school run together and cannot be easily separated in my mind. I finished up my undergraduate degree in May, then immediately began applying for schools where I might obtain my Master's. I wanted to be a college professor of history. Schoolwork had often come easily to me. I was a good student and thought pursuing a career where perpetual academic studies were an understood part of the deal would work for me.

Applying to schools is time-consuming and expensive. Every school requires its own particularly lengthy paper trail, a fee for processing one’s application, and requisite letters of recommendation from professors. Because of frequent hospitalization and illness, I’d ended up with an overall B average. This eliminated me completely from the most selective schools, so I decided to apply to three or four out of state public universities.

A primary motive was to escape Alabama, hopefully forever. I very nearly was accepted at the University of Maryland, but was eliminated at the last stage. No other university bothered to reply back. My adviser tried every way he could to dissuade me from taking this course of action. His main argument was that I’d toil in poverty for years until finding gainful employment. If my own daughter wanted to follow in my footsteps, I would have her disowned. Strong words.

As it turns out, the only school that accepted me was UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham), where I'd just received my Bachelor's. This was a blow to my self-esteem, not to mention a huge disappointment. But, I accepted my fate, eventually. I told myself that this would only be temporary, and that I’d excel enough to win my way into a doctoral program elsewhere.

I’d become a heavy user of marijuana starting my senior year of undergrad. The classes were more challenging and required a greater focus. I believed I needed it to be able to receive passing grades, especially in the math and science courses that plagued me my whole life. Left-brained studies have always perplexed me. Mathematical formulas always read to me like a foreign language. Pot made me worry less about the outside world and turned more of my focus inward.

I know now that marijuana was probably the worst thing I could have done for myself. Not only did it prevent my psychiatric medications from working properly, it eventually deepened depression and heightened mania. It is darkly amusing to think about all the steps I took to avoid detection, when I’m certain my habit was probably plainly evident to everyone. Not only did I reek of it, the legs of my pants were often littered with ash and remnants of joints rolled and smoked.

Grad school was intellectually taxing and fun. For the first time, I was being fully challenged, implored to push myself to the very limits of my abilities. In several classes, I was one of the youngest enrolled. Unlike the other places to which I’d applied, older adults returning to school for additional education comprised the majority of each class. This pushed me even further.

Of course, I was stoned every class, all day long. I rolled several joints in the morning, and kept one tucked in among the tobacco cigarettes that had been a daily part of my life since the age of fifteen. Pot had become a reward for me. After a competitive seminar, I told myself that I deserved to partake. The instant I reached my car in the parking lot, the process began anew.

The second semester was where the wheels began to come off of the bus. My behavior went from eccentric to highly erratic. Much of it was excused in the beginning, because people acknowledged my intelligence and contribution to group discussion. As is true with many graduate level programs, I took classes with the same ten to fifteen people. And yet, in many ways, we were sometimes strangers to each other, often fighting to make the most pertinent insight, to reach the most prescient conclusion.

By the end, my thinking became so off-kilter that I was unable to complete assignments. I’d started out the semester manic, but the frequency of marijuana usage began to push me into depression. What I’d thought was the answer to my problems only began to create new ones. I wish others would have been proactive in urging me to seek treatment, but they did not intervene.

After all, it’s not uncommon to find eccentricity among professors. Strange behavior can be excused if creative output and basic functionality doesn’t suffer. Even so, I still wish someone had reached out and confronted me. I might have managed to avoid the pain and humiliation of another episode. When I emerged, emotionally stable, some months later, I have to admit that my first impulse was to bury my face in my hands. Not again.

I began to question whether I really wanted to be a college professor. If I had the psychological and physical stamina, I knew it would be difficult to find a job. Adjunct professors are paid slave wages and have no job security. Attaining a tenure track spot with my less-than-elite credentials would have had me taking one of the few positions available. I saw myself eight years down the road, accepting a position at a small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere.

I’ve always been a city person. Taking a job like that would be a step sideways, if not a step back for my life goals. Making lots of money was never an especially high priority, but I admit I wanted to teach students with a more urban, less small town perspective. In the process of recovering my health, I began to seriously second-guess myself.

Did I really want to keep company with primarily undergraduate students for an entire career? I remember how my professors lived to teach graduate-level courses, because they could fully branch out and spread their wings. I wanted to spend my life around adults. To this day, I’ve often been in search of good mentors, people older and wiser than myself. Though there will always be a need for competent instructors to guide young adults, I determined that I was not one of them.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More Shameless Self-Promotion

I am sometimes disinclined to fully promote myself, but I'll go against my instincts here.

From the book's website:

Praise for the Book

Amazing Gifts is a rare book. Many of the stories in it brought a tear to my eye, a smile to my lips, and buoyed my heart with examples of the creativity and goodness of people. Above all, it is practical book offering concrete examples of how we all benefit from making our religious communities more inclusive and how any one of us can take effective action for inclusiveness.”
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Director Social Justice Organizing Program, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

“This is a remarkable book, as practical as it is inspirational! As a local church pastor, I need to learn from the examples of other faith communities and the personal stories of inclusion. Thank you for touching my ministry and heart with a guidebook on real love in action!”
Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor, Northland—A Church Distributed

Below is a link to the book. Should you wish to purchase it, there are three separate e-book options from which to choose. Or, you can buy the old-fashioned type.


To learn more about the author, follow this link.


Shameless Self-Promotion

Around six months ago, a book entitled Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability, and Inclusion was published by the Alban Institute. Compiled by veteran religion writer Mark Pinsky, the manuscript contains the contributions of people of many faiths and houses of worship. In it, I represent not just the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), but The Friends Meeting of Washington (DC).

This Thursday, Mark will receive an award from the American Association of People with Disabilities here in Washington. I will be in attendance. This will also serve as the first time I've met Mark in person; the process of correspondence and written work between the two of us was all done online.

As I said at the time of publication, I am grateful for the opportunity to tell my story. Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes. My account examines bipolar disorder, but several other chronic illnesses are equally represented within the pages of the book.

My primary motive is to reduce the stigma of mental illness, but I also recognize that my fate is intertwined with all who are disabled, regardless of the form that disability might take. Reading the finished product showed me that my personal experiences were not unique, though nevertheless everyone's account was distinct and meaningful.

Gotta Get Up

Dedicated to all the workaholics out there.

Gotta get up, gotta get out
gotta get home
before the mornin' comes.

What if I'm late? Got a big date,
gotta get home before the sun comes up.

Up and away, got a big day,
sorry can't stay, I gotta run, run, yeah.

Gotta get home, pick up the phone,
gotta let the people know I'm gonna be late.

There was a time when we could dance
until a quarter to ten.
We never thought it would end then,
we never thought it would end.

We used to carry on and drink
and do the rock and roll.
We never thought we get older
We'd never thought we'd grow cold

but now

Gotta get up, gotta get out
gotta get home
before the mornin' comes.

What if I'm late? Got a big date,
gotta get home before the sun comes up.

Up and away, got a big day,
sorry can't stay, I gotta run, run, yeah.

Down by the sea she knew
a sailor who had been to war.
She never even knew a sailor before,
she never even knew his name.

He'd come to town and he would pound her
for a couple of days
And then he'd sail across
the bubbly waves and those

And those were happier days, but now

Gotta get up, gotta get out
gotta get home
before the mornin' comes.

What if I'm late? Got a big date,
gotta get home before the sun comes up.

Up and away, got a big day,
sorry can't stay, I gotta run, run, yeah.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

My youngest sister contributed to the manuscript and this is, in part, my response to what she wrote.


I’ve never felt especially close to either of my sisters. I am the oldest of three. Each of us came out of the womb distinctly different personalities. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that this is not uncommon. In fact, sibling relationships take forms like these for most people to whom I speak. Having a close relationship with a brother or sister may be desired, but it is seldom realized.

My sister Melissa had her own path to pursue. Early on, she’d always tried to hang around my friends, often in place of her own. A tomboy, this was hardly surprising. She wanted to be around all the boys. But I usually thought of her as a burr stuck to my socks, or a fly to shoo. Before long, she would push away and form her own identity. Melissa was the middle child, a born rebel.

Sara was much younger than me, quiet and reserved. I admit I never understood her compulsion for reticence, nor do I today. We’d been raised by a father and by a family who took a no-nonsense approach to solving problems. Details were to brought to the surface immediately, then swiftly analyzed. Better to come clean with everything all at once, then have done with it. It’s still what I believe.

I am, I admit, not especially tolerant of people who are not willing to vocalize their internal issues. This form of growth and development, in my opinion, are both integral parts of mental health and personal happiness. In the city of Washington, DC, and at my Quaker Meeting, I’ve routinely run across people whose introversion gives them an unintended degree of secrecy and mystery.

Once a successful dialogue is opened, I’ve found that these sorts of folks have a rich inner life to share. I’ve even wondered if there was anything I might do to pull these people out of themselves. A cultural bias exists against those who are not reasonably gregarious or socially inclined. Though I can be a very shy person, I have run across many people who are much more reserved than I’ll ever be.

I’ve never believed that my own inward focus made me a selfish person. Instead I’d use words like neurotic, anxious, needy, and to put it another way, consumed with my own troubles. Both of my siblings had the misfortune of having to be present during times where I was ailing and in terrible agony. I wish they hadn’t seen, heard, and experienced what they did, but fortunately those days are over.

As I’ve been contemplating the whole of my life, I recognized early on that I was going to have to look beyond my family for solace and companionship. When a little girl, my sister Melissa held a romantic fantasy, fostered by reading books, that a brother and sister were supposed to be the best of friends. Before long, she recognized her imagined view was not realistic, but it clearly caused her emotional anguish to accept.

The age difference that separated Sara and me was fairly vast. We were nearly seven years apart, almost a whole generation. As I hear her talk or see her interact with others, I recognize how much of a Millennial she is. Sara is part of the Internet generation, the cell phone generation, and I’m beholden to a different time and a very different perspective towards life. To her, the 1980’s are an abstraction. She was still a child during the 1990’s, an extremely formative period for me.

Melissa and I are more or less contemporaries, two and a half years apart, but that fact doesn’t pull us any closer together. By the time she was in middle school, she sold into what was then called, without irony, the alternative ethos. Her friends were appropriately sullen, disaffected, and angsty. She experimented with drugs long before I did. Melissa developed a fondness for tattoo ink over time, much to the dismay of my parents. Seeking the new bohemian promised land, Melissa eventually left Birmingham for Portland, Oregon, her spiritual homeland.

After years of bitterness and enmity, Melissa and I have resumed cordial communication. We’ll always be a little distant, but pleasant to each other. I can’t say that at any time I’ve ever thought to myself, I really need to start hanging out with Melissa more, or Sara more. I found their friends and relationship partners many times just as confusing as they themselves were.

Outsiders have noted this same thing, this wild variance in personality traits, and pointed it out on multiple occasions. They’ve wondered how three people with the same biological father and mother could be so dissimilar to one another.

I have my own life, my own friends, my own city to call home. If the three of us were to inhabit the same city again, as we did for many years, I’m sure we’d set up different residences and form wholly different identities. Sara’s basic personality is that of a caretaker. I see that now. But, in this instance, societal hierarchies and boundaries separating older siblings and younger siblings keep us largely strangers to ourselves.

And I’m okay with that. I love Melissa and Sara dearly, but I do believe it is our fate to pave our own paths. Mine will be forever shaped by the multiple chronic illnesses that have caused considerable complications. The stories shared in this book demonstrate the life of the manic depressive. In support groups of which I’ve been a part, anecdotes like mine are the norm. My sisters always played the role of the innocent bystander, and this is how I remember them most in the trying times.                  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Quote of the Week

"Women have been and are prejudiced, narrow minded, reactionary, even violent. Some women. They, of course, have a right to vote and a right to run for office. I will defend that right, but I will not support them or vote for them."- Bella Abzug

Saturday Video

My daddy was the family bassman
My mamma was an engineer
And I was born one dark gray mornin'
With music coming in my ears
In my ears.

They call me Baby Driver
And once upon a pair of wheels
Hit the road and I'm gone
What's my number?
I wonder how your engine feels.

Ba ba ba ba
Scoot down the road
What's my number?
I wonder how your engine feels.

My daddy was a prominent frogman
My mamma's in the naval reserve
When I was young I carried a gun
But I never got the chance to serve
I did not serve.

My daddy got a big promotion
My mamma got a raise in pay
There's no-one home, we're all alone
Oh, come to my room and play
Yes, we can play.

I'm not talking about your pigtails
But I'm talking 'bout your sex appeal
Hit the road and I'm gone
What's my number?

I wonder how your engine feels.
Ba ba ba ba
Scoot down the road
What's my number?

I wonder how your engine feels.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Just What I Needed

I don't mind you coming here
And wasting all my time
'cause when you're standing oh so near
I kinda lose my mind

It's not the perfume that you wear
It's not the ribbons in your hair
I don't mind you coming here
And wasting all my time

I don't mind you hanging out
And talking in your sleep
It doesn't matter where you've been
As long as it was deep

You always knew to wear it well
You look so fine, see I can tell
I don't mind you hanging out
And talking in your sleep

I guess you're just what I needed
I needed someone to feed
I guess you're just what I needed
I needed someone to bleed

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Health Update

I've been diagnosed with subclinical hypethyroidism. As a result, I've been feeling very physically weak. My normal exercise routine has had to be momentarily set aside. I simply don't have the energy. Part of my happiness is tied closely to productivity and I haven't been as productive as I'd like. I'm amazed I've been able to accomplish all that I have on sheer force of will alone.

Subclinical hyperthyroidism occurs when there is too much thyroid hormone in the body. Beyond a low level of TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) in my body, I'm not sure of the other parameters at play. An additional round of tests was conducted Wednesday. I expect the results sometime today.

Until then, I'm returning to bed to rest.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball


As I think back, I see the tell-tell signs of mania in places and times I never acknowledged then. Mania often brought out a side of me that some might consider sleazy. My on-again, off-again girlfriend had a similar predilection towards risk-seeking behavior, one likely encouraged by her best friend’s self-destructive lifestyle. An aspect of danger has been very attractive to me at times. In the proper circumstances, we may all feel the same sway, the same tug to break the rules. I just took it to another level.

According to my research, a one-time encounter with escort cost $300. I usually never spent this much for anything, but I was curious to experience it for myself. My opinions of sex work were influenced by stories of soldiers visiting prostitutes in wartime, or of inexperienced young men having their first sexual experience in this way. I’m afraid I had a rather incorrect, gauzy sort of concept of the whole thing. Regardless of what I may have believed, the actual experience could not have been anticipated.

Though what I was about to do was a misdemeanor offense, I didn’t feel especially afraid of the potential consequences. If the legality was that much of an issue, then why were escort services allowed to advertise in the yellow pages? My eye scanned to one listing out of several, then I dialed the number. I would learn later that this particular service specialized in working-class country girls.

Having consented to the transaction, I now began nervously cleaning my entire apartment. I recognize that most men probably wouldn’t have bothered, but I found the process calming. I wanted to make a good impression and I was excited. The implications are almost comical, I admit. There’s nothing especially logical about scrubbing and beautifying one’s personal space for someone who will stick around a maximum of an hour.

After thirty or forty minutes, she showed up, her car parked in the driveway. I led her into the bedroom. We spoke briefly before the process got underway. She’d been recently divorced and was mother to a small child. After she’d had him, she treated the entire world as though it were one of her children. It was especially true for those with whom she was sexually intimate. She was stuck in mommy mode. This treatment has never been an a turnoff for me, though at times, I’d prefer to be treated like a lover, not a surrogate child.

Everyone asks how a person can be satisfied and not repulsed by the world’s oldest profession. For her, in her own words, she provided a service to lonely, needy men. One might view this as a rationalization, but I’m sure there’s truth present, too. And the money is good, particularly if you’ve got a kid to support. There are a thousand lies and half-truths present one must consistently maintain. Alongside them are a thousand empty promises based on flattery.

Shortly before we got started, I put on a Janis Joplin album for background music, one that proved, purely by coincidence, to be extremely conducive to the act itself. I wasn’t expecting anything more than a sexual release, but our lovemaking somehow took on a tender quality towards the end. Sex had been gentle, not impatient. I was more than another face, another destination elsewhere on an out call.

I found myself staring directly into her eyes. When can I see you again?

Whenever you like. She smiled.

We began dating. I knew to expect that she’d often work unusual hours. I knew also that the child’s father was still very much in the picture. He was jealous of me, I was told. She relied on him because he supervised and cared for their kid when she was working. The biological father still had feelings for her, it seems, though she no longer did. It was an arrangement of convenience, as I imagine explaining what it is that she really did for a living to others wasn’t easy.

Oddly enough, it didn’t bother me that she had sex with other men, and on occasion, other women. Once, she invited me along, strictly for my own gratification, when a client was another woman. I accepted the request in the spirit in which it was intended. We both had a good time. All of the rules that society usually places around sexuality were thrown out the window with us. I found this thrilling and anarchic, particularly because I’d often had a difficult time conforming to these sorts of boundaries myself.

What I found most challenging were class divisions. I’d been raised solidly middle class, with middle class values and priorities. The rural dwellers of the state had often won my derision as backwards, conservative, and uninformed. Now I was in a relationship with someone whose beliefs were often opposed to my own. In time, I would move away from the South because I couldn’t tolerate the constant resistance against progress and good sense. And yet, for now at least, love and affection were the glue holding the whole thing together.

We learned each other’s patterns. When I wasn’t preoccupied with work for grad school, we’d sneak a few minutes in every now and again. I didn’t really have the time for a conventional relationship, being that my life was full to the brim with reading books and journal articles, writing papers, and trying to sound generally informed about the most current topic during seminars. I’d hired a prostitute because my life had been overtaken by my studies. As always, I craved and needed, but balancing a busy workload was an unanticipated major challenge.

This relationship was something I could keep to myself. If pressed, I said that my girlfriend was a bartender or a waitress and worked late, which was a plausible explanation. It won a lot of sympathetic looks from others. They often said, I’m not sure I could manage what you’re doing. I wasn’t always sure I could, either.

She went missing for three excruciating days. I called the service in desperation. Speaking to the madam who ran the whole operation, I asked if she knew what had happened. I was informed, politely, that she’d had a car accident and was recuperating at home. That was news to me. Why hadn’t she told me herself?

I resolved to visit her. The problem was compounded by the fact that she’d never told me her exact address. I knew roughly where it was, but it was out in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, neighbors in the area I asked eventually steered me in the right direction. The entire process took well over an hour.

I knocked at a very small house with, at maximum, three rooms. Her former lover came to the door, suspicious and belligerent. She was here, yes, but was resting in another room. He wouldn’t let me in and I didn’t want to start a fight. I began to wonder whether he’d lived here full time since I'd known her. And again, I was forced to question whether staying with her was a wise decision.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lessons Learned from Uncle Tom's Cabin

This essay was written specifically for Meeting, following First Day's (Sunday's) Worship. The messages shared focused on a particular period of reform, namely AIDS outreach in the early 1980's. My response to those who spoke at length about their level of involvement is that anyone can be a hero in the face of something awful like an epidemic. The true challenge lies in those who don't need trauma to do the right thing.


What follows has been weighing on my heart for a while. While I listened to the vocal ministry given today during Meeting for Worship, ideas and thoughts arrived that consumed my mind. I have, accordingly, arranged them below.

A few months back, I saw a film adaptation of the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery melodrama was the best-selling work of the 19th Century. Published in 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin's most singular theme is a fervent belief that Christian theology renders owning a human being utterly immoral. In her arguments, Stowe attacks the peculiar institution in ways that might seem overwrought and quaint to today's audience. Her prose aims for the heartstrings, much less so for the intellect.

The movie version, dating back to the 1920's, takes some liberties with the original plot. Quakers feature prominently in the book, mainly as healing figures that restore runaway slaves to health. An especially memorable and dramatic section recounts how Eliza, a slave woman fleeing her sadistic master, seeks to cross a frozen river to escape into free territory. Along for the terrifying trip is Eliza's newborn baby. The two are pursued by dogs and slave catchers all the way, but end up safe and sound in the end.

The film elevates Quaker virtue to a wholly different plane. In this setting, a Quaker man observes Eliza and child's perilous journey from the bank of the river. Intervening directly, he extends a hand, ensuring that they land on free soil safely. Upon arrival, Eliza and the baby are given hospitality, food, and a place to stay. Or, at least for a while.

This would be a sweet little story in and of itself, but it is not complete. The next morning, having traced their target to the Quaker's house, the slave catchers demand their bounty. Good intentions give way to loaded guns, especially when pointed at the accommodating Friends. Eliza and her child sorrowfully concede that they have no choice but to return to where they started.

Before we pat ourselves on the back, we need a broader understanding of context. Before we adopt a pose of misunderstood martyr in our adopted causes, we should peer closely at the crusade we've chosen for ourselves. It's possible to be so involved that we haven't recognized challenges that stand before us. Social justice and good works are not immune from irony or sanctimony.

Returning to the film, an interpretation of this scene could cover lots of ground. One might see it as a criticism of pacifism, which can arguably be reduced to theory in the face of armed resistance. One could also perceive of it as something of a cautionary tale. Our worthy, altruistic deeds are insufficient if we have not first examined the entire situation thoroughly. May we always realize the need for continual, structural reform. There is, and will always be, much to learn.

I'm So Tired

Perfect for days with doctor's appointments.

I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink
I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink
I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink?
No, no, no.

I'm so tired, I don't know what to do
I'm so tired, my mind is set on you
I wonder should I call you
but I know what you would do

You'd say I'm putting you
on But it's no joke, it's doing me harm
You know I can't sleep, I can't stop my brain
You know it's three weeks, I'm going insane

You know I'd give you everything I've got
For a little peace of mind.

I'm so tired, I'm feeling so upset
Although I'm so tired, I'll have another cigarette
And curse Sir Walter Raleigh
He was such a stupid get.

You'd say I'm putting you on
But it's no joke, it's doing me harm

You know I can't sleep, I can't stop my brain
You know it's three weeks, I'm going insane

You know I'd give you everything I've got
For a little peace of mind.
Give you everything I've got
For a little peace of mind.

I'd give you everything I've got
For a little peace of mind.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Here We Go Again

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Here We Go Again

I’d found another ward crush. She was overly nice to me, letting me borrow an interesting book and generally keeping close company. Her presence was remarkably restorative in a place full of misery and hurt. After spending most of two days together, I learned she liked smart men with curly hair. This meant I fit the profile. The desire was evident, but ward crushes must always stay a fantasy, at least for a while.

I know I often use as a reference point the woman with whom I was involved at the time. One might say, cynically, here comes another one. My foremost desire in life since the age of twelve was to have a significant other. Unlike many men, I could not feign to be wholly independent, finding romantic entanglements distasteful. I wanted a significant other the way that those dying of thirst crave water. Without one, I felt incomplete.

Friends around me had different priorities, different goals. Some wanted a new guitar, some wanted a better job, and some wanted to lose weight. My priorities were monolithic in a way. My number one ambition in life never changed. And in this case, seek and ye shall find, but beware of what ye might receive.

I speak about boyfriends with lesser frequency because my same-sex relationships were very short-lived, even by my standards. Lord know I tried, of course. Love was there, buried deep below the surface, but it was overshadowed by sexual desire. I find I cannot fall in love with a man, though I can appreciate his presence in the bedroom.

For this reason, I tended to get involved with men who were already with partners. That way, there was no chance for feelings to develop. It’s much more commonplace for queer men to assent to mutually agreed upon open relationships. In my dalliances, I admit I was sometimes the other man, sometimes just the latest one. Most of my stories about men focus on one consistent outcome, and though sex is interesting, my life is more than a series of sexual escapades.

Upon my discharge from the ward, the female patient and I exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses. I was headed back home to live with my parents for a while. I needed extra care for a few months, until I got myself back on my own two feet. I’d never accumulated that many possessions, and what I did have fit easily into my car. In front of me was a dull two-and-a-half hour trip to the place I’d grown up.

Even with music playing constantly in the background, I managed to grow bored. That stretch of interstate highway must contain the greatest concentration of Waffle Houses per capita in the entire nation. I often counted them, one by one, on my way back and forth. I ended up with a different tally every time. This was only one of the tactics I tried to keep myself from nodding off at the wheel.

Having left early in the morning, I parked the car in the driveway with a decided feeling of gloom. This wasn’t the first time I’d had no choice but to return home.

The living situation with my roommate hadn’t been the best, even before the hospitalization. He micromanaged insignificant details. Four drops of water upon the granite counter top was an emergency. The same went for the times I’d soak particularly dirty dishes in the sink. His paranoia kicked in, believing the stainless steel sink would now be decidedly less stainless than advertised.

After a while, he became similarly obsessed about whether I’d paid him rent in a timely fashion. Usually good about remembering particularly important details like this, I believe he was trying to force me out in an indirect way. Leaving was probably the best thing I could do for myself under the circumstances. He owned the condo outright and intended to sell it eventually, for a profit.

That being said, I believe that houses are meant to be lived in, and those who treat their living spaces like mausoleums or museums are only deceiving themselves.

Mom heard the sound of the car’s engine and walked down from her bedroom. She met me in the drive as I was beginning to unload the contents of the vehicle. She looked exhausted, as though she hadn’t slept, but still gave me as hug, indicating she was glad to see me. Once more, I arranged my things in the downstairs apartment that been originally built to house my aging grandparents.

My entire social network had been shredded a few short months before. I didn’t really have anyone left, except for the woman I’d met while in the hospital. She seemed to be as lonely and isolated as I did. Our conversations spanned hours. Within a week of being home, she told me that she’d wanted to kiss me the whole of our time together; I confessed the same.

If I could escape the roadblock presented by my parents, who wanted me to rest long enough to make a full recovery, we might just get our wish. Plans were made. She provided direction, since the house she lived in was located in one of the oldest parts of town, a section modern maps did not document especially well. Once again, I fled at dawn for the four hour drive ahead of me. She was waiting.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Quote of the Week

"People always prefer to smack a label onto an artistic statement and turn it into a cliche, rather than think about and discuss what it says."- Lindsay Anderson

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Same Old Song and Dance

In what has become a familiarity, my psychiatrist called unexpectedly early Thursday morning. I was writing the day's draft of the book, deep in thought as I typed. By the tone of his voice, I knew something was amiss. He's not the sort of person to resort to hyperbole unless warranted.

Bloodwork conducted the day before had revealed a significant problem with the thyroid gland. This would explain the substantial fatigue that descended two months before. At first, I believed I had a serious case of sinusitis. Then, I thought I must surely have some sort of bacterial infection. Two courses of antibiotics proved ineffective.

I was instead informed that not only was the thyroid gland overactive and abnormal, the doctor suspected a malfunctioning pituitary was also part of the greater issue. I contributed more blood at a visit to the lab yesterday afternoon. A full profile, I'm told, will be necessary to locate the precise source. Ideally, I won't have to wait longer than Tuesday to know the panel results.

Oh, none of this is fatal, of course. Though I've been feeling awful for a while, I know that these are nagging ailments likely to be fixed sooner than later. It's the combined pill fatigue and the frequent visits to specialists that I get me down. In my nightmares, I end up like Stephen Hawking, with a rapidly deteriorating body and a still very active mind. That statement may be only reflect my anxieties, but I can't help but wonder if this recent period of illness is temporary, or will only increase with time. We'll see.  

Saturday Video

Sexy baby, good loving daddy
Let me be your rocking chair
Just rock me away from here

Let's get in on; come to me baby
Let me be your rocking chair
Just rock me away from here

Let your arms shelter me from all hurt and pain
Light my heart with your everlasting flame

Sexy baby, good loving daddy
Let me be your rocking chair
Rock me away from here

Let's get it on; come to me baby
Let me be your rocking chair
Rock me away from here

Rock me gently;
Make me feel like a cloud in the sky
Whisper softly;
Let my heart take wing and fly

Sexy baby, good loving daddy
Let me be your rocking chair
Just rock me away from here

Let's get it on; come to me honey
Let me be your rocking chair
Rock me away from here

Just rock me baby
In my rocking chair, baby
All night long till the morning comes

Just you, baby
Just rock me hun; rock me baby

Till the midnight hour
In my rocking chair
All night long

Come on baby, sexy baby
Let me be your rocking chair
Just rock me away from here

Come on baby, sexy honey
Let me be your rocking chair
Just rock me away from here
Rock me baby

Friday, July 13, 2012

Exit Music (For a Film)

The roughness of this rendition was meant to speak to the lyrics. As always, you'll be the judge of whether or not I succeeded. I wanted my voice to be raw, as though I'd been up all night and was exhausted.

Wake from your sleep,
the drying of your tears,
Today we escape, we escape.

Pack and get dressed
before your father hears us,
before all hell breaks loose.

Breathe, keep breathing,
don’t lose your nerve.

Breathe, keep breathing,
I can’t do this alone.

Sing us a song,
a song to keep us warm,
there’s such a chill, such a chill.

And you can laugh a spineless laugh,
we hope your rules and wisdom choke you.

And now we are one
in everlasting peace,

we hope that you choke, that you choke,
we hope that you choke, that you choke,
we hope that you choke, that you choke.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Cautionary Tale

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

A Cautionary Tale

How had this happened? I sat inside the wood paneled great room, too depressed and exhausted to leave my chair. My surroundings looked like the offices of a huge guest lodge for a ski resort, not an upscale psychiatric hospital. Fellow patients fought their own demons, seated on the chairs around me. One of them knitted compulsively as a means of keeping herself occupied. This was far from her first stint and she’d developed over time what was for her an effective coping mechanism.

My mental health, biologically speaking, was not where it needed to be, nor was I psychologically well. Three months before, I’d been engaged to be married. The courtship would have seemed excessively whirlwind to even the most hopeless of romantics. I knew, logically, that most people didn’t sign up for marriage within a month of knowing someone else. Had I been more discerning, less throw-caution-to-the-wind, I might have questioned the feasibility of such a decision.

She had, in effect, enabled my mania, stating that she loved me more while I was in the middle of an episode. I’m sure for a time I was entertaining and high-energy, but neither of these qualities can be sustained forever. The infamous night I came home from a dysfunctional workplace, raving and ranting, it was over. I admit I’d been excessively angry, but I expected a bit more compassion. Past fits of temper passed by without comment by some girlfriends, but not here.

My aggressive venting had an undesired effect. Terrified, she fell to the floor in the fetal position. This was not what I’d expected from someone who otherwise seemed strong and self-reliant. As punishment for placing her in that position, I was cast aside after three or four nervous days of contemplation. I’m not sure what it says when a person prefers that his or her lover should be sick, rather than well. Provided I stroked her ego sufficiently, I could stay. When I turned out to be human, the invitation was withdrawn.       

Staring at the skylight above, which warmed the entire room with sunlight, I reflected on how I’d gotten here. Seeking a fresh start, I’d moved to a new city. As I’d done many times before, I sought a new church, looking to find a social network of friends and acquaintances. Within a week or two, I did find a large group specifically set up for those in their twenties and thirties. I concede that I was also looking for someone who might serve as one half of a long term relationship. I’ve always preferred to find a partner both willing to worship with me and to take an active role alongside my own. Faith has been an important priority in my life.  

Though well-organized, what was essentially a singles group had one major flaw. It contained multiple women in their early thirties and beyond who were overeager to find someone to date, if not to marry. I initially found myself in demand on all sides, not recognizing what might soon be asked of me. I never questioned the institution of marriage, believing that I would eventually walk down the aisle myself, but not like this.   

I had no idea what would follow. As it turns out, I began a friendship with a woman who I knew to be well into her forties, though she never shared her real age. Working at a dead-end job I’d only taken for a little while, all with the hope of finding something better later, I wanted out as fast as I could manage. I thought I might eventually stumble across something else, which is why I’d asked her for her assistance. She presented me with her phone number. Though she let me know she had no real leads to share, she did encourage me to keep calling.

Doing my best Casanova imitation, I began to supplement our conversations by singing to her while strumming the guitar. She was appreciative. Within a couple of weeks, I proposed to take off work one day in the middle of the week to spend time with her. In the back of the dining room, I sat on a sofa while she took the floor, applying gloss to one of her paintings. We talked as she worked. In between our conversation, I put on an impromptu rock concert for her benefit.       

Within an hour, I found myself giving her a back rub on the couch. After planting a kiss on her neck, she turned towards me, smiling. Jumping to her feet, she grabbed me by the hand, literally propelling me forward towards the bedroom. The impetuousness of the act was common to all of our dealings from then onward. We lived on adrenalin. My mania continued to build to a crescendo, closer and closer to dangerous territory.  


Though my daily routine was crammed full of activities: art therapy, music therapy, gym, group therapy, lunch, dinner, there were always opportunities to sit and think. She never left my thoughts for long. The two of us had crammed a year into three months. The time felt compressed, intense, insistent. And much as it began, it ended.

You’re going to have to go into therapy, she said. It was said more like a demand than a request. Should I not, I gathered she fully intended to conclude our relationship. Later, I recognized that I wasn’t the first man she’d ever dated to be given this ultimatum. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she’d already decided to get out and not look back.

At first, I felt shipwrecked, inconsolable. The anger didn’t descend until months later, when the grieving process had time to adequately work through my brain. Fortunately, I’d found an excellent psychologist by then, who guided me expertly through each stage of the process. She’d kindly, but pointedly expressed her summation of my general well-being by the end of our first session.

Can you come in twice a week for a while?  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Slow Parade of Fears

Another unedited excerpt from Wrecking Ball

The Slow Parade of Fears

I get the internet relationships confused now. There were several, in an uninterrupted stream, one after another. For a while, I e-mailed regularly with a woman my age from New Zealand. She lived in an isolated part of the country, if not the world, a small town on the South Island. She also enjoyed frequent male company, even at a severe distance. I was her favorite among all the others, or so I was told. The confidence boost was most appreciated.

Those of us in internet relationships, be they platonic, romantic, or (what was normally the case) some combination thereof, constantly drew a divide between IRL (in real life) and online. This regular redrawing of boundaries was partially a way for us to not feel the ache of separation, the knowledge that we were miles and miles apart. The frustration would build up to toxic levels otherwise. When the longing and pain of separation became too much, one could always tell oneself that this was all a deliberate fiction.

And we did. The problem is that the line we skirted round and round was by its nature somewhere between fact and fiction. In real life, I was a self-doubting failure at love. Or, at least, that is how I perceived of myself at that time. Online, however, I was in demand. This is why I always returned to the instant attention I could find easily.

Though developing a relationship with someone nearby was always preferred, I took what I could get. My online world was in effect a set of training wheels for later. When I could have fallen farther and farther behind in an understanding of the unwritten rules of dating and human interaction, I learned substantial lessons, albeit in an unconventional, unprecedented fashion.

And in the meantime, I was forming my own identity in difficult circumstances. I sought to maintain a kind of private life away from my parents. This was quite difficult due to the nature of my illnesses. My father was actively involved in every aspect of my care, pulling double duty as nurse and psychotherapist. Maintaining secrets, in his mind, could be eventually lethal. In this situation, what I was attempting to keep to myself was harmless, not a plan to hurt myself.

Dad still kept close tabs on me. Psychologically very much touch-and-go, I hid what I could manage and came clean with the rest. There were momentary periods of health interspersed between the suicidal thoughts. It’s easy to forget the breaks that separated the two, because they were always overshadowed by the drama of another severe episode to follow.

Even so, I was a teenager, and not especially different from any other. Nor was she. The New Zealander annoyed my parents when she called at 2 am, apparently unaware of the substantial time difference. Though the expense was extreme, I sometimes called her myself. The frequency of these telephone communiques created expense for the family and a series of long-running arguments between myself and my father. I promised to stop many times, though I had no intention to do so. I was addicted to feeling wanted, desired, and needed.

It was a compulsion on my part. I felt empowered and good about myself, for once. Tomorrow I might be too depressed to even dress myself. I might as well take what I could get when I could appreciate it. My father, naturally, didn’t see it that way at the time.

My Kiwi friend courted many guys about her age online, but I was again always her favorite. We exchanged periodic letters through the mails in addition to daily online correspondence. I believe we met through a website where one could put a listing out for e-mail pen pals. I recall that her ad asked specifically for men to write to her. In time, we’d share pictures of ourselves and a few samples of the money in our respective countries. She marveled over American coins and bills, and I felt the same regarding New Zealand currency.

Eventually, I knew she was bound to see me in a depressed state. The thought frightened me, especially because I knew it was likely, and that there was little to nothing I could do to hide it from her. The worst case scenario happened a few months after we met. Under the sway of depression, I wrote her a bleak e-mail full of fears. A week later (it took a while for letters to make the long journey), she expressed considerable concern for me, even printing out the entire letter to make pertinent comments every few sentences.

What happened to that happy guy I always talk to?” She wrote that in large letters at the very bottom of the second printed page. It only made me feel worse. I’ve always been a moody person. At that time, I swung back and forth between pain and the more tolerable times with much frequency. Though not intellectually voracious as I was, she had an excellent, instinctive grasp of psychology and the motives of others. Out of her interest and desire for me, I think, she recognized such things about me with time.

Sometimes I’d self-sabotage. Feeling myself to be not worth anyone’s attention, I’d try to scare someone away. One letter listed the sum total of my personal flaws, one right after the other, reasons I just wasn't worth it.

She knew me well. She was not fooled. “Your letter didn’t work, my love.”

Even now, I’m terrified of being abandoned. I’ve been overly nice and accommodating many times, clinging to others so that they won’t go away and never come back. Paradoxically, I’ve also devalued myself, seeking to push people away so I won’t have the opportunity to disappoint them later. My Kiwi friend saw both sides and still, amazingly, loved me in spite of them.

She became a close confidante. I confessed everything to her, including my attraction to men. Our letters were copious and frequent. My only regret is that I should have used greater discretion; I left the letters on my desk after I read them. This way they were open for anyone to see. My youngest sister discovered my bisexuality that way, though I’m not sure why she had been in my bedroom. At least she kept that knowledge a secret for now.

The last time I spoke to my online friend, she’d moved to the United States to be an au pair. I noticed a distinct change in her personality and even the way she talked. Before, she’d been so shy she could sometimes barely raise her voice above the sound of a whisper. Her accent had also rounded out and sounded more American. She’d been forced to cast aside her natural shyness and reserve, though she mostly sounded tired. Whomever she was working for kept her constantly busy.

That was the last time we spoke. Wherever she is, I miss her. I’m extremely thankful that she cared for me the way she did. As I’ve been contemplating this particularly scattered, confusing part of my life, I’ve recognized that lots of people kept me alive. She was one of them. If I didn’t have the resources the internet provided, I might well not be here today.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I'll Keep It with Mine

You can search, babe
At any cost
But how long, babe
Can you search for what’s not lost?

Everybody will help you
Some people are very kind
But if I can save you any time
Come on, give it to me
I’ll keep it with mine

I can’t help it
If you might think I’m odd
If I say I’m not loving you for what you are
But for what you’re not

Everybody will help you
Some people are very kind
But if I can save you any time
Come on, give it to me
I’ll keep it with mine

The train leaves
At half past ten
But it’ll be back tomorrow
Same time again

The conductor he’s weary
He’s still stuck on the line
But if I can save you any time
Come on, give it to me
I’ll keep it with mine

Monday, July 09, 2012

Pharmaceutical Greed and Its Consequences

At the end of last week, a major news story remained largely uncovered and unaddressed in the media. The massive British pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKlein, was force to pay $3 billion dollars to rectify flagrant health care fraud. The U.S. Justice Department strongly pushed the prosecution of criminal and civil offenses. Unrepentant to the end, the drug maker made no apologies.

From a period that ran from the late 1990's into the early 2000's, the corporation engaged in extensive, willful deception. It pushed ten of its prescription drugs as treatments for ailments, diseases, and disorders that it simply did not treat. None of these off-label uses were approved by FDA.

Most of the settlement involved three specific medications. Two of them are antidepressants and another, Avandia, was developed to treat diabetes. Major names were paid to promote claims that had no basis in fact. One of these was radio personality Dr. Drew Pinsky, who was reimbursed to extoll the virtues of Wellbutrin.
Dr. Pinsky is only one physician mentioned in the U.S. government's complaint. It also accuses a number of other doctors of taking large payments from the drug maker and improperly plugging its drugs, including one doctor who received $2 million from Glaxo between 2001 and 2003. The complaint says the physician, James Pradko, gave hundreds of talks to doctors and Glaxo sales reps about depression and frequently made "off-label claims" about Wellbutrin's effectiveness against a number of conditions for which it isn't FDA-approved, including weight loss, chronic fatigue syndrome, erectile dysfunction and chemical dependencies.
The 99% devotees will take this news as additional proof of corporate greed and a society dominated by the wealthy. Anti-Romney types will bring up once more the Republican candidate’s assertion that corporations are people. All people are equal, but some are more equal than others. Both of these comparisons hold up under scrutiny, but there are multiple lessons to be learned here; lessons which exceed the same familiar populist arguments predicated on class envy. Time Magazine has broken down what was a complicated decision. On the subject of the antidepressant drug Wellbutrin,
Glaxo used the help of PR firms and the appeal of lavish vacations to convince medical professionals to prescribe the antidepressant Wellbutrin for weight loss, sexual dysfunction, drug addiction and ADHD, even though the drug is FDA approved only to treat depression. Tavy Deming, an attorney for one of the whistle blowers, told the AP that during a regional meeting of sales representatives in Las Vegas in 2000, the reps were told to promote Wellbutrin as the drug that makes patients “happy, horny and skinny,” as part of a national slogan repeated to doctors.
Big Pharma has long been accused of similarly unethical tactics, but for the first time, one of its largest offenders has been caught red handed and forced to pay out as punishment. But the judgment, satisfying though it is, reveals a paradox in my own life. I cannot live without the innovation driven by revenue streams that then develop new and more effective prescription drugs.

I struggle daily with a series of chronic illnesses, and an essential part of my life involves taking medications on a regular, frequent basis. The cost alone for some medications is highly prohibitive and out of the reach of far too many. I am fortunate to have health insurance, otherwise, I’d not have access to the drugs that keep me at an even keel. My health would suffer, and I wouldn't be able to maintain a more or less normal life.

I’ve been prescribed Wellbutrin on a few occasions. It is often given to patients with bipolar disorder, like me, who need to keep depression away but don’t want to be flung into a state of mania. Under the trade name, Zyban, it’s given to cigarette smokers who want to quit. Its effects are relatively mild, though some have experienced significant side effects. To counter some of the more ridiculous claims, it certainly isn’t an aphrodisiac. Any antidepressant by its basic nature will cause sexual side effects, some of them extreme. 

Another example follows: until the last few months, no generic alternative existed for the powerful drug Seroquel. An atypical antipsychotic, it contains an FDA approved antidepressant quality and, more importantly, is sedating enough to allow me to sleep through the night. It has been a godsend for many manic depressives whose illness has transformed them into insomniacs. Sleep aids must be prescribed when natural sleep becomes impossible.

That's the good part of this thorny issue. There's a dark side to all of this, too. Originally released in 1997, Seroquel was owned by AstraZeneca, another huge drug company. It kept sole control of Seroquel for fifteen years. Patents were extended and palms were greased to squeeze out the maximum amount of revenue possible for as long as could be maintained. Accordingly, AstraZeneca set the price of Seroquel around $1,000 for a thirty day supply.

I added it up the other day. Without insurance, my prescription costs could be as high as $2,000 per month. This doesn’t even begin to take into account doctor’s visits, the cost of procedures and tests, and the occasional ER visits. Companies like GlaxoSmithKlein are responsible for driving up healthcare costs for everyone when they insist upon charging excessive prices for their products. The industry has seldom been properly regulated. This court case might signal the beginning of real change, or it may go no further than this.

Because the pharmaceutical industry does trillions worth of business a year, $3 billion dollars in fines can easily be absorbed. That’s chump change to them. As much as I wish the court order might serve as some practical deterrent, I have developed a cynical side over time. This decision may influence behavior for a while, but I fear that it won’t go much farther than that.

I am reminded in this instance of the patent medicine boom of the late 19th Century. Mail-order remedies for a variety of ailments promised immediate and instantaneous relief. Upon chemical analysis, these snake oil curatives were discovered to be comprised mostly of opium or alcohol. Yet, the virtues of these remedies were advertised by hyperbole for decades until formal, effective reform legislation was passed. The Pure Food and Drug act of 1906 sought to eliminate poisonous or addictive elixirs and cure-alls. We are past time for another round of needed reforms. To return to the Time article,
Although the antidepressant Paxil is not approved for patients under 18, Glaxo illegally marketed the drug for use in children and teens, offering kickbacks to doctors and sales representatives to push the drug. A government probe was launched in 2002, and it was discovered that Paxil, as well as several other antidepressants, were no more effective than placebo in treating depression in kids. Indeed, between 1994 and 2001, Glaxo conducted three clinical trials of Paxil’s safety and efficacy in treating depression in patients under 18, and all three studies failed to pass muster.

Children, the most vulnerable among us, are usually handled gently when it comes to medication. That is what makes this particular abuse difficult to swallow. But, neither should this discourage the use of prescription drugs for children when they are needed. Reactionary decisions, for example, those that would deny kids routine immunizations out of fear that they might develop Autism are one such example. I developed clinical depression when I was 15, and was given medication at that age. The meds kept me alive. Talk therapy alone was not sufficient.

Many people pontificate endlessly about a nation inclined to overmedicate. They speak of doctors who over-prescribe with reckless abandon. These alarmist views have some basis in fact, but they don’t often take into account the full picture. It isn’t medication or medical advances that are the issue, it’s the greed that goes in into making such astronomical amounts of revenue. Nor should we forget the private slush funds that are standard practice for these corporations. They have been used so successfully to buy off doctors, manipulate medical data, and hire authoritative, trusted voices to peddle their wares.

I learned a long time ago that pharmaceutical malfeasance was a necessary evil, at least as far I was concerned. I’ve developed my own justification to address a situation over which I have no control. The company that makes money hand over fist will be more financially able and willing to invest in newer, more effective drugs. Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself. In this capitalist wilderness, the contradictions and mutually parasitic relationships evident in the process may always be present.