Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saturday Video

Sorry about the delay. Last night, late evening storms in the DC area knocked out power and internet service.

Satan's jeweled crown
I've worn it so long

But God for my soul
has reached down

His love set me free
He made me His own,
and helped me cast off

Satan's jeweled crown

If I could be king and ruler of nations,
Wear jewels and diamonds profound

I'd rather know that I have salvation
Than to know my reward
Is Satan's jeweled crown

Satan's jeweled crown
I've worn it so long
But God for my soul
has reached down

His love set me free
He made me His own,
and helped me cast off
Satan's jeweled crown

Satan's jeweled crown
I've worn it so long
But God for my soul
has reached down

His love set me free
He made me His own,
and helped me cast off
Satan's jeweled crown

When I live my life

So reckless and evil
Drinking and running around
The things I would do

Were the will of the Devil
I was giving my soul
For Satan's jeweled crown

Satan's jeweled crown
I've worn it so long
But God for my soul
has reached down

His love set me free
He made me His own,
and helped me cast off
Satan's jeweled crown

Friday, June 29, 2012

Time Will Tell

Another excerpt from Wrecking Ball.

The Internet revolutionized my life, as it did for millions of other Americans. In particular, it gave me access to other lonely kids looking for the same things I was. Live chats became phone calls, then became impossible, but potent crushes. I was usually too shy to reach out and flustered by girls who expressed their appreciation. It’s remarkably easy to develop feelings for someone whose face you may never have seen and who you know only as keystrokes on a monitor.

Looking years forward from here, I recall multiple trips made to visit cybercrushes. My travels took me as far away as California and Minnesota, though most were day trips. My loneliness can not be understated here, and perhaps too my neediness. One could, however, say the very same thing about those thoroughly infatuated with me. It cut both ways.

At first, I took a more conventional approach. My first girlfriend lived only a few miles away. She was a year younger than me, a freshman in high school; I was a sophomore. Though she had an odd demeanor and strange mannerisms, I always saw them as endearing. Her mother was extremely glad to observe my arrival on the scene. Though the sentiment was never expressed in my company, it was possible her mother had begun to wonder about whether her daughter was interested in boys at all.

We’d met at a church youth group function. My parents, requiring extra help to assist with my illness, had taken us to a non-denominational (read: Southern Baptist) church. Despite the fact that my mother never really took to the theology, she appreciated the strong community outreach found there. People prayed for me and brought food to the family to ease the constant stress of keeping me alive and out of trouble. The youth ministry was especially well-organized and I was accepted into it almost immediately.

One regular attender of our weekly group routinely invited her friends along. One of these friends became my very first girlfriend. Establishing a pattern true for many subsequent relationships, I expressed my interest and affection within a few minutes of us being introduced. In those days, I had only two speeds: fast and faster. This approach had turned several girls off earlier in my life, but she didn’t seem to have the same objections.

I remember the first time I arrived at her house, so nervous my hands were shaking while holding the steering column. I hadn’t gotten my license all that long ago and was petrified I’d get hopelessly lost. In the days before nearly everyone on the face of the Earth had a cell phone, getting lost was far easier. And, though I have improved with time, I’m not an especially good driver. The sense of spatial proportion and basic geometry required has always mystified and frustrated me. As it turns out, my worries were baseless.

Her mother took an immediate liking to me. She was very open with herself, which encouraged me to do the same. My girlfriend and I both, it was soon revealed, were taking medication to treat Attention Deficit Disorder. We bonded over a mutual medical problem and its side effects. We rarely ate and were thin as a rail. From her, I learned how to tolerate pineapple on a pizza, though I’m still not sure I like it. My girlfriend’s mother acted maternal and protective towards me, imploring me to eat more and expressing sympathy for my health.

I took photography in high school, done the old-fashioned way on film. The ease of digital photography has obliterated all the old rules. It seems that the only people who print to film these days are artists. Those who signed up for the class had to learn the painstaking, at times laborious way to enter a darkroom, develop negatives, project an image against photographic paper, and then fully bring to light a desired image. Contact sheets were a means of capturing the contents of a roll of film in one glance. One cut the contiguous series of exposures into uniform strips. Next, one organized them lengthwise across the page.

Some years ago, while visiting my parents, I came across some of my photographic work buried at the bottom of a drawer in what had become the guest bedroom. I hadn’t thought of her in years. I’d forgotten how, for a time, she’d been my primary model. She smiles back, though does not look directly at the camera. Nevertheless, she shows a prominent emotional interest in the person behind the lens. The photo that sticks out most has her posed against the outdoor railings of the bookstore where we spent our Friday evenings.

What we had only lasted a few months. I’m sure that’s not dissimilar from the experiences of many at that age. We spent most of our free time buying cheap, tacky items at a thrift store and hanging out at a coffee shop. What I remember about her most now was her addiction to lip balm. The brand she used was small and circular. She constantly reapplied coat after coat, almost compulsively. Because I wanted to appreciate the same things she did, I found myself adopting the habit myself.

I don’t even remember now what caused the breakup. If I had to wager a guess, I’d point a finger towards my illness, though this was true more because of psychological shortcomings on my part rather than a physical ones. In other words, I needed more than she could provide. Now, I wish I’d been more attentive to her feedback, but pain and sickness has a way of creating and ranking priorities based on immediate need. Although far less prominent than later, what I had was a slowly rumbling crisis-in-progress. Within a few months, it would substantially worsen and then become a disaster.

As it turns out, I didn’t have Attention Deficit Disorder after all. That was a blatant misdiagnosis, one of several that the first psychiatrist to treat me would make. I’d been prescribed the stimulant Adderall, which in those days was fairly new on the market. In time, slowly but surely, it would find its way onto the high school black market, for kids who used it to study or simply to enjoy the recreational effects.

If any precipitating factor caused my most substantial episode, the one that nearly proved fatal, it was most likely a result of abusing Adderall. In other words, I turned myself into a speed freak by legal means. As my depression worsened, the psychiatrist continually upped the dosage. Often I would call him on the phone, seeking relief, and I always sensed the panic and worry in his voice as he responded to the desperation in mine. What I wanted, he could not provide.

I honestly don’t remember how many milligrams I was supposed to be taking each day. Whatever it was, it was certainly well over the recommended maximum. And not only that, I was developing a strongly unhealthy dependency with every passing day. My father had taken to locking up the medication in a converted fishing tackle box, which he then padlocked shut. With some effort, I pried one side open so that I could reach in, grab the bottle, and take more. He quickly caught on to what I was doing, but by then, the damage was done.

My birthday falls exactly a week before Halloween, in late October. By now, I had turned 18, a legal adult in most states but not in Alabama. This would be an especially essential distinction later on in the process. My addiction deepened, my mood dropped, and it kept dropping. I kept falling farther and father downward. Teachers and fellow classmates didn’t seem to observe anything out of the ordinary, but then I’d never been an ordinary personality.

Years after the fact, I have been able to attain an explanation what was happening to me. After a time, the drug simply wasn’t working anymore. Before my collapse shortly before Thanksgiving 1998, I’d take a pill of Adderall, expecting the same effect as had been the case at the outset. Instead, I’d experience a perceptible high for only an hour, when once before I’d received eight. My constant over-usage created a paralyzing state of stimulant psychosis. Gratefully, I don’t remember the worst of the worst, but I do remember the depths of the depression that took hold tenaciously and did not abet for months.

I’d contemplated suicide many times before, but I had never reached the necessary depths of despair. The body has an ingenious knack for self-preservation, one meant to prolong living. This time, I’d get dangerously close to succeeding.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Riotous Early Existence

The Nicer the Nice, The Higher the Price

Another unedited excerpt from Wrecking Ball


The Nicer the Nice, The Higher the Price

It’s difficult to pinpoint my first manic episode. The most effective psychiatrist I visited told me in my late teens that I might well develop full-blown bipolar by my early twenties. Before, of course, I was only depressed. He was correct. Looking backwards, for a multi-year period, I can observe the slow, but inevitable ascent towards true mania. My unwillingness to protect my personal safety was a harbinger of things yet to arrive.

At first, I was only hypomanic, or near-manic. A truly manic episode cannot be confused as anything else. Hypomania can be excused as eccentricity of personality or idiosyncrasy. In mania, others can clear identify a lack of proper emotional balance and mental health. In those times, I talked out of my head and exhibited obscene amounts of energy. I became hyper-sexual, hyper-religious, borderline delusional, and completely unable to rein in on myself.

I was 19 now. By a small miracle and by my mother’s work behind the scene to help, I’d somehow graduated from high school. Had I stayed healthy, I’d have qualified for numerous scholarship offers, especially those from out-of-state schools. Now, I had to take what I could get. My father, knowing the system, convinced the Alabama Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to subsidize my tuition, minus the cost of textbooks.

Observing the provisions of the tuition payment, I could have attended any public college or university in the state. Both of my parents attended the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, which was a forty-five minute commute due west. I considered this for a time, but decided I wasn’t well enough yet to live apart from my parents and my doctors. Going back and forth from place to place would be a hassle, and I did not underestimate my own emotional and physical fragility.

Instead, I stayed in Birmingham, and enrolled at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. UAB was an urban campus, for many years a strictly commuter school, or a school of last resort for those who could not academically qualify for their first choices. While a student, I was not exposed to the insularity of a small college town. The business-as-usual demeanor of the rest of the city meant that we college students were just another energetic activity being held on the Southside of town. In some ways, I think this was a blessing in disguise. The world was never supposed to revolve around the university, the students, the faculty, and everyone else intimately involved.

At this stage, I was still exceedingly frail. My first quarter I took the three course full-load minimum during the week. From the instant I returned home on Friday afternoon, I went immediately to bed and rarely left for the remainder of the weekend. When grades were posted, however, I found I’d received two B’s and an A. I barely missed an A in Sociology and, had I been more focused, would have received one in Music Appreciation. Not bad for someone who many thought would never be able to even enroll, much less to take a single course.

Having done well my first term, I enrolled for the spring quarter. The wind was finally at my back. I should add, though, that my emotional problems were nowhere near resolved. I was largely hanging on by the thread, and still waiting for the other shoe to drop. But in the meantime, I had begun to associate with sorts of people who I would have never considered being around even a few years before. The residual effects of trauma changed my life dramatically.

Spring quarter completed, I decided not to take classes in the summer. Shortly thereafter, I began to look for ways to assuage my boredom, to break out of my self-imposed isolation. Living with my parents, while necessary, was often a hindrance. I wanted to expand my base of friends, particularly because I’d so rarely had very many of them.

For several years, the city of Birmingham put on a large, open-air music festival in early June. The tickets were affordable, the acts usually of middling quality, but few my age went only for the music. We were equally restless and bored senseless with the sterility of the suburbs. Our means of leaving that dull world of big box stores and chain restaurants was to go downtown.

Then a freshman in college, I drove downtown along with one of my few close friends. Following the end of the day’s proceedings, I struck up a random conversation with another student from my school. He invited me back to his house, asking if I wanted to hang out for a while. In those days, I had the stamina and the inclination want to be out until four in the morning.

I wasn’t dense. I knew what he was implying. Prior to then, I’d only smoked pot. Since the age of fifteen, I’d been a moderately heavy cigarette smoker. When I drank, I usually drank to get drunk and rarely paced myself. In this stage of my life, I remained hedonistic and fatalistic. I assumed I’d never reach the age of 30, which to me, freed me up for lots of chemical experimentation.

I arrived at a typical sort of student lodgings, an ancient wooden house two block from campus. Four people were sharing space, splitting the rent. Later I would learn that three of them were in an godawful band, which practiced once a week on Saturdays, after classes were over for the week. I sat in on the rehearsals, wishing I could contribute, while noting that doing so was probably a colossal waste of my time.

A drum kit, bass guitar, and cheap electric guitar were scattered haphazardly across the aged hardwood floors when I arrived. After a few words of small talk, I uncovered the intention of this impromptu trip. One of them had procured a bottle of liquid LSD. For $4 a hit, I could dose myself sufficiently for the next several hours. At an earlier time in my life, I would have gone no further. When I was emotionally stable, powerful drugs like acid held no attraction, mainly repulsion. It is amazing what a person will do when he or she has lost the fear of death.

If I hadn’t been so miserable and isolated, I would not have explored the lengths to which I would test my own mortality. What no one knew is that a week or so before I’d been playing chicken with the cars on University Boulevard. On my way back and forth between classes, I’d been walking in front of speeding cars, dodging them at the last minute. I timed myself with a sort of lunatic precision to narrowly avoid being hit.

Two people on the opposite side of the road saw me. I saw the terror in their eyes and in the tone of their voices. I think I smiled at them as I reached the curb directly in front of me. I’m sure they thought I was crazy. These were the sorts of risks I was more than willing to undertake. With the benefit of hindsight, I see now that my absolute worst times had concluded, but that I had a long way to go before I pulled myself out of the valley.

I paid a grand total of $8 for two hits of a powerful psychedelic drug. The dealer had concentrated his product inside a tiny bottle. The container was usually used to hold highly concentrated breath freshener. One drop equaled one dose. I was eager to see what was next in store for me. I’d read romanticized narratives of acid-drenched hippies in San Francisco, and wanted to know what had been that transformative for them.

I have always had a crafty, sneaky side. I say this without pride, but with the recognition that this part of my personality has kept me alive and out of trouble on more than one instance. When everyone dissipated, slinking off to their own private corners and devices, I rose and entered the kitchen. The LSD bottle had been kept inside a freezer, for reasons unknown.

It balanced precariously, leaning sideways against a frosted plastic cup. I acknowledged that, weirdly, the liquid inside somehow never managed to solidify. I placed the bottle between thumb and forefinger of my right hand, then squeezed a copious amount of psychedelic chemical onto my tongue. Since then, I’m told that the slang term for what I did is called, in certain corners,“trenching”. Trenching it might have been, but it was mostly stupid.

I would like to say that I saw chairs and ceiling fans dissolving in front of me. I would like to speak of how colors bled into each other. I’d love to share an anecdote about potent, constant hallucinations that filled my world full of wonder. Instead, I must concede the truth. Though I ingested God knows how much LSD, I never felt, heard, smelled, tasted, or sensed much of anything. Honestly, I felt cheated.

Others I observed, as I walked the length of the house did, seem to have experienced something profound. I knew they weren’t faking it. I, however, after waiting for a couple hours in expectancy, retired to a nearby couch and promptly fell fast asleep.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Come the Day

Well I might see the irony,
but I've tried
and I find I don’t.

Everyone knows
how the punch line goes.
I suppose that means they get the joke.
you know,

I can see them fake a fall
make believe to save a soul
and I bless each day they don’t take it all.

Because everybody's telling me
word for word
Like I never heard before
and it gets to the end
and again my friend
and I can’t raise a smile no more

You know,
less concern I’ve never seen
best I'll learn to damn your sympathy

I curse you all from the day you need
This giving is one thing
driven through something else
divide it around amongst yourselves

get it out and spare me none
there is no doubt that day will come

Because everybody's telling me
word for word
like I never heard before
and then it gets to the bit
where it turns to shit

and I can’t raise a smile no more
you know

You know,
less concern I’ve never seen
Best I'll learn to damn your sympathy

I curse you all from the day you need
I curse you all from the day you need

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Excerpt from Wrecking Ball

This is a passage from the novel-in-progress, Wrecking Ball. In it I am discussing my first psychiatric hospitalization at age 15, and also my first sexual experience.


Waking Up and Getting Up Has Never Been Easy

The whole of the worst times are a blur. This is a survival mechanism for those in acute states of crisis. For some reason, the psychological pain I experienced was always augmented by a sharp stabbing physical pain in the middle of my forehead. Often I lay flat on my stomach in the middle of the carpeted floor. Seeking to rid myself of the agony any way I could, I slammed my head down hard against the ground, repeatedly, deliberately. The pain lasted all day at times. If I was lucky, it lifted unexpectedly, miraculously, presenting me with opportunities to escape the house.

Nothing felt more freeing than to get in my car and drive to the record store. I spent almost the entirety of my adolescent income on CDs. Music had always been a reliable solace for me from as soon as I could remember. My mother had been an avid collector of LPs in her own youth, and I benefited from the stockpile. One of my earliest memories is of listening to the Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky while dancing energetically across the room.

Because music was a passion, I obsessively memorized details about my favorite groups. In the early days of the Internet, I frequently used the resources found within what was then still referred to as “The Information Superhighway”. Cyberspace (another period synonym) was an excellent source of knowledge, one that informed about bands and artists that would have otherwise remained unknown to me. It was fun to me to uncover, through my own detective work, obscure sounds and genres.

My thoughts also lingered on another subject, one far less obtainable than the latest weekly release or music review. The people with whom I kept company knew this fixation well. In other words, I was hopelessly obsessed about finding a girlfriend. I’d felt separated from the rest of the world already, but now I felt a new challenge. Now, the pressure was on to couple up with someone else. I felt regularly abandoned by the other sex when seeking someone to date, but relationships were admittedly only part of the equation. There was something else much baser I wanted even more.

Hospitalization was one of the few constants in my life at that time. For a time, I rarely went three months without having to be readmitted for another stay. Depression had returned. In my teens, I had yet to experience a manic episode, but I knew well the dull ache of depression. I knew the way it slowly suffocated a person, each day removing energy, enthusiasm, and the very will to live.

Here I am, back again, I thought to myself. I felt my presence somehow scripted and scheduled, as though I was a performer on a six-month tour of the country. Though not usually the kind of person who caused trouble, at least not without first covering his tracks, I took a shine to a fellow patient. I justified it to myself easily. My illness had kept me prostrate for years. I deserved the right to flirt shamelessly.

If I’d had the benefit of hindsight, I would not have even bothered. Hindsight, unfortunately, comes with experience. Experience was something I was severely lacking. Starting out of the gate, I’m sure we’re all a little naive and unpracticed. If there is some silver lining, it is that at least her feelings for me were mutual. Guessing wrongly and being disappointed is never pleasant in any context. Rejection is unsettling regardless of age.

TLOAs (Temporary Leave of Absence) were sometimes granted to patients by admitting psychiatrists at this particular hospital. The object of my affection was granted a few hours away from the ward every other day. She always returned stoned, drawing a series of crude ink pen renderings of marijuana leaves on notebook paper. They looked like some kind of unorthodox wallpaper design. If these were warning signs, I took care to ignore them.

We barely spoke in our verbal correspondence. There was really no need to confirm what the both of us felt for each other. Emotions and desire can be expressed by general proximity as well as speech. My frustration with being trapped inside a locked unit paralleled my past experiences with women. If anything, it seemed like a sort of perverse analogy. Once imprisoned by my mind, I was now imprisoned bodily. My illness had kept me restrained for long enough; now it was my time to break out and do what I wanted.

I decided to sneak into her room.

“What the hell are you doing here?” This was said with a strongly slurred southern drawl.

“Don’t you know how much trouble you can get into?”

I indicated that I didn’t much care. In constant, daily pain, I was seeking a temporary, but hopefully intense distraction.

Previously sitting on her bed, legs swinging off the mattress, she stood to face me directly. I moved towards her, noting by her own body language that she was receptive to an extremely verboten public display of affection. We kissed, awkwardly, the way that the young and unpracticed do. We could have stopped there, but I wanted to push the envelope as far as it would take me, and I suppose that’s not at all atypical for teenage boys.

She reached down to my sides, and took hold of both of my hands. Guiding me, she forcefully pushed them across her breasts. The development was not unwelcome, but the gesture was unexpected and abrupt. I felt out-of-control, off-center, wobbling, unable to anticipate and formulate a proper response, to let her know I enjoyed the sensation but was knocked sideways by it.

The awkwardness made me recognize how impulsive this act had been. I turned away and fled, but a nurse saw me beating a path back to my own room. By the expression on her face, she was not pleased. I was given a lecture and told in no uncertain terms to ever try a thing like that again.

A couple hours later that same nurse told me a particularly incriminating bit of advice. “You do know she has a boyfriend, don’t you?”

This was said to imply that I was merely wasting my time. Perhaps she was also indicating the fellow patient's lack of mental health. Had I purely been seeking a relationship, then I might have felt repulsed, betrayed somehow. But I couldn’t help but feel victorious. My world was catch as catch can. Or, as it is written in the Old Testament, “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

People in states of imminent disaster, devastation, or war know something of how I felt. Plainly put, I had no future. I only could live in the here and now. When the pain is omnipresent, one loses sight of what we’d ordinarily call a normal perspective. I wanted a sexual outlet, so I made the most of the opportunity. Holding oneself back for any reason, for anything, was a luxury. To me, it was a fanciful notion held by those who can afford to prepare for tomorrow.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Announcement

My mother and I are now writing a book jointly. The premise is that of a personal memoir of my life, especially how the illness affected my nuclear family. It includes my history of bipolar disorder and her own parallel recollections of everything that happened.

If we ever get it published, I can promise you now that the plot will never be dull for an instant. Past events have made quite the storyteller out of me. Because I have never written anything lengthier than a thirty-page paper in my life, the sheer length alone is intimidating.

Because several hundred miles separates us, the two of us have been working within the confines of a shared Google Document. I add my sections, then set them apart from hers. She does the same with what she adds to the manuscript.

What unnerves me a little is the harrowing honesty of my mother's contributions. Years after the fact, they retain their power to horrify. And with every word I read, I cannot deny how much I am my mother's child. Our personalities are very similar. I used to believe that nothing could shock me and now I find much that can. I think the last of my innocence regarding parental infallibility is ceasing to be.

The book's working title is Wrecking Ball. Our work is steady and deliberate. Should an editor find it worth taking to print, I'd be most gratified. I've tried to go into this with the appropriate attitude, but I think what we've produced so far is extremely interesting.

Somebody to Love

Back to the multi-track recorder. I added three separate vocal parts, a rhythm guitar backing, and two small guitar solos. Fairly ornate for me.

When the truth is found to be lies
And all the joy within you dies

Don't you want somebody to love, don't you
Need somebody to love, wouldn't you
Love somebody to love, you better
Find somebody to love

When the garden flowers baby are dead, yes and
Your mind, your mind is so full of red
Don't you want somebody to love, don't you

Need somebody to love, wouldn't you
Love somebody to love, you better
Find somebody to love

Your eyes, I say your eyes may look like his
Yeah, but in your head, baby,
I'm afraid you don't know where it is

Don't you want somebody to love, don't you
Need somebody to love, wouldn't you
Love somebody to love, you better
Find somebody to love

Tears are running down and down and down your breast
And your friends, baby, they treat you like a guest

Don't you want somebody to love? Don't you
need somebody to love? Wouldn't you
love somebody to love? You better
Find somebody to love

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Quote of the Week

"It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information."- Oscar Wilde

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday Video

Lady, you keep asking
why he likes you. How come?
Wonder why he wants more
if he's just had some.

Boys, she's got more to play 
with in the way of toys.
Lady's eyes go off and on 
with a finger full of glue,

Lips are drawn upon her face 
in come-to-me tattoo.
Creamy suntan color that 
fades when she bathes.

Paper dresses catch on fire 
and you lose her in the haze.
Don't ever change lady, 
he likes you that way.

Because he just had his hair done 
and he wants to use your wig,
He's going off the drug thing 
cause his veins are getting big,

He wants to sell his paintings 
but the market is slow.
They're only paying him two grams now 
for a one-man abstract show.

Don't ever change people even if you can.

You are your own best toy to play with; 
remote control hands.
Made for each other. Made in Japan.

Woman with a greasy heart, automatic man.
Don't ever change people. 

Your face will hit the fan.
Don't ever change people even if you can.
Don't change before the empire falls.
You laugh so hard you crack the walls.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-William Butler Yeats

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Faith Healing and Belief

My father was, for all intents and purposes, a religious skeptic. He’d been raised by the unlikeliest of parents, a true believer for a mother, and an agnostic father. The whole of his life, he’d felt pulled in two directions, but he still attended church regularly. This was, after all, small town Alabama in the 1950’s. In keeping with rural southern colloquialisms, my two sisters and I called my father’s mother “Granny”.

Granny Camp was a usually sweet and maternal woman, but she also dealt with frequent bouts of debilitating chronic illness. The youngest of four, her medical problems were severe and arrived in waves, starting from birth. In all seriousness, at least one of her sisters put forth the notion that it might have been all for the better had Florence not even been born. No one disagreed.

Her minister father was Pentecostal, one step down from handling snakes. The congregation did, however, speak in tongues and believe wholeheartedly in faith healing. It was the latter that consumed my Grandmother the most. Her only son was transported with her from church to church, week in and week out. She believed that, with time, eventually someone could channel the Holy Spirit with enough authenticity and power to remove her suffering forever. No one ever could.

Dad’s suspicion of organized religion began early. In the summertime, during revival, he’d spend many a dull, humid weekend underneath a tent. The large, covered space lacked air conditioning, so women kept themselves cool with large, palm-shaped fans, usually bearing the name of a local bank. A procession of speakers and hymns followed one after the other. Dad usually couldn’t wait for the whole thing to be over.

Seeking the restroom, Dad spied something that would forever influence his understanding and tolerance of organized religion. Three or four men who had played pious up on stage had retired to a quiet corner away from the audience. They were telling dirty jokes amongst themselves, using the sort of foul language that contradicted everything my father had ever been told. While I’m sure the interminable service tested his patience and belief already, this dose of hypocrisy left an indelible mark.

By the time I came around, the South had changed, but showing up in the pews every Sunday was still simply something one did, without really even questioning why. My upbringing was liberal Methodist. Hell was merely an abstraction, one never confronted. Had anyone risen to his or her feet and let forth a polysyllabic procession of foreign sounds, the whole congregation would have been shocked into silence. Healing was a case for doctors and specialists, not ministers.

To put it a certain way, this regarding houses of worship, we moved around a lot. I saw my father grow regularly disgusted with churches and church leadership. We probably changed churches five times before I graduated from high school. I wonder what it would have been like had we arrived and set down solid roots. Would I be a different person now? Instead I was a religious refugee of a sort, the kind of peripatetic existence that I followed for years in my adult life.

Dad would always raise salient points, but I think sometimes he had very high standards. Given the opportunity, he would grill the minister like a defense attorney cross-examining a witness on the stand. In a Quaker context, we might consider that speaking Truth to power. After Dad had enough, we'd be off to some new destination. After a couple years or so, the process would repeat itself once more.

I've tried to keep his example in mind when I get frustrated with my Meeting. Like my father, I have the basic personality and active impatience of a reformer. I live in the shadow of his past decisions, for better or for worse. At times, I can be skeptical to a fault. Meetings thrive when people do not feel the need to hold themselves back, guardedly. In the oldest of old clichés, we’re all in this together.

In her memoir, The Center Cannot Hold, author Elyn R. Saks discusses a truism for each of our lives.

“Most of us figure out, as we grow up, that we will ultimately belong to (or struggle with) two families: the one we’re born into and the one we make.”

Which one is ours? What is our struggle?

One (Is the Loneliest Number)

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do
Two can be as bad as one
It's the loneliest number
since the number one

No is the saddest experience you'll ever know
Yes, it's the saddest experience you'll ever know
`Cause one is the loneliest number that you'll ever do
One is the loneliest number, worse than two

It's just no good anymore since she went away
Now I spend my time just making rhymes of yesterday

One is the loneliest, number one is the loneliest
Number one is the loneliest number that you'll ever do
One is the loneliest, one is the loneliest

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do
It's just no good anymore since she went away
One is the loneliest
One is the loneliest

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do
One is the loneliest
One is the loneliest
One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tackle Eligible

The still-ongoing Jerry Sandusky trial has been at the front of my mind this week. While the inspiration yet presents itself, I might as well use the emotions this entire case produced. What follows is fiction, though tinged with real-life experience.

When I was a little boy, I used to play a game with myself. It was a curious sort of pastime, one equal parts terror and pleasure. Simply put, I believed that some person or group of persons was hotly pursuing me, with the inevitable desire to injure me severely. Naturally seeking to avoid this outcome, I tried a variety of evasive tactics I was sure would succeed.  

Several times, I hid inside a pile of leaves for whole minutes at a time. My eyes stayed shut tightly, avoiding the sharp, scratchy edges. Sometimes I climbed to the top of a large maple tree, my entire body largely concealed by leaves and branches. I could only climb so far until the branches became too fragile to hold my weight. There I stood, silent and immobile, waiting, clinging onto the trunk for as long as an hour. My strength depleted, I slowly climbed down.  

For whatever reason, the terror and paranoia that gripped me always eventually dissipated. I could almost pretend that there was something fun about the process. In my mind, my pursuers were ignoramuses, easily thrown off the path by the simplest of duplicitous acts. Though these evil forces always seemed five seconds away from apprehending me, the trail inevitably went cold at the last minute. Because of this, I won the ability to escape time and time again.

This fantasy, as you might expect, pushed back hard against the numerous instances where I could not get away from or evade my pursuers. At the base of the same tree I often climbed, the process began afresh nearly every afternoon. We played violent tackle football in the yard every day during the summer, excluding Sundays. The brutality could always be forgiven as an excusable part of a game. That which always followed was much more difficult to explain away.

My eventual destination was foreboding enough. The house was painted a shade of dark green, one which always appeared brutish to me, though I admit that I could not accurately articulate my feelings. Though I do not easily throw out words like evil, I do think it seems appropriate here. The residence was, from the outset, a holding pen where awful secrets were held and never shared, regardless of the circumstances. Only faintly do I remember the walk up to the front door, then inside, then a hard left past the living room into the master bedroom.

My sister, sadly, bore the brunt of what I had been made to feel. Anger has to go somewhere. In this case, I threw her bodily against the wall. I stood on her chest, jumping up and down, landing hard on her stomach. Invariably, I knocked the wind out of her. When breath returned, her cries grew desperate. I looked over my left shoulder to see my father looming over me, angry. He overheard the screaming and interceded once again.

Dad cleared the room, commanding my sister to leave, and removed his large leather belt. For months, I’d received a vicious whipping every evening around this same time each day. One would think punishment like this would leave its mark in more than one way. But every day I’d end up back at that grimy house, and the process would resume once more. Violence begets violence, even with the best of intentions. More physical pain was the last thing I needed, but it was the first thing I got.

The trauma of the abuse was therefore compounded by the reinforcing trauma of Dad’s belt. No one ever made the connection between the two. I was too scared to talk. I wouldn’t open my mouth again for over ten years. My sister broke the silence around five years before I did, necessitating a very awkward and probably unresolved dialogue between two children and both parents. Though never stated directly, my folks preferred that the two of us bury this unfortunate chapter in family history. We were to otherwise pretend it never happened. I was, I must admit, all too happy to follow suit.  

Meanwhile, the perpetrator moved elsewhere. He and his wife divorced. The house was sold and the remaining family moved to an apartment. The full-contact football in the front yard ended. After the accused packed up and departed, I stopped brutalizing my sister. It couldn’t happen a moment too soon. Before the end of it all, I’d nearly amputated the top of an index finger when slammed in a door. Perpetual molestation had unleashed my inner wild child.

In later years, my sister claimed that the violence had made her a more aggressive, tougher athlete on the basketball court. We both sought to normalize the damage, a typical response to the emotions that trauma produces, the ones that are out of proportion to the routine of daily life. But even now, my thoughts often return to that childhood game by which I introduced this post. It, in some ways, serves as an analogy, describing how I’ve decided to react, respond, and conduct my life in my adulthood. Self-preservation at any cost intercedes when will alone is broken and confused.

As Shakespeare so famously wrote,

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

How does one make adequate light of an intensely private agony? Can any punishment cut through the ironies? Our punitive measures, seeking justice, do not guarantee the end. The impulse to abuse, to injure, to maim—these are what must be confronted without the desire to bury or conceal. Remember it is a partially deformed image of ourselves that stares back at us from every defendant on trial for child abuse, sexual or otherwise.          

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Casey Jones

Driving that train, high on cocaine
Casey Jones you better watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And you know that notion just crossed my mind

This old engine makes it on time
Leaves Hazard Station 'bout a quarter 'till nine
Hits Trouble Junction at seventeen two
At a quarter to ten you know it's drivin' again

Driving that train, high on cocaine
Casey Jones you better watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And you know that notion just crossed my mind

Trouble ahead, the lady in red
Take my advice, you'd be better off dead
Switchman sleeping, train hundred and two is
On the wrong track and headed for you,

Driving that train, high on cocaine
Casey Jones you better watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And you know that notion just crossed my mind

Trouble with you is the trouble with me
You got two good eyes but you still don't see
Come round the bend, you know it's the end
The fireman screams and the engine just gleams

Driving that train, high on cocaine
Casey Jones you better watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And you know that notion just crossed my mind

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Patient's Insight into Psychiatric Woes

A psychiatric ward, for the uninitiated, is a means of narrowly controlled chaos. Few recognize that mental illness exists along a wide spectrum. It is only the worst cases that get the majority of the attention. My experiences were usually nothing like One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I experienced few instances of overt drama. My recollections mainly fall on days of utter, horrid drudgery and boredom. Most patients, in opposition to hospitalization as we usually view it, are not confined to bed. Instead, they nervously pace the corridors, frustrated by the necessary, but restrictive boundaries.

The truly awful details and problems stretch beyond the reach of interpersonal communication and personal reflection. Patients with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, personality disorders, and major depressive disorder, to name only a few, are thrown together into close quarters. This is a recipe for disaster and it’s impressive how infrequently total disaster becomes a reality. With such a related, but wildly varied set of disorders, I'm amazed nurses and doctors can really do their job.

In the worst case scenario, hospitals combine psychiatric and substance abuse patients. Some insist upon keeping the two separate from each other and would never dare dream of having it any other way. Those who comingle the two may be seeking to reduce cost, but they compromise patient safety in the process. A person going through detox, nerves and patience already worn dangerously thin, can create problems. Combine a manic depressive still coming down from a manic episode with someone who is in withdrawal and be prepared to court disaster.

I spent most of my life in Alabama, where I was hospitalized several times and in multiple hospitals. A recent article talks about the nationwide need for beds in psychiatric units and hospitals.
Across the state and nation, hospital administrators say the demand for psychiatric hospital beds is escalating, although they're not sure why. The need spans all ages, from children to the aging.

In hospitals across Alabama, the lack of available beds has caused some psychiatric patients to spend hours in emergency rooms awaiting admission, often creating a bottleneck of care in the emergency rooms.
Psychiatric patients with some means swiftly learn how to work the system as it current exists. My psychiatrist could always find me an open bed where I would be under his care. I called him myself when I was strong enough to make the arrangements on my own. When I was very ill and weak, however, I was often so depressed I could barely bathe and eat. In those situations, had no choice to head for the ER and wait.

The law, as written, says that care must be provided and cannot be denied. That being said, open beds can be at a premium. One might turn up in the same city or, failing that, in an entirely different state. Quality is much less important than placement in these sorts of situations.

Mental illness remains poorly understood by modern medicine. In my periods of hospitalization, topics of conversation with other patients invariably drifted to our own unique combination of medications. No two peoples' cocktail was ever the same. The dosage differed, as did the precise prescription drugs used to treat our condition. The makeup of the ward also varied considerably. Often, the sickest of the sick and poorest of the poor inhabited the same close quarters as those much more economically fortunate.

Those of us who had the material resources to drive ourselves to the hospital were the lucky ones. The most challenging cases were usually the people who worn hospital gowns instead of street clothes. These people were the most severely ill. They’d arrived in style in the back of an ambulance, or in the back of a police car when committed against their will. Several were what was known as dual diagnosis—hospitalized for chemical addiction and mental illness at once. Their stories were often tragic and depressingly similar, living lives forever in and out of treatment facilities.

State mental hospitals, a holdover from a previous age of progressive reform, are continuing to shutter their doors. In Alabama, Bryce Hospital was the inevitable destination of many I observed over the years. Due to court order, Bryce could only hold patients for a maximum of 90 days. Their latest stint concluded, these severally mentally ill were turned back onto the streets. Before too much longer, they ended up back in Bryce once again. This continual process comprised a very pathetic existence for many with nowhere else to go but in and out and in and out again.

The need for more psychiatric beds is a national trend, said Mark Covall, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems. There are many factors that could be driving it, he said.

The growth in demand for service could be a sign that the stigma of having a mental illness has lessened. Medical experts also say the economic climate, with people losing their jobs and homes and experiencing more stress, can boost the need for mental health care.

Covall said the recession and tight budgets also could be making less money available to provide community services that could help keep people from having a mental health crisis.
Paradoxically, we are becoming more tolerant and understanding of mental illness, while simultaneously unable to cope with the deluge of new patients. Class, privilege, and affluence make a huge difference. Psychiatric wards are very different from one another and this is especially the case as concerns quality of care.

I’ve been a patient in a hospital with severe budgetary restrictions, lack of sufficient staffing, and barely enough security to contain the potentially physically violent. And, I’ve been a patient in a gold standard facility, considered the best in the entire city. There, I would never have been able to even be admitted if I hadn’t had $200 in my bank account and excellent health insurance. I would have never been able to begin to pay my bill if I hadn’t had insurance in the first place. Those unable to pay out were quietly discharged.

Whether sour economic times increase mental illness is something of a chicken or egg conundrum. People have long turned to the bottle or to drugs under periods of great stress, this is true. Whether this proclivity is a result of a diagnosable psychiatric illness or addiction depends on the person. It is true, however, that people with greater financial stability and without a cultural bias are more likely to pursue treatment.

Essential to proper treatment and recovery is an active family, if not community involvement. The worst cases I observed as a patient were those who had no social network or means of support. Born into severely dysfunctional environments from the very outset, these people never stood a chance. I maintain strongly that a majority of societal ills are a result of detachment and distance from what is needed most. In this case, I mean basic compassion, as well as adequate emotional, familial, and financial resources.

My own hope is to see a cure for bipolar disorder within my lifetime. But, I also have to concede that this desire is a tall order. In many ways, psychiatry remains in a vastly primitive state. Doctors and researchers have made considerable strides in treating of many instances of cancer, for example, but mental illness is much more complicated. The science of addiction is a similarly misunderstood discipline. Both have been present from the beginning of recorded history. Until the next big breakthrough, we may have to treat the effects before we even scratch the surface of the causes.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Quote of the Week

"The father is always a Republican toward his son, and his mother's always a Democrat."- Robert Frost

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday Video

Make it the last time, make it the last time
Make it the last time, oh darling please.

But I don’t understand why you always pick the time
When I’ve just talked to you with your love on my mind.
To see a distant light, to hear a far-off horn
To leave me one more time, I can’t stand no more

Say no more, well no more,
Well no more, darling, please.

And every time you leave I make the very same vow
That when you come back I ain’t gonna love you no how.
But when you return you look so fine to me
I can’t stand no more, my darling, it’s just got to be

I said the last time, oh the last time,
Oh the last time, darling, please.

Don’t you understand me, don’t you understand me ?
Honey, don’t you understand my word ?

Well, you told me that you love me, I believed you, darling,
But you lied, you know it’s true.
Hold on to my heart, I’ll believe it till you’re leaving
Then I’ll cry.

Oh darling, oh darling,
Oh darling, make up your mind

Oh, I can’t stand your loving, honey, it’s tearing me apart,
You done got my soul, but now you’re after my heart.
Well, don’t hurt me, darling, now you know how to do it so well
I just got one consolation, I just wail

It was the last time
It was the last time
It was the last time, darling, please.

When you told me that you love me I believed you, darling,
But you lied, you know it’s true.
Hold on to my heart, I’ll believe it till you’re leaving
Then I’ll cry.

Well no more, well no more,
Well no more without you, please!

If you wanna love me, honey, please stay home,
If you don’t wanna love me, baby, please stay gone.
Don’t you understand me, don’t you understand me ?
Don’t you understand my words ?

Say no more, oh no more,
Well no more, oh, darling, oh!

You told me that you love me I believed you, darling,
But you lied, you know it’s true.
Hold on to my heart, I’ll believe it till you’re leaving
Then I’ll cry, yeah.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Wild Horses

Bm        G       Bm         G
Childhood living  is easy to do
Am               C     D G                  D
The things   you wanted  I bought them  for you
Bm        G    Bm             G
Graceless lady you know who I am
Am               C      D G             D
You know I can't let you  slide thru my hands
Am    C    D  G        F       C
Wild horses   couldn't drag me away
Am        C     D   G        F       C      G
Wild wild horses    couldn't drag me away
Bm            G      Bm            G
I watched you suffer a dull aching pain
Am          C     D G              D
Now you've decided  to show me the same
Bm          G     Bm            G
No sweeping exits or off stage lights
Am                 C     D  G               D
Could make me feel bitter   or treat you unkind
Am    C    D  G        F       C
Wild horses   couldn't drag me away
Am         C    D   G        F        C
Wild wild horses    couldn't drag me away

Bm          G             Bm          G
I know I've dreamed you  a sin and a lie
Am       C      D G                     D
I had my freedom  but I don't have much time
Bm             G      Bm            G
Faith has been broken tears must be cried
Am            C     D    G        D
Let's do some living     after we die
Am    C    D  G        F        C
Wild horses   couldn't drag me away
Am        C    D   G     F              C
Wild wild horses   we'll ride them some day

Am    C    D  G        F        C
Wild horses   couldn't drag me away
Am        C    D   G     F              C  D   G
Wild wild horses   we'll ride them some day

Our Sacred Obligations to Meeting

My Meeting is facing a sizable deficit in its budget. It has been previously able to rely on endowment money to take care of sizable expenses. However, as has been announced and stressed many times before, we are largely subsisting on dead peoples' contributions. We do not have the ability to rely on regular contributions from current members and consistent attenders.

The Meeting is in need of money and each of us have been informed of this by mail. We’ve been encouraged to increase our donations. Those who have never donated before have been especially targeted. One might even say that many members and attenders are free loading off of the generosity of a few.

In conversation with a Friend, the two of us discussed another option to ease our financial burden. Namely, she proposed that the Meeting should decrease its reliance on paid contractors to complete Meeting tasks. Without a called minister, one could argue that we, the congregation, are responsible for doing what must be done. Though we are a large Meeting, a self-reliant, do-it-yourself streak might do us a world of good.

In many Monthly Meetings, ours being one, a mere 20% of the congregation provides financial support and completes all needed work through committees. This leaves behind 80% who one might characterize as inert and largely not involved. Reasons why we display this glaring discrepancy are legion and varied.

I'm a member of Ministry and Worship. Every year, we put a survey before the Meeting, asking for opinions in a variety of targeted areas. The finished product compiles the answers into the Spiritual State of the Meeting report. One answer to the survey, which spoke to this matter directly, claimed that our Meeting simply contains too many overworked NGO/non-profit types. The implication was that people were too overburdened with their day jobs to take part in Meeting functions.

That may be one answer, but no one single reply of any stripe seems to summarize the entirety of the subject. The only logical step, then, was to pose the question to the Meeting itself. I asked what was preventing us from greater involvement with the Meeting and preventing us from greater giving? How do those with the best of intentions, seeking to spur participation onward, avoid sounding preachy and insistent? Money can quickly become a very contentious subject.

The matter may go to the root of what membership and/or regular attendance really is, or rather what it means to us. In many Christian churches, giving 10% of one’s earnings is considered standard. For example, while growing up, I saw my own parents write out a check and drop it in the collection plate. This was true week in and week out. They never complained about the expense. For them, a person sought to replenish what he or she received in congregational assistance and in basic community.

Within liberal unprogrammed Friends, are the assumptions very different from those of other Friends? Do we downplay our faith and status as a religious people in a Religious Society? The answers are complicated and will come from each of us in our own way. In the meantime, we must challenge long-held assumptions and dare to think very differently. We may need to ponder the services from which we all benefit and are provided free of charge. Guilt trips or waggling fingers serve no purpose. Instead, I aim to produce results.

Changes that facilitate greater involvement in the Meeting are often cause for speculation alone, never fully realized. If, for example, a wall needs to be painted, it would be cheaper for a Friend or Friends to take the initiative. Sporadically, Work Days are scheduled, but they only achieve minimal participation. It appears also that confusion comes up when no paper trail or system of accountability exists. Just because the same person has completely the same task for thirteen years doesn't mean he or she should continue in this capacity when change is needed.

Inertia is a large part of the challenge in this context. Committee service burnout becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The same forty people fill every opening, eventually becoming thoroughly weary and tired because of a lack of Meeting support. This leaves many more who could do an effective job in committee service, should they agree to participate. The Meeting is always in search of new blood, new ideas, and fresh legs. On occasion, new members and attenders will take leadership roles, but often they resist.

This much is indisputable. Members and regular attenders must all pitch in to make things easier. Should they not give money, they should give of themselves instead. Many Young Adult Friends, for example, are on such a tight budget that regular giving is not feasible. Yet, this should not make them feel somehow limited in what they can do. I pray everyday that, though financial offerings are not an option, YAFs will become more active in the inner workings of the Meeting.

Additional help is needed for every member of every committee and task force who works hard. As noted above, too much is laid upon too few and has been this way for a long time. And as we consider our responsibilities, where do we strike the balance in our own lives? Are we really speaking our Truth? Following leadings of the Spirit can sometimes be very challenging. Do we dare to be honest with ourselves and others?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Morning in the Life of...

7:30 am
Awaken. Song stuck in head that apparently was the soundtrack of a dream. Remove mask of CPAP machine used to treat sleep apnea, by undoing the clasps. Typically morbid sense of humor reminds self of being on a hospital respirator. Rub sleep out of eyes.

8:07 am
In between bites of breakfast, consult calendar. Regular specialist visit will be today in the late morning. Due to the timing of the appointment, public transportation will be clogged with morning commuters. Expect to be standing the whole way, with no chance for a seat.

8:35 am
Following breakfast, catch up on e-mail, Facebook, latest YouTube viral video, plus general internet cleverness. Wonder what in God’s name I’m going to write about today.

9:00 am
Walk to bus stop. Crowd consists primarily of professionals in suits and ties or dresses and high heels. They nervously pace back and forth, as if grimly preparing for battle. Half tilt their heads downwards, concentrating with observable effort on their Blackberries. The other half are completely silent, no doubt contemplating a busy day at work.

9:18 am
Bus arrives. Upon entrance, the unmistakably astringent smell of urine wafts through the inside of the vehicle. The source is a homeless man, who constantly talks to himself or at least to no one in particular.

9:32 am
The homeless man is eventually informally diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic off of his medication. He becomes loud and bellicose, demanding to be let off the bus immediately. Afraid for the physical safety of the riders, the bus driver swiftly acquiesces to his demands. As the bus pulls away, jettisoning the man in the parking lot of a gas station, he flails his arms wildly, still screaming threats.

9:49 am
Arrive at scheduled doctor’s visit. While crossing the street, observe a near-accident between two cars in one of DC’s famous traffic circles. The driver of one of the cars was confused about which green light was hers. It’s a not-uncommon occurrence.

9:51 am
Wade through a sea of chattering college students present on all sides. Wonder for the eight millionth time if I ever looked that young, conceding quickly that I simply must have.

10:02 am
The medical center elevator is slower than Christmas, or at least not much faster. A backlogged crowd gathers, having waited somewhere between five and ten minutes to board. They pack in together as tightly as sardines.

10:08 am
Checked in, I wait for my name to be called. A large television monitor broadcasts cable news. I feel nervous and jittery somehow, for reasons I do not understand.

10:29 am
I am escorted to an exam room. First, however, my weight is measured, as is my blood pressure. The nurse, while exiting, draws a curtain across the entrance to the room. This signifies that the room is occupied by a patient.

10:50 am
The specialist finally arrives. He arrives with a doctor-in-training, a woman of Arabic descent wearing a headscarf. I take care to seem as though I am talking to both of them simultaneously, engaging the two in dialogue.

10:58 am
An impromptu ultrasound is scheduled. A slimy, colorless gel is smeared on a part of my extremities. The machine’s wand records a general picture of what the specialist wishes to see more in detail. It’s a messy, sometimes uncomfortable process, but fortunately passes quickly.

11:05 am  ­­­­­
Information from prior tests conducted a week or two in the past have already been discussed by now. New tests are scheduled. New tests are always being scheduled. I am to return two days later to the lab downstairs. I always get lost while exiting the building, but find my way out of the maze eventually.

11:09 am
My wallet is already overflowing with appointment cards. One more seems sadly appropriate. I count seven already tucked into one of the folds.

11:15 am
Back to the bus stop. I allow myself a brief moment of self-pity. ­When will this ever end?

11:35 am
I board the bus, which then quickly accelerates, nearly throwing me towards the rear of the vehicle. This sort of behavior is a DC trademark. Everyone’s in a hurry.

11:59 am
I’ve returned home. Today is Monday. I will have appointments scattered throughout the rest of the week, like usual. The cycle will repeat itself.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

-Robert Frost

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Christine's Tune

She's a devil in disguise
you can see it in her eyes
She's telling dirty lies
she's a devil in disguise, in disguise

Now a woman like that
all she does is hate you
She doesn't know what
makes a man a man

She'll talk about the times
that she's been with you
She'll speak your name
to everyone she can

She's a devil in disguise
you can see it in her eyes
She's telling dirty lies
she's a devil in disguise
in disguise

Unhappiness has been
her close companion
Her world is full of
jealousy and doubt

It gets her off to
see a person crying
She's just the kind that
you can't do without

She's a devil in disguise
you can see it in her eyes
She's telling dirty lies
she's a devil in disguise in disguise

Her number always turns
up in your pocket
Whenever you are
looking for a dime

It's all right to call her
but I'll bet you
The moon is full and
you're just wasting time

She's a devil in disguise
you can see it in her eyes
She's telling dirty lies
she's a devil in disguise in disguise

Monday, June 11, 2012

Afterthoughts of Pride Weekend and Dreams for the Future

This weekend in Washington, DC, marked Capital Pride, an annual festival designed in part to show the visibility of the LGBT community. Saturday’s well-attended parade included a march through Dupont Circle, an area of the District that became a thriving gay district in the 1970’s. Though the festivities still wind their way through Dupont, times have changed substantially. The crowds may faithfully appear, year after year, but the character of the celebration in many ways is nothing like it was thirty years ago.

Long time queer-friendly and area fixture bookseller Lambda Rising has been closed for years. The gayborhood, if you will, has begun to erode and lose its distinctiveness. Strictly defined boundaries separating gay villages from the rest of cities often no longer exist. This is a good thing. Evolving cultural standards of acceptance towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders are the reasons why.

In time, even Pride itself may be a thing of the past. If the social stigma of being openly out of the closet ceases to be traumatic and shameful, a need to define oneself as different as the norm would no longer exist. Men and women who would have never dreamed that marriage equality would ever be legal anywhere in their own lifetimes have been proven incorrect. If polls are to be believed, a majority of American have softened their formerly harsh, judgmental attitudes towards LGBTs. All of us have to concede the rapid pace of progress.

Today, middle school students, not far removed from puberty, now feel comfortable enough to step outside the closet. Though I am in my early thirties, most people I knew in those days were not open with their sexuality until the end of high school or (more likely) sometime during college. At the very outset, everyone knew who was queer, or had their strong suspicions, but no one ever publicly acknowledged it. That would have broached protocol. The elephant in the room was never to be called out or identified by anything other than indirect means.

It seems incomprehensible to me that the high risk of embracing a once-dreaded label would have given way to such a new, fierce, courageous honesty. And yet, it has. Though I may be pessimistic about the health of our country’s economy, I am extremely heartened by the way the American public has shed hurtful beliefs and attitudes. Every generation has its shortcomings, certainly, but it should also be credited for its successes. This triumph of tolerance happened faster than our ability to take full account for it.

Many believe the arrival of the internet has gone a long way to hasten our understanding and lessen the fear. I do not disagree. Despite the backlash by a few conservative groups, homophobia and homophobic attitudes have been slowly thawing. What has been created in its place takes some getting used to for everyone. It doesn't just challenge heterosexuals, it also challenges those in the gay community.

Queer activists appreciate the transformation to a degree, but some still pine for the days when "gay" implied a kind of outlaw, renegade status. To them, mainstream acceptance is a double-edged sword, one that inadvertently leads to the loss of a distinctive queer identity. This identity was often a product of shame and self-loathing, formed in direct opposition to an intolerant heterosexual society. I see their point, though I may disagree with the conclusions.

If a tool of technology has enhanced us so dramatically already, imagine what might follow next. If what we have developed can accelerate progress beyond the ordinarily methodical, routine pace of other epochs in history, what should we expect in the near future? Like all revolutionary impetuses, the printing press being only one, ripples and currents throughout time will be steady and unrelenting. Instead of focusing on the negative consequences, let us dare to believe in that which brings us together in a spirit of mutual fellowship and compassion.

Our work has not yet been perfected. For a while longer, young adults will need to be assured that life does get better. Anti-gay attitudes will persist for a while longer and may never subside completely. Change is lumpy and always distributed unequally. But in the end, should we welcome the demise of the always artificial distinction between gay and straight? Assimilation for the sake of contentment and the pursuit of happiness can be forgiven, one hopes.

Once, to be queer meant living a coded, clandestine world that required insider knowledge to maneuver. Many fear that in the rush to attain equal footing with the Jones, much that would still be considered subversive today has been utterly cast aside. Some behaviors and beliefs, in fairness, have likely already been thrown upon the scrap heap, never to return.

Yet, speaking for myself, I never felt comfortable living a camouflaged life. The lengths I went to cover my tracks never particularly struck me as noble, courageous, or creative. I was always too busy looking fearfully over my shoulder to appreciate the distinctiveness of my surroundings. Fenced in, among those with whom I shared at least one major similarity, I felt simultaneously free and imprisoned.

As much as I explored an aspect of myself, I was nonetheless sworn to strict secrecy. One could expect no true freedom, or any realistic liberation in the tiny, incestuous community I inhabited. Once the walls of the club or the latest gathering scattered, so too did a sense of who I was. Only with a momentary saturation of that which was not hetero-centric could I ever really see myself for the way I was.

In my bisexuality, I felt trapped between two paradigms: homosexual or heterosexual. I was unsure of which to pick. Though no one formally put me on the spot, it was nonetheless implied I ought to make my choice plain for all to see, regardless of which one it was. Speaking for myself, sexual orientation is important, but does not define me in totality.

As such, I prefer to feel a part of the whole. I've had enough of feeling isolated, distanced, and passed over. Any desired state of exclusion is an eccentric way, at best, to define a scorned, masochistic sort of purity. Persecution may provide a group with a unified purpose, but that purpose is still rooted in pain and misunderstanding. In any transition, there will be awkward periods. We must and will be shaken loose of our moorings, eventually.

Discomfort and disequilibrium cannot be avoided. But with this tentative uncertainty, we will eventually find ourselves a better, more loving, more considerate people. Humanity must be made over afresh once again. Better we find ourselves growing together in similarity than to embrace division, even the division that is the byproduct of good intentions.        

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Quote of the Week

"I love this state. The trees are the right height." —Mitt Romney, campaigning in Michigan (February 2012)

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Saturday Video

Two of us riding nowhere
Spending someone's
Hard earned pay
You and me Sunday driving
Not arriving

On our way back home
We're on our way home
We're on our way home
We're going home

Two of us sending postcards
Writing letters
On my wall
You and me burning matches
Lifting latches

On our way back home
We're on our way home
We're on our way home
We're going home

You and I have memories
Longer than the road that stretches out ahead

Two of us wearing raincoats
Standing so low
In the sun
You and me chasing paper
Getting nowhere

On our way back home
We're on our way home
We're on our way home
We're going home

Friday, June 08, 2012


I haven't written a poem in months, but wanted to give it a try. I suspect I'll probably revise this considerably, but this seems like a good first draft.



Soaking wet
but satiated

Two sets of
two glazed eyes
deliberately present
in a steady downpour

the railings

Peering downward
to the station below

Trains demarcate

Street signs
copy locomotive direction
north or south
east or west

coming or going

We peer over
resting our arms
standing side by side
on a bridge

Bearing the name of a
deceased truck driver
whose rig caught fire

Melting and destroying
the iron supports

At the aqueduct
a few blocks away

a man once plummeted
to his death
sixty years ago
A departing train
hauling coal

Builds momentum
nearly blinded by the
strong artificial floodlights

The sound of saturation
discarded wet clothes slapping
against ancient floorboards

Traincars easing towards
unknown destinations

Thursday, June 07, 2012

No Matter What

I recorded this a little differently than the original version.

No matter what you are
I will always be with you
Doesn't matter what you do girl, oh girl with you
No matter what you do
I will always be around

Won't you tell me what you found girl, oh girl won't you
Knock down the old brick wall, and be a part of it all
Nothing to say, nothing to see, nothing to do

If you would give me all, as I would give it to you
Nothing would be, nothing would be, nothing would be

No matter where you go
There will always be a place
Can't you see in my face girl, oh girl don't you

Knock down the old brick wall, and be a part of it all
Nothing to say, nothing to see, nothing to do
If you would give me all, as I would give it to you
Nothing would be, nothing would be, nothing would be

No matter what you are
I will always be with you
Doesn't matter what you do girl, oh girl want you
Oh girl, you girl, want you
Oh girl, you girl, want you