Monday 8 March 2010 | 6 cookies in the jar
As in, I, queasy, just had one for breakfast. Yes, I did! And I’d do it again. Followed by a great lot of Sweet Thai Delight from the gobelet magique, as I’m waiting for student conferences to begin (17 today, 42 by Wednesday afternoon). My whole lollipop thing is kind of well-known at the State School, as in, colleagues and students always come to my desk to get them—but I don’t think they know it started just because I’m phobic about hard candy. Lollipops make me feel safer: if I did somehow inhale/swallow one, I could just reach right down in there and grab its little paper stick and yank that sucker out. Which I suppose is very likely why lollipops were invented.
Anyway here I am, waiting for student #1 to appear so we can discuss her ENTHRALLING paper on lowering the drinking age—and in the meantime, what better way to start the week than by musing on men’s infidelity and women’s suicide? Well *I* couldn’t think of one!
Publishers Weekly ends their squib on the 2006 Assia Wevill biography Lover of Unreason by asserting:
This will be an important book for Hughes scholars, primarily for the authors’ exclusive 1996 interview with the poet, in which he identified the poems he wrote alluding to Assia after her death, which he felt no critic had ever interpreted correctly. Newly revealed letters and interviews reinforce previous accounts of Hughes’s sexual attraction and the dedicated philandering that drove two women to suicide. Photos.
Italics mine. Yeah, that’s right. I’m going there. (“Photos”!)
So my question to the world today is: Why are we, on the one hand, so coy about admitting that men’s actions sometimes cause women enough pain and suffering that they would hurt or kill themselves—and on the other, patently accept that this is sometimes the case, at least in the popular imagination (though let’s face it, fucking Publishers Weekly is hardly a telenovela)? As a good doctrinaire feminist, I certainly don’t want to give anyone else (especially a dude) that kind of agency over me, any more than I want to accept the politicized wastebasket diagnosis of borderline, etc. But don’t we have a squilzillion exciting cultural narratives about unfaithful men and the La Lloronas their behavior directly incurs, the murderesses their testosterone-fueled activities create? And has it not been, in the words of Anse Bundren, ever so?
Like most other agons, this one is probably best worked out in the creative imagination of a culture (Anne Carson’s “sleep mind“) and not its public rhetoric. So I’m just saying. If Elin Woods were less fabulously wealthy and less, um, Swedish? Would anyone be surprised if she—
Like the poem says, it could be otherwise. I certainly got myself very worked up about various young ladies, worked up enough to deposit myself in a couple of hospitals. I can imagine men destroyed by philandering wimmin, broken, spiritless, despairing, despondent, taking the babies down to the river at night. But who has all their estrogen pour out of them once a month, leaving them drained and tragic and non-resilient? And who has the money and the status? And how come it’s never Bill standing grimly by a publicly repentant, shame-faced Hillary? You know why.
Now you all hate me but there, I said it. Yes, by cheating on someone, you can make someone else miserable. It’s true. And I’m not even going to put the word make in scare quotes. If humans can be traumatized by other kinds of physical and psychic harming, why not by sexual betrayal as well? Doesn’t whatever floods your body with adrenaline, leaves your heart pounding and mouth filled with metallic water—doesn’t it leave a physical trace in your tissues and your brain? I’m arguing that it does. I’m arguing that…
Here two students came for help with their papers and I forgot what I was arguing, other than droning over and over, “You need more proof/evidence/vivid examples to support your claim that racial profiling is bad/marijuana should be legalized/nuclear power is safe.” Then a bloggy brainy colleague and I started talking about his beautiful old postcard collection, including this fabulous Massachusetts state mental hospital; and then we talked about Loren Eiseley and Lewis Thomas and Edward Abbey; and then “The Death of a Moth,” by either Woolf or Dillard, comme tu préfères; and now I have finished my tea and I am hungry but have no food and it is 11:15 a.m. and the day turns on, the clouds have lifted but the pavement is still wet and it is cold but bright blue.
“O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am.” I think the “is” should be read as if in italics. With some degree of wonderment.
Saturday 6 March 2010 | I like a cookie
Where ” . . . ” could stand for: being oblivious, being scared/ashamed, or being angry/self-righteous. Excerpted from email to Mandarin. Consider its source: id est, me. No boyfriends were harmed in the making of this blogpost. All narrators are unreliable. The sentence on the front of this t-shirt is false.
So the usual weekend knot begins to knot itself in my chest only this time I decide I’ll just go ahead and let it start NOW instead of fighting it until Sunday night. I am therefore thoroughly miserable, in part because of the literal tons of student verbiage out of which I cannot make myself dig, plus the comprehensive exams, plus I am missing a new AlAnon meeting right now (and I wanted to go and support the new people, why did I not get dressed and go?), but also I am making myself unhappy because I think el B. should apologize and I know it’s the farthest thing from his mind. Why should he apologize? Why on earth?
I don’t know. I seem to remember only that he expressed his distress Thursday night throgh the medium of, having a royal go at me verbally; and then he expressed yet more distress (which still looked a lot like attack) over the fact that I should decompensate in the face of such vigorous healthy self-expression. He told [our couples therapist of 45 minutes' duration] that he is afraid to speak any of his truths because he fears (the usual thing, I got this from the Monk all the time too, so it’s obviously true) that I will become overwhelmed with shame/weeping/self-harming/ideation etc., and then he’ll feel awful/to blame. The only thing about this revelation that surprises me is that it seems to me all I ever hear is his truth, without much regard for how it’s expressed or how it’s going to leave me feeling—so I can’t imagine what are these further horrible truths/complaints I still have yet to hear.
It would not be the fair and balanced news coverage of the Fox Network, however, if I did not further reveal that he also said to New Couples Therapist that he wished he knew how to be more compassionate with my feeling hurt about his [behavioral choices, redacted]. He stated that while he disagreed with me, and thought his personal private behavior wasn’t significant or relevant or any of my business or whatever, he also wished he could feel more compassion. I think he means, that he could validate my feelings even though he disagrees with why I have them? New Couples Therapist asked if I had known about this, because I had a funny look on my face, and I said no, I had not been previously aware that the B. wished he could behave/speak differently, mostly because he never mentioned it before.
Anyway that is the meat of the nut out of its shell. It’s 11 am and we’ve not spoken a word all morning (other than “Morning?” which he said timidly as I passed his office door, and I waved weakly in response). If all things were well, and I weren’t nursing a terrible lonely grudge-bruise, I can imagine a realm in which such morning silence would be heavenly, but instead I react with feelings like: stifled, nauseated, despondent. And wishing I lived somewhere else.
Fair enough, what you suggest: that men culturally express hurt feelings or anxiety or insecurity by dominating speech-acts, and/or asserting in clipped and loud voices why you are wrong to feel that way, until their unwittingly designated “debate opponent” just says, Okay, okay, you’re right, I’m wrong, would you please just stop kicking me now? Because I am totally DOWN. See my tail between my legs? See how I’m licking at your mouth? You win.
Confusingly, in my experience they then claim, “I never get to say anything!” and walk out and leave me on the floor scrambling for telephones and tissues and my brain/adult ego back.
The above was written in response to Mandarin’s more reasoned musings: “I think men are intensely fragile often shame-driven and thus avoidant creatures. We try to engage and they get frightened/threatened. They depend on us because they maintain no other intimacies—no ring of comforting women holds them. Just us. So when I said that with my ex, anything that wasn’t total capitulation on my part (from my perspective) was perceived as a vicious unprovoked attack, I think that generalizes across a spectrum of penis-bearers. [...] I know that I tend to discount male distress because it seems so tiny, looks like irritation instead of hurt or pain, emotions that are more heart-opening for me to witness. So the browbeater is expressing his distress as browbeating (as I heard through the floor last night) and the browbeaten says/thinks: But I should be mad at you! You’re the person who violated our trust by ________, and mysteriously the browbeater becomes more angry. (Again, two whole other examples of this happening close by me.) Anger means never having to say you’re sorry because it means not having to actually FEEL.”
Penis-bearers are invited to disagree/adumbrate/redirect. You can even do so in all-caps, in case you need to shout healthily. No one will curl up on the floor and cry, because it’s the Internet. Or as Amy Gardner once said to Josh Lyman, “That’s how it is in the NBA.” Funny how completely and self-possessedly I have her kind of balls in print, but seldom in person—anyway not when it comes to what AlAnon refers to obliquely as those “special relationships.”
Friday 5 March 2010 | 5 cookies in the jar
You might know it. You might not. But the next morning, after a really solid uncontrollable-crying jag, you feel beaten up. Your eyes are grainy and raw. Your face hurts. Various things which usually aren’t, are swollen. Including the region of your chest around your heart, or anyway let’s not be romantic, let’s say your breastbone or sternum. It’s sore. Probably just chest/rib muscles, from sobbing. But sore like a bruise. Sobbing beats you from the inside-out, like a drum. It’s punishing on the body. A hot bath helps, and tea helps. But you still feel pummelled the next day. Just pummelled.
Which is how I feel, sitting here in the library typing on my little laptop. The Brujo thoughtfully gave me a ride to school this morning, since he’s meeting me here this afternoon for our therapy intake anyway and then also can give me a lift home. I have a beautiful half-chai, in the gobelet magique—the nice barista at Café Bibliotheque makes it with their fancy looseleaf chai but only puts about half as much in the little silk baglet thingy, which is dangling from the plastic stirrer, and then she fills the gobelet with steamed milk and drizzles of honey. Last time she made this for me, I didn’t put the lid on all the way (because of the whole precarious dangling-bag-plastic-stirrer arrangement) and the tea wound up cascading all over the tiles of the ladies’ loo on the third floor. A friendly cleaning woman helped me by mopping it up and giving me plastic trash bags to put my (suddenly tea-sodden) raincoat and scarf into, and my stack of (miraculously non-tea-damaged) books. I then toted these bags around for the rest of the day. In the rain, ha ha! Anyway, this amazingly kind cleaning woman even reassured me that people pour their tea/coffee all over the floor all the time, and that she was not put out at all to mop it up, this tremendous volume of fluid. I was astonished, how much ten ounces is, when it’s spread out on institutional tile. It was like blood, there was so much of it. I told the barista about it ruefully today and she said, next time just come back, I’ll make you a new one!
Everyone is so nice in the world. It’s sunny and students are starting to come into the library, happy and young and talking animatedly. I still feel like someone gave me a working-over while I slept.
I’m writing this, not grading. You may have noticed, or not. I teach in about an hour and I promise you my students will certainly be observant of the fact.
So why was I crying?
It is hard to explain. I feel confident no one is listening anymore, though, so I will try. There are three possible explanations:
1. I am a lily-livered weakling and as soon as the Brujo is the least bit assertive or shows any self-respect, or offers an opinion which differs from my own, or points out any of my inconsistencies to me, or behaves in the least way as though his own amour propre is more important than mine, which of course it absolutely must be—in short, as soon as he stops babying me and pandering to my Great Special Fragility, and sticks up for himself like a normal person, then I completely fall apart and can’t handle it and regress and undercompensate and just in general, obviously, well, have serious problems and am a Terrible Girlfriend. (As you can imagine, reaching this conclusion last night didn’t really help with the sobbing.)
2. The Brujo is somewhat uncommunicative and isolating these days, particularly when it comes to the differences which are making our relationship tense and fraught, and, why wouldn’t he be; and thus when I finally badger/wheedle/accost him into finally telling me what he’s thinking/feeling (which I know better than to try to do, but I do anyway, cf. Terrible Girlfriend), he therefore logically enough expresses himself fairly vehemently and forcefully, yet without a good deal of skill or tact or consideration or validating, so that anyone would feel trampled upon by such ham-fisted, brute-squad “assertive” speech-acts. And therefore I just shouldn’t evoke them.
3. Something else entirely.
My failure to determine which is the Truth, though none of us alive today believes in the capital-T truth, is what drives me to drive us (resistant and unwilling and complaining) into couples therapy. Also, I am tired of the sobbing and tired of the hangover. Also I am tired of going through some kind of evil breakup every 3-5 years over roughly the same issues. Also I want to stay out of the fucking hospital. —Even though the Brujo’s point last night was that my depressive symptoms/unskillful behavioral choices have absolutely nothing to do with certain behaviors of his which I have experienced as betrayals; or with our flailing, gasping relationship in the wake of these (whether his actions or my experiencing them stupidly as betrayals when they in fact are not); or with my anxiety/grief over possibly losing the relationship. All these things, he argued convincingly, are quite disconnected. You were unable to get work done long before we were together, and you were unable to get work done even when we were together and when everything we going swimmingly between us. He continued to make this point very emphatically and with a great deal of compelling evidence, until at last I agreed completely and asked him please to leave the room, because having him watching me sob felt like someone staring as someone else throws up.
My beloved former DBT told me again and again that the purpose of DBT was not to enable one to tolerate everything, including bad behavior. (In DBT they consistently use the term “bad behavior” without the least dialectical regard for its being totally normative and judgmental language, which is so odd and singular a lapse that I wonder whether it comes from Linehan; whether it is deliberate; or whether it has simply crept into the loci communes by custom, and no one is examining its having shouldered its way into the lexicon so firmly and decisively.)
So, I don’t want to tolerate “bad behavior.” I want to be able to speak up for myself if someone is just lashing out at me and having at me. Something with which historically I have had difficulty.
But, I’m also clearly “overly sensitive.” Anyway I have been told this my entire life. So how do I know if someone is genuinely being an a-hole or if they’re just communicating in a forceful and clear and forthright, Mañjuśrī-esque manner? And if they are, how can I learn to disagree respectfully but with plenty of validation, so that he still believes himself “heard” and I do not experience myself as “trampled”?
Too many fucking scare quotes. That’s some kind of sign of something right there.
Nietzsche said, “Truth never yet hung on the arm of the unconditional.” Thank you, Fritz.
I am hoping that blogging about this will help me feel less beaten-up. I tried not to blog about it, for months I tried, and friends worried that it might be contributing to my spiralling-down-blackly depression of November/December; and they might have been right. I don’t know. I try blogging, I try not-blogging. I don’t know anything. That should be bloody self-evident by now.
He is not abusive, and I am not saying that. I’ve been with (unintentionally) abusive and I know what that looks like. With the Brujo, once I am *in* an undercompensating puddle (and then I worry/blame myself, that I secretly, occultly only wanted to get into the puddle so that I could elicit caretaking from my environment), he doesn’t leave the house until I can get my therapist on the phone and get coaching and start to be more or less okay. He makes sure I’ll be okay. He brings me pajamas in the hospital. He just won’t, can’t, won’t, isn’t going to, and will never concede that it might be anything he did or said which in any way even remotely slightly contributed to my being in the hospital/puddle in the first place.
Which, fair enough. How could it have been? Impossible.
So why do I keep trying to “get him to understand” how rattling all this has been, for my tiny stupid worldview?
I offer you something which I find comforting and helpful, and which, for all I know, the Brujo (et al.?) would find irritating pap, or worse. I have no idea. But I’ve mentioned it to some of you so many times I feel honor-bound at this point to supply it. It’s from Charlotte Kasl‘s book Women, Sex, and Addiction. I first read at this book back in 2003 when the Monk and I were briefly in some species of “therapy” (e.g., I think we had like four sessions, and he played merrily in the sandtray [not metaphorically, literally—she did sandtray therapy], and I mostly sobbed hysterically and uselessly and was completely suicidal, and the therapist just cut us loose in disgust or something. Honestly, I can’t even remember why we quit going—probably we had no money). The therapist urged it on me, lent me her copy, but at the time it made no sense why she was giving me a book about women struggling with sex addiction, when it was my boyfriend who was making calls late at night to phone-sex numbers, and then not telling me about it, and then I’d be all naive: Hey, wow, the phone bill sure is big this month! and he’d alternate fury with chagrin and fresh resolution, etc.
Well, so it turns out I think that she was giving me this book because of the two chapters I’m now sharing with the world/someone/no one, probably breaking all kindsa copyright law but HEY CHARLOTTE KASL GIVE US A BREAK, we’re trying not to kill ourselves out here. I recently re-encountered it one rainy night in the independent bookstore and bought it for $6 and hid the title from a colleague whom I, of course, met at the cash register and who was buying, like, Camus, or Céline. Anyway these two chapters are for women who are in some way codependent, or let’s say “other-directed,” which is my new made-up preferred term, for those of us who can’t think what we feel or how we want to live our lives, because we are so busy focusing on other people’s feelings, and managing them efficiently so that we don’t lose them OMG OMG I CANNOT BE ALONE ANY WARM BODY IS BETTER THAN NONE etc.
Of course I don’t know whether I believe in all this either. Frankly I am becoming more agnostic and cynical when it comes to human social systems/theories, by the second. And by the same token, I increasingly feel like Tommy Lee Jones shouting at Harrison Ford:
Harrison Ford: “I didn’t kill my wife!”
Tommy Lee Jones: “I…DON’T…CARE!”
None of them can be either proven or disproven, so why bother? Twelve-step, DBT, Zen, codependency recovery, meds for mood disorders…they are all obnoxious in their own way, and repellent, and genuinely harmful and disgusting and bad and wrong. You know what? I’m doing them anyway. Because not doing them, when it doesn’t leave you drinking activated charcoal in the ER at 3 am and trying to explain why there aren’t ligature marks on your neck, because you are such an incompetent amateur, leaves you hung over from crying yourself half-sick. Not doing them doesn’t work either.
Thursday 4 March 2010 | someone left a cookie
Someone mysterious someone actually bought me these as a gift, a surprise present, off my etsy favorites, and had them shipped to me. With no note or anything! From the hilarious DirtyAssSoaps. They came with a little chocolate heart (marked “DO NOT EAT”) and are adorable. I did not eat them.
At first I tried accusing various friends of having done it, but no one would ever cop, so let me just say: Whoever you are, mysterious soap-buyer, you rock my tiny world (and have improved my hygiene) (somewhat). And so tonight, after an hysterical (but non-uterine) attack of shame and sobbing and hyperventilating, I ran a bath and kind of poured myself into the water, and there was my little nigiri soap to keep me company. (Confession: I had to pull off and discard that black “nori” strip, which was dyeing my skin and the bathtub and the shower curtain with inky bespattered flecks of indigo.)
Thus begins a small litany, like the flowers which a friend dreamt I sewed to a long string, as part of my weird work as the Mother of Contemporary Poetry.
1. Soap. Sushi soap, soap that smells like oranges, yuzu, green tea, nutmeg, basmati rice, cherry blossoms, crème brulée, vanilla, almond, birthday cake. Soap.
2. Tea. I am overpowered with gratitude for tea. Someone, somewhere—a woman—picks all those little blossoms, and someone dries them, and someone pokes them into little bags and jars and boxes. And then I pay somewhere from $2.99 to $12.99 and I receive them. And I place them in the hot water and thus am graced, magically, with tea. Tea! Life-and-serenity bestowing tea! I can speak no more; I am too affected by this earthly manifestation of divinity. But lately I am all about Sweet Thai Delight, because of the coconut.
3. Teapots. This one from Paula Deen recently replaced my old Le Creuset wedding-present teapot, cherry-red and adored, but whose enamel became, within, eventually all pitted with ragged aluminum lesions. I love Paula’s robin’s-egg spackling and I take very good care of her. Being stubborn, in that I want a non-whistling teakettle, because they are awful when they shriek; but also I wander off from the kitchen and am always forgetting about the kettle and boiling away madly all my wasser. I need a clothespin to put on my fingers, à la Annie Dillard.
4. Therapists. Especially practical New York Jewish therapists who totally get your sense of black humor, speak fluent Yiddish when you’re sobbing and make you laugh, and who call you back at 8 pm, even though they have the same throat-sinus-postnasal thing everyone else has (and that maybe you even gave to them, by borrowing their pen on Tuesday) and who do breathing exercises and body scans and relaxation practices with you until you stop hiccoughing and shrieking, and can calmly put yourself in the bathtub and loll there bemusedly, watching your nigiri sushi float along the bubble-foam.
5. Friends. All the ones who respond to all the emails I send constantly forth, as though I have no integument, as though I am chronically so low-esteem that I need hourly inputs of narcissistic supply—but they don’t comment on this, just suggest new varieties of potato chips and cookware and chocolate bars (Vosges has this one now, the Frieda-Hughesishly named Woolloomooloo—with “roasted & salted macadamia nuts + Indonesian coconut + hemp seeds + deep milk chocolate”—zomg.) and offer me seemingly unlimited and ungrudging virtual hugs and support and warmth and kindness via gchat.
And bonus: The department chair of the program that just wait-listed me, who called this afternoon and was very apologetic and lovely, and who tried to encourage me without encouraging me too much. Who says, we loved your application, we loved your poems, we love you—we just could only scrape together funding for three slots, and if any of these guys drops out, you are IN, we want you here, and will you please reapply next year? He is just gracious as HELL and I hang up feeling somewhat less lowly, like Lowly Worm.
(Does anyone remember Lowly? From the Richard Scarry books? Or is that just me? Did I identify with him, because he is a big dork and doesn’t even have the sense to realize how Lowly he, in fact, is? Lowly Worm. New blog title, perhaps.)
No matter. Thank you all—none lowly, all inestimable. I love you wildly.
Thursday 4 March 2010 | 8 cookies in the jar
It’s been many a long yar since a younger I danced madly barefoot in black choli and skirt, scarlet red dupatta flying, kirtaning my brains out to this guy. I’m not sure anyone else could get away with it—such a freakshow Leonard-Cohen-Lou-Reed-John-Trudell HYMN, which would be BAPTIST except it’s actually Sufi, with its lyrics about the Lord and all—against a backdrop of Tibetan-trained overtone singers. Spooky, is what it is. Also, I can’t stop listening to it. Y’all play it at my fucking funeral, okay? And dance your damfool heads off.
(PS that cute little Liz Phair tune’ll take you back, too.)
Thursday 4 March 2010 | someone left a cookie
1. So yesterday I was waitlisted at the only PhD program to which I could, apparently, be arsed to apply. It was my only application largely because I feel so ongoingly guilty about trying to beg/borrow/steal/win yet more writing time—as a recovering Protestant, clearly I should quit receiving and give back more than I presently do. A la même fois, I also fell in love with teaching lit last year, and I thought I might have a better crack at doing that (at the college level) with a doctorate. So I expressed my ambivalence over my own wanton literary desires by self-sabotagingly applying to just one program. Go me!
(I also didn’t apply to more programs because the Brujo doesn’t want to live in the cities/states in which the programs appear. Or anyway that’s what I told myself.)
Anyway this particular PhD program found funding for six slots and they ranked me number seven! Hey, I’m lovin’ it! It feels good to be number seven! So good that I want to celebrate! Listen to Iron Maiden baby with me, woo-ooo-ooo….
So here’s this—a consolation prize from a sly Mlle Bovary, who knows me but too well.
Really, where to begin? So much to say, so few words. Genuinely speechless. A mosquito, my libido. My favorite part is probably the bubbleheaded “sports” commentary. Or maybe it’s Scott’s AUTHENTIC FLANNEL SHIRT.
2. Wandering around the house this morning after a largely sleepless night, boiling the steel-cut oats, making the rooibos chai, quietly ausfreaked in my own personal low-affect way, it becomes even more evident that I was kind of hoping I’d get to have one aspect of my life be determined. But I don’t get that. My current job/program ends in early May when I graduate; the Brujo’s and my lease is up June 31; and I don’t know if we’re staying together. And of course in the back of my head I was hoping that even if he and I were totally up in the air (stop-motion, bullet-time, freeze-frame) that something else would be for sure. That I would know where to move to next.
Nothing’s for sure; if four monastic practice periods and a gaggle of sesshins didn’t teach me anything else I hope they (plus sitting at Maman’s sickbed, plus my general lifelong choices of indigence and transience and serial monogamy) have taught me that: Nothing’s for fucking sure.
And, as I put grade B maple syrup on my oats (from a refrigerator, run by electric power which I did nothing to help produce) nothing would be sure even if I *had* been number six instead of number seven. I remind myself of this, maturely and sanely. Maybe I would have been MISERABLE in the PhD program. Maybe I will experience great JOY in finding a job where I can be useful, even if it’s not the job I think I want. If I can’t teach what I want, to whom I want, I can teach other things to other people.
And I can be a community-college adjunct again or be a high-school teacher or be a whatever, and still write. Other people have done it, do it. I’m not special and delicate; I won’t fucking break. (She groused at herself, and stirred in the maple syrup.)
Anyway he’s continued and extended his work with the homeless and every time I read one of his articles I actually goddamn LEARN something. One of the things I’ve been noticing in myself is the tendency to give people I see in public adjectival tags, mentally or verbally, in later descriptions of events: “There was this homeless guy on the light rail last night”—in much the same way that, a decade ago, I might have said, “I was talking to this black girl after class,” or, “This gay guy was telling me about his new job.” So now I’m stubbornly seeking to eradicate the gratitutous, irrelevant modifier: “There was a guy on the light rail last night singing about Jesus.” Is his housing status important to the story? No. The story is really a story about someone who’s mentally interesting. Would I say, “There was a crazy guy on the light rail”? I might. But only if it were part of the story. What’s part of the story? What needs to be part of the story?
I don’t know, and I don’t have to know. I just try stuff to see what happens. I still ignore the people I denominate “homeless”—as a woman I give men in public a wide berth anyway, whether they’re in neckties or cardboard. No eye contact, closed body language. As I get older and our culture erases my sexual availability, maybe I can experiment more with being more open to strangers. I’d like to be that way, like a nun, like a caring open nun.
One thing I do know even as a closed-off, cowardly person is that there are words on this page that bother me, and words that confuse me. Which sounds about right, for a cultural reaction to/definition of mental illness. And this is me saying I’m bothered and confused—and I’ve sat with some of these people, and had workshops with them, and I’ve heard that fucking Kisagotami story about ten squillion times (plus I revised/wrote my own version of it for the Dying Book). I’m lay-ordained in this lineage; and, stuff still bothers me.
I’ve also known about Daigu Knight for quite a while (though I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him); but these words in particular unsettled me, which words aren’t his: “He manages his extreme mental and emotional states with Zen and small amounts of one psychiatric medication.” Just SMALL amounts. They’re really just very SMALL. When you click to read the whole article about Daigu, you learn further that “with a regular zazen practice, 12 step work and Christian contemplative prayer he has been able to get off all other psychiatric medications and reduce the one he is currently on.” It’s only ONE! One is good. One is okay. More than one…that’s bad. That’s really bad. That shows how unholy and out-of-control you are…how bad you are at Zen and spiritual practice! (I know, that’s not what it says. But…that’s kind of what it says.)
Don’t get me started / where do I start. I’m dealing with pretty much the same speechlessness that one encounters with “Nirvana on Ice,” really. Here, you know what—for now I’ll just let Andrew Solomon do the talking for me.
Since I am writing a book about depression, I am often asked in social situations to describe my own experiences, and I usually end by saying that I am on medication.
“Still?” people ask. “But you seem fine!” To which I invariably reply that I seem fine because I am fine, and that I am fine in part because of medication.
“So how long do you expect to go on taking this stuff?” people ask. When I say that I will be on medication indefinitely, people who have dealt calmly and sympathetically with the news of suicide attempts, catatonia, missed years of work, significant loss of body weight, and so on stare at me with alarm.
“But it’s really bad to be on medicine that way,” they say. “Surely now you are strong enough to be able to phase out some of these drugs!” If you say to them that this is like phasing the carburetor out of your car or the buttresses out of Notre Dame, they laugh.
“So maybe you’ll stay on a really low maintenance dose?” they ask. You explain that the level of medication you take was chosen because it normalizes the systems that can go haywire, and that a low dose of medication would be like removing half of your carburetor. You add that you have experienced almost no side effects from the medication you are taking, and that there is no evidence of negative effects of long-term medication. You say that you really don’t want to get sick again. But wellness is still, in this area, associated not with achieving control of your problem, but with discontinuation of medication.
“Well, I sure hope you get off it sometime soon,” they say.
Wednesday 3 March 2010 | 2 cookies in the jar
Which may edge out “Woman, Trapped, Survives on Moisture” as best headline ever. This via Mandarin—a little human-interest story that made my MONTH.
Three THOUSAND years. Holy holy-flower, that’s…that’s rare, is what that is.
Kind of like me posts. For simple reasons, some previously given, some new:
1) weekend head cold that has slyly shifted into sinus infection, and no I do not have a neti pot, nor am I about to dash out to procure one, since past attempts ended along the lines of Christopher HItchens’ experiments in waterboarding;
2) actual Al-Anon stepwork, as in Step One, as in, I may have gotten kind of carried away because my sponsor said, “Write a narrative….” and after that I think everything she said was just a blur. You don’t TELL Ms. Un, write a narrative, without the inevitable happening—in this case, 17 single-spaced pages, none of which are fit to appear in public. If I were my sponsor, I’d tell me that for Step Two, I’m only allowed to write with a crayon. In my left hand. In the dark. And the result can’t be longer than 3 pages anyway.
3) the usual failure to grade student work, failure to prep for class, failure to complete my incomplete from last semester, failure to format my thesis by arcane and uninteresting Graduate College standards, failure to, failure to. Maybe that should be the name of my new blog, especially since
4) I can’t say a motherloving, chickenchoking, treehugging THING about what’s happening and, more to the point, what’s spectacularly not happening, with me and the Brujo, here. Which really makes me feel insane(r). Like the song says, I’ve grown accustomed to your face. I’ve mostly grown accustomed to that horrified gaping pained expression it wears when I indulge in yet another verbose overshare. And with that outlet sealed to me…well, your gain is my loss. Anyway he and I have a (second) therapy intake on Friday, on which 45-minute slot all my hopes are, yet again, ridiculously, pinned.
5) SHIT I have to leave RIGHT NOW to teach.
I leave you with these lovely pads. I know, not much pad pr0n lately, right? Again you’ve probably been breathing sighs of relief. But Obsidian made them and dyed them herself with natural dyes made out of herbs and stuff, stuff like alkanet and annatto and alum mordant—basically, stuff which would’ve gotten her hanged and then burnt a thousand years ago. And I do not need more pads &c but I adore them. And her witchy purple badness.
Thursday 25 February 2010 | I like a cookie
So I’ve been using my Lunette quite happily for two years, and don’t need a new one, I really do not; the thing is made of indestructable medical silicon and even if I, like, ran over it while camping in Mexico, it’d clearly bounce back without hesitation. Good Finnish work(wo)manship that’ll last me until the climacteric, and has made my periods that much more free of pain. Plus, Kuukuppi = best Engrish email newsletters ever.
But OMG now they come in PRETTY COLORS.
Must. resist. do. not. need. more. medical. silicon. in. twat.
ETA: oh whatever of course I do. Plus I discovered that tireless public servant, pragmatic menstrual eco-warrior and indefatigable cup-tester Obsidian has been at it all this time; and her website has these detailed, fascinating comparisons of the squishiness and resiliency and purpleness of all the new coloured cups. And thus I now lie in wait at the Bay of Evil for a LilacCup of a larger size, enough so I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to deal with its runnething over.
Thursday 25 February 2010 | someone left a cookie
Of course The Anatomy of Melancholy is very insightful on this topic; but look, another knowledgeable scholar turns out to be Doc Juma!
And also, he can make strong your pennis.
[God knows where the Brujo found this. He's more active than I on Fizzbook these days—as in, active at all—so it probably surfaced there. His favorite attribute was "CASINO SPECIALIST" but I was most impressed by "Bewithed P'ple."]
So the following is all pursuant to various conversational threads over at Repat Blues, whose articulate posts you might want to read first before you try to make sense out of the following. Anyway my yammering on, below, relates roughly to the following documentary, narrated (and presumably produced) by everyone’s favourite and allegedly cyclothymic luvvie, Stephen Fry:
Although, and now you have been warned, all the below probably won’t make sense anyway! Lovely. Carry on, then.
So as it happens, I then spent the better part of the (semi-delirious, extremely menstrual, painkiller-sodden) day “working from home” watching the entire documentary, which is—for now—available here (your second video comment!):
And now I think, well, even more things.
Over the course of the documentary it becomes clearer that Fry is perhaps playing a character for educational purposes…he seems to be mimicking the genteel horror and cluelessness of the general British public, who are, God help them, and I always forget this, but it is always true, about 20-30 years behind the rest of the developed West in terms of staying abreast of various technologies, particularly medical ones? (I remember an East German friend saying contemptuously, “It’s like the DDR,” and I could see her point.)
[Also they had this placid idiocy about Ribena and "orange squash" which I remember vividly to this day—well, they were just terrible about juice in general, honestly—as Mandarin once said succinctly about her inability to procure real orange juice: "You can't get it for anything, not even a carton of cigarettes and a blow job."]
Even given that this is a deliberate didactic maneuver, the character nonetheless irritated me—he either plays dumb or is very lurid and ridiculous on such subjects as, say, does lithium turn one into a quote shuffling zombie, and ooooh how scary there’s a locked ward! and agh ECT, doesn’t that make you drool forever, and all such various grating attendent entertainments.
Though to be fair there’s a very nice CBT therapist, and he does a great service by introducing behavioral therapy as a reasonable adjunct to and/or replacement for the spectral clichéd lobotomized bogies his investigation also raises.
And then over the course of the two hours he “decides” not to take medication, which (in his case) is apparently not necessary (but flagrantly psychotic people don’t have the luxury of such a decision).
And finally (oh why am I not just writing my own bloody post? instead of bogarting your beautiful one just this, and then I swear on a stack of WODEHOUSE I will hush up) there’s a kind of typically nasty class-unconsciousness (again, feigned or genuine?) which is revealed when he interviews his delightfully creative bipolar friends (e.g. Carrie Fisher, Richard Dreyfus), all of whom avow they would not give up their magical inspiring afflictions for all the drugs in Christendom; and then he alternates those clips with interviewing sufferers who aren’t protected from their behavior by a great deal of money and fame, and whose lives are rawly and transparently hellish, and involve daily rafts of pills. Without any intelligent acknowledgement as to why that difference might be, only some bromidic, nigh-fatuous commentary about how some people are sicker than others. When I just think, no, my dear man; some people are richer than others.
But I did watch the whole thing; and write all this; so it must have affected me somehow; and I do admire him terribly, and imagine him as the last of a certain breed, and therefore a lonely, even tragic, and beautiful figure.
(And it is true; bipolarity is absolutely built into the profession; as it is into that of lyric poetry; and why has no one done a study on mood disorders and actors? it makes no sense, the more I think about it—)
Forgive the verbiage; tomorrow is an English 102 day and I just simply do not want to face it, at all.
I saw my own formerly psychotic student Austin a few nights ago, at the national-chain burrito place to which the Brujo and I have stooped in our final year here. He weighed more—didn’t look quite as much like a haggard, beautiful, bone-thin, demented Jesus—and smiled to see me, and said he’d been working at the burrito place almost a year. For my part I was so relieved to see him standing upright and working in some capacity and not lying covered in sores etc. in an alleyway somewhere (as I have been surreptitiously been checking out young street people all year, expecting, dreading, to see him raving in public, uncared-for) that I nearly leapt over the sneeze-guard to embrace him. But I confined myself to inviting him to visit me in my office (?!), which is kind of hairbrained since in fact the State School wrote him a nice little restraining order last semester, but he seems well enough now.
[Oh Austin. Whose Mormon father called him a faggot and shoved him out of the pickup truck in the middle of nowhere after they'd been to see Numbers, an experience which I think helped trigger Austin's full-bore psychotic-manic break in my post-apocalyptic classroom the next day. Although apparently his father was angry with him because he was already manifesting flight-of-ideas and irritability, etc. Of course Austin had been my poetry student the semester before that. And I knew what was happening within seconds of his leaping up from his seat, unable to contain his enthusiasm—had my cellphone out under my desk dialling the counselling office—just thinking over and over again, of course, how textbook, he's a twenty-year-old poet. And a songwriter. He'd given me a CD of his songs. I felt oddly honored. He's having his first manic episode with me. That was before it kept repeating, and repeating, and I started to get a bit PTSD myself from the fact that he would always seek out me—]
[Madness, by the way, is how Burton refers to what we call mania. Insanity is more like psychosis, though he of course prefers to call depression melancholia. I think he must have been the first writer to distinguish clearly between these states?]
Anyway, I took one look at Austin’s heavier build and immediately thought, Okay, good, I can talk to him, he’s stayed on his meds—on all the nice meds which I myself keep refusing, since I only try to off myself quietly, or lie around my office and cancel class at the last minute—to date I’ve never dashed around alarming people by shouting about the end of the world in 2012 unless we construct a giant human computer RIGHT NOW, etc. Anyway he quietly reminded me of this restraining-order type letter, and I politely waved that off, and told him to come see me before I graduate and move away. And I introduced the Brujo, and then we all stood there grinning like morons, until the people behind us started coughing anxiously, wanting their burritos, and so then we (talk about your class anxieties) had no choice but to order from him, my former student, who had, when I last interacted with him, been jumping up and down, sprinting in circles, and telling me that he wanted to shave off all his hair and spray-paint his body black, so as to warn people about our imminent demise. And this is what I mean when I think, very loudly: Oh Stephen Fry, when you’re in Austin’s position, you don’t get to dither in the way you and I get to dither, about whether Big Pharma is the devil or whether it could OH NOES quash our beautiful creativity and dash it into ordinariness. You just have to suck it up and take your crazy meds, so you can work at the burrito place.
Anyway the post about Austin is clearly a whole other blogpost I need to write. Like this one. And in fact, heck, I can’t put this on your blog, it would just be too rude. I take it outside. But thank you for getting me going—love & squalor, yours unreliably, etc.
Wednesday 24 February 2010 | I like a cookie
I love these men.