Here I am again

18 08 2014

This is my first tattoo, from a couple of years ago:

003

It’s Sumerian cuneiform, the oldest known written language. It’s a way to mark what I’ve chosen.

It’s zi.

It’s life.





Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose

14 08 2014

There was another death, of course, one I didn’t so much skip over as decide to mull.

Robin Williams’s suicide, I mean.

I was a fan, I guess. His flights away from ordinary conversation at first made laugh, later made me uneasy, and thought some of his acting schticky, but when he was focused his characters could be, as with Parry in The Fisher King, almost unbearably human.

But as my fandom was mild, I didn’t have much to say.

And then I heard this:

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Those struggles now ended. He is, as his Genie character in “Aladdin” would have it, finally free.

BLOCK: Well, that idea – that suicide is freeing – has prompted a lot of concern in the mental health community. We heard from a number of our listeners about that. Among them Elizabeth Minne, she’s a licensed psychologist in Austin, Texas, and she joins me now. Thanks so much for being with us.

ELIZABETH MINNE: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And you wrote in to express your concern. You said, comments like this make my job difficult. Explain what you mean by that. How is it more difficult?

MINNE: I have found that comments like this can be interpreted by families and by individuals as a sign that they too can attain something positive by committing suicide.

BLOCK: Something positive meaning some sort of liberation from the pain that they’re in?

MINNE: Right. Some sense of freedom or view it as a positive way to find – or an appropriate way to find some sense of relief.

Minnie goes on to note that she tells her patients that “suicide is never an option for working through distress – that there is always a way for us to get to a better place.”

Most of the commenters were, shall we say, unimpressed, calling out Minnie’s credentials, expertise, and even motivation—one accused her of wanting to keep her patients alive just to make a buck off of them—and generally decrying her inability to see how awful depression could be.

Her words pricked my ears, certainly, and had I heard something similar when I was in the midst of my own self-destructiveness, I would have lit my own torch against her: Of course I have the right to kill myself! Of course I can free myself of all of this terribleness!

But I’ll give Minnie half a break: she is a psychotherapist who works with greatly distressed people, so if she’s going to be of any help to them she has to carry the hope that they lost. She has to believe they can get through until they can believe it themselves.

I’ve spoken enough about this before to say simply that that mattered to me, even if I wasn’t at the time wholly conscious that and how it mattered.

But it also helps to acknowledge that suicide is, in fact, an option, and that suffering in life can be so great that wanting to shed that suffering by shedding life makes sense.

It’s about recognition: just as telling someone that they can get through is a way to see that person when she, perhaps, can’t see herself, noting that suicide is on the table is a way to see, to allow one to see, her suffering.

You don’t have to agree with it or like it or encourage it, but if you know you can’t save someone else—and therapists damned well better know they can’t save someone—then maybe you have to accept that he can’t save himself. If his life is in his hands, then his life is in his hands.

Depression morphs one’s mind—I look back to old journal entries and think Who was the person?—but it’s not as if one is a less authentic self when depressed when not, that somehow all one has to do is to scrape off the weight of despair and one’s real life will pop back up.

I don’t know, maybe some patients want to hear that, want to hear of the elasticity of the self, and who knows, maybe for some it’s true.

But for some it’s not, for some the suffering has seeped in so deep that the only way to get rid of the suffering is to get rid of the self.

I don’t know how a therapist deals with a situation like that. I mean, I know that the two who worked hard with me kept working, but I don’t doubt that they knew the limits of that work. Do they see mental illness like other potentially fatal illness? that sometimes the surgery and the chemo and the therapy don’t take? Or is that fact that there’s no hospice care for depression mean that the limits themselves aren’t understood?

In any case, my life was in my hands, and only when I finally, finally, figured that out for myself—only when I knew that death and life were both options—was I able to sigh, Okay.

It could have gone the other way, of course, and that sighed Okay could have been my last word. But I don’t know that I could have closed my fist over life had I not also held death in my hands. I had to hold them both before I could let one of them go.

I am sorry for Robin Williams’s family that he let go of life, and I’m sorry for him for the suffering that led to that letting go.

Okay.





All things weird and wonderful, 43

8 08 2014

We humans are a strange lot, given all too often to the unwonderful.

Scott Eric Kaufman, who writes for both Lawyers, Guns & Money and Raw Story (as well as his own blog, Acephalous), happens to attract the kind of folks who engage him in all kinds of weird and some kinds of wonderful conversations (see, for example, here, here, here, here. here, here, and here—and there are more, including the one where he asks for it.)

The following (setup: he’s buying a bunch of tuna for his elderly finicky cat) is one which he says “may be the greatest conversation I’ve ever had“:

POLITE DRUNK MAN: You don’t eat all them cans, now?

SEK: Wasn’t planning on it.

POLITE DRUNK MAN: TV say they full of Menicillin.

SEK: Mercury?

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Menicillin, bad for the children, real bad.

SEK: I promise not to share it with any kids.

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Menicillin’s terrible, make ‘em have miscarriages.

SEK: The kids?

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Ain’t even get a chance to be kids, they born miscarried, or with arms.

SEK: I’ll keep that in mind.

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Dead babies with arms, that’s what Menicillin do. Best watch out.

SEK: I will, promise.

This. . . well, this is weird wonder gold.





While my guitar gently weeps

3 08 2014

I need to play my guitar every day.

I do not play my guitar every day.

To be clear: “need” is not about need or desire in an of itself, but in terms of getting better; if I want to get better, I need to play every day.

Which I don’t. Play, I mean. The desire is there; the follow-thru, not so much.

I do play every other day, and if I miss my every or other day, I do get a bit anxious and feel that I’m missing something (i.e., experience a “need” more akin to the first definition); it would help if that anxiety kicked in a bit earlier.

Anyway, if I want to get better, why don’t I play more?

For starters, I suck. I don’t hold down the strings hard enough, my chords fuzz out, and too damn often I nick the A or G string when I’m aiming for D. And because I don’t look at either my right or left hand while playing—that discipline at least has held from those yay-old lessons—I too often reach for the wrong fret.

It’s a mess.

Now, when I do practice, and especially when I practice every day, all of those problems are lessened (tho’, alas, not eliminated)—which brings me back to the question: why don’t I play more?

And here’s the thing: I think too much when I play.

I hate HATE when anyone tells me I think too much: NO SUCH THING! But there is something about letting one’s mind drift which may work better than focusing. When I read, I focus, and when I learn something new, I focus, but I don’t focus when I write, my best runs happen when my mind wanders, and I only got over the hump in pot-throwing when I stopped trying so hard.

I think I have to stop trying so hard with the guitar.

The pot-throwing is instructive: I took a class at Minnesota, and went in periodically during the course to work on my pots (small, uneven, terrible), and I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much. I was continually frustrated—the more I wedged the clay the more air bubbles appeared, the more careful I was in centering the chunk on the wheel the more off-center it became, and raising the sides? Pfft, forget it. I don’t think I’m misremembering when I state that one lesson-night resulted in tears.

And then I got it. I was never great or even truly good, but I got enough that I thought, Hey, I can do this, and so I was more willing to put more time in at the studio. I was also, crucially, more willing to roll with the vagaries of clay and pot-throwing: some days every pot I threw turned out, some days none did, and I was okay with that.

I’m not zen, but I got pretty zen about throwing pots.

I can’t figure out what exactly led to that switch. Something allowed me to hang back from my own throwing, and thus to go more deeply into it; detachment allowed for enjoyment, which led me back into the studio.

I’m not sufficiently detached from the guitar-playing, it seems. I have noticed that when I’m thinking of something other than the notes, I tend to play them much better, that when I bore into the bars I clench up trying to avoid mistakes with these notes and worrying about the notes to come. And I don’t enjoy that.

So: I need to find some reliable way to zone out and let my fingers do their walking. Were that to happen, I might find myself wanting more to hear what they play.





Monday, Monday

7 07 2014

Gray cat:003

Brown river:

036

Tan factory-turned-into-apartment building (on the brown river):

050

Small down-town in Wisconsin on a Sunday afternoon:

014

030

First Monday in July. What else could I do?

 





Black sheets of rain

4 07 2014

Okay, so I’m a bit odd.

It was hot and sticky the past coupla’ days—just about hottily-sticky enough for me to have hoisted my a/c into the window and cranked her on.

Just about, but not quite.

I know, I hate summer, hate the heat, the stickiness, the sun, and, by August, everything, so you’d think that I’d have that a/c humming whenever the temp got heatward of 85.

Except, of course, I don’t like a/c. I’m glad for it, sure—nothing like standing on a stinky-hot subway platform to make one glad for the air-cool of the car—but my appreciation is merely dutiful, and, frankly, even a little resentful:

If it weren’t so fucking hot I wouldn’t need the damned thing.

Anyway, since I wasn’t thinking about how miserable I was every second of the day and I was able to sleep well enough with the window fan, I figured I could go without.

That’s a reasonable reason for laying off.

The real reason? Thunderstorms were to blow through, dropping the temp into the seventies.

When I lived in Minneapolis (and Montréal and Somerville), I didn’t have air conditioning, and would thus suffer (not at all stoically) thru the summer muck. The only relief came with the storms.

Wind! Thunder! Lightening! Cats and dogs and ponies!

It was glorious.

I didn’t much like summer back in the day, but it’s only been the past few years that I’ve really come to hate it.

So while it may make no sense to a normal person for me to delay installing the one device which might allay my misery, I did it for the right reason.

I did it for the glory.





Smile, everthing is all right

1 07 2014

Yay, broken tooth!

Yes, it is silly to cheer on the demise of one’s denture, but this particular molar had been thrice fractured, the last of which did not result in a clean shearing: the tooth was broken and down, but not out.

Last night, after days of worrying with my tongue, upper molars, and, finally, fingers, I managed to root out that miscreant fragment.

Of course, now there’s a space where the tooth had been, but since “dental health” is apparently not sufficiently healthish, any fixes are not covered by my insurance.

I will thus remain unfixed.





A long and winding road

23 06 2014

005

I may have missed the lighting of the unity candle, but they got it right.

007

May it last and last.





Keep on keepin’ on

18 06 2014

I am a terrible, terrible guitar player. It’s why I keep playing.

Makes sense, right? Why do something well when you can suck?

I’d rather not suck. I’d rather that everything I do, I do well.

I’d also like to do more, and to do more is most often to do what I don’t know how to do.

Which means I’ll be terrible when I first do it.

Now, I keep playing because I’d like to get better, because I think I can at some point do it well. I didn’t re-up with the Gotham Rock Choir because I wasn’t convinced that more practice would make me a sufficiently better singer. It’s one thing to be terrible on the way to getting better, but quite another to be terrible on the way to mediocrity.

Rather takes away one’s motivation to practice.

I doubt I’ll ever be great on the guitar—that fucking F chord—but with practice I am improving, enough so that I can gull myself into practicing even more.

So, at some point, I’ll be merely terrible, then mediocre, and then all right. I don’t know that I’ll ever get beyond all right, but, for now, it’s enough to know that I can at least get that far, and that it’s just possible that I could, someday, be good.

Time to try something else to be terrible at, then. I’ve long wanted to learn French. . . .





Love the one you’re with

8 06 2014

I know we’re supposed to love our bodies, accept our imperfections, and work on being fit rather than on being thin.

But.

Nothing like staring at oneself in a mirror under overhead fluorescent lights in a dressing room at an Old Navy to make an old broad want to give up eating.

Jeeeeezus.








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