Wednesday, March 29, 2006


I am not unfamiliar with the accusation that I am self-absorbed. In fact some of you reading this might be kind of half-grinning thinking the thought balloon: understatement of the year. I have my reasons for being self-absorbed, one of them being my tenuous grip on reality. Often I think things are much better than they actually are because I willfully ignore the s--- that is hitting the fan in my own little world and in the somewhat larger world. At other times I see all that s--- magnified about 1000X and I chew off all my fingernails. No, actually, I'm lying, I'm not a nail-biter. I should be, because it would be a good replacement for smoking, and I'm needing something.

The international news today made no impression on me whatsoever. I didn't even understand the New York Times headlines. Other days the headlines tempt me to hurl breakable objects against the wall. I can be every bit as angry as my friend Stacia, though it's not becoming in a woman of my age who is supposed to possess wisdom to balance things in her mind. Lately I've been crying about things, sometimes personal things and sometimes things happening half a world away---I don't feel like there's a damn thing I can do about many things that are close to me and tangible, let alone things that are happening as a result of f---ed up decisions being made by people with power they should never have been given.

The past two weeks have been a m-----f---ing nightmare in many ways, mostly personal. In the bigger world, it seems like there's plenty of negative s---.

This blog entry is an exercise in employing the hyphen. I don't mean to suggest that I've lost my capacity for laughter and raucousness. We had a real live spring day today all day, and that was wonderful---I mean it, though sometimes the word wonderful has a hard time breaking through the police tape around the crime scene (have I been watching too much CSI and Law & Order??? Actually, I only enjoy the latter; CSI is too gory for my weak stomach and after a couple of episodes I decided to avoid it).

Money is tight, health is poor, I haven't written a sane poem in three weeks, and sometimes it really does suck that I can't just chain smoke for an hour until my system shifts into a tolerable gear, or have a beer or a Cosmo or three and flush out my brain with music so loud I can't hear a single thought. I can get nostalgic, think about the club called The Cage in Providence, RI, where I used to go almost every Sat. my senior year in college with two gay guys. I was always the designated driver so I wouldn't drink much but the music was VERY LOUD and I could dance with the one guy and then the other all night and get a workout even better than a two hour ice hockey practice. Oh, I must not have gone to the Cage every Sat. with those guys, because there was the small matter of my boyfriend---I shouldn't say small, he was six foot seven---he never came to the Cage with us.

So it may seem I'm stuck in the past. Eckhardt Tolle in The Power of Now says you should REALLY forget the past so as to be in the moment; I agree more with others who say you can still think about the past even though you do attempt mindfulness and presence to the moment.
I don't think history books and museums are the bane of our human existence. I do believe we can learn from our mistakes.

I have heard it said that poets and other writers tend to be HAUNTED by their pasts, and that this is a big reason why they write. Others who don't write are less haunted. Is this a rather negative take on what being a writer is all about??? Writers often have more complete memories of the past. When I last saw my college roommate Ellen in 2000, I brought up a lot of common experience and she stared at me like I was some kind of comedian. She couldn't believe I remembered all that s---. Is she a lot healthier than me??? Well, she thinks so. She didn't speak to me for months after that visit and when she finally did she said she had decided not to have anything further to do with anyone who was mentally ill. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I chain-smoked during that visit and didn't climb up on the rocks when we went to the shore and do yoga with her against the backdrop of the ocean and the setting sun. Why didn't I?
My excuse was I was wearing clogs. A pretty good excuse if you ask me, considering the fact that the only time in my life I have ever sprained my ankle I was wearing clogs.

So why am I writing all this??? Am I trying to figure out what's wrong with me??? I already know that, you'd think, right??? Am I trying to prove I'm as self-absorbed as I say I am? Well, what if I'd begun this blog entry saying I was self absorbed and then written a whole long blog about the poor in Calcutta? I promise, mental illness carries with it almost a guarantee of self-absorption, as the sick person struggles to relate to a past self who makes no sense, or to one who makes a lot more sense than the current self.

Life is meaningful, even when your housemate has Ellen Degeneres turned up loud in the next room. Life makes sense, as long as you realize that people exist who in certain situations appear to have no souls or no sense of morality or decency or ability to act out of goodness and kindness---and you realize that people who appear this way publically are probably kind and gentle at home with their families. I guess the problem is a lot of people don't see that their behavior in the macrocosm CAN reflect the same lovingkindness they employ in their relationships with friends and family, and that IF IT DID, the world would not be such a f---ed up place.

Friday, March 17, 2006


What does it mean, "de-blogging"?

To me, what's more important about the word blog than its origin (web log) is that it rhymes with fog and bog.

I've always liked that set of rhymes better than rain and Spain and plain. How you say the -og words matters just as much.

The fog was so heavy on the bog I reached for a glass of warm nog.

Of course I'm lying. Who really likes the -og words? After all, the most outstanding of them is hog. The hog rooted through the bog in the fog and got a bit soggy.


None of which answers my question, what does it mean to de-blog??? I've thought about deleting every word of my blog but I'm perversely self-punishing enough that I won't do that, not yet anyway.

I think I'll just party the night away and not f---ing worry about that darn blog. Drink it out of my system--isn't that what de-blogging is all about???

In other news, I don't plan on blogging much for a while. Hurts my back to sit at the computer. I know how you all will feel about that:


Monday, March 13, 2006

Have You Fired Your Tour Guide???

I pray that I will have the strength to keep the light alive in my heart so that I can see and point to the promising shadows appearing on the walls of our world

Henri Nouwen

It would not be advantageous to a group of Mammoth Cave tourists somewhere in a dark passageway if the guide that got them there suddenly dropped dead. Some of the routes through the cave system are trickier than others, however. Life is trickier still. Sometimes we lose faith all of a sudden in someone who has been a role model. The faith can come back, it may even come back and disappear again time after time like a yo-yo--I think this happens with most of us in regard to our all-too-human parents or other adult figures we have known since early childhood. There are the epiphanies like "Oh wow, my dad sure is a pathetic angry fool, I wouldn't want to be like him in a million years." But then he'll do or say something impressive and he'll go back on the pedestal.

When I remember to, I pray that I can be of use to someone other than the four cats I live with. Granted, it feels good to be needed by them, to be the one who goes out and reels in the fish and scales them and filets them and sautees them and cuts them up into cat-size chunks, to be the one who keeps the toilet paper dispenser by their litter box loaded with Charmin. But my relationships with these cats are not always completely emotionally and intellectually satisfying.
We all want to be of use; we want someone to appreciate us, we want to feel we are worthy of the space we take up in this world; if no one needs us, appreciates us, considers us worthy, it is too easy to start daydreaming about the 2nd St. Bridge.

The bridge is neither here nor there, perhaps I mention it because a friend spoke of temptation to jump earlier today. How can I help a friend feel needed when she is so busy needing--she needs people to need her, but she's not strong enough now to give anything.

I think we have to need people just to be themselves sometimes. Why do we "have to" do this?
If we only want or need people if and when they can be helpful to us in some obvious way, there is something to look at in ourselves. Are we too caught up in our own interests? Are we living only for our own career, our own prestige, our own health and happiness???

I worry that I sometimes am overly concerned about these matters myself. Sometimes I have a hard time "being there" for people who do not have much to give. I worked for eight years in the mental health field, longer than I've worked in a any field but writing (I've always been a writer). The trick is, when you work in mental health you get paid for helping people, so it's no real indicator of character. Yeah, you can be a counselor or advocate for the mentally ill AND care about the people you work with, or you can have the worst attitude imaginable, and in the latter case your job is hell.

An attitude of openness toward one's fellow humans is to be avoided if one is afraid of getting involved. An attitude of neediness it to be avoided if one wants friends. Factually speaking, most of us are simply caught up in survival much of the time and feel we have little to give. I can give time and money up to a point because I love and care about someone. If the person keeps asking for more, pretty soon my back is up against the wall and I have to start saying NO. Can I continue to love and deeply accept the needy person when I've begun to feel threatened?

I've asked for too much from some friends, and sometimes this has meant the end of the friendship. Apologies don't always suffice. Promises to return the favors such friends have done are not always trusted.

I don't consider myself subhuman because I'm Bipolar. The episodes of illness are journies to a strange country; I can report on the journies like a tourist, what I see and hear and imagine. Many feel too threatened to listen to such reports. Some are too caught up in astonishment at the intensity of the experiences, and can't resist judging me because I get so caught up in my
stories I'm not aware at the time they are "only stories." Others judge me for the things I say of do, holding me fully responsible despite the fact that when I'm sick I do have poor judgment.

A tour guide can take people through danger giving them all through it a feeling that they are safe and protected. The guide may not mention every danger as his group safely passes it by.
The worst danger I myself have negotiated as I have been writing this blog entry is the stiffness
of my posture at the computer which has caused pain in my shoulder and slight numbness in my neck. I should give this blogging up for what remains of Lent.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Turning to Another Source

On Spirituality and Love

...we have to replace the battle for power with the battle to
create space for the spirit.

Love is an act of forgiving in which evil is converted to good and destruction into creating.

This is the way to spiritual maturity: to receive love as a pure, free gift.

On Writing

To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know. Thus, writing requires a real act of trust.
We have to say to ourselves: "I do not yet know what I carry in my heart, but I trust that it will emerge as I write." Writing is like giving away the few loaves and fishes that one has, trusting that they will multiply in the giving.

All quotes from Henri Nouwen, Seeds of Hope

Today's most interesting discovery so far has been a genuine rattlesnake's rattle on a necklace, found among Gabe and Amanda's things which they left in our dining room when they moved out a month ago. It seems like the sort of thing true Deadheads would possess.

I'm thinking today about forgiveness. I've been quoted on the radio; "a psychiatric patient I know said the following about forgiveness," said my friend Paul on his early morning radio show.
He had asked permission to use my name, but he refused to simply say, "My friend Harriet said;" he wanted the listeners to know that this quote came from a psychiatric patient. So I told him, if you must mention that part, then don't use my name.

What I said about forgiveness then was what a three-year-old might say: "You have to forgive so you can love." How lame, because if a person feels offended by another, that person really doesn't care about loving the other person, right??? That person wants to take time out of the
life of the spirit to feel as many negative feelings as possible toward the other person. That person wants revenge, and the feeling of love would screw it up. You wouldn't want to put a potato in the tailpipe of someone you loved, would you??? Obviously, radical Muslims aren't going to "forgive Americans so they can love them."

I like the quote about "love is an act of forgiving" for this reason. It doesn't go any further, maybe, in the direction of sowing love where there is hatred, or should I say, of course we can't force anyone to love us, and nothing we say is going to change someone's heart. I mean, it might, but we don't have control of that. Bonnie Raitt has a song about it, I can't make you love me if you don't...

As far as the quotes about writing go, well, it may be clear that I have very high expectations of what writing can do. Most of the time, writing doesn't do what I hope it will. I'm always thinking, maybe if I slowly and carefully explain myself, people will understand exactly what I mean.
In some ways poetry works better than these blogs. Maybe it's because people understand that all poetry, to an extent, is persona poetry, even "confessional" poetry, but when a person writes
these "confessional" essays, well that's their heart they're wearing on their sleeve. Yeah, I thought may I'd receive some reassurance that announcing that I'm Bipolar would not alienate the whole world. However, there's a new tone of voice even in the e-mail I have received from one person who has read these blogs.

The thing is, none of us are going to be forgiven by the whole world, not even always by the circle of people close to us. It's hard to forgive if you don't feel forgiven, Nouwen says. But the fact remains that we can easily be forgiven by God: If I return to God with a repentant heart after I have sinned, God is always there to embrace me and let me start afresh.

Am I sounding like a JW tract, or something??? I promise this is not an ad for some particular church.

The fact is, we can feel forgiven without receiving forgiveness from each and every human in our lives; as for those humans that don't forgive us, we can still forgive them. And you know what, if I sound pious here, so be it. I am not a secular person, I am a believer, though the term "believer" doesn't do justice to what I am. God has had everything to do with my experience of reality since I was 17. Don't ask how long ago that was. That was 25 years ago.

It's not to say I haven't been a skeptic and a blasphemer plenty of times, or a hypocrite, or a heretic. But I've always "come home," as they say.

It's not as important for me to be heard, for my confessional blogs to be read and responded to lovingly, as it is for me to know my own truth and be true to it. The writing helps take me in that direction. I'm not trying to "win friends and influence people," or whatever that book was called, I'm just trying to do what only I can do, which is manifest spirit that is specific to my being.

I do have enough acceptance in my life because I don't ultimately look to humans. If I take this "looking beyond humans" too far it can make me very sick. So I am grateful for my circle, for those who do love and forgive.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Chasing Flutterbyes

I seem to be chasing something.

On TV there was a girl who found out she was a boy, and his main concern was to find acceptance.
Or maybe his first concern was to be true to himself, his second concern acceptance.

I am NOT a boy, but acceptance is at least one of my concerns.

As for Spalding people who may have changed their minds about me, that's your prerogative. Perhaps when you hear the word Bipolar, it means x,y,and z to you. I can say that it's not an easy thing to live with, but though I did at one point make the decision not to have children because a) I doubted my ability to provide for them as well as I would in my heart want to, and b) there is an increased risk of Bipolar children--even so I don't feel that life is less worth living because of this illness.
Maybe in some ways I even feel privileged, because I have had experiences that not everyone has had. Ask yourself: have you been a patient in a Communist East German mental hospital??? Have you attempted to climb the Berlin Wall (too late for that, in case you're tempted)?
I don't know what to do with this cheerleader. I was trying to paste a wombat, and I was going to mention the country music song "I've got friends in low places," because that's pretty much true of me, though I've known fabulously rich and important people too.
Yes, I know, I'm pretty dumb to be putting all this info on my blog. I would be better off watching Law & Order on TV.
This is my final pathetic cry... no, I'll be back with another fun-filled blogging adventure sooner than you can say black and white tuxedo cat.

thanks for "listening"

Monday, March 06, 2006

the underbelly of the swan

My first close encoutner with a bird was with a swan when I was about three. I held out a piece of bread, my parents tell me, but then changed my mind, and as I was yanking it back, the swan grabbed my wrist. I remember that last part. A life lesson I didn't completely master. I write these long personal essays then consider yanking them back hours later or the next day. There have been times I've thought I had some sort of call to educate the world about mental illness, but the truth is at times I don't know if any of us are
"called" to do anything. Then I'll read a book like Paulo Coehlo's "The Alchemist." I can't get the italics to work right, that's why I used quotes instead. The concept of the "personal legend" is very attractive, just the kind of thing that would make my mom talk out one side of her mouth in spasms of derision. Some people believe that in some sort of spiritual pre-existence or transitional place between lives we make certain choices about the new lives we are about to enter, such as who our parents will be and what major trials and tribulations we will face. For example, our President made the choice to enter this life without a brain. You see how kind I am being, how much credit I'm giving him.

So I was sitting around sipping wine and talking to my spirit guides before I entered this life and I decided I wanted to see what life was like with an illness that made people suspicious of me, impatient with me, superior to me, and in some cases afraid of me. An illness that would cause me to lose jobs, to be locked up, to have to take medication that made me feel like s--- most of the time. An illness that would be embarrassing to talk about--yet built into my nature was a desire to be honest with people, a sense that one cannot make real friends if one does not tell the truth about oneself. Of course it's always possible to slip out of the One costume (ONE should this, and ONE should that, but I, on the other hand, am going to do This).

I was going to delete my blog entry entitled "The Underachiever," but there were problems with the server all night last night, and I couldn't get into the dashboard to delete. Now, even though at the height of my defiance of my atheist, anti-spiritual parents, I believe that nothing in this universe happens by accident (I have read arguments that this is compatible with some types of atheism) but I have to ask, well so it's not an accident, there's a cause for this effect, but the meaning of it might not be some drifty ethereal thing. In other words, my inability to delete my blog entry could be taken to be an expression of "God's will" or it could be taken to be a temporary inconvenience, and I could have deleted the offending blog entry today with impunity. I didn't, and now I'm writing more stuff I will wonder about in the wee hours--oh, blankity blank, I DO NOT have Borderline Personality Disorder, but I'm acting like a Borderline, all worried about acceptance and rejection, creating drama.

Ought I to be embarrased about my self-referential writing style??? Do I have to write about someone else to PROVE I CAN??? You know, the whole idea is just tiresome to me. I'll write about what seems appropriate. I don't know if there's any audience out there or not (hint hint) but on the other hand maybe I'd rather not know what you all are thinking.


Saturday, March 04, 2006

the underachiever

This dog is named Hendrix. His namesake is often hailed as the best guitar player ever. But Hendrix the dog will not win comparable distinctions outside the home. Even within the
home, his skills with a Fender or a Gibson leave something to be desired. He does have a howl to rival the best, though, when there's a siren passing.

Like Hendrix, I am an underachiever. Some will ask: is that something to be proud of? When I was in college, I thought I'd become a hot shit academic, the kind who fire off ten articles a year and have five books published by age forty, along with tenure and a full professorship. But a funny thing happened on the way to my Bachelor's degree. It was a pebble in my path, which I tripped over. For those who don't know, it is called Bipolar Disorder, and it has not gone away.
It threatened to make me a statistic: those who never finish college, or if they do, finish in seven to ten years. I finished college in four years and went to graduate school in Chicago, where I discovered the Incomplete. My first year of grad school was essentially one big Incomplete, except for the three creative writing courses I took. I was indisposed while my colleagues were working on their Masters theses; when I recovered, I had ten days to research and write the 45-page essay and I did so, typed it on a manual typewriter, and I received the same grade 95% of my colleagues received: a B+. Offered admission but not funding for the PhD program, I decided I was a writer more than I was a scholar. I finshed my incompletes over the following months while working at a video store owned by the mafia.
There are times I look at the accomplishments of my current colleagues and peers and feel a tad restless and regretful, feeling that in some way I'm not in the same league, or not on the same fast track they're on, the fact being that I have not made any enormous ambitious effort to cause my writing career to take off. Related to the Bipolar is anxiety and fluctuating energy levels; I have developed phobias, too, which make me feel less mobile, less flexible. Can I assure a publisher that I would be willing to do a cross-country reading and signing tour, that I would be a face that would sell books? It's not that I won't fly; I've been to California twice in two years. But my fearlessness about hopping in a car and driving to any destination has disappeared. I know I'm not the only one, but in my case it's related to the flawed functioning of my brain.
There are plenty who think I make excuses for myself. I'm sorry they feel that way. There are those who think that every time my illness flares up, it's because I didn't take my medicine. The fact is that this happened only once. People who are upset with me will continue to hold me responsible, though. It seems inconceivable that a person would believe delusions as wholeheartedly as I do when I'm ill. 99% of people or more never would believe the things I believe at such times and they simply can't understand it. But whereas in the case of Einstein
people are willing to say "well he was capable of thinking in ways the rest of us aren't capable of," in my case people think something's wrong with my character.
I've been told, by way of explanation by friends who have decided they don't want to be my friend anymore, that my behavior doesn't achieve the high standard that they expect in their friends. OK, so this has been said in so many words only once. But I do suspect that there are many who would be more accepting if I kept myself on a shorter leash, and strove to attain the goals that someone on an academic fast track would strive for. Well, duh, people like to have things in common with their friends. So I can't fault anyone; high achievers are drawn to hig achievers.
Still, if I were to keep quiet about my mental illness and hope no one noticed it, and try to blend in, and hope to be judged in the same way as my peers, I would come up short. There would be questions raised like: how come she only teaches one class per semester, why doesn't she come out drinking with us after work, how come she has no money--etc. etc. I would be overjoyed if I could teach more without blowing a gasket, if I could drink socially, if I had any money to speak of. The fact is those things that set me apart from my peers are not accidental.
And I can only be me. No, I can't suddenly find the energy to apply for a tenure-track job, I won't be up for a drive to New Mexico next week, I'm not going to throw my dozens of poems about mental illness into the fire. I'm different, that's just a fact.
I'm an underachiever, if I'm compared to those my age who don't have mental illness. Oh, I have some goals, I do work very hard, but I resist responsibilities that carry too much stress.
Please don't accept my book for publication if I must fly to Australia to promote it. Of course you can drop me as a friend because I would rather travel surface roads to Shelbyville than take the expressway--it's your prerogative, obviously. But don't be thinking you are not hurting my feelings if you do that. Don't be thinking I love any less than anyone else; I probably love more than average, rather than less. I'd be more inclined to think of you as lacking compassion.
I recently made a new friend on the Internet who was also Bipolar, and she made a point of telling me not to tell a soul she has a mental illness, because she had built a whole persona and facade of stability and mental health. It is because of her that I'm writing this blog entry now. I could pretend but I can't pretend. I don't have the energy to pretend. And if I do pretend not to be mentally ill, I'm saying there's shame in mental illness. Maybe there is.