Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Prayer

This is what I looked like in my Easter hat today. I'm going to try to make it double as a Derby hat.

It's a gorgeous day, thunderstorms promised later. Do we have God to thank for what my mom calls "crisis" weather, or "just" Mother Nature? Whoever is responsible, I don't blame them, because we humans have been arrogant and greedy. Jesus still loves us, though. Right???

I am praying to the Higher Power of my understanding today, because it seems like I'm not in charge of the world, which is too bad, because I can think of at least a few dozen things I would change if I could. I can't, so I have to trust. Why do I have to trust? Because if I don't I'll go nuts. I'm already nuts, the reader will argue. Point well taken.

I am not simply praying for a whole list of things to be or to turn out the way I want them to. Prayers of petition are not fashionable; apparently some study has shown that sick people who are prayed for don't recover any better than people who are not (never mind that another study showed the opposite). Maybe I'm not, at this exact moment, praying at all, I'm just saying I am. Not that I'm the sort of person who doesn't pray, because I'm not. It's just questionable to be talking to an audience saying "I'm praying this, I'm praying that." I am guessing God might find this a bit indirect.

It's not that I'm embarrassed about my faith. Since I was raised an atheist and exposed to the diatribes of some of the most fervent atheists imaginable (such as students at the U. of Chicago Divinity School), my personal discovery of God is something I can't be easily talked out of; whatever your arguments are, I've heard them.

If you call yourself a believer, I don't think that's enough to justify anti-social behavior. A personal relationship with God is fine, but while we all have the vertical in our lives, there is also the horizontal--our relations with our fellow humans. I think anyone can go off to a closet to pray and come out and say "God told me to do this." I've been nuts enough to know you can say God told you but that doesn't mean God did. That may sound cynical but I think it's rational.

It's time for another vacation from blogging. Enjoy.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The evil music junkie speaks

This is a photo of part of my mom's CD collection. It's all classical, except a couple of soundtracks I bought her: Chicago, The Phantom of the Opera. I don't have a photo of my CD collection.

You could say music-acquisitiveness is in the blood, only very few of my CDs are classical and those that are are the dustiest.

I want to recommend each of the three CDs that have entered my collection within the past 24 hours. I think I'm listening to a guy named James Blunt, a CD called Back to Bedlam which is very close to one of Anne Sexton's book titles. He has kind of a studied, polished, semi-effeminate voice which is compared to David Gray and Damien Rice, a couple of guys you'll hear on local WFPK--the "ecclectic" music station.

The other two CDs leapt into my hands when I entered Underground Sounds questing after the Moody Blues because I had "Nights in White Satin" playing in my head all day. Well, they didn't have any Moody Blues, but they did have the latest Morrissey CD and the debut of a group called The Magic Numbers. You see, I was good, I stayed in the M's.

Morrissey is someone you either like or don't. I was a Smiths fan in the 80's, and hung on for the solo career, even though I could objectively tell myself that the insistence on a kind of dark melancholy outlook could potentially get old, though Mr. Morrissey himself doesn't seem to tire of it. In case you don't know, he's a proselytizing vegetarian, first famous for the song "Meat is Murder." My first favorite Smiths song was "How Soon is Now" which was played often in the Providence clubs in the mid '80s. We would emerge from a night of dancing singing the lyrics:

I am human and I need to belong, just like everyone else does.

Funny, but those lyrics still seem relevant today. I don't have as much to say about the Magic Numbers, have only heard the CD once, and I can make the profound statement that it sounded good. I read a review which compared the group to My Morning Jacket, my favorite Louisville group.

I am human and I need to belong, just like everyone else does.

Oh, did I repeat myself or something???


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Trying to be green

I read that Queen Elizabeth asked Tony Blair to talk to Mr. Bush about his assinine position on the climate crisis.

I am wondering when I'll get unstuck from the assinine idea that it's better to see both sides or every side of an issue than to cling desperately to one position. In other words, when will I grow up and be able to distinguish right from wrong.

Global warming is as real as--well, if you entertain on the one hand the idea that the material world is real, on the other hand--oh, screw the one hand and other hand way of thinking, never mind that it was taught by my favorite professor in college. I would drive a Prius if I could get one with my checking account balance. I could barely buy a used bicycle with my current checking account balance.

No, man, global warming is real, I don't have to be a liberal to know it. I am not going to be a sucker for the denial and obfuscation of the Bush administration. Now, I read that high speed Internet screws up the mating rituals of squirrels. Never mind that the article that reported this appeared on April Fools Day.

Realizing that you can't do everything frees you up to do something. OK, great, but how do you choose the something you're going to do??? I know that eating beef makes the rainforest situation worse because one reason for cutting the forest down is to make grazing land for cattle to make into hamburgers for all our fast food chains. I was slipping up and eating a little beef. Just like I was slipping up and puffing on a few cigarettes. The point is not that we're damned for a little slipping up, the point is WHEN YOU KNOW WHAT'S RIGHT, YOU SHOULD DO IT. None of us should be eating cows or pigs. If we each allowed the epiphanies to happen, as Mary Tyler Moore did, the world would be well-fed and there would be less heart disease and cancer.

The thing is, it doesn't fly to say well I'm just one person and my solitary habits aren't going to make much difference. It is actually worthwhile to do ALL the right things you can think of to do, and this is the best anyone can do; if everyone did, we would change the world, as my ex-boyfriend Charlie used to say (I have a sweatshirt he made, which says: CHANGE THE WORLD, RESPECT EVERYONE).

I know none of this is new or unique, but the thing is, as Al Gore says in a Vanity Fair article, there are times when cliches bear repeating ad nauseum. We're in a fucking crisis, and saying you're going to start making changes tomorrow, tomorrow--well, granted, some changes are easier than others. Like getting that hybrid; it won't even park itself in my driveway tomorrow, I'd say unless I win the lottery but you know, I don't buy tickets.


Monday, April 10, 2006

On Defensiveness and Forgiveness

The first thing I want to say is, thank God for true friends. I received a response (privately) to my blog today which made my day and threw light on what's really at stake--why I do what I do in my art and in my life.

Perhaps it would have been a good idea to keep a low profile, given the nature of my reality. In what sense would it have been a good idea? There have always been people who have become incensed with poetry about mental illness because some of it seems to romanticize conditions which can be very painful for the relatives and friends of those who are mentally ill. I began writing poetry after reading Robert Lowell. I had not felt, prior to the discovery of Lowell, that poetry was a venue for me; I didn't think I could use it to say anything I wanted or needed to say. Lowell has been roasted for half a century for his indiscretions.

I realize today more than usual that this revealing I have been doing is not and cannot be geared toward finding acceptance among people who simply cannot relate, and most people cannot. There are also those who can relate to some of it but don't want to. If I were the kind of person who always accentuates the positive, wouldn't I sweep all this stuff under the rug and try hard to fit in with those who are healthier and more productive???

Mental illness is dark and shameful, right? And if we want to be of the Light, we should wear a figurative fig leaf over any part of us that looks like--

what does it look like??? What does a person with mental illness do and say and think about???
I'm going to paste in a poem that is part of my worksheet for the May residency. Four poems in my worksheet are not about mental illness, one is. Can I spend 20% of my writing time dealing with something that conventional wisdom (among the mentally ill) says affects 100% of my life?

Drawing Crosses

It’s so much better not to be delusional,
better not to think
life goes on forever,
that there will be
money enough, so
you can throw it away
on all the little colored things that catch your eye.
You shouldn’t buy a long-stemmed rose
for nobody, or three bottles
of daiquiri mixer, when it’s not good to drink
on the medication.
And all those legal pads ---
God knows you’ve got enough stuff
to fill them
but it’s better not to think that creativity is meant to gush
like a broken water main.

It’s so much better not
to think that you have saved the world with love
when in fact you’re drawing crosses on your forehead
with cigarette ash, stirring up the nurses
who will ban you from the smoking room.
You think you’re the Messiah,
so when people call you narcissistic
it makes you want to cry, or when the TV anchorwoman
you place a call to from the patient phone
won’t send the cameras and the crew
to film your holy face and the Styrofoam box
in which you’re holding
Bin Laden in captivity
you sob and curse, invoke God’s wrath.
Then you wonder why Iraq is on TV.

It’s just a whole lot better not to be delusional,
not to think the psychiatric nurse you like has gone
to your apartment when her shift is over,
so you call, the phone rings and rings
and you feel so betrayed.
They say mania feels good, you feel powerful, strong ---
you sit on your mattress in the day room
clinging to things that seem to matter ---
the girlish mental health technicians
twirling their index fingers in their curly hair
snidely tell you
the test was negative ---
but you insist you are, there are indicators like
the fetus whispering
the very day that sperm met egg,
sending you to the store
to spend fifty bucks out of your bottomless resources
on pick threes with his due date, which to you seems
like the eleventh commandment;
the whole store waited while the lottery computer
printed out those tickets, and you felt
like God was working through the blonde cashier,
but inexplicably you didn’t win.
Well, as part of your ministry there were other tasks
like staging a reconciliation between God and Satan ---
beer and cigars and Pink Floyd by
candlelight in your decadent
living room ---

It’s better not to be delusional,
better not to think one dollar
can be one million if you take a ball point pen
and add some zeros.
You can hear the voice of God
and this will make you feel you can
have anything you want, and so
delusion feeds upon itself and grows.
You think as loud as thinking gets:
well if it’s not God talking, then
who the fuck is it and who
loves me, who the hell is gonna
love me?


Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Treatise on Self-Pity and Manipulative Behavior

This is my pretend grandson, Andrew. Since he moved out of the house with his parents I haven't seen him as much. You can't see it in this photo, but his hair has grown long and curly in the back. Plus he's walking since the last time I saw him.

In related news (as related as vinegar is related to baking soda) I think everyone hates the idea of self-pity and there may be some saints who never indulge in it. I may choose my friends wrong, but I can't think of one who has been perfect at abstaining from self-pity. My grandfather was stoic and didn't mention pain, and by the time his colon cancer was detected, he had about two months of life left in him.

Why is it that most of us have such an unpleasant reaction when we hear someone seeming to whine about their perceived difficulties, when we detect a note of blame in the whining??? I myself am a veteran of much study of spiritual traditions that have close to zero tolerance for whining and blaming external people and circumstances for our problems. In theory I know how to take full responsibility for every little thing, for the things I like about my life and the things I don't like.

Then Ian walks in the door without knocking and I say OH SHIT.

We're all hopeless. We can go ahead and have incredibly high expectations for ourselves and maybe having such expectations will empower us to achieve at a very high level. But, can we do equally well in every aspect of our lives??? I have a very high-achieving mother who can be quite rude to salesclerks and low-level bureaucrats. Apparently she doesn't see Christ in such people, or anyone who reassures her.

I'm more hopeless than most because I sometimes blame my mental illness for aspects of my life that I'm less thrilled about. Sometimes my mental illness is not at fault, instead it's my weak character, lack of fortitude and GRIT.

On the plane to California last December I read an article in Psychology Today about how GRIT is the most important ingredient in a successful life. Why do I have so little of it?

There are those who claim we love each other for our strengths; perhaps I have been poisoned by reading books like The Spirituality of Imperfection which, believe it or not, suggests that none of us are God. I admire people for their strengths, am inspired by the strong and good things people do; when I realize that I don't possess the qualities of people in movies it is humbling and sometimes I get down on myself. In true friendship, consequently, at least for a person like me who is not perfect, there needs to be a great deal of forgiveness. If a person has qualities I feel I simply can't forgive, I am less likely to pursue a friendship with that person. If someone is already my friend and does something wretched, I can usually forgive it.

Perhaps I blame my mental illness for too many of my shortcomings and failures. Something else that happens is that friends will blame my shortcomings and failures on my mental illness, even when something else entirely is to blame. I was tired from a long trip when I visited my friend Ellen, she was upset because I was low on energy, and blamed my mental illness instead of the real culprit, which was my being tired and physically out of shape. For example, I stopped trying to do the postures in Ellen's yoga class after an hour and fifteen minutes of the hour-and-a-half class. I simply gave up and sat there on the mat and waited. Mental illness???

My "Underachiever" blog entry had a tongue-in-cheek undercurrent which perhaps was not detected by every reader. It is far from my intention to weep and moan and sob because I am not a tenured full professor of Comp Lit at Yale--though I can and will insist that in addition to all the other reasons I am not in this position, my mental illness has played an enormous role in making this impossible. But in truth I feel that nothing happens by accident, and the path that might have led to the Comp Lit doctorate and the tenured full professorship--even at Podunk University in Nowheresville, USA--was never a viable path, nor do I seriously regret not taking it. I bring up the mental illness by way of explanation because it does explain a lot.

The purpose of this blog is not to whine. And yet, what's really wrong with whining??? You point out some aspect of life that you at least sometimes find simply unacceptable, and you point your finger at it and throw back your head and sob like a cartoon character. Or you do the eqivalent of this verbally, and blame everything from Adam and Eve to George W. Bush, not leaving out, along the way, a few close friends who've hurt your feelings.

Men, of course, are usually upset when women cry. They can't stand it. I can remember strained relations with males of the species dating back to summer camp when I was--no, wait, I can remember fighting with boys in pre-school because I wanted to play with the police car, and I would (possibly) cry when I didn't get my way (it makes a good story to say I cried, anyway). So I have this habit of being manipulative with the opposite sex that dates back to when I was about two feet tall. The inch-high Freudian analyst that lives in my head is nodding now, and making big strokes on his notepad with his ball point pen. The thing is, if I had wanted to play with the Barbies, I would not have had to compete with these boys all the time.

It all kind of reminds me of the movie When Harry Met Sally in which the question of whether men and women can be friends keeps coming up. Of course, Harry and Sally cannot be friends, ultimately. Can a man and a woman only be friends if they are not attracted to each other??? Does this ever happen???

It's as bad to be manipulative as it is to whine. When friends are low on money, and tell me specifically what it is they cannot afford, I tend to think they are hinting (rather obviously) that they want me to come across with the cash they're lacking. Because they are not coming out with a direct request for the funds, it strikes me that they are being manipulative. But I am not enough of a perfectionist on behalf of my friends to become incensed about what, to my mind, is simply very human behavior. And guess what, sometimes it turns out my friends were not even hinting, that they had no intention of suggesting I should be the one to help. They were simply telling it like it is--they didn't have any cat litter, they were out of toilet paper, and had enough coffee left for half a pot--but they were getting paid tomorrow.

To be quite frank, I don't generally intend to communicate in such a way that I would be accused of either whining or being manipulative or controlling. What I usually do intend to do, when I set out to communicate with my fellow human beings, is to tell it like it is. Either that, or make something up that might be entertaining, or throw some light on how it really is.

I'm not saying I'm innocent, like little Andrew (the kid in the photo up top). I'm just not guilty as charged, in the way I've been charged. I'm guilty of wanting to be accepted, I'm guilty of wearing my heart on my sleeve, I'm guilty of being afraid bad things will happen, and using a variety of tactics to try to prevent this. I am not guilty of wanting everything the way I want it, except insofar as--as I've just said, I want to prevent bad things from happening. Of course, healthy people KNOW they can't prevent bad things from happening; they "let go and let God," and they are not accused of being manipulative. When the unpreventable bad things happen, they don't whine. They know that nothing in this world happens by accident, they know there is a greater purpose to all they see happening--either that or they believe in Murphy's Law and in some funny way they are comfortable with it. They can laugh about it.

Maybe the more words I use, the farther I get from making my meaning clear. I'll remind myself that less is more next time. But for now, it will have to suffice that my words are beyond sufficiency. I love my friends but sometimes it seems this is so irrelevant I might as well not mention it. I don't mean from my point of view.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Great Way to Spend an Afternoon

First things first: the guy in the photo is the guy I gave my last cash to about half an hour ago, so he could buy himself a Starbucks coffee. It wasn't for free; his job was to bring home (to my house) the gallon of milk I had just bought at Walgreen's which I had been carrying long enough to feel like it was too heavy to haul the rest of the way. Well, apparently Ian thought I was giving him the gallon of milk. Why in God's name would he think such a thing??? Anyway, neither milk nor Ian have shown up.

What bugs me about it is, I went out walking with my friend mainly to get milk, and now I'm here but there is no milk.

I passed up an opportunity to go hear Sallie Bingham read from her latest book. That was a great choice, because now I can sit here at home and fume about the blasted milk, which is far more edifying to everyone concerned than hearing a good reading.

If you go through life pissed off, always on the edge of a temper tantrum, it can seem like nothing ever works out right. I'm convinced Murphy's Law rings true for those who think the world is a crappy place. Believe it or not, I'm not a Murphy's Law person. I'm even calmer about the milk which was not actually stolen, because surely Ian simply misunderstood and thought
the milk was a kind and generous gift from someone who loves him dearly.

Never mind how I actually feel. It's clear life is not something a person (and I belong to this category) can control, and sometimes it feels a lot like the Universe is laughing--or God, if you're comfortable thinking something called God could do something like laugh, which I am but which
the person I live with is not, so I don't get to talk about God all the time like he/she's in the room. I mean just when I thought I was being fabulously clever, killing several birds with one tiny pebble (providing the cup of coffee Ian had been wanting, getting the milk home, not straining my abdomen, giving Ian a task to do for his few dollars, rather than just handing it to him), instead, I made Ian feel, I think, like he won the lottery. This was not something I would have done on purpose.

At least I didn't strain my stomach or my back.

It seems entirely appropriate that God ( insert life or the universe) would put a monkeywrench in my plans when I'm being judgmental, superior, and patronizing a person who has, from all appearances, more severe mental illness than I have. Just as Mary Tyler Moore at some point in her life met the gaze of a cow and realized she was not one bit more important (and she became a vegetarian on the spot)--oh now, wait, this is good, I'm comparing myself (obviously) to the human and Ian (one would assume) to the cow--but if you really do have a deep appreciation for all sentient beings, it is not insulting to be compared to a cow. The cow could be the superior being, probably is, in fact. Ian is like the Beatles' "Fool On the Hill." To appreciate such a person takes imagination. I am not imaginative, I am impatient and easily frustrated, and it doesn't take much for me to blow up at Ian. He would get very little out of reading this blog.
Not that he can't read, but for instance, when he read a European history book it began a fixation with "East German women who drink gin all the time." I'm being picky, but in the days of the German Democratic Republic, it was next to impossible to find gin. Vodka, brandy, sometimes whiskey, yes, but gin, no. And I possess the type of impatient mind that thinks: how f---ing annoyingly absurd, to speak of East German women drinking gin when East German women simply don't, or didn't, drink gin.

The happy ending to the story is that my housemate brought home a gallon of milk--not the same gallon, of course, but real live two percent milk a couple of ounces of which are now in the mug by my elbow making the couple of ounces of coffee that are in the mug less threatening to
my circulation. You see, I'm so frail I can't carry a gallon of milk home or drink black coffee.
And of course that's all tied up with the moral of the story:

don't ever become so frail you can't carry a gallon of milk home or drink black coffee.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

More Troublesome Poetry

The dog in the photo belongs to friends. He's the kind of dog I'm thinking of getting, a Mini-Pin.
Hyperactive, tendency to run and jump into his
humans' arms.

If I had a Mini-Pin, I would not read poetry to him. Dogs develop all sorts of dreadful diseases when humans read poetry to them, anything from rabies to heartworms. The one good thing what happens when one reads poetry to dogs is that the fleas get bored and fall asleep, and fall off the dog.

I am pasting the remaining poems from my sonnet sequence: Does the Clay Ask the Potter.

V. Doubt

One more poem, or two, or maybe three
will trace the lines God writes upon my heart.
Here among the sisters who feel called
to serve the diocese or serve their God,
I find myself compelled to try to see
if God has plans for me, if God has words.
I need a saving touch upon my head,
a feeling that can save me from my doubt,
a sense that God is real despite my doubt,
a courage to believe though many doubt.
I’ve ditched old Jesus time and time again
but it may turn out that he’s my friend.
I am reaching for him while my ears
suck music as a treatment for my fears.

VI. The Metaphysical

If I ever learn, the singer sings,
what my heart already knows. I think
I need to sing these lyrics to myself.
I wreck my head by trying to find out
the very simple truths that dwell in me.

My poetry is metaphysical
only when I let go of the science
I was raised with, when I turn my back
on my parents scorn of what is mystical.
Letting go of all this makes me happy.

I think of all the people far away
that I would like to see, to whom I’d say
it’s not just some unhealthy quirk of mine
that I am drawn to God, to the divine.

VII. Loony Tunes

Jesus, God—these two names are those
that many people we would call insane
seem to exhale every time they breathe.
Truly, people such as these have many thoughts
that we’d call loony tunes. For does it matter
if we stir our coffee left or right—
I know a woman who would pray and ask
this very question. She would ask God and Christ
literally for approval of each step she took—
to touch, avoid each sidewalk crack? And then
there are those who’ll wear the holy book
as loincloth, and no thread from head to foot.
Can we know what God has said to these;
Dare we give or take their right to be?

VIII. Delight

The music’s stopped, I’ll rest my tired ears.
In the silence I will call to God.
Gilded Christ hangs like a clever kid
showing me a trick he’s learned to do.

Life and death, death then life again?
Does Christ have anything to teach at all?
Should I learn from my own rise and fall?
Should I live my life as if it matters?

I don’t want to be a cynic or
be ungrateful for the many blessings
or turn whiny every time I’m sad.
I’d hate to point at life and say it’s bad.

I find delight in God, as many don’t.
I say take this and eat, but many won’t.

I'm aware that there are people in the world who find mental illness less threatening than
religion. If this is the case with my readership, so be it. I can only be myself.


Monday, April 03, 2006

The Trouble with a Poetry Blog

This hasn't been a poetry blog for a long time. I'm going to paste in some poems. They are sonnets I read to my writing group Saturday night which prompted one group member to say: "Now I know what that red cross in your painting is all about."

The cross appears in the lower right hand corning of a painting I have posted on my blog before. Beneath the cell phone on the right of the photo I'm posting today is Thomas A Kempis'
The Imitation of Christ. Most people would say the photo is religious. What about these poems?

Does the Clay Ask the Potter?

I. The Mumbling Nuns

I sit beneath a crucifix; at times
my eye will wander up the naked form
of Christ; he’s painted gold, his head
is bent, down and to his right, as if
attempting to admire his bloody feet.

For months my head’s had pressures of all kinds;
perhaps I need to turn my life to Christ;
is he some spirit who could show me how
to get past the conundrum of my doubt.
I pop a new CD in my machine.

The mumbling nuns that pass me in the halls
would surely say that it’s no accident
that Christ peers down at my fast-typing hands.
They’d probably tell me write what God commands.

II. The Prayer of St. Francis

Music starts inside my ears: a prayer.
Although the Walkman gives me headaches, I
must have my music. This prayer is the one
St. Francis wrote. Make me an instrument.
Is it just coincidence I’m here?
Some days I sit stunned inside regret,
as if each precious moment would feel better
if I’d forgone some pleasure long ago.
I wonder, though, if I might have it wrong.
It’s like a fortune cookie I once read:
life’s events transpire as they should.
This is of course not Christian but Chinese;
many don’t believe it and condemn
acceptance. Life’s a bitch for such as them.

III. The Singer

I’ve got the Holy Bible at my elbow
just because the sisters put it there.
Singing in my ear are several men:
a Christian group who buried their lead singer.
He was crushed beneath his SUV.

He really should have known that Jesus drove
a hybrid. I myself am slightly nervous
wondering if there’s some kind of holy law
that says a clay pot’s not allowed to argue
with its maker. Should I switch to prayer

of thanksgiving? It’s hard for me to thank
a God who will not put his holy hand
down on my aching head. A God who seems
hell-bent on rubbing acid in my dreams.

IV. Faith Can Be Easy

Faith hope love—the singer sings about
the three things that enable him to live.

I hear the voice of faith, I hear the hope
that God will not abandon those who love him.

Or even those who don’t, for loving God
can seem abstract, even to believers.

I’d ask God for the strength to know that things
that happen in some way are always good.

But if I smiled at all life’s tragic shit
what kind of person would that make me?

For years I’ve found it hard to figure out
if God’s a wimp or if he’s truly cruel.

However, somewhere in my skull I know
Faith can be easy like fast food to go.

So, now do you understand the cross in the photo? I must be dumb because I
don't. I mean it's not all crystal clear and focused like it apparently was to my
fellow poet. Feedback welcomed.