Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Upside Of Depression

I received the divine touch of immortal inspiration on a rainy spring day at the metamorphic age of twelve, when I fell in love with words and the art form of Writing. Since then, I have dedicated a staggering amount of personal time and effort towards expanding my field of knowledge and honing my literary voice, that I might one day place upon the altar of immortal art something I created—something that could do for others what others' works had done for me. I'm now thirty-four years old, and I have self-published four of the books I've written, and my books—the children I both mothered and fathered over the course of years and years—don't sell for shit. They don't sell so bad it killed the publishing company that birthed them, as the duet of HHB is now the solo act of a writer who's not writing, so right now the books are technically still available, but I don't really check those accounts, because I used to darkly joke that my sales spreadsheets could also serve as suicide notes.

And that's not just a joke. This past September I really bottomed out. I started telling my friends something that I'm sure scared the shit out of them. I had submitted a favorite unpublished short story of mine to a wide array of possible landing places earlier in the summer, and in early September I received the final rejection, and my heart broke, and I decided that I was going to kill myself the following April.

Why not immediately? Because there were other parts of life I enjoyed besides authoring the art in my heart, and six months would be a nice little quiet coda before I finally gave in to the continuing chorus of my life's awful score.

The chorus? 

"No matter how hard you try, no matter how hard you work, you will lose when it matters most, so you should just kill yourself, you fucking idiot loser."

And for the record, I did not start out that way. I was a happy and hopeful kid, which has me convinced that pessimism and optimism are reactions to life, not predictors of future outcomes, and that people are drawn to optimism because it's proof of the optimistic people being the recipients of life's arbitrary dispensing of good luck, and who doesn't want good luck on their side? And conversely pessimism is therefore poison because who doesn't want to avoid bad luck whenever possible?

If things had turned out more hopefully for me in a fuck-ton of ways throughout my life, the chorus of my score wouldn't be that I should kill myself, I promise you.

I won't list my woes here, because that's not the point of bringing them up other than to say that the April Decision was the tip of an enormous iceberg, and that that iceberg is and was a very real thing consisting of a great many memories and moments wherein even a sip of success was always followed by a god damned kick to the face. 

I've walked my life in my shoes; this is not about waking up sad and feeling blue for no reason, and it is not only about my art being a commercial failure.

Sometimes I tell this story to strangers—including the scroll of woes I'm omitting on this blog—and about half of them have the same question: "Wow, So how were you planning on doing it?"

We'll get to that.

The point is I'd decided to do it, and it was a very real thing. And while I thought a weight would be lifted off my shoulders when I'd finally made the decision, things only got heavier and worse.

I had a crush on this girl I really liked—I thought maybe she'd been sent to my world to existentially rescue me from the oblivion of absolute failure in everything I considered important in life—but instead she fucked everyone I know except me, including my best friend at the time, and essentially exists in my life now as a constant reminder that I'm an unattractive loser.

Which all only seemed to confirm the decision.

Let's talk about fitting, because what happened next is proof that real life really does spin a great tale. What happened next is that I was finishing up a shift at La Fiesta when my old friend Derek and his wife Mary and their child Mack came in, and I greeted them with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. Derek and I used to play baseball together and have been friends for a long time (he was our great team's catcher), and he married Mary shortly after I moved back to Cleveland from Los Angeles. They'd already had Mack together, I was in the wedding, and I was relieved to see that Derek had married someone who was much more in touch with reality, haha. Anyway, and terribly sadly, soon thereafter Mary was diagnosed with a pernicious and persistent form of cancer, and for the last few years she's been fighting her ass off.

It's significant that Mary was there that night because she was always the person I checked my misery against. No matter how bad things were, I wasn't undergoing intense life-or-death medical treatment.

Here's the problem with that, though, and why it didn't ultimately sustain me: I'm both selfish and empathetic, so it only makes me more depressed to know that others have it worse than I do. 

In fact, Mary has actually scolded me for my suicidal tendencies on a few occasions, and has shamed me for complaining, which is her right, but as I've mentioned, I've walked in my shoes all my life, and I would argue that reaching a point where you are desiring to die might indicate that there are actually worse fates (perhaps more subtly worse) than having to undergo intensive life-or-death medical treatment.

And there are those who might/will argue that I'm an asshole for suggesting that "someone whose depression could be cured with a pill" could complain that he has it worse than a cancer survivor, and I would argue that there are only some forms of depression that can be cured with a pill, and therapists are the blind leading the blind, as all the psychologists and psychology majors I've ever met were trying to figure out why they were so fucked up.

And the worst part is, all the other purveyors of wisdom are just as clueless. I mean, they might have a thing or two of real value, but the rest of what they say has gaping holes that always bleed my faith dry.

I've had to patch together my own nameless philosophy, and look where it was leading me.

Anyway, it's fitting that Mary was there because she has the most miserable biography I know personally, and the fact that my April Decision didn't unravel when seeing her again seemed to only cement its correctness further into place—cement on cement at this point.

And then my parents—the adorable Vic and Sue—showed up and sat at the the next table down from Derek and Mary's. 

That was not a common occurrence—usually my work involved me nodding at people I obliquely knew and otherwise turning into a Terminator programmed to clear all finished things and refill all unfinished things.

But I eventually got phased from my hosting position and sat down with my parents, and once again they asked me why I looked so depressed, and I told them about pretty much everything but the plans to kill myself. 

It was a dark conversation. 

Besides the coda of my life, there was also the idea that it's always been the thought of my parents' terrible grief that suspended my self-destruction. And the morbid thinking went that by April the family would have my brother Joe's children to curb the familial woe of my passing. 

I don't think people get it, but I was facing the idea that by following my heart, and steadfastly dedicating my time and effort towards my heart's requirements, I had wasted the majority of my life, and that I didn't know what to follow next, if not my heart, because it's not like my brain was trustworthy, seeing as how much it had let down my heart, despite both's greatest efforts. So I was so lost that I was beginning to weigh the existential balance of nonexistence—not only beginning to but had pretty much seen the scales tell me their wretched conclusion.

That's kind of what we talked about, until suddenly there was a young man talking to everyone at our table.

My friend and coworker Joey Priore is a prime number, and by that I mean I've never known anyone else like him. He is a unique individual—a reductive way of describing him briefly would be to ask you to picture a manic-depressive currently on the delightful side of manic—and he was circling around the restaurant that night, and he ended up at the table full of Donatellis, where he said, "Oh, Dan, I'm so glad I ran into you; I've lined up a show for 9/11—I mean, you know, not FOR 9/11, but on that night—and anyway I think you should come up there and join me, man, and do some jokes, do some stand-up comedy, because you're so funny, bro, and I just thought you should do it."

I hemmed and hawed, and then he was gone, and my parents were looking at me like, "Well, you're going to do it, right?"

And of course I was, but not because they expected it of me, but rather because of a bizarre clinching reason: On the morning of the actual 9/11, I first heard about the attack while on my way back from an 8:00am class. That class's subject? Public speaking.

A convincing coincidence, to this desperate fucker right here, at least.

So I decided to do it, and I ducked into the "Stand-up Jokes" draft in my Gmail, and I sought out my material, and I started to practice it, alone and to my friends, like, conversationally.

And then it was 9/11.

I barely slept the night before, and all day the idea of the night's performance bounced around in my my mind like a starving gorilla in a banana factory. I was not looking forward to it, but something within me was telling me to go, and eventually the day slowly paced itself to the point where I could leave.

I headed for a dive bar in a fairly shitty part of Cleveland. It was early September and yet already unseasonably chilly, and it was raining with that perfect cadence that is the textbook definition of Rain—the steady kind where huge pools of water begin to slowly accumulate in parking lots that were formerly safe to cross with ease, and yet now must be crossed as if solving a simple riddle involving important little differences in depth, lest thy ankles get annoyingly wet.

Anyway, once I zigzagged across the parking lot I entered a shitty dive bar and saw that Joey was not there yet, so I ordered a beer and got into a conversation with one of Joey's friends—C', twenty-fiveish, handsome fella, and clearly a smart person who is so troubled by his intelligence he uses drugs, like the way I use drugs. So we got along fine, but at that point I was a person who just wanted to die, so I was looking around at this shitty dive bar and talking to a dude who was telling me about getting healthy while I could see two puncture-holes in his forearm. It just made me more depressed, until eventually Joey showed up, and I found that even he couldn't pull me out of my despair, which was only being exacerbated by the idea that I, in the mood I was in, would soon be called upon to try to make people laugh.

I drank Guinness and talked to C' while Joey set up the stage area—told him the story of how, on my birthday, the woman I liked and had been flirting with for months had ended up being raped by or regretfully fucking this creepy little gremlin person I know—and I couldn't shake my shitty feeling, so I told them both I was going to go try to take a nap in my car and recharge myself, maybe. They said fine, and off I zigzagged back through the tides of the parking lot, through the cold rain.

When I got inside the car, I just stared through the windshield, at the raindrops plopping on the glass and distorting the trees and sky and power lines. I found it interesting enough that I recorded a small sample of it on my phone, and then I went back to just staring at it. I probably also smoked a quick one-hitter just to try to rescramble a brain that had already been scrambled to diarrhea, but the main thing I did was stare through that windshield, at those raindrops, while, I swear to you, I felt all the life and life-energy draining out of me—I was accepting it, that outcome. I was allowing myself to just empty, because I was done with everything I was filled with, not in a good way but in a final way—DONE. Fuck this, fuck that, just let yourself drain; your animation has led you into snaketraps your whole life, now let yourself just die, you miserable fuck. The eternal slumber of death is, to some, like trying to wake up from a nightmare is, to others.

Fuck the April timeline—I was just done.

One day I realized that I had reached my mid-thirties and could fit everything in the world I owned into my aging Jeep Cherokee, and it's not like I've been trying to live simply. To quote one of my own jokes, "I'm a lot like Gandhi, except he didn't own anything on purpose." And I realized that in a way that sad fact represented all the truth of my life: a tremendous failure from within, an insignificant failure from without. I would pack all my belongings into my Jeep and find somewhere solid to fucking slam that Jeep into, with a tank full of gas, with the intention being that I'd die on impact and then I and all of my useless shit would burn, to be all the more easily disposed of without being remembered, for why should there be any commemoration of a fucking shitty emo narrative?

That was the plan, that was my thinking.

Instead I sat there and watched the windshield, and I emptied of energy and the desire to live, until it was all gone, and I was still just sitting there, looking at all that glass and the distortions from the water—I wasn't even praying for help, wasn't asking for direction, was just a lump of quiet, given-up humanity. I truly wish I could describe the reality of that moment to you—something utterly unique in my life. I've ALWAYS had a plan, always known exactly why I was doing what I was doing, and yet it had led me to that moment, that moment of utter emptiness of any desire of any kind, to live, to be happy, anything. I sat in that emptiness, and it might have only been minutes, but the clock of life was frozen, and it stayed frozen, until something happened. 

Deep within my body, and totally unbidden, I felt an internal sensation like a pilot light being ignited, and then felt the quiet roar of warmth, and then a question thundered through my head and bones and entire being: "ARE YOU SERIOUSLY NOT GOING TO FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE?"

The power and incredulity of whatever within or without me voiced that question supplied its own answer, because I started crying as hard as I've ever cried in my life, just sloppily bawling—neither in joy nor in woe, but rather it felt like a swollen body of dammed rage had broken within me, and was flooding everything out, washing everything away, to begin the renaissance.

The paradigm shift.

That moment alone in my aging Jeep, when an internal or external God finally spoke up, that's the most important moment of my life so far, and I still cry every time I think about it—am full of tears now, as I type this (and will be later, when I proofread it).

By the time I stepped out of that car, into the steady rain of night, my internal composure amounted to, "ALL RIGHT, YOU DUMB-ASS DAY-LABORERS, WHO'S READY TO HEAR SOME FUCKING JOKES?!"

Here's my thinking: Back when I used to play baseball, I was a big-time pitcher, and I actually enjoyed it when I had to pitch with the bases loaded, because then there was just absolutely no margin for error, and that challenge always drove me to my best performances. And I think the April Decision was me loading the bases of my life, to see how I would perform, and what happened is that because the bases were loaded, the idea of something that I'd been thinking about for fifteen years—performing stand-up comedy—went from being nauseatingly terrifying to simply something I would do as a bucket-list thing before I fucking killed myself.

No big whoop.

It was no longer nearly as scary, and what happened is that Joey Priore played a set and then introduced me as the night's stand-up comedian, and I performed the jokes I'd brought, which garnered absolutely no response other than, at one point during one of my favorite jokes, which involves not wanting to live near black people, two concerned white women yelled out, "You're gonna get shot!"

Zero laughs and two warnings about how black people were going to murder me for one of my jokes.

Afterwards, I felt nothing: neither pride nor disgrace. (Today it's darkly funny to me when I think about how my comedy career began by bombing on 9/11.)

The problem with the show was that nobody there gave a fuck either way. While Joey was performing, C' and I were the only ones clapping and paying attention, and while I was performing, Joey and C' (and the two concerned women) were the only ones listening and responding.

The only other feedback I received was from C', who advised that I get in front of an actual audience, because he thought my jokes were pretty funny, but he also knew the limitations of the dive-bar crowd, especially at my nascent phase of development, so he told me to go to an open mic he knew of, in Mentor.

The fact that it was in Mentor is significant, because remember the chorus of my life? It started with the city of Mentor.

What I mean by that: Remember how I mentioned my formerly being a good baseball pitcher? Well, that was partially because I almost never stopped working towards being the best baseball player possible when I was a kid, from throwing baseballs at trees in my backyard to refining my delivery in the basement in the dead of winter. I was on the all-star team for basically my whole playing life, and we were incredibly good, but we could never beat the all-star team from a large local neighborhood called Mentor.

(And how fitting is that name for teaching one a life-lesson?)

Skip to my senior year, my team is ranked sixth in the state, I am undefeated as a pitcher (am, in fact, on my way to being awarded second-team all-state status), and our playoff opponent is none other than our old nemesis, Mentor. We'd still never been able to beat them, but we had the better team by then, and it was our time. If my life were a movie, this was when we would finally slay the Red Dragon.

Except my life isn't a movie (or at least it isn't an American movie). 

I worked my god damned ass off as a baseball player, and in the most important game of my life, against my longtime rival, I pitched, and we lost 4–3. I didn't pitch or hit all that well, and neither did any of my teammates. All that potential, all that time, all that work, and defeated by the same dicks as ever.

So fucked. So incredibly fucked.

Fortunately for my psyche, but unfortunately in general, I already had one foot out of the door when it came to baseball, anyway, because despite all my success, I wasn't hearing from any colleges, and in my heart I knew it wasn't really the true love of my life. 

I was a kid who read books of poetry on the bus to away baseball games. I still remember reading a novel called The Beach on the bus, totally enraptured by and jealous of the smooth flow of Mr. Garland's prose, and then I'm sure I dominated whoever it was we played against, as long as it wasn't Mentor.

So eventually I fuckin' walked away.

I'd had all the fun I was ever going to have with baseball, and I walked away—but only after working my ass off and losing twice, once to Mentor, and again to the machinations that left me with exactly one scholarship offer, to a school that, when I visited it, basically came off as an expensive trailer park full of idiots.

I turned all the focus of my life to Writing. I went to Ohio University and studied Magazine Journalism, History, and Philosophy. All of it was to feed the same directive: accumulation of knowledge, refining of voice.

I accumulated knowledge, I refined my voice, I wrote books and jokes and screenplays and poems, I read the same but by the best and of course found myself wanting but in that wanting inspired to keep moving forward, into that delightfully brilliant atmosphere of excellence. I didn't even bother submitting my writings anywhere; it wasn't about that yet.

When I felt ready, I went back and edited and rewrote my old books and self-published them, and then I wrote new books, and did the same with those.

I submitted other things to publications and agents; they garnered a little bit of interest and yet were all ultimately rejected.

Now you're caught up to the beginning, where my books' sales were a fucked piece of shit, and I wanted to die because the chorus was still happening: "No matter how hard you work, it's fucked, bro, so just kill yourself, you fucking pussy loser."

And it had happened again, and again.

As to the wisdom of speaking to myself in such terms, like I have throughout all of this, I agree that it's fucked, and I swear to you I'm working on it. My problem with completely switching to blissful positiveness is this piece of wisdom I culled from an entertaining fan of history: (I'm quoting this from memory, so it's probably not exact, but the gist is there.) 

"Nations ascend the staircase in wooden shoes and descend the staircase in silk slippers."

I believe my woeful opinion of myself essentially forces me to constantly refine my edges, to improve my inner and outer existence—always looking to climb the stairs, even if it's in wooden shoes.

It comes down to striking the right balance—the wooden shoes are fine, but is the hair shirt necessary?—and that is part of the work that lies ahead for me.

Ultimately I decided that I needed to see if I actually had any ability at performing stand-up, and I took C''s advice, to go to that open mic and perform my jokes. For it to count on the bucket list, I needed to hear the boos or the laughs—telling jokes to liquor bottles turned out not to count in my mind. 

I didn't tell anyone else about it, just went myself, signed up, saw that the crowd included a very young girl who would be potentially traumatized by my fucked-up jokes, so I moved myself down the list and figured she'd be gone by the time I went on.

But of course she wasn't. She was still there, and suddenly the host had just handed me the microphone, and everything was quiet and expectant. I took off my sweatshirt to reveal my Mayfield Athletics T-shirt, because the long-awaited comeback had begun.

I speak rapidly, and I basically verbally sprinted through my jokes, but I noticed that I was getting some response from the young cool people near the bar, whereas a huge area of the bar/restaurant around the little girl was just absolutely mortified.

Anyway, I finished my set, and the first thing the host said was, "Hey, it takes a lot of guts to get up here, folks!" 

As I was heading out, a few people said, "Good job," (including a really pretty waitress), but I figured they were just being nice so I didn't go kill myself in the parking lot.

And it was toward that parking lot I headed. I had gotten a few chuckles, but it wasn't a roaring success, and I just wanted to go, but for some reason as I got to the parking lot, a familiar voice from inside of my head said, "YOU JUST DID IT—YOU DID THE THING. NO MATTER HOW IT WENT, YOU DID IT. GO BACK INSIDE AND HAVE A DRINK TO CELEBRATE WHAT YOU'VE DONE, YOU SELF-DEFEATING PIECE OF SHIT."

And hey, I follow all-caps voices in my head when they're being usefully instructive and humorously ironic.

So I ordered a Guinness and sat there drinking to my bucket list, and that's when C' circled around and said he'd seen the set and thought it was pretty funny and that "Dude, that super-hot waitress was loving your jokes. She was even loving the jokes she wasn't laughing at."

I knew who he was talking about, and I tore away from C' to find her, and while on the way to find her I came across an older guy who stopped me and smiled and said, "Nice set, man," and I said, "Oh, yeah? You really liked it?" and his smile disappeared, and he said, "It was all right."


Anyway, I then chased down the cute waitress ("Bree") and asked if she had actually enjoyed my jokes, and she said, "Yeah, dude, your fuckin' jokes are funny!"

She was by far the sexiest woman in a building full of surprisingly attractive women, and she thought my jokes were fuckin' funny. Fuck yeah, bro.

Of course, she had a boyfriend, of course, but still...she was exactly who any heterosexual man would want enjoying his jokes.

As far as I was concerned, in that moment, I defeated all those Mentor fuckfaces. You beat me in baseball? I make your girlfriend laugh!

It's an artistic form of self-expression, like writing, except most people these days are interested in doing things that are as easy as possible, and reading is way too much work, I've found, whereas sitting and listening to some guy talk is super easy, and people can eat nachos while they do it.

So as you can see, I'm still writing, kind of, including a lot more poetry recently, but I've also taken on another challenge, because it scares the shit out of me, but it ain't as scary as something else. 

It's the good kind of scary, instead. 

I've decided to head towards that sensation more.

And (so but then) I admit it was ballsy and perhaps even improper of me to disclose everything I've admitted here, but it's because I believe there's possibly an important message behind all this: There has to be a reason depression exists in so many people's lives these days, and it can't just be so we can destroy it with medication. 

It's telling us something.

And hey, the woman I've been dating just left me for a guy she met at an open-mic I brought her to, so it's good to know that I'm going to grow from something that, right now, feels like my heart was just fed into a paper-shredder.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Prayer: What Gives?

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned: I don't pray anymore. 

That is, I don't know how to pray anymore.

I was raised Roman Catholic, which is an enormously popular religion, but over time I have observed that the Roman Catholic philosophy pretty much amounts to this sequence from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

In my youth I so overwhelmed myself with Catholic psychological self-flagellation that I eventually Romanticized the concept of my own suicide, and fortunately before I blew my brains out or drained my death into a small bathtub I found a few writers whose writings were nourished by a philosophy of living life productively, wisely, and with an eye toward the god and the beast within—striving for internal and external betterment here on Earth and letting the existential chips fall where they may upon the ever-after.

So now church is pretty much out of my life, for between the lines of nearly everything said and sung there I've found a face-drubbing denial of the idea that life could ever be lived boldly, as a celebration of itself, and hearing all that life-hate now makes me sad and angry—and also bored.

But I can't seem to get rid of prayer. If Catholicism is a family home I've walked away from, then prayer is the family pet that has followed me into the world, biting me at the cuff of my trousers in a plea to at least keep me company in the lonely wilderness.

I have personal proof and disproof that prayer works—I have had prayers miraculously answered and sobbingly ignored—and frankly I still do it, pray, or at least try sometimes, because it's what I do when there's nothing else I can do.

That is, extremely rarely.

My belief in prayer—the reason I tolerate the ankle-biting dog—is because I truly believe in the idea that we are all connected somehow. I believe there are connections between us that haven't been discovered by scientists yet, and it is because of that interconnection that I believe it is possible for prayer to have actual benefits in this world.

Additionally, prayer, or at least the kind of praying I do, allows me to center my thoughts on the things I find most important, which, even if there are no undiscovered "connections" between all living things, still has the benefit of letting my subconscious mind deeply consider how to best serve the most important aspects of my life.

Was it Prometheus or prayer that brought us the gift of controlled fire?

Nevertheless, nearly everything I've said so far is based on nonscientific conjecture, so please know I understand that these ideas stand on a very sandy foundation, but please also understand that people wrote about being able to fly long before airplanes were invented (on a beach).

What I'm really trying to get around to, however, is, supposing my nonscientific conjectures above are accurate, and a properly prayed prayer can affect my or another person's life, what exactly, then, should I be praying about?

The answer, despite how easy the task sounds at the outset, is more difficult to discover than I first thought.

For instance, let's say my fictional friend Rosemary announces her first pregnancy. You would think that, among other things, because I value Rosemary's friendship and happiness, I should pray for the health of the mother and the father and the baby, but what if, at that time, Rosemary is, for whatever reason, not ready to be a mother, and ends up passing on a lot of her worst attributes to a child that eventually kills itself when it's fifteen? And it turns out that what I really should have been praying for was for Rosemary to have several miscarriages before finally successfully birthing a baby that, because of the miscarriages, she takes much more seriously and loves much more fully, and does everything she can to—.

How can I know what to pray for? If I pray for "the best possible outcome," how do I know if that won't involve me or my loved one going through something horrific, or even just extremely tedious and boring, in order to figure out something that proves to—? I highly value wisdom in people, but if I pray for "wisdom" it's the same thing: Both Jesus and Buddha went through the Highs and the Lows of the human experience, and if I am wishing wisdom upon someone I am partly wishing them ill fortune, with, at the bottom of that particular Pandoran Box, Tenacity playing the role of Hope.

Either way, it's kind of fucked.

Because if I pray for someone "to be happy," then sure, you'd think that would mean that things would go their way: They'd get that job, buy that house, have that baby, win that lottery . . . but happy people are content, and content people don't challenge themselves, and happy, content, unchallenged people are some of the worst company in the world.

I would be praying for my loved ones to become unbearable to me.

There are no free lunches: Every step forward we make is because we are chased by death. I've never met a piece of wisdom that entered my soul painlessly.

So what should I be praying for?

My mother has always told me to "put it in God's hands"—meaning I should be praying for God's will to be best served.

Sometimes it is cathartic to imagine putting all of my troubles into God's hands, and sometimes that makes me feel like I am some sort of existential puppet. And I don't want to feel that way, so I need something else to pray for.

It's hard for me to even pray for anything extremely broad, like, "For Life!" Because after all, debilitating diseases—parasites, viruses, and bacteria—are all technically alive. Would I be unintentionally praying for them to thrive as well?

Or does God or The Godly Aspect Of The Human Brain know what we really mean through seeing between the lines and looking at the heart and spirit of our prayers? Is the goodness of my intentions enough, or should I be enlisting the aid of linguists and philosophers to get the wording exactly right?

But what is the wording anyway!

Perhaps I have figured it out:

"I pray that I and my loved ones are given sufficient strength to endure the perils that precede improvement."

But wait: no. That prayer is heavily shaped toward my own, limited viewpoint, so in other words I would be summoning transcendent powers in order to quash my own psychological projections.

A wasted invocation.

How about this?

"Dear God, Read my heart and help me fill in the gaps."

Hmm. Not bad. It's a chance to momentarily reverse the relationship—for The Puppet to hand an enigma back to The Puppetmaster.

I like it.

But would God? The human billions? The trillion others?

Will it suffice?

I don't know. I'll try it and also keep searching, for these are increasingly desperate times, and more and more my hands are forming steeples.

Nothing else has worked.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The 2 Greatest Words In The English Language: Book Reviews!

I read like most Americans eat—that is, a whole lot. And so here are some reviews of what I've been mentally chewing and digesting and pooping lately.

A Curtain of Green and Other Stories, by Eudora Welty

"She's always had anything in the world she wanted and then she'd throw it away. Papa-Daddy gave her this gorgeous Add-a-Pearl necklace when she was eight years old and she threw it away playing baseball when she was nine, with only two pearls."
—Eudora Welty, from "Why I Work at the P.O."

I had read that a favorite author of mine (David Foster Wallace) considered Welty's short story "Why I Work at the P.O." to be worth reading, and rather than sit down and read the entire story right there in the bookstore like a cheap bastard, I bought this collection. Review: I started with "The P.O." and found it compelling and charming and proceeded from the beginning and then stopped reading halfway through the book because other than "Why I Work at the P.O." I didn't give a shit about anything I read, and I can't believe no editors ever caught and tried to fix Eudora Welty's distracting overuse of similes and metaphors that don't even pack that much poetic punch, like a writer who uses too many similes and metaphors in her writings. 

The Brontes: Selected Poems, edited by Juliet Barker

"There should be no despair for you
While nightly stars are burning,
While the evening pours its silent dew
And sunshine gilds the morning.

There should be no despair, though tears
May flow down like a river:
Are not the best beloved of years
Around your heart forever?"
—Emily Bronte, from "Sympathy"

I borrowed this book from the woman I've been dating, because I enjoyed some poems by Emily Bronte that I read on a Poetry App I downloaded on my phone. The story of the Bronte siblings is truly tragic, and they were all quite capable writers, but my reader's heart felt the fairest and most recognizable poetic winds were blown from the Emily direction. That broad could really write.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" and Other Stories, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

"If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?"
—Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from "The Yellow Wallpaper"

Speaking of broads who could write! The titular story in this collection is now one of my favorite short stories I've ever read—I who love a good mindfuck. The whole book has a wonderful and easy flow to the reading, with a sort of Ayn Randian aspect to the melodramatization of the antagonists, which I was fine with, even though, as a man, I was usually the antagonist. Which I think speaks to the quality and style of the writing itself. If there's an afterlife and I get to meet Charlotte Perkins Gilman, I'll probably be like, "Yellow Wallpaper—fuck yeah!"

The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran

"For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning. Even as he ascends your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, so shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth."
—Khalil Gibran, from The Prophet

The third title in the triumvirate of books I've read so far that were given to me for Christmas by the woman I've been dating, I was quite impressed by this book. I celebrate literature that can transcend genres, and Gibran's The Prophet is at once a work of Theology, Philosophy, Prose, and Poetry. Additionally, it felt to me like a healthy thing to have let Gibran's unusual thought-waters crash into the dry continent of my own philosophy. Bonus points for the unintentional comedy of the way all the chapters are set up. "And then a woman holding a book said, 'Prophet, tell us about the next book...'" 

Detective Made Easy, by John Swartzwelder

"I know scientists theorize that all of the ideas in the universe, including both political opinions and all three movie ideas, were thought of in the first five seconds after the universe was created."
—John Swartzwelder, from Detective Made Easy

The most recent of comedy legend John Swartzwelder's ongoing, self-published sci-fi/humor series about blissfully inept detective Frank Burly (and Burly's metaphysical misadventures), Detective Made Easy was once again a work of comedic wizardry on Swartzwelder's part. To me, his books are so funny they are a combination of a joy to read and an abdominal workout.

Hawaii, by James Michener

"Millions upon millions of years ago, when the continents were already formed and the principal features of the earth had been decided, there existed, then as now, one aspect of the world that dwarfed all others. It was a mighty ocean, resting uneasily to the east of the largest continent, a restless ever-changing, gigantic body of water that would later be described as pacific."
—James Michener, from Hawaii

A fellow avid reader had previously recommended Michener's Alaska to me, which I then chewed through greedily, so I bought this book as a non-contiguous sister to Alaska and because I'd read somewhere that it was one of the best offerings from James Michener's enormously prolific oeuvre. And once again, I really enjoyed my trip through Michener's slick pages. The brightness of his idea of creating breathing biographies of geographical places is matched perfectly by the same author's own talents in pulling that idea off in a way that produces such fascinating literature. And bonus points for the fact that both Alaska and Hawaii feature scenes where grown men have sex with young teenage girls.

Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone, by Hunter S. Thompson

"...fuck the tourists, dead-end the highway, zone the greedheads out of existence, and in general create a town where people could live like human beings, instead of slaves to some bogus sense of Progress that is driving us all mad."
—Hunter S. Thompson, from "The Battle of Aspen: Freak Power in the Rockies"

I love Hunter S. Thompson's nonfiction, and I had never read this collection, so bing-bang-boom, I've now read it. It turns out I had read many of the articles before (I suggest reading Thompson's The Great Shark Hunt instead of this book), but I also have to admit that I enjoyed the interstitial correspondence between Thompson and Rolling Stone editor Yawn Wenner.

The Executioner's Song, by Norman Mailer

"On the other hand, he sure didn't like it in Reform School. His dream when he came out, he wrote, was to be a mobster and push people around."
—Norman Mailer, from The Executioner's Song

I bought this book cheap at a used-books store because I'd enjoyed Mailer's The Naked and the Dead (besides what might be the worst ending in the history of the written word), so I bought this book because the cover said the manuscript had won the Pulitzer Prize, and because the back description made it sound like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, which book I fuckin' loved, as well as the fact that I was intrigued by what exactly "the executioner's song" signified. Review: Although Mailer did a fine job of presenting the story of executed murderer Gary Gilmore's life, times, and crimes, this book fell short of the quality of In Cold Blood. And by the way, in another bewilderingly disappointing ending, it turns out the lyrics quoted in the book that might represent "the executioner's song" are from a screenplay Mailer wrote. A thousand pages to read some lyrics from one of his fuckin' screenplays.

The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon

"Things did not delay in turning curious. If one object behind her discovery of what she was to label the Tristero System or often only The Tristero (as if it might be something's secret title) were to bring to an end her encapsulation in her tower, then that night's infidelity with Metzger would logically be the starting point for it; logically."
—Thomas Pynchon, from The Crying of Lot 49

This book is brilliantly written and all, and clearly Thomas Pynchon is a genius of sorts, but it seems to me like he should have used some of that blistering intelligence to get me to actually care about what was happening in this book. There were some laughs and some utterly beautiful and unique pulses of thought and language, but My God did I not give a fuck about anything that was happening.

(*Several people have voiced concern, so I wanted to clarify here at the end that when I refer to women as "broads" it is short for "a broad spectrum of qualities I admire.")

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Life Is Music

Our bosomy Earth paints art in my heart . . .
Shocks a public flair into my pubic hair . . .
Infects me with a very pleasing disease.

Until this bosom and I should part,
when I no longer have a Here,
I shall see cathedrals when I see trees

And streams and plants and soil.
(The Earth is worth her weight in gold,
And we have already inherited it.)

I first burst forth when her surface ceased to boil,
And both of us are older than the word old:
I from the chain of life, she chained to an oval orbit.

We are both wizards in our prisons.
She, locked in the heavens, dances,
And locked within her grasp I learn her dancing magic.

On every level, visions and visions and visions:
Micro and macro in swinging-string trances.
I can't stop saying it: Life is music!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Parody Of Annoying Poetry

Twisting up the tallest spires at San Motmorgne,
in Andreabouregeaux, 
on the murky Ellehoubbhe River,
I smoked a dry cigarette
and let my thoughts linger on the crisp evening sky
and the crowded markets at Myschke-et-Sousonvearl,
where the stone-walled halls brim with fine laughing ladies,
who joke, as they always do, about the ambiguous statues in
St. Marie-Chrestentonvilles,
in the southern plains of Lhopsodrosia—
the echoing of the ladies' droll laughter is to me 
like the harmonious singing of the samurai tenor-barbers
at Heiji-chen-komuru.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

(Fake) BuzzFeed List Of 6 (Fake) 'Onion' Headlines!

1. "BuzzFeed Writer Dreams Of One Day Authoring The Next Great American List"

2. "Like All 43 Previous Presidents, Barack Obama Has Now Successfully Masturbated In Every Single Room In The White House"

3. "Real-Life Plane Gets Lost Where 'Lost' Plane Got Lost"

4. "Russia Gonna Do Russia"

5. "Editorial: All 758 Of These Tattoos Are Special To Me"

6. "Despairing BuzzFeed Freelancer Writes SEO-Friendly Suicide List"

Monday, February 24, 2014

Selfishness Shouldn't Be A 4-Letter Word

Believe it or not, you're selfish. (Or as the kids today might tweet, "bro ur selfish af.")

So am I.

I mention our selfishnesses because I believe the word "selfish" is being unfairly represented in modern American usage, and I'd like a moment of your time to see if I can get you to agree with me on a redefinition that might give us all a more accurate phraseology for discussions of The Human Condition.

First, I need you to understand that selfishness is important. That is not my opinion, but rather a fact, for if you were not in some way selfish, you would do absolutely anything anyone ever asked of you (or nothing at all whatsoever). (And by the way, if you're female and you do absolutely anything anyone ever asks of you, hit me up right now, because that means you're a no-cost whore, and I want to try some crazy shit.)

Even Catholic nuns are selfish in that they themselves wish to give their lives to the church's service, which means there's some sort of self in there that is church-inclined and would not automatically submit to an invitation into my sexual crucible. Mother Teresa, for instance, was selfish in that she felt that being around the dying made her feel closer to God.

Do you think she would have kept doing it if it made her feel bored and spiritually disconnected, just because some missionary had told her to? And even if so, should we be championing and sanctifying the bored and spiritually disconnected? The miserable? That's the right direction?

Like it or not, her actions were based on a form of selfishness.

The key to me seems to be somehow finding a selfishness where you are capable of invigorating self-navigation but where you don't veer wildly into becoming a greedy pirate asshole bastard.

Much-loved/much-hated philosopho-author Ayn Rand's writings introduced a concept to me that I've been turning over ever since: Rational vs. Irrational Selfishness.

I believe the difference between the two concepts accounts for why some people are wonderful and some people are loathsome. 

An easy way of explaining the difference is like so: You are playing basketball, and there are five seconds left on the game clock. Your team is losing by one point, and the ball is passed to you, but you are being covered by two players on defense, which means one of your teammates has a wide-open shot. The irrationally selfish person forces a bad shot in the hopes of claiming both the victory and a great proportion of the credit for the victory, and is willing to risk a low-percentage shot and his own team losing in that pursuit, whereas the rationally selfish player zings a pass over to the open teammate, for the much more likely, and much easier, but less personally glorifying, victory.

Please understand, however, that there is a story about basketball legend Larry Bird, where he took such a shot himself, with permission from his teammates, based on this paraphrased assertion and assurance: "There's nobody else in this gym who practiced taking 200 of these shots every day this summer."

I believe that, too, stands for rational, rather than irrational, selfishness.

In a team sport, the rational goal is the team's victory, whereas the irrational goal is personal glory. Larry Bird made the shot and received both—team victory and personal glory—but only because he was rationally selfish enough to practice harder than everyone else in the league.

Or maybe you could look at it this way: The aforementioned Ayn Rand—who wrote a book called The Virtue of Selfishness, to show you just how much she believed in this stuff—said in an interview once that she would rather herself die than her beloved husband, because she loved her husband more than herself. In that way, it is a selfish choice, even though it ends in literal selflessness.

Anyway, that's pretty much the gist of it. When I say someone is a good dude, it's because he takes care of his own shit and has an empathy for the existential plight of his other human teammates, whereas when I say someone is a fuckin' dick, it's because he's irrationally selfish enough to disregard accountability and empathy in a hollow, lifelong search for fleeting narcissistic reassurance. And a similar split, with different terms, can be found with women.

The problem is that life is both an individual and a team sport. You pilot a unique self, but you are also a member of the family of humanity. You are the most important person in the world to yourself, but everyone else is in the same position.

Life is a walk on a tightrope—it's very easy to fall on either side, into slavish selflessness or reprehensible selfishness. (As St. Augustine said, "Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.") Thus, the challenge is in finding a balance that can bring you (and me) closer to the rationally selfish goal of a better life for the self and a better world for all.