I try to praise the mutilated world

I often wonder what it will look like to reach the point of not just surviving my misfortunes but being simply and profoundly grateful for every single thing that has ever happened to me. And why people who want things like that are so perplexing to those who don’t. Those who wonder, in their golden ways what’s so funny about gallows humor, the sole comfort of those who’ve escaped the hangman and an affront to those who have no knowledge of his existence.

Welp, there it is, in black & white, no less.


by W.S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

Jimmie Dale Healer

Welp, I went ahead and signed up to put in my time and am delighted to find the Obama campaign has impeccable taste. Tonight’s local debate party will be kicked off with music by the world’s most charismatic outlaw who’s sly compassion is as legendary as his high and lonesome zensoaked warble. Jimmie Dale Gilmore is a Saint. This is not hyperbole, but a well-known fact. I can’t find the words and believe me I’ve tried. Anyone familiar with my (cough cough) oeuvre might recall I spent year one in Austin determined to self-destruct in a flamboyant way but what you don’t know is it was Jimmie’s weekly supper gigs at Threadgills that kept me tethered to the planet.

And I didn’t have to pretend I wasn’t hateful, alienated and falling down drunk or the last thing I wanted to do was gather round a picnic table in red-checked oil cloth, pass catfish platters to the homespun hippies sitting next to me and literally rub elbows with women who wear their hair down to their ass in 110 degree weather. Navigating his fan base was not for the squeamish but they are what they are and blessyerheart, we’re not in Kill City anymore.

All this was almost 2 decades ago, a single year that’s now a Texas legend, singing and supper with Jimmie at Threadgills, who saved me on a weekly basis without a single word between us and I know I’m not the only one.

I can’t find any Threadgills footage at youtube but here’s JDG in Norway around the same era doing his single hit Dallas. Heartfelt thanks to the Democrats for putting him on the bill tonight, now I got me some memories and buses to catch.

We call upon the author to explain

Doop doop I’m putting together that follow-up post as mentioned, can’t sleep while they’re filming FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS in my backyard and they’ll go til 4 AM again, no sleep and just got home from my 4th day in training and I couldn’t concentrate because of the clip in my head the last 2 days, which happens to be the first one added to Writher, the writhe safely rock-n-roll VODPOD, from which I’ll highlight a video every week, and make like a format. A show. A production, a playground, slightly twee but highly exacting. My task is to get you interested, this is still in my blood, and don’t it make you wanna get right back home. Remember, if you click the video two times it takes you to youtube where you can access the full-screen. Guess I should mention this is probably not safe for work, and that breaks my heart too.

This is what cognitive behavioral therapy fixes & that is why it must be stopped

Bukowski: the shoelace

a woman, a
tire that’s flat, a
disease, a
desire: fears in front of you,
fears that hold so still
you can study them
like pieces on a
it’s not the large things that
send a man to the
madhouse. death he’s ready for, or
murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood…
no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
that send a man to the
not the death of his love
but a shoelace that snaps
with no time left …
The dread of life
is that swarm of trivialities
that can kill quicker than cancer
and which are always there –
licence plates or taxes
or expired driver’s license,
or hiring or firing,
doing it or having it done to you, or
roaches or flies or a
broken hook on a
screen, or out of gas
or too much gas,
the sink’s stopped-up, the landlord’s drunk,
the president doesn’t care and the governor’s
lightswitch broken, mattress like a
$105 for a tune-up, carburetor and fuel pump at
sears roebuck;
and the phone bill’s up and the market’s
and the toilet chain is
and the light has burned out –
the hall light, the front light, the back light,
the inner light; it’s
darker than hell
and twice as
then there’s always crabs and ingrown toenails
and people who insist they’re
your friends;
there’s always that and worse;
leaky faucet, christ and christmas;
blue salami, 9 day rains,
50 cent avocados
and purple liverwurst.

or making it
as a waitress at norm’s on the split shift,
or as an emptier of
or as a carwash or a busboy
or a stealer of old lady’s purses
leaving them screaming on the sidewalks
with broken arms at the age of 80.

2 red lights in your rear view mirror
and blood in your
toothache, and $979 for a bridge
$300 for a gold
and china and russia and america, and
long hair and short hair and no
hair, and beards and no
faces, and plenty of zigzag but no
pot, except maybe one to piss in
and the other one around your

with each broken shoelace
out of one hundred broken shoelaces,
one man, one woman, one
enters a

so be careful
when you
bend over.

What’s that supposed to mean?

You should know after reading this post, which has nothing to do with the song. I sang along with it daily for a thousand years before taking in the narrative intention. Sometimes we need an essay to get there.

So here’s an all-time favorite, from the psychologist Richard Grossman’s website, Voicelessness and Emotional Survival.  Nice use of art as a tool to embiggen understanding:

Many students from around the world have e-mailed me about becoming a therapist.  “What do I need to learn?” they ask. One of the most important tasks of “insight” therapists is to understand and appreciate subtext.   What is subtext?  It is between-the-lines communication that convey powerful messages indirectly.   Subtext affects all relationships, and is especially critical in child-rearing.  Do you have an aptitude for subtext?  Does the concept interest you?  Here’s a simple exercise. Consider the well-known and beloved Robert Frost poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Now, take a minute and re-read the poem, this time looking for subtext (between-the-lines meaning).

What did you find?

On the surface the story is simple: a man stops by the woods, is enticed by the beauty and peace of his environs, and then moves on. A therapist, however, hears something entirely different.  In subtext, the poem is much darker: a man stops by the woods, thinks about whether to commit suicide, but ultimately decides to move on.

What are the subtextual clues?  There are many:

1) The man knows he is not being watched.

2) The horse is confused why the man would stop in such a out of the way place.

3) The “darkest” evening of the year has a double meaning:  lack of light and blackest mood.

4) The woods are “lovely, dark, and deep”  suggesting the thought of ending his life is enticing.

5) “And miles to go before I sleep” is repeated twice.  A poet of Frost’s skill would not simply repeat a line to fill space and maintain rhythm.  The lines have two different meanings:  he is a long way from home, and, he has decided his life’s journey is not yet over.

Any one clue, by itself, would not justify an interpretation, but together they form compelling subtext.  Once understood, the poem literally snaps into focus.  Indeed, Frost suffered from serious depression his whole adult life, so it is not surprising that he would write poetry about suicidal feelings.   Of course, unlike Frost, clients are often unaware of the subtext of their own stories; therapists have to help them discover it.

Does this kind of reading (listening) intrigue you?  People often present the same kind of puzzle as Frost’s poem. Their words tell one story, but underneath, another tale, often darker and more compelling, lies in wait. 

About Sunday’s NY Times piece on MAD PRIDE

Does anyone think that was a decent shot of journalism? Then damn your eyes. Oh I can imagine an earlier me who would come away from that complete piece of shit grateful for the exposure and yay for recognition! But that column pissed off a lot of people in a number of ways I can relate to, beginning with its placement. I ask you, does this social stigma make my butt look too big? Because Gabrielle Glaser’s ‘Mad Pride’ Fights a Stigma is in the Fashion & Style Section, it must be tres chic, don’tchaknow, the fight against prejudice and discrimination, just one more set of kooks aboard the pop cult bandwagon with their self-important, trendy and disposable cause. Sigh.

First she pokes a stick at some prominent crazies in the blogosphere – Liz Spikol, Scatter at The Icarus Project, Mindfreedom’s David Oaks- then puts it all in perspective by quoting reigning tower of babel Fuller Torrey, as if he was just some random psychiatrist chiming in with all we need to know about Mad Pride (nudge nudge, wink wink). Bloody Christ on a catshit cupcake, if this quack has any place in a story about MAD PRIDE he should be correctly rendered as its ideological opponent, his views presented as subordinate to those of the subjects, rather than, you know, the authority on their movement.

Sara, commenting at furious seasons puts it well:

I think the article has all sorts of insidious undercurrents myself. Like I don’t think the author is really glorifying Liz or even Saks — in fact I think she’s almost denigrating them, especially Liz. I mean she sure is harping on the way Liz likes to revel in some of the more off putting aspects of her treatment — incontinence from ECT and drooling from meds — please — is this being respectful to Liz — are these the things that we remember about Liz when we read her blog? Ach — no. I wonder if Liz is angry about this. I think I would be. And David Oaks — well to me she’s kind of making fun of how he is controlling his purported madness as if it’s naive. She quotes Torrey because he’s of the school that thinks “mad pride” is bloody dangerous and maybe Gabrielle Glaser does too.

The psychologist John Grohol at Psych Central:

She also apparently believes that mental disorders can only be treated by drugs (which is mentioned a few times in the article; psychotherapy is mentioned zero times) …Really now? Having regular exercise, a good diet, and engaging in self-help support groups is “outside the mainstream thinking of psychiatrists” when it comes to maintaining good mental health and wellness? How does she know that? Did she survey them?

Of course not — this is the writer’s opinion creeping into the writing, and getting it 100% wrong. Most mental health professionals recognize the importance of maintaining a good diet, exercising, and self-help support groups in helping a person in their recovery efforts. None of these ideas are outside of the mainstream thinking

But I can think of no greater crime in a cultural study than ignoring its historical context. Mad Pride was founded by the tragic-comic powerhouse campaigner Pete Shaughnessy, who was linked to the English punk rock/DIY scene, the roots of which can be seen in the confessional poetry made famous by Sexton, Bukowski and Lowell. Mad Pride was about passion, policy and performance. There is history here. The writer should know it.

Let us pause to make an argument for history, for knowing where we are, how we got here, and how to move forward. I swear we could reduce the infighting by half if we’d do this kind of homework. It’s that lack of context driving the comments I’ve seen by some stakeholders who say they don’t “get” Mad Pride, that it’s bizarre to glorify what can be truly destructive and debilitating severe and persistent blahblahblah, which leads to the counter retort that hey man, mad pride makes me feel good about myself, yes, I know, but Mad Pride isn’t as much about how we’re feeling as what we’re doing, out there.

I realize the glib and stylish do invoke the term as a way to be groovy and I have nothing to offer them but a pox on their houses. How does “Glad To Be Mad” even begin to make sense? If I admonish a toothless schizophrenic living in a dumpster to take pride in her mad self what would that make me if not clueless and cruel? And yet, that is what some people are taking away from this discussion; that Mad Pride is a misguided attempt in building self-esteem. That it encourages navel-gazing in people who think too much. I believe Mad Pride was originally more ambitious than simple therapeutics, broader than the internal and solitary landscape. I think the focus was taken pointedly off the internal and made external, from the self to the group, uniting the twin and rival disciplines of psychology and sociology, which is revolutionary in itself, by pioneers who recognized that doing mental illness takes both disciplines.

So, Mad Pride as a frame. Who needs a frame? Wiki says “A frame defines the packaging of an element of rhetoric in such a way as to encourage certain interpretations and to discourage others. When done by political or social organizations, it is likely to advance their causes or views.” The point of framing is preparation for action, the groundwork in getting an agenda on the table. Vaughan shows how in his Mindhacks review:

Mad Pride is often rather clumsily related to ‘antipsychiatry’ but they are are often at the forefront of campaigns when essential services are threatened.

In London, the campaign against the shutting of the Maudsley Hospital psychiatric emergency clinic was spearheaded by several ‘mad pride’ organisations – who had a mischievous and witty banner at one demo saying “We must be mad! We want the emergency clinic kept open!”.

For the sake of pragmatism I endorse the actions taken in the name of Mad Pride, but that’s where I draw my own line. I juggle too many social identities (feminist, existentialist, liberal, punk) to over-identify with any of them, but I can think of nothing I want to define me less than the state of mental illness. And frankly, that’s where the message falls apart, when it’s patterned on the discourse of the civil rights movement. It’s one thing to make common cause with similar social justice groups (and the case can be made that we win the Oppression Olympics™ handsdown), but the identity politics in mental illness veers toward nonsense. In civil rights terms, Identity is not just about what I am, but what you’re not and can never be. You don’t understand what it is to be black/female/queer/outside the dominant white male patriarchy. I am the authority on what it means to be so situated, and it’s your boot on my neck that makes me your moral superior.

Except madness is not fixed and immutable, not even in the same person, much less categorically, as in some people have it and some others don’t. All humans have what it takes, anyone who denies their spark of madness this second remains eligible, if you have a mind you can lose your mind, there’s nothing to it really. We’re not exceptional. The language of diversity doesn’t fit. Crazies are not cast out of society because we are different from the rest, but because we are so similar.

Setting ourselves apart from a belief that we are the chosen few who are “mentally interesting” feeds a false dichotomy and endorses the fiction that we’re Other when crazy is more likely roiling under the surface of everyone you meet.

Setting ourselves apart as the world’s ruling victim class entails a preening sanctimony impossible to stomach.

But setting ourselves apart from an intent to get shit done makes practical sense, and for me that’s where it stops.

Inclusion by most out-groups is a demand for society to include them. I think our paradigm calls for the mad to include society. Mad Pride has this sensibility. Good god this post is over 1600 words and I am still muddling through what was said much better by the aching Anne Sexton:

For John, Who Begs Me Not to Enquire Further

Not that it was beautiful,
but that, in the end, there was
a certain sense of order there;
something worth learning
in that narrow diary of my mind,
in the commonplaces of the asylum
where the cracked mirror
or my own selfish death
outstared me.
And if I tried
to give you something else,
something outside of myself,
you would not know
that the worst of anyone
can be, finally,
an accident of hope.
I tapped my own head;
it was a glass, an inverted bowl.
It is a small thing
to rage in your own bowl.
At first it was private.
Then it was more than myself;
it was you, or your house
or your kitchen.
And if you turn away
because there is no lesson here
I will hold my awkward bowl,
with all its cracked stars shining
like a complicated lie,
and fasten a new skin around it
as if I were dressing an orange
or a strange sun.
Not that it was beautiful,
but that I found some order there.
There ought to be something special
for someone
in this kind of hope.
This is something I would never find
in a lovelier place, my dear,
although your fear is anyone's fear,
like an invisible veil between us all...
and sometimes in private,
my kitchen, your kitchen,
my face, your face.

Goddamn us, every one

Quote of the day, by John B. Adams:

He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers.

I’m not a happy person and most of the time feel no need to navel gaze about my warm and glowing serenity quotient, but must say my attitude comes up short in terms of attitudinal expectations this time of year.

The happy-go-lucky are out en masse. Even the bus driver gave me a toothy smile tonight, steady eye contact and holiday greetings, so yes, he was in a good mood, but I ride that bus all the time and he’s never acknowledged me before Christmas Eve. Maybe some people save it all up.

Some may see poignancy in what this season permits, but as a crank I take it as more demand than permission, a claim on my demeanor for a permanent smile, indiscriminate glad-handing in pious good vibes and neighborly bigheartedness. I could see it as genuine and spontaneous outpouring of good will but for the fact that everyone does the same thing, in tandem, at the same intensity, one week per year, just as we’ve been socialized to perform. It’s a bore, talking about it is boring, thin gruel indeed, but an enduring pet peeve.

I’ll likely join the hypocrite parade myself and go out tomorrow just to mix with the benevolence I now deride, it’s nice to have empty pleasant interactions no matter how scripted, and there are worse ways to close out the year than joining in contrived bonhomie. This is how we act in the time in which I live, and I want to partake on my own joyless terms, like all of Santa’s little misfit toys.

Beneath it is the invisibility, which is always afoot, though the denial of social reality that takes hold during Christmas is especially galling, this is the season of fortunates and they don’t want to hear it; the nation’s ills can wait one day, we should be joyous for the kiddies, and Christmas day is all about the children.

Which children?
(Sputter, blank stare, umbrage.)

As if invoking the underprivileged guilt-trip is so unfair, since all we Americans ever think about are the less fortunate among us, 364 days of the year, though the evidence of this remains scant.

The totalizing mindset is off. Nothing is ever all one thing, but in my country, it’s all black or white, and right now the white is pristine, banal, infinite and inescapable. It’s all good, means nothing is good, and destroys any potential benefit that could be excavated from the horrible. Which does not exist, because it’s all good.

This resentment goes back many years, my traditional piss on candyland. I don’t want what others have, I want to shake up some worlds for the sake of inclusion. They are in my world, nonstop. Equal time, for just one minute.

There’s no need to self-flagellate, but people can stretch, expand, integrate, all of it, the whole picture, beauty and horror and the horrible beauty, let a shadow cross the complacent brow for those we all know are weak and suffering, no one wants to steal your stuff, but just see you less anxious and demanding around people who are haunted by the things you celebrate. Grandmother’s house, what ever possibly could go wrong there?

I don’t know about family time but I know who my friends are and this is not a chirrupy week for any one of us. When I think about my friends, virtual and in real life, their personalities, what they have in common, what I remember most, and where my honor starts, that quote up there comes to mind, about people who will stand amidst the ruins and cheer, maybe that’s what it takes to show up and stick.

Praise to all who dare to show up. And I’ll think to myself what a wonderful world, thanks to sentimental roughnecks who put a measure of pain into it: