Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hasn’t Enough Sense To Come In Out Of The Brain

Everything is the way it is for a reason.  Or it isn’t.  Or both.  Or neither.  It’s so hard to tell.  It’s so hard to tell you.  But I can tell you.  I can tell you a mile away.  I can tell you’re a mile away by the Luke in your eyes.  I can tell you’re a mile away by the Luke of the Irish.  Irished everything for you, and this is the thanks I get?  Thanks Igette, and thanks Igor, for a monstrous time.  A monstrous hat was timed by all.  All’s well that’s oiled well.  Well oil right.  Yes, oil right you when I get work.  The abbey of Get Sesame.  Get Seth and me.  They’re gonna come for me.  They’re gonna comfort me.  They’re gonna come fit me.  Here cummerbund, marching down her street, stamp in defeat.  Detail.  The lust shall be first.  Lust in space.  The vet space the dogs because he has to, and he has three cats.  Three cats, know weighting.  The ting about that bell is the sound.  The whole ting.  Speaking of the Grand Canyon as a whole.  He’s holed up in the square.  They squared off in the best circles.  If you think the party is dull, circulate, if you think it’s fun, circle seven.  I’ve never seen you be four, I’ve seen you be three, but never be four.  Nein!  Ate.  Severance.  Sex.  Thighs.  Fore.  Free.  Toute.  Won.  Glasnost.  Gezundheit!  Ten Q.  You’re will’s come.  Where there’s a will there’s relatives.  Come hear.  Come overhear.  He was overherd to say, “The cattle drink the milk.”  You herd me, ow.  The cat had whiskers under his knows, he was pusstachioed.  Whisker offer feet.  Offer hand, knocker socks off.  I’ll besieging you, in old, familiar places.  Place his everyone.  Every won played Counts.  Except those who played Contessas.  The Count’s divorce was uncontessad.  That’s wad he said.  She bitter, man.  At the auction she was chomping at the bid.  Bitter farewell.  Bidder farewell.  Fair thee well, my own true’s darning, four eyes am bound, and gagged, for old Virginny, Ginny, Ginny, Ginny, won’t you take a rite with me, you’ve got the write stuff, bay B, you’re the reason why I swing this scone, butter jam, jammer but, Chuck a Kong, Chuck a Kong, I’ve veal for you, I think olive you, I think all of you, fillings, nothing more than fillings, filling her up, feeling her down, she’s a duck, DUCK!  Imagine if your brrrr rain was bubbling like this constantly, do you think it might drive you bozznit after a while away the ours, what’s Uri’s is Uri’s and what’s Mayan is Mayan, Abyssinia, Sarong.  “What sarong, is she wearing?” asked the seamstress.  Clean up your asp.  “How ya dune, Sandy?”  “Not too Baghdad.”  The subway in London is the fellow peon tube.  Tube B or not Tube B?  I once met a Jewish gangster who was living in exile in the islands, his name was Bermuda Schwartz.  Help!  How do you turn this thing off?  It’s your turnip bat, Europe.  European?  No, it’s just ice in my pocket.  Pa kit, Ma kit, and locket.  Let’s go to Ma kit.  The whole kitten kapoodle.  Don’t step in the poodles.  She was only a stableman’s daughter, but all the horsemen knew her.  Then there was the performance artist who said, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I’m like.”  Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts Albert Finney.  Remember that bastard Lester Maddox?  He was a racist, and a brutal hatemonger.  He was the Lester of two evils.  And how about those Arab women, pretty in tents.  When Arabs give gifts, do they do it in the present tents?  Did you hear about the self-help book for architects, I.M. Pei, U.M. Pei?  Help!  Being in jail’s not that bad, at least you don’t have to agonize over vacation plans.  Ahhh.  Why do WASPs go to the hospital?  For the food.  Uhhh.  If Sally Wong and Charlie Wong had a child, why wouldn’t it be a Caucasian?  Because two Wongs don’t make a white.  Stop, I’m killing me.  Liquor, I hardly know her.  How do you turn this thing off?  Want a drink?  No thanks, I’m not drinking any more.  Of course, I’m not drinking any less either.  Chez When.  Chez What?  Ceasar.  Ceasar what?  Ceasar Chavez.  Where is it?  The streetcars are broken, there’s sick transit on this glorious Monday.  Ghengis Khan but Emmanual Kant.  If I had it to do all over again, I’d do it all over you.  My wife, give her an inch and she thinks she’s a ruler.  A hard man is good to find.  I never metaphor I didn’t like.  You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.  It’s a boar ring case.  Everybody has to believe something, I believe I’ll have another drink.  No matter where you go, there you are.  The place is getting so popular, nobody goes there anymore.  I can’t go without Bea.  I can’t believe her behind.  If you laid all the Freshmen girls at Bryn Mawr College end to end it wouldn’t surprise me at all.  Parker, I hardly know her.  Yiiikes.  There’s no end insight.  There’s no big inning in sight either in this whole knew ballgame.  The mice were so poor they could barely Eeeek out a living.  Some of the snakes in India are so poor they don’t have a pot to hiss in.  Mints words, what the gay waiter spoke when dinner was over, done.  When asked what was good on the menu the sarcastic waiter replied, “What’s fair is fowl.”  “Through which canal passes the most food, Holmes?”  “Alimentary my dear Watson.”  Give that lady barber more money, razor salary.  Celery stalks at midnight.  Noses run in my family.  Days of whine and neuroses.  I’m filing my nails under N.  Under the broadwalk, down by the sea, at a banquet on my bay, Bea, that’s where I’ll be.  The mentally ill comedian went sailing and was funny in the head.  Stop.  Where are the brakes?  I could’ve become a race car driver but I never got the breaks I needed.  And now the weather, fair today, unfair tomorrow.  101 Crustaceans.  Lady and the Pimp.  Snow White and The Trouble With Noses.  Dumbro.  Herbie The Love Slug.  Bambi Does Bayonne.  The Nutty Anesthesiologist.  Disney or didn’t he?  Or, we could Duke it out, Take The Atrium.  Louis Armstrong and Elephant Gerald.  The prostitutes and the other convicts were having their annual checkup, the prison doctor was weighing the pros and the cons.  There’s no one else here, it’s justice dear.  How about the new alternative to those expensive scents in the stores, Eureka Cheap Perfume.  Tequila Mockingbird.  I’ll see you insane Luis.  Miss Anne Thrope was a guitarist, she used a misanthropic.  My brain’s throwing up, some pretty weird stuff, some old, some new, some borrowed, some blew right through the roof, I’m too chicken to get a cap on it.  If I was the fatman of the opera I could put a capon it.  When it’s foggy by the shore it’s bellwether for all sheeps at sea.  There’s a lot more in storm for ewe.  When French people visit big Ben it’s a froggy day in London town.  Dracula was kicked out of college for having a bat attitude.  A farmer in Idaho grew phallic shaped spuds and is marketing them as dictators.  She used to work at the supermarket, she’s an exchequer.  Really, you can bank on it.  If you’ve gotta run, you need new stockings.  Jewish people who observe rituals even though it pains them to do it are Seder-masochists.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s sitting.  Poverty, the only thing money can’t buy.  Drunk tanks for the memories.  I’m cold, so brrr.  When the two writers argued at the Frick you could almost feel the fiction.  Slowly the mortician turned the coroner.  Although I put my foot in my mouth, I impediment what I said.  I’m falling, leaf me in peace!  I’m caught in the brain without an umbrella!  He doesn’t have enough sense to come in out of the brain.  The mean Marine was rotten to the corps.  On the Main Line, outside Philadelphia, when the evening sun is just right, you can see the amber graves of Wayne.  My mind has a mind of its own and yes I do mind very much.  But I don’t mind the store.  I’m not saying I like it, mind you.  Mind you don’t forget.  My own thoughts are like a mind battlefield.  Drinking volatility.  Drug my own grave situation.  I’m living in a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wrong.  Give my complaints to the chef.  Sing!  I cant.  Act!  I get stuck in the wrong line.  You recite for sore eyes.  The wreck of the Titanic is hull king.  It’s not oeuvre ‘till the fat lady sinks.  A mind is a terrible thing to baste.  I’ll go to sea for myself.  I’m sin King.  They all laughed when I sat down to play the potato.  Thank God, it’s drawing to a clothes closet.  I couldn’t bare it, much languor.  I’ve got a head full of ideas that are driving me, I’ll delineate, driving me, driving me, driving me.  There must be some kind of way out of here, bobbing along.  Lead us not into Penn Station but deliver us from eagles.  I can’t turn this thing off.  Chaka Khan.  Out the door he goes.  Slam goes the screen.  Rabazibby.


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Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Model Of Recovery: Attraction Not Persuasion

I have been a promotion writer for nearly 30 years. Essentially, writing promotion involves making true statements in such a way that readers are encouraged to arrive at false conclusions. For example, when I say our siding virtually never needs painting – that translates to – our siding needs painting.

This profession has never posed a moral struggle because, to me, the marketplace rule is caveat emptor and companies have the right to hire professional persuaders adept at putting products and services in the most positive light possible – so long as these hired guns do not intentionally misrepresent the truth.

However, when it came to recovery, and writing my books, I went to the opposite extreme – rigorous, even brutal honesty was my modus operandi – I understood that there was no alternative. When writing about mental illness, evil, and alcoholism I quickly realized there was absolutely no room at all for preaching and persuasion, only the truth was important, only the story mattered.

Years spent in therapy and recovery netted a treasure trove of knowledge, not just about the hideous monsters that delighted in tormenting me, but also the tools and techniques of the healing process itself. Enthusiastic and happy about these positive developments I sought to share what I learned with my near and dear, and was met with various sorts of rejection. After a while, I stopped. One can only be hit in the face with a bull fiddle for so long.

I came to understand that people are, for the most part, invested in keeping you in the pigeonhole. If they have come to think of you as a self-destructive loser, continuing to do so makes them feel good about themselves. When you present as self-disciplined, confident, productive and – most egregious of all – happy – your new persona is upsetting and troubling. No amount of explanation will help them understand, or care, what you’ve been through. Only results matter.

Even before setting down the first word of INVISIBLE DRIVING I vowed to tell my tale with the mercilessness of a research scientist, embarrassment meant nothing to me. I applied the same formula to MOONLIT TOURS and WASHED UP, even though they are novels. When it comes to my personal writing, the poetry and lit, (and in an odd way, even the cartoons), I have no desire to persuade anyone of anything. Tell the truth, as you understand it, with clarity, precision and elegance. Don’t tell the readers anything; show them.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Straight Jacket: Custom Fit For Maximal Discomfort

How is it that a culture able to conceive and create over 100 different types of toothpaste has managed to develop just one vision of the afterlife? Heaven: puffy clouds, harps, angels floating lazily. Hell: flames, smell of sulfur, pitchfork-wielding demons.

Humanity really enjoys patting its collective back on the subject of inventiveness and creativity, but here, in a matter demanding its full powers and greatest reach, we are stuck with clichés so mundane they’re better suited to greeting cards than theological constructs. Once again, imagination fails precisely when we need it most.

Heaven is actually very easy to find – (in a difficult sort of way) – but I will save that discussion for another day. Hell, by contrast, finds you – and for those of us who labor under the disadvantage of mental illness, this concept has a very special meaning indeed. You see, there is nothing generic about hell; it is not a “one-size-fits-all” experience. To view it this way is to grossly underestimate the exquisite construction of nature, in general, and the human mind in particular.

In fits of mental illness, your best friend – (you, one hopes) – turns traitor and becomes your worst enemy. This is very bad news since your newfound nemesis knows absolutely everything about you – darkest hungers, terrors, insecurities, shame, self-loathing, resentments, rage, unwholesome needs. In other words, there is an entire dungeon full of devices to select from in order to devise a torture ideally suited to hurt and damage you as much as possible. One must admire the elegance of this construct, assuming one is blessed with the luxury of distance from it.

They say that the lesson you most need to learn is the one that will continue to confront you, reappearing endlessly until you deal with it. Mental illness is frequently a way to make certain this rule is enforced. Your straight jacket will not be “off-the-rack” – it is custom-tailored to accentuate precisely those qualities you would prefer to hide from the world, and yourself. 

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

For Bipolar Bears The Name Of The Game Is Resilience

It was the great Taz Mopula that observed, “You just haven’t lived until you’ve had nothing at all.” This counter-intuitive proclamation is quite possibly enigmatic to many, but for those of us who’ve wandered the uneven cobblestones of Rue Whassamattavous, the meaning is only too familiar.

Madness – and the madness of addiction – will continue to pick your pocket as long as you let them. If you’re stubborn – (and so many of us are, preferring to do things our way rather than the easy way, much less the way that results in minimum damage to ourselves and others) – then it is likely you will proceed in your folly until there is nothing left at all. The question is – how high does the pain level have to get until you are willing to ask for help?

Mania and addiction have both pillaged my life like marauding Visigoths. It is astounding how quickly the fruits of one’s labors can be destroyed, if one is truly unhinged. I have closed my eyes on a bourgeois Shangri-La only to open them and discover a desolate, tortured landscape…no home, job, family, property, money…zero, the null set, a goose egg.

Absolute zero is terrifying, of course, but it is also exquisitely beautiful – because what you lack in life’s comforts you have gained in vision and truth. Your existence has become binary, you consciously make the choice that nearly everybody else makes unconsciously every day – shall I live or end it? Bear in mind that 1 out of every 5 bipolar adults attempts suicide, and succeeds.

If you are fortunate enough to find even a scrap of resolve, you get up off the canvas and wait for the stars and chirping birds to stop circling your head. Then you get back into the game, no matter how damaged and humbled you may be. Mania completely wiped me out three different times – after a while, even the end of the world isn’t the end of the world anymore. One proceeds. As Churchill – whose battles with depression are legendary – reminded his countrymen when the very existence of Britannia was questionable, “Never, never, never, never give up.”

The name of the game is resilience.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sweeping The Nation – One Sidewalk At A Time

One encounters a Whitman’s Sampler of humanity in the rooms of AA -“Yale-to-jail” as they say. Early one Sunday morning, nearly a decade ago, I was sitting in a bitterly cold, dimly lit AA clubhouse with a small flock of fellow dipsomaniacs. Large, heavily tattooed, and dressed in full biker regalia, a woefully inarticulate ex-con unleashed an incomprehensible, though passionate, soliloquy.

After many minutes of wrestling with the language, and losing, he paused, becoming quiet and still. Then, unable to contain his frustration any longer, he blurted out this memorable phrase with clarity and impact, “I just want to be one of God’s employees!”

I imagined a man in work clothes, aluminum hardhat and steel-toed boots, arriving at a factory, punching the time clock and awaiting instructions. He has no will at all, he does not know what the day’s work order will be, and he doesn’t care. He only knows that he will carry it out to the best of his ability.

Like so many Americans, I am frequently pulled away from the important things of life by the insane mythology that there is a direct link between worthy accomplishment, fame, and material prosperity. Even as I write these words they seem to belong together, but just a cursory look at our culture quickly reveals that fame and prosperity are rarely associated with merit – indeed, they have become goals, not byproducts, which is shallow and very sad.

It was in the rooms that I first truly understood that each of us has the capacity to provide something unique, something useful, something that can change a life, even save one. When we look to convert that activity into cash we’re already way off the mark. One does it because it’s the right thing to do. 

As a writer in an age when people don’t read, I don’t expect to be a household word anytime soon. I’ll settle for sweeping the nation one sidewalk at a time.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

America’s Favorite Manic Depressive – My Acceptance Speech

As those of you who are familiar with me and my oeuvre already know, I am not competitive by nature. I engage in contests only if I am able to win without effort; if struggle is required I participate by belittling the value of the contest itself, and ridiculing those who care about it.

So, imagine my surprise when The American Academy of Mental Health notified me that I had been named “America’s Favorite Manic Depressive” – a position I never sought, indeed, candidly, I had no idea such a position existed. (In recent years my energies had been increasingly focused on elevating my popularity as an alcoholic.)

Accomplished performers understand that it’s best to get off quick, leaving the audience hungry, not stuffed. With this in mind I approached the podium at AAMH’s Chumley Memorial Hall last summer, oozing gravitas, disingenuous self-deprecation, and good-natured ebullience all at once. I began.

Ladies and gentlemen I am deeply humbled by this honor. I would like to thank you, the American Academy of Mental Health, and the many psychiatrists, psychologists, health insurance companies, police officers, and mental hospital staff members who made this day possible.

Like so many Manic Depressives I have wrestled with delusions of grandeur, the tendency to overvalue my own talent, and a level of self-absorption that frequently resembles narcissism – and this is certainly no time to change my style. So, instead of prepared remarks tailor-made to express my exact feelings about this award and its significance, not just to me but to others as well, I’m simply going to read a poem I wrote a few years ago.

Born a prince 
Raised in a castle
Mother was kind
Father was mad
A king not above
Eating his young
In order to survive I grew
Smaller, weaker, more bent
On self destruction
With each year
Then one crimson morning
Fate hurled me into battle
Like a spear
I lived in the company of demons
Marching through landscapes of terror
Villages burned, crows pecked carrion
Howls of lamentation blew through the air
Like madrigals and monks chanting prayers
Courage, an unknown flower
Grew from inside my despair
Compassion emerged from the darkness
Of my cruel and damaged heart
Miraculously I triumphed
And was awarded with the throne
Now must I become a righteous king
Wise, gentle, and brave
How shall I be it if I have never seen it?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bipolar Disorder & Shame – Made For Each Other!

“Guilt is when you feel bad about something you did while shame is when you feel bad about something are.” Taz Mopula

The earliest phases of recovery are characterized by denial; you try to distance yourself from the mental illness that has wreaked havoc in your life. Gradually you acknowledge the catastrophic messes you’ve made and claim ownership, your signature is unmistakable. The guilt you experience is not altogether unhealthy as it provides the foundation for action, your determination to not repeat these steps. However, guilt is best consumed in small doses, too much at once can be toxic and counter-productive.

Courage increases as you see the hurt and damage within exposed, perhaps for the first time. The mirror you have finally faced tells an unflattering story, all roads lead back to you, unintentional behavior has blazed a trail of self-destruction and abuse...people and property show the cost of being associated with you. At this point, shame – that most counter-productive of all emotions – arrives with a custom-fitted iron maiden. The self-loathing begins; you fully understand the source, and consequences – of your illness. You are ashamed of being you.

Right here is where you will lose whatever mojo you once had; cool, swagger, confidence will all abandon you.

You will see how the illness is hard-wired into your system – body and soul – and come to understand it not as a flaw but a fact. Work like a demon, shine the light on your miner’s helmet, and you will get to know yourself like never before. Then, forgive yourself – really forgive yourself – and the shame does not have chance. Hide nothing from yourself or anyone else and your beloved attributes will return; cool, swagger and confidence. But now it is different, now you no longer wear them like suits of armor – now they emanate from within.

Eliminate shame and you are free from the curse of caring about the opinion of others.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bipolar Disorder & Recovery: Reclaiming Silly

Recovery from manic/depressive episodes involves the tiresome challenge of proving to yourself, and others, that you are once more sane and responsible – i.e. - compos mentis. One avoids extremes, especially zany ones, in order to stay focused on being “normal” – as one imagines it. Spontaneity is difficult to achieve, much less enjoy, when one constantly feels the glare of judgmental eyes and hears the whispers of those who monitor your behavior.

Eventually though, you absolutely must reclaim your right to be silly; without that, you will hate recovered life. Being a goofball does not necessarily mean you are slipping back into Loopyville. 

When Good Dogs Turn Bad
Poodles in black leather jackets
With chain wallets
Smoking cigarettes
Fouling the lawns and laughing
Yip, yip, yip, yip, yip
It makes me mad
When good dogs turn bad
Great Danes, pounding down martinis, wearing tweed
Pompously peppering their conversations with obscure
Quotations from Kierkegaard and Sartre
Leaping over fences and disturbing
The flowerbeds
It makes me mad
When good dogs turn bad
Dalmatians with playboy lifestyles
Yachts, sunglasses, the Riviera
Pissing on the tires of every Rolls Royce
In front of the Ritz
Drinking from the toilet bowls
It makes me mad
When good dogs turn bad
Undercover dachshunds
With their little spy cameras
Wiretapping for the CIA
Running a network of operatives behind enemy lines
Chewing holes in the Sunday paper
It makes me mad
When good dogs turn bad
It’s hard time at the pound
Howling, barking, begging, and drooling
So sad
But it’s the only way to teach them a lesson
When good dogs
Good dogs
Good dogs
Turn bad

Alistair McHarg

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Manic Depression – What Did I Do To Be So Black & Blue?

INVISIBLE DRIVING chronicles the third, and last, of my major manic episodes. I vividly remember – after the cops, crash, and loony bin – realizing I was stuck with this monster and would have to survive - and live happily, if I could - anyway. It seemed absolutely unimaginable. I was no believer back then, but even so, I literally begged God to kill me.

They say that all prayers are answered: sometimes the answer is Yes, sometimes it is No, and sometimes it is Not Now. – Apparently, my answer fell into the third category.

I felt like Job, singled out by the Great One for a very special torture, exquisitely designed to pour salt into my particular wounds - weaknesses, fears, and shortcomings I’d been honing to perfection day after day. I felt singled out for misery and shrieked the question, Why Me? What had I done to deserve this hideous nightmare?

The answer appeared years later and with it a sense of simultaneous relief and disappointment. Nothing; nothing at all. I had not earned this catastrophe or even summoned it – intentionally or unintentionally. Manic Depression simply arrived like a flood, a pestilence, an earthquake.

I was in no sense uniquely blessed or cursed. I learned that rain falls equally on the just and unjust – in sum – the answer to the question – Why me? – is always – Why not?

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Moonlit Tours - All Is Revealed In The Dark

Invisible Driving, my bipolar memoir, was a brutally difficult project in every respect, conceptual, literary, and emotional. However, since I was obsessed with telling the incredible truth of my battle with Manic Depression, I did not have to worry about subject matter or plot – merely opening a door on my bizarre world was goal enough. After many years of tinkering, experimenting, and ruthless editing I finally unleashed it on an unsuspecting public.

Invisible Driving was the book I had to write, in order to survive. When it was safely out of my system I was ready to enjoy the delicious freedom of writing my first novel, Moonlit Tours. No longer was I chained to the tyranny of fact, much less the challenge of making one of life’s mysterious, taboo elements knowable. Now I had different problem – what theme was intriguing enough to sustain me through the months and years of hard labor certain to be required?

After turning over a multitude of options I settled on the insidious, incremental nature of evil. A dark comedy cum social satire, Moonlit Tours is replete with people that are essentially good but, whether through cowardice, laziness, or lack of character, descend into the darkness of moral decay. The excerpt below introduces one of the tours.

The limousine stole away from the house like a rowboat with muffled oars.  Day, normally not a great talker, found herself reciting a story, almost in a trance.  The story was pegged to the neighborhoods they drove through and she told it with a dreadful delight. It began at the top of the hill, where the nice people lived.  Then it moved to the middle of the hill, where the middle-class muddled along.  Then at last to the bottom of the hill, where the great unwashed beat their children. For almost everyone that was where the story ended but they were going underground, Day recited, where the worms could be found.  First came a crawl past The Boxman’s house. Her descriptions of his cruelties were as vivid as they were chillingly detached. They cruised the tortured blocks of North Philadelphia which looked for all the world like blocks of German cities at the end of the Second World War. With grisly specificity she spoke of them as breeding grounds for rats, places where rats routinely dragged off babies and ate them.  Bunny gasped at this and hugged Skip for dear life. Day spotted a smack-head nodding in an alleyway and pointed him out. The Williamsons observed through tinted windows.
“It’s so cold,” Bunny sympathized, “how can he live?”
“He doesn’t want to live,” Day alleged, also very cold. Next came a camp of homeless men huddled together on Broad Street. She parked so they could look at their leisure.
“So unfair,” Bunny sighed philosophically, watching them rub their hands together as she poured herself another drink in the warmth of the limo.
“What’s unfair?” Day wanted to know.
“Well,” Bunny continued, “it’s freezing, they have no place to stay.”
“And do you know why they have no place to stay?”
            “Because their parents are remodeling?” offered the Skipmeister helpfully.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Depression, Alcoholism & Humor – Washed Up & Loving It!

Kent Eby has read and reviewed all 3 of my books (Invisible Driving – Moonlit Tours – Washed Up). He is a terrific writer and a very thoughtful individual. I find his reviews interesting on their own merits; they invariably provide fresh, surprising insights – which is to say – I learn more about my own work by reading his impressions of it.

Below is Kent’s Amazon review of WASHED UP.

Axis of Brilliance
Washed Up is another great ride. Again, Alistair shows his talent for introducing us to characters that span an entire axis. Wealthy/Not, Healthy/Not, on their way out/on their way a mathematic axis, these people are dots who live (or will live) in the x AND y planes AND in the positive AND the negative planes.

Through wonderful dialogue and narrative talent, he carefully describes them just enough for us to get to know them - and apply our own experience to flesh out who they really are. He then tells us their story and sets up the crashes. You see these collisions from above - at least what you think they will be. But, as great storytellers do, they are not what you assume - which is what leaves the lasting impact.

Running through this novel, like a Booker T keyboard (it knows when to lead and when to lay back and when to duck out), is his observation of alcoholism and its impact on this world. This is the catalyst to many of the events in the book and it is through this vehicle that we experience a lot of the emotion of the novel. Joy, pain. Victory, loss. Second chances and the careless disposal of second (and maybe last) chances.

I found myself not entirely comfortable putting the book down until I was satisfied that I had finished the journey and found adequate resolution to the plight of these characters. And could make my own hypothesis as to their future. Like all of Alistair’s work, in my experience, this one rents a little space in your brain for a few weeks after you finish it. I like that.

Kent Eby

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Recovery & The Gift Of Desperation

The "gift of desperation" is that moment when everything becomes clear - you stand at the edge of a cliff and leap - without knowing whether or not you can fly. This magical event is like a hinge holding a massive door. If you muster the courage required to cross the threshold your journey of self-discovery and healing has begun.

The passage below is an excerpt from WASHED UP  - my 2nd novel.

A man whose knees have buckled beneath the weight of his own personality, whose character and self-respect have vanished in the vortex of despair, whose will to live has become so weak that he’s now his own worst enemy, is blessed. He exists in a state of spiritual grace. Exquisite emptiness. Detached from the world, from want, from desire. If a man can be free, this man is. But the human machine isn’t made for intensity like this. Men who visit these dizzying heights can stay just a time. They must fall, and, when the fall happens, few paths are open. Madness. Death. Recovery. The first two offer comforts, the last offers none. It is guarded by demons. A strange good fortune leads some men to it. Those who emerge gain a special kind of substance they couldn’t have earned any other way. The demons they battle pay them back with lavish gifts and in the end, become their closest friends.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Click Here To Stamp Out The Heartbreak of CGLS Now! (Chronic Gullibility & Lethargy Syndrome)

It is well documented that the United States is the world’s fattest nation, but it is also the laziest and – apparently – most gullible. Not only do we want the rose without the thorn, we actually believe we can have it – without even leaving the chair.

After the tragedy of 9/11 we were told that the best way of showing our grit and rage was to pack up the brats and head to Disneyland – nothing like a little cheery consumerism to spit in the eye of terrorists everywhere! This astonishing concept, shopping our way out of social ills, is both slothful and dim-witted, but that has not impeded its ever-increasing popularity.

The proliferation of magnetic ribbons proclaiming support for troops and other allegedly worthy causes has reached epidemic proportions. These ornaments claim credit for a selfless action that never occurred; thus, they are worse than pointless, they are indictments, shining spotlights on a particularly distasteful brand of hypocrisy.

The net is ideally suited to this twaddle and it has taken root with a vengeance. Everywhere surfers travel they are encouraged to show the strength of their convictions by clicking a mouse! What courage! What commitment! What a crock!

I don’t know much, I freely admit this, but I do know that life’s great challenges do not yield so readily; their answers may be simple – (as God is love, is simple - or – do unto others as you would have them do unto you, is simple) – but they are never easy. Even the most creative and accomplished in our midst are quick to point out that greatness is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Manic Depression, Egotism, Fame & Sellebrity

“In the future, everyone will be obscure for 15 minutes.” Taz Mopula

When I was in the throes of mania I imagined myself a world-class genius artiste who – if not rich and famous at the time – would certainly be both at any moment. When I had drifted deep into the dark quagmire of depression I imagined that I was neither rich nor famous – and blindingly incompetent in navigating life.

In both cases of course the truth was far less interesting; I was merely a worker among workers, another Bozo on the bus, trying to make sense of an insane world like all the other citizens – and having a bit of a rough patch.

As a young person I had been misled about wealth and fame; and learned at last that neither one is particularly desirable. Importantly, both stand in the way of happiness, contrary to popular opinion. Having “enough” money is essential; having more than enough is a recipe for disaster. Fame is different, even a little bit of fame can be deadly – at the very least it is a distraction from the important things of life.

As a bipolar nitwit I believed that the happiness I lacked could be found outside, elsewhere; in the approval of others, admiration, success, wealth, etc. In my naiveté it never dawned on me that the creative geniuses I admired – like Van Gogh, Coltrane, Beckett – to select three examples at random – were not particularly happy people. Importantly, I had the relationship between art and success backwards – I was looking at the success, not the art.

As my great friend HG said of my bipolar memoir; “The true success is that you survived the events described and that you wrote about them – everything that happens from now on is extra.”

This so called “culture” of ours is obsessed with celebrity, as if being known were an end in itself. But it isn’t, at least not a worthwhile end. One should find what one is meant to do and then do it as well as humanly possible. If you find your audience, and they give you money, we may say huzzah. But the moment you start straying from the knitting and make celebrity your goal, there is virtually no chance at all you will contribute anything worthwhile to a society in need of all kinds of help.

Today I am happy to let my books, poetry, cartoons etc. do the talking for me. I would be delighted to see them earning money and gaining approbation. I did not create them to be shy, hiding from the spotlight. They are old enough to hold jobs, they have much to offer – and they enjoy attention. I will stand aside, like a father, and continue to regard the camera as a succubus.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Come In From The Storm

When I meet a newcomer at an AA meeting I frequently shake their hand and say, “Welcome in from the storm.” That’s how it felt to me, when I came in – at last I had found safe harbor.

If you’ve ever endured really violent weather in the middle of the ocean, you know the terror – a hideous, visceral sense of intense vulnerability. You think of the cold, the deep; the panic you would feel as you sank, unable to breathe.

Being lost in mania, or depression, has that same texture – your adversary is immense while you are small. Worse still, the fearsome danger is within you; self-confidence is shattered – you are your own worst enemy. What this means, whether you like it or not – oh stalwart, fiercely independent sailor – is that your safety can only be found in the company of others.

As a rule – we Manic Depressives – and alcoholics – are a solitary lot, inclined to devising our own solutions to life’s challenges. Learning to ask for help and accept it gratefully is a difficult trick for us – but not so difficult, friends, as rising from the dead.

Harbor Lights
Outside looming harbor gates
Lightning scars the dark
Winds that shriek a cold lament
Of spirits lost and drowned
Whip the ocean into froth while
Raindrops strike like shot

Giants slumber by a wharf
Massive engines purr
Pushing only running lights
Mast and window, aft and fore
Not a soul dare leave the port
No man lifts a chain

Down the plank of one great ship
Several sailors tread
Collars turned against the storm
Navigating cobblestones
To seek camaraderie
In foreign vessels flying foreign flags

Dank and grimy dining room
Smoky, cramped, and warm
Weathered men drink far too much
Laugh too hard, and sing too loud
In tongues unknown to them

Pump your wheezy
Squeezebox please
Chipped and yellow ivories
Clap your hands ‘til dawn
This night all are safe
And one
Soon the sea will claim us

Alistair McHarg

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bipolar Disorder Linked To Genius, Creativity & World-Class Idiocy

If you’ve ever met an actual genius – or worse – if you are one – you know that: those in need of garden-variety stupidity are advised to seek out a moron – but – those in search of world-class idiocy should go the extra mile and track down a genius.

The link between Manic Depression and intelligence has been widely discussed, as has the link between Manic Depression and creativity. Because the illness has a genetic component, descending through generations like a toxic heirloom, this cannot be considered exactly shocking – it would be like observing that a higher than average percentage of Bipolars have red hair.

The net is that, intelligence and artistic creativity track higher among Bipolars than the general population. This does not mean that all Bipolars are brilliant and creative – that would be like saying that all alcoholics are great writers simply because many great writers are alcoholics.

(By the way, I tried this myself – trust me – becoming an alcoholic does not make you a great writer. I was horrified to learn that the only way to become a great writer is by becoming a great writer, which, I assure you, involves a lot more effort than becoming an alcoholic.)

One thing I’ve observed over a decade of meetings in church basements is that – there are a lot of really brilliant, successful, charming, creative alcoholics. As we say, “It was my best thinking that bought me this chair.” Likewise, there are many brilliant – genius level – crackerpants coocoobirds in mental hospitals, prisons, and cemeteries.

For both groups, intelligence and success pose the greatest obstacle to recovery. Convinced of their own superiority to others, these hubris-stoked, arrogant twits believe they are equipped to master whatever comes their way, even life’s most bizarre, horrific challenges. They are too smart to realize how incredibly stupid they are being.

A mentally ill person – whether Bipolar, alcoholic, or both – who believes in the mythology of self-sufficiency – who is actually willing to risk it all on his ability to scale Everest alone in his underwear – is no mere dimwit – that takes world-class stupidity. For that you need a genius.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Try Not Thinking Of A Burning Umbrella

Manic thought is obsessive and automatic, as if your thoughts are controlling you - not the other way around. At times you know it, and try to escape their grip, but usually you can't.

Think of it as a feedback loop, which continues because the sound is allowed to go in an endless circle. When you step away from the microphone the cycle is discontinued. Peace.

Remember that, in these moments the mind is like a bad child, instinctively going where it has been told not to go; it is the innate perversity of illness. But you can learn to discourage it when this happens. 

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

To Do Talk Therapy Is To Be Columbus

Embarking on the epic adventure inwards referred to as “talk therapy” is to be Columbus – sailing off the edge of a flat world into unknown terrors.

Columbus didn’t find what he expected to find, and neither will you. You will find something far greater.

In 1967 I worked as a deckhand on The Nopal Progress, a tramp freighter touring Central and South America. This poem recalls that memorable, innocent, time. 

My Lovely Angeline
Two long weeks at sea, New Orleans to Rio
High above the massive Jesus hovered
Arms stretched wide like a friendly traffic cop
Our pilot ship arrived and we were
Bacchanalian decadence of land
All the pleasure a sea dog could stand
Beef kabobs popping, chestnuts splitting their skins
Sweet, warm meat melting in our mouths
Music floating in on cool ocean air
Shhhuka shhhuka shuuk of the samba
Soft as an inner thigh
Rugged men from distant lands
Drinking desperately
Sang, yelled, cursed, and lied
In tongues unknown to me
Rushing tide of women, riot of color
Jungle green, parrot red, sun yellow, sea blue
High-heeled shoes and short short skirts, nicely tight
Fish net stockings, yeah, that’s right
Fish nets to catch a sailor
Bottoms twitching in that rhythmic female beat
Conga drumming street life, walking dancing singing
Scents designed to make knees weak
Reefer, incense, cheap perfume
Pretty faces smile and ask
“Short time, sailor?” - “You like me?”
Angeline, above them all
Tall and slim and young
Starched white blouse cut down to here
Cigarette leg slacks
Face that spoke of Europe, but dreamt of Africa
I bent down to your quiet grace
And you pulled me
Not a word in common
We only looked and touched
Your soft brown skin, my Angeline
Coffee blessed with cream
Your room, so large and empty
Dresser, mirror, broken chair
Ceiling high, you reclined
A vision in the glare
Of one bare bulb suspended
Thread of fraying wire
Wearing just a shark’s tooth
On a golden chain
You grabbed my hair, pulled back my head
Bit me on the neck
And pulled me
I’m a little bit like you, my lovely Angeline
I can’t remember all of them, nor would I even want to
Coming to me, passing through me, leaving me behind
Touched and yet alone, untouched
Keep on smiling, that’s the trick
Life’s a party, live it up, never feel a thing
But long ago, we triumphed for
One heartbeat on the clock
We beat them at their unforgiving game
When it was done you made me swear
That, should I ever came back there
I’d race straight into your waiting arms
You said that you would slit my throat
If I ran to another
Told me that I now belonged to you
It makes me feel like sailing back
To Rio, now, this instant
To stroll your streets and alleys
With a wanton, painted trollop on my arm

Alistair McHarg

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Manic Messiness: Clean Up On Aisle Get It

Mania travels at 110mph with absolutely no regard for consequences or the feelings of others. When you arrive at the inevitable crash, you have options.
Option A. Resume normal life and try to forget the hideous excesses of mania as quickly as possible. This is extremely tempting since chances are you have been a very naughty boy indeed.
Option B. Distance yourself from the various crimes with ingenuous excuses; go for the sympathy vote – after all, you poor thing, you’re the victim of mental illness. Boo-hoo.
Option C. Look very carefully at the trail of wreckage you’ve left behind, sift through the ashes with care, pan for gold. This takes time, effort and courage but pays off in spades – you will come to know yourself as never before.
Option D. Includes all features of Option C and then some. In Option D you evaluate the damage you’ve done to others, and make restitution. They may or may not forgive you; either way you’ve acknowledged and understood the impact you’ve had.
Option E. Includes all features of Option D and one feature more – the most elusive of all. You fully forgive yourself for what you’ve done. Attacking Option E with full force can be thought of as the best way to begin mastery of your illness, getting out from under its rule.

The poem below is one of my most popular, and I like it too. It is included here for reasons that need not be detailed further. 

Repo Girl
Slipping through the gauzy film that guards
My luscious dreams, Repo Girl is
Method, stealth, and focus
Weather beaten beauty Queen
Proprietress and owner
Of some unfilling station and café
Rusting under desert starlight
Dying in the day, gray and faded overalls
Hug her rugged body, hold her
Like a tire grips a rim, golden halo
Tucked below a grimy tractor cap
Grips the nozzle of a pump and roughly
Shoves it into my heart, bing
And the numbers, paint on porcelain
Ride on gears with chipped teeth, in reverse
Chewing on a toothpick, scratching her tattoo
She draws out all the love and faith and trust
That I have stolen, bing, and the breath
Of an angel I’d forgotten, almost before
I’d had my way with her, vanishes like blood
Into the hose, bing, for every candle night
Of gentle kindnesses, bodies spread like landscapes
I could tread on, conquer, exhaust, and abandon
Repo girl drinks joe and stares, elbows on the counter
If she’d stayed a little longer then I could have thanked her

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

For Bipolar Bears Humility Is Key To Recovery

There is just as much arrogance in believing you are the best in the world – and consequently, beyond reproach – as there is in believing you are the worst in the world – and consequently, beyond help.
The real insanity of Bipolar Bears is the idea of being utterly apart, essentially different. Outsiders focus on the sadness of such terrible isolation, but what Manic Depressives find most horrific is the hideous truth that they are just like everyone else. Take away their colorful madness, their uniqueness, and what do they have to talk about at cocktail parties?

Frequently they hang onto their illness like a lover, unwilling to accept the humbling fact of their humanity; going to great lengths in an effort to demonstrate they do not want help and would not benefit from help.

Viewed in this context suicide is not merely the angriest of all human acts, it is also the most arrogant and narcissistic.

Change or die, kids, change or die. Growth requires abandoning the mythology of terminal uniqueness.

This poem tracks a little personal evolution; shedding selves like snakeskin, as one must. 

Late For Dinner
Rustle in the underbrush
Predator of love
Lives on a diet of heart
Lithe and lovely carcasses
Bear his signature
Victims of his hunt
For the cure
To the hunger
That is eating him alive
Beggar holding battered cup
Leans against the temple
Heap of jagged silhouettes
And shadows
Crying out as colors crash
And race disjointedly
Humble servant
Washing windows
Sweeping off the steps
Making sure the house is
Clean and vacant
Sunlight warming wooden floors
Balmy breezes come and go
Like kisses from a very patient angel

Alistair McHarg

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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mania’s Mercurial Emotions – So Happy I Could Cry, So Sad I Could Laugh

To be in the midst of mania is to wear your emotions over your skin, like clothing. Extreme sensitivity to everything puts you in a state of hyper-vulnerability; the tiniest detail has the power to influence your feelings and moods – sending you reeling.

In this state you learn the wisdom of laughter and tears – that they are really two sides of the same coin. Life itself does not vary, of course – it is either funny or tragic, depending on how you look at it. But in mania, perspective shifts constantly, and so, your feelings tag along for the ride. This in itself, is quite normal, all of us alternate our perspectives as we adapt to experience.

But imagine that your protective layers of hide have been sandpapered off so that your nerves feel every stimulus intensely – pinpricks become bullet wounds – warm handshakes become shots of heroin. Then imagine that they alternate constantly, impatient as dragonflies.

Emotions race from point to point like mercury from a shattered thermometer zigzagging madly across a kitchen floor.

Everything makes you cry
Everything makes you cry
How your children
Look at you
And need you
Entrusting you with
Their uncertainty
One bright, shining
Bending a blade of grass
Morning mist enveloping
Silent lake at dawn
Of a loon
Letter in the flowing hand
Of someone who is gone
Crunching footsteps
On a gravel path
Lightning bugs
Rising up at dusk
Waves of silent embers
All too brief and
Too beautiful to bear
Everything makes you cry

Alistair McHarg

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Manic Creativity: Caught In The Brain Without An Umbrella

For square pegs, the word “creativity” evokes images of cute children expressing predictable visions with finger paint – an iconic stereotype that is simultaneously “safe” and “charming.” To see creativity this way is to totally misunderstand its true nature. 

Creativity is better thought of as volcanic eruption, a terrifying power that – in the process of introducing something truly new – destroys everything that preceded it. In moments of true creativity the artist is merely a vessel, having tapped into a transcendent force. 

Bipolar bears in the throes of mania exist in a state of constant creativity. They delude themselves into thinking it is within their control but in fact it controls them. Imagine a television set with the sound turned up all the way, constantly switching channels – that is how it looks and feels. 

Having one’s hand on the third rail for days at a time, sleepless and constantly moving, is exhilarating and exhausting – friends and family members quickly lose sight of the exhilaration and focus more on the exhaustion – and total bewilderment. 

When I wrote this poem, I was thinking not so much about the desperate energy of mania, but the complete lack of rules. In mania one returns to a time and place where the concept of creativity really does mean inventing your own universe.

Caution: Words at Play

Bulbous armadillo
When mall be sad undone
Lack flies in kites
Land spin in taps
Words myturn rewonder
Santa fee Anne fun
Syzygy, quincunx, uvula
Slipping scones on a quite liked ache
Lepidopteran and ambergris
Raging on my scooper
Polyglot, glottal stop, macaroon, and pith
Filing down icy heels on my shed
Limpet, marmoset, asp, and lemur
Toy chains regurgitating under the tree
Liverwort, front, spore, cerebellum
Scratching a symbol into a dumbbell
Marsupial, scintilla, adz, paradoxically
Ceiling off a dieting broad
Plimsoll, homburg, spats, panjandrum
Wan we gap are fist pappy and he locked my phase
Gesticulate, miscreant, qua, and buoy
Cod oil candy, trucknival, fearless wheel, sunhouse
Badinage, busker, bamboozle, serendipity
Please keep your ice on the row, row, you’re owed
Words like to play on this streak

Bulbous armadillo
When mall be sad undone
Lack flies in kites
Land spin in taps
Words myturn rewonder
Santa fee Anne fun
There’s too much time for being old
Too little to be young

Alistair McHarg

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