Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No Matter Where I Go There I Am

            One of the highlights of my career as a jazz listener was a concert in Carnegie Hall.  It featured McCoy Tyner and his big band, the outrageous Pharaoh Sanders, and the immortal one himself, Rahsaan Roland Kirk.  The hall was hushed as McCoy Tyner, pianist for John Coltrane during the legendary quartet years, took the stage with his large and heavily armed band.  Nothing sounds prettier than a room holding hundreds of people with their mouths shut.  It reminded me of the Quaker meetings I used to go to every week at school.  So many people, alone with their thoughts, together in a room, silent.  Great moment.  The wooden floors of the old hall creaked like a ship at sea as people settled in their seats.  This silence was not the silence of a bus station at 3:00 AM in the morning.  This was warm and rich, the audience filled with respect, even awe, and anticipation.  You could have heard a lemon drop drop.
            And then, we heard a bomb drop.  Tyner’s band burst into an all-stops-out barrage of sound intensity that blew off every hairpiece in the room.  From silence to a hurricane of sound, cracking and crashing like madness, so loud that it couldn’t be denied, it didn’t come in through your ears, it came in through your bones.  I felt like I was having an orgasm.  I was so relieved, so joyful, so happy, I wanted to jump to my feet, thrust my fists into the air and scream “Yes!  Thank you!”
            Later, when I was replaying the concert in my mind, I wondered about that moment.  Why was it that I craved that level of intensity so much?  The longer I thought about it, the harder it became to avoid my best theory.  The music was so strong, it obliterated my personality.  It was so complete, so overwhelming, that it freed me from myself.  I was immersed in only the intoxication of the music.  I forgot about me.
            In one way or the other, I’ve been doing that all my life.  Running from my personality instead of making the best of it.  In the intoxication of romance, I lost myself.  Escape into depression, another kind of flight.  Escape into isolation, cutting myself off from other people.  (And then actually having the nerve to feel sorry for myself because I was alone!)  Escape into drugs, alcohol, sex, reading, art.  More important, escape into failure.  Failure was the ultimate comfort, the ultimate safety.  If I was a loser I wouldn’t have to worry about other people because nobody would pay any attention to me.


Click On Image To Enlarge
 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Unruly Words

For those of you who think writing is easy, trust me, it isn’t. Words are unruly and rambunctious, with a powerful appetite for mischief. This poem illustrates what can happen when they are left to their own devices, with no adult supervision. (For maximum effect, read it aloud – you’ll be amazed.) 

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, frond, 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


Click On Image To Enlarge
 

Friday, November 26, 2010

'Tis The Season To Be Mental


“Mania and Depression are twin assassins sent by the same General. One kills you by mixing in a little sprinkling of ground glass with every meal you consume, until your insides are shredded and bleeding. The other attaches electrical wires to your most sensitive spots and turns on the voltage until you twitch like an epileptic and the air fills with the smell of smoke. Two ways of getting the job done. Two ways that work equally well.” INVISIBLE DRIVING

In the rooms it often observed that Thanksgiving is the start of drinking season, a stretch of intense debauchery culminating in the Super Bowl. (I have often visualized the President honoring this event by throwing out the first resentment.) And, as a friend once observed – ‘tis the season to be depressed. That’s a toxic combination; for the emotionally vulnerable this season can be a minefield.

Depression, like mania, is a type of flight – predicated on a lie. In mania one feels larger than life, in depression, smaller. Real depression may be thought of this way – If only I wasn’t so listless I could get myself together and finally commit suicide. Indeed, this is one of the dangers when the clinically depressed are given medication. 

The key to surviving this holiday season and living to be scarred by more to come is ratcheting expectations down to zero and coasting. It’s bigger than you are, no amount of resistance will make it go away. More, it’s an unmanageable maelstrom where happy and sad feelings swirl together until they are almost indistinguishable from each other - so, let them have their way. Oddly, you’ll spend less energy experiencing them than you would resisting them.  

Sweet Sorrow
Minor chords, brooding skies
Shattered glass on a playground
Coquettes seductively alluring
Teasing the injury open
Parting the scar like pouting lips
The blade’s unmistakable signature
If that is their pleasure so be it
So be it if that is their pleasure
Tell me tales of guiltless men
Mutely swinging like pendulums
Tell me tales of fathers, husbands
Swallowed by the sea
Tell me tales of orphaned children
Sold to slavery, pass the salt

Alistair McHarg

Click On Image To Enlarge
 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Flat Tires, Broken Keys, Lost Wallets & Black Ice

I had a friend in the rooms who was fond of saying – You will never be truly happy until you embrace life in its entirety, not merely the parts you like. There is an axiom that parallels this observation; it goes – Acceptance Is The Answer To All My Problems Today. The word – embrace - implies what I would call enthusiastic acceptance, not defeated resignation.

Since such a state involves complete abandonment of will – ego – few of us start down the trail, much less arrive – and yet, the more deeply I’ve considered this the more I’ve been able to incorporate it. Here’s why. Without exception, it has been the tragedies of my life that have given me the most, and the easy successes that have done the least. Coping with manic depression gave me my courage and humanity, while coping with alcoholism taught me how to live a righteous, spiritual life.

We survey the world and find its design to be flawed; drought, death, disease seem like mistakes to us, we are dissatisfied. The blind arrogance is stunning.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I am glad for the entirety of life, in all its ragged, self-contradictory glory. I am thankful for what I’ve been given, what I’ve lost, and what remains.

There is no qualifying copy here, no announcer will reveal sotto voce – Some Restrictions May Apply – no. I’m all in.

Handwriting
After rain storm
Dark green lawn
Blade made even smooth
Lays out flat and mute
As stationery
Massive brooding chestnut looms
Casts a giant shadow
Only slender glimmers shimmy
In between its fingers
Crashing into errant shards
Of sunlight, dappled
Glowing scattered
Patterns winking
Warm and white
Breezes charge
The dance of light
And dark with
Woozy rhythm
I recall this signature vaguely
In the forest, on the fawns
Adorning them like jewelry
I look again
I apprehend
And then
I understand
And then I cannot cease
From all my trembling

Alistair McHarg


Click On Image To Enlarge

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chuckles The Depressed Clown

Years ago I was traveling from Philly to L.A. on business and found myself seated next to an unremarkable gentleman – mid-40s, clean-shaven, tall, closely-cropped hair, dressed casually but in all regards neat and presentable. One is captive on a plane and I hoped he understood the difference between friendly and intrusive.

Half an hour later this is what I knew about him. He was a clown who went by the name Chuckles and made a modest living working birthday parties, fairs, etc. Over the past year he had become involved in a legal contest with a rival clown, Lord Chumley, who he’d accused of stealing his make-up. Chuckles explained to me at some length that every clown develops his/her unique look, as individual as a fingerprint. For one clown to steal the look of another clown was egregious. At this point he’d produced a very slick portfolio containing dozens of photographs showing him in full clown regalia – his make-up was so absolutely generic that I could not imagine anybody stealing it unless the aim was to resemble every other clown in the world.

But, as it turned out, larcenous colleagues provided only the beginning of a sad tale Chuckles told with hideous, obligatory persistence worthy of the ancient mariner. The crux of it was as old as time, love gone wrong, a broken heart. It turned out that Mrs. Chuckles had been wooed by a juggler and abandoned my traveling companion, leaving only a note. As Chuckles began to launch into this part of his story he gradually lost all semblance of composure and soon was crying convulsively, unable to complete a sentence without gasping for breath once or twice between sobs.

I am comfortable with the dark side of humor; but, one has limits. Certainly there was something deliciously ironic about a clown named Chuckles entangled in a copyright dispute with another clown, so shattered by romance on the rocks he could not contain his despondence; yes, but there was also something creepy and disturbing about it – and the flight was long. So, feeling only slightly guilty, I excused myself and found another seat, two rows further back.

For the balance of the trip I watched Chuckles make balloon animals which were passed from one person to the next and retained as desired. I suppose he made about fifty before becoming so lightheaded he had to take a nap. Dachshunds, hippopotami, giraffes, alligators, whales – he really was quite remarkable…and I thought to myself, this is a metaphor for life. A colleague steals your act, a juggler steals your girl - if you’re the clown for the job, you don’t let it get you. You lace up the inflatable shoes, stick on the red nose, and make your goddamn balloon animals just like any other day. You rock, Chuckles.

But what I remember most from that trip is what happened after we landed. Row after row of passengers stood up, collected their carry on articles from the overhead compartments, and gathered themselves for the walk ahead. The kids, sure, I got that, and the teenagers too. But even the hot shot executives, smart as could be in 3-piece suits with leather attaché cases – they too all had their souvenir, brightly colored balloon animals tucked neatly under their arms, like irreplaceable, collectible artifacts. They looked absolutely preposterous, of course, especially because, without exception, not one of them was smiling.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CLOWN DEPRESSION CLICK HERE 

Click On Image To Enlarge
 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Shootout At The I’m Not Okay Corral


Most of us engage in a rather juvenile fantasy that goes, “If I paint by the numbers and keep my nose clean things will work out well for me.” We desperately want to believe in a rational, merit-based world, all the while admitting secretly that life metes out misery at random – at least, according to some concept of justice incomprehensible to us – and seems to be as predictable and responsive to bribery as lightning. As a friend of mine likes to say, “What are you pretending not to know?”

Those of us who have crossed that invisible line and wandered the crooked streets of Cuckoopantsatopolis can no long pretend not to know that – at any given moment – it is entirely possible that things will go terribly wrong. For us, the knowledge, and the fear, are always in the foreground and shall remain there until confronted eye to eye. This, of course, is the greatest fear of them all – because any foe with the power to turn your life completely inside out is a foe worthy of your respect. However, just because it has killed before does not mean it is going to kill you. You can live in fear or you can face the music and dance.

I was forced to have a shootout at the I’m Not Okay corral and I’m so glad; since that time nothing has had the power to frighten me. It happened when I was writing my bipolar memoir, Invisible Driving. Every spare minute for an entire year I threw myself back into the one place on earth I was most afraid to go, the memory of my most recent manic episode. In doing so I was not merely reviewing horribly painful memories, I was running the risk of sparking another episode. I understood this well, but likewise I understood that I simply had to do it if I was to have any chance at all of getting through it, and starting down the road to recovery.

Like the fellows in this cartoon – (one of my best, and most popular) – I knew there was a chance I would not make it. For the first time I had to be fearless, I had to have faith in myself in a life-or-death situation. Importantly, I understood that the wisdom and bravery of this labor in no way guaranteed it would work, and if it failed, I would be dealing with the consequences on my own.

There is purity and beauty to meeting, at last, the adversary you’ve been avoiding all your life, the demon you’ve been pretending not to know.

CLICK HERE TO VISIT CUCKOOPANTSATOPOLIS 

Click On Image To Enlarge
 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Alistair McHarg - Self-Portrait

















Alistair McHarg, Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, August 2010

A Salty Dog

Tattered sails
Swell with breath
My battered boat
Groans and complains
As it’s guided from
Safe harbor to the
Cold and merciless sea
By invisible hands

I am weary of adventures
Scarred from fighting monsters
Hideous ones
Beautiful ones

All I ever wanted was a cat
A hearth, a dram, a meal
A woman who knew how to sew
A roof and wall to guard against
The cruelties of winter

But fate decrees that I am bound
Bound to the mast
Bound to the sea

Whatever rocky coast
Is my new home
I’ll tell my story there

Whatever rocky coast
Is my new home
I’ll tell my story there

Alistair McHarg

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Isolation: Roadblock To Recovery


Alcoholism, they say, is a disease of isolation – it cannot be cured via a "correspondence course.” To get better you need to climb out of your shell and find yourself in others, and let them find themselves in you. Entering into a community of similar souls eliminates the myth of “terminal uniqueness” – and promotes a sense of safety in numbers. In the program they say that telephones weigh a ton, and the hardest thing for us is to reach out and ask for help. Part of the problem is that we romanticize our isolation, thinking in terms of brooding melancholia rather than self-imposed exile from the joys of fellowship.

The same may be said of mental illness, which offers a brand of isolation so extreme it makes solitary confinement at Pelican Bay Super-Max Prison look like a square dance in Mayberry. One knocks about inside one’s own heart and mind like a frightened child exploring an abandoned funhouse at night, viewing city lights as though they originated on a foreign planet. What many people don’t understand is that madness is quite seductive, in its way, and reality seems so remote and difficult to reach.

At times you may have very little hope of recovery, and that’s understandable, but you must have a glimmer or you really are in danger.

This is one of my favorite poems, mostly because of the economy, clarity, and imagery. It is quite amazing how long it takes to write a short poem, and how easy it is to write a long one.

Candlelight

Isolated cottage by the ocean
Ragged clapboard splintering
From years of wind and rain
Color washed away, inside
Clean floor, wide planks smoothed
By wear, one small rug
Matching chairs, cups and saucers
Forks and spoons
Washed and neatly stacked
Blankets resting on a narrow bed

Falling dark, her solitary
Ritual begins
Heirloom, pewter candlestick
Taper and match
Pulsing flame illuminating room
Piercing through the woozy glass to
Cast its glow without, like a beacon
Reaching far beyond the dunes

Alistair McHarg


Click On Image To Enlarge

Friday, November 19, 2010

Beware Of Extra Baggage

Many years ago my (then) girlfriend, Prunella Entwhistle, and I took a vacation to Scotland so she could meet the relatives and eat haggis

A dyed-in-the-wool Romantic, Prunella adored art and was an amateur sculptor. Enthusiastic and impulsive by nature, she was given to moments of inspiration infrequently preceded by rational deliberation. The vacation progressed well and we crisscrossed the Scottish highlands in a rented Mini, lodging modestly in tiny towns with names like Auchnagallin, Kearvaig, and Cave of Smoo.

One morning, as we were leaving the latest in a long line of B&Bs, I firmly gripped the handles of our suitcases to take them downstairs for packing into the Mini. Doing so gave me the distinct impression that our suitcases did not wish to come along. Flummoxed and put off in a way unique to people trying to break camp and get going, I raised the bags slowly – they had definitely put on weight. I was then reminded of a nagging suspicion I’d had – and ignored – for days, that either I was becoming weaker or the bags were getting heavier.

Impatient and irritated I opened them up to determine if this was real or some dreadful hallucination. There, carefully wrapped and stashed inside Prunella's sweaters, shirts, and trousers were half-a-dozen large stones, souvenirs of the Highlands. I was horrified, but it was about to get worse. I also discovered several whiskey bottles that had been filled with water from mountain springs. As I realized I’d been carrying this dead weight up and down stairs - and was expected to carry it through various airport terminals - the blood began to rise like mercury in a thermometer.

Later, after I’d vented sufficiently to make continued travel possible, Prunella revealed her “artistic” plan to make a little garden in our Pennsylvania home featuring Scottish rocks and water. I shook my head in quiet disbelief, wishing for a witness to confirm the depths of my suffering.

To live is to accumulate baggage. It pays to have a good look every now and again; some of your beliefs, assessments, values, etc. may have outlived their usefulness. One’s own baggage is bad enough, but as you are cleaning house you may discover that you’re also dragging around somebody else’s insanity; and who needs that?

PRUNELLA ENTWHISTLE'S RECOMMENDED READING LIST 

Click On Image To Enlarge
 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book Review: Invisible Driving by Alistair McHarg - by Cecie


BIPOLAR BEAT - CANDIDA FINK, M.D. & JOE KRAYNAK
 
I recently read INVISIBLE DRIVING by Alistair McHarg. This captivating novel is his autobiographical account of surviving his third major manic episode. As one might imagine, time passes at an accelerated rate during mania, and thus the book has an extremely fast and increasingly frenetic pace. In other words, it’s a very quick read.

As one who is familiar with the highs of bipolar disorder, I found it quite interesting and entertaining. Readers who haven’t experienced mania up close and personal may find it difficult to believe, but speaking from experience, every phrase resonated with manic reality. I would be remiss not to add that McHarg is a master wordsmith, and his descriptive and playful language is apropos in achieving the manic mindset. At one moment hilarious, at another singsong, then soaring, then annoying, he artfully renders the script of a manic mind on high.

McHarg barely stops to gather his wits (why bother?) in between one after another after another, wild and woolly foray into a world wholly real and tangible to the unsuspecting bystander, but under Mr. McHarg’s manic microscope it’s a totally different reality, full of exciting an unbounded possibilities. A world where he is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-creative, all-capable, all-charming… and hey, why wouldn’t that be a place that you’d want to be?

Except, as we all know, what goes up must come down, and a manic mood episode is no different. Sooner or later all the lies and self-deception, not to mention the sleep and food deprivation, take their inevitable toll.

In the end, Alistair has to gather up the pieces of his life and try to regain his footing on what’s left of the reality that he hasn’t totally alienated. It’s no easy feat, but somehow he pulls it off. Better yet, he has managed to put his experience into words, documenting a journey from self-destruction to self-realization – the golden phoenix rising from the ashes of mania’s blast furnace… just another day in the life of a person with manic depression.

Note: Dr. Fink & Mr. Kraynak are co-authors of BIPOLAR DISORDER for DUMMIES

"Cecie"  is married to Mr. Kraynak and learned about the illness first-hand.

 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Know Why The Alligator Hides

I began writing INVISIBLE DRIVING in 1990 and ultimately self-published it in 2007 – that was 4 literary agents and 100s of rejection slips ago. I learned that there is something harder than surviving Manic Depression, harder even than writing a book about it – that is publishing a book about it. The torrent of abuse and rejection was epic – at times – even comical. (My step-grandmother founded and owned W.W. Norton – a very prestigious publishing house – even they wouldn’t publish it!)

The process was at once humbling and character-building. I knew what I had was good, I knew it surpassed the competition, I knew these unimaginative, lazy publishers were the ones missing out. I came to truly “get” that life is not a meritocracy, and that acceptance does not flow naturally from quality and hard work. I grew accustomed to the feeling that jazz musicians must experience when they see Kenny G in a Ferrari; a mélange of rage, envy, frustration, mystification and absolute certainty that there is no God.

After a long hiatus, I began writing poetry again during this period and was being published in one of the country’s most celebrated – and totally bizarre – online literary journals – EXQUISITE CORPSE. My dear friend Alex – also a poet – said, “Your stuff is really getting good, you should send it to The New Yorker.” Against my better judgment I finally did send them one of the best. Weeks later I got the obligatory rejection slip. Without a moment’s hesitation I turned it over and wrote, “Dear Sirs: I was saddened to learn of your recent loss. Sincerely, Alistair McHarg” and mailed it back to them

Childish? Perhaps. Passive/aggressive? Most definitely. But let me tell all of you out there – I know why the alligator hides and I know why he needs his hide. If you are mentally ill, you are going to take some abuse, even if you are trying your best to get better. If you are an alcoholic in recovery, don’t expect a parade. And if you are a committed artist, you can hope for the best – that’s good, even necessary – but plan for the worst and expect it. Remember that the rain falls equally on the just and unjust and the biggest mistake you can make is looking up at heaven and shaking your fist. The answer to the question “Why me?” is always “Why not?”


Click On Image To Enlarge


Monday, November 15, 2010

The Siren Call Of All That Is Not Me

Many people in AA speak of alcoholism as a disease, as if to say, our bodies are “allergic” to alcohol, our reactions are different from those of “normal” people. I think this is a facile, inaccurate rationalization that makes it easier for people to admit they have a problem with booze and need help. In fact, we are like other people except that our “alcoholic personalities” – driven by a hunger for escape – catapult us into excesses of all kinds.

I recently ran across this passage from my bipolar memoir, INVISIBLE DRIVING, which sums it up succinctly.

            “One of the highlights of my career as a jazz listener was a concert in Carnegie Hall.  It featured McCoy Tyner and his big band, the outrageous Pharaoh Sanders, and the immortal one himself, Rahsaan Roland Kirk.  The hall was hushed as McCoy Tyner, pianist for John Coltrane during the legendary quartet years, took the stage with his large and heavily armed band.  Nothing sounds prettier than a room holding hundreds of people with their mouths shut.  It reminded me of the Quaker meetings I used to go to every week at school.  So many people, alone with their thoughts, together in a room, silent.  Great moment.  The wooden floors of the old hall creaked like a ship at sea as people settled in their seats.  This silence was not the silence of a bus station at 3:00 AM in the morning.  This was warm and rich, the audience filled with respect, even awe, and anticipation.  You could have heard a lemon drop drop.
            “And then, we heard a bomb drop.  Tyner’s band burst into an all-stops-out barrage of sound intensity that blew off every hairpiece in the room.  From silence to a hurricane of sound, cracking and crashing like madness, so loud that it couldn’t be denied, it didn’t come in through your ears, it came in through your bones.  I felt like I was having an orgasm.  I was so relieved, so joyful, so happy, I wanted to jump to my feet, thrust my fists into the air and scream “Yes!  Thank you!”
            “Later, when I was replaying the concert in my mind, I wondered about that moment.  Why was it that I craved that level of intensity so much?  The longer I thought about it, the harder it became to avoid my best theory.  The music was so strong, it obliterated my personality.  It was so complete, so overwhelming, that it freed me from myself.  I was immersed in only the intoxication of the music.  I forgot about me.”

Click On Image To Enlarge
 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Isn't He A Clever Little Fellow?

At The Academy for Clever Little Fellows
I chanced upon a volume penned by Sartre
And though the tongue that served Rimbaud
So nobly was my foe, I slit the leaves asunder
With a scalpel, gazing as they fell beyond my grasp

Wandered down linguistic cul-de-sacs and alleyways
Like a man who dreams he’s dreamt by someone else
Mille-feuille and espresso in comparison
To the precious traps the author had designed
Cleverness extended to sublime absurdity
Beating up on reason 'til it bled
Commandeering logic to sabotage itself
Ripped away its reason to exist
Tied me into endless nots
Resembling Moebius strips

Deliciously delighted, appalled and quite amazed
Society would tolerate such shameless decadence
I sucked with desperate hunger on intellectualism
Like a nipple leaking menthol-scented morphine
Fell spellbound, enraptured through
Smug, incomprehensible goo

I thought thought was a landscape I could live in
Night sky free of solid matter
Nothing to touch or be touched by
Thought blew through the years that followed
Dry wind washing over barren silent dunes

The greatest gift that thinking ever gave me
Was the means to learn that thinking would betray me
But that didn’t happen until I was so good at it
I’d learned how to never feel a thing

Alistair McHarg


Click On Image To Enlarge





















 

Friday, November 12, 2010

“Genius is lunar, not solar; the light it sheds is reflected, not created.” Taz Mopula

I have learned never to confuse facts and information with knowledge, much less wisdom. In “the information age” there is an endless waterfall of data, but who is there to teach us how we can make sense of it? Mere information is almost valueless and the glut of information we have today is actually an impediment to healthy living. As ever, balance is the key – and you will never achieve balance in the absence of wisdom.

You can get education from others but wisdom, sadly, must come from within. In general, the important lessons of life arrive on the business end of a 2x4. So, for starters, don’t think there are short cuts; the best way to learn is to live. You must have the experiences yourself for them to mean anything.

I think of the process sequentially, so, for want of a better name, let’s call it the Taz Mopula Hierarchy of Self-Actualization – TMHSA – and have a look.

1. Know Yourself. – Few people attack this step and most of the ones that do, fail. It requires curiosity, relentless determination, and brutal honesty.

2. Forgive Yourself. – Only after thoroughly understanding yourself, the good and the bad, is it truly possible to forgive yourself for character flaws and harm done.

3. Love Yourself. – Do not confuse this with narcissism; it is all about unqualified acceptance, humility, and gratitude. The universe loves you, why disagree?

4. Enjoy Yourself. – You can easily spot people that have made it this far, they have absolutely no envy, they can’t think of anyone else they would rather be.

5. Allow Others To Enjoy You Enjoying Being Yourself. – This is the ultimate, it involves you allowing others to enjoy the real you, even if it means admiration.

The wisdom here is that you will enjoy life, you will have healthy priorities, and you will have purpose. In a situation like this, doing triage on the deluge of useless information clamoring for your attention will be child’s play.


Click On Image To Enlarge
 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Importance Of Being Unimportant


One day, while sitting in my windowless corporate office and trying to imagine it didn’t resemble a jail cell, I picked up my ringing phone to discover the call was not business-related, it was in fact a friend I’ll call Chumley Frampton, although his real name is Mangosuthu Buthelezi – (no relation to the famous Mangosuthu Buthelezi).

Now, bear in mind that Chumley is not what you would call a close friend, so I wondered immediately what the purpose of his call might be. I didn’t have to wait long. With fabricated faux urgency for which he is well known, Chumley informed me he was too busy to speak with me right now and had to ring off.

Yes, that’s right. He called me to let me know he was too busy to speak with me, even though we hadn’t spoken in months.

I don’t usually deconstruct for the reader’s benefit but let’s look at this briefly. 1.) Apparently he was incorrect, he wasn’t too busy to speak with me – the communication was false. 2.) Had it been accurate, why would I have cared? What possible purpose could have been served? 3.) The exclusive point of this contact was to remind me of his importance. (This quality, by the way, existed only in his mind, assuming that one measures importance by gauging influence, power, achievement, and celebrity, which he did. So, not only was it a tiresome nuisance, it was wildly inaccurate.)

As concept humor the story is hard to beat, but there is another reason why I’ve retained it all these years. Long ago a psychiatrist said to me, “It really matters to you that what you do is perceived as important.” It was both true and damning. He didn’t say that it was important to me that I achieved important things – (like Chumley I existed on the periphery of accomplishment but had nothing to show for myself) – he said it was important that I was perceived as having done so. Back in the day, Chumley and I managed our images fastidiously, what others thought of us mattered tremendously, indeed, it determined the value of our stock.

Today I know with absolute certainty that I am not important. On occasion I may be involved in work that is potentially important, and now and then I may serve the purposes of a very important entity, but that is another matter altogether. If I ever find myself making a case for self-importance I immediately take a time out – recalibrate, and begin again.

I am perhaps important to the extent that I have learned the importance of unimportance.


LEARN MORE ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF IMPORTANCE

Click On Image To Enlarge
 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Frontiers Of Denial - Lesson 1: Self-Medication

As a card-carrying alcoholic bipolar bear there’s little anyone can teach me about denial. When confronted with a choice between the easy way and my way – well – do I even need to tell you which I chose? Frequently I was so defiant that – if you told me to turn left, I turned right simply to annoy you…and show you that I could. Demonstrating my will became more important than doing what was best for me. I paid dearly for this commitment to ill-considered independence.

There’s an old expression that goes – Anyone attempting to defend himself in a court of law has a fool for a client. There is no equivalent saying in the world of mental health but we sure could use one because acting as one’s own therapist – counselor – physician is rather like performing an emergency appendectomy on yourself while drunk. Sadly, however, the practice is common, as evidenced by the hilariously euphemistic phrase, self-medication.

In the rooms one meets so many people who have wrestled with clinical depression; alcohol abuse was their way of “self-medicating” and the results are horrific. But my most vivid introduction to the concept came as I attempted the trapeze act of managing manic highs, using pot and alcohol to hold onto that magic point of euphoria. Repeated crashes taught me that pouring booze and other drugs on mania is really pouring gasoline on a bonfire; one is in tremendously bad faith if one acts surprised when the building burns down.

To be fair, talk therapy, which is where the real action and healing can be found, is so time-consuming and expensive that insurance companies are squeezing it out of fashion. We have become overly reliant on psychotropic pharma to manage mental illness, and it is an imprecise science. Some meds are nasty, some have ugly side effects, some are not well understood, and many are expensive – even if one has coverage.

So, for the arrogant imbecile anxious to ignore the medical community’s collective wisdom, there are plenty of plausible excuses to avoid the obviously superior path of care and treatment under the supervision of a trained professional. Bipolars are absolutely famous for doing this; going off their meds when things improve and taking back their will, no matter the seriousness of their transgressions.

If you have a bipolar bear in the family complaining about side effects, it’s okay to listen seriously and sympathetically, but, it might be the first step on a road culminating in self-administered brain surgery. Remember that alcoholics are world-class liars and bipolars, especially those early to recovery, are amazingly accomplished in the art of rationalization.


Click On Image To Enlarge

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hubris, Mental Illness & Imported Cheese

I come from a long line of arrogant egomaniacs, which is one of many reasons I find the subject so interesting. As I’ve wandered in the woods of mental illness and alcoholism I have come to understand the close link between hubris, insanity and misery. Conversely, I now fully appreciate the role that humility plays in peace of mind and being a righteous human being.

I had a friend, let’s call him Gertrude, although his real name is Frank. Gertrude was scary smart, I mean Mensa smart. Gertrude read the newspaper every day and delighted, if delighted is the right word, in regaling me with stories that illustrated the astounding stupidity of humanity – it was like scratching an itchy wound for Gertrude. The more he did it the more disgusted and full of loathing he became.

I realized in time that Gertrude was looking at humanity from God’s point of view, totally separated from it. (Ironically, detachment from perceived idiocy only served to make him despondent and he saved the greatest loathing for himself.) In the rooms I’ve been introduced to the idea that thinking you are worse than everyone else is no less ego-maniacal than thinking you are better than everyone else. In either case the ego is moving to center stage and telling an enormous lie.

The delusions of grandeur one encounters in mania are well known, so called “grandiosity.” Riding in the back of a squad car does wonders to help you sort out who has it all together and who doesn’t. The hubris of alcoholism comes in various forms. For one, there’s the “Leave me alone, the only person I’m hurting is myself,” nonsense. Even more interesting is the arrogance of thinking one is beyond help.

The day I realized I really was “Just Another Bozo On The Bus” was transformational, as if a giant weight had been removed from my shoulders. Today, I no longer laugh the way Gertrude laughs, with contempt, disgust, derision – like a visitor to the zoo laughing at the antics of lower primates. I now laugh at a large group that includes me, humanity – and that hurts a little too – because sometimes the behavior of this group to which I belong is very disappointing indeed. But you can’t play it both ways. When you consciously join the human race you join the whole team and you must own the behavior of even the least exemplary members. That’s where the humility comes in.

Unfortunately I will have to defer the discussion of imported cheese. 

Click Here To Learn More About Hubris, Mental Illness & Imported Cheese

Click On Image To Enlarge
 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

El Lagarto Cartoons Explained At Last!

Just as poetry is the most difficult of all literary forms, so is humor the most difficult of literary styles. As the old saying goes, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” After ruling out the puerile smut and scatology of drooling Neanderthals unworthy of our attention, one is left with a small, elite band of practitioners.

Even the most casual observers of my oeuvre, (a word I simply cannot say often enough), know that humor is at the very center of everything I do. While there is nothing less droll than deconstructing chuckling, I will say that humor is a matter of perspective, not telling jokes. Hilarity cannot be taught; it is the result of being kicked in the head once too often.

As a child poring over the cartoons in Punch and The New Yorker, I became fascinated by the idea of compressing an entire funny concept into one single frame. Later, cartoons in The National Lampoon introduced me to a darker, more irreverent perspective. Over the years I wrote funny books, scripts, skits, speeches and more – but it wasn’t until 10 years ago that I tackled cartoons themselves. My inability to draw was overcome by hours of trolling for interesting photographs. Importantly, I looked for shots that were generic and had no intrinsic humor. Then, I returned to them and added in the humor by creating captions.

My cartoons have been snatched time and again, appearing now on websites all over the world. To this day they remain among the most popular of all my creative enterprises. I have generated nearly 1000 and, in the near future, will release a “Best Of” anthology. Why are they called “El Lagarto” cartoons? That’s another subject for another post.


Click On Image To Enlarge
 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

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, frond, 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

Click On Image To Enlarge 
 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Great Art Is Made By Great People


As a young person I was impressed by virtuoso artists, individuals with Faustian technique. I imagined how it felt to take the stage, whether literal or metaphorical, and simply blow the audience away – dazzle them with something they had never seen, heard, experienced before. I felt then that it was the duty of art to smash through barriers, and open up new worlds. Only technical mastery, I believed, made this possible.

Much, much later I discovered that this mythology was just so much elephant dung, a young man’s obsession with ego, self-aggrandizement, and hostility – because that desire to blow the audience away was closely related to “killing” and “destroying” as stand-up comedians use these terms…it was all about demonstrating superiority, establishing dominance. More war than art.

I came to understand that technique is merely a starting point – of course one must master the technical aspects of one’s trade – but more technique won’t compensate for deficits in other key areas. Indeed, many mediocre artists hide behind technique, lots of glitz and razzle-dazzle, but very little content. In short, the missing ingredient is them. They do magic tricks for the audience, they don’t share what’s real.

Over-emphasis on technique is what magicians call “léger de main” – the artist distracts you from the lack of substance by drawing your eye to something “bright and sparkly” – and you leave the theatre thinking you’ve had an experience. But this is to art as cotton candy is to food. The true role of technique, and the reason why it must be practiced until it is second nature, is to reveal, not call attention to itself. The best writing is transparent, one sees through it to the meaning that dwells inside.

Many artists achieve technical mastery, but few are brave enough to use it as a tool for self-revelation, openly sharing their personal truth in a way that allows audiences to feel it and benefit from it. For these special, wonderful people, the audience is more important than the performer and the technique is simply a tool for doing important work. I do not for a moment want to deny the sheer beauty of a fugue executed exquisitely, a painting that captures light the way a child captures fireflies in a jar, or a poem crafted with such love that the words chime like bells – these achievements have value in their own right.

But technique itself is never the point. The works of art that last, the ones that lift us off our feet, are the ones where craft was used to create a portal through which we gazed another world, and having done so were inexorably enriched. 


Click On Image To Enlarge




















 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Suffering The Judgment Of Others

When my daughter was young – say 12 – she was going through a rough patch with her friends involving bad-mouthing and backstabbing. I told her, “Honey, people will always talk about you and 95% of what they say will be wrong. You may as well get used it.”

In the rooms they repeat this gem, “What people think of me is none of my business.” Both statements speak to what I call, “benign disinterest in the opinion of others, pro and con.” Indeed, if your self-esteem rises and falls in direct relation to the value applied by others, seasickness is in your future. We all know that true self-esteem comes from within and is blissfully unaware of audience reaction.

This would not be a significant concept if it were not so incredibly hard to achieve. The idea is particularly relevant for those of us residing in any extreme demographic, regardless if it’s admired or loathed by society. For example, envy causes us to secretly despise the beautiful while fear causes us to despise the unattractive. In general, we like people that fall neatly into our own bracket and look upon outliers with suspicion.

Relevance is even greater if you’ve been tarred with the brush of mental illness. For one, the smear is never coming off; you will always be “a few bricks shy of a load” in the eyes of observers. So pretending you’re not “an alien” isn’t a real option. You’ve had experiences completely outside the understanding of most people – this is very scary. (Just like married people often avoid divorced people, they seem to fear it’s contagious.) 

But, as a recovered person, you function normally – just like a real person! - even though your emotional range is far greater and more profound than theirs, and that is thoroughly intimidating. (People, even nice people, are not at their best when intimidated – you’ve worked hard to achieve “normality” but they may be invested in minimizing your accomplishment.)

You have broken through the mirror and become an “aristocrat of the soul” – you will be viewed with a combination of revulsion and envy. You went to the summit of Everest, and lived – they’ve never made it out of the foothills, and never will. But you are not going to be pulled down and changed by the weirdness of their reactions to you, on the contrary, you are simply going to open up and let them into your world, a world they would never get to see if you hadn’t gone there. Be generous, share your wisdom.


Click On Image To Enlarge