Monday, February 28, 2011

Dipsomaniacal Encounters: Howard Nemerov

“Alcoholism: Suicide On The Installment Plan.” Taz Mopula

Two-time Poet Laureate, Howard Nemerov, and celebrated photographer, Diane Arbus, had a great deal in common. This talented brother and sister act shared what I would call an emotionally brittle nature, and a lifelong battle with depression. Arbus, famously, lost that battle at a young age. Her suicide was no desperate plea for help; she intended to go through with it.

In 1969, only a few years before Arbus ended her life, I was a punk freshman living la vida loca at Haverford College. My father, Ian, was almost at the zenith of his celebrity, turning up with tiresome regularity in every conceivable media outlet, doing his mad-as-a-March hare environmental activist with a thick Scottish brogue shtick. His base of operations was The Department of Landscape Architecture & Regional Planning at The University of Pennsylvania – a department he founded and chaired for decades.

The Professor was completely devoid of parenting skills, but – having written, and published, my first poem at age 6 – even he knew I was an incipient wordflinger. He taught a course entitled Man & Environment. Do not be misled by the apparent hubris of this title; since he did in fact know everything about everything the all-inclusive subject matter posed no problem. Plus, he invited a long string of tweed-jacket wearing, pipe-smoking, degree-wielding intellectual heavy-hitters to help. In a rare moment of familial camaraderie he called to say Nemerov was giving a guest lecture and if I wanted to meet him I should show up at his office about 11:30.

So here we are, three guys in my father’s office at the U of P. Nemerov is pacing and twitching like a crack addict in a rehab. Finally he says, “Ian, I have got to have a martini.” My dad, enjoying this opportunity to strut, tells one of his students to go to the bistro across the street, get a pitcher of martinis, and come back. The student points out that this is illegal and impossible for many reasons and my dad starts screaming at him. The terrified student races away – and is back in minutes with a stainless steel pitcher sweating chilly droplets. Nemerov’s eyes twinkle.

So I’m thinking – this is pretty cool – I am going to have a martini with one of the nation’s greatest poets. As this idea is simmering in my mind – Nemerov puts the pitcher to his lips and slowly, easily, drains the entire thing. My father and I look on in wonder, exchanging stunned glances.

I will never forget what happened next. Nemerov stopped pacing, talking, twitching, fidgeting, glancing about erratically, and went perfectly calm. I had never seen a veteran, all-in alcoholic in action before; it was hypnotic.

The three of us walked down the corridor and into the lecture hall. Nemerov read his poetry for an hour; he was note-perfect. I doubt there were more than 50 people in the room, and he was a teacher, giving lectures was his bread and butter. It wasn’t about being nervous. Alcoholics get to the point where they need the toxin to be themselves.

One of my biggest challenges when I stopped drinking was that I couldn’t imagine myself without a drink in my hand, a cigarette in the other hand, and a joint on the way. I needed things to take me away from myself in order to be comfortable with myself. 

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Friday, February 25, 2011

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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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The World’s Most Expensive Umbrella Stand

When I sat down to write INVISIBLE DRIVING my overarching concern was brutal honesty. I knew that telling my bizarre tale precisely would require going public with a treasure trove of character defects and portrayals of unpalatable, even illegal, behavior.

I assumed that making myself vulnerable in this way - inferiorities, blemishes, and flaws exposed - would be oddly endearing – as if humbling myself thusly would make me less intimidating and more accessible. Imagine my surprise when just the opposite occurred.

When a phoenix rises from the ashes, witnesses quickly separate into two groups, those who cheer and those who point their arrows at his chest. Everybody loves a winner – so the old song goes – well – not quite everybody.

This poem was written many years ago, when I labored within the walls of a corporate jungle with a landscape “leveled” by political correctness. While it targets women it could just as easily have been written about men since the desire to tear down others instead of building one’s self transcends all demographic borders, including gender.

Little Women

Men who are big and powerful
Need to avoid little women
Pretty and fastidious, talkative, precise
Flitting through the conference rooms
And corridors, of monolithic, gray
Corporations, agitated nervous flocks
Of brightly colored birds
Traveling together for protection
Warning calls and panicked shrieks
Echoing between them
Loud enough for everyone to hear
 “It wasn’t what he didn’t have to say
I found offensive, so much as the way
He didn’t say it.”
Music with a message filed in triplicate
By stealthy bureaucrats who hunt with pencils
Feet fashioned into umbrella stands
Guilty of the harm he might have caused
A thousand ivory toothpicks
For those darling pocket knives
The ones that have a cross
And come from Switzerland
Little women circulate in safety once again
As natives wonder how to move the lumber

Alistair McHarg


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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Your Gratitude Parade Has Been Delayed

You may find that recovery road is every bit as lonely as the road to ruin; but do not let this deter you. It all comes back to expectations, if you don’t expect a parade you can’t be disappointed when the boulevard is empty and there is no confetti in the air.

Naturally, the mentally ill don’t really expect effusive gratitude and praise as they traipse the corridors of deserted carnival funhouses at night, staring into mirrors carefully constructed to distort reality in countless ways. We don’t expect it because we don’t think about others at all, much less how we are perceived by them; the solitary cul-de-sac we inhabit is world enough.

The same applies for those of us who drink alcoholically, or take drugs – we may have some awareness of how our behavior torments others but in the end, who cares? The hungers of a callous demon, residing within a Byzantine labyrinth of twisted emotions, take precedence over all else.

The luckiest among us begin a journey away from the dark and into the light, and in so doing, develop improved self-esteem. (Some folks even dislocate their shoulders as they enthusiastically pat themselves on the back.) In the fellowship one often encounters newly sober individuals who express disappointment because they are not getting the recognition they feel is appropriate. Happily, there is usually an old-timer nearby to ask them why they expect praise for doing what they should have been doing all along.

Whether it’s mental illness you battle, or addiction – or, as is the case for so many of us, both – it pays to remember that you are doing it for yourself. You are changing, the people around you may not be, worse still, they may be heavily invested in having things stay just as they’ve always been.

They may love you as a loser and fear, even despise, you as a winner. It is not unknown for friends and family members to actively undermine recovery, or at the very least, attempt to belittle, or negate, it. Do not judge your progress according to the presence or absence of brass bands.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

“Super-silly-us-ness trumps superciliousness every time.” Taz Mopula

One of the classic symptoms of mania is what psychiatrists call “grandiosity” – a $10 word for the grossly exaggerated sense of self-importance we feel. One of the challenges faced by bipolar people returning to health is to get the self-esteem factor calibrated so that it aligns with reality.

Because we are bipolar, we almost always crash from the false confidence of mania to the hideous self-loathing of depression. As we learn to manage the illness it is essential that we confront a reality perhaps even more horrifying than the idea of being mentally ill – we are, in fact, no better or worse than other people – we are other people. Space alien status is the big lie of mental illness. We are not different from “regular” people any more than blacks, gays, or Republicans are – indeed – in God’s eyes we are all the same.

As a punk coming up I was fed the myth of specialness and had I not been humbled by manic depression and alcoholism I probably would have gone to my grave believing I was better than other people – which is, I hasten to add, a patently false, rather revolting concept. It is just as dangerous as believing one is worse than others – and for all of us in Cookoopantsatopolis, shaking off that nonsense is job one.

Because we live in an age of (mis)information, everywhere we go people are hollering, “Look at me, I’m special, I’m better than the others.” Indeed the digital landscape resembles a vision of Mardis Gras as Hieronymus Bosch might have conceived it; drooling ego-monsters everywhere, craving attention like junkies crave heroin and doing absolutely nothing of value to deserve it.

We believe that celebrity and prosperity are the objectives – we have forgotten that celebrity and prosperity are – in a healthy environment – merely the byproduct of doing the right thing – in and of themselves they are pointless.

Venturing out into this meretricious world, as morally bankrupt and tawdry as Las Vegas, I encounter many people who are smart, smug, and intent on building themselves up by tearing others down. They beat their chests and in so doing demonstrate cowardice. In their determination to show us how superior they are to others they succeed only in confirming what we already suspect; when you get there, there isn’t any there, there.

If manic depression and chemical dependency have taught me nothing else they have taught me that in the scheme of things I am astoundingly unimportant and only arrive at any level of importance at all when I am serving the will of a higher, nobler authority.


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Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Blessing Of Oblivion; The Curse Of Compliments

Human beings are social by nature; one true barometer of health is whether or not we build and maintain nourishing relationships predicated on dignity and respect. Those of us who have spent time in Cookoopantsatopolis understand what it means to be truly isolated from our kind, imprisoned in an irrational, unsafe world of our own. Indeed, there is no loneliness to match the loneliness of the mentally ill. Alcoholism too is an illness of isolation, a lonely avenue of broken glass.

The very earliest phases of recovery involve emerging from a hideous prison of lies and misperceptions, joining with the world of other people at last. At this point it is imperative to trust, for some of us it is the first time we have ever done so. Sadly, we must acknowledge that our judgment is virtually useless, and the opinions of others are almost certainly superior to those of our own. Gradually we learn how to gauge our own behavior by reading the eyes of others, in this way we become the masters of our own well being. The opinions of others become important raw material in the process of self-regulation.

Having learned how it feels to be connected to others, to trust them, even depend on them – it can be hard to know when the moment has come to fly, however, if you are lucky, it will. As a child is ready to leave home, so are you ready at some point to become serenely indifferent to the opinion of others. Everything in this twisted culture of ours will try to persuade you that you are winning only if you are professionally successful, popular and rich – but one very important measure of your actual health will be how successfully you avoid this idiotic bear trap.

If you can look at yourself in the mirror without blinking and honestly say that you are in good faith, making the most of the gifts you’ve been given, and savoring this sweet short life – you’re cool. As a recovered, clear-eyed individual, the moment you are influenced by how your efforts are perceived by others is the moment you begin your fall from grace. If they like what you do, that’s great, if they don’t, that’s great too. By now you can tell if you’re for real or selling soap – if you’re okay – let the others float.


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Friday, February 18, 2011

Romancing The Stoned

Disingenuous, morally bankrupt poseurs intent on romanticizing self-destructive behavior in order to justify their slothful, exploitative behavior are certainly not uncommon; but, they are especially well represented in the anonymous church basements of my fellowship. The fortunate ones are slapped into submission and eventually develop the ability to tell, and face, the truth. Until that happens, one must endure the likes of Ned Stillwater, who we meet in this excerpt from my irreverent romp through the murky waters of dipsomania, Washed Up.

Ned Stillwater had stuck with the program in order to save his job. Handsome and very intelligent, Ned’s sole success had been marrying well. Danielle, “Danni,” was not only beautiful, sweet, and thoroughly charming, she was wealthy beyond all reason. Danni’s father was Cedric Styckney, commonly called CS. A tough-minded Yank, he’d learned early on that fortunes aren’t made in glamorous ways. The president of Peerless Porta-Potty, Pierre Paolo Passolini, had told a young CS what his strategy was. “Find yourself somethin’ that nobody likes but everyone’s got to have.” For Cedric it had been the wing nut: glamourless, lowly, ubiquitous. Deceptively simple in design and execution, this masterpiece of engineering delivers its torque from the wings to the thread, enormously improving the process of assembly and repair. No knuckle-busting, no loose fits. He knew it was a parity product and he had no desire to improve it. What made him a legend in the industry was doing it better, doing it cheaper, and doing it much more often. CS sold his wing nuts by the boxcar and freighter, and he sold them to everyone. His competitors revered and despised him. Their attempts to displace him were futile. They couldn’t undercut his prices or crack his distribution channels.
Joining the firm was a logical step, but Ned wasn’t made for business. He imagined himself a brilliant artiste. Part Dylan Thomas, drank himself to death, part Ernest Hemingway, ate a gun, part Chet Baker, dropped from a window. As some people idolize athletes, Ned worshipped tragic heroes. So when CS set him up as vice president in charge of all their sales and marketing, nobody’s interests were served. It wasn’t long at all before his colleagues were convinced that he wasn’t just merely inept; his incompetence was almost mythic. CS was completely humiliated. He tried his level best to get him on board but teaching him the rudiments of business was like teaching a parrot fish to mambo. Even if you could, why would you want to? The relationship between them degraded from bad to worse to shut-the-fuck-up. Ned began to drink pathologically, which didn’t help his work performance; not that it could have been helped. After years of tracking down truckloads of wing nuts in Newark, Newton, and Newport ordered by clients in New Delhi, CS gave Ned an ultimatum: Give up the booze and get into AA or get your ass out of the business. Ned, who rarely took the hard way out of anything, went along with the plan.
Convinced that CS had planted spies in the groups, Ned attended meetings regularly and had indeed given up booze. His on-the-job performance was still appalling, but it was getting better. Deprived of the one thing that linked him to his heroes, being an alcoholic, Ned began developing a victim mentality. Considering he lived like a lord and didn’t lift a finger to deserve it, this attitude was something less than gracious.

To meet other disingenuous, morally bankrupt poseurs intent on romanticizing self-destructive behavior in order to justify their slothful, exploitative behavior click here.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

I’m Sorry

Infallible people never have to apologize, why would they? These are the folks of whom it is said, “Been there, done that, has a medal to prove it.”

My own father was one of these blessed individuals, and he constantly reasserted his infallibility by mercilessly bludgeoning anyone who disagreed with him. I cannot recall him ever apologizing. Indeed, apologizing is one of many skills he neglected to teach me.

My own pantomime of infallibility, a sort of homage to dad, depended on a careful balance of arrogance, gullible audiences, and tap dancing. Lacking the big guy’s prodigious powers of prestidigitation I could only keep the illusion alive for a while. Fortunately, when cracks began appearing in the shiny veneer – well – new, less discriminating audiences were always waiting.

Worshiping at the altar of perfection, imagining a model of humanity superior to all others, I naturally came to regard apologies as anathema. To apologize was to admit fault, to shine the unforgiving spotlight on a hideous blemish, either deed – or worse – attribute of character.

Two things happened.

First, I completely abandoned what I call “the myth of perfection” which I regard as a toxic lie responsible for an almost unimaginable amount of misery. I accepted myself as an imperfect entity.

Next, I came to understand mistakes as essential to the human experience. Edison observed that his latest experiment hadn’t failed; he had simply found another way to not do what he was trying to do. Ultimately, I came to realize, the only people who don’t make mistakes are the people who don’t do anything. (Ironically, this is the biggest mistake of all, since it wastes a life.)

Now, instead of feeling diminished by apologizing, I feel empowered. To apologize is to cease hiding and take ownership of something you have done. It is also to acknowledge the effect one has had on others; it validates them and puts their needs above yours.

Apologizing is yet another skill I learned in the damp basements of my program, and I quickly came to the conclusion that it is one of the few activities in life one cannot do too often. If you have made a hurtful mistake, own it, face it, deal with it. Bow.


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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rust Never Sleeps

One of my favorite aspects of the fellowship named after a very small battery is that it is ongoing. Those who would imagine they could be spiritually "cured" and then remain so know little about the true nature of human beings who, in addition to battling vintage flaws on an ongoing basis, develop new flaws with dogged persistence. Nothing rewards like preventative maintenance - mountain relocation is easier when approached one dustpan load at a time.
Good Housekeeping

Red house, green house, ware house, white house
Pump house, poor house, doll house, light house
Bleak house, block house, Bauhaus, ale house
Ice house, out house, cat house, jail house
Boat house, toll house, dog house, chop house
Fun house, court house, bath house, flop house
His house, her house, your house, my house
Dust creeps silently on grubby carpet slippers
Broom, bucket, rag, pan - indoor work is endless

Alistair McHarg

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Your Trash Is My Art

Contemporary “culture” has little to tempt me; indeed, I gaze upon much of it with a combination of contempt and revulsion. This may be attributable, at least in part, to the rapid advancement of my decrepitude, or there may in fact be some legitimate foundation for it – for example – contemporary “music” may possibly be as wretched as I think it is, likewise TV, and so on.

Culturally, one of our biggest problems is that – from the very start – we are raised to be consumers – not creators; we are bred to be entertained, not entertain-ing. Where we excel is in our ability to be disappointed, to be bored – to survey the landscape and find it wanting.

I remember this developmental phase, I was judge of heaven and earth and did nothing to deserve my status except imagine that I did. Then – thankfully – I was introduced to the concept of making your own fun. That is – if you find yourself at a boring party, make it interesting. There is only one person responsible for making sure I have a fascinating life – me. To extrapolate – there is only one person responsible for making sure the world has art I can really enjoy and respect --- if I wait for others to do it I will die with a frown on my face.

The Age of Trash

The age of stone
Is quite well known
The Renaissance
Was song and dance
The age of steam
Has split the scene
This is the age of trash
Cellophane, toxic waste
Styrofoam and plastic
Poisoned water, poisoned air
Litter glitter
Lines each road
Trashy storefronts
Checks cashed here
Raylene with her order pad
Falling arches, beehive hair
Almost pretty long ago
Truckstop hash house
Chrome nightmare
Buzzing neon lights
You make it seem all right

Alistair McHarg

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Stop Me Before I Kill Again!

Take no prisoners! - That’s what legendary singer Billy Paul used to tell his band right before going on stage.

I’ve been a performer all my life, singer, poet, comedian, lecturer, maniacal street celebrity. (HIDEOUS DETAILS AVAILABLE HERE). For much of what I laughingly refer to as "my career" I regarded assassins as the apex of professionalism – heartless, all business, all skill.

Over the years my attitude about performance has transformed, closely tracking my recovery. At first I thought of “the act” as a mask I clung onto with white knuckles, until one could not tell where it ended and my face began. As I became more comfortable and facile in front of a crowd, moving with glib, even condescending confidence, I polished the mask until it shone so brightly even the people sitting in the very last row needed sunglasses. But then something happened, I grew more confident still and suddenly craft and “art” became less fascinating.

I must credit certain performers for carrying me across the river; by watching these world class artists perform I came to understand that craft is only a tool, the real art is in opening up your true self and sharing what you have, whatever it is that makes you special, whatever it is that’s unavailable anywhere else.

Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor, Keith Jarrett, Sarah Vaughan, Sun Ra, and Jimi Hendrix. When these people left the stage they didn’t take anything with them, they gave it all. They all shared one quality; fearless generosity.

Craft is just something you internalize until you can forget it altogether and be yourself – cool, relaxed, smile on your face – bathing in the spotlight’s unforgiving chill.

One For The Money

One for the money
Two for the
Show me the money
Three to get
Is the microphone on?

Do it like you’ve never
Done it before
Exactly how you did it
All the other times

Act like yourself
Draw no attention
Only the job is important

Check the equipment
One last time
Profile, attitude, smile
There isn’t any margin for error
There isn’t any second chance
There cannot be any hesitation
Strike dispassionately

With hideous precision
An assassin punches in
He won’t take any prisoners
The terms of his agreement are
Clean up
Get out of town

Alistair McHarg


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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Step Into The Dark

Imagine an America without jazz – blues – R&B – soul – gospel.

Now ask yourself why that music is so amazingly good.

Each pearl begins as a grain of sand disturbing the peace of an oyster. The oyster wraps the pain in beauty to make it go away.

Soul is not something you are given; it is something you pay for. And whether or not you understand why, you can always recognize it – your heart can tell the difference between cheese and Cheese-Wiz.

Nothing is free in this life; and irony of ironies, the ones who give the most have the least to show for it. It doesn’t matter; giving is the point of giving, the beginning and the end of it.

In The Dark
All is revealed in the dark
Secrets are unsafe
Owls, bats, foxes
Pinpoint their prey
Pale clouds pass slowly by
Veil the moon, like lingerie
I am a creature of the dark
Silent midnights are my perfect days
Raised in the whispering shadows
Trembling in every hideous cul-de-sac
Of the night’s inhospitable landscape
All is revealed in the dark
In squid ink black I met St. John
No tears left to blind me
Vision as sharp as a raptor
Day is for growing flowers
Laughter of children, bicycle bells
Night, where cold fire of burnt stars
Offers no sympathy or warmth
Is for sight
All is revealed in the dark

Alistair McHarg

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I’m Not Bitter; I’m Bittersweet

Life has rained great blessings on me, and it has rained fire. Manic depression, addiction, painful losses. But I have no complaints, only thanks.

A fellow dipsomaniac once said to me, “You will never be truly happy until you embrace life in its entirety, not just the parts you like.” That is the challenge, no matter how terrified we are by the mysteries around us.

Faith or fear, the choice is clear. We want logic, yet faith, by its very nature, exists in the absence of proof, or even concrete evidence.

You take an enormous step towards peace of mind and joy when you go “all in” the way a child jumps into a clear lake on a summer afternoon.

American culture frequently seems juvenile and superficial to me, chasing the rose with no thorn, too lazy and dimwitted to see that the rose needs the thorn more than vice versa.

If I have any triumph at all, (which I may or may not), it is that life has not made me bitter, it has made me bittersweet.  

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Don’t Get Caught Doing Right

In the enchanted Isles Of Dipsomania, where I have spent hundreds upon hundreds of delightful, anonymous hours, they remind us that one does not do right for gain, one does right because it is right – and to do right publicly is a way of doing right for gain – the best policy is to do right out of the spotlight. Not that there is anything wrong with approval per se, indeed, part of recovery is learning how to gracefully accept appreciation and admiration. The reason is simple, if one is focusing on the potential gain one may take one’s eye off the ball and fail.

It is said that the act of walking is so complex, requiring the carefully timed coordination of multiple muscles, that it can only occur automatically because if we consciously tried to control all the elements we would fall down. The same applies to doing right. When we are deliberate about our philanthropy, ego gets in the way and where there is ego, catastrophe cannot lag far behind. But, if we do right incidentally, simply as a byproduct of “sticking with the program” – we vastly increase our chances of positive outcomes. Indeed, the chances of success are best when we do not know when and/or if we have succeeded.

Oddly enough I discovered this concept as it applies to the artistic process before I strolled down the Anonymous Aisles of Sobriety. Whenever I found myself thinking thoughts like – “Oh boy, the reader will certainly think this is funny, clever, elegantly phrased” – or – “seems dumb but the great unwashed will adore it” – or - “now there’s a bit that crushes the competition” – I knew I was pointlessly slicing bologna instead of making my efforts matter. By contrast, when I was able to focus only exclusively on what I was there to do – and doing it to the very best of my ability – I knew I was in good shape.

Packaging exclusively in accordance with what one imagines the audience wants is a good way to become a prostitute, politician, or reality TV personality - but a hideous way to live. Do right, make sure you don’t get caught. Let them decide what to think.


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Monday, February 7, 2011

The Lethal Myth Of Manic Creativity

It is said that alcoholism is the only disease intent on convincing those who suffer they’re not sick. This deception is, of course, only one of alcoholism’s many lies, the first of which is that happiness can be purchased and consumed.

There is a parallel, and equally dangerous, bit of twaddle in the world of mental illness. This nonsense runs thusly – I do not want to “become sane” because if I do I will lose my uniqueness, my brilliance, and my creativity. That skewed perspective has led to many voyages of self-destruction, some more abbreviated than others.

At first, alcohol does give one a rosy; numb feeling – so it is not hard to understand how people imagine they’re not ill but simply having a good time. Likewise, manic episodes carry much with them to provide the illusion of creativity – boundless energy and confidence, bizarre observations and juxtapositions of thoughts, and the feeling of being “directed” or “guided” by unknown agents. But this maelstrom of mad activity rarely withstands the cold scrutiny and deliberation of daylight. 

As the great Taz Mopula reminds us, “Art is not produced by healthy people.” Well and good, but this does not mean that being sick – whether by natural or artificial means - makes you an artist. (For years I validated my descent into alcoholism and drug abuse by clinging onto the observation that nearly all the artists I admired, especially the writers, were alcoholics.) Being an alcoholic does not make one Faulker; being an untreated bipolar does not make one Lord Byron.

The irony here is that we are seeing a very old syndrome – the human desire to possess the rose without confronting the thorn. We reach for alcohol to make us happy when we know in our hearts that happiness involves hard work – it is the byproduct of leading a righteous life. We cling to mania because we think of it as a shortcut to the heights of celestial creativity when we know that even the most deranged, brilliant artists achieved their heights the hard way – dedicated labor.

In madness, and in the despair of addiction, we forget ourselves – what emerges cannot be true because even we do not know what is true. The long campaign of self-discovery that leads to mental health will take you to what is true for you, and guide you to creativity that matters. Art is not flash and hyperbole, art is something divine within you that you learn to set free as you heal. Drugs, alcohol, and mania are poor substitutes – hold out for the real thing.


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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cold Turkey – Ending My Paper Addiction

As of today all 3 of my books are available to download onto Kindle, PC, iPhone, BlackBerry, iPad, and Android. All you need to do is go to, then Kindle, and search on my name – Alistair McHarg – or by individual book – Invisible Driving – Moonlit Tours – Washed Up.

As it turns out, Kindle enables authors to slash prices – these Kindle-ized versions are half of what paper versions cost. This link takes you there.

I remember the years I spent chasing literary agents – getting them interested in representing me – and then being thoroughly frustrated and disappointed when they did. Indeed, the glory days of publishing houses are long gone; they are little more than sausage factories at this point.

It would seem that self-publication is my fate, and I am coming to like it more and more. In 1923 my step-grandmother Polly and her husband founded W.W. Norton with a loan of $30K. My father self-published his first book and ended up selling roughly half a million copies. Clearly, no matter how your work makes it to market, in the end it is all about believing in yourself.

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