Monday, May 31, 2010

Poem Of The Week - Pediatric Suicide by Franz Wright.

Franz Wright, “Pediatric Suicide”

Being who you are is not a disorder.

Being unloved is not a psychiatric disorder.

I can’t find being born in the diagnostic manual.

I can’t find being born to a mother incapable of touching you.

I can’t find being born on the shock treatment table.

Being offered affection unqualified safety and respect when
and only when you score dope for your father is
not a diagnosis.

Putting your head down and crying your way through elementary
school is not a mental illness...

Franz Wright (born March 18, 1953 is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet.

He graduated from Oberlin College in 1977. He and his father James Wright are the only parent/child pair to have won the Pulitzer Prize in the same category

Saturday, May 29, 2010

When Mary Met David...

The following excerpt from Mary Karr's memoir, Lit, describes her meeting David Foster Wallace at an AA meeting. (They went on to become lovers and David had a tattoo of a heart inscribed "Mary" (Footnote: David subsequently married to Karen Green had the tattoo footnoted, amending Mary to Karen)...

(MK is outside the meeting smoking a cigarette)

"The door opens a crack, and in the spilled, triangular glow, a tall kid wearing a red bandanna over his streaming brown hair slips out. He stops six feet away and bends slightly forward - almost a butler's bow - saying. Excuse me Miss Karr. Mind if I join you.

Who is he? With his formal demeanor and gold granny glasses, he could be a student - some Ivy League suck-up.

Join away, I say, adding as I flash my wedding ring, I 'm a Miz.

My goodness gracious, ma'am, he says those are some seriously blinding stones your flaunting. We met before...

And we had. David was a Harvard Ph.D. candidate in philosophy I'd once been introduced to at the back of a reading by mutual pals. Some kind of genius, David's meant to be, though his red bandanna is the flag of gangster or biker, ditto the unlaced Timberland work boots.

I ask him how long he's been coming, and he says not hardly anytime, and I say it's my first go, and he asks if I get it, and I say if I got it, I wouldn't be out here smoking. He says same with him, adding while he drank a lot, he mostly did marijuana which can't be so bad because it's natural.

I say - cleverly, I think - Strychnine's natural...

We stare at the canons in front of us, both agreeing we really both have better places to be as we grind our cigarettes with our boot heels. Climbing the steps back to the lighted doorway, he holds the door, bowing as he says from his scruffily bearded face (this is the pre-scruff U.S.A.), after you Miz Karr.

It brings me up short - his outlaw wardrobe paired with the obsequious ma'am thing - and I say testily, Are you fucking with me?

No ma'am he says, his hands flying to his T-shirted chest.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

From the Rough Fractals Personal Archives...

These are actual answers to high school exam questions given by rough fractals back in the day. In part this explains 12th grade mid term report that said: "Failing test and quizzes - tends to concern himself with irrelevant matters - Mr. Allison - World History."

A Genuine Rough Fractal...

(photos by Steven Germain)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men - Norman McQueen Jr. (death by suicide)...

Maybe Someday Love Will Cure Despair

Michel Martin and her brother, Norman McQueen
Family photo

Michel Martin (right) and her brother, Norman McQueen Jr. (left)

May 24, 2010

I want to talk about something really hard for me. (The subject may not be appropriate for our younger listeners, so you can be ready to turn the dial if you see fit.)

And with that being said, I want you to hear the voice of a very good man — my brother, Norman McQueen Jr. I interviewed him for this program on the sixth anniversary of Sept. 11:

Norman McQueen: I have a whole different outlook on life. I'm a little hesitant to make long-range plans about anything. I think that, if there's something you want to do in your life, if there's a vacation that you want to take or some place you want to see, I think you should do it now and not wait for retirement or plan too far ahead. And that's the way I feel about life now.

Norman McQueen Jr., was a firefighter in New York City, in a privately funded unit called The Fire Patrol. He worked at Fire Patrol No. 2. His firehouse name was "Mac." His friends called him Wade.

My sister and I just called him Brother.

He was funny, handsome, kind at heart, physically strong, an extremely devoted father, a loving husband, and a supportive, if occasionally annoying, little brother.

Two weeks ago, today, he took his own life.

I'd be lying if I tried to pretend I'm not angry. (Stages of grief, and all that.) The only problem is, I can't figure out exactly with whom or what I should be angry.

Should I be angry with the Sept. 11 hijackers who flew the plane into the building that crushed the rig he sometimes drove, and one of his closest friends along with it?

The macho culture that made him reluctant to get help, even though the recurring storms of grief and rage that washed over him after Sept. 11 cost him his first marriage and threatened his second?

Norman McQueen Jr.
Family photo

Norman McQueen Jr. was a former New York City firefighter. He aided relief efforts at ground zero in the aftermath on Sept. 11.

Should I blame the inconsistent — and, perhaps, even incompetent — care he got when he finally did seek help?

The job that disappeared due to budget cuts? The recession that left his home stripped of value?

Should I blame his brain circuitry? ... Our gene pool?

Because I am a journalist and I have been trained to research things, I now know that in this country death by one's own hand is more common than by the hands of others. Some 33,000 people took their own lives last year — that we know about.

That's almost twice as many people as were murdered.

In both circumstances, the deaths that receive public attention are few and far between. My brother's death did not, so far as I can tell, merit a paragraph in any of his hometown papers.

And I understand that. He wasn't famous, although his picture appeared in the newspaper once when he responded at the scene of a terrible crash. But that's about it.

His death didn't shatter the earth, just our world.

Now, I know some people think taking your own life is a selfish act, but I cannot bring myself to see it that way. I see it as self-less, in the sense that you come to believe your self has no value; that everyone would be better off without you.

I think my brother thought he was a failure, that with his long bout of unemployment he could not live up to what was expected of him as a man, and that we'd all be better off without him.

He was so wrong.

My brother was a good man. He was the first to offer to carry a bag of heavy groceries, to push a wheelchair up a steep ramp, to change a stranger's tire on a rainy night.

Years ago, when I was a newspaper reporter and working on a story in New York, he insisted on driving me to all my interviews because he thought I had been out of the 'hood too long and might not be able to handle myself. (I didn't have the heart to tell him that I had just had my car windows bashed in on the assignment I had just finished, and lived to tell about it. And I tried to remember not to mention it when I climbed up into an office building that had just been bombed.)

I am telling you all this because I refuse to be ashamed.

I refuse to be ashamed of him, or what he did. I hate what he did to himself but I hate even more whatever it is that caused him to feel that his life had no value.

Years from now, maybe there will be a pill you can take to stop this. Maybe — like the premature babies we can now save or some illnesses we can now treat — maybe, we will find a way to treat despair.

Until then, I hope that those who cannot see a way out of their own particular darkness will think of another good man — and think of how much he was loved and is missed — and will remember that they, too, are loved and will find some way to see the light.

Excerpt from previous interview:

Michel Martin: Do you think that there will ever come a time when you don't think about it — your experience at 9/11?

Norman McQueen: No. It's one of those things that ... it'll stay with me. It'll stay with everybody who's down there [and] who survived it.

Michel Martin: Well, thanks for talking to me.

Norman McQueen: Thank you for having me. Say hello to Billy and the babies.

Michel Martin: Oh, sure. I love you.

Norman McQueen: I love you, too.

Michel Martin: Bye-bye.

Norman McQueen: Bye.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

am i missing something?

I have been a supporter of Obama and his administration. I have understood his effort to be effective and strike a centrist balance in his major reform agendas. Although I have been troubled by the traditional nature of his foreign policy, I do not think there are easy answers to the Iraq or Afghanistan situations, or to the threat of terrorism. But I cannot understand his inaction in the Gulf. Why not mobilize the Army Corp of Engineers, why not send every possible resource there. Something is very wrong. Can someone explain why this is still in the hands of BP? Is the problem so beyond our control that the mobilized resources of the Defense Department, which spends many hundreds of billions a year, has no clue what to do? Unless I am missing something, this is not an acceptable federal response. And it seems like it is too late now. We are watching a tragedy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Illusion...

51ct1t4N0KL._SL500_AA300_No other human being, no woman, no poem or music, book or painting can replace alcohol in its power to give man the illusion of real creation.

Marguerite Duras, French author of many novels, plays, films, interviews, essays and short fiction.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In the Valley of Work...

From "Work" by John Engman:

"I wanted to be a rain salesman,
carrying my satchel full of rain from door to door,
selling thunder, selling the way the air feels after a downpour,
but there were no openings in the rain department,
and so they left me dying behind this desk - adding bleeps
subtracting chunks - and I would give a bowl of cherry blossoms,
some rain, and two shakes of my fist at the sky to be living."


Poet's Choice

By Mary Karr - The Washington Post
Sunday, August 31, 2008

In prosperous America, the poet's economic reality usually involves working a crap job while scribbling nightly in a cheap apartment. Before my pal John Engman suffered a brain aneurysm in his 40s, he toiled in such obscurity. He lived in Minnesota, bussed tables, did standup comedy for a while, taught a class or two at a local community center, but only published two books. From his long-time job as an aide in an adolescent psych ward came poems rich in pathos, each tinged with his signature irony.

In "Poem With Sedative Effect," he writes, "On the hospital unit where I work/a young girl wrote 'I love you' on the walls//with excrement."

Offsetting this grim stuff, in "Aluminum Folding Chairs" Engman mocks his own attempts to run group therapy, which requires "an aptitude for nodding your head and a strong desire/to scratch your stomach thoughtfully//while someone sitting beside you opens a wound/the size of a gymnasium." Engman claims he got paid for saying, " 'Look within yourself' or 'I know where you're coming from.' " But eventually, he succumbs to his impotence and begins "to improvise/with harmless asides like, 'Keep your head down and swing/through the ball' or 'Red sky at morning, sailors take warning'//or 'Bake at 350 and cool before serving.' "

In "Work," his desire to be a "rain salesman" suggests an obscure poet's longing to break free from selling his word processing skills and move toward the exalted skill of selling beauty to readers:

I wanted to be a rain salesman,

carrying my satchel full of rain from door to door,

selling thunder, selling the way air feels after a downpour,

but there were no openings in the rain department,

and so they left me dying behind this desk -- adding bleeps,

subtracting clunks -- and I would give a bowl of wild blossoms,

some rain, and two shakes of my fist at the sky to be living.

Above my desk, lounging in a bed of brushstroke flowers,

a woman beckons from my cheap Modigliani print, and I know

by the way she gazes that she sees something beautiful

in me. She has green eyes. I am paid to ignore her.

We owe the construction of our cities and the frying of our burgers and the processing of our words to the efforts of unsung workers like Engman, who died in 1996 and whose last book, Temporary Help, still pays rich dividends, though the marketplace where he peddled his wares alternately underpaid and ignored him.

Mary Karr has published four books of poems, most recently "Sinners Welcome."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Drinking Diaries:

Melissa Febos is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Whip Smart (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press), which Kirkus Reviews said, “Expertly captures grace within depravity.” She has been featured on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross and on the cover of the NY Post, among many other national publications. Her writing has been published in Hunger Mountain, The Southeast Review, Redivider, The Rambler, Storyscape Journal, The Huffington Post, The New York Times online, Bitch Magazine, and on The Nervous Breakdown, where she regularly blogs. She co-curates and hosts the Mixer Reading and Music Series at Cake Shop, teaches at SUNY Purchase College, The Gotham Writers’ Workshop, and NYU, and holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. This summer, she will be a McDowell Colony fellow. She lives in Brooklyn.

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Melissa Febos: I was eleven, and I remember only that it was a dusty bottle stolen from my parents’ cabinet. And how sick I got.

How did/does your family treat drinking?

In an entirely healthy way; my mother rarely drinks at all, my father has an occasional beer, but we rarely had any in our house. My dad grew up in an alcoholic household, and I was always warned of the dangers of drinking, and that alcoholism appeared on both sides of the family.

How do you approach alcohol in your everyday life?

I haven’t had a drink in over six years; it’s pretty absent from my life, actually. I’m not bothered in the least when other people drink (except perhaps that it gets a little boring being the only sober person at a party, so I don’t often linger in those scenarios).

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?

Ha! I mean, yes. I drank a lot between the ages of eleven and twenty-two. In addition to myriad other mind and mood-altering substances.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

Diet Coke. But when I drank alcohol–gin & tonics.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

I may not remember the best time I ever had drinking, as a result of the quantities I was in the habit of ingesting, but I do remember the invincible feeling it lent me when I was very young, the way it seemed to make the world a suddenly larger place, a place I was more comfortable occupying. And, of course, the usual hijinks; the young, messy love it accelerated.

Has drinking ever affected—either negatively or positively—a relationship of yours?

Well, I think that drinking induces a quick sort of intimacy, that is fun and a kind of short-cut, but ultimately less authentic than sober interaction. I’ve had a lot of fun, and a lot of friendships that might not have happened without alcohol, but none of them lasting. The relationships that I’ve cultivated while sober have always run deeper and more lasting. I’m also a better person sober–a more mindful friend, daughter, sister, lover. I don’t behave in ways that contradict what I believe in, or how I feel about the people in my life, and that often happened when I drank.

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?

As a kid, I read obsessively, and I particularly fetishized books about drinking, and drug addiction. Really, any kind of dark, seedy underworld. Many of my early idols were whopping alcoholics, or at least sang and wrote about booze as if they were. Tom Waits, Hemingway, William Burroughs…I could go on for days.

Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?

Well, in the beginning, I stopped drinking because I was going to die. Not necessarily of drinking, but I was addicted to other substances, and it was impossible to isolate one from the other. If I drank, I knew I’d end up looking for the high I really wanted.

However, at this point, and for many years now, I’ve come to prefer being fully awake for as much of my life as possible. I don’t want to miss anything.

--- From www.

Bird by Bird...

“He told her stuff about the meetings….such as that people there said that AA was for problem drinkers, and Al-Anon for problem thinkers, spouses and parents of alcoholics, who hid out in their rooms, secretly thinking alone, having good ideas on how to rescue and fix the drinker. She pretended to listen.”

I see my own face in the glass...

A passage from a brief essay, entitled "Spoiled Love" by Jenny Spinner describing visiting her sister (who had become addicted to alcohol and drugs while working as a reporter in Iraq covering the war) in the detox ward:

"We have been hurtling toward this moment for the last two years as my sister struggled with booze and the pills they gave her to drive away the demons. In the last two years, I’ve been to other cold places I never imagined, said things I never thought I’d say, felt things I never thought I’d feel. As I sit there, a man with black hair and ghost skin creeps toward the glass on my right. I turn to him and we both look through each other for several moments before someone tugs him away. In the space where he has been I see my own face in the glass. I shrink from myself, from the anger and disgust in my eyes, from the love and fear that has turned my visage grim, from my lips clenched in a familiar, thin line."

Jenny Spinner is an assistant professor of English at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia where she teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. Her writing has appeared in Fourth Genre, Writing on the Edge, Mid-American Review, and on NPR's All Things Considered, among others. She is co-author of Tell Them I Didn't Cry (Scribner's, 2006). Her sister is alive and well and back working in Iraq.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Being neither a geologist, nor an engineer, the thoughts that follow are just that, thoughts.

Is is possible that one accident will destroy the Gulf of Mexico as a living, life supporting, essential natural habitat? It does seem within the realm of possibility.

What seems completely insane is that there seems to be no fail safe way to stop this "leak".

It it awe inspiring that the earth is so complex, and so alive that if you dig a hole in the sea bed of the Gulf Of Mexico, you can unleash hundreds of thousands, and probably millions of gallons of oil from beneath the sea floor. The fact that the pressure of the oil is so great as to be able to overcome the massive pressure of 5000 feet of water boggles the mind. The earth is under tremendous natural pressure.

The giant industrial enterprises are marvels. Electricity, gasoline, heating oil, do not come from nowhere. But there is something frightening about learning, in the harshest light, the danger of enterprises on this scale. One oil rig, one explosion, and an environmental catastrophe on a scale that is unprecedented. What is next?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Good Man Is Hard To Find...

This is probably one of the dumber postings I have written in a while (and that may be saying a lot because there is some serious competition) but here goes:

Is there a master unifying force: put another way, what is the soul?

One possible answer - the soul is more than bio-chemical neuron firings in our brains that make us think spiritually - that there is something "other" that is the soul connected to in some way something supernatural even if only in the initial spark that set the universe in motion.

Another possible answer - there is no soul.

I am in that later camp. Call it Non Soul - by that I mean a kind of exquisite need and yearning that is woven into humans who need to be a part of something larger than they are - to believe that we are more than specks of dust. For what it's worth, to me, the expressions of that desire are much more compelling and moving than the belief.

Here are two examples of what I have faith in while not believing in either a soul or, for example, reincarnation (I am an equal opportunity doubter - eastern and western):

For the proposition that there is no such thing as reincarnation consider this quote from Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find":

"If Jesus had said to her before she was born, "there's only two places available to you. You can either be a nigger or you can be white trash", what would she have said? "Please, Jesus, please," she would've said, "just let me wait until there's another place available."

It's a beautiful notion that we have a place in this world where our hurts are fixed. Even if (horribly) not in this life then in the "next" but its got nothing to do with the idea that we get to evolve turn by turn.

For the proposition that there is no soul, consider this stanza from Yeats:

"That is no country for old men;
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
a tattered coat upon a stick,
Soul clap its hands and sing."

It is a beautiful notion that we tattered coats can clap our souls' hands and sing but its got nothing to do with an (immortal) soul - and that does not diminish our soul's song one bit.

Although sad, lonely and in some ways horrible, wishing Mt. Olympus was real doesn't make it so. But that a person would pray for a place in this world otherwise denied (and longed for like nothing else) or that an old man can look back on a life appreciated deeply is sufficiently divine for me.

(as I said, pretty dumb).

Sunday, May 2, 2010

AT THE MOVIES: El Secreto De Sus Ojos...(The Secret of Their Eyes)

(Below Post written in English and then in Spanish - Lo de abajo esta escrito en ingles y en castellano):

A startling discovery comes to light for retired Argentine criminal investigator Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) as he pens a biographical novel about the unsolved case of a young newlywed's brutal rape and murder years ago. Past and present intertwine for Esposito and colleague Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil) in director Juan José Campanella's Oscar-winning character study in which justice, pain and love collide. Campanella has made a movie of snow flake like complexity, each snow flake is composed of other snow flakes, each identical at its molecular level - telling the same story - a mystery that lies not only at the heart of individual lives led in the isolation and mediocrity of lost chances but also of a country whose lost political opportunities have led to a country of lost chances.

Towards the end of the film, Morales, the young widower of the murdered bride tells Esposito, the detective whose life was spent searching for the murderer, "forget the past because those who cannot forget the past do not have a future". While most historians argue that "those who forget the past are destined to relive it", Argentina, unable to forget the promise and hope of its former populist, charismatic leaders Juan and Isabella Peron, lost its future during decades of political corruption, populist mythologizing, military brutality. Like the protagonist in the movie whose friend was murdered with the help of a complicit and corrupt judicial/police system and whose love went unrequited while he lived in exile, Argentina has seen thousands murdered by a corrupt military and judicial system while its promise as a vast agricultural and natural resource rich country has gone unfulfilled. Just as Esposito and his love interest, Irene, have for years been both drawn to each other and yet never consummated their passion, Argentina has stood paralyzed by its own longing for the embrace of the promise of the Perons. Argentines have been for decades standing at the train station as the train pulled a away...The movie both begins and ends with a train pulling out of the station - two people looking desperately towards each other - the secret of their eyes revealed by the story...

Un sorprendente descubrimiento salga a la luz de jubilado argentino penal investigador Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darín) como escriba una novela biográfica sobre el caso sin resolver de una brutal violación y aesinato de una recién casada. Pasado y presente se entrelazan para Esposito y colega Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil) en El oscarizado director Juan José Campanella estudio del personaje en el que la justicia, el dolor y el amor chocan. Campanella ha hecho una película de copos de nieve como la complejidad, cada copo de nieve se compone de copos de nieve, cada idénticos en su nivel molecular - contando la misma historia - un misterio que se encuentra no sólo en el centro de las vidas individuales condujo en el aislamiento y la mediocridad de oportunidades perdidas, sino también de un país cuya pérdida de oportunidades políticas han dado lugar a un país de oportunidades perdidas.

Hacia el final de la película, Morales, el joven viudo de la asesinada esposa dice a Esposito, el detective cuya vida se dedicó a buscar al asesino, "olvidar el pasado porque los que no se puede olvidar el pasado no tienen futuro". Aunque la mayoría de historiadores sostienen que "quienes olvidan el pasado están destinados a repetirla", Argentina, incapaz de olvidar la promesa y la esperanza de su ex populista, líderes carismáticos, Juan e Isabel Perón, perdió su futuro durante décadas de corrupción política, populista mitificación , la brutalidad militar. Como el protagonista en la película cuyo amigo fue asesinado con la ayuda de un sistema de policía judicial cómplice y corrupta / y cuyo amor no correspondido fue mientras vivió en el exilio, la Argentina ha sido testigo de miles asesinados por un sistema corrupto militar y judicial, mientras que su promesa como una vasto país de los recursos agrícolas y naturales ricos ha sido realizadas. Así como Esposito y su interés amoroso, Irene, ha sido durante años ambas emitidas el uno al otro y sin embargo nunca consumado su pasión, la Argentina se ha mantenido paralizada por su propio anhelo para el abrazo de la promesa de los Perón. Los argentinos han sido por décadas de pie junto a la estación de tren cuando el tren se puso una distancia ... La película empieza y termina con un tren estaba saliendo de la estación - dos personas que buscan desesperadamente el uno hacia el otro - el secreto de sus ojos revelan su historia ...


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