Hard Holidays

I have a friend who is a psychiatrist. He told me that the holidays are his most active time, when many people suffer extremes of emotion, calling out for help.

From my social media feed, I can see that this is the case. A number of people are asking for support, and some providing it.

I remember when I was in college. At the time, I did not want to have anything to do with my family, so I spent a Christmas holiday in my fraternity house.

Everyone left the house, and near-silence settled in. I quickly realized my mistake. I was all alone, with nothing to do, in the brutal Chicago December.

I sat around, helpless, for a number of hours, listening to the wind blowing outside.

There was a knock on my door.

It was my fraternity brother, John. He had made a large pot of spaghetti, and had more than he needed. He generously offered it to me.

It was my sustenance for most of the weekend.

My thanks to John, and people like him.

If you are hungry, in whatever way, may there be sustenance for you on this holiday.

Some Questions

Are a failure to adapt and disability the same thing?

Can a person struggle to assimilate, while remaining able?

Could disability, at least in part, arise mainly from a continued struggle to assimilate– and what does this suggest?

On the flip side– if a person was a healthcare professional– doctor, caseworker, public safety officer– and a person failed to assimilate– what would be the next step?

Why do some people have a hard time fitting in, and what is there to do about that?

More Prose By Matthew Freeman

I asked poet Matt Freeman to write a work of prose from the point of view of a “sane” person. Oddly enough, I find his work to be essentially identical to the work of a person who is “sane”.

What separates Matt’s work from that of a healthy writer? The self-doubt, the awkwardness, the hope– I think we’ve all felt similarly. Is it just that Matt “knows” that he has schizophrenia? Or is there something deeper? I can only wonder.

If a person can imagine it, personify it– can it be? If not, then why not?

Referential Quotidian

As I write this while listening to clear Vivaldi I’ve come to realize that I am at an interesting and rather invisible point in my recovery where mostly I keep my mouth shut and walk down Delmar and smile at everyone like my salesman father in his best mood and no matter how bad it gets I am generally grateful for all of the miracles that have occurred beyond belief and I’m still surprised I think somehow I have entered this season where against all temptation to really let loose I have kept taking my meds and have not picked up that huge glass of beer and no matter what fear I can run my little workshop or sing my songs and I feel now I’m in the serious experience of explaining how this so-called and highly valued insight– like that little sign could mean me or the loud window slamming in the alley or the pen in the parking lot as I walk my way to the library or maybe Jakob Dylan had hear of me in New York etc. and all this same old stuff I can doubt—none of this ability to discount certain affects came overnight but was the result of sitting hours in a room where everyone was suggesting mildly that I was crazy and because I didn’t want to be known as crazy I was mostly stiff and silent trying to think things through and I might have blurted a few times “are you guys mad at me” so that in twenty years I have gone and learned something which mainly is consigned to silence in conversation but which comes out in my poems and especially my new songs because who really has dissected paranoia or the possibility of a mic in your heating vent in a simple popular song and clearly that’s the bomb shit and the given and the one thought to the bitter end of clear beautiful sanity that can in no way be won by evasion or continual in and out of the hospital and as I have pointed out in an embarrassed way we are so very close to heaven and things are plain and near and people are a fun mystery and I thank all the nurses and doctors and all of my friends and family for helping me along the river of vision which is beset on all sides by the wilderness of terror and I shall remain as I am despite all blocking devices.

A Wain Cat

Artist Louis Wain is well-known, in part, for painting a series of cat images, as he gradually lost his sanity. I would like to spend a few moments looking at two of them.

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The first and earlier image still bears a good resemblance to what we think of as a cat. It has a cartoon-ish quality, though, and it is unusual to see what appear to be emanations from the animal– these lines of energetic colors.

To me, the energy lines are partly aesthetic, but mainly I would suggest that they connote an unusual idea or set of ideas about the cat. There is a wild, frightening quality about the cat (according to Wain), and he is trying to capture this.

The colors, too– they are quite unique. An unusual combination of tones. I could only describe their effect as creating uneasiness. These are not the gentle, harmonic color tones of a Monet, that is for certain.

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The second image shows a movement into the more abstract, and even psychedelic. More than anything I can think of, it resembles a 1970’s album cover.

The image barely connotes a cat. It has devolved into a series of patterns, and these display a stomach-churning symmetry. The cat is no longer a familiar pet– it is an amalgamation of barely organic forces. It is more as though we are seeing the family cat without its skin– forced to look at its organs.

Perhaps it is clearest to say that the second cat has become abstracted to a degree that is unnatural.

That may be the point to be observed– that schizophrenia may not involve a lack of abstraction, but rather the existence of a particular kind of unwholesome, redundant, disquieting abstraction.

I can’t help but to think of the harsh, high-pitched fractal ambient pieces I composed when I first became schizophrenic– and the effect they had on my family, when they heard them.

I can’t offer a remedy for this kind of abstraction. Maybe if Wain had spent more time petting the cat than depicting it, he might have reached a more comfortable state of mind.

A New Language

Do you ever notice that thoughts tend to take their course in the same way? Maybe when you talk about certain subjects, you get stuck in a familiar pattern, a familiar rut?

I have a crazy, schizophrenic idea.

I find that there are a lot of important discussions going on today. For example, many people are concerned with political or social issues, such as racial or gender equality, the wage gap, and similar concerns.

The problem I face is that, as soon as I think about issues like these, I find myself thrown in one direction or another– in fact, I generally end up cursing to myself, or feeling upset.

The words we use concerning certain issues can be quite loaded. For example, I bet you can think of occasions when terms like, for example, “shine” or “yellow”– which should be, in essence, harmless, might not be appreciated.

I feel that a lot of the trouble comes from how we put things, and that one word or term seems to suggest another. People can be very attenuated about words that are used– sometimes so much so that meanings beneath are lost.

We need some Stanford linguistics grad student to come up with some new ways of putting things, that are neutral and have no connotations, so we can talk about charged issues again without offending one another.

A Different Perspective From Matthew Freeman

I am very appreciative of poet Matthew Freeman’s generous offerings to this blog. They are really gifts, as he informed me that, technically, when they are published here, they are– well– published. How lucky we are to have these works at this blog to read and consider.

I challenged Matt to write from the perspective of a sane person, and/or to describe a state of sanity. We hear so much about how mental illness might be perceived from the view(s) of the sane. How do mentally healthy people appear to the schizophrenic poet? Let’s find out.

Christmas Dream

For a long time now
I’ve been thinking
about how I used to come
home from New York

in the dead of winter
to the warm old house
in Dogtown with my
pocketful of bar napkins

with rhymes and how my mom
would be making potato soup
and Chief was asleep on
the porch and the living room

was so dark and safe lit only
with the Christmas lights
and how I felt
such boozy love there

and what changed
and what had to change
for me to see
clear through disaster

and how I could have
been a completely sane poet
at Christmas with not one
line coming against my will

and how closed I would
have been with my bruises
and lungs and cheap stale beer
to that sinister, sinister dream.

Sane Vignette

Before I knew
it a bunch of birds
broke through my window
and I awoke
and got ready for school

and on the way in my bright Mustang
I passed a guy
who was talking to himself in rags
and I laughed and
spilled coffee on my shirt
and turned up the radio
and checked myself in the mirror
and I liked what I saw

and then for many years my eyes
took on the color of dead still water
with a plugged-in alarm clock in it
and I couldn’t move I had to force
myself to move and I found myself
walking a brick ledge and a bell went
off in dispossession and they said take
this little pill and on the third day Diana
showed up and everything was totally clear
and I’m like now I know Beethoven and
the difference between depression
and persecution anxiety and sometimes
I have walked the streets disheveled and at
any other time in history I’d be dead and when
last I put my head on Diana’s door I said
I’m destroyed but in a good way with double vision.

“If You Wanna Be a Poet”

Once I was dead drunk
and sane and not at all crazy
and I cried
when I was lonely and
my mom comforted me and I met
a girl from Singapore
and we held hands at the movie
and drank some forties

and sane is not jumping
over the nurses’ desk
and throwing a computer
because no one believes
you’re married to Nicole Kidman
or crawling
all over the floor in the day room
thinking you’re pregnant
and you realize
you’re either a ghost or God
and when you get out
you sleep for twenty hours a day
and you make a chapbook of poems
and you give
it to your community support worker
when he comes over to do your meds
because you accidentally
took a month’s worth of meds in two weeks
and he keeps
putting the pill bottles on top of your book
until they are conflated in your mind
and this is the beginning of sanity.