The Wisdom to Know the Difference

And if you’re in a giving mood, how about a coupla bucks for gas…

Okay, let’s see how this works:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change… How do you know you can’t change it?

That’s what the wisdom’s for.

Maybe “wisdom” is just an excuse for giving up too soon. Ever think of that? Ha!

Sometimes, giving up IS wisdom…

Mind. Blown.

Okay, I get it. There are some unchangeable things. Especially stuff in the past.

Present and past is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. That’s just science.

Except for a few Dr. Who-type scenarios, you can’t change the past, and you’ve just gotta learn to accept it. What’s done is done, and all that. It’s all over but the shouting. Katie bar the door. The generous-lunged professional female singer has performed the final aria.

Everything I know about opera. And Vikings. And rabbits, come to that.

Live with the outcome. Accept that you cannot change it. Your team lost? Bummer. Hey, wanna watch Supernatural?

Come on, Al McCoy. Tell us what’s happening. I need a shazam or two.

I remember when I was like that, sort of. Through most of the 90s, I lived and breathed Phoenix Suns. The best possible thing available on TV was a Suns game. Watching it live, as it happened, commercial breaks and all. Charles Barkley. Dan Majerle. KJ. And since they were good back then, they usually ended the night on a good note. Suns win. Suns win. The next morning, my whole reason for opening the newspaper was to read the recap and enjoy the win again.

But even if it was a loss, I would read the paper to find like-minded souls to commiserate with. It didn’t wipe me out if they lost. I knew they’d bounce back, and I was like all chill and stuff.

No worries, dude! They’ll win the next one. Or two or three.

Until that got harder and harder. A loss would put me in a funk. I took it badly, and it got worse all the time.

My solution? Stop watching the NBA. And then all sports, completely. (And Grey’s Anatomy, and other shows that deal too much in tragedy. Yes, I know it’s all fake. Shut up. I still can’t watch it.)

Ignorance is bliss. Avoid seeing it. I can’t feel bad about a game I am paying no attention to.

Go, squadron.

I couldn’t/still can’t bear the tension involved in watching the back-and-forth of basketball, football, baseball. Unless I don’t care who wins. And why would I watch if I don’t care?

(I envy those fans who care but don’t really really care. Know what I mean?)

But maybe that’s cheating–trying to find serenity that way. Avoiding the issue. Not by actually accepting difficult things, but instead by putting my fingers in my ears and chanting, “La la la la la!!! I can’t hear you!!!” I suspect I’m not the only one using this strategy, however. (I’m looking at you, climate change deniers.)

“La la la… snow means there’s no climate change… la la la…”

But what about things that haven’t happened yet? Stuff waiting to happen? Anxiety is mostly about things on the horizon, things yet to be, pain waiting to hurt. How much of that do we have to accept as inevitable?

The future. Coming at ya.

Like in politics–a vile, reprehensible, crude bigot won a very important election. And now he wants to do horrible things that hurt a lot of people. Wisdom, whaddaya say? Isn’t accepting this what sheep do? Isn’t this how they control us? Teach us to go to our happy place while men without conscience steal and corrupt and destroy?

Same thing in our individual lives–how much of the shit coming down the track do we have to accept?

The courage to change the things I can…

If the door is closed, and wisdom says it’s probably locked, doesn’t courage say, “Try it anyway”? Give it a rattle. Maybe it’ll open.

Could be Narnia back there. You don’t know.

I’m up for trying a few doors, seeing what opens. What did Janis Joplin say? “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” So is courage, I think. And at my age, courage also looks a lot like doing something stupid.

I’m okay with that. What have I got to lose?

Nobody answer. Seriously.


Go that way, really fast…

Look around you. Do things look sort of normal, but not quite right? Does it seem like the world is pretty close to what you thought it was and what it was gonna be back when you were a kid, but still different and wrong in too many ways?

Cuz I have a theory: I’m pretty sure we’re living in Bizarro world.

Warning–cell reception gets iffy in the corners.

Stay with me here. This is a real thing. (Deep breath… Ready?)

Here’s the deal: something happened. The universe got changed without us noticing.

I think it was around the time that President Al Gore ended the war on scripted television… or when Randy Johnson left the Lakers to attempt a baseball career… or when Star Trek entered its unprecedented 35th season with Captain Spock at the helm of the U.S.S. Indifference.

Shit! We got the bearded Spock. Wrong universe. Turn around. Turn around!

Like all people who are full of crap but think they know something about science, I believe in multiple universes. All of these universes are similar and related, but the differences are significant.

It’s like this: you’re moving along nicely on the original timeline of the Happy Happy Joy Joy universe, and then somebody, somewhere, somehow, makes us take a turn. Something occurs that is so sinister, so heinous, so unprecedented that the line between the real universe and the bizarro universe gets… blurred.

The face of evil…

From the perspective of its citizens, the Happy Happy Joy Joy universe just keeps moving along on its own lovely trajectory, with expanding justice, healthy, green forests, and tasteful furniture.

Ask yourself–in what universe does this movie get made?

Meanwhile, the newly-created bizarro universe, infested with sharks and actor’s sons–the Douchenado Universe–well, it’s now moving us a different direction, though only a few are aware that things are not as they should be. Happiness plummets. Joy is curtailed. We are not living the life we were intended to. And we’re not sure what happened to us.

This is not my beautiful house…

Our happiness got broke. Mine’s broke.

I’ve sometimes wondered if there isn’t a potential perfect plan for our individual lives, where we all live the Best Possible Life while we inhabit the Best Possible Universe. The life we were meant to discover. You know, we make the right friends, and go to the right college, and study the right subject, and get the right job, and move to the right city, and live the right life…

Sounds super pleasant

In this Panglossian world, this Pleasant Universe, we each make the right decision at every fork in the road, and we jointly maximize our individual potential, and we all create the greatest possible happiness.

It’s all fun and games until somebody discovers sexy time…

The problem with the Pleasant universe is that anyone can ruin it: by flaunting one subtle-and-not-at-all-meant-to-be-innuendo red cherry, by careless driving, or by writing deadly earworms that destroy your peace forever.

“Karma karma karma karma ka….”

In an imperfect world, the kind of world we’ve got, where all the possible futures keep getting shaken up like the Snowglobe of Fate, I don’t think there is a best, most perfect life. Your inner Tony Robbins tells you that you create your own fate, that you can chart your own course, but conditions change second by second, and you went off-course two wars and four congresses ago. The economy crashes; the zika virus mutates; kids won’t stop dabbing.

Our national nightmare continues.

What if you do all the right things but the world around you fights back? What if somebody grabs the metaphorical steering wheel out of your metaphorical hands? Does anybody ask to be born in a war zone? You can’t dodge a bomb, Mr. Tony Robbins.

And even if you escape war and tragedy, you can’t guarantee you will achieve the life you intended. The world changes without warning. Ask the last guy to build a new Blockbuster Video.

“Buy a Blockbuster, they said. It’s a sure thing, they said…”

Potholes abound; you’re gonna hit some. You make your way the best you can, making the best decisions you are capable of, day by day, moment by moment–but it’s always based on incomplete information and the faulty software in our heads.

Brain says, “Little Debbies will make you happy,” and you believe Brain. But Brain has bad software, and Brain doesn’t know everything. “Buy as much house as you can afford–prices will never drop!” the smart people say. Ha ha. Funny story about that.

They taste like love feels…

So, here we are, in the Douchenado Universe, where nothing is as Pleasant it should be; where you can get blown up, or run over, or repossessed; where yesterday’s wisdom is today’s big mistake; where doing the best you can is better than not trying, but where being lucky is better than both. What do you do? With the Happy Happy Joy Joy universe now forever closed to us, receding at the speed of regret, what do you do to rediscover that Pleasant life you suspect you were supposed to live? How do we make it come true right here in bizarro world?

I guess the best advice I’ve heard since 1985 is what Charles de Mar told Lane Meyer:


“Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way… turn.”

It’s Bizarro World, and we’re all just doing the best we can. So, keep going that way really fast. If something gets in your way… turn.

The Coming Apocalypse. (Or, for Carolyn on her birthday…) ;)

With it being almost time to vote, and me having mentioned the apocalypse, one would be forgiven for thinking I was gonna talk about Donald Trump.

But nah…

Instead, today’s lesson comes from the Book of Shelly, the prophet who tells us of the fate of Ozymandias, with his colossal statue lying broken in a wasteland.

Sic semper tyrannis, bitch! (art credit: witchofwest on Deviantart)

With a frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command….

Where are the trunkless legs? I was promised trunkless legs!
Here’s the end of the sonnet:
 And on the pedestal, these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Ozymandias, with his frown and sneer. (Too on-the-nose?)

Solomon of Jerusalem  penned the following lyrics (found on his classic album Ecclesiastes):
Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
All things are full of weariness;
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
There is no remembrance of former things,
   nor will there be any remembrance
   of later things yet to be
   among those who come after.

King Solomon, ca. 970 BCE. In his “Cowboy phase.”

(TL:DNR? Okay, pick up the thread again here…)
So, the point, Ozymandias and King Solomon? You’ll be forgotten, no matter who you are.
Good lesson, in any case, even if numerous modern-day prophets have made the same point:
All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see…
Dust in the wind… All we are is dust in the wind…”
(Livgren, as found in the Prophecies of Kansas.)

Lessons learned at prom last a lifetime…

For all of these men–and they’re all men, fwiw–I must pose a question:

Why do you care? About your “legacy,” I mean. Being “remembered” by people not even alive yet.

And why are so many of us kinda like that?

Achilles, here’s the deal–if you sacrifice yourself in a pointless war, we’ll totally name an injury after you. A groin pull, maybe, or very sore lower back…

What makes us want to spread our image and our name across the land, like a lightning bug smeared across the inside wall of a church-camp quonset hut on a mosquito-infested night? (That’s an oddly specific image…) What makes us want to carve our names into history, leaving a reputation-shaped scar to last all time? What good does that do us when the sands will still come and cover us up?

In their defense, none of these guys specifically asked for this treatment.

What good does it do? There is an answer: No good. none at all. None good.

Life has its own scale, and it isn’t monumental. It is human-sized–if you’re living right.

This is my motto. Since about 5 minutes ago.

It’s today. And when tomorrow comes, it’s that day. And if you’re lucky, you’ll share it with the right people. And when you’re gone, and when they’re gone, and the sands come, it won’t matter, because you have already had your days, and you knew it when it was happening, and it was enough. More than enough.

Between love today and future glory, I’ll take love. Speaking for me is the prophet Nesmith in the book of Monkees:

I have no more than I did before
But now I’ve got all that I need
For I love you and I know you love me

(Note to my beloved wife–I’m talking about you.) 🙂

Be the Paperclip

Living inside anxiety, I can’t help but think I may actually be the worst person to explain it. I’m certain that it looks entirely different from the inside, and would be unrecognizable to people on the outside.

I feel this is best expressed through a peyote-inspired scene from “I dream of Jeannie”:

Me: “Okay, it’s a round room, about twenty feet across, with jewels on the wall, and cushions that fit together, and pillows all around. And kinda pink and purple. Mostly purple. Weird ceiling. Do you see it?”

All pretty girls should have pillowy rooms with fabric on the walls.

Some human: “Dude… you’re high. All I see a shiny bottle about as long as my arm.”

Me: “Open it!”

SFX: Poof!

Anxious person emerges, blinking.

And….. scene!

Okay, anxiety is not usually this shiny. Or purple. Probably a bad example, to be honest. Seriously, it’s too late for this kind of feedback.

From this side, it feels like anxiety is connected to time somehow–like everything is coming in too fast, and nothing I do can slow it down. It feels like stress, but in more dimensions than emotions are supposed to have. (Apparently, that feeling is a real thing and much discussed at one time, in certain circles.)

1970? Surely not. Did the author impress it on a wet clay tablet with a pointy stick?

Alvin Toffler definition of future shock: “Too much change in too short a period of time.” Published 1970.

Part of my brain keeps saying, “Hurry up! You’re not making it. If you fall behind…!!” (Not sure what happens if I fall behind. Something bad.)

Without meaning to, I’m aware of every responsibility, every job I’ve got to do in the next ten minutes, hour, rest of the morning, day, week, semester, year, all at once… as well as the time crunch I have trying to accomplish each one while doing all of the others, facing the scrutiny and scorn of the (imagined?) authorities looming over my shoulder.

Did I have an appointment at 13:30? Shit shit shit….

And all the time, all the time, all the time, I keep thinking about the years–how many I’ve passed, how many since this movie came out or that album was released, how many years I’ve taught, how many I still need to work, how many years since Mom and Dad passed away, and how many more I can hope to see, like an old man counting down to zero.

So it’s simultaneously time by the fraction of a second, and time by the year and decade, with me trapped between.

And with the thinking is the feeling of anxiety–a true, physical feeling–like a fever that gives you chills all over; or like razor-blade poison traveling through your veins; or like frost on your skin, a quarter inch deep; or like molten lead in your gut, sending its metallic tendrils every direction.

It makes me grit my teeth until I have a headache. And jiggle my knees. And crack my knuckles over and over.

Even when I’m not making this face, my brain is making this face.

See? I can’t describe it properly. Maybe that’s close enough.

But I know what I want instead.

I crave slow time. Maybe no time. Sitting on the porch, reading books by natural sunlight, hearing the sound of the wind and the flutter of the curtains, with the dogs puttering around and the leaves rustling. Nothing much happening. Nothing needing to be done. No critic at my shoulder. No deadline. No existential angst.


The deepest calm I feel is when a scent, like cut grass, or a combination of clouds and sun, or some chance word, or crickets outside at night, or some other perfect accident of life conjures up not just the memory of my youth but an actual moment, a time when I didn’t inhabit this strange space, this bizarro version of my inner life. Then, for a blissful instant, I step out of the bottle, out of time, out of the fever-poison-frost, and feel…


But only for, like, you know, a second. A good second.

That’s not how I feel at work. I don’t know many people who do. But sometimes, once in a while, there’s a tiny spark of it.

This big.

Normally (though it shouldn’t be normal) work is where everything is coming in so fast–for real, for everybody, not just in my imagination–that an actual happy, healthy human can barely keep up. Teaching is like managing a party for eight-year-olds at McDonald’s, except it’s with 30 or more kids at a time, all day, every day, and they’ve all been eating bowls full of red frosting for the last 24 hours, and your party games are super stupid, like essays and multiple choice quizzes.

“Do you want to throw up here or in the car, Samantha?”

Teaching is a job for masochists and martyrs and people who didn’t read the job description very well, though it is sometimes kinda fun. Not very peaceful, though. Unless you’re a paperclip.

“Is that a metaphor?”

Not a metaphor. An actual paperclip.

About a year ago, when I entered work feeling feverish-poisoned-frozen every day, I started to notice a paperclip on the sidewalk a few doors down from my classroom. A simple aluminum paperclip, dropped by a passerby, and probably never missed. Unassuming little tool. Modestly useful. Fragile, typically–even a child can destroy it, if it comes into their hands.

What do you make of this?

“I can make a brooch… I can make a hat…”

It was there every day. Day after day. In perfect condition. The students would walk on it, and the leaf blower would blow around it, and the rain would wash over it, and nothing troubled it. It wasn’t worth picking up, and it wasn’t worth worrying about, and it wasn’t important enough to bother destroying in a fit of “Take that!” And for months that paperclip lay there. Tenacious. Resilient. An outrageously unlikely survivor. I noticed it, and left it there, silently rooting for it to outlast the school, the way crocodiles out-survived the dinosaurs.


Okay: picture one of those Notting Hill-type season montages, where it’s fall then winter then spring–and watch the paperclip, still there, unchanged, through it all.

Every day when I saw it, I felt a little lift. Though conditions shifted every minute at school, the paperclip stayed the same. It went unnoticed, unmoved, untroubled. Just enduring, an unlikely hero to me in my anxiety-drenched days. I would show up–another day–and it would be there–another day–and I would remind myself:

Be the paperclip. Just be the fucking paperclip.

As if it was ever gonna happen, anyway

I half-expected I’d be rich by this point in my life. That’s what I supposed back when I was a smartish kid, and I never totally shook the notion. College and marriage and life and a hundred thousand separate choices–both foolish and wise–have filled up the intervening forty years or so, and now I’m pretty sure that the rich thing isn’t going to happen. Most of the routes to wealth went dark a long time ago.

Only a handful of options remain, and they’re not great: bank robbery… buried treasure… a generous Nigerian prince…

And the lottery.

Problem is, I don’t play the lottery. Not quite never–I’ve had three or four tickets in my life, I think all as gifts–but I don’t buy them myself. It’s neither laziness nor a political statement. It’s just that I understand the odds. Still, once in awhile, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to win a big payday.

Hopefuls at the Quiktrip, buying lottery tickets. It’s so pretty!

The electronic billboard along the I-10 in downtown Phoenix tells me every day what the Powerball is up to. It’s always a number in the millions, except when it hit a billion. And since I’m on my way to work, and not always happy about it, the thought of being too rich to care is attractive. Somebody’s gotta win, amiright?

You know you want to.

I put too much on work, maybe. I mean, my battle with the evil twins isn’t work’s fault. I encountered depression and anxiety on my own. Some bullshit alchemical process turns the sugar water in one’s brain to vinegar; it’s not disappointment or weariness or some other work-related emotional excess that does it.

Healthy brain

Besides, in many ways, I still like my job, especially the creative parts. But work makes it harder to find the time I need (most people need) to heal and recharge. It makes its demands on all of us, relentlessly, mercilessly, indifferent to our wishes, like the weather, or a really bad SNL episode.

Sour brain

My job is probably like yours; it gives me a paycheck in exchange for most of my hours on most of my days for most of my life. That’s the deal, and I signed up like everyone else. I would take a better deal if one came along, but I don’t see that on the horizon.

So on work days, I do what I’ve gotta do. Then, on my days off, I look to maximize serenity.

Quick, catch it before it accelerates again…

Evenings are too short, with too many other responsibilities, to even attempt the zen thing. But weekends are my chance. And vacations are the best chance. That’s when I aim for calm, and tranquil, and slow. That’s where relief lives.

The other day, as my spring break got started, and I was somewhat more cheerful than usual, my daughter said, without intending or giving offense, “I like spring-break dad.”

You and me both, kid. You and me both.

happy dog
Spring-break dad. (Approximate.)

That’s when I think I’d like to win the lottery. A rest-of-your-life vacation. I could be spring-break dad all of the time. Better me, better dad, better husband, better life. Maybe, if I bought a ticket, I could win, and do what I want to do forever, like the best Saturdays, except it never gets over. I could take a deep breath without being reminded again and again of the thousand jobs I have to finish before Monday’s classes.

bush lottery.jpg


Dammit. It feels like cheating. Undeserved. A shortcut that would heap guilt onto the end of all the zeros on the check. Nobody’s happiness should depend on one-in-a-million (or billion) luck. Whatever happiness I’m gonna get, I’ve gotta get on my own. Or at least that’s how it feels like it should be.

That little lottery dream hugs you so close… so gently…

So, no, lottery, I’m not gonna win you. You almost got me. I say no.

As if it was ever gonna happen, anyway…

Whaddaya Wanna Do?

What do I want to do? Nothing. Not a damn thing. There is nothing whatsoever that I want to do.

You ever been there?

If you’ve ever been depressed enough that you literally don’t want to do anything at all, nothing in the universe, you will realize what a tremendous luxury it is to want to do something. For reals. “Wanting”might seem like “breathing,” if you think it’s something that just happens as long as you’re alive, no matter what. I’m alive, so I want stuff. Except that isn’t how it works. I learned this some years ago, and get helpful echoes of the lesson from time to time.

do nothing
I don’t want to make a list. I don’t want to cross stuff off. I don’t even want to think about lists. Or not-lists.

Normal folks who are feeling okay want stuff all the time. They want to be entertained, and they want to eat, and they want to drink. They want to sleep, and they want to make money just enough that they “want” to go to work.

But there’s more.

They want to watch their favorite TV shows, they want to check their social media, they want to watch a basketball game, they want to go out of town on the weekend, they want to have sex, they want buy some stuff for the house, they want to visit with friends, and they want dessert.

And and and…


What I imagine everyone else is doing right now in Normaltimes-Funville. It’s in the Midwest somewhere. All I know is that they have a Jimmy John’s and a Tastee-Freez.

Because they want things, they do things, which is awesome. But what happens if you don’t want anything anymore? What happens when depression settles in your bones and nothing is good and nothing appeals to you and nothing is worth getting out of bed for?

Not gonna move. Blinking is iffy. Adulting is right out.

I looked into this about thirteen years ago–you’re welcome–and you wanna know what I found? You do nothing. You go to bed, because that’s ground zero, and you stop doing. You stop planning, you stop caring, and you stop thinking. It’s like dead, except dead supposedly doesn’t hurt like depression does. (Depression feels like a broken heart all over. That’s my best approximation.)

It has a word, which makes it feel all medical. Anhedonia. Without pleasure.

If your brain has too little want-to-do-stuff juice, you don’t even want to eat. That’s the weirdest thing. You literally do not want to chew food and swallow it. No appetite. No desire for food. Eating becomes an imposition, an intrusion, an annoyance. I ate a handful of saltines each day because I retained enough humanity to realize that this was literally the least I could do. I also drank a glass of water because I was only mostly dead.

Very, very slightly…

Life went on in the house around me. I was the ghost in the bedroom. I forget how long. A month? Six weeks? I came out a couple of times, play-acting at “living person,” all plastic-faced and dead-eyed, but would go right back when I was done with whatever human interaction had been forced on me.

I had the TV on even though I couldn’t stand to watch any shows. I didn’t want to be entertained. But noise and movement was good, for some reason, so I watched every second of the French Open tennis tournament. I didn’t really watch; it just played in my general direction. I think it kept me from thinking. I didn’t want to do that, either.

The French Open lasted a while. When that ended, I endured this and that until the British Open golf tournament came on, and then something else after that. If I had had an “ocean wave” channel, I would have put that on.

Looking for a “white noise” equivalent for sight, taste, smell, and touch. Wait–is there an off-switch for your brain? (Other than sleep. I broke that.)

Eventually, with a new doctor, some meds, and slow, incremental improvement, I started to do some things again. I went to other rooms in the house. I started to see other humans again. Nothing was fun for a long time, but I ate food again. I actually wanted food. I kinda needed to put back on the 25 pounds or so I had lost on the saltine cracker diet. In time, I’d go way past that, but them’s the breaks…

And everything else.


I got better. Not everybody does.

So here’s the moral of the story, boys and girls: go do stuff. Have fun, and notice that it’s fun.

Because if you feel like doing something and then do it, and you feel the least bit of joy in doing that thing–whether it’s eating a snickers or watching the Kardashians or petting your dog–you’re alive, and doing okay. You need to appreciate that moment, and the fricking chemical in your brain that made that moment possible. Tell the chemicals thank you. Wanting is awesome. It’s human and happy and absolutely not to be taken for granted.

Then go do something else that you want to do, and enjoy the hell out of it.

Rinse and repeat.

Bad Day

Smokey Robinson famously boasted, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day; when it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May…”

Which looks better: 1…

That sounds great! But now I have questions. (Somehow, he knew I would. He anticipated.)

“I guess you’d say, ‘what can make me feel this way?'”

Exactly! Hook me up, man.

Country road in the mountains
…or 2?

“What can make me feel this way? My girl…”

Fine. If you don’t want to tell me…

I’m not trying to be cynical. What I’m saying is that trying to “feel this way”–sunshiny and springy–is a sore point with me, as well as a matter of particular interest.

And Smokey leaves me hanging.

Smokey, bogarting the sunshine.

A couple other singers took up the torch and sang the songs of my people. But I didn’t want to hear them.

You see, back when I was younger and depression was all exciting and new, I lovehated anything that had Smokey’s sun and clouds reversed. The first song I recall fitting that category was “Bad Day” by Fuel.

bad day fuel
I have nothing ironic to say about this song. Or the people who made it. I actually found it very touching–if a trifle too real once.

The singer repeats what his troubled girlfriend says to him:

“I had a bad day again
She said I would not understand
She left a note that said I’m sorry, I
I had a bad day again”

I understood. I liked it because I understood it. But I didn’t want to hear it because I understood it too well. Lovehate.

“And she swears there’s nothing wrong
I hear her playing that same old song
She puts me up and puts me on
I had a bad day again”

This song fit into the category of “freaking me out because it reminds me how fragile and confusable brains are.” That’s totally a thing. Look it up.

For a period of time, I hated to see dream sequences or representations of drug trips or depression or even sadness, anything that showed normal perceptions being altered. The clinical term for the feeling I got whenever I saw something psychedelic was “icky.”

Super “icky.”

Like when the memory-impaired Dory tries to motivate the grieving and depressed Marlin with her creepy little crackpot song. (See my homage to that moment in “Shut Up, Dory.”)

That’s why I liked the next song “Unwell,” by Matchbox 20, even more, and far less. (And not because I have anything against Rob Thomas.)

“All day staring at the ceiling making
friends with shadows on my wall
All night hearing voices
telling me that I should get some sleep
because tomorrow might be good for something”

Okay. I did some ceiling-staring. I’ll own up to that. That’s on me. But I made no friends there.

Still, too real by lots.

big toilet
Giant toilet. You see it too, right?

Does he leave it there?

Nope. He keeps going. He goes so far as to enunciate the fear I carried around unsaid.

“But I’m not crazy I’m just a little unwell
I know right now you can’t tell
but stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see
a different side of me”

bug dog
Totally normal image. Nothing Twilight Zoney about it at all…

The song hits all the right notes: uncertain hope, fear of abandonment, hallucinations, paranoia, stigma…

This is cheery.

“I can hear them whisper
and it makes me feel like there must be something
wrong… with me”

big feet
Super icky.

I liked that the song existed, but I turned to another channel whenever it came on. I did not like how it felt to hear it.

On the one hand, I was relieved that I was not as bad off as the people in the songs. On the other hand, I felt bad that I was callous towards the suffering of others. And after that I suspected I was looking for ways to beat myself up….

I just got dizzy.

Whew. I want me some sunshine.

My view, on some days.

I Don’t Wanna

Okay, you’re at work. Normal thing on a normal day. You’re getting through it, thinking that when work is over you’re gonna do some hobby/sport/funtime thing–bike, craft, book, ball, whatever. Something you enjoy. I don’t know what that thing is for you, but I’m guessing it takes at least a tiny bit of energy to start. Then, once you get started, it’s fun, and you like it.

Finish a few potholders for my etsy… maybe collect beetles in the park…

Work gets over, you get home, you look at that thing you’ve been planning to do for hours, and you go…


Aaaaand… you sit down in front of the TV.

The nope is strong in this one…

I’m pretty sure that’s a human experience, not unique to any group or person. But as laziness goes (or discouragement, or weariness, whatever) it’s stupid.

Here’s a f’rinstance. I like to read. Very much. But I haven’t read nearly as many books as I would like to, or as many as I would like to have already read. For every book I’ve read, I’ve got probably five more I want to read. Many of those are on my overloaded shelves. Beautiful, shiny books… And yet, it’ll take me a couple weeks (sometimes months) to read a good book that I could have/should have read in days. I should totally be reading right now.

Oh, no. You just shoulded all over yourself…

That next book, and the one after that, has to wait for me to get around to finishing the one I’m on, and at the end of the line are a thousand books I will never get to. That’s regret. And yet–there I go, sitting in front of the TV. (Bet you’ve done it, too.)

That’s a lot of happy happy funtime joyfulness I’ve traded for BS TV. (I apologize for employing so much technical language.) And that’s just one example. I also want to learn to play the banjo, and study Chinese, and write poetry, and redo the kitchen, and publish a comic book, and… Seriously, I’m getting tired just thinking of it.

Here’s why we sabotage our joy:

There’s a fragile fucking flower that grows inside each of us, and it’s a bitch to cultivate the damn thing. Scientist types refer to this flower as ego (but not the same ego that Freud went on about). Here it means the energy to go do stuff or control one’s volition.

An ego in bloom. YMMV.

It is this internal energy that, for example, keeps us focused on a task that we don’t really want to do. It is ego that makes us get out of bed to go to work. It is ego that makes a student finish homework that is tedious and stultifying.

Yes, I said stultifying.

It is the energy of ego that makes us plan and work painstakingly toward a future that is more rewarding than this one. Or do the dishes, or mow the grass, or clean out the garage… or do whatever task we would really rather not do but want to have done.

Ego! Ganas! Zeal! Gusto! Verve! Ambition! … Or sleep. Sleep is good.

It is “ego depletion” that makes it less likely to do any of those things. You wear it down at work. You use it up on the commute. If you have difficulties in your life (and who doesn’t?) you spend ego there. If you are improving yourself through diet or exercise or study, you are spending ego to achieve it. You drain it doing laundry and dusting your valuables. (I’m lying about the dusting. That’s just good fun right there!)

Even if you want to go do something fun–your sport, your crafting, your reading, your working out, or whatever–the energy to do it is gone. Ironically, it’s probably that activity that would replenish your ego. I’m not sure, though. It’s a theory. (See below.)

According to a study I don’t want to look up right now, if you have to do a hard math problem, you’re less likely to persevere and finish it if you first have to resist the temptation of a sweet treat. Those two things use the same type of energy. And you deplete this reserve of ego every time you exert willpower. Your store of ego, or ganas, or get-up-and-go, is finite, and refills slowly.

Do not do this.

Depression multiplies this problem. Depression is where somebody has pulled the damn ego plug and let it all drain out. No more energy for doing things. None at all. Gears are grinding. Axles are dragging. This feels bad. But the hopeful news is that recovery has two very easy steps:

  1. Put the plug back in.
  2. Refill your inner reservoir with high quality ego.

Unfortunately, I have no idea how to accomplish these steps. If you know how to do either, please write a book. Make a million dollars. Help a lot of folks.

In the meantime, I’m gonna go do all those things I’ve been putting off in a big way.

Not my image. Buy this artist’s stuff.

I guess I’ll go eat some cookies.

Krispy Kreme. Even better.

A Drink of Laughter

Anybody who knew Lee Rogers knows how he laughed. He had a ready chuckle for everyday, but he also had a loud, unreserved guffaw he busted out for special. That was one of his best qualities, actually. Not just his sense of humor, but his laugh.

Dad liked jokes. And teasing. And goofing around. He had stupid wigs and fake teeth and thought it was reasonable to recite Poe’s “Annabel Lee” at a church talent show or make a joke in the middle of a prayer. He was the “funny” sixth grade teacher. He loved M*A*S*H and Barney Miller and claimed to hate “The Odd Couple,” but if we put it on TV, he watched it with us and laughed more than anyone.

Lee Rogers. Dad to me. On the edge of a joke. Always.

Every time he ran into an acquaintance (literally everywhere we went) he would part with a joke and walk away chuckling. My quintessential memory of Dad has him exiting the corner store (you know, Eastman at Monroe, next to the old ball diamond), still laughing to himself, reaching for the car door where I’m waiting.

About it being his best quality–Mom would not have agreed, probably. She didn’t seem to care for it when Dad was booming at all the inappropriate goings-on at Porky’s. (How’d we end up at that movie, anyway?) He later claimed she bruised his ribs with her elbowing…

That’s good clean American fun right there.

But that laugh was a good way to locate him at a big gathering. Wait… listen… there it is! Unmistakable. That direction.

Every once in awhile I hear a little bit of Dad in my own voice. Something funny catches me the right way and I bark a laugh just similar enough to his that I can’t doubt we’re related. It’s not the same, but close.

I kinda like it.

Even at my lowest ebb, way back when, and even on the not-entirely-rare bad days ever since then, I could always still laugh at funny movies and standup comedians. (Not sitcoms. Apparently, I can only laugh at things that are funny.) Al Swearengen used to make me laugh more than any comic; I’m not sure why. But then I ask myself a bigger question: how is it I–or anyone–could feel low, despondent, dipping painfully close to desperate, and yet laugh right out loud?

I Don't know

Part of the answer, though, is that laughter and depression are not natural enemies. Some people believe it’s a cure, but nuh uh.

Depression has as many non-cures as any illness ever invented by a neutrally-cruel universe. There are hundreds of mostly bad ideas that sufferers have tried and many others that their friends have suggested–in good faith, generally–and among these are the numbing forgetfulness of alcohol bingeing, the sweet pleasure of a Friday night date, the transformative miracle of sleep, the healing love of the right person, the restorative power of vacations, the simple warmth of hugs, the brain-altering mind-wipe of illegal drugs, and on and on… to the supposed healing power of laughter.

Negative. It didn’t go in. It just impacted on the surface.

Many of the non-cures are fun things, but they have no more impact on mental illness (in my experience) than a festively colored water balloon against an army tank.

After Robin Williams died (a man I considered the funniest human for a many years) he was remembered by some with a quote from “Watchmen”:


(Perhaps the best response to this pairing was made by the writer John Scalzi on his blog. It’s worth looking at.)

If only humor were the cure…

Just questions. No answers. Except here’s another partial answer–if you’re hungry, and you’re thirsty, and you’re cold, and your dog is loose, aren’t you a little pleased to catch your dog? You may still be cold, and hungry, and thirsty, but you’ve solved one problem.

That’s laughter. Not a magic cure-all. Just a simple pleasure.

And sometimes a treasured memory.


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