An Excellent Short Discussion of Depresssion

Johann Hari, writer of the excellent dissection of the drug wars, and drug addiction, called Chasing the Scream,  gives a short, remarkably common sense description of why we feel depression and anxiety.   Check it out here. 

We seem unable to grasp the simplicity of so many perplexing human riddles.   A person who feels loved, has a place in the world, work that is appreciated and a life without terror is unlikely to be chronically depressed or anxious.   It is the brutality of our tyrannically Free Market, a forum of endless, unfair competition,  that isolates us and fills us with dread of a bleak future.  There is no safety net.  Not for losers, safety nets are for winners.   Get over it, motherfucker, fear and insecurity is good for our bottom line.   Pick up your prescription over there.   NEXT!

Why Do You Bother?

A voice started nagging me the other day, a familiar voice with famously bad breath.  “What the hell are you doing?” the voice said, with annoying, random inflection, the words arriving unpleasantly warm and fetid in my ear after wafting past my nostrils.

“You continue, day after day, to sit and write.  You seem to write about whatever comes into your head.   You write clearly enough, we’ll stipulate to that, but the larger question is ‘what the fuck’?   Seriously– what is your plan?”

A fair enough question, ass breath.

“More than fair, really.  If you are writing literally every day, taking the trouble to clearly set out all these things that are on your mind, document your long wrestling matches with anger, futility, depression, vexation with the ongoing triumph of incoherent narratives… why are you not spending as much time every day branding, marketing and selling your content?   Why are you not monetizing the skill you’ve been honing for decades?”

Nicely summarized, my inscrutable dilemma, there, toe cheese breath.    

“You can sit there asyntactically smarting me all you like, as you worry about the warranty for the nib of a very expensive fountain pen you love, the fairly new acoustic/electric guitar that is no longer electric, trying to overcome the frustrations of a smart phone that is smarting you daily, having failed to write down the robotically delivered authorization code for PT that the health insurance company robot read to you– foolishly assuming that same code had been sent to PT (it hadn’t, of course) and now you can’t make an appointment for tomorrow’s session since they are no longer picking up the phone, after you called Healthfirst back and were eventually connected to the third party who had the authorization number you need to continue rehabbing your sore knees…”  

I get it, sweat gland breath.  

“A blessing that you can’t smell your own breath, my decomposing friend. I’m just giving you a little friendly advice: you’re not a writer just because you write, even if you write clearly and convincingly, even if you do it every single day of your life. You are a writer if your writing is in print, paid for by somebody else, and with a check written to you for writing whatever the hell it is. Period.”  

Sure thing.

 

Death sneaks in again

It is sometimes tempting to call the workings of our corporate world evil.  A ninety year-old woman, until her recent broken hip fiercely independent, lives out her last days in a bare bones hospital ward where her needs are ignored, though she is kept miserably alive, her tab paid by Medicaid.   There may or may not be a government agency that can help her.  Sekhnet and I lack legal standing to advocate for her, though I got two numbers today that may allow Margaret to advocate for herself.    

The ACA, which right-wing zealots and “Birthers” are still bent on abolishing as an illegitimate “Negro” plan, mandates that low income citizens buy private insurance on their state’s health exchange.  New York State of Health Marketplace was designed by Kafka, during an LSD nightmare.  The agency is run by an unaccountable political appointee director (Donna Frescatore) who has made it her agency’s policy for no worker to divulge her name.   They have no effective method of correcting their many errors, the wait for an “appeal” is months’ long.  

A more vexing collection of useless, low-paid motherfuckers I have never encountered, and I am a veteran of Adult Protective Services, the New York Housing Authority and the Housing Court’s Guardian ad Litem program.  I have seen hideous bureaucracies.   The unaccountable agency entrusted with providing health care to low income citizens in New York State is by far the worst.  

Had a nice chat today with a guy from NYS of Health Marketplace Appeals, Patrick, very patient– though even he had his limits in that regard.   My appeal should be conducted over the phone in a month or two, after that, presumably, I should be allowed to pay only what the law requires and not twice what the law requires, as I have been paying since an erroneous denial in January.

While talking to a social worker at the Department for the Aging, who spoke on the QT since I lacked legal standing to have the conversation on behalf of a mere friend, I had a call from Sekhnet.   Sekhnet has been overwhelmed and tearful lately, in part due to the steroids she’s taking for her breathing troubles.   She has been worried about my potentially dangerous kidney disease, and the fact that virtually my entire vegetarian diet is composed of foods, I learned yesterday,  very bad for compromised kidneys.  She’s been crying because Skaynes, our beloved cat, had test results the other day that showed his one kidney is in trouble, this in addition to a flare up of pancreatitis.  

I broke away from the kind, long-winded social worker, put her on a brief hold, and took Sekhnet’s call.   She was sobbing.   “Liz is dead,” she told me.  I expressed my sorrow, told her who I was talking to and said I’d call her right back.

Liz was the long-time partner of Tony, a gregarious fellow we met while he stood smoking cigarettes in front of Sekhnet’s building.   It emerged that Tony lived on the second floor with a shy, agoraphobic woman named Liz, a lover of cats (they hosted two former strays, Sid and Gus), and that it would be great for us to get together some time.   Tony explained that he’d have to work on Liz, and his work seemed to be a success.  We had dinner, after researching what Liz, a diabetic, could safely eat.   I think it was garbanzo bean pasta we finally made.  (To be strictly accurate, this dinner occurred after we returned from our trip).

Shortly after we first chatted with Liz and Tony, Skaynes began vomiting frequently and rarely coming out of his bed.  We were scheduled to leave for a two week trip to Israel in a few days.   Liz, Tony and our old friends’ son Avram generously stepped in to take care of Skaynes.   They wrangled the cantankerous cat into his carrier and ferried him back and forth to the vet for treatments.   The treatments were daily for a week or more.  Skaynes recovered while we were in Israel, we got their medical updates by email.  Liz and Tony (and the indefatigable Avram) had saved his life, and enabled our long-planned trip to happen, and we felt very grateful.  

We got together with them another couple of times.  Then they were having troubles, Tony had resumed drinking, after years on the wagon and in AA.  Liz had a past that included drug addiction and she could not tolerate this relapse.  There was tension.  Tony moved out, moved back in, was on a job in New Jersey when he had a fatal heart attack.  

Liz affected an air of stoicism, but the tragedy made her no more zealous about checking her diabetes monitor.  She’d been found in a diabetic coma before.  Tony said the beeping of her monitor annoyed her and she’d often turn the machine off rather than do what the beeping was reminding her to do.

After Tony died, Liz lived alone with Sid and Gus, in the apartment owned by her mother.  Her mother lives in Florida and needs money, is in the process of selling Liz’s longtime home.  Packages sat outside Liz’s apartment door for days at a time.   I followed up with Sekhnet who contacted Liz.  She was reassured when Liz finally returned a call, sent her some adorable animal emails (Liz volunteered at a cat shelter) with a funny note and also inquired about Skaynes.     More packages outside her door the other day.  Sekhnet could get no answer from Liz lately.  She convinced a neighbor with the key to have a look today.

The neighbor discovered Liz’s dead body.  One of the cats was sitting next to her dead body.  The cats had not been fed for several days.  The last email from Liz, about a week ago, noted that a dog will sit sadly by their master’s dead body and starve, too depressed to eat.  A cat will do the same, until they get unbearably hungry and start eating the dead master’s face.   The neighbor fed the cats and called Sekhnet.  

When I got off the phone with the social worker I called Sekhnet back and did my best to soothe her, though there is not that much real soothing to be given under terrible circumstances like this.   The world can be a cold and cruel place and one must count oneself fortunate only to be fighting with corporate cocksuckers, while Death, smug and implacable, waits with the infinite patience of one who has never been denied, to snuff out your last breath.

Why So Glum?

“Why so glum?” she asked.  It seemed to her that he had many reasons to be cheerful.   His work was moving steadily forward, even if he was no closer to getting paid for any of it.

“Because I live in a giant toilet bowl where the biggest pieces of shit make the biggest splash,” he said.  

“That’s pretty good,” she said, “did you make that up?”   

“I don’t fucking know,” he said, and she recoiled as if struck.

“Don’t forget to flush,” he added, to the empty room.

Being Right vs. Being Lucky

“You know, Elie, I’ve been thinking about this the last couple of days,” said the skeleton.  

What’s that, dad?  

“You’re spending too much time talking to a dead man recently.  Look, not that I don’t enjoy our conversations, but, I mean, do you think it’s healthy for this chat to be the highlight of your day?” the skeleton turned his head, as though looking around.

You mean as opposed to my mediocre diet, my relative lack of exercise, the less than ideal amount of sleep I get, my solitary life, the lack of a new network of needed doctors thanks to the vagaries of Obamacare, things like that?  

“Yeah, you’re right.  Listen, what I was really thinking about was the need to be right, where it comes from, how it does its idiot work.  My mother, who you learned from Eli whipped me in the face and sealed my fate before I was two, was a powerless, angry woman.  All she had was being obeyed, by anyone she could bend to her will.   I cannot imagine the terrifying shithole she was born into.   Talk about born under a bad sign, the filthy little hamlet off a river outside Pinsk was literally stomped out, rubbed right off the map of the world.  Never existed.

“The Jews who eked out an existence there?  Fuck ’em, who gives a shit?  Poor people, Jews, grind ’em up, pfooo! good riddance, rabbi.  I cannot begin to imagine all the nightmare elements that went into making my mother a little tyrant.  I never thought much about these things when I was alive, for fear of what thinking about them might do to me.   People who claim to love you can use you as a slave?  Your family can just be stomped into the mud without a trace?   What kind of arbitrary, brutal life are we born into?

“That was one reason I loved animals so much, as your mother also did.  I think we transmitted that to you and your sister.  A dog will return whatever treatment he gets, will always give you the benefit of the doubt.   It’s like animals cut to the chase, to the essential thing we all need in life: caring for each other.   It was my pleasure, although I didn’t enjoy it, of course, giving those insulin shots to Sassy every evening.  The dog was a complete sad sack, you remember.  Nobody particularly liked her, she’d hide under the bed, cower from people for no reason.  We knew she had no reason to cringe because we’d raised her from a newborn pup, she never had anyone do anything mean to her.  Still, she was an odd dog, very paranoid.  Your mother said she was mentally ill, maybe she was, I guess it’s possible a dog can be mentally ill.  

The thing was, Sassy trusted me and I took care never to hurt her.  You know, I’d pinch the skin on her back, make a little fold, and the needle was very thin, I don’t even know how much she felt it.  But she seemed to know I was doing this for her benefit and was always very calm and trusting when I’d give her the shot.  I think now how natural it felt to take such tender care of her and could kick myself again for being so unnatural so much of the time, like in those battles you describe around the dinner table.”

Well, there’s nothing natural about being natural a lot of the time, I suppose.  Our society is based on being unnatural, of course, on a false and desperate notion of winning and losing that makes us the best possible, most driven, consumers.  We’re in the hands of cannibals, no different in their essential natures than they’ve ever been, like true believing functionaries of the Nazi or any other ruthless single-minded party.  You mention the need to be right– that’s the only game in town, a town that can, as far as we can tell, be rubbed out under a jackboot with or without notice.

“The white indentured servants made common cause with the black slaves and Indians during the early days of our great experiment in democracy,” said the skeleton.  “It seemed obvious enough to poor whites that they were in the same boat as the other servants and slaves, as well as with the Indians whose land was being stolen by the wealthy whites.   Black and white servants became romantically involved, escaped slavery together, often found sanctuary with the Indians, with whom they made common cause.  

“This caused a major concern for the wealthy new land barons, you understand.   The idea of poor people of all races united and looking for some measure of justice gave the status quo the heebie jeebies.   ‘How to keep everything for ourselves?’ wondered the wealthiest and the greediest.

“You read about it in Zinn’s Peoples’ History, Virginia, in the 17th century, actually put it into law– the white man’s superiority over the Negro.  A white indentured servant got much better treatment than the average African slave.  You couldn’t strip him naked when you whipped him, for example.  When you freed the white man after his indenture you had to give him 100 acres to farm, and a mule, and ten barrels of corn meal, a musket, some money.   Every white servant knew this was coming to him at the end of his years as a common nigger, and he got it under Virginia law even before the year 1700.   The wealthy ‘planters’ created a culture down there that enlisted poor whites to oversee their fellow slaves, where the white man could look down on his inferiors, no matter how low the white man’s station in life.

 “That’s what segregation was all about.  Even the poorest white trash could walk into a bathroom with plumbing, tile on the walls and floor, doors on the toilet stalls.  The Colored bathroom?  Hah, sometimes those creatures would just have to do their business behind a bush.  You know, not every place had a bathroom where a Negro could sit on a regular toilet, wash their hands in a regular sink.   So ‘separate but equal’ was like a hilarious joke told over and over again by winking whites, it was a way of saying everyone got what they deserved.

“The examples are countless.  How does the great democracy, who welcomes the poor and starving of all nations to participate in this experiment in human equality, justify forcing the natives off their land, sometimes in death marches, destroying the buffalo herds that are their sustenance, making treaties they will violate over and over, eventually just killing the fuckers en masse?   Manifest Destiny.  Ask any junior high school student what gave the descendants of white Europeans the right to march over Mexicans, Indians and anyone else in their way and they’ll tell you:  manifest destiny.  

“The phrase was invented by a newspaper man, caught on quickly.  Our destiny is manifest, look, it’s right here, plain as the nose on your face, see?  Destiny is in our hands.  Like a team one game behind with four games to play, just keep winning, that’s all we can do by way of controlling our destiny.

“Being right, it’s all most powerless people get, Elie,” said the skeleton, slowly shaking his head. “The people you talk to, they are all smiling at you as they think ‘he’s a smart guy, he can seem to justify his beliefs, articulate his values… but he’s a loser.'”  

I’ve always been that way, dad, clever with words, able to articulate my values and beliefs.   With those things, and a paid Metrocard, I can get on any subway I like.   We are judged on one scale here, as you know, what we are worth.  And that is measured the only way it can be, in the honest coin of dollars and cents.  

“Well, it’s all most people can understand.  It’s as manifest as Manifest Destiny.  Is it better to be rich or poor?  Ask anyone and you will get the same clear, entirely reasonable answer.  If your goal is something you can show clearly to the world, how much easier is your life than struggling to advance abstractions?  Just say ‘Manifest Destiny’ shoot the savage in the face, force the women and children into an icy river to drown and build your railroad.   People who hesitate, who think too much, people like you… well, what is the point?”  

Ah, you pose a question I cannot answer today, father.  I think I will lie down with that familiar black dog and rest my eyes for a while, as I ponder my manifest destiny.

 

This year you write the book

Whatever you may have said or written about it last year, or in any past year, he said to himself, this year you must actually write the book.

“What is this ‘he said to himself’ business? ‘More to see in 1983?'”

Never mind that, he said, vow that this will be a year without parentheticals…come crisply to the point.  The clock has long been ticking, it is time to score some points, the shot clock winding down, shoot, score, ca-ching!

In a dream last night I had set up my electric guitar in the living room of Hitler’s house.  My host had insisted, I’d gone to plug in in the living room.  Hitler was busily rushing about with guitar cords.  I didn’t notice what kind of guitar he had plugged in, but he was eager to jam.

“A jam session with Hitler?” the whoosh of a long sigh filled the air.

 Yes, and in the dream I knew enough not to argue with him, knew he’d storm into the other room and come back with a pistol. He was famously psychopathic, I knew, and wouldn’t hesitate to show his irritation by shooting me in the face.  The usual low stakes had been raised a bit in this jam session, I later thought to myself.  I never heard him play, because I woke up before that point, but I suspect he played like he spoke.

“Don’t we all?”  Some year without parentheticals (somebody said)

and forget ellipsis, too …

This is the year you do all the things you have not yet done, the things you gave up as impossible, improbable, too hard, too taxing.   This is the year to unlearn learned helplessness, he said with waning faith.  Meaning enough with the 57 varieties of brooding.  

It is time to stop picturing yourself on the lip of that ravine in Vishenevitz just because the day, or year, dawns darker than expected.  Just stop it.  And stop talking to yourself, and pondering, with endless unprofitable invention, the slipperiness of the ground most of us are tap dancing on.

Suddenly, the music begins, and who is that coming overloud through the amp on the left side?   We can only guess.