Archive for October, 2010

So my new shrink thinks I have PTSD, and I don’t know if she’s right or not, but I do know that if I have it, the Army didn’t give it to me.  I was good at being a soldier because constantly scanning the horizon and imagining the worst-case scenario and thinking tactically was already second nature to me.  Anyway, this most recent bout of therapy has me thinking about the Army a good bit lately, and pulling out some old tidbits from the “writing fodder” folder to polish up. This one isn’t polished yet, and this one does in fact have an epilogue that it didn’t have when I originally sketched it out in 2008.  But “what really happened” isn’t really the point anyway, not in stories, and not in trauma either.  I have this gigantic complicated theory about trauma and about PTSD being an illness of time and it involves Tim O’Brien and Emily Dickinson and Deleuze and Guattari and it’s probably utter trash.  But I do remain convinced that the exact order of events, the exact details, isn’t finally the important part when you’re talking about the kind of story or event that can shape, or end, or save, or change, a life.  What matters is that the story makes you feel, that it interrupts and reroutes temporality and touches something from another time and space – and it makes that something irrupt into the supposedly seamless surface of the this/now and makes things go inside out a little bit. So it’s alright that this story is (now, due to a different type of irruption of time/space) not (any longer) exactly true.


At my last duty assignment, I had one of those completely punishable-by-UCMJ love affairs that I tended towards. It wasn’t so much that I hooked up with people you couldn’t take home to mom as much as people you just couldn’t take to the battalion Christmas party and introduce to the Command Sergeant Major. The reasons were varied, but it was almost always something that would get me into a world of fucking trouble one way or the other.  All the best ones were like that, anyway.

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telling history / Tim O’Brien

On good days, I tell myself that I write because it’s therapeutic, and it’s productive to make art out of pain.

On bad days, I admit that I write because it’s a way to make somebody else feel as fucking awful as I do.  Usually that somebody is innocent of wrongdoing, their only crime an interest in fiction, or in me, or in confessional poetry, or perhaps they just wandered by and took a chance hit to the gut (if I don’t score a hit in the gut, I haven’t been successful).

On most days, I don’t believe that the feelings and experiences I mine for writing are worth writing about, and I don’t actually believe that any of this can be called writing, never mind art.

Tim O’Brien, whom I idolize as a writer, has said, “I don’t devote a lot of time or a lot of energy worrying about the hows or the whys of it all, instead taking a kind of lazy man’s conviction in the belief that stories require no justification; they just are. It’s a conviction, too, I suppose, that abstraction and generalization are precisely the reverse of what I do as a storyteller. Abstraction may make your head believe, but a good story, well told, will also make your kidneys believe, and your scalp and your tear ducts, your heart, and your stomach, the whole human being.” [1]

This is what I aim for.  On bad days it feels like masochism.  On good days it feels, at best, a bit like sadism.  On some days, I’m aware that Tim O’Brien would hate my writing, at least stylistically – I do all kinds of things he discourages. I’m far too flowery.  That comes from being a poet first, and from studying poetry for a living – my day job.  I gave a paper on one of his novels once, at an academic conference at which he was the guest star speaker.  Mercifully, he was not in the room when I gave the paper. But even that academic paper was flowery. It had these long, unwieldy sentences in it, and even if they’re alright for the written word, the sure don’t translate well to a piece for oral delivery.  That was an important lesson, one I have to consciously remember sometimes, I haven’t internalized it.

But I’m not sure I idolize him because of his writing advice, because of any teaching he’s done about writing. In fact, I know I don’t.  I idolize him because *he gets it.*  The Things They Carried changed my life – as a student, as a writer, as a teacher of writing, as a former soldier, as someone who hasn’t found a way to live with certain things unless I’ve made a story out of them. Or maybe that’s backwards.  Maybe I just can’t help but make stories. I’m not really sure.  But what’s in there, in those stories, in that story, I got not just in my gut, in my tear ducts – I got it at the very bottom of my soul (if there is such a thing).  It was important. There was nothing more important.

I was too nervous and shy to talk to him afterwards, even at the gathering some faculty hosted at a bar after the fact.  He mingled with everyone and drank beer out of a bottle and ate the lousy catered food and seemed like a really genuine guy.  I had flown all the way out to Middle-of-Nowhere, Texas for this conference for a chance to meet one of my writing idols, and I couldn’t talk to him.  I’m not sure exactly what I was afraid of.  He certainly wasn’t scary.  Maybe in a way I was afraid that if I looked in his eyes, I’d see the wound, and see that writing never really healed it.  Or maybe I was afraid that if I looked in his eyes, I wouldn’t see it at all, that it was never really there, and what I thought was important was only my imagination, or delusion. And that might just mean, for me, not hope but a death sentence.

Most people don’t understand, I think, how it can be anything but dramatic exaggeration to say that writing saved your life.

Maybe I write for the people who do understand.

[1] Tim O’Brien – Writing Vietnam


Flogging Molly – Punch Drunk Grinning Soul

“I don’t want to distract you from work,  but I just want to tell you that you’re hard on yourself for no reason I can fathom.”

Why should you be able to fathom it?  I tell people about you, about how far back our history goes, and it probably comes across as if we know each other so well, know levels of each other that might even be impenetrable to anybody else, at least very difficult to get not having been along for the ride the whole time.  Hell, maybe there is a small way in which it’s even true.  I mean, we have memories of each other that predate our graduating from cloth diapers.

But we don’t really know each other.  It’s a nice – and simultaneously, a powerful and painful – illusion that we do.

I know the six-year-old you fairly well.  I know the sixteen-year-old you fairly well.  Maybe even vice versa.  I knew the 25-year-old you for one too-short, stolen night, and I knew the 37-year-old you for another.  But when every meeting is some rare and monumental event, always already being turned into a memory to store up against the long famine ahead, then what’s missing becomes cavernous.  All those years are made up of an infinity of gaps and silences and regrets and postcards and secondhand stories passed on by our parents and siblings.  Your face surprises me every time- not its gradually denser population of laugh lines, not the slow but inexorable imprint of years, but just the full onslaught of your presence, of the depth of your eyes, of how you are at the same time so very real and present and alive but also so many, many layers of images and memories, hopes and dreams and love and sadness and so many unsaid things in all those goodbyes.  At a certain angle, those invisible and infinitesimally thin layers catch a peculiar ray of light, and I see, with a wrench of vertigo, how deep and shifting they are, how saturated with time.

There are ways in which I know you very well, but there are more gaps than images, more silences than words, and my imagination has probably filled in far too much.  While I was getting good at imagining how those blank leaves might have been filled, I was ruthlessly editing others, sometimes daring to write in your margins with pencil but wearing the paper quite through with erasures in my own.  So now, were it even possible for you to see those pages that you’ve missed, they’re likely illegible anyway.  The logic of where I find myself seems poetic, irrefutable, a blunt and ugly fact that I sometimes find the strength to be defiant about.  But there’s really no reason why you should be able to fathom it.  You simply don’t have the backstory.

“Every second I’ve spent thinking of you lately has been more sweet than bitter. The bitterness only comes with pointless internal what-ifs. We’ve chosen our paths and wouldn’t be who we are if we hadn’t.”

No, love – you’ve chosen your path and you wouldn’t be who you are if you hadn’t.  I don’t feel I’ve chosen anything at all.  I don’t see that I ever had a choice, at least not when it came to you.  I suppose it’s a personal quirk of mine that these things which leave me surprised and speechless, because I don’t even see the entirety of them until much, much too late, are less about choices and more about things passing me by because I misapprehend the options.   It’s almost even funny, or would be if it were happening to someone else.  But I censor this, because despite your protests, I know you don’t really want to hear it, cannot in fact endure thinking about it for very long, though I can’t seem to stop.  I censor this because you are at heart so very good and loving and you have found some astonishing way to live inside this complete contradiction we seem to have carved out for ourselves, a clever bit of negative space where neither the laws of physics nor any conventional morality can take hold, and I will not become a burden to you.  There is no particular reason for you to feel what I feel, and no particular reason why you should fathom my censorships and half-truths. I will bite my tongue and give you only the prettier half of the truth, and I will choke on what’s left over – because it is so very, very bitter and because I have cried so very, very much.  I privilege a gorgeous lie when I pretend otherwise, collude silently with you to offer a cruel aporia in place of any real knowledge or understanding at all.  And I pretend pleasure, a sadness that is nevertheless satisfied, at the elegance of our equation.

But outside this negative space, this impossible architecture of history and desire, our two worlds look very different.  You click your laptop shut and turn back to the regular pulse of your daily life, kissing the blond head of your wife and the pink cheek of your daughter, bundling up with them under the comforter to watch the logs crackle in the fireplace, making footprints in the snow as you walk her to school in the morning, hoping you have at least 300 days left in which she’ll let you both hold her hands even though her friends can see.  These days are full of gentle kisses and sticky fingerprints and the hundred precious banalities that fill up the pages of a life.  In a few weeks, my image will have faded again from the forefront of your mind; in a few months, the gentle friction of everyday life will have smudged my pencil marks in the margins.  In a few years, I am mostly forgotten, a few stray marks buried under too many pages to count.  Your daughter will find my name on a scrap of paper falling accidentally to the floor when she is packing her books for university, and no-one will think twice when she sets it on top of the old newspapers and magazines to be carried out in the morning.  The door will close behind you on your way down to the car, and I might be legible, for a moment, in a last peculiar shaft of light from the window as the sun sets outside the empty room.  And then there will be nothing left of me at all.


Smithereens – Cigarette

This is a revised version of this which I’ve just sent out for publication. This’ll be the first year I’ve published anything in years, not at all surprising since I haven’t sent anything out in years.  Now that I’m about to go crazy again, from all signs, I’m sort of making some kind of gesture by sending work out again. I’m not sure what that gesture is, entirely.  It might be defiance, or it might be desperation.  But my first response was an acceptance so I keep trying to tell myself that means this shit is still worth doing, to at least one other person on the planet. (and presumably that one other person, being an editor, has the tastes of at least a few other people in mind).

Will being read keep me from going crazy?  Guess not. Nothing has so far prevented that, not yet anyway.  People liking to read this stuff doesn’t make it much better to live through, all things considered.  But there’s something about it that keeps me honest. Or a little more honest than I might otherwise be.

* * *

Letters to the Air: What I Want From You


I want out of your narrative, out of the impossible, overbearing shadow of a Me I never was, a shadow you’ve tried to build a body for, all backwards in your bead-stringing, starting with a shattered mirror to fill in a shape you never saw whole.  When you pick up these pieces of me, they cut.  You think you know why, but you’re wrong.  I cannot live created in your image.  I want you to let me go.  That’s the only way I might ever be able to come back.  I am not your character, and I am not writing your story.

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Creativity and Mental Illness

Creativity and mental illness: prevalence rates in writers and their first-degree relatives

NC Andreasen
Department of Psychiatry, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City 52242.

Rates of mental illness were examined in 30 creative writers, 30 matched control subjects, and the first-degree relatives of both groups. The writers had a substantially higher rate of mental illness, predominantly affective disorder, with a tendency toward the bipolar subtype. There was also a higher prevalence of affective disorder and creativity in the writers’ first-degree relatives, suggesting that these traits run together in families and could be genetically mediated.

Am J Psychiatry 1987; 144:1288-1292
Copyright © 1987 by American Psychiatric Association


A study with higher numbers and much different methodology

Psychology Today’s denial of a link is based on a study with a population of 1

When I was really little, at that age when a lot of girls are “daddy’s girls,” my father used to sit by my bed and play the guitar at bedtime. Some of my earliest memories are of him playing and singing Doc’s “Shady Grove,” “Dulcinea” from the Man of La Mancha, and “Froggy Went A-Courtin’.”

I was too young to know that his guitar playing was a bit of a sore spot with my mother. He had picked it up when they were in their early twenties, living in some hovel or trailer or shack or another in Andalusia, or Theodore, or Monterey. He had picked it up and taught himself to play, and any non-musician who’s ever been present to hear someone else teach themselves an instrument probably understands a little of my mother’s weariness with hours of scales and hearing a song for the twentieth time in one night. The upside of living on love is that you really can feed two for as cheaply as one, at least if part of your diet is coming from artichokes stolen from California fields and served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a few weeks. The downside is that living on love rarely provides much personal space in the living arrangements — there was nowhere for them to go to have their own spaces or any “personal time.”

I was not too young to know that my dad got his personal space anyway.

That was another sore spot with my mother. After about six months of playing the guitar like it was a newfound religion, he and a friend decided they would audition for the orchestra for a touring Man of La Mancha.  They got spots, and they took off on motorcycles, touring the country playing “Dulcinea” and “The Impossible Dream” on acoustic guitar.

But that isn’t what made my mother sore. What made her sore is that my father’s social circle when he came back consisted largely of artists and musicians, who moonlighted as professional drinkers. Or vice versa. He spent his days apprenticing to a master woodworker for a pittance and his nights playing guitar and drinking liquor. When the cramped space of their living arrangments got to him, he’s disappear for a night or two with his truck, his guitar, and a bottle. He usually came back with the truck and the guitar, often to find his clothes on the front porch waiting for him.

This is what my father sang, and believed:

And I know if I’ll only be true, to this glorious quest,
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm,
when I’m laid to my rest …
And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach … the unreachable star …

This is what my father, crying, sang to her as she, crying, threw his things into the bed of his truck and told him not to come back until he was sober:

Dulcinea… Dulcinea…
I see heaven when I see thee, Dulcinea,
And thy name is like a prayer
An angel whispers… Dulcinea… Dulcinea!

If I reach out to thee,
Do not tremble and shrink
From the touch of my hand on thy hair.
Let my fingers but see
Thou art warm and alive,
And no phantom to fade in the air.

You see, he never really knew how to talk, not in the way people do, and not in the way his new wife seemed to expect. She came from a family who showed love with oyster gumbo and Irish toasts and a thorough ass-warming with a switch that “hurts me more than it hurts you.” Volume meant you cared, and when things got bad, Grandma Mae would light candles for you at St. Michael’s church and say the rosary on your behalf. Dad came from a family who showed love by sending each and every son off to military school for the best possible education and making sure they each got a car when they were sixteen. When Dad learned to play the guitar, he learned how to talk. But he had married a woman who didn’t speak his language, who rolled her eyes with annoyance when he sang Man of La Mancha songs to her.

This is what my father sang to me for a bedtime story when I was four:

Cheeks as red as a blooming rose
And eyes are the prettiest brown
She’s the darling of my heart
Sweetest little girl in town

Shady Grove, my little love
Shady Grove I say
Shady Grove, my little love
I’m bound to go away

And that’s just what he did. I knew, at four even, that music was how Dad talked. I knew he said things plainest with other people’s lyrics and with his fingers making chords on the mother-of-pearl inlaid neck of the guitar. I knew, because he sang so, that he loved me. And I knew, because he sang so, that he was bound to go away.

And he always did.


Shady Grove by Doc Watson and David Holt

Man of La Mancha Overture (guitar only)


Mom had been an art history major before she “took a semester off” and followed my dad out to California and then back to Alabama to do a sort of bohemian thing, only with woodshavings. Dad had done a semester at Alabama, a semester’s worth of time in the county jail, and a semester’s worth of traveling orchestra, and decided he wanted to build fine furniture. So they settled down by Fowl River and had me. Sometimes they had to sell the kitchen table to feed us, but it was ok because dad could make another one. Sometimes mom sold a painting or some stained glass, and in between she worked odd jobs to make up all the little differences. Once, when I was about twelve, struggling with “Tea for Two” on the violin, I asked her what kind of music she liked. She said, “I don’t like music.”

We didn’t have a television in the living room, but we had a piano that we’d gotten as partial payment for a bed dad had made for a customer who was a musician, and we didn’t have to sell it until I was twelve. So I had piano lessons. On Friday nights, the coterie of musician alcoholics would gather in the living room, dad on the guitar and then the banjo, after he made himself one and learned how to play it, one friend on the trombone, another on the piano, a generous handful on acoustic guitar. Sometimes I sat in on Bill Bailey on the piano. Then I skulked around and picked up the near-empty beer bottles and finished them off before somebody remembered to tell me to go to bed.
Dad told me around that time that he would support me for the rest of my life if I learned how to play the violin. They never could find a good fiddle player. I took two months of lessons and the entire family was ready for me to quit after fifteen minutes of hearing me practice. Learning the violin requires personal space.

My brother was eventually born and got old enough to pick up an instrument, but he was hard to teach. He had ADHD, only we didn’t know to call it that — we called it “impossible,” “bratty,” “unmanageable,” “hyper,” “difficult.” He couldn’t sit still for phys ed, never mind a music lesson. When he was about five, I was excited to have someone who would soon be learning to read so we could write notes to each other and make treasure maps and put things in code and talk about books we’d read. But it didn’t work that way. He talked through fighting, hair pulling, nervous tics, fidgeting, rock throwing. I corralled him into playing Lizard Hospital with me once, and we were busy collecting lizards to put in little hospital beds made out of shoe boxes and tissues. I had a method of “taming” them by confining them in the mailbox for a while so they’d sit still and let us wear them on our heads and as earrings. When they got ungroggy and tried to run away, we would catch them by the tails. When they shed their tails, they became candidates for the Lizard Hospital.

I went inside to get some more tissue for a brown lizard’s hospital bed, and I came out to find the patient’s cure had killed. The trowel that we’d been using to bury the ones that didn’t make it, or at least the tails they left behind, had been turned into an instrument of massacre by my brother. My little patient had been stabbed into pieces at the hands of my sibling, who had once again communicated with his hands rather than his words. I stopped trying to make him play Lizard Hospital with me.

Shortly after the abortive attempt at violining, I decided I was way too cool for anything my parents had ever liked, and I betrayed Doc Watson, taking up the mohawked and eyelinered mantle of the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie Sioux, and Bauhaus.

It might as well have been war.


For a family that didn’t talk all that much, symbols and noises meant a lot, and you got savvy to them quick. The tone of voice in which dad answered a “Can I call [so-and-so] on the phone” could convey a range of meaning. It could mean:

– whatever, I’m not listening.
– I had a bad day. I’m not listening. Unless you’re bringing me a drink, shut up.
– I had a good day, and you can have whatever you want, and this is a good time to hit me up for money.
– Your mother is being a bitch, and your political choices in the next five minutes will shape the next five months of your life.
– Get the fuck out of here now if you know what’s good for you.
– Hey, you’re an alright kid, you know? Let’s play some music.

Dad was not alone. The way mom performed the choreography of the kitchen/dinner dance spoke volumes. The closing of a cabinet door, the choice of vegetables, the tone of voice as she called us to dinner, how much peel was left in the mashed potatoes, all of it held meaning. It could mean:

– I am divorcing that bastard tomorrow and I just have to figure out how I’m going to feed these kids.
– If I have to cook cabbage one more night in a row I’m going to scream.
– I can’t believe he drank the last bottle of wine.
– I wonder if that new table I set up will let me solder without pulling that weird spot in my shoulders when I lean over?
– I think I might stop smoking pot and go back to the Catholic church.
– I wish you’d stop asking me what’s for dinner and peel a damned carrot or something to help me around here.
– This is a good time to ask me for money, or for new crayons or a book.
– If I hear Bill Bailey one more time I am going to shove that music stand up his ass.
– I think they’re old enough to read “Treasure Island” to; we’ll start tonight.

About this time, Dad inserted a new verse into the familiar rendition of Shady Grove:

Every day when I get home
My wife I try to please her
But she won’t have anything at all
One day I’m going to leave her

Shady Grove, my little love
Shady Grove, my darlin’
Shady Grove, my little love
I’m bound to go to Harlem

His piano-playing buddy managed to work a funeral dirge into the bridge. Mom gritted her teeth.

As for my brother, he was getting suspended from school regularly and pulling his hair out of his head so much he had bald patches. As for me, I was invested in black nail polish and making potions out of the eyeballs of dead birds I found in the woods. I stopped playing music, and to the thump-thump-thump of my brother obsessively but lightly banging his head into the thin wall of his bedroom in the trailer, I lived by new lyrics, written by somebody else:

So eager to please
Peer pressure decrees
Make the same old mistakes
Again and again
Chickenshit conformist like your parents

It didn’t so much matter that my parents were anything but conformists.  It mattered more that we couldn’t play the piano to Dead Kennedys songs.


Nat King Cole — Tea for Two

Marian Montgomery — Bill Bailey

The Sex Pistols  — Anarchy in the UK

The Dead Kennedys — Chickenshit Conformist


The black nail polish, punk music, and hair spray might as well have been a slap in the face to my father, who couldn’t help but take the assaults on his eardrums personally. When he sang:

Went to see my Shady Grove
She was standing in the door
Shoes and stockings in her hand
And her little bare feet on the floor

… my booted heels would kick the door shut. Then he’d take the door off the hinges. We were still communicating through music, but now there were battle lines instead of parleys. We were still communicating in the presence of Messieurs Dickel and Cuervo, but now I was kicking it back with the worst of them. We were still communicating with languages that needed the media of hands and strings to become sound waves, but now his fingers were finding purchase on my face and inside the thin walls of the trailer, and I was breaking his guitars over tree stumps in the front yard in retaliation.

They finally locked me up for a year before one of us killed the other, and we didn’t speak more than twelve words a month to each other for years afterward. In the meantime, my brother got diagnosed with ADHD, started medication and study skills programs, and finished reading his first book. My sister was born. I got the hell out of dodge as soon as I could. I was really into the Bolshoi at the time, and they sang me up to college on Interstate 65:

Yes you get by

Money’s scarce, but family honor
Brings it home brings it home
And down the shop, the tongues they snicker
TV dinners, beer and liquor…oh yeah

Skeletons fall out of cupboards
Curtains drawn fall open to allow
The light shows up the dust
That plays around your face


Actually, this is not part Four.  This is an interlude.  Part Five should be about Peter and Paul, and Phil and Walon, and music in real bars, and the deathmetal scene in Birmingham — no, that should be part Six.  So Part Five will come later, and part 6 after that. And I skipped over Stevie Nicks and my father passing out in my lap in a puddle of piss, and the Dead with that guy who died of stomach cancer and had (previously) given me my first REM e.p. and told me Bauhaus had nothing on Iron Butterfly, and the music the congregation makes when it says a rosary for the dead in between the slightly off-key intonations of the young Irish priest who has so many more expectations on his shoulder than he can handle.  I skipped lots of teenage high school stuff.  All that is before this.  So maybe that will be part five.  Or something.  Or maybe I’ll get somewhere if I just type and quit thinking about it too much.

Interlude?  I dunno.  I’m just going to type.

In Montevallo, I was far enough away to stop using Aqua Net and the Dead Kennedys as a weapon, for a minute, sometimes.  I would never have admitted it to my family, but when I got away as a teenager sometimes and hung out with my friends, they sometimes played the Animals, or Patsy Cline, and by the time I was seventeen I knew lots of Patsy Cline songs.  DougE (pronounce with two syllables, not one) would sit and sing with Peter and Paul while they played acoustic guitar and beat a rhythm out of a skillet or an old lamp with some thrift store cymbals perched on top in lieu of a lampshade.  DougE would hit all the high notes and the veins would pop out of his neck singing “House of the Rising Sun,” and then they’d shift into a Bauhaus song or some Sinead O’Connor, or into their own work — that was about the decrepit “historic district” downtown, where we used to loiter and eat cake and drink brandy and engage in minor burglary of formerly prized mantelpieces and copper wire; or about the seasons; or about kitchen appliances; or about a ride someone had taken in a car.  Actually, those guys need their own little series.

Of course, on the weekends, it was all punk rock shows and mosh pits and bloody noses, and I can’t count the number of friends who lost teeth during those days.  But that sort of cultural currency is a different story that i need to write one day.  But I’ve backtracked again.  This is where the thread I thought I could see when I started writing this gets messed up.  This is the tangle.  I could write an ending tonight, and maybe I should.  Maybe that would help me write the middle, untangle the tangle, make some sense out of something I evidently never tried to make sense of before.

But I set out to say this, at least, and as the hours click by and my ambition and clarity wane, i’ll have to settle for this…

At Montevallo, pushed along the interstate by Bolshoi lyrics, this was blue Docs and mohawk-recovering (my father had sent mine to the dustbin with a pair of scissors waved in my face for good measure first) & Chelsea time.  I spent some time screwing a boy with a safety pin through his lip, a boy whose mohawk grooming habits left smudges of hair wax on my sheets that would never wash out completely.  We listened to a lot of music on cassette:

I guess I make too much shit
Someday we’ll look back and laugh

Mr. Present, go away
Come back and fuck with us some other day
Mr. Feelings, run and hide
You have no right to what you feel inside
Motherfuckers, quick to kiss
Talk your shit, but don’t fuck with this
All I want to know…
All I want to know is
Am I holding on? Am I moving on?
What can we do, what can we do?

I had listened to Minor Threat in my time-out year in residential treatment, while we were supposed to be having P.E. in the gym.  Because I was a suicide, I was considered safe to house with the anorexic, and she didn’t get searched for a while coming in from pass.  I was high on pain pills my anorexic roommate brought me most of the time.  I would plead cramps and lie on an exercise mat and slide a Minor Threat tape into the oft-fought-over tape deck while the non-medicated, non-uterus-having suckers had to play games of basketball.  I laid on the mat fucked out of my mind on the combination of whatever the shrink had prescribed me and my roommate’s illicit medicine cabinet raids, and I let Ian MacKaye’s voice wash over me and stain the three surrounding miles with the bitter, metallic leftovers of my own disgust, somewhat, I imagined, in the shape of my own sweating body, leaking my dulled rage over three counties in a pattern visible only, maybe, from the air.  In this humid city that made its own gravy, I made my own sweaty mark, in my drugged imagination.  I was helping to poison the suburban wellwater of these bastards who thought it was a good idea for a sixteen year old girl to have her birthday in a mental institution, forbidden to have candles or even shoes, because she let a little too much ire leak around the edges.  There was nowhere else to go but where I went, then.  And I imagined these bass lines carrying little pieces of toxic me down into the water supply where I evaporated, and hoped they all choked on particles of me, later, as their toddlers screeched at the birthday party clown and played innocently in the sprinklers.  Poisoned, poisoned, poisoned… I had plenty to share, and their toddlers would hear Ian MacKaye in their nightmares, I hoped.

To have escaped, to have found the way to play that game and get released, to have accomplished the miracle of getting into college with a 1.75 GPA and a criminal record — it was a giddy time.  Listening to Minor Threat with a mohawked boy who sported a safety pin through his lip, in a room I had the key to, in a room I could lock, in a room with a tape deck I owned, felt like a coup.  I played it loud, and when I was alone, even when I was alone, I didn’t miss Doc Watson.

In Birmingham, later, I found deathmetal and bloodcults.  The musicians I knew were doing lines of coke off the slick, deep burgundy finish of their electric guitars.  Or the back of toilet seats, whatever.  I sang nothing, played nothing, went from pit to audience with hardly a mutter.  I was developing fluency in playing with people’s heads, with their dreams, with the soft spots where their limbs met their torsos, with the moments when their breath would come out and say something unguarded. Adn I think this should get snipped to go into the next part.


Siouxsie and the Banshees — Cities in Dust

Bauhaus — Hollow Hills

Patsy Cline — Walkin’ After Midnight

The Animals — House of the Rising Sun

Sinead O’Connor — Troy

The Bolshoi — Away

The Bolshoi —  Sunday Morning

Minor Threat — Look Back and Laugh


Cried so much the past few days, and things felt so unmoored and unfair that I let myself get led into temptation. I listened to grown children mourn their mother; the youngest son broke my heart into a thousand pieces. The older son knew just what to do and say to put part of it back together again. We stole some time and sleeping bags and wine and for a few hours we were 17 again and I let the bright stars and half-full moon and bittersweet words convince me I could be forgiven for breaking promises, for having others break vows. That night I stole kisses and beautiful half-truths and remembered what it felt like to be loved fiercely, with a timeless and inarticulate depth that almost promises to subsume its thousand betrayals.  I stole and hoarded every moment, every perfect whispered word, and wanted desperately to stop time, to hold these broken pieces together a little longer, to pretend just a little bit more.  When the sun came up, I saw my spoils in the pale dawn — bitter honey, sweet ashes, an ill-healed scar I’d torn open and its fresh ache — and settled in for a long penance. But I can’t help feeling my sad thefts are merely echoes and iterations of an old, original sin – one I committed when I couldn’t know that I would, with muffled and half-conscious prayers, find myself repeating it for the rest of my days.

Nick Cave and PJ Harvey – Henry Lee