Should you desire to be hateful — to dissect an innocent heart from the inside, to bury a soul under its own weight, bind it in secrecy. Afflict it with a power it cannot share, knowledge it cannot teach, truth it cannot practice.
Secrets are dangerous not in being told, but in being kept.
What is locked in the heart is so vulnerable and precious; it is a force meant to be reflected upon, reconciled, and released. Perhaps some secrets are too burdensome to be unleashed in shameless entirety or in direct confidence, and those are scattered throughout time in legends, myths, in art and poetry; masterpieces littering each single experience with whispers and with shadows. The secrets and their fragments we may be blessed or cursed to encounter are not for us to harbor, but to share as we see fit:
When we share foolishly, they instruct us; when we share wisely, they enlighten others.
In life, we accumulate so many secrets — they settle under our skin. They imprison us in our own minds, trap us with our own wills. Sometimes such secrets efface our very desire to live, for being alive is no more than sharing secrets:
Taking them on and letting them go.
For those who are truly living, there is no such thing as a secret, for to hear a whisper is to be whispered oneself. Being alive is standing on an ocean shore listening to the tide or marking the centre of a gust of wind or smiling quietly at a stranger’s conversation or holding the unshed tears of a close friend, inhaling the hushed morsels of existence and inserting ourselves in their place.
When we do this, we take the wind and give to it our being, and thus the burden of being is lightened for all. We cannot hold secrets dear, we can only hold them in vain. We are merely vessels after all:
Filled so we may be emptied, emptied so we may be filled again.
It is said that one of the prerequisites of creativity is to have had experienced childhood trauma. Read the works of any great Irish writer (Frank McCourt, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce) and you will clearly see that youthful pain and suffering fueled much of their creative genius. And while I do not claim to be remotely on par with these incredible storytellers, to read any of my writing is to know that childhood trauma played a significant role in the determination of my creative voice.
To be honest, my youth unfolded like the discarded first draft of a story that could have been so much better. There simply weren’t enough stretches of peace or joy in it to attend to the edits necessary to have made it bearable. It isn’t that I am filled with regret for all of the things that might have been. It’s more that I am blanketed in a sadness for the sheer waste of it all.
Intuitively, I know that my broken juvenile years can’t be the full measure of why I write the way I write. Something deeper, more sinister, is afoot. Something bigger and more malevolent presses my pen to the paper.
For me, the value of nothing out of nothing comes something. The nothing started even earlier than the moment when I began to write. I have no doubt that what little creativity I possess is the function of some neurological quirk; that I have just enough of psychosis or depression to fuel an interesting poem here, an article there. That creativity (if that’s even the word for it) is not, in any circumstance, the product of “talent” or creative muse, but rather arises more as a testament to a damaged mind that perceives the events of life from a slightly more skewed or twisted perspective.
Perhaps it was the combination of the two: an injured adolescence and a form of brain damage. When I was four years old, I fell down the stairwell of the two story duplex my family lived in while my father was stationed in the Navy. I was rushed to the hospital because the fall had resulted in a crushing blow to the frontal temporal region of my skull. Surely, my brain was impacted, if not forever altered because of this accident. Combine that blow with the endless physical and sexual trauma that rejoined the family the day my father retired from service, and then, perhaps I can begin to put my finger upon my “creativity.”
Ask yourself…what can be more creative than scrambling daily throughout your entire childhood to find a place to survive. Out of necessity, the damaged mind constructs a false reality in which to take shelter. It is this false reality that takes form in the expressive arts.
I may never know what truly fuels my creative process. The sands of time that fill the hourglass of my life have nearly run out. While I am by no means an old man, I am, nonetheless, a tired man and my time upon this tortured plane of existence called “life” can now be measured in moments rather than years. I will leave behind me no great works of art, no lasting legacy of poetic genius. Even the memory of me will fade before the ink is dry on my final written word.
Mine has been a lonely walk: solitude whispers a silent story. And as we all know, life and living require interaction. But I was born alone, have lived alone, and will undoubtedly die…alone. And that doesn’t require creativity.
I had a dream last night where I watched the moon swallowing the stars,
greedily ingesting the sparkling tapestry of the heavens, asserting a vain primacy,
ever becoming brighter and brighter until I could no longer look directly at it.
Silver clouds, in whispered wisps, shrouded this celestial midnight consumption
shape-shifting across the evening sky, spitting regretful droplets of sorrowful rain.
Abruptly I awoke, bathed in cold light, my face caressed by a bitter breeze
wafting through a carelessly open window, and there, on the windowsill,
quietly sat a majestic seagull.
His waterproof coat of feathers was luxurious. His animal spirit was fierce and strong.
The red dot, like resilient drop of blood, accented a brilliant yellow downward-curved beak
as his stony black eye fixed upon me with knowledgeable contempt and exacting judgment,suggesting that in my waking I had somehow slandered the significance of this extraordinary night.
One by one, molting black-tipped feathers fell like accusations upon my pace-worn wooden floor until the whole of it was carpeted and this noble scavenger fell naked backward into the nocturnal void squawking in his naked, downward death-spiral…
“I am Life! I am Death” …words whispered like dank petrichor with dawn’s rising light.
What was I to make of this? Was I awake, or was this my awakening?
I could not the discern what was real and what was not, but in that way of knowing that cleaves not to understanding, I knew.
I knew this was my last night.
I watched as meandering rivulets of rain painted my window like random-flowing veins,
transparent rivers of pain creating artfully disturbing and distorting prisms through which the lunar light filtered into my bedchamber swaddling me in hazy sheets of bewilderment and appalling fear.
I, too, was being swallowed into the voracious belly of the moon. My final breaths, like puffs of steam, floated before my sleep-filled eyes and like the stars ingested before me, my light faded into nothingness.
The royal robes of winter’s night tightly bind me in its blue-black grip The shadow of majestic purple mountains kneel upon the fields of frozen graves ancient tombstones, like granite faces hemming the barren valley floors
An amber moon spills its bitter glow through naked branches like brittle fingers clutching a button-less cloak Icy winds whip swirls of fog across lifeless lakes, and on broken wings doves fall from a voiceless sky
In a distant village, old ladies warble lullabies to their dying husbands; soft verse cutting like jagged blades through thick cherry smoke bleeding from pipes clenched in broken teeth. The children, with bellies as round as their joyless eyes feed upon fermented peaches and dance on knitted bones, playing hide but please, don’t seek for we are tired, for we are weak
I have walked a lifetime to return to this is, my kingdom, stretching as far as the blind eye can see. Built upon the shifting sands of hope lost This, both kingdom and the shoveled grave My head crowned in a spray of dying stars; my spirit drowned in muted prayer; my hobbled feet cut upon jagged stones.
Before the ashes, Vulcan’s vengeful fire. Before the sex, a deep and burning desire Before the storm, a dark and restless quiet; Before the morning, a deep and somber night.
Before the hunt, the frightened fleeing fox, Before the race, coiled tightly in starter’s blocks. Before the cut, such soft unblemished skin; Before the blade, sparks fly, thewhetstone spins.
Before new love, the queasy, nauseous start; Before the kiss, a young and hopeful heart. Before rejection, all things possible, bright, and new; Before enlightenment, faith in what we say and do.
Before Sun’s rays, dark clouds enshroud the planet Before the sculptor, beauty locked in blocks of granite. Before the fall, transcendence true and boldly rising; Before the gasp, in silent awe, a sweet surprising.
Before the rose arises first the lowly bloom – Before the family, a dark and empty room. Before old age comes the child full of life! Before victory, the pain of loss and bitter strife.
Before the Universe, a bright and solitary star Before the nearness, a cold and distant far Before the night, a day of brilliant cerulean blue Before the “Us,”a prayer for joining “Me” to “You”
How long will our love be kept waiting, our trembling hearts anticipating, yearning reflected in half-closed eyes, refusing sleep when passion lies, with spoken words clearly stating – how long will our love be kept waiting?
For love is purely mesmerizing
we tightly embrace as the sun is rising,
come fill this man’s heart with joy,
for daylight brings my heart’s envoy
in nature’s work there’s no disguising,
what we share is purely mesmerizing.
Your burning love makes my shadows bright,
and carries us through to dawn’s first light,
dancing circles turn around,
feeling the Earth’s beat underground
on this blessed day and shortest night,
the sweetest love makes shadows bright
“God talks in the trees.” — Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas
It is the season of sleeping late
while dreaming of red-orange trees
shuddering in the evening breeze.
These are the short days
when the thirst for warmth suborns desire
and Eros kisses summer love goodnight.
It is the season of crimson sunsets
pouring slowly, like thick molasses,
over church steeples and frozen riverbeds.
When snow-pregnant clouds float lazily
across flower-less meadows
and lovers seek shelter beneath heavy quilts.
It is the season of naked trees,
with branches like fingers extending
toward the setting sun, tracing delicate arches
across the rose autumn sky.
Those days when the blackbird flies southward
into the night beneath crystal constellations.
It is the season of surrender,
when burdens, like the yellowing leaves,
fall silently to the frozen earth
and tired bones warm themselves before tended fires.
It is the season of dying in the palm of God’s hand;
comforted in the knowledge of spring’s resurrection.
I am the ripe green apple, plucked from Eden’s garden Contemptuously bitten, no hope for God’s pardon. I am Achilles heel that hobbles my stride; Odysseus’ curse, my insufferable pride.. That lock of hair claiming Sampson’s life, And the brother of Able, I’m Cain with a knife! I am the snakes coiled in Medusa’s dark mane – Like a lance to the boil, my mercy is strained. I’m the brew in the cauldron of deep-forested witches – The ugliness that comes from Frankenstein’s stitches. I am alone and afraid, but too stubborn to change; Hopeless and lost and most certain deranged! I’m broken, defeated, and reeking of sin, The lowest of cowards, the most evil of men. A life, ever wasted on cheap wine and women, My descent into Death is just now beginning. This ghost will remain as my specter of shame – I’d rather be dead than live more of the same ~
***TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains small mentions of self-harm and institutionalization.***
Today I want to talk about something that has been swimming around in my head for weeks. I guess you could say this post is an accumulation of high emotions, stress, and some really tactless things I have heard from people who meant well. There are a few in my life who actually understand where I’m coming from… thanks Jeri and Susan and Julie and my sweet Nikie. I’m not going to unleash 40+ years of preteen, wannabe rebellion drama on to you; please know that all of this is coming from the heart; an excerpt from my life.
Following this post, I share a poem I wrote that attempts to sum up my dysthemia (chronic depression) in an easier, entertaining format. Depression is hard to put into words for those who have never experienced it. Sometimes a poem helps. Maybe.
To start off, I have been struggling with depression for at least 45 years. In middle school I had some issues with my classmates. A lot of them thought I was strange because one day I wanted to talk to everyone, huge smile on my face – and then the next I would withdraw or lash out angrily at anyone who dared look at me the wrong way. It was a time when I was just starting to realize that I was different, that something akin to a sezure was going to assert itself at random moments in my brain and in my life.
There was never relief at home for there was horror in that house visted continuously upon myself and my five siblings. I avoided going home at all costs. For a while, I had no way of coping besides throwing ridiculous tantrums to push people away; I stopped talking. Nobody knew what to do with me, so my mother started making me read and write to bring my grades up. When I actually became interested in reading, and especially writing, it became a coping mechanism. To this day, writing is my one place I can retreat to be heard and to find peace..
In high school my depression quickly escalated, especially during my sophomore and junior years. I was still reading and writing to cope, but I had absolutely no motivation in my education. I didn’t skip to be rebellious, I skipped because the anxiety of walking in to class was too much to bear. I can remember seeing the doorway to any of my classrooms, knowing there was a teacher and other students on the other end feeling like my lungs collapsed.
It took little to no thought, almost as if on instinct, for me to turn my feet in the other direction and skip my afternoon classes until the day was over. I was not bullied, I wasn’t hurt in any way by any of my teachers or students, there was no substance abuse when I skipped, but my parent’s couldn’t comprehend what was wrong. All they knew was that I was very quiet and withdrawn and nothing seemed to be helping.
Around this time, I started exhibiting self-harm behaviors: climbing rooftops and jumping, running away for a week or two at a time, taking full bottles of whatever was in the medicine cabinet. Once, I even took all of my mother’s birth control pills. But perhaps the most alarming was locking myself in my bedroom and choking myself with a belt until I passed out. I practiced hanging myself. Anything to escape the fear, the anxiety…the darkness.
By junior year I was continually self-harmful and hiding it from my only friend and my family. When my best friend found out she told her mother and she contacted my parents. The result was several trips to a psychiatrist that I absolutely loathed, and a therapist who was so unbelievably optimistic she could have been in Legally Blonde, but wearing baby blue 24/7 instead of pink. I stopped hurting myself (for a few years) but I still skipped class daily, read books to the detriment of my social life. Naturally, I gravitated to dark writers…Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Sylvia Plath, etc….and continued to be either withdrawn or aggressive with my family. During this time I was on medication, under the guidance of my psychiatrist.
I stuck to this uncertain way of life for a while, finding two friends struggling with the same situation I was. They were my support system, one of which I still talk to today. By the time I finished high school and started college, I had stopped taking my medication. I didn’t think there was a need for it anymore.
My first year was academically successful, but my mental state was getting increasingly worse and more unpredictable than usual. I was suffering. I managed to walk to my classes without freaking out about being watched until I sat down, and the dark fog would envelope me, but I was learning to function even in that darkness. It was a huge step forward. My academic advisor, however, was not happy with the lack of motivation in my education and prompted me to take on more classes. I’m not shoving the full blame of my ensuing emotional breakdown on him, however I do feel that my need to please him and avoid conflict was to take on 19 credits, an internship and an on campus job….all of which led to more depression.
I barely made it through my first semester before I was so emotionally and physically exhausted I could barely get out of bed. I was forgetting to eat and getting 3 hours of sleep on a daily basis.
During this time I talked to several different people to get help. I talked to the free on campus counseling, to which some of my friends went with me for support. It was great to have that outlet, but it wasn’t helping enough. I was so malnourished I lost nearly 25 pounds in the span of a month. Finally my roommate took one good look at me and told me if I didn’t get out of bed the next day by 12pm he was going to send me home with his mother if he had to. I ended up dropping out of college my sophomore year and coming back home.
I took the rest of the semester off, just focusing on eating, sleeping , and most importantly, not killing myself. This later thought was new…and I thought about it a lot. I spent most of my waking time trying to gather my courage to end it all.
By next semester I was re-enrolled in a college and went back on medication.
Therapy appointments were twice a week until I was back at a healthy weight and attending school on a regular basis. But I discovered a way to participate in all the social mayhem that one encounters in college – alcohol.
I had no way of knowing then what a devastating role alcohol (coupled with depression) would eventually have on my life, and in time, my marraige. But for the moment it worked. I experienced the false happiness of being under the influence. I could talk to people. I felt happy. And I had sex. A lot of sex. It numbed me. But the consequences of drinking began to assert itself: I was placed on academic probation for missing classes or going to classes under the influence. Two weeks later, I dropped out of college altogether.
This began a vicious and arduous cycle of failures that, unbeknownst to me, fed my depression: get a job, lose a job because of my drinking. Date a girl who could not keep up with my drinking. Lose a girl. Over and over and over. My self-esteem was shredded. And all along, like shoveling coal in a hungry furnace, I was stoking the flames of my disease. But as long as I kept drinking, I escaped the onslaught of a full blown depression collapse. The alcohol was killing me and saving me at the same time. I was committing social suicide by drinking as I did so that I did not commit actual suicide locked in my dysthemia.
Because of the alcohol, I was now somewhat liberated from my withdrawn state. I started noticing the strange reactions I was getting from people when I talked to them about my situation. Some of my friends were getting exasperated with my emotional outbursts and my depressive withdrawls, wondering why I couldn’t just “get over” what was bothering me. I tried to describe to them what was going on in my head but “It’s a chemical thing more than an emotional thing” didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere.
I started noticing that people who have never experienced deep depression were rather tactless when talking to people who suffered from depression. There seems to be this really blasé attitude towards those who are struggling with living their lives as normal people. Having my struggle with depression spelled across my forehead was too much to ask from me in order to get a somewhat understanding reaction from someone else… sorry…it wasn’t worth the effort. I’ve been institutionalized once and ever since coming out and getting my life back together people have been expecting me to just “get over” everything that comes my way. I couldn’t comment on something that was a little frustrating to me without someone telling me I’m “making too much of a big deal” about it.
I could not understand why people felt the need to react this way to someone who has been more than blatantly open about his emotional problems: WHY on earth would they instigate MORE problems and demand answers because they don’t know what’s wrong with them? If I told someone I had cancer, no one in their right mind would even dream of saying “Oh, it’s just cancer, get over it”. They wouldn’t have to know anything about my past, my family, the struggles I’d faced or anything of the sort to act like a decent human being, so why is it okay to say something like that about depression?
Sometimes I’d really like to give people a piece of my mind. It’d go a little something like this:
Things I’ve heard: “Oh honey, we all get a little sad sometimes.”
My reaction: “I’m pretty sure wanting to kill myself on a daily basis isn’t a little sad. But sure, I feel so much better now that my suicidal thoughts have been completely downgraded, I’m gonna go find a 7 story window to jump out of. Have a nice day.”
Things I’ve heard: “Why can’t you just tell me what’s going on? I’d be so much easier to deal with, I don’t have time to do this with you every day.”
My reaction: “I totally love living in emotional turmoil so I just keep it to myself. The chemical calibrations going off in my brain make total sense to to me but I don’t feel like sharing. I’m sorry I forgot to tell you I had an emotional breakdown scheduled this month and it’s set to go until the middle of December. I’ll put it on the calendar next time.”
Things I’ve heard: “You didn’t look or sound depressed at all! How was I supposed to know?”
My reaction: “I wasn’t trying to tell you. And if I could, there are no words to describe the darkness that envelopes me. Next time I want the world to know exactly how I feel on a daily basis I’ll tattoo it on my face so it’s impossible to miss. I love knowing my personal business is so blatantly obvious to everyone in the world.”
Things I’ve heard: “Why can’t you just stop feeling that way? I mean thinking about it won’t help so just move on.”
My reaction: “Ooooooooooooooooh! You’re so incredibly smart! Let me find my automated ‘off’ switches for my mind, my brain, my heart, my depression and anxiety and I’ll get back to you. Thanks sooooooooooo much for the suggestion. I’ll just add that to the growing list of things I have failed at, and get right on that thank you note for such a thoughtful piece of advice.
-insert loud sigh here-
The point is, my tolerance for people’s complete lack of understanding is getting smaller by the hour. No person who has ever felt the pain that depression brings should ever have to feel guilty for it, especially when the people around them don’t understand anything about what they are going through. We don’t share the same language when it comes to depression. Words to describe what it’s like simply don’t exist. We need to start by having an open and thoughtful national conversation on the topic. And that is not going to happen.
I’m starting to realize I’m going to have to cut some really important people out of my life because of this. In one way, I cut the most important person in my life out forever, because of the behavioral side affects of my dysthemia and the attempts to quiet the nightmare through a series of alcohol relapses. I will never forgive myself for that. The repercussions of that will echo for years yet to come. I couldn’t save myself….how in hell was I evervgoing to save my marriage? And what in God’s name was I thinking ever letting someone get that close to me. It will never happen again.
Being alone with depression is going to hurt, but I’d rather go through a hurt alone that I can grow out in three days or a week than ever suffer again by havingin my love, my heart, and myself as a person discarded because of the fallout of this savage disease. I cannot long survive a life of having who I am as a person suffering from depression thrown back in my face every day by a world that is afraid to understand.
DYSTHYMIA (CHRONIC DEPRESSION) by D..L. McHale
It does not speak English, Spanish, French, or Italian, or any intelligible utterance known to this world.
It is a darkness devoid of spoken words; a tongue savagely ripped from the mouth of the village idiot.
There are no pressed pages in braille to sensate dull fingertips, to tap out the iniquity and the pain.
No painting of fingered words in the still air whispering into deafened ears.
It is the molten ashes of Vesuvius, cascading behind clenched eyelids; a scorching of the inner self. It is the babbling madness of Babylon chanting chattering confusion.
It is the silent scream that pierces the morning sky, the shrieking wind that rips the sparrow’s wings from its tender breast.
It is the desperate gasp for air from collapsed lungs, the tortured artery that bleeds the brain.
Beneath the ocean’s swell, the riptide that pulls one asunder to the blue-black abyss, a dark star consuming itself, devouring light into the shadows of its belly.
A twisted comfort in the unfeeling, a slap in the face of the unsmiling. Distant and cold eyes – unfocused, unseeing.
A banquet of burning bone and marrow before demons dancing to noteless music.
The ground beneath my feet rumbles.
Softly at first, and then with each step
increasing in its timbre.
The air is damp and mossy with a gray light
filtering through the canopy of spruce and pine.
Wet thunder rises; my ears are muted
by the intensity of a river plummeting
over slick rock lips;
a roiling, massive death spiral.
Half the volume swan dives elegantly
hundreds of feet into a pounding foaming white pool,
while my pounding heart matches the outpouring,
beat for beat.
The other hangs mistily in the frigid air,
gently nourishing the brown-green algae with its spit.
I cannot help but marvel at the sheer anger of it all,
wondering how many open-mouthed bass
thrust forth into open space, gargoyle-eyed as
the river disappears beneath them,
recognize this as the end of their swim?
Death, anger, power…and yet
so serenely beautiful
Rage on, Snoqualmie,
before the winter’s freeze deprives you
of your liquid dance!
I’m not the best at writing. I’ll never be famous or widely read. But I’m okay with that. I spent years receiving no or sparse encouragement for my writing efforts. But still I wrote. Yet outside affirmation was never what I needed. What I needed all along was to listen with conviction to the compulsive inner voice that said, “write!”
Writing has alwas given me a sense of spiritual relief, a deep fulfillment of comfort and confidence. It reminds me that everything negative that happens in life has a sense of beauty in it; sometimes you just have to be patient and be willing to open your mind to it.
Of course, I also write to learn better techniques and improve upon my current style. .The more I write, the easier it is to find personal strengths and deliver the verse the way I want it to be interpreted.
As I said, I acknowledge that my writing is at best mediocre. But that is not the point. The point is that I continue to write.
One of my closest friends confessed to me today that she was strongly contemplating giving up her blog because one of her readers keeps disparaging every written entry as “amateurish” and “meaningless.” I told her she should be thankful that she had at least one devoted fan who felt so compelled by her writing that he simply had to take the time to respond to everything she writes. You can’t buy that kind of loyalty.
Sometimes you just have to shout into the void to know you still have a voice, and that the echo that ricochets back is someone else’s acknowledgment that you’re not alone.
Consider for a moment that we are all jugglers. It is, afterall, what life demands of us; constant juggling – of time, relationships, our attention, responsibilities. We feel ourselves continually caught up in the demanding task of keeping many things up in the air simultaneously, smoothly rotating, round and round.
Suppose then, in our quest to be the best juggler possible, we see that we are juggling three balls: one rubber, one wooden, and one crystal.
In the course of our juggling, we slip and drop one ball. Let’s say it’s the rubber ball. What happens to it? No real damage done, right? It bounces. It comes back to you. This rubber ball might represent your education, your job, your contributions to the community in which you live. It is the decisions you make everyday that defines not the depth, but the breadth of living. In the course of your life you may drop this ball several times…you may change jobs, you advance, you are laid off, you make new friends, old ones slip away, you go back to school…it is constantly moving in new directions.
Do not overly concern yourself when this rubber ball slips and falls to the ground; it will retain its resiliency, bounce back, and everything will be fine.
Suppose now you lose your focus for a second, perhaps a day or two. You drop the wooden ball. What becomes of it? Well, it’s a bit noisier, true, but in all likelihood it will become scratched, perhaps chipped. In time, after a few falls, it may even take on a new shine, a new patina.
This wooden ball represents your health and your spirituality. It changes…constantly. It evolves. It will not look the same today as it will tomorrow. That is its nature. Be mindful of keeping this one aloft, but do not distress if from time to time it slips your grasp. It, too, is resilient and in the long run, it endures.
But what then of the third ball? The crystal ball? What happens if you take your eye from it for a moment and it hits the floor? What becomes of it?
It shatters! It will not return to you for it is utterly destroyed.
This crystal ball represents your close, intimate relationships. Your husband, your wife. Your Mother and Father and sisters and brothers. It represents your children and their children, et. cetera, et. cetera. It represents family and all close and cherished relationships. It represents the giving and the receiving of love.
If you drop this ball, no amount of effort will repair it. It is lost forever. For this reason alone, you must be acutely and forever focused on keeping this ball in the air at all costs.
As you juggle life, keep this lesson in mind, and keep your priorities likewise aligned. Allow for mistakes in life (the rubber and the wooden balls), but never accept your life as the mistake (the crystal ball!)
Three Roads: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Which One Shall I Choose?
The reason most people find themselves stuck in a rut is because they insist on seeing tomorrow as an extension of today, and today as an extension of yesterday. This has been the most difficult, and necessary, lesson of the past year and a half of my life. My ignorance in adhering to this faulty belief invited me to# voluntarily step into mental leg irons that have no key. It has hobbled me in everything I have striven to achieve, for it is a false assumption and a dangerous one at that.
Yesterday is a story that has already been told. The book is closed. The lessons, oh dear God, hopefully, learned. No amount of regret can change the ending of a story that is now complete. How can I ever hope to begin a new chapter if I continue to dwell upon an ending that cannot be altered? My past has served its only purpose, which was to instruct and to deliver me to today. My only regret, my biggest regret, is that the lesson came at such a cost to another.
Today is all that truly matters. Today, I write the story, big or small, dull or incredible…the words are all there – and it is up to me to arrange them as I see fit. I am the protagonist. Only I can determine whether I turn left or right, whether I move forward, stand still or retreat backward. I have come to the realization that to stand still or move backward is to settle for a weak plot. Only in moving can the inspiring stories be written… and written well.
And of my tomorrow? It is nothing more than a blank piece of paper not yet ready for mwhatforwardy pen. If I live with one foot planted in today and the other in tomorrow, all I will have managed to do is straddle the fence of possibility. To be stuck on that fence is to surrender half of the possibilities of today. I have chosen to get off of the fence and plant both feet firmly on the path of “ Now.” The fallacy of tomorrow is the falsehood that I need to “plan for.” Plan for what? All the things I missed today?
This worldview is not clever or unique. I did not come up with it. Smarter minds than mine have been advocating this for eons. I am just serving as the echo of their wisdom. If I choose to live fully at this moment which is today, I have no choice but to surrender yesterday to the sweetness of memory, and tomorrow to the providence of faith.
Beginning now, I choose to immerse myself in the wonder and infinite possibility that is today. I do so with the humility to comes from the sacrifices of others who helped me find my way.
How temperamental is the man in me
who misses you but will not call –
because I find the thought of romance
more alluring than actual love?
I drink to burn the voices in my belly
that mock my tenuous hold on sanity.
I buy my smokes one at a time because
I have no vision of or faith in tomorrow,
and I make my living scratching
the underbelly of this wretched world.
This desolate city, crumbling beneath the
broken wings of blackbirds…it is my home.
It is where I live. It is where I shall die.
My pen scrapes past its veneer of civility shedding light upon the ugly, the lost,
the torn asunder.
I take my walks at night under clouds
all dressed in muted black.
I am callous with the hipsters and the tweakers camped by the muddy rivers;
the hookers and the pimps and the holy man and the goddamned garish fluidity of this headache world.
I live in a city of fifty thousand accumulated flesh tombs pretending about the news
and the weather, their minds drifting always back to the same goddamned thing.
How pathetic to be so far away
in space but not in time?
How desperate is the faith convinced by two arguments; both to be and not to be?
When I stumble, I lean against the wall or the lamppost, reading a page of Plath or a passage of Hemingway, and all I can think is how courageous their exits were.
I yearn for their knowledge of the final crossing. I read words, not novels, because words are better spit than woven.
I accept my fate, gazing at my expiration date
and pouring another drink as I turn off the radio and sit silently in the dark chambers of my thoughts.
I remember you,
but implore you to remember me not.
Past the tick-tick-tocking of the midnight hour,
Wrapped in sweat-stained cotton sheets,
Robbed of sleep and feeling sour
Like a muffled drum sounding nothing beats –
In the dying petals of the poet’s flower.
This syrup sleep removes the pain,
While dreams remain beyond my reach.
A whiskey slumber subdues the brain
While my toss-n-turn reveals a breach,
As time grinds on just the same.
I rise to write the poet’s dribble
And gorge upon liters of stale red wine.
Behold, my words, a bastard’s scribble!
Writ upon the passage of borrowed time.
Each tick, each tock, from my life is nibbled
I cannot rest while my muse is clanging
Inside my head a poor man’s verse,
Nor can I stop the incessant banging
As my thirst for libations meets an empty purse!
These words are ripe for a morning hanging.
Upon the tick-tick-tocking of the morning hour,
Sweet sleep descends upon my brow.
Within my bed I hide and cower;
An ink-less pen is a horseless plough –
In the dying petals of the poet’s flower.
Emotionally exhausted and viscerally spent, I have just completed my readings of those I have affectionately nicknamed the “Suicide Sisters” – Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath.
I had hoped to glean some understanding of how incredible writing is influenced by depression, personal anguish and mental illness. Had I known how jagged this footpath was, I might have thought twice before beginning such a journey.
I literally fell in love with all three of these Spirits. I cried without shame. I physically felt pain at times. At times, especially with Virgina Woolf, I would swear I heard their whispers in my inner ear.
This has been the most difficult, hopeless literary undertaking of my life. Hope had a way of getting misplaced, if not lost outright, when reading these women.
At times, I had to remind myself to breath. In truth, at times I didn’t want to.
Would that I could deeply reach
beneath the dark-moist earth
pulling upward closely to my breast
fistfuls of your white-bleached bones –
to feel the jagged edges pressed
against my selfish living flesh;
to smell the late hours of your suffering,
to taste your tortured final verse
upon my dusty tongue.
Oh, my Suicide Sisters!
You each found in Death’s cold embrace
the peace and warmth Life long denied.
Virginia…did you pack stones enough
to carry you as wetly deep as needed
to sleep through the ages?
Have the midnight screams,
the anguished dreams
settled softly with you on the murky riverbed?
Sylvia…your babies lay warmly sleeping
drawing their first breaths where you surrendered your last..as then you entered eternal night –
did you fight against the dying light,
or was your savagely betrayed soul
carried softly heavenward
upon the rising cloud of your final breath.
Anne, surrendered child of the asylum
dancing in sync to the symphony of the insane, voiceless visionary virgin,
revving the engine, inhaling “no more!”
The world kissed your haunting cheek,
chewing your words with callous spit
Dear Anne, whose words burn brightly still
have you fled this mortal coil and all its ills?
My sweet, courageous Suicide Sisters!
Did the screaming stop, the incessant hum,
as your mortal clocks
struck the hour of “none”?
I did not need your fevered poems
to navigate my way back home…
for here upon your graves I rest
hearing your echoes within my chest!
Where then is my courage?
Are you not even now pulling me to you?
Have I no further verse to write
to guide me over into the comforting silence of our shared eternal night?
The bitter truth that is mine to drink
is not that I write, but that I think!
Your tortured lives are my dying treasure
For what is death but absent pleasure?
the world spins on a tilted shaky spindle
and we hold on tightly with our hopes and dreams
(there is no space for anything but dreaming!)
we defy gravity with our capacity to love and cherish
we are gods treading boldly on a blue-green marble
beneath a sea of stars tossed upon a blue-black canvas
the universe painted in brilliant colors in random rotation
stoking the fires of our imagination with worlds beyond our reach
the non-dreamers toil in despair, and soon to dust return
while we float through infinity and blow kisses to the sun
dream, dream, dream…close your eyes and open your mind
(there is no space for anything but dreaming!)
Happy Birthday to one of my greatest inspirations: T.S. Eliot (he is the reason I write as D.L. McHale)
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is perhaps one of the most introspective and transforming pieces of modern poetry ever written. It resonates, for me, on a substratum of my inner being, to which I rarely penetrate; for my life has been mostly a constant evasion of myself. My losses stack up accordingly.
In honor of his birthday, and his priceless contributions to both modern literature and to my own creative metal, “let us go then, you and I” to:
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse A persona che mai tornasse al monda, Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse. Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero, Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo. The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes, Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening, Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains, Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys, Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, And seeing that it was a soft October night, Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time For the yellow smoke that slides along the street, Rubbing its back upon the windowpanes; There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?” Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair–
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin– (They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have know them all already, known them all–Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all– The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, Then how should I begin To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all– Arms that are braceleted and white and bare (But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!) Is it perfume from a dress That makes me so digress? Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume? And how should I begin? . . . . . .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets.And watched the smoke that rises from the pipesof lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .
I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. . . . . . .
And the afternoons, the evening, sleeps so peacefully! Smoothed by long fingers, Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers, Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed, Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet–and here’s no great matter; I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And, in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all, After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while, To have bitten off the matter with a smile, To have squeezed the universe into a ball To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”–
If one, setting a pillow by her head, Should say: “That is not what I meant at all; That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all, Would it have been worth while, After the sunsets and the dooryards and sprinkled streets, After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor–
And this, and so much more?–
It is impossible to say just what I mean! But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while If one, setting a pillow or throwing off a shawl, And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all, That is not what I meant at all.”. . . . . .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two, Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use, Politic, cautious, and meticulous; Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous– Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old . . . I grow old . . .I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind?
Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves Combing the white hair of the waves blown back. When the wind blows the water white and black. We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown. Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
MY HUMBLE ANALYSIS:
Meet Prufrock. (Hi, Prufrock!). He wants you to come take a walk with him through the winding, dirty streets of a big, foggy city that looks a lot like London. He’s going to show you all the best sights, including the “one-night cheap hotels” and “sawdust restaurants.” What a gentleman, he is! Also, he has a huge, life-altering question to ask you. He’ll get to that later, though.
Cut to a bunch of women entering and leaving a room. The women are talking about the famous Renaissance painter Michelangelo. I don’t know why they’re talking about Michelangelo, and I never learn. Welcome to Prufrock’s world, where no one does anything interesting.
Did we mention that it’s foggy. Like really, really foggy. The fog has a delightful yellow color, and it acts a lot like a cat.
Yawn. What a day. i’ve accomplished so much already with Prufrock. There’s still a lot of stuff he still wants to get done before “toast and tea.” People to see, decisions to make, life-altering questions to ask. But not yet…There’s still plenty of time for all that later.
Where did the women go? Oh, yes, they’re still talking about Michelangelo.
Yup. Pleeeen-ty of time for Prufrock to do all that really important stuff. Except that he doesn’t know if he should. He’s kind of nervous. You see, he was about to tell someone something really important, but then he didn’t. Too nervous. Oops! At least he’s a sharp-looking guy. Well, his clothes are sharp-looking. The rest of him is kind of not-so-sharp-looking. People say he’s bald and has thin arms.
But he still has pleeen-ty of time. And he’s accomplished so much already! For example, he has drank a lot of coffee, and he’s lived through a lot of mornings and afternoons. Those are pretty big accomplishments, right? Plus, he’s known a lot of women. Or at least he’s looked at their hairy arms, and that’s almost as good.
Prufrock says something about how he wishes he were a crab. Oh, Prufrock! Always the joker. Wait, you were serious? That’s kind of sad, my friend. Don’t you have important things to do?
Oops! It looks like he didn’t do that really important thing he meant to do. He was going to tell someone something life-altering, but he was afraid of being rejected. So he didn’t. Oh well.
Meanwhile, Prufrock keeps getting older. He doesn’t worry about that really important thing anymore. Instead, he worries about other important things, such as whether to roll his pant-legs or eat a peach.
Ah yes…the peach! This is no ordinary question about fruit. This is perhaps the raciest line ever written…given the time in which it was written. Again, ” Do I dare to eat the peach?” Im not going to spell this out for you. I think you now know to what the “peach” refers.
It turns out that Prufrock really likes the ocean. He says he has heard mermaids singing – but they won’t sing to him. Boy, you sure do talk a lot about yourself, Prufrock.
Finally, he brings us back into the conversation. He talks about how we lived at the bottom of the sea with him (geez, we don’t remember that one!). It turns out we were asleep in the ocean, but all of a sudden, we get woken up by “human voices.” Unfortunately, as soon as we wake up, we drown in the salty ocean. Boy, what a day. We thought we were talking a walk, and now we’re dead.
And we die…we drown. And in that moment we understand, finally, the message of his love song….
Does any of it really matter…life, love, indulgences, hope, fear? For we age, and in aging become, not someone, but something to laugh and point at. And then we die.