Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Merry Christmas.

Every year the darkness of winter hurts me more. The icy winds, the black mornings, the monochrome of brown green outside. From October 30 until December 21st I tell myself how many mornings there are until I can hope again, until I can look forward to a little more light. And I feel this enormous empathy for the pagans, for the local people on this completely miserable island past and present, who kick it up a notch in December, who drag trees into their houses, and string up lights, and busy themselves in contact with others. These nativity plays and parties and travelling to relatives, all this stuff is really just about people banding together with good will. Truly this is the death of the year, and humans where I live now have banded together to survive this death with song and wine and comfort for each other, having a month of being the best humans we can be.

The traditions that make Christmas special for me, that make it work to protect me from this cold foretaste of my own demise actually have very little to do with Christianity. Decorating a tree (pagan), caroling (ancient pagan tradition of singing in the round), presents, parties, Ebeneezer Scrooge, mince pies, banana bread, Champagne at 11:00 (I do give Christianity credit for Champagne, having been invented by monks), Bill Murray as Scrooge, the original Grinch Cartoon, It's A Wonderful Life - let's face it, these are pretty unrelated to the birth of Christ, but I am comforted intensely by the ritual of revisiting them, and I am trying to pass on that comfort to my children. To me Christmas demonstrates this need for all humans to come together and support each other, this need so richly rewarded and so frequently ignored. If we didn't do it during these dark months, I'm pretty sure there wouldn't be any human life on this island. It's too dismal.

In the coming together we enjoy each other. I propose we come together, not only as a meek Christian who only gets to worship (rather limited activity), but just for now as humans, who many believe are made in God's image anyway. Humans who are fully all the parts of all the stories. In each of us there is a Tiny Tim who who desperately need love. In each of us there is a Grinch who delights in inflicting pain on others. In each of us there is a George Bailey desperately drunk in a bar wondering why the living fuck his life turned out the way it did. In each of us there is a Bob Cratchett who faithfully gets up and goes to work every day to provide for his family. Each of us is Clarence who sees so clearly the suffering of others. Each of us longs to fit in like Rudolph and his dentist friend.

So fellow humans, art tells us about ourselves, and I find this telling heals me of the wounds of this life. I love these stories, and I love Bruce Springsteen playing Santa Clause is Coming to Town. That one especially makes me happy every time I hear it even as I am telling myself -Grinch that I fucking AM - that it can't possibly do it again. Humans need the December hit of eating some yummy food, getting some love and feeling good. Christmas is enlightening for everyone. I find it enlightening - literally, against the darkness, enlightening.

Whether or not you are a Christian, the winter darkness is unavoidable, whether it is in the seasons of the years of our lives (unless you live in California, which is increasingly looking like the best option, frankly) or - importantly in our souls, part of our human nature. I think practicing pure Christianity mostly has too many concepts that blind you to your own darkness. That is why I really do not buy it anymore.

But I do love the story and I can lay claim to that. So here is my take:

We are all Roman Soldiers capable of genocide, we are all King Herod abusing our power, we are all Mary, and Joseph, naive and young, bewildered by bureaucracy and fleeced by an innkeeper. We are all the wise Kings watching and the cold shepherds laboring. We are all that hunted defenseless baby. You. You. You. You are the baby. You are the star.

So merry Christmas, entire world (really my 9 blog readers). Let us love and protect each other, let us give ourselves what we need, and guard against cruelty and the abuse of power, wherever it is found. Let us band together against the darkness by coming together under the light of a star.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Very Personal Comment

So I am working on my son's school's fundraiser, they are a new school and they haven't had a parent-led fundraiser ever. It's such a unique and special place and I really want to help it thrive. I am so grateful for what my son experiences there, and, truly, what I experience there. I have met some really wonderful people - wise, complex, artistic, insightful, kind and loving people. Being around them makes me rethink everything I had come to believe in the last decade. Their practice of Christianity is profoundly alive in all their interaction, a serenity and a loving kindness.

And here I am. The problem with unleashing former Skadden litigation associates on the world is a big one. We were successful in litigation a lot of other lawyers wouldn't take on, because we didn't act like a lot of other lawyers. We were paranoid, obsessive and we overreacted to everything. This is in part because were in hyperdrive as humans, all sleep deprived almost all the time, and we were thinking about nothing but the trial, not about relationships or about our lives but only about the case. Other lawyers called Skadden The Death Star. I would like to think that is because we usually won, but it may in fact have something to do with the fact that many of us acted like Darth Vader.

For, you see, Darth Vader was very successful. In litigation, all of these vices in fact create virtues. Paranoids do not miss anything. They assume the absolute worst about everything that happens, and sometimes their assumptions are correct. In those worst case scenarios, a paranoid person can really shine. And if the judge has hauled you back into chambers on a whim to make you spit out your damages case, you are well prepared if, as an obsessive, you read and reread the facts of the case until they were part of the fabric of your being. And then, the overreaction: we had thought through every contingency. We had a plan to get from where we were to victory and it absorbed our every waking moment and every neural circuit in our brains. And when we deviated from that plan, it was all kinds of bad news. Every type of manipulation was warranted to succeed in your cause. I remember my secretary marching in my office one day when a big brief was due and calmly announcing that she would not ride the emotional rollercoaster with me on this one. (Truth: Life with me is kind of an emotional rollercoaster, I am Rachel Mariner) The secretary was this Jewish lesbian who was raised in South Africa, left because of apartheid and became an incredibly enlightened Buddhist cat worshipper. One day, after two back-to-back trials in Paducah, Kentucky and Luxembourg, I started crying when I couldn't get the printer to work. I was so tired. I was so spent. She, a constant, caring presence in my life told me to JUST GO HOME, and I did. In some ways, my life started at that moment.

A year later I met Rhys and then I went off to have a normal life, and interact with normal people who had not been paid for a decade to foster mental illness. And those poor normal people! And here I am organizing a charity auction and lately a mock trial and working with them and I bring the drama. I get results, but I do bring the drama.

I apologize for these jarring aspects of my character. I apologize for the zero-to-sixty killer instinct. My brain has been trained in an adversarial system.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton

Alan Dugan wrote Love Song: I and Thou which is one of my favorite poems ("drunk on my prime whiskey: rage") but I never read anything else he wrote until tonight and I liked this

Drunken Memories Of Anne Sexton by Alan Dugan
The first and last time I met
my ex-lover Anne Sexton was at
a protest poetry reading against
some anti-constitutional war in Asia
when some academic son of a bitch,
to test her reputation as a drunk,
gave her a beer glass full of wine
after our reading. She drank
it all down while staring me
full in the face and then said
"I don't care what you think,
you know," as if I was
her ex-what, husband, lover,
what? And just as I
was just about to say I
loved her, I was, what,
was, interrupted by my beautiful enemy
Galway Kinnell, who said to her
"Just as I was told, your eyes,
you have one blue, one green"
and there they were, the two
beautiful poets, staring at
each others' beautiful eyes
as I drank the lees of her wine.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fela! The Real Review

I fear this might be a long post. I mean really fear, because actually sitting down and writing makes me panicky. I grew up on a house where it was really sinful to take a seat unless anything you could possibly imagine needing to do was done. There were a few lovely exceptions to this rule, but unfortunately what it left in my neural paths was a horrible fear of getting in big trouble for doing something just for myself.

And I am scared of it and do everything I can to avoid it, including getting depressed and it's ridiculous because it is one of the very helpful things. I think I subconsciously avoid it because it's powerful. Thinking about art helps. Art is one of the very helpful things. And on Thursday night I saw Fela, which was the most helpful thing I have seen in such a long time. That piece was soaked in truth and spectacle and I am so grateful I saw it.

It seems to me that Fela Kuti is an extraordinarily clear representation, in one person, of the injustices his continent and thus, really of our world. He also created Afro Beat and was a phenomenally respected musician. He also almost perpetually smoked marijuana. He also had 27 wives. I know, it's a lot to take in at once. I really didn't know anything about him and I took a course in African History in college. I think he was probably edited out of all the cirriculum I encountered maybe for his Marxist associations?

The story of Fela in Bill T. Jones' piece is a dance biography with so much visually arresting truth in dance and song and images that everyone should drop everything and go check out the new theatrical gold standard.

The Olivier at the National has been transformed into The Shrine - the nightclub in the small independent Kalakuta Republic. It was there that he - an incredibly sophisticated musician steeped in Western culture through his musical education in London, Paris and New York - tries to make his best Africa, his true Africa. He was jailed over 200 times. He was beaten and tortured. Still he endured, to make his land the land it should be. Brave sacrifice to bring more justice to his world. I think I will go pour myself a glass of wine in my very warm house and feel a little heartbreak about this later, because it stings my conscience.

Anyway, Fela was extraordinarily qualified to see Africa clearly. His father was the living embodiment of submission to colonialism, submission that included internalizing Christianity to the detriment of his own identity. His mother was a hero fighting for equal rights despite differences of sex, race and culture. Truly a King of Heaven of the highest and best magnitude and I do not know why I have been previously deprived of this information.

Why have I not heard of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti before? She was gloriously evinced in the theatre by this enormous Marxist looking poster. She was in many ways pretty much a Marxist. That didn't stop her from fighting for human rights. We have to stop shitting all over Marxism while we are trying to figure out the current dire economic state. Not to say that Marxism should be adopted wholesale at all, but rather to say that, I don't care where ideas come from, they should be evaluated on their own merits. (Cut to Syndrome in The Incredibles: "Gosh! You got me monologing again!)

No other reviewer has even mentioned what I thought was the most powerful story embedded in Fela! which was Fela's distaste for his father's Christianity and subsequent curiousity about his native religion, ancestor worship. Fela says at the beginning of the show that he is exiting Africa, that he is moving out of the Shrine and giving up, and going away to play music and make money. He then in the second half of the show has an encounter with his dead mother, beautifully evoked with incredible dancing and an aria. She points out his responsibility to help the world and then, when we have returned to an evening at the Shrine at the end of the show, Fela says he is going to stay and fight. So his plan is to leave, he encounters his dead mother, he decides to stay.

I am reading such incredibly disappointing reviews from UK papers and bloggers about this because these mental giants with their overwhelmingly brilliant understanding of theatre completely missed this point. Again, what the hell? You want story? That's Robert McKee's Story, that is every LA screenwriter basic training, right there. I expected better of England. This is as rich as Shakespeare, you morons, and you missed it completely

Why does no one see that everyone in the UK needs to find their own Fela and make the best England, their England? Why did no reviewer point out this very simple and powerful parallel? I mean, just read main section of the Observer today. No sports in schools, Ireland fucking broke, civil unrest. Which side are you going to be on? And when you decide, why not look to your own saints and heroes, your own Luke Skywalkers or Funmilayos or Jesus or all the Saints, whomever you call King of Heaven? Are you called to fight for what is right? I am. I am manic about it.

It totally made me want to create a play in the style of Fela, it totally inspired me, it totally made me question my life and my response to these strange times. Utterly fantastic.

Side note on me being deprived of Funmilayo:

Anyway, a little bit more about my anger about this beautiful, dignified queen of women? I grew up with Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart and Sandra Day OConnor. I was so sick of Madame Curie with her wimpy gloves and Amelia Earhart with her heart in the air but her questionable decisions. And then by the time I was nine I couldn't forgive Sandra Day O'Connor for being a Republican. I should have read the biographies of people like Rosa Parks and Funmilayo - women who took on political change. And I want to teach my daughter about this woman. She died in a savage attack on the Kalakuta Republic by the Nigerian government that culminated in her defenestration (forgive me but how often do you get to use that word?) But it wasn't how she died rather how she lived that interests me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

So you're bipolar

You have been diagnosed, correctly or incorrectly, with a group of symptoms. The connotations of having bipolar are deeply, deeply unpleasant and even associating the word with yourself probably is a very painful undertaking.

But associate with it for a moment here, and learn what is good about what you have. You have a tremendous amount of currently misused power coursing through your mind. Other people want that vitality. When I was in high school I was voted Most School Spirit which was incredible bullshit given my feminist views on cheerleaders. What I had was just the most spirit. And that is what you have too. You are lucky.

When I went to Vail for the first time and got off the ski lift and looked around I just cried because it was so beautiful. My friend Augie was really jealous when I told him. You have a sensitivity and insight. It's not hard to understand why. Certain neural pathways are too painful for us to be on sometimes. Big chunks of childhood narrative play out in ways that scare us. So we take refuge in other parts of our brain and those parts grow and make us insightful and give us the capacity to understand ourselves and harness that power.

After I had that manic episode in 2004, I had about the worst depression of my life. It was just awful. There is a blackness and pain we know in that side of things that is nothing but bad. But during it, I kept looking online for bipolar success stories, for an inspiration, for a role model, for someone who said, look, it's not that bad, you can be who you want still. And online and in person, I had the horrible experience of only meeting bipolar people who were unemployed and unemployable, strung out on medication, unable to have a relationship, essentially dependent wards of the State in their 30s and 40s.

It does not have to be that way. Plenty of people are pretty high-functioning bipolars, perhaps a great deal undiagnosed. The ones in doctors care deal with the diagnosis by minimizing it in their lives. It's not like being diagnosed with gay, unfortunately, you don't get a community of supporters or a flag or a parade because all the successful ones are in the closet. I'm in the closet at work. You may want to be as well.

Or maybe at some time you want to celebrate what is good about you, all that creative energy, and take on that title, bipolar, and be who you are and show people that you have learned to accept yourself the way you are and they should too. Then you can have the brutal fight with the mainstream to be accepted. Oh, maybe not.

Being diagnosed bipolar is like being diagnosed with a very serious case of being human - you have a surfeit of humanity. Pay attention to yourself and you may in fact become insightful about the human condition.

And, you know, do what everyone needs to do to function optimally as a human: eat well, sleep, drink water, take medication if necessary, exercise, breath, love, create. Oh my God. I almost wrote Eat, Pray, Love. That is distressing. Time to go.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Flowering of the spirit

I have a great appetite, I have a great hunger, I think we all do, a hunger for truth, a hunger to connect with the mysteries of life, a hunger for enlightenment and the alleviation of suffering. Those are the hungers of your soul. Other hungers include laughter and art.

I want to basically take God out of heaven and bring the God in all of us to the fore, take that namaste, the god in me - and bring it to earth. I want that for all of us, all of us who want to be the best human being that we can possibly be, all of us who want to be a king of heaven. All of my friends and family do this but most are enslaved to corporations and capitalism (myself, obviously, included). I personally am hampered in optimal humanity by early exposure to Christian fundamentalism and the chaos of identity that ensued when I moved to England.

I have learned of this obstruction by dealing with my omnipresent and powerful foe, my own consciousness. Note well this is really neither more or less than saying "my mental illness".

I am a warrior of the mind, I have been across plains of suffering in the planet of my brain and I am back with a story. I am in love with truth and I know nothing but I think continually of those who were truly great, and I want to be one too.

And ground zero of the story is that humans could really manage their institutions in a much better way. Humans should aim higher. We have gone to our houses and we have shut our doors and we shake our heads and blog about what feels like a revolutionary time in history but there is no clear organizing principle of what we should do.

So maybe what I am offering is best described as a religion, but it's not really religious to feel passionately about animal rights and the rights of the planet, of consumer rights and regulatory reform. I think all big religions on earth should be called out for what they are, corporations. I think all governments should be called out on the same fact. Maybe I am asking everyone to be religious about their own life, make it the highest and best possible.

I definitely am offering insights into government. From my first post until today I can see what I am: a person pretty worked up about rights and religion. Not impossible to combine rights and religion, in fact, in the end, aren't rights essentially about protecting our irreducible humanity and allowing it to flourish? (Yes). And isn't the knowledge of our humanity and the flourishing of its communal enlightenment really the best thing a religion could offer society? Who knows? I'll let my four blog readers decide.

In case you have got this far and are worried about me, I do realize that this borders on messianic thinking, which is manic, which is dangerous. But mania is a frenzy uncontrolled by reason, and I think everything I am saying is reasonable. And it's only ideas. I'm just saying. Look at the pictures of Peter Cicchino on his website, if you want. I originally entitled the last blog post "Peter Cicchino is calling me from the grave", but it brought up zombies to me and really, no, now he is an angel. When I thought about it later I realized I was visited by an angel. I make absolutely no claim to the supernatural. I think my own unconscious mind rushed in to help me. I think it rushed in because to tell you the truth it's been another bad spell. I have been in tears so much, and suffering so exquisitely, but Peter Cicchino called me. My whole life is calling me to do this. This what? I do not know what, exactly, it is. Advocacy of fundamental regulatory reform? Oh, God, how lame is that? Not very superhero.

Anyway, on my road to optimal humanity my first job is to forgive myself. I have to take a childhood where the rules of our home were the the laws of god, and breaking the rules meant eternal damnation, and weed the fear and shame out of my consciousness. But I think fear and shame occupies the vast majority of my available neural circuitry so even though I have been pretty hard at work on this for the last six years, I still have a long way to go.

It served me well, it was my drive, it was an excellent motivator. It made me a pretty good student, law clerk, and especially trial lawyer. And later it also served me well as general counsel of a wifi start-up. The fear of screwing something up - anything up - was so magnified and enormous. I am used to having my body bathed in cortisol in batches you cannot imagine. But when I had a son, and I was scared for the life of someone I truly loved (I do not truly love myself by a long shot, unfortunately, but I am trying to) the the fear of screwing up magnified exponentially until it was unbearable. There was SO MUCH fear.

But coping with it has lead to a great deal of enlightenment. But the more enlightened I become, the more humbled I am about how little I know.

But I do know this- remember when the Iranian women Neda was shot and I was so upset and my dad gave me this look and said that "Liberty has always been bought with the blood of martyrs."? It's an old blog post. The point is that institutions are like Skynet - they are designed so that their first prerogative is to save themselves, to thwart outsiders. Anyway, I think about how much our institutions need changing, but I am not naive, and I know it is only by mass political action could these institutions be swung around for the better. And an international critical mass of activists is not really what I have time for at this point in my life (taking the children to school, feeding them, etc), although organizing it does sound tempting.

Maybe I am back to my friend Tina's idea - a third political party in the United States called the Rule of Law party - designed under the uninflammatory premise of transparency and accountability for corporations, religions and sovereigns. Law as a guardian of the planet's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (so, yes, a heavy green agenda). I would also be completely against corporate donations to political parties. I would also urge everyone to have Mexican night at least once a week at their house, where they eat fajitas or chili. And to stay hydrated. I would rethink every little piece of internet related legislation everywhere.

I would ask everyone to look at their investments and to truly be a shareholder of the companies they have invested in. Right? If there is no difference between the big three - Corporations, Sovereigns and Churches, don't we really have to pay more attention how we contribute to the first. By that I mean look at what the company does and what it makes and how it treats the earth and ask yourself if the earth is bettered in a reasonable way by what that company does. Yes, this requires people to forgo optimal financial returns. This may be necessary to achieve optimal humanity. Corporations - and in this category I include banks - have way too much power over people. Our financial situation was inevitable. But our recovery from it may not be. And what changes we have made in regulating banks leave a bitter taste in my mouth, for they seem to have been written so that Goldman Sachs could get hugely profitable again before house prices in the Hamptons completely tanked. We did not step back and think and then implement ends best for humans and best for the earth. And really, that is what we have to do about everything now, right?

Luckily we have our Kings of Heaven, our philosophers and artists, our Peter Cicchino and our Groucho Marx.

I think continually of those who were truly great

I Think Continually Of Those Who Were Truly Great
Stephen Spender

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are fŠted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire's center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Peter Cicchino is Calling Me To Be A King of Heaven

Ok, so I went to law school with this very magical person named Peter Cicchino. He died in 2000. He helped me help my brother come out, he and I were both Articles Editors for the Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review and when I first met him he was just this goofy gay former Jesuit on my journal and in my Postmodernism and the Law Class. We shared a background steeped in scripture and religious traditions and a goofy love of rights, of civil rights and civil liberties. I never understood why he was friends with me, but he was, and I was privileged to spend time with him. I didn't realize how privileged until later.

He has been completely inexplicably and intensely on my mind lately. I have been reading everything on his website, www.petercicchino.com .

(I have to call Christians' attention to the Civil Rights - Civil Liberties volumes from the years Peter and I worked there. You will find the years between 1990 and 1992 studded with articles that are strangely out of place contemplations of civil rights and Christianity and mysticism, including Hartigan's Power of Language Beyond Words, my Note on Theology and Civil Rights)

I forgot in the last eighteen years (ten since his death, how can that be?) that he gave the valedictory address to our class at law school. It's printed in one of the articles - Charles Ogletree's tribute to Saint Peter. He told our class to use our arrogance (favourite quote: speaking about arrogance at Harvard is like speaking about Catholicism at the Vatican), contentious and overwhelming sense that we were born to be in charge, to run the world. To run the world for good. The very qualities that made us so annoying to our families were not vices to be eliminated, but strengths to be used for good. I urge you to read this address. I will twitter the link as soon as I can.

So I am so very drawn to this address in such a busy week.

And that's not the only thing that's been happening.

I noticed a comment on the Rock Me Sexy Jesus discussion on Wheaton College Freethinkers that I was dangerously close to believing in God again.

My yoga teacher keeps whispering in my ear that in fact, I am enough. She gave me this quote. It is still on my desk somewhere:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

- Marianne Williamson. I don't know about that one, actually.

My nearly two-year-old daughter is currently obsessed with washing her hands. It is all she wants to do, lean over a sink and run water over her hands and wash them with soap, over and over, and it seems in some ways at my tenderest moments as a kind of absolution, a forgiveness, an invitation. The Frederick Buechner clack-clacking of two branches together while you lie on your back and stare up at a tree and wish for a sign of God.

And it gets much worse. For months now I have had this stupid burning mouth syndrome. My mouth is burning. It feels like it is on fire and appears burned all the time. It's like my own body is conspiring with my daughter and the universe at large to get me speak. To get me to explain what I have learned, to say what I know, to shout fearlessly about how the world can be better. All I know is that I have tried the available remedies, and they are not working, and still the tongue of this lawyer/(ex?)Christian/bipolar/mother burns.

Jesus said "Woe also unto you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them."

And, you know, the law is an unparalleled force of culture, and those of us trained in it, those of us arrogant and contentious enough to lead it, those of us powerful enough to create change, well, woe unto us indeed. For we have raised our children and built our extensions and acted as if these were not times of great upheaval and change. But they are, and we should stand up for what we know will make the world better for humans and animals and plants. Most of us, myself included, earn their paycheck by making the world better for corporations and sovereigns and churches. These institutions take our power and we must keep them on short leashes.

The law is stagnant. It is dying of neglect. The forms and structures are antiquated, and creaking under the weight of the present needs of our world.

It is not as if new principles need to be found, it is that the best principles need to be incorporated everywhere. If corporations, sovereigns and churches really have no functional differences between them, a number of changes to existing law flows effortlessly from that fact.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sovereigns, Churches, Corporations

After my son was born I had a psychotic episode and was sent away to the absolute nicest loony bin in England - The Priory. Where I hung out with a member of The Clash, among other things.

Before I went to the hospital I still remember as one of the most amazing and wonderful times in my life. I was so filled with love for everyone and everything. What had happened that put me in the hospital is no mystery in retrospect: giving birth to a baby with issues in a foreign culture on no sleep, the death of my grandmother, the baby's issues, my husband's job change, it was all going on and it was all too much for me. So if you imagine thought and personality as residing in the brain on a series of neural circuits - highways, roads, paths, avenues of synapses, of serotonin and cortisol flooding the roads or receding into a desert. What happened to me is that the traditional thought and personality roads were all too painful. I could not be on those roads, it was too much, so my consciousness basically jumped ship. If you imagine my consciousness as a red Corvette (thank you, Prince) then I just veered off into the wilderness, broke the barriers

And anyway it was great in many ways and very freeing but still very hard to talk about, you know, all the shame involved. But in any event, what I wanted to tell you was that the thing I kept saying to anyone who would listen, over and over again, is that there is no distinction between Sovereigns, Churches and COrporations. They should all be governed by the same rules, they should all be equally transparent, being a voter and a shareholder should be similar and governed by the principle that being a voter and being a shareholder is something that belongs exclusively to humans. They should all be judged by their output and that output is not purely economic. Shareholders need to be concerned with more than the money they receive. And as for churches, well, it's hardly news that we need to keep a tighter reign on all these guys. Catholics, you know. Every corporation, sovereign and religion should obey the rule of law and be imminently and eminently answerable to its populace.

That had a number of ramifications that were fascinating to me at the time but that my subsequent crippling depression and return to the workforce and parenting responsibilities have not really given me time to unfold. Plus I have been so terrified of going back to that time. I have a plastic bag full of notes that I have written and I have simply not been able to open the bag and look at these things, so great is my own self-loathing over my consciousness jumping track. Isn't it ridiculous, it's not like I could control it. But of course I blame myself. And in this culture it does permanently marginalize you, and it marginalizes you exactly where it hurts: in the hearts and minds of your friends and family.

Anyway, do you think it is true? That they should all be treated the same way? Free to express but transparent in their dealings to all their citizens and members and shareholders? Shouldn't it be the same thing? What do you think?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Place a Mirror By A Tree - a poem by Felix Dennis

Place a mirror by a tree;
Tell me now, what do you see?

Which of you will feed the earth?
Which of you contains more worth?

Which of you with sheltering arm
Keeps a thousand things from harm?

Which of you is nature's bane?
Which is Abel? Which is Cain?

Which of you is God's delight?
Which of you a parasite?

Place a mirror by a tree;
Tell me now - what do you see?

This was in a train on the Northern line last night. I saw it on the way to Nick's party. Had not ever heard of Felix Dennis before but I absolutely love this poem.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rock Me Sexy Jesus

I can't stop watching about the last eight minutes of Hamlet2. From Rock Me Sexy Jesus until the end. And I have to tell you, every time I see it I like it more.

I can't help thinking about Jesus. I spent almost every waking hour of my youth imagining his disapproval and puzzling over all the strange things he said, which were, incidentally, the best part of the Bible - the book I was perpetually exposed to in my youth, mostly as proof that what I was doing was wrong.

In Hamlet2, Jesus and Hamlet travel back through time so they can forgive their fathers, and so that Hamlet can save Ophelia and prevent his mother drinking the poison. Jesus appears as sort of a Danny Zucko character, a teen idol, moonwalking on water and making everyone swoon with lust. It is probably a far more accurate representation of Jesus than the usual one where he looks like an anemic Wasp and has the sheep draped over his shoulder. I mean, look, the guy drew crowds, right? I think it's because Jesus was imbued with a lot more humanity than most people who ever lived on earth, he was so fully human.

The book Straw Dogs is the most important book I have read in a very long time and in it, the LSE prof John N. Gray: he really totally shifted what I think it means to be human. He really took us all down quite a few notches, actually, which is why I think people find his ideas difficult. He basically says that for our survival and the survival of the planet, we have to make being human no more or less important than being any other species. These ideas that humans have dominion over the earth, a divine right to exploit its resources - that stuff has no real foundation if you really don't believe that there is an external all-powerful God. Which, by the way, in my view is not necessarily incompatible with organized religion, but that's a story for a different day. (Considering how much I update my blog that day is probably never). It's almost like Gray has re-told the fall of man. Eating at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in his telling would equate to the biological (and inevitable) evolutionary turn into language, words, wisdom. The real problem there is that that's when humans invented God. And if sin is what separates us from union with God in the old story, in Gray's story, sin is this idea of humanity's divine right to put its individual flourishing above the flourishing of the earth.

So Jesus, one of the truly great humans, advises Hamlet to go back in time to rescue and forgive. The Gay Man's Choir of Tuscon stands in the round and sings Someone Saved My Life Tonight by Elton John as Hamlet rescues Ophelia, knocks the poisoned cup from Gertrude's outstretched hand, and the story becomes inadvertantly about the playwright's great desire to help, to stop hurt, to heal, which certainly seems to me to have been also Jesus's great desire. To love. Love is not unique to our species, by the way, as anyone who has known a dog can tell you.

Bernie Taupin's and Elton JOhn's haunting song about the fateful night Elton John decided to truly be himself weaves itself in and out of the last scene so beautifully. You are a butterfly. And butterflies are free to fly. What can you say about Jesus? That butterfly comment is just as good as any. In The Book of Bebb, Frederick Buechner imagines Jesus as Erol Flynn. At Wheaton I made up songs about Jesus being in the back seat of the car, and read stories about Jesus, Barbie- doll size, watching a sullen college boy take a bath.

So with this new view of humanity, look at Jesus travelling in that time machine to forgive his father. Instead of crying out Eli, eli, lama sabacthani, my god, my god, why hast thou forsaken me?, he whispers with pitch-perfect post-therapy earnestness, "Father, I forgive you." He dies at peace, much better than in the original story where he dies in anguish. And then he's just dead.

Last week I went over to a friend's for some delicious delivery sushi and she told me of the misery of sitting with her parents through a long wedding. I mentioned that to me the real point of Jesus's first miracle is: if you have to spend a lot of time with your relatives, especially at a wedding, you need to drink something. She laughed and said I was being silly.

But I was dead serious and I still am.

I think it's scandalous that so-called biblical scholars pretend that the first miracle of Jesus was not a grand coming-out, it wasn't a statement of intent. Hell, Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding was like Slash's riff at the beginning of Appetite for Destruction. At Wheaton where we weren't allowed to drink, they totally downplayed it - like it was a sideshow mistake before the real shit happened post going out into the desert.

Wrong. This was it, this was Sexy Jesus rocking the house. He didn't turn that water into wine so that people stayed off the dance floor. He did it because he was this totally alive character who wanted to party. Again, not unlike Slash. I am sorry about my preoccupation with Slash. My husband plays electric guitar and every piece of reading material within arm's reach of a toilet in our house venerates Slash. To tell you the truth, I love Slash's autobiography so I can't completely blame my husband. The thing is, these guys, who touched our nerves, who made great art: they weren't drinking water, I can tell you.

Just think if Christianity re-branded itself and aligned with the beer, wine and spirits market.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Eating Poetry

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

-- Mark Strand

Friday, September 10, 2010

Note to Self

Dear Rachel:

Why must there be an epic battle for your very soul every time you sit down to write what you like? Why is your very body reluctant to sit down, exhale, pay attention to yourself and this art you want to practice? This is the space you need. Doing this helps you, and that helps your family. Ever since 2000, my dear 43-year-old contrarian, you have used writing to figure out what the hell was happening in your life. You would write the plays and then watch them looking for information about yourself. That is what happens in your art, such as it is, and neglect it at your peril. Yes, you heard me. Shockingly selfish, it seems, I know. It is so selfish that to you that it is terrifying. It calls up all the neural paths that became strong and bright during your adolescence: the heart-stopping thrill of knowingly sinning. It was supposed to be Jesus First, Yourself Last, Others In Between! Very explicit instructions. Every time you put yourself first, let's face it, you really should be doing something else.

So the guilt makes it difficult. Have some compassion for yourself, then, and ease your guilt!

Put that on the list of things to do after you feed, bathe, clothe and put two children to sleep.



Thursday, September 9, 2010

Burning the Koran/Woe Unto You Lawyers/Christians, Bring It

What I want to know is why moderate Christians aren't giving Terry Jones much more shit.

In the last ten years, Muslim extremism has replaced nuclear holocaust as the greatest political problem facing humans. The question is, how do you communicate and negotiate with people who do not respect or give credence to your own laws, your own statutes and constitution. Someone who truly believes infidels should be slaughtered is not someone interested in the fine points of freedom of speech and rule of law.

Well, many years ago I wrote an article for the Harvard Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review called Burdens Hard to Bear: A Theology of Human Rights. I wrote the article as an opportunity to think about what Christians like me could do about Christians who were virulently opposed to, say, gay rights. And I conclude pretty quickly - and in a tripped out academic writing style I find very strange - the following: You will fail if you try to convince politically active Christians (people like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin now) that the values of democracy - of classical liberalism -- are more important than the tenets of their own religion. I concluded that our only chance to engage with that sector was to argue from within their own traditions, religion and values. Step into the paradigm, boys. That's what I said. In the article I manage to shoehorn in a little Dosteyevsky so it takes a while.

So my conclusion was that the only way to talk to the extreme politically active Christians was to say that the actions they contemplated - banning gay marriage, for instance -- were essentially unchristian. The essence of Christianity, I argued, is that people must be free to choose to follow Jesus, and that choice cannot be inflicted on them by the power of the state.

Another way to look at this conclusion is that I was saying that moderate Christians need to call out idiots like Terry Jones by using the same Bible and the same language and the same Jesus that he is trying to hijack for his own purposes. What Jones wants to do is manifestly unchristian. And some Christians should be telling him that. And if moderate Christians stood up to him and told him that, then that would be a wonderful piece of news for the Muslim world. It would be nice to see something like that on Al Jazeera right about now, wouldn't it?

We are all waiting - especially here in England- for the moderate Muslims to tell the extremists that their agenda is not the agenda of Mohammed. How about encouraging that by doing the same thing to our extremist Christian problem, Terry Jones?

I really wish that Obama with his Christian background had dared to go that far today. Instead, he gave a practical results-oriented argument: if you burn the Quran, Jones, then more people will join Al-Quaeda. I'm not saying he's wrong, I'm saying that Jones doesn't give a shit whether more people join the cause. Hell, that guy would like to bring about some Revelations shit, so he's there, going, "Yeah! Bring it on!". But if Obama, or someone, Joel Osteen or that guy who did the inaugural prayer, or SOMEONE would say that in fact, Christianity demands extreme pacifism (blessed are the peacemakers, turn the other cheek), then maybe Jones would have second thoughts. Go and pray with this guy and see what happens, oh ye who still have faith. All you "prayer warriors", why don't you get on this?

At least if he didn't have second thoughts, you would know he's just a piker and a poser.

And maybe if you did something, you could avoid this horrible flashpoint. Look at how extremists reacted to the Dutch drawings. I'm just saying it could be bad.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lego Star Wars on Wii

We are back from a week in Spain, some time with J and T and A and L at Villa Limone, now it is Friday night, Owain and I, having destroyed the Deathstar and even the Deathstar replacement in Return of the Jedi, are now at the most powerful part of the saga – when Anakin turns into Darth Vader. That horrible long fight between Anakin and Obi-wan and the death of Padme. Owain and I are narrative addicts and we have mostly sat around shooting up narrative this summer in movie, book and video game injections. Sure I drag my ass to the tennis court and the park in the name of parenting but right in front of the screen is where the mutual joy - hence the real parenting action - is.

At the end of the school year, Owain's teacher suggested working on fine motor skills and math over the summer. Well, in Lego Star Wars, one collects studs - a form of cash. You can use studs to buy characters. Owain loves saving up studs and it leads to all these wonderful practical problems, i.e.: If I have 18,000 studs and I need 60,000 studs to buy Mace Windu, then how many studs do I need to get? And the remotes, forget it. Eight different buttons and a joystick in two hands. So that's pretty good, right?

Then there is the two-player phenomenon. The creators of Lego Star Wars saw fit to force cooperation when two people are playing the game. If you wander apart and pursue different things, you become incapacitated. So in Defense of Kashyyk (just go with me here)if I am Yoda and Owain is Chewbacca and we go in different directions to kill off the clones, then eventually we are paralyzed. Hey, to me this is a pretty good life lesson: when you are a team, you have to constantly think about the fact that you are a team and work together. This summer will serve Owain well if he marries.

Plus I love everything about the story of Star Wars. To me it really does sort of replace Christianity. Look, one sacrifice and redemption narrative is all you need - it doesn't really matter if it happens in Jerusalem or Hogwarts or Narnia.

And as a matter of fact, in just a few moments I will be playing out a very dramatic moment - Anakin turning to the dark side. And to me Lucas's vocabulary for why that happens - fear turns to anger turns to hate - is actually a little more useful than the competing vocabulary of Christianity which harbors such a bizarre concept - original sin -- wherein people are naturally evil.

I still have to make some mint pesto and some ratatouille for a lunch tomorrow as well as experiencing the darkest hour in the life of Anakin Skywalker so this post is of necessity short.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Nothing is plumb, level or square.

Love Song: I and Thou

Nothing is plumb, level or square:
the studs are bowed, the joists
are shaky by nature, no piece fits
any other piece without a gap
or pinch, and bent nails
dance all over the surfacing
like maggots. By Christ
I am no carpenter. I built
the roof for myself, the walls
for myself, the floors
for myself, and got
hung up in it myself. I
danced with a purple thumb
at this house-warming, drunk
with my prime whiskey: rage.
Oh I spat rage's nails
into the frame-up of my work:
It held. It settled plumb.
level, solid, square and true
for that one great moment. Then
it screamed and went on through,
skewing as wrong the other way.
God damned it. This is hell,
but I planned it I sawed it
I nailed it and I
will live in it until it kills me.
I can nail my left palm
to the left-hand cross-piece but
I can't do everything myself.
I need a hand to nail the right,
a help, a love, a you, a wife.

--Alan Dugan

What a killer poem, huh? I saw The Last Station recently - the movie with Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer about the last days of Tolstoy's life. It is a movie about marriage and it reminded me of this poem, which I truly love.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Penn & Teller: The Wisest Men on the Planet?

Last night Rhys and I went to see Penn & Teller at the Hammersmith Odeon. It was so, so good. I love magic. And I love what Penn & Teller tell us about magic.

Magic is all about working very, very hard to create an illusion. The Cigarette piece is Teller losing and finding a cigarette, miraculously lit or unlit, in his hat, in his pocket. We are watching the impossible and it feels delightful. It feels good. You know what, I like that feeling. I am hungry for that feeling and that feeling is magic. I apologize for that last sentence which I feel would cause the Iowa Writers Conference severe nausea.

Then Teller does the same sequence from the other side. Penn talks you through the palm, the switch, the simulation, the steal, the misdirection, the ditch, the load and the French drop (a combination simulation and ditch). While he walked the audience at the Hammersmith Apollo through that last night, it didn't diminish the poetry of Teller's illusions, it enhanced it. It showed how difficult the switches and loads are in truly compelling magic. Difficult, but performed by humans. And that is Penn's, especially, searing message in this show. The magic is the feeling, the wonder. It is always a matter of steal, misdirection and loads.

At the end, Penn eats fire. So electric was this performance, by the way. I was reminded of the footage of Danny Kaye at the Palladium in the 1950's, a historic concert, where Kaye scandalised London by sitting on the edge of the stage speaking honestly about his life. I was reminded when Penn tells us about watching fire eaters when he was a kid at the circus. He says he knew he was different from other kids because of his reaction to watching people eat fire. To his peers, those people were freaks but to Penn those fire eaters were his instant confreres.

How brave to say that. And how especially brave to out yourself as a freak in London. This ain't Vegas, Penn, they don't feel the love so much here.The freak thing could get your visa denied here in a couple years.

Penn talked about the pain of the trick, and the devotion he had to it, and how it always, always hurts. He was saying perfectly true things about himself as clearly as he could. That was magic. I had a jolt of wonder and joy when Teller made a hundred goldfish appear in an empty bowl and I had maybe a bigger jolt of wonder and joy when Penn told the truth of his life. The parallel is art, right? Art or truth?

Instead of going to my ten year college reunion, I ended up in New York with a broken-hearted friend. She had a pain worse than unrequited love, she had almost not unrequited love. I came up from DC and we performed the traditional break-up best friend rituals: we watched Heartburn and The Way We Were (I still recommend this cure, actually). Before we turned on the movies, we posted her profile to match.com. By the time the movies were over, thirty promisingly photographed men had sent funny e-mails begging to correspond with her. That was good. But the best part was Saturday afternoon. While our classmates gathered in that West Chicago suburb, we went down to the East Village and saw a magic show in a dusty community center.

The magician was a man dressed homelessly. He made bubbles dance with each other in the air and then made the bubbles turn into butterflies as he told us of the joy of falling in love. And when he told of breaking up with his beloved, he swallowed needles. He retrieved them, tied together, the symbols of the damage to his heart. It was joyful. It was magic.

Magic makes you feel better. I am sure it's the shock to the neural networks of seeing the unexpected, I'm sure it's the increased load of synapses that fire as you watch looking for the palm, the switch, the simulation, the steal, the misdirection and the load. And on top of that, the magicians told us their secrets with an intimacy reserved for family and closest friends (Note to Penn: For English people, not even family and closest friends). Inspiring evening. As good as Mahler's Third, as good as The Pillowman or The Walworth Farce (ok, close to as good as those plays), as good as looking at Starry Night and dreaming of the Dr. Who Van Gogh.

We need more magic in this world and we need more magicians brave enough to tell us their secrets.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Philip Larkin's poem, Maiden Name

Marrying left your maiden name disused.
Its five light sounds no longer mean your face,
Your voice, and all your variants of grace;
For since you were so thankfully confused
By law with someone else, you cannot be
Semantically the same as that young beauty:
It was of her that these two words were used.

Now it's a phrase applicable to no one,
Lying just where you left it, scattered through
Old lists, old programmes, a school prize or two,
Packets of letters tied with tartan ribbon -
Then is it scentless, weightless, strengthless wholly
Untruthful? Try whispering it slowly.
No, it means you. Or, since you're past and gone,

It means what we feel now about you then:
How beautiful you were, and near, and young,
So vivid, you might still be there among
Those first few days, unfingermarked again.
So your old name shelters our faithfulness,
Instead of losing shape and meaning less
With your depreciating luggage laiden.

This poem made me want to keep my maiden name. The idea of Larkin's that women lose shape and mean less upon marrying is so repugnant I had to defy it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Chestnut: Hero of Central Park

So Owain was watching this movie in the latter hours of Pizza Night, aka, Friday evening. On Pizza night I drink something fizzy and kind of free range my children. On Fridays I have parented all week and I'm tired. And I haul those cute children, 47 and 28 pounds respectively in a bike trailer to school and back, five miles round trip, five days a week. I got zero carbon emissions but baby, my quads are sore on Friday.

Which is all a defense for why Owain was watching the Disney Movie Channel for Kids offering Chestnut: Hero of Central Park. As I cleaned up the kitchen - by this I mean disassembling the endless disorganized piles of clutter the tides of life deposit there - I was listening to the movie in the other room. Two orphans who don't want to leave their vaguely Hispanic orphanage are adopted by a couple who live in an improbably spacious apartment on Central Park South. The catch is the orphans have a puppy but no pets are allowed in the building, plus their adopted Dad is allergic. Those poor orphans have to sneak a Great Dane puppy named Chestnut into the building and into their new life. Oh, the hi-jinks! The issues! This movie doesn't so much pluck at your heartstrings as hack at them with a razor.

Because the movie featured a dog and scatological humor, when my husband came home from work Owain told him Chestnut: Hero of Central Park was the greatest movie ever made. Which was interesting because when Rhys and I went into the kitchen to talk I told him Chestnut: Hero of Central Park was in fact the worst movie ever made and came up with the hacking at your heartstrings with a razor line which amused me endlessly (to be fair Rhys was less impressed).

I was still chuckling when Owain came into the kitchen, his face wet and serious with pain. "This is terrible! Chestnut died! Chestnut died!". And my heart broke painfully as I watched him go through the terrible agony that true empathy brings. I suspected that Chestnut may not stay dead, so I tried to cuddle him while we went back to the living room to watch the end of the movie.

When I was 8 I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and when Aslan was sacrificed by the White Witch on the Stone Table I was so profoundly sad that I could not function. I could not be consoled. My mother, alarmed, took the book away from me and didn't give it back to me for three days. Those were three dark days. When my mother reluctantly returned it, I read that Aslan came back alive, defeated death. I felt such joy. The purest. In retrospect I see how important this was to my Christianity. The idea that there is something out there bigger than death that deserves our attention is such a compelling one. Easter is such a great story.

Luckily for us Chestnut was not really dead and Owain got to experience intense happiness with just a fifteen minute delay. And there was a moving speech (eye-spraining eye roll) and a huge donation to the orphanage (stay down, pizza) and then the movie was over. But I know those circuits have been opened for Owain, those neurological paths of shocked grief are now there. And I remember what that meant for me, and I guess I wish he could have waited until he was at least eight. He's just six.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Law Rocks at the 100 Club

OK, so Thursday was the day after my 43rd birthday and it was also Rhys's band's big competition in Soho. Law Rocks is a London law firm battle of the bands. The competition is held at the 100 Club - a legendary basement venue in Soho that accommodates - standing -- about 400 people. Legendary of course meaning that I had to shrug off the disgusting toilets and floors and lack of ice or Champagne because it was gritty and real. Sigh. Whatever.

Rhys only had four tickets for the gig and we thought long and hard about who would we invited. We needed Penny Lanes of the highest order. We got them.

So I go from bicycling my children back from school to trying to find a vaguely sluttly outfit and applying a, well, bipolar amount of eyeliner and jumping on a train to London.

The first band was really good. Really good. Billy Jean was the opener and this mysterious Eastern European model- type sang in this sultry, rich voice. Like so rich you could almost hear the harmonics. And they pulled off a Police song even with the fiendishly difficult drumming. I thought Rhys had very stiff competition. And that was before they did Sweet Child of Mine. The singer almost pulled it off and the guitarist pulled it off perfectly. I am not saying the singer wasn't good, she was great. But you have to be a very special type of unhinged to perform Sweet Child of Mine. All of that ad libbing? You have to be feeling the crazy. She wasn't. That is probably better for her.

The second band the judges seemed to love. There was a three judge panel who commented after every band - two lawyer-types and one former band member. (Please note that there are so many one hit wonders in the UK and that there is such a small population that most people you meet are former band members of a band that had a hit song you kind of know). The judges said the second band had the sluttier chicks (my words). So wrong. The thing about that band was that it was a Glee band. They did Whole Lot of Love exactly how the Glee Choir would do it. So I didn't think sluttier and didn't get the judges' comments at all.

All six bands made very smart choices for their sets. Each had only twenty minutes and they picked some great, great songs. In fact, the only misstep was when the Glee band did Live and Let Die. Really? Live and Let Die? I heard the opening chords and I shook my head in solemn disbelief. McCartney barely pulled it off as one of the greatest musicians of his age. And Axl, well, you know, Axl was unhinged to exactly the right degree, he had a great orchestra and resources at his disposal and HE barely pulled it off. What hubris in the choice, oh, second band. What hubris.

Although I tried to adhere to a scrupulous one-warm-vodka-and-tonic-an-hour rule in order to be sober enough to follow the competition, I must admit that the next couple bands went by in a blur. Elaborate trips to the surface for Marlboro lights needed to be planned and executed. I remember an absolutely delightful I'm Feeling Good by Nina Simone sang with a woman with an honest and rich voice.

I remember next some older guys doing some punk numbers with an impressive energy. I don't know. When you are a lawyer in your fifties it's a little silly to be railing against the man in a punk song. Dispatch: Dear Band Members: You ARE the man. Love, Rachel

The previous year's champions were unbelievably slick and put on a great show. The lead singer in the tie was especially rock and roll in a great old school way and their entire sound was tight. They worried me.

Last came Birds of Prey - the unfortunately-named entry from Bird & Bird. They came on to a chant - "BIRDS OF PREY > > > BIRDS OF PREY > > > " -- thanks to our phenomenally resonantly voiced friend Fester and the birds took off immediately. Are You Going to Go My Way?, Lenny Kravitz was phenomenal.

(What was great about the whole evening was that it really brought out the spirit of rock and roll - connecting with the audience in a primal way. That quality was more important than even the musicianship - although the musicianship was ridiculously good -- the connection between the audience and the lead singer was what set one band above another.)

Then my favourite part of the night - their second number, Johnny B. Good. Rhys got to play the absolutely iconic riff and then have the time of his life playing a great solo. Fantastic. Then Basket Case by Green Day, then Mr Brightside by the Killers. The lead singer is this guy named Chris Holder and he just let himself connect with as many people in the room as he could by singing his heart out and it worked.

The judges liked them. One judge commented that with such a good saxophone player, she wished Birds of Prey had played Brown Sugar.

Then after some waffling and more opportunities to buy very warm vodka tonics, the judges decided that they needed a playoff between Birds of Prey and the previous year's winner because they just couldn't decide.

The previous year's winner repeated their best song, then Birds of Prey came on. And as easily as anything, they launched into a version of Brown Sugar that anyone could be proud of. Especially the sax solo. That guy played the sax like his life depended on it. What I loved was the the depth of musicianship shown by being able to pull a fairly unrehearsed song like that together in an inspired instant.

More time for warm vodka tonics, a trip to the restroom/creative writing outlet and time to rue the fact that no cigarette outings were planned from when Birds of Prey came on until the end of the competition.

Then they announced that Bird of Prey won. Rhys was in the happiest of dazes. We wandered the streets of London in search of the afterparty drunk with good feelings and warm vodka tonics. We danced at the afterparty then bought horrifically bad Tesco's sushi to eat in our ApartHotel with Fester.

It was one of the greatest nights since I have known Rhys and I was so happy and proud of him.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Good and Bad

I think these words are not useful and generally should not be relied upon. I am not saying that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, I am saying that they are, as a collective shorthand, inhibiting human development. I offer my parenting experience to support this proposition, coin the phrase "bad blindness" and then project - probably speciously - my conclusion to the whole world.

I feel my obligation as a parent is to help my children understand the world and also to give them a real shot at happiness. This requires me to attempt to understand the world and give myself a real shot at happiness. Because the awful truth of parenting is this: my children absorb who I truly am. No matter what I tell them, or how many violin practices I take them to. They are absorbing my joy and pain, my food and drink, the way I look at things, how I treat the earth. My reactions cue their reactions. Not totally, of course, and not forever, but for now this is true.

So my parental obligation is to be my best self and help them be their best selves. The words good and bad are a truly terrible impediment to this goal.

First, there is simple thing that it's a lazy shorthand. Playing ball is good, playing ball in the house breaking something is bad, the only distinction is the location. So teach them location. Interrupting an adult conversation is bad when it is annoying and good when Johnny has fallen down the well. Distinction: priority of message. So teach them priority of message. Equip them. Chocolate cake, ice cream, asparagus . . . give them ideas about fresh vegetables and health and fat. You get it.

Second, and I realize this is not true for everyone, the adjectives good and bad create in me a terrible heightened false consciousness. It comes from my Christian upbringing. I have a vivid imagination and going to church gave me a lot of downtime to use it. (I remember some absolutely riveting and imaginative descriptions of hell when I attended the Christian Missionary & Alliance Church in Corning in the 70's - these guys had a gift and should immediately all become writers on Dr. Who) Telling little children that the consequences of sin is death is to create in them a terror of being in sin. Fear (of any description) is not useful in understanding the world and it certainly is an enormous deterrent to being happy. It inhibits my clear thinking. Here is an example. Christian doctrine requires Jesus First, Yourself last, Others in between. (A chilling denial of what some humans need). This blueprint on my consciousness means that whenever I do anything fun for myself, I think of that as sinful selfishness and I feel afraid. I use the level of consciousness here with too much laxity. I never actually think about it, it is in my muscles, I only figured out it was even happening over the course of the last few years. It took a long time. It is embedded irrevocably in my nervous system so it's hard to see. But I was able eventually to identify symptoms: pounding heart, restricted blood flow, hollow feeling at the base of the ribs, the vastly unpleasant experience of being terrified. It all comes back, again, not in a conscious way, it is just there. I can't regulate the cortisol that floods out.

So this is not something I want to pass on to my children. (Incidentally, my son is in a Christian school now and it is an incredibly serene, joyful and virtuous community - not all Christians engage in such destructive neural programming). So my task again, truly being myself, requires that I minimize the destructive capacity of the words good and bad.

In my quest for my highest self, I have had to unpack all the bad things. When I do "bad" things, I suffer for them, I punish myself. I have internalized the message so completely that I unconsciously make it bad for myself, usually by feeling intense shame after I have fun.

And I also have "bad blindness".
The words bad and good can impede people really thinking about what they are doing. When I do something that is "bad" and risk the terror/shame cycle, I can't bear to think about it, so I just put it out of my mind. Once I figured this out about myself, I see people doing this ALL THE TIME. I was recently speaking to some long-time Cambridge residents who asked how I liked living in Cambridge and I said that I found the natives incredibly difficult and felt like a permanent outsider in the local culture. THREE PEOPLE politely told me that I was simply mistaken. That I was wrong and I was in fact having a wonderful time. In that case, I have criticized the culture rather than the individual, but the blindness ensued.

The cloud of bad blindness is no way to go through life. I fogged a lot of the 1990s because as a single woman who loves Champagne I had more than my share of traditional vices. Sex was bad, and it was bad to have sex outside of marriage. I did it anyway, but in a way that was sometimes just as furtive as a repressed gay senator in a men's bathroom. With exquisite shame to follow. I don't know if shame is ever an appropriate thing for a human to feel.

Humans have a powerful post-subsistence need to be classified as "good" in order to make the other "bad". This leads to a considerable amount of violence when in fact many of us know better. Americans have it to a pathological degree, which is why they have bad blindness.

British children are forever playing "goodies" and "baddies" on their ubiquitous parks. There is never any discernible difference in the behavior.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Pay the Cat Price

Curiosity may have killed the cat; more likely the cat was just unlucky,
or else curious to see what death was like, having no cause to go on licking paws, or fathering litter on litter of kittens, predictably.

Nevertheless, to be curious is dangerous enough. To distrust what is always said,
what seems, to ask questions, interfere in dreams, leave home, smell rats, have hunches do not endear cats to those doggy circles where well-smelt baskets, suitable wives, good lunches are the order of things, and where prevails much wagging of incurious heads and tails.

Face it. Curiosity will not cause us to die- only lack of it will. Never to want to see the other side of the hill or that improbable country where living is an idyll (although a probable hell) would kill us all.
Only the curious have, if they live, a tale worth telling at all.

Dogs say cats love too much, are irresponsible, are changeable, marry too many wives,
desert their children, chill all dinner tables with tales of their nine lives.
Well they are lucky. Let them be nine-lived and contradictory,
curious enough to change, prepared to pay the cat price, which is to die
and die again and again, each time with no less pain.
A cat minority of one is all that can be counted on to tell the truth.
And what cats have to tell on each return from hell is this: that dying is what the living do, that dying is what the loving do and that dead dogs are those who do not know
that dying is what, to live, each has to do.

-Alastair Reed

Friday, May 7, 2010

Questioning your Unthinking Faith in Capitalism: ENRON, The Play by Lucy Prebbles

So I went to see this play the night before the UK descended into chaos and instability, i.e., last night and I haven't been so happy with a play in a VERY long time. Maybe August: Osage County made me that happy. The Sociable Plover was great last summer.

This play is not perfect. It starts a little slow and ends a little bombastically. Some of the characters don't really go anywhere (I'm looking at you, Claudia Roe) but it sparkles with insight and it breathes the fire of events of a decade ago better than anyone has ever done it theatrically. Yes, you read that correctly, New York Times!

The NYT gave Enron a kind of hostil review and it is closing a week into the run in New York.

This is a travesty. The NYT made a mistake. They make very few but this is one of them. I should start a futile Facebook group entitled Bring Enron Back to New York. I will the day my 16 month old daughter turns 18. Just wait until then.

In the meantime there are just these seventeen minutes between completing a draft contract and jumping on my bicycle to go pick up my kids from school, so I will try to be as efficient as possible.

The play is big, visual, inventive, true, accurate, theatrical and thought-provoking.

I hate agreeing with the Guardian because the institution is terminally smug but they are right. Enron is closing because people from one culture close ranks when they are criticised by an outsider. No American wants to hear Jamie Oliver tell us that our children's eating habits are lousy. We would rather embrace the eating habits than defer to outsider criticism. Same with the play. Every culture does this, but it's kind of stupid and it needs to stop. The merits of the message are the merits of the message, the art is the art, no matter who it comes from.

So what is great about Enron the play, the artistry was the unerring vision of the fall of the U.S. -through 9/11, through Enron, through the awful time of the 2000 election. That is not to say this is about the failure of the United States. We fell, we are getting up again, but we fell. The Brits fell pretty far as well and farther in some respects.

The chronicling of Enron begins shortly after Jeff Skilling is hired and ends after he is in jail. The play has songs and is massively physical. The psychosis of the trading floor, the frenzy around the millenium, done in startlingly physical set pieces. The board of directors are three men in suits with giant white mice heads. The corporate forms for the hiding of losses are velociraptors in suits. The accountant, Arthur Anderson is a disturbing ventriloquist act and the lawyers all had their eyes duct taped shut. The Lehman Brothers are comic conjoined twins (I am NEVER a fan of conjoined twin comedy so this didn't work for me but the others are phenomenal).

But the playwright shows unabashed empathy and admiration for the inventive genius of these guys. There is a lot of affection and admiration for the way humans are. Don't think that the piece is anti-American.

Seeing this play on UK election night when the main issue (to me) is financial regulatory reform was mindblowing. Because Enron really asks whether capitalism is compatible with humanity. I realize that even asking that question makes me a communist in Sarah Palin's America but I don't care. I can be an American and ask myself why we are blinded by faith in unfettered capitalism.

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in very much but I really don't believe that the means of creation and distribution of goods should be controlled by the government. No. but actually, between the government and private corporations, I'll just take the one that isn't susceptible to corruption.

And I'll take an even bigger step back than that. What that play brought home to me was the world of business reporting, stock analysts, trading, derivatives, lawyers, accountants: we are all just propping up a stock market: a market that does not make anything, but just bets on the future of others. How did we let such a big proportion of our economy and our best and brightest embroiled in something so counterproductive for humankind? Stocks don't do anything but make some people money and lose some people money. We have bigger fish to fry here in 2010. We need to allocate jobs that do something for the world: poverty, ecology, equality. Because as you can see in the play, the almighty stock price is the most powerful force in America. And that is heartbreaking. So we shoot the messenger by sending the play Enron back to the UK.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Perhaps Better Described as Should Disease

Sometimes the diagnosis of a mental illness within the diagnostic manual is useful. Useful for the treating psychopharmacologist, certainly. But I have been thinking about my bipolar diagnosis for nine years now and the four readers of this blog are familiar with my view that a very small percentage of what is treatable in mental illness is treatable by meds. In fact, I think nothing less than a fearless inventory of your entire life is required to beat the incapacity pain in our minds (which manifests itself throughout the entire body, i.e., nervous system) can cause.

Lately I have been thinking that what I have is better described as "Should Disease". There is what I am like, what my situation is, how I spend my day and there is, a distance away, what I think I should be like, what I think my situation should be and how I think I should have spent my day. I live in the distance between what is and what should be, punishing myself that one is not like the other.

I made a mistake today and I now have enough self-awareness to realize what a horrific, humiliating ass-kicking I give myself every time I make a mistake. The mistake does not incapacitate me but the mortification and shame I feel unnecessarily as a result sure as hell does. With all the internalization of a first child, I even sort of attract further mistakes, so complete is my own condemnation and judgment of myself.

This is a more complete description of my symptoms than the traditional listings for mania and depression.

People with Should Disease inflict misery on themselves and truly suffer as a result. I propose a diagnostic tool for that. It's this thing I noticed watching movies with people. Most people see internal anguish as abnormal and wrong and scenes of internal anguish frequently become unbearable for them as viewers. This does not happen to me. To me, the actors on the screen, no matter how raw and well-acted their pain is, really are experiencing just what I experience not infrequently. It's just not that impressive. This could be used as some sort of acid test of internal suffering.

Women I think may be more likely to have Should Disease because there are so many volumes of Shoulds available to us. Fashion, Skincare, Career, Motherhood, Lifestyle, Ecology. I used to get so mad at male trial lawyers when I was practicing for just this reason. They would shave and slip on a suit and be ready to go. I would have body issues, concealer performance issues, cat guilt, mascara application anxiety, I would have to find a pair of pantyhose with no runs and it always seemed like I had so much more work to do. So many more areas where I could fail. So many big baseball bats marked with shoulds to use on myself.

The good news is now that I have identified it, it is easier to make it go away.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

This is such a moment for the world - strange Clegg endorsement

So the more I read and speak to people and the more I am immersed in optimizing my own life - marriage, friendships, parenting, neurodiversity management, job -- the more I see in all these arenas such a moment of opportunity. We have a breathtaking chance to push ourselves forward and change the world for the better. Humans across the globe are all so united in our interests and old stupid thinking stops us from realizing this. Humans have so much in common right now, regardless of ethnicity, religion, citizenship . . . regardless of any of these old boundaries. We all need to exist and raise our children in a peaceful way. In some ways it is that simple. This is what spurs my abortive and strange flirtings with politics as of late and my eager manic thoughts.

It is sort of an intellectual reformation going on now: the anniversary of Darwin, the growing consciousness of the necessity of treating all living things with kindness, the complete and utter loss of faith in politics and political systems, the death of the Catholic Church, the election of Obama, the failings of the corporate form, the bloated power of the holders of the capital (the money) in our society, our ideas about what was good - everything from serving the pope to not regulating derivatives - those ideas are all changing. Corporations are poised to gain ever more power and religions are imploding with cause. Yet many followers of Christ and Buddha and the Prophet are just and bold of heart and eager to serve. Ideas of what illness is and how it is caused are changing. I see all these things as humanity teetering on the edge of great change. This is our opportunity and perhaps a necessity given our rapid ravishment of the planet. I don't know, but I worry about it.

It is time to examine old conventional wisdom about everything and question our religions, our corporations, our sovereigns, our banks. Not in order to get rid of them - I mean, maybe, but my favorite saying applies: fiat justitia ruat coelum - let justice be done, though the heavens be rent asunder. And maybe the heavens need to be rent asunder. Our truths are our cultures and our humanity, and no matter what heaven you believe in, humans should attempt to flourish, I think, and take care of each other. Severe lack of knowledge hinders us from doing so. We don't have a great grasp on what it means to fairly regulate the world economy (including all of our retirement funds, all of the banks, all of the high-end financial instruments), the world wide web (including protecting rightsholders and protecting freedom of information), the world (including climate change) and ourselves (including what constitutes mental illness (perhaps it is only neurodiversity)). We don't know how to efficiently heal all of us (health care). We don't know how to serve those most in need. We need new conventional wisdom. We need to change what we previously believed. I am not advocating where necessarily to go next, because I don't know.
We need the greatest minds to come forth and give us a good plan. That is what Obama has done in Iraq and Afghanistan and I don't think you could reasonably expect better results at this point in the Obama Administration, especially given the shitstorm he inherited.

My son, by the way, asks most of the adults he meets these days - speaking privately and seriously - "Are you voting for Nick?". Nick Clegg is the Lib Dem candidate for PM in the upcoming UK elections. Yes, indoctrination starts early in my family. (See below at *) but I do think it would just help tremendously if we handed the Liberal Democrat-minded a huge chunk of power. It would send a message to clear-thinking Labour and Conservative politicians alike that their knee-jerk sucking up to their old outdated parties doesn't have to happen anymore. I mean really, who wants their career paths defined by Cameron or Brown anyway?

This is why I am voting Lib Dem this bank thing is fucking serious and so are the failings of representative democracies. They get that. Those are very important things. On the rest of it they will do probably about as well as the others could do. We will have to watch them on foreign policy.

Anyway, every election matters, but when I think of this moment for humanity, I think we have the opportunity for change far beyond what one election can achieve. I am thinking paradigm shifts in thought about what our institutions do for us - our governments, our religions, our banks, our corporations -- what we want them to do, what they are doing, what we need them to do. We need a rich cross-fertilization between all the old divisions in our cultures: the politicians need to work with the clergy, the banks need to work with the politicians, healers need to work with traditional physicians, just in order to get everyone what they need.

*This is what I think of as a great Washington moment. When I was at Skadden, I used to take any little girl I could get my hands on to the Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center. I think the matinees in December of the Nutcracker are about the greatest thing in the world. One year, I took the charming daughter of one of the other associates and after we were seated fourth row stalls (I am good at getting seats), we viewed our program. On the back cover was a portrait of Reagan. The little girl asked me who it was. I said that his name was Ronald Reagan and he was president of the United States not so long ago and that he was a very bad man. A blue-haired grandmother with a broach leaned over her granddaughter, sniffed, and said "well, now I know how Democrats are made."

Touche, rich old lady. Touche.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Digital Economy Act

Believe me, I know almost no one I know is interested in this, but yet I persevere. That is how dedicated I am to the proposition that my blog will remain unpopular.

Here is a horror story about a terrible law. Last week the parliament in the UK passed a stinking bad law, I am talking Patriot Act bad, Prohibition bad, I am talking bone chilling.

Under this law, content providers (companies who own the rights to movies, tv shows, songs, practicallyspeaking it's movies mostly) (and therefore only rich corporate conglomerates, not individual artists) are given free reign to police the internet. Internet service providers are forced by law to do what they say, including turning over personal details and cutting off repeat violators. That is right. Internet service providers must shut off internet access for repeat offenders, whether those repeat offenders were cynical opportunists or it was grandma who let the neighbor's kid play on the computer. More disturbingly, they must block access to certain sites that the copyright owners think are violating their rights.

I work at an internet service provider, but one that serves a transient population, hotel guests, so I don't think the act is even going to end up applying to us, I don't think it should.

I was at the stakeholders' meeting at Ofcom, the government agency that is writing the implementing regulations for this bill. If the devil is in the details, certainly it was the minions of satan gathered at Riverside House for this meeting. They seemed like a perfectly nice bunch. In their bland and polite way they told us that although the legislation contemplated that the industry would write the first round of regulations, there was simply no time for that, in fact, all the regulations simply have to be done in six weeks. It was terrifying.

The beauty of the internet was that it was policed by human decency. Starting in September in the UK it will be policed by bureaucrats. Not enough people are bemoaning this change. When the government starts to decide what you are allowed to look at - when they unthinkingly bow to the power of the media conglomerates and give them far greater rights than mortal artists ever, have ever had in the pre-internet world - I get a little concerned. It used to be I bought a book. If I loved it, I gave it to you. But if I read that book online, it is licensed content and I cannot share. The scope of possible copyright infringements is so vast - did you know that when you download a CD YOU OWN onto a computer YOU OWN you are technically violating copyright? It is all so laden with pitfalls and potential for abuse.

At the meeting, I spoke to a lot of people and I kept floating the old American idea of a chilling effect, that a law could be unconstitutional if its net effect was to chill speech. So if grandma is scared to explore the internet because she doesn't want to be blackballed, then maybe it isn't such a good law. This was laughed off pretty thoroughly. No one thought it made any sense in this context. But I still think it does.

I don't think the US would be in danger of passing this law because culturally, Americans are much more hostile to any kind of government oversight of their lives in ways that Europeans just aren't. But if you live in the UK, you mark my words, this law sucks, it will be nothing but trouble and the bureaucrats are not up for the tremendous challenge of administering something of that complexity. This will all end in tears.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Running for Congress

So a couple weeks ago I went back to Corning, New York for an IALAC get-together. This is a group of ten women who went to high school together and get together every couple of years to drink and be contrarian and sarcastic with each other. IALAC stands for I Am Loving and Capable. It is an ironic salute to a partially successful high school self esteem program. We all love each other.

When I was there, I found out that the congressional seat in my old district in New York was open and Governor Patterson was considering ordering a special election, and that the Democrats were considering candidates. I saw two things: a way to get back to the States and a way to get involved with the economic and environmental issues of the time, a way to stop complaining about the government and doing something about it. So I looked into running.

I am fortunate to have friends who considered this development closely and sent insightful e-mails about it. The closer a person was to politics, the more fervently they warned me away from running for Congress. Friends from Washington were pretty universally unhappy with it. But frankly a lot of people were amazingly supportive. I am writing in the past tense because as the dust clears I am not going to run in the immediate future.

One big roadblock was fundraising. A run for congress costs at least one million dollars, I learned in my short, sharp trip up the learning curve. I already knew that a member of congress has to spend about 50% of her time fundraising. I don't like asking people for money. Emily's List says that to run, you have to ask the people who love you, the people who support the causes you support, and the people who hate your opponent. Doesn't it suck that it is so expensive to run? So I sent out an e-mail explaining this to some people, and my brother replied that while fundraising wasn't my thing, being interesting at a party was totally my thing and that was what it was all about.

Ah, David. Touche.

I haven't ruled it out completely. I am pondering.

I am not only climbing up the learning curve of a different culture - politics and politicians (I like to think I had some small start living in Washington on this one), I am also climbing up the learning curve of how much of the conventional wisdom about participating in Congress is good and true and worth following.

Any conventional wisdom I ever had about who was electable proved itself unreliable when Obama was elected. Any conventional wisdom about adhering to either of the big political parties is similarly suspect. The inefficiencies of government, its failings are so epic, its participants so imbued with a culture of ineffectiveness. It's so bad that I was thinking my slogan would be, "Vote for me, I am riddled with guilt anyway!". It's so bad that it's a good time to get in. At the bottom of the market.

But I am going to think about it, and talk to people, and if anyone thinks anything about this that you think I should know, send me an e-mail or comment.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Between St. David's Day and St. Patrick's Day: rugby.

And Rhys is watching Wales play Ireland in the Six Nations Rugby tournament. Of course growing up in the United States things like the World Cup and the Six Nations were not on my radar screen so it has been interesting marrying into a rugby-obsessed Welsh family. I'm talking lifetime seats and memorabilia collection and a fucking emotional rollercoaster every time they play. I to this day find it hard to understand the emotional intensity of the relationship of the European nation to these competitions. The relationship between the Celtic nations and their rugby is incredibly intense. The French, Irish, Scottish and Welsh play with all the fury they used to funnel into their frequent protracted wars. It's amazing. And the identification my husband's family has for the Welsh team is so pronounced. Their victories inspire this proprietary joy and their defeats are tragic occasions of regret and loss and darkness. They are incomprehensibly (to me) sad. I try to divert my husband with a little clowning around but it doesn't always work.

The way the Celtics play rugby is fascinating for an American. Not for them the steady clear-eyed victories of the Patriots or the Yankees or the Bulls. One minute balletic grace and preternatural judgment and the next minute the kind of crap you wouldn't see from nine-year-old girls playing under duress during gym class. It is mind-blowing. I think this volatility may be a Celtic characteristic. I really do.

Besides volatility, another particularly Welsh characteristic emerges every time they win a game. It's a severe lack of self-worth. Every single time the Welsh win, even when they won Six Nations in 2005, the universal opinion among the players and coaches was that they had been unfairly lucky and they didn't really deserve it. It is a cliche. The Skysports camera frames the star Welsh player or maybe the coach at the end of the game and instead of screaming a primal cave-man "YEEAAHH" into the camera (American football) all they do is ruefully shake their heads. They then explain in that beautiful lilting accent why they really should not have won, how the tries (touchdowns) they scored were accidental, how valiantly the other team played. They seemed to only have the capacity to only remember their mistakes and they do not adequately give themselves credit for deploying their talent. They don't feel like they deserve to win.

They also feel injustices very keenly. One of the only times I have scored serious points in this culture was at a rugby game in Cardiff. The ref made a borderline call (according to my husband, I have no idea) against the Welsh. The fans in our vicinity were unhappy so I introduced a chant I learned at ice-hockey games in Chicago: "Got a rope, got a tree, all we need's a referee!" The crowd around us seemed impressed by the subversive malevolence of the message. I know I always found that type of chant thrilling because it communicates anger and a plan for violence.

I can't help but look at these lists of characteristics and wonder slightly about mental illness diagnoses. Perhaps we should recast some mental illness symptoms as ethnic characteristics. In a few days it will be St. Patrick's Day. A day of drinking. Think about it.

Wales is lost. I gotta go be the rodeo clown now.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Meta Blog Thoughts and Dealing with a Manic Person

I have tried to avoid blogging about why I am blogging because I find such discussions on other blogs intensely boring always. My discussion will I fear be just as bad, so maybe skip down to my observations on dealing with mania which are trenchant and charmingly expressed. (Please recommend my blog to others with the quote "trenchant and charmingly expressed")

Anyway, I just write what I am thinking about and most of the time I am in such a fucking juggling act trying to be a parent and a spouse and general counsel and a person. And the juggling takes up a lot of time. The logistics cause me anxiety. I try to be very flexible to maximize performance for both my employer and my family. But in order to be a balanced person and manage this alleged bipolar disorder, I also have to put in a lot of time into maintaining my balance as a person by working out, speaking to friends, being creative. Trying to fit everything in is a constant challenge that feels how I felt in high school when I was pretty sure I was going to fail math. And creativity gets put last on the list, which is probably a shame.

This blog may be my last stronghold of creativity. Well, I say that but of course parenting is something wherein creativity is awarded, so I guess I am creative there. But I mean to have time to play by myself and to be fucking selfish and to tell myself that I am right and to just write. This nourishes me like dancing and I should do it more.

The urge for creativity has increased expansively since I had children, hence the title of the blog, Liberty and Owain, my two children who are 15 months and six. As I type in the study, I can hear Owain lecturing the Brazilian lady who usually does the ironing about a craft kit and Liberty is draping herself in a bowl of my necklaces. She has an eye for shiny, pretty things. For me, I usually file in the list of my own character flaws as jewelry whore but since it is my daughter, I soften the judgment and love it for what it is.

That in a nutshell is how my children have provided a means and motivation to figure myself the hell out and fix what is wrong and find some kind of happiness and peace. And above everything else, to stay alive when things get really really bad.

So I have been relentless in trying to work out things unbalanced in myself and I have thought a lot about it and the observations I post in this vein are the observations that elicit some really wonderful responses with people telling me about the struggles at the cores of their lives and how they have come to be at peace with them. Recently I was contacted about how to deal with a manic person so I thought I would put that out:

1. First, Just Watch and Don't Judge: Manic people do not have any idea of what kind of mood they are creating in the room and whether or not they have made you uncomfortable. They need your feedback. Don't give them judgmental feedback like You're Being An Asshole. That may very well be exactly what is happening, but it is just more useful to put your finger on exactly what is bothering you. This is also a great parenting exercise. The greatest advice I got as a parent was "say yes until you have to say no". Which for me means that I must have a clear picture about what is acceptable about what they are doing and what is loveable and also what is unacceptable. Then I make sure the reason I have for something being unacceptable is a good one. Just give them your honest feedback and do what you need to do to maintain your own sanity.

2. Try to Understand What They Are Talking About: Be persistent here. WHen you don't understand what the hell someone is saying, work on it. A manic person's mind is racing. It is flooded in chemicals and the synapses are flying. This doesn't make what they are saying necessarily nonsense. Manic people aggrandize everything, they make it bigger. Their problems, their anxieties, their worth (maybe). The placement of a glass or the order of phone calls can speak volumes about the universe. The best way to help manic people is to go with them as far as you can. Again, think of children. I am deeply rewarded when I sit my ass down and try to understand what my daughter wants or what is really going on with my son and you can use the same skill set here.

3. Practical Immediate Help: If you can, get them to take 2000 mg of EPA/DHA fish oil daily. It will take five or six weeks to show a difference. No one knows how a lot of psychotropic drugs really work, but I think there is valid science to support this. Get them to exercise regularly, cardio and muscle resistance.

4. Prescription Meds: You have to be either American or extraordinarily emotionally mature to be able to discuss prescription meds with a bipolar person. Please do so if you can. But be careful about handing them over to a shrink before you have tried to control it at home. The preferred med treatment for bipolar mania in the UK - and believe me I know this from experience - to put them in a hospital and overwhelm them with a cocktail of anti-psychotics that induce a crushing depression. Opinions vary about what happened to me but as a result, I am very slow to advise anyone to turn to the medical establishment. This makes me sound paranoid even though of course I am right. If the person will agree, why not give meds a try. But you must be willing to do no. 5.

5. Journaling: This is annoying in the extreme but a necessary evil when taking prescription meds. No one knows what the hell with these things so you have to have some kind of accurate history of your own reaction to different meds so you can see if they are working or turning you into a terrifying zombie. And in order to make that assessment, you need to journal where your mood is, or have some kind of record of your own functioning, sleep, depression, problems. I cannot tell you how many people in the UK are zombified out by Venlafaxine and don't even know if they are better or worse.

6. Just try to keep on loving them. That means making sure they give you what they can.

7. If it will make you feel better, take their credit cards away from them. They may not even notice. This old wives tale about mania is so crap, but people persist in pursuing it, so fine. In the interests of full disclosure, during the one manic episode in my life I barricaded myself in a suite at the Sanderson and ordered vintage Champagne and caviar in the middle of the night. I think it was really fun. I still have a Sanderson laundry bag.