My Moral Corruption

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“How you said what you said was simply enchanting,” were the first words he ever said to me.

“I was awake, I was always awake,” were the last words.

And between these two bookends were almost thirty years of an on-again/off-again relationship which redefined the term love affair, and which did very little to boost my self-confidence.  Instead this. . .entanglement. . .often followed a beachpalsdreadfully antagonistic and well-rehearsed sequence of deplorable behavior: Vanish, spot, affirm, invite, tempt, yield, pity, agony, masquerade, endure, discredit, and pluck.   And each incarnation ripped yet another piece of moral character from me until sometime in the early nineties I concluded that we were no more to each other than a dealer and an addict, and he was always, always willing to deal, not out of compassion for me, but to satisfy some dark hunger, a craving, maybe a need.

Like anonymous chunks of an ice shelf, we broke apart and drifted away from each boy-in-bushother.  I finding love and partnership and success in Chicago.  He and his art landed in New York.  It wasn’t his drawings they placed atop acrylic pedestals.  For dollar bills he ignored their probing fingers; for five’s he forgot their foraging.  We never discussed the activities associated with higher denominations but he emphasized they were few and far between (“even for someone that looks like me!”), a thinly veiled plea for adoration of which I ignored and which subsequently produced a stifling silence as though the bridge between us had been washed away by indifference.

He enjoyed a modicum of success with a small band of go-go-boys that played the voyeuristic circuit of Greenwich bars, and infrequently out-of-town gigs took them to South Beach, Atlanta and, of course, Chicago.  But by that time his mother had passed, his baby brother didn’t want to farm, and his father sold all three hundred acres, outbuildings, and the triple-generation farmhouse and moved into town,  So when he was in Chicago it was all business; most of it public, but private parties were viceprisonerhands down the most lucrative (and dangerous).  His last trip to Chicago was a bona fide performance, secretly cast by the Chicago Vice Squad who raided the place and arrested the lot and charged them with indecency (the cheek dividing string of his g-string was 0.25″ too narrow to entirely cover his anus).  I was called and took clothes and cash and bailed him out of jail.  As the sun started to peek above Lake Michigan we were driving north on Lake Shore Drive when he said, “You know, I think it’s time to hang up the g-string.”

“Really?” I asked in disbelief, knowing (from years of personal experience) that posing whether still or sparkling was his only talent.

Staring out the window he replied, “Yup!  Problem is. . .”  Here it comes, I thought.  “Problem is, the cops kept it as evidence!”

Smack Dab In The Middle Of Nowhere: Ah, Perfect!

Last weekend we packed practically half of our possessions (well, it sure felt that way) and went out-of-town for a two-day furlough from life’s daily grind.  We travelled south from Chicago and around the tail end of Lake Michigan to the eastern shore and small, polka-dot-like towns of Southwest Michigan known as Harbor Country.  These bucolic villages sprung to life during the mid-eighteen hundreds as either orchard or timber towns.  After Chicago (due west across Lake Michigan) was destroyed by fire, it was petitioning timber companies from Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan to deliver as much timber as fast as they could to rebuild Chicago.  A number of towns from this region answered the call.

(On a side note: Much of what is today Chicago’s Grant Park (to the south of our world-class Millennium Park (completed 4 years late (2004) and (hoo-boy) $325 million over-budget)) is built on debris from the fire.  Local officials opted to dump the relatively small amount of rubble into convenient Lake Michigan).

Southwestern Michigan saw Stevensville and Benton Harbor being settled as orchard towns and still retain prominence for their peaches, blueberries, and wine-grapes; Union Pier and Three Oaks hit their stride as major logging centers for Chicago’s restoration.  However, once the forests were dismembered Union Pier relied on a small but consistent tourist industry for Chicago residents while Three Oaks turned to agriculture (mainly fruit orchards).  Other small whistle-stops took hold along miles of unobstructed beaches and sand dunes as summer retreats.  Union Pier was affectionately known as the Catskills of the Midwest and, like many of its nearby towns enjoyed an annual easterly migration of Chicagoans desperately seeking the serenity of rural retreats less than ninety minutes from the city.

That is until the 1950’s when tourism began to wane as Chicagoans discovered their northerly neighbor, Wisconsin was flecked by inland lakes upon which one could raise simple three-season cottages, retirement retreats, even mansions.  And a mere seven-hour drive from Chicago is Wisconsin’s famous peninsula known as Door County.  Comprised of small towns and hamlets dotting both the eastern shore abutting Lake Michigan and the western shore adjoining Green Bay, it compares easily to Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach, Boston’s Martha’s Vineyard, and New York’s Fire Island.

For thirty years visual artists slowly discovered Southwestern Michigan’s slow pace, abundant properties, and speedy access to Chicago.  Over the years the area has become an established center of professional artists and independently owned road-side galleries offering a variegated degree of original art.  But then, in the mid-eighties, gentrification began its blight on these drowsy little towns as over-stressed and over-worked professionals sought a destination closer to home than Wisconsin’s offerings; a location with an aging and troubled economy; a place where you could buy a house, some land, and a night sky chock-full of stars for a fraction of what you’d pay in Illinois or Wisconsin.  And what made these Harbor Country towns so appealing?  Poor economic conditions: They looked and felt pretty much the way they did in the fifties when they’d been abandoned by Chicagoans the first time.

And so they came, prosperous couples with new families gobbled up properties like Romans marching across Europe.  The lakefront corridor was by far most desirable, especially the west (lake) side where modest stone bungalows with beach rights might fetch as much as seven figures.  The march continued both north toward Benton Harbor and west, leap-frogging the Red Arrow Highway, and slowing its pace at the eastern most fringe of Three Oaks.  By 2000 the narrow lanes, over-built lots, and idyllic, provincial, and simple character of these sleepy hometowns were scuttled by the import of urbanized behaviors and expectations.  Rather than fleeing the unyielding stress of city life for a long-weekend of birdsong, hammock-naps, and tall tales around a blazing fire, these transplants smuggled stress, brash voices, and booming stereos across state lines, and piled their city lives one-on-top-the-other, until their retreat disappeared, and their urban maladies doubled because now, not only were they experiencing the exact situations from which they fled, they were stuck in a tiny, Hicksville town, that oh m’god! couldn’t draw a shot of espresso, much less support a Starbuck’s!

Except for Frank’s.  Our longtime friend found a small, modest home built of cinder block overlooking a field of corn and backed-up against a steep ravine hidden by a dense thicket and impassable brambles.  It had been home to a family of four until the kids left and, luckily for Frank, so did the parents.  The small and unassuming house and garage was overcast by Hemlock and Juniper pines which splayed out in all directions like the bloom of a peacock’s tail.  Frank has an uncanny creative quirk: he can look at a common object and by deconstructing it in his mind, he imagines its parts which he then assembles into a completely new object.  In this bashful home which dutifully sheltered a self-effacing and respectable generation Frank saw a discreet refuge, and a distanced and disconnected property a few inland miles due west of the shore communities whose infrastructure narrowly supports the torrent of weekenders and the subsequent bottlenecks (roads, shops, restaurants).  Frank prudently purchased the property and created a master plan which included landscaping: pruning the pines, planting native fruit trees, installing a 2,500 gallon koi pond and waterfall, indigenous gardens, fire pit, and outdoor sculpture; upgrading the utilities in the house; and the most innovative change: repurposing the two-car garage into a modern three-bedroom guest house complete with a full kitchen, fireplace, vaulted ceilings and scores of windows which flood the rooms with sunlight and the achievement of privacy, serenity, and timelessness; the very qualities desperately sought by other Chicagoans who impulsively bought homes in the favored townships on the popular lanes only to discover that their little resort town had overdeveloped into the Lilliputian version of Chicago.

Sans, oh m’god! A half-caf double-foam skinny extra hot latte with three pumps of caramel!  Which, by-the-way, Frank concocts (simply espresso, sugar cube, and twist of lemon) using an original, aluminum-bodied, Bialetti stove-top espresso maker.

That Frank, he’s simply an innovator and an inspiration to everyone who’s ever really gotten out of the city and into the real Harbor Country, his retreat in the middle of nowhere, which is precisely where we urbanites yearn to be. 

Thanks, Frank.

The American Lexicon Is Fundamentally Evolutionary

We make all kinds of decisions every day.  I’d assert that a tenet of life is decision.

Decisions are based on a fundamental understanding of options.  These options are often presented through language.  Our language has mirrored our intellectual expansion during the past twenty years (since the commercialization of the internet), but it’s also exponentially increased the likelihood of poor decisions versus good decisions.  And not for the reason you’re probably thinking about right now.

It’s not that our decision-making ability has declined, it’s that our American English lexicon has been stripped of standards and replaced by Idiolects which are varieties of a specific language unique to an individual. In other words, how an individual (all individuals) use parts of speech specific to the language they’re speaking.  Huh?  Are you suggesting that we’re using vocabulary generally accepted but individually defined?

Yes, for example: I’ve had a great evening; would you like to come up for a night cap?  Twenty years ago you had a pretty good idea that the night cap meant some form of refreshment and m-a-y-b-e. . .But today a night cap most likely is prone to interpretation, and depending on the interpreter, the night cap might be the evening’s last tango which spins and dips and clutches its way to dawn, or the night cap might be the gut-wrenching sound of starboard iron scraping along larboard iron in a dense fog on a moonless night in the frigid north sea.  Both invitations were accepted but only one, the former, seemed to coalesce.  The latter was respectfully disharmonious and most likely eliminated any tandem future.  Okay, so what?  What’s this got to do with me?

We’re all assuming that what we say and what they hear are synonymous.  But in this day and age of individuality, identity, and me-me-meism which is reinforced constantly through internet-based social networks and the hardboiled, pragmatic, and mundane personal updates which someone somewhere will proclaim as unique (dismissing our language’s standard usages) and applaud their meism misuse (interpretation) of vocabulary, and whammo!  A word or phrase which held a generalized meaning now has a bastard son.  This phenomenon is known as Language Evolution Based on the Idiolectic Intersection of Individual Adoption.

So what’ve you been blathering on about?

Simply put: What you know you’re saying (standardized use) is being heard as something different (Idiolectic use).  Perhaps if communication was bipartisan (the talkers and listeners understand that their communication is reshaping the English lexicon) then we might lessen misunderstandings and agree to use a mutually standardized language in order to foster a sense of unity.

“You Brought This On Yourself,”

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My mother’s back: her way of avoiding conflict.

That’s what my mother used to say, her back to me, and her hands wrist deep in dishwater.  I needn’t see her hands to know she was wringing them upon hearing my news; I could tell by the way the muscles in her forearms were flexing.  There were several of these confessions at the kitchen table over the years, and I always found her reaction astonishing.  She was incapable of ever helping me solve whatever dilemma I disclosed.  The scope of my problems were well beyond the dimensions of her upper-flat apartment and any collateral influence her small circle of single-mothers might discover.  No, my mother lived a small, tightly wound existence, and like those gated-communities with elaborate, electronic gates and guard-posts manned by ex-militia, she’d honed the art of deflection, quickly interrupting my admission like a towering volley ball player blocking an opponents spike, by conjuring up the standard retort to unwelcome news, “You brought this on yourself.”

Which in many instances was both honest and obvious.  Most people don’t find themselves in a pickle by being an innocent bystander.  Most pickles are borne of poor planning and even poorer execution.  But not all admissions warrant my mother’s standard suppression.  For instance, the admission that you suffer from a mental illness in which you slide from a manic state to a depressive state as easily as Ferrari’s change lanes on the Autobahn. And that stress is a definite trigger, especially if that stress is a direct response to particular issues, situations, or circumstances.

What I’d like to know is whether other bipolar patients are accused of mania by a friend or relative when attempting to communicate important (and potentially volatile issues), and if so, does your intensity escalate in direct response to their continued defensiveness about the issues you are attempting to discuss?  And if the discussion derails and car after car of well-intentioned-but poorly-stated-examples jump track and pile atop each other deeply burying your initial point, does the person with whom you are now arguing with pull out the trump card, the ace-in-the-hole, the Coup de Grace and draw the conclusion that your passionate (implication: ridiculous) and persevering (implication: absurd) diatribe is characteristically manic, therefore you are literally, ranting like a lunatic, what do you do?  Back off as proof of your sanity (thereby recusing your accusations)?  Or stand firm and mad which guts the rationality of your point-of-view?

I recently cautioned a close friend that, out of desperation, played that card, and immediately quelled my interrogation.  But later, when civility returned, I quietly cautioned him of setting this precedent: “If I’m defenseless or simply tired of fighting, and he is intent at satisfying his blood lust, I’ll shut him up by asserting he’s Manic.”  Because most likely I’m not manic and accusing me of being manic in the context of an argument is cowardly and insensitive.

And lest you’ve forgotten, my mental illness is a disease not a strategy; it’s not my power play.

I’m out of control and therefore, by the very nature of the disease, am incapable of rational thought or reason; and the last thing an irrational person wants to hear is he’s behaving irrationally.  Talk about a dog chasing its tail!

Any thoughts?

 

. . . later that night . . . (excerpt from “The Other: A Collection of Doubt”)

“So, what did you want to know?” Scott asks placing the bottle of wine on a coaster.

Tom stands, adjusts the flame and walks to the sofa where he sits.  Scott sits cross-legged at the corner.  “Well, how you came to be here.  Not here, in my house per ce, but, I guess, how you came to be period.  I mean, I know about your mom and your dad and how they came from China and about your sister, but I don’t really know anything about you besides you’re an excellent kisser and I love the softness of your skin and blackness of your hair and your smell.  I want to know about you.”

Tom reaches for the bottle and pours himself more wine and refills Scott’s glass all the while struggling with the desire to simply strip him naked and bring them both to a mind-blowing orgasm.  Scott remains steadfastly silent.  “You don’t have to tell me, if you prefer,” Tom adds finally.

“I don’t know how to answer.  I mean, no one has ever asked me that question before.  Has anyone ever asked you to tell them about yourself?  How do you answer that question?  I feel like anything I say will sound grossly trite and insignificant.”

“But those are the things I want to hear.  And I’d rather than hear them now. . .than after.  Maybe I’m afraid that. . .after. . .you won’t feel so compelled to share them with me,” Tom says feeling suddenly embarrassed and insecure.  “I’ve never had anyone over to my house like this,” he admits.

“Like this, like what?” Scott asks.

“Like you,” Tom continues.  “And it’s not like I’m trying to protect the house or even myself for that matter.  It’s just that this is all so unusual.  This morning, this day, tonight, even you.  It’s all very unusual.   I don’t normally behave this way, not that the way I’m behaving is bad, it’s just different.  Different is all.  And I guess I want to understand you.  In a way that’s bigger or deeper or larger than kisses and erections and orgasms,” Tom says sheepishly.

Tom feels that slight sickening feeling of overexposure, that sorrow you feel when you realize you’ve stayed out in the sun too long and you’ve got a fitful night of prickly sunburn ahead of you.  Perhaps he should’ve kept his mouth shut and quickly stripped Scott in the kitchen and wasted no more than ten minutes including the awkward “so long.”  Perhaps by now he’d be in his shower washing away the remnants of weakness.  Simple.  Easy.  Clean.

Tom takes a long swallow of wine and looks at Scott, at the front of Scott’s jeans which no longer suggest his passion, but which now sit folded politely much like his own.  All that remains of their bodies collision against the countertop is an unforgiving stickiness.

“I never knew what I wanted.  Growing up, I never knew what I wanted.  What I wanted to do, wanted to be, or who I wanted to be with.  I knew almost immediately what I didn’t want.  What I didn’t want to do or who I didn’t want to be or who I didn’t want to be with.  And it seemed easier, I guess, to eliminate things than to chase things.  So I’ve spent the better part of my life in a state of subtraction.

“I never gave it much actual thought, you know, the reason for the activity of eliminating things from my life.  I guess I just found it to be an easier way to get by. And somewhere, some time I thought that I’d eventually find something that I’d be interested in enough to actually add to my life.  Something that I’d be willing to pursue.”

Scott takes a long drink and studies the wine as though he were reading tea leaves.  Tom watches Scott’s intense stare into the wine glass.  Leave him alone, Tom thinks.  Maybe all Scott wants is a quickie and you’re trying to make it into something more.  Maybe all this talk will lead to nothing.  Maybe Scott will find you too needy.  Maybe you should simply lean over and kiss him so you can get this over with; but Tom feels that their attraction has waned.

“I can give you a ride home if you’d like,” Tom says quietly, uncertain of Scott’s desire to stay.

“Why?  Did I say something wrong?”

“No, no you didn’t say anything wrong.  I just thought that. . .” Tom adds quickly, trying to allay Scott’s uncomfortableness.

“See?  This is exactly the reason why I never tell people what I’m thinking!  It’s like they think they want to hear it, and then when I’m straight with them they realize that they’re not really interested.  It happens all the time.  So I think it’s just easier to do what we both want and get it over with.  Simple.  Clean.  Easy,” Scott says defensively.

Tom stands up and walks to the fireplace for no reason than to move away from Scott.  He studies the fire and wonders how this day could end this way.  “Well, what is it that you think is so simple, clean and easy?” he says without looking at Scott.

“The same thing you do,” Scott says still studying his wine.

Tom watches the fire immediately realizing that they have reached the fork in the road.  The same divergence he has reached scores of times before: the familiar scenarios play out in his head like a montage: Scott stands and lets himself out; Scott stands up and walks to him, kisses him lightly and leaves; Tom walks to Scott, kisses him and they do indeed play out the inevitable, in exchange for the fifteen awkward minutes when scraps of paper with false phone numbers are exchanged and Tom locks the door securely behind Scott.  They all seem obvious.  They do seem simple and clean and easy.

Tom rubs his face with his hand, “I don’t think so, Scott.  I don’t think I want simple, clean and easy.  Not this time,” he admits finally looking at Scott.  “I think this time I want it difficult, dirty and hard,” he says walking to the sofa.  “And I think it all has to do with you, with you Scott” sitting next to him, “and I think it’s all about me letting someone in and all about you knocking on a door you want to open.  I think it’s all about you and me, here and now.  I think both of us are done, at least right now anyway, with simple, clean and easy.”

Tom reaches a hand to Scott’s face which he tilts upward.  Scott’s eyes meet his.  They both sit in silence for a few moments.  Tom’s thumb gently caresses Scott’s cheek and chin feeling the soft stubble of his beard.  Scott smiles slightly at his tenderness and reaches a hand to Tom’s face which he touches softly.  Tom thinks that this is the tenderness discovered between friends, friends willing to be naked and exposed, friends that share intimacies deeper and darker than just sex.  These are the moments which relationships are built on he thinks as their tender caresses continue.

Scott leans forward and kisses Tom’s cheek, then pulls away slightly, “no one’s ever taken the time to articulate it like that,” he says, “usually they simply dismiss me.  Usually by this time I find myself on the stoop of their house wondering how in the hell I’m going to get home.”

Tom takes Scott’s hand off his cheek and kisses his exposed palm, “but are you up to it, Scott?  Up to the difficult, dirty and hard?  Because I am, I mean, at least I think I am, right now anyways.  If you’re not then I’m not sure I want to complicate this any more,” he admits, again kissing the hand, “and I think that that would be a shame because it seems that we’ve already achieved a certain distance.  Given all the opportunities we’ve had today to simply sprint to an orgasm it would seem odd that you’re not up to the long distance run,” he adds.

Scott lifts himself out of the corner of the sofa and kneels at Tom’s side.  He leans in close and turns Tom’s face to his and kisses him devotedly, closed mouth, without passion but with longing.  “I’ve trained for a run like this all my life,” he says quietly while kissing Tom’s cheek.

Tom stands and places his wine glass on the coffee table.  He moves in front of the fireplace and slowly begins to undress starting with his shirt and opening one button at a time.  His fingers move slowly over the fabric feeling its softness, the stitching of the buttonholes; as he pulls the tails out of his trousers Scott takes a drink from his glass, places it on the coffee table next to Tom’s and walks in front of him.  Scott reaches for the hem of his fleece and in one smooth motion pulls it over his head and drops it on the carpet at his feet.  Tom peels the shirt off his shoulders, pulls his arms out of the sleeves and allows the shirt to slip out of his hand and fall to the floor gathering in a cotton heap.

Scott reaches slowly for the buckle of his belt, pulls on the length of leather which winds its way through loops, tugs at it, and unbuckles the latch.  At the same time Tom undoes his own belt.  They are now in-sync with each other as they both reach for the closures on their pants: Tom’s clasp and Scott’s button.  Both pop open as they grab the metal tab at the top of the zipper and slowly pull down, the metal teeth sliding into a wide-mouthed grin showing the soft fabric of their underwear to each other; Scott’s being steel-gray with Tommy Hilfiger emblazoned in purple on the waistband and Tom’s being simple, white Nautica boxers.  They stand motionless for a moment studying each other.  Tom grabs the edges of his wool trousers and lifting one knee withdraws one leg and then the other from his trousers; Scott simply allows the added weight of keys, cell phone and change to draw his jeans off his hips and down his legs like an anchor being dropped into the ocean and settle at his feet.  He stands watching Tom fold his trousers neatly laying them on top of his shirt.  Scott pulls one foot free from his jeans and then slowly, the other.  He kicks the denim to the side.  They stand three feet apart in only their underwear looking at each other.  Scott moves first, slowly hooking his fingers in the waistband of his shorts and drawing them down his hips, past the curve of his buttocks, out and over his erection and past his thighs releasing his hold on the cotton which folds like meringue at his feet: now naked in front of him.  Tom hooks his own fingers into the waistband of his boxers and pulls them in one swift motion off one leg, then the other finally naked to Scott.

Tom feels the heat of the fire brushing his back as he studies Scotts body: his long, lithe neck meeting the angle of his clavicle dissected by its horizontal bones; shoulders which spread out and bend with muscular caps bow slightly at the junction of his biceps and triceps; the mounds of his chest crest with lean muscles and are topped with two, quarter-sized auburn nipples which are separated by small, sparse hairs; the chest falls onto the ribs which look like pale piano keys and descend into the diamond form of his abdominals which drain into the slightly indented bellybutton centering his core; muscles like hands forming a “V” fan out on either side of his groin, a furrow of muscle rising from his crotch up to his hips and disappearing into the flesh of his buttocks; his hairless thighs give way to bony knees and lithe, muscular calves which have a splattering of stray, black hairs.

Scott studies Tom’s form: the wide chest painted by brown hair which continues down his stomach and empties into the hair surrounding his erection; muscular thighs support the heavy foundation; the most obvious characteristic is the abundance of body hair which Scott finds very sexy; Scott yearns to bury himself in Tom’s masculinity.

“You’re absolutely beautiful,” Tom hears himself whisper, afraid he’s sounding trite and wishing he could summon up words he thinks would be worthy of the apparition.  He wishes he could utter the oohs and aahs reserved for firework displays he enjoys.

“You’re better than I had imagined,” Scott admits while feeling himself pulled by an invisible string into Tom’s embrace.  Better than I imagined, Tom thinks to himself, better than he imagined.  No one has ever said that to him before, and, he wondered, if anyone had ever even thought it.

At the same moment they both take steps towards the other and meet in the middle of the carpet, Tom feeling a cooling of his backside and Scott feeling the warmth of the fire wash over his body.  They stand less than a foot apart, their hands at the same time begin to touch areas of acute attraction; Scott to Tom’s formidable chest hair, Tom to Scott’s slender hips.  At first their touch is tentative, as though they can’t quite believe they have acquired permission, but quickly their caresses gain momentum and purpose.  As they move closer together their hips, pressed tightly together as hands continue to roam, to explore, to touch and discover.  Tom’s hand leaves Scott’s hips and move hastily around to his back then hungrily to his bottom, groping, kneading the soft flesh which tightens as Scott pushes himself against Tom, feeling himself being blanketed by Tom’s abundance of soft yet protective hair, recalling a similar feeling when his mother would pull the blanket to his chin and tuck in the sides; bliss he thought, blissful then and simply bliss tonight.

Recovery: A Saw Blade and Alpine Climbing (Journal: July, 2008)

I had thought that an increase in medication would signal a decrease in depression. But my psychiatrist corrected my logic and chose two separate metaphors to describe my recovery: 1) A hand saw; and, 2) Alpine Climbing.

Picture a well-made 26″ cross-cut hand saw with its blade facing upwards.  Don’t look at the teeth but look at the blades carefully honed angle-of-rise as its surface broadens to eventually equal the width of the handle.  And the teeth are hand-shaped on a grinder causing the familiar serrated edge which means there are several contact points (peaks and valleys) along the saws blade.  My mind when in major depression is like a serrated cross-cut hand saw blade. There’s a consistent up hill climb but in order to achieve the handle one needs to live through a number of peaks and valleys.

Similarly, the Alpine Climbing endeavor is peaks and valleys to which I am ignorant: I am not a mountaineer, having lived for 50+ years at or slightly above sea level.  But something odd occurred recently: my sea level suddenly rose skyward and I, lacking any previous experience went tumbling like poor Jill after Jack tripped showboating his coronet.  And then there it was, sea level, way up there, beyond tree canopies, even higher than some clouds.  It wasn’t until my psychiatrist explained that sea level remained fixed; it was I who had tumbled downward, spiraling like bath water down the drain.

From its approach I studied the aspect or face which I would climb to reach my first base camp.  The first leg I climbed alone (except for talk therapy and psychiatric medications) and joined my psychiatrist/sherpa at base camp where he was waiting with our racks.  We left the dark despair and feelings of hopelessness at base camp in mid-July, 2008.  We lightened our load by leaving behind my feelings of worthlessness and the idea that my life has collapsed, I am invisible in my own life and I would be better off dead. We both agreed that we didn’t need to drag those thoughts with us to the summit. We shouldered our racks and tightened the harnesses, checked and rechecked; thus began my apprehensive and cautious attempt to the distant summit of Peak Recovery.  The trek had been an exhaustive challenge across an unfamiliar landscape filled with dark crevasses of suicide and treacherous, newly fallen snow provided a dense foothold for our crampons, but which also hid the setbacks of insufficient dosages. But the activity of climbing and breathing the thin, cold air provided a sense of refreshment and newfound challenge.

Friends of mine and especially Nick have asked why I would’ve been so lucid for so long, then after meeting my psychiatrist it seemed as though my bottom gave out. It wasn’t until this afternoon as I write this entry that the reason occurred to me: I had spent the better part of two years in an utter state of unhappiness; unhappiness in my job, unhappiness in my relationship and unhappiness in my life. Yet, everyone in my life thought everything was swell and marvelous and happy! I had tried everything I knew how, from changing jobs, to self-medicating, to alcohol abuse, but nothing would erase that consistent gnawing pain I felt in my heart, or quiet those scratching, irritating noises in my head. Right up to the end I tried desperately to hold on, to simply hold on to the last end of rope, my fingers bleeding and numb. Until I saw my psychiatrist for the first time and he said, “there’s nothing to be ashamed of when you ask for help. You cannot possibly do this alone.”

It was then, right then, that I knew the futility of my fight; it was right then that my heart recognized kindness and a serene noiselessness smothered the incessant clamor filling my head.  This epiphany of surrender brought an end to my life as desperation.  When I released my hold my consciousness experienced a forced power-off; a reboot in safe-mode.  When I eventually opened my eyes there stood my psychiatrist who helped me to my feet and said “Now we can start at the beginning rather than the end.  The end which you fought valiantly to avoid never would’ve been avoided. Life starts when labor ends.  We all start on the heels of the end.”

My recovery continues to be slow with delays and disappointments along the way.  And yet, as we stop to rest I tell him of the anger and disappointments in my life. My psychiatrist/sherpa listened intently and then offered the most important advice of all: “Climb this mountain as though your life depends on it, because it does.”

As a Playwright: Notes & Excerpt from “Afterward”

Initially my focus was poetry: Simile and Metaphor; juxtaposition; possessing the “ear” to hear.  That is, to identify words not only by their meaning, but also how they sound when blended with their kin folk in the paragraph.  Some call it style: I was taught that it was called my voice.

I attended the only university that accepted me.  Good fortune (cousins twice removed to Serendipity and Veracity (both of which I mention in a couple of different posts) eventually led me to the Chancellor’s office, Dr. Warren Carrier, a contemporary poet, and my mentor for three years.  Through Warren I met esteemed poets such as William Stafford, Richard Hugo, Madeline DeFrees and Robert Bly.  I asked Warren, upon completion of my first publishable poem, “Do I have my voice now?”  With a quiet chuckle he replied, “Voice?  You’ve just begun to whisper.”

When I tired of poetry’s whittling, I turned to a genre which permitted a certain degree of gluttony:  Playwriting.  Since then I’ve written over a dozen full-length plays.  The following excerpts come from my latest play, “Afterward.”

A little about “Afterward:” it’s based on the premise that everything happens because of something else. In this case Joe is uncertain whether he loves Rene enough in order to continue their relationship; and Jeffrey, having recently dissolved a male menage trois is seeking desperately for a new relationship. It’s a play of parallels: Joe’s uncertainty of his long term relationship and Jeffrey’s uncertainty of his freedom. Yet both men’s angst often cross paths when they articulate that what each of them has is indeed what the other is seeking. And therein lies the conflict. How does someone argue his point free of his own emotion; or rather, can someone advise a close friend to stay where they are if, indeed, that is where they wish to be? I haven’t been able to write its conclusion because I haven’t quite lived the conclusion. There are a few elements which I have yet to introduce: Joe’s testosterone therapy which has increased his sexuality, and in turn, has brought his desire for men to the forefront. How does he explain this uncovered desire to Rene who has known him only as heterosexual? One would think that it would be simple: tell her. But what if Joe has met someone with whom he wishes to bed? With low testosterone your sex drive decreases and, harshly put, Rene was enough for him. Now that the testosterone is normal his sexual appetite has increased unleashing desires which Joe is unused to communicating. And more recently my experience with depression will undoubtably wind its way into the action. Perhaps Joe is on the verge of collapse? And like me, the perfect storm is brewing. Perhaps I should re-title the play “Convergence”.

Aristotle, the father of drama wrote about three unities: Time, Place and Action. He argued that a well made play should embrace these three unities. Time means all action takes place in real time: If the action starts at 8:00 pm and the action lasts 90 minutes, then the play should end at 9:30 pm; Place means all action occurs at the same location; Action means all characters involved in the play are seen on-stage. I don’t need to tell you that abiding by these three unities is no easy task. Action is the easiest to draft; Place is a bit more difficult; but Time! That is by far the most difficult. No ones life is so dramatic that you’d want to watch it, non-stop for 90 minutes. Except some good porn, I suppose. So the inherent problem with “Afterward” is that it MUST be overwritten in order to edit down to 90 minutes of solid drama. The beauty of Aristotle’s unities is that the life of the play lies squarely in the hand of the playwright. It is my responsibility to build, breakdown, build, breakdown, build, crescendo and conclude the most horrific or funny 90 minutes of the characters life. Which again, is no small feat.

JOE

I love Rene. I really, truly do. I love being with her. Touching her. I enjoy her smell. I enjoy her taste. It just seems as though it’s all become expected. Like you expect the door to open when you turn the handle. Like you expect
the light to go on when you throw the switch. It’s all become. . .routine. It’s become a routine. Expected. Except she’s not expecting. Not much anymore. I try all the same old tricks: stroking the inside of her arms, the lingering,
trailing kiss down her neck, the old, common jokes; rubbing her feet, drawing her bath; meeting her for lunch; glasses of wine in the garden; jewelry. We sit and too much time passes between us, too much silence.

JEFF

Silence is comfortable.

JOE

Is that what life becomes? Silent and comfortable? Silent and comfortable aren’t passionate. I remember years ago. . .maybe not even that long ago. . .when fights flared up between us like brush fires. . .hot, screaming, saying things we’d regret. . .painful, hurtful things. . .emotional jabs and punches. . .and then we’d lock each other up like exhausted boxers and throw sexual upper-cuts that landed us both on the floor. . .and all there was was brutality. . .clothes became obstacles, then torn, ripped. . .and we were coupling like animals and the same jabs and punches were thrown lower, thighs pushed open, panting and sweating and screaming. . .until we. . .together. . .at the same time…like trapeze artists flying through the air reaching, grabbing, clutching. . .and freshly embarrassed laughter tripped from our mouths and we both felt madly, deliciously, one, even though by then we had disengaged and fell next to each other and quiet washed over us like a crisp cotton sheet. That quiet was different than this silence. That quiet was a respite, an earned pause. This silence is deafening. This silence is stifling, full of humidity. The silence I hear now is the result of twenty years of conversation. As though we’ve heard it all before. As though we’ve already read this page, this chapter, this novel. Almost as though, predictably, we know how this will end. How can we know the ending? How can a love affair like ours have a predictable denouement? How in the world did we get here? Here has always been where I’ve always wanted to go, but now that I’m there I keep wondering. . .

JEFF

Wondering what’s over there? I can tell you what’s over there. I’m over there. Over there is lonely. You try to shore up the desperation you feel by humping strangers. . .ten different men in a week. . .but there’s no union. There’s the gaze, the dance, the drinks, the touch and rub and grope and zip and grind and suck and come. And it’s all madly, deliciously sexual. But there’s no investment. There’s no pain. There’s longing, but not the longing for what once was. There’s no memory. There’s not even hope. It’s started and ended in ten brief minutes and you’re now more of a stranger than when you walked in the door of the bar because you gave something so familiar to someone so unfamiliar.

JOE

So what’s a guy to do? How come once we get to where we thought we wanted to go the place looks strikingly different than the brochure? Where’s everything we’ve always been dreaming about? Where’s the cottage and the lake and the loons and the pine trees and the two-person row boat and the big fluffy bed and the sunset? How come I don’t see that? Christ, I love Rene. And isn’t love enough?

JEFF

Maybe you’ve gone away. Have you thought about that? Maybe you’ve gone away. It doesn’t sound to me like Rene has gone anywhere. It sounds to me like you have. Have you? Have you, Joe? Have you gone away?

JOE

I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe I have. Maybe. Maybe I should just masturbate more. Maybe that’s what I should do. Masturbate more. And don’t dare reduce this to the whole mid-life crisis thing. I’m past the mid-life crisis thing. My mid-life crisis is parked in the garage: Midnight blue, six cylinder six-speed, satellite radio equipped convertible. It turns heads. I smile on its behalf. That’s done.