|. . . Depression|
|. . . 1999-07-04|
They're good for the eye.
The more you tear, the more you cry.
The more you cry, the better you look.
So chop some onions when you cook.
|. . . 1999-07-15|
For most people I know, depression is a habitual preoccupation, like water damage in Venice.
|. . . 1999-07-26|
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Remember: you can't spell "WELL" without "WELLBUTRIN".
OK, you can, but it would be very short.
|. . . 1999-09-08|
Sad streaming video always makes me cry: And still more poetry, this time from the men's room wall at a SOMA multimedia production company....
I use my antics to amuse the crowd,
of this should I be proud?
like the make-up on a clown,
my smile is my shroud
|. . . 1999-10-18|
Last year, the Comics Journal split its double-sized hundredth issue between Chris Ware (proprietor of the well-griefed Acme Novelty Library) and Charles Schulz (still the sole artist on Peanuts). Critical wisdom, repeated several times in the course of the magazine, is that this provocative pairing works for only the first half of Schulz's career, and that by the mid-1970s the final sparks of viciousness and bitterness were leached from Peanuts, leaving it a thin collection of very soft gags.
Well, it's true that Schulz doesn't kick Charlie Brown around much any more. But there's still plenty of crummy mood left in the old guy, and for the last couple of decades, it's been channeled through a character left unmentioned by the Comics Journal: Spike, the beagle hermit who looks a little like Dashiell Hammett.
Only a week or two ago, he featured in a downright Warean moment: a single-panel strip of a desert thunderstorm, with Spike, small and centered, braced against a cactus and accompanied only by the thought-balloon "Mom!" (Or, as Ware would've put it, "M-m-mom?")
And my favoritest Peanuts of all time ever was a 1980s Sunday Spike -- I paraphrase from memory so's not to stir up the lawyers:
(Spike looks at cactus) "Did you ever hear how it was that I moved to the desert? When I was very young, almost a puppy, I lived in a house with a family. One day the family had a birthday party in their yard. A guest saw a rabbit and told me to chase it. And then everyone was shouting for me to chase it. I was excited and wanted to do the right thing, and so I chased the rabbit. The rabbit ran into the street and was run over. And so I came here, where I can never hurt anyone again." (Pause) "I've never told anyone that story." (Looks at cactus) "I guess I still haven't."I think of that punchline a lot... it seems like it's hit something essential about fiction, and criticism, and autobiography -- maybe about all writing for publication.... "I've never told anyone that story. I guess I still haven't."
|. . . 1999-11-14|
It's nice to see that Poor Daniel Johnston is still picking up new fans. Besides many hours of singalong pleasure, Johnston has also provided the Hotsy Totsy Club with the title of one of its most popular topics.
So I reckon I'll be supportive and pick up the new album, but it won't be with particularly high hopes. Johnston is a great pop songwriter, but his songwriting peaked in 1983's Hi, How Are You? and Yip/Jump Music, with every track a gem or at least a fruity pebble. 1990 had two or three good tunes; Continued Story had only one; and Jad Fair..., Artistic Vice, and Fun had none at all.
Kind of a Brian Wilson career arc, except that Johnston never made any money and he likes to draw cartoons.
|. . . 2000-04-02|
"The gentleman reader cannot fairly be expected to work up a professional interest in a woman who picked up threads and ate them." -- newspaper review of The Shutter of Snow by Emily Holmes ColemanWell, that's obviously changed. The Shutter of Snow must be the twentieth-or-so "woman goes crazy but eventually gets out of the institution" novel I've read. Which is the kind of number I'd a priori only expect from plotlines like "boy gets girl" or "detective solves mystery."
Let's take it for granted that insanity is interesting. Why the gender gap, then? Why the Padded Ceiling?
One obvious reason is that well-educated women are (still) more likely to be institutionalized than well-educated men. As the old formula goes, women are institutionalized, poor men are jailed, and the rest of us pretty much do what we want.
Another (not necessarily unrelated) reason is that story-consumers and story-makers prefer that protagonists who show weakness be female. And going crazy and recovering are both pretty obvious signs of weakness. When I was trying to write fiction about loonies I've known, most of whom have been male, I felt immense internal pressure to turn them into female characters instead. (Like, try imagining Repulsion with a male protagonist. No, I mean it: try. It's good for you.) The standard storylines tell us that women go into institutions because they go crazy and men go into institutions because they're rebels. Women get better and men keep insisting they were right. (Sylvia Plath vs. Ezra Pound; The Shutter of Snow vs. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest....) Men-going-under stories tend to be about addiction rather than madness: appetite, not fragility.
But there's another reason for the twentieth century having produced so many of these stories: the number of untold and unrecoverable stories left over from the nineteenth.
"My mom says that when she was growing up in New Zealand in the Fifties, there were three career options for women: emigrate, become an airline stewardess, or go crazy." -- Juliet ClarkTake out emigration and airlines, and you're left with the options for the nineteenth-century Anglo-American upper class. In feminist-backlash post-abolitionist late-1800s America, good girls had achieved Stendhal's proto-feminist dream: women were being educated but only so that they might be fitter companions to educated men. In the post-feminist era, it wouldn't be tasteful to try to be anything else. A nice New England woman in politics? Laughable. In literature? In art? Etc.
"Any woman learning Greek must buy fashionable dresses." -- Henry Adams regarding his wife, Clover Hooper AdamsThe Civil War, with its bandage-making and fund-raising, was the high water mark of usefulness for the Adams/James generation of American women. Afterwards, if you were lucky, you could have children till you died in childbirth. If you weren't lucky, you either (like Alice James) shrunk into a mockingly dense point of invalidism or you found yourself over an abyss.
"We are working very hard, but it is all for ourselves." -- Clover Hooper AdamsAn abyss-swimming man might clutch for a job; a woman could only be headed for the bin. And in the nineteenth century they tended not to come back out.
"I shall proclaim that any one who spends her life as an appendage to five cushions and three shawls is justified in committing the sloppiest kind of suicide at a moment's notice." -- Alice JamesAs a girl, Clover Hooper swapped dark comparisons of the hospitals that swallowed up her female relatives and friends:
"I wish it might have been Worcester instead of Somerville which is such a smelly hideous place."As an adult, after almost a year of depression, she poisoned herself with her own photo-developing chemicals rather than face institutionalization.
"Ellen I'm not real -- Oh make me real -- you are all of you real!" -- Clover Hooper Adams to her sister, a few months before her death
|A hundred years' worth of vanished victims seems to call for at least fifty years' worth of survivor testimony: It is possible to come out of the bin; it is possible to describe it....
Of course, the downside of so much survivor testimony is that the survivors are likely to get fetishized. And then a demand naturally develops, and the supply of survivors has to be periodically replenished....
|. . . 2000-04-29|
One of the troubles with the self-help industry is that it assumes too few dimensions to an infinitely dimensioned society -- which is exactly what sustains it as an industry. In this "Emotional IQ" test (via Alamut), for example, all kinds insight, all kinds happiness, and all kinds politesse are mushed together into one score. (Of course, the score is based solely on self-perceptions of dubious validity, which is another trouble with the self-help industry.)
According to a study I read in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, depressed people tend to have fewer delusions than non-depressed people, they tend to make less distinction between themselves and others, and they tend to be more accurate in determining consensus in a group.
That's not to say that depressed people are better human beings -- experience strongly suggests otherwise. But it is to say that labels like "emotional intelligence" or "mental health" tempt us to bundle together traits that are, at best, not mutually reinforcing.
|. . . 2000-08-24|
|. . . 2000-11-04|
Neuraesthetics: Writerly FAQs
|. . . 2000-11-11|
David Auerbach supplements our Neuraesthetics Writerly FAQs:
"Writing has served, for authors from Rilke to Fitzgerald, as a way to make safe concessions without having to make them to anyone -- to give them an out for self-recrimination and self-doubt that does not have to manifest itself in any concrete way, allowing the social persona that may have discomfitted them to continue on its way. The depression would come from this containment, an only half-expressed portrayal of misery that they can't permit to overflow its literary bounds. Hence, I'd say, why so many writers are jerks in spite of being depressives. And partially (to answer a third question) why so many writers mistake cruelty for honesty."
|. . . 2001-04-26|
Smile, Darn Ya, Smile
If I were wildly amusing myself by travel, I should feel horribly selfish and heartless, but the single merit of travel is that it offers a variety of ways of boring oneself, whereas at home one is reduced to boring one's friends. I can at a pinch endure my own sufferings, but I cannot bear inflicting them on others. The English, when bored, kill something. I always feel as if I, too, were putting up a grouse or a pheasant when I stalk a friend to inflict my dreariness on him.
|. . . 2001-07-25|
On a blue gray day, what could be nicer than curling up with a liter of Irish Coffee and a full set of Sock Monkey, the preferred comic of dreamily aggressive drunks who've swigged just enough caffeine to get the detail work finished before collapsing?
Well, forget it, chump. You aren't going to get out of a blue gray day that easily. Instead, as an acceptably only-second-best-and-only-when-you're-lucky alternative, why not curl up in front of your blue gray monitor with a full set of scans (via ComicGeek.ca) and kvetch for the soft shredded beds of pulpier times?
|. . . 2002-01-16|
|. . . 2002-02-06|
Revised at 4:30 AM because I couldn't stop worrying about it
Discussions of "creativity" and "insanity" are often muddied by their emphasis on post-Romantic high art, whose practitioners have stakes on both sides of the "crazy artist" label and whose publicists have adapted to the public's (sometimes justifiable) lack of interest in actual artwork as compared to biographical narrative. More murkiness results from the late twentieth-century marriage of diagnostic psychiatry and self-help books, in which any personality trait can be re-interpreted as a symptom and made reassuringly meaningful in a case history narrative.
But even analogically speaking: If one defines an artist as someone who produces artwork (rather than as a particularly unpleasant lifestyle), wouldn't the proper comparison be obsessive-compulsive disorder?
|. . . 2002-02-21|
Movie Comment by Juliet Clark, with unintended reference to recent Movie and Other Comments - Storytelling
"It's very difficult to express self-loathing in narrative without sounding like an arrogant asshole."
+ + +Lord knows I'm no Self-Esteem cheerleader: anti-empathic self-righteousness is the longest-running American epidemic by far.
But -- it pains me to say -- the common-sense association of judgment, emotion, and action isn't terribly reliable in real life. What makes depression more problem than opportunity isn't its grip on reality but its stagnation. Self-loathing has no utility except as an impetus to change, and it just as often seems an impetus to confirmation: "I'd rather be right than better." Has Jerry Lee Lewis's long-standing conviction that he's headed hellwards made him a better human being? If his wives returned to life, I think they'd say not.
Tolerance toward others and changes to one's own circumstances can't come about purely through self-contemplation, whether the gaze be smug or apalled. They require outwardly directed attention. What a bother.
Related distinctions have been refined at UFO Breakfast -- "disgust" vs. "dissmell," "contempt" vs. "shame" -- and then applied:
In a culture like ours where shame-triggered contempt is on the rise and quickly becoming normalized, we should be especially vigilant about a certain tipping point where shame-dissmell becomes dissmell pure and simple. Once that point is passed, there may not be an easy way back out of tribal hatreds.My first reaction was to murmur "How true."
But, true to dialectic paralysis (everything true; nothing permitted), my second reaction was to envision the argument's ancestry -- like when you meet the parents of your college sweetheart you can't help but start calculating the genetic odds -- which seems to include two particularly vicious undisciplines:
Nietzsche's oversensitive olfactories may have helped endear him to Fascists, but I suspect they had more effect on his constipation than on his politics. And further suspect that UFO B.'s analysis-by-analogy, like most all such, works more usefully as a reminder of possible alternatives than as a psychohistorical formula.
But I still wonder if it's a coincidence that the writers I most often turn to for humane comfort -- James Joyce and Samuel R. Delany -- are both on record as lacking "dissmell" altogether.
... continued ...
|. . . 2002-05-15|
|What time is it?|
|When time endlessly vanishes into a dark featureless void, each moment hopelessly indistinguishable from the next....|
|Why, it's Zoloft time!|
|[none-too-subliminal marketing swag via the generous donation of Kate Small]|
|. . . 2002-06-07|
How different was this letter from the other! Though perhaps not so well written; for one does not shew so much wit in suing for pardon as in venting reproaches, and it seldom happens that the soft, languishing style of a love-letter is so penetrating as that of invective.I think I understand what Visible Darkness is getting at with links. I wish I didn't.
It's more relaxing when I can pretend that it's just you (out there) and stuff (out there) and my function is to point -- or, more precisely, to place a marker and leave. I'm happiest (happy in a secure stable confident way; not most gleeful or most driven) lending people books or showing them movies or playing them music that they like, and as much as I may strive to instigate and encourage their enjoyment by my own overbearing example, I'd be betraying the Code of the Autodidact if I denied the value of a library card and time alone in the stacks. (Not that linkin'-logs have much in common with libraries -- they're more like kids trying to impress each other with what they got for Xmas. A weblog's sidebar [or sidepage] list of favorites provides a closer equivalent to browsing someone's bookshelves than do the links in a weblog proper.)
And when I feel especially sickened by the tawdry deceits of "expression," as I occasionally and currently am, that's what seems safest: publish, point, disappear.
[Naturally, I've turned for publishing relief to someone who's not at all bothered by melancholy or guilt, or even by tawdry deceits. Grammont's introduction to the court of Charles II is challengingly crowded with new characters (and just as densely packed with notes). But the introductions are not without Hamiltonian charm; for example, to "Montagu, no very dangerous rival on account of his person, but very much to be feared for his assiduity, the acuteness of his wit, and for some other talents, which are of importance, when a man is once permitted to display them."For better or worse or richer or poorer, I can't maintain dignified silence for long. A call (no matter how illusory) for response will rarely call in vain, and while I've lately preserved a model pout here, I've written plenty in email, comments, and mailing lists.
Even responding, I'd rather point to already published sequences of words than generate new ones; for example, by drawing a line from "Words' true work is to restore life itself to order" to "Sharp as mud." But, as a critic who prefers an informal style and primary sources close at hand, I may well find myself tempted into more active engagement against Ricoeur's formula that "Conversational speech presents; writing represents"....
|. . . 2002-06-15|
Grin & plummet
|That's what I've always felt about nervous breakdowns, if you're not really whacked out, or schizophrenic; basically, you're making a decision that is so hard that you need the excuse of neurosis. I think nervous breakdowns were much more common in the late '50s and early '60s, and the world is more hip about those things today, so that people can make decisions without claiming that excuse. But it works both ways; it was a great advantage having nervous breakdowns.|
|-- Thomas M. Disch|
Possibly related: Samuel R. Delany's mild dismay when noting that depression is often a sign that one's life should change in some drastic fashion, and that the blanket prescription of antidepressives some-subset-of-often delays that necessary change, some-further-subset indefinitely.
Not entirely unrelated: This present mental institution's third (of a projected five) anniversary approaches.
|. . . 2002-07-22|
Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are
|"That's The Bag I'm In" by the Fabs
Every morning when I wake up
|"Fickle Heart" by Johnny Garfield
Every heart is a fickle heart,
To further cite Dorothy Wordsworth's much cited formula, poetry takes its origin from dining digested in tranquility.
And nothing more reliably feeds pop lyricism -- pop being, as Leonard Bernstein and Rod McKuen assured us, the poetry of our time (that is, too early in the morning) -- than breakfast, whether the breakfast be good or bad.
I love breakfast songs, and bummers, and my favorite bummer breakfast song used to be Neil Young's "Last Dance": "The coffee's hot and the orange juice is cold... cold... cold."
But the Fabs bum worse. And they deserve to.
And they know it! And they don't care!
'Cause they want it that way! No compromise! No learning! Your fingers get burnt, you just push 'em right down home on the range again! Fuck learning! We chose to do this and we will keep on doing it!
You know, like when people quit publishing on the web because it's so disgusting to pay attention to hit counts and to newspaper stories and self-promoting programmers and all those things that I guess must be inherent to publishing on the web. Or like asshole yuppie men complaining about how whiny and airheaded and golddigging all attractive women are, or like asshole yuppie women complaining about how sleazy and manipulative and moneygrubbing all attractive men are. God forbid you should ask them to define "attractive."
I especially like how the unmodulating 1-2-1-2 garage chords and thump-thump beat emphasize that "it would only happen again."
I understand how legal partnerships can be useful when managing expensive property like houses or children or senatorial seats. But I never got how marriage proves emotional commitment.
I mean, why would the government be interested in your emotional commitments, and why would you want them to be? You show an emotional commitment (usually quite explicitly enough to embarrass your friends) by staying emotionally committed. Making a public oath of emotional commitment seems as nuts as swearing that y'all'll nevah be hungreh agehn. It's not up to you. At most, it's inviting disgrace; at best, it's unnecessary.
Some folks, not to name names, have accused me of cynicism on this score. Not so! I think emotional commitment is entirely possible. And nice! But I haven't noticed oaths helping it along. People just like to make oaths.
Johnny "Everybody Dies" Garfield, on the other hand, he would seem really cynical.
If it wasn't for this... his... triumph.
Garfield belts the song out like a puffy heldentenor: it's heroic how heroic he feels. It's that Nietzschean clasping of tragic fate, but closer than usual because he's really not complaining. He liiiiikes it. What tightens the ties that bind, cutting voluptuously into his flesh, is an ecstatic faith in betrayal.
May blessings rain and sizzle upon him and his, pitter pat, acidly and basely.
|. . . 2002-10-07|
Happy Hour for Depressives
For a limited time only, you can punch back those Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are with the big hit of the Comics Journal message board, "It's a Great Life (If You Don't Weaken)," recorded by Sam Lanin & his Orchestra on November 26, 1929. That same day, long-time Hearst columnist Arthur Brisbane assured his readers that "All the really important millionaires are planning to continue prosperity." Six days earlier, he'd predicted "It ought to be a good year"; by January 1931, he was looking at the bright side: "Sometimes when things go wrong, it is a comfort to be reminded that nothing matters very much. If the earth fell toward the sun, it would melt like a flake of snow falling on a red-hot stove."
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.