Friday, March 23, 2007

Putting the Past to Rest

Life is a constant flow ebb and flow of experience, emotion, people, places, and things.  I've been in Seattle for 20 years now, since May of 1987, and I've carted around certain boxes of paper for every single moment of those two decades.  Last night, one particular file went into the trash after being transferred electronically through my new HP all-in-one scanner to my new HP Tower, for conversion into a PDF archive.  As if that build up weren't enough to put you on the edge of your seat, let me now tell you what the substance of that paper was: my notes from the MFA directing seminar at the University of Iowa, where I matriculated from 1982 through 1985.  I graduated (I have the degree to prove it) in May of 85. 

It was a hellish, agonizing experience, the most horrible of my life; the only thing I can compare it to was a psychological Rack--psychic head tied to one end, and psychic feet tied to the opposite, and Robert Hedley and David Schall twisting, twisting, twisting the rotor and stretching my mind out of shape, breaking my spine, cracking my ribs, turning my organs to mush, my pelvis to putty.  Even now, 25 years later, it remains the singularly most damaging experience of my life, a source of ongoing suffering.  Though at the time I sought refuge in alcohol, and eventually lost control of that coping mechanism, there were others who also lost their minds: L.G., an actress who began an affair with a married colleague for some bizarre reason, almost destroying his marriage (B.K. wasn't innocent in that regard, but it was completely nuts).  I remember actress D.B. assaulting her partner J.N. in public, and then having a stress meltdown during rehearsal.  And there were other, lesser moments of stress dysfunction--which raises the question:  why does one go to graduate school?  To learn something?  Or to be terrorized and psychologically manipulated?

in particular I gazed with horror upon my journal entries for Mel Andringa's Performance Theory class as I tried to coalesce a hierachy of imagery in the context of artistic narcissism.  The upshot is a vivid snapshot of who I was at that moment and I cringe, I recoil with horror and despair.  No wonder I drank!  I was so pathetic and clueless.  The necessary pain was that this was an inventory that I needed to make in order to see the tripe that I treasured.  And how I have grown since then.  I learned more from Mel Andringa than from anyone else at U of I.

At any rate, with these documents now electronically preserved, I no longer have to touch them.  They are one step removed from substance.  They are more memory now, than tangible things. 

I do think that most of my psychological problems have stemmed from my period at University of Iowa.  In retrospect it was the worst decision I ever made in my life to attend there.  I learned a tremendous amount about the creation of art, and my taste was improved (and that was the process that hurt the most).  But it wasn't worth it.  I have flashbacks still that fill me with rage and pain.  If I could take back my decision to have attended that program I would do so in a heart beat.  I repudiate it utterly.  It was without a soul.  If you are reading this, and you were on the faculty at the time I attended there, know that you are a soulless bastard, and that I hope and wish death for you--rather than to punish and infect one more student with the sickness you gave me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

In the Stocks

Remember from your American history class that certain form of civic punishment that was meted out in pre-Revolutionary America: the confining of certain citizens to the stocks in the public square?  The stocks were two planks of wood with three half-circles cut in them so that when put together, they formed three complete circles.  Into these circles went a person's head, and his or her two wrists.  Then the two planks were lashed together and set upon a pole near the cross roads.  People could come and jeer at the poor sap thus pinioned, and throw rotten vegetables at his face during the day, and at night perhaps lower his trousers and bugger him silly.  Punishment like the stocks was reserved for the most innocuous of offenders, someone whose crimes were the most minor of misdemeanors.  In those days all felonies were punishable by death. 

These days we don't ridicule our citizens with punishments like the stocks, do we?  Unless they're supermodels or ex-pop stars I guess.  Mopping the floors and scrubbing the toilets of a New York sanitation substation I suppose could be compared to public humiliation like the stocks, couldn't it?  Meant to demonize, to ridicule, to humiliate, not merely to deprive the person of time, liesure, treasure, and the fruits of their labor, but also their pride.  To remind them that they're not such big shots after all.  So remember that, the next time you're tempted to strike your maid with your cellphone.

Friday, March 16, 2007


One thing I forgot to mention in terms of "crossing the line."  By that I mean that moment where the mental compulsion and physical craving to drink progress beyond the strict rational control of the individual.  In other words, the individual can no longer predict when or how much he will drink, or what he will do if he does.

Also, the mental compulsion remains long after the body detoxifies.  This is what the 12 Steps of AA try to treat, as well as a spiritual malady that some AA members believe exists.

What is Alcoholism?

Steve left a comment yesterday that I'd like to respond to.  I can answer his questions based on my research and personal experience.  Yes.  Alcohol abuse, as opposed to alcoholism, can and often does, cause someone to climb behind the wheel and drive under the influence.  It's reasonable to speculate that a true alcoholic is much more adept and aware of their body chemistry.  They aren't as likely to drive erratically for that reason, even though their blood alcohol level may be far over the legal limit.

In an alcoholic liver enzymes are working overtime.  That's why tolerance to alcohol builds and certain alcoholics can drink others "under the table" and can "hold their liquor."  Thus people who get caught for drunk driving are likely to be alcohol abusers, not alcoholics.  Many people think that anyone who suffers problems due to drinking is by definition an alcoholic, but that isn't true. 

An alcoholic is one whose drinking pattern has caused chronic, systemic physical and psychological damage, who must maintain a certain level of ethyl alcohol toxicity in their body chemistry or risk detoxification and its physical and psychological horrors (delerium tremens).

Yes, an alcoholic can be a binge drinker, too, but in true alcoholics I'll bet you'll find evidence of some maintenance use if you look hard enough.

So, this leads us to our next point.  If a person isn't an alcoholic, what can they learn going to AA?  Can they be "scared straight?"  Possibly.  For many, early intervention can create a climate of change which allows them to straighten out their lives.  This is a good thing.  AA permits this by asserting that its only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. 

It's a wide road.  It's for those people on the fence unsure of whether or not they want to accept that they're alcoholics.  Thus you don't have to make up your mind that you're an alcoholic before you walk through the door--you can decide later. 

Also, you can remain in that state indefinitely.  You never really ever have to admit you're an alcoholic, rather, you admit powerlessness over alcohol.  It's semantics, but again, it's for those unable to deal with the stigma attached to the problem, or the idea that they'll never be able to drink again for the rest of their lives. 

So to answer your question Steve, YES!  An otherwise normal drinker, who has not "crossed the line" can indeed make stupid decisions while under the influence.  They may be proto-alcoholics, or they may never go on to develop the disease no matter how much they drink.  The AA big book references "potential alcoholics" being welcome in meetings.  The problem this raises for "real alcoholics" is that it's much easier for these proto-alcoholics to stay dry.

My problem with AA is philosphical, and I have many, many points of contention.  I don't have room to go into all of them here.  But all in all, I want to state that although I have some personal animus with the way in which AA is practiced by individuals, and the way in which it is perceived by society, it ultimately does more good than harm.  But it does do harm.  And so, anyone who wishes to investigate AA should do so with eyes open.  I recommend going to professional treatment first.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Alcoholics Anonymous

I've been inspired by a local news item to contemplate my off-again relationship with the world's most popular and well known alcoholism recovery program, Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA has helped millions of people spend at least one 24-hour period without having to get plastered out of their minds with booze.  When AA makes any claims beyond that one day--well, there's no proof of that.  Truth is, AA has never been clinically tested.  No one knows with any certainty if people stay alcohol free in any greater numbers by going to AA or by quitting on their own.  Believe anecdotal testimony, and AA is the greatest organization to have arisen in the 20th Century, with a founder channeling the inspired Word of God into the AA manual, The Big Book. 

Human beings have a pathetic desire to fit in.  We are social creatures who need attachments.  Alcoholics generally destroy these attachments through the disgraceful behavior their drinking engenders.  So when a group of people welcome them without the harsh judgment of non-alcoholics, it can foster devotion or even dependency in the psychologically needy.

The situation is ripe for abuse.  And abuse happens.  Just because alcoholics no longer have toxic chemicals flowing through their systems does not mean that they have been restored to full functioning health.  No.  Depending upon how low down the scale they've fallen, their behaviors, coping mechanisms, and personal codes of conduct are as impaired as the day before they walked through the door.  They've been tornadoes blowing through the lives of others and the winds are just as strong as ever.  But the've given up their booze and so in some dim, small, pin-prick of their benighted brains they truly believe that their feces no longer stinks.  That supreme sacrifice permits them to justify just about anything.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

White House or Out House?

Just how much stench must the Out (White) House emit before the latrine gets emptied?  Is the U.S. Attorney firing scandal the feces that will finally stick to the wall?  Will someone, anyone, from this administration finally be held to account?  (Scooter Libby doesn't count--he wasn't held to account for anything he did, just for what he didn't do).

But no--this Administration wants to shift blame and the burden of their failures of diplomacy, war oversight and torture excesses, in fact just about everything, on our men and women in uniform.  Most recently: the Walter Reed scandal.  Nevermind that Bush has consistently slashed veteran's benefits throughout his terms.

And Halliburton is moving to Dubai, out of reach of Congressional oversight, possibly.  Does anyone remember the scandal that erupted over the news that the Administration was outsourcing port homeland security to a Dubai firm?  And do you wonder if there is any connection?

The war profiteering that this Bush Administration has turned a blind eye to, or even tacitly encouraged, is rotten to the core.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Music to Write By

My nephew forwarded a link to a discussion about music to write by.  I also write to music and clearly this is a matter of taste--what gets your creative juices flowing?  Especially with fiction, music must not intrude upon the creative flow.  For me, that means no voice, only instrumental music.  Well, let me clarify--no voice singing lyrics in English that I can understand.  So someone singing in a language other than English might be okay.

It also depends on what kind of piece I'm writing.  When I'm blogging, like right now, I can listen to lyrics which are very repetitive.  For example, I'm listening to Moby 18 as I write this.  I like Moby because each song has such a definitive mood. 

Mood is extremely important to music to write by.  Perhaps that's because music can inspire a deeper reflection on the psychology of character.  This is often true as I listen to Philip Glass while writing--my very favorite composer to write by.  I also like Bruckner.  Wagner and Mahler are too much.  Vivaldi is great, but Mozart is too much.  Modern musicians like Brian Eno and Raphael are wonderful, too. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Comfortably Numb

Comfortably numb: I love this music.  Not only for the theme that it expresses--the desire to float or drift away, free from care and consequence in a state of childish disregard--but the rolling arpeggios of the chorus as the lyrics declaim "there is no pain, you are receding..." are thrilling, and transcendant--expressing the moment of clarity--the epiphany--that is occurring.  And then the guitar solos that follow both choruses lift the soul even higher, and we feel perhaps that the numbness, the loss of control, the protecting veil between the sensitive skin and the mind might not be completely bad.  It is a masterpiece.

Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone home?

Come on, now.
I hear youre feeling down.
Well I can ease your pain,
Get you on your feet again.

I need some information first.
Just the basic facts:
Can you show me where it hurts?

There is no pain, you are receding.
A distant ship's smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I cant hear what youre sayin.
When I was a child I had a fever.
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I got that feeling once again.
I cant explain, you would not understand.
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.

Just a little pinprick. [ping]
Therell be no more --aaaaaahhhhh!
But you may feel a little sick.

Can you stand up?
I do believe its working. good.
Thatll keep you going for the show.
Come on its time to go.

There is no pain, you are receding.
A distant ship's smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I cant hear what youre sayin.
When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse,
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone.
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


It kills me to mention Ann Coulter here, since she's a black hole as far as I'm concerned, a quantum singularity.  She offers nothing to rational discourse.  Her only attribute is a singular dark wit that appeals only to the farthest rightwing acid-spitters in the spectrum.  She has nothing to say of substance, and uses so much irony and hyperbole that you can't really understand what she means, or even what she's saying most of the time.

Consider these quotes:

"[Clinton] masturbates in the sinks."—Rivera Live, Aug. 2, 1999

"God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.' "—Hannity & Colmes, June 20, 2001

The "backbone of the Democratic Party" is a "typical fat, implacable welfare recipient"—syndicated column, Oct. 29, 1999

To a disabled Vietnam vet: "People like you caused us to lose that war."—MSNBC, Oct. 11, 1997

"Women like Pamela Harriman and Patricia Duff are basically Anna Nicole Smith from the waist down. Let's just call it for what it is. They're whores."—, Nov. 16, 2000

"I think there should be a literacy test and a poll tax for people to vote."—Hannity & Colmes, Aug. 17, 1999

"My libertarian friends are probably getting a little upset now but I think that's because they never appreciate the benefits of local fascism."—MSNBC, Feb. 8, 1997

Completely over the top, vicious, vitriolic sarcasm, as acid as you can possibly get.  She is not to be taken seriously.  But people can't help themselves! 

Just consider the irony:  this week Scooter Libby was convicted and Walter Reed was revealed to be a snake pit, but what is everyone talking about?  Ann Coulter.  It simply boggles the freaking MIND.

Having said all that, I need to say one more thing about Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a faggot.  I accept her defense on Hannity & Colmes that she was not calling John Edwards a homosexual, but it was a schoolyard taunt.  But doesn't that suggest that she's simply a bully?  I've been called that word several times in my life and it's always been awful.  Coulter goes on to say that the word should only be used to impugn people who are not actually gay, that it shouldn't be used against actual gay people.  At that point the mind boggles again. 

But doesn't that position destroy her so-called "joke?"  The joke, such as it was, was a reference to Isaiah Washington, first calling coworker T.J. Knight on the set of Grey's Anatomy, a "faggot," and then compounding the problem by saying it again at the Golden Globes or the Emmys (I don't remember which).  At that point Washington entered treatment--not for homophobia, but for his anger issues, which lead to two very public displays of inappropriate behavior.

Washington was not free to call T.J. Knight a faggot because they were coworkers and just about every major corporation in the United States protects its employees from harassment.  Calling someone a faggot is harassment.  Now, T.J. Knight wasn't physically present for either one of these remarks.  He was late to the set when Washington said it the first time, and he wasn't on the red carpet when Washington said it the second time.  However, those around Washington who heard the word were sufficiently upset and harassed; and the corporation he worked for was embarrassed.  Thus Washington, in an attempt to save his job, and by extension his career, sought appropriate help for his bad behavior. 

I'm sangfroid about the Washington situation.  But if a coworker used that word as an expletive anywhere around me, you bet I'd let Human Resources know toot sweet. 

The insidious, rotten message at the bottom of Ann Coulter's joke, scurrying like pill bugs over an upturned rock, is that she, like the schoolyard bully she is channelling, cares not a whit for any sensibility at all--she simply exists to shock, annoy and offend.  And she couldn't care less who gets hurt in the process.  Maybe it's her payback against all those liberal professors during her college and grad school (she's a lawyer) who discounted her brains and talent.  I don't know, but I do know poison when I see, hear or taste it.  And she's as toxic as they come.