poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

February 28, 2013

February Notes: The Mercury Rises, or, Consumption.

Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 3:36 PM

Miraculously – miracles lurking in mundane prophylactics like flu shots, vitamin D3 pills and green tea – I’d avoided the nationwide flu of death this year. I fall ill annually with some variation of bronchial pneumonia. I spent the first winters of my life hospitalized for it. I have two memories of these visits (though I am told there were 5). The first, my parents bringing me a small hobby horse at Christmas, my mother smile-crying in the lurid hospital room glow. The second, hospital beds with bars like cages. My lungs and winter don’t get on. So when this January I saw news footage of normally healthy young adults forming lines outside over-capacity ERs, while I remained unscathed, I got a bit smug. These, one assumes, otherwise sane and healthy adults were behaving irrationally, desperate, afraid, demanding supportive care, relief. They say they feel like they are dying. … Perhaps I’m not crazy. Perhaps this is a normal human reaction to being very sick. Whew. I felt vindicated in my demandy-ness when I’d been madly ill. But more smug-inducing was the sense of having developed some secret magical power which rendered me invincible to mundane human afflictions. As if a curse had been broken, liberating me to do anything, anything I wanted. Ok, I had a low-grade sinus infection. But that’s like having a slovenly roommate: frustrating, but more tolerable than one care sto admit.

I got sick.

February largely a blur, missed all the holidays, didn’t leave my apartment for 9 days sick. After day 10 of not smoking, I decided I had tuberculosis. This is because the last time I was sick enough to go 10 days without even wanting a cigarette, I saw my doctor, who said it was probably TUBERCULOSIS. For real. Like in 19th Century novels. Did you know in our day and age American cities are fighting tuberculosis epidemics? Enjoy your flat screen TVs, civilized assholes. Anyway, the TB test was negative. I didn’t have consumption. And whatever chest infection I have now has been largely ameliorated by antibiotics and bronchodialator therapy. I continue to feel spent, weak, demandy.

No miracles. No super powers. No literary tragedies. Just the continued dominance of unintelligent microorganisms over a species responsible for the Sistine Chapel, Kierkegaard and the Hubble Telescope. I blame fever-insanity for my desire to remain alive in such a world.

January 16, 2013

White Pills and Black Bile.

Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 3:15 PM

Upon waking there are tears. Immediate tears even before thoughts even before consciousness. It’s the unpleasant sensation of warm wet linen next to my face that forces me up.

And the sensation of no oxygen reaching the lungs, the windpipe tight and aching and catching. The menstrual contractions of the Hanged Man. But I fear carbon monoxide and throw open the windows on a January morning.

Failed attempts to get much inside me. Coffee tastes of sour milk, water of bleach, banana of glue. All of my senses are too sharp and acute like the world is attacking me.

My heart beats faintly and erratically like a scratched record playing in a locked room and you don’t have the keys and it slowly turns you into a homicidal maniac.

I compulsively check the phone for texts, voicemail and email, even though the volume is on. How can anyone leave me alone in this state? Why does no one care? How is everyone not psychic? I want someone to call so I can tell them I am fine.

All night the nightmare tyrant and his lackey insomnia tortured my sleep. Garish, vivid dreams. One where I lived in a room with chartreuse heavy-pile carpet and black matte walls and a dozen antique chairs of different eras, all covered in tapestries and velvets and fringes. The only light came through closed Venetian blinds and lace curtains. Feral kittens kept getting in through holes, like mice.

Steely winter sun breaks through the clouds like a blade through my iris. Cringe inducing, stomach clenching, stress hormone flooding goddamn sun.

I change into a uniform of black leggings and black longsleeved t-shirt. I’m not in mourning for my life, just prepared for it. I can do yoga, go to the library or take a nap without having to change clothes, which would require time, time during which I could change my mind and just wind up sitting on the closet floor for an hour weeping. About anything. I can join a band of roving mimes, ninjas or cat burglars on a moment’s notice. I’m a Prepper but for the absurd.

Today is the first day of the white pills. Of being The Prisoner of Hormoneland.

I’ve a simultaneous desire to devour an entire chocolate cake and never eat again. Unable to decide between the two, I wind up on accidental hunger strike.

I feel like I need a bath even though I just had one.

If I lie down and concentrate on the clouds sailing across the sky or the contented expression on my sleeping cat’s face, I can breathe normally and relax. This wistful practice swiftly devolves into melancholia. I don’t even know why I am crying. The cat. Asleep. It’s too beautiful. It hurts.

I make myself read, convinced depressive moods are killing my braincells. Everything I read is depressing.

I decide what I need is a glass of wine and a Klonopin. I decide the slippery slope of substance abuse would be more socially acceptable than hormonal depression and would give me more freedom to be batshit insane. I decide I want to be a career drug addict and prostitute. Surely misery of one’s own choosing is preferable to all this. I remember having washed down Klonopin with wine. It didn’t turn me into a career addict and prostitute. It just ruined the rest of my day.

I want desperately to cave and take the pink pill and forfeit this period. I’m a career oral contraceptives addict.

Nausea. Photophobia. Irritability. I decide I am getting a migraine. Prodrome. Sounds like a cult horror movie or bad conceptual art installation. “Prodrome.” I eye the line of white pills, then the unopened pack of next month’s pills. I should just skip the white ones and start the new pack. But surely they put the white pills in there for a reason… The 28 day cycle. The moon. Surely if I, a female, disobey the Laws of the Moon it will unleash some kind of Shakespearean fury into the universe. Fires and floods and madmen wandering the streets. Baby lizards with human smiles coming to live in my womb. I don’t know. My God, Why the Four White Pills?

I can hear my therapist’s voice in my head, “I’m glad you’ve not lost your sense of humour.” And mine, “Fuck you. I’m not here to entertain you. I’ve spent all day on a hunger strike unable to decide between becoming a drug addict, checking my voicemail, or having my period. It’s not fucking funny asshole!!!”

I check my voicemail out of sheer masochism.

I think I should go to the country for a bit. I’ve been in the city so long, I’ve forgotten where the country is.

I think I should go to the library for a bit. Fairly certain about where that is. I know I will start chain smoking if I leave the apartment. It’s Saturday, and the library will be overrun with people, mostly small and hysterical, and I’ll get claustrophobic and go outside and chainsmoke and wander the streets like a madman and cry for no reason and have to wear sunglasses in the store where I will purchase an entire chocolate cake that I will bring home and make the object of all my hatred.

No I can’t go to the library. Besides, I’ve not eaten and may faint and bust my head on the sidewalk and get permanent brain damage that can’t be reversed by reading online lit mags.

It’s nervy hormones, not anorexia. But that’s not to say I feel great about my body. I don’t. It’s been a while since a man has expressed physical interest in me. I mean, a man who is not oozing the vibe that he uses the word “boobies” or who concerns himself with matters like a woman’s personal safety. … People say men do not prefer women who need a man to feel attractive. People say needing that shit is pathological even.

Like, what? Woman is meant to be a goddess who exists on some unearthly plane where she giddily luxuriates in her own beauty until caught by the eye of a mere mortal man at which time she is to indulge his needs as reward for … his being so great or something while not expecting or needing or desiring anything from him because goddesses don’t have expectations or needs or hormones and they sure as hell don’t spend a day prone in pelvic pain because of the fucking moon. I suppose these are the same mythological creatures who are naturally a size 4 without being all unbecomingly neurotic about food. Not one of those lame ass human girls who have ovaries and a mind-gut connection and wonder what the hell they are doing here and would like it if someone bothered to appreciate all the time and effort they put into not being a completely disgusting physical animal.

I’ve seen women who live on other planes and luxuriate in their loveliness and eschew worldly needs. In psych wards.

One of the garish vivid dreams I had involved a well known Hungarian poet. I woke up like an unspayed kitten possessed by one thing only, completely unhinged. Ready to prowl an alley or send my therapist a confessional text or message the husband of a friend who had once begged me to destroy his marriage. But I didn’t. I’m better than that. I’m responsible. Cerebral. Moral. Good.

And it feels like it’s murdering me slowly, all this goodness and sadness and discomfort and intensity and madness. I want to take the pill that makes her have some human dignity. But there are three more of those that make her small. And the Moon and the Goddess and the Feral Kitten and the Hanged Man have invited me to their mad tea party of archetypes.

And I cry. Because I can’t possibly go to a tea party looking like this.

January 6, 2013

Poemless the blog rises Phoenix-like from the ashes. Pt. II. Or, Writer’s Blockade.

Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 3:20 PM

“Writer’s block.” I’m not entirely sure what it means, but it would seem to imply having nothing to say. I’ve had a lot to say and have said it in therapy sessions, friend sessions and cold bathroom floor sessions.

There were times I wanted to write but was afraid my friends and family who have subscribed to this blog would incur hurt feelings or be worried or angered by my words. Afraid that future employers would use my disclosures to discriminate against me. Afraid that no one would read anyway because I am not a serious author.

There were times I wanted to write but was afraid my decision to do so would compromise my decision to live. I did not want to be the one who documents but the one who experiences. I wanted to be Alice, not Lewis Carroll. It’s ridiculous, to imagine writers cannot live authentically… Nevertheless, we are all familiar with the xkcd comic, “Yet all I can think is, this will make for a good LiveJournal entry!” In the same way the production value of work imbues a life with worth that transcends the personal, the process of shaping experience into narrative imbues a life with meaning that transcends the individual. But what worth and meaning would I find if I peeled away the layers of identity wrapped up in the production of commodity and narrative? I needn’t climb atop an elephant or mountain to eschew worldly perspective. I could just stop writing.

There were times I wanted to write but was afraid that I wasn’t doing it correctly, or that it had become an instrument of pain. I’d enlisted myself in this fantastically enjoyable project called “exposure therapy,” which is basically a root canal for your amygdala but without anesthesia. It usually involves watching images of or talking about whatever harrowing trauma you’ve not recovered from, and repeatedly, until the intensity of emotion evoked by the memory lessens over time. All terribly A Clockwork Orange. Why agree to such a thing? Morbid curiosity. Encouraging data. The adrenaline rush that accompanies doing something that scares the fuck out of you. Desperation to not be “sick.”

Given my penchant for being brilliant with words, or something, we decided I should write my traumatic experiences out. It was all very well-intentioned. And in fact I found it curiously helpful. But my tracts continued to elicit the same complaints: too much narrative, symbolism, background context, analysis, perspective, superfluous detail, “flourishes.”

“The point is to describe the event as realistically and viscerally as possible, as if it were happening right now.”

Oof. Perhaps symbolism and perspective and superfluity and artistry and reflection are “real” and “visceral” for me. Perhaps I am being asked to use the skills I’ve developed to navigate the fissures of existence as means to precisely the opposite end? Take an axe to the frozen sea inside us? I write to create a puppy dog-drawn sleigh, complete with warm blankets, to transport me across the frozen sea to the shores of safety.

I continue the exposure therapy, verbally, committed to never again whoring out my skills to such a brutish client, however generous the compensation.

I still want to use my powers judiciously. I still want to suck the marrow from the bones of life and have it count without a blogpost on the merits of marrow and accompanying cellphone pic of a plate of bones to document the event. I am still afraid of nogoodniks using my blog to discredit me. Of not being a “real” writer.

But then someone just had to go and write a book about smart, modern, frustrated, literary girls being pathologized, institutionalized, silenced. Oh, don’t misunderstand. I am a feminist and will not deign to give you the time of day should you believe otherwise, but The Sisterhood? It occupies the same mental space as Santa Claus: a beautiful sentiment that makes me feel warm and giddy inside, but we all know who puts the presents under the trees and which gender would have brought extinction upon itself if looks could kill. I am no more inspired by a dead flapper ballerina than I am by a dead Russian gambler. Though to be clear, Zelda Fitzgerald and Fyodor Dostoyevsky are possibly my two greatest inspirations.

Devil beware, if there is one singular thing guaranteed to get me clambering over rooftops for a good old fashioned Yawp, it’s imposed (self- or otherwise) silence. Spend the first decade of your life being beaten, raped and terrorized by your own father, and 30 years later – should you live that long – imposed silence will sound more terrifying than a doped up Rush Limbaugh leading a parade of neo-nazis through the corridors of Hell. Like, Medieval Hell.

Being afraid to write because of discrimination feels like being afraid to wear a short skirt because of rape. Being afraid to write because I may unintentionally upset loved ones denies them the same capacity for resilience that they expect from me. Being afraid to write because writing compromises living turns a match made in heaven into some forbidden thing that ends like a Shakespearian tragedy. Being afraid to write because I haven’t cured cancer is insane: no one held Dostoyevsky to that standard. And being afraid to write because no one will take me seriously is a sure fire way to ensure no one ever takes me seriously as a writer.

In the blazing summer sun of a mid-nineties afternoon, I stood on the beach with Kristian Davies, the coolest boy I’d ever met. He was whistling Some of these days you’re gonna miss me baby…. I wore an oversized Carpe Diem t-shirt and baggy linen drawstring pants rolled up to my knees. As if planning a revolution, I proclaimed, “I don’t want to read books. I want to be the main character in my own book.” He hurled a rock into the lake and brushed his long hair from his perfect face. I’d never felt so witty or strong or beautiful. Like I had the world in my hands.

I’m inclined to file the whole episode under youthful naivete. I feel like I should. But for the love of me, I still want that and think it is a great and valid thing to want. The beautiful boy and unironic t-shirts have disappeared, but not the rest. And the world in my hands. It just weighs much, much more. When I was in my 20′s, the emphasis of that statement of intent fell on the words “main character.” Today it falls on the words, “my own.” I’ve really quite mastered the role of me. But if I don’t write down my own story, well, it’s no less valid of course, but it’s all behavior. With no context, symbolism, artistry, perspective. It’s all frozen sea. With neither axe to destroy it nor sleigh to traverse it.

Poemless the blog rises Phoenix-like from the ashes. Pt. I. Or, My Own Private India.

Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 2:45 PM

In the twilight of 2012, moments before the clock was to strike midnight and proclaim the time of death of another year, I sank into a very deep very hot bath. Django Reinhardt’s Nuages oozed from an old boom box and mingled with the lavender-ylang ylang scented steam filling the room. Sandalwood candles flickered luridly, shadow puppets performing St. Vitus Dance across the room. The water temperature made my head light and heart race. I imagined this is what it must be like to patronize an opium den. Arms splayed across the back of the tub, calves draped over the front, watching shadows cavort across the walls, I inhaled deeply. The flames stilled. I exhaled. The razor sat untouched on the window sill, on the other side of which a precipitous symphony of fireworks, foil whistles and drunken regards rang out. I took a generous gulp of cheap champagne and toasted the gorgeous perfection of being in the moment.

Who just stops working and writing for a year? Who just gets up and walks away like that? Without even going to India or all the National Parks? Is this actually something people do all the time but never speak of because except for fetuses our worth as humans is dictated by our capacity for production? Or am I a trailblazer madly proclaiming with a sweep of my hand, “All of this, I won’t participate in it!” Is there a Nobel Prize for passive resistance?

Darling, I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way…

Well, there being no prizes for romanticism, I may as well admit that I did participate in a few things. One need not go to India or all the National Parks, after all, to find meaning, to have revelations, to feel connected, to expand horizons, to push limits. One could accomplish such feats by embarking upon a genealogical quest with estranged relatives, or submit to three hours of PTSD therapy every week, or feed the homeless, or read so voraciously the only person who ever calls anymore is from the public library, or speak to a customer service representative from an insurance company. I mean, I hear India is quite lovely, but I can’t believe a country with a caste of untouchables has more enlightenment in the water than Chicago. Even if it does, they don’t have enough potable water for the people already there. That trippy feeling of being one with the universe may not be enlightenment. It may be the neurological effects of dehydration. As for National Parks, my sweet intoxicating blood, hysterical allergies and global warming have conspired to ensure there is always a hazmat suit between me and All God’s Creation. Hard to get excited about anything, let alone rocks and trees, when you’ve fainted from hypoglycemia because the last meal you had was a Power Bar, or when you are in a Benadryl induced coma. Alas, I fail to thrive in my own ecosystem. Perhaps my prize-deserving act of resistance is not my refusal to participate but my refusal to perish.

Yet I do worry that any description of my doings and whereabouts while on hiatus will be met with disappointment, like a postcard from a friend who’s gone on a long romantic trip … to Disneyworld. I’ve not been hunkered down curing cancer, writing a novel or even fixing my credit. I don’t even know how to describe what I’ve been doing. Conversations go like this: “So, what are you up to these days?” “Well, I’ve taken a bit of time off…” “Ok, but what are you doing?” “Oh, things. You know, just… (distractedly cranes neck and shouts to no one in particular, “Did you need help in the kitchen?”)

Things. You know, just… :

~ Found my mother’s recipes.
~ Made my mother’s recipes.
~ Hiked up hills in Southern Missouri looking for 200 year old gravestones.
~ Sat in 100 degree heat wearing a plastic party supply store hat and sunglasses, sipping prepackaged margaritas from Quick-Trip, watching neighbor kids play in the Slip N Slide.
~ Got a serious concussion, golf ball sized mosquito bites and Borderline Personality diagnosis (oh don’t worry there will be blogposts…)
~ Read Adam Levin and Sheila Heti and felt old, sentimental, alien.
~ Read Kate Zambreno and Caitlin Moran and felt fierce, sane, human.
~ Ate Korean BBQ. Puked Korean BBQ.
~ Ate fillet mignon. Puked fillet mignon.
~ Rode a motorcycle. Twice.
~ Went to see ballet. Twice.
~ Drank my first Sidecar.
~ Rode my first MegaBus.
~ Grieved the death of a 37 year old cousin.
~ Made fast friends with an 80 year old cousin.
~ Fired my shrink.
~ Fired another shrink.
~ Sat up all night listening to my Great Aunts tell stories of growing up during the Great Depression.
~ Sat on a cold bathroom floor, sobbing and yelling at invisible gods, parents, doctors, boys, self.
~ Canvassed Wisconsin. A lot. I love Wisconsin.
~ Went to the suburbs. Twice. I hate the suburbs.
~ Got very angry.
~ Got more confident.
~ Served meals to homeless people.
~ Found lodging for a Hurricane Sandy refugee.
~ Discovered I may be related to Rob Roy.
~ Decided I won’t be defined by family (except maybe Rob Roy…)
~ Went to a casino. For the first and last time.
~ Went bowling. For the first and last time.
~ Tried to paint a blue office yellow.
~ Tried to die my black hair red.
~ Sought peace in museums, libraries, parks, kitchens.
~ Found peace in cemeteries, bars, country roads, kitchens.
~ Kept other people’s plants and pets alive.
~ Kept myself alive.

It wasn’t all easy, but it wasn’t all shit, and most of all it certainly fucking wasn’t any of it Disneyworld. Or India. Although I did manage to get dehydrated. And enlightened. And savor the gorgeous perfection of being in the moment.

April 1, 2012

April’s Fool

Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 6:03 PM

She awoke at 6:30am on Sunday morning. It no longer mattered if it were the weekend or a weekday, if she were working or not. She always awoke at 6:30am. She was not a morning person. She was not even a day person. She was hostage to a Pavlovian fear of being late for work, which she still sometimes was as public transportation was prone to breaking down, catching fire and being the scene of crimes, suicides and other unfortunate events. Maybe she wasn’t even a night person. Maybe she was no kind of person. She had a panic attack and went back to sleep.

She awoke three hours later to the instrumental howls of a marching band passing under her window. She arose and checked her email. Her family had written to inform her that they would not be visiting for Easter. Today was April 1. She replied, “is this an april fools joke?” No. It was not. They could not come to visit. She wept. She was angry and confused. Why had there been an April Fool’s Day parade? She gave the cat treats because she felt guilty for crying in front of him like that.

Despite her warnings that she would be poor company in her current condition, her family had insisted on visiting for Easter. The would bring a ham and do her laundry for her. What did she want to eat with the ham? Despite her current condition, she had spent the previous day cleaning her apartment, doing 5 loads of laundry and grocery shopping. Being broke and mental was difficult, yes, but being a proper host (or guest) remained imperative. Life was a negotiable. Providing guests with clean linens and breakfast was not.

She had lost her appetite and 15 lbs., but now faced a home full of food and thoughts of starving children. She prepared herself an elaborate breakfast: curried eggs, chicken apple sausage, toast with honey, mango smoothie and iced coffee. It tasted like rubbish. Everything tasted like rubbish lately except vanilla ice cream. It was the only thing she enjoyed eating. After breakfast, she missed the pleasant sense of weightlessness and delirium acquired on an empty stomach.

She checked her email. Perhaps they had changed their minds and would be able to come after all. Instead, she found an email from a man who was in love with her, but with whom she was not in love. She did not scorn or hate or pity or judge him. She understood his pain, and it made her sad that she had caused it. She did not know what to say to him. She wanted to make everyone’s pain go away. She cared about him, but was not in love with him. She was in love with someone else, who cared about her, but was not in love with her. She didn’t imagine. Perhaps he was, a little, yes. She decided he must be a little in love with her, but that it did not matter, as it was the kind of love that had to be created to be destroyed. She wept. She was angry and confused.

She began to write. This is what she did when she could no longer make sense of the world. As she wrote, her eyes fell upon a bandage over her wrist and the blood which had soaked through and dried. It had not been an attempt to kill herself. Perhaps it was an attempt to confirm she was still alive. Perhaps it was a temporary escape from her thoughts. Perhaps she wore her scars like tarnished family jewelry passed down from one generation to the next, worth little at auction but of sentimental value and reliable conversation pieces. She’d seen a show about a British doctor afraid of blood. She was also afraid of blood, except when appearing from an intentional slice. She imagined being a surgeon. She imagined living in a seaside village in Cornwall. She imagined that would be lovely.

She checked her email again, like her aunt had kept checking the morgue to see if her son was still dead. Another email from another fellow. She thought she should write a self-help book for lonely women, a manual detailing how to attract men by being insane and broke. She’d developed a collection of suitors over the years. At first, their persistence terrified her, and she suspected them of being predators, or worse, vultures. But their broken hearts, their desperate gifts, their confessional emails sent from airport bars made them all more real to her, and therefore more impossible to dismiss. She wished everyone were so real and vulnerable and impossible to dismiss. Why did the world encourage us to be robots? We have robots for robots now. Why had their invention not given humanity the freedom to be more human? Why have we agreed to compete with robots on their terms?

It was turning into one angering and confusing day.

As she wrote, the cat rested his little cat face upon her foot, fell asleep and began to dream. The twitching of his whiskers tickled her foot, and she concentrated on remaining motionless in order not to wake the cat. She remembered how a few nights ago she had accidentally had one of his dreams. They were asleep back to back. She dreamt a lot of birds of different types had gathered on a tree branch outside her apartment and were tormenting her. A squirrel joined them, and she became very agitated. Then in her dream she thought, “wait, why am I having this dream? This is a cat’s dream.” She opened her eyes turned her head opposite and found the cat thrashing and huffing in the throes of a dream. She wasn’t sure how she’d gotten in or out of another creature’s subconscious, but was relieved that the upsetting experience was over. Folie a deux. Shared delusion. Somehow she could achieve this with a feline and a psychologist, but having a shared reality with anyone eluded her.

She began to pay partial attention to an opera on tv as she wrote. She decided that not much differentiated the 18th Century Italian librettist and the 21st Century reality show writer. A vastly unequal amount of talent was dedicated to the staging of each genre, but people acting foolishly-wise, they were rather on par with one another. She thought about how art and fantasy are both outlets and prisons for emotion. One may act on one’s emotions in an opera and be noble or prototypical or at worst a romantic, but in reality doing so is thought childish. She imagined the knickered, philandering rake in the opera realizing the error of his ways and entering therapy. That would suck as an opera. She thought she should end her tedious therapy and seduce her psychologist. She watched as Don Giovanni is engulfed in hell-fire. Or not.

She sits in a clean apartment, with a full stomach and a cat curled up at her feet, listening to Mozart, reading love letters. She tries not to weep although she is angry, confused and feels herself a fool.

March 22, 2012


Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 2:04 PM

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If, like me, you are broke AND don’t know how to live on no money at all, let’s get together and form an army! I think that’s actually legal in this country. Unlike most of my other options.

p.s. Before you say it: I already have a job. But thanks.


Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 1:59 PM

I had a homework assignment to write this all down. Since I went to the effort, I thought I’d repost here.
Warning: contains triggers.

Here is the story/timeline of my life-trauma. Find a comfortable chair and grab a drink. I will try to be as concise as possible, though it is not one of my stronger points. It isn’t all trauma, because to write about my life like that would just be too depressing. For me and for you.

~ First, a brief family background including people and events I believe are relevant, which either precede my story or do not fit chronologically into it:

I was close to neither of my paternal grandparents, who divorced when my father was young. I could count on one hand the number of times I saw my paternal grandfather. After I began talking openly about my father last year, a distant relative from that side of my family wrote to inform me that my grandfather had sexually abused at least one cousin of mine. I did know and frequently saw my paternal grandmother, but we were not close, and I have nothing of note to mention about her. My father was drafted into Viet Nam, but he never spoke of it.

My maternal grandfather, Kenneth, was born in 1898 and died when my mother was 14 (1963 or 4.) While I never met him, he was frequently spoken of, like a household saint. My maternal grandmother, Ruby, was like a second mother to me and her house like our second (and safe) home. She never recovered from my grandfather’s death, changing nothing in her home like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. She was rather dark and eccentric and “went away for exhaustion” several times when my mother was young. She developed Alzheimer’s when I was a teenager. My mother, Rosemary, had a self-described nervous breakdown after my grandfather died, and was sent to live with family friends in New York for a while. She later ran off to Italy, fell in love, something tragic happened (I don’t know the details) and she came back and married my father. She was astonishingly charming and outgoing, but would also frequently lock herself in her room and cry a lot when I was a kid. She survived largely on Valium and vodka. She missed her father and this fellow in Italy and was being beaten and emotionally abused daily by my father, so not shocking.

~ I was born in 1974. I suppose that was traumatic.

~ I was hospitalized each winter for the first several years of my life, with bronchial pneumonia or similar illness. I remember a Christmas in the hospital, when I was given a wooden rocking horse. I remember the cage-like beds, so I must have been very little.

~ When I was 2 and ½ my brother was born. I remember that.

~ I can’t say I ever remember a time when my father was not a tyrant. He was frequently yelling at us over ridiculously minor things like missing a leaf while raking or for wanting to talk about our day at the dinner table, often physically violent, whipping us with belts, throwing things, hitting us and making threats. He was obsessed with us recognizing his authority is what it came down to. Every interaction was about reinforcing his authority. He was not like that in public, or course. To others it probably seemed we had the perfect small town nuclear family. Though I can’t imagine neighbors did not hear all that constant yelling. I don’t remember ever not being afraid of my father. I can neatly divide my childhood into 6am-6pm (happy, fun times with my mother and brother, as if we were living in some fantasy world) and 6pm-6am (when we walked on eggshells and lived in fear.) I think it is worth mentioning that my mother was not like an authority figure but a peer to my brother and me. I have heard that referred to as a form of neglect, but we loved it. She was our cool, older friend, and we were all in the same boat.

~ My first memory of – Jesus, this is difficult – my father sexually… I was 4 or 5. I had just begun going to school. My mother had left for the evening (she was very active in school and community organizations,) and my father asked me to do something I knew even then was very wrong. Afterwards he told me I was not allowed to tell my mother what “we” had done that evening. Ever.

[I space out a bit after writing that. I take a break. I pour a glass of wine. I smoke a cigarette. Out of the blue, Patrick begins messaging me, and we chat off and on all night. I’m thankful for his timing. I return to this.]

It was also when I was about 5 that I began having nightmares, terrors even, waking up screaming every night. I was eventually given sedatives. As a child.

So these events with my father went on for years. I cannot describe them. It is not that I don’t remember them; I remember them vividly. You know how hung up I get about language. I just can’t use the same language to describe the abuse that I would also use to describe the quite beautiful and enjoyable things I consensually do as an adult. I can’t use the same words to describe what my father did to me. I can’t do it. Often pornography was involved. He also did these things to someone else. Which is horrible, but I guess unlike a lot of people, I have someone who can confirm my story.

I was never willing, just terrified out of my wits. I did not seek out or even enjoy it, despite what the founding fathers of psychoanalysis might have you believe. I lived in fear of it. Of him.

~ I was taken out of regular classes and placed in a program for gifted children when I was 6. They never explained what the gift was, but it was nice to not be bored to death.

~ When I was about 8 or 9, my great grandfather (my maternal grandmother’s father) died. It was disturbing because we had gone to visit him in the nursing home one day, and he was asleep. So we left. We came home to a message from the nursing home informing us that he had died. I think we saw him dead.

~ When I was 9, I told my father that if he ever touched me again I would tell my mother and teacher and police. He never did. The physical abuse, the beatings and yelling and general home dictatorship continued. But I never told anyone about the sexual abuse, and he never touched me again.

It was also when I was 9 that I stopped believing in God, or stopped pretending or wanting to. I stopped telling my father I loved him, which resulted in a lot of punishment but I wasn’t going to say it. I began wanting to die. I would go to bed and try to will myself to not wake up again. I remember learning I could not hold my breath until I died or suffocate myself with a pillow.

~ When I was 10, my paternal aunt, Victoria, died from ovarian cancer. She had been very sick for years. She was quite young, 31 I think. My family often compared me to her (perfectionist, neurotic, shy, Virgo, would cry at the drop of the hat…) My mother was at her side when she died.

My mother then converted (back, I say) to Catholicism. I eventually quit public school and entered parochial school. I was much happier there. (I know, who says that?) I was given the choice and refused to be confirmed however. I’ve never even been baptized. wow

~ When I was 16 or 17, I became very depressed. Suicidal. I didn’t do anything, but I told my mother. I was taken out of school for a bit, sent to live with my grandmother and allowed to take my exams and finish the year. I should mention that whenever things got very bad at home, as in when we decided our lives were in danger, we went to stay with my grandmother. She’s gotten a bad rap in our family for her being difficult and a bit brooding, but she was really the best. No one in the family gives her any credit, and it pisses me off.

~ When I was 18 I left home and went to college, Northwestern. My sophomore year, I got very depressed – I could not tell you why. It was the first time I saw a mental health professional. I was given some Prozac and sent on my way. Everyone agreed the medicine turned me into a soulless zombie, and my parents happily let me stop taking it.

~ When I was 20, I accompanied my best friend, Angela, to Washington D.C. for a women’s rights march. On the mall was an installation of the Clothesline Project. I returned to Evanston very shaken up. I had never told a soul about my father and even believed that if I didn’t admit it, it could not affect me. But I had to tell someone. When I told Angela, she was not surprised at all and explained that she’d suspected as much.

That summer was insane. There was a heatwave in which hundreds died, including my roommate’s fish, which I had been … fishsitting. I met a lovely flamenco dancer and happily lost my virginity. Officially. Yes, that is how I really see it. I was drinking, doing a lot of mild hallucinogenic drugs (pot, ecstasy, mushrooms…) and taking Zoloft, which, with the heat, killed my appetite. Not a brilliant combination. One afternoon Angela came home to find me in a pile on the floor. She fed me soup, put me in bed and phoned my mother. My mother was demanding to know why I was acting out such. Everyone was totally freaking out. Angela kept shoving the phone at me, saying if I didn’t tell my mother she would. So I took the phone and told my mother about my father. She accused me of lying for attention.

Between that summer break and leaving for study abroad, I came home for a short bit. Maybe a week or two. I’d never left the country before, was moving to Russia, and this is when my mother decided to make me confront my father. She sat us down in the living room. “Tell him what you told me,” she demanded. I was mortified. But I did. He didn’t deny anything. He began crying and said he’d hoped I’d forgotten it all and asked me to forgive him, and my mother threw him and all his belongings out of the house. I left for Russia and stayed there while my family fell apart.

~ When I was 21 I lived in Russia and saw people die, almost die, knew people who were murdered, was detained by men with Kalashnikovs and generally had the time of my life.

~ When I came home, my mother was in the middle of an ugly divorce, I was in culture shock, my father had stopped paying my tuition and had begun to threaten and stalk us to the extent that we had to file a restraining order. We had no money so we all scraped by on odd jobs. I made a half-assed attempt to return to school, the Dean telling me to worry about the financial aid later. I got there and made a half-assed attempt to kill myself, really more of an attempt to kill the pain of the guilt of what I’d just brought upon my mother and brother. This resulted in my first hospitalization. It was just a few days; I checked myself in and out. My mother came to stay with me and then took me home.

These times were rough, but I have a lot of very happy memories, of just my mother, brother and I. Every day was like a dream somehow. The house had become a kind of commune, with everyone’s friends coming and going. 22 years of rules had given way to pretty much no rules. Rooms were painted in psychedelic colors (and my mother was selling the house!), we’d get up, make breakfast, and eat outside and dance around to the Grateful Dead. My mother had been a hippie before meeting my father. My brother and I were both college age. It was a scene.

~ When I was 24 I returned to Northwestern and graduated. I worked at a bookstore, where I met a boy, we moved in together and stayed that way for 8 years. We adopted a cat. My mother remarried. My brother moved to San Francisco to go to art school. Everything was on the up and up.

~ When I was 25, my mother died.

That spring she’d had planned to visit us but cancelled because she was sick. This was the second time, and I was angry. In June she went into the hospital for a “routine hysterectomy” (I feel like a Soviet refugee: what didn’t she lie to me about?) But her random calls to say “just know I will always love you” made it clear something was not right. The day of her surgery, the phone rang. And I knew. Because the phone rang exactly the way it had rung the evening my aunt Victoria had died. The Ring of Death. She had cancer and it had spread everywhere. Even with rigorous treatment, they gave her 2 months. She took 3.

I made many visits home that summer, but my mother forbid me to stay. She said she did not want me to see her, to remember her like that, sick, like she remembered her father. At 4am on September 7, 2000, I received a phone call from my stepfather. “We are at the hospital. She isn’t going to make it. You need to say goodbye now.” He put the phone to her ear, and I screamed, “Listen! This is your daughter and I am on the next plane to St. Louis and you WILL be alive when I arrive. I will be there by 8, and you will be alive, do you understand? Do you promise?” I wouldn’t hang up until she promised. She kept it. She died shortly after noon, me by her side. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed – all that pain completely evaporating from her face, her body. It was also the worst thing that has ever happened to me. By far.

~ A few years after my mother died, my grandmother Ruby (her mother) died. She was in her nineties, so it was expected. She had really been gone for some years, with Alzheimers. So in some ways it was more of a relief than anything.

A few years after my mother died, I had surgery to remove ovarian tumors. They were benign, but it did give me quite a scare.

At some point a few years after my mother died, I decided I would never be happy and decided to kill myself. But I didn’t. Our little feral cat got on my lap and refused to move. I was in a sorry state, and had large supply of sleeping pills and large bottle of vodka. Unfortunately, my significant other came home, saw all of this and called 911. I ended up in the hospital. This was my second and last hospitalization.

~ When I was 32 we split up. We’d lived a “normal” life. I got a job at the University of Chicago and got involved in politics. He became a teacher. We took vacations on Cape Cod and only cooked organic. Neither of us wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, I don’t think. I was too stressful with my drama, and he was too… We gradually stopped doing things together and grew apart. I was devastated when it ended (specifically when I discovered that he was seeing another woman) but not depressed. After we broke up, for years I was happier than I had ever been.

~ When I was 36, I (my god, it’s getting old even for me, no wonder my family hates me…) became terribly depressed. Everyone assumes because I was alone, lonely. But that is not true. Health issues, money issues, family issues… I took a great deal of time off to deal with my crap at an outpatient program and left in a much better place.

~ When I was 37, my cousin Shawn, my mother’s brother’s son, who was my age, shot himself. That was one month ago.

So there you are. The Cliff’s Notes in 6 pages but it feels like only the tip of the iceberg. This rather makes it sound like my life has been nothing but a list of tragedies and episodes of fierce depression. I would not say that. Perhaps it does seem this way to others.

From writing this, it is not clear to me how much, if at all, my wanting to kill myself is related to my father. Maybe it would be a relief if it weren’t, and then I would not have to speak of him. On the other hand, reading about child abuse, I think they may be related, or tangled all up, all part of the ecosystem…

I hope I didn’t ramble too much. I feel the urge to ask you if you have a plan to go do something nice for yourself now, after having read this. Go do something lovely for yourself now.

And thanks for reading.

March 16, 2012

Fragments, or, An exercise in unbridled narcissism.

Filed under: Uncategorized — poemless @ 4:19 PM

A Day At The Museum

With shuffling stomping out-of-shape masses who have a plan and a map and anxiety at the realization or just fear of the group metastasising, of losing their 6 year old daughter to the imaginary pervert probably lurking behind the Seurat probably scheming to take their 6 year old daughter to buy her ice cream (guilt that they haven’t) and play with her forever (guilt that they can’t.) With pretty forever-teenage Asian girls in skinny jeans posing on staircases giggling as if possessed by teletubbies. With a student painting a painting of a painting which is a fascinating process to watch, sure, but is it art? With Miro’s Circus Horse and Lefebvre’s Odalisque and whole rooms of Monets in nursery pastels that wash over my troubled soul like heroin or evening lilacs. With myself swearing an oath that I will never again visit the art museum with an artist and will never again feel bad about loving what I love because another ego demands it. With the desire to skip and twirl through the Modern Wing flooded with irrational winter sunlight and summer warmth to say aloud, “This is ours! This is all ours, don’t you see?” With two college kids pleading bewilderedly obliviously with an entry guard who has informed them they may not bring the pizza they’ve just ordered into the museum.


A personal General Strike.

A Kafkaesque Bureaucracy of Concern

You have to stay safe. You have to get better. You have to do the work to get better. You have to go to work. You can’t go to work. You can’t afford not to work. You can’t afford to worry about that now. Why aren’t you worried what will happen? I am so worried about you. You have us all worried. You worry too much, You have to find something that makes you happy. No one can make you happy. Happiness is choice. You are responsible for your own happiness. You are responsible for your own welfare. You are responsible for your own life. If I think you’ll hurt yourself it is my responsibility to have you hospitalized. These are your options. You have options. You don’t have a choice. You can’t do that. There is no such thing as can’t. You have to make your own decisions. No one can do this for you. Why do you think you have to do this on your own? Why are you so afraid to ask for help? Why are you doing this to us? Why do you think you are special? Do you think the rest of us don’t suffer? Everyone gets depressed but we get up and go to work because we don’t have a choice. You’ve made a choice to be depressed. You are not depressed, you are [lazy, self-pitying, irresponsible, weak, stubborn, self-involved, a wreck, generally pissing me off please stop calling.] Why do you want to die? Why can’t you see what I see in you? You are young and intelligent and attractive, warm and engaging, funny. You are brave and courageous. I admire your determination and willingness to face your problems. I admire your ability to take risks and be resilient. I admire your honesty and candor. Your writing is so beautiful it makes me cry. You better not be lying to me. Lying in bed and crying wont fix anything. You’ve lost a lot; it’s normal to cry. It’s normal to feel this way. It’s a normal reaction to trauma. It’s a normal reaction to loss. It’s a normal reaction to having to live in this world am I right? But you probably do have a chemical imbalance. You probably have a personality disorder. You probably just think too much. You probably just need a vacation. You’ve made a lot of progress. Give yourself some credit. Let me know if there is anything I can do. I’m sorry there’s nothing I can do for you.

Broadway Bus Exchange

Lady: Sweetheart, while you textin on you phone can you send Jesus a texmessage fo me?
Me: Ok. What should I tell him?
Lady: Tell him, “Jesus, I love you!” And I love you too sweetheart.
Me: I love you to. I don’t think I have Jesus’ number. Do you know it?
Lady: Haha! Yeah, send the text to JESUSINEEDYOU!
Me: If only it were that easy.
Her expression changed from urban goofball to urban voodoo woman. She raised an eyebrow and pointed a long fingernail at me. “Oooh. Oooh, you.” She shook her head in a knowing way. She got off the bus but kept looking back at me like I was a phantom.

Ghost Neighborhood

I have (this is true now – I am not telling you a story) dreams in which I return to places I have only ever been in other dreams. Most recently it is a large grassy square, like a park almost, situated in the middle of a spooky old neighborhood. In the middle of the park thing is a large stone fountain, defunct, or a monument of some sort you can climb atop or hide behind. It is always dusk or night or about to storm, always cast in an eerie glow of deep blues and patina and wispy fog. It’s a type of place where ghost children gather to play mean games. Surrounding it on all four sides are avenues lined with Victorian homes and canopies of trees. Even though it is always dark and damp in this grassy square, if I walk down any street a block or further away, there is a late summer sun and golden leaves line the curbs and crunch under my foot. Every time I venture into the neighborhood I get lost. Every time. Eventually someone comes looking for me and takes me back. Every time I tell the mean ghost children in the park (they are like mean hipster ghost children, haughty and cliquish) I don’t want to join their games, they become cruel and taunt me. In my dream this is located on the West Side of Chicago. But it is also very similar the the neighborhood in the town I was born in and where some of my family still live.


“Thank you for your inquiry. If you come in for groceries, we will give you groceries. If you come in we will give them to you.”

Attachment Disorder

Please check the one that best describes you:

A. I am able to form close meaningful bonds with one or more of the following: Parents, Lovers, Pets, Therapists.
B. I am able to form close meaningful bonds with one or more of the following: Celebrities, fictional characters, people I have only interacted with in online forums, myself.
C. I am able to form close meaningful bonds with No one.

If you answered C., congratulations! You have done the hard work to assimilate and adopt the values of your environment. Take that bonus and treat yourself to an island vacation (psst. the post-colonial, vaguely despotic ones have to-die-for beaches.)

If you answered B., know that these are not unusual feelings to have given the pervasive role media and social networking plays in our society. It is completely acceptable to care about the welfare of people on reality TV. Do not let anyone make you feel ashamed of this.

If you answered A., you may be suffering from an attachment to the person who brought you into the world, the person with whom you routinely exchange bodily fluids, small animals who have evolved to love you in exchange for food, or a person to whom you have told your most intimate thoughts and feelings. This is highly risky behavior and will probably result in an unhealthy self-image. Seek help immediately. But perhaps not from a therapist, you know, given your issues. In fact if you did that, it would be a clear illustration of the “rescue-seeking behavior” your kind are notorious for. Don’t get help. Should probably just off yourself. But tell someone if you are thinking about that so they can save you and blame you for being attention-seeking later. Good luck! You can do this!

ATTN!: I am not a licensed professional and you should not be taking advice from me. If you think you have a disorder get professional help if you want but you’re probably really ok but please don’t take my word for it but also don’t stress out about it either.

Thanks for reading! If you would like to make a charitable donation to the author, it is always welcome!


Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 4:06 PM

A Suicide.

I think some people are born wanting to die. Or perhaps it is that they never quite shake off the initial sensations of terror, confusion and resistance they experience upon entrance into the world. We all show up at this party covered in blood and tears, screaming and writhing like banshees. Explanations are myriad, subjective and highly debatable, but whatever process is meant to transform that terrified, confused and resistant creature into a confident, sage and resigned human being is not always successful. Some people show up to their last party covered in blood and tears, confused and terrified, and commit the final and most explicit act of resistance.

One day in February, or maybe it was January, it wasn’t March… It’s a bit of a blur now… I sat at my desk at work, and as I’m inclined to do when on break, or more likely when the program I am using crashes a 3rd time, or most likely when I am bored numb, I opened Facebook. Sometimes I justify this by sharing humorous or intriguing literary gems in a series called “Today in Rare Books” or by concern that there’s been a natural disaster or outbreak of war while I’ve been holed up in cold room filled with old books and no humans and so who would even tell me if the world was ending?

My cousin updated her status: RIP Uncle Shawn.

People are sooo melodramatic on Facebook. What had he done to piss her off this time? Still sick, even for a joke. Because no one had called me to inform me that one of my closest living relatives was dead. Which admittedly says more about how many living relatives I have than how close I had been to Shawn. Still, someone would call, right? I mean… I stood up and calmly gathered my phone and coat and calmly like nothing was wrong because nothing was wrong and I just worry too much – everyone says I worry too much, I really need to stop worrying like this – exited my workplace, a Socialist Realist concrete monstrosity with a supernatural ability to deter human empathy and cell phone signals. I paced about outside the library for a bit and took out my phone. No new messages. My brother speaks with Shawn frequently. If Shawn were dead, my brother would know. And if he knew, he would have told me, and he hadn’t, which meant Shawn was not dead. I called my brother anyway, always assuming the worst, always the pessimist. I never call my brother in the middle of the day. I also never ask him about Shawn. I asked him about Shawn, and of course he’d heard nothing. “Check out Syd’s Facebook. I’ll call you back.” Such a drama queen, such a gossip monger, I should just get back to work. I called Shawn’s sister/next door neighbor. “I am so sorry to bother you and be all paranoid and uhm yeah but i just saw this crazy thing Syd put on facebook and…”

“He shot himself today,” her teenage daughter whispered.

I sank lower to the ground as she told me everything, knees buckling, the spiderweb of sidewalks before me rising to my line of sight. I called my brother, who had called Shawn in the meantime and wound up on the receiving end of a voicemail greeting informing any caller that he would be dead by the time they heard it. I sat, now bottom on the ground, legs extended before me, head resting against the jagged concrete exterior of the library. Chain smoking. Crying. Watching time grind to a halt: clouds stopped midway through their march across a bleak winter sky, fragile twigs on new trees stood still as a troubled wind blew past, students, seconds earlier scurrying in missions to dorms and classrooms, now small lego-figures plotted strategically about the quad.

By sheer coincidence I was scheduled to see my psychiatrist for the first time in six months that very evening. “I’m a bit shaken up of course, but otherwise fine.”

We were not close.

It’s the first thing everyone asks. He was my cousin. Not a parent or grandparent or sibling or child. I don’t have parents or grandparents or children. I have a step-family, which is lovely but hardly the same. My cousins lived far away, but usually came to visit each summer when we were kids. Sometimes my family would visit theirs. The last time I saw Shawn was many years ago when some of us decided to take a crazy road trip to visit my family in Southern Missouri. It was baking hot even at night, we got a flat halfway out of town, billboards for JESUS and XXXGIRLS lined the interstate and neither espresso nor hard liquor could be obtained if one’s life depended on it. And 5 hours into that drive it did. The whole scene was like a David Lynch movie but for real and Shawn was well cast. In a heat index that had me limp in a linen skirt and tank top, he cavorted around in a full length, heavily padded trench coat and cowboy hat, looking like a 19th century bounty hunter. My family lived on Truman Avenue, across the street from the President’s birthplace. We went and looked at the little house-museum for cultural enrichment, him dressed up like that. He rode a bike there. From his house. A few feet away. The bike had been stolen, borrowed, he’d explain, from a 7 year old. He provided the entertainment for much of our stay, the kind of person whose every thought or word was the kind of joke that had you in tears with laughter except half the time you knew they weren’t the kind of the thoughts and words you should be laughing at. He was prone to violence and drinking binges and shooting squirrels in the town park. It’s not entirely shocking he shot himself. He was shooting my aunt’s humming birds last time I saw him.

No. We were not close.

I cried hysterically for a few days, in shock, trying to process it all, how someone could blow their brains out, how my aunt and uncle would survive, how much more tragedy my family could endure, what kind of horrible, desperate place Shawn must have been in that day. I went to work, I saw my therapist, I spent time with friends, I went about my daily routine. We were not close. I had a life to live, obligations and responsibilities. We were not close. Life goes on.

I unravelled anyway.

I would leave the house knowing I had an errand to run, something to accomplish, not knowing what it was, assuming it would eventually come to me, and so I would just keep walking until it did. After a while of walking I would think, this is quite ridiculous you know, you can’t just keep walking forever. Go home and figure out what the hell you left for. I would pass street after street onto which I could turn to make my way home but be unable able to make the decision to turn. I always got home though.

I would get up for work and the mindless routine I’ve had for a decade was no longer routine. Each step demanded a process: of having what felt like a cardiac arrest upon waking, of asking myself, “what do I do first?,” of deciding (coffee? no, shower. no, definitely coffee. no, feed the cat. which one? shit,) of propelling myself from point A to point B to accomplish whichever task I’d finally settled upon, of sometimes taking an hour to do something normally completed in 15 minutes. Soon it would be 11, noon, and I’d have missed half the day of work and the fear and guilt of missing work paralyzed me completely. And I’d collapse exhausted. And begin the process again. Daily goals devolved into inane survival and socialization tactics. Eat a meal today. Talk to another human being today. Leave the house today. It was not that I did not want to do these things. It was not that I lacked the energy. It was not that I felt basic life responsibilities unimportant. It was not a judgement call. More than anything it was not giving up. Because, you see, Shawn had taken that option away from me. Or so I told myself to abstain from exercising it. Which seemed to work.

Bi-monthly sessions with the therapist became bi-weekly sessions and bi-weekly sessions became interspersed with phone calls and those became daily visits to an outpatient program and repeated suggestions of a hospitalization. All of which sucked more than imaginable which is saying a lot since I’d happily run away with my therapist if he asked but he won’t.

No, I insisted. I can handle this. I know how to handle this. I was in shock. That’s all. Just … shock. No, not that Shawn is dead. After those hummingbirds? Existential shock. Shock that I am not. Not dead. And probably won’t be for a while.

Because I can hardly do that to my family now can I? Now I hate myself for having spent the past 37 years imagining that I could do that to my family, without repercussions. Still I think, wouldn’t they all be better off without me? I’m a handful. I cause them so much grief… Who in my position, unable to even go to work and function like a normal human being would not want to off themselves? And in so much pain … cumulative trauma like repeated emotional concussions having left me an idiot half the time. Oh, they’d get over it. They’d give themselves the same cock and bull “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” pep talk they give me and get over it. And oh, and how romantic it would be. Like in a novel, to be young and beautiful and tragic. With the one very notable exception that the actions of characters in novels do not have consequences for generations of real life human beings. Which is something that, to my embarrassment, I’d only now begun to contemplate.

I am mourning, grieving, but not simply for my cousin. In a world of chaos and suffering and injustice, the one thing I always had control over was if I lived or died. That option had always been my best friend, there by my side, on my side, when everyone else dropped the ball. Reliable. Available. Dependable. Immutable. When he pulled the trigger that morning, I lost two things. A cousin and a life-long companion.

Yes. We were close.

December 28, 2011

PoemlesskayaPropaganda, or, No! Not the Sexy Chechen, Vova!

Filed under: Politics: Russia — poemless @ 5:43 PM
Tags: , , ,

A Drama in Four Acts. With commentary by Vladislav Surkov.

“Hey, poemless. Can you believe he had the balls to fire me like that?!!”
“Well, I mean, we are talking about Vladimir Putin …”
“You mentioned you had a position open. Talk to me. This modernisation gig is going to bore the living fuck out of me.”
“Yes, the position of love slave remains unfilled. Actually, there are many positions, but we can discuss them in detail later.”

Hey wasn’t this supposed to be a blog about Russia?!

Eh, well I got depressed and then dated this psychotic Russian cab driver and then got depressed again. Then someone got on my facebook and was all like, “Please post more interesting stuff re: the evolving dynamic in Russia.” And then my therapist was handwringing and probing about my not writing, which stresses me out even more, which is pretty fucking convenient for him, right? And then Putin went and fired the sexy Chechen.

And that, my dear friends, is where my writer’s block, or rather, writer’s too depressed to give a shit, draws the line!

What follows is neither propaganda (unless I get a check from Slava, which I could totally use, and I’m willing to change my blog name to “SurkovskayaPropaganda” for one) nor much insight re: the evolving dynamic in Russia. You know, those protests and such. No, I have no idea what it all means. But that won’t stop me from pontificating! And I hope to be marginally more effective than Surkov. Oh, it’s too tragic…

N.B. If you’re some hipster who has recently joined my audience and are wondering what the hell I am talking about: Vladislav Surkov. (Former as of yesterday) Presidential Advisor and so-called chief ideologue/propagandist/ Grey Cardinal of the Kremlin. Also the ruling party’s campaign guy. Also a goth band lyricist, Tupac fan, novelist, drama school dropout and sexiest man alive – except his hands are kinda like Mr. Burns’. Someone recently accused a Russian TV station of being “surkovskaya propaganda,” and it became an Internet meme. Whatever that is. Ask the kids. Anyway. Brilliant flipping hipster politico who just got a mad demotion is what the hell I am talking about.

If you’re some hipster who has recently joined my audience, here is the Cliff’s Notes your dog will understand version of what’s going down. If you are one of those pissy Russia watcher types, well Christ, thanks for sticking around my blog! Seriously!!! I’m like the prodigal freaking son around here…

The Stage is Set

Russia held some legislative elections. Because it’s a democratic country like that. Russia has sep., direct elections for President, unlike the US (electoral college) or some European countries where the majority party in the parliament gets the Executive branch de facto. The elections were as free as can be expected in any Western democracy. Which is to say, if you could gather enough support you could get on the ballot, and if you could get off your ass you could vote, except in those annoying instances when you couldn’t. Fair? There have been countless reports of mischief: ballot stuffing, votes disappearing, people voting numerous times, and pressure to cast one’s vote for a certain party (which is rather subjective and ultimately not the same as election rigging. Democracy requires balls, folks.) Observations of vote-rigging were concentrated in Moscow, where the liberal (free-market) opposition is strongest, and the Caucasus, where, at least in Chechnya, they’ve basically made a Faustian deal with Moscow in which they can have their own little kingdom in exchange for giving the Russian government no problems. That includes turning out the vote. GOTV! Any of this sound familiar to all y’all in Chicago? Yeah, so like that. How much fraud? Depends whom you ask. I’m in the, “Oh, I have no idea, so like 7%ish” camp.


I don’t know why, but the Russian people actually voted with some expectation that the election would be fair. That their vote would count. Specifically, their vote against the ruling party. From my woefully under informed but magnificently intelligent perspective, I’d say that this issue of expectations does in fact mark a true paradigm shift in Russian politics. (<–Pay attention, that is important.) This shift has occurred particularly among the younger, urban generation, who experienced firsthand neither the farce of elections under Soviet Rule, nor the chaos and suffering brought by the social upheavals of the 1990′s, nor the political malaise and cynicism brought on by the ideological pissing match that defined late 20th century geopolitics. They’ve known “stability” most of their lives, and now they want more. Idealism is back. And the kids think it’s cool. Celebrate. Or read Russian history. Your choice.

Slava Surkov provides commentary on the elections:

(You’re going to have to wait for Act II.)


After the ballots are counted, even when we presume the results are rigged, United Russia, the ruling party (which Putin himself won’t even be a card-carrying member of) does incredibly poorly! Their showing is still better than everyone else’s, overall, but quite short of their own modest goals. In previous elections, conventional wisdom has held that while machinations (i.e. “managed democracy”) were used to ensure an overwhelming majority, had elections been perfectly fair (a concept I’ve yet to see defined, btw), the ruling party would still have won a safe majority. Here we have a situation where the party has not only failed to win a fair fight, but has failed to win by cheating. They are guilty of both unpopularity and incompetence. (N.B. Conventional wisdom also dictates that support for the party is not synonymous with support for Putin, whose popularity remains marginally stronger than that of the party of Crooks and Thieves, as United Russia has been dubbed, and a characterization which Putin has in the past not exactly argued with.) Meanwhile the Commies and Just Russia (who are either social democrats or Kremlin stooges, depending on your preferred conspiracy theory, though it is theoretically possible to be both) did nicely. So did the wackadoodle nationalists. Free-market ideologues didn’t make the cut. I haven’t seen anything to suggest that had the elections been squeaky clean that pro-business liberals would have garnered enough votes to have any impact on policy making. In sum, the election results, whether you look at the official tally or the exit polls, do not, in fact, suggest a widespread desire for radical change, or a Russian Spring, if you will. Just for more checks and balances and accountability. As one protest slogan goes, “I didn’t vote for those bastards. I voted for the other bastards.”

Slava Surkov provides commentary on the elections:

”The system is working,” Mr. Surkov told Sergei Minayev.

“United Russia has maintained its dominance with much more modest popularity figures,” he noted. “Attempts to shake up the situation and interpret it in a negative and provocative key are doomed,” he said. “Everything is under control.”

United Russia’s commanding majority in the last parliament – which will be replaced by just over half the seats in the new one – was “abnormal,” Mr. Surkov said. United Russia got 49.7% of the vote Sunday, down from 65% in the last elections in 2007.

“For a party that turned out to be in power during a deep global economic crisis, this is a good result,” he said. “Add to that the painful but necessary reforms of the (Interior Ministry) and army, plus the forced increase in taxes on business needed to preserve social benefits, then one can say this is a very good result.”

“And if we don’t forget about how much (President Dmitry) Medvedev and United Russia did to develop democracy and political competition….opportunities for manipulation were decisively cut off – I repeat, this is an outstanding result,” he said.

Monday, Western election observers condemned the election as not fair or free and rife with manipulations. Mr. Surkov dismissed allegations as “disrespectful” of the voters. “Violations happen but they don’t have any impact on the results because there simply aren’t many of them.”

Mr. Surkov said two things are still missing in the Russian political system.

First, “a mass liberal party, or more precisely, a party for the annoyed urban communities.” He said those voters are already incorporated into the system, though they may not want to admit it – “through opposition media that belong, strange as it may seem, to the state or structures affiliated with it, the staffs or audiences of which they are a part.”

“That’s of course not enough…they should be given parliamentary representation,” he said.

Second, he said, “Among Russian politicians, there aren’t enough people who respect the second law of thermodynamics….In vulgar terms, it says that in closed systems, disorder grows,” he said.

“The (power) vertical responds to breakdowns even more vertically, simply, more primitively. That’s a mistaken method. It leads to a more closed system and thus to more chaos.”

“As a result, for the system to preserve itself and develop, it needs to be opened up. New players need to be allowed in,” he said.

“We can’t allow ourselves to wind up in the situation of ‘solus rex’ – the lonely king,” he said.

“The period of cleaning up and nursing the damaged political system of the 90s is over,” he said. “So the modernization of the political system started in recent years by Medvedev and Putin should be continued.”

From: WSJ: “Kremlin’s Ideologist Weighs In on Elections, Thermodynamics” by Gregory L. White.


Thousands of Russians take to the streets in mass protests. A most peculiar development, if one compares the level of dissatisfaction with the results with the fact that the ruling party arguably has lost their monopoly on the system. Why are people protesting so?

Well, for one, it’s fun. Unlike the coups in the Middle East or the riots in Europe, these are impressively peaceful and free demonstrations. Hipsters, overpriveledged types, scary fringe nationalists, youths – a good cross section of society. Have you ever gone to a demonstration? Good times. Rightly or not, they give one a feeling of empowerment and ignite a little flame in one’s gut, feeding a belief that dialogue between leaders and proles is truly possible. You get on tv and the authorities get scared. It’s a real egotrip! And how cathartic to go into a public square and just fucking vent. If you did it alone, people would call you a lunatic. But when you do it with hundreds and thousands of others, suddenly the media wants to know what you have to say. Suddenly you matter. Suddenly they can’t ignore you anymore. I quite like a good protest. It’s the most enjoyable part of democracy. It also requires the least amount of effort, sacrifice and responsibility, after voting. And when else can hipsters revel in the validation of thousands of others agreeing with them without losing their cred? I’ve never understood why more people don’t do it, frankly.

On a more serious note, Russians who are protesting are protesting an electoral process which they have deemed to be unfair. There are numerous accusations and observations of fraud and various demands of the protesters, ranging from the sensible (like investigations) to the barking mad (like eliminating the ballot threshold.) Some Americans have asked if the protests in Russia are similar to the OWS protests. Yes and no. Yes, in that people feel that those in power have rigged the system for their personal gain, and in that it’s incredibly adhoc and disorganized as a “movement.” So in the most basic way, yes. No, in that many, many of the protesters are pro-privatization and free-market liberals, and in that it’s more about the political system than the economic system. In the most significant way, no. Some have asked if they are like the Arab Spring. I don’t think so. I also don’t underestimate mob mentality, that it would benefit some unsavory but powerful types, or have any indication that this is what the protesters desire. Time stamped 2:13 pm, December 28, 2012.

Slava Surkov provides commentary on the protests:

The system has already changed. This is a fait accompli. Look at the results of the elections to the Duma, the protest on Bolotnaya, the discussion on the internet, Putin’s public forum on the 15th, the president’s address.. all that remains is to formalize these changes judicially (implementing a law on the direct elections of governors and about simplifying the registration of parties) and technically (supplying polling stations with web cameras, electronic voting machines, etc.)

I think that with a few of these decisions some influential people will try to slow the process, but they won’t stop it altogether. The fundamental structures of society have shifted, the social fabric has acquired a new character. We’re already in the future. And this future is restless. But one shouldn’t be scared. The turbulence, although strong, nonetheless is not catastrophic but a form of stability. Everything will be fine.


There are those who want to concert the protest into a colored revolution – this is correct. They are acting literally according to Sharpe’s books* and the newest revolutionary methods. So literally, in fact, that it’s already boring. I’d like to advise these people that they should deviate just a little from these instructions, to dream a little bit.
But these swindlers** don’t have anything to do with it. The fact is that the protests are completely real and natural. The best part of our society, or, rather, the most productive part demands respect.

People are saying that we exist, we have meaning, we are the people. One cannot arrogantly dismiss their opinions. And it is correct that these opinions are taken into account, that the authorities have had a benevolent reaction. It proposed that direct elections of governors will resume, and that party registration will be practically untrammeled…to yield to the reasonable remands of the active part of society – this is not a reluctant maneuver on the part of the authorities, it is their obligation and constitutional duty.

Of course it is possible to say that those who have gone out on the streets are only a minority. If this is the case, what a minority! And if you examine the ruling majority – in reality this is also a minority, only a somewhat larger. Our current democracy in the conditions of a complicated and fragmented society – this is in general a democracy of minorities. If you think strategically, listening to the minorities you will find among them tomorrows leaders.

And, of course, a crowd can advance unreasonable demands and can sometimes be lead by provocateurs. But as concerns the provocateurs – there is the law, there is the obligation of the state to defend the bases of the constitutional order.

And there then arises a question: what are we defending? Who wants to wants to preserve corruption and injustice? Who wants to defend a system that has become deaf, dumb, and blind? No one! Even those, who appear part of this system don’t want to. Because they don’t feel justified.

The moral standing, which the state possessed until recently, must be, even if only partially, returned. And all those plans, proposed by the president, in this vein are correct. Political institutions that are modern, open, honest, intelligible to people, that will fight for them, preserve them, and defend them.

The most important thing now is to realize all of these intentions. And it may be that at the next meeting there will be fewer people, that the chatter over the internet will cool down, and that it will seem to someone that nothing needs to be done, that everyone got worked up over nothing. That, once again, everything magically disappeared. And once again they will drag out, slow down, and set aside reforms until a better time, as has already happened, or simply dilute them. But we’ll hope for the best – God willing, the streets will calm down and the reforms will take place.

* Gene Sharp is the author of, among other books, “From Dictatorship to Democracy”

** Surkov here (deliberately) uses the exact same word that Navalny used in describing United Russia

From: Izvestia via Forbes: Vladislav Surkov on the Post-Election Protests: “The System has Already Changed” (Translation by Mark Adomanis.)

“As a professional political operative who just took a blow at his own ‘managed’ polls, and as someone who started out with Khodorkovsky and became the Kremlin’s right hand man, it’s neither surprising nor entirely stupid that he’s showing more flexibility here.” (<–What I said right before he was axed.)


Putin axed Surkov, widely seen to be the “architect” of his political system. Or reassigned him. Normally this type of rearranging the furniture is looked upon with boredom and, except by the most eggheaded Kremlinologists, as a real bone toss. But this is no “I think that chair would look better by the window” rearranging. Putin put the fucking oven in the spare bathroom. Only history will tell if it was a genius or insane move. My immediate reactions:

~ Oh, Merry fucking Christmas to Michael McFaul.

~ Many articles have described Surkov’s move from Presidential Advisor to deputy Prime Minister overseeing Modernization (wtf?) as “leaving politics and entering government.” Leaving politics to enter government. In what universe is Russia actually located anyway? That doesn’t even make sense. I mean, not in the universe I inhabit. Is this a quantum physics thing? Though, if anyone could manage, ahem, that kind of maneuvering, Surkov could. Hell, it sounds like just the kind of thing he’d say, doesn’t it. Snake. Hot snake.

~ Look, I am really only shocked it did not happen sooner. I expected that shoe to drop the day after the elections. Not because of the protests. No. Putin’s not scared of the hipsters. Because the ruling party flopped and the current system is being vocally questioned. As its “architect,” Surkov has to answer for that. Putin’s never made sentimental decisions, and Surkov knows damn well politics is business. That said, Putin also values loyalty, and the move to Vice Deputy PM of Modernization or whatever the fuck he’ll being doing leaves a door open for recognizing Surkov’s loyalty should he prove it and should it not be political suicide for Putin to do so. (<– Saying shit like that earned me the blogger cred I squandered this year.)

~ Surkov never should have made that "Solus Rex" remark. You don't want to get on your boss's bad side. Especially if your boss is Vladimir Putin. And you just lost some elections.

~ Vova's done a lot of fearless stunts, but this is his most impressive to date. You don't want to get on the devil's bad side. Especially if he's your strategy man. And thousands are protesting outside your office.

~ Wait, I am soooo confused. Medvedev is still President for the moment, technically, and Putin is still technically PM, and Slava's been moved to Putin's sphere, oh, I give up…

~ I guess this frees him up to be my love slave.

Slava Surkov provides commentary on his demotion:

Asked by a journalist from Interfax on Tuesday why he was leaving, Mr. Surkov first answered, “Stabilization devours its own children.”

Then he laughed, and said he had overstayed the job and had requested a reassignment. Asked whether he would take a role in settling down the protests, Mr. Surkov said no.

“I am too odious for this brave new world,” he said. He then summed up his achievements at the reporter’s request.

“I was among the people who helped President Yeltsin realize a peaceful transfer of power,” he said. “I was among those who helped President Putin stabilize the political system. I was among those who helped President Medvedev liberalize it.” He added, “I hope I did not undermine my employers and my colleagues.”

From: NYT: “Architect of Russia’s Political System Under Putin Is Reassigned” by Ellen Barry.

Many are calling this an end of the Power Vertical (unfortunately I believe they are referring to the Kremlin’s strategy and not the wretched website.) It saddens me. One day people will wake up and realize they are all bastards, and if one must have bastards, bastards with intelligence, actual knowledge of and interest in political science and a healthy dose of sass and courage are the kinds of bastards you want. The truth is all democracies are managed. The hipsters just want their turn at managing it. Fair enough. Seriously, just do not even pick up that Russian history book! Pretend it doesn’t exist! … No, to be honest, it’s one thing I do truly love and admire about Russia. It is a politically fearless and resilient country. And there is no stopping today’s sons from becoming tomorrow’s fathers.


Whoa! If you think that was heavy handed, I present to you Guy Faulconbridge’s write up, in full, just because I like the guy so much!

Reuters: “Putin ejects Kremlin ‘puppet master’ after protests” by Guy Faulconbridge.

MOSCOW Dec 27 (Reuters) – The architect of Vladimir Putin’s tightly controlled political system became one of its most senior victims on Tuesday when he was shunted out of the Kremlin in the wake of the biggest opposition protests of Putin’s 12-year rule.

The sacrifice of Vladislav Surkov, branded the Kremlin’s ‘puppet master’ by enemies and friends alike, is also a rare admission of failure for Russia’s ‘alpha dog’ leader: Surkov’s system was Putin’s system.

With irony worthy of Surkov’s cynical novels, the Kremlin’s 47-year-old political mastermind was shown grinning on state television when told by President Dmitry Medvedev that he would oversee modernisation as a deputy prime minister.

When asked why he was leaving the Kremlin, Surkov deliberately misquoted a slogan from the French Revolution, saying: “Stabilisation is eating up its children.”

Almost in passing, Surkov told Interfax news agency he would not be running domestic politics after nearly 13 years doing exactly that from the corridors of the Kremlin.

Why? “I am too notorious for the brave new world.”

His post will be taken by Putin’s chief of staff and Surkov’s arch enemy, Vyacheslav Volodin, a wealthy former lawyer who hails from Putin’s ruling United Russia party. Anton Vaino, a 39-year-old former diplomat, becomes Putin’s chief of staff.

By ejecting Surkov from the Kremlin just two months before the presidential election, Putin is betting that he can neutralise some of the anger against his rule by projecting the impression of a brave new world of political reform.

“What happened today is nothing more than shuffling people from one office into another,” Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s third richest man who demanded Surkov be sacked in September, said through a spokesman. “Little will change from these shifts.”

Though Surkov’s exit may not usher in a vast political change, it is the end of an era for one of Putin’s most powerful aides. And at Putin’s court, personalities count for everything.


Described as Russia’s answer to France’s Cardinal Richelieu or a modern-day Machiavelli, Surkov was one of the creators of the system Putin crafted since he rose to power in 1999.

To admirers, “Slava” Surkov is the most flamboyant mind in Putin’s court: a writer of fiction who recited poets such as Allen Ginsberg but also strong enough to hold his own against the KGB spies and oligarchs in the infighting of the Kremlin.

To enemies, Surkov is a dangerous artist who used his brains to expand Putin’s power and whose intellectual snobbery made Russian citizens beads in a grand political experiment called “Vladimir Putin.”

Fond of black ties and sometimes unshaven, Surkov survived many turf wars but he could not survive the biggest protests of Putin’s rule or Putin’s need to find someone to blame for them.

As the manager of United Russia, the Kremlin’s point man on elections and ultimately the day-to-day manager of Putin’s political system, Surkov bore direct responsibility for the protests which have pitted Russia’s urban youth against Putin.

He did not answer requests for comment.

Brought into the Kremlin under Boris Yeltsin in 1999 to serve as an aide to then chief of staff Alexander Voloshin, Surkov helped ease the handover of power to Putin.

He then worked with Putin and then President Medvedev to consolidate power, repeatedly using the spectre of the chaotic 1990s to warn against swift change.


In practise, Surkov’s rule meant centralising power in Putin’s hands: Surkov moved regional decision-making to the Kremlin, struck down any attempt at autonomy and directed party politics.

Such was his power that Russia’s top party officials, journalists and cultural leaders would visit him in the Kremlin for ‘direction’ on how to present events to the public.

“He is considered one of the architects of the system,” Putin’s former finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, told Kommersant FM radio.

“Now this system is being revised. New organisers are needed with different views on the political system,” said Kudrin, who has offered to lead dialogue between the opposition and the authorities.

Signs of trouble for Surkov appeared in May when Volodin -the man who eventually took his job – helped Putin create a new movement, or popular front, that would compete with the United Russia party for Putin’s patronage.

Volodin, a dollar millionaire fond of ducking reporters questions with irony or personal needling, presented the popular front to Putin as a way to revive the ruling party.

Volodin’s stock rose after securing 65 percent of the vote for Putin’s party in Saratov, a region where he was born.

Then in September, the main scriptwriter of Russian politics became the focus of an intriguing unscripted conflict with Prokhorov – the whizz kid of Russian finance – over the fate of a minor opposition party which was crippled by the Kremlin.

“There is a puppet master in this country who long ago privatised the political system and has for a long time misinformed the leadership of the country,” Prokhorov, whose fortune Forbes put at $18 billion, said at the time.

“His name is Vladislav Yuryevich Surkov,” said Prokhorov, who demanded Putin sack Surkov. Putin had to personally calm down the two sides in the row, two sources said.

But after mass protests in major Russian cities against the parliamentary election and against Putin himself, Surkov’s analysis differed to that of his boss.

Putin has dismissed the protesters as chattering monkeys or a motley crew of leaderless opponents bent on sowing chaos, but Surkov gave a more refined view: he said they were among the best people in Russian society.

“You cannot simply swipe away their opinions in an arrogant way,” said Surkov, who will now have to move his portrait of Argentine-born revolutionary Che Guevara from his Kremlin office.

All you lousy journalists can write your silly Surkov hagiographies. I was doing that years ago, before it was even cool!

Maybe I should join that hipster revolution.

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