Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Dear Peter, Mike, Annie,

I loved Mike's post about reminded me of a thought I once had when I read a book about a woman who was hallucinating due to her bi-polar condition. She wrote about how all the ghosts that she saw disappeared after she took her meds. She medicated the ghosts away. Some of us have internalized these ghosts so deeply that they are embedded in the fabric of our skins--no, they may BE our skins. We are rebelling spiritually and intellectually against something. I've been accused recently of being an incorrigible Marxist, and its true that I believe that part of what we're rebelling against by denying life (by saying "No" instead of "Yes") is capitalism. But it's not that simple, I hope. I think many of us, particularly those of us whose parents told us over and over again that we "think too much" have a problem with the way power is utilized and projected, the way good and bad have been appropriated by the bad guys, the way that justice has no real core. I've only actually "seen" a few ghosts in my life. But I think these ghosts are valuable, and we shouldn't just medicate them away. I think it's telling that there is a broad dissatisfaction with the way lives are conducted by those with power and it just doesn't sit well with a lot of us. As Annie pointed out, the American gluttony affects us. It hurts, and I often don't know what to do with the pain except to deny myself life. I am trying to stop that bad habit (is depression the drug of the idealist?) and find other ways to channel my denials, but aside from talking to ghosts and you and writing generally, I haven't found a way to live with "reality." Any ideas?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Uber Mench of the Future will be Bipolar???

Dear Peter,

This is a post based on our email exchange, which I wanted to share with our friends here. You had written:

I was watching X-Men the Last Stand yesterday and it got me thinking. Not of anarchy and rebellion, but about the idea that people say there's something wrong with us. That we need to be cured, etc etc. But maybe the lower serotonin levels are a sign of something else. Not being depressed, but our brains are trying to function in a different way for a different reason. Hell, maybe it's even evolution at work.

And I wrote you back the following very long discussion about the issues of depression and disease and dis-ease, & c. Apropos of our recent letters about social issues and the differences between group A vs. group B, I thought your feeling that you were being labeled (in this case as a diseased individual) because of your depression was particularly germane. Anyway, here it is again.

> of anarchy and rebellion, but about the idea that people
> say there's something wrong with us. That we need to be cured, etc etc.

Yeah, there's a danger inherent in the language. If you talk about it
like it's a disease, or that it's off-normal or off baseline kind of
state, then you're making the judgement that you *should* or *ought*
to be happy. It's entirely possible with rhetoric like this to make
people skip the part where they ask themselves questions like, "Okay,
I'm not happy. Not happy about what?" and, having answered that
question, ask, "Why does that make me unhappy? What would make me
happier?" These are definitely not easy questions to answer; they
time time, understanding, patience, and a whole slew of other things
that are hard to allocate when we're all so busy with life and shit
all the time. Similar to our complete lack of attention span and the
requirement that we be bombarded with stimuli all the time, it's
easier to treat these things chemically, blocking the symptoms (the
miracle fix or "cure") rather than trying to solve the problem (actual
*healing*). People have come to expect that it should be possible
with a simple dose of an SSRI and have given up trying to understand

> maybe the lower serotonin levels are a sign of something else. Not being
> depressed, but our brains are trying to function in a different way for a
> different reason.

My personal feeling about the statistics on depression, which indicate
that a huge portion of society is depressed, is that this means that
there's something systemic going on here of which this is a direct
result. In other words, more sinister than one being depressed and
wanting a quick fix, is that one isn't alone in the depression; rather
the majority of people are depressed and that's a scary thought. The
questions we should be asking then become, "why is everyone becoming
depressed?", "is there something in the water?", "has life become too
fucked up for us to handle as humans?", "are we too numerous? are we
choking ourselves to death?", "have we set up our lives in an inhuman
way?", and the real downer: "what would be better?" The point: then
we have to start taking the time, patience, work, & c. to diagnose (a
better word would be "understand") the mounting depression of humanity
in general. And then to find a solution... a *real* one, not just a

> Hell, maybe it's even evolution at work.

Although the X-Men parable is a bit on the fantastic side (fantastic
4?), I would like to think that the trend indicates that something is
not right with the world and that our bodies are warning us
(collectively, perhaps -- maybe via some collective psycho-physical
consciousness that is beyond the current scope of empirical science;
I'll even go so far) that our current state is not conducive to human
life (or life in general) and that we are missing the very point of
existence in the first place--or, at the very least, that it is an
indication that we can do so much better for ourselves and this

And I wouldn't count the above as separate from the rubric of
Evolution, either. Certainly, the long-standing scientific and
emprical pleas for fixing society and the planet have fallen on
willingly deaf ears; the inhumane policies of destruction and death
are perpetuated. I wouldn't know where to place depression on the
tree of evolutionary traits that could be selected for or against if
they wouldn't increase our chances of survival, right? Who knows,
perhaps it will be demonstrated that people need trees around them to
be happy, or that theres a direct relationship between the serotonin
levels in coastal humans and the relative population of dolphins. All
these things are theoretically possible. ;-)

Then again, there's another thought, namely that the Earth is more
than just the sum of it's inhabitants and there's an intelligent
policy of weeding-out that's occuring. We get diseases, viruses,
depression, we do stupid shit and kill each other... perhaps all this
is better for the Planet Earth? Fewer destructive humans = more
productive plants and animals? That way Life lives on (<-- notice the
capital 'L' in Life).

The one I generally tend to settle on is this (and please excuse my
cultural masochism here): There's plenty out there to be depressed
about, granted. But it's easier to focus on the depression when
you're not fighting for food, shelter, and clothing. We're so
pampered here that we worry about shit like how sad we are working our
crappy nine-to-fives and watching TV all the time, when we should be
using our leisure time for these lofty thoughts instead of turning
ourselves into that proverbial "pig, in a cage, on antibiotics" that
Thom Yorke sings about (not to mention that's where pork-chops come
from these days).

We don't even feel it very closely, but we in the West are fighting
(read: getting killed) too. But fighting for (manufactured)
conceptual reasons clearly leaves us wondering what the flying-hell
it's all about. You don't want to dig too far into that question
because you will only find more to be depressed about: it's about
capitalism vs. democracy and capitalism is winning, meaning that
money-interests trump human-interests. So... Even the ideals we in
the West held above all else at the inception of our nations are being
compromised (serotonin dropping to dangerously low levels) and we're
ignoring every lesson we should have learned (or were supposed to have
learned) over the last 60 years or so (danger, Will Robinson!) We're
not even fighting for anything worth fighting for, we're just fighting
because it's a great source of revenue (ALERT! ALERT!)

My general point is that this depression is something very important
that ought to be a giant red flag that we need to change--not just
ourselves as individuals (although that's the place to start, of
course) but as a society. That is, I believe, the main thrust of the world of X-Men anyway; this idea of Difference and how to deal with it as a society. In that world, you
have your mutants and humans, which are then cross-divided into the
mutants-for-peace, humans-for-peace, mutants-for-themselves,
human-for-themselves, and the-generally-confused-and-scared (mostly
humans there, although I think that's a factor of exposure to certain
idea-centers, like Xavier's School for Gifted, but I digress). What's
really germane here is the idea that social change needs to
occur in both groups, not just one or the other. It's the
learning-to-live-together thing that's the subtext for all the awesome
mutant action. And this can be applied to a bunch of different issue
categories, race, gender, cultural differences, wars, & c.

The reason that this is important is the fact that the parallel
you drew (mutant -> depressed, human -> undepressed) is lacking
consideration of the following question: "What effect does my
depression have on the set of all humans (e.g. depressed and
non-depressed)." Or rather, "what is the relationship between these
two groups and what are the effects of this relationship on each other or on the union of both groups?" The X-Men
example provides a parallel question, "What are is the effect of the
existence of mutants on the set of all sentient, Earthly beings?"
They are viewed as heros, as monsters, as a disease, as gods, & c.
Similarly, the depressed are viewed as sick, as abnormal, they are
misunderstood, they are seen as non-functional instead of just
functioning differently. And, you're right, it's not often asked
whether the un-depressed are only thus because they are missing some
vital piece of information, some clarity of perception that is
exhibited in certain people who can see that, in fact, there's so many
more compelling reasons to be depressed than there are to be content.
In both examples, and Xavier's character is the spearhead of this idea
in the X-Men, the real struggle is how to understand and change to some state of
acceptance, rather than divide and elliminate what is different, which is done as often by quick-fixes, and pharmaceutical "cures," as by war, and outright


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feast or famine or light meal

dear Peter,

good to hear from you. I wanted to point out that your analogy of foods and analysis is actually more appropriate than you might think. between what you're saying, what Mike's said, Sonal's said to me at other times and what I am experiencing, and see everyone around me experiencing, we are truly "gorging" ourselves on the experiences of being alive and being American. it's gluttonous - instead of cutting out some potatoes to add the chicken, we pile the chicken on top. we stuff the salad in along the edges and throw the apple pie on top of it all. and it works for awhile because we have the cutlery to get through it, but before we've started digesting, we're already running back to fill another plate.

our lives move quickly. evolution of body/brain hasn't occurred at the same rate as that of technology, and now we're bound by schedules, and constant stimuli. even our "leisure" activities in this country are physically or mentally active. and particularly for those of us Westerners afflicted with that peculiar malaise of lives of luxury and privilege - depression, anxiety etc - it seems we never turn off our brains. Asimov and his contemporaries saw a lot in our future - but I don't think they imagined this. maybe these are evolutionary pangs. maybe this is how evolution happens, people lose their minds and then something changes to keep the species going.

we can't do everything; we can't think of everything; we can't notice, analyse, experience, feel, hear, touch or taste everything, and I think some of us want to. we're searching. we've got these gaping holes that we need to fill and we're rushing through the spectrum of experience to see what will fit in that space. it's time, for me at least, to just sit and feel the wind blowing through the holes. to measure their diameters, dig my own fingers into them and blindly feel around. and then just forget them and stare at a wall, or take a nap, or think of the waves coming in and the waves going out.

I never thought I'd say such a thing in the context of experiencing life to its full - but my mother's old "everything in moderation" seems a soothing balm these days for me.

hope you're chicken wings were yummy.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

from Babylon

Dear Annie, Mike, and Peter,

Greetings! As of now, I belong to no particular place. Did you know Babylon is simultaneously a place in New York and the ruined ancient city in Northern Iraq? But there's something symbolic and iconic and exiled about Babylon, some suggestion of too much knowledge and too much destruction. In other words, I like it.

I'm supposed to be finished with law school at Wash U in St. Louis. I will be studying for the bar exam in New York. I will move to D.C. in September, I think, to work for the smallest office of a St. Louis-based law firm. But over the years, New York has grown into home, which is why I chose to be from Babylon. I still claim exile as my home. Law school has exiled my imagination, and I'm split, like a woman quartered in a more civilized penal system. But I'm fighting back. Two weeks ago, I almost raised my hand in class to ask Duncan Kennedy if the Constitution exists--or if it is the Santa Clause of "Democracy". The exchange would have gone like this:

Me: Professor, I have another critique from the left. I think you believe that the Constiution exists. Professor, is there really a Constitution?

Professor Kennedy: Yes, my left wing friend, pinch yourself--there is a Constitution. You see, it's too late for you. You are a lawyer. You ARE the Constitution. But so is Justice Alito. I hope you use it for good and not to further the intelligensia and its "democracy." Pierce the veil, but you cannot burn it for you are a lawyer.

Haha--not yet my dear Professor--don't drag me down your river Styx so fast. I still have one paper yet to complete. Viva Procrastination! I could burn my veil right now, select all, delete send to trash, and game over. But I won't. For Babylon awaits. I guess I have signed up to channel Duncan Kennedy for a very long time. Here's the problem: I don't believe that I can define anything anymore, for I have unlearned everything they taught me, and now my old friend post-modernism has me by a sultry noose that I have bound tangibility up in with myself (we are like a suicidal pretzel), and I'm doubting so much of existence. I'm beginning to believe that there is a politics of the tangible that is too starry-eyed and bushy-tailed (to employ an American cultural phrase) for me. I'm beginning to believe that if I believe in the Constituion, then I will soon find myself believing in Jesus, the Tooth Fairy, and Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

Yesterday a guy I went to school with since the age of 11 died in Iraq. His name was Andy Weiss. We lived in the same lower-middle class neighborhood in West Lafayette, Indiana. We used to stand at the same bus-stop until I became a sophomore in high school, and begged my parents to drive me and spare me some intangible embarrassment factor. Andy was always nice. He had a cute smile. I judged him as with the "wrong crowd" in terms of "success," but I liked him a lot. I only found out about his death because this is the year of my 10th high school reunion. I'm not going, but I decided to put myself on the list in case I encountered news or email addresses of old friends that I needed to reconnect with privately. Yesterday, someone sent this link:

It took 10 hours for it to sink in. The article, as you'll note, is such crap. It has nothing about who Andy was. It doesn't at all tell his story. It's generally very dehumanizing. Just like the bomb that killed him. There's this coalition of creepiness that keeps "democracy" together, and the press is the glue of this insidious force.

Here's what I wrote:

Welcome to the U.S.A., where leaders of democracy will persuade
the love of your life, your baby's father, and your college-bound daughter to sign
up for a highly increased odds of dying violently
in exchange for money and a gun.
It's as easy as signing up for tennis lessons, and cheaper.
It's easier than a mortgage. If you sign away
your life, there's no debt to pay down.

In the shadows of public discourse, I see only
specters slinking around in golden paper crowns,
grinning at how many are willing to die for "democracy."

I just checked on the Constitution; they say its still premature,
they covered it in glass for 2 hundred years, without air because its impure.
Meanwhile people lose their Constitutions.
heads are blown off bodies with metal and fire,
bullets separate hearts from their arteries,
but it's this paper that matters, these lungless words that govern
the heartless: so America, in the face of your empire, your genocide, your holy war,
keep on rooting for your sports teams, keep on shopping at WalMart,
keep on getting wasted on your stalest beers, keep on engaging in democracy,
this enraging cocktail of behavior that ensures
that this life's beauty has been oxidized by arrogance

I can't write anymore right now...words have become heavy, enemies, bullets. I look forward to your thoughts and thank you for including me. It is very humbling, especially because your posts are so witty, intelligent, and responsve.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Analysis is a Dish Best Served Cold

Dear Anne and Mike,
I find that I often do my best thinking on Cold Nights. Something about walking on a cold night gives me the most focused approach and constructive thoughts (this could in no small part be due to the fact that I envision my brain overheating like an engine or boiling when I think too much and that manifests itself in an actual sense of warmth. So the cold counteracts. Call it the nuclear reactor effect). We're coming to the end of our cold nights though, and the change is welcome. One specific cold night back in Williamstown, it occurred to me that I've felt exact same emotional states before. Now, that's sounds incredibly obvious, but what I mean to point out is that when we are in an emotional 'zone' for a period of time, we often don't remember this feeling from it's last incarnation. Either because the circumstances or the specifics of this time are different from that other time. If you follow. The specifics will blur the lines and make you forget you've been there before, you've done that before, and only the environment is a tad different. And it isn't until you snap out of it that you can see this. The immense similarities. The overwhelming and eternal 'duh' that overcomes you is pretty surprising. It's a little humbling too, but it's also refreshing as it reminds you of how well you know yourself and how silly our 'selves' can be at times.

For me though, I'm at a crossroads where of late I've found it hard to stick to any one conclusion about where to direct my life or what are my 'issues' that I need to tackle. And one of the reasons is because we live in a world that offers much stimulation. I think one of the keys to sanity is not to not question, but to limit the hyper-stimulating factors, as well as the anxiety driving toxins, so that the analysis is more constructive. Simplifying my life to include as many of the passive enjoyments as possible (those we don't have to think about, but just enjoy almost as instinct) is another key. Those things make the tough complex thinking easier to handle. And in my mind more productive. They are the yin and tough decisions/questions are the yang. That's just my two cents for the moment. A great math teacher I had back in junior high named Mr. Beloin used to say "Keep it Simple Stupid!" So true Mr. Beloin. Whenever possible, I try to keep things simple.
The thinkin that is.

Chicken wings are my yin to the question of where is my life going.

Nite folks,

opening by closing

dear Mike,

it's been a long time, and I'm just back from Paris now, trying to readjust to the climate, bad pants, English, and alleys that though Parisian in smell, lack the charm of ancient cobblestones spattered by eons of piss and garbage. this will not be long, I really do have to work. but I came across this a few weeks ago, or was it months? who knows. it is written by an incredible painter here, Todd Brown, whom I've met a few times and been incredibly intimidated by on account of I almost don't want to know he's human, want to keep him mystical and wise and free from human fallacy. he wrote this on his myspace blog, just thoughts I think. but they struck deep for me, particularly in the course of this existential chaos that surrounds me these days. incidentally, I made the mistake of reading the wikipedia entry for the columbine shootings, just after reading a book about a school shooting that came out only weeks before the VT massacre. I don't understand humans clemow. I just don't.

but this little quip seems to speak not only to art but also to life, as I can see it:

"evening thoughts

What am I discovering now as I work? As I sit in my rocking chair looking at my work (or lack of) with an abstract kind of desperation, I feel another level of this whole process (which never understood really) of creating a work of, and I always seem to think of music simultaneously as I consider the visual process of painting. I realize the impossibility of it all, of trying to compress a world of emotion, the storm of thought and feelings into a space of a few feet, into an inanimate object. I think of the composer and his/her equal challenge to channel entire emotional worlds into the space of a few minutes, be it 3 or 44. It is a compression. And the paradox is that, in that ..compression.. that exists for the artist, that limited space that is his or her window of expression, the resulting experience must be the opposite; one of expansion. One must compress a world into a window so that, when another looks into the window, one discovers a world; that within minutes an eternity is opened, and one is struck, and one must be struck (as if physically), as if the totality of some human experience had funneled itself down and into the most finite point, arriving like the strike of a heel to the floor in the most desperate dance. There where eternity meets the blade of the now, ungoverned by history..s procession, something comes alive and touches us. It is, almost, impossible. Better to not think about it, if one happens to be an ..artist... Better, perhaps, to paint flowers. At least until the storm hits."

until soon my friend,