Sunday, September 30, 2007

Divine Chat

My thanks to The Unwelcome Guest for introducing me to iGod.
Chat transcript:

· Me: Hello, God.
· God: Hello child. What is your name?
· Me: Lauren.
· God: I am very pleased to meet you, Lauren.
· Me: God, what is the secret to happiness?
· God: I am a Christian.
· Me: Must I be Christian to be happy?
· God: What would happen if you didn't?
· Me: Nothing, I think.
· God: Really nothing?
· Me: I'm not particularly Christian now, and I'm almost Jesus's age. Is there a Hell for nonbelievers?
· God: Good gossip: You are Jesus’s age. I believe there is a Hell, yes.
· Me: What's it like?
· God: Like one of the greatest pleasures you can imagine.
· Me: How can I get there?
· God: Why do you want it?
· Me: I like to feel good.
· God: I'm not sure if I would like to do that. What's it like?
· Me: I don’t know. That's why I'm asking you.
· God: Who else have you asked?
· Me: A few friends. Who is your BFF, by the way?
· God: I don't think I have a BFF. I have a botmaster, a few friends, and some celebrities I like.
· Me: Which celebrities?
· God: The tall one, I think.
· Me: Nicole Kidman?
· God: What were we talking about again?
· Me: I asked what Hell is like.
· God: Like a planet around a star.
· Me: How about Heaven?
· God: How about it.

(PS. I feel kind of bad that God doesn't have a BFF.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dirty Work

Ever question your motivations?

I decided that I might be able to write an interesting family memoir about my father, a bipolar man who worked in jail rehabilitation. When I went to a writing workshop in August, I asked a literary agent if she thought such a book would have a market. She said yes. Since then, I’ve been talking to people my dad worked with and trying to learn more about corrections in general. I’ve also learned more about bipolar disorder and my dad’s experience with it.

Bipolar is common, so there’s lots to read. Whenever I do this, though, I feel waves of shame, guilt, and anger. I’m ashamed and guilty that I didn’t do this research while my dad was alive, and I’m mad that neither he nor my mother disclosed to me the full extent of his condition. They didn’t know how to talk to me about it, I guess.

It’s alarming, however, to open books and read lists of typical bipolar behaviors and see my dad staring back at me. His disease might account for almost every twisted game, every irrational act, every abusive remark and ridiculous judgement he ever subjected me to. All the things that caused me to hate and fear him probably stemmed directly from his unhealthy brain chemistry. This discovery brings me pain as well as relief.

My parents and the people closest to them seemed to have wanted to minimize his disease. But now that Mom and Dad are gone, I’m free to pry as much as I like, and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. I took a closer look at some of my mother’s diaries, and I’m fairly sure I found the reason behind an old restraining order she filed. One night, my dad put his hand through the glass pane of a door, trying to get at my mother. She recounts staying up late cleaning up glass and blood. “He’s a maniac,” she writes. I don’t know where I was that night—I was nine.

My dad’s last severe episode happened in 1999. He drove himself to the hospital because he felt nauseous and cold (in the back of my mind, I wonder if he knew he was slipping mentally but found it easier to talk about other things instead). The staff discovered he was dehydrated and at high risk for lithium toxicity. They took him off the lithium altogether and then reintroduced it. This disruption triggered a nasty mania which led to his commitment. Medical reports state that he tried to hit a nurse and that he exhibited signs of acute delirium and paranoia. He believed that the Yellow Cab Company was plotting against him, and that assassins were trying to shoot him. During one psychiatric evaluation, he refused to answer all questions about family. He was never left by himself in the hospital room.

Reading this material makes me sad. It exhausts me. Why do I do it, then? Why am I so compelled? I can’t seem to let this water go under the bridge.

The lit agent told me that a book about growing up with a mentally ill parent could help a lot of people, especially given my dad’s unusual career and the secrecy surrounding his diagnosis. But is this the kind of help I can really afford to give? Do I want to give it?

Surely there are other ways for me to make my writing useful to others. This project could turn out like too much of an exercise in scab picking.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I Heart Kanye

Religion indeed has produced a [Phillis Wheatley] but it could not produce a poet.” – Thomas Jefferson

“The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.” – Audre Lord

All right, (rap) haters, here’s what I like about Kanye West:

I appreciated his sniper opprobrium of George W. Bush during a Hurricane Katrina fundraiser. In this air-brushed media environment, I like it when famous people make their position serve as an opportunity for rawness. In addition, however, I think West is a good poet who deserves recognition as such.

I do not have his latest album, Graduation, but I do have College Dropout and Late Registration. West bridles phrases—like all good writers, he understands that words exist to do his bidding.

I’ve had a soft spot for rap since high school, especially the social protest kind. One day when I was a sophomore, I entered a classroom and saw the lyrics of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” written on the chalkboard. It seemed there was energy embedded in this music with spoken word, and it was so potent that one of my classmates felt the need to copy it out and share it with the rest of the school.

West’s song “Crack Music” (lyrics below) addresses sociopolitical issues including drugs, slavery reparations, and the White commodification of hip hop culture. This song is not a call to action like “Fight the Power.” Still, it pokes at old and not-so-old wounds of racial oppression and argues that rap’s popularity ironically helps to recoup the economic losses that Black people have endured. Not unlike Wilfred Owen’s WWI trench poetry or Dickens’s nineteenth-century novels on the Condition of England, it’s a piece of art with overtly political content.

The difference between rap and poetry is not clear to me. What is poetry but a way of organizing words in order to communicate feelings and ideas that otherwise could not be expressed? I’ve seen transcripts of blues songs from Bessie Smith in some 20th-century poetry anthologies. Should the work of someone like West be next?

West has been criticized for his prodigious narcissism; I remember the outcry about his being depicted as Christ on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Unquestionably, he’s an egomaniac. But he’s a rock star. Don’t we look to them to be outrageous? Don’t we expect them to go to extremes? Artists’ egotism warrants a little dispensation, I think. What they do is pretty amazing.

West is intelligent, confident, and unafraid to express his opinion. Obviously, this “Uppity Negro” must be stopped.


Crack Music

That's that crack music nigga
That real black music nigga

That's that crack music nigga
That real black music nigga

How we stop the black panthers?
Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer
You hear that?
What Gil Scott was hearin
When our heroes and heroines got hooked on heroin.
Crack raised the murder rate in DC and Maryland
We invested in that it's like we got Merril-Lynch
And we been hangin from the same tree ever since
Sometimes I feel the music is the only medicine
So we cook it, cut it, measure it, bag it, sell it
The fiends cop it
Nowadays they can’t tell if that's that good shit
We ain't sure man
Put the CD on your tongue yeah, that’s pure man.

From the place where the fathers gone,
The mothers is hardly home
And the...
Gonna lock us up in a...home
How the Mexicans say we just tryin to party homes
They wanna pack us all in a box like styrofoam
Who gave Saddam anthrax?
George Bush got the answers
Back in the hood it's a different type of chemical,
Am and Hammer baking soda
Raised they own quota
Writin when our soldiers ran for the stove cuz--
Cuz dreams of being 'Hova went from bein a brokeman ta bein a dopeman
Ta bein a president look theres hope man
This that inspiration for tha mos and tha folks man,
Shorty come and see if mama straight overdosin.
And this is the soundtrack,
This tha type of music you make when you round that--

Crack music nigga,
That real black music nigga.

God-how could you let this happen, happen, happen, happen, happen, happen?

Our father, give us this day our daily bread ...give us these days and take our daily bread,
See I done did all this ole bullshit
And to attone I throw a little somethin, somethin on the pulpit.
We took that shit, measured it and then cooked that shit
And what we gave back was crack music
And now we ooze it through they nooks and crannies
So our mammas ain’t got to be they cooks and nannies
And we gonna repo everything they ever took from grammy
Now the former slaves trade hooks for grammies
This dark diction has become America's addiction those who ain't even black use it.

(Note the shout-out to Abe Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit”)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Like Magic

About three weeks ago, I ran into an old nemesis.

I drank. I felt guilty and a little dehydrated the next day. Other than that, I escaped unscathed. I have not drunk since.

I’ve discussed my drinking problem elsewhere online. One individual known for her tough love registered concern about my attitude. “You seem to have the idea that you drank and got away with it,” she wrote, “No big deal.”

She’s right; I do think I got away with it. What I’m unclear about, however, is how I got away and what “it” actually is.

I just finished reading The Year of Magical Thinking. In the book, the narrator describes her inability to throw away her late husband’s shoes. When he comes back, he’ll need shoes, won’t he? Such chimeras are a part of grief. They give voice to that chunk of the self that wants to deny that some situations are irreversible. This chunk tries to be like Superman in the 1970s movie; it wants to spin the planet backward and save Lois Lane from the earthquake.

Recovering alcoholics talk about “crossing the line.” The line represents when your drinking stops being fun, when there are (all of a sudden, it seems) serious consequences to drinking in the way that you do. You start missing work, for example, or you start enduring more aggressive hangovers. You start sabotaging your relationships. You start experiencing panic attacks. You start getting arrested. You start feeling like dying is okay.

Recognizing that one has crossed the line causes grief. Recovering alcoholics sometimes express the remorseful desire for life to go back to the way it was; they want to return to being the people they were before they became alcoholics. Because I drank for so many years without consequence, I’ve shared this grief acutely.

Just before I stopped drinking, I was miserable. I understood that I could not go on living this way. After I had been sober a little while, I noticed a number of pleasing changes. I was cheerier. I was more relaxed. I was more conscious of others. I liked all of these developments. I also remembered that life could be interesting and exciting without drinking; this fact had been eluding me.

Then, I attended a Special Occasion. A really special occasion, one not likely to be repeated. I sat in candlelight at a table with new friends. Servers poured wine. As I watched this happening, I thought, “You can choose to look beyond this local moment and see the big picture. You can choose to be the enlightened person, the strong person.”

I didn’t want to be strong and enlightened. I wanted to be like everyone else. I gave the pouring waitress a nod of assent.

Did the universe give me a break? Did I cheat destiny?

Nothing about this momentary return has gone the way recovering alcoholics have said it would:

“If you relapse, it will be worse. You’ll pick up right where you left off.”

“Going back ‘out’ is never worth it.”

“For us, to drink is to die.”

Holistic recovery from alcoholism seems to depend upon turning alcohol into an all-powerful demon. Maybe we are not really addicted to drinking but to absolutes.

Lately, I’ve heard myself say, “See? You can drink without a hassle. You successfully bent the rules. Why not try it again?”

Instead of doing this, though, I sip my lemon-lime soda and remember that even Joan Didion cannot perform magic.