10 June 2005

Born To Be In Rehab

Jim Carroll, c. 1968 Posted by Hello


So, to continue our conversation about the relationship betwen madness and artistic/musical ability, I submit the poet and musician Jim Carroll, who had prodigious talent in many areas, junkie-ism being only one. He was also a basketball prodigy and academic wizard. Notice the stunning resemblance to Leonardo Dicaprio who played him in "The Basketball Diaries".

Ted Kooser puts the "rock" in "Adirondack chair" Posted by Hello

Now, for comparison's sake, I submit Ted Kooser (aka The Kooze, Terrible Ted, The Ten Fingers of Doom, Sorry I Missed My Last Poetry Seminar Professor Kooser) current US Poet Laureate, abundantly talented old coot and retired insurance company executive.

So, beyond the argument that every wildly talented person is nutso-ballo, which may or may not be true, I further submit that artistic inclination (or talent, if that's a measurable thing) has nothing to do with how screwed up or un-screwd up you may be, and is in fact only a perception/expression issue. In other words, artistic inclination is a matter of expressive or communicative style, and not a function of emotional makeup or personality. To wit - on the obverse, fantastically talented poets who were neither nutso nor ballo, and held down regular jobs (mostly) in the private sector: Wm. Carlos Williams, William Stafford, Wallace Stevens. And now the reverse, fantastically talented poets who pickled their livers, took the gas pipe, or booted themselves to Palookaville: Dylan Thomas, Wm. S. Burroughs, Sylvia Plath. And finally, the control category, fantastically talented poets who were hit by dune buggies while vacationing on Fire Island and died at age 40 without developing a really serious substance abuse problem: Frank O'Hara.

As my optometrist is so fond of saying, "Better A - or B?"

So, brother of mine, tortured live = artistic talent is a fallacy in my book. It leads to that whole "if I could just drink/shoot/snort/skrog more, I could write better" line of thinking that even I have been heir to at one time or another.

Thoughts? Comments? Or would you just like to boot some smack while listening to Stan Getz and reading Allen Ginsberg? Or eat a hash brownie the size of Linda Hunt while reading Gertrude Stein?

Cheers, and give my best to Marie.

09 June 2005

Spheres Under The Influence

Hey - what the hell did I just put in my coffee? Posted by Hello


You know what would be really nice? If a person could actually know what their sphere of influence was.

Wait, let's try that again.
You know what would be really nice? If I actually knew what my sphere of influence was. But for that, we need to start back in ancient Rome. Or was it Greece? Some place with statues and "free love". Okay, San Francisco. Good enough.

So here we are on the Embarcadero, discussing a philosopher who has long since turned to bone meal. His name is Epictetus, (I know that I mentioned him in one of my previous letters) and he came up with one of the most pithy philosophies that I've ever heard of. In a nutshell it is this:

There are certain things that you can't do anything about, so it's a waste of time to distress yourself about those things. Instead, you should just chill right the hell out and let those things go on their merry way as things are wont to do in this life. It is the nature of life for things to pass through it. Okay, so I just paraphrased the hell out of his philosophy and probably misquoted it, but you get my drift.

So where that leaves me is here: it's fine and understandable to not distress yourself over things that can't be helped, but how do you know which things can benefit from your effort, and which things are beyond your control and should be left alone? It would be nice if I could say for certain that I could do some good in this or that situation by applying skills, talent or input. But determining which things those are is the real pisser.

For instance, I figured out long ago that I can't do anything to change another person's behavior. Beyond that, I feel it would be at the least meddling and at the most disrespectful if I did, no matter how repugnant I found their actions. However, I can do something about communicating to that person what the boundaries are in how they treat me. On the other hand, the fledgling Buddhist in me feels that if I have an opportunity to do some good or at least ameliorate some harm, then I am ethically bound to do so. I know that I can prevent harm to myself and another person if I can prevent them from doing harm to me. Viz., stopping someone from hitting me stops me from being harmed and stops the other person from harming someone (and from a karmic standpoint, prevents them from harming themselves), so it's clear how defending oneself is the right thing to do in all cases. But beyond that...

I know this much for sure. The one place that I have the most influence is between my ears. That's where I apply most of my efforts. But beyond that? Still stumped.

I know that your eyes are weak , your legs are grey and wizened and your digits are knackered. But if you could summon up what little strength you possess to offer an insight here, it would be most appreciated. I'll send you a can of juice for your efforts.

Cheers, and give my best to Marie.

08 June 2005

Screw Insomnia Already, Okay?

Vigilance! Eternal vigilance! Posted by Hello


First it was the cops shouting at somebody to take their hands out of their pockets (followed by much screeching of tires and blaring of sirens), and then it was the Chinatown Street Cleaner/Demolition Derby that interrupted my sleep. And now, here it is, a buttock's arch away from the ass-crack of dawn, and I'm flogging my blog once again.

It's at times like these, when my eyelids feel like emery boards, that I envy those who can take a shot of bourbon and a Seconal or while away the early morning hours practicing the bhong, and thus render themselves unconscious. I can do neither. Gone are the days when I saw this hour of the morning through a hogshead of gin and a fistful of blow. (I mean, c'mon, did anyone do anything else in the 80s?) But considering that alternative means of reaching the state I'm in, I'll take old, cranky and woke up by the cops any day over that.

So for larfs, I was clicking on all the links in my profile, trying to see what other blogophiles there were out there who shared my affinity for - okay, pick one - William Carlos Williams [Side note: have you read Williams' "Kora In Hell"? Duct tape yourself to a chair first.], when I came smack upside the realization once again that I really don't like people. Or maybe I just don't like their blogs. And here I am being an apologist for that fact and feeling genuinely bad about it. You know what that means? Probably means somewhere deep down inside I hate myself, or feel superior, or am utterly insecure, or some other completely unflattering fact that I'd rather project onto some poor blogger like virgo_kween than ponder a means to fix. Then again, perhaps rising beyond the level of garden-variety crank to actual apologist crank is a step in the right direction.

Which brings me to the line from the "14 Things That I've Learned" that says "When I finally realized how much hatred there was in me, I no longer wondered why there was war." The problem is not sitting over there somewhere. I am the problem.

Okay, so here's the upside. (Take the gas pipe out of your mouth for a second. It's not all bad. Really!) I have a lot to work with on this issue. First of all, I know how emotions work. So that means I can get a handle on what it is that makes my eyes want to roll heavenward with flabbergastration (new word!) every time I come across, say, a Gloom-Encrusted Goth-errific Paste Merchant writing something about how certainly none can be more forlorn than they. Example: 6th June - Dark of the Moon; my heart wails to break its bony cage. I traded all my Magic the Gathering cards for a new set of fangs. Adieu.

Second, I do practice vipassana meditation, which may actually one day cure me of this affliction. And third, to date no one has kicked me in the treats for being such a judgmental douchebag.

Hey, what's that? I think it's - yes it is! Sleep! Blessed, blessed sleep!


07 June 2005

The Mud Shoe Diaries: Rachel Lake

Rachel Lake: After gazing upon such beauty, one
simply must consider gouging out their own eyes,
as much of the rest of life will be such a disappointment
Posted by Hello


I don't think I told you about my hike up to Rachel Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness a few weeks ago. It was a journey worth remembering, I tell you what. If I already told you about it, just skip this blog and go surf some porn or something.

Okay. So. I read about the trail to Rachel Lake (trail 1313, better known as the Box Canyon Trail) in some book called "Best Hikes for Children". I took a quick glance at the informative icons which showed the trail to be "moderately difficult for children". So I'm thinking, "How hard can it be?" Plus, it looked on the map like there were some interesting peaks and some river crossings and what have you, so I decided it would make a good Saturday day hike. Teresa had a drum circle to go to, so just Elizabeth and I went.

I think we all know where this story is going. Let me say just here and now that no matter how dire the description becomes, remember that I had a really good time. And remember, no matter how much I yell and scream and beg to be let out, do not open the door to my cage!

The distance to Rachel Lake is about 4.5 miles. Then it splits off and goes up to another set of alpine lakes called the Rampart Lakes which are on the other side of a 4,500 ft. elevation ridge called - you guessed it - Rampart Ridge. The first three miles of the trail are pretty flat and wind through woods and meadows and have great views of misty waterfalls cascading down the distant canyon walls. Most of the way, you're alongside the Box Canyon River, and you actually have to cross it a few times. Needless to say, the whole experience makes you consume so much beauty that your head could explode. And I'm pretty sure that mine did. I have yet to find my occipital lobe, and I know darn well that I didn't leave it on the roof of the car when we drove away.

So at about three miles in we came to the foot of an astounding cataract that was cascading down from somewhere so far up we couldn't even see it. It's an amazing thing to have an immense waterfall on one side and an awe-striking canyon view on the other. Unfortunately, I was too freaked out at the time to take any pictures. Plus I think I was out of film anyway. So we forded our way across the foot of the waterfall and headed on toward Rachel Lake.

On the other side of the waterfall, the trail got pretty difficult. It went from being a hike to being a scramble up switchbacks consisting mostly of stony gullys and toe-hold roots. Did I mention that I had a full pack? Just for practice? Well, I had a full pack. Just for practice. And it was loaded ALL WRONG. As in the load was hanging too far back, which was something that I didn't realize until I was going downhill.

So we lose the trail. But do we panic? No. Why? Because along with my awesome num-chuck (sp?) skills, bow-hunting skills and computer hacking skills , I have developed the Awesome and Terrifying Power of Map Reading. And using a compass. (The classes at REI do not blow. No, they do not.) So with a flick of the wrist, I and my trusty Indian guide (Elizabeth) triangulate our position on the map and get back on the trail.

So - and no, I'm not setting a precedent of starting every paragraph from here on out with the word "so", I'm just lazy and a piss-poor story teller - just about one living hell and thirty gallons of sweat later, we're standing at the saddle which, according to the map, is only a hundred or so yards from Rachel Lake, when it starts raining. And by raining I mean like buckets - like Malaysian amounts of rain.

So - goddammit! There I did it again! Started a paragraph with the word "so"! Anyway, quick as a cat I drop my pack and leap into my rain gear (and Elizabeth does likewise - but leaps into her rain gear, not mine). A couple seconds later, a couple of backpackers who have way more awesome gear (and ostensibly more awesome skills) than ours come down the trail. They tell us is that the weather is moving down from the ridge and the wind is kicking ass up at the lake, but it's really beautiful to look at. However, I've frozen and/or soaked pretty much all of my balls off by this point, so I opt to turn around and head back down the trail.

The crazy thing about water is that it runs downhill, and rain is pretty much all water, so that means that those stony gullys that we had scrambled up were now mini waterfalls that we had to scramble back down. And my pack was loaded all wrong, so there was much utterance of the "F" word, even though not much sense of humor was lost. Plus, the rivers that we had crossed on the way up were ten times beefier now and much less likely to be forgiving of our bullshit river-fording skills. I think Elizabeth got soakers on the way up and on the way down. She had to stop and wring out her socks a couple of times.

So my neoprene rain gear pretty much told me to fuck off after two hours of that, although it wasn't a complete failure. It leaked a little around the wrists and ankles, but other than that, it held up. But man was it cold! And painful! It wasn't until afterward that I found out that I had overloaded my pack's rating to the tune of about thirteen pounds. I'll never do that again.

So you're thinking to yourself, "Y'know Thaddeus, as I recall, you're pretty much a pussy. And I don't mean half way. I mean all the way to the bone. So what kept you going through this ordeal?" I'll tell you what kept me going. A sandwich. We bought mozzarella and pesto sandwiches and they were calling to us from the car. Once we got back to the parking lot, we took to those sammiches like hyenas to a wildebeest. They could've been made out of cat crap for all I know, but after being cold and wet for five hours and tired to the bone, they were ambrosia.

Once my hunger abated, I went back to the "Best Hikes for Children" book to see what sort of sadistic bastard would foist such a cruel hoax as to say that was a moderately difficult hike for a child. And then I actually read the description, it said, "one of the most difficult hikes in the Cascades" and "if you and your children survive the 'cruelest mile', you'll be rewarded with a view of beautiful Rachel Lake!" Christ H. Double-Dutch Jesus! If you survive - ! What kind of kids do these people have? The kind with rhino skin, ham-thick haunches and suction-cup fingertips?

Am I going back? Yer damn skippy. I plan to spend my birthday weekend (6/24-27) up there hiking the whole Rampart Lakes region. And that will certainly be fuel enough for another blog.

Cheers, and give my best to Marie.

Screw Depression Already, Okay?

Any emotion that does this to a kid's face
oughtta be dragged into an open field and shot.
Posted by Hello


Fuck depression, okay? Just fuck it already. It's a fuckin' waste of time. Goddamn my brain chemistry anyway. The only reason I write this stuff down is in the off chance that somebody might find it helpful some day. I was looking around the Web yesterday for resources on anxiety and depression, and that in and of itself is depressing. Why? Because there are no real humans talking about the issue. Just academics and doctors and salesmen - none of whom can adequately empathize with what I'm feeling. On top of that, every other website is trying to sell you something. Buy my tapes, eat my drugs, join my overly expensive therapy group. It's a disgusting load of crap, I tell ya! Capitalizing on a person's depression. It's unconscionable.

So I'm beginning to think that Alan Watts was right with that whole "you oughtta think less" thing. And here's why. If you entertain fewer depressed thoughts while you're depressed, then all you're left dealing with is the physical manifestations of depression. You've effectively taken the "fuel" away from the depression for maintaining itself. I'm not saying that you should stuff all your feelings. That's not healthy either. The most effective thing I've found is to simply observe your thoughts, understand them for what they are, and let them go on their merry (or not so merry) way. The problem with thoughts is that they lead you to believe that there's something to be done. The underlying truth is that there's nothing to be done about being depressed. Depression seems to be a group of particular thoughts and bodily sensations that lead a person to certain actions or inaction as the case may be. The thoughts are what keep the bodily state in place, so fuck 'em and the depression goes away.

It's at times like these that I have to remind myself that there's actually nothing going on. Like I said in one of my previous letters, actual events are over in a millisecond. Then there's a vast tract of time before any salient event takes place again. In the interim, all you're left with is thought cycles that are either grinding on what already happened, or desperately trying to anticipate what might happen next based on previous events, or trying to figure out a way to have thus-and-so happen again. It's all pretty much a monumental waste of brain power. All of those thoughts are getting in the way of the unshakeable presence of reality. It's tantamount to saying, "Get out of the way, wouldja? You're standing in the way of the view of my own ass!"

I was riding the waterfront trolley to work this morning, having all my depressed thoughts and whatnot, and trying as best as I could to just let them roll by, when right in the middle of it all the memory of the fact that riding on the trolley is fun pushed everything else aside. There's no reason why riding on the trolley is fun; it just is. There's no explaining it. And for some reason that recalled realization made me want to cry right then and there. It seems that realization would've made me react in some other way - getting happier, I suppose - but instead... Maybe it was that I wanted to weep with relief. I dunno.

But there you have it. There is still fun in the world, there is joy without reason, mirth without consequence, up without down - all of this regardless of whether I can "feel" it at the moment or not. Life itself is not an unfolding drama with me as its central character. Not even my life is that. There is much more in the world than what goes on between my ears.

Thanks for listening. Give my best to Marie.

06 June 2005

The Mud Shoe Diaries: Monte Cristo

Monte Cristo, Washington c. 1893
Fat Grammas with Weiner Dogs,
Patchouli-Stained Dirt-Worshippers, and
Itinerant Cornholers were still
112 years in the future.
Posted by Hello


I am discovering more and more as time goes on that I am a horrible Buddhist. I'm really bad at it. It seems so simple on the surface. Mahayana has but one guiding principle: compassion with equanimity. Sounds easy, right? To fulfill the minimum requirements, all ya gotta do is sit on your can for twenty or so minutes a day and generate compassion for people you utterly despise. To that I would add that it's easier if you do it while you're eating flaming balls of iron.

The reason that this came up is because of a hike I took this weekend to a ghost town called
Monte Cristo that's about two hours north of here. It's supposed to be a very popular trail, largely because it's not difficult at all - only 400 feet of elevation gain over 4.5 miles, and it's all along a US Forest Service road. We (Teresa, Elizabeth and I) went early on Sunday to beat the crowds. And here's where the "I'm an awful Buddhist" thing comes in. The reason that I get up at 4AM to drive for two hours to a trail that's over a hundred miles out of town is not because I like a little peace and quiet. That would be understandable. It's because on some very fundamental level I really don't like people. The real reason I get up early is to avoid running into Fat Grammas and Weiner Dogs on the trail. Or anyone else for that matter. Like the usual Backwoods Pretenders, Two-Wheeled Yuppies, Vegan Dirt-Worshippers, Teenage Soccer Maniacs, Soldiers of Fortune, Hair Farmers, and Itinerant Cornholers who generally plug up all the good trails every weekend. And it's for having completely incompassionate thoughts like these that I am going to be reincarnated as a canker sore.

That aside, it was a pretty darn good hike, but I will tell you this: I'm never going out for an all-day hike in a drizzle in the Cascades without every piece of gear that I own that provides either dryness or warmth. Not that I had it so bad. I didn't. I've got that crazy "wicking" gear that you can practically wear on the dark side of the moon and still be okay. But it woulda been a whole lot nicer to be able to change into a dry shirt at the halfway mark. And have some steaming hot cocoa poured out of a

On the upside, my Beautiful Wife Who Is Perfect In Every Way, who hails from a tropical island, and who can withstand temperatures as high as 71F and as low as 69F, didn't scowl at the cold once. As a matter of fact, she had a gay old time the whole way, humping through the mud, through the rivers, and up and down the
abandoned townsite. This led me to dub the multi-hundred-dollar wetgear that I bought for her with the title Scowl Insurance. Now she can't stop going on about where we're going next. I have a hiking convert on my hands.

Ach! My starch-filled lunch has seized my aorta in its Morpheus-like tentacles! I must nap immediately whilst cleverly maintaining the appearance of being awake. I am, after all, writing this at work.

Cheers, and give my best to Marie.