A brief talk about homelessness

It is always interesting to me when either talking with people about homeless shelters or reading editorials by people on the topic, who declaim that shelters cause crime. Their solution is to simply shut the shelter down.

The question that follows is:

Where do the homeless people go?

The answer is simple;

Back onto the streets of your city.

They don’t disappear or disperse. They have nowhere else to go. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there in there in the first place.

Shelters serve specific areas. That means that the people in the shelter I work at are from the Quincy area. They are not causing waves of crime. These crimes would be happening anyway, possibly they would be worse since the homeless people would have no where to go every night. Granted that there are people experiencing homeless who do not use shelters, but we try to help as many as we can stay someplace safe each night.

It must be understood that a homeless shelter does not attract “freeloaders” from larger cities who bring drugs and gangs and crime to the city streets. While it is true that people experiencing homelessness can be found in larger numbers near a shelter, the main point that people tend to miss is that they were there before the shelter was; the shelter didn’t summon them magically. These are people who are already right there in the community with you.

These are men and women who live there, grew up there, went to school with you. Why should they leave their city? Rather than hope the problem disappears, why not help to make it better? I will admit that our building is not a glorious sight to behold. How about fixing it up? Maybe help pay for treatment programs so that guests can overcome addictions?

One reason the drug problem in Quincy may be seen as worsening is that Father Bill’s had to close it’s wet shelter back in 2002. As a result, these human beings no longer had access to the shelter, since it then became a dry shelter (no alcohol or drug use allowed, no intoxication without recrimination). In short, they were placed back on the streets from where they came. And there was surprise that crime saw an uptick?


Sorry for the rant. I’m doing initial research on a proposal to do more research that would deal with the intersection of three areas I’m interested in currently: the homeless, elders, and the continuum of care. Basically; elders are expected to stay home as long as possible, and avoid long-term care facilities. But what does that mean for a homeless elder? How does a sixty-year old man in an emergency shelter “age in place”? What does that look like, and what does it mean for the future as the Boomer cohort explodes into senior status?

I will be sitting down with several professors to see if I can work this into some kind of grant or assistanceship if I get into the MSW program at Bridgewater. That reminds me; time to start visiting grad schools! My list so far is Bridgewater, RI College, Simmons, BU, and BC. I was going to link to their sites, but it’s 2 am and I’m really tired.


We saw the film “The Way, Way Back” today, and it was great. I highly recommend it. They filmed it in Marshfield and Wareham. Parts of Deluxbury…I mean Duxbury, too.

Next time I’ll write something funnier. Maybe. We’ll see.

up and down

There are many things going on in life right now. Some are great, and some are…not so much.

On the positive side; I was able to get the internship I wanted for my senior field work next fall. As part of the social work program, our senior field is an internship lasting both fall and spring sessions. The work should be at least 16 hours a week, and includes classwork, forms such as process recordings, and a capstone project.

The internship will be at the VA in Brockton, and will entail working with nursing-home eligible veterans with spinal cord injuries. These are veterans in long-term care, and the work includes group therapy, individual assistance, case management, and other things I will learn later. I am psyched for this opportunity. When discussing the possibility with the department field work supervisor, we checked off all the boxes I was looking for in a field placement; elders, long-term care, hospital, and veterans. This is the work I have wanted to do, and jumped at the chance to do it.

I also recently had to look for paid work. Two years ago this May, Borders Books in Hyannis closed for the last time, and since then the state has been helping me and my family get through my taking classes with unemployment assistance. Now, two years later, that assistance is over. I couldn’t have made it this far into the program without that help. Massachusetts is one of the best states for unemployment, and I and my family are better off for having it. Many bills would have been unpaid and grocery trips skipped otherwise. One more thing to be said for living in a solid Blue state.

The job I was offered recently, and took, is working at Father Bill’s homeless shelter in Quincy doing support staff work from 4 pm-midnight three days a week. Part of this involves helping check people in and other front-desk duties. The rest I’ll learn about soon in training. It feels great to know that not only am I getting a paid job for the first time in two years, but it is something  I want to be doing.

This semester we helped with a research project where the class interviewed guests of the MainSpring shelter in Brockton. The experience reminded me of why I wanted to go into social work, and I knew that I needed to work in the shelter. Talking with the men and women, listening to their stories, but not being able to delve deeper into what they were saying since we had to stick to interview protocols, was frustrating. My hope is that in taking this job I can help, and learn from the people and experience. I’m excited to have this job and work with this population.

All of this I chalk up to what happens when you stop fighting and pushing to move your life in specific directions. As Aleister Crowley once said; “A man who is doing his true will has the inertia of the universe behind him.” I’ve always thought it was a nice quote, and haven’t really understood it until now. (I hear you…”Crowley? Really? Weirdo…” But I worked in a bookstore, and as a person on a spiritual quest in such circumstances I read everything I could get my hands on. As Robert Hunter and Gerry Garcia wrote; “Once in a while you get shown the light/in the strangest of places/ if you look at it right.” A great piece of advice.)

Maybe some fine day I’ll write a but about Buddhist conceptions of karma; easily one of the most misunderstood aspects of the religion. Actually the link is the best explanation I’ve found, so I can check that off the to-do list.

I bring up karma because in one sense it is about actions and consequences. For me specifically, it involves damage I inflicted on my body over a ten-year span. The good news is that I’m recovery, and doing pretty well with it. The unfortunate news is that I am left with Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and it’s brother Barret’s Esophagus. Oh; and I have a hiatus hernia (aka hiatal hernia) too.

This entails a complete change in eating habits. No more acidic foods, such as tomatoes! Thai food! coffee!! and pretty much every else I love to eat. Sriracha! Oh well.

I will meet with a nutrtionist soon, and see if there is more to life than apples and cinnamon, bananas and salad. And black licorice! That is the one good news, and explains why I’ve always loved the stuff. Anisette cookies are still on the menu! It also probably explains why I’ve loved Galliano all these years, although that is obviously off the menu anyway.

So there are ups and downs, like always. The frustrating thing, especially with the hernia, is that when the GERD acts up and keeps me awake late into the night, like tonight, then the hernia also acts up. That means no picking up the grandkids to give hugs, or play with them for any length of time. There is no way to get comfortable, since the pain shoots around the front to back, until it feels like my middle is on fire. It also makes it hard to walk across campus with my backpack on, like today, which is causing these issues now. I had a bad night last week, and overdid some lifting a couple of days later, and nowhere I am. Waiting for the pain killer to kick in and kick my butt.

So a lesson; don’t ignore your heartburn! Find out what caused it and STOP DOING IT for Chrissakes. It’s nothing to fool around with.


Sorry there isn’t more fun. So many other things are happening; my volunteer job is great, there’s new Kristin Hersh music, Chucklehead is talking reunion, hockey playoffs are starting soon…more and better stuff next time!


thoughts on “The Dead”

This is a paper I wrote for a class this semester; ‘Short Stories on Film’. The class is great, the material very interesting, and the professor really excited to be teaching it. This was the first assignment we had to do. In lieu of a regular post I thought I would share this here while I work on some other ideas. This has been a busy semester, so I have several half-finished posts. Perhaps I’ll put up another paper or two. Needless to say the work is mine, and if anyone tries to highjack it I will hunt them down and hurt them badly.


Joyce and Huston: Poetry of Word and Image

            In the story “The Dead” James Joyce shows a night in Dublin through the inner world of his character Gabriel Conroy.  It is through partaking in Gabriel’s thoughts by the use of free indirect discourse that Joyce unfolds the story of Gabriel’s epiphany and the great themes he wishes to convey; the recognition of the passage of time, inevitable death, and what happens to the living.  Joyce gives to Gabriel a love of and a world bounded by words that is reflected in the narrative itself, and sets the tone for a story that moves between the mundane and transcendent.  In his pursuit of realism, Joyce employs an awkward yet resonant poetry to lift the narrative above mere description of a holiday party.  Above all to Joyce, and to Gabriel, it is the choice of words that is important, as can be seen in Gabriel’s constant fretting over his speech.  Joyce also shows this preciseness of word and poetic flow in his descriptions of the characters; “…on his hairless face there scintillated restlessly the polished lenses and bright guilt rims of the glasses which screened his delicate and restless eyes” (Joyce 8).  How, then, is the filmmaker to translate this exactness of phrase into the language of film? As Dudley Andrew asks: “…how is translation of poetic texts conceivable from one language to another…?” (Andrew 32).

In his essay “Adaptation” Andrew discusses the different languages of cinema and literature, and says that the symbology of film can be equally as powerful and expressive as that of literature (Andrew 32).  It is not enough, however, to merely go word for word by the original text, but the specific language of film must be used to capture and translate the meaning of the story.  The director John Huston, then, has taken on a difficult task to move the preciseness and poesy of Joyce’s vocabulary to the visual medium of the cinema in a way that loses none of the original power. In this task, Huston is successful.

Because of the nature of film Huston must move the narrative out of Gabriel’s thoughts rather than present us with two hours of voice-overs.  Huston is also allowed to fill in and give what is missed or passed over by Gabriel in Joyce’s text.  We hear Freddy Malins talk with Mr. Browne, rather than the conversation disappearing into the background in favor of the description of action that Joyce employed (Joyce 17).  Material that is added to a story runs the risk of distorting it and bending the original narrative out of shape.  In the hands of Huston, however, each addition was placed with as much precision as Joyce’s vocabulary.  The altering of Gabriel’s speeches, at the dinner table and the inner dialogue at the end, attempt to reach the viewer on the same emotional level as the story.  Simply parroting the lines would have been an easy thing to do but, as Andrew points out, it would appear “mechanical” (Andrew 31).

It is with the introduction of Mr. Grace, a new character, that we see Huston’s first attempt to reach for the poetry that filled Joyce’s work.  Even the use of the name Grace tips the viewer off, perhaps a little too obviously, that this gentleman brings something more to the story than just another piece of the background. Mr. Grace’s recitation of “Broken Vows” serves to elevate the moment.  The choice of this poem itself with its theme of youth and loss serves to move the narrative forward by unbalancing Gretta, setting her on the road to her own epiphany later in the story.  As she relaxes on the couch, she is confronted with the poem delivered in an accusatory recitation by Mr. Grace:

            “You promised me, and you said a lie to me,

            That you would be before me where the sheep are flocked.

            I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,

            But found nothing there but a bleating lamb”

In Mr. Grace’s reading, we hear the as yet unnamed voice of Michael Furey reaching out to Gretta.  She feels keenly the sense of responsibility and grief for his fate that she has buried over the years.  By including this work specifically, an ancient Irish ballad, Huston reaches for deeper meaning as well, for it is in Gretta’s “ancient past” where this memory lay.  It is a subtle tip to Gabriel’s, and Joyce’s, worry that the Ireland they know, the Ireland of the present, is fading and being overtaken by an Irishness of the past.  The viewer has a double meaning here, in keeping with Joyce’s writing style and use of subtext to confer multiple meanings.  Gretta’s past is reaching out to change her, and Gabriel’s, life utterly.  In an equal sense, this is something “general all over Ireland” (Joyce 70) as the present of the nation itself is being transformed permanently by an ancient sense of Irishness.  On each level sweeping changes in relationship are happening, and Huston does an excellent job of communicating this point by including “Broken Vows” and Mr. Grace.

At the end of the reading, Gretta appears almost in shock, and the rest of the group sits transfixed at this “very strange” poem.  Lily appears at the top of the stairs, cutting the emotion of the moment visually.  She signals and end to their collective revelry and brings them back into the present.

A challenge for Huston in moving the narrative out of Gabriel’s thoughts is how to maintain the momentum of the work, which is leading to his epiphany, without sacrificing the poetry of Joyce’s writing.  In answering this challenge, Huston gives a greater role to Gretta, allowing him to render her emotions in a visually poetic manner that cinematically echoes Joyce’s language.   In Joyce’s telling she is more foil than substance; a mirror through which Gabriel can see his revelation reflected back at him.  It is in the movie that her epiphany comes through more strongly.  Mr. Grace’s recitation serves to unsettle her, and give the impression that something is happening inside her as much as Gabriel.  She reaches her moment of enlightenment first when she is captured by the music as she is coming down the stairs.  Joyce’s original text hints at the importance of the moment, but it is filtered through Gabriel’s self-absorbed thoughts.  His description of her as standing in shadow removes her from the mundane and places her in another realm (Joyce 51), the realm of the dead and memory.  In his most visually poetic moment, Huston shows us a full shot of Gretta paused on the stairs silhouetted by the stained glass behind her.  She is veiled as a statue of the Virgin Mary, her face in light and body in shadow, all pointing to her being lost in this other world.  It is in this moment that Gretta feels the force of her revelation; the loss of her past love and how it colors her life to this day.  In both works it is Gretta’s epiphany on the stairs that is the engine for Gabriel’s own revelation to follow.  This is given more prominence in Huston’s film as it is a visual moment, where Gabriel’s moment comes through his thoughts and language.

After arriving at their hotel room, Gretta is unable to verbally convey her feelings to Gabriel, and he must interrogate her; he must use his words to draw forth the meaning of what she saw on the stairs.  In the film, the interrogation is rendered in another visually poetic gesture.  We see the couple move together and apart, alternating in light and darkness.  We see them also as shadows on the wall, evocative of the shadows of the past being called forth.  Gabriel and Gretta stand slightly apart (at 1:08:00) while their silhouettes embrace behind them.  In a moment of double symbolism it can be seen as Michael Furey and Gretta in an embrace from the past and also the coming together of Gabriel and his wife to a new shared understanding of their relationship.

For all Huston’s success in cinematically recreating the poetry and imagery of Joyce’s text, one moment remains inscrutable: the gap or passage of time towards the end of the story. In their hotel room, as Gretta sobs Gabriel takes her hand and then “…let it fall gently and walked quietly to the window.”  There is then a double space that indicates some time passing, and then “She was fast asleep.” (Joyce 67).  It is here in the text, unspoken, it can be inferred that Gabriel gathers his thoughts and processes what has happened.  The space is pregnant with unspoken meaning.  Action has taken place, since Gabriel and Gretta are now undressed and in bed.  What was said, if anything?  It remains a poetic silence, and allows Gabriel time to come to his epiphany.

Huston leaves this space untouched.  It is possible that he found no adequate way to translate the moment, considered insignificant, or unnecessary.  In the film Gretta is on the bed crying and then sleeping.  Gabriel stands at the window, staring at the snow “general all over Ireland” (Joyce 70) and finds the words to express his realization.  Huston uses the moment to move inside Gabriel’s mind in a voice-over.  Gabriel has synthesized the events of the evening, and has found his poetic language to give voice to his realization.  Here Huston, even with the editing and adding slightly to the soliloquy, ends with the language of Joyce and pays homage to the wordsmith while ensuring the audience is not left wanting for clarity of meaning.

Bringing James Joyce’s work to film may seem on the face of it to be a daunting task.  The precise use of language, both poetic and multilayered, that he employs does not lend itself to obvious visual interpretation.  A director may work word-for-word from the text, but the result would be mechanical at best and unintelligible at worst.  John Huston, in taking on the challenge of “The Dead”, reached deep into his considerable knowledge of cinematic and visual vocabulary.  He effectively translates the written word of Joyce into a visual language that is every bit as powerful and meaningful as the author intended.  This gives hope to other directors seeking to translate difficult literary works to the screen.  Huston shows us that cinema has the visual language to match the written word, even when those words do not immediately bring a visual equivalent to mind.  By taking Joyce, an author whose use of language was multilayered and precise, and moving him into the visual realm without sacrificing meaning or significance, John Huston makes it possible for other directors to attempt similar feats.

 Works Cited

Andrew, Dudley. “Adaptation”. Film Adaptation. James Naremore. New Brunswick, NJ:

Rutgers University Press, 2000. 30-37. Print

The Dead. Dir. John Huston. Perf. Donal McCann, Angelica Huston. Lions Gate, 1987. Film.

Joyce, James. The Dead. Claremont, CA: Coyote Canyon Press, 2008. Print.

more lessons about life from punk rock, movie critics, and Sinclair Lewis

The French cinema critic Andre Bazin said that when reviewing a film one must ask whether it was “made for the cinema or the audience”. I think this is an excellent statement of the punk view of music. Is it made for the cash, or because the artist/band is “honoring the music” as Kristin Hersh has said. It is also why so many punks seem to have turned to Buddhism and other ‘alternative lifestyles’, such as organic farming and homesteading. One of my favorite new Facebook pages is ‘Punk Rock Homesteading’. Life is about authenticity, which really has become some a cliche. If not that, then what?

Maybe honesty is a better word. Believing that we are in it together, all together, and living in such a way that improves everyone’s lives without regard to reward. Or at least doesn’t make them worse. It seems strange that such a thing would be an alternative movement, but such is the nature of things these days.

What brought this thought on was a letter posted on the “Letters of Note” blog written by Sinclair Lewis. He was turning down the Pulitzer Prize, and explained to the committee why. The letter is linked above. One of my favorite quotes:

“All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards: they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee.”

I think that is an excellent statement of the punk ethic in regards to music. I think it can also be applied to life. Don’t live like you need the praise of others. Live the best way you can; do what makes you happy, not others. Live honestly.


Speaking of Kristin Hersh (which seems to be inevitable to me), I wanted to share her latest blog post as well. Amazing writing.

Also; Cat and Girl seems apropos.

quick hit

This semester is proving to be a busy one. As you go further up and in to a degree program, not surprisingly there is much more work to do. Of course life does not stop just because you have three chapters of Human Behavior to read. Our dryer stopped working today, prompting a call to the big-box store we bought it from, and an ensuing argument over the protection plan we thought we had.

My grandbabies have also moved back from Okinawa. As if that weren’t exciting enough, it looks like they will be moving in to the second floor of the house we’re renting! We’ll get to see them on a regular basis from now on. When we picked them up at the airport I let out a breath of relief that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding for five years. The only wrinkle so far is that my son-in-law is still not completely separated from the Marines, and is not due back home for a week or two. The kids miss their daddy terribly, on top of all the other things and people they left in Japan.

Oh yeah; hospital visit…there was that, too. Long story short; I have GERD, and have to watch what I eat from now on. The plus side is that I’ve already lost a few pounds!

Did I mention we moved? The house still ain’t sold, but there’s a(nother) offer. We just need to wait on the bank. In the meantime we’re renting the first floor of this nice little house across from a lake and down the street from a pond. The yard is much bigger, and the landlord has given me permission to garden, so I’ve already started plans for next year.

I have one or two posts that are almost ready to go, but I’m not sure when I will have a chance to finish them. I am buried in reading this week, and have to start working on papers already. One will be a comparison of James Joyce’s short story ‘The Dead’ and John Huston’s movie version.

So sorry for the long lag time, and the less than pithy post. Unmentioned in this has been my trips to the Providence Zen Center and how amazing they are. If and when I have the money I’ll be joining and signing up for retreats.

Until next time!

gate-gate-paragate-parasamgate-bodhi svaha!

there is a time

there is a time

This summer I am taking a ‘practice class’ for my junior year as a social work major. I am working at an elder services agency, and have been assigned a client of my own.

I met him the previous week, taking advantage of the meals-on-wheels delivery to introduce myself. He invited me into his house, which needs work he can no longer do himself. We sat at the dining room table to talk, and his cat wandered over to inspect me. Finding my presence acceptable, the cat proceeded to rub his cheeks against my hands and arms. I spoke with the gentleman for about half an hour; just enough to explain who I am and why I came. ‘Building rapport’. “I am a student, Mr….I’m here to just talk with you for a while as part of my program.” We agreed that I would come by the next week and talk some more. He wrote the date, time, and my name down, and was genuinely excited to have someone new to talk to. He does not receive many visitors.

He waved me out the front door, and I walked to my car giddy with the positive result of the meeting; my first solo with a client.

The next week, I knocked on his door. After several moments he answered, and looked blankly at me, unsure of who I was or why I was there. He had no memory of the previous visit. I did not mention that we had a meeting scheduled, but instead introduced myself as if I had never been there before. It does no good to point out a failure of memory; it would only confuse and possibly anger him. Hurt his dignity.

The gentleman has ‘Dementia of the Alzheimer’s Type’, and I understood that there was every possibility this could happen. He has good and bad days, but appears to have started the quickening decline. Once a very vital and energetic man, he is now facing continuous and accelerating loss of independence. His mind will not allow him; can no longer allow him, to process the grief appropriately. He may become angry at times and lash out at his family or health workers in frustration because all he will remember is what he used to do, and no longer can. To him, locked in increasingly older memories and unable to be in the present, he will expect that what is a memory of vitality to be the actual truth, and will not understand why his body will not respond.

We all have difficulty at times facing transitions in our lives. Some are more difficult than others; some are more organic than others. There are transitions we choose; job changes, places we live or go to school. Then there are those that simply happen; the changes of aging, of being human. It may sound trite, and it seemed to me as I wrote this last paragraph that it is an obvious point.

But it really isn’t.

We take these changes for granted; they happen to others. It is only when we face them ourselves that we understand: what you have now will end, and then what will you do?

What will your old age look like? Most people do not understand the process, either the aging itself or the financial questions involved. When we are young we see the process of aging from the outside; people slow down, they go into nursing homes or hospice, and pass away. It is an emotional time for most family members, none more so than the care partner*. Then we forget about it. Put it out of our minds.

As a Buddhist, I have meditated on the idea of impermanence many times. As someone with Bipolar, I have lived with the idea of my own mortality daily, as if it were my shadow always following me (as Loudon Wainwright sings; “life’s a job you’re fired from, unless of course you quit…”). Working with elders, I am confronted with a new level of impermanence every day. Meeting my client for the second time and having him not remember me at all was shocking, despite my expectation that it could happen. It is one thing to know something intellectually, another to experience it.

So I ask again: what will your old age look like? Many of us expect our children to care for us. Take us in and house us as we did for them. For many of us this will not be the case. Not because our children are ungrateful or bad, but simply because life won’t allow them to. They may have small children and no room, or work full time, or move far away, or any of the numberless other reasons beyond their control.

This is not a commercial for 401k savings plans, or a rant about Social Security benefits. You can research those things on your own time (or maybe I’ll end up writing about it someday anyway; I am a policy wonk, after all).

The financial calculation is this: there is a sharp line drawn between who is eligible for subsidized benefits, and who has to pay for them out of pocket. That line is not as high as you might think, and it continually gets lower. For most of us who imagine ourselves in the middle class; we live on a bubble. We have too much money to receive assistance, and too little money to pay for it ourselves.

“What will your old age look like?” is also, then, a political question+. What do we owe each other? For those of my friends who believe in limited government; what picture do you have of the end of your life? It is important to keep in mind that changes to government programs and spending cuts, however well intentioned, have impacts beyond the stated goal. This is not to say they are wrong out of hand. It is a serious question of belief and vision. There is also an imperative in America that we leave something behind for our kids. The reality is that more often than not that something gets spent. It has to. A nursing home can cost up to six figures a year. A good nursing home even more. Staying in your house saves money in the short term, but you will still likely pay for everything until the money is gone. Then you can get help.

It is not a comforting scenario, and I apologize for its bleakness. What R and I have realized in talking this out is simple: when we can, we will. That means rather than waiting for the inevitable decline that age brings, we will live in this moment. Save what we can, and enjoy it as we can. It makes little sense to save it for a tomorrow that will not come, or save it for a time it becomes a liability. We have this moment to live.


(The music for this post is a traditional song performed by Uncle Earl called ‘There Is a Time’. It has been on my mind for quite some time, especially when I sit zazen and contemplate impermanence.)

*I use ‘care partner’ instead of ‘care giver’ to denote that the care involved is a two-way street. The client, patient, loved-one is not a passive receptacle of charity, but a reciprocating human being.

+I tried to avoid political discussion in this thread. I even made a promise to my Face Book friends that I wouldn’t make this a political discussion. After trying several times to end this, I found that it could not be avoided.

Echoes of Past Lives II-Bipolar Unannounced

Anticipation. Morning, for once, is welcome. Barely sleeping for the fourth day in a row, I am ready to go even before coffee. The tingling in my brain, and the knowledge that this this will be an excellent day. I race through the morning. There are no barriers to hold me back. I pull others in my wake, sweep them up in my mood. Like a virus, I am infectious. The day will only go up from here. I pick up three friends and we drive. We stop at the first place that seems to invite us.

Imagine a day when you can see everything clearly. Not just as a beautiful day, but a day when you are completely relaxed and there is nothing but the moment you are in; now.

The sky is light blue, and there are spots of white clouds that dot here and there. The breeze is light as well. The grass beneath my feet is vivid green. Lush in a summer where the spring rain was abundant. Heightened awareness anticipates the tactile sense of each object. I am almost overwhelmed.

This is a cemetery, the graves spanning centuries. The markers range from the large marble of the recently deceased to the thin dark slate carved with winged cherub faces from the 1700’s. These all stand out in my vision as well. Everything is in focus. Everything seems a perfect form. These are not simply things named ‘stone’ and ‘grass’ and ‘sky’; they are the perfect representations of each. Archetypes.

The world opens up. Embraced and held like a child, and a butterfly passes. Holding out a finger as a perch, it lights for a second and flies on. What is not perfect today?

Songs have fingers. Distortion and reverb reach into my brain and activate different neurons, causing me to see music and feel light. Everything seems to glow and pixilate. Then sharpen. It is more than being one with the universe. I simply cease to be an individual. ‘I’ evaporate. The music lifts me utterly, and I am complete. Euphoria has become my essence. Three hours pass this way.


“I have two heads…”

Is this something no one else feels? It is natural to me. Doesn’t everyone see the world this way? Pure and complete. The hill swells with its own breath. I am overwhelmed.

One burns, one’s sky…”

As high as some thing goes, it descends to an equivalent depth. The day darkens, even before twilight. The sweeping joy that was slowly gives way to an all-encompassing anger. It is thorough and complete. The friends with me sense the change before they see it.

When ships are at sea, and the wind dies to a stop, it is an augury of the storm to follow. The change is sudden, and sailors know they may have only moments to scramble and prepare.

I return to my body. Awareness floods back, leaving me dizzy and distracted, forgetting where I am and why. Everything that came before is lost as well. A sense memory that may or may not be triggered later, never the same way. This is not a pattern I can replicate. This is a part of my mind that controls its own destiny, with the rest of my body along for the ride. The black mood rips me back out of my body, rooting me into the ground. There is no sky.

”I’m two headed

One free, one sticky…”

As sharp as the brightness, the darkness retains this focus. Sharp contours stand out to threaten, contrasts cause fires of resistance from my mind. I hate. I am hate. ‘Why?’ does not enter my mind, just as it did not earlier. ‘Because’ would be the answer in any case. This is how the world is. Everyone must feel the same.

‘But is it freedom can burn…’

Alcohol can dull the anger. Blunt it. More than a crutch, I use it to beat back the anger, to separate from the enclosing feelings. Slowly, with each drink, I become more myself again. I inhabit my body alone, empty.


Carolyn’s Fingers by the Cocteau Twins always sends tingles through my brain. The song should be played on the loudest possible volume setting. I apologize for the cheesy video.

When I first heard Devil’s Roof by Throwing Muses I felt I understood it on a deep emotional level. Like it was talking directly to me in a language I recognized as my own, and had never heard before. That was an experience I had never had with music before. Even if my meaning isn’t exactly what Kristin Hersh had in mind when she wrote it, I have my meaning. Music, meaning in general, is contextual. We all bring our own meaning to the things we love, not necessarily what the object is trying to communicate to us. The opening guitar grabs and holds me in place, whatever I’m doing. Being able to see them perform it at Stable Sound in Portsmouth was worth more than I could ever hope to repay.


ps; there will be happier stories! these are just the first two that came to mind.


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