Prelude to a Crack Up
Sunday morning around 9:30 AM, errands around Queens: An old Chinese woman in a wheelchair stuck in a groove of the automatic door of a grocery store, when the pusher popped the chair over it, and then I saw he was an old Chinese man, quite small, evidently her husband. How do we do it, we wretched creatures, I thought. And yet off they went, continuing to the next errand. Ahead was a 30-ish brown-skinned man, Arab maybe, with red highlights in his closely shorn hair, new-looking boots and navy pants, rubbing a scratcher with a coin, eagerly, turning this way and that as he scratched. What does he want the money for? Beyond him was an old fat lady like myself, except that her big hair, sans hat, was dyed brassy reddish brown, roots in her center part, and I wondered what kind of a person I would be if I were the sort who dyed her gray hair. (And when I saw this woman I experienced a rippling puddle of a memory of a dear poet friend, who had dyed her hair (this was years and years ago now) a dark brown before I arrived at her apartment, where I found her panicked with a violent rash around her neck and ears, and she needed me to take her to the Urgent Care clinic; and I remember being sort of relieved, because she was always so smart and strong-minded and perfect, that I finally got to see her humanized, even if only by an allergic reaction.)
Further walking for the second set of groceries (the first round involving a 5 pound sack of flour and chicken thighs and cans of broth) found me passing a tall, slender young man (gay, I’d say) upright in a navy pea coat, hands in pockets, and a young woman in a short parka and pom pom hat, both of them white, he talking of sound engineers and an orchestra, her saying “yeah.” As I passed them, I couldn’t help noticing that, between 50th Avenue and 48th Avenue, 45th Street looks a lot better than 46th Street, and I have to wonder why.
Sometimes I think in poems.
At the Liquors Store on Greenpoint
You know there’s a son in Italy, or a daughter
Trying to explain to their dad, or grandad,
That no one needs wine bottles this heavy,
That the same 750 ml of wine can be delivered
In bottles with a third the amount of green glass,
That it’s a waste of resources, a needless expense
For red wine $13.99 American,
And that the grandfather, or father, is misting over
For a time when the full weight of any endeavor was
Worth its weight in green glass, in wine, in gold.
Cracking Up 1, A Self Destroyed
Yesterday I learned that a dear old friend’s 48-year-old son took his own life on New Year’s Day. Nearly a decade ago he had a complete mental break, coincidentally occurring the day I was driving country roads out to visit them all from New York. It was a shocking episode that led, after a long hospitalization and months of tests, to a diagnosis of treatment-resistant schizophrenia. An author of a dozen books and hundreds of scholarly articles, a professor and head of an MFA writing program, a happily married husband and gentleman farmer from a great family, he showed no signs of anything like a coming collapse, simply no warning. The deterioration of his brain led him to, among many other awful changes, divorce his loving wife, who never knew what hit her; retreat to a cabin with a dog; try to write only to find the voices telling him to smash his laptop. There’s much more to this story, deeper, harder, uglier; also moments of great success, almost normalcy, too; until his brain became, according to the mutual friend who messaged me yesterday, a doctor herself, “treatment refractory.” I’m still in shock myself, and a few texts exchanged with his mom, my friend, after she didn’t answer the phone, told me she was still in shock, too, also full of rage over mental health services and the lack of them in our country, still after 100 years to know better we still don’t really act better on what we know. (Even in New York City, once again, the mayor has begun institutionalizing homeless people against their will based on nothing but, say, a police officer’s random gut reaction.) I think about how immediately all of the life you have known can be destroyed, and quickly; or horribly slowly; or in the blink of an eye at the hands of the ignorant and stupid.
Cracking Up 2, A Self Recovered
On the other side of that mountain, my friend Chuck Tripi, a poet, just published his third collection of poems, Wander Where They Will, and this is something to celebrate. Chuck himself has come through a great deal, and out of catastrophe many years ago, Chuck moved from airline pilot to poet, creating a wonderful poetry collective in the Paulinskill Poetry Project in New Jersey and publishing two collections I just love, Carlo and Sophia and Killer Pavement Ahead.
The year before Covid, Chuck’s beloved wife Barbara, a poet and photographer, died. After Barbara died, Chuck struggled in many ways while living in an assisted living facility when Covid hit. I spoke to him on the phone only once, and he was a shell of himself; he never thought he’d leave the place alive let alone write again. So this volume is nothing short of miraculous. I wouldn’t mention any of the particulars of Chuck’s life except that he has now poured his experience into this new volume, which is a heartbreaker because of the lucidity of his lines. Chuck’s is a soul that inspires me in its expansiveness and generosity, sure, but goddamn this man dives deep into every emotion that scares the shit out of most of us, and I love him for it.
Cracking Up 3, A House Divided
What is there to say about the Republican Party, so transparently craven, selfish, hateful, dangerous? A week of a shit show without shame that debased the United States in every new low, lows beyond what we thought was the nadir of January 6, 2020. But no. In his pursuit of the Speakership, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) gave away whatever it took to win, including the dissolution of the House Ethics Committee, which promise didn’t seem to make the cut as of yet. The spectacle is only beginning, in that no one in the Republican Party is in office to serve anyone except themselves and to do whatever it takes to hurt Democrats. (I just don’t get why a Constitutionally guaranteed free press would deliver Republican lies as equivalent to Democratic facts.) The Republicans have created the wedge that is cracking us up. The press helps them, as does the worst of the Christian Church.
Here’s what makes me crazy: Like the Republican Party, the Church asks for your money to help them keep their institution going, while expecting you to solve all your problems with prayer. Why do so many people—who would have enough but don’t because they fall all over themselves to pour out all their tithes into the coffers of church pastors for whom no amount will ever be enough, apparently, to buy their flock into heaven—never learn? And they transfer that addiction to tithing over to their elected officials.
Deliver us from the ignorant and the stupid and the mean, those who would destroy because they can.
Here we are, after a month of binge eating and binge drinking, coupled with this desolation of spirit, and I can’t help wondering about why we think food will fill the well where a soul should be. For me, poetry is a balm. Why is it we keep failing to heed all those millennia of lessons and poems?
Cracking Up 4, Enough is not Enough
So many posts on social media, including my own, ask for nothing more out of 2023 than for everything to calm the fuck down. Just…boring. Be boring. Just for a while. Boring is not sustainable, of course, because boring makes us sleepy. I feel like there’s not enough energy to feed on right now. Why do nearly all the musical artists now sound like they are falling asleep in mid verse? Ref: See Billie Eilish and that cute trio on Instagram, great talents all but but but. I like my music to make me dance, to wake me up, to quicken my blood and mind. And I love a soft song as much as the next person, but mostly I enjoy music that makes me feel something, even sadness, but not music that makes me want to give up. As the poets show us, there is a needed tension between longing and fulfillment, catastrophe and recovery, repentance and redemption, Tom and Jerry. Where was I?
In my travels I came across this quote:
“The restlessness in the human heart will never be finally stilled by any person, project, or place. The longing is eternal. This is what constantly qualifies and enlarges our circles of belonging. There is a constant and vital tension between longing and belonging. Without the shelter of belonging, our longings would lack direction, focus, and context; they would be aimless and haunted, constantly tugging the heart in a myriad of opposing directions. Without belonging, our longing would be demented. As memory gathers and anchors time, so does belonging shelter longing. Belonging without longing would be empty and dead, a cold frame around emptiness. One often notices this in relationships where the longing has died; they have become arrangements, and there is no longer any shared or vital presence. When longing dies, creativity ceases. The arduous task of being a human is to balance longing and belonging so that they work with and against each other to ensure that all the potential and gifts that sleep in the clay of the heart may be awakened and realized in this one life.”
― John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes
The way that Chuck was able to turn his tragedies into art, I want the nation to be reborn out of the dregs. I want to see myself and others find something deep in us to create something life affirming out of our shocks and agonies. Here’s my horoscope for December of 2022, and I want it to guide me into 2023.
Horoscopes by Rob Brezsny
Week of December 1st, 2022
(April 20-May 20)
Of all the objects on earth, which is most likely to be carelessly cast away and turned into litter? Cigarette butts, of course. That’s why an Indian entrepreneur named Naman Guota is such a revolutionary. Thus far, he has recycled and transformed over 300 million butts into mosquito repellant, toys, keyrings, and compost, which he and his company have sold for over a million dollars. I predict that in the coming weeks, you will have a comparable genius for converting debris and scraps into useful, valuable stuff. You will be skilled at recycling dross. Meditate on how you might accomplish this metaphorically and psychologically.
The year 2023 has already hit us with a lot of debris. I feel like our souls, like our earth and our politics, are stuffed with detritus that threatens to overwhelm us, and most of us don’t know what to do with it.
I shouldn’t presume—I guess I mean my soul feels sort of shredded up or filled with too much of the wrong stuff or distracted. It’s a shame and shock to let all the shit crack us, er me, into bits, if there is anything within out power to change that, because not everyone is given a choice. All we can do is use what we have and try to make something. I’ll keep you posted.
(FYI: I started my 2023 blog with a new web address, missoshow.com, committing to my WordPress experience by paying for the privilege of posting. It seems time. I thought about changing the blog name to The Miss O’ Show: Reading Glasses. We’ll see.)