On a Brubeck Song

Four forty. I rested in bed for a while. Towards the end I began to hear “Strange Meadowlark” in my head, an old Brubeck classic that always lifts my mood. The temperature outside is dramatically down from the summer heat we were having before. Currently it’s 70 degrees. This relief makes it easier for me to function again. It was fun to play my Strat a while ago, and I might do it again tomorrow. Maybe even plug it in. I don’t have many thoughts about literature and life right now. Perhaps something about learning from our regrets but not beating ourselves up. I remember that I asked a woman cabbie out once. I never saw her after that, yet I don’t regret doing it. Life was strange early in my recovery. There are things I don’t recall, but mostly I just wish I’d had more self respect at the time. It didn’t matter that I had a diagnosis of schizophrenia at all. It finally becomes clear to me. What counts is that I am a very intelligent human being, and very worthy for that reason. I don’t know where I got the misconception that having a brain is a terrible sin. There’s not an iota of truth to that. So, it would have been nice to avoid all the therapy and the abuse and suspicion I received from the professional people who really didn’t know what they were doing. I’m so much happier now, without being stigmatized. All I needed was to take the Vraylar. Over the time since the fire, my blog has metamorphosed from being about schizophrenia to being about human life without labels. But this doesn’t subtract anything from the beauty of “Strange Meadowlark,” does it? The bird is an ugly duckling destined to be an awesome swan. 

A Labor Day Letter

This holiday is a particular milestone for me every year, starting with 2003, when the musician named JP called me on the phone out of the blue. Months earlier, he had seen my newspaper ad for sober musicians and kept it. His friend Dave was already there at his house, so I packed up my 83 Fender bass and headed over to W Second Avenue off of Chambers Street. I remember that it was a beautiful day, and I was still an outpatient at Serenity Lane. I’d had nearly five months without alcohol… The next Labor Day weekend, 2004, I relapsed into active alcoholism while employed at Laurel Hill as a document scanner. Thirteen years later, I went to the emergency room on Labor Day and was given a brutal “rectal exam” by a Black woman doctor. And 2017 was also the year I finally decided that drinking wasn’t feasible. In five more days it’ll be three years. Now, it doesn’t sound like a significant amount of time, but I can remember when I couldn’t stay sober more than 11 days. I would always rationalize myself back to drinking again. The only person better at rationalization than myself is my brother. I truly wish that he could find life without alcohol worth living. Polly might forgive him if he quits drinking and lying. But maybe his destiny is different from mine. Mainly, I just hate to think of him living alone in misery.


To a great extent, my recovery has been a self evolution by means of language. I broke away from my family and the mother tongue and developed a language of my own with the help of blogging and journaling. I sort of wrote myself into existence. The language center of my brain has always been very articulate. Not even a severe episode of psychosis could wipe it out, which is atypical of people with schizophrenia. Many lower functioning schizophrenic people have difficulty with communication. I reckon that my verbal gifts are a blessing to me, because whatever happens, my logos doesn’t fail me. This reminds me of a character from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series for children, a big, furry, simian creature named Gurgi. Gurgi was forever hungry and begging people for “crunchings and munchings” all the time. At the end of the second book, a kind and powerful king rewards Gurgi with a magic food pouch that is inexhaustible. You can eat and eat and eat and the pouch never runs out. The food pouch came to be used by all the characters associated with Gurgi on their adventures. Anyhow, I remembered this because my word generator seems similarly endless.


That was a great series, btw, but I think geared more toward boys than girls. My favorite installment is the fourth book, Taran Wanderer, where the young hero goes out on his own to learn the truth about his parentage. Besides many other people, he meets a blacksmith who helps him forge his own sword. The end product is not particularly pretty to look at; it’s a bit misshapen and imperfect in a word. However, the steel is extremely strong, and it symbolizes the identity of Taran himself.

Stay Positive

Seven ten.

The first thing I’m going to do is buy a Coke and some food. Today should be approached from the precept of freedom and responsibility, and it is so if you think so. I’m slightly tempted to just give up like everybody else; and maybe I will. But if I do resign, then I’ll be angry afterwards. Therefore, obey your own feelings and be true to yourself.

Eight o’clock. Vicki appreciated me this morning… I won’t let the despair of others drag me down today. The reality we live in is the one that we make. I just unsubscribed from a blog the hopelessness of which was affecting me. I was sorry to have to do it, but now I think I’ll be glad I did. The day is beautiful and pregnant with promise if you look for it. Positive change starts with just one person, who then communicates optimism to a few people, and by exponents it spreads. Certainly if I can deal with schizophrenia, then other people can handle their depression. Everyone is responsible for their feelings, and to some extent, the feelings of others. Some people might argue with me on this point, and that’s fine with me. Meanwhile I’m going to spread as much happiness as I can and forget the despair I’ve seen. I believe that happiness is our natural state, so I’m beginning with myself.

Hematology Visit

Seven thirty 🕢. I’m in the waiting room at the institute. My taxi ride was with Deluxe and not Budget, thank goodness. It’s supposed to be a very warm day today. I have a view out the window of hills and trees. I’m alone here. I wonder if Joann still works here. I remember her from seven years ago. A recovered alcoholic.

Eight thirty 🕣. I feel great. No phlebotomy today. Those days are all long gone, and I don’t really miss them. Wendy is very nice. The alcoholism was a disease that sort of ran its course, and now I feel free as a bird. Waiting for my taxi while the world wakes up. It’s still rather cold outside. I’m sitting in the breezeway outside the institute.

Nine o’clock 🕘. Home again. I guess I’ll go to the store now… Now it’s time for Aesop’s breakfast. Things are just getting back to normal— or the new normal.

Quarter after ten. A guy in the waiting room bent my ear with his conspiracy theory of the pandemic. He sounded just as loony as I do sometimes. Something about a scheme to depopulate the world and make a potful of money for a few. I could follow his arguments just fine, but they didn’t quite ring true. I hope he was feeling all right. I guess I just looked approachable and receptive, so this guy opened up to me. I know I’ve sounded equally crazy when talking to people. I was very unwell in January 2008 when I spouted junk to my PCP about Satan replacing Jesus as the champion of the oppressed and poor. I think I’d gotten the idea from reading a little Baudelaire, but I’m pretty sure that the poet didn’t intend anything like what I was saying. I was very sick, and I realized it. I don’t know what my PCP thought of my bizarre speech.

Sense and Sound

Eleven thirty. My mind is devoid of abstractions. I have nothing interesting to say. I suppose I could ask Todd about lowering the dose of my medication. Before I know it I’ll be on no drugs at all. Will I have recovered from schizophrenia? Stranger things have happened. Maybe that’s why I’m concerned about having a job or not. The lowest dosage of Vraylar is 3 mg, I think. Currently I take 4.5 mg.

Noon hour. I’m juggling the idea of putting on the new strings, yet I’m so uninspired to play my bass. I just remembered how happy my mother used to be whenever her cousin Bub showed up here in the fall. No other relative gave her such pure pleasure to see again. They would sit together in the family room and talk about old times and laugh their brains out. It was a kind of humor that only they understood. It was couched in the family dialect, so it wasn’t conventional or logical. Today, even I would have trouble trying to see what was so funny. My sister still speaks that language. I guess the only oddball is me. The sense of the words matters more to me than the sound. Maybe it’s important to try to remember the old language and preserve it somehow… Bub always stayed for dinner and then chatted with my mother and my dad too. He always had a new car to show off. He was a collector. The last time I saw him was probably in the fall of 1994. Mom was not doing well. She was growing more and more reclusive. No; he was here in August or September of 1996. I had a project to do that summer, so I might have been busy. A couple of years later, he was gone after a battle with cancer… I should call my sister once a week and keep in touch. It wouldn’t be right to allow the language to vanish.

Dream Weaver

Wee hours. The antipsychotic I take has quelled my paranoia. I can chat with my sister without feeling threatened or devoured. My perspective on my family is more realistic now than before I started the Vraylar. I don’t make second guesses about what they are thinking. This used to be a terrible habit. And the change is all inside of me. Everyone else is the same as they always were. This is the sanest and soberest I’ve ever been. Also I’ve stopped the gabapentin. Now I won’t have to worry about withdrawals from it… Psychosis is really just imagination run amok. I think I’d rather be realistic than deluded. Schizophrenia is bad enough on its own, but alcohol makes it a lot worse. My brother used to weave daydreams about people’s behavior. He could talk about it for hours and hours. A lot of it was inaccurate. It was as if he needed to tell stories about people to make sense of life for himself. But these stories were lies, and he lived a lie… Is it better to be realistic or to tell stories about life? I guess it depends on the storyteller. And how psychotic is it to weave a web of fantasies? Depends on the dreamer.

The Next Day Was Cloudy

Eight thirty.

The experience of writing has become painful because it has no choice but to tell the truth. The truth isn’t always beautiful. I feel compelled to write it anyway. Music: Debussy’s Images. I went to the market to buy a cranberry ginger ale, but I didn’t say anything to Vicki about tomorrow. Didn’t want to make her think of it. Walking out the door, I noticed that there’s an American flag on their wall. I’m not sure why it caught my eye. “Ain’t that America, home of the free? / Little pink houses for you and me.” Maybe that was it: the way she’s worked for over thirty years, more or less thanklessly, at a convenience store. She needs to know that she is appreciated. Hopefully she’ll be back again Sunday morning… The sky is overcast today. I just thought of running into my tenth grade algebra teacher at Laurel Hill in my working years. His son had schizophrenia. I don’t remember our conversation very well. It was brief and I had to get back to work. I felt so imprisoned in the workplace, so I don’t like to recall it now. Mr Leslie was a very nice man, however. I recognized him right away in the agency meeting.

Nine thirty. Truth to tell, I absolutely hated my job at the optical office. Entering data was not for me. All the time I just wanted to express my original thoughts and feelings. So I eventually found a way to do that. Now I don’t feel quite so gagged with regard to freedom of speech. I still remember the issues that set me at odds with my family, and they were political. What you could or couldn’t bloody well say on social media. My neighborhood is divided into conservative and liberal, and I talk to both, though it’s getting more difficult with the former. There’s no excuse for racism, no matter what your background.

Mental Healthcare: a Letter

It’s been an inauspicious day for my writing today. It was a dud. Well I had my one liter of Coke and suffered no ill effects except for a little hypertension. Okay, and a twinge of conscience for being reckless. I did enjoy the taste of the Coke, but was it worth the self scourging? Probably I was flirting with disaster, knowing as I do that my motive for having a Coke was submerged alcoholism. Tomorrow I’ll have a decision to make: repeat this behavior or force myself to leave it. Before long I could be addicted to caffeine again. The way this works is quite mysterious, but everybody with an addictive personality understands it. My brother has been addicted to Vicodin at least twice and kicked it, but he always returns to alcohol. My sister had a good start on quitting smoking when all of her teeth were pulled— and went back to it again. The thing about alcohol that makes it so maligned by culture is the way it alters behavior. I don’t believe that God and Satan have anything to do with it, although I’ve been indoctrinated with this nonsense so that I know it far too well. But the real mechanism of addiction is poorly understood, and whoever solves the puzzle will be a very rich individual. It is because no one understands it that people resort to religion for treatment of it. My sincere hope is that, someday, reason and science can expose the workings of addiction to the light of day, bringing us out of the Dark Ages and ending the blame and shame that addicts unfortunately have to go through. It was never a fair situation for people with this problem to browbeat them with a guilty conscience. Some healthcare professionals are downright sadistic toward alcoholics. I’ve witnessed this at the emergency room and even been a firsthand victim of it. I despise PeaceHealth and the RiverBend hospital for demeaning people with alcoholism. They also suck at helping people with schizophrenia. And as I write about this and ponder it, I think there must be something I can do to improve these conditions. The days of chaining schizophrenic people in dungeons are not over, yet in the name of decency they ought to be. The dungeons just have been given a facelift. Strangely, where healthcare professionals have failed, I find that a random cross section of people can be quite progressive and accepting of the mentally ill and addicts. So that all hope is not lost for humanity as far as keeping an open mind.

Heatwave

Eight o’clock.

Got my market run done early in anticipation of the heat. Summertime is rough for emotional reasons too. Again I remember the demise of my pug dog in the summer. It was summer also when I had such a hallucinatory episode. That was three years ago. It started on a Friday morning and endured all weekend. Even my language center failed me. I’d been trying to write, and then it decayed into strange cryptic marks in my notebook. Everything bakes when it’s hot outside, not least our brain… Today may be boring because people aren’t doing anything. We all cower down in the heat. I’ll take a gabapentin pretty soon.

Ten o’clock. Aesop has been fed. The sun is extremely bright and glaring, like a truth you can’t suppress, or like the judge come again. Usually the sun is a social thing, but I don’t hear many signs of life. Roger is out by his garage, some project. I think I like Nietzsche for his impact on psychotherapy, the disengagement from the clutter to reveal the individual’s bigger, better self. While at the store, I observed the display of Coors 18 packs and the price: with deposit, almost $21. A person could easily bury himself financially with a daily drinking habit. Six hundred dollars a month is three quarters of my income. Not to mention the strain put on my liver and stomach. And all for the purpose of blotting out reality for a day. I’d rather stand up to the challenge. For some reason I thought of Our Town by Thornton Wilder: the minutiae are what count. So much for Nietzsche, and yet they both say seize the day. And the signs of life outside are accumulating.

Afternoon Again

Three forty. Aesop and I are both suffering from the heat, and I’m afraid of how the Vraylar interferes with my ability to breathe. I imagine it could kill me. Well, with schizophrenia, it’s been kind of a crappy life. Vicki is not much older than I, and she may have bad news to face regarding her brain tumor. I can only say that life has never gone the way I expected it to. Now I look back on the church and wonder if I did the right things. But I fought with the decision for a whole year before finally leaving. A year is a long time. It had to be a thorough process. Every time I think of Jesus, I think no way. A pantheistic god might be possible but not a human god. My reason likes a Unitarian god but not trinitarian. It is simpler and more parsimonious than the Trinity. And any soul that we possess is probably born with us and not given when we are baptized. This means preexistence and reincarnation rather than heaven and hell. Clearly I have thought these things through… I don’t know if I will be welcome to volunteer anymore or not. We’ll see what happens…

Last night I thought of the addiction group I attended two and a half years ago. It was a good one. I was a mere shadow of myself then, however. The upstairs room we met in had a high ceiling and large windows, out of which I could see the sky with birds and planes and things while we had session. It’s kind of interesting to remember now. The group expanded suddenly from being three people to more like fifteen. And then I graduated. All at once I lost my med prescriber and I was stuck with two bad professionals, and then I went to another place only slightly better. It was all a nightmare before I went back to Laurel Hill. It’s tempting now to believe that I did something wrong for the whole world to go so awry. But it’s only a delusion of grandeur. It couldn’t possibly be my fault. China is a long way from Oregon. And I don’t believe in magic, or in being a jinx. It doesn’t make sense.