Monday, January 14, 2019

The War Against I

The other day I ran into a friend at the gym. We greeted each other with some surprise (neither of us knew the other was a member) and then chatted before returning to the various instruments of torture with which we hope to regain something like youth and health.

In the conversation, he told me that he had begun reading my most recent book, Padre. It’s the one I wrote about my parents and their passing. Then, he said an interesting thing. “You write like you talk,” he said. “Reading the book is like hanging out with you.”

I think he meant it as a compliment. I’ll take it as one, anyway. But, why I mention this (besides my own egotism) is that I’ve heard something quite different more than once. I have spent much of my life fighting tooth and nail to write as I do…or, indeed, even just to employ the first person pronoun.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been rebuked for it. I once had someone count up the number of times I used “I” or “me” in a text that was about one of my own experiences, and then she presented the total to me as though it were evidence of a complete moral failing. I had the impression that she would preferred it if I had written about myself entirely in third person. (“And then Michael Jay Tucker considered the oncoming car. Would he jump to the left or the right? Or would he perhaps run straight into the grill as a gesture of defiance? Michael Jay Tucker considered his options…”)

But it isn’t just “I” and “me” that offends people. It is the sheer sound of my voice that annoys them. For example, I once did a book on Seward Collins, a literary figure of the 1930s who hasn’t been much explored but who should be better known. He was an early lover of Dorothy Parker, and later a self-described fascist.

My book did get fairly good reviews in Academe, on those rare occasions that it was actually reviewed. Though, not everyone agreed. For example, there was an academic I encountered on the web and with whom corresponded. She had written a couple of books on similar topics. I tried to read them. Frankly, they were so larded up with postmodern jargon that they were almost indecipherable.

Anyway, we exchanged emails a couple of times, and she asked me to post glowing reviews of her books to Amazon and some of the academic networks. Because I thought we’d have sort of quid-pro-quo thing in operation, and that she’d post similar reviews of my book, I did.

So, I sent her a copy of my own book on Collins…and she wrote back, horrified, that she couldn’t possibly review it. Oh, the facts and conclusions were fine…but the tone…the tone! “You write like you talk!” she said, utterly aghast.

Needless to say, I removed all my glowing recommendations from Amazon and elsewhere as fast as my little fingers could hit the delete key.

Though, to be fair, it wasn’t just the odd academic who hated the fact that I sound “just like I talk.” I gave a copy of the book to a friend. Actually, I thought he was one of my best friends. Later, I found out I was probably wrong. Anyway, I gave him the book. He read it, or said he read it, though he resolutely avoided discussing the book whenever we met. Finally, I encountered him in a parking lot one day and bluntly asked him what he thought of it. “Well,” he said, uncomfortably, “I can hear your voice in it.”

It was said in the tone of a man who is struggling to find something neutral to say, like someone asked to comment on the baby’s most recent BM. That’s not so bad, is it? Well, yes. But then again, no.

Still, I suppose that wasn’t exactly an objection to my voice, merely to the book as a whole. Which, I guess, is a step up. After a fashion.

But getting back to my point, I have consistently encountered objections to any form of unique voice in writing—mine, or anyone else’s—pretty much everywhere I’ve gone in the world of text. And, I suppose, maybe, I guess… I can understand it in the case of mainstream journalism (not New Journalism, which is really Creative Nonfiction) because in mainstream reporting, you are not the subject of your story. You’re writing about something else. Your purpose is purely to convey information. So, maybe…

However, I’m less sympathetic to such claims when it comes to academic work, at least in the liberal arts, because I think they’re basically fraudulent. I think that what the academic is attempting to do with “academic style” is feign the objectivity, detachment, and “evidence based” conclusions of writing in the STEM professions. And, frankly, a paper about what this or that author really meant with this poem or that novel is not like a paper on the production of muons or the extinction of synapsids. The level of certainty is simply not there.

(Ironically, this is particularly true of postmodernists, who so often cling desperately to certitude, even while they claim that an objective evaluation of the universe is not possible. I understand the arguments, but I do not envy those who make them. Their position is too vulnerable even to their own self-reflection.)

And when I encounter opposition to a “personal voice” in fiction, poetry, or personal essay I am genuinely appalled. Surely, in these, the most individual of arts, the individual would be valued most of all. Yet, it is not so. Instead, you hear far too often a call for some kind of dis-individualization …for the fiction or the poem which is “not self-indulgent,” for the essay that contains no sign of the first person singular, for absence of the dreaded self.

Somehow we have come to an odd place in our intellectual development as a society. Somehow, the individual, the ego, the self…these are catered to in the popular culture. Indeed, to be selfish is presented as a virtue (think of Ayn Rand), and, more importantly, as a marketing strategy (“expensive, yes, but you’re worth it”).

However, to be self-ish is not necessarily to be individualistic. You can be a pig, and yet be identical to all the other squealing furies in the pen.

Thus, somehow, we honor the ego, even narcissism, in the market…but in self-expression, the self is suspect.

What concerns me most of all, though, is that I think this dis-individualization of the individual appears even in our conception of mental health. I’ve already mentioned in a recent posting, I think, the therapist I had once who defined my pleasure in writing, and writing in my own voice, as evidence of a disturbing neurosis.

And, of course, in the greater scheme of things, there have always been people, even psychologists, who have said that the use of “I” and “me” in writing is the dead give away of a morbid narcissist. I gather that one’s been debunked a bit, but, more recently I have run across studies which claim people suffering from Depression are more likely to use the first person singular in their writing.

Not to say a word against this research or the researchers, but I am concerned. I could see the less tolerant among us (and there are so many such) seizing upon such papers to support a profoundly dangerous thesis—to wit that selfhood is itself menacing, questionable, to be treated medically, and, in time, repressed as thoroughly as smallpox and plague.

And thus we would enter an age as fruitless as can be imagined. The day of the un-person. The era of the empty suit…

Never once self-indulgent.

As uniform and soulless as the termite.

And just as much without joy.

Monday, January 07, 2019

The Therapist Who Wasn’t

This is the story of Dr. Churl.

I have already confessed that I have some small mental issues… specifically, I have persistent depressive disorder (PDD), which is sort of like Depression’s little brother. I have, naturally, sought to treat the condition medically. Usually this means chemicals. That is, I take anti-Depressant medications.

Occasionally, though, I have also sought what is known as Talk Therapy, that’s where you go and meet face to face with a doctor or other specialist and chat with them about what you feel and why. For me, this has been at least as effective as medications, though not always, and sometimes my therapists have been good, sometimes quite bad.

However, among the therapists I’ve had who were not good, one stands out. Strangely, I can’t recall his name. I have the odd habit of not being able to recall the names of people who have offended me or even actively harmed me. For some reason, their names fade away. Maybe it is the secret tool of my vindictive id—the denial of the very existence of my enemies, to consign them to limbo.

Anyway, his name was something like Churl. That wasn’t actually it, of course. But there was a C and an H involved somewhere along the line. So, Churl will do for the moment.

I got his name off a list of providers that my insurance company had given me. I called each therapist on the list, one after another, working my way from A down. Some of the doctors didn’t call back. One, a somewhat stridently ideological individual, did not want to deal with a “male.”

After getting through the Bs, I came to the Cs, and Dr. Churl. He agreed to see me. We made an appointment and a week or so later I found myself at his office.

It was a nasty little place in a shared office complex in an upscale neighborhood. When I say it was little, I mean little. It had just barely enough room for two chairs and his desk. What made it feel all the more tight was that he was a big man, and he thus loomed over you as he squatted in his chair across the room.

We began. I tried to get to the point. This meant that I needed to talk about the unpleasant feelings I‘d been having, particularly those of my being without worth, and that meant in turn my crying.

I looked up and realized that he was staring down at with a look of, well, disgust. What I’d thought was honesty about my emotions, he felt to be unmanly. In his eyes, I realized, I was nothing but a wimp. A weakling. A man who had never been shown how to be a man, or else had ignored the lesson. And, bluntly, he then told me so.

This was, of course, exactly what he should not have said to me because a part of my problem was that I didn’t feel I had lived up to the role assigned to me by society…at least as society was when I was growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s. What I needed was someone to tell me I had actually done rather well. I’d been a decent father and husband, and, if I hadn’t made a fortune, I’d been passible in the money department. And as for working hard and being stoic, those I had down pat.

But he did not say these things. He did not reassure me. He was, instead, a constant reminder of my failings.

What was worse was that he decided that my parents were the problem. They had…he decided… been unfeeling and cold. And, so, he went on, all my problems spun out of that relationship. He had me reading Alice Miller’s The Drama Of The Gifted Child, which is an important book, maybe even a classic…but it had nothing to do with my situation. My parents were unfailingly kind. Though he wouldn’t hear a word of that.

Finally, and logically (if incorrectly), he decided I suffered from grandiosity, another symptom of the Millerian child. I believed (he said) that I could do things which I actually couldn’t (“delusions of adequacy”), and then suffered from the agonies of the damned when I realized my true and many limitations.

And what grandiose goals had I set for myself? Well, for one thing, to make a living as a professional writer…clearly, he said, I didn’t have the talent. I should abandon that futile dream. The fact that I was a professional writer at the time—specifically, a journalist—was beside the point. He had made his judgement. The facts were not to get in the way.

As I say, I stayed with him far longer than I should have. I should have abandoned him as a tragic waste of human life, not to mention a threat to my mental health, after the first session. But, I didn’t. He was a therapist, by God. And a doctor. I assumed he knew what he was doing. I thought he might be able to help.

I’m not quite sure what made me realize that he wasn’t doing me any good. I think I just woke up one day and understood that he was dangerous to me. So, I canceled my next appointment, and when he phoned to ask why, I made up some story about going back to graduate school, and never saw him again.

In retrospect, I suspect the real problem was not my mental illness, but his. I think he was some sort of narcissist. I think his purpose in my “therapy” was to denigrate me, to prove his own superiority, and to demonstrate his ability to dominate others. In other words, he was a bully, and the worst thing about it all is that I let him bully me, because I thought he was helping me. He definitely wasn’t.

An aside, in the few months I knew him, I never once saw him laugh or smile. He never reacted well to one of my jokes, even to be polite. I later read that this is a sign of a bad therapist. Had I but known…

Anyway, time went on. I profited a couple of ways from my experience with him. For one thing, I learned to be more selective in my next choice of a therapist. For another, I used him as inspiration. I do very short, limited animation videos as a hobby, and he provided excellent subject matter for one of them. It even got me an award from a little video contest I entered.

But I did worry, and I still worry, about the harm he may have done to his patients. I mean, I’m only mildly neurotic, and he still managed to do me some real injury. What, I wondered, did he do to others…to those more vulnerable than I was?

And besides, I did want a little revenge.

So, I tried to track him down. I envisioned confronting him…maybe even bring his case to the attention of the authorities.

But…that was when I discovered I couldn’t recall his first name, and I was only about 75% sure of his last. And, more, by this time we had moved to New Mexico, where I was caring for my parents. That meant I couldn’t simply drive over to his office and seek him out, or at least note down the name on his door. (Even if I could recall his exact address, which I couldn’t.)

I turned to the web…did some searches…working with various versions of his name, or as much of it as I could recall…and found nothing.

Finally, I gave up. It seemed the universe did not intend me to find my therapeutic tormentor.

I wonder what happened to him. The most obvious, if least satisfying answer is that he just retired and is somewhere even now in comfortable circumstances, making life miserable for someone near and dear to him. Or, more interesting if less probable, he finally went too far…some patient committed suicide, or (better) turned on him. And, now he has lost his license, can no longer practice, and sits out the remainder of his life in bitterness and rebuke.

But, well…

I am a story-teller by inclination, and I can’t help myself.  I’ve worked up two more stories for him…those are complete fictions, based on neither evidence nor reasoning. They are simply tales, myths, but with a certain charm for all that…

In the first story, it turns out that he has genuinely vanished. He knew that eventually his patients would discover his actual nature…would realize that he had hurt rather than helped them…and so, fled before their anticipated fury. And, as a final triumph, an exquisite last act of gaslighting, he covered all his tracks and traces. Not even his birth certificate remains. Thus, his sadism…for how can he be guilty if you doubt he really existed?

Impressive and perhaps chilling…the stuff of horror movies… (what happens when one of his former patients encounters him by accident? As I say, the stuff of stage and screen.)

Now, the second story

In it, karma is the prime mover, and the central character…

In this other tale, what happens to the good doctor is akin to my own suppression of his memory…that just as I cannot fully recall his name, so too the universe has perceived his cruelty, and sought out a fitting reward.

To wit, how better to injure a narcissist than to condemn him to obscurity?

And so, the reason I cannot find him is that he, now, begins …

His slow, deliberate, and total erasure. So that, in the end, all he did, and all he might have done… all the cures he did not administer, all the psychic injuries he caused…nothing will remain.

And he will vanish…or, rather, blur into nothingness, like a watercolor in a cold winter rain…

The reds and blues and yellows washing to gray, to earth…

To absolute…to deadly…and fatal…

Oblivion.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Sadness, Repentance… Useless

The other day, I was in a rather grim spot, emotionally, and I found myself going over my various failures and transgressions — my, for lack of a better word, sins.

As I say, it wasn’t particularly pleasant. It was, indeed, one of my little side trips into the persistent depressive disorder (PDD) that I mentioned a while back. But, I thought it might be useful to examine those incidents in which I had hurt others, and then, perhaps, learn from that history, so that I wouldn’t do such things again. Go ye forth and sin no more, and all that.

Honestly, my confessions weren’t too exciting. My sins are real enough, but rather colorless. I have not killed anyone. I haven’t bullied or tormented anybody. I have remained faithful to my wife. I don’t think I was abusive to my son. At least I don’t remember hitting him or screaming at him or a regular basis. Though, God knows I was tempted.

Even so, I do feel that there are things I’ve done that I should be ashamed of. And I did feel shame. I found myself thinking, almost compulsively, about the things I’d done wrong — things which, on a rational level, were rather petty. Yet, for me, they seemed overwhelming. And I must confess that I began to wonder about my own value to anyone.

And then, I had a curious insight.

To wit, self-reproach—at least when it reaches a certain, melodramatic level—is strangely akin to self-love. Or self-pity. You are, in a funny way, evading responsibility. You find yourself saying something like “how could you…God, or Circumstance, or Fate, or Society, or Mom and Dad, or Whoever…have allowed me to be so flawed that I did such awful things?” Or, to put it another way, how could heaven and earth allow me to suffer with the knowledge of my sin?

And thus, the focus of the story ceases to be on the victim… of whoever you have harmed…but yourself. And there is something horribly narcissistic in that.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. Regret, shame, repentance…these things are good, when they have some positive result, that is, if they drive you …drive me…to atone, or not to hurt others again in the same way…

But if they do not, I fear they have no benign effect. I fear, in fact, that they actually compound the problem. After all, if you have already decided that “Oh Lord, I am not worthy,” there is nothing to be done…no reason to work and sweat and sacrifice to seek redemption.

And thus how comfortable…how serene!…it is to remain exactly where you are… armored with your guilt, defended by your shame.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Perfection and death

December 16, 2018



So, the other day, I was thinking about my own aspirations and ambitions. Not just the ones I’ve got at the moment, but the ones I’ve had at various times over the course of my life.

Some of them I’ve realized. I successfully married and have been, well, I think, a passable if not perfect husband. I think I’ve been an acceptable father. And so on.

There are, of course, though, things which I have not achieved, and which, frankly, I never will. For example, when I was single I was not as sexually successful as I would have hoped. I was never athletic, nor tall and commanding. I was never a business success, nor have I won fame and fortune.

Naturally, I regret my failure to achieve these things. Indeed, my sense of self-worth has suffered because of it.

And yet, as I was thinking about it the other day, I was struck by how my aspirations were at variance with my identity. At its simplest, I cannot be taller and stronger without fundamentally and forever altering my appearance. And, then, on a deeper level, I couldn’t be a business titan, say, a Steve Jobs or a Mark Zuckerberg, without changing my interests and talents. I would have to be somehow fascinated by profit and loss, and competition in market—things which, at the moment, don’t appeal to me at all.

In fact, I wonder if, to achieve all of that, I’d have to be another person entirely—someone else, in effect. Someone who wasn’t Michael Jay Tucker. Maybe, indeed, someone I didn’t like particularly.

All of which is to say, well, I wonder about ambitions. Oh, they’re good and important to have. I value them in myself and in others.

But I fear, too, that if indulged too much…

They tend toward a kind of annihilation…a murder of self…

Akin to suicide, and oblivion.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

My Special Shadows

I suffer from mild depression. Well, actually, it isn’t Depression. Technically, it is “persistent depressive disorder,” (PDD), though when I was first diagnosed with it, it was called “dysthymia.” I don’t know why they changed the name. I’m glad they did, though. PDD is so much easier to spell.

But, whatever you call it, PDD is defined (here quoting Wikipedia) as “a mood disorder consisting of the same cognitive and physical problems as depression, with less severe but longer-lasting symptoms.” I’m thankful for the “less severe” part. I’ve never had a serious, really deep Depressive episode. And, if it is all the same to the universe, I’d just as soon I never did.

Which isn’t to say that dysthymia/PDD is particularly enjoyable. It is “treatment resistant,” and, as the name suggests, it seems to last forever. I’m basically never free of it. Even the most intensely joyful moments of my life are a little shadowed. Usually it involves finding fault with myself—I’m not successful enough, I’m not wise enough, I’m not strong enough—and the incident which should be ecstatic becomes, somehow, a little sour, a little flawed…

I am taking meds for the condition. I have done so for years. Right now, I’m on Bupropion. Truth be told, it isn’t clear to me that it works all that well. I feel no happier when I take the medication. Yet, I keep taking it because when I stop I find myself experiencing deeper troughs and darker lows. I suppose you could say that the drug seems chiefly to restrain the shadows, but not remove them.

Which is odd, because when I first started taking anti-depressants (I believe it was Zoloft in those days) they worked quite well. For about a week, I was genuinely not depressed. It was a strange and curious experience…and it was (alas) quite temporary. I later learned that this is typical for those with have PDD.

There may be, however, a touch of dawn’s early light on the horizon. Some researchers are saying that tiny doses of hallucinogens—psilocybin (magic mushrooms), LSD—seem to have powerful anti-depressive effects. I’ve also run across several articles about using ketamine as a treatment for depression. I even read that some of these new drugs sort of reboot the brain, and that at least some of the people treated with them never have depression or PDD again.

Unfortunately, these are illegal at the moment. The hallucinogens are class one drugs. Ketamine, “Super K,” is a club and rape drug, and therefore carefully controlled. But, even so, I’m guessing that eventually you’ll be able to get those sorts of drugs as part of any normal treatment for depression.

So, maybe, someday, I’ll be able to try them. And, who knows? Maybe I’ll be one of the lucky ones and my PDD will vanish forever.

Maybe.

Or maybe…maybe more likely…it won’t work. The drugs might be fine, yes, but maybe they won’t work on me…because …because…

I’m not sure I can abandon my depression. I am not sure it is in me.

You see, I’ve had the shadows in my life for a very long time. They have been my constant companions. They keep me company. They fill up my day. They give me purpose and even an identity. They are, sometimes, I fear, how I define myself.

If I were somehow rid of them…the shadows, and all the things that dwell within them…all the teeth and claws…

Would I still be me?

Or someone else?

Someone that I, and others, would not recognize…

And might not love?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Political Considerations (and otherwise)

I have been thinking about this blog, and the essays that have appeared here, and which will appear here in future. Last night, I looked back over the postings. I was startled to realize how long I’ve had the blog — since 2005! — and by how often I’ve posted here. In 2005, for instance, I had 42 entries. In 2012 I had no less than 73! That’s more than I usually did each year in the emailed version of Xcargo.

The 2012 collection has the most essay-like stuff in it. That was when we were moving from Massachusetts to New Mexico. My mother had had a stroke. My father was in ill health. So off we went to care for them. The material I wrote the year is somewhere between a very personal diary and a travel log. I am actually looking forward to making it into a book.

But many of the other postings from other are hardly as interesting. Much is highly political. I believe I was working on the assumption that to gain readership, I had to address current events. This I did with a passion.

I think that was a mistake. You see, writing about politics is all very fine, and I will continue to do so, particularly now that I’m writing for a political blog, Liberal Resistance dot net.

However, as I look at the pieces I attempted, I am distressed by how unoriginal they are. What I said was what everyone was saying, at least those of us on the moderate left. The 2005 entries (which I’m just re-reading now) cover a number of topics which, indeed, were vital at the time. I wrote, for example, about the consequences of the Second Gulf War, when George W. Bush and Cheney went into Iraq. I pointed out that we were attacking the wrong country, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons.

I was pretty much right. But so what? Everyone, except the most strident of Neo-Conservatives and the most venal of oil company executives, knew that the invasion was a mistake and had been mishandled. After five years of war, we also knew that we were going to be in it for a very long time, and with little to show for it afterwards. (We are still there now. And it has been, what? Something like fifteen years as I write this. And there’s no sign of an exit any time soon.)

But, all that was obvious…to everyone.

Thus I had nothing new or unique to add to the discourse. I could only be one more member of the Greek Chorus, proclaiming to the audience the disaster that everyone already knew was coming…

Which had, indeed, already arrived.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

I return to Xcargo

And so I consider returning to Blogspot. Or Blogger, of you prefer. Though I was never very fond of that name.

Either way, I’m not sure that I should. I’m told that blogging is dead. And that even if it isn’t, then Blogspot/Blogger is certainly dead. I’m told that no one goes here any more. I’m told that the future lies in Tumblr, or Wordpress, or on the “micro-blogging” sites, like Twitter, to which our current president (alas) so regularly goes to comfort his supporters, and terrify the rest of us.

But, then, I missed the blogging boom back in the early years of this century. I’m always a bit behind, it seems. Or else just a little too far ahead. My timing is notoriously bad. So, why not? I shall return to explosive-cargo, my blog, which was based on my e-zine, just when such things are entirely passé.

Anyway…

I will try to post here at least once a week. At least, when I have the energy to do so, which may not be all the time, I’m sorry to say. At sixty-one, I seem to have somewhat less vigor than I did once.

But I’ll try, because I want to focus again on my own writing — personal essays, chiefly. That’s what the original explosive-cargo (Xcargo) was all about. I find that, now, I want to return to that sort of thing. I want to, once again, write short pieces, dealing with my life and my observations of that life, however myopic my observations may be.

I might as well use this space, at least for a time, to begin.


*

I must confess, though, I am uncertain whether to remain here, on blogspot. And I’m uncertain whether to keep the name “explosive-cargo,” which was the name of the ezine, and of the newspaper column before that (a long story which I’ll tell you someday). I’m uncertain about the name because I’ve always had the vague feeling…a superstition, really…that there was something ill-ill-fated about the name itself, and that if it had been something else I would have been much more widely read, maybe even become a professional columnist. As I say, an irrational concern, but maybe there’s something too it. A professional marketer could tell me.

As for Blogger, it never felt really right to me. It seemed a little cumbersome at the best of times. And it never really motivated me to write. You see, with an e-zine you get feedback from your readers. In a blog, you sometimes do and sometimes don’t. And when I tried to restart Xcargo as a blog, it felt as I were shouting into a vacuum. No one seemed to hear.

I suspect I won’t be heard now, either. I suspect the only hits I’ll get will be from bots, and half of them Russian, in search of a mark.

*

Why do it at all, then? I guess because it is a way of getting myself back into motion. Even if no one reads this, I will at least publish something. And, then, afterwards, perhaps I’ll include this material in a self-published book.

Which may or may not be read, either. But that’s fine. At least I’ll publish it.


*

But should it be here? On Blogger, I mean? I begin it here because, when I started, it was about the only game in town. And it was (still is) owned by Google. Which is pretty impressive.

However, if I had to do over again, I think I would have done it on Tumblr. It has a better look, and rather better technology. I’d be tempted to restart this blog on Tumblr, in fact, but Tumblr just terminated all its adult material. I have nothing that could be considered “adult” on my site, but I worry. Could, someday, my political opinions be considered controversial? And could I be then shut down.

That being the case, I’ll start posting here, and then check around a bit — find out what else is out there. If I find something better, I’ll switch. Then I put lots of links to the new site in my last post, here.

*

So, stayed tuned. There is more to come.

As I used to say twenty years ago…

Onward and upward.