Thank you, Robin, Chris and Kim

This is the first post I’ve written in over a year. It’s long and rambling. Be warned. I don’t really want to write it or write anything for that matter. I haven’t been in a writing mood for a long time. Not for this kind of writing anyway. I have ghosted some ebooks and written on a freelance basis for cold, hard cash, but not for fun or to express myself. Recently though, I bought and listened to “Still on The Levee”, Chris Smither’s 2-CD set and a few days later, Robin Williams killed himself.It’s no secret that, like Williams was,  I’m a bipolar bear, as my late son, Mike, who also had bipolar disorder, used to say.

My father had it and his father had it and they both died from heart attacks in their fifties, brought on by chain smoking, constant coffee drinking and staying up when they should have been sleeping. My father confided to my mother, during the early “happier” years of their marriage, that he was afraid that she’d realize that he was crazy and have him “put away” as they called it in those days.

Instead, she told him to leave, one morning when I was ten and he strolled in at 4 and smirked when she asked him where he’d been.  I don’t know why she asked, she knew he’d been with someone new, someone who hadn’t known him long enough to realize that he was crazy and moody and impossible to live with. There were a lot of those relationships in his life until he found a woman who didn’t care how crazy he was and put up with his moods and strangeness, because she was crazy too – crazy in love with him. She was with him when he died and I’m glad he had her and sorry I couldn’t get along with him or please him. Very few people could.

What this has to do with Chris Smither’s music and Robin William’s suicide is that I’m my father’s daughter – although without the cheating on my spouse part. When I hear about someone committing suicide because they’re bedeviled by the same demons that aim their pitchforks at my backside, I can’t help but feel sad for them and worried for me and the many other demon-beset depressives in the world.

One of the things that has kept me above ground since I gave up on suicide after two failed attempts when I was in my early twenties, is the blues. I discovered them at a bar in Boston where I was smoking three or four cigarettes for every beer I downed and wondering if I should maybe slow down on drinking so I could walk home without falling over or start ordering pitchers to get it over with. I was giving it a lot of thought, thinking and drinking and not paying much attention to the guy with the guitar who was setting up on stage. Then he started to play.

The bluesman was Chris Smither and he played like the devil and sang like an angel – or maybe it was vice versa – but he was awesome. After almost fifty years, I can’t remember one particular song that he sang, but I do remember that I came to about twenty minutes later and realized that I was still holding my beer glass and hadn’t taken a sip since he started playing. Now, back in those days, anything that could make me forget to drink was a miracle and I needed a miracle that night.

It was a very black period in my life. Like my father, I was afraid that I was crazy. I had just left my abusive first husband who was driving around town with a shotgun, looking for me and had his friends out doing the same, and I had no idea what I wanted to do or what I could do with the rest of my life. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t really sure that I wanted the rest of my life to be any longer than it took to drink a six pack and swallow the bottle of pills that I had in my backpack.

I didn’t want to hurt the people who loved me, but a lot of the time I thought that I’d hurt them more by staying alive and making them sad, than I would if I just ended it all and let them grieve and get over it and then get on with their lives without the complications and problems I caused for them. When I thought about the people I loved, the people who loved me, they seemed to shine bright, smiling and quick-stepping lightly through their lives. I was pretty sure they’d continue to do that after a short period of mourning for me if I offed myself.

I felt like a shadow, slowly drifting into life’s corners and getting stuck in places too deep and dark to see my way out.  Then, sometimes, I’d slip through a crack in my moods into an inferno and be brighter even than normal people were, thoughts burning in my brain like manic flames, words making people laugh and think and ask me to stay with them, until I crashed and they started sighing and avoiding my eyes, instead of laughing or agreeing with me. The Killing Fog, which was what I called my depression, was back and I was socked in and thinking that the bright times just weren’t worth the pain of the dark times.

One of my friends, Kim, wrote this in her blog, Union Thug Gramma:“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” I think we’ve all heard this quote and, to a point, agree. On the other hand, if you’ve never experienced the sheer black walls of the abyss known as severe depression, you can’t understand how just ending the pain, even if it means ending your life, can be enough at that moment in time. Luckily, many more people attempt suicide than succeed. Of course, if people know about the attempts, those survivors, many times, are shamed, laughed at, called names. So they, no WE, hide behind our secrets not allowing others behind the curtains that lead to the abyss.”

Her post is a well-written counterpoint to an editorial by Jim LaPierre, who writes for our local Bangor Daily News. He said (bold type is the line I disagree with): In my clinical opinion, suicide is the option chosen by a person who cannot see an end to their suffering. Death seems like a more desirable option than what is being experienced. In my personal opinion, the choice is the most selfish f@cking thing a person can do (outside of euthanasia).

Jim, from what I’ve read in your column, you’re a compassionate survivor of substance abuse and counsel others who have addiction/depression issues. This is why I can’t understand how you can be so wrong about suicide. Selfish?

In order to be selfish, you have to be able to know that what you’re doing is hurting someone else and care less about that than you do about your feelings and your comfort. I can tell you from personal experience that when I attempted to kill myself, I was not capable of realizing that it was selfish. I wasn’t able to think about anyone else, because the Killing Fog blinded me, deafened me and numbed my brain so completely that there was no room, no way for me to think about anything or anyone else.

I’m not a selfish person. If anything, I put other people first too often in my life unless I rein myself in. I want my loved ones to be happy and if I can do anything to help with that, I will. I don’t want them to hurt and if I can stop them from hurting, I’ll do it, even if it means that I get hurt in the process.

Robin Williams wasn’t a selfish person. He was a person who felt the need to communicate with other people, to make them laugh and think and experience through his talent for acting and comedy. Chris Smithers has been singing the blues for over half a century and I wonder how many people, besides me, are walking around in spite of depression, partly because of his music and that of other musicians who turn pain into beauty with their lyrics and instruments.

Robin Williams stuck around for 63 years, which is how old I am. I wonder how many of those years were more than he wanted to give to other people. I hope to hell that Chris Smither sticks around for at least as long as I’m around, and, yeah, that’s selfish.

I need his music. Ditto for John Prine, Slaid Cleaves, Betty Soo, Mike Rosenberg, Keb Mo, Devil Makes Three, Brown Bird, The Berrymans, Elsa Cross, Ray Bonneville, Ray Lamontagne, Kelly Joe Phelps, Gurf Morlix, Ian McLagan and Lucinda Williams and a host of others who keep me sticking my spoon into another quart of Ben and Jerry’s instead of the wall. I know some of them have problems, including leukemia and cancer in at least two cases, so I hope they overcome their health problems of all types and have long, creative lives.

As for euthanasia, Mr. LaPierre. It’s my life, and when it’s not worth living to me, it won’t be worth living for the people around me either and I’ll end it. I’m hard enough to live with now. Ain’t no way my near and dear will object to me checking out when life gets to be too much for me. Trust me.

From Can’t Shake These Blues by Chris Smither: Seems so hard, nothing left to fight it; seems so easy to just let go. Seems so dumb to get so excited; this might be the last I told you so. Can’t shake these blues…

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Don’t Agonize. Sing!

Here’s a post I wrote back in 2007 when my 17 year old and our Black Lab, Jetta, were 10 years old and my 24 year old was 17. They and I are jonesing for another Berryman CD, so if Lou or Peter reads this, could you maybe move up the release date a little? Jetta and I aren’t getting any younger and our hearing isn’t what it used to be. I want to listen before I can’t hear those high notes – or is it low notes?  My memory isn’t what it was either. 

Maybe it’s not every October. Maybe it’s randomly distributed around the year and I just remember it as always happening in the fall. Whatever the reality, the Berrymans have another CD out, The Universe:14 Examples. As usual, I like all the songs, but there are one or two that stand out. If you have Spotify, you can listen to their song, Artiste Interrupted, the ultimate ADD song. My kids, who share the gift of ADD as does Geekdaddy, pegged it the minute they heard it and were falling about laughing for the rest of the day whenever they thought of a scrap of the lyrics.

Does Your Dog Agonize is a hoot too as are most of the songs on the CD. They hit the nail on the head or the thumb, I guess, and describe the human condition as it exists in our neck of the woods. Like Peter and Lou, we have trouble giving and receiving presents, have our ups and downs – sometimes simultaneously – and we have a dog who invented hangdog.

We like Sea Chanteys, but can’t understand a word the singers say in some of them. And the geek and I are so old that we remember when ketchup wasn’t red and we had to walk uphill to school – both ways.

Also as usual, when I got the CD, I had to fight to listen to it. It seems like, whenever I get one of the Berryman’s CDs, the universe keeps throwing roadblocks in front of my listening to the thing. First, the geek had a chimichanga malfunction and almost burned the house down – or at least the microwave – so we had to abandon ship and go out to eat while Geekdaddy put on his hearing protectors and revved up the leafblower to blow out the stink.

For some reason, the geek can’t nuke things like other people do. If it says to cook the thing at full power for two minutes, he figures what they really mean is that you should cook it for 12 minutes at ten percent. Of course, that means that you have to hit 1 for cook power on the microwave oven, not 10. Ten is full power and will frizzle your burrito into a charred lump and fill the house with choking black smoke in minutes. This is what happened last night when Geekdaddy fumbled the finger function on the keypad.

Son, who is having trouble with his asthma right now, was the first to notice that something was amiss or agley. He alerted Geekdaddy, who yelled to Daughter and I who were down in my basement lair, wasting time on FB researching online. We sprinted up the stairs, opened the door, noticed the thick black smoke and headed for the exit, sweeping the dog and two crouching cats along with us.

Son and Daughter stayed at Uncle Wil’s while I opened windows in the basement and upstairs in their bedrooms, gathered shoes for both of them and grabbed my car keys. With an admonition to the geek not to inhale any more smoke than he had to, we were off like snowflakes on the west wind or something similar, leaving the geek to render the house habitable before we returned.

He managed to get most of the smoke out, although the kitchen, dining room and living room still smell like the aftermath of a bonfire that was fueled by rancid marshmallows. The smell just goes right up our noses and stays there. The geek, on the other hand, who has very little sense of smell thinks it smells like someone burned a little bit of popcorn. Yeah, if by little bit he means a little bit of a forty acre field.

Anyhow, this morning I had work to do and couldn’t listen to the CD, so tonight Daughter and I settled into my recliner with wine (for me) and grape juice (for her) and listened to the whole thing. It was unschooling at its best. I had to pause the thing several times to explain some words, including pachyderm, thesaurus, chiaroscuro and a few other terms.

I thought as we listened how so much of our learning takes place before and after the hours that the public schools are open. By the time we’d listened to the whole CD, she’d figured out that MG&E stands for Madison Gas and Electric, gotten an explanation of anthropomorphic and used it in a sentence, commented that Peter seems a little more depressed and Lou a little more manic than they did on the last CD, and noticed that there were only 14 songs, so that was more than a dollar a song unlike their last CD.

It’s funny. Like a lot of unschooled kids, she’s both more sophisticated and less mature than most kids her age. She still plays with baby dolls, stuffed animals and likes books that are “too young for her”, according to society’s standards. However, because she’s with me, other adults, and kids of all ages so much and not sequestered with twenty other same-age kids, she knows a lot more about the real world than most ten year olds. And, of course, because her brother died a year and a half ago, she knows more than I wish she knew about life and death.

While most kids her age are bopping to popular radio stations and the music on Nick and Disney, she’s listening to Junie B. Jones audiobooks, my eclectic collection of CDs and whatever attracts her in the world around her. She sings a lot to tunes that she makes up herself and whistles cheerfully as she takes out the dog and rides her bike in the driveway. She’s a cheerful kid who likes music.

So when the mail brings a brown envelope from Madison, Wisconsin, she perks up her ears and is just as anxious as I am to listen to the CD inside. She’s been listening to Lou and Peter since she was an infant and I’ve been listening to them since the geek and I got hitched, lo these many years ago. If you haven’t heard them, give them a listen. If you have, then I’m sure you’re already humming along to “Does Your Dog Agonize”.

We’ve decided that ours doesn’t agonize, but she sure has perfected the hangdog look when we come home and find that she’s gotten into the cat food and eaten the soap. We’ll think of Lou and Peter every time she puts her head down and looks shamefacedly at us over her Black Lab snout. Give them a listen and you’ll be humming along too.

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I Am NOT Cranky!

Just because I’ve been a little irritable lately, what with having the flu for over a week, a couple of family members have accused me of being cranky. Me? Cranky? No way. I defy anyone to show one instance of crankiness that wasn’t justified by what I’ve gone through lately.

First of all, it’s not easy to be Susy Sunshine when you’ve been coughing almost constantly for two weeks. Add in a fever, sore throat, body aches so bad that my earlobes hurt and my eyelashes are numb, and it’s obvious that any slight hint of irritation that I exhibited was absolutely understandable.

But on top of all that, I’ve had to cope with some major changes like having my PC die yet again in spite of the geek’s best attempts at hi-tech hoodoo. While I’m lucky enough to have a laptop, its keyboard is so funky and hard to type on that I end up gnashing my teeth and hitting the keys so hard that they start to shed their caps. Of course, it’s always the keys I use the most, so I can’t just substitute another key like I did when my manual typewriter’s “L” key got mangled back in the 70’s. For a while, I signed my name 1i1, hoping that my readers would think it was an affectation. (That was back before I added another L to my name, so I spelled it One-i-One. Nowadays, I’d have to spell it One-i-One-One. But I d1gress.)

In order to avoid the stroke I felt coming on, I took advantage of a rare break between two of the storms we seem to be having on an almost daily basis and went to Staples and bought a really nifty keyboard. It’s called The Wave and it has so many programmable buttons on it that it looks like something NASA would use to launch the space shuttle. (Actually, there’s a button with something that looks like the symbol for one of the lesser radioactive elements, but I’m sure that can’t be right. Probably just downloads links to science sites or something.)

So I plugged this futuristic keyboard into my laptop, installed it with the software and prepared to enjoy typing again. I have to tell you that it was everything I’d hoped it would be, except that when I went to use my mouse, the pointer just sat there like it had gotten stuck in the screen. Somehow, by installing the keyboard, I’d uninstalled the mouse or done something to scramble its little mousie brain.

I uninstalled the keyboard, reinstalled the mouse and then reinstalled the keyboard again. The mouse worked fine, but the keyboard was completely unresponsive. So, yes, maybe I was a little cranky when Son came over and asked how I liked my new keyboard, but who wouldn’t be? I swear I only growled once when he suggested that I move the mouse’s USB connection to another port and you could hardly hear it over the banging of the mouse on the table as I uninstalled it yet again, reinstalled the keyboard, and -just to humor Son – moved the USB connection for the mouse to another port, although I knew that wouldn’t have any effect, except that it did.

There’s absolutely no reason why it should have made a difference, but I decided not to delve into the “why” of it. I just answered my email and hoped that both devices would continue to work long enough for me to write a post and get some work done. They did and my blood pressure settled down into the high normal range again, which is as good as it gets for me when I’m irritated livid not completely ecstatic.

It would have stayed out of the danger zone too, if Geekdaddy hadn’t chosen that time to come over and observe that I might want to consider why I have so much trouble dealing with change. I believe his exact words were “I don’t know why you can’t take change in your stride, like I do, Lill. You have to learn to roll with the punches.” Right!

Now, if I was a cranky person, I would have bellowed at him that it’s a lot easier to deal with change if you’re completely oblivious to what’s going on around you anyway, like he is. The man spends 90% of his time at home with his nose in a book and his mind in a galaxy far, far away. The only changes he has to deal with are plot changes, like when they kill off one of his favorite characters. “I don’t believe it,” he’ll yell from the bathtub where he’s soaking and reading, “How in the world can they have nice-guy Hissvernia fall for his archenemy Shteptall’s corny ambush in the grabdibb mines? It’s so obvious a saurian litterling could see through it.”

I have a theory about people – well, lizard people, I guess – like ol’ Hissvernia. They’d be a lot better off if they were a little crankier. Trust me. No way would an archenemy get me to go down into a grabdibb mine. I’d just take a blood pressure pill and tell them to take a hike.

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