Saturday, December 28, 2013


I think I'm trying to write myself through something
Or out of something. These poems are purely
Failed methods of escape.
How do I know they've failed?
Because I am still here.
I am not out.
I am not through.

One day I will write something and I will
Dematerialize completely.
I will fold up in the back of the drawer,
Forgotten by me
Forgotten by everyone.

Lost in the dirty laundry
Or gone up in a plume of smoke.


When I was 16 or so I had a manager
At the movie theater who told me, Spencer,
When you are great you are great,
But when you're not you're not. You are
Hot and cold water.

And so it has been for all of my life.
I have been called brilliant and foolish
And wise and naive
Lazy and possessed of a vigor
That made Pete Rose look like
Al Bundy.

The sex is either great or nothing.
The ideas are either life or death.
I am tired of the ceaseless vacillations;
Sometimes I just want to get off.

Sometimes I want to ride, ride, ride.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Love Actually

You are the best kind of cancer
You are the sweetest diabetes.
You are a fabulous pox
On the house of my heart.
You make me want to stay in bed.

I bite my nails for you. I tug
(Like a fat guy)
On my shirt for you.

We are an explosion.
I wish I possessed the words
To adequately illustrate our
But maturity has not come yet.

Until then you are fibromyalgia.
You are ulcerative colitis.
You are not, however, cataracts,

Because I love to watch you
Walk away.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Heart Is a Suicide Bomber

I sit on this bench in the park
And hate the birds that fly by
I hate the children on the playground
I despise the jogging housewives
And laugh at the dead rattling leaves.

My heart wants a fire that will
Turn your skin to glass
A fire that will cause you
To romanticize singed eyebrows
And write odes
To third degree burns.

My heart wants the world so crispy
Everything looks like it is part
Of the same bubble black skin.

My heart, irresponsible keeper
Of my destiny,
You have driven me off
So many cliffs there have been
So many casualties--

But your lips are so wet.
Your aim is so true.
I am helpless to resist
Your many detonations.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Alright Jesus

Alright Jesus I said,
But Jesus said nothing.
I looked for pennies
In the salad dressing,
Felt chills up the back
That could mean anything;
Felt upward from the
Absolute poverty of my being;
Still nothing, always nothing.

Then one day Jesus answered:
Learn how to do your own
Magic tricks, he said.
I listened.

Pick a card, any card.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Funeral Procession

Buried with my books
I go up like flash paper
Crackle like dry leaves
Hovering above
The moist earth
Wishing someone
Might have explained
How to travel
With unbitten nails.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


I don't hate the rich
But I wish there was
Some disease
Associated with wealth.

Not like cancer or
Diabeetus or lymphoma,
But something stickier,
Something with hooks,

Something to pull back
Eyelids and roll up sleeves.
Something to point a lens inside
And see the horror therein.

Call it conscience.

 Make it

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I keep saying,
I wish life made sense.
But maybe it does,
And I just don't want to know
The kind of sense it makes;

Jump and you will fall
Cut and you will bleed
Jerk and you will come.
All things
To be expected.

Is that the kind of life
I am leading? Surprised
At my own falling,
Bleeding, coming?

I had hoped maybe I
Was trying to do something
A little different,
But the floor, my veins,
And my palms
May tell
A different story.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Tied to this chair
Which is nailed to the floor
Which is anchored
To the core
Of the earth;

Imagine endless deaths
And enviable wrong turns.
Glorious sins.

But never moving
From this chair.

Oh, how I bite my nails for you.
I could forgive myself
Of anything
If I could only

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Quitting my job
May have been a trial run
For a suicide attempt

People keep telling me to relax,
Enjoy my time with the kids.
They don't realize I have slivers
Deep down in me that cut
When I stretch they
Lacerate muscles
And spiritual things that
Don't really exist.

But they hurt like they do,
They hurt
Like they exist.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Story For Children and Adults of Above Average Cleverness and Intelligence

This story originally appeared in my book, Everything In the Medicine Cabinet Has Expired.

I have been unhappy with the ebb and flow of my life for over a year now. I have graduated from college, started a family, and got a job in the human services. Now, I find myself wanting out. Not out of my family, but out of debt and out of work. You see, I don't like to work. I don't like bosses, and I don't like people. This 'not liking people' is a problem, because I work in the human services, and it's our job to help people. I also don't make enough money, and money--as any adult will tell you--is of supreme importance. I know you've probably read a billion books and heard a billion grown ups tell you that money is not important, but they're lying to you. They either have enough money to be happy, or are trying to convince themselves--by convincing you--that money isn't important because they don't have enough.

I don't have enough money, and I don't like working. I don't like getting up early, and I don't like helping people. All that I like doing is reading and writing, and taking the occassional long walk; and that is what I intend to do. I don't even need to be famous. I don't want to be famous; as you'll recall, I don't like people, and being famous means a lot of people are interested in you. I just need money. If enough of you buy this book, I will have enough money to quit my job, stop helping people, stop getting up early, and stop having bosses. You, in turn, will have the benefit of having read my book and enjoyed my story. I promise not to teach you anything in the meantime, also. No morals to this story. I think that sounds like a reasonable proposition.

I decided to write this book before I had an idea to write about, so I thought I'd steal a method from William Goldman, and ask my kids what to make my book about. William Goldman, as you may know, came up with the idea for his book 'The Princess Bride' by asking his daughters what his next book should be about. One daughter said 'A princess!', and the other daughter said, 'A bride!', and, whammo, 'The Princess Bride'. So I took this method to my two oldest boys. 'What should my new book be about?' I asked the oldest. 'A space captain!' said my oldest boy, unhesitatingly. 'A dinosaur!' said my youngest boy, with only slightly more consideration. 'Thanks!' I said to them, rustling their hair and winking at them as I exited the room. They beamed at each other, and then back at me, knowing they had contributed something important to my story.

But this book will not be about a Dinosaur Space Captain, or anything close to that, because those are stupid ideas. I don't know why I thought it was a good idea to ask kids for inspiration, because after all, I am a grown up, and grown ups are way smarter than kids. Grown ups have lived much longer, and have read way more books. Don't take it personally, kids, but you're not so special.

Instead I've decided to write the following story, which will only appeal to children (and adults) of above average cleverness and intelligence. If you are wondering, 'won't writing a story that only appeals to children and adults of above average cleverness and intelligence severely narrow his possible audience?', the answer is no. Most people, you see, are weak willed, vain, and unimaginative. This goes for children as well as adults. If clever and intelligent adults and children enjoy this book, and tell other people they enjoyed this book, then the other people--less clever and intelligent--will also buy the book and pretend to enjoy it, because most people don't care to be left out. The world, you see, is all about appearances. That's fine by me.


Once upon a time, outside the great walls of the mediocre city of Cincinnati, a large object fell from the sky, into the river that divides the city of Cincinnati from the city of Newport.Not only does this river--the Ohio river--divide Cincinnati from Newport, it also divides the State of Ohio from the State of Kentucky, and--in Civil War Geographics--The American North from the American South. The object fell just this side of Roebling's Suspension bridge, which was the prototype for the famous Brooklyn bridge in New York.

It was about 1am when the object hit. The water was dark and muddy, which the water in the Ohio river always is, regardless of the time of day. The river--filled with snakes,planks from sunken steamboats, dead city councilmen, and beer bottles--received the object with a solemn slurp, almost as if it had been waiting for it, sucking it in as it neared its mouth, rather than responding to the impact with a loud and splashy surprise, the way rivers normally receive falling foreign travelers.

The only people to see the object hit the water were a few bums who were drinking beer on the cobblestone landing just outside the ballpark. I will not name the bums, because in Cincinnati, it is illegal to call the homeless anything other than 'bum', or sometimes 'hobo'. You see, in Cincinnati, The number of names you have represents your station in society. In the year 2010, Mayor Mark Ambrose Luca Deforest Armand Kingsley Godfrey Gotti Precious Mallory commissioned the creation of a 'Flow Chart of Station', which was hanged in the lobby of city hall. Citizens at the top of the chart had the most names (9 maximum), and people at the bottom of the chart had no names, just descriptives. Most citizens had 1 name, or maybe two. Names could be purchased at the Department of Motor Vehicles for 500 dollars a pop, and any person wishing to accrue more than 5 names would require a sponsorship signature from a person with at least 6 names to their own credit (in addition to the fee), and people wishing to add a ninth name would require a sponsorship signature from the mayor himself (who had 10 names), in addition to the fee. Therefore, at the bottom of the flow chart were bums, hobos, and fetuses.

So as I was saying, the object hit around 1 am. The bums were drinking beeer, as bums will do. One bum turned to the other: Didja see that?

Bum 2: I surely did! Let's swim out there and see if we kin get at it! It was shiny! Mebbe we can scrap it an' buy ourselves a name!

Bum 1: A name? One name to share 'tween the two of us?

Bum 2: I'll take the name durin' daytime hours, you take it at night. You always been a bit of a night owl.

Bum 1: I dunno, bum. Maybe we kin get more'n figh hunnert outta it.

Bum 2: Well we better get swimmin' before it sinks to the bottom or gets eaten by a snake.

Bum 1: I doubt it'll get eaten by a snake. It's closer to the Newport side, and Kentucky snakes ain't big enough to eat sumpin' like that.

Bum 2: Alright, bum! Let's get swimmin'!

At which the bums polished off the rest of their beers and passed out on the landing.


Charlie Single Ross was better off than most of his other friends on River Road. Most people in households with as low a family income as Charlie’s could only afford a family name, which in Charlie’s case was Ross. But Charlie was lucky, because when he was a younger boy, he won a radio contest, and his prize was a new name: Single. It was a promotional contest for Maker’s Single Slices, which was a cheese company that sold processed single slices of cheese, wrapped in individual plastics to make them easier to put on your sandwiches (just be sure to take the plastic off first). Charlie was happy just to have a name to differentiate him from all the other Rosses in the house (8 in all), even if it was a commercial endeavor. Eventually, Charlie lucked out again when his Uncle Charlie Ross (not to be confused with his other Uncle Charlie Ross) died, and left Charlie the name ‘Charlie’ in his will. Now Charlie was fully distinguishable from every Ross and every Charlie Ross in his family, and was often Called ‘Charlie Single’, or sometimes still just ‘Single’ by his friends, of whom he had many.

Aside from the fact that most people are naturally climbers, and hope to hitch a ride on the coat tails of a friend with three names (and maybe end up with two or three names themselves somewhere along the way), Charlie was likeable. He was just a nice kid. He treated everyone evenly and fairly and always shared whatever it was that he had to share (Which was often slices of Maker’s Singles, of which he received a lifetime supply during the radio contest, in addition to the name). Not only thatas I mentioned beforeCharlie was lucky. Things just seemed to happen for him. When someone is lucky, people notice.

All of Charlie’s friends were as poor as he was, but less distinguished on account of only having one name in most cases, and two names in the case of Dorene Flow. Besides Dorene, there was Copper and Copper (brother and sister), and Jasper, who had bad teeth. Charlie, because he was so nice, was kind of the leader of the group. He kept things reasonable, mediated conflicts when they popped up, and generally kept the mood light. Dorene would have liked to be the leader, but she lacked the finesse. Her parents, you see, were homeschooling her. They thought there were delitirious factors in our society that might corrupt Dorene, and lead her away from the lord, for whom her father purported to work. He was a preacher, you see. His name was Reverend Thomas Zachary Flow, and he was kind of a big deal on River Road, because he had three names, andof coursebecause he worked for God. T.Z. Flow allowed his kids to play with the children of congregation members. The Coppers and the Rosses were members of the New Light River Church, and thus were allowed to play with Dorene. Reverend Flow kept things from his daughter. He monitored very closely the kind of books she read and the kind of shows she watched, and the kind of talk she could here. He did this, you see, to preserve her purity, and to keep her focused on her development in the lord. Of all people, however, T.Z. Flowa person well versed in scripture, scriptures that include I might add, a little story involving a certain snake and a certain tree and a certain apple and a certain curious young woman,should have realized what happens when an authority figure cordons off certain areas of knowledge and FORBIDS his charges to trespass upon said areas. Apples were made for eating, you see, and information has ways to get to little ears and into little brains, especially when those little brains have been told to stay away from said information. That, however, isn’t even the worst of it. The worst of it is the variety of information that is forbidden and labeled evil. Your kids will find your taboos. The more you taboo them, the harder they will taboo hunt. They will find them, and they will touch them. They will put them between their toes. They will rub them all over their faces and put them in their mouths. They will chew them up and swallow them, and by god you better have been telling the truth when you called them ‘evil’, because if those taboos don’t cause at least a little indigestion, you will have just given your child a new favorite snack.

T.Z. Flow, as learned as he was, was not very cultured. He was a simple man, with no real understanding of what real evil might look like. To him, evil was swear words and rude noises. It doesn’t take long for a kid to realize that saying ‘Damn it!’ or ‘Ass!’ or ‘Shit Popsicles!’ out loud in front of their friends won’t do them any great or real damage. It takes them even less time to realize that emitting a loud, whinny fart, capped off with an exclamatory burp will not only not lose them friends, but might actually bring more around.

So Dorene was in her rebellious stage, and her rebellion was quite boring to those of her friends who had discovered the glorious world of rebelling with ideas. While Dorene farted and burped and said ‘Tits’ and ‘Balls’, Dorene’s friends read books by german writers with strange mustaches who had ideas about god, and culture, and the way money should be distributed amongst the people that would make the right Reverend Thomas Zachary Flow shit tit and ball popsicles right out of his damn ass.

Copper and Copper were more easy-going than Dorene. If they were characters on the old Star Trek t.v. show, they would be the people in the red uniforms. Or, if they werecharacters in the Hellboy movies, they would be wearing suits and ties and dark glasses. They are the kids who will find their lives changed in high school by reading Ayn Rand orif they’re a little more to the leftNoam Chomsky. They will always catch on to music groups and popular memes a little later than their cohorts, and will find themselves living comfortableif unimaginativelives in the suburbs far away from River Road. Which isn’t bad. Actually, maybe it’s somewhat enviable. As the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer noted, simple creatures are to be envied, because although their flights of fancy and mountain peaks of passion may not be as grand as those of their sensitive and intellectual brethren and sistren, so to are their pits of despair and valleys of ennui shallower, and thus more endurable. The Coppers, you see, lived in the present more or less, and were content to be fifth business in the stories of other people. People like Dorene and Charlie. And Jasper.

Jasper was a thinker. He was one of the sort bored by Dorene’s petty-bourgouise-potty mouth-rebellion. That, in fact, was exactly how Jasper characterized Dorene’s behavior. He was a Leninist, and that’s the way Leninists talk. Much like his hero, he was also a Machiavellian, and understood that power had to be seduced, bullied, and strategized away from the existing order, and to do that, one needed charm. Jasper, unfortunately, was not charming. He was not lucky. But he was strategic, and he recognized that Charlie had these qualities in abundance. Jasper’s October Revolution would come one day, and the face he would put on it would be the affable face of one Charlie Single Ross. He had discussed these plans with Charlie in earnest, and Charlie had laughingly agreed to be front man to Jasper’s conspiracy to un-betray the revolution.

This was Charlie’s crew. It was summertime, and there was nothing to do in Cincinnati but ‘nothing’, which is how the children would respond to their parents’ queries about what they had got up to that day. In actuality, ‘nothing’ consisted of hanging out in each others’ basements, watching old monster movies like ‘The Thing From Another Planet’, ‘The Wolf Man’, ‘THEM!’, ‘The Creature From The Black Lagoon’, and more recent classics like ‘The Fly’ (The Jeff Goldblum version), ‘Cloverfield’, ‘Zombieland’, and ‘28 Days Later’.

(Author’s note: I would tell you about some of the other things they got up to during the summer months, but since describing Dorene’s use of language, I feel uncomfortable pushing the envelope too far. I don’t want to risk losing too many readers, you see. Suffice it to say that the children were all approaching puberty, and nothing piques scientific curiosity quite like the onset of puberty.)

One day, Charlie and his friends were palling around down by cobblestone landing in front of the ballpark when they came across two bums on a raft trying to fish something out of the river.

‘Hey bums!’ Said Copper the female. ‘Whadda ya tryin ta do out there?’

‘Don’t say ‘Hey bums!’ to the bums, Copper!’ said Jasper. ‘They’ve been dehumanized by our system. Calling’em bums only further enigrates and oppresses’em!’

‘Well whadda we supposed to call’em then? They ain’t got no damn names!’ Said Dorene.

The children all paused to consider this situation. Charlie, ever the diplomat, offered a solution:

‘Gentlemen!’ he called out. ‘Whadda ya tryin’ ta do out there?’

‘Sumpin’ done fell inta the river, kid!’ Said Gentleman 1.

‘Thaz right! Were’n gonna fish it out!’ Said Gentleman 2.

‘Probably it was a bottle of vodka’. Said Dorene, whose turning out to be one of the more unattractive characters in this story.

‘No!’ said Gentleman 1. ‘It was a thing! All shiny. It fell from the sky! It was shiny, and had a peculiar color to it!’

‘Like from ‘The Color Out Of Space!’ said Charlie, who had spent his Summer alone-time reading H.P. Lovecraft (well, most of his alone-time).

‘You bums need help?’ Said Copper the male.

The bums looked at each other. ‘Sure!’ said bum 1.

‘Don’t call’em bums, I said!’ Said Jasper, squinting up one of his eyes and jutting out his chin.

‘Alright, Alright. Sorry, Jasper!’ Said Copper the male. ‘Thanks, Gentlemen!’

‘Any a you kids swim?’ said Gentleman 2.

‘I do!’ Said Dorene. ‘I’m a hella good swimmer’.



(Author's Note: At this juncture in the story, I wasn't sure what should happen next. I had been reading this book to my children as I wrote it, and asked them what they thought should happen next. The thing in the river, you see, is what is commonly called a 'McGuffin' in story parlance. The term was coined by Alfred Hitchcock, and signifies a thing that exists for no other reason than to propel the story onwards. A classic example of a McGuffin can be found in the wonderful movie 'The Maltese Falcon', which stars Humphrey Bogart, one of the best actors of all time. Any child or adult with any pretensions to having above average intelligence and cleverness should be familiar with the work of Humphrey Bogart, as well as every other writer, director, artist, actor, t.v. show, movie, book, or historical tidbit I mention throughout this story. Since we're on the subject, you should look into Edward Gorey as well. Nothing I have said up to this point pertains to him in any way, but he made some cool little books that any person with above average intelligence and cleverness should collect for their private library; a library which, I might add, should have books by Neil Gaiman, Daniel Wallace, Roald Dahl, Harlan Ellison, Jeanette Winterson, and Robertson Davies in it, as well as H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Terry Pratchett, Michel Houllebecq, and Kurt Vonnegut. Don't forget also to pick up the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervin Peake, Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais, Montaigne's Essays, and Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes. At any rate, at this juncture in the story, I needed to get the kids inside the object that fell into the river. So I asked my sons how best to do that. "You should have them build a submarine that carries them down to the object!' said one. 'Have the thing rise to the surface and say 'I've been waiting for you...'". said the other.

But I didn't like those ideas at all, so I had what follows happen instead.)

"I'm a hella good swimmer." Said Dorene, and without a moments hesitation, she had her shoes and socks off and was heading towards the river.

"Careful Dorene! You're liable to get eaten by a snake!" Said Copper the Female, who had apparently read a little farther into the story than the point at which we currently are at.

"Don't worry your little ass", said Dorene. "I've swum in the river before". Which was true, although the place she had swam in was on the Kentucky side, and as we have established already, Kentucky water snakes are much smaller than Cincinnati water snakes.

To Dorene, this was an opportunity. She would impress her friends by retrieving the object, and thus unseat Charlie as the de facto party leader. Unfortunately, things did not go as she had planned.

Once in the water, Dorene--who was truly a good swimmer--noticed not far in the distance the distinct shape and motion of a water snake, swimming along with her. It was a little snake--a Kentucky snake, she realized--so she didn't have much concern. She swam in the direction that the, gentlemen, were floating on their raft with their big, long retrieving sticks, and went down, down, down. She saw beer bottles, tires, and the remains of what could only have been a city councilman. She saw it! Down at the bottom, wedged between some rocks. It was bigger than she had thought. She would need to go up and get some air soon, and would have to recruit some of her friends, or maybe one of the gentlemen to go down with her to help her retrieve it. She turned away from the object to begin her ascent back to the surface, and noticed that the little Kentucky snake had gotten bigger. Much bigger. It turns out, it wasn't a little Kentucky snake swimming along with her; it was a big Cincinnati snake, swimming towards her. It was maybe around 15 feet wide, and 30 feet long. Dorene didn't even get to mouth one last swear word before she was swallowed completely whole. (Author's note: I'm sorry, but I really didn't have much of a choice. I want as many people to read this book as possible, and I couldn't very well have Dorene swearing all the way through the book. Swear words, you see, are very offensive to adults. We know children say them, and we know they savor them, and we know that by banning them we only make children say them more and enjoy them more, but we feel compelled. Swear words and naked bodies offend us way more than little girls being swallowed by gigantic water snakes. They offend us more than crime scenes, and more than war; two things, which in fact, we love. Just look at late night grown up television, or listen to a politician talk about 'America's Enemies'. So, I'm sorry, but it was all about harm reduction. Dorene had to go!)

Back on the surface, Charlie was filling his friends and the gentlemen in on the plot of 'The Color Out Of Space'.

'So the family was possessed, then.' Said one of the gentlemen.

'That's right'. Said Charlie, wide eyed and satisfied.

'Sounds like bourgouise clap trap'. Said Jasper. 'Designed to keep the worker distracted.'

'Ya know', said one of the gentlemen (it doesn't matter which one), 'Lenin and Trotsky both gave a wide birth tuh the arts'.

'Whatta ya mean?' said Jasper, squinting like his icon.

'Well, they thought the arts was ussential to the development uh the proletariat."Said one of the gentlemen--who, in Jasper's eyes, were quickly reverting to bums.

'Me specifically', said gentleman 1, 'I prefer Schopenhauer to Hegel'.

Jasper gasped. "You can't mean that! You're one of the oppressed...Hegel informed Marx, and Marx informed Lenin and Trotsky, and they brought about the revolution!"

'Which led to more oppression', Said the female Copper. Jasper glared at her.

'Schopenhauer wasn't for the people'. Said Jasper. 'He thought good enough was good enough, and that nothing was very good at all.'

"Schopenhauer," said Gentleman 1, "said, and I quote, ' The conviction that the world, and therefore man too, is really something that ought not to exist is in fact calculated to instil in us indulgence towards one another: for what can be expected of being put in such a situation as we are? From this point of view one might indeed consider that the appropriate form of address between man and man ought to be not monsieur, sir, but, fellow sufferer, compagnon de misereres. However strange this may sound, it corresponds to the nature of the case, makes us see other men in a true light and reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience,forebearance, and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes'."

"Did you notice, Copper", said Copper the male, "That the bums are talking a lot better now that we're further on into the story?"

"I did." said Copper the female. "Spencer must have gotten tired of trying to figure out how to mangle their language to make them sound simple."

"Sounds about right to me." Said Copper the male. "he's never been very disciplined about anything he does."

"Fellow sufferers..." said Jasper. "Marxism is all about struggle. That's the historical dialectic..."

"Forget about revolutions." Said Campognon De Misereres. "They all end up in mountains of skulls."

"That's right." Said Fellow Sufferer. "It's all we can do to keep from hanging ourselves from that suspension bridge over there.

"My dad used to tell me when I was a kid that the bridge sings to the cars that pass over it". said Charlie Single Ross.

Everyone strained to listen.

"So it does." Said Fellow Sufferer. "You're dad must be an artist".

"Close." Said Charlie. "He removes subversive graffiti from the walls of city buildings".

"I keep him in business". Said Jasper.

"You know," Said Charlie, "Dorene's been down there for a really long time."

"Nobody can hold their breath that long!" Said Copper the female.

"What if she's drowned?" Said Copper the male.

"What if she got sucked into the thing?" Said Fellow Sufferer

"The thing from out of space?" Said Campagnon De Misereres.

"The very one." Said Fellow Sufferer.

"We've got to rescue her!" Said Charlie Single Ross.


(Author's note: Friends, I have not been very diligent with these chapters. I wrote the last line of chapter 3 over two months ago, and then fell into a deep depression. It was all I could do to get my clothes on, cook breakfast, and go to work. Work, work, work. That's all we're allowed to do as grown ups, which is unfair. When you're a kid, you get to be interesting. As interesting as you please. When you're a grown up, you've got to wear a tie and carry a briefcase. It doesn't really matter so much what's in the briefcase, just that you're carrying it. You know what I keep in my briefcase? A book, a bottle of water, a box of Gin Gin's, a notepad, and a couple of pens. Sometimes I carry two books. You know what kind of books? Not the kind that teach you how to make money. The current books in my briefcase are the selected letters of D.H. Lawrence, which is okay, and 'The Art of Seduction' by Robert Greene, which is fun to read because it is honest. I'll probably switch out my Lawrence letters with a copy of Philip Larkin's poetry soon. Larkin is way better than Lawrence.

When you're young, you're interesting, but you've got no resources to explore you're interestingness. When you're old, you're dull, but you've got more resources. Maybe you've got 'no inner resources', as John Berryman might say, but you've certainly got a little cash flow and are old enough to drive. Friends, it's not fair. This book is a prison break. You are helping one of your fellow sufferers break out of prison. You don't know me personally, but I am using your capital to quit the system. You will never be free, unfortunate little friends, but take solace in knowing that you have made me free. I can almost taste it. Can you taste it? Maybe if you close your eyes and lick your lips you can taste my freedom. It doesn't taste quite like whatever yours would taste like, but at least you know you're in the same restaurant. Buy more copies of my book! Tell your friends to buy a copy. Steal copies from the library so they have to buy more copies. If you don't have any money, take some out of your dad's wallet. he would only spend it on booze and presents for his secret family in Columbus. Thanks for your support. Anyway, I'm feeling better now, so here comes some more story. Let's see what happens next.)

Charlie Single Ross decided it was time to make a definitive move to further the plot. He organized the kids into two teams: Alpha team, and Bravo Team. The Coppers were in Alpha Team, and Charlie and Jasper were in Bravo Team. He had just seen the movie 'The Life Aquatic' and had a mind to set out into the depth of the Ohio river in a submarine. Unfortunately, there wasn't a submarine on the banks of the Ohio River. But, what the hell, I am making this story up, so yes there was a mini submarine on the banks of the Ohio River. Campagnon De Miserere noticed it docked a little ways down the river, and it had the keys in the ignition.

"Come on!" Said Campagnon, waving his arm in the direction of the submarine. The children's eyebrows rose, and they looked at each other. "Anyone know how to drive a submarine? Charlie said?



No one knew how to drive a submarine. It just wasn't a skill required to navigate Cincinnati culture. All of the kids, of course, knew how to pilot a steam boat, but a submarine is hardly a steam boat. All of the kids, also--if you were wondering--knew how to slaughter pigs, play baseball, eat 3-ways, vote for Barack Obama, and listen to NPR. None of those skills, unfortunately, cumulatively equal an ability to drive a submarine.

Luckily,the submarine driver was just returning with a coffee and a copy of The Enquirer. "Let's hold him up!" Said Jasper.

The two gentlemen, Fellow Sufferer and Campagnon De Miserere, reached into their pockets and pulled out pistols.

"Freeze, buster!" Said Campagnon, pulling back the hammer on his gun.

All Cincinnatians, by the way, concealed carry.

The submarine driver didn't have a chance to reach for his own pistol. He put his arms into the air, coffee cup in one hand, and copy of The Enquirer in the other (This copy of The Enquirer would go unread, which is actually customary for copies of The Enquirer).

Jasper moved in, removing the submarine driver's pistol from his belt. "Keep your hands in the air, Capitalist Scum!" he said.

"Okay, Okay!" Said the Submarine Driver.

Charlie Single Ross approached the driver with his hands in the air, conciliatory. "Sorry about this, pal. We just need you to drive us to the bottom of the river. Our friend is trapped down there".

"What? Really?" Said the driver. "In that case, why'd you have to stick me up? I'd have helped you out of my own free will!"

"Really?" Said Campagnon. "I'm not used to named folks helping me out".

"I'm not used to capitalist scum helping me out!" Said Jasper.

"I'm not doing it for you, bums!" said the driver. "I'm doing it for the children! There's a child at the bottom of the river!"

Campagnon and Fellow lowered their pistols. Jasper patted the driver's pistol, now stuck in his belt buckle. "I'll hold onto this, though. Just in case."

"My name's Bill". Said the driver.

"Just Bill?" Said Campagnon?

"Just Bill". Said Bill.

"Nice to meet you Bill." Said Fellow Sufferer.

"Nice to meet you bum." Said Bill.

"Nice to meet you Bill." Said Campagnon.

"Nice to meet you bum." Said Bill.

At that, Bill lifted the hatch to the submarine, and all of the characters in this story--except for Dorene, of course--climbed in. Bill pressed a button on the consule and the little propeller behind the submarine went "blrrrrrrrrrrr", and the submarine began to descend, deep, deep down into the deep depths of the muddy Ohio.




"When it's time from work to go

and in my boat I row

Across the muddy Ohio

When the evening light is falling..."

Sang Bill, half under his breath.

"What's that?" Asked Charlie Single Ross.

"It's the Ohio River Boat Song, by Palace Brothers."

"I like it." Said Charlie Single Ross.

"You should." Said Bill. "It's a good song."

The Coppers were talking to one another in the back of the submarine, while Jasper held court with the two gentlemen. Charlie Single Ross, purportedly the hero of this tale, was beginning to feel like he wasn't living up to his billing. He had been relatively passive as events occurred. The real movers, he thought, were Jasper and Dorene, and even the bums. Someone with so many names, and so many expectations piled upon him, should be taking a more active part in the action. That is why he decided to sit up front with Bill, who was apparently a big fan of indie-folk music.

The submarine descended and descended. Little bits of debris bounced off the windshield. A bottle smacked into the side window. Little, dull looking river fish swam by, completely unlike the ones Charlie saw in the movie 'The Life Aquatic'.

"There!" Said Charlie, spotting the orb. "There it is!"

And there it was. The submarine moved closer to, and as they did, it seemed to get bigger. Either that, or they were getting smaller. It radiated a strange energy off of its oblique contours, and seemed to almost pull the submarine towards it.

"We're going in." Said Bill.

"But how?" Said Jasper

"It always had to be this way." Said Copper the female.

Campagnon De Miserere and Fellow Sufferer held hands. An unseen membrane seemed to blink, and suddenly the submarine carrying all of our characters was no longer in the Ohio River: It was in the orb itself.



(Author's note: At this juncture in the story, dear readers, I have some kind of a flu. Some nasty invader has hijacked my body and made me all sweaty. My head is thumping, my skin is filmy, I am tired, my bones ache, and I have awful diahrrea. I am laying in my bed in my underwear, drugged up to high heaven in order to survive my ordeal. The box fan--a thing I need to have running and blowing directly on me whenever I want to sleep--has fallen over, and I don't have the strength to get up to set it right. It is making a muffled noise as it sucks the carpeting into its blades. Inevitably it will cause a fire from over heating, and I will be burnt alive. No food tastes good to me. The Gatorade tastes sick, the soup tastes sick, the 7 Up tastes sick. I either have the blankets off of me and I am freezing, or have them on me and I am roasted. I can't read because I only want to sleep. Typically, I will read books when I am sick, and indulge in my more antisocial impulses (I find myself becoming increasingly antisocial as I get older). Some of my favorite authors to read while sick: Robert Louis Stevenson, O. Henry, John Updike, Nabokov, Walt Whitman, The Letters Henry and William James wrote to each other (these are also good toilet reading), Billy Collins, Thomas Lux, W. H. Auden, and T.S. Eliot. The Lovesong of J.Alfred Prufrock is my favorite poem of all time, and really hits home when you are sick. One week when I was particuarly ill, I read 'Of Human Bondage' by Maugham, and really liked it. The sickness caused a kind of wooziness that mixed with the undertones of the book, and when I was better, I felt like I was emerging from an incubator, a whole new person. This is not one of those glorious sicks that give you a nice euphoria before it sets in, and is really only a good excuse to skip work and ignore the people you love: this sick means business.

What's worse, I am bored by the very thought of describing what happens to our characters inside the orb. Ostensibly, there will be lots of action, they will learn things about themselves, life, each other, and will discover that Dorene was nowhere to be found inside the alternate universe contained in the orb. So many stories take this route, and I am not enthusiastic about flipping the switch that will set the story into auto-pilot. H.P. Lovecraft mentioned that it is best that we leave things to people's imaginations, because they can fill in the blanks in a way that is very personal and effective for them. As a rationalization to skip all of the dull adventuring and strange creatures that the children will encounter inside the orb, I think I will employ this method. Maybe I will make many allusions to the kinds of things that transpired inside the orb after the children return from it. Yes, I think that is what I will do. Or maybe you can decide what happened by piecing together the clues that I offer in the next chapter--clues, by the way, which are attached to nothing at all, clues which signify nothing at all except what you want them to. But no, I'm not sure you're up to the task. Yes, it says a great deal about your character that you've made it so far into this story designed only for children and adults of above average cleverness and intelligence, but still, to create such vast landscapes and complicated intrigues as are bound to take place inside the's risky, but okay, I'll give you a crack at it. It certainly doesn't interest me.

So, let's not leave the Ohio River as the children go about their adventure inside the orb).

The river was busy as usual around the orb. Barges full of coal chugged along beneath bridges, children played in Friendship Park along the river and on the other side--on the Kentucky side--people ate at boathouse restaurants.

beneath the surface of the river, the snake that had swallowed Dorene was beginning to get a hint of a tummy ache.


Just outside the orb, there was a burbling noise. At first, it was very quiet, but then it became more pronounced, more permanent. The orb began to rattle, and waves of energy emanated from it, creating waves in the water around. With the sound of a rocket, the submarine shot from the orb, back into the surrounding water. It sped rapidly to the surface. It was badly dented, burnt, and there was some kind of strange symbology painted on the side of it.

On the surface, The hatch to the submarine opened. Out of the hatch emerged Jasper, his arm in a sling. He was wearing tall black boots that made him look like a character out of Pirates of Penzance.

The Coppers came out next, and did not talk to Jasper. They walked past him with an air of vague disdain, to which Jasper's aura responded by retracting in upon itself somewhat. Something had passed between them on the other side that had caused a deep rift.

The Coppers looked very much the way they had upon going into the orb. There had always been an otherworldly kind of quality to them that made the atmosphere inside of the orb not completely shocking and tranformative to them. They had always comported themselves as if they were characters in a story, which they were.

To see real transformation, you would have to see Charlie Single Ross. Upon emerging from the orb, the sunlight made his now white hair appear ethereal, and his face had taken on a wizened, wearied aspect. He had gained grit in the world of the orb. He was wearing a pea coat, decorated with a black sash with all kinds of ribbons and little embroidered doo-dads on it. Around his waist he wore his pistol in a holster, as opposed to tucked into his belt the way he customarily did. He walked up to Jasper, who did not make eye contact with him at first, and put his hand on his friend's shoulder. Jasper's eyes raised, filled with a deep appreciation and humility. Charlie only nodded his head with a hint of a sympathetic smile forming at the corner of his lips.

The gentlemen, Compagnon De Miserere and Fellow Sufferer, were also mainly unchanged. Life in this world had been challenging enough, but it had also been dull. They had learned to survive by living in this world, and welcomed the chance to do battle with the seven headed Charystamange, duel over the hand of Duchess Eleanor Graveyard, and to scale the heights of Mount Slaughterborn, and rescue their underage charges from the renegade swampling Odalisque. Their habitual consumption of alcohol made it easy work for them to drink Baron Quatling under the table and win access to the key that would open the Door of Sleep, and their deep knowledge of 20th century philosophers aided them in their public debate ith Grundished, Archbishop of Nargletree. When it came time to run away from The Coughs in the labrynthine corridors of the black castle, they were unsure whether they would make it, but utlimately that orb-world adventurer Francis Coffey came in to the rescue on his flying contraption. So mainly they seemed unchanged, but they did have a little more color to their cheeks, and were a little heartier in their step.

Poor Bill, who never wanted to come on this adventure in the first place--who in fact had been coerced into it at gunpoint--did not emerge from the cabin. He had taught Jasper to pilot the submarine in the orb world, and good thing to, because he would ultimately be unable to pilot it back. Poor Bill, who only wanted to drink his coffee and read his Enquirer and then get back to his job of submarining, got drawn into an adventure that he was unequipped to survive, although his last minute show of extreme bravery. At least he didn't have to read the Enquirer. His sacrifice will never be forgotten.

"Who is that there on the shore?" said Copper the male.

"It looks like Reverend T.Z.!" Said Copper the female.

"Oh...that's right. Dorene." Said Copper the male.

"She was never in the orb." Said Copper the female.

Jasper sighed.

"Look, there are others!" Said Copper, pointing to a group of men and women assembling on the bank.

"How long have we been gone?" Said Jasper, finally piping up.

"Seemed like years." Said Campagnon.

"Decades." Said Fellow.

"Like The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" Said Copper the male.

"What's that, some kind of book?" Said Copper the female

"I think so. I think I heard Dorene mention it once". Said Copper the male.

"Let's pull in close." Said Charlie. Jasper nodded, and returned below deck.


CHAPTER 9: Among Hysterical Adults

On the shore, standing in the middle of the gathering crowd, was Reverend T.Z. Flow. His eyes looked very tired, and his clothes were filthy. Standing next to him--because he refused to stand anywhere but in the center of a crowd--was Mayor Mark Ambrose Luca Deforest Armand Kingsley Godfrey Gotti Precious Mallory . As soon as Charlie saw the Mayor, he began scanning the shoreline for the news cameras. Surprisingly, there were, wait, ah, there he is. A newspaper reporter, scribbling away at the Mayor's elbow. That made more sense.

"Ahoy!" Said Charlie, as the submarine puttered to a stop.

"Ahoy?!" Said T.Z. Flow, incredulous. "Ahoy?! Where have you children been? Where is my daughter!"

"And what are you wearing?" Said the Mayor. "That looks very dashing!"

The children glanced at each other. How to explain?

"Bums!" Cried someone from the crowd. "They've been kidnapped by bums?"

The crowd began to titter.

"Is this true?" Said the Mayor. "If this is true, then we'll have to hang you bums from the bridge!"

"Hey!" Said Compagnon. "That's our job!"

"Where's my daughter!" Said Reverend T.Z. The children looked at each other again, unsure of what to say.

"Listen." Said Charlie, holding up a commanding hand. "These 'bums' as you call them, have not kidnapped us at all! In fact, they have saved us. Many times over. They're heroes!"

"Heroes?" Said the mayor. "Well, heroism is to be rewarded, not hanged! Let me offer each of you bums one name each."

"One name each?" Said Fellow Sufferer enthusiastically. "That's better than we anticipated!"

"No, no, no!" Said Jasper, coming out of his funk. "You can't accept a name from this pig! You'd be buying into an unjust system! Remember our plans?"

"He's right." Said Campagnon. "Besides, who needs names, when you've danced with Madame Graveyard?"

"When you've beat the Grand Troll at chess?" Said Fellow Sufferer

"When you've got a revolution to plan!" Whispered Jasper. They all went silent, and the bums ambled off the submarine and headed towards the suspension bridge. Jasper followed a few steps behind.

"So they don't want the names then?" asked the Mayor.

"No. You know how it is". said Jasper. "But you know, I engaged in some heroics on our little adventure too..."

"Really?" Said the Mayor. "Do tell..." The mayor put his arm around Jasper, and they walked off down the riverbank together, the newspaper reporter keeping pace at their side.

"Where's my daughter! Shouted T.Z. "We've been looking for you kids for three whole days!"

"We've only been gone for three days?" Said the Coppers simultaneously. They stepped down from the submarine as well, followed by Charlie. No longer needed for the plot, the submarine disappeared back beneath the water.

"Sir," Said Charlie. "We're afraid we were unable to find your daughter. We think she may have been drowned, or eaten by a snake." He placed his hand on the Reverend's shoulder. "I'm sorry."

The Reverend, exhausted after three days of steady searching for his daughter, and shocked and horrified by the news, collapsed on the bank. The crowd--a crowd of parishoners assembled by the reverend to help him look for his daughter and her friends--gathered around, placing their hands on the reverend. If you could see the seen from the sky, it was rather pretty; all of those hands reaching out to touch the grieving father and spiritual leader, connected to all of those arms, connected to all of those torsos; it made the whole scene look something like a kind of flower.


And the great Cincinnati snake, sickened by the taste of Dorene's religion and tired of her swearing, rose to the surface and vomitted her back onto the shore, right in front of her father. Why should this not be so? How many of you believe that Jonah lived in the belly of a great fish, and came out undigested? Well, so too did Dorene, and she was a changed woman, a woman of the church. Her father was so proud. She went on to become a great preacher's wife, and was well respected in her community. Dorene survived, but don't be too excited about it: in the end, we all end up like Yorkick and Julius Caesar, and Alexander the Great, and Hamlet, and Laertes, and Polonius, and Claudius and Gertrude and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: food for worms, stoppers for beer barrells, and pastes to keep out the wind. We all end up no different than any other skeleton in the graveyard; the rich feed the same worms as the poor, and the worms don't complain either way. I see no reason why it should be otherwise. So since it is all the same in the end, why don't you live your life the way that suits you, and practice whatever kind of kindness, forebearance, charity, and patience you can for your fellow sufferers, your campagnon de misereres, along the way?

I apologize. I promised you no moralizing. Alas, I am a great liar. As a line cook once told me at my first after school job: It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission.

Friday, December 6, 2013


What has life taught me?
Almost nothing.
I have bit my nails
A little too far;
Seen the blood, felt
The regret.

I've looked too long
At the breast
Peeking out
Of the top of the dress.

I have walked because
Walking was all I could do;
Just walked and walked--
It took hours to get home.

I have smoked cigarettes
Too fast and thrown up,
I have cried, Jesus Christ,
I have cried.

My fingers have smelt like
Onions--my breath has been bad,
My knee cracks, my hair recedes.

But ask me what I've learned,
And listen to the wind. It's not
The wind of Native American spirituality,
I can tell you that.

Friday, November 22, 2013


I cast my skin wide
And let the world enter
Through a blister;

Smoke stacks smudge
Exhausts pepper
Automatic rifles puncture.

The oceans swell in my cheeks
And I spit;
Rocks. Debris. Endangered species.

The cities like vast sores spread,
Transforming flesh to steel.
Air travel ceases.

What kind of illness
Could sabotage a mind
That contains a planet?

Yet I feel every question you ask
And know like Job,
The whirlwind has no answers.

Friday, November 8, 2013


Looking for profundity
from the seat of comfort
is like looking for virgins
in our high schools.

You have to get scraped.
You have to rip pants.
You have to lose traction
on your shoes.

Looking for god
in this or any universe
is like watching television
or maybe it's like a fish.

You have to lose your mind.
You have to shutter your heart.
You have to clap your hands
and get up at 3am.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Certain Dread

Nimble dread touches everything,
Makes the Autumn leaves afraid.
It visits every wedding
And makes the bride turn away.

It waits near every mirror
Turning lipstick into ash
It stalks around each corner
Answers questions that you ask.

There it goes a-fluttering
Disturbing children in their sleep;
Of all the baubles cluttering
It's the one you get to keep.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


There is something endlessly flapping
In my heart.

It cocks its head and aches for warm weather,
Feeling called to anywhere else.

Maybe in another life I could have been a sigil,
Or at least stuffing for a pillow.

In this life, however, I must be content
To peck my own eyes out.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

We Can Dream

Sleep is so sweet
And my bed is so safe.
The world is gnarled;
Puts its fingers in everything.
Death might be sweet,
But there is no waking up;
Part of the joy of a Sunday morning
Is going back to bed
Instead of fixing the toilet.
Instead of cutting the grass.
The dead get away with everything,
They just don't know it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Life is a lonely business of collecting
Things you will later lose,
Salting wounds so you won't forget,
Feeling the shoe only at the pinch.

There are wolves, they say,
Fighting inside us; let them bite.
The one that wins
Is the one you feed; feed neither.

Life is a lonely business
Of watching wolves die.

Monday, October 28, 2013

And Counting

Through a fat haze
Of post pubescent enthusiasm
I arrive at my 30's
Less sure than ever.
Where is that hard prick
And sharp confidence of 25?
Where is that bulbous certainty?

I could use a dad, god.
Might benefit from a hug
30's skins my heart
Whereas 12 skinned my knees.

Could I use a god?
Could I hollow him out and
Use him like a boat?
It's raining hard, dad.
Time to take the pills.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


You've been in so many stories, old man.
You have been horned and hungry,
Horny for our unspoiled women,
Luring them away from their stoves
And babies with your nimble pan pipes.

You have been a tragic figure, a noble flame;
you have refused to serve when better to reign.

But most of all you have been my heart,
All jagged and surprised;
Full of pumping, spurting juices.

 Full of sin.
 Full of life.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Between Books

A new voice recedes into the collective
Mutating itself into the mob.
Echoes chittering for new connections,
Desperate for new relevance.

Being groans for another perspective:
"Give me new voices!"
Always hungry for new corrections,
As long as they are not one's own.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

I Know Why People Go Off Their Medication

Luckily--or unluckily if you ask my wife--my medication has had no sexual side effects. It has however slowed down my creative process. Being unable to write feels a lot like being backed up sexually, which is incredibly frustrating because--maybe unless you ask my regular readers--there is no writing equivalent to masturbation.

 A common reason for going off of medication is the belief that you are 'cured' or somehow in a place to handle things yourself. This is not true of course; your wiring is faulty and you need the drugs. Other side effects can also cause a person to go off their meds.

 My meds seem to be working, more or less. There was a rough patch earlier in the month, but I weathered that. It was frustrating when it happened because I had hoped that the meds would make me permanently normal, so when I took a dip it was disheartening, but it wasn't too bad of a dip.

 I've only written two essays this month. This will make the third. That's not a good feeling. I think my writing comes from the same place as my illness. Subduing my chaos also muted my creativity; I had become comfortable in the swirl of emotional chaos I was living in, and now I've got to get used to doing things more deliberately.

 Maybe my writing will be slower but more coherent? Who knows. Regardless, I know why people go off their meds. One becomes nostalgic for their place of origin, even if that place of origin looks a lot like hell. We're pattern seeking animals after all, and even chaos has its patterns.

 Here's to hoping I can continue to adjust to the sane world. Things look promising, I just have to ignore that small voice telling me to go back to the devil I know.


Friday, September 20, 2013

It's Almost Autumn

Let's listen to Pink Moon all the way through, hang out in old graveyards, and drink hot apple cider.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Atheists Should Meet Theists Where They Are At

[re-posted from November 2012]

We have a saying in social work: 'Meet them where they're at'. This means, essentially, that we know where this person needs to end up in order to be healthy, but they are currently participants in a lifestyle or worldview that only allows for gradual progress. Embrace the whole person, and pick your 'learning opportunities' wisely.

I endorse a version of this approach when it comes to interacting with the religious as well.

The difference between the version of this approach employed by atheists interacting with religious folks and social workers interacting with their clientele is first and foremost that a religious person is not necessarily unhealthy. In many cases, the religious person may be far healthier than the atheist. They may be far closer to self actualization, and performing far closer to their peak capacity. They may be more intelligent, happier, funnier, and kinder. Their worldviews are just couched in a falsehood.

The atheist has to ask themselves first and foremost, what can I learn from this other human being that I am interacting with? Their religious views do not discredit the entirety of their worldview, or reduce them to the content of their religious views. The first thing the atheist must do is to find what is human about the religious person they are interacting with. The faithful are often advised to 'look for god in the person', and this is essentially my advice, substituting the word 'god' for the phrase 'what is human'. Religion is a very human thing. It is an understandable human phenomenon. What leads a person to religious belief? Often it is a personal desire to have their life make sense in a holistic kind of way. Often it is the reaction to stress and uncertainty. Often it is simply a framework that is learned in childhood that evolves along with the person as they grow into adults. It is human, and it is something we as atheists should be able to identify with.

Why? Because we are meaning-seeking creatures too. Atheism, as I have discussed in the past on this blog, is not enough. We need more. In our own attempts to determine what that 'more' is going to be, we should be able to sympathize with folks who have discovered a 'more' that works for them, even if it is one that we view to be wrongheaded.

It is from the framework of the 'more' that we need to view our religious brothers and sisters. So they believe in a god and follow a religion. What does this god and religion compel them to do? Does it compel them to contribute to their community? Does it compel them to be kind to their families, their neighbors, and animals? If so, then their motivation should become secondary to their actions in our consideration.

If on the other hand, their religion can be seen to feed into negative and harmful traits, it will need to be confronted at its root. Religious views that lead people to view benign and natural human orientations like homosexuality as 'sinful', or views that advocate for the genital mutilation of children, or refusal to receive blood transfusions, or patriarchal and racist views, will need to be challenged.

First and foremost, we have to encounter each other as human beings, not as infidels in need of conversion or conquer. That M.O. is better suited to the religious fundamentalist than it is the atheist humanist.

I am writing this as much for myself as I am anyone else. I am a white male American. I live in the suburbs and am married to a woman. Atheism is one of the only traits that puts me in the minority. If there is anything that has become obvious lately, white male Americans living in the suburbs are uncomfortable being minorities. So perhaps in the past I have been overly aggressive (read: defensive) in my interactions with religious folks, and perhaps I've discounted many because of their beliefs. After I gave up religion, many of my friends went from being 'My friend ______' to 'My Christian friend ___________'.  That was wrong.

I don't believe in God. I am glad that people find cause to do good in their religion, but I think there are plenty of non-religious reasons to do good. I tend to believe that people do good because they are good, and that my religious friends--in spite of their insistance otherwise--would be good without god. Perhaps even better.

I also don't want to sound like I'm discouraging discussion. Discussion and debate are very important. I'm writing this--as much for myself as for anyone else--as a call not to lose sight of the human heart when approaching a person with a different outlook than your own. I can't tell you how many times I have heard my views cynically rationalized away by christians who would not allow for the fact that I have honestly arrived at the conclusions I have. I've been told I had made a choice not to accept God into my life. The idea that I had just discovered that there had never actually been such a divine invitation was just not something they could consider. I've been told I didn't properly understand christianity, and that is why I am an atheist. I've been told that I am 'taking the easy road'. All of these cynical responses to my belief system irk me, but really, how much more generous am I when considering the beliefs of the religious? Often, not much.

So yes, it would be great if all of this god nonsense was behind us. Evidence indicates that it's on its way to being so. In the meantime, however, do I really need to go around trying to beat it out of people? Leaving religion is a big deal, and it leaves a huge vacuum in a person's life. I can tell you this from personal experience. Is it responsible to try to take this core out of people and not stick around to help them rebuild something sturdier?

Better to seek common ground, I'm coming to believe. There are plenty of atheists out there whose sole concern is removing 'in god we trust' from our money, and making sure that there are no nativity displays on public grounds. I have much more in common with christians, jews, and muslims who are motivated to help the poor and homeless than I do these privileged misanthropes. Better to work with them--and my fellow atheist humanists also similarly focused--and actually make a meaningful contribution to the welfare of my fellow primates.

I'd rather role up my sleeves and build something with people looking in a common direction, and leave the theological discussions for pleasant post-project coffee talk.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Excerpts From a Mind on the Mend

If I had cancer, I would understand my relationship to that cancer with my brain. If I had diabetes, I would understand my relationship to it with my brain. There is something wrong with my brain. How am I supposed to understand that? With my foot?

Suicide is a thing that is always waiting to suggest itself to me. Other people have problems and struggles in their lives, but not all of them turn directly to thoughts of suicide when things go awry. Suicide is the perennial salesman, always on the bullet point.

I don't know how to explain my salesman passenger to other people who don't carry the same passenger. I guarantee you, if you do not have the passenger, there is nothing I could say to explain it to you. If you do have the passenger, there's nothing else I need to say.

I guess there is a loneliness to being down, because the only comfort I can find when I am down is to seek out art created by folks who know what it's like to be down. Nothing direct helps lift me up. I am only lifted by catharsis. There is a song by Florence and the Machine called Never Let Me Go that is a romantic ode to drowning that has kept me afloat lately. I listen to it over and over again and really know what it means. I don't think my disease would be bearable without art.

Similarly, I also have to write. I mean I have to write. Otherwise it knots up inside of me and makes me too heavy to do anything. I have demons that I have to answer to. Some of them are beautiful and some of them are horrible. I use the beautiful demons to chase away the horrible ones. Sometimes it is all I can do to remain functional.

I'm coming out of a fog lately. The medication I have been on has been working pretty well, but there are still cycles. Luckily, I have been able to take some time off of work in order to sort these things out. It's something I need to do every now and then. I feel tender. I wince at human contact. I'm going to grow stronger if I am patient with myself, I know, but it's a matter of waiting. One does not simply walk out of Mordor.

I know it may be unwise to share these things with you, but I'm not the only person with demons out here. Life can be a cold business and it is inherently without meaning. We have to create our own meaning and share our meaning with each other. We all carry this life around on our back, and it is good to share our loads. It's good to let others who have a similar load that you know what it is like bend beneath the weight. At least I think that's true. It has helped me.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

10 Reasons to Kill Yourself

  [re-posted from May, 2013]

I have experienced very black depressions, and know how hard it is to get help when you are in such a state. I have pet the black-eyed dog Winston Churchill and Nick Drake wrote about. It has sat on my lap. Its breath is horrible.

There are few places you can find solace when the dog pays a visit. Few places, that is, if you're lucky. There is very little that resonates. At least for me, certain music could touch me; Nine Inch Nails has shooed the dog away for me before. So has John Berryman's poetry. Kay Redfield Jamison has also helped. But there's not much out there that can do the job; the writing is either too sanitary or too hopeful. When I am with the dog--when his scent overpowers everything else in the room--upbeat motivational speeches don't do me any good. If anything, they make things worse.

When I told my wife I was going to write a blog post called '10 Reasons to Kill Yourself', she cringed. But then I explained my thinking to her; to reach someone in a deep depression, you have to know the terrain. Those of us who have been there know, so it is on us to reach out to each other in a language we can understand.

I thought it would be worthwhile to collect a bunch of reasons in favor of suicide, and then demonstrate that there are actually better reasons not to commit suicide. For example; there is no God, therefore life is meaningless. But if there is no God, then you are actually presented with an opportunity to create your own meaning. I would flesh these little bullet points out, of course, but you get the point. Then it occurred to me that this gimmick would  be too transparent, and may only irritate a person in a deep depression. It would read like too many evangelical pamphlets that present straw man arguments for atheism and then proceed to knock them down with spurious logic.

So I am writing this instead. Maybe it is best just to lay my intentions bare and see what comes from them? When I started my recovery from alcoholism, it wasn't the AA or NA manual that provided me with the most sustenance; it was Richard Lewis's book The Other Great Depression. He wrote about things I understood from his personal vantage point. It surprised me how similar our vantage points were, too. As I began to come to terms with my mental illness, it was Kay Redfield Jamison and William Styron that made sense to me, and made me feel I wasn't alone.

Maybe just writing about our experiences are enough. So that's what I'm doing.

I already have two chihuahuas that I love, and two dogs are enough for me.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Different Types of Hunger

Schopenhauer warns against filling our heads with too many other-people's-thoughts, so we can have room for our own.

This seems true, but my soul is always hungry--as an atheist I use the word 'soul' creatively--and I am constantly looking for new thoughts, ideas, feelings to spread throughout my being.

I think Schopey is right, but there is such a thing as not filling your head with enough other-people's-thoughts too. Your brain and soul can become dumb and your own thoughts will become inbred and deformed--looking like the members of the royal family that they keep in the basement--if you don't let your being breath in the air created by other lungs regularly enough.

I don't know how to strike the right balance, but I am always hungry. Always ready to eat. I wake up and think 'what is for breakfast?' and as soon as I begin eating I am already fantasizing about lunch. After lunch, it seems like forever until dinner, and dinner is always over far too soon.

Currently, I'm gorging on William S. Burroughs.  I have been reading nothing but his work for a month now. I have read 'The Cat Inside', 'Junky', and 'Queer', and loved them. I have also read 'Nake Lunch', and enjoyed parts of it--a few good nightmare landscapes in there--but overall left with the sensation that it was the product of the author masturbating into a typewriter. I am currently reading half-heartedly through 'The Soft Machine'. I'm not crazy about the cut-up method. I wish Burroughs would have stuck more with straight-forward narrative. I'm holding out more hope for his late trilogy, 'Exterminator!', and 'Interzone'.

What brought me to Burroughs? I don't know, but I was hard up before I arrived at him. When I get into an author and there is a good match, I like to eat all of his works. I say 'his works' sadly, because I seem to gravitate mostly towards male writers. White male writers, to be precise. White dead male writers, to be even more on point. Maybe I don't like the competition element that might exist between me and living authors. Maybe I feel safer interacting with folks who can no longer hurt me or let me down.

I can already sense the anxiety building. I'll be done with 'Soft Machine' soon, and will need to go out and purchase all of Burroughs' other works. When I'm done with his limited output, I don't know what I'll read. Before Burroughs I was nuts about Alan Moore's run in Swamp Thing, and before that I read all of Kay Redfield Jamison's books (a girl! A living girl!).

There are two ways to over-do it with other-people's-thoughts: to have no compulsion at all towards them, and to rely on them completely. Both orientations--one is to be found in the uneducated plebian, the other is to be found in the over-educated scholar--are caused by the same sin: a total lack of creativity and a fear of conversion.

Creativity may be an inborn gift, so maybe there's nothing to say about that. But the fear of conversion--that's a shame, baby. Why wouldn't you want a little bit of me in you? I think we go well together. I know I wouldn't mind a little bit of you in me.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Where Do the Homeless Come From?

“... Capitalism will behave antisocially if it is profitable for it to do so, and that can now mean human devastation on an unimaginable scale. What used to be apocalyptic fantasy is today no more than sober realism....”   -Terry Eagleton

I've been asked to deliver a talk on the causes of homelessness at the end of September. Half jokingly, I wrote on my Facebook page:

"Been invited to talk to a local church about the causes of homelessness. Basically, I am going to blame it all on capitalism'.

But later--as I began to prepare for the talk--I thought, 'Shit. This really is capitalism's fault'.

What you typically hear in a discussion of the causes of homelessness is statistics about mental health and substance abuse, along with a little bit of information about laborers who have aged out of the workforce and women fleeing domestic violence. More daring speakers may get into issues of racism, homophobia, and sexism too. These are all key contributors to homelessness. What do they have to do with capitalism? Everything. Unfortunately, most speakers are not daring enough to completely indict our entire social system.

Capitalism is a socioeconomic system that understands the basic law of the jungle: eat or be eaten. Only the strong survive. These two precepts are in the very cells of capitalism. Capitalism is also inherently an exploitative system: For someone to be on top, another person has to be on the bottom. Staying on the top cannot be done without ensuring that those who begin on the bottom stay on the bottom. Capitalism can be compared to a machine that must keep moving in order to prevent from collapsing. The fuel it uses to keep it moving is the lives of the exploited classes. As it moves, it grinds up bodies. In order to stay on top, the exploiters must become much more vicious. In order to rise to the top in this system, a person must almost by definition be a perfect sociopath. Bear in mind: you are statistically likely to die in the same class you are born into. 'The American Dream' is more myth than it is a possibility.

  Things like mental illness, substance abuse, racism, sexism, and domestic violence affect everyone across all classes (although you do not find many laborers aged out of their professions in the 1%). The difference between the way the 1% handles these issues and the extreme poor (a necessary byproduct of capitalism) handle these issues are vast.

Like everything else, the quality of services available to the very rich (the richest of whom have inherited their wealth, not earned it) is far superior to the quality of services available to the rest of us. You will not find many folks from very wealthy families in our shelter system. You will not find many women from the 1% fleeing abuse into our shelter system. Rich folks with mental illness and substance abuse problems handle them much more differently. They have the resources.

There are homeless people in so-called socialist countries, but there are no real socialist countries in the world. Capitalism taints everything. It is like a cancer that spreads even into the most egalitarian environments. It is this system--built off of our basest qualities--that fills our shelters and sidewalks with homeless people.

There is enough wealth in the United States to end extreme poverty the world over. Venezuela ended extreme poverty by nationalizing oil and oil production. Imagine if we were to follow suit? The wars we have engaged in over the past few years cost more than the projected cost of Obamacare, yet we were willing to pay for those. The money is there. Karl Marx predicted that real communism would only be possible in a country that had accumulated a vast amount of capital via the capitalist system. America fits that bill perfectly. It's just a matter of redistributing it. Really, it's just a matter of priorities.

All of those typically listed causes of homelessness can be addressed. We just need the resources. We have the resources, but only if we start to think collectively and humanistically. The resources are there, but are they there for us, or for them?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Most Americans Don't Understand Freedom

[re-blogged from April]

Again and again I hear Americans--especially of the conservative bent--talk about freedom as if it is an either/or proposition; "Homosexuals should be free to marry", or "the government cannot infringe upon our freedom to own guns", or "we should have the freedom to drive any kind of car we would like", and on and on.

The thing many folks don't understand is that whenever a person or population endorses one freedom, they are denying another one. Take our examples one by one: to allow homosexuals to marry, the freedom of bigots to force their subjective moral choices upon our culture is infringed upon. When a government does not regulate gun ownership, the freedom of citizens to live in communities without automatic and semi-automatic weapons is infringed upon. The freedom to drive any kind of car you like--with whatever mode of propulsion--infringes upon your freedom to breathe clean air.

There is no such thing as a free society. The libertarian worldview is truly a fantasy. Every freedom granted to a population or person comes with a freedom denied. What needs to be decided is what the underlying philosophy of the freedoms afforded a population are. A totally free society is not possible, but a just society is.

It is an infringement on the freedom of the wealthy to accumulate and horde wealth to re-distribute that wealth. It is an infringement on the freedom of those whom the wealthy exploit to accumulate and horde their wealth to self determine and self actualize by not re-distributing the wealth concentrated amongst such a small percentage of our population.

The question we have to ask ourselves is 'Why should we grant freedom in one area in this scenario and not the other?'

My personal operating philosophy when it comes to supporting certain freedoms and opposing others are as follows: I support freedoms that promote equality, justice, and human potential. I oppose freedoms that cause harm to others while unfairly benefiting a specific empowered group. I support freedoms that allow individuals to self actualize, and oppose freedoms that cause individuals to stagnate.

I'm sure there are other aspects to my personal view of how freedoms should be allocated, but that's a good snapshot of my personal metric.

We should all have such a metric, and should all understand that when you're talking about freedom, you're not just talking about positives and negatives. With each positive comes a negative, and vice versa.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why Live?

As Creed asked whenever Creed was asking things, 'What's this life for?'--and who wants to be in a world where there is Creed?

Attempting to comfort a suffering friend recently, I found myself jumping into a conversation with him with the intent on lightening his load, but found my mind immediately filled with questions of a different nature.

All of the platitudes a person offers someone going through a tough time felt hollow to me. I was calling myself out on bullshit left and right. Eventually, I came to feel like someone who stepped out on a ledge to talk someone else out of jumping, but then decided, 'hey, maybe I should jump too'.

These thoughts occur to me. There are philosophical answers to the question of whether or not we should go on living, but philosophical answers are of small consequence when the embrace of life and the retraction from it is something that is more felt in the blood than experienced in the brain.

This, it turns out, is actually much more than a metaphor:
"Because of the brain's complexity and inaccessibility, the search for predictors of suicide risk has instead focused on molecular signs, or biomarkers. These biomarkers help to indicate which people are at even higher risk. Niculescu and his colleagues have found six such biomarkers in blood that they say can identify people at risk of committing suicide."
So once again it comes down to the domain of science. Telling a person with depression that they 'have to make their own happiness' or 'fake it 'til you make it' is really weak tea. The problem of suicide is really something that is literally in the blood, and does not boil down to merely a conscious 'yes' or 'no' to the problem of existence.

And for many of us existence is a problem. It is a problem that comes bundled with a series of other problems too. There is not only the question of 'should I live', but there is the question of 'how should I live', and at every step along the line there is a chance for our answers to those questions to turn one way or the other.

I want to comfort my friends when they are suffering, but I understand the pull of existential crises entirely. When in the grips of a crisis, word barely suffice. Good advice can only go so far, and often feels more like it is intended to bolster the self worth of the advice giver than the person who is suffering. Is it best to simply be there for a person in crisis, to listen to them, to sympathize, or should we be rifling through our working memory for anecdotes and Facebook quotes that will make it sound like we've figured out something that we in no way have?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

My Conservative Issues

I spend a lot of time advocating for Marxist and liberal (there is a difference!) policies. I thought it might be worthwhile to highlight the political stances I have that might be considered more conservative, at least in a modern American context.

So here we go.

1. Death Penalty: I love the death penalty. In fact, I think we should use it more often, for larger segments of the criminal population. Example: rapists, pedophiles, and money criminals. If I were king, there would be executions of sex criminals and crooked CEO's and wall street bankers.

2. 'Teach the Controversy' in school: I think creationism is bullshit, but I think it would be beneficial to go over the controversy (as long as there is one) in science class. No sense in sexing up information by denying it a place in the public square. In fact, I think there should be comparative religion classes and bible study in public schools too, although I don't think the outcome of such a thing would be what the religious might hope for.

3. Guns: Buy all the guns you want. I'm a civil libertarian across the board. In fact, buy a bazooka if you can afford it.

4. Gay Marriage: Wait, what!? Is this some kind of trick? No. I agree with the conservative argument that marriage is a fundamental building block of society. That's why I believe it should be available to straight and gay families alike. More marriages, more stability, more loving houses for kids to grow up in. Simple.

5. Drill, baby, drill: I support drilling the shit out of our natural resources. Get all the oil out of the country in as clean and safe a way as possible, and use it for the benefit of our nation. Make us solvent. Also, go nuclear. Why not? It's true I believe these natural resources should also be nationalized and used to pay for universal healthcare, universal education, and universal housing, but when conservatives talk about pipelines and drilling, I'm right on board with them.

So those are at least 5 of my conservative issues. My general thought is that if you find yourself 100% in agreement with any party platform, you're probably a mindless sheep. How many issues do you disagree with your particular social group on? 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Choose Your Drugs Wisely

We're all getting fucked up in one way or the other. Some of us drink, some of us smoke, some of us shoot and snort. Some of us turn to religion. Some of us get our opiates in the political realm. Sometimes we need a little boost. Sometimes we need to come down.

I used to be a drinker, until I realized I was going to commit suicide if I didn't quit. I was drinking every night. It was ruining my life. I woke up with pains in my liver and depression every morning. It took a few attempts, but eventually I did it. Without groups and without Jesus. I know some people need groups and Jesus to quit, but I didn't, and I don't think everyone does. I've been sober for 2+ years now.

Now I'm going back and forth on caffeine. There's no real reason for me to quit my daily sugar free energy drink, but I feel compelled to. Back when I was a christian, I thought it was all about stripping away--getting rid of the things that stood between you and God. Maybe I'm still in that habit, and still trying to strip away things to get closer to something I don't even believe in anymore. Isn't that weird? Maybe that's what I'm doing.

But caffeine is not a horrible drug. There are tons of good drugs. Caffeine. The mood stabilizer I take every night. The antidepressant I take every morning, Antihistamines. Antibiotics. Stuff like that. And there are some drugs that are worse than others.

'No pills or powders' is what Harold Ramis's character in Knocked Up advises Seth Rogen's character. That seems to be a generally safe rule of thumb. Heroin, Meth, and Crack are awful. I've seen too many lives ruined and ended by those drugs. Then there's alcohol--way worse than marijuana, if you ask me. I would be more upset to find out my sons had been drinking booze than smoking a little pot; maybe it's because of the damage I have seen alcohol do to myself and people close to me.

But we will all get high. 'Everybody must get stoned', as Bob Dylan put it. Think about the shit that is in the food you eat. Talk about some fucked up drugs. We put horrible things into our bodies. And what about the shit we put in the air? Christ, we breathe in some horrible things. Then there are the ideas. We get high on those, too. Some are good, some are bad. We have to choose our ideas carefully. At least as carefully as we should choose our drugs


Sunday, August 4, 2013


I'm jealous of dogs and their ability
To form habits; they know
Just when it's time to eat, to sleep,
To shit, to go for a walk.
They are eager for these daily landmarks.
Me, the only habit I have ever succeeded at
Is drinking, and I've quit that.
I do not exercise, I do not meditate,
I do not clean the house or shave,
I do not review the paperwork
In a timely fashion.
Only drinking, and I've quit that.
Drinking, and being alive.
Those are my only habits,
And I am not a dog; I am no good at habits.

Friday, July 26, 2013

I've Been a Bad Atheist

I have an evangelical urge. It's part of who I am. Because I like to spread whatever good news I feel I've come into possession of, I often find myself in conversations with people who think differently than me.

Atheism is something I have mixed feelings about sharing. A reason I am eager to share it: eliminating my illusions when it came to gods, demons, afterlives, supernatural powers and forces, lifted a veil from my eyes and gave my life a sense of urgency it did not hitherto possess.

A reason I am hesitant to share it: people--myself included--construct their own complex personal mythologies to get them through the night, a night that is often dark, lonely, and harsh. I have my illusions, no doubt. Attempting to grab other folks' illusions away from them feels unkind. Offering nothing to replace the stripped away illusion with can seem cruel. Sure, we can offer something to replace religion; but we have to ask if it's something that fits into a given individual's personal network of belief. Just to try to switch our concept of reason for their concept of a god can be like Indiana Jones switching a bag of sand for the idol in the temple, with similar results.

I talk and write a lot about the things I think and feel, and sometimes I strike different notes. Such is life. Sometimes I can be magnanimous in my atheism. I hope sometimes I can be inspiring with my atheism. Other times I know I can be bitter, angry, and belittling of other belief systems.

Such is the human creature. Because of that evangelical urge, I am worried that I don't always model the healthiest aspects of my atheism. I want you to believe like I believe. I want you to see through eyes unclouded by opiates. I want you to see a life stuffed with meaning because it is short, because it is temporary. I want you to experience the glory and horror of the state Jean Paul Sartre referred to as being 'condemned to freedom'. It's all quite exciting, and I want to sell it to you.

But then, I don't want you to suffer. I don't want anyone to feel despair. I believe it is okay to need religion. I believe everyone has some sort of religion, with or without gods.

I'm compelled to talk about these things, and I want to do so in the best way possible. I can't always do that. I view atheism as a leveler, rather than a positive belief. I want to be a good representative of that leveler, as well as for the positive beliefs I have constructed on the surface atheism has cleared. Atheists are a large and untrusted minority in this country; we have to talk about our unbelief if we want to change that.

 I was thinking I needed to take more care in how I talked about atheism, but maybe just talking honestly is the best way to go. Be it magnanimous, be it angry, be it bitter. We've just got to talk about it.

I've been a bad atheist, but I also think I've been a good one.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fuckin' Hobbies

I've started a few hobbies. Some of them may seem somewhat strange, but then I'm somewhat strange, so that shouldn't be surprising.

This--what I'm doing right now, this is a hobby. Blogging is a hobby. I do it a few times a week. Writing helps me relieve stress. I also have this little mood tracker on my phone that I think might be a hobby. I'm bipolar, you know, so I find it useful to record how I'm feeling three times a day. Is that a hobby? I'm not sure. I'm also looking into getting a jump rope, because my therapist suggested it. She said jumping rope is one of the best ways to release the brain's natural antidepressants. So, maybe jumping rope will become a hobby. I also lift weights every morning.

 I watch a lot of movies too. All kinds of movies. New movies. Old movies. Big movies, Small movies. Red movies, blue movies...that's a hobby. I also follow a few T.V. shows. I watch Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Peep Show, Girls, Dr. Who, Game of Thrones, and Adventure Time with my kids. I should probably add that I watch My Little Pony with my son Langston, who loves that show. It's a good show! I'm not ashamed of it. I also buy lots of books.

I've been collecting comic books lately, too. I used to collect them when I was a kid, and just started to collect them again to have something to do with my kids. It was going to be a casual thing, but then it took on a life of its own. I found myself deeply immersed in Swamp Thing, Sandman, Constantine, Animal Man, and Tomorrow Stories. The new 52 books are really good, and I'm reading all of the old Constantine and Swamp Thing comics as well as the new runs. I find myself eagerly looking forward to each new issue. It's not really about my kids anymore. I'm sucked in.

And now I feel this weird pull towards vinyl records. God help me. I was just listening to Marc Maron's intro to his interview with Thom Yorke, and he was talking about collecting records. I though, 'hey, I could get into that...'

What's wrong with me? What kind of hole am I trying to fill with all this shit? I used to think that life was about stripping away, getting closer to the source, etc. But here I am, collecting all kinds of hobbies.

Thank Christ sports have never appealed to me. Or cigars. Or golf. Rock climbing however...that seems kind of cool. And coins...a collection of rare coins might be neat. But then, I could always start raising chickens.