Saturday, December 31, 2005

Friday, December 30, 2005

wall with cracks

wall with cracks

vingt regards sur l'enfant...


I have been studying this picture since my sister gave it to me on Monday. To me there is a sadness in my eyes. I was five years old. During that time I spent most of my time drawing. I drew birds. All kinds of birds. I had a copy of Audubon's BIRDS OF AMERICA and I copied the pictures out of it, using colored pencils which my mother bought me. One of the greatest birthday gifts I ever received was a set of pencils in what seemed to me like every color imaginable. I drew birds doing human things. Lining up at the synagogue (where did that come from?). Talking to one another.

In this depressed state--I sit here looking at the picture and writing in an attempt to break out of it--I look at myself almost four decades ago and wonder if I wanted to fly out of myself even then. I remember being despondent so much of the time. I was terrified that my parents would abandon me. I remember a constant gray sky, although that can't be accurate.

Today when walking back from swimming I thought to myself that maybe the only possible way for me to survive these depressions is to leave myself behind, like a bird that can fly thousands of miles high in the sky. Leave myself behind, because almost all the time now I find basic existence so torturous that if I think about it too long I cry.

I vowed that I would not complain any longer in this blog, and I meant it at the time. But since I also vowed, when I began this blog, that I would not hide from the truth, then today I have no other option but to write what I am writing now. I am looking out the window at a clear blue sky. It is beautiful; I recognize that. But it brings me no relief. I feel like there is little more that I or anyone can do to help me improve. Bleak, isn't it?


This rapid cycling is going to drive me nuts. My mood is so erratic, although the one predictable thing is that either I am feeling utterly depressed to the point of coma, or I am excessively exuberant and my mind is racing with hypomania (I think verging on full-blown mania). This may be because I forgot to take my medication on Monday and part of Tuesday. Or maybe all of Tuesday. I need to stabilize myself.


Thursday, December 29, 2005


This is one of the few paintings of mine that I am really happy with.

field music

field music: nocturne --detail (oil and acrylic on linen 24x24)


I was walking to Union Square along 14th Street, a little freaked out by how crowded it was. I get used to the calm of my neighborhood, and since Manhattan is at its most crowded this time of year, and I don't like crowds, it is difficult. And Union Square is one of the most crowded places of all because of the shops and restaurants that cater to the twenty-something crowd. I was meeting R for coffee and to discuss depression and work (he is a writer). And then I looked up--I was listening to a message on my voice mail--and who do I see but B walking along. I smiled, motioned to him that I was still listening to the phone--and then hung up and we chatted very briefly; he was headed from the gym, going back to work. He was smiling a lot. He looked good. I like his longer hair. It made me smile, seeing B. I like to see people I know in Manhattan since it always seems such a novelty. And B seemed so happy, in a good mood. And that made my mood better too.

Brokeback Mountain

I saw "Brokeback Mountain" yesterday. It was, in many ways, a deeply touching film; the camera work was beautiful, the story one of universal human failing. But I was not blown away, and this is why. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall had no real chemistry. Maybe because they are both straight, they simply could not fully realize their characters. Ledger's character, because he was more fully realized in the screenplay, became more believable as the story progressed. I thought Gyllenhall--who resembles a not-so-bright frat boy--was just one-dimensional. The women, the wives of both men, were excellent. What is creating such a sensation? The subject matter, of course, is titillating, and for the first time we see two "gay" characters as men, with their awkward machismo, rather than the prancing nellies one is used to seeing on television and movies. That is something commendable, I think. But I believe the hyperbolic response to this movie is inspired by the kind of sentimentalism that seems to just touch its edges. It could have been far more mawkish. So I give it three stars.


Here I am in kindergarten. Note the teeth. Or lack thereof.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

first grade

I had to wear the patch over my left eye to strengthen my right eye. The experiment was not a success.

eye patch


I am sitting here writing this with Patsy purring in my lap. Yesterday I went into Manhattan to do some errands. When I got on the train to come back to Brooklyn I had an allergy attack of epic proportions. I must have sneezed twenty times in a row, and then it was as if a faucet had been turned on in my head. My eyes, my nose and my throat itched. I was blind-sided.

When I got home I took two sudafed. Then I noticed Patsy licking at her belly. I took a look and saw that the sutures from her surgery looked quite irritated. Closer inspection showed that at least one of the sutures was infected; I won't go into the details but it was quite nasty. I called the vet and hoped someone would answer, as it was past their regular office hours. Luckily Dr N picked up, and I told her about Patsy. She told me to bring her in right away. So I did. Dr N removed the stitches--they are the kind that are supposed to dissolve, but they sure weren't dissolving quickly enough--and gave Patsy an injection of an antibiotic. Then she gave me liquid antibiotic to give her at home, twice a day. It is like animal hospital here. But already the infection looks gone and she is not licking that spot anymore.

Unfortunately my allergies did not abate quite so fast. I went to my brother's to exchange gifts in the evening and I was just a mess. So I took another sudafed, and then, as so often happens, I felt like I was so high I could barely walk. I took a cab home. I don't really remember much, but I fell asleep with a candle burning. When I woke at 5 am I wondered why it was light in my room. I could have burned my apartment, the whole building down. I was so freaked out. I am stupid beyond belief sometimes.

My brother gave me a beautiful Misono handmade chef's knife. Japanese knives are really the best. I am quite a serious cook, and while I have good knives already, this one is the gem of my arsenal. Just looking at it you see how beautifully it is made, and I was cutting up a lemon for tea and just barely had to touch the fruit andt the blade just went right through, effortlessly.
leaves in shadowyewneedlesreaching

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

traveling to PA

home 4home 5home 7home 8home 9



With Mabel in tow I drove to PA to go to my sister's. I passed this strange inflated thing on my way:

who is it

We had our holiday celebration. Some old friends came by. It was a whirlwind and I felt overwhelmed. I headed back to NYC after dinner. It was a nice day. But my mood was disassociated. I felt as if I were watching myself from a distance.


Monday, December 26, 2005


iron maze

In ILLNESS AS METAPHOR the late Susan Sontag wrote of the cancer victim who must face the (often unspoken) cultural belief that it is a failure of strength,some personal weakness of will, that causes the disease, thus imbuing the victim with a sense of shame. The victim is a loser. A wholesome temperament, an ability to handle the stresses of life, a greater feeling of hope: such a person would not be stricken with cancer. And, in the odd chance that such a person become ill, the strength of character defeats the disease. A tumor is something alien that attacks the body from
without by invading from within. Yet it is the body itself that breeds this alien, as cancer cells are mutations of normal ones.

Depression is viewed by many as a failing of the will. How can something that exists inside the psyche, rather than organically within some organ or bodily system, be a real disease? When I am depressed I should just be able to get over it. Failure to do so shows weakness in my character, a willingness to fold, to be hopeless, to not try to smile and face the day.

But I know that as long as I can remember my consciousness is grey like the clouds that thicken the sky today. I can enjoy things, I do laugh, I can be quite funny myself, but those are moments, gifts that are made more vivid because of the backdrop from which they emerge. I remember as a small boy when afternoons would just seem like an endless stretch of nothingness, with nothing good, no joy or eagerness in my heart. Just a kind of blank dullness. I would want to be left alone. Things have not changed so much. So I know it is not my fault. This is how I was made.

Sunday, December 25, 2005


This has not been my best day. I enjoyed a peaceful morning listening to Bach, but as time went by I felt more agitated. Going outside to walk Mabel I did not want to see anyone, and luckily the streets were quiet, so many people away or inside doing Christmas morning. Later I took some help and went to sleep. The phone rang at some point and it was B calling, which cheered me up and then I got up. I wrapped gifts. Tomorrow I will go to PA to see family. The funny thing is that today I baked chocolate-chip cookies as if I were having a party. Some party. Party of one. I ate so many I feel a little ill now.

* * * * *

One reason I like to take photographs like this is that a thing divorced from its context becomes something new; this nail in a piece of old deck-wood from the Vermont house is, in this photograph, unknowable as such. Here it is part of a composition, the roundness of the nail contrasting with the straight boards; the parallel lines of the boards are offset by the loosely parallel tracery of the woodgrain. And the color: bleached and aged, it resembles galvanized steel rather than what it was originally.


Since I am ignoring the fact that it is a holiday--with no celebration on my calendar--I will not say the requisite brief phrase.

N.B. -- I was invited to a friend's family party but in the last few days I felt increasingly uncomfortable at the thought of going. Why? Because I would be the only non-family member there and I don't want to feel like an orphan or somebody's charity project; everyone else would be couples, the married siblings of my friend and their various kids, his parents. I would be like a third wheel, and since I am not romantically attached to my friend, I would feel all the more estranged. How silly of me, you might say. Silly or not, these powerful feelings made me look forward to today with such anxiety that I had no choice but to decline the invitation. This in itself caused me a great deal of turmoil--guilt and fear of hurting my friend's feelings-- but it was the right thing to do. I feel calmer, if not calm, now.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

List Item No. _____

One of the worst things about me is that it takes very little to make me think badly of myself. As though I am a glance away from eternal punishment. Where the hell does this come from? It seems Jungian, maybe? I am not well-educated in the various psychoanalytical theories, although I do know something about Freud and just took the COMPLETE WRITINGS OF SIGMUND FREUD off of my shelf and onto my reading pile. Let's see if I can focus long enough to read some of it.

Speaking of reading, can anyone recommend something for me to read? I would prefer fiction, but am open to all suggestions. It just has to be intelligently written.


Recently an acquaintance commented that though he liked my paintings, he found them dark. But I don't really see it that way. These flowers... There is an undercurrent of sadness in all my work. Even objectively I can see it. How could I expect anything else? But I express sadness in beauty. That is how I am trying to fix things.

flowers (detail)

happy anniversary

painting detail

December twenty-fourth minstrels to mean even.


Friday, December 23, 2005

winter sun

This is the eve of the one-year anniversary of my blog. A lot has happened. Much has changed for me, but still things are largely the same, inside my head that is. Circumstances have shifted; my place with respect to those around me is different now. But the same themes, the same preoccupations vex me still.

I used to keep a journal, writing extensively each day. I still keep a journal, but the entries are more spotty. This blog has become the journal of my days. I worry about the ephemeral nature of it all; so easily erased, not tangible like the many bound volumes that line my shelves, going back to my earliest college days. I kept no record before that; there was nothing, in my mind, that I wanted to remember.

winter sun

In reading back through last year's entries, I found this poem I had written. I am going to reprint it here, because it means even more to me now than at the time I completed it. Please bear with me. I apologize for excess self-indulgence.


Here I sit,
crossed by gashes of light, watching
pictures skitter and disappear; each
lasts only a moment.

On the other side,
legs split, a victory symbol, pink-tipped,
waits with claws splayed--
an outline--suggesting

eternity of loss. The current, strong and
altered only by the touch of
time passed, breeds: a germ colony,
next a penful of toxic ink.

I feel a splash now, warm gusts.
the roar slackens in a few fast
ticks. So then, will I touch your chest, and imagine this?

This morning there will be no fear;
no fear nor regret.
(2 January 2005)


I look in the mirror. My left lower eyelid is doing a mad dance. I think it might be from stress and fatigue. I have not been sleeping well, and I am fighting to keep from sinking. I am going from moment to moment. So if I string a bunch of decent moments together, I could end up having a decent day. Be in the moment. Forget what just happened and don't think about what might happen ahead of time.

left eye

Thursday, December 22, 2005


I have been slowly awakening to the fact that I only really get any decent work done when I am in a hypomanic phase. When I am depressed I can't focus on my work. In fact I can't get motivated to do much of anything. Therefore my composing moves in fits and starts. I have missed many deadlines in the past few years, which is something that never used to happen to me.

So I wonder: if I stopped taking my medication, I would become much more prolific--the way I was in the old unmedicated crazy days--but I would definitely suffer in other ways. My life would become chaotic and things would no doubt spin out of control. So what kind of bargain have I struck? Contemplating this just makes me feel more depressed.

So my original fear, that medication would turn me into a numbed-out zombie, was unfounded. But this dilemma never occurred to me as a possibility. And now I question all my ideas about creativity, ambition, the purpose of my life, my happiness. Because creating music and art was/is the chief thing that makes me happy. And so if I am not creating anything, I am not happy. Simple.

* * * * *

Although I am not in much of a holiday mood, I am trying to ramp up my enthusiasm. So here is my neighbor's wreath...


Things Observed

Things I saw on a trip to Key Food:

1. A UPS truck blaring Madonna's "Like A Prayer" parked in front of the Thai restaurant
2. An elderly woman staring, slack-jawed, at the stacks of 99-cent broccoli in the produce aisle
3. A car with a huge sculpture of a soda can perched on top of its roof

spoke too soon

I was going to write that my eye had stopped twitching. But it started twitching again just a few minutes ago.

stairwell 1

Mr. Man

This guy is standing at the end of the hall outside my neighbor's apartment.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005


The Japanese writer Yukio Mishima committed seppuku to end his life. He disemboweled himself, publicly. He used a large sword of some ritual importance. (I don't remember what the sword is called, but I read about it in a biography of the writer I read years ago in Chicago). There was an audience, I believe it involved members of the Japanese military.

Thus he manifestly argued against the act of self-destruction as a feminine, "soft" expression of the will. Death is a kind of drawing inward to one's self, I think. That is why for so many the preferred method brings one first into a state of sleep. But real men throw their stuff out there for all to see. Shooting into the temple; seppuku; hanging, lighting one's self on fire, driving off a cliff: these are acts of exhibitionism. One is displayed, becomes public.

Statistically men are far more apt to use violent means in committing suicide than women. I know I read this somewhere. When I find the correct attribution I will add footnotes.

the losing end

It's so hard for me now
But I'll make it some how
though I know I'll never be the same
Won't you ever change your ways
It's so hard to make love pay
when you're on the losing end
and I feel that way again

(Neil Young, "The Losing End")



I have reverse insomnia. I take 200-300 mg of desyrel (trazodone) about 11 pm. Usually an hour later I fall asleep quickly. The problem is staying asleep. I wake up automatically at 530 am. Even if I stay up until 230 or 3 (as I did on Monday night) I still wake up at 530. And going back to sleep is impossible. So I wake up, eyes burning with fatigue, and start my day. As you might imagine, I am quite tired writing this, and it is a bit before 1 pm.

The lack of sleep has lifted my depression. Yesterday I was hypomanic, talking rapidly, doing ten things at once. Today I feel fairly normal. I like feeling like this. Of course, my activity is limited because the strike is still going and there is no easy way to travel around the city. I wish that I had a bicycle, although there are rarely safe places to lock a bike in Manhattan.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005



My horoscope for today begins with this:

You may have trouble holding it all together today.

I am on edge. I am sad. I am tense. Today I will try to relax and help myself. The sun is shining and the sky is clear blue. Patsy is toasting on the radiator again. I stayed up until 2 am last night. Restricting sleep was a method of treating depression in the days before psychopharmaceuticals. I am trying it. Maybe it will make a comeback, like leeches or cupping.

My left eye is twitching uncontrollably. It started last night. I wonder what it means.

There is a transit strike here in NYC. No subway, no buses. Good thing I did my holiday shopping yesterday.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Sunday, December 18, 2005



Patsy is doing fabulously after her surgery. If anything, her brief time away has made her even more sweet and affectionate. She still has a strong devilish streak, but it is charming. She has taken to toasting on the window sill above the radiator. Maybe she learned it from Pomona, who has enjoyed this practice for years.

For anyone who has depression issues, I highly recommend a pet or two (or four, as in my extreme case). For one, it gives you someone beside yourself to take care of, and can take you outside your own head this way. And two, you won't be alone. And they are quite entertaining.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

not yet


The transit strike has been partially forestalled. I was able to keep my appointment with the retiring shrink in the afternoon. I felt nothing when he wished me good luck and shook my hand. Just mild annoyance. The task of finding a new doctor is daunting. I wish that one could just be assigned. Afterward I went to Union Square and bought another pair of Blundstone boots, black ones. I can't afford this; I used the credit card in a burst of "who the f-ck cares?" They are the most comfortable shoes I have found--I can easily fit my orthotics inside them--and they are a relative bargain. I am sure that they are much cheaper in Australia, but I will probably never go to Australia in my life.

My mood is no better. I truly appreciate all the comments from yesterday. The funny thing is, I do know that I am talented. And that I have created some beautiful things (I hope). But these exist in some category that seems to exclude me. Maybe it is because, when I was growing up, no one celebrated my talents. My swimming, that got me attention. And the funny thing is, I did not have a particular talent for swimming, really; I just worked so hard at it that I became quite good through pure determination (and thankfully, I am well coordinated). Toward the end of high school, and especially in college, it felt great to have some status as a musician, but maybe it was too little too late.

I hope I don't sound like a whining spoiled brat, which is always my fear. I am very lucky in so many ways. That is why this depression/mania is such a nuisance. It seems to be the one big thing standing in the way of my finding peace.

Friday, December 16, 2005

thank you

I am truly grateful for the good advice I have received the last day or so. So I am taking you up on your suggestions, in a modified way. I am trying to have a self-indulgence day and a self-esteem day. I had a shiatsu last night because my back has been killing me. The guy I use remarked on how intensely knotted my back was. The shiatsu, which is always a little painful, was agonizing but I felt much better when he was finished.

This morning I rearranged my little dining area, and the change feels right. Then I listened to this. I have written many pieces, over a hundred, but this one (not even my own composition but an arrangement of a Jobim tune I did for Auréole's CD "Suenos de Amor") makes me happiest, I think. It is a beautiful beautiful song, and I loved writing it. I hope you like it. It is good in winter, because it reminds me of lying on the beach in Rio de Janeiro as I did in the past, the beauty of the ocean before me and the majestic mountains behind. And the musicians play so beautifully. They told me how they loved the piece, and you can hear it in their performance.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Lodgerlow commented on my last post:

I used to do similar things (although I've never been a drinker). What to do? I have no idea, madabandon. I think the trick is to avoid the dips. For me this requires management, self-management, very tight self-management. But then you run the risk (oh watch me do this) of self-managing yourself into a low mood. The bitter twisted knot binding us ever more tightly to our adversary.

I do my very best to avoid the dips. What is so confounding is that no matter how hard I do try, I can only put off the inevitable for so long. I am very good at self-management, and I have managed my situation (bipolar am I) well enough to have a "normal" life. But I am not 100% successful. The holidays are the worst. It is when I am slammed in the face by the way my family has been splintered. Compound that with the fact that I am the "gay son," and the only one in my extended family, I start from a point of alienation. Hard to explain, maybe, and maybe hard for someone who is not in this same situation to understand. I do think, though, that any gay person would know exactly what I mean. It is hard even in the closest, most successful families. In a family like mine, things are already so dysfunctional that it just makes me feel even worse. F-ck. F-ck. F-ck.



Oh how my mood sinks. Holiday break has begun; no teaching for three weeks. I should be happy. But instead I feel like a huge weight is pushing me down, making my feet drag. I just came from the gym, where I worked myself into near exhaustion, hoping that the endorphins would do their magic. No luck.

In past years, in my twenties, in college, when this happened it was easy to know what to do. I would drink scotch in quantities that alarm me now. I would smoke weed til I was choking from coughing. I would snort cocaine. I would "rage" as my friends called it. I was infamous for my wild behavior. I would stay up for days at a time, sleeping in fits, howling at the moon. I can no longer do such things, for many reasons, not the least of which being that it would kill me. So what do I do?


Last evening, after a long and tiring day, I took the train to Chelsea to meet B for dinner. It was frigid out, and the streets were strangely deserted. We were the only people in the restaurant. We were seated right in the front, in the window, presumably to attract other diners. I joked that since I was facing the street (B had has back to the window) I was probably scaring people away. I fell asleep on the train going home, something I almost never do. You see, years ago, coming home late at night in the bad days of the MTA, I fell asleep on the 1 train and ended up past the last station and a conductor woke me up. Stupid, embarassing, and dangerous, since back then--it was 1985 or so--subway crime was rampant. I had a good time at dinner, though, and the subway nap felt good.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005


A little over two years ago, after I had had a particularly difficult summer, my Mabel turned four. I celebrated her birthday with treats and a haircut (for her, not me). She looked great.

One Saturday, few weeks after her birthday, she seemed a little under the weather. She did not eat with her usual appetite. A little later, late morning, she vomited, which was unusual for her. I decided to stay in and keep an eye on her. She vomited again. And then again. I gave her water, which seemed eager for. After drinking, she seemed a bit better. Then, after twenty minutes or so had passed, she vomited again. And again. But no food; just liquid, a rusty colored liquid, and then just the water she continued to drink. I was growing very worried. My vet had closed, but I called an emergency hotline. Keep an eye on her, I was told. Give her water. If she continues to vomit tonight, you need to bring her in. I called my brother and asked him to come over. I needed help. He drove over and checked her. He said he thought she didn't look too bad. He left. But then I panicked. I called him; he had just gotten back into Manhattan. I asked him to please come drive me to Animal Kind, an excellent animal hospital in Park Slope that had weekend hours and emergency services. By this point Mabel was listless. She kept her tail down. She seemed weak, and her face was so sad. I carried her gently to the car. She was nervous but too tired to bark or physically show her fear, except for her tail, which remained curled down like I had never seen it before.

When I got to the vet, I was ushered into an examination room. A young woman vet came in; she was very kind to Mabel. She told me that Mabel looked extremely dehydrated. Had she eaten anything strange? I wracked my brains trying to figure that out. But I was sure she had not. The vet said that maybe it was a virus or infection. She would have to have some tests. They would keep her overnight. They took her away. I was distraught but tried to stay optimistic.

I called the next day. Mabel had not improved. The tests were inconclusive, but showed the effects of dehydration. She was given an IV. She would not eat. She was listless and had no energy. They would keep her another day and see what was up. By now I was beside myself. I could not stand the apartment being so quiet without her. I could not walk outside, because people would ask me where she was and I was afraid I would break down.

The next morning I went to teach. While I was teaching, my phone rang. I had kept it with me, not something I normally do, but this was an extreme situation. It was a different doctor. He told me she had not improved at all. In fact, he said, it looked grim. They would have to do exploratory surgery. He could not tell me what it might be. If she did not have the surgery she would probably die. I said please, go ahead; do whatever you have to do. I went back and finished that class. I taught a few more that day. How I did it, I don't know.

In the afternoon the doctor called again. It turns out that they found a piece of a chew-toy lodged between her stomach and the opening of her small intestine. It looked like a piece of a nylabone. Then it hit me: I had given her a nylabone for her birthday, and one day I noticed a small chunk of it missing, but I was not sure if that was the case, or if the nylabone was just shaped that way. They had a guarantee not to break and were said to be completely safe. The doctor told me that if it had lodged in her intestine she would have most likely died.

I was told to call back the next day. When the doctor, whose name was Adam, got on the phone, his words chilled me. "She is not bouncing back the way we would like. She won't eat. I think you had better come and see her as soon as possible. Sometimes that does the trick." I canceled all my appointments. Blindly I got on the train. I was shaking. I ran through the 7th Avenue stop to the exit, up the steps, and a few blocks to the office. I was so upset I could barely speak. A nurse led me up some stairs into a large room. I saw a cat having surgery. I was taken into a smaller room. There, looking almost unconscious, was Mabel. Her hair was matted, her belly shaved, an IV in her foreleg. But when I said her name, she looked up. She lifted her head. They opened the cage. She tried to get up, but I put my hand on her head and calmed her. I talked to her; I don't know what I said. She gave my hand a feeble lick. The nurse seemed encouraged. I stayed with her for about twenty minutes, and they told me that I should go; they would try and feed her and maybe now she would eat.

I called back that evening. She had eaten, and she had even gotten up. She was more alert. They told me to come visit again the next day. This time, when I got there, she was sitting up. She wagged her tail and whimpered when she saw me. I had to fight to keep from bawling. But I knew then that she would be ok. Two days later I took her home. She had lost a ton of weight, and she was under a very strict diet for weeks. She was not herself, but she was still with me.

The whole time I kept thinking, while she was so ill, that the one being in the world that I absolutely could not bear to lose was going to die. That summer I had lost two--not through death, thankfully--and I was fragile. I felt I was cursed, and that any happiness I might attain would vanish.

Thank god she made it. To this day it hurts to think of the whole ordeal. But now every day I cherish my little family of three cats and Mabel. They bring me such happiness and comfort. They don't have to speak. I can tell by their amazing expressions, their funny dances and little sounds, what they want, how they feel. Or maybe I can't tell. But that does not matter.


Patsy is home, shaved belly and all. She is eagerly sniffing all around the place. She does not seem traumatized, although going home in the intense cold must have been a little weird. Mabel is quite concerned and keeps following her around, tail wagging, making little cries. I wonder what they mean? She appears to be concerned, but Patsy seems fine. I hope she won't run around and jump too much.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


I took Patsy. She cried so much when I put her in her carrier and walked her to the vet's office. Mabel was frantic when I took Patsy away. Now she is looking all over for her. It is making me sad.


Patsy will go to the vet this morning to be spayed. She will stay overnight. Right now (it is 7 am) the others are wondering where their food is. Patsy can't have any, so for now, neither can Tuna or Pomona. I did feed Mabel. I put her food bowl in the bedroom and shut the door so that Patsy could not get in. I can't bring Patsy to the vet until 9, so the next two hours are going to be a little crazy.


And I threw out my back again. Almost twenty years ago I injured it moving a piano. Now I have three herniated lumbar disks. Usually they do not bother me, especially since swimming keeps things together. But I have taken a swimming hiatus; my allergies were too bad, and so I have been doing weights and the various cardio machines instead. But this morning I can barely move and the pain is bad enough to make me want to scream.

Monday, December 12, 2005

in memoriam Donald Martino (1931-2005)

Don Martino was a great composer of intricate, dense and emotionally gripping music. I met him when I was a grad student. He was coming to UChicago for some concerts and to meet with composition students, a visiting artist; he was teaching at Harvard at the time. The music department requested that I show him around, drive him where he needed to go, take him back to the airport, etc. In the time I spent with him I found him to be utterly without pretense--unlike so many distinguished artists--and generous with his time. He was an affable and very funny man. He was on a cruise with his wife when he died. He was still composing, even on the cruise. So I hope he died a happy man; I suspect he did.

Sunday, December 11, 2005



looking back (again)

I just received the MacDowell Colony newsletter in the mail. I was surprised to read that Bill Karlins, a composer from Chicago who taught at Northwestern for many years, and whom I knew slightly from my own Chicago days, had died last spring.

I realized that ten years ago I would have heard about his death soon after it happened. If he had been ill, I would have known. Not because we were friends; he was thirty years older than me, and I was never his student. It was because I was no longer "plugged in" to the small world of contemporary non-pop music. Then, I was always planning. I would enter competitions. I won my share of significant awards. I was always looking for interested performers. I went to MacDowell and Yaddo and hung out with the artists I met there, trying to forge professional friendships (some worked, some didn't; some became true friendships that had little to do with our shared professions).

I always wanted to know who was where and what was what, and how I could get to the next level. I wondered how the older artists I knew got to where they were. I would ask questions. In the answers, I found a mystery. So many of them didn't seem to care. How could this be? I was surprised that one could be an artist and not be constantly planning career moves.

Ten years ago I would not have thought that I would reach a point where I don't care. I don't care if I am famous or not. I don't care about awards. I neglect grant applications. I don't check in on the American Music Center postings. Is this from some fear of failure? I don't think so. I think that life has become too full of other things, for me, to think about the intangibles beyond the intangible things that I am working on in my head.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


old pear (2)


Apropos of my Xmas music post: my family, used to my rants against annoying music, suggest that I simply ignore the music which offends me. But like most musicians I know, it is very difficult to tune out music. If it is present, I listen. Musicians tend to hear more acutely than non-musicians. We are trained to do this, and we do it intuitively; that is why we are musicians.

I don't listen to music as background. I don't play music at home unless I specifically want to listen. Of course, if I have guests, I will put music on. Otherwise, no. I do listen to NPR, though, to hear people talk. The French composer Darius Milhaud, a close friend of one of my teachers, used to compose with the radio blaring and his many children and animals running all around him. I can compose with the radio on, and do so often, as long as it is not playing music.

makeover, part VI

Well, I have now changed the colors of my blog so many times that I have lost count. I discovered a chart with html codes for colors so I have been able to manipulate the template a bit. I think this is a good choice. I must stop tweaking it though. I am becoming a bit obsessive about it.

new order

This country should really have a parliament like the UK or Japan. It is wrong that one party can hold all the power because of a small majority. While I try to assert my own political power, and while I live in a community that overwhelmingly opposes the Republican agenda, it seems that until this basic two-party system is overhauled, that we will always have this kind of bitter winner-take-all political atmosphere.

It's odd that I am devoting so much of my thought to politics. I used to be fairly apathetic; I cared very much about certain issues, but the details of politics left me cold. Mostly, they still do. My interest is more than an "interest." It is really a focus that comes from the outrage I feel at what is going on. War, dismantling of social services, entrenched religious fundamentalism, and the erasing of the crucial socio-cultural advances that happened when I was a kid, that seemed to promise that we might actually reach a time of tolerance and peace as a country. When I think about it this way it just makes me despair.

Friday, December 09, 2005

on the brink

The US delegation walked out on international talks about global warming and climate change.

"It's such a pity the United States is still very much unwilling to join the international community, to have a multilateral effort to deal with climate change," said the leader of the African group of nations here, Kenya's Emily Ojoo Massawa.

"The administration just doesn't seem to get it. They don't understand the world is suffering from climate change," said Jennifer Morgan of the environmentalist group Climate Action Network.

The U.S. delegation had little public comment, maintaining the low profile it has generally kept at recent annual climate conferences.


Sometimes I really hate this country. Not for its past, but for how things are now. And I blame the people, because Bush won the election honestly this time around. Who on earth could justify voting for him and his corrupt, morally bankrupt administration? And now this. I love Montreal. I think I should just go north.


Some have wondered why I changed the look of my blog. As much as I liked the old, plain version, I felt the need for a change. It is coming up on the one-year anniversary of this blog. I contemplated retiring it. Sometimes I get too immersed in writing for it, and I neglect my work. Also, one year is a long time. But rather than shut it down, I thought I would try giving it a makeover. I wish that I knew more HTML so I could really make substantial changes to the templates that BLOGGER gives us. Next project, then...

* * * * *

Speaking of changing, one thing that I REALLY wish would change is the profusion of Christmas music that bombards me wherever I go. It will drive me crazy. Year after year, the same insipid tunes play from Thanksgiving until the holidays thankfully go the way of all things, at least for another eleven months. Someday I will have had too much, and I will smash the speakers in some shop somewhere, get arrested, and be branded a scrooge. Oh well.

snow white

It is snowing very hard. Mabel will be excited when I take her out. She loves the snow. She likes to burrow in it and roll around. She makes little snuffling noises like a piglet. I love the snow too. But once it has been on the ground for a few days it looks terrible here in the city. I prefer the fresh snow, bright white.


Speaking of white, I have been bleaching my teeth. I had never done this before. I have good teeth. No cavities, no dental problems in my whole life. But they are not gleaming white like those of a TV anchorman. So I am trying to fix that. It seems to be working. I will let you know. Maybe I should have taken "before" photos so I can post "before and after" shots. Oh well.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


I listen to WNYC. I don't listen to radio for music, but instead I like to hear people talk. I like to hear the BBC news and "Morning Edition" and such. But WNYC lately has been playing a promo clip of film director Jim Jarmusch discussing his views on Buster Keaton. Jim Jarmusch speaks slowly and with a near-dead inflection. His style of speaking is so much like his movies that it is remarkable.


The guy who was shot by federal agents was bipolar and had not been taking his medication. His erratic behavior led to tragedy. Had the agents listened to the man's wife, they might have handled the situation differently and he might still be alive.

From the article on CNN, regarding bipolar disorder:

Symptoms for the manic-depressive illness, during its manic stage, can include increased energy, activity and restlessness; extreme irritability; poor judgment; and provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

There are often periods of normal behavior between the manic and depressive stages, and the disorder can be stabilized with medication, the NIMH said.


Yesterday, in the late afternoon while I sat in the car freezing, I called A. He is one of my greatest friends from college. I told him that I was freezing. He said it was cold in LA also. He said it was 50F. I laughed.

It was great to talk to A. I would like to go to LA for a visit and hang out with him. I will try to do so in the spring.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

thank you, gertrudestein (sic)


Black ink best wheel bale brown.
Excellent not a hull house, not a pea soup, no bill
no care, no precise no past pearl pearl goat.

(From "Objects," Gertrude Stein: TENDER BUTTONS © 1914 Gertrude Stein)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

personal history, chapter fragment

Q: Is it possible to find a revelation chilling and heartbreaking at the same time?

A: Of course.


Last evening at school the great tabla master Pandit Samir Chatterjee gave a concert and demonstration, along with his wife, who sang and played harmonium. It was fascinating. I have been to several concerts of Indian music, and each time it is mesmerizing.

I was introduced before the concert began, as I was setting up the sound system and making sure the performers had everything they needed. When he greeted me, he placed his hands together, palm against palm, with his fingers pointing up. His wife did the same.

When the concert began, they repeated the gesture. Pandit Chatterjee then explained that when he greets a person, or in this case an audience, with this gesture, it is because he is praising the god in each person.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Yesterday my memories tortured me. For some reason, one I still can not identify, I was tormented all day by the scenes that flashed through my mind's eye. From childhood, which I left behind many years ago, ghosts attacked me relentlessly. My mood was foul. I wanted to disappear. I snapped at anyone who spoke to me. I am hoping today will be better. It snowed last night, and I love the snow, and I just want some peace. When I think about those stories, the truth of them, it is a wonder that I am functional at all. And it is no surprise that I battle depression and its antithesis, mania, constantly. I should be thankful for any balance that comes my way.


But don't misread me. I don't spend day after day sunk into a black fog. I have great powers of self-preservation, and I slog on bravely. I try not to let myself become trapped. This is why I use my imagination. Maybe one becomes an artist--or the reason so many artists come from unhappy childhoods--because one's own imagination provides a way to create an ideal world, one that does not cause suffering or pain.

* * * * *

During my second year of grad school I had my first "big" performance. The piece performed had already won a prestigious international prize, and for the first time I had real confidence in my potential as a composer. My mother could not come to Chicago (my father and brother did) but she sent me flowers.

Later, visiting her in Pennsylvania, I played her a recording of the piece. "Why is your music so angry?" she asked.

I did not know what to say. I told her it was not angry to me. I was telling the truth. To me it was beautiful.

looking northeast

Saturday, December 03, 2005

sticks and stones

My mother used to tell me "I love you because you're my son, but I don't like you." It was a common refrain, year after year.

personal history, chapter _______

About two years after my parents' divorce my mother emerged from a protracted depression during which she would spend entire days sleeping on the sofa in the living room with the drapes pulled tight. The air was close with cigarette smoke. Since the divorce no one used the living room in our large shabby house. The upholstery on the sofa was torn and faded. When I was eight and nine I used to sit for hours on that sofa reading the "World Book Encyclopedia" or Brittanica. We had hundreds and hundreds of books.

Once, on a Saturday--I must have been in the eleventh or twelfth grade--she abruptly shifted into "strict mother mode" after months of total lack of concern for our activities or whereabouts, and she started to harp on me about something. I don't remember the specific subject, which does not matter. It was the arbitrary application of parental imperative that caused me to retreat in anger and hurt. There was my mother, with her 25-year-old druggie boyfriend--"Acid Ed" we called him--telling me that I must stay at home and clean the house or some such thing--and so I went upstairs to my room to escape. (Acid Ed had a job in a factory but he made enough money selling drugs that he had a flashy yellow chevy corvette which he eventually totaled going 85 on Route 611).

She followed me up, chasing after me up the red-carpeted stairs, and shouting "you do what I say if you live in my house!!" When she got to my room where I stood shaking behind the locked door, she pounded on my thin wooded door, Acid Ed pounding too, and they both commanded me to open the door and come out. Finally I did, and they both started up, and I went to shut the door, screaming "leave me alone," and my mother grabbed my arm and sunk her longish nails deep into my skin, raking them back toward her and cutting me, and I stood in disbelief staring at the welling blood in three parallel trails on my forearm, and I screamed GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME as I slammed the door, locked it, and fell crying on my mattress on the floor, where I then lay for hours trying to shut myself down until night would come, my mother and Acid Ed would be out drinking, and I could escape in my car and hang out with my friends.

Later that same year, or maybe the next one--I can't remember those years chronogically, they circle around my emotional map en masse--she kicked me out of the house and I had to go live with my father and his not-yet-wife in a small house in the Frankfort neighborhood of Philadelphia, a working class block of small Father-Son-Holy Ghost houses--so I had to drive an hour to school and back every day, although I did not often go to school in those days.

Friday, December 02, 2005


I feel fragmented today, my attention pulled in many different directions.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

World Aids Day

Today is World Aids Day.

collage #33


I will never forget.

Spare us, David Brooks

Once again the infamous David Brooks, a columnist for the NEW YORK TIMES, has written a pig-headed, preposterous column which insults the intelligence of TIMES readers.

He always confuses issues. He approaches his columnist like the any misguided theorist: adopt a conclusion and then find proof, ignoring any facts that don't mesh with your enlightened concept. This time he blames the anti-war sentiment on the fac that the media does not present stories of the heroism of American soldiers in Iraq.

There are two facts that should have compelled him to give up. First, remember Private Jessica Lynch? Or Pat Tillman? Both had their fates mythologized by the media--via the Pentagon's PR machine--until the stories were discovered to be lies? Second, few doubt the bravery of those ACTUALLY fighting the war, and people are not so stupid as to equate that admiration for admiration for the war itself. Rather, the side-by-side view of the two things--soldiers fighting vs. fighting the war--shows just how tragic it is. People losing their lives, or suffering permanent injury and disfigurement, all for a war that was never based on any true and imminent threat.

So David Brooks: please find a new way. Give up on your ideas unless you can compel readers with the perfection of your logic. Or find another career.