Thursday, November 30, 2006

not a choice after all

two doors
Originally uploaded by madabandon.

Yesterday I found myself contemplating the comment I received after my "depression" post. Although I was quite busy, finishing the second segment of the OEDIPUS music, I was also preoccupied with the issue of how depression is viewed. The commentator's remarks troubled me. So to exorcise the issue from my mind, at least for now, I will address it here.

In ILLNESS AS METAPHOR the late Susan Sontag addressed how tuberculosis and cancer, both diseases that were inevitably fatal in the nineteenth century (and a good part of the twentieth as well). Both were regarded as diseases brought on by individual temperament. TB was a disease that affected the sensitive, the artistic; such heightened sensitivity made one susceptible, and thus TB was a romantic disease, almost desirable. Cancer, on the other hand, was linked to repression; the repression of anger, of sadness, of other "negative" emotions led the body to turn against itself, to destroy itself from within. Modern science and medicine disproved these notions, but traces of them persist still, in that even today some cancer victims blame themselves, and a cancer patient is described as "battling" the disease, "fighting" it, so that, if the disease wins, the victim might be regarded as weak-willed. It is not insignificant that Sontag herself lived with cancer for several decades until she eventually died from it. She was frank about her illness. She did not hide it as something shameful.

When someone with chronic, life-long depression is exhorted to "think positive," or to change his/her outlook on life, the advice is inevitably borne of an attitude that depression is a flaw of character, a weakness, much as cancer was a disease of character in the Victorian mind. Many people with depression lead active, productive lives. I have much to be happy with in my life, much to be thankful for, and I do not need others to remind me of this.

I have learned to accept my depression as a fact of my life. Ignoring it, or refusing to speak of it, makes it shameful, like Sontag's cancer victims. Like Sontag with her cancer I will address my depression head on. It is important for people to realize that depression is an illness, a medical illness, not a weakness of character. As I wrote yesterday, I don't write this blog to be yet another blithe "Hallmark" card-like series of statements meant to hide the craggy ugly bumps that are a part of life's landscape.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

comment on a comment

I just received this comment on my latest post:
You should do something about your depression, it's hanging on way too much on your blog. If you read through its entirety, I'm sure you'll find it more depressing than Jane Didion's latest book. Perhaps you need daylight lighting in your home in winter to help offset the early dark nights that might trigger sadness?
As much as it may have been well-intentioned, the writer shows a clear misunderstanding of both depression itself and of my blog. I read Joan Didion's latest book. Yes, it was depressing, but it was her truth. I don't write my blog for unselfish reasons. I blog, in part, to articulate what it is like to live with depression. It is always interesting to me how people who do not have depression regard it as some sort of weakness of character, or equate it with sadness. My depression is not due to lack of light; I have lived with this all my life and it hits me regardless of season. And if depression is hanging on "way too much" in this blog, I can't apologize. It's my life. C'est tout.

There is one bonus that creative types like me get from depression. I think it compels me to create beautiful things. So maybe then there is a balance after all.


Originally uploaded by madabandon.

Depression is cruel because it trivializes all that opposes it. For two weeks or so this one has been gathering and now it has landed. All the things that had me feeling good, energetic, all that seemed promising, recede, and now I am stuck in some dingy alley of the mind, like the one in the picture, and if I could curl up and disappear until it passes I would. I wish, when I am depressed, that I could just check out of my life the way one checks out of a hotel. I would return, of course, when I felt better.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Originally uploaded by madabandon.

I can barely see straight. I had a very long day of teaching yesterday. Some extra rehearsal extended my day full into evening. When I got home, at a little past eight o'clock, I was quite tired. Still, at eleven, when I went to bed, I found myself unable to sleep. I was up most of the night, sleeping fitfully. I finally found myself in a deep sleep by five a.m., but at six the alarm went off (not that I needed it) to remind me that I had to move the car. Now I feel like a zombie, truly. A zombie with tons of work to do before Friday.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Thanksgiving was fun. I drove down to PA with Y. We hit a lot of traffic because we did not leave Brooklyn until 11:30, which seemed to be the magic hour for everyone to hit the road. I had cooked most of the day on Wednesday: potato-leek soup, a gratin of spinach and kale, and cranberry sauce (but I make mine with other fruit also; this time fresh figs and apples, with lots of ginger and lime). My nephews were rambunctious, stuck inside because of the harsh cold rain. Y practiced driving in my car around the area where my sister lives. We ate a lot. Around 8 I decided we should head back; the rain had slowed. But after about thirty minutes it began to rain ferociously, and the rest of the drive was a white-knuckled adventure. People drive like freaks, passing on the right, going far too fast for the road conditions; and then there are those who plunk themselves in the left lane (which, apparently, is no longer understood as the passing lane, but rather the lane around which one passes) and go 50 mph. Then back in Brooklyn I joined the multitudes who were driving around Brooklyn Heights trying to find parking. Thank god my eagle eye worked and I spotted a man sitting in his Prius before he had even started it up and turned on the lights.

Friday, November 24, 2006


I just made a sublime dinner. I went to the fish place at Chelsea Market and bought a beautiful whole red snapper. I marinated it in lime juice, miso, soy, garlic, scallion, lemon grass and ginger, and then baked it for about thirty minutes in the oven. It was amazing.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

engines of inequality

Students in one of my classes were asking me about my college experience, and how it was when I was a high school student applying to college. The situtation is so ridiculous now, so fraught with tension and anxiety. And the private school kids have it easy. Public school students face an increasingly difficult task, and in the end many cannot afford to go to college at all. Tuition and associated costs have risen far faster than the inflation rate, even though the elite school have no actual need to charge more. Their endowments have grown to astronomical proportions. So I told them how going to Vassar really did change my life, and that I was very lucky to have been pushed in that direction by my guidance counselor in my oh-so-mediocre high school. But I don't know if a student like me in a high school like that which I attended could even have the same chance today.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

in memory of...

Originally uploaded by madabandon.

This is not a post about Tuna, whom I still miss every single day.

Thanksgiving is a very strange holiday for me. It is the time of year when I miss my mom the most. I think it was her favorite holiday. She got into it, cooking a huge meal, inviting friends to join us, and there was always a festive air at home. My mother collected people the way she collected animals, people who had had troubles. So in later years, when I would come back from college there would always be strange people mixed with a strange dog or two.

I never made it back to PA for Thanksgiving during my years in Chicago, and now I regret it, because those were the last Thanksgivings for her. About six weeks before Thanksgiving in 1986 she had surgery for recently discovered lung cancer. She had not been well, had been complaining of feeling generally awful, but still it took her doctor months before he ordered a chest xray (how stupid of him; she was a lifelong smoker). The tumor was on the xray was large, and during the exploratory surgery the surgeon found that it was wrapped around her aorta, so there was no way to remove even a small part of it.

After the surgery she was having radiation, and was in good spirits. She told me how during the radiation she would close her eyes and visualize the cancer cells dying. But it was while preparing the usual Thanksgiving feast that she first realized that things were not right. She called me, on Thanksgiving, and I got extremely worried when she said that she kept dropping things, losing her balance (and my mom was extremely coordinated, like all of us, so losing her balance was not a good sign). I remember sitting on the chair in my workroom in that Chicago apartment; it was a gray day like this one, and I felt sick. I had to go with C to her cousins' in Evanston, and I didn't know how I would function. Luckily her cousins were warm, fun people, and they knew that my mom was ill, and I felt comfortable at least, but stunned. The next day her doctor ordered an immediate MRI, and they found a large tumor in her brain. It was the beginning of the end, we all knew it, and that is why Thanksgiving, now, is a sad and happy day. Happy because of memories, but sad because of associations.

Now I am cooking, enjoying a little smoke, and waiting for the piano tuner to arrive.

Monday, November 20, 2006


blue green
Originally uploaded by madabandon.

I am in pretty deep with composing commitments. I am always glad to have projects underway, and I usually have at least two going on at a time, but right now I have more than twice that number, and as I am lazier than I used to be, I can't rationally picture how I will get it all done. But the thing is, I will get it done, because I always do. When I try and picture getting it done, though, the trouble starts.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Originally uploaded by madabandon.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Ok, I am checking out the CNN website and I watch a video which reports that Americans are buying SUVs with reckless abandon now that gas prices have fallen. Idiots. I can't even believe that people are so selfish and short-sighted that they only think in terms of their own wallets. What about global warming? What about energy independence?

This makes me want to scream.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Saito May-chan

May-chan had been feeling poorly the last month or so. She was vomiting frequently, and didn't eat with her usual gusto. Tests showed that her liver was not functioning well. She stayed at the veterinary hospital for four days, and then she went home. For a while her liver function improved, but about two weeks ago it started declining. She would barely eat, and she vomited when she did eat. She began to receive IV nutrients. I remember, ten years ago, when I was ill with liver problems, and how sick I felt, and how even a small amount of food made me vomit violently. I didn't want May-chan to suffer. I had met her when I went to Japan in early 2003. She was a very sweet shiba inu. She always wore a scarf. She loved to ride in the car, and she especially loved going for walks. She ate with Y's family, sitting at the table like a person. When Y's mother died, May-chan just lay on her blanket for two weeks, barely eating; but she eventually became her old sweet playful self. On Saturday night, actually Sunday morning, 4 am, Y's phone rang (earlier his dad had called to say that May-chan was not able to walk, that she had gone out to pee and then lay down on the grass and could not pick herself up, and that her body temperature was dropping. I knew then that it was only a matter of hours) and it was his dad calling to say that May-chan had just died; she had waited until Y's sister came home from an errand, and then took her last breath. I love animals, and I love most dogs that I meet. But May-chan had an unusually sweet personality. I hope we will meet again.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

good bye


May 22, 1991 - November 12, 2006
Yamagata, Japan

Friday, November 10, 2006


Originally uploaded by madabandon.

I rarely write about music here. Once in a while I indulge in a rave or a rant, like my entry regarding Sting. But lately I have been thinking a lot about listening to music, because the fact is I rarely do it. Of course, I am listening all day long, whether teaching, practicing, or writing. So to listen to recordings is usually not appealing, unless I have a specific piece I need to hear. Thus, when I do listen to recordings, I do so very specifically. I dislike "background music" and while I can handle it when I am not home--as it is everywhere--while home I generally prefer silence, the ambient sounds of my apartment (which is incredibly quiet, a rarity in this city), and NPR for the news. I was trying to explain this to someone yesterday, and got annoyed at his insistence that musicians just want to hear music all the time. Quite the opposite, I think.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


I used to be apolitical. As a college student, I annoyed my politically-minded friends with my apathy. But ever since the days of Clinton's second term, when he was so vilified by the Republicans, I became more and more concerned with the state of affairs in the US, and I became deeply concerned about how political maneuvers affect society. After Bush became president, I found myself engaged almost daily in finding out what was happening in national and international affairs. And since 9-11 I found myself, not surprisingly, caught up in the outrage with Bush's bellicose war-mongering.

I am very pleased that the Democrats have taken control of congress. It is high time that Bush and his cronies were stopped. I am cautiously optimistic that things are going to get better. And most of all, I am glad that our system still does work; that people do have some power, because in the last few years it seemed like we were just plain hijacked, and liberal-minded people like me felt an awful kind of helplessness, compounded when Bush won a second term. So let us keep our political awareness alive, and never let such abasement of our nation's principles happen again. And, as I wrote yesterday, let us impeach President Bush. He deserves worse, but it is the best we can hope for.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Impeachment, Please

While I sincerely hope that the Democrats will not wallow in a mire of recrimination and revenge, I do also sincerely hope that they will do the one just thing: impeach George Bush for high crimes and misdemeanors. If the Republicans could impeach Bill Clinton over a blow job, then certainly Bush can go down too.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Originally uploaded by madabandon.

I am nervous, waiting for election results to come in. I felt a particular anxiety voting today. The outcome of this midterm election has a gravity that I don't ever remember in elections of the past. Gulp.

Monday, November 06, 2006

morning fog

morning fog
Originally uploaded by madabandon.

I feel lost in a morning fog despite the deep sleep I enjoyed last night. The weekend flew by. I had a school function that occupied the greater part of Saturday and which thoroughly exhausted me. Yesterday I wandered around, going from Chelsea Market down to the west village and then across town to Union Square. Near 14th Street and the West Side Highway there was a huge film shoot. Dozens of cars were strewn about, all coated with a thick layer of grime; fake grass grew out of the cracks in the sidewalk; there was a quality of post-apocalyptic quiet. It looked to be a big budget film. What was funny was how the techies were trying so hard to keep people from walking through the set. Film shoots are annoying enough: they disrupt traffic and parking, inconveniencing locals without recompense. So when I was approached by a guy who exhorted me to walk another way uptown, I just looked at him, my eyebrows slightly raised, and continued on my way.

Friday, November 03, 2006


self portrait in evening at piano

old tree
Originally uploaded by madabandon.

Yesterday was one of those days in which I could not seem to catch up. In the morning, while I was getting dressed, I realized I could not find my favorite sweater. I had picked it up from the cleaners' on Monday and now it is nowhere to be found. I looked everywhere. It was old, a gray cashmere v-neck that even had a hole in it, but I loved it. So I was almost late for school. There, the students were very distracted and my patience wore thin, almost to the breaking point. I had errands to run in Manhattan after class, and completed those successfully. At home I started working; I had to teach another class at 3:30. At 2:51 the phone rang; it was my doctor calling to tell me that I was supposed to be having an appointment (it started at 2:30). Luckily she is nearby so I dropped everything and ran over. The remainder of the day continued in similar "running to catch the train" feeling, until I passed out at 10:45, aided by trazodone and clonazepam.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


sleeping boy
Originally uploaded by madabandon.

I just woke up. It is 5 pm. I fell asleep at 2 pm, after I had finished teaching. I can barely keep my eyes open. I attribute my ridiculous sleepiness to the strangely warm weather and the time change last Sunday, which has me still disoriented.