the last day of school


now playing: sarah harmer, “capsized”

so something odd is definitely in the air around me right now.

in the past 24 hours or so, i’ve had three different people from drastically different parts of my life hunt me down and tell me that they’ve been thinking about me lately for reasons that they can’t explain and that they were wondering how i was doing….one an old friend from an old job, one a former music industry friend, and one a buddy of mine from high school that i thought i’d never hear from again…

all people that i’m happy to have thinking about me, to be certain – although i wonder if i’m giving off some sort of pity signal that’s coming up on the radar of people whom i’ve been estranged from…what with circumstances being what they are and all.

wendy was quick to point out that it’s possibly a result of doing some repair work on my karma…maybe. i don’t know.

what i do know is that i haven’t been this happy to see a friday show up in a long time.

i’ve been having these “last day of school” flashbacks today…it’s starting to freak me out a little bit, in fact. i walked across the street to get a salad for lunch and everything about this day feels like the last day of school…the breeze, the temperature, the sunshine – i feel like i did when i was fifteen, sixteen years old, walking down the hallways of the high school with all the locker doors thrown open, waiting for the buses to show up to take us all home for the last time for a while.

i have one very vivid memory that has the last day of school attached to it…i was on the bus, on the way home, and while i don’t remember who i was sitting with, i remember that william ayers (the oldest of the infamous ayers clan) was sitting across the aisle. the ayers kids came from a family that would’ve made loretta lynn look like paris hilton by contrast – they had about as little as a family can have and still continue to exist. i mean dirt poor. they got on the school bus after me, and i can still remember seeing them lined up next to the road, waiting for the bus…they used to line up by height, and every time i see those wooden, hand painted figures that fit inside one another in descending height order, i think of the ayers kids. there was william (the oldest), jerry, alton (whose hair was always meticulously combed in the front, but descended into chaos from the back of his head all the way forward to the precise point on the top of his head where the mirror ceased to work), rosanna and theresa (who became pregnant early in high school – seriously, early, and was rumored to have slept with her brother jerry to have ended up in that position).

anyway, it was williams’ senior year, and he was taking his last bus ride home, and the kid sitting next to me said to him that he was lucky, because he never had to go back to school again.

william looked at the kid and said, “lucky my ass. just wait ’til you’re a senior. you’ll wish you were back in first grade.”

those words hit me like a ton of bricks…he was right. and i completely understood why.

in junior high, my social studies teacher, mr. murphy, went around the classroom once and asked everyone in the room what they were going to do when they grew up. he got what was probably the average litany of answers from most of the kids…all but one, anyway. when he got to ricky moore, ricky skipped all the hyperbole and innuendo and cut straight to the chase: “i’m gonna hang sheetrock.”

the whole classroom laughed when he said that, but i’ll bet – in retrospect – he very well might be the only student in that classroom who called it right.

so….i guess to convey how it was that i understood what william ayers was telling me, you’d have to have some degree of familiarity with where i come from, i guess…and what graduating from high school means to most kids in savannah, tennessee. see, for most of the kids i went to school with, college wasn’t an option. it just wasn’t part of their reality. kids where i’m from get out of high school and go to work. there’s no putting off reality for four years while they head off to party at college – it’s just not in the cards for them. and william ayers knew that better than any of us did, because he was staring his inevitable fate right in the face.

that twenty seconds or so of conversation cast a bittersweet pall over my entire senior year. everything i did that year was colored by the knowledge that my academic career there would be over before i knew it.

rickey daniels, the soundman for the band i played in through high school, dropped me off at school one morning in his little yellow MG convertible, and looked at me wistfully and said, “damn, tom….you know you’ll never be around this much pussy again in your life, right?”

it was 1983…and i was riding to school with my very own, personal Uncle Rico.

everything i did that year carried a sense of melancholy with it…i decided that i was going to involve myself in things, so i signed up for chorus and sang in the chorus for the first time. i would have written for the school newspaper, but my average in english wasn’t high enough (which disappointed mrs. roe a great deal…she reallywanted me on the paper, for some reason), and i did a lot of other things that i probably never would have done if it weren’t for that one sentence, uttered by a poverty-stricken kid on a bus i happened to be on some years before.

the first small step


now playing: jackson browne, “the times you’ve come”


i don’t know if it’s human nature, or if it’s just my own dysfunction – but today i find myself pondering this one, solitary point…

…why do we insist on tearing down a house, and then wallow in disappointment when it offers us no shelter?

i can’t speak for anyone but myself, obviously…but there seems to be a repeating pattern here: i sabotage or destroy something and then lament its demise.

i shut a person out of my life, then wonder why they treat me differently.

from a logical standpoint, this is madness…both the behaviour itself and the grieving that follows. it almost feels like a form of emotional self-mutilation, in a way. it uses unresolved resentment as fuel, and a little goes a long way.

i’m not ok with this. i was never ok with this.

thing is, at one point i was doing something about it. but i stopped.

tonight, i start over.

wish me luck.

in the time we’ve known
that we each are a part of one another
we’ve lost as much as we have won
and as our lives have grown
it would seem that it only brings us pain
to hang on to the things that we have done

still i love these times you’ve come

when you went away
taking all that i’d built my false road on
i dropped my life and couldn’t find the pieces
and now you come and go
and it’s hard, but i feel my strength returning
we’ll see how far this new road reaches

you see a little more each time you come

and everybodys’ gonna tell you it’s not worth it
everybodys’ gotta show you their own pain
you may try and find your way up around it
but the need for love will still remain…

(excerpted from today’s now playing selection)

my own unspoken advice


now playing: jonatha brooke, “inconsolable”

well, i think i can honestly say that if i’d scripted out this past weekend so that it played out in a fashion that would’ve been acceptable to me, i still don’t think i’d have come up with anything like how it actually played out.

if one moment in particular encapsulates the weekend, it would be this:

last night, my friend mitch and i joined wendy and her parents for dinner…mark (who has confided to me that he really never intended to have me sent to gitmo) made burgers on the grill, and we all sat down in wendys’ new dining room together and ate and talked and genuinely enjoyed each others’ company. at one point, wendy took me upstairs to show me her office (she’d bought a new desk, and i helped her carry her computer upstairs when she asked me to come up and see it). we stood up there for a couple of minutes as she showed me the slide-out clothes rail in the closet, and so forth…then we stopped talking for a minute, and we could hear mitch talking with mark and joanne about us.

“i think they’re talking about us,” wendy said…i stopped talking and listened for a minute before wendy suggested that we go back downstairs. we went back to the kitchen and i took my old seat, while wendy moved into the empty chair next to me.

“while you guys were upstairs,” joanne said, “we’ve decided that you two should write a book.”

they went on to say that they thought that other people could benefit from what we’ve experienced in the manner that we’ve been able to go through this, and how we’ve managed to salvage the relationship that we now have from what we had (or perhaps more accurately, didn’t have) just a few short months ago. and perhaps they’re right – perhaps we should document our joint experiences somewhere…somewhere other than this little repository for my side of the story.

then we can tell the world not only how rewarding it is to go through this, but also just how difficult and emotionally exhausting it is. because if we’re gonna tell the story, both sides have to be put out there.

but as i sat there, with my friends and my (for a little while longer, anyway) wife and family, i felt fortunate – incredibly fortunate that we put the time and effort that we have over these past months into rebuilding some semblance of trust and a sense of actually caring about one another…time that we could have easily spent reinforcing the resentments that we’d built up over the years that we wasted by not managing to find an open channel between us…and i take the lions’ share of credit for that. at some point, the razor wire went up at the top of my wall and it didn’t matter what was said, or how sincerely it was put forth – i didn’t hear it.

“my bad” just doesn’t carry the weight that it should in this situation.

but at some point, i have to take my own unspoken advice and take a good hard look at why i create situations that require an apology instead of spending my time apologizing. granted, i’ve done quite a bit of it and i’ve gotten pretty good at it lately…but i know how i feel when i’m on the receiving end of an apology for something that resulted from a repeated behavior, and i should concern myself with my own penchant for putting other people in that position.

an example:

i gave my boss, glenn, a PTO form for the full day on friday, but as we were cutting cables for wiring in the server room on thursday afternoon, i agreed to do a few things: i agreed to get all the cables ready for the weekend and to stop by one of our local suppliers on friday morning and pick up three new boxes of ethernet cable, color coded, so that we could continue the wiring project. so i called maryann on friday morning and asked her to call the supplier and give them a purchase order for the cable so i could stop in and pick it up. i also touched base with glenn and told him that i’d talked to mary ann and that she was getting them a purchase order, and that i should be able to pick it up and have it over to work by noon. glenn mentioned that he might be taking a half day that day, but that he should still be there at that point.

well, when i got to the supplier, they didn’t have the colors that i needed…they had grey, but they didn’t have the yellow or the orange on hand. i called glenn and let him know that they didn’t have it, but i said that i’d try to get in to drop off what i had anyway. i grabbed the grey cable and went back to the house and wendys’ folks were getting ready to finish moving the stuff that they had remaining, both in the house and the truck (which they’d packed the day before). so i thought to myself (and consulted no one else in the matter) that i’d pitch in and do what i could to help and i’d take the cable in to work either over the weekend or on monday. my reasoning for not making the trip was simple – i was still working with the assumption that glenn was taking the afternoon off, and he’d be gone soon…and also that it was of lesser importance that i drop it off, because they didn’t have everything we needed in we were going to be held up in moving forward with the cabling project until the other two boxes of cable arrived anyway. i thought briefly about calling glenn to let him know that i was going to hold off on dropping the cable off because i had some other stuff that i was going to do that afternoon, but i assumed (again) that he’d either be on his way out, or would have left already. so i didn’t.

well, later that afternoon, when i checked my voicemail, i had a pretty irate message from glenn on my cellphone, wondering why i hadn’t kept my word and brought the cable that i’d picked up in to work like i said i would. apparently, he’d changed his plans with regard to taking a half day off, and he was counting on my bringing that cable in to work – and why wouldn’t he? that’s what i said i was going to do, and i didn’t. i shifted my priorities without informing him of my intentions, and he was outwardly irritated with me as a result.

so this morning, when i took my timecard over, i made a point of apologizing for not following through on what i had told him i had intended to do, and i think we managed to smooth things over. i made sure that he understood that i’m aware of our timeline and how things affect other things, and i think we’re back to where we were…but how much of this could have been saved by the simple action of making that phone call that i had assumed to be unnecessary on friday afternoon?

and – the bigger question that i’m setting up with this example – how many times have i done this in my relationship with wendy? with my kids? with my friends?

(if wendys’ reading this, she’s rolling her eyes right now….)

i promised her that i’d keep a lid on how much of our “stuff” i’d post here, but this feels important for me to acknowledge.

somewhere along the line, i learned about self-dependence from a pretty shitty blueprint…and i’ve implemented it into my life in a way that hasn’t been healthy for me, or for the people around me – who, for whatever unexplainable reason, still care about me.

for starters…

i don’t plan well, if at all. i just let shit happen the way it happens.

i don’t take responsibility for following through on the plans i do make, and when they end up on the scrap heap, i blame it on something or someone else.

i ignore the fact that there’s going to be a tomorrow, a next week, a next month, and a next year.

and, possibly worst of all…i expect the people around me to accept this as my personal reality and just deal with it.

there. i’ve said it out loud.

and i don’t like it one bit….

…probably no more than the people who have been hurt by these traits.

but here’s the rub – once you’ve taken this kind of personal inventory, and accepted it as reality, what do you do about it?

wendy and i discussed this a little bit last week, in terms of answering the “what to do about it” question – and i offered up some thoughts as to what i was willing to do…she was quick to point out that it’s something i have to consider doing for myself above all else, and i agreed. it’s true, too – if i try to attach responsibility to someone else for something like getting back into therapy or resuming my old meeting agenda, it’s not going to fly. i don’t think you can tie your personal willpower to someone else’s wishes for your betterment, no matter how good their intentions or your own.

the last time i found myself in therapy, it was after my breakup with chris – and every time i found myself in that room, i felt like i was there because i wanted to explore my faults and fix them so that i’d be good enough to win her approval. i think that might’ve been part of the reason that my relationship with my therapist turned out to be short-lived…once i accepted the fact that our relationship was over, i didn’t feel quite so adamant about maintaining my visit schedule. and not long afterward, once i started seeing samantha, i managed to convince myself that i’d made enough progress that maybe i wasn’t so messed up after all.

so i approach the possibility of therapy this time with that perspective…that doing this kind of work for someone else doesn’t work at all. and frankly, the older i get, the more apt i’m certain to be that this would be pointless and that you can’t teach old dogs new behavioural patterns. so it needs to be now or not at all, i think…lest i end up like my old next door neighbor.

then, once finished considering the psychological angles, there’s the fiscal irresponsibility issue to contemplate…

see, this is my dilemma – i chew on all this stuff so much of late that the sheer magnitude of it all is overwhelming.

it’s almost as if my brain were the tank behind the toilet…once it fills up so much, the floater rises to the top and shuts off the input. i can only take this kind of information about myself in a few gallons at a time – otherwise, the floater shuts down the supply, it’d all go spilling out all over the floor, and there’d be a mess to clean up.

‘course, now anytime someone remarks that my minds’ in the toilet, i won’t be able to disagree, i guess.

envious destinations


now playing: counting crows, “goodnight elizabeth”

today is the day i pay for yesterday – i worked until a little past 1 AM, got home at a little before 1:30, and slept for shit…now today, i’m having a hard time holding up the weight of my head – not that this would be an easy task with a full night’s sleep…

there’s two happy hour gigs this week – tonight and friday. tomorrow night, i have my first rehearsal with the youngers in quite some time, in preparation for a couple of shows that will include their CD release party in june. mary ann has graciously offered to cover the usual end-of-day stuff here, and i may take her up on that…i have all my stuff in the back of the car, ready to roll for the happy hour thing, and my plan was to shoot back over here after i’m done to finish end of day…right now, the jury is still out.

the boys from poco are in montana this week, preparing for a live recording…don’t know what the plans are with that, specifically – but i hope they’re havin’ fun.

i just got off the phone earlier with my buddy bob stirner, who plays guitar in living earth and has a new band called boris garcia that’s starting to make some noise, and they’re preparing a new record…and bob is excited. anyway, he called today with a couple of dates for me to add to the living earth site, and asked if i’d be interested in doing an “opener” here and there at some point in the future (an “opener”, for the uninitiated, is when a lesser-known act does a short set before the “headliner”, or main attraction, plays.). “sure,” i said. “can i play american pie?”

bob has believed in me far past the point at which an otherwise logical realist would. he still tells me on a regular basis that if the right person heard my now eight year old record, it’d get picked up. and i know that when he says that, he believes it with all his heart.

but reality in the time of britney would beg to differ.

the kind of people who give a shit about this music just don’t exist en masse anymore.

and believe me, en masse is important to the people who “pick up” records.

and if the truth be told, i’m really ok with that. my day has come and gone, and while it took me a while to make peace with that, i feel as though i have. in fact, i’ve been of the mindset for some time now that anything i have to contribute to the world at large will be in tiny, tiny chunks to a small handful of people. i don’t feel that youthful sense of urgency to shove myself down the throat of the world. if you’re at all interested, come on in – if you’re not, feel free to move along.

i’ve flirted privately in conversations with a couple of friends of mine with the idea of making another record, and i’m feeling at this point like i want to move ahead with that – but i’m going to do it at home, in my basement studio, and i’m probably going to end up recording mostly other people’s songs. in fact, i might start with an idea that jon rosenbaum and i cultivated together a long, long time ago…we were talking about doing an EP of Poco covers and calling it pickin’ up the pizza (the first poco album was called “pickin’ up the pieces”, FYI…). but there are a lot of songs that i’d love to do that i want to take a swing at. for the first time in a long time, it feels like it might be fun to do so. i think i’ve had a bad case of the “blake allens” for a while…which is to say that i don’t feel completely comfortable working in that realm unless i’ve got the space to myself. i know how goofy that sounds, but i think it’s true. i’m only just starting to realize that. in the past, i’ve done my best work under those circumstances, and what happens from here on out is open for speculation…guess i’ll know soon enough whether or not that’s the case.

i’m amazed at how long it takes to correct inconsistencies in perception sometimes…today, i was driving back to work, and song for adam by jackson brownewas playing…and after having heard this song somewhat regularly for twenty years now, i realized that he was singing his destination india, and i had none at all instead of what i had always thought him to be saying, which was his destination envious…after realizing that i was mistaken, it only just then occured to me that the grammar wouldn’t have been correct in my assumption, anyway…his destination would have been enviable, not envious…unless he was going to a place that was very jealous of people who didn’t go there.


anyway, i have to get ready for my afternoon distraction shortly…wendy wants to come see me on friday, and i’m not sure how i feel about that. certainly, they’re within their rights to come if they want – and it’s honestly not about their presence.

it’s about mine.

when it’s just wendy, i feel like it’s okay…she knows the score, as do i – she knows why i’m there and what the whole point of the gig is, and where i stand on the whole thing. other people, however, may lack her insight and might think that i’m actually enjoying this whole thing, or that this is where i’m at on an artistic level, and that’s definitely not the case…so i guess you could boil it down to an analogy along these lines: would you rather observe a wild animal in its native habitat, or would you rather see the humiliated “petting zoo” variety, humbled by captivity?

maybe a little extreme, but that’s the way it feels to me at some of these gigs when people whose opinions i respect happen to be in the audience, among the members of Jimmy Buffett Nation.

anyway, my time here is up. i must run….

looking skyward


now playing: bob seger, “against the wind”

i think i’ve always known why it’s hard for me to keep running journals. in fact, this one has far and away broken the record set by my written ones for continuity, and it’s because it’s been very easy for me to commit something to it on a regular basis…even if i didn’t have a great deal to say.

my achilles heel is that i find myself in situations, like right now, where i’ve allowed too much time to pass and there’s so much that i want to get off my chest that i don’t even know where to start.

i made an appointment to see a lawyer today, someone i had asked a co-worker about. called first thing this morning, set the whole thing up, and then got so busy that i couldn’t go. this is a pretty stupid time for me to try to do this to begin with, but this morning it seemed like the single most important thing i had to do.

now, it doesn’t seem quite so urgent as it did.

now, i’m just tired. tired and sad and angry and looking forward to a time when i can shut the world out and hide in my own place. now i don’t want to deal with the lawyer – not because i’m any less pissed or determined, but because i just don’t have the energy for it. i’m sure my angry determination will probably fade as my energy continues to, anyway.

i don’t have the energy for my old friends’ wife, the asshole, who relentlessly hounds me as if it’s funny every time i go to his house to look at his computer for him. he’s been married to her for decades…and there’s a special place waiting for him at god’s right hand when he ascends to heaven for having the patience to put up with her shit for all these years. he actually called me at work today to apologize for her behavior. un-fucking-real.

i don’t have the energy for half-hour conversations about what color of ethernet cable should be used for what application. in fact, i just want this whole thing to be over, because while i appreciate the extra income from working hours piled on top of hours, it’s taking its toll…and i’m eventually going to need a break. a real break.

i don’t have the energy for being a member of the Teenage Crisis of the Week Club, which i seem to have been inducted into without my knowledge or consent…today, there’s a new jayda story…just as mind-boggling as the last, and arousing just as much suspicion as the last, and once again i sit here scratching my head, wondering why she’s so bent on throwing her life down the toilet because she can’t see the big picture and realize that where she’s at in life right now will be completely insignificant in ten years…except for how it’s shaped whatever her reality turns out to be in the future.

chris called me this morning…and of course, she was completely open with me about the things that are going on in her life, completely candid, and concerned for me and where my head was at….and i was unable to say anything of consequence to her because of the constant stream of nerds that parade through my office with questions about wireless networks and power supplies and the like. so, not only do i feel as though i couldn’t truly communicate with my friend, i felt as though yet another opportunity to get some of the things off my chest that aren’t appropriate for this space pass me by through no fault of my own…another missed opportunity.

i feel as though the events of these past few days have unwittingly reinforced a lesson that i think i learned a long time ago – if you’re willing to be vulnerable, if you’re willing to show someone who you really are, if you’re somehow willing to chance revealing yourself in any way, then it’s time to look skyward….

because as sure as the sun rises and sets, you’ll see the Wile E. Coyote ACME Anvil falling towards your head.

somehow, at some point, i think i assumed (as a result of that particular lesson) that i could do that whole Jerry Maguire dance…that “maybe i’m not built that way” thing. you know, right? the thinking that you could do the partnership thing like a business, where you both have your roles and you get by on that and leave your heart out of it?

now, nobody ever makes that decision consciously. no one actually sits down and has that thought actually occur to them. but it slips in there somehow…that love is a business, just like everything else in life, and that you can run it that way.

and hell, some people can.

i don’t think i’m one of those people.

but i don’t think i can do it this way, either.

in fact, i’m not sure that a “way” exists in which i can do it.

this week will continue to be busy…i have two happy hours this week – tomorrow and friday – and i have youngers rehearsal thursday night. somewhere in the midst of all that, i also have to find a bed for myself and my daughter and a few other various household items that will no longer be there when i go home on friday night.

there are many things with which i can busy my hands…a few with which i can even occupy my thoughts.

depression – illness or fuel?


now playing: joni mitchell, “marcie”

i know that there are those who stop by here who hate when i do this…but this is one of the most thought-provoking pieces of journalism i’ve read since the election. i hope you’ll take the time to at least give it a cursory read.


There’s Nothing Deep About Depression


Shortly after the publication of my book ”Listening to Prozac,” 12 years ago, I became immersed in depression. Not my own. I was contented enough in the slog through midlife. But mood disorder surrounded me, in my contacts with patients and readers. To my mind, my book was never really about depression. Taking the new antidepressants, some of my patients said they found themselves more confident and decisive. I used these claims as a jumping-off point for speculation: what if future medications had the potential to modify personality traits in people who had never experienced mood disorder? If doctors were given access to such drugs, how should they prescribe them? The inquiry moved from medical ethics to social criticism: what does our culture demand of us, in the way of assertiveness?

It was the medications’ extra effects — on personality, not on the symptoms of depression — that provoked this line of thought. For centuries, doctors have treated depressed patients, using medication and psychological strategies. Those efforts seemed uncontroversial. But authors do not determine the fate of their work. ”Listening to Prozac” became a ”best-selling book about depression.” I found myself speaking — sometimes about ethics, more often about mood disorders — with many audiences, in bookstores, at gatherings of the mentally ill and their families and at professional meetings. Invariably, as soon as I had finished my remarks, a hand would shoot up. A hearty, jovial man would rise and ask — always the same question — ”What if Prozac had been available in van Gogh’s time?”

I understood what was intended, a joke about a pill that makes people blandly chipper. The New Yorker had run cartoons along these lines — Edgar Allan Poe, on Prozac, making nice to a raven. Below the surface humor were issues I had raised in my own writing. Might a widened use of medication deprive us of insight about our condition? But with repetition, the van Gogh question came to sound strange. Facing a man in great pain, headed for self-mutilation and death, who would withhold a potentially helpful treatment?

It may be that my response was grounded less in the intent of the question than in my own experience. For 20 years, I’d spent my afternoons working with psychiatric outpatients in Providence, R.I. As I wrote more, I let my clinical hours dwindle. One result was that more of my time was filled with especially challenging cases, with patients who were not yet better. The popularity of ”Listening to Prozac” meant that the most insistent new inquiries were from families with depressed members who had done poorly elsewhere. In my life as a doctor, unremitting depression became an intimate. It is poor company. Depression destroys families. It ruins careers. It ages patients prematurely.

Recent research has made the fight against depression especially compelling. Depression is associated with brain disorganization and nerve-cell atrophy. Depression appears to be progressive — the longer the episode, the greater the anatomical disorder. To work with depression is to combat a disease that harms patients’ nerve pathways day by day.

Nor is the damage merely to mind and brain. Depression has been linked with harm to the heart, to endocrine glands, to bones. Depressives die young — not only of suicide, but also of heart attacks and strokes. Depression is a multisystem disease, one we would consider dangerous to health even if we lacked the concept ”mental illness.”

As a clinician, I found the what if challenge ever less amusing. And so I began to ask audience members what they had in mind. Most understood van Gogh to have suffered severe depression. His illness, they thought, conferred special vision. In a short story, Poe likens ”an utter depression of soul” to ”the hideous dropping off of the veil.” The questioners maintained this 19th-century belief, that depression reveals essence to those brave enough to face it. By this account, depression is more than a disease — it has a sacred aspect.

Other questioners set aside that van Gogh was actually ill. They took mood disorder to be a heavy dose of the artistic temperament, so that any application of antidepressants is finally cosmetic, remolding personality into a more socially acceptable form. For them, depression was less than a disease.

These attributions stood in contrast to my own belief, that depression is neither more nor less than a disease, but disease simply and altogether.

Audiences seemed to be aware of the medical perspective, even to endorse it — but not to have adopted it as a habit of mind. To underscore this inconsistency, I began to pose a test question: We say that depression is a disease. Does that mean that we want to eradicate it as we have eradicated smallpox, so that no human being need ever suffer depression again? I made it clear that mere sadness was not at issue. Take major depression, however you define it. Are you content to be rid of that condition?

Always, the response was hedged: aren’t we meant to be depressed? Are we talking about changing human nature?

I took those protective worries as expressions of what depression is to us. Asked whether we are content to eradicate arthritis, no one says, ”Well, the end-stage deformation, yes, but let’s hang on to tennis elbow, housemaid’s knee and the early stages of rheumatoid disease.” Multiple sclerosis, acne, schizophrenia, psoriasis, bulimia, malaria — there is no other disease we consider preserving. But eradicating depression calls out the caveats.

To this way of thinking, to oppose depression too completely is to be coarse and reductionist — to miss the inherent tragedy of the human condition. To be depressed, even gravely, is to be in touch with what matters most in life, its finitude and brevity, its absurdity and arbitrariness. To be depressed is to occupy the role of rebel and social critic. Depression, in our culture, is what tuberculosis was 100 years ago: illness that signifies refinement.

Having raised the thought experiment, I should emphasize that in reality, the possibility of eradicating depression is not at hand. If clinicians are better at ameliorating depression than we were 10 years ago — and I think we may be — that is because we are more persistent in our efforts, combining treatments and (when they succeed) sticking with them until they have a marked effect. But in terms of the tools available, progress in the campaign against depression has been plodding.

Still, it is possible to envisage general medical progress that lowers the rate of depression substantially — and then to think of a society that enjoys that result. What is lost, what gained? Which is also to ask: What stands in the way of our embracing the notion that depression is disease, nothing more?

This question has any number of answers. We idealize depression, associating it with perceptiveness, interpersonal sensitivity and other virtues. Like tuberculosis in its day, depression is a form of vulnerability that even contains a measure of erotic appeal. But the aspect of the romanticization of depression that seems to me to call for special attention is the notion that depression spawns creativity.

Objective evidence for that effect is weak. Older inquiries, the first attempts to examine the overlap of madness and genius, made positive claims for schizophrenia. Recent research has looked at mood disorders. These studies suggest that bipolar disorder may be overrepresented in the arts. (Bipolarity, or manic-depression, is another diagnosis proposed for van Gogh.) But then mania and its lesser cousin hypomania may drive productivity in many fields. One classic study hints at a link between alcoholism and literary work. But the benefits of major depression, taken as a single disease, have been hard to demonstrate. If anything, traits eroded by depression — like energy and mental flexibility — show up in contemporary studies of creativity.

How, then, did this link between creativity and depression arise? The belief that mental illness is a form of inspiration extends back beyond written history. Hippocrates was answering some such claim, when, around 400 B.C., he tried to define melancholy — an excess of ”black bile” — as a disease. To Hippocrates, melancholy was a disorder of the humors that caused epileptic seizures when it affected the body and caused dejection when it affected the mind. Melancholy was blamed for hemorrhoids, ulcers, dysentery, skin rashes and diseases of the lungs.

The most influential expression of the contrasting position — that melancholy confers special virtues — appears in the ”Problemata Physica,” or ”Problems,” a discussion, in question-and-answer form, of scientific conundrums. It was long attributed to Aristotle, but the surviving version, from the second century B.C., is now believed to have been written by his followers. In the 30th book of the ”Problems,” the author asks why it is that outstanding men — philosophers, statesmen, poets, artists, educators and heroes — are so often melancholic. Among the ancients, the strongmen Herakles and Ajax were melancholic; more contemporaneous examples cited in the ”Problems” include Socrates, Plato and the Spartan general Lysander. The answer given is that too much black bile leads to insanity, while a moderate amount creates men ”superior to the rest of the world in many ways. ”

The Greeks, and the cultures that succeeded them, faced depression poorly armed. Treatment has always been difficult. Depression is common and spans the life cycle. When you add in (as the Greeks did) mania, schizophrenia and epilepsy, not to mention hemorrhoids, you encompass a good deal of what humankind suffers altogether. Such an impasse calls for the elaboration of myth. Over time, ”melancholy ” became a universal metaphor, standing in for sin and innocent suffering, self-indulgence and sacrifice, inferiority and perspicacity.

The great flowering of melancholy occurred during the Renaissance, as humanists rediscovered the ”Problems.” In the late 15th century, a cult of melancholy flourished in Florence and then was taken back to England by foppish aristocratic travelers who styled themselves artists and scholars and affected the melancholic attitude and dress. Most fashionable of all were ”melancholic malcontents,” irritable depressives given to political intrigue. One historian, Lawrence Babb, describes them as ”black-suited and disheveled . . . morosely meditative, taciturn yet prone to occasional railing.”

In dozens of stage dramas from the period, the principal character is a discontented melancholic. ”Hamlet” is the great example. As soon as Hamlet takes the stage, an Elizabethan audience would understand that it is watching a tragedy whose hero’s characteristic flaw will be a melancholic trait, in this case, paralysis of action. By the same token, the audience would quickly accept Hamlet’s spiritual superiority, his suicidal impulses, his hostility to the established order, his protracted grief, solitary wanderings, erudition, impaired reason, murderousness, role-playing, passivity, rashness, antic disposition, ”dejected haviour of the visage” and truck with graveyards and visions.

”Hamlet” is arguably the seminal text of our culture, one that cements our admiration for doubt, paralysis and alienation. But seeing ”Hamlet” in its social setting, in an era rife with melancholy as an affected posture, might make us wonder how much of the historical association between melancholy and its attractive attributes is artistic conceit.

In literature, the cultural effects of depression may be particularly marked. Writing, more than most callings, can coexist with a relapsing and recurring illness. Composition does not require fixed hours; poems or essays can be set aside and returned to on better days. And depression is an attractive subject. Superficially, mental pain resembles passion, strong emotion that stands in opposition to the corrupt world. Depression can have a picaresque quality — think of the journey through the Slough of Despond in John Bunyan’s ”Pilgrim’s Progress.” Over the centuries, narrative structures were built around the descent into depression and the recovery from it. Lyric poetry, religious memoir, the novel of youthful self-development — depression is an affliction that inspires not just art but art forms. And art colors values. Where the unacknowledged legislators of mankind are depressives, dark views of the human condition will be accorded special worth.

Through the ”anxiety of influence,” heroic melancholy cast its shadow far forward, onto romanticism and existentialism. At a certain point, the transformation begun in the Renaissance reaches completion. It is no longer that melancholy leads to heroism. Melancholy is heroism. The challenge is not battle but inner strife. The rumination of the depressive, however solipsistic, is deemed admirable. Repeatedly, melancholy returns to fashion.

As I spoke with audiences about mood disorders, I came to believe that part of what stood between depression and its full status as disease was the tradition of heroic melancholy. Surely, I would be asked when I spoke with college students, surely I saw the value in alienation. One medical philosopher asked what it would mean to prescribe Prozac to Sisyphus, condemned to roll his boulder up the hill.

That variant of the what if question sent me to Albert Camus’s essay on Sisyphus, where I confirmed what I thought I had remembered — that in Camus’s reading, Sisyphus, the existential hero, remains upbeat despite the futility of his task. The gods intend for Sisyphus to suffer. His rebellion, his fidelity to self, rests on the refusal to be worn down. Sisyphus exemplifies resilience, in the face of full knowledge of his predicament. Camus says that joy opens our eyes to the absurd — and to our freedom. It is not only in the downhill steps that Sisyphus triumphs over his punishment: ”The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

I came to suspect that it was the automatic pairing of depth and depression that made the medical philosopher propose Sisyphus as a candidate for mood enhancement. We forget that alienation can be paired with elation, that optimism is a form of awareness. I wanted to reclaim Sisyphus, to set his image on the poster for the campaign against depression.

Once we take seriously the notion that depression is a disease like any other, we will want to begin our discussion of alienation by asking diagnostic questions. Perhaps this sense of dislocation signals an apt response to circumstance, but that one points to an episode of an illness. Aware of the extent and effects of mood disorder, we may still value alienation — and ambivalence and anomie and the other uncomfortable traits that sometimes express perspective and sometimes attach to mental illness. But we are likely to assess them warily, concerned that they may be precursors or residual symptoms of major depression.

How far does our jaundiced view reach? Surely the label ”disease” does not apply to the melancholic or depressive temperament? And of course, it does not. People can be pessimistic and lethargic, brooding and cautious, without ever falling ill in any way. But still, it seemed to me in my years of immersion that depression casts a long shadow. Though I had never viewed it as pathology, even Woody Allen-style neurosis had now been stripped of some of its charm — of any implicit claim, say, of superiority. The cachet attaching to tuberculosis diminished as science clarified the cause of the illness, and as treatment became first possible and then routine. Depression may follow the same path. As it does, we may find that heroic melancholy is no more.

In time, I came to think of the van Gogh question in a different light, merging it with the eradication question. What sort of art would be meaningful or moving in a society free of depression? Boldness and humor — broad or sly — might gain in status. Or not. A society that could guarantee the resilience of mind and brain might favor operatic art and literature. Freedom from depression would make the world safe for high neurotics, virtuosi of empathy, emotional bungee-jumpers. It would make the world safe for van Gogh.

Depression is not a perspective. It is a disease. Resisting that claim, we may ask: Seeing cruelty, suffering and death — shouldn’t a person be depressed? There are circumstances, like the Holocaust, in which depression might seem justified for every victim or observer. Awareness of the ubiquity of horror is the modern condition, our condition.

But then, depression is not universal, even in terrible times. Though prone to mood disorder, the great Italian writer Primo Levi was not depressed in his months at Auschwitz. I have treated a handful of patients who survived horrors arising from war or political repression. They came to depression years after enduring extreme privation. Typically, such a person will say: ”I don’t understand it. I went through — ” and here he will name one of the shameful events of our time. ”I lived through that, and in all those months, I never felt this.” This refers to the relentless bleakness of depression, the self as hollow shell. To see the worst things a person can see is one experience; to suffer mood disorder is another. It is depression — and not resistance to it or recovery from it — that diminishes the self.

Beset by great evil, a person can be wise, observant and disillusioned and yet not depressed. Resilience confers its own measure of insight. We should have no trouble admiring what we do admire — depth, complexity, aesthetic brilliance — and standing foursquare against depression.

Peter D. Kramer is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University and the author of ”Listening to Prozac.” This essay is adapted from his book ”Against Depression,” which Viking will publish next month.

moments drawing nearer

now playing: jimmie spheeris, “somewhere there’s a river”

there’s something comforting about knowing that i can count on my kids to keep my mind off other things that might be going wrong in my life…

i just wish their methods were a little different.

dylan is working the usual cocktail of apathy and laziness – coated with a nice thick layer of deception. he came home with a report card that belied any pretense that he’d been making an effort to improve his grades, and then proceeded to pitch that it wasn’t his fault. (i know what you’re doing right now…you’re shaking your head, asking yourself whose fault was it, then? i know this, ‘cuz that’s what i did.)

jayda’s situation is a little different, although she’s apparently learned a thing or two about creative omissions and the like as well. she has a boyfriend whos’ make more of an impact on her believability and trustworthiness than i’m personally ok with – sneaking over to his house, setting up meetings without telling anyone, things like that – and she’s not doing herself any favors by doing this sort of thing.

i never thought i’d have to worry about her doing things like that…even when she was small, she seemed so level-headed. i’m not sure what her motivations are, other than the obvious ones.

there’s a family meeting tonight, though – during which all this shall be discussed.

i’d like to have a few words with the asshole who said, “may you live in interesting times…”

by this time tomorrow, wendys’ parents will have left florida on their way here to move their daughter out of my house.

based on the lengths that we’ve gone to, in terms of trying to patch up our relationship, i’m feeling motivated to try to do the same with my relationship with them…but i’m not at all certain that i want to be there on saturday when they arrive.

i’ll be around during the course of the week at various points to help out, but i think there are going to be some raw nerve endings initially, and i’d just be more comfortable elsewhere while all that is worked out. thankfully, my guitar tech has created a diversion for me – he asked me to come to a show in pottsville with him, so that should just about do the trick. i’m also planning a trip to philadelphia with jayda to go to ikea, and then it looks like there’ll be a saturday morning meeting of Case Sniffers Anonymous over at amos guitars, too…so it has the potential to be a pretty full weekend.

‘course, i know myself pretty well…and i know how i feel right now…and i get the feeling that by saturday morning, i’m going to be ready to sleep in…indefinitely. we’ll see, though. i know that by saturday morning, there’ll be enough activity noise goin’ on in my house that there won’t be any sleeping late. so i may end up at keiths’ in my pajamas.

tonight, though, is the inevitable family meeting…which i should start preparing for now.

occupational baggage

now playing: james taylor, “that lonesome road”

so i’ve agreed in principle to limit my public thoughts about the things that are going on at home during the course of the events of the next two weeks. for a number of reasons – not limited to the potential for regret, hurt feelings, and just plain ol’ TMI (too much information).

i’ve struggled with this, privately and on this page – in terms of how much to share. i’ve said before that this space probably isn’t an appropriate venue for delving too far below the surface, since it is attached to my site…and i’m not sure how much of this would be of interest to anyone coming to my site for other reasons.

the flip side of the coin is that this is me…the things i write here represent my life, where it stands at a given point, my thoughts…and this has been the one forum where i haven’t felt compelled to gloss over the shitty stuff and only offer up the good parts. i’ve turned it into a sanctuary for things that i don’t put anywhere else – and while i still feel that this is a good thing, i’m not so sure (with circumstances being what they are) that it should be a public thing. it’s not fair to others who are supporting characters in this ongoing story to portray my viewpoints here for you all to see, in a place where they may not feel that they have a voice. sure, the comments are there for anyone to take advantage of…but it’s not hard to see where that could become a quagmire, too.

one man’s discussing their feelings is another man’s public ridicule…and even though i’ve tried to be as fair about all this as i possibly can while discussing certain things that i’ve encountered in my life (especially of late), that doesn’t seem to be enough of a concession on my part.

so where this subject is concerned, i’ll address it here the same way i address it in the other areas of my life….

i just won’t talk about it.

but that includes the good as well as the bad….and as far as this forum is concerned, i feel that i gave the good a disproportionate amount of ink and omitted reams of the bad in the interest of sidestepping character assassination or appearing vindictive or hateful, because that’s not who i am.

at this point, though, frankly…i’m sick of talking about it. and i’m sure that the few folks who drop by here are probably sick of hearing about it, if i’m tiring of bringing it up. usually, the listener is tired of this particular subject light years before the person living it is finished talking about it.

i’m finished talking about it, i think.

i do appreciate the patience, support, and empathy you’ve shown during all this. you know who you are.

in other news, i had to call my friend of over a decade last night and tell him that it might be in his best interest to find another guitar player.

i was supposed to rehearse with nik everett and his band last night, and instead had to recover from an occupational ambush that kept me here until almost an hour after i was supposed to have been at practice…and this isn’t the first time this has happened. in fact, there have been a few times when i’ve had to drive all the way out to phoenixville for rehearsal and turn around and come back to work to finish the end of day data processing or something similar. right now, we’re in the beginning stages of a half-million dollar complete server upgrade, and all the infrastructure has to be done (old servers sublimated, new cisco firewall, new switches, reorganizing the patch bay, re-routing of the old, setting up the new)…then the servers actually show up. then they have to be set up, then the old has to be migrated to the new – used alongside the new, even – until the old can be taken off line….and the thing you have to understand is that we have a three man crew here, including the boss…the whole upgrade is glenns’ brainchild, his baby – and he helps out in terms of direction, but most of the grunt work has to be carried out at a time when productivity is minimally impacted – after hours.

guess who that falls on.

the thing is, i’m not even complaining…i completely understand the benefits of what we’re doing, and right now is probably a good time in my life to be distracted disproportionately by work – it makes it easier not to dwell on other things.

but i also don’t want to be the weak link in the chain, where nik’s band is concerned. i don’t want to be “the asshole who’s always late” or “the guy who can’t come to practice” or “the guy who (insert custom resentment here)”. i want to do this right, and if i can’t (which seems to be fast becoming the case), it’s better that i get out of the way and let nik find a player who can be more reliable than i can right now.

i’m going to make the next couple of practices come hell or high water, and i’m going to do the tin angel gig in may, and after that, i’ll be going on the disabled list, listed as “questionable” – i didn’t quit outright, but i did ask him to start looking for someone who can be a regular part of the lineup without all the occupational baggage i bring to the table right now.

this was the last full-time commitment i had. other than the occasional fill-in for the viva gigs and this whole “tommy” thing that’s coming up in july, there’s absolutelynothing musical on my plate right now.

work, wife and kids, living situation. that’s it right now.

and it’s a pretty lopsided bar graph, too.

sunday night, wendy and i bumped into brian rutolo, the drummer from shame at target, looking at area rugs to put down on stage under his drums (if you look, you’ll often see carpet or carpetting of some kind under the drummer – this is because the force from the bass drum pedal drives the bass drum away from the drummer as it’s played if there isn’t something on the floor beneath it to keep it from “creeping” away from him). they were preparing for a TV taping for Comcast yesterday.

i dreamed last night that i was walking around behind the stage area at an amphitheatre in the area, and a country star whose music i absolutely can’t stand walked up and asked me if i was interested in playing in his band…and i was overjoyed. i couldn’t wait to get started.

what the fuck, man?

there are some seriously crossed up electrodes in my brain, methinks.

it’s 2:40AM, i must be lonely…


now playing: shane nicholson, “keep it together”

i came home after midnight. i put the six pack that i bought to take home with me in the fridge, after walking past an indifferent spouse who was watching the papal funeral on television. i took one of the beers out and took it with me to the basement, and sat in the basement with one of my guitars, playing idly and staring at a picture of my children that hangs on the wall right behind the television in the basement…dylan wasn’t yet a year old, and jayda was…well, jayda’s been the same age since she was born.

i felt the tears start welling up in my eyes…

so much more. there’s so much more i could have done for my kids, had i not been married more to this insipid dream of mine than i was to the prospect of being a better father, a better provider, a more available friend and companion to the people around me who needed me.

in retrospect, what exactly is it that the pursuit of this dream has given me?

heartache, discontent, jealousy, envy, a sense of inadequacy, mistrust, and – of late – a sense that i’ve allowed this dream of mine to rob me of things much more important to me than the dream itself.

it’s now after 2 am…and this week has taken so, so much out of me. i don’t know where to start, in terms of recovery. i don’t know how much i feel like sharing here about any of this. right now, i’ve had one (or two, or seven) too many beverages, and i should be in bed.

or on the sofa…

or something.

the things i’ve consumed this evening won’t allow for much elaboration, where my state of mind is concerned…but i’ll be back to normal soon.

runnin’ down the road, tryin’ to loosen my load…

now playing: dan fogelberg, “more than ever”

i have to start sleeping at some point.

but it’s probably not going to be anytime soon.

i’m starting to think more and more lately about splitting up the blog – keeping the one that’s attached to a little more oriented towards professional pursuits and thoughts, and maybe moving some of the more personal stuff to another space. not that i’d necessarily hide it, but i don’t know that people who come to my site necessarily want to know what’s going on with me to the extent that i sometimes seem to insist on posting.

there is such a thing as too much information for some people.

obviously, the easy way out is to adopt the “if you don’t wanna know, don’t read it” policy, but i don’t know if that’s fair.

so, in a nutshell, here’s where i am right now: completely exhausted, for one thing. when i left for work this morning, i threw a few changes of clothes in the car, because i’m not sure if i’m going home for a while at the moment…i’ve got some things to think about, and i’m not sure that home is the place to think about them. i’m not sure where that would put me, but i’m feeling pretty good about just getting in the car and driving right now, to no place in particular.

a friend’s band asked me if i was available to sit in with them tonight, since one of their members has a spouse in the hospital…but i won’t know if i’ll actually have to do this until after 3. i’ve also got quite a bit of work here, and i could certainly eat up any number of hours here, if need be.

at lunchtime, i have to go run some errands – i’m meeting the wife for lunch, and i have to pick up a check and stop off at the kids’ mom’s house and then at school…

plenty of possibilities, i suppose – and i’m not really sure how i’ll feel when it’s time to leave work.

either way, i think i’m going to burn a few fresh travelling CD’s for the weekend and go somewhere and clear my head.

if that’s possible at the moment.