Category Archives: Duff McKagan

Plagueless III: Xanax Dreams

Part II is here, if you missed it.

I mentioned recently that I had read an interview with Duff recently that triggered a recovery memory (note–recovery, not recovered). The interview, which is a damn fine one, references his slip in 2005, which, to the best of my memory, I had never read him speaking quite so directly about (though he’s mentioned the general events of 2005 several times–he wrote “Wasted Heart”–if you have never heard it, shame on you, it is a beautiful tribute– for his wife after the troubles of that year and mentions that at pretty much every show). A second article, referencing the same period, appeared this week

He remarks in the first interview that:

For me, it is the drama. I had a relapse on pills in 2005. It came out of nowhere. It was because of all this bullshit. Xanax was prescribed for me. I was supposed to take one if I had a bad panic attack. I had them in my bag and that was my first mistake. I took one, and the next day, I took two. In only nine days, I was up to 22. That is what guys like you and I do.

Addicts, he means, of course–particularly those of a particular stripe. Addictive behaviors can respond to all manner of triggers, and Duff has never really made any bones about what band and touring stress does to him. Hell, “Beautiful Disease” makes reference to the notion: “lost my mind about 30 time ’cause of bullshit pulled on tour” (this in a song about addiction, and realize that 30, in this case, isn’t hyperbolic…in fact, it’s probably a conservative estimate). While I am admittedly baffled that someone prescribed Xanax to a person that had struggled so badly with addiction (it’s a benzo , for goodness sake–easy addiction), I imagine that the level of stress required–the anxiety produced by that stress–must have been dramatic for him to have even sought the option. I have no idea if he fully informed himself about the dangers of Xanax to addicts either, but that’s really neither here nor there.

Reading the remark (and then hearing him talk about it on stage in Nashville) triggered a rather uncomfortable memory from 2007–when I was in therapy. I should note that I am now eternally thankful that the particular doc I saw was an advocate for non-drug therapy, especially for addicts. I recall being so incredibly whacked out (probably the best way to put it), panicking, rising to anger even more quickly than normal, and, oh lord the obsessing! that I went in one day convinced that he needed to prescribe something. Anything would do at that point. All I wanted was to feel normal. Unfortunately, I really hadn’t experienced normal in quite sometime. I was simply in sensory overload, which he recognized, and being the good addiction specialist that he was, he taught me a few behavioral tricks to try before writing a scrip. And I am grateful for that for precisely the reason Duff mentions above, because, as he puts it in the second interview, once he began taking the Xanax: “Boom! I was off to the races. It knocked me off my feet, man. Guys like me, once you start thinking you’re bulletproof that’s when it gets really dangerous. I learned a great lesson from it. I let myself down. I let my whole family down. It killed me.” That could have and, worse, likely would have, been me on such anti-anxiety meds. Such would have undoubtedly forced the kind of collapse that I fear–to the detriment of my family.

Addictions are a shared burden, as is the management of the addictions. Too, as with mental illness, the burden is shared with our children as possible (terrible and unintentional) inheritances. I coach TG regularly about addiction–the realities of why mom reads cough syrup labels and finds non-drug ways to deal with anxiety and insomnia– and why it is absolutely essential that I do and that he pay attention to his own choices and habits. And, while I fear for myself, I fear far more for him and what he stands to inherit from his family tree rife with suicide, mental illness, and addictions.

The other thing that occurred to me when reading this article (the first one) came up time and again as I read the two bipolar memoirs and throughout the last two weeks is this: addictions and mental illness are a shared burden that we slowly learn to share and the we must share. We have to navigate how much to tell and to whom we will tell it. It strikes me as no small thing that 3 1/2 years after the fact, Duff is telling a bit more about his and his family’s ordeal in 2005, just as the flood of information about the events of 1994 was slow to spread, but eventually became a natural part of his discourse. I met a young woman recently who confessed her own addiction struggles to me when we met, just as I shared with her. Why? It was important that we do so, given the context behind our meeting, which began with a misunderstanding borne of my attempting to type while angry (always, always a bad idea), and many thank yous to her for her bravery. You know who you are.

I find myself increasingly able to give voice to my addiction stories, especially the pre-2007 ones, though I’m trying to give voice to the recent slip as well. The stories, the act of sharing, creates and maintains a space in which addicts can survive, because the space is honest and realistic and, well, shared. Because if nothing else, each addict has to learn to rely on someone other than him or herself–too often we cannot be trusted with ourselves. We put the Xanax in the bag, give in to that one glass of wine, go seeking that one trigger because it will give license to release the demon (because we were cocky, because we were brave, because we were forgetful, scared, excited, whatever). What a difference there is when someone keeps us from traveling too high or picks us up when we crash; such a gift of a person can only exist inside an honest relationship.

And so we tell. We tell new acquaintances who might become friends. We tell coworkers. We tell our families. We tell the audience at the show. We talk and we tell and we share to survive. Which is, I guess, why I gravitate toward addiction and mental illness narratives, because they are part of an enormous participatory narrative.

Which brings me to Beautiful Boy.

Sheff’s narrative of his son’s addictions and rehabs and relapses and the toll that they took on the family frightened me initially not because of the point-of-view of intervention and concern–I’m well aware of the havoc addictions wreak on families and friends, but because of the same thing that Duff mentioned as “scaring the hell” out of him when he read it. What frightened me was the father/son role, or parent/child, to generalize a bit. Why? Simple: I worry over TG and what the experience of an actively addict parent and the genetic inheritances will bring about in his life. I worry because he does know that he likely inherited a potentially lethal disorder and that he alone has the ability to escape it. What can I do to prevent addiction for my son?

Honestly? I don’t know.

Realistically, addiction begins as pulling a trigger–the first time might get you, or the third, or the ninth, or, if you get lucky–never, but pulling the trigger nevertheless. And, it begins as a solo effort–the not-yet-addict, responding to desire, to peer pressure, to fancy, to…whatever, makes a choice. Perhaps the not-yet-addict is unaware of his or her genetic potential. Perhaps (as was true of me) he or she is perfectly aware of the torrid family history (“she caught the family disease,” goes Loaded’s “Queen Joanasophina“) but pulls the trigger anyway. Maybe she’ll get lucky; maybe not. Maybe it will be, as Sheff puts it, a “near miss” that pulls her out of her addiction (274), should that be what comes to pass, rather than wholly destructive or deadly rock bottom. Parents can guide, encourage, intervene, and pray; we can teach and hope something positive sticks. In the end, though…there is choice, over which we do not and should not have control.

I could (no, I can’t, but I’ll fake it for a moment) try to intellectualize my response to Sheff’s book. It chronicles parental struggles in painful (and, at times, overwhelming, detail), and the infernal and constant questions: how much do we tell? How much of our own habits and histories do we share with our children, and how much do we edit, realizing that everything we try to hide may come to light in spite of us, even if we never lived in a spotlight? At what point do our stories cease being cautionary tales (which is certainly how parents tend to see them) and become fodder for arguments over who did what, when, how often, and with whom or, worse (?) mere anecdotes of parental lost-coolness? The reader occupies and experiences those questions and that position throughout Sheff’s narrative–the parent overwhelmed by fear and anger and betrayal. And then simply overwhelmed. A telling quote:

There’s a lot I don’t know, but I have learned some lessons about addiction. Though there are some wrong courses of action to take, there is no predetermined right course. No one knows. (275)

If that isn’t parenthood on any subject, I really don’t know what is. No one knows.

One of the most telling pieces of his narrative is the way in which Sheff is nearly always in motion (save for when he is himself hospitalized). Time and again, we see the frantic action of parent calling, praying, screaming, and the addict sleeps. Sleeps or is otherwise passive. We don’t see much of Nic’s activity because we are in David Sheff’s world, not Nic’s*. As a device to heighten the tension of the text, though–it works. Everything in Sheff’s life becomes, for a time, about Nic’s addictions:

Here’s a note to the parents of addicted children: choose your music carefully. Avoid Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” from the Polaroid or Kodak or whichever commercial, and the songs “Turn Around” and “Sunrise, Sunset” and—there are thousands more. Avoid Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” and this one, Eric Clapton’s song about his son. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” sneaked up on me one time. The music doesn’t have to be sentimental. Springsteen can be dangerous. (192)

Even the most innocuous of sources (*cough*Springsteen*cough*) is cause for emotional upheaval that may come utterly without warning. Everything in Sheff’s world comes to be defined by his son’s addiction (this is also true for the addicts, of course–every bit of music, every sunset, birthday, vacation, workday or image may be defined by its relationship to the addiction).

Addiction stems from solitary actions; though some are performed quite publicly, they are nevertheless actions imbued with separation from the world. Sheff captures the solitary motions of his son’s addiction in the spaces of loss and terror, ones Sheff himself cannot voice the story for (as he did not experience the stories). However, addiction recovers in shared space–Al-Anon, AA, NA, rehab, group and individual therapy, books, blogs, stories shared over coffee and during concerts and runs and myriad other events. Sheff’s website speaks to this need and truth, as he offers a forum for people to share their stories in. Share there. Share here, but do share your stories, whether they be hopeful or horrific, funny or frightening (alliterative or reasonably normal, for that matter).

Would I recommend Beautiful Boy? I don’t know, really. Probably–especially for parents, though not in the “you can learn from THIS!” sort of way. Parents of addicts and addict parents–yes, definitely, if for no other reason than to hear someone else telling your/their/our story.

So there you have it, the sum total of my recent forays into fiction and non-fiction. Up for tonight? A Christopher Pike novel. Sort of needed a mental download. I’ll get back to real work tomorrow.

Up next? Zakes Mda’s Cion and Richard Meltzer’s The Aesthetics of Rock.

(and Gravity’s Rainbow, in my annual attempt to finish the damn thing).

*Nic’s story is available in Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, which I’ve not read and haven’t decided whether or not I am going to yet.


Plagueless II: Scary Books

Continuing on toward Beautiful Boy:

Before getting to one of the more serious jags in my recent readings, I want to share with you one of the most delightful bits of silliness that I have had the opportunity to read (using the term in a fairly loose sense, anyway). I read it before Lent–I can’t recall when I bought it precisely–, but if you were remotely attached to any hair/glam band of the late eighties, you must check out Neil Zlozower’s Fück Yöu: Rock and Roll Portraits, a glorious visual ode to perhaps the most ubiquitous of all rock poses:

the bird* (thank you, wireimage)

Ah, bliss.

Okay, back to the musing:

Wright’s Black Boy is likely the most disconnected of the various texts I’ve been reading of late, in so far as its themes are relatively divergent from the others, at least superficially. It is, however, one of the myriad books which I feel like I have put off reading for far too long (and how it never ended up on any of my undergraduate or graduate reading lists is beyond me), and I am glad to took the time to read it, as Wright is a favorite author of mine–I love his voices. Thematically, the book did, it turned out, fit in with many of my Lenten themes, not the least of which is his working out how to live in the world. In addition to Wright’s discussions of the racial struggles of his childhood, teen, and young adult years, he encounters his own addiction and redemption story when he falls in with a crowd of adults who find the cursing of a young, drunken lad to be terribly entertaining. That scene was among many of the uncomfortable indictments included in the text regarding race and class (and it is so incredibly clear how the two are conflated throughout). Imagine this moment, if you will. A young boy, perhaps six years old, dirt poor, bored, and lonely is pulled into a saloon, where he is plied with drinks and taught the language of the drunken:

To beg drinks in the saloon became an obsession. Many evenings my mother would find me wandering in a daze and take me home and beat me; but the next morning, no sooner had she gone to her job than I would run to the saloon and wait for someone to take me in and buy me a drink….But the men–reluctant to surrender their sport–would buy me drinks anyway, letting me drink out of their flasks on the streets, urging me to repeat obscenities. (21)

The language of the saloon, which he learns by sound, if not by meaning, eventually catches up to him, when he flings them out at his Grandmother. This marks his first (and certainly not his last) encounter with the manipulation of language in the various places and spaces he will inhabit.

His narrative ends with the following remark: “I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human” (384). Exactly. Throw them into the void for someone, anyone, to hear and resonate with. This is why we tell our stories–whatever they may be–isn’t it?

Much of my recent reading swirled around bipolar disorder (BSD, or bipolar spectrum disorder). I read them because BSD (Bipolar Spectrum Disorder) is one of my most nagging fears, and part of my Lenten (and post-Lenten) reading disciplines is to face those “places that scare” me. I have worried about the genetic links to BSD since my mother’s diagnosis (and, indeed, before her formal diagnosis, since most of us “knew” about her before we were told). She was misdiagnosed as clinically depressed for years and treated with Prozac (and self-medicated with alcohol, because, guess what…Prozac alone doesn’t help the bipolar brain, and can trigger mania ). And it’s not just idle paranoia** either, because of my own substance abuse troubles and the hypomanic experiences that have driven me to do little things like, well, become confident (ha!) enough to drink again. I generally describe these periods as “hyperactive.” I prefer the term; it’s relatively accurate in so far as my habits and actions, but I am also aware that I have several of the “manic” habits–rapid speech, lack of focus, uncontrolled anger, “expansive” moods (the “I believe I can do anything” routine), addiction…you name it. My mother’s diagnosis is Bipolar II; she presents with significant depressive symptoms (and has had several episodes of major depression over the years) and hypomania, though I would argue that her suicide attempt of a few years ago was a result of a manic episode, not a depressive one, but I don’t know how honest she’s been with her doctor on the matter, either (such would likely pop her diagnosis over to Bipolar I).

So, in the course of that reading, I finished one of the most frightening books I have ever read. As most of you are aware, I’m a bit of a horror addict, so, as you might imagine, this was not a zombie tale (not that there are scores of those in print anyway), vampire story, or ghost tome. It was Marya Hornbacher’s Madness. I can’t say I would recommend it in general terms, but if you have ever wanted for insight into the bipolar mind, this book is it. Several pieces caught my attention in her book, not the least of which was her fluid interpretation of the manic mind–her narrative voice captures the speed (and, eventually, paranoia) associated with such episodes–I’m particularly fond of her overuse of the exclamation point, since in mania, so often, Everything is splendid! (Her digressions feel quite familiar. So familiar):

I report–and believe–that everything is going well, better than well, so he has no reason to think anything’s wrong. I brush of his incessant questions about whether I’m doing too much…How could I be doing too much when everything is right? The meds are obviously working brilliantly, as anyone can see….(168)

Indeed, they are. Her use of dashes and the freeflow of superlatives heighten the effect of the mania–sweeping the reader into her madness.

Kay Redfield Jameson’s An Unquiet Mind is likewise a personal account of biopolar disorder, though the narrative voice is considerably more staid and calm, even as Jameson delves into her manic psychosis, which befits her own characterization as the intellect drawn to study the very mood disorder that haunts her and her family. As a consequence, her voice is often reserved and, superficially at least, objective. Her insights (and I would argue that many of these insights ARE borne out of the objectivity she had to develop as a researcher) dance between the image of the bipolar patient has of him or herself and those held by others. She captures, at the outset of her chapter “Flights of Mind,” the separation between the perceptions of the bipolar mind and those of the people who live with the bipolar patient:

It goes on and one, and finally there are only others’ recollection of your behavior–your bizarre, frenetic, aimless behaviors–for mania has at least some grace in partially obliterating memories. (68)

One of the central arguments for each writer is mania is itself addictive–those behaviors that are read by others as frivolous, batty, or annoying, are products of a feeling of unconquerability and pleasure–at least until the paranoia becomes unmanageable. Both authors also discuss the heavy reliance on others for survival–that the ways in which the bipolar patient is treated by the world (family, friends, etc.) can make all the difference, but, as Hornbacher makes clear, such reliance takes a toll–the caregivers often suffer mightily in the face of the disorder, forced from superhero to sidekick and back again, over and over and over. She remarks of her husband

He doesn’t know how to relate to me. He has grown used to my being sick. He gave up on getting me back and got used to playing savior. Now he is tired of that role; but at the same time, he has forgotten everything else. In some ways it is simpler to be married to someone who is all need and no give. It’s an enormous drain. But there is a benefit too: you become the hero, the center of someone else’s existence. You are the saint. You have, in this sense, a great deal of power. (222)

The remark, like hers about losing the ability to write to the darkness, struck me cold and familiar. I wonder just how often I left G in such a predicament. Being a functional sort, he was never pushed to exactly these lengths, but he certainly lost the ability to know what and how to deal with me in the first go around of sobriety. I pulled away–didn’t know how to react to or with him, wrapped up as I was in surviving the everyday. He, in turn, locked himself away from me, through various means, and I often wondered if it was in part because I wasn’t as weak as I had been…I don’t know. The idea crossed my mind on more than one occasion, but it could have as easily been my own projections of my fears of being needy (which isn’t the case. An attention whore, maybe, but I can damn well take care of everything else). And I struggle with that appearance of neediness; I deeply fear not being independent–to be beholden to another for my material or psychological well being is terrifying, which is why, I guess, I am so caught up in the fear of a genetic inheritance from my mother–because bipolar, if it does nothing else, forces the patient into the role of reliance…on drug therapy, talk therapy, and on friends and family.

Such reliance is the essence of what I avoided in Beautiful Boy, but I need to make a small digression before we get there. A nod toward an idol and his craft. And a thank you to a new person to my world, who happily provides me with intellectual fodder and teengirl gaiety.

*I am horrified, just horrified, that of all the pictures I have of Duff McKagan on my computer not one had him posing with the big bird. Not one. The picture you see above is courtesy of the Loaded site, where, thankfully, someone had the decency to post Duff in his natural habitat.

**I initially typed “idol paranoia.” Given how often I’ve used the term idol in reference to Duff of late, I had to laugh at that phrase. How the hell would that look?

A Loaded Evening

I have a longer, serious post for later on the same subject, but for now, only celebration and sharing. After 18 years (either I am getting old, or I was ridiculously young the last time. Yes, that’s it. I was 5 in 1991. At a GNR show. In the pit. Yeah.), I got to see Duff play live again and finally had the opportunity to see Loaded in action. I am delighted that I took the time to get up to Nashville to see them–the show was well worth the drive.

The pics included here attempt to document the inveterate silliness that occurs on the Loaded stage, as band members plot and harass and cajole each other and the audience into sharing in the good time. Readers, if you have the chance to see them (oh, look, a list of dates!), take the opportunity–make the opportunity, for few bands have the energy (even if Red Bull…ummm… “enhanced”), camaraderie, or excitement as this band. The segues in and out of band and fan favorites in the midst of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” (including a hint of Judas Priest, an appearance by ZZ Top, and scores of others) is alone worth the price of admission.

Gentlemen, should you ever see this, my hat is off to you. Thank you for such a fabulous show.

I also had the pleasure of meeting two women, duffdiver and rhyte (nicknames are theirs from the Loaded fan forum), who epitomize musical fandom and allowed me to share in a brief retreat back to 15-year-old girl concert craziness. Seriously groovy ladies, they are. Even managed to get a few excellent book recommendations from them (Loaded seems to draw in an awful lot of English degrees in the fanbase).

Now, as befits the geekiness of this blog, I do have to share one tiny thing. One infinitesimal detail about the evening, that, as you can imagine, I have mulled and pondered and tried REALLY, REALLY hard not to drive G crazy with.

I got to meet the band after the show, and after Duff’s shout out to me in his SW blog, I thought I was prepared for the event. Squires, Jeff (a god of the stage, I must assure you–wow), and Geoff were terribly groovy and gentlemanly, even as I quite clearly geeked out over meeting Duff. Cause, you know, haven’t idolized the man for 22 years or anything. Okay, truth be told, I managed to keep my cool–didn’t geek out (completely) and even managed to introduce myself to Duff. The exchange when like this (remember, all of us were suffering post-traumatic-hearing-loss, so I’m editing a few “huh’s?” out of the exchange):

K: Hi (shakes Duff’s hand), I’m Kris (cool, ain’t I?), from your SW blog.
D: (leaning in, hearing being what it is at this point in the evening). Hi. You’re who?

This is the part where I would usually have died and walked away.

K: (louder, realizing he’s as deaf as she is) Kris, from your SW blog.
D: (eyes wide & incredulous): You’re fuckin’ Kris?

I will never hear my name quite the same way again. (*grinning as she types*)

D: Okay, so you’re not a professor? (not sure what I said in response to his blog that gave this impression, but it was the second time someone had asked me that during the evening. So for clarification, he was half-right in his blog: I am a professor, but I am not from Seattle. Unfortunately.)

And so on….

He was very cordial and complementary, even saying that he found my little blog inspirational.

At which point I fainted.

Kidding, kidding.

I maintained my cool (sort of), and thanked him, completely awestruck…even gobsmacked…again. Cause, like, you know…22 years. My hero–one of the coolest musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, certainly one whose life and work has provided much aural pleasure and, indeed, inspiration over the years–said that I (or at least what I write) am inspirational.

To him.

I am humbled once again.

My fuckin’ hero.

Trippers and Askers Surround Me

If you don’t recognize the post title, it’s from a Whitman poem, Song of Myself. Even as much as I make fun of Whitman at times, this really is one of my favorite poetic moments:

Trippers and askers surround me,
People I meet, the effect upon me of my early life or the ward and city I live in, or the nation,
The latest dates, discoveries, inventions, societies, authors old and new,
My dinner, dress, associates, looks, compliments, dues,
The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love,
The sickness of one of my folks or of myself, or ill-doing or loss or lack of money, or depressions or exaltations,
Battles, the horrors of fratricidal war, the fever of doubtful news, the fitful events;
These come to me days and nights and go from me again,
But they are not the Me myself. (4:1-9)

This resonated today insofar as this post is as much grab bag as analysis (and probably a good deal more). See, I am not the bits and pieces I collect; “I” am more than the sum of their parts, but they are no less a part of me. If I fail to give them voice, I reduce myself. At the same time, if I give them more attention than is their due–try to make them all of me, I reduce myself. So, this collection of randoms is not “me” but they are very much the expression, the clothing of my voice.

Marathon Training: 25 miles last week, the same and additional change for this week (27 total?). Time is, as ever, pokey, but speed is not the goal–dragging myself across the finish line is. We can worry over speed after the race. Not thrilled with the whole return to cold weather deal that we had this morning. In fact, it SUCKED.

The 10 mile loop I mapped out is an interesting beast; turns out that little country road behind my house is one very long hill. With bikers.*

10 miles–two of these uphill battles plus a 10K and I’m done, right?

The psychology of running is a beast with which to reckon–more on that in a later post, but I’m pretty sure I rewrote my will, sketched the first 74% of a novel, and re-centered my current research project in the course of Saturday morning. I did discover that it is a good thing that I don’t carry my iPod along, as I am distracted enough without music.

Duff: A perennial favorite in these parts, yes?

For those who missed my über-freakouts last week, a brief update:

First, Loaded kindly consented to come to the Southeast on their tour, and while I can take no credit (though I did harass), I am very pleased and wish to say thank you to all four musicians in question. I look forward to seeing all of you this month. Thank you, gentlemen.

Second, Sick (Loaded’s album–see the link at the bottom of the page) arrived yesterday. Good tunes. Good fun. Great humor. The joy in the music is palpable.

Third, Duff mentioned me in his blog. No really. See the quote below? “Kris” is me (I love, love, love the digression about newspapers and blogs that accompanies the remark about me…it’s ridiculously fitting):

Of the readers that I deem to be local, a professor dubbed “Kris” has a blog of his/her own that is drenched with deep-thought and hyper-awareness. I am honored that people like this even give a guy like me the time of day to read the neophyte script that I turn in to the Weekly. (On this subject, I just watched CBS’s Sunday Morning, and there was a segment on blogging and news otherwise obtained on the Web. Apparently, for the first 100 or so years of their existence—1680 to 1780—newspapers would leave a blank page at the end of an article so that readers could write their comments and then pass it along for someone else to cross-comment. By 1915 there were some 15,000 different newspapers and magazines circulating in the U.S. Radio, TV, and other media eventually diminished the high demand, but it appears now that with the Internet, we are back up to having the wide variety celebrated those 100 years ago. Back to the future, I guess.)

I grant that the pink daisy probably should have been a gender clue, but, I appreciate the gender-non-specificity nevertheless and, moreover, I really appreciate his kindness. When in the world did I become a “people like this”? I thought that was his role. He’s my hero after all.

He’s “people like this,” not me.


Duff. The guy mentioned first in the blog’s cast of characters. My hero thinks I’m a “people like this”!

I’m not though. He is.

“people like this”

…The last piece of Duffness came in an article that inspired a post that I will put up later this week on the subject of recovery. Because, damn, he is “people like this” and fuck all if he doesn’t make me think time and again about where and how and who: this time, he made me remember something about recovery that I had rather suppressed.

On that note…

Recovery: Rather melancholy at the moment. I realized this week, happily, that while the first go-round at recovery was brutal for an extended period–the craving, the obsession with consumption, I haven’t had much in the way of a pull toward alcohol at all this time, at least since the first month (which was a bitch–way worse than the first time). The…I can’t think of the right word here…lackadaisical? ambivalent?…what? The (whatever word I am seeking–detached?) attitude is a bit baffling, and, at first, I thought it was a good thing. Then I remembered that this was about the same feeling that preceded the decision to drink again. At which point I began to pay more attention to my thoughts and rambles, and they are a bit darker than I realized. Not threatening, mind you–not going there, but definitely dark.

Or maybe it’s the return to cold weather that’s getting me down.

In all likelihood, it is some of all of the above–some of each of the bits and pieces reflected here. I was getting low last week, before I saw the remark quoted in Duff’s blog above, which buoyed me more than I can readily articulate. My hero and his kindnesses. Great highs, such as the excitement of last week, inevitably precede precipitous lows, and I will simply have to weather those, as well as the snow flurries outside my window.

Snow flurries in Georgia in April should be verboten, dammit.

Maybe I should work harder at not hanging my hat on the kindnesses of heroes and strangers, but celebrate those moments and allow myself to revisit on tough days and hours, but buoy myself with my own service and work in the world. Touch upon the joy and savor it for a time, but rely on internal measures, rather than external ones.

And in thinking about the weeks to come, perhaps I should not worry so much about how I appear to others, that I may be over-excitable (why not be so, after all?) or risky or scary or whatever, but I do. I do worry over the trippers and askers, the dress and compliments, the depressions and exaltations.

My compulsions and ecstasies and smiles and encounters and addictions and stories and whatevers and whatnots are significant. Even my silliness.

Which makes me wonder…what makes you who you are? What are the events and ideas and behaviors that clothe your self? Who and what surrounds you?

*For those not in the know, this community is rife with cyclists (not bikers, I know…I couldn’t resist). Scads of brightly colored, spandex-clad folks on minuscule tires cover the roadways each morning. They are, as a rule, a fun group of folks to watch, even if the occasional super-athlete feels it necessary to make an obnoxious remark at me. Heh…I’m usually too whipped to care by the time they come upon me. Fortunately, most of the cycling crowd is quite polite.

Academics and Assorted Musings on Mental Health

So, read this charming piece in the Chronicle today. It fairly well confirms one of my favorite descriptions of graduate school–that it isn’t for the sane. Yes, indeed, studies indicate that graduate students are a mentally unhealthy bunch:

Social isolation, financial burdens, lack of structure, and the pressure to produce groundbreaking work can wear heavily on graduate students, especially those already vulnerable to mental-health disorders.

Studies have found that graduate school is not a particularly healthy place.

You think?

Before I left for graduate school, one of my profs sat gave me a piece of sage advice that I fear I took far too well. “Choose an addiction now,” he said, “because every English professor has one, and usually at least three, of the following addictions: sugar, sex, alcohol, or narcotics. Pick your favorite and focus on it.”

Now, I admit that I belonged to a fairly…um…unhealthy discipline. Comparatists are not known for their sanity, patience, nor humility. Generally, when I introduce myself as a comparatists, I get some form of the following reaction: Slow eye blink. “Oh. Wow.” The remark is inevitably followed, depending on the relative experience of the speaker with either “That’s a really demanding program,” or “I’m sorry.” The sorry, not incidentally, regards the atmosphere associated with most comp lit programs–we are often not exactly the most well-regarded department on campus. Troublemakers, every single one.

My fellow grad students and I observed (as grad students are wont to do) that most of us were given to depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental distress. In fact, academics in general seem to be drawn to academia precisely because it is one of the few places that tolerates our more unfortunate behavioral patterns. Take the classic “absent-minded professor” type; I’ve met several, and I can say with absolute seriousness that academia is the only place for them. I cannot imagine what happens to those who don’t end up teaching. In any event, many of us are somewhat less than socially graceful, and as the article notes, a whole vat of us belong in therapy (as to whether we seek it or not…another story entirely). My dear former therapist, himself a retired prof, remarked once that he thought that a year of therapy should come with every PhD granting, seeing as how most of us are in dire mental straights by the time we finish.

Which suggests perhaps that the sane folks get the hell out of the program, right?

So, I’m wondering (thinking about Sixx’ remark that I blogged on earlier this week), are we born academics? I don’t mean anything regarding intelligence here (indeed, one might make an argument against the wisdom of those of us who choose, perfectly willingly, to submit to the whims and demands of other people who survived the whims and demands of their own professors and have chosen to take it out on students for the next 40 or so years); rather, I wonder about the type of personality that is driven into grad school…

What comes first: grad school or insanity?

Perhaps my prof was on to something about the nature of the addict, or, at least, of certain addictive personalities. Few career paths really celebrate the ability to obsess in great detail on a single subject that, quite potentially, no one else in the world really gives a damn about. Well…except at comp lit conferences, when minutiae become the stuff of the finest of cat fights. Seriously, though…could I function in an environment that wasn’t friendly to odd behaviors and habits? An environment that was comfortable with the socially inept and the compulsive?

A for instance: one of the great complaints among faculty is that students don’t read the course catalog and prepare themselves for advising. Leaving aside the fact that we no longer print catalogs, one of the images often used in such discussion is the “dog-eared” catalog that so many of us faculty carried around and read, highlighted, and memorized during our undergraduate years. It turns out, though, that the then proto-faculty were the weird ones, and we have a tough time seeing why normal folk don’t obsess over which English track to follow or whether to take Milton or Advanced Grammar this semester, while we are taking that freaking Literary Criticism course. Our students aren’t defective. Our students are normal.

We are obsessives.

So, are we born academics? Do we attract and protect the unstable…providing a sense of place for some and a sense of incredible stress and displacement for others? Other than the stresses of graduate programs, why is there a high incidence of mental illness in academia (because it doesn’t magically disappear after grad school)?

You can tell I’m having one of those weekends, yes?


Duff said it better than me: Have a read.

Open Letter to Loaded


I am so very excited about your forthcoming full-length album, Sick, and your upcoming tour plans. Please be advised that I am dragging my butt to a marathon in your lovely Seattle in June and would be ever so delighted to discover that you are playing there that weekend. This would be the last weekend in June, if you need more specificity–for the Rock N’ Roll Seattle Marathon.

See, it’s perfect, no?

But, I know you have aspirations to hit the UK again and that you’re planning to play at Download in mid-June (Faith No More?! Be still my heart!). Totally understandable, wish I could join. So, in case you won’t be hanging around Seattle that weekend, you are more than welcome to, say, join Crüefest (since you have mentioned this tour as well) on the late August dates, where they will swing through the South (hey–you know, Atlanta would be fabulous!).

So, please, feel free to take any of the above suggestions. I won’t mind. Really. I’d be grateful, thankful, eternally in your debt…whatever.

Begging aside (sort of…please?), best wishes to you. You guys totally rock.