Archive for April, 2014


Gentle James

You simply haven’t lived, dearest, until a straight man has cried for you. I went out with my friend James the other night, and told him about the six times I had ECT–Electroconvulsive Therapy–in late October and early November, and his eyes welled up, but he managed to contain himself, if only for my sake. How often do we do that? Keep ourselves together for the sake of another?

James reminded me of days gone by, and had to tell me his story again, because I’d forgotten the details of his life. Some would call it the detritus of one’s world. I choose to look at it otherwise. Indeed, we do imbue our actions with meaning, but in my mind, there is meaning that goes beyond the mere action. I hold with Soren Kierkegaard, the existentialist philosopher who also happened to believe in God, quite the mind fuck, maybe mind cluster is the more correct term.

But I digress. . .

James reminded me that he himself had had seizures as a child and takes anti-seizure medication. Personal disclosure between writerly friends is always valuable because it is what makes us unique that makes us valuable, yes, but it is also what makes us fully human.

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He was a vain petty man but he liked to think himself magnanimous.

The Sting of Stigma

Coming out of the closet as a gay man is one thing. Coming out as someone living with Bipolar Disorder is a whole other ballgame. I like to view myself as an invisible minority because most of the time my mental illness is not obvious, at least as far as I can tell. I go to grad school, getting an MFA in creative writing. I help take care of my cousin who is handicapped, and I have a pretty good life with two companion animals, an Akita and Beagle.

Recently, I started dating, and in an effort to be honest, I shared with him my struggles with Manic-Depression. I’ve had long periods of remission where I functioned without any hospitalizations, but in mid-October, and through November, I had a breakdown and my psychiatrist and I together made a decision to try ECT–ElectroConvulsive Therapy, in an effort to stave off future hospitalizations. For those not familiar with the lingo, ECT basically induces a seizure in your brain, and I had this done a total of six times. According to online websites talking about the procedure, it in effect “reboots” your brain, and is quite effective in arresting symptoms.

The guy I had started dating in late January/early February met me two or so months after I had gotten back to a normal routine, but the possibility of my having another breakdown at some point in the future scared him. Just admitting I live with Bipolar Disorder proved too much for him to handle, and though I appreciated his honesty in letting me know that this issue was bothersome, it took me by surprise that this would be a deal breaker. I don’t see myself as a “crazy” person. I live a more or less normal life, punctuated, however, by a need to take Lythium, Risperdal, Cymbalta, and Clozaril.

I need to make sure I get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and challenge myself intellectually so as not to wallow in depression. Going to Northwestern is a lifesaver because it provides focus and drive to my ambitions to be a published author someday, and it gives me much needed structure.

Having said all that, I must confess that being rejected for having Bipolar Disorder stung, almost more than if I had been rejected for having HIV (which I don’t). My mental illness is just one small part of who I am, but it wouldn’t have hurt any more if I he had told me that he doesn’t date black men, or Asians or Jewish guys. I feel, perhaps incorrectly, discriminated against for something beyond my control, and I feel the sting of prejudice.

I like to consider, like Kay Redfield Jamison in “Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” that my mental illness fuels my creativity. It is something I can marshall and summon to work for me, not against me. There remains, however, the possibility that it might sometime betray me, but on the whole, most often, I am glad to be who I am, glad for the gifts God has given me, and glad for the chance to leave the world a better place for my having been in it.

Our kin, our relatives and those closest to us, profoundly influence the person we become. It takes a concerted, ongoing effort to determine our own destiny. As much as we celebrate in America the idea of the “self-made man,” the Ayn Rand ideal of the man who is architect of all he surveys, the reality is often quite different, even for those of us used to enormous liberties, and it it this indeed that makes Svetlana Alliluyeva’s story even more poignant.

As the daughter of Joseph Stalin, a man who renamed a city after himself, Svetlana became the Cold War’s most famous defector, choosing the freedom America offered over the privileges of the Communist Party elite in the Soviet Union. She took her mother’s last name rather than associate herself with her father, but her story is riddled with tragedy, not the least of which was the suicide of her mother. Apparently, Svetlana’s mother had once drawn a tattoo of a black square over her heart, and, as the March 31st issue of the New Yorker tells, her mother told her, “This is where the soul is,” and it was in that spot she shot herself. Nothing like making a determined effort to kill your own soul, to completely obliterate yourself.

Svetlana left behind her children in her effort to entirely remake herself, and though she became famous at first, it was a fleeting fame formed by two books she wrote shortly after defecting. After that, she faded into relative obscurity, and ended up living rather anonymously in a nursing home in Wisconsin. She gave up a lot for the freedoms of the west, but it cost her greatly also. As she herself said to the journalist who interviewed her for the New Yorker, “You are not alone–everyone who talked to me here in USA–looked at me ONLY through this prism: my father’s life.” It begs the question as to when we truly start living for ourselves.

We take for granted that we are responsible for our actions and that our actions determine who we become, yet in Svetlana’s case so much of her world was colored by the actions of her father.

Truth or fiction?

101 Books

You’ve seen the chain emails and the Facebook posts that spread urban legends and myth like they are truth.

Maybe your crazy Tea Party Aunt posts something like “Barack Obama is actually a Pakistani Muslim working undercover for the Pakistani government!!!” Then she’ll link to some whacked-out conspiracy theory site. Doesn’t that stuff just drive you crazy?

Well, it drives me crazy. And the literary world is no stranger to conspiracy theory, myth and urban legend. So I thought I’d use our old friends at Snopes and a few other sites to compile some literary myths in this post.

Here’s some of the better ones that I could find.

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