Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Last Days in Paris

'I would still go on painting even if I knew my work to be atrocious... but I am not a city painter; I don't belong here. I am a peasant painter. I want to go back to my fields. I want to find a sun so hot that it will burn everything out of me but the desire to paint.'

- Van Gogh in Lust for Life, a fictionalized bio of the Dutch painter

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Identifying with Wolf-Dogs

The dislike of the wolf for close quarters was his to an unusual degree. He could not endure a prolonged contact with another body. It smacked of danger. It made him frantic. He must be away, free, on his own legs, touching no living thing. It was the Wild still clinging to him, asserting itself through him. This feeling had been accentuated by the Ishmaelite life he had led from his puppyhood. Danger lurked in contacts. It was the trap, ever the trap, the fear of it lurking deep in the life of him, woven into the fibre of him. 

- White Fang

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Fiercest of the Litter

At a noon AA meeting today, we discussed the trait within us alcoholics that makes us isolate. 'Someone hurts me, I say, well I'm gonna hurt the hell outta myself, that'll sure show them,' an old timer said self-deprecatingly at the meeting. Returning home to my apartment, I turned on my "White Fang" audiobook, and heard the following passage:

"But he was, further, the fiercest of the litter. He could make a louder rasping growl than any of them. His tiny rages were much more terrible than theirs. It was he that first learned the trick of rolling a fellow-cub over with a cunning paw-stroke. And it was he that first gripped another cub by the ear and pulled and tugged and growled through jaws tight-clenched. And certainly it was he that caused the mother the most trouble in keeping her litter from the mouth of the cave."

JL, "White Fang"

Thursday, February 16, 2017

North Again

"Dark spruce forest frowned on either side of the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness - a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozenhearted Northland Wild."

Jack London, White Fang

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Major Depressive Disorder -- Recurrent (Severe)

Sat. Feb. 12, 2017

Woke up and cried today for no particular reason; been five days since I was released from the emergency room -- my second trip to the ER for depression-related breakdowns in the calendar year. The Marquette Police broke down my apartment door and brought me to Marquette Hospital, where I was put in a secluded room and watched by an attendant nurse. After one snowstorm-cancelled flight on Tuesday, a pit stop at the Indian River compound on Wednesday night (I miss you, Joel), and a whiteout in Northern Michigan on Thursday morning, my Mom and I finally made it home Thursday afternoon. Home to the only place I've ever truly been happy in this two-horse world -- the place where I spent my boyhood days exploring the woods along the Rouge River.

After filling my Lexapro prescription at the corner CVS where we used to buy sodas as boys, I decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and get outside -- forty five degrees feels like summer to this yooper, now. I hit the trail at the end of Millwood Street and set forth into the woods where the Millwood boys came of age; I still know the trails like the back of my hand. As I traversed the muddy, icy banks of the river, I thought about my grade school best friends Matt and Jim, both whom I've sadly lost touch with over the years (depression has a way of making you lose touch with everyone, I thought), and when I reached the Blue Bridge -- where we literally used to have pissing contests into the river, its waters browned by the chemicals dumped from the auto factories -- I reflected on how often I've found myself returning to that River Rouge at my lowest moments during my adult life. I'd come here after getting arrested in Ann Arbor, after bad college breakups, when I walked the depths of hell going through alcohol withdrawals (hallucinating coyotes), after all of my hospitalizations. I suppose that river's one of the few friends who I never felt abandoned me.

The trail to the old sandlot is a walk down memory lane. At the Nankin Mill, that old relic of Henry Ford's automobile empire, I pondered the personal and historical implications of the mill, how my Dad had struggled through the automobile industry crash of the aughts, how that had forever scarred me; I chuckled to myself as I crossed the "haunted bridge," which I used to tell my little brother and cousin and friends was the sight of a fatal prom night crash in 1959, now haunted by the ghost of a teen girl in a prom dress; at the hill at the end of the old dirt road, where the old red barn stood, I shuddered at how we had always lived in fear of that barn as boys due to the local legend that a farmer had once hanged himself from the wood beams of the barn (there was still rope in a tree there); and I shed a few tears at the old sandlot, where I spent the best summers of my life in the years 2004, 2005 and 2006 -- where the overgrown weeds seemed the saddest metaphor my life has ever known.

Drove my parents to a cancer fundraiser at a Dearborn bar. On the way, Mom pointed out the spot where the old Cherry Hill High School, her alma mater, used to stand -- just like she used to when my brother Patrick and I were sitting in the backseat. The house to myself, I hung out with my dog Rudy while watching the Red Wings game (woof) and reading my "Anatomy of a Murder" library book ("I paused, wondering why I didn't go to Detroit and lecture in night school. That way, too, I would be close enough to go see all my old school's home football games. 'Hail to the victors valiant. . .'" Traver writes). It makes me so sad to see Rudy getting older, because he's been there for me through so much. He was the first one to greet me at the door when I returned from the hospital for alcoholism almost four years ago now, and he was the last one staring out the window when I left this summer for the Upper Peninsula, bags in my car and tears in my eyes.

My cousin Frank, who happens to be my best friend, got out of work late and called me over. He's not exactly on top of the world right now either, and we both lamented the general trajectory of this round blue ball across this senseless galaxy, wallowing with a certain candidness that we reserve only for each other. Who in the world would I be without my cousin Frank? It probably wasn't the best idea for us, then, to watch "Papa," a Hemingway biopic focused on my beloved hero's final months in revolution-torn Cuba (filmed on location, I recognized many of the bars and buildings in Havana from the vacation I took with the ex and her family last winter), when the writer was deeply ravaged by alcoholism, trauma and mental horrors, but that's just what we did. It was deeply personal watching Hemingway explode into violent drunken outbursts in one scene, crying and apologizing in the next, and then holding a revolver in his mouth in the very next.

Visions of Hemingway's madness dancing in my head, I drove home through a rain storm around closing time, then got into bed around three a.m. Through the window, I listened to the rain patter on the trees in back of the house, and then I heard it -- the tugboat "choo" of the night train, that old iron horse hissing steam in the night. It's a sad, sad world, sometimes, but whenever I hear that distant "choo" of the night train, wherever I am, it takes me back to my childhood, restless nights, the magic and the wonder.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

"Better to Starve in Ishpeming than to Wear Emeralds in Chicago"

written in 1959 yet by some means of dystopian idiocracy still applicable today:

"If it weren't for mining I suppose [Marquette] county'd still belong to the Indians. Instead it now belongs mostly to the Iron Cliffs Ore Company and the other smaller mining companies and, what's left over, to the descendants of the Finns and Scandanavians, the French, Italians and Cornish, and the Irish and handful of Germans (including Grandpa and Grandma Biegler), who luckily landed here many years before an all-American Senator named Patrick McCarran, ironically himself the descendant of immigrants, had discovered that these yearning peoples were henceforth more properly to be known as quotas, and had run up a tall legislative fence around Ellis Island."

- Robert Traver, Anatomy of a Murder
(aka John D. Voelker, Michigan Supreme Court Justice 1956-1960)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Literary Marquette

The Lumberjack Tavern in Big Bay, Michigan, just a short drive from my apartment in Marquette

Discovered the book "Anatomy of a Murder" by Robert Traver (pen name of Ishpeming native and Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker), which is based on an actual murder that took place at the above bar in 1951. The opening page reminds me of Hemingway's beautiful writing on Northern Michigan:

"The mine whistles were tooting midnight as I drove down Main Street Hill. It was a warm moonlit Sunday night in mid-August and I was arriving home from a long weekend trout fishing in the Oxbow Lake District with my old hermit friend Danny McGinnis, who lives there all year round. I swung over on Hematite Street to look at my mother's house -- the same gaunt white frame house on the corner where I was born. As my car turned the corner the headlights swept the rows of tall drooping elms planted by my father when he was a young man -- much younger than I -- and gleamed bluely on the darkened windows...

I swung around downtown and slowed down to miss a solitary drunk emerging blindly from the Tripoli bar and out upon the street, in a sort of gangling somnambulistic trot, pursued on his way by the hollow roar of a juke box from the garishly lit and empty bar. "Sunstroke," I murmured absently. "Simply a crazed victim of the midnight sun." As I parked my mud-spattered Coupe alongside the Miners' State Bank, across from my office over the dime store, I reflected that there were few more forlorn and lonely sounds in the world than the midnight wail of a juke box in a deserted small town, those raucous proclamations of joy and fun where, instead, there dwelt only fatigue and hangover and boredom. To me the wavering hoot of an owl sounds utterly gay by comparison."

- Robert Traver, Anatomy of a Murder

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Hallo Febraur

Do you love me, or are you just extending goodwill?
Do you need me half as bad as you say, or are you just feeling guilt?
I've been burned before and I know the score
So you won't hear me complain
Will I be able to count on you
Or is your love in vain?

Are you so fast that you cannot see that I must have solitude?
When I am in the darkness, why do you intrude?
Do you know my world, do you know my kind
Or must I explain?
Will you let me be myself
Or is your love in vain?

Well I've been to the mountain and I've been in the wind
I've been in and out of happiness
I have dined with kings, I've been offered wings
And I've never been too impressed

All right, I will take a chance, I will fall in love with you
If I'm a fool you can have the night, you can have the morning too
Can you cook and sew, make flowers grow
Do you understand my pain?
Are you willing to risk it all
Or is your love in vain?

- Dylan, "Is Your Love in Vain?"