Saturday, December 15, 2012

Time to bite the bullet

Yesterday came yet another dreadful massacre (how many in 2012 already?). Now there are many cries urging us to find understanding of what happened. In my view, there is little that requires deep understanding--an angry, disturbed, isolated, unhappy young man who felt powerless--but there is much to think about.

There are many men who are seriously disturbed emotionally, who are angry and feel powerless, who hate their parents, who are isolated and unhappy with little hope of future improvement. Some of these men might have access to psychotherapy; some of them (I'm guessing, not very many) might actually get themselves into therapy, where they will not be particularly successful clients. Those men who were students at universities had often been in counseling, and their therapists had even alerted the administration that there was cause to be worried. Even if there were the funds, and the social support, even if they were to be sought out and welcomed by those around them--big IF--these men are not especially likely to be able respond in ways that would lead to more contact. None of this matters unless the man acquires an assault rifle. Even a very angry man, without a gun, might start a fist-fight, draw a knife, or drive a car the wrong way down a highway, but none of these actions can kill as many other people as an assault weapon.

I worked as a clinical psychologist for over 35 years. I did therapy with patients in my office and in psychiatric hospitals. I performed evaluations in both settings. I've talked with and listened to a lot of seriously disturbed people. I also took my knowledge and experience and tried to pass them on when I supervised and trained doctoral students, and taught capstone courses in two doctoral programs. You may suppose that I had occasion to assess the degree to which patients were at risk for killing themselves. Frustration, powerlessness, diminished hope for the future, social isolation can all be important considerations. The critical factors, however, are:  intent; plan; lethality of the plan; and, access to means. That is to say, is he serious; has he worked out how to do it; is the plan one that would result in death; are the means to carry out the plan available? Men's suicide attempts are more often fatal than are women's, mainly because men generally select more lethal means, such as guns, car wrecks, or hanging. These means are so effective that rescue is mostly too late. Women, who generally select quieter means such as overdosing, can often be rescued and the damage undone. This young man had strong intent, which expressed itself in a considered plan, and, guns are more lethal than most anything else. Still:  none of these would have mattered much to us, had he not had access to the means of carrying out his plan, namely, assault weapons manufactured for the sole purpose of killing many people very quickly.

People who love their guns are free to hunt game--not my thing, at all, but I can accept it, especially if they eat what they have killed. People who delude themselves that they can protect themselves and their family by having a gun in the house are much likelier to kill a family member or to have the weapon turned against them by the intruder than they are likely to achieve actual protection; in any case, they do not need to be able to kill 600 intruders per minute. There is, simply, no reason in our society for access to assault weapons. That is what needs to be understood. That is the bullet to bite.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Floating Route

Centrifugal Eye has selected me as one of four featured poets for their Autumn 2102 issue of mini-chapbooks. Although this makes the fourth collection of mine to be selected for publication, it is the first one to show up!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

And I hope you did too, or will do so when your elections come around.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Imani Winds, giving it their all

We just came home from an extraordinary concert by the Imani Winds, flute oboe bassoon French horn and clarinet. They played a huge program of music including a composition of Valerie Coleman (flute), Cane by Jason Moran (commissioned for this ensemble), Mozart's quintet for piano and winds, Stravinsky's Rites of Spring in a reduction for winds (this was achieved by cutting out the other instruments' parts and using the French horn and bassoon for percussive elements--brilliant!!), and Poulenc's sextet for piano and winds.

What's more, they were all fabulous in all of these very different pieces. Marvelous tone and timbre, much feeling without yielding to cornball impulses, terrific ensemble work and **so*much*musicianship**! I know I've used up my annual quota of exclamation points in this post, but they were so very very good. If you should ever get the chance, go hear any and all of these fine people.

Valerie Coleman, flute
Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboe
Monica Ellis, bassoon
Jeff Scott, French horn
Mariam Adam, clarinet

and Anne-Marie McDermott, piano

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

Quote of the week: guy in loafers, no socks, on his cell phone

 security area at LAX--very forbidden photo

"Here's the bottom line:  I'm going out on a limb, and if I'm off-base, somebody reel me in."

I go a little nuts when I hear people mixing metaphors.  What bothers me is not only the debasement of language, but also that they clearly have no idea of what the words mean.  This unlovely high-consuming fellow did not at all hear the various activities of accounting, tree-climbing, baseball, and, fishing that his sentence invoked. Why does it matter, after all? Is the world a worse place if people talk by signs and signifiers instead of words and well-matched images? Yes, it is. I believe it is a much worse place. This kind of McLanguage encourages people not to see what is in front of them, not to hear what others mean, and to be so estranged from their own actual experience that they require increasingly powerful doses (medicate? yes, that's what I mean) of pseudo-flavors, of entertainment made of pseudo-violence and -sex and -adventure of a lifetime  to feel anything at all. Rage lets you feel alive, paranoia lets you blame the other and lets you feel momentarily pure instead of complicated and helpless, sentimentality gives you the illusion of caring and connection. O metaphor police, Join me in this cause, and take note of what other people say. You don't have to bring the mangled (injured and deformed living creature? yes) metaphors to their attention. It is enough if you think out the problem, perhaps revising the sentence silently. Do this enough times, and the people around you will start to speak (and think) more clearly. This also works if you count the number of times someone uses "like" gratuitously. Amazing, and true.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Overheard from three 14-year-old boys with skateboards:

"If someone wants to hit you with a fish, why don't they just hit you with a fish?"

"Maybe they don't have a fish."

You could have knocked me over with a fish when Kattywompus Press (welcome to the wompus!) told me that they want to publish my chapbook Burrowing Song.  It's mostly prose poems, but generally not mainstream.  KP says it is in the queue and should appear by January 2013.  So, thank you Kattywompus!  Now I'll have a fish.

Friday, August 10, 2012

News from the Giant Pumpkin

This fine specimen is already 45" (113cm ) tall, after only one month of growth..  She is the baby of Sergio, gardener and keeps-it-all-running guy at the north campus of Napa Valley College in St. Helena, California.  She started with a seed from last year's winner, a pumpkin weighing in at 1800+ lbs.  Sergio keeps her protected from the sun so she will not scar or split.  He also pinches off all the pretender pumpkins who might sap the plant's energies.  At 3-4 days since being a blossom, these are already 6" across.

The news, however, is that my chapbook of  (mostly) prose poems, Burrowing Song, has been accepted for publication by Sammy Greenberg of Kattywompus Press.  I am so delighted to have a manuscript with this fine independent publisher.  The book itself may be out by the beginning of 2013.  As Sammy says, "Welcome to the wompus!" 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Quote of the Week: Wealth in the U.S.

Grill cook at the Pie 'n' Burger in Pasadena, California
 This guy's burgers are classic:  crunchy, soft and chewy.  He makes about five a minute when things are busy, also grilling onions and keeping the fries coming.  When orders slow down, he lines up the buns, slathers them with dressing, and positions the chunk of iceberg lettuce, ready for the next wave.  If that isn't a valuable job, I don't know what is.

"You will be poor in the only real sense of the word, sir, in that you will not be rich. You will have a little after you've sold everything, but in a country where every man is what he has, he who has very little is nobody very much.  There's no such thing as genteel poverty here, sir."
                                                                        --Elaine May, "A New Leaf"

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Sure, it gets me into trouble, but being curious is so much more interested, and interesting.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Partial solar eclipse!

We happened to be in the path of the partial (and annular) solar eclipse.  I am very pleased with this photo, because I achieved it with  my point & shoot, no tripod, and my filtering goggles held up over the lens.  Do you have any idea of how difficult it is to aim a camera when you can't hold it up and look at your subject??

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Le flâneur :: The amazing disappearing cat heinie

This fine ginger fellow was proceeding along bd. Edgar Quinet.  He disdained my advances, and stationed himself in the doorway of the café Liberté.  He is by far the best thing about the place, which is a disgrace to the patrimoine.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ice crystals at 37 K

For some reason, I am fascinated by the terms used to describe dangerous cold, especially cold made more intense by wind-chill.  Dire cold, bitter cold, these, well, freeze me in my tracks.  I had wondered whether there were actual levels for the words:  'dire' cold from -40 F to -50 F, or something like that.  A person exposed unprotected to these temperatures falls unconscious in seconds, perishes in minutes.  I've been trying to write poems about this that do more than say, it's cold and scary.  So far, I'm not satisfied.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Quote of the week

"Dude, it's not rocket surgery."

[This photo was not taken near Area 51.]

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Quote of the week

"You can't tell which way the train has gone by looking at the tracks."  (And these photos don't have much to do with that quotation.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

oh OUI ! Encore, M le Président, comme ça!

First round of elections coming up in France.  Not everyone has been having a good time over the last five years.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Yes we can ::::::: No weekend

Found in Paris 7 5 0 0 3 in 2008

Dancing with the Polls

Not that I’ve ever been to a prom, but
if the election were that kind of dance,
Mitt Romney would be the boy who asks you
four months ahead, and
you don’t actually want to go with him,
but at least you’d have a date, and
Newt would be the class president
who asks you a month ahead,
and he thinks he impressed your parents, but
he calls you two days before
to say he forgot but he’d asked a girl
at another school, and their prom’s the same night,
and how would you feel about sharing him, and
Rick Santorum would preach against slow dancing,
and Obama would be the boy
no one thought could get elected Prom King
and he would look so fine in his tux
and would be one hell of a slow dancer,
and Sarah Palin would sneak in without a ticket,
and bitch when she got caught
trying to crash the Court.

Monday, March 26, 2012

I swear, that's what they wrote.

If this is women's fitness, how come all the articles are about weight loss and making yourself sexy sexy?  Fit for what?  Is she deformed, or just photo-shopped?

From a letter to the Los Angeles Times, opposing raising taxes in order to fund schools and colleges:

"Guiding the lily from behind rose-colored glasses must eventually give way to brass tacks."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sighting of the week

A fish who looks like it knows what's up, in a tank at a dim sum/seafood palace in Monterey Park, California.  You can see the reflection of my camera and fingers at work.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wisława Szymborska, 2 July 1923 – 1 February 2012

Nobel laureate, 1996

Soup Pot
--for Wisława Szymborska

Her sister’s soup, steaming in a poem,
simmers here in the pot.
Wisława takes soup seriously,
considers how much salt for the barley,
how fine, how coarse to slice cabbage,
how long caraway seeds may cook before turning bitter.
This soup took two, or maybe twenty lifetimes.

Being famished helped. 
In that War, she worked for the railroads
rather than be sent out to build them,
to starve slowly in forced labor
while her voice suffocated from silence.
She learned when to hold back,
how much is too much.

Deep in the soup, she stirs in step with Aubigné.
Wisława reaches for the bison grass,
finds it without having to look,
translates into French without thinking
as she sniffs at the jar. (More salt?)
Each boxcar held neighbors who died.
Now the fresh mushrooms.  Now, the dried.
A soup should be as full of mushrooms
as Polish of consonants. 

At night, the flame’s slow breath
condenses on the window, freezes to ice,
glass on glass, a clear inch thick.
These days, Wisława prefers oxtail over ham hock,
balances out turnips with carrots.
She knows what all went into the pot,
but not how it will turn out.
Yeti might show up for a bowl,
praising every shred of cabbage, each kernel of barley.

published in Tiger’s Eye February 2011; accepted (too late) by The Tipton Poetry Review and by
Comstock Review

Monday, January 30, 2012

Quote of the week

 "When a trout rising to a fly gets hooked on a line and finds himself unable to swim about freely, he begins with a fight which results in struggles and splashes and sometimes an escape.  Often, of course, the situation is too tough for him."

In the same way the human being struggles with his environment and with the hooks that catch him.  Sometimes he masters his difficulties; sometimes they are too much for him.  His struggles are all that the world sees and it naturally misunderstands them.  It is hard for a free fish to understand what is happening to a hooked fish."
                                                             --Karl A. Menninger

Sunday, January 15, 2012

To a good new year

May our experiences be for the better this year--and may great stuff come out of our heads!