We’re All Mad Here

‘“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked. “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”’—Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

One of the greatest coping skills I learned after yet another failed suicide attempt (have you ever had a tube inserted in your nose and snaked down to your stomach as part of a gastric lavage?) was something I realized when my therapist told me: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

The realization—or rather, the skill—was so simple I was amazed that I hadn’t thought of it before was this: when things get so dark that I start to consider simply ending it all, I put on my headphones, fire up iTunes on my laptop, and put George Harrison on a loop. All Things Must Pass is my mantra. I listen to it over and over again until finally, I believe it.

The other realization changed my entire outlook on life in general and my lifelong chronic depression. This time it was something I read:

The question we should be asking is not “What’s wrong with you?” Rather, we should be asking “What happened to you?”

That changed my perspective from “What did I do to deserve this?” to “What caused this to happen to me?” And even then, it took a much longer time to drop the “to me” and stop looking at myself as a victim.

I am not a “victim of depression;” I am a survivor. I now approach this struggle in much the same way practitioners of Aikido approach their opponents: find your enemy’s strength—in this case, his energy—and turn it against him.

I’ve spent years discovering my enemy’s strengths. Knowing them, I have learned how to turn them against what Churchill called his “black dog,” and what Rowling put a face to with the Dementors.

The result? Between those two realizations, new medications, and therapy, it’s been over 3 years since my last suicide attempt, and 2 years since I’ve had even so much as a thought of harming myself.

We may be, as the Cheshire Cat claims, “all mad here.” But that’s no reason we can’t fight back. That’s no reason we can’t be mental health ninjas.


Do you suffer from depression? Do you have thoughts of self-harm? Of suicide? You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1–800–273–8255. Even though I’m on the mend, I still keep the number on speed dial.

Advertisements

I Was Inspired by a Facebook Post

A friend had posted this:

Transitioning late in life male to female is very rough mentally. I love it when people say “It’s ok, some women have beards”. But let me explain a bit more. If you think being a woman is rough. Take that and multiply by 2 for the late transitioner. So I just want to be loved, included and accepted. Just like you.

I am also a late transitioner, if there is such a label. I’m 30 years older than my friend. The more I thought about what she said (which I edited for length), the more it dawned on me: We are the in-betweeners. We started late, perhaps too late. We were born before the advent of puberty blockers, HRT, and current scientific knowledge of who we are.

But is it ever too late to be your true self? I used to think of my transition as becoming my true self; now I realize that was an oversimplification: I always WAS my true self—all I’ve really done is to stop hiding her.

I, too, will never “pass.” But I’m okay with that. We are the next stage of human evolution, and despite all of the roadblocks and setbacks, we will outlast the social Neanderthals.

Science fiction and other fantasy genres are full of tales of people who don’t quite fit into their societies. As Trans folk (am I the only person who can’t keep up with what’s the proper terminology—usually placed on us by cis people—to say who we are?), we fit right into those novels.

Indeed, the great master Robert A. Heinlein wrote about our predicament long before most of us even knew what “transgender” even meant. His I Will Fear No Evil  may have been my first introduction to being transgender—although I didn’t realize it at the time.

So while so many of my friends and neighbors are bus worrying about the Trumplethinskin administration heralding the end of the world, I simply smile and think to myself, “We are the ones who will pick up the pieces.”

I Was Inspired by a Facebook Post

A friend had posted this:

Transitioning late in life male to female is very rough mentally. I love it when people say “It’s ok, some women have beards”. But let me explain a bit more. If you think being a woman is rough. Take that and multiply by 2 for the late transitioner. So I just want to be loved, included and accepted. Just like you.

I am also a late transitioner, if there is such a label. I’m 30 years older than my friend. The more I thought about what she said (which I edited for length), the more it dawned on me: We are the in-betweeners. We started late, perhaps too late. We were born before the advent of puberty blockers, HRT, and current scientific knowledge of who we are.

But is it ever too late to be your true self? I used to think of my transition as becoming my true self; now I realize that was an oversimplification: I always WAS my true self—all I’ve really done is to stop hiding her.

I, too, will never “pass.” But I’m okay with that. We are the next stage of human evolution, and despite all of the roadblocks and setbacks, we will outlast the social Neanderthals.

Science fiction and other fantasy genres are full of tales of people who don’t quite fit into their societies. As Trans folk (am I the only person who can’t keep up with what’s the proper terminology—usually placed on us by cis people—to say who we are?), we fit right into those novels.

Indeed, the great master Robert A. Heinlein wrote about our predicament long before most of us even knew what “transgender” even meant. His Fear No Evil  may have been my first introduction to being transgender—although I didn’t realize it at the time.

So while so many of my friends and neighbors are bus worrying about the Trumplethinskin administration heralding the end of the world, I simply smile and think to myself, “We are the ones who will pick up the pieces.”

Friday nights at Ed’s (part 2)

For the past I don’t know how many years, my landlord/roommate has hosted a Friday night dinner for several of our friends. Actually, they were his friends, but over time they’ve become mine as well.

Although he’s never had any formal cooking lessons, Ed is quite a gourmet chef. Each new Friday is  an experiment in pleasing everyone with a new dish.

But.

You can’t please everyone. Liesl is on a gluten-free diet, Scott won’t eat pork or anything with sugar in it, and on and on it goes.

crepes

Last night we had crepes. Gluten-free crepes and, while they were tasty enough, they kept tearing. We put it down to the fact that they needed gluten to hold them together. Or maybe Xanthan gum, which Ed hadn’t thought of adding when he adapted the classic crepe recipe to a gluten-free version.

This morning I came down to a kitchen full of leftover crepe ingredients. Specifically, 5 varieties of shredded cheeses and some crumbled bleu cheese.

“Hot damn!” I thought. “Omelet time”

And now I’m sitting in my favorite writing chair, sated, fat, and lazy. A food coma, if you will. But as soon as I saw the cheeses, I knew I had my topic for this post.

Friday nights at Ed’s. Too much of a good thing? Or is that even possible?

In a Hole In The Ground There Lived a Hobbit

Long before any cartoons, long before any movies, and long before any graffiti, there was Bilbo Baggins. And long before Bilbo, there was J.R.R. Tolkien.

I don’t remember whether I was 17 or 18 when a friend pressed a copy of The Hobbit into my hands, with the whispered secret knowledge that “Bilbo Lives!”  In a way, it was her small revolt against the ubiquity of Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land and its byword of “May you never thirst.”

It’s funny, now, when I think back 50 years later, that I don’t even remember her name, that rebellious friend who started me on what has become a life-long quest for well-written fantasy, science fiction, and the various sub-genres we now lump under the heading of Sci-Fi (or sometimes, Sci-Fy).

Today I came across an old, somewhat weathered paperback copy of The Hobbit, and I was instantly transported back to that day in the hall of Highlands High School when I first heard of the book subtitled There And Back Again.

“Bilbo Lives!” never became the great rallying cry that “Frodo Lives!” turned out to be. Maybe The Hobbit came too soon, or maybe The Lord of the Rings had better press. Either way, had there not been The Hobbit, there would have been no Lord of the Rings (LOTR), in the same way that had there been no monthly The Strand magazine, there would be no BBC series called Sherlock.

And there most certainly would never have been that great classic of modern literature,

bored

But I digress.

The Lord of the Rings

I we were in the early years of the reign of King George Jr. when The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theaters. Shrub (so-called by Texans because he was the little Bush) hadn’t yet embarked on his take-no-prisoners approach to the environment, but already I could see the parallels to the Orcs tearing down trees in order to fuel the flames which would birth the great army of Uruk-Hai that would soon ravish the land and enslave millions if Frodo failed in his mission.

frodo failed

After watching The Fellowship, I came out of the theater wanting to be Arwen (Liv Tyler), elf-maiden, and fierce warrior. And to be honest, the fact that she (like me) had the hots for Aragorn, played by Viggo Mortenson, didn’t hurt, either.

LOTR, Redux

17 years later, the Eye of Sauron has reopened. This time  it has taken the form not of the ultimate evil but rather that of complete incompetence: Donald Trump as Gollum. Slimy, hate-filled, monomania wrapped in fascism and served up via a Russian samovar. Toxic masculinity at its absolute narcissistic worst.

Where is the Frodo Baggins who will destroy the ring in the fires of Mt. Doom? Or will he fail, and the country itself be driven there by Gollum?

Please. Vote sensibly in the mid-term elections this November.

On Writing For Medium

How To Find Your Voice and Become a Superb Writer

Save your work, then step back and preview it. Periodically, as I am going along, I “listen” to what I have written. This ensures it still sounds like “me”, that it flows and represents the way I want my story to come across. –Enrique Fiallo

This is a crucial step, and given today’s fast-paced cyberspace, perhaps the hardest. I spend far too much time on social media, with the result that I feel pressured to respond to the latest Facebook post or Twitter tweet and so most of my responses are flippant, with no real thought behind them.

But Medium is different. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I’m different when I’m in Medium. I like to think it’s because my visits here have taken on a somewhat ritualistic flavor: I spend time brewing a fresh cup of tea (using whole leaf tea, naturally) and engaging in deep-breathing exercises while it brews.

I then sit down with my mug of tea and open the Medium app, usually on my iPhone. I peruse (yes I do know what the word means) article titles, and click on ones that seem interesting. Sometimes – as in this case – I’m prompted? inspired? to write a response.

But this isn’t Facebook and it’s not Twitter. This is Medium, and I don’t want to come across as some young smart-ass punk (can I even be that at 67 years of age?), and so I do my best to respond in a deliberate and thoughtful voice. (I save my smart-assery for my blogs.)

Once I’ve finished my response I then go over it, making sure it is coherent and consistent. I delete a comma here and add one there, change a word to one that makes more sense or gives more clarity.

Above all, I want to communicate clearly, and if doing so requires me to break some arbitrary rule of grammar, so be it.

After, it’s my voice.

An Open Letter to H.P. Lovecraft

And Anyone Else Who Thinks They Know the Rules of Writing

Dear Mr. Lovecraft,

“At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night.”

Do you mind if I call you Herb? That is, after all, your name: Herbert Phillips Lovecraft.

Anyway, Herb, I tried your advice about writing at night, and it sucked. See, I’m a morning person. Always have been, always will be. I guess it’s just encoded in my genes that I’m at my most productive around 8 in the morning.

But just for shits & giggles, I tried your way — and gave up after 3 days. First, I could barely stay awake past 10 pm. Second, I still woke up at 8 the next morning, even after forcing myself to stay up until midnight — when I was far too tired to even have an idea, much less write it down.

The about writing is this, Herb: nobody can tell anyone else the “right” or “wrong” way to do it. Writing is communication, and the method is unique to all of us. I tried writing at night, and it doesn’t work for me. Does that mean I’m not a writer? Or — and this is, I suspect, more likely the truth — that I’m not a writer by your standards.

Here are some other ways I don’t write:

  1. With a quill pen, which I understand was once quite fashionable
  2. Standing up and leaning on my mantel
  3. With a typewriter
  4. With a pencil or a pen

All of these were once “rules” of writing for certain specific authors, and which have never worked for me. I grew up with typewriters, first manual and later electric. And while I used to love my IBM Selectric typewriter, and later, my IBM Displaywriter, I’m now perfectly content with my laptop, iPad, and iPhone.

The only hard and fast rule I have consistently adhered to for the past 50 years of writing was one taught by Dr. Louis Bittrich in my advance-placement college Freshman Composition class: “You can’t break the rules until you know them and understand why they’re there. Only then can you deliberately violate them, if it helps get your message across.”

So Herb, this is where you and I part company. I really love a lot of your work, but I’m afraid your opinion on writing at night will, for me, remain just that: an opinion. I tried it, it didn’t work, so I’m going back to writing in the morning, over a steaming mug of strong black tea.

Sincerely,

A Fan