Friday, April 29, 2011

Hells, uppercase and lowercase...

I left the comment below on a stranger's blog I came across early this year.  Best as I can recall, this blogger is a conservative Catholic young man living and studying theology in Italy or something to that effect.

He does seem genial and reasonable, but his post “Argument for why Hell must be Eternal” offended me back in February when I stumbled upon it while going through a very turbulent, trying period.

I posted as “Anonymous” and attempted to argue from a very visceral and worldly point-of-view that the claim or threat of there being an everlasting “Hell” in the afterlife was almost laughably irrelevant to people who have struggled mightily with “lowercase hells” while in this realm of existence.

Unfortunately, my tone was a touch belligerent and condescending.

I hope I don't come across as too holier-than-thou here.

* * *

Greetings.  I am back as a guest visiting your provocative religion blog.  Previously I signed myself as “M, female, mid-30s, east coast, USA” on a mini-diatribe or two about “lowercase hells;” not sure if you remember that exchange.  Today I'm surfacing as a fellow blogger (link below).


I decided to look up my original comments / mini-essays written in response to your February Hell-as-eternal post because I have been tested mightily over the past year.  I needed to better understand my earlier positions and arguments on hell and other terrible mysteries.

(Re this past year, I have been through:

January - severe depression, suicidal ideation
February/March - depression, severe mania / schiz symptoms
April - rapid-cycling/mixed-state bipolar states, suicidality, severe depression)

I am trying to return peacefully from the “lowercase” hell of madness (bipolar disorder + schizoaffective disorder).

Over these past months I have been institutionalized multiple times and was even involuntarily committed briefly this time around (for erratic behavior due to schiz-like delusions) in a cold, vaguely forbidding Catholic hospital in Washington, D.C. which I shall not name.

After living through these spirit-heightening euphorias and soul-thrashing phantasmagoric nightmares, I can say without qualification that the assessment that “Hell” must be eternal amounts to a most terrifying thought, particularly for people with certain mental disorders.

Instead I choose the loving and inclusive teachings of people like Pastor Bell:

“Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn't Exist?” [link]
Apr. 14, 2011 / Jon Meacham / Time

I know that this belief is at the core heretical to your Church.

However, I have finally found my God, and He is a kind, loving, forgiving personal sort of being of a distinctly Protestant stripe.

He has hinted to me, a lifelong unbeliever and denier (by answering small prayers in wondrously creative and beautiful ways), that the small hells I have experienced here on Earth will not be eternal, even if I ultimately succumb to madness or suicide after all.  (I pray that I do not, and that others I know who suffer such torments find peace and comfort in embracing life, self-knowledge, and a higher power as well.)

It pains me that many theologians doggedly insist (1) that there is a Hell in the afterlife, and (2) that it is everlasting.

I grew up in the state of Maryland where there are many powerful and influential Catholic leaders and institutions and I am grateful that I was not brought up Catholic and contemplating those peculiarly Catholic spectres of Hell.  The Catholic imagination can be a formiddable one.

Life can be torment enough without religion piling on to the suffering.

Sign me,
A rebellious madwoman

P.S. During my mania I had a splendid vision of a beautiful blooming blue cathedral rose window that looked like it came from a Middle-ages illuminated manuscript; while this vision confused me at first (since I then feared and distrusted Catholicism), I now see that it was a sweet intimation of the divine and not necessarily a sign to seek salvation in the Catholic faith specifically.

After all, why wouldn't God reveal His grace to somebody in this way?  Especially since much Catholic art is unparalleled in its power to inspire humankind, especially hapless wildly hallucinating madwomen.

There is another dimension to this vision; it also symbolizes the blue rose of Romantic yearning and seeking:

“The Blue Flower (German: Blaue Blume) is a central symbol of Romanticism. It stands for desire, love, and the metaphysical striving for the infinite and unreachable.”
—from “Blue Flower” (Wikipedia)

Monday, April 25, 2011

To a friend I betrayed...


I'm sorry I betrayed your friendship, which was fragile and strange and real.

For years I wanted to be numb all the time.

Then I read your words and wanted to live again.

And I started living again after all.  It was strange and wonderful.

Then I actually met you.  I confused the dreamy beauty of your words with your lively hazel eyes and strong hands.

I'm sorry for letting that confusion and my old madnesses overtake me; they destroyed a friendship that was becoming good and real.

* * *

Can you help me, old friend?  I'm trapped in the green room again.

The trap doors are worse this time.  They are multiplying dizzyingly.

The visions are chaotic and jagged now, no blooming cathedral windows.

I believe these are just new traps in an old, old room.

You know about traps.  Like that fiendish double iron cross one your dad gave you to solve.

Maybe you were right, maybe it takes all those clever moves to get out of such a trap, not just a few deft shortcuts.

Look, J, I am mad and I speak strangely to avoid certain traps I keep finding myself in.  Maybe you'll understand; you have a fierce intelligence that I've come to admire and envy.

J, I'm trying to numb the pain and kill the drama using all the many techniques I know and exploring new ones.  But the madness is more complex and strange now.

I miss your wisdom and keen imagination.

Forgive me, friend.  Your lessons were not lost on me.  I will not seek you out so much anymore.  I need to know that I have your forgiveness and grace.

I will leave this message up until I get a sign.

Believe me, I want something true and real and spirit-based; not confined by these inferior bonds that betray us.


Postcard from the ledge...

A friend of mine who also experiences what consensus calls schiz-like symptoms is back in the hospital.

I can't write to him anywhere or call him just yet so I might as well post my feelings here in this space:


Did the sad pull of life get to you again?

Or was it the feverish frenzy of those wild madboy visions?

I've wondered about you.  Our madnesses are different.  Mine is no longer light and heat, it has been reduced to fire and smoke now.  Cool dark smoke has started to obscure the warm bright flame again.  I am in danger of growing hard and strange to myself again.

Your madness seemed to be about flash and sound and a deep riotous tunneling magic.  Please let me more about yours; maybe I can help you sort it out.

“They” (the loved ones and the unloving alike) could say that I am romanticizing this mystery.  But let’s try to forgive them; most don’t know what these seductive wondrous thrashing dreams are like.

Were your visions tinged with the divine like mine seemed to be?  This is a difficult dilemma in an age of numbness and unbelieving. I still can’t always figure out which spacetime I am in; the signals are all jammed with cold blue noise and the signs fade too fast now.

Were you seeking something purer and realer than all of this?  I was.  I saw and felt it, and now it is in danger of leaving me again.

Maybe I’ll spring up to Sheppard Pratt to see you.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday promises...

Fleet Foxes
“Helplessness Blues”
[various formats] / Sub Pop / 2011

Have a listen to this sweet little song from the Fleet Foxes.


“I was raised up believing
I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes,
unique in each way you can see

And now after some thinking,
I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
serving something beyond me

But I don't, I don't know what that will be
I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

What's my name, what's my station, oh, just tell me what I should do
I don't need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you
Or bow down and be grateful and say "sure, take all that you see"
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me

And I don't, I don't know who to believe
I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

If I know only one thing, it's that everything that I see
Of the world outside is so inconceivable often I barely can speak
Yeah I'm tongue-tied and dizzy and I can't keep it to myself
What good is it to sing helplessness blues, why should I wait for anyone else?

And I know, I know you will keep me on the shelf
I'll come back to you someday soon myself

If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm raw
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
And you would wait tables and soon run the store

Gold hair in the sunlight, my light in the dawn
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
Someday I'll be like the man on the screen”

* * *

This song speaks to me because I am seeking hope, redemption, and direction in life.

As for “snowflakes” and fierce originality:

I was one of those emotionally troubled kids who grew up labeled as “G/T” (“gifted and talented”) in Montgomery County, Maryland.  Throughout my public and private schooling, “gifted” kids -- particularly artistic & expressive ones -- were often encouraged to forge a fierce alloy of individuality within themselves.  From an early age we were exhorted to develop a strong and original sense of identity.  We were pushed hard to cultivate our various talents and métiers in uncompromising and heightened ways.

Those purported “gifts” became ever-heavier burdens to me as I unraveled time and again during my childhood and teen years.  I was a highly unstable youth, struggling to stay together while I joylessly shuttled between an intensely demanding school life and a wildly turbulent home life.

I was also competing with very impressive high-functioning kids from seemingly stable, nurturing homes, relative to mine (and a few others’).  These kids were formiddable rivals.  They were brilliant, intrepid, amazing individuals with ferocious and well-disciplined minds.

On the surface at least, many seemed exceedingly self-assured about the paths that lay ahead.  They also appeared to much more fully experience the sweetness of their youth and didn’t seem to know or understand the sourness of premature defeat and despair.

These winners were better “coached” and prepared to navigate social situations, school, work, and beyond.  They still are today, even as parents and professionals, coaching the next generation of winners.

While I struggled at home, battling with my raging authoritarian parents, at school I grew quietly envious and resentful of those whose “gifts” were more consistently nurtured and sustained (even as I began to academically crash and burn), those beautiful, smart, capable golden boys and girls who unwittingly tormented me in my youth spent in their shadows.

I sometimes imagined what their home lives were like, ultimately concluding that most couldn’t be having the kind of near-nightly knock-down drag-out fights with their dads that I was dealing with.  Most didn’t seem to be struggling with suicidal flirtations and persistent demons of self-hatred.

(An aside:

I couldn’t listen to Nirvana in high school because I knew it would have pushed me over the edge into the abyss.  Cobain came to represent the Pied Piper of Hell to me.)

Yes, I was a Faustian striver, a secret drive-deprivation jockey (sleep, food), but ultimately I had little to show for it.

By eleventh grade my mind was fast unraveling.  I was entering a terrible secret madness, a cycle of nightly manias followed by daily frenzies under a descending fog of numbness.

I tidily binged and purged history on quizzes that tested my wild eidetic memory, consistently scoring 19/20 and 20/20 grades on Mr. Early's textbook quizzes.  Then I'd turn around and vomit fact-fixated incoherence all over the mid-terms.

(I was a teenaged history anorexic and lived to tell.)

* * *

I still remember the pretty kids in the plaid uniforms parading the hallways, buzzing about going to Lollapalooza.

Yes, when it came down to it, many of my peers seemed to be teens for whom rebellion was merely just another adolescent pose to try on, not a soul survival strategy.

Over time I grew more and more arrogant and bitter.  (To this day, I struggle with this defensive posturing, often bristling with irritation and impatience at the apparent smugness of many cool, self-confident professionals around my age.)  I was conceited and defensive about my ever-more-questionable “talents,” vainly clinging to the ones I still believed that I had.  Every day I sought small self-affirming demonstrations of my self worth, shreds of dignity and promise in a life that seemed to be shot through with endless humiliations and hidden torments.

Meanwhile I was growing up in a household where my spirit was being pushed down by angry, miserable, exhausted old tyrants.  (I deeply hated my parents and also came to much more virulently hate myself.  I’m ashamed to say that I transferred some of this loathing to my most domineering teachers and thoughtlessly cruel peers.)

* * *

After multiple psychiatric hospitalizations during my teens and twenties and thirties, I have finally had it at the ripe old age of 33.

I am sick and tired of wanting to escape from my life and self.

I want a détente with God.

I want to be warm and at peace with myself — no longer cold and arrogant and at war with the world.

I want peace and grace and strength so that I will not crack again.

I want to give back to the people who have helped me, the people who have somehow seen through the mess on the outside to find a person with some wisdom and, yes, a few small leftover gifts.

(If for some reason you’ve gotten this far, thank you for reading this little essay.  It was almost as rewarding to write as the few good ones that I remember writing in high school (now forever lost to me).)

Happy Easter.

* * *

"And I don’t, I don't know who to believe
I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see"

I misheard the second line as, “I’ll give back to you someday soon you will see.”

I will, though.  I’ll find a way.

I just have to stop taking so much away from you/us first.

Please leave feedback below, friend or foe.  (I miss school and feedback from English teachers.)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday evening electronica (((ambient sonicollage)))...

The Orb
“Earth (Gaia)”
The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld / Big Life/Island/Mercury, etc. / 1991

...this track dedicated to...

...any retiring Boomers seeking immortality with resevratrol, antioxidants, dreams of Singularity, etc. (too many ppl to enumerate)... boomer-bust & millennial earth-grounded pagan friends (TH & VC, resp.)...

...gen-x/y tripsters who used to chill out to electronica like this during the '90s->'00s timespace (also a lot of ppl)...

Apropos of the view of things the day after Earth Day.  Based on what’s happening here in the suburbs, looks like we’re still intent on killing Mother Earth around here after all.  The eighties-via-fifties spirit endures around here more than anything.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday morning upper from the ‘decade under the influence’...

“See No Evil”
Marquee Moon / Elektra / 1977

This is a fun song to play while driving in a car with a full-sounding stereo system with good bass response.

Television is one of those bands that has influenced everyone from influential-in-their-own-right early New Wavers of the late ’70s through early ’80s to the back-to-basics garage rock revivalists of the early 2000s.  “See No Evil” is a standout track in part because a lot of the jams on Marquee Moon are mellower and even sort of meditative, such as the title track.  The album is recommended for anybody who digs leaner ’70s rock, alongside seminal semi-subterannean staples like Bowie, Roxy Music, Magazine, Brian Eno, The Modern Lovers, New York Dolls, Big Star, et cetera.

I keep coming back to seventies music whenever I start trying to spiritually ground myself again.  I will definitely be sharing more Third Great Awakening decade music on this here blog.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Early Thursday a.m. rawness...

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
“Mistakes and Regrets”
Madonna / Merge / 1999

[ D R A F T ]

While the modern / alt rock radio format was arguably cratering back then, the smoldering post-grunge music scenes of the late nineties managed to usher in some very solid creative forces like Austin’s …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead.  Trail of Dead and their artistic peers rose above glib subgenre labels like “emo” and delivered thrilling, transcendent rock that has aged well into the current day.  Songs like 1999’s “Mistakes and Regrets” don’t sound out of place here in the early 2010s, where many of us are still feeling lingering doubts, distrust, frustration, and malaise left over from the end of the “False Reset” decade.

A fifties-ish friend who often (rightfully) takes me for a fool commented that my demeanor was zombie-like a few weeks back.  For the record, I am on Lithium Carbonate (900 mg) and Fluphenazine (10 mg).  (The lithium is prescribed to stabilize my undesirable1 moods and the Fluphenazine is indicated to pacify my erratic2 thoughts.)

But then seeking out numbness has been a common thread of the generational experience of a certain subset the Gen X/Y/Millennial crowd.  This anaesthesia and release comes from many bromides; in my personal experience, prescription psychoactive medication has been a big part of cultivating my own numbness, impassiveness, and emotional disconnection.

I have come to know countless people born from about the mid-’60s onward who’ve been taking cocktails of prescription drugs — including things like behavior-taming ADD/ADHD drugs, mood-toning anti-depressants, mind-blunting anti-psychotics, emotion-dampening mood stabilizers and so on — since they were preteens or young adolescents.  Many of us were middle-class and upper-middle-class kids struggling to grow up according to Old Boomer rules of straining for precocious adulthood and responsibility.  We were somewhat sheltered “good kids” who were shuttered away from the same youthful indiscretions that our older siblings or cousins indulged in, the kids who came of age during the reactionary-cum-revolutionary ’70s and early ’80s who got to screw around and get high and experiment more fully with their reckless youthful urgings.

We unwitting Reagan-Youths-turned-Prozactive-Young-Adults had a different sort of deal than them.  A lot of nineties music helped us Rx-doped youths tear holes through the prescriptive drug hazes we were in (and other insensate states of unfeeling and seeming unbeing).  The beautifully raw, sour, damaged music of the nineties helped a few of us actually feel something — anything — again, even if it was just smoldering pain or smarting anger.

Among the various crowds I used to know, I came to sense over time that too many of us were quietly raging over something absent in our young lives — something sweet and natural and real — that we sensed was missing and perhaps not meant for us, something we longed for while we rushed headlong into the Boomer-to-Tomber ruts of our aging authoritarianistic parents, those loving antagonists and smothering protectors.

We sad kids of the nineties often found solace in music.  Listening to certain strains of this music, you hear a blend of older decades of sonic and spiritual influences.  There is even a hint of the sweetness and light of the fifties and the eighties in certain pop confections of that era, particularly at the opening and closing of the nineties, when the zeitgeist was turning.  But much more present in many nineties songs is the passion and fury of the sixties and the spiritual slow-burn of the seventies.

These echoes should come as no surprise.  Many musicians who thrived during the nineties were children way back during the tail-end-sixties fallout and fertile ferment of the early-to-mid-seventies (which was overall a surprisingly creative and reflective decade).  Here are a handful of my favorites:

b. 1965......Black Francis, Björk
b. 1966......Stephin Merritt, Stephen Malkmus
.............Tanya Donnelly, Kristin Hersh
b. 1967......Kurt Cobain, Mark Robinson
.............Billy Corgan
b. 1968......Tricky, Thom Yorke, Kathleen Hanna

It can be argued that this essay3 is folly and vanity and that the last decade of the last millennium was much like any other before it.  After all, the nineties witnessed the evolution and re-emergence of artistic ages and creative spirits seen in earlier decades.  But since I was yet another sad, lost, heartsick youth during much of the nineties, I suppose it comes as no surprise that I often remember the saddest, most heartsick melodies of those times most fondly and dearly during these times of loss and searching.

* * *

Just for reference, here are the lyrics to “Mistakes and Regrets.”


If I could make a list
of my mistakes and regrets,
I'd put your name on top
and every line after it

’cause every inch of hope
becomes a world of shame
I’ve had to walk through
each and every day

And if I screamed ‘you were wrong’
at the top of my lungs,
you would never return
all the faith that I’ve lost

And there is nothing left to say
that has not been said
If I shouted, you wouldn't listen
I don’t think it’d even sink in

If you forget how to feel
reach inside your chest
Is there a heart beating?
Is there just emptiness?

Footnotes to self:
1moods (and states) undesirable among my circles of family and friends
2thoughts that are too erratic when (a) they become too disorganized and disjointed, and (b) I break with consensus reality, no matter how mad that collective reality seems to me and those like me

3a form of expression which few of my friends will probably see, despite all of my sad little invitations; yes, my fairweather friends always reject me at every turn even when I turn to them for the most rudimentary sustenance and answers; I must start walling myself off to them again to protect myself from their cool apathies and their cautious distances; putting myself even in the periphery of their existences will only spur me to find myself alienated and alone and fearing again; I am alone and feel I will always be alone at my core; I must remove myself from lifeless, numb, overcautious people before I go mad once more; I just cannot be like them, I’ve tried it again and again and again and again and I can’t do it anymore; why can’t they let me be myself, mad and happy and (((FINALLY NOT HATING MYSELF FOR NOT BEING LIKE THEM))); the true, worst madness for me is the slow numbing madness of forcing myself to be what I cannot understand and repeatedly seeking out those who I can’t seem to feel the same tenderness for anymore; I cannot trust people anymore; they want me numbed again so I’m like a tired old ragdoll; I am alone and this is all a trap set up for me, their glib reassurances wear thin, they repeat things they read and hear and do not think about all of the crueler possibilities; they do not know this slow death and panic like I/we do; I cannot do this all over again; I must leave here somehow