Tuesday, February 18, 2014

True Detective goes Beat

HBO's new series, True Detective, is blowing my mind with its literary references. It's already led me to read Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow and I am part way through Thomas Ligotti's The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. Now it appears that William S. Burroughs' work appeared in the latest episode. Detective Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), in one of his many philosophical monologues, says, "So death created time to grow the things that it would kill."

That line is classic Burroughs. Can you name the work?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Just like Jack Kerouac

Just like Jack, some modern writers use good old-fashioned pen and paper to write (and even manual typewriters). Click here.

Friday, February 14, 2014

An anniversary of sorts and a plea

One year ago today I went in the hospital for an eight-day stay in a locked-down psychiatric ward. It was the worst experience of my life (losing one's freedom is a soul-crushing experience) but probably saved me from doom. I was experiencing a major depressive episode accompanied by psychosis, delusions, debilitating anxiety, and suicidal ideation. I missed 8 weeks of work and then only returned to part-time status, teaching one class for the last several weeks of the spring semester. Thanks to the support of loved ones and friends, meds, and therapy, I recovered and had a much different Valentine's Day this year (although I did have minor surgery on my toe this morning - all is well). Mentally, I am much better but far from where I was or wish I were. This may be the new normal. My memory isn't what it was, and a lot of the time it feels like my thinking is disorganized or happening in slow motion. Like someone said, you don't "beat" depression: you manage it. It's always looming, you sense its presence, and occasionally it wanders too close for comfort. That's when the skills you learn in therapy help.

One important lesson I learned from the experience - among many - was realizing firsthand what mental illness really means. It means you can't just "suck it up and get on with it." Even if you could give a shit about doing so - which you most assuredly don't when depressed - you don't have the capacity. Your executive functioning is affected, and irrational thoughts and delusions make your decision-making abilities suspect. Ending the pain once and for all makes total sense, and the suffering is so significant that no thought of others - if you even have one - ameliorates the thoughts of suicide. And the anxiety just makes it all worse.

I am reminded of the vitriole cast Philip Seymour Hoffman's way regarding his recent heroin overdose. How he was just "selfish." That hurt. That means I was being selfish when I contemplated suicide, and that is not accurate. I was sick. Period. I wasn't responsible - my brain wasn't working properly. I didn't ask to be depressed, psychotic, delusional, anxious, and suicidal, but that's what I was and that's why I was in a spiral of unhealthy behaviors. You might say Hoffman "chose" to use heroin and the rest was all therefore his fault. If that's so, then I chose to be depressed because - in hindsight - there were many red flags along the way and choices along the way I could have made that possibly would have skirted the whole affair. No one wants to be in the place I ended up, or in Hoffman's, but it happens, and when it does, I think some compassion is in order.

You are not immune from experiencing what I went through. That's a fact. I hope you never do. In the meantime, though, I hope my sharing these thoughts will give you pause next time someone overdoses or attempts suicide or acts in some bizarrely inappropriate way. When your brain is sick you think and do things that don't make sense from the outside looking in. From the inside, they seem  logical, even unassailably right. At that point, people need help, not judgment.

Fortunately, help is available. Let's thank the people and organizations that work with people with mental health issues and support public policies that ensure mental health services are maintained and strengthened. Let's do what we can to end the stigma surrounding mental health, starting with telling our own stories and pushing this dark phenonmenon out into the light of day where we can deal with it openly, honestly, and with care.

Jack Kerouac was in the psychiatric hospital during his stint in the U.S. Navy. Diagnosed with "demential praecox" (schizophrenia), he was no stranger to this topic. Neither was Allen Ginsberg, Carl Solomon, and other beat characters. Depression et al. are equal opportunity conditions affecting people without regard to social status, ethnicity, political persuasion, gender, religion, or any other diversity factor. It's one of the last frontiers of discrimination in this country, and I say let's make it the civil rights issue of our time.

Want to get involved or learn more? Check out NAMI's website, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Happy 88th Birthday to Neal Cassady

Photo (c) Larry Keenan, Jr.

Immortalized in On the Road as Dean Moriarty, Neal Cassady would have been 88 years young today.

Yass, yass, and yair we'd-a liked to (a-hem) hung out with Neal on one of his birthdays and lift a poorboy to his mother and to Old Dean Moriarty the father he and Jack Kerouac never found and to fast cars and faster women and "It" and to the whole crazy mad gone world.

Happy Birthday, Neal. Go go go wherever you are!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Happy 100th to William S. Burroughs

Beat triumvirate member William S. Burroughs would be 100 years old today. Here's a snapshot of his entry from Dave Moore's excellent Character Key to Kerouac's Duluoz Legend, which I highly recommend using to supplement your Kerouac reading.

Click here for a videoclip of Burroughs talking about Jack Kerouac.

 Happy Birthday, Old Bull!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

RIP Neal Cassady and J. J. Johnson

Noted jazz trombonist J.J. Johnson died this date in 2001, the same date Neal Cassady died in 1968. I wondered about a Kerouac-Johnson connection and found this via Google Books from The Musical World of J.J. Johnson by Joshua Berrett and Louis G. Bourgois III (pp. 126-127). The passage is from Dan Wakefield's 1992 book, New York in the Fifties.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Buyer doesn't know they bought Jack Kerouac's house!

Can you imagine buying a home and not realizing it had belonged to Jack Kerouac? How could - or why would - a realtor omit such information? Perhaps because they didn't want the prospective owner to worry about gawkers and visitors? Click here for the story. Apparently the owner listing it in 2005 hadn't know either.

Below is a picture of the house from 2005 when it was listed for $356,000.  I'm on the hunt for other pictures - do you know of any?

Source: Cape Cod Times