Tag Archives: humour

“invisible driving”: a memoir of mania and depression

here, finally, is a review long promised, of alister mcharg’s extraordinary memoir, invisible driving. this book, says alistair,

reads with the urgency of a novel. my work delivers a wild and hilarious thrill ride through the misunderstood, phantasmagorical world of manic depression, providing both a visceral sense of the experience and a thoughtful context for understanding it. while other books have described the surrealistic circus, invisible driving takes readers along so they can smell the sawdust for themselves.

alistair mcharg spent his early years in edinburgh and amsterdam, moving to philadelphia with his father, ian, and mother, pauline, at age six. he attended germantown friends school, haverford college, and the university of louisville. the prestige of an M.A.. in creative writing enabled mcharg to secure employment with one of philadelphia’s least reputable cab companies, providing the background for his first novel, moonlit tours. other forays into dead-end employment have included deckhand on a norwegian tramp freighter, forest fire fighter in alaska, and guide at a canadian wilderness survival camp. alistair has been arranging words for a living since 1983. apart from invisible driving, he has written countless poems, hundreds of movie and book reviews, and an ever-growing catalog of cartoons. his second novel, washed up, was released last year.

what follows is a conversation we had last tuesday.

moritherapy: what do you like best about your book?

alistair mcharg: the writing itself, the way it puts readers inside the experience of mania. (and of course, the humor.)

moritherapy: have you found people who are/were interested in the literature aspect of your book? actually, that sounds a little strange – “literature aspect.” the way i read it, your book is literature, and it is about the topic of bipolar illness. thoughts?

alistair mcharg: i totally agree with your description. it is a memoir first. in essence it is a coming of age story about facing demons, battling them, and becoming a man – a human being – in the process. the landscape where that battle plays out is manic depression. the people that don’t get it are the ones who don’t realize that the manic narrative is there to put readers inside the experience of a manic episode – you have to surrender to it to get the true benefit. – i have indeed found many readers who appreciate it as literature – rather unorthodox literature.

moritherapy: there is a rhythm to your book that is clearly there but hard to pin down. it sure isn’t a simple little polka. in the beginning you seem to have a “crazy” chapter taking turns with a “normal” one; then the manic and the normal (if i may use that word) start to take turns within the chapters, then two or three chapters in a row are wild and woolly, etc. etc. can you say something about that? to what degree is that a stylistic device, and to what degree does it echo your experience? can the two be separated at all?

alistair mcharg: the manic chapters came first. then a literary agent said that there needed to be “depth” – a second voice that was sane, reliable, and recovered. i rewrote the entire book several times. i now see she was so right – the chapters in the recovered voice provide the background – the psychological architecture. the reader finds out why i was vulnerable – what the triggers were – and what was significant about how i acted out. yes the point/counterpoint is very deliberate. (you would think that the wild, manic chapters would have been hardest to write – but the sane ones were much harder – more soul searching of real things.)

moritherapy: actually, to me, imagining writing the book, it felt that the manic ones were the ones that were written with more ease. perhaps that is because i was frankly flabbergasted how much i could relate to a lot of what you wrote. i think that’s what first drew me in. i knew exactly what you were talking about, even though my bipolar experiences are extremely mild. i’m still astonished at that.

alistair mcharg: interesting. maybe the bipolar experience is essentially the same, and what varies is the degree. it is a very nice compliment that the writing registered with you. (when i gave the manuscript to my psychiatrist he said he had to put it down now and then because it was making him manic!) i can’t say that they were written in ease – recreating the pitch of mania, the quicksilver logic twisting and slipping, the bobbing and weaving, energy, raw creative force – when i was squarely back on earth – slightly depressed – took a tremendous amount of labor and craft – craft i didn’t know i had until i attempted it.

moritherapy: i was wondering about the mood you were in when you wrote those passages! the fact that it was indeed a re-creation speaks to your fantastic writing skills. were there moments when you wondered whether recreating this would take you back into the mania?

alistair mcharg: thank you – it was writing this book (my first) that turned me into a real writer – it was transformational. — your question is pivotal. i began writing immediately after the episode described had ended. i was terrified, really shaken. i had suffered with the illness long enough to know that a trigger could send me off again – and i was pretty sure another episode would kill me. but i knew i couldn’t write the book unless mentally i went back in. (rock & hard place.) so i went deeply back into the middle of it. that decision is what made the experience transformational. i knew it might set me off on another high, i knew that might kill me – i did it anyway. i knew that i had to face this darn illness or be destroyed by it.

moritherapy: fascinating! i am really touched by what you say, can feel it in my gut. and what hits me is, again, this commingling, meeting of art, this thing called mental illness, and the healing of/from/with it. it reminds me of a poem i wrote many years ago when i was close to dying of typhoid fever. i wrote it in spanish so it’s a bit hazy in my memory but something about the need to climb the mountain of art, alone, naked, because there is no other choice. does that resonate?

alistair mcharg: resonate indeed. that is exactly what i had to do – and it was probably the single bravest thing i’ve ever done. as you say in your poem – i had to do it alone. i had been fed so many lies – i was very fear-based – i had to strip absolutely everything away until there was nothing left that wasn’t true. and then i rebuilt – i reinvented myself. – but what you say about comingling is deep – and many people do not understand. i say often that manic depression and alcoholism have given me more than they have taken. in manic depression i saw rare things – and was forced to evolve. alcoholism ultimately took me to a better way of life and a higher power. it has all been a spiritual journey and while mental “illness” has caused earthquakes in my life it has also produced angels. (typhoid fever!! yikes! thank goodness you’re okay.)

on my blog today is a poem called “rex” — you see, i was shy, i hid, i felt “less than” – but manic depression made it impossible for me to hide – and also – it forced me to admit my power.

moritherapy: more on the commingling … so there is the art, there is the “mental illness” (funny how i often feel i have to put it in quotation marks), there is the healing, there is the acknowledgment of power – and then there is humour. there’s a lot of humour in your book. page 218:

and how do these aristocrats of oddness settle down after a busy day of counting their fingers and slashing their wrists with plastics forks?

humour in these circumstances can be taken as disrespect sometimes. do you hear that sometimes? how do you react? (by commingling i mean that the humour seems to be part of it all.)

alistair mcharg: humor and music are in the very center of me. to me the best humor is never nasty, it doesn’t single out anybody and it is never there to make me feel better than you. real humor celebrates the absurdity of all life, human vanity, fatuous selfishness. you will notice that most of the humor in the book comes at my own expense. – that said, when i was manic every mean quality came out – the anger, the hurt, the fear – and, combined with an intellect caught on fire – all this hurt often found expression in really cruel humor. other times it was quite surrealistic and charming. even in my other books – both satiric novels – and my cartoons – even my poetry – you will find that i include myself – all of us – when aiming barbs. i disrespect parts of people, racism, jealousy, entitlement, xenophobia – but it is never about disrespecting people – it is about loving truth and loving what people could be but are afraid to be.

moritherapy: one last question for now: towards the beginning of the book you say, “the love of my daughter is my favourite thing about myself.” in therapy, there is often a dictum that people should change for themselves, not for others. as a father, would you agree with that?

alistair mcharg: this is a great question. the easy answer is yes! there is a saying in AA that is told to the uncertain: fake it till you make it. at first it doesn’t matter if you are in therapy – or recovery – for the wrong reasons – so long as you are there. (bring the body and the mind will follow.) but absolutely, there must come a time when you are doing it for yourself – otherwise you will never commit fully and you will never get the full benefit.

if you asked me that question today i would answer – my favourite thing about me is that i know what i have to offer and i am doing my best to put it to the service of others.

moritherapy: thank you, this was absolutely lovely!

—–

alister mcharg’s blog, america’s favorite manic depressive, is at http://alistairmcharg.blogspot.com/

the book’s web site is at http://www.invisibledriving.com

why we blog and other intelligent waxings on self-expression

i just want to send some kudos to hank for his fabulous blog post want to know what i think?

in that post, hank waxes intelligently and humourously and historically about what makes us blog, or generally express ourselves, like martin luther,

famous for publicly posting his disagreements with catholic dogma (except for the parts dealing with hating the shit out of the jews, he was sweet with that). i shall distill his arguments thusly: “OMFG ppl teh pOpe is GHEY, jezuz dont wan’t u 2 b @church!1! jus spk 2 him IRL! WWJD LOL ^_^”. understandably, the vatican was well shat with such blatant protest-trolling and, once the pope had written “FIRST!” and been flamed for being a nOOb, the ensuing comment thread took off and still rages today

or even earlier, like the

hairy cro-magnon smearing his handprint on the wall of his dining cave with a mixture of blood, faeces & clay as if to say ” … um, so, that’s my wall”.

or never mind humans, how about animals?

natural as laying your eggs into the brain of your host organism and flying away, leaving your offspring to burrow through its cherished memories.

i was going to be real academic about this and link his words to research and psychology and all that brainy stuff. however, every time i came across something that was somehow related, it just didn’t measure up to hank’s incisive analysis. so let’s just let well enough alone, shall we?

buddhist carnival, may 2009 – the mixed-bag-it’s-all-connected edition

may 15 – time for another buddhist carnival. if you want to see previous buddhist carnivals, go here.

today there is no topic, really, just a criss-cross romp through the buddhasphere.

another enlightenment machine
… like the one you see depicted to the right. here are some explanations

i have made an exciting new “thought to textâ„¢” technological breakthrough that has enabled me to record my actual thoughts and non-thoughts. Today I unveil to the world for the first time a transcript of one of my deep meditation sessions.

[CAUTION: this thought to textâ„¢ transcript is uncensored. if you are squeamish about the human condition, please click away now.]

START : thought to textâ„¢ TRANSMISSION:

ok, here i am meditating. i’m so pumped up for this session!!!1! i just know i’m gonna break on through to the other side this time. i got a feeling enlightenment is going to be cool, enlightened dudes get all the hot babes. i know somehow, someway this meditation is going to lead to more money for me. everybody in abundance-land doesn’t care about money because i know they have a hidden stash somewhere. there is probably a secret enlightened ATM cash machine with lots of clouds around it and a rainbow over the top of it. i can’t wait until a wise old voice sends me my PIN number in the mail.

excited?  me, too.  see what monkmojo is up to.

poem
usually we start with a poem; this time i had to get monkmojo out of the way first. but here’s the poem – an excerpt from one of my twitter friend dirk johnson’s poetry notebook

i offer you a cool and gentle breeze
on a sultry day.

i offer you the toxic spill
in a stream by an apartment building.

i offer you refineries burning
off waste gas in a miasma of stench.

i offer you the hiss of wind in grass,
thunder, and heavy rain.

whet your appetite? here it is in all its glory.

kant and buddha
if philosophy is your bag, you’ll enjoy this:

ironically, this treatment of kant is much like the western reception of buddhism, in which it has been branded as nihilistic, romantic, mystical, atheistic, and so on. as with kant, the enormous corpus of buddhist writings makes it easy to cherry-pick those that agree with our temperaments or prejudices (either favorably or unfavorably). i cannot claim a comprehensive knowledge of either, but i can say that my experience of both has taught me to be extremely suspicious of “extreme” interpretations of either.

the rest is here.

fear and the economy
dharmabrother takes the difficulties with the economy with serenity:

i refuse to be afraid of losing my job, even in this economy, because that fear is poisonous and inhibits the practice. good workers get laid off for a variety of reasons, even outright fired because they suddenly do not match the goals of the organization.

don’t know
“don’t know”, says the good blogger at ox herding, “forms the core of buddhism”

one time, zen master seung sahn said:

i don’t teach korean or mahayana or zen. i don’t even teach buddhism. i only teach don’t know. fifty years here and there teaching only don’t know. so only don’t know, okay?

nothing happens
“don’t know” and “nothing happens” are cousins. i was interested to come across this blog, aging as a spiritual practice:

nothing happens when you die: two contemporary buddhist masters ” suzuki roshi and the 16th karmapa ” both said this. when the karmapa was dying ” according to people who were there ” he opened his eyes and said, “nothing happens.”

and in suzuki roshi’s book not always so he says, “don’t worry about dying. nothing is going to happen.”

well. this is the kind of out-there statement that skeptics of buddhism point to as a way of discrediting it.

this brings me back again to the post earlier about kant and buddhism. everything is connected.

listen!

what am i to do in the face of another person’s suffering? how can i best live my vow? the thing i’m called to practice is “deep listening.” to put aside my own concerns about “what to do” and instead give my full attention to what’s in front of me. and to listen within, to notice how my own suffering gets aroused by hearing the other’s story. that is what’s meant by mindfulness: to witness what arises inside and outside of ourselves from moment to moment, in thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

more here. again, i see connections; to the deep “nothing” that is so important in buddhism – and to my post a few days ago about peaceful communication where ian peatey pointed so wisely to listening (and silence) as a good communication tool (which again reminds me of my post on improving on silence – it just goes round and round, doesn’t it?)

pain
and finally, before we close this with a nod to my friend william, here’s a fellow canadian therapist i discovered the other day, who posted on research about zen meditation and pain relief

grant and rainville noticed a marked difference in how their two test groups reacted to pain testing – zen meditators had much lower pain sensitivity (even without meditating) compared to non-meditators. during the meditation-like conditions it appeared meditators further reduced their pain partly through slower breathing: 12 breaths per minute versus an average of 15 breaths for non-meditators.

four noble truths, street version
and here comes william

1. the nature of shit is that it stinks
2. we stink because we have smeared ourselves with shit
3. we can be free of the stink and the shit
4. a dude laid out 8 steps to free ourselves from shit

next buddhist carnival is june 15th. send me your ssss…tuff.

i’m more evil than john chow!

i’m more evil than john chow!

people say john chow is evil (if you don’t know him: he’s one of the first bloggers who wasn’t ashamed to make lots of money online). now we know the truth: i’m way more evil than john chow!

you see, there is a test now – very scientific and mathematically precise, i’m sure, and desperately needed, that i know – that measures the worth of your soul. according to that test, my soul is worth $66,055 soul dollars. john chow’s soul, on the other hand – a holy man, apparently, not an evil one – is worth $666,666!


$66,055 Soul Dollars

Quiz brought to you by money.co.uk

the questions and answers are evil in and of themselves, for example:

you have a fistfull of useless change, what are you going to do with it?
. throw it into a fountain. making sure people are playing there, first.
. climb to the top of a very tall building and drop the coins, just to see if the rumour about them hitting someone is true.
. shake it in the face of a homeless person.
. spend it. that’s my cigarette money.
. glue it to the ground and laugh as people hopelessly try to pick it up. like

do you help old ladies across the street, or kick them when they fall over?
. i help them across the street all the time. i also make sure to steal their welfare checks from their purse.
. neither. they should be able to help themselves.
. i suppose i kick them. more than once.
. i’m usually the reason they fell down in the first place.

what i found amusing about this exercise is that, as you can see, many of the questions have answers that i wouldn’t normally choose. so what’s the second best answer? and why? and why didn’t i turn away from it in disgust?

now we know: because i’m evil. to the tune of a measly $66,055 bucks.

blogathon: isabella’s amazing interview powers

my friends J and M just came over (at 12:00 at night!) to keep me company as i brave the last few hours of the blogathon. so we did two interviews. here is the first one. i’m “i”. please observe my stellar interview skills.

i: what should i interview you about?

j: fun!

i: what’s the most fun thing you’ve done in the last 24 hours

j: i cleaned my bathroom. it was really great because i had flylady inspiration.

i: flylady! tell me more about flylady!

j: flylady is all about encouraging good habits without guilt or pressure. and the mechanism is a web site and email list.

i: without guilt or pressure. tell me more about that.

m: that’s quite the interview technique you have. tell me more about it, tell me more about it!

j: there are inspirational stories from people who have felt overwhelmed by housekeeping.

i: oh, it must have my stories, too!

j: possibly. a lot about feeling overwhelmed and then baby steps to get out from under it.

i: hm.

m: hm.

j: ask me for an example! (she’s prompting the interviewer)

i: okay, tell me more about, uh, give me an example!

j: well, there’s the swish ‘n’ swipe. 30 seconds once a day in the bathroom and it never gets disgusting. and then “polish your kitchen sink” and “dress to your shoes”. when you get up in the morning you dress for work and you make sure you wear your shoes. that way you’re serious about yourself at home, too.

i: so you like being serious?

pause.

deep sigh.

j: when it gets the job done? yes.

i: but we started talking about fun. i’m confused.

j: i did other fun things.

i: like what? tell me more …

j giggles.

j: i got dippity doo for my stepson. he just got his hair done fancy for camp.

i: hair done fancy for camp???

j: dyed black with teal highlights and a mohawk. (apparently mohawk is not spelled moWhawk. no mowing going on here)

j and m: and the dippity doo is for the mohawk.

i: and that was fun?

j: thinking about my stepson going off to camp powerful is a lot of fun.

m: camp powerful? what a great name for a camp for kids.

j: he’s going off to camp powerful. feeling empowered.

m: camp powerful would be a great name for a camp.

i: and a fun name!

that concludes this interview. wasn’t it fun?

canadian mental health association

this is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, email me or use this URL: www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d2252. you should be able to get there by clicking the link; if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps.

thank you for visiting, reading, commenting and, if you can, donating!