Politics

Crucible

Salem Witch Trials 34567By Scott Ross

Fear doesn’t travel well; just as it can warp judgment, its absence can diminish memory’s truth. What terrifies one generation is likely to bring only a puzzled smile to the next.” — Arthur Miller, Why I Wrote ‘The Crucible’: An Artist’s Answer to Politics (The New Yorker, October 21, 1996)

I suspect by now the world and its brother take as a given that Arthur Miller’s 1953 Salem witch-trial drama The Crucible was his very personal response to a similar ordeal, enacted on a much larger stage than that of four centuries earlier, and one to which the playwright was by a no means disinterested observer. Fewer perhaps will understand that in the character of the Salem farmer John Proctor — in life a good deal older than Miller’s protagonist — lay a means for the author to expiate his own private sins. But an increasing, and increasingly nervous, number of citizens can now see in this essential post-war tragedy a troubling reflection of the ironic tragicomedy currently on view, not merely in his or her own national theatre, but in the smaller studio across the pond. A farce, moreover, with potentially the gravest possible outcome if the curtain is not forcefully rung down on it, and soon.

Yet there is an additional parallel reading just now which not even Arthur Miller could have foreseen when he first researched and then wrote his play, one brought home to me in the starkest terms on sitting down recently with the 1996 movie of The Crucible.

You know the story, surely, or should, if you studied the play in high school or ever attended a little theatre production or read the script in college: How Abigail Williams, besotted with love for the married man who’d bedded her, was driven nearly mad with that hopeless love burning in an adolescent brain and the attendant repression of her Puritan community; how, discovered performing in a shamanistic midnight revel, she gave forth the lie that she had seen this and that good wife of Salem disporting with Satan; that her “confession” had within its contours a darker, more hidden, purpose, that of ridding herself of her hated rival, the wife of her erstwhile lover; how the lie, catching fire, prompted other terrified girls to join in her willful delusion; and how, an entire town turning on itself, the final victim must perforce be that same man so beloved of the originator of the lie.

Try as I might to ignore the sensation, I could not hold at bay an unpleasant frisson of instant, and queasy, identification each time Winona Ryder’s Abigail Williams took the screen. The shock of recognition which precipitated this was so profound that I had often while viewing the movie to force my mind away from the uncanny and disturbing parallel I saw in it to what used in our school days to be called “current events,” merely in order to savor the beautiful means by which the picture’s director, Nicholas Hytner (before and since the great stage and screen interpreter of Alan Bennett) captured Miller’s magnum opus; the often exquisite playing of the cast (and which, aside from Ryder included Daniel Day Lewis, Joan Allen, Bruce Davison, Charlayne Woodard, George Gaynes, Mary Pat Gleason, the splendid Ron Campbell and the magisterial Paul Scofield); the economy and grace with which Miller adapted, condensed (and in some ways improved upon) his masterwork; the sumptuous cinematography by Andrew Dunn; and the equally fulsome production design of Lilly Kilvert; all of which, taken together, rendered the production far more effective and moving than any mere reading or previous production of the play I’ve so far encountered. It’s a heady thing, after all, to be gob-smocked so completely by such a perfect, unbidden historical analog to the present.

I knew this girl, I thought — this selfish, foolish, unheeding, unthinking monster of a girl, whose lies, born of defeat and panic, unleashed a holocaust she lacked both the wit to foresee and the emotional health to be anything but indifferent to.

We all know her, for she is, like Abigail, so anxious to be known… and discussed, and debated about, and defied.

Abigail Williams is Hillary Clinton.

 

“…I was motivated in some great part by the paralysis that had set in among many liberals who, despite their discomfort with the inquisitors’ violations of civil rights, were fearful, and with good reason, of being identified as covert Communists if they should protest too strongly.” — Arthur Miller

November, 2016: Hillary Clinton’s campaign team, desperate to create for themselves, and for her, a self-justifying narrative to explain why “the most qualified candidate in American history” had lost the late (and seemingly endless) Presidential election to a buffoonish television game-show host, holds a meeting at which it is decided that, henceforth and forever, something called variously “Russian meddling” and “Russian hacking” was to be the bogey of choice. Never mind that the losing candidate herself will go off script and, at every possible opportunity, find someone new to blame for her deserved defeat by Donald J. Trump. Russia it was to be, and Russia it was to remain.

We need not rehearse here the actual reasons for that well-predicted loss, save to note that she was, with her rival, one of the two most hated candidates in American Presidential campaign history; a single vote against him was canceled out by another — if not many others — against her.

No, I take that promise back. Let’s rehearse those reasons. They have bearing.

  • The loathing of many for the Clinton Foundation — correctly seen as a revolving-door scam dependent for its survival on one or the other of the Clintons being in office; its horrific betrayal of cash-strapped Haiti; and the shady uranium deal with Russia which (among other things) netted Bill a half-million dollars, allegedly for a single speech
  • Hillary Clinton’s penchant, seemingly pathological, for lying, usually without necessity, the lies themselves nearly always easily disproved.
  • Her transparent hypocrisy (“I went down to Wall Street and told them, ‘Cut it out!’… which the transcripts of her speeches — not released by her — directly contradicts)
  • Her reactionary social beliefs: Against marriage equality… until the percentages of those for it reached that crucial 51%… Against abortion, which she deems a matter for “a woman, her family and her pastor” and which she asserts “should be rare, and I mean rare.
  • Her warmongering, both as Senator and as Secretary of State and including the disasters of Honduras and Haiti, and the mutation by the president she nominally served of three inherited wars into seven, presumably with her avid assistance
  • The WikiLeaks revelation of the damning Podesta emails, instantly (and repeatedly) labeled “Russian meddling” when it is well-known, and well-documented, that Julian Assange received them from inside the DNC
  • Donna Brazile, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the clear rigging of the 2016 primaries by the DNC… which we now know was entirely controlled by the Hillary Clinton campaign… and which means, of course, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • Bill: His deeply conservative tenets and acts, including NAFTA; turning much of America into a for-profit prison; his gutting of Welfare; and his utterly disastrous Telecommunications Act of 1996 which sacrificed a free press — without which a democracy cannot function — on the altar of corporate commerce; his womanizing and accused rapes; and his ex parte meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on that now infamous tarmac
  • Her own deep psychopathology, revealed in her laughing uproariously at the horrendous murder of a foreign leader (Gaddafi) and her serious (and repeated) questioning of why Julien Assange could not simply be murdered by drone-strike
  • Her willful ignoring of the prevailing economic woes experienced by half the nation
  • Her braying declaration that single-payer, Medicare-style healthcare for all was a pipe-dream that was “never going to happen”
  • Her willingness to means-test Social Security — to hand it over to her Wall Street pals
  • Her sneering, dismissive stereotyping of voters whose ballots she desperately needed, both Trump supporters and progressives
  • President Obama’s eight-year corporatist screwing of labor, the middle-class and working Americans, and his assertion that Clinton was his natural heir, implying her complicity in these matters, and that her election would mean more of the same
  • Her inept and arrogant campaigning style (And here, note that her official slogan was not “She’s with US” but “I’m with HER”); the equally arrogant manner with which her most vocal supporters demonized the progressive left with as much, on the one hand, indifference and, on the other, viciousness, as their goddess herself; their endless attacks on leftists on social media, much of it paid for; the incessant screaming of “Sexist!” at anyone who held reservations about her, even those who are themselves women or who campaigned for, or planned to vote for, Jill Stein; her supreme arrogance in not campaigning in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, states whose support she very much needed; and indeed, the overall conceit by which she presumed we owed her our votes, and that she therefore need not come to us for them
  • The sense among many in the electorate — conservative, liberal and progressive — that a vote for Clinton was a vote for more war, more fiscal inequity, more lies and more corporatist, neoliberal, neocon policies. And, as has often been noted, when Democrats run as Republicans, the actual Republican will win
  • And, yes, those emails of hers, on that un-secured, un-encrypted, personal server; her refusal to turn said server over to the FBI; and James Comey’s corrupt and cynical refusal to prosecute her for something which, had anyone else committed it, would have resulted in that individual’s receiving an automatic jail term.

That Clinton’s only serious primary rival was speaking to tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters when she couldn’t fill a high-school gymnasium we will leave aside, for the moment, as we will the seemingly motiveless murder of the DNC staffer Seth Rich, the likeliest source of the WikiLeaks revelations. Because, of all the reasons for Hillary Clinton’s embarrassing defeat which bear on this essay, none is as important as that delineated in the third clause of the first bulleted paragraph above: Doing deals with Russia.

If the first rule of political expedience is not deflection, surely it must rank snugly within the top five. The Clinton team was cognizant of and, even after the election, still nervous about, Hillary and Bill’s reciprocal dealings with Vladimir Putin’s government for personal gain, and the corrupt manner in which the Clinton-controlled DNC shoved her down America’s collective throat. Solution: Deflect. It is Trump who is dealing with Russia! They “hacked” our elections! Trump is being blackmailed by Russia! He’s a Putin-Puppet!

And so, if you doubt one word of what we’re saying, are you.

 

“…the politics of alien conspiracy soon dominated political discourse and bid fair to wipe out any other issue.” — Arthur Miller

However successful the Clinton team hoped its flagrant, Abigail Williams-like deflection might be, the immediate (and enduring) positive response to it must surely have dazed even them. Or perhaps it didn’t. Perhaps these cynics depended upon, and anticipated, the fervor of the equally cynical hacks in the corporate media — and, indeed, on the minds of Trump-haters and Clinton fanatics (often one and the same) which, as a predictable result of the 19-month election cycle, had become entirely un-hinged and utterly incapable of independent thought. Indeed, the scheme could only work with a figure as hated as Trump in the White House: Someone who inspires such fevered loathing that the mere fact of his presidency is enough to blow the mental fuses of Clinton idolaters.

Not that these types — known, in honor of their idol’s campaign slogan, by the rather perfect epithet “Withers” — have ever betrayed much acquaintance with rationality. But Trump-as-President creates such widespread cognitive dissonance among them that they cannot think, much less speak, coherently. Their obscenely well-compensated, High Priestess in derangement is a quondam Rhodes Scholar whose nightly billet has of late become the pulpit from which to extol such neoliberal shibboleths as hero-worship of the FBI and the CIA, the embrace of anyone seemingly opposed to Trump — no matter who, or how dubious or indeed anti-democratic — and war with a nuclear-armed nation as the best (really, only) means by which Trump can prove to her he is not Vladimir Putin’s personal kukla. More on this anon.

Had we anything like a free press, it would still plump for war, because that is its norm. (Gulf of Tonkin, anyone? Weapons of mass destruction?) Still, one would like to believe it might also, as once was its brief, perform at least a minimal amount of due diligence by way of investigatory journalism. That it would, instead of anointing a family as corrupt and venal as the Clintons, expose their duplicity.

I am speaking here not of the specious accusations and spurious, even libelous, claims by the right which have been so loonily over the top they have forced even those deeply skeptical of Hill-n-Bill into the bitter position of having to defend them, although I would argue that the more ludicrous of these attacks have redounded to the Clintons’ benefit so perfectly they might have been planned by that pair; Fox News has done more, in its way, to deify these two than even their usual lap-dogs in the press. I refer to the easily provable: Her pathological lying, his serial abuse of women, their pay-to-play machinations. But the corporate press, as with this former First Couple’s cynical donors, is invested in them, as it is with never portraying labor or the left in anything but a negative light, if illuminating either at all: The total Anglo-American blackout by the usual suspects in the news biz of Occupy Wall Street until the Asian and European press coverage shamed it into nominal (usually sneering) coverage is a good example, as is the subsequent repeat performance when Bernie Sanders was speaking to packed houses all over the nation yet, somehow, doing so into an electronic void. One listened in vain for any airing of either event on, for example, the once great, now wholly corporatized, NPR or its British coeval the BBC.

I was reminded in 2016 of the 2004 Democratic primaries, during which Carol Moseley Braun and Dennis Kucinich constituted, separately and together, the ideal choice: A pair of candidates who speak passionately and articulately to the real needs and concerns of a nation — not for endless war but for economic reform and pay equity. Howard Dean too, in those salad days before he saw the corporate light and became an unconscionable shill, had some good ideas there, as did the once shining and now disgraced John Edwards. There were, altogether, ten potentials among the Democrats, yet the media informed us, sorrowfully, that it simply could not devote the necessary resources, either of employment or of money, to cover them all. Flash-forward twelve years, to 2016, with its 17 Republican primary candidates, every one of whose campaigns, regardless of personal loopiness, received from this same quarter a sufficiency (not to say a surfeit) of coverage. This is not to mention the plastering of Trump’s visage on the airwaves, to the tune of some two billion dollars’ worth of free advertising, including the sight of his empty podium… and a telephone number for making donations. Yet fewer than a half-dozen Democrats in 2004 somehow defeated the media’s resources. Who, having heard it, can ever forget the sound of Les Moonves giggling over how much money Trump was generating for CBS?

Their real money, of course, was on the establishment neocon candidate. How else explain why so little has been made by the corporate press of Clintons’ appalling arrogance in employing un-secured routers and devices for top-secret communications, and in destroying her emails and the machines she used to send and receive them? How else justify the collective shrug given by the corporate media when the director of the Obama FBI and his minions altered an actionable charge of “gross negligence” against her to the wrist-slap of “extreme carelessness”? How else codify why the transparent rigging of the primaries — the crooked electronic votes (the actual, as opposed to fabricated, “hacking of our elections”) and the purging of voters from the rolls all over the country — by the DNC, an organization we have since learned was entirely under the control of Clinton herself? Woodward and Bernstein were working, initially and for some time, with a hell of lot less information in 1972.

George Carlin said it best: It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.


“The Soviet plot was the hub of a great wheel of causation; the plot justified the crushing of all nuance, all the shadings that a realistic judgment of reality requires.” — Arthur Miller

Those who have been deranged by the twin horrors of a campaign that lasted nearly half as long as an American President’s term in the White House and the spectre in the Oval Office of the loathed and derided Donald J. Trump are now, in their pique, addicted to fresh promises that this new development, or that new indictment, or the other new “revelation,” will surely spell the end for his cynosure. And the corporate media feeds that addiction, daily raising their expectations by promising the last nail in Trump’s presidential coffin. It is an addiction that pounces on the merest scrap: The appropriately tawdry and meretricious “Steele Dossier”; the firing by Trump of this or that odious aide or National Security apparatchik; the indictment by the Special Prosecutor of a baker’s dozen of Russian trolls purchasing seeming political ads on social media (after the election, please recall.)

The Democratic Party has, of course, seized on this Wither-directed pique, declaring — after, one presumes a few too many viewings of The Force Awakens — the emergence of something it calls “The Resistance” but which more impartial observers correctly deem “The McResistance.” For, as with the equally spurious “Tea Party” movement which came into existence only after a mixed-race Democrat took office, the adherents of this new “Resistance” were notably silent during eight years of corporatist Obama atrocities, not least including his more than doubling the existing wars and his stripping from the land of habeas corpus. But, unlike the Tea Partiers, who, whatever their true origin in the darkened boardrooms of Koch and ALEC, mobilized to effect a change, however dolorous, in their party, the McResistance does as it is told, donning pink caps here, massing against guns there, unable to see just how cannily (and pathetically easily) they are manipulated by the still-Clintonian DNC which robbed them of the best chance they had to defeat Trump — whose victory over their queen was predicted early but whose rival was just as convincingly proved to be able to beat The Donald, had he been given the chance. (And had he possessed the backbone to fight back against the vote-rigging and not caved so early, and so often.)

But Trump Hatred is so high that it has overwhelmed the ability for critical thought. “Vote Blue, No Matter Who” means electing a Republican in all but name merely because he is not Roy Moore. It means further marginalizing all progressive comers. It means additional rigging of votes, such as during the recent Congressional election in Florida, where erstwhile DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz retained her seat by performing on a local level what her corrupt committee enacted on a national one mere months before:  robbing Tim Canova of votes and then destroying the contested ballots. Or take the March Illinois campaign, during which the progressive candidate Marie Newman not only saw her early lead over Republican-Lite Dan Lipinksi fall, but her ballot numbers actually go down, in real-time. 20 years ago, we were warned that the electronic voting systems being ramped up all over the land and administered by the right-wing Debold Company, would surely benefit Republicans. Now, we understand, all too late, that they are also benefitting rightist neocon Democrats. Where is the outrage over this? Where the pussy-hat marchers? Too busy, one presumes, labeling any-and-everyone who disagrees with them “Putin Puppets” on Social media or over the “liberal” airways of MSNBC.

I mentioned Woodward and Bernstein in passing, above, but “Woodstein,” and Watergate, also have bearing on this essay, and on the general derangement Trump’s victory has unleashed. In Watergate, there was no investigation until evidence of a crime had come to light. This is a crucial element of a criminal investigation: Investigators, knowing of a specific crime having been committed, then examine the evidence of that crime to determine guilt. They do not go looking for a crime first. Since, as far as we can divine from the lack of evidence so far presented (and, trust me, if the various American entities gathered under that pretty little catch-all “security” had any evidence of “collusion,” they would release it) the basis on which the president is being investigated, in contradiction to all previously understood and agreed upon understanding of jurisprudence, is that very lie cobbled up by Clinton’s campaign team. And the single most dismaying, and dispiriting, upshot of all this has been the avidity with which “liberals” have supported this judicial abuse, out of pique and hatred.

The loss of such critical thinking skills (always presuming they existed to begin with) condemns the reactive and newly self-appointed legal experts to Pavlovian salivating over Trump’s “Russian collusion,” or his violation of a clause none of them had ever heard of before 2016 and most cannot properly pronounce. A progressive friend recently opined of Trump’s chicanery that he felt certain there was “a there there.” Well, yes — if you dig long enough, and deep enough, you’re bound to find something nefarious. That The Donald has gotten away with decades’ worth of shady business dealings and, on a lesser level, perpetual flummery, aided and abetted by the New York media’s slavering adulation of him, is well-known. Where were these would-be prosecutors then? Avidly devouring the latest New York Post story written by Trump about himself and copied more or less verbatim as “news” by hacks masquerading as journalists? Watching his long-running NBC game-show? Why do they only care now?

Further: That the immediate result of a Trump impeachment would be the installation as Commander-in-Chief of Vice President Pence seems not to have occurred to them. “Oh, we can control him” is the smug response, when one gets a response at all. Oh? As you have “controlled” Trump, by voting for nearly everyone he nominates and everything he wants? And, if he is so easily controlled, why the tsouris?

How well these types would have sung in the Salem Town congregation.

The elevation by the McResistance of such oleaginous types as Comey, James Clapper and Robert Mueller, its unthinking embrace of the Deep State (and yes, even former CIA officials admit it exists), its indifference to the news that a record number of former military intelligence and ex-CIA operatives are running in the 2018 Democratic campaigns, its reactionary and chilling echoing of 1950s Red-baiting, and its refusal to accept that the much-discussed release by WikiLeaks of the Podesta emails was, as William Binney and Ray McGovern of VIPS (Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity) have assured us, the work of someone inside the DNC using a USB data-stick, have led to the appalling if unsurprising intelligence that fully 85 per-cent of Americans now believe something called “Russian hacking” was responsible for Trump’s election rather than, as was the case, the bulk of American voters rejecting a candidate they deemed even worse. (Another old friend, who lived through the McCarthy scare, opined recently that even Henry Kissinger would be better as president than Trump. Henry Kissinger!)

Those still capable of rational thought, who have not allowed their disdain for The Donald to overwhelm their minds, understand that, after a year and a half of investigation, if there were anything to the many and varied charges of “collusion,” we would by now be awash in evidence. Sixteen months, and what are the results? Thirteen Russians trolling for cash.

Nor does the new Red-Scare madness end at our borders. Across the pond, a Prime Minister beset on every side by the results of her own ineptness suddenly claims a pair of expatriated Russians living in Britain were “conclusively” poisoned by the Russians, on as little evidence as the Clinton team’s “Russia did it!” accusations, which is to say only their word on it. Other nations now are scrambling to deport Russian diplomats, on the word of Teresa May. International tensions, as they say in the news biz, are escalating, and there seems daily a greater chance that this spurious, un-proven (and, I daresay, unprovable) nonsense could eventuate in war with a nuclear-armed nation. Worse, the incessant Red-baiting and baseless charges against Trump make it nearly impossible for him to deal in any reasonable fashion with Putin; should he attempt to quell these ludicrous and easily avoidable tensions, the predictable cries of “See? He’s in Putin’s pocket!” will shortly deafen the airwaves.

And so the 21st century Abigail Williams, unlike her 17th century counterpart, has, in her avidity to deflect her own Uranium deal with Putin onto the new President, endangered not merely her small community or even her state, but the entire globe. This makes her both more and less than her historical coeval, who wanted merely a man she could not have, and when even that modest desire fell to ruin, departed the scene. Abigail-Hillary, by contrast, never shuts up. She and her disciples (the latter of whom, again unlike those in Salem, don’t even — because they cannot, or their entire sense of self will come crashing about their dangerously empty heads — recognize how well their leader has played them) seem to want the very end of their world, as long as they feel a little better about themselves for in the millisecond they, and we, have before the first bomb drops.

 


Copyright 2018 by Scott Ross

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Music, Personal Essay

The old folks at home

a-tribute-to-the-original-christy-minstrels-lp-dyna-disc-ch-830_8893952

By Scott Ross

This afternoon I listened, for the first time in decades, to the single most curious album in our late parents’ collection. Generally speaking, most of their records were pretty good, in the more or less standard middle-class manner of the time. (Roughly 1957-1973.) While they did not own any Broadway cast recordings, their copies of the soundtrack albums for My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music and The Unsinkable Molly Brown exposed me to musical theatre at an early age. (Your fault, Mom and Dad; musicals being, as everyone now knows, a gateway drug to homosexuality.) Their Peter Nero, Louis Armstrong, Herb Alpert and, later, early Neil Diamond, records still give me great pleasure today, and a collection I discovered of Miklós Rózsa themes piqued in me a real passion for movie scores.

Some of the sappier stuff they owned was at least explicable: Frankie Laine was very popular when Mom and Dad got married, as were Jackie Gleason’s Muzak-y romance collections. And my folks were conventionally religious, so I suppose the Tennessee Ernie Ford Christmas LP made a certain amount of sense, even though the rest of our annual holiday music background scores were far more secular. But we were Ohioans, and Mom and Dad were not (at least before we moved to the South) noticeably racist. So A Tribute to the Original Christy Minstrels is a genuine mystery.

When they did away with their old television/stereo console and Mom meted out their record collection on to my sister and me, I kept the Christy Minstrels LP because I used to enjoy listening to some of the old 1890s songs, and even a bit of Mr. Interlocutor’s comedy; I suppose when I was a child I didn’t notice that all the singers and speakers were obviously white and affecting stereotypical “coon” accents… nor, apparently, did the “yuck-yuck-yuck” interjections of the End Men register with me that way.

But I’m still puzzled. Why did they buy this?

Why, Mom and Dad?

Why???


Copyright 2016 by Scott Ross

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Gay History, Personal Essay, Theatre

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

By Scott Ross

Forty-seven years ago (and as unbelievably ancient as that figure sounds to a Millennial, trust me when I say that I can’t quite believe it either), on the morning of 22 June 1969, my family was living in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. It was a lovely summer day, pleasant and dry, although I seem to think it may have rained the night before. As we didn’t have a subscription to the Sunday Columbus Dispatch, someone had always on that day of the week to walk down to the little general store nearby and pick up a copy of the paper. It was either my turn, or I volunteered, I no longer recall. After I paid for the newspaper, I walked back home, looking at the front page. The banner headline said that Judy Garland had died, at 47.

I was a very naïve child, in many ways. In part, I suspect, because I seldom voiced my inner thoughts, and therefore seldom had my misconceptions corrected. (You get verbally slapped down enough times, you learn to keep things to yourself.) Example: For several years during early childhood I was convinced that the people we saw on television lived inside the box, and somehow magically sprang into action when we turned on the set. (I used occasionally to switch it off and then right back on, hoping to catch them loafing.) The only thing I knew of Judy Garland, at that time, was that she was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, which we watched every Easter. And while I no longer believed that people took up residence inside our black-and-white(!) Sylvania television console, I must still have maintained some notion either that film froze the people on it, or that movies were, somehow, live. So Judy Garland’s age really puzzled me. How could that young girl be 47 years old? She looked only a bit older than my sister. And 47 — why, that was 12 years older than my father!

I think of that walk back home every year at this time. Sheltered in the Ohio midlands, in a place that was something between a large town and a small city, I had little idea what was going on in the outside world. (Mt. Vernon is one of my lost Edens; and if it was a cocoon, it was a cocoon I had been happy to nestle inside.) And that summer, a great deal was going to go on, very soon, in America at least. I certainly had only the vaguest notion, despite odd stirrings within my own self for years, what a homosexual was, and wouldn’t have understood what was about to occur in a place called Greenwich Village. Whether or not grief over Judy Garland’s death had anything at all to do with the furious reactions at Stonewall — the playwright Doric Wilson thought it hadn’t, and he was there — the almost umbilical connection between “Miss Show Business” and many of her gay male fans was very real, and something I would come to understand quite well, some six or seven years later.

Garland obit

When I shared the following dialogue from my play A Liberal Education on Facebook Doric, who has since died, gently set me straight (so to speak) on the tempting Garland connection. When I thanked him and said I would consider revising the scene, he replied that I shouldn’t change a word. I loved him for that. We never met in the flesh, but I miss him. He was a wonderful writer (his play on Stonewall, Street Theatre, should be required reading for every gay boy and girl), a kind man, and a living link to that moment that helped alter so much, for so many.

Anyway, here’s the dialogue in question:

NICK: David, tell them your theory.

JO: Oh, goodie—theorizing.

DAVID: Well, we were talking—on the way over—about the differences in gay behavior.

JO: There are differences?

DAVID: Not for nothing, sweetie, but some men are gay and some are—
(He stands and throws his arms up and out in a “v”)
gay!

JO: Thanks for the clarification.

NICK: I mean, you take me. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to swish—

DAVID: He tried once. At a New Year’s Eve party? Pathetic.

JO: (Singing) I can’t camp—
(SHEREE joins in)
—don’t ask me.

DAVID: Whereas I might as well be wearing a flashing neon sign. Anyway. I was thinking, about Stonewall. And as far as I can gather, that little shin-dig was thrown by a whole lotta pissed-off drag queens and effeminate Hispanic boys and oh-so-butch ladies—

NICK: Drag queens and nellies and dykes—

JO: Oh, my!

DAVID: Exactly. Has anyone ever made the connection that, the week those girls said, “Get over it, Miss Cop,” Our Lady of the Rainbow had just doffed her ruby slippers for the last time?

NICK: Isn’t it funny to think that Judy Garland just might be the unofficial mother of the whole modern gay rights movement?

SHEREE: Hysterical. Does that make Liza Minnelli the step-mother?

JO: Please.

NICK: You have to admit, if you take anger, frustration and high temperatures and compound them with grief, you’ve got one very volatile combination.

DAVID: So, the next time some slab of overfed gay beef gives me shit for camping, I’m just going to sing him a few bars of “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart.”


Text copyright 2016, by Scott Ross

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Personal Essay, Uncategorized

File this under No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

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By Scott Ross

This afternoon I had to make a trip to the CVS and the Food Lion adjacent to it, situated close together on a major thoroughfare in Raleigh. Parked in the CVS lot, got what I needed there and was walking to the grocery store when I was accosted by a large (and for “large,” read “wide”) man in a wheelchair, who asked me if I could help him make it up the Food Lion ramp, informing me (why?) that he’d just come from the big hospital across the road. I got him up the ramp, he thanked me, and we went our separate ways.

As I was leaving the Food Lion, I saw him ahead of me, stopped at the sidewalk close to my car, and experienced the sudden certainty that I was going to be asked to do something else. Figuring I could push him up that ramp as well if he wanted, I was instead treated to the entirely unnecessary intelligence that he had a terminal condition and was about to take his Percocet with wine. What this had to do with what he wanted, which was for me to pick him up a couple of packs of cigarettes, is best understood by him. Sure as hell I couldn’t figure it out. He also offered to hold my grocery bags while I went into the drug store. I was perfectly happy to place them in the car. (And anyway, what was his ten dollars next to my twenty-five’s worth of groceries?) He introduced himself as former Marine Captain Jack Blahdiblah, and said that Winstons were cheaper at CVS than at Food Lion, and gave me two fives, asserting that I seemed like an honest man. Had I known what was coming, I’d have thrown the bills into his lap and pushed his chair into traffic.

Naturally, as I stood at the CVS counter waiting my turn, I saw that Winstons were 2 packs for $10.48. Fortunately, the cashier was able to take the cash and let me use my debit card for the $1.19 extra. (Captain Jack had, I’d noticed, another ten and a twenty in his wad, but apparently I only seemed so honest, and no more.)

Now you should know (even if you’d rather not) that among the genetic advantages I inherited from my father is over-active sweat glands. I perspire profusely when it’s warm, especially when, as today, it is both warm and humid. I sweat from the head, and it’s miserable. Emotional states, to which I am prone, make me perspire even more, so being upset on a hot, humid day is its own little slice of Hell on earth. I was now quite sweaty, somewhat annoyed, and wanted to end this episode as quickly as possible. As I gave Captain Jack his Winstons, he asked (in lieu of thanking me) whether I was heading south. I was, but told him I was headed north. Enough is enough!

Before I could give him his smokes, move toward the car, and effect my escape, Captain Jack asked me if I spoke Spanish and would I do him another favor (Christ, what now?) Pointing to another vehicle, he asked me to tell those women (I saw two Latinas, and some children) “driving that big van that my taxes paid for, and getting all those social services my dollars paid for, and blahdiblahdifuckingblahblah…” Resisting the urge to ask him why he assumed, as so many people like him do, that my being Caucasian and male (and, he presumably supposed, heterosexual) automatically means I run my brains through the same narrow furrows of muck as he and, dropping the Winstons in his lap, I said, “You’ll have to work that one out for yourself.”

I got into the car as quickly as I could, my now angrily buzzing brain effectively blocking out whatever incantations he was sending my way. I caught the word, “liberal,” but, fortunately everything else was “buzzbuzzbuzz.” Because the Cutlass no longer has an operable A/C, I rolled down the window and, before backing out, said, “And you’re welcome!” (He did, at that point, say “Thank you,” but I need hardly add that I no longer cared one way or another.) As I was driving away, deliberately letting him see me heading south, not north, he yelled something else, who knows what. I like to think he looked at the receipt and noticed that I’d chipped in for his cigarettes, but surely that is asking too much of an already incredulous universe.

Some of us, I am fully persuaded after several similar encounters over the years, have “Sucker” written all over us, our more gracious impulses misconstrued as gullibility. Is it any wonder so many people demur when asked for assistance? After years of being ill-used by strangers I’ve attempted to aid, I begin to comprehend that the seemingly selfish brushing-off of others in need may be a necessary form of self-preservation. If you suffer panic attacks, as I do, and know that the rage you feel, rapidly accelerating into the danger zone, is as troubling as it is debilitating, walking away may save you hours of rapid heartbeat, cold chills alternating with hot flashes, and no little chunk of your already limited supply of sang-froid. All it asks in return is that you shoulder a ton or so of unrelievable guilt for the next hour or two.

To calm myself, I picture Captain Jack (Jesus Christ, can you imagine the hell of having been under that asshole’s command?) helplessly rolling straight down the middle lane of Wake Forest Road.

Or perhaps sailing off the edge of the earth.

I’ll go either way.

Copyright 2016 by Scott Ross

 

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Personal Essay

Network for Sale. Integrity not included.

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By Scott Ross

The one fixed point in a changing world used, for this listener, to be Scott Simon. Despite the increasing conservatism and corporate viewpoint of his employer, Simon could be counted upon for his decency, thoughtfulness, intelligence, compassion and—when necessary—a dignified anger. All that changed for me this morning when, to discuss Trump, Scott Simon welcomed…

Glenn Beck.

And treated with him, moreover, as if he was a genuine political savant, like Gore Vidal or Katrina Vanden Heuvel, quietly and reverently lobbing softball questions and engaging with this wingnut as though he were some sage of the political arena and not a snake-oil-selling clown of minimal interest and even smaller consequence.

This, from the man who once reported, in four riveting, inexpressibly and almost unbearably moving 30-minute segments, on the poor of India. This, from the network that once had the respect even of its commercial rivals, for its innovation and its integrity.

First Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me invites Kim Kardashian on as its “celebrity” guest, and now this.

NPR has repeatedly broken faith with me—but this is altogether too much. The network is now as relevant as Fox News. Why does anyone still listen to these shills?

Copyright 2015 by Scott Ross

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Personal Essay

Pushing the button: Panic attacks

By Scott Ross

One of the lovelier aspects of chronic high anxiety are periodic panic attacks. I’ve been having these for years but, as they have always accompanied emotional unexpected trauma, it’s only comparatively recently that I’ve realized that is indeed the name for these episodes. In my case, it begins with being broadsided by another person. After the initial shock, my face becomes numb, my entire body begins to tremble violently and I experience a state very close to what I imagine disassociation must be like: My mind is sharply focused on the violation, but the world around me disappears—and with it, any possible rational verbal response. Later, when I’m calmer, I think this must be very close to the way people feel when they commit sudden, unplanned violence. If the prompting incident is a direct physical confrontation (as opposed, say, to a telephone conversation, e-mail or instant message) I will likely end up screaming at the source, and the only possible recourse for me is a hasty exit from the scene.

(Panic attacks are not necessarily the same as hyperventilation, although I’ve experienced that as well. The first time was when, in 1979, I saw Alien in a theatre during its opening weekend. I knew nothing about it. When that thing burst out of John Hurt’s chest, I hyperventilated for five minutes.)

The first panic-inducing event happened when I was 15. Thinking about it in later years, I used to believe I possessed a long use, and a very short one, and perhaps that is so. I now realize it’s not necessarily the case, but the long build-up to this particular explosion certainly lent itself to my making that assumption. I’ve written elsewhere that what we used to call junior high school was three years of howling pain for me. To be at all sensitive—or, as I also was, bookish, shy, introspective and un-athletic—in early adolescence is to wear a perpetual “Kick Me” sign on one’s back. Mine was pretty much permanently etched to my clothing. In the spring of my 9th grade year, one of the perennial bullies who dogged my existence chose a moment in gym class, during which we were to attempt making free shots, to ride me one time too often. My face went numb, my limbs shook, my head roared like a white-noise machine and I heard myself saying, “Eddie… Get. Off. My. Back!” My voice began low; by the end of my brief outburst, I was shouting.

The second such occurrence was a little over two years later. I had been working since 16, on a part-time basis, at a two-screen movie complex in Raleigh (how quaint that then-new concept seems now, in this era of googolplexes!) The owner was one of the meanest little men it has ever been my disagreeable misfortune to know, much less work for: Stingy, piggy-eyed, a petty martinet who smiled only at own, sour humor and who never looked anyone in the eye while speaking. His eyes moved either to the left, or the right, but were never focused on the other person. Ray Nance was almost a parody of the humorless, un-pleasable employer, so much so that we often said to each other that, had he been a character in a movie or a book, no one would accept him as anything but a caricature. His approach to Mr. Lynch, the kind, decent, gentle theatre manage was to belittle him consistently… and behind his back, naturally. (The assistant manager was Mr. Nance’s son, who, having learned well at his father’s knee, made it known to us all that Mr. Lynch was “an alkie.”) On one immemorial occasion, Mr. Nance had come to the theatre during a typically hectic opening-weekend Friday evening of a new and popular movie. The start-times for the movies we showed on either side of the complex were usually staggered only very modestly, and we often found ourselves coping with hordes of customers on both sides at the same time. Frantic but professional, a half-dozen of us had nonetheless performed behind the concession counter with our standard mix of politeness, good grace and humor—and it’s worth noting that we had no cash registers behind the concession stand; every order had to be remembered, the cost totaled up in our heads and the change given back to the customer without recourse to any accoutrement beyond that of our own nimble brains.

Mr. Nance’s usual practice was to arrive between screenings, when the lobby was deserted, leaving us all suddenly left scrambling to find some busy-work to do. The fastest ones made for the sanctuary of the theatre auditoriums. The rest had to improvise. Ashtray urns already clean? Sift them again. Carpet swept? Sweep it one more time. It was ludicrous, but such is the game these types play; Mr. Nance knew his own movies’ schedules. He knew his presence would inspire this sort of mild panic. On this particular evening, and faced with the evidence of how well we had performed, individually and together… with what a bright and resourceful bunch of kids we were… during the lull that followed this explosion of hectic activity, Mr. Nance’s only comment was to lecture us, with the immortal (and, for him, all too typical) words, “I don’t want to see you enjoying yourselves while you’re working.”

In late spring of that year I had been offered a position elsewhere and was on the verge of giving a week’s notice, as, if I recall correctly, my mother believed that was the very least a person should do when leaving one job for another. The manager, a man I liked and had respect for, had called the day before to ask me if I would come in an extra evening that week, and I had initially declined. After reconsideration, I called him back and said, sure, I’ll be there. After all, I thought, while I didn’t really want to be there, I could use the extra cash. When I called him back he said he’d already gotten someone, a new young employee (we were all either high-schoolers or college students) to take the shift, but that if I still wanted to come in., I would be welcome. After I’d been there perhaps half an hour that evening, the owner came into the lobby. He asked me why I was there. I told him. He ordered me to go, making a point of telling me how much more reasonable the new kid was. “You said you didn’t want to come in,” he smirked at me, “so leave.”

Despite enduring the unpleasantness and absurdities of this petty little gnat of a man for a year, I had shown him every respect and courtesy. An entire year of his absurd mean-spiritedness welled up in that moment. Again, my face was numb, I was trembling uncontrollably and, as I stormed to the big metal door off the lobby I shouted (something I almost never do) at him to shove his goddamn theatres up his ass! and slammed that door as hard as I have ever closed any portal, before or since. The manager later told me that everyone on the staff had to run off in a big, tearing hurry to some task or other. Anything would do, just so Mr. Nance would not see them all laughing. I suspect I said that night what all of them had at one time or another wanted to, and after the shock of it had abated, they were giddy with it. I should stress that I was not proud of this moment. I’d lost my cool, shouted at another human being, and suffered a debilitating state that, however brief, was deeply unsettling. I remember standing outside that door and leaning against it, shaking from head to foot, unable to believe what had just happened, or how I had responded. When I could collect myself I called my mother, gave her an abridged version of the confrontation, and after a walk and a cooling can of soda, somehow found the serenity to at least drive myself back home.

As I get older these attacks hit me, when they occur, with no less alacrity, and are generally spaced further apart. But getting over them takes considerably longer. After decades of chronic major depression and high anxiety, I suspect my resistance is far lower. (To panic attacks, and to so many other little goodies, thanks to years of unrelieved stress.) In the past few weeks, the wonder that is Facebook has been the staging ground for not one but two such attacks. The first I elide over to a large degree, as it’s too personal and painful to go into publicly, but the appalling nature of it, from a woman who, although we never spent a moment in the same room I considered a close friend, was dismaying. Her betrayal of my trust in her, and the way in which she went about flouting it, were as close to evil as a human being gets without actually being a serial killer. (I understand from a mutual friend that she now feels it was “the worst thing she’s ever done.” Well, yeah. I sincerely hope so. But that doesn’t mean I can forgive such deliberate malice.) And the panic attack I got from what she did was certainly real enough.

The most recent event occurred last a week ago. The work-day had been such that by Friday my nerves were stretched taut by the time I got home. A nap helped, dinner made it a little better. (My choice of a movie did not, but that’s my own lookout; I knew when I opted for it that Salvador would very likely upset the hell out of me. That’s why I’d put it off for so long.) Taking a cup of coffee into my home-office and logging on to Facebook, I immediately discovered an instant message from a former friend. This, if my memory is to be trusted at all, was a man with whom I had a mutual friend, and who had requested that I “friend” him. And although I found his obsessive attacks on a certain former television actress a bit dismaying (what the hell had Bonnie Franklin ever done to this guy to make him institute on his home-page a weekly flaying of her?) I had not voiced any opinion on the matter; as with a television’s channel-changer, the virtue of a social networking site is that one can simply scroll past that of which one has no interest. Somewhere along the way, however, began annoying him. I began receiving chiding notes from him in my instant-messaging in-box and ultimately decided (o being told how “hateful” I was) that, rather than continuing to argue with him, the better part of valor would be to remove my irritating presence from his life. So I “un-friended” and blocked him. End of story.

Or so I believed. Until I found this, unbidden and un-asked-for (and, initially, un-capitalized):

“after 3 years I unblocked you and you’re still an asshole. How the fuck did you hone in my friends? Go away.”

Face numb? Check. Limbs trembling uncontrollably? Check. Laser-like intensity of focus? Check. Complete loss of time and moment and external world? Check. Urges to scream and do physical violence? Check, check, check, check and check.

Naturally enough, his act of aggression was a hit-and-run: Even had I the desire to respond—which, despite the need to scream, I didn’t—he’d made sure to block me again after depositing his charming little time-bomb. When I was able to recover some of my faculties again, I availed myself of the sole means of redress Facebook provides, and reported him for harassment. This, in case you’re ever in need of knowing, involves forwarding the conversation (and which, in this case, presumably included all of his previous screeds against my apparently limitless capacity for hatefulness.) There is, or at least has not been in this instance, any follow-up. Whether he was warned, or his account suspended, I have no idea. No more than I can discover just what it was that set this craven coward off; I went through at several weeks’ worth of my posts and saw there nothing that I could pin down. And in any case, no matter what action Facebook takes, if any, I feel reasonably sure it will simply, to his disordered mind, reinforce what an asshole I am. (The man attacks me out of the blue, and for no reason I can discern, and I’m the asshole?)

What astonishes me about both these incidents is the sheer unfeeling nature of how they were perpetrated. They were done with what seems to me ungovernable fury, and with no little relish. And they bring screaming back to me my own insupportable optimism at the beginning of the Internet Age when I thought, with stunning naïveté, that the act of writing, requiring thought and rationality, might make for a more literate, and perhaps more thoughtful, set of users. That I was spectacularly incorrect is self-evident. Moreover, in both cases, the individuals involved knew full well how anxious and depressed a person I am, and how easily my equilibrium—never especially sturdy at the best of times—can be shattered. I make no claims for perfection of self. I am as flawed, and as prone to solipsism, as anyone else. I have made a conscious effort in the past few months to refrain from comment when that statement is negative, or critical, or is aimed at a friend of a Facebook friend. So, while I try to govern my conversation, including my on-line comments, with some sense of propriety, I know I occasionally err on the wrong side of caution. How could I not? It’s just so damn easy to dash off a riposte! Still. To knowingly inflict that sort of psychic anguish on another person, as these two did, is beyond my rational ken. And it’s no good saying the sickness is theirs and not mine, no matter how much of a truism that may be; the panic attacks they engender are not lessened one wit by that caveat.

I have often said that the gravest of all human sins is a lack of imagination. The ability to empathize with creatures who are not our kind is one of the nobler qualities of the human, and one that sets us apart from the other organisms with whom we share the planet. The inability to empathize, however much it indicates a misalliance of intellect and emotion that borders on sociopathy, seems to me far more prevalent than it ought to be, and is and has been the cause of so much needless suffering throughout the history of our vain and self-regarding dominion over the earth. And nothing promulgates it as much as instant media. Things most of us would never dream of saying, or doing, to another soul if we were in his or her presence, we say and do at will, hiding behind our words, or our ability to hit-and-block, or whatever it is that allows us to inflict torment on another human being and sleep untroubled.

A friend whose anxiety is far keener than even my own has said more than once that he wished he possessed the ability to touch certain people with two fingers and make them feel what it’s like to be him, for 24 hours. I don’t think I would wish my panic attacks on anyone, even for a day.

It would be a lovely thing indeed if others didn’t wish them on me.

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Text copyright 2014 by Scott Ross

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Personal Essay

Where depression begins (Or, Spikes!)

By Scott Ross

I’ve been ruminating on this subject as essay-fodder for some time. The recent “apparent” suicide, as they say in criminological circles, of Robin Williams is coincidental but not, I don’t think, incidental. The single most concise (and most heartbreakingly apt) description of chronic depression I’ve ever come across is Dick Cavett’s:

“[…] when you’re downed by this affliction, if there were a curative magic wand on the table eight feet away, it would be too much trouble to go over and pick it up.”

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/27/smiling-through/comment-page-21/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

The roots of depression are, of course, not yet firmly fixed. That its presence indicates a chemical imbalance seems assured, but is the condition genetic, or in any case, purely genetic? At this point in my life, I feel as certain that my own chronic major depression, which has blighted most of my adult life, and indeed much of my adolescence, is a function of my father’s DNA. His father, whom he loathed, was an angry, violent man and one, I believe, who bequeathed that genetic curse to at least two of his children. Dad’s sister, my Aunt Peg, committed suicide when I was very young, and I recognize many of the behavioral symptoms of depression in myself as reflections of Dad’s own persona. My mother always resisted any such conclusions on my part (“He’s not depressed.”) but at my worst I see far too many similarities between us. (The high anxiety I also contend with comes from her side of the family, or at least from her mother’s.) It was in fact my screaming—literally screaming—at other drivers on the road that finally convinced me to seek a diagnosis. That rage was not the sole manifestation of my depressive symptoms, but it was the decisive one.

Riding in a car with my father was a test of nerve. Every other drive was an idiot, and at fault, and he could also be vindictive. More than once I clung to the armrest, terror-stricken, expecting to die at any moment while he passed a driver in a no-passing zone or even, memorably, while crossing a two-lane bridge. Interestingly, to me, while Dad despised his father for his bullying, he was incapable of seeing the ways in which his own behavior often mirrored that of my grandfather. Like the man we referred to as Grant, Dad’s temper was quick, and never far from the surface. And while he at least attempted to govern his hands, he did not always succeed. At least, not with his son. A cousin recently reminded me of just such an incident, one I’d completely forgotten but which made her extremely leery of him. Like Grant, Dad had always to be right. He could not seem to locate the proper angle at which to view himself as others saw him—a common enough failing but one which, I believe, inhibits one’s making the changes to one’s own personality necessary for self-improvement. My ex shared that blind-spot and, if confronted, made the excuse that people had to take him as he was. Everyone has to adjust to the man who will not adjust himself.

My passivity in the face of brutality, psychic or physical, is, I suspect, a result of the dictum handed down to my father by his. More than once in my pubescence and adolescence I heard the “Fight your own battles. Don’t come crying to us” speech. As a result, and because I was unable to fight, I held my torments inside. I vividly remember one pleasant autumn evening at around 14 or 15, sitting with my mother on the front stoop, and her saying, the previous two years had been a waking nightmare, that screaming hell we once called junior high school. “You used to be such a happy-go-lucky kid,” Mom observed sadly. “I don’t understand what’s happened. Why you’ve changed.” I was, as always, silent. How could I tell her, even if I’d had the words then, which I surely did not, that living in hell, and being told not to whine about it, can turn the happiest child into a diffident, interior-dwelling emotional recluse?

Depression becomes manifest, we’re told, following a trauma. It may be physical or emotional. In my own case, I date the onset of my depression from the age of six or seven, when I broke my wrist in a fall from a tree. (Well, from a tree limb, to be more precise; it was a dumb stunt, and a disaster waiting to happen. Had it not been me, it would have been my sister, or one of my cousins.) In any case, I can recall sitting in a dark Canton, Ohio hospital corridor after my near-compound fracture had been X-rayed, waiting to have it placed in a cast. Was my mother with me, or had she gone off to look for a nurse, or a doctor? I no longer recall anyone near me, only the dark pall, the body-size net that cocooned me with almost as rapid a descent as the fall from that tree branch. The ensuing days are shrouded by that caul. Each time it recurred as I grew older, it was always with that same, terrible, all-encompassing swiftness. The climb back up, as anyone who’s ever been depressed, let alone depressive, can tell you, is nowhere near as swift.

Far too many people, even well-meaning people, mistake “sadness” for depression. Everyone has known sadness. Almost everyone has experienced depression, even if only for a day. And “sad” is to chronic depression as “happy” is to acute mania. I liken my depression to walking under water, every moment of every day. I smile at times, I even laugh, on occasion. But what a friend describes as feeling like a weight that will not leave her, remains. I rise, although never easily, and never with the sensation of sleep having refreshed me. I go to work. I function. But if I gave in to impulse, I would not rise. I could not function. Those who refuse to “believe there’s such a thing as depression” (and there is a shocking number of such people, most of them, in my experience, highly educated and otherwise intelligent) should take up residence in my skin for an hour. If they did not instantly change their thinking (and I ennoble such purblind obtuseness with the positive noun) I should be amazed. A co-worker, whose anxieties and attendant neuroses make mine look like the proverbial walk in the woods, says that he wishes he could touch such doubters on the shoulder and transfer how he feels to them for 24 hours. Because, outwardly, we do not appear to be suffering, our illness is not generally perceived, even when we give every indication of it. We’re “difficult.” We’re “self-involved.” We’re “unpleasant.” “Unproductive.” More than one friend has told me I have “an edge,” never quite understanding that it might be because all of my interior edges have been ground to the nub.

For far too many of us as well, the combinations of therapy and medication simply do not work. When I was first diagnosed, in the mid-1990s, I was placed on Prozac, the “miracle” of the moment. Within six weeks, I had regained that “happy-go-lucky kid.” I felt as I hadn’t since the age of 12. But one-third of Prozac users will cease to respond to the drug over time, and I, unhappily, was in that statistic. Within six months, the pall was back, and blacker than before. Because I knew then that it was possible for me to feel better. In this way, that experience is almost worse than the disease itself: I’ve been through a veritable pharmacopeia since then, and nothing I’ve taken since has had the slightest positive effect. Ketamine, if and when it is ever placed on the market, might be the answer. It has the virtue of taking effect, not in weeks, but in hours or even minutes. If all else fails, there is always electroconvulsive therapy, but that is extreme, and requires so lengthy a procedure I’m not sure my medical insurance even covers it, or even if I could take the necessary time away from the office to effect it.

Severe depressive episodes are known as “spikes.” I was trying to remember when my depression mutated from occasional spikes to a chronic condition. I’m not sure, but I suspect it was in my late 20s; before that, I endured the spikes but had the wherewithal to work both full-time and part-time jobs simultaneously, and (at an age very close to 25) to enroll myself in college, arrange for Pell Grants, and drive myself from North Carolina to Vermont. Further, after that particular disaster, to arrange for a transfer to a different school, come back home, work for a year and a half, take on the editorship of an Arts Council newsletter to pay for my matriculation, and somehow, get myself to Amherst, Massachusetts. The slowly accumulating exhaustion, the sense of someone constantly twisting a rubber band around my temples, the increasing incidents of emotional spikes… all of that came some time during my otherwise rather happy years at Hampshire College. So it was after my return, at 29, that the condition gradually became so debilitating it forced me to seek diagnosis, and therapy.

The spikes, however, remain.

Worse, they come with increasing frequency. And each subsequent plunge into the abyss takes longer to climb out of, requires a greater pull on my diminished—and diminishing—reserves. The recent death of my mother after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s, notwithstanding its being in a way a relief, for her and for her family, especially my sister, who cared for her the last three years of her life, still served to spike my depression in unexpected ways, and with astonishing swiftness; I could feel it wrapping me in its insidious embrace on the drive back from seeing Mom the last time, and only in the last few days has it retreated sufficiently to take me from deep slough of despond to what I am accustomed to: My usual, plodding, exhausting, “norm” of chronic depression.

Some know-nothings and professional reactionaries have, typically, taken the occasion of Williams’ suicide to bloviate upon the matter of courage versus cowardice. And while I hold suicide as a perfectly reasonable response to insupportable pain, and reserve the right myself to exit at a time of my choosing should my depression prove endless and intractable, I would also say this: No one who survives, day after weary day of this condition can remotely be called a coward. As Seneca noted, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” So is reserving judgment, or at least, governing one’s tongue when one is a smug ignoramus.

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Text copyright 2014 by Scott Ross

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