Monday, April 24, 2017

Compassion Monster

I'm a liberal leftist who supports gay rights, believes in equal pay for equal work, and recognizes the detrimental effects of institutionalized racism.

I support a woman's right to choose; I recognize the ongoing impact of white privilege; I stand by the separation of church and state.

My heart goes out to the homeless; I am appalled by what's happening in Syria; I can empathize with just about anyone, and commercials make me cry.

I am the very definition of a bleeding heart.

But I have no compassion for anyone I personally know.

In the past, I have attended a local Buddhist temple to participate in the compassion meditation, wherein one wishes compassion on those dear to them, then on human beings at large, and, finally, on someone that one actively dislikes or with whom he or she has conflict.

The meditation is crafted this way, because it operates under the idea that you wish good on others you care about first (easy), the world as a whole (more difficult), someone shitty (hard).

Last night I read that compassion meditation is beneficial in rewiring the brain, and has been linked with health benefits. So this morning I attempted to resuscitate my long-dead practice, and realized what I just revealed: for me, it is actually easier to wish compassion on the world at large than it is for me to bestow it upon those persons I care about.

You can imagine, therefore, how much compassion I spare for my enemies.

Intrigued by my own hypocrisy, I attempted to reason out why, for me, the situation was so.

My conclusions were these:

1. I have compassion for circumstances. I understand struggle. Therefore, if you are a stranger experiencing a tough circumstance, my heart aches for you. However, if you are a person I know who is undergoing a struggle, I watch how you handle it. And usually, I find fault. I judge you. Because I am a judgmental dick.

2. If I care about you at all, or, even if we've known each other for a long time, but I personally don't care much whether you sink or swim, it's likely you've hurt me in the past. Something you said or did stung, rubbed me the wrong way, made me cry in a corner when you weren't watching. And I've never forgotten it. You could head Green Peace, Save the Whales, and Feed the Hungry, but if you made fun of my stirrup pants in fifth grade, then man, we've got beef and I cannot be expected to muster up any sympathy for you just because your whole family was wiped out by a monsoon. Serves you right. You SHOULDA RESPECTED THE STIRRUPS, I say!

Because I? Am a judgemental, easily-bruised dick.

3. If I really care about you - if you are a close friend or family member - it is likely you have, at one time or other, cut me so deeply that I've been the walking wounded since the offending incident(s). I brighten when I see your face. I genuinely love you. I want to be around you. I want to have you in my life. But every time I see your face, the incident is etched in it. I cannot look away.

I am completely incapable of forgiveness.

And without forgiveness, there can be no compassion for anyone I personally know.

Including myself.

I have never forgiven myself for anything I have done.

There is no misstep or misspeak for which I have not chided myself repeatedly and mercilessly.

If I hold you to an impossibly high standard, it is nothing to the standard which, somehow and somewhere along the line, I set for myself.

I have been this way - ruthlessly judgmental - for as long as I can remember. When I was 3 or 4, I had a dance recital that my teacher (who would typically stand in the curtains and do the dance with us bc we were 3 or 4 and couldn't remember it all) could not attend because her mother had died. With no one to guide me, I screwed up the dance. And cried on the way home. And I've never fully forgiven my teacher for not showing up that day.



Let that sink in.

Because it's true.



And I don't know how to kill or conquer it.


I've held on to resentment and real and perceived slights for so long, I do not know how to do anything else.

So much of my time has been spent in contemplative judgement, that I do not even fully understand the concepts of compassion or mercy.

At the end of the day, the only being on whom I can bestow a genuine, guilt-free compassion is my dog, and even he pisses me off sometimes, and I take a few days to recover.

Friends, this trait of mine is impossibly detrimental.

My soul literally feels wounded all the time.

And once you're wounded initially, each further wound cuts deeper, hurts more, impairs more.

I now suffer 36 years of perpetual impairment.

And I don't know how to stop.

In one way, I know I am doing this to myself. I know I cannot control the actions of others, and I know I cannot allow myself to be a slave to these feelings.

And yet, so much of me says you must be held responsible for your own actions. You must be held accountable for the hurt you've caused me and other people. Why should you be allowed off the hook so easily, when others, like myself, have to suffer because of what you've done?

Some I know would call this "making myself the victim". Those people can go fuck themselves.

Because, put simply, my pain is real. What you did to me was real, and inflicted real pain, and there should be consequences for those actions.

But, conversely, those persons who should - if they listened to me - now be in the process of "going to fuck themselves" are right in that, no matter how or if apologies are offered, my mind cannot seem to erase the offense. This inability to move past my pain puts me in a perpetual state of victimhood.

Cliff's Notes - it's your fault I'm the victim. It's my fault I continue to be.


So what do I do about this?

How do I address it?

How do I move past it?

How do I develop compassion for you if I have zero even for myself?

I'm asking because I honestly don't know.

Legit - I. DO. NOT. KNOW. HOW.

And it's tearing me up inside.

Psychotically, I am beating myself up for ceaselessly beating myself up.

It's a loop of insanity - one I only avoid if I engage myself in perpetual distraction or activity.

Whatever you do, please dear God DON'T GIVE ME TIME TO THINK! It will only invite the spiral, and I will go from fine to fucked up in mere minutes.

Laughably, the advice I am often given to combat this behavior is to meditate, which, as you may have guessed, brings me full circle.

I cannot do the compassion meditation because I have no compassion. I cannot develop compassion because I cannot meditate on it.

It'd be funny if it wasn't so painful.

Sickly, it is funny to me.

My inner monster enjoys black comedy I guess.


I wish I could say I wish you a great day.

But I wish I could wish such things.

And, if today holds true to every other day, I will spend a significant amount of time berating myself for wishing I could wish others - and myself - well.

I really hope they quit killing people in Syria.

Yom HaShoah.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

In Praise of Public Arts Programs

I grew up in a white, Anglo Saxon, protestant area.

Black and brown faces weren't unknown to me - we had a handful of minority students in my high school - but, with regard to "minority culture," my exposure would have been pretty much limited to what was then on television - "The Cosby Show" and rap videos - if it weren't for public arts programs.


First, it is no exaggeration to say that dance, chorus, and drama gave me a reason to live when my adolescent depression tried to convince me otherwise. These programs gave me friends, mentors, and a support system.

But equally as importantly - and to return to the subject of this post - public arts programs exposed me, in whatever limited ways, to cultures outside of my own.

Dance exposed me to musicians and choreography styles from around the world. I would pas de chat and arabesque to masterpieces composed centuries before my birth in lands I have yet to visit. Because instructors chose to expose me to music I would never have pursued on my own, I developed if not a-taste-for then at least a-basic-understanding-of modern musicians of various races and sexual orientations. (Turns out black people gifted the world with much more than Cosby and rap videos. Who knew? ME! Thanks, in large part, to arts programs.)

In choir, I sang selections in many languages - Spanish, French, Hebrew, Swahili, Latin. And in singing these songs and learning their English translations, I garnered (however unintentionally) some understanding about the cultures that inspired them. Choir is the reason I can tell you how to say "I love you" in Spanish, French, Russian and Hebrew. It's also where I first learned "Do Di Li," a song I asked my best friend to sing at my wedding.

Theater taught me about how other people in other cultures think. Plays, perhaps more than any other artistic medium, demanded that I look at others' motivations for actions - why is this person doing this? What does this person need from this? What cultural and societal motivations would drive a person to act in this way?

From these lessons, I learned empathy.

"Other" became not so much frightening as fascinating.

And that fascination inspired the desire for further learning.

I cannot overstress the overarching impacts these programs have had on my life, on how I treat others, on how I understand others, on how I understand and continue to shape myself.

This post - this post is about the importance of public art programs. It's about the impact that few dollars and a group of dedicated individuals can make in the life of a child. It's about how the influence of an art teacher or a single exposure to a classical composer or contemporary playwright, can literally change the course of a life.

This post is about appreciation.

But I would be remiss if I did not at least mention that this is also a post about concern.

I am concerned about the future of public art programs in the US.

Often, arts programs are the first on the chopping block when budgets are tight.

Standardized tests don't cover Monet or Mozart, and, with No Child Left Behind's emphasis on test scores for federal funding, the arts are deemed "optional," when in actuality they are anything but.

Numerous studies have shown that involvement in arts programs improve overall student performance and test scores. But these findings don't seem to sway those whose hands hold the purse strings. And with the current administration looking to defund the National Endowment For The Arts, I truly fear the dire consequences to future generations that are not fortunate, as I was, to be exposed to cultures, peoples, and belief systems I never would have sought on my own.

Much of what I hold intellectually and emotionally dear was not something I actively sought - it was dropped at my feet (and sometimes force-fed) by an art teacher who refused to let me languish in intellectual laziness.

Those teachers, though they may never know it, are the ones I credit with nearly every positive attribute I possess.

To those persons, I want to say, "Thank you." You helped shape and change me in more ways than you (and even I) could possibly know.

If you were also someone made better by public arts programs, I invite you to share this with others. Perhaps together we can all make the necessary waves to save these life-changing programs.

Thanks you. And "God bless us, every one."

And if you caught that last reference, thank an art teacher, because I know you didn't pick up Dickens on your own!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

On Suicide: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Sometimes, as a writer, you go searching for a subject.

You hunt, scratch, and peck for inspiration.

You haunt your previous inspiration points, seeking fresh perspective on the familiar, or maybe even hoping those hallowed halls have somehow changed and that your memories, therefore, can do likewise.

But sometimes... sometimes the subject shows up at your door.

And when it does - when it incessantly knocks - sometimes you answer.



In the past month, two persons seriously afflicted with what I have - fluoroquinolone associated disability - committed suicide. In each instance, my response was a complete and total physical and psychological meltdown.

But I didn't tell any of you about it.

I didn't let any of you in to see it.

And I attempted to move past it...

But suicide, it seemed, wasn't "done" with me.

Knock, knock, knock... Amy Bleuel, founder of Project Semicolon, commits suicide.

Knock, Knock, Knock... "13 Reasons" shows up on my feed. Knowing nothing about it, I decide to watch. Plot - teen suicide.

KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK... I tune into "S Town" expecting a murder mystery. I fall in love with an Alabaman named John B. He commits suicide.

The knocking has been so incessant, I fear that I MUST open the door.

So here is my suicide story.

I've battled depression since childhood, though, at the time, I didn't know that's what it was.

At the time I thought I was just sad. Sad because of experiences at home. Sad because of social awkwardness and perceived or real rejection. Sad because...of any number of external things.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, I mistakenly believed that, in my case, if my circumstances changed, so too would my mood.

But my circumstances just didn't let up... And you could see it - if you were looking - in nearly everything I did. My art from the time - my personal drawings, my poetry, my writings... In retrospect, I was clinically depressed. And, frankly, if I hadn't had scholastic arts programs and a very supportive boyfriend, I don't think I would have made it through this time.

Even with these safety nets, I did attempt suicide on at least one occasion.

I took a bunch of pills from the cabinet.

I don't know how much, or what. I don't even remember what "incident" inspired it.

I just know I passed out on the couch in the living room and, when I woke, my parents were there, watching tv. Everyone just assumed I'd taken a nap.

And I was actually thankful I woke up.

I never told anyone; time passed; circumstances changed but my depression didn't... and my 20s were spent stumbling through it, going to therapists every two years or so, trying meds that I couldn't tolerate and would abandon every few years or so, wondering why I would behave erratically. Wondering why I could be elatedly happy one moment and in the depths of despair the next. Wondering why I couldn't seem to find an emotional middle ground.

I often contemplated suicide during this time, but no attempts were made. I kept thinking that, if my external circumstances would just change, so, too, would my mindspace. I wouldn't be facing, on a regular basis, this impenetrable darkness.

But the darkness wasn't outside.

It lives inside.

And I continue to battle it everyday...

“Despair … is the ultimate development of a pride so great and so stiff-necked that it selects the absolute misery of damnation rather than accept happiness from the hands of God and thereby acknowledge that He is above us and that we are not capable of fulfilling our destiny by ourselves.” ― Stephen Adly Guirgis, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot: A Play

In 2010 I played Jesus in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, which remains one of my favorite plays and a shining example of what I can only, lamely, call "modern literary art." If you haven't read or experienced this play, I suggest you cease reading this immediately, and go and do so.

For never, in my meager existence emitting the muted-but-brilliant light of life have I read something that so captured my internal darkness. And, that I was cast as Jesus, I think, is why I needed to write this...I am discovering this truth as I type.

The play centers on a trial staged to determine the fate of Judas' soul. Angels, disciples, even Freud, weigh in. As with suicide, everyone has an opinion, and, at the center of these swirling opinions is Judas...sitting, despondent, in a cell.

I, Jesus, sat back-to-back, a mirrored but reversed reflection, with Judas in his prison.

I wore a white shirt. He, black.

I sat with him in his despondency, because his despondency was my own.

In every way, I - forgiveness, acceptance, redemption, light - held the key to his cell, and I'd give it to him if he'd just ask for it. But the cell was of his own making. He - I - couldn't believe that I would hand over the key... and so the deeper truth, the truth that He/I created the cell - that no key was even really necessary, as there were no literal bars - that he/I was free to leave it whenever he/I chose, was lost on Judas.

But it's a truth I attempt to rediscover within myself every day.

For today, I am the bright side. I am the light side. And I am speaking to you know. But the devil, an illusion I and Judas both see as a separate "other", but who is really the darkness in me manifest, is never further than the door.

He lives here.

Despair lives here.

Because despair is in my synapses.

And my synapses will continue to fire until I am gone.

For some like me, suicide is the only way to slay the devil.

If you're like me, you understand that.

If you don't, you're fortunate...infinitely fortunate.

You are attempting to understand and quantify and - yes, I will say it - JUDGE, something you have never experienced.

"Suicide is never the answer," you say.

"Suicide is cowardice. Suicide is selfish. Think of the people you'll leave behind!"


I can describe for you, in great detail, Michelangelo's "Pieta," but, if you've never seen the sculpture in person, it will be impossible for you to grasp the beauty, the artistry, the complete and utter fucking tragedy of the masterpiece.

You can't be blamed. It is impossible for you to understand.

And so it is...

And so it is that I can tell you... I can tell you of the unimaginable physical pain I experienced and continue to experience as the result of FQ poisoning.

And so it is that I can tell you of the psychological torture of living in perpetual fear of what part of your body will malfunction next, and possibly result in a lifetime of extreme disability or prolonged, painful death...

And so it is that I can try to explain that facing that daily devil is not cowardice, but the very definition of bravery. That suicide is not selfishness, but surrender. That, to me, the acute pain to the people I leave behind might actually be preferable to the years, perhaps decades of pain that they will be forced to observe - that I AM thinking of the people I love when I truly contemplate leaving - this will all be lost on you.

Because you've never experienced the "Pieta." You've never been where I've been.

I was forcibly admitted into a psychiatric hospital in November 2015.


I am the bright side.

I am the light side.

And I am speaking to you now. But the devil, an illusion I and Judas both see as a separate "other", but who is really the darkness in me manifest, is never further than the door.