Either I

Stuck in the past, I go from happy to sad and back again in a flash. I feel too much, much too fast. I have poems to write but not enough rhyme.

Robert Frost is on my mind. There are two trains at my station but only one for me to ride. I can’t for the life of me decide between them side by side.

Beyond the blue horizon lies a sky within a sky. I can’t see myself on either train with either I.

Language Artist

When I was teaching, I tried to induce among my students a functional understanding of the distinction between “lay” and “lie,” or between “who” and “whom.” I tried to show them the advantage of learning grammar and using a dictionary. But many of even the most intelligent writers in my graduate workshops, and for that matter many of my colleagues on the teaching staff, could not take it in. Why? they would say. What’s the difference?

When I told them that love and devotion are the root of it, they merely looked askance.

You choose correctly between “street car,” “street-car,” and “streetcar” not because the choice makes a substantive difference—it doesn’t—but because you care for language, you are in love with it. A good carpenter cleans and puts away his tools properly, so does a good gardener or a good cook, and no one will ever convince me that a worker who ignores his tools will do satisfactory work.

–Hayden Carruth, Reluctantly: Autobiographical Essays

Like Carruth, I choose my words carefully. As a writer, I’m imperfect but never sloppy. Every human(e) word I use, in the end, is the Word of God. In my writing, however, I’m not seeking the Truth but speaking my truths.

I’m Not A Robot

The cable company
faxed me a chain letter
about smooth operators
spoofing my home
phone number.

They fear my laptop
suffered a silent
keystroke in the middle
of a critical update.

Have I tried turning
the TV on with my pinky
toe then shouting
the Lord’s Prayer into
my voice remote?

Have I waited
ten seconds before
dropping my drawers
and shaking
my fist at the Wi-Fi?

Have I stopped
sucking my thumb
drive or piercing
my rabbit ears?

As a full-time
confessional poet
I know nothing
about password
protection or open-ended
secret questions.

I can’t prove
I’m not
a robot.

The Milk Of Human Kindness

When I say I’m allergic to milk, people ask if I’m lactose intolerant. It’s much worse. If I eat anything with milk in it, I can go into anaphylactic shock. You know how bee stings kill innocent children at amusement parks or Fourth of July barbeques? That could be me but with pizza, frozen yogurt, French silk pie, or bite size Milky Ways.

I can’t eat cake and ice cream at birthday parties unless my mom made the cake from a dairy-free mix and topped it with soy ice cream. Cross-contamination is my kryptonite. Every time I go out to eat, even at my favorite restaurant, where I always order a chopped steak and plain baked potato, I’m tempting fate.

In fifth grade I almost died while working on a science project at my friend Paul’s house. We were building a Styrofoam model of the solar system in his basement. Back then Pluto was still a planet.

I rarely ate at friends’ houses, but Paul’s mom made tomato soup for lunch and insisted I try some. My mom had made me tomato soup before, so this seemed like a safe bet.

After my first spoonful, I felt a slight tingle in the back of my throat. This happens when I start to eat sometimes, but then I’m fine, I thought. I wanted to be a good guest, so I took another spoonful. Then another. More tingling. I told Paul’s mom the soup was great, but I had a big breakfast and wasn’t that hungry. When I took my bowl to the sink, she asked why I hadn’t touched my glass of milk.

“Oh, I’m allergic to milk,” I said.

“But I put milk in the soup,” she said.

Apparently, cream of tomato soup is not the same as plain old tomato soup.

Stunned, I reached for my backpack, where I kept tissues, my inhaler, and a small bottle of Benadryl. For some reason, I thought two teaspoons of Benadryl would counteract the cup of poison Paul’s mom had unwittingly given me. Denying the gravity of the situation, I told Paul the medicine would kick in and I’d be fine. I didn’t want to alarm anyone, even though my body had already gone into attack mode.

First, there was the uncontrollable sneezing. Then, as if stuck in a vice, my chest began to tighten. My lips swelled. Hives formed around every part of my body that bends—under my arms, between my fingers, behind my knees.

Rather than calling my parents or asking Paul’s mom to drive me home, I decided to walk the two blocks from Paul’s house to mine. This decision wasn’t out of character for me. I didn’t want to bother people or feel like a burden. That day, not asking for help almost killed me.

Out the door I went. It was January and the sidewalks were covered in snow, so I stayed in the street, sneezing my head off. Half a block from home, I started running and almost collapsed. Somehow I made it to my front door, barely able to speak. My mom called 9-1-1. The paramedics brought me to the emergency room where a dedicated team of doctors and nurses saved my life.

Thirteen years after the tomato soup incident, I almost died again. Struggling to find a path in life after college, I fell into a deep depression. After months of feeling sad, anxious, and hopeless, I swallowed a bunch of pills and called my mom at work to tell her I was in trouble. She rushed home, as did my father, who drove us to the emergency room where another dedicated team of doctors and nurses saved my life.

In the psych ward the next morning, I was surprised to find a carton of milk on my breakfast tray. Convinced the universe was playing a cruel joke on me, I gave it to a nurse.

“This could kill me,” I said.

The staff probably thought I was paranoid, but I was thinking clearly. Kind words from an ER nurse who cared for me the day before had struck a chord.

“You’re so young,” she said. “You have so much to look forward to.”

I did have a lot to look forward to, and thanks to her, I still do.

I know I’m a sensitive person. I haven’t outgrown my milk allergy and I’m still in treatment for depression. Sometimes I think I’m weak or damaged. In truth, I’m a survivor of two potentially life-threatening medical conditions.

My mom taught me to be kind towards others. With the love and support of family, friends, doctors, nurses, and therapists, I’m learning how to show myself kindness. Dare I say, the milk of human kindness.

Women’s Liberation

I’ve met a number of smart, talented, successful women who, despite all they’ve done in life and all the obstacles they’ve overcome, nevertheless doubt themselves or, worse, dislike themselves. It breaks my heart to see these women discounting their accomplishments, denying their own power, or worrying they aren’t pretty or thin enough.

I don’t have a solution to this problem. I don’t pretend to know how it feels to be a woman living in a patriarchal society like mine. I’m not implying that women need my validation. And, to put it crudely, I’m not looking to score points with women in the hopes of “getting laid.”

I simply want to tell these women that I see you, I respect you, and I’m rooting for you.

An Other-Fulfilling Prophecy

After just two months of going it alone, I’ve decided to return to therapy at my old clinic. I might have to wait six to eight weeks for a spot, so I’m glad I called and got my name on a list.

Not long after my last session with my former therapist, who left for a new job, I started feeling down and disconnected. Questions arose. Should I tough it out and manage my symptoms on my own? Should I go back to my old clinic or choose a different one closer to home? My mind went into hyper-obsessive mode. Knowing that I couldn’t make a “wrong” decision, I nevertheless struggled to make the “right” decision.

Perhaps I should’ve listened to Jean Baudrillard, who writes in Cool Memories V:

One cannot reasonably trust in the will, that rational strategy that works only one time in ten. One has, rather, to clear the decks around a decision, leave it hanging, then let oneself slide into it, as though being sucked in, with no thought for causes and effects. To be willed by the decision itself; in a sense, to give in to it. The decision then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. (66)

Baudrillard would argue that my decision to return to therapy made itself for me ahead of time. It called me, seduced me. I simply had to give in to it.

The moment I told my former therapist I wanted to take time off from treatment, I knew in the back of my mind I’d be a client again somewhere soon. Two months later, here I am confirming what I suspected all along: I still need help for my depression and anxiety, and probably will for the rest of my life.

Therapy, of course, doesn’t benefit me alone. In treatment I can seek a happier, healthier me, or any me yet to be. I can challenge my impulse to isolate when I’m depressed, thus creating more opportunities to build new friendships and share my gift of writing with the world.

A socially conscious philosopher, Jacques Derrida writes in For What Tomorrow, “My decision is and ought to be the decision of the Other in me, a ‘passive’ decision, a decision of the Other that does not exonerate me from responsibility” (53).

Synthesizing Baudrillard’s and Derrida’s novel approaches, I see that my decision to return to therapy has already become an Other-fulfilling prophecy.