Pays au dela

"As to the natural parts I have, of which this is the essay, I find them to bow under the burden; my fancy and judgment do but grope in the dark, tripping and stumbling [wobbling] in the way, and when I have gone as far as I can, I am in no degree satisfied; I discover still a new and greater extent of land before me, with a troubled and imperfect sight and wrapped up in clouds, that I am not able to penetrate." Montaigne-"On the Education of Children"

My domain name, "Pais au dela," is the original French translated here as "extent of land before me." My goal for this page will be to explore, in an ambling way at times, the great land before me hoping to find clarity as I advance. I will focus centrally though not exclusively on mental health issues in my stumbling march forward.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Wish I'd known: Accepting

In an earlier post, I wrote about the many things I wish I had known that could have kept my breakdown from wrecking my life so thoroughly. I was incapacitated for over a year while my marriage shredded to rags in a wood chipper of depression, like the one they used to pulp dead bodies in Fargo. Doing the simplest things—getting out of bed and trudging to the shower or standing back up from the shower floor after I'd laid down hoping a stream of warm water might bring peace—felt like insurmountable obstacles. It's unpleasant still even fully recovered today to create the scroll of those shitty memories. Slight echoes of yesterday's desperate gasping awaken in me when I record the past that I hated.

The people we've been at different points in our lives sleep within us. They can rise and radiate out of the gut where they slumber, fanning up in smoke through our torso, seeping into our mind. They can precipitate and calcify, solidify and become us again. Right now when I think about those shit days, that guy who couldn't hold his head level walking down the street because it was physically too painful, whose belly thrashed, whose throat filled with a nauseous choke of impotence at the thought of getting in to work, this guy who I hate and hated being is only a wisp of fumes. He puffs and passes through me and then quickly passes on. These days he doesn't have any grip to take hold.

Again, I'll harp on it like I have in other posts. Simple daily tasks like getting out of bed or walking a block with your head straight are easy when you are healthy. When I lost my mind, those things were literally more difficult and painful than running a marathon. I return often to this comparison because I think it gives the best glimpse of how hard and devastatingly real of a problem depression is for someone who hasn't lived it. The comparison is also useful for newcomers who are plummeting through the horrors of melancholia for the first time. If you've been highly functional and successful, it's hard to understand why all these stupid goddamn trifles are suddenly next to impossible challenges.

To take depression seriously and to fully acknowledge what it's done to your abilities you have to wrap your head around swirling counterintuitive thinking about success and failure. In the early days of my crash, I had a very scrambled grasp on my condition. There are different levels of knowledge and understanding. On an immediate level in the bone and gut, I knew exactly how hard everything had become. I was the one calling in sick when I couldn't get out of bed and canceling my classes pretexting stomach illness when I couldn't think of anything to do with my students. I could feel that something was terribly wrong, but I couldn't explain it to myself clearly like I can now. My brain had put me in a place where teaching a class or planning a lesson was almost unbearable. And I do not say "my brain put me in a place" without realizing that many of my own dysfunctional choices and thinking patterns contributed mightily to get me into that terrible place.  From the bottom of that stupid hole, I would compare my sluggishness to how I'd felt the year before when I was excited about teaching my first poetry class. I got to design my own syllabus and talk with intelligent young people about the poetry I love: Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Yeats, Whitman, Ginsberg. But when I started back to work at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year, my attitude about work had changed utterly.

To get past this terrible slothing, you have to acknowledge and accept your condition, lower your standards and admit that something real is keeping you from performing the way you'd like to. There's a sliding scale of accomplishment at play when you get depressed. Healthy people don't have any problem walking two blocks to get on the metro to ride to work. Healthy teachers are able to plan the next day's lesson without feeling like their entire world is caving in on their airways. But judging yourself when you are sick based on what you can accomplish healthy is a recipe for a dysfunctional thinking disaster. Thinking this way creates added pressure and obstacles that make recovery harder. To get out of the hole, you have to find ways to feel good about the tiny things you do manage to do. Once you've gone through the fall and climb back out to normal healthy living, you might understand that daily tasks when depressed were harder than running a marathon healthy. When you're in the shit, especially the first time, it is very difficult to realize that you've accomplished something difficult by making it to the shower. Good therapy often works to restore a sense of self-worth attached to these miniscule accomplishments, but it is very hard to build confidence when you can so readily compare your sick and healthy selves. If you can acknowledge and appreciate how depression changes degree of difficulty, you can perhaps avoid the counterproductive stress of feeling like you should be able to charge full speed like a healthy man. If you accept, you might cut down on the useless railings at yourself about what an unproductive asshole you've become. These railings only set you back. But it's not an easy shift to make in the way you think. I mean I've run a marathon (twice) for Christ's sake. And I'm supposed to pat myself on the back for taking a damn shower? Fucking absurd. Absurd like the irrational attacks of the beast that's trying to crush you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tottering with Demons

This essay could also easily be called “Concerning Effort.” It likely would be if Montaigne were writing it, though every once in a while my renaissance mentor did go hard off the rails and write something that had practically no connection at all to his title.

From fourth grade through my senior year in high school, I played football—minus one year when my pediatrician didn’t want me exposed to contact because of a rare kidney condition called nephrois. My football coaches at every level taught me to give 110% maximum effort on every play. As an undersized linebacker and guard, I relied on being mean, being smart, and my coaches’ balls-out though mathematically dubious work ethic to became a decent player. Getting older (and smarter?) it’s sometimes tempting to dismiss high school sports as meathead nonsense. That, though, would be elitist, intellectual nonsense in turn. I don’t discredit my football experience today. And I don’t want to shit on sports culture. I liked playing football, still love watching football, and learned a lot about effort when I played. But the 110 effort mentality useful for a 3–10 second burst of a football down can work against me as a mediocre long distance runner trying to get better in my mid-thirties—yeah it’s true, mid-thirties, I’ll own it.

Two cartoon style demons hover above my shoulders next to my ears when I run. I’ve recently named them Lucretia and Jackson. Jackson and I have known each other for a very long time. This all-American speed demon fought welterweight as a freshman on his high school’s varsity MMA squad. He’s had his nose broken twice, and 3 of his incisors are now made of state of the art bio-tech composites. This absolutely ingrained monster stokes the urge to always hurry, bellowing at me to go go go go damn it go and when the pinch in your side and the burn in your lungs start to feel like too much, go anyway for fuck’s sake. He is an utter and all-time badass, though unconfirmed rumors have swirled for years about his crossdressed Karaoke at a backwoods dive bar off a dirt road somewhere between Hazel Green, AL and Fayetteville, TN.

Jackson’s counterpart Lucretia is a bawdy harlot who only wants to lounge on her hand made leather couch that someone else paid for. Lucretia snoozes dreary all day in and out of consciousness at her opium-sloth house. Everything bores her. Her distorted perceptions of reality arrive refracted through the light waves bouncing around the glass and smoke of her water pipe. She would sit and watch, yawning out passive indifference, while her whole world was swallowed up and drooled into useless piles of debris. Jackson screams you scared and gets you to push. Lucretia is crafty. A skilled rhetorician, she persuades with tender words. If you don’t defend your ears against her, she’ll have you wallowing in bed over Dorito crumbs and watching SVU reruns on Netflix quicker than you can say “maybe I’ll wait and do my long run tomorrow."


Patience is a marathon runner’s friend. If you learned how to try as a scrapping high school football OG, it’s easy to burn out when you hit the pavement to build long running endurance. The fall I turned 22, I made my first failed attempt at running Pheidippides’ race. I knew very little about pacing, fueling, hydration, tapering, inflammation, wicking fabrics, or chaffing. I didn’t talk to anyone who had done a marathon for advice, didn’t take fluids during my runs, didn’t stretch, didn’t eat for energy, didn’t carbo load, or gel. Because I just didn’t like the feel of a cold against my skin, I would have never iced joints to control inflammation. The ice bath has now become a nearly ritualistic part of my long run routine.

My ignorance eventually led to injury that fall. And yet, as I sit here wanting to show why it’s helpful to understand different levels of pace and effort, a haunted ache rises, a semi-sweet morsel of lost time and blurred rustlings of vehement late afternoon fights with dear shithead friends over the significance of wisteria vines, all washed down by the burning allure of bourbon drinks under fading November dusk in front porch rocking chairs. Part of me misses the guy I was then, so free of theory and so much closer to the immediate experience of the body running, the guy who could throw on a pair of shorts and cotton t-shirt, nipple chaffing be damned, and charge out into the streets of Athens, GA to just run unprepared for hours.

That was the year I discovered iliotibial (IT) bands. The IT band is a tendon that connects one of the shin bones (tibia) to the muscles in the hip. It crosses the top of the knee joint on the outside of the leg. Back then, I didn’t know that these bands existed in our bodies, that they need to be stretched, that they are one of the most common sources of overuse injury for runners, or that if you run all the time without the right preparation and aftercare they become enlarged and press against the knee.

My goal race that year was in January, and I made it all the way to a 20 mile run in late December. That run went well. Blissfully ignorant while home from school over Christmas break, I mapped a course to a spot 10 miles away from my parent’s house. I ran to that spot and back—without drinking any water!—and felt good the whole way. A few days later there was an immediate sharp pain in my knee when I tried to run again. I thought at first that I’d be able to run through the pain. But before I reached the end of the block, I was convinced that I had blown my knee joint and that there was no way I’d be able to continue running. More or less ready, physically prepared for my target distance, I scratched on my first marathon attempt that day less than a month out from the race.

When I think about that scratch, my ignorance transforms from a blissful, immediate connection with my body into an unsettling churn of regret. There was no major damage to my knee. I could have easily run on it. I didn’t know that though. I stayed off the knee for a while and then began running shorter distances again several months later. The following summer, I went running one afternoon and made it about half a mile before I felt the same pinch in my knee. I tried again to push through it but didn’t make it very far before the pain shut me down. I walked home frustrated and fuming, an immature and nauseous sense of injustice hounding me with questions about why this unfair knee problem was happening to me. When I got home, I was so choking mad that I paced around the house furious for a few minutes and then kicked a hole in the wall. But I also finally decided to get my knee looked at. Later that week, a sports med specialist at the University of Georgia student clinic explained what was happening. She taught me a simple stretch that I have done ever since, and I’ve never had any more trouble with IT band pain. What if I’d gone in to see her in December and learned the stretch before I dropped out of my race? Back when I could run a sub 6:00 mile, would I have notched my four hour marathon on the first go round? The McMillan calculator says I would have run 3:24:05 based on my 10k PR from the same year. Could I have qualified for Boston? Ohhhh tense and mood. Ohhhh sacred could have.

Ever since my days as a kid with nephrosis, I’ve hated going to doctors. There’s a residue in me of a half-articulated error connecting doctors and limitations. I do not readily see them as healers who will alleviate my pain and help me fix my physical ailments. When I was a kid, a check-up often meant going back on a Prednisone steroid treatment that made me want to eat all the time. It meant worrying about high cholesterol as a fifth grader, months of peeing on these goddamn sticks every morning to find out whether my kidneys were flushing all the protein I needed out of my system, occasional 24 hour urine collections where I kept all my piss from the day in a bottle in the fridge to send away for lab analysis, and the afore mentioned and bitterly hated ban on contact sports. I saw all these negative side effects instead of the miraculous science that had transformed nephrosis, a potentially fatal condition, into just a series of moderate nuisances for an elementary school kid.

After writing all that out I have a penetrating flash of compassion for my parents—and any parent who has to make a sick child stick to a treatment regiment with unpleasant side effects. Understanding the give and take of side effects and benefits of a wonder drug doesn’t come easy when you’re ten. I was learning to misinterpret the doctor’s white coat and loading it up as the symbol of everything I hated about being a puffy, swollen kid with raging spikes of steroid emotion who wasn’t allowed to play football. It must have been difficult for my parents to make me keep taking Prednisone, the medicine I hated even though it was saving me.

Playing football as a kid, I drew on my roid-rage style temper to compensate for being smaller than most of the offensive lineman who tried to block me. If you explode nastier than the guy coming at you, you can beat him a lot the time even if he is bigger and stronger. But if you explode nasty like that during a long training run, you can catch iliotibial band syndrome, patellofemoral pain syndrome, planter faciaitis, shin splints, pulled hamstrings, and the like.

Twelve years after my doomed marathon attempt, I joined a training group at a local running store. We met on Saturdays and gradually built our distance starting with a 7 mile run 18 weeks before the race. Early on in this program, one of the coaches told me that he rarely sees people fail for lack of effort or determination. The most common failure he sees is from overtraining, people who push too hard too early and injure themselves. I’ve slowly started to understand the need for patience in training, and I’ve learned a lot of times to differentiate between the type of short burst effort I learned about in my football days and the slow and low sustained and almost gentle push of a long run. But still, those demons die hard, and with a vengeance. I know on an abstract level that during a long run it’s best to run steady and 1-2 minutes per mile slower than your marathon goal pace. Knowing this though doesn’t always prevent me from pushing too hard. I ran a 15 mile training run in early December. I started out steady at the intentionally slow long run pace. Four miles in and feeling absolutely great, my body takes over and wants to kick. You lose site easily of what your mind knows when you are elated by your legs feeling stronger and swifter than you expected them too. When you’ve got the energy to bound a little bit and you’re feeling crisp early on, you’re body goes unless you make a real concentrated effort to hold back. I didn’t hold back the urge that day, and by mile 12, I was blown up and dragging on fumes not sure I would make it all the way back in. Runners often tell each other to listen to their bodies to prevent inury. But much like Apollo’s cryptic pronouncement carved above the the temple doors at Delphi, it’s hardly ever half so simple as it sounds to fully know yourself as a runner.

“Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

W.B. Yeats – “Among School Children”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Race for Your Mind Deux: Finish Line and New Beginnings

You did it. I did it. We did it.

I'm indifferent to race medals unless they have Willie Nelson on them.

I have a confession to make. When I set up my marathon fundraiser page several months back I didn’t think I would reach my goal of raising $1500 for the Huntsville affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Huntsville). This is the second time I have done a running fundraiser. The first—when I ran the Rocket City Marathon in December 2012—brought in just under $700. When I launched the second round for this year’s Austin Marathon that I ran on February 16th, I set a publicly high bar while secretly hoping the higher goal would bring in $1000. You all showed me. And I thank you with most sincere gratitude for your powerful show of generosity. The morning after my race, an anonymous donor made a $35 gift to push me to the goal I didn’t think I’d reach. Since race weekend, a few more donations have come in and the total is currently at $1776.

Hitting the number that I didn’t expect to reach felt great, but reaching that goal takes on a much fuller meaning when I stop for a moment to think about what it really means. Teaching and taking NAMI's Family-to-Family were life altering experiences following some of my lowest moments. The course, designed by Dr. Joyce Burland, gave me grounding insight into my own crash into depression and the struggles of my family members. I am well today, in large part because of the NAMI members and volunteers who brought me into the loop. And I know looking forward that soon NAMI newcomers will find the same crucial support and guidance thanks to the compassion you have expressed in your giving. That push forward to keep the cycle of NAMI support ongoing and expanding in North Alabama is what matters most about my run. By providing that collective boost, you enriched the solitary marathon experience with a profound sense of connection. Thank you.

Never to late to contribute to a good cause.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Race for your Mind Deux: West Bound and Down

Well almost...

9:14 AM
Huntsville, AL

Travel, running, writing, ce sont là les choses que j'adore. The snow pushed back the trip a day. I'm still at home for another hour or two of melting and then hammer down off to Texas. Debating right now whether to take I-20 through Jackson and Shreveport or I-30 through Little Rock and Texarkana. This is my road log that I will update periodically throughout the day from my pit stops.

10:40 AM
Huntsville, AL

Ready to blaze hell-fire out the door onto the road. Patience can be as much of a challenge as endurance or toughness during a long haul. No bonk! If it feels slow out of the gates, you're doing it right.

I've decided, after some consulting with my brother, I'll be smokin' up through towards Memphis here in a bit.

11:32 AM
Huntsville, AL 

As it tends to sometimes, my soul has deviated. I'm going to Jackson after all. Route downloaded. Near time to roll. 

12:31 PM
Huntsville, AL

Filled with Kerouac and Easy Rider Americana travel lust, brimming over with memories of this same drive from the last 16 years, I'm headed out the door.  

9:34 PM
Monroe, LA

It's not nearly so easy as I'd expected to take breaks from driving and write. Mississippi dusk light friscalted hard on me most of the afternoon. Darkness brought welcome relief to my eyes. Wi-fi less abundant on I-20 corridor than anticipated.

Luck, MS smells very much like cows.

Chasing after bed time, torn between jumping back in the car to move and sitting a while to sift out buried threads running hidden to fried chicken and potato wedges warming in glass cases in late 90's gas stations in rural Alabama. 

In honor of Bob, my dad, turning 64 today, I searched fruitlessly for hours for the next Waffle House on the left. Finally broke free of the compulsion and rolled into the bayou Five Guys from whence I write. Happy Birthday Bob.

Resisting urge to develop overly detailed allegory connecting Marathon race pace and all day driving. Miles to go yet, moving towards the far off country before me. From here, that place bears striking resemblance to weathered recollections of livestock trailers rolling through the streets of Claude, TX. 

10:50 AM
Austin, TX

Many a driving memory teased out and then faded due to the extreme and ill-advised challenge of typing behind the wheel. Two omens to report. 

2:37 AM blue lights swirling behind my VW Jetta at a standstill on the side of I-35 in Hillsboro, TX. On this evening, 83 in a 75 + 1 non-functioning tail light merits no more then a gentle warning from the cordial and kindhearted female peace officer, who seemed to believe immediately that I indeed had no weapons or contraband in my vehicle. 

5:03 AM pulling to a stop in front of my friends' house where I finally found the bedtime I'd tracked most of the night across a large fraction of Dixie. Patsy Cline's version of "Crazy" playing on the classic country station my radio seek button had found. 

Clearly portent though as of yet ambiguous signs. Out to find a local oracle who will interpret what the gods have announced about the race on Sunday.

"He rests. He has travelled.


Sinbad the Sailor and Tinbad the Tailor and Jinbad the Jailer and Whinbad the Whaler and Ninbad the Nailer and Finbad the Failer and Binbad the Bailer and Pinbad the Pailer and Minbad the Mailer and Hinbad the Hailer and Rinbad the Railer and Dinbad the Kailer and Vinbad the Quailer and Linbad the Yailer and Xinbad the Phthailer.

Going to dark bed there was a square round Sinbad the Sailor roc's auk's egg in the night of the bed of all the auks of the rocs of Darkinbad the Brightdayler


Fundraising Websites - Crowdrise

Monday, February 10, 2014

Race for Your Mind Deux: Crests and Valleys of Preparation

The physical challenge of running 26 miles reminds me often of cognitive principles needed to recover from depression. I learned through therapy how to manage unreal expectations of success. I’d like to run three times weekly and have every run be a little bit stronger and faster than the last. But human progress and healing advance at non-linear paces. Some days you’re exhausted from work. Some days you’re sore. Some days you have to skip the run because of minor injuries. Training for the Austin Marathon, I've had to miss three of my scheduled long runs because of a nagging knee problem. 

When you don’t run as well as you’d like, or at all, it’s easy to let mental pressure build. But cultivating a reasonable attitude about setback keeps that pressure from exploding to crush you. A very good therapist taught me how to accept a single day’s disappointment and still return with resilience for the next challenge.

My training is done for the Austin race. I've been tapering and cutting distance to stockpile energy the past few weeks.  From here it's simple. Show up and run until it's over. I'll leave for Texas—winter storm Pax not withstanding—on Wednesday. On Sunday during my roughly 4.5 hour trek, I’ll be thinking of the meaningful connections I've made at NAMI Huntsville, grateful for so much running strength this organization has helped restore.

To donate visit my online fundraiser page ( or send checks to 

NAMI Huntsville
701 Andrew Jackson Way
Huntsville, AL 35801. 

Fundraising Websites - Crowdrise

Monday, February 3, 2014

BCS Fail and Anhedonia 2: BCS Fail

This is the second part of my experience with anhedonia, the loss of my ability to feel pleasure. Part 1 is here.

“I didn’t want to do any of the things I had previously wanted to do and I didn’t know why.” — Andrew Solomon in a recent Ted Talk on depression

Cam Newton shredding the LSU’s defense to bloody scraps was a joyless spectacle when I watched it live on the internet in Paris. That game should have been doubly thrilling. A big Auburn win + handing the corndogging faux-tiger Acadians their own asses. Life for a Barner doesn’t get much sweeter. Today my healthy brain delights watching the youtube replay of Cam Newton running nearly fifty yards for a score against LSU.

These were the worst days, just before rock bottom and my irrational fugue run from Paris back to Alabama. The following Saturday, I watched Cam catch a touchdown pass on a trick play against Ole Miss at my parents in the States. Absolutely depleted from weeks of outrageous, illogical emotion, I was on a wretched brink I never want to see again. Sunday night with my parents’ and ex-wife’s vital support and guidance (THANK YOU!), I went to the ER where I was admitted for a week stay in the psychiatric unit.

Anhedonia is “the reduced ability to experience pleasure” (Gorwood 2008) or the “loss of interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities.” (Der-Avakian and Markou 2012). I won’t get into the brain science in detail, in part because I don’t fully understand. Even the doctors and researchers who study the neurology involved in pleasure can’t explain exactly why and how it happens (Support brain research!). But it’s important for everyone to know that depression and other psychological disorders cause physical changes in neurons and the neurotransmitters that flow around us to create what we feel. 

You don’t fault a basketball player for coming out of the game when he shatters a tibia. The gruesome replay is so disturbing that CBS will only show it once. You understand immediately that something is terribly wrong. When someone struggles with depression or schizophrenia or Parkinson’s or substance abuse or eating disorders, there are invisible stress fractures throughout the mind that make dragging yourself back to the land of the living a thousand times harder than you feel like it should be. I snapped my thumb in half in the first quarter of a football game when I was 15 and didn’t come out of the game. I played three quarters with a broken hand. The next day, I listened to the nauseating crunch of the orthopedist re-breaking the bone to set it back in place. Nothing ever hurt nearly so awful as being sad everyday and not knowing why.

Just pull yourself up by the bootstraps. You simply have to snap out of it. If you don’t want to feel better, nothing will ever change. I think you just want the attention. Please, please, please, please nobody ever say these things to a depressed person. I thought about saying here that if you do someone should tear the veins slow and barehanded form your throat. But I am a rampaging advocate for two-way empathy between people who are depressed and their loved ones who want to help. I see the fraught desperation in your eyes, family members, you who are spooked by the zombie metamorphosis of your sons, daughters, spouses, parents, lovers, friends, and siblings. I acknowledge your sincere desire to help through tough love. And I know from experience that you are right about how activity helps beat back depression.

Tough loving care givers, your heart is in the right place. And I thank you for your concern. But I’m begging you to consider very carefully the way you phrase your encouragement. Remember the person on the other end listening to you has a severe physiological problem that squeezes out the ability to feel pleasure. There is no “just” or “simply” involved. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is part of beating depression. Feeling worse than you’ve ever felt in your life, you have to find a way to say goddamn it all I’m getting out of bed and dragging my ass to the shower anyway. It’s a death march to lumber those 4 meters to bath. You get there by some small banal miracle—that you’re too sad to appreciate or even notice—and you immediately lay back down to hide beneath the stream of warm water. Rest on your back. Close your eyes and let the heat from the current dissolve the tension like in one of those mindfulness cd’s where the sveltey voiced lady helps you blow all your negative energy into an imaginary cloud on the exhale. Sounds relaxing?

It’s not. With anhedonia, your brain doesn’t respond to things that should feel good like a long warm relaxing shower. In a recent Ted Talk, Andrew Solomon has described these moments of stupid, daily struggle with his typical breath-taking eloquence. You know all this effort for tiny things is absolutely ridiculous. If you usually have a good sense of humor, you might try to make a joke about how dumb it is for everything to be this hard. You won’t laugh though. Jokes aren’t funny with anhedonia. Can you think of anything more fucking wretched in life than losing your ability to laugh at jokes? Remember this when you are trying to motivate someone who is depressed. Jokes have stopped working because of abnormal neurology. I'd rather snap my thumb in half again.

If you can help someone be active anyway, those pleasure circuits eventually kick back to life and start firing again. But to support effectively you must first acknowledge how hard it is to do anything at all in this state. Rhetoric matters! Just pull yourself up by the bootstraps needs to go for good. Revise the good intentions of those words and tell someone who’s depressed that you imagine it’s hard to keep active when you feel like that, when your brain prevents you from enjoying things you typically love, when JOKES AREN’T FUNNY for fuck’s sake. Tell someone you want to do anything you can to help them back to stability. And if you’ve been a tough lover on someone who was depressed, forgive yourself and move on. I’ve learned slowly teaching NAMI’s Family to Family course that “you can’t know what no one told you.” Let the past regress soft away from you. It will not help you or anyone else to dwell on what’s over and gone.

It wasn’t just football that I temporarily lost in those days. Cam Newton’s run, going to the movies at Opera, the Musee d’Orsay. A collection of paintings that has moved me and moved me every time I’ve gone back since I first saw them in the summer of 2000. Manet’s Blonde aux seins nus and Dammes aux eventails. I took a group of American high school students to see the art I love the most, and all I could think of while there was how much time I had wasted learning French language, literature, and culture. I had nothing to say about impressionist painting, never would again, and only wanted to race home and crawl back in bed. Everything felt lifeless. Running on the Champs de Mars, teaching, writing, reading, steak, pizza, duck confit, Proust! Montaigne, cooking, trips to the market, the Kaiser bakery around the block from our apartment and their almond croissants. Every morsel tasted like another endless helping of the same empty, stale mud.

If you know how I love running my mouth for vicarious War Eagle Tiger Glory, you might think I was relatively tame during the run up to the BCS Championship Game. I assure you I wasn’t. My brother, the bammer, recently introduced me to closed and hidden social media pages. Doubtless, I was more crass and obnoxious then I’ve ever been about a football game. I just took all my obscenity underground to a place of mutual consent where everyone had freely chosen to be part of a no holds barred trash talking group. Though even there, we briefly debated whether or not the cops should get involved monitoring the content of our posts.

Bama Bro and I have long had a very deep connection through humor, stretching to at least the mid-eighties watching and endlessly rehashing scenes from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I know you are but what am I? Oh! Our poor parents. We can go for long stretches without talking much, and we often did when I was out trying to conquer the world of Proust scholarship. After these long stretches though, our personal banter clicks back on instantly as soon as we speak. I know where he’s headed with his next crack before he hits it and vice versa. I haven’t had so much fun consistently interacting with him in a very long time.

The jokes are funny again. Auburn came within inches or seconds of the Mount Cam Pinnacle they summited in 2010, back when I was hell-plummeting through severe anhedonia. But for a blown hamstring on a kickoff coverage play and we might be talking about two national titles in the past four years. It didn’t go down the way I wanted it to, but, man!, I sure had a hell of a time coming in First Loser. WFE anyway.

Monday, January 13, 2014

BCS Fail and Anhedonia 1: Anhedonia

Early in the third quarter in a tie game against sixth ranked LSU, Cam Newton takes a snap near midfield. He puts the ball in Mario Fannon's belly headed left. Newton, who gets little credit for being a very intelligent athlete, looks left to see what the defensive end is going to do. If the end stays to the outside, Newton will leave the ball with Fannon. If the end crashes down to tackle Fannon, Newton will pull the ball back out and run it himself. Watching youtube replays, it has taken me ten minutes to write this up. For Newton, it all happens in a lighting flash while some of the biggest, fastest, baddestass, young athletes in the country chase him and try to rip his head off. For anyone who thinks football is a sport for idiot meatheads, I guarantee you’d have trouble learning the zone read and deciding in half a second whether to give or keep on this option.

The end crashes. Newton pulls the ball and heads right. Six yards up field, the first LSU defender gets a hand on him. A defensive tackle, a giant, a man who weighs 300 pounds but who could still out sprint most anyone reading this post. Newton runs through him and makes him look tiny. He cuts toward the boundary and runs through a defensive back. He’s doing this against a top 10 defense loaded with NFL talent. Ten yards up the field, he’s left about half of them groping for air on the ground.

Newton heads back towards the middle of the field. Two more defensive backs have a chance to make the play. Newton cuts twice. Both DB's graze him with a fingertip and flop to the turf. The last man with a chance is future All-Pro Patrick Peterson, who ran the 40 in 4.34 the following spring at the NFL combine and tied the NFL record for punt return touchdowns in a season as a rookie. He is a very, very fast man.  Newton accelerates and sprints away from the defender, and Peterson rides into the end zone piggyback on the future Heisman winner. Touchdoowwwwwwn Auburn.

I fell in love with sports at a very young age. Jim Fiffe screaming out each Auburn score was a familiar thrill before I went to elementary school. I remember arguing with a kindergarten friend about whether Bo Jackson or Mike Shula was a better player. Think I won that one. That same year, my older brother and I sent little kid drawings we'd done of Bo and Tommie Agee playing football to their dorm in Auburn, in the last days of my brother’s stint as an Auburn fan. He flipped, turned his vest on us in the second grade, and became a lifelong Bammer. For a girl! Oh the betrayal. 

The world made sense to me, even as a very small child, in terms of football. I amused preschool teachers with my specialized approach to learning arithmetic. 30? Yeah I know what 30 is. That’s four touchdowns and a safety. 23? Two touchdowns and three field goal. Or a field goal, three touchdowns and a missed extra point.

Cam Newton’s run against LSU in 2010 is probably the most exciting football play I’ve ever seen. I’d waited nearly 30 years for this championship run. It was finally happening. Auburn was beating great teams with stunning feats of raw and beautiful athletic talent. There’d never been a greater moment in my lifetime to be an Auburn Tiger. Seven hours ahead of the 2:30 Alabama kickoff, I was up late watching Newton’s run live on the internet in my apartment in Paris. 

I felt absolutely nothing.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Babysitters of the World, Roll your Eyes!

"[Elle] me le paiera! Je lui passerai ma plume au travers du corps!" —Balzac responding to Sainte-Beuve's review of La Recherche de l'absolu.   

The other day I was procrastinating and trolling around the internet looking for nothing in particular that might satisfy my moderate epistemophilia. Somewhat distracted by the Dollar Tree Ode to Mediocrity Bowl playing in the background, I planted ankle deep in Jan Franciso's flaming dog turd of an article about the going rate for babysitters. My soul in a flash bubbled over with piss and vinegar as I read astounded the Huffington Post would print such tripey drivel. This Mother/Blogger/Hack wants to pay your kids 5 bucks an hour so she and her husband can share a Blooming Onion and catch the latest installment of the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit sextilogy. She is upset that some neighborhood teens rolled their eyes at her when she recently attempted to shake them down.

I won't even bother taking down the specious reasoning of a statement like "I expect them to watch a movie with my kids and feed them a little pre-made dinner. Probably almost exactly what they would be doing at home for free;" or the ridiculous extrapolation that gets us from "My father-in-law is a remarkably tenacious worker. When he was ten, he decided that he wanted a horse" to the stupid back-in-the-dayist claim that these damn kids nowadays are ruining everything. A single workaholic pony lover does not a solid inductive argument make.

This post is for my nieces and nephew who I love dearly. Because I never, never, ever want them for a single second to consider believing or even listening when someone with more power and more resources than they tries to convince them that their limited time on this planet isn't really worth all that much. I wish there were a word in the English language to describe a fundamental socio-economic relationship where those with limited means, like teenage babysitters, have to work for reduced wages for the benefit of those who possess greater resources. KIDS! YOUR TIME IS PRECIOUS! DEFEND IT WITH TENACITY WHENEVER SOMEONE TRIES TO TAKE IT AWAY FROM YOU! And while I would never condone teen on teen violence, it might be worth knowing—when Suzy the kissass accepts Ms. Francisco's substandard wage—that sometimes scabs get bricks put through their windshields. 

When I was a teenager, I got my first job at a notorious chicken sandwich chain restaurant. I spent hours breading chicken breasts, scrubbing disgusting flowery milkwash gunk off giant sifting baskets, and cleaning women's restrooms. I made $4.75/hour while a reprehensible homophobic family lined their pockets off my time and effort. I could have been learning Spanish, woodworking, or auto-repair. I understood nothing about the value of time.

I think back to my good old teenage days as beer-funneling, whipit-stealing, pot-smoking, mailbox-bashing, meathead, and I watch in awe as my niece spends hours on a Sunday studying for Algebra exams. She finds recipes on the internet and makes delicious deserts for Christmas dinner. She swims competitively, gets up at ungodly hours to go practice, works on her high school's yearbook staff, drives herself to church on Sunday mornings, works two jobs during the summer, puts her money away responsibly, and brings much joy and vibrance to our family. My blood boils at the thought of Ms. Francisco reducing such a beautiful young existence to "well kids just sit around watching movies and making pre-made food these days. I wish we were back in the day when everything was still great."

Babysitters of the world, roll your eyes! Roll them in unison and with gusto! You have nothing to lose but your time. Which is to say, you have everything to lose. Eyerolling is the proper response when the old hag down the lane tries to trick you into believing your time doesn't matter simply because you are young. Hold out when you get offered shit wages. Play the long game. Stay home and study your SAT words. You'll get more out of it in the end.

And if a mother/blogger/hack really wants to have a serious discussion with you about value, ask her how much her child's safety and well-being should cost. Surely the 9 bucks she might save by low-balling adolescents on her kids' behalf can't actually be worth it.