Category Archives: depression

My First Book’s Coming Out. Cue Panic?

OYHH Front CoverMy first book releases March 31st. This isn’t the post I thought I’d write about such an occasion, but then– this isn’t the book I thought I’d write, either. 
Here’s a confession. Publishing this book is easily one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. Writing it involved excavating and articulating stories, fears, and beliefs that I’d never let anywhere near my songs. Or even my own head. But over the course of a couple years, a poetic practice crept into dark corners and reported back what it found. Some of it is comprehensible. Some of it is recognizably nameless.

Some of it is photography. Michael Wilson and I have talked for years about creating a book together, and when these poems began piling up, they seemed to beg for a Wilson-ian counterpart. Perhaps less for illustration than for a haunted (and haunting) camaraderie, for a shift in conceptions of violence, of peace. For a break in the patternless pattern.

When the manuscript was complete, I was thrilled (as any writer is) to have the book accepted by a press. I signed a contract and made preparations. Logistics, aesthetics, repeat. And then the press settled on a release date. I was excited. I posted on social media. I texted my family. And then I fell into the most severe depression I’ve experienced since the illness sent me out of full-time music and into another life.

There were other factors; book-publishing doesn’t happen in isolation. Still, these poems pull on lovely, bloody threads strung from real bodies that move and feel in a real and volatile world. This isn’t to say that the book is (entirely) autobiographical, but it does expose and implicate. I don’t know how it couldn’t.

Of course, as it turns out, we keep things silent for reasons. I’ve spent the last several months tripping on mine: I’ve thrown up, cowered in bed, stopped for deep breaths while teaching, cried weirdly (and not soundlessly) in public spaces. I’ve berated myself for being given a great opportunity, only to cringe whenever it’s mentioned. I’ve steeled myself for congratulations, and tried to feel them in my bones. Sometimes I do.

I’m fortunate to have found support, and I’m getting steadily better. I’m more and more proud of the person behind the words in this book. I’ve begun to feel empowered by her movement from silence to conversation, or at least to nice-sounding works of word. Music-less songs.

I’m telling you this both to confess a terror and to dispel my lingering (irritating) sense of the shame of depression. This illness is, of course, less a signifier of personal weakness (or strength) than of personal intersections with chemistry, biology, time, and perhaps an uncanny, relentless sense of the possible. Perhaps none of these. Ideally, one simply learns over time to better live with depression—to move her body through the thick space of it. She learns to feel the shape of it in her mouth, and say it.

I’m also telling you this because, for the past several years, I’ve made my life’s work about the movement of silenced stories into public discourse. I’ve spoken urgently about the negative health impacts of individual and collective repression, about the necessity of the arts in helping us tell our stories. But if I needed a reminder that silences are bulwarks, safehouses, that they often serve vital, bone-deep purposes, this book has been mine. I’m re-learning the sense of fragility that often precedes the powerful ownership of one’s history; the fluctuating, feverish means by which secrets become strengths. I’ve questioned again whether it’s worth it.

I believe that it is.

 …The only recourse / is to name one’s self, and hold the margins / wide enough to walk in.


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Creativity: Neither Magic Nor Madness

Nothing like telling the entire world about one’s clinical depression to enliven a Tuesday.

Here’s my latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine, in which I own up to the depression that yanked me out of music-touring
and in which I punch the Mental-Illness-Makes-Better-Artists myth in the throat.

Regardless of whether you’ve suffered from mental illness, there are things we can all learn from the popular myth that “madness”—or at least some kind of untamable magic—begets creativity. By owning up to our reliance on Magical-Muse thinking, we empower ourselves and each other to make more and better work. And to be healthy while we’re at it.”

The choice may not be between “madness” and dullness, but between passive and active engagement. Here are 5 ways to kick your magic-thinking habit, and get to work.

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Waiting for a job? grad school? publishing deal? Here’s HOW TO WAIT BETTER:

WAITINGMy latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine is a bit of a confession:

I SUCK AT WAITING. And so do many other writers and artists. We hover over email inboxes, trying to survive the feeling of teetering on someone else’s whim. Thus:

Hey Writers: Four Steps to Better Waiting

Check it out, leave a comment. Tell me what you’re making.

Whatever you’re waiting on, you can wait better.

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That barking
is the smack of one flap of give-a-fuck
against the other. At the corner
of the sternum. Also the shaking of limbs,
of hands on the steering wheel.
Is the pulse normal. Is the sweat.
Is the exhale hard down into pelvis,
like a push against the flailing.
I’m not asking. That barking
is the sound of wanting sound,
how intricately-imagined the motion
of lips, of tongue and teeth
to form the words that don’t come.
Gestating long past hymn and dust.
That, my dear, that barking
is the chill of stomach sucking
in against investigation. Shaping
itself a bowl for questions.
The smack of eyelash against cheek
blinking them back.

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Silencing the News about (Over)Consumption

hooray landfillIn a January 4 SF Gate article, Carolyn Lochhead raises creepy, blasphemous questions, like:

  • Can the earth sustain the (misguided) notion that a healthy economy must grow – constantly and indefinitely?
  • Can we trade “having stuff” for a better way of life?
  • Can we share resources — cars, power tools, etc — rather than approaching everything with a mindset of ownership?

I know. Scandalous.



In America, consumption is such a marker of “health” that even some conservative Christian leaders — who still btw sermonize about camels and needles and storing up treasures in Heaven — would rather question Pope Francis’s Capitalism Cautions than risk an economic dip caused by Americans actually reining in their greed. In a culture in which buying things is patriotic, contentment will feel like treason. No wonder we can’t have a conversation that seriously addresses the impact of over-consumption.

Unfortunately, we have to deal with the consequences either way. Lochhead’s questions, above, are driven of course by the inarguable depletion of natural resources. Stanford University ecologist Gretchen Daily states unequivocally that, “We’re driving natural capital to its lowest levels ever in human history.” Lochhead mentions that this is particularly clear when one considers fisheries: “Scientists estimate that commercial fishing, if it continues at the current rate, will exhaust fisheries within the lifetime of today’s children.” Um. That’s soon, kids.


Glen Libby and his brother, Gary, prepare a batch of crabs in Port Clyde, Maine, Dec 2013. (Craig Dilger/The New York Times)

Annie Leonard, the founder of Story of Stuff — a project aimed at taming mass consumption — told Lochhead, “It’s not just a bummer for us to not get sushi.

“We are approaching the planet’s limitations. So when I see the media barrage about buying more stuff, it’s almost like a science fiction movie where […] we are undermining the very ecological systems which allow life to continue, but no one’s allowed to talk about it.”


It’s common sense: Limited resources cannot support unlimited growth. Meanwhile, our culture continues to esteem possession, seeing in it an affirmation of human value, dignity, or achievement. We often sense that ownership signifies independence, but this is a dubious connection, particularly since the motives behind compulsive consumption are hardly individual. We’re manipulated into desires (and their accompanying frameworks of value) via media, marketing, and our own envy – which is itself socially constructed. Then we quiet any suspicion of mindless apery by seeing our buying power as a marker of choice and thus dignity.

Ew.This is old news, and I don’t claim to be outside this Web of Ew. But we should at least be able to talk about it. An honest confrontation with excess won’t require us all to join communes and burn our nonessentials, but it will require that we stop pretending that “overconsumption” is impossible dialogic territory.

We can talk about this.

For example:

Christian leaders on the right should be able to acknowledge that, by encouraging capitalism, they’re ultimately encouraging ongoing consumption — which is not easily reconciled with the lasting contentment they claim to offer. Such an acknowledgment wouldn’t preclude Christians from being capitalists; only from pretending that a Christian/Capitalist identity presents zero conundrums.

Similarly, economists and politicians must be able to acknowledge that nearsighted policies can have dangerous, irreparable repercussions. Yes, the felt impacts of detrimental policies are often a long way off, while the felt impacts of “Omg! Growth!” are gratifyingly now-ish. But seriously, people who work with stats and projections shouldn’t be so threatened by the logic of finite resources.

And finally, the rest of us should be able to talk about (over-)consumption without debilitating guilt, or the fear that we’ll turn into miserable, austere crusts.

Besides, it’s not like Buying-and-Owning-Shit has a solid rep for making people notably happy. Maybe trying a different tack is less scary than just — sensible.

Louder, Please.

The thing about silence is that it’s a symptom of fear: that we won’t be able to handle the response that truth demands of us. Easier not to know. So, although experts assert that an economy can be healthy even at a “steady state,” that health should be measured by more than financial figures, or that people can successfully share their possessions, such assertions are often dismissed, mocked, or actively silenced. Meanwhile, we miss out on strategies for Better. This is what makes Lochhead’s article so significant, and why we should be writing, sharing, and searching for more like it.

The breaking of the silence around overconsumption is a call to creative intellects: to re-imagine what it means to be successful, to exercise options, and to have dignity.
More of that, please. And a little louder.

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“Be a Man” = “Learn Pretense”

How the imperative Be a man!” devalues anything our culture (erroneously) feminizes —
including, ultimately (and tragically), empathy.

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“Peace on Earth”

rejection handFor the Mess, for the palpable grappling with failure, for the sting in some of the carols that are bludgeoning speakers today —
essentially, for the “rest of us” —

Jesus this song you wrote
The words are sticking in my throat
“Peace on Earth”
Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth?
This “Peace on Earth”

(A little U2)
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(In which Rilke nails December. And depression.)

It’s been a dark December. I mean this metaphorically, although (oh god) it’s raining again. It’s the kind of December to which one should invite Rilke, post haste.

Particularly since, 100 years ago, Rilke was having a rather dark December himself. So for you fellow depressives, grievers, broken folk… from Melville House, this today:

Rainer Maria Rilke is in a bad way during those last December days [of 1913] in Paris. He writes: “I see nobody, it has been freezing, there was black ice, it’s raining, it’s dripping—this is winter, always three days of each. I have truly had my fill of Paris, it is a place of damnation.” And then: “Here is the incarnation of my desires for 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917 etc. Which is: peace, and to be in the country with a sisterly person.” He then writes to one of those sisterly people… Sidonie Nádherny: “Now I would like to be as if without a face, a rolled-up hedgehog that only opens up in the ditch in the evening and cautiously comes up and holds its grey snout up at the stars.”

Yes. Yes.

Want more? I recommend this translation of  The Book of Hours, in which Rilke loves himself some Dark. Worth your December attention.

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To Anxious Thought:

You and I are poor lovers
But we are faithful, faithful,
Aren’t we.


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And then there’s the time you go off Cymbalta.

cymbalta love is complicatedNot because you no longer need it,
but because it may be doing harm.
Not that you know; it’s an experiment. A new doctor
playing fast and loose with neurotransmitters.

Famously terrifying to quit, Cymbalta loves and leaves
with jerks and starts, fuzzy rods between your eyes,
hilarious nausea. Blurred and frozen, then unfrozen.

Cymbalta offers no weaning methods. So at night
you stoop over your capsules: splitting them and counting
beads the size of salt granules. Placing them
in new capsules, or dumping them in applesauce.
It’s how the internets say to do it.

The meds are only monsters when you stop taking them.
Before then, they’re daily nurses, gentle masseurs
at the feet of cells and secretions you can’t name.
(Unless they’re doing harm.) (A delicious game of guesses.)

Not needing them, latching instead onto some organic
all-natural FDA-unapproved-statement supplement regimen
is a privilege for the lucky, the wealthy, the believers
whose nodding acquiescence delivers them from evil
via Jesus and placebo effects. You’d be happy
for faux fixes, but can’t muster the requisite faith.

Then there’s the way weeks begin disappearing
into snaps behind the eyes: trying not to turn the head
too quickly, to keep some shit together, eliminating maybe
several white beads at a time.

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