Monday, November 21, 2011

BREAKING SAD (My Own Problems And The World's Are Starting To Merge)

I'm quitting smoking again. I'm quitting everything. I'm not so sure this can be done. But today a San Francisco venture capitalist told me: "All games have to end now. No more shortcuts." He was referring to the global economy, to China and the Euro and the Budget, but I've become confused these past few months: my own problems and the world's are starting to merge. It feels like the septic mid-70s to me, with Nixon and junkies and movies about murderers and everyone getting divorced in my small town, a time that only stopped scaring me ten years ago, a time when adults felt free and kids felt sick.

And last night I watched the second episode of season one of Breaking Bad, that series about how American dads and husbands are secretly savage, narcissistic gangsters -- or would be if they were allowed some fantasy running room. Walt, the hero-villain, same name as me, that monster of non-metropolitan masculinity, the only man on TV who actually looks like one, was holding a drug killer hostage in a basement, bike-locked by the neck to a stout pole. The killer had inhaled acid in Walt's meth lab and was this far from dead but then came back to life, groaning and heaving the way my mother did when she expired in the hospital three months ago from a freak infection of the brain. Watching the guy brought me back to that hard moment, making me want to smoke, but I held fast.

My mouth tastes metallic from the departing chemicals. It feels like I inhaled acid in Walt's lab.

And then, just this morning, they failed to cut a budget deal, crashing the stock market, a weekly occurrence now. I care about the stock market these days. When my mother died, she left me a few shares of companies she believed in. 3M. Apple. It wasn't like her to believe in things, but after a while, if you have an extra few bucks, it's pretty much mandatory that you try, especially if you want your money to grow. It hasn't grown, though. It's faltered faltered and it's fallen. That she's not around to absorb this fact consoles me. It also saddens me. She died so faithful. When you occupy Wall Street, remember them: the suckers.

And on Twitter today the comedian Albert Brooks asked if the news was bleaker than it's ever been or was it that he'd bookmarked depressing Websites? I have an answer for him: it's both, of course.

When I don't smoke, I can't write. Not well. Not smoothly. That's evident here. But I'm starting not to care. Coherence is not a thing I've noticed much of bike-locked to my pole and losing money the toxins departing the wars the jobs all gone the freak infections the violent TV shows. It feels like when I was a kid and had my mother but knew in my heart there was nothing she could do. Or maybe it's history passing through the body, and not just mine, perhaps.

Yours as well?

Don't smoke.


  1. It's raw these days isn't it?

    I can't write without deadlines. All that college ever gave me was deadlines and debt. Luckily I worked my butt off (in areas unrelated to my degrees) and managed to pay off my student loans. (which is why I despise occupy types begging for loan forgiveness. It's like the down and out atheist saying to the sky: "Well, I don't believe in you, but just in case you're real...")

    You still get around, but is it better in Montana? I live in a small town, too. In the Willamette Valley about 25 miles SW of Portland, OR. Most of my closest friends, three cousins, my aunt, my mom, divorced at least once. My parents divorced when I was three. My mom never spoke kindly of my dad until he was beginning a series of treatments for brain cancer 20 years later. She told me she wished she had had more patience with him. Divorce was too easy, almost like a fad in the late 70s. Easy divorce. Easy welfare. She said Summer of '77 was the best. I was 3, my brother was 1, she took us to an air-conditioned theater and watched Star Wars over and over while my dad worked. By winter they were done.

    My dad died at age 48. He didn't believe in Wall Street, he believed in rock and roll. He saw me married, but died in the middle of finals week my last semester of undergrad. 10 hours after he died, I had to give a presentation on creative works that violate the 4th wall. I remember feeling like I had ear-plugs in and a shot-put attached to my heart. 1999 still seems better in hindsight. I didn't own a cellphone. I didn't own a laptop. I had a notebook filled with stories in longhand, ink smeared because I am left-handed. My wife and I lived in a 2 bedroom duplex that was just the right size. No pets no kids.

    I can't watch Breaking Bad because I already watched The Shield which tried just as hard to make me hate the "protagonists" as love them. I don't want a show to do that to me anymore. The concept of facade, of appearances, that's all politics has become to me as well. They all hide behind masks. Obama hides behind a teleprompter and speaking only to friendly crowds. The press was more hostile to Bill Clinton which tells me everything. I feel like reason has no place anymore.

    I'm still married. I own a cellphone, three desktops, two laptops, a tablet and hundreds of cable channels. I have 2 children. The house has four bedrooms, three bathrooms. I sit down to write and surf the internet instead. I read blogs. I read twitter. I participate in a book club run by comedian Norm Macdonald. We're reading Wise Blood now. The Good Earth next. I haven't composed a paragraph of prose in almost two years. Maybe it's just the lack of deadlines.

    I've made it to 14 years married now. Seven-Year-Itch times two. Luckily it's not like the Richter scale or we'd all be doomed.

    Man I wish I could write some. I have to be up in 4.5 hours to take the 9yr old to choir practice. Wrong kind of deadline though.


  2. Both the post and the comment speak for me (except for the smoking part, I don't smoke). I'm feeling sad about the state of things and wonder if there's an excess of ugly now, or if it's me.

  3. I keep telling myself "I must not become emotionally invested in the state of the world" over and over. I think I vastly prefer being emotionally invested in my own life. Maybe relating present feelings about outward forces to past feelings about inward forces is a defense mechanism. I don't really know.

    I'm afraid if I think about it too much I'll drift farther from the truth.

  4. Is the world really so passive? I feel as though no one is willing to rise to the occasion to act right at the moment we need it, but plenty were eager to talk big some years ago. It is frustrating for me to be young and to witness inaction on all sides--the Washington fat cats whimpering against one another and the occupiers merely occupying. Activate! Activate our government, our people, our rebels, and our stock traders alike, and maybe even our smokers. We are the 100%, all humanity and should take a vested interest in our world.

    But why? Why does the world have significance to the individual whose own paradigm is difficult enough to wrap around, so taking an additional 7 billion into consideration isn't so easy. Simply: consciousness. Awareness, happiness, flourishing. All dialectical, feeding onto one another and nourishing.

    My parents got divorced one year ago. So have my aunts and uncles on both sides, as well as the grandparents on my mom's half... the family disease. All feeding on each other.

    Mr. Kirn, your writing's as good as it ever was: better maybe. Less clear, less sure of itself because it lacks the sturdiness it once owned. But nothing is so bad. I've learned to embrace my vulnerabilities and utilize them to my own benefit, magnifying my flaws so as to exude myself. I am who I am, and everything I output, no matter how flawed is a product of myself, and so long as I am devoting my consciousness as best I can to everything I create (and even consume) then I can be rest assured that I am who I am, and that's good enough. And it is for this reason that I take an interest in all the world around me as best I can.

    I also wish I could write.

  5. I quit smoking nearly thirty years ago. The doctor said that there was no reason not to drink while taking Xanax, so I indulged in plenty of both and had a wild old time, which, however, closely resembled a three-month psychotic episode to my wife. But we're still married, and I haven't smoked since.

    In 2007, it was martinis that had to go. I knew that before I even got to the Hospital for Special Surgery.

    I am one of the few people I know who has been divorced. (The mother of my daughter ended things shortly after the first birthday.) Thirty years of life with the same woman and in the same building (not the same apartment, though) in Manhattan leads me to wonder if divorce is not an allergic reaction to the unavoidable anomie of suburban life.

  6. My fingers sit there on the home-row. My index fingers feel the nubs on the F an the J, and I wait for it to come, but it doesn't.

    Maybe I just need to get out the notebook again and go back to smearing ink across the page.

  7. Gorgon — I can see that you're a writer from your blogs, especially the older one. May I suggest a very old-fashioned home remedy?

    The fancy name is "Commonplace Book." Doctors call it "copying passages that catch your interest." Once you've gone to the trouble of typing out someone else's sentences, it's very hard to resist a bit of commentary.

  8. Emerson, Gorgon, please borrow this blog for your thoughts any time. it's a pleasure to read both of you. i mean it. i want to see you back here. often. happy thanksgiving! w

  9. Happy Thanksgiving to Walt, RJ, Katherine, and Emerson. (Yeah, I still use the Oxford comma)


  10. My friend, writer Walter Kirn, has been dealing with some tough issues, as you can see in his blog at www. Walter recently lost his mother and had a bout with a kidney stone.

    Here's my reply to his recent post:

    I meant to send Walter a get well card, sorry. This morning I read his blog post “Breaking Sad” and I learned I was two cards in arrears. I suppose I’ve reached the age where I should stock up on ‘get well’ and ‘sympathy’ cards, but I’m not only tardy, I’m superstitious.

    Walter's blog post exhales, “my own problems and the world's are starting to merge." Bodies have always been microcosms for larger struggles. During the Deepwater Horizon crisis in 2010, I posted “The Slow Leak: Fatty Food and Fossil Fuel” on this little blog. After watching flags waving from distended lawn chairs at Great Falls’ Fourth of July parade, I wondered how long our redundant filtration systems could persevere before global webbing gave way and our collective patriotic asses wind up in the gutter.

    Kidney stones? Staph infections? They’re tiny terrorists. Our modern diets and global lifestyles provide the equivalent of free flight instruction for bodily invaders, who arrive under our radar in cigarettes, airplane air, hamburger, spinach. Little pointy weapons aimed at fleshy targets. We could save some lives, make tough policy and personal changes. Instead, we come up with profitable ways to deal with the inevitable invasion--lithotripsy and the Patriot Act.

    I admit I don’t read blogs often--even my own--and I’m just passingly familiar with the TV show Breaking Bad, and its dark hero, Walt. Kirn summarized a scene in the series: “The killer had inhaled acid in Walt's meth lab and was this far from dead but then came back to life, groaning and heaving”. Kirn could have written, “Congress sucked in the toxic news of the failure of the super-committee and was this far from dead, but the governing body came back to life, groaning at a 13-month respite from doom...” Hell, it’s no wonder Kirn is confusing the worlds‘ ills with his own.

    For writers, real-life suffering gets folded over, squeezed and juiced, slo mo, until it’s black and viscous enough to flow through a pen. Kirn sucks up suffering smooth as a tortoise shell Mont Blanc and even in his state of smokeless distress, manages to place words on the page, just so.

    When I hold this blog post close to my face, it feels like I inhaled the acid in Walter’s pen.

  11. I had been thinking about taking up smoking again because I remember from twenty-one years ago (I quit after finding myself pregnant) how it provided a brief but palpable break from... everything. I was unemployed for nine months and then just last week, when we were this close to the threat of foreclosure, I got a job. I still badly need a palpable break from... everything... but from where I sit now there is hope. For what that's worth. And I won't smoke.

  12. Well, you can't write if you're dead. Don't smoke. Yul Brynner on the latter.

  13. Did you happen to catch the Woody Allen documentary on PBS? I'm a fan, but not a big one. His work fever intrigues me, though. You watch that documentary and think about all of the world events going on during that 40 year period he was cranking out a film a year and think damn, might as well just do your work. Here's the best poem for this Thanksgiving weekend, I think:


    with the night falling we are saying thank you
    we are stopping on the bridges to bow for the railings
    we are running out of the glass rooms
    with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
    and say thank you
    we are standing by the water looking out
    in different directions.

    back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
    after funerals we are saying thank you
    after the news of the dead
    whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
    looking up from tables we are saying thank you
    in a culture up to its chin in shame
    living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you
    over telephones we are saying thank you
    in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
    remembering wars and the police at the back door
    and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
    in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
    with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
    unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

    with the animals dying around us
    our lost feelings we are saying thank you
    with the forests falling faster than the minutes
    of our lives we are saying thank you
    with the words going out like cells of a brain
    with the cities growing over us like the earth
    we are saying thank you faster and faster
    with nobody listening we are saying thank you
    we are saying thank you and waving
    dark though it is

    ~W. S. Merwin

  14. Walter, great piece about Michelle Obama "overacting" at the 2012 DNC. What a bunch of bullshit, all of it. I'm always longing for a real liberal to be in office.

    I wrote an article around yours from TNR:

    Best wishes!