Under Pressure

The Wretched Truth

One of the very worst things in life… is when you cannot help or be with someone you love who is working 100 hours a week.

Every week.

Deepest Darkest Insecurities
by Carmen

—I’m boring.
—I’ll never be as smart as I was in eighth grade.
—I’m going to drown in my debt.
—I’ll tell him about all the times I’ve stopped myself from saying ‘I love you’ and he won’t say anything at all.
—My job is pointless and actually makes the world less bright.
—I’m not kind enough to my mom.
—I didn’t love them enough before they died.
—My stretch marks are all people see when I wear a bathing suit.
—I haven’t done a single thing to leave the world better than I found it.
—I missed my chance to go back to school to become a social worker.
—I didn’t miss my chance to go back to school to become a social worker. I’m just too scared to take it.
—He’s using me for sex.
—I’ve wasted the last five years and it’s too late to change.
—My depression has made me a recluse from the people that matter to me and the things I want.
—I’m not actually depressed, it’s just easier to say that than to figure it out.
—I won’t finish my 52 books this year.
—Every time I start a story people stop listening.
—I’m my parents’ least favorite.
—I have no talents.
—I’m not someone worth fighting for.
—I’m too scared to go after the things I want.
—I love too easily.
—I’ll never find the courage to run away and start over.
—I’m ugly.
—I’m slowly losing sight of the person I wanted to be when I grew up.
—I’m an afterthought to those I value most.
—Today might be the day he leaves me.
—I’m terrified of everything so I do nothing.
—I am the only one stopping me.
—I’m running out of time.
—I’m entirely insignificant.

What There Is to Do/1

Ellen Rehg sent us a letter
At a loss for words of wisdom
She simply wished she could be with us

To share the day to day
Do the little things
That needed to be done:

Like when Ann Manganaro was slowly dying in the hospital
Ellen pitched the dead flowers
And moved fresh ones closer to her

Beginning Year Three of Med School

“… Now you surely have heard a lot
From this year’s 4th years
About how hard surgery is

Allowing for some slight narrative variation due to personality quirks
They told you the truth:
You are about to face a major challenge

(But you’ve been hearing that all your life)
I can remember vividly my third year
So you can come talk to me if you need to

The real truth is,
Expect abuse—
From the residents, the attending, really anyone who is above you

On some days, it’s going to come like clock work
On other days, it will be totally out of the blue:
You’re going to get abused

But try to remember—
As hard as it is—
It’s not personal.”

Monday Morning

At the Lindell Schnucks
Walking away from the self-checkout

I’m passing two men around my age
One says to the other

“They found her dead in her car”
“For real?”

fuck goals
by Rob Trousdale

i graduated magna cum
the day
IDF’s Southern Command forces killed 3

i aced my Crim Pro final
the day
Oakland PD killed Oscar Grant

i published in law review
the day
ICE agents raided Sandra’s living room

i earned my first acquittal
the day
Petermann Ice Island calved in the Arctic

i celebrated happy hour with all the other lefty attorneys
the day
Iraq war vets asked for change outside the window

It’s OK

It’s OK to forget to do gratitudes when you most need them
It’s OK to be grumpy for between seven and nine minutes
It’s OK to feel like everyone is smarter than you (but for no more than 405 seconds)
It’s OK to sleep in 30 minutes later than your usual rising time
It’s OK not to be “the best” (whatever that means)
It’s OK to feel totally and miserably average for half of a morning
It’s OK to wear a scowl for 15 seconds (but no longer, as a child might see you)
It’s OK to kvetch like there’s no tomorrow (if it’s me you’re kvetching to)
It’s OK to see the glass as 1/100th empty
It’s OK to believe you’re a fake, a phony, and a fraud (for two full minutes, max)
It’s OK to convince yourself that you’ve made the stupidest decisions and everyone in the Western hemisphere is tweeting about it (for as long as your longest remembered yawn)
It’s OK to be reminded how heartful, profound, witty, and drop-dead brilliant you are by an elder you can’t so easily dismiss as you can a peer
It’s OK if you see tsuris everywhere you look (at least from 4 to 5 p.m. [I know I do])
It’s OK to believe you’re the most forgettable nobody in the metropolitan area
It’s OK to cry before the mirror in an flash-flood of self-pity
It’s OK to want to throw in the towel (for as long as it takes to drink one shot of espresso)
It’s OK to be irritated by people who are excessively parenthetical (you know the type)
It’s OK to feel so out of sorts you contemplate asking the curmudgeonly bus-driver for a hug
It’s OK to assume nobody could possibly believe how fill-in-the-blank you are
It’s OK to be a total amnesiac that I wrote a magnificent visionary poem about you that included how Charles Bukowski was blown away by all I told him about you
It’s even OK if you can’t learn to be OK with not being OK
It’s OK really
It’s so OK
It’s OK
To be a human becoming

Oh, and one more thing–
It’s OK to be loved
And you are

No Lectures, No Tracts, No Prayers

Roy Morris, Jr., The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War

This book tells the story of Walt’s practice of the 4th Tiep Hien precept, not to look away from suffering. Actually, here’s the original precept: “Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images and sounds. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.”

The book begins with Walt in NYC: he lost job as editor of Brooklyn Eagle, he weathered a mixed reception of last book, he dealt with family woes, his publishers had gone bankrupt, endured the end of unhappy love affair. Oy! But it was the reality of suffering that got him out of his rut of bohemian posturing, late-night roistering, and cruising. On to Washington!

There Walt roamed the hospitals that held the wounded and the maimed from the Civil War. In this sense, then, he had to complement the Via Positiva he walked—the buoyant, cheerful, exuberant self that gave birth to the first edition of Leaves of Grass and which I loved reading in Texas this summer—and he learned to walk the Via Negativa, into that dark night of the nation’s soul, manifested in the devastation of the war experience.

I say this to my students, in pieces like “Accompaniment in Palestine,” it’s not all about you giving, it’s both/and: So, Whitman said, “People used to say to me, Walt you are doing miracles for those fellows in the hospitals. I wasn’t. I was doing miracles for myself.” [100] How compelling can cruising be when you’ve seen suffering like that: “Nothing in his far from sheltered life had prepared him for the sights, sounds, and the smells of the army hospitals—they were literally a world unto themselves.” [88]

And so, like Kathy Kelly 140 years later, we see Whitman performing the “works of mercy” as a counter to the works of war. He found ways to be with the soldiers, gave them treats, wrote letters for them, sat in silence, touched them, did not preach at them, and loved them. Morris: “From December 1862 until well after the war was over, he personally visited tens of thousands of hurt, lonely, and scared young men in the hospitals in and around Washington, bringing them the ineffable but not inconsiderable gift of his magnetic, consoling presence. In the process, he lost forever his own good health, beginning a long decline that would leave him increasingly enfeebled for the rest of his life.” [5]

I can see why Laura Bush initially thought of Whitman for her poetry program; he was pro-Civil War, pro-Union. But his experience showed him another side, which he communicated to his mother: “One’s heart grows sick of war, after all, when you see what it really is; every once in a while I feel so horrified and disgusted—it seems to me like a great slaughter-house and the men mutually butchering each other.” [143]

The years in DC took its toll on Whitman, such that he was probably suffering from akin to secondhand PTSD. His testimony: “It is lucky I like Washington in many respects, and that things are upon the whole pleasant personally, for every day of my life I see enough to make one’s heart ache with sympathy and anguish here in the hospitals, and I do not know as I could stand it if it was not counterbalanced outside. It is curious, when I am present at the most appalling things—death, operations, sickening wounds (perhaps full of maggots)—I do not fail, although my sympathies are very much excited, but keep singularly cool; but often hours afterwards, perhaps when I am home or out walking alone, I feel sick and actually tremble when I recall the thing and have it in my mind again before me.” [143-144] And God only knows what my student who was in Iraq is going through these days, still. Will he be going back for another tour?

Shout out for for Walt that he was Religionless. “[Unlike the preachers]. He gave no lectures, handed out no tracts, and prayed no prayers for the immortal souls of white-faced boys writhing on their beds. Instead, he simply sat and listened. That was what they needed most, more than any medicine, and Whitman sensed it instinctively. ‘I supply often to some of these dear suffering boys in my presence & magnetism that which doctors nor medicines nor skills no any routine assistance can give,’ he wrote. ‘I can testify that friendship has literally cured a fever, and the medicine of daily affection, a bad wound.’” [6] One man said “Walt Whitman didn’t bring any tracts or Bibles; he didn’t ask you if you loved the Lord, and didn’t seem to care whether you did or did not.” [109]

One implication of the 4th precept is that it gives us a comparative frame of reference: “Now that I have lived for eight or nine days amid such scenes as the camps furnish and realize the way that hundreds of thousands of good men are now living, and have had to live for a year or more, not only without any of the comforts, but with death and sickness and hard marching and hard fighting, (and no success at that,) for their continual experience—really nothing we call trouble seems worth talking about.” [75]

So even here in St. Louis, be prepared to listen, let go, take risks, extend myself, go further, celebrate the small moments of exuberant intimacy, and write it all down.

— 5 October 2005

This page is part of a book-in-progress, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.

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