Dear Woody Paige: thank you for saving my life
I’ve been posting the poems from my latest book to Ello lately – one per day – and this morning’s entry was “Old Ethan’s Quantum Diary.” It’s an especially difficult and painful piece of a larger work that is, in many ways, the most tortured effort of my 35-year creative writing journey.
As I explained in the preface to the post, there was a time a few years ago when I thought I had very little time left. Since I do not believe in any kind of afterlife, I found myself thinking a lot about what science has to say on the subject. It tormented me that it would all just be over. Fade to black. The void, and not even an awareness of the void. As hard, as painful, as frustrating and unfulfilling as the low spots have been, I love life and the thought of losing it terrified me.
Various areas of scientific inquiry (including Quantum Mechanics) ask intriguing questions with implications for the “soul,” and while none of them suggest that I should expect to wake up in Heaven, or Nirvana, or the Summerlands, or reincarnated as a Hollywood celebrity, there are at least opportunities to consider whether maybe it’s not exactly all over when it’s over. Energy cannot be destroyed, right? And matter is energy, and you see where I’m going here, I hope.
When an artist whose life is in a shambles begins thinking about dying and whether science holds any hope for him, I guess what results can be a bit desperate and disjointed. My work sometimes dives into very dark places – and by “sometimes” I mean “almost always” – but in the end it usually emerges looking upward and outward, hopeful if not fully optimistic, and this book is no different. It ends in affirmation, but it’s always darkest before the dawn, they say, and “Old Ethan’s Quantum Diary” is where the book hits bottom.
The poem elicited some comments, and one thread wound up with me explaining some of the backstory. I noted that a major problem through that period was depression, which was crippling me in ways I didn’t even see.
The journey back into the light, Woody, began the day I tripped across your suicide column. That was the moment when I first made the diabetes/depression connection. That was the moment I understood that the despair was being fueled by my Type 2. I didn’t learn this from my physician, but from a freakin’ sports column. After I finished reading it, I went and started doing some research of my own and quickly confirmed the thing that I wish my doctor had bothered mentioning.
It’s hard to say for sure how things would have played out, but at that point in time I was deeply into the planning process. I was spiraling and I saw no way out. The only real questions left in my mind were when and how. Like you, I wanted to spare my friends and family the anguish, and the way you had planned your end so as to spare those you loved, that hit home. That was the moment where your column held a mirror up and let me see myself more clearly than I had in months, maybe years.
It’s entirely possible that you saved my life. I had very real problems I was struggling with – divorce, money, etc. – but the diabetes was undercutting my ability to see things clearly and deal with them productively. I have always been strong in the face of adversity, but the disease made me weak.
Making the connection between diabetes and depression didn’t magically solve all my problems, of course. The external, real-world issues didn’t go away all by themselves, and my body didn’t stop messing with me. It still does – as in, this morning. I woke up bummed and anxiety-ridden for no good reason.
But now I can catch myself. I can stop, step back and say “wait – this isn’t real.” Yes, I may still feel bad, but the rational recognition that it’s body chemistry means that life is not actually hopeless. It just means that my view is temporarily warped. I’ll have to fight a little harder to compensate for the fact that I’m not automatically generating the kind of positive energy needed to succeed at whatever is before me at the moment, maybe, but that’s okay – we all have our challenges.
This recognition – that I can stop and understand that it isn’t real – has made more difference in my life than I can possibly describe.
There’s no telling how many lives you saved when you mustered the courage to publish that column. I should have written to you a long time ago, and am a little disappointed with myself for not doing so. But finally I’m here, and all I can do is say thank you, a million times thank you.
There is no calculating the debt I owe you and no way I can ever pay you back. But if you can think of any way I might pay off at least a small part of the bill, I’m at your service.
When you turn your back on a god it does not cease to exist. – Myshel Prasad
I do not want to die.
The soul is energy.
Energy is matter.
Matter can be neither created nor destroyed.
When I am cold as a gurney,
will I cohere? Or will death
diffuse me, nebula of soul-bits,
toward the covert stair of time?
. . .
Light is particle and wave,
both and neither,
until we conspire to classify.
We are fish counting the water.
A god is born every time we
invent a gauge.
. . .
A woman I met on the computer asks
what is my favorite movie.
She types like a bear trap.
I like Eastern European
cinema, no subtitles.
Dialogue imposes obligation.
Once I understand words
I’m compelled to judge,
the act of hearing
splitting the universe in two.
Blade Runner, I say.
. . .
The sky is full of
radios. Music drenches
me like winter rain.
. . .
Schizophrenia, autism and temporal lobe epilepsy are
inclinations of divinity, the psychotropic
bliss of selves wedding.
Surge me with endorphins, an
ampule of atropine plunging the lizard brain
as nerve gas fills the ward.
. . .
poetry for arsenic
days, rupturing sieves.
. . .
I read the story where
Dr. Heisenberg drives a stake through the heart of causality,
then rides to kitsune with Mr. Siddhartha.
I hum the lullaby about the cat
that was and wasn’t.
Sang a song about a hill that was a sea.
Heard a story ’bout a house that was a tree.
Read a book about a secret girl
Who lives inside of me.
. . .
The curtain is thinnest here,
as on Samhain, homecoming
of the dead.