A Weak Man

I don’t think he was a weak man, really. I mean, yeah, he was sensitive sometimes, but he was also into extreme sports: motocross, skateboarding, anything with wheels, you know. Maybe he was a little depressed from time to time, but that’s pretty normal, isn’t it? I think it was a little harsh of her to say he was wallowing in it. I personally, would never say depression was a “luxury,” but I guess that’s just how she saw things. Like everybody else, she had her own ideas. Maybe that’s a woman’s prerogative.

But I still thought she crossed a line sometimes. I’m just saying it seemed pretty mean to me, and you’re entitled to your own opinion, but I thought it was cruel to say she was disgusted when he broke down. I mean, they were children for God’s sake. He comforted the mother, he comforted the father, and he did his best to look after the family. He gave the eulogy—imagine giving a eulogy for children!—and everyone said it was really nice and how he was a good writer and everything, and that takes a toll, doesn’t it, and maybe everyone should get a moment to sort of lose it?

But I guess some people don’t think so. Some people think it’s different for men. This therapist told me it’s harder for men to access their tears, right? They grieve differently. I guess in order to not disgust anyone, they grieve differently. They grieve alone. And that’s what he did. He just cried his eyes out with no arms around his shoulders. No one handed him a tissue. He cried in the car in the driveway late at night. He cried in the shower. He would drive to the middle of nowhere and cry through the blackest nights. No one saw him access his tears. The counsellor never saw him access his tears and went on believing that men can’t access their feelings.

So again, I wouldn’t call that weakness, but I guess a lot of people do. And I guess he sort of believed it, too, and he changed little by little. He just got used to being alone, you know. He enjoyed the outdoors and spent many hours camping. Everyone was excited when he finally showed an interest in something. They were happy when he started talking about hunting and bought a gun.

Poem: On the Fine Art of Collecting in Aid of Mental Stability #NaPoWriMo

Some of us get lost in details.
Minutiae absorb our minds.

I could never,
perhaps because I never wanted to,
find myself so lost in statistics,
dates, patterns, smells, and materials.
I never really cared who signed what and when
or what colours were used in any particular year.
I didn’t have the focus.
Anyone who ever tried to teach me
complained that my mind wandered off,
and I could not be present.

So, I envy the others who are so lost
in learning and remembering exactly
what shades of blue were in use in 1872.
They seem so untroubled as they delight
over the 1919 edition they found on Ebay for
only $35, less than dinner at a mediocre restaurant.

They get such pleasure from harmless hobbies,
while I stay shackled in the torture room,
collecting nothing but my own thoughts
of eternal suffering presaged by infinite dread.

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Prose Poem: The Lure of Depression

Yes, we talk about the pain and suffering of depression (rightly so!), and we ignore the allure of this deadly disease because we don’t want to tempt anyone. We don’t want it to look like we’re encouraging people to have a deadly disease. But what happens if we don’t talk about it? How can anyone understand it? I mean, there’s this giant monster sort of hanging around threatening you for days, months, or years, and you stay busy to ignore it. And one day you just say, “Go on then.,” and you get a big hug. You just disappear in there. You’re lost in the warm embrace of infinite apathy. Nothing matters anymore. The cruel family members, indifferent friends, soul-crushing job all just become indistinct parts of a distant life that no longer has any bearing on you. You don’t care whether you live or die, and that’s the scary part. At least it’s scary for other people. You don’t care. This is why someone told me my depression was a “luxury.” I was luxuriating in dissociation and alienation. I was there and not there and couldn’t be reached. And being out of reach has distinct advantages. When you are no longer of the world, the world has no power. What will it take to bring you home?

How to Become Homeless

People use the phrase “homeless people” as if it refers to a type of person instead of a type of circumstance. People without access to shelter are sometimes born into a homeless situation, but they are not “born that way” in the same way that tall people are born with genes for height.

If you spend any time at all talking to people without homes, you will quickly realize you are much closer to being homeless than you are likely to want to admit. I honestly believe this is why so many people avoid those conversations at all costs.

I suppose we are most affected by stories that relate closely to our own lives. At least, I know that is true for me, so I will never forget meeting a homeless man who taught at the same college as I. He was highly educated and had been living quite comfortably until a medical emergency left him in a coma for some time. He wasn’t expected to live, much less come out of the coma and leave the hospital, but sometimes medical miracles do happen.

When this man got out of the hospital, he found that his sister and nephews, thinking he was dying, had emptied all the money from all his accounts and gone on a cross-country spending spree. The money could not be retrieved, and prosecuting the thieves would mean sending his own family to jail. As he told me he couldn’t bring himself to file charges, tears rolled down his cheeks. He was still teaching classes while trying to hide the fact that he was homeless from his students and employer.

I spoke to hundreds of people who were in crisis, and I would say that the most common causes of their homelessness were medical emergencies that resulted in job and/or income loss, failed businesses or theft of businesses funds by unscrupulous business partners, failed romantic relationships, mental illness, grief, domestic abuse, and, yes, addiction. This last one (addiction) should simply fall under illness, but I recognize that many people believe that addiction is a personal choice, and this belief enables them to blame homelessness on the victims of depression, grief, or other factors that lead to addiction. No one chooses to become an addict and lose everything.

Another category deserves a separate post, really, and that is young people who are thrown out of their family homes for being different, usually for being LGBT+. These young people are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, including murder.

I suppose some people are wealthy enough to be insulated from the risk of homelessness, but many people I spoke to had lost all the things you have and take for granted. They had homes, cars, businesses, and all that goes with those things, including pride, self-worth, dignity and comfort. Many of the people I met were able to maintain their feelings of pride, dignity, and self-worth despite seemingly every part of their families, their society, and their government trying to take those away from them. I was and remain in awe of the people who have managed to fight their way back from the brink without being destroyed by their situation.

Many aren’t able to overcome the odds, and each death is a failure of society to look out for every member. Immanuel Kant famously said that if we will heartlessness to those who are victims of misfortune, we are willing indifference to our own suffering when our time comes. No one gets out of this world alive, so your time is coming. Have you acted in ways that make you worthy of compassion and respect?

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Poem: Oblique Confessional Poems and Holiday Cheer

If I wanted this poem to be more intimate,
I would address the reader directly, and
invite the reader into my inner world.

I would use second-person pronouns and
share the deeper and darker aspects of
my personality. I would regale the reader
with stories of elation and spiritual fulfillment
along with brutally honest accounts of
self-doubt, anxiety, fear, and loathing.

I might make it a little shocking by offering
raw accounts of emotional terrorism,
suicidal ideation, perversion, and criminality.

I might make the reader uncomfortable,
embarrassed or outraged. But today I want to
keep my distance. I will only tell the reader
the weather is crisp and cool and fine enough
for a pleasant walk. The livestock are neighing,
and braying and crowing in a delightful
cacophony of good cheer. The holidays are
just around the corner, and it’s best
I keep my distance.

Poem: Why You Can’t Find a Master Class on Death

You can find volumes of information
On how to die, but the materials are
All prepared by interns and trainees.
The true masters on the art of dying
Have all lost interest in our struggles
With mortality and how to be shed of it.

Still, we want as much information as
Possible, so we can be prepared when
The time comes. We hang eagerly on
The words of those who nearly died,
Just so maybe we can have a glimpse
Of what it might be like to cross over.

All this anxiety and all this preparation
Despite the fact that no one has ever
Failed on this particular mission.
Sure, some begin the process with
Different levels of equanimity, but
They all seem restful enough in the end.

beautiful black and white close up death
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No One Will Be There But Jesus (#poem)

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As friends solemnly told him to call
On them if ever he needed anything,
Only his pastor was candid enough
To tell him Jesus alone would stay.

And so it was as it had always been,
Walking alone on the beach, in town,
Along the highway, and in the upstairs
Hallway with no memory of being carried.

He supposed Jesus was a faithful companion,
But a bit quiet, and not much help when
A flat needs fixing. He’s someone you can
Always talk to, but feedback is lacking.

And why should Jesus be different from the
Others? Why would the Son of God care
That he was lonely? Why would he look
For Divinity in the deep pools of loss?

Randall Horton

First Impressions That Last (#fiction)

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People overstate the importance of first impressions. It’s possible to change your impressions of someone, for better or worse, on second or third impressions. It is even possible to change your mind about someone after 25 years. I’m sure of all that, but some people sure do make memorable first impressions.

Sharon pretty much introduced herself to me by saying, “Well, I’m a Black bisexual woman who just wants to make trouble and maybe help make a better world.” Some people would say that for shock effect, but I don’t think she really cared about that. She just liked to vet new friends. It’s sort of like those signs that say, “You must be this tall to get on this ride.” If you were bothered by her introduction, then she didn’t need to waste any more time on you.

As far as I could tell, she loved life. She loved men and women. She loved humanity. Somehow, the world can’t accommodate people like that, though. Some of us just never find a safe place. One day she would talk about all the drama women cause. The next day she would lament all the baggage Black men bring on dates with them. What’s the difference between anger, fear, grief, or love?

Blame the structure of the world. Blame biology. Blame the devil. Do what you want, but it is hard for some of us to feel connected to anything. It’s like that Jimmy Cliff line about how loneliness would never leave him alone. You know, we’re all in this together—it’s just that we seem unable to share the burden of that, so we’re all seekers.

So, anyway, at her funeral, her aunt gets up and tells all the family and other busy bodies that no one knows where Sharon is now but Sharon and God, and no one else even needs to worry about it, so just shut your mouth and show a little respect. I guess some people think Heaven is a hotel that rejects people who couldn’t find safe shelter on Earth. Some people believe in a God that locks the door for his most sensitive children.

I guess that’s just our nature. We all want to feel we’re blessed. We want to feel protected in the end. We’re not like the others, somehow. Flannery O’Connor’s Mrs. Turpin had this vision of good Christian folks like herself having their virtue “being burned away” as they descended into Hell while her inferiors sang and praised their way into Heaven. Some of us find out we are like the others before it is too late. Some of us don’t.

Randall Horton

On an Emergent Awareness of Impending Death (#fiction #prose #essay)

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Sometimes life just smacks you in the face. You’re just minding your own business and out of nowhere comes a big punch to the gut, or, yeah, a slap to the face or whatever. This mostly happens when you’re young. By the time you reach a certain age, if you are so lucky to live that long, you’ll be punch drunk enough, trust me.

Anyway, that’s why she couldn’t believe her rabbit was dying. No, she wasn’t pregnant or anything—her pet rabbit was riddled with tumors and needed to be put down. She’d never lost anyone that close before, and the tears came in waves. She was inconsolable, as you are when you lose something precious.

So she called her mother for comfort, which is a pretty reasonable thing to do, even for someone who is technically grown up and fully adult. Relying on mothers for comfort is a habit many of us never break until fate forces our hand on the matter. She called her mother and told her the devastating news, but her mother wasn’t really as sympathetic as she had expected, so she was a little crestfallen for a minute.

Her mother listened for a minute or two to the tears and lamentations before saying, “You go on like this for your rabbit when you know I have cancer, too?”

It was true that her mother had cancer and she definitely knew about it, but she was still naïve enough to believe doctors could save lives. She had heard of people surviving cancer, so she assumed her mother would be one of those, not one of the unlucky people you hear about in other families. We’re always pretty sure the worst things won’t happen to us, aren’t we?

She would be sadder and wiser soon enough, and maybe the rabbit served as a kind of omen or preparation for what was to come. Maybe it would help her get through the days, months, and years ahead. When you look back on things, it’s hard to say what helped or didn’t as you can’t imagine how bad things might have been otherwise. Trauma and grief can be pretty all consuming, you know, and your imagination for other possible worlds disappears.

You’re just sort of stuck, boxed in, and frozen.

Anyway, that’s how it all started. Tests, promising results, surgeries, promising outcomes, more tests, different doctors, different hospitals, different promises, and different prognoses were all to follow. Sure, the best of us indulge in magical thinking or just wishful thinking, anything to not indulge in despair, even when despair is rationally the correct choice. You pretend that rabbit cancer is categorically different from human cancer. You pretend doctors are magicians. You just get on with it.

Or sometimes you don’t. You decompensate. You look for comfort in anonymous sex, “mood altering” substances, or purely defiant denial. And you’re done for. Death keeps coming, and you find out you’re strong enough to face it down. I know, some people aren’t strong enough to face it down, but anyone reading this has been strong enough so far, so you’ve been strong for a long time.

Keep it up.

The Peace of Stoicism (#poem)

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The Stoics all counsel the same.
Contemplate life and accept
Death without too much disruption.

They counsel the same when
You are overwrought, but
Flood you with a tsunami of tears
When their turn comes.

Seneca condemned his own sobs;
Confucius angrily defended his,
And I have forgiven them both.
Their failure is my comfort as my own
Tears pour over your last letter.