The Summertime Blues

“You don’t have to suffer to be a poet; adolescence is enough suffering for anyone.”

–John Ciardi

I have been waking up sad. Summer is sliding in and I am sad. Like most people I aim for casual philosophy, what the poet Donald Justice called “mordancies of the armchair” since much of life is deeply sad and escapism is at best ineffective. I take my sadness like a baby in my arms and carry it from room to room. I talk to it. Sing softly to it. It’s better to honor the infanta dolorosa than humor it so I sing the saddest things I know: songs from the Finnish, from the age when people kept coffins in the parlor, ate off them. Death has always inhabited the furniture. This is, then, something more than a sad song, it’s the branch of philosophy called “the blues” and like Leadbelly “I see my coffin comin’ Lordy Lord in my back door” –there’s no product from Madison Avenue that can fix it.


Maybe I should try a new anti-depressant? Maybe a new drug could turn the casket into a sailing ship? Maybe I could be Herman Melville without the sandstorm in his head? I could be just another literate tourist floating on our blue planet. I would own a gentler view, something like Walt Whitman’s idea that death is not what we suppose, and better. Death is better than the imagination’s grasp of it. I told you I’ve been waking up sad. I have been this way from childhood, seized by tears even on sunny days.


Then something happens. The blues heat up. I feel it all over, like ants. I want to crawl under the kitchen sink and press my eyes to the cool pipes and cry.


In ancient times I’d have been the one in the hut at the edge of the woods, the one laughing and crying, singing to himself, feeding the stray animals with bartered food.


You see, this is adulthood. In the United States this is not properly understood.


James Hillman: “Depression opens the door to beauty of some kind.”


Lately I have a depression “of some kind” and I suppose by lately I mean all my life.


Meantime here’s a great psychiatry joke:


Joe has been seeing a psychoanalyst for four years for treatment of the fear that he had monsters under his bed. It had been years since he had gotten a good night’s sleep. Furthermore, his progress was very poor, and he knew it. So, one day he stops seeing the psychoanalyst and decides to try something different.

A few weeks later, Joe’s former psychoanalyst meets his old client in the supermarket, and is surprised to find him looking well-rested, energetic, and cheerful. “Doc!” Joe says, “It’s amazing! I’m cured!”

“That’s great news!” the psychoanalyst says. “you seem to be doing much better. How?”

“I went to see another doctor,” Joe says enthusiastically, “and he cured me in just ONE session!”

“One?!” the psychoanalyst asks incredulously.

“Yeah,” continues Joe, “my new doctor is a behaviorist.”

“A behaviorist?” the psychoanalyst asks. “How did he cure you in one session?”

“Oh, easy,” says Joe. “He told me to cut the legs off of my bed.”


0 thoughts on “The Summertime Blues

  1. I think this is only true to a point. Like I visited a guy rcnletey whose grandfather was a German soldier in Stalingrad who survived the war. You’d have to have been a pretty hard-ass buddhist not to have let your view of that experience disturb you.Also maybe most of the time, isn’t it a good thing that we are disturbed by our view of things that happen to us? Like I still feel bad about losing Dave Bickford’s Best of British Ska tape in 1986 and I hope that the bastard who flunked me the first time I took the Swedish behind the wheel driving test has sleepless nights, icy pins and needles and cold clammy sweats.Or take Bill Gates. He went to a private school that in 1969 gave him unlimited dial-up access to a mainframe computer. I think, no matter what Bill’s view of what happened to him may or may not be, that the experience itself did the opposite of disturb him it helped make him the richest man in the world.There’s no absolutes except for absolute zero, death and taxes. Our views of what happens certainly matter, but so do the things themselves.


  2. Those pears will be on your mind for the rest of the season now. Mwa ha ha!
    The monster under my small cot in Culver City was a witch actually, and my kitten Tinkerbell (this one never liked me much) was her willing accomplice. In the middle of night, if I didn’t leap straight from the cot, through the open door, into the hallway and mad rush it for the bathroom, I’d risk having her old, bony hands reach out to clutch my little birdie ankles and drag me under into her boiling cauldron. How I survived, I will never know.


  3. Dang, set up by the deepest Summer pathos, and then knocked down by the worst of the worst jokes. How could you? I hope they steal all your ripening pears, you sadist!


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