bipolarity · favorites · mania · mental health

Icarus, Come Down


On the drive into work, on the day of the windstorm, I see a plane take off backward from Lindbergh Field, which is what happens when weather patterns are not normal and pilots must do their work in reverse.

“Backwards javelin,” I think to myself.

I have these errant thoughts and word-associations that random my brain as caffeine fast-forwards the morning, setting the mind, unready, into motion.

I simultaneously see a gull, wings outstretched and frozen mid-air, kiting in the quickly building wind, determinedly facing opposite the jetliner. The jetliner is riding the wind; the gull is floating in it.

gullzenI have no words for the gull, no quick association, though the fact of a stilled and winged thing seems more available to poetry.

Since my eye surgeries a decade back, I see gulls in fantastic light. Especially when the clouds are low, and the dawn-or-dusk sun is trapped by their influence; then, the gulls glow fairly metallic. Reminds me of the titanium white I used to deploy on canvas, back when I used to paint. Titanium’s an almost falsely iridescent hue that bests even the whiteness of the canvas.

With my new eyes, since cleared of cataracts, gulls glow like the glinting underbellies of fuselages. Like they’re encased in light and halo. When gulls are flying machines suddenly stopped, when the winds pick up and they float, it’s like seeing them as miniature glorifications of themselves, hovering on the still.

Gulls have red spots on their under-bills—vermillion no. 11. It’s what their fledglings strike at to signal they want to feed. The red is also a strong suggestion to prospective mates that a more vermillion-sporting bird exudes greater genetic confidence.

thinkstock_rf_photo_of_newtons_cradlePeg is Daedalus from her office chair. I’m across from her on the couch, turning a coffee mug in particular circles, not sure if I want the handle turned left or right.

She deploys the word ‘hypomania’ like a titanium-white diagnosis. ‘Bipolar.’

When I’m too hyper, if I feel too much a bright shining point—like the red of a gull’s beak—if there’s an excessive busyness I’m attempting to quell, I’ll sometimes drive home at lunch. There are the fifteen minutes I drive home in my work clothes, absorbing the quiet of my radio and the glitter of the oceanfront. Airplanes pass over the freeway, their fast and steep descent some strange comfort. The jetliners have landing gears already engaged as they pass over the sunroofs on the Five. I-5_South_in_San_DiegoI’m left with five minutes to collapse on the couch, to absorb the quiet of a still house. This is terra firma, this is my home, with all its made and unmade beds. What follows is the fifteen-minute drive back to work, the further exhale. It’s an exercise in calming down.

Birds have to land most the time. Not albatross—they can float for years without terra firma. Their wingspans are unbelievable, and can ride zephyrs for months. Shoot down an albatross, as Coleridge writes, and you have to wear its heavy carcass around your neck as punishment.

There was that time I levitated off a Librium-anchored bed, floated up through the elevator shaft, and toward the sun, smiling.

You don’t kill an albatross, just like you don’t kill a mockingbird.

photo by Marc Riboud

Still—Daedalus warned Icarus, “Don’t fly too close to the sun,” and Icarus—the pretend-bird—he didn’t listen and his wax wings melted. He extinguished his bird-ness and fell into the ocean.

‘Backwards javelin.’

When the windstorm was over, planes took off on the regular and gulls flew as they should, and they most likely landed okay in some offscreen way. You never know.

But I lay with my wife in the grass, today, the sun at proper distance, with wings invisible, folded, and intact behind me, and—to look around—there was no sea.

bipolarity · childhood · city · family · home · mania · mental health · neighborhood


There is a corona around the moon tonight. ‘Corona’ may be the wrong terminology—perhaps coronas only exist around the sun—what it all simply means is that there’s just enough humidity in the air to have light form a crown around the one and present celestial body. Because it’s night, this means the moon; it’s coronated with a halo that is rainbow on the inside despite the present darkness. I see it from my porch where it is lacerated by the knifing of telephone wires and the occasional plane flying in, just over Mt. Miguel and down past Balboa’s tower.

The planes flying in, wingtip lights blinking; the moon exhibiting its strata—it’s signal to walk, which I do because recently I require less sleep. These walks are no longer about clearing the head, rather expanding it.

I don’t believe in fate. But I naggingly insist on symbology, so it’s of no surprise that I live in a neighborhood once torrented by a jet-crash a year after I was born. We all became something different after 9/11; NP became something different the year I was still in a car seat, and when PSA 182 hit the houses that remain, rebuilt, a stone’s throw from where I live currently.

I walk the neighborhood under a full moon and the barbeque pit is extinguishing its last coals, when the pit-masters break up the last and spent embers with their tongs, sending up fast-dying sparks, there still delicious smoke; when patrons weave their way home, women dressed to unnecessary nines and drunk in their own effluvium of perfumes.

I walk down a new alleyway, which I didn’t know was dead-ended. My failure as a mammal—we’re supposed to have a better sense of direction. But I tell people that we are very much unlike our dogs or cats; rather our senses are ordered like birds. We rely on sight, and when that’s blinked out, it’s hearing; followed by smell and taste. I don’t talk about ‘touch’—that’s something different.

At the end of an alleyway, where I can’t see, I’m at the edge of a canyon. There’s houses here, but I best hear the military order of sprinklers, chh-chh-chh; there’s sourgrass , iceplant and aloe—chartreuse and magenta and orange blossoms—but also chaff wettened, all the dead stuff coming back to life. And because I can’t see, I hear the sprinklers, I smell the familiar smell of straw like the sticky smell of buckwheat enliven the near-midnight hour. There’s the sound of a squirrel in the bushes, maybe a late-night and near-terrestrial bird, so I turn around.

My therapist looks at me over her glasses. There are bookcases behind her, and I focus on a copy of Franzen’s ‘Freedom’. Since my therapist has set up a neighborhood book exchange outside her practice, I suggest giving ‘Freedom’ away. ‘Freedom’ is shit next to ‘Corrections.’

Like I said, I believe in symbology.

“Perhaps you’re bi-polar.”

This is the punch in the eye I don’t need.

“You keep saying euphoria.”


“I don’t want to go back, Peg. Bipolar means you have to go back.”

“You could be unipolar,” she suggests as if we’re watching a butterfly being eaten by a hummingbird.

My grandpa used to sit in front of the television when I was young, the television as furniture and with the faux-gold ash-piece next to it, he smoking and I rooting on the Saints because I had no allegiance; he gave me pennies and would pinch my arm with a wink. He would sit next to me with his arms pounded to the floor, gorilla-like; he liked me and I knew it (my grandma didn’t), and I felt comfortable though he was uncomfortable with just one and a half lungs, why he sat the way he did, holding himself up because it was hard to breathe.

He gave me three cents when the Saints scored a touchdown.

He whispered things to me, flannel-jacketed, which I only now remember. There are papers which had him diagnosed as manic-depressive.

I won’t repeat them, the words he said to me..

I don’t want to go back. Though Grandpa planted a field of iceplant with flowers like fuchsia anemones that I’d navigate in my corduroys, six years old, not knowing what would later be mine.

Inheritance is not always a good thing. And we sometimes say sorry, without being, perse, sorry on purpose.

We apologize on accident.

We apologize for accidents.

We are accidents.

Nothing is anybody’s fault.

With grass-stains on my knees, my Grandpa told me this:

city · people

Fifty cents

A guy is leaning against the RedBox at the 7/11. He has clean shirt, a parted afro, and a tightly rolled up sleeping-bag at his feet. He’s young, maybe half my age.
“Excuse me, Sir—can you spare fifty cents so that I could get some food?”
I dig in my pockets—change is change to me—so why not spare two quarters?
“Oh—sure, Man—I’ll help you out.”
I don’t care how the money’s spent. I just know I have fifty cents to give, that karma is incredible, and that we’re all a family. (My kid—when he’s anxious and heartbroken, talks about breaking his piggy bank and giving all the monies to the homeless people who have to be outside in the rare San Diego rain. He’s a great kid).
Before I can give the gentleman my coins, I’m stopped by a police officer who tells the guy: “You can’t harass people outside of this property. Pan-handling is illegal.”
He steps in between me and the gentleman at the Red-Box in order to break the karmic transaction.
I duck into the 7/11 and buy my coffee.
The officer walks in, points at the teller, and says, “He can’t do that. I’ve sent him down to the intersection.”
The officer looks at me, with my coffee and bottle of sparkling water, and says, “Hey—I apologize about that. Guy shouldn’t have harassed you.”
He waves and walks off. Him and his extremely tight haircut.
The teller and I meet eyes.
I shake my head.
“Shit, Dude. That was totally unnecessary,” I say, and he laughs.
We do our transaction and I place all my change and then some in the counter jar.
“For when—you know—that bothersome guy comes back.” Goddammit, sometimes.

Cayden · family · parenting · Uncategorized

Tokeyo, test one, test two

Sorrow.’ –Life Without Buildings.

“This is kinduv sad. Is she talking, or singing?”

“Both. That’s her particular way…that’s her voice.”


(I don’t know what that means)

Findlay has vomited pink ice cream in the back-seat, and there are otherwise explosions of almost-pink pencil cacti in the side-view. We talk about the songs.

(My best friends have been Irish, but I’ve got a Scot for an uncle).

Blue Blood’—The Walkmen.

“This has to be about octopi, cuz they have blue blood and three hearts.”

“Do they?”

“In Dory, the octopus had one bad heart.”

“I don’t know that movie. I’ve got three good ones, or maybe just one.”

“OH—DADDY! I found this one thing.”

I hand him the phone; I’m driving.

He punches in some letters on Spotify, and it’s Tokyo Police Club.

“Tokeyo, or Tok-yo?”

“Doesn’t matter, Kid. How’d you know that was one of my favorites?”

I’d kiss him on the head, but I’m driving. He selected one of my favorite songs.

“You get along a lot better with Grampa and Grandma, don’t you,” he asks, and Findlay smells like puke in the rear. His eyes are rolling in a Nod-some way.

“What makes you say that?” while I curse the BMW driver next to me for dodging into my lane, no blinker.

“Well you see them a lot on Wednesdays with Finn, and you talked to Grandma for hours the other day.”

I test him.

(He’s probably too young to be in the front seat).

“Well, I talked to Chris last night for a long time, too; also Derek. Then I hung out with Barbara and Noah. I like talking to people.”

The National—‘Driver, Surprise Me.’

“But, like, FIVE hours.”

Your brand new bones…

“Yeah—I like talking to people, Cayde.”

We hit the summit and Cayde keeps punching the radio, looking for songs.

Whatever works for you
I’m brand new, reinvented
Without a scratch
Daisy-fresh and arrow-straight.

“I like that song, Cayde. Hands off, goddammit.”

And, just like that we’re over the hill.

He’s right.

bipolarity · family · Findlay · neighborhood

Turgidity in the Otherwise Times of Iced Mochas

Sitting at a coffee-shop while nearby patrons describes turgidity and aqueation with notebooks open; I wanna jump into the conversation because everything is interesting to me. They mention Rainbow and Mission, water quality, and upcoming rains. Finn does what I cannot. He plops next door to the guy with the dog on the leash (the dog with the white freckles on his nose and an old demeanor), and Finn starts talking and gesticulating like mad.
To the lady at the counter, I say: “The usual, April.”
April has a PJ Harvey shirt, but–shhh–she’s more Chrissie Hynde’s age, and she love the Pretenders. We talk all the time about music while she grinds the beans. She has a t-shirt with Emily Haine’s autograph and I’m a little bit jealous.
“Baa-bah-du-stff,” Finn says, while waving his Jessie doll around and talking to the guys who are talking about water quality.
This is a perfect afternoon. No rain in sight. But that there’s an AFTERmath of rain, and that people have to talk about it is fantastic to me.
I excuse my kid–the guys with the notebooks smile and say, ‘No problem—kids of our own’, etc.–and Finn owns the patio, ducking behind chairs and crashing potted plants.
I finally get Finn seated, which was not my point, and the water quality guys leave, the dog taking a cool drink from the communal dog bowl before limping out.
Finn waves, “Bye!” because he always does, and why am I so lucky to have him?
Finn does dunk his Jessie AND his monkey doll into the dog bowl maybe three times, but we must not battle windmills.
“Findlay, stop.”
I don’t mean it.
I rather mean: Findlay, go.

Maggie · wife

Women’s Day and Bright Shining Dots

It’s International Women’s Day. There is history and her-story.
There’s this misnomer: ‘Behind every successful man is a good woman.’ This is a misnomer because it suggests a rank and file. If I’m successful as a man, it’s not because women are peeping over my shoulder; it’s because they are standing right next to me.
What does ‘being a successful man’ even mean?
We are human; the genders are equal in their strengths. Sometimes different, but the yin and yang wouldn’t be what it is without a tight compartment of unity despite difference.
You don’t ‘grab crotches’, you don’t prescribe to the Genesis idea that men have headship in the family because Man is the closer iteration of some bearded God.
No—you work together.
Can I list the women who have elevated my life, who are not the ‘behind’ women that have led to my perhaps success?
My wife. I’m a bright shining dot because of her. She is my everything.
My mom. She loves my dad so much, and I learned how to love by watching them together.
My grandmother, and how I miss her: I would tend her garden, she would water my own garden by asking the simple question: ‘How are you?” We would talk for hours.
My Aunt Deb McMahon: She gave me the blueprint for adulthood.
Maggie Jaffe: prolific poet to the end. Sadly beautiful and a force of prose.
Janet: who is my Mamó and oils my Tin-Man joints.
Elaine: my landlady on paper, but better my friend.
Debbie: who takes my kid to plays and brightens his eyes.
The labbies and techs at work, also my sisters and my cousins, all my surrogate moms, the women who teach me things in my career, the women who inspire me to be a better technician and human being; my co-workers, my friends.
Happy International Women’s Day.

neighborhood · people


I go see Raied. Everyone calls him ‘Ray.” He’s Chaldean, though occasionally is hit with slurs like, ‘Fucking camel jockey”, “Goddamn Muslim” despite the fact that he doesn’t dispense religion (nor is Muslim); he just dispenses wares at the corner market.
You should get to know this guy.
“Hey, Thom–how’re you doing?” he says in his classically raspy voice; we clasp hands.
“Doing great, Ray!”
“You work today?”
“Did my thing, sure. Just tending to the kids tonight.”
“Sounds great, my friend,” he says. “Family first.”
“Absolutely, Ray.”
He’s got four kids.
Ray fled Iraq in 1991 during the first Gulf War, was detained in Jordan for two years because his paperwork got destroyed in the bombings.
2001 made things tough for him. He couldn’t find a job once in America; he took buses and didn’t know the language.
“Just this tonight, Thom?” he says, packing my business.
“I’m simple–yes.”
Raied has a simply-shaved head, a near-forgotten mustache, and soulful eyes. He’s all Tom Waits gravel.
“You doing ok, Ray?”
He shrugs. “Yah–you know, Thom.”
(I probably don’t).
He smiles, and his body relaxes, and he points: ‘Take care of your kids.’
And he’s the most upbeat guy I know.
We’ll take care of each other. Yes we will.

Cayden · childhood · family · Findlay · parenting

Birds Flying Away in the Rear-View

“Cayden, how many birds are on that lamp-post?,” I point with one finger while both hands remain on the wheel.

We’re going to the dentist, and Finn’s mugging in the backseat. Cayde keeps asking what time it is, every two minutes, and we’re on time, but I know he wants to be late.

I spawned  a ‘me’. I also spawned a child with an extra chromosome, and this morning we lay in bed with arms around each other and talked, the duvet a half kicked-off thing, while we discussed the ceiling-fan.

“Daddy—I see a head and two arms and two legs.”

The ceiling fan spins, so you can’t see anything of anatomy, but Cayde’s right.

“Well, I see a parachuter, Cayde. The pull-string is like that thing you yank to unleash the parachute.”

“But the parachute should be on his back.”

“Fair enough.”

Finn sits up and bounces in between Cayde and me. He squints his almond eyes, sticks out his tongue and forces us to be silly while the ceiling fan perhaps or perhaps not parachutes down.

“Cayde—how many birds are on that lamp-post?”

Last night, I laid with Cayde in bed, answering all his questions.

(“Care for a game of chess?”

“Care for some Turkish Delight?”)

The ceiling fan in Cayde’s room has only two blades, because. That’s a different story.

“Daddy, I worry about WWIII.”

“Well, I worry about it, too, which is why I talk to people all over the world and find out what they think.”

Finn snores below in the bottom bunk, snug and happy. He’s still probably wrapped up in the remaining Cheerios I didn’t pick up last night when he littered his bed with half a box of honey nut ‘O’s.

I got ‘A’s’ in all my classes; I take IQ tests on the regular because I like to see my numbers go up. It’s the asshole part of me; it’s also prep.

“Why did William Henry Harrison die?”

“A virus. You can’t cure that.”

“And Charlie Guitane shot Garfield and wanted to have his gun in a museum case.”

“Yup—you can’t cure that either.”

Cayden brings up the KKK and Gandhi and MLK and things I didn’t knew he knew about. I grind my jaw but talk gently, the entire time. I have him hold my hand, and we share a blanket. This is hard, but I’m up for the challenge.

Driving to the dentist, the glove-box pops open and a CD falls out.

“Hey! Rural Alberta Advantage.”

I plug it into the CD player, and kiss Cayde on the head as we drive. He hasn’t heard RAA in years, and nor have I. He hasn’t heard it since he was two.

‘And all these things will pass

It’s the good ones that will last

And right here what we’ve had

Is a good thing and it will last.’
Cayde knows all the words. He sings all the words.

“How many birds are on that lamp-post, Cayde?”

I counted ten.

“Nine, Daddy”—one flew away, which I saw only in my rear-view.


Suits of Invincibility

Finn poured a cereal box of sticky honey-coated ‘O’s onto his bedding, then proceeded to eat them with an angelic face. I couldn’t be angry.

He ripped my favorite book of poetry in half. To be fair, the spine was already broken.

When I attempted to take a bath, he found a partially-consumed bottle of Pellegrino on the counter, walked it into my bedroom, and poured it out on my bookbag. He ruined the deck of cards I carry around with me, the artisan-pack with all this bird art my friend gifted me a while back. (It’s what me and Cayden play with on our ramen outings, when we play Chinese poker while waiting for soup).

I was on time for work, but had to wait for the wife and kids to be ready, too; we have a three-car driveway, and the Beetle was landlocked in between Jenn’s van and the landlady’s jeep. Cayden, of course, was not cooperating in getting himself clothed and off the rug and ready for school. Despite us telling him a collective five times.

By the time the landing strip was clear, I realized I had my work keys, just not my car/house keys. The door was locked. I didn’t have my phone either, nor my charger.


I’m still on time, but I have to pry open the kitchen window and winnow in, exploding onto the kitchen table to go search for my keys. I just grab the spare VW key, lock the door behind me, and make my way back to the car.

Do your days start like this, too?

I get to driving, and the street’s blocked because SDG&E has decided to unannouncedly tear up the asphalt near my house, narrowing traffic to a clogged minimum, and—one traffic jam later—I’m at my work , which is itself clogged with spools of construction wire and traffic cones, and WHY can’t things be easy?

I do swipe in on time, though my hair’s in disarray, and thankfully my bookbag’s dry. I have a cup of coffee, bust just dammit. This is a glasses-off day. It’s how I ironically stay in focus. I have 20/15 vision with my glasses on—sometimes that’s too strong.

At work, my friend from the Dive Team says, ‘Hey Thom!’

I’m always glad to see her.

“Hey, Friend! Good to see you!”

“How are you?”

“Well, you know—Trials of Job, but I’m still standing!”

“Can you help me out with this?” she says turning around.

She has a dry-suit, and routinely asks me to help her out with the zipper that zips horizontally from one wrist, past her backbone, to the other wrist. Zippers get stuck every now and then.


I ask her, leaning against the counter: “How expensive is that dry suit anyways?” because I have a wet-suit a work and—wow—a dry-suit must be nice. Means the cold waters don’t get to her.

She smiles. “It’s like $6000.”

“Seriously?! Wow.”

I say: “But—hey, friend—invincibility is priceless, right?”