This morning an old black woman say in front of me on the train. She smelled wretched; she had what my friend Mark had once called “a geriatric smell.” I did not move from my seat, mostly because there was nowhere to move to. I felt short of breath, as I frequently do, but the woman’s cloying smell was overwhelming and I could not catch my breath. I tried to just read my book, in which Thomas Merton was describing his surroundings on Perry St. in Greenwich 1939:

The air outside my window is quiet, and light hangs among the leaves and is soft and blue and warm. In one of the next houses I could hear pots in a kitchen, and water running from a tap, and I can hear the voices of kids. … This sunlight, this warm air, the sounds of the kitchen, speak of God’s goodness and His mercy. I can sit here all day, now, and think of that, and ask God to show me everywhere more and more signs of His mercy, and His goodness, and to help me regain my liberty. Peace.

Merton would later take vows as a Trappist monk.

I was breathing only through my mouth now, something I am unaccustomed to doing as I am so often short of breath. I chose not to complain within my mind to an imaginary listener, but instead to begin writing down my experience. This too was a change. As the train pulled in to Glenside where I work, I considered remaining on the train, to extend my experience. I chose not to, however, and went to work.

This is an excerpt from the first draft of a book I am writing. I am publishing it here, side notes and all, only at Pat’s insistence that he could not stand to be bored.

As I left I could see, between the tops of the brownstone canyon that was 43rd Street, the full moon peering in, and it seemed to me it had appeared just so I could notice it. Now was the moment I had been waiting for since I moved to New York, though truly I had waited since I was sixteen, or even younger: the moment of walking away. After ten o’clock the streets were quiet (by Queens standards, anyway), though the wind made a dull din in my ears. On my back was a book bag, not a hiker’s pack or even a rucksack, and a thin sleeping bag with a broken zipper tied to the top (with the rope Brendan had eye-knotted for me – see p. xxx.) It was the twentieth of March (year 2002) and winter was only halfway out the door; you could feel that at any moment he might come back in to grab his hat, and then linger for another bout of small talk with his exhausted and increasingly impatient hosts. And nevertheless, my only protection was a few shirts and a blue work jacket of the kind people wear in garages, with someone else’s name on the breast. “Ben”, I think. When I saw that big full moon I smiled, as I always do when I am delighted and alone. It was a sign. (See “Chasing the setting sun,” p. xxx). At the end of the very long block, I turned left onto 34th Ave. I had made this walk every day, even on most weekends, and now I would make it for the last time. At the end of the long block I turned left, and walked three blocks north to the R stop on Steinway St. I looked into the bodega as I walked by, caught a last glimpse of the Indian clerk/owner. [I would miss the $1 pint-bottles of Rebel Beer] I waited at Steinway for a few night motorists to clear the broad [for the East Coast] road, and crossed to the sidewalk that was both at the top of the subway stairs and in front of the Goodwill, donations for which, as usual, littered the area near the door.

I’d found many valuable scores in front of that store, including the best cookbook I ever owned,and Ben’s work coat. For some reason, maybe just habit, I took a look [by the light of the street lamp] at the night’s offerings, though I could not imagine what I could find there that would be valuable enough to warrant the carrying. I had sworn to leave the city by midnight, but everything was going my way, I felt; I could take the time. Such things were there as generally populate a thrift store: undesirable knick-knacks, books no one would ever read, women’s clothing over a decade out of fashion and plain ugly at that, children’s shoes. a black coat lying in the middle held a sliver of promise. The coat was heavy in my hand, certainly wool, about waist length. It may have been a woman’s coat, but it fit me just fine. I knew this was a sign; this coat had a meaning – that joy is a path, and your first step on that path is followed by others. This the universe saw fit to tell me before I even left New York. I left Ben’s garage jacket right where I found the wool coat, and took off as fast as I could down the subway stairs, deciding exuberantly and suddenly that I really ought to hurry.

I snatched my wallet out of my right front pocket (where my wallet had lived for at least ten years) and extracted my monthly train pass, an unexpectedly wasteful purchase this particular month. The air was warm and dank; I had not appreciated how pleasurable the chill of the wind was on my face until I was standing on the subway platform and everything felt still. The R train came quickly. After three stops, when we were shuttling beneath the East River, I started sweating, and unfastened the three large buttons of my very warm and rather unwieldly new vestment. I got off at Time Square and walked the one block underground to Penn Station. Like a bird I was flying, like one of those pigeons that happens into the train stations; for the hundredth time I read that Norman B. Colp poem, and I flew right in its face:

So tired
If late
Get fired.
Why bother?
Why the pain?
Just go home
Do it again.

I flew right into that picture of a bed – smack! And I laughed even if my head was bleeding.

One day is not enough
to see all there is to see
in one day’s worth of me.

How could I ever be so bold
to think that one day should be told
when it is only one day old?

A diary is a private place
where one can a single day face,
one’s every moment to trace.

A woman’s ear might suit me well
the secrets of twenty-four hours to tell
wants and misgivings aplenty to quell.

But twelve hours of mirth
or of struggle in dearth
cannot public words be worth.

A lonely man in a lonely room,
considering all that he looks at;
but all we can see is all that we are,
and he wonders what starts if you stop it.

The cherry-topped table, round and oblong,
makes scurrilous reference to time long gone
when every woman and every drink
was a sign to his inner swine to think
that never until now had his power full grown
to possess that which is owed to him alone.

Dust bunny cadres under a cross-stitched quilt;
could he find a more suitable vehicle for his guilt
than the dead skin and hair bits that hide beneath
a bedding once used, bringing unrestful sleep,
but derelict now, as life grows weary,
no energy left for sin? Oh, so dreary
the time that is left us, corrupted and without
the space to live outside suspicion and doubt!

Like any substance that directly alters your brain chemistry, caffeine is a drug, and as such, it has the same essential drawback; namely, it favors some brains states over others, and is addictive. Thus, the chronic caffeine user has a limited set of mental states available to him, a set defined by the drug. In this way, the drug limits our will.

In some instances, this limitation of will is useful. The chronically depressed person, for example, is caught in a self-sustaining, undesirable state – feeling depressed is demotivating, thus the person does not do the things which might take them out of the depressed state. The necessary solution would be to make recognizing the depressed state and becoming motivated to change it easier, thus requiring less raw motivation. By artificially placing the person in a more energetic, positive state through the use of a drug, we create the opportunity for the person to create anchors to those experiences. So, when they reenter the depressed stat, as when they are removed from or become accustomed to the drug, they can access those states more easily. (See Anchors.)

It is an evil of our current methodology that depression is viewed as “physical,” which is taken to be different than (and mutually exclusive with) “psychological,” or “willful.” In fact, this failure of understanding is pervasive in the public mind, and, seemingly, in the scientific community as well. That which is psychological is physical, period. To access a motivated state through anchoring accomplishes (if successful) the same physical result as is intended with administering a drug. The difference is that anchoring empowers the subject – he may choose to enter that state, or not. The drug takes away the choice. With a chronic depressive, temporarily removing that choice is good – the subject either does not know how to choose otherwise, or lacks the motivation to make the choice. Give him no choice, and you provide him with the opportunity to learn about other states. Permanently removing the option, however, seems an inferior solution.

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