Monthly Archives: September 2012

oh the days that never were


There are three very intimate relationships in this world that we have virtually no control over: our in-laws, the people our friends marry, and our next-door neighbors. While the odds of circumstance tend to be favorable, the truth is, you can find yourself spending inordinate oceans of time around people you didn’t choose.

Which is probably good for us in the long run; we are notoriously bad judges of our own company, and just think of how many lifelong friends you’d miss if a computer hadn’t stuck you in the same dorm.

Let me concentrate on the “next-door neighbor” phenomenon, because I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s when that used to mean something. Back when someone forgot to hang up their phone, you’d call the next-door neighbor to see what the fuck was going on. Next-door neighbors had tools you didn’t, and if they had kids, the game was on.

They, too, had other next-door neighbors in this analog culture, and together you would be “the neighborhood”, a loose amalgam of families that never actually talked about “the neighborhood” – they’d just occasionally get together and trade stories about the crazy old fart who lived in the epicenter and hated them all.

I’m no social anthropologist, and I tend to amplify my thin anecdotes into biblical proclamation, but I’d be surprised if the neighborhood culture still holds sway like it used to. No better barometer, I guess, than your actual next-door neighbor, and how well you know them.

When I lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn, I was consistently about ten feet away from a neighbor (and, apparently, a rat – but that’s another biology lesson) and knew exactly nobody in my building. I asked Lars, my old roommate who still lives in our place in the East Village, if he knew any neighbors, and he said he didn’t.

At our farm, the nearest neighbor is about a quarter-mile away, probably near enough to hear screaming, but not near enough to distinguish it from the coyotes. I know who they are, the same way people at a small school know their classmates, but it lacks any intimacy.

Then there’s Venice, CA. We’ve lived on these ancient pedestrian-only “streets” at the beach since our great job shift in 2005, and they (like Venice Beach itself) are a schizophrenic combination of loveliness and squalor. The craftsman houses were built so close together that you occasionally must participate in the lives around you.

Our house a few blocks away abutted another old condo building with 48 inches to spare. I know exactly how far away it was, because I built a shed there. The other house was primarily filled with longtime AA members, and when they got on the phone with their sponsors, I learned a few lessons about tough love. Since they were actually four feet from my bed, I used to pretend they were talking to me, motivating me to get my shit together.

At our new place, we’ve got a bit more wiggle room: our next-door neighbors are about six feet away. They’re an awesome British couple (he’s from Yorkshire, she’s from London) with two kids just under Lucy’s age. Needless to say, it’s completely perfect.

On the other side, we’re surrounded by folks doing the same thing I was doing at 25: wasting time, drinking bad bourbon, and accidentally listening to the Spin Doctors. Except these people are still listening to the Spin Doctors. And Four Non-Blondes. And Metallica. Has culture started to go so fast that it actually appears to be stationary?

Either way, it leads me to today’s armchair psychologist questions, which I will also answer:

1. How far away (in feet) is your next-door neighbor?

6 on one side, 8 on the other.

2. Do you trust them?

I trust the couple with kids, implicitly. I trust the folks on the other side would happily let me borrow some sugar, and probably give me a bong hit.

3. If you had an emergency with your house, and you were out of town, is there anyone you could call to go to your home without driving?

Thankfully, yes.

And you?



Lucy, at 19 months, really wanted to meet the girls at a fashion shoot on our walk-street. Then, not so much


the mizzling days


I’m going to go out of my comfort zone here, because I can’t stop thinking about a girl named Katie Simpson, someone I didn’t even know, thirty years younger than me. She was 14, and lived a couple of miles from where I sit now.

When we were in Hawaii in June, our babysitter/assistant/awesome person Laura got a call from her best friend B– back in California. B– had been cleaning house for a family in Los Angeles, and was deeply concerned about the teenage daughter, who was being bullied at school, being called “ugly”, “fat”, and “worthless”. Her name was Katie, and here’s a picture:


Obviously, she was the opposite of all three, but middle school being what it is, and the teenage heart being so cruel and vulnerable, she believed it. She had tried ending her life several times. B– didn’t know what to do, so she asked Laura, who then asked one of our closest friends – coincidentally in Hawaii with us, and having just gone through a suicide in her own family.

Our friend said, without hesitation, “She’s already gone.” Meaning, of course, she’ll find a way to do it no matter what, it’s just a matter of time. I try not to think in such terms, and I suppose her parents didn’t either – in August, they put her in a different school in the hopes of starting over.

On Thursday, she left a note, and posted a video for the few friends she trusted, and did it. I know only the barest of details, but apparently a friend who was up late on the internet saw the video, called the police, and that’s how they found her.

You will not see her story in the news, nor on any website not cobbled together by friends. There are a few thoughts on Tumblr and a memorial page on Facebook (with some truly awful internet trolls) and yes, the only way I know about her is through the back channels of Hispanic nannies and housekeepers.

But as a recipient of a decade of bullying – and the father of a little girl – I want to use my little pulpit today to bear witness to Katie, a soul who just couldn’t bear the humiliation of her peers and her own self-loathing. This isn’t the fault of her parents, or even her own lack of determination – it’s just chemistry and luck.

All of you reading this, you had the wherewithal to get through your teenage years. Somehow you had the reserves necessary to deal with heartache and devastation, and you found a way to make the prospect of each new day bearable. Not everyone is born with that fortitude.

Yes, the bullies are definitely to blame as well, and I’ve got a little place in hell reserved for the sociopathic fucks that traumatized me for pleasure. Even as a respected adult, I’ve entered into playground arguments ready to scare the living shit out of an 11-year-old thug.

But the fact remains, this world isn’t for everybody, and definitely not for 14-year-olds who can’t see how beautiful they are, and how if you can only hang on for a few more months, the fog sometimes lifts and reveals a landscape worth fighting for. Katie, I don’t know you, but I will remember you.

aggressively passive


I’m sticking to last year’s declaration.

As such, I’m going to ask you three questions that couldn’t be farther from that topic, okay?

What brand of toothpaste do you use?

Favorite American city you’ll probably never live in?

What is your perfect outdoor temperature?

I’ll go first: Crest, New Orleans, and 72°.


me and Tessa, New Orleans, September 2001

runnin’ wild and lookin’ pretty


What’s that I hear? You want another BORING TIME-LAPSE VIDEO? Even more boring than the one I gave you in May???

Well, if you insist. I set my time-lapse camera up on the hill, once again to capture the majestic sweep of summer’s verdant miracle. And this time, not only was it was pointed at the fruit trees maturing into their first year, but also a set of contest-winning pumpkin seeds planted in the foreground.

Watch… And Wonder… How Nothing Happens™!!!

“I thought the original Winter 2012 time-lapse was dull, but this was positively soporific. Truly spellbinding!” – Houston Chronicle

“A forbidden glance into nature at its most nondescript” – Smithsonian Magazine

“Green turns to green with only the occasional rainstorm to break the tedium in this award-losing 10-second testament to existential nothingness.” – Cedar Rapids Gazette

the soft bigotry of hot donuts now


Well? What did y’all thing of the Democratic National Convention? How’s about Michelle Obama? Clinton? The Prez?

Any of you Charlottans go, or did you avoid uptown entirely?

Feel free to be relentlessly positive, grumpily negative, and exceed the usual space allotted to FB responses, ‘cuz I’d like to know if this might have changed anything.


my suit of l’amoure


A couple of days ago, Carolina Squirrel asked if antidepressants helped those of us in crisis find clarity when things got really bad. Annie answered in a way only she can (go read it if you haven’t already) but I’m afraid my answer will be much more quotidian.

Sadness, despondency or depression can be measured on a spectrum, of course, but there’s two kinds of cause: depression you get from unfortunate neurological imbalances, and depression you get from unfortunate outside circumstances. I’m going to skip the part where we talk about one causing the other, or people with a combination of both, because that’s a conversation that never ends.

All I can say is this: if you have a neurological depression, you need to treat it as you would any disease or tooth decay. Even sensitive, judgment-free people have denied themselves proper care for years out of some outdated notion of what they thought they could cure themselves.


Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics; Athlete’s foot is treated with antifungals; chemical depression is treated with antidepressants. The only difference? It’s a little harder to pick the right antidepressant for your particular brain chemistry, because the underlying problems are geometrically more complicated. But the comparison is still apt.

Chemical depression, stemming from deficiencies in certain neurotransmitters and how they interact with your amygdala, is a fucking iron-clad clawfoot bathtub falling from the sky. It is being drunk on black death tar. It is the place where nothing will ever be funny again, and the future is synonymous with torture. If you’ve ever been in the throes of it, even briefly, you no longer judge people who commit suicide.

If you’re anywhere on that side of the depression spectrum, an SSRI (or an SNRI, like the one I take) doesn’t just provide clarity, it provides something close to sanity. The thing about true depressives – like alcoholics – is that they know themselves if they tell themselves the truth. If the noonday demon has visited you off and on throughout your life, you’ll know it.

If any of that strikes a chord, then trying an antidepressant for a 3-month period is a very good idea. You can always stop taking it, as long as you taper off. It’s not going to kill you, nor mess up your brain, and remember, it may convince you that you don’t need it.

One of the most profound moments of my medical life happened about ten years ago, when I was telling my psychopharmacologist about my despondency. “I think things are really getting better,” I told her, “I only spiral downward into oblivion about twice a week these days.”

She put down her pen and looked at me. “Ian,” she said, “Forget twice a week. You’re not ever supposed to spiral downward into oblivion.” And with that statement, I finally allowed myself the luxury to demand contentment, to have a goal of actual happiness rather than survival, and to view the little pill as more than a guilty trifle.


think it’d be all right if i could just crash here tonight


Oh my god, did you know that 1995 was 17 years ago??? I was cleaning the house, and this Toad the Wet Sprocket song came on, and I was all like, “how old is this song now?” and did the math.

Maybe that’s not worthy of an entire blog entry, but 17 years ago? In 1995, things were already picking up, know what I mean? It’s not like we were starting up, or getting our sea legs, we were already out to sea!

’95 was one of my favorite years: I lived with Greggy and Ann Humphreys, then moved into the Pink House and lived with pretty much every American aged 26 and under. I got to know the incredible Bridget Walsh Regan Monahan and the effervescent Caroline Risman, and both Chip and I lost 20 pounds. I slept in the same room with Scotty Bullock.

I had a little money for one of the first times in my life – my job was to transcribe entire Earth Sciences textbooks into Microsoft Word (because OCR back then was ridiculously bad) and not only did it keep the bourbon flowing through the Pink House, but I learned more about mangrove swamps and desert chaparral than a PhD candidate.

The parties were lubricated by Stereolab and The Sea & Cake, as well as midnight philosophy sessions with Jiffer and Zia. OJ went free (*horff*), Clinton reigned (yay), and the internet revolution was just about to happen. Hell, my brother Sean AND MY MOM were living in Carrboro.

Let us tip our hat to 1995, if you don’t mind, as it was a damn fine year. I don’t mind getting older, and I certainly don’t pine for past eras, but 17 years does strike one as quite long ago, don’t you think?


Annie and me in a picture for the DTH, fall 1995


Annie and goddaughter Lucy at the farm, August 2012