TAZ TALKS

taz talks logo

TAZ TALK was founded in 1984 and has been held annually at the Airport Holiday Inn outside Aspen, Colorado ever since. The TAZ TALK Mission Statement is as follows:

We believe passionately in the power of seminars to fill seats. Our goal is to establish a clearinghouse of warmed-over twaddle carefully constructed to allow fuzzy-headed ultra-liberals unencumbered access to the self-righteous sanctimony they so desperately crave. Life Is Good!

Over the years, Taz Talks have featured some of our most profoundly inspiring paradigm-shifters, thought-leaders, game-changers, and tipping-pointers including Pema Chödrön, Zig Zigler, Tony Robbins, and Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter – better known to millions as Reverend Ike.

Here, at last, is the complete transcript of TAZ TALK #1, delivered by Taz Mopula on May 8, 1984. (Speaker commentary appears in regular type. Bolded quotes were projected for audience members to read.)

Welcome to Taz Talks. My name is Taz Mopula. I’d like to begin with a question.

Slide 1.

“If you don’t know what you want, how can you be certain that what you have right now isn’t it?” Taz Mopula

Most of us don’t even know who we are, so how on earth could we know what we want? What we think we want is what other people want us to want. So we do.

Slide 2.

“Entitlement is a fraudulent concept. We are none of us entitled to anything. Even that next breath you crave is a gift.” Taz Mopula

Inalienable rights! Hilarious! Pursuit of happiness! Stop, you’re killing me! Right to exist! Priceless! None of us is entitled to anything at all, not even death.

Slide 3.

“Expect the worst and you’re unlikely to be disappointed.” Taz Mopula

Attitude influences outcome, although it certainly doesn’t guarantee it.

Slide 4.

“Why raise the bridge when you can lower your expectations of the river?” Taz Mopula

There’s a lot of talk about creative problem solving, but it’s hard to think outside the box when the box is inside your head.

Slide 5.

“You can always have everything you want because you get to decide what you want.” Taz Mopula

I want you to be free from want. Do you see how this can never work?

Slide 6.

“It’s lonely at the top. Then again, it’s lonely at the bottom too, plus, the service is really bad.” Taz Mopula

Having sex in an elevator is wrong on so many levels.

Slide 7.

“The only thing worse than obsessing over your press clippings is believing the ones you wrote yourself.” Taz Mopula

They say that reality occurs when two or more people simultaneously subscribe to the same illusion.

Slide 8.

“Psychotics, murderers, and those who claim certain knowledge of God’s will, are to be avoided at all cost.” Taz Mopula

Beware the zealous speaker. He may be mad, selling something, or intoxicated by a misguided belief in his own imagined infallibility.

Slide 9.

“There is nothing to fear except you itself.” Taz Mopula

We think of the world as a dangerous place and realize too late that we are the most dangerous part of it.

Slide 10.

“If I could only give you one piece of advice it would be this: Do not, under any circumstances, take my advice.” Taz Mopula

Thank you.

 

Dancing With Your Bipolar Bear

polar bear dance

One of life’s great lessons is to accept, master, and ultimately enjoy that which cannot be avoided. Chances are you already know that bipolar disorder is incurable, however, there is a vast spectrum of experience in between being a victim of the illness and living a full, productive, and happy life that includes it.

Over the four decades since my first manic episode I have gone from one extreme to the other. It is not my intention to underestimate or romanticize this rude adversary. I’ve done loony bin factory time, engaged in all manner of reckless behavior, and rebuilt my ruined life over and over again. It’s a wonder I’m here at all.

That said, let me urge you to hold on tight to this one bit of advice while trudging through the foreign and forbidding landscapes – embrace your bipolar bear and take it dancing.

The epigraph for my bipolar memoir, INVISIBLE DRIVING, is by Rainer Marie Rilke.

Perhaps everything that is terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.”

Only through dealing with the illness did I come to understand myself and lose my fear of life. Learning why I was susceptible caused me to evolve in ways I never would have otherwise. Bipolar disorder has given me far more than it ever took; because of it I achieved the peace of mind and gratitude I enjoy today.

If you are new to the illness your instinct will be to deny and forget it – don’t.

If you are new to recovery you may think you are “cured” and stop taking your meds – don’t.

If you are early in therapy and meeting the demons responsible for your manic episodes you will want to turn away – don’t.

If you feel stigma, if you feel “less than” because of the broken genes you carry – don’t.

The problem you refuse to face is the problem that will continually present itself until you do. Bipolar disorder is not a cute little foe; it is a monster you must not battle alone. Embrace it; let it teach you and guide you to places so called normal folk cannot spell, much less imagine. Befriend your bipolar bear, it is part of you, embrace it and take it dancing.

Fred Astaire On Ice

thin ice

Having an unusual name is downright aggravating if you’re the type of person who wants nothing more than to skate through life unnoticed. In Scotland, Alistair is popular (Gaelic for Alexander), but on the unforgiving playgrounds of America it’s virtually unknown. I have grown accustomed to spelling it repeatedly, and even providing pronunciation tips. The most successful of these is pointing out that it rhymes with Fred Astaire.

Astaire was known for his elegant, fluid style; gliding through densely populated art deco sets like a bird. In stark contrast, when it comes to dancing I am two leftover feet. However, growing into a reasonable facsimile of adulthood I too developed a terpsichorean signature – dancing through human relationships without ever touching or connecting. Shark-like, I had to keep moving forward to survive and, also shark-like, I consumed pretty much everything I encountered.

Suffering in the shadow of a larger-than-life father who neutralized anyone reckless enough to compete with him, I aimed low. The atmosphere of fierce, unforgiving intensity and extreme achievement threw a warm, appealing glow onto failure, which beckoned like a welcoming friend.

Understand; I had no appetite for magnificent, fearless failure, far from it. I was drifting towards the quiet desperation Thoreau described as though it was a beach resort.

For many people, life has a rather linear quality. Certainly there are peaks and valleys; moments of triumph interspersed with difficult, challenging episodes. But overall, life is of one piece; there is a philosophy, a rational context, driving it inexorably forward. That, and only that, is what I longed for, safety in the comfort of reason!

Other lives contain a terrible moment of clarity when, either through the auspices of a transformational event, or a revelation of insight, you understand fully that you will not have the life you craved.

For me, this moment did not occur at 20 as I sat in a German prison cell after being pinched at the Austrian border with a kilo of Afghani hashish.

Nor did it occur to me at 26 as I lay in a hospital bed with dozens of stitches in my face, having been beaten and left for dead one winter night after roaming the desolate streets alone on a drunken jag, stewing in depression and rage.

It didn’t even dawn on me at 36 when, divorced and penniless, I wondered why I’d been fired from two corporate jobs in just six months.

My inability to face the inevitable fueled astonishing powers of denial. Despite the long succession of catastrophes I still clung to the precious fantasy of a mediocre, uneventful life where I would be spared the demands of greatness.

In 1989, after a spirited round of fisticuffs with two large police officers who ultimately managed to subdue me, I sat silently as the cruiser approached Norristown State Mental Hospital. At that moment I realized there was no chance of leading a quiet, bland life – and wisdom meant surrendering to the life I was actually living. There was no dancing out of this one.

Accountability

When We Look For Responsibility Why Is It That We Save

There’s an old gag that runs – the definition of “chutzpah” is when a kid murders his parents and throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan. It’s funny, and yet, increasingly no one is to blame for anything in our society – no one takes responsibility, not even for their own actions.

Over three decades ago, Dan White set the implausibility bar very high by claiming he’d murdered Harvey Milk as the result of being hopped up on Twinkies. (The tasty snack treat made him do it!) That defense actually worked, and sparked riots.

We live in a society ruled by an enormous dog, (even bigger than Clifford the Big Red Dog) and all day long that dog eats our homework – so we never have to do it.

Now that the presidential election is ramping up across the land there is hand wringing and obligatory excoriation of elected officials. While this is understandable, everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten that they are the ones who put the offenders in office, and they can vote them out. They could even – gasp – run for office, like Harvey Milk.

Personal accountability was a cardinal virtue among the people who built this country; but it seems to be almost unknown today. The fact is, if lightning strikes your house, it’s not your fault, but it is your problem. Assigning blame isn’t going to fix your roof, getting up there with a hammer, saw and nails will.

This subject is very familiar to me, indeed, my youth was a veritable love song to entitlement. I thought roughing it was when we didn’t get sorbet in-between courses, (to cleanse our palettes). That all changed when the heavens rained fire on my life in the form of mental illness, madness, manic depression.

Bear in mind, I did nothing to deserve this curse, this nightmare, this torture. When you are mentally ill you have a very strong case for playing the victim card, and you can, if that’s what you want to be. But I didn’t. Like others before me, one day I simply refused to be a victim anymore, took ownership of the disaster, and faced it.

If you want the full story you can read it in my bipolar memoir, INVISIBLE DRIVING. Suffice it to say that engaging in that long battle didn’t just wrestle the illness to the ground, it made me a man.

One hears so much wisdom in AA meetings. Recently I heard a woman say, “I am not a victim and life is not an excuse.” Alcoholics and drug addicts are among the most skilled liars in the world, with an absolutely inspiring ability to blame other people for their faults and difficulties. Over years of having the bs beaten out of you by no-nonsense dipsomiacs one finally grows able to see, as Shakespeare said so nicely, “the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves”.

Importantly, AA doesn’t care about righteous rage and fair versus unfair, AA is only interested in results. It is a program of absolute accountability, and, the question of – now that you are accountable what are you going to do?

Ironically, it was through mental illness and addiction that I grew to understand how to live a righteous and responsible life. Today I am no victim, that much is certain.

Extreme High School

Where You Go To College Is Unimportant

Mark Zuckerberg believes I have 304 friends, which only goes to show that even brilliant people make idiotic mistakes.

Anyone who has ever had a real friendship knows it is only possible to maintain a small handful at any one time. Friendships are like pets; they require constant care and nourishment to survive. One may have innumerable familiar relationships which could, under the right circumstances, easily be reanimated; but this is something else altogether.

Although I am no expert in these matters, I do know that – To have a friend you must be a friend. I’ve also come to understand that friendship is inherently selfless; one person places another person’s wants, needs, and desires above his own. (This would help to explain the paucity.)

The ubiquity of Facebook, with its relentless emphasis on intensely superficial social interaction, (where nothing of value is sacrificed), would seem to bring insights about friendship in its wake. While it does, they are perhaps not the ones we would have hoped to see. Indeed, as we bump masks and publish carefully crafted press clippings we wrote ourselves, the unavoidable lesson of Facebook is as follows:

“It really doesn’t matter which college you attend. However, where you go to high school is crucial; because they will never let you leave.” Taz Mopula

Remember how happy you were to graduate high school, remember the relief you felt? Facebook is here to remind you that the toys have grown more expensive and the jowls are drooping a bit but social stratification and playground games are more fashionable than ever.

Naturally, I am interested in this fabulously disappointing phenomenon from the perspective of recovery.

People struggling with mental illness are notoriously inept at making and maintaining friendships. Caring for others, self-sacrifice – these are activities of the healthy; the chronically ill tend to be very self-focused. Also, many of them attempt to protect themselves with anonymity, by remaining unknown. They believe that – to know them is to loathe them – so they don’t give people the chance. Their principal way of handling relationships is by leaving them.

However, as people grow and evolve in recovery they often encounter a very different reason to sever ties with individuals they once thought of as friends. As they learn to share themselves, their lives, their gifts with others, they may find that enthusiasm often interferes with judgment. They sometimes overlook questionable motives in people once considered comrades.

Frequently they fail to remember that, while they have grown, others may not have been so fortunate. They often find there really wasn’t much in common to begin with. Most important of all, they feel deeply that, however lamentable it may be, some people are simply toxic for them; breathing their air makes them ill and jeopardizes the mental health they struggled so hard to attain.

At these moments the old tapes will tell them that politeness demands they continue to nourish these vestigial friendships. (They will instinctively perpetuate these cheery illusions, essentially setting mousetraps in their own house and then crying when their toes are snapped.) Those tapes must be burned.

Once, leaving a relationship was a sign of sickness; but it can just as easily be a sign of health.

“Looking for self-worth in someone else’s eyes is like trying to breathe with someone else’s lungs.” Taz Mopula

The Siren Call Of All That Is Not Me

Turkish Farmer Abuses Hashish

Many people in AA speak of alcoholism as a disease, as if to say, our bodies are “allergic” to alcohol, our reactions are different from those of “normal” people.

I think this is a facile, inaccurate rationalization that makes it easier for people to admit they have a problem with booze and need help.

In fact, we are like other people except that our “alcoholic personalities” – driven by a hunger for escape – catapult us into excesses of all kinds.

I recently ran across this passage from my bipolar memoir, INVISIBLE DRIVING, which sums it up succinctly.

“One of the highlights of my career as a jazz listener was a concert in Carnegie Hall. It featured McCoy Tyner and his big band, the outrageous Pharaoh Sanders, and the immortal one himself, Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The hall was hushed as McCoy Tyner, pianist for John Coltrane during the legendary quartet years, took the stage with his large and heavily armed band. Nothing sounds prettier than a room holding hundreds of people with their mouths shut. It reminded me of the Quaker meetings I used to go to every week at school. So many people, alone with their thoughts, together in a room, silent. Great moment.

“The wooden floors of the old hall creaked like a ship at sea as people settled in their seats. This silence was not the silence of a bus station at 3:00 AM in the morning. This was warm and rich, the audience filled with respect, even awe, and anticipation. You could have heard a lemon drop drop.

“And then, we heard a bomb drop. Tyner’s band burst into an all-stops-out barrage of sound intensity that blew off every hairpiece in the room. From silence to a hurricane of sound, cracking and crashing like madness, so loud that it couldn’t be denied, it didn’t come in through your ears, it came in through your bones. I felt like I was having an orgasm. I was so relieved, so joyful, so happy, I wanted to jump to my feet, thrust my fists into the air and scream ‘Yes! Thank you!’

“Later, when I was replaying the concert in my mind, I wondered about that moment. Why was it that I craved that level of intensity so much? The longer I thought about it, the harder it became to avoid my best theory. The music was so strong, it obliterated my personality. It was so complete, so overwhelming, that it freed me from myself. I was immersed in only the intoxication of the music. I forgot about me.”