Glad To Be Imperfectly Awful

Mondrian Broadway Boogie Woogie 

For reasons we might want to explore at some other time, I spent over 30 years toiling in the corporate vineyards as an advertising copywriter – an occupation which enjoys a level of social prestige roughly equivalent to that of garbage collector, lawyer, and snake oil salesman – although to be sure – the latter group is begrudgingly afforded a modicum of respect since almost everyone abhors a squeaky snake. I know I do.

But I digress. Writers, as you know, are a disreputable lot. As a rule they live in culverts, subsist on scraps of food left by others in greasy spoon diners on the outskirts of town, frequently showing up for work with three days’ worth of stubble, pockets crammed with losing lottery tickets, reeking of bourbon and cheap cigars. The men are even worse!

As a bipolar dipsomaniac with a chronic attitude problem that includes contempt for authority, you can imagine I lost and found and lost employers the way others misplace car keys. Some jobs were submerged deep within the bowels of soulless corporations shamelessly exploiting the witless populace, while others resided in neurosis factories referred to as advertising agencies where paranoia, throat-slitting, and British wardrobes were passed off as creativity.

One commonality of all these dreadful coalmines was the professional category known as “artist” which, in this case, means “graphic designer” which then meant person in charge of taking words, setting them in type, and embedding the result in a breezy assemblage of photographs, colorful shapes, and visual irrelevance thought to aid the sales process we served; striving ever more valiantly to separate the unsuspecting from their treasure.

Artists – graphic designers – are almost the antithesis of writers. As a rule, they are cheerful women who bring an ideal suite of qualities to their task – wonderful sense of color, design, ebullience, responsibility, method, quiet productivity and an almost depressingly relentless optimism. Meet Charity Vanderbilt.

Charity Vanderbilt invariably looked as though she had been peeled from the pages of a clothing catalog. Her attire was not flashy, it was impeccable, precise, tight, ratcheted down with control as rigid as any painting by Piet Mondrian. Just five feet tall dripping wet, (why she insisted on having her height measured after showering I cannot tell you), she had a sing-song, high pitched voice that resembled a Warner Brothers cartoon character far more closely than a person.

Charity walked with quick, short steps as though a string between her ankles dictated the precise length of every stride.

One day, Charity revealed something I found completely stunning. She said that the gas gauge in her Volvo had broken and she left it that way on purpose because she “enjoyed the mystery and excitement of not knowing if she was about to run out of gas.”

I thought of my own life, a cavalcade of catastrophes including prison, mental hospitals, manic depression, alcoholism, divorce, lost jobs, small fortunes washed away with the dirty dishes – I thought of how I was trying to outrun my curse and find order, stability, responsibility – even some peace of mind.

Then I thought of Charity Vanderbilt, whimsically setting a little booby-trap for herself, to make her life a tiny bit disordered, a tiny bit surprising, a tiny bit interesting. In the oddest way, it made me feel sorry for her and grateful to be me; imperfectly awful.

Admire Doctor King’s Dream? Then Wake Up!

Lena Horne  Lena Horne                 Kate Smith  Kate Smith

Lenny Bruce practiced a confrontational, political form of comedy that relied heavily on shock. He had a famous bit on the subject of racism he directed towards all white males in attendance. It went like this.

Imagine you are shipwrecked on a desert island with no hope of rescue. The island has everything you need to survive so it is reasonable to believe you will live out your days in comfort.

Now, imagine you are offered female companionship but must choose between Lena Horne and Kate Smith. (Stage pause.) If you choose Kate Smith, you’re a racist.

If you find this offensive; congratulations. It’s sexist and chubbyist. (If Lena Horne and Kate Smith are unfamiliar names, I will tell you that they were both singers. Lena Horne was light-skinned and could have passed for white but chose not to.)

There are actually only two kinds of racists; those who admit they are racists and those who don’t. Xenophobia is ancient and primal; our knuckle-dragging predecessors were ruled by fear and regarded the unknown with suspicion. But this explains, it does not excuse.

The essential goal is to admit, understand, and continually beat back our racism on a daily, case-by-case basis. Thus begins the dream.

Ultimately the Mississippi redneck attempting to justify racism is indistinguishable from the Vermont college professor boldly declaring he does not see color. By lying to themselves they both lie to us.

Everybody loves Doctor King’s dream, but few of us acknowledge that racism begins at home.

Help The Cause Of Mental Health Awareness

Invisible Driving Cover Framed

When I sat down to write Invisible Driving in 1990 there was no way to know that this simple act of literary recklessness would hurl me down a path of mental health advocacy ultimately culminating, 22 years later, in the conclusion of this sentence.

Such is life in the land of Whackadoomious. Prior to writing the very first bipolar memoir, I had labored valiantly to keep my mental illness under cover, hidden from the pitchfork-wielding town folk who welcome the mentally ill with the same enthusiasm they shower on seven-year locusts. Going public as a bipolar bear gave me what I call “confession Tourette’s” – I went from “lips are sealed” to bipolar blabbermouth.

Essentially, I wanted to educate the public as much as possible and, I dared, even defied, any of them to look down on me. I had a big, fat surly attitude back then. In time, I actually came to a point where I condescended to square shooters because I believed – without mental illness as a teacher – their life experience was, quite frankly, inadequate in comparison to mine.

But that’s just me. For every passive-aggressive exhibitionist nursing a grudge, feeding a habit, and putting a resentment to bed, there are 100 nice, quiet Whackadoomians who would prefer to recover and strive towards mental health in quiet anonymity and fuzzy slippers.

I would like to make it clear that I do not condemn this stealth, but, and this is a big but, (stop that), I will say that – if you want to change minds, spank stigma, and educate the not-so-great unwashed – and I know you do – the best way to do it is by example.

Make yourself a teacher, a model, and show them that folks like us are – candidly – just like them. To paraphrase Hemingway, “Living well is the best revenge.” To paraphrase Napoleon, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Finally, to paraphrase Taz Mopula, “Since you’re going to be jealous anyway, you may as well be jealous of yourself.”

Action Ideas for Mental Illness Awareness

As you know, I’m a practical – problem/solution – kind of guy. So, here are a few action items that could kick-start the knowledge building process.

1. Annual Mental Illness Memorial Day Telethon – Hosted by Charlie Sheen

2. Mental Illness Trading Cards containing profiles of famous mentally ill people in history.

3. “Halfway Home” – a board game based on Monopoly in which players take turns trying to escape from a Halfway House so they can return their dysfunctional families.

4. America’s Got Illness! In this homage to American Idol, mentally ill contestants would answer questions and disturbed celebrity judges would try to guess their disease.

As good as these ideas are, I’m still going with suggestion number one. Make the stigma-waving public watch as you rise from the ashes and enjoy a life that is better than theirs. If they learn a thing or two, great. If they don’t, the main thing is – you’re doing just fine without them.

The Great Creativity Quote Quiz

Robert Frost

Can You Accurately Attribute These Pearls Of Wisdom?

  1. “Poetry is far too important to be left to the sane.”
    a.) Heavy D
    b.) Morbidly Obese D
    c.) Physically Fit D
    d.) Taz Mopula
  2. “Mediocre art misrepresents reality; great art obliterates it.”
    a.) Martha Stewart
    b.) Norman Rockwell
    c.) Stacy London
    d.) Taz Mopula
  3. “If you need mania to be creative, then maybe creativity isn’t for you.”
    a.) Lord Byron
    b.) Ernest Hemingway
    c.) Hunter Thompson
    d.) Taz Mopula
  4. “Without life, poetry itself would be meaningless.”
    a.) Charles Bukowski
    b.) Tom Waits
    c.) Robert Allen Zimmerman
    d.) Taz Mopula
  5. “No artist, however prodigious his talents, can create a great audience.”
    a.) P.T. Barnum
    b.) Cecil B. DeMille
    c.) Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
    d.) Taz Mopula
  6. “Great soldiers are brave; great poets are reckless.”
    a.) General George S. Patton
    b.) Audie Murphy
    c.) Hannibal
    d.) Taz Mopula
  7. “Writing great poetry becomes much easier when you’re willing to die for it.”
    a.) Dylan Thomas
    b.) Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade
    c.) John Denver
    d.) Taz Mopula
  8. “The audience is never wrong; that said, one does occasionally wander into the wrong theater.”
    a.) Abraham Lincoln
    b.) Ronald Reagan
    c.) Gerald Ford
    d.) Taz Mopula
  9. “Art is the shortest distance between two points, when one of the points has no known, or knowable, location.”
    a.) Albert Einstein
    b.) Stephen Hawking
    c.) Carl Sagan
    d.) Taz Mopula
  10. “Even the greatest paintings are flat; they only become three-dimensional in the eyes of those who behold them.”
    a.) Clarence Fountain
    b.) Art Tatum
    c.) Stevie Wonder
    d.) Taz Mopula

The Great Art Quote Quiz

Thomas Kinkade meets Godzilla

Match The Pithy Quote With Who Really Said It

1. “Poetry is far too important to be left to the sane.”
a.) Rod McKuen
b.) Richard Bach
c.) Erich Segal
d.) Taz Mopula

2. “Mediocre art misrepresents reality; great art obliterates it.”
a.) Grandma Moses
b.) Norman Rockwell
c.) Andrew Wyeth
d.) Taz Mopula

3. “If you need mania to be creative, then maybe creativity isn’t for you.”
a.) Lord Byron
b.) Ernest Hemingway
c.) Terry Gilliam
d.) Taz Mopula

4. “Without life, poetry itself would be meaningless.”
a.) Nipsey Russell
b.) Mark Russell
c.) Tom Lehrer
d.) Taz Mopula

5. “No artist, however prodigious his talents, can create a great audience.”
a.) P.T. Barnum
b.) Cecil B. DeMille
c.) Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
d.) Taz Mopula

6. “Great soldiers are brave; great poets are reckless.”
a.) General George S. Patton
b.) Audie Murphy
c.) Hannibal
d.) Taz Mopula

7. “Writing great poetry becomes much easier when you’re willing to die for it.”
a.) Dylan Thomas
b.) Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade
c.) Wayland Flowers & Madame
d.) Taz Mopula

8. “The audience is never wrong; that said, one does occasionally wander into the wrong theater.”
a.) Abraham Lincoln
b.) Ronald Reagan
c.) Gerald Ford
d.) Taz Mopula

9. “Art is the shortest distance between two points, when one of the points has no known, or knowable, location.”
a.) Albert Einstein
b.) Stephen Hawking
c.) Carl Sagan
d.) Taz Mopula

10. “Even the greatest paintings are flat; they only become three-dimensional in the eyes of those who behold them.”
a.) Clarence Fountain
b.) Art Tatum
c.) Andrea Bocelli
d.) Taz Mopula

11. “Never confuse fame with artistic quality, or wealth with value. Society gets what it wants, not what it needs.”
a.) Liberace
b.) Aaron Spelling
c.) Steven Jobs
d.) Taz Mopula

12. “The only thing worse than obsessing over your press clippings is believing the ones you wrote yourself.”
a.) Madonna
b.) Quentin Tarantino
c.) Norman Mailer
d.) Taz Mopula

13. “Propaganda is to art as prostitution is to mambo lessons for the blind, in France.”
a.) Woody Guthrie
b.) Diego Rivera
c.) Jean Paul Sartre
d.) Taz Mopula

14. “I’m looking for someone to ghost-write my upcoming self-help book.”
a.) Deepak Chopra
b.) Wayne Dyer
c.) Pema Chödrön
d.) Taz Mopula

15. “A picture is worth a thousand lies.”
a.) Dorothea Lange
b.) Frank Capra
c.) Diane Arbus
d.) Taz Mopula

16. “Artists are typically motivated by twin passions; fear of anonymity and the desire to create feelings of inferiority in others.”
a.) Pablo Picasso
b.) Oscar Wilde
c.) Blind Lemon Jefferson
d.) Taz Mopula

17. “Art is what we have instead of answers.”
a.) Hieronymus Bosch
b.) Søren Kierkegaard
c.) Albert Ayler
d.) Taz Mopula

18. “That the camera cannot lie is axiomatic. But digital technology has enabled manufacturers to correct this deficiency.”
a.) Annie Leibovitz
b.) Henri Cartier-Bresson
c.) Mathew Brady
d.) Taz Mopula

19. “No one goes to school to become an artist; you go to school to avoid becoming an artist.”
a.) Moms Mabley
b.) Isadora Duncan
c.) Jean Cocteau
d.) Taz Mopula

20. “Writing poetry, playing the violin, and tossing dwarfs; when these pursuits are entrusted to amateurs, tragedy ensues.”
a.) Charles Bukowski
b.) Stéphane Grappelli
c.) Tom Thumb
d.) Taz Mopula

Contact me for answers.

DSM-5 Challenges Sanity Definition

Lost Out On A Great Job Because I Failed The Personality Test

Most of us who wrestle with mental health issues also must confront feelings of low self-esteem. When we fully appreciate that we are not quite “normal” we may come to believe that we are “less than”. But that feeling does not last forever.

For the most part we work hard to address our maladies and gradually gain mastery over illnesses that were once overpowering. At that point we acknowledge that we have an illness, but we move among “regular folks” with a newfound comfort and confidence. We may still think of ourselves as “a wee bit different”, but we no longer feel “less than”.

Then an amazing thing happens. Because we have become confident in ourselves, we begin to look around the world with curiosity, not fear. We rapidly discover that the people we once found intimidating because they were so sane, grounded and “normal” aren’t really as mentally healthy as we gave them credit for being. The “irony alarm” goes off repeatedly as we compare some of these square shooters to the people like us, (who have been smeared with the label of “whackadoomius”), and quickly conclude that we are, in fact, a lot healthier and balanced than they are!

It’s a little bit validating, but also a little disturbing, and reminds one of the old idea that perhaps “the inmates are running the asylum”. Well, the hipsters, flipsters, and finger-poppin’ daddies at the American Psychiatric Association were well aware of this as they sat down to update the legendary Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and DSM-5 will boast some brand new diagnoses demonstrating a new willingness to view commonly accepted behavior through a pathological lens. Below are just a few new entries that show, “Normal is the new whacked”.

Bloated Toad Syndrome: Generally considered a reflection of unhealthy societal values like wretched excess and conspicuous consumption, Bloated Toad Syndrome is among the most controversial new diagnoses in DSM-5. Symptoms include: McMansions, outsized SUVs like the Bentley Behemoth, and flat screen TVs that double as load-bearing walls.

Truth Decay: APA officials estimate that one in four Americans suffers from this debilitating moral degeneration. At first restricted to a handful of “at risk” groups, (i.e., lawyers, politicians, used-car salesmen, advertising executives, and FBI agents), Truth Decay has spread nationwide and has even had a corrupting effect on television news!

Debtor’s Prism: Once as exotic as Munchausen by Proxy, Debtor’s Prism has moved to center stage in American culture. The term “prism” is used synonymously with “rose colored glasses” and refers to a type of magical thinking that causes the afflicted to purchase material possessions far beyond their means. Massively in debt, the wildly deluded sufferers buy with random abandon, completely lacking any sense of responsibility or even reality. By looking through their “debtor’s prism” they see the world they want to see, not the world that is.

Faux Real? Disorder: It has long been understood – both by the APA and the general public – that life on social networking sites consists largely of manufacturing highly inaccurate, inflated portrayals of one’s self in order to impress near and dear and strangers alike. This did not concern psychiatrists at the APA until they realized that many individuals were actually believing their own fabrications, “reading their own Press Releases” as it were. Self-deception, always a bedrock contributor to mental illness, had morphed to an entirely new level, with millions of Americans adoringly hanging on every new lie they told about themselves.

There are more. Just remember for now, not every monkey is in the zoo – some of them own the zoo.

“Sometimes it seems like the inmates are running the asylum. Then again, would a sane person want that job?” Taz Mopula

It’s Lonely At The Top

It's Lonely At Top

The students who attend Tucson University, America’s most prestigious online learning resource, are scattered throughout the country. Consequently, a traditional graduation ceremony is both logistically challenging and inappropriate.

This year’s graduation ceremony was special indeed. Because Tucson, (sometimes referred to as Virtual U), finds its entire existence in digital ether; featured guest speaker Taz Mopula delivered his remarks in a series of tweets.

They appear below.

Tucson University 2012 Commencement Tweets – Taz Mopula

Class of 2012. As you explore what is arguably the world, remember:

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

There is nothing to fear except you itself.

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

The moment you are certain that you’ve got it all worked out is precisely when you finally not do.

If you think education is expensive, try insolence.

Why raise the bridge when you can lower your expectations of the river?

Those who can’t do, teach; those who can’t teach, teach anyway.

How can you think outside of the box when the box is inside your head?

There is no shame in ignorance; then again, it’s no cause for celebration, either.

The more you learn the less you know for certain; the less you know for certain the more you learn.

Be nice to your enemies; you just might be one of them.

Your college selection is irrelevant. However, where you go to high school is crucial; because they will never let you leave.

Thank you.

Heard This One?

If You Cannot See Yourself As Others Do You Will Never Understand

Life is not funny; indeed, life repudiates all attempts to describe it.

People, on the other hand, with their vanities, hubris, delusions, and complete inability to accept existence as it is, are endlessly funny. The closer you get to the dark, corrupt heart of humanity the harder you laugh.

For me; truth, art, humor and pain have always been like four compass arrows at the North Pole; they seem to point away from one another but do just the opposite, and circumscribe all we have, and are, in the process.

I have never succeeded in teasing these elements apart. All three of my books look mercilessly at painful subjects: mental illness, evil, and addiction. Yet, all are outrageously funny – in the words of one reader – “wickedly funny”.

My cartoons, which pair found art & photography with created captions, are oddly entertaining, but rarely yuck yuck stuff. In them you often see the razor’s edge of satire, an author disappointed by humanity.

Taz Mopulisms – those Twitter-friendly snippets of faux profundity – are usually absurd, at least in part.

The harder I work to be honest, the funnier my output becomes. There is no changing that now. But understand; cheap laughs are not my quarry. I started down the road to madness over 40 years ago; since then Manic Depression (Bipolar Disorder) and chemical dependency have followed me like a curse.

Amazingly I have defeated them, but I am one of the lucky few.

I am a foot soldier in a war. I have lost so many dear friends and even family members to suicide of all descriptions – and I myself have peered over the ledge more times than I care to remember. I write for me, of course, because that is what I do. But I also write on behalf of the ones who didn’t make it, my lost brothers and sisters, for the benefit of those who need to see the other side.

Wild Turkey

wild turkey

Philadelphia is one of the nation’s most important cities, culturally iconic, socially complex, eminently livable. Like other major metropolitan centers it has a dark side characterized by heartbreaking poverty, despair, and brute violence.

As readers of my 1st novel – MOONLIT TOURS – will recall, I worked as a cabby there way back when. During that time, one of my fellow drivers was robbed and murdered; shot through the back of his head. They found him wrapped around his steering wheel, brains painted onto the windshield.

A year later I was attacked by a gang of punks, beaten in the face with lead pipes, and dumped in a snow bank to die.

I have spent most of my life in urban settings and consequently developed a rather philosophical attitude towards mortality; a city is a place of police cars, ambulances, fire engines and endless news reports of senseless death described, and illustrated, in lurid detail. One is tempted to sigh and say, “Yes, so it goes.”

But that serene, dispassionate indifference left me when I relocated to the country and had to confront wild animals face to face on a daily basis.

Just over two years ago I moved to a New Hampshire hamlet so small it does not have a stoplight, gas station, or Starbucks. The rallying point of this burg is a tiny post office with an uncertain future. One day I was getting my mail and who should walk in but our Chief Of Police. He recognized me immediately and we exchanged pleasantries. Commanding a full-time force of 4 police officers allows him to take a personal approach to his work.

I began to relate the story of Tom, nicknamed “The Tominator” by my wife, who has a flair for such things. Tom is a rogue wild turkey who, presumably as a result of turkey crimes too terrible to contemplate, has become separated from his tribe and now works alone.

I am accustomed to watching flocks of wild turkeys ambling through the yard, leisurely pecking the ground, but a solo Tom is new. Snood flapping casually, Tom brazenly walks up and down the center of the road in front of our house, a busy thoroughfare where one may see trucks and even school buses. His arrogance and disdain are limitless, and traffic has become increasingly deferential – he is now something of a local celebrity.

We reviewed all this in the Post Office, and the Chief confessed that “dealing with Tom” was high on his To Do list. He revealed that he had a net at home. Tom, we agreed, was a danger to himself and others…it’s just a matter off time…we nodded in unison…Fish & Game had been called.

Tom has not been seen for many days, and I like to imagine that he has been captured and relocated to the tourist country of northern New Hampshire where he now resides in a resort for wayward, unruly wild turkeys. I can accept nothing less, because, as a daily visitor who liked to sneak snacks from beneath our bird feeder, he was practically a family member. But this is not where the story ends.

A few days ago I was driving down a back road and had to stop as a large flock of wild turkeys, perhaps twenty, crossed. If you have never seen one of these magnificent animals, which Benjamin Franklin nominated over the bald eagle for National Bird status, they are amazing. Imagine a blue-collar peacock, stately, slow, immense, with a truly commanding presence.

Absentmindedly I followed each one as it ambled to the other side, wondering about Tom. I noticed a long, cylindrical shaft protruding from the feathers of one. At first I thought it was a random feather refusing to lie down next to the rest, then I realized I was looking at the back half of an arrow. Not a nice, wooden arrow from the colonial era. No, this was a state-of-the-art, fluorescent green missile made of high-performance polymers, bouncing as the turkey walked.

Clearly it was embedded enough to remain, but not enough to injure the bird.

I considered trying to remove the dreadful thing but thought better of it. Then we made eye contact and I imagined him saying these words to me.

“What’s the matter, moron, never saw anyone shot in the ass before? New in town? This shit happens, buddy. No sense being sentimental about it. I’m wild, can you dig it? That’s why they call me a wild turkey. Takes more than a little DuPont plastic in the hands of some half-blind, half-drunk hunter to slow this bad boy down. Now quit staring and piss off.”

Self Medication

If You Need Brain Surgery - Involve Other People

The first time I heard the term “self-medication” I laughed out loud. In searching for an analogy one thinks immediately of the old adage – the lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client. But that’s when the stakes are low, going free or going to jail. How about when the stakes are high? Sanity versus insanity? Life versus death?

Jean Paul Sartre, a very clever fellow, used to play Russian roulette because he was bored. Well, self-medication is like playing Russian roulette with one big difference, all the gun’s chambers contain live ammo.

Self-medication – (the term itself is preposterous) – fits nicely into the insufferable arrogance and egotism of mania – as if to say – I can manage this little spot of bother myself with nothing more complicated than some garden-variety drugs. I remember it all too vividly – “throwing gasoline on a fire”.

I adored the adrenaline rush of mania, and I tried to “manage it” with marijuana and alcohol – marijuana to knock the sharp edges off the mania and make it smooth and yummy – and alcohol to slow me down and mellow me out to the point where I wasn’t constantly irritated by the sheer inanity of the huddled masses and their inability to keep up with me.

It was an inspired strategy except that it wasn’t and a brilliant idea except that it almost got me killed – folks – when it comes time for brain surgery you really need to involve others, professionals – people who actually know what they’re doing.

The hubris and sense of entitlement one encounters in a person at the apex of mania are astounding, but add in the loss of inhibitions and appalling judgment that arise from drunkenness and you have a confident imbecile who thrives on risk-taking and abusing authority.

Some people can drink; I’m not three of them. It would be nice if the folks who made booze would take people like me into consideration. For example, if booze came with realistic warning labels with statements like these.

WARNING: Excessive Use Of This Product Might Cause You To:

· Invade Russia during the winter.
· Buy life insurance from a guy named Guido.
· Toss your Rolex onto the chips in the expectation of filling out an inside straight.
· Believe your boss really wants your advice about improving the department.
· Think you’ve suddenly become a great singer who will dazzle them all on karaoke night.
· Tell the cop of course you knew it was a one-way street; you were only driving one way.
· Impress your mother in law with that joke about the octopus and the bagpipes.
· Get the word THINK tattooed on your forehead backwards so you can read it in the mirror while you’re shaving.

The list would be long. Perhaps reading it would give us time to get over the absurd idea that we can “medicate” ourselves using drugs that are designed to rob of us of our reason.