Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Little Night Mania

Winter in Alaska seems like an illogical time to go sweeping into the heights of hypomania; but so far I haven't found much that is logical about bipolar disorder.  We've had a weird time of it here in the far north.  Grey, rainy, listless summer followed by blinding, brilliant winter where the sun is so bright it bounces off the arctic air and pierces our soft and malleable brains--for five hours a day.  Then we're plunged back into darkness, where the stars wheel overhead and our mole-eyes sift through the impossible cold again, seeking light.

I get an ice-cream headache every time I leave the house in the mornings.  I imagine my pineal gland, that mystical and medical third eye at the center of my forehead, taking a literal beating through these extremes.  A sinkhole of blackness.  Scintillating sunlight.  A rabbit-punch of subzero cold.  The signals it sends to the brain are, one might imagine, like telegraphs from the first monkey sent into space.  "WE ARE DYING!  --No, wait, we're good. We are very good, in fact AMAZING!  Oops, hold on--we are definitely dying.  So, so lonely and cold.  This is the coldest and saddest day of our lives." And so on.

Of course a monkey can't telegraph, but my brain can go haywire, and it is.  I was driving down the 150-mile highway from Anchorage to Kenai yesterday, an ice-blue sky overhead and icy black roads under my wheels, Led Zeppelin pouring from the speakers.  Robert Plant was howling about a lion standin' alone with a tadpole in a jar, and suddenly I was driving far too fast.

I said it's alright, you know it's alright
I guess it's all in my heart
You'll be my only, my one and only
Is that the way it should start?

Seventy, seventy-five, seventy-nine, the ice barely making a sound beneath the tires.  The sun, low and blinding, flashed through the trees at strobe-light speed.  That snarly guitar riff, the one I loved to play air guitar to as a 'tween (and still do, "rreearrdy-rreardy-rowr...) powered my accelerator foot.  I was in the Houses of the Holy.  I was immortal.  I was just-a-touch manic.

If BP were a job, these would be the benefits.  The cream off the top.  The paid vacation.  You want to know what it's like to fly?  To really soar?  That is what it's like--to live, for a time, without fear.  To feel wings, actual wings, spreading from the center of your soul and lifting you, defying gravity, defying all that holds you back, ties you down.  Boundless.  Immortal.

But the job?  God, the job sucks.  Days, weeks, of darkness.  Of pain, sometimes physical pain.  You think it's cold and dark outside, where the temp is -11 and you haven't seen the sun for 19 hours.  But the true darkness is internal.  The true work is in dragging yourself out of bed and into the kitchen to make the coffee, feed the dog, feed yourself.  Then into the shower.  Then into your clothes.

Crazy ways are evident, in the way that
You're wearing your clothes
Sippin' booze is precedent
As the evening starts to glow

You try to keep your face out of the bottle.  Self-medicating, they call that, and that's the best way to get in trouble with your psychiatrist.  The theory goes that when you have BP you never just drink for fun. You drink to escape--that's what "they" say.  Escape your boredom, your relationship, your job, the place you live, your life itself.  Your self itself.  Except--you don't have to be (gasp) mentally ill to try to escape something.  It's not like the crazies invented escapism.  And it's not like the crazies can't do stuff for fun.  I'm not so sure about those psychiatrists; I'm not so sure about all of "them."  Didn't they get into their profession because they were a little crazy, too?  And doesn't everybody sometimes hate the "job" of getting out of bed in the morning?  Don't you have to self-medicate in some way, just to be human?  Why does the medication have to be booze?

Can sunlight through trees be medicine?  Can music?  Can conversation?  Mountain air?  A good book?  Can love be medicine?

It's a weird time of year here in the north.  And we are weird sorts of people, both sane and not-so-sane.  The darkest day of the year is a strange time for mania; I blame it on Robert Plant and an overstimulated pineal gland.  What's your excuse?

Sunday, December 16, 2012



I am driving through a vast desert country in an old van, a 3rd-world patched-up canvas-topped affair.  My companion is a journalist; she's on a deadline, and the desert doesn't interest her much.  We make a quick stop in a destitute village for refreshment and news of the road, and learn that there is a tragedy unfolding on the route ahead of us.  Some people have been attacked--are still being attacked--by a monstrous, bizarre flock of birds.  Our journey will take us right past it, and suddenly I'm anxious to get back on the road; maybe we can help those people.  My companion is unenthusiastic, however.  She figures the people are already dead, or will be by the time we get there.  But we head out across the desert again, my anxiety building with every mile, and soon the birdstorm looms into sight.

It is hideous.  Ravens, jays, eagles, crows, birds of every description, in a massive cloud that towers to the sky.  It boils and heaves, it stirs up the dry earth, it blots out the sun.  It's a cloud of hatred, of retribution and madness.  It is everything about the world that doesn't make sense, that shouldn't be.   The cloud boils constantly in on itself, driving toward its center, where I can't imagine how those people can still be alive.  Ahead of us is a sparse desert oasis, and our faint track of a road enters this.  We find people inside, their cars parked here and there, watching.  They have set up a makeshift camp, just off the flagstone road, and in the clouds of dust stirred up by the birdstorm, this is a surreal war-zone of a world.  Near us a little group of people squats, one of them playing a dirge on his harmonica.

I am frantic.  Why aren't we attempting a rescue?  I look up at the birdstorm, writhing above the trees.  The noise is phenomenal.  All I have for protection is a bandanna to keep the dust from clogging my throat.  I figure I can break a heavy branch off one of the trees to fight off the birds, and maybe tie a rope to my waist so someone can pull me out.  But no one is listening to my pleas for help--my journalist companion is grumbling at the prolonged stop, and the squatters all but ignore me.  I think of the people at the bottom of that storm, torn by thousands of curved beaks and talons, bleeding in the dust, no doubt being divided into bloody pieces; and in the end it's my own mind that drags me down.  I'm so despondent looking at that overpowering, evil storm that I can't even get out of the van.  The noise and the dust, the situation itself, is immobilizing.  I realize the fear is too much for me, the darkness too terrifying.  I succumb to the paralysis that has already gripped the others, and instead of making an effort, I hang my head in shame.


This past week we had a reminder of how overpowering the darkness can be.  How anxiety-inducing it is to realize that death and loss will come to us all, regardless of the form it takes.  Sometimes it is absolutely terrifying to contemplate loving another human being under these circumstances--because the more deeply we love, the more painful it is to undergo the loss.  So much easier, so much less painful, to "go to sleep" and not try.  To sit and play a dirge, or do nothing at all--to let our eyes glaze over and our hearts go numb while others are hurting, being torn to pieces, rather than grab a rope and dive in to help.  Even when it seems like all is lost, I am learning that I have to try.  And sometimes--to be honest--all IS lost.  But to know that you tried instead of sitting there in self-defeat: that's something. If, in the dream, I dove into that evil mess with a rope around my waist, got the shit beaten out of me, discovered there was nothing left to rescue, and then got pulled back out of it by someone on the other end of the rope--at least I'd have known I gave it my best.  And that I had some backup.

I've had that experience in my life recently, and even though I didn't get what I thought I wanted and needed, I found out that it's the people on the other end of the rope that really matter.

KB © 12/16/12

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I was a bitten dog
a fighter, a wild one
chasing love and throwing
myself under the tires
I was a landscape of scars furred in shame
swore you knew me
spoke my language, called me to you
took off our coats of fear
showed me how our tender scars
matched, every last one
how our landscapes fit together
skin to skin
so human, so much more:
this deep knowing from before time

I forgot how to fight
I dropped my guard
gave in to love, finally
climbed in and went along for the ride
what strange trusting beasts we are
in the end!
yesterday a universe of warmth
a cosmos of heart-opening knowledge
today a scarred stray watching
taillights in the dampening snow

KB ©  12/12/12

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Excavation (YouTube)

One of my poems, read expertly here by Hans Ostrom, published author and acclaimed poet.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Lazarus Fish

Coelacanths (play /ˈsləkænθ/, adaptation of Modern Latin Cœlacanthus "hollow spine", from Greek κοῖλ-οςkoilos "hollow" + ἄκανθ-α akantha "spine", referring to the hollow caudal fin rays of the first fossil specimen described and named by Louis Agassiz in 1839 [1]) are members of an order of fish that includes the oldest known living lineage of Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish and tetrapods).

I ask him about love
the real kind
the meant-for-each-other kind
and though he doesn’t think it’s
any more likely than a unicorn
he pretends to consider the question.  He says
he’s heard of it but never
seen the thing itself.
I sense the rationality
behind his words, and am crushed.
I think of all the lovers I have known
I search for one pair among them
who live in the kingdom I imagine:
peopled with dragons and princes
queens and the courtly knights who would win them
and suddenly the wakeup call is too much.
Like a child who abruptly knows the kindly man
with the laugh-lines and white beard
and an overabundance of gifts
is not and never was real
I am awake
and grieving for the dreams.

But who among us knows love?
If it exists at all it’s so rare it is barely a rumor:
someone said their grandparents had it
somebody else witnessed it once, in passing
at a cafe in Paris.
Fairy tales and stories, children’s games
something you grow out of
something nature fools you into
for a few blind years, then leaves you stranded.

The real thing is an animal
that may have gone extinct millions of years ago
like coelacanth, that strange wild-eyed fish
long relegated to the fossil record. 
Some crazy biologist is out there hunting it
against all the evidence that this thing is still around;
like that child who won’t let go of Santa
like that staunch believer in Sasquatch.
There is a gleam in the biologist’s eye
an imbalanced, uneasy gleam.
Why doesn’t she just settle (the sane wonder)
for an ordinary fish? So many cod and salmon,
thousands of tuna; why the coelacanth?--this creature
that if it ever existed, will never be seen again.

Meanwhile, off the coast of South Africa
a pair of fishermen in a small wooden trawler
are hauling up their catch:
there among the rays and sharks, cod and tuna
the Lazarus fish, gone these 65 million years
a living fossil, rare beyond rare.
Coelacanth gapes impossibly up at them
five feet long and real as the blinding sun
its hollow spine and lobed fins writhing.
It looks nothing at all like a fairy princess
nothing at all like a unicorn, a courtly knight
or Santa Claus. 
But that crazy biologist doesn’t care--no:
this is the fish for her
this is the thing she’s after.

I wait a few hours and then I ask him again,
my rational lover: have you ever seen it?
The real thing, the thing itself?
He looks at me this time
the way you might look at a creature
fresh from the kingdom of impossibility
looks, closes
his eyes, says

©KB 10/3/12


Tuesday, October 2, 2012


You don't know
what is within you
until life breaks you open
and it all flashes out:
rage courage love hate ugliness
oppression forgiveness denial
manipulation terror joy abandonment
truth-telling lies gratefulness spite
undeserved kindness.

What kind of geode will you be
when you are no longer just a person in blue jeans
and a minivan, when you are suddenly
a spectacle
a cracked-open heartfire-glowing
gem of all your most terrifying
most intimate, most gorgeous monsters made real?

Lovely and rare--the diamond few
who have met and made peace
who know their monsters well
who remain broken and shining
Be one of them, be alive.
You don't know what is within you
until life breaks you open.

KB ©10/2/12

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Even in dreams you will not let me come
Though time seeks to forget our fears
And nightmares gallop through our sleep;
I could save you if you wanted salvation
Even so
You will not let me come to you

I found you as one finds adventure
Wanting--wild as a horse--to be broken in
I sang you songs without words
I wrote you poetry in blood
I prayed to the gods of love and war
And still you would not let me run to you

You could say I should have known
You could say I was crazy for crossing
Too many fences
But my thoughts, far from being still
Are winging their way over these high walls
Coming stubborn and willful to you
Though I know you will not let them

KB 9/11/12

Monday, July 30, 2012

This Dream, Heaven

Marilyn sits cool and coy
tipped back in her easy chair
like a long summer dream.
She calls to the baseball boys, laughs
while the Babe trots out the bases.

Together they are 
everything sweet about America
home of baseball and movie stars
the Cleavers and the Cosbys
their dark days stashed 
behind fluoride smiles.

The boys strut their stuff for Marilyn
and she eggs them on with raucous cheers.
Eternal sunlight skips down her legs
her smile flashing whitely
as one by one the balls go hauling
like birds in flight
toward the distant fence.

All is good
this dream, heaven
this dream, America.
The Babe pulls his cap down 
to shade his eyes, squinting
famously against the noonday sun.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Smoking again
After quitting for the fourth time
Because nicotine and sadness (mixed
Artfully with notes of narcissus)
Form an exquisite flavor.
Go ahead, wallow: you’ve earned it.
Farewell, self-respect
--And while you’re at it
Adios to your old friends
Happiness, creativity, hope and
(What the hell) hygiene.

Had it all figured out (again)
Until suddenly you didn’t (again). 
Look at you now
So far off the path you can’t get back
Lost in a country with no laws
Save one: life isn’t fair.
You fumble with your failures
Picking them up
Looking them over
Tossing them away again.
There’s no explaining this
It just is.  
Buddha would be pleased to see you
Thus enlightened.

You take another cigarette to mark the hour
A twist of smoke for company
And write a new definition for self-pity.
You will call Webster’s in the morning
To submit this latest, saddest, most pathetic
Version of the phrase; your photo
Will occupy the space between “self” and “pity.”

Somewhere beyond 2AM you fall into sleep
Only to wake in the morning with nowhere to go
Nothing left to dream
No one to dream it with.
The world spins on without you, full
Of secrets it won’t tell
Dreams it won’t share
Visions that leave you at the edge
Of territory you never knew was out there
Let alone had maps for
Even if you’d wanted to go.

KB ©7/12

Sunday, July 15, 2012

After Hours

Silence steps in like a dancer
after the clarinet solo,
along the bass strings.

Outside, night falls soft & feline
on all fours, and
creeps through a crack
in the door.

KB ©1996

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Driving in the dusk of 10 PM
Been awhile since I
Felt sane (couldn’t
Get you off my mind)

Wanting to
Off the edge of the world
In a crapped-out Chevy

Forget my innocence
Forget my calling
Even you

I wish
There was nothing
Out there
To break this fall

Monday, June 4, 2012


I like to observe people.  Seems like an obvious thing to say--I am a person, after all, so observing people just comes with the territory.  Except I find the way I'm observing is more like one would look at a different species.  For instance, I've noticed that people like to seek safety.  Not just the kind of safety where you try not to get hit by cars when crossing the road (that's common sense; most people have that, unless wasted/high/insane).  But safety, as in "I'd better not go to the movies/out to dinner/to a bar/on vacation by myself." Or, "I need to be married/have kids/have a career/own a home by the time I'm twenty-five."  Or, "My God I hope that (insert race here) person isn't going to come over here and start talking to me."  Stuff like that.  

Somehow I overslept on the day God handed out safety sense to the other humans.  I didn't get that, or the biological clock, or the ability to be around other people without making them feel they were in the presence of some sort of weirdo.  I did, however, get a great sense of humor and a very sweet tendency to land on my feet anywhere in the world.  Which is a pretty good trade since--as I said--I love to observe people.  It has led me to some very interesting places (and also some hellish ones but let's save those for a different story).  

India is a pretty damned interesting place.  That's not even the word for it.  Here are some other words for it: Mystical. Mind-blowing. Intense. Eternal. Shit-soaked. Sublime. Unrepeatable. Maniacal. With more than two thousand ethnic groups, over 100 languages, and 18% of the world's entire population practicing all of the major religions, it's unreal that people get along at all, that World War III has never broken out in India. People live in unbelievable poverty, in incredible situations; literally on top of one another, piled into tiny flats, twelve to a room.  Why don't they kill each other more often?  Why isn't there more violence?  We in the United States go berserk on one another with frightening regularity compared to the Indian people.  And we have acres more room.  But here is my theory at the risk of being laughed at: I suspect that tolerance is behind the Indian people's ability to live atop one another without more violent crime.  Of course, I know how this sounds in the face of poverty, grime, hopelessness, overcrowding, begging, and as a friend recently said to me in disbelief, “people dropping their pants to take a shit right there in the train station, man.”  And yet, somehow we know this at heart: love is made for the ruins. It will shine out brighter for the filth around it.  Go there, and see it for yourself; or just stay here, and consider the Taj Mahal.  What would happen in our (Western, modern) world if some guy started building a monument—a grand, majestic, soaring, freakishly expensive monument solely for the purpose of expressing his undying love for his lady—in the middle of Washington DC or Los Angeles or out in the prairies of South Dakota?  A building that had no other purpose but to house the ashes of his beloved?  Would we admire him?  Write him off as a lunatic?  Envy his big fat wallet?  The media would be all over it for a few months and then, with our collective ADD, we’d probably forget about it and move on to something else.  But the Taj has stood for centuries as India’s greatest manmade landmark.   

Back to reality: three days after landing in India, I developed dysentery and never got over it for the entire month I traveled the country.  I alternately vomited, shit, sweated and shivered my way through hellish overnight train rides, miserable youth hostels, inhumanely packed bus trips, and a Himalayan trek.  I nearly shit myself during a dawn trip to see the Taj Mahal.  I nearly did so again as I knelt for prayers at a sacred lake in Pushkar.  I rode a camel through the desert in Rajasthan, grinning sickly, yellow-faced, literally thrilled as hell to be lurching along at around 7 feet in the air on this awful spitting thing.  I was (okay, dramatically) trying to decide if I had spinal meningitis, typhoid fever, or was merely seasick.  I was in a lot of pain, that was not in question.  Eric, my boyfriend at the time, was in the same boat.  We had two ten-year-old kids as our guides, and thankfully they were used to people in our condition.  They'd obtained some hash on our way out into the desert, and they rolled us up some joints at a rest stop.  They instructed the camels to lie down--this almost did kill me, the thing going out from under me like a sinking ship, making sounds to rival Titanic's last moments.  But the hash helped.  I avoided losing any bodily fluids out either end, if only because I hadn't ingested any food for a few days.  Eric too.  And we both managed to avoid feeling guilty about the two kids rolling us joints like a couple of dealers.  Like I said: pretty damned interesting place. 

Which leads me to the next thought--this idea of safety, this thing about avoiding pain and seeking the comfort zone (get married, have kids, have a house/job/car/etc etc)--this is very much a first-world thing.  Health benefits, job security, climbing the ladder, finding the "right" person, doing the "right" thing: that doesn't always happen everywhere else.  It's bourgeois, upper-crust, a luxury.  I'm not saying it doesn't happen in India; there are arranged marriages (somewhat fewer than there used to be), and the upper class lives very well.  It's just that illusions about life are necessarily in shorter supply.  It is an old, old place.  People are aware that their souls, also, are very old.  It is said that every soul on this planet was Indian at one time.  I think this may be true.  Small wonder that my own soul, despite the extreme discomfort experienced by the body it was housed in, was thrilled beyond belief to be once again journeying through the crazy, unrepeatable, mind-blowing, intense, hallowed land of India.  Among other things (such as the true limits of my bowels) here is what I learned in India: “More than anything else, love opens us to the possibility of forever.  When we love, we feel as if we have existed before and will exist again.  The universe in its entirety stretches out behind and before us, all our past and future lives intertwining.  We know this place and these people, and we will know them again.” 

So. Love, and shit.  Shit, and love.  The two of them irrevocably intertwined.  Isn't that what we learn from life, if our eyes are truly open?  (If you have kids, you certainly know this.)  When I'm dead, I'd rather be known as someone who loved too much (shit too much?) and ran a little wild, than as someone who took the rule-book everywhere. Not that I don't want to do right--but there's something to be said for getting messy.  So I tried something new and got hurt/embarrassed.  I lost my reputation.  So what?  I learned something.  I grew a little, came up missing some skin.  My old, old, Indian soul came back around to figure this out, one more time; because obviously I didn't figure it out the last time.  Or? Maybe I did, and I'm back to play some more.  That camel ride and the trip to the Taj Mahal and the Himalayan trek--they certainly did feel like play, despite some near-misses with the self-shitting.  Not really sure where I'm going next, but guaranteed it will be an adventure. 

Thanks for reading, whoever you are, and wherever you are going.  I hope to meet you out there one day.  Till then, Namaste.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Rain Dance

Children make the storms come
By simply wishing it so
By imagining the smell of green and the
Rhythm of rain
The feel of mud sucking shoeless toes
Of puddles splashing bare scraped shins

Parents glare at the sky
The dirty footprints on the carpet
And each other
Their own childhoods hidden
In too many rainclouds

KB ©2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


And now we are awakening.

Comes a sudden streak of daylight
Across the stretch of desert at our doorstep
Which, today, is Arizona.
(Yesterday our doorstep was New Mexico
And the day before that no longer matters)

We are awakening again to the slow spin of earth
Under sky. 
It is an ancient ritual, this dance
This sweet rumbling tango around the sun.
Our simple skins and all they contain—
Tongues and fingertips, ribs and soft bellies
Crest of a hipbone, tender bitten thighs—
Already know the dance.
Even last night
We followed its steps while the moon watched,
Laughing sideways at us in the dark.

But now--morning. 
We push back the darkness
Emerging naked into a cool desert dawn
Made new.

KB ©5/21/12

Friday, May 18, 2012


  "Lovers don't finally meet somewhere;
  they are in each other all along."

 I have done what lovers do in Dali paintings:
Climbed your twining limbs to taste the fruits you offer
Swung from your fingers like a star from Orion’s belt
Trimmed my timeworn sails to the wind of your breath.
These things we do in dreams, these things we never thought
Were possible: I have done them. 

I have felt you buried in the roots of me
Felt you rising in my belly like slow bees
Found you in the tall grass of early morning
When you turned your face to me, sleepy-eyed
As a lion on the make: I know you, stranger.
We were in each other long before we met.

Was it you I hunted in primal forests where nightmares ruled?
Was I the rudder that tilled your Viking ship?
We chased each other down the slopes of eternity and tumbled
Into forgetfulness: the fumbled innocence of childhood
The brilliant distractions that baffled and molded us
All through this wild, aching, amnesiac life;

And now we are awake.  These things we never thought
Were possible: we have done them.
I trim my timeless sails to the wind of your breath
I swing from your fingers, a star from Orion’s belt
I climb the lovely limbs of your body
Disappearing, like Dali’s beloved, in the boundless sky behind your eyes.

KB ©2008

Thursday, May 17, 2012

It Took Everything

It took everything I had to leave you
Packing up the bits and pieces that remained
Untying the ropes and lines of love and
Shoving away from shore

These past weeks I’ve watched you grow smaller
Waving from a distance, your pale face daily
Losing all its features save one: the sad
Crescent of your mouth

Still, there are lessons I refuse to learn
How to captain a sinking vessel
How to lose gracefully
How not to be loved

Better a ship alone on a trackless ocean
Than a lover alone in a loveless bed
Better to hunger on some lonesome island
Than starve within sight of a feast

©KB 2/04

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cowgirl Up?

I was at a local bar the other night, kicking back and taking in some good live music, and a cowboy asked me to dance. A real cowboy with a cowboy hat and sideburns and a slow, swaggering walk that looked like it had just carried him through the double doors of a wild-west saloon. The hat was tipped down over his eyes and when I politely refused him, he just as politely touched the brim of the hat and gave the barest suggestion of a smile. Tattoos rearranged themselves along his biceps, drawing my attention to his well-muscled brown arms; and I had the fleeting thought that perhaps I should have accepted his offer. But the song was slow enough to break your heart, and I just wasn't ready for that sort of thing from a perfect stranger.

I carry a little soft spot for cowboys, just behind my knees, particularly cowboys with sideburns and tattoos who look as though they might have scraped through a few rough spots in life. But then, what woman doesn't? We like the rough types; that's what gets us into trouble. And trouble is what makes life so damned interesting. For the time being, I appear to have learned a lesson about trouble, which is: stay away from it and it will stay away from you. Don't court it, don't chase it, don't sleep with it. (Or if you do, don't beg it to call you the next day.)

Of course, that's not saying the next time I run into that cowboy I won't dance with him. I only said I'd learned my lesson for the time being. 

©KB 5/12/12