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Writing and Poetry by Tom Greening

Poetry about War and Peace
Poetry written since 9/11

Poetry written about Saybrook
Existential Poems


Freedom vs. Determinism
Kierkegaard's Paradox
Night Journey
No Time to Feel
A Single Case Study
Weary of Theory
For Ronnie Laing
Lapsed Existentialist

© 2005 Tom Greening


Just reacting? Freely striving?
Blindly driven? Wisely driving?
Who's the rider? Who's the horse?
Who's in charge? Who charts the course?
Sort your data, choose your theory,
Argue concepts 'til you're weary.
Psychologize until you die--
While we argue, life goes by.

     Tom Greening
Dialogues: Therapeutic Applications of Existential Philosophy. Vol. 1, No. 2.

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Here's a challenge and a mission--
developing our intuition.
We need more freedom from the known
and must not count on thought alone.
No matter how astute we are
our reason takes us just so far
and cannot help us to discern
the other ways we need to learn.
Instead of logic and precision
we also need a deeper vision,
ways to think in metaphor
and draw upon unconscious lore.
But here I sit, trapped in my mind,
and do not know if I can find
a way to shake the evil curse
that makes me write such stilted verse.

     Tom Greening
Dialogues: Therapeutic Applications of Existential Philosophy. Vol. 1, No. 2.

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Some more of that, some more of this—
thus will I some day savor bliss.
Or should I abjure everything,
give up the stuff to which I cling
so I can set my poor soul free
and dwell in perfect poverty?
Some days I gain, some days I lose—
I never know which one to choose—
when to constrict, when to expand—
that's what I cannot understand.
And thus I swing from pole to pole,
confused about my proper goal,
but in the process try to be
alive more existentially.

     Tom Greening

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As I perused the gloomy paper trail
that marked this patient's lengthy fall from grace
I realized that I would also fail
and write him off as just a hopeless case
unless I sprung us both out of our trap
and met him in a place we'd never been.
But for this pathless journey there's no map,
and just a rusty gyroscope within.
We wandered in and out the prison gate
and passed each other in the dark unheard,
then met at last before it was too late
and found we did not need to say a word.
In searching for a better way to care
without a ray of hope or guiding star,
the only way to get from here to there,
is learning how to be the place we are.

          Tom Greening

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The way that I've arranged my life,
I've left no time to feel.
This anesthetic works so well
I never do reveal
my feelings even to myself
or to those close to me.
By keeping busy all the time
I act like I am free,
and if I have some time to spare
I fill it up real fast,
and pray this numbing sedative
is somehow going to last.
When nosey people question me
I hasten to explain
this is my plan to get through life
by minimizing pain,
and yet at times I lie awake
obsessed by sudden doubt—
I worry that I'm just a fool
and somehow missing out.
I do not hope to really live
but merely to survive,
but will I mourn when I'm near death
not having been alive?

Tom Greening

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As I came into consciousness
there was a war where millions died,
and even when frail peace broke out
life's anguish left me horrified.

I worked in mental hospitals,
construction jobs and factories;
I traveled where the war had been
and contemplated tragedies.

Perplexed by what I'd seen of life,
appalled by so much misery,
I sought to understand the cause
and thought I'd try psychology.

I hoped I'd find some people there
who cared about the human soul,
but learned instead it was our job
to do "prediction and control."

And sure enough, some governments
have found psychologists can aid
in customizing torture skills,
a job for which they're amply paid.

Not all psychology, thank God,
is used for purposes so cruel,
but much of what it's all about
is tailored to a basic rule:

Whatever does in fact exist
exists in some precise amount,
and so our task is to devise
precision tools with which to count.

Away with fuzzy-minded thought,
away with sloppy sentiment--
Pure science is the one true faith;
the goal of life is measurement.

Do I belong in such a field?
Can such a field put up with me?
When questions such as these grow grim
for refuge I try poetry.

          Tom Greening
Dialogues: Therapeutic Applications of Existential Philosophy, Vol. 1, No. 1.

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I am an anomalous surge,
a bioelectromagnetic burst.
Study me with EEG topographic mapping
(a great advance over phrenology),
ferret out my subtle energies,
record the markers of my emotion,
sift my positive and negative ions
for signs of virtue,
and measure the build-up and collapse
of my electric dipoles
while I indulge my mood swings.
I'll gulp down any placebo,
ignorant as I am of
When you've done with
the biofeedback stress profiling
please give me copies of the charts and graphs
to frame and hang over the fireplace
so on cold nights when my current flickers
I can remember who I am.

          Tom Greening

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Behaviorists in all their wisdom
feel it isn't worth their work
to explore the human psyche,
full of mystery and murk.

They would rather study action,
focus on behavior seen,
not unseen, unseemly insides,
motives, meanings Byzantine.

Humanists, their fuzzy colleagues,
have a very different goal:
They would elevate the species
and affirm the human soul.

Then there's existentialism,
focused on our finitude,
angst, contingency and freedom,
all with dread of death imbued.

Psychoanalytic pundits
eruditely analyze
our fixations and resistance,
thus attempting to be wise.

Cognitive behavior theorists
study how we learn and think.
I grow weary of these theories—
too much thought drives me to drink.

I have searched such books for wisdom,
but it's mostly been in vain,
so I merely write these verses,
hoping thus to entertain.

          Tom Greening

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For all these years I've not been here
because I have a chronic fear
that being in the present tense
would strip me of my last defense
against the terror known as "life,"
which I have found to be too rife
with anguish, heartbreak and despair
for any feeling soul to bear.
Thus I have kept myself apart,
pretended that I have no heart,
avoided being too awake,
and searched for ways that I could fake
a pseudo-personality
concealed in much banality
to deftly substitute in lieu
of really being here with you.
I've gotten very good at this,
and only dimly do I miss
the warmth that other people feel
who have the courage to be real.
I think my way of life is best,
and so I make this firm request:
Don't wake me up, don't make me see
my triumph is a tragedy.

          Tom Greening

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Who's mad and who's sane,
and who decides?
If you have to ask,
don't ask out loud,
or you could end up
on the wrong side of the keys,
knife, chemicals, or electricity.
What was a nice Scottish doctor
doing in a world like this?
Rattling paradigms, that's what,
and drinking more than he should.
His time is up,
and the psychiatric pub
is quieter now.
Once he asked,
"Where in the world
are lunatics allowed to bathe
naked in the moonlight?"
At last he has found the place,
but he's probably splashing
more than God allows.

               Tom Greening
Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 30 No. 2, 1990
© 1990 Sage Publications

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I must confess that I've become annoyed
by seeing naught about me but the void,
and so I clutch and cling to lots of stuff
but never seem to gather quite enough.
How many loves and dollars will it take
to fill me up and my grim thirsting slake?
This question occupies each waking hour,
and all the while my mood grows dark and dour.
I wish this could be called philosophy,
yet fear it's just a dreary travesty.
I'd hoped that for my courage I'd be known,
but ended up a dreary rhyming drone.
I'm nothing but a boring pessimist,
a lapsed and defrocked existentialist.

            Tom Greening

Thomas Greening, Ph.D.
1314 Westwood Blvd. Suite 205
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Phone 310-474-0064

e-mail:[email protected]


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