Writing Fellowship at Interfaith Center

Sorry for my  long silence. Things have been busy at best, sometimes just plain hectic.

On the good side, though, this: the Writing Fellowship. A place called Wisdom House in the northwest hills of Connecticut offered free fellowships of 2-10 days for low-income writers from this area to come and stay to work on a writing project. I applied immediately, wanting time to organize, come up with a title, and send out my second book of poems to the Barnard women’s second book contest. Well, after speaking to my references and to my new psychiatrist, they accepted me, the sister in charge calling me last night at 9pm to give me the news. (As my friend, Leila, put it when I told her how late the director called, “nuns do not keep bankers’ hours!”)

Now the only reservation I have vis a vis the fellowship is that it is going to be held while the rest of the center is on a “silent retreat”. This means that everyone else,  aside from the two other writers and me, will voluntarily not be talking the entire time. According to Leila, they will not be looking at others or even raising their eyes. While I wanted time to write, I have to admit I anticipated a more convivial atmosphere, or at least a less daunting one. This does not sound exactly friendly. Spiritual, yes, but not friendly. Sr Jo-Ann does, on the other hand, and she has offered her help in any way she can (since I have been more than open about my illness) but I don’t know that she understands quite how difficult I may find this. Even the problem of getting to the dining hall, the speaking one or the silent one, or eating with other people, should I manage to get into the building wherever it is, may pose a huge obstacle, if my experience at the art and crafts center two years ago is any predictor.

Well, I am determined to go, so I will not let my reservations, nor even the tears I shed last night in sheer terror stop me. I must confess however that I am not without mixed emotions in face of this overwhelming silence — and the resulting loneliness or something much worse — I fear I may confront.

On a somewhat brighter note, for six week, I took an art class in New Haven, at the Creative Arts Workshop. I wanted to learn the rock bottom basics, which I figured I needed to start with. Even though I have successfully painted some portraits, I know I need to learn fundamental techniques, both in drawing and painting so I’m not just floundering around, painting more in hope than with real confidence and skill. But getting to the class meant that I had to drive to New Haven — on the interstate —  for the first time in more than 20 years. Unable to drive home that same night, I spent two days a week there, staying at my parents’ condo, usually with my father there (my mother was usually at the shore, at the other house). I enjoyed that part of it almost as much as the class. We were so long estranged that I love just seeing him and getting to talk with him, no matter what we talk about.

The class might easily have been too much for me. Three hours of drawing could have sapped all my energy and taken the enjoyment out of it. Instead, somehow the time just winged away, and after the first class, which was the most tiring because I had not yet adjusted to how long a span of time 3 hours was, I got into the rhythm, and never once left early. In fact, I often left with the teacher, just so I talk with her about art.

Now, I say all that as if it were easy and not problematic at all. Certainly no one in the class would have any idea that I feel as I do, but in truth I became quite certain, and remain so, that the teacher soon grew– how do I put it? — sick of me. Overwhelmed by me. Found me overbearing and overly enthusiastic and therefore unpleasant. I know my presence was too much for her to take and so I tried to tone it down, tried not to ask too many questions or talk too much so I stopped staying after class, or showing her what I had done during the week…And frankly, I am a little scared that if I sign up for her next class, which will be a continuation of the last one, it will upset her and she won’t want me there.

In point of fact, I felt the entire class was laughing at me most of the time, that they agreed with her and that they mocked me whenever I left to use the bathroom or to wash my hands of the charcoal that we used so often.

It was only just before the final class, when I brought my sketch pad and showed two people what I had been practicing, that they seemed to realize that I was serious about drawing and art, and not just a foolish older woman taking a class for entertainment. One young woman, Jennie, actually talked to me then, and said I was “very talented.” When she asked for my Facebook page, I gave her the name Pam Wagner, which of course she will never be able to locate me with, alas, as I would be happy to communicate with her.

Nevertheless, I remain wary of the teacher, and of taking her next class, lest I be more than unwelcome. Lest I be bothersome and actively hated. I feel it incumbent upon me to spread myself around, spread the burden around, spread the miasma I cause as wide and therefore as thinly as possible so as not to sicken anyone seriously. The only real solution I can think of though is to completely shut up and be as minimal a presence there as I can. To not be visible in any way, to make no sound or impression…To do the work, and learn what I can, without, so to speak, making a mark. That way I won’t bother anyone or disturb the peace, or anyone’s peace of mind.

Then there are less positive aspect of being “busy” — Well, no, I cannot dig into this at the moment, except to say that I need to take a break from seeing Joe. Joe, if you recall, is my long-time friend (24+ years), who has Lou Gehrig’s Disease and has been in hospital for 3 years, mostly paralyzed and on a ventilator. I have visited him almost every week, sometimes twice a week, all of that time, but now I need to take some time for myself, take some time to think about what to do.. It is true that I have sometimes been away for as many as 6 weeks, but that was when I was hospitalized, and while to Joe it may feel only as if I am absent — who cares why!– to me it is not voluntary time off and certainly no vacation!

I love Joe, but only as a friend, not as a girlfriend despite what people think. And if the people in the hospital believe otherwise, it is only because I told Joe when he first became ill, that I would “be his girlfriend” — the one dream he always cherished and held out for and hoped would come to pass for some 24 years! And mostly because it was the one gift I could give him, knowing that it was a dying man’s wish-come-true.

The problem is that when he was in fact dying, when he had terrible aspiration pneumonia and could not breathe without assistance (at which point, most people with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s, opt to die, knowing what the future holds) he asked to be put on a ventilator. Hence, for the past 3 years, I have had to act the part of devoted “girlfriend” (completely non-sexual, though, just as our relationship has always been). And it has long been assumed that my love for Joe is the sole driver behind my visits. Not pure loyalty, mind you, but in some sense my own selfish need to be with him. It seems not to have occurred to anyone that maybe I do it mostly for him, to help him and keep him company…rather than because I myself want anything from it at all.

This is not to say that I don’t enjoy seeing Joe, or that I resent spending time with him. Most of the time I do not, or when I do, it is only because I feel I cannot say, No, I cannot come today, or worse, No, I do not want to come today, not even when I haven’t slept and am utterly exhausted. Usually when or after I visit, I feel better in some sense — at least about us. I feel less guilty and more needed (a double-edged sword!)

But I admit that it is extremely tiring to have to stand up the entire visit — an hour or two — and pay exquisitely close attention in order to understand what his  computer (which takes eons to do it)  translates from his spelling into speech. When I finally get home after the 30 minute ride back with Josephine, I am wiped out for hours. Even on a good day, the rest of the afternoon is shot just because of visiting him, and that is true even when I only stay an hour.

Well, I said I wasn’t going to go into it, esp not with details, so I will leave that alone, except to say that recently we had a big — what was it? Altercation? Spat? Misunderstanding? Who knows what to call it, but it left me me feeling unappreciated, taken for granted, and most of all, just plain angry. Worse, it induced this exhausted feeling in me that left me hopeless and desperate. That is why I wrote Joe and told him I needed some time off, needed time to reflect and think about things. I did not ask him for it, nor tell him what I needed it for, nor how long it would take. I did reassure him I would be back. But otherwise I simply stated my needs and informed him what I was going to do about it.

I haven’t heard from him since, but unless he is still upset or angry with me, which would be unlike him, he is simply giving me the space I need.

That is all I have the energy and time for tonight. I hope to go out for another of the 2 mile walks that a friend and I have set for ourselves to do as often as we can. We are trying to get in 10 miles a week, but so far I think the best we have done is maybe 8 miles. Still, that is MUCH better than doing nothing at all, which was my usual, until we got together to spur each other on. Usually it is she who gets me up and over to the park to meet her, and I who keeps her going at a great clip. So we help one another and get our gabbing done into the bargain.

Thanks for your patience. I have another entry planned, and hope to work on it tonight for posting tomorrow or the next day — about delusions of grandeur and other symptoms.