GREETINGS FROM WISDOM HOUSE! (Plus an unrelated word or two about PARANOIA)

Photo by Sr Jo-Ann Iannotti OP

I hope I am not encroaching on Sr Jo-Ann Iannotti’s copyright, by sharing this photo, but if I am I trust she will let me know. In any event, this is one of hers  and it is everywhere at Wisdom House. I believe it is a beautiful example (if that is the proper word for it) of the spirit of Wisdom House. Of course, the physical labyrinth, is stunning by itself, but somehow this photo captures the experience of walking it  and the process of meditating and “being there” in a way that mere words describing likely could not. Surely, if nothing else,  this photo alone is a wonderful way to “advertise” Wisdom House, if it ever needed such a thing.  If you can, visit http://www.wisdomhouse.org and look at the virtual tour photo gallery. That way, you will get a good idea of what the place looks like, and perhaps get something of the flavor of people’s first impression. I know that even the first time I came here, despite my misery concerning all that silence, I knew it was a special place…

Jo-Ann says she has no idea who the woman in the labyrinth center is, that it was a fortuitous shot and nothing more. Frankly, though, I suspect getting the photo took more than mere luck, even just to have been there to capture it!  It exquisitely represents both the spirituality of this place as well as peace and peacefulness.

Clearly, you can tell where I am: at Wisdom House again, having a good time this time. I only wish I did not have to depart tomorrow.Even though I spend most of my time alone, the mere presence of other people, laughing and talking and obviously having a great time, buoys my own spirits and makes me laugh aloud myself. I think it is great that they are laughing so uproariously, and it is great to see everyone with their doors wide open, people, women my age, sitting on each other’s beds, gabbing like college girls. The lovely thing too, about Wisdom House in general is the absolute faith in people’s basic trustworthiness: NO one has a key to their rooms, and no one seems to feel worried about anyone entering or stealing a thing. I frequently leave my computer and writing equipment right out in the open on the sun porch, without the least qualm, feeling secure in the knowledge that everything will be just as I left it when I return. Indeed, the sense of trust that I know Jo-Ann has in people is infectious, and I somehow know that everyone who comes here is trustworthy at least for as long as they are here, even if they might not be all the time when they are not.

Now, I may be naive, but I too have been known to be overly trusting, and I think that is a better option than not trusting people. At the same time, though, I can be extremely paranoid as you know, and I do mean “at the same time…” I suppose that is difficult to comprehend: I will simultaneously give away whatever I can, if I feel I own too much and yet also feel as if people are secretly stealing from me, taking things I need out from under me, without even asking or telling me, which makes me angry, because I am already generous, and never ask for a single thing in return, but I’m sorry and feel bad to admit it, but somethings I am not ready to simply have things taken from me without my say so! I feel guilty about this, though, as if I am so attached to material things that I cannot part with something that someone else needs more than I do (for why else would someone resort to stealing it???). Why do I need to be so attached to anything, that is, to any mere object? It will never save your life or your soul!

I am drifting though…forgive me.

One great thing about this weekend here is that despite my having slept till noon today (after spending several days before last night with very little sleep, and even last night beginning to fear for my brain and my sanity due to sleeplessness as I was up till 4am involuntarily) I have pretty much gotten the book organized and put together. Now, that means only that I have made the organizational decisions, which is the major part of the problem. But I needs must (!) still go through the actual computer manuscript and change it, to make it conform to these editorial decisions. Not extremely difficult, just time consuming. At the same time, certain poems need editing and some rewriting/fixing. This I enjoy, the perfecting of the lines I don’t feel are quite right yet, but it takes time and energy. (I even have a two relatively new poems to add!) Alas, I will not be able to come up here to take the time for myself to do nothing else. Too bad, as it has been very convenient and much more than that. It has been, well, useful in the sense that I have been productive “to the max,” able to say NO to email and phone calls, not even walking with Diane L or doing laundry or cleaning or shopping, just writing all day. I suppose taking my usual 2 miles walk would be a good thing, but for just a weekend here, I would rather not…And although I brought art supplies just in case, I haven’t even taken out my sketch book, that is how good the writing, and the editing, have been going!

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Speaking of the labyrinth at Wisdom House as I did at the top of the post, let me segue into a few words about paranoia: I have not walked the labyrinth, nor even approached it. The closest I have come is to sit at the top of the stairs looking down at it relatively from afar. The very idea of “doing it” makes me feel both rather shy and then scared to do so. I am in fact scare that God might strike me down, should I have such temerity as to try it.  I am also squeamish, not sure I could relax and not feel paranoid, not feel so much on display  that I could not concentrate or let myself be “unaware of being observed” — whether I am in fact under observation or not.

That of course is the essence of paranoia: it matters not a fig whether something is really happening, it matters not another fig if someone’s really after you or really against you: if you feel it, if your amygdala is working overtime to generate that feeling, the intense feeling of fear that it is meant to generate, well, that’s it. That is how you are going to feel. And “the feeling is primary.” That’s what Dr O told me time and time again. You feel the fear first, and primarily, and then the story or reason for feeling it attaches to it. But if the fear  gets entrenched or doesn’t go away, the story,, that is, the brain’s explanation for the feelings of fear only gets more entrenched, because how else can you deal with fear? It is extremely difficult to feel fear unmitigated without somehow understanding it as coming from somewhere, or being stimulated by something, having a cause or reason. The brain always wants to make sense of things, and it does this whether one “wants to” or not.

So even though I am aware of what paranoia is, I have never been able to control my thoughts when it is happening. It is only after the fact that I can, now, sometimes, look back on a difficult situation and with a clearer head understand how I might in fact have been paranoid in my behavior due to my fear- induced understanding of what was going on. It is very very difficult to override such feelings, esp on such  a fundamental level.

I wish I could write more now, but I’d better to get back to my writing before I have to get back to sleep. As it is, it is 1:50 A.M. and we — Ann W drove here with me — the other fellowship person — have to drive home tomorrow around noon. I wish dearly it were not so, but there you have it. For now, I will leave you with a poem that will go into the manuscript of my second book of poems, which I call at least for now (several people have been enthusiastic about the title, except my father), LEARNING TO SEE IN THREE DIMENSIONS. I share it with you now, because while still unpublished, I do not think I will seek publication for it elsewhere, separately…The first one, for my old (and former, but possibly dead now) friend Roland, was previously published, but in a much different version. I apologize if the lines come out with large spaces between them, but the cut and pasting function never seems to allow single spaces… OR stanzas for that matter, as this poem was originally broken up inot five different stanzas but now appears to be in only one long one… The second poem is about Joe, and describes my own encounter with fear of botulism, which has similar symptoms to ALS — so I feared — and my nostalgia for his voice, which I will never hear again, except on his answering machine, and on one or two micro-cassette tapes we made some years ago…

FOR A FRIEND SUCCUMBING TO AIDS, 1980s

For Roland

This could be your whole life,

thumbing a ride to wherever the cars are going,

the casual, tossed out hellos and good-byes

that turn around the axle of your quick life —

that far, just that far, and then you will stay,

forcing a stranger’s town into the shape of home.

Yet you’ve lived a dozen lives — in the Keys

with the one you finally loved, in western Portugal,

Nova Scotia. Last year, already marked, you spent

the winter in your bed,which just fit in a backyard shed

in Vernon, Connecticut. And there was a life

to accommodate each place, its sweetness and pain.

When we met, you taught me the local architecture,

the difference between Georgian and Greek Revival,

and you thanked me for the poems you gave me.

Then you called late one night, drunk enough to over-

dose. Thoughtlessly, I rescued you, a dying man…

You never forgave nor spoke to me again.

Now once in a while a car slows, pondering

your beard, your emaciation, the known and unknown

risks, sees you finally, and explodes away from the shoulder

where you stand, all its doors locked simultaneously

against those Kaposi’s inflorescences that stain

your dying…Roland, Roland, don’t you know

we all die in shame and alone? We die, perhaps,

not far from home, or perhaps, like you, wandering,

waiting for the one car to cross the bridge

whose toll is so high we all pay with our lives.

WORRYWART

Tonight I’m up late worrying

about a badly canned chestnut puree

and botulism, which is useless

since I’ll know soon enough from

what the Merck Manual describes as

“difficulty speaking or swallowing,

drooping eyelids, double vision,

lassitude and weakness progressing

to paralysis” that I have it

or not. Not very likely with only

130 cases in the U.S. in a year,

but as I said, I worry, and worry attaches

to anything: leprosy, asteroids falling

from the sky, dirt on your hands.

Most people worry too much

about things that won’t matter

after six months. My friend doesn’t

have to worry about those. He is

losing his speech to Lou Gehrig’s. In six

months who knows what won’t work

any longer or which will matter

most. His assistive device says

the words he types, but how I miss

the sound of his voice, which I’ve forgotten

except when I call and the old

machine picks up: Joe speaking.

I can’t answer the phone right now

but I’ll call you back as soon as I can.

Back to Wisdom House: Another Try…

Yes, I am going to visit Wisdom House again, this coming Friday and stay the weekend…

But I haven’t even told you about the first time there, so forthwith I will make up that lapse.

I had no difficulty driving up to Litchfield from the Hartford area, despite my usual tendency towards sleepiness,. This was largely I think because I left home at 8:30 a.m, an hour after waking, and got there by 9:30, well before my 11 a.m. sleepy hour when I ought never to be on the road (unless well medicated, and armed with a strong cup of coffee to boot). Barely had I gotten my suitcase out of the car and was deciding which door to roll it towards, when I heard a voice call, Hello, and saw an arm wave over the hedge.

Sr Jo-Ann is, well, I do not want to say cherubic, because that isn’ the word I want. If I use it, it would only be in reference to her size, and her positive demeanor. Very cheerful, so far as I could tell she was never without a kind smile for everyone. As for her size, well, I am not quite 5’3″ but in comparison to this tiny, tiny Dominican sister, I felt like a giantess! I do not often tower over people, but in Jo-Ann’s case, that wasn’t hard to do. 8D

Be that as it may, we went by elevator to the third floor of what used to be the convent (?) I suppose you would call it, of the Daughters of Wisdom community, first built in the 1940s as a residence and then later with a college added on to it. I must have “lucked out”  because it turned out that I had been assigned a room with a private bath; it seemed that the room had once housed a mother superior or at least a fully professed and senior nun/sister, as opposed to a novice, postulant etc. Now, the dormitories have all been refurbished and turned into single or double rooms as well, so none of the accommodations are anything but just as comfortable, but some do share bath. I had assured them I had no objections whatsoever to doing so. But as it turned out, it didn’t seem that there were many people housed very close to one another, so that shared bathrooms or no, it would have posed a problem either way.

Mother Superior’s room or not, it was just perfect for me,  and really nice. I dunno what I was expecting, a room  perhaps like what I’d gotten when I found myself at that horrible YMCA in New York City (back in the early 1990s when I was so ill and on my way “to Orlando” —   a long story) which was almost literally a cell, just a closet of a room, with a cot, a sink and a hard wooden chair, and that was it. The bed had a stinking blanket and ripped sheets and the walls were dirty and stained as well. The window looked down on a grit-filled air shaft…SO when I saw this room, with a window looking out onto the woods and grass, and a full bed with a nice bedspread, a desk and chair and a small arm chair, I frankly was in love with it immediately. Plain, yes, but exactly my “cup of tea”.

The first words I said to Jo-Ann were “Oh, how lovely,” and I hope she knows I meant it.  Sure, having done some public speaking in various places now, I know that a few hotels, like the Hilton, can be “fancier”, but in terms of where I have been most comfortable, Wisdom House beats them all. The hotels are always too cold, and too, I dunno, cold in every sense of the word, I guess…

But there is more to talk about that just the bedroom, and it is getting late so let me move on. We went for a tour of the building then, and I was astonished at how many little nooks and crannies there seemed to be for a person to hole up in and write or be alone. Now that may have been an illusion of sorts, because I was overwhelmed and it was all new to me. But it seemed that every other room that Sr Jo-Ann pointed out to me was another one she said could be used for quiet times or writing or reading. I was also very pleased by the fact that there were several places where coffee and tea was available literally 24 hours a day.

I had come a day later than others, though, so the quietness of the silent retreat was in full force. This did not prevent Jo-Ann from talking to me, not at all, though we did speak in low voices so as not to disturb the retreatants. But I came to understand that a silent retreat did not mean no one was allowed to talk, only that silence was to be respected and honored as much as possible, or at least that quiet was. But at meals, the spiritual directors usually sat in the talking dining room as did I and Joanne the other writer and Jo-Ann as well.

The first day went all right, as I recall. At least, I had lunch and sort of enjoyed meeting the sisters who were “running” the retreat, in the sense that they were acting as the spiritual directors, and it was interesting to listen to them talk. I had never had any opportunity to be in the presence of “religious” before so it was simply an experience to observe them. And hear what they talked about. But at the same time, for some reason, I felt I had to make sure that Joanne was not left out, because she was younger than I, and I always feel responsible for people. So I would ask her about herself and what she was writing and where she came from etc. And I dunno, all this socializing was tiring to me, and I was glad at least when she left to go upstairs, so I could just sit and listen to the sisters. Until I realized that they were just being polite and waiting for me to get up so they could too! At that, I immediately stood and took my plate to the kitchen, apologizing for keeping them. Which of course, they denied, but what else could they do?

The next day, well, I can barely recall Monday, in truth, except that it was harder to stay sociable and not feel ugly, not feel that I was contaminating and upsetting everyone. At one point, I even left the table abruptly, and clearly upset, not because they had done anything to me or to upset ME, but because I felt I had upset or oppressed them, obtruded in on them, and had to betake mysefl elsewhere so they would have some breathing room. That was when I began to feel I could not stand it any longer. Already the silence had begun to take its toll. I had less trouble at night, because I enjoy the nighttime quiet. But it was during the day, when people were around, but ignoring me, and I suppose ignoring everyone else as well, that it was difficult (the retreatants each had a meeting every day to speak to their spriritual advisors, but I had no one at all to talk with…which was a big problem) Finally, on Tuesday late afternoon, I had had enough, or at least I was crumbling, and called Josephine in tears. I didn’t call for any reason in particular except to hear someone’s voice and talk. But when she heard me she said, “Why are you staying if you are so upset? You don’t need to prove anything to anyone. If you do not like beiing there, just come home, they do not care, and no one wants you to be miserable there. Just come home!”

You know, ordinarily, I would not have listened to her. I would have felt that there was indeed something to prove, that I did have to stay and make myself do what I did not want to do, to “prove to myself” if to no one else, that I could force myself to do what I did not want to do…i.e. punish myself, discipline myself, stick it out, despite my discomfort and misery…all the old sadistic childhood lessons. and because I think if it feels bad, if it is hard for me, it is probably GOOD for me, rather than just simply something I do not enjoy…

For some reason, though, this time I heard Josephine, I heard the sense she made when she said that NO ONE CAREs if I proved anything…No one wanted me to prove anything and I was NOT in fact proving anything to anyone by staying. She was right. She was absolutely right. All I was proving that I could make myself miserable yet again. “Go ahead, pack the car and call me when you are leaving,” she said, and I finally answered, “Okay, you are right, I am on my way. I’ll call you when I am in the car.”

Luckily, I thought, everyone was at afternoon mass for the first half-hour of my packing up and carrying things to the car. It was only during the final trip to the parking lot, when I carried my pillow and sweater out, that anyone saw me. I kept my eyes averted and my head down, pretending nothing was wrong. Why make eye contact now, when it was too late? But I did catch a glimpse of Joanne, the writer, sneaking her dinner on a plate and bringing it upstairs to her room. I wondered whether she was too busy writing to eat in the dining room, or if perhaps she was as miserable as I was…

Finally I was ready to drive off. Just as I was about to  call Josephine to tell her I was on my way, I thought  about Sr Jo-Ann and decided I really ought to tell her I was leaving. I knew in my heart that she would not try to make me stay and would not reproach me for leaving, but I was embarrassed for her to see that I was quitting, frankly. And I didn’t want to be a burden on her. That was what stopped me from trying to find her in the first place. I called her this time though.

“Pam, is that you? Would you mind if I came out to the parking lot to say good-bye?” Jo-ann asked.

“No, not at all.”

I stood up outside the car so she could find me, and by the time she approached me, I was in tears all over again. I am afraid I cannot now remember why, except that partly what upset me so, aside from the sheer loneliness and isolation, was that being there with all the sisters and the religious aspects of the place, had brought up a lot of memories and old feelings in me. Maybe some not so old feelings as well. I had been reading Thomas Merton, or trying to, and yet the very fiirst pages of his journal, Entering the Silence, about his “becoming a writer and a monk” were so terribly disturbing and even destructive to me that I could not bear reading any further.

I spoke to Jo-Ann about all this, and about Joe as well, and about our small argument and my big reaction to it, my exhaustion and inability to decide how to have a life in the light of his Lou Gehrigs disease and whether I had a right to one at all…Well, needless to say, if she hadn’t been enormously supportive and wonderful, I would not have made it clear that I would love to come back there for a “second chance” this weekend. No silent retreat this time, either. This time the N.E. Choristers and singing will fill the rafters. Which should be jolly  to the max. I look forward to it, but if for any reason I can’t stand it again, (which I surely hope will not be the case) I now know that I can seek out Jo-Ann, one, and, two, that it is perfectly okay to say, Enough is enough, and go home.

“NEW” POEMS FOR WAGBLOG

These are admittedly older poems once-published, but they are the best I can offer at the moment for the reasons I explained, that contests and publications insist that any poem one sends to them never have appeared anywhere else before, including on the internet. Needless to say this is a major bummer, since my blog can hardly count as publication nor pose as wide distribution, seeing as how I get maybe 100 hits max a day (mark you, all, including you, my loyal lurkers, are oh so valuable to me, and if you remain my site’s only visitors, so be it. At least you are there and if so, that will be enough for me.)

The first poem describes a real, which is to say, factual incident that happened to me some years ago, while the second concerns, as may be obvious, a complete fantasy, but one embedded in the real  exercise of learning CPR. I describe it literally, as it was taught back in the 80s without so much as a dummy to practice on. I will continue to add others, either at the end or later, if I can find others that have already been published, or that I am certain I will not try for. For now, I hope these have some merit, despite their age.

POEM FOR REGINALD

It is winter, four o’clock in the afternoon.

A drunk, not yet dead on his feet,

accosts me, says,

“Hey, are you a college girl?”

I am not a student anymore—

It has been years since I went by bells

from room to room,

scribbled frantic exams

in booklets bound in blue.

I look young, I know that. My hair is not

yet gray, and perhaps that is why

he asks the question.

“I read books, too,” he tells me,

falling into step beside me

though he had met me coming the opposite way

and I am hurrying to be out of Dutch Point by nightfall.

He walks me all the way up to Main Street.

accompanying me through the backyards of tenements

past lounging men who might have wished me

less than well.

Though he insists on staying on my right side

like a gentleman, some primitive fear

urges me to shift my purse

to my left shoulder.

He is a genius he tells me, and I believe him

But he is an alcoholic and his breath smells

as if he has been drinking.

Still, I am not afraid of him

and when he asks, I tell him my name.

There is something sad about him.

He says he thinks I can cure him,

could marry him.

His name is Reginald.

He speaks like an old friend

and suddenly I am lonely too.

That is all. There is no moral to this tale.

I am thirty-five, single, childless, and lonely as a drunk

offering me company at Christmastide.

We come to my building. He leans closer.

When he hugs me

I hold on tight.

ON LEARNING CPR, 1986

So many things can go wrong

and it is surely a wonder

we live at all.

Playing dead, my partner, my spouse

does not answer when I

jostle him at the shoulder

speak his name

and I in more terror

than my own body needs

this being a dry run

and he healthy as apples.

But he has taken on

the “death-like appearance”

necessary for this role

and I must act,

pretending dexterity and expertise

when my own heart

threatens to shudder and fail

if I can’t get it right.

According to the booklet

the Red Cross has given us,

brain damage occurs

after four minutes without

oxygen. It is up to me.

And so I do as I must,

feigning compressions of his chest

making his heart beat for me

at the rhythm I choose.

I scarcely brush his lips

with my own in pretended ventilation,

but breathe on his cheek

and scout his chest

for  signs of life returning

So much I have taken for granted—

I am scared by the awful fragility

in the balance of one life before me.

Then miraculously, he revives.

I can see his chest rise and fall.

I feel a pulse in his neck

and moist air on my cheek and ear.

“Thanks, love,” he whispers,

with a smile no one else sees

and sits up.

It is over.

But tonight while he sleeps

I will count his breaths.

I will touch the pulse in his neck

gently, gently. I will know

the miracle when I see it.

Newest drawings

Most recent drawing: a portrait (from photo) of Josephine’s niece, done as a thank you to her brother,  Megan’s father, who helped me out removing and moving in a recliner chair this spring. Nothing particularly “artistic” about it, just a simple likeness…

NEW DRAWING: Elder Woman

Unfortunately, while I loved this stage of the drawing, as I progressed I fear I ruined it…Or at any rate, it changed so drastically that I don’t know what to do with it, or where to go with it now. So I am putting what I have aside, since I no longer have this, to work on some other time. I wish I had taken a better photo of it at this stage, though. Anyhow, for what it is worth. Here she is, as she was…

Elder with Flaming City in Mouth

Then this is the more updated drawing as it got “over-processed.” Actually, what happened was that the watercolor paper did in fact start to wear out under my many erasures, or at any rate the color, the pigment grew so thick that when I erased it piled up under the eraser so that I had to keep erasing more and more of the drawing each time in order simply to erase one spot, because I’d otherwise leave behind chunks of unsightly “solid waste” of clumpy pigment. Eventually I couldn’t even draw on the paper any longer, it had become so mushy under that burden of erasure and redrawings, and so I decided to finally be done with it and decided quickly to do what the erasing suddenly brought to mind: an upside down city-scape, somewhat surreal, floating in the person’s mouth, and on fire…Do not ask me why! It is simply because that is what I “saw” in the patterns left behind by the unerased and uneraseable lines and colors on the paper…

TO tell the truth, I am trying to figure out how to either redo or “fix it” into something that I can work with further, can figure out what to do with as is, or how to cover up without making it look “collaged together, since that was not the effect I started out looking for. I’m eager for suggestions if anyone has any!

And yes, I came back from Wisdom House yesterday, after 2 and a half days instead  of 7…I was rather upset there, though the place was lovely and I thought that if the circumstances had been a little bit different I could have loved it…but I will write more tomorrow or today in the P.M. For now, I just wanted to  let you know…

Trip to Wisdom House

I have decided, with Sr Jo-Ann’s help, to arrive at the Writer’s Fellowship on Sunday morning, rather than Saturday evening, so that she can meet me, rather than have me face a crowd of fifty (silent) people alone. It was in fact her idea, but she offered to take me individually on a tour, and show me where to go and so forth, introduce me, which she thought she would have more time for on Sunday morning than on Saturday when everyone else was arriving. This also was a relief for the simple fact that I am so frantic with things I have to get done that it helps to know I have all of Saturday simply to relax and if I haven’t done so before, to pack. It isn’t as if I am bringing a great deal, not many clothes or “stuff”– after all, I am mainly going there to write. But that in itself entails bringing such things as my computer, a printer and a ream of paper at a minimum, and I want to bring a small hot pot and cup and coffee as well, since I cannot rely simply on sheer excitement to keep me awake, no more than I ever can. Not even Ritalin, which as you may know I have taken for decades to combat the nearly constant and excessive daytime sleepiness of narcolepsy, really keeps me alert. In fact, often coffee does a better job…On the other hand, I intend to take Zyprexa every day I am there too, which is sedating. This is just so that I know I will be able to read and stay as unafraid of things as possible. Once I get home, I’ll stop taking it, but why not keep on top of things as long as I am there?

I have written several poems in just the last week, but alas, I am unable to share them here.  I have learned that many contests and publications do not allow the appearance on the web of poems you want to submit to them or enter there, or else they will be disqualified. Thus I can only post ones that I am certain I will not try to publish or else that have already appeared in my book or previously in another journal, review or magazine. I wish that were not so, as I am thrilled with some of these poems. I also wish that I had not been so quick to enter a few of them into a certain contest, as with a little more rewriting, say, the 110th version rather than the 100th, I might have felt even better about them. Ah well, too late for recriminations. If a given poem is not accepted where I sent it, there are a thousand other venues that might take it when I submit it again.

Enough for now, it is already late and I needs must (how’s that for an archaic expression?) get to work finishing up the dishes and printing out poems. I will need at least 60 for my second book and I have to have copies I can work on at Wisdom House. There are a dozen other things to do before I go to bed tonight…zo I will bid you adieu, au revoir…

I hope I can post something from Wisdom House next week, but if not, I will do so when I get back. Hasta la vista!

Pencil Drawing: Gaia’s Last

I don’t want to tell you why i drew this or what I meant or intended by it (beyond whatever the title evokes in you). All I want to say is that it was largely drawn in colored pencil on watercolor paper, with a tiny bit of acrylic paints, the black background for instance, and the ecru skin of the blue-haired figure, but not the skin on the other other woman, where all the details as well as the skin itself was done with pencils. It is amazing how forgiving watercolor paper is – usually it is imposssible to erase plain old colored pencils, if they are not watercolor pencils. But on the watercolor paper, you can erase as long and as hard as you like, and the paper will remain intact. So it is not so difficult to get the marks off.

Welp, If you feel like commenting, I would love to hear any interpretations you would like to share. If you give me permission, I will also put them up here with the picture.

Collage of Christabel: Middlesex Occupational Therapist (finished)

Finally I have finished the collage here with the background completed and the candy foil earring (I saved foil from innumerable chocolates…and they have no come in handy as I know eventually they would.  What do they say? Everything can be an art supply, looked at with a creative spirit. Who says that? Well, I dunno, I guess I do! 8D

I call her Christabel, who was one of the occupational therapists in the hospital this past April and May (all of the OTs were great.) She was a wonderful woman who was the one person who consistently treated me like a human being at a place where I was often not treated much better than an animal or a bad child. Consequently, I never once, as I recall, had occasion nor impulse to scream at her in rage or frustration. Lkewise she never felt it incumbent upon her to withhold from me such ridiculous items as gluesticks or magazines, the sort of carrots with which the nurses attempted to “tame” me. That is, negatively, by taking them away from me until I ‘behaved’ according to their rigid standards. Never once did they acknowledge what I had begged them to understand from the moment I walked in there, which was that I suffered from Lyme disease-induced schizophrenia, and that both the rage episodes and my impulsivity were uncontrollable, (i.e. literally OUT of my control, and “not me” — as the weekend doc herself, Faye H., who knew me well from treating me for years in the past, noted several times in dismay).

Be that as it may, when the nurses, or one of them, the one who really hated me, refused to grant me permission to use a gluestick one afternoon in order to work on this collage, it was Christabel who came to my rescue, by bringing some from the OT office, without so much as a word or caveat to “not tell the nurses.” She simply handed them to me, along with a handful of new magazines to tear colored scraps from, so I could continue work on my face, which I had only just begun.

Everyone asked me, as it was coming together, if I was modeling it on  anyone. But the truth is, though I call it Christabel, it is more in honor of her, than intended to be a true likeness. True, she is African American, and has very close cropped hair, but that is as far as the similarities go. In fact, the face is pretty much imaginary and generic. I took the features from, well, my mind, mostly, though I used various faces from magzines to give me an idea of how the light would fall and create shadows, and how the various contours of the features would look. Also to give me a better idea of proportions. The nice thing about these kinds of collages is that paper is very forgiving, so if I made a huge mistake, and made the nose too big or put the lips too close to the nostrils or, as I did, make the eyes too small and close together, all I needed to do was paper them over and start again. In fact, the more layers I used, the stiffer the underlying “post-it note” kind of thin paper foundation became, which proved a good thing when it came to finishing off the edges and finding a way to hang it. I cannot f rame it, as it is 46 inches by 32inches, approximately, and formally framing it would cost a mint. but I polyurethaned it, one, so it would not distintegrate, and bound the edges neatly, and think I will attach a dowel or piece of thin wood at the top to which I can affix a wire and hang it by that. The person, the woman who runs the solo shows every month at DHMAS in Hartford, said that though everything was supposed to be framed, basically as long as it can be hung by a wire, my plans sound fine.

Well enough of this. I think the new photo shows how I finished the face better. Though I could not get the bound edges into the photo alas.

Delusions of Grandeur

To all whose websites I had linked to, I had to take them down because my email was hacked, but I will post them again soon. The email problem is completely resolved now.

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First I will paste in what I wrote back in 2006 about Delusions of Grandeur, henceforth  reduced to the easy-to-understand shorthand, DoG. (Sorry, all you dog-lovers out there!) Then I will elaborate and/or explain where I differ in my thinking now.

From July 2006, then (with a few edits for easier reading):

Delusions of Grandeur

Where do they come from? Mine were usually of a negative grandeur as you know. I was  the devil, the most evil person in the world, I needed to kill myself or burn myself to a crisp in order to save the world from my poison. I even went so far as to set my leg on fire, prelude to setting myself on fire in order to do this, and burned marks on my forehead to prove I was Cain, so people would be warned and stay away…as a result I have had ECT, been restrained, isolated, locked up for months and all the other humiliating things they do to people they think might seriously hurt themselves or others. And obviously I might have, and did. But whence came this sort of thought? And why do others believe they are God or Jesus Christ or as one person I met claimed, the song-writer who provided John Lennon with his music. Their delusions may seem more positive than mine, yet I know they suffered much as I did, probably because they too went unbelieved and scoffed-at. Where does this kind of false belief, clung to in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, come from?

I’m not completely sure but DoG seem, both in their positive and negative incarnations, to derive from a terrible feeling that you lack self-worth in the world, your secret knowledge — if you have SZ or another devastating mental illness, that it has robbed you of everything you were supposed to have, be and do, that you are entirely useless and empty and without value in life. The illness itself produces this feeling, and the feeling is secondarily strengthened as a result of having the illness. People who develop DoG respond to their feelings of worthlessness  with the conscious or unconscious fantasy of a powerful false-self to make up for the lack of real power — to do, to be, to create in life. Others, like me, accept our lack of value, only we exaggerate it until it becomes the dominant factor in our lives and colors everything, so that we cannot but refer everything to it and see all through its lens. We become convinced that if everything in our lives is contaminated by our worthlessness, maybe everything in the entire world is contaminated as well.

I don’t understand the transition from feelings of worthlessness to actual belief in false and grandiose facts, the transition to delusion. But I believe the connection is there, from lack of any sense of self-esteem transitioning somehow to delusions of grandeur. And that either positive or negative delusions all derive from a negative feeling, a lack of positive self-regard. I don’t think anyone who truly feels good about him or herself would ever suffer in such a way…

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I must have gotten tired near the end there, as it feels to me as if I simply gave up midway, and relinquished my train of thought, and my pen, so to speak, before I’d even tried to finish. Be that as it may, on rereading the piece, my first impression, the first thing that struck me and struck me with a punch was my use of the past tense when I was describing my own experiences with DoG. This seems to me, even now, as stranger than strange. Does it mean that there was actually a time, and relatively recent to boot, when I did not believe myself to be the devil, not feel that I was evil, did not secretly want, though in a controllable way (controllable in the sense that I will not do it, so fearful am I that it would eventuate in another terror-filled hospital stay…) to destroy myself via the flames? So it seems, but if so, I have as assuredly forgotten how that felt, how such thinking was as an experience, as I have the entire 6 weeks I spent in the hospital this past April and May. Which is to say, “utterly and completely.”

What I can say now, is that it is much harder to write about DoG at any distance, or with any real so-called insight into myself (despite reading my own words) because the feelings of evil and worthlessness I wrote about in the past tense then are so strong now, in the 2010 present. I won’t, at this time, ask (rhetorically) What happened? That is for another essay. But I will admit that for me to continue with this discussion I will have to refer to what I have observed about others and their DoG, rather than any I may or may not experience myself.

Zo! Here are basic definitions, lest you have forgotten them. For my nutshells, I quote the online Free Dictionary (thefreedictionary.com).

Delusion: an idiosyncratic false belief that is firmly maintained in spite of incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary.

Delusion of Grandeur or Grandiose delusion delusional conviction of one’s own importance, power, or knowledge or that one is, or has a special relationship with, a deity or a famous person.

delusion of persecution a delusion that one is being attacked, harassed, persecuted, cheated, or conspired against.
delusion of reference a delusional conviction that ordinary events, objects, or behaviors of others have particular and unusual meanings specifically for oneself.
Now, thinking about the problem I had when I first wrote about DoG, take that fellow I met, the putative song-writer of all John Lennon’s songs. He was not a happy guy. He gave not the slightest appearance of being thrilled that his songs were so popular and that Lennon had chosen them out of all the offerings he could have picked to sing and record. He claimed that he had given them freely, and wanted neither fame nor fortune, as I recall. But what troubled him, it seemed to me, what that “we,” the — I dunno what you would call “us” — ordinary people, not the rich and famous, not the celebrities with whom Lennon would have hobnobbed, but the (where did I get this word?) lumpen-prole. Actually, I think it was rather much smaller than that, even. I think what troubled him was that  other patients and staff members in the hospital (at that particular time) didn’t care, appreciate, value or even believe his great contribution to the musical world. Nevertheless, despite the use of very controversial ECT (shock treatments — which were rarely used in schizophrenia, and even today are not used often for SZ) his delusion persisted throughout his stay, and by the time I was ready for discharge after 2 months, he was being transferred to a longer stay facility.
Needless to say, whether a delusion of grandeur is “positive”, which is to say that the power one arrogates to oneself is “good” –one is God or Michelangelo or John Lennon’s songwriter, or whether it is “negative” in the sense that one believes one has the power of The Black Plague, the Great Influenza or Satan etc, there can on occasion be little else to distinguish them. Unbelieved, scoffed at, dismissed, ignored,  no one thrives. For some reason too, and again this is solely from the point of view of my experience, people with schizophrenia experience this dismissal, this isolation (from and by others) much more often than those with bipolar illness. This is not so incomprehensible either.
Someone who experiences mania may and often does espouse vastly grandiose delusions, but they can at first be so ebullient, so enormously cheerful and expansive (I think of poets such as Walt Whitman, whose Leaves of Grass, written and rewritten so many times, and so long and expansive itself it almost screams manic-depression — if you can forgive an exceedingly amateur diagnosis) that people are drawn to them, at least at first and for a time. In the grips of mania, a person can convince “anyone to do anything” they are that persuasive and indeed charming, in every sense of the word. But at a minimum, most do not drive everyone away from them, not at least in the beginning. So when a manic person says they wrote the songs that John Lennon sang, one is tempted to at least half believe them, and say, “Hey, you did? Cool! Tell me more.” But that fellow in the hospital, no one so much as listened to him, nor gave him the time of day when he went into his “thing” about Lennon’s songs, and so he was simply left alone to talk to himself.
Hmmm, have I wandered off the topic, or gone too far astray from where I was supposed to be heading? Well, if I have, forgive me. It’s the sort of thing I do all the time in my journal, and frankly it is far too late at night for me to remedy it, alas. So I will stop here, take a stab at proofreading, and hope I have written at least a few things for you to ponder.
As you know, I will be away from the 14th through the 21st, at the Writers’ Fellowship, so if I do not write before then, never fear. I shall write when I get home. (On the other hand, since a Silent Retreat will be going on at the same time, and since there is also Wi-Fi connectivity in the main social area or somewhere — and no one there to socialize with, who knows, I might even avail myself of the internet, and post something from there!)
Get to bed and sleep tight, all youse who are still up with me.
PS I do not know why the paragraphs in the last half keep running together but they simply will not separate no matter how many spaces I edit in between them…sorry!