Tag Archives: Phoebe Sparrow Wagner

HISTOIRE COURTE/ SHORT STORY (Edited)


FIRST FRENCH ORIGINAL , THEN ENGLISH TRANSLATION (largely by Reverso Context)

CAMBRIOLEUR OU PAS?

Elle me dévisage. Son regard est froid.  « T’as la frousse tout d’un coup?”

Nous pensions cambrioler la maison de ses parents et elle me demande si j’ai peur. 

« Tu as déjà fait ce genre de choses? T’es une cambrioleuse expérimentée? »

« Non, je n’ai jamais cambriolé, » dit-elle en fronçant les sourcils, « même pas mes parents, mais cela devrait être facile, je crois.  Ils ne verrouillent jamais leur porte et ils laissent les choses de valeur partout, même l’argent. »

J’ai vraiment la trouille, mais je ne peux pas l’avouer en face d’elle. Je fais semblant d’être insouciant, et je lui dis, « je suis étudiant en médecine et je n’ai peur de rien. Mais je ne veux pas être pris la main dans le sac. Est-ce qu’il n’y a pas de système d’alarme? »

« Je crois pas.  Mes parents s’attendent à de l’honnêteté de la part de tous les gens, comme ils en attendent d’eux-mêmes. Ils ne s’attendent pas à être cambriolés. Et ils ne font rien pour l’empêcher. Je voudrais leur donner une bonne leçon. »

« Ils font  souvent l’expérience des cambriolages quand même, non? Les gens ne sont pas très honnêtes en général et s’ils savent qu’une maison n’est pas verrouillée… »,

« En fait, ils n’ont jamais été cambriolés  que je sache. »

« Ça m’étonne. Jamais auparavant d’avoir été victimes des voIeurs, ils ont vraiment de la chance! »

« Si, si, ils ont été volés, mais ils ne s’en sont pas rendu compte. Moi, je leur ai souvent dérobé des choses. De la monnaie et des petites choses qu’ils ne ne remarqueraient jamais. Comme cette bague. » Et elle me montre la bague, sur une chaîne autour de son cou. Elle me la donne, comme si elle voulait que je la garde. « Ils n’ont jamais remarqué que quelque chose leur manquait. » Elle parle d’un ton décontracté comme si c’était une chose normale de voler aux parents. Puis elle dit d’une voix blanche de colère, « ils sont trop bons. Les gens comme eux, je les haïs.  Les gens bons ne me remarquent jamais… » Elle rit jaune.

Si j’avais la trouille avant, maintenant je suis vraiment pétrifié. J’ai une peur bleue. 

Je ne veux plus cambrioler la maison de ses parents, je ne veux plus rien avoir à faire avec cette jeune femme dont je connais si peu de choses.

Elle me parle tout d’un coup d’un ton changé. Elle a l’air triste, comme si elle broie du noir. C’était cette tristesse qui m’a attiré dès le début. Je pensais que je pourrais lui remonter le moral. Mais ce changement soudain me fait peur. Elle est si lunatique, son humeur tellement  changeante, que je ne comprends rien sauf qu’elle n’est pas qui je la croyais être. Je la regarde, sa tête enfouie dans les bras, l’image de quelqu’un de tourmenté.

J’y vois mon opportunité et je la prends. Je m’enfuis, c’est -à -dire que je l’abandonne,  triste ou faisant semblant de l’être,  sur le banc dans le parc. Je ne sais pas ce qu’elle va faire, si elle cambriolera ses parents ou pas. Je ne la comprends pas du tout. 

Je rentre soulagé chez moi, avec l’intention d’étudier. Je ne suis pas un cambrioleur, je ne l’ai jamais été, je ne le serai jamais. On peut dire que ce qui m’est arrivé n’était qu’un cauchemar, quelque chose comme une mauvais rêve. Peut-être. Mais je porte toujours sous mes vêtements une chaîne avec une bague autour de mon cou afin de ne jamais oublier mon échappée belle.

BURGLAR OR NOT?

She stares at me. Her eyes are icy. “You’re getting cold feet?”

We were thinking about breaking into her parents’ house and she asks me if I am scared. “You’ve done this before? This sort of thing? Are you an experienced burglar?”

“No, I’ve never burglarized before,” she says, frowning, “not even my parents, but it should be easy, I think.  They never lock their doors and they leave things everywhere, even money.”

I’m really scared, but I can’t admit it in front of her. I pretend to be insouciant, and I say, “I’m a medical student and I’m not afraid of anything. But I don’t want to be caught red-handed. Isn’t  there an alarm system?”

“I don’t think so. My parents expect honesty from everyone, just as they expect it from themselves. They don’t expect people to steal from them. And they don’t do anything to stop it. I want to teach them a lesson.”

“They must often be victims of  burglaries anyway, right? People are not very honest in general, and if they know a house isn’t well locked…. “

“In fact, they have never been burglarized as far as I know.”

“I’m surprised. They’ve never been robbed before? They’re really lucky!”

“Yes, yes, they were robbed, but they were not aware of it. I myself often stole things from them. Money and little things they would never notice. Like this ring.” And she shows me the ring, which is on a chain around her neck. She hands it to me, as if she wants me to keep it. “They never noticed that they were missing a thing.” She talks in a casual tone like it’s normal to steal from one’s parents. Then, her voice goes toneless with anger, “They are good, too good. I hate people like them. Good people never notice me.”  And she gives a hollow laugh.

If I had cold feet before, now I’m really petrified. I’m scared to death. 

I don’t want to break into her parents’ house anymore, I don’t want to have anything to do with this young woman I know so little about.

Then she speaks and her tone is completely different. She looks sad, as if she’s suddenly down in the dumps. It was that sadness that attracted me from the beginning. I thought I could cheer her up, even save her. But this sudden change scares me. She’s so moody, I don’t understand anything except that she’s not who I thought she was. I look at her, her head buried in her arms, the image of someone tormented.

I see my opportunity and I take it. I run away, leaving her, sad or pretending to be, on the bench in the park. I don’t know what she’s going to do, whether she’s going to rob her parents or not. I don’t understand her at all. 

I go home relieved, intending to resume my studies. I am not a burglar, I have never been one, and I never will be. You could say that what happened to me must have been a nightmare, a really bad dream. Maybe. But under my shirt I wear her ring on a chain around my neck so I never forget how close I came to disaster.

by phoebe sparrow wagner 2022

One Small Step : The Conversation

This should link to our hourlong conversation, if you are interested or copy and paste link below.

https://archive.storycorps.org/search/interviews/?q=Phoebe+Wagner

Relaxing Ribbons

These drawings were to help me understand how intertwining works in drawing and painting. how to make things look intertwined etc. it ended up being quite relaxing and even a kind of meditation. i hope you enjoy them. The go from last to first one drawn, starting with last one first. I am still working on a full rainbow ribbons drawing.

This was the most recent ribbons drawing

MY INCLUSIVE BAND OF PAPIER MÂCHÉ MUSICIANS

This quartet is papier mâché, all women, but I tried to include as many different types of people as I could (so far)…of course not all peoples are represented, as that would be impossible with just four individuals. But starting with the pianist, we have a zaftig, older, white haired crone, with beige skin; the guitarist by contrast is tall and very slender, and dark of hue; the singer is Latina, and because of cancer and the treatments, she is missing a hand and her hair; finally we have the young prodigy drummer, a tiny Asian “jeune fille” who has to play drums that are sized to fit her. And in case you are in doubt, I made them all, each one, from materials I had on hand. 6” to 14” high

Nous Toutes Ensemble

CRAZY OR NOT, HERE I COME

first published at https://www.blog88.org

by Phoebe Sparrow Wagner

       I used to be “crazy.” Labeled CMI, chronically mentally ill, prone to psychosis, i was a revolving door mental patient, one who spent almost as much time in her adult life in the hospital as out of it. Although I had various diagnoses, the main one was schizophrenia, or the variant of it, schizoaffective disorder that some claim combines features of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Over time, as I bounced from hospital to home and back to the hospital the doctors would tack on other labels as well, like PTSD and different personality disorders. 

     Although I occasionally was admitted “voluntarily,” most of these hospital stays started out involuntary, until nurses, brandishing paper and pen, advised me of my right to sign in as “voluntary.” I would sign, but this did not mean I could leave because not even voluntary patients could leave at will, not in the state where I lived at the time. If you wanted to leave before the doctor thought you should, you had to sign a  paper stating this. Then wait to see if the doctor challenged the paper. If she did so within three days, you could be taken to probate court for a judge to hear the case. This was never good. We patients knew the judge virtually always sided with the doctors, since we were by definition “crazy” and could not know what was good for us.

         But let me go back to the schizophrenia thing. I heard voices, most of the time. They were usually awful voices, voices that jeered and mocked and threatened me, voices that led me to burn myself dozens of times in an effort to rid myself of them. I heard and saw messages to me in everything, from the television and radio ads to newspaper headlines. I saw tiny scintillating red lights that swarmed about me like a cloud of gnats, and which I called the Red Strychnines. I saw Alan Arkin, the actor, and Senator Joe Lieberman dressed as Nazis supervising a conveyor belt sending bodies to the crematorium, and I heard music, people chanting in low voices, unintelligibly at first but later changing to threats. As is often the case, these voices and visions led me to distorted thinking, and to “paranoia,” based on what I heard and saw.

      There were other voices. Brother Luke was the name I gave to the one good guy in the lot. He talked to me about time and space and humanity and love, and I felt safe with him. And there were the voices I called the Little People, to distinguish them from the main voices, the bad ones. The Little People occupied objects I used, like my comb or paint brushes and they would talk to one another but would almost never speak directly to me. I could listen in on their lives and concerns, but mostly could not or did not want to interfere. They kept me company with their constant chatter, but they were never threatening or upsetting to me.

         The bad voices did bother me, however, and I would often end up in the hospital because of them. But living in a hospital is as bad as it sounds, with horrible food, and little to do, and really no help at all except the constant pressure to take medication, which could turn to threats if you didn’t comply. Worse, if you got out of line, that is, if you got too loud or angry at being kept there or treated by force,  they would do things like have a team of security guards strip you naked and lock you in a freezing seclusion cell alone, or shackle your wrists and ankles to a bed, leaving you like that for hours, even days at a time. Or both at the same time. I know this because everything I write about happened to me and on multiple occasions.

        Staff called seclusion and restraints measures of last resort, claimed they were only employed when necessary to maintain a patient in safety, but we patients knew they were used almost always as retribution and for punishment. Even SAMHSA (the Federal agency concerned with such things, the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration) knew that restraints and seclusion were not helpful, and were not used as a last resort at all, as they stated in one of their pamphlets:

“… there is a common misconception that seclusion and restraint are used only when absolutely necessary as crisis response techniques. In fact, seclusion and restraint are most commonly used to address loud, disruptive, noncompliant behavior and generally originate from a power struggle between consumer and staff. The decision to apply seclusion or restraint techniques is often arbitrary, idiosyncratic, and generally avoidable (Haimowitz, Urff, & Huckshorn, 2006; NASMHPD, 2003; SAMHSA, 2003).”

In another publication SAMHSA writes:

“Seclusion and restraint were once perceived as therapeutic practices in the treatment of people with mental and/or substance use disorders. Today, these methods are viewed as traumatizing practices and are only to be used as a last resort when less-restrictive measures have failed and safety is at severe risk.”

And this:

“Restraints can be harmful and often re-traumatizing for people, especially those who have trauma histories. Beyond the physical risks of injury and death, it has been found that people who experience seclusion and restraint remain in care longer and are more likely to be readmitted for care.”

         But both seclusion and restraints are still used and increasingly so as staff to patient ratios are decreased in psych hospitals and units, with more patients per staff and many staff members poorly trained, if at all. 

         I don’t believe mental illness is a real entity any more, I don’t believe in schizophrenia or manic-depression or depression or the notion that anyone’s personality can have a disorder. I don’t believe that psychiatry is a valid science or even an art worthy of the name. And I do not believe that we are right on the verge of finally (for the umpteeth time?) discovering the truth about the origins of “mental illness”. We were told the same thing many times before. For instance when the “miracle of psychosurgery” maimed or killed thousands by “helping” them with ice pick surgery and pre-frontal lobotomies. We were told of the miracles of shock, when a variety of drugs as well as electrical current applied to the brain “helped” thousands more, even when bones were broken and people died. And we are still being fed the lie that neuroleptic drugs like Thorazine and Haldol  and the new generation of similar drugs like Zyprexa and Risperdal are in fact “antipsychotic” and are an effective treatment for, well, whatever ails you…*

     But it was not true that lobotomies helped anyone, shock treatments, which induce grand mal seizures, are by definition brain damaging, and the drugs rarely help more than they hurt, since it has been shown that long term they create more illness, chronic illness, than they ever alleviated. 

        We should have known this. Back in the 50s when Thorazine was seriously referred to as a chemical lobotomy (which was seen as desirable) doctors noted that the drug was not in fact a treatment that helped the person who took it, reducing symptoms or restoring health. What they saw was that those given the drug became subdued, even immobilized into the infamous Thorazine shuffle, and more “compliant.” This helped the nurses be nurses, as the formerly disruptive were now bludgeoned by Thorazine into mild, shuffling sufferers. They were no longer mad-men or mad-women, no, they had been disabled by the drug and  could now be nursed as  true patients, patients who were sick and needed nursing care.

       I have been given high doses of Thorazine and know from experience that it is a horrible, deadening drug. I have been forcibly treated with soul-killing Haldol and Mellaril and Stelazine and the others, and when Clozaril came out I was given that (thankfully, because the side effects were horrendous, I developed agranulocytosis, twice, so I was taken off it) and then Risperdal and Zyprexa and again, most of the others that later came onto the market. None of them helped me or reduced the voices or made me happier.

     Two things did help. Art, which became my life’s passion, and therapy, therapy not with a psychiatrist or an LCSW working under the auspices of a psychiatrist, clinicians who saw only so-called mental illness, but with a woman who does not even have a license to practice in this country. She never saw schizophrenia or bipolar or personality disorders in me when we talked, she saw me, the me beneath all the labels, and she saw me as good, she saw a good person, not the “Satan’s spawn” that the voices derided. She saw me healthy and thriving, even before I did. She did not want to control me, in fact human freedom was and is her main concern. But she accepted me as I was, and her unconditional acceptance and love (for what else was it?) gave me back a sense of self and the self-esteem to thrive and move forward into my life.

     I want to say a word about my falling in love with art. I became an artist very suddenly, overnight, in 2008, and this was a miracle in my life. I did not at the time understand how or why it happened, but I woke up one morning with a voice inside my head (all the others seemed to emanate from outside me) telling me, “You must build a human, you must build a human.” Well, I thought, this voice is not telling me to harm myself, so what’s the problem with obeying it? So I set out to build a human, and did in three months, create a life-size papier mâché woman, seated in  a paper mâché chair.

Decorated Betsy

Later this won a prize and was bought by an art collector/friend. But it seemed to unleash something in me that drove me to make art constantly from 2008 onward.

It was only in 2017 and later in 2020, when I managed to get off all my psych drugs, that I realized I had also stopped doing art. Was it possible that the drugs were responsible, then, for the miracle I could no longer live without? I went back on them, and within a week or two I was doing art again.

And a second trial of slowly stopping them, which also resulted in my stopping my practice of daily art, led me to the conclusion that without at least one of these drugs, I could not do art. And art was my raison d’être, something I could not live without.

After some lengthy experimentation, I finally determined that it was a drug called Abilify that had produced the miracle of allowing me to do art. Abilify, which I had started in 2008, and which is technically in the “anti-psychotic” class of drugs, is also used along with antidepressants purportedly to help in depression. Nowhere has anyone ever noted its use in stimulating creativity. But that’s what it does for me, and it does so reliably.

Off Abilify, I do no art. On it, on a “therapeutic dose,” I can access my creativity in a way that I can no longer live without. But it decidedly does not act as an anti-psychotic, or as an anti-depressant, because I’m fine these days, and all my “symptoms” — a term I never use except in quotes — all the voices and visions, the distorted thinking and “paranoia” I used to experience are gone, whether I take the drug or not. 

       I believe that the extreme mental states called “mental illness” all have their origin in trauma, childhood and otherwise, and often these traumas are re-enacted and reinforced by what is absurdly called “psychiatric care.”

      Forced medication and forcible treatment, restraints and seclusion and involuntary commitments, all these are liberally employed, as if shackling a person to a bed or chair for hours at a time, or holding someone down for forced injections, is an act of compassion. Note that these measures are undertaken most often against poor people or minorities, and buttressed by the same lies about “anti-psychotics” and “anti-depressants” that are also foisted on the general public. 

      If psychiatry was a profession entirely dedicated to the truth about each individual and the truth about trauma, and was not so tied to the mercenary interests of the pharmaceutical companies, maybe today it would be a healing profession and not the corrupt, pseudo-medical cabal it is.

       The profession could change, become what it purports to be, but this would necessitate psychiatrists looking honestly at history. Alas, I doubt that those who have arrogated so much power to themselves will ever relinquish it, much less acknowledge with remorse the immense harm psychiatry has inflicted on the world.

     ————————————————————-

* Dr. Heidi Fowler, a psychiatrist at HealthTap wrote this: “Abilify (aripiprazole): Abilify (aripiprazole) is used to treat Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, as an adjunctive medication for recalcitrant major depression; autism spectrum disorders. Off label uses include: dementia; alcohol abuse/dependence and the following for which there are no trials or minimal efficacy: Generalized anxiety disorder, Social phobia, ADHD, agitation, Eating disorders, insomnia, borderline personality disorder.”

* If you subscribe to Quartz you can read this: https://qz.com/293932/how-this-antipsychotic-became-americas-best-selling-drug/ 

*Another article on Abilify: https://medtruth.com/drugs/abilify-side-effects/ 

*Abilify became America’s best-selling drug in 2013-2014, and it was used in myriad ways, not just to “treat” schizophrenia or depression.