June 29, 2007

Writers' Group - my first meeting

I have joined a writers' group started by a friend of mine, Bill W, also the guy at the biggest Connecticut paper in charge of the Op-Ed page who asked me in 1992 to write a piece on mental illness and health care. This article went on to win first prize that year in the Connecticut Mental Health Media Awards for professional journalists. Bill stayed in touch with me over the years and has been a great source of support ever since then. He retired from the newspaper last year and now is very active in the local volunteer community, leading various groups and starting programs in the hospital and the nearby prison, in the one leading a meditation program for the alternative health department and in the other, starting various writing groups. This year, having been a fan of the Sun magazine for several years, and having given me a subscription for two or three, until I could afford to take out my own, he decided to start a group for writers based on the magazine and its kind of writing. That's how this group started, though it has taken on a life of its own now and has little to do with the magazine, except for assigning topics to write about, much as the magazine assigns topics as prompts each month for its section called "Readers Write."

This month our subject, our word prompt for writing was "Mom" and we each had to write one page, no more than that, for reading aloud to the group on the last Thursday of the month, which was yesterday. There were three other women who came, plus Bill and I. One woman had early onset Parkinson's Disease, one woman was bipolar and had breast cancer and the other was well now but I think had met Bill because of some serious illness herself, though I cannot now remember what it was. And there was I, with schizophrenia and narcolepsy to round out the group. What a bunch we were with our various illnesses, yet we got along fine.

Uh oh. Something is going wrong with my computer and I'm afraid it is going to quit on me so I'm going to post this without finishing what I wanted to say. I will continue this later. For now, let me paste in what I wrote on the topic of "Mom."


I first met “Mom” when I was 34 and a shy folkdancer, new to town. I didn’t know she would become “Mom” at the time. I thought she was just any stranger.

Outside the open door of the “Y” during a break in my second Sunday night’s dancing, I snuck a cigarette, hoping no one would see me in the dark. A older woman, her graying hair nested in a hairnet at the back of her head, poked her face out, sniffing the air. It was the nicer folkdance teacher. Shit. I shrugged my shoulders to my ears and grimaced sheepishly, expecting a lecture; folk-dancers, after all, were notorious anti-smokers.

“Oh, that smells delicious! Can I have your second-hand smoke?” the woman stage-whispered.

You smoke?”

“Used to. I had to quit when I developed emphysema, but I still crave cigarettes -- every single day. If Cy finds me out here--” She stood downwind of me and inhaled deeply. I tried to send as much smoke her way as I could, but the truth was my cigarette was almost gone. Luckily, she needed only a whiff or two. “I’m Lynn, Lynn L___. I’m happy you came. It’s always good to see new faces here,” she said.

I told her my name.

“Come, Pam.” Stepping through the door, she gestured for me to follow. “It’s obvious you’ve danced before. The next one is easy. I’m sure you’ll know it. Join us, you can dance next to me.”

You could say I danced next to her for the next twenty years, leaning on her, relying on her, because my father was estranged and my mother, having to choose between the two of us, had not chosen me. They were not the twenty years Lynn might have expected. Too often psychotic, I spent the equivalent of five years in psychiatric units, most of them locked, some of them locked twice. She visited, along with Cy, as often as she was able, and frequently they drove me home at discharge. My own parents didn’t visit at all. Gradually over time, I began to refer to her, especially when she visited me in the hospital, as “my Aunt Lynn.” It had a nice ring to it, we decided.

Then she fell gravely ill a year ago January and took many months to recover. After that, chronic disabling pain rendered her unable to drive. Worse, her memory was failing: she, a former computer teacher, could no longer handle e-mail. When it turned out I could help her – I could drive for her, send out her email, hell, I could simply sit and visit with her as she had so often with me – we began to confide in one another. It was only when we shared our lives like mother and daughter, that Lynn, at 80, became finally my “Mom.”

Posted by pamwagg at June 29, 2007 11:27 PM | TrackBack


Oh Pam, I love your Mom piece. I hope you do go on to write more about Lynn. And I didn't know you both were folk dancers...very cool. I'm sorry and a bit annoyed that your mother abdicated from her position as Mom. Not fair at all. I think you show courage in being honest about it and in choosing Lynn as your heartfelt Mom.

Posted by: Kate K. at June 30, 2007 02:03 PM

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