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After hearing about the Iranian earthquake and the 30,000+ dead, I have been thinking about Grey Crinkled Paper for the first time since I got out of the hospital in October. I understand that other people think the whole concept is a delusion and certainly an obsession, but you have to understand that I cannot see it that way, no matter how hard I try.
I first experienced Grey Crinkled Paper (GCP) when I was 16 or so, when my hands turned blue and ballooned to 100x their normal size. I realized suddenly that I was in the corner of my room, up near the ceiling, and that GCP was the key to everything. It came to me, as a message from some divine source, that GCP will solve everything that has troubled the world since time immemorial, and that I am to play a role in bringing it to fruition. First, this process has to begin in the Middle East, but just where was unspecified. Then it will spread outwards in a spiral until the whole world is taken in and all ascend to Atman. How this should take place resembles the old telephone game that children play, where one person whispers a sentence into the next person�s ear, and that person whispers what she hears, or thinks she hears, to the next, and so on. In the game, sense becomes nonsense; what is a comprehensible sentence eventually turns into gibberish. But with GCP this is reversed: first �Grey Crinkled Paper� is to be translated into Arabic or Farsi, then 22 speakers of other languages have to translate it, sequentially, until the last of them, who must be a non-native speaker of English so nothing in the purity of the process is corrupted, translates the result back into English, this final phrase revealing the true meaning of GCP in a way none has ever perceived before. What was clear then and is so now is that this will usher in the end of the world as we know it, yes, but in a way that brings light and joy to all. What is also important here, I understood even at 16, is that if I rejected my role in bringing GCP to the world, if I ran away from it, I would be converting myself from savior to Satan and would be responsible for all the human suffering that proceeded from this decision, which of course would be immense.
Since then, at different times, I have both accepted and rejected my role. Nothing is yet irreversible, but the time draws near, as is obvious from Israel�s wall and the war in Iraq and the Iranian earthquake, when I shall have to decide one way or another or suffer the consequences.
Here endeth my 5th blog entry.
Yesterday I had an enlightening conversation with my friend J, who lives downstairs from me in this beautiful 250-unit Section 8 building in Connecticut, which I call, almost without joking, the �W�field Hilton.� J, a retired engineer, is refreshing his memory of high school math so he can tutor remedial college students and high schoolers, and one thing led to another until we got to talking about how hard algebra had always been for me to conceptualize, that is, to imagine or translate into anything real. I did well in high school geometry, true, but mostly because it was based on visual things, and on axioms that made sense, or at least what followed from them made sense if you accepted their Euclidian validity. But algebra was another matter altogether. How did one understand in any meaningful way that an equation is like a sentence in any language, that it means, or states, a certain curve or line plotted on the X and Y axes? J gets it, understands this, in the same way that I know how to spot a troublesome sentence or fix someone�s shoddy writing. But I absolutely never �got� algebra. I may not have flunked, but I certainly only passed perforce of brute memorization, which in the end went for naught, as I hadn�t the faintest glimmer of understanding what I was forcing down my craw. I only did it because it was required, remaining stubbornly blind, deaf and dumb to any meaning, until last night when J�s explanation illumined matters in a way that had eluded me for thirty years. I am still only a novice, of course, but it truly is fascinating to see how mathematics is a real language, and can be used as such, to state things about reality with both precision and beauty.
Which brings me to the core of the matter, which is how, despite this illness, to keep one�s mind alive and active when sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, you might prefer to sit numbly in front of the tube or vegetate next to a talk radio station. I have certainly watched my share of TV, though fears and paranoia about the radio have prevented me from becoming an audio afficionada, and even now there are times I must force myself to get up from my bed, go into the living room, and pick up a book. But in good times this is relatively easy, and I�ve found I love learning � just about anything in fact. Learning a new skill or acquiring a new interest is essential for everyone as she ages, but most especially for those of us who suffer from mental illness, a disease that can so easily destroy all joy and interest in living unless we force ourselves to find it somewhere, anywhere at all.
The great love of my life apart from writing, and probably what saved me from certain mental deterioration, was field botany. Identifying wild plants � that is, knowing helianthus from heliotrope and both from false Hellebore � got me out of my room and into the outdoors, which is therapeutic every single time, but it also awakened in me an extraordinary appreciation for the natural world, and gave me eyes to see what before then had been no more than a blurred mass of green, undistinguished by any details greater than �grass,� �tree,� �weed�. My most recent passion has been for tropical fish, and marine animals of all kinds. True, I acquired the interest while manic, and that undoubtedly helped fuel it, but while my intense ardor has cooled somewhat from that too-high pitch, I still love immersing myself in books about the ocean and videos about marine life. And when we, that is, J and I, went at last to Mystic Aquarium, I was a pig in excrement. Once I saw the weirdly lovely, white Beluga whales I completely forgot all about how long the drive had been, how tired I would soon become, or how scary it was for me to be out in public without the safety of my apartment within easy walking distance. My interest in things outside me, hard won or more easily acquired, is what has brought me back to reality every time, not solving delusions or resolving hallucinations or even accepting medication (which I do).
There is a life that goes on beyond the confines of one�s head. The most important thing when you are faced with a set-back or relapse, is to force yourself to get past the difficulties, the anguish, and open your eyes and see what�s out there.
Here endeth my fourth blog entry.
I am stuck in my writing of SOLO FOR TWO, mostly because it seems so disorganized and lacking in any coherent structure. Partly this is due to our not being able to coordinate our different parts of the story so far, and having no editorial input, despite our editor at St Martin�s, D, and her promise to stay in close contact with us as we continued to finish the book. In fact, we never heard from her after the first chapter, which she liked but never returned or edited, and it has been almost a year since then. Does this have to do with the fact that she moved to the west coast? I have not had a good experience with editors who come from CA, and I fear that D, now living in Oregon, may have been infected by CA�s sun-dazed, surf�s up, lackadaisical attitudes! (No offense to CA dwellers, I�m only jesting and truly love my Left Coast friends, one and all.)
Lynnie plans to visit after Christmas, during which time we may do an interview/profile for Psychology Today, which is putting together an issue on �nature versus nurture� and has expressed an interest in being �flies on the wall� during our next working get-together.
Everybody is celebrating the capture of Saddam Hussein, the �worst despot of the second half of the 20th century.� And we�re all congratulating ourselves, as if we weren�t ourselves guilty not only for supporting his murderous campaigns for years or at least closing our eyes to those we might not want to see, but actually supplying him with ALL the biological and chemical weapons and nuclear components which we have accused him of developing into WMD. What a load of hooey! As far as I�m concerned, we are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites. It makes me sick to hear how wonderful we are for capturing �this monster,� and nothing at all about our deep complicity in his crimes, nothing about our complete abstention from objecting when Iranians or Kurds were gassed with our chemicals or Iraqis who dissented were disappeared. What did we care, so long as our oil supply lines went on flowing uninterrupted? Oh, I could go on and on, being the lefty that I proudly am, but I suppose my political passions have no place in a blog concerned with the writing of a book on mental illness. But if anything makes me ill, mentally sick at heart, it is this sort of self-congratulatory amnesia and/or ignorance. That�s all I�m going to say about it for now, otherwise I�d start in on Walmart�
Except that I'm going to append a short lefty political poem I just wrote...Hah!
TO OUR WARLORD
By Pamela Spiro Wagner
Your father, George W, said he stood for
All those 1000s of pinpoints of light
As his son you incessantly prosecute war
Do you think that your star shines so bright?
If you wanted, George Junior, to do anything
You *could* end world famine and hunger
Yet the rich you make richer than Croesus the king
And the poor will not take it much longer
Your invading campaigns haven�t made Iraq healthy
To the Afgans you�ve only brought grief
You�ve stolen from poor peoples, made your friends wealthy
Sir, to us, you behave like a thief
You�re the president, George, though you weren�t a fair winner
You�ve said you�re a good man and true
You claim you�re reformed and no longer a sinner
But what when the war bill comes due?
The people, George, know that you�re *not* a good man,
that the White House deserves a new resident,
So in next year�s elections we�ll do all we can
To select someone else as our President.
Here endeth my third blog entry.
SELECTIONS FROM THE EPILOGUE TO �SOLO FOR TWO�
As I read Lynnie�s description of my hospitalizations in the fall of 2003, which ECT during the second has largely erased from memory, I was by turns horrified and ashamed�disrobing and racing through the hospital ward in my birthday suit, moving my bowels on the floor because my bathroom door wasn�t unlocked quickly enough, how is that possible?�and saddened to have caused someone who loves me so much anguish. It is not easy to be psychotic, of course; it is a horrible, frightening and debilitating condition, the after-effects of which can last for months, if ever they are gotten over entirely. But I had never understood quite so viscerally how difficult it was to be the largely helpless sister of someone who is psychotic. Heedless of my effect on others�nursing staff, friends, family�I lived inside the nightmarish fragments of a time and country beyond understanding, the shattered-glass nano-seconds of an everlasting present that had no connection to shared time or to anything or anyone. I was literally in a world of my own. Small, terrifying and constricted as that world was, it was all I knew. I don�t remember the whys and wherefores of my raging and outrageous behavior in September after I came out of my catatonia, and due to ECT I recall even less about my second hospitalization the following month. Perhaps this is for the best; I suspect I did not behave like the kind of person I want to be seen as, even perhaps usually am, when not in the throes of madness.
But madness it was, as anachronistic and moodily romantic as that term always strikes me. What else would you call it? I had no idea what I was doing or why, I acted solely upon impulse, delusion and hallucination, and for a long time I cared little whether or not anything I did had any rational basis or the slightest foundation in a reality that other people participated in. In catatonia, I abdicated living, not by choice it is true, but nevertheless, being for that time effectively lifeless. And I came close to relinquishing life altogether in my compulsion�governed by the command hallucinations of the Biohazmat Man�to immolate myself in atonement for heinous but in the end imaginary crimes. My sin was in being, and to atone I had to un-be, to burn in my own version of hell, literally to give myself over to the flames.
Schizophrenia is hell, that�s obvious to anyone who has had to deal with a psychotic person. It�s a place where strangeness lurks around every corner and terrors reside within every shadow, a netherworld where nothing works and the ordinary rules of life don�t apply. But this hell is not just for the immediate victim, as Lynnie�s account makes so painfully clear. Though in the end no one is to blame, my experience with mental illness has torn my whole family apart in ways no one who knew the golden girl I once was could ever have foreseen. Abundantly talented and intelligent, once seemingly destined for great things, I have lost nearly everything I once had to this horrendous disease. Though my siblings are unerringly supportive and caring, none of them like to spend much time with me. My mother wavers between loving encouragement and avoidance of the painful reality of what my life has devolved into. And to this day my father, in his steadfast state of denial and his fear of the truth, refuses to talk to or even be in the same room with me. I understand him�I understand all of them�and therefore I forgive him, but I can�t say this stops me from feeling the occasional spasm of rage when I hear of him referring to his �three children� when he has four. Surely, if I am not in fact Satan, I did not willfully choose to become ill, so this continuing rejection of me, his firstborn, has to be undeserved and profoundly unjustified. If there is any, the one small comfort I have is in the knowledge that whether he knows it or not, this is as great a loss for him as it is for me.
I have always been an outdoors person. In the past, I spent many weeks camping with my family and endless hours playing in the weeds and fields as a child. Later on, smitten by wildflowers, I became an amateur naturalist. Starting in my early 20s and continuing well into my 40s, I spent days upon days wandering the woods in my passion for field botany. A tick bite, at the time, seemed a minor, almost insignificant irritation. Then, after having been stable for four years on a low dose of Zyprexa, came that disastrous Y2K episode, filled with bizarre symptoms like extraordinarily vivid visual hallucinations and an extreme startling reaction to all stimuli, which exploded my world to smithereens. Finally in the fall of 2000, with a relatively recent history of both tick bite and rash (in 1998, followed by several serious but suspiciously indeterminate illnesses), I was finally diagnosed with neurological Lyme disease. Started on antibiotics, I improved a little. Still, the damage was done and the relapses did not cease even then. But both Lynnie and my Lyme-specializing neurologist have left open the question whether my schizophrenia and/or narcolepsy might have been induced years ago by long-standing, undiagnosed and untreated Lyme, acquired in adolescence or even before. I myself cannot say, and the issue may be moot, since nothing has helped me to any greater degree than ECT and anti-psychotic drugs, Lyme or no.
However, in her practice, my sister has seen Lyme disease cause any number of untreatable psychiatric conditions that do resolve with the use of antibiotics, and so it behooves me to keep an open mind to the possibility that a spirochete�specifically the Lyme bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi�has been the agent of all my troubles, leaving in its wake permanent brain damage and a legacy of severe mental illness�
Here endeth my second blog entry.
I know some writers are of the belief that blogging is a distraction from the job of "real writing," and so feel inadequate if they take the time to blog too often. For me, all writing counts. I've kept many volumes of personal journals over the years anyhow, so what better way to hone my skills and make sure I'm writing well than to do so in a more or less public forum? All writing counts, that's my mantra for the struggling or frustrated writer, whoever she may be (or he, but here the default pronouns will be female from now on--my personal strike against diehard right-wingers like William Safire who still subscribe to the anti-female notion that "he" subsumes "she" when any fool can see that "he" is literally subsumed by "she" just as "man" is by "woman" and "male" by "female." So take that, Bill, if you're listening!)
All writing counts. Letters, e-mails, journaling, blogging, all help a writer learn her craft better, so long as she never gives in to the urge to be sloppy or imprecise or less than a perfectionist. I'm aware that perfectionism has gotten a bad rep and worse rap, and perhaps as a general way of living it ain't so healthy, but in writing it is essential. You have to say something carefully, that is taking care to say it with eloquence or at least lucidity, or you are indulging in laziness, the worst writing habit there is. I do not in fact work on SOLO FOR TWO as often as I wish I did, or even used to. But I write something every single damn day. And I take care with everything, even something as insignificant as a Christmas card. It is so important to me, having been in my life through too many periods of un-reason and irrationality and psychosis, to both speak my mind and say what I mean clearly, if not always beautifully. Lucidity in itself is beautiful, to my way of thinking.
And so I undertake this blog, both selfishly, in order to drum up interest for SOLO FOR TWO when it eventually comes out, and because I simply cannot live without the act of setting my thoughts down on paper. But if anyone wants to comment as I go along--and all comments are welcome--I hope she will make sure to keep me in line, should I stray from the lucid path or make what could be considered irrational or unreasonable connections. Well, you remind me, Pam, you're a poet, and poetry doesn't always make sense, does it? Ah, but it does, good poetry does, that is, if you let yourself listen to it with your heart as well as your mind. Poetry demands a leap of faith, as I've written, and I want to write "poetically" in the best sense of that word. But poetry is not simply a bunch of lovely nonsensical phrases thrown together in the vain hope that others will think them "deep." No, poetry "means what it says and says it in common language" as yours truly wrote in a recent poem posted at sz.com. And I mean that. When I write, whether it be a poem or in SOLO or a blog entry, I may not know beforehand what I want to say--and that's fine, since the best writing comes from the process of discovering precisely that, not in simply knowing all and recording it for posterity--but I make damn sure that when the poem or writing uncovers for me its secret, that I then write and rewrite and re-rewrite it to as near perfection as possible. I may not always succeed, but I do always try.
Lucidity in the face of uncertainty, that what makes you more aware of what you think, how you feel, what you truly believe, and the struggle to get there is a journey of self-discovery, if you can let go and let the process tell you what you need to know.
Here endeth my first blog entry. PW