November 29, 2006

Doggerel and Joe and "Against Walmart"

This is a little light verse, rewritten a bit, that I composed for my brother's daughters years ago when they were about 4 and 8 years old (actually younger than that, too young to understand the poem in fact, so they had to wait to hear it till they got older). I hope he eventually read it to them, but who knows? I have to admit it probably doesn't hold a candle to Cynthia's Purple Rain poem in sophistication, but...

Claire and Adgie and the Sand Witches

Once there was a little girl
who woke one morning very earl-
y. This girl’s name was Clairey Berry.
Was she clever? I’d say, very.

Clairey Berry’s sister Adgie
has a name that I can’t rhyme.
They love each other very fine.
At least they do most of the time.

One day Clairey Berry thought she’d
build a sand castle, so brought she
pail and shovel out to dig
up sand for a castle mighty big.

The sand was warm the sun was hot.
Claire and Adgie dug a lot
and found a box that long had lain
in deep, deep sand and it contained

three Sand Witches, all fast asleep
and piled together in a heap.
Claire and Adgie woke them up
and said, “Please Sand Witches, get up!”

“We are Sand Witches,” said they. “Oh,
I’m named Roast Beeste, Best with Mayo,
She’s Eggsalot and by the way
the littlest one--” “I’m PBJ!”

“Ooh,” said Claire and “Eek,” said Aydge
(who has a name that I can’t rhyme)
“They’re GOOD witches, not bad, and I’m --”
said Claire, “sure they’re all very kind.

“Even though Sand Witches few are
we won’t think of eating you. Are
you here to grant us our wishes?
Otherwise you’d be delicious.”

Roast Beeste, Best with Mayo cheered.
The children were not what she’d feared
and would not eat her up that day
nor Eggsalot nor PBJ.

Claire cheered too because Sand Witches
were good for getting rid of itches,
influenza and the blues
or finding anything you lose.

Clairey Berry, yes and Adgie
(whose name to rhyme seems very hard
unless you choose to disregard
that it can’t rhyme with Lee-o-pard)

Claire and Adgie were in luck
and by magic they were struck
because a Witch now said to Clairey
“We’ll see if wishes make you merry.

“To Aunt Pammy you’re both dearly
loved and cherished very clearly.
She loves you lots and so you see
she’s asked us to grant wishes three.”

“I don’t know what to wish,” said Adgie
(whose name’s impossible to verse.
In poetry it’s such a curse,
but I suppose it could be worse.)

“What happens if I make mistakes
Or are all wishes merely fakes,
Another way to teach us rules
the way they do it in the schools?”

“I think,” said Claire, “that these are real.
Roast Beeste doesn’t wish to steal
our sense of humor and of magic,
she knows that really would be tragic.

“So hurry, make a wish. But please
don’t ask for more wishes, cuz she’s
so kind I don’t wish to seem rude
or make her worry ‘cause she’s food.”

“OK, a hundred hugs,” said Adgie
(whose real name is Adriane
and sorta rhymes with Canadian
or were she big, Brobdignagian.)

“A hundred hugs now granted are.
It’s just like wishing on a star.
And you, Claire, tell me what your wish is.”
“I would like a thousand kisses,”

said Claire, then thought a lot and long
about the third wish that belonged
to them, and what they had begun
then gave their parents the last one.

The Sand Witches, their witching done,
went back to sleep, the three as one.
“We’re tired,” said they, “it’s work, such stuff.
You’ve had three wishes, that’s enough.”

And Claire and Adgie quickly ran
to tell what they’d found in the sand.
The Sand Witches now sleep, but they
might come to you or me some day.


Joe just had a sleep study done at Dr O's hospital. I had talked with Dr O about what I was worried about -- his O2 levels dropping too much when he was sleeping and his not waking up due to his meds and possibly dying in sleep, because he doesn't use his bipap breathing machine as often as or the way he should. She then talked to him, and being a sleep specialist as well as a psychiatrist, suggested he come down there for a consultation and an overnight sleep study.

Well, we don't get the official report until next Monday, but I already know some of it, because Joe reported that at one point in the night (they had him sleep without the breathing machine in order to see exactly what his oxygen levels were doing) they put him on oxygen, his O2 had dropped so low during REM or dreaming sleep, which is exactly what they had predicted and I feared. Meanwhile, he is so sedated from his Zyprexa that he would have slept right through it...and god only knows at what point his O2 would be too low to sustain life. But even knowing this, and I have talked to him about why the bipap is so necessary and have told him the possibilities, he still takes it off during the night and sleeps without it. I am not convinced that he knows what he is doing when he does so, but if not, then he is too sedated and disoriented from the Zyprexa for safety and really ought not to be taking it all at night.

But because I am not a doctor, he will not listen to me. It has ever been thus. No matter how right I am, no matter how much I know. Unless a credentialed professional of ANY sort tells him something, he discounts it if it comes from me, and gives it only lip service but doesn't really listen in the sense of doing anything about it. For instance, I knew years ago that Joe was NOT moody, that he was the least disposed to mood swings of ANYONE I ever met and did not, decidedly did not need lithium. I kept telling him to discuss this with his shrink, who had kept him on it for years, simply because he had been put on it by a doctor Joe freely calls a quack. And frankly I think this present doctor is an incompetent too, but that is neither here nor there I suppose, except that he hadn't bothered to question Joe's need for Lithium and Joe would NOT bring it up, no matter how often I impressed upon him the dangers of taking it if he didn't need to. It was ONLY when he developed kidney or thyroid problems, can't recall which, but something clearly related to Lithium, that Dr G finally took him off it, and did NOT replace it with something else (which doesn't make sense if you think someone really needs lithium...). And lo and behold, Joe has done fine for years on nothing but Zyprexa! So I was right, as I knew I was...And I suspect I am right this time too. I KNOW how sedating Zyprexa is, and I am very much afraid that if Joe doesn't cut down his night time dose, and take some during the day, with the modafinil that has been prescribed, he may die one night because he can't wake, and because disorientation makes him unwittingly take off the bipap and not put it back on again. But as people keep telling me, there is nothing I can do. I can't control Joe. Joe is his own man, he controls himself, and he makes his own decisions. I may worry about them, and may not like all of them. But I have to accept that he may make the wrong one and suffer the consequences. It IS his life...I just don't want it too end sooner than it needs to, that's all, sooner than he wants it to.

I am working daily on my paranoia, though I have to admit that instead of going grocery shopping I was thrilled to discover Peapod, Stop and Shop's on-line shopping and delivery service. It has its drawbacks, like not everything in the store is listed. They didn't have Pink Lady apples, for instance, which I know they carry in the store as it is a winter apple. And they didn't have the Near East falafel mix that I happen to know they carry, because I bought it there. However, they did have a falafel mix that will do just fine, and I can get myself some Pink Lady apples if I have to have them. Other drawbacks are that it is harder to find specials and to know how much you are getting. For example, when they say a pound of something, you can't see what that looks like. On the other hand, you can buy a 20 pack of toilet paper at 50¢ a roll, a real savings, and not have to carry it yourself. And if you use bottled water, think of the convenience of stocking up on 5 cases and not having to lug them up to the 12th floor in a grocery cart that can only handle one plus groceries at a time. But most of all, the biggest advantage for me is that I can simply shop on-line, in the privacy of my apartment, and not have to go through the agonies of hell that beset me each time I have to go to the store on my own. You've read my several sagas on the subject. You know what I'm talking about. Am I copping out, or just availing myself of a service that saves me some unnecessary heartache? After all, I still have to enter other stores occasionally, especially at this season (though I generally don't give presents, only Advent calendars that I order the year before from Germany). I still have to do some shopping that isn't on-line once in a while...Though admittedly I do most of it by computer these days, since we have NO independent retail merchants left in town.

"Against Walmart"

I have noticed recently that ALL our stores in town are chain stores, except perhaps one diner. But no retail store in the area that I can get to is independently owned that I can think of. This is rather distressing. It is bad enough that Walmart is taking over the world, but to think that it is driving out the smaller CHAIN stores now, since the small family stores are now all gone is pretty awful. Although we have a Walmart literally within walking distance of this building, and closer to us than any other retailer, right next to Stop and Shop in fact...I have made a vow not to shop there anymore. I have never liked the way they treat their employees, what with their cheer leading sessions every morning -- for 70 year old greeters who stand by the doorway doing nothing all day but smiling...What a terrible job! and with their union busting and low wages and their attitude even towards their suppliers that is totalitarian: "Either you produce 100,000 sweaters at such and such a price (no matter that it is lower than your costs) or we will take all our business now and from now on somewhere else." This forces the supplier to either force up production speed or pay the worker less per garment, usually the latter in China, in order to lower the basic cost of the sweater. So the producing worker is the one who suffers most, all because we want CHEAP prices for items that actually need to cost more.

There is a difference therefore between buying $5 cashmere at a flea market and going to Walmart and buying a $49 cashmere sweater (were it to be sold there). The $5 sweater is used and at least once was paid for at full price, though whether a worker ever got paid decently is doubtful, given our propensity to patronize sweatshops... In a Walmart world, that $49 cashmere sweater most likely ought to "cost" at least $89, say, (with mark-up) but Walmart has insisted on so low a price to them that they can now mark it up to only $49 and still make a profit, while the Chinese worker has taken a drastic cut in per piece pay.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile independent stores -- quirky and idiosyncratic and where you could find one-of-a-kind items that were not cookie cutter made in the millions -- that used to make the chains offer discounts have folded, because of those discounts and the chains now demand full price. Why? Because they can, that's why. Pure and simple. If B & N or Borders is the only bookstore in town, and you have to buy your books there, why should they offer a discount when they can get you to pay top dollar? The only problem for chain stores, big and small, is when Walmart comes to town, as it has to so many. Then there IS competition, and this time it is the chains that are being undersold by the giant vacuum of vacuums, the store that wants it to be a One Store World, Wally World!!!

So now, if Walmart is in the area, certain retailers, though not the bookstores, have to discount prices in order to compete with Walmart, which promptly lowers its prices even further...while cheating the end workers more and more. But in the end, no one CAN compete with Walmart prices, because they have the clout and the money to get the prices they want, without giving an inch. And their method of obtaining product, by naming a price and what they want produced, and essentially extorting a deal, is new but effective because they have the loyal millions of shoppers who make up their market clout. If some of those millions refused to shop at Walmart, agreed to pay a little more elsewhere or forgo the convenience of one-stop shopping and hunt for bargains at different stores (they can be had) think of what effect we could have! But we'd have to be millions strong, and write a lot of Op-ed pieces telling the world what we were doing. It's been two weeks for me that I've been Walmart free. I dunno what I'm going to do about getting Omega 3s though, as theirs is the ONLY kind that has the amount that I need or I'd get it elsewhere or use a different brand...But I'll do something, or try to.

Hope this has changed at least one mind. Or enlightened one Walmart shopper! Tis better to light one candle, so they say, than to curse the darkness...Hopefully, a candle of information can chase away the darkness of ignorance and lack of awareness and bring the truth to light.

Posted by pamwagg at 05:30 PM | Comments (4)

November 28, 2006

Two Poems and WHAT??? Oh NO!!!


Headache a blue sizzle before sleep,
I wake in the dark with pain
announcing it will last all night.
I get up. What else can I do?
Autumn has hit the kitchen.
Dishes cover the counter like fallen leaves.
Cupboards are abandoned burrows,
empty as yawns. I have been spring cleaning
in the wrong season, fall as good a time
as any to do a clean sweep, spring
not always meaning April either, spring tides
occurring at full and new moons
all the year round. But the mere thought
of a bright white full moon upon a black sky
is more contrast than I can stand and I close
my eyes against my imagination.
In that darkness without the opal of moonlight
I am safe from all but pain. It is then the moon
grabs hold of my brain, tightens
and slowly begins to pull.


Cain and Abel,
Jacob and Esau--
God gave only one blessing
and it wasn’t one to share.
When we were born, twins,
we learned to share everything
except incubator and cribs,
and we tried to share those,
scaled our bars,
wound up on the floor,
too hard to climb back in.
Now sharing is second nature
having been first
for so long. With strangers
as with friends
I have shared money,
clothes, books, my car (I
shared schizophrenia
by writing about it)
but with no one
have I shared my body
or moved with him
in the mysteries of human love
but once
and that was not with love
just curiosity
and ultimately pain...
We are given different blessings.
Mine is to write.
The days turn like pages.
Life scribbles and scribbles.
Come in, come in!
Let me pour you a poem.

Paula will sympathize with this one: I just wrote a whole huge blog entry, five or six paragraphs long and was about to finish it and post it, when I accidentally hit the wrong key and pfft! Where'd it go?! Couldn't find it anywhere. It had vanished into thin air, or cyberspace or worse, into nothing at all. And I'm just too tired to retype or rethink it. So I apologize guys, but this is it for today's entry. I will try to write it all again for tomorrow. B( No, I'd better not leave it at that. BD Better? TTFN

Posted by pamwagg at 09:26 PM | Comments (2)

November 27, 2006

Poem and Explanation


God rot it! was too salty once, became
like darn, Od rat it! turned into Drat it!
but that had naught to do with rats, roof and sewer,
conquering every latitude of the planet
stowing away on ships, more the omnivores
than we with their growing teeth five inches a year
needing gnawing to keep them down to eating size
on wood, concrete, brick and mortar, materials
we use to keep them (among others) out,
eating us literally out of house and home
inch by inch, were we not quick to patch
and batten down our hatches.
Jack Black, Royal Ratcatcher tamed
a vari-colored Rattus rat for Queen Victoria.
Rumor has it that Beatrix Potter got another;
that there is one rat per every person;
that rats have navels but no tonsils;
that Petaluma’s Roger Dier was overrun
by rodents, a thousand strong, the brood begun
when he took pity on a dinner rat supplied
to his pet python; that Brando, Nixon, Tolstoy
and my father all are Rats, quick-witted
but quick-tempered; that the Indian temple
in Deshnoke to Karni Mata, female rat god,
hosts 20,000 holy rats, which priests attend,
feed milk and grain, which same the pilgrims eat
who think to eat what first a rat has touched
much blessing from the selfsame god.

This poem is different from my usual. I wrote it to play with rhyme and rhythm and meter, though I confess (ET, help me here!) I have no idea what meter I am using...only that I seem to be using something regular, though with variations to keep it interesting. The subject matter also interested me, just for play. Here, for the reader, I want to go through the poem to point out the various internal rhymes and near rhymes (I don’t know all the technical terms for various sorts of rhymes so I will stay with rhymes and near rhymes) and alliterations and niceties of rhythm that help the poem move along to the ending.

First you see the word ‘God.’ Keep that in mind. ‘God rot it’ was too salty, too much the swear words so you had to say ‘Od rat it’, like we say ‘Darn it’. Now, ‘darn’ in the poem is a near rhyme with the ‘turn’ of ‘turned’ and of course ‘rat’ rhymes with ‘Drat’ and moving to the next line an almost-rhyme with ‘naught.’ Then you come to ‘sewer’ which is echoed in ‘conquer’ and then ‘latitude’ repeats the ‘rat’ rhyme. ‘More’ and ‘omnivore’ rhyme of course. Then we have vowels or assonance, that is the “rhyming” of vowel sounds in ‘teeth’ and needing’ and ‘keep’ and ‘eating’ and ‘concrete’ and you can find the rest of those. All of these things matter as you read the poem, especially if you read it out loud when they jump out at you, with the rhythm as well. ‘Patch’ and'batten' and ‘hatches’ continues the rhyming. Then we have the delicious sequence, which I cribbed from reality, “Jack Black, Royal Ratcatcher” which is part rhyme and part technically assonance or near-rhyme, but it is the variant on the ‘ack ack’ that makes it work. It would not be as effective if it were “Jack Black Royal Rack Cacker” or at least it would smack (no pun intended) of a joke that way. Royal Ratcatcher also continues the near rhyming of ‘rat’ from above, which is continued below it. Then another pleasing sequence ‘Beatrix Potter got another’, which combines the rhyme of Pot and got with potter and another, a rhyme, so to speak, of rhythm (ET, what is that called?).

Moving right along, we have ‘one rat per every per son’ the repetition of per being striking and “rats have navels but no tonsils” the rhythm of navels and tonsils sounds like a rhythm-rhyme once again and it pleases the reader (or that sort of thing usually does...) ‘Overrun by rodents’ is alliteration of a sort, or at least the repetition of R’s that one notices while ‘overrun’ then rhymes with ‘begun’ just below it. ‘Pity’ has the same vowel sound as ‘dinner’ and ‘supplied to his pet python’ has the repeated Ps that should be noticeable and pleasing to the ear. In this whole second section, from ‘Rumor has it’ on, the use of meter is even more important than in the first half, though it is used there as well. You can feel the beat as you read it out loud, with variations making it more interesting. You have to read through it though, not singsonging it, but read as the sentences demand, being careful that you not stop on the end of each line. That is the trick of reading poetry, not to fall into the mistake of listening only to the meter and de dum de dum de dumming it all the way through. Words vary the meter invariably and you must read them as they are, without reference to how you think the meter demands they be read, and you must pay attention to the punctuation, how the lines run, whether they continue onto the next line or stop at the end. Above all read the lines naturally, as if you were reading anything else. Don’t try to force the poem into a ‘poetic’ or versified rhythm.

Anyhow, to continue. Hmmm, where was I? Ah, at ‘python.’ which rhymes with ‘Nixon’ sorta, from here the poem gets more serious and so the rhyming gets less. As to the people named as Rats, you’ll have to figure out why...Still, ’feed’ nearly rhymes with ‘eat’ which is repeated and ‘touched’ rhymes with ‘much.’ Finally, note that the poem ends with the word, in small letters, “god” repeating what it started with in caps, “God.”

Now, what all this means, I dunno! I will leave the analysis up to others, if there is anything beyond the facts I have given about rats to analyse! Sometimes a poem says what it says, means only that and no more, no? Hey, Kate and ET, what do you think? Do I mean more than I know in this poem?

Posted by pamwagg at 04:46 PM | Comments (9)

November 25, 2006

A Poem plus little bits of usefulness

This poem is in the voice of the mother of a Palestinisn suicide bomber. I don't think she would agree that the preferred term "sacred explosion" is better, though in the New Yorker article from 2001 that I read the interviewees insisted upon it, saying that Islam forbids suicide but not this form of military operation, the use of "human bombs." Apparently there is no dearth of volunteers, or were none at the time of the start of the second Intifada, as many young men clamored to be picked for the next mission, though only a few were actually chosen, supposedly by Allah himself. In any event, though this is not a true story, some of the words spoken here are actual words quoted in the article from a Palestinian mother. Note that green birds on a purple sky is the symbol of the Palestinian martyr, a reference to the same green birds of Paradise. No political opinion is intended by the poem, except a condemnation of war and violence in all its forms, and a commentary on the effects on those left behind, specifically the mothers.


My son has flown in the bosom
of the green birds of Paradise
into the garden of Allah. I could not stop
the grindstone of fate from turning, his striving
in Allah’s cause was all. I knew
nothing. I did not know
he had become al shaheed al hayy, “the living
martyr,” until after he had died, after
those small emerald birds – strange happening!
how they flocked a green cloud
to perch on the roof opposite
for nearly an hour calling softly before
flying on to where he was no longer
only a shred of the clean shirt
I’d washed just the night before and a few pages
of his Koran left to identify him. You ask
am I happy that he has joined the martyrs?
You ask if I rejoice to be the mother
of a hero? I have lost my son
to a war as useless as all wars are useless, killing
as many of us as of them. Inshallah
he is at peace now with his God
and we will meet again in Paradise,
but had I known of his plans
I would have taken a blade, sliced open my heart
and crammed him deep inside.
I would have seamed it tight to keep him safe.
I would never let him go.

For a complete change of subject, here is a recipe for veggie patties that are quite good, though wholly invented by yours truly. They are meant to use Okara, the soybean residue left over after making soymilk, but you may substitute well drained and cooked, mashed beans of any sort, though it will affect the flavor. I would suggest well-cooked chickpeas or some kind of white beans. If you can get, soak, cook and mash soybeans, those of course would be best. Near East Falafel mix is the only one I know, and the one this recipe relies on. It may be that others would work, though you are on your own in terms of amounts if you do. I found this falafel mix at Stop and Shop in the rice section, next to the specialty and flavored rices.

Soybean Okara-Veggie burgers

Okara (or mashed cooked soybeans) 2 C
1 box NEAR EAST Falafel mix
1 ¼ C water
1-2 eggs
breadcrumbs, seasoned, enough to form mix into patties c. 1-2 C
sunflower seeds 1 ½ C or to taste
Adobo seasoning
Extra water

Mix all ingredients and let sit 10 min. Add more breadcrumbs as necessary. (If mixture has accidentally become too dry, add an extra egg and/or a small amount of water.) You can taste dough and add Adobo to taste. Form into patties by taking small ladle or ice cream scoop and measuring even amounts. Each patty should be the size of a small hamburger 2"- 3" diameter. Bake 350℉ for 15-20 minutes depending on size. Top should be slightly browned and crusty and inside hot but moist. May be served on a bun or with eggs for breakfast or brunch (delicious that way). And of course, you can eat it plain with your fingers, as I do!

Finally, something really strange but useful!
Uses for Bounce fabric softener

The US Postal service sent out a message to all letter
carriers to put a sheet of Bounce in their uniform pockets
to keep yellow jackets away. Use them all the time when
playing baseball and soccer. Use them when working outside.
It really works. The yellow jackets just veer
around you. And all this time you've just been putting
Bounce in the dryer!

It will chase ants away when you lay a sheet near them.

It also repels mice. Spread them around foundation areas, or
in trailers, cars that are sitting and it keeps mice from
entering your vehicle.

It takes the odor out of books and photo albums that don't
get opened too often.

Repels mosquitoes. Tie a sheet of Bounce through a belt loop
when outdoors during mosquito season.

Eliminates static electricity from your television (or
computer) screen. Since Bounce is designed to help eliminate static cling,
wipe your television screen with a used sheet of Bounce to keep dust
from resettling

Dissolve soap scum from shower doors. Clean with a sheet of

Freshen the air in your home. Place an individual sheet of
Bounce in a drawer or hang in the closet.

Put Bounce sheet in vacuum cleaner.

Prevent thread from tangling. Run a threaded needle through
sheet of Bounce before beginning to sew.

Prevent musty suitcases. Place an individual sheet of Bounce
inside empty luggage before storing.

Freshen the air in your car. Place a sheet of Bounce under
the front seat.

Clean baked-on foods from a cooking pan. Put a sheet in a
pan, fill with water, let sit overnight, and sponge clean. The antistatic
agent apparently weakens the bond between the food.

Eliminate odors in wastebaskets. Place a sheet of Bounce at
the bottom of the wastebasket.

Collect cat hair. Rubbing the area with a sheet of Bounce
will magnetically attract all the loose hairs.

Eliminate static electricity from Venetian blinds. Wipe the
blinds with a sheet of Bounce to prevent dust from resettling.

Wipe up sawdust from drilling or sand papering. A used sheet
of Bounce will collect sawdust like a tack cloth.

Eliminate odors in dirty laundry. Place an individual sheet
of Bounce at the bottom of a laundry bag or hamper.

Deodorize shoes or sneakers. Place a sheet of Bounce in your
shoes or sneakers overnight.

Golfers put a Bounce sheet in their back pocket to keep the
bees away.

Put a Bounce sheet in your sleeping bag and tent before
folding and storing them. Keeps them smelling fresh.

Posted by pamwagg at 10:11 AM | Comments (8)

November 23, 2006

Analysis of an Emily Dickinson poem

I felt a funeral in my brain,
And mourners, to and fro,
Kept treading, treading, till it seemed
That sense was breaking through.

And when they all were seated,
A service like a drum
Kept beating, beating, till I thought
My mind was going numb.

And then I heard them lift a box,
And creak across my soul
With those same boots of lead,
Then space began to toll

As all the heavens were a bell,
And Being but an ear,
And I and silence some strange race,
Wrecked, solitary, here.

And then a plank in reason, broke,
And I dropped down and down--
And hit a world at every plunge,
And finished knowing--then--

Here’s a poem by Emily Dickinson that might interest you. It supposedly describes her/a descent into madness (widely debated as to whether or not she was actually psychotic for a time). Emily is always trickier to “get” than most people think from reading her birds and flowers poems, this being one of the more difficult ones. Starting at stanza 1, I read “funeral” as “disturbance” or “breakdown” if you will, some sort of mental anguish or ending, and “sense” as rationality or reason, sanity, that is. So the first stanza seems to me to be saying that she/the narrator (not necessarily Emily, as one forgets) felt that there was a “fatal disturbance” in her brain, ie something dire wrong with it, and that “mourners” or the agent(s) of the disturbance -- anxiety, worries, symptoms of any and all sorts -- kept yanging and yanging ("treading, treading"...and treading and treading) until it felt as if she was going insane, felt that sanity was breaking through her brain -- see last stanza -- and being lost.

Finally the treading stopped but the pounding drum started until her mind felt totally numb, so that she had neither thought, reason, nor feelings. What was the drum? Her heart beating? The sound of the blood rushing into her ears? And the service, a funeral service surely. But why? To commemorate her? Why then the awful pounding? More like a judge and jury...Or a stern pastor throwing the Book of Judgment at her (Emily was known to have refused to become a true believer).

Then, as the insanity progressed, her mind began truly to die, as the figure of a coffin and boots of lead creaking "across my soul" and space beginning to toll - death knell - suggest (all figurative, nothing literal or specific). The picture is of pall bearers carrying a coffin across a creaky wooden floor while the whole of the space begins to vibrate with sound. But then we realize we are actually situated inside Emily's skull, in her brain, and understand the figure is a metaphor for the same "brain death" or madness she fears.

In the fourth stanza, the death knell rings in space as if all the heavens were a bell and "Being but an ear". What is this? A being is only an ear to hear the bell? Or Emily is but an ear? Or is it that the heavens are actually an ear and not a bell? Difficult to know how to read that line. But in any event, she and silence, “some strange race,” alien to Being and to the heavens, is left here, “wrecked (and) solitary.” A vivid and accurate image of how awful you feel in madness: wrecked, destroyed, pulverized yet alone.

FINALLY, as the last blow, the last floorboard of her brain breaks through (some say the "plank" is over a precipice, and she is on it, but I think this figure hearkens back to the mourners “treading” and “sense breaking through”). She, that is, her sanity, herself, is on the plank, and down she drops, descending as they say, into complete madness or decompensation...She drops down and down, and "hit a world at every plunge." This makes me think that she would hit a "world" and stop, then fall again, and hit and stop, then plunge again. Not sure what the "worlds" she hits are...Memories? Episodes in her past that make up whole worlds? I feel this in any event, this plunging and hitting, plunging and hitting. I feel myself strike my face as I fall on it each time, hit my head, then plummet again into the darkness. It feels terrifying, just terrifying...

And "finished knowing -- then--"...She is essentially dropped into a world of such insanity that she doesn’t know her own or old self, is unconscious, senseless, and completely mad. She has finished knowing could also imply though that she has no more rationality but only emotionality, that this is how she must approach the world from now on, from her feelings... Welp...Anyhow, finally the “—then—” , that unfinished sentence with the incomplete punctuation suggests that the madness hasn’t ended when the poem was written, even though the word "then" implies that it is in the past. Sort of leaves it up in the air: Is she or isn't she?

This is my analysis of the poem. Interested in another's take on it, I sent a version of it to Kate K, who graciously wrote out her own analysis. She did such a terrific job that I want to publish it here, without getting her permission first. (Forgive me Kate, but you didn't answer my e-mail fast enough!!!) BD

Kate wrote:

The more I read this poem, the more I appreciate it.

First stanza: The poet writing " I felt a funeral in my brain" is like saying "I felt a death in my brain" but who are the mourners? Parts of herself that tread so restlessly as to make sense break through her brain, somewhere out of reach?

Second stanza: There is no respite, the mourners (parts of her own mind) settle down but then there begins " A service like a drum". There is no preacher, no sermon, no words, no sense, just the throbbing of a drum. A drum so insistent that her mind goes numb. The image/sound of a drum makes me think of Native Americans, a more primitive, sacred ritual than a Christian church service which would more likely employ an organ with complex music. A drum also makes me think of a heart beat, but here instead of the heart dying (its last beats heard before the silence), it's the brain dying by going numb.

Third stanza: "And then I heard them lift a box" which probably represents the coffin or what is holding the brain (mind). "And creak across my soul" Does the box creak or is it the mourners who creak, the mourners who are like an elaboration on the coffin? Something which still holds her soul. The image of the leaden boots recalls the "treading, treading" as well as the "beating, beating", repetitious and implacable. Lead also makes me think of bullets, something potentially violent and death inducing. "Then space began to toll"-- Does she mean, then space began to take its toll, to cause more damage? The mourners recede and the empty space comes forward, stripping her mind.

Fourth stanza: "As all the heavens were a bell," So the bell tolls as you said like a death knell, a mournful sound but heaven is a bell, joyful music "And Being but an ear" and people are the receivers of the music of heaven. " And I and silence some strange race" She, with her dying/disturbed brain is now part of the silence and space of a kind of hell. She is now part of "some strange race" and no longer connected to heaven. She is outside of heaven. "Wrecked, solitary, here." I found two pertinent definitions of wrecked from the computer dictionary: "1. the disorganized remains of something that has suffered damage or destruction. 2. a person whose physical or mental health or strength has failed." Both imply a breakdown of matter and spirit. And in being a wreck she becomes useless and solitary, again a reference to the absence of heaven which is union with the divine. She says she is "here" but in the state she's in here, in the absence of heaven is a kind of hell or at least limbo, empty and undefined, a kind of prison.

Fifth stanza: "And then a plank in reason, broke"--back to wood, the mourners treading on wood, the box (coffin) made of wood, and then a piece of reason "broke" making the floor of reason no longer serviceable, no longer able to hold the weight of her mind. Plank also means: "2. a fundamental point of a political or other program." So plank can be seen as not just a physical representation of reason but a point of reason that breaks (down). "And I dropped down and down--" The floorboards of reason, of the funeral home break and her soul drops down and down, again break-down, to fall, to lose one's reason, to fall from grace into limbo or hell. "And hit a world at every plunge." She does not write "hit the world" but "a world" as if she's falling down through a series of worlds and not just falling but plunging, which is much more dire. "And finished knowing--then--" And that was the end of her mind, her brain, the final descent into death, into ending, she "finished knowing", all goes blank "then--" I think she leaves the then--open-ended intentionally, leaving open the idea of life after the death of the brain as well as that is probably how most of us end, in almost mid-sentence, abrubtly.

Excellent choice of poem Pam. I had fun with this. My perspective on mental illness is different from Emily Dickinson's in that I don't see it as a form of death, a death that blocks out all light and sound (heaven) but more as a hyper/distorted state of being, especially paranoia. It's not too little I received when I was most psychotic, but too much, an overload of images and ideas and voices causing pain and confusion. To me it was, in part, a form of torture. I was not numb but all too aware. The numbness came later after the trauma. Now I am more numb and, not surprisingly, in less pain, less crazy though still weird in some of my thoughts. Emily Dickinson's take on mental illness is so final, with no sight of a reprieve whereas I think in most mental illness there is some hope, even if it's just a sliver. Not always, I've had my share of hopeless times when I wanted to cease living to end the pain I was feeling but usually there was something to hold onto. What do you think?

Hmmm, what do I think? I think that Emily wasn't numb at all, but tortured and tormented just as we all have been. She thought her mind was going numb, that is that it was being dulled into submission by the pounding of the drum. But in fact everything after that suggests that it did not go numb. As I said, that hitting a world with every plunge image is so painful for me that I cannot help but think that she was suffering immensely. Someone who is numb doesn't care and wouldn't notice if she were "some strange race" or "wrecked, solitary, here." She might even welcome it. As for the finality of her vision of "mental illness" or madness, for one thing, in her day it was in fact often hopeless: there was neither cure NOR treatment of any sort of efficacy. If she'd known someone who was mad, and it is more than likely she had, since if there were hospitals for the insane then, no one wanted their relatives there, in those horrendous conditions, she grew up with the reality of the madwoman in the attic, the addled relative who lived all his or her life at home, being cared for by family.

I myself have OFTEN felt a finality with this illness, and way too often have tried to end it. I have lost hope for myself many times, and have had to rely on others' hope or on forcible measures -- hospitals -- to keep me safe until hope is restored. So I can appreciate the lack thereof in this poem. It is not easy to keep hope alive when you are psychotic, not for me, not as many times as I have relapsed. I have often felt that were it to happen one more time, that would be it, I would be "outta here" for good. But of course, that was the relapse itself speaking, which is what made it doubly dangerous. Hope is best, naturally, and essential, if you can hold on to it; I'm just saying that not everyone can all the time.

If anyone would like to add their 2¢ or 10$ to this discussion, either on the poem itself or on the presence or absence of hope in MI -- do you think it is always there or not -- please add your comments. You self-conscious, shy and lacking in self-esteem readers, puleeze! Remember that I think I'm pondscum if I can put myself out here like this, with negative self-esteem, why can't you? Has ANYONE ever jumped on a commenter here for saying something, anything at all? I promise that if anyone ever flames someone, or even comments derisively about another person, I will delete that comment immediately! So c'mon, you guys, screw up your nerve (am I that scary???) and take the plunge. You might even find it is fun, telling us what you think!

Posted by pamwagg at 04:42 PM | Comments (7)

November 22, 2006

Today is a Dismal Date

Today is a dismal date. Not a dismal day, mind you. It was reasonably cold and sunny here in Connecticut, and it warmed up to around 50 in the late afternoon when clouds furred over the sun just before it set. But today is The Date...And I wish I hadn't been reminded of it. It is the 43rd anniversary of John F Kennedy's assassination and hence of my first symptoms, which if you've read DIVIDED MINDS you know were intimately connected to JFK's death. Usually I would not be aware of this particular date, thank heavens for small blessings, being blissfully unaware most of the time just what day it is, let alone the precise date. In fact, though I could have counted from my recent birthday, I'd already lost track, and was thinking today was around the 24th, as I'd written on a deposit ticket at the bank.

But I receive an e-mail every morning from the Writer's Almanac, sending me the poem of the day, and this morning's literary notes made mention of the salient facts of Nov 22, one of which was obviously what happened to the president in 1963 in Dallas, Texas. Now, I feel guilty, feel sorrowful, feel remorseful for having committed such a heinous act, and I feel certain that I did do so...BUT when I said that to myself, and to the visiting nurse, I had to stop and think. I feel certain? and I feel guilty...for having committed...a heinous act. Shouldn't that tell me something? Shouldn't it trigger--? AAAH -- I said, I have to notice what I'm feeling, the first steps of a reality test. I feel guilty, I feel wrong, and I feel certain I committed a terrible crime, though I do not know how...

Keep going, said Ana, the evening nurse. You're on the right track.

So I feel wrong and certain I did something terrible. I feel certain! That is supposed to tell me to consider the possibility I might be wrong! But that's a paranoia test -- this isn't paranoia is it? Then again, Lynnie said the feeling of certainty came up in any...delusion? This is a delusion?

What's the next step? Ana pressed as she poured my nighttime meds.

To check it out, ask someone. So I guess I have to ask you. Pointblank, so far as you know, did I kill Kennedy?

No. You didn't. Now I wasn't there. I wasn't born yet. But I know for certain that you did not kill him. All right?

And now I'm supposed to believe you...That's the hard part, when every part of me believes ME.


So it is only a delusion that has me in its grip, the notion that I killed Kennedy, even the memory of it is a delusion, or the memory of a delusion. I noticed, I challenged my feeling and I checked it out, and the answer was No, you did not do it, from someone I trust and have no reason to doubt now. So what do I do with that? I have to incorporate it into my poor brain somehow, really incorporate it so this date doesn't throw me again. But I dunno that I know how to do that. Or if it can be done at my age. It may be all I can ask is that I learn to challenge the feeling of certainty about it each and every time it comes up, until it becomes an automatic challenge, so seamless and swift it looks as if I don't actually feel I killed JFK. Even that would be good enough for me!

Stop by tomorrow. I hope to analyze a poem by Emily Dickinson, the famous one about going mad.

Posted by pamwagg at 05:16 PM | Comments (2)

November 21, 2006

Paranoid Stance in Life?

I saw Dr O today and we talked about paranoia, which, she said, through no fault of my own but because of paranoid schizophrenia, colors my outlook on life, my approach to the world. She says I am prone to "see" and "hear" conspiracies and secret messages where none exist simply because my brain is disposed that way. Naturally I am certain I'm right about what I feel is going on, because that is human nature: to assume our perceptions correctly interpret the world. But, she said, in my case, I have to be more circumspect and not automatically assume that everything I perceive tells me the truth. So she made up a card for me to carry in my wallet with three steps on it for me to read whenever I feel that someone hates me or has it in for me or that They are "doing something to me" or "conspiring against" me. Step number one says: Notice when afraid or upset that someone else feels negatively towards you. It will feel certain. Step number two: Allow for the possibility that you might be wrong. Step number three: Check it out! Checking it out is not necessarily easy, even though it is a three word step. It means asking someone if it is going on, if they are thinking this way or doing this thing etc which cannot always be done comfortably or appropriately. So sometimes you have to ask someone else, like Joe or Dr O or Lynnie etc what they think is going on, or is happening...Or discreetly ask someone on the periphery, I dunno. Somehow you have to find out the truth, the facts, whether or not what you fear is actually happening.

Now these three steps, essentially a way to reality test for paranoia, seem simple, even simple-minded, but for me they are very difficult, most especially the first. How do I know when to notice? How do I even think to challenge my immediate "KNOWLEDGE" -- which is how it feels, not a suspicion that people are out to get me but full-blown certainty. Aha, there it is, that word, "certainty". She said, "It will feel certain...that someone feels negatively towards you..." So I could take that feeling of certainty as a benchmark for when to use the three steps. Whenever I feel convinced that people hate me or are doing things to me etc, whenever that feeling of absolute certainty that something negative is happening hits me, that is when I must NOTICE it, triggering the three steps of the reality test. I wonder if that would work. I know that Lynnie told me to assume absolutely without question that whenever I thought someone was SECRETLY doing something, communicating something to me secretly etc that it was paranoid. This helped me to question certain delusions, when I managed to catch myself speak or think the word "secretly." When I didn't actually use the word "secretly" it was harder, as I was literal enough to have the "delusion buster" triggered only by one word at first. But later, it became clearer to me that anything communicated sub rosa, so to speak, anything I thought was communicated in a manner that was not clear and aboveboard for the most part ie not verbally or written down, should trigger her paranoia reality test.

Now it doesn't work if I don't notice the "secretly" does it? And much of what I said about the cabal of DOs yesterday fits under that rubric (though I maintain that Dr F's RN really did do something to get Dr F to hate me...There was something weird going on there...). But I didn't notice it, so certain was I that Dr C hated me and was against me, along with his RN. So CERTAINTY and SECRECY are two words/concepts that have to start triggering reality testing or I'm going to continue to run into situations that I build up into huge paranoid constructions, rather than situations that I appraoch with paranoia but quickly defuse. And how will I defuse them? By: Noticing my fear and certainty that They are against me; allowing for the possibility that I might be wrong; and Checking it out (by asking them or getting help from Joe or Dr O or someone else in finding out if it is true). In point of fact, though, I've found that with any reality test, merely noticing and challenging the thinking, the delusion, asking yourself if you might be wrong, can be enough to get you to think a different way, to stop pushing the panic button and accept that you're merely paranoid. Actually checking it out ends up being less necessary than Dr O thinks, because once you suspect you are paranoid, well, that answers a lot of questions and allows for a lot more clear thinking.

So, how'm I doing? I still feel afraid that Dr C and the DOs are in something against me and I still feel upset by the smile that I read as a smirk when he talked about meds taking away my appetite (I didn't write about this yesterday but it was one of the things that bothered me) but I can at least tell myself I'm probably wrong about it, that it is a paranoid way of thinking, that there is in fact NO REASON for a cabal of DOs to be thinking or talking about me, just as one of you said, they have more important-to-them things on their minds! And sometimes a smile is just a smile...How can I tell it was a smirk? Do I know the guy? I've seen him twice, for god's sake! Can I read his mind? I barely look at people! And now I'm looking at him so closely I say I can tell a smirk from a smile on someone I don't even know??? C'mon! (I feel certain that I can, but I could be wrong...) So I've got to assume that it's mostly paranoia, despite the feelings that make me afraid and upset (still) and on that basis have to talk to myself more about how other people worry about their own lives much more than mine, they have their own paranoias and fears and upsets, and don't spend their time trying to torment me...WHY would they? Who am I that they would care that much to spend hours tormenting me? AM I that important? If not, why would they bother? All good questions, and I can't answer them, except mostly to say either I dunno or No. Which means, Okay, I guess it is paranoia. So now I have to act as if it is, and ignore how I feel, hard as that is, hard as that is.

Posted by pamwagg at 07:12 PM | Comments (4)

November 20, 2006

She wonders later if this is paranoia...

I called Dr Cs office on Friday to ask about my liver function tests, which no one had called me about in over a week and a half. The answering machine to the medical assistant said to leave a detailed message and she'd get back to me, but she never did, though I waited almost all the day. Now I'm worried that for some reason they think I'm just a crock of -- or somehow not worth their time and are putting me off and will not even tell me the right numbers if they call or will not care to do anything about it if the results are abnormal. I don't trust them. I had the bloodwork done more than a week ago. Plenty of time for the results to come in. They would have come in the next day in fact. And yet no one called me with the results. They hate me, obviously.

I think the RN from Dr F's office years ago has somehow gotten to Dr C and contaminated his mind against me, both doctors being D.O.s after all so the RNs probably know each other, maybe even are the same person and I don't recognize her. I don't know, and never did, what that RN said about me to Dr F or why she always had it in for me but it was so clear that she did and that after she talked to Dr F he changed completely towards me. It was AWFUL! And I never understood why or what was going on except that it was obvious that he didn't like me and wanted me out of his practice. It was only when I asked to be referred to a neurologist about my inadequately treated narcolepsy, that I had enough. I realized that this was the big sticking point, the Ritalin: he actually told me, after giving me a name, that I could see this guy ONCE, and once only. Well, who was he to be telling me how often I could or could not see a doctor about a chronic condition? And who was he to be telling me such a thing at all?! I realized then and there that something was wrong with the picture, and 1) I never saw "his" neurologist, realizing that he would have been poisoned by Dr F's referral, and 2) never went back to Dr F. again. I mean, did Dr F want to treat my narcolepsy? No. Did he know anything about it? No. Then what the F---?! He had no right or reason to dictate to me how often I could see a doctor who was able to deal with a condition I'd had for years. Let alone tell me not to bother more than once someone who understood about narcolepsy that had NEVER been adequately or sufficiently treated.

Oh wait, I HAD once figured it out! I remember now. I think I'd decided that the RN must have doubled as a nurse at the ER, someone who sometimes covered the psych patients room, and was one of those who had decided that (you had to go through the ER to be admitted to the local psych floor so I was there a fair amount) I faked narcolepsy in order to get Ritalin. So anyway, if this RN and Dr F's RN were one and the same person, no wonder Dr F was turned against me! He thought I was just there to score drugs!!!

But NOW Dr C has obviously been contaminated -- indirectly by me via this same RN or someone who knows her or someone like her doing the same thing. It is obvious that he is against me and doesn't want to deal with me, not even if I do have medical problems. He is so convinced I am trying to get Ritalin and stimulants from him that he'd rather I go elsewhere, though I have no need or desire for such drugs whatsoever and wouldn't even dream of asking for them!...It's crazy! Why does he think that way, when I've never even brought it up? But it is clear that the RN's thinking has affected him. The problem is that I've always been assigned to D.O.s and that is fine, except that they form a mini-community and they all know one another, so they talk, and it is so obvious that I'm blackballed, put on a list, some DO list that says, Don't believe her, She's out to get Speed! She's Trouble! Get her out of your office! So they are far more concerned about purging their offices of me than of actually finding out if anything they've heard about me is even true...

I don't know why no one ever believes that I have narcolepsy. It's not like I lie, cheat and steal to get Ritalin...and it is not like I've ever forced the issue. I've had to be convinced of it myself, twice, before I believed it. I've suffered on insufficient treatment for years, because no one believed that I was legitimately sleepy. People are SO suspicious...and they think I'm paranoid??? If they'd only known, if they'd only listened, if they'd only trusted that I was simply telling the truth about how sleepy I was...But no, and now Dr C and the whole D.O. cabal is involved in purging the community of me because they think I lie in order to get Ritalin, that I'll say anything to get a high from a stimulant-like drug! Which is so crazy it is crazy-making!!!! Dr O treats my narcolepsy as it needs to be treated while also treating my schizophrenia. So what need do I have to ask anyone for anything? She prescribes all that I need! I just don't understand this vitriolic rage at me, this sneaky underhanded total rejection. On the one hand, being evil means I deserve it, yes, and I accept that. But if as everyone says I am not Satan, what did I do wrong????

Later: Dr Cs office finally called. They didn't give me any numbers but said my AST and ALT were still elevated, that is, the liver enzymes are still high, so they want me to see a gastroenterologist, a GI doc. They gave me a name and said they'd send my bloodwork ahead. Whoopdedoo...Now they'll contaminate him, by warning him about me in advance! I can't win. Maybe I'll ask my father to recommend someone, seeing as how he is a GI doc himself. Presumably that doc would not be contaminated by this RN's crazy-making bad-mouthing lies.

Posted by pamwagg at 01:41 PM | Comments (8)

November 18, 2006

Louis Wain's Cats


An example of schizophrenic creativity out of control...You can see the progressive deterioration of his vision of "cat" as his insanity gets worse and worse.

Posted by pamwagg at 08:08 PM | Comments (7)

A poem, and a letter to A (and to all)


In a book I’m reading about the Inuit
before wood and canned food and cooking,
before firewater, drugs and the pipeline took their toll,
an old woman, too frail to travel,
padded off alone to wait for frostbite
and the hunger of the white bear.
My old cat, going blind, already lame in one foot,
stopped eating one day
and disappeared under the porch,
where she went to sleep and never woke up.
Did she know she was dying, too?
And what about the birds?
They must go somewhere when it is time to die.
There are so many birds, yet you rarely see a dead one.
I wonder if I will know how to die when my time comes.
I would like to go in the morning,
after writing through the night,
the full moon bright on a page of sky,
watching as the clouds thicken,
just as a light snow begins to fall.

Dear A,

You asked me why so many creative people have been touched by mental illness, and I have to say, I don't know why. There is a book called (I believe) Touched by Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison, which I have not read but that I believe deals with this subject. She is a psychologist who is very open about the fact that she has bipolar illness, so you might be particularly interested in reading her books, also An Unquiet Mind, about her battle with the illness, and Night Falls Fast, about suicide. I reviewed An Unquiet Mind for the LA Weekly and found it very well written and a good read as well as informative and even witty at times. But to get back to the subject I started with, it seems to me that at least in bipolar illness, which you tell me you have, the emotions are indeed subject to extremes, and you do feel things more deeply than others might, by virtue of the bipolarity of your emotions. So creativity might spring from your feeling things more, but I think extremes of emotion do lay you open for mental disturbance, if they are not disturbance in and of themselves. You see what I mean? In bipolar illness, the problem IS the feelings, so the deep feelings that lead to creativity are also THE mental illness. So in that sense you almost can't have one without the other. Or at least if you are bipolar, there is a good chance that you will be creative, NOT that if you are creative you will be bipolar!

For us schizophrenics (I don't usually use that word, but it is helpful as a shorthand for persons with schizophrenia - PWSz) it is harder to say that creativity goes hand in hand with the illness. I have known some pretty uncreative PWSz! On the other hand, the Sz might have dulled them and their creativity that they once had, such that it no longer shines through. I don't know. Sometimes it seems that Sz can enhance creativity, but does so to the point of making one incoherent; at other times it can destroy it, dulling a person until their creativity is deadened beyond recognition. In both cases, though, medication can help, I believe. I don't believe that unmedicated schizophrenia is a more naturally creative state than "normality," And if it is, it is a useless creativity for the most part, because largely incoherent, perhaps even in the visual arts (see Louis Wain's cats for an example above and also third comment for further discussion of incoherence). Oh, I still wrote and wrote, poem after poem, when not on medication, but the poems were useless nonsense, nothing I would or could publish, nothing I can make sense of now, not even I! My psychotic poems embarrass me now, in fact. And my drawings even more so. They are really only diagrams, but I thought they were art. All they did was explain my psychosis!

So this is a dicey question to be asking. Because I believe that ALL PEOPLE ARE CREATIVE, and that means PWSz and PWBP too. I don't think that PWSz have a corner on creativity, though I think that we have a special subject that informs out creativity and can use our creativity, and should, to teach others about the illness and what we have been through...Especially since it has been so much a part of our lives that it is hard to avoid writing or drawing or painting about it! To the bipolars among us, you may indeed be an elite company, as history has shown a connection between bipolarity and extreme creativity. An awful lot of famous writers and artists have been bipolar, too many to discount this. But creativity is one thing, using it and training yourself is another, and that takes plain old hard work, which helps even those without natural talent to develop originality and creativity. So a word to the wise in everyone: DON"T think you are not creative just because you are not bipolar! You have a wellspring of creativity in you simply because you are human. It may not be as close to the surface as it is in A or other bipolars, but it is there, and only needs nurturing and tutoring to come out in full force. Use it or lose it is as good a notion as any when thinking about the creative urge in a person. But it is never lost entirely, just buried under a lot of junk, and the deeper it is buried, the more digging you have to do to get to it, that's all.

Sorry, A, I got off track and started talking to everyone here, but your question is an important one that I believe everyone wants answered, and which I of course, cannot sufficiently do! Creativity and mental illness (M.I.) have long been associated, I think because of the bipolar connection. I don't think that depression as often aids creative functioning as mania does though, nor OCD, nor PTSD for example...So one has to be careful what one is speaking about when you say M.I. And in Sz, I think the experiences are such that one wants to communicate them artistically, and tries to, but is often so impaired that it is impossible, until one is adequately medicated. Do you think that in order to be an artist one must suffer? In general -- whether from M.I. or from hunger or poverty or something? I wonder...How many artists of great quality came from healthy wealthy and comfortable circumstances (that they didn't repudiate)? It's worth finding out. But here, one needn't worry as mostly everyone on this site has suffered, either as a person with MI or another illness or a person who cares for a person with MI or some other illness! Also,
let's face it, you can't compare suffering, you can't compare pain. Pain is pain, and to each individual, his or her own is the pain and suffering that matters. So, each of us has suffered deeply and suffered enough to be creative, if that is what it takes...

I think you are suffering right now, A, with your side effects and drowsiness, and that's why you are wondering about creativity and MI and such. But I know you are creative and will create again, once you have found the right dose and have gotten used to the medications. Be patient and don't push yourself too hard right now. Take your time and do other things until you really feel like you can get back to writing. If you go back too soon, you will disappoint and frustrate yourself, so be sure to give yourself enough time. When the time is right, you will find yourself back in the saddle and writing up a storm, I am certain of it.

Posted by pamwagg at 05:50 PM | Comments (3)

November 17, 2006

Happy Birthday to ME!

Yessir and Yes Ma'am, I am all of 54 years young today...and I feel it! I feel better than I did last year at this time, and as I recall I felt pretty damn good last year at this time. In a couple of weeks, we attend the Connecticut Society of the Book Reception ($40 per person except for honorees) to find out who wins the various Connecticut Book Awards. DIVIDED MINDS is up for one in Biography/Memoir, and though the competition is stiff, we can always hope. And simply being a finalist is a coup in and of itself, I expect. Today I heard from Graywolf Press, to which I'd sent the query letter and ten poems representative of my poetry manuscript. Since they had obviously sent back all the poems I'd sent them, and had done so very very quickly, I almost didn't open the envelope, assuming it was simply a matter of a rejection slip stuffed inside. But I did, just in case. And along with my poems found a note telling me that they were interested in seeing the entire ms, could I please send it?! Well, this was a big surprise. In fact, I am writing this entry at 11:30 at night because it was so important for me to get the ms in shape to send out tomorrow. I didn't manage it, as I got hung up on creating a table of contents -- the computer hit a glitch and wouldn't do it the final time, though it had done it fine several times before. The damned thing simply disappeared, and I hadn't even printed it out yet!

But in any event, I do have the ms done and only have to print it, with a table of contents, and it is all ready to go to the mailbox on Monday if not Saturday. And then it is Cross your fingers and thumbs and wait and wait and wait wait wait.

Earlier today I heard from A M:

Hi Pam,

I have been revising the sentences like you told me, re-answering the questions one by one carefully. Lately, thinking clearly has been hard as my shrink recently changed my medication to Risperdal and Depakote and the side effects are bad drowsiness. I want to write poetry again so bad but the medication makes me feel so dulled out. I used to be so creative, always with a witty line for someone off the meds. It almost makes me want to stop taking them but I dont want to end up back in the hospital. Do you find your medication does this to you? Are you still on Zyprexa may i ask? My shrink wanted me on Zyprexa instead of risperdal but I refuse to tolerate rapid weight gain. May I ask what you take now and how you live with the horrible side effects of psychotrophic drugs? Another question, maybe you answer it in your blog, what's your opinion on why so many creative people suffer with mental illnesses? I say we have access to our emotions more deeply then others, we feel more passionately and this causes things to get out of hand sometimes. I heard that at a writers' conference so I cant take full credit for that insight but I beleive it is true of myself. What about you?

Oh Lordy, A, are you reading this? Please, please, take some time off from the poem business and let your meds get adjusted properly! No wonder you can't think -- you just started taking two very sedating (at first) drugs. They will help you, and the sedation will wear off, but it takes some time to get used to it and you need to give yourself that time, not expect yourself to be writing poetry. Even I couldn't do that. Every time I change meds, I have to take time off to recover from the stress and strain of it, and so do you. It is very dangerous, in fact, for you to be expecting yourself to work at your peak right now, when you are just starting new meds, because it will leave you open to such thinking as: Oh, I will always be this dull and sleepy, and I couldn't stand that so I won't take these pills, I'm gonna stop taking them now! And that could be disastrous. No, you need to stay on the pills and NOT demand a lot from yourself right now, not expect peak output or creative work from yourself, which would be setting yourself up for a fall you don't need. Please listen to me: you will write again, because you are a writer, and writers write. But at the moment, you are not in a place where anyone could write, not me, not you, not any writer, and we all would have to stop and admit that we can't do it and need to take time off. Can you read if you can't write? Reading feeds all writing and is the best way to learn to write better. If you can't read, which was always my problem in starting new meds, then feed, feed on experience, go places, do things, even just watch TV, but choose your shows carefully, don't watch junk but watch nature shows, and biography and history and PBS and C-Span and all the stuff you think would be boring...It really isn't and it feeds you the world; when you can't get out to the world sometimes it is TV that brings it in to you. (I remember how magical TV was when I first started Zyprexa, how amazing it was that I could watch it, and how wonderful the variety of shows was, so many interesting things to choose from and learn from...I still couldn't do much or go places, but I went places via TV and I'll never forget how grateful I was for that.)

No, A, I don't take Zyprexa anymore. I had to stop it, I was just too upset by the rapid and unceasing weight gain. But if not for that, I'd take it again in a New York nanosecond. Zyprexa was the single most miraculous drug I have ever taken. It literally gave me the world, or gave me back the world, as Dr O suggests. Whatever is the case, I feel like I never knew what life could be until I took that medication, never truly engaged with life, not as an adult, not since childhood. And it worked almost immediately; certainly within the first week I could tell things were different...I could read, I felt interest, I felt alive...All the negative symptoms simply dropped away, along with the positive symptoms! I was sedated, yes, but luckily for me my narcolepsy medication helped me wake up. Since it helped with the sleepiness of narcolepsy it helped with the sleepiness of Zyprexa as well. So in general, I miss Zyprexa almost as much as I am glad to be rid of it. Talk about ambivalence!

As for what I take right now? For anti psychotics I take Abilify 15mg and Geodon 160mg and Haldol 15mg, plus some other adjunct meds -- anticonvulsants and one antidepressant at an extremely low dose. And meds for Narcolepsy and CNS Lyme disease. I take about 15 pills every morning in fact, a whole handful. But the reason I take them is that I don't experience a lot of side effects. If I did, I would complain mightily and have. But my doctor and I worked for five years, tinkering in and out of the hospital, through MANY hospitalizations and crises to find an exquisitely balanced blend of meds that finally works and does not cause side effects I won't tolerate. I am very lucky to have Dr O. Most docs don't bother to do what she did...or would throw up their hands at my refusal to take so many different drugs because of the side effects. But she LISTENED to me, and said we would find a combination that I could take, somehow, and lo and behold, with time and patience, we finally did. Most docs though would not put a patient on 3 different antipsychotics, and 2 anticonvulsants and an antidepressant at a subtherapeutic dose, and trust what they saw, that their patient actually did well. No, most docs put their patients on one or two drugs at high doses and decide to let the patient fend for herself, whether or not she has side effects. Tough luck for her, they say, nothing to be done...Well, I say, something can be done, but too often the docs are too lazy to do anything about it, and the patients are too shy or scared or cowed to insist. I was all of those things, but I simply could not tolerate the side effects and so I stopped taking the drugs so often that Dr O was obliged to work with me. But she works with everyone, that's how she is. Most docs are not like her, alas. So I dunno what to tell you about your meds, except to talk to your doc if the side effects don't go away, talk to her or him and insist that something be done, that something can be done...But don't stop them on your own or you'll end up in the hospital llike I did, which I regret to this day.

As for why creative people have mental illness...I've got to go to bed now, so I will leave that question for tomorrow, okay? But I have some thoughts on the subject, and also want to think about it a little deeper. So until the morrow, take care.


As for creativity and

Posted by pamwagg at 11:33 PM | Comments (9)

November 16, 2006

Lament and poem

First, a bit of a lament: I don't know why no one is commenting anymore. I know my recent poems are good, and they certainly are relevant to this site. But I feel as if once again I'm writing into a black hole, a void, dropping my poems down a deep hole and hoping upon hope that somebody somewhere below is catching them, reading them and "getting" them, perhaps even appreciating them. I know you guys are stopping by to read this blog, because the counter keeps going up. But why does no one bother to say a word or two, acknowledge that fact? Don't you know how much it would mean to me? Don't you know how much it means to any writer? We are only human after all, and our egos are sensitive and easily crushed. We do not know that anyone cares when silence reigns; we need to be told that people are listening! So keep that in mind when you rush to read and leave without saying a word. Remember that I'm putting on the page little pieces of myself every day, depleting my soul, and getting nothing back. As a writer I understand that that is the bargain, the essential contract I make with the world. But since there is in a blog an easy built-in mechanism for reader feedback, it seems only fair to ask that some be given, at least from time to time...

This new poem should be familiar to anyone who has read my sagas of paranoia when I have to go shopping alone. Although "poetically" compressed, I think it gets the essential point across. However, any comment would be welcome, on this or any of my recent "illness" poems. These, by the way, I am writing on request and with an eye to a book focusing more or less on schizphrenia and mental illness, poems about it or informed by it, that is, written while actively ill or under-medicated or which deal with other aspects, the consequences in my life of having been disabled etc In short, poems which comprise a huge and wide variety.

I also have an ms of regular poems as well which is already out at a publisher. Dunno which would be more marketable but my agent seems to think the former, the sz one.


You would choose a cart with wheels
that squeak. Your clothes are much too colorful.
The noise your clogs make
announces you with each step. Who
gave you permission to enter? No one
wants you here. They are all watching.
It is important to know
if you will splurge
on the expensive foreign grapes
or go with cheap bananas.

Someone is trailing you. She conceals herself well
but you sense her there whenever you turn around.
Sound floods your ears, rising like water.
You push ahead faster. In the next aisle,
someone has left a cart crosswise,
halting your flight.
You crash through the barricade
and race for Dairy. On your tail,
she stays just one aisle behind.

If this were a poem
a lot of things could happen.
But the poem went home a long time ago.
It will not help you.
You are in the grocery store.
You believe you are being followed.
You are on your own.

Posted by pamwagg at 12:15 PM | Comments (10)

November 14, 2006

2 more new poems, plus


Over the frozen pond, the tree hangs empty --
no leaves, no skeletal nests, bare knuckle branches.
The sky is gray as ice and as featureless. Beyond:
brown hills. Far houses serrate the horizon. All
this framed in the window glass he smokes by,
all day seeing none of it, mind lumbering
over the same slow ground -- how at eight
the children called him Icky, for Ichabod,
the name sticking through high school, though
for all that no friend ever did; how one day he’d
show them: talent, awards, money, renown --
show them something... From time to time he
considers the possibility of getting to his feet,
of shouldering on a coat and venturing outside
for a walk. But thinking gets in the way
of his way and he stumbles over the planning.
Inertia directs him to another cigarette. Smokes.
Stares out the window apparently at nothing.


At first it seemed a good idea not to
move a muscle, to resist without
resistance. I stood still and stiller. Soon
I was the stillest object in that room.
I neither moved nor ate nor spoke.
But I was in there all the time,
I heard every word said,
saw what was done and not done.
Indifferent to making the first move,
I let them arrange my limbs, infuse
IVs, even toilet me like a doll.
Oh, their concern was so touching--
and so unnecessary. As if I needed anything
but the viscosity of air that held me up.
I was sorry when they cured
me, when I had to depart that warm box,
the thick closed-in place of not-caring,
and return to the world. I would
never go back, not now. But
the Butterfly Effect says sometimes
the smallest step leads nowhere,
sometimes to global disaster. I tell you
it is enough to scare a person stiff.

Yesterday Joe had his feeding tube sutures removed, finally. His GP wouldn't do it, his GI doc wouldn't do it...only interventional radiology would do it. Yet all that had to be done was one snip and the stitches fell away! I tell you, I could have done it and would have, had I been brave enough. Had I known only that the bottom part, the half that was inside Joe, remained inside, and was pooped out, I would have had no concern about snipping off the top half and would have done so, rather than go through the hoopla we had to go through... I guess it was better that a professional did it, though I have never known why anyone with half a brain couldn't take out stitches! (I didn't go to med school for nothing, after all...)

Afterwards, I drove us all the way from the hospital, a distance of about 6 miles, a long distance for me, back to our apartment building. This entailed getting us down from 7 floors of a parking garage, which I haven't done in many years. I did get sleepy on the way home, but managed to stay awake and drive safely. Joe cheered when I finally pulled into a parking space in our lot. I guess he had been nervous about my driving, though he said I did a good job. I was driving his car, so I can understand his being wary.

He still doesn't use his bipap breathing machine, which is worrisome as people with ALS on another website tell me that with a lung capacity of 40% his oxygen levels may well be dropping too low at night when breathing is shallower and hence could be at risk for passing away in his sleep. This is very scary, and I think it scared him when I gently let him know that it was a possibility (if not now, since we don't know for certain this is happening and won't until his sleep study in 2 weeks, but definitely will be eventually; the ALS patients at the website felt certain it was now, given the figure of 40%). I probed a bit further this time about why he didn't use it, and it turns out that after he takes it off to cough, he has to reset the machine, which beeps an alarm that he turns off. But to reset it, he has to get up, because his nightside table is too small for the machine, so he has set it a ways away from the bed. Add to this the fact that his 20mg Zyprexa dose at night so zonks him that he can barely sit up, let alone get up to turn on the machine again and I could see there was a problem. "So Joe," I said, "what about getting a bigger nightside table?" That seemed a simple thing he could do to solve one problem. If the machine were right by his bed, he could just reach out and reset it and not have to get up at all. Then when necessary he could take off the mask, cough, put it on again, and go back to sleep still using the bipap.

He allowed as how this might be possible and said he would move the keyboard table over to his bed instead. But another problem, and bigger, was his sedation from the Zyprexa. He could barely tear the mask off his face in order to cough. He did so only because he was desperate. He usually coughed then immediately fell asleep again, without enough time to put the mask on again, or to even think of doing so, let alone reset the machine. This is worrisome because he ought to wake more easily; if his oxygen level gets too shallow, it should trigger an awakening so he takes a deeper breath (sleep apnea). With the Zyprexa, he is so sedated, he can't wake up even when his O2 is low.

With this in mind, I made the suggestion that he perhaps try taking the Zyprexa in divided doses during the day, 5 mg at a time with 5mg at bedtime. His pulmonologist gave him modafinil (provigil - a non-stimulant) for alertness, so he could combine that with the daytime Zyprexa if he found it making him drowsy in the daytime. I dunno what he should do in the end. All I know is that no one else is helping him with these things, so we have to figure them out ourselves. My ideas surely can't do any harm.

Later: Just got a call from Karen, who told me that Joe informed her that he has been having trouble breathing recently, during the day. She said he didn't go into detail, except to say that he hadn't yet told me, implying that he hadn't yet had the opportunity. I don't know what to make of this. On the one hand, just two weeks ago, his O2 when awake was 95%, which seemed to imply that he was compensating adequately for loss of diaphagm strength with the use of his chest and back muscles and intercostals (muscles between the ribs); on the other hand, those muscles will weaken eventually too, and they may have started to do so now...So who knows what his 02 is. Or his O2 is fine but he IS having trouble breathing, and keeping it fine...Oh, lord, I don't know what to think or do. But tomorrow he goes off to Boston with Karen (she can help him drive once again) to attend an engineering conference he has dreamed of for months, and won't be back for several days. So there is nothing I can do to help until Saturday or Sunday at the earliest. I did convince him to bring and try to use the bipap machine, which he will do. But beyond that, I can only wish him luck and hope he has a fantastic time, doing what he most loves to do.

Posted by pamwagg at 04:34 PM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2006

Poem Analysis

The poem in Writer’s Almanac for Friday I found quite lovely, very very simple yet it said a lot. You can see it for yourself at have reprinted it here, but riskily, as I do not have permission to...So hopefully you will check it out at their website as well.

Poem: "Unforeseen" by Reid Bush, from What You Know. © Larkspur Press.


Before we buried him, no one thought
to trace around his hand.

It would have been an easy thing to do
if you could stand his fingers cold, stiff:
just a piece of paper underneath
and pen or pencil.

I don't think there's anybody
could half imagine in a million years
how much since he died we've argued
over just how big his hands were.

It's hard to know when you need to
what it is you're going to want.

Thoughts on the poem:

A poem is all about compression, about saying things in as brief a space as possible. And so instead of telling us who died and how or even that someone died, the poet starts off in medias res (in the middle of things) by saying: (afterwards we realized that) we hadn't thought to trace the (dead man's) hand before we buried him. If you could stand doing it, it would have been a simple task, just needing pen and paper. It is left to the reader to infer all the other stuff that went beforehand, even who this man is...which remains a mystery throughout, and is a kind of gift to us, as it allows each reader to bring to the poem his or her own memories and his or her own needs for who the man "must" be. We read that into the poem, personalizing it and thereby "own" it a little more.

“We've argued over just how big his hands were”: this brings to mind several things -- " You're in good hands with AllSTATE"; "He's got the whole world in his hands"; someone's having got your life in his hands...Big hands are capable, workman's hands; they can catch things and not let them fall. “Big hands, big heart” too, and therefore all the connotations that go along with big heart.

Also, note the exaggeration of “I don’t think there’s anybody could half imagine in a million years...” that sort of being surprised at the strength of their own reactions, how much the arguing has been over his hand size, over HOW BIG his hands were. Not his hand size but HOW BIG...This big, or bigger? Even bigger? Just how big?!

"It's hard to know when you need to/ what it is you are going to want" (when someone dies). Who would have thought, at the moment when they buried him, that they would have wanted to know the exact dimensions of his hand size...And yet of course, that is NOT the point. Knowing exactly how big his hands were would not have solved anything really, or would have solved more than was wanted. The point was the myth of How big his hands were, how big his heart...Not a question you really want resolved into inches and ounces, millimeters and grams, which are meaningless in such a context. No one truly cares how big his hands really were in those terms (knowing the measurements would only diminish the man and the “myth”), only that they seemed very big, very capacious, very...well, whatever words come to mind, which is ALL that matters in the end. Despite the last line, wanting the hand-tracing, and not having it are probably both good things because it allows memory to do its job in recreating the man...In my opinion. But what you want is not always what you need anyhow. Here, what I think is implied is needed is the family gathered round arguing about how big the man’s hands were, that act of familial remembering, much more than any settling of the argument by dragging out proof.

Posted by pamwagg at 03:52 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2006

2 new poems (edited)

The first poem is about the Boris Spassky/ Bobby Fischer chess tournament in Iceland in 1972 when Spassky was defending a title that the Russians had won 41 times out of 45. He was clearly paranoid in his suspicions regarding Fischer's team's efforts to sabotage him, but it takes little effort to understand why: it turned out that around that time the Russians were in fact using microwave energy to bombard the American Embassy in Moscow and were probably using other methods to try to undermine Americans in Russia, hence Spassky's projected paranoia. Knowing what his country was doing to us, no wonder he worried what we might be doing to him!

The second poem is trying to express what happens to language in the midst of psychosis; it refers to actual "poems" and diagrams that I have written and drawn at such times.


“Paranoia runs in [chess players] blood.” from WHISPERS by Ronald K Siegel

There were signs, of course.
The weather was perfect each day
until you left the hotel,
when storm clouds homed in,
thunder Satan’s jackhammer
on the pavement of hell. You suffered
a mild but persistent headache,
known side effect of microwave
irradiation (as every Russian knew
and the American Embassy did not)
and chemically-induced – but which
substance did the Americans use? –
free-floating anxiety. It was necessary
naturally, to take scrapings, sample
air and water, X-ray
your chair, looking for possible
devices and poisons. Nothing found,
the contest was declared
fair and honest, aboveboard,
though you had doubts, didn’t you?
Ever since you found 2 dead flies
in the lighting above your head
you knew your title was lost.

(re-edited from SCATTERED)


Unpinned, words scatter, moths in the night.
The sense of things loses hold, demurs.
Everything means.

Numbers soldier
with colors and directions, four by four
in a pinwheel: this is the secret wisdom.
I inscribe it on sacred sheets of paper.
The Oxford Dictionary holds not a candle.
The self reduced to a cipher, a scribble,
the Eye is all, with a Freemason’s lash,
and 26 runic statuaries to share
how a stitch in time saved the cat
and if a mossy rock gathers no stones,
mollusks must surely be lifted higher
by the same rising boats. Why, why not throw
glass stones at grass huts? It is a question
of propriety: grass is too dignified to lie down
before glass. Whirligig!

How to pull the center
back into the world? Would it take all
the OED to recapture the moths? All Harcourt’s
English Grammar to pin them again?

(Note: I have separated the lines with a space where in fact there is supposed to be a different kind of division that this software won't let me make...)

Posted by pamwagg at 11:33 PM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2006

Odds and...


Static crackling, a radio tuning itself,
the squeal or echo of feedback
before the broadcast of secrets, thoughts no one knows –

In the wall today, a colony of immigrant
Japanese have taken up residence.
They speak a dialect I completely understand.

One voice commands the household, tells me
the right and wrong way to do everything.
My local pastor finds transcripts of his advice “spiritually moving.”

An enthusiastic friend tells me I am channeling, undoubtedly
an ancient spirit I met in a former life. I tell it to go away.
I do not want even benevolent disembodied voices.

Some days there is only repeated music,
singing like it has gone to my head
and broken there, a record on a spindle turning, returning.


Hi A,

Here’s what you start with and work with:

She notices little things like the way light falls on trees on a late August afternoon. She makes clothes out of chickenwire, old scraps of cloth, and colorful beads. She wears a black skirt with strings of bright beads and buttons sewn along the rim and a blue cabled hat knitted for her by her psychiatrist. She made a pair of sandals knitted with blue yarn, chickenwire, and ribbons and wore them to the bookstore she works in. She was paranoid people would stare, but they only smiled and complimented her on her courageous shoes. Her mother says she hates those “art” projects because they make a mess. Her outlandish clothing, the first sign of an oncoming mania for some, so in early autumn, at 34, they took her away to the hospital again, boxed her stuff, sublet her flat, and sent her to the crazy place where only old folks go. Before she left, we shared stories of her internal hauntings on the old, black futon in her flat. As I walked to her tea pot for more hot water, I tripped over a piece of jagged chickenwire, which scarred my bare right foot.

Not bad for a beginning poem, now break it into poem form, and don’t forget all the pointers I gave you earlier...all will add to its success.



Posted by pamwagg at 03:03 PM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2006

More poem-building from A and Pam

A M wrote:
Hi Pam,

I revised the lines by combining sentences and details. Here is a new revised edition of the sentences. By the way, best of luck on your submission to Oberlin and to Graywolf Press. i know an essayist, whom I met at Brown two summers ago John D'Agata, for who had his essays Halls of Fame and The Next American Essay published by Graywolf. NAE is an anthology of essays of different authors where D'Agata writes the lead to each essay. It's all written in lyric poetry--all the submissions that is. Check it out if you can.


1) Choose a person you love, a friend you adore and respect and admire. What attributes do you see more of than her or his faults?

A: She notices little things like the way light falls on trees on a late August afternoon.

2) What particular quality or trait do you like most in this person? What does he or she do that most endears them to you?

A: She makes clothes out of chickenwire, old scraps of cloth, and colorful beads.

3) a) What reveals this trait, that is how does this trait show itself, by good deeds, fatness, a crooked nose, baggy pants, composting toilet, adopting children

A: She wears a black skirt with strings of bright beads and buttons sewn along the rim and a blue cabled hat knitted for her by her psychiatrist.

b) What does this trait do that you admire it so? What does it accomplish by being what it is?

A: She made a pair of sandals knitted with blue yarn, chickenwire, and ribbons and wore them to the bookstore she works in. She was paranoid people would stare, but they only smiled and complimented her on her courageous shoes. Her mother says she hates those “art” projects because they make a mess.

c) What is the significance or meaning of this trait, to you or to others? You can answer this in any way you choose.

A: Her outlandish clothing, the first sign of an oncoming mania for some, so in early autumn, at 34, they took her away to the hospital again, boxed her stuff, subletted her flat, and sent her to the crazy place where only old folks go.

4) How has this trait changed you and/or others? Try for something not obvious, something that takes the reader by surprise, or sums up the rest of the sentences with an AHA!

A: Before you left, we shared stories of your internal hauntings on the old, black futon in your flat. As I walked to your tea pot for more hot water, I tripped over a piece of jagged chickenwire, which scarred my bare right foot.


Pam's response:

Okay! Now then, combine all your sentences into a paragraph and then start breaking it up into lines of poetry, remembering that ends of lines are the most important places and that you don’t have to say everything, only suggest things, that conjunctions like “and” are often unnecessary and lists of phrases quite often effective...What else? Don’t switch pronouns, choose “you” or “she” and use it throughout. Name her or at some point give her an identity like a friend or Cat or something...though come to think of it, keeping her “she” could just work, and “you” always works without further qualification. I realize that Cat was afraid of being laughed at with her chicken wire sandals, but I think the poem would work better if she were not...After all, in mania usually one’s inhibitions drop away and such things as people staring do NOT matter...It’s just a suggestion. (You are allowed to “tamper with reality” if a poem needs it, though of course if you prefer not to, don’t! It’s ALL up to you and your preferences).

A word about “enjambement”: this is when a sentence is broken up in the middle, so that the end of a line is NOT the end of the sentence. Note that WHERE the sentence breaks is important and can do important things in a poem, including pun, surprise, contain two meanings depending on whether you read it alone or with the following words on the next line. Here are some (poor) examples. “At the end of the game/ I ran on the double/nut gum and got stuck/in the mud of the dugout.” I realize that is not a terribly good example, written on the fly as it was, and you can find much better examples if you look back through my blog’s poetry, but it gives you an idea...”on the double”...refers to running but also to stepping on the Doublenut gum so it is a pun and a double entendre. It has two different meanings, depending on whether you read it with or without the second word.(Oh dear, I there such a thing as Doublenut gum anymore? Hmmm. Well, if it doesn’t mean anything to you, forget it. Let me know and I’ll try again!BD) Ditto “stuck/in the mud”: you can get stuck on the gum or stuck in the mud...or stuck in the mud of the dugout because presumably the gum stopped you from catching a ball and the coach gave you time out...Or whatever happens in baseball...!I’m only guessing.

But do you get my drift? All of those three things are implied and implication is everything in a poem. It is MUCH better to suggest and imply something than to come right out and say it point blank. Give your readers credit for being able to go where you go in your mind...They will follow you better than you think.

Okay, I think that’s about all that I can tell you off the cuff about breaking the paragraph into lines, except to tell you to TRIM the sentences judiciously to make them flow and DO NOT SAY EVERYTHING! SUGGEST and IMPLY. And enough from me. We will work with whatever you come up with so don’t worry if your next draft is far from perfect. This will be the fun part. To start to really craft the poem! Oh yes, don’t forget to keep in mind the little story that you are telling, and the arc of the poem as it moves from one point to the next. This ought to be kept as you shorten the lines and tailor the paragraph into a poem form.

Enough is enough, Pam. Let her get to woik!

Good, then. Happy writing and feel free to e-mail me if you run into problems. You do not need to turn in a finished piece before you contact me if you need help, okay?


Pam W

PS One more suggestion: try not to begin each sentence with “she did such and such” but vary the subject and the construction. Okay?

Take a look at some of my poems to see how this is done, or at the poems in the Writer’s Almanac (did I give you the address?) each day to see what they do.

If I didn’t suggest this before, look into it. Go to American Public Media and from there go to Newsletters and choose Writer’s Almanac. Each day they will send you a new poem from (usu) a contemporary poet of some reknown, but certainly of high quality. It is well worth reading once a day to get some familiarity with the kind of poetry that is being written these days. Here’s the link:

Best wishes,


Posted by pamwagg at 02:01 PM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2006

What is Time?


You know something is going on.
It is taking place just beyond the range
of your hearing, inside that house
on the corner needing paint and shutters,
the one with the cluttered yard
you always suspected sheltered friends
in name only. It may be in the cellar
where the radio transmitter is being built
or the satellite. A cabal of intelligence
agents is involved, CIA, MI-6, Mossad.
It is obvious plans are being made;
didn’t your boss arch his eyebrows
while passing your desk this morning,
grunt hello, rather than his usual
“Howerya?” Veiled threats are made
to your life and livelihood. Someone
is always watching you watching
and waiting for whatever is going
to happen to happen.


I am reading Dr Ronald L Mallett's fascinating memoir called TIME TRAVELER and it occured to me to discuss for myself the same question so many have asked, before finding out their various answers. Hence this little essay.


Since none other than St Augustine asked this question in his CONFESSIONS and came to the conclusion that while he knew perfectly well what time was he faced a certain bedevilment in trying to explain it in words, I don't see why I shouldn't attempt to answer the question myself. Not so much because I believe myself to be the equal or superior to that august personage (hardly!) or others of his ilk, so much as because the question as put is so simple on its face that anyone might essay to respond without putting on airs.

Time. Time is most often thought of as flowing, linearly, from one point through another to another, unidirectionally and irreversibly, from past to present and thence to the future as it becomes the present. But what if this is short-sighted and wrong? My theory is that time is more like a boundless ocean, a volume with neither surface nor bottom, and therefore no true center (leave aside the concept of space-time for the moment and think only of the entity of time). Time is all around us; like a hydraulic fluid, if you act on one part of the present, the entire present responds. Time, for me, doesn't flow, no, we are immersed in it, we move through time. Now, where we start may be anywhere, and where we "go" may be anywhere; the only rule, the only Law, is that we cannot return the way we came. If we go from A to B to C, we cannot return through C to B to A. (More about returning to A later). In that sense our movement through time is in fact unidirectional. I believe this is because we ourselves define the present moment, in and of ourselves. We carry that moment with us, and by defining the present, we also define the past and the future, which are really only variations on the present. But to get from point A in time to point B in time, how and why does that occur? I think it happens due to a kind of time-gravity. The state of B -- all B's of which there are an almost infinite number of possibilities-- has a lower potential "energy" than A and therefore time-gravity tends to pull us from Time A to Time B, a kind of warping of the fabric of the "ocean of time" that permits and encourages time to pass into the B state. Free will and serendipity determine which particular B state will be fulfilled, but A to B happens automatically. B is the "future" of A, i.e. where time-gravity leads/attracts/pulls so that like an electrical potential difference, the present has to drop into a certain future by virtue of its being "lower"; hence the "higher" previous state A becomes the past and the movement through the ocean of time is from "higher" or past to "lower" or future-present (though this is always a figurative "high/low" and cannot be visualized as such).

Again, we move through time, moving from the present into the future, changing the present into the past and the future into the present and constantly doing so endlessly and without stopping. Thus there is no present moment, no present "place" only where we are, i.e. we are the present but no time is the present because we keep moving past it. So we embody the present but cannot locate any present in time itself. WE define the present in ourselves and experience it every nanosecond, yet to point to it is to lose it, just as in quantum mechanics to note an electron's position is impossible because you can't know its position and its momentum at the same time, and the only way to localize it is to know both. Hence, you could say that present time has a kind of quantum probability, undefinable, unpinpointable, yet as real and knowable as an electron so long as you don't try to stop or define a single instant or quanta of it.

The present, too, is ALL there is, in fact. The future is merely present time we haven't yet moved into, and the past is present time that we've left behind. Now is the present a kind of line, or area or volume? I've said that time is like an ocean, so it must be a volume, 3D as it were, because time is all around us. So we can travel in ALL directions from A. No direction is forbidden because all directions embody a move into a different energy potential, a lower state, a B state by definition. The ONLY time law is that you cannot move from B back to A via that same route. Now not all B states are possible. For instance if A is a broken egg, the B state that has it coming back together spontaneously must be at a HIGHER potential and therefore time-gravity would not lead us there and it would not be a possible future for that A.

Now then, why can't you move from C through B back to A? Well, you can't move through lower to higher potentials, for one thing, but theoretically, since TIME IS ALL AROUND US< it should be possible for us to get from, say, Z back to A somehow. Especially since we were in fact once there, at A, and if we were once at A, why can't we be there again?

Why not? Perhaps traveling from A to B alters the path irrevocably so that there is no path or no way to get back, like the birds eating Handsel and Gretl's breadcrumbs on the way to the witch's house...They simply lost their way. Or morphologically the moving from A to B has transformed the path in such a way as to prevent any backwards travel. BUT could one do a run-around? Could one go on from A to B to C all the way to Z and somehow get back to A' the precursor to A. Depending on what Z is and how you get there, Z would have to be both after C and before A' or somehow connecting to pre-A or A'. I dunno how that might go or work but in an ocean of time, an ocean of present and future presents it might be possible....Could a past become a future present again, though? Could B, now past, become the future to a new A again? Or would that throw everything off balance and implode the whole ocean? And yet, if B could in fact be a future again, ALL of time could repeat and the endless Cycle of time would be real...either with the same things happening over and over endlessly OR, given free will and the possibilities of randomness and mutation, the Cycle could be different each time. Note that each cycle's recycling would depend on someone newly discovering how to go from Z to pre-A or A' all over again...Or else time would not repeat until that discovery is made.

In this view of time, what is birth and death? We are what defines the present, we bear the present along with us as we move along in time, leaving past present behind as we step into future presents. When we are born, the present moment is defined as beginning. When we die, we must lose track of a present defined moment and are no longer in time because time demands awareness. In death you are no longer aware of the ocean; you are out of the boundaries of time and by definition, since time and space are one, you are no longer in space either. ARE you no longer at all? Where, what were you before conception? By definition you were possibility, you were potential, by virtue of being born in the future. The fact that you will be born, means that you are potentially born before then. Perhaps after death your energy, never lost, goes back to being potential energy again, just like a ball balanced on the edge of a table. Potential to be a defined present, but not one yet. Potential to be born again. By definition a soul waiting for rebirth...

And so, the Cycle of Time and Reincarnation...and my theory of time led to all that? Hmmm, you'd almost think I was a believer. But it is appealing. Enough for now. BD

Posted by pamwagg at 03:29 PM | Comments (2)

November 07, 2006

A little of this, a little of that

Well, I sent off a selection of poems to Field Magazine, a very well-thought of poetry review out of Oberlin College in Cleveland...I don't expect to be accepted but I can dream! Also, I sent a query letter and ten poems to Graywolf Press, at my agent's advising, re the possibility of their publishing a poetry manuscript of mine. Again, a longshot, but I might have a chance, given my history and what I write about, schizophrenia being rather unique subject matter and experience for a published book of poetry (though of course I don't write exclusively about SZ by any means, but as Dr O says, it informs everything I do write, just as anyone's life history informs her writing).

I saw my primary care doc today for two reasons, one was to have an EKG because of potential drug interactions of the antibiotics and Haldol and Geodon. Luckily everything was fine, as I suspected it would be, since I've been taking this combination now for months. For some reason the pharmacist suddenly found the supposed interaction and decided he wouldn't release the meds until the doctors made sure all was well, though he should have found the interaction well before this, wouldn't you think? Anyhow, the other reason was because the infectious disease doc does regular bloodwork every time I see him and the October labs showed that my liver enzymes were elevated. When I was in the hospital this past summer, they were elevated then too, but gradually came back down to normal. So everyone decided I had ingested something toxic at home and that my liver healed once away from it in hospital...But what is going on now? I dunno -- I certainly do not "ingest toxic materials", not knowingly. I eat very very carefully and well. A very balanced and healthy diet in fact, probably better than most people's if limited in quantity. And the meds are the same as in the bin, where the enzymes went to normal. So whatever is going on, it doesn't seem to be either my diet or my medications. Welp, I feel fine, so I assume it ain't anything terribly wrong, though he's testing me for hepatitis just to be sure, then will be watching to see what the levels do. We'll see. Presumably they will fall to normal, just as they did before! BD

I wrote two new poems, both of which I hope are more accessible than the last four. One is for Cy's birthday this Wednesday and the other is about Joe and me and discusses what I imagine the future may bring. It takes some careful reading to follow the twists and turns, but in the end says what it says, and has no hidden meanings. The line "the good night he won't join gentle" is a reference to the villanelle, "Do not go gentle into that good night" by Dylan Thomas, where "that good night" obviously means death. If you don't know the piece, it is well worth looking up, a famous, and worthy of it, poem. But here are mine:


Your love is but a candle now, burning
at Shabbat, one of your son’s perhaps,
wax poured into a small glass around a wick,
no more, yet with staying power to burn
for weeks on end, just as you burned
for decades, never going out in your devotion
to your one love, for all the many loves
you had and shared came out of that one first,
last and forever love that graced your heart
and opened it and opened it until love
overflowed and you had so much
what could you do but give it away?
You gave much to me, once a stranger rocking
alone on a chair, knowing no one and expecting
to stay alone in that way. When you introduced
yourself, said you prayed like that, davening,
and asked me who I was I was alarmed at first –
for who was I? What was I but a schizophrenic,
on disability, with nothing to offer but my loneliness?
I offered my name and the fact that I’d come
with my lawyer friend, B. So was I
a lawyer too? you asked, as if a serious question,
to me so far from reality I had to smile:
No, I write poetry, I confessed in shame...
Oh, but that’s where possibilities
entered the picture, in poems, for you, it seemed
wrote poetry too, and wanted to share. Soon
we had decades for that, and for lunches
and hospitals after hospitals, and walks
and talks and the comic relief of inevitable teasing,
one-way, because you could dish it but never swallow.
Now you are 87, twenty-one years my friend,
my friend, and we gather here to celebrate..
Deaf as a pole, and your aids not in,
will you hear me if I shout it in your ear:
Thank you Cy, for the little candle, the one you lit in my life,
for lifting my bushel too that my own light might shine.
I am poor, I have nothing. I offer you this poem.
By the light of a candle, I sign it:
with all my love, Pam


Both schizophrenic, you watch his every move
being awkward, clumsy, for signs of slowing,
weakness the cardinal symptom of the second hand
he’s been handed at the too young middle age
of fifty, fearful of choking episodes and falls,

of losses unprepared for in your unexpected absence
at a time when he for once needs you most,
wanting no shoe to drop that you can’t catch
and re-tie, desperate to keep him this side
of where the doctors say such illness “invariably”

leads, the good night he won’t join gentle.
But your own illness, that hand, is too much
in the way in such ways that interfere
and intersect with the care you wish
you could give: the casual touch that still feels

invasive given, received, is swallowed but festers;
the unforgotten trauma of suctioned mucus
and uncontrollable coughing. If only
you were a different person you would be
a different person and more capable, happy to

do it all. Now all you want is to catch the second shoe.
For he is Huck, unquenchably on meds content
unable to look at living and see blues,
ruined choirs of hope, broken wishes, tragedy--
no, it all interests, all of it a source, a font

to fascinate the mind, as well eyes and ears,
which he says will be enough to tether him
to life when his body, unmoored from his brain
and paralyzed, no longer moves a muscle,
his mind left sharp as white Wisconsin cheddar,

still ravenous to know what’s up and coming
in the mobile world that would move past him,
but for his drive to counter clockwise time,
to dip his hands into an icy flowing stream
and cup the future in his palms.

Posted by pamwagg at 04:18 PM | Comments (1)

November 05, 2006

More with A

Here is another series of exchanges between A and men as we hash out the second and third steps of this particular poem-writing process, which she is still hard at work on, i.e. writing and rewriting the answers to the questions in approximately six sentences.

A M wrote:
Dear Pam,

Ok, here goes two first drafts I attempted. I am putting the poem aside for today and will relook at it tomorrow. What do you think works? What doesn't? Be honest. I know this needs a structure but I don't think the poem is ready to be fitted into the right structure and I have no clue on which type of structure to manipulate it into. I tried to think in images and active verbs but I fear I got tired and wasn't colorful enough on the verbs. Do you have some examples of colorful verbs you could share with me?



Rough Rough Draft

Working Title: Remains of a Friendship Scarred

1. The Shins sing our favorite song "kissing the lipless" with the line 'the grey remains of a friendship scarred.'

2. You knock on my door ready to play wearing your patchwork jean skirt, busted together on a chickenwire bodice, fishnets, pink high top sneakers, denim jacket, and blue cabled hat you tell me your psychiatrist knit for you.

3. Your warm hat makes me a bit green as my doctor, the crack dealer of Michigan Avenue, knits me nothing except to hand me scripts for meds to keep my "crazy" away.

I always thought I was alone in my thinking until the day you mentioned the way light falls on trees at certain hours to make reality feel timeless.

4. They took you away to the hospital in August, boxed up your stuff, subletted your apartment, and sent you to the crazy place where only old people go. They told me you couldn't care for yourself anymore, that this was the best thing.

5. I sent you a store bought card for Halloween, but you are so much better at creating your own 'Day of the Dead' celebration like the tiny colorful skeleton displays in Pilson you entertained me with stories of when you lived there in your own apartment.

6. You share these stories while we sat over tea in your Lakeview apartment, walls covered with wide canvases of your oil renderings of the stories in your imagination, each with their own poem.

7. Walking to your tea pot for more hot water, I tripped over a jagged piece of chickenwire, scarring my bare right foot.

Friendship scarred.

Rough Draft #2

Working Title: Remains of a Friendship Scarred

Alone, I thought I was, until the day you said that light falling on trees on a late August afternoon feels like timeless reality.

The old computer CD player echoes the Shins song, “kissing the lipless” which haunts me with the line ‘the grey remains of a friendship scarred.’

Your playful knock on my apartment door ready to walk barefoot along Lake Michigan’s wet sands in your patchwork jean skirt, busted together on a chickenwire bodice, red fishnets, pink high top sneakers, denim jacket and blue cabled hat you say your psychiatrist knit for you.

Green about your warm hat, as my doctor, the crack dealer of Michigan Avenue, knits me nothing and hands me scripts to keep my “crazy” away.

Early autumn, they took you away to the hospital, boxed your stuff, subletted your apartment, and sent you to the crazy place where only old people go. You, a whooping 34.

Halloween passed, I sent a store bought card. But you are so much better at creating your own ‘Day of the Dead’ celebration. I remember you told me about those tiny colorful skeleton diorama displayed on the street near your Pilson apartment.

We swap stories about old ghosts, our internal hauntings, while we sat over tea in your Lakeview apartment, walls covered with wide, colorful, impressionistic canvasses of your oil renderings. Paintings of the stories in your imagination, each with their own poem.

Walking to your tea pot for more hot water, I tripped over a jagged piece of chickenwire, scarring my bare right foot.

You have a new life now. One of Depakote, lithium, Celexa, Clozaril, and whatever else “they” have you on. One where big phrases like “psychiatric rehabilitation,” rule your days.

The place you stay now allows no visitors, leaving me to walk on Lake Michigan barefoot alone and watch the light fall off the waves into timeless reality.

Friendship scarred.

Dear A,

Try going back to the drawing board and NOT consciously writing a poem just yet. Just answer the questions, but be specific in your answers. Go back to your original answers and flesh them out if need be. Okay?


By the way, these are great and vivid details to know. We just don’t need all of them...You’ll be able to pick and choose from these as we go along, but for now, go back and just carefully answer the questions. Okay?


A M wrote:

Ok, here is my rewrite to the six questions. I edited some of the details I gave you out from previous versions of the answers
1. You notice little things like the way light falls on trees on a late August afternoon feels like timeless reality.

2. You walk barefoot along Lake Michigan's wet sands, the Chicago skyline looming behind you.

3. You wear old jeans with a hole in the knee, a denim jacket, and a blue cabled hat your psychiatrist knit for you.

b. You share stories about old ghosts, internal hauntings, as we walk; you know your own Halloween.

c. Early autumn, at 34, they took you away to the hospital, boxed your stuff, subletted your flatt, and sent you to the crazy place where only old folks go.

4. The place you stay now allows no visitors, leaving me to walk alone along the lakefront barefoot and watch the light fall off the waves into timeless reality.


Hi A,

Good. Now, I combined the two/three sets of answers and put together a combo as a suggested framework. You can keep it or work on one of your own. Remember, the six questions are important as they frame a small story that is the basis for the poetic arc, that’s why I keep repeating them; they are not merely empty questions meant to elicit “poetic” sentences. Pay attention to what in specific they ask for.

Meanwhile, feel free either to keep what I suggest or do your own combination of the answers. But don’t forget there should be sense to the “story.” There are 2 answers below that still need to be filled in, marked by double asterisks. The rest of the A’s are your words. If you keep this version, tell me what you think and then we’ll start working with it or with whatever you come up with by combining the answers on your own.

Don’t worry that these sentences aren’t perfectly “poetic” just yet. We’ll get there!

When you have a combination you like, mine or yours, please leave it in the Q and A format for the time being. Don’t worry about turning the sentences into a poem just yet. Just think about each sentence, making it convey brief vivid images.

BTW: You asked about vivid verbs and images Here are some you can look at to use as models: “the child reached up as if to pluck the copper penny of moon” “the grizzled wolf slopes away under darkness, its topaz eyes scorching holes in the night” “I didn’t marry the right man for twenty years. Now see how fat he has grown against the sickle of my body. (from one of my poems). “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower...” (line by Dylan Thomas) Note the use of precise verbs that have very singular meanings, rather than general ones. I could have said burning, or worse, making holes in the night, but instead I chose “scorching” which has its own very particular cast...Ditto “pluck” and the unusual “slopes.” The line from the poem shows how simple words arranged in unusual ways can have striking effects: I didn’t marry the right man for twenty years: meaning, I married the wrong man and stayed married for 20 years...and the image of the sickle-like body is very clear. These may not be the best examples, the first two written off the top of my head, but they should give you an idea of what to strive for. Also, even though I did use a couple of adjectives, as a rule of thumb, it is best to avoid them as much as possible.

I know this is a lot to take in, but I will repeat all of it as the need arises, so don’t worry if you forget.



Q: Choose a person you love, a friend you adore and respect and admire. What attributes do you see more of than her or his faults?

A: My friend Cat is creative, intelligent, humorous. She notices little things like the way light falls on trees on a late August afternoon.

Q: What particular quality do you like most in this person?

**A: (Describe her creativity in specific terms, her hands? her oddball color sense?, her use of texture? How is she creative generally?)

Q: What reveals this quality? What does this person do that most endears her to you?

A. She loves to make clothes out of chicken wire and old scraps of clothes. She wears a blue, cabled hat knitted for her by her psychiatrist.

Q: Tell about these clothes she makes, does she wear them, what do they look like, how do people react to them? (Remember to answer this as briefly as possible but you can do so in a few lines if you like) Use some of the “rough draft” details here.


Q: What is the significance or meaning of her clothes and her wearing them, to you or to others? You can answer this in any way you choose.

A: ONE POSSIBLE ANSWER: (partly because of her outlandish clothing) early autumn, at 34, they took her away to the hospital, boxed her stuff, sublet her flat, and sent her to the crazy place where only old folks go. (plus transition to the last line) Other answers? Try others...?

Q: How has this changed you and/or others? Try for something not obvious, something that takes the reader by surprise, or sums up the rest of the sentences with an AHA!

A. (Walking to her tea pot for more hot water) I tripped over a jagged piece of chicken wire, scarring my bare right foot.

Posted by pamwagg at 11:18 AM | Comments (3)

November 04, 2006

First Poetry Session with A

Here's some advice on living (quoted without permission but with a link to the entire poem)


by Charles Harper Webb

...Play guitar
in a rock band. Read Dostoyevsky, Whitman, Kafka...
Collect Uncle Scrooge comics....Love freely. Treat ex-partners as kindly
as you can. Wish them as well as you're able.
...Try not to lie; it sours
the soul. But being a patsy sours it too.
.. Never drive drunk.
Don't be a drunk, or any kind of "aholic." It's bad
English, and bad news.
...Don't berate yourself. If you lose
a game or prize you've earned, remember the winners
history forgets. Remember them if you do win...
...Don't look for hidden meanings in a cardinal's song.
...Don't be too sane. Work hard. Loaf easily. Have good
friends, and be good to them. Be immoderate
in moderation.

To see the poem entire check out this website:
Go to Friday, November 3 if you are not taken immediately to the poem. You may have to search the Writer's Almanac archives if you read this long after the date.

The following is the first (edited) interchange between A and me about the poem she would like to write. She has written her first answers to the 6 questions and I print them here with a little background and some of our back and forth discussion.


A M writes:

Here goes my answers to your questions to learn to be a poet: My answers are about my friend Cat, whose parents put her in a nursing home for mentally ill people, because she couldn't live on her own without lots of help. She was my first real friend when I moved to Chicago and it makes me feel sad that she is struggling now and barely able to contact me or answer my phone calls. I would love to work with you to learn to be a better poet.

Q: Choose a person you love, a friend you adore and respect and admire. What attributes do you see more of than her or his faults?

1. My friend Cat is creative, intelligent, humorous, and a nice person.

Q: What particular quality or trait do you like most in this person? What does he or she do that most endears them to you?

2. She loves to make clothes out of chickenwire and old scraps of clothes.

Q: What reveals this trait, that is how does this trait show itself, by good deeds, fatness, a crooked nose, baggy pants, composting toilet, adopting children

3. She wears a blue, cabled hat knitted for her by her psychiatrist.

Q: What does this trait do that you admire it so? What does it accomplish by being what it is?

b. I admire her ability to paint and write images that tell mythical stories.

Q: What is the significance or meaning of this trait, to you or to others? You can answer this in any way you choose.

c. This trait means that she lives on her moon and worships her own sun.

Q: How has this trait changed you and/or others? Try for something not obvious, something that takes the reader by surprise, or sums up the rest of the sentences with an AHA!

4. When I stepped on a piece of at her apartment, it scarred my foot in the shape of a cabled moon.

Pam's response:

Dear A,

I’m very sorry to hear about Cat’s housing situation. A nursing home is a terrible place to be sent, though I am glad that it caters to mentally ill people rather than the elderly. But I fear it is a warehousing situation. At least that’s what it tends to be here in CT when a psychiatric patient is housed in a nursing home...Tell me more about her, I mean, for the sake of this poem you are going to write! As many details as you can think of.

As far as the sentences go, before we even start, they are very, very promising. You chose a great subject! One question: is the detail at the end of the last sentence, about the “cabled moon,” strictly true, or fanciful? Would I, upon seeing it, exclaim, Oh, a moon in the form of a cable! Or some such? If not, and even if it is true, put a hold on that ending for a while and stay with just the idea of the chicken wire leaving a scar...I think that gives you more to work with. And it is SO good...

We have done some more discussion than that, but for today, let's leave it there and see what A turns in for part 2, the rewrite of the 6 sentences.

Posted by pamwagg at 10:12 PM | Comments (1)

November 03, 2006

More to say on Poetry (edited)

I'm happy to report that I have a volunteer to be a poet-victim, A M, and in the coming days and weeks ahead we will be working on a poem together in these pages. The first installment should be posted in the next day or so.

Meanwhile, it looks like I need to explain a bit what I was doing in my last poems, as it seems that my oh-so-cleverness was lost on people! BD

Let me reprint two of them here and do a little analysis of my method:

TO A REPEAT OFFENDER (first of all, the repeat offender refers to someone who has attempted suicide more than once, as is implied in the very last line)

It (meaning the hospital ER etc) was never like anything you imagined
from a television familiarity with ERs
ORs and ICUs, (It was) never on schedule, (or made)
orderly just in the nick of time
but (filled) with a touch of humor, comic relief
always ready in the wings. For one thing
there was always too much noise
and damaged bodies gave off fluids
messy, even repulsive, if you didn’t know
what to expect. The four
times you were there (unknown why now, but after knowing the ending, it is for attempted suicide) you never got used
to the uproar, the loudspeaker,
doctors racing from cubicle to cubicle,
peripatetic (that is to say, wandering) police, harried nurses,
all in service to the temple of the body,
its personal soap (opera), the "one life to live" (a soap opera! as well as a fact of life)
you were always so intent on throwing away.

You see, the repeat suicide attempter is so involved in his or her personal soap opera/tragedy that he/she is throwing away the one life to live he/she has, which is the title of a soap opera...It's all a (serious) play on words with a moral: these docs and RNs are working hard to save people who want to live; cleaning their wounds (personal soap) and festering sores and here you are complaining about your petty tragedies (personal soap opera) and trying again and again to throw your precious life away... This is the sort of thing that you have to watch for in some poems, the constant interplay of words that mean one thing in one context but can mean something entirely different when seen another way, and may in fact mean both at one time. And yet you are also free, entirely free, to put your own spin on the words too! No poet knows all that they put into a poem, a lot of it is subconscious and unknown even to the writer.

(I know, I know, and I was the one who wrote: "the best poems mean what they say, and say it" and they do, but sometimes they say more than one thing at a time. There is always a surface meaning that is enough, but if you mine deeper, you can find more richness than even the poet intended.)

SESQUIPEDALIAN (someone who uses 7 syllable words, or the mere use thereof)

Webster must have known big words hurt (the suprise is in the enjambement of next wd)
less than the small venomous yellow jackets (which are tiny but painful biters cf bumble bees or robins)
of lesser ones that speak their minds
and don’t care who hears,
which is why in “perorate” you find
a synonym for “talk” and “circumlocution”
hides a way to walk around and around (exactly what circumlocute means)
what it is you want to say
so that when the wasps would sting
with his “Go away, Leave me alone!” (hurtful remark)
and you wish he had chosen to circumnavigate
your feelings, Webster’s Registered Word-nurse (fanciful notion for the idea that big Greco-Latinate words will soften the blow of the short Anglo-Saxon hurtful words of insult or offense -- all our swear words for instance)
springs to her duty: “Perambulate
from the domicile,” her gentle urge is, offering
aloe to a burn (aloe plant juice soothes a burn). “He is fugaciously recusant.” (ie leave the house, he temporarily rejects you)
It is not aloe you want, but no burn,
but the stinger is in and must be removed
and so you tweeze and lotion
with words of soft vowels, cushions,
no sharp edges or plosives, comforting yourself. (Using words that don't hurt you tell yourself it's okay, soothe yourself with comforting reminders that he doesn't hate you etc)
He comes around by evening, (Indeed he doesn't hate you) contrite
as you cook, puts his arms
around your trembling shoulders,
his chin in your neck, says the two short words (these short words don't sting)
simple, peacemaking,
that are white moths (small and delicate, but not stinging insects) fluttering
near your anger (like a flame) taking that risk to say,
I’m sorry. (The two most healing short words there are...)

Remember, in poetry you use CONCRETE images to convey something that may well be abstract, so while I am using two people having a quarrel to illustrate the power of words to hurt and to mend, I'm also concretizing those words in order to make the same point. The words themselves have become hurtful and healing, wasps or moths...You see how it goes? Now take a look at the poems again, and see if you can understand them better, and perhaps find even more richness in them now that you see how to read "into" them more deeply. Truly, find whatever you can there, I am not the be-all and end-all of everything that may be being said in any of my poems. God only knows what I'm saying that I'm not even aware of! And they are not perfect by any means, either...So there are inconsistencies and flaws too. But all I mean to show is that I did not "do" these things without careful consideration of WHAT I was doing; I was not just spewing onto the page but had a plan in mind and a means to an end that I formulated if not beforehand, then as I went along.


It was never like anything you imagined
from a television familiarity with ERs
ORs and ICUs, never on schedule,
orderly just in the nick of time
but with a touch of humor, comic relief
always ready in the wings. For one thing
there was always too much noise
and damaged bodies gave off fluids
messy, even repulsive, if you didn’t know
what to expect. The four
times you were there you never got used
to the uproar, the loudspeaker,
doctors racing from cubicle to cubicle,
peripatetic police, harried nurses,
all in service to the temple of the body,
its personal soap, the one life to live
you were always so intent on throwing away.


"Sesquipedalian: using seven syllable words"

Webster must have known big words hurt
less than the small venomous yellow jackets
of lesser ones that speak their minds
and don’t care who hears,
which is why in “perorate” you find
a synonym for “talk” and “circumlocution”
hides a way to walk around and around
what it is you want to say
so that when the wasps would sting
with his “Go away, Leave me alone!”
and you wish he had chosen to circumnavigate
your feelings, Webster’s Registered Word-nurse
springs to her duty: “Perambulate
from the domicile,” her gentle urge is, offering
aloe to a burn. “He is fugaciously recusant.”
It is not aloe you want, but no burn,
but the stinger is in and must be removed
and so you tweeze and lotion
with words of soft vowels, cushions,
no sharp edges or plosives, comforting yourself.
He comes around by evening, contrite
as you cook, puts his arms
around your trembling shoulders,
his chin in your neck, says the two short words
simple, peacemaking,
that are white moths fluttering
near your anger, taking that risk to say,
I’m sorry.

Posted by pamwagg at 09:42 PM | Comments (1)

November 02, 2006

Continuing Monday's Saga

I realize that everyone thinks I feel more important than I am, and that these feelings are foolish and misguided. However, they are what they are -- I am not important in a good way so much as I am a contaminant, people are wary of me, don't want me around, and rightly so -- and as such the feelings paralyze me. That being said, I will continue because I said I would.

Finally, finally, Joe finished and we picked up our trays, dumped their contents and headed back down the dreaded elevator, full of another cohort of mind readers, to the Sleep Disorders Center.

Luckily, we didn't have to wait very long for the interview, during which Joe did his usual sermonizing, instead of letting them ask questions; he never learns! 8D And during which I almost fell asleep due to the excessive warmth of the room and the hour -- 11am is when I usually get sleepy -- and the necessity for sitting still, not moving or talking. I could have answered all the sleep questions Joe said No to with a resounding Yes. But then I have a known sleep disorder and they are evaluating Joe for an ALS-induced sleep apnea. During this time, they once referred to me as Joe's wife, so I got to correct that assumption, at least with them, which took some pressure off me.Then we still had to walk out of the Sleep Center and pass through the construction area with its loud temporary flooring and the lobby with its linoleum and marble, and at last, get to the car but eventually we were on our way back home. Hallelujah!

Once back in my apartment, though, I had no time to remain there safe and alone as I had to quickly leave to go shopping, ugh, my least favorite thing to do. I was running out of food and needed to go to Stop and Shop before Physical Therapy. So I wrote out my "couldn't go anywhere without it" list and drove myself to the store for another onslaught of paranoia, the same turmoil experienced while shopping for groceries I described back in April.

This time two things in particular occured in the store that upset me, despite the precautions of my list and my usual Mrs Wagner-with-the-four-hungry-children persona; one was that someone stopped me from shopping in the health food aisle by sneering while I was looking at the soy yogurt. When I heard that, I simply dropped the cup I was reading the label of and raced away from the area altogether, knowing I wasn't welcome to shop there. The other thing was that I had to talk out loud both to myself and to Them in order to get through, which earned me several long looks and a wide berth from at least one other shopper. Who was I talking to? Well, as I said, partly just to me: just telling myself where to go, what to do, what rights I had and so forth. But partly to them, telling them to leave me alone, to stop following me, to...Oh, what does it matter? When I say "to them" I mean to Them, that is, not to anyone iin specific, just to anyone and everyone, because of an indefinable overwhelming sense that They are bothering me, keeping me under surveillance, making Rules, and deliberately trapping me in the aisles with their phantom overflowing carts...

When I finally made it out of there with my week's worth of groceries, I had to go immediately to PT, where because it is, I believe, newly opened, I was the only client there for the 3pm hour. Though I feel conspicuous, it is not too bad as I am almost always all alone there, but for the physical therapist, and he doesn't have to do very much for me anymore as I have learned all the exercises. So he just tells me which ones to do when and I do them. That doesn't make me paranoid in and of itself, only the fact that I keep thinking, Should I have come, or should I just stay home, even though I know my shoulder won't get better if I am left to do this myself. Should I quit? Am I a waste of time? Is that what he is talking to the receptionist about now? That she shouldn't schedule me for any more appointments? And then I decide to cancell all subsequent ones, anything but continue to be tormented by this incessant train of thought.

But I don't want my shoulder to stay frozen or less than fully mobile and I don't know that I will do any of the exercises on my own without PT to motivate me. After all I do precious few things that rrequire discipline unless I'm passionately driven to do them, in which case they don't require disciplilne! And exercise of any sort is not one of them. Do I settle for a frozen shoulder with possibly recurrent tendonopathy or do I return to PT despite the internal repercussions? I haven't yet committed myself either way.

Finally I got home and carried eight bags of groceries up to the 12th floor on my own (yes, there is an elevator) almost without incident, though I felt like people werre staring into my bags and commenting, "How can she afford grapes on SSI?" and "Brussels sprouts? That's disgusting..." Something from everyone. No one can keep her eyes or thoughts to herself but has to judge, judge, judge! I was possibly the most relieved person in the building when I could finally close and lock my door on everyone that evening, and simply relax and be by myself. (Sorry, Eemie reminds me to tell you all that she was with me the entire time, ministering to my every need with a lick and a purr.)

Posted by pamwagg at 02:36 AM | Comments (3)

November 01, 2006

Recap of Monday in the Mind

I rose at 7:00 to the alarm and the cat simultaneously, one buzzing louder and louder, the other starting her attack on the table by my bed, impatiently tossing articles off it one by one, hoping a crash of something loud enough would bring me to my senses and though angry -- my curses being a price worth paying -- get me to get up and feed her. Needless to say, after a quick pit stop at the bathroom, I went to the kitchen and dished out her quarter cup of morning kibble and one tablespoon of half and half (our secret treat) toute suite. I noticed then that my music was playing -- no particular song, just a chorus of women, like 20 Sweet Adelines, singing a series of notes up and down and around and back in a choir, with harmony that I could not reproduce except mentally. As soon as I tried to sing out loud I lost it. But mentally I could sing right along!

Just then, no later than 7:15, a blast from the buzzer both irritated and startled me as it never failed to. Who on earth could be ringing so early? Surely it wasn't Eliza the visiting nurse...she usually came at 9:30! "Hello?" I said warily into the phone-like intercom. "Hi, Pam." So it was Eliza. I wondered what she was doing here so early in the morning. Pressed the button to unlock the outer door twelve stories below then set about making coffee while I waited for her to take the elevator upstairs.

Actually, it turned out that it was quite convenient that she spontaneously chose to come this early that day, as Joe and I had to leave at 8:30 to go to Newton Hospital for his appointment at the Sleep Center for a consultation regarding his breathing machine and his sleep/fatigue, and I'd have had to call Eliza to ask her to come early anyhow. So here she was and no phone call was necessary after all!

Eliza scratched on the door and came in. She did her usual routine, asked me how the weekend went, how I ate on Sat and Sun, then she poured my pills and watched me take the 10-15 that I take every morning, had me sign her computer and with the usual reminder that I should call her if anything came up, she was soon out the door and on her way.

To music as always, I ate part of a tofu bar and a cup of coffee with cream, checking my e-mail. I changed my clothes in order to be presentable, though ordinarily I'd simply stay in the clothes I slept in. No shower, no way! When Joe called, I told him to come on up, I was all ready, though we still had 15 minutes before we had to leave. Suddenly I was afraid my hair was dirty and that my balding spot would show, so I quickly stuck my head under the bathtub faucet (fully clothed) which I can do without trouble, though it takes some manuevering, because of the long leg muscles I was born with, and shampooed and rinsed in under two minutes. I was done by the time Joe came in. There's a lot to be said for very short hair; I'd gotten mine shorn only two weeks before.

The drive to Newton Hospital was uneventful. I was too sleepy to drive and the music continued, but it was ignorable and Joe was able to talk while he drove so we discussed some of his symptoms, since that's what he seemed to want to talk about. He brought them up, I didn't. He usually does when he's with me, and seems to want to talk about his illness, which Kay tells me he only jokes about with her and others...But then he tells me later that I'm always harping on his illness!!! Well, I don't bring it up ever! He is the one to always always talk about it, as if he hungers to have someone to confide in and talk about it with...So why does he then attack me about it? He also tells me things like he sleeps only 2 hours using the biPap machine, but then tells the docs that he uses it 5-6 hours a night! To whom is he fibbing??? and Why?

Anyhow, during the drive he brought up the fact that he felt he was getting weaker in general, nothing specific just that he felt weaker all over, though when I asked him if there was anything he couldn't do now that he used to be able to do, he couldn't name anything, thank god. Except for walking upstairs, which the CLinic told him not to do, he still does what he always did, but it takes more effort. He does however have trouble eating and chewing, which makes eating a laborious process that can make it take an hour to finish a meal. And speaking is obviously labored; it is clearly difficult to produce articulate speech as well as to produce sounds at all. That is, it is tiring to talk, to project sound, as well as to form clear and articulated words, insofar as he can at all. Right now he has a lot of trouble with L, V and K sounds, so far as I can tell, and probably others as well, though T is quite clear. I don't think we without ALS appreciate quite how tiring it is to talk, maybe after a day of lecturing we might have an inkling, but only that.

At the hospital I began to have trouble, due I suspect to what Dr O would call paranoia. I was carrying several official looking manila envelopes and a green filing envelope plus a book and my purse, and I wore brown pants, good brown suede clogs and a fitted brown tweed hip length suit jacket. In short I looked quite professional...which was a problem for me. Once inside, we proceeded towards Neurology which houses the Sleep Disorders Center. My clogs clicked officiously on the linoleum and even worse on the temporary flooring when they had contruction going on. I felt like I was preceding myself with an announcement or warning; I was too conspicuous, both in my clothes and because my shoes made too damned much noise!

Finally, we made it to the Sleep Center, where there was carpeting! Since I have been there often (Dr O works there and I have had my appointments there several times) and knew the way, I led and brought Joe where he was supposed to go, told the receptionist who he was. Luckily then Joe took over, after he had put down his crate holding the bipap machine, and I could fade into the woodwork again -- except that everyone thought I was his wife, and so addressed everything to me as well...and I couldn't disabuse them of the notion because they never came right out and said anything to that effect! I just know they assumed it.

(This is making me so anxious to recount that I have to have a cigarette. Don't worry, i will not relapse. I could just as easily NOT have a cigarette too. I just happen to feel like I could have one...and I know it won't blow my having quit, because I have done it before... Well, okay, maybe I won't have one. Phew, that's how long the occasional craving lasts!)

But we were 45 minutes early and there was paperwork so we went to take the elevator to the 5th floor cafeteria for coffee and some more breakfast. In the elevator I noticed three people getting off on higher floors staring at us at me and wondered if they knew me or of me from someone or were trying to influence my mind to tell me where to go or if I was allowed in the caferteria. I wasn't, not alone. Luckily, I was with Joe and that by definition gave me permission not only to get a cup of coffee but to get something to eat as well, so long as it was done quickly and inconspicuously, no lingering indecisively or the people in the cafeteria would notice and know that I didn't belong there. As it was I was being tested: If I could choose what to eat and drink quickly, decisively and normally, I'd be permitted to purchase them and leave. Otherwise I would not be welcome. I could feel all eyes on me as I ostentatiously pumped cream into my coffee cup then filled it with vanilla flavored coffee, tonged a muffin onto my tray, trying not to take any time to decide what kind or which one, as if it made any big difference, and went to join Joe in the check-out line. I paid but had to wait for Joe, sticking out like a bruised thumb, then we left.

Out in the dining area, another problem: where to sit? Where would we be best protected? I wanted to sit in a corner where walls would afford some defense on two sides. But Joe marched right to a table in the center, put down his tray and pulled out a chair, without even asking me if this was okay. The Rules already dictated that I could not object so with a dejected heart I sat in a chair opposite and tried to make the best of it, surreptitiously surveying my surroundings immediately, to see what sort of danger I was in.

I could see at once there would be difficulties. Too many people around to watch me and for me to be afraid of; too many people for me to be vigilant of...Three men in white coats wearing scrubs eating finger foods from plastic bags and laughing and slouching around a table, looking around...and a couple of Spanish-English speakers right next to me, so close I could have reached out and touched one of them. I could hear every word they said, and likewise, if I said anything, they'd hear me and could tell what I was thinking. Worst of all was the fact that by necessity Joe had to do his paperwork, and to eat, both activities requiring all his attention and precluding any distracting talk that might have made me not only feel safer but, by virtue of not being alone anymore, actually be safer. While he was otherwise occupied, I was to all intents and purposes, effectively alone and as vulnerable as I would have been without Joe. I hadn't even brought my book in which I could have seemed to be absorbed to take some of the attention off me.

So while Joe ignored me, I sat very quietly in pain, trying not to look distressed or upset but setting my face hopefully to blankness and staring straight the back wall of three identical pictures interspersed with repetitions of several smaller identical prints...Boring boring boring...that didn't matter, it simply gave my eyes something to focus attention on. Actually I was aware of everything else, aware of every word I heard, every movement of the men in scrubs at whom I glanced from time to time, wanting to get them to leave, but not daring to turn to look at the Spanish/American couple next to me for fear of provoking them. All this time, I was still fixed on the back of the room, staring through a younger black woman who was eating fruit salad at a table just past us. I was afraid if she turned around and saw me staring, she'd accuse me of, well, staring at her, when in fact I mostly didn't see her at all, but saw through her, my eyes fixed on something or nothing in the distance. She just happened to sit within the cone of my viewpoint and so it looked like I was seeing her, when she was not even in my focus. I didn't even think about her until my fear noticed her glancing at me and then I began to worry about what she may have been thinking and worrying about me!

(This is getting too long so I will continue the saga tomorrow or later) 8D for now)

Posted by pamwagg at 07:52 PM | Comments (3)