February 27, 2007

Global Warming petition; Computer woes; Food and eating

I recently received a copy of this letter by email and thought I should reproduce it, and the lilnk it contains here, since I have written with some passion before about global warming. I have also written a sample letter, the one I sent, below Al Gore's missive, which may be copied and pasted or altered and used as a skeleton for a better more personal letter, if you wish to send a message along with simply signing the petition. Take a look. All you need to do is provide your name, email address and zip code, the rest is optional. More about my days and what is going on is at the bottom.

From Al Gore: "When the producers of An Inconvenient Truth first approached me with the concept for the film, I was skeptical. Could we really take a slideshow about the climate crisis and turn it into a compelling movie? Davis Guggenheim’s Oscar win for best documentary and a second one for Melissa Etheridge’s beautiful song “I Need to Wake Up” was a testament to their ability, but it was also a testament to you.

"It was you who packed the theaters and got your friends to go see this film, greatly increasing the audience. And then this past December, it was you who connected through and to attend An Inconvenient Truth viewing parties. At those parties and in the weeks that followed, nearly 200,000 of you wrote to Congress, demanding that they address the climate crisis like the planetary emergency that it is.

"Even though I have been a life-long movie fan, I didn’t really understand how big of an audience a movie could reach. And of course I never would have imagined in a million years that a movie that I was a part of would receive two Academy Awards—or one—or would have ever been made in the first place! As humbling as this moment is, An Inconvenient Truth will only succeed if it drives all of us to take action. That’s why I’m asking you to join me in the next stage of our fight. On March 21st, I'm going to hand-deliver the messages you signed when I testify at Congressional hearings on the climate crisis.

"This is an incredible opportunity to demonstrate to Congress that we demand immediate action. And I need your help to really make this moment count. Can you commit to getting 10 friends to send their message to Congress through before March 21st? The more voices I can bring to Washington, the more powerful our message will be.

To get your friends involved, just forward them this note or direct them to: (see link below)

"There is no longer a debate about the fact that global warming is real. We're causing it. The consequences are serious, and could be headed towards catastrophe if we don’t fix it. And it's not too late. I don't want to imagine a future in which our children say, “What were our parents thinking?” “Why didn't they wake up when they had a chance?” And I know you don’t either.

"The hundreds of thousands of you who signed messages to Congress showed me what's possible. Working together we can unite millions of people and build support for real action on a scale that has never been seen before.

"Help me take the first step and fill up that hearing room with your signatures. That picture alone will send a powerful message.

"Can you commit to getting ten more people to send messages to Congress demanding action to stop global warming?

"I’m looking forward to working with you on this monumental task.

"Thank you"

Here's the message I appended to my electronic signature on the petition. Feel free to use it in whole or in part or not at all, if you wish to add a message to your own representative.

Dear Representative,

The permafrost in Siberia and Alaska and upper Canada is melting, threatening to skyrocket the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by gigatons; the glaciers are already almost gone, portending rising sea levels, and threatening our coastlines; the Northeast just experienced spring-like conditions from Dec 15 to January 19, usually our coldest months of the year. Obviously global warming is real and a danger to humanity. There is still time to stop the doomsday clock of the end of our species, but precious little of it. We MUST make stopping the over-production of greenhouse gases a world-wide but certainly a national priority or we will be the major part of the problem, consuming as we do the lion's share of the world's resources. Please tell congress to DO SOMETHING NOW. It can't wait another year, not another month, and scarcely another day.

Sincerely and with great hope,


Yesterday all day (the reason I didn't write an entry) and today for four hours, I was on the phone with Hewlett Packard, U.S. to India, trying to get Joe's All-in-One Printer installed properly from a disk that evidently was no good. I learned a lot about Windows in my travails, being a Macintosh person, but the result of those ten hours or so was a big fat zilch: they could not get it working, not even by remotely taking over the computer and working from their end. I should have stopped them after the second techie started me redoing what the first had had me do with no success, and then the third repeated the second...But I had hope that one or the other would KNOW what to do.

Finally, I told the super duper techie, the senior technician, to simply send me a good disk and let me install the driver from that, not waste any more time trying to do it from the internet or fix the old one. It was obvious the old disk is corrupt or was never any good to begin with (though Joe had everything working fine, he just balked at one error message, which he could click on and make go away and all would go fine after that. BUT no, Joe wouldn't stop obsessing about that error message, which he had to stop appearing at all costs. Since he was spending all day on it hopelessly, I figured, OK let's just go to and do it that way. No luck so we thought we'd call and get them to do it.

Well, no only did we not fix it, but now NOTHING works at all. I realize that this obsessing over a small imperfection of the technology is Joe's Asperger's coming out. His tics too went wild, as they do when he is frustrated (so much so that he left the apartment for several hours while I wrestled with the problem with the techies), but it is so-- Oh, I dunno. I'm rolling my eyeballs here, because right now I have to laugh or I'd cry at all the time I wasted just to help Joe out, and how I have nothing to show for my enormous effort, for my labor of LOVE.

I am exhausted now. I have been running around like that proverbial guillotined hen. Today I had a dentist appointment, then a bsd hair cut, then I went almost immediately to Joe's to wrestle with his computer. Then Karen called for me to stop by and then the nurse came and only now have I some time to myself. Tomorrow I have a one hour drive/ride, during which I must talk, and an hour and a half appointment for neurofeedback, then i have to keep my friend/paid driver company again on the ride home. I'll have a little time to rest tomorrow before I have to go out again to the Adult Ed class.

Thursday, I have to go with Joe to his ALS support group, then to his therapy appointment, because it follows right after and we'll be in the same car. When we get home -- it will be about 2pm -- I have to deliver 2 books to the dentist's office. I think I'm finally done then. THen Friday, I must have my hair cut again, since the first one was not done right and someone needs to repair it, then go to Cy and Lynn's for my usual Thursday visit on Friday, to help with computer etc; then...Oh F---! You see what I mean? I'm way too busy for my own good, and I don't want to be! I've already been to see Cy and Lynn on Monday to help with the computer and take Cy shopping (a whole nother entry, that. I'm PO'd at Cy for something that happened, though I realize it is partly my fault. Can't talk about it with him though). I've done so much computer work it's coming out my ears!But I don't mind, because they are in their 80s and do need the help and it is so easy for me.

I think if only I could eat properly I'd have more energy. But I have lost the knack of it or something. I KEEP on forgetting to eat, one, and when I remember to, nothing "hums to me." Partly because I think I just am not hungry, and partly because I can't find anything I want to eat. I did have a frozen yogurt today, and a nectarine, plus I cooked myself a small lambchop, which is a lot more than I usually get down, calorie-wise I suspect. I've given up keeping track of what I eat and how many calories I consume, or of trying to get to 1000 calories every day. It was just too hard to keep doing.

I tried on a bathing suit yesterday (Karen and I joined a gym to get us off our fannies at least once a week) and I looked terrible: my rib cage sticks out and I have no breasts, no behind at all, stick-like legs. I hate the way I look, yet I can't get myself to eat more. Why? I don't have any idea, except that I might be afraid of gaining too much as I did on the Zyprexa. That's all I can think of as a reason. That I might, might be phobic about ever being like I was on the Zyprexa and that it is better to be a few pounds underweight than 70 pounds overweight.

If I don't like my appearance at all, why do I stay looking lilke this? Well, I don't much care about my appearance, one, never have, except insofar as I never want to take up too much space...and lo and behold I take up even less than I ever did now. So there's another "might be."

I can't write anymore about this right now. Forgive me for just dropping the subject, but I am worn out and my eyes won't look at another line of text. So, sayonara for today and TTFN. PS I don't have the energy to proofread this, so I hope there ain't too many typos!

Posted by pamwagg at 07:45 PM | Comments (5)

February 23, 2007

Cognitive Therapy and Schizophrenia

Kate mentioned that she was interested in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and wondered what it was all about. I wrote in the comments section that from my hospital stays, at Dr O's hospital, where all patients are expected to attend the CBT group -- and patients by and large are mostly schizophrenic or bipolar with a number of sufferers from depression as well -- I have learned a little about the subject. Though I did not attend often, being frequently on one to one and unable to, when I did we often watched a video about someone who has a problem and is essentially giving himself the message that he isn't good enough, or smart enough, or whatever, to handle it and take care of it. He goes to see a counselor who, through the magic of CBT has him learn to think about things and himself differently, which leads to a change in his feelings about himself and about the problem, which he then can go out and solve. The essence of CBT is, I believe, that what you think influences how you feel and hence how you behave, so if you can change how you think, consciously, you will then change unconsciously how you feel and as a result how you behave.

But don't take my word for it. Here is what the National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists - NACBT - has to say on its web page:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy...

is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the important role of thinking in how we feel and what we do. Cognitive-behavioral therapist teach that when our brains are healthy, it is our thinking that causes us to feel and act the way we do. Therefore, if we are experiencing unwanted feelings and behaviors, it is important to identify the thinking that is causing the feelings / behaviors and to learn how to replace this thinking with thoughts that lead to more desirable reactions.

There are several approaches to cognitive-behavioral therapy, including Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Rational Behavior Therapy, Rational Living Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, and Dialectic Behavior Therapy.

However, most cognitive-behavioral therapies have the following characteristics:

1. CBT is based on the Cognitive Model of Emotional Response.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the scientific fact that our thoughts
cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations,
and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to
feel / act better even if the situation does not change.

2. CBT is Briefer and Time-Limited.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is considered among the "fastest" in terms of
results obtained. The average number of sessions clients receive (across all
types of problems) is only 16. Other forms of therapy, like psychoanalysis,
can take years. What enables CBT to be briefer is its highly instructional
nature and the fact that it makes use of homework assignments.

3. A sound therapeutic relationship is necessary for effective therapy, but
not the focus.
Some forms of therapy assume that the main reason people get better in
therapy is because of the positive relationship between the therapist and
client. Cognitive-behavioral therapists believe it is important to have a good,
trusting relationship, but that is not enough. CBT therapists believe that the
clients change when they learn to think differently; therefore, CBT therapists
focus on teaching rational self-counseling skills.

4. CBT is a collaborative effort between the therapist and the client.
Cognitive-behavioral therapists seek to learn what their clients want out of life
(their goals) and then help their clients achieve those goals. The therapist's
role is to listen, teach, and encourage, while the client's roles is to express
concerns, learn, and implement that learning.

5. CBT is based on stoic philosophy.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy does not tell people how they should feel.
However, most people seeking therapy do not want to feel they way they do.
CBT teaches the benefits of feeling, at worst, calm when confronted with
undesirable situations. It also emphasizes the fact that we have our
undesirable situations whether we are upset about them or not. If we are
upset about our problems, we have two problems -- the problem, and our
upset about it. Most sane people want to have the fewest number of problems

6. CBT uses the Socratic Method.
Cognitive-behavioral therapists want to gain a very good understanding of
their clients' concerns. That's why they often ask questions. They also
encourage their clients to ask questions of themselves, like, "How do I
really know that those people are laughing at me?" "Could they be laughing
about something else?"

7. CBT is structured and directive.
Cognitive-behavioral therapists have a specific agenda for each session.
Specific techniques / concepts are taught during each session. CBT
focuses on helping the client achieve the goals they have set. CBT is
directive in that respect. However, CBT therapists do not tell their clients
what to do -- rather, they teach their clients how to do.

8. CBT is based on an educational model.
CBT is based on the scientifically supported assumption that most emotional
and behavioral reactions are learned. Therefore, the goal of therapy is to
help clients unlearn their unwanted reactions and to learn a new way of
reacting. While CBT therapists do not present themselves as "know-it-alls",
the assumption is that if clients knew what the therapist had to teach them,
clients would not have the emotional / behavioral problems they are

Therefore, CBT has nothing to do with "just talking". People can "just talk"
with anyone.

The educational emphasis of CBT has an additional benefit -- it leads to
long term results. When people understand how and why they are doing
well, they can continue doing what they are doing to make themselves well.

9. CBT theory and techniques rely on the Inductive Method.
A central aspect of Rational thinking is that it is based on fact, not simply
our assumptions made. Often, we upset ourselves about things when, in
fact, the situation isn't like we think it is. If we knew that, we would
not waste our time upsetting ourselves.

Therefore, the inductive method encourages us to look at our thoughts as
being hypotheses that can be questioned and tested. If we find that our
hypotheses are incorrect (because we have new information), then we can
change our thinking to be in line with how the situation really is.

There are over 25 very common mental mistakes that people make that cause
them to not have the facts straight.

10. Homework is a central feature of CBT.
If when you attempted to learn your multiplication tables you spent only one
hour per week studying them, you might still be wondering what 5 X 5
equals. You very likely spent a great deal of time at home studying your
multiplication tables, maybe with flashcards.

The same is the case with psychotherapy. Goal achievement (if obtained)
could take a very long time if all a person were only to think about the
techniques and topics taught for one hour per week. That's why CBT
therapists assign reading assignments and encourage their clients to
practice the techniques learned.

Finally, research is beginning to prove that schizopohrenia is amenable to CBT and other cognitive therapies as the book review below suggests. The review, and the book, are written for psychiatric professionals, so it might be somewhat obscure and difficult to read. Doctors not only can't handwrite, they can't write write, not so anyone else can understand them! BD Anyhow, the essential point is that therapy has been ruled out for schizophrenics for most of the past century on rather shaky grounds, since there were no real studies PROVING that it didn't work or was actually harmful. Now that research is being done, it looks like cognitive therapeutic approaches are not only harmless but very helpful...

All I can say is that I have been "in therapy" that is, I have had someone to talk to, a psychiatric professional, ever since I was diagnosed. Somehow I managed this, despite being in the "system" for many years, when I could so easily have been shunted into a medication group and told that therapy was bad for me so the state wouldn't pay for it. Instead, I had either clinic therapists -- a psychiatrist when they were still the practicing therapist norm, then nurses -- or a private psychiatrist who saw me for free. And I would never have survived without them. I don't think we did any "in depth" therapy particularly, but we did talk about day to day problems and my favorite public mental health system therapist, a nurse, discussed my illness with me a lot, telling me facts about it, what it was, what my symptoms were, why I had this or that and so forth. And I found every single one of them, even the worst of them, essential to my survival. Now I can talk about anything I want to and though it tends to be my daily encounters with various problems of paranoia it isn't always, not by a long shot. I haven't tried CBT though, not formally, as set out by the NACBT. I wonder if it would actually make Dr O unnecessary. It would be good to feel like I could survive on my own, not drown without someone to shore me up every week or so. Of course, I'd still need medications, would still have the visiting nurses to give them to me, I guess...I dunno. Kate, if you try it, I hope you'll keep us all posted, here or on your own blog! Below is the book review and the site I stole it from (here's the link to it

Psychiatr Serv 58:277-278, February 2007
doi: 10.1176/
© 2007 American Psychiatric Association

Book Review
Cognitive Therapy of Schizophrenia
by David G. Kingdon and Douglas Turkington; New York, Guilford Press, 2004, 219 pages, $37

Timothy B. Sullivan, M.D.

It's hard to say how bad ideas, misinformed or misguided clinical saws, originate. One of the most enduring in psychiatry is the notion that talking to patients with schizophrenia about their symptoms or about their subjective experiences is potentially harmful. It is little wonder that so few medical students or psychiatric residents wish to specialize in work with patients who have seriously mental illness.

There have been studies and reviews, most famously the Patient Outcomes Research Team recommendations (1), which have directed our attention to the lack of efficacy (2), obvious paucity of controlled observation, and insufficiently documented putative harm associated with "uncovering therapies," by which is meant psychoanalytic therapy and its congeners. Kingdon and Turkington lament the effect these proscriptions have unintentionally had on creative engagement of persons suffering from disorders such as schizophrenia. They note that "many practitioners continue to believe that the content of psychotic symptoms should be ignored and that any psychological work ... is liable to lead to increased distress and exacerbation of symptoms, as a result of having opened up disturbing areas."

Of course the problem with past, well-intentioned, and compassionate efforts by a legion of gifted therapists is that the therapeutic model, and the theory of mind supporting it, did not accurately reflect the nature of the disorder. It was not the effort to be empathic that was flawed but the various notions about how symptoms were produced or could be ameliorated. If you don't understand what you're treating, you will misdirect, misinform, and inevitably disappoint.

Kingdon and Turkington set out to provide clinicians with a treatment model that will make the uncertain knowable and that which is alienating comfortable. They successfully present a cogent, approachable, and flexible model for psychotherapeutic engagement of persons suffering from serious psychotic illness. This is not a "manualized" treatment, and the authors explain why that approach is not appropriate. A careful exposition of the nature of the illness processes, and the theory of cognitive-behavioral therapy and its particular adaptation to this setting, is explicated. There are many clinical examples, guidelines, forms to use, and even patient handouts that can be copied and distributed are included. The succinct review of the psychology of schizophrenia is particularly useful, such as the discussion of "externalizing bias" and the central role of stigmatization in symptom development.

The fourth chapter, on therapeutic engagement, and later chapters on work with delusions and hallucinations, are not only brilliantly executed but come as close as one can, in print, to detailed individual case supervision. Even experienced practitioners will find these presentations extremely helpful, because they reflect the careful thought of talented clinicians who have immersed themselves in their subject and achieved valuable insights.

I do have one brief quibble. As a heuristic device, Kingdon and Turkington use four clinical subgroups to differentiate "types" of schizophrenia. In the context of the book, these subgroups are useful and unify their presentation. I am not sure I can agree that the subgroups encompass the range of patients I see.

Reviewers will often say that the book they are reviewing belongs on everyone's shelf. I urge you to please buy and read this book. Our patients deserve our attention to these issues. Those of you who are talented clinicians but who avoid this population out of confusion or lack of confidence in your ability to help will, I assure you, find this book crucial. You will find yourself able to approach a person with schizophrenia with confidence, and it will change how you think about your work.


Dr. Sullivan is chief of services for the seriously mentally ill at Saint Vincent's Catholic Medical Center, Westchester, New York, and assistant professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College, Valhalla.


1. Lehman AF, Steinwachs DM: Translating research into practice: the Schizophrenia Patient Outcomes Research Team (PORT) treatment recommendations. Schizophrenia Bulletin 24:1-10,1998[Medline]
2. Gunderson JG: Effects of psychotherapy in schizophrenia: II. comparative outcome of two forms of treatment. Schizophrenia Bulletin 10:564-598,1984[Medline]

Posted by pamwagg at 09:33 PM | Comments (2)

February 22, 2007

Just a little today

I am still drained from the marathon of Tuesday so I will just write a bit today about Joe and the current state of his health.

He just got back from the Clinic on Tuesday, or very late Monday night, and I have yet to hear the whole story from Karen, because when she tried to tell me I was so sleepy that I could not process it and fell asleep in the middle...Alas, narcolepsy still rules, sometimes. But what I do know from Joe is that he is having trouble swallowing his own secretions and though he doesn't need it now can foresee the day when he will need to use the machine he has been given to suction mucus out of his throat so he can breathe. (Sorry folks, if this is graphic, but it's the stuff we live with.)

Last night, he skinned some sausage so he could chop it up like ground beef and eat it easily, which he thought he was doing. Unbeknownst to him he was not actually swallowing it. Instead it was collecting in the back of his throat, in a pouch where he couldn't feel it, attracted by the congealing fat, until a large clump fell into his throat blocking his airway. Luckily, Karen was eating with him that night and could do the Heimlich. She brought up a lump of sausage meat an inch and a half in diameter! As Joe says, it is almost always a mistake that causes these episodes; when he is careful about what and how he eats, he does fine. I suggested to him that one of us eat with him every night and I think he was relieved that I said so, even though he claims that he doesn't panic when he chokes. I am not sure that is true, I think the body is primed to panic when one can't breathe, no matter how often it happens.

We also set up a signal so he can call me if he chokes when no one is around. I'll know it is he from his name on the phone but also from the tune the phone plays when he calls. So all he has to do is call and bang the phone on something and I'll come running.

To get back to his current health: At the Clinic he was given a cane to use when walking but he won't be using it any time soon. Too proud, and I don't blame him. I'm sure he feels that it isn't necessary since he walks just fine. They only wanted him to use it for extra balance, but frankly since he hasn't fallen or had any noticeable problems walking, why rush the visible handicap thing? (That's his point, and I sympathize) Of course, there is NOTHING wrong with being handicapped, but Joe wants to be independent as long as possible and doesn't want to "look ill" if he doesn't have to. I think he's afraid it will change how people think of him and even how they treat him. And frankly I wouldn't be surprised if that weren't the case, despite protestations to the contrary. It can't be helped, I understand that, but people do change when one goes from being perfectly well to suddenly using a cane, then a walker then a wheelchair. I'm just glad it is relatively gradual, so reactions will have time to adapt too. And maybe people will get used to treating him the way they always have, which is what he wants.

His whole right side is getting weaker, so he needs an extension to his nail clippers in order to cut his nails. I'm sure there is such a thing, but where, I dunno. I have to ask Karen if she knows, since she is physically handicapped herself (though mildly so) and knows all about things like that.

Well, this is the best I can do tonight. Hopefully I'll be back on the ball tomorrow or the next day. But I've been running around this entire week, and not getting my needed 8 and 1/2 hours sleep at night. I'm really tired and worn out. I don't like to go out somewhere every day, and it is not of my choosing that I do. Next week is even worse, in fact! Damn, something has gotta give. I can't take this kind of schedule. Well, enough of that, I'm signing off now. TTFN

Posted by pamwagg at 07:55 PM | Comments (2)

February 20, 2007


Here I'd like to analyze and discuss my own poem, BALLROOM, ANYONE? so you can see what I am doing in my own poem, and see that I actually follow my own advice. 8D

First of all, the poem and the analysis:


They are learning to foxtrot at PS 115 in the Bronx.
Eleven years old they bungle and bump, make it
through merengue, rhumba, swing, then – tango,
and how their feet tangle. Unable to
face eye contact, only children after all, they look
everywhere but at their partners. They miss
all cues. The girls lead, better dancers
used to using their bodies for attention.
At first, most of the boys are hopeless, all big toes,
though the shortest is blessed with the ego to say
yes – to dance, to girls – and take charge,
making him a better partner, perhaps, than dancer,
but never mind. These were children
about to be lost to poverty, gangs, drugs, pregnancy –
yet by the end of the year, they are actually dancers,
bowing to one another, promenading
straight and tall and arm in arm. They sleek merengue,
showing off how well they feel the beat,
and when it comes to the tango, become par excellence
the gentlemen and ladies that ballroom dance
has surprised them all in making of them.

We know from the title that the poem concerns ballroom dance, or has something to do with with it and indeed the first two lines tells us that it is about fifth graders (11 year olds) learning to dance at a Bronx public school. But as children they are not only awkward in doing the tango -- as are adults unaccustomed to dancing -- but face the additional challenge and the embarrassment of eye contact, made more difficult when the teacher focuses on it. Thus, they miss all the bodily cues of their partners, not understanding the point.

The girls lead. But of course, in ballroom dancing the females must follow, always, that is how it is done: the males -- boys -- must take charge and essentially guide the girls, who dance facing backwards after all. But the girls have the advantage not only of being more mature, but of being in a society that rewards girls for their appearance, for displaying their bodies, and encourages them to dance as a way of permitting boys (and men) to pay extra attention to them. So many of them are already accomplished at some form of dancing, or at least graceful and prepared to take readily to dancing.

The boys, we are told, are "hopeless": they are "all big toes" a play on the expression, all thumbs, except for the smallest, who has the "short man's ego" which is to say, self-confidence, and is able to both enjoy dancing and dancing with girls, and properly lead, though perhaps he is not quite the dancer he thinks he is.

So far we have dealt with the body and the boys and girls as children, with ordinary children's problems, but the next line has the reader understanding that fundamentally these are unusual kids to be learning the niceties of ballroom dancing. The reader is certain that nothing at PS 115 has ever prepared them for such study and if I succeed at my task in the poem, the reader is eager to hear what became of them.

What became of them is that they learned to dance, yes, they learned the merengue and how to walk with confidence and even the tango...But what they really learned was the whole polite and civilized world of being gentlemen and ladies, a culture that is most sorely lacking in that of the gangs and drug culture with which they are familiar. As one principal said, the experience, and what they learned that year rubbed off on them their entire lives.

So the movement in the poem is a simple-seeming one of untutored children becoming polite and civilized adults mediated through ballroom dancing. But there is a larger picture in which the message is that children, hopeless children, can be "saved" by paying attention to them, that the lost in general are not necessarily doomed to be lost.

How did I write this poem?

Here is the first draft:

They are learning the foxtrot at PS 115 in the Bronx.
Eleven years old, they swish and sway through merengue
Rhumba and swing, then tango.
Their feet tangle on that one. Unable to make eye
contact - they are 11 after all - they look everywhere
but at each other and miss all cues, the girls
most often leading, the better dancers being used
to using their bodies to get attention. Most
of the boys at first seem hopeless, though one tiny young man
has the ego to say Yes to dance and to girls
and takes charge, making him and better partner
than he is a dancer. These are mostly iinner city children
about to be lost to povery, the ghetto, dropping out of HS, drugs
or pregnancy, but by the end of the filming, the year,
they are actually dancers, bowing to one another,
walking tall and arm in arm, sleekly rhumbaing
but when it comes to the foxtrot becoming
suddenly the gentlemen and ladies that ballroom dancing
has surprised them all in making of them.

Now reading through this you can see that I have down the bare bones of the finished poem and that this time I have been very lucky: I have gotten - "caught" - the poem whole and most lines here resemble those in the final version. Some line breaks have been changed to achieve a different effect and discrete words have been exchanged for others meaning almost the same thing.

Starting at the top, let me see if I can explain what I did to get to the second draft below. I liked the first line as is, so I left it alone. Line 2 I had trouble with "swish and sway through merengue" partly because it sounded as if they already knew the merengue, and partly because I did not like the line break there, setting merengue apart from the other dances and rhythmically emphasizing the rhyme of merengue and sway, which I otherwise would have liked. The unhappiness with the swish and sway sounding like experienced dancing won and I crossed them out, looked for alliterative words - words that began with the same letter - that suggested less experienced ballroom dancing.

I came up with "bungle and bebop" which was a combination of being awkward and...Here I broke my own rules and didn't look up the word Bebop but used it for sound only (!!!) or I'd have learned that Bebop is a style of jazz music and not only that but "unsuitable for dancing." I kept the Bebop for sound, not knowing this meaning, all the way through until the very last revision this morning. (Hey, even Homer nods, and I ain't Homer, I can tell you that.) So bungle, a good word to convey awkward and making mistakes in the same word, and bebop took the place of swish and sway. I also moved merengue to the next line, to be a list along with the other dances, setting off tango with a dash after "swing".

The next sentence I liked and kept, about their feet tangling on the tango, but for some reason, I think because I wanted it to be an aside from the poet not an objective narrator - a kind of twist to who's telling the poem! - I put it in parentheses. No matter, I eventually took them out again, seeing the error of my ways i.e. that the narrator is hardly objective, not in the sense of having no feelings.

My next change is the line break "unable to make eye/contact" which I cut to: Unable/ to make eye contact. Why? Well...Look at the whole line in which the phrase appears. "Their feet tangle on that one. Unable to make eye/contact" is the first draft, with the / signifying the place where the line breaks and the next line begins (I'm explaining some very basic things in this entry, just in case you don't know them...I hate to admit this, but I actually did NOT know what the / in a poem written along a prose line meant.) But "unable to make eye" as the end of the line says something weird, and meaningless, which is occasionally okay but here you have a perfect linebreak built in, with "Unable". You see, if you write, "Their feet tangle on that one. Unable"...then break the line and write "to make eye contact" on the line under that, you get "Unable" to do two jobs, rather than having to say two different things with two different phrases. What breaking the line at "Unable" does is make the mind understand that "Their feet tangle on that one [which they are] Unable [to get]." The mind does this even though there is a period between the words and "Unable" belongs to another sentence and thought. Plus, the eye immediately goes to the next line where the "Unable" beginning is completed.

I changed the numeral 11 to "children" to avoid using eleven twice and because it emphasizes their youth whereas at 11 you can be at many stages of maturity. I put everywhere on the next line for much the same reason I did with "to make eye/"-- to emphasize a dual meaning that a word can have in a line. "To look" could imply obedience to the injunction to make eye contact, but this is contradicted by the "everywhere but" on the next line. Ditto for the "miss all cues" vs "miss/all cues" -- look at what comes before it and see how the "miss" could work with both phrases. It's a subconscious process and subtle, not necessarily logical, but it's there.

I cut the sentence at "cues" in the second draft as it drags on too long, saying too many things in the first. I change "Girls most often leading, the better dancers being used/to using their bodies to get attention" to "The girls end up leading, better dancers/ being used to using their bodies to get attention." Why did I do this? first of all, the differance between "most often leading" and "end up leading" is the difference between an adjective and a verb, albeit a weak one, and the verb wins out, as does the new sentence form rather than the run-on phrase tacked onto a longer sentence. What I didn't like, though in a sense it worked well, or would have in another poem, was ending the line on "being used." Now that I have explained the use of end words and phrases to carry double meanings and do two jobs, I'll bet you can see why I don't like it. This poem is not about... but I'll leave this one for you guys.

Caveat: don't look for this in every line break as it won't be there. And shouldn't. Some ends of lines are simply the ends of sentences, some are aesthetic, they look good, and some are simply the best place to break the line but do not carry especially significant meaning in doing so. I'd venture to say that most of the time they don't, for poets use this technique sparingly. I like it, so I use it more than many I think, though sometimes only once or twice in a poem. It may be just clothing, not the body, but clothing is one of the three essentials for survival. That's my thinking. It could, however, be thought of as merely jewelry!

The next number of lines I simply cleaned up and rearranged in terms of coherent line breaks. I did add the altered expression "all toes" which doesn't quite carry the image of "all thumbs", but has the same rhythm and I think I decide the rhythm is more important than saying "All big toes." Later on - only today in fact - I will change my mind, choosing image over sound, a better choice.

I updated and tightened the list of what the children could be lost to and mentioned that they were being filmed, something I took out of the final version. Took out the "mostly" inner city children as a slack unnecessary word, were they inner city or not? "Walking"
a colorless word, I changed to "promenading" which suggests formality and elegance, and "rhumbaing" I changed to "tangoing" simply for the sake of sound and spelling. I don't like all the gerunds, the -ing forms of the verbs, but so far I have kept them, not sure how to change them.

The last line, "has surprised them all in making of them" I've deliberately not had say, "in making them" because one, I wanted it to mean, "It made a gentleman of you" NOT "It made you a gentleman" which are two different, if subtly so, statements. And two, I wanted to slow down the reader and make her or him think about what ballroom dancing had actually done with these children. In the second draft I slowed it down even more, by throwing in the "us, them". All so you don't rush through the last line and say, Okay, next poem please, but stop to puzzle it out a bit.

Now look at the second draft:

BALLROOM, ANYONE? Second draft

They are learning the foxtrot at PS 115 in the Bronx.
Eleven years old, they bungle and bebop
through merengue, rhumba, swing, then-- tango.
(their feet tangle on that one). Unable
to make eye contact – only children after all - they look
everywhere but at each other and miss
all cues. The girls end up leading, better dancers
being used to using their bodies to get attention.
Most of the boys at first seem hopeless, all toes
though one tiny young man with the ego to say
Yes to dance, to girls, and take charge,
making him a better partner, perhaps,
than dancer, but never mind. These were inner city children
about to be lost to poverty, gangs, drugs, pregnancy --
but by the end of the film, the year,
they are actually dancers, bowing to one another,
promenading straight, tall and arm in arm, sleekly tangoing
but when it comes to the foxtrot becoming par excellence
the gentlemen and ladies that ballroom dance
has surprised us, them all in making of them.

The third draft is nearing the completed poem. I have capitalized all changes. __ indicates something taken out.


They are learning TO foxtrot at PS 115 in the Bronx.
Eleven years old they BUMP and bebop
through merengue, rhumba, swing, then – tango,
make eye contact, only children after all, they look
everywhere but at their partners. THEY miss
all cues. The girls end up leading, better dancers
being used to using their bodies FOR attention.
though THE SMALLEST IS BLESSED with the ego to say
yes - to dance, to girls - and take charge,
making him a better partner, perhaps,
than dancer, but never mind. These were ___children
about to be lost to poverty, gangs, drugs, pregnancy –
but by the end of the year, they are actually dancers,
bowing to one another, promenading
straight and tall and arm in arm. THEY SLEEK MERENGUE,
but when it comes to the TANGO, becoming par excellence
the gentlemen and ladies that ballroom dance
has surprised us –them all in making of them.

THe most important change I made in the third draft are the lines "They sleek merengue/ showing off how well they feel the beat,/ but when it comes to the tango, becoming par excellence/ the gentlemen and ladies..." I changed foxtrot to tango because these were children who were by and large from Santo Domingo where Latin dances would prevail as the mark of a gentleman or lady, decidedly not the foxtrot, though in International Ballroom Style all five dances are done. So I chose the Tango, what I saw as the most- hmm, can't think of a word at the moment - but surely the one that they made seem the hardest to learn. So when they mastered the tango it seemed they had "become." "Sleek merengue" is taking some poetic license with language, but only a little, saying, essentially, that they merengue in a sleek manner.

Here's the final draft, just in case you didn't see it on yesterday's post. The changes were make eye contact was changed to "face" eye contact, which is a better word than make, but any word is better than make...and also wordplay! THe girls "end up leading" Ah rules! Of course "The girls lead" is better. "To get" is always weak, as weak as to make. Avoid at all costs. I used "for attention." Changed "all toes" to "all big toes" and like it much better. It gives you a better idea of how clumsy they are and appear. The small boy has become the "shortest" to emphasize the notion that he has the short man's ego, to compensate for his stature, ie he is not retiring, but the Danny DeVito type, outgoig and extroverted.

Other changes, small but important: I didn't want the "perhaps" to end the line, implying that he was not a better partner, so I added the rest of the sentence, since it really goes with the second half. Changed the "But at the end of the year" to "Yet..." and the "But when it comes to the tango" to "And when it ..." Try them out with the "but" and see how it changes the meaning. I prefer the meaning that you get with the changes. Also, it avoids the repetition of "but" three times.


They are learning to foxtrot at PS 115 in the Bronx.
Eleven years old they bungle and bump, make it
through merengue, rhumba, swing, then – tango,
and how their feet tangle. Unable to
face eye contact, only children after all, they look
everywhere but at their partners. They miss
all cues. The girls lead, better dancers
used to using their bodies for attention.
At first, most of the boys are hopeless, all big toes,
though the shortest is blessed with the ego to say
yes – to dance, to girls – and take charge,
making him a better partner, perhaps, than dancer,
but never mind. These were children
about to be lost to poverty, gangs, drugs, pregnancy –
yet by the end of the year, they are actually dancers,
bowing to one another, promenading
straight and tall and arm in arm. They sleek merengue,
showing off how well they feel the beat,
and when it comes to the tango, become par excellence
the gentlemen and ladies that ballroom dance
has surprised us—them all in making of them.* see addendum below

Now then, did I make a huge number of typos? This has taken me SIX hours to write, and god knows how long it is...But I simply do not have the energy to go back now and proofread it. Forgive me? I may do so tonight, but I want to post this now, in the afternoon, in case I can't later on. Apologies to all you perfectionists out there, but I just ain't good enough to be a perfectionist! BD

* Addendum on Friday: After some discussion with Lynnie and with other poets who have read this poem, I have decided that slowing down the reader on the last line may not be the best idea, and that it ends up making the poem end awkwardly. Thus I have decided to end it with the line as it appears in the final poem below.


They are learning to foxtrot at PS 115 in the Bronx.
Eleven years old they bungle and bump, make it
through merengue, rhumba, swing, then – tango,
and how their feet tangle. Unable to
face eye contact, only children after all, they look
everywhere but at their partners. They miss
all cues. The girls lead, better dancers
used to using their bodies for attention.
At first, most of the boys are hopeless, all big toes,
though the shortest is blessed with the ego to say
yes – to dance, to girls – and take charge,
making him a better partner, perhaps, than dancer,
but never mind. These were children
about to be lost to poverty, gangs, drugs, pregnancy –
yet by the end of the year, they are actually dancers,
bowing to one another, promenading
straight and tall and arm in arm. They sleek merengue,
showing off how well they feel the beat,
and when it comes to the tango, become par excellence
the gentlemen and ladies that ballroom dance
has surprised them all in making of them.

Posted by pamwagg at 09:16 AM | Comments (1)

February 19, 2007

Poem Workshop Continued, plus new poem

Here is A's second poem, followed by an analysis and basic pointers. At the bottom is my new poem, in its latest draft.

Following the Buddha

for my father

My mind collapses—on virtual shutdown,
when it comes to rise from bed in the morning
for meditation at the Zendo. Oh, that long cold walk
at 7 a.m. Slam the alarm clock off—five more
minutes to sleep.

No discipline…absolutely none.

At the Zendo, I sit, I walk, I sit
I bend and rise in an informal bow,
trying to clear my thoughts, the chatter,
become enlightened.

Nirvana is a process.

No one can reach it because we are already there.

We must learn to become aware.

Walk in awareness. Walk in awareness

of self and mind,
says the leader.

I squirm on my black cushion, counting
my thoughts. I think about the vagrants
and mentally ill people standing outside
the nursing home begging
as I passed on my way to the Zendo.


My final thought.

© A M 2007

Well, first of all, the title tells us that this is a poem if not about Buddhism itself, then having something to do with Buddhism. Indeed the first sentence tells us that the narrator, A or some persona she is taking on for necessary artistic purposes, goes to the Zendo, the hall where Zen meditation is practiced, first thing in the morning. But it isn't that easy. It is as if her mind has been active all night, because now it "collapses" when it is time to get up and go out on a "long cold walk" at 7am in order to meditate. She hits the snooze button for five minutes more.

Then, in the next stanza, standing alone, she judges herself negatively with four words: "No discipline, absolutely none." Note that this is for sleeping five minutes longer, not for skipping meditation altogether, or for quitting Zen altogether for being "too hard" or anything like that, but for sleeping five extra minutes and suddenly she has NO discipline...So in the poem, the movement is from feeling that fatigue and need to sleep and sympathizing with it (since she is obviously not sleepy now, writing the poem, she must be sympathetic to it) to suddenly snapping her head back and judging what she was so sympathetic to and judging it very harshly.

Next stanza: At the Zendo the narrator now attempts to have the discipline she says she lacks, the ultimate aim - enlightenment. To clear one's thoughts, the internal chatter, is extraordinarily difficult, though, so it is not an easy discipline, even though it sounds simple enough.

The next several lines are statements of Zen wisdom: Nirvana is a process, the leader tells her. No one can reach it because we are already there. Walk in awareness.

But in the end, A, as the poet, tells us, can't do it. Her mind is already dragged outside the Zendo as she squirms on the cushion, not just thinking but counting her thoughts as she does so. She thinks about the vagrants and mentally ill begging outside as she passed them on her walk there. She doesn't tell us what she thought, only that she thought, and that her thoughts were of those particular people.

Now Buddhism teaches that life is suffering and that suffering arises because of constant change. So when A writes that "Suffering" is her "final thought" she is referring to this idea. I'm not sure what is meant by "final thought," though. Does the narrator mean to imply that she reached enlightenment by clearing her thoughts, stopping the chatter? Or merely that she truly learned to meditate? In any event, suffering stops her incessant thinking, it is the "answer" that clears her mind of extraneous internal dialogue that kept her from a truly quiet state of mind.

So the poem moves from not wanting to get up to meditate, and that sudden and harsh judgment of the self, to the attempt to meditate, craving enlightenment, to the leader's maxims to teach one how to "think" about Nirvana and awareness and finally, amidst the turmoil of thought upon thought, suddenly the last thought, and the implicit state of no thoughts.

Now for A, poem pointers and suggestions:

I like the way this poem moves from "normal language" -- the way you'd write an ordinary poem -- to "zen language" -- very simple, spare, whittled to the bone -- depending on where you are, at home or in the Zendo. Do more of that, esp at the end. Poets have made a career out of this sort of "Zen" writing style!

Maybe flesh out the thoughts you have about the vagrants etc. Or, that is, tell us what you think about , but in a few words, not a whole lot of extra lines. I like the Zen spareness of the poem as is, so don't clutter it up with a lot more words. Cut something when you add something else, if possible. In general, try to declutter any poem, get rid of as many unnecessary words as possible. For example: "My mind collapses -- on virtual shutdown/ when it comes to rise from bed in the morning..." Now, collapses and virtual shutdown say the same thing, so I'd choose one or the other. (Verbs are better than adjectives...Nouns are as good as verbs.) Then "when it comes to rise from bed" what is "it" and "comes to rise"? What comes to rise from bed? And what does that mean? Anyhow, this is where you could look at the whole stanza and probably cut it down to three lines, giving you room for three others, three other thoughts! Be economical, and you can squeeze in more material, and be very Zen about doing so.

Although I analyzed this, most readers will not, and will want this to be clear to them upon their first reading. You need to be very careful with each word in this poem, as careful as you are with your meditation. Every word should mean exactly what you want it to say, no less. So when you write my mind collapses, you should mean collapses and know why. Do you? Do you mean, or did you, that your mind was active all night and then collapsed in the morning, or was that just my interpretation of an imprecise word? If so, find another word to express exactly the movement you want. A mind collapses after it is full then emptied; it is usually relatively shut-down when asleep, so maybe you want to find an image, that is to say, a word or phrase that shows this, to express the need to remain shut-down and asleep, stuck there, not wanting to wake. Rather than the reverse, of going from a full state to a collapsed state, you want a word or words that actually go from a collapsed state to a collapsed state (refusing or rejecting the need to go to a full or awake state). I'm using your words, collapsed, and full to mean awake or the opposite of collapsed (thinking of a balloon here because you said, your mind - brain - collapsed...). I apologize if I've confused you with MY terminology! 8D

About that "my mind collapses -- on virtual shutdown" being the same thing repeated again: it is emblematic of a common problem for beginning poets, that of saying the same thing in several ways, or repeating something unnecessarily. When you say, "No discipline" is it really necessary to say "absolutely none"? These things may work or not, but I'd go through a poem searching for them and trying to X them out, and reading it without the repetitions to see if it is not stronger without them...Usually it will be. Usually unecessary repetitions only weaken a poem.

This poem has real promise, especially if you pay attention to the words you use. You needn't know all that you express. Like me, others will find things in your poetry that you didn't know were there (it's a pleasant surprise usually, but not always) and that is fine and as it should be. But you (meaning any poet) should know at least what YOU intend to express by each word choice. I do not agree with anyone who says that a poet can use a word simply because it sounds good, or a thought because it "seems" thoughtful. A word has a meaning, and while you can use it weirdly, and poets often do, you should KNOW that you are using it weirdly...And thoughts that are confused and poorly expressed are not poetry, but simply thoughts that are confused and poorl... You get my drift, I'm sure. Sure, poems can be difficult to understand, but the poet him or herself ought to understand them, if anyone can!

All of this advice is good for all poets just starting out. Hope you find it helpful to you, A. And as for these poems, keep up the good writing. Do work on these. I like them, and see a lot of potential in both of them. If you write further drafts and want me to comment, I'll be happy to do so, though again, my comments will be in general, because I want you to do the specific work at the in-person workshop, okay?


My newest poem, as of tonight. Probably will be edited later on, but I wanted to put up this draft now...


They are learning to foxtrot at PS 115 in the Bronx.
Eleven years old they bungle and bump, make it
through merengue, rhumba, swing, then – tango,
and how their feet tangle. Unable to
face eye contact, only children after all, they look
everywhere but at their partners. They miss
all cues. The girls lead, better dancers
used to using their bodies for attention.
At first, most of the boys are hopeless, all big toes,
though the shortest is blessed with the ego to say yes
– to dance, to girls – and take charge,
making him a better partner, perhaps,than dancer,
but never mind. These were children
about to be lost to poverty, gangs, drugs, pregnancy –
yet by the end of the year, they are actually dancers,
bowing to one another, promenading
straight and tall and arm in arm. They sleek merengue,
showing off how well they feel the beat,
and when it comes to the tango, become par excellence
the gentlemen and ladies that ballroom dance
has surprised us-- them all in making of them.

Posted by pamwagg at 09:44 PM | Comments (2)

February 15, 2007

Vagus Nerve Stimulaton for Depression - Does it work?

In mid-2005 the FDA approved Vagus Nerve Stimulation or VNS for major depression.

Reversing its earlier ruling denying approval to Cyberonics for its Vagus Nerve Stimulator to be used in the treatment of refractory depression, the FDA now allowed them to go ahead and implant the devices, though only under certain conditions. Labeling eligible patients with the invented term "treatment-resistant depression" conveniently abbreviated to TRD, they could accept only those who had failed at four other anti-depressant therapies, from drugs to ECT.

Now I quite clearly recall that when the notion that VNS was anti-depressant was first floated, it was debunked as bad science with fudged, even falsified data. But no matter how I search, I cannot find those papers on the internet now. No mention of the earlier discussions is available. Instead, we are given a lot of anecdotal evidence for efficacy: testimonials that VNS works miracles and very little research that actually proves it does more good than harm. In one research study in fact, there was one suicide -- in the treatment group, not in the control group! But the research that I have seen -- one group of patients acting as their own controls, a lousy way to do research! -- seems to point to some vague improvement of a third of treated patients, coupled with a worsening of about a third of treated patients, which, since all were concomitantly on medication, seems to say nothing at all about VNS. Nothing that can actually be proven to come from VNS and not some other factor.

Testimonials are powerful and convincing when you hear them, and you don't want to take anyone's miracle away by telling them it is the placebo effect, or that the device or medication is actually ineffective, but anecdotal evidence of usefulness is not proof, and it seems to me that that is ALL that cyberonics has, that and the fact that enough patients are desperate enough to try anything just to have hope...But you could tell them to press their fingers into their eyes and hold until they see stars ten times a day and that could be just as effective in providing hope, or tell them you have to amputate their tongues...some with TRD would probably let you, being that desperate.

But the desperation of the depressed for a cure and the desperate greed of a company for profits should not sway one into thinking that it justifies any and all interventions, "just for the sake of doing something that might work..." Who said it might work? Where's the proof? Did lobotomies work? Sure, people swore that they did, and they probably had plenty of testimonials to prove it, but we know now how brutal and cruel they really were and regret that so many were done to innocent sufferers.

So watch out for those who try to sell you on this new surgery. It may not be brain surgery; they just open up your chest and neck, place a disk like a stop watch in your chest and wrap wires around a nerve in your neck. But it is surgery and things can go wrong. There are testimonials too from those who were tortured by the VNS and begged to have it removed, and could not have it all taken out because to remove the wires around the vagus nerve would be too dangerous. So take those anecdotes and testimonials for what they are worth, perhaps the grain of salt they should be swallowed with, and read the research and think carefully before you listen to the drug company or device company hype. Find out who is being compensated by what company and then writing up a positive review in the journal he himself edits, as Dr Nemeroff did in the case of Cyberonics' VNS. That's a conflict of interest and obviously self-serving, biassed and unobjective. Clearly he is selling the device because he wants to SELL the device, not because he in an outsider convinced by the research that it is efficacious.

And why do the companies producing these drugs and devices get to do the research and prove their usefulness and efficacy to the FDA? That is so absurd. It's like asking the fox to prove there are chickens in the hen house. Of course the companies are going to find that their drugs/devices work. It is in their financial interest to "discover" that. And if they have bad results, it is in their interest to hide them until they can cook the books or get better results from a different study...But why do we tolerate this? Why does the FDA do NO testing and studies of its own? It's ridiculous to trust the corporations and Big Pharma etc to tell the FDA the truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth. Can pigs fly?

If you've tried VNS and it has worked, great! I'm happy for you. But it does no one any good to tell us about it here. We know there are people who swear by it, as there are those who have just as dismal tales to tell about it. The thing is, we need to hear the results of good research that proves or disproves efficacy once and for all. If anyone has a link to that, do let me know.

Posted by pamwagg at 09:55 PM | Comments (9)

February 14, 2007

An Occasional Poem, plus an update

I wrote this just today for the occasion of my mother's birthday. Thought you might like a glimpse, though it is personal. There are four of us children, hence the mention of the four materials: paper pulp - me for my papier mache; wood - Chip, my brother, who does woodworking; fabric - Lynnie, who sews; and clay - Martha, the youngest, who does these marvelous little people sitting on the edges of pots and pitchers she makes, very realistic and strange, and minuscule. My mother, as you'll learn in the first few lines, is a woodworker, among her many other skills.

Now, Dad, if you are skulking around, reading my blog, do not tell Mom that I wrote her a poem, or that it will be coming late if I don't get it to the post office tomorrow due to ice and sleet covered roads. Just let it surprise her altogether. Okay? Okay? I repeat: Do Not Spill The Beans!


for Mom

You push the wood under the saw,
the sawdust scent is sharp and familiar.
First time in months, you’re in the woodshop;
at the end of the day, you’re sorry to stop.

It’s mid-February, the pale wintry light
has long ago left. You look up. It’s night
and you haven’t appeased yet your hands’ appetite,
their urge to create. I know as I write

that hunger of hands to handle and make,
your children all feel it, the pleasure, the ache.
You taught us love, gave us skills that you knew
copper enameling, pen and ink, too,

the weaving of baskets and papier maché
antiquing desks and working with clay,
sand casting, knitting (you couldn’t crochet).

You fired up a hunger that’s better than food
a hunger that drives us, the right attitude
to make things of beauty, for need and for use.
With paper pulp, wood, fabric, clay, we produce

unique objets d’art not entirely planned.
We make them with care and the love they demand
and when they are finished, we give them away.
(The joy’s in creating; they’re not meant to stay.).

You gave us the spirit, this need and the drive
this hunger, this feeling of being alive.
I don’t know if knowing, you planted the seed
but the plant it grew gives almost all that we need.

A mother like you is so rare you’re worth pay,
which conveniently rhymes with this:
Happy Birthday!

by Pamela Spiro Wagner 2/07

I got to the Adult Ed class twice to learn to make Central American jewelry, and found it fascinating, though so far we have not learned anything but basic beading techniques that anybody could learn in a half hour or so. I have been teaching myself more, out of a book. But I don't know any Central American techniques and don't know if the teacher would go ahead of where he is in the class to show me, if I'm ahead of the others...I'm anxious to get to the harder stuff, though I know I could use practice even with the basics, which is of course what I am doing every time I sit down to make or remake a necklace choker or pair of earrings! I only have a certain number of wires for chokers and bracelets, though many earrings, so I have to keep taking the others apart to try different techniques and combinations. Will buy a few more on Friday perhaps, when the ice lets me get out of the house again. Wish Kate lived near me as I know she could teach me lots...At least I gather she is pretty experienced in the jewelry-making department, having mentioned it twice in her blog.

I really enjoy it myself, but have to put some brakes on until I find out what to do with the things I might make. I don't wear it much myself, except for fairly simple earrings, and the occasional necklace when I get dressed up. But I live in a very large building for this area, and wish I could have people come pick out the beads and stones they want and a pattern, and ask me to make something for them on demand...that would be perfect. Then I wouldn't be making lots of stuff in vain, though I'd want to have a supply on hand for those who wanted them to choose from, and other people could have things custom-made to match their particular tastes and clothing. Of course, that would make it more expensive, I suppose, but I would not charge for my time, since I mostly need to recoup my expenses and make a little spending money, not run a business! I just want an excuse to keep making the things!

My next sculpture is mellowing in my brain, trying to gel into how and in what form I will make it. I'm pretty sure it will be a person, not an animal, though I could do an animal in the interim while waiting for the person to come to a full realization mentally, which it has to do before I can start making it. Meanwhile, I make jewelry for fun, and try to read, and of course write as much as I can. My life is quite full these days and reasonably happy, what with all the writing and things I enjoy doing. I have few major problems, none that are new, that is, only the usual, which I am at least used to, even if they bother me no less for all that. Even my weight is stable at 95 pounds. Light, yes, but I'm not losing, and I eat 2-3X every day, sometimes more often.

If I'm sad at all, it's about Joe's declining health. Though he is still functioning fairly well, he can't eat solid food anymore but must puree everything or drink thick liquids, and his speech is very difficult to understand, especially at night. He is also noticeably weaker this month compared with last. But neither he nor I are depressed in the slightest and I sleep a good 8-9 hours almost every night. Unless I don't take the first dose of Xyrem and stay up till 3am, as I did last night, eager to take advantage of what are naturally my best hours. I only do that maybe once a week and otherwise take both doses.

I have made the decision to go ahead with the neuro-feedback sessions, starting in two weeks. I can't explain the theory anymore now than I could earlier when I wrote about it, except to say that this new form of it is based on the Chaos Theory of subatomic physics, while the healthy brain that it used for a model, one of them, was that of a Tibetan monk like the Dalai Lama. This program, which consists of -- well I dunno what, but I do nothing, literally just listen to music or an audio book of my choice while my brain unconsciously does the work, learning and healing itself.

Dr O says that this program, taking up to 30 sessions of 45 minutes each, can teach the brain not to react with anxiety to situations where it is not useful or necessary, which is how, or one manner in which it could help me: if my brain did not feel anxious and scared in various circumstances, if my amygdala did not pump out spurts of unnecessary fear-chemical signals, I wouldn't then have to "invent" a reason (paranoia) to explain the feeling of fear that actually arose before I "decided" what was causing it. That's what she means by "the feeling is primary." We feel something, a feeling or sensation of fear, sadness, anger -- whatever, then we find a reason, fit a story to the feeling to explain why we first felt that feeling, even though it really arose spontaneously before we "invented" the reason for it.

NB: I use the words "invent" and "decide" with care because I do not wish to imply that anyone is lying, simply that the brain does this as a matter of course, that it is how the brain works. It is a wholly subconscious process, not anything one does deliberately or is even aware of.

I will of course keep you posted on the neuro feedback sessions and progress associated with them, with a blow by blow of the first one. I don't expect any miracles, but you never know. I didn't expect one with olanzapine either, but got one, even though it turned out to be a mixed blessing later on...

Posted by pamwagg at 07:06 PM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2007

GM Superbowl Ad - WARNING...

DO NOT WATCH THIS GM COMMERCIAL (see link below) IF YOU ARE DEPRESSED. I'm serious. I want to post this link to a site where you can see all the Superbowl ads for entertainment, and where you can search for the GM robot ad, but for those of you who are depressed, I seriously advise you NOT to watch the ad, which GM was forced to pull from Sunday's Grammy Awards presentation because of objections by the mental health community.

I watched the commercial and was horrified. I will tell you what it is about, but nothing I say can convey the utter desolation and despair that...But wait. The ad opens with this yellow robot dropping a bolt onto the floor of the assembly plant. All eyes are on "him." Other robots look aghast, or one is supposed to think so, and the humans in it look, well, very sorry but determined to do their duty, which is to throw him out of the factory and out of his wonderful job.

The music starts...I don't know the name but it will be very familiar to all, it's the song with the chorus, "all by myself...I'm gonna be...all by myself" and as it plays it is obvious that the robot is trying its hardest to do some work, to find something, ANYthing to do to earn a living. This is no light-hearted ad, folks, this is really heartbreaking, and robot or no, you feel for the "guy."

Finally, a bridge comes into the picture, and you see the traffic zooming underneath it and the robot on the bridge in despair, shot from the top, and the robot falling, obviously committing suicide...Next, in a very rushed scene that I could barely decipher it was over so fast -- frankly I was still reeling from the suicide -- the robot apparently wakes up in his bed and you are supposed to understand that it was all a dream.

Now, I would NOT have gotten that message, seeing the advertisement cold. I would have gotten the message that should you drop a bolt at GM it would be so devastating a loss that you might as well go out and kill yourself! This is precisely what the mental health community feared in our objections to the ad. There is no doubt in my mind but that this is an incredibly harmful commercial, to the depressed but also to anyone else seeing it.

Most people will lose a job sometime, even if it is only in their teen years, though more and more it is happening to those in middle age, especially in the auto industry (!) and can happen at any time for almost any reason to anyone. What if this ad is the one thing you know about what to do after losing a job?

I might think again about wanting one of GM's all electric cars -- the Volt -- when it comes out in 2010. I'm not sure I want to patronize any company that thinks a depressed employee is something to laugh at, that thinks FIRING an employee is the stuff of laughter, that thinks causing a former employee to commit suicide, even in a dream, is funny enough to serve up for Superbowl fans' delectation.

I'll tell you, I won't soon forget it, that's how disconcerting the robot's pain was...By the magic of animation, the ad's creators made a robot represent human depression better than any antidepressant ad I've ever seen, and they used it, having the robot kill himself, to sell cars. What a travesty.

Here is the link to the overall site. You look alphbetically for GM. But let the watcher beware...PLEASE. Be careful and responsible. I'm not saying this will definitely induce suicide, but it is awfully sad. For those of you who don't want to watch the GM commercial, some of the others are fantastic. Check out just the first one, Blockbuster's, about the mouse. PETA might frown (silly), but it's all in fun, and the animals are animations. (Quibblers, I know it is technically still the 10th but I wrote this for Sunday and abracadabra I can change the date on this with one keystroke. So there!)

Posted by pamwagg at 10:24 PM | Comments (5)

February 10, 2007

U.S. Prisons and the School of the Americas

Just in case you think that the infamous torture at Abu Ghraib prison, 20 miles west of Bagdad, was an isolated occurrence, never heard of before in American-run prisons or detention centers, let me tell you about the School of the Americas (SOA) in Panama City, FLA and later Fort Benning GA.

Open from 1946 through 1984, it was a kind of college for post-graduate training in covert operations, coercive interrogations and the like. Police and military officers from the US and regimes around the world were trained in techniques such as: "early morning capture to maximize shock, immediate hooding and blindfolding, forced nudity, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep and food "manipulation," humiliation, extreme temperatures, isolation, stress positions" --and sometimes much worse.

President Clinton's Intelligence Oversight Board acknowledged in 1996 that "execution of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion and false imprisonment" had been permitted.

Naomi Klein in The Nation writes this about the SOA: "It's a history that has been exhaustively documented in an avalanche of books, declassified documents, CIA training manuals, court records and truth commissions. In his upcoming book A Question of Torture, Alfred McCoy synthesizes this unwieldy cache of evidence, producing an indispensable and riveting account of how monstrous CIA-funded experiments on [American] psychiatric patients and prisoners in the 1950s turned into a template for what he calls "no-touch torture," based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. McCoy traces how these methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix program and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training programs."

People who know about the SOA seem to have forgotten its manifold abuses in their eagerness to condemn the Bush administration. Congressman Jim Mac Dermott claims that "America has never had a question about its moral integrity, until now." Even Molly Ivins, thorn in the side of the American right wing, suggests that, "it's just this one administration...and even at that, it seems to be mostly Vice President Dick Cheney." As if she hadn't possibly pinioned half a dozen presidents for cooperation with SOA abuses.

It is obvious that we, "we" -- our administrations, not we, the people -- have condoned official and deliberate torture, by both our operatives and foreign ones. That is not in question. What is different about the present administration is the lack of secrecy.

Before now, before 9/11 presidents understood that the American populace would be horrified by "black ops" and the condoning of torture to get done what needed to be done. Though we already condone it in the treatment of our own prison population, the SOA's activities were a mostly guarded secret; few people knew the extent to which it sometimes acted against the interests of duly elected foreign governments or permitted torture and execution.

Now Bush and Cheney want express permission to torture and execute; they want us to say, Go ahead, with our blessings!

We need to start by saying, no to torture. No torture, not of Iraqi prisoners but also not of our American prisoners. Dr Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist knowledgeable about human rights abuses in prisons, says, that in America as in Iraq, "Prisoners are maced, raped, beaten, starved, left naked in freezing cold cells and otherwise abused" though here they are supposed to be protected by the constitutional right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.

In Covert Action Quarterly, a magazine that meticulously documents all its sources in voluminous footnotes for each article, Marjorie Cohn tells of torture like that of Abu Ghraib being applied in US prisons too: Sacramento, CA - hooded, robed figures with wiring attached seen at the city jail; Phoenix, AZ - men made to wear women's underwear; Utah - naked men forced to form piles in grotesque and uncomfortable positions.

We need to stop this sort of accepted abuse of people, simply because they are shut away out of sight in prisons and jails where we don't have to see them.
Stop the cruelty of Supermax confinement, known and intended to drive a convicted person "mad." People can and do become clinically psychotic under conditions of extreme isolation and boredom. Stop the indiscriminate use of restraint chairs and tasers, both of which, though supposedly non-lethal, have killed NON-violent prisoners (though there is some thought that it is the restraint after the tasering, when the corrections officers may pile onto the prisoner's chest, compressing his airway, that causes the death, not the taser experience itself). Get the mentally ill out of the prison system altogether! Treat children as children; stop trying teens as adults. The human brain is not fully mature until age 25; at age 16, no one "thinks like an adult."

The army wants, what, 100,000 more recruits? They are taking those with certain mental disturbances now, as well as those with criminal records. Until our prison system is reformed and made more humane, we have no hope of reforming our military prisons. The one takes cues from the other. In fact administrators of US prisons have been recruited in certain instances to advise or run war-related detention centers and prisons.

Finally, a large portion of the prison population is mentally ill. If that could mean your son or daughter, if that means or has meant you, don't you want something done to reform the treatment of prisoners there-- yesterday?!

Posted by pamwagg at 07:23 PM | Comments (1)

February 09, 2007

Worried, plus a new poem

Late last night, foraging for something that I would feel the urge to eat, I found a jar of honey/chesnut puree, opened it with some difficulty and tasted it, gingerly, not sure it was still good. Hmmm, tasted fine, maybe I'll try a bit more...But I only had about a half a teaspoon as it suddenly occurred to me that it could be infected with botulism and I didn't know it.

Why did my mind jump to that seemingly unlikely conclusion? Well, for one, I'd made the stuff and "canned" it back in January, thinking I'd eat it in a few days. In fact, I had not followed any of the proper canning techniques, like heating the puree to a certain temp for a certain amount of time, nor sterilizing the jar, though it was clean. But instead of eating it quickly, I forgot about it until just last night. Plus, and this is what truly scared me: I had mixed the puree half and half with honey, a preservative and probably why the stuff is still good now. But, but, but...

Did you know that the reason you should never, ever give an infant under 12 months honey is because it almost always contains botulinum spores, which can colonize the child's intestines (it hasn't the immunity the older person has) and produce the botulism toxin from within. So here I was, sealing up my chesnut puree, improperly cooked, made with honey (presumably infected with C. botulinum) in an air-tight jar -- the botulinum organism thrives in no-oxygen or anaerobic conditions -- and the only protectant against food poisoning was refrigeration, not an especially good method when used for botulism.

So, you see why I panicked? The illness -- it starts 18-36 hours after ingestion of just a few nanograms in most cases, so I'm not out of the woods yet -- can be fatal. Most often these days, however, it is caught in time and treated with respiratory support (ventilator) until the paralysis slowly abates over a period of some weeks. I no longer believe I am infected or will get ill, but last night I panicked. I was certain that the honey, rather than preserving the chesnut puree as intended, had inoculated it with a virulent neurotoxin that could incapacitate me for a long time.

Resigned to this, believe it or not I worried most not about my cat or my responsibilities to Joe or even about my life but about my plants, especially the African violets I grew from stubs of leaves and which are now flowering with lovely deep, deep purple blooms. I knew that Joe and Karen would take care of the cat; I figured that I would have time to tell them what was wrong before becoming paralyzed completely and that the docs and nurses would keep me alive. But experience had taught me long ago that plants left to others were goners, that NO ONE takes care of others' plants correctly and one is extraordinarily lucky if all of them are not dead or withered almost beyond saving after an extended absence.

I cursed my stupidity then, because so much work had gone into both the African violets and my several hand-propagated Crown of Thorns as well as the lush Ceropegia vine, which, despite my constantly cutting it back, won't stop flowing down to the floor. I can't even find a Ceropegia (aka Rosary Vine) at the nursery or get one ordered for me when I ask, that's how hard they are to come by. And when I did once come across two, they were in such sorry condition it was obvious they were beyond saving, and that disease or poor care had gotten them. My first one bit the dust too, so now that I grew this one from a cutting seedling, I'd be very upset to have to leave it behind, only to find it dead upon my return.

Oh, I know, Joe did a decent job last year when I was hospitalized for psychiatric reasons in July/August and I lost only most of the African violet. Everything else was salvageable. In fact, I found 2 viable leaves left on the violet and managed to coax several plants to grow from bits of those. So technically speaking I didn't lose anything entirely. But Joe wasn't ill then, or had only just been diagnosed during my hospital stay and was as capable as he had ever been...I knew now that things were different, and I didn't trust Karen to take over what he could no longer do.

Ah, a little dose of reality makes one careful not to be so stupid a second time! Even if it must be the plants that remind me, whatever it takes, if it works it's enough.

Now for the poem, which I call WART after a certain kind of (fill in the blanks) -----wart!


Tonight I’m up late worrying
about a badly canned chestnut puree
and botulism, which is useless
since I’ll know soon enough from
“difficulty speaking or swallowing,
drooping eyelids, double vision,
lassitude and weakness progressing
to paralysis” that I have it
or not. Not very likely with only
some 130 cases in the U.S. in a year,
but as I said, I worry, and worry attaches
to anything: leprosy, asteroids falling
from the sky, dirt on your hands.
Most people worry too much
about things that won’t matter
after six months. My friend doesn’t
have to worry about those. He is
losing his speech to Lou Gehrig’s. In six
months who knows what won’t work
any longer or which will matter
most. His assistive device can say
the words he types, but how I miss
the sound of the voice I’ve forgotten
except when I call and the old
machine picks up: Joe speaking.
I can’t answer the phone right now
but if you leave your name and number,
I’ll call you back as soon as I can.

Posted by pamwagg at 06:38 PM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2007

The Rules

The Rules govern everything I do, from entering the Adult Ed classroom or staying in Stop and Shop (I no longer even enter) to looking at people and smiling a "Hello". "They" make The Rules, but who are They? I don't know. They are not the voices, not precisely, because I don't hear voices any longer, yet The Rules remain in force. All I know is that a certain They do, and I can't disobey, I can only hope for a sudden change in them, or a relaxation of a certain rule so that I can move in the direction I need to go.

That's what Dr O did not understand when we first met, or at least during my first stay at her hospital. We were in my room talking about how hard it was for me to leave it to go to the dayroom to watch TV or meet people, when another patient came to the door and called me to the phone. Oh no, not the phone, I hated the phone at all times, but especially now. But I had to answer it, that was the Rule of the moment. So I asked Dr O if she minded waiting while I told the person at the other end I'd call them back. She shook her head and I went to do so. When I got back, she was livid. She said, You just up and left the room! I thought you couldn't leave the room because of the Rules! Were you lying?

I frowned, nonplussed. I didn't understand what she was talking about. Didn't she understand? The Rules changed the moment that patient said there was a phone call. I had no choice but to go to answer it, whether I wanted to or not. I hated the phone. Never wanted to answer it. But I had to. That's how I got medication; when they called me to the med room, The Rules shifted and I was forced to leave the room and expose myself to all the dangers of the hallway just to take the pills I so hated. Then, according to The Rules, I was to immediately return, no stopping, no talking, no looking left or right, just take the pills and go back to the room.

Dr O nodded, no longer angry. She seemed to finally get it, what The Rules were all about. They would crop up again and again over the years until she knew enough to ask me when it was The Rules that was causing a certain behavior. But that first episode of anger scared me; I didn't know what I'd done wrong and there she was accusing me of being a liar, all because of a misunderstanding. But I was all too familiar with misunderstandings and how they could grow into life-long resentment, how anger meant someone hated you forever...and I was afraid this would be the inevitable upshot. It took me a while to get over that, and as you can see, I still haven't forgotten it.

But Dr O has gotten furious with me since then, especially when I refused to take the medications and still she has stuck by me, hasn't dumped me...yet. I still keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, whatever that means. Too many people in my life have gotten angry then left me for good, way too many, for me to trust that she won't eventually as well. Only Lynnie and Joe have stuck around, furious or not, and whether I am angry with them or not; they have never given up on me for good. Others have enjoyed my company for years, my good moods and my generosity, but the first time I make them angry, they not only leave, they leave me for good, no looking back. What sort of friends are those, I ask you? The friends I have now, and I count them on both hands, I generally have not gotten angry with nor made them angry somehow...Just watch it when I do. They will be off like a lightning bolt, never turning to look back.

This is NOT one of The Rules: Never show your anger, never show your true feelings, because that will give people ammunition to hate you. The Rules are for Them, not for me. The statement above is a rule, small r. It protects me from pain, it does not serve Their purpose, so it is not a Rule. Does this make sense? They, I mean, "They" have not made this necessity a Rule, it is merely an unfortunate fact of my life, that I must not allow my anger to surface, not with the person I'm angry at. The Rule involved might have to do with, May I cross the floor of this restaurant alone? Or May I walk home from this place? May I get my mail when others are around?

Someone will say, Rules are made to be broken, but I wonder what that statement means. Why make them if they are to be broken? What's the point? Do I have the quote right? Anyone have thoughts on this?

Posted by pamwagg at 07:09 PM | Comments (3)

February 07, 2007

Another Quiz, Courtesy of Kate

Kate answered my questions first, as expected. Elizabeth Grace was next. Then Yaya. Dr O has not replied, not yet at any rate... Now Kate has posed her own series of questions to which I will reply by way of a blog entry tonight. Once again, anyone who wishes to answer these questions, feel free!

1. What was your first delusion? That I killed John F Kennedy; then the whole business of Grey Crinkled Paper. But the first time I was actually hospitalized I believed my college roommate was conspiring with other "friends" against me, and that her red sweater signified "danger days."

2. When did you first identify a voice in your head that was not your own? The voices never sounded inside my head but outside it, which made them hard to identify as coming from me. I tended to assume that there really were Japanese people in the walls, that a spirit did talk to me from various places in the air...I can't remember really when I first identified this as out of the ordinary.

3. How many times have you been in a hospital? Oh, Lordy, many more than 75 times, mostly municipal hospitals but also the regional and state hospital, and that does not even include the years of day hospitals and several years of halfway houses and supervised apartments. I must have spent, cumulatively, at the very least 8 years in-patient when all is said and done, since most of my hospitalizations were for at least a month and many, many of them were 2-3 months or longer.

4. How many offline schizophrenics do you know? Joe, for one, but I used to be friends with several when I went to the day treatment program. I've lost touch with most of them now.

5. Have you ever been to a support group for schizophrenics and/ or mental illness? Yes, a thousand times! In-patient and out-patient.

6. Is there anyone in your family who has suffered from mental illness? My great Aunt Leah was obviously mentally ill and paranoid, but never diagnosed. My cousin's son, also a twin, had schizophrenia and a few years back committed suicide. I don't know if there is more or not.

7. Do you believe in a higher power/order? Alas, not really. I think evolution and free will, man's capacity to do good or evil accounts for pretty much everything, except for me, Satan's spawn. But that is no proof of a higher power...

8. When did you first think it was possible that you could recover? When I decided to take all my meds back in February 2005 and began to feel truly well, and could make eye contact with more people, and was learning, slowly and with setbacks, what a delusion was and what a hallucination was...when all that was able to happen, I began to think maybe recovery was actually possible, that this time I wasn't just mouthing the words but was speaking the truth.

9. What is a short term goal of yours? To put together a properly organized poetry manuscript and send it out again.

10. What is a long term goal of yours? I can't set longterm goals, frankly. It is hard to look that far into the future when you think there is not going to be one --

11. How many offline friends do you have? Joe, Karen, C and L, Leila, Rennie, Sara and more...Gosh, I had no idea! Some, I don't see more than once a year, mind you, and spend more time writing to than seeing. But we are essentially offline friends who must stay in touch online because of the distance between us.

12. What place you've been would you like to return to? Golders Green, London, where we spent our fifth grade year, and had the happiest year of our childhood. Would love to see it again, see if it has completely changed or if I'd still recognize it at all.

13. If you could be young again, what age would you choose? Oh jeeze, I wouldn't want to be young again. I'd have to start all the way over again from infancy to do it right...But no, I would not go back to any year.

14. What was a happy moment in your life? I was pretty happy when I won first prize for Journalism in the Mental Health Media Awards in 1992 or '93. It was for my very first Op-Ed piece ever, and I'd had an amazing response to it, a very personal piece about schizophrenia. A friend of mine (at the time) held "Famous Writer's Week" and gave me a little trinket and a card every day for 7 days to celebrate it!

15. What was an unhappy moment? Learning that my father was telling people he had three children instead of four...

16. What author made an impression on you when you were a teen-ager? Albertine Sarrazin for her book, "The Runaway" about life in a French women's prison.

17. What book did you dislike as a teen-ager? The Norton Anthology of Poetry!!!!

18. What poem made an impression on you? Until 1984, none. After that, Carrion Comfort and anything by Gerard Manley Hopkins; Byzantium etc by William Butler Yeats

19. What was the first grown-up book you read? Penguin Island by Anatole France was the first book I had to struggle with

20. What famous person from the past would you like to have met? Too many to choose from and I'm afraid I'll pick the wrong one and miss out on a better one...Shall I agree with Kate and say, Jesus? Buddha? St Francis? Mary? Gandhi? Lincoln? Sheesh -- I'll be danged if I know!

Posted by pamwagg at 05:38 PM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2007

A Quiz with Answers

I sent this e-mail quiz to three people who I thought might answer it, one of whom was Dr O, a long shot. I now throw deown the gauntlet to others: if you would like to answer these questions too, feel free to do so in the comment section or else copy them and the directions and send them to your own friends. It's a great way to get better acquainted and to have some fun. My brother sent them to me and I learned a bit about him that I hadn't known, so you can be surprised by what even those close to you reveal.

1. What time is it? 8:15pm on 2/6

2. Name: Pamela Spiro Wagner

3. what are you most afraid of? People secretly conspiring against me

4. what do you drive? A Toyota Corolla

5. Have you ever seen a ghost? Yes, resoundingly, several. Many!

6. where were you born? Tacoma, Washington

7. Ever been to Alaska? Wanted to go to Barrow, but never made it. Now I hear it is melting.

8. Ever been toilet paper decorating in trees? Are you kidding?

9. Croutons or bacon bits? Neither.

10. Favorite day of the week? Every day.

11. Favorite restaurant? Townline Diner

12. Favorite flower? Fringed Polygala

13. Favorite sport to watch? None, they make me too nervous.

14. Favorite drink? Diet Coke or Silk Soymilk, vanilla

15. Favorite Ice cream? Friendly's Pistachio

16. Disney or Warner brothers? Didn't know there was a difference.

17. Favorite fast food restaurant? I never eat fast food.

18. What color is your bedroom carpet? My whole apartment is carpeted in industrial gray.

19. How many times did you fail your drivers license test? None, I passed for both Lynnie and me.

20. Before this one from whom did you get your last email? An internet friend commenting on my blog.

21. What do you do most often when you are bored? I'm never bored.

22. Bedtime? Midnight or 1am, alas. Wish I could stay up till 5am.

23. Who will respond to this email the fastest? Kate

24. Who is the person that is least likely to respond? Sara, because she is traveling or much too busy. That’s why I also didn't even send it to her!

25. Who is the person from whom you are most curious to see their response? Dr O'Malley

26. Favorite tv show? I don’t watch TV anymore...but would watch anything on HGTV if I had the time.

27. Ford or Chevy? I used to own a Chevy Nova -- great car.

28. What are you listening to right now? The clock ticking, traffic, fridge humming, digestive noises, footsteps in the hall. In other words, no voices!

29. What are your favorite colors? All blues, fern and hunter green, dusty rose, creamsicle orange, teal, coral, all browns, black, pale yellow...

30 How many tattoos do you have? Technically, none...

31. Do you have any pets? One cat and half a dozen or more bickering little people
32. Which came first the chicken or the egg? Nolo contendere

33. What would you like to accomplish before you leave this earth? Not cause any more damage. Atone for the evil I've brought upon the earth...Live till I die.

34. How many people are you sending this email to? Three people, those from whom I'd really like to hear their answers to these questions.

Now, here's what you're supposed to do...and please! do not spoil the fun. Hit forward, delete my answers and type in your answers. Then send this to a whole bunch of people you know INCLUDING the person who sent it to you. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little known facts about those who know you. Remember to send it back to the person who sent it to you.

Posted by pamwagg at 09:30 PM | Comments (3)

February 05, 2007

Early Memories

My earliest memory is not before the age of four, when we went to nursery school at the Yale Child Study Center, and even it is slight: I recall a very large black rubber wading pool in the court yard outside, a wading pool that was nonetheless never filled with water, only with dead leaves from the many trees that ringed the graveled yard. I was not disappointed by this, since I was afraid of the black rubber inflated side, associating it with a large snake. I didn't like to go near it. While I know that Lynnie was there and the boy next door as well, I have no memories of them or of any other child or interaction. The only other thing I remember is the blank windows -- mirrors? -- through which, presumably, the psychologists and so forth studied us as we went about our day. I had even seen through them myself the opposite direction when my father showed us how it worked one afternoon. But somehow, when faced with the blankness of a dark window or reflecting mirror during the day, I didn't understand that there were people looking at me, people outside them at all. I believed they were simply a wall like any other, solid and impenetrable.

That summer, I think, we visited my grandparents in Newton, MA. I had never seen such a big house, but we all stayed outside under the sun, because it was warm and our grandmother was ill with some sort of cancer of the blood -- it is still unclear to me what that was -- and liked the sunshine. Our grandfather pointed us to a white canopied set of chairs, facing each other -- swing chairs, he said, made for two. Anything made for two was made for twins, we had decided long ago, and so we dashed for the swing chairs and hopped on board, rocking in bliss for half the afternoon. We were sorry when our parents called us to "say good-bye to Grandma and Grandpa." As if they would miss me, I made a promise to the chairs that I would be back to see them again soon.

I never saw those chairs again. My grandmother died that year and my grandfather sold the house, canopied swing chairs and all. I don't remember if we went to the funeral. I remember vaguely that we did, though I understood none of what was going on. But that may be later overlay from some other time. I don't remember how my father reacted. No doubt he kept it from us, so that we wouldn't be upset. I'm not sure I wouldn't have been very tender if he had cried in front of us; I think I would have probably crawled into his lap and tried to comfort him, if he let me. But so far as I know, he didn't show this, not in a way that made him accessible to us.

My grandmother is a mystery to me. She has always been "the sainted Martha" in my imagination, the woman who could do no wrong, the mother that my father adored and idolized, or perhaps who idolized him, I dunno. Yet I know nothing about her, what she did that was so good, what she said, what her temperament was, whether she was intellectual or social or artsy or what. You'd think that someone who is held as sacrosanct in the family, who cannot be spoken of but in awe, would be better known! But no, all I know of her, literally ALL I know of her, is that she died relatively young. Perhaps that's all that it is: the good die young, they say, and so because of that she has become Martha, the grandmother of legend, too good to live.

THe memories after that are far more plentiful, and it is not so easy to put them on a timeline, so many years afterwards. In kindergarten, I, who was always a goodie-two-shoes, both in nursery school and in all my school years, wanted to see what it felt like to be last in from off the playground instead of first in line. To that end, one afternoon at recess, I hid behind a bush when the bell rang, hoping not to get caught or called for before the class had filed into school. I watched stragglers run past the bush, trying to make it to the line before the teacher got mad, while some, giving up, simply sauntered to the tail end. Before I could change my mind, the teacher had given the command, and without so much as a "Where's Pammy Spiro?" the entire class filed into the dark corridor and the door closed behind them.

The playground was quiet when I ventured out from behind the bush. I could hear the birds and the wind in the trees and the traffic from the street not far away. But overwhelmingly, it was quiet, without the sounds of all the other children together laughing and shrieking and talking and yelling. It was dizzying, the emptiness, the silence. It was a feeling I'd never experienced before and I wasn't sure I liked it. But I was determined to make the most of it. I went to the swings and sat in the middle, the choicest one I never got to use. I pushed back with the tips of my Mary Janes then let go and swung forward, pumping each time I went backward until I was swinging as high as I dared. One second later, at the top of the arc, I let go and flew, just as I'd always wanted to, feeling for a fraction of a second free of my body. Then I landed in a heap on the grass, getting the breath knocked out of me. I gasped and gasped, scared I would die, until finally air came back.

I lay back and looked at the sky. The trees seemed to peer at me, bending over, and the sky pressed downward. I felt dizzy, as if I could feel the world turning underneath me. I thought I could hear the trees talking to each other in the rustle of their leaves. Everything was crowding me. The trees reached closer and closer as the sky pressed in. Closer and closer. I was terrified. I scrambled up and raced for the door, not daring to look behind me, certain that something was in pursuit and closing in fast. I reached the door, yanked it open, psuhed inside and slammed it shut-- safe.

But of course, I was not safe. There was hell to pay from the teacher when she discovered that I had been missing from the class, me, her prize pupil. How could I? Did I want a note sent home to my parents? Did I?! She calmed down eventually and there were no dire consequences after all. But I had learned my lesson. It was not worth breaking the rules to gain a new experience, because that new experience was bound to be terrifying, and dangerous to boot. I'm not so sure it was the best lesson to learn, but I learned it well.

Posted by pamwagg at 07:57 PM | Comments (1)

February 02, 2007

What about an Electric Car?

There used to be one. Do you remember the ads for Ford's Think car? Or was it Thing? Think, I think. Whatever...They did make them, though they were small and expensive and had a relatively short range per charge. I kept waiting to see one drive down the street. I didn't understand that they were mostly being offered for lease in California, where the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had mandated zero emissions vehicle development, so that by 2003 10% of all vehicles on the road would be completely pollution free. I heard vaguely about a Toyota RAV 4 that had been made electric too. But I knew nothing about the GM car called the EV1, short, presumably, for Electric Vehicle #1.

That car, and the whole issue of electric cars and why they never did appear on my street, is the subject of the documentary WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR, a movie I recently saw on DVD. (It doesn't mention global warming, no, but all I could think was, Damn, this could have saved us...) One of the first cars ever made was electric, and even then some people preferred it: it was CLEAN, quiet, and relatively dependable and it put out no foul smelling exhaust. For some reason though, perhaps cheaper oil than electricity I don't know, the internal combustion engine won out over the electric motor...and our problems were born. From then on, we had cities of increasing smog and air quality alerts and were adding millions then billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Even with electric cars we would have released CO2, due to coal-fired plants, but the smog in our cities would not have been the problem it is. Due to greater efficiency, the net CO2 released would have been less than that released by individual cars guzzling oil and gas. No one can rewrite the past of course, though we can study what did happen and evaluate that.

What did happen is that when the CARB told automakers that by 1998 2% of all vehicles on CA highways had to be ZEVs (zero emission vehicles), they already had prototypes in the works and GM was able to roll out its first EV1 the following year. It cost $35,000 (leased only) and at first had a range of only 80 miles between charges (45 minutes for a charge) but the second model had a range of 120 miles and apparently today it would have a range of at least 300 miles. Still, for most of us, a two-seater car at that price is pretty expensive. Nevertheless, that's what most said about the first PCs, the first DVD players, the first anything. They were expensive and had problems...but these were eventually worked out and as more people were reassured the technology would work well and bought them, the price came down and down and down until now a once $500 DVD player can cost as little as $79!

The auto manufacturers knew this, so why, after letting a number of very enthusiastic drivers lease their cars for a time, and with a large waiting list of those who wanted vehicles, did they repossess their cars (claiming they would be completely recycled or used for educational purposes) then secretly crush and shred them, as nearly brand new as cars could be?

Why? That's a loaded question and it's one the movie tries to answer, and gives us a pretty good idea of the sort of collusion that had to have taken place for such a deed to be done. One thing we know is that despite the car company claims, it was NOT the consumers lack of demand that killed the electric car. There was demand, and plenty of it. GM finally admitted they had had a long waiting list that they deliberately tried to discourage from wanting the cars, selling the drawbacks, emphasizing how bad the cars were etc. Yet they told CARB that they spent a billion on advertising campaigns to sell their product, and no one wanted it! People still wanted it, they wanted it badly. They just couldn't get one, no matter how hard they tried.

There is, as usual, the suspect of Big Oil, which is probably guilty on more than one front, but working so deeply undercover that the connections have not yet been made. One thing we do know was that they bought out the special battery technology used in the EVs. They then refused to release it. Why should they? They could say it was no good, that they'd discovered too many flaws, that it was a bad design, made a bad car worse etc. But we know all what is really going on: they wanted to sell oil and gas and were threatened by the propect of a car that needs neither. Need I add that Bush and Cheney were right there with them, adding their lead to the punch? One of the last things the movie tells us is that because of a move by Bush and Co, the Hummer is given a small business tax credit of $100,000 (yes, that one hundred thousand dollars!) while the use of an EV gets a tax credit of a mere $4000.

You should rent this film if you have any interest in what goes on when a big company gets told what to do and it doesn't want to do it, or decides to collude with the big and powerful to avoid compliance. It isn't as great or as unmissable as AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (Al Gore's movie about global warming), but it is veddy veddy interesting and if you smell a conspiracy a mile away, as I do, you will appreciate it when you find a real one! BD

Posted by pamwagg at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2007

Thoughts on Delusions, Fundamentalists and My Present Day Activities

I have regularly been able to defuse the hallucinations of the little people -- by telling myself they are my brain talking and by saying to myself: You don't need to listen to what they order you to do, in fact it is ridiculous for you to do so! This does not stop them from talking, but it devalues them, it puts them in their proper place, as voices that come from me, from some errant spark in my brain that makes my mind seem like it talks to me. Where these hallucinated characters come from is anyone's guess, but then though we "get" some of it, we don't know why we dream certain weird dreams either. I suspect the two come from the same place in the unconscious.

Be that as it may, the delusions, especially the paranoia, are ten times harder to evaluate, much less defuse. In fact, I'm speaking as if I understand it now, when in fact I do not...I only suspect I know what others might tell me, though in fact I don't doubt for a second that they would be wrong! But in any event, I almost always feel that people I know secretly wish me less than well, that no matter how well they treat me, that they SECRETLY are undermining me, or secretly hate and are conspiring against me, and talk about me behind my back saying nasty things, gossiping, telling others bad things so that upon meeting me they immediately take to disliking me, though of course they too don't show it openly, only feel it secretly...And on and on it goes. This is a constant and CHRONIC state of affairs and I feel it as much from Lynnie and Dr O'Malley and even from Joe as I do from Karen and from almost everyone I meet or know. Oh, everyone asks me, Do you feel that way about ME? And I assure them I don't. Because what else can I say? I can't tell them at that moment that No, I think you hate me, secretly...Because they would deny it left, right and silly, and seek to defend themselves and otherwise prove their case. And the point is not that they don't have points to make so much as they cannot prove a negative: they can't prove that they DON'T secretly conspire against me, don't secretly hate me. And it gets tiresome to listen to them, when I know this, and know they are frantically defending what they cannot. So I just reassure them and let them rest content that they are at least the single exception to the rule...There may be exceptions, I dunno, but everyone at one point or another gets swept into the conspiracy...

And I do not know how to tell when this is NOT true. I feel so certain of it, that I do not know when to know that my certainty itself is delusional, or when to challenge it. I don't even know when to challenge that concept of secrecy, because it feels so, well, certain that this time, this time, I am finally right to "know" it is happening. So I get mired a great deal more in what others MIGHT call delusions or paranoia that I don't know about...still don't, except by inference. I can suspect what they might dub a delusion by the word "secretly" but I don't FEEL doubtful of the truth of it; I still feel CERTAIN that I am right, and no less worried or scared or suspicious. So suspecting how others might evaluate the situation doesn't actually help me at all, because, as Dr O keeps saying, "The feeling is primary." So, frankly, I dunno what to do about it. I don't know how to take any next step to actually changing how I feel, if it is even possible.

Now onto my next subject, fundamentalist religion. Two days ago, S wrote me another letter which I quote in part here (edited for my purposes): How ironic that the greatest thinkers and the "religions" grounded in peaceful coexistence with nature and letting go of control and being one w/ the universe - passive resistance, and living well together -- are the very religions we are at war with. We are being programmed to believe they are the "evil doers" and anything non-Christian is allied with the very people who are allied with a terrorist society. We have redefined jihad to be factions of terrorists acting against us in order to be killed in holy suicide as holy sacrifices to Allah. When in reality a Jihad is a holy mission and not a holy war. It is something that is special and meaningful that can be attending school and completing it to gain a professional degree to be able to provide for the family as the first born. It is an honorable life journey ventured forth in the name of Allah. We are certainly redefining Islam for our own means to make our war sound purposeful and the People of Islam sound more horrific -all of them.

This was my response: I disagree with you about the religion thing. I think that we judge a certain brand of Christianity by what it is today, by George Bush’s kind of born again religiosity etc and the rest of hidebound fundamentalist Christianity. And I think it only fair to judge fundamentalist Islam by the same standards, by what it has become in the modern world, which is none too peaceful or egalitarian (its original mandate from the Qur'an) or one with the universe. I know what jihad means -- sometimes nothing more than an extremely dedicated effort -- but all too often it is in fact invoked in the context of killing as many non-muslims as possible. Now, don’t get me wrong: I cannot abide fundamentalist Christians for a single second. I think they are self-righteous, greedy, selfish, narrow-minded bigots and often just plain bad people who have the temerity to call themselves “good” (i.e. GWB) and think that makes it the truth.

But I don’t think Islamic fundamentalism treats anyone any better ANYWHERE. I don’t see Saudi Arabia being a communal egalitarian mecca (no pun intended) under Wahabism (sp?); I don’t see the green birds of Paradise descending into the Ayatollah’s Iran; I don’t see any of the middle east countries being a haven for other religions, including the Jews, and a place of equality and well-being for women (both of which are dictated by the Qur'an); I don’t even see particularly good treatment by their husbands for Muslim women in America! So as far as I’m concerned, BOTH religions have been co-opted by the fundamentalist men, NOT the (muslim) women, who must simply submit, and neither religion is pure and uncorrupted anymore, and neither religion is worth a fig at the moment, because either one could destroy the species, were the climate and our damage to that not set to do so already.

My present day activities: I have been rushing about doing way too much and not getting much reading or writing done at all. I am exhausted, even though I still spend a lot of time home alone, for all my rushing around. When I have an appointment or date to do something out of the house every day of the week, that is too busy for me, and if, as in this week, that has sometimes meant 2 things in one day, well, I dunno how I can get through another day. Yesterday I had my appointment with Dr O, which meant a drive of one hour to get there...then she didn't show up, had forgotten to tell me she'd be away -- which meant an hours drive home for nothing. Then Karen insistied on coming up to talk. Then the evening nurse came. THEN i had to go out for my first adult ed class in years. I couldn't find the high school in town, never having been there and in the dark no less. Finally I found it, and the room, and actually got in the door because someone was showing me how to find the room who was in the class so I had someone to go in with! What a stroke of luck...The class was fine. It was a class in Central American Jewelry making, taught by a Mayan man from Guatemala. We have already made two bracelets and will learn to make earrings next week. But so far the designs have been very simple and I want to learn something difficult! Something that takes skill, not just bead stringing on wire. Nevertheless, I can tell he is a great teacher as he had us make a bracelet first by simply stringing beads, so it was wearable first thing, then we did one that was more complicated that involved bending wires over wires and beads, and that was much more difficult. So I trust that we will be doing difficult things quite soon. I'm pretty impatient, I think. After all, it was just the very first class and many people do not have the nimble fingers I do, nor the craft experience.

Today I went to C and L's to work on their computer and help L with her e-mail as usual and visit and have lunch with them. I brought over Yurtle the Turtle which I was lending to them to display and keep in their house, because L collects turtles and I thought she would especially like to have it under her roof. I'm still trying to sell or display it and the llama publically though. I have two people in the know looking for me, so I have hopes for finding someone or somewhere that is interested. Tonight Karen is coming up at 5pm and Joe at 6pm to watch a movie. Then maybe I'll have some time to read and write...I hope. Tomorrow is another busy day that I dread, and I can't even cut it short.

So that's my daily life recently. I have more to say about the central thoughts, about Islam and Christianity, but that will have to wait till I have more time. Karen is due any minute so I'd better quit while I'm ahead and post this.

Posted by pamwagg at 04:02 PM | Comments (2)